Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Oswin's Village - Tuesday, Part Two

Flying Pigeon?

More like Dying Pigeon.

The name of my bicycle could not have been less appropriate. The chain came off for the third time when we hit the first of many stretches of sand. The road was so dry in places that the ground had disintegrated into dust and it was impossible to cycle and we were forced to dismount.

Soon after I gave up entirely on cycling and stayed dismounted. We stopped at a couple of houses along the way, and Mwenyekiti asked after someone with the necessary tool to tighten the necessary bits of the bike (I forget which bits exactly).

After the bike had been fixed once, Oswin, the gentleman that he is, insisted that we swap bicycles. Sadly he didn't fare much better, and the chain came off once more within two hundred metres.

After a couple of false leads, we climbed a hill that peaked and looked down over the valley ahead, and stopped where a man and a young lad were waiting to treat the Pigeon. The man in the Ishi cap whom I'd seen from the bus the day before was there too, and the others spent some time talking to him. Sadly I can't remember who he was or whether he was important or not; a side effect of not getting around to writing this for over a year.

"Now we are no longer in Mpandangindo village," Oswin told me. "Now we are in Tanga."

Tanga is the largest village in the ward of seven villages to which Mpandangindo belongs. As is typical, the ward is named after its largest village, so Mpandangindo belongs to Tanga ward. After a good half hour's wait, and another application of suncream, we set off down the hill towards Tanga.

Tanga is on the main road into Songea, and not long after the downward slope levelled out, we hit the tarmac, straight into a small welcoming party. Someone had spotted that Oswin and an mzungu were heading to Tanga, most likely visiting the proposed site for the Vocational Training Centre (VTC) this day, and some of village leaders of Tanga were waiting, bikes at the ready.

The VTC building was about a quarter of a mile up the road. I was impressed with it. Although there were whole walls missing here and there, it was still nearly a whole building, and big enough to accommodate all manner of activities.

Situated right on the main road, it could be clearly advertised and would be convenient to reach, and as we walked around, Oswin already had in mind all sorts of uses for the various rooms, and the various resources that would be required.


I don't think I've ever received as warm a welcome anywhere as I received in Tanga ward, particularly Mpandangindo village, and it was clear why. There was such pride and sense of occasion in showing off the proposed site, and I couldn't help feel a little guilty for it.

I felt like I had done so little for Hoja - I'd very much gone along for the ride, in my opinion. I'd helped out here and there, I'd offered my opinion when it was asked, I'd failed to get around to making the leaflet I'd promised to write about Hoja. I'd started the Hoja blog in the absence of a proper website, and then let Althea take it upon herself to create something more official.

The VTC wasn't even a certainty. We were carrying with us many of the questionnaires that Coco had sent us, and that Oswin had translated into Swahili, to determine whether the VTC looked likely to bring significant benefit to the local community.

So I was being treated unnecessarily well, I felt, for someone who had done very little to bring about something that might not happen. I know that I had spent much of Hoja's early existence starting my teaching career, and so my lack of involvement was not for wont of enthusiasm for the project. I had managed to raise a little bit of cash here and there, either directly through making and auctioning greetings cards, or indirectly through inspiring others to sell pencils on behalf of Hoja.

But I hadn't had as much faith in the project as I now know it warranted, and I found myself in the position of receiving much praise and thanks that was largely undeserved. The real heroes were Oswin and Julia, the unstoppable driving forces behind Hoja in Tanzania and the UK respectively, regardless of whether they actually knew how they were supposed to actually carry out their work when they started out, and were largely making up as they went along.

This is what makes me want to go back out there and contribute something properly. Over the week I was there, I felt like I made a positive contribution, I could see and understand how the project was working, and make comments and suggestions. It felt real. And effective.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Oswin's Village - Tuesday, Part One

It seems a little odd writing this a year late, but having read my previous post on Mpandangindo, I'm pretty sure I can remember what happened the next day quite well.

