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.

Posted in Africa, development, poverty, Tanzania, volunteering | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Africa, development, poverty, Tanzania, volunteering | Tagged | Leave a comment

Tanzania diary: July 1 (morning)

The benefit of Sifaeli Kaaya’s avoidance of the main footpath through the subvillage of Bacho is the splendor of his alternate route. I’m not sure that he needs to worry as much as he does about bumping into the men he has brought suit against. Yet I do not try to alleviate his fear, since other people have tried and failed. Besides, I love this different way, between endless fields of onion, cabbage, and sugar cane.

Sifaeli wanted to leave early for Ayalagaya Secondary School this morning, and I realized, as we cleared the last of the sugar cane and their swampy irrigation ditches, that in my haste I had not applied mosquito repellent. But I was hugging my heavy coat close to my body, as I’ve done every morning since the Karimu volunteers arrived in Dareda Kati Village last week. Mosquitoes might like the cold less than I do. Unless the weather improves, I probably won’t bother with repellent during the rest of our time in the village.

Past the towering stalks of sugar cane, the view opens up. I can see that the green of the rectangular fields of onion differs from the green of the rectangles of cabbage. Then I am reminded of how little I know about agriculture when I notice two or three other shades of green in the distance, and I open my mouth to ask Sifaeli to identify the crops for me.

We almost collide because he has stopped short, just ahead of me. While I gazed at the distant fields, following their gentle slope up to the crest of the ridge which separates us from the school, he was studying an approaching dog.

“Are you worried about rabies?”

My question was unnecessary. Sifaeli had already alluded more than once to the recent death of a villager from the bite of a rabid dog.

I agree that it will not hurt to stay out of the way of this dog. The animal cannot be distinguished by its manageable size, sandy color, sharply outlined ribs, or wary demeanor from any of the hundreds of other dogs whose services to the village—sounding the alert at the appearance of a hyena or of one of the small, spotted servals that the villagers confuse with leopards—are rewarded with kicks and barrages of stones. Although dogs here learn very quickly that they must not come too close to human beings, I suppose one that has contracted rabies could have forgotten the lesson.

This one remembers. It ducks its head and speeds up to get around us, swinging out in a wide arc and bringing the little drama to an abrupt conclusion.

As we resume our walk toward the school, I think about how much the drama of the moment owed to Sifaeli’s own dramatic personality. Most of the villagers, if they had any concern about rabies, would have been satisfied to strike the dog with a walking stick or simply to shout at it, in either case without breaking stride.

But Sifaeli’s exaggerated response is of a piece with his exaggerated fear that the men he says have accused him of theft, and whom he is suing, might kill him. I was present a couple of days ago when the Ufani Primary School teacher Daniel Amma, perhaps the most level-headed and trusted man in the entire village, tried to convince Sifaeli that his life is not in danger. Daniel got nowhere, so I won’t even try.

Of course, his habit of extreme caution may be the biggest reason for Sifaeli’s achievement of living for sixty-three years so far. (The 2010 government census indicated that only ten out of some five thousand village residents were more than sixty years old.) And his instinct for drama is not the least of Sifaeli’s many charms. A Sifaeli who did not worry about being killed by his adversaries in the lawsuit would be a different, and possibly less appealing, Sifaeli.

We finally reached Ayalagaya Secondary School, alive and free of rabies. I took advantage of a morning without meetings for Marianne and me to spend a few hours painting iron window-frames in the new teachers’ house. I saw Sifaeli only once as I worked, when he stopped by to tell me that he and the contractor, Isaac, are happy with the help that the Karimu volunteers are giving to the paid local builders. Both Sifaeli and Isaac seem optimistic that the house will be completed before the volunteers leave, on July 11.

Marianne had accompanied the volunteers to the school, taking the main footpath on which Sifaeli will not tread. She interrupted her own painting to tell me that I was wrong to think the villagers had begun to take us for granted and that we would not receive many invitations to eat in their homes: the calendar in her iPhone was completely full.

So I was able to marry the simple satisfaction of helping to complete this much-needed teachers’ house to a more complicated satisfaction. Trying to navigate the village’s social networks in order to finish the Karimu projects can be frustrating. However, the gratitude implicit in all of the lunch invitations—and in the invitations she had been forced to decline—was a heartening reminder that the projects do get finished.

