Greetings once again, may-be-faithful followers!
This marks the end of our third week here in Bunju A, Tanzania, and quite a week it has been! This most recent entry in our travel diary of the 21st century (i.e., “blog”, which really does not quite have the same romantic connotations...) is here written once more by Eileen- the tallest white woman (maybe person, period) in Bunju A. This update comes to you from a land of perpetual summer, sublime sunsets, ocean breezes, and immense poverty.
Currently (well, relatively speaking- lets be honest, currently I’m in a sticky internet cafe. I am transcribing this), I am sitting in the sandy “backyard” of our host family, the Kahatanos. Its a pretty typical afternoon- Kristina and I walked home just a bit ago to a delicious lunch of chips, beans, cabbage, ugali and mango juice after a long day at school. I have been serving as Teacher On Duty this week, which means, in the simplest terms, that I spend the majority of my time hollering at students and being exasperated with the teachers. The duty of the Teacher On Duty is simply this: do everything, expect no help. However, I have fortunately been able to solicit the help of our discipline master, well-seasoned math teacher, and my favorite discussion partner, Peter. Also, I have met with the prefects and laid additional duties on their shoulders in the hopes that they will join me in my quest for order rather than using their status as an excuse to go get tea and hide in the toilets. (If you’re curious about how a Head Boy/Girl and Prefect system works, consult the nearest Harry Potter volume. Its like that, except minus magic and plus 100 degrees) Of course, there are some prefects, like Jamilla, Ayoub, Henry, Denis and Baby who are very helpful and responsible and deserve recognition, which I happily give, as they take over some shouting for me whilst I take a break to pant in the shade.
Teacher On Duty duties aside, let me first regale you with the exciting events of the past week:
Last Thursday and Friday saw further completion of the cement water tank. This tank is immense, and by Babu’s calculations will hold about 35,000 L of water. Also Fabian (our resident carpenter) began installing gutters on one of the girls’ dormitory buildings. We will today (Thursday, 10 March) receive from Dar es Salaam two 3,000 L plastic tanks which will collect the rainwater from this building. Once we get gutters installed on the boys’ dorm, we will place the other tank over there.
Saturday was a very exciting and gut-wrenching day. Our dear friend Eve, who is a close friend of mine, as well as Babu’s daughter-in-law (his son Billo’s wife), finally went into labor on Saturday morning. I became immediately excited, asking when we would go to the hospital to see the baby. Babu said probably by the afternoon, and we would go into town around 4 pm or so. However, about an hour later, Babu received news that Eve was weakening and would have to have a C-section. Normally, in the United States, this is an issue, but not altogether uncommon. Yet in a developing nation with only about three ultrasound machines in the entire country, surgeries like this can be dangerous. Babu was concerned, and told us that in Eve’s weakened state, and since the C-section was not planned, she had about a 50% survival rate.
There was a grim silence in the car as Babu, myself, Kristina, Babu’s sister and our faithful chauffeur Albert trudged into the city. As usual the exhaust was suffocating, and my hands were clenched tightly throughout the entire journey. En route to the hospital, Babu received a call from Billo saying that the baby had come out fine, and Babu now had a grandson. We all cheered and clapped, but descended into silence once more, as Eve’s condition was still questionable.
Upon arriving at the hospital, we immediately saw Ana (Eve’s sister) and her son Father (at some point, we will fill you in on the story of Father, the young boy who so effortlessly steals the hearts of volunteers, and whom we are trying to sponsor so he can attend a proper school. He is alarmingly intelligent for an 8-year-old). I immediately swept Father into my arms and clutched him until we were able to sit in a waiting room with Billo and wait for Eve to get out of the operating theater. Father dozed on my lap, and eventually Eve was wheeled out into the hallway. We all jumped to our feet immediately and followed as she was pushed into the maternity ward. From what I could see, she looked pale and was rolling her head around in pain and confusion. The doors swung shut behind her and Billo, and the rest of our group (we had now been joined by Charles, Eve’s brother, and James, one of the boys from our house) shuffled around until Billo returned. He asked us to come back tomorrow and we could visit then.
