Over dinner last evening, toward the end of a productive but extremely long day, Marianne and I met with two pastors, Abel and Michael, from the Lutheran Diocese of Arusha. In 1993 the Diocese built the Integrated Agricultural Training Center in Bacho B. Our volunteers sleep here in modest but very clean rooms and eat the abundant and simple cafeteria food, occasionally helping the women in the kitchen prepare it. (Last year our younger son Peter, twenty at the time, joined us on the trip and often helped in the kitchen, though I’m not sure how much his potato-peeling accounted for the marriage proposals he received daily from the head cook, Joyce; Peter is tall and good-looking, as I may have been long ago.) To wash off the construction work’s dirt and sweat, our volunteers take showers at the Center that run sometimes hot and sometimes not.
A big teddy bear of a man named Justine Sokoitan, no less friendly than the kitchen women but a much better English speaker, has worked at the Center for several years and has managed it for a little over one year. Perhaps once during every Karimu visit, he will change out of his customary Western clothing into Masai robes, purely for our volunteers’ benefit. Justine calls himself a “nontraditional Masai” and belongs to the small Lutheran minority in this overwhelmingly Catholic village. I recall clearly when the Lutheran Diocese promoted him to manage the Center: a carload of officials from the Diocese showed up at dusk on a Saturday late in June of last year as we hugged and wept with the kitchen women. Most of our volunteers knew they would never see the women again, since within a few minutes we would leave the village in our safari four-by-fours. In Swahili the six women sang, with heartbreaking beauty, a Christian hymn. Marianne recognized the melody and at the song’s end told our mostly irreligious volunteers its title—“God Be With You Till We Meet Again”—but the circumstances had already conveyed its sense to us.
So, tears outside the cafeteria but accusations and anger just yards away. The officials from the Diocese briskly fired the Center’s Director and Assistant Director because of the mismanagement of funds at which Justine had hinted more than once during the week. Then the officials ordered them to leave the grounds as soon as they could arrange a ride, since they no longer enjoyed access to the Center’s vehicles for their personal use. When Marianne and I congratulated Justine, he looked so unlike someone who had just gotten a promotion that I thought of The Onion‘s satirical headline on the day after the last Presidential election: “Black Man Given Nation’s Worst Job.” Even though Justine would receive an elevated title and slightly higher pay, he would also have no Assistant Director, a reduced staff, and hardly any budget to work with. Fed up with the corruption and incompetence of the two men who now slumped away in order to pack their belongings, the foundation which supported the Center had withdrawn its funding and the Lutheran Diocese could replace only a fraction of the money lost.
Marianne and I already knew from Justine that the Center’s employees had worked without pay for part of the year after he took over the village’s worst job. Now Justine sat at dinner with us and the pastors, Abel and Michael, to see whether Karimu could help restore the Center’s educational outreach programs for nearby farming communities. Not surprisingly, the pastors overestimate the resources of Karimu and its volunteers; no doubt we all look like millionaires to the Tanzanians. Reviving the Center’s lessons in improved farming methods would cost tens of thousands of dollars which Karimu has little hope of raising without abandoning our commitments to primary and secondary education and to upgrading healthcare. In fact, maybe Karimu could give up those commitments and still find itself unable to bring back the old Center because its agricultural programs would not appeal to donors as much as healthcare and educating children do.
But at dinner I suggested retooling and expanding two programs that once made up minor components of the Center’s work: education about genital cutting and HIV education. (Like the former problem, around here the latter seems mainly to concern women, I suppose because of the frequency with which a man will infect multiple sexual partners and because, of course, women supply close to all of the care for HIV-positive children.) The Center already owns a late-model pickup truck—a Ford, I think—with four-wheel drive. If rededicated to serving medical patients desperate for transportation, that truck could save Karimu the trouble of raising money to buy a four-by-four for the local clinic run by Dr. Sadock Wilson. Even if agricultural outreach would not come back to the Center, for several more years, anyway, education on genital cutting and HIV as well as transportation of patients in need would make the Center invaluable to the community and, perhaps, convince another foundation to step into the breach with financial support.
I worry that Justine, Abel, and Michael, however good their intentions toward women, might have a hard time involving women in this project, although women probably ought to lead it. Will they share this worry and therefore reject my idea? Or will Justine, Abel, and Michael accept the idea, feeling that the Center’s struggles leave them no alternative, yet then attempt only halfheartedly to implement it due to their anxieties about working with women, at least regarding such sensitive matters? I missed the August 6 meeting of Marianne and Dr. Susan Hughmanick with the village midwife, Veronica, who told Marianne and Susan about the prevalence of genital cutting; but would that information have come out with me present? (In California last month, Marianne’s employer tried to talk her out of going to Tanzania. “We need you here and your husband can handle everything in Africa by himself,” he told her. Marianne answered that I could handle everything except our meeting about “women’s issues.” Then she lowered her voice: “We’re taking a gynecologist along.” The man slammed his large, squishy body into reverse so fast, in Marianne’s telling of the story, that he nearly fell backward over his desk.)
On the other hand, maybe I incline here, as so often, to excessive pessimism. Does the fact that the Center, under the leadership of men since its founding, used to educate about “women’s issues” imply that I exaggerate the difficulties? A moment’s thought reminds me how often I have misunderstood what goes on in Tanzania, so I simply need to keep faith that, if Justine, Abel, and Michael go for my idea, they know what they’re doing.—Don Stoll