I don't remember the morning perfectly. I'm sure I was fed by Mwenyekiti's wife, with maandazi, chapati and sweet black tea, and I think I may have eaten alone. I had been allowed to get up when I was ready, and then rushed because I felt like everyone else had been up and productive long before me.

While I ate, Oswin arrived and asked me if I was ready. Not quite, but I was sure I could be ready in a jiffy. Just as soon as I'd finished eating, put some shoes on, and applied a liberal layer of suncream.

There were four bikes parked up in the courtyard of Mwenyekiti's house: one for me, Oswin, Mwenyekiti, and I think the fourth person was the Mtendaji (village secretary). Oswin and Mwenyekiti had explained the previous day that Mwenyekiti's Land Rover was being repaired in Songea, and so we had to cycle round all the schools in nine villages in order to carry out Coco's research for the VTC.

Two of the bikes, which had been borrowed especially for Oswin and me, were the standard made-in-China-and-assembled-in-Tanzania design, and each had the words FLYING PIGEON emblazoned across the frame.

I remember Mwenyekiti being concerned that I might not know how to ride a bicycle, and his being delighted when I told him I could, but I'm not sure whether this was at this moment, or the previous day.

Having rushed to be ready, it was no surprise that I had plenty of time in hand before we actually set off. There was discussion to be had first, the subject of which I forget, and then, when enough of us grew impatient at the same moment, we cycled together onto the road.

Fifty metres on, my chain came off.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Arusha-Man of Highgate. Or, Where To Next?

Last week I bought some stamps in one of my local shops in Highgate. At the time I was wearing one of my Kilimanjaro t-shirts, and the shopkeeper asked me if I'd climbed the mountain. He told me then that he was from Arusha, so we chatted a little about Tanzania. Shortly after I left, I realised that I hadn't used any Swahili on him, and promised to myself that I'd rectify this next time I went in.

Yesterday one of my flatmates moved out. She'd been here for four years, and so several items of kitchen equipment went with her. As such, we needed a new roasting tin, cheese grater and colander, so I took the opportunity to return to the the man from Arusha's shop.

He was serving someone when I walked in, so I didn't butt in immediately with a simple "Habari za kazi?", but went straight to the back of the shop where the pots and pans take up temporary residence before being exchanged for money and finding a more permanent home.

I found the roasting tin easily enough, then the cheese grater with a little difficulty, before failing on the colander and heading to the till regardless. Arusha-Man was stocking one of the shelves on the way and wanted to check I had found everything I wanted.

"You are looking for something?" he asks.

Damn. He's started first. He's asked something in English. Something for which I don't have the required fluency to reply in Swahili.

"Um, just a colander. But you don't seem to have any."

"A calendar?" he asks. Or it might be, "A colander?" I'm not sure.

"A colander," I say, emphasising the 'O' whilst at the same time trying not to emphasize it so much that he thinks that I think that he's stupid.

"A colander?" he says again (maybe again). It could still be "A calendar?" I'm still not quite sure, but I think he's got it.

"Ndiyo," I say, as casually as possible. "A colander." I point towards kitchen corner just in case he thinks I'm looking for office stationery.

"Oh, I think we have some," he says, and walks past me, while I follow. I don't think he's noticed my slipping in a little bit of Swahili. I'll try something else again in a moment.

His wife is by the kitchen section, and informs him that they had two left a couple of days ago, but they've both now been sold. He sounds a little disappointed that he'd not noticed they'd all been sold, and hopefully suggests that one of the smaller colanders he sells might be suitable.

I mumble a couple more feeble ndiyo's where I can, but I'm not surprised when he doesn't seem to notice. He promises he'll get some more colanders in, probably next week.

We go to the till, and I pay, feeling a little embarrassed that I've failed in the simple task of striking up a conversation in a shopkeeper's home tongue. When he gives me his change, I say "Asante sana" rather more confidently, and he replied in English.

