Mswakini 2

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

This is over 3000 words and may be difficult to follow, but it demonstrates how cultures differ and how progress can sometimes be slow.

More on Mswakini

I noted in my diary that the day was auspicious! We delivered the school text books and cupboards to Mswakini Primary School. We’d already delivered some 200 desks and four sets of teachers’ tables and chairs. By chance I’d spoken to two brothers at Ngaremtoni market, and told them I was looking for a furniture factory, and blow me down, they owned one! The took me to their office for a chat and according to the signage outside and in, they were chemical importers, sure enough, but they were operating a joinery factory. They made the desks at a very reasonable cost, using Grevillea timber, which is not quite so favoured as Cypress because of termite risk, but Grevillea is suitable nonetheless. Within their contract they made the teachers tables and chairs, as well as the cupboards to store the books and to protect them. They were to varnish them with that yukky, sticky varnish and transport them to the site. These guys were real gentlemen, sharp as tacks with an eye to business but reliable. Their product was acceptable but not 'top of the line'.  We were thrilled to see the desks in place with The Agency's logo drawn on them by the school. So the day marked the Primary Schools Assistance Project being completed at Mswakini, without a hiccup! But Hifadhi's projects..... I asked the Head Teacher, Mr Kamiro about progress. Only 35 female goats had arrived with no males, so the breeding programme so far, was only a bunch of frustrated nannies. Only Tsh 200 000/- had been spent on the purchase of goats, and it turned out that Mr. Kamiro had actually built the goat pen himself in an attempt to embarrass Big E into getting off his arse! The teacher had done some research about billy goats and found they were readily available at the Mto wa Mbuu market. Big E had told me that the price was high at the time of the year and therefore more economically sound to delay the purchase – his economics were always different to mine! I warned him, breeding projects do not bear fruit if the seeds planted! Mr Kamiro was not at all happy with the delay and he knew that Big E had been paid for the project some fifteen months earlier, so there was no excuse for any delay.

Big E had tried to tell me that the furrow for the pipeline hadn’t been dug because the village people had no hoes or shovels… but I didn’t bite, obviously he was trying to wheedle money out of me! Mr Kamiro confirmed that the village people grew maize, so of course they had farming tools! He also told me that he was able to mobilize parents and or use students to dig the blimmin’ furrow! I told him that I was very concerned that the water project was seriously flawed because it was trying to get the water to flow uphill… when I showed him why, he understood my point of view. I raised the question. There is a borehole and a pump, owned by the Phosphate Company, and usually, when a company gains a water right, they have to donate something to the local community.  Did they install a water trough for the cattle? Sure enough, in this case, they installed a large tank and a pipeline to a water trough for watering the cattle, and it happened to be in the direction of the school. It had been designed so that the last of the water in the tank would reach the trough - but only just. Any further, and there wouldn’t be enough pressure for the water to reach the trough. The uphill slope wasn’t much, so it would be possible for water to go further, as long as the tank was always full. Nobody had about mentioned this!

On my return to Sanawari, I briefed Big E about my meeting with Mr Kamiro. He told me he had paid the deficit of Tsh200 000/- to the village chairman, but Mr Kamiro was away at a funeral so probably hadn’t been told about it. He promised he’d take a vehicle to Mto wa Mbuu to buy some billy goats so the project could be started. And he agreed that there should be digging equipment in the village, but he told me the people would expect something, or they wouldn’t turn up for work, and yes I understood about that. So instead of handing out money, I purchased 3 shovels and three hoes/grubbers/mattocks and gave them to him. I could account for the expenditure by way of my official receipt. I also told him that I’d called at Monduli to talk to a government water engineer and I was impressed with his expertise and knowledge of things water in his district. He had promised to check the levels for me and to take Big E with him. Big E agreed to go the following Monday.

Sometimes things just happen, not always for the better. One of these was when Mo & Jo met with Big E and the subject of the projects came up. Seemingly harsh words were tossed around and both they parted with everyone hot under the collar, and no resolution! No doubt Big E decided that any sort of action was better than nothing just to get them off his back… when Jo accompanied us to Mswakini to deliver some extra teaching aids, the Head Teacher told us that some action had eventuated, and indeed we found that a reservoir had been constructed beside the water trough. But dear oh dear, the workmanship was shoddy! I couldn’t understand why he chose the location because we had discussed that if we were able to pump the water, we might as well position the reservoir close to the school! So things were still no better between the field reps and Big E, leaving me a bit like 'piggy in the middle'. I told Big E, the bottom line was, the projects has to be completed, and I promised him I would be on his tail, but I was prepared to help. Maybe I haven’t mentioned, we lived in the same house, separated by a partition that didn’t quite go to the ceiling, so we knew each other well. Anyway… in the middle of this the Mswakini School Committee wanted to dedicate the projects and thank the various people involved, they could see that the water and goat projects were going to take forever to complete, so they decided to hold a ceremony for our government’s Primary School Assistance Project and at the same for the National Parks Authority's new classroom.

