Sunday, May 17, 2015

Buying Electricity

My friend Laurel often says "there are lots of different ways to do things."  I found the truth of that statement here in Tanzania when were running short of electricity at home.

Here's how it works: each house has a "LUKU" meter that shows how much electrical credit, in Kilowatt hours, that you have remaining. You can purchase electrical credit at any of hundreds of little kiosks / shops along the road that have a little wireless device  - you give the clerk your LUKU number and some cash, and they enter it into the system and give you a receipt with a code number. You go home and enter that code into your meter and the credit gets registered. Pretty slick little system really.

LUKU meter - you will see the we had less than 1 KW hour of electricity left - don't tell Nancy !

When the meter gets down to zero, the electricity stops working. We had already experienced that once, our second night here when we didn't know anything about the electrical and the power just went off on us. Then we had to call the school and the principal came, explained how the system works, took us to one of the little shops and got us some electrical credit.

Anyway, since then I had tried to keep an eye on the meter to make sure we did not run out again, and when I checked mid-afternoon,  I noticed that we were down to about 12 K left, so I walked to the little shop by our house to buy some "LUKU".

Yup - you can buy your electricity here !
When I got there, the proprietor informed me that the network was down and his system couldn't connect to get me the credit. I could understand that, so I walked down the street to another shop and the situation was the same.  I wasn't too worried as the first clerk, who spoke fairly good English, told me it would probably come up again soon and I should try back in a few hours. When Nancy came home from work, I explained the situation and told her that we would have to conserve on our air conditioners, (which use a lot of electricity), just in case. I went back to the shops after supper and found the network was still down. Another gentleman at one of the shops, which is also an Internet cafe, explained that you can also buy credit through your phone- so he kindly tried to do that for me, but that also did not work.  So with our electric credit down to 8, we spent the night with the air conditioners off.

In the morning, with the meter reading about 5 (the refrigerator, you know), I walked over to the shop expecting the network to be back up, and planning to buy some "LUKU".  Nope - the network was still down. "I am going to run out of electricity - how can I get some ?"  He thought for a minute and suggested that there is a regional office a few kilometers away in Tegeta - I could take a bajaj (auto rickshaw) or a piki-piki to the office and should be able to pay there.  I decided the piki-piki would be cheaper and so he waved at one of the local piki-piki guys, and explained where to go - the guy looked a little bit confused, but seemed to get it, so I climbed on behind.
Now I need to explain that a piki-piki (also know in some areas as boda-boda) is a motorcycle taxi and you rent the back seat.  Unfortunately, those seats are not really designed for a big old guy like me, and my knees have tendency to bump against the forearms of the driver. 

Piki-Piki - from wikimedia.

Anyway,the guy didn't really understand where to take me, so after stopping to ask a few people along the way, we found ourselves at a regional maintenance headquarters for the power company, where I spent a few minutes trying to find someone who could speak a little English and who could help me get some "LUKU".  Eventually, communication happened and my motorcycle driver was directed to a shop down the way where I should be able to get my "LUKU". As we approached the area, I noticed one of the shops had a fairly long line out front.  Sure enough, that was the regional electrical purchasing place with a hardwired connection.  Since the network had been down for two days in much of the surrounding area, lots of people were there, like me, to buy some power.  The line was about 40 people long when I got there.  After about an hour I got to the front of the line and was able to get my credit slip - now all I had to do was go home and enter the 20-digit number into the meter and we would have power.  Cool.

Back on the piki-piki and the ride home.  Stepped into the house and realized that the refrigerator was off and the lights were not working - hmm, must have run out of power while I was gone. So, I confidently headed behind the house to the meter with my credit slip.  Where I soon found that the power in the whole neighborhood was out, so of course the meter would not work, I could not the credit. 

