A Day In The Life #16

Friday, March 22nd

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Traditional fake sleep photo

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Time check. Anything after 7.30am counts as a lie in.

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Checking the cash I have to hand. This is what 2 million looks like. It is 1/8th of my total spend this trip.

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The first stop of the day is not until 10am, so I check what’s happening in the world.

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And here is the first appointment. I am collecting many of the completed uniforms from the tailor.

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I hand over the remaining balance to Mr Fwejeje. I have had around 50 made here and 20 in town. Each costs approx £7.

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An early lunch is had as the next job starts at 1pm.

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Lunch is Chipsi Mayai – or a chip omelette in English.

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As we head to the school after lunch we spot Mr Julius. The government has been handing a few kg of food to those most in need in the village. He has just collected his share

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Each year I arrange a group phone call between the blind school and a London primary school. The kids introduce themselves and ask questions about each other’s lives.

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I had told them that if they spoke loudly and clearly I would provide sodas as a treat. Not all the children could have them right away as some were fasting for Lent and so had to wait until the evening.

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The blind kids who had been fitted up for a uniform then arrived to collect them – they are in the black bags.

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I get cornered by Zenedea. She is blind and training to be a teacher. She is rather formidable and is always flanked by a posse. She is definitly the Queen Bee though.

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As I leave the school I am introduced to these two who had travelled 5 hours to visit me. The woman has a back problem and the man is blind. I tend to avoid helping people who turn up to see me but I could hardly send them off empty handed.

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Next up is a short walk to the shop with…

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…Flora. She is 19 with a 5 year old child and both are blind. I give a little help by way of food, soap and other items.

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Next stop is the blind rehabilitation centre to distribute some items.

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The main project this year was supplying mattresses to the centre. Each family received 2. They sleep on sacks on the floor and had asked last year if I would consider providing mattresses in the future. Also in the pic are sacks of soap, clothes, toothpaste/brushes and other items.

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I was also there to hand out the seeds and medicines they had requested.

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Plus more uniforms

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And some shirts from my sister’s school. The two at the front are twins who happened to be wearing shirts I gave out last year.

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Before the mattresses get taken away we have a group photo.

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Jared collects his

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As does Leah

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I give a hand (or a head) carrying them to the houses.

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I admit it, I am showing off now

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I make sure I get pics of each person with their mattresses to show to the sponsor in the UK

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As I go around the houses I spy this sign I had made for a previous project there.

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And more smiley faces

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Harry wants me to provide a water pump for his garden. He has to carry the water buckets by hand. I have said no though as it is unfair to favour one family over another in the centre.

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I head home and a quick storm comes and goes. It brings with it this rainbow

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It also brings Frank. He is a very bright student, in the top few in the region, with excellent English who is one of the very few people to have passed his national examinations. He lives with his disabled aunt and has had to drop out of school for financial reasons. Having said I would not support any more people with education, I buckled with him. Shane, a friend in the UK and I have put enough money in a pot so he can restart in May

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Now all the serious work is done, it is time to revert back to my default state of being silly.

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I’m not sure where this monster came from (the toy, not the boy). I asked people what it was and noone knew. The closest they got was ‘Godzilla’. I tried explaining about dinosaurs but I think they thought I was pulling their legs

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Next is a visit from Hogra. I have already helped her start a small tea and cake selling business but she came to remind me I had promised her kids uniforms. Ooops. I handed her a ticket to take to the tailor and she seemed happy.

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Dinner time. We have 3 cooks and a guard.

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Rice, goat, salad and plenty of fresh fruit. We feed around 15 people each evening. For the kids, these few weeks are like when a seal puts their blubber on before the winter. After we leave, they will be back on basic rations until I return next year.

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The dog wandered by and was tempted in to the house.

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Also making an appearance was this cricket

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And this centepede. They are very dangerous with a strong poison in their tail. When the children are frightened of an animal then I know it is something to take seriously. We eventually track him down and kill him.

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In celebration the children prat around outside

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Next stop is Chamwino town, around 5km away. The teachers are taking us there for a drinking session.

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They had ordered us all half a chicken. Having eaten at home we were not too keen on the idea, but after a few beers we plouged through it. It was delicious.

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We indulged for quite a while

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We had agreed to pay for the drinks, which costs £22, and the teachers covered the 5 chickens

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Heading back by taxi – 4 in the back and me up front.

