The following is from the Uncommon Sense archives. It first appeared in the Summer 2006 issue, no. 122.
Adventures in Teaching
As part of our occasional series Adventures in Teaching, we are pleased to present a sampler of Lorena and Peter Walsh’s experiences at Tumaini University in Iringa, Tanzania, from 1996 to 2006. Drawn largely from their letters to friends, the story that unfolds below is indeed a remarkable one. Some 300 miles west of Dar es Salaam, Iringa is reached by a two-lane paved road that traverses some spectacular open country, where one may well encounter critters that westerners are accustomed to seeing in zoos or fenced in farmyards, before ascending the escarpment upon which the town and the university are situated. Those who have visited the Walshes in Iringa can testify to the enthusiastic appreciation of students and faculty for the contributions Lorena and Peter have made to Tumaini University and to them personally. The editors thought this was an important fact to tell you at the outset, since, given the Walshes’ characteristic modesty, it won’t be obvious from what follows.
Our first stay in Tanzania was in 1967–1969, when Peter received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation to conduct his dissertation research on small-holder tea culture in Rungwe District in southwestern Tanzania. Lorena ended up teaching English at Rungwe Alliance Secondary School in Tukuyu. The year and a half that we lived in this hospitable country was a wonderful, life-altering experience that we supposed there would be no opportunity to repeat. Living day-to-day in one of the poorest countries in the world afforded unique insights into the many impediments to any kind of economic development, as well as a profound respect for the ingenuity and resilience that people living in such conditions possess.
Then in 1993 we began hearing from University of Minnesota history colleagues Lucy Simler and Rus Menard of a new university that was getting started under the auspices of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, primarily by Lutherans from Minnesota, some of whom were affiliated with the University of Minnesota. (At that time the only accredited colleges in Tanzania were the state-run University of Dar es Salaam and Sokoine Agricultural University.) When we learned that the new college was seeking volunteer teachers who could, so to speak, hit the ground running, without experiencing problems with culture shock and with the ability to function in a Swahili-speaking society, we knew we had to take advantage of this unexpected chance to return. Recommendations from history colleagues led to our being accepted as volunteer teachers, but it took over a year of cutting through bureaucratic red tape for Peter to secure a three-month leave from the U.S. Postal Service. Cary Carson, Director of Research at Colonial Williamsburg, generously granted—and has continued to grant—Lorena three months unpaid leave per year so that she may continue to teach in Tanzania.
When we arrived in Tanzania in 1996, the country’s failed experiment with a socialist economy had just ended. We found the living conditions of ordinary people little altered from those we had encountered in the late 1960s. In intervening years the economy had become a shambles, and economic levels of thirty years before had just been regained. Economically, it seemed to us, nothing had changed.
Less than one percent of the college-age population are able to attend university. In order to reduce the total cost of getting a degree, undergraduate programs are completed in three years instead of four. As a consequence, students take six to eight courses per term and attend classes up to eight hours a day. Given an almost total lack of textbooks, most learning is oral. We have composed this account of our “adventures” from excerpts of the letters we wrote to colleagues and friends.
The college buildings are well designed, but operating equipment is another matter. The inexpensive locally-made desks, chairs, tables, etc., are both sturdy and attractive. But otherwise there is literally almost nothing—no phones, no Xerox, no paper clips, one functioning stapler for the entire faculty, rationed chalk and blackboard erasers, an allowance of one notebook per faculty member per term, no drinking water, no toilet paper, etc. The library at present consists mostly of theology books, a few sets of reasonably up-to-date surplus textbooks donated by publishers (but often only one to three per class of twenty-five to thirty), and whatever other heterogeneous used books members of supporting Minnesota Lutheran congregations have shipped over in the annual ship container. For example, the usable history reference books consist of a set of the Durants’ World History, a few recent paperbacks on U.S. colonial history that must have come from the University of Minnesota History Department, and a set of National Geographic magazines.
When we left America, Lorena had expected to teach two courses in world history for which she had made some preparation. After arriving here she found out she was teaching that plus two seminars—one on the international slave trade, the other on comparative international living standards. She was generously given twenty-four-hour notice to plan these courses, which were to be taught without texts and with the aid of whatever books we had brought in our suitcases. In addition she also agreed (was drafted!?) to give three all-college lectures on topics of her choice. All total her teaching load is eleven plus hours a week. She is one tired instructor.
Peter had prepared for the teaching of comparative economic systems, including obtaining textbooks and preparing lecture notes. All for naught! After we arrived here at the college he found out all of a sudden (two days’ notice) that he was teaching three courses—micro-economics, macro-economics, and computer applications, none of which, of course, he had prepared for. This caused an emergency crash review and refamiliarization of brain cells thought long in retirement.
He is also helping to try to bring online the new computer lab for instructional purposes. The initial step was unpacking the shipping container containing over a hundred boxes of all kinds of donated computers from the USA. This included every conceivable old (they were donated after all) computer known, from early CP/M systems to Northgate to Commodore to 808688 XTs to 286s, to early Apples, etc., with attendant old monitors, keyboards, and dot-matrix printers of every description. This included four different and, of course, incompatible monitor cable assignments and three different, and again, of course, incompatible keyboard cable pin assignments, etc. We had forgotten, until now, how chaotic the beginning of the computer revolution was.
Collegial relations are proving something of a challenge. Although all instruction is in English and the Tanzanian faculty speak it fluently, most business discussions and all social conversation is in Swahili. The other European faculty, two Scandinavian missionaries and a University of Minnesota intern, have been in the country for several years and so speak it well. This leaves us with our so far minimal comprehension of Swahili either to sink or swim, and some days we seem mostly to be sinking, with effective social interaction restricted almost entirely to whatever goes on in the classroom.
