Monday, September 2, 2013

New Classroom!

I'm teaching Kindergarten and 1st grade this year and today was the first day! It was nerve-wracking and fun, all at the same time. Here are the before and after pictures of my new jungle-safari classroom!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Fundraising 2013!

Embarking on a project this summer of fundraising for the next school year! I am here in California for the summer, but only for about 7 weeks, and then I head back to Tanzania to teach again!

Look to the page on the right side of the blog called "Support Megan!" if you're interested in giving toward the school year of 2013-2014.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Solar Ovens

I am proud of my 5th and 6th graders and their hard work on our Solar Energy project. Obviously in this part of Africa, the equatorial sun is rather powerful, so a study in this topic is fitting.  If solar energy could be used more effectively in Africa, it could drastically change the lives of the people here.

Lining everything with foil

After doing research papers on various aspects of solar energy such as solar cars or the cost of solar equipment, it was time to put the sun to the test. We turned recycled pizza boxes into working solar ovens, and set off to cook some s'mores. 

It turns out that in direct sunlight, the solar ovens can get pretty hot! Now we were a little limited; we had to use plastic wrap instead of glass on the window, but even still, within 20 minutes, the oven was at 170 degrees fahrenheit (63 degrees celsius). Definitely hot enough to melt a little marshmallow and chocolate.  Love it when the experiments actually work, and I don't have to tell the kids "It's ok! All scientists have failures!" =)


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Favorite Zanzibar Shots

At the beginning of April, I had the opportunity to go to Zanzibar, the small island off the coast of Tanzania. There's a new airline in the area that offers flights there for only about $20 each way, so we jumped at the chance. Despite lots of things going wrong, we had a great time, and these are a few of my favorite shots of the weekend.

The first night's sunset, from Stone Town

The bungalows where we stayed (Baraka Aquarium Bungalows) had turtles in their salt water cove!

On the beach in Nungwi (a village on the northern tip of the island)

Some local girls wading

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Homemade Yogurt

For a fan of all delicious dairy products like myself, Moshi is sorely lacking in this department. The local cheese is expensive, even by Western standards, and it is pretty poor quality. I mean, it's cheese, so I'm not going to really complain, but it's no Tillamook cheddar.  Then there's the yogurt! For a little container it's 3000 shillings ($2), which makes it not a popular food for locals (too expensive), and not a very cost-effective treat for us either. 

So when I found out you can make yogurt with some simple steps, I was pretty excited. This kind of kitchen challenge is always fun for me to try, even if I fail. I am definitely coming back in August with many more cheese-making tools. Homemade mozzarella? Yes, please. Anyway, back to yogurt!

Milk is not really popular here (not many families have a refrigerator to store it, plus it's so hot here, and it's a little pricey for most people), but there is a sweet bibi (grandma) who sells it raw from her cows pretty cheaply, on the side of the road, every morning until about 10am. Since we're at school during the week, we take a quick trip to town to get some milk early in the morning, before we head off to teach. It's kind of funny getting milk - you feel a bit like you're making some kind of illegal deal in an alleyway. You pull up to this small street, pull out your own container, and hand over the cash for the milk.
2 liters for 2000 shillings ($1.30)
(PS - as always, the locals were cracking up at me taking a picture of milk)

We pasteurize this, strain it, and skim the cream off the top (this is VERY whole milk) in order to make it drinkable, and it is ready to go! I know I could drink it raw, but I'm not that brave. Also, after growing up drinking store-bought milk, it is quite an adjustment to whole, fresh milk - the taste is pretty different!

It turns out that all you need to do to make yogurt is:
1) Heat the milk to 185 degrees
2) Cool it to 100 degrees
3) Stir in 2 tablespoons already prepared yogurt
4) Keep wam at 100 degrees for 6-20 hours

Now there are all these clever ideas online on how to keep it warm -- put it in a picnic cooler, stick an electric heating pad under the pan, put it in a hot car -- well, none of these work for me here because I don't have them, not even the hot car because now it's the cooler rainy season.  So I did a water bath in the oven with the oven barely on, for about 7 hours.

Here's the milk cooling!
And after all those hours in the oven, and a night chilling in the fridge, I had yogurt!! I felt like a superwoman! Who knew it was so easy? Time-consuming, but easy! In the end, I made 2 quarts of yogurt for 2000 TSH, not too bad.  Definitely a project that I'll do regularly, to get my yogurt fix.

