Fresh Faces at FK Academy

Trip Start Sep 08, 2003
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Where I stayed
Outpost Guesthouse

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Friday, February 13, 2004

Wednesday February 4th 7.30am. Kirsty and I were standing out on the Nairobi-Moshi road, our backs to Mount Meru, looking up the road for Madeline. We were going to Kilimanjaro airport to meet the new Changing Worlds volunteers. I had been hoping to get a good view of Kilimanjaro as we travelled closer to Moshi, but it was overcast and drizzly, and where Kilimanjaro was meant to be stood a huge bank of dull cloud. James was already on the bus when Mads collected us. He had arrived in Arusha a few days earlier... and Madeline adored him. Kirsty and I giggled as we realised she was trying to fix him up with every girl in the group (and when it came to house allocation he was to live on his own with 3 girls!)... poor chap.

At the Kilimanjaro airport I looked round with interest. We had arrived at Dar es Salaam, so had been given a very different first impression of Arusha. I found it hard to put myself in a position to see it all with new eyes. I was used to the changeable weather and the children playing in the dirt on the street outside the airport compound. How would they see it? They all looked pale, a bit sick and incredibly nervous. I think after the flight they were actually too tired to take it all in. I had been e-mailing 3 of the girls, Claire, Erika and Lizzie through the Changing Worlds website since last May - before I came out to Tanzania! We had wondered then if our paths would cross out here - speculating whether I would still be here when they arrived. It was lovely to see them; they had been planning this trip for so long, and had finally arrived. One girl looked like she was about to burst into tears. I tried to lead her to one side as she asked if everyone was a nervous as she was. I looked across at Kirsty; when she arrived it had been her first time on a plane! I said "yes - some are just better at acting". I recognised the look in her eyes, as everyone else appeared outwardly confident, and she wasn't. I had felt the same when I arrived at Heathrow, where I had burst into tears for no reason as I walked through the doors with my parents and dashed off to the 'ladies' without saying hello to anyone. I wasn't particularly upset, as I had said all my goodbyes, and was prepared for the trip, but when the actuality of the thing you have dreamed about, tried to imagine and prepare for in your head finally happened, I got completely overwhelmed. I blamed Larium at the time, but I expect I would react the same now. Kirsty and I later discussed the group and thought that this girl was lovely, but also put our money on her being the first to go home.

With the huge amounts of luggage stored on the roof of the bus, we made our way back to Arusha, stopping for a quick tour of Fikiria Kwanza Academy at Usa River on route. I thought it was a shame that most of the volunteers were too tired to really want to look around at anything. For the students at my school, it was an amazing experience, one they talked about for days afterwards. 20 mzungus, ...all of them walking around the school ...at once! ...Wow! ...20! There were so many hands to hold, so many faces to look up into. For the children all white faces look the same, as they haven't really learnt how to distinguish features, so it was an awesome sight for them! We took everyone to see our accommodation. Kirsty and I had been busy the night before getting the children to make and paint a banner to welcome the new volunteers. Anna and Kelly were to come to Usa River, but they looked too shell-shocked to take it in yet. Usa is actually one of the better-resourced schools, and the accommodation the cleanest... However it was the first school they saw, so as yet had nothing to compare it to and, as predicted, they felt the huge culture jump from England to here.

Mads asked us to show them around town, but I felt a bit uncomfortable taking all 20 around at once. The reaction we got at FK academy would be completely different once the street touts saw us coming...I envisaged being totally ambushed. Trying to keep to easy streets, Kirsty and I took them all to the patisserie and then to change money next door. As we were waiting outside, the batik sellers started grabbing arms and getting people to look at their wares. I tried to launch into my usual spiel of 'we're volunteer teachers, we don't have money' when a smart tout pointed to the 'bureau de change' sign over my head, and then each volunteer as they immerged from the swing door. Doh!..., bad excuse... maybe... we don't have money for souvenirs! Kirsty and I stayed at Outpost Guest House for dinner with everyone else, and reminisced about all that had happened since we were last there. I wondered if the salads still made everyone ill! (yep!)
The next few days were spent teaching and showing the new volunteers around, lunch at Via-via, dinner at the Greek club - Kirsty and I were enjoying being fed so well. We couldn't get over how clean the new lot looked! Brand new clothes - no holes, smart trainers... We got out old photos to see if we looked like that. Everyone was on his or her best behaviour, and Kirsty and I found it intriguing to watch the friendship groups form, how not all the house groups looked like they were going to get on. I couldn't believe it when I overheard that several of the girls had brought hairdryers, an iron, high-heeled shoes and lipstick!!! The bush babes were on the prowl! Kirsty and I went home laughing about how we had shared clothes to make our wardrobes look bigger, got good at standing on tiptoes in the absence of heels, and to be honest hadn't really missed any of these 'essentials'.

