Today was both humbling and rewarding: humbling in reminding me of the challenge of understanding a place as different as an African village is from where I come from, yet rewarding in correcting some of the misconceptions I started to form during my first visit to Tanzania three years ago.
This conflicted experience began with our attempt to work out a procedure to distribute the mosquito nets Karimu has purchased for Bacho. Dr. Linda Miller, who had coordinated our fundraising for the nets, asked me what local official should introduce her program of education in net use which we shall present to the villagers the day after tomorrow, on Monday. I pointed to the Village Executive Officer of Dareda, Christopher Awebosta, standing nearby at the site of Karimu’s new building project at Ayalagaya Secondary School. But when Christopher and Dareda’s Village Chairman, Barnabas Qwarsan Lagwen—corresponding to mayor and town council chair, respectively—started asking for whom we had bought the nets and I answered “Bacho,” my ignorance revealed itself.
It turns out that no such place as Bacho exists, at least officially. Nor does Dareda—which I had conceived as a larger village adjacent to Bacho—exist, at least officially. The dusty roadside sprawl of shops and homes that I had known as Dareda makes up Dareda Kati Town which, like both Bacho A and Bacho B, is a “sub-village” belonging to Dareda Kati Village. And Dareda Kati Village includes two other sub-villages, Ayalagaya A and Ayalagaya B.
I must have had a sense that something more than adjacency characterized the relationship between what I called Bacho and what I called Dareda; otherwise, why would I have thought that Dareda’s Village Executive should play a leading role in a public education program for Bacho? I met Christopher in 2007, learning at that time about his job as Village Executive of Dareda, and every year since he has spent a lot of time at Ufani Primary School—in Bacho, I thought—while the Karimu volunteers worked there on expansion and renovation. However, I had always wanted to cut to the chase—raise money and build—so I never bothered to find out exactly why Bacho’s primary school seemed so important to Dareda’s most prominent citizen.
Now Christopher wanted to know whether we had bought the mosquito nets for only one of Dareda Kati Village’s sub-villages, or for other sub-villages as well. I had only just learned about the existence of sub-villages and I didn’t know one from another.
“Whichever of the Bachos includes Ufani Primary School,” I replied.
“Ah, Bacho B,” Christopher said, looking thoughtful. Then, after a pause: “There is a problem.”
The problem was that Linda had planned the program of education in net use for Ufani School, yet not all of Ufani’s students live in Bacho B. Karimu’s improvements to Ufani, along with its extraordinary teaching staff—which Ufani must have gathered only by pure good luck—have made the school good enough such that a number of families living well outside the borders of Bacho B have chosen to make their children walk the extra distance to Ufani. Everybody around here knows that in last September’s secondary school entrance exams, Ufani graduates scored highest out of all one hundred fifty primary schools in the Babati District. And in Tanzania the secondary school entrance exam is not a formality: primary school graduates who fail the exam cannot continue in the public school system and must therefore pay for private schools in order to pursue secondary education.
Karimu couldn’t very well stage an assembly, for all the Ufani students and many of their parents, at which we would trumpet the power of mosquito nets to save lives, announce that we had brought these life-savers to the village, and then say in effect to some of the children, “I’m sorry, but maybe you’ll die because we have no net for you.” So we agreed with Christopher and Barnabas that the families of all Ufani students must receive nets. These will include families living in a village I have never even heard of before. Though it lies entirely outside Dareda Kati Village and I have no idea how to get there, it looks like Karimu might save some lives in Managa.
Yet not as many as we want in what I had thought of as Bacho. Christopher’s census figures for all of Dareda Kati Village show a Bacho B substantially larger than the Bacho which our Community Survey had identified and for which, based on the survey’s numbers, we determined a need for six hundred forty nets. Christopher’s census pegs the population of Bacho B at slightly under three thousand, whereas a little more than thirteen hundred people live in the imaginary Bacho of our Community Survey. So each of of our six hundred forty nets would need to cover an average of about four and a half people to protect all of the three thousand residents of Bacho B. That could happen if all the nets stayed in Bacho B and if its population consisted strictly of small children, but not otherwise.
(Speaking of small children, the Bacho B census of them puzzles me because it reports two hundred twenty-two children under five years old and another six hundred fifty-seven aged five or six years. Why would Bacho B have three times as many five- and six-year-old children as it has children under five? The official numbers indicate an average of forty-four children for each of the ages under five, but three hundred thirty-four five-year-olds and three hundred twenty-three six-year-olds. Did the people of Bacho choose to have drastically fewer children over the last five years? Although I could make sense of a moderate decline in live births during that span, it seems absurd that suddenly the villagers would begin producing just thirteen percent as many children as before, and that they would sustain this low birth rate for five years. Like the prevalence of genital cutting among the female population of Bacho, its low reported birth rate may have to remain dimly understood by us for now since we have so little time here.)
Christopher and Barnabas will take responsibility for household-by-household distribution of mosquito nets, including the three hundred forty-five that Joas Kahembe will deliver after the Karimu volunteers return to California. I’ll have to ask them to figure out how many nets Bacho B still requires after complete distribution and then to inform me by letter of the remaining need.—Don Stoll