Moses Masawe wanted nothing to do with the idea of using volunteer labor by the community to complete the Bacho Primary School water project. He said he had worked with volunteers before on other water projects in Dareda Kati, never happily.
“You can’t yell at a volunteer to make him work harder, and you can’t fire a volunteer in order to motivate other workers.”
Masawe had a professional reputation to protect. He did not want to ruin it by starting projects that volunteers would fail to finish, since people would blame him for the failures.
Marianne and I and Daniel Amma, the Ufani Primary School teacher who translated, did not give up. Karimu is a tiny NGO, I explained, and not a rich one. Little by little, however, we hoped to bring water to all of Dareda Kati.
Then, in deference to our surroundings, I corrected myself. Dareda Kati’s neighboring village, Haysam, which includes both Bacho Primary School and Haysam Primary School—just a few meters from where we were sitting, in the Haysam Village government offices—also has many needs. In time, we would like to supply water to all of Haysam.
I had not asked Marianne if she wished to assume responsibility for Haysam. Undoubtedly by design, no one from Bacho Primary School bothered to tell us during our first visit there, three years ago, that we had crossed out of Dareda Kati. But the fraction of Haysam that we had seen revealed its needs to be as clear as those of Dareda Kati, and as clear as the fact that, despite the striking differences between our personalities—she is the extrovert—Marianne and I almost never disagree about important matters. This saves a lot of time that could otherwise be wasted on discussion.
Would Masawe consider lowering his prices if this meant that Karimu could contract with him for other projects in the future, in both Dareda Kati and Haysam?
Daniel suggested that the residents of Haysam might be willing to come up with one million Tanzanian shillings. (Six hundred families live in the village, we found out later, so the local government would have to demand only a dollar from each family.) Masawe wanted thirteen million shillings, or about eight thousand dollars. Would he consider lowering his price to twelve million, with Karimu covering the remaining eleven million?
He would think about it, Masawe replied. His measured smile signified preoccupation: he was already on the phone with his suppliers to look for where he could shave costs.
It was a satisfying end to a meeting that had started unpromisingly. Masawe is a compact, self-possessed man, who seems to keep his thoughts tucked prudently inside the patterned, sleeveless sweater that he wears with the dependability of a uniform. He had shown no interest in the Haysam Village school teachers and school committee members when they introduced themselves. The nameless women who served us tea and bread and butter received murmurs of gratitude from everyone else in the room. Masawe never acknowledged them. I suppose that the length, aggrieved tone, and rigorous organization of his critique of volunteer labor, as translated by Daniel, were what he had prepared while sitting directly across from me and staring at a spot on the wall behind me, a foot or two above my head.
Masawe lagged behind, still on his phone, as Haysam Primary School’s head teacher showed us his classrooms.
“Please remember my school in your thoughts,” he said, and Marianne and I nodded.
In fact, we immediately resolved to forget Haysam Primary School. It would be unrecognizable as a school to American students, teachers, and parents, but we have become connoisseurs of squalor. Not all of the classrooms have dirt floors. Although the windows have no glass, their brick frames have been neither vandalized nor seriously eroded by the weather; the frames remain square enough to take glass if only, miraculously, the school could afford it. There are even doors—with functional locks—in the door-frames.
Unlike Ufani Primary School in 2007, or Dareda Primary School during our several walks through its grounds over the last few days, Haysam Primary School does not exhale the bombed-all-to-hell despair of Berlin at the end of the Second World War. I know that Marianne is thinking exactly what I am thinking: “This isn’t so bad.”
Marianne and Daniel and I walked Masawe back to his bus stop in Dareda Kati so that he could return to his office in Babati. I had appreciated the ride that Daniel, the deacon of the local Catholic church, hitched from his priest in order to get us to Haysam. But now Daniel led us to a footpath that ran parallel to the dirt road intended for cars. As dust clouds kicked up by the traffic rained onto the fields of maize which shielded us from the cars, the walk became an unexpected pleasure. Eventually, the tea that we had consumed forced Daniel, Masawe, and me into one of the fields, while Marianne waited.
We met a young boy selling sugar cane. Daniel dug into his pockets to pay the boy, who was hardly any taller than his machete.
Most of the time I leave the charm offensive to Marianne, who is so much more charming than I am. This time, inexplicably, I took the lead.
How long has Masawe been in the plumbing trade? Where does he come from? And from what tribe? How many children does he have? What about grandchildren?
I point out that he is far ahead of me—I am therefore “eating his dust,” to use the English expression that delights Masawe when Daniel translates it—since he is fifty-two and has two grandchildren, while I am sixty-three and without grandchildren.
But this man who I hope will give Karimu a financial break understands the tactical uses of casual conversation at least as well as I do. He explains that he is eating my dust, because he is a poor widower and yet he must help support two grandchildren, since his children are also poor.