Tanzania diary: safari and other postscripts

Two things pleased me about my speech at this year’s ceremonial farewell to Dareda Kati Village. One is that I did not mangle any Swahili. This was unlike last year, when, having planned to finish with Mungu bariki, “God bless,” I slipped and said Mungu baridi, a fractured rendering of “God is cold.” The other is that I kept the villagers waiting in the heat for less time than any of the other featured speakers did.

Nevertheless, I spoke for long enough to tell the people of the village that my own choice of a travel destination in 2007 had been Southeast Asia. I also told them that, even after Marianne and I decided on Africa, as she wished, we never meant to found a nonprofit that would demand our return to Africa every year. My point was to remind the villagers that we cannot always anticipate what will give us satisfaction—just as some of the residents of the village, who become disappointed when they hear that Karimu will build next year at a school far from their own homes, need to recognize that improvements to any of Dareda Kati’s schools benefit the entire village.

I don’t know whether they took my words to heart. I know I did not explain to the villagers that, as a little girl, Marianne had first been drawn to Africa not by its people, but by its animals. This would not have surprised them, of course. Africans are used to being ignored, or worse, by people from rich countries who visit the continent only to go on safari.

The 1966 British film, Born Free, awakened Marianne’s love of lions. (I am more moved by elephants. This may or may not be connected to the fact that, for most of our long married life, she has been the more avid meat-eater.) Based on her emotional reactions to the ten or twenty lions that we see—almost close enough to touch sometimes, as they doze in the shade of our four-by-fours—on our three days of safari in a typical year, that childhood love has not weakened.

The French philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre, claimed that “when one loves animals and children too much, one loves them against human beings.” That emphatic too much is a hint that Sartre believed the love of animals could overvalue the life of instinct. This would lead us to deny that we have responsibility for the choices we must make, since we are “condemned to be free.”

On the other hand, Sartre’s opposition of children as well as animals to human beings suggests that he may have understood, contrary to his explicit and famous philosophic position, that the life of instinct cannot easily be separated from the life of free choice. What marks, and what explains, the child’s miraculous passage from belonging with animals to belonging with human beings? The fact that each of us experiences coming of age not as a miraculous passage, but as growth, implies its naturalness. Animals and humans are bound together inextricably in nature, and both should be loved.

This does not make the tourist’s habit of admiring Africa’s animals at the expense of its people less interesting. Safari-only African tourism divides animals and humans into separate camps in a way that many of the Karimu volunteers find troubling.

A couple of weeks after we went home to California, a woman who had been one of the trip’s hardest-working volunteers sent Marianne an e-mail, which she passed on to me. This woman gave clear expression to sentiments that, over the years, we have heard occasionally from other volunteers. She noted that a Karimu trip consists of two sharply distinct parts:

“the village, which was Tanzania (albeit a small part, but one where we met real people and learned about their lives nonetheless), and the safari, which, as glorious and amazing as it was, only served to reinforce [the fact] that many of the world’s wonders are out of reach of the people whose countries they are in. How sad it was that the only ‘Africans’ we saw on safari were our drivers and the animals.”

That the volunteer overlooked the busload of Tanzanian schoolchildren whom we saw at the entrance to Tarangire National Park, where the great herds of elephants graze, is inconsequential. It was a single busload, lost among the scores of safari four-by-fours hired by people from rich countries. Some years we see a single bus full of Africans during our safari, and some years we don’t. Safari is indisputably a luxury, and one for which Marianne and I are grateful.

Other postscripts: Joas Kahembe and I agreed that the currency-exchange rate in the Babati District—which favors the dollar less than the rate available in Tanzania’s major cities does—warranted a money wire of seven thousand and six hundred dollars in order to complete the Bacho Primary School water project. Joas has received the Karimu funds and, as always, he has started to make efficient use of them.

The news about the lawsuit for slander brought by Kahembe’s foreman on the Karimu construction projects, Sifaeli Kaaya, is not as good. The mediation promised by Sifaeli’s lawyer, Abdallah Kilobwa, failed because none of the defendants showed up. This was at the end of July, but it took some time for us to receive the news. Although the report confused us, we think the judge intended to reschedule the mediation for later this month, instead of sending the case directly to trial.