Getting information on the usual Tanzanian curriculum, teaching procedures, college policy, and the like often requires waiting for several days for an opportunity to catch the informant in a corner from which he cannot escape without answering the question. Clearly there are some cross-cultural considerations involved that we haven’t yet figured out. (In contrast, several of the college trustees are much more approachable and indeed take the initiative in bringing up issues of curriculum and teaching approaches, including discussing how to handle sensitive topics.)
We get to the campus each morning at 7:40 A.M. Hour-long classes are held from 8:00 A.M. to 1:20 P.M with a twenty-minute break for tea at 11:00. After midday chapel and the students’ main daily meal, classes resume from 2:30 to 4:30 P.M. The two daily staff rituals include meeting in a common room at 11:00 A.M. for tea, and, if we have not hitched a ride into town with someone leaving early, the midday meal in the common room at 1:30 P.M. Aside from a college duka—a small store that stocks packaged biscuits and unrefrigerated soda—the only food or beverage to be had on campus is what is prepared in the college kitchen, so faculty and students eat the same meal. The unvarying midday menu is boiled kidney beans (no seasoning) with rice twice per week; two days of ugali, also unseasoned (a coarse cornmeal boiled with water to the consistency of stiff cream of wheat, “small hominy” to colonial historians), with fish and a vegetable sauce; and three days of ugali and meat with a vegetable sauce. The fish are usually smoked and dried (and smelly), about the size of a white perch, and are boiled with tomatoes and onions. Fortunately boiling does remove the characteristic odor and they actually taste much better than they look. Meat is either small pieces of beef/sheep/goat??? stewed several hours into a chewable consistency or small pieces of roast pork. The vegetable sauce consists of finely chopped tomatoes, onions, and a green vegetable boiled with a lot of water. Beans and rice are usually eaten with a spoon, but ugali and its accompaniments are always eaten with the hands. Spoons are clearly not essential for consuming liquids. Consequently there is a ceremony of rinsing hands in plain water on entering and leaving the room.
One can have as much as he or she wants of rice or ugali; portions range from about two-and-a-half to four cups. The standard serving of meat, however (there are no seconds), is only two-to-three ounces, including bone, fat, and, in the case of pork, hide. The one exception is the acting principal (president) who, by virtue of office, is served a bowl containing about six ounces of meat and sauce every day, which he sometimes shares with the dean of students. Occasionally two of the Tanzanian women secretaries quietly protest this by serving themselves a spoonful of the principal’s meat when he is absent or late.
For breakfast the students have tea with milk and wheat bread. The evening meal (which thankfully we are not sharing since we have already eaten enough unseasoned beans, rice, and ugali to last a lifetime) consists of a piece of fruit and more rice or ugali with vegetable sauce. Currently that vegetable has almost invariably been cabbage, which most of the students detest; there have already been protests, including petitions, against excessive cabbage. From time to time some of the richer students buy some additional fruit or vegetables from neighboring farmers. This menu, we have learned, is typical of that eaten in the homes of Tanzanian families. There the blandness is partly a cultural choice, since cheap spices are widely available. The rest is largely a matter of economics, even for the top percentage of the population who make up the college community.
Working with the students is, of course, what makes this all worthwhile. The business and the theology schools have quite contrasting styles. The first-year business class, which we both teach, includes a goodly share of wheelers and dealers and naturally gifted politicians. Observing the dynamics as they begin to act together as a class and as group leaders emerge is fascinating. Although intellectually curious about many things, the one question around which they are focusing almost all their energies is HOW DO WE DEVELOP OUR COUNTRY? When turned onto a project, they are willing to do a tremendous amount of work. For a first report Lorena asked for a minimum of three pages; all turned in from six to thirteen.
Lorena is also teaching first-, second-, and third-year theology students. We had been led to believe most of these men and women would be provincial, narrowly focused on religion, and perhaps somewhat intolerant. (Small wonder, given that a group of Europeans, including some missionaries who are teaching at the college and hold an ecumenical worship service in English every other week, had to cancel a planned communion service when some could not accept a female pastor.) But if this was initially so, exposure to a college environment has been a truly liberalizing experience. At least the most talkative of the second- and third-year classes are extremely tolerant (as seems to us appropriate for a pluralistic society) and wide ranging in their interests. Their focus tends more towards ethical issues, but they see the world as complex and not a stark juxtaposition of true or false, right or wrong. As ministers-in-training, any are quite sensitive to the psychology of human interactions and are beginning to function in a pastoral role. They know when the teacher is feeling stressed or frustrated at the end of a difficult day and take the initiative in suggesting remedies and in offering support.
The college Board of Trustees are all Tanzanians and are at present mostly all Lutheran bishops. With the addition of the business administration curriculum they have agreed to expand the board to include some businessmen. Since they met the week the college opened and some were also present for a day in the week following, we have had opportunities to talk with several of them. Although they are having some problems coming to terms with the idea of having to admit non-Christian students now that the college is being upgraded to university status, they are tolerant of all but the most intolerant of other Christian denominations. Those we talked with were interested in developing a liberal curriculum, and proved willing to advise (and even to initiate discussion) on sensitive issues such as how a white non-African should approach teaching a seminar on the African slave trade.
Peter’s employment with the U.S. Postal Service, along with his close supervision of the restoration of our 1784 Connecticut house, precluded further teaching in Tanzania until after his retirement. When we first left Tanzania in 1969, assuming we would never return, we soon lost contact with teaching colleagues and students, the pressures of professional careers in the U.S. becoming all consuming. In 1996 we vowed not to repeat that omission, and so maintained close contact with the college administration and especially with the first-year business and theology students whom we had taught. We were able to return to Tanzania for three weeks in 1999 in order to attend the graduation of the first-year students we had taught in 1996. The college had planned an elaborate and joyous celebration. However, the death of the country’s first president, Julius Nyerere (Tanzania’s equivalent of George Washington), a few days before the scheduled graduation, threw the country into thirty days of deep mourning, so the graduation became a subdued and somber event.
