Tanzania diary: July 7

“I think you don’t understand that we Africans believe white people can pick money off of trees.”

Daniel Amma had been taken to the nearest Catholic hospital, several miles away, for treatment of cuts on his leg after a motorcycle accident. Though his injuries were not serious, we would miss him at Karimu‘s meeting with the Ufani Primary School teachers and the school committee. Better than anyone else in Dareda Kati Village, Daniel appreciates the hard work that Karimu does to raise funds. As I waited for the start of the meeting, at which, inevitably, Karimu would be asked to do more than it could afford to do, I thought about what Daniel had said last week.

“We see white people throwing money away, so we think they must have too much of it and they don’t know what else to do.”

The villagers’ experience of the profligacy of the World Bank has encouraged this fiction. I never allude to Dareda Kati’s World Bank fiasco, but I wondered before the meeting if I would have occasion to say, as I often do, that “Marianne and I are not Bill and Melinda Gates.”

The line is beginning to sound tired to me, though, so I did not use it during my opening remarks. Instead, I started by repeating almost verbatim what I had said to between six and eight hundred worshipers in the local Catholic church yesterday. (As guests, all of our volunteers were invited to introduce themselves to the congregation. Daniel, the long-time deacon, asked me to speak for them.)

“Your founding President, Julius Nyerere,” I said, “often spoke about the equal dignity of all Tanzanians, including children.”

Despite the general repudiation of Nyerere’s Marxist economic policies since the 1980’s, Tanzanians still revere him as the father of their independence. Mentioning his vision of pan-Tanzanian solidarity was part of my attempt to combat rumors about why Karimu is building a teachers’ house at Ayalagaya Secondary School, and not at Ufani Primary School. Since we plan to build at Dareda Primary School next year, the rumors that we are unhappy with Ufani would gain momentum if we did not try to face them down.

So I jumped on this opportunity to talk about Karimu’s work in front of the huge gathering in the Catholic church. The congregation includes people who send their children to Ufani, Dareda, Bacho, and probably one or two other primary schools, as well as Ayalagaya Secondary School. It was important to point out what Nyerere’s commitment to equality implies for Karimu’s work, since we have poured a couple of hundred thousand dollars into Ufani and a smaller amount into Ayalagaya, but, so far, not a dime into either Dareda or Bacho.

Only a few people here have e-mail or Facebook. Talking on Sunday in the Catholic church, where the turnout is many times the size of what the local Lutheran and Pentecostal churches get, is the only way to communicate with a significant fraction of the population.

The congregation was in a good mood. Maybe half of the three-hour service was devoted to music that sounded nothing like the music I have experienced the handful of times that I have attended Mass in the United States. (Marianne is Catholic.) As they had during several previous Karimu visits to the church, the choir threw their entire bodies into their songs.

Just as in past years, the outpouring of joy was infectious. The beauty has always overwhelmed me, although, yesterday, the choir may have been trying to outdo themselves in competition with a visiting choir of charismatic Catholics from Dar es Salaam, who were on their feet and moving rapturously every chance they had.

After the Mass ended, the parish priest fed the volunteers in his house on the church grounds. The volunteers experienced a joy different from the kind which had electrified the church when they realized that the priest’s house was equipped with three sit-down toilets. In Dareda Kati, this was like finding buried treasure, and I think some of the volunteers may have eaten more food than they needed so that they could take advantage of the discovery.

The priest’s eloquent silence about the charismatics made me wonder how friendly the contest of choirs had been. I don’t believe in any of it, so I did not wonder for long. Yet some kind of fervent belief had moved me to tell the congregation, as I gestured toward the choirs, that we had all been “lifted toward heaven by the voices of angels.”

In today’s meeting at Ufani Primary School, there was no irresistible tide of good will to elevate my words when I reminded the teachers and the school committee members of Nyerere’s insistence on equality. Instead, I felt the weight of Sifaeli Kaaya’s lawsuit for slander. I felt it both in the presence of the two committee members who are defendants, and in the absence of Sifaeli himself.

He had claimed that he could not leave the Ayalagaya School work site. Three days earlier, however he had skipped a full morning at the site to visit his lawyer in Babati. I knew that Sifaeli merely wanted to avoid Leonard and Theophile.

I followed my reference to Nyerere by acknowledging the awkwardness of having Leonard and Theophile in the room to stare at Kaaya’s empty seat. Then I repeated what Kaaya had told his lawyer: he would be satisfied with a simple apology.

Leonard and Theophile relaxed visibly—or else I wanted to believe that I could see them relaxing. Relaxed or not, they focused just as single-mindedly as everyone else in the room on naming and prioritizing Ufani School’s needs. The teachers and the school committee members want professional development for the teachers, ongoing support for both the school lunch program and the school garden, solar power, a playground, and another two-in-one teachers’ house. Eventually, I pulled out “Marianne and I are not Bill and Melinda Gates” only because I am skeptical about the big-ticket item: the teachers’ house. For next year, all the rest seems reasonable.

