My Tanzanian Village School: Lunch and Lectures

As the morning of my first day at my village school came to a close, I was back in my room sitting at my simple wooden table and chair. I was writing about my arrival to Tanzania when Mama Diana called out to me.



“Food fo’ you!”

“Thank you!” (Or after being here for a couple days, I might say, “Asante!”—thank you, or even “Asante sana!”—thank you very much.)

This is how it has occurred since almost daily. Lunch for is served everyday around 12:30 in Leah’s (the other American teacher) and my compound.

The view out my door to the foreign teacher’s housing compound

Mama Diana is the caretaker for foreign teachers and is named as such because her daughter is named Diana. (We also have a Mama Jack here.) That open door to the right is Mama Diana’s kitchen. But before we investigate that, let’s first get down to some business. The toilet and shower are to left in two adjacent, closet-sized rooms.

The toilet is a porcelain hole in the floor.

The flush doesn’t work. So that bucket of water to the right is scooped and poured. Hopefully your aim is true and there’s little porcelain to wash clean.

The shower is a simple drain on the concrete floor. Stand over it while soaping and pouring water over yourself pitcher by pitcher.

I prefer the shower I had in Minneapolis. Still, warm water makes this experience waaaayyyyyy less bad. And thankfully, Mama Diana goes so far as to put a large pot of water over one of her coal cookers, providing me a piping warm shower each day.

Mama Diana, warming my stay in Tanzania

There she is in her kitchen preparing brown beans for my lunch. Beans are common, as is ugali, a corn-based paste-like solid that locals knead in their hand, shape into a scoop, and use as a utensil to eat the beans. No fork required. Well, not for the locals.

The night before—Sunday, my first night here—I walked into the student Dining Hall during dinner. I thought I’d dive right into my life here by diving right into a meal with the students…by diving my first attempted kneaded ugali into the beans.

Student in the kitchen helped prepare the food and now enjoying his own ugali and greens.

The group I stood amongst in the Dining Hall around a tall, wooden table erupted with surprise laughter as my first ugali scoop included much of my hand into the beans. Well, nothing a little finger-licking can’t fix—which caused more outbursts from the adolescents.


Yet I looked back at them with my own surprise thinking, “Why the shock and disgust? You don’t use silverware.” Ah, the meeting of cultures and the presumptive, ignorant foreigner.

Perhaps it would benefit my immersion to learn the eating norms and protocol here, but I gladly accepted the forks they offered to us foreign teachers. And on my first day, I sat in our compound’s dining room to eat my lunch.

I had already scooped out my ugali chunk (with a large serving spoon) onto my plate. The greens are a leafy vegetable that I’m still actually unsure the identity of, but they taste fine with some salt. The beans are mixed with some fried onion and green pepper.

Mama Diana’s old wooden table and thin, metal cookware remind me of camping or of a cabin kitchen in the northern Minnesotan woods.

To feed 200 students, things get a bit more industrial—rural Tanzania style.

Busara Kikungwe, the head cook for students. That hand to the chin was no accidentally-timed shot. He offered this flair as long as I needed.

One another day, students helped prepare the vittles.

Form 4 boys (the oldest students here)

Meanwhile, on the same day I took the shot above, all the others arrived to the Dining Hall with their own plastic dish. The three car garage-sized building with tall, wood-beamed ceiling filled with two long lines—one for ugali; one for mixed beans and greens.

And when the boys were done preparing, they brought out the food.

Students cram to the front to get their meal.

The boys then start to serve the eager recipients.

With full plates, students sit or stand around the many tables in the room, enjoying the social that is mealtime.

The students have ugali, beans, and greens everyday for both lunch and dinner.

Full and satisfied, it is back to learning.


At 2:50 in the afternoon on my first day, I joined Mr. Ngailo for his computer class. It was held in one of the rooms of the classroom building, a large structure of four consecutive rooms, each with 25-40 wood-topped, metal-legged desks and an equal number of wooden chairs. They rest upon a bare, concrete floor, within a room of paint-chipped walls, a heavy wooden door that creaks, and a chalkboard with a generous collection of chalk dust directly below.