Since independence Tanzania has remained an island of peace surrounded by countries in seemingly perpetual crisis. Much of the credit falls to Julius Nyerere, who had the good sense to step down at the height of power and to allow a functional democratic state to develop. Well-intended but failed economic policies were abandoned, and Tanzania is now growing steadily at a virtually unprecedented rate of five percent a year. Our students, however, are frustrated at what they perceive as unacceptably slow growth.
Beginning in 2002 we have returned to teach one term at Tumaini University every year, and consequently we can see astounding economic progress on every visit. The college has grown considerably since we came for graduation in 1999. Tumaini University now consists of three separate units: a previously established medical school and a Lutheran seminary in Arusha have become part of the University, as well as Iringa University College, where we teach. Faculties of law, journalism, and education have been added in the last four years. The campus is located near the top of a hill about six miles from the center of downtown Iringa and about four miles from where we live. Given the poor condition of the roads, the trip in our four-wheel drive Land Cruiser takes fifteen or twenty minutes each way. When it rains heavily, one has to choose between slithering down a slippery, deeply rutted muddy road and crossing an adjoining stream on a narrow one-lane bridge that is sometimes partly under water; or approaching from the other direction, sliding down a deeply rutted mud road and fording the stream on a ground level crossing somewhat reinforced with rocks. Peter keeps trying different routes depending on the amount of mud, washed-out sections, and raging streams. And after every rain, which is often, he has to switch to four-wheel drive several times along the short route.
We find it perfectly natural to encounter herds of cattle or goats grazing along city ditches or being driven down the middle of the street, sometimes by a small boy, sometimes by an adolescent with a portable radio on his shoulder. Outside our office at the college there are often neighboring farmers’ goats and donkeys grazing on unguarded university grass. The donkeys are used to transport bags of charcoal down from the mountains and occasionally to carry produce to market. Each morning’s drive to the college involves dodging them as well as dogs, chickens, goats, and cattle, all of which suppose they have the right of way over the occasional passing vehicle.
At present the physical plant consists of a large main building with a domed central meeting hall/chapel that seats 400 and four radiating classroom wings; an administration building with faculty offices; a service building for storage of equipment and food, with rooms for food preparation and open pot cooking over charcoal fueled ovens; several men’s dorms and women’s dorms (separate), each with four eight-quad rooms apiece, four of them dedicated just two weeks ago with a group of sponsoring (dormfunding) Lutherans from Minnesota—three bishops, church choir, brass band, etc.; a huge library with a large computer lab, and sadly, lots of open shelving awaiting everything other than theology books; an auditorium-classroom building for about 250, awaiting audio-visual equipment; an Olympic-size outdoor basketball court; and a soccer field. The buildings are all brick or brick and stone, with concrete floors and sheet metal roofs; the central and administration buildings are whitewashed inside and out. Work crews are also busy each day building retaining walls and walks around the main buildings and planting trees and flower beds.
Given the conditions and resources with which they had to work, the plant is an outstanding achievement, a joint tribute to the vision and facilitating skills of the technical adviser and to the expertise of the local Tanzanian contractor. The buildings are attractive, well-designed, and soundly built. They are quite adequate as physical facilities, and the entire cost of the university has come in under budget and at an unbelievably low sum of less than two million dollars. Everything possible has been made on site and from local materials, and most work is done entirely by hand. The main building, for example, went up before there was any water available at the site; to mix the concrete, the contractor hired thirty women to head carry water a quarter of a mile uphill from a nearby stream. Upon the arrival of the dry season, it became clear that a recently dug well had to be deepened; a man, standing on the bottom, knee-deep in water, shovels mud and rocks into a tin container that he hands up to another perched precariously on a homemade ladder. It takes an incredible store of ingenuity to get anything done, much less finished on schedule in such circumstances, but it does get done! The entire facility was built for what one relatively simple college building would cost in the U.S.
What keeps drawing us back to Tumaini, however, is not the surroundings, but the students. Since less than one percent of the population makes it to university level, we are teaching the best of the best. It can only be described as a teacher’s paradise. Students volunteer for extra work; most have very high IQs. The Swahili word for teacher, Mwalimu, is the second highest title of respect one can have in Tanzanian culture, following only the word for honored elder—Mzee—and with our gray hair we therefore get double highest respect!
As the university has become more established and has gained accreditation, it is attracting students who are better prepared than many of those we taught before. Of course it also helps that this is the second term for first-year students, and not the first. There seem to be far fewer in our classes who have great difficulty in understanding America-accented spoken English and whose Tanzanian English we find equally hard to make out.
The student body has also become much more diverse. The number of theology students has declined, as the poor economic condition of many of the rural dioceses has reduced the number of scholarships awarded. On the other hand, the law school has been expanding dramatically, out-numbering all the other majors. The first Muslim students were admitted two years ago. The transition from an exclusively Christian school to a pluralized one has gone much more smoothly than some of the faculty and Lutheran bishops who used to be on the board of trustees anticipated. The students themselves seem to be having no problems getting along and respecting each other. There are also many students from Burundi who are getting outside assistance due to their refugee status. For them English is at least their fourth language, after their ethnic language, then French, which was the language of instruction in their Burundi secondary schools, and finally Kiswahili, which they had to learn to get by in Tanzania. Somehow they have survived genocide, the loss of both parents, if not their whole family, the constricted life of a U.N. refugee camp in a remote part of Tanzania—some having been interned since 1986—and have still managed to get an education and to qualify for university admission.