The next day, after being guilted into attending church, we returned home for lunch and prepared to go back to the hospital. Babu’s brother, Baba Polisi (he is a police chief in Dar and so we all just call him Baba Polisi, which basically means “Police Dad”), as well as May and her two children, Andinda and Atu, had come out to visit for the day. After some discussion and visiting, we packed up the Jeep once more to make the trip into town. This time, we were joined by Baba Polisi and May. Kristina and I sat in the trunk of the Jeep, bouncing atop the metal wheel wells all the way into town.
Once we arrived back at the hospital, we were immediately led into Eve’s room. This time, she was sitting up, talking, and had all of her color back. Beside her bed, my new nephew was swaying in a metal crib, asleep under his tiny mosquito net. May, stout and sure as ever, went without delay, and with one pudgy paw extracted the infant and held him like a melon on her forearm, still laughing and talking all the while. As we all inspected the baby, May began poking and prodding his pale face, commanding him to wake up. Of course he disobeyed, because as we all know, infants are ignorant and do not take direction well, and after a few moments, she passed him off to me.
I held him for a few moments, inspected his fingers and toes (they all seemed to be present and intact), and told Eve he was very white and not very useful yet. Baba Polisi, Babu, Albert and Charles had all retreated outside to the terrace, and only Billo moved in and out of the crowded hospital room. Mama (Babu’s sister, who I usually just call “Mama”) had made a bowl of soup appear out of nowhere and was monitoring Eve’s consumption of it (the soup, not the bowl). After passing my nephew off to Kristina, Billo and I joked about my disappointment that the infant looked so much like him.
After some time, Babu got tired of standing around and suggested we go. This, however, was not before he discussed the perils of changing a baby boy’s diaper, using elaborate gestures and sound effects. The effect was altogether hilarious, considering how well he feigned ignorance on the subject of infant care...
One interesting item which I must remark upon, for you, dear Midwestern audience, is the relative nonexistence of postpartum depression among new mothers here. Kristina and I, both students of Women’s and Gender Studies at WSU, began discussing the topic while milling about the hospital on Sunday. Tanzanian culture is very family- and community-based. If someone is sick, elderly, pregnant, hurt, mourning, or otherwise disabled, it is very uncommon for them to be left alone and uncared for. This goes for both poor and wealthy families. For example, Mama has been staying in Bunju since before Bibi (my adoptive grandmother and Babu’s wife) died in August. She came from her native village of Bukoba during Bibi’s illness to help see after the house and Babu, and has been in Bunju since. Now, with this new baby, and with me back to help, she will be staying in Makumbusho with Eve and Billo during the first weeks/months of the baby’s life. Eve will never be left alone to care for the infant, and will always have counsel if she is uncertain about some aspect of caring for her new son. Thus, she has help available and relief if she needs it. In this way, postpartum, and in fact depression in general is almost unheard-of in Tanzania.
On Monday after school we went back to Makumbusho again, and this time Eve had been discharged from the hospital, and Mama was all packed up and ready to go take care of the new parents and child. Once we arrived at Eve and Billo’s, we all had sodas to celebrate and Kristina and I got to watch Mama give the baby his first bath. Conveniently, the sporadic electricity chose to go out at this moment, so the bath was completed under the garish light of a fluorescent torch and cell phone screens. However, it was a delightful experience nonetheless.
Since then, I have been stomping around the school grounds, commanding students to wear their uniforms properly and get to class on time. I had a meeting with the prefects, and gave them the task of deciding how to deal with students who do not clean the school environment properly and who come to school late. I’m hoping that being given some decision making power will inspire them to fulfill their duties a little better.
We are still having some issues with teachers coming late to school, or not coming at all, but this is nothing new. Our school is struggling (still) financially, and without proper support we cannot hire highly trained teachers on the salary that we offer; nor can we really threaten the tardy teachers, as it is better to have a teacher who is here some of the time, than no teacher at all. This is one of our goals as an organization: to help get Fanaka into a position where it can hire well-qualified teachers, and with that, many of the discipline and cleanliness problems will be solved in time.
Please don’t forget to check out our website and get more information about our partner schools! There is so much to tell and so little time in which to tell it, I fear I will not give new readers the whole story. Our website is www.tzeducationproject.org, and if you visit it you can get some insight into our mission, history, and how you can help. See you next week!