As for the reasonableness of my appeal to Nyerere and the idea that every local school has an equal right to Karimu’s assistance, we heard one dissenting voice. That belonged to Edward, a veteran teacher who is all knees and elbows and bony wrists that insist on escaping from the sleeves of his shirts and his tweed coats.

Edward made the case that Karimu started its work at Ufani Primary School and that Ufani is therefore Karimu’s true family, which we must always put ahead of other schools. He spoke deliberately enough to allow himself time, after each sentence, to soften the force of his argument with a smile. So I could not help thinking about his teeth. Edward has been bothered on and off by toothaches for as long as Marianne and I have known him. During the years when our Board member, Dr. Susan Hughmanick, can travel to Tanzania with us, he always asks her what he can do about his teeth.

He would have more money at his disposal to take care of his teeth if he did not set aside a portion of his salary to buy the required school uniforms for some of Ufani Primary School’s poorest students. While Edward argued for more help for his school, my mind wandered to the needs of the local public health clinic and to what Karimu could do to improve dental care at the clinic.

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Tanzania diary: July 6

We are now a few days past the point when some of the Karimu volunteers began to weary of the blandness and monotony of our diet. It may be a bigger issue for the adults than for the teenagers, to whom eating seems to be largely about shoveling in calories.

The delightful women in the kitchen of the Integrated Agricultural Training Center give us plenty of food for lunch and dinner. Breakfast can be sparse, but the mid-morning snack of maandazis, which are like big, mildly sweet doughnut holes, gets us caught up. However, some of the adult volunteers are past all desire to fill up on the beans, white rice, and boiled greens that we see twice a day, every day.

It is therefore astonishing to realize that the food we are served is more varied than what the villagers eat. Although we usually get the beans, rice, and greens, as well as chicken, when we are invited into village homes, these are special occasions.

Last week was marked by three such special occasions, at the homes of three of the most prominent women in the village: Deborah, Yasenta, and, finally, Esther Ng’aida. Esther had recovered sufficiently from her unwanted meeting with the inflatable CPR doll that Marianne called “Baby Bacho” to organize a welcome like we had received at no other private home. Dozens of Esther’s neighbors greeted Marianne and me and a handful of Karimu volunteers as we entered her property. They sang, showered us with flowers, and draped locally-made seed necklaces over us.

Esther is one of the drummers for the village’s traditional dancers. They performed after lunch, as did a chorus of women that she, Yasenta, and Deborah led, with Yasenta always in front so that she could coax us into their dance with her high, sweet, fragile voice. One of their songs, which has a sequence of simple, repetitive dance movements to go with it, had been heard earlier from the same chorus first at Deborah’s and then at Yasenta’s. The song revolves around a Swahili expression meaning “We praise” or “We are proud of,” which must be completed with someone’s name. The women would not allow the song and dance to end until they had praised Marianne and me and every volunteer present.

Occasions like the afternoon at Esther’s are special because of the music and the gifts, of course. But they are also special because of the extraordinary labor needed to cook beans, rice, greens, and chicken over open fires for so many people.

Marianne and I saw Daniel Amma eat a more typical meal one day last week when we dropped by his home just after we had eaten our own lunch. We are close enough to Daniel to have insisted that we were full and that he should tell his wife, Victoria, not to bring us anything. As we talked with Daniel, Victoria served him an immense bowl of ugali, the thick, gluey maize mush that is the staple of the Tanzanian diet. He was clearly satisfied to eat the ugali and nothing else.

Daniel’s property is smaller than that of his head teacher at Ufani Primary School, Mangachi Msuya, so he grows fewer things than Msuya and his wife do. Nevertheless, Daniel has banana trees and papayas, and, I think, both mangoes and avocados. But these are cash crops, as they are throughout Dareda Kati Village, where most of the residents have no other way to earn cash.

A farmer’s choice of cash crops will be determined entirely by the market, since the local climate permits just about anything to grow. I have heard well-off Tanzanians say that the warm climate and easy growing account for the villagers’ poverty. Being comfortable and having enough to eat do not require hard work, the argument goes, therefore hard work is never seen here. This is not Karimu’s position.

Raising cash crops is something that nearly everyone in Dareda Kati does. People like Daniel and Msuya earn professional salaries that are a fraction of what men and women doing equivalent work in rich countries receive. Their salaries enable them to live in houses that bear some resemblance to middle-class American homes. And the salary that Msuya’s wife earns as a teacher at Dareda Primary School affords their small family other luxuries, such as one of the mere handful of flower gardens seen in the village. (Daniel’s wife works in the home, caring for their two young children.) Yet even Daniel, and Msuya and his wife, grow fruits and vegetables mainly in order to sell them, while happily eating a more plain diet than the one many of us have grown tired of at the Center.

