International reach: in Tanzania

August 6, 2010

Sara Penhale, Earlham’s Science Librarian who also has an appointment in Biology, writes to me about preparations for our off-campus study program in Tanzania:

“I’m … sitting in my tent in the middle of nowhere in Tanzania – have my headlamp on to see in the dark. Allan and I are visiting a Maasai family whom we will visit with the students during their first week in the country – no sense delaying the plunge into a different world!

“[The students on the program] will be interviewing families in this area about the success or lack thereof of programs to mitigate against the problems created by wildlife which migrate from one game park to another through this populated area during the dry season. Even today we saw elephant footprints at the watering hole for the Maasai’s cattle. The elephants can wreak havoc with the corn crops and they will kill people who get in their way, although no one has been killed here. Makes me feel rather petty for being annoyed at deer eating my hostas.

“I have a dilemma. The woman head of household where we are staying took off her necklace at dinner to show me – it’s an elaborate braid of white and black beads made by her in a traditional Maasai design. I wished she were giving it to me, but with my halting Swahili I understood that she wanted me to buy it. Now what!  Should I buy it as one way of showing appreciation (I did already give her two boxes of tea and 4 kilograms of sugar)? Can I bargain if I do decide I should buy it? What if I really don’t want to pay as much as she wants? Would I be insulting my hostess?

“I will decide what to do tomorrow. I told her at dinner that we would talk in the morning because I first had to talk to my husband to see what money we have with us. That way, I can tell her I can only spend X number of shillings because that’s all my husband will allow me to spend! I will manage my way through the encounter somehow – probably return home with a necklace for which I paid “too much.”

“My bigger challenge will be to help students with this sort of dilemma once they arrive. They will learn that people here mix friendship and monetary exchanges in ways that we don’t at home. They will confront how very rich they are in comparison with many people in the world, even though many Earlham students feel economically constrained at home. They will struggle with stereotypes – of what Africans think of Americans and what we think of them.

“This is what leading the East Africa program is all about!”

Earlham has had an semester-long program in East Africa (first Kenya, now Tanzania) for many years.  The students study Swahili, do ecological research in the game parks, and have home stays with different families, including Maasai families.

This off-campus study program is an immersion into other cultures; it involves science and humanities, arts and social sciences; and it includes a significant component of student-faculty collaborative research.


About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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