Marianne and I are still waiting to hear, by way of Daniel Amma’s new Facebook account, about the cost of the knitting machine with which the members of Flaviana’s HIV support group hope to make the sweaters required for school uniforms.

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Tanzania diary: July 10

The sheep served at the ceremonies that end Karimu‘s annual trip to Dareda Kati Village is prepared in the same way as the sheep eaten by nineteenth-century British visitors to Tanzania—then called Tanganyika—whose intentions may have been different from those of the Karimu volunteers. One of the earliest British visitors, so the story goes, told his hosts that the meat was wonderful. The Tanganyikans heard this as ndahful.

Our ndahful is prepared by a specialist whom our Tanzanian project manager, Joas Kahembe, brings here from his own city of Babati. The specialist has become so closely identified with his profession that no one knows him by the name his parents bestowed. He is simply Pasua: Swahili for “slit.”

Some of our volunteers decline their hosts’ offer to eat an animal that still has a face, and the Tanzanians seem to have no problem with this. Whether or not the Tanzanians understand vegetarianism, at least they recognize it by now, after Karimu’s seven trips to the village. (Understanding is a straightforward matter for neither the Tanzanians nor their guests, of course. Sifaeli Kaaya, who loves ndahful meat and, like a typical villager, would kick a dog before he would pet one, was shocked by my account of the industrial farms from which most Americans get their meat. “It is cruel!” he said.)

Although I keep expecting a volunteer to pass out when the ndahful is wheeled in front of us on the wooden frame that supports its still-furred legs, this may never happen. More speeches are added to the closing ceremonies every year, numbing the volunteers’ reactions to the appearance of ndahful, which is reserved for the very end of a long afternoon. When we saw ndahful for the first time, in 2009, it shocked our vegetarians; now they are merely dazed.

As always, Marianne and I were the last to leave the ceremonies in order to return to the Integrated Agricultural Training Center for the night. The requests for photographs, the goodbyes, and the tears go on for a long time. The villagers know they will not see us for another year, which, for nearly all of them, means a year with absolutely no contact. Their emotions, and our own, exhaust us.

So we welcomed our chance to walk with Selena for most of the two or three miles back from Ayalagaya Secondary School to the Center. Because she speaks no English, the conversation would be superficial and undemanding. We did not know that the old woman was a witch.

Kaaya and Justine Sokoitan explained this to us at the Center as we sat and drank tea with them while waiting for dinner. Marianne may have raised the subject of Selena as a way to distract Kaaya from stewing over Kahembe’s speech at the ceremonies. Joas had used the occasion to insist, legitimately enough, on his own honesty with the project funds that Karimu wires to him. At great length, he had emphasized the good fortune of the villagers in having himself to work with. Kaaya, who never receives an invitation to speak, was hurt that Kahembe had not bothered to mention his own faithful service as the on-site foreman who carries out Kahembe’s direct instructions.

When Marianne met Selena last year, she formed the impression that she was a healer. Right away, Kaaya and Justine set us straight.

Marianne asked hopefully whether Selena was a good witch. This seemed plausible, since the old woman had talked mainly about her grandchildren during the walk from Ayalagaya. The conversation had been simple because it was limited by Marianne’s basic (yet much stronger than my own) grasp of Swahili. It was pleasant, however, as conversations about grandchildren usually are. The unequivocal response by Kaaya and Justine therefore disappointed Marianne.

It seems that Selena’s bad witchcraft manifests itself as poisoning, though neither Kaaya nor Justine could name any of her victims.

But there was also the case of the husband of our dear friend in the village, Yasenta. A few years ago, Yasenta’s husband, Léoncé, who now farms and also makes furniture, worked for Justine at the Center. Then Justine heard that Selena did not want Léoncé to work there. Mysteriously, Léoncé requested a leave, which Justine granted and from which Léoncé never returned.

Justine has no idea why Léoncé’s place of employment would have concerned Selena, since she has never had any connection to the Center. Still, it’s best not to ask too many questions about the business of a witch. Justine made it clear that snooping into the affairs of a witch might cause her to take an interest in you.

When Marianne asked if Selena admitted to being a witch, Justine and Kaaya laughed. No witch would be foolish enough to do that. On the contrary, Kaaya said, she conceals her witchcraft in the Pentecostal church.

