Geoff Tennant - Promoting access to mathematics for all
My Blog

25/11/12: semester is well under way

Students have now been with us for a couple of weeks, and i have to say that working with them is fantastic.  Mostly from Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, some of them travel for 50 hours by bus to get here - no air conditioning or overnight stops in bed and breakfasts!  Many of them also leave families behind.  Precise terms of their sponsorship vary, certainly some are living on very small amounts of money.  All of which adds up to a huge commitment to the course and belief in what we have to offer.  Somewhat different rules to what I'm used to apply - absolutely no problem in calling a class on Saturday morning, for example.  Which is actually what I did yesterday to make up for some lost time - but, of course, the sheer thrill of doing mathematics means that it doesn't count as work either for me as tutor or the students, well known fact....

I've been told a few times now that students sometimes have difficulty understanding me.  I have pointed out that I speak English from England in its highest and purest form.  Indeed, I speak in a similar manner to the Queen - hurrah for Her Majesty!  Curiously, this doesn't seem to help much.  Although it may be that it's not my accent which is the issue so much as the speed at which I talk.  Now, being a man I operate best, of course, when I'm only thinking about one thing at a time.  Thinking about the continuum from good academic practice to poor academic practice to plagiarism, or the evils - the EVILS!!!!! - of teaching introductory algebra using the 'algebra as object' analogy (arbitrarily long lectures on this point available on request) and simultaneously remembering to speak slowly is a bit of a strain, to be honest.  I have asked students to tell me if they're not understanding, but the rule seems to be that they tell me afterwards rather than at the time.  Hopefully as time goes by this will become less of a problem at both sides.

Language continues to be a fascinating issue.  One curiosity is that, when speaking English, people often use literal translations of forms of words from Swahili or other indigenous languages, which in English doesn't sound quite right.  One example of this is that I was on interview panels recently, and standard practice at the beginning of the interview is that the members introduce themselves.  In this context for a panel member to start by saying to the candidate, "How are you?" sounds odd, but in Swahili would make perfect sense.  Another thing I've picked up relates to the way that in English we often have a large number of consonant sounds also together - 'strengths' would be an example of a a word which is light on vowel sounds.  I think I'm right in saying that this is relatively unusual, other languages, tend not to do this - Mandarin Chinese would be a strong example of a language which doesn't use multiple consonants.  The net effect of all of this is that I quite often hear people insert additional vowel sounds which again sounds slightly odd.  Lots to learn and get used to.

If I may I'll conclude today telling you about a brief conversation with one of our security guards here in Fayrouz Apartments as I was leaving for church this morning.  We exchanged greetings, and he then went on to say, with evident approval, that I always pause to say hello as I'm coming in or out of the block.  Well yes, I replied, you and your colleagues do an important job in keeping us safe - and the provision of 24 hour security is for me one of the major reasons for wanting to live in a block such as this, along with a share in the communal back up generator.  And I know they take their job seriously - a couple of weeks ago they refused to allow one of the drivers from work to take the car I'd been allocated from its space outside the block.  Whilst this was minorly irritating at the time, they could easily have been preventing a theft.

The sadness for me here is that the security guard should find my behaviour remarkable in the literal sense of the word - behaviour worth remarking on.  In defence of people who do not do this, I would say that the sheer quantity of potential interactions with people - security guards, cleaners, care takers, gardeners, taxi drivers when walking along a street, and also street hawkers and beggars - means that the line of least resistance is to disengage, and I do find myself doing this in some situations.

Pastor Abel was preaching from 1 Corinthians 12 this morning, and highlighted verse 13, "For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body - whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free - and we were all given the one Spirit to drink".  Pastor Abel's vision for Dar Es Salaam Pentecostal is that the fellowship is open to all, irrespective of economic circumstances, ethnic background or any other division between us.  This represents both an opportunity and a challenge in a country where differences between rich and poor are far greater than I'm used to, and being aligned at the rich end presents challenges of its own.

To readers who have got this far in this entry with a Christian or other faith, can I ask that you pray for me that I may live in this wonderful country in a God-fearing manner, reflecting something of His love in my interactions with people in my daily life in a genuine and sustainable way.  And to readers with no faith, can I ask you stand with me in your thoughts as we look to recognise and respect the spark of humanity in all.

As I'm writing this, I realise with some embarrassment that I don't know our security guard's name.  I'll find out and let you know.  Thank you for reading, I'll be back again soon.

4 Comments to 25/11/12: semester is well under way:

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Susan Short on 26 November 2012 10:37
Hi Geoff, Glad to find you are blogging again - it's very interesting and enjoyable to read your observations! I will certainly heed your prayer request too. Best wishes Susan
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Geoff on 02 December 2012 23:28
Thank you Susan, greatly appreciate your support. Very best wishes, Geoff
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Jenny Spence on 03 December 2012 03:24
Sadly I am not surprised at the general attitude to the various groups of people you mention - we found a similar attitude when we were expat in Bahrain. We employed a part-time housegirl who came to us one day needing somewhere to live. We had servants' quarters in our garden (a concrete hut) which had been taken over by cats so we said if she was prepared to clean it out she could live there with her husband. Apparently we should have made her pay to live there (ie work for us for nothing), and not allow her husband to visit. And she only got an A/C unit when we told our landlord we would buy one and deduct it from the rent.
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Geoff on 21 December 2012 09:27
That sounds pretty familiar, I'm afraid, but, much as I dislike saying this, do understood why people harden their hearts as a coping mechanism. We all need wisdom in living our lives out, I'm just feeling it more now than previously!

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