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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Planning for my next trip

I am all booked up for my next trip to Buigiri. I head out in mid-December for 24 days. I have started gathering together the things I like to take out, such as talking watches, mobile phones and football shirts. If anyone reading this has any old phones or football shirts (I’d wager against you having a talking watch) which you no longer use, then please get in touch and I can help free up valuable real estate in your drawers and in turn it will help someone in Tanzania.

It has been 16 months since my last trip in Easter 2013, but I still involve myself with various activities out in the village and surrounding areas. The internet has been a great help for me. When I first visited, the only means of communication was via an unreliable postal service which took two months to deliver a letter and bring me a response. Now many people have access to facebook through mobile phones and every day I get sent Swahili greetings and I keep up with the news in the village. It also means that I can be sent photographs shortly after they are taken. Even some of the blind leaders are being taught how to use computers.

Over the past few years some friends have been supporting ten primary school children. This provides them with two uniforms, school shoes, school books and fun stuff like sweets. I have just received photos of the children from half way through the year when they receive their 2nd uniform and other items. Here are some of the children:

 

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Short report on how a friend’s money has been spent

Much of the money which is spent on the projects I write about on this site is raised by a couple of schools in the UK. Occasionally, during the year, friends also kindly give a little. There is always so much that needs doing, that it can be hard to pick who to help. If anybody reading this feels the urge to get involved then please get in touch with me. I send money out each month and if it is small I can tack it on to that and if it is more substantial then I can do my best to get photographs and provide a more detailed breakdown in how the money is used (although I can’t promise pics as it is not always easy to get digital photos sent from the village). I receive constant requests for food, building homes, medicine, school fees and dozens of other needs. Below is a small report on how £200 has been spent which a friend handed me last month. It has been dictated by Omary who is a local leader and blind himself. My bits are in the square brackets.

1.

Here is a photo of a boy called Mohamed Mubarak. He lives with a parent in a village called Baura which is near Kondoa Town [approx 4 hours north of Buigiri]. He has low vision. The money I offered them helped them to go to CCBRT Hospital in Dar es Salaam [children need to have paperwork to show they have had their eyes tested by a doctor who can verify they are low vision and that nothing practical can be done immediately to resolve the issue]. He will join the blind school in July because his sight is very low. His family has treated him in using traditional medicine for a long time and still his parent believes that he can recover with only traditional medicine [there is often a battle between using local witchdoctors and western-style doctors].

2.

There are photos of Mr Phelemon Masumega and his wife. I visited them at their home which is at Ilolo area in Mpwapwa district [2 hours east of Buigiri]. You can see me in the photos [Omary is wearing the hat. I also met Phelemon and his wife this year and they are in a photo in this update]. They slaughtered a chicken in my honour. It was special for me for that day. Maybe it is because of what I sent them or perhaps it is just their kindness. I told you earlier that he is an entrepreneur. I gave him 200000tshs [£80/$120]. He makes and sells bricks. He will use the money to buy more materials and tools which will enable him to support his family.

3.

In the photos are Magreti, her husband and Vumilia who is studying at Mvumi Secondary School. She is in Form 2. They lives in Kawawa village. I hope you remember Magreti, she came to visit you in March with another woman when you were here. It is this family which takes care of Vumilia nowadays since her mother passed away. Vumilia has been at home since March 28th when the school closed for half-term because there was noone to pay for her transport to school. She has uncles and aunts but no one is ready to help her. Magreti and her husband volunteered to stay with her despite the fact they are too poor to support Vumilia with anything more than only food. I decided to give them 100000tshs [£40/$60] IN ORDER to help the girl go back to school.

This is all I have for today. Thank you. There remains 100,000tshs [£40/$60] to be used for Nasma [who is in a similar predicament to Mohamed] but she lives very far.

Yours,

Omary Lubuva,
Regional Co-ordinator for the Tanzanian League for the Blind

Of all the areas I have been involved in over the years, I am most proud about helping young blind children in to education. Too often they are kept at home, deprived of the opportunity to learn and are forced into becoming a burden on their family. I have witnessed firsthand the children being terrified at the prospect of leaving their home environment but then within a short time absolutely loving life at the blind school where they get to learn, play with friends who understand about visual impairment, and where they get three meals a day and a bed to sleep in.

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A Day In The Life #17

Monday 25th

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Time check. This is my final full day in Buigiri and so Operation Empty-The-House commences.

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I spy this dictionary which I left in the village in 2009. It has had some good use! Its new owner added my name to the back page and has tried his best to spell the name of my home town.

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Catherine pays me a visit to collect some sun cream. I bring plenty of bottles out each year for the albinos. She also gets some food for her family.

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The silliness resumes. This box is a remnant from the previous night’s entertaining of the teachers.