Justine elaborated: even though the people of the Iraqw tribe—who probably make up ninety percent or more of the population of Dareda Kati—spend hours in church every Sunday, they are not truly Christians. They hold other beliefs, Justine said, which they hide in the local Catholic, Lutheran, Pentecostal, and Assemblies of God churches.

He lowered his voice to make sure that the Iraqw women who staff the Center’s kitchen could not hear him. One must be careful about the Iraqw, he whispered.

Justine, who is Masai, looked at his fellow Lutheran, Kaaya, who belongs to the Meru tribe. Kaaya nodded.

I thought the afternoon’s farewell ceremonies had drained away everyone’s emotions, but I was wrong. The foreigners scheduled to leave on safari early the next morning had plenty of emotion left, as did the handful of Tanzanians who shared our meal. They included the kitchen women. Because the women would not need to get up before sunrise to make breakfast, they could eat with us and then take all the time they wanted to finish up in the kitchen.

The kitchen women wept, despite Justine’s best efforts to comfort them. He is solidly built, so giving him one of the last hugs for which I had strength felt like hugging a bear. Sifaeli Kaaya, who has a smaller build, requires a different kind of hug, and for a few moments there was a possibility that I would fail him. But I loosened my grip before I could crack his ribs.

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Tanzania diary: July 9 (afternoon)

Despite the fervent religious beliefs of the people of Dareda Kati Village, they do not usually say grace before their meals. This has nothing to do with showing tolerance toward the Karimu volunteers. I have been referred to as a Christian more times than I could count, and Christianity is simply assumed of our volunteers. Even though I do not insist on my lack of religion, I reply honestly when I am asked. It doesn’t stick.

To hear grace before lunch today, followed by an extended and urgent prayer after the meal, was unusual. However, Livingstone Kaaya is not Lutheran like his father, Sifaeli. Livingstone worships at an Assemblies of God church that has sprung up near the town center during the last year, and he brought his minister to lunch with him this afternoon. That was an honor, as was Livingstone’s decision to close his busy shop for twenty minutes so that the man who usually looks after customers when Livingstone steps out could eat with us.

Livingstone bought us chicken, chips, rice, greens, and sodas from the same café where, nine days ago, Marianne and I sat with Joas Kahembe after the three of us had met with the Village Council. That afternoon I caught a little bit of Costa Rica’s World Cup match against Greece, but the daytime matches have finished now.

He did not feed us in the part of the café where the TV had been, anyway. We ate in a cramped room that the café reserves for private groups, which we reached by crossing a busy yard where a woman sat on a stool, peeling a mountain of potatoes for the café. We ignored the outdoor sink that stood near the woman and her potatoes. Most of the customers wash their hands there, but we expected Livingstone to observe the standard Tanzanian courtesy of visiting each guest individually with soap and a shallow bowl for hand-washing and a pitcher of hot water for rinsing.

Until last year, Livingstone owned a shop in Mto wa Mbu Village. Mto wa mbu means “river of mosquitoes,” an ugly name for one of Tanzania’s great tourist destinations. The village—if it has not grown too big to be called a village—which is adjacent to Lake Manyara National Park, is a drive of less than two hours from both the magnificent Ngorongoro Crater and Tarangire National Park, famous for its herds of elephants. The location might make Mto wa Mbu Village convenient for tourists even if it were swarming with mosquitoes. The Karimu volunteers spend two nights there every year after we leave Dareda Kati, and I’m happy to say that it’s not.

Livingstone’s shop sold wood carvings of the kind that tourists from rich countries love to buy. Many of the neighboring shops sold the same carvings. But many tourists passed through, so he did all right.

Owning such a shop in Mto wa Mbu Village could be dangerous, since not every Tanzanian who went there to profit from the tourists tried to do so by legal means. When Livingstone was finally robbed of almost two thousand dollars, he decided that his father and mother had been wise to settle in a place where theft rarely happened, since there was so little worth stealing.

Dareda Kati’s rich soil and abundant seasonal rains were made for farming. Unlike his father, though, Livingstone did not want to work the land. He thought he saw a chance to make good money from the intersection of poverty and development by becoming the village’s first mobile-phone banker. More goods and more money had started passing through now that China, as part of its larger strategy to gain access to Tanzania’s mineral resources, had paved a beautiful road directly through town.

