Random

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
A run of random events, in the production of a sign

Submitted: October 30, 2018

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Submitted: October 30, 2018

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Does anyone really understand the origins of the universe? Albert and I questioned it one day and concluded that although physicists use big and complicated words, our guess is as good as theirs’. Anyway, I mention the conversation because the concept of ‘random’ became part of our discussion and, if you think about it, random can be fascinating.

My cover picture up there, is a sign at the end of a road, erected to advertise the location of Shishtoni primary school. To get there from the sign is still convoluted, but that’s another story. I haven’t written a lot about Tanzanian schools – yet, and since I was working there, there have been many changes, nevertheless it’s good to record history albeit boring for many. Be that is it may, when we were first there, we found few signs to show where things were. There were Coca Cola signs over bars and shops, some of which told the name of the village. But you had to get there first!

The education department brought in a new regulation: all schools were to erect signs in appropriate places to indicate where they were located. This was random regulation which came out of the blue. It was a substantial cost to each school, and many had difficulty in finding the funds, but it was an opportunity to show their artistic talent, as can be seen on the Shishtoni sign. On our last day there, I promised them that there would always be a corner of my heart for Shishtoni, and there still is. I had a made up a logo for our environmental project, and on the sign they copied the logo including the words: Misitu ni Uhai – Forests are Life. Using the logo was the school’s way of giving me a tick. Anyway, I was humbled by it.

It all began because early on. I found the value of making a show of being official, a letterhead or stamp beside a signature seemed to open doors. At the time even typing paper was too expensive for most, the ordinary Joe Bow had no access to a computer, and certainly I’d missed out on the burgeoning use of computes back home. I faxed a note to my brother-in-law, who I knew had picked up on computer-tec, and asked him to send me a stylised picture of an Acacia tree. It usually took five weeks for mail to arrive but eventually a dozen or so pictures arrived, and when I looked at them, I wondered why I hadn’t drawn one myself, all I wanted was a flat-topped Acacia like umbrella thorn and I’d already collected some seed from the tree.

I chose the picture that was nearest to my ideal and took it to the Stamp Man. Every day I was in town, I spoke to the Stamp Man, because his little kiosk was in an alleyway beside the post office. I know, I’ve written about this in the past, but it’s uncanny how people can be so alike other people despite the colour of their skin. The Stamp Man was the spitting image of Jimmy, our neighbour back home. The way he sat, the way he smiled, even his voice was the same, except the Stamp Man couldn’t speak English. I guessed there was unlikely a living to be made by making stamps for a population of about three hundred thousand, which was why he sold second-hand books as a side-line. Books where in short supply in those days. He seemed happy enough sitting there chatting with passers-by, not selling much.

Using rubber from old car or truck tyres and a razor blade the Stamp Man plied his trade at a small dest. I showed him the picture I had chosen, wrote the words above the tree, Misitu ni Uhai and below, Mradi ya Hifadhi - Conservation Project, and I showed him the size I wanted the stamp to be. He assured me the stamp would be ready the next day. He had pre-made handles to stick the rubber pad onto and sold the ink-pads that made it work. The cost was peanuts so I gave him a bonus. I was more than happy with the result, even though the tree wasn’t quite like the picture, but that didn’t matter. The lettering was accurate, fine and as if done with a stencil! That stamp proved mightily useful.

My contract with Hifadhi came to an end, and in the random way events kept unfolding, I joined a totally different structure that was DME. I asked the Stamp Man to produce a similar stamp, because the new project was going to require more officialdom as the need for an official stamp presented itself. As was policy, the Agency sent us home for a break between jobs, during which time I checked out ways to motivate school kids and others we would be working with. I called on a printing company with the idea of negotiating a cheap deal for pens printed with the project’s logo. It didn’t happen because the company also printed T-shirts, and it turned out that from time to time, they made mistakes with the printing or the colour of the shirts. Much to my interest, they disposed of erroneous shirts by giving them to mechanics for cleaning up engines and machinery! So after a wee chat with the boss lady, they were happy to give us a suitcase-full! We didn’t need to worry about the impact on our flight luggage, because a little bit of negotiation and the cooperation of our airline, Qantas, they supported our project by free-freighting the suitcase!

As prizes for the ‘best tree’ in school plantings, the T-shirts were very successful, but it wasn’t long before we ran out of them. Progress can be a random thing, even in third world countries, and though taking a random walk, I stumbled on a tiny workshop a screen printer had set up in town. His main custom was to supply ‘different’ tourist T-shirts to some outlets around town and for export.  The guy printed onto T-shirts that were supplied to him by the outlets because it was difficult to find plain ones, even though there was a factory locally. I eventually found some in another out-of-the-way shop. Apparently, certain religious groups used them. So to round things off, I asked the Stamp Man cut the stencil of our logo for the screen printer to print onto the brand new, white T-shirts. The head teacher and the environment teacher, along with the student prize-winners at Shishtoni primary school each received one on those shirts.

And that’s why the logo came to be painted there on their school sign. All because of some random tie-up.

 

 

 

 


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