Dar - Singida - Shelui
wednesday, 1st august
There was light on the horizon as we arrived at the bus station. [...] I fell asleep soon after we had set off, and when I awoke the palm trees of Dar had petered out, replaced by sparse scrubland, and we were following a long, straight road like the one I remembered on the journey to Mozambique.
When we pulled into new towns vendors lined up against the bus, knocking on our windows with their wares: cakes, crisps, bottled sodas, water, sandals, baskets, bread, cloth. [...] The scrubland returned, and for hour after hour we passed through small, nondescript villages with coca-cola store signs and women sitting by the side of the road next to brightly coloured buckets filled with fruit. Every riverbed we passed over was reduced to a trickle or dried up completely. [...] A man on the roadside in the middle of nowhere held up a blue parakeet in a bamboo cage as we passed, and I wondered how he had found it and how much he was selling it for, and who would buy a blue parakeet on the road from Dar to Singida?
We'd been racing the sun, and although we'd been travelling for ten and a half hours there was still light as we stepped down from the bus. Taxi drivers crowded around: "Sister, let me help you, let me carry that!" My bag appeared from the hold, with both walking boots still attached, and we latched onto a man who said he'd take us to our recommended guest house for 4000Tsh. [...] When we found our rooms I took in only the western-style toilet, the shower head and the bucket, and the mosquito net riddled with holes. While the others went to find dinner I stayed behind to patch mine with duct tape, still unable to eat, and fell into bed with the intention of writing, but fell asleep instead.
thursday, 2nd august
Awoke to the loudspeakers of the mosque announcing morning prayers. The imam's voice here is much sweeter than in Dar, and I slept again to guttural waves of "Allahu Akbar". In the morning proper we put on our READ shirts and caught a taxi up to the Regional Education Offices to meet with our Regional Education Officer, a large man with a big handshake and warm smile. [...] We were eager to find out the name of our schools in the town and whether we could visit them soon, as READ's Head Office hadn't been able to tell us anything about them. "These are the names," we were told, "You can choose which one to work at first. This one is 90 kilometres from Singida, and this one is 150 kilometres away."
500 000 Tsh (or about £200.)
We find another school in the town eligible for the second READ project, and Head Office give the green light to travel to the village of Shelui, 90 kilometres away, to start the first renovation. The boys travel on ahead while Emilie and I sort things with the second schools, and find that Shelui lacks, among other resources, an ATM. Emilie and I travel with this stashed in our suitcases.
tuesday, 7th august
"Welcome to the truck-stop in the desert!" Jacob greeted us on the roadside. We all headed straight out to visit the school the boys have been working on for the last couple of days. Ten minutes down the dusty highway and through a spiky thicket was Shelui Secondary School, and a lone classroom scarred by thick cracks in its walls and floor. Efy introduced us proudly: "Welcome to the library!"
The fundis have already torn down the cracked plaster on two walls and brought a mountain of sand for cementing, and this morning the boys kept busy by taking out all the glass window slats to clean. Children had gathered, too young to be students here but interested nonetheless in what the mzungus were up to. They already knew Jacob's name: "Mister Jah-cob! Mister Jah-cob!"
While the boys took down the rest of the windows, Emilie and I fetched buckets and sponges and got to work cleaning off the dust and grime so they would open and close properly. The children watched, hesitantly at first, and then came closer, and whistled with us and ran past shrieking as we flicked them with our sponges.
The sun sets straight behind our library and you can watch it through the glassless windows. Tonight it burned a pinkish-red over the dry scrubland and threw light the same colour into the room and onto the children. We walked home in the twilight, past the kids sitting by their small wooden tables laden with bottles of sunflower oil, and Jacob called "Mambo!" to every one of them, and the three women walking also laughed and laughed at us, and the kids exclaimed in rapid kiswahili which we threw our hands up at and shouted "POA!", and we waved at the truck drivers as they waved back, on the long, straight road from Dar to the DRC.
wednesday, 8th august
There were more children here today - pupils from the school. The fundis were already hard at work, and we were told the kids had come to help fill the water tanks to make the cement. [...] The composition of the bikes around the large tree in the courtyard drew me, but the children around the water tap found my interest amusing. Their laughter gave me the opportunity, a karibu, to introduce my camera to them. After a few obligatory formal portraits (quickly deleted) they relaxed enough for me to take some of them talking and working.
In the evening I tried out our shower which, in the heat of Shelui, was refreshingly cool. As I was getting dry a song blew through the grate over our window, and suddenly I was on the X1 bus on my way to work in the city, early in the morning, thinking about Africa. It was 'Remember Me', by Lucky Dube, the exact recording on my iPod from my parent's CD. (Mum's, probably. Her student issue wasn't fee hikes or education cuts, but the apartheid movement.) It was a strange clash of civilisations; a moment which had me wondering whether to laugh or cry. My bus journey daydreams are nothing like the reality I face, but I suppose it reminded me that I can make this reality more like those daydreams, because I am here now.
[...] In the evening Lindsey and Jacob were due to arrive from Singida, and while we waited Emilie introduced me to the owners of our guest house, and their children. [...] I played with their two little girls, perhaps three and eight, for a long time. All the games I tried in Mlindazwe came flooding back and their giggles were infectious, but the best game was pressing Linden's shutter button over and over again. And tickles. Tickles are always a winner.
Little Munchkin, the sweetest thing in the whole wide world
thursday, 9th august
Work started in earnest. Not a lot we could help with, despite most of the village already addressing us as the "mzungu fundis".
[...] When we returned a group of students had gathered in one of the classroom, so with a little lot of translation help from teachers and some blackboard drawings we explained to them who we were and what we are doing in their school. [...] The best icebreaker we knew, and one which crossed the dreaded language barrier, was a kickabout.
After a little while we found an empty classroom and a new activity. Under the chalked heading 'When I leave school I want to be...' the children wrote their names and finished the sentence. 'A soldier', 'a teacher', 'a nurse'. Hamisa wrote, bold and strong, 'A doctor'. I took a portrait of her next to her sentence, and then she wanted to take one of me with mine. I put Linden around her neck and showed her the eye piece and the shutter, and her picture shows me grinning awkwardly in front of the blackboard: 'Rosa Furneaux, I want to be a photographer.'
I do. I so, so do. I can do this. I can do this better than creating building plans like Ephy, better than calculating budgets like Emilie, better than turning strangers into friends like Jacob. While the others explained to the children that they could help us choose things for the library I found moments no one else noticed. Linden and I were there as the students drew out their plans and poured over pictures from past READ libraries, picking out the things they wanted. I caught the instant when the shy girl told Ephy what colour she wanted the walls. And perhaps these moments aren't gold dust for READ (and perhaps they won't pay me for them), but I am learning a skill which I want to use in places like this, because I think it could help. I think it is how I could best help.