Wednesday, March 28
The journey out here went smoothly. It takes 29 hours to get from my room in Bristol to my room in Buigiri, although a fair chunk of that is spent waiting at airports and bus stands. African bus stands really do show the ugliest side of the continent. Elsewhere the people are extremely friendly. They have a national philosophy of ‘Pamoja’ which means ‘Togetherness’, so whether you are different in any way, say Muslim or Christian, then together you are Tanzanian. Which is why this country stands head and shoulders above pretty much the entirety of Africa with its peaceful history. The only war it has fought since the country’s inception 50 years ago was when Idi Amin, funded by Gadaffi, invaded and was sent packing, although at a crippling cost to the Tanzanian economy.
I had my slice of animosity when a porter turned on me. Although I generally refuse their help, I had 5 bags weighing a total of 60kg and was shattered after an interrupted night’s sleep on the plane. He gave me a price for his assistance with his sack barrow – £2 – and although this was too much by a factor, I agreed. 10 minutes later we’d collected the bus ticket a friend in the village had purchased for me, got to the bus and loaded the bags on board when he announced I was to pay him double. Nevermind his hourly wage was already greater than mine in the UK. For 10 minutes he had earned the same I might pay someone for a day’s work in the village, he wanted more. He was really getting quite heated but I remained calm and sent him on his way.
I then had 3 hours to kill under departure time so set myself up at a local cafe with line of sight of the vehicle and got stuck in to a Dara O’Briain book. A guy settled down next to me, points at the photo of the author and says ‘you wrote this? this is you, yes?’. Ermm no.
The 8 hour bus journey was brought to a halt by a fan belt in the Air Con snapping when bombing it at speed down the road. I momentarily thought we were going to die, but this is a common feeling that arises every time we over take someone and pull back in with seconds to spare. An upside of sitting at the front of the bus is I get leg room and can easily spot when we are approaching Buigiri. The downside is the constant reflection on my own mortality every time we pull out or whenever we pass yet another car, truck or bus in a ditch.
I had a fantastic welcome off the bus. Many of the children from the blind school were waiting for me, as well as other friends. They helped carry everything to my house and were rewarded with a cold soda. They did not feel the need to shout at me demanding a second drink.
The remainder of the evening was spent saying hello to a few people. Being accosted by the homebrew quaffing drunkards and getting my internet sorted out. Amazingly I have managed to get a connection very easily. I demonstrated the marvels of Facebook to three guys only for one of them to tell me he was already on there and did I also have a Twitter account. When I first came here in 1999 the only method of communicating with people outside the village was to leave the village. Times change.
Thursday, 29 March
Plans to rest and catch up on my sleep were thwarted by a pack of monkeys who thought it would be a good idea to fight on my tin roof. I unpacked everything and took my annual photo of what I’ve brought out. The day was spent doing all the little tasks I need to do to set me up for my stay. I sorted out a mobile phoneand number, went to greet a bunch of the elders, played a bit at the school with the children and did my best to remember all the children’s names and I went to a maize merchant and bought 400kg for my house. I always have hungry people coming for food and in previous years I’ve had to arrange meetings at the shop. Last year I hit upon the idea of keeping a stockpile at home. It makes my life so much easier. I also met the woman who will be doing my cooking and cleaning. She speaks no English so I hope she understood my instructions. We’ll see what she produces.
What I lugged out here
Shifting 140kg sacks. Not my idea of fun.
Some african bees have decided to occupy the tree right outside my house. Last year they attacked me. They are vicious creatures who target people whereas normally bees are gentle things who only sting when really angry. Rather than deal with the problem, I sent a boy to destroy it whilst I hid inside and watched through a window.
I had my first visitor looking for help. When I was here last year she had broken her leg and I assisted her with getting to the hospital for treatment. I remember her clearly as the photo I took last year was possibly my favourite of all. Last year she was housebound and even moving around there required a lot of effort using cumbersome crutches. Although now it is by no means perfect she can walk around the village and tend to her farm. It is always pleasing to see the results of such a positive impact. She showed me her most recent x-rays and again I found myself in a rather ludicrous position of having to look at it as though I am a doctor. I’ve promised her I’ll help with the next checkup (by a doctor) and with medicine, plus uniforms for her 5 children. She also received 20kg of maize from my stocks.
In the evening I went to the bar and chilled out with one of the teachers and his spritely 82 year old father. Not a bad age in a country where making 50 is an achievement. I bought 11 beers plus some cokes and the bill came to around £8.
