Teaching in Tanzania – The Impacts: Part 2

I really can’t believe how fast 3 weeks flew by. Looking back, it feels like just a figment of my memory now. It was truly so humbling to witness them learning and growing and to know I made an impact. Although the purpose of me being there was to teach the children, not only did I wind up teaching the teachers too, but they all taught me as well.

 My impact on the students:

  • I helped contribute to a more efficient learning environment for the kids by separating them by age into two classrooms.
  • The kids were memorizing machines but struggled with reading and identifying the letters out of chronological order. So to help them learn rather than just memorize, I did fun exercises to show the difference in c & e, t & f, m & n, w & v. Did you ever notice how similar the lower case letters are? I didn’t.
  • I inspired a boy to come out of his shell, to feel comfortable at school and I earned his trust. Pesquali was extremely timid, didn’t smile and obviously fearful of the other children (and me). It wasn’t long before he was smiling and playing with the other kids and smiling around me! This was one of my most proud achievements from teaching.
  • I introduced them to the wheel barrow out at break (recess).
  • I made learning to read and identify letters fun. I brought in flash cards with 3-5 letter words on them and if they correctly identified the letters or words, they were given another card. They were motivated to read because they were so excited to get another card. It was like I was giving out candy.
  • I gave them their first peanut butter sandwich. Ever. On my second to last day, as a Thank You to them, I made PB sandwiches for all 40+ kids. I wanted to give apples, but even I couldn’t afford them. It tore at my heart to know that while these kids are so verbally grateful for a half of a PB sandwich, the kids back home are asking for unnecessary junk like iphones and video games.
  • I gave individual attention to each child. I walked around the room to check their work and to give individual attention to each student. Depending on their level, I would give them harder problems to keep them challenged. One day, Violet was clearly struggling doing math. She copied down the problems backwards and left the answers blank. I asked her to stay in for break and we went over the problems together. When she got up to leave, she grinned as she thanked me in Kiswahili. She was clearly grateful that I took the time to help her and was proud of herself for successfully completing the problems.
  • I taught colors, shapes, animals, emotions, family roles, and body parts.
  • I wrote the lyrics to Twinkle Twinkle Little Star on the board and while it took a lot of repetition and daily practice, they learned the song. It is one of my most prized videos.
  • I encouraged creativity. The kids are taught to memorize but sadly they are not encouraged to be creative. So, for an art project, I took photos of all the kids, printed them in town, glued them to a paper plate and hung yarn from the top. The kids started off by just copying my sample but I encouraged them to use the crayons, pom poms and googlie eyes to decorate however they wanted. My teacher loved it so much, she made one too and after class she had the Pastor come and drill holes in the wall to hang them around the room!
  • I taught them conversational social greetings and manners. When I gave them porridge and helped them apply glue for the plate project, I realized they were using their manners I had taught them. I did a silent jump for joy in my head.

My impact on the teachers:

  • Thanks to a friend, I had two Learning Swahili translation books with me, so I gave my teacher my second copy. She was so grateful, she teared up, hugged me and then instantly sat down and started flipping through the pages and looking up phrases. She carried that book with her everywhere she went.
  • I had the unique pleasure of teaching both students and teachers! Twice I stayed after class to teach my teachers more complex English than I was teaching the kids. They requested homework so I wrote out (no copy machine) multiple pages of worksheets full of verbs, adjectives, pronouns etc. for them to fill out. Once they did, we reviewed it together and I explained any corrections. They were clearly appreciative for the time I spent helping them.
  • Sister Mary adopted some of my teaching methods. She complimented my teaching and said, “congratulations on being a good teacher.” At the end, she said to me, “God bless you, you have been a wonderful teacher, taught much, and we will miss you. Asante sana.”