I arrived a few minutes early and sat near the door on a single chair in the front corner. It was only me and a few students sitting in their desks; more trickled in by the minute. As I’ve now come to expect from students, they offered my presence a mixture of attention and inhibition—perhaps more so this first class.

When Mr. Gailo entered the room, students all stood to greet him. Before they sat, he asked, “How are you doing?”

 “We are fine,” they all respond in unison.

The semester had already started a few weeks before I came, and, knowing I’d be arriving to teach computers, a couple teachers, including Mr. Ngailo, got a head start by teaching the Form 1 and Form 2 classes computer theory.

Mr. Gailo proceeded with his class this first day , which, despite the obvious differences in niceties, was probably similar to what you are used to. He led the lecture clicking his chalk on the board his notes for the class to copy.

Mr. Ngailo teaching a business class on another day.
Pascal teaching physics
Ms. Chonya teaching biology. One difference in classroom protocol is that students stand each time they answer a question.

Today’s lecture in Mr. Ngailo’s class was one of a series about how computers operate, about their functions/features, and their application to the world. The content and approach to teaching these students computers intrigued me. (Of course, they didn’t have much choice but to discuss the computers rather than hands-on given the fact that the computers hadn’t even been turned on yet.) Nonetheless, it was a good opportunity to teach the students about the machines they’d soon be operating and a chance for them to appreciate—and for me to re-appreciate—just how life-changing and mind-bogglingly intricate and complex electronic computation is.

Per our agreement beforehand, Mr. Ngailo turned to me about halfway through the hour and asked me to take over. I rose from the chair in the front corner of the room and greeted the students. I opened with a more detailed introduction than the one I offered at the assembly that morning. In the more intimate classroom setting, I could act out the shivering I underwent just one week prior when still back in Minnesota. A couple days later, I could act out the sun here at high noon, an overhead beam of laser light that scorched my forehead in the hour I foolishly exposed it naked without sun block.

It’s been a continual dance getting to know my audience here. They laugh at things I don’t think are that funny—acting out the sun sizzling my forehead—and then when I say something I leave a little pause for, I only receive a silent void of undelivered laughs.

But I came all this way to teach computers. So I segued into my lecture by asking the students in Mr. Ngaio’s class whether they had ever used a computer. About three-quarters of these 13-14 year olds had never touched one.

Here is where we started.

It was actually sort of a trick question, though. I revealed next that even the simple pocket calculator, with its humble innards, has countless programmed signals for each of the answers to the mathematical calculations one can enter. I added to what Mr. Ngailo said about the how computers work. I added to what he said about their ubiquity. From the calculator and cell phone owned by the village farmer just outside our door to the databases and servers of large corporations.

Teaching them about computers reminded me of teaching English to students in China. When a topic isn’t something you grow up with, you have to learn it rather than enjoy that intuitiveness of it always being part of your environment. But despite the obvious drawback of all the effort and time needed for this route of familiarizing yourself to computers (or a language), the benefit is that an analysis allows for an appreciation, knowledge, and wisdom of the practice (language) or device (computer).

Until we readied the temporary computer lab two weeks later, this teacher first/me second pattern was how Mr. Ngailo and I taught in the classroom. And for this first class especially—taking in the novelty of the new faces, new places, and everything I shared for this first time—the hour flew by.

At 4:00, the “bell” rang.

For every break: class, meals, morning assembly, and evening study time, someone comes to this tree, grabs that blue iron bar, and clangs that metal plate creating incredible volume for the unlucky ones standing nearby.

It was now time for afternoon chores.

Next week, I’ll wrap up the overview of my Tanzanian village school with shots and footage of threshing grass, playing volleyball, and the students’ 10 p.m. worship.


‘til then,




One comment

  1. Hi Brandon
    I have been curious as to what kind of food you are served. Very interesting.
    Not sure if I would like it.
    Keep up the good job of letting us “tag” along on your adventure.

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