Throughout our current visit to Dareda Kati, Marianne and I had worried about the cost of supplying clean water to Bacho Primary School. This morning, however, we finally met with their teachers and the chairman of their school committee, who assured us that the estimate of thirty-two thousand dollars, which we received by e-mail just before leaving California three weeks ago, could be slashed.
They said that the estimate provided for building a massive concrete storage tank, which they insisted would be unnecessary. The source of the water would be a spring high up on the Great Rift Valley Escarpment, above all of the farms where thirsty livestock might contaminate the water. The point of a storage tank would be to permit treatment of the water, but the teachers and the committee chairman do not believe that water from the spring will need to be treated.
If they’re right, then the four or five thousand dollars that Karimu can budget for this project should be enough. The trouble is that I cannot verify the impact on the cost estimate of leaving out the concrete storage tank until I return to California, where I will once again have e-mail access.
A far less costly project than bringing water to Bacho Primary School—even if we can get the price lowered to four or five thousand dollars—would be to increase funding to a local microcredit group that some HIV patients have formed. The group has only about a dozen members, suggesting that enough shame still attaches to a diagnosis of HIV to scare many people away from being tested, or from accepting a positive result if they do have the test. Officially, Tanzania’s central government expects the local public health clinic to serve forty thousand people in Dareda Kati and the surrounding villages. As much as I would like to believe that a population of thousands of people includes just twelve HIV patients, I can’t.
Anyway, this afternoon we met with a small delegation from their microcredit group. Nearly all of the talking for the group was done by their leader, a woman named Esther, whom we have known since 2009. Esther gives living testament to the benefits of accepting an HIV diagnosis. (Esther is a pseudonym: even though she does not hide from her diagnosis in the village, this may not imply a willingness to have her identity publicized around the world on the Internet.) She is unashamed of her use of the antiretroviral drugs that the Tanzanian government supplies to her, free of charge, and she looks much healthier today than she did four years ago.
The day before yesterday, on Sunday, Esther worked for an hour or so on the new bridge. She was part of the line of villagers and volunteers who were passing buckets of gravel to where the concrete was being mixed. I have always found her boldly sculpted cheekbones striking, but it was Marianne who did a double-take when she saw Esther at the bridge site. Esther had attended Mass near the town center and then walked the whole way—probably two miles—over the rough, dirt road in high heels and her Sunday best. Marianne and I agreed that there could not have been a prettier woman in Dareda Kati’s huge Catholic church that day.
I had misgivings about handing buckets half-full of gravel to a woman in high heels. I thought they made an even worse choice of footwear for what we were doing than the flip-flops that professional construction workers often wear here. If a bucket seemed especially full, I would caution her by saying nzito (heavy) as I handed it over. But I never saw an inch of give in her body, or any surprise on her face.
Helped out a couple of years ago by a Karimu grant of a few hundred dollars, her microcredit group has done pretty well with laying hens. Now they hope to get another loan. At first sight this is reasonable, since they’re only requesting a few hundred dollars again. Unfortunately, we cannot lend them more money until they agree on a plan, and today it looked like they were making it up as they went along.
Esther first mentioned an incubator, to raise the egg production of their hens. Yet she had no comeback when Marianne and I asked how they could possibly use an incubator, since the farm where the chickens are kept has no electricity. She could have told us that they would buy one of the solar incubators which the more prosperous farmers in the area are known to use. But the fact that she said nothing about a solar incubator highlighted the group’s lack of preparation.
Then Esther shifted her ground. The group could open a shop in the town center, she said. They would sell cups of tea and baked or fried snacks, which they would prepare themselves.
The group might succeed in convincing us that this would warrant a loan. Is it what they all want, though, or is it just something that Esther improvised? We asked her to talk with all of the members to draw up a plan. Then they can have Daniel Amma, the Ufani Primary School teacher who has occasional e-mail access, send us their proposal.
Although Esther and the other HIV patients have nothing for now, I’m not much bothered by poor people hoping to find rich people who will simply drop money in their laps, no questions asked. In fact, I sometimes think that poor people who don’t act on this hope when they see rich people (or people whom they mistake for rich people, like Marianne and me) are foolish.
What I am greatly bothered by is the thought that people like Esther and the other HIV patients only get one shot at us per year. It means that if they have not quite thought through what they want to ask us, then they’ve blown their chance for the next twelve months. For people who need a break, this is a tough game to play: the stakes are too high and so is the bar.
For me, the day cannot come soon enough when it will be possible to communicate with people like Esther year-round. When that day comes, we will not need to place such a heavy weight of responsibility on someone like Daniel, who already has serious obligations to his family and his students. Daniel would never admit it, but he might not see his election as the go-between for Karimu and every poor person in Dareda Kati as an unalloyed blessing.