Tuesday, October 5, 2010

(again, this was written yesterday but our internet wasn't cooperating until now)

            It is the start of a busy week of studying for and then taking exams in three of our classes – Environmental Policy, Wildlife Ecology, and Wildlife Management. We take the exams on Wednesday and Thursday (Juma tano and alhamisi in Swahili) and then on Saturday (Juma mosi) we leave for our trip to Serengeti! I’m really excited about that, but now I want to talk about some cool things we’ve done recently.
            Yesterday was a non-program day and in the morning I joined a few other students and some staff and went to the Catholic Church in Rhotia. It was a really cool experience! We of course got stared at a lot, as we were probably some of the only white people to ever attend the church. After the service the priest talked to us and the whole time he was chuckling – impressed that we could speak to him in some Swahili and also probably amazed that he had had wazungu (white people) in his congregation. The entire service was in Swahili except for a few sentences at the end of the sermon when the priest welcomed us to the church. I had a decent idea of what was going on the whole time based on my awareness of the basic structure of a service. I was able to pick out a good amount of Swahili words that I know and it was nice to listen to the readings and try to pick out the parts of sentences, etc. My favorite part by far was the singing – there was a large choir at the front and center of the congregation and between every piece of the service was a song. The choir members were all young, ages 14 to 22, and there were about 10 really young kids in the very front whose job was to dance. The entire choir was constantly in motion during the songs –moving their arms and feet in rhythm. The rest of the congregation could sing if they wanted – most of the songs were repetitive and had catchy melodies, and all really uplifting and joyful. It was interesting to notice that during the choruses of songs, older women in the pews would make throaty, yodeling-type sounds as a way to acknowledge their praise and enjoyment of the music. Overall, I’m very glad I went – it was a centering and reassuring experience to attend a church service here in Tanzania. The fact that I could hardly understand the words did not matter that much. Yesterday helped me realize the connection that a religion can foster among people otherwise separated by continents and languages.            
            The other exciting thing I did yesterday when I wasn’t studying was go into Karatu for about an hour, where I bought cloth and walked around in the market. On our way back to camp we stopped at an art gallery, run by an American woman, where they have beautiful art and crafts that benefit various disadvantaged groups in Tanzania. Also, there was a kitchen that makes American food and homemade ice cream! Some students went there last week after they had to go to the clinic in Karatu, and they kept this amazing paradise a secret until yesterday... We sat on couches on the porch of the gallery and enjoyed the view of the Tanzanian hills being lit up by the afternoon sun. AND WE ATE ICE CREAM! It was unreal - ice cream (something that we bring up longingly whenever we get cravings for food from home), as well as comfy couches and even dogs that you could pet! I am actually not at all unhappy with how we are living here, despite how excited I was about the ice cream. I like how living in Tanzania for a month has made all of us become so easily amazed by comforts that we’d take for granted at home.
            This afternoon marked the start of a reading program we are doing with the primary school next to our camp. Around five SFS students will go over after school in the afternoons and work with a class, either helping students with words as they read by themselves or reading a book aloud to the students. We didn’t know what to expect because today was the first day, but the class, composed of kids around age 11, seemed to really enjoy it. I sat with a group of girls and first just looked through books with them and pointed out words to them that they would know or that would be good to learn. At the end the whole group read “Curious George” aloud to me as I held the book and helped with pronunciation. It was fun to be both a teacher and a student; I would ask them about Swahili words as they learned the English ones. Hopefully this is the start of a solid bond between SFS and the school. We’ve played soccer over there before, and we are also planning a service problem there involving a renovation of the kitchen. So, more info on that to come!

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