Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Three Things

1. My album of the decade is Through The Window Pane, by Guillemots.

2. From Friday I'll be embarking on my friend Claire's 2010 project, RAoK365.  I'll be attempting to perform one random act of kindness a day for a whole year.  I'll be making occasional and very brief blogs over there, but mostly I'll probably be posting my RAoKs on Twitter, with the hashtag #raok365.

3. I'm not going to blog very much on here for a while.  I have far too many other things I'd like to get on with.  Like gardening.  And being healthy.  In fact I'm going to spend far more time unplugged from the Internet.  I'm going to unplug myself from a couple of other things I'm involved in too.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Was The Holocaust Really All That Bad?

Well, yes, of course it was.  Why would I even bother asking?

You might say the same of the BBC's new Have Your Say debate, which is breaking new ground by asking "Should Homosexuals Face Execution?"  Except that the answer in this case would be "No".

Yes yes, Have Your Say is always populated by bigots and morons, so it's no surprise that some people are actually supporting Uganda's proposed gay death penalty, but that's not really the point.  Why are they being given a platform at all?

I'm not a no-platformer - I supported the Beeb's decision to put Nick Griffin on Question Time - but this is simply an open invitation to post seemingly unmoderated bile on a publicly funded forum.

Thankfully by now the most offensive comments have been voted down a bit.

Another thing about Uganda's proposed law is, it's not just the death penalty for gay people.  It's jail terms for anyone who talks about (or "promotes") homosexuality.   They're going all out on this one.

via @antonvowl, @SohoPolitico

BBC Complaints Form

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Joined Up Thinking But Disjointed Presentation Over PSHE Curriculum And Gender Violence

Now, I could be wrong, but I don't think the Government are doing themselves many favours with the way they have announced their proposals to make personal, social and health education (PSHE) a compulsory part of the National Curriculum from 2011.

From what I've heard of the proposals, they seem to be uncharacteristically well thought through.  It's been informed by teacher, parent and youth involvement, for a start.

You might think that's something to be pleased with (and you'd be right), but that word in italics has been niggling at me.  Any details on the new curriculum are five clicks away from the front page of the DCSF website, which seems completely wrong to me - surely such significant changes should be directly linked from the "Hot Topics" info box on the homepage?  Worse, only a brief and slightly misleading press release from April is to be found in the DirectGov Newsroom.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Pupils From Tanzania Say A Little Bit More

A follow up from this morning, the students I filmed in Tanzania have a little bit more to say about themselves and their schools.

Us and Our School - Hoja-COCO Students Part 2 from Phil Hatchard on Vimeo.

Pupils From Tanzania Say Hello

As most of you reading this probably know, I was in Tanzania from May until August this year working on the Hoja Project. I took a video camera out with me and did some filming.

Yesterday I hacked together some of the footage I have of our pupils at two different schools - the vocational and secondary students at the VTC (referred to as "Hoja Secondary School" throughout the video), and the secondary students at Lupunga Secondary School. So here it is:

Let Us Introduce Ourselves - Hoja-COCO Students Part 1 (7 Minute Version) from Phil Hatchard on Vimeo.

I'm hoping to use this as part of a project to start up some dialogue between one or more schools in the UK (or elsewhere), and our students in Tanzania. The kids also asked some brilliant questions they'd like answered by UK students, which I'll edit and get up.

If you'd like to get involved in this, email me at and we'll get the ball rolling.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Reading List: Aid, Taxation and Ownership

I've been sitting on a few pages lately related to development.  I'm clearly not going to get around to writing a proper blog post on them, and the number of tabs open on my Mozilla Firefox is growing day by day, so I'm just going to link to them and say briefly what they are, in approximate chronological order.  Maybe it will form itself into some kind of thoughtful blog post.

I've come across a couple of posts from Aid Thoughts and AidWatch about taxation in developing countries and its positive effect on accountability and infrastructure.  The AidWatch article about taxation and vaccination either side of an arbitrary line drawn in colonial Nigeria is rather over-simplified, I feel, but the principle is worth looking at further.

Aid Thoughts have made another post today about Ownership and the Paris Declaration, how true ownership is necessary for effective development, but that for true ownership, donors need to trust Governments to drive their own agenda.

Of course, faith in Governments to do the right thing should correlate positively with their accountability to the people, which in turn should increase with taxation, so it all links in together.  I can't imagine however, how the Tanzanian Government would begin to effectively and fairly tax the people of rural Songea, to use a region I know quite well.  An easy tax would be VAT, but that's regressive and hurts the very poorest people disproportionately.  A poll tax wouldn't be much better.  Implementation's going to be a bit of a bugger.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Sexuality Education in UK Schools: A Pupil's Perspective

Having been to a Christian Brothers' school when I was younger, I never really received any sex education. The sum total was one biology lesson when I was eleven, when my teacher (the excellent Mr Wilkinson) made it very clear that sex is to be enjoyed by both parties, and to be gentle with a girl if it's her first time.

As a teacher, I was never form tutor to the relevant year group, so never led any sex education either. My knowledge is fairly good, I know that sex education in the UK is generally mediocre at best, and that it's usually led by form tutors who don't have any choice in the matter (or training).

With the Government making PSHE a compulsory subject on the National Curriculum, this all looks set to change, although details are sketchy at the moment. The vague allusions to the as-yet unpublished syllabus sound rather promising, and not too dissimilar to UNESCO's Guidlines to Sexuality Education.

In the meantime I'm still quite interested in the current system's shortcomings. So when my friend Hannah, who is in sixth form, mentioned she'd had sex ed yesterday, I took the opportunity to ask her what she thinks of it. And this is the conversation that ensued:

Hannah: To be brutally honest- the school sex education system is pretty much the most pointless lesson in existence (though saying that my favorite lesson ever was a sex education lesson with a nurse who was clearly very down to earth and hilariously funny).

Today we just had the general chat about protection, what to do if you get pregnant and STIs. It wasn't ever so in depth as the teachers don't really like talking about it. Last year we put condoms on little models only to be told that in 'real life' it was nothing like what we had just learnt.

The next week we had the nurse come and talk to us and it was one of the funniest- disturbing talks I've ever had and it will NEVER leave me. I don't think that happens at most schools though sadly, if it did people would be much more aware.

Journalism and Statistics

We all know that some publications will wilfully misrepresent numbers, but I often find myself far more annoyed by journalists who clearly don't really understand statistics or how to write about them.

Today the BBC have reported on the apparent positive effects on health of Transcendental Meditation:
"After nine years, the meditation group had a 47% reduction in deaths, heart attacks and strokes."
Now, I suspect that this means that the there were 47% fewer deaths, heart attacks and strokes in the TM group than in the control group.

What the journalist has actually written is that quite a lot of them were dying, or having heart attacks or strokes before, and that's happening less now.  Of course, if so many of them were dying at the start, there would be fewer people left to die or have heart attacks or strokes, so a reduction wouldn't be all that surprising.

On this occasion, this doesn't really make a great difference to anyone's interpretation of the story - it's obvious what the journo really means and we all learn that relaxation techniques are good for our health (I'd never have guessed).

But it's not always so harmless.  During political conference season, I heard David Cameron on Radio 4 backing up his argument with the statistic along the lines of "there is a greater number of children living in the UK without a working parent than in other EU countries" (I can't remember the exact wording).

Sounds reasonable, and the journalist failed to challenge him.  I say "failed", because he should have.  There are only four countries in Europe that have a greater population than the UK - France, Germany, Russia and Turkey - and only two of those are in the EU.  So it's not really surprising that there is a "greater number of children without a working parent" - most European countries have less than a fifth of the population of the UK.

Cameron's statistic, whilst possibly true, was utterly meaningless and should have been clarified or dismissed.  Do journalists receive any training on this?

Thanks to Claire for spotting the BBC article.

[Edit: Just found this link - Statistics Help for Journalists - which assumes absolutely no prior knowledge and includes this gem of a quote: "Well, mathematicians have developed an entire field - statistics - dedicated to getting answers out of numbers."]

Monday, November 16, 2009

It Must Be A Slow News Day

You know you're bending the definition of newspaper when your front page story was dissected and discredited three weeks before publication.

