For the last three rainy seasons, storms straight out of the Book of Genesis have repeatedly pounded East Africa. The rains have wiped out bridges, roads, homes, and crops. Sometimes they have taken the lives of animals and humans. The problem of above-average rainfall has often been exacerbated by heavy winds.
The extreme weather has not spared Tanzania. This past January 29, during a span of only eight hours, five inches of rain slammed the Singida Region, immediately southwest of the Manyara Region, in which the village of Dareda Kati lies. In the Manyara Region itself, on March 30, flooding swept away a handful of houses, though apparently without causing any deaths.
However, during one weekend late in April, the rains eased up long enough to permit two engineers from Bridging the Gap Africa to visit Dareda Kati, whose people desperately need the kind of small bridge that Bridging the Gap has built dozens of times in Kenya, Tanzania’s neighbor to the north. Unluckily, the soft soil turned out to have much less anchoring capacity than the lead engineer, Nate Bloss, had grown used to seeing from his work in Kenya.
But this came as a surprise, rather than as an insurmountable obstacle. Nate and a Kenyan colleague, Sylvester Ouko, have since designed a suspended bridge that will stretch about thirty or thirty-five yards from end to end. Building it may cost Karimu slightly less than the $10,000 that Bridging the Gap had estimated when they possessed only oral descriptions of the site.
The founder of Bridging the Gap Africa, Harmon Parker, plans to build the bridge in late June and early July, when forty Karimu volunteers will be in Dareda Kati. Bridging the Gap will fabricate the entire bridge in Nairobi and then truck its parts into Tanzania. These will include steel towers, steel hangers, steel steps, wire rope, and planks.
Harmon worries that transporting the parts across the border will be a bigger challenge than the construction itself because of the corruption of Kenya’s border officials, who gave Nate and his party a hard time during their recent border crossing. We have similar concerns about the border officials on the Tanzanian side.
Apart from the issue of corruption, legitimate import taxes might be payable on the bridge parts when they enter Tanzania, where Karimu lacks the tax-exempt status that it has earned in the United States.
We could try to make the argument that the bridge will be built on behalf of Ufani Primary School. This is only a half-truth, since it will also benefit many villagers who have nothing to do with the school. Yet, despite the fact that Ufani is a government-registered school, committed to the national curriculum, it may nevertheless have no tax exemption.
There is no doubt that the villagers, Bridging the Gap Africa, and Karimu will build this bridge, even if, on the road to its completion, we get shaken up by a few bumps we still can’t see.
Stay tuned. . .