The satisfaction evolved into confidence, or at least determination, as I thought about the meeting coming up in the afternoon with Moses Masawe, the plumber whose help we will need if we wish to end the drought at Bacho Primary School.

Posted in Africa, development, poverty, Tanzania, volunteering | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Tanzania diary: June 30

Three years ago, when Marianne, a Karimu volunteer with expertise in providing clean water, and the Chairman of the Dareda Kati Village Council toured some of the local water sources, we could never have imagined that this would lead to trouble. Although I was sick that afternoon and couldn’t go along, in retrospect I can see how much got lost in translation.

Marianne and I visited Bacho Primary School later that week. The school had no water, so each morning the head teacher would instruct twenty or thirty students to carry empty buckets up the slope of the Rift Valley escarpment, looming directly above the school, to the nearest water source. They would return with the day’s supply.

Before that first visit, we had not even known that Bacho Primary School existed. Marianne and I required no acute powers of discernment in order to understand why we had been invited there. We decided on the spot that Karimu would fix the school’s water problem.

After the trip ended and we had all returned to California, word of the decision to pipe clean water to Bacho Primary School leaked out to the Chairman of the Village Council, whose name is Barnaba. But the news was filtered through the hopes of villagers who, like Barnaba himself, speak little or no English. The misinterpretation that reached Barnaba confirmed a hope of his own: Karimu would tap one of the springs that he had looked at with Marianne and the water expert, bringing water to precisely that part of the village where Barnaba lived.

Marianne would later recall that Barnaba seemed to show particular interest in one of the springs. At the time, she had no idea that he had his house nearby.

In the months that followed, Marianne and I raised money in the United States for Bacho Primary School’s water and for other Karimu projects. Meanwhile, Barnaba planned for a water project that we knew nothing about. He also received congratulations from his constituents for persuading Karimu to undertake a project that would benefit villagers who had no interest in, or who opposed, education.

The longer that Karimu’s involvement with Dareda Kati lasts, the more Marianne and I see how hard it can be to comprehend the social relationships that must shape our projects. Karimu does not aim to impose on the people of Dareda Kati a vision for the improvement of their lives that comes from the outside, from people who live very different lives thousands of miles away. We want to serve their own vision. Identifying their vision is not simple, however. As would be the case anywhere in the United States, the people of Dareda Kati are distinct individuals who often disagree with one another, and who often disagree sharply.

We are not sure when the relationship between Barnaba and Joas Kahembe, our Tanzanian project manager, became fraught. The tension may have preceded the public misunderstanding over water. But we do know that Barnaba and Joas disagreed stridently once they realized that the villagers were hearing two different stories about water. The story about water that they heard from Barnaba, who is a local Iraqw, did not match the story they were told by Joas, a member of the Haya tribe who lives in Babati, thirteen miles away—a great distance for villagers who do not own cars.

Eventually, Barnaba was humiliated by an e-mail that Kahembe had requested from Marianne and me, and which he shared with the entire village. The e-mail stated that we had no knowledge of the water project that Barnaba wanted. Instead, we needed Kahembe to persist in trying to solve the difficult problem of finding an affordable water source for Bacho Primary School.

By all accounts, Marianne and I benefited by not being in the village during the period of the most extreme tension between Barnaba and Kahembe. The word that Tanzanians use for this kind of disagreeableness is “collision.” We were happy to stand out of the way.

Yet the shock-waves from the collision have continued to ripple outward. Friends of Barnaba seem to have spread the rumor that Kahembe’s job foreman, Sifaeli Kaaya, stole cement which should have gone into the teachers’ house that Karimu was building at Ufani Primary School. Kahembe has refused to cooperate with Barnaba on a desperately-needed teachers’ house for Dareda Primary School, thereby forcing the present construction at Ayalagaya Secondary School.

So the peaceful stillness that settled over the Dareda Kati Village Council meeting this afternoon, as the shock-waves subsided, came as a relief to everyone there—especially Marianne and me, who felt no relief during the first hour as excitement caused the translators to lapse into full-on Swahili, leaving us guessing at the direction of the argument. We had a nervous moment when Kahembe announced in English, and less than half in jest, that the villagers ought to appreciate the privilege of working with him because only his project management could guarantee that every Karimu dollar would be well-spent; apparently, he was the only honest man in a country whose citizens are known to be corrupt.

