August 13: After a weekend of not talking about any Karimu (www.karimufoundation.org) projects, but a lot of socializing and relaxing with the villagers, we said our goodbyes today. Long before the last day in the village on every trip, most of our volunteers have formed deep attachments to some of the people here, so leaving is usually the hardest part for all of us.
The farewell ceremony consisted mainly of music and dance, performed joyfully by our younger volunteers and the village schoolchildren, and skillfully orchestrated by Anne Justine D’Zmura, a two-time volunteer who teaches theater at California State University at Long Beach. (In this nation which has no concept of separation between church and state, the Ayalagaya Secondary School choir performed “Jesus Never Fails.”)
Perhaps nothing seemed as festive as the breaking of the Ramadan fast by one of the handful of Muslims we know in the village, a young Shia man. Last year he rescued Marianne and me from having to slaughter a chicken given to us for the volunteers’ dinner by saying that he would refuse to eat any animal not killed by a Muslim. So we “allowed” him to slaughter the bird himself (it was delicious), for which we were deeply grateful. Today, with plenty of daylight remaining, one of our volunteers saw our Muslim friend eating mutton that had been expertly barbecued by a Christian butcher named Pasua—Swahili for “Slit.”
“You have all done so much for the village,” our friend explained, “that I believe the Prophet would forgive me.”
I’m not sure the worshipers at the village’s tiny Sunni mosque would agree, whether or not its imam is, as our friend maintains, a jihadi. The claim may simply reflect the Shias’ fear of the Sunnis. Even if there is more to it, though, jihadism preached to this obscure village’s scattering of Muslims is unlikely to lead very far.
The Head Nurse at the local public health clinic, Martina Hando, was at the ceremony. All the discussion of the clinic’s new motorcycle, or piki piki—which we expect Karimu’s money to buy later this week—made me realize that the number of motorcycles in the village seemed to have mushroomed since last year. I hoped this indicated rising prosperity. But it occurred to me (and this was also Marianne’s opinion) that we might have been observing the same three or four piki pikis over and over again, as their proud owners rode them obsessively up and down the rough red-dirt paths.
Daniel Amma, the Ufani School teacher, appeared to confirm this when he downplayed my hopes about the village’s growing wealth. He asked, ironically, whether we had noticed any signs of construction there, other than the little bit funded by Karimu.
“Tanzania is a rich country but its people are poor,” he said. “Maybe you can see new buildings going up in the cities, where the important people in the government live. The people are poor and the government is rich.”
But Daniel’s bitterness was mitigated by news that must have tasted as good as gravy on Pasua’s barbecued mutton: the government had agreed to raise teachers’ salaries by twenty-four percent, phasing in the increase over the next few years.
A relatively inexpensive Karimu project became an awkward focus of the farewell ceremony. Earlier in the summer, we had arranged for the Ufani teachers to start providing lunches for approximately fifty of its students, children of some of the poorest families in the village. These fifty are regularly sent to school without lunch. Karimu had wired the several hundred dollars needed to feed them beans and rice or ugali (a gluey mush made out of maize) during the school year that begins this September.
Yet one of the speakers, a representative of the Babati District government, made it clear that the problem is not merely one of poverty. This man was the guest of honor. He felt absolutely comfortable in delaying the start of his climactic speech by twenty minutes so that he could discuss the lunch project with a lesser dignitary, a Babati businessman who was apparently well informed about the affairs of the village. They spoke in full view of a crowd that had already been sitting or standing under a hot sun for more than two hours. The men were shaded by an awning and they showed no concern for the fact that the villagers could not hear them and thus had no idea what they were talking about.
Once the government man was ready to address them, he spoke, for the most part, directly to the village elder who had opened the ceremony by invoking the spirits of the local tribal religion. The tribe, who call themselves the Iraq (or Iraqw), are a Nilotic people whose fervent Christianity accommodates any number of pre-Christian practices, including female genital cutting. The Tanzanian central government’s outlawing of genital cutting has been supported haphazardly, at best, by giving reasoned explanations that would educate people about the substantial harms caused by the practice. Clung to by people with little inclination to obey the edicts of a government which they are not sure has their best interests at heart, genital cutting has therefore simply gone underground in many places.
However, bullying the village elder about genital cutting would have made no sense on this occasion. Instead, the government man was concerned about witchcraft: he insisted that the elders must combat the rumor, widespread among the villagers, that food prepared and served at Ufani School would be a vehicle for black magic that could kill their children.
So our farewell ceremony, for all its pleasures, had also illustrated much of the dynamic that is an obstacle to the development of countries like Tanzania: people in dire need of education are served by a government that disdains the thought of an informed populace.