This plainness extends to the coffee. In the Center’s dining hall we drink Africafe instant coffee, even though taking a right turn out of the Center, instead of the left toward Ufani Primary School, leads after a few minutes of walking to a large coffee plantation. Marianne and I have caressed the reddish-purple fruit envelopes with a certain yearning, but we know that the beans inside will end up at Starbucks.

Yesterday at Daniel’s house, I was only half-joking after lunch—beans, rice, greens, and chicken—when I gave him the option of returning the bar of dark chocolate that I had just presented as a gift. Victoria seemed unmoved by the chocolate, and I reminded Daniel (since Victoria speaks no English) that the first Tanzanian to whom Marianne and I had given chocolate, in 2007, wrinkled up her face and spat it out on the ground.

Needless to say, most of our volunteers, like the British guides we hire from Inspire Worldwide, feel differently about chocolate. One of the guides, Louise Gillette, is among the adults who have struggled lately at lunch and dinner. Marianne went to look for Louise after dinner last night to give her some chocolate, which she has been craving. She found Louise talking to Justine Sokoitan, the “city Masai” who manages the Center.

Justine looked skeptically at the chocolate.

“What is the secret?” he asked. “Why do white people love chocolate so much?”

Marianne had nothing to say; the excellence of chocolate seems self-evident to her.

A volunteer who overheard their conversation remarked that pregnant women often crave chocolate. So Marianne asked Justine, who has a wife and three children, what pregnant village women crave. The question had barely left her mouth before she recalled Daniel’s stark meal of ugali and correctly anticipated his answer.

“They crave soil,” Justine told her.

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Tanzania diary: July 5

Sifaeli Kaaya has seen many situations go from good to bad to worse during his long tenure as Chairman of the Ufani Primary School Committee. He has seen even more situations move in the opposite direction. The regional government has designated Ufani as a model school (while, implausibly, asking Karimu to effect the same kind of transformation in the dozens of other primary schools in the area).

Yet Sifaeli is a cautious man. So he tells me that it is probably too early to decide whether Mangachi Msuya is a good head teacher.

I suppose Kaaya is right, since Msuya has held the job for just over a year. Despite his caution, however, Kaaya can see the evidence of Msuya’s strong start. The inflated fears of the local Iraqw parents that allowing other people to cook for their children would expose them to poisoning—a matter of old tribal stories casting their long shadow on present reality—seem to have deterred Msuya’s predecessor from beginning the school lunch program that Karimu had been ready to fund for several years. Now, with Msuya in charge, the children whose parents can’t, or won’t, send food to school with them do not go hungry.

Karimu was also frustrated by the failure of the garden on Ufani Primary School’s sprawling grounds. We saw children and teachers hoeing, without seeing any of the fruits and vegetables whose sales were supposed to generate cash for the repainting of walls or the replacement of broken windows. Again and again, we were told to be patient.

But in the past week Msuya has slogged through the rain-forest green of the Ufani garden with Marianne and me, asking us to infer what the difficulty of the walk says about the difficulty of farming there. Even now, during the dry season, the ground is saturated and the fruits and vegetables are drowning. He has shown us a plan for a drainage ditch and also consulted a soil expert about the possibility of adding nutrients to the ground.

Three years ago, Karimu paid for a thousand new textbooks for Ufani School. (The average cost of a primary-school textbook in Tanzania was between four and five dollars.) Then the bookseller delivered the wrong books. Two years went by as, for whatever reason, they were never exchanged for the right ones.

Ahead of the school lunch program and the school garden, Msuya decided to make acquiring the right books his first order of business. He pestered the bookseller relentlessly and took his case to the government’s education officers so that they would apply their own pressure. Finally conceding his mistake, the bookseller has pledged to replace the textbooks he sent three years ago with books appropriate to the current, government-mandated curriculum.

The correct books are not yet in hand. Yet even Kaaya, for all of his caution, admits that Msuya’s determined effort, which the Ufani teachers had started to think was something they should not expect from their head teacher, is an encouraging sign.

Because the quality and pace of construction of the new two-in-one teachers’ house for Ayalagaya Secondary School has pleased everyone here, the Karimu volunteers were offered an afternoon without work in order to visit Msuya’s home. The volunteers knew this visit would add at least another mile to the walk back to the Integrated Agricultural Training Center at the end of the day, so most of them continued to toil.

However, those of us who followed Msuya to his house did not regret the extra distance. He is a handsome, athletic-looking man in his thirties. The group of volunteers who went with him included a disproportionately high number of women.

