When you’ve been interested in, reading about, and involved with, this sort of work for some time you might expect there to come a point where you’re no longer taken by surprise by the situations you encounter during a working day. I was starting to think I might be approaching that point. To some extent I was right; unfortunately I do see many difficult situations repeated day after day. What I was in danger of underestimating was the extent to which peoples responses to these situations can take your breath away, regardless of the number of times you see them. The women’s group I visited on Saturday afternoon was such an occasion. An attempt to help local women enable themselves to address the problems they find themselves faced with, this support group was aimed at helping each member to establish themselves in a business of their choosing. The range of approaches this had given rise to was mindboggling. I met members who kept goats and/or cows for milk, chickens (where both eggs and the chickens themselves were the product), some made rope from sisal, some manufactured table cloths, others grew vegetables or harvested straw from their farms to sell by the roadside and, most unbelievably of all, some even broke rocks into pebbles by hand for eight hours a day, six days a week, selling the end product to the building trade. A Nursery had grown up alongside this entrepreneurial hotbed, allowing both the women to work and their children to be prepared for primary school. Most of the members were single parents, a challenging situation anywhere in the world, but particularly so in this context. In the face of significant challenges, to have formed such a proactive, friendly and effective group was something to be genuinely proud of, and something that, I’m pleased to say, left me aghast just as I’m sure it will the next time I see it as well!
We hadn’t been able to make contact with our representative in the village of Nkwawangya before our arrival, a problem which turned out to be due to a stolen mobile phone. So it was more in hope than expectation that we set out for a meeting with Edgar.
Dropped off at the head of the sort of dusty ochre-coloured track that will forever be at the forefront of my memories of Africa, we strode on knowing that we just had to go moja kwa moja (or straight on as you might know it!) for about 30 minutes to reach our destination.
About 20 minutes in I thought it would be reassuring to confirm we were on the right ochre-coloured track by using my fledgling Swahili to get directions for Nkwawangya. The result was a 15 minute detour in the wrong direction, maybe we’ll never know where I’d asked to be taken!!
It would, in the end, have been worth an extra 45 minutes of walking. Our visit to the school hinted at a very well run facility where the COCO supported toilet block was doing good work and the new kitchen, also supported by COCO, was nearing completion.
And so to the clinic and a meeting with Dr Schoor and the elusive Edgar! Word had got round that there were two wazungu (or white folk) in town and it hadn’t taken him long to track us down; our efforts had not been in vain. We listened as plans for the clinic were outlined and the work of our partner organisation “Tumaini Nkwawangya” was briefly explained.
Unless I’m misreading my Swahili – English dictionary (and we certainly can’t rule that out!) it appears that “tumaini” translates as “hope”. After an admittedly brief first look it seems to me that this community has moved well beyond the realm of hope into the realm of action. My only hope is that we don’t let them down!
A five hour journey might sound a tad on the long side when it comes to finding a spot of goat for lunch. But, this was so much more than a spot of goat!
Driven (at least when we weren’t getting out to push!) down a dusty, rutted dirt track in a Mercedes Benz belonging to the local Secretary of Tanzania’s ruling party (the CCM) it was already an unusual start to the day. Arriving at the village of Eluwai we were told it might be an idea to get out and walk.
We were met by a wall of colour and piercing singing. Grabbed by the hand this seething mass of excitement shepherded us towards assembled dignitaries and the much anticipated goat and rice. This was no ordinary lunch, this was lunch with the Masaai!!
Our stay was all too brief as we had to retrace our five hour journey back to Moshi but we saw that the water tank built by COCO is still standing despite an earthquake five months ago and that the pupils at the school appear to be benefiting from the dedication of their teachers. However, as so often with visits to a project site, this lunch left us with food for thought. There remains much that could be done to help the community at Eluwai establish a more secure existence: watch this space!
I’ve had five full days in Tanzania now and, amongst other things, have woken to a jaw-dropping view of a snow-capped Kilimanjaro, reaquainted myself with the local staple of Ugali, cooked lunch with the Mamas at our Uwawayaki project site, navigated my way round Moshi in Swahili (well, just about!), bounced my head off the ceiling of a local minibus taxi (aka daladala), seen our corporate Kili trekkers off on their intrepid way, been offered a ride in a Fire Engine, watched a pile of tyres go up in smoke, made my first visit to Arusha and done it all whilst melting in heat around 30 degrees hotter than I left behind in the UK.
As far as first weeks go it’s been on the hectic side but the tingle of excitement that Africa has inspired on my five previous visits is back with a vengeance. So when a young roadside evangelist shouted to me ‘Are you born again my brother?’ he couldn’t have possibly known how close to the mark he was!!
Here’s hoping the next six months are every bit as inspiring, challenging, unexpected and overwhelming!!