Mad Mariam (contains mild nudity!)

Went to visit Amani’s dad today (see ‘And Dad Came Too’) to check how his shirt business was going. His plot today was down by the lake at a fishing port, near his home in Igombe and he was selling really well down there.

As we talked to him, I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful but very naked young woman walking along the water’s edge and then turning to call out to the vast lake in front of her. Not sure if we were encountering some mythical siren, calling to the hapless fishermen in their little boats on the water or had just wandered in to a ‘clothes optional’ area.

“Ah no”, Justin explained, “she’s mad.”

“Ah” nodded Hassan and Anna, my co-workers, and carried on walking.

I’m not sure how I feel about this….

On the one hand, she is a vulnerable adult and, in the UK, would be taken in for a psychiatric assessment and probably put on  a drug and social support programme. On the other hand, here in Tanzania the assessment would be a policeman dropping her at the Psych Ward at Bugando (see ‘Carry On Doctor’)   and telling them she’s mad and her being tied to a bed and/or sedated up to her eyeballs. And on the other hand, because  I’ve come to realise there are always at least three hands here, she is just Mad Mariam to the locals here. No-one bats an eye – they just carry on with their own business.  They keep an eye on her, no-one berates her for being naked, kids aren’t mocking her and, if she’s still out there when it starts to get dark, a woman will probably go and try to persuade her to go home for her own safety. And there is something very freeing in standing naked in the waves shouting poetry to the skies! Maybe we should all give it a go!

 

 

 

This entry was posted on June 14, 2017.

Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events

Well, I possibly could have handled the incident with more grace and dignity but ….I didn’t!

Having a couple of hours free, I decided to go and play Bubbles and Balloons with the big babies as I rarely get to spend any time with them now. As I was walking up to the babyhome, an insect fell from a tree down the front of my T shirt and in to my bra. Within seconds, it started biting its way to freedom. I had been attacked by a siafu, a giant soldier ant, who presumably had been exploring the tree with the rest of his battalion.

Siafu bites are like electric shocks, followed immediately by searing pain radiating out about two feet from each bite.

At this point I was running through the corridor of the babyhome , hurdling the cleaner’s mop bucket and the tumbleform chairs with the special needs children in, to get to the admin office, leaving aghast staff laughing hysterically in my wake, thinking I was playing a new game. There are two small offices, adjoining each other. The front one for meetings and day to day business, the back one, with the ancient computer, is for admin.

I charged through the first one shouting my predicament as I went and shut the door to the back office so I could strip off my Tshirt and bra to get rid of the siafu, still blindly following orders and biting his way to freedom.

Unfortunately my Kiswahili being what it is, I had failed to alert them to my being bitten and instead had cried “matiti lina vunjika” which roughly translates as “my breast is broken”! This did nothing to ensure my privacy as the staff were intrigued as to what had happened and all came to help! (Blog to follow on how many other mishaps I’ve had with the language!)

At this point, the bites, of which there were many , had blown up to massive red welts and the pain was excruciating. Leonora, the assistant manager, told me the pain will last most of the day…..and then the itching will really start. Sitting on the porch with 7 crawling, grabbing babies no longer seemed like a great option.

Eating a mixture of anti-histamine, codeine and some of the haribo sweets I was saving for the kids for Easter, whilst lying on the sofa with an ice pack on my boob, feeling sorry for myself, and watching some episodes of House (to check if I  actually had a rare medical condition) seemed like a much better option!!

So that, dear Reader, is what I am doing!

This entry was posted on April 15, 2017. 1 Comment

Out of Shit …… (CAUTION: bad language and content may be distressing)

….can come a rose

or

……can come a festering molten cascade of even more shit, littered with dead fish and vomit.

Today is not a good day…..can you tell?

Statistics on incest in Tanzania are hard to obtain as it is, by its very nature, insidious and secret, and most research highlights it as being extensive and massively under-reported in sub-saharan Africa generally. In one-roomed houses, where the whole family usually shares one bed, it is pretty common for people’s first sexual experiences to be with a family member. Anecdotally, some of these are fairly benign, with little impact on the child’s development. Often, though, the consequences are far more serious.

Our last two visits on Friday were to families where the father had raped the daughter.

