Sunday, April 15, 2012

Defining Fine

Land clearing

That's one of my jobs here, to define fine. It's well known by the locals as well as every mzungu who lives here that an African will always answer nzuri (fine).  If you come across a man lying in a ditch with an axe embedded his cranium, ask him Habari? ( How's everything?), and he will, with his last dying breath, whisper nzuri. This is how it is here. Which makes it difficult to run an NGO from America, as my boss Brad Logan is so valiantly trying to do.

I explained all this to him when we met in Arizona, where we both worked for IHS. I told him he needed someone to define fine, and as it cannot be done by an African (see man with axe in his head), I volunteered for the job.

Digging out roots. Note the lack of covered footwear.

All this time I've been here I've never explained in detail what Hands4Africa does, mostly because I hadn't seen it, but now that the project has truly begun and is doing fine...

Bin construction. In the end, 
there will be hundreds of these,
work for anyone who wants it.

Life is hard here, hard for people, dogs and cats (remember Socks), anything with a circulatory system. There's little money for food and clothes, much less for medicine and schools.  But rather than giving money, which will never accomplish anything in this swirling, sucking vortex of eternal need, H4A proposes to offer jobs, lots of jobs. Then folks can pay for what they need. 

Completed bin which will create and
hold the sterile compost made of
human waste.

Where do the jobs come from?

The project revolves around the growth and care of the jatropha tree, which produces a nut that can be pressed into oil. The trees are to be fertilized using compost made of human waste, called Humanure. This process turns buckets of what we all flush into usable, sterile compost. Jatropha farms are doing well in many places in Africa, and provide regular work. This work comes in the form of:
Samweli clearing land. 
This is the guy who pulled Socks
out of the choo.

1. clearing land for the trees
2. planting and watering trees.
3. fertilizing trees
4. collecting nuts, bagging nuts, generally preparing them to become oil
5. supervising the above
6. documenting the above

To expand on the fertilizer, jobs provided include:

1. building compost bins
2. breaking rocks for bin making
3. carrying water for cement making
4. collecting materials (human waste and other biodegradable objects) to make compost and depositing them in the bins
5. supervising above tasks
6. documenting above tasks

Collecting water for the bin construction.
Humanure provides the following jobs:

1. remodeling pit toilets so buckets can be placed to collect human waste
2. cleaning and supervising the kids using the toilets. We begin with the schools as kids are more adaptable to new concepts and can provide tons of what goes into the buckets
3. collecting and transporting the full buckets.
4. replacing the full buckets with empty ones.
5. cleaning buckets

Some rocks need to be dug out of the ground. This is hard 
work, you couldn't pay me to do it.

These are just some of the jobs available as this project unfolds. The village and the Anglican Diocese has given Hands4Africa lots of land, so people can be kept busy forever.The beauty of this system is that is, and I hate to use the S word, self sustaining.

The reason I dislike this word is that people come to Africa, set something up, and expect it to be self sustaining in a matter of months. This doesn't and can't happen. Africa just has too many problems. As I've said before, what takes three weeks in America will take six months here. 

That's because in Africa there's 9 steps to anything you want to do. Sometimes more, sometimes less, but on average, nine. Kwa mfano (for example), to make a meal you must:
Making gravel from rocks on the land that is being cleared.

1. find some food
2. find some firewood
3. get some water
4. boil the water unless you want to get sick
5. Start the fire and wait till the coals are ready
6. Pick the rocks and husks out of the rice, if you have rice. Ugali is generally rock free but requires more effort to cook. You can't leave it alone or it will burn right up.
7. Cut onions and tomatoes for beans
8. Pick the rocks out of the beans
9. Cook the beans.

So that's nine steps and you haven't even smelled the food yet. There's still the cleanup. That's another three or four steps. Go buy your microwave some flowers, better yet, national Microwave Day. A Hallmark card for every occasion.
Prototype of a choo using a collection bucket.

You can see that cooking is labor and time intensive, as well as everything else that happens here. Nothing is easy and you can't get from A to B without the nine steps.
I digress, but let me just say that self sustained living and subsistence living are at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Bayona volunteering to
demo the choo/bucket set up.

A project like the jatropha trees will bridge the gap between the two. The trees need constant care, as well as the toilets providing compost for the trees. In the end, folks will make much more money planting a tree farm than planting maize. So they can plant trees, harvest nuts, buy more maize than they could grow, and have money left for school fees, medicine, all kinds of stuff. If a person wants regular work, they can have it, if they just need money for school fees or hospital bills, they can work till they get it.

