Complaints

It was our meetings with the teachers of Ufani Primary School, and their concern that Tanzania’s central government would close the school, that brought Marianne and me back to Dareda Kati Village in 2008, with twenty-seven Karimu volunteers. The volunteers went there ready to rebuild the classrooms that the government considered too dangerous for children to use.

We focused so single-mindedly on saving Ufani Primary School that we gave little thought to where the volunteers would stay or how and what they would eat during our time in the village. They were prepared to stay in mud huts or in tents and to do their own cooking, if necessary.

Marianne and I were prepared for worse. We had entrusted Joas Kahembe, the Tanzanian travel agent who had placed us in Dareda Kati in 2007, with a wire of many thousands of dollars to begin the renovations before we arrived. But we had no prior experience of working with Joas in that way. Although we knew he was not poor, we also had a sense of how far that much money would go in Tanzania. It could tempt a man of the middle class, we thought.

Our anxieties became magnified in Nairobi. This was our last stop before the fifty-minute flight that would take us to Tanzania’s Kilimanjaro International Airport, after which only a drive of several hours would separate us from the village. The two airlines that we used to travel from San Francisco to Nairobi had no working arrangement with Precision Air, the small Tanzanian carrier that we had scheduled for the trip’s final, short leg. We would have to collect our luggage in Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, and then check it onto the Precision Air flight.

Only one volunteer’s luggage had not been properly transferred while we changed planes and airlines during our twelve-hour layover in London. By coincidence, he was the same man who had given Marianne and me the greatest concern in the months leading up to the trip. Most memorably, he warned us that, in case we had any “team building” activities planned for the volunteers, he would not participate. Since this might be the only chance he would ever have to visit Africa, he would not let anything spoil his experience. By the time we realized that he could become a problem, the deadline had passed for getting his airfare refunded. We didn’t want to argue over who would eat the loss.

The likelihood of being stuck with a loud and consistent complainer irritated us more than it would have at other times. Perhaps unreasonably, we had expected the volunteers to follow the African example of never complaining. We saw this stoicism on the first bus ride we ever took in Tanzania, a year before this first trip with volunteers. On a warm day, I was shoehorned, like dozens of Africans—some of them carrying cages full of chickens, or trailing tethered goats—into just enough space to wave a hand in order to stir up a breeze. This put my ability to control my inveterate fidgeting to a test that I expected to fail. If I scraped by, with very low marks, it was only because my observation of the Africans’ perfect immobility shamed me into surpassing myself.

But I got help in another way. We had gone only a few miles before the bus slowed down and started bouncing even more jarringly over the unpaved road. Our African neighbors remained impassive. The driver finally stopped. When he told the passengers about our flat tire, I heard none of the groaning I had expected.

The Africans climbed off the bus with their chickens and goats and sat next to the road, on the dirt or on the patches of dirt-coated grass that, here and there, broke up the long stretches of dirt. They all stared at the tire that had let them down, except for a few sturdy-looking men who offered to help the driver change it. Grateful for the chance to move around, I joined in. I didn’t see much tread on the spare, but it seemed round enough.

This interruption, and the work on the tire that filled it, helped me endure the stillness of the rest of the bus ride. Yet the Tanzanians, Marianne and I had already begun to realize, did not struggle against enforced immobility. A flat tire, or an overdue airplane or bus, or a truckload of building materials arriving a full day late, or maybe two, means a chance to sit down for a bit longer. And this means a chance to talk some more.

It’s fine to stand up and move around and devote oneself to solving the problem that has caused the delay, if a solution is possible. But what if there is no way to reach the pilot or the bus driver or the truck driver to ask what the problem is, or no replacement part available for the repair even if one could contact him? The Tanzanians encounter dead ends like these every day. They become masters at discerning wasted motion, as well as wasted mental agitation.

Against this backdrop, the eruption by the volunteer whose luggage did not show up in Nairobi came as a shock. His frustration and fury baffled the Kenya Airways and Precision Air people. One tall, slender man in his twenties, from Kenya Airways, suffered our volunteer for longer than any of the others did. Though his features possessed less of the sculpted beauty that sets apart the men and women who work the Kenya Airways flights, he was beautiful nonetheless. He squinted, creating temporary wrinkles in his smooth skin, as if trying to bore into our volunteer’s head to see exactly where in his brain lay the peculiarity responsible for these irrational complaints.

“I did not put your suitcase on the wrong airplane,” he seemed to be thinking, “but someone did, and now it has already left for another European city; how will your misdirected anger bring your luggage to you in less than the three or four days that we have estimated you will have to wait?”

He squinted and tightened the knot of his red tie and tugged on the sleeves of his handsome red Kenya Airways jacket. Our volunteer explained that his luggage had never been lost before by any of the countless airlines he had flown in the United States The thought crossed my mind that even if Kenya Airways—rather than United, which had taken us from San Francisco to London, but which had no presence in Nairobi and no one there to complain to—had misdirected a suitcase, it was doing enough things right to afford tailored uniforms for this man and its other male employees.

The Kenya Airways man would have been out of place in Dareda Kati. A minority of village men dress up to go to church or to affirm the dignity of their service in local government. They float freely inside their suits, which reach the Tanzanian countryside along with other clothes discarded by people from rich countries. The clothes get sorted into heaps on the dusty ground of the outdoor markets. One suit may travel to many villages and be displayed in many markets until the approximation of its fit satisfies somebody and a sale is made. The approximation is always on the side of too big, since the discards come from countries where food is plentiful.

One of the baggiest suits I have seen belongs to an ebullient district education officer named Frederick, who emcees the annual closing ceremony on our volunteers’ last day in Dareda Kati. Sweating into his rust-colored three-piece, Frederick makes sure that no performing group of village children or adults holds the spectators’ attention for too long, and that every exit is swift.

This is required because important people attend the ceremony. Politicians rarely seen in the backwaters show up to associate themselves with the work done by Karimu and the villagers and to give speeches that remind the villagers of their obligation to show gratitude to the important people who have honored them with their presence. Being important creates a necessity for dinner engagements with other important people, hence the ceremony must move along as quickly as possible. No one could mistake the important guests for locals. Their suits are filled out, or overfilled, owing to the importance of their wearers, which enables them to eat enough to grow too big.

Too big is how I would feel at the end of this first Karimu trip. I had brought only two pairs of pants from California, not knowing how hard the construction work would be. Both pairs were filthy and torn by the time we left Dareda Kati and settled in at Mosquito River Village, our jumping-off point for two days of safari before flying home. I thought I would be all right, since hundreds of kiosks lined the streets and alleys, and dozens sold used clothes. I visited most of them.

