2014 Trip part 1

Thursday 18th December

We arrived in the village the previous day after 24 hours of travelling but did little more than catch up with a few people and unpack. There are regular power outages, and sure enough we were without electricity and so the body decided this was the perfect time to crash out. 12 hours later and we were fully recharged and raring to go. This is my 8th trip to Buigiri over 15 years and the first day is always spent getting myself up and running – such as sorting the kitchen out, collecting bundles of cash I had sent out ahead of my trip, getting my laptop online, buying local sim cards and so on. This means a day in town which can be a frenetic experience. Surprisingly the day was a success – successful days are few and far between as there is always a hold-up somewhere – a bus breaks down or the shops are shut for some esoteric holiday for instance.

This is what we managed to bring out this time. We were stopped at customs and nearly got into some hot water, but I grovelled our way out of it.

On another plus note, in the past, wherever I go, but especially in the towns, I get everybody staring at me. I can walk around a corner and make a busy street scene fall into silence. However this time I have found a perfect solution – travel with someone with a large red mohican. Talk about an attention shift. I can glide around and no one knows I am there. At one point we were in the bustling market and the place is divided by a bridge. This bridge is often lined by young men and they all broke out into spontaneous cheering when they saw his hair and several reached for their camera phones for surreptitious photographs. The hunter becomes the prey. Several people have said that the style will catch on and next time I visit, all the men will have bright red mohawks.

These two girls were joking around with us and then wanted to take their photo with us for their facebook pages – how things have changed here! In return, we also took a snap.

Piled up with goodies for the house.

On our first night we were invited to dinner and we had this feast served up

Friday 19th December

The visitors started arriving today, all with pressing needs. This year I have a couple of bigger projects lined up but I also have some money to help individuals with their issues. This money will not go too far though and so I am focussing on helping the people who have received support in the past and who I know to be reliable and trustworthy people who will make the most of the opportunity. Each year I come out thinking I have plenty of financial reserves to tide me through the trip but each year I run out and have to turn down genuine requests for help and I suspect this year will be much the same.

Someone bought a chicken to my house for me to buy. Every last part of it ended up in the pot, including the feet and head.

I had some of the successes visit me today and it was pleasing to start the trip in this way. First up was Mr Masaka – he is blind, in his 80s and a leader amongst the blind and in the community at large. However his position at the top of the social hierarchy does not mean he gets an income inline with his position. I have done what I can for him over the years and if everyone made as much of the opportunity as he did, then the village would be a far less troubled place. Years ago I set him up with a small chicken project consisting of 6 chicks, medicine and food. His chickens bred and he soon traded them for two goats and these in turn are now 7 cows. He has turned my original investment of £25 into capital worth 100 times as much within 6 years. I wish I’d lumped more on and taken a percentage!

Having blind people check out Dawei’s hair is an endless source of amusement for us.

Frank also paid me a visit – he is an exceptionally bright and hard working boy who comes from the poorest of backgrounds. Shane, who came out last year, and another friend, have helped pay for his education for the past couple of years during his A-levels and he is soon to graduate – this is a minor miracle given that only around 1 in a hundred children complete their GCSEs in the village. He has ambitious plans of studying Computing and Electrical Engineering at university but even with a government loan he would still need ten times what his mother might make from her small farm each year. It is frustrating seeing such barriers blocking good people like him and it is one of the factors that keeps the poor as poor as they have ever been, despite the country gradually becoming wealthier.

There were several other visitors, some of whom I could help and others who I have made plans to visit in their homes just to double check that previous support has been used correctly. If so, then I will likely help out again. Sometimes it is quite tough cutting people off because they have not done what they have said because it is often for valid reasons. Perhaps I give someone 10 corrugated iron sheets for their roof but before they are fitted, their child collapses in a fever – is it fair to punish them for selling half the sheets so they can visit the hospital and buy the medicine to save the child’s life? At the same time, it is difficult to operate as I do if people mislead you, no matter their intentions.

Lunch at John’s. The best (and just about only) restaurant in town.

After lunch we had a wander around the village. I like just pottering about and taking in the sights as you never know what you might find – it could be a chameleon sunning itself, or a bunch of old men playing draughts. We found ourselves watching a game of marbles, which looked simple but I am sure the kids were considerably more skilful than I could ever be. We were then ushered inside a house to see a woman who had had breast cancer. Three years ago I took care of her hospital treatment which included a mastectomy. Her breast was hacked off and even after all this time the wound has not fully healed. Living in squalid conditions means even antibiotics can’t destroy the infections. She was bedridden, very weak and one side of her body was horribly swollen. It was a grim sight and markedly different to the fun game of marbles taking place on the other side of the wall.

You might just be able to make out who I was waving at.

Saturday 20th December

There was the usual stream of visitors into my home, including an albino mother who needed skin cream, three elderly grandmothers who all had various ailments. The final visitor has been coming to see me for a few years. She had a broken leg which had been jambed into a crudely made metal support frame. Walking was very tough for her but a while ago I helped get a new frame, as well as medicine and now she is almost back to full fitness, which is pleasing to see. Fortunately by 11.30am there was no one waiting and so we made a break for it.

Dawei up in the lookout with a couple of friends. The lookout is what I was waving at in an earlier photo

I was being punished for something or other. I probably deserved it.

We headed up to the Adult Blind Rehabilitation Centre to see the dozen families who make it their home. I always like visiting there as I have known many of the families for 15 years now. When I first came here, I was a mere 18 years old and thought I was going to make a difference, but instead found myself planting trees and digging ditches. All these years later and I see the trees giving shade and bearing fruit and the ditches prevent flooding in the rainy season.

We went around a few of the houses and caught up with various people and then had a meeting with all the families present. I outlined what would be happening in the coming days and broke the news that there wouldn’t be anything major happening there, instead they’d just be getting the regular annual delivery of seed, medicine, school uniforms, maize and food for Christmas. The meeting turned a little surreal when I mentioned Christmas Eve and that prompted a rendition of Silent Night.

Standing with John Kapingo and his family outside his home at the rehab centre

Here I am with baby Imogen, named after my sister.

Lucas was in a car crash with his football team a few months ago and he  couldn’t pay for treatment for his broken arm, so it is a bit of a mangled mess. He has collected around half of the money needed to get it sorted and I added a small amount to the pot.

Peter and his sewing machine – he and his wife eek out a living repairing clothes but he needs a second machine to help make better clothes. He has some savings and it is pleasing to see when people work hard to solve their own problems but I used some money from a friend to bolster his amount.

In the evening we were invited to a leaving party for the headmaster of the blind school. He should have left in October but he keeps coming back for different reasons. We have had a bit of a tricky relationship in the past. I like doing things myself but he wants me to just hand over lumps of cash to him and it angers him that I won’t do this. It would have been very rude not to have attended the party, so along we went. He gave me a great big hug when I went to greet him like we were long separated friends and then tried to have me sit next to him for the whole event but I managed to insist I should hide at the back and so I managed to escape. He had the last laugh though. When he was addressing everyone present, he called me forward and thrust a microphone into my hand and had me take part. I hate public speaking at the best of times but I wasn’t going to let him know that. He said he would translate for me, but I made a point of babbling away in Swahili. I enjoyed the rest of it though as there were a few choirs taking part and they are always entertaining to watch.

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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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