Did I mention that before I drifted off to sleep last night that my friend the rooster let me know he was still very much alive? The same confused bird let me know again at 4:30am this morning! The same routine as before of dosing off until the next in the African Orchestra piped up continued until alarm time.
After breakfast, this morning we are off to visit Tsxxxxx school as there are pupils there who receive support from Kids4school and other children for whom kids4school are providing food. These children we will get the privilege of visiting their homes when delivering these items. We will also add in a few toys of our own to each.
When we arrive at Tsxxxxx, we are the VIPs of choice. It is quite humbling but great to be a part of at the same time. Everyone wants to see you up close. Everyone wants to say Hello or try out a bit of their English – right up til the point you hear that “Good morning how are you” from the back of a group and you try to get that person forward to carry on the conversation they started! But you can be sure that someone else will take over if they cannot be convinced by their friends pushing and shoving them forward.
While our kids4school guide Jackie was dealing with the actual business of sorting out solar lights, blankets, schools materials etc for the kids in their programme, we went on a short tour of the school with 300 of our new closest friends – young and older. Thomas – who else really – then found the best way of getting a response from the kids when you don’t speak Swahili – start a chant. Having tried this out on a classroom of kids, we got about all those who were following us into 1 room – it was crowded, we didn’t have express permission, our venue licence probably didn’t extend to that many in a room, we didn’t have anything planned in detail of what we were going to do, but this is Africa! So we started everyone off with Bwana Asifiwe (Allelu, Allelu…) and having warmed them up with that, we moved on to Lionel Messi, Paul Pogba, Ronaldo chants, and then to our finale – the famous “Will Griggs on fire!”. By this time the room was actually bouncing! Everyone was having a great time.
We then went outdoors and tried to get them dancing. Messrs Beattie, Parke, Skilling, Neill and Wilson started a bit of hip swaying, fancy footwork and spinning around to get the mood going – which it did for a while, right up until the kids realised that White men cant dance! Then one young guy came into our circle and bust a move and let us know what real dance was – African style!
The girls – Chloe, Ellie and Zara – were having some more success with getting a few of the younger girls dancing, but quickly found that it was holding hands with them that their audience really wanted, rather than these strange western dance moves. Ellie in particular became Anna’s new BFF. Separation was difficult.
Having whipped the crowd to a frenzy, we were ready to move on and the teacher in charge ushered them all back to their classrooms with a big stick (that is the way in Tanzania – corporal punishment is still the deterrent). So we took the 10 young folk who were to receive food aid and bedding as well as the gifts we had for them in the back of the Landrovers so we could deliver the goods to their houses. This meant that 6 of us were decamped into the back of the pick up.
Driving through the bush in the back of this pick up we were the prefect fusion of Dukes of Hazzard and Daktari (ask someone over fifty to explain the references). The main roads in most of Tanzania are typically dirt tracks which while dirt, are relatively flat and you can drive along at a reasonable pace. The side roads resemble dried up river beds – as in the rainy season rivers are what run across, along and through these tracks, so trucks frequently bottom out and driving is slow and ponderous. At one point in our journey – and it could only happen here – we were following the grader equipment as it was levelling the dirt for the road in front of us. We were definitely the first people to go down this new road! (With another rainy season, the road may have gone again!).
On a serious note, with this example, you realise that Tanzania is not simply 20 or 30 years or even 100 years behind the west. We have benefitted from technological developments right back to the Roman Empire, where they showed us how to build roads that would last – because they needed these to get troops to an area quickly to maintain their control. The Tanzanians have having to construct a road network to allow faster communications on minimal resources only now in the 21st century. In many basic things, Tanzania is hundreds of years behind developed nations and this leaves them open to exploitation of by these richer countries. The largest tarmac roads are being built in Tanzania by the Chinese because they need good roads to move the minerals that they are extracting from the country to the ports for shipment back to China.
