Life here is certainly different as this blog has recounted over the months but I thought that I might summarise the big differences of life as an expat teacher as we approach the end of our 5th Month in Tanzania.
Teaching overseas is in many ways the same as in the UK. However there are significant differences.For one there is much less pressure. It is true to say that standards need to be maintained but in the UK an over reliance on assessment and monitoring has led to unreasonable expectations and paper filling exercises, a continuous analysis of the minutia and an expectation of continuous improvement which given children are children is not always realistic. That is not to say there is no assessment or monitoring here or expectation of high standards but it is as yet not out of control. One thing which helps is the attitude of the students. There is much less of a discipline issue here. Children are well-behaved and keen to do well in almost every case. Even those who are less so are about the average for the UK system. In general students work sensibly and quietly – whilst there are discipline issues they tend to be minor and students are respectful. No one has sworn at me or openly defied a request. These were common issues in the UK. Academically not every student is a superstar and there are always going to be issues delivering content to students for whom English is a second language, but I would say that the vast majority want to do well and work hard. Perhaps the only issue with some is a little arrogance but it is not a big problem. In general lessons run problem free and we get through the work as opposed to troubleshooting.As class sizes are a lot smaller the marking workload is significantly reduced so that there is a little more time in the evenings to socialise – something I could never do in the UK.Working close to home (our compound) means a much shorter journey to work. Most students don’t live in Isamilo in fact and come in from outlying districts (Bwiru, Capri Point and Central Mwanza). I rarely see students in town given that I live in catchment. Of course there are children of colleagues living on the compound and so the blur between work and social is greater, I don’t teach any of the expatriate children of colleagues (most are of primary age), but one difference here is that work and social life outside of work is more entwined.
Outside of work, there is much more socialising with colleagues. For a start we live on a compound of twelve houses. Popping over for a coffee or a game of Mah Jongg is easy. During weekends we are likely to bump into each other. I suppose when in a culture which is so different to that of Europe means that our common heritage draws us together more than would be in the UK. We have made some good friends here and there are weekly events to bring folk together. In the UK I commuted 45 mins to work and we all came from a wide geographical area which made socialising much more difficult. Here there are options to meet with fellow ex-pats. Anita and I play Bridge most Mondays with a group of expat teachers and local Tanzanians. Every other Tuesday I meet with other Christians (NGO’s and teachers) for a Men’s Bible Study. Thursday’s is Boy’s night when male teachers and male spouses share a meal at a local restaurant – different each week.
Birthdays and other get-togethers add to the social mix. These have been between colleagues as well as within the expat community. Here again there is more of a blur between parents and staff than might be in the UK.
It is probably true to say that I drink more alcohol here than I did in the UK, though always in moderation. As the diet is generally lower in refined sugars and we are walking more this is not having an effect on weight though we need to be careful!
In the UK we would probably spend a lot of our free time watching TV, although we have a TV here we have no cable service and have watched very little since we have been here (DVD’s and some downloads on the computer). Work-free evenings might be spent playing games with each other or neighbours, listening to music or out. I used to watch a lot of news and particularly political news. Here I have eschewed much of this. I am relieved not to be living through the run up to the election, and other news from UK. Of course we can keep in touch by other means (Facebook and online web-based news) and do get wind of the big news stories. Other activities such as visits to local beauty spots or the occasional run also take our time. I have become more interested in bird watching here with many strange and exotic birds visiting our garden along with familiar sparrows.
Weather & Environment
As you might expect it is hot here. In truth it is like a long hot summer which has not really ended. The day temperature are constantly in the mid to high 20’s (°C) in the daytime and at night fall no lower than 18°C. In fact it can seem cool to us if it drops below 20°C. The only change is the degree of rainfall. Storms here are dramatic and the rains intense when they do occur. We seem to be in a lull from the rains at the moment but November and December were very wet. Historically there have been two rainy seasons though the patterns have been disrupted in 2014/5. The ‘so called’ long rains are due from March to June but we will see.
