Tanzania: part iv

Shelui - Singida - Shelui

friday, 17th august

More children always join us in the morning after their classes, but most often drift away quietly by lunchtime. Today, though, the room was full to bursting with kids thanks to the piles of textbooks we were sorting on the dusty floor.

(I think it's important to point out that the photograph above is in no way posed.)

Despite self-declaring myself "in charge of books" I have entirely failed to think about creating  good library referencing system. This morning, then, I had ten minutes to devise a system, create an example, and get the student involved. It's no Dewey Decimal, but it should be simple, practical, and effective. [...] The kids helped write the labels on strips of post-it notes, different colours for different subjects, and stuck them on the spines with the help of some sellotape.

monday, 20th august

We're moving back to Singida. We're not moving back to Singida. The furniture hasn't been started. The furniture is almost finished at the workshop. The shelves are too small. The shelves will be fixed. The windows will be fixed. The tables will be fixed. Tomorrow tomorrow tomorrow.

This much I know. Almost every book has been stamped and referenced. Moses's murals look fantastic. The curtains really make the room. The end is in sight.

In the afternoon Mr Allan brought in a small child wearing a yellow t-shirt and tattered jeans, and a double loop of white beads around his neck. "This child, his parents live in the desert. They herd cows. They do not know the television, the biscuit, the car. The government want these children to go to school, but the parents do not want them to go. He has asked to come into the library."

I fetched some picture books from the box we have for the primary school. There is a beautiful big copy of Beauty and the Beast with rich colours and illustrations which remind me of The Red Tree. Mr Allan explained that the child spoke a tribal language but had been taught a little kiswahili. We looked through the book together. 'Beef and rice' on the banquet table, Belle wearing a 'kanga', the Beast riding 'a donkey'. The child pointed to the page and said something to Mr Allan. "He recognises the horn," he explained, point to the Beast's head.

Efy and a new friend finding the swahili words in The Lion King

Teachers' children play outside the school accommodation, close to Shelui Secondary

wednesday, 22nd august

We walked home when it was still light. The fridge was re-stocked with cherry and pineapple fantas. There was running water and electricity. As we were eating dinner a man struck up a conversation with me - he was a truck driver from the Congo on the long journey to Dar, and he talked to me about his country but had to see a picture of B before he would believe I was married. [...] Emilie and I will leave tomorrow, and join Jacob in Singida to start the second project. We'll be back here in a week or so, when the furniture is finished, to help Efy finish off.

Life on the roadside: views from our guest house, the night before we move back to Singida

sunday, 26th august

This evening I took my shower while the mosques sang out across the dust. The tendrils of the prayer blew in through the window bars and the air was damp and warm. I watched the ants crawl up the cracks in the wall under the water, their destination lost somewhere in the corner of the ceiling. For ten solitary minutes things were very lovely. Under the songs of the mosque and the water I felt independent, capable, strong, beautiful, happy. Later I took photographs in the room - silly ones of Emilie and I - and just looking through my memory card lifted me like music. (Dad was right in whatever it was he said in his last email. Photographs act as my mental boost? Sugar in my blood: a pick-me-up.) Take me somewhere hot and exotic, where there are good stories to tell. Put me in a headscarf but give me a camera to hold. Let me do it alone. This is what I want.

Our week in Singida town turns in a whirlwind three-day stopover, before Efy calls to tell us the Shelui library furniture is ready.

tuesday, 28th august

When we stumbled our way out into the dust and heat of our truckstop in the desert it felt a little like coming home. The truckers and passengers on the roadside looked at us curiously, but a great wail rose up from the New Beach Hotel as we side-stepped down the steep bank and Munchkin ran at us with an enormous grin.

[...] Efy was sitting on the verandah when we arrived, under the great sign: 'Maktaba - Library'. "Karibuni," he said, grinning, and when I walked through the door I found for the first time what we had built.

There was still work to do. While I began to fill the last of the fiction shelves the others cleaned the windows, rearranged textbooks, swept the floor, and nailed our posters to the walls (Shelui dust destroys sellotape!) We were a frenzy of activity.

We'll come back next week for the Opening Ceremony, but as it was we could hardly afford to spend any more time in Shelui with the other project running behind. It was decided that we'd travel home tonight, so now we were in a race against the sun.

[...] We stood on the roadside. The sunflower oil kids had mostly scattered home, and the men still there were waiting for lorries to be fixed or chipsi mayaai to be made. The flurry of buses which had passed us twenty minutes before were gone. There were no spots on the road, far in the distance. Nothing came. We waited. It grew darker.

Eventually a smudge appeared near the road's vanishing point. Although it was still miles away we all stood up together. "We have to get it to stop," Efy said. [...] As it drew nearer the boys stepped out into the road, waving their arms, and I clutched Linden's bag tight. It was a pick-up truck, and it pulled over. Noise and confusion. Singida, ndyo ndyo, elfu tano! Then Jacob was throwing his bag into the back, and Efy was passing up my rucksack, and Emilie was climbing up onto the wheel and aboard. Wildheart, wildheart, I thought, and looked for the foreign stars covered by the cloud, and pulled myself over the side.

[...] As the truck pulled away we waved to the crowd, who laughed at the sight of four young mzungus with their worldly belongings heading into the unknown on some bags of rice. "This'll be a story for the grandkids!" Jacob said, but I was ahead of him, with Linden around my neck. Haven't I imagined, romantically, myself in distant, dangerous places, revealing the unrevealed? I've tutted, pompously, as the "lack of photographs" from Syria and South Sudan. "You're not going to Gaza!" my parents have exclaimed over the dinner table. That woman is a fantasy, rightfully questioned over the course of my Tanzanian journey, but somehow I had found myself in a situation where I had no choice but to try on her skin, or let the fear take over. This is a story, I told myself as the truck roared, the wind hard against my back. With my camera to protect me, I was simply living out photographs. I closed one eye to block out the real world and put the other up to a reflected image-reality. A medium between the two existences, nothing could touch me.