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A later than usual night and after a busy day we found sleep came without much prompting.

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2013 Trip part 3

Monday 18th

Each year I meet with the urban blind beggers at their home. They are organised and have a committee to represent them, which makes my life easier. I had asked them to draw up a list of 20 families to receive food. We went via the market and arrived to find everyone waiting patiently. I know most of them by name now and so it took a while to get the greetings out of the way. Each family received maize flour, beans, soap, bananas, exercise books and pens. The whole process always takes longer than planned, and today was no exception. After the distribution we visited the home of one of the women so we could see a certain problem she was keen to remedy. Finally the leaders invited us inside their home and fed us cake and soda and gave us gifts. It is always touching when people give us things in return.

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An extra pair of hands makes all the difference

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Members of the 20 families with their goodies

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We also hand out some of the many football shirts

We stayed in Dodoma town that evening as a mid-point break in our trip. The hotel has wifi, a Chinese restaurant, well stocked bar and hot showers. It really feels like an oasis and after a week or more in Buigiri it is just what the doctor ordered. We also managed to squeeze in a football game – Polisi Dodoma versus Simba. Simba are one of the two big teams and Dodoma are the lower division minnows. The gulf between the two teams was evident and Simba put on a fantastic display. Although many locals support Dodoma, their affections really belong to Simba and so it felt a little odd seeing the away team get all the home support. At the end, the Simba players were mobbed and the Dodoma players slinked away.

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And to think we were concerned we would not be able to find a seat. Our side was full though as it was in the shade

Tuesday 19th

We had a bunch of jobs to do in town. We met up with the wife of a man who used to live in Buigiri and who each year I provide with some food and other items. We also teamed up with some of the guys from the rehab centre and went about completing this year’s main project: supplying mattresses to their houses. This is something they have asked me to consider for a couple of years and so it is pleasing to cross it off the list.

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Ive always wondered what the arcade was like. We walked out winners, to the tune of around £5. The ‘No under 18’ rule wasn’t enforced.

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Waiting for lunch in the hotel. It is a different world in there and it can be a shock to the senses when stepping outside afterwards.

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With Morientes and his mother after getting their annual stash.

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We both live in Redland. Hence the silly pose.

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Getting the mattresses for the rehab centre.

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And to think I thought they would all fit on to a pick-up truck. We had to get this second vehicle to carry the majority of them.

Wednesday 20th

Buigiri’s blind primary school is pretty much free for all the kids, as is every primary school in the land. The parents need to pay for the minor things like some transportation, uniforms, soap and suchlike. Secondary schools are different – they cost around £100 to attend. There are also some prestigious schools which cost many times that much and one such school is 2 hours away in Mvumi. They benefit from the patronage of Sir Stuart Rose, the boss of Marks and Spencers. He personally sponsors many of the children there and has established a blind unit. This accommodates 30 blind students currently and Buigiri acts as a feeder school. I have visited a couple of times before, but during my last visit the unit was only just finished and there were yet to be any blind students in attendance. Each year I spend time in Buigiri bonding with the bind children and then each time I return to Tanzania many have moved on in their education. Thus, Shane, Myself and two of Buigiri’s teachers drove over and paid them a visit.

We took some gifts and handed each child some pocket money. They were delighted that we had come and it was fantastic going around the classroom and catching up with each child individually. We stayed a little longer than planned and on the way back had a puncture, not too surprising given what passes for a road to Mvumi. After a while we even came across a search party on a motorbike from Buigiri that had come to see what had become of us.

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We spy these guys from MileMbeli. I handed this shirt out the day before. It made our day seeing it in use.

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The Mvumi kids.

Thursday 21st

This is our third trip into town by bus. Before we arrived in Tanzania I had warned Shane about the local buses. They are always crammed full and you can be standing up, crushed by hens and breast feeding mothers in a 5′ high bus. Each journey has been brilliant so far though, one bus was empty, another half full and for our third journey we flagged down a comfortable people carrier and got a lift in that.

We had a bunch of little jobs to get done, all of which we successfully managed. I remember the days when I would come to town and everything would conspire against me – maybe there would be no power, or the shops I needed would be shut and it would take me several trips to get anything done. For the past few years it has all changed – either I’m more mellow about things and take set backs in my stride or things are actually improving. Either way, it is a good thing.

