That’s the title of the Tanzanian Sign Language Dictionary I originally had copied just for my students. It’s beautifully clear, fantastic for children and my kids were desperate to take them home. After a bit of umming and ahhing the easiest option that would enable me to ensure that the children managed to get them home without having them stolen was to give every student in the unit a copy. If the older students found the content too easy it would be a useful tool for their parents to learn to communicate with them. I also gave one for each of the teachers as a teaching resource. All-in-all, 75 copies.
I’d arranged with Raymond to bring them on Tuesday morning, not my usual teaching day and was bringing my mum and brother with me, as they’d come to Mwanza for a visit. My brother Tim has been incredibly supportive and instrumental in getting together resources and the money for the books, so I wanted him to see what he’d helped me achieve. I also took a friend who had done all the printing and making up of the copies and who knew a little sign.
It wasn’t my usual day for teaching so I was surprised when they all ran down the hill to meet me. Jabiri had slipped over and cut his knee and was crying; Hasini was demanding to know where my kikapu with all the art stuff in was; Riziki was unbuttoning her shirt to show me she’d hidden her new exercise book I’d given her inside there (yes, these are the lengths they have to go to). When I looked up and saw Abdallah crying, I assumed he too had slipped over, and went over to give him a hug. It was only as I came closer to him that I realised why he was sobbing and covering his head. In Tanzania, all school children, girls and boys, have to have their heads closely shaved and are not allowed to grow it. Abdallah’s had been deemed too long by the teacher and, in what seems an incredibly cruel humiliation for a child as young as 6, they had taken a razor and shaved a strip down the middle of his head as a reminder to his parents to get his haircut. This seems to me an almost gleeful expression of power in the act of doing it in the middle of his head – if it has to be done, why not the side, or even a note? He was crushed and so, as you’ll see in the pictures, it’s all the more humbling that he picked himself up and had a huge grin on his face later in the day.
And so we gave the dictionaries out. The response was incredible from the students. All of them, including the older ones, wanted a copy. I’d look up from handing them out and see groups of children huddling together practising the signs that they saw. My students wanted to make sure that they’d all written their names correctly in their books. EVERYBODY wanted to have their picture taken. Time and time again we had to reassure them, yes, it is yours; yes, you can take it home.
However every silver lining, as they say, has a cloud. The teachers’ response was less enthusiastic. One might refer to damp squibs, bonfires and pissing… Having provided a much needed teaching resource, which was one of the things requested, it appears I may have inadvertently made a cultural faux pas. Here in Tanzania, you are not celebrated for being successful – everyone is expected to be on the same level, no more or less than their neighbour (which is why on the market stalls, for example, you see so little diversity, just row upon row of different people selling the same thing). By coming to the school, creating the resources and teaching the kids, and now by bringing the dictionary, I had made everybody else look bad and like they were doing nothing, which in essence is the case but no one likes to have that pointed out.
It’s so hard with this project. I‘m rooting for the kids – I want them to have books and posters and an appealing classroom and not to be punished with a stick or shaved but I’m working with teachers who have no interest in their welfare or education, who I often see sitting down outside under a tree whilst the older kids run riot in the room opposite or start interrupting my class. But if I don’t do anything then no one will do anything so I’ll just have to keep stomping my big fat mzungu feet over Tanzanian pride and achieve the best that I can for these kids.
So I think we can tick the success box for the dictionaries. My kids asked when I was coming back (I dread the day they don’t do that – needy huh?) and were informed normal Wednesday class will resume on 9th January 2013.
Watch this space…
ASIDE: I think this is also the best time for me to give a special thank you to my brother. He has been incredibly supportive of what I’m doing and has been promoting the project among his friends and his colleagues at ecircle, who between them have provided me with much needed donations, resources, football kits (thanks Pat and Kits for Kids), reading books, and all manner of other things that can help me make the lessons fun, interesting, informative and basically give these children an experience they would never normally have. He’s also taken most of the pictures for this blog post as I was otherwise engaged. Tim you are a superstar and I love you. Thank you.
Merry Christmas to everyone who has enabled me to achieve what I have so far. See you next year x