He paid three hundred dollars for his quarter-acre lot in 2005, although he built his house on it only last year. From his property we had a clear view of the nearest power pole, but power lines advance timidly here. Msuya and his wife and two children may need to wait a while longer for electricity. (To give a rough measure of how long, there is no television set in the house; Msuya’s assistant head teacher, Daniel Amma, expects electricity in his home before the end of the year and he has his television ready to go.)

Still, on a brilliant afternoon like the one we enjoyed today, the compensations for having no electricity were many. Msuya showed us the cow that gives his family milk and the chickens that give them eggs. During the warmest part of the afternoon, the dense cover given by his grove of banana trees kept us cool.

Some of the villagers have heard that people in rich countries waste their time by growing crops that nobody can eat, and they regard this as one of the many strange things that white people do. Yet the ground in front of Msuya’s porch was festooned with nonedible flowers.

Sunlight flooded the front room through its large windows. The furniture, not meant to accommodate a dozen guests, was nevertheless new and comfortable. Msuya’s wife, who teaches at Dareda Primary School, where Karimu intends to build a teachers’ house next year, had prepared avocados, papaya, bananas, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, cassava, and buttermilk, all of it from right outside their back door. She also offered us sodas, and beef purchased from a local butcher.

If Msuya succeeds as head teacher of Ufani Primary School, it will be good for the school’s three hundred-plus children. It will also mean an invitation back to his home every year. I would not object.

(July 28 Postscript: In California this morning, I received notice from our Tanzanian project manager, Joas Kahembe, that Haysam Village has come through with the deposit of one million shillings needed before Karimu can move forward with the Bacho Primary School water project. I expect to wire the balance of some eleven million shillings—between seven and eight thousand dollars—as soon as Joas and I determine the appropriate exchange rate.)

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Tanzania diary: July 4

Having taught at Ufani Primary School for several years, Daniel Amma knows all of the local Iraqw men whom Sifaeli Kaaya accuses of spreading the rumor that he is a thief. Although Sifaeli’s fear of the men causes him to avoid certain parts of Dareda Kati Village, Daniel has tried to convince him that a lawsuit will only make the situation worse.

If Kaaya would listen to anyone, it would be Daniel. He exempts Daniel from the suspicion that he directs toward other Iraqws. I have heard him say many good things about Daniel, without ever uttering a word of criticism.

However, Daniel cannot persuade Kaaya to drop his lawsuit for slander. Nor can he persuade Kaaya that he is not in danger of serious bodily harm from the men named in the lawsuit. Last week, when Kaaya said he was worried about being killed, Daniel laughed.

“No one will kill you. But people can say, ‘There goes the man who tried to make himself rich at the expense of his neighbors.'”

Briefly, Kaaya averted his eyes. The damages asked for in the lawsuit, thirty-five thousand dollars, will sound like a fortune to any villager who hears about it, and the defendants would have no reason to keep the figure a secret.

“The lawsuit gives people who like you a reason to hate you, Kaaya.”

Kaaya was unmoved, so Daniel persisted.

“You make too much of what people say about you because you do not trust the Iraqw culture.”

Kaaya’s voice rose sharply. I was grateful that the local builders working on the new teachers’ house for Ayalagaya Secondary School, easily within earshot, spoke no English, and that the Karimu volunteers had left the site after knocking off work for the day.

“I don’t want to know anything about the Iraqw culture. It is a culture of killing people!”

Daniel enjoyed this. I wondered if Kaaya had the sense that he was performing for Daniel, Marianne, and me, as his rant about the Iraqw continued at a pitch and volume that rendered his English incoherent. Yet it had become clear, by the time he calmed down, that he was not retreating. The lawsuit would stand, which is why Kaaya took Marianne and me to Babati this morning to talk with his lawyer, Abdallah Kilobwa.

Kilobwa is a Muslim. He receives clients in a part of Babati where one often sees Muslims, including the veiled women who wander in and out of the halal investment house directly across the street from the law offices. In this region, three hundred miles in from the coast, the rising interfaith tensions felt in those parts of Tanzania where Muslims can compete with Christians for power remain muted. If, as it appears to an outsider, there is little likelihood here of a Muslim challenge to Christian dominance, then perhaps the Muslims can be a safely ignored minority.

In any case, Kilobwa wears a Western suit, while his young administrative assistant wears a short skirt and no headscarf. Kaaya seems to identify Kilobwa, as he does Daniel Amma, with his country’s modernizing, progressive elements, rather than with the backwardness and superstition that he finds, or claims to find, among Dareda Kati’s Iraqws.

Marianne and I offered to pay the fifty-dollar roundtrip cab fare to Babati because we know that fifty dollars means less to us than it does to Kaaya. Paying the driver for him seemed even more necessary after Kaaya explained that Kilobwa’s fee is thirteen hundred dollars—and that he had already wasted seven hundred on an unqualified “bush lawyer,” whom the magistrate ultimately threw out of court.

