Saturday, May 30, 2009

Tribute To A Fallen Owl

On Wednesday night Mwenyekiti shot an owl. Through the eye. Aside from my horror I was quite impressed with his marksmanship. So was he - he was proudly showing it to the neighbours in front of the house when I woke up the next morning.

That particular evening will enter into the top twenty strangest nights of my life, at the very least. When we heard the gunshot I thought the generator had exploded, which was running so we could watch the European Cup Final on the television. Except the television continued to work just fine, and shortly after I saw Mwenyekiti's headtorch race round the side of the house, he came back with his prize.

(I should probably point out that owls are considered bad omens in Tanzania.)

Unfortunately we couldn't receive whichever channel the match was on, so we stayed up watching badly dubbed South American soap operas and badly acted heartwarming dramas about American country singers, for no good reason. Thankfully, it did mean that I wasn't subjected to watching Manchester United losing 2-0 to Barcelona. Every cloud and all that...

Several children have also been teaching me the Swahili names for things in the evenings just before sunset, and I have been teaching them the English names, and we have been playing bingo and singing Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.

I'm quietly making them a book with lots of pictures of things in it, with the English words. So far I've done house, various bits of furniture, people, body parts (still attached, obviously, it's not a grisly guide to serial killing), and cooking and school equipment.

Yesterday we did some filming talking to members of IGP (Income Generation Project) groups yesterday, and it was much more successful than the filming last Sunday. Only a handful of very well behaved children around, and no drunks or animals. Or sticks for the drunks to throw at the animals. It all seemed much more relaxed and we visited a couple of the IGPs. All a bit man-heavy though. We need to see more women and youth on the film.

Going all the way back to the village on the back of the Hoja pikipiki today. I'm getting well used to the idea that riding helmetless on the back of a motorcycle is virtually unavoidable, unless the one bus a day happens to be convenient. I'm not so keen on tarmacked roads, but it can't really be helped.

This afternoon/evening is football practice, as there's a match tomorrow, and when Mwenyekiti asked this morning whether I coach football, I told him I'd play if it was just a practice. He enthusiastically then told everyone we passed, so now everyone knows the mzungu is playing football this afternoon.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Pikipiki Adventures

So this morning I found myself hurtling along a dirt road towards Songea town on the back of a motorbike. This was only the third time I'd ever been on the back of a motorbike. The first was on Saturday.

Two inches from my face the driver's protective headgear read, in huge letters, "SAFE HELMET", serving to remind me precisely what I lacked.

At least Mwenyekiti (the village chairman) wasn't driving. It was his bright idea to take the motorbikes, which took us as far as the main road so we could catch a daladala there, rather than wait for the local bus, saving us about half an hour.

On Sunday Mwenyekiti drove me from the village centre to his house, and although it was quite slow as the village roads are bumpy sandy tracks, it felt rather less steady than the ride I'd received the previous day. Mind you, I suspect the fact it was a different motorbike also had something to do with it.

It's been an eventful few days, and as I now have about 9 minutes to tell you everything, I'm going to skim quite a lot.

The bus to Songea was comfortable and uneventful, despite the 14 hour journey (it turns out that Sumry Coaches provide particularly good leg room). The eventful bit was when I arrived at Songea and my large bag, containing all my clothes, didn't.

The coach workers assumed that the bag must have been taken off when the other wazungu left the bus the stop before town, and one very nervous taxi journey later, turned out to be correct. It was odd though that the wazungu in question just let the workers in their guest house deal with the issue and fetch the bag, and didn't come out to say hello, instead visibly pottering around just inside.

Arrived in the village on Friday, and discovered I'm staying with Mwenyekiti again, rent free. And also discovered that Mwenyekiti is still determined to ply me with as much Safari lager as possible. We keep on "going home" from one bar and then he'll just "stop off to say hello" at another.