"Thank you. See you again," he says.

Since I returned home, I've been telling myself that he might not even know Swahili that well. He's Asian African, so he's probably more versed in Arabic. If I'm honest, though, he will know Swahili. I shall have to make another attempt.


Later this weekend, I shall start to catch-up on the story of my trip to Mpandangindo this time last year, and the report on Hoja Project progress that Oswin emailed to me on Thursday.

For the moment, however, as per my last post, I shall ponder on where I'm heading.

I'm on a 12 month contract on the room I'm renting, so I'm here til mid-August. I'm not planning on walking out on my job in the middle of the academic year. And I really do want to finish the year.

I don't know whether I want to make a short visit to Hoja in the summer, or whether I want to go on a long-term placement there sooner rather than later.

But I do know that I want to go on an adventure quite soon. I quite fancy going somewhere in Europe, probably France as I know the language, in the October half-term. Paris crossed my mind, but I live in a capital city as it is, and I think I'd prefer somewhere quieter.

I don't have a car and I have a pathological aversion to flying such a short distance, so I will probably be traveling by rail. If any of my friends fancy going away for a quiet three or four day break in the last week of October, you're more than welcome to join me.

Any suggestions at all about this are encouraged. It could even involve one of my European internety friends.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Three Cups of Tea. Or, What's The Opposite Of Homesickness?

Yesterday I started reading a book called Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.

It's been my commuting book since yesterday and I'm already some way in, unable to put it down. It's about Greg Mortenson who, after a failed attempt to summit the monstrous Himalayan mountain K2, became lost and ended up in the village of Korphe in Northern Pakistan.

He found in the village that there was no school, and children were educated by a visiting teacher just three days in the week, whilst kneeling outside in the cold unforgiving dirt. As they nursed him back to some level of strength and showed him enormous levels of hospitality, he vowed to build them a school.

And so his life was changed...

etc etc.

This has left me with several things to think about, so I'll tackle them one by one.

(1) I should really finish posting about my last adventure in Tanzania now. I kind of lost heart with travel writing a bit when I felt like I was going to be robbed every time I crossed the road to use the Internet cafe. But I haven't finished the story, and I really want everyone to know just how special Oswin's village was.

(2) I really want to go on another adventure. I not only want to go out and teach in whatever form the Hoja Project eventually takes, but I want to help build it. And I want to climb another mountain. And go horse-trekking in the Andes. Which is another Discover Adventure trip I have my eye on. If only the Andes were in East Africa...

(3) I've been working in my new school since November. And I feel quite settled and content at the moment, which is quite a new feeling as far as teaching is concerned. I don't really want to leave if it means I don't come back. I know a lot of the kids now, and I don't think I can face going through another first-year-at-a-new-school scenario.

(4) I've also been rather less involved in the Hoja Project lately, and I've got far more involved in Advocates for Action, a volunteer campaign group belonging to SPW, for which I have been creating some measure of web presence, and our soon-to-be-published first newsletter. That's another thing I'd have to walk away from, but probably not as hard as many many more personal things.

(5) I remember that in many ways my last trip was a disappointment, but Mpandangindo was amazing. And it's always the amazing bits that I remember. The fraidy cat part of me doesn't want to risk being disappointed again.

(6) Although it's best I get a couple more years' experience as a teacher before galavanting off again, I helped create the Hoja Project. It's been completely carried by other people who helped create it, who were even more underqualified than I am now. There will be no big issue about lack of experience should I decide to go jetting off again.

(7) I could just go over in the holidays. But I went over in the holidays last time, really. And if I want to go again, I want to go properly. I want to be involved, and use it as a great experience. And possibly a stepping stone to something else.

(8) As much as I feel settled at work, I'm not a theoretical pen and paper type, no matter how good I am at it. I like carrying heavy tools and creating objects out of other objects. Teaching maths is not my vocation. This is the thing that has been bugging me most lately.

Decisions, decisions...