It's a good system, and I have only glossed over the highlights. The set up is the hard part, as most everything involves well more than the nine steps mentioned above. But in the end, it will be, dare I say, self sustaining. I do, I dare.

Usiku mwema na lala salama

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Little Bit Far

I've said before that Africans and Americans have ridiculously different concepts of distance. They walk everywhere, so nothing is too far. The other day Abdallah and Philipo went to Kilama to fetch wood for the desks, and I offered the company car. I thought I'd go along for the ride. I'm like the family dog, shake the keys and I jump in the car. I go on the assumption it's something to do and it might be interesting and I'm rarely disappointed.
Road to Kilama. 
I teach in the afternoons, at 4pm, and both Abdallah and Philipo know this, as both are my students. So when they said we should leave at 1pm, I figured we'd be back in time. They said it was a little bit far, and like a dope I believed them. I fall for this every time. So who's the moron now?

Philipo collects wood up behind Berega, in the bush which surrounds us. Usually he uses a bike or a pikipiki. It's hard work so he was very happy for the use of the car. My reasons were less than altruistic. I need the desks and I need them now.
Further on down the road

So off we went. It's beautiful country, small villages, hills, farms. But it's been a week since Philipo arranged the pickup, and in that time the rains have arrived with a vengeance. The further up we got, the worse the roads got. After about an hour I asked Bado kidogo? which is the african version of are we there yet? I was badoed about six times before I realized that the wood was very, very far away. I asked if we'd be back for class and the guys just laughed. Abdallah said the roads are bad since the rain, and it's a little bit far. So no, we wouldn't be back for class. I tried to call some of my students, but there was no network. There is frequently no network.
This one was a tight squeeze.

Gold mining in Tanzania
We got to a tiny little village, more like a villagette, when A and P said we needed to stop to buy some rope. I was curious as to where we could do this, there didn't seem to be any likely looking rope stores, or anything else for that matter. He found a few small dukas, which had no rope. I did comment that Berega might have been a better place to buy rope because they actually do have rope, but A said Hamna shida mama.

If you look real hard you can see a speck of gold on his palm.
Rasta washing mud and sifting for the above pictured gold.
The camp. 
We passed a gold mining camp about halfway up, which reminded me of stories about the old days, except for the colorful plastic buckets, and the lack of mules with straw hats. Other than that, it's primitive mining. It's also rain dependent, so it moves from place to place, as does the rain.

Sitting very quietly while I watch the birds.
We arrived at Kilama, where the wood was, and spent about a hour waiting for Philipo to conclude all the details, and for Abdullah to round up some rope. There's not much rope up there, as I found out, so we will return it the next time someone from Kilama comes to Berega for medical treatment. I spent my time meandering about and  taking pictures of the kids who spent their time staring at me, pointing, giggling, murmuring mzungu mzungu.
Phone booth
I tried to call my other students to tell them not to come to class. Three of them live in Msalama, which is a 45 minute walk each way. But up in Kilama, there's not much network, you get a bar sometimes, mostly you get that No Network sign. But Abdallah walked around and talked to some guys who showed us where the locals use the phone.

We finally got through to Amon, who promised to tell every one else, so I felt better. We walked around the village, which didn't take long, and I found the school. I can sniff out a school blindfolded with a plastic bucket on my head. There's a preschool, and a Standard 1 thru 7. Which was a surprise as there didn't seem to be but three or four rooms. There's also only 3 teachers, because it's not easy finding teachers to work in the bush, and this is deep in the bush. But the preschool class is in good shape, and there's only 23 kids in the class. I'd like to paint it. With that small a class, it would be great. Saw the other classes, not paintable. Or even habitable for that matter.

Classroom that I will not be painting.
So a good time was had by all and we came down the mountain. As P was thanking me (sincerely and profusely) for the transport I was thinking that a man would have to be either nuts or desperate to bring wood home on a bike from that far away. And I know he's not nuts. Sometimes it stuns me how hard people work for so little. A pikipiki costs 10,000 tsh each way, so mostly he uses a bike, and as you can't put too much wood on a bike, a big job necessitates multiple trips. Ouch.
The next day I was talking to my adult class about my trip, and Pastor, who comes to class almost every day, told me that he was born in Kilama 64 years ago. There was no school then, so he got some schooling at the church. There also was no bikes, pikipikis, or phones. I asked what happened when someone got sick and he said they would transport the patient in his bed, with friends and family shouldering each corner like pallbearers. It took us almost 2 hours by car, each way. He said sometimes they'd walk all night.
That village life is supremely inconvenient is something they take as normal, I can't imagine hauling a sick person on a bed down a bad road with nothing but maybe a flashlight. I asked him what happened when the patient died in transit, he said they just turned around and went back to plan the funeral. See comment about pallbearers.