The possibility crossed my mind that Sifaeli would spend so much money only if he regarded it as an investment, to be repaid with dividends by a victory in his lawsuit. However, Kilobwa made it clear that the Tanzanian legal system requires a good-faith attempt at mediation before a lawsuit can go to court. Kaaya understands this. He told Kilobwa that he will be satisfied if his accusers simply apologize to him.

For our part, Marianne and I assured the lawyer that we have never had any reason to question Kaaya’s honesty during seven years of working with him. I suggested that we could produce a written statement, since we can be in Tanzania neither for the mediation nor for a trial. But Kilobwa said he did not need anything from us. He believes the fact that there is no evidence of theft by Kaaya will be enough.

Clearing his name is obviously important to Kaaya, if he is willing to spend two thousand dollars to do it. Daniel still insists that Kaaya could have made more of an effort to set up an informal mediation session with his accusers, without ever hiring the bush lawyer or Kilobwa. I don’t know whether Daniel is right. Yet I have a bit more sympathy for Kaaya’s mistrust of his neighbors after hearing the story of his early days in Dareda Kati, nineteen years ago.

He had helped establish the Integrated Agricultural Training Center, which was now fully staffed. The Iraqw women in the kitchen did not know that a visiting Masai man also spoke Iraqw. The Masai said he had overheard the kitchen women planning to poison Kaaya, who is Meru.

For years afterward, Kaaya refused to eat at the Center, and, to this day, he can count on the fingers of one hand the number of Iraqw words that he knows.

Poison is no laughing matter, of course. The reputation that the Iraqw have as poisoners is prominent enough to have delayed by a few years Karimu’s efforts to establish a lunch program at Ufani Primary School. “The parents are afraid to have other people cook for their children,” we would hear.

But the new head teacher, Mangachi Msuya, finally implemented the school lunch program months ago, and there have been no poisonings. Marianne and I and the Karimu volunteers have eaten more meals than we could count in the Center’s dining hall and in private homes throughout Dareda Kati, without any poisonings. Kaaya himself eats at the Center during Karimu’s annual trip to the village. He sometimes accompanies us as our translator to the private homes, where he also eats. And so on.

Some Iraqws in this village have been encouraged to look ahead as paved roads, electricity, improved education, and more money have slowly penetrated the community. Other Iraqw may have suspected that the slow pace of development is nothing more than a tease, meant to entice them to give up their traditional ways without receiving a commensurate return. Once we recognize that this ambivalence is a corollary of development wherever it takes place, the Iraqw experience seems less distinctive.

As a non-Iraqw, Kaaya still thinks of himself as an outsider to Dareda Kati. Nevertheless, he eats the food that the Iraqw cook, he and his wife raised most of their children in this village, and he has served as Chairman of the Ufani School Committee for most of the last decade.

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Tanzania diary: July 3

The chicken coop in which we sat with Tumaini Munisi needed a heater. Mosquitoes have been no problem on this Karimu trip because of the cool weather, yet this was extreme.

“Maybe it will snow,” I muttered to Sifaeli Kaaya, who laughed.

Tumaini speaks no English, but, as nervous as any supplicant, she also laughed. Sometimes the aching need of villagers who ask for money from Karimu seems palpable. When that happens, I want to relax the pressure of my questioning, which can feel like an assault on a person without defenses. However, the need can motivate projects that have little or no chance of success, or that may not even be meant to succeed, so there must be questioning.

Sifaeli saw much of Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda as a young man. He tries not to think about the brief time he spent in Uganda—which involved sidestepping corpses during the invasion that led to the departure of Idi Amin, thirty-five years ago—but most of his memories of travel are happy ones. He remembers Mt. Kilimanjaro from the days before its appearance began to change year by year. So he belongs to the minority of Tanzanians who have seen snow, although he has never touched it.

I wondered if it had been this cold in the home of Veronica Moshi. Marianne had come straight from there, after she and two women volunteers finished teaching Veronica and other local midwives about postnatal care. Our Board member, Dr. Susan Hughmanick, who stayed behind in the U.S., had deputized Marianne and the two volunteers as health educators. Susan also sent along a dark-skinned inflatable CPR doll for their demonstrations. Marianne was calling the doll “Baby Bacho,” after the subvillage of Bacho where Veronica lives. If enough midwives crammed into her house, they would have kept each other warm.

In the chicken coop, the cold suppressed the livestock smell that rises there on hot days. It occurred to me that the smell of animal excrement carries a certain warmth. I wondered, irrelevantly, if dung fires, which some Africans still rely on, give off a particular smell.

I resolved not to let my mind wander so far from the discussion that Tumaini, Kaaya, Marianne, and I were supposed to be having. One of Tumaini’s seven business partners sat between her and Kaaya. In this chicken coop which served as their factory, the women used their hands to make smoke-reducing clay cooking stoves. The partner sitting between Tumaini and Kaaya was named Christina, and she had looked to be of average size when I met her. Now, next to Tumaini’s bulk, she was shrinking. Tumaini’s size may have intimidated Christina, since she never uttered a word.