The college has now been in session one week, but so far we have not met many of our classes, as course allocations and the class timetable are not yet finalized, and a number of the students have yet to arrive on campus. Courses are not assigned to the faculty until the Friday before Monday classes theoretically begin, as it is not known until then what teachers will actually be present at the University (some take other jobs, some may be sick, and foreign volunteers might cancel at the last moment), whether non-citizens who are teaching on a salary have obtained the necessary work permits, etc. Some students are simply late, but others are still out trying to raise enough money to pay this term’s tuition. We find losing one out of a total of ten teaching weeks most frustrating. But at least we have had time to construct course outlines and to prepare some initial lectures.
Peter is teaching macro and micro economics to twenty-eight first-year business students. The students have only used textbooks, in the library, with no more than two copies of any edition by any one author. Most are a hodgepodge of single copies of textbooks donated by individuals who last took an economics course in the 1980s or earlier. Texts that Peter does have the students use have to be put on reserve and shared by all of them. There are no individual textbooks, and even if any were available, which they’re not, the students would not be able to afford them.
Lorena has a research methodology course with five second-year journalism students, who are turning out to be an articulate and interesting group, and is supervising final-year theses for a yet to be determined number of third-year journalism students. Her third course is the second of three terms of African history theoretically required for first-year students. For reasons that are not exactly clear (even to the single, permanent historian on the Tumaini faculty, who designed the course sequence), the first of the three terms was not taught as scheduled last term. The historian, one of the stronger faculty members, is a retired professor from the University of Dar es Salaam. (Speaking of a small world, he and Lorena both began their first teaching jobs in 1968 and at the same place, Rungwe Secondary School near Tukuyu, Tanzania.) So now Lorena is teaching all the first-year law, journalism, and business students “Africa 1500 to 1880.” It is something of a daunting prospect trying to teach effectively to a class of 107 freshmen who have had almost no prior experience with history. It is especially daunting as these 107 must share the total of twelve African history textbooks (five editions by four different authors) that are in the library, supplemented by sixteen copies of a rather poor, outdated World History text, and single copies of a few other more specialized works.
On Monday January 6 (the opening day of classes), we finally found out the courses we would be teaching. Peter has the same assignment as last year, teaching macro and micro economics courses to thirty-four first-year business administration students. Of course that assignment of thirty-four lasted exactly one week, when nine unexpected Burundian refugee students suddenly appeared unannounced in his class, increasing his total to forty-three students. He doesn’t mind, however, since his experience with several Burundian students last year showed that Burundians are generally the crème de la crème of students anywhere.
Lorena is teaching two sections of research methodology to a total of 143 second-year journalism and second- and third-year law students and is also assisting in two sections of a development studies course with an enrollment of 170. The second-year journalism and law students were in her classes last year, so she starts out knowing part of the group. Library resources remain extremely scarce, although the University has now benefited tremendously from the services of a volunteer professional librarian, and we could have been much better prepared had we been told what we would be doing prior to our arrival—but we know that somehow we will manage and have a rewarding time doing so. The big smiles on the faces of many of Lorena’s and Peter’s former students when they first come into the classroom and learn she is again teaching their class are more than enough to offset the periodic frustrations we encounter here from lack of communication and lack of resources.
In their third year, each student is required to conduct an independent research project and to write a research paper, equivalent in format and length to a master’s thesis. All the students in Lorena’s classes had to prepare a detailed research proposal by the end of the term. She gave them the option of submitting a draft proposal early for detailed comments and suggestions for revisions. She anticipated that twenty or so would choose to submit two proposals. In fact eighty-eight of the 142 did so, ensuring that she was exceptionally busy in the last half of the term. In addition to time spent in the classroom and in reading drafts and grading the proposals, her initial six office hours a week turned into more than twenty near the end of the term. However, the need for so much individual direction provided an unusual opportunity for learning about the issues and topics of current concern in Tanzania and for getting to know many of the students personally, and so was unusually rewarding. Special thanks are due to those colleagues back in the U.S. who helped with lists of internet resources. Given the lack of current books and journals in the college library, internet resources are all the more critical.
The first Friday in February has become the major student event of the year at the university, the Tumaini Night of Talent (TNT). This evening of public entertainment, which is now in its third year, lasts from around 8:00 P.M. to at least 1:00 A.M. (we only lasted until 11:30), and is organized and produced entirely by the students. TNT combines individual and group song, dances, and a fashion show, with hard-hitting skits designed to raise consciousness about the causes and means of preventing AIDS. In addition to students and some faculty, members of the local community and students from area high schools attend.
The students solicit contributions from faculty members to help cover the expenses of building a temporary stage in the multipurpose hall, renting stage lights, and hiring a disk jockey and professional sound system. The program includes elements of a broad range of Tanzanian culture, everything from traditional tribal songs and dances to current Swahili rap and rock music, modern interpretative dance, rock groups, and current pop songs in English. The event reveals to us how much the student body has changed from our first term of teaching in 1996, when half of them were theology students. The evening is far from sober and dignified, but the commitment to conveying a serious message keeps the event in balance. Still we suspect some good Minnesota Lutheran sponsors might be taken aback at some of the more sexually explicit anti-AIDS performances.
Foremost among those performing traditional dances are the Burundian students, who are the closest knit ethnic group on the campus. This event is one of the few opportunities they have for cultural expression. The Maasai were represented this year by a group of Lutheran evangelists called “The Wandering Shepherds” (assistants to pastors, somewhat like deacons) who are attending a special two-year training program at the college. Usually dignified, courteous, and gentle in demeanor, their vigorous dance revealed an entirely different aspect of their culture. Finally a troupe of professional drummers and dancers performed dances and music of coastal groups.
The quality of the performances among those students who performed modern songs and dances is exceptionally high; several are close to being professionals. The women dressed elegantly in evening gowns, while some of the men choose pop star attire. As the evening wore on and enthusiasm among the audience built up, guests began jumping onto the stage to dance with the performers and to shower the women with 1000 shilling ($1) notes and girls to stuff bills into the shirts of the more attractive men.