Final product!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Catapults with 1st/2nd Grade

More creative uses of things we have for crafts here in Tanzania! The kids loved this one, though I had to keep telling them they were finger catapults because they were putting their full weight on them and snapping the springs out of the clothespins. Ah good times, trying to change the behavior of 6 and 7 year olds! Anyway, once they got that memo, it was much better. We found some little seeds outside and catapulted the class time away. 
Decorating the pieces - popsicle sticks, blocks of wood, clothespins, bottle caps

Finished products, hot glued together! 

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Dust!

The dry season has been upon us for a few months now, and we are FINALLY starting to get some rain around here. Without the rain, every minute of every day involves dust! The dirt roads are at their driest, and we pretty much breathe dust as we drive, as we walk, as we teach. I won’t even talk about my feet at the end of the day. Let’s just say I understand the sacrifice of Jesus washing his disciples' feet a lot better. Anyway, my poor little white laptop has been under a dust attack.  It reminds me of being in college, and seeing the art majors doggedly scrub their white laptops to keep them free of paint, clay, charcoal, etc. It was always a losing battle.

It's the little things in life - I know this because when I got a magic eraser in a package from my parents, the first thing I wanted to do was clean my computer. And then I took pictures. So yeah, I'm easily entertained these days.  But LOOK!!!  Though this may only last a couple weeks before my laptop is disgusting again, I'm happy.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Weaving with 1st / 2nd Grade

Doing crafts with this age group has been a fun challenge for me.  Fun because I enjoy the age group’s enthusiasm and a challenge because I have to get creative with my activities because of our limited resources. A lot of what we’ve done so far has been using recyclables. Last week, I had the school guard make us a hula hoop out of plastic pipe (he melted the edges together) and with about a dozen old t-shirts, we went to work weaving a masterpiece. We used this tutorial here.

The t-shirts are from the Moshi used clothing market called Memoria, and I got the bundle of them for 6000 shillings ($4). Miss Holly (see her blog here) and I spent an evening slicing them up while watching a movie, and voila! We were ready to go. The kids were quick learners with the ‘over-under’ pattern, and they were even patient taking turns weaving.

Ok, by patient I mean they found other ways to entertain themselves...

Tuesday, March 5, 2013


I am proud to announce I have nearly conquered my phobia of using chalk and my chalkboard! Ugh all that dust and the dreadful feel of the chalk, I’m shuddering as I write. Oh and the shrieks of the chalk on the board, Lord have mercy. Alright enough with the drama, I knew I would have a chalkboard before I came to teach here, so I really can’t complain. But my kind mother had compassion on me and bought me a lifesaving chalk holder.  So I have been using my chalk holder constantly – and taking baby steps toward chalk independence by trying it without the holder once in a while. And hey, it’s not actually that bad! Granted, I’ve been washing my hands of the dust about 5 times in a day, but like I said, baby steps. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

A Big Decision

February. I've known for a while that the end of February marked a major decision for us teachers here in Moshi - to stay or go?  We are six months into our ten-month commitment at Hope International School (hey - new website here!), and already, the option of another school year is on the table.

I really love Tanzania - it's a beautiful country, and I've grown used to the amazing scenery in my everyday life. Kilimanjaro sits outside my bedroom window, and I get excited on the days when we can see this "shy" mountain come out of the clouds. The people of this country are also incredible. They deal with hardship every day with poise and courage, and I've learned a lot from them. They are joyful - the village churches give the phrase "the joy of the Lord" a new vigor in their worship.  And they are so creative with what they have. I so admire the genius ways they make life work for them. We have a hose at home, but not a sprinkler for the garden, so our guard punched holes in an old plastic water bottle and just attached that to the hose. Why didn't I think of that?!?  What they don't have here, they make up for with their determination and creativity.  The kids at the school are the same way. They have a passion to learn. The local kids love it and the fun atmosphere we cultivate here. One of my students was delighted when she got to have math manipulatives at her desk to help her visualize the work. She told me she used to secretly bring a bag of bottlecaps to her old school and use them on her lap to help her understand. I love that tenacity.  

Two months ago, staying in Tanzania would have been unfathomable to me. It was Christmas, and I was homesick and missing all the American conveniences you could imagine.  I told myself I would just get through the next six months and bid Tanzania farewell. To say God that has done some moving to change my mind is a huge understatement! Last week, I just knew that I wanted to stay here and I had peace about that choice.  It blindsided me! I hadn't even really thought about staying, and here I was, throwing caution to the wind and choosing to live in Africa until June 2014. The realization was that I have more work I want to do here, and I'm not ready to come back to Orange County and settle into a new position there. I am glad to do that eventually, but there's no rush.  This season in my life is an adventure that I am really loving, with ALL its ups and downs and pros and cons.  No place is perfect, but for now, I think I am where God wants me to be. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Africa Unit Study Wrap Up

Living in Tanzania, it is only fair that my class has spent the last month doing a thorough study of the continent of Africa.  For our primary base, we used a Lapbook on Africa (, which was a good point to start on a lot of things. Now naturally, being here, we have a lot of resources, and I finally got to use the things around us to have a great time studying Africa.