The ‘rose’ was baby Daniel. His mother, Immaculata, was raped and impregnated at age 13 by her own father who told her he would kill her if she told anyone. She is now back in school, in the top 3 of her class. Her mother and grandmother are bringing up the baby and hope that Imma would will be able to go to college or get a good office job, which neither of them had achieved. Father was in prison for at least a couple of years and we were trying to set up the family with a business so that they could be self-sufficient and not be tempted to have him back in the home on release.

And baby Daniel is chubby, healthy and content. A real rose growing from the shit.

The festering cascade of shit was Neema’s story.

We had started visiting her mother, Catherine, who had five children and had contracted HIV from her husband’s infidelity, before the birth of her youngest twins. He then abandoned her a year ago and no-one knew where he was.

We visited on Friday to discuss setting up a business selling cassava, but also to counsel her as her 9 year old, Neema, had revealed she had been raped by her father on and off for the last 3 years. As Neema had been constantly ill for over a month and was losing weight, Catherine was worried that she might have caught the HIV virus from her father. We took money for transport for the whole family to be tested at the HIV clinic, which would not be open until Monday, but Neema was in such a bad way, just skin and bone, with sunken bloodshot eyes and a racking cough despite being on antibiotics for a week, that we also gave money  to get her to the doctor or hospital as soon as possible for treatment.

Palm Sunday – just after the Hosanna choir ( see Jesus is Coming) – I saw Hassan driving through the gate on his day off. He and Josephine  came to tell me that Neema had died in the early hours of the morning in hospital. Hassan had come in because she died in Secatoure Hospital and their mortuary is just a pile of bodies thrown on top of each other. He wanted to go and get her and take her to the mortuary at Bugando Hospital ( see Carry On Doctor) where she would be treated with the respect of at least a shared trolley. He took Melkiyad, one of the askaris, to hold her in his arms in the passenger seat.

I spent the morning torn between crying for this little girl’s crap life and early death and being overcome with anger towards the man that did this to her and will probably never have to answer for it now. To say ‘life is hard for the people here’ is like saying Hitler was a bit naughty. It just doesn’t really cover it sometimes.

 

This entry was posted on April 14, 2017. 1 Comment

Jesus is coming!

Woke to the sound of Jesus entering Jerusalem on his donkey!

I’ve moved temporarily to a bed at the front of the house to get away from the 5.15am call to prayer from the mosque hut just behind us. Only a marginal improvement as the front of the house is blessed with competing cockerels who start crowing about 6am.  I’m pretty sure they deliberately line up beneath my window to welcome me to a new day.

But today, on my lying-in day,  I was jolted awake at 7am by a rousing chorus of Hosanna Bwana, a full-on gospel 4 part harmony from a  30 strong choir in the road just outside my window. As the perimeter bushes and trees are quite high to provide privacy for the compound, I climbed on to a high chest of drawers to see if I could see them. It was a dangerous manoeuvre, not just for the height but also as I was naked except for a kanga (sarong)!

This was a proper African uplifting moment…

The choir was singing and swaying, people in their smart and colourful church outfits were streaming from two different directions to join them, women ululating, men banging drums, all carrying palms high in the air. And, as they reached the choir, they joined in the singing. When the crowd reached about 60 strong, the group, still singing, set off to slowly circumnavigate the grazing field just behind us and I hot-footed it back to my old bedroom to balance on the bed to watch them (kanga still intact!) People continued to stream, in small groups from all directions, waving their palms and singing the Hosanna. The Muslim children from the village were waving and running alongside them, enjoying the spectacle. Looked a bit like this…

 

palm-sunday-sussundenga-mozambique-2015-01.jpg (960×720)

I think Jesus would have liked it.

Happy Palm Sunday to all you Christians out there!

 

 

 

This entry was posted on April 9, 2017. 2 Comments

Running from the Law

New regulations are in to clean up the streets of Tanzania. While some things move very slowly here, others seem to be incredibly efficient.

Week One every drug dealer in Mwanza is arrested and put in prison.

Week Two every street seller is cleared off the street by the police. Now, personally I think some of the ‘colour’ of Tanzania comes from the pavements, chock-a-block with brightly dressed sellers displaying everything from fruit and nuts to footballs, shoes, bags and watches.

arusha-central-market-arusha.jpg (550×413)

And, for some of the parents we are supporting, who have limited numeracy skills or business capacity, then small street businesses is all that they can manage; and small street selling businesses are good ways to ‘test’ people’s business skills if they are in doubt as set-up for a peanut business or similar costs less than £10 so the risk is small to Forever Projects.  We set  off to assess the threat level of the new regulations for some of our families.

