Friday, September 21, 2007

Oswin's Village - Monday

Getu and I arrived back in Songea town just before 2pm, giving us a couple of hours to help Oswin finish sorting out the questionnaires in time for the 4 pm bus to Mpandangindo.

We had been given the questionnaires by COCO, the charity hopefully paying for the Vocational Training Centre (VTC): one for children both in and out of school, one for the teachers, and one for the local community.

We waited for Oswin in the building that houses the Internet cafe, and when he arrived he greeted me in characteristic style.

"Mr Bomba, karibu!" he cooed, and gave me a big hug. "Let us go through to the Hoja office."

I had had no idea that there was a Hoja office. He led us through further into the building and turned left at the end of the corridor, to a door with an A4 piece of paper stuck on it, reading "HOJA PROJECT".

Inside, we were introduced to Grace, who was working away on a laptop on one of two tables. On the walls to the left and right were photos: on the left, photos of Hoja events; on the right, all of the pupils who are being sponsored through secondary school.

Oswin told me that we currently have 42 sponsees, most of them in Form 1 and a few in Form 2. They go to Lupunga Secondary School in Tanga village (Oswin's village, Mpandangindo, is one of six villages in Tanga ward), as well as a few sent to another secondary school on the way into town.

The contribution made by their sponsors is 74,000/- per year, which pays for their fees and some other costs, leaving the pupils' families to pay a small contribution themselves. 74,000/-, at the current rate, is just ₤30.

I was told that some of the pupils have been replaced as they have dropped out of school through not performin well enough, or in one case leaving through pregnancy.

This year the children will be selected not only on the basis of poverty, but also on ability, and all applicants will be required to sit a test. It is not unknown for primary schools to cheat on behalf of their pupils in the national tests at the end of Standard 7.

Two more Hoja volunteers arrived now, both wearing Salam Condom t-shirts. One of them is called Emilian and would be helping out a lot over the week, and the other's name I forget.

Getu checked Oswin's Swahili translation of COCO's questionnaires and, happy with them, we took them round the corner to be photocopied. While we were waiting a small boy appeared in the doorway, took one look at me and burst into tears.

When we were finally ready to leave (after running a bit late and asking the bus to wait), we headed for the bus. It was a brown daladala with what appeared to be a drunken jazz singer painted on the side, and covered in tiger stickers.

"This is the Mpandangindo bus," said Oswin. "We only have one bus per day."

"But it's better than Nundwe," I added.

Nundwe was Oswin's placement village for SPW, and its local bus service was laughable. They went through three different buses in six months, all frequently breaking down. The last was a small daladala whose door fell off whenever any of the passengers breathed.

I remember sitting on its roof and nearly falling off when a tyre blew out. The last I heard, the Ihalimba bus diverts to Nundwe instead, as the old Nundwe service no longer exists.

Oswin and I climbed aboard, remembered Getruda wasn't coming with us, got off again, gave her a hug and boarded once more. We were on our way. About half an hour later. No hurry in Africa.

On the edge of town we stopped to pick up more passengers.

"Main industry in Tanga ward," said Oswin, pointing at a man carrying a large sack of charcoal.

I noticed a man stood outside wearing a hat that read "subiri, kuwa mwaminifu au tumia kondom" (wait, be faithful or use a condom), which is the slogan of the Ishi (live) campaign in Tanzania.

"That guy's wearing an Ishi hat," I said to Oswin.

"What?"

"That man," I repeated, making sure I made each word clear, "he is wearing an Ishi hat."

"Oranges? You want some oranges?" asked Oswin, completely missing where I was pointing. I eventually managed to get my message across.

I discovered that the lad sat next to me was a Form 2 pupil at Lupunga School - one of the children Hoja are sponsoring. I was very impressed with his English (I decided to make the point of letting secondary school pupils in particular practise English with me) at such an early stage in secondary school.

At Tanga another sponsored pupil climbed aboard, but she was rather too shy to speak to me. All at once, the Hoja Project felt like something much more tangible.

When we arrived in the village we unloaded our bags and a couple of young men took them for me.

"They are members of the Hoja Performance Group," Oswin told me. "They will carry your luggage to Mwenyekiti's house. [Mwenyekiti means chairman] You will stay there."

Before leaving the village square we first greeted two of Oswin's uncles (whom in Swahili he would call his fathers), and his mother.

"Have you come all this way just to see me?" she asked.

"Yes, of course," I told her, and she burst into laughter.

Within about 50 yards of starting the procession to Mwenyekiti's house, the performance group burst into songs of welcome. The lyrics were largely along the same theme of "Welcome, our guest/Welcome to Mpandangindo/Our guest we welcome you" and made me grin like a lunatic.

My arrival had brought a number of curious people out of the wood work (curious about me, not curious as in "strange"): the adults greeting me, the children running from their homes shouting, "Mzungu! Mzungu!", and one drunk who joined in with the singing.

After a good 15 minutes the songs were starting to grate a bit, and they were clearly running out of ideas. I commented to Oswin that it was quite a long way to the house.

"Not so far now," assured Oswin. "Only maybe seven more minutes."

Thirty seconds later a small crowd were gathered ahead, and a man with greying hair and a big grin ran out front with a camera.

"That is Mwenyekiti," said Oswin.

When we reached him he gave me an enormous bear hug and led me inside. I was shown into a small room with table and chairs on a compacted mud floor. Oswin, the village leaders and the performance group piled in after me. My bags were taken through another door to where I would sleep, while chickens and pigeons were chased outside.

The group once again sang their welcome, then I introduced myself. Oswin added that they could also call me Mr Bomba, due to my tendency in Ihalimba to reply to any question after my wellbeing with "Bomba!"

All of the children and people gathered in the courtyard of the house were sent away and I was asked whether I wanted to eat or wash first. I elected to wash before it became dark and cold, and Oswin showed me around the back to the straw-screened cubicle.

Brick flooring for good drainage! Soap provided! Hot water! I never had any of this in Ihalimba. Especially the hot water. We never had the time or fuel to heat water for washing. And this was properly hot too, with cold water provided for mixing to the right temperature.

I could get used to this. When I returned to dress, food was ready. Typical Tanzanian fare - rice, beef, green veg and a sort of gravy.

I popped into my room to get my torch so I could see the food better to eat, and noticed that there was still one chicken in there - a large black hen sat in the corner, not moving. I wondered if it was dead. And, if it was, whether I should say anything.

When I had finished eating two platefuls, Mwenyekiti opened another pot full of rice.

"Add more!" he insisted.

"No, I am very full," I insisted.

"I want to be oo-mungus," announced Mwenyekiti, chuckling to himself.

"Do you remember 'Humungous Cock'?" asked Oswin, referring to an in-joke of the Ihalimba ward volunteers, about the massive rooster that lived by our house.

When the food was cleared, Oswin said he'd come at 8am so we could set off by 9. We would be cycling to six schools in three villages on Day One of our work.

Mwenyekiti asked if I wanted to watch television. So the table was taken into the yard, the generator was started and the TV was set up. He handed me the controls and asked me to choose a channel.

I resisted the urge to pick something in English and settled on a sports report about Saturday night's football. The small crowd that had gathered seemed pleased with the choice.

It went on to other reports and everybody seemed as bemused and intrigued as I was by the sight of Tanzanian body-builders on the beach in Dar Es Salaam.

Ater a while, clearly wanting to go to bed himself, Mwenyekiti reminded me that we had such a long way to cycle the next day, and so I went inside, said goodnight to The Dead Chicken, climbed into bed.

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