On Saturday morning, Kirsty packed up her stuff to leave Usa river, peeling all the pictures that had been dedicated to her off the wall, and stuffing her belongings back into her rucksack. I felt really sad, as I had a bad feeling that the best times at Usa River were coming to an end. The new girls arrived, one of the girls was already in tears before the day was out; she explained she wanted her Africa experience to be perfect, and now didn't think it would be. I looked back over my time here; challenging, hard work, enlightening, so rewarding... but not perfect. It's a high pedestal to put living anywhere on.

The kids came round to meet the new arrivals. They were all excited, as it is quite important for each to feel like they are a 'favourite' to someone. A few really liked to feel close to Kirsty and with her gone, they felt the need to establish contact with her replacement. Kelly was teaching the boys to 'high five' raising her hand in the air to meet theirs. They thought it was a great game - another odd mzungu custom! I laughed as at times the boys looked a bit uncertain. I couldn't resist telling Kelly that it was fine to raise the right hand, but there is a little saying when travelling, 'right hand clean... left hand dirty,' ...you eat with right and ---- with the left, (to aid understanding there is very rarely toilet roll in Tanzanian long drops - just a little dish of water!!) Every time Kelly raised her left hand there was a murmur among the group, and confusion as to whether or not they should play along!

Emily came to visit Usa River on Sunday, and decided not to go home! Living with the girls proved to be very social, as we sat up late most evenings discussing relationships, Shakespeare, books, plays, Tanzania, England, other destinations we had visited. It was different to how I had lived with Kirsty, not as comfortable, which made me feel a bit on edge. My home had been invaded and the new volunteers, quite rightly, wanted to make it their own too... but I couldn't help feeling squashed into corner, as all the things Kirsty and I had put together slowly came apart. Teaching was going well, as I was still really enjoying teaching art and craft, and the older children had now started making snakes and ladders boards. The child had to design each snake, think about the board layout, do designs and then put the final game together. I enjoyed showing them how to make a dice of a nett drawn on some card, and trying to get them to be more imaginative with the counters... how about the Tanzanian flag? Animals? Smiley faces?

Kirsty came back to Usa for the birthday party of Mama Alinda's daughter Bernadette. We were all guests of honour, arriving with balloons, presents and cards. Mama had asked her friend that owned a camera to come and take some photos and we all had to pose in the position of giving Bernadette her present, Bernadette miming receiving it and opening (although actually we never saw her open it! - but for weeks later we could see her using her new skipping rope outside her mothers shack, so I presume she liked it). Bernadette looked lovely; her mum had made her a long white satin fairy outfit to wear. Her hair was newly plaited, and she was full of bounce and excitement that it was 'her' day. The porch was decorated with brightly coloured scarves, our balloons were hung to the tree, and chairs were carried outside. Food was shared; plates of rice, guacamole, peanuts, meats and banana were handed round, all eaten with our hands.

Friday was a special day. I had been chatting to Queen the night before about getting my hair braided while I was in Tanzania, and Queen thought it was a lovely idea. I could look like her! I thought it was passing conversation and didn't elaborate, so was surprised when the next day a lady knocked on my door and via the translation of several teachers, the security guard and the gardener(!), she explained she had come to braid my hair! I was amazed - nothing in Tanzania ever gets done that quickly - it took 4 days to remove a wasp's nest! I had only mentioned it the previous evening! I liked Queen a lot, and I knew that organising this for me was her way of showing she cared. I got a book and a cuppa and relaxed in the chair. I had heard horror stories of the braids taking 10 hours, so prepared myself for the long haul, leaned back, wiggled my toes and started daydreaming. As she pulled, tugged and teased my hair into the shape she wanted I realised it was going very quickly, I could feel a draft where my hair had been- in just under an hour she had braided half my head. I had let her decide what style to do, and she had chosen to braid in an upward direction, starting at the nape of my neck creating little tramlines of plaits. I really liked the braids, although was less sure of the little bun she made of all the finished plaits on the top of my head. I looked like an onion. I am sure there used to be cartoon character that had a similar hair do! I took the little bun out, and put all the plaits into a long ponytail. Slightly Floella Benjamin (showing my age! The other volunteers will ask me 'who'?!!) but I like it. It cost £1.20 - less than shampoo... might have to consider it as an alternative!!

