Teacher Turned Author by Angus Yellowlees

Yellowlees la

Arrival:

Well, after an hour and a half on the plane down to London I finally met up with my housemates to be. They both seemed really friendly and at least as nervous as me, which was reassuring. We faffed around check-out for a bit, and then, eventually, got our act together and found our plane.

The flight to Ethiopia took just under nine hours, and from there it was another three hours to Zanzibar, but hey, at least we arrived.

Everything was crazy. I spent the whole car trip, from the airport to Makunduchi (Mak), completely open-mouthed. There was thick scrubland on either side of the road, dominated by massive baobabs and swaying coconut palms. Occasionally, I could see the ocean, stretching away and bordered with glittering, white beaches. No one said anything: we just sat in silence, staring.

We rolled in to Mak at about two in the afternoon so the sun was already baking down. Our accommodation, we discovered, was a luxurious (by local standards) concrete house, complete with a garishly painted “Zanzigap” on the porch wall.

We chose our rooms and mosquito nets, and crashed on the sofa: it’d been a long trip.

We have no running water, so showering involves a bucket and flannel, and the toilet is just a porcelain-clad hole in the ground. In our second week, we got a blockage, so wrapped in a bin bag, I shoved my hand down to fix it. Fun!

So, yeah, life is basic, but it’s an experience at least. Mostly we eat bread and fish in the morning, rice and some kind of sauce for lunch, and more bread and spiced tea for dinner. For all three of us, this costs 50,000 Tzsh per week, which is about £20.

Teaching:

Where to start?

The teaching here is very different from at home. For one thing it is clear that the vast majority of teachers do not teach for teaching’s sake but do it purely for an income. This combined with a no-overtime pay policy, means that often teachers don’t bother turning up for class! I asked one of the staff at Kajengwa School, and apparently you can be off for two weeks without having your monthly pay cut. Of course you have to provide a reason but apparently joining in with a general election campaign is reason enough. Also some kids don’t turn up to school because they have to pray.….no wonder the students fail their exams. Everything points to the question: in a society where faith and politics have precedence over education, what hope is there for social advance?

Answer: not a lot!

So anyway (rant over) I was thrown in the deep end as far as teaching is concerned. After reviewing only one lesson I was asked to take Form One double Physics unsupervised. Thankfully, the kids are pretty well behaved, so it turned out OK. So now, I teach English and Physics at Kiongoni School, and just physics at Kajengwa. Both classes are Form One, which is aged at about 15-17, but the syllabus is more like third year stuff.

Rant two:

The textbooks here are useless! I have adopted a new teaching strategy that basically avoids the textbooks entirely, because they are often grammatically incorrect, posing impossible questions, or just generally wrong. This is not such a problem in English as I can use basic grammar lessons, but in Physics, the topics are in the wrong order. It is so difficult to define “force,” when the teachers haven’t bothered to teach their pupils the meaning of basic physical quantities like speed, mass and acceleration.

It’s not all doom and gloom though.

Last week I had to set my class an English exam, which I made relatively difficult. The good news is the majority achieved over forty percent and Halima got eighty five percent.

Otherwise teaching has been a very sudden reality check. In Britain, we take our education for granted, but everything here shows us just how lucky we are.

Life in General:

I have now finished teaching for this term as the Form Two’s have exams and then there is a months holiday. My friend is coming out to visit, and we are going to visit the North of Zanzibar, which is apparently really nice. I can’t believe he’s arriving tomorrow. He’s staying until the 29th and then we are meeting up with a fellow volunteer, and backpacking for two weeks on the mainland. It should be really good, though I’m slightly apprehensive of the 7-hour bus trip without toilets or AC! I think we are going to tour the northern circuit of Tanzania, which means Arusha National Park, the Serengeti, Lake Victoria and some other places that have temporarily escaped me. There also a half plan to cross the border into Kenya and visit Nairobi, although my travel guide reckons it’s the most dangerous city in Africa! I’m not sure if it’ll happen because sorting visa’s is usually a bit of a faff.

In other news, I’m writing a book! It’s going to be a sort of semi autobiographical, cult-fiction thriller set on Zanzibar. I’ve written fifty pages so far and it’s going fairly well. The prologue is my description of Africa and Zanzibar, so I shall attach it to the email.

Anyway, amongst swimming with dolphins, visiting paradise beaches and teaching, I am having n amazing time. Everything is so new and different it’s quite tiring to try and take it all in, but I think I’ll cope. That’s all for now but I shall write again after Christmas when things have died down a bit.