The feature event of TNT is the humorous but serious drama, “Three Bananas,” warning of the dangers of contracting AIDS. Although performed in Kiswahili, no translation is required. In it a prostitute successively visits a village elder, a student, and a jock (hence the three bananas). While the three men are boasting of their exploits, a fourth man appears who is in distress as he has just discovered he is HIV positive. The realization slowly sinks in that they have all been exposed through their connection with the same prostitute and neither age, nor intelligence, nor strength is any defense.
Another unanticipated event of the kind that makes living and working in Tanzania so special was the ordination of a volunteer teacher from Denmark, Neils Erickson. In the Lutheran Church, in order to be ordained, a person must not only graduate from a seminary but also be called as a minister by some particular church. However, Neils, after completing a doctorate in divinity, has since been working with Iranian refugees in Denmark rather than as a regular pastor. When some members of the Tumaini faculty learned of this, it was decided that the Tumaini University church should issue a formal call so that he could be ordained in Iringa.
Never having attended any ordinations before, we knew nothing about the content of such ceremonies. Our housemate, Reverend Chuck Claus, told us that the installations of Lutheran ministers in which he had participated in the U.S. were formal, solemn, quiet affairs, usually attended only by church officials and relatives of the initiate. But in Tanzania an ordination is an important, joyful occasion that calls for celebration by the entire community. Although it was scheduled to start in the college chapel at 7:00 P.M., nothing much happened until 8:00, since the installing bishop of the Iringa Diocese arrived late. (This was to be expected, since the bishop hardly ever arrives on time for any event—even he predicts he will be late for his own funeral!) By then the chapel, which was decorated in swathes of red and white cloth—the church colors for ordination services and also, by coincidence, the colors of the Danish flag—was filled to capacity, with the two university choirs, a group of Maasai evangelists in traditional dress (the “wandering shepherds”), regular students, faculty, and more Danish missionaries and teachers at a school for children of Danish missionaries throughout Tanzania than we had any idea were living in and around Iringa.
At last the service began with a noisy, triumphal procession into the chapel led by the diocesan brass band, followed by Bishop Mdegella (resplendent in his red and gold cloak and miter and his gold crozier), the brightly-robed assistant bishop, Neils, and the twenty-eight installing Lutheran ministers, all in white robes with red stoles, a combination of faculty from the theology department, local Tanzanian pastors from various churches in Iringa, and visiting Lutheran ministers from Minnesota.
The multinational ordination service was conducted—at times sequentially and at times simultaneously—in Danish, Swahili, English, and Maa (the wandering shepherds’ Maasai language). The solemn reading of the ordination liturgy by the bishop and the twenty-eight installing clergy was interspersed with songs from the Maasai evangelists and the college choirs, the latter accompanied by an electric organ, electric guitars, drums, and the diocese’s brass band. At one point the bishop took off his miter and cloak, borrowed an electric guitar from one of the gospel choir members, and led the audience in a rendition of “This Little Light of Mine.” The ceremony concluded with everyone in the audience marching down to congratulate the new pastor, to the accompaniment of the two choirs and the brass band, and ululations from the female onlookers. At the same time, the wandering shepherds were singing and performing a Maasai dance that involves leaping several feet straight up into the air, while some Wahehe (the local ethnic group) clergy were stamping and clapping in one of their traditional dances. So ended what turned out to be only the first segment of a multipart college community celebration.
Next came the baptism of a first-year law student. This son of a Moslem father and a Christian mother had been raised as a Moslem, with the understanding that at majority he could choose for himself between the two religions. Once in college, he chose to become a Christian, a decision that both parents accepted. The baptism, performed by the bishop and the newly ordained pastor, concluded with songs by the two choirs, music from the brass band, leaping Maasai and stamping Wahehe, and fellow students dancing down the aisles to shower the convert with flowers and green boughs. The full service concluded with communion served by the now thirty-one officiating clergy. And naturally it ended with a joyous exiting procession led by the brass band, bishop, clergy, the university choirs, and dancing Maasai evangelists. Although now quite late, everyone stopped in the faculty seminar room for soft drinks and conversation before returning home. Only in Tanzania can we imagine an event such as this occurring.
Upon our return to the college, we found the administration in greater disarray than usual. They were supposed to be expanding the faculty this year, and instead eight current instructors quit, some just as classes started. The law students threatened to go on strike just before the middle of October, as many of the required classes were not being held due to the lack of teachers and all of the second-year class’s courses were being taught by part-time instructors. They have recalled the head of the law department, who had been granted a year’s leave to finish his dissertation, and are now scrambling to schedule extra make-up classes. Meanwhile Peter’s dean intended for him to teach an additional course in international trade for second-year business administration students, but no one ever told him until we had been here for almost two weeks and then just one hour before they expected him to begin lecturing. Of course, not knowing about this, he had left all his textbooks and lecture notes on international trade back home.
Lorena is teaching two sections on doing research in the library and on the internet. Thanks to the generosity of the Federal Reserve Board of Minneapolis, which donated thirty nearly new identical computers that they were replacing, as well as aid from the Finnish government, the university now has a state-of-theart computer lab that rivals those of many colleges in the U.S. It is a great teaching facility, assuming there is electrical power and that the internet is running, which one can of course never assume. Given the critical shortage of print materials, internet resources are crucial for students to have access to up-to-date materials. But with a total library acquisitions budget of around $2,000 per year, paid subscriptions to internet resources are out of the question. Consequently one of her main tasks is to locate good Web Sites that have free materials.