So I gave it up and decided to walk to school to get Nancy. On the way there I passed a group of lineman fixing the power lines on the poles. Good. On the way home, the workers were all gone, but when we got home the power was still off.  No problem, we headed to the resort to enjoy a couple of beers at the end of the week.  (Why sit at home where it is hot and humid as well as dark ? )

When we got back home, the power was back on, I successfully entered the credit number and we turned on the air con.

Now I just need to remember to go buy electricity every week or so.  And of course to stop at the other little store to buy credit for my phone.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Safari. Manyara and Ngorongoro

Our first safari took us from Dar es Salaam by plane to Kilamanjaro International airport. We were met at the airport by Athumani, our guide and driver for the next three days, along with his safari vehicle - equipped with a cooler and seats for seven .
Nancy & Athumani & our transportation

We drove the first day to first night's lodging at a "tented " lodge that is nicer than our current apartment.
Inside the tent - note bathroom area through the arch.

Pretty nice view of Lake Manyara from the porch of the tent, too!
Spent the first day exploring Manyara national park - around Lake Manyara  and the adjacent Great Rift escarpment area. Beautiful conenctions between the mountains, the lakes, and the forest.  Lots of animals.
Giraffes liked the partial clearings between lake and escarpment.

Then we drove to the Ngorongoro Crater Area and Ngorongoro conservation area .  This amazing place is a huge (about 100 square miles) volcanic crater, encircled by mountains and full of wildlife.


 We felt lucky to have come in the rainy season, as it was so lush and green and peaceful.  The conservation area also encloses the Olduvai Gorge area where evidence of some of the earliest humans has been found.  It really did feel like the garden of Eden.

Sunset at the lodge overlooking Ngorogo . Rainy & cold but beautiful.
I am finding it hard to express how it was, so I will simply add a few more pictures to try and help folks get the feel of being in this gigantic crater full of animals with a rim of mountains all around.  Great experience.
Big Temba (Elephant) in the crater
Nice horns
Hippos in the pool - clouds around the rim of the crater

Hyenas are just plain nasty looking.

We saw so much and the pictures can't capture the feel.  I think I may want to get a telephoto lens ;-) I also kinda like saying the word Ngorongoro.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Nancy Learns an Art Lesson

Once a week, I am in charge of an arts and crafts class with the year one students. In the USA, these would be kindergarteners. The first week, I had the bright idea of making masks based on the art of Paul Klee. We cut out tiny scraps of paper to glue on the geometric masks. Hello? Nancy? Our un-air conditioned classrooms have ceiling fans and open windows bringing in monsoon breezes. The air flow scattered the scraps to the far corners of the earth. It was a total disaster. The second week, I closed all the windows and shut off the ceiling fans. We completed the masks in a 100 degree heat index (breeze free) classroom. Paul Klee would be proud of the results.

Paul Klee masks displayed on the window of my class.

Today, inspired by the students’ need to know the short vowel sounds, I planned sponge painted apple trees. (A-A-A Apple says the short vowel for A.) The one hour class started with my declaration that we needed to wear aprons. The five students stampeded the hooks where the aprons are hung. Little did I understand that the black gingham apron is worth a World Wrestling Federation match. Back we went to the doorway. “Is the black gingham apron worth such a fuss? Does it matter who wears which apron?”  I asked. Next, I handed out aprons (minus the black gingham apron.)

First, we painted the brown trunks. Brown paint was smeared on paper, clothing, and hands. Next, we dipped our sponges into the green paint to make the leaves. After the papers were saturated with paint, I thought we should take a break to let the masterpieces dry before adding the apples. The students and I trooped down the stairs to the sink with our paint crusted  brushes, sponges, and hands. After rinsing off the first layer, I sent the students to the girls’ and boys’ bathrooms to wash off the remainders of paint. All of a sudden, the girls returned tattling on Monyadia.  “She washed her hands in the toilet!” the girls shouted. “They wouldn’t let me use the sink!” Monyadia wailed. “Wash your hands with extra soap!” I replied.

