Thursday, 19 April 2012

Water tanks and painting in Africa, oh my!

The second week…and what a week! We definitely got our hands dirty (and clean!) in a very eventful week at Memorial.

After school on Tuesday we headed to Mr Michael’s for lunch. Magreth prepared a very traditional lunch for us – ugali and dagaa, which is teeny tiny little fish. 

Ugali and dagaa

Mmmm. Honestly, it wasn’t particularly easy to get down, especially when those teeny tiny bones got stuck in my teeth, but it was pretty tasty. I just tried not to think about it. Dad, on the other hand, seemed to love it! While eating, Mr Michael told us he hoped to one day visit Australia. We said he was very welcome, however when we told him there was no ugali in Australia, he may have reconsidered! This is how much he loves ugali. Give me a steak and seven veg any day! He also told us that he went to Nairobi for a conference over the Easter weekend. He then gave me the manual (Child Friendly Schools) and asked me to present a seminar to the teachers covering the topics…what the?? I’m on holidays, and you want me to do what a do for a living??!!! But, me being me, I agreed (I did try to convince my team leader and the Family Relationships Services Manager to refund me a weeks leave – but because I didn’t bring the required paperwork over, it’s a no-go ;)  

We then visited a few kids’ homes. This was a big eye-opener for Dad, as we visited children who don’t pay school fees. The way Mr Michael has set up the school is that well-off (by Arusha standards) families pay full school fees (Tsh 120,000 per term – there are three terms per year), some families pay half, and some families (the ones in really difficult circumstances) pay nothing – these are the students that I’d love to find sponsors for. Currently, there are only about five out of eighty students that have sponsors. One of my tasks to do while I was here was to sit down with Mr Michael and get the names, photos, and stories of every child that doesn’t pay school fees – sadly, however, time is tick-tick-ticking away, and I don’t think it’s going to happen. Still, it will be something for me to get Mr Michael to chase up when I’m back in Australia. Anyways, I’ve gone off topic – visiting homes.

The first child we visited was Janeth Philemon, who is sponsored by my old team leader from Child Safety days, Carolyn Travers (Hosey). Carolyn has been sponsoring Janeth and donating regularly to the school for the past three years. Janeth lives with her ‘Bibi’ (grandmother), and three other children. Their house is in the middle of a cement factory – Bibi rents out the backyard as a means of income, because she is too old to work. Pretty clever, but the noise is unbearable. Luckily, the kids are at school most of the day, and I think Bibi makes herself scarce. We had a chat with them (yay, Bibi remembered me from last time), and arranged to come back with a few odds and ends that they need, courtesy of Carolyn – a desk for studying at home, new uniforms and shoes, and some cooking utensils for Bibi.

Janeth and Bibi

Next we visited Kelvin. Both of Kelvin’s parents are HIV positive, and sadly, his father had an accident about seven years ago which has left him brain damaged, and at the moment, one side of his body is paralysed. This means that Kelvin’s mother must stay close by to attend to him – feed, bathe, and carry him to the toilet etc – so she can’t work far from the home. So she and Kelvin collect water from a nearby source for builders in the area. I’m not sure how much they are paid, but the last person I knew who did that for a job was paid 50 shillings per bucket (about 3 cents). They family has seven kids to feed. This is why I am sometimes angry at the world.

Kelvin and his parents
Quick note - we also ask to take photos, and I've yet to meet an African who does not what their photo taken. They don't often smile without prompting though - Benja says "it's not a part of our culture". 

Lastly, we visit Isa and his aunt. They live in a fairly typical mud house, outside which Isa’s aunt sells fish. If she doesn’t sell any fish, they don’t eat. Isa’s aunt asked us why Isa didn’t have a sponsor. It was pretty hard to explain why. They were in need of medication for malaria, so I slipped her the lousy ten grand ($6) I had on me, which is enough for two rounds of medication. She was very grateful.

Isa and his aunt... the fish shop

On Wednesday, we visited some more kids, and then spent the afternoon in a hardware store negotiating water tanks! We decided on a 5000L tank (for cooking, drinking, washing hands etc) and a 2000L tank to use for flushing toilets. They, plus all the taps, pipes etc, came TSh 1,289,000 (that’s one million, two hundred and eighty-nine thousand shillings) or about $785. A bargain. The problem then was getting the cash, as no stores in Arusha have EFTPOS or credit card facilities. I asked if I could do a bank transfer, but in order to transfer money to an international account through NetBank I need a code sent to my Aussie phone number…which obviously is not in action here. So, we headed to the ATM, and of course the ATMs only let you withdraw TSh400,000 at a time. Two withdrawals on Wednesday, and one the next morning just about covered it.

I have never been so nervous walking in the streets of Arusha than I was on Thursday morning, with over one million shillings strapped to my body (well, except for the week after the machete incident). When we arrived at the store, we were surprised to hear that the tanks had been prepared (holes cut, etc…I dunno…tank type stuff…Dad’s department) and ready to go. We were told they wouldn’t start preparing them until we paid at least a deposit, but we must have trustworthy faces. The best thing was that the price included delivery to school, and we got a lift in the truck. Oh, funny story – the day before when we were negotiated prices and Mr Michael asked about delivery. When the storeman asked how far the school was, Mr Michael replied “about four kilometres.” Dad and I were like “ummmm...what???” thinking it was much further. I couldn’t possibly believe that the trip from Friends Corner to school was less than a short run. But, sure enough, I checked out the odometer of the way there, and it was only four kilometres! Seems so much further when you’re in a dalla dalla or dodgy school bus. 

