Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Prayer notes

 “Christ is risen!” “He is risen, indeed!”

1. We give thanks with Christians around the world, East and West, for the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ! Without his rising from the dead our faith would be meaningless. But thanks be to God, for his indescribable gift of grace for us. May his new life be our inspiration every day in all we do.

2. Thank God with us for the opportunity early in April for both of us to present recent research efforts at a seminar for faculty and graduate students. We made PowerPoint presentations (Adrian on the impact of the Palestinian crisis on Christian/Muslim dialogue; Wendy on Wisdom, Witchcraft and Healing) which were well received. It appears that these presentations have helped open other doors, especially in terms of getting to know our colleagues at this university.

3. We are thankful for new opportunities for Christians to make a difference in the universities of Tanzania. This past week we enjoyed good talks with the Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic affairs, as well as the Vice Chancellor of St. Augustine University of Tanzania here. The door is wide open especially because, like other universities of Tanzania, SAUT is expanding very rapidly to meet a significant and growing demand for higher education.

4. We would ask your prayers for a workshop we are planning for May 23. We have been given a provisional green light to organize a seminar for faculty and graduate students on “The university teacher and competing worldviews.” At this one-day workshop we hope to show the importance of worldviews for teaching, introduce a Christian perspective, and demonstrate how it can support constructive teaching in various branches of learning.

 “Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son, Endless is the glory Thou o’er death hast won.”


Friday, April 17, 2009

Trip to Bujora, museum of the Sukuma tribal region

The Easter break was an excellent opportunity to explore the region neighboring Mwanza, but where were we to go? Adrian asked his graduate students for suggestions, and some mentioned a regional museum dedicated to what was once the dominant tribe of the area, the Sukuma. Most people in Mwanza and at the university speak Swahili, but the Sukuma are the largest tribe in Tanzania. But we are not so much aware of tribalism and tribal distinctives here as we were in Nigeria. So we decided this would be a very good way to discover something of the local history and see as well how the people of  Tanzania lived during the pre-colonial period. 

Sign for the Sukuma Museum

One of Adrian’s students, Pascal, was interested in visiting this museum himself; so together with Albert, his former fellow student, who is now teaching at SAUT, we took off in Albert’s vehicle, heading for Bujora, about a half hour ride east of Mwanza. Once we left the highway we found that the “short distance” to the museum (according to our guidebook to Tanzania), was a few kilometers, and we were glad we did not have to walk that part, since most of it was uphill. The museum, and particularly its chapel, was built on the highest ground in this region. The museum itself was established in 1954 by a Canadian priest, Fr. David Clement, together with local committees to help preserve some of the local culture. At the time, Bujora was a forest, an area known for violent death, whether from predatory animals or from tribal groups who specialized in twisting the necks of their victims.

A prominent feature of the museum, a map of the area, once dominated by the Sukuma and its various subordinate kingdoms. Bujora, the location of the museum, is directly east of Mwanza; the town is not marked, but identified by the end of the railway tracks on the water. Our university is located in the area to the southwest of Mwanza, labeled Negeji (Nyegezi is the name today).

The chapel, a central focus on the grounds of the museum

The community worshiping on the grounds was practicing for the Maundy Thursday services to be held later that day. The singing, typical of Catholic services in East Africa, formed a lovely backdrop for our visit. 

This museum was built by the Roman Catholic Church, which began work in converting the tribe over the last 100 or more years. The chapel, built in the shape of a traditional tribal house (though much bigger than such a hut!) represents the heart of this open-air museum. We noticed it before we saw any other parts of the museum, since it took a little while to locate our guide.

View inside the chapel; the altar also incorporates traditional shapes

A special feature for a Catholic chapel is the container and cupboard to keep the reserved host. In this chapel the container had been built, on a smaller scale, of course, as a typical two-storey royal residence, as below.

The royal pavilion, for the chief or king of the tribe; it is also designed in the shape of a royal throne

Pascal, modeling the king, with attributes of royalty, especially his feathered crown and shield

The wooden throne for the king was carved out of a single piece of wood. The smaller stools were of interest to us, because the shape is exactly like those still constructed and used by the Tiv of Nigeria; indeed the Tiv are a Bantu tribe, as are most of the tribes of Tanzania. But also of interest in this scene is the gameboard displayed here; although the rules are a bit more elaborate, the principle for the game is the same as that which we discovered as a favorite in the Philippines, where it is called “sunka.”

