Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The Environment

Wednesday November 7th

After the excitement of the weekend, time to sit back, look round and fill in some of the gaps. 

Firstly litter.  Tanzanians, from what I have seen, seem to be ambivalent on the problem of litter.  I was surprised during my second excursion on a basi when the well-dressed young man next to me, who was obviously a white collar worker, excused himself and reached in front of me to hurl his empty water bottle out of the window.  Further excursions illustrated that this seemed to be the norm and the villages on the way from Pangani to Tanga show evidence of this as the wind-blown litter lines the road with a mixture of bottles, paper, corn cobs and orange peel.  By comparison I’ve shown you pictures of the staff at the YMCA sweeping the dirt paths, not only for special occasions, and litter is not seen at all.  At school as well, every morning students will be attempting to sweep away the dust, that I’ve already complained about, and considering chapattis are served at break in newspaper parcels, there is never any evidence of the waste paper either in the classroom or outside in the grounds.  When we went to the caves, Asha dropped a wrapper and, as I pointed to it and then to the bin, she quite readily recovered it and disposed of it as if this was the expected thing.  Strange.

Electricity.  I’ve said enough on the subject for you to know my frustration at the electricity supply, which always seems to go off the minute I need it, although last night, to be fair, I worked for a couple of hours on my laptop and as I went to switch the light out to climb into bed, an invisible hand, some distance away, performed the task for me. Very helpful, except obviously the same hand turned the fan off as well.  If the standard of work at the sub stations compares with the connections I see around school, home and the town, I do not wonder that the supply is intermittent.  Thankfully there is hope for the future, as Hillaly, who you will remember is qualified as an electrician, shares my views and insists that his own standards are much higher.

Wiring on the outside wall of the computer room

In the classroom. Thankfully without power.

Cleanliness.  Considering the heat and the dust, the cleanliness of the majority I see is excellent and in many cases, outstanding.  You know my admiration for the students here who do all their own washing and ironing yet seem to turn up every morning impeccably turned out.  (Thankfully all I do is fill in a form, put it in a bag and give it to Eva, who then calculates my bill with prices varying from 16p for a pair of socks to 40p for a pair of trousers or a jacket.  Please don’t pass this idea on to Chez.)  I must admit that many times on a Daladala the air can get a bit thick but I don’t need to investigate too far to realise that I am making a full contribution towards this myself.  Cleanliness before meals is paramount and the hand wash that Mr Masui and Mr Mtotele performed for me is echoed in the boiling hot flannel that appears before my evening meal at the YMCA and the water dispenser and hand wash that can be seen outside the dining rooms and was in evidence in the new hall on Monday.  To be blunter than I usually am, there have been many occasions in my career in the UK when I have felt the need to stand upwind of a pupil as I marked their work but for all the inherent problems of the environment, I have never had to do that here yet.

Animals.  I cannot quite get over the abundance of animals.  I realise that being raised in a town has something to do with this but I’ve been away enough times in the countryside in Britain to know that it is not normal, even there, to find hens, goats and cows with complete freedom to wander the streets, the gardens, the houses and the schools, usually dragging a rope behind them which I presume is simply to facilitate their capture at the end of the day, as it is never tied to anything.  One humourous incident from a few weeks ago that I never reported, occurred when one of the goats at school had managed to trap the end of its rope in the crook of a large fallen branch.  It had then managed to weave a pattern around the branch such that it was finally restricted to about six inches of movement.  Animal lover Babu, feeling his heart strings tugged by the constant bleating, went out to try to help the tethered beast.  The tension on the rope meant that the initial snag couldn’t be cleared so the only way seemed to be to encourage the animal to reverse his windings.  His obvious abject fear of this strange muzungu meant that this was not going to be achieved without a great deal of pushing and pulling and when I had finally managed to drag him back under one branch and once round the other I stood back to breathe and take stock.  It was then I realised I had a captive audience as most of Form III and the deputy head teacher, Mr Bakali, burst into spontaneous applause, and uncalled for laughter, at the sight of me manhandling this dumb animal.  I looked at the extra freedom that I had already managed to achieve for the young Billy, without much help from him I must add, and decided the job was well done and an ordered retreat was the only way to preserve any dignity that I still possessed.

On the steps of Form I's classroom

Water.  It’s a wonder there is any water left ‘that originally fell as snow or rain on top of Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, and filters down through thousands of feet of volcanic rock’, because I seem to be knocking the stuff back every waking moment. I will though have to find a new supplier of bottled water, as I am trying to build a ‘draughtsi’ set and it doesn’t seem to work if both players have blue pieces.  I wish the delivery of tap water was as efficient as my ability to get ‘Maji baridi’ because the amount of water I can pour over my head with my flask cup is quite limiting, and very awkward if I then want to use both hands to perform the washing.  I am though well organized now, so that when we do have water, I first fill the bucket for the next shower before I move under the shower head for this one.  It’s a bit too late when you realise the water is off and you haven’t got a back up.

Insects.  I must admit the only insects that I can honestly say I like in Africa are the millipedes.  I showed you one in an earlier blog that must have been 20 centimetres long and the mesmeric flow of the legs down the side of the body is a sight to see.  Anything else of the phylum arthrapoda is on my public enemy list.  This is obviously headed by the mosquito, as with even the most careful precautions, they still manage to occasionally get me and leave their mark.  Second surprisingly are not the ants but the flies.  I’m sure the ants are potentially a lot more dangerous but at least they move quite slowly, at ground level and a pair of size twelves can be considered a deadly weapon.  Flies on the other hand just won’t be told and the minute I get home, don a pair of shorts and flip flops, and settle down outside my room, it is the signal for a lodge meeting of the local fly community.  To be fair, the numbers are not in any way as great as that sounds, in fact no worse than a normal British summer (?) day, but I thought I would include them whilst having a moan.  There also a mixture of various flying insects, some of which look as if they have escaped from Jurassic Park or am I exaggerating their size, and finally the bats, which don’t bother me at all as I seem to remember they eat insects, which is all to the good.  This brings me to possibly the only member of the YMCA community I have yet to introduce.  In fact there a few of them, but this is my personal one who resides in my room and any fly or mosquito that he can eat is one less for me to zap.  Here is George, my favourite gecko and he is welcome to bring his friends round any time he wants.

A bit out off focus I'm afraid as I didn't want to disturb him with flash.

I’m conscious that for 57 days now you have been subjected to a variety of my views of life out here without recourse to what you want or need to know.  (Is it really that long?  I’m sure ‘War and Peace’ was shorter!) I did get one question about the education of girls and I have also had some encouraging emails, but please, if there is anything I haven’t covered, let me know and I will try to address this.  I suppose what I am really saying is I’ve written about the trips to Tanga, Pangani and Dar es Salaam and tales of my Swahili must be boring you to death so HELP, where do I go from here.


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