Even though my build is considered average in the U.S., every approximation that I found in the kiosks was too short and too tight. Eventually, I gave a dollar to a boy on a bicycle, who had pointed out that he could search all of the kiosks much faster than I could. What he found was also too short and too tight. I chose that over filthy and torn for my flight back to California.

But first we had to observe the Kenya Airways man’s perplexed endurance of our volunteer’s tirade, and then get through two more weeks with this angry man. A little cravenly, Marianne and I kept out of his way in the Nairobi airport’s steamy waiting lounge—or holding pen—and then made sure not to sit in the same four-by-four that he was in during the last five or six hours of the exhausting journey to Dareda Kati. Even if placating him was possible, we thought we lacked that power.

By the time we got to our destination, night had fallen. Our drivers told us about learning, from cellphone calls with the villagers, that certain details of our trip had been wrongly communicated to Dareda Kati: its people had expected us to arrive early in the afternoon. We understood the consequence of this mistake as our convoy snaked along the last quarter of a mile of dirt road.

Marianne and I thought our driver had turned on his radio until he glanced over his shoulder and motioned for us to look outside. The song and ululations came from the villagers, who had lined the road for hours. On a moonless night in a place without electricity, each villager was illuminated for only a moment as the headlight beams swept by. We had enough light to see that everyone was waving either a palm frond or a banana leaf.

I became separated from Marianne as soon as the four-by-fours stopped in a wide, flat area now overrun by villagers, who pulled our volunteers down onto the grass and into dance circles. A few people I recognized from the year before, and many other people that I didn’t recognize, spoke to me. I couldn’t hear a word over the exultant voices and the drumming.

So I danced. This is not a skill that I have, but, among the Iraqw tribe who populate Dareda Kati, dancing consists mainly of jumping up and down. Because the welcome had restored my strength after the long, jarring hours in the four-by-four, on top of two endless plane flights, I was able to manage jumping.

Marianne found me before I found her. She put her mouth to my ear and shouted.

“Do you hear what they’re singing?”

For the first time, I tried to make out the words, but she didn’t give me a chance.

“They’re singing about Don and Marianne!”

I had no time to reflect on my embarrassment. She gestured with her thumb, indicating that she wanted me to see something. Then she took my hand so that she could drag me through the crowd. When we reached its perimeter, she pointed to the volunteer whose luggage had not appeared in Nairobi. He was smiling broadly. A heavy, beaded necklace that the villagers had given him flew away from his chest with every vertical leap. His right hand gripped the hand of one of the women from the village and his left hand gripped the hand of a village man. They jumped in time with him.

Two or three days of grueling construction work later, on an overcast morning, Marianne and I received word that the lost luggage was waiting for pickup at Kilimanjaro International Airport. One of the four-by-four drivers we had hired for our trip to the village would deliver it to us.

The volunteer seemed astonished when we told him that he would have his luggage by the afternoon. His eyes scanned the T-shirt he was wearing, which was much too big. Then he looked back at us.

“I forgot about my luggage; people have been lending me whatever I needed.”

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Children

Daniel Amma wanted to move out of the cramped mud hut that he and his wife, Victoria, and their two young children were living in when Karimu volunteers first traveled to Dareda Kati Village, in 2008. They needed more than two rooms, one almost filled by their mattress and the other by their dinner table.

As a teacher at Ufani Primary School, Daniel earned less than fifty dollars a month. But he had always lived in rural Tanzania, where the economy’s domination by subsistence farmers kept prices low. He had taught at Ufani School for a few years and at a school in another village before that, and he had saved scrupulously.

Finally, he managed to convince a bank in the bustling regional capital, Babati, that he was a good risk for a loan to pay for the part of the construction that his savings wouldn’t cover. Although Babati was only thirteen miles away, the unreliable roads and bus service meant that every trip there ate up a full day. It felt good to Daniel that his trips to Babati to talk with the people at the bank had not been wasted.

By the time of our stay in the village in 2009, a bigger house of brick and concrete stood half-finished next to the mud hut. When we went back in 2010, the hut had disappeared. Daniel and his family now occupied their new house.

Electricity remained a dream. A power line ran along the far side of the wide dirt road that passed only a few yards from the house. Hooking up to it, however, would cost two years of Daniel’s salary. He did not want to take out another bank loan while still repaying the first one, at more than twenty-percent interest. At least the new house included a solar panel. It didn’t produce enough power to run any appliances, but on sunny days it added a modest night-light effect to the main room.

Having only two children had helped Daniel and Victoria save. This made them unusual in a village where the average woman could expect to give birth to half a dozen or more children. We would have found the same thing anywhere in rural Tanzania, according to the government’s numbers.

The small family highlighted their superior economic prospects, based on Daniel’s education, relative to the subsistence farmers whose children he taught. To convert part of his salary into surplus income, they needed to grow some of their own food on the plot of land where their house stood and where Victoria’s sister and her husband, another teacher, had also built a house. They grew bananas on the little plot. These often served as the major source of starch in Victoria’s cooking. So they did have a surplus, which had enabled them to move out of the mud hut.

At the same time, the fact that Daniel and Victoria felt that two children were enough was a reminder of why some people in the village had misgivings about educated people like Daniel. It was a reminder of why, as the Karimu volunteers made improvements to Ufani School and then Ayalagaya Secondary School—while the work on Ufani continued—some of the villagers challenged Karimu’s decisions. They wondered aloud why Karimu only cared about education.

Two children were not enough for most families in the village. After Marianne and I had already been visiting Dareda Kati for several years, I met (not in Africa, but in Hawaii) an academic from Malawi. It is a neighbor of Tanzania’s, to the south, and its people share more than a border with Tanzania. They also share many of the same predicaments. For this reason, the academic from Malawi may have understood the situation in Dareda Kati better than I did, despite never having been there.

“Large families are usually seen as an advantage,” he told me, “for the very reason that labor can be shared among the members. If the lone mother is to do everything for the family, how fair would that be? We are talking of subsistence farmers, whose only means of survival is work by their own hands. How do we balance children helping their families with basic survival against accessing education that may get them out of poverty?”

If Daniel could pay someone in the village the equivalent of a few pennies to bring firewood to the house so that Victoria would not have to gather the wood, in addition to cooking with it, only a handful of the other families in the village could do so. Their alternative to placing the burden of collecting firewood on the wife and mother was to require a child to do it. This could mean missing school. Yet having a child miss school did not bother some of the villagers.

