Threshing Grass, Playing Volleyball, and Worshiping God: Part 3/3 of my Tanzanian Village School

This is the last in a three-part series about my African village school. Next week, we dive into the village itself. 

***

Just before dinnertime, I opened the squeaky metal gate to leave the teacher’s housing compound. I looked straight out and then stared at thirty students before me swinging threshers into the tall grass.

“Hm”, I thought. I guess with the dirt paths, livestock about, and corn fields, I hadn’t thought about how the grounds were maintained.

Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday late-afternoon at Magulilwa Area Secondary School, students pick up a thresher, mop, or washrag and get to their chores. Both in deed and duration the students are put to task.

It starts with a 5:30 a.m. wake up call and jog around the school grounds. After the warm-up, they clean their dorms and then themselves with a crisp, cool bucket-shower to ready for the day. Next is breakfast—porridge, every morning. Then it’s Assembly, classes, and lunch—which I’ve shown over the last two posts. This brings us back to the afternoon chores where I saw the students swinging away.

On another day, I walked down the gradual hillside path a hundred yards or so to the boys’ dormitory to get a closer look at their chores.

***

Past the administration building, the science building & library, and by healthy half-acre of corn, I approached a scene of about 25 young men, most cocked down at a 45 degree angle. Some were engaged in golf swing-like motions with their threshers. Others swung straight down toward their feet, hoeing the earth around their dorm.

The work might not be fun, but that didn’t keep them from enjoying a casual conversation. I walked by the boys with a friendly, mutual greeting to make my way inside their living space. A locker room-like atmosphere, the common area between the two wings of the building had young men in bare feet and tank tops mopping the floors…

…while others took to some sparring.

It seemed to be less a messing around when they should’ve been working, and more the case that they were doing some cleaning over their leisure time.

I left the common area, walked down a wing’s plain hallway, and peeked into one of the open dorm room doors. Inside were three solidly-built, wooden bunks. There were no dressers for the six boys in each room; they kept personal belongings in a large, thin metal box.

I headed back outside and surveyed the student workers once more. A couple teachers supervised and advised the boys on where and sometimes how to thresh. I suppose for the new students (the school year starts in January here) they still need a little time getting into the swing of things.

One late-20s, tall, bulky teacher out there directing traffic was Simbaya. I asked him about the threshing, and he simply offered me a tool. Then he wanted to photograph me giving this threshing business a try.

Head down, left elbow straight. Still, I think I needed to turn my hips a little.

Simbaya then walked me to the girls’ dorm 150 yards away. Walking around the corn field, I could see their bodies in the distance hacking away at the grass as well. Then we approached.

Inside their compound, some were doing laundry.

Others still were scrubbing the hallways of the dorm.

[It’s a fine line they walk here at Magulilwa—one that isn’t even approached in the United States for a variety of reasons. But even given the institutional frameworks of Western nations, I’m still certain there are a lot of folks back home that would watch these scenes with an eye of support, a “little hard work doesn’t hurt anyone” perspective.  

In my month here, I conclude that the students do benefit individually by the work ethic they hone. I also have to believe that through the work, they become invested in their school, strengthening the institution with a student body that cares about their school’s appearance, performance, and standing.

But who likes to thresh grass?

I asked one 15-year-old girl named Jane her thoughts on the routine here:

“Do you like getting up for the morning jog?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Do you like threshing the grass?”

“Not much.”

Naturally, the other side of this fine line—the potential problems arising out of this arrangement—would be easy to cross: leveraging the student labor for economical landscaping. And I’d sure hate to see a student slice themselves or a neighbor’s body with an errant stroke. I don’t know if there’s even a doctor in the village with stitching for a deep cut.]

Here’s some footage of the student-workers:

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Every other day, chores are replaced with athletic activities.

One popular game bringing together students and teachers is volleyball.

The ball is orange. It started pure white.

Mr. Ibrahim, in the Samsung-wear, versus his student

Nearby, other students kick around a soccer ball while some throw around a Frisbee.

Footage of volleyball:

After chores/athletics, students enjoy another mealtime of ugali, beans, and greens. (See last post for photos of this.) And after dinner, it’s time for the allotted homework/study time session from 7:00-10:00 p.m. in the classroom building. Now, my arrival to Magulilwa interrupted this routine by starting  the computer classes—necessary at this time because the generator kicks in each night from 7:00-11:00.

A dirty, smelly engine isn’t picturesque, but this behind-the-scenes contraption is the engine of the school’s electricity.

My first class starts each night as soon as the generator does—from roughly 7:00 to 8:15. My second class runs from 8:15 to 9:15. Lastly, we open up the lab for free computer time for all students from 9:15-10:00.

Throughout my first month, while we’ve awaited the completion of the new computer building, classes have been held in the temporary lab space—a large teachers’ office that had two men squeezing their work desks into the corner to make way for the desktops, laptops, power strips, cords, computer tables, desks, and even cardboard boxes used as desks.

 

You’d think that 10:00 p.m. would be the end of the line for the students’ day. But some opt for one more activity. Each night after computer classes are finished, while making sure all the machines are shut down correctly and the monitors covered, I can begin to hear singing coming from the classroom building. My first days here, I thought it was campfire-like, leisure singing ‘til lights out at 11:00. But I found out soon thereafter that the songs took on a more serious purpose: worship.

At the ten o’ clock clang of the metal-disced “bell”, Christian students gather for their evening service. I walked in one night to find a packed room—some sitting/some standing—in choral unison. I didn’t understand the words, but the meaning of the song was clear.

Once the hymn ended, a boy stood at the front and shared a message for the group.

Following his short sermon, the students sang another hymn followed by some quiet prayer with bowed or raised heads and mouths moving in a whisper to God.

I’d later ask Jane, the same 15-year old, about her religion. She said she was Pentecostal. Her friend, Queen Paul, said she was Ukwata, a union of Lutheran, Moravian, Anglican, and Presbyterian, I was told.

Queen Paul (left) and Jane

***

Perhaps devotion is the appropriate way to end these articles portraying the students at Magulilwa Area Secondary School. Do know that despite the impressive daily itinerary of early morning jog, flag-raising ceremony, classes, chores, and worship, these are normal students, too—a few of whom have a penchant for skipping the morning jog, some whom I have to remind to stay on task in class, and some who like to arrive to class late.

But at the end of the day, the fact that they can enjoy such long days exclaims a student body with a strengthened work ethic; a devotion to their studies, the ways of the school, and their religion; and a contentment with their lives. They don’t complain about the chores–nor seem to feel any need to. This is just the lifestyle for these young people. The mood they embody is no lower than that of any healthy-spirited youth in the U.S. And in fact, as a whole, I’d say more students here are happier.

 

Next week I look forward to taking you off school grounds as I share what life is like in the nearby African village.

 

’til then,

-Brandon

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2 Responses to “Threshing Grass, Playing Volleyball, and Worshiping God: Part 3/3 of my Tanzanian Village School”

  1. Robert J Donnelly says:

    Thanks for a great tour of student life. Hooray for the new computer lab.

  2. Bev Klein says:

    Hi Brandon
    It seems like you put in some very long days.
    I’m sure it is all very rewarding for you.
    Thanks for sharing these pictures and updates.
    Bev

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