2010 Trip part 1

Fri 5th March

The plane touched down in the early morning and I hopped straight on to a bus for an 8 hour journey inland to Buigiri. On the way the woman next to me bought some roasted corn and shared it with me – this typifies how the people are out here, they share what they can and even talk to others on public transport. We stopped for a 5 minute break on the way and I saw someone who recognized me from my last trip. Small world. When I arrived in Buigiri I was greeted off the bus by a bunch of children from the school – apparently they have spent since May asking the teachers when I’m returning and when they were told I was coming they thought it was a joke, so I got mobbed when I stepped down. The rest of the day was spent unpacking and greeting various people.

Arriving on the bus

The various things I brought with me, most donated by friends.

Sat 6th March

I was up at 7am as there are cockerels outside my window and so I don’t get the luxury of sleeping in. I went to see a boy called Tech who I spent a lot of time with last trip and asked if he wanted to come into town with me. We were also joined by another guy who used to be a porter in the town’s bus stand, but he is ill, almost certainly with AIDS. His wife has already died. I like the guy cos last time I was here he never asked me for anything and that’s something of a novelty amongst the poor here. I bought him lunch in town and he put half in a bag for his kids so when we got back this to the village I got him 20kg of maize. I have a war chest of £877 to spend on things like this – mainly raised from a raffle I did at the end of last year and around £140 from my flist. 20kg costs just under a fiver and 1kg will feed four people.

I met up with some of the teachers in the evening and went to the local bar which is nothing more than a few plastic seats outdoors and a fridge. There used to be a pool table and last time round I played so many games of pool there at 10p a game that I effectively paid for the table. When I left there was noone who could afford to play so it got sold. It was really good to flitter between the boys playing pool and the teachers drinking beers or sodas as it gave me the right balance between chilling out and having serious conversations. Now I just have the teachers for company in the evening.

Sun 7th March

I’ve always cooked for myself in the past on a single electric hob, but that is no longer here, so I have employed a local girl called Penda to cook on a charcoal stove, clean and fetch water. I pay her the princely sum of £1.50 a day, which is a good wage for her. She came in the morning to make arrangements for how things were going to work. I then put her to work making me breakfast. A boy called Amin came to see me – he is a bright bloke who speaks excellent English and for the past couple of years I’ve arranged for someone in England to sponsor his education. Along with the other poor people here he only eats one meal a day so he wolfed down most of my brekkie which was fine by me as Penda made way too many chapattis.

Enoch then swung by and the three of us headed to the rehabilitation centre – the rehab centre sounds like much more than it is. It is simply a collection of 11 homes. 9 of the families have at least one blind adult and the remaining two families belong to sighted helpers. The rehab centre gets a bit of support from overseas but I think this money is misused by the guy who runs the centre. During the last trip I bypassed him and meet directly with two or three of the guys within the centre – it is a general theme of the stuff I do here that I piss off the people in charge cos they like to be the ones who control my movements, actions and spending but I don’t let them and it is quite common for them to see me as an enemy, but I know that is just a product of the tribal culture here so I shrug it off. The leaders who run things like the rehab centre or wealthy and they just take a chunk of the money for themselves. Ive had my fingers burnt in previous years. I therefore often find myself walking a diplomatic tightrope between maximizing what my resources can achieve whilst not totally alienating the top dogs who could cause me hassle.

I arrived at the centre when most people were in church – it gave me a chance to talk to the important people though without being mobbed by kids straight away. The meeting lasted two and a half hours and was productive – it clarified in my mind where to direct some of the money I have.

I also got to see baby Imogen who was born last year when I was here and was named after my sister – the naming of children is about the only honour they can bestow on you by way of saying thank you. Before the baby was born I was told if it was a boy it would be called Tom, so it was a bit of a shame when a ‘she’ popped out! I think my sister is amused by it though.

Meeting some of the blind

I spent a fair amount of time talking with John Kapingo – when I came last time he was in hospital in another region as he had a growth on his head which was full of dead tissue which stunk and was full of lots and lots of maggots. I spent a long time with him fruitlessly going between hospitals trying to first get a diagnosis before treatment. Most medical care here is free for the impoverished but everything just takes so much time. I ended up getting an American missionary doctor to test and diagnose John with Squamous Cell Carcinoma – the whole process took just 10 minutes. Then it was back to square one in that we then had to try and get treatment. The machine which clamps the blood vessels in the head and which is necessary for the op was broken, so over the past 18 months John has had to make perhaps 6 trips to a hospital 8 hours away. Although the treatment is free it is out of the reach of many who cannot even afford the shoes they’ll need to walk around a city in, let alone the bus fare, guesthouse, food and other charges involved with being away from home for a period of time.

In the middle of the afternoon I returned back to the blind school where my house is and I played with the blind children – during my first trip here I totally ignored the children. I think being only 18 at the time meant I wanted to seem grown up and just mix with adults. Things are different now though and I mix with everybody. It took about 2 months last trip to break down all the barriers between us – mainly me being white but also being in my late 20s when they are conditioned to be polite and treat older people with respect. Now we play lots of games and do silly things together and probably my favorite moments in Tanzania are when it’s just me and them and as my language skills improve we get to do a lot more stuff.