“Education tends to create new interests and values,” said my friend from Malawi. “Sometimes educated children have nothing more to do with their rural homes, choosing to stay in town away from their family to enjoy their nuclear family. But children are a future security for their aged parents. Poor as people are, they do not have any social security that is available in the West; neither do they have any savings for old age, as their primary work was in subsistence activities.”

Even if an educated child who had moved to the city sent money home, money was not the only thing at stake.

“There are no homes for the elderly in these countries; your children are the only hope you have in your old age to be there for you.”

Children were very much on the mind of another guest when Marianne and I visited Daniel’s new house in 2010. This was a friend of Joas Kahembe, our original Tanzanian travel agent, who had become Karimu’s project manager. Joas knew him through the Rotary Club in Babati, where both men lived.

It was a particularly hot winter day in the Southern Hemisphere. I kept trying to maneuver Joas’s tall, broad-shouldered friend into the shade of the buildings of Ayalagaya Secondary School. But Tanzanians get used to humid, much hotter days during their summer, and he was dressed for late autumn in the American Midwest: down vest, shiny black leather coat, and, randomly, a wool Green Bay Packers cap. He stood monumentally in the sun, grateful for its warming rays. He cradled a big bag of oranges.

“A gift from Israel for Mr. Kahembe,” he explained. “We don’t trust the Muslims, so it is important to support their enemy.”

I have no memory of why he and Joas had arranged to meet at the school. I only remember that Joas was delayed in Babati. Marianne and Daniel and I were at Ayalagaya to talk with some of its teachers, and we saw that Joas’s friend was at loose ends. Daniel invited the man, whom I’ll call Mr. Jecha, to join us on the short stroll to his home.

Because Victoria hadn’t known that we would drop by, there was no lunch. Marianne and I didn’t mind, though. We had a busy afternoon ahead, without much time to spare. I was thrilled to see that Daniel, hoping to arrange lunch with us and some of the Karimu volunteers in the next few days, had bought a case of Fanta sodas, including my favorite, passion fruit. Sensibly, Marianne and Daniel and Mr. Jecha contented themselves with the sugary black tea that Tanzanians call chai. I set about drinking the sodas like my plane was going down.

A fourth guest, a young woman, greeted us when we arrived at the house. Daniel introduced her as his cousin, Lucy. With Victoria and the smaller child at the market and the older child in school, the young woman had kept the outdoor fire burning, enabling the chai drinkers to be served right away. She brought in four cups, including one for herself. She reserved for Daniel the pleasure of using the metal bottle opener to take the cap off my soda.

Lucy wore her hair in the “Mt. Kilimanjaro” style, coiled into a tower that rose imperiously from the back of her head. She dressed less modestly than the other women in the village, although her clothes would have seemed respectably professional in the U.S. or Europe. When she sat on the sofa across from Marianne and me, her dark skirt hiked up enough so that she had to tug at the hem to bring it level with the tops of her kneecaps.

Daniel explained that she had grown up in a nearby village, but that she now lived in Arusha. Arusha is a city of about one million people, more than a hundred miles from Dareda Kati.

“She is studying in the university there,” he said.

His earnest expression made it clear that he was proud of her. He hadn’t needed —and could not have afforded—to attend university to earn his teaching certificate. Marianne and I knew that he hoped to go some day.

Mr. Jecha asked what she was studying.

“International business.”

I felt my eyebrows raise. Glancing to my right, I saw that Marianne and Mr. Jecha had reacted in the same way. Out in the country we rarely meet university students. The ones we do run across seem invariably to be studying Tourism.

She met Mr. Jecha’s eyes with a level stare, as if she were used to the astonishment that her answer had provoked, and also used to facing it down. I had thought she was pretty at first. Studying her as she looked at Mr. Jecha, I decided that she wasn’t especially pretty. What made her attractive was her serene self-assurance.

Mr. Jecha removed his wool cap and briskly rubbed his head. His hair was an impenetrable black, either resistant to whatever challenges had plowed deep creases in his face, or dyed. He adopted a hearty tone to speak to Lucy.

“You must work for me after you have your diploma. My business is in imports and exports.”

“That is very kind,” Lucy said. “But I think I will not find the best opportunities in Babati.”

Mr. Jecha injected more enthusiasm into his voice.

“I also have an office in Arusha. We will eat lunch together the next time I am there. I can tell you all about my business.”

The coolness in Lucy’s good manners seemed more pronounced now.

“In Tanzania, the best opportunities for international business will be on the coast, in Dar es Salaam. And Dar es Salaam will be a gateway”—her eyes darted toward Marianne and me, seeking confirmation that she had used the word appropriately—”to many opportunities for working abroad.”

Mr. Jecha produced a broad smile to support his rising voice.

“Young lady, you don’t need to tell me where the best business opportunities are in my own country! But you should think about what working outside of Tanzania will mean for your children. What kind of mother can you be?”

Daniel intervened.

“Don and Marianne have four children, and they are working outside of their own country.”

Lucy shook her head.

“For me, I think it will be enough to have two children: the same number that my cousin has.”

Mr. Jecha turned toward Daniel.

“My goodness, Mr. Amma! What kinds of Africans are you and this young cousin of yours? Don’t you know that the Bible tells us that we should multiply?”

Daniel gazed past Mr. Jecha with the abstracted, professorial air that Marianne and I had noticed in the classroom when a student asked him an interesting question.

“My wife and I were two, and now we are four. That is already multiplication.”

Mr. Jecha sighed noisily.

“Do you know how many children I have? I have done my duty, just as the Bible commands. I know that you are a good Christian man.”

He looked pointedly at the glossy poster of Jesus on the wall in order to draw Daniel’s attention to it.

“He commands good Christian men not to waste their seed. Even your guests from America have performed their duty more faithfully than you have, Mr. Amma.”

Mr. Jecha looked at Marianne and me, avid reproducers, for assistance that was not forthcoming. Still working to maintain his smile, he turned again to Lucy.

“Please tell me, Miss: are you one of these modern thinkers who believe that the African should have fewer children because he cannot feed all of them?”

“I think,” she said evenly, “that if we improved every part of our economy, then the African would not want to have so many children.”

Mr. Jecha moved forward in his chair, the best one in the house. He raised his voice so that Lucy would understand.

“You should read your Bible more carefully. It tells us that the faithful will be provided for.”

Once more, Daniel intervened. He cocked his head and set his eyes on the middle distance, engaged with the question rather than his guest.

“I think this is not our reality. In my church on Sunday, I see hundreds of people, even one thousand.”

