Playing with the children (2008)

My recent postings have had something of the doom and gloom about them – but life out here is not bad. Really. I just like to have a bit of a moan sometimes and receptive ears are few and far between here. I think with everything in life there are politics and cultural roadblocks to deal with. I spend almost all of my time with children – their only concern is whether or not they can find enough fun things to do in the day and its good unwinding with them. My swahili improves a little each day. Yesterday I found myself having a conversation lasting around 5 minutes with Thomas Moja before my vocab dried up. Very few words bear any relation to English and the word structure is awkward to say the least – many words start with such stellar letter combinations as Mp… or Ny…

I have discovered the woman who lives in the house nearest mine makes ice lollies which she sells for the princely sum of 30Tshs – about 1.5p (or 0.03c). Again, only the relatively wealthy students can afford them so I’ve taken to buying perhaps 30 at a time and handing them out. I do feel somewhat self conscious giving lollies and sweets to children, but the News of the World doesn’t have a presence here as yet, so I should be OK. I’ve also used the power of penny sweets to condition the children of the rehab centre to learn my name. I would ask ‘Mimi jina nini?’ (pidgeon Swahili for ‘My name is what?’) and the response would be ‘Msungu!’ (White man). Eventually one young boy said ‘Tomah’ and I gave him a sweet – now their initial shyness has worn off and they run around me shouting ‘Hello Tomah, how are you?’ which is the extent of most of their English.

The children learn English by rote. They can say the words and give replies, but they don’t know the meaning of what they say. For instance with some of the older children i might say ‘How are you?’ and they respond with ‘Fine thank you, teacher’. There is never any deviation from this, they are always ‘fine’ and I am nearly always a teacher. They therefore manage to combine speaking the language with not knowing the language – quite a feat! I have to be careful of some children though as they have had no education whatsoever and feel awkward when I ask them how they are in English as they don’t know the response and then they seize up and won’t even repeat ‘fine thank you’ which their friends are whispering to them. It is sad coming across these children as their future really is bleak. The other kids with primary education at least have some hope, although their future will probably just involve farming the land and at the very most they might become a teacher.

Anyhow, pics:


I stuck an over-ripe pineapple on a pole to lure the local monkeys for a photo-op


Some of the younger children from the school.


Myself and Thomas Moja. He laughs uncontrollably when I speak swahili to him and that in turn cracks me up. His blindness is caused by cataracts – something which would be resolved almost overnight in the west.


Kenny – he never stops smiling


Some of the rehab centre children


Jared is one of the adults from the centre. Here he is modelling his new collapsable white stick.


Being mobbed. From L to R Nasson, Ayama, Joseph, Savella, me, Moses, Unknown, Abdul, Samson, Mordeh and Winnie. Several of these children I remember as toddlers from my last visit and they play in or around my house every day.

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About Imo & Tom Feilding

I'm in my 30s and work for the University of Bristol, I regularly visit Buigiri Village slapbang in the centre of Tanzania in East Africa. It is a very poor semi-desert area. I spend much of my time and money helping individuals improve their situation and I write about it on here.
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