Of the two Ufani Primary School teachers that Marianne and I knew from our first moments in Dareda Kati Village, in 2007, only one remains. Longtime Head Teacher Paul Yoronimo was transferred to another school, not within easy traveling distance of Dareda Kati, before the Karimu volunteers’ annual visit there in June and July of 2013. But Daniel Amma, who had been Assistant Head Teacher under Paul, has stayed in that job under the new head, a man named Mangachi Msuya.
We still don’t know Msuya very well, in part because his English is not as good as Paul’s, which was not as good as Daniel’s; that was one of the things which kept us from getting as close to Paul as we have to Daniel. Marianne and I do a lot of walking when we are in the village, but last July the rarity of a ride in a pickup truck, shared with Msuya, bore little conversational fruit.
Our Board member, Dr. Susan Hughmanick, went with us, and it was probably Susan who pointed out to Msuya that he had not fastened his seat belt.
“I don’t need it,” he said.
Msuya answered Susan in the casual tone of someone turning down a coffee refill in a restaurant. Tanzania’s government may not have invested in the kind of lavish public-awareness campaign that popularized seat-belt use in the United States half a century ago. My memories of the time before that—which may, like much of memory, be constructed—are of rolling around in my parents’ moving station wagon like a marble in a tin can.
A day or two before, I had relived part of my later youth when I rode standing up in the back of another pickup, over a more dangerous road. That was scarier, but also more exhilarating, than the ride with Msuya, which found us jammed in together less like sardines than cheese, as if we were all one flesh. I suppose that our immobility could have protected Msuya, even without his seat belt, in certain types of accidents.
Msuya has started the new school-lunch program that, despite the availability of Karimu funding for a year or more, had not moved beyond the planning stage during Paul’s tenure as Head Teacher. About fifty of the school’s nearly four hundred children, whose parents could not or would not send them to school with food, can now eat the same meals of maize or beans or rice, and maybe some greens, that their classmates eat during the break in the middle of the school day. These fifty used to go home to eat. Often, they did not return in the afternoon because of the long walk. Or they would stay at school, going without food, and then doze through their afternoon lessons.
The students’ meals are only a little more simple than the ones served to American guests in village homes. These are dressed up with meat stew and sodas. Like meat, soda is an unusual pleasure for the villagers. The sleek, brightly lettered Fanta bottles, through whose smooth glass the vivid colors of the sodas can be seen in all of their glorious length, are essential to the experience of pleasure. Our hosts never offer us cups.
In 2007, Marianne and I spent five days in the village with its richest family. Their prosperity was relative to the extreme poverty of their neighbors, who were also subsistence farmers. We didn’t eat meat, and we drank sugary tea, not soda. We didn’t mind the lack of electricity. But we dreaded every trip to the outhouse, whose equal we have never found anywhere else in Tanzania.
Still, the house was of brick, instead of mud. This endowed the family’s thirteen members with the prestige of lords. It also inspired, among their neighbors, some of the jealousy that must have been directed at lords and their great manor houses. The jealousy was made worse by rumors that were probably inflated, as is the nature of such things, about the vast sums of money the family earned by hosting the tourists that our Tanzanian travel agent placed in the village.
The family mitigated the harsh judgments against them by turning their yard into a kind of community center every Saturday. Starting early in the morning, they used a two-hundred-litre steel drum to brew an astringent beer made out of a root vegetable that Marianne and I didn’t recognize. Dancing began in the afternoon.
Most residents of Dareda Kati belong to the Iraqw tribe. Their dancing is usually simple and repetitive: a group of up to twenty men and women lock arms together and jump up and down. They break this routine periodically to lunge forward, arms still locked. Then they pull back into their upright positions so they can resume jumping. It’s a simple but athletic dance that does not mix well with drunkenness.
On the Saturday that Marianne and I were there, the patriarch of the family, Marceli, seemed embarrassed by this display in front of his paying guests. In the middle of the afternoon he shouted at the dancers to stop and commanded the two or three dozen villagers who had gathered in his yard to form a wide circle. He spoke impatiently, suggesting, according to our translator, Desi, that drunkenness was causing the quality of their dancing to suffer.
One drunken woman, who may have been in her fifties or sixties, would have none of it. She tried to raise her voice above Marceli’s to object, and he glared at her.
“Mama,” he said sharply, using the standard form of address to a married woman. “Go home!”
The woman did not go quietly, but she left. There was no more dancing, and the other guests from the village went away soon afterward. They would have church the next morning, so wrapping up the party early seemed prudent.
Despite Marceli’s status in the village, he deferred to the teaching authority of Daniel Amma when he stopped by for a cup of tea. Marianne and I, accustomed to diplomacy in dealing with the parents of our students in California, were startled to hear Daniel explain the poor grades of one of Marceli’s sons by saying that he was a “slow child.”
This evidence of the respect commanded by teachers left us unprepared for our first visit to Daniel’s home, the following year. We had not expected anything like the houses that middle-class people in rich countries live in. Yet the mud hut, indistinguishable from hundreds of others in the village, shocked us.
