Finding Uweza in Karatu, Tanzania

November 18, 2016

Uweza: Swahili word for skills, abilities and powers. 


Yesterday was our first day of class. Heading out for a 20 minute walk to school—usually alongside a herd of goats, many people on bikes, and some big trucks that spill up lots of dust—we were grateful for Mr. Shifrin’s breakfast of eggs made to order with home fries and the help of sous chef Lucas ’17 who made a  beautiful plate of fruit and made sure we had what we needed  before he ate.


We met our Tumaini Junior School (TJS) story guides to preview the first assignment before field work. The assignment was to capture five sounds produced from nature, five from humans —but not directly humans talking—and five sounds of learning. It is a deceptively hard assignment. When you walk around with headphones that are enhanced by stereo mics, suddenly your environment is alive.

The students worked well together—navigating all sorts of cultural barriers to get the work done. We are lucky to have the TJS students as our sound safari guides. Madsie ’18 found herself in a barber shop capturing the sounds of a facial shave; Noah ’18 and Lucas walked on a road filled with bird noises, cows, and brick makers; Mia ’19 was close to the ground capturing the swish-swish of a straw broom sweeping the rusty red Karatu soil; Zac ’19 experienced the overwhelming market sounds; Sophia ’18 explored a wood carpenters shop and Cindy ’19 small street side grocery stores.

Before we headed home, we visited the market for dinner supplies, a fabric shop, and a tailor. Over dinner—curry and fried rice cooked by Sophia and Cindy— we debriefed learning by experience and worked late into the night getting our rough cut of a Karatu soundscape done. And in the in between moments of evenings shared, we are getting to know each other, trying to finish a bit of Gould course work, and endlessly searching for a strong wi-fi signal to upload work.

Thursday morning was a chocolate chip and banana pancake feast, and we were out the doors about 30 minutes earlier and with more walk-to-school confidence. Students are pinpointing landmarks to navigate to school, and Madsie is always hoping to see kittens, but we usually see chickens.

Today we held class in the TJS library while the students were taking national exams. We are working on a piece called a vox pop—or voice of the people. As a group, we generated two questions to ask 25 teachers. One group interviewed teachers with the question, “How does teaching make you feel?” while the other group asked, “What is your dream for the world?” These questions invite trust, and our students held that trust seriously. With each interview, they gained confidence in meeting a new teacher and engaging in a conversation that led to an interview. For over two hours, they listened, listened, and listened. As a group, we debriefed the process and talked about how our uweza—skills, abilities and powers — were growing.


In the afternoon, Zac took to basketball while Eli and Lucas played soccer. The girls spent more time with their TJS guides sharing pictures, music, and stories. We headed home around five, grateful that Brett had been making a homemade spaghetti feast. We hosted four guests for dinner: Adrienne and Meghan, the volunteers for the Tanzania Education Corp (TEC) and our great helpers in Karatu, and Frank Lee P’10, a Gould trustee and co-founder of TEC, and Judy Lane, founder of a non-profit that supports the education and health services of a Massi village in the Ngorogoro Crater area. Frank and Judy shared their stories of how they first came to East Africa and overtime become agencies of change in the Karatu community. Their talk tonight provided a strong connection to the interviews the students held in the morning.


Tomorrow we will have a working morning at TECs volunteer house and begin our third project—an audio postcard.


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