Thurday, 5th April
Our departure to town was almost thwarted by another continual stream of visitors. One of whom was Zenadea, a blind student teacher from a town around 5 hours away. She had asked me for a talking watch and I told her to come in the morning – but she came with a small entourage who all wanted watches. I brought many out with me, but a whole load did not survive the flight and it turns out a bunch of others from Ebay are rather unsuitable as they make silly noises after telling the time and they are far too easy to change the time accidentally. I gave her one good, one ok and one bad watch. Having only promised her one to start with I thought this was fair but she was insistent she got 3 good watches. I managed to get her out the door without having any upgrades though.
Zenedea (left) with one of her entourage
John, one of the many visitors. He is one of the good guys. He has a club foot.
I remember Sarafina from when she went to the blind school. Now she is at a nearby secondary school but has no contact with her family. I am paying her school fees with money from my old school but she also needs to find around 100pounds to pay for accomodation and food for the year. It is up to her to find it, which is very tough on a child. I have supplied this with money from the same pot but have told her that this is a one off and next year she is on her own with the living costs.
The day in town was meant to be a chill out day for us as we were spending the night at the good hotel there to catch up on sleep and eat a decent meal. We spent most of the day running around various shops and buying stuff online. The evening was most enjoyable – gin and tonic, cold beer, wine, Chinese food, Wifi, Peace and quiet. Heaven.
Chinese food, Tanzanian style. I enjoyed it. Imogen not so much.
Friday, 6th April
Our leisurely start became more leisurely than we could have hoped for as the man we were due to meet in town had found himself stuck on the slowest bus this side of Timbuktu. A 4 hour journey took him double that and it was rounded off by his neighbour vomiting on him. When he eventually arrived we set about our business – we would be visiting MileMbeli which is an area of town where a group of the blind beggars live and where I have visited many times. They are well organised with an elected leadership and it makes working with them a breeze. The leaders had selected 25 of the most deserving families to receive a small food package. With Easter two days away we decided to give them rice. You get less for your money than with maize, but it is easy to transport without needing to get a truck from somewhere. Each family received 3kg of rice, 1.5kg spuds, 1kg of bean plus vegetables, fruit, biscuits and sweets. All the children also received school books and pens. 21 of the children were also fitted up for school uniforms and they will receive these later.
The bags of food and recipients at MileMbeli
Imogen feeling the pressure a little. She coped brilliantly all trip though.
After distribution it was a bit of mad scrum as various people wanted to have a word in my ear about direct assistance for various projects. I’m receptive to hearing ideas and in the past have built 3 houses and repaired some others for families there, assisted with someone’s teacher training fees and provided support in other ways. However the one man who was most persistent has already received more than everyone else and so I am reticent about reaching into my pocket again for his family. He wouldn’t leave me alone though and eventually I had to say in Swahili ‘enough, just leave me alone’. I think he got the message then. Requests came for things like a mattress, building another house and starting a shop. The one guy I wanted to speak to, though I didn’t get the chancem, is one of the leaders called Idi. His wife is Amina. So hard to forget. He used to be a mullah and he is blind. As a leader he could have had more access to me in the past to make requests but he decided others were more worthy and so put their issues before his own. So I’m keen to help someone like him. When I return towards the end of my trip I will be sure to take him to one side.
We could relax a little after we had finished giving all the items out
Although Peter Gabriel (great name) still collared us. Next time I will ask him to sing a tune.
We didn’t get home until 8 and only a few stragglers were waiting at my home. They were in need of uniforms for their children so I made arrangements for their children to be fitted once the current batch of 45 were completed.
Saturday, 7th April
We had a fairly busy day scheduled and it didn’t help that things were going a bit crazy with people coming to the house. We had 16 separate arrivals and in many cases they had their families attached. All received something, whether it was food or clothing. The strangest request came from a man called Robert. I have known his new wife Lucy from MileMbeli for years but she has only just recently moved to Buigiri. She is a good person but for some reason Robert triggered something in both my sister and I and we were wary. His main request was to help him set up a hairdressing salon which he needed around £100 for. Lucy is totally blind and Robert has low vision. Not exactly a winning combination for hair cutting. I refused their request because businesses are very hard to succeed with. You need to be able to ensure that when you have your business capital and your child needs taking to hospital, that you don’t dip into it. Or when your brother dies and you are expected to finance the funeral because you are the one with the business, that you can refuse. I did however agree to help his wife get medical treatment for an illness and I agreed to fund their child at school for three months, but with the knowledge they would not be getting further support. I bet after the 3 months is up they try and contact me to get more help. I will say no though.