Hardest parts:

  • Not speaking the native language fluently. I felt helpless when I saw a child cry because I wasn’t able to understand what happened. I could console and hug them but I couldn’t do much more than that. It was also difficult to explain the lessons and directions so that they understood.
  • Disciplining: It was challenging to keep my cool when they were acting out. When the teacher was in the room, they’d be still but when she left, they would usually rebel. It is common for the teachers to hit the children as a means of discipline, however that was one cultural custom I was not about to embrace. It was difficult to not be able to fully communicate and still establish respect and authority.
  • New group of volunteers every 4 weeks. Each time a new volunteer starts, they tend to start from the beginning with ABC’S and Addition & Subtraction. This reset from the beginning does not help the kids learn and advance. I took time to figure out what they already knew so I could teach them new lessons, but likely, the volunteer after me with just start from the beginning, despite me leaving notes behind. The negative emotional and educational impact on the children from the turnover is enormous and very difficult for me to swallow.
  • The other volunteer at my placement with me. She caused me more stress than the lack of communication frustrations. She was not a native English speaker and I don’t think she should have been placed in a school setting. Despite my efforts to make sure she only taught math or geography, she still insisted on teaching vocabulary and English. She asked them, “How do you spell Butterfly?” but she spelled it “bAtterfly” on the board. Also, in Italy, they write “n” like we write “m” so she was teaching them that “m” was an “n.” Talk about confusing! This blew my lid. I wanted to be a stable mentor and stay with my class but she insisted on teaching both classes so she could play with everyone. I wasn’t there to play, I was there to help educate them and provide a stable mentor in an unstable situation. On top of the high turnover they already had with volunteers coming and going, if we switched, not only would we add to that, but we also would not know what the other taught and only cause more confusion and unrest. I felt I could be a better and more effective teacher if we each taught our own class. She broke the rules constantly and even told me not to care because I can’t change the world. BOO.
  • Missing them everyday. Their smiles, their gratitude, their zest to learn, their little hands holding mine and the way they would say Teacha! Teacha! or Mwalimu! (teacher) to get my attention.
  • My last day my teacher presented me with gifts and the kids sang me songs that made me tear up. The video below is highlight clips of the songs. They sang, “I love you so so much, Teacha Caryn…” (repeat) and The Well Done Song* Having the kids sing me these songs absolutely warmed my heart and filled me with joy and fulfillment. Mama Dennis also made me cry when she presented me with thank you gifts. The teachers gave me “A Get Well” card, a traditional Katanga wrap skirt and a beaded bracelet that said “Asante” (Thank you). The other volunteer was only given a card on her last day. (Mama confused Get well and Good luck. She tried! How adorable is that?!)
  • Saying goodbye: Saying goodbye to those munchkins was terribly difficult. Although I hope to return, to know I will likely never see them again is devastating. I wish I could keep in touch with them or take them home with me. I miss their love and affection and smiles.

It was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything. Not only did I have an impact on their lives, they had an impact on mine.

Their impact on me:

  • I walked away with a new understanding of what it means to be wealthy and truly happy, a new appreciation for life and increased sense of gratitude.
  • The kids had no sense of personal space and were always climbing, hugging or sitting on me. But this only made me feel more welcomed and part of the (very friendly) community.
  • Every time I took my camera out, the kids swarmed me and would shout, “Pitcha Pitcha!” and grab at my camera. They loved having their photos taken and seeing themselves in the digital screen. For the first two weeks, I didn’t let them touch the camera so only I took pictures. But then, I realized it was a good exercise for them to learn to share and not to fight or grab. And besides, what could really happen?  Turns out some of my favorite pictures are the ones that came out blurry from the kids who didn’t know how to center a subject or from Nardini who could have a future in photography. This taught me to let go, not be uptight and to trust.
  • They didn’t have complex toys or playgrounds. They were entertained by the simplest things, like my digital watch and bubbles. They’d pull on my arm and push the buttons constantly. They were content with having virtually nothing and wore the same ragged and holey clothes every.single.day. They entertained themselves with a straw basket and hand-me-down stuffed animals. This among with many other things, made me stop and appreciate the little things that we take for granted every day and don’t even notice anymore.
  • How to communicate without words or to find new ways of explaining things. You can’t keep repeating “book” if they don’t know what that word means.
  • What you plan, might not work out as planned.  A lesson you planned to take the whole day might only take 5 minutes and your backup plan might take even less. You have to be flexible and think on the fly. This is a lesson that is clearly applicable to many things in life.
  • I learned I am actually a great teacher with creative ideas and the ability to assess the kids’ needs and teach creative lessons on the spot. I also realized that teaching in America is completely different than teaching abroad and while I have more respect for teachers now, at this point in my life, teaching in America is not for me.
  • The true meaning of community. While the kids would be kids and argue occasionally, they looked out for each other. I would see the older ones kiss the younger ones (on the head), pick them up and even hold their hands. As a community, they were the most friendly and warm culture.
  • Being appreciative for the American school system. We have structure, defined grade levels and bountiful resources.
  • My teacher told me she made 50,000 Schillings a year which comes out to be $150 USD a year. Seeing how the teachers and kids get by with next to nothing really made me reevaluate the necessities in my life.
 I am sure I could go on but I’ll stop here. If you are still reading, I thank you. Please try to consider some of the lessons that I learned and see how you can apply them to your life. If I can take my experience and touch or influence at least one reader, I will be extremely grateful and humbled. This experience was one of the most rewarding and life-changing experiences I have ever had and I hope that I am able to continue to make a difference in peoples lives.
I was told, You are just one person and only here for 3 weeks. You can’t change the world. Maybe I didn’t change the world but I know they had an impact on me and I know I had an impact on my teachers and at least one, maybe several of the kids and THAT means the world to me.  One person really can make a difference.

*The Well Done Song- they shook their hips to the music and sang this every time a child did a good job on something. Watching the girls shake their little hips with attitude was probably the most adorable thing ever. It went, “Well done, Well done, Teacher Caryni.. you are the besty!” (they add the Y sound to the end of some words)

**Karibu Tena translates to You are welcome back again.

***I’m not sure what happened that caused the video to be blurry. Blurry or not, they are still adorable.

**** I promise the next post won’t be this long

my moshi movie from Caryn Levy on Vimeo.

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Let’s look at the world a little differently

I first saw this back in June so I am sure you have seen it already too, but it is just too good not to share.  

The news and media around us always focuses on the negative things going on around us. But Coca Cola reminds us that there is good in this world. It doesn’t matter if you prefer Pepsi or Coke; this isn’t about a corporation’s bottom line. This goes beyond advertising genius. These are not actors, they are people who were caught on hidden security cameras being funny, kind-hearted and selfless and doing amazing things.  It renews my faith in humanity.  This video makes you laugh, smile, cry, and tugs at your heart strings. And the song! Supertramp’s “Give A little Bit” is perfection. It is so touching, I tear up every time I watch it.

So Smile. Dance. Sing. Be weird. Help others. Give random hugs. Spread happiness. Thanks for the reminder to look at the world a little differently, Coca Cola.

Giving up (red) meat and pop: the results -kind of like rejecting that gorgeous guy in a Porche.

We survived the 30 days.  In case you don’t remember, Mr. Boyfriend and I decided to give up all pop and red meat for the month of June.  I am happy to report, mission accomplished! We did it!

It has been a full month since we last had any kind of red meat and pop. Thanks to all of you who sent words of encouragement!  It definitely helped reinforce that this was a good idea and that it was worth doing.

