Not So Nice

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
A young fellow arrived to volunteer his skills, but was treated poorly.

Submitted: June 10, 2017

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Submitted: June 10, 2017



An elderly American man used to visit periodically to help out the secondary school, staying in the house next to us. I don’t know if he was church-affiliated, but he did go along to the village church each Sunday. Perhaps he had somehow made contact with the school and just wanted to help a rural Tanzanian secondary school. I had many conversations with the man, oddly, it never came up just why he came, and I simply accepted his presence. At first he brought his wife with him, but after she died, he kept coming but I sensed he was lonely.

He was a builder and worked in classrooms, doing renovating and painting, he also taught a little English. When he began renovating the house next door, I used to give him a hand lifting sheets of hardboard or as a hammer-hand, during which time he told me that he was fixing the place because a young, American teacher, who was to arrive under some volunteer scheme. He was going to teach at the school and this was to be his accommodation. He also mentioned the he would stay with the young fellow whenever he came back to do more work.

The young teacher duly arrived to take up his teaching duties and because he was our neighbour, we made him welcome and helped with his initiation into Tanzanian ways and some language, but over at the school he was introduced to the Tanzania ways with a shock! A whole class of From V failed a test, so several teaches thought to impose punishment and also test the mettle of the young teacher at the same time. He was made to watch while each teacher gave ten boys each a caning and the last group of ten were reserved for him! He refused but in doing so lost face among his peers. In his shoes I would have done the same thing!

As sometimes happens, people are removed from their position through no fault of their own. The headmaster of the school had come into the position because of an unfortunate political incident which saw the incumbent being removed. This new head’s job was to take a firm hand with the students and he did, but he wasn’t of the right tribe. His inevitable removal came about because a new man ‘needed a position’. This new man had ‘retired’ from a large aid organisation, had connections and was of the right tribe.

Being used to ‘better’ accommodation in the aid organisation, than was available in the school houses, this new headmaster tipped the young American teacher out of his house and gave him a rat-infested barn! So now we had a new neighbour! The young fellow made an appeal on the grounds that the house was financed and worked on by the elderly American, all of which fell on deaf ears.  The headmaster soon stopped any complaints from the elderly chap by banning from making a return.

Nearly adjacent, there was a state primary school which was very handy for the new headmaster’s wife who happened to be a primary school teacher. The trouble was there was no vacancy, and there seldom was because of the particular location of the school. There was however an mratibu, coordinator of state primary schools in the district. Among her powers was the ability to transfer teachers around the district, pretty much according to her whim, or by accepting some gratuity. That may sound unfair on my part but I saw what I saw. Soon one of the incumbent primary teachers got the bum’s rush, thereby providing a vacancy for the headmaster’s wife to fill! This sort of thing altered some people’s lives!

For reasons of his own the headmaster held a grudge against the young American making his life at the school not so nice! Most times when there’s ugomvi, bad feeling, both sides contribute, but this young fellow was blameless. We allowed him to blow off steam and we became sounding boards for him. He was liked by his students, the reflection being that he achieved good pass rates. Locals who came to our house including my nursery workers, regarded him highly which was the feeling in the village outside the school environment. He was and remains welcome at our house anytime.

It is Tanzanian culture to be welcoming and also to properly farewell, most usually with a sherehe of some kind, sometimes with a whole, spit-roasted goat. I should know, we had twenty six of them – and emotional they were too! However the miserable buggers at the secondary school didn’t honour the young American in any way. This is down to leadership within the school, there’s no way around the fact! Liked or not, the lad was entitled to his sherehe! We found out he wasn’t going to be honoured very late in the piece but managed to gather some locals, friends and our nursery workers to share food and the ubiquitous sodas. I didn’t manage the whole goat, but a good man further up the hill had a hind leg cooking and he sold it to me, at short notice wrapping it in banana leaves for presentation.

The headmaster offended my sense of justice and to be frank, he continued to do so! For this young American volunteer, his experience wasn’t so nice but I admired him for his fortitude.





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