Chilling with the kids before class

In the evening Penda cooked me rice with potatoes in a tomato sauce. Again she made way too much. Tech’s brother Alan was outside so I invited him in to share my food. He said ‘no’ and I could tell it was just politeness so I asked him again and he said ‘ok, just a little’ and proceeded to eat 3/4ers of it all. I have no idea where Africans put all the food they eat – I’m three times the size of him but was stuffed with the bit I had.

Monday 8th March

Peter, a helper from the rehab centre, woke me up at 8am with various lists of stuff I’d requested to help me with some projects I’ve got lined up for the centre.

I then went to see Mamma Nyema – her husband was employed as a helper at the rehab centre but he became a pisshead and lost his job after accusations of theft which he vehemently. He has just got a 5 year prison sentence for stealing from elsewhere. I’ve given them a lot of support in the past but I withdrew all help last trip cos he started abusing the situation. Now he is out of the picture the help can resume. I went to the local shop and got her 40kg of maize and 10kg of sugar which she will trade and generate some income with. She has three children: Nyema and John are at school so I kitted them out with uniforms, school books and clothes and her third child is called Sara, named after my mother, but she is still a young baby so didn’t need anything aside from a couple of small shirts.

Nyema and John with their school books

Getting fitted for uniforms. Each costs around £4.

Aside from being just a good shot of my bald head, this is the only way I could think of to get a shoe size for someone who doesn’t own shoes.

As I headed home I saw Gabriel Msaka. Gabriel is in his 70s which is not bad for a poor blind man in a country where the average age is on the underside of 50. During my first visit he was regional chairman of the equivalent of our RNIB. Last year I set him up with a small chicken farming business and now instead of chickens he farms goats – its cool seeing him progress like this as goats are quite a step up. Too often you give people here the opportunity to better their lives and they waste the chance. It can be so frustrating at times, so it makes me happy to see people who succeed.

Msaka and a red me at the bar

This is Salim. Last year I spent several days in Kondoa District, around 5 hours away but it is still in the blind school’s catchment area – although no children ever went to Buigiri from Kondoa, mainly because it is a muslim area and the parents are suspicious of christianity. I went with a muslim teacher though and we went out to the villages to find blind children as they are often kept away and hidden. We also met with the District Education Officer who agreed to fund the transport of 5 children to Buigiri. Although since then there have been problems, which is almost a certainty in Africa, and only two have made it to Buigiri, but it is a good start. Salim is extremely poor and wears rags. I’m kitting him out with all the things he needs and hopefully he will thrive.

Tuesday 9th March

I was up early and got a ride into town on the back of a pickup. My first job of the day was to buy lots of clothes. Rich people go into regular clothes shops, poor people buy clothes from the market but I go right to the source and buy them from where the market traders go. It took me a long time to discover the place last time but it is a fantastic find. It is all somewhat daunting though – clothes arrive from the west in 220lb bales. Merchants buy them without knowing what is inside. They then get opened up on the tables which line the sides of the shed and then perhaps 30 men stand on the tables and are handed items one by one and they shout out prices. There is an art to it all and it took me some time to figure everything out. I’m something of spectacle there though as no white people ever go there and I’m also a foot taller than everyone else. Also, other people might buy a few items to sell-on but I’m there with big bags buying perhaps a hundred or more items of clothing. I make sure I pay a fair rate and that can mean sometimes I don’t get something I want even though it is only an extra 5p. Typically I pay 50p for trousers and 20p for a shirt.

Here is Juma, one of the auctioneers. It’s a shame I didn’t have the nerve to take a photo of the chaos behind me

When the auction finished I got chatting to one of the traders and went with him for some food at a place owned by his wife. I have no qualms eating street food but this place was probably the worst dive I’ve eaten in. Amusingly the cooks were all wearing bright white catering clothes whilst stirring pots surrounded by dirt and flies.

Juma and his wife at their restaurant

After food I went to visit a chemist – my hope is to set up a small medical dispensary at the rehab centre. Nothing too advanced, but with perhaps 15-20 of the main types of drugs. You can get everything over the counter in town without prescription and one of the lists Peter brought me the previous day was all the names of the medication that the centre wants. I bought as much as my budget allowed – I think Ive got around 5000 individual tablets of one thing or another plus some syrups and inhalers. The main problem is going to be working out a distribution system. I haven’t got a clue how that is going to operate but I’m sure I will figure it out.

I got a ride back to the village perched on the back of a rather full truck. Buigiri is 32km from town and the sides of the roads are filled with people going about their business. I think every single one of them was laughing at me as it is so unusual to see white people riding in the back as though they are a labourer.

In the evening I realized there was some confusion with Penda – she was unsure how much food I eat and as I’d finished everything the previous couple of nights she kept cooking more and more as she didn’t realize it gets shared out. As such there was enough potatoes and meat to feed not just me but four other people. I don’t think I’ll correct her though.

Some of the kids helping me with my dinner.

After dinner I went down to the local bar with the intention of then catching some of the Arsenal Vs Porto game. A guy here has a workshop and in the evenings he charges boys and young men 10p to enter and watch films or sport on his telly. It is quite an experience sitting amongst everyone. Unfortunately I was so shattered I went home just before the game started. There’ll be more matches though.


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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