Suddenly, Dareda Kati’s farmers, who had risen above subsistence only sporadically in the past, had some access to the hungry markets of bustling cities like Babati, thirteen miles away, and Katesh, twice as far going the other way. So the village had an expanding economy without a bank to serve it.

Both Kaayas, father and son, joined Dareda Kati’s new microcredit group, the Ufani Agricultural Organization, or UFAGRO. Sifaeli and Livingstone each took out a loan funded by Karimu. Most UFAGRO members use their loans to buy additional livestock or seeds for planting. Some of them open shops where they sell produce or tea, or the packaged consumer goods for which the villagers’ appetite is growing. But Sifaeli gave the money he had borrowed to his son, whose four hundred and fifty dollars enabled him to bring the village’s first M-Pesa franchise into the small shop space that he rented.

The promise of future prosperity justifies Livingstone’s current choice of living quarters. If he is facing customers as he stands in the few square feet behind his counter, he can turn around and, with one step, duck through a child-sized door into a narrow space which must have been designed for storage. Instead of merchandise, Livingstone stores only the thin mattress that he sleeps on. He must crawl lengthwise onto the mat, whose width equals that of the storage space.

The advantage of this living situation, Marianne remarked to him today, is that he will be present if anyone breaks into the shop at night to steal from him. This is also a disadvantage, of course, along with the fact that he must keep his wife and child a hundred miles away, in Arusha, until he has something else.

He offered to open his books for us, and we saw that he had recorded mobile-phone transactions for as little as a thousand shillings, or the price of a Coke. M-Pesa pays him approximately one percent of the value of each transaction. So a typical day of five hundred dollars of transactions nets him about five dollars.

It didn’t sound like much, until I remembered Flaviana and her HIV-positive friends, whose sales of eggs and goat milk will bring each of them sixteen cents a day until the goats begin reproducing. I did not want to think about how long it might take Flaviana to go from sixteen cents to five dollars a day.

I also remembered that Livingstone’s shop makes money the old-fashioned way, by selling Coca-Cola and Pepsi and beer and cigarettes and tampons and chocolate biscuits and shoe polish and tea and instant coffee and condoms.

Since his books showed transactions not only for the price of a Coke, but, occasionally, for hundreds of dollars, I wondered how he managed to keep enough cash on hand. If somebody wanted to withdraw several hundred dollars, would Livingstone need to ride his little motorbike to Babati in order to get the cash from a traditional bank?

Certainly. He reminded us of the man who had eaten with us, and who had left after the meal to watch the shop and deal with customers, as Livingstone pays him to do when he cannot be there.

Does he worry that, as the man known to operate the only mobile-banking business in Dareda Kati, he will be targeted by robbers?

No, because the most money he can withdraw from his M-Pesa account in one day is two million shillings, or about thirteen hundred dollars.

While I was still pondering the fact that I would never walk around carrying that much money in the United States, never mind in a poor country like Tanzania, Livingstone offered another reason not to worry about his safety: he sometimes rides his pikipiki to Babati for reasons unconnected to his mobile-banking business, so would-be robbers can never know when he may be carrying a large amount of cash.

I tried to imagine myself inside the skin of someone who might prey on a man who carries large sums of money now and then, but not always. I was stumped by my negligible experience in highway robbery.

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Tanzania diary: July 8 and morning of July 9

July 8

The chicken that Marianne and I ate at Flaviana’s this afternoon was tougher and stringier than the chicken served to us last week in the homes of Deborah, Yasenta, and Esther. While Marianne soldiered through her own big piece and most of the piece that I slipped surreptitiously onto her plate, I contented myself with a mound of chips. When we had received the invitation we warned Flaviana not to kill a chicken for us, but she made it clear that we had no choice.

It was not an unhappy experience with Flaviana’s cooking, and certainly not vegetarianism, which had motivated our warning; we had a sense of her poverty and we were not sure that she could spare a chicken. We have grown used to seeing the villagers cook all day for us to produce meals that they would never make for themselves. Although we are embarrassed by the attention, we accept it because we know they take pleasure in the generosity and we think it would be mean-spirited to take their pleasure away. Yet Flaviana, who has HIV, is a special case.

Three or four years ago, she founded a support group for HIV-positive men and women. The group, to which Karimu has given some money in the past, now includes sixteen members. Flaviana had invited all of them to her home for lunch today. But many were busy harvesting their crops, so fewer than half, all of them women, showed up.