He looked at Marianne and me to secure our agreement, as Mr. Jecha had done. We had attended Mass with Daniel once every year since 2007. We both nodded our heads.

“Many of the good, faithful people in my church are not provided for.”

Mr. Jecha had an answer ready for that.

“My good man, I will tell you something that you should already know: to be a good Christian, one must do more than go to church on Sunday. You cannot be lazy, and work your farm only when you want a little money so that you can get drunk. God provides for the birds of the air. Therefore, God will certainly provide for a man and woman who work hard to feed themselves and their children.”

Lucy, Marianne, and I all began to talk at the same time. Daniel joined in, though his characteristic thoughtfulness left him a beat behind. It was a good time for Mr. Jecha to receive his long-awaited phone call from Joas, whose car had arrived at Ayalagaya Secondary School. They exchanged a few words and Mr. Jecha stood up, hoisting his bag of Jaffa oranges. If the graciousness of his good-byes was forced, it was nevertheless appreciated.

He did not leave as quickly as he would have liked. Victoria returned home at that moment. She was laden with purchases from the market and with her little boy. Her daughter trailed behind her. On the way home from school, the girl had run into her mother and lightened her burden by carrying some of the market goods. Introductions were necessary.

To see Mr. Jecha out, we had all gotten to our feet. But only one of us moved with some urgency, first adding wood to the fire and then untying the top of a sack of maize that slouched close to the fire like a drunk. This was Lucy, whose responsibility it was to help Victoria with the children.

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Beans and rice and greens and meat stew

Of the two Ufani Primary School teachers that Marianne and I knew from our first moments in Dareda Kati Village, in 2007, only one remains. Longtime Head Teacher Paul Yoronimo was transferred to another school, not within easy traveling distance of Dareda Kati, before the Karimu volunteers’ annual visit there in June and July of 2013. But Daniel Amma, who had been Assistant Head Teacher under Paul, has stayed in that job under the new head, a man named Msuya.

We still don’t know Msuya very well, in part because his English is not as good as Paul’s, which was not as good as Daniel’s; that was one of the things which kept us from getting as close to Paul as we have to Daniel. Marianne and I do a lot of walking when we are in the village, but last July the rarity of a ride in a pickup truck, shared with Msuya, bore little conversational fruit.

Our Board member, Dr. Susan Hughmanick, went with us, and it was probably Susan who pointed out to Msuya that he had not fastened his seat belt.

“I don’t need it,” he said.

Msuya answered Susan in the casual tone of someone turning down a coffee refill in a restaurant. Tanzania’s government may not have invested in the kind of lavish public-awareness campaign that popularized seat-belt use in the United States half a century ago. My memories of the time before that—which may, like much of memory, be constructed—are of rolling around in my parents’ moving station wagon like a marble in a tin can.

A day or two before, I had relived part of my later youth when I rode standing up in the back of another pickup, over a more dangerous road. That was scarier, but also more exhilarating, than the ride with Msuya, which found us jammed in together less like sardines than cheese, as if we were all one flesh. I suppose that our immobility could have protected Msuya, even without his seat belt, in certain types of accidents.

Msuya has started the new school-lunch program that, despite the availability of Karimu funding for a year or more, had not moved beyond the planning stage during Paul’s tenure as Head Teacher. About fifty of the school’s nearly four hundred children, whose parents could not or would not send them to school with food, can now eat the same meals of maize or beans or rice, and maybe some greens, that their classmates eat during the break in the middle of the school day. These fifty used to go home to eat. Often, they did not return in the afternoon because of the long walk. Or they would stay at school, going without food, and then doze through their afternoon lessons.

The students’ meals are only a little more simple than the ones served to American guests in village homes. These are dressed up with meat stew and sodas. Like meat, soda is an unusual pleasure for the villagers. The sleek, brightly lettered Fanta bottles, through whose smooth glass the vivid colors of the sodas can be seen in all of their glorious length, are essential to the experience of pleasure. Our hosts never offer us cups.

In 2007, Marianne and I spent five days in the village with its richest family. Their prosperity was relative to the extreme poverty of their neighbors, who were also subsistence farmers. We didn’t eat meat, and we drank sugary tea, not soda. We didn’t mind the lack of electricity. But we dreaded every trip to the outhouse, whose equal we have never found anywhere else in Tanzania.

Still, the house was of brick, instead of mud. This endowed the family’s thirteen members with the prestige of lords. It also inspired, among their neighbors, some of the jealousy that must have been directed at lords and their great manor houses. The jealousy was made worse by rumors that were probably inflated, as is the nature of such things, about the vast sums of money the family earned by hosting the tourists that our Tanzanian travel agent placed in the village.

The family mitigated the harsh judgments against them by turning their yard into a kind of community center every Saturday. Starting early in the morning, they used a two-hundred-litre steel drum to brew an astringent beer made out of a root vegetable that Marianne and I didn’t recognize. Dancing began in the afternoon.

Most residents of Dareda Kati belong to the Iraqw tribe. Their dancing is usually simple and repetitive: a group of up to twenty men and women lock arms together and jump up and down. They break this routine periodically to lunge forward, arms still locked. Then they pull back into their upright positions so they can resume jumping. It’s a simple but athletic dance that does not mix well with drunkenness.

On the Saturday that Marianne and I were there, the patriarch of the family, Marceli, seemed embarrassed by this display in front of his paying guests. In the middle of the afternoon he shouted at the dancers to stop and commanded the two or three dozen villagers who had gathered in his yard to form a wide circle. He spoke impatiently, suggesting, according to our translator, Desi, that drunkenness was causing the quality of their dancing to suffer.

One drunken woman, who may have been in her fifties or sixties, would have none of it. She tried to raise her voice above Marceli’s to object, and he glared at her.

“Mama,” he said sharply, using the standard form of address to a married woman. “Go home!”

The woman did not go quietly, but she left. There was no more dancing, and the other guests from the village went away soon afterward. They would have church the next morning, so wrapping up the party early seemed prudent.

Despite Marceli’s status in the village, he deferred to the teaching authority of Daniel Amma when he stopped by for a cup of tea. Marianne and I, accustomed to diplomacy in dealing with the parents of our students in California, were startled to hear Daniel explain the poor grades of one of Marceli’s sons by saying that he was a “slow child.”

This evidence of the respect commanded by teachers left us unprepared for our first visit to Daniel’s home, the following year. We had not expected anything like the houses that middle-class people in rich countries live in. Yet the mud hut, indistinguishable from hundreds of others in the village, shocked us.