When we arrived at a house, this could range from a well maintained mud brick house with a flat sheet of corrugated iron as a roof held down by stones, to a concrete block house with a pitched corrugated iron roof to a mud brick shack where children looked hungry and unhappy. Tanzania is a poor country. Everyone we see is poor, but some are very, very poor and you can tell the difference.
Parents or guardians are very happy to see us and to see that they and their children are being cared about. In some homes where the main recipient had the gifts and the supplies, we were able to hand out little extras to other brothers or sisters. In one case, because the two children lived so far into the bush where our landrovers couldn’t reach, we had to leave them off at another house, with all their gear. We then found another family of 7 or 8 kids there who we couldn’t not give something to.
And so the afternoon continued – drive, deliver food, take pictures of poor homes and kids who are fortunate because they are recipients of this aid, but aren’t fortunate really.
Maybe its because a lot of the places we in N. Ireland might visit don’t make a fuss of welcoming you that we are noticing it here in Tanzania, but everytime you walk down a road, or drive down it kids and adults also will wave to you and smile at you – partly maybe because we are a different colour and its not something they see very often, but I think its also because they are a genuinely hospitable, friendly people.
With the food deliveries complete, we headed to Hombolo school. This is a realtively large school which also has a special needs section – for albino and blind children. Fist bumps and highfives when we first came into the main part of the school, but then we moved on down to the dormitories for the albino and blind/partially sighted kids. This part was tough. Here we have a group of 20 or so children for whom life has got off to an extra tough start in a country where everyone has it tough.
Prior to recent times, these children probably wouldn’t have survived. Witch doctors in villages consider kids with pink eyes as witches and don’t want them around. Blind in UK with special signage, dedicated resources, well defined and maintained streets is difficult. Blind in the bush is next to impossible
They ranged in age from c.7 years old to one boy Rashid who is 16. They all sang a song for us when we arrived and then another later in the afternoon and were happy we had come to visit. They look after each other, like a big family and the children in the main school look after them well also – the children are taught alongside the others in the main school so they do need help during lesson times.
We gave them sweets and bubbles (which they loved) and little handmade teddy bears which they loved. (Rashid was a little old for bears so we made him an honorary Ulsterman with an Ulster shirt. A few others were made Gooners – which for one of them was an upgrade on the Chelsea shirt he was wearing previously!
Rashid then performed a rap song he had written about the cruelty towards albino children by others in the country and how this had to stop. Something he obviously felt strongly about even though he himself was not albino. His story is sad. His mother had AIDS, he is HIV positive as a result. He was in standard 5 up until a few years ago, when one morning he woke up blind. He then had to go back and learn braille and re-study based on this and is now back to standard 5. His mother has passed, as has his grandmother whom he lived with post his mothers death. So this is where he will stay until he has to be moved on after completing standard 7.
The unit is where all of the children live full time in dormitories. They have 2 home visits each year, but very few visits by parents in between. Perhaps the distance from the home to Hombolo is an issue, perhaps the parents are so busy trying to care for the rest of the family, or perhaps there is still the stigma of having a child who is completely different to everyone elses. It does mean that all they have now is each other, but it also means that a tougher time after school awaits because they will still be seen as different.
The principal of the school (main and special) is a very nice man with a particular background in helping children with special needs, and clearly loves these children very much.
That concluded our work today. We returned to the lodge to apply sunburn remedy and get some practice in for our big performance at Church on Sunday. (We came to the conclusion that since Saturday was a day off and we would be in town, then for a swim and then for an Indian meal, the likelihood of practicing songs for the Sunday service on Saturday night was about as likely as the water being warm when I jump into the shower tomorrow morning!
So, including injecting a bit of enthusiasm into the performances, “Come, now is the time to worship”, “Praise is Rising”, “Behold he comes” and “Kwake Yesu” were all run over. (We have been told that singing one song probably won’t be enough and you may be asked for others. So we compiled our set list on the basis that encores will be demanded by the congregation. However, it may be that following our first song they may well be “Thanks for that. And now here’s the real choir!”)