Mswakini

Reads: 32  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 0  | Comments: 0

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

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

Learning the rope of working in Africa quickly highlighted the probles the locals faced, which would also challenge me.

Mswakini

Mswaki is the name of a tree, the twigs of which are traditionally used to clean teeth – so the translation is 'toothbrush tree'. The ni at the end of a word signifies 'at', 'in', or 'the place of'. So the village of Mswakini is the village where the toothbrush tree grows… There’s an interesting aside to toothbrushes that occurred in all the rural village I worked with back in the mid-late 1990’s. Mswaki wasn’t only the toothbrush tree that was used for tooth cleaning, many of our early tree plantings were damaged by people, mainly school kids, breaking off twigs to use for toothbrushes… and while I'm on about damage to our plantings, another unforeseen problem cropped up. The school yards were simply bare earth and during the day they became dusty and littered. So because there were no janitors, the duty class arrived at 7:00am to clean the classrooms and sweep the yard, but unfortunately there were no brooms or brushes for the purpose, so tree branches were used. Very soon the available material from the school environs became exhausted so neighbourhood trees were targeted. Often the kids even had to bring sweeping material from home. This was just one of life’s challenges the people of rural Tanzania coped with at the time.

Before I get on to Mswakini, a word about the teachers. Unless it was their home place, teachers were reluctant to work in isolated rural areas because domestic life was difficult in the pori. Mostly firewood was used for cooking and of course gathering firewood was a problem for the teachers, so as a perk, each pupil was required to bring one or two sticks of firewood from home per week – just small, dry sticks. With school rolls of 400 – 700, enough firewood could be brought, for perhaps six teachers. The same with water, water still remains in short supply, so the pupils brought a few litres each day, and sometimes from a great distance.

Mswakini is easy to miss as you drive along the sealed highway, the Arusha-Dodoma road… actually, no far past the National Park, the road turned to rough track, and Dodoma is the country’s capital.  For anyone who doesn’t know Tanzania, a village is not necessarily a group of thatched huts in a circle, a village can be an area of small farms, administered by a village office. The people of Mswakini are Maasai who live in Bomas, a thorny enclosure that protects the families and livestock, the man lives in his own hut, while his wives live in theirs, each with their own children. Most villages have a church, a school and perhaps a clinic. The village office at Mswakini was in need of repair, a 'wattle and daub' building, its mud walls eroded by wind and rain, which made the office drafty. The corrugated iron roof radiated the sun's heat onto those inside because there was no ceiling board. Ceiling board can’t be used because it would collapse under the weight of the dust that would accumulates, dust is blown under the roofing iron during the dry season.

Hifadhi, the outfit I was working for, had already been working at Mswakini Primary School, on projects funded by our government, but the funds had run out, aka used elsewhere, so the projects had stalled. Although not my responsibility, I had been gently nudged into seeing that the projects were completed, which I knew would mean stepping on a few toes. We also had our own environmental project to initiate and maintain, plus, we were formulating a Primary Schools Assistance Project, so we were going to be visiting Mswakini frequently!

Big E, as I called him, was the director of Hifadhi, so let's start with what Big E and Hifadhi had achieved so far, because it was pretty much a one man band. They had facilitated a concrete block classroom with a corrugated iron roof, but it had collapsed. Big E told me that the fundi, the builder, had stolen half of the cement, so the mortar was weak. Maybe so… but the roof had blown off first, which suggested that the ties fixed through the lintel were unsatisfactory. The ties were made from those metal strips used to tie timber into bundles, which were never made to last anyway. Galvanised wire is better, even barbed wire which is more malleable but of course the metal strips could be obtained cheaply, whereas wire would have chewed into his bar building funds. This sort of thing was typical of Bug E.

At Mswakini water was especially a problem, so daily the school kids were walking one and a half hours each way to collect household water for the teachers… during school time! So education was taking a big hit! I accompanied Big E to negotiate for water to be taken from a borehole within Tarangire National Park, using a pump owned by a Phosphate Company because they held the water right. The water would be pumped into a nearby holding tank and piped to the school utilizing gravity. Enough fuel for one year was in Hifadhi’s budget, funded by our government to give enough time to establish a goat rearing project that was to be managed sustainably to purchase fuel. It was a well thought out project. But! The school was considerably uphill from the holding tank, and I could see straight away that the gravity feed would never work. Big E didn’t believe me so I brought out my trusty old exforestry abney level to prove it. The other hiccup was that there were no goats to do the proposed breeding! I could see that all of this was a classic developmental mistake. Big E is a Maasai and this was a Maasai village; so he consulted nobody, sourced the funding and he told the village people what they were going to get. And then working with only the village chairman and not involving the village people, meant they had no ownership of the project. This was to cause trouble. Of course the village people would have benefited from the water but they had Big E properly summed up, it was a moneymaking project for him. Now with me on the case, their expectation was that I had pockets bulging with money and so they looked to me to bring the water to them.