When we got to the school, we were greeted with much excitement. The two guys from the store, Dad, and a bunch of teachers got the tanks off the back of the truck (I, of course, was the official photographer). 


After the 5000L tank was on the stand, Dad realised he had to access the top of it, to attach the lids. There’s life in the old dog yet!

Go Daddio!

The pièce de résistance, however, came on Friday. We turned on the generator, got the pump pumping, and filled ‘er up! Then came the obligatory “washing our hands at the water tank” photos. Man I love these people!

Mr Michael

Yay for running water!!

That afternoon, after a standard lunch of ugali and “some green vegetable” made by the wonderful cooks…


 …the school staff, along with Dad and I, spent the afternoon listening to Mr Michael talk about organisation culture (Centacare peeps, I was so close to trying to explain organisation white noise to them, but decided against it). We also talked about school rules and regulations. Sadly, corporal punishment (better known as ‘sticks’) is very common in African schools. Last time I was here, I attempted to convince the teachers that this was not okay, but obviously failed. This time around however, I have the full support of Mr Michael, who has said that corporal punishment at the school is forbidden. Despite this, I have still seen two teachers (and heard one) use sticks on the children. Each time, I resisted the urge to walk in, snatch the stick, and snap it across my knee (or smack them with it), and instead reported them to the nearest senior staff member (Mr Benja or Mr Ipini, who also seem to be behind the no sticks policy). The saddest point about the whole things is that the children are not being sticked for misbehaving (which they rarely do, at least not compared to the kids at home), but for not understanding, or getting the answer wrong. Devastating. During Mr Michael’s talk, Dad reiterated a point I’d made previously that when a child doesn't understand, or gets an answer wrong, especially in a school where they are not learning in their first language, the teacher needs to reassess how they are teaching that child. Anyhoo, my seminar (to be delivered on Monday) covers sticks, so you may hear more about that later J At then end of the seminar, Mr Michael tells all the teachers that they must be at school tomorrow (Saturday) to assist with painting. We tried to convinced the teachers that it was not compulsory (especially Madame Chiku, who is fairly pregnant), but that their help would be appreciated. Mr Michael said “We will see all of you tomorrow at 9 o’clock.”

That night, I read a Facebook message from my dear friend Sally, which said: “Hi mate, hope everything is going swimmingly for you and you are remembering the joys and tribulations of trying to get things done like a westerner in the 3rd world! Just remember: 1. You will either look back on this and laugh OR 2. It will make a great story for other people to look back and laugh on!!" Despite that day being tough, I think she was foreseeing the future that was Saturday.

Saturday. Oh Saturday. You will be the perfect example of all the things I despise about Africa! Haha, oh no, I am exaggerating greatly. But it is the perfect example of trying to get things done in the third world…everything is five times as hard, and takes fives times as long. We agreed to meet at 9am. This is a brief summary of how the day went:

9am: Alan and Kasey arrive at school. Mr Anode is the only teacher there, along with the night guard. A few teachers arrive in dribs and drabs until…
9:40am: Mr Michael and Benja arrive, with two of Mr Michael’s kids, Nyerere and Kembaki.

**Because the previous afternoon was spent listening to Mr Michael’s seminar, Kasey and Alan didn’t have time to get to the bank or the paint store that afternoon. In hindsight, not getting paint before the day of the painting is a mistake**

9:45am: Mr Michael, Nyerere, Kembaki, Alan and Kasey get in the school bus to go and get paint, brushes etc.

9:46am: The battery in the school bus is flat. Swap batteries. Stuff around with the school bus. Kasey tells Mr Michael not to buy anymore school buses, as they are a drain on the budget, unless the person that donates them is willing to make regular contributions towards maintenance.

Changing the battery, behind the driver's seat

10am: Bus starts. Alan is driving in the backblocks of Arusha.

Captain Al!

10:10am: Arrive at our first “paint store”. The only water-based paint they have is white or cream. Alan says we want water-based paint, not oil-based. We leave.

10:15am: Arrive at our second “paint store”, to find that the only water-based paint they have is white or cream.
**use of inverted commas being due to the fact that, in comparison to Bunnings/Mitre 10, these paint stores look like Alan’s shed**

10:20am: Arrive at our third “paint store”, to find that the only water-based paint they have is white, cream, or apricot. A theme is emerging. Alan resigns himself to using oil-based paint.

10:20 to 11:00: Visit various “paint stores” and locate 20L of white undercoat, and a few tins of light blue, summer blue, and ripple green oil based paint. Visit various other stores to purchase pitiful paintbrushes, rollers, and turps.
Mr Michael leaves team at the first “paint store” to go in search of sticks for rollers. Kasey shouts team (which has increased to include Danny, one of Kimbaki’s friends from Standard Five) a packet of coconut biscuits and a pineapple juice. Delish.
Mr Michael returns with actual sticks (as in, from trees) for the rollers. Team heads back to school, collecting four brooms on the way (to use as sticks for rollers).