Since we could not come for the full semester, in order to cover all the course material we had to schedule two extra hours of make-up instruction per week on top of the three hours per week we are scheduled to teach for each course. Not only are most of the students showing up for the make-up classes, but when one two-hour make-up class was cancelled due to a holiday (Eid el Fitr), the students came and requested that additional class time be arranged to compensate for the missed make-up class. It’s difficult to imagine this happening at any U.S. college. This term classes are being taught at the college from 8:00 a.m.to 6:30 p.m. every day but Thursday, when afternoons are reserved for faculty meetings and guest lectures, and there are now a few classes taught on Saturday by part-time instructors who have other full-time jobs. Keeping students who have been sitting in classes since 8:00 a.m. awake, much less interested, in a two-hour lecture scheduled for 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. is definitely a challenge. Lorena has been blessed with two such late afternoon classes, but for the computer labs she has trouble getting the students to leave when the class is scheduled to be over.
The number of students attending Tumaini has doubled since last year, creating a predictably chaotic situation. Until this year the Tanzanian government had offered college student loans only to those attending government run universities. Last year the law was changed, and ten-year interest-free government loans have been made available to qualified students who wish to attend any university, including private ones like Tumaini. Last year there were a total of about 550 students at Tumaini. The sudden availability of loans produced a surge in applications, and with the expanding competition of another private college which just opened in Iringa this year, the administration decided to admit 700 new first-year applicants. Long range planning is not this administration’s strong suit, so when the semester began the second week in September, the college was lacking enough dorm space, classrooms, dining facilities, computers, faculty, faculty offices, textbooks, desks, chairs, you name it. The library, for example, is so crowded and packed with students from morning to night that it is almost impossible to get to the (open) stacks to get a book. In fact everywhere we turn, we seem to have wall-to-wall students. And to think that at one time (1997–1999, with a declining enrollment) the administration and the college founders thought seriously about whether the college would survive or might have to close its doors because of a lack of students and faculty.
Further contributing to the chaos is the fact that when students are granted government loans—and applicants are being informed piecemeal—the government first gives room and board money to the student and then later pays the university for tuition and student activity fees. So the registrar does not officially register students until the university gets its tuition money. Consequently, even when we arrived in early November (six weeks after the beginning of the semester), the size and composition of classes were not yet established. Those in business, law, and the new faculty of anthropology and tourism are so large (from 90 to more than 150) that instructors can’t know all the students. More are attending classes than are officially registered. Some of them have been granted loans and are legitimately attending classes, but are not yet officially registered because the university has not received payment from the government. Others have neither loans nor other funds to pay tuition, but are living somewhere off campus and are attending classes and doing assignments on the off chance that they can raise the tuition money before the beginning of final exams at the end of the term. Two months into the semester, the administration has had little success in keeping the merely aspiring students out of the classrooms.
The explosion of students has also meant that local entrepreneurs are finding more opportunities to start businesses catering to students. There is a veritable building boom going on in the areas around the campus, with scores of houses going up in places that were mostly open fields with a scattering of mud brick huts along the main roads only a few years ago. Now local people are building scores of substantial modern brick houses, many with one or more attached apartments or sleeping rooms, with the aim of renting them as faculty housing and/or student apartments or dorms. A campus dining hall is in the process of being built, but won’t be finished until next year. Meanwhile, two years ago, when students tired of the food being provided by the university kitchen and which they had to eat in their dorm rooms or else outside in the open, they demanded and got the equivalent of a campus food court with various entrepreneurs setting up open air “fast food” restaurants on or near the campus. Telephone call centers and bars are also sprouting up.1
Too many students and too few classrooms have unfortunately also meant the demise of two very important daily rituals that kept the faculty and staff connected with, and in communication with, each other—the 10:00 to 10:20 a.m. morning tea and the 1:30–2:30 p.m. faculty-staff lunch. In order to fit in all the scheduled classes into the available classrooms, classes now run from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (and some later in the evening and on Saturdays) with only a five-minute break between. The faculty dining/seminar room has been turned into a classroom. Administrators are served tea in their offices, but faculty and staff have to grab a cup of tea from a supply closet between 10:00 and 11:00 a.m., should they be lucky enough not to have a class, and then drink it in their offices or else standing around or sitting outside on a wall. This means the administrators are seldom if ever seen, and faculty members have little or no opportunity to talk with one another.
Not surprisingly there is no shortage of students in our classrooms. Peter is teaching micro and macro economics to (approximately, he’s never quite sure!) 154 first-year students (where’s the graduate assistant when you really need him/her?). He had also expected (and had prepared himself) to teach an upper level course in international trade. However, it turns out the university had recently hired a new lecturer to teach that course, but of course the dean of business administration had not bothered to inform him of the change. Lorena has (again, the number is approximate) sixty-five first-year journalism majors in her library and internet research courses. A number of them are experienced journalists who have taken advantage of the government loans to further their education, so they are a stimulating group to teach. Since the ICT lab has only thirty computers, it fortunately proved possible to divide her class into two separate sections. Peter did not have that option, as there are no large classrooms free.
Happily, there have been some high points this year. One was the country’s ninth presidential election since independence, in which Benjamin Mkapa, the incumbent leader, willingly stepped down after serving his two constitutionally permitted terms, and an immensely popular and charismatic successor, Jakaya Kikwete, succeeded him in a fair and peaceful contest.
The second highpoint occurred on Saturday, January 14, when we went to Maguliwa, a village twenty-eight kilometres from Iringa, to attend the dedication of a new secondary school. It is one of the Ujamaa villages formed during the socialist period. The collective farms have now been abandoned and people have again spread out to live near their own plots. Kastory Madage, one of the business administration students whose studies we sponsored at Tumaini, was among only a very few village residents who made it through secondary school, let alone college. But since there were no schools nearby, he attended a government boarding school in another part of Iringa District. He once explained that in the 1990s, during school holidays when he was usually unable to find paying work, the biggest contribution he could make to his family was not to go home, so that he could avoid burdening his aging parents with an extra mouth to feed. Today Maguliwa is still a poor village composed almost entirely of impermanent mud-brick and thatch houses; with Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches; only a primary school; no electricity; few social services; a very few of the most rudimentary six foot by six foot mud or wooden dukas selling soda, candy, and little else; and a three-hour walk along a deeply rutted mud track to the nearest dala dala (mini bus) stop. The many children whom we encountered, barefoot, in ragged, infrequently-washed clothing, and the bibis (grandmothers) also barefoot, stooped from years of hard manual labour, and with few remaining teeth, were further evidence of how hard life in this village remains.