Never mind, eh?  Presumably they took a second look at the research that Chemicals used in plastics feminise the brains of little boys 'so that they avoid rough and tumble games', and decided there must have been at least some scientific rigour from which we can all learn.
The women, who gave birth to 74 boys and 71 girls, were contacted again when their children were aged four to seven and asked about the toys the youngsters played with, the activities they liked and their personalities.
Small sample size?  Simplistic measurements?  Apparent lack of any kind of experimental control?

It's science.

Credit to Cath Elliott for the far more detailed blog post of three weeks ago.

In other news, something in the Sun annoyed me on Saturday and I couldn't resist writing my first Quail.

[Edit: Sadly, now it seems the BBC are at it too.  It's not far off being a carbon copy of the Mail article.  Thanks to Simon for the spot.]

Thursday, November 12, 2009

They Work For You: Debate on Maternal Health in the Commons

For some time I've been receiving various email alerts whenever specific people say anything or whenever key words are mentioned in the House of Commons.  I get this through They Work For You, which is an excellent resource.

I'm not going to write a proper blog post about it, but I just received an email that included a debate about maternal deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa, which I found interesting and depressing in equal measure.

I'll just leave you with a short quote from Gareth Thomas MP, Minister of State, DfID:
"In sub-Saharan Africa, 250,000 women die each year from pregnancy-related complications.  In some countries, the figure is much higher. Almost half the maternal deaths occur in just four countries: Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia and Tanzania."
Those of you who know me will see why I picked out that particular snippet.

Advertising expenditure figures on various health issues are also quite revealing.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Won't Somebody Think Of The Children?! Or, media coverage of new sex education guidelines

I only just got around to looking at it, but I wasn't surprised to find a lot of moral indignation in the press coverage of Ed Balls' new sex education guidelines.  I'd cite specific examples but you might as well just randomly open any article and the chances are it will be against the new proposals.

The worrying thing is that the focus is almost entirely on the right of parents to withdraw children from the age of 15 and upwards from sex education classes.  The current rule is that parents are able to withdraw 19 year olds from such classes.

Nineteen, you say?  But that's a fully grown adult.  Surely they can make their own decisions?

Well, yes, quite.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Belated End of October Premier League Predictions Table

The standings, at the start of today, and it's all change at the top.  And bottom:

50 pts - Sean
52 pts - Anthony
53 pts - Abad
54 pts - Katie
60 pts - Phil C
62 pts - Phil H
65 pts - Hysen
71 pts - Martin

For the stattos

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

I'm Not Suggesting That Scientists Are Just As Bad As Hitler, But...

According to the Daily Mail today, in a variation on their usual "I'm not racist, but.." approach, Professor Nutt would have got on famously with old Adolf.   [Edit: I've changed the link to a twitpic of the original article - the Mail had removed the picture of Hitler from the page.]

No, I'm not kidding.  This isn't even worth writing a proper blog post.

But do join in with PollJack's new campaign and vote "Yes" to "Should alcohol and tobacco be reclassified as more dangerous than Ecstasy or LSD?"

[Edit: An excellent blog post by Nick Cohen on Godwin's Law, which is the law that any debate that rages long enough will end with someone comparing something to Hitler or the Nazis, and thus losing the argument.]

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Sharing on Google Reader

If anyone else is on Google Reader, and is using or thinking about using the sharing options, here is my (as yet empty) shared items page.  Feel free to follow.

Phil's Shared Items

[Edit: Oh, and you can follow my shared items through any other RSS reader, if you're into that sort of thing.]

Friday, October 30, 2009


This is one of the best Internet spoofs I've seen in some time.  The graphs on the donation page, and the hairspray tweets from the blog are particularly special.

International Network Enabling Poverty Development

via AidThoughts

Friday, October 23, 2009

One Night At The BBC (Or: Mindless Protests At Television Centre) #BNP #bbcqt

Last night I was at BBC Television Centre.

Not to protest.  Not to see Question Time.  I was there to see Harry Hill.  And he was excellent.  Between takes his Nick Griffin jokes were much more scathing than anything that went on in the other studio, or outside.  I highly recommend watching TV Burp on Saturday.

This is covered elsewhere, so I'm going to just briefly (as I can) say what annoyed me.

LinkDump: Girls' Education In Africa

On Wednesday evening I went to a careers event based around getting work in International Development.  It made me want to be more focused, and also think about the issues I saw in Tanzania that I'd like to know a little bit more about, and hopefully help solve.

The one particular issue is of the quality of education.  Tanzania has universal primary education - it ticks that lovely UNICEF box.  Which means that since 2002, when it was introduced, they've struggled to get enough teachers to cope with the vastly increased number of pupils.

Primary school leavers were trained to become primary school teachers to boost numbers, for example.  The policy means that while all children get a start, it's arguably the worst possible kind of start.  Worse, all their lessons are in Swahili.  Which is fine.  Until you consider that all secondary school lessons are in English.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

There's Nothing Wrong With Democracy As Long As We All Accept That There's Something Fundamentally Wrong With Democracy

It's always a bit demoralising to be told that the world's turned to shit and we might as well all give up, especially when it's one of my idols doing the telling.  If I hadn't been David Mitchell's reassuringly defeatist tones I was hearing in my head whilst reading, I might even have given up half way through.

It's an article that prompted a number of commenters to declare they always suspected that Mitchell was a fascist.  A suspicion based, presumably, largely on the fact that he has a posh voice and a side parting, and that the favourite film of the character he plays in Channel 4's Peep Show is Das Boot.

The mistake they make is to read Mitchell's interpretation of politics and to think this is the same thing as Mitchell's political opinion.  That, and to misunderstand what fascism actually is.  Yes, Mitchell is blunt and defeatist in tone, but I think you'll find that's his public persona, or maybe even his actual personality - not fascism.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Abortion Trends: Why It's Wrong To Say The "Floodgates" Have Ever Opened

The Guttmacher Institute have released their reports on worldwide abortions this month, comparing the years 1995 and 2003.

The most immediate trend you see (as shown on this graph in the Economist) is that the number of abortions appears to have decreased.  The second is that the number of safe abortions has decreased at a much faster rate than unsafe abortions, which have hardly decreased at all.

If you look closely, you'll see that most regions fall broadly into the same range - about 15-30 abortions per 1000 women aged 15-44 - and that in 2003, the rates of abortions tended to be slightly lower where it was legal and safe.

It seems fairly clear that the legality of abortion doesn't make a significant difference to the number of abortions (assuming the counting of unsafe abortions is reasonably accurate), but does make a huge difference to the safety of the women who feel they must, for whatever reason, make this difficult choice.

I couldn't help but immediately think of the UK, where the media are frequently outraged at how high teenage pregnancy and abortion rates are.  Headlines such as 'Abortion rates rocket to record high as Britain set to overtake US as world termination capital' are to be expected from the likes of the Daily Mail, and it is true that abortion rates in England and Wales continue to increase year on year.

England and Wales statistics are given on the Department for Health website and, handily, they're counted in the same way as their worldwide counterparts.  Between 1995 and 2003, the number of abortions here rose from 14.5 to 17.5 per 1000 women aged 15-44.  Shock!  Horror!  etc etc.

Of course, these numbers and the continuing upward trend are worrying, but "world termination capital" we are not.  A few quotes from the Guttmacher Institute's report:
"The most dramatic decline in abortion incidence occurred in Eastern Europe, a region where abortion is, for the most part, legal and safe: the rate fell from 90 to 44. The decrease coincided with substantial increases in contraceptive use in the region.

"The lowest abortion rate in the world is in Western Europe (12 per 1,000 women aged 15–44). The rate is 17 in Northern Europe and 21 in Northern America (Canada and the United States of America)."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Let's All Complain To The Press Complaints Commission about Jan Moir's Attack On The Late Stephen Gately

I just complained to the Press Complaints Commission about Jan Moir for this horrifically homophobic article on Stephen Gately.  I found out about it at Enemies of Reason.

If you want to take part, it couldn't be simpler.  Simply fill out this online form.

[Edit: Apparently the PCC doesn't generally accept third party complaints:

In regard to complaints about matters of general fact under Clause 1 (Accuracy) of the Code – where there are no obvious first parties cited in the article, who might complain – the Commission can, and regularly does, investigate complaints from any concerned reader.