On Sunday the performance group came and performed at Mwenyekiti's house, and I filmed some of it. We also filmed Oswin talking with various people about Hoja, though there was so much background noise from drunken talking (there was ulanzi there), coughing, Mwenyekiti's cockerel raping all the local hens, and people throwing shoes at the dogs whenever they wandered into shot, I don't think much of it is very useable. We also forgot to tell people to talk about Hoja and COCO, so that the DVDs produced can be used by either charity.

I've a couple more things to say, so I've now added another half hour, although I shouldn't really use all of it - there are lots of things to do in the office.

Most of that evening involved people very drunk on ulanzi (alcoholic bamboo juice from Iringa region), and strangely many of those people know the greeting "Kamwene", which means hello in Kihehe. The Hehe tribe get around.

There were also several drunken ladies gabbling at me in the local tribal language here, Kingoni,
and trying to teach me some. I'd already learnt some earlier, and I managed to learn no more from their fast and slurred speech.

I managed to avoid the drunken ladies (but not so much the drunken men, who wanted to join in), by persuading a group of children to let me teach them some English. So I now have several coming each evening to learn some more.

Yesterday, Mwenyekiti and I cycled to the Vocational Training Centre (VTC) funded by COCO, where we met Oswin and the staff of the VTC. I'm quite impressed how well it's going - it's rather better staffed than most secondary schools in the area (6 teachers for 4 classes, as opposed to 5 teachers for 9 classes at Lupunga), and the carpentry and construction students are building the new kitchen, which is saving on labour costs for development while they work on a real project they can be proud of and which will contribute to their qualifications.

Similarly, the college plan to sell the clothes made by the tailoring students, and the kitchen building will also feature a local shop that will make a bit more money again for the college. All of the food for the students is supplied by the parents (so they are spending money on food that they would have spent anyway, had their children not attended school), and they think have enough maize and beans to last until September.

It looks like I'm going to be teaching rather more than I'd like to there, while they offer tutoring to any of our sponsored students in the local secondary schools, as they will have a lot more students in that time and will need as many hands as possible. The secondary students at the VTC, however, are reportedly doing extremely well, due to their actually having teachers, so it should not be so bad - they put on an excellent drama yesterday when I visited.

Today I have been writing health slogans on the bottom of posters for our football league, which this year will include a girls' football league.

It's all go go go.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Leaving for Songea in the Morning

Hello.

You'll be glad to know that I survived the beach. We only went for a look, stayed near the car and then left again, because it turns out that "completely safe" means "completely deserted", and so not at all safe, judging by the last time I went to a completely deserted beach.

You'll be also glad to know that I am still in possession of all of my valuables. They're sat between my legs right now, as a matter of fact (fnarr fnarr).

Mostly today has been spent driving round in Paul's car again, doing business with gravel and cement businessmen (for Paul's plot of land, which we went and looked at yesterday), visiting the largest shopping centre in Dar (weirdly deserted and quite depressing), and then going to a bar by the beach, called Cine Club.

When we arrived at Cine Club, I was rather nervous, as all we could see when we stopped the car was an incompletely constructed night club, which just looked derelict. Paul assured me there was a nice bar behind it, and lo and behold, there was. And very empty and peaceful too.

I did, however, get told off for going on the swings, which "are not for you, sir".

Tomorrow shall be fun. Up at 5am for a 6am 14 hour bus ride to Songea. Yippee.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Back in the Dar Es Salaam (sing it like the Beatles, it works)

Well, that was fun. I must say I always enjoy spending the best part of a day sitting in a metal tube with poor air circulation hurtling through the sky at over 500 miles per hour.

Not as much as I enjoy my cup lid popping off and covering me with coffee at Dubai airport, of course, but still... close run thing.

After having been back in Tanzania for nearly a whole day, I can safely tell you that traffic jams in Dar Es Salaam are almost as uninteresting as their UK counterparts.

