Sifaeli Kaaya has seen many situations go from good to bad to worse during his long tenure as Chairman of the Ufani Primary School Committee. He has seen even more situations move in the opposite direction. The regional government has designated Ufani as a model school (while, implausibly, asking Karimu to effect the same kind of transformation in the dozens of other primary schools in the area).
Yet Sifaeli is a cautious man. So he tells me that it is probably too early to decide whether Mangachi Msuya is a good head teacher.
I suppose Kaaya is right, since Msuya has held the job for just over a year. Despite his caution, however, Kaaya can see the evidence of Msuya’s strong start. The inflated fears of the local Iraqw parents that allowing other people to cook for their children would expose them to poisoning—a matter of old tribal stories casting their long shadow on present reality—seem to have deterred Msuya’s predecessor from beginning the school lunch program that Karimu had been ready to fund for several years. Now, with Msuya in charge, the children whose parents can’t, or won’t, send food to school with them do not go hungry.
Karimu was also frustrated by the failure of the garden on Ufani Primary School’s sprawling grounds. We saw children and teachers hoeing, without seeing any of the fruits and vegetables whose sales were supposed to generate cash for the repainting of walls or the replacement of broken windows. Again and again, we were told to be patient.
But in the past week Msuya has slogged through the rain-forest green of the Ufani garden with Marianne and me, asking us to infer what the difficulty of the walk says about the difficulty of farming there. Even now, during the dry season, the ground is saturated and the fruits and vegetables are drowning. He has shown us a plan for a drainage ditch and also consulted a soil expert about the possibility of adding nutrients to the ground.
Three years ago, Karimu paid for a thousand new textbooks for Ufani School. (The average cost of a primary-school textbook in Tanzania was between four and five dollars.) Then the bookseller delivered the wrong books. Two years went by as, for whatever reason, they were never exchanged for the right ones.
Ahead of the school lunch program and the school garden, Msuya decided to make acquiring the right books his first order of business. He pestered the bookseller relentlessly and took his case to the government’s education officers so that they would apply their own pressure. Finally conceding his mistake, the bookseller has pledged to replace the textbooks he sent three years ago with books appropriate to the current, government-mandated curriculum.
The correct books are not yet in hand. Yet even Kaaya, for all of his caution, admits that Msuya’s determined effort, which the Ufani teachers had started to think was something they should not expect from their head teacher, is an encouraging sign.
Because the quality and pace of construction of the new two-in-one teachers’ house for Ayalagaya Secondary School has pleased everyone here, the Karimu volunteers were offered an afternoon without work in order to visit Msuya’s home. The volunteers knew this visit would add at least another mile to the walk back to the Integrated Agricultural Training Center at the end of the day, so most of them continued to toil.
However, those of us who followed Msuya to his house did not regret the extra distance. He is a handsome, athletic-looking man in his thirties. The group of volunteers who went with him included a disproportionately high number of women.
He paid three hundred dollars for his quarter-acre lot in 2005, although he built his house on it only last year. From his property we had a clear view of the nearest power pole, but power lines advance timidly here. Msuya and his wife and two children may need to wait a while longer for electricity. (To give a rough measure of how long, there is no television set in the house; Msuya’s assistant head teacher, Daniel Amma, expects electricity in his home before the end of the year and he has his television ready to go.)
Still, on a brilliant afternoon like the one we enjoyed today, the compensations for having no electricity were many. Msuya showed us the cow that gives his family milk and the chickens that give them eggs. During the warmest part of the afternoon, the dense cover given by his grove of banana trees kept us cool.
Some of the villagers have heard that people in rich countries waste their time by growing crops that nobody can eat, and they regard this as one of the many strange things that white people do. Yet the ground in front of Msuya’s porch was festooned with nonedible flowers.
Sunlight flooded the front room through its large windows. The furniture, not meant to accommodate a dozen guests, was nevertheless new and comfortable. Msuya’s wife, who teaches at Dareda Primary School, where Karimu intends to build a teachers’ house next year, had prepared avocados, papaya, bananas, tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, cassava, and buttermilk, all of it from right outside their back door. She also offered us sodas, and beef purchased from a local butcher.
If Msuya succeeds as head teacher of Ufani Primary School, it will be good for the school’s three hundred-plus children. It will also mean an invitation back to his home every year. I would not object.
(July 28 Postscript: In California this morning, I received notice from our Tanzanian project manager, Joas Kahembe, that Haysam Village has come through with the deposit of one million shillings needed before Karimu can move forward with the Bacho Primary School water project. I expect to wire the balance of some eleven million shillings—between seven and eight thousand dollars—as soon as Joas and I determine the appropriate exchange rate.)