In addition the PCC has an absolute discretion about whether or not to investigate any complaint. If, therefore, there appeared to be an exceptional public interest in accepting a complaint from a third party concerning a named individual, then it would do so – but the arguments set out above mean that it is a high threshold to cross and in practice it happens very rarely."

So do include Clause 1 in your complaint.  Which I, er, didn't.  And if you are gay, or in a civil partnership, or anything else relevant, then point it out if you've been directly offended."]

This is what I put - feel free to copy, paste and edit as much as you like:
Jan Moir has broken clauses 5 and 12 in the Code of Practice.  She has attacked the late Stephen Gately and made unwarranted and unfounded accusations of hedonism or foul play, based solely on the fact that he is young and gay.  She has used this as an excuse to attack civil partnerships.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Frown With Dating

Yesterday was faintly depressing.

It started with numerous visits to the toilet and faltered from there on in.

I spent most of the morning amused by the Trafigura scandal, whilst trying to interpret my stomach's confused messages of whether it wanted food or not.

At 2pm an application pack landed on my doorstep for an informal interview with a teaching agency at 4pm.  Which helpfully gave me about an hour to sort it all out and leave the flat.  By the time I got to Southgate I was tired and inevitably depressed from having had to travel on the most depressing section of the Piccadilly Line.  Hence I think I was both quite negative and honest, not a combination you really want in any form of interview, informal or otherwise.

And then in the evening I went speed hating.

I'd been speed hating before and really loved it.  Before you go they ask you to draw a picture of yourself.  Not one to resist the opportunity to show off, this is the self-portrait I drew this time (on the previous occasion I think I drew myself as a lion tamer).

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

#Trafigura: What The Guardian Aren't Allowed To Tell You

I have something else to blog about later today, but first you may or may not have heard that the Guardian have been gagged from reporting on Parliament.  I just this minute heard about it on Twitter.

Curious, because the original question posed, which the Guardian is not allowed to report on, is freely available and it was never going to be any shortage of bloggers willing to take the time to find it.

The Third Estate was one of an early few to find it was about Trafigura dumping toxic waste off the coast of Sierra Leone.

Hopefully this ridiculous use of the libel laws will backfire horribly on them.

Edit: Carter-Ruck have now backed down, as it did indeed backfire quite spectacularly.

This has also made me think of an excellent programme on Radio 4 yesterday (unemployment has its perks) about how politics has changed since the Brighton bomb.  Towards the end of the programme discussion turned to the increased security around Parliament, and how most MPs don't like it because it discourages people from participating in the political process.

Brighton: The Bomb That Changed Politics

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Blame the Prime Minister's Wife

Today I bought the Observer, which is not something I've done in a while - these days I get most of my news from the Internet and radio.  I've just been reading a piece by Catherine Bennet, attacking Sarah Brown for not campaigning on behalf of women's rights.

Oh, I don't know, perhaps it's because it's not her job.  Perhaps it's because it's her husband's job.  He is the Prime Minister, after all.   Or maybe it's Harriet Harman's job as Minister for Women and Equality, or Alan Johnson's job as the Home Secretary.

I'd have a lot more respect for Sarah Brown if she did campaign on behalf of brutalised women, but I don't think any less of her just because she doesn't.  Catherine Bennett seems to subscribe to the view that every famous woman who doesn't campaign on women's rights is somehow a traitor to the cause, and wastes the first 15 column inches telling us so.

To her credit, she does eventually make valid points criticising Harriet Harman for something that is her job, but it's relegated almost to a footnote.

Can we please all establish that women's rights are really important and that it's a collective responsibility of Government, of the media, and of everyone else?  Not just women.  Not just famous women.  And not just the Prime Minister's wife.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Premier League Predictions - The September Table...

At the start of the football season I challenged you to make predictions about the Premier League this season, in aid of the Hoja Project.

Well this is how it would stand if the Premier League were to end this season.  And despite getting her excuses in quickly, Katie is making an early push to win some piece of Tanzanian football tat.

1. Katie (48pts)
2. Martin (54pts)
3. Abad (55pts)
=4. Phil H/Phil C (58pts)
6. Sean (60pts)
7. Anthony (62pts)
8. Hysen (74pts)

Monthly standings so far for those who want to geek out on the stats.

I should also point out that I shall be naming and shaming those who haven't paid up yet...

Friday, October 02, 2009

Friday Links: Hoja Project on eBay, Cervical Cancer Vaccine, and the BNP's Freephone Number

A very quick post from me, highlighting three very different causes.

First, the Hoja Project is now registered on eBay, so if you support Hoja (the charity I helped set up in Tanzania and have just spent three months volunteering for), then you can donate a portion of your eBay sales to them.

Second, Malcolm Coles has pointed out that because of all the alarmist and irresponsible reporting in the tabloid newspapers this week, actual facts about the cervical cancer vaccine are not faring very well on Google's search engine.  People who are worried are actually finding lots of pages full of lies and misinformation.  So you can help websites like the NHS appear higher on the search results by linking to them like this - cervical cancer jab - if you have your own blog or website.

Third, the ever excellent Conform, Consume, Obey is the second site I've seen point out that the BNP have a freephone number, which they have to pay for everytime someone rings them.  The worry is that people might call them from payphones and then leave the phone off the hook, thus racking up a huge bill for them.  Disgraceful behaviour, and obviously I wouldn't encourage anyone to do anything of the sort...

[Edit: I've heard a vicious rumour that the BNP freephone line is "no longer accepting anonymous calls".  And it apparently originated from Popbitch.]

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Invasive Virginity Tests for Girls

A post by London Muslim today links to a story in the Copenhagen Post about an "increasing number of young Muslim women being sent to doctors to prove that they are virgins".

Sadly a quick Google search reveals that it's not just a problem amongst Muslims in Europe, and nor is it only a matter of male hypocrisy or "feudal thinking".

In July 150 Indian brides were reportedly forced to undergo virginity tests before participating in a state-run mass wedding (Link 1, Link 2), and it exists in some African communities, both inside and outside the continent, driven by fear of HIV, and controlling religious parents.  And that's without turning to page 2 of the search results.

That last link is particularly frightening.  Contrary to what "Dad" might think, his "hometown back in West Africa" certainly did not "have a reliable way of knowing a daughter's virginity was in tact". Because virginity tests are not only a demeaning invasion of a young girl's body and completely unnecessary, they are not reliable.

I can't imagine that this has been publicly discredited to the same extent as female genital mutilation, but it really should be.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Confederation of British Industry: Science "not a real subject"

I read with interest this morning when this article from the Telegraph came up on my Google Reader.  It reports that the CBI isn't very happy with the Government's "fictional" figures on the number of students studying science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.

So what do other interested parties have to say about the matter?  Well, nothing, because Julie Henry clearly hasn't bothered to ask them.  Nor has she sought out the figures herself and challenged the think tank's claims.  Something I managed to do in five minutes of my spare time, even though I'm not paid to do it.

If I were a cynical man (and I am), then I might believe that this article was created, not with journalistic integrity in mind, but with the sole intention to spank the Government.

Well, either that or both Julie Henry and the CBI have bought into the idea that any university "science" not called "Chemistry", "Biology" or "Physics" couldn't have existed before 1975 and therefore isn't a real subject.
"The Government now includes as "science", courses such as nutrition and complementary medicine, geography studies, sports science, nursing and psychology, even though in dozens of universities it is classed as an arts degree."
Oh dear!  Sounds like the Government have suddenly introduced a load of new courses to the statistics so that the numbers get bigger, doesn't it?  Yes, it does sound like that, but if that's the claim then it's bollocks.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Returned to Risk: Deportation of HIV-Positive Migrants

On Thursday morning I took myself off to Parliament to attend a panel discussion on the deportation of HIV-positive migrants.  It was organised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Aids, and Human Rights Watch, who were launching their report 'Returned To Risk'.

As host Neil Gerrard MP and the HRW London director made clear from the start, being an HIV-positive migrant is a double vulnerability: if you're a migrant, it's best not to be HIV-positive, and if you're HIV-positive, it's best not to be a migrant.  