When we returned we met with the local branch of the Tanzanian League for the Blind. Originally I used to avoid providing them with any support because I’m not a big fan of committees and organisations. I like seeing a problem, finding a solution and getting it done so I can move on to the next issue. Committees talk and don’t commit. Over time I have seen the TLB doing a lot of good though. They track where all the blind people live so they can receive assistance. They also receive some small grants for projects and everything is transparent. Over the past I have relented a little and got behind them. They now have a small office and a contribution I made last year helped towards some of the furniture. This year I have a pot of money specifically for buying furniture, so I have dipped in to this so they can add another cupboard or table. It is not a vast sum, but it will all help them gradually get to where they want to be.

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With the local TLB leadership

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The photo does not do it justice, but this is a toy bus made from junk. It had movable wing mirrors with glass-inlaid, and a door which swug open when a lever was pulled.

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A Day In The Life #15

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I apologise for the rather awful photo. My picture taking skills are awful at…

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We headed out pretty early. This is the house Ive rented for a few weeks.

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On our way we pay a visit to the local shop to buy…

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…water. Say hello to Shane, who is out here with me for 3 weeks.

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We tail these two women. Carrying things on your head is so much easier than with your hands.

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We reach our destination. The Anglican church.

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Possibly we arrive early, or the service started late, as most things do in Africa, so we had a look at the graves. This was my favourite. If you can have a favourite grave, that is.

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Alas I didnt have the nerve to take many pics inside the church. This is Paolo who was curious what I was getting up to. He is an albino with low vision and we were sitting amongst the children of the local blind school.

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There were three choirs… and no priest. Im not sure what happened to him, but the 2 hours was mainly spent with them singing. They have been given lots of kit like microphones and keyboards since my last visit so it was all even louder than before. We had to stand up and introduce ourselves to the congregation – something I always dread but I can now do it in Swahili which helps and I show off a bit by speaking a couple of words in the tribal Kigogo language. One surreal bit happened at the collection – someone gave a 20 litre drum of ground nuts. The guy in charge didnt know what to do with them so he ran an impromptu auction. I was tempted to buy them but didnt want to seem too flashy. They sold for £3.

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We see some kids carrying some of the kit from the church. Meet Saidi, Ezekial and Nico

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I catch up with Emmanuel, the guy on the right, about his life a couple of hours away. He is trying to become independant of his family and over the years Ive helped him along the way a little. We then chat to the kids at the blind school. I invite them to ask me questions and we have a good Q&A session for half an hour.

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I figure Ezekial deserves a photo on his own, given his swanky suit. Most kids are dirt poor but his father is a builder and he proudly told me the suit cost 35,000tshs or around $30.

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As we head home we spy these kids playing football in a corridor. The football is a bottle stuffed with paper and it is somewhere in the middle of the mass of feet. I never did establish what the child lying down was up to.

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En route home a neighbour gives us some delicious water melon.

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I have sorted Emmanuel out with a door for the house he has been building and for some work to be done on his farm. I also hand him a mobile phone and some clothes which we have been stockpiling at home. I am well over a foot taller than him, hence my odd stance.

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Internet time. Last year I just about got an internet connection. This year it is fantastic. OK, so it is not fast, but I find it amazing that I am online from a village at all.

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The house is always full of people, including these two.

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The heavens open outside. It is the rainy season and although they have failed this year and there will be famine, there is still an occasional downpour. It isnt regular enough to do any good though.

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Next stop is lunch. Chip omelettes for most, and one bowl of rice.

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With few resources, the locals are very good at making their own entertainment. This time from bottle tops.

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Next stop is the maize shop. Teck decides that this is his moment to pose like a catalogue model.

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The maize gets tipped out and then scooped into a standardised 20 litre bucket. Last year this cost 8000tshs. Now it costs 18000tshs.

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We then go and buy sugar and soap. The only way I could get a photo of the shop was by getting these guys to pose to one side.

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A rubbish photo, but we then got a taxi to take us to our next destinations…

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… first to see Mamma Happy. Last year I supplied her with iron sheets and this year I got to see her completed roof. Its always great to see the end results of the projects I run. We also supplied her family with some of the maize and so on which we had just bought.

