The answer is always LOVE (or sometimes, "42"!)

The answer is always LOVE (or sometimes, "42"!)
My philosophy is LOVEISM...

Friday, May 13, 2011

How do you teach modern sciences to people who have never even seen a light bulb?

Kaye and Miriam just did not know what to do with my hair!
By Kelly N Patterson

Dinner by candle light (or kerosene lanterns) is not romantic when you have no electricity!
This question was posed to me almost, and I say almost, two decades ago, when I originally arrived to Tanzania. Me: very young (as a matter of fact, my supervisors forbid me from telling anyone, especially my students and local leaders, my true age, for fear I would lose any credibility and all respect in a culture that honors its elders)—it was bad enough that I was a chalk-asian, American WOMAN. I realize now (chuckle to self) I was also very na├»ve, with a full bout of Save-The-World Syndrome (no worries, I am mostly cured now, with a few occasional relapses.)

"This is your laboratory, Miss Patterson"
The brilliant idea was to raise science and math testing scores/education levels throughout very, very rural Tanzania and bring it up to par with science and math levels in the urban areas like Dar es Salaam, Arusha, etc. However, where do you start to teach people who have never experienced (much less SEEN) electricity; have no indoor plumbing; and have no idea what a computer is?!
I used to bathe in the river until I discovered the cows were crossing upstream.

Commonly called “applied sciences”, I refer to it as teaching “science in metaphor”-- using well, mostly agricultural terms and natural processes; most of my classes took place in the middle of corn fields. So my first “job” was to train local Tanzanian science teachers how to teach applied sciences out “in the bush.” However, following a month of science-teacher training sessions, then, later, during the six-month monitoring and evaluation part of our program, my beloved teachers, now friends, started dying on me.
One of the 22 weddings I went to while living in Tanzania--being the only mzungu for 500km has its benefits!

Back then, early 1990’s, they were calling it “African Swine Fever” and it seemed to be sweeping through villages: not only killing my teachers, but killing doctors, nurses, local leaders, police, basically, the educated and wealthy, as well as the poor and uneducated. I mean, there are a million creative ways to die in Africa, but this was literally wiping out everybody: not just the poor, the rural, but also in the cities and among the educated, wealthy, and generally healthy populations.
Bamboo juice is some kind of narcotic which acts like an anesthesia; first time I tried it, I had to be carried home because I could not feel my legs!


I was one of the first nut-balls to say out loud, in public, “Hey, this looks like the same disease our gay boys are dying of in the States.” (Surprisingly, they let me live.) Yes, it did turn out to be an HIV and AIDS epidemic I was witnessing first hand, up close, and it took Africa a long time to accept that this was actually HIV (and not African Swine Fever, or some European master-plot to wipe out the races—even though I am sure there are still parties who believe this!) because at the time, HIV was considered the disease (and a “punishment”) of gay European/American males, drug users, and prostitutes. How wrong we all were….
In Zanzibar, when I complimented the women on their henna tattoos, they insisted giving me one--and this was well before the hippies and Madonna got the idea!

Recently, I digitalized some old photos of my year long stay in Tanzania—I wish I could have captured some of my unforgettable moments there: the mudslide hitting our bus; making an ass of myself in front of Jane Goodall; having Cape Buffalo charge and total our vehicle (well, actually, the vehicle belonged to the British government); my whole “Rwanda refugees” experience; my first experience with Witch Doctors (note: I am a believer!); malaria (not once, but twice!); my National Geographic visit to Zanzibar; and all the wonderful people I met and worked with, especially those that have passed away.

I know Tanzania, and the Mhehe people, in particular, influenced me, probably, second only to my parents. To this day, I regard Tanzanians as among the friendliest, most peaceful, most generous people in the world, and they have a wicked sense of humor—for example, just know that the word for “foreigner” (mzungu) actually means, “One who walks in circles.”

Bus break-down #678
The Tanzanians taught me how to live simply, joyfully with little; how to make a wedding party last 3 days; how mourning should really look (like angry/sad wailing for days); how to find humor in absolutely everything life throws at you; how to be patient (how to wait 7 hours for a bus gracefully); how to share anything and everything you have; how to take care of others (even if they are strangers); and to steal from a Swahili proverb: “Greet every stranger because one day you will be a stranger.”

Asante sana.

1 comment:

Eline said...

:) thanks for sharing kelly