I think you can pare the issue down to two main perspectives from the UK's point of view: how we treat migrants, and how to influence international consensus.  On the first point, sadly, we don't do very well.

The Home Office, who are concerned with immigration, seem out of step with DfID (the Department for International Development), who have been at the forefront of promoting universal access to HIV services as a fundamental human right.

It doesn't take a Daily Mail reader to know that immigration, and in particular asylum, is a very sensitive issue as far as our press are concerned.  I can't help but wonder whether the media's general lack of concern for the immigrants themselves has contributed to the Government's slow acceptance that we should actually treat them as human beings whilst they are in our care.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Photos! Photos! Photos! (July/August Edition)

Tanzania 090806 - Ladies' Football Mpandangindo vs Masigira 030

Finally, I have transferred the last of my Tanzania photos from my netbook to my MacBook and uploaded them to Flickr.

Health continues to be a pain.  Annoyingly I'm nearly better, but not quite.  I'm also officially no longer a patient of the Hospital of Tropical Diseases.  At some point soonish I should really be starting to earn some money.

A few interesting links to tack onto the end of this post:

I will not read your fucking script
Search for pills that made Abraham Lincoln lose his cool

...and this apology from the Prime Minister to Alan Turing, which is, quite frankly, completely ruined by Gordon Brown cynically using it as an opportunity to score political points three paragraphs from the end:
"I am proud that those days are gone and that in the last 12 years this government has done so much to make life fairer and more equal for our LGBT community."
Time and a place Gordon, and it's not here.  There was an interesting, if circular debate on You and Yours on Radio 4 today that talked about the lack of trust we have in the media, banks, and politicians.  I think this quote probably sums up why I have so little faith in our leaders (including the opposition). 

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The EU Wants Your Five Year Old To Have An Abortion, Part Two

Earlier today, I posted Part One of this post.  It's not exactly necessary to go back and read it - it's more of an aside to the main issue.

If you know me, or this blog, then you probably already know young people's sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) is a bit of a hobby horse of mine.

You probably don't know, however, that over the last couple of weeks I've stumbled across a number of blogs that don't like tabloids such as the Daily Mail and the Daily Express (as well as, often, the press in general).  They're quite enjoyable and interesting reads.

Today, I combine the two.

The EU Wants Your Five Year Old To Have An Abortion, Part One

No, not really.

See what I did there?  I lied.  Or rather, paraphrased some comment-makers from the Daily Mail website about a story that had nothing to do with the EU whatsoever.  But more on that later.

First, I want to show you this video I found about the terrifying shady EU organisation that's taking over our ENTIRE Government structure.  It's called Common Purpose (ooh, er!), and I found out about it because of the accusing finger pointed in its direction in some of the Daily Mail comments.

Listen carefully, and link some of the different claims together.  You'll be shocked to find out that President Bush was a Communist.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Sexual Health in Southern Tanzania, Part One of Three

On 6th August, shortly before leaving Songea, I interviewed Oswin about the Hoja Project. When we were finished, I continued chatting with him about Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) in the local area.

The rest of the video footage I took in Tanzania will be edited "soon", but this particular interview took priority, as I'm still involved with SPW through Advocates for Action - we're a group of volunteers who campaign for better international policy on SRHR for young people. Tomorrow we're having a planning/training day so it's quite useful for others to see what I learnt about what happens in the community.

For those who don't know (and at the risk of boring those who do), Oswin Mahundi runs Hoja, which is largely funded by COCO. I know Oswin from when we both volunteered for SPW in 2004 and was one of several volunteers who helped him set up Hoja in his local community.

The video is about 20 minutes long in total, split into three separate parts on YouTube.  I'll just consider the first part today, and the other two another time.

In the first part, Oswin talks about the responsibilities of local Government and the Church, and sexual health education in schools.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Photos! Photos! Photos! (June Edition)

In other news, vindication today in the form of diagnosis with Giardia. Which is what I bloody well thought I had 10 weeks ago when I woke up ill and went to the hospital. Only to be told I had malaria. Repeatedly.

Next time I'm away I might just self-diagnose. Or find another doctor.

Also, I was warned it would be a long wait to see the doctor at the Hospital of Tropical Diseases off Tottenham Court Road, so I went for a wander and stumbled across Pollock's Toy Museum. I must pay a proper visit there soon. It looks brilliant.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Four People I Met In Hospital

Aside from bowel movements and incompetent doctors, I haven't said much about the week I spent in Ruvuma Regional Hospital. I certainly haven't told you about the interesting people I met there.

I know what you're thinking, but this post shall be a vomit and diarrhea free zone. I promise.

So, in chronological order:

1. The Local Health Officer

Aside from all the people I already knew piling up oranges and satsumas on my bedside table, I received one other visitor on my first day in the hospital.

I don't know his real name, but let's call him Phil. Because it's more amusing for me if this is as confusing as possible.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Think British MPs get a free ride? Ever been to Tanzania?

Each day Tanzanian MPs receive one and a half times a school teacher's monthly salary, just for turning up. And this year, they've been demanding even more.

Tanzanian Parliament building

Tanzania is an East African member of the Commonwealth. It's just south of Kenya, its main city is Dar es Salaam, and its administrative capital is Dodoma in the centre of the country.

Until this Saturday I had spent three months volunteering for the Hoja Project in Songea, way down in the nation's southwest corner, and far from the main centres of development.

Although most of its population is very poor, Tanzania is considered by many to be one of the more successful (or rather, less unsuccessful) countries on the continent.

This is probably because they have very successfully steered clear of any significant civil unrest since their independence in the 1960s (something you could have also said about their neighbours in Kenya up until last year). That's why you never see them on the news.

Tanzania also have ticked a number of boxes designed by more developed countries to arbitrarily decide whether African Governments are doing a good job. For example, Tanzania provide free primary school education to all. And no, that's not as good as it sounds, and nor am I in favour of such tick-box measurement. (But more on that later.)

As far as African countries go, Tanzania is one of the world media's "good guys". If you ever see Gordon Brown (or later, presumably, David Cameron) on the news meeting the Tanzanian President, it will be all smiles and handshakes and slaps on the back for a good job well done.

But MPs are not really under any pressure to do a good job. The ruling party, CCM, holds 264 out of 324 of Parliamentary seats. Only in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar (which is semi-autonomous) is there any serious opposition, from the Civic United Front (CUF).

So is it a good job well done? Well, no. I'll look at the education system as an example, which I believe is key to development, and for which Tanzania are often cited as relatively progressive.

Primary school class

As I have already mentioned, Tanzania meet UNICEF's criterion of "universal primary education". There is at least one primary school in every village. Attendance is high - you won't find many parents refusing to send their child to school and putting them to work on the shambas (farms) instead.

So far, so good for the man with the spreadsheet in the UN's headquarters in New York.

But there aren't enough teachers to send everyone to school. Class sizes are over 50 students in almost all cases.

Teachers aren't well trained. Many of them are only primary school leavers themselves, with no secondary education and only a basic teacher training, which is not continued throughout their career.

Determination to forge a strong sense of national identity has combined with hangovers from British rule to make secondary education as difficult as possible, for those students who can afford the fees.

Upon independence, Father of the Nation, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere declared Swahili to be the official language of the new nation. All primary school lessons are taught in this language.

Secondary education and beyond, however, is based upon the old British system of O-Levels and A-Levels, and so is taught in English. Students suddenly have to adjust to learning in a language which is not their own, the basics of which have been taught to them badly in primary school.

Secondary school pupils fail in droves. In the Hoja Project, we are very concerned about the secondary students we sponsor, and how they are performing in the local Government schools. As a result, we pay for extra out of hours tuition to give our students the best possible chance.

The Government are concerned about the number of failing pupils. So concerned, in fact, that they are taking the easiest route to try to avoid losing any votes over it. Students take national exams after Form Two (two years before O-Levels).

Previously, if they failed, students would be held back in Form Two for another year. So many students fail, that rather than deal with the route of the problem, that this year Government have simply scrapped the rule about holding students back.

Students will continue to fail, but will progress to Form Three anyway. Easier for the Government, easier for parents who have to pay fees every year, more difficult for all pupils, even those who pass Form Two anyway (as their teachers will have a bigger range of abilities to deal with).