  • African Peanut Stew
-the kitchen ladies taught us to make us a great peanut stew, similar to the one here:

  • Bao (Mancala)
-Our very own Naomi taught us a classic Tanzanian schoolyard game (known as Mancala in a lot of places, but Bao here). My favorite moment of her teaching was when she nonchalantly grabbed a machete from the guard here and began hacking at the dirt to make the divets.   Rules for this version can be found here:

  • Tinga Tinga Art
-This was probably our favorite part of the study, where we spent a whole morning painting our own Tinga Tinga paintings under Kimambo, a local artist. He drew the outlines of the animals, and then the students painted the details. For those who don’t have access to an excellent Tinga Tinga artist, there’s a cool video example of the style here:

  • Lake Chala
-Since our science study was on the biome of the grasslands, we went to our local grasslands to sketch and take pictures.  It’s summer here, and it was a blisteringly hot day, but we swam down at the lake too, watching from the cool water as monkeys swung through the trees nearby.

  • Weaving
-We got to do a couple field trips during this unit study, and one of them was visiting a lady who does weaving here locally. She was super friendly, and walked us through the whole process of weaving thread into a beautiful cloth. It takes hours to wind the bobbins, not to even mention the days it takes to make a bolt of cloth. She sells her work, but I’m not sure how she lives by selling each bolt of fabric (many days’ work) for 100,000 ($60). Her assistant let us try to get the rhythm of working the machine with all its pedals and handles – it was not easy!  His rhythm and speed were incredible on this homemade machine crafted all from wood and old bicycle parts.

  • Geography Game
-My Father’s World curriculum comes with maps for a Geography Game, which aids in learning the names and locations of all the countries of the world. My students love this game, and are so competitive I have to tell them sometimes that if they don’t chill out about mistaking Namibia for Angola, we’ll have to stop playing. You would think they were winning a million shillings instead of a piece of gum, from the way they play. Essentially the game uses a map of a continent with numbered countries, and cards with country names. You draw a card and have to guess the number on the map.  If you guess correctly, you get to put a marker on that country.  If you don't, you lose your turn.  The first one to get to a certain number of markers wins.

Fun study! On to Saudi Arabia!

Friday, February 22, 2013

What a Difference a Few Months Makes!

On Friday, I took my class to Lake Chala for a field trip.  We have been doing our unit study on Africa, and in science we’ve been studying the grasslands biome. Lake Chala has beautiful grasslands, and we enjoyed our day there. The students sketched for a while, took pictures and finally we hiked down to the lake to swim. Even though this is the dry season, we’ve had some recent rains and the grasslands of Chala are bright and green! I love the summer look the area has right now, with sunflowers and every kind of plant blooming. When we camped here in September, the grasses were all shades of tan and brown. I found the dryness beautiful too – the way the afternoon sun made the colors all blend together, the distinct arid rustling sound when the breeze came through.  Fun to experience the small differences in seasons here – it’s not much, but I will take what I can get!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Crafts with 1st and 2nd Grade

In the afternoons on Thursdays I teach the 1st and 2nd grade class on the topic of Crafts/Cooking. You might already be chuckling picturing 6 and 7 year olds doing cooking and crafting, but it’s actually a lot of fun. They’re so enthusiastic about ANYTHING that we do. It could be lining up at the door and they’re just like, “YES!! Let’s do it!!!” Anyway, I’ve had a great time finding projects for the class, and linking them in to the topics they’re currently studying.  The class is reading Charlotte’s Web, and so last week we did a simple weaving project to make a spider web with plates.

But before we did that, we did an activity. Before the class, I set up a yarn web in the hallway outside their classroom. They didn’t see it as they came in from break, so after we talked about spiders and their features, I suggested we go see a spider I had seen in the bathroom across the hall. You should have seen their eyes as we walked into the hallway and were blocked by a giant, tricky web! One of the students even yelped in fear and attached herself to my leg. But when they realized they’d be allow to climb through it, they were ecstatic.  They had fun pretending to be bugs escaping from a large spider, and then we returned to our craft time.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Getting Creative with PE

Our school is brand new, and we're all just getting used to how to make it work here in Moshi. Resources are a little scarce, supplies are rationed -- you know it's true when we have a whole trash pile that we keep and scavenge through for art projects, and when I find myself saying, "Ugh I HATE Pinterest - I can't do any of these things for school!!"

