We devoted much of today to presenting and distributing mosquito nets to Ufani School families. The plan by the Dareda Kati Village Executive Officer, Christopher Awebosta, to hand out the nets on subsequent days collapsed when he saw scores of villagers assembled for Karimu’s antimalaria education program, consisting mainly of two brief skits performed by our high school volunteers. They portrayed mosquitoes, wise children who used nets, foolish children who traded their nets for soccer balls or money, and doctors grimly pronouncing the deaths of the foolish children. The villagers laughed a lot during the skits and seemed to take special delight in one last, macabre touch: the doctors balancing a soccer ball on top of the sheet with which they had just covered a dead boy.
In truth I don’t think we did much educating. We had begun to talk about our antimalaria education program months ago in California, uncertain how well the villagers understood malaria. Yet by today the teachers had told us that they educate against malaria in school. That took the pressure off us and let us relax as much as the villagers did while we all sat in the sun—or while the most fair-skinned of us looked for shade—on a warm, brilliant day.
But perhaps the festive mood fed a sense of expectation among the villagers. Christopher told me that he worried that announcing they would have to wait for their nets might ruin the mood. Christopher may also have feared, though he never said as much—one of the Tanzanians whispered this to me—that if the villagers did not get their nets immediately, they would assume he planned to distribute only some while profiting from the sale of the others. This particular man had already sounded off to me about government corruption in his country, so I don’t know to what extent his general view of government in Tanzania colored his judgment about relations between Christopher and the local people. No matter the reason, though, Christopher made it absolutely clear that we needed to hand out the nets right away. So Christopher and I walked in front of a long procession of villagers for ten or fifteen minutes, until we reached the small agricultural training institute where the Karimu volunteers stay and where Joas Kahembe and I had stored the nets we picked up in Arusha.
At the institute Christopher gave away two hundred thirty-nine nets—the program was that well attended—carefully recording the name of each recipient. He gave out the nets only after Joas spoke to the villagers in Swahili, sharply enough to make their eyes go wide. As the villagers lined up for their nets, I took Joas aside and asked what he had said.
“I told them I had better not hear about any of them selling or misusing or failing to use a net. I told them I will watch them. I told them I will make random visits to their homes to make sure they are using the nets.”
Joas paused. A Gioconda smile, then he continued: “I told them I will surprise them even in their bedrooms and that, whatever they happen to be doing, they had better be doing it underneath a net.”
And because his irreproachably honest handling of the Karimu money that I wire to Tanzania has taught me that Joas is a man of his word, I believe him.—Don Stoll