As we drove up the steep hill to visit Menzia, a 20 year old of 2 children, who we had recently set up with a business selling peanuts as snacks to see how she could manage with that, we passed a truck of khaki-clothed police. In a fairly typical heavy-handed way, some of them were barking orders at people in the street while others were breaking up a kibanda, one of the ramshackle little wooden stalls that people build out of spare wood.

The owner of the stall, a shoe-mender by the look of it, was arguing with them and getting repeatedly cuffed round the head for daring to. Other people were shouting at the police from a safe distance or just disappearing up one of the many alleyways, clutching their goods. It was sinister and chaotic and felt like watching stormtroopers in action.

When we reached Menzia’s one room house, she told us she had had to grab her bucket of peanuts and baby and literally run up the hill ahead of the police.

One of the people she had been selling next to was in prison for arguing with the officers. However, she was very proud that she had sold almost all the peanuts that we had provided her with as a start-up and was already thinking about what she could do instead. She wanted to sell dagaa (small dried fish), which she could do legally by walking around with it rather than sitting in one place. Her daughter was less than a year old so could still be strapped to her back or left with the 4 year old at home (don’t get me started…this is very common!). Her husband worked as cheap labour so would go to queue outside construction sites in the morning and hope for a job for the day.

Although her formal education was interrupted by early pregnancy, Menzia is very bright and had worked out if she dried the fish herself it would save money. As March is the rainy month though and, thankfully the rains had actually arrived, we decided to buy her a small stock of pre-dried fish to start her off. I found it really touching that she had dressed up in what was obviously her Sunday best to come and buy the fish. She wanted to look like a serious businesswoman.

We will be following her closely to make sure she gets a good grip of what she’s doing but I feel hopeful for this girl and her family.

Flora, on the other hand, was more of worry. In her late twenties, widowed while pregnant with triplets, she had two failed businesses behind her as she had spent the capital. She had been managing alright for the last six months with the latest venture, selling peanuts, sesame snacks and fruit on the road outside her home.The income is very low but steady so she knows what money she can hope to get each week.

The picture was taken before the ban and she can now no longer sell on the street. We called by to check how she was doing and noticed she had her bucket of goods by the front door of the house. She thinks maybe less people are buying because they don’t walk right past it but she had a lot of regulars and they cross the gully to buy from her still.

The triplets are all doing well but are too young to be left alone and the house in which she rents a room is on a very busy road.

We are continuing to think of other options for her but Flora will need a fair bit more training in managing a business that is slightly bigger and someone to help with the children in order to make a move to a bigger business.

And then we checked on the business ‘tycoons’, the previously featured Mama Joyce and her hair salon and snack business, built up in only 4 months

and Teddy, aunt to toddler Neema, who we set up with a duka (shop) and a small amount of stock 8 months ago, who has expanded her range of goods and also sells clothes on the side.

And next week, we are planning how to do a long overdue visit to baby Mussa’s dad. Apparently the team have been avoiding visiting because you need to cross a stretch of water in a kayak to get to him and neither of them have wanted to because they can’t swim! I’m happy to make the journey but if I go alone, I don’t know enough Kiswahili to understand  Baba Mussa’s plan for a business when I get there! Has all the makings………

This entry was posted on March 26, 2017.

KFC – Tanzanian Style

The Outreach team set off last week to catch up with Bibi Deogratius (grandmother of Deogratius), who used to come to us for formula milk when the death of her daughter left her bringing up 5 grandchildren, including baby Deo. As she lived in such a remote area, we had set her up with some animals to start a  small holding. When I say remote, you drive two hours to the Serengeti, then turn right and keep going for nearly another hour until you come across a little outpost of government built houses (built for workers in a local paint manufacturing plant).

The long drive gave us an opportunity to practice our singing but mainly I gazed out the window at dress shops with, bizarrely, East German shot-putter mannequins…….

and goat markets, with one of the goats on the barbecue at the back! :o( …..

bag shops……

bicycles, getting ready to be loaded up for the next journey…

and many homes with people going about their business.