One of the prerogatives of royalty was to call the people to assembly, and for this purpose the drum was essential. The museum collected a number of drums, most of them are rather well preserved.

Our guide, Sylvester, was helpful in explaining the significance of what we saw, particularly the central importance of the drum, also featured at the signature exhibit marking the opening of the museum. 

Drums are important especially for traditional dances. As focal point for an annual dance competition at harvest time (June to August), the Dance pavilion at this museum was instrumental in keeping alive the traditional tribal dances. The competitions feature competing dance societies each trying to attract the largest crowds through innovative dance steps or props. The dances are performed with use of different implements (like those in farming); some use very distinctive clogs, and we noted dances which feature a python.

The skin of a python is used in dances. Even a live python is a favorite feature in some dances. Sylvester told us that a python is kept on the museum grounds for this purpose (although we did not get to see it).

Dancing with high clogs 

Wendy with plaque acknowledging donors for the construction of the dance pavilion. It was interesting for us to note that donations had come especially from Canadians. 

Aside from these central structures, the museum also featured items of everyday life.

A representative hut of the blacksmith

Some ironwork implements of the blacksmith 

Inside the family homestead of a representative of the tribe, containers for milking cows or goats, as well as containers for drinking

Pots for keeping water, and gourds used as ladles, or spoons

Especially interesting was the hut of a medicine man, or traditional healer, featuring photos of well-known medicine men, with their implements, like horns for medicinal ingredients.

More implements, a skin on which the sick could rest, and bracelets as amulets against danger and evil.

Outside the hut of the medicine man, shrines as replicas of huts for the ancestors, as the focus of prayer to the gods; as 'living-dead' the ancestors were to intercede with deity on behalf of the family.

A chicken coop used to protect chickens from predators

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Ferry trip to Nansio, Ukerewe Island

We used the Easter break, a week without classes and teaching, to explore our surroundings here in Mwanza. One of the things we looked forward to doing was to take a ferry ride to one of the nearby islands on Lake Victoria. We had planned to take the ferry to one of the bigger islands, Ukerewe, on Tuesday, but that morning it was raining so hard that we decided to postpone the trip a day or more. For Wednesday we had expected a visit from some colleagues, but when that fell through decided to go ahead with the ferry even though it was raining a bit in the morning. So we packed a picnic lunch and headed for the docks early in the morning, to catch the 9 am ferry.

It was rather overcast leaving Mwanza, but the rain had stopped

It was a passenger boat with no vehicles, so the loading did not take long. We were off; we sailed for quite a while with land and/or islands on both sides. Lake Victoria is a huge lake, but we were always within sight of land. Yet there were times when we saw mostly water on the horizon.

Some of these islands looked habitable. 

But this one had the same kind of bare rock formation which we find all around Mwanza; in fact, it reminds us of the rocky outcroppings around Jos in Nigeria

The trip took about three hours; it was pretty slow, actually, so we could enjoy just being out on the lake, seeing the islands around us and other boats out on the lake.

These sailboats are used for fishing, which is main industry on lake

We rode on the upper deck of the ferry, so we remained protected from rain or sunshine.

Wendy at our table on the upper deck

In fact, the day cleared, and by noon the sun was shining. By 12.15 we arrived at our destination, Nansio, not a very big town.

Approaching Nansio

After reserving tickets for the return trip we took a walk into town. We did not have much time - loading for the return trip was at 1.30 - but we also found there was not that much to see, certainly without taking a taxi and going to one of the resorts of which we had read; the town was as 'scruffy' as the tour book said it was. Most of the picnic ingredients we had taken were already exhausted by our arrival at Nansio, so we were happy to find a fairly decent small restaurant. It was clean, and the food arrived within five minutes of ordering. So we had our warm meal. When we returned to the ferry, going back with the same one on which we arrived, we found out that food had been prepared for the passengers (2 pm. is the normal time for lunch here).