After a scheduled visit to Mti Mmoja Primary School, Josiah and I made the extra journey to Mswakini to collect the water drum I’d left there for them to store water and to brew some of their speciality for the celebrations. At the same time we checked if the pipe connectors had been located. Big E had told me they were lost and suspected someone from the village might be making jewellery out of them! At the village office, we met a group of elders and they sat us down, watered us (well, loshoro-ed us) and flatly denied they had even seen the parts. They were angry that water had been cut to the water trough because Big E had instructed someone among them to dig it up! I left them promising to shake Big E awake. Big E was despondent about the loss of the fittings and refused to go back there until he had news they had been located. Secretly I bought new ones to get the blimmin’ job done! The very next day he sheepishly returned from Mswakini with the fittings, saying that he had found them, he had hidden them under a bush so they wouldn’t be stolen and he suddenly remembered where the bush was!

Big E was focusing on his bar, so the water/goat project wasn’t progressing, but our own environmental programme with the other schools was going well as was our tree nursery. Luckily the funding we’d sourced, on condition Big E didn’t get his hands on it, made us pretty independent of Hifadhi, but still, he couldn’t complain because Hifadhi bathed the overall kudos for what we were doing. Our funding also helped us forge ahead with Mswakini, although I still had to make Big E face up to his responsibilities… if I could. He was hard to pin down, with boozy nights and still asleep when I left for the villages in the morning. Around this time, to make our seminars more kid-related, I wrote a short story which Joshia brought to life in his reading of it, and as well I developed a couple of role plays that we added to amuse the kids… and teachers. Mags also tuned her ukulele, and our environmental song came into being.

When it was Mswakini’s turn for the environmental seminar, it went down well and I introduced the other bit, the role play to show how people could cooperate in tree care and keeping domestic animals and hens from the damaging trees. It was quite a fun day. Afterwards, we took the opportunity to check on progress at the water project, but nothing more had been done and the poor workmanship of the reservoir remained an embarrassment.

A beer-breath Big E called to see me early one morning, so I took the opportunity to tune him up! He reacted pretty aggressively, but in the end he agreed that he deserved a kick up the arse. A month later we went back to Mswakini. The water project was becoming tiresome because of Big E's lack of expertise! It turns out he was there on the Friday before and on the Monday but didn’t achieve anything because both times the elders were meeting. In those sessions, typically, they ate meat and drank beer while they discussed matters… seldom resolving anything. There was a work party ready to work on Wednesday but the only guy who could fit the connections had a death in his family so he wasn’t there. I gently requested Big E to organise a work party for the next Monday and I promised to take him there and spend the day working them together.

Well it didn’t happen! We arrived, but a lion had attacked a boma in the village and killed a cow, so some Moran (circumcised young men) chased the lion down and killed it! Such an event required a celebration, so a bull was killed, beer was made or bought and so nothing could be done for a week! I couldn’t be angry about this, it is part of their everyday life, and I was pleased they stuck to their tradition. Sure I needed the project to be completed, but such an event is infrequent and who was I to throw a wet blanket over such excitement?

The weeks rolled by. Joshia and I made another trip to Mswakini to check on the water project, and nothing further had been done. We happened to meet the village chairman at a bar cum restaurant in Makuyuni where we lunched; he was with a few of the other village men and they were disappointed with Big E’s performance, but nevertheless shouted for our meal of nyama choma. I told them that I would again talk to him and promised to call in at Mswakini on my return from Karatu where there was to be an Agency conference, if there was still no progress, we would return to work there on the week of 20 January. The chairman told me that the goats were steadily dying and supposed fleas might be the problem. Oh joy!