In the time between our introduction to Dareda Kati and this first trip back, we had founded Karimu and recruited twenty-five volunteers to help renovate Ufani School. After Daniel invited us to bring some of the volunteers to his home for lunch, six of us, counting Marianne and me, made the long walk there with him. In the heat, the walk seemed longer than it was, so we covered the last few steps quickly in order to find relief under the banana trees in the dusty yard. As we had learned to do around the houses of Marceli and his poorer neighbors, we avoided the chicken droppings when we could.

The year before, Marianne and I had spent a night with some Barabaig pastoralists, who asked us what crops we grew for ourselves at home. Daniel wore dark slacks, and Oxfords whose careful shine often fought the red dirt of the village roads to a standstill. Unlike the Barabaig, he knew the name of the President of the United States. He also had opinions about what the President had and hadn’t achieved and about the possibility that he would be followed in office by a black man.

We had thought of this educated, well-dressed man as living in a world apart from the Barabaig, until we saw the two women who were there to greet us shooing the chickens away as they stood in a patch of sunlight, not bothered by its heat, not craving the shade of the banana trees in which the tiny mud hut had been almost invisible until we stood next to it. We suddenly understood that Daniel was a teacher and a farmer, and that farming was not a pastime for him, but a necessity. The size of the hut suggested this.

The women smiled shyly at us. They were attractive, and they carried more flesh than most of the women in the village. Daniel’s teaching salary, however paltry, would have helped feed a family better than the typical villager could. I realized that he was unlikely to be providing for both women, though, because he was devoutly Catholic, and the deacon of the local church.

Daniel explained that the women did not know any English. The younger, somewhat prettier one, who may have been in her twenties and therefore a few years younger than Daniel, was his wife, he said. He told us the other woman was her sister, and that she was also married to a teacher. She looked to be Daniel’s age, and the resemblance to her sister was strong. The women, whose names were unnecessary, by custom, smiled even more brightly when we admired the colorful kangas that they had wrapped themselves in.

Then Daniel spoke softly and purposefully to them. They nodded and turned away, and I noticed for the first time, several meters behind them, the smoking cauldrons in which they had been cooking our lunch.

We ducked our heads, following Daniel, so that we could go inside the hut. A table, at which four people could have sat comfortably, filled the front room, but he beckoned us toward the other room before we had a chance to devise strategies for edging into our chairs. We could see, dimly, that a little girl and a very little boy slept soundly on a mattress that took up most of the space, as the table did in the front room. When Marianne asked if our conversation would wake up the children, Daniel shook his head.

“I don’t think they will wake up. If they do, my wife will take care of them.”

I had thought that the shade of the banana trees and the mud-color of the walls would keep the room dark. But as my eyes adjusted, helped by the light from a single small window, I saw that the walls were decorated to reflect Daniel’s Catholic faith. Scraps of tape held up an entire page from a newspaper, printed in Swahili, whose centerpiece was a photograph of John Paul II, dead for three years at the time. Another wall featured a bigger, glossier representation of a fair-haired Jesus, who parted his robe to reveal a flaming and radiant heart.

The seven of us packed ourselves in around the table, working out exactly where to put our legs, since there would be no moving them once they were in position. The cramped space, our host’s calm dignity, and our awareness of the children sleeping a few feet away conspired to make us keep our voices low. Perhaps being quiet came naturally because we had no room to wave our arms around or even to make emphatic gestures with our hands, the auxiliaries of animated speech for many people. The children continued to sleep, and Daniel’s wife had no need to leave all the work of serving us to her sister.

The guests did not bring a lot of religious fervor along. But we shared enough hazy admiration of John Paul II among ourselves to allow his photograph to carry much of the conversation, as its prominence demanded. Daniel also mentioned the lame-duck President of the United States, although a little gingerly. He knew the subject might divide us. There was no trace of caution in his expressions of love for the late Pope, or in his expressions of eagerness to see a black man win the presidential election that was still a few months away.

Out of the thousand different things we talked about, the others were personal—too trivial to remember—and had nothing to do with world leaders. We relaxed that afternoon. Pressure came into our conversation only in the rare moments when Daniel’s English failed him, and we were forced to help him out.

We were all happy that Daniel’s wife and her sister joined us at the end of the meal once they had cleared away our plates. We were also happy that we had left plenty of beans and rice and greens and meat stew for them. Like every other meal we have eaten in Dareda Kati, this one was plain in taste because the only seasoning that the villagers have, or know about, is salt. But all of the food was fresh, including the chicken. Daniel’s wife had slaughtered it that morning.

Back in California after our trip, Marianne and I adopted a stray dog. We named him Obama, in honor of the man that we hoped would become the next President. This might have pleased Daniel if he had not grown up in a place where it is the custom to kick stray dogs.

Another new development for us that summer, after Tanzania, was that our house began seeing more visitors. It’s older and smaller than the houses of nearly all of our California friends, which had embarrassed us a little, and led us to be selective about whom we had as guests. That changed after we ate at the home of Daniel and his wife, Victoria.

We started inviting over any of our friends, no matter how much their houses humbled our own. If the occasion was right, we would invite many of them at the same time to crowd in together. We would even have invited Obama, the man, into our home, if we had thought he would honor us by accepting. Like Daniel and Victoria, we gave our guests as much as we had and we assumed that they would appreciate it.

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Wounded

Paul Yoronimo and Daniel Amma were the first two people that Marianne and I ever met in Dareda Kati. They met us when we got off the bus on the wide road—still made of dirt at that time, in 2007, and also treacherously potholed—that passed through the village center. Paul was the Head Teacher, and Daniel the Assistant Head Teacher, at Ufani Primary School, which explains why most of Karimu’s work in Dareda Kati has directly benefited Ufani School: Paul and Daniel got to us before anyone else could.

There was nothing underhanded in this. Marianne had asked our Tanzanian travel agent to put us in a remote village and to set us up with an opportunity for volunteer work. It happened that the agent, Joas Kahembe, knew about the terrible state of Ufani School. In fact, Joas knew that the school’s condition had been declining for several years. He had placed other visitors from rich countries in the village before, hoping that somebody would want to turn the school around. None of them had taken the bait. But, possibly because Marianne and I were teachers, we bit.

No child should be deprived of a decent education. Yet the work that Marianne and I ended up doing in Dareda Kati after we founded Karimu could have been usefully anchored to any number of other projects, besides the renovation of Ufani Primary School. Even the best school can’t do much for children who often stay home because traveling to school over bad roads exhausts them, or because the rainy season turns the roads into rivers of mud. Even the best school can’t do much for children who often stay home to help their mothers, sick from years of constant cooking over open fires for their big families. (In the latter case, needless to say, the children are almost always girls.)

