Earlier this week I shared some of the wonderful things about my Swahili literature course, but my lecturer deserves a post all of her own. Though I was introduced to her on a first name basis (since we are theoretically equals), I quickly began to call her Madam Sanga, as the other students do. She’s a diminuitive figure, preferring to speak from her notebook rather than a lectern as she’s too short to see over it! I’ve seen her to do things I’ve never seen in an Australian university: answer her phone in class, take 30 mins of the lecture to shame late students, go on excursions, point out mistakes she’s made without embarrassment. But two things have really struck me about her.
1. She’s really good at teaching.
Madam Sanga’s lectures are engaging and she stops to ask, ‘Tuko pamoja?’ “Everyone with me?” You really see what a great teacher she is in her ability to choose poignant illustrations so that complex concepts suddenly become completely understandable.
To illustrate the Aristotelian idea that art is more real than life, she drew a scenario on the board of a stick figure who escapes a lion by climbing a tree only to meet a snake, then as he climbs to another branch it breaks and he tumbles into water. Just as we all thought he was safe, she tells us the water is infested with crocodiles. The groan in the class was audible and every one of us could see how enthralled we’d been in this mere story.
In a tutorial as students attempted to explain euphemism, she grabbed her breasts and said, ‘What are these?’ While I metaphorically tried to pick myself up off the floor, the students gave her various names (scientific, slang, common usage, etc) and everyone had a very vivid picture of what a euphemism is and why you use it! Similarly to illustrate reader-response theory she asked, ‘If I were to walk into class wearing a mini-skirt [she indicates the length] what would you think?’ Students had varying suggestions: she likes the fashion, she’s a prostitute, it’s all she could find to wear, she’s copying the west, etc. It was an incredibly simple way of showing how we all read the same situation differently.
She had examples like these for every lecture and every theory, and I know they really helped me to put things into place. However, her illustrations didn’t just connect with me but with my classmates as well. I know because I heard my neighbours making ‘Aha’ noises!
2. She’s forming as well as teaching
The St John’s motto is ‘to learn to serve’ so teachers are charged with more than simply delivering their course material. Madam Sanga does a great job of encouraging, pastoring and forming her students.
In speaking about classical Swahili literature, she advocated for pride in tribal cultural poetry. As part of the lecture on black literature, she implored girls not to bleach their skin. She asked me to say something about feminism to help students to see the hidden dangers of copying the west. She also finished the tutorial on that topic with a fantastic exegesis of Genesis 1:26-27.
When we were discussing existentialism and statements such as Nietzsche’s ‘God is dead’ and Satre’s ‘Man created God’ she led an interactive discussion on matters of faith and how to think about different religions and denominations. She hasn’t been exclusive. She has invited some of the Muslim students to present in lectures at various points. That said, she’s also had the last word to explain why she finds their argument so uncompelling! I suspect this is one of the wonderful things about a Christian university, that she has the freedom to present a particular viewpoint.
I’ve loved seeing this strong Tanzanian woman in action, placing exhortation alongside course content.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.