Vende met me at the airport yesterday afternoon, and then we spent ages sat in swelteringly hot traffic in a taxi that's seen better days. We did, however, whilst sat in traffic, have the opportunity to buy some very large and very shiny-looking knives and meat cleavers. I did feel slightly nervous about that particular street seller.

Thinking it would be quicker to sneak through some back streets to Vende's workplace, we then proceeded to get stuck behind a funeral procession, apparently of the Muslim variety. The coffin was covered in a white sheet and carried by many many young men. As they passed, other men would take a turn helping before dropping off the group again some way up the road.

What was slightly disturbing about it was that it was almost entirely young men taking part in the procession, which implied to me that the person in the coffin was probably also a young man.

We stopped at a bar by Vende's work for a beer, and were joined by Vende's next door neighbour Paul, who is from the same tribe (Chagga) and also even the same family clan (Silayo). And more importantly, he owns a car.

After having food and talking in depth to Paul's brother Amos about English football, it had begun to go dark, and then got stuck in an incredibly boring traffic jam, which involved going in one direction to drop Amos back at the university, searching around for petrol and to check the air in Paul's tyres, then heading back through the traffic in the other direction to go back to Vende's.

It took nearly 3 hours and I went to bed very very tired.

Today has been rather more leisurely. A nice lie-in, followed by shower and then wondering where Vende left his key so I could lock up. I turns out that he doesn't lock up in the day any more because he now pays a lady who is supposed to come and clean (but often doesn't).

So all my valuables are spending the day in Paul's car which he's driving around sorting out issues about a plot of land he's bought. Earlier when we got breakfast he told me how lots of people like to break into cars like his.

I'm going to have to get used to this sort of thing again.

Later we're going to the beach, which I'm told is completely safe.

Dish of the Day: mtori - a plantain soup with meat, which is traditional to the Kilimanjaro region, where Paul and Vende are from.

[Also, I think I'm going to change my plans slightly, stay in Dar an extra day, and go to Songea all in one go. That's one long bus journey.]

Friday, May 15, 2009

Eep! Two Days 'Til Big FlyFly To Tanzania!

Yes, in two days (and eight and a quarter hours as I type these words) I'll be flying off to warmer, less cosy climes.

I have found that all the little things that I've needed to buy to make my trip more comfortable and convenient all add up to an awful lot of money, and I'm considerably poorer today than I had expected to be. I do now have a wind-up lantern though, so I should save money on kerosene once out there.

This stricken poverty (yes, I see the irony) has done little to dampen my spirits, however, and I look forward to living with no running water or electricity in a village in Songea while I offer my services for free to The Hoja Project. Lucy from COCO (who are behind an awful lot of important things to do with Hoja, not to mention most of our money) rang me for a chat this morning about what I'll be doing out there, and now I'm more excited than ever.

For those of you wondering what I'll be doing, you can get general information about Hoja here, and I will basically be doing this:

* Helping with the primary school tuition
* Working with the secondary school and Vocational Training Centre (VTC) and discussing what is the best way to continue helping them
* Helping organise the sports leagues (or, if you talk to Oswin, it sounds rather like I'm taking charge of them completely)
* Filming lots and lots and lots of things, so we can make a documentary, including people we've helped in the past, so we can get lots of good and bad (hopefully not so much the bad, but there must be things that could be improved) feedback about things we've already done.

I'm really excited. Vende will be meeting me at Dar airport on Monday afternoon, then on Wednesday morning I'll bus to Iringa to say hello to the SPW lot, and then on to Songea on Friday to join Oswin so we can get stuck into Hoja.

***

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It's now 2 days, 7 hours, 55 minutes...

Monday, May 11, 2009

Dead Aid: Why This Book Frightens Me, And Should Frighten You Too

A couple of days ago I came across someone called Annie Shaughnessy (one of my favourite surnames) on Twitter, and scanning her recent posts noted this gem, which in turn links to this article about two new books about aid dependency and corruption in Africa.