A couple of days before, I had run into Tumaini’s husband, Christopher, in the road. Christopher speaks English, so I explained that fifteen thousand dollars for a bigger building to replace the chicken coop was impossible.

“Please tell her,” I said to Kaaya, “that Marianne and I worry that the extra clay which a pikipiki”—a motorcycle—”and cart could haul here would be wasted. Does the chicken coop give the women enough room to make many more stoves if they can bring more clay?”

I had thought that Haysam Primary School was not in bad shape, compared to Dareda Primary School. And now the chicken coop looked like a great improvement over the space that the women had used as their stove-making factory from 1997 until two years ago. That was a storage room which Dareda Primary School did not need, since the school had no supplies, and which the women had rented. The storage room was both shorter and narrower than the chicken coop, which I paced off as twenty feet by twelve. The storage room also depended on indirect lighting to make its way from outside and then through an adjacent room, while the chicken coop has two large windows—without glass, of course.

I had assured Tumaini that Marianne and I did not think a bigger building was a bad idea. But fifteen thousand dollars? Karimu is not rich, and, lately, I have noticed that my heart begins to race every time the villagers suggest another project. Invariably, we raise the funds to execute the projects that we commit to. Choosing one project ahead of another, though, when every project seems deserving, is something we do not enjoy.

Kaaya listened to Tumaini and then turned to us.

“She says that a pikipiki and cart can make two trips a day from where the women find the clay. The cart pulled by a cow can make one trip. And in one trip the pikipiki can bring twice as much as the cow. If the load is too heavy, the cow cannot move.”

I thought a pikipiki should be able to go more than twice as fast as a cow. Then I realized that this had to do with safety: a pikipiki driver must take care on heavily rutted dirt roads, especially because a pikipiki dragging a cart could create a far more serious accident.

“She also says that if the women made fifty stoves last year, with a pikipiki and a cart they could make two hundred in a year.”

“Even in this chicken coop?” I asked. “Do they have room to make two hundred?”

Tumaini told Kaaya that she and the other women could make more work-space in the chicken coop. They could store their tools and the clay somewhere else. (Though she did not suggest where, Marianne and I knew that the house she shares with Christopher is only a short walk away.) She also said they would think about my idea of raising their price for a stove from three thousand shillings, or about two dollars, to thirty-five hundred or four thousand, in order to pay for fuel and a driver.

I did the math in my head. Last year, by selling fifty of the little smoke-reducing cooking stoves, Tumaini and her partners had brought substantial health benefits to fifty families who had previously cooked over open fires. They had grossed one hundred dollars, and the money needed to be split among eight of them. Over the years, two partners had died at the clay-excavation site, less than three miles from the chicken coop, when the earth collapsed on them.

I had spoken with enough of the UFAGRO members who had taken loans from Karimu money or members’ dues to know that their tea shops or fruit stands or extra cash crops—none of which seem life-threatening—were netting more than the twelve dollars per year that each of the stove-makers was grossing. Unless they turned out to be ridiculously expensive, not buying the pikipiki and cart that Tumaini and her partners wanted would be hard.

Later, Marianne would explain that death had also played a part in the discussion with the midwives, in both an expected and a surprising way. Death upon delivery, whether of mother or of child, remains too common in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet Marianne did not expect most of the midwives to recoil from Baby Bacho as if it were dead.

Esther Ng’aida, a midwife who will have attended the deaths of many mothers and children, has also lost her husband and more than one of her own children to tuberculosis. We usually see her in an ebullient mood, banging on a drum for Dareda Kati’s tireless traditional dancers. Esther was less put off than most of the other midwives were by the appearance of Baby Bacho, but touching it was another matter. She let out a little yelp and backed away.

It was left to the oldest and smallest midwife, Lanta, who barely came up to the shoulders of the statuesque Veronica, to mock the squeamishness of her sisters. Lanta rocked Baby Bacho gently and cooed and sang to it, provoking nervous laughter from the other midwives.

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Tanzania diary: July 2

The Karimu volunteer from several years ago who talked about lending ten thousand dollars to a group of Dareda Kati residents may have had no idea how much his words meant to the villagers.

Paul Yoronimo, then the head teacher of Ufani Primary School, led the discussions with the volunteer. Before the nationwide strike in 2012, which won pay raises from Tanzania’s central government, teachers who held teaching certificates but not Bachelor’s degrees—everyone at Ufani, at that time—earned less than two hundred dollars per month. Out of necessity, every teacher also farmed, and Paul was an especially dedicated farmer.