Mwanza sits at altitude making it cooler than the lowlands it’s also hilly here making most walks up or down hill. The days are regular with little change in daylight from January to July. Sunrise between 6am and 7am, sunset happening about 12 hours later. No long evenings, but equally no short afternoons either.
The roads here are mostly made of compacted sand and mud, which is washed away in the heavy rains. At this time of year they are somewhat undulating. The road to our compound is probably the worst in town – requiring a four-wheel drive vehicle to make good progress. There are some tarmac roads in town and stretching out to the airport and towards the Serengeti. There is even one which heads up towards Isamilo Lodge and runs close to the compound but this soon peters out and turns to mud further up the hill. As yet we don’t have a car, something which might change, we are able to get around on foot or in a taxi, dala dala (minibus) or the very occasional piki piki (motorbike taxi). The kindness of colleagues allows us to get lifts to some of the social events and other activities week by week. Public transport is fairly cheap ranging from 400 TZS for a dala dala to 5000 TZS for a taxi (15p to £2), but doesn’t really operate after dark.
Inevitably there is less choice here. Meat is relatively expensive and so we eat less of it here. Fruit and vegetables are abundant and cheap even at Mzungu prices, though are seasonal. Dried pulses are cheap and readily available. Meals at home tend to be more similar. Our house worker is keen to cook and is a good baker. Bread is made every few days and we eat lentil and beans, chillies and curries with chapati or rice (with or without meat as the need arises). Home made pizza is a weekly meal. Eating out is cheaper here than in the UK with meals ranging from 4000 TZS to 15000 TZS (exceptionally 20000 TZS) per person which is about £1.50 to between £6-8. We really don’t eat puddings on a regular basis, which means sugar is much less a part of our diet than in the UK.
As previously said we probably drink more alcohol here – this is mainly beer – the most popular being Kilimanjaro. When choosing soda there is little of the diet variety so ‘full fat’ coke or sprite is common, as is my personal favorite Stoney Tangawizi (gingerbeer) and also Tonic Water. Beers are between 2500 and 3500 TZS (approx £1), sodas from 500 TZS to 1000TZS (20p to 40p). At home we have developed a taste for Hibiscus Tea, I also drink fresh ground coffee where possible. The kids have powdered squash which is mixed with water.
There is more traditional British Fayre at the local big supermarket (U-Turn), but this imported produce is very (some would say extortionately) expensive for many items. You can get some bargains also – but a trip to U-Turn is both a necessity and a great expense.
There is definitely a technology gap between here and the UK but not as big as you might think for the middle of Africa. Much of the internet is mobile and there is a good and reliable 3G service even in the villages. You can buy top up vouchers in town and use these to buy daily, weekly or monthly data packages which allow smart phones to do their thing. There is no automatic renew but you can even buy mobile money which is stored on your phone and used to buy your phone contract (when needed) or buy goods by transferring money from phone to phone. Computers can either make use of a wi-fi dongle which connects to the phone network, a 3G modem which does the same or else a wired connection to a wireless modem. The latter has proved to be the most reliable but is also expensive, it gives us 2MB/s download. It is obviously much slower than we were used to back home in England but is sufficient to support Skype and to download programs / movies. This again runs on a monthly contract which needs to be renewed in town by vouchers at the office.
There are technology shops in town and you can purchase (a price) much of the technology you might see in the west plus various cloned devices or variable quality (mostly Chinese made).
We don’t’ possess a microwave or a washing machine, let alone a dishwasher, a Hoover or any of the mod cons we had at home. We do employ a houseworker who does tasks such as cleaning, washing, ironing and cooking. We pay well and provide someone with employment who otherwise would have nothing. She does a great job and we are grateful to have found such a good person.
We have our own tech from the UK which works well enough here and in this respect notice no difference to the UK.
So there are many differences and some similarities. Life here has different challenges to life in the UK but on balance we think life here is better than it was in spite of the challenges.