Yes and No

Uncanny coincidences are quite common in Tanzania. Say, when you think of someone or you really need to see someone and no sooner that happens than they walkup the footpath, in the door or you receive a text from them. A few years ago the Kilema OVC program had a young girl, HIV poitive and in needed of a CD4 count, who we hadn’t seen for a long time. While I stood outside the OVC program door consulting with another worker about how to reach this girl, she walked up the path toward us. This happens so often that I tend to think there is something more at play, a sixth sense developed over thousands of years or at least in the last 1oo where communications have been difficult. Some special radar has developed. According to Mama Nyaki the cell phone has been the greatest thing to hit Africa ever, a truly useful technology Africans who love to keep in touch and communicate even intuitively. Before it would take letters weeks to arrive just to the next district or your children would be sent over the hill to the next village with a message. Mama Nyaki rolls her eyes remembering the way it was before. But even she and Ireni says these coincidences, chance meetings, parallel thoughts happen.

I am awestruck when they occur as they did in the last week. No sooner had I texted St. James Seminary to urge a student to present to Kilema Hospital with his results than his mother, a tall strong woman , a PLHA or person living with HIV/AIDS, walked into the OVC office with her sons results. As expected they are exceptional, A’s and B’s mostly and he is entering Form 4 this year at one of the best schools in the district. Even with these grades he is in 15th position in a class of exceptional students. A few days later I just finished writing the name and results (poor) for a boy whose home I have been to, D. of Ruwa village, when his mother walked in the door to greet me. Unfortunately for her, my news was not great. Diego achieved a 7% on his Form 3 national exam, an F, though his mother says he was sick with malaria while sitting the exam. Last year he had 23% . I told her that Diego would not receive funding next year if if he was not able to pass. In fact, no student is able to continue school without passing Form 4. The headmaster of Rukima says that he is very shy with the teachers, that is is good with manual tasks though not academically. Two other girls have failed as well and they have received the same message from me. The headmaster says one of them is often emotionally upset and both are orphan. While most of the students have proceeded well enough through last year it has felt like a week of no’s for some.

Here typically a C is considered good and D is a pass. In general about 5% of my sponsored students are producing A’s and B’s with the majority producing C or D averages. The Rotarians are sponsoring a bursary program which schools about 100 students at nearby Kisaluni school and they are finding the same. So in the midst of limit setting based on results one is forced to look at the benefits of continuing to sponsor children that by N. American standards are performing poorly. While I have said that donors will not sponsor F’s and have purposely lit fires under certain students, I realize that comparisons to N. America cannot be made. The experience is no way similar and if you are only looking for A’s you will have very few children to sponsor. Rukima School is missing 2 teachers, Ifati 1 teacher, and many teachers are unprepared or insufficiently schooled. Children are often away from school for sickness or to help if others are sick. Classroom size is formally set at about 40 but I have often seen 80 to 100. Students may have had a very uneven trajectory of education if family was not able to pay fees one year to the next. Books are hard to obtain…. So many challenges.

Headmasters and members of the larger community never seem too stern in these evaluations and an understanding of the harshness of life is inherent when they talk. They try against odds to see children through year to year aware that the benefits of membership in school far outweigh the alternatives; ignorance and the perils of the street. Children who have experienced school are taught self respect, are trained to pursue learning and bettering themselves, they are relatively well dressed, well socialized and fed. For all those good reasons to support education, still I have had to set limits this year.  J. did not pass at Olaleni school so we arranged to transfer her to vocational boarding school ( she had been living with her grandmother and four other children and the house is in very poor condition). She has been told that she will receive no further funding if she does not pass and will have to return to the OVC office the mattress, blanket, sheets and pillow on loan to her. Harsh. I sincerely hope she makes it.

In the rush of finishing up work at Kilema hospital, banking and transfers of school fee receipts back to the schools, three home visits with Exupery Mosha in Mauwa village and a final send off from Mama’s Nyaki, Kessy and Mosha up in the hills at a gorgeous convent, it was a busy week on local transportation. Sasha and I had plans to make it to the coast, Ushongo, for a few days of tropical paradise and could hire a car for US$ 300 or just spend 8 hours on the Tanga Express and Pangani dalla dalla instead. So again, yes or no?

Local transport is not for the faint of heart and is quite a spiritual experience. I feel closer to God, in fact any God, the more I ride. Passing a mosque seems a welcome sight, temples, a good omen. Churches, the same. If school children get on I feel calmer thinking nothing could come in the way of such innocence. Just when the tension on yesterday’s bus was rising in relation to the speed and rattle of windows and seats, a young salesman got up in his freshly laundered shirt and tried to sell toothpaste and face cream. His smile was so calm and soothing I couldn’t resist and ceased to picture tragic collisions. Next to me the men were chewing some green leafed herb and earlier a Maasai untwisted the top of a well worn container to pour out brown dust, a pinch of which he placed on his tongue. Sasha has hung his head out the window since our departure and has watched the strange world go by, no hint of boredom and no complaint of discomfort. Similar to all the other passengers who never seem to complain.

Riding the dalla dalla too is living as close to Tanzanians as possible and they welcome you to share their experience. Returning to meet the Mamas for lunch at the convent last Saturday I caught a dalla dalla with little time to spare. Binti(daughter) next to me had her head dozing on my shoulder before long and the box of the woman facing me rested on my knees as well so I had the perfect place to put my elbow and rest my chin. I contentedly remember thinking that dalla dalla’s really do travel on time just as the tire blew and we rolled to the shoulder. Everyone on board was suspended, motionless waiting to know what would happen to them. Not a murmur or a movement until the rear was raised by the jack and then the passengers began clicking their tongues. Within 10 minutes we are heaved off the jack and on our way grateful it was only the tire and not the motor.   Next to me an elder gentleman strikes up conversation….he trained in England in mechanical engineering but didn’t stay “for I had a great love of my mother so I returned to Tanzania”. Wonderful moments.

Yesterday morning in the dalla dalla the squeeze was on and the thoughts and questions that are provoked by such close quarters always keep me absorbed. Is this veiled woman really going to sit on my lap or does it just seem that way? Where is my left foot or other distal parts? Are those her own braids or is that sisal extensions? How does he keep his shirt so pressed? Whose knees are in my back? Look at all the heads so closely shaven. I don’t think he’ll mind if I lean more heavily his way. I don’t like that side to side tipping feeling…. as the dalla pulls off the road to pick up more passengers, for there is no limit on a dalla. But all in all we have traveled well.

Today is a prep day for the flight home tonight. We’ve had a great trip and look forward to seeing everyone soon. Tutaonana( see you soon)!

Steph and Sasha

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