Even though this may have been too much, the Council members had no more warrant than Marianne and I do for challenging Kahembe’s honesty, or his efficiency. I believe the fix was in, and that they had made up their minds in advance to accept every piece of extra baggage that Kahembe brought along with his honesty and his proven ability to make sure that jobs get done. In the end, he and Barnaba shook hands, pledging to put aside their differences for the sake of the community.

We hope that Barnaba and Kahembe were not concealing daggers in their other hands. A genuine peace would mean that next year, as long as Karimu can raise the funds, Dareda Primary School will get its teachers’ house. Tomorrow, Marianne and I will meet with Kahembe’s preferred water engineer from Babati, Moses Masawe. Masawe has a reasonably affordable plan to end the drought at Bacho Primary School, three years after we first met with the teachers on its parched grounds.

After the Village Council meeting had ended, we sat with Kahembe in a café while he enjoyed a late lunch of boiled beef along with the food that has been his favorite since childhood, boiled bananas. Because the jungles not far from his boyhood home form the heartland of the great apes, I suppose bananas would have been inevitable. He assured us that beef and bananas are the dish for which this particular café is known. But I’m not sure that I know how to describe the color of the gravy produced by boiling beef and bananas together. Marianne and I contented ourselves with sodas.

Kahembe must contend not only with his seventy-two years of age, but with diabetes. His hair is now completely white, as I think it was not even as recently as last year. Yet in the past twelve months our Karimu Board Member, Dr. Susan Hughmanick, has helped him to improve his health dramatically by advising him to change his high-starch diet. Still, this seemed to be a kind of celebration, and I let the bananas pass.

A portable TV had been set up on the bar so that the customers could watch the World Cup knockout match between Greece and Costa Rica. I kept one eye on the game, not missing Greece’s late equalizing goal, as I explained to Kahembe that we hoped Masawe would agree to use volunteer labor by the Bacho Primary School parents as a way to drop his labor charges by at least a thousand dollars.

Barnaba claims to have persuaded the men in his part of the village to work without pay on his own small water project, making it very inexpensive. The materials might run about a thousand dollars, which Karimu could easily spare if Masawe were to accept our cost-reducing proposal.

Despite the handshake in the Council meeting, Marianne and I had worried that Kahembe would be cool to the idea of helping Barnaba, since Joas is not known as a man who recovers swiftly from an offense. We were comforted by his nod and his seemingly casual change of subject, as he talked around the toothpick that he was using to excavate some of the stringy beef from around his molars.

Any well-off Tanzanian consumes a lot of stringy beef and will therefore develop a high level of skill at talking around a toothpick. Some people say that Kahembe is rich, so we had no trouble in following his account of how much we would enjoy visiting his ancestral homeland, near the border with Uganda.

If there was time, we could even make a foray across the border to the birthplace of his fourteenth great-grandfather. The flight from Kilimanjaro to Mwanza would be cheap, and the overnight ferry ride across Lake Victoria would take our breath away.

“Would we see the chimpanzees?” Marianne asked.

Posted in Africa, development, poverty, Tanzania, volunteering | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tanzania diary: June 29

Whether or not the unwarranted suspicion that Sifaeli Kaaya committed theft had causes other than the Iraqw tribe’s ethnic mistrust of Kaaya and his supervisor, Joas Kahembe—such as the arrogance that some of Dareda Kati Village’s Iraqws ascribe to Kahembe—the fallout has affected Karimu‘s work this year.

We had wanted to build a two-in-one teachers’ house for Dareda Primary School, which sits a few steps away from the dusty, ragged, bustling commercial center of Dareda Kati. This school’s condition resembles the pitiful state in which Marianne and I found Ufani Primary School during our first visit to Tanzania, in 2007.

But government protocol dictated that a particular local official would need to take responsibility for the community’s participation in any improvement of Dareda Primary School. Every Karimu project demands community participation. Unfortunately, this local official has sometimes been at odds with Kahembe, and he also happens to be a close friend of at least one of the men whom Kaaya accuses of slandering him. Although this official is not implicated in the slander, or named in Kaaya’s lawsuit, Kahembe indignantly refused to work with him.

