June 24, 2006

Week 1 in Tanzania

So, by tomorrow I will have been in Tanzania a week. I'm so glad I'm doing this. I am taking in so much and filing away in my head so many things to think about when I'm done processing all of this at a later date.

I'm working on learning some Swahili; I'm not doing too badly so far. I'm much less shy and more confident when I have at least a vague knowledge of what's going on around me, so I'm trying to learn as much as possible. I think I'm learning far faster here than I would in a classroom setting; there's definitely something to be said about learning by being placed IN the setting. I think I may have learned more swahili in the first week here than I learned french in my first month of french classes in high school. Then again its all still very tentative, but I'm doing my best, and people seem to appreciate that I'm making an effort at all. I'm also discovering that, although most people at wes's school speak english, they don't tend to understand me if I just talk normally. I talk to fast and, well, American. So I've been trying to slow down my speech a little bit and put more emphasis on consonants and using less contractions like Wes has been doing, but it's pretty funny, because then I get into a habit of doing that and then I end up talking to Wes like that as well. It goes the other way too though; when I start getting into a conversation I forget and start talking normally again, and then I find whoever I'm talking to sort of pause and stare at me for a second. Oops.

I've had some extremely, extremely interesting conversations with people so far. I had one very long conversation with a teacher (and later on two teachers) at Wes's school about teaching and educational systems; the pros and cons of teaching, the difficulties, whether it is better to have a more or less specialized educational system, and even talked a little about being far away from home. It was very cool to hear some of this teacher's perspectives. The beginning and end of the conversation was highly interesting to me, though. We were in the teacher's lounge and Wes was leaving to go to the computer lab; the teacher asked Wes if I could be allowed to stay and talk with him for awhile. (In English, and I was there. This keeps happening, and is bizarre. Wes's response was "its not up to me, its up to her," of course.) Anyway, the conversation was wrapping up, and Wes came back, and we were about to leave, and the teacher thanked Wes for "allowing" me to stay and talk with him. He kind of laughed and said he had nothing to do with it; it was my choice, and the teacher said, "Yes, but had you commanded her to go to the computer lab with you, she would have gone, wouldnt she?" He was highly surprised to hear both of us say that no, Wes would never order me to do anything, and if he ever started, instead of me following his commands, we probably wouldnt be dating anymore. I think we confuse people a little as a couple. Anyway, it sparked another fifteen minutes or so talking about gender equality; it was a really good conversation.

Had another interesting conversation yesterday; a student came into the computer lab where Wes and I were and said he wanted to ask Wes some questions about America. (I ended up joining in the conversation as well.) His first question was why everyone is rich in America, and upon being told that no, everyone is not rich in america, there are poor people there too, he wanted to know why there were poor people and rich people and whether it was God's doing or what the difference between the people were. The conversation spanned from inequality to diversity to differences between cultures to a lot of other things; it was fascinating both to hear these questions and try and think of how I would respond to them.

Outside of things I am learning, I saw some monkeys today! That made me smile. Just on the roof of some building, and in a tree. How cool is that?

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