Shortly after we turned on to the smaller road, we hit a chicken and came to a screeching halt. Hassan jumped out and called out to ask the local children whose chicken it was and to bring him a knife to finish it off as it was still twitching.  Chickens are people’s livelihoods here so you can’t just hit one and drive on. Hassan had to negotiate a price to buy the somewhat thin and mangy looking chicken from its owner. With smiles all round from the family of its owner, the chicken joined me in a plastic bag in the back of the landrover for the rest of the journey, with one foot sticking out unceremoniously.

It didn’t seem to phase our hitchhikers though. We had been  flagged down shortly before that by a well-dressed elderly gentleman and a young man in a Tshirt, on their way to a local council meeting, who had been sheltering from the heat under a tree. If you don’t have transport in these remoter areas, your only options are to walk or wait hopefully for a passing car or lorry to stop.

We reached Bibi Deo’s house

and she was thrilled to see us there and to show us her goats, which had had kids,

her pigs, one of which  had produced 7 piglets a few weeks before

and her chickens and ducks. Hassan took the opportunity to acquire some healthier looking chickens for his dinner!

When I told her my name, she took me by the hand to the grave of her daughter who had died giving birth to Deo and was also called Elizabeth.

It was on her smallholding next to that of one of her sons and her husband who died last year.

With my shaky Kiswahili, and some translation by Anna, I attempted to complete a follow up form with her to see how much life had improved since we’d provided the livestock, a malaria net  and the formula milk. It can be hard to gauge impact when people keep very little note of how things change from one day to the next but for Bibi Deo the health of the whole family had improved as they were all eating better and she could afford to take them to a doctor if they were sick. None of them had had malaria this year; an improvement on the previous year when it was an almost regular occurrence. Although not yet making a huge profit, she was bringing in enough from sales of animals for meat and of vegetables to give them a decent life. The new piglets were going to be her real money spinner ( the previous litter had all been squashed by the mother but she had separated these ones out) so we gave her a small top-up to pay for their vaccinations to keep them healthy.

She was glad now to only occasionally bring Deo in for weighing as he was no longer receiving food support from us.  I asked how she managed to get in to our sessions before.She used to make a fortnightly journey carrying baby Deo that involved a 20 minute walk to the road, waiting for however long it took for a car to come past so she could get a lift to the main road which took 45 minutes, wait again for up to an hour to catch a bus which took 3 hours to get to the main bus station on the outskirts of Mwanza, stay in a guest house (not as genteel as the name suggests!)  overnight and then take another bus for 30 minutes and a 20 minute walk just to get to us for formula milk – and back again the same day. Sometimes, the dedication of people  to do the best for their family  is breathtaking.

Hassan was suffering with a headache so I drove the first bit home over the roughest road I’ve ever encountered.

Despite my cheery singing, I think my slow driving was too much for him and he took over so we would get home before dark and I was relegated to the back of the landrover again, sharing with two live chickens and a dead one.

It was letting out time for schools so we were met with streams of children walking home from school, like  lines of hundreds of refugees fleeing a warzone. It can be a 3 or 4 mile walk for them so children out in these areas don’t usually start school until they are 6 or 7 ie are strong enough to be able to walk that far and most are carrying containers to collect water from a well on their way back home.

We made good time and were greeted by the children at the baby home showing me the useful item they had found in the garden in my absence!

 

 

 

This entry was posted on March 19, 2017. 1 Comment

Down Came the Rain!

The March rains have arrived with a vengeance!

It doesn’t save the last crop, which has died in the field, leaving people starving and desperate in many areas. But it does mean, if it carries on,  that all the new crops will grow and provide some of the food needed in this area.

The heavy rain has brought a few setbacks.

One is that the roads are disintegrating and, if your house is made of mud, it may have trouble withstanding the onslaught.

And two is that, the Landrover’s leaks become very obvious!

 

 

 

This entry was posted on March 19, 2017.

Well, well, well……..

Answer: I think it’s all down to a formula comprising age, experience, additional baggage and gradient…….

 

Question: How many hands do you need to steady your bucket of water on the long walk back from the well?

This entry was posted on March 17, 2017.

Is it Hot in Africa or is it Just Me?

The heat here is suffocating. Even inside you can’t get away from the blast furnace of an African sun. I’m sitting at the computer in the office, with sweat pouring down the backs of my calves and actually dropping from my fringe on to the keyboard. My face is so hot it’s actually steaming up my glasses!

