World Vision Visit

Monday was the Big Day – our visit to my school’s World Vision sponsor child, whom I shall call Mary for the sake of anonymity. We were picked up very promptly at 8am by Jane and our driver. After a stop for petrol we headed out to the very outskirts of Arusha and down a dirt road that was like a creek bed after years of erosion and drought.

Jane, our guide, on the right walking towards the school buildings.

We arrived at the school and it was pretty much like schools you’d imagine in developing countries. Two rows of cement classrooms. Windows but no glass, no electricity and surrounded by dirt. The first thing we did was meet the principal of the school in his office. We asked if we could film. Although he had some English Jane translated our request. I’d read online that English is the official language of Tanzania and assumed this meant everyone spoke it but this is most definitely not the case. Maybe in Dar Es Salaam this is true but in farming country they learn it to the same extent that kids in Australia pick up other languages – i.e. not much.

Next we met Mary. She is 14 and in the last year of primary school. She was very, very shy. We touched her head with our hands, which is a traditional Masai way of greeting (interestingly, in other places we have been touching someone’s head is a huge faux pax) and then set up chairs outside to interview her. Jane translated and we have no idea if any of it will be useable for making our video as they both spoke very softly. Mary did not smile very much, at least to start with. She told us about her family and her friends. In Tanzania girls start school at 6 and a half, boys start at 7 years old.

One of the first grade books.

Then we interviewed the school’s English teacher. He told us that there were over 800 students in the school and 15 teachers, which meant about 80 to 100 students in each class. He asked how many students in my class and I felt almost embarrassed to tell them 20. I asked how much teachers there earn. About the equivalent of $250 to $400 a month, was the answer. The problem with getting teachers is a lack of money from the government, not a lack of teachers, I was told.

We visited a grade one classroom and met the class and looked at their work. They were practising writing their letters in exercise books that weren’t much different to the ones we use at school. The children sang us a song and kids from other classes gathered at the windows to listen.

Then we went to Mary’s class. The students sang a song to greet their teacher, which I thought was brilliant  – what a great way to focus attention! I’ll certainly be using that when I get home. Their teacher encouraged them to ask us questions in English but mostly they were too shy. One boy asked how old I was and another asked our names.

A building project paid for by money raised in Australia!

After that we looked at a building World Vision had paid for and filmed a bit of that, met some tribal elders who’d seen us walk past and come out to see what we were up to. Then Jane told us we’d be visiting Mary’s family at home – something I hadn’t expected at all.

We piled back into the 4×4 and headed up a road that would challenge even Magnus, our Icelandic super-jeep driver. There were deep chasms, piles of rocks and dust so thick you could sink your foot up to the ankle in it. We stopped at a point where the car couldn’t go any further which, fortunately, was right outside Mary’s family farm.

We were met by Mary’s father, a Masai tribesman, and welcomed into one of the buildings, a round mud and tin house. One of his wives brought out a tray of tin mugs and a thermos of hot, sweet tea. We talked (through Jane) about his culture and lifestyle. I asked if women could have more than one husband and he laughed. Then I asked if there were lots of men who couldn’t find wives and he said there were enough women to go around. I had a suspicion men who couldn’t find wives might leave the countryside and move to the city and so today I’ve looked up statistics for the number of men and women in Tanzania.

0-14 years: 45% (male 10,646,436/female 10,461,674)
15-24 years: 19.4% (male 4,553,069/female 4,559,629)
25-54 years: 29.2% (male 6,855,700/female 6,839,430)
55-64 years: 3.5% (male 701,915/female 930,892)
65 years and over: 2.9% (male 590,927/female 773,096) (2012 est.)

It’s interesting that the numbers stay fairly level until the 55 to 64 age bracket where women jump into the lead quite significantly. Apparently there are definitely not enough women to go around if some men have up to 6 wives, depending on how wealthy they are. Also, nearly half of the population is under 14 years old! No wonder classes are so large. All the children we saw at the school looked very healthy and robust – if a bit threadbare. I wonder if developments in medicine mean that more children are surviving longer but families are still having huge numbers of children. Jane said that 10 or more isn’t unusual.

We also talked about the problems of having many children and having to divide property between them – all land is inherited in farming communities and so plots get smaller and smaller. I asked if he wanted his children to stay on the farm or get jobs in the city and he said he didn’t mind what they chose to do.

Another thing we weren’t expecting was food. Jane didn’t expect it either and kept saying ‘alright, time for a photo of everyone then we’ll have to go’ (they were dropping us at the airport) but then the wives would bring in another round of food. First we had maize and milk porridge, called ‘ugali’. It was very bland tasting. It wasn’t bad, but I’d have to be very hungry to eat much of it.

A bit like popcorn in milk.

Then we were served a rice and potato dish that was fantastic. Leigh commented on how fresh the potatoes tasted and the rice was perfect. Very savoury with a simple flavour. I’d thought I was full from the ugali but I finished my plate of rice first. Delicious!

After all the food and drink we went out the front to take some group photos. Some of the female family members had to be coaxed into the photo and brought along utensils to hold. When I sat down to be in one of the photos the oldest lady of the family (I think the mother of one of the wives) took my hand. I was extremely touched by the gesture. We had a photo with Luke and Leigh in as well and then it was time to leave.

Various things were embedded in the walls of the hut.