As we re-entered the classroom, I told the children that we needed to be paint detectives. Paint had dropped on the floor and we needed to find it. Could the children find the paint so we could wipe it up?  We walked into the class, looking for paint drippings. “There!” Mary shouted triumphantly. I bent down to wipe up the paint.  BAM! Jonah’s head crashed into mine. I stood up in disbelief. “What happened?” I asked. “She pushed me!” Jonah pointed to Monyadia. “Monyadia, what happened?” I asked. “He wasn’t looking at the floor!” Monyadia explained. “Was that a good choice? Should we ever push?” I asked and quickly cleaned up the puddles of paint. 

I began to hand out round sponges for the apples. The students grabbed the sponges as if the sponges were the last crumbs of food they would ever be offered in their lives. We stopped. I asked, "Will there be enough sponges for each student? Of course! Do we need to grab? No! Are the different size circles for different sized apples? Yes. Should we ever grab? No. Let’s practice." We all chanted: “May I trade a big circle for a small circle? May I trade a small circle for a large circle?”

The students began to stamp red circle apples on the trees. I looked over at Jonah. He was coating his hands in red paint with his sponge as he sucked on the end of his apron string.

Our finished product!

All my teaching career, I have praised my fellow teachers who teach first grade or kindergarten. Now I can say, without one shred of doubt, they are saints who are guaranteed entrance to heaven with unlimited chocolate martinis throughout eternity.  

Our saintly year one teacher and my arts and crafts students.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Mzungu ?

Michigan, Mumbai, and Mzungu ?
You may have noticed that we changed the name of our blog !
The blog was entitled "Michigan and Mumbai", because when we started it I thought it would simply last for the time we were in India and then quietly go away (Well, it almost did).
We've added the word Mzungu to the blog.

Mzungu is the Swahili word commonly used for foreigners.  Besides the fun sound of it, I really appreciate the origin of the word as wikipedia describes it ... "Literally translated it meant "someone who roams around aimlessly" or "aimless wanderer."  We do sometimes have the dizzy, lost look, but do also enjoy our wanderings and we like to think they are not all aimless.
Grand Canyon - March 2015 - Nancy had never been so we scheduled a little trip.

Leaving India was stressful.  The emotional energy involved in the packing, saying goodbyes, and thinking about the changes coming to our lives left little reserve for the practice of blogging.  I just wasn't in the right space to do so. So this blog has been sadly neglected for about a year.

We moved back to the states in July of 2014, enjoying the return to our home and friends and the change in weather and environment. We spent much of our time doing things we hadn't done for two years - working in the yard, rearranging and cleaning the house, re-involving ourselves with church and community.  Life was enjoyable, quiet and peaceful in Michigan after the clamor and energy of India.
We have now begun a new adventure.  Nancy accepted a 3 month substitute teaching position at a small British school here in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania  (On the eastern side of Africa). I came along as moral support, house-boy, chief cook & bottle-washer, and whatever other tasks may come my way.  As I was going through some emails today, I recalled that several friends had said something about expecting good stuff from the blog, and realized that I should have some time that I could devote to that endeavor.   So here we go.

I've got a few posts sharing some reflections on India that I had started but never really completed.  I may post one of two of those before I start some about Tanzania.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

One word to describe India: Hopes

I will be attempting over a few blog posts to write some of my thoughts about India by collecting them around one word.  This is my first attempt.
I began writing this using the word "Expectations", then realized that "Hopes" was a better choice.  I was initially inspired by our trip to Darjeeling where Nancy and I arrived with great hopes of seeing the Himalayas, only to have three days of cloudy, cold weather. 
Our best view of Darjeeling from the toy train ...
The closest we came to seeing the mountains

India is densely populated with hopes.

Beggars tap on the windows of cars hoping for a coin or scrap of food,
With hopeful songs of hawkers and vendors assailing passing ears.
Crows hop between cars hoping to grab a bite of road-killed rat
While Party members desperately hope for a majority vote.
Drivers confidently thrust their vehicles into packed intersections
Hoping and somehow knowing that a path will magically appear.

