Tuesday 8th March
Today was wash day. Cleaning oneself is not particularly easy – it takes about an hour to heat up the water over a charcoal burner to a bearable temperature. Whilst this was happening a couple of girls bought up the maize from the night before. I’m always shocked at how much people can carry without any noticeable muscle definition. I usually think of myself as pretty strong but am a weakling in comparison to them.
Shrove Tuesday is Chapati Tuesday.
I headed up to the Adult Blind Centre after breakfast for a meeting. It went on for 3.5 hours. We discussed various projects from years gone by and some had failed and some continued. There has been drought for a few years now and so these are lean times and not much money is floating around. One project I set up a couple of years back was to give all 11 families there a means of generating an income, so after various discussions we agreed on what they would be – two families were given ploughs to rent out, others had bicycles to transport goods and so on. The idea being that their expenditure on upkeep would be minimal and almost all the income would then be profit. However most of them are from the Wagogo tribe and one of the characteristics of being a Wagogo is you only think about today, never tomorrow. So if times are tough then you’d sell something for a low price just to make ends meet today without any thought to the impact it will have tomorrow. It can be hugely frustrating working with Wagogo and it is probably no coincidence that those who I’m closest to out here and who I use to run projects when I’m not here are from other tribes.
In the middle of the meeting.
We had discussed the previous year about setting up 11 chicken projects, one for each family. So they’d all get a brick chicken house with a tin roof and a fence, plus the chickens, chicken-food and medicine. I got the funding together during the past year for this so I gave it my stamp of approval. 80% of the costs will go on the buildings and so if they do individually decide to scrap their projects by selling all their chickens then only some of the original investment will be lost and it will be easy to get off the ground again. I also intend to set up a little competition to see who can have the best project running when I return next and the winner gets some cash or further investment.
I had to get back home for 2pm as I was meeting various school children and a tailor there. There are two primary schools in the village aside from the blind primary school where I’m based. I’d asked the headmaster from each to pick ten of the poorest children so they could get new school uniforms and shoes. I’ve used the tailor before and she is good. She is also the wife of a blind man so the money she gets will also generate other benefits. She is working for me flat out for two weeks. Whenever I see her kids I ask what their mother is doing and they always say she is making clothes. She might have just prepped them though!
I had a bit of a backlog of people waiting at my house to see me by this stage. Next up was Emmanuel – he is a blind shopkeeper from a nearby town called Hombolo. He is a hard worker and wants to be independent and self sufficient – it is something of an irony that for this to happen he needs someone to help him get up on his feet. In the past I’ve supplied items for his shop and given him things like a white cane and talking watch. This time he wanted me to build him a house – which I refused. He lives with his parents and wants to break away. Instead I gave him assistance in smaller ways. He has 3 acres of farm and as he is blind and unmarried he has no one to weed it. A poker playing friend who is also a gardener gave me some money to spend out here so I used some of it to help him with that problem and another bit went on making sure he has enough food until harvest. Next up to see me was one of the local leaders who needed some assistance to fund a meeting of the blind – I refused him though. It is only about £50 but my experience of meetings here is they are mostly a waste of time and I’d rather the funds I have to spend went on tangible things as much as possible.
Wednesday 9th March
I was up early for another trip to town – I got a ride on the back of a pickup which is my favourite means of travel cos you get lots of fresh air and there is plenty to see. Also the pickup was going into town cos a boy in the front had suspected typhoid and I wasn’t in any rush to share the same air as him. My first job was to buy seed for the Adult Blind Centre. The main crop is maize but they all have their own gardens for things like green peppers, onion, eggplant, chilli and tomato. They had all told me what they wanted and I used the same pot of money as I used for Emmanuel to fund it. I also went to the second hand clothes market and bought another sackful of stuff, plus I got 16 of the 20 pairs of new leather shoes for the kids getting uniforms in the village. I knew I was getting a lift back in a car and when that happens I try and get as much bulky stuff as possible. It can be a real effort trying to use the bus when you have baggage. We also went to the food market and I bought 440kg of maize for the 11 blind families which I distributed along with the seed at the centre.
There are always people around at food time. Funny that.
What will be growing in the gardens soon
The blind with the seeds they requested.
The blind with their maize
Thursday 10th March
I went back into town in the morning to get more second hand clothes and in the afternoon I headed on to a neighbouring town called Chamwino to get some of the items for the chicken project. The car belongs to the centre but the centre is run by a relatively wealthy guy and he treats the car as his own personal property. He really irritates me at times cos he is always trying to turn a profit. I’m doing stuff to benefit the centre and I’m quite happy to pay costs like petrol but he always tries it on. Chamwino is a ten minute drive in each direction and he told me I should give him 12 litres of fuel for this. Eventually he relented and said I could go for free but I later got 3 litres for it cos that is a fair amount.
We picked up 44 iron sheets, 750kg of cement and 6kg of hardcore nails. We have to wait for the rainy season to stop before they can be built. Of course, being Africa nothing runs smoothly though. Of the 11 families here, two are sighted helpers and they want their chicken farms built off site and there is another family who is about to leave as her husband was the blind member of the family and he recently died and she wants her project in a different village entirely. I’m going to be ruthless and tell her she won’t be getting a project as it will remain with the house which a new family will shortly move in to. That is not a conversation I’m looking forward to. I’ll offer to set her up with an alternative smaller project at her new place instead.