I call Annie's tweet a gem because the link she provided made me angry and excited and incredibly proud all at the same time, as well as a bit frightened for the future. It reminded me how the success of aid programmes in developing countries hangs on the whims of a select few people, and whoever happens to have their ears at the time.

If it is Dambisa Moyo who influences leaders, or anyone who shares her opinions (and they do - she's a former consultant to the World Bank), then I'd be very worried. In her book, Dead Aid, she seems to completely miss the point, labeling all aid as "bad", and private investment as "good". Or, at least, that's how any review (including the one in the article to which I've linked) is likely to summarise it.

Maybe she provides plenty of counter-examples and is rather more balanced than it originally appears (I'm considering buying a copy tomorrow so I can give a better summary later), but I'm not hopeful.

The problem I have with it is that the stated focus is entirely wrong. Rather than compare good approaches with bad, she chooses to arbitrarily lump a shedload of dissimilar programmes together, and tar them all with the same brush.

Judging from the first few pages, viewable on Amazon, it seems that the main target of her book is inter-governmental assistance, rather than non-governmental organisations (NGOs), but they don't come out of it unscathed either.

She accuses NGOs of wastefulness and of bending to the whims of donor organisations, citing the Bush administration's funding of abstinence-only HIV/Aids programmes. Yet again this is a bad example rather than indicative of NGOs as a whole.

It's also interesting to note that she picks an example of non-governmental organisations being dictated to by a governmental donor, so the corruption still lies primarily at a governmental level, rather than with the NGO. I'm certain that there are more appropriate examples that are purely non-governmental, so why doesn't she use them? Maybe that's a bit unfair and petty of me, but I do find it curious.

Yes, there is a lot of corruption, particularly at Government level, so maybe you shouldn't give to those Governments. You should say no to giving money that cannot be traced, and programmes that are not monitored. And you find another way of getting aid to where it's needed. But that's no justification for punishing honest politicians as well. Stopping aid to all Governments because of corruption in a few would be akin to deregistering every GP in the UK because of Harold Shipman.

In fact, I'm not a big fan of governmental aid, because even without corruption, it's too often wasteful and untargeted, by its very nature. Even within one country, different communities will have different needs, and nationwide statistics and programmes will not always reflect this.

This works similarly on the donor's side too - DFID, the UK Government's development arm, is slowly coming around to the idea that young people's sexual and reproductive health (SRH) conjures up a whole different set of issues and needs than the SRH of older adults, although in their latest HIV/Aids Strategy they're not yet promoting specific programmes and statistics to tackle this.

Another problem I would anticipate with the recipient Government (but which have no statistics on) is that the higher up in Government the money starts, the more admin costs will be eaten up on its way down.

So here is what I fear will happen with this book:

By promoting the idea that all aid to Africa breeds corruption and aid dependency, Dambisa Moyo will perpetuate the myth that the continent is some kind of basket case with no hope for a cure (so why bother trying to help them?), but this is patent bollocks.

The most telling thing about her, perhaps, is that she is a former consultant to the World Bank, the inter-governmental organisation that has a long and illustrious history of donating money to African governments in return for their opening up fragile economies to corporate rape. It is exactly this sort of action that has kept Africa in poverty and contributed to its image as a lost cause in the first place.

It is naive at best to argue that private enterprise can have anything but the general population's best interests at heart, something that has not only been demonstrated time and time again in developing countries, but has also hit rather closer to home in recent months in the form of the so-called "credit crunch". Market forces do not, as some economists insist on still arguing, find a natural balance for the good of everyone - they exist to make as much profit for those in control as possible.

When the IMF and World Bank forced the Tanzanian Government to privatise water supplies in the main city of Dar Es Salaam, it did not improve services for the people of the city, nor did it generate wealth for Tanzanian people.

A private company exists primarily to make profit, so it should come as no surprise that City Water (a company that is part British and German as well as Tanzanian) put up prices and made minimal investment into the infrastructure, which is exactly the opposite of the "reasons" Tanzania was given for handing over their infrastructure to the private sector.