11:10am: Arrive at school. Alan starts sorting out paint. For the fiftieth time since arriving in Arusha, Kasey thanks the lord that Alan came on this trip. Teachers start painting the outside of the school with the water-based paint, as Alan has said the oil-based paint is a “pain in the @rse” to get out of everything.”

One of the few pictures Benja took without his finger in the top left hand corner

 11:20am: Kasey realises they have nowhere near enough paint. Alan agrees. Kasey and Mr Michael get back in the school bus.

11:30am: Mr Michael receives a text from Alan “Mr Michael we need another 20L of white paint.”

11:50am: Mr Michael and Kasey arrive back at school. Everyone smashes the white outside of the building.

12:00: Time for lunch. Yum, ugali. Kasey and Alan shout everyone a soda. 20 sodas for about $7. Everyone is very excited.

12:30pm: Alan starts mixing oil-based paint and solvent. Alan stresses about oil-based paint. Kasey is yet to understand the stress (but of course, belives everything Alan says). Kasey suggests starting with the unfinished baby class. Summer blue it is!

12:40pm: It becomes clear that 4L of summer blue will not be enough to complete the room, as the walls are not plastered and are made of what Kasey compares to pumice stone, hence it absorbs paint. Kasey sends Mr Michael to pick up another tin of summer blue.

Madam Editha, Benja, and Mr Ipini

12:40-5:30pm: Painting continues. Kasey now understands Alan’s dislike of oil-based paint. Kasey has no idea how this day would have turned out without a working water source. Kasey can’t even write anymore about the painfulness of the day. Buuuutttt…Kasey still had fun, as did Alan and all the teachers... 

Mr Anode

...and the kids!!

Nyerere and Kembaki

Oh and there is still more painting to do!! And we’re out of paint. But that’s a job for another blog :)

**A big ASANTE SANA to everyone who donated money towards the tanks and the painting. Despite the difficult of getting it done, it is so totally worth it :) **



Monday, 16 April 2012

Pasaka (Easter) weekend...

I’m so behind on blog posts, and consequently, I’m forgetting all the funny stories I want to tell you! But I’m sure everyone understands that when you’re super busy doing things it’s hard to find time to write about them! This post is about our Easter weekend.

I’m not gonna lie, it was a weekend of rest. Friday especially, Dad and I spent most of the day reading (and me, writing the previous blog post!) For anyone who’s interested, since arriving (and on the plane from Dubai – Ethiopian Airlines doesn’t have movies) I’ve read ‘The Hunger Games’ (loved it), and Nelson Mandela’s autobiography ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ (loved it also), and some trashy novel Dad bought. I bought ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ ages ago, and honestly dreaded reading it…I though it would be painfully boring in parts. I read the first few chapters which were surprisingly awesome, but then life got in the way of leisurely reading, so I thought this trip would be the perfect opportunity to finish it (well, I started it again). I was not disappointed. Interesting to read about so many African presidents who have streets in our area named after them (Nyerere, Haile Selassie, Kaunda, Ben Berra – who actually just died the other day, sad face). I’ve run out of books to read, unless I want to read ‘Chicken Soup for the Golfer’s Soul’, which Aike just handed me. What the??? 

On Saturday, we ventured into town for a look around, and I took Dad on his first trip to the Maasai craft market. I don’t know what he was expecting, but he could not believe the place! It is pretty overwhelming the first time you go. There are about six long aisles of tiny stalls selling paintings, carvings, jewellery and all sorts of African artefacts, as well as plenty of salespeople “Karibu! You are welcome. Free to look, free to touch”…it had bloody well wanna be! We did a lot of “just looking, not shopping today, hapana asante (no thank you), sitaki (I don’t want it).” We easily spent over an hour there, and only did two aisles. We’ll definitely head back before the trip is over.

On Easter Sunday we woke up to tinsel, coloured banners, and fake flowers with a note from Mama. We had an amazing Easter feast. I must have eaten too much, because I can’t remember what else we did that day!

Flowers from Mama


Easter Feast!

What was used to cook the Easter Feast

On Monday we were supposed to go with Mama and Baba to Moshi to check out the hall where Catherine’s wedding will be, but Mama realised we couldn’t do that on Easter Monday, so it was been put off. Luke (the long-term volunteer at Mama’s) was taking his kids to the Meserani Snake Park, so we decided to go as well. We took Aika, Catherine, and Anatoly with us. Luke said he’d meet us there, as he was taking the kids to get haircuts first (which ended up costing about $3.50 for seven haircuts!). So Aika, Catherine, Anatoly, Dad and I navigated our way to the main dalla dalla stand and caught the Monduli dalla to Meserani. The snake park is a great place to take the kiddies (reminds me of Billabong Sanctuary in the Ville), but the oldies enjoy it too! It has some massive pythons, as well as scary snakes like the black mamba (star of my favourite book ‘The Power of One’), the puff adder, and the spitting cobra. They also have crocodiles, tortoises, owls, a vulture, and a baboon that shakes hands! 

Watch your fingers!

Pleased to meet you Catherine!