Luckily I had my co-worker, Josiah who was on my wave-length, he was Maasai and the Head Teacher was Maasai so they could properly convey my thoughts to the parents and the village population. All of the village used the Maasai language rather than Swahili, which often left me a bit out of the loop. So far, the water and goat projects were a disappointment to them, so I distanced myself from those projects meantime while focusing on the Primary Schools Assistance Project. Starting off on a positive note would hopefully motivate the village people. The Schools’ Assistance Project was instigated by The Agency’s field reps and I had fourteen primary schools under my wing to service. We surveyed each school to find what each school's needs were and did the budgets to share the funds as appropriately as possible given that it was funded by our government. The assistance was channelled through The Agency’s six volunteers, with Mo and Jo, The Agency’s field reps doing the purchasing and paying the bills. Buying in bulk had advantages and our Sanawari house became the sorting area for the entire project. We even made a round stamp for the text books stating the donation was from our government.

Mswakini Primary School had been built as a donation to the village from the Danish government because they had also funded the nearby phosphate mine, which was defunct because the phosphate was found to be mildly radioactive. Because the village is situated on the boundary of Tarangire National Park, the National Parks Authority, were funding the building of another two new classrooms. Actually they provide assistance to nearby villages to all the National Parks so they’re in my opinion a good corporate citizen. They also funded two toilets that had been recently constructed; round, concrete jobs that had an element of biodegradability but my, oh my, they stank to high heaven! Unlike most of the schools we worked with, the floors and blackboards were in good nick at Mswakini. There had been an attempt to a construct a rainwater harvesting setup, but the small tank leaked and the spouting had fallen down – really all it needed was some maintenance to make it functional again. There were answers if the questions were asked… I found that one reason for the delay of the goat rearing project was that teachers had moved into the hut that was supposed to house the blimmin’ goats!

Taratibu, formalities, there are always formalities (yet nobody takes responsibility) and sure enough there was a process where annually each school reports to the Education Department listing the needs of the school. At the time the Education Department had no funds, evidenced by the fact that sometimes the teachers had to wait a month or more for their wages, but nonetheless the requests were made.  For us it was useful to see a copy of their list because, well, you have to exercise discretion when dispensing assistance. Some of the listed needs were 'best case scenarios' so we needed to be mindful of that. Generally I found that text books and the associated teacher's copies of how to run the lesson using the text books, were not on the lists, but bicycles for teachers to go to the nearest store - duka - were. There was a desperate need for more desks at all the schools, because three kids were crammed into desks that were designed for two. The schools were using out of date text books, they had none of the latest curriculum copies, yet Standard VII pupils had to sit a National Exam, where a pass is needed to progress on to secondary school. At that time barely six percent of the kids went on to secondary school. In order to involve the village population, we met with the village government; the village chairman and secretary, and the Mtendaje. The Mtendaje is the village executive officer, who reports to the central government and collects fees and taxes on their behalf, Joshia also advised me to invite a few of the elders because Maasai elders have an enduring status in village life.

Some 600 trees had been planted, supplied by Hifadhi, but I wasn’t surprised to see the survivors weren’t doing well. It was so difficult enough to get household water, so why would they use it on the trees? There’s a lesson there, it’s no use dropping a lot of trees off without at least some basic instruction. Anyway, I say 'the survivors' because those that remained had been browsed. 600 trees is an investment in time and money, but here, it was a complete waste.

Hifadhi had a Suzuki 4x4, which was donated by The Agency, the vehicle was supposed to be for the project’s use, but Big E used it as a personal vehicle, so by now we had the use of The Agency’s little Maruti. Unfortunately Big E was one of those people who have trouble keeping a vehicle going, so he needed me to transport him to negotiate with the Head Ranger of Tarangire National Park for access and permission to carry out the water project. You’re entitled to ask why he hadn’t done this before funds we applied for… I did. At the park gate Big E talked his way in at no cost, and as we approached the office he told me that the guy we were going to meet, wanted to marry his daughter. Just what that was about I never quite found out, at the time she was nine years old! Anyway, later we took the opportunity to drive around the National Park which was my first time there. A fortunate eventuality.