Nonetheless the gathering was among the most promising developments we have witnessed in Tanzania. Evaristo Sanga, a former Maguliwa resident and one of Kastory’s primary and secondary school classmates, was fortunate enough to find an American sponsor who paid for his education in the U.S. Evaristo subsequently married a Minnesotan and is now living and working in Minnesota as a computer programmer. But unlike many who manage to escape a life of poverty in a developing country, he has not forgotten where he came from. Evaristo’s dream was to raise enough money to start a private secondary school in his home village. Enlisting the help of Minnesotan Lutheran churches, he succeeded in raising $91,000, of which $69,000 was required to get the school started. Kastory soon became involved, donating time and money and handling a lot of the Tanzanian side of the project. He helped to arrange the donation of land for the school from the village elders, got the villagers involved in building the school, and supervised some of the construction. When we agreed to sponsor Kastory in 1996, we told him we expected that he would continue to live in Tanzania after he graduated and to contribute to the development of his country. However, we hardly expected that he would be making such a substantial contribution within just five years of completing his undergraduate studies.
The village donated a plot of sixty acres that includes all the abandoned collective farm buildings, several of which could be rehabilitated for classrooms, a meeting hall, temporary dormitories, and faculty housing. Only a girls’ dormitory and kitchen and dining room had to be built from scratch.
The villagers also contributed building materials, did much of the construction work, and are highly involved in the running of the school. All the surrounding villages that will be sending children to the school, for example, agreed to manufacture and donate, for a period of six consecutive years, 4,000 bricks a year.
Attractive desks, chairs, and beds, paid for mostly by contributions from the U.S., are all made in an adjoining village. The school had just opened the first week of January with about fifty first-year students; next year two first-year streams of thirty-five students each will be admitted. The children come from both Maguliwa and a number of surrounding villages. The fund-raising efforts have included provision for ten scholarships a year for five boys and five girls from Maguliwa village whose families cannot afford the fees of $80 per year tuition for day students or $300 per year for tuition plus room and board. Additional classrooms and dormitories will be built over the next few years to accommodate second, third, and fourth year classes.
What impressed us far most was the high level of community involvement, enthusiasm, and intense sense of pride in what had been accomplished. Not only was the village chairman present, but also local leaders of CCM (the ruling political party), leaders of village men’s and women’s groups, ministers, primary school teachers, and former village residents. A few of the speakers prefaced their comments with the traditional religious revivalist greeting, Bwana Sifiwa (Praise the Lord). But most started out with a rousing “Maguliwa Oyee”– enthusiastically repeated by the audience, and roughly translated as “Maguliwa, Hooray!”– expressing community pride and solidarity.
Several groups or individuals presented additional funds raised for further scholarships and future expansion. The villagers themselves contributed $3,400, an astounding amount for people so painfully poor. Another contribution was offered by a former village resident who now operates a successful trucking firm in Dar es Salaam. The money came from this businessman and fifty-one other former Maguliwans now living in Dar, who meet in bi-weekly or monthly meetings to discuss what they can do to address the problems facing village residents. We think there are few other examples in which an investment of less than $100,000 has sufficed to build an entire secondary school, recruit an initial faculty and student body, mobilize a whole village, and still have $22,000 left over for future expansion. (To learn more about the school project, visit their Web Site: www.maguschool.org.)
As the end of the 2005–2006 term approached, we came to a most difficult and painful decision. The university has grown very successfully since our first time instructing here in 1996. It was then a struggling school of approximately 200 students and faced declining enrollment in the following two years. One-third of the teaching staff were expatriates of American and European origin, the majority of the administration staff of American origin. Theology had the only fully staffed faculty, the business administration program was just beginning, and there was no library. Only ten percent of the students were female; there were no Moslem students; and morning and lunch-time Lutheran chapel services were required. Now in 2006 Tumaini University has grown to more than 1,300 students (2,000 projected for next year), with one-third to one-half of the student body female; with less than ten percent of the faculty consisting of non-African expatriates (a total of five, and we’re forty percent of that!), with the administration staff 100 percent Tanzanian; with eight faculties (in order from largest to smallest—law, business administration, education, journalism, tourism, anthropology, theology, and counselling), and the beginning of an agriculture school and extension service; with a multi-religious student body and no required chapel (for example, 300 Roman Catholic and 200 Moslem students, truly reflecting the diversity of Tanzanian society); with exchange students from California; with a Masters degree program in Business (and more to follow in other disciplines). Tumaini University has certainly arrived!
However, we have decided that our time here at Tumaini University should draw to a close. There are many reasons. The university’s changing from a three-month term system to a five-month semester system in 2003 has created many problems, since Lorena’s employer is (not unreasonably) willing to grant her only three month’s unpaid leave per year. Even if that were not the case, the difficulties, on the U.S. end, of regularly making arrangements for being out of the country for more than three months every year are formidable. On the Tanzanian side, for the last two years we have managed to compensate for our arriving six to eight weeks into the semester by scheduling extra classes to make up the required number of contact hours. But we have had to work very hard to cover all the material in the course syllabuses, while still ensuring that we are not moving too fast for the almost exclusively first-year students we’ve been teaching to truly understand the material. With a two-week break between Christmas and New Year’s and several other Tanzanian national holidays (that all seem to be crowded into the November–January period), this has posed quite a challenge. The inclusion of a longer Christmas holiday break in the 2006–2007 calendar would preclude our returning to teach at the end of 2006.
