Geoff Tennant - Promoting access to mathematics for all
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15/3/15: practising being laid back in Southern Tanzania

Just back from a fantastic trip to Southern Tanzania, particularly Lindi and Mtwara regions.  Two main reasons, one of which was to attend the certificate presentation ceremony for teachers who have completed courses put on by us through the 'Strengthening Educational Systems in East Africa' project, funded by the Canadian Department for Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development in conjunction with a number of other Aga Khan entitiies, particularly in Southern Tanzania the Aga Khan Foundation.

Event itself was fantastic, with two primary school classes making contributions, a senior class who sang a song specially written:

and a younger class who showed us a counting game they played, not a terribly good picture coming up but I just love the matching shirts and head scarves:

The event itself was in Nachingwea Teacher Training College, once it was explained to me that this was a project very close to President Julius Nyerere's heart, the founding president, from the 1960s, the grand proportions of the college in a quiet rural area then made perfect sense, I don't know if the following pictures quite capture what the college is like:

The other reason for going was to publicise the scholarships we have through the SESEA project for education professionals aligned to the primary and pre-primary sectors for our Master of Education programme.  So we had very productive meetings with a number of education officials through the two regions, with also two meetings, one in Nachingwea Teacher Training College, the other in the teachers' union offices in Newala, with potential applicants, organised by us by local partners, Suppose it was a good thing that we ran out of application forms and business cards but it was a bit irritating at the time!  Overall an extremely good week, with wonderful help from a number of people, particularly colleagues in the Aga Khan Foundation and also our own former students who work in that area.

We were away for five nights and stayed in four hotels., firstly in Lindi Town (as opposed to Lindi Region, much like Leicester and Leicestershire):

then in Newala:

Glad we had the eagle looking after us even if it is busy eating a snake!  Also this one:

No pictures from Nachingwea - except those which illustrate my confusion as to whether the bathroom next to my room was for my exclusive use or shared - and then finally on to Kilwa, no pictures of the hotel itself but we had great views to the Indian Ocean:

with the working day for the fishermen just getting started, not sure whether this picture quite captures what is happening:

There were three of us for the main trip, other colleagues joined us for the certificate presentation.  The others were two absolutely superb colleagues, Ronald our projects manager, and Yahaya our driver for the week, here he is next to the car we were using after a particularly adventurous piece of road, the brown / orange marks are mud spatters, not rust!

In the title I was suggesting that the week gave me the chance to practise being laid back.  Well, in such good hands I decided that I would be a passenger in every sense of the word, ready to spring into life when wheeled out to meet people.  Some of the driving got a little 'interesting', once away from the coast the roads were mostly unmade, with a fair bit of swerving to avoid pot holes.  Certainly the inertia seatbelts got a good workout!  The one occasion on which I was tempted to offer an opinion I was very glad afterwards that I hadn't, when we set out on Friday lunchtime to return to Dar es Salaam I had hugely underestimated how far away we were and was wanting to suggest that we returned in one go rather than stay the night in Kilwa, had we done so we would have been back well after midnight, not good to be driving after dark except in urban areas - and even then not necessarily advisable.  Particularly in Nachingwea the hotel we were staying in was some way off the beaten track, with several turns needed on single track roads which were not marked, without even any clear landmarks to go by.  Thank you, Yahaya, you bring a level of expertise I will never attain!

The hotels also offer an opportunity to adopt a more philosophical view than is my normal state.  Few rules: take your own towel, soap, shower gel, etc. - they may be provided or they may not be.  Take a torch for power cuts, can't rely on access to a back up generator.  In my experience mosquito nets provided when necessary, but do take a can of mosquito spray.  Always have a private supply of drinking water, don't rely on tea and coffee being available when you may want it.  And when tea is provided,  be prepared for it to be pre-mixed with sugar and sometimes milk also.  When ordering food be prepared for it to come anywhere between 20 minutes and 2.5 hours later.  If using a bathroom without running water use the scoops provided to throw water over yourself from large containers the shape and size of dust bins.  Have earplugs with you if wanting to go to bed sooner than the latest of the locals.  Decide when filling out the registration book what tribe you come from - I hope that 'mzungu' (white person) is interpreted, correctly, as an attempt to give an appropriate answer to the question - although it has occurred to me to wonder why that information is necessary at all.

But above all, be prepared to meet some wonderful people in a beautiful part of the world. Things are quieter, slower, more measured in Southern Tanzania than here in Dar es Salaam.  So, important to enjoy the more leisurely speed and not worry if things don't move quickly.  I don't know who it was who first prayed, "Lord, grant me patience and grant it to me quickly," but I certainly appreciate the point.

Two final things: knowing that rather less English is spoken in rural rather than urban areas, and having a series of long car journeys with two Swahili speakers, I decided the time was right to put some time and energy into my Swahili - largely successfully, I'm pleased to say, able now to construct simple sentences, up to a point anyway.  It was noticeable, in interactions with shop keepers, waiters, waitresses, hotel staff etc. that, while in DSM when I start in Swahili we end up speaking in a mixture of English and Swahili, in Southern Tanzania we stayed entirely in Swahili.  And I used a bit when speaking at the certificate presentation which seemed to go down well, albeit the main part of what I said was translated by Ronald.  So, having got this far I feel the need to continue to progress, do write to ask about this, I'm sure I'll be needing prodding over the coming weeks and months!

And very finally, this is the first time I have seen photographs of the four Tanzanian presidents together:

From left to right in going from first to current they are Presidents Julius Nyerere, Ali Hassan Mwinyi, Benjamin Mkapa and the current president, President Jakaya Kikwete, with elections due in October when President Kikwete will be standing down after 2 4 year terms on the American model.  As we pray in the words of the National Anthem, may God grant all who live in this wonderful country unity and peace in the months ahead, and may God grant all stakeholders wisdom so that political differences may be debated with respect and restraint.  'Mungu Ibariki Tanzania!' - God bless Tanzania!

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