In the time between our introduction to Dareda Kati and this first trip back, we had founded Karimu and recruited twenty-five volunteers to help renovate Ufani School. After Daniel invited us to bring some of the volunteers to his home for lunch, six of us, counting Marianne and me, made the long walk there with him. In the heat, the walk seemed longer than it was, so we covered the last few steps quickly in order to find relief under the banana trees in the dusty yard. As we had learned to do around the houses of Marceli and his poorer neighbors, we avoided the chicken droppings when we could.
The year before, Marianne and I had spent a night with some Barabaig pastoralists, who asked us what crops we grew for ourselves at home. Daniel wore dark slacks, and Oxfords whose careful shine often fought the red dirt of the village roads to a standstill. Unlike the Barabaig, he knew the name of the President of the United States. He also had opinions about what the President had and hadn’t achieved and about the possibility that he would be followed in office by a black man.
We had thought of this educated, well-dressed man as living in a world apart from the Barabaig, until we saw the two women who were there to greet us shooing the chickens away as they stood in a patch of sunlight, not bothered by its heat, not craving the shade of the banana trees in which the tiny mud hut had been almost invisible until we stood next to it. We suddenly understood that Daniel was a teacher and a farmer, and that farming was not a pastime for him, but a necessity. The size of the hut suggested this.
The women smiled shyly at us. They were attractive, and they carried more flesh than most of the women in the village. Daniel’s teaching salary, however paltry, would have helped feed a family better than the typical villager could. I realized that he was unlikely to be providing for both women, though, because he was devoutly Catholic, and the deacon of the local church.
Daniel explained that the women did not know any English. The younger, somewhat prettier one, who may have been in her twenties and therefore a few years younger than Daniel, was his wife, he said. He told us the other woman was her sister, and that she was also married to a teacher. She looked to be Daniel’s age, and the resemblance to her sister was strong. The women, whose names were unnecessary, by custom, smiled even more brightly when we admired the colorful kangas that they had wrapped themselves in.
Then Daniel spoke softly and purposefully to them. They nodded and turned away, and I noticed for the first time, several meters behind them, the smoking cauldrons in which they had been cooking our lunch.
We ducked our heads, following Daniel, so that we could go inside the hut. A table, at which four people could have sat comfortably, filled the front room, but he beckoned us toward the other room before we had a chance to devise strategies for edging into our chairs. We could see, dimly, that a little girl and a very little boy slept soundly on a mattress that took up most of the space, as the table did in the front room. When Marianne asked if our conversation would wake up the children, Daniel shook his head.
“I don’t think they will wake up. If they do, my wife will take care of them.”
I had thought that the shade of the banana trees and the mud-color of the walls would keep the room dark. But as my eyes adjusted, helped by the light from a single small window, I saw that the walls were decorated to reflect Daniel’s Catholic faith. Scraps of tape held up an entire page from a newspaper, printed in Swahili, whose centerpiece was a photograph of John Paul II, dead for three years at the time. Another wall featured a bigger, glossier representation of a fair-haired Jesus, who parted his robe to reveal a flaming and radiant heart.
The seven of us packed ourselves in around the table, working out exactly where to put our legs, since there would be no moving them once they were in position. The cramped space, our host’s calm dignity, and our awareness of the children sleeping a few feet away conspired to make us keep our voices low. Perhaps being quiet came naturally because we had no room to wave our arms around or even to make emphatic gestures with our hands, the auxiliaries of animated speech for many people. The children continued to sleep, and Daniel’s wife had no need to leave all the work of serving us to her sister.
The guests did not bring a lot of religious fervor along. But we shared enough hazy admiration of John Paul II among ourselves to allow his photograph to carry much of the conversation, as its prominence demanded. Daniel also mentioned the lame-duck President of the United States, although a little gingerly. He knew the subject might divide us. There was no trace of caution in his expressions of love for the late Pope, or in his expressions of eagerness to see a black man win the presidential election that was still a few months away.
Out of the thousand different things we talked about, the others were personal—too trivial to remember—and had nothing to do with world leaders. We relaxed that afternoon. Pressure came into our conversation only in the rare moments when Daniel’s English failed him, and we were forced to help him out.
We were all happy that Daniel’s wife and her sister joined us at the end of the meal once they had cleared away our plates. We were also happy that we had left plenty of beans and rice and greens and meat stew for them. Like every other meal we have eaten in Dareda Kati, this one was plain in taste because the only seasoning that the villagers have, or know about, is salt. But all of the food was fresh, including the chicken. Daniel’s wife had slaughtered it that morning.
Back in California after our trip, Marianne and I adopted a stray dog. We named him Obama, in honor of the man that we hoped would become the next President. This might have pleased Daniel if he had not grown up in a place where it is the custom to kick stray dogs.
Another new development for us that summer, after Tanzania, was that our house began seeing more visitors. It’s older and smaller than the houses of nearly all of our California friends, which had embarrassed us a little, and led us to be selective about whom we had as guests. That changed after we ate at the home of Daniel and his wife, Victoria.
We started inviting over any of our friends, no matter how much their houses humbled our own. If the occasion was right, we would invite many of them at the same time to crowd in together. We would even have invited Obama, the man, into our home, if we had thought he would honor us by accepting. Like Daniel and Victoria, we gave our guests as much as we had and we assumed that they would appreciate it.