Please look around and continue visiting my blog so that I can keep you up to date about everything having to do with my serving in Tanzania ! Feel free to email me with questions and please keep me in your prayers!
Matthew Sroka

Sunday, January 2, 2011

We made it to civilization!

Merry Christmas and Happy 2011!

We are enjoying some MUCH needed rest and relaxation in Kabwe, Zambia, with our fellow family in Christ the Hamelrycks. Even now I’m sitting on the Hamelrycks porch enjoying the sunshine and watching all of them play football (soccer). We have had a simply delightful Christmas season, and feel refreshed and ready to head back to the village and start the second half of our time in Tanzania.

Our Fall has passed extremely quickly, Halloween was spent enjoying a few of our American candy bars that we brought across the world with us. Matt chose a Twix, and I of course, chose a Snickers. We had one day off from school during the Fall, which was National Independence day of Zanzibar. So we taught and taught and taught throughout the autumn months. November came quickly, and as the month progressed, the rains began. The rains began slowly, with just a couple of showers maybe two afternoons a week. By the time we left for the holidays, it was raining consistently every afternoon for several hours. And I’m not talking showers, but torrential downpours.

Our Pre-form classes’ English has progressed immensely. From only being able to say “good morning,” our new students can now have complete conversations in English. We even have been able to read some stories in English with rather good comprehension. The school experience for us has been two-fold. On the one hand, we love the classroom, because the children just want so much to learn English. Students know that education, including English, is their ticket to a better life. We are quick to remind them about the purposes of education. We find ourselves consistently reiterating the importance of education not just to improve their own lives but also to improve the lives for their entire village. And we rejoice when we hear students talk about how they all don’t want to be educated in order to move out of the village and search for financial success elsewhere, but they want education to better themselves, their families, and their village. On the other hand, many things in Tanzanian classrooms are extremely frustrating. As school began winding down, we were faced with several issues. First, we flat out had a severe lack of teachers. From November to January, there was no math, geography, civics, or history teacher. Rather than spreading the classes between other teachers only responsible for one subject, the students simply were not taught. But of course, they continued taking tests on those subjects. Also, there seemed to be a severe lack of teaching from the teachers that were present. It was not uncommon to have all 150 Form 1 students sit without a teacher for several hours, if not all day. The philosophy of teaching here is extremely hands-off. “Teaching” most often consists of giving students a book with notes. I think a lot of the problem is that the teachers really don’t understand English enough to even expound on the notes. I certainly couldn’t explain Physics in Swahili! And we understand that is partly while we are here. This is the cycle that we are trying to break! If the students can learn English well enough to TEACH in English, the domino effect in education could be phenomenal! It is with this problem in mind that VST is in the processing of building a University (It should be finished this year or next). The hope is that once the University is up and running, VST can try and supply their own teachers. These teachers would not only speak English well, but they would also have a greater understanding of VST mission of doing education differently in Africa.

In November, we had a “weekend away” in the near town of Mafinga. So, for our dazzling weekend of romance, we got on our baiskeli’s (Swahili for bicycle), rode the hour and a half to the nearest town with a bus stop, and hopped on a daladala, minibuses, which are the backbone of transportation in rural Tanzania, and took the 40-minute bus ride to Mafinga. We stayed in a guesthouse, (I think we were the only ones in the whole place) with an American toilet, and semi-hot shower, uh trickle. But for us, it was a blessing! We also were able to meet with another one of the American teachers, Marisha, who had become our “text buddy” while in the village.

Thanksgiving came and went with little worth mentioning other than we got POTATOES! We made the greatest (and possible the first) mashed potatoes ever served in Bumilayinga. Now for all of you Americans, that can walk, or drive rather, and buy an enormous sack of potatoes whenever you want, this may not be exciting. But coming from rice, pasta, and ugali as your main dish for two out of three meals a day, it was the greatest meal we had thus far. We also opened a hoarded bag of CRAISINS, in lieu of cranberry sauce. Here's a picture of our Thanksgiving meal!

For our school, we were given the enormous task of typing all of the schools exams. This doesn’t seem like such a difficult task, but you must not forget that we have a serious lack of electricity, which can make typing exams difficult. So, once our computer was dead, a student, graciously rode the hour and a half to Nyololo, the nearest town, sat for four hours while the computer charged, then rode back, in order for the exams to be typed. December 14th began exam week, four days of monitoring the six classrooms and 12 exams. We also celebrated Matt's birthday, and he killed a chicken all on his own, we have video to prove it!