Giving up red Meat:

A little side note – I am very picky about my chicken. I don’t like the texture and I think almost all chicken is dry, even if it’s dunked in sauce.  Unless it’s fried, because then it is Delicious, with a capital D.  So right off the bat, I faced a challenge of getting enough protein because I was left with really only 3 options: deli or ground turkey, fish and quinoa. Mr. Boyfriend had a bigger challenge ahead as he is a meat-and-potatoes guy.  He is from Texas so giving up red meat is virtually unheard of.  At first we debated what we could or couldn’t eat. Bacon? Pork?   Mr. Boyfriend’s theory was that if pork is considered “the other white meat,” and both bacon and pork come from a pig, then bacon is not red meat. But I disagreed.  I don’t consider ham or ribs to be white meat either.  The meat is literally red, and isn’t chicken or turkey, and is not good for you, so I consider bacon to be red meat. I know my reasoning might be faulty, but I’m sticking to it.  We even Googled bacon. We got mixed answers but most said it was indeed red meat, so I said bacon was on our hit list.  Would you eat pork and/or bacon if you gave up red meat?

This challenge was really good for us to realize just how often we ate it.  You know how pork is “the other white meat”?  Well, I have concluded that red meat is “the convenient meat.”  I didn’t realize just how easy it is to order, until now. It is the fall back option, the “oh, I don’t want chicken, might as well have red meat” option. And it’s everywhere! I think my biggest challenge was pepperoni pizza.

Some situations/places we were faced with challenges:

  • Arlington Race Track: Because of my dislike of chicken, I would normally automatically  have gotten a (Vienna) Hotdog. However, this time I opted for a pulled chicken sandwich and fries. It was surprisingly tasty (probably because it was slathered with sauce) and definitely the healthier option.
  • Mr. Boyfriends birthday dinner: My parents wanted to take him to dinner, and we usually go to this delicious steak house called Wildfire, but this time we opted for cuban. Last time we were here we got amazing steak, so this time we opted for the pork.
  • Summer Festivals: There are so many festivals with delicious food.  We had to remind ourselves of our June goal.  One specific summer fest is RibFest.  We have wanted to go for the past few years, but really, what would be the point to go this year? That would be pure torture.
  • Each Wednesday, dinner is provided at work for Mr. Boyfriend while he attends his masters class.  Unfortunately, the only legit option is usually meat. Italian beef, hamburgers, hotdogs, etc. are convenient and easy to order/serve to a group of people. There were nights he would come home and have to make dinner for himself.
  • When Lauren came to town for a business trip, I of course had to take her to get Chicago style pizza.  I always get low-fat cheese pepperoni pizza when I go to Lou Malnati’s (arguably the best deep dish in Chicago) but this time I actually had to read the menu! My vegetarian pizza was delicious, but it was no pepperoni!
  • One night, Mr. Boyfriend and I didn’t feel like cooking and we craved a pepperoni pizza.  I am proud to say, we went with a veggie pizza with spinach and mushrooms. Even though we missed our pepperoni, the pizza hit the spot and we were proud of ourselves for ordering a healthier meat-free option.
  • We had a lot of struggles with pizza apparently.  The best thin pizza is at a place called Barnaby’s in the northern suburbs.  My parents wanted to take us there one Sunday night but we had to force ourselves to tell them no. I was tempted to throw in the towel and say, “F’ It!” but I stood strong.
  • My cousin graduated from high school and the ceremony was held at Northwestern University.  If you are familiar with the area, there is a local hot dog stand in the parking lot across from the stadium.  We knew we had to eat beforehand, otherwise we wouldn’t eat until very late.  I walked in and instantly heard, Caryn, you know you want to eat me! I’m delicious! and don’t take a lot of time to prepare! You don’t want to be late to the ceremony! Eat Me! The Vienna hotdog was calling my name, but I resisted and went with a turkey burger.

Giving up pop:

I don’t drink pop that often to begin with, so this wasn’t all that difficult for me. I don’t need it for the caffeine and usually only drink it when I have a sweet tooth. Mr. Boyfriend, however, needs his caffeine and sugar fix more often than me.