These needs and others would have been visible to Marianne and me, if we had possessed the eyes to see them, while Paul and Daniel led us on our first walk over the village’s bad roads and past its open cooking fires. The needs would later come into sharp focus and guide Karimu’s expansion into areas of development work outside of education. However, on that first morning in Dareda Kati, all of the village’s needs—including those of Ufani School, which we would not see until the next day—formed a background blur. As we walked, Paul and Daniel were in focus.

Both seemed to be in their thirties. They insisted on carrying our overstuffed suitcases all the way to the house where we would stay. That was at least a two-mile walk. The ease with which they did so implied a strength that was not obvious in their slender frames. Marianne and I wore the khaki and olive-drab “safari” clothes that many tourists in Africa feel obliged to buy and that Africans themselves, with their love of bright fabrics, laugh at. But Paul and Daniel, as teachers, had opted for professional dignity over native color: dark slacks, shiny shoes, tweed coats.

Not every part of Africa is hot all of the time. On this overcast winter morning in the Southern Hemisphere, at four thousand feet above sea level, the tweed coats made sense. The shine of their shoes probably made less sense. It was rubbed off by the powdery red dirt of the roads, rutted by oxcart wheels and eroded by the annual rains, as we followed these gracious men up and down the hills of the village.

Our path in this direction was mostly downhill, so I found myself already worrying that Marianne and I would have to carry our own suitcases on the mostly uphill way back, five days later. (Of course, this being a part of the world where hospitality is unquestioned, we would not even have the choice to carry our own luggage when we left.)

The next year, the renovation of Ufani Primary School started, and there would be times when shiny shoes made even less sense. The work began during a school vacation so that classes would not be disrupted. But Daniel and one or two other teachers would show up every day with some of the older students. The ones in line to graduate from primary school had requested extra help to prepare them for the upcoming exams that would give them their only opportunity to qualify for secondary school. During breaks in the long study sessions, held in the one classroom that did not need rebuilding, Daniel traded his tweed coat for a shovel and helped the Tanzanian builders and Karimu volunteers mix and spread cement.

By the time there had been a few more Karimu trips to the village, and its needs for development work not limited to education had become clear, Daniel’s motive for ruining his shoes in construction work seemed less mysterious. Tanzania’s program of universal education, admirable for its ambition, is nevertheless a government-mandated policy, implemented with a certain disregard of the need for citizen approval. Few government resources find their way into rural villages, some of whose residents must fear that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing: what is the chance that a child who has acquired a taste for learning will be content with a life of subsistence farming? Why would such a a child remain in the village to live near his or her parents, as they grow older and need their child’s help?

Policies that will benefit a nation can hurt individuals. The wounds will fester if those individuals have reason to fear that their government will do nothing to redress the injuries. So it’s not hard to understand why some people in rural villages do not trust the schools, their provenance, or their mission.

This mistrust has been a factor in Karimu’s readiness to take on projects unconnected to education, like the footbridge over an often-dangerous river that we built last year. We have wanted our actions to show that we value the lives of all of the villagers, including those who are suspicious of the modernizing course that the government has set for their country. But even the most suspicious rural villager is likely to give a break to a teacher who shovels cement with them in his shiny shoes.

The Head Teacher, Paul, never shoveled cement with us. Though he had been Head Teacher for some time, he kept his wife and three children in another village that was not within walking distance, even for Africans. We saw less of Paul during the school vacations than we saw of Daniel, who lived less than an hour away by foot from his classroom.

Over the years, Paul’s family found a ride to Ufani School to meet us a couple of times. The children were watchful, and their large, pretty mother—whom Paul identified, in the style of Tanzania, not by her name, but as “my wife”—was extremely warm. (We have spent enough time in Daniel’s house to have made a point of asking his wife’s name, which is information he would never have volunteered; she is called Victoria.) Marianne and I would hug Paul and his family and chat about paying a visit to their home.

Unfortunately, our obligations in Dareda Kati are many, and visiting Paul’s family always failed to rise to the top of our list. We regret this now, after his transfer to a school closer to where he lives, which took place before our 2013 trip. In the Ufani School teacher meetings attended by Marianne and me, and sometimes by our Board member, Dr. Susan Hughmanick, we never discerned any tension between Paul and the others as they talked about the school’s needs and how Karimu might help. We always admired the way that Paul seemed to present himself as no more than the first among equals, and the way he insisted that every teacher’s opinion should be heard.

Yet there were issues of mistrust, which haven’t been fully explained to us up to now. We have the sense that the mistrust may have been rooted in recommendations for promotion that some of the teachers thought were unfair, or in decisions about textbooks that some of them thought were not in the best interests of the students. Although there may have been more, these are the hints we have.

Maybe we’ll never get a full explanation. Rightly, much goes on in the village that is none of our business. Marianne and I may still try to see Paul and his family at their home some day. Still, the visit could be awkward if the subject of the reasons for his transfer comes up, so it’s possible that we won’t see Paul again.

We want to believe that the decision to transfer Paul was wise, and that the children of Ufani Primary School will be better served in the future. But, whatever he did wrong, we are convinced that he did some good things for the school, and we can’t forget those.
At the end of our first five days in the village, in 2007, which began when he and Daniel carried our suitcases for us, it was Paul that we talked to more purposefully than to anyone else. We promised to send money to help Ufani School, but we also told him that we could not afford another trip to Africa. And it was Paul who assured us that we were wrong by taking my arm and looking in my eye and saying that we had entered the people’s hearts and therefore must come back. His absence is a wound.

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Gifts

Desi, our guide and translator the first time that Marianne and I traveled to Tanzania, ended up taking us to the cleaners for two thousand dollars. Maybe, at first, he truly intended to use the money we gave him to pay for the classes that would bring him an accounting certificate; maybe, once he had that much cash in hand, he simply couldn’t resist the call of the alcohol and women it would buy. Or maybe he never dreamed of an accounting certificate, and only of what would convince a couple of well-meaning Americans to part with their money.

For sure, though, Desi was an able guide and translator. We worried at first that he had abandoned us to cutthroats in a café in an obscure town called Katesh. But his return—and the ninety minutes of his absence, during which the staff and patrons had done nothing more aggressive than cast bewildered stares in our direction—helped us conquer our naive fear of Africa. So when Desi led us on a hike out of Katesh, to spend a night with a group of Barabaig herders, Marianne and I experienced curiosity instead of fear.

