Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Arrival in Mwanza

The last leg of our journey of these weeks, the flight to Mwanza on a rather small plane, went without a hitch. We immediately realized that Mwanza, on Lake Victoria, and at a much higher elevation than Dar es Salaam, was also decidedly cooler than Dar. The quality of the air also seemed more like that of Jos, which is on a plateau. 

We were thankful to meet the Deputy Vice Chancellor Academic, Bernardin Mfumbusa, with whom we had corresponded over the last months. Because the house we were to occupy was not ready (there was some confusion over the date of our arrival), he took us to a local hotel, the Isamo (where we stayed for two nights), and then took us out for dinner at a lovely restaurant, the Tilapia (named for the local fish) which, as we soon realized, was one of the best of Mwanza.


View of Lake Victoria from Isamo hotel, looking west

 View of Mwanza from the Isamo, looking south toward the peninsula on which the university is located; like Jos, the city is built on the rocks and is distinctively hilly

Mwanza looking north toward the center of the city

It was raining off and on for the first few days, and was decidedly cool for us. In fact, after the problems with the Johannesburg flight, we had both come down with colds and we really felt the cool breezes! It rains here from time to time, since it is rainy season now. But we discovered that when the sun did come out, it is much hotter than Jos! We are very close to the equator here (about 2 ½ degree south), and the sun is pretty much directly overhead. Starting in early March it will be north of us. So we feel the strength of the sun's rays, and really need to keep suntan lotion on hand here, even if it is cooler than in Dar es Salaam.

The next day Mfumbusa took us around to meet many people whom we needed to get to know on campus, so we got a good look at the facilities, and met so many that it was hard to keep track of them all! 

But we would not forget Timothy, the Nigerian professor of history who is spending his sabbatical year teaching here at SAUT. 

Students were still writing exams to finish the first semester, so things were actually pretty quiet on the grounds for the first few days. This was good for us, because we had to do some shopping. 

On Friday morning, first thing, the SAUT driver, Sylvester, took us to see the house, right smack in the middle of the campus, near the women’s hostels, not far from the classrooms and the imposing new library building. We discovered that the house already had some basic furniture, three beds, a dining room set and living room furniture and lerned that the refrigerator and stove would be delivered later that day. The house had been left stripped of everything by the former occupant, who had moved into Mwanza. After seeing it, we went shopping for pots and pans, plates, silverware and other basic kitchen equipment, as well as a first installment of groceries. 

When we got back to the house after doing our shopping, we discovered that the stove and refrigerator had arrived, and were happy that the electrician also came to make sure everything was properly connected. That night we were able to cook a simple meal, get a shower, and sleep in new beds with new sheets! It was especially wonderful to be able to unpack our bags after all these weeks of travel. It would take us numerous trips into Mwanza over the next days to finish shopping for the basics, but we were thankful to have a good head start on the matter. 

We were thankful too that Sylvester was with us when we went shopping the first time, because Swahili is a new language for us. Although the lectures at the university will be in English, everywhere else people speak Swahili! It would have been difficult for us to get the shopping done without some help. 

The women's hostels, our nearest neighbors on campus 

We soon discovered that the impressive new building (only two years old) which features prominently on the SAUT website is the library 

Our home on campus

Adrian at our back door, which is also our main door 

On Saturday we took a bit of time to explore our immediate surroundings, and Adrian was brave enough to take a ride into Mwanza with the local mini-bus, called ‘dala-dala’; they take about 20 passengers (although it seems there is always room for one more!). The cost is reasonable enough, the equivalent of about 30 cents for a 10 km ride into town. The alternative is taxis, which cost about $10 from town to the university. We do that when it is late at night, and thus not safe in a dala-dala, or when we have too much to carry. We do not intend to buy a car for these few months, so these kinds of transportation allow us to get around fairly well. 

A mini bus is know locally as a 'dala-dala'; each route has its own station in the center of the city

We also discovered that we do not need to go into Mwanza for all our purchases. Between the university (located on a peninsula of lake Victoria, outside of Mwanza) and the lake there are roads, and houses, and even some villages; as we took some walks over the next few days we found that people sell fruits, vegetables and other daily necessities like bread, and at prices that are comparable to what we pay in town. That will certainly simplify life for us the next few months. 

Area roads near university

The university is located in a rather rural and agricultural setting 

We are beginning to settle into a new routine. Unlike Jos, we do not have household help here. Our house is smaller, with a kitchen, dining room, living room and three small bedrooms. At the moment it rains rather frequently and it is not too hot yet nor too dusty either; so we can keep things under control. Water runs fairly consistently, though we have had days when it was ‘off’ more than ‘on’; we have been promised a water-holding tank, which will be helpful. Electricity has been fairly consistent, although the voltage fluctuates considerably, and we have had some evenings when it went off, and even one day when we had no power at all. 

We do not have the 12-volt backup systems that we had in Jos, so when the power is off we have to manage with candles and flashlights. At the moment our stove is electrical, though it has provision for gas burners; we hope to get a tank hooked up soon, so at least we can do some cooking when the power is off. So there are still some basics which need attention here! 

Settling into a routine in our new Malimbe campus home 

But our main assignment is to teach in the Department of Philosophy. We were introduced to the head of the department, Aidan Msafiri, on the first day, and discussed the courses we were to teach. Adrian’s MA class on the history of political ideas started on Monday, Feb. 16. Wendy is teaching introduction to philosophy, which also introduces the students to ancient philosophy. This course started on Friday, Feb. 13. The students had little time to recoup their energies after exams before starting the new semester. In fact, there were only a few students who showed up; the rest of the 122 students came along for first main lecture the next Wednesday (Feb. 18)! We are getting the matter of textbooks and basic readings straightened out. Textbooks do not seem to be available at all for the students to buy. The library simply has multiple copies of basic texts, and students will probably have to photocopy some sections for themselves. But like Nigeria, this is an oral culture, and we expect that the really important teaching will be done in the classroom. 

Karibu means Welcome! We certainly feel warmly welcomed at SAUT

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