Lucy and Robert. The next Vidal Sassoon?
We eventually left the house at 10am to visit Kusenha’s family. He is blind and had a good job with the electricity board. They gave him a healthy retirement package but it disappeared over the years, mainly in the direction of various wives who came and went. Now he has nothing but has managed to build most of his home… with the exception of a part of his roof. He is after a few iron sheets to finish the job and has been asking me for the last couple of years. I agreed and will supply these before the end of my trip. Next stop was Joel’s shop. He is a blind man who is a hard worker and I set him up with a small shop a few years ago. I wouldn’t do so again now knowing what I do about running businesses here, but that would have been a mistake because he has succeeded well. Every time I visit he has more and more stock and he only takes a small part of the profit out of the business to support his family. People like him I am always happy to continue supporting and so I agreed to buy him kerosene and other items to give him a little boost to his capital.
Kusenha (back right) and his family. You can just about make out the missing iron sheets.
We bought some things from Joel to give out at our next stop.
In the afternoon we held the annual dance competition at the blind school. This was split into two categories – traditional music and Bongo Flava music which is Tanzanian hip hop. The winner from each section received a radio and soda and everyone who danced got biscuits and a juice. Then I did a quiz for the totally blind children as they find it difficult to compete at dancing. They had to answer questions ranging from ‘what is the name of the football team I support’ to ‘what is the capital of Angola’. It is amazing how knowledgeable some of them are. The winner eventually received a talking watch and the runner up a radio.
Dance competition mid flow.
The victorious dancers and quizzers
In the evening I hit up Club Buigiri. A few times a year, for special festivals, a sound system is dusted down and a building appropriated. It is a part of village life I have never witnessed before. Imagine one large room lit only by a light bulb at one end, perhaps 200 boys/men aged from 13-25 and around 10 girls, all dancing extremely well. I decided to take root against the wall. I didn’t want to put them to shame with my superior moves. Plus I am not sure my ‘how big is your TV’ and ‘I’m loading my shopping trolley’ moves would have been interpreted.
Possibly my favourite tshirt I have seen here. Chances are someone donated it to a British charity shop and it found its way here through them.
Imogen has been distributing caps to albino kids emblazoned with her school’s logo.
Sunday, 8th April
I had kept this day as free as possible because it was Easter Sunday. We had been invited to spend lunch with the family next door. It was very kind to be invited for Easter lunch not least because my cook had the day off and so my sister and I would have to have knocked something up over charcoal. We had a real feast. Before lunch we went to church, I warned my sister it was long. Fortunately I also knew that despite being advertised as starting at 7, it doesn’t begin until gone 8. We left shortly before midday. There were 3 choirs to cheer things up a bit though and the service also involved a fun section when Imogen and I had to walk to the front and introduce ourselves to the 300 or so people present. I sent her up first and she spoke in English expecting the priest to translate, but he didn’t for some reason. I went up and spoke to the congregation in Swahili and got myself a round of applause. I think Imogen felt a little hard done by.
One of the choirs at the church.
Our delicious lunch: chicken, salad, beef, rice and potatoes.
Our mother gave us £20 as an Easter present and we found a shop in town that sold out-of-date Mars bars for 20p. So We supplied all the children at the blind school plus others with a taste of England.
We had few visitors to the house because it was Easter, but those who came got the last of the clothes. The food had also finished. We have distributed 1680kg of maize by this stage, plus a few hundred kg of rice and other foodstuffs.
Handing out Mars Bars to the kids
And what Imogen gave me.
We have also been dishing out toy cars. They are flimsy and don’t last long, but they provide much amusement during their short lives.