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Meet Jose. He is sporting a shirt I brought out last year. His education is being funded by the family of my flatmate.

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I can’t believe I have even more shirts to hand out. It has been a never ending pile. The top Britol City shirt is clearly the most sought after. Or at least it should be.

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The box sure is generating some fascinating stares.

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Shane fishes out the last of the water. We have no running water and this tank collects rain water which lands on our roof.

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A girl comes around selling these cake things for breakfast. I think they are made from a combination of rice and grease.

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As one of the few houses to have electricity, we find we have become a phone-charging centre.

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Next job is the final food distribution of the trip. This is for the 12 members of the blind rehab centre.

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On the left is Kapingo who is the only guy who speaks English. On the right is Simba. He isn’t from the centre but I had promised him an extra portion of maize so he met us with the others.

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Everyone together for the customary photo. We have supplied enough food for approximately 7,000 meals this trip.

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Time to pay.

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This lot cost around £100

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Eva and Agnes pay me a visit. A friend from work gives a little money to get them food, uniforms, clothes and other items each year. He gave me these two toys to hand them this trip. I wonder if Buigiri has ever seen a boomerang before. I hope they like it and don’t try to throw it away.

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The two at the back do much of my cooking. They were delighted to get these shirts.

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I don’t recall what was going on here.

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A friend who works for WPT magazine gave me these shirts to hand out.

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And yet more football shirts found their way on to people’s backs

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I gather all the other bits together and head to the home of the big boss of the Tanzanian League for the Blind

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He will ensure they go to the correct places. The bulkiest items are the glasses. They will end up with the eye specialists at Mvumi Hospital. The Bop-it toys will get used by the blind kids and the sun cream will go to the albinos who live further afield.

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A local guy I knew from when he was at secondary school in 1999 is now the boss of a small safari company. He funnels part of his income in to building a library in the village. Prices of text books are prohibitive, so a central store should enable many students to succeed at school.

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Next stop is to see Mr Tongu. On top is a talking calculator for the staffroom and underneath are 3 maps of Africa my boss gave me to bring and which will end up on the classroom walls to aid geography lessons.

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This swing is the only functioning part of the playground.

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I hand out the remaining hats

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And find two recipients for these braille playing cards. That is Nico on the left and Salim on the right. Years ago I travelled around some remote villages looking for blind children who could join the school and Salim was a product of that search.

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I also hand out two replacement radios for a couple which had broken – I got a bunch of cheap ones off Ebay before I came and they are quite useless. Plus I give out batteries for other radios.

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I say my goodbyes to the blind children as this is my last visit to the school.

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As I head off I spy this boy trying to hunt birds. If he succeeds then his family will get a little extra meat for their supper.

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Rehydration time.

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And refoodation.

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I get home and look in on our cooks. As it is our final night we have asked for two chickens to be devoured.

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Years ago I saw these two boys dancing with a choir so I arranged a small dance off competition between them.

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Albert was the winner.

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Unusually I am in no rush on my final day so I fire up a DVD. Eventually we had about 15 people crowded around my laptop. We watched Africa United which is a charming film set in and around Tanzania.

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After dinner we went to the bar for a final session with the teachers. I was exhausted though and stuck to soda.

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I’m not quite sure what I am trying to convey here

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Just as we head home, this critter decides to pay a visit to wish me goodnight. I crawl in to bed arond 2.30am and my alarm is set for 3 hours later. This has been a fantastic trip and pretty much everything has gone as smoothly as possible. It has also been great having Shane out there with me. Thanks to Ampleforth College, OLQH, UWE and UoB who gave me items to bring, or cold hard cash – plus thanks to everyone else who kindly added to my warchest, there are too many to name and I’m sure some of you prefer the anonymity. You are all stars.

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2013 Trip part 4

Saturday 23rd

We headed into Dodoma for our final town trip. First up was a trip to Milembeli to hand the uniforms to the children of the blind who live there. There was quite a gathering awaiting us and after the usual introductions we spoke to various people in private about what issues they had. Some were too big to deal with, such as building houses or paying for university; but those which were manageable received various amounts of assistance.

 photo P3230321640x480_zps63497575.jpg Dishing out the final load of uniforms

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Giving one of the phones I have brought to a local leader

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These two needed a little help. One for HIV medication and the other to buy a door for her house which I had built for her a few years previously but clearly I had found a shoddy carpenter as the door broke.

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Zawardi and Eliza were looking for school shoes and a bag for their books. Zawardi features a lot in this blog as she is the one who sparked off the mass-buying of uniforms after she asked my sister for one years ago.

