Kilema Arrival

January 14 /09

Since the first morning after our arrival to Tanzania, the miracle of three mothers and three daughters coming together, from Canada and France, to meet in East Africa seemed beyond imagination but here we are. Jet lagged mothers, Fiona ,Rita and I, lolled in our YMCA beds draped with gauzy mosquito netting, catching up on news and savoring our good fortune while Eva, Hailey and Anjali, bolstered by each others presence, took off to explore and find breakfast . Besides feeling truly grateful for friends who would stand by me in the face of inevitable unknowns in Africa, I felt great excitement for the days ahead and the introductions to come. To the beauty, contradictions, realities and struggles of people in a place I have come to love. While the girls watched massive maribu storks take off and land below we, from our top floor window, glanced out at Kilimanjaro in a cloudless sky, jutting out of the earth and towering above us, proof we had arrived.

Tanzania is in a lull between the two rainy seasons; the short rains which occur in Nov/ Dec and the long rains which arrive in June and come with a damp chill especially on Kilimanjaro. The short rains appear to have left only a small impact on the land and only on the mountain slopes where a few new brilliant green shoots rise from rust colored soil. But on the dry lowland plains there are few prepared fields and no new crops, only the butts of last years corn harvest grazed on by goats, perhaps a stalk still with a dried ear of corn attached for seed. On the roads there is a layer of fine clay dust inches thick and we have adopted the African way of walking, not on the road but on roadside grass to keep our feet somewhat cleaner. Hailey and I laughed as we washed our feet in the shower the other night and saw a stream of red draining down the hole. Even today at a school welcome ceremony for Rotarians, the young singers and dancers of Mkyashi raised clouds of grit which fell upon a squinting and well-dusted audience.

After a three day road trip to see a host of animals in some of northern Tanzania’s greatest natural assets, Tarangire, Manyara and Ngorogoro conservation areas, we finally arrived home to Kilema. To be in Tanzania for one month seems a short time compared to last year but the difference now is that the reunions with friends and colleagues are both intense and quickly intimate. Handshakes, hugs and disclosures about what’s new and what’s the same all come quickly as we pick up where we left off. Many have looked over my shoulder to see if Dr. Chris has come and young Godfrey arrived asking, “Where is Sasha and Lockie”. Hiking up Ngangu Hill, children call and wave to Eva, familiar faces to her from Kitchilioni school. Fiona and Rita, Hailey and Anjali have role played their greetings to be ready for the hospital staff who blend greetings in Swahili with spot quizzes from time to time. The girls have taken our advice and are reliably ready with a “Shikamoo Babu” even if they think it sounds ridiculous. I think they recognize what a gift it is to show respect to elders and many a grandfather ‘babu’ and grandmother ‘bibi’ have beamed with pleasure at their mannered ways.

We discover the six of us, mamas and bintis (daughters,) are excellent travel mates! We have jumped into life at Kilema with gusto. Rita saw her first Cesarean section day one with Fiona in the OR. Fiona sat in with Dr. Saria in the HIV clinic or CTC (counseling and treatment centre) as they call it here because of stigma. The next day she rounded with Dr. Dominique in the hospital and toured the lab with Ida the long suffering lab tech. Rita is sought after by Sr. Clarissa for funding proposals after she confessed her long NGO experience and has had input into the orphan program. We all were on hand for a uniform outfitting day for orphans last Saturday, judging shoe sizes and measuring waists with our hands for some 200 children. The girls are disciplined about their journals and math and recently have been working a medical caravan, counting pills for the dispensary! And we are all eating tons of mangos and thanks to my brother Robin, Christmas cake!

On the first day at Kilema hospital Augustine  arrived in that typical African way, on the pathway that is my unfolding day, spontaneously but also intuitively, knowing that we have a great many things to talk about and that I totally need his help. He is as devoted a community HBC (Home Based Care) worker as I’ve ever met, a patient, elderly man with, gray hair and thick glasses. He always wears a blue oxford shirt and flip flops and I notice the cracks in his toes and heels are just the same, from traveling many miles on red clay paths visiting the poorer members of his and other villages. After greetings we get quickly down to work.