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And next we provided the same items to another blind family. Mr Kusenha was inside the house as he has had a stroke and is in a terrible way. I also supplied the roof for this house last year. As I went behind for the photo, the child cried her eyes out. It was all a little awkward but also rather amusing.

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I provide school uniforms amongst various communities and in the village I hand out chits like the one the boy is holding and they then take it to the tailor. It saves me having to escort everyone there one by one.

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And now to see Mr Yusuphu. He is a very hard working poor blind man who spends much time on his gardens growing tomatoes, okra and many other things which he sells to support his family. I find it amazing he can prepare the land in such a fashion without sight.

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For years he has been after a water pump for his garden. Last year I gave a contribution towards it and together with the money he had saved he has managed to finally buy it. The pipe he is holding is old and ineffective though so Ive provided him with some of what he needs to get a new efficient one.

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I arrive home to find Judith awaiting me. She needs glasses and as luck would have it I have around 100 pairs with me. After some trial and error she walks off with a couple of pairs and a big grin

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Then follows more time being silly.

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And more internet time. Time check.

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The local leaders of the Tanzanian League for the Blind invite us to dinner to welcome us to the village. This is an annual tradition and always much appreciated.

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We had roast spuds, bananas, skewered meat, chicken, rice, potato and salad.

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And some had a little beer. Shane is Irish and with today being St Patricks Day he taught the fellows how to say cheers in Irish. Possibly not a skill they will much benefit from, but they found it all highly entertaining.

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We head home only to find our friend who is sleeping in the house is out for the count. We spend 40 minutes ringing his phone which is by his ear and shouting his name, but no joy. We then hit upon the idea of using a twig to push open the curtains and then quickly squeeze a bottle of water so he was drenched. He woke up in a startled fashion. I was quite pleased with our ingenuity.

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After another long day I was whacked. Zzzzz

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2013 Trip part 2

Thursday 14th

We had a leisurely morning with just a few visitors with various problems that needed remedying. I think the highlight of the morning was Shane asking me a question about the previous day’s trip to the witchdoctor. When we were visiting him I explained to Shane that the witchdoctor has 3 wives but until recently he also had a fourth. At that moment a duck and her ducklings sauntered past and I couldn’t resist telling Shane that he had turned the fourth wife in to a duck. I thought nothing more of it until Thursday when curiosity clearly had gotten the better of Shane and he asked me if it was really true about the duck.

I spot these two children wearing shirts from the school my sister teaches at, which she distributed last year.

We provided some assistance to these three women who each had different problems. The woman on the right is holding a photo of her severely disformed grandson who she needs a large sum to help remedy. I suspect he is beyond help though.

The journey to Mpwapwa was surprisingly good. The town is three hours away and the road is untarmaced. We arrived and found our guesthouse. By western standards it would be shocking, but it had a hot shower which felt like heaven. On the bus I decided it might be nice to visit a couple of blind kids who go to the secondary school there. One had been at Buigiri and the other in Hombolo, both of whom I’d gotten to know over the years. Each year I come here I find various children have progressed from the blind primary school to mainstream secondary school and I rarely get to see them again. Thus it was decided to have a go at Mpwapwa Secondary. The flip side was the bureaucracy. We really should have had formal letters of introduction and gone through a small ceremony with the headmaster but this was all a little last minute. To start with we were told that the children were in prayers and so we couldn’t see them but eventually the teacher on duty relented and we got to see them. Jose, who was at Buigiri, had the biggest grin on his face as we greeted each other. The school is 4 hours from his home and he might only return once a year, so to have a visitor who could pass greetings on from his brother and from other friends was fantastically well received. When the teacher had his back turned I palmed both kids 10,000tshs so they can have some pocket money and then we headed off into the night in search of a good meal.

And a good meal was discovered. Including a nearby pool table. The waitress was miserable though. I was challenged to make her smile and I’m proud to say I managed it.

Paolo and Jose at Mpwapwa Secondary.

Friday 15th

I came to Mpwapwa once before in 2010 and this trip was to be much the same. The local leaders had selected 20 families and after the introductions we handed out maize, soap, beans, bananas and onions to each family. A few individuals also received white canes or a phone. Although the food is largely a token amount, it might feed their family for only a week, it is extremely well appreciated. I go as a representative of the Tanzanian League for the Blind and it reflects well on them too that they are concerned with the blind people who live away from the main city and roads.