The Tanzanian Government are very good at making grand-sounding gestures and taking credit for any educational development that happens on their soil. But they can take rather a long time to follow through with promises.

Lupunga Secondary School in Songea took 9 years to build from start to finish, finally opening in 2006. When I visited in September 2007, they had numerous unfinished buildings which were imminently needed for the arrival of another year group in the coming January.

In each case it was money that was supposed to come from the Government that had simply stopped arriving. Whenever a school is built in Tanzania, the local community are expected to volunteer their time and money to contribute a certain proportion of the mud bricks.

In 2007 the community had made enough bricks to build the walls to a girls' dormitory, and there was another large stack of bricks nearby waiting to be used. It would be the Government's responsibility to stump up for the roof.

Girls' accommodation is so important to a school in Tanzania. Girls who live far from school and do not have safe transport or accommodation are vulnerable to being forced to use their bodies as rent. They risk getting pregnant and kicked out of school, and secondary-school-age girls are the most at-risk group to HIV.

When I visited, the walls to the dormitory had been complete for some time. They were a little weathered, but by no means written off. When I returned two weeks ago, the walls of the dormitory, and the stack of bricks nearby, were not salvageable. They are completely ruined.

The good news is, however, that nearby, the Government have gone ahead and spent a lot more money on building a girls' dormitory of their own from scratch. It's even been completed with some very attractive paint.

And it's been sitting empty for four months.

This vital accommodation has not been used because the Government haven't bought the 24 bunk beds that would sleep 48 girls. Never mind that these girls will have their own mattresses anyway, so they could at least fit 24 girls on the floor for the time-being - far preferable to the zero girls who are currently sleeping there.

Empty girls' dormitory at Lupunga Secondary School

For one and a half weeks after the recent holidays in June and July, no food was provided to Lupunga's students. This is despite the fact that all students have paid for this in their school fees, and that Lupunga are only employing five teachers for eleven classes. They should have plenty of money left over.

Perhaps it is the fault of the school, perhaps the fault of the Government. Fees pass to the Government, before money is given to the school to spend.

It would not be surprising if the Government have not given the school their money - they're not much good at paying teachers on time either. Yesterday I read about a school where ten teachers have not been paid for seven months.

And so, what is the pay for teachers? Well, in most cases it is a little over 100,000 shillings (about £50) a month. It sounds very little in the UK, and it's not very good in Tanzania either, but you could certainly live off it.

The routinely-ignored minimum wage is 80,000Tsh (£40), and there is talk of putting it up to 100,000Tsh, so that should give you an idea of how little Tanzanian teachers are valued by their Government.

I'll be honest with you at this point. I'm a little confused about how much Tanzanian MPs are paid. But it's a lot more than teachers get. No matter which of the following figures are correct, you might feel a little sick after reading this.

I'll start with the numbers I was told by my friend Oswin, who set up the Hoja Project in his home community in Songea.

He told me that the latest figures he had heard (which I now think is a bit out of date), included a basic salary of 2.6million Tsh (£1300) per month, 150,000Tsh (£75) per day sitting allowance, expenses of 1million Tsh (£500) per month for accommodation, cooking and cleaning, and another 1million Tsh (£500) for paying for transport of and feeding constituents with whom they have important meetings.

In fact, that last million shillings apparently usually goes straight into their pockets, as they usually expect their hosts (who are paid considerably less) to pay for a car and food for them, and not the other way around.

This adds up to about 80million Tsh (£40,000) per year. He had heard that MPs were campaigning to have their basic monthly salaries increased to around 15million Tsh (£7500), which would bump their total annual salary to around 240million Tsh (£120,000).

This would constitute not only an astronomic rise, but would be an obscenely self-indulgent pay packet even in the UK.

However, I've read articles that suggest different, although still shocking, figures. The Daily News, for example, informs me that the monthly salary is already 7million Tsh (£3500), and that the proposal is to increase it to 12million Tsh (£6000).

Although the journalist then seems to get her annual figure wrong (see the third comment down), this is still a staggering pay packet and pay rise. Just the basic salary of 12million Tsh would be 150 times larger than the state minimum wage.

I do not know whether President Kikwete has approved the MPs' requests. I think, however, that you can learn a lot about the last two Tanzanian Presidents by reading this article from 2006, and comparing the numbers to those in this blog post. Kikwete clearly didn't refuse for very long.

This greed however, is not confined to Tanzanian politics. In fact, from reading a number of articles, I have learned that MPs have used Kenya as a benchmark in their quest for ever more generous packages.

I have also been starting to look into the British Conservative Party's policies on International Development, as I have heard some rather unsettling rumours about them, given they are likely to form the new Government next year.

But to some extent, at least, I find myself agreeing that the UK should think again about considering how to decide how much help we should be giving to foreign Governments.

Another day I'll tell you why I find myself disagreeing about exactly how this should be done. I'll give you a clue: it's got something to do with tick-boxes.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

WIN! ... SOMETHING! Charity Premier League Predictions

Now that the football season has started, and I'm back in the country, and not in hospital...

...I thought it might be a nice idea to make some predictions about the year ahead, and raise a small amount of money for charity in the process. Unsurprisingly, the charity I'm thinking of is The Hoja Project in Tanzania, from which I've just returned.

A minimum of a £2 donation buys you into the game, which pays for about...

  • 2 weeks' schooling for a secondary school pupil, or
  • one tenth of a loan to help a villager set up a small business project.

Simply make your donation at and comment here (or email me at with your predictions by the end of August 2009 (you can predict now and make last minute changes if you like, just as long as it's by the end of the month). Make sure I can match up your justgiving donation with your predictions!

I'll update the current standings at the end of every month, and I'll arrange for My Man In Dar Es Salaam to select and send an appropriate item of unimaginable Tanzanian footballing merchandise, out of which I can make a trophy.


This is what you need to do:

Select the position order of the 20 Premiership teams at the end of the season, and these few other predictions.
  • Team with Best Goal Difference
  • Team with Worst Goal Difference
  • Team with Most Draws
  • Team with Best Disciplinary Record (according to Premier League website)
  • Team with Worst Disciplinary Record
  • Top Scoring Player
That's all you need to do. No having to pay attention all season like with fantasy football. Make your predictions now and they stand as they are. You want to score points for these predictions so that your score is as low as possible.


The teams are:

Aston Villa
Birmingham City
Blackburn Rovers
Bolton Wanderers

Hull City

Manchester City
Manchester United
Stoke City

Tottenham Hotspur
West Ham United
Wigan Athletic
Wolverhampton Wanderers

You can find out more about the teams on the Premier League Website.



For every position each team is out by, you score 1pt.
eg. If you predict Stoke City will finish 8th, and they finish 13th, you will score 5pts. If they finish 7th, however, you'll only score 1pt.

So you want to score as few points in total as possible.

You will lose more points for your top and bottom 3 teams:

  • -2pts for each correct top/bottom team
  • a further -3pts for getting the top or bottom 3 teams exactly right

You can lower your score further by making a few other predictions, which are below, along with the number of points you lose if you're correct:
  • Team with Best Goal Difference (-2pts)
  • Team with Worst Goal Difference (-2pts)
  • Team with Most Draws (-2pts)
  • Team with Best Disciplinary Record (according to Premier League website) (-2pts)
  • Team with Worst Disciplinary Record (-2pts)
  • Top Scoring Player (-5pts)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Airport Twits: My Top 3

Hello England. How have you been? I've missed you terribly. I know you don't believe me. You'd be right to think that it probably won't be all that long before I can't wait to leave you again. But that doesn't mean I don't care about you any more.

Yesterday afternoon, I fled Tanzania with Emirates, via Dubai, and landed in London early this morning. En route I encountered some twits. I'm sure that you would agree, it's only right and proper to categorise and rank such people, in order to minimise the risk they pose to the general public.

This might come across as a bit grumpy. Because I think it probably is.

#3. Loud European Continental Twits (suspected Spanish, although possibly Italian or Portuguese)

When sat on my own in a cafeteria in Dubai airport at 2am, having recently taken antibiotics that make my dreary state even less comfortable, I can think of nothing that would cheer my mood more than a group of eight people to join my small table with neither request nor apology, and then hold the loudest conversations they will hold all year.