Six years later, four Masai—traditional enemies of the Barabaig, who had often fought with them for control of Tanzania’s best pasture land—visited our Karimu volunteers in Dareda Kati. They endured a couple of hours of friendly quizzing before finally asking a question of their own: “Why are you so curious about us?” I answered, a little disingenuously, that we would expect them to ask us endless questions about ourselves if they were to come to see us in our country.

Yet among the Barabaig, Marianne and I had felt none of the embarrassment that would descend on us while the Masai stood up to our barrage of inquiry. The Barabaig are unknown compared to the Masai, and less accustomed to visitors from rich countries. Because they gave no impression of squirming under the ethnographer’s objectifying gaze, Marianne and I did not squirm. We sat in their home and endless questions flew back and forth.

They did not understand why I had brought only one wife with me. Later, when I would tell the story, I leaned heavily on the trope that I had decided to bring my favorite wife. That was true enough, but not what we said to the Barabaig. Marianne and I told them that in our country a man typically sustained just one marriage at a time. We watched our hosts solemnly nod their heads and file a mental note.

Did their good manners conceal disapproval? They remained impassive when I tried to explain why I had no answers to some of their other questions: what crops did I grow, and what animals did I hunt? Their gaunt faces were masks until they tore into the chicken, rice, vegetables, and fruit that Desi had brought with us from the town below: gifts, as he made clear, from their American visitors.

Barabaig men, and children of a certain age, walk many miles every day in order to pasture their cattle. The survival of the herd is precarious, therefore slaughter is reserved for special occasions, like marriage. The milk-giving cattle are precious because they supply half of the tribe’s regular diet. The other half consists of maize, the most reliable crop in this part of Tanzania, and one that a people with a narrow margin for their own survival will happily go back to again and again.

Hours after the last scrap from our feast had disappeared, talk rolled around to the subject of wild animals. The Barabaig assured Marianne and me that we would be safe inside our tent, since the biggest, most dangerous animals had fled into the national parks. Some of the men remembered the time before the parks. They had often seen elephants then, and they missed them.

“Because they’re beautiful?”

Desi had hesitated before translating my question. The answer came back instantly.

“Because we used to kill them with poisoned arrows. Now the government stops us from doing that.”

I covered my embarrassment by changing the subject. The Barabaig had scraped every speck of meat off of the bones of the chicken we brought. Then they had cracked open the bones to suck out the marrow. How many Barabaig would an elephant have fed, and for how many days and nights?

Years afterward, I met a scholar from Malawi to whom I confessed the fear that Marianne and I had the first time we went to Africa. He admitted he had felt similar fears when he first left his own continent for travel to Europe and America. Why shouldn’t he have been afraid? The scholar’s home in Malawi was not as remote as the pastures of the Barabaig. Yet he may have had little more right than the Barabaig did to stipulate the other fearful practices that would seem normal to men who do not take multiple wives, who somehow feed themselves despite neither hunting nor farming, and who wish to save the lives of elephants rather than kill and eat them.

I still wonder sometimes if the Arab boys whom I taught briefly in the United Arab Emirates, in 2011, would have been frightened to visit the U.S. Probably not, because, as they saw it, they grasped the need for self-protection better than I did. Shocked by the revelation that I did not own a gun, they warned me that I must buy one, since people shoot each other all the time in America.

Gift-giving helped diminish the mutual suspicion between the Barabaig and their guests. When it came time to leave their dwelling of sticks and cow-dung plaster, Marianne charged our wind-up flashlight. Her realization that the stars would lead us to our tent coincided with a gasp of amazement from our hosts. She handed the flashlight to one of the men, asking Desi to tell them it was a gift.

Inside the tent, fatigue lost out to excitement. We were near enough to hear the man and his oldest wife, whose turn it was to sleep with him that night, play with their new toy. One of them would turn the crank to make the light go on or grow brighter, and they would laugh. We didn’t know whether it was the magical appearance of light or the whirring noise produced by the crank, or both, that delighted them. But the delight lasted for a long time. Marianne and I drifted off to sleep as the toy was still being played with and still provoking the couple’s soft laughter.

The oldest wife was called Hanjit. Though she might have been about fifty years old—roughly the same as her husband, we guessed—she could have been younger, but weathered by hard work. It never occurred to us to ask. The youngest wife was undoubtedly in her teens.

Hanjit had not liked our first gift to her as much as she liked the flashlight. In the afternoon, while she cooked for everyone, Marianne decided to reward her with some squares from a bar of dark chocolate, bought in California. Hanjit wiped her hands on her goat-hide skirt before putting the chocolate in her mouth, where it did not stay for long. She made a sour face and spat our gift into the cooking fire.

In the morning, the Barabaig men walked part of the way down their mountain with us, back toward town. I wanted them to understand that Marianne had not been trying to make a fool of Hanjit with the chocolate.

“It’s a strange taste to you,” I said, “but one that we love in our country. Where we come from, a man who has done something to make his woman angry might give her a box of it to show that he wants everything to be good between them.”

Hanjit’s husband nodded to show that he had heard me. His eyes, narrowed because we were walking into the sun, scanned the meadows flanking the trail, alert for signs that would have meant nothing to me. Although the day would warm up, at this hour it was still cool at our elevation. He hugged his wine-colored robe close against his body.

“What would a Barabaig man do to show that he wants to end the trouble with his woman and be on good terms with her?”

Once again, Desi’s translation came back without a beat.

“He gives her some maize and tells her to cook it so they can sit down and eat a meal together.”

The Barabaig men stopped. They had hoped to make a gift to us of a monkey or hyena sighting, but the fields were still. Their cattle needed pasturing, so we shook hands and said goodbye.

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Fear and trust

After Marianne and I have traveled to Tanzania so many times, the fear of Africa that prevents some people from going with us seems absurd. With many of them, we can overcome that fear by pointing out that three of our four children have made the trip with us, and that they all want to go again. But the real absurdity is that sometimes we forget about our own fear on our first trip.

We committed to that trip before we knew we would have any fear. Marianne had wanted to go to Africa for forty years, ever since she saw the film Born Free, in 1966, when she was eight. We were about to send our youngest child off to college. Marianne sensed before I did—there was nothing new in this—that we would need a comparably rewarding exertion to replace the work of raising children. She said we should travel somewhere that would challenge us, while we were still young enough.

Even though I agreed, I had never had any interest in visiting Africa. I suggested Vietnam. My argument could not stand up against Marianne’s logic, though. She asked if I had wanted to go to Vietnam for as long as she had wanted to go to Africa. Because I am several years older than Marianne, I was already in my late teens at the end of the 1960’s. Back then, I did not want to go to Vietnam.