Inside that classroom
St. Mary's English Medium Preschool 
and Standard One, minus
two kids sick with malaria.
School. We have started the lunch program, and the kids love it. Our cook, Mama Dani, makes lots of food, and they eat every morsel. Attendance is near perfect, and I'm no idiot, it's because of the food, but I don't care. I'm a results girl so why they come is irrelevant, that they come is important.
Morning ugi. Philipo is working on the new
 tables so in a few
weeks there will be more room

It's astounding how much kids can not know, but equally astounding is how fast they can learn. The orphans are having a great time, lots of food, and people pay attention to them. Jackie can count from 1 to 10 already. Vicent can, but not every time. They're very pleased with themselves. I think Aidani is from another planet, but he's got his numbers from 1 to 10, and a letter or two. He's a bewildered looking kid, I don't think his father has told him why he's here.

Vicent and Jackie and their As.

We have class till 4pm now, which is ok for the first graders but too much for the little guys, so for the last 2 hours we mostly play, and I bring my computer in to watch animal movies or cartoons. Happy Feet was a hit, Horton Hears a Who was a little puzzling, but these kids are happy to watch anything. They like previews. But so far the favorite is Old Yeller, a 50 year old Disney classic. They watched it two days in a row.

Hope you can see how they've strung the twine to look like 
wires. They did this from the road to the house. 

These kids have made this truck, and the sticks are electricity 
poles. They spent all afternoon digging the holes, putting them
in the ground, and stringing them.
Monday I plan to de-worm the kids. The two boy orphans, Jackie and Vicent, look pretty wormy to me, actually they look flat out neglected. But then so do lots of kids here. Mostly it's a matter of culture, we are different in out attitudes towards kids, animals, lots of stuff. Two or three year old kids meander about unattended, and five year olds watch babies. But it would be hard for it to be different, there's just not enough parents to go around. Which is one reason they want their kids in school till 4pm. I will say that parents who can do better, definitely do.
It's a full day, lots of kids, lots of noise, but it's a village so it's not like there's loads to do. I have time.


There's more and more of these poles. 

The roads may be bad, but folks have lots of clean water now.
All you have to do is put all your buckets under your roof.
Solid workmanship.
See how the buckets get bigger as the kids get bigger.
A water storage tank up by the new primary school. Hopefully 
this maji is only used for cleaning and washing clothes but you
never know and sometimes I'm afraid to ask.
Jackie trying out his right hand.
Jackie trying out his left hand.
My birthday party.
The ladies weave these for rugs. 
I have three in my house,
made by local women.
My kitchen
Living room. I live very well here in the village. 
sees to that. Thanks Blad.
The rains have stopped, so now the river 
is just another path 
up the village.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Where Cough Drops Cost More Than Valium

Lumuli Mgego, my youngest English student
 and apparently 
the only person in Berega with a brain. 
Also she fits into the tub. 
She can say no and there. 
Went to Morogoro today, to pick up some food and have my birthday lunch. Sadly, there's nothing even approaching  birthday fare in Berega. I could have fashioned a cake shaped mound of ugali and sprinkled it with sugar, but in the end, that's just how it would have tasted. Went to Ricky's, but it was so hot, how hot was it, that I almost couldn't eat. If I hadn't traveled 2 hours to get there I would have just forgotten about it. So instead of samosas, chicken fried rice and chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream as I had planned, I had a chicken sandwich and ice cream. O and an iced coffee. Not a banquet, but a satisfactory beginning to my sikisty second year.

I've had a cough for a couple of weeks, no doubt brought on by excessive talking. I teach about 5 hours/day, it's dusty here, and I have to repeat myself nine thousand times, so I have irritated my throat. I went into the pharmacy to buy some Valium, for my occasional bouts of age induced insomnia, and saw they had throat lozenges. They were kind of brown and hairy looking so I asked what was in them, the pharm guy said ginger, and other stuff. I figured they were organic, hence the fuzziness. I bought 2 strips and popped one in my mouth. I could taste the ginger, and camphor, but it took a while to figure out the undertaste. Bacon. And in a largely Muslim town! Anyway, I paid 1000/tsh (about 60 cents) per strip, which was more than I paid for the Valium. So I steeled myself to suck the life out of the bacon drops. I got about 50 yards and had to spit them over the bridge into the river. Who does that? I tried to convince myself it was something other than camphorated bacon, but the longer it was in my mouth the worse it got. Again, who does that?