I spotted Mika sporting the shirt a friend of mine handed him in 2009. I’m amazed it is still in one piece
Friday, March 30th
The plan was to leave for town at 8.30 but from the time I got up at 7.30 I had a stream of visitors. The first was a blind woman after iron sheets to finish building her roof. A few months back I supplied 15 for her but because I like being awkward I refused at the time to get the final few. I will visit her house next week and make a decision then. They only cost about £8 each but I was keen for her to do some of the work herself. The next man had an eye problem and a leg ulcer so I’ve sorted him out with a hospital visit plus the medication he’ll need. The next was Esther who has been coming each year for help with a nasty skin condition. She was after medication and I’ll get that next week. She was accompanied by her grandmother who is blind and she proudly showed off the phone I gave her a year ago. Finally a madman came. He was talking gibberish in Swahili and English. Something about Jesus driving a machine. I shook his hand and wished him a good day and he wandered off with a contented look upon his face.
Mamma Beti and her leg.
Some of the kids having a boogie in my house
I had a visit from a member of the blind rehab center to sell me some eggplants. I bought the seed for her last year and now I buy the produce. She is onto a good thing here!
Stefano swung by for some batteries for a radio I gave him last year. Now many of them have survived.
I went to town with 3 guys from the village. They were a good help as I bought too much for me to carry by myself. We got a taxi back rather than the bus as I was feeling extravagant… and shattered. Tanzanian buses do the job, but they are not exactly pleasant experiences, especially with baggage.
As today is the final day of term at the blind school I made a point to spend some of the evening with the children. We amused ourselves for quite a while by talking nonsense. Amazingly they find me funny here – something I am yet to master in the UK. I then paid a visit to a teacher to give him a gift of a bottle of Bristol cider. I hope he doesn’t like it too much as I suspect it would be difficult for him to source in East Africa. My final mission was to collect some money from someone. Getting enough local currency for the projects when based in a village is really not easy, so I sent some out before I got here. I collected 1 million of it today and have been walking around with a bulging wallet ever since. Being a millionaire does give you a warm fuzzy feeling. More so than just carrying the equivalent of £400.
Saturday, March 31st
The stream of visitors continued. I had 8 people come looking for different things ranging from skin cream for an albino to a man wanting money to buy a sacrifice. It seems somewhat counterproductive to ask for someone else to pay for your own sacrifice. You aren’t exactly punishing yourself to prove to the Gods that you love them. I was able to meet some requests but others went home empty handed – with the exception of having 20kg of maize each, but this they balance on their heads.
One of the guys who collected maize has withered feet
A budding artist showing off his talents
I finally caught up with Mr Omary. He is a teacher at the school but also the big boss man of the Tanzanian League for the Blind for the entire region. We work well together and he knows how I like to operate. We made rough plans for what I will be doing this trip and everything is workable.
In the evening I hit the bar up. It is a Saturday night afterall. Alas due to the rains failing yet again people don’t have money to go out. I think ‘rains failing’ is a misnomer as it implies that bountiful rain was expected in the first place. In the years I’ve been coming here, this has never been the case. The rains do exactly what they say they are going to do – they visit England instead.
Sarafina went to Buigiri Blind School last year but now goes to a nearby Secondary. She is being sponsored by a friend of mine but she came by to collect some Factor 50 suncream. ASDA’s finest.
I resorted to buying some company. Well, not really. There is a blind teacher at the school whose wife makes uniforms for me. We had some business to discuss and what better way than over a few cold beers? I know he likes his drink but in spite of earning a salary, he has to support many people off it. So when I mentioned free beer, he rushed down. We had a good evening catching up and agreeing prices and how long the work will take. Initially his wife will be making 40 uniforms with the possibility of more depending on my budgets. We were joined later by Omary and I ended up buying his drinks plus drinks for the bargirl and for the guard. The total for 19 drinks was £9. I slept well, that’s for sure.
Sunday, April 1st
I used to think the good things about Sundays was that people went to church in the morning and so I didn’t get knocks on my door until midday. How wrong I was. Many people came. I gave out 180kg of maize and finished my current stocks so had to turn other people away empty handed. I also had various requests such as sponsoring a child or building a house. All of which I said no to. I do not want to sponsor more secondary school kids. There are 10 at the moment and it is already a stretch from a time and effort point of view, not only for me but for the guy who administers the pots of money when I am not in the country. Plus 10 is a nice round number. You have to draw the line somewhere. It is also a commitment over several years and if sponsors drop out, which happens, then what do you do?
In more fun news, my sisters rocked up today. She visited in 2009 and I have set up some links between here and the school she teaches at. They also do a fundraising event each year. I sent a boy from the village on the 7 hour trip to the airport to meet her and escort her back to Buigiri because quite frankly I couldn’t be bothered, plus I have only been here for a few days myself. She arrived in the village on time but in the wrong place, so the welcoming committee I had arranged was a little thrown. The main thing of course is she arrived in once piece. The evening was spent meeting a few people, getting to know the regular kids who play at the house and getting mentally prepared to use the ‘long drop’ (the loo… a hole in the ground).