See the massive lizards in the tree above Anatoly's head?


Aika's new necklace

The park also has a Maasai museum where you learn about the Maasai culture. Some disturbing facts: Maasai boys are circumcised in their teens, and they are not allowed to cry out in pain, or even shed a tear when they are circumcised. If they so much as mutter an “owie” they are no longer considered a part of the community and will never be married. Yowsers. After learning all of these fun facts, we went on a camel ride! Catherine and Anatoly went first, followed by Aika and me. When Aika and I took off, Anatoly ran after us yelling and crying...naw!! There was a massive cattle sale on next door, and one of the bulls got loose and was racing around the paddock when Aika and I were on the camels…scary for a moment but the African rodeo clowns soon sorted him out. Despite not spending much time with Luke and his kids, we ended up on the same dalla dalla back to Arusha. Anatoly, who is usually full of beans, zonked out on the way home.

I'm laughing because I'm that bull headed this way??

Maybe now is a good time to tell you all about Anatoly, Catherine’s son. I’ve already told you about how he ran out to greet us, despite not having met us before. Well, we’ve been best friends ever since. My goodness, this child is freaken adorable. If you’ve seen Monsters Inc, he is exactly like Boo! In that he doesn’t speak Swahili or English, he has his own language, and babbles constantly. He does say “Mama”, “Bibi”, “Joe” and “Babu” (he calls both Baba and Big Al ‘Babu’!) And I honestly think he has just started saying “Kasey” though it sounds more like “Dasey.” He is a ladies man for sure. Prime example: on Easter, he climbed up onto the table and got the flowers Mama put there for us, gave them to me, then puckered up for a kiss! Such a cutie. 


His only downfall is he’s a little demanding, and makes some serious noise to get want he wants…but as soon as he’s got it, he gives you the cutest smile and all is forgiven. He had this bad habit of climbing up on the table while we’re having dinner, but I’ve managed to get him sitting on a chair, where I feed him bits of chipsi and watermelon…and recently he’s started eating beans! Funny Anatoly story: the other afternoon he ran out of the bedroom with no clothes on. Joe says “Ah! The Gods Must Be Crazy!!” and starts comparing Anatoly to the Sans Bushmen in the movie. Hilarious. Cute Anatoly story: Tom, the English guy, asked me “what was that Aussie song that was really massive a few months back, with the guy and the girl singing?” So I get out my iPhone and play Gotye, and Anatoly starts singing along (in his own language). The video is pretty poor quality, and needs to be rotated but I don't know how. Still, super cute.

Gotye ft Anatoly

So that was pretty much our Easter weekend! Probably should have gone to church at some stage, but sitting through a Swahili sermon is kinda pointless. So I just said my silent ‘asante sana’ to Jesus. Heri kwa sikukuu ya Pasaka! Happy Easter! Schmappy Schmeaster!

Monday, 9 April 2012

Our first week at school...

Our first day of school, and it’s still raining. This makes things difficult, but hey, THIS IS AFRICA! We grab a mwamvuli (umbrella) each, and head off for Dad’s first ride on the dalla-dalla. The dalla-dalla is the way most people get around, and until the introduction of the boda-bodas in 2010, it was the only real form of public transport (when I went to Rwanda last trip, boda-bodas were everywhere…maybe the filtered over the border). We head off on a very wet walk, about one kilometre to Nyerere Road where we catch the dalla-dalla to Friends Corner. Crossing Nyerere Road is a challenge, especially during the morning and afternoon commute, and you often have to do the half cross, where you dash to the middle of the road and wait (and pray you don’t get hit) for a break in the traffic. Today, we zoom across as I wave down a dalla-dalla. It's packed. Dad says “We’re getting on this one?!” to which I reply “Yep!” And we were off! Both standing, squished into a 14 seater vehicle carrying at least 25 people. Welcome to Arusha Daddio!

Mr Michael has arranged for his wife Magreth to meet us at Friends Corner, as I wasn’t sure of the way to the new school (I had visited the site a couple of times in 2009, but we had walked from the old school not arrived by dalla-dalla). Friends Corner is a busy dalla-dalla and boda-boda stop, with lots happening. While waiting a half hour for Magreth to arrive, we are entertained by locals (and I’m sure, them by us!) Seeing Magreth is a happy reunion also, as she taught at Memorial when I was here last time. I'm surprised to see she is pregnant (with her and Mr Michael’s sixth child), but she seems fine with crawling onto a packed dalla-dalla and riding the bumpy twenty or so minutes to the school.

It is difficult to see out of the foggy windows of the dalla-dalla, but I managed(with the help of Magreth) to notice a few of my old haunts, including the place where you go to Irine’s house (the student I sponsor), and Tanga Corner, the dalla-dalla spot for the old school. The stop for the new school, Machine, is another 5 minutes up the road. When we get out, we are confronted with a walk of about 500 metres, possibly more, in soft, sticky mud. This mud is the devil! It sticks to your shoes, so as you walk you gradually become taller, and it is near impossible to get off. This mud has created a new project for us, which I will tell you about later.