Thank you. So much.

#2. Swine Flu Face Mask Twits

I only spotted one group of swine flu mask wearers. I saw these strapping young men, with their carefully styled hair and tattoo'd arms, first in Dubai Airport and then on the plane for the second leg of my journey.

And I observed as they frequently took their masks on and off, thus presumably touching their face with their hands far more than most other people. What an effective preventative strategy.

#1. Overprivileged Student Twit

No twit, however, surpassed the twit at Gate 2 in Dar es Salaam Airport. Sitting down with his friends, and their matching facefluff and ill-conceived local clothing, he loudly joked about African Airport Security.

"It's really quite funny, the difference between Gatwick and here. I mean, here security is basically them just ticking a number off a list, isn't it?"

I can only presume, therefore, that he passed through very different security checks to myself. These included, much like any other international airport, x-ray machines and metal detector gates.

Once through to the gate, an airline attendant ticked boarding pass numbers off on a grid. Presumably to make sure they don't leave anyone behind. And very little to do with security.

What a clever comedian. What a clever, superior little man.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

3 Minute Blog From Dar es Salaam


I've arrived in Dar es Salaam. It's hot and sweaty and I spent the morning on a bus with a hangover. Now I'm with Oswin's friends, and Vende apparently hasn't charged his phone. Which is awkward because I'm supposed to be staying with him.

Making my way around the city by private daladala this time - Oswin's friends have one.

Oswin's forgotten his passport, which he needs as he's got a visa application appointment on Monday morning. But it should be on its way here on a bus from Songea.

I have lots of other things to tell you. But no time.

Back a week today!

Monday, July 27, 2009

"I'm Sorry, This Is A Religious Hospital. We Don't Admit Patients On Sundays."

And so I ended up going to Ruvuma Hospital in town. Again. In the middle of the night. The same hospital who diagnosed me twice with malaria when the main symptom was noisy diarrhea. And then didn't give me any information about what the drugs they gave me would do to my body. Which resulted in me being on a drip. With more of the same drugs.

I think you can see where this is going.

I thought I was getting really horrible malaria, when in fact I probably didn't have malaria when I arrived in hospital (and suspect that I only tested "positive" for malaria in the first place so the hospital could sell me medicine). What I had was ridiculously low blood sugar, no appetite, and rapid bowel movements.

Yay for being made more ill than necessary for three days, being fed food I couldn't stomach before eventually being told that the ill feelings were caused because I was severely hypoglycemic, and then having to wait another two days before being given medicine to stop the diarrhea, which was the main cause of the problem. While I wasn't really in a fit state to argue about it.

Once I understood what was happening to my body I could largely look after myself, getting people to bring me the sorts of foods I could eat. Apart from the day I drank too much salty meat broth and gave myself high blood pressure. That was fun.

I ended up staying until last Saturday, and just spent a week at Oswin's, resting and trying not to make his mzunguphobe 20 month old daughter cry. Annoyingly, I missed the whole of Lucy from COCO's visit from Thursday to Thursday. I saw her and she brought me Private Eye and chocolate and it was lovely to see another friendly face, but I couldn't go along with her to any meetings, which would have been really useful.

I also didn't get to make the amazing blog post I had planned about baby urine, the man who cured himself with alcohol, and the day Mwenyekiti at a goat's head. I'm afraid you'll all have to struggle on without it.

This last week, and the last three days in particular, have been about befriending Rosie. She's a lovely friendly little girl but she takes a long time to get used to white people, and she's already throwing some quite impressive tantrums (and there are enough people around the house that she can often get someone to sympathise with her).

She also sees and then wants ("Rosie are you just seeing things in the room and then saying you want them?"). Then she cries when you say yes and tell her to come over, because she thinks you've said no. She seems to be getting used to me saying no sometimes to her, which is good.

Yesterday saw the advent of Rock Baby, which involved Rosie carrying a rock around with her and calling it "Mtoto" (child) and then getting her grandmother to tie it onto her back with a sling. Oswin tied it on for her once yesterday and Rock Baby fell out onto the ground. Oswin the Baby Killer.

She seems to have got used to me now, and makes me ride around on the back of her imaginary pikipiki at regular intervals. We only seem to travel about three inches before she picks it up (it's a small stool) and then carries it a couple of yards away and makes me ride it again. She also appreciates "This is the way the Lady rides, etc".


The winner (and indeed only entrant) in the Armpit-Hair-Soap Competition, is my sister and her partner for their kleptomaniac hair suggestion. They win half a biscuit each. Congratulations!


I'm also wondering about best sites through which to sell t-shirt designs. I'm already registered with, but any other suggestions are more than welcome.


Dish of the Day: Intestines. On Saturday I ate them. Twice. And then had a third opportunity on Sunday, which I declined. They taste okay, but they make the roof of your mouth a bit furry.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Photos! Photos! Photos!

I've finally uploaded some photos with descriptions.

Not all descriptions are written as I type this, but should be by the end of the day.

Tanzania 090617 - Mitawa Primary School 023

Clicky for Set

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

A Word Of Advice For Others Who Frequently Suffer From Viral Fatigue...

Don't get malaria.

More to the point, don't get malaria, seemingly get better and then start cycling/running/walking 5 miles to work and back two weeks later.

And don't eat ice cream. No one told me dairy stops the medicine working so well. (This may not have had an effect, I only had one ice cream first time, on the day I started on the medicine.)

I'm on Quinine this time, which has been making me feel wretched, and makes your ears whine. For seven days. Whoop.

The last two days have been spent in Mpandangindo writing playing with the puppy, taking photos of it and other cute things (I got really really bored), and watching ambitious pigeons try to fly through very small holes carrying two-foot-long twigs. And yesterday I read an entire book.

Oh, but on Sunday evening some of the children and I had a dance to the Pipettes, through the magical medium of the speaker on my mobile phone.

Another problem I've been having (apart from malaria): the soap I've started using conjeals around the hairs in my right armpit, but not my left. I'm left-handed and the soap is "Shearer's Soap: For Hard Working Men", a novelty gift from New Zealand from my old colleague Ann. Anyone with a good-enough sounding scientific theory for why this might be so wins a biscuit.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

The Not OK Hotel

So as I was saying...

Last Sunday was the community health event in Litisha. Our performance group there, Kambano, were all set to perform, along with groups from other communities. We even had a lady called Martha, who is HIV positive, coming to speak there.

The event itself went very well. It wouldn't have been right and proper, however, if everything else had gone to plan.

We got up after our last night in Sanangula at 6.30am, aiming to be at the bus stop at 7.30am and leave our bags in the OK Hotel in town at 9am and head for Litisha straight away. We wouldn't be back until late and so would be staying in town Sunday night.

As it happened, we needn't have got up so early. It took until 8.40am for a bus to come that we could fit onto with all our bags, and although Mr IGP was waiting for us at the OK Hotel, he was also still waiting for the bus we had hired and a couple of other people.

It was a long and pleasant journey to Litisha, beyond Peramiho (which is the other direction from town to Tanga ward), although we were starving by the time we arrived there at 11.20am, having only had a couple of bananas when we got up.

Not to worry, however, as musical food torture awaited us. While one by one pots of food arrived on the table in Mr Matembo's house (he's the Hoja education coordinator, and has a very nice house full of plants), teasing us with their not-yet inaccessibility, the generator was set up, and the television plugged in.

And Rose Muhando appeared.

For those of you unfamiliar with Rose Muhando (that will presumably be all of you, for which you should be very grateful), she is a born-again Christian Gospel singer with a penchant for using very nearly the same tune in every song she sings, for being preachy in multiple expensive-looking outfits in a country where most people are desperately poor, and for causing wanton environmental damage to waterfalls in her music videos.

I'm told she became born-again when her husband divorced her for not providing him with any children (was she married to Henry VIII?), but that's no excuse.

We were "treated" to a good hour and a half of this travesty, and it didn't help that all the music videos were recorded at the same time in the same locations, so they not only all sounded the same, they all looked the same as well. One of the locations, for some reason, was a car park, but it was the waterfall that was most annoying, as they had clearly filled it with soap to make it foam up as much as possible.

