Tanzania Diary: August 4 (night)

This year the villagers of Bacho reserved their overwhelmingly joyful welcoming ceremonies for mid-afternoon, so I missed them. We had spent the night an hour’s drive from Bacho in Babati, scattered among four different guest houses because no guest house there could hold all twenty-nine of our volunteers. (My feet and ankles, like Marianne’s, looked like someone had pumped air into them by the time we reached our guest house after two days of travel, but they deflated overnight.) The next morning—this morning—we went on to Bacho for a modest welcome and my short speech of thanks, but then Joas drove me back to Babati before the real fun could start in the afternoon. He needed to shop for paint and some tools which we can take to Bacho tomorrow afternoon along with the six hundred forty mosquito nets that we intend to buy in Arusha. At least, we think we can make it back before dark tomorrow since we don’t have to bother with visiting Kilimanjaro Airport: its staff have already told us that the location of Alex Foy’s suitcase remains a mystery.

Though the prospect of delivering all those mosquito nets to Bacho excites me, carrying thirty-nine hundred dollars in cash so I can pay for them had concerned me. Several weeks ago I wired money for the nets to Joas, assuming he could handle the purchase. It turned out, however, that the factory producing the nets wanted payment in dollars, not in the Tanzanian shillings into which my money wire converted once it hit Joas’ bank account. I learned that the factory would demand dollars only on the Saturday morning before our Sunday departure for Tanzania. Therefore, lacking time to work out an alternate plan with Joas and the factory manager and with my bank due to close at one in the afternoon, I simply withdrew sixty-eight hundred in cash—instead of the twenty-nine hundred I had planned on, for our entry visas—and then bought one of those security wallets that you wear under your clothes at the belt buckle. That has to stay on even if I get strip-searched in an airport, I decide. (The slim possibility of which sends a whole new train of thought rolling down the tracks: why haven’t I worked out harder—I mean, at all—this year? Wouldn’t somebody who looked really, really good naked suffer a lot less humiliation from a strip search than I would? And what about all the other things I should have done but never did? Why didn’t I go after a medical degree instead of a Ph.D. in Philosophy? I had the smarts, so why haven’t I used them more wisely? For example, why didn’t I buy Google right after the IPO? Why didn’t I root for the Yankees instead of the Giants for the last fifty years? Then back to the strip search theme: maybe airport security agents, who have to find ways to get pleasure out of their high-stress jobs, are more likely to strip-search you if you look like you would look really, really good naked? In that case I can stop worrying, because there’s no chance.)

But now, late at night in the guest bedroom in the Kahembes’ home, my worries have mostly disappeared. As I had predicted, the hungry eyes of the airport security agents never singled me out. Plus I’m twenty-nine hundred dollars lighter after buying our entry visas at Kilimanjaro Airport, and the bribe we paid a customs official to allow our medicines into Tanzania—eighty dollars—amounted to a cab fare in Manhattan, as somebody said. As for driving to Arusha tomorrow with thirty-nine hundred in cash on me: this is Tanzania rather than Somalia, hence I’m very confident. So I relax and enjoy the comforts of Joas’ house, a pretty good approximation of a middle-class American home.

Except that he and Mrs. Kahembe use almost the entire outdoors of their quarter-acre as a working farm: mango, papaya, and passion fruit for starters. Back in California I had already proclaimed this the Summer of the Avocado, thanks to Mrs. Kahembe who, when I spent the night at their home last year, introduced me to avocado shakes. It’s a simple recipe (the only kind I can execute): fill the blender halfway with milk, then add a chopped avocado, a tray of ice cubes, two tablespoons of sugar, and puree. I’d made these all summer long in California. Mrs. Kahembe uses avocados as big as softballs from her yard and picks her own oranges for sweetener. My own all-American palate wants it even sweeter, thus the two tablespoons of sugar, but Mrs. Kahembe’s undoubtedly healthier avocado shake went down easy at dinner this evening.

Joas likes to ask our Karimu volunteers to take note of the many Africans they see who are neither starving nor miserable; duly noted by me, especially tonight in the Kahembes’ home where we all seem full and happy.—Don Stoll


About Don Stoll

Don and his wife, Marianne Kent-Stoll, are co-founders of the Karimu International Help Foundation. They established Karimu in 2008 at the request of the people of Dareda Kati Village, in the Manyara Region of northeastern Tanzania. Karimu is devoted to working with the residents of Dareda Kati in order to satisfy their development needs, as defined by the villagers themselves.
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