Finally, we get to the school. The first student I see is Jackeline, who is the mama mdoga (small aunt) of Denis (the cutie everyone knows from baby class). She gives me a big smile, then keeps on running to class…what, no hug?! Glory is the close behind her, and when she sees me, comes straight over and gives me a big hug. Jackeline, seeing this, soon follows. I get the feeling they knew we were coming, despite Mr Michael saying he had not told them (later, I find out that one of the teachers may have informed them that morning). I’m a bit teary at this point, but hold it together as best I can as most of the teachers are coming forward to introduce themselves. As I said, only Mr Benja remains on teaching staff from the last time I was here, so there are lots of teachers to meet, and despite not knowing their names, they all know who we are, and make us feel more than welcome.

Magreth ushers us into the office, and, not wanting to be rude, we go in, but we're itching to see the kids. After a few minutes I ask Magreth if we can go and see the kids, and she says “Ya, you can go.” And so begins the endless singing, dancing and welcoming that lasts for the next hour or so.

The children welcoming us with the song below.

It is the right time, for us to sing a song,
To thank you Alan and Kasey Lloyd.
May God bless you, in all your life
We thank you so much for your donation.

Unfortunately, our trip coincides with school holidays! Why, you are wondering, are there children at school on holidays?? For the three weeks prior to the school closing for one week, the school enters “tuition” mode, where children come to do revision of the past term. It is not compulsory, so you would think most children would not come, yes? Not in Tanzania! The kids are hungry for education, and a lot of students are in attendance, Today however, because of the rain, the classes are tiny as many students find it difficult, or simply impossible, to get to school during bad weather.

The children that are here, however, keep us in high spirits. Irine reacts as I expected; a big smile, then instantly puts her head on the desk, too shy to look up again for a few minutes. In Standard Five (the highest grade currently at the school), Jackeline and Glory are later joined by Janet Philemon, who started at the school when I was here previously. Janet is sponsored by a dear friend, Carolyn Travers, who will be glad to hear she is doing well. They are the only Standard Five students from my previous visit that are here today. This class was only Standard Two last time, and while a lot of students are absent today, I am told that Dickson, David, Analinda, Swaiba, Sabrina, Mary, Anjela, and Naomi are all still attending Memorial. Farajah has since left, but many other have joined them, and I’m soon to be tested on their names (“Madam Kes, Madam Kes, what is-a my name?”) It will be a struggle to remember them all, as the school was only 70 students in 2009, and is now around 400!

A blessing in disguise is the fact that tuition only runs for half a day; this gives us all afternoon to do many things that would not be possible if we were working at the school for the entire day. Next week, we plan on going on home visits, working on a few of our projects, as well as spending time with Mama and the family, and seeing the sights of Arusha.

At home that night I spend time with Mama, Aika, and Catherine while they are cooking (they won’t let me help, but are happy for me to sit and chat while they prepare our nightly feast). We talk about all the volunteers who lived at Mama’s when I was here (Mama says “Your group Kesia, they were a good group! Good chairwoman!”) and we remind each other of stories we have forgotten (such as Mama Kym’s champagne wedding dance, and Emma’s stint in the chicken coop after losing a bet). They ask after all the volunteers (“How is Gabu? Jamie? Alice? What about the bebies?”) and I update them as much as I can. While many of the past volunteers are not in regular contact with Mama and the family, I know that this home in Arusha, and this beautiful family, is always in their hearts.

Our second day at school is a little drier, and so more children are in attendance. Mary and Anjela have joined their friends in Standard Five. In Standard Two is Denis (yay!) and Janet (who some may remember as the quietest, shyest girl in the history of the planet from my last visit, who was just beginning to open up when I left). Standard Four has the most new familiar faces in it, Baraka, Scolah (sponsored by the wonderful Lilley family), Bridget…and it is sight of Flora and Frankie in this class that breaks me. Flora was the subject of many a goofy close-up photo in 2009 (surely some remember those), and Frankie is one of the funniest kids I’ve ever met. Mr Michael’s children Rachel and Nyerere are also familiar faces, though I can’t remember which class they are in. Mr Michael is also here today, and has all the teachers, cooks, and drivers meet in the office to introduce themselves and welcome us to Memorial, despite us having met most of the yesterday.

The staff of Ghati Memorial Foundation School...and me :)
Mr Michael and Dad inspect the water pump (bought with funds already raised)

Mr Michael informs me that Magreth is expecting us at their home after school. I ask Mr Michael if it is far, to which he replies “No, it is not far. You remember it?” What I remember is a loooong walk from the school to Mr Michael’s home, but regardless, when the school bell/tire iron rings we set off. It is quite a walk, but it's okay, as along the way we have a good chance to talk. It is difficult to explain where we are walking, but I’ll do what I can. The outer “districts” of Arusha have no real streets as such, just dirt pathways often shared by vehicles, people, and animals. Houses are built anywhere, there is generally no set “yard” or “plot” on which one builds. Indeed, as we are walking down a path, we have to change course because someone has started building a house directly in our path. I have no idea how people find their way around (me, with a hopeless sense of direction, would have no luck at all). It is equally difficult to explain to Mr Michael the layout of streets, footpaths, yards, and houses in Australia.

