Getting Comfortable with being uncomfortable in Tanzania

re-blogged from World Teach volunteer blog

WorldTeach volunteer Chelsea Reist talks about how she has learned to be okay with going outside her comfort zone during her stay in Tanzania..
Chelsea with one of her students. Source: World Teach
Chelsea with one of her students. Source: World Teach
Over the years I have discovered that there are many ways to feel uncomfortable. I have also learned that being uncomfortable is not all bad. During my years as a university student and basketball player I was constantly forced into situations that made me uncomfortable but I think these are the moments where I really grew. I want to share 3 example/stories of this here in Tanzania:

1)      Transportation

So to give you a brief overview of transportation in Tanzania – if you thought no one or no other thing could fit in or on a vehicle…you were wrong. A seven passenger van can in fact hold 12 people, numerous bags, water jugs, and a chicken (and that was a light load). I have been in various types of vehicles where I have been squished between elderly men and very large individuals, things that could peck my neck, and a mixture of smells that have come close to stopping my breathing altogether. However, I have also had awesome conversations in these vehicles. It is amazing what a few simple greetings, like “shikamoo” to an elder, can do. It can open up a wide range of communication (even if that doesn’t involve a lot of speaking). I have witnessed incredible displays of kindness and generosity on these crazy, crammed rides.

2)      Language:

Living in a country where you understand every 20th word can definitely be a challenge. It can be frustrating and uncomfortable when you try to explain yourself and all you look back at is a blank stare and probable laughter. But sometimes this uncomfortable feeling can turn into something quite beautiful. I have been fortunate enough to spend some time with members of the surrounding villages. This past week I sat with an elderly man and his wife and conversed through body language and limited Swahili words. They showed me their wedding photos and photos of their 7 children (how they have kept these in one piece while living in a mud hut beats me). I worked with the little Swahili I do know to ask about the family. The man was so clearly proud of his family and he was so happy to share the picture and memories with me. I felt honoured to have spent time with him and it didn’t matter that we didn’t speak the same language. People here keep thanking me for coming and teaching but I am learning more from the people of Tanzania than I can hope to teach this year.

3)      Education systems and discipline:

Watching students be taken out of class to dig holes, cut fields, and be beaten is more than uncomfortable. I feel awful and helpless as I watch students who finally made it to school get taken out yet again. This system is a vicious circle as students never get to be in class learning. However, as uncomfortable as this situation is for me, it is also a situation that can help me grow as a person and as a teacher. It makes me thing more critically about discipline methods in education in general. Let’s face it, there are issues like this everywhere in the world, back home included, although they may look different. We really need to think about the reasons for misbehaviour or problems with students. What is the root of the problem? There are a number of factors affecting my students including a lack of food, being exhausted from working the shamba (farm), frustrations caused by constant failure, among others. These issues (as large as they may be) need to be addressed. Slowly we can begin to understand why certain behaviour arises. A part from this, we need to look at the disciplinary actions we take on students and measure whether or not they are effective.

Corporal punishment is a huge part of disciplinary action in Tanzania (in the culture in general) and it is not my place to judge or criticize the system but I can acknowledge that it makes me uncomfortable. I think that no matter what disciplinary action you take you can’t always do the same thing because it will begin to lose its initial effect. My conversations here on this topic involve attempting to explain that I use varying methods and that we can all learn from each other and examine the results of our actions.

So yes, I am not 100% comfortable here but I knew that coming in. I did not make this journey to be comfortable. I made this journey to teach, learn, and grow and I believe that I am doing all of the above!

– Chelsea Reist, WorldTeach Tanzania Summer 2014

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