December 22nd we made the bike trip to Nyololo, the bus trip to Mafinga, and then another bus trip to Madisi, the main VST School, where we completed our training in September. We weremet by the wonderful Vinton family, Sarah Bickel, Mary Jenkins, and the five other American teachers from the Rukwa region, Tyler, Hannah, Piper, Sara, and Kayla. We had several days of sweet fellowship with the other teachers hearing of their experiences, their students and schools. We watched Elf and several Office episodes together and enjoyed our shared English language. The leaders of VST truly made a wonderful Christmas for us! On the Thursday before Christmas, we all piled in to a van and were given our Christmas “bonus” to be used for Christmas shopping. We went to town and had a wonderful meal together and enjoyed choosing presents for each other. Christmas Eve, we played games, cut down and decorated the tree, made cookies, cinnamon rolls, buckeyes, and chocolate covered pretzels. Christmas morning, we had a large brunch complete with yogurt! We spent the day opening gifts and being together. You know you’re in a remote foreign country when the greatest present opened is a bottle of Heinz Ketchup.

The Day after Christmas, we had a sort of half-way debriefing with Sarah, who previously completed our initial two weeks of training in the village. She asked us to give three emotions that we have felt since being in the village. First off, I admitted to frustration with teachers, lack of teachers, teaching and lack of teaching. Secondly I explained the complete lack of stress that Matt and I feel here. There is a beautiful, simple way of living in a small village. No bills, really no true needs, just sustaining ourselves on what little we have. I can’t say there has ever been anything that I felt I truly needed, that I didn’t have. There some wants, but I feel even less than in America, which doesn’t really make sense! In America, I really need for nothing, but there is always sooooo much that I feel like I NEED, and most certainly WANT. In the village, I know I have what I honestly need and am actually happy with what I have. This is a huge realization and concept difficult to explain. But, I encourage all of my friends and family at home, to evaluate our true NEEDS in America, as I will certainly do when we return. Matt added the third emotion saying, “contentment”. It is a wonderful waking up everyday knowing that your life is making a significant difference in the lives of hundreds of kids. Not, that we in ourselves are anything special, we are two people who feel a unique love for God and others. We are just following the will of God, and He is using us to make an impact.

Going to Madisi, it was our intent, to then travel on to Zambia, to visit a dear family from our own home church! The Hamelryck’s are missionaries in Zambia. However, the best way to travel such a distance is by train. And, of course, the train workers were on strike! So, on December 27th, we made the bus trip back to Mafinga, and an even longer, squishy 4 hour bus ride (when I get home I’m writing a letter to President Kikwete and telling him to pass a law limiting the number of people allowed on these buses) to Mbeya hoping and praying that the strike was over. This trip was a HUGE blessing because we were able to get train tickets to Zambia on Wednesday the 29th! We had a whole little room on the train to ourselves, ordered food in our room, basically we were transported back to the 1950’s. We boarded the train on Wednesday at 1pm, and arrived in Kapiri Moshi, Zambia on Thursday, around 2pm. It was an amazingly relaxing way to travel and plenty of room to stretch! Paul Hamelryck picked us up from the train station, and we headed to his new home near the city of Kabwe. We have been blessed to have electricity, a refrigerator, car, shower, real mattress, Christmas tree, and most importantly a beautiful family to relax with. There is always someone to play with and we’ve been eating and partying like kings! It is a wonderful rest from village life! And even being here, we agree that we are excited to return to Bumilayinga as school begins on January 10th, and teach, and live with our friends there again. On Friday we will return to Tanzania by train, then to the village by bus, then bicycle.

We have been blessed with contentment with our lives in Africa, and are excited to finish our time here and come share it with you all! We have several things we want to ask you to pray for as we embark on this second half of our time here.

  • Pray that we can be provided with more teachers for the start of the school year
  • We have been told that its possible our headmaster is being relocated, pray that if it happens, we can be supportive and provided with another to step up to the job
  • For the other American teachers Kayla, Piper, Hannah, Tyler, and Sara. For their schools, students and village life.
  • That our house at the school will finally be finished!
  • Safe travel back to Bumilayinga
  • That we can continue to build relationships with teachers, villagers, and especially our students. It has been a struggle for us on how to share the gospel with our students who have only been studying English for a few months. We are often reminded of the much-used (though impossible to over-use) saying of Francis of Asisi, “Speak the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words.”

We love and miss you all, we will remain in Zambia until Friday, email us and let us know how life is in good old America! Many Blessings!

In Christ,

Emily and Matt Sroka

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