Tanzania diary: June 27

Marianne and I had known that the new two-in-one teachers’ house for Ufani Primary School took an exceptionally long time to build. The new two-in-one for Ayalagaya Secondary School, begun just a few weeks ago, looks mostly done. There is an outside chance that our twenty-one Karimu volunteers will be able to help the paid local builders finish the Ayalagaya house by the time we leave Dareda Kati Village on July 11. Yet the new house for Ufani, on which construction started in June of last year, was not completed until February.

We did not worry about this. We assumed, unreflectively, that the construction at Ufani had happened in “African time,” according to the mysterious laws of African inefficiency.

Inefficiency is something that people involved with Africa spend a lot of time talking about, and not always critically. Inefficiency is widely seen as the other side of the African’s talent for relishing the unhurried flow of life, for taking the time to enjoy other people instead of racing to keep up with a clock that chops life into a succession of tasks in which one opportunity to get something done and over with follows another, without end.

Of course, African inefficiency is not truly an explanation. It is nothing more than a weak excuse for an explanation, a generality which cannot help us understand why the Ayalagaya construction has gone smoothly and the Ufani construction bogged down. It turns out that the slow pace of construction of the Ufani house had very specific causes.

The on-site foreman for our Tanzanian project manager, Joas Kahembe, is Sifaeli Kaaya. In the summer of last year, as the Ufani teachers’ house neared completion, a rumor started circulating through Dareda Kati that Kaaya had stolen a hundred bags of cement which had been purchased with Karimu funds in order to help build the house. The rumor insinuated that Kaaya had resold the cement for his own gain.

Because we have worked with Kaaya since 2008 and we’ve always found him to be honest, the suspicion seems absurd. However, Kaaya belongs to the Meru tribe and his supervisor, Kahembe, belongs to the Haya tribe, while Dareda Kati’s population is overwhelmingly Iraqw. Some residents of Tanzania do not even regard the Haya, who have a large presence in Uganda, as genuine Tanzanians. Kahembe admits that his fourteenth great-grandfather was born in Uganda. If Kaaya has successfully divined the motives of the four men that he claims are behind the rumor, they resent the influence of two non-Iraqw men in their community.

Battling the rumor about his theft ate up several months of Kaaya’s time and delayed construction of the Ufani teachers’ house. Kahembe lives in Babati, thirteen miles away from Dareda Kati, where almost nobody owns a car, so he is relatively unaffected. On the other hand, Kaaya has lived in this village for close to twenty years. He now avoids using the main footpath through Bacho subvillage, along which all four of his enemies have their houses. He has also stopped going out after dark.

Kaaya says he does not believe that the human feces left in front of the door to the storeroom where he locks up the Karimu building supplies, or any of the other apparent manifestations of witchcraft by his Iraqw enemies, can harm him.

But he has taken the slander of his name seriously, bringing a lawsuit against the four men. One of them, a certain Petro, has taken the lawsuit seriously enough to flee the village. (In this community which is full of men named Petro—maybe after the original pope, since a big majority of people here are Catholic—neither Marianne nor I can picture his face.)

While we are here in the village for the next two weeks, Marianne and I may be asked by a Tanzanian court to give testimony on behalf of Kaaya’s character. It would be testimony supported by facts, since the Ufani house could not have been finished if a hundred bags of cement had gone missing.

Although Kaaya is honest, this does not necessarily make him right about the motives of the men he accuses of slandering him. Karimu’s gradual movement away from Ufani Primary School, where we executed our first building projects in 2008, has angered many people in Bacho subvillage.

Our move has been dictated by the needs of other schools in the larger village, which are now in far worse condition than Ufani. The problem is that during the fifty weeks out of the year when Marianne and I are not around, Kaaya and Kahembe are the ones who must hear, and try to answer, the objections from Bacho to our decision to help schools other than Ufani. I cannot rule out the possibility that one or both of them—but more likely Kahembe, who possesses a quick temper—having grown sick of the objections, suggested to the people of Bacho that Marianne and I are sick of Ufani Primary School.

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About Don Stoll

Don and his wife, Marianne Kent-Stoll, are co-founders of the Karimu International Help Foundation. They established Karimu in 2008 at the request of the people of Dareda Kati Village, in the Manyara Region of northeastern Tanzania. Karimu is devoted to working with the residents of Dareda Kati in order to satisfy their development needs, as defined by the villagers themselves.
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