The Downside of Luck

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs

Good fortune turned to custard in quick time.

Submitted: June 10, 2018

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Submitted: June 10, 2018



We didn’t have real next-door neighbours, the closest neighbour at home was two hundred yards away, which as it happened was about the same distance as our Tanz nearest neighbours. Mama Fulani was our nearest and she became good friends with Mags, which is why we were happy to share out scant water supply with her. The ritual was, whenever she called to fill her bucket, Mags would brew some tea or coffee and the chatting would go on…and on. Often she sent her kids fill their buckets, good kids, raised by a solo mum. She was a recent widow, which didn’t mean much because she had been estranged for over seven years. Estranged? Well her husband had absconded a month after the birth of their third child and wasn’t heard from until a month before he died. He and his brother turned up at her door with a supermarket bag containing his life’s possessions. He wanted to move in. She gave him the bum’s rush, as well she should have, and anyway, she was used to making her own decisions in life!

Mama Fulani was a primary school teacher and like many school teachers she lived in accommodation supplied by the school. From a standpoint of available resources, some schools supplied better accommodation than others, but Mama’s was better than many. The entranceway, where there was a small table and two chairs, was about ten foot square. The entranceway led to a tiny storeroom, and another door led to the only room that could be used as a bedroom, it was twelve foot square. Her accommodation was under the same roof as five other families, three each side of the building. Her kitchen was outside her door, consisting of four poles, a corrugated iron roof and a three-stone fireplace. Each family had their own setup. Sitting around the fire while the evening meal was cooking is a strong memory for most kids, and the meal would be ready around nine o’clock. The communal toilet was a corrugated iron walled and roofed shed with a single hole to squat over. There was one door. If you wanted to bathe, you took a bucket of water and a towel into the toilet with you. Of course everyone would have liked better, but better doesn’t happen. Nobody was dirty, everyone made the best of what they had. Kids were just fussy about hygiene, honed with the ethic that money was scarce, and the best way to prevent hospital costs was to be careful with hygiene.

A once in a lifetime bit of good fortune fell into Mama Fulani’s lap. Her life’s path had its potholes, ups and downs as well as blessings, she was not better or worse off than her peers! Who can tell when fortune might crack a smile? However for Mama Fulani, there was no clapping on the back or cheering among her peers. The green-eyed monster with the pointy tail reared his ugly head as jealousy spewed forth! Even from where I stood, I could see it happening. The five teachers she shared her roof with and worked with were all women, and it was obvious that they were either ganging up on her, playing no-speaks or offering snide remarks.

There was also a certain woman in the village who I purposely avoided picking up when she was standing on the side of the road. It wasn’t that I didn’t like her, the reason was, she doused herself with some strong, eye-watering perfume that, if I did give her a lift, I would feel sick for the rest of the day! Such stuff affects my ability to work effectively. This woman was the Mratibu, co-ordinator of the primary schools in the area. She had the power to allocate newly trained teachers and to move teachers around within her district. She was among the huddle of non-speakers and snide-remarkers.

It wasn’t long before Mama Fulani was told by the Mratibu that she was being transferred to Goromoro Primary school. This would do two things for the Mratibu. She would gain in popularity and status among the local teachers, and she would receive some reward because, Mama’s place had value. Her place would be taken up by a wife of one of the lecturers at the nearby college who could well-afford such a bribe.

I knew Goromoro Primary School very well, I had carried out several environmental programmes there and supplied them with some teaching aids, so I knew the head teacher fairly well. The school sat on the fringes of drier country and I knew it would be a harsh place for Mama Fulani and her kids, especially for her kids. It’s a long, arduous journey from where they were currently living. The only available transport to and from the village was rough, unreliable and only on Wednesdays to the market on the main road. There was teacher accommodation available at the school, built for single teachers because usually only single teachers were appointed to the more remote schools, unless they actually came from the area.

Injustice is like swallowing tennis balls, and obviously Mama Fulani couldn’t return the serve, so I took her out to Goromoro to meet the head teacher and to assess the school for herself. He was surprised that she had been appointed because he hadn’t applied for any more teachers. He was also surprised that someone with three kids was appointed. He hadn’t been told by the Mratibu that Mama Fulani had kids. And he wasn’t sure why I was involved, which made him uneasy.

Mama and I sat in the head teacher’s office while he went to organise a cup of tea for us, which gave her the opportunity to tell me how horrified she was that she was being sent to the school. I suggested that she ask the head teacher to write a letter to the education department to say that the school had no suitable accommodation for her. Naturally enough, she was dubious about speaking up, saying that she might just leave the teaching profession altogether. The head teacher returned with a thermos and some cups and we discussed aspects of my work there, before getting on to Mama Fulani’s case.

Talking about it later with Mama Fulani, it’s more than likely the head teacher was wasiwasi, uncomfortable about her association with me. Suspicious of her or me perhaps. Maybe he had something to hide? Whatever the reason, he offered to write a letter to the department saying Goromoro was not a suitable place for Mama Fulani. Walls have ears, I’ve no doubt – it’s happened before! Sure enough, she was notified by the department that she wouldn’t be moved to Goromoro, but her old place had already been taken. Her new position was at another school over an hours walk away, but at least she could remain living in her village and her children’s education wouldn’t be adversely affected. Nevertheless it was a bugger for her.

Food, shelter and health are the fundamentals, but there is nothing simple about day to day living, it’s true even in rural areas of a third world country. Human nature is a complex beast and relationships rise and fall on a sea of emotion, blown along by the winds of gossip. There are some, too many, who thrive on dishing out nastiness, enjoying the distress of their fellows! Who knows what drives them in this pointless pursuit, because they receive no tangible benefit from their actions? Simply put, they’ve got maggots their belly.



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