This past August’s Karimu (http://www.karimufoundation.org/) visit to Dareda Kati Village involved more walking than any of our previous four volunteer trips. From 2008 through 2010, we did almost all of our work at Ufani Primary School, ten minutes on foot from our lodging at the Integrated Agricultural Training Center. In 2011 we started doing a lot of work at Ayalagaya Secondary School, roughly a forty-minute walk from the Center. But during part of our time in the village in 2011 we had use of a bus, which we did not bother to rent this year.
We dispensed with the bus this year because most of our volunteers love the walk from the Center to Ayalagaya School. We walk first from the Center to Ufani School. Then we descend a gentle slope into a valley whose soil, beneath a covering of grass kept short by grazing cattle, is slightly spongy even during the dry season of our visit. We pass through a narrow band of forest before starting the mild uphill climb that takes us past fields of maize and pigeon peas on our way to the secondary school.
Once the uphill portion of the walk begins, we no longer tread on grass, but, instead, on a wide footpath of red dirt that reminds many of us of Hawaii. From the scattering of shambas—farms—that we pass, children wave and shout greetings in Swahili or the local tribal language, Iraqw. Sometimes a child will join us for part of the walk.
We value the walk especially when one of the Tanzanian teachers or farmers accompanies us; we may have no other chance to spend so much time continuously with that individual. It was on one of these walks that we learned that Melkiory Gobre, Ufani School’s young math teacher, had not been paid by the government during his first six months at Ufani, a couple of years ago. He mentioned this in order to explain his particular gratitude to Karimu for the teachers’ quarters we had finished building on the Ufani grounds just before he started teaching there. Deprived of a salary, he would not have been able to rent a room in the village, but he lived in a room in one of the teachers’ houses free of charge.
Now Melkiory’s own salary, together with that of his new wife, had encouraged him to start thinking about a family. Some obstacles stand in the way, since she teaches school in Babati, thirteen miles away. They can’t afford to buy a car, so they see each other only on weekends. Raising a family means a lot to both of them, however, so he is sure they can find a way.
Our walks are pleasant also because of the mild temperatures that characterize the Babati District’s winter: sixties in the morning, seventies in the afternoon. No Karimu trip to Dareda Kati has started before mid-June or lasted beyond mid-August, a consequence of my work, and of that of my wife, Marianne, in high schools in a Northern Hemisphere country.
Since before Karimu existed, in 2007 when Marianne and I visited Dareda Kati by ourselves, many of the villagers have assured us that we would enjoy life there much less during the wet season. Undoubtedly, the walk from the Center to Ayalagaya School would give less pleasure. The rains begin in March and finish in April or May. It is not a long wet season, but it is intense. We have been told that the soaking rains often fall hard enough to make it impossible to talk over their noise.
Walking on the red dirt footpath, which is so beautiful between June and August, becomes hard labor, a grueling slog through a paste that has sinister designs on the ill-fitting shoes worn by many of the villagers—castoffs retrieved from the piles of “dead white people’s clothing” that one sees stacked on the ground at every outdoor market. Most of the shoes and blue jeans and sweatshirts that show up in these markets have been discarded by Americans and Europeans who are very much alive, but who need to make room in their closets for brand-new purchases. Many Africans cannot imagine that living human beings would have thrown out such useful clothes.
Even during the rainy season, one must work or go to school or church, or go to see friends and relatives. For such a necessary or rewarding experience, getting wet clear through to the bone and having no chance to talk and needing to pause after every few steps to wrench a shoe free from the jealous grip of the mud are small prices to pay.
But it is a bigger price to be forced to walk several miles out of one’s way because the rain has engulfed the footbridge between the two halves of the village: the half that includes the Integrated Agricultural Training Center and Ufani School, and the other half that includes Ayalagaya School. The bridge bisects the forested strip of land which connects the lush valley below Ufani School to the red road. It is roughly made, from planks spaced far enough apart to disorient people who have questionable depth perception as they cross. There is a handrail on each side, and these people, who include at least a couple of our volunteers, clutch both rails throughout their slow progress over the bridge’s forty- or fifty-foot length.
During the wet season, the stream beneath the bridge rises, and rages. It jumps its banks and the bridge vanishes. The villagers have told us that they need a better bridge.
Now it looks as if they will get their bridge sooner than they had expected. Karimu Board Director Susan Hughmanick attended a recent San Jose fundraising event for Bridging the Gap Africa (http://www.bridgingthegapafrica.org/), an Ohio-based nonprofit that builds footbridges over impassable rivers and dangerous ravines in sub-Saharan Africa. Susan was accompanied to the fundraiser by some of her friends. They included former Karimu volunteers Ed Glysson, Linda Presser, and Peggy Seltz, whose commitment to our work is suggested by the fact that they all plan to return to Tanzania with us next year. (It will be Peggy’s third Karimu trip.) They approached Bridging the Gap Africa founder Harmon Parker, a former CNN Hero, who took them aback with the depth of the attention he gave them. Eventually, he referred them to Kelley Rehm, a Bridging the Gap Board Director and licensed engineer.
Kelley works as Program Manager for Bridges and Structures with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, cooperating with all fifty state Departments of Transportation to implement federally mandated updates to codes and specifications for bridge design, construction, and inspection. She listened to a careful explanation of Dareda Kati’s need for an improved bridge and then met with her fellow Directors a few days later.
Most of the projects undertaken by Bridging the Gap Africa are far more ambitious than the one requested by the people of Dareda Kati. But Susan and her friends had been persuasive. Bridging the Gap plans to send surveyors to Dareda Kati next spring. Assuming no unforeseen technical challenges, and that Karimu can raise the $10,000 which Kelley estimates the project will need, construction of the bridge may coincide with our next volunteer trip there in June and July of 2013. Bridging the Gap Africa will assist volunteers and local laborers with technical expertise.
I feel good about our ability to raise that amount, thanks to the generous $20,000 challenge grant offered by the Santa Cruz-based company, Quantaphy, which I wrote about in my November 9 blog post (https://dstoll49.wordpress.com/2012/11/09/another-challenge-grant/).