July 2: We heard at lunch today that the driver for the bridge materials had another reason for his vanishing act than the one Marianne and I had imputed to him: he has stolen the truck. But the good news is that he abandoned our materials near Arusha, a hundred miles away, and they are undamaged. A different driver may be able to complete the journey here by Saturday, July 6, although, in light of what has happened so far, we’re trying to hold the lid down on our expectations.
A smaller disappointment, this morning, was the state of the new kitchen that Karimu recently paid to build at Ayalagaya Secondary School. Inadequate planning has left it short by at least one large, clean-burning stove. This means that the cooks, Peter and Faustino, must still do part of their work over open fires in the cramped wooden shed that we had thought would be torn down by now. The soot-blackened interior of the old shed is a reminder of why we wanted them out of there. We’re happy that the current school holiday has kept Peter and Faustino away so that we do not have to endure their effusive declarations of gratitude, which we haven’t fully earned. It is a consolation that no more than two thousand dollars should be needed to bring in the additional stoves, and that a load of firewood which used to disappear every other day now lasts a week or more.
In the afternoon, we sat through the once-a-month meeting of the agricultural microcredit group to which Karimu supplied seed money a few months ago. Each of the group’s forty-seven members contributes monthly dues of six dollars, so their capacity to make loans to one another is steadily expanding.
Daniel Amma, the Ufani Primary School teacher who serves as the group’s treasurer, recorded all the payments of dues and interest as, one by one, the members gave him their fistfuls of wrinkled bills. After receiving the last payment, he turned to me and patted the wad of cash that he had tucked into the breast pocket of his flannel shirt.
“This is our future,” he said, smiling. “It grows bigger every month.”
July 3: Construction of a teachers’ house for Ufani Primary School continues to move forward at a rapid clip, since we haven’t been able to start on the bridge that would have divided our work force in two.
The volunteers have been pushed hard, without complaining, so today they were rewarded with the afternoon off and a visit by four Masai who live near the border with Kenya. Their visit had been arranged by the local Lutheran pastor. Michael grew up in the same area that our visitors came from, although he is now very much a “city Masai.”
They sat patiently for three hours so that they could answer all of our questions. My own question was whether they feel that their lives are becoming harder as the pasture land available to their cattle shrinks. The less talkative of the two men, a middle-aged man named Martin, insisted that the loss of their land from year to year is small. They still have access to plenty of good grazing, he said. But the song they performed later suggested otherwise.
“It means that no one else cares about protecting our land or our culture,” Pastor Michael whispered to me, “so we have only God to help us.”
The other man, Lucas, elaborated on the sense of isolation that the song expressed.
“Most Masai don’t know anything about politics,” he admitted. “If they even think about voting, it would be for the CCM”—the party currently in power—“because they think it is still led by Nyerere.”
Julius Nyerere, Tanzania’s first president after independence, left office in 1985 and died in 1999, so I wondered how many Masai could possibly believe that he is alive today. These two men and their wives dressed traditionally and herded cattle. Yet, as I would find out during dinner when I was able to talk with them in English, they were not far from being city Masai, like Pastor Michael. (Martin’s wife, Paulina, wore a dress that was conspicuously decorated with crosses, but at dinner I discovered they were all Lutherans.) Perhaps despair over the mounting pressure on their tribe, and its creeping decline, had led to cynicism about their fellow Masai.
Martin’s son had just been injured by a Cape buffalo when the boy tried unsuccessfully to prevent it from killing one of the family’s cows. (The dead animal was a bull that the wild beast may have perceived as a rival, despite the fact that it could never have competed in the same league as the Cape buffalo. The Masai fear Cape buffalo more than they do lions.) The boy’s injury was mild—luckily, according to Martin, since medical treatment of a serious injury would have been too expensive.
In this case, paying to treat a bad injury would have been especially hard. In the last month, Martin told us, he had been required to pay three large fines for killing wild animals that attacked his cattle. However, the compensation awarded by Tanzania’s central government for a cow killed by wild animals is only a fraction of the amount of the fine.
“The government cares more about protecting wild animals than about taking care of people,” Martin said.