To welcome her, I had these two chickens slaughtered. For their meat, not as a sacrifice.
What Imogen brought out with her. Between us we have quite a stockpile.
Mon 2nd April
I had planned to keep this day as empty as possible, but plans don’t always bear fruit. I wanted Imogen to rest and get slowly broken in to the work out here, which is pretty tough in the hot sun, but one thing led to another and she was thrown in at the deep end somewhat. We started off picking 16 of the blind children to receive uniforms. Some are orphans or from particularly hard lives and so those are the ones I selected. We then met Mamma Beti who has a bad leg and who I remember well from last year. I have decided to help her getting a more comfortable leg brace and shoe for her. We then met Emmanuel from a town a few hours away who is a blind ex-student of the school and has an uncanny knack of knowing when I am in Buigiri. A gardener friend of mine in the UK gave me some money to spend here and Emmanuel needs assistance in weeding his small farm, so 20% of that pot was used for this.
Getting the children fitted up
We also met up with Joel. I set him up with a shop about 3 years ago. It is nothing fancy at all, just things like kerosene and tea being sold out of his front room. It supports him and his family though. I am always keen to give more support to people like Joel who have shown they make a success of things. Imogen also decided to help pay for a small part of his son’s school fees.
We visited the rehab centre – nothing like the place you might have seen Amy Winehouse having to go, but a collection of 12 families, containing at least one blind adult. They each have their own house and small farm but to some degree live collectively. Over the last two years we’ve been planning and building chicken projects. Most have now been completed and they were great to see. Much better than I had expected. Imogen got to judge them and the best two received £10. I had promised a cash prize the previous year to ensure they worked hard on the projects and sure enough this had paid off. We then had a meeting with all the adult blind about what I’ll be doing with them this trip. I decided to give each family £4 to buy 1kg of meat and 2kg of rice to celebrate on Easter Sunday. I am also getting all the kids uniforms. Each family will receive 40kg of maize plus medicines and seed for their gardens. It was the rehab centre that originally brought me to Tanzania in the first place so I have a soft spot for them, hence why they get a fair amount of support. They are by no means spoiled though – life is still very tough.
Handing some sweets out at the end of our visit to the rehab centre.
In the evening we went to Mr Omary’s house for dinner. It was very good – rice, fried goat, boiled beef, roast spuds and various vegetables with homemade fruit juice and then we hit the bar – I was absolutely shattered though and by about 10 I was drifting off. The highlight was when a rather large insect landed on Imogen’s leg and she hit panic mode. I whacked it several times with my torch before it released its grip. I think the way it made her dance on the spot will be remembered for a while to come.
Tuesday, 3rd April
Having hoped to sleep in a little I was awoken at 7am by Mr Mswaga. He visits me every year. He is 78 and his glasses resemble coke bottles. Cos I am rubbish with mornings, I told him to never again keep banging on my door until at least 8am. Not an unreasonable demand I thought. He told me the neighbour said it would be fine, so I’ve since had words with her. Tomorrow will tell me if this has worked or not. It really isn’t just a case of me being lazy, but it is physically tough work here – lifting massive sacks of maize for instance in the hot African sun. So sleep and water are two essentials to keep me sane. Maswaga has a dodgy ticker and was looking for about £8 to get to a missionary hospital for a checkup. He walked off with this and a 20kg sack of maize which seemed to weigh more than he did.
Imogen with Mr Mswaga
At 8.30 the village cab picked us up. This is a much easier way of travelling than by bus. After some haggling we agreed that for £18 we would have a 65km round trip, plus being ferried around town for 6.5 hours. Not a bad deal really. We made full use of the car. We bought 100 toothbrushes, 172 toothpastes, over 100 items of clothing, 20 multi-purpose traditional pieces of cloth called Khanga which the women use to dress themselves and do a hundred and one things with. 100 tubs of skin cream, 75 exercise books, 100 bars of soap and bags and bags of sweets. The car was full to bursting. This represents around one third of what I need to get from town. So it is a relief having been able to put a serious dent in my list.
Our booty from town
As we came home we were caught in a monsoon type storm. It hadn’t rained for 5 weeks, so I told my sister not to bother packing wet weather gear. Ooops.
The evening was spent with some visitors, including Mr Omary who we plotted with about making plans for the coming days. We also had a request to help a woman who has a bad stomach. I refused because she is not a trustworthy person. I am pretty good at seeing no to people without offending them but Imogen buckled and is funding their trip to the hospital 7 hours away. Imogen and I have resorted to talking in French so we can discuss things in the presence of others without being overheard. Only our French is rubbish. And I confuse Swahili words with French words which just makes my sister scratch her head even more.
For dinner we had goat and potato. A delicious combination. We managed to feed 11 people with what we had. I think that is a record for this trip to date. We spend about £8 a day on food and the cook, to give an idea of prices.