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. 


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