The discussion may have been tougher than the chicken. Yesterday’s meeting of the Ufani Primary School teachers and school committee members brought together educated people who know how to articulate and advocate for an agenda. The members of the HIV group give tentative expression to needs that they barely seem to understand.

Flaviana takes pride in the chicken coop that she built next to her house with Karimu funds, and which she has used Karimu funds to stock. During our first visit to her home, as she was forming the group but before it had received any money, her chickens were exposed to predators. Although she would have enjoyed the generosity of cooking for us then, doing so would have meant starving herself and her five children and the sixth one in her womb.

At least she would not have been taking food out of her husband’s mouth. Because his lack of HIV symptoms proved to him that he was not infected, despite having shared Flaviana’s bed, he left so that he could pursue other, uninfected women. He has not been heard from.

As much as the chicken coop has improved her life, she believes milk-goats would improve it even more. We all went to lunch knowing that goats would be the topic of conversation. Like the chickens, the two milk-goats that she hoped to buy with a new Karimu donation, along with a new male to keep them in milk and to help them make baby goats, would be kept on Flaviana’s property in order to yield profits for everyone in the HIV group. Milk-goats would produce bigger profits than the group was earning from their chickens.

I asked our translator, Alfred, to tell her that we were curious about what kinds of profits the group had in mind. How much money did the chickens bring in?

Flaviana thought for a long time before responding. She is an attractive, smooth-skinned woman, probably in her thirties. Her deliberate speech, sculpted cheekbones, and narrow range of facial expressions, which move at a stately pace between a prudent Mona Lisa smile and a generous, teeth-bearing smile, convey a dignity that has helped her resist the indignities of her condition.

She sat directly across the small table from us. The other women sat or squatted in a line with their backs to the wall on our left, perhaps ten feet away. Everyone in the room looked healthy; the Tanzanian government supplies their antiretroviral drugs at no cost. Flaviana speaks softly, so she was no easier to hear than the other women would have been. Yet they look to her, as the group’s founder and leader, to do most of the talking. I leaned over my chips and across the table and strained to hear.

June was an average month, she said. The group sold thirty eggs.

I wondered if the translation had been exact. Did that mean thirty dozen?

It meant thirty eggs, or two and a half dozen.

Therefore, each member sold an average of thirty eggs last month?

No. The sixteen members together sold a total of thirty eggs.

Marianne and I exchanged a glance.

What does a dozen eggs sell for?

Three thousand shillings.

“Two dollars,” I whispered to Marianne, looking at her again. “All sixteen members together made five dollars on the sale of their eggs last month.”

Despite the simplicity of the math, I had some trouble digesting the result. I could see from Marianne’s face that she was doing no better. I did the elementary problem over and over in my head, and it always ended the same way.

So I finally started pressing Flaviana about the milk-goats.

Well, they ought to get five liters a day from two goats. A liter sells for fifty cents.

I became excited for a moment, when I reached the part of the math which showed that the goats would be fifteen times as profitable as the chickens. Then I did the next step: the goats would bring an average of fifteen cents per day to each member of the group.

It wasn’t quite as bad as that, since the male goat would help to make babies. The babies would be sold, or they would be allowed to grow up to produce more milk. But I did not believe that Flaviana and the others could progress far enough fast enough if they started from fifteen cents a day. I hated the numbers.

Sifaeli Kaaya had already told us that one high-quality milk-goat would cost Karimu well under a hundred dollars. Why had the group requested only two milkers?

At night, Flaviana explained, the goats would need to be herded into a brick shelter with a tin roof to protect them from hyenas and other predators. She gestured toward her yard, where she already had the necessary structure. The goats that now supply milk to her and her six children already take up most of the space; the shelter would only hold three more goats.

How much would it cost to build another shelter that could hold many more goats?

Flaviana and the other women looked at each other blankly. They had not thought of this.

They did not lack intelligence; they lacked certain kinds of experience, as well as the confidence that comes from experience. The power of the stigma that still clung to HIV was measured inversely by the tiny number of adults—sixteen, in a village where the population was approaching ten thousand—who had stepped forward to join Flaviana’s group.

