I wake in darkness. Through the morning coolness and a packed ground comes the steady ‘thud, thud, thud’ of Zawadi preparing breakfast with her sister. The ‘Today’ programme on Radio 4; the six o’clock news with Jumbe Omari Jumbe. Outside, the soft rain cuts through the cold mist which blurs the orange street lights as I wait for my morning lift. Jodie furrows her brow, brushes crumbs of toast and chocolate off her chemistry homework and glances at the furious action on the video. seven-thirty, the sun already high in a pure sky, I walk slowly up through the village towards the school; footsteps and dragged leaves behind pause briefly into ‘Shhhikamoo’ and then Zawadi rushes away to beat the late bell.
Spread like a net over the slopes of the school grounds, the students slash the grass short, each in their assigned area. Prefects and class monitors supervise. Those near the drive stand to attention “Good Morning Sir” and my bag rushes away ahead of me. The bell is rung again and students sweeping their classroom hurry to join their fellows on the parade ground. The Headmaster arrives and teachers join the students at attention, sing the National Anthem as the Flag is raised. “Good morning, everybody!” “Good morning, Sir!”. The Headmaster addresses the school for some ten minutes in English. School fees must be paid soon. Next week, pupils who have not yet paid fees for at least half the year of 4,000 shillings (or roughly four pounds) will be sent home to get it. Attendance is poor. People are picking oranges to earn money instead of coming and studying! The students have brought in woven palm leaves to contribute to a school income generating project; these are stacked under the prefect’s direction and then they go into their classrooms. Zawadi’s form have an English lesson first.
Jodie is chatting with three friends, eating crisps. The boy’s half of the room buzzes with last night’s big football match, seen live on TV. The ref was a MORON! …• “Morning all” I say, entering with the register. “Sir, you’re so sad!” says Jodie. After a few minutes I persuade them to stop discussing Manchester United, East Enders and the fate of baby seals long enough to answer the register. I hastily collect parent’s notes from those who have been absent. Then we go off to assembly. The room, cleaned by contract cleaners the previous evening, is already messy with chewing gum wrappers and trodden-in crisps.
“Good morning, Year 10”. ‘MmmmmmggMsss’. The Head of Year addresses the students in English. She reads a short story with the moral ‘always treat other people the way you want to be treated yourself’. This is taken from a commercially produced book of such stories specifically aimed at school assemblies. She goes on to talk about the problem of bullying which has been surfacing again. Jodie kicks the leg of her friend’s chair and asks her what lesson is first? French.
Both teachers address their students in a foreign language. “If I had a lot of money I would buy a nice house”. “Who can give us another sentence like that? .. Quiet … Four thousand miles apart, two girls stare at their desks … Quiet ….
“Zawadi!”. “Jodie!” “Have a go” … Quiet … muffled laughter … a long. long pause, then … (both) “If …. I have .. ah, … had a lot of money …. I go in America”.
“Excellent! Thank You, … let me help you improve the second part”.
Later, both classes are working in pairs to prepare short dialogues to be performed in front of their friends. The English students are basing their work on their French textbooks; the Tanzanian students are using English story books provided by the British Council. Jodie and Zawadi are encouraged by their success and try hard. However, they find the work difficult. There are so many words to look up. Many of the teacher’s instructions, although simple, are hard for them to fully grasp. By the end of a full lesson using a foreign language, both feel themselves adrift in mists of incomprehension.
Both Chemistry teachers say in English “Today we will investigate what happens when we add certain kinds of things, certain substances, to water”
Zawadi’s teacher starts at the top-left corner of the board, writing and dictating, still in English. ‘To dissolve is defined as to change into a liquid state, especially by the process of immersion in water. The resultant solution will be determinalistically configured in its own chemical properties by 1. The valency and ….. ‘ For Zawadi the mists have thickened to deep fog. In her exercise book, the second sentence reads: ‘The resultand solution will determinally configured in by the nature of the nature … ‘
Jodie, freed from the confusions of French, can at least put her energies into struggling with Chemistry. Her teacher asks: “What properties might we measure during such an investigation?” Some students suggest ‘temperature’, ‘colour’, ‘mass’. Jodie wants to suggest ‘pH’ but doesn’t want to be called a ‘keener’ by her friends. Next, the class are shown a video on ‘solutions’. It demonstrates various laboratory investigations and shows some industrial and commercial applications such as the clothing and fashion business. Afterwards, the class work in small groups in a well equipped laboratory. Jodie respects this teacher and wants to try hard but she has very little confidence in herself. She can’t see the point of trying to measure too accurately. The teacher has to spend some of her time with a group of boys who are being quite noisy. Eventually, one of then breaks Jodie’s flask with a coin thrown from across the room; the teacher tells him to stand outside.
Meanwhile Zawadi is copying down descriptions of similar experiments and the equipment needed, in her third blackboard full of English notes. “So, what is the definition of ‘dissolve?'” asks her teacher. The first two boys have no idea and are left standing up. Then …. “ah …. a girl .. Zawadi!” She stands up, half panic, half resignation. Silence …. Suddenly the word ‘dislove’ leaps to her from her exercise book. Clutching at the chance, she reads out the first sentence and a half. “Excellent! sit down”. The two boys are called out to the front. The teacher chuckles, “wewe! Dadako anakupitia!???”. Three strokes from the teacher’s stick. The rest of the class roar with laughter.
For homework, both classes have to write up the experiment.
The bell goes in my classroom. Fifteen minutes break. I rush around putting away boxes of teaching resources and computers, simultaneously interrogating a student about missing maths homework. I get into the staffroom with eleven minutes left, put teabag and water into cup. “Could I have a quick word?” says Jodie’s Chemistry teacher. She explains “….. they are outside”. I go to the door – via two more conversations with colleagues about meetings and test dates. Five minutes left. After talking to Jodie and the boy outside in the rain I rush back in. Take out teabag, add milk, listen to announcement about problems with central heating, sit down. One minute left.
Around 11 o’clock the teachers start to gather in the Tanzanian staffroom. “No tea yet? Tell them to hurry!”. We have about an hour, or as long as necessary. I send a student off with 70 shillings (about 70p) to the market to buy some deep fried cassava, chips and oranges. Students come in with jugs of hot black tea and pour it for each teacher at their desk. The Headmaster leads discussion of a few matters such as the holiday shamba rota. One student comes in and asks the duty teacher for permission to travel to his home village to collect food. Another asks permission to go to the hospital; this is quite rare now that the students have to pay 200 shillings to see the doctor themselves and then buy any drugs prescribed. Many struggle on with skin conditions, bad teeth, malaria.
During break, Jodie’s friends huddle in a sheltered doorway from the cold November wind. Boys are playing football on the field and tarmaced areas. The teacher on duty, wrapped in a thick coat, stalks along the edge of the field towards the sheds where the cigarette smokers usually hide.
The Tanzanian students stream up towards the hot dusty market. They will gather round the chip selling stalls; some to spend their 10 or 20 shillings, most just to join the conversations. Zawadi watches a group of boys re-enacting the commentary from last night’s big football match, heard live on radio. “Refu MPUMBAVU!”
I hope readers will forgive my poetic licence with some time differences.