Study Abroad

First Day of Teaching

May 19, 2017

I want to walk you through yesterday's experience. It is not easy to explain to you just how all of this feels and appears, but it is my hope that you can step into my lens and visualize to your best ability what it means to be in Iringa, Tanzania.

It's 7:30 a.m. on May 18 and the meal bell, which is a deep clanging of of a big rusty bell hanging from a tree, rings for breakfast. The peaceful sounds of morning hover throughout Masumbo Lodge - the river rushing in the distance, the birds singing sweet nothings, banda doors opening and closing, and faint "good mornings" traveling through the crisp, dewy air.

It's now post breakfast and all of us women are dressed in floor length, colorful skirts while the two men are ready in khakis. We have all of our supplies ready to go: yarn, index cards, markers, books, and chalk. The two vans are idling awaiting our board to drive to Viewenge school for our first (greatly anticipated) day of teaching.

It's impossible to not talk about our nerves right now considering this is all new for most of us. We're pulling up to the school and I'm having a hard time keeping it together. It's small. The classrooms are scattered and the windows are glassless. The "courtyard" area is powdery reddish dirt and straight ahead, there are several plastic bottles stuck into the dirt neck down. The bottles, upon closer observation are in the outline of Africa, Tanzania, and Europe.

Tom is leading us to the Headmaster's office (school principal) and as we pass classroom doors and windows, kids wave and smile. Some even shout, jump and yell with excitement. I've never seen anything like this. After a short check-in with the Headmaster, we are preparing to split into groups for teaching seventh grade. The classroom is large enough for all 100+ of us but is starting to feel small as we shuffle around and move desks into triangles and "U" shapes. I was nervous to begin. The language barrier is evident but I think they know more English than they project - time to find out.

It's now recess and I feel good about our first teaching session, we all do! The kids are everywhere right now and they are swarming us with high fives, hugs, dancing, and pokes. They are mocking everything we do. Kristy Walter is doing the hokey pokey and they are following along! I'm chasing kids around and they love it - I've never heard laughter like this, genuine and robust. Other students like Maggie and Emily are playing patty cake and making up clap patterns. I step back and look at what was happening in front of me and my heart has never felt so full.

We are back at Masumbo Lodge eating lunch which is stewed beef in a delicious thick gravy with creamy mashed potatoes and green beans with broccoli. After lunch we are going back to the school to teach sixth grade and have after school recess.

The drive is short, about one mile. Bright red dirt road and views of mountains, sunflowers, and full trees. We are really excited to teach sixth grade because we are feeling more confident than the first session.

Fast forward to recess, our favorite part of the day. Keep yourself in the lens of my eye and imagine what I am about to tell you.

We are all standing at the edge of the field behind the school. It's huge and part of it is a large dirt rectangle and the rest is a grass field with two goals. Not the kind of goals we imagine. They are old wooden frames with no nets or regulation standards. We are getting excited for the kids to come outside. We just finished pumping up 3 soccer balls and 2 net balls. Believe it or not, Tom told us with the three soccer balls and two net balls we provided, it brought their total ball count to five.  They had no soccer balls or net balls for the kids to play with. They used rolled up socks or other materials that were formed into ball shapes.

Here come the kids! This visual is so unreal. There are hundreds of kids running toward us with open arms, smiles, screams, and excitement. I was holding one of the soccer balls. I turned and pointed to the field, wound up, and punted the ball long and far. I've never seen children so truly happy to be outside with a soccer ball; THREE soccer balls. The boys and girls have separated, it's interesting. Soccer is my favorite sport of all time so I'm on the field, but the boys aren't passing the ball. They don't really recognize that I'm on the field. Cultural differences are shining through, but it doesn't bother me. It's all about learning.

The girls are in the distance in a huge circle singing a traditional song - a version of what we know as Ring-Around-the-Rosie. The boys are yelling and playing aggressively. It's in this moment that I feel so alive. The mountains in the distance, the sight of purely happy children, and the sun shining so bright... nothing exceeds this. It's hard to understand how a place that has been so heavily struck by poverty is filled with the happiest children. I'm trying to understand.

My eyes are filling with tears that I'm struggling to hold back. I'm aching as I see ripped shirts, shorts with stains and holes, and a few kids wearing cleats as sneakers. But, nevertheless, they smile. It's a beautiful kind of heartache.

The day is coming to a close and we have eaten dinner, showered, and gathered to talk about the day as well as prepare for tomorrow. Reflecting on each day is tough to do but I'm glad I have these seventeen amazing people by my side. We each bring such valuable qualities to this experience and I wouldn't change the dynamic for the world.

I am heading to my Banda to journal about all of this. I wish you were here to see this, but I assure you, we are doing everything we can to make this world a better place. Eighteen people, thirty-six hands, eighteen hearts, and a whole lot to give.

Mom, dad and sissy, I'm doing great. This experience is one I can't explain but I will do my best when I return. Thank you for making this possible and for your continuous excitement as I prepared to come to Tanzania. These kids are truly amazing and my heart is so full. I love you with all my heart and I miss you. See you very soon.

Courtney, I hope you and Rio are doing well! I'm healthy, happy, and very moved by this experience. Your encouragement has been needed and very appreciated. I love that you push me to chase my dreams and watch me grow through these experiences. You mean the world to me. I love you and I'll see you so soon!

My last words and a small piece of indirect advice: Disconnect and you will never feel more connected.

Asante sana (thank you so much) to all of the parents and family for all your support.

Signing off.

-Nicole Taylor