  • When I order Subway, I almost always get chips and a drink with it. The sugary pop is a sweet compliment to the sandwich. It completes the meal. I usually mix half Diet Coke (they don’t have Pepsi) and half Cherry Coke. I only opted for water this month, and split the occasional cookie. What? Who doesn’t want something sweet after a sub sandwich?
  • The most challenging part of giving up pop was at bars on the weekends.  When I’m not ordering beer, I usually order a mixed drink of some kind, a Vodka Sprite or Whiskey Sprite or something similar. I chose to stick with beer all month. What drink do you order at bars?
  • Not often, but occasionally at work, I get a sweet tooth in the afternoon.  Instead of going to the vending machine for candy to get my sugar fix, I get a Pepsi. This month, I reached for gum when I needed to get my fix.

Result:

I don’t know if it is psychological or physical, but I feel better after doing this detox. This challenge was harder for Mr. Boyfriend than it was for me and we got different results.  On a scale of 1 -10  (10 being I can’t survive without it) I would rate this experience as a 3-4 but he rated it a 6.  I feel healthier, cleaner and definitely not as heavy.  While it might be a case of wanting what you can’t have, he said he now craves a pepperoni pizza but does admit that he is more aware of the fact that he needs to cut back on his intake of both products.  We both realized we consumed both products more often than we thought.  While  red meat is a good source of iron and protein, it does made you feel sluggish and heavy.  It is almost as if the salad is the angel on one shoulder and the filet mignon is the devil on the other.  I am convinced that red meat is the easy, convenient but dangerous choice. It is temptress of all meats. It is that man meat with rock solid abs, defined muscles and perfect dimpled smile that makes you want to be bad for just this once.  

I thought about having a pop yesterday, but stopped myself.   If I went this long without it, do I really need it now? This process made me realize  there is a difference in what we want and what we need.   We just need to use our self-control. Pop contributes to gingivitis, tooth decay, increases risk of obesity and decreases calcium in the body. The fact that pop rusts when placed in vinegar, totally creeps me out.  It makes me question, what exactly are we putting in our bodies?

While we won’t give either up forever, we will now make it a point to eat and drink them less frequently. Our bodies will thank us when we get older.  I want to live a long and healthy life, and I know that starts now.

What I Learned in Vegas at Bloggers in Sin City

I can’t stop thinking about Vegas. I only posted once last week after my initial Vegas post because I couldn’t get myself to think about anything other than #BiSC. Between my own reflections and reading other peoples recaps, I have come to realize I learned a lot in just a few days.  

