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.

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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.

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