Friday, February 16, 2007

Lunch Time Dodgeball: Survival of the Fitest

All this week I have been going to Seika-dai Elementary School to visit and teach the 2nd graders. There are 5 second grade classes at this school and I visited each one twice this week. The first time around I talked about myself and my country, told silly jokes, made the kids laugh, and then played “Heads Up 7 Up.” The kids love that game and they are so funny when they play it. Then the second time I visited I was asked to talk about animals as that is what they are studying right now. So I decided to talk about some animals that are unique to America and some that I just think are funny. I talked about; bald eagles, raccoons, skunks (they don’t have them in Japan), wolves, moose, buffalos, and grizzly bears. Of course 2nd graders love animals so they enjoyed my lessons, especially when I talked about wolf packs eating humans and attacking bears.

As much fun as the classes were and also eating lunch with the kids by far the funniest part of the week was playing dodgeball with the kids during lunch break. Dodgeball is so popular with kids in Japan, so during breaks all the kids run outside and play dodgeball with their individual classmates. Since Seika-dai Elementary is 1st~6th grade and there are roughly 4 classes per grade there are about 24 classes which means 24 games of dodgeball going on simultaneously. The schoolyard is about the size of a football fields but with 24 dodgeball games going on it turns into a battlefield! All the dodgeball courts are right next to each other so stray balls are flying everywhere and random kids are getting hit left and right.

Plus the kids are fervent about dodgeball. Whenever someone is hit and sent out a cry of joy arises. Kids are diving onto the dirt ground to be the first one to recover the loose ball and then jump up to get a running start to throw the ball. Then to top it all off this week the games were divided boys against girls. So the boys take no mercy and the girls are bent on revenge and evening the score. The first day that I played with the 2nd graders no less than 3 or 4 kids in 15 minutes got tagged in the head and ended up crying, one of those was a boy that got hit by his female teacher. Then today despite my effort to not throw as hard as I can I accidentally hit a girl in the head because she tried to duck my throw. She started balling tears and snot and fell to the ground. I felt horrible and picked her up and apologized profusely. All the other girls said not to worry as she apparently cries over everything but I still felt horrible. But then again its all part of the game.

Lunch time dodgeball at Japanese elementary schools is chaos. Its like a battlefield with rubber balls instead of bullets. The scene reminds me of a something from “Lord of the Flies.” But it is also so much fun and the kids know better than anyone else that its kill or be killed in the dodgeball arena! Actually I used to play dodgeball everyday when I was in elementary school too and I can remember the savagery, bloody noses, fear and thrill of the sport. I guess the saying is true no matter where you are, “kids will be kids” and kids love dodgeball!

Friday, February 2, 2007

Agricultural Research Team from Tanzania

As part of a Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) month long government research project in Japan roughly 20 government officials from the United Republic of Tanzania came to Seika Town this week for a two day long agricultural study program. On the day of arrival the delegation was met by Seika Town Mayor Kaname Kimura, the director of the Industry Promotion Division, my colleague Chris and myself.

At first the Mayor introduced Seika Town and gave an explanation of the agricultural sector, society and town policy. Then the Mayor fielded questions from the delegates about various economic, social, and agricultural issues that both Seika and Tanzania share in common. Some examples were; how to deal with exporting agricultural products in a competitive world market, how to cope with the declining population of young people in the agricultural sector, and how to create new products and marketability of excess agricultural goods.

Chris and myself accompanied the delegation on a tour of Seika and some of the local farms and hot houses to assist with interpreting and explaining Seika Town. Although Kiswahili (Swahili) is the national language of Tanzania, English has become the official language for business and government so all of the Tanzanian representatives could speak perfect English. My colleague and I were along to help translate from Japanese into English. At every stop that we made the Tanzanian delegates had a gift from Tanzania for their hosts and left a warm and lively impression.

Before the delegation came I was doing a lot of research into Tanzania so that I could try to understand better what issues face the nation and why they are interested in learning about Japanese agricultural practices. From what I read Tanzania is a beautiful country with many natural blessings such as large wildlife preserves on the Serengeti, Mt. Kilimanjaro, and Zanzibar island. However while Tanzania has many natural treasures it is faced with a struggling economy due in part to unpredictable climates for the agricultural industry which makes up nearly half of the GDP and employees roughly 80% of the national workforce. It seems like one of the main issues is how to properly irrigate the varied regions from the many lakes, rivers and water sources in the country so that the agricultural sector will not be at the mercy of irregular rainfall. As Japan has an extensive irrigation system I hope that the Tanzanians were able to get some good ideas to take home.

It was a true pleasure and an honor for me to be able to meet all of the delegates and to do my best to help them while they were here in Seika. I sincerely hope that their time here in Japan was informative and fruitful and that they will be able to take some ideas back to Tanzania with them to help improve the country. Yet while they came here to study from Japan I know that they will also leave their mark on this country with their friendliness and generosity.