Both the water and electricity supplies decreased in quality, while the frequency of periods of loss of service increased substantially. Quality of life for the ordinary national decreased, whilst the wealth of some British and German fatcats grew substantially.

The story with private enterprise in Africa is often the same. Money is generated to make the economy look good on paper, and then the money is removed from the country never to be seen again.

So why should this frighten you as well as me?

Why should it matter to you that someone thousands of miles away is getting the rough end of the deal?

Because someone else is suffering and we should care about our fellow man?

Or, failing that, because the people who are pushing this sort of agenda are our leaders too, maybe?

Hopefully, both of those reasons.

There's no point pretending that all aid is good and effective. I would even question some quite big and famous charities - some time ago I stopped donating to Oxfam because of the number of mailouts they send - they seem to me to be incredibly wasteful. But nor is there any point pretending it's all bad.

The fact is that there are countless examples of very successful NGO programmes, that are successful because they work directly with their communities and cater specifically to their needs.

One reason the Hoja Project is so successful is because it was the idea of a local villager, and it is the community who have largely shaped the programmes. However, without the donations raised in the UK, it couldn't have achieved anything like the success it's had. They certainly wouldn't have a vocational training centre to help people gain skills to earn a living.

Aid works (if it's done right).

And that's why the article also made me excited and proud (as well as angry and a bit frightened). Because I'm proud to know that Dambisa Moyo is wrong about us, and I'm excited that in one week I'll be on my way to Tanga ward for three months to work with Oswin and meet some of the people we've been lucky enough to help.

I can't wait.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Kasabian, Stornoway, and Why UEFA Get It Almost Right

Yesterday my flatmate and I went to the Stornoway gig in the Wilmington Arms, near Farringdon.

Just before 6pm, however (while I was frantically packing away all my worldly belongings for my impending trip to Tanzania), he rang to tell me he'd discovered that Kasabian were going to play a free gig to launch the MOJO Honours List in HMV's flagship store on Oxford Street, at seven o'clock.

It was surprisingly empty when I arrived there with surprising punctuality, and so we stood in a pretty good spot while we caught the end of a set by School of Seven Bells, who sounded pretty good. I couldn't say much more about them because we heard less than one song by them, but I'm sure you could check out their MySpace (which I just did, and I like what I hear).

Kasabian then played a handful of songs, both new and old, whilst looking slightly bemused about the nature of the gig. It's the measure of any band how they sound live, and they certainly didn't disappoint - they were pitch perfect, vocals and instruments, and the harmony between the two front men was staggering.

They play the sort of music I grew up with, and so don't really go out of my way to buy anymore, but they do it so well, it's so accomplished.

So, on to the Wilmington Arms (once we stopped getting lost on the way).

First up, This Is The Kit, a very unassuming looking young lady wearing a stripy tunic, and playing the banjo. I think it's very difficult for a lot of folk musicians, because if they're quite average, they can't make up for it by just playing louder and can easily fade into the background.

This Is The Kit, however, did a very good job of holding my attention, and I listened to the words all the way through. So that must be a recommendation, then.

The second band also put in a pretty good turn. Rue Royale are an English lady and American (or possibly Canadian) gent, and also very folky (I might as well let you in on a little secret now - Stornoway are also folk - there's a theme running here, see).

As my flatmate said, "There's always one person at a gig who looks really geeky, and invariably they turn out to be in the band," and so was the case with the male band member, with his large spectacles and questionable moustache.

Not that that's relevant to the music of course. It's just an interesting observation. And a damn good look.

Rue Royale were good. I'm not sure they were more than that - they kept my feet tapping through their whole gig, but my mind wandered and I thought about other things while they played.

Stornoway, on the other hand, were awesome. And the lead singer knows an awful lot about rats. It says a lot about a band if they still sound great and clear when they unplug their instruments (and microphone) for their last song.

Do check them out on MySpace.

***

Poor Darren Fletcher.

And at the same time, well done Sir Alex Ferguson. No, not for guiding Manchester United to another European final (although as a born and bred United fan, I'm pleased about that also). I'm referring to his response to Fletcher's controversial red card shortly after the game, which will result in his missing the final through suspension.

Quite calmly, Ferguson accepted the decision was not going to be changed, which was UEFA's stated position (although according to this report, there may yet be hope).

I was impressed. It seems almost routine these days that managers will rant and rave about some decision or other during the game.

Maybe this calm restraint had something to do with the nature of the win against rivals Arsenal, and Evra and Rooney both avoiding picking up yellow cards that could have meant suspensions for them also.

Maybe Fergie's just getting old and tired.

Or maybe it was UEFA's no-appeal policy that made any complaints mute and pointless. I rather like to think this is the case. Maybe an overwillingness to overturn decisions in the modern game feeds into a loss of respect for referees.

So should UEFA look at that decision again? Yes. But they shouldn't look at it as a result of Manchester United appealing. They should look at it as a matter of course because it was a big decision. I don't think teams should be able to appeal, because that encourages a loss of respect.

UEFA need to be able to hold up their hands and admit a mistake every so often. A no-appeals policy doesn't allow them to do this. But I also think a decision should be outrageously wrong for them to overturn it, and I don't think it was all that outrageous.

I do feel so sorry for Fletcher. He was so unlucky to see red. But with Arsenal needing 5 goals to win, did he really need to risk making that challenge? He only just made contact with the ball, at full stretch - the chances were, when he committed to the tackle, he would shortly be off the pitch.

My theory on the no-appeals policy encouraging more respect didn't hold up so well last night, however, after the Chelsea-Barcelona match, following the actions of Droga and Ballack in particular.

I haven't seen the penalty decisions concerned (as I was out gigging). Even if they were right about one of those penalty claims, however, there is no excuse for the abuse hurled at the referee.

No matter how much they might have "deserved" to go through before the late Barcelona equaliser, once they showed unacceptable conduct, they deserved nothing. Drogba and Ballack would do well to familiarise themselves with the following lines from If by Rudyard Kipling:

If you can meet with triumph and disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same;

...
you'll be a Man my son!

It was the Chelsea boys who met with disaster last night. No men there as far as I can see.

Unfortunately, Darren Fletcher won't be the only one who's going to miss the Champions League Final - most likely I will too, as I'll be in an African village with no running water or electricity.

Today I have very nearly finished packing up my worldly possessions and stacking them up in the cellar, where my current flatmates have kindly allowed me to store them for three months.

Tomorrow I go to Exmouth for the week. And then I'm off.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

You Silly Sausage! You Left Your Keys In A Phone Box!

Yesterday, if you weren't already aware, I started an experimental Internet campaign to reunite someone with their keys, which they lost in Hyde Park in London.

The hub of the mission is this Facebook group. If you haven't already, please do join the group, and me on my lost cause. And then invite all of your friends. Particularly if they live in London. It'll be a riot.

Hopefully it won't actually end in a riot.

In other news, there are 2 weeks, 2 hours and 27 minutes from the time I type this until the time I'm scheduled to take off for Tanzania. I'm quite excited.

On Tuesday I'll be having my last rabies injection, and my last cholera drink. I'll be speaking to Lucy from COCO about what exactly I'll be doing in Tanzania, so that's clear for everyone.

And I still need to buy a netbook, which I decided ages ago is going to be the Samsung NC10, as it has by far the best battery life out there, as well as a phat (yes, phat with a 'ph', it's that good) 160GB hard drive, rather larger than most netbooks.

I'm going to need to dip into my ISA again. That's unemployment and investing in several expensive pieces of equipment for you. And excitement. I'm very excited.

Oh, and I'm also very excited about something else, which I'm not going to talk about on here yet. So ner.