Most of the time, Paul did not dress as well as his assistant head teacher, Daniel Amma, whom I have never seen in blue jeans. Paul’s meetings with an American investor called for a certain dignity, however. He would dress up his jeans with a fedora and a blazer, and occasionally he would even change into slacks. Then he would huddle with the volunteer, who wore safari khakis.

They would discuss pigs, which we rarely saw in the village. Along Tanzania’s nine-hundred-mile-long coast, where great numbers of Muslims live, pigs create problems. In Dareda Kati, where almost everyone professes Christianity, the problem is cost. Yet a pig raised to maturity for butchering would bring a generous profit, and ten thousand dollars would buy many piglets.

Although Paul had a lot of ideas for the improvement of Ufani Primary School and the enrichment of the village, he always struggled to execute his plans. The plan to stock the village with pigs may have seemed more promising than most, because, as Paul understood, ten thousand dollars was insignificant to the volunteer.

The volunteer also talked about lending half a million dollars to Joas Kahembe so that Joas could expand the cultural-tourism business that had first brought Marianne and me to Dareda Kati a few years before. The last discussion between Joas and the volunteer took place after all of the Karimu volunteers had finished their two weeks in Dareda Kati. Joas arranged for a fleet of safari four-by-fours to park us at a luxury lodge on the shore of Lake Babati. This was where, on our first trip to Africa, Marianne and I had been intoxicated enough with the exotic surroundings to pay a young Tanzanian man to paddle our canoe to within fifty yards of a pod of hippos. Then, with our encouragement, the young man slapped the surface of the lake with his paddle to try to catch their attention.

On this night we enjoyed hearing the hippos bellow in the distance. Yet we heard the mosquitoes more distinctly. Sitting apart with the lanky visitor who might lend him enough money to take his business to a higher level, Joas evoked an earlier time, sweating into one of his suits and his punishingly knotted tie and soaking up rounds of gin and tonic, the cocktail devised to prevent and treat the ravages of mosquitoes.

A year after his talks with the volunteer had ended, Joas informed me that he was counting on me to use my influence in order to get the volunteer to make the loan. I could have answered that, if I had any influence to secure half-million-dollar loans from people who had half a million dollars to lend, then Karimu would already have built many more classrooms and many more teachers’ houses. Instead, I simply told Joas that I had no influence.

The loan to Joas never happened, perhaps because Tanzania’s sky-high interest rates convinced the volunteer that lending money in Africa must be risky. Even so, Joas has continued to prosper.

But ten thousand dollars sounded like a fortune to Dareda Kati’s poor farmers. They could not get the volunteer or his big talk out of their minds. The farmers continued to ask Marianne and me about the volunteer for a couple of years after he had returned to California and checked “trip to Africa” off of his bucket list. They thought the volunteer had made a promise to them.

Lending ten thousand dollars to villagers willing to work to make that money grow was a good idea, which needed execution by people who had not forgotten Dareda Kati. So Karimu encouraged the villagers to form a borrowing group, which they finally did in October 2012. They named their group the Ufani Agricultural Organization, or UFAGRO.

Within a few months, Karimu, for which ten thousand dollars is significant, managed to lend the forty-seven members of UFAGRO almost half of that amount. Subsequent Karimu loans, the monthly dues of eight dollars paid by each member, and the interest that UFAGRO collects on its loans—which is recycled back into the group, since Karimu charges no interest—have created enough excitement to increase membership to one hundred and thirty-five.

Like micro-borrowers everywhere, the majority of UFAGRO’s members are women; at most a quarter of the people at this afternoon’s monthly UFAGRO meeting were men.

One of the men was Alois Mideemay. Karimu funds loans of between two hundred and two hundred and fifty dollars, while the member dues fund loans of a hundred dollars. Alois has used a one-hundred-dollar loan to plant extra fruit crops, the product of which he sells at the street market held every fourth Monday near Dareda Kati’s town center.

He spends his profits on his four children, paying for more frequent health checkups than most village children get, as well as for a larger variety of clothes than most village children wear. Alois believes that the clothes, like the fresh coats of paint on the new classrooms and teachers’ houses that Karimu helps the villagers build, can inspire pride, motivating his children to succeed in school.

Micro-lenders tend to focus on women because ambition for family well-being is generally more prevalent among women than among men. But as Marianne and I and our friend Jane Keeffe, a two-time Karimu volunteer, walked away from today’s UFAGRO meeting with Alois, he carried his youngest child on his shoulders. The little boy wore lavender pants and a purple sweater. His clothes looked new.

It also seemed new to us to see a man carrying a child. I am not sure that it wasn’t the first time we had ever seen this in the village.

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Tanzania diary: July 1 (afternoon)

Moses Masawe wanted nothing to do with the idea of using volunteer labor by the community to complete the Bacho Primary School water project. He said he had worked with volunteers before on other water projects in Dareda Kati, never happily.