As we drove to the airport I felt very fortunate to have had such an experience and seen for myself how people live in such a different way. It was good to see the community looking so happy and healthy but also wishing there was something I could do to add to the lives of these people and the future of the students. I plan to send them hard copies of the photos I took of the family and school and I’d like to do some fundraising through work when I get home to send books and school supplies.

Sorry about the dire lack of interesting photos. I can’t post photos of any children or the families but if you see me in person I can show you the photos and video and hopefully World Vision will put our video on their site eventually and we can direct people to it then.

Arusha, Tanzania

We spent more time in transit getting from London to Arusha than you would normally spend getting from Australia to the UK, which is twice the distance. Mainly because we had a huge gap between arriving in Tanzania and the domestic flight to Arusha, Tanzania’s second largest city, not far from Mt Kilamanjaro.

Dar Es Salaam airport, where we landed, was possibly the most basic airport we’ve been to so far. We arrived at about 2:30am and, apart from all the people getting off the plane, the airport was almost deserted. We found a shop in the airport complex that would mind our bags for the night. Not a shop that actually advertised bag minding, mind you, just somewhere the lady at the check in counter recommended and I found the owner asleep in a plastic chair out the front of his shop. Thank goodness we bought the pac safe before we left. We were farewelled with ‘Hakuna Matata’, which you will be instantly familiar with from the Lion King and is either something people here say all the time or something people here think tourists expect to hear all the time.

Divested of our huge travel packs, we lay down on some purgatorial metal benches and managed to fall asleep for a few hours, despite garbled loud speaker announcements, occasional blaring of soccer on the nearby tv and the bright fluorescent lights.

We looked, felt and smelled like hobos when we woke up at about 8am to check in for our 11am flight. Fortunately so did half the other people in the airport. The other half were dressed in the fantastically bright colours that I associate with Africa. One lady had on what looked like a black business suit that has had a terminal collision with a flamingo. And shoes! African women like them with gigantic wedge heels with as much sparkle as can be managed. The obvious choice for long haul flights.

We sampled the rather limited fare at the airport… canteen? I’d use the word ‘cafe’ but that would give entirely the wrong impression. It was a lot like a school canteen but nearly everyone looked miserable. So actually more like a hospital canteen. They also refused to take the pre 2003 US dollars which the bank in London had given Luke. Fortunately there weren’t too many of those notes. Apparently people do not like them because they are easily forged.

The flight to Arusha was in a quite small plane. I did not realise how much the size of the plane affects the amount it shudders and bumps in the air. Getting up to cruising altitude and down again was somewhat hair-raising. It was a relatively modern plane – no crates of chickens or wooden benches to sit on a la Indiana Jones (to my disappointment) but the lady in front of me did leave her rather large bag in the aisle nearly the whole flight and the attendants just stepped over it. It seemed a minor thing but so unthinkable to me – how many microseconds exactly would a bag last in the aisle of an Australian plane?

Speaking of planes, the flight from Istanbul was 7 hours and the guy next to me was one of those charming people who does not fit into his seat and does not do anything to help matters, sitting with his foot in my footwell (he was in the aisle seat) and having his elbow and shoulder in my space. It’s a difficult issue – no one wants their space invaded, and yet telling people to buy a more expensive seat or lose 30 kgs doesn’t seem right either. Or does it? I don’t know.

We made it to our Arusha hotel without incident and checked into our rather sparse two bedroom suite. It’s right in the middle of town with a view over the local, rather derelict, sporting field. From our room the sound of car horns is pretty much constant and the mosques can be frequently heard.

We lay down for a rather long nap then headed out for dinner to a place called ‘Khan’s’, which advertises itself as ‘chicken on the bonnet’ because it is a mechanic’s by day and then they grill food out the front at night. The guys there were all super friendly and the food smelled amazing. It also happened to be on the same street as the hotel but two blocks down so nice and easy to find. Another Tripadvisor find. I must say that, while it seems almost lazy to be getting recommendations for things from just one website, Tripadvisor is yet to steer us wrong.

We had a shared meal and drinks for about $7 US each. We helped ourselves to a plate of salad each then they brought over plates of meat, bread and chips. The chips were not great but everything else was really tasty. Tandoori-style chicken, mince cooked on skewers, beef pieces were all really nice.

Chicken pieces over coals.

My ‘passionfruit’ drink was a disturbingly radioactive colour but turned out to be quite nice. The boys got totally retro coke and pepsi bottles.

As we finished a lady, obviously quite poor, wandered up and made motions towards the food. We had eaten everything except the chips so I said she could have them. A couple of guys from the restaurant wandered over and she tipped the chips into her bag. They were telling her to go but she was saying something back (it was all in Swahili) but then hit them and they started fighting! The men were trying to restrain her and push her away then she started ranting at us and called us ‘Americanos’ but we had no idea what she was saying. We got up to go and pay and the owners were very angry with her. Seems like they get people like this coming by and causing trouble. I felt a bit guilty for starting it but they said it happens. They did not have the most charitable attitude towards her, which I can understand, but she genuinely seemed mentally disturbed to me. You wouldn’t think giving unwanted food to a person would start a fight. I couldn’t help but think it was like feeding a seagull at the beach. Things start off calm then swiftly descend into madness.

We wandered back up the road, buying one of those ubiquitous woven bracelets (‘Because it is Ramadan! You help!’) for a couple of dollars. Touts here, as Luke observed, seem more friendly than in Asia. At least they will walk and talk with you for a bit before trying to sell you something. not just ‘You buy! You buy!’.

An early start tomorrow, hopefully the World Vision meet up goes well and then I can relax!