Whether or not the unwarranted suspicion that Sifaeli Kaaya committed theft had causes other than the Iraqw tribe’s ethnic mistrust of Kaaya and his supervisor, Joas Kahembe—such as the arrogance that some of Dareda Kati Village’s Iraqws ascribe to Kahembe—the fallout has affected Karimu‘s work this year.
We had wanted to build a two-in-one teachers’ house for Dareda Primary School, which sits a few steps away from the dusty, ragged, bustling commercial center of Dareda Kati. This school’s condition resembles the pitiful state in which Marianne and I found Ufani Primary School during our first visit to Tanzania, in 2007.
But government protocol dictated that a particular local official would need to take responsibility for the community’s participation in any improvement of Dareda Primary School. Every Karimu project demands community participation. Unfortunately, this local official has sometimes been at odds with Kahembe, and he also happens to be a close friend of at least one of the men whom Kaaya accuses of slandering him. Although this official is not implicated in the slander, or named in Kaaya’s lawsuit, Kahembe indignantly refused to work with him.
So, in March, Karimu agreed to build instead at Dareda Primary School’s neighbor, Ayalagaya Secondary School. Ayalagaya’s headmistress, Catherine Boay Buxay, had been requesting another house for her teachers for a couple of years. Since Ayalagaya Secondary School serves a wider area than Dareda Primary School does, it falls under the purview of a different, higher-ranking official, whom Kahembe was happy to cooperate with.
The change of plans was our good luck—as if, Kaaya and his wife might say, a whale like the one that swallowed Jonah had spat us out on land we wished to avoid but that God had intended for us. Walking the two miles from our base to Ayalagaya Secondary School every day gives us a chance to get to know two of its young teachers, Constancia and Juliana.
These women share one of the two Karimu-built two-in-ones next to the house under construction. Constancia and Juliana are always around, sometimes to brew tea for our volunteers and then wash the cups. Their curiosity about life in the United States also gives Marianne and me some relief from the embarrassment we often experience: that of feeling like objectifying anthropologists, airlifted into an exotic village for the purpose of putting invasive questions to the natives, who have no sense of entitlement to ask questions about us. Juliana’s reaction to learning that a rich country like the United States can have citizens who are not merely poor, but without homes, can only be described as open-mouthed horror. Though her education has been sophisticated enough to instill a theoretical knowledge of capitalism and the ethos of individualism, the practical consequence of homelessness in a rich country came as shocking news.
This morning we met Constancia’s daughters, who are five and six years old. We also met the ten-year-old orphan, Jessica, who has lived with Constancia and her daughters for the last two years. Jessica was waiting for a bus at the chaotic station in Babati when Constancia found her. A distant cousin, who had looked after the little girl since the loss of her parents, had grown tired of feeding an extra mouth. The cousin arranged for Jessica to work as a servant in the home of a stranger in a distant town, a long, lonely bus ride away.
But Constancia knew that a government which is unable to prevent young children from being used as domestic servants also cannot prevent informal adoptions. She simply took Jessica home with her.
Because the little girl’s circumstances kept her out of school for a couple of years, her grade level is low for her age. She goes to school every day, though, and she is doing well.
If Kaaya and Constancia’s fellow teacher, Juliana, are right, Jessica’s narrow escape from servitude has landed her among Dareda Kati’s privileged class of girls. Kaaya estimates that a quarter of the children in the village never go to school, while Juliana claims that nearly all of the children kept at home are girls. This would mean that half of the girls in the village are not allowed to study.
Constancia’s luminous smile softens the impression of formality, or even severity, that her clothes convey. She dresses in the white blouses, long dark skirts, and matching dark jackets which not only make her immediately recognizable as a teacher, but suggest that she has just stepped out of an earlier, more buttoned-up time. Yet Juliana’s urban elegance cuts an even more distinctive figure in the village. She is a local Iraqw, so her style has been acquired, rather than handed down within her family.
Juliana’s family situation also differs from Constancia’s. Constancia’s husband must teach in another village, many miles away, until the government grants his request for a transfer to Ayalagaya; needless to say, they do not own a car. Juliana, in contrast, has no husband that she wishes could live with her.
A husband would probably get in the way of Juliana’s dream of earning a Ph.D. and entering government service. This could give her leverage to establish boarding schools as safe study environments for girls. One concern of hers is the barrier to after-school study for girls who have no electricity in their homes: if they try to study in places that do have electricity, they must walk home in the dark. Nevertheless, in the cities, fiercely determined girl students have been known to study after dark in public bus shelters, risking attacks on their reputations as well as their bodies.
But Juliana’s personal history may also have made her wary of taking a husband. She is one of the three daughters of a father who wished to send only his four sons to school. Juliana’s mother, however, had different ideas. In the days before primary education was free for all Tanzanian children, the father insisted that he would never pay his daughters’ school fees. The mother reminded him that she had brought a dowry of cattle to the marriage, and therefore some of the control over the family’s financial resources belonged rightfully to her.
“He whipped my mother many times,” Juliana says.
The beatings failed to subdue her, and all three daughters received educations.
For years, Juliana’s father resented the humiliating defeat that his wife had inflicted on him. Then the cancer that finally ended his life became the catalyst of acceptance.
As her father wasted away, Juliana went to his bedside. She told him that it still hurt her to have been regarded as someone capable of nothing more than cooking, cleaning, and raising children. The dying man wept, and apologized.
Now, a year after her father’s death, Juliana was sitting with Marianne and me and drinking tea in an empty classroom at Ayalagaya Secondary School. As she remembered the terrible suffering that her father’s cancer had brought him, it was her own turn to weep.