So, in March, Karimu agreed to build instead at Dareda Primary School’s neighbor, Ayalagaya Secondary School. Ayalagaya’s headmistress, Catherine Boay Buxay, had been requesting another house for her teachers for a couple of years. Since Ayalagaya Secondary School serves a wider area than Dareda Primary School does, it falls under the purview of a different, higher-ranking official, whom Kahembe was happy to cooperate with.

The change of plans was our good luck—as if, Kaaya and his wife might say, a whale like the one that swallowed Jonah had spat us out on land we wished to avoid but that God had intended for us. Walking the two miles from our base to Ayalagaya Secondary School every day gives us a chance to get to know two of its young teachers, Constancia and Juliana.

These women share one of the two Karimu-built two-in-ones next to the house under construction. Constancia and Juliana are always around, sometimes to brew tea for our volunteers and then wash the cups. Their curiosity about life in the United States also gives Marianne and me some relief from the embarrassment we often experience: that of feeling like objectifying anthropologists, airlifted into an exotic village for the purpose of putting invasive questions to the natives, who have no sense of entitlement to ask questions about us. Juliana’s reaction to learning that a rich country like the United States can have citizens who are not merely poor, but without homes, can only be described as open-mouthed horror. Though her education has been sophisticated enough to instill a theoretical knowledge of capitalism and the ethos of individualism, the practical consequence of homelessness in a rich country came as shocking news.

This morning we met Constancia’s daughters, who are five and six years old. We also met the ten-year-old orphan, Jessica, who has lived with Constancia and her daughters for the last two years. Jessica was waiting for a bus at the chaotic station in Babati when Constancia found her. A distant cousin, who had looked after the little girl since the loss of her parents, had grown tired of feeding an extra mouth. The cousin arranged for Jessica to work as a servant in the home of a stranger in a distant town, a long, lonely bus ride away.

But Constancia knew that a government which is unable to prevent young children from being used as domestic servants also cannot prevent informal adoptions. She simply took Jessica home with her.

Because the little girl’s circumstances kept her out of school for a couple of years, her grade level is low for her age. She goes to school every day, though, and she is doing well.

If Kaaya and Constancia’s fellow teacher, Juliana, are right, Jessica’s narrow escape from servitude has landed her among Dareda Kati’s privileged class of girls. Kaaya estimates that a quarter of the children in the village never go to school, while Juliana claims that nearly all of the children kept at home are girls. This would mean that half of the girls in the village are not allowed to study.

Constancia’s luminous smile softens the impression of formality, or even severity, that her clothes convey. She dresses in the white blouses, long dark skirts, and matching dark jackets which not only make her immediately recognizable as a teacher, but suggest that she has just stepped out of an earlier, more buttoned-up time. Yet Juliana’s urban elegance cuts an even more distinctive figure in the village. She is a local Iraqw, so her style has been acquired, rather than handed down within her family.

Juliana’s family situation also differs from Constancia’s. Constancia’s husband must teach in another village, many miles away, until the government grants his request for a transfer to Ayalagaya; needless to say, they do not own a car. Juliana, in contrast, has no husband that she wishes could live with her.

A husband would probably get in the way of Juliana’s dream of earning a Ph.D. and entering government service. This could give her leverage to establish boarding schools as safe study environments for girls. One concern of hers is the barrier to after-school study for girls who have no electricity in their homes: if they try to study in places that do have electricity, they must walk home in the dark. Nevertheless, in the cities, fiercely determined girl students have been known to study after dark in public bus shelters, risking attacks on their reputations as well as their bodies.

But Juliana’s personal history may also have made her wary of taking a husband. She is one of the three daughters of a father who wished to send only his four sons to school. Juliana’s mother, however, had different ideas. In the days before primary education was free for all Tanzanian children, the father insisted that he would never pay his daughters’ school fees. The mother reminded him that she had brought a dowry of cattle to the marriage, and therefore some of the control over the family’s financial resources belonged rightfully to her.

“He whipped my mother many times,” Juliana says.

The beatings failed to subdue her, and all three daughters received educations.

For years, Juliana’s father resented the humiliating defeat that his wife had inflicted on him. Then the cancer that finally ended his life became the catalyst of acceptance.