In the popular imagination, war had moved from Southeast Asia to Africa long before 2007. As little as we knew about Africa, however, we did know that it consisted not of one country, but of many, of which war afflicted just a handful. With Marianne’s privilege of traveling to the continent of her choice came the responsibility of deciding on a specific destination. She learned that Tanzania possessed the lions that had stalked her dreams since she was a little girl, as well as a history of peace. We have nothing to fear, we told ourselves as we booked our tickets.

The bland reassurances on guidebook paper were shredded by Africa’s irresistible reality. Marianne had told the Tanzanian tour operator she worked with that we wanted to travel the way ordinary Africans traveled. He hired a young Tanzanian man who spoke English well, instructing the young man to take us, by bus, to meet a small band of Barabaig pastoralists. They had been traditional enemies of East Africa’s famous herding people, the Masai. The Barabaig spoke no English, but the young man would translate and we would spend a night with them.

This happened after we had already been in Tanzania for four or five days, first on safari, with our own driver and our own cook, and next in a guest house. Although the guest house was down at the heels, its handful of British, French, and Dutch guests, communicating smoothly in English, gave it the comfort of familiarity.

Out of shyness, I suppose, our Tanzanian guide and translator preferred not to communicate at all. Yet I give him credit for knowing how to look after two people who were not used to traveling on a bus in which every square inch of floor space was filled by a crush of human beings and chicken cages. We understood only much later why he had ordered us not to tell anyone on the bus where we intended to get off: our ride lasted an hour or two, but he found us seats, which were meant for all-day passengers. We would have to figure this out on our own, since Desi, as he was called, never explained himself.

We got off the bus in a town called Katesh, at the foot of Mount Hanang. At between ten and eleven thousand feet tall, Hanang is the third biggest mountain in Tanzania. Desi’s plan, we saw later, was to take us to the Barabaig that afternoon, atop a much smaller peak that looked up at Hanang from beyond the other side of Katesh. The next morning he would bring us down to a guest house in Katesh, before leading us as far up Mount Hanang as we could go the following day.

But Desi explained neither any of this, nor why, after drinking a cup of tea with us in a café in the town, he abruptly stood up and left.

“Stay here,” he said.

To the two of us, knowing next to nothing about Tanzania, Katesh was equivalent to the literal middle of nowhere. Staying was our only choice, other than following Desi. Yet we had been too stunned to do that, and he had vanished before either of us thought to make a move.

Except for Marianne and me, there were only Africans in the café. There had also been only Africans in the streets when the bus brought us into town. Standing out conspicuously, we had no idea what our prominence meant. We had no personal experience of being the only white people in a town of Africans, so we grabbed for loose chunks of history to try to put our situation in a recognizable context.

At one time, white people who came to Africa in small numbers took slaves. What kind of detritus had that crime left behind? Was it naive to fear that the trace which slavery had left in the café was a thirst for vengeance? Was it naive not to have this fear? Marianne and I didn’t know, any more than we knew how long Desi would be gone, or what we would do in case he had gone forever.

As our first hour of abandonment in the café stretched into a second hour, the frequency of Marianne’s obsessive question—“What if he doesn’t come back?”—increased. If she was like Ilsa, in Casablanca, begging me to think for both of us, then I made a sad Bogart. Though I told her over and over, in an imposture of confidence, that he would come back, this did not amount to thinking. I could not know that Desi would return, and my paralysis kept me from planning for what to do if he didn’t. I resisted making a plan because I wasn’t sure that I knew how.

He came back after an hour and a half, during which we had remained a living curiosity in the café. He came back bearing meat, rice, vegetables, and fruit for us share with the Barabaig. When we left the café with him, we saw the market stalls right around the corner. Desi had shopped in the unhurried, African way, which necessarily includes bartering as well as socializing. He accompanied us on our night with the Barabaig and on our hike most of the way up Mount Hanang. Then he took us, again by bus, to the village where we would make many friends, and to which we would return many times.

Desi seemed like one of those friends, until a year or two later. He said he wanted to be something more than a tour guide. Two thousand dollars, which he did not have, would pay for the classes he needed to earn an accounting certificate so that he could start a real career. We withdrew the money from our savings and wired it to him, but he did not use it for education. As reported by people who knew of him, he had a good time at our expense. We never saw him again. Nor did we ever hear from him, except once, a couple of years after he had disappeared with our money. He sent Marianne a friend request on Facebook, which she declined.

We shall never again permit ourselves to be fooled by somebody we trust, until the next time it happens. Remembering Desi, and his place in our first visit to Tanzania, helps us remember not only the possibility of misplacing trust, as crucial as trust is, but also the possibility of misplacing fear, as we had misplaced our fear onto Africa. We have committed both of these errors.

Desi is gone for good now, even though he did come back to the café. But the propensity for trust, which gets rewarded more often than not in Africa as in most places, is not gone, and neither is the love of Africa.

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The old has gone, the new has come

The truth is that Dareda Kati Village’s old bridge hasn’t gone away yet. The new bridge has come, however, and the old one, still in place just a few feet away, is around as a reminder of dangers that the villagers must no longer confront and inconveniences they no longer have to accept.

Karimu owes a great debt of thanks to our Board member, Dr. Susan Hughmanick, to three-time volunteer Peggy Seltz, and to two-time volunteers Linda Presser and Ed Glysson. Last winter in San Jose, Susan, Peggy, Linda, and Ed went to a fundraiser for Bridging the Gap Africa, hoping to talk with its founder, Harmon Parker. They cornered Harmon and persuaded him to make the exhausting drive from Kenya, where he had built several dozen bridges, to Tanzania, where Dareda Kati’s need was serious and where he would find plenty of cooperation, both from the villagers themselves and from Karimu volunteers.

The initiative of Susan, Peggy, Linda, and Ed found an ideal match in the professionalism and determination of Harmon and his right-hand man, Nate Bloss. Harmon and Nate persisted despite the theft of some of the construction materials that they brought from Nairobi this past July, and also, after the Karimu volunteers had left Africa, despite some personal tragedy suffered by Harmon. Karimu’s debt to Harmon must therefore recognize not only his generosity and hard work, but his courage in going back to Tanzania a couple of weeks ago to finish the bridge.

Although Bridging the Gap Africa’s many projects in Kenya continue, Harmon and Nate have talked about returning to Dareda Kati again next June or July to commemorate what they have achieved with the villagers and our volunteers. Karimu will have no shortage of work during our twelve or thirteen days in the village. But we will feel no guilt when we take an afternoon off to celebrate the new bridge.

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