He referred six orphan and vulnerable children my way for school support last year so we huddle and review the children one by one. A.  is the first. This is the boy that took the spot at Mandaka Vocational School when young N.  died of AIDS last year and I reflect on this as we look at A.’s successful last term. Clearly not academically inclined, his standing is poor in mathematics, English, and geography but in building he shows competency. In block making, brick making, site preparation, bonding blocks and bricks and cement construction he has been successful and so Augustine and I agree A.  is in the right place. Young Z. , an orphan who lives with her grandmother, is also doing well studying electricity at vocational school and will continue for another year. She is competent in ‘preparing diagrams and installation of lighting and power’ as well as ‘measuring energy resistance’. Sounds great- what is it? She’s doing well even in math, science and English.

But later Augustine breaks the news that A. has failed to pass her national exams and cannot proceed at Olaleni School unlike J. and A., who having achieved a pass, will be moving ahead into Form II. He recommends that A. move to Mrereni Secondary School, a government school which has a program for less academically inclined students and he has already arranged the transfer. So we shuffle through all the students we’ve herded and shepherd some more, recognizing that children without parents are often lacking the guidance that the rest of us take for granted.

So it goes, the review of 50 students that were sponsored on behalf of friends and family and community groups in Canada last year. On the Tanzanian side I feel so grateful to have money to help out these students and their caregivers, on behalf of Canadians. I feel thankful when I sit in school offices and watch headmasters calculate fees and debate whether the child really needs another uniform and watch them laboriously fill out the receipts while I wonder at how it can be made to be such a complicated process, paying fees. But when the wind sends the curtains billowing and the warm gust of air reaches me across the cramped room filled with unruly stacks of notebooks and papers, I am in heaven. I hope the headmaster takes his times as I relish the air, the surroundings, the singsong of Swahili, the unusual way the headmaster holds his pencil, the mango trees outside, the children walking past under the window and my dusty feet. As the curtains billow every few minutes I sneak a peak at the blue sky and send text messages to various other headmasters to make arrangements or to others, Fiona and Rita, working the medical caravan in Moshi. Thank you to everyone who contributed to helping these students and who gave me another reason to come here. Asante sana. It is absolutely satisfying to see them doing well and to shepherd those that need it further.

Banking in January is a perilous activity in Tanzania. A few days ago I received a texti from Cacha staffer Rainer to come and relieve him in a bank line up at the CRDB branch in Moshi town. He had been at a standstill for an hour, not even through the door, and part of a thread of people across the concourse and down the stairs. “Do you have anything to read?” I asked as I took his place and sized up the line. He handed me a non-fiction analysis of Africa, ‘The Shackled Continent’ and left. Shoulder to shoulder, the smell of sweat, murmurs of frustration, clicking of tongues at the many line hoppers, internal ethical debates about whether or not to line hop as a mzungu ( white person), even the grease smeared glass occupied me for some time. Ironically there is a certificate for ‘Best Bank in Tanzania’ on the wall and while I can’t deny the place is popular, the patience of Tanzanians is mind-boggling. How do they do this? I am sandwiched between two mamas, feeling heat front and back. If you leave a space others milling about will cut through the line and tug on your clothes and bag. I hear myself murmuring, “the meek will inherit the earth” and wonder how they will actually do it. Tired of waiting, some women sit down legs outstretched in the African way and people walk over them. A man with a bag of bundled cash drops a wad causing a chorus to start up and as he bends to pick up the wad, other stray bills fall out and everyone laughs heartily. As he leaves with his stuffed envelop I wonder how far he’ll get and think he should have stuck at least some in his sock as another man did.

At last Rainer comes back and gets into another line up for withdraws at the same time I wait in the school fees line up with babus, mamas, students and nuns. I am seventh in line to the teller and tempers are peaking, eyes daring anyone to jump the line now. Rainer is withdrawing my KSFTuition Fund money wired by CACHA and just manages to get it out before passing it to me where I deliver it to another teller to deposit it again in the school bank accounts. A., Z., A. and J. are paid up for another year and I leave the bank after four hours and air out my sweat soaked self.

Thank you to everyone again who contributed large and small to the Kilema OVC Tuition fund, who dropped school shirts, shoes, notebooks, pens blankets and beautiful dresses for girls at our doors. E. and M. from Kyou village just received a dress each and their Bibi was thrilled. Thanks also to Rotary Nanimo for contributions to the tuition fund and Rotary Oak Bay for other contributions to local Kilema gardening and vocational projects. The days are full and not many and we are enjoying every one!

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