We were having dinner at Stiggys, so was a bit nervous about walking in with such strange hair. It takes quite a lot of confidence to carry it off and I didn't feel that confident. It didn't help that later that afternoon I had resorted to making a pair of knickers!! Let me explain. Karen had sent me a lovely new skirt from England. It was bliss; it smelt clean, hadn't yet been ruined by the rough African detergent or stretched from drip-drying on the line. I couldn't wait to wear it and thought it might improve my confidence to put it on that evening. One problem - the skirt was white. I, in what I thought was a very smart move, anticipating hand washing my clothes, had brought only black underwear! So on Friday afternoon, I was sat in the sun stitching a piece of white cotton into a pair of knickers. The girls thought it was hilarious - our very own Marks and Spencers in the back yard. It seemed ages since I had been shopping to buy an outfit for a night out, and I had never put one together quite like this, but I seemed to be managing. Just hope the elastic holds!!!!!!

Dinner went well and after a few Gin and Tonics I had forgotten all about my hair (and the knickers!). I was enjoying having an evening out, and it was great to spend some time with K. We were sat outside under one of the big trees in the courtyard. I was more interested in scoffing Stiggys fab pizza - and tying not to get it down my white skirt! After a few months of only wearing black you forget these things!

It was interesting to see the personalities in the group start to come out a bit more. James seemed concerned for everyone, asking me to be careful I didn't burn my scalp where the braids were. I thought it was really sweet, as I am usually the 'mum' of the group, and it was lovely to have someone looking after me for a change. Tom, Matt and Jonny seemed to stick together - the boyzzz, and seemed to be having fun making up nicknames for all the girls. I was intrigued to watch some of the girls flirting with them over the pool table, wondering who was going to end up with who. Jonny was already living in a house with 5 girls. (Mads matchmaking again. In contrast Kate was in a house with 4 lads!). Jonny seemed in his element. A very confident guy, who seemed to like making everyone laugh. I liked Kate immediately; she has the same way of not being confrontational and making people feel comfortable, that Kirsty has. She sat with me after dinner when the table was ambushed by a group of Australian guys who run hunting safaris here in Tanzania. These guys loved themselves, and I took great delight in trying to argue against their theories for why hunting safaris had a place in TZ. The idea of organising a lion hunt for rich American tourists, just so the tourist can say they pulled the trigger and have the lion skin placed above the fire horrified me. So the battle of the 'vegetarian versus the hunter' began. It took several beers and neither side was relenting, but poor Kate sat by me as we argued on, smiling at me occasionally, shaking her head at the particularly arrogant blond guy. I was glad she was there.

Going to bed that evening (with new respect for African women - it isn't easy trying to find a comfortable position on the pillow when your head is covered in plaits), I looked back over the past few weeks. Both Kirsty and I had been given confidence showing the group around, and it made us realise how we had come to accept living here. Not just knowing our way around, but how to react to Tanzanian customs, what to say and do. We didn't even notice the group of 4 men walking around all holding hands as a sign of friendship, that it is not considered rude for the guy in front of you in the bread queue to pick his nose while waiting, that coffee will be served in a thermos flask in both a café and also in a Tanzanians home. That oranges are not orange, but green, that people hiss to get your attention rather than shouting 'hey!' or saying 'excuse me', and that all bread has sugar added to it to make it appeal to the Tanzanian sweet tooth. How different it was from England, but not necessarily in a bad way. When I go home I won't miss the ants, the mosquitoes, the snakes, cockroaches, flies and other unidentifiable flying nasties, and I won't miss the feeling of being unsafe in the dark. But I would miss the laidback lifestyle - where there is always tomorrow. Walking around town with the new volunteers I had realised I now walk so much slower, I look around more, I say hello to absolutely everyone, child, mama, and mzee (village elder). Perhaps I needed the benchmark provided by people fresh from England to see how much I had changed. I wondered how much was permanent - was I going to look like a raving lunatic saying hi to everyone while shopping in Bristol, sauntering along in flip-flops, starring at the sky and looking aghast at the prices and then attempt to barter them lower. Probably not!! But I have gained what I hope is a lasting respect for a culture so very different to my own.
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