Realities Created, Maintained and Destroyed, WHILE-U-WAIT!

Friday, December 03, 2004

African Lessons, part one


I moved to Africa last year to teach (Computer graphics and multimedia, Pencak Silat, and English) but also to learn (Swahili language, African arts, traditional cultures of East Africa, African martial skills). Both endeavors have been happily successful.

Teaching in Africa is a delight, as students, and people in general, have a culturally strong respect for teachers. (If American elementary and high school Teachers saw just how polite, respectful and attentive students are here it would cause a revolt)

I did not originally sign on to teach English, it sort of happened by accident.

I walked into the Dean's office one day to find him looking very worried, I asked him what was wrong and he told me that one of the English teachers has left without notice, and he had two full classes of students who were coming to school and finding that there was no one to teach them.

I thought for a moment, and after finding out when the classes were scheduled, said "no problem, I speak English like a native, I'll take the classes for the term, how hard could it be." (Please note the "famous last words" being used here).

As soon as I got the text book I was supposed to work from I discovered that it was not only poorly done and completely uninteresting, but it was based on "proper" British English.

Now I have nothing against "proper" British English, but it is very much a minority dialect. If you want business English you teach American English first, with references to Canadian, Australian and British dialects in that order. Of course Tanzania was a one time a British Crown colony (something they never did ask the Tanzanians if they wanted) so you have all these old remnants of the "Empire", like driving on the left, and judges in powered wigs.

So I suggested to the Dean that I would like to work on the curriculum just a bit and modernize it some. Being as I had gotten him out of a jam, and as it would cost nothing he agreed (I like to think he trusted my judgment as well).

My next surprise was that my classes consisted entirely of African women between the ages of 18 and 30. All of my other classes were a mix of African and Indian and weighted taward the male.

As it turned out, these were all secretarial students.

Now being a secretary is a good job in Tanzania, it pays well and is one of the few skilled jobs a woman can get, but your English has to be good.

So, I had just been handed two classes of intelligent, highly motivated young ladies who intended not to fall into the old African traditional rolls for women.

Mushtaq Ali teaching one of his English classes
Using as one of his textbooks "Think and Grow Rich"


In many ways Tanzania resembles the American "Old West" of about a hundred and twenty years ago. Of course the technology is more advanced but the mind-set and social structure are in many ways similar.

One of the things I had intended to do in Africa was to learn as much as I could about traditional African fighting skills.

coinsidentally, Tanzania, along with Kenya, is where the Maasai live.

The Maasai are one of the last tribes of East Africa who have retained their cultural Identity and traditions. They are a very proud warrior people who have refused to adopt modern ways or be assimilated into a European influenced culture.

The Maasai find work as couriers and watchmen in Arusha. One of the first things I was told when I got to Africa was that I should only use Maasai as watchmen because they would not run if someone tried to rob the house, they could not be bought off by thieves and they would not try to rob you themselves. In short, they had honor.

They are also formidable fighters. A Maasai male will never be seen without the tools of his trade. He will always have his Sime, a double edged short sword, and either a fimbo, which is a short staff about a meter or so in length, or his rungu which is a war club shaped a lot like a femur.

I was able to strike up friendships with a number of Maasai warriors and elders, who graciously shared their knowledge with me. I became particularly interested in the way they used the fimbo and made a study of the weapon while I was there.

I also made the acquaintance of two brother who hailed originally from Cape Town, South Africa. They had moved to Tanzania a couple of years ago to make a better life for themselves and get away from the live they had in South Africa.

They were familiar with the
Zulu style of knife fighting found in that area. I spent as much time as possible learning everything I could about this very interesting system.

All of this, as you can imagine kept me very busy.

More details to come in part two

1 comment:

Clive Peter Deane said...

I will finish a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies degree with emphasis in English by next April...maybe sooner if I bag the English. I have been a journalist, TV producer, marketing specialist, failed novelist, and a secondary ed. teacher (English,)among other things. I would love to teach where teachers are appreciated. My wife would love to run a respiratory therapy dept. or similar at some hospital, clinic, etc. She suggested Tanzania. After reading about you, I am wondering if she might have a good point. The U.S. community colleges seem to have enough English instructors here. I am a Quaker-Sufi-Obama supporter who is ready to leave this country if Bush is as good as it's going to get. Any suggestions?