We arrive at Mr Michael’s, and it is as I remembered, a small house that shares a common area with a number of others. Visiting Mr Michael’s home reaffirms his honesty and integrity; the money we are raising and sending to him is definitely not being spent on a lavish lifestyle. His living room is tiny and cramped, containing a few small couches, a coffee table, a cabinet, and a double bed, with very little room to move between. Still, it is cosy and welcoming, and Mr Michael shows us, on his tiny television, video footage of the school children filmed on the camera Dad sent him last Christmas (after he was robbed of the one I left behind, and the one Rachel Lilley sent that didn’t make it past the dodgy post office).

We have some interesting chats this afternoon. Benja is very interested in that fact that, although I consider myself a Christian, I do not regularly attend church. I think he’s trying to get out of going to church! Another popular topic is Dad’s seniority. This has been running conversation between us and Mama, and it seems now between us and Mr Michael. It’s odd, I’ve never thought of Dad as old and had no doubt he would be able to handle everything Tanzania threw at him (even a machete attack, though hopefully not!) but the way Mama and Mr Michael have been speaking to/about him…you’d think he’s 80! Mama keeps (half-jokingly) upping me for “making” Dad walk places (ie one kilometre to the closest dalla-dalla), and both are doubtful that he should even be riding in a dalla-dalla. I think we manage to convince Mr Michael that he is still young and strong (though, wearing his cowboy hat around will earn him a reputation as an important, respected old Baba). Now to work on Mama :)

Another interesting conversation involves the tradition in Mr Michael’s culture of having many wives. As Mr Michael put it “to some, having one wife is like having one eye.” Mr Michael, who only has one (very beautiful and loving) wife, explains that this old way of thinking is due to lack of education. For those who think this way, having many wives increases your status in the community, so therefore increases your power and the weight of your opinion. “It is their way of having a say and having power in their community” Mr Michael says. “But, because we are educated, we know what is right.”

As we are talking, Magreth prepares lunch and places various dishes on the coffee table at our knees. I can tell Dad is feeling uneasy about the amount of food being placed before us, not because he is a small eater, but because the food would surely be appreciated by the family. But to be invited into the home of a Tanzanian to share a meal is a great honour, and is something that over time, despite guilt, I have gotten used to (and I’m sure Dad will too). We start with bread and warm milk, followed by spaghetti (not wog-style like Ingham, but African-style), a saucy meat, cucumber, banana, mango, and pear – a veritable feast. Tanzanians tend not to talk much during mealtimes, and I’m always tempted to channel Homer Simpson “Can’t talk…eating.”

We say our farewells, and head back to Mama’s. Apparently, we failed to convince Mr Michael of Dad’s ease at travelling in a dalla-dalla, because he texts us that evening saying that the school bus will be at Mama’s at 7am to pick us up. D’oh!

Of course, today they are early to pick us up! Mr Michael and the school bus arrive at 6:50am, and have to wait a few minutes while Dad and I scramble to get ready. We drop Mr Michael at Friends Corner, apparently he is not taking the trip with us. As we embark on the trip, I think I understand why! We spend the next hour and a half on some of the worst roads of ever been on, with the exception of the M1 in Mozambique – they even rival the Sani Pass, which is the road to reach Lesotho from South Africa. While obviously not as steep, we navigate our way through virtual rivers in the middle of the road, rocks bigger than my head, and water-filled holes the size of small dining tables. Plus, of course, the usual traffic of people, animals, and vehicles. Dad compared the drive to 4WD parks in Australia. It was really unbelievable. The frustrating thing is 40 minutes of this trip was to pick up just one child! Doesn’t make a lot of sense, but we go with it. Later, when Mr Michael tells us the school bus will be at Mama’s at 7am the next day as “we want our guests to be comfortable”, we manage to convince him that the 20 minute dalla-dalla is fine for us. I have no doubt we will be ‘lucky;’ enough to ride the bus to school again before we leave.

Typical road on the daily bus route

At school, I’m excited to see Dickson in Standard Five, a child who has used someone’s phone to call me a few times in Australia (in case you haven’t realised, I spent a lot of time in this class in 2009, when they were Standard Two). Dad and I also sit in Standard Two to learn some Swahili (and I get an answer right on the board, yay me!).

On the way home from school, we stop at the internet café so I can organise a time to visit The School of St Jude’s, a truly inspirational project which is often covered by Australian Story on the ABC. The school was founded and is run by an Australian woman Gemma Sisia, and is considered one of the best schools in Tanzania. After reading her book ‘St Jude’s’ I started sponsoring a child and teacher at the school. The reason I chose to volunteer in Arusha in 2009 was so I could visit them, Unfortunately, Gemma was in Australia on a fundraising tour at the time, so I didn’t get to meet her.

I also contact a friend Gen, who was the girlfriend of Canadian Shane, one of my kakas (brothers) who lived at Mama’s (and who was involved in the infamous machete incident). Gen is now married and has a six week old baby, and we arrange for her to come to Mama’s that afternoon. It is wonderful to see Gen again, and I’m happy to say that I’m the first mzungu to meet her cute little baby Edward. Mama is also happy to see Gen, and invites her to attend Catherine’s wedding send-off (which I will have to explain another day). Gen is also the marketing executive for a safari company, and says she will get us rafiki price (mates rates) on our safari. Fingers crossed for a good deal.