A week later, I suspected Big E had another reason to visit Mswakini, but used the excuse that he wanted to check on the progress of the digging the furrow that the pipe was to be laid into. Of course there was another problem with his Suzuki, so again we travelled in the Maruti. This was fine because I felt safer doing the driving. We didn’t call in at the school but instead called at the boma of one of the elders. A child was sent off, running, to bring a three-legged stool for me to sit on, while old fellow and Big E sat in the shade on the ground with their backs resting on the wall of the hut. They spoke in Maasai which was mostly lost on me, and after some refreshing sour milk, we climbed in the Maruti to check on the pump and the reservoir. This meant following a faded track through the village and into the National Park. Surprisingly there was no fence or visible boundary. In front of us was a wall of elephant grass, which stood some 3 - 4 metres tall and looked very thick. The Maasai elder told me (in English, which is interesting to note) to proceed, dubiously, I looked at Big E for confirmation but he just shrugged… encouragingly, the guy said there was no problem. I nudged the car forward and the grass fell over somewhat easily and our guide pointed the way to go. Dead reckoning I supposed. I could tell that the soil beneath was wet, but the grass gave me traction. Suddenly we came to an area where the grass had been knocked down by elephants grazing there and their poo smelled fairly fresh. The going became bumpy because the elephant footprints were 30cm deep causing the wheels to wallow into the holes the elephants had created. I had no warning of them because I couldn’t see the holes below the mat of grass. When three wheels fell into holes at once, I was stuck and the other two had to push! This happened several times, too many for Big E's whose lack of fitness told, and it increased his blood pressure. Twice he fell over into muddy water, so he wasn’t too happy! Anyway the visit to the pump didn’t tell us anything other than it was operational.

While our other projects were running well, this one was a shambles! Sure the Primary Schools Assistance Project was were where we wanted it to be, but we needed to have some closure of the Hifadhi projects. Jo was getting a bit titchy with Big E and had me keeping on to his tail as well. He was busy building his bar cum restaurant and the Mswakini project to him was the cash cow, the funds were already in his pocket, so to him Mswakini was only a distraction. I thought a visit with Jo might gee things along, so she drove her Toyota with our team, 60 trees and with Big E perched in the front seat. Leaving at 8:00am, we arrived at the school at 9:30. The Head Teacher met us and was happy we had arrived, yet sad because he had no opportunity to prepare tea for us. Big E had rolls and rolls of polythene pipe stored on top of his/our house and although he told us they were for other projects, I had coerced him into using some of them on this project. All the required materials were stored at the school and I gazed out over the area where the water was supposed to flow – there was no chance of water running uphill! Big E said that definitely he had money put aside to purchase fuel for the pump for one year, so we were satisfied that was in order. But the goat project was no further ahead. At least the teachers had moved out, but the yard hadn’t been erected. We were unable to go to the pump because of flooding caused by heavy rain the night before, which was why we took the 60 trees. We gave the school a seminar on the planting and care of the trees and supervised the planting. The kids were a joy. On the way home, Big E wanted us to deviate for an hour or so to call in at Monduli to the Army Headquarters for a meeting with the General who was an ndugu, a distant relation, of Big E. Getting in there was very military and time consuming, but the General was happy to see us and happy to know we were planting trees in the area. He wanted to plant trees around the military compound too, so I promised to return. But basically we were there because he wanted the contract to make the school desks and cupboards in the factory that he and his brother owned! Trouble was the price was too high - but that emerged later. There were always fingers in pies whichever way we turned!

While in the area, we called at Ngarash Primary School to find Mama Kuku, an Arusha poultry farmer, had delivered 20 000 trees at the school for the village people to plant! Mama Kuku knew we were working in the area and thought this would be a help to us. She bought the trees at Same, a hundred miles away, and delivered them free. Kind and generous as it may have been, it was another problem for us because large numbers of trees were just too difficult for us to manage. At the very best I could only pack 500 into the Maruti! 20 000 seedling needed to be watered each evening and there was the constant shortage of water, without proper care, the trees would dry out before they could be distributed and planted, so in many cases trees were planted that were never going to survive, thus disheartening the planter. This happened later from time to time and was something I had to sort it out, but that came later too.

There’s more to come about Mswakini…

 


Submitted: April 19, 2021

© Copyright 2021 moa rider. All rights reserved.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Pinterest
  • Invite

Add Your Comments:


Facebook Comments

Boosted Content from Other Authors

Short Story / Action and Adventure

Book / Action and Adventure

Short Story / Romance

Short Story / Non-Fiction

Other Content by moa rider

Short Story / Memoir

Short Story / Memoir

Short Story / Memoir