In lieu of an easter present, my Mum gave me £20 to give to some mothers. These are the lucky recipients who each received 10,000tshs

We had a pretty good system set up to distribute the food. I was in charge of maize and soap.

Shane had the beans and onions covered

Here are most of the recipients together. The bags in front will go to those who live far and couldn’t make it.

I buy these canes from the RNIB in Bristol. They also collect odds and sods throughout the year for me to take for free. Ive given many canes out over the years and these guys had admired someone’s RNIB cane when they were at the same meeting earlier in the year. They had broad grins when they discovered they would also have the same type of sturdy folding cane.

We also handed out two mobiles. The woman on the left spent the rest of my time there repeating the words ‘thank you, thank you, thank you’.

We just caught our bus back and somehow we found the energy to have a rather late night in the bar. Anna often locks up at 11pm but through the liberal distribution of alcohol we did not leave until 3.30am. I suspect it will hit me in the coming days, but it was good fun.

Our neighbour came to see us. She has stomach ulcers and needed help getting to a doctor.

We attempted to educate some local friends about the game of poker. The glazed expressions from some and the snoring from the others led us to believe it may not catch on in the village.

Saturday 16th

We had made plans the night before to meet with some teachers and share some meat over a leisurely 10am breakfast. Not surprisingly, the teachers had overslept so instead I spent the time overseeing the children being fitted for uniforms. The plan was to do about 50 uniforms. That sounded a lot at the outset, but that group comprises people from four different areas, so I suspect the number will creep up a little. When the teachers appeared we sat around and munched on liver. It is delicious when barbecued and dipped in salt.

The beginning of the bespoke uniform process

Next up was the annual school dance competition. I have refined this perfectly now. We had four heats of dances and then a final, with radios given out to the best blind and the two best sighted dancers. The blind children then took part in a quiz with rounds including ‘name premiership teams’ and ‘name countries in Africa’.

The dancing mid flow

The boy in the red top is wearing a Bayern Munich shirt which my flatmate gave me last year

In the evening we headed to a new huge bar in the village. Back when I was a lad, the biggest bar here consisted of a shack with a fridge outside it. Now there is the Angel Bar which has a fully stocked bar including cider and Smirnoff Ice, plus a large nightclub style dance floor.

Myself and Kieran, who came here in 2011, set a guy up with some capital for a business. It now consists of two pigs, one of whom is about to give birth. So I paid them a visit to grunt hello at them.

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2013 Trip part 1

The journey out here was long but otherwise uneventful. It makes the 27 hour door-to-door journey go much faster. It is always good to return to Buigiri – as although I often think about Tanzania when I am in England, it is hard to picture the exact feel of the place and the people.

The annual photo of what I brought with me

The first night was spent greeting various people in the village and introducing Shane to everybody. It can be information overload as there are so many people I interact with here and Tanzanians sure do love their greetings. After a kind invitation to dinner of roasted meat, rice and potatoes, we found our way down to the bar with some of the teachers. There I met Anna again who tried to marry me last year by slipping a ring on my finger when I was unawares. She is always entertaining although I’ve now acquired a sixth sense watching out for her creeping up on me.

The bargirl Anna giving an evil laugh as she plots our marriage

Monday 11th

The first full day is always spent planning the future events. Shane asked before we got here what we would be doing each day and I never know for sure until I arrive. The time quickly fills up though as I try and tackle a long list of tasks. We visited a few of the leaders and loaded up on cash from one of them as I had sent it out in advance – relying on cash points when based in a rural village has been the bane of my life in the past. We visited the Rehabilitation Centre and had a meeting about what we would be doing with them this year. Fortunately I have refined their meeting techniques somewhat, so we were only in there for an hour or so. We also got to see some of the chicken farms I have set up for them over the past two or three years.

The meeting at the rehab centre felt a little like being back in the classroom

Jared is the chairman of the village and at the front is Emejohn, named after my sister Imogen

The very first thing a boy said to me this trip was ‘can I play the game?’. He meant my iPad. It is hard to get it off them at times.

Tuesday 12th

We headed into town on the Rehab centre’s pickup and brought some flour for them. Each family received 25kg. My original plan had been to get it the following week but there is much hunger here and they asked if it could be done sooner. It means I get to cross a job off my list and get a ride in to town. As we had a vehicle we made sure it was loaded up with items for other projects and then it left for Buigiri leaving us free in town to finish a number of jobs. We made the most of the wifi in the smart hotel. Technology is coming along a pace in Africa – each week I get another friend request on Facebook from someone here. Most of their access it via a 2 square inch mobile phone screen, but somehow they manage.