With most of the building materials for the chicken houses.
In the evening I was presented with a piece of cooked duck. It had been burnt to a cinder but that was probably for the best.
Friday 11th March
The day started badly – I’ve sorted one guy out with a large amount of support over the past few years. He has had his school fees paid for by a friend and I set him up with a second hand clothes business plus supplied him with loads of small things like a kerosene lamp so he can work after dark, school books, food etc. Recently I’ve had a suspicion he has switched from being someone who gets support to enable them to progress to a person who thinks he is on a gravy train and the good times will roll on forever. Since I’ve been here I’ve heard some stuff about him and he had also been avoiding me. I finally spoke to him and he told me he has the capital for his business in the bank as well as money I’ve sent for his school fees which are due in April. I put him to the test and told him to come to town with me on Friday and show me his account. He said that was fine and I said that if there were any problems or if he had under 80% of what he claimed to have then it meant he had been cheating me. Sure enough he failed to show and when I spoke to him on the phone he said he hadn’t understood me the night before. I was perfectly clear with him and his English is excellent.
I took a guy from the village into town with me as I had a very long day ahead and needed someone to ferry things back to the village. First stop was the mobile guy – friends gave me 20 mobiles to bring out but they all need unlocking. So I went to collect them and pay the bill which involved some haggling. It was kind of funny cos his original estimate was 20% under what I was prepared to pay anyhow but I got him down another 25%. On the TV in the corner I saw the tsunami in Japan – it was all a little surreal being in a shack in Africa but seeing real time pictures of a disaster the other side of the world.
Next stop was the second hand clothes auction – everything is costing more this year because of the world financial crisis. Clothes are about 50% more expensive, but they are still pretty cheap. I pay on average 20p for a shirt and double that for trousers. I wrote a lot about the auction last year so I wont go into it again, but it is a crazy experience. I spent about £20 on maybe 80-100 items and the bag was groaning under the weight. Annoyingly the guy who was to ferry the bag then disappeared. I was getting really angry and I had to then lug the massive bag across town to meet some other people.
I met up with Christoph – last year I supplied him with food, clothes and medicine and this year I’d offered to do the same. He is a good guy who doesn’t cause trouble… so it is a bit of a contradiction when I say in a few days time he is to be sentenced to a prison term for theft from the Adult Blind Centre. Africa is a weird place.
Next stop was to pick up some signs I’d had made and then to visit Milembeli which is where many of the blind beggars live. Unlike in the UK where the beggars are (generally) homeless, here they may have homes but no source of income. Hence they hit the streets, often taking a child as a guide and so depriving them of an education. The homes are very basic and often you get numerous people sharing a small space. I’ve sorted out the funding for two complete houses with funding in place for a third and have also arranged the part funding of two houses.
Peter’s house which a friend’s fundraising helped build.
Peter and his family
One of the houses built with money raised by my old school
I often see beggars I know around town and I’ll go up and say hello and they’ll always greet me warmly, sometimes I get a hug and we exchange greetings and chat until my Swahili is exhausted. This always gets funny looks from passersby as the beggars are generally shunned.
I’d also arranged for a tailor to come out to the area and sort uniforms out for a bunch of the kids. These will get distributed during my next visit in ten days time. I then chatted with various people. Everyone is in need of something but I think the next thing I’ll do there is get a small house built to hold someone’s cow. One thing about being here is I am on a constant learning drive. I need to know so many details like the prices of foodstuffs, different styles of building, what type of cement is best, when to build stuff, how much labour costs, where is the cheapest place to buy maize and so on and so on.
We finished up and came back to the village – I was shattered and rather grumpy when people came over. My mood wasn’t much lifted when I climbed into bed to find it had a fly infestation. Nice.
Saturday 12th March
I had been working pretty hard over the past week so I decided to take it easy as much as possible over the weekend. The kids are not at school so it is a good opportunity to play with them. I organised a dance competition – they asked if they could have two separate ones – one for the visually impaired and one for the totally blind cos the totally blind have little perception of good dancing and therefore are at a disadvantage.
Mid way through the tournament.
The winners, Erasto for the sighted and Eric for the blind.
I spent some time chatting to various teachers and also had a visit from Mamma Happy who I supplied some maize and other items to. Another blind man also came along – he was a right pain in the neck though. I gave him 20kg of maize and he then wanted money. When he wouldn’t take no for an answer I had to kick him out of my house.
Mamma Happy and Magdelene with their booty
I joined a couple of the teachers for lunch at the butchers – a cow had been slaughtered so we had some of it barbecued. The shop is utterly disgusting. The meat gets weighed on an old fashioned kilo balancing scale and when it was well balanced the butcher turned away to get a bag and enough flies swarmed on to the meat for it to tip the balance. Yum. When it went on to the barbeque it was next to another piece of meat – I won’t say what that was but let me just say I’m pretty sure we were eating a bull. Not much goes to waste here.