{photo credit: Terra right?)
Without further adieu here is- What I learned in Vegas:
  • I loved blogging before, but actually putting faces to the blogs and hashtags reminded me that there is more to blogging than just writing your thoughts online and getting the occasional comment. It is more than just an Internet hobby. Meeting IRL at events like BiSC creates life long bonds that are irreplaceable and priceless.
  • Don’t judge a book by its cover. Or in this case, don’t judge people by their tweets/avatars/occupations/registration page etc.
  • Don’t let your inner dialogue stop you from having a good time. There is nothing holding you back but yourself.
  • Clubs that have an outdoor patio, music playing under the clear starry night, with free table service while surrounded by people who don’t care if I dance like a fool, that I can do.
  • It is worth doing that challenging thing you are worrying about. Just because it is unknown, does not mean it is wrong or bad.
  • When meeting people, especially those who have name tags, whether it is hotel staff, waiters or peers, use their first name. They will appreciate it and probably reciprocate the kindness.
  • Twitter is actually a great cool for communication. Whether you are scattered across the country or sitting at the same table planning what to do next.
  • I must make blogger business cards for my next event.  It is pure genius.
  • If you don’t allow yourself to try new things, you will never know what you are capable of or what is possible.
  • Companies will sponsor bloggers. Thanks again to all our sponsors.
  • Challenge yourself beyond your comfort level. If you don’t take risks, there will be no rewards. Take chances and risks.
  • Birds don’t have sex like humans do. They just have to touch their cloacae and Bam! She is impregnated!
  • If you put your cell phone in a glass vase, it amplifies the sound a bit. (c/o Terra)
  • People on tight ropes, high chairs and roller skates (at Absinthe) have super-human strength.
  • Hotels that don’t have a TV in the bathroom mirror just aren’t luxurious enough now. Yes, the Go Rooms at the Flamingo Hotel spoiled me.
  • Teaching Tiffany to play blackjack was a fun but bad idea.
  • West Virginia has some hilarious and bizarre children’s songs. Watch Terra dance to Sneaky Snake.  (Sorry it is hard to hear but if you listen closely you can hear it. I am working on making this louder – so check back!!)
  • Friends should make you feel alive and happy.  We need to focus on spending more time with those who make us smile and laugh so hard we cry and less time with those who make us feel pressured to impress them.
  • I am not a phone person but I need to try to make the phone my friend to keep up all relationships and bonds that were created in Vegas. I’m looking at you fellow BiSC-uits. Will you try to help me here?
  • Fun is what you make it.
  • New things make us feel anxious and scared at first, but if we put ourselves out there, we are left with something invaluable, our lives enriched.
  • We all have choices to make and sometimes they are not easy to face. But every decision leads us on a path and carves out our future. It is our choice to have fun and try new things OR stay with the familiar and comfortable and thus never grow. Choose to challenge yourself.
  • Sometimes we just need to take that leap of faith.  Life is too short to have regrets.
  • We are all goofy and weird. Life is weird. The Internet can be weird. But when you find others who are your kind of weird, a connection is born that justifies it all.
  • The Internet is real.
  • We all take ourselves too seriously. Laughter is the best medicine. Surround yourself with others who laugh with you. 
  • Everyone feels left out of social situations from time to time.  We feel invisible and as if we don’t matter.  We question if our friends truly ‘get us.’ We have all been there where we think a dinner was organized without us or we were invited as a second thought.  We feel that the only way to be included is to invite ourselves. The truth is, you do matter and you are not alone in feeling this way. There are people out there that care about you. This group at #BiSC in particular was (naturally) very good about trying to make sure everyone was included. In fact, if you asked if you saw something people planned on twitter and wanted to join, the usual response was “the more the merrier.”
  • Sprayology makes a spray that is the cure to all hangovers. It tastes bitter for .02 seconds but the headache is gone instantly!
(photo credit: Jayme)
  • If you look up to someone or have a hero TELL him/her. It will make their day (as long as they’re not an A list celebrity, then they know already.) While you will probably feel nervous about going up to them, it is worth it. Who knows, maybe a friendship will blossom. Have no regrets.
  • Do not be afraid to do what you want to do. I felt judged when I told people I was going to BiSC but I had the time of my life.
  • It is possible to meet someone and instantly feel as if you have known them   your entire life. I call this friend-love at first sight.
  • If it were easy, wouldn’t everyone do it?
  • Even if it is for a Tweet-To-Win contest, remember you have followers who will see it. In this digital age, anything might appear on YouTube or become public gossip.
  • People will come together to support and celebrate others, even when they barely know each other. I believe most people are good people.
  • We are all nervous about making a bad first impression. People are out there that will like you for who you are.  Be yourself!!
  • Canada doesn’t have Target. This is baffling, I know.
  • Will.i.am is not worth the pins and needles in my feet. On that note, next year I’m bringing more flats.
  • Don’t wait until last minute to try to get tickets to Billboard Music Awards. It does sell out.
  • It is actually really hard to be a stripper. The poles get slippery (from your hands/sweat) and you have to have ab strength and a lot of coordination!
  • Don’t worry about what will be in the future. Just enjoy the present. As Baz Luhrmann says in his song, Sunscreen, “Don’t worry about the future; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum.”

Holy bloggers, Batman! I learned a lot in just a few days and I’m sure I didn’t even include everything.  I know sometimes it is easier said than done. But in the end, you should be able to look back and have no regrets.  Going to Vegas and taking that chance was one of the best decisions I have made.  Thanks to everyone who went for making the weekend so memorable.

What did you learn in Vegas? Care to share and add to my list?


Love, Caryn