There is simply no way that we can fit in, on the one side, Lorena’s professional commitments in the U.S. in September and October, and enough days of teaching time in November, December, and January. The possibilities for arranging, after a gap of one or more years, coming to teach at any time other than the beginning of a semester seem remote indeed. There have been problems enough making arrangements across nine months. In addition, until the university is well enough established to enlarge the faculty substantially, most first-year classes will have between 100 and 200 students. This is just too many to allow us to get to know more than a handful personally or to give out (and mark) weekly written assignments to ensure that students do their homework and have understood the material well enough to apply it. Nor does amphitheatre-style teaching and anonymous multiple-choice testing allow us to engage in the close mentoring of students, both poor and promising, that has up to now been the key to whatever successes we have had in our classrooms.
But what an adventurous time it has been! We have been to Tanzania eight times, Tumaini seven times, six of those times to teach, missed five Christmas seasons with our families, crossed the Equator twenty-two times, caught malaria three times, ridden on steamboats and railroads built in the era of Kaiser Bill’s German Empire, ridden in the back of a pick-up truck in a driving rainstorm for 110 miles sitting on bales of dried fish, etc., etc. In fact, as it turns out, we have spent more than seven percent or almost 3 years of our married life in Tanzania. For the last few years, each time we have travelled to Iringa from Dar, and, after a long, often hot and tiring journey, have driven up the final escarpment outside town and turned onto the wide main street, it has felt as much like coming home as does turning onto Knowles Road when we come back to Middle Haddam. During the more than nineteen months we have lived in Iringa, we have formed many lasting friendships, both with permanent residents of the town and with other expatriate volunteers now returned to their home countries, profoundly changed, as we have been, from living and working in Tanzania.
But most especially, we have had the privilege of teaching almost 900 future leaders of Tanzania. One of the greatest rewards has been following the subsequent careers of Tumaini graduates. With so few university-trained people in the country, these graduates are in a unique position to contribute to nation building, and contributing they are. Among business administration graduates we have taught, one man is an I.T. consultant for the Tanzanian Coffee Research Institute and teaches computer classes throughout the country. Another is the marketing director of a Dar es Salaam bank, two others are branch managers and loan officers of a micro finance organization granting small business loans to poor women, and an exceptionally gifted Burundian refugee is an economics instructor at the university. One woman graduate is the treasurer of a secondary school and another employed by an international agency promoting rural development. An outstanding journalism student conducted award-winning research on the factors promoting the spread of AIDS in a district hard hit by the disease, which helped to secure international assistance for that district. Subsequently he was the national media director for the winning presidential candidate in the 2005 election. Another journalism graduate has become a major international reporter (AFP) on politics in Zanzibar, while two Burundian journalists have returned there to work for the reconstruction of their country. A talented woman law student has interned with the (Rwanda) International War Crimes Tribunal in Arusha, and other law graduates are now serving as magistrates and states attorneys in districts throughout the country. One young theology graduate’s first posting was to a poor rural area with 7,000 parishioners and ten churches where he has acted not only as a pastor, but also as an educator and rural development officer. Finally, we know of several Tumaini graduates who are planning to stand for Parliament in the next election.
Without a doubt these and other students like them were, and are, the best students anyone could possibly ever have to teach. Throughout the years they have been the motivating force behind everything we have done here. Most times they were the sole reason we kept coming back. As Peter’s nephew Chris, who is a middle school-secondary school teacher back home in Connecticut, told us after visiting Tanzania two years ago and spending several days with Tumaini students, “If all students were like Tumaini students, everyone in the world would want to be a teacher.”
We have gotten our final exams written and duplicated and are now in the middle of our last week in Iringa. Only marking the exams, turning in final grades, and packing remains. The many farewells with students and friends have begun, and the thought of leaving is saddening. Even on days when it rains, between showers, Iringa town has what Wazungus (European tribe) from less favorable climates call “Iringa weather”—warm, but not hot, sunny, with a light breeze, low humidity, and pure white clouds floating in an intensely blue sky. Knowing we’re returning to a couple of months of snow, ice, and being cooped up in our Connecticut house, we are spending as much time as possible out on our porch savoring the view of the valley, enjoying the flowers, and watching birds, several sorts of mongooses, and other wildlife.
More than likely we are not done with Tanzania—or Tanzania is not done with us. We are looking into property fronting the Indian Ocean near Dar es Salaam on to which to build a winter retirement home. We are also investigating whether there are schools or colleges there with different schedules that might be able to use experienced volunteers. And, even if all this should fall through, we will occasionally return for weddings and visits to former students as we continue to trace their lives and progress throughout the years.
So as we come to the end of this series of Adventures in Teaching in Tanzania, we close with a farewell statement from one of our students:
“Kwa heri, safari njema, asante sana, na karibu tena!”—Good bye, have a good journey, thank you very much, and welcome back!
1. Two further indicators of Tanzania’s rapid economic development that we have noticed: First, back-to-school shopping. In primary and secondary schools the school calendar starts in early January, and school uniforms are mandatory. Driving from Dar to Iringa in late December, we observed that several village tailors were putting out big displays of already made school uniforms on wooden scaffolding outside their shops, something we had not seen before except for a few (upscale) places in Dar es Salaam. And second, the building of built-in one-car garages. Until the last six weeks we had never lived in, nor so much as been at, a house in Iringa that has any sort of garage. So to our surprise we discovered that most new middle class houses started in Iringa in 2005 include an attached one-car garage in their floor plans. At this point there is nothing leading to the house sites that anyone in the U.S. would classify as a proper driveway, much less a road, and most of the owners are arriving at their plots by foot or bicycle. What a reflection of rising expectations!