The chicken coop in which we sat with Tumaini Munisi needed a heater. Mosquitoes have been no problem on this Karimu trip because of the cool weather, yet this was extreme.
“Maybe it will snow,” I muttered to Sifaeli Kaaya, who laughed.
Tumaini speaks no English, but, as nervous as any supplicant, she also laughed. Sometimes the aching need of villagers who ask for money from Karimu seems palpable. When that happens, I want to relax the pressure of my questioning, which can feel like an assault on a person without defenses. However, the need can motivate projects that have little or no chance of success, or that may not even be meant to succeed, so there must be questioning.
Sifaeli saw much of Tanzania, Kenya, and Uganda as a young man. He tries not to think about the brief time he spent in Uganda—which involved sidestepping corpses during the invasion that led to the departure of Idi Amin, thirty-five years ago—but most of his memories of travel are happy ones. He remembers Mt. Kilimanjaro from the days before its appearance began to change year by year. So he belongs to the minority of Tanzanians who have seen snow, although he has never touched it.
I wondered if it had been this cold in the home of Veronica Moshi. Marianne had come straight from there, after she and two women volunteers finished teaching Veronica and other local midwives about postnatal care. Our Board member, Dr. Susan Hughmanick, who stayed behind in the U.S. this year, had deputized Marianne and the two volunteers as health educators. If enough midwives crammed into her house, they would have kept each other warm.
In the chicken coop, the cold suppressed the livestock smell that rises there on hot days. It occurred to me that the smell of animal excrement carries a certain warmth. I wondered, irrelevantly, if dung fires, which some Africans still rely on, give off a particular smell.
I resolved not to let my mind wander so far from the discussion that Tumaini, Kaaya, Marianne, and I were supposed to be having. One of Tumaini’s seven business partners sat between her and Kaaya. In this chicken coop which served as their factory, the women used their hands to make smoke-reducing clay cooking stoves. The partner sitting between Tumaini and Kaaya was named Christina, and she had looked to be of average size when I met her. Now, next to Tumaini’s bulk, she was shrinking. Tumaini’s size may have intimidated Christina, since she never uttered a word.
A couple of days before, I had run into Tumaini’s husband, Christopher, in the road. Christopher speaks English, so I explained that fifteen thousand dollars for a bigger building to replace the chicken coop was impossible.
“Please tell her,” I said to Kaaya, “that Marianne and I worry that the extra clay which a pikipiki”—a motorcycle—”and cart could haul here would be wasted. Does the chicken coop give the women enough room to make many more stoves if they can bring more clay?”
I had thought that Haysam Primary School was not in bad shape, compared to Dareda Primary School. And now the chicken coop looked like a great improvement over the space that the women had used as their stove-making factory from 1997 until two years ago. That was a storage room which Dareda Primary School did not need, since the school had no supplies, and which the women had rented. The storage room was both shorter and narrower than the chicken coop, which I paced off as twenty feet by twelve. The storage room also depended on indirect lighting to make its way from outside and then through an adjacent room, while the chicken coop has two large windows—without glass, of course.
I had assured Tumaini that Marianne and I did not think a bigger building was a bad idea. But fifteen thousand dollars? Karimu is not rich, and, lately, I have noticed that my heart begins to race every time the villagers suggest another project. Invariably, we raise the funds to execute the projects that we commit to. Choosing one project ahead of another, though, when every project seems deserving, is something we do not enjoy.
Kaaya listened to Tumaini and then turned to us.
“She says that a pikipiki and cart can make two trips a day from where the women find the clay. The cart pulled by a cow can make one trip. And in one trip the pikipiki can bring twice as much as the cow. If the load is too heavy, the cow cannot move.”
I thought a pikipiki should be able to go more than twice as fast as a cow. Then I realized that this had to do with safety: a pikipiki driver must take care on heavily rutted dirt roads, especially because a pikipiki dragging a cart could create a far more serious accident.
“She also says that if the women made fifty stoves last year, with a pikipiki and a cart they could make two hundred in a year.”
“Even in this chicken coop?” I asked. “Do they have room to make two hundred?”
Tumaini told Kaaya that she and the other women could make more work-space in the chicken coop. They could store their tools and the clay somewhere else. (Though she did not suggest where, Marianne and I knew that the house she shares with Christopher is only a short walk away.) She also said they would think about my idea of raising their price for a stove from three thousand shillings, or about two dollars, to thirty-five hundred or four thousand, in order to pay for fuel and a driver.
I did the math in my head. Last year, by selling fifty of the little smoke-reducing cooking stoves, Tumaini and her partners had brought substantial health benefits to fifty families who had previously cooked over open fires. They had grossed one hundred dollars, and the money needed to be split among eight of them. Over the years, two partners had died at the clay-excavation site, less than three miles from the chicken coop, when the earth collapsed on them.
I had spoken with enough of the UFAGRO members who had taken loans from Karimu money or members’ dues to know that their tea shops or fruit stands or extra cash crops—none of which seem life-threatening—were netting more than the twelve dollars per year that each of the stove-makers was grossing. Unless they turned out to be ridiculously expensive, not buying the pikipiki and cart that Tumaini and her partners wanted would be hard.
Later, Marianne would explain that death had also played a part in the discussion with the midwives, in both an expected and a surprising way. Death upon delivery, whether of mother or of child, remains too common in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet Marianne did not expect the midwives to recoil from Dr. Susan’s inflatable CPR doll as if it were dead. The midwives decided to call the doll “Baby Bacho,” after the subvillage of Bacho where they were meeting, as a way of making themselves more comfortable with it, but the name didn’t help.
Esther Ng’aida, a midwife who will have attended the deaths of many mothers and children, has also lost her husband and more than one of her own children to tuberculosis. We usually see her in an ebullient mood, banging on a drum for Dareda Kati’s tireless traditional dancers. Even though Esther was less put off than most of the other midwives were by the appearance of Baby Bacho, touching it was another matter. She let out a little yelp and backed away.
It was left to the oldest and smallest midwife, Lanta, who barely came up to the shoulders of the statuesque Veronica, to mock the squeamishness of her sisters. Lanta rocked Baby Bacho gently and cooed and sang to it, provoking nervous laughter from the other midwives.