Jen (Gen's sister-in-law), me, Eddie, and Gen

Thursday and it’s raining again (damn, we should’ve got the school bus). Dad makes the whole dalla-dalla laugh when he gives up his seat to a large African woman (“there’s no way she would’ve squeezed in standing up!” he says). Because of the rain, there are not a lot of children at school today. The ground is worst than ever, and some points my foot almost comes out of my shoe because it is so stuck in the mud. We resolve to do something about this. Mr Michael informs us that a truckload of gravelly dirt type stuff that will fix this problem costs only 40,000 shillings (around $25) so we decide that this will be our next project after the water tank. Painting will be difficult if the rain keeps up, but hopefully we’ll manage to get it done too. We both teach a few classes today, and I sit in on Teacher Alan’s English class…man, those kids got themselves an education! Hehehe. As the Easter weekend is upon us, we say goodbye to the teachers and students for a whole four days. Next week, we’ve got lots of work to do. 


Saturday, 7 April 2012

The first two days...

After several looooong flights, we arrived at Kilimanjaro International Airport. The visa process was simple enough, though the officers had trouble understanding that we were not with a company, nor were we staying in a hotel. It was also Dad’s first experience with “Africa time” though having worked with Palm Island long enough, he handled it well.

Mr Michael had said he would be there to greet us at the airport and take us to Mama’s (the airport is about 50kms from Arusha), so I was quite pleased (maybe a little smug) to tell the many eager taxi drivers (“Miss, taxi? Miss! Sir, you want taxi?”) that we were waiting for our friend to collect us. However, after waiting awhile, I purchased a Tanzanian sim card and credit to call Mr Michael, who informed me he was unable to collect us as his wife was unwell in hospital. Hakuna matata, I admitted defeat and told the taxi drivers “To Arusha please” and we were on our way.

Taxi man: “Which hotel?”
Kasey: “No, we’re not staying in a hotel. We are visiting friends.”Taxi man: “You are visiting friends?! Where are you going?”
Kasey: “Kaunda Road. Do you know it?”
Taxi man: “Ah no”Kasey: “It’s ok, I will show you. You know the clock tower?”Taxi man: “Yes, I know it”.
Kasey: “Go there, I will show you”Taxi man: “You know it?! You know Arusha?”Kasey: “Yes, so you can’t rip me off!”Taxi man: “Aya, aya, ok!”

The drive into town is a whole new experience for those who have not been to Africa (or from what I’ve heard, most third world countries). Buses, dalla dallas (the local transport – more about them later), boda-bodas (motorbike taxis that were non-existent in 2009 are now everywhere), taxis, bicycles, safari trucks, wagons, people and goats all competing for space on the highway. The general consensus is ‘if you think you can make it, go!’ and “If there is room, why not squeeze through…just make another lane”. There are a lot of traffic accidents in Tanzania, but I’m surprised there are not more. The roads/traffic/drivers are the main reason I do not try to convince Mum to come here…I think the drive from the airport to Arusha would be enough for her to catch the next plane home. Dad on the other hand took it all in his stride. I secretly think he loved every minute of it. It was the day before an election, so there was a lot of extra traffic and people rallying on and beside the roads. Very different to our recent state elections, which are somewhat low-key in comparison.

As we are getting into Arusha, I realise that I recognise the smell! I’ve never really noticed that I could identify a place by the smell before (I mean specifically, not just the beach or the creek), but as we got closer I caught a whiff and said “Oh my god, Arusha has a smell!” I’m not sure what it its (one of the guys here has suggested it is burning rubbish), but I’m betting if you blindfolded me and dropped me into Arusha I could tell you I was there, simply from the smell. It made me feel so happy and I was wishing the roads were not so packed so we could be at Mama’s faster.

After stopping at the ATM for some Tanzanian shillings, at the store for water and toilet paper (mzungu essentials), and pointing out a few landmarks along the way (the United Nations Tribunal for Rwanda, the clock tower, the bridge where Maria got macheted) I directed the taxi to Kaunda Road. We were getting closer! We pulled up at the big blue door, said ‘asante’, and in we went.

Only Aika and Joe knew we were coming; Mama, Baba, Catherine and Godlove were all kept in the dark. We dumped our luggage in the yard and made our way to the front door. “Hodi!” I said, which is the standard “Hey, I’m here, can I come in?” After a minute Aika’s head poked through the door, followed by a squeal and a massive hug. Anatoly, Catherine’s son, also raced out, despite never having met us. Aika then called for Mama – what we’ve all been waiting for – and she didn’t disappoint us! She ran from her room with her arms raised, and actually picked me up “Kesia, Kesia, my bebe, nakupenda sana, karibu sana. Is it you?” In my excitement, I forgot my basic Swahili and introduced Dad as my dada (which means sister in Swahili)...which Dad captures on film. He was filming on and off throughout this, but he eventually had to stop. He didn’t get the part where Mama dropped to her knees praising God for bringing us to her. She then (and many times since) told Dad “she is a good girl”, “she is the best girl”, “she is my daughter”. I'm hoping Mama has raised me up a peg or two in Dad’s books…surely now he thinks I can do no wrong? Hehehe.