Anyway, PE is one of those classes where we have limited supplies - we have a basketball hoop/ball, a soccer ball, and a 4-square ball.  Now that's way more than some schools around here, so we count our blessings, but after a while, the kids get a little tired of that routine. Thankfully, while we don't have many supplies, we have a very creative PE teacher and he has come up with some crazy fun things to do.

Old mattresses + slackline = improvised tightrope and balance lesson:

Mercy going for a walk on the slackline
The kids even convinced teacher Francis to give it a try!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Tanzanian Coast

As part of volunteering to be a teacher here, Hope International School pays for a monthly outing/excursion. This has become one of the best parts of being here - getting to see parts of Tanzania and its culture. Tanzania has such diversity in its different parts - in one area it will be so flat, dry and dusty, and in another green lush mountains pop out of the landscape.  So the driving is always interesting, even a long road trip like the drive to Tanga. It took us about 7 hours to get from Moshi to Pangani (a village) in Tanga. 
On the drive
I love all the sights in the small villages - people sitting out on the porches with each other, just visiting and staying cool in the shade, women carrying all kinds of things on their heads, the kids weaving through the homes, racing metal rings by pushing them with sticks. People are friendly, they'll wave and smile, and the kids especially always stop and shout their greetings. It always makes me wish I had an unlimited supply of little candies to toss to the kids as we pass.  They're so sweet. 

Friendly kids as we pass
Anyone want to stay at this "hotel"? I'll pass...
After many stops with our caravan, including plenty of middle-of-nowhere-bathroom experiences (seriously, I am now such a pro at peeing behind a bush, do you think I can put that on my resume?), we arrived at Peponi Beach Resort, outside of Pangani. Quiet place, very simple, but a great spot to relax by the beach! They had both bandas (bamboo rooms with fans and nets) and campsites. Some of our group stayed in the bandas, and we stayed in tents in the campsites.  The campsites were a mere 5000 shillings a night ($3.50), crazy! There is a restaurant and pool on the grounds, and hammocks all over the place. The beach was 30 feet from our campsite, and the water was warm and clear. The beach at low tide was even better - the tide recedes so far that you can wade on the sand for about half a mile out. The creatures and shells we saw were so fun.  And the water was a relief, as it was the hottest and most humid it's been yet here in Tanzania. At night even, it was easily 90 degrees outside and so humid. 

On the beach at low tide, you could walk out to this swampy grove of trees that was so cool to see. There were small popping sounds as bubbles from underneath made their way to the surface and popped in the wet sand. The ocean breeze blew through the leaves and it was such a unique combination to see leafy green trees growing in the sand with little waves lapping at the bases. 

The odd grove of beach trees, loved them!
One of the days we were at Peponi, we paid 17,000 shillings ($12) to go out on the little sailboat for a snorkeling trip.  Now the last boat trip I did was last year in Australia, visiting the Great Barrier Reef. Well let's compare the two - GBR: $185, extensive safety talk and regulations, long explanations on how to use the mask/snorkel/fins, marine biologist on board to explain all the sea creatures and why we don't touch the coral, ratio of 1 staff member to every 5 passengers. Peponi boat - $12, leaky sail boat in which one sailor was regularly bailing water out of the bottom, 30 passengers to 2 sailors, no safety talk, no life vests, we got to the coral area and they just dropped the anchor and said "karibuni!" ("welcome!").  Ahh I was cracking up at the differences! Truly an African experience.  But I loved it - the sail boat was really cool, a patched sail and some careful steering led us to a white sandbar, with beautiful clear water. The sandbar island is under the water most of the day, but at low tide, it makes its appearance, covered in sea stars and shells. We had our lunch picnic there, and everyone walked the entirety of the place, seeing all there was to see.  After lunch, we stopped one other place to snorkel around some coral.  After my GBR experience where I was sunburned worse than I ever have, I put on a tshirt and leggings to snorkel here! Everyone laughed, but at least I didn't burn!

The dhow took us to this sandbar island for lunch
If you look carefully, you can see my skin burning! =) 
Pepi, the sailboat 
On the sandbar, a crazy looking starfish
Snorkeling time
The trip to the coast was over too fast, and we made the long trek back. School began the next day and we are now back to our regular full-time routine!  I don't miss the heat at that beach, but I do wish we could have lunch on that sandbar island again!