We returned to Mswakini the day I suggested to sort out the messy water project. Big E had teed up the village men, but when we arrived there was nobody to be seen! The young men who were to dig the furrow were in the process of selecting a bull to kill for yet another celebration! I pulled rank! We rounded them up and set off to the pump house, as usual the wee Maruti was overloaded with men wanting a lift. There were about 40 women and children filling containers at the pump, which had been started by an old fellow whose job it was to operate it. We hadn’t been told about him either! I asked him to stay and we went to the Phosphate Company reservoir to make sure it was filling. The Moran had begun to look for blockages in the pipeline to the cattle trough, this is what the elders had complained about ages ago! Water hadn’t been flowing there for months! We assumed that was why Big E had the men digging it up! They were digging up sections, cutting the pipe and testing them for blockages, so thank goodness I had bought those extra fittings! As I worked and watched, I compared the work-soiled women with twenty litres of water on their heads, ready to walk for an hour, to the fancily clad, jewellery-encrusted Moran and pondered how the responsibility for water to be delivered to the household, was always on the women and children. This is why the men were reluctant workers! One guy used his fancy sword to cut some scrub, but it wasn’t as effective as you might think because it was made of shit-metal! A toy really, for show. Two guys worked at a time while the rest rested. I have no doubt that if we’d asked the women to do the job, they would have done it, because it was in their interest. It simply wasn’t of interest to the Moran, it wasn’t their role! Gradually the blockages were cleared from the pipeline, and after we’d put the pipes together, I asked old guy to wind up the pump, but at the water trough there was only a piddling trickle! The Phosphate Company’s reservoir needed be at least two thirds full, or there was no hope of Big E's reservoir ever getting a drop! What to do? I suggested that we cut the inlet to the Phosphate Company reservoir and hook a line into the outlet so the pump which would force water to the reservoir. There were enough bits and pieces fittings for me to hook up the lines, although I had to jerry-rig one piece by encasing it in cement, but it worked! We found that the standpipe 200m towards the school from Big E's reservoir would flow water if the reservoir was more than half full, this made the reservoir effectively half its capacity, but in the circumstances, it was a victory. What we didn’t know was the operator of the pump had a line directly to his house as a perk for doing the job! Had we known, we could have upgraded that line quite easily, but we were out of time!

I was reasonably happy with the outcome, but the major flaw was the fuel for the pump. Within the budget there was provision for 12 months’ worth of fuel, and then the goat project was supposed to cover the cost. Simply it was never going to work. The goats fell to disease and there was no funding for vet costs. Then it transpired that the herdsman hadn’t been paid so he slaughtered and ate the offspring, so maybe the disease was but a myth all along. Nobody else kept goats tightly in a pen, which could have been a reason they became sick. I was unable to take this part of the project under my wing but it was obviously mismanaged or misjudged by Big E.

Ugomvi, as the word sounds, means bad feeling and there was another source of Ugomvi! Big E had a lady friend who had returned home and managed to fool a secondary school into fundraising for Hifadhi to buy bicycles so Big E could hand them out to people who helped with Hifadhi’s projects. Already the wife of one of the recipients had asked me to take it back because it led to extreme jealousy in their village. At Mswakini, the bicycle caused ugomvi because the recipient was selected by Big E, as his gift to him, rather than going through any democratic process. The whole project wasn’t the success it should have been and I took the lessons on board. I pointed out to Big E and Josiah what I had learned… the project was a very good one and very well thought out, but ownership of the project was with Hifadhi instead with the village people. They had forgotten that the village people are intelligent people and if you go there and say, 'I have money, so this is what you are getting.' They will say ' Ok then do it!' The village people didn’t feel the project was theirs and with only occasional visits from Big E there was no enthusiasm from the village men. The same when it comes to maintenance, they saw it as Hifadhi's project so Hifadhi should maintain it. There should be thorough discussion and negotiation from the outset, and a sense of ownership should be generated. Villagers will accept advice and direction but without ownership, the project was always be flawed.

One Saturday at home, Big E wanted to chat, as we sat in the mid-morning sunshine, he told me he had been frustrated at the goings on at Mswakini. 'Look', I said gently, 'the people of Mswakini needed to own the water project. Every item brought taken the village should have be signed for by the village authority and it should have be noted in the village log book (all villages have them - or if not, at least the visitor book). Once the project was complete, sign it over to the village and make them responsible for all maintenance, repairs and future extensions. The goat project isn’t working, so abandon it by offering the remaining goats to the people who carried out the most work. Make it the job of the Mtendaje to collect money for the fuel, that’s his role. He is the one who collects taxes on behalf of the government. Sign the bicycle over to the school for the use of the teachers to run errands.' Big E nodded.

I didn’t think too badly of Big E really. He had thought out the project and gained the funding. Yes, he misused funds, no, actually he stole them, he was taking advantage of an opportunity that wouldn’t happen again. Just the same, he genuinely wanted to better the life of those Maasai people… and it’s seldom that you get things right on the first attempt.


Submitted: April 22, 2021

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