June 30: We still have no more information than we had yesterday about the truck that is carrying our bridge materials down from Kenya. An aura of suspense surrounds the question of the truck’s arrival, but we have plenty of other projects here to distract us.
One of these is the need to bring water to Bacho Primary School. The estimate for the job, which I received by e-mail from Joas Kahembe on June 17, the day before Marianne and I left California to visit friends in England, was a shocker. We had expected it to cost roughly the same four to five thousand dollars that Karimu spent to supply clean water for Ufani Primary School. Joas’s estimate of doing this for Bacho School is thirty-two thousand dollars, however, because the water would have to be piped a much greater distance than Ufani School’s water.
Marianne and I hope this is only a temporary setback, the result of making a poor choice of the source of the water that would flow to Bacho School. Although Joas has proved over and over again that he knows what he’s doing, the fact is that he lives in Babati, thirteen miles away—a bigger obstacle to travel in Africa than it would be in California—so he lacks intimate knowledge of the Dareda Kati area.
Unfortunately, we’ll need to remain in suspense over this project, too. Joas is so edgy about the delinquent truck that I don’t want to mention Bacho School’s water shortage to him, and there’s no one else around that I could talk to about this. The head teacher of Bacho School, who lives less than an hour away on foot, is visiting relatives in another village. The drive there would seem like nothing at home, but, here, I can’t always commandeer a car very easily. It’s true that we know people who could give us his cell phone number. But his English is shaky; I would only attempt a serious conversation with Stephen if he were right in front of me.
Any discussion of his school’s water problems should also involve the head of the school committee, who might also, for all I know, be visiting relatives somewhere else. Thinking about it starts to put me on edge, the way Joas is over the bridge materials, until I remind myself that we have another week and a half before we leave. The head of the school committee undoubtedly needs to look after his crops, like everyone else around here. I don’t worry that he’s on a wine-tasting tour or lying on the beach, so he won’t be gone for long even if he’s away.
July 1: It felt like one step forward and two steps back today.
The day started with a drive to Babati to get the district government’s approval of the plan by Karimu to provide clean-birth training for the two or three dozen midwives who work in Dareda Kati and the surrounding villages. (Our friend, Justine Sokoitan, drove so slowly in his old pickup truck that I felt guilty we had asked him for a lift, but we had no choice.) We hadn’t sought government approval of our medical-training sessions the last two years. This year, though, Martina Hando, head nurse at the Dareda Kati public health clinic, was anxious to play strictly by the book. Because only forty percent of Tanzanian mothers give birth in hospitals, the central government is campaigning to discourage this widespread reliance on midwives with the aim of lowering the country’s rates of maternal and infant mortality. Martina feared that, by supplying unsanctioned midwife training, Karimu would come across as opposed to hospital births.
On the other hand, our Board member, Dr. Susan Hughmanick, was nervous about talking to government officials. Susan worried that we might fail to convince them that, since home births are bound to continue, it makes sense to educate midwives to do the safest possible job.
Even as Susan wondered if we should simply fly under the radar, Martina convinced Justine to drive us to Babati. We found ourselves crawling along the road before we knew it.
Once we finished with the government officials, Susan would say that our cause had been helped by the gregariousness of the District Commissioner. He had met us before, at the end of the Karimu trip in 2010, Susan’s first time in Dareda Kati and my fourth. He remembered sitting next to me at the farewell celebration that the village holds for our volunteers, quizzing me on my knowledge of Swahili. I had disappointed him, so he decided to teach me how to give a greeting in the local tribal language, Iraqw. “Sa ita” he would say, again and again. I was supposed to answer with “Sa yu.” Ever since then, “Sa ita” has been my favorite greeting as I walk through the village. Because I sometimes use it dozens of times in a single day, on this day, in Musa’s office, I was ready for his “Sa ita.”
A smile cracked his fleshy, smooth face wide open. He laughed warmly, just as he had at every “Sa yu” that I threw back at him three years ago.
But my reading of the situation differed from Susan’s: I took Musa at his word when he said he was not a doctor and that he would accept the recommendation of the District Health Officer, whom we had already talked to. The District Health Officer had told Susan that her plan to educate midwives was a good one, so I think the matter was settled before we went into Musa’s office. In any case, that was the step forward.
The two steps back came within minutes after we walked out of the government building, when we received a text message from Harmon Parker, founder of Bridging the Gap Africa. Harmon had just spoken with the owner of the transport company he had hired to bring the materials for Dareda Kati’s new bridge from Nairobi to the village. The owner, whose name is Charles, admitted to having no idea why we still have not seen his truck and driver. Charles says that he can’t understand why they are so late, and he has crossed from Kenya into Tanzania to begin searching for them. Marianne and I share the hypothesis—which Charles will have the responsibility of testing—that the driver has met a woman and gone on a bender.
The difficulty of accessing the Internet means that we’re usually cut off from world news, but I have the impression that President Obama is in Tanzania now, in Dar es Salaam. In a shop in Babati, Susan almost bought some chocolate cookies labeled as “Obama Biscuits,” with his face on the box.