Having taught at Ufani Primary School for several years, Daniel Amma knows all of the local Iraqw men whom Sifaeli Kaaya accuses of spreading the rumor that he is a thief. Although Sifaeli’s fear of the men causes him to avoid certain parts of Dareda Kati Village, Daniel has tried to convince him that a lawsuit will only make the situation worse.
If Kaaya would listen to anyone, it would be Daniel. He exempts Daniel from the suspicion that he directs toward other Iraqws. I have heard him say many good things about Daniel, without ever uttering a word of criticism.
However, Daniel cannot persuade Kaaya to drop his lawsuit for slander. Nor can he persuade Kaaya that he is not in danger of serious bodily harm from the men named in the lawsuit. Last week, when Kaaya said he was worried about being killed, Daniel laughed.
“No one will kill you. But people can say, ‘There goes the man who tried to make himself rich at the expense of his neighbors.'”
Briefly, Kaaya averted his eyes. The damages asked for in the lawsuit, thirty-five thousand dollars, will sound like a fortune to any villager who hears about it, and the defendants would have no reason to keep the figure a secret.
“The lawsuit gives people who like you a reason to hate you, Kaaya.”
Kaaya was unmoved, so Daniel persisted.
“You make too much of what people say about you because you do not trust the Iraqw culture.”
Kaaya’s voice rose sharply. I was grateful that the local builders working on the new teachers’ house for Ayalagaya Secondary School, easily within earshot, spoke no English, and that the Karimu volunteers had left the site after knocking off work for the day.
“I don’t want to know anything about the Iraqw culture. It is a culture of killing people!”
Daniel enjoyed this. I wondered if Kaaya had the sense that he was performing for Daniel, Marianne, and me, as his rant about the Iraqw continued at a pitch and volume that rendered his English incoherent. Yet it had become clear, by the time he calmed down, that he was not retreating. The lawsuit would stand, which is why Kaaya took Marianne and me to Babati this morning to talk with his lawyer, Abdallah Kilobwa.
Kilobwa is a Muslim. He receives clients in a part of Babati where one often sees Muslims, including the veiled women who wander in and out of the halal investment house directly across the street from the law offices. In this region, three hundred miles in from the coast, the rising interfaith tensions felt in those parts of Tanzania where Muslims can compete with Christians for power remain muted. If, as it appears to an outsider, there is little likelihood here of a Muslim challenge to Christian dominance, then perhaps the Muslims can be a safely ignored minority.
In any case, Kilobwa wears a Western suit, while his young administrative assistant wears a short skirt and no headscarf. Kaaya seems to identify Kilobwa, as he does Daniel Amma, with his country’s modernizing, progressive elements, rather than with the backwardness and superstition that he finds, or claims to find, among Dareda Kati’s Iraqws.
Marianne and I offered to pay the fifty-dollar roundtrip cab fare to Babati because we know that fifty dollars means less to us than it does to Kaaya. Paying the driver for him seemed even more necessary after Kaaya explained that Kilobwa’s fee is thirteen hundred dollars—and that he had already wasted seven hundred on an unqualified “bush lawyer,” whom the magistrate ultimately threw out of court.
The possibility crossed my mind that Sifaeli would spend so much money only if he regarded it as an investment, to be repaid with dividends by a victory in his lawsuit. However, Kilobwa made it clear that the Tanzanian legal system requires a good-faith attempt at mediation before a lawsuit can go to court. Kaaya understands this. He told Kilobwa that he will be satisfied if his accusers simply apologize to him.
For our part, Marianne and I assured the lawyer that we have never had any reason to question Kaaya’s honesty during seven years of working with him. I suggested that we could produce a written statement, since we can be in Tanzania neither for the mediation nor for a trial. But Kilobwa said he did not need anything from us. He believes the fact that there is no evidence of theft by Kaaya will be enough.
Clearing his name is obviously important to Kaaya, if he is willing to spend two thousand dollars to do it. Daniel still insists that Kaaya could have made more of an effort to set up an informal mediation session with his accusers, without ever hiring the bush lawyer or Kilobwa. I don’t know whether Daniel is right. Yet I have a bit more sympathy for Kaaya’s mistrust of his neighbors after hearing the story of his early days in Dareda Kati, nineteen years ago.
He had helped establish the Integrated Agricultural Training Center, which was now fully staffed. The Iraqw women in the kitchen did not know that a visiting Masai man also spoke Iraqw. The Masai said he had overheard the kitchen women planning to poison Kaaya, who is Meru.
For years afterward, Kaaya refused to eat at the Center, and, to this day, he can count on the fingers of one hand the number of Iraqw words that he knows.
Poison is no laughing matter, of course. The reputation that the Iraqw have as poisoners is prominent enough to have delayed by a few years Karimu’s efforts to establish a lunch program at Ufani Primary School. “The parents are afraid to have other people cook for their children,” we would hear.
But the new head teacher, Mangachi Msuya, finally implemented the school lunch program months ago, and there have been no poisonings. Marianne and I and the Karimu volunteers have eaten more meals than we could count in the Center’s dining hall and in private homes throughout Dareda Kati, without any poisonings. Kaaya himself eats at the Center during Karimu’s annual trip to the village. He sometimes accompanies us as our translator to the private homes, where he also eats. And so on.
Some Iraqws in this village have been encouraged to look ahead as paved roads, electricity, improved education, and more money have slowly penetrated the community. Other Iraqw may have suspected that the slow pace of development is nothing more than a tease, meant to entice them to give up their traditional ways without receiving a commensurate return. Once we recognize that this ambivalence is a corollary of development wherever it takes place, the Iraqw experience seems less distinctive.
As a non-Iraqw, Kaaya still thinks of himself as an outsider to Dareda Kati. Nevertheless, he eats the food that the Iraqw cook, he and his wife raised most of their children in this village, and he has served as Chairman of the Ufani School Committee for most of the last decade.