When we returned to Buigiri we went to the centre to hand the flour over to the families and to collect our items. As expected we had some people outside our home waiting for our return. We had bought medicine in town for one woman who has had a skin condition and each year I supply her with what she needs. Hopefully this time it will clear up, but then I say that every year.

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The rehab centre and their maize

Esther with her fresh stock of skin medication

Wednesday 13th

This was our busiest day by far but we managed to get through it in good spirits. Early in the morning we headed to town by bus. Having tried to manage Shane’s expectations about local buses by saying how miserable they are, we in fact had a very good journey. We brought lots of clothes for the village and chalked a few things off our long list of things to also get. After a quick lunch and a trip to get medication for a woman who broke her leg the year before we decided to cop out and get a taxi home. It costs £10 rather than the 50p per person the bus costs but sometimes temptation becomes too great. Along the way we encountered a police checkpoint and it transpired our driver shouldn’t be behind the wheel because we headed off road and bypassed the police by driving through the farms.

We had a number of appointments in the afternoon in Buigiri, but first we had to plough through the visitors to our home. We had two blind women who had travelled some distance to see us and they were after assistance for all manner of things. We helped with uniforms and food and sent them on their way. Others came to collect things like medicine and then we managed to slip away and visit the houses of 5 people we had planned to meet. The first house belonged to Hogra – I was given £35 by a friend to use for a family affected by HIV. The father had died a number of years ago from the disease and the mother was infected. I have used the money to set them up with a small business selling tea and buns on the roadside. It isn’t enough to get a full blown gastronomic operation set up but she has been able to buy the flour, sugar, tea, coffee and other items she needs and she can build the business from there if she works hard.

Hogra and her 3 children with the beginnings of a mighty food empire

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Stella and Maggie are two blind women who came to visit us. I complimented them on their colourful clothes.

We also visited Joel’s shop which I set up in 2008 and which grows each year – although it is still pretty small. He is a hard working blind man who wishes to maintain an independent life with his family. Well, as independent as you can get whilst being helped to get his business up and running. It means he can avoid living in absolute poverty, although times are still hard.

Another person we visited was Mr Kusenha. He is in my photos from last year collecting the iron sheets for his roof. His house looks great now and is dry all year around. Unfortunaly Mr Kusenha has not faired so well. He has had a stroke and he spends his time on a soiled mattress in a small room in the house. It was difficult talking to him without showing any emotion. It is such a depressing existance though as every day of his life will now be miserable and full of pain.

Kusenha’s shiny new roof

We then visited 2 more people where we distributed medicine or helped in other areas. I bumped in to Mr Maswaga who has an uncanny ability of always finding me in the village. He must be in his 80s and he has glasses thicker than milk bottles. Every year he invites me to his house and every year I find an excuse not to go because I know he wants me to build him a new one and I can’t do that. He made me feel guilty for always postponing my visits, and rightly so. However that didn’t stop me from saying I had to dash off but this time I was sincere as a car was waiting to take us to see the witchdoctor.

Jenny in her home. I provided some food but she also needed some planks of wood to repair the beams in her house. I had to decline as I have a little less money to spend on these kinds of things this year.

The witchdoctor’s father is a blind leader who I support. I have helped him start a small animal project which began with 8 chickens worth around £40 and now consists of 3 cows with a calf on the way which are valued at around £800. Not a bad investment though not one I can make a withdrawal from. His son the witchdoctor houses them at his house. Last year he names a cow after my sister and this year he has named the other two after myself and my father. The unborn calf is earmarked to be called Shane. The witchdoctor had organised traditional dancing for us, plus we watched a children’s choir who I supported last year by supplying them with a tape machine to sing along to. This is my third visit to his house and he is always so hospitable. He gave us sodas and also a giant live duck to take with us to eat.

Some traditional Ngoma dancing by the Wagogo tribe.

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Their choirs are a little different to most UK choirs – I’m surprised they don’t tire themselves out too much to sing.

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The presentation of a duck to us by Daodi the witchdoctor.

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Imogen, Thomas and Giles. Don’t we make for a great family photo?

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