Tanzania diary: July 7

“I think you don’t understand that we Africans believe white people can pick money off of trees.”

Daniel Amma had been taken to the nearest Catholic hospital, several miles away, for treatment of cuts on his leg after a motorcycle accident. Though his injuries were not serious, we would miss him at Karimu‘s meeting with the Ufani Primary School teachers and the school committee. Better than anyone else in Dareda Kati Village, Daniel appreciates the hard work that Karimu does to raise funds. As I waited for the start of the meeting, at which, inevitably, Karimu would be asked to do more than it could afford to do, I thought about what Daniel had said last week.

“We see white people throwing money away, so we think they must have too much of it and they don’t know what else to do.”

The villagers’ experience of the profligacy of the World Bank has encouraged this fiction. I never allude to Dareda Kati’s World Bank fiasco, but I wondered before the meeting if I would have occasion to say, as I often do, that “Marianne and I are not Bill and Melinda Gates.”

The line is beginning to sound tired to me, though, so I did not use it during my opening remarks. Instead, I started by repeating almost verbatim what I had said to between six and eight hundred worshipers in the local Catholic church yesterday. (As guests, all of our volunteers were invited to introduce themselves to the congregation. Daniel, the long-time deacon, asked me to speak for them.)

“Your founding President, Julius Nyerere,” I said, “often spoke about the equal dignity of all Tanzanians, including children.”

Despite the general repudiation of Nyerere’s Marxist economic policies since the 1980’s, Tanzanians still revere him as the father of their independence. Mentioning his vision of pan-Tanzanian solidarity was part of my attempt to combat rumors about why Karimu is building a teachers’ house at Ayalagaya Secondary School, and not at Ufani Primary School. Since we plan to build at Dareda Primary School next year, the rumors that we are unhappy with Ufani would gain momentum if we did not try to face them down.

So I jumped on this opportunity to talk about Karimu’s work in front of the huge gathering in the Catholic church. The congregation includes people who send their children to Ufani, Dareda, Bacho, and probably one or two other primary schools, as well as Ayalagaya Secondary School. It was important to point out what Nyerere’s commitment to equality implies for Karimu’s work, since we have poured a couple of hundred thousand dollars into Ufani and a smaller amount into Ayalagaya, but, so far, not a dime into either Dareda or Bacho.

Only a few people here have e-mail or Facebook. Talking on Sunday in the Catholic church, where the turnout is many times the size of what the local Lutheran and Pentecostal churches get, is the only way to communicate with a significant fraction of the population.

The congregation was in a good mood. Maybe half of the three-hour service was devoted to music that sounded nothing like the music I have experienced the handful of times that I have attended Mass in the United States. (Marianne is Catholic.) As they had during several previous Karimu visits to the church, the choir threw their entire bodies into their songs.

Just as in past years, the outpouring of joy was infectious. The beauty has always overwhelmed me, although, yesterday, the choir may have been trying to outdo themselves in competition with a visiting choir of charismatic Catholics from Dar es Salaam, who were on their feet and moving rapturously every chance they had.

After the Mass ended, the parish priest fed the volunteers in his house on the church grounds. The volunteers experienced a joy different from the kind which had electrified the church when they realized that the priest’s house was equipped with three sit-down toilets. In Dareda Kati, this was like finding buried treasure, and I think some of the volunteers may have eaten more food than they needed so that they could take advantage of the discovery.

The priest’s eloquent silence about the charismatics made me wonder how friendly the contest of choirs had been. I don’t believe in any of it, so I did not wonder for long. Yet some kind of fervent belief had moved me to tell the congregation, as I gestured toward the choirs, that we had all been “lifted toward heaven by the voices of angels.”

In today’s meeting at Ufani Primary School, there was no irresistible tide of good will to elevate my words when I reminded the teachers and the school committee members of Nyerere’s insistence on equality. Instead, I felt the weight of Sifaeli Kaaya’s lawsuit for slander. I felt it both in the presence of the two committee members who are defendants, and in the absence of Sifaeli himself.

He had claimed that he could not leave the Ayalagaya School work site. Three days earlier, however he had skipped a full morning at the site to visit his lawyer in Babati. I knew that Sifaeli merely wanted to avoid Leonard and Theophile.

I followed my reference to Nyerere by acknowledging the awkwardness of having Leonard and Theophile in the room to stare at Kaaya’s empty seat. Then I repeated what Kaaya had told his lawyer: he would be satisfied with a simple apology.

Leonard and Theophile relaxed visibly—or else I wanted to believe that I could see them relaxing. Relaxed or not, they focused just as single-mindedly as everyone else in the room on naming and prioritizing Ufani School’s needs. The teachers and the school committee members want professional development for the teachers, ongoing support for both the school lunch program and the school garden, solar power, a playground, and another two-in-one teachers’ house. Eventually, I pulled out “Marianne and I are not Bill and Melinda Gates” only because I am skeptical about the big-ticket item: the teachers’ house. For next year, all the rest seems reasonable.

As for the reasonableness of my appeal to Nyerere and the idea that every local school has an equal right to Karimu’s assistance, we heard one dissenting voice. That belonged to Edward, a veteran teacher who is all knees and elbows and bony wrists that insist on escaping from the sleeves of his shirts and his tweed coats.

Edward made the case that Karimu started its work at Ufani Primary School and that Ufani is therefore Karimu’s true family, which we must always put ahead of other schools. He spoke deliberately enough to allow himself time, after each sentence, to soften the force of his argument with a smile. So I could not help thinking about his teeth. Edward has been bothered on and off by toothaches for as long as Marianne and I have known him. During the years when our Board member, Dr. Susan Hughmanick, can travel to Tanzania with us, he always asks her what he can do about his teeth.

He would have more money at his disposal to take care of his teeth if he did not set aside a portion of his salary to buy the government-mandated uniforms for some of Ufani Primary School’s poorest students. While Edward argued for more help for his school, my mind wandered to the needs of the local public health clinic and to what Karimu could do to improve dental care at the clinic.

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About Don Stoll

Don and his wife, Marianne Kent-Stoll, are co-founders of the Karimu International Help Foundation. They established Karimu in 2008 at the request of the people of Dareda Kati Village, in the Manyara Region of northeastern Tanzania. Karimu is devoted to working with the residents of Dareda Kati in order to satisfy their development needs, as defined by the villagers themselves.
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