After the discussions were completed, we headed to the home of Mariam. Part of her roof had been destroyed in the storms and if it wasnt repaired then the next storm might take the walls with it. I was given a small amount of money by someone I’ve never met but who stumbled across this blog and I used the bulk of that money to buy her the iron sheets she needs. Driving to her house was a mission in itself. We started on a dirt road which became a lane and then turned into a track and finally was little more than a footpath. The taxi driver took it all in good spirits, even when he had to change a tyre.

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Mariam and her son outside their home. You can see where the roof has collapsed.

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Their new iron sheets. I’m the one on the left.

We returned to Buigiri to find the usual assortment of people awaiting us. I had promised Ashel a small amount of money to get him to the eye hospital in Mvumi and for his treatment. I was also able to find him a couple of pairs of glasses from the storeroom. He walked off with a huge smile. Also waiting to see us were Esther and her son Emmanuel. She insisted we see his ulcerous leg, but I managed to convince her it was not necessary. He needs way more help to solve the problem than I can provide, but I helped with things like bandages.

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Trying out eyeglasses for Ashel

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This snazzy pair did the job

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Esther and Emmanuel outside my house with clothes and cash. They received quite a haul because I was in the midst of emptying my house of goodies before leaving the village. They timed their visit perfectly.

Sunday 23rd

Although I am here for around a week less than usual and my final few days are always so incredibly busy, the final few days of this trip have been rather calm in comparison. I have had less money to spend on smaller things as the bulk of it has been earmarked for specific items by those who gave it. This means less running around and more focus on large scale and less time consuming projects. The mattresses for example took around an hour to plan, an hour to buy and an hour to transport. The chicken project of to years ago probably took around 50 hours of my time.

I had expected plenty of visitors to my home but this was not the case – only one person came. I thought living in the village rather than in the school would make me more approachable than before, but it seems only a few found out where I was living. This is a good thing as I had just the right number of requests for assistance. I am fine with saying no to people if I believe I have valid reasons for doing so, but having to say no just because my cash has run out is tough.

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Teresa collected some money to pay for medicine for her stomach ulcer

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Killing time with a frisbee

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Handing clothes out to the girls at the blind school.

One thing that has come to light this year is I have more of an insight into how I am perceived by many of the villagers, including some of the leaders. There is a belief that after World War 2 a bunch of white missionaries acquired a large quantity of gold and buried it in 6 crates. They believe all whitemen know the location of this hoard and I steal it from them. When not stealing their gold I am mining for diamonds in the nearby hill. Quite how they think I have time for that between working hard all day, spending the evening in the bar and then scraping together 5 or 6 hours sleep, is quite beyond me. It is fascinating how these rumours have spread and I’m sure many villagers would swear they are true. They also think I come to Tanzania and do the good things I do just so I can then take photographs of them and these I sell these for vast sums in England. Quite why they think their photo has any value or why there is a market in a bunch of Tanzanian’s standing together with me often lurking behind them is another matter. I’ve spent too long in the country now to be bothered by such tittle tattle and those I work directly with laugh at the ridiculousness of it.

In the afternoon 20 of the disabled and very elderly gathered at the maize shop. Last year they all received 40kg each but with the price hikes I had to halve this. They 20 people make for quite a motley crue. Some crawl on the ground, others have feet pointing the wrong way, some are so frail and yet still walk off with the sack of maize balanced on their heads.

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Handing out the maize

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The 20 people lined up

Afterwards we wet to the football pitch for the clash between a village team with the delightful name of ‘Killer Boys’ and a team who had come down from the mountains. At stake was a football, plus football shirts. Shane is a referee and with some simple swahili scrawled on a pad he managed to successfully officiate.

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Just before the game I met with Enock, Martha, Moussa and Happy. They are four of the children who get support from friends in the UK. It isn’t a huge amount, but it helps with uniforms, a little food, school books and other essentials.

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The team from the mountains

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The local team. They had turned up without shirts and so we dished out 11 of the red shirts I had been given in the UK. The plan was to give these to the winning team whilst the other team got a mixture of shirts. Fortunately they went on to win, otherwise things might have gotten a little awkward.

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The ref with the winning captain and their new ball

In the evening we had our traditional send off meal with the teachers. We ate the duck given to us by the witchdoctor, plus served up a further 5kg of meat. We fed the ten of us, plus 15 children, our biggest haul to date. As per the previous year, the wine flowed and flowed. We had bought a box of the stuff from Dodoma and I took it upon myself to ensure we didn’t waste any by not finishing it. It was a fun evening and some fascinating stories were shared – I’ll save writing about them on here as they were a bit too extreme for public consumption.

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The teachers at the start of the meal

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Mr Omary and Shane re-enact Sláinte from St Patrick’s Day

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As a taste from the UK, I brought out a bottle of whisky

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Mission accomplished

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