As her father wasted away, Juliana went to his bedside. She told him that it still hurt her to have been regarded as someone capable of nothing more than cooking, cleaning, and raising children. The dying man wept, and apologized.

Now, a year after her father’s death, Juliana was sitting with Marianne and me and drinking tea in an empty classroom at Ayalagaya Secondary School. As she remembered the terrible suffering that her father’s cancer had brought him, it was her own turn to weep.

Posted in Africa, development, poverty, Tanzania, volunteering | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Tanzania diary: June 28

Sifaeli Kaaya never wanted to leave his birthplace in the shadow of Mt. Meru when he was invited to do so in 1995. The American who offered him a job in the isolated village of Dareda Kati, more than two hundred miles away, valued Sifaeli’s expertise in agriculture.

As an American, the man may also have taken at face value the insistence by Tanzania’s founding president, Julius Nyerere, that Tanzania was one country and that its citizens had the right to live anywhere in the country that they wished, irrespective of tribal claims upon particular regions.

This American, whose name was Dennis, loved Jesus with all his heart. He had worked out an agreement with the leaders of Tanzania’s Evangelical Lutheran Church to build an agricultural training center in one of Dareda Kati’s generous, fruitful valleys. This valley, which surrounds the subvillage of Bacho, looks nothing like the arid savannah that the Western popular imagination associates with East Africa. If you close your eyes for a moment and then open them to the intense green and the red dirt, it is easy to imagine that you’re in an especially lush part of the Hawaiian islands.

Kaaya turned down the American’s first job offer. But Dennis, who had farmed in Idaho and who recognized good farmland when he walked across it and stooped to sift its soil between his fingers, saw the valley as a kind of New Canaan, where African villagers who absorbed Kaaya’s modern agricultural knowledge would multiply their crops and their wealth and, not incidentally, come to Jesus.

So the American went to Kaaya’s house to ask him for a second time to come to Dareda Kati. Kaaya liked Dennis and did not want to have to reject him again. When he saw the American approaching his front door, Kaaya went out the back way without saying a word to his wife. Then he hid among the trees that ringed the pond where he raised tilapia. It was the coolest and prettiest spot on the farm, and his favorite.

Mrs. Kaaya wanted to show hospitality to the American when he knocked on her door. She made two cups of tea and then sat with him. But making conversation, in his minimal Swahili and her nonexistent English, was a challenge.

As a substitute for conversation, she led the American outside so that she could show him around her farm. They looked at maize and pigeon peas and cows and goats and chickens. And then she and Dennis found Kaaya beneath a tree next to the tilapia pond, where the warmth of the afternoon had put him to sleep. She was relieved to see her husband, who could carry on a conversation in English, so she woke him up. Awkwardly, Kaaya again told the American that he did not want to move away from his home.

However, Mrs. Kaaya was a devout Lutheran, like her husband, as well as the persistent American. Today, nineteen years after his nap by the tilapia pond, on the grounds of the Integrated Agricultural Training Center that he had helped the American to establish, Sifaeli recounted the argument that his wife would build on the foundation of her discovery of her sleeping husband.

“Do you know that man, Jonah, who tried to hide from God so that he could avoid going to a place where he didn’t want to go? He ended up in the belly of a whale, which seemed like a punishment at first. Instead, the whale saved his life and showed him to God, and Jonah knew that he must go wherever God instructed him to go.”

Kaaya remembers that he could see where his wife’s argument would lead as soon as she mentioned Jonah’s name. The fact that the course and conclusion of the argument she would make had appeared to him in an instant gave proof of its irresistibility. Yet he waited politely to hear her finish as he knew she must, in the words that he knew he would have to obey:

“God wants you to go to Dareda Kati.”

Because God wanted him to go to Dareda Kati, Kaaya told me today, and because God’s power surpasses any power that might belong to the superstition of witchcraft which the Iraqw people of Dareda Kati have been said to practice, he will continue to do God’s work in the village by supervising the Karimu projects there. It is clear that only God could have brought Karimu to this village, which needs Karimu’s help no more than a thousand other Tanzanian villages do.

For nineteen years, Kaaya has insisted on holding himself apart from the Iraqw, refusing to learn any more of their tribal language than the two simple greetings, saita and loai. He does not ask why God brought Karimu here to do His work for the improvement of a people that he, Kaaya, trusts so little. That is a secret which God Himself guards closely.