These sixteen were not like Deborah, Yasenta, and Esther, who could mobilize all of their neighbors to cook not only for Marianne and me, but for as many Karimu volunteers as we chose to bring with us to their homes. Flaviana and the others could not call on the village’s traditional dancers to perform for us, or organize a chorus of women, or dispense gifts. It was not likely that, in the two days in the village still remaining to us, they could persuade a qualified builder to put together an estimate for a shelter that would hold all of the goats Marianne and I wanted them to have.

The members of the HIV group understood their status well enough to know that they must stay on the margins of many of the village’s activities, and that they must never push themselves forward into the circle of villagers who feel entitled to ask Karimu for projects that cost thousands of dollars, or even tens of thousands, and who know how to negotiate for as much as they can get when we insist that they have asked for too much.

Flaviana and the others had asked for two hundred dollars, which, we knew from Kaaya, would buy the three goats they wanted. We reminded her that we had only two more days in the village during which she could visit us at the Integrated Agricultural Training Center so that we would get the two hundred dollars out of a safe. We reminded her that she must collect the two hundred in cash, since her group had not known how to, or had not dared to, open a bank account to which Karimu could wire funds. Nobody in the group had e-mail or Facebook, so it would not be easy for them to tell us, after two more days, about a new bank account.

Morning of July 9

Flaviana caught Marianne and me at the end of breakfast this morning. Because we had hoped she would show up, we were ready with the two hundred dollars in cash that her HIV support group wanted in order to buy two milk-goats and a male goat.

When I succeeded in pantomiming my concern that walking around with that much cash was dangerous, she smiled. Peering from side to side, she raised the hem of the colorful robe covering her upper body just enough to reveal the waistband of her long matching skirt. (Women in this part of Tanzania are extremely modest.) She stroked the leather pouch that was tied to the waistband.

“Pocket,” she said, using the English word. Then she switched to Swahili.

Nataka kusema zaidi.”

She wanted to say more, which meant that we would need a translator. We had not seen Sifaeli Kaaya yet, so we decided to sit and wait for him. Flaviana has a habit of trying to cover the awkwardness of moments like these with musical sighs. She had time for only one sigh before Sifaeli appeared.

Kaaya’s limp reminded us that we had not seen Daniel Amma since his motorcycle accident. When the accident happened, two days ago, we began to wonder if we would see Daniel again on this trip, and now we had less than forty-eight hours left in Dareda Kati Village. Marianne texted Daniel while I asked Kaaya to help us with Flaviana.

The limp that had come out of nowhere a few days back and then gotten a little worse each day was something else to worry about. The daily walk to Ayalagaya Secondary School was wearing on Kaaya. He is exactly my age: sixty-three. He accepted a full measure of concern before assuring us that the pain in his leg did not rival his suffering from a bout with malaria several years ago. The motorcyclist who had started taking him to and from Ayalagaya would do so again today.

After our lunch with the HIV group ended yesterday, Flaviana explained, the women discussed a question that Marianne had put to them: besides selling eggs and goat milk, could they think of any other ways to earn money? Well, children were always ripping or fraying or losing the blue sweaters that the government requires them to wear as part of their school uniforms. With a knitting machine, Flaviana and the others could make and sell sweaters.

Had they seen a pedal-driven machine—in other words, one which did not need electricity?


How much would it cost?

Flaviana was stumped. She emitted one of her melodic sighs.

Marianne’s phone alerted her to a text message: rest had healed Daniel’s leg almost completely. He promised that he would walk the hundred meters or so from his home to Ayalagaya Secondary School for tomorrow’s farewell ceremony.

Flaviana’s brow had become knotted, but now it smoothed out.

“Daniel Amma?”

Yes, the message was from Daniel Amma.

“If you could find out the cost of one of the knitting machines that does not use electricity,” I said, “would you feel all right about asking Daniel to send us your request for the money?”

An abrupt downward tilt of her chin breached the liquid surface on which Flaviana drifts, and on which one movement never disturbs the grace of another. Then, rediscovering her familiar rhythm, she eased into a broad smile.

Marianne and I have talked often in recent months about the need to encourage Daniel to join Facebook, since the villagers can access it on their flip phones. Flaviana has given us another reason to mention this to him.