Adrian, after lunch, ready to board ferry for return trip

The return trip took about the same amount of time as the trip going. As we went, it got more sunny, so the lake looked different, the water was more blue.

Leaving Nansio

Adrian on board, a relaxing day

People even sat on deck during the return trip

Rocky coastline

Near Mwanza

Views of Mwanza from the lake

Bismarck rock, seen from the lake 

We got back to Mwanza just after 5 pm. We were exhausted - from what? sitting? But we found the trip worthwhile, expanding our horizons just a bit, especially since the lake is certainly the dominant and most interesting feature of Mwanza. For trivia lovers, it is the second largest freshwater lake in the world.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Teaching in Tanzania

We want to begin by wishing all of you a happy Easter. Today is a holiday here and thus we have a one week break from teaching (that started last Tuesday, so classes begin again tomorrow).

This time we want to share some reflections on our teaching here in Tanzania. Although the teaching itself does not differ greatly from our work in Nigeria, the context is certainly different, and that impacts our relationship with students, and our methods as well. 

Chapel on Malimbe campus

Plaque commemorating founding of SAUT as a university in 1999 (before that it was Nyegezi Social Institute)

To begin, we realize that a big difference between our work here in Tanzania and in Nigeria is the factor of language. As in Nigeria, English is the medium of instruction, but outside of class, Swahili, the national language, is used almost exclusively by both faculty and students. If competence in English left much to be desired for Nigerian students, we find that Tanzanian students, for the most part, have at least a passive acquaintance with the language. Many students in both countries find it difficult to write well in English, largely because they do not read enough good books and articles. The library, here, as in Jos, is not adequate even for undergraduate, much less graduate students. Yet SAUT is commited to building a decent library, certainly by African standards. The new library building indicates that.

Entrance to library

New library building

No bags are allowed into the library, but books disappear anyway

Students studying in the library

Our students at SAUT are also more shy than in Nigeria. They are not so ready to offer answers when a question is raised. Perhaps the context has its impact, because Wendy's class in introductory philosophy is large: 122 students in all. But they do have a chance to talk when the Friday tutorial is given. A course typically meets three hours per week. While two hours are devoted to lectures, the third hour involves ‘tutorials.’ Students are divided into small groups for discussion. But we have discovered that such group discussions spill over outside the classroom. The campus is dotted with groups of students comparing notes, explaining the lecture materials to each other. To judge by these groups, students here seem more committed to their studies than those in Nigeria.

Wendy talking to students in a discussion group

One of about ten discussion groups in her class
Discussion groups can be found all over the campus

Adrian's graduate course in the “History of Political Ideas” has fourteen MA students, a fairly typical size for a class at that level. Again he uses the two-hour period to lecture; in the tutorial hour students read and discuss portions of texts of major political philosophers. He has discovered that his students are not used to this kind of intensive reading. They have never been exposed to reading either Plato or Aristotle, or any other major authors introduced; and they have little or no background in philosophy to prepare them for the challenge. Students who have graduated from SAUT have had as least two required philosophy courses: the introductory course that Wendy is now teaching and a course in logic. But students who graduated from other Tanzanian universities were not required to take any philosophy courses. At SAUT, the philosophy program will soon be expanded; the department is proposing a new BA in Philosophy for students in education which will have many more courses in philosophy. 

Adrian teaching his class

Wth about 6000 students, SAUT is already the largest private university in Tanzania and the second-largest overall. It appears that education was not a priority in Tanzania for the first years after independence, but that has changed in recent years. Universities are springing up out of the ground, as it were, and are scrambling to find enough lecturers. This is the reason why SAUT invited us. Each of us is teaching one course this semester, which is not unusual here, especially for foreigners. This leaves us time to learn a bit of Swahili and to finish some research projects.

As you can see in the photos below, the buildings are springing out of the ground to accommodate the new students expected each year. All these buildings, including the library, are very close to our house. This is the new campus of SAUT. 

The new administration building

 The new classroom building, with ten very large classrooms

One of the women's hostels, with Lake Victoria in the background; this hostel is across the road from our house