Posted in Africa, development, poverty, Tanzania, volunteering | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tanzania diary: June 27

Marianne and I had known that the new two-in-one teachers’ house for Ufani Primary School took an exceptionally long time to build. The new two-in-one for Ayalagaya Secondary School, begun just a few weeks ago, looks mostly done. There is an outside chance that our twenty-one Karimu volunteers will be able to help the paid local builders finish the Ayalagaya house by the time we leave Dareda Kati Village on July 11. Yet the new house for Ufani, on which construction started in June of last year, was not completed until February.

We did not worry about this. We assumed, unreflectively, that the construction at Ufani had happened in “African time,” according to the mysterious laws of African inefficiency.

Inefficiency is something that people involved with Africa spend a lot of time talking about, and not always critically. Inefficiency is widely seen as the other side of the African’s talent for relishing the unhurried flow of life, for taking the time to enjoy other people instead of racing to keep up with a clock that chops life into a succession of tasks in which one opportunity to get something done and over with follows another, without end.

Of course, African inefficiency is not truly an explanation. It is nothing more than a weak excuse for an explanation, a generality which cannot help us understand why the Ayalagaya construction has gone smoothly and the Ufani construction bogged down. It turns out that the slow pace of construction of the Ufani house had very specific causes.

The on-site foreman for our Tanzanian project manager, Joas Kahembe, is Sifaeli Kaaya. In the summer of last year, as the Ufani teachers’ house neared completion, a rumor started circulating through Dareda Kati that Kaaya had stolen a hundred bags of cement which had been purchased with Karimu funds in order to help build the house. The rumor insinuated that Kaaya had resold the cement for his own gain.

Because we have worked with Kaaya since 2008 and we’ve always found him to be honest, the suspicion seems absurd. However, Kaaya belongs to the Meru tribe and his supervisor, Kahembe, belongs to the Haya tribe, while Dareda Kati’s population is overwhelmingly Iraqw. Some residents of Tanzania do not even regard the Haya, who have a large presence in Uganda, as genuine Tanzanians. Kahembe admits that his fourteenth great-grandfather was born in Uganda. If Kaaya has successfully divined the motives of the four men that he claims are behind the rumor, they resent the influence of two non-Iraqw men in their community.

Battling the rumor about his theft ate up several months of Kaaya’s time and delayed construction of the Ufani teachers’ house. Kahembe lives in Babati, thirteen miles away from Dareda Kati, where almost nobody owns a car, so he is relatively unaffected. On the other hand, Kaaya has lived in this village for close to twenty years. He now avoids using the main footpath through Bacho subvillage, along which all four of his enemies have their houses. He has also stopped going out after dark.

Kaaya says he does not believe that the human feces left in front of the door to the storeroom where he locks up the Karimu building supplies, or any of the other apparent manifestations of witchcraft by his Iraqw enemies, can harm him.

But he has taken the slander of his name seriously, bringing a lawsuit against the four men. One of them, a certain Petro, has taken the lawsuit seriously enough to flee the village. (In this community which is full of men named Petro—maybe after the original pope, since a big majority of people here are Catholic—neither Marianne nor I can picture his face.)

While we are here in the village for the next two weeks, Marianne and I may be asked by a Tanzanian court to give testimony on behalf of Kaaya’s character. It would be testimony supported by facts, since the Ufani house could not have been finished if a hundred bags of cement had gone missing.

Although Kaaya is honest, this does not necessarily make him right about the motives of the men he accuses of slandering him. Karimu’s gradual movement away from Ufani Primary School, where we executed our first building projects in 2008, has angered many people in Bacho subvillage.

Our move has been dictated by the needs of other schools in the larger village, which are now in far worse condition than Ufani. The problem is that during the fifty weeks out of the year when Marianne and I are not around, Kaaya and Kahembe are the ones who must hear, and try to answer, the objections from Bacho to our decision to help schools other than Ufani. I cannot rule out the possibility that one or both of them—but more likely Kahembe, who possesses a quick temper—having grown sick of the objections, suggested to the people of Bacho that Marianne and I are sick of Ufani Primary School.

Posted in Africa, development, poverty, Tanzania, volunteering | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment