Tuesday, 4 December 2012

A dogless walk

Monday December 4th

Well, I woke this morning and stretched in all directions to see if there was any sign of that tightness indicative of sun burn and am delighted to report that all seems well.  As I have no mirror, I can’t testify that I don’t look like a lobster but at least as I pulled my shirt on after my shower, I did so without an accompanying scream.

Not a lot happening at school today.  The students are just waiting for their reports to be ‘topped and tailed’ and then tomorrow morning will be the end of year awards ceremony, so, as I needed to go to Pangani, I left mid-morning to cycle back to Mkoma Bay.  When I got there I ensured I was well covered, had factor 50 on any bits that weren’t; ensured also that Chita was well and truly tethered and set off down the beach to Pangani.

The walk was beautiful but uneventful and certainly quicker without the need to constantly back-track to try to shake of an unwanted follower.  As I approached Pangani I looked back over the empty acres of sand behind me, washed by the ocean and under a baking sun, and thought about the opportunities that exist for tourist income in this part of the country, if they could develop the required transport links.

Pangani beach. One o'clock in the afternoon.

I had gone to Pangani to obtain a laminated print-out of a picture I had taken of Mr Mmari.  I think he is planning to frame it and put it on the wall of his new house as the start of a genealogical line.  It certainly has the imperious look.

As I entered the market place on my way home the leaky bus from an earlier post, pulled in and disembarked its passengers.  Having spent 45 minutes on Saturday in Tanga waiting for the same bus to fill up before setting off, I wasn’t in the mood to do the same at this end of the road, so I looked round for a pikipiki.  By the way, I now find that although a pikipiki is a motorbike, the term used for one that carries passengers for hire is a bodaboda.  Whether this comes from the engine noise or what, I don’t know, but anyway I found a bodaboda willing to take me for Tsh 2000 and with my usual request, “Mimi Babu; pole pole” I had a steady journey home.

A quiet evening watching DVDs of Tanzanian gospel songs so time to look at another question from Cliff,

“What advice would I give to anyone wanting to volunteer.”

Number one. If I hadn’t had Denis I would have really struggled.  If you are going to try and do this by yourself, without the aid of an agency I don’t know how you would manage if you didn’t have someone on the ground to contact.  I’ve made no secret of the incredible helper and friend that Denis has been whilst I have been in Pangani but his involvement started well before that.  He was my main, not to say only, contact with the schools over here as a combination of poor phone lines, poor hearing and poor English/Swahili led to many frustrating calls and at one stage I came close to calling the whole thing off.

It’s not a cheap experience.  Life over here is certainly inexpensive and I can easily get by on £100 a week for board, food and ‘spends’ and, as you have seen, I have an excellent life style, but the cost of setting the trip up was expensive.   The cost starts with the air flight but continues with health insurance which is expensive, especially if you have a history like I have.  Some of the injections were free but I still ended up paying over £200 for rabies and ‘Hep B’ and on top of this my anti-malarial tablets cost over £300.  I must admit that at one time I did wonder whether it would be better for the school for me to stay at home and simply send a cheque.  Finally there is the cost of the visa to actually enter the country and I have been very lucky that the local immigration officer has not seen fit to levy the further cost of a volunteer visa onto my load as this in itself is several hundred pounds.  He did say he was coming to school during my first week and then didn’t turn up, so since then I have tried to stay as invisible around Pangani as any 6ft 2in mzungu can.

What do you bring?  As far as the school is concerned, anything is helpful.  Basic pens, pencils and rulers are freely and cheaply available locally but even so are given as rewards for excellent work, especially in the tests.  But outside this, mathematical instruments, staplers, and the like are difficult to get hold of; even graph paper is a luxury and I bought a pad in Dar es Salaam to give a sheet each to my students for their exam. As far as personal things, the most useful things I have brought with me are bin liners and food containers.  The food containers are indispensable for keeping the little treats you allow yourself  dry in the atmosphere here, and both they and the bin liners can keep food free from the myriad of ‘creepy crawlies’ that want to share my food every day.  Bin liners are also very useful for collecting washing both clean and dirty.  Either bring or buy a small flask.  I’m an early rising shaver so to have a flask of hot water, half for a shave and half for an early coffee has been a real treat.  The flask is then filled again for me for when I return from school and can sit outside my room and enjoy another cup.

A good first aid kit goes without saying.  Thankfully, apart from my bike spill on the first day, I haven't used much of it apart from the antiseptic wipes which I have used every time I've even scratched myself, and with the thorn bushes I cycle past, the limestone I clamber over and the insects bites I occasionally scratch away, I'm reaching the end of my supply.

I have taken Cliff’s advice about what I carry around with me.  If I don’t need it that day, I leave it at home.  This goes for bank cards, spare money, documents etc.  They are locked in my suitcase in my room.  At home, like many people, I walk round with a wallet containing club cards that I haven’t used for years, but over here I carry the minimum.  Obviously Pangani is different to Dar es Salaam.  Once again, taking Cliff’s advice, I split any money I have into different pockets when in Dar and my camera and phone are well out of sight.  In Pangani I don’t take such precautions and certainly have never felt threatened in any way.

You need strong footwear.  I came here with two pairs of trainers and am going home with one pair that will be thrown away as soon as I have replaced them.  The rough limestone roads really take a toll on footwear.  How the locals manage with their flip flops I don’t know.  It is good  to get out of my trainers at the end of the school day into shorts and flip flops but I must admit that once the sun goes down I am back into a full covering and my roll on ‘No Bite’ comes into its own.

The first weeks I seemed to still be getting bitten but as with most things I seem to have got on top of this.  As I have just said, in the evening there are no inviting stretches of ankle or leg for the mosquitos to attack and then when I go back to my room, I hold my breath, blitz the place with fly spray, especially the dark corners under the bed, table and chairs, before dashing outside and sitting to read for ten minutes.  My mosquito net is tucked under the mattress on three sides and after switching off all the lights I use the torch on my phone to get to bed and tuck the remaining side under.  Touch wood, it is now several weeks since I have been obviously bitten.

The YMCA is very particular about hygiene at meals and before I sit down for my dinner I am presented with a boiling hot flannel, which takes some juggling to start with, but at other times of the day I still take it seriously, even if, on occasions, this means simply pouring some bottled water over my hands. Certainly at Mr Masui’s, one of his nieces has come with a jug and bowl both before and after the meal to pour water over my hands so that I can wash.  Whether it is down to this regime or simply by good luck, but I have survived my stay without any ‘tummy trouble’ apart from the bloated feeling sometimes after one of Vicky’s ‘small’ helpings. 

Learning some of the language is essential as, if nothing else, it shows good manners, but it is equally important to realise that for some people the chance to practise, and show off, their skills in English, is also important.  Sometimes I found myself answering a very polite, “Good morning, sir.  How are you?” from a young Norwich City fan, with a similar greeting in Swahili when, I quickly realised, that what they wanted was a reply of, “I’m very well thank you and how are you?”

You must also accept the fact that you will mentally wrestle, or certainly I did, as to whether you are there for the benefit of the students or to satisfy some need within yourself.  I finally realised that the answer was, both, but if the end product was that the students and school received help that they needed then this was acceptable.  For the experience to be a successful one, you don’t need to sleep on the floor wearing sack cloth and ashes and eating only ugali and beans.  Having said that I would really recommend taking every opportunity offered to at least sample the local lifestyle.  My memories would be incomplete if I had missed leaking basis, daladalas, chai and chapattis with Mr Masui, and the ‘bagia’ ( a deep fried dough of dengu flour) that Matron gave me to eat.  As you have seen the YMCA is hardly a tough life but I have tried very hard not to live within a western bubble.

Finally, as I prepared for the journey out here, Paul handed me the birthday present that he and Chez had purchased, for me. ‘A Kindle’.  Over the last couple of years I’d seen people sat at the side of swimming pools with these strange flat objects and thought of them as posers.  How wrong I was.  My Kindle has been my life saver.  Tanzania is a country where nothing is rushed, and the ability to pull a new novel out of your pocket and pass the time reading, knowing that if you finish that one another book can be downloaded for sometimes as little as a few pennies, is priceless.  And as a postscript, the word download reminds me of another useful thing. In my computer case I packed two USB extension cables and they have been indispensable.  The best signal for the internet ‘dongle’ is just outside my room and at night this means being surrounded by the flying brigade attracted by the screen.  So much more comfortable to slide my cables under the door and attach the modem propped on the chair outside, whilst using the computer inside my room.

P.P.P.S.  Always raise the toilet seat before you take a shower.


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