Families move to the crowded city slums in hopes of a better life
and quirky television commercials raise ideas of how it can be lived.
Children attend after-school classes hoping for high exam scores,
Mothers dream of degrees in law, or medicine, or engineering,
While fathers of daughters look for ways to raise the needful dowries,
And consult with the pandit for an auspicious wedding date.

NGO's hope to make a small difference in the lives
of their carefully identified slices of the teeming masses,
some of whom huddle in their makeshift shelters lined
against the back walls of the luxury hotels where
CEO's make deals over buffet lunches and dream of record profits,
growing market shares and low labor costs.

Stray dogs lounge all day on the sidewalks, waiting for the evening
and the hope of a handout of food scraps while
Black kites circle slowly in the warm updrafts
looking hopefully down on the world below.
As the days become hotter, farmers hope for good rains to come:
The entire year revolves around the hope of the monsoon.

India is nothing if it is not a land of hopes.
-- -- -- --
We have our first-world hopes too.

We hope for quiet spaces amidst the growing cacophony
of horns and loud mall music and night-barking street dogs.

We hope to maintain the fond memories of wonderful people
whose essence can't be captured by a few photographs.

We hope to see past the poverty and pollution
to experience the awe-inspiring vistas,
the mountains soaring skyward into cold blue skies,
and white marble mausoleums reflecting back the early morning light.

Trying to reflect back a hint of the gracious welcome and friendly manner of the people
who greet us each day, we dearly hope to stave off the day
when we become the jaded, self-absorbed ex-pats thinking
only of our next vacation and nodding sagely as we tell each other:
Tee Eye Eye
This Is India.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

By the airport

View from airport - our apartment complex is behind airplane's tail

We live by the airport.
Not such a big deal,
lots of people live by airports
and put up with extra traffic ...

Airplane landing by our apartment - taken from across the street

and flights that arrive and depart
in the wee hours of the morning and disturb your sleep.

Plane landing with Mahim creek in foreground

Near the airport is a creek
and a number of slums / suburbs
The new terminal
Just opened at the airport.
We haven't seen it yet,
but hear good things about it.
What we have seen is the life
In the neighborhoods around the airport.

Life under the landing planes

I like living by the airport,
hearing the planes landing or taking off.
They're louder when they take off of course,
But the wind is usually from the other direction
so we get the sights and sounds of the landing planes.

enjoying the evening air - watching the planes land

I think about where the planes are coming from
who is on them, and what lives they are about to begin.
I also think about who else is watching them
and the lives they lead.

The planes land right over their heads

The contrast between those of us who have come to this place
on the wings of dreams
and those of us who can only leave by dreaming of wings
is so strong.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Crossing the Street


I've been meaning to write about the traffic and crossing the street here in Mumbai for quite awhile. During a recent professional development event (ASB Unplugged conference) , I was lucky enough to be sitting next to a good friend and colleague, Megan in a cinematic narrative workshop by Jim Sill. Great speaker and good session and I really like the approach and the opportunities for use in education. We were tasked with telling a story in a short movie using 4 shots: an establishing shot, a long shot, a medium shot, and a close up.  Great speaker and good session and I really like the approach and the opportunities for use in education.

I chose to show how to cross the street in Mumbai. A couple of notes about this:

1) The corner we're using is the one nearest our school and apartment
2) It was shot mid-morning - a very quiet time of day in the neighborhood. 
    The good news about that is that it made it a little easier to shoot without getting run over.
    The bad news is that it really doesn't show how tough it can be.
3) I had a little difficulty with the sound - the crossing clip sound was messed up so I copied some audio and replayed it ;-)
4) Thanks to Megan for her patience and great acting !

So this is my first attempt to include a little movie clip in the blog. Hopefully it will work OK.