I recalled what Harmon Parker, of Bridging the Gap Africa, told me last year when he declined Karimu‘s offer to arrange volunteer labor by the villagers:

“You can’t yell at a volunteer to make him work harder, and you can’t fire a volunteer in order to motivate other workers.”

Masawe had a professional reputation to protect. He did not want to ruin it by starting projects that volunteers would fail to finish, since people would blame him for the failures.

Marianne and I and Daniel Amma, the Ufani Primary School teacher who translated, did not give up. Karimu is a tiny NGO, I explained, and not a rich one. Little by little, however, we hoped to bring water to all of Dareda Kati.

Then, in deference to our surroundings, I corrected myself. Dareda Kati’s neighboring village, Haysam, which includes both Bacho Primary School and Haysam Primary School—just a few meters from where we were sitting, in the Haysam Village government offices—also has many needs. In time, we would like to supply water to all of Haysam.

I had not asked Marianne if she wished to assume responsibility for Haysam. Undoubtedly by design, no one from Bacho Primary School bothered to tell us during our first visit there, three years ago, that we had crossed out of Dareda Kati. But the fraction of Haysam that we had seen revealed its needs to be as clear as those of Dareda Kati, and as clear as the fact that, despite the striking differences between our personalities—she is the extrovert—Marianne and I almost never disagree about important matters. This saves a lot of time that could otherwise be wasted on discussion.

Would Masawe consider lowering his prices if this meant that Karimu could contract with him for other projects in the future, in both Dareda Kati and Haysam?

Daniel suggested that the residents of Haysam might be willing to come up with one million Tanzanian shillings. (Six hundred families live in the village, we found out later, so the local government would have to demand only a dollar from each family.) Masawe wanted thirteen million shillings, or about eight thousand dollars. Would he consider lowering his price to twelve million, with Karimu covering the remaining eleven million?

He would think about it, Masawe replied. His measured smile signified preoccupation: he was already on the phone with his suppliers to look for where he could shave costs.

It was a satisfying end to a meeting that had started unpromisingly. Masawe is a compact, self-possessed man, who seems to keep his thoughts tucked prudently inside the patterned, sleeveless sweater that he wears with the dependability of a uniform. He had shown no interest in the Haysam Village school teachers and school committee members when they introduced themselves. The nameless women who served us tea and bread and butter received murmurs of gratitude from everyone else in the room. Masawe never acknowledged them. I suppose that the length, aggrieved tone, and rigorous organization of his critique of volunteer labor, as translated by Daniel, were what he had prepared while sitting directly across from me and staring at a spot on the wall behind me, a foot or two above my head.

Masawe lagged behind, still on his phone, as Haysam Primary School’s head teacher showed us his classrooms.

“Please remember my school in your thoughts,” he said, and Marianne and I nodded.

In fact, we immediately resolved to forget Haysam Primary School. It would be unrecognizable as a school to American students, teachers, and parents, but we have become connoisseurs of squalor. Not all of the classrooms have dirt floors. Although the windows have no glass, their brick frames have been neither vandalized nor seriously eroded by the weather; the frames remain square enough to take glass if only, miraculously, the school could afford it. There are even doors—with functional locks—in the door-frames.

Unlike Ufani Primary School in 2007, or Dareda Primary School during our several walks through its grounds over the last few days, Haysam Primary School does not exhale the bombed-all-to-hell despair of Berlin at the end of the Second World War. I know that Marianne is thinking exactly what I am thinking: “This isn’t so bad.”

Marianne and Daniel and I walked Masawe back to his bus stop in Dareda Kati so that he could return to his office in Babati. I had appreciated the ride that Daniel, the deacon of the local Catholic church, hitched from his priest in order to get us to Haysam. But now Daniel led us to a footpath that ran parallel to the dirt road intended for cars. As dust clouds kicked up by the traffic rained onto the fields of maize which shielded us from the cars, the walk became an unexpected pleasure. Eventually, the tea that we had consumed forced Daniel, Masawe, and me into one of the fields, while Marianne waited.

We met a young boy selling sugar cane. Daniel dug into his pockets to pay the boy, who was hardly any taller than his machete.

Most of the time I leave the charm offensive to Marianne, who is so much more charming than I am. This time, inexplicably, I took the lead.

How long has Masawe been in the plumbing trade? Where does he come from? And from what tribe? How many children does he have? What about grandchildren?

I point out that he is far ahead of me—I am therefore “eating his dust,” to use the English expression that delights Masawe when Daniel translates it—since he is fifty-two and has two grandchildren, while I am sixty-three and without grandchildren.

But this man who I hope will give Karimu a financial break understands the tactical uses of casual conversation at least as well as I do. He explains that he is eating my dust, because he is a poor widower and yet he must help support two grandchildren, since his children are also poor.

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