Berega Secondary School occasional school bus.
We have a coaster in the village now, a bus about twice the size of a daladala. It breaks down on average once per trip, so it's not in much demand. But I've been seeing the bus fundis (guys with tools but not necessarily training) under the chassis for a while now, and figured possibly they had the bugs worked out. Besides, they leave Morogoro two hours later than the daladala so I don't have to run around like a mad mzungu and I have time for a leisurely lunch, and the odd bacon lozenge should I feel the urge.

Got a good seat, and am happy to say that the trip went smoothly, although I'm not sure but I think the gear shift should not move independently of the driver. It was twirling around for most of the trip, but the driver was able to wrestle it into position as needed. Between me and the driver was the engine compartment, and it was tres hot. How hot was it? I, for one, was happy to steer clear. But it got crowded after a bit, so some guy actually sat on it. He must have been very tired. He sat there squirming, till finally I put my 12 newly purchased ABC books under his matako. In the immortal words of Bugs Bunny, What a maroon!
The scholarship fundraiser went well, thanks to all who helped. We were able to
1. give three partial scholarships for some of the single moms
2. give two full scholarships
3. buy some books and
4.  have some desks and chairs made for the new kids.

Old guy walking to his shamba (farm.)
Also Ute, who runs the orphanage, was able to get funding for three more kids. We now have enough monthly income for a breakfast and lunch program. Breakfast is ugi, a porridge made of maize, peanuts, wheat and milk. The kids eat it everyday. Lunch will be ugali and beans, with greens, every other day. We will alternate it with kande, a bean and maize stew. This would never fly in America, the kids would throw the food across the room before they'd eat the same thing everyday, but kids here are mostly just happy to be eating. If we get two more students we can give rice and meat once a week. So all is going well.
Martha has taken over the Standard 1 group, who I taught last year when they were in preschool. She is a qualified teacher so it's her class now. How I miss them, my bright little English speaking math whizzes. I've got the little ones and had to laugh because when I held up a number card, and asked What number is this, someone said Fish. This is exactly what happened last year.So there's hope.
Three of our new kids are orphans from down the road, and you can tell the difference. Twice in Africa I've lived in orphanages and have noticed a few things. Watoto yatima (orphans) are very self sufficient, they have trouble relating, and need a little more time to get with the program. Plus their buttons never get replaced. But that makes sense, given there's nobody consistent to help them along.
Jackie and Vicent are somehow brothers, in some African fashion. They are five months apart in age, and the first few days I was thinking they'd been raised by wolves. But they seem to be settling down, hopefully Jackie will figure out whether he's right or left handed, or both. Usually kids know this by now, I'm watching for clues, but so far it's nebulous.
If a school kid here does something wrong, he hears about it right away, African justice being swift and brutal. But what a kid does well is generally ignored. So when I commented on their very lovely As, which took about an hour to write, they were pretty jazzed to be noticed. They're actually kind of cute, in a scruffy aw shucks redneck kind of way.
Jenny is eight, a little old for our class, but she's another orphan who's education has been spotty, plus she's a bit of a bully. I guess nobody has ever told her that you can't just grunt and shove somebody aside if you want to sit down. She's learning lots of new stuff.
So, under the heading of be careful what you ask for, it rained today, first time since December. I was in class with my adults when it started, and it was a downpour. We couldn't hear each other talk, or see the board. Most of my students are farmers, so they were looking out he window, smiling in anticipation of their thirsty maize finally getting a good, long drink. They stopped smiling when the hail started. Now the maize is lying flat. It may or may not come back up but some of the crop is ruined.
But for the first time in weeks I'm not sweating, I have an appetite, I can sleep, and my chupi aren't stuck to my matako. So we take the good with the less good and move on.
Update on the crops, the stalks that weren't too high are starting to rise, the more mature stalks are down, and will probably stay that way. The wakulima (farmers) are replanting a quick crop and hoping for a better result.
Blad (african pronunciation of Brad) has a thing in the house that measures the temp, and records it. In the beginning I refused to look at it, because it made me hotter, but now it's developed into a sick little game I play throughout the day. I can tell you within two degrees just how hot it is at any given moment in my house. 86-91 seem to be the prevailing temps. I need a damn hobby.