Then Jospehine, the MD comes in to the office, with a shawl wrapped round her, muttering about the cold and I look out the window to see the children running around in jackets and notice the babies are being kept inside in their Oxfam jumpers.

Ah yes, I remember, March is the cold month and its just that I’ve  got menopause!!

This entry was posted on March 5, 2017.

Til Death Us Do Part (CAUTION:CONTENT MAY BE DISTRESSING)

Have been feeling a bit hemmed in by death for the last few days.

I have been planning the memorial service for Katy who you may remember from previous posts.

She was a lively and happy little girl with severe cerebral palsy who had been at the Baby Home since she was approximately one year old. Someone had obviously tried to care for her but there are no resources to support a family in this situation and a disabled child will not be seen as being able to contribute to the welfare of the family and society. She moved to a specialist orphanage just outside Dar es Salaam last May, with her best friend, Martin,

but she became ill and died from organ failure in the winter.

She was at the Baby Home for 7 years and was loved by so many of the staff and volunteers so we wanted to add her to the memorial garden for children who have died. I had requested a cross to be made and chosen her plant which I hoped would bush out in to a colourful blast of blossom.

The next morning, I was walking along the main road in to town towards school for my Kiswahili lesson. Off in a little world of my own, I almost fell over a young man lying on the pavement. He looked too well dressed to be a drunk man and it wasn’t until I came parallel to him that I saw the big pool of impossibly bright red blood coming from his head. I couldn’t work out if he was breathing or not. And, cowardly as it felt, we have been warned not to attempt to help injured people as you become responsible for them, or for their death  if things do not go well. Not ten feet away was a bus stop where a group of people were texting, talking, gazing in to space and paying no attention to the bleeding man near them. This should have alerted me as people will generally gather around someone injured or unwell and attempt, however ineptly, to assist them or at least to stand and stare but I was just amazed and appalled at the lack of care for another human being.  In my slighty panicked pidgin Kiswahili I tried to ask the group as a whole if someone could help the man or call the police  Calling an ambulance is not really a possibility here as it costs so the health insurance situation of the injured needs to be known. Some of them just ignored me but an older woman explained to me that the man was dead so nothing could be done. He had been hit by a motorbike and banged his head on the kerb when he fell. The police would be coming some time to move the body. And that’s it really – as soon as its established that someone is dead, there is no point in dwelling on it. They don’t stare longer than necessary, they don’t gossip about it.  Life just continues on the route it was going.

On the morning of Katy’s memorial, the askaris finished painting her cross white and fixed her photo on. I went to the office to print out a poem for her and was greeted with the news that toddler Malima, who I visited last week at home was dead. He had died at the weekend, probably from malaria. He was a sad little thing, the youngest child of a widow with 9 children who had come in, extremely malnourished in November but had been making slow but steady progress on milk and peanut butter.

They lived in an isolated community a 5 hour journey from us.  As I tried to carry on working, fighting back the tears, Anna, the social worker, arrived to say he was not actually dead! I was overjoyed, but starting to feel a bit wrung out emotionally.  He had had a seizure from the high temperature and they had thought he was dead. They had started to prepare for the funeral and people were arriving to pay respects when he woke up! We laughed at the ludicrousness of the situation but I was also appalled, knowing the speed that they bury people out here (see Feona’s Journey) that Malima might have been buried alive. Apparently it then happened again in the afternoon and Anna had insisted they take him to Sengerema hospital ( see Carry On Doctor), which was an hour or so away and he was admitted to ICU with fever and very bad diarrhoea but started to improve straight away.

The heavens opened for Katy’s memorial so we held it in one of the playrooms at the children’s naptime. Not as beautiful as the garden, but the acoustics are excellent.  Emmanuel, one of the askaris who is also a pastor of a small church, came in on his day off to lead the religious element, the mamas sang beautifully and we all had a small dance to ‘Lets Get Ready to Rumble’, Katy’s favourite! The rains had cleared in time to plant her cross and flower in the garden, with those of the other children that have left us.

And the next day, the Baby That Couldn’t Die, died. Too weak to fight on any more. And I’ve not known anything more humbling and devastating than sitting with a grieving mother as she tenderly washes and oils her dead child and dresses him in newer, smarter clothes than he ever wore in his short life and then places him in a tiny coffin.

No more death now. Not for a while please.

 

 

This entry was posted on March 3, 2017. 2 Comments