When the credits finally rolled (very very slowly, with an instrumental playing in the background), it was a huge relief. Until that is after the credits finished, the words "Bonus Track" appeared on the screen, and there followed Rose Muhando's longest and most repetitive song of all.

The food, when we finally got to eat it (during Rose Muhando, so we were at least able to tune some of it out), was delicious.

For those of you still waiting to hear about the event, so were we. It was supposed to start at 1pm, and of course no fool would expect it to actually start at 1pm, but it was more than a little late, thanks to Mass at the local Church overrunning. The people late from Church (after 2pm) included the Ward Education Officer, and when he arrived at the house, he of course had to be fed as well, which added to the delay.

The event finally started at about 2.30pm, and was brilliant. There were loads of people there, and our Kimamba Performance Group played an absolute blinder. They even used the HIV risk line we did with them in the workshop and school event the week before.

We weren't quite sure about the drama one of the other groups put on about HIV (I couldn't quite follow it but it seemed a bit stereotypical and not very informative), but it was a cracking day.

Martha was a brilliant speaker as well - the crowd weren't really on her side to start with but she definitely won them over by the end. I've got her whole speech on video so at some point we shall translate it so I can explain properly what she said. The long and short of it is that someone she knew spiked her drink - it only took one time to get HIV.

After the event I quickly whizzed round with the camera to interview a few of the attendees ("What did you learn today?" "I didn't learn anything." - that sort of thing) but dropped the fuzzy head off my microphone. I went back to the house to see if the others had picked it up, but they weren't there. It was at this point that someone came looking for me and said...

"The others have picked up the fuzzy head of the microphone. They sent me to come and fetch you, because the bus's headlights do not work."

We hired a bus with no headlights.

I was shown to the village office, where food was being served, and we ate. Then we had a bit of a dance with the performance group while we waited for Oswin, and then decided we still had time to leave before dark.

So we left.

And then we stopped after a couple of miles because someone had promised to take four massive bags of rice to town with them, which involved three people going half a mile away from the main road to pick them up.

We did not have time to leave before dark. Suffice to say it was not safe, and involved an angry motorcyclist following and shouting at us for a mile.

When we arrived back in town, we discovered that I had been placed in a premium single room at the OK Hotel, not a normal single room, and they were trying to charge us a fortune for it. So I said we would not be paying the higher price. And they told us that there were no other rooms left - the hotel was full.

No, I will not be paying the higher price.

Oh look! Here's another room after all! How did I not see that key hung on the wall with all the others before?!

Cheeky gits.

We weren't very happy on Sunday night. Apart from about being alive. That bit was quite good.


And in other news...

On Monday I said goodbye to the girls, and went back to Mpandangindo, to discover just after I had left, one of the dogs produced a puppy! It's about three weeks old now. This is what it looked like a few days ago:

Yes, yes, this is the only picture I've posted (apart from those I've posted on the Hoja News Blog), but I promise I will get around to posting some more.

All this week I have been cycling/running 5 miles to work in Sanangula for the tutoring, and since Wednesday we have been doing exams, the results of which are not particularly good - but then, most of the schools the children go to are short of teachers, and we have tried to cram a lot of learning into four weeks. Two of the Form 3 students very blatantly cheated on their Biology test yesterday, so they missed football while I made them re-sit it.

On Thursday afternoon I went to town and over lunch Oswin told me he had a shagalabagala issue to discuss with me afterwards. It turned out that someone from Mpandangindo, who is now studying in Tanzania, has told him that she loves me. I have apparently met her a couple of times before, and the name vaguely rings a bell.

My initial reaction was one of mirth - I know Tanzanians have a tendency to use the word "love" very quickly, but this is taking it to a bit of an extreme. I don't think Oswin's entirely comfortable about being her confidant, either, and would rather I responded to her directly. Which I don't feel entirely comfortable about either.

And I think that's enough of an update for the moment.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Mining for Toffee

For those of you wondering about the malaria, I took lots and lots of pills for three days and my recovery was swift, culminating in a proper solid poo last Thursday morning. In fact, I never really had a full day off, as I found myself pottering on the computers in the office when in town, or teaching some lesson or other in the VTC.

And on Wednesday 17th, we returned to Mitawa Primary School to teach the special needs class, and almost immediately became rather annoyed. If you remember, they had originally asked us to buy them teaching resources for the class, and we suggested that we come and show them some examples of effective teaching resources they could make for absolutely nothing.

We arrived before both the class and their teacher, and were welcomed into the Standard 1 class, where we discovered...

...lots of really good home made teaching resources!

Their problem was not a lack of teaching resources or ideas, but a lack of communication and sharing. Clearly the special needs teacher had no ideas, and had not thought to ask anyone else, nor had anyone else thought to suggest anything to him.

We became even more annoyed when the teacher and pupils started arriving. The only classes originally supposed to come into school were Standards 1 and 7, as it was the holidays, and we asked for the special needs class to come in as well for a special day. Standard 7 had an exam and I'm not really sure why Standard 1 were there, but because the exam was next door to the special needs classroom, we couldn't use their normal classroom. The school's solution to this was not to put the special needs class in one of the other five empty classrooms, but to send Standard 1 home again and tell us to use their classroom.

Needless to say, we told them to call Standard 1 back in again and we'd use the classroom next door, which contained one desk and was apparently being used for storing firewood.

Once we got going, it was a lot of fun. The class included a Downs Syndrome boy called Kizito (who enjoys very much learning a new word and pointing at things and saying the new word), a boy called Jafeti who doesn't normally speak but will make noises, and a girl called Selina who was very very shy at first.

We drew picture of ourselves, and wrote our names, and counted, added, and subtracted (and even in some cases multiplied) using soda bottle tops, number lines, and dice. Some of the pupils were a bit shy and reluctant at first but they could generally all achieve far more than their teacher had claimed.

We returned the following week rather less well prepared, stuck labels in English on various objects around the classroom, and sang Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes and Old MacDonald's Farm. Again it was fun and several of the children, particularly Selina, got into the swing rather more quickly, although some of the boys (particularly Jafeti and little Helwen) seemed much more tired and kept wanting to sleep or fight.

It was also interesting to note that the first time we went to the school, we were given meat for lunch and they had brought us two sodas each. The second time, when we went to teach, we had no meat but did have soda. Last week, however, when we were not expected to return, they quickly cobbled us together some rice and beans from the students' lot and no sodas were forthcoming. Which all seems rather the wrong way around.


Giza (the Malawian artist) left Sanangula Saturday before last, to stay in Songea overnight and then get the silly o'clock bus to Mbeya the next morning. He got some really good artwork done in some of the rooms at the VTC the week before last, and was obviously really enjoying it, so it's a shame he didn't have time to get more done.

It was kind of weird Giza being gone. I had a room to myself again, and made full use of his bed to be rather more organised with my belongings, but it was a bit odd having personal space again.

Not to worry, however, as personal space was characteristically shortlived.

On Wednesday afternoon two members of each of the two Hoja performance groups came and stayed at our house, to have a malaria and Aids workshop until Friday, when they would help us arrange and stage a health event for the sponsored students at the VTC.

Unfortunately it got off to a very slow start while Oswin taught Physics at the VTC, and we discovered that the group members' English was not as good as he had hoped. It soon picked up when we had either Oswin or Mr Good (one of the English teachers for the tutoring) at home with us, however, and we talked about myths and misconceptions, drew a risk line of methods of transition, amongst other discussion.

The next day we started with malaria while we waited for Mr Good to join us (the materials we had for malaria were much clearer for us to be able to use without a native Swahili speaker), before moving onto HIV.

We gave a definitive list of methods of transmission, and started on talking about why young people are so affected. We didn't get into a protracted debate about exactly what age group is meant by "young people", but when rape was mentioned we did get into a protracted debate about how women can deal with husbands demanding sex on their return from the ulanzi bars.

Some of the points were laboured a bit, but it was very important that we discussed how sex should be a decision between two people, and that if the woman is ready then not only is she more likely to enjoy it, but the likelihood of transmission is also significantly reduced.