Mama and me, reunited :)

Goddy was the next family member to come home. I caught his reflection in the door to the kitchen and snuck in…man I wish Dad had have filmed this one! His eyes popped, his jaw dropped…his face was pure shock. “Kessy! What are you doing here?!” Classic. Catherine came home not long after. I tried to hide in Dad’s doorway but she spotted me. She was also shocked, and very happy, especially when we told her we would be here for her wedding. Joe came home later that night, and in typical Joe style was cool as a cucumber, and very happy to meet Dad. Mama soon got Baba (who will be home on Thursday) on the phone, and we are looking forward to my two Babas meeting.

There are two other guys staying with Mama at the moment; Tom from the UK who is, like me, returning to Arusha to visit his orphanage. Last time he was here he stayed at the volunteer house, but heard about Mama Joe’s and couldn’t resist. Luke from the US is friends with my kaka Andrew who was at Mama’s for my first few weeks in 2009. He is here for almost a year (and staying in my bachelor pad out the back...which means I'm back in my original bed in the girls room). 

First night at Mama’s and we feasted on brown rice, beans, chapati, small meat, cabbage, and watermelon. It’s good to be home.


Our first Sunday in Arusha, so of course Mama and the girls were off to church at various times in the morning (we gave church a miss this week). Instead, Dad and I took on the town, and walked from Mama’s to Friend’s Corner (where we will catch our daily dalla dalla). Another first for Dad, having to deal with old guys trying to sell paintings, and young guys trying to sell safaris/Tanzanite, or just wanting to be friends with the wazungu. I didn’t see any of my old acquaintances, but am hoping that this is simply because it’s Sunday.

Home after our walk, and Mama has made us potatoes (oh the carbs!), small meat, small ugali, and pears (when I say small, this means Mama is only cooking a little bit). Small ugali because wazungu don’t like ugali. Ugali is the staple food in the Tanzanian diet, and it consists of maize flour and water cooked and stirred until it is the consistency of rubbery mashed potatoes (though not as tasty). It tastes like nothing much, and eating a lot of it can be quite a challenge (as I found out last time), but the Tanzanians love it. A prime illustration is last time a couple of us took Aika on a day safari to Arusha National Park. The safari company had packed us delicious sandwiches and cakes, but Aika nibbled at the edge of the sandwich and said she preferred ugali. We all had a laugh about it (Aika included), and I think of that day every time I eat ugali. I don’t think Dad was a fan either, but we managed to eat enough to satisfy Mama (“Mesheba?” she asks, which means “Are you full?” “Nimesheba sana Mama!” meaning “I am very full Mama!” “True?!”)

Because Mr Michael was unable to meet us at the airport, he arranged to come to Mama’s on Sunday afternoon. Upon greeting him, his reaction was exactly as I expected; quiet, understated (very different to Mama), but elated. Also, it was my turn to be surprised as Mr Michael bought along Mr Benja, who is the only teacher remaining at the school from 2009. He also did not know I was coming.

Kasey: “You didn’t know I was coming?”Benja: “No, I didn’t know. Even when we arrived at this place I thought ‘Why are we here? Who are we seeing?” and I didn’t know until I just looked up and saw your face. I am very happy. Karibu sana Kesey”Kasey: “Asante sana

I was so happy to see both Mr Michael and Mr Benja, who I spent so much time with in 2009. Since then, I’ve been in regular contact with Mr Michael, and Mr Michael has taken an interest in making contact (via Facebook of course) with many of the people who have supported Memorial School through sponsorship and donations. Dad is one of these people, as he took a keen interest it what I was up to while here in 2009 and everything that’s been done since I’ve been back. Finally meeting Mr Michael was a bit overwhelming and choked up my big, strong daddy. It was very sweet.

We spent the afternoon chatting and planning the next day at school. Mr Michael informed us that unfortunately he and Benja would not be at the school for our first day, as they were travelling to Tanga (300 kilometres away) to support a student whose mother had passed away that day. Hard to imagine a director/headmaster of a school in Australia taking the day off to travel that far (takes a lot longer on African roads as well) to comfort a child. But as Mr Michael said “We want to support and comfort the child, and let him know that he is loved and valued. When he’s sees us, his teachers, he will feel that he is loved.” Talk about going above and beyond.

We bid them farewell (“Tutaonana Jumanne” or “See you Tuesday”), and then had a chat with Joe about the weather. It was so dry on the drive from the airport, and Dad, being the weather lover he is, had plenty of questions for Joe about the drought and the long-awaited “long rains”. Joe said it had not rained in months, and that the rains were very overdue. Within 15 minutes we heard our first thunderclap, and within half an hour it was pouring. Perhaps we are good luck ;)

For dinner we had white rice, beans, chipsi, small meat, and Mama’s awesome tomatoes (I don’t know what she does with them, but this time I am not leaving until I've learnt how to cook Mama’s brown rice, chapati, tomatoes and cabbage).

Quotes of the day:
“Be free. Be as if you are in Australia. Be at home.” Mama, Mr Michael, and Benja at various times.
“No meat, except meat” (Mama explaining to our vegetarian that there is no meat in anything apart from the small meat being served…classic Mama).

Loving life :)

Mama and Aika preparing chapatti