Our walk to Ayalagaya was anxious, as we thought about the loose ends we still needed to tie up. We were relieved to find the Headmistress, Catherine Boay Buxay, who delivered two things she had promised. The first was an estimate for bringing solar power to the pair of two-in-one teachers’ houses that Karimu has built in recent years, as well as to the new teachers’ house which is on track for completion by tomorrow. Catherine also presented a budget for another year of electricity and another year of Internet access for one of the school’s classroom blocks.

Although Catherine did not have an estimate for adding more smoke-reducing stoves to the kitchen where her school’s cooks, Petro and Faustine, make lunch for five hundred students, we promised her that they will get their new stoves soon. Karimu had built a new concrete kitchen in order to get Petro and Faustine out of the soot-blackened wood shack where they used to cook over open fires. It never occurred to us that the additional work of cooking for three dozen teachers requires much smaller stoves, and now we need to fix this.

The home of Tumaini Munisi, who had invited us over for tea, is only a five-minute walk from Ayalagaya, so Kaaya accompanied us. His leg seemed to have improved in the couple of hours since we had seen him with Flaviana, maybe because the clouds had lifted and the day was warming up.

We did not need Kaaya to translate, since Tumaini’s husband, Christopher, was at the house. But it was useful to have both Sifaeli and Christopher on hand to double-team her when she balked at the idea of establishing a bank account before Karimu would send her money to upgrade her stove-making business.

“All of your partners must have their names on the account,” said Kaaya, stabbing his finger at her. “Don and Marianne don’t want to see a collision between you and the other women.”

Tumaini slumped forward in her chair. Her face sagged. She asked Kaaya how she could be expected to organize a bus trip to the nearest bank, thirteen miles away in Babati, for herself and all seven of her partners at the same time. And what would they say to the people in the bank?

Kaaya turned his finger toward Christopher.

“Do you see that very good man there?”

Christopher grinned. About half of his teeth are white and the other half are brown.

“I tell you, that good man knows what to do. You must listen to him.”

Christopher’s many years of employment as a veterinarian by the Tanzanian Ministry of Agriculture had been made possible by his facility with English, which is not quite on the level of Kaaya’s. He looked pleased to have the fruits of his experience recognized.

Tumaini sized up her husband skeptically, as if being able to speak English and possessing the confidence to open one’s mouth in the presence of a banker might be solutions to some things, yet not to the problem of how to transport eight busy women simultaneously to a place where the banker may have decided to take holiday or just a long lunch, or where the power might be out for the day, preventing the banker from achieving anything.

Kaaya was in no mood to comfort her. His voice rose by an octave.

“Don and Marianne work hard to raise money for Karimu. You must work hard to receive the money. That is fair!”

When we stood up to leave, Tumaini rallied and asked about our older daughter, Greta, who came to the village with us two years ago. At a meeting of midwives in which Greta passed on some advice about postnatal care that our Board member, Dr. Susan Hughmanick, had sent from California, Tumaini developed a special liking for her. Greta turns thirty-three today, so Marianne began to text birthday wishes. I pointed out that she could wait, since it was barely after midnight at Lake Tahoe.

Then Marianne and I enjoyed a rally of our own. We had believed the teachers’ house which Karimu has agreed to build next year for Dareda Primary School would have to be started almost from the ground up. Near the edge of the campus there is a partly finished wall, which we thought would be the starting point. On the way back to the work site at Ayalagaya Secondary School, however, Kaaya showed us a half-finished house on what we had not even realized were the school grounds.

Because its tin roof had kept the weather at bay, the structure remained in decent condition, despite having been abandoned even before Marianne and I visited Dareda Kati for the first time, in 2007. We asked why the house was left unfinished. Sifaeli shook his head forlornly.

“There was some collision.”

He stared at the house for a long time before turning back to us.

“Don and Marianne, do you ever say, ‘What kind of people are these, who are always having collisions?’ Do you ever say, ‘Let us go from here to some other village where the people can agree about what they must do and where they can work together’?”

A place with no collisions. For a moment, I considered trying to explain the standoff between President Obama and the Republicans. Too much trouble, I decided. I patted Sifaeli’s back, but Marianne answered before I could:

“We’re not going anywhere.”

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Tanzania diary: July 7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tanzania diary: July 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justine looked skeptically at the chocolate.

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

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

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

“They crave soil,” Justine told her.

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Tanzania diary: July 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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