[I should probably point out that in Tanzania, by law, it is the husband's right to receive sexual gratification from his wife. If he beats her and forces sex, and she goes to the police, he can go to prison, but only for the assault, and not the rape. It is by no means an easy task for a unwilling woman to protect herself from a demanding husband, especially as he most likely in financial control at home.]

The last topic we were able to tackle before moving onto preparations for Friday morning, was puberty. It was unsurprising to me but still rather worrying how little people (particularly men) know about changes in their own and others' bodies, and how embarrassed they can be about using grown up words.

While Mr Good was translating about pubic hair for men, I was half way through writing "sehemu ya siri" before remembering that it means "secret place" and insisting on the proper word for scrotum. Testicles. Balls.

The event in the school on Friday went really well. We started with a mosquito net demonstration and a short play, which involved Christian (one of the Mpandangindo performance group members) playing the bus driver and arriving early to pick up Krista when she'd only just woken up and not realised she was ill yet.

We had a True or False about sex and HIV (mostly false, such as "You can't get pregnant or HIV the first time you have sex" and "Girls can and want to 'taste' boys' sperm so you should make a small hole in the end of the condom"), the HIV risk line in human form, and then the performance group told the students the definitive list of HIV transmission.

The students were generally very good at the activities, apart from one boy who thought sharing clothes would be a small to medium risk. Which was very encouraging. And Januari, the chairman of Litisha Performance Group, lectured them about the importance of foreplay and a woman being ready for sex. Which was quite unexpected, but fantastic to see a blind forty year old preaching such things to teenagers.


This was followed by a condom demonstration by yours truly, and I can highly recommend trying to find something other than a Coca-Cola bottle to use as a penis. It's not ideal. The general message was not lost, however. The questions from the students that followed were really good and took us right up until lunch. It was interesting how much students hear about holes in condoms, as several of the questions were about this.

In the evening there were performances at school because it was Krista and Liz's last day there, and they were fantastic - many of them even incorporated the things the students had learnt in the day, which was great to see. But sad, of course, to see the girls leaving. They're in town with me today and then off to Dar Es Salaam on the silly o'clock bus tomorrow morning.

Yesterday in Litisha was a community health event at which one of the groups performed, which was fantastic, but deserves a whole blog post of its own.


Food has been rather a hot topic lately. Last Tuesday night the girls cooked a farewell meal (as it would be very nearly the last opportunity, since the performance groups were staying from Wednesday), and it was fantastic.

There was pasta, and tuna (TUNA!), and guacamole, and garlic bread (GARLIC BREAD!). It was very tasty. I was very impressed.

On Saturday night, our last night in Sanangula (I'm going back to Mpandangindo today), I rustled up a banana and ginger crumble, which failed slightly when the juices bubbled through the crumble and made it soggy. It did, however, function admirably and a sort of juicy banana and ginger upside-down cake. Delicious.

There have been other delights, but the most memorable might be Friday night's second and more successful attempt at making fudge/toffee (we weren't quite sure which word should be used), which also contained banana and papaya. It was delicious, and very sweet (being 99% sugar) and a bugger to get out of the pan, as we forgot to cut into it before it set hard.

Somewhere on Liz's camera there is a picture of me wearing a head torch and hacking at it with a knife.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

This Week In Ruvuma

Today I will again be spending much of the day in town, sorting out various computer issues in the office, trying to organise files better, and defragmenting C drives.

I also intend to eat some ice cream. There is a place near the Hoja office that does a pretty passable imitation of a Magnum, called the O'Mega, an item of confectionery named apparently after the last letter of the Irish alphabet.

I'm feeling rather a lot better than I was yesterday, although as I type this I've just taken the malaria medicine and my head is starting to pound. Pretty soon most of the joints in my body will be aching. It's pretty strong stuff, apparently.

[Whoops. Power cut in the middle of defragging the office desktop. Hope it's okay...]

I also need to get some flipcharts, pens and other materials for use tomorrow in Mitawa Primary School, where we are supposed to be helping the teachers make resources and come up with ideas to use with their special needs class. We've necessarily left preparation for that rather late, after being so busy the last week and a half - and it's the last week and a half that I will now attempt to summarise.

The CCM "Ngoma"

Last Monday Krista and Liz came to Mpandangindo to watch what we expected to be a big ngoma performance ("ngoma" meaning traditional dance).

Sadly, it turned out to be nothing of the sort. We already knew that the ngoma was really a CCM celebration (CCM is Tanzania's ruling party), but we were naive enough to get caught up in a bit of political skullduggery.

We were quickly sat down in some seats to the side of the politicians' area, and soon found that we couldn't really see the ngoma very well, which turned out to be not all that good and cobbled together anyway. It was largely schoolgirls who clearly didn't know most of the words, and kept on having to be handed cheat sheets.

Worse, the more senior regional members of CCM would get up to hand over small amounts of money to the performers, clearly aimed at endearing them to the party without any real understanding of what the party do or stand for.

The ngoma didn't even last very long, and was followed by a protracted political backslapping rally. One by one the leaders would get up and spout rhetoric whilst showing precious little understanding of the local situation. The main leader was saying how there was not just one secondary school in Tanga ward (as the Government had promised one secondary in every ward in the country), but four!

Er, no, there are two government schools. And the Hoja VTC, which provides some secondary education, but has nothing to do with the Government whatsoever. This wouldn't stop CCM blatantly trying to make us get up and say something to make Hoja's success reflect well upon them, however.

When we refused (on the grounds that we are not political, we told them), they still insisted on pointing us out. Some local government people (such as the chairman of Mpandangindo village, who has given Hoja land for building a secondary school) have been fantastic, but CCM as a party have consistently failed to fulfil any responsibilities they have to local secondary schools in the ward.

The day before, Oswin told us that while primary school teachers are paid 108,000 shillings (about £54) a month, Government MPs receive 150,000 shillings (£75) a day just as a turning-up fee. That's on top of their 2.6million a month salary, and allowances to pay cleaning and cooking staff at home.

We left the Ngoma a little bit pissed off.

Painting the VTC

Also on Monday, we received another volunteer - Giza, a Malawian artist whom Krista and Liz met whilst on their travels, and who had been in Mbeya trying to figure out whether he could make a living in Tanzania. Krista and Liz suggested he might like to come and help paint the Vocational Training Centre, and do some extra special artwork on the walls. So on Monday morning we moved to Sanangula, close to the VTC, so we did not have to cycle an hour each way every day.

It was a busy week at the VTC - painting all day on Monday and Tuesday, before tutoring "started" on Wednesday. Annoyingly there were a number of teething problems with the tutoring of sponsored secondary school pupils - firstly the mess over the timetable, which should have been written the week before, rather than on the first day, meaning there was no actual tutoring on Wednesday. Such basic things should not go wrong, but it's getting underway rather more smoothly now. Apart from me not being there at the moment because of malaria.


This is the name of a project we visited on Friday and Saturday. Which wasn't very good. They have their hearts in the right places but apart from seeing Oswin's old secondary school and eating some really nice food, it was rather a waste of our time. Hopefully the advice we give them will steer them towards a slightly more sensible course.

Mostly so far they have been providing clothes to orphans, the elderly, disabled and HIV victims, which is not a long term solution to anything, and a waste of money. They have been pouring members' money into a rice growing project with the intention of sharing in the profits, without first agreeing the terms of their partnership.

The one thing going for them is enthusiasm and the sheer number of people they have involved in the project. If they can start thinking about how they can be most effective then they have a chance. It's not expensive to provide community education.

Oswin's Gaff

On Saturday night we went out on the town and stayed at Oswin's place. We not only got to meet Stella, Oswin's wife and Pestarose, Oswin's daughter, but we also met a very drunk bus driver called Japhet, dancing in a small roadside bar. Then we went to a nightclub that turned out to have very few people in it (after everyone told us it was the place to be), drank Konyagi and Coke, and then left when it closed early because of a power cut.

Cracking night out.

Oswin also told us the story of how he and Stella ended up together, which started when they were children, and involved secrecy (Oswin was supposed to be training to be a priest), forced separation, frantic searches for each other in Dar Es Salaam, and finally Oswin refusing to pay a bride price. It's a Hollywood epic.

I think that brings you pretty much up to date.