I leave the people I love at Heathrow's security gate.
Despite what myths, legends, and Hollywood imply, courage us not something only heroes are born with. No one comes into life with this innate, elusive quality which gives them the ability to rise to challenge. Courage gets earned. Hard work and teeth-gritting and biting back tears and saying yes. There's been a bit of all of that today.
I looked at my sore feet, still swollen from the hundreds of angry red sandfly bites, and wondered how, if I can't even look after my feet - those limbs which carry me from place to place, and which will carry me home again in September - how am I going to look after myself in Singida?
[On our last day in Dar we travel out of the city, across the water, to visit a very special place.]
Bajaji rides to the Kigamboni Ferry Terminal
Our driver got fed up in the middle, and pulled over to swap passengers with his friend. [...] We met the Dar group and the RPCs at the terminal and paid our 200 Tsh for our ticket. A flood of cars and people rushed around the corner as the ferry moored, and soon we were let out of the waiting cage to walk down the ramp and find a spot onboard.
Upstairs I watched the calm sea and the Dar skyline to our left, the throng of passengers and automobiles to our right.
On the other side we hopped in bajajis, and before long we had pulled up at the Kigamboni Community Centre. A clutch of buildings surrounded a courtyard with bright mosaics painted on the walls, and the small children hid behind the older ones as we were shown around.
The centre is run as an after-school club. It provides a nursery and primary education, even for school drop-outs and street kids, and runs a "Chatterbox" English club for all ages to improve their language skills. The children are encouraged to try skills and sports like handicraft, dance, acrobatics, and music, and many are taught vocational skills like woodwork and bajaji driving to help them earn an income. Naz showed us the centre's "mobile library" stocked with books from READ, which the KCC regularly take out into the community so more people can access them.
A girl who looked to be about my age or a little older beckoned me to take a seat next to her. "I would like to practice my English," she said, "What is your name?" Rosa, I told her, and wrote it on a scrap of paper. When I couldn't pronounce hers properly she wrote it in the sand with her finger. She was just 15, with three brothers (who went to school) and three sisters (who didn't.) She came to the KCC to learn English. I said I wanted to see the drama group and the traditional dancing, so she took me to the courtyard and encouraged me to try everything. "Do you dance in England?" she asked asked, so I told her about ballet and she laughed in delight at my pirouette. "Do you preach?" she said, and I tentatively suggested that we leave that up to our church leaders. She wore a headscarf and I said that although I wasn't Muslim we were taught about Islam in school, which she found surprising.
As the light began to dim our band of tuk-tuks arrived to take us home. I asked if I could take a picture of her, as I'd brought Acer with me, and she sat in the shade, backlit and dusty, and if no other photographs from that roll come out right I won't care as long as that one is close to the image in my head.
As we sat in the tuk-tuks ready to leave she rushed up and passed me a scrap of paper. On it she had written her name, Swaumu. "Do not forget me," she said, and I promised I wouldn't.
The tuk-tuks planned to take us all the way back to CEFA, and from ours I photographed the swathe of people who descended from the ferry at the crossing point, and the Dar skyline from across the water. On the ferry boys with baskets of snacks held them up to us, eager to sell. Our driver had a keychain with a photo of Barack Obama. "He is good, yes?" he asked. I agreed.
On the other side we sped off into the night in a sea of headlamps. Our driver knew a backroute to the main road, and when we rounded corners I stuck my head around the side to look back at the line of tuk-tuks snaking behind us. We hit rush-hour traffic and lost them for a little while as each driver carved his own path through the chaos. The RPCs appeared alongside us at one point, shouting at Jacob to put his limbs back inside our vehicle, but as the fourth passenger sharing the single front seat there wasn't much more he could do but hang on (and reach over the driver occasionally to beep the horn.)
After a little while it emerged that our rafiki had no clue where CEFA was, but he remembered the US embassy I knew we had passed before, and after some guesswork we were on the Mikocheni road where traffic - in our direction at least - was at a standstill. The magic thing about these situations is that, for tuk-tuks, a middle lane appears between the traffic, which can be taken advantage of in short bursts of terrifying speed. During one particularly hairy moment Mother decided to call me, and it was difficult to try and explain calmly that I was on my way home and could I call her back?
[We travel to Singida province, in the middle of the country. Plans change, and we move from the town to a small village over the hills, called Shelui.]
Dust storms on the way to Shelui
We bought tickets for the right bus with the help of a friendly man, who told us, "Your brother Jacob said his sisters have been coming! I have been waiting for you." The bus was an old-style coach with seats split into twos and threes, passengers packed like hens in a cage. [...] Two hours into a journey we'd expected to take an hour and a half, Emilie asked our conductor in broken Swahili how far we were from Shelui. It turned out we had missed the stop. At the next village we were quickly bundled into a very full daladala along with our worldly belongings. [...] We were taken to Shelui. I even recognised the village as one we'd passed on the bus earlier. The boys came out to meet us in front of our guest house: 'Welcome to the truck stop in the desert!" From our bedroom I can hear heavy vehicles thundering by on the impossibly straight road which runs through the savannah wasteland from Dodoma to the DRC, but out here our books will be going to children who really have been forgotten by everyone else.
The New Beach Hotel: our little oasis in the desert
I unpacked all my bags this morning and put their contents in our wardrobe and on our table and in our little bathroom, in neat piles. It is good to have found a home.
[...] I went to find the others on the road. There was a bus waiting at the daladala stand and I spotted someone I thought might be Jacob - ashamedly, only because of their fair skin. When I reached it, though, it was a girl surrounded by schoolchildren. I apologised, explained that I was looking for my friend, and when she asked what I was doing here I told her we were making a library at the school. "In Shelui?" she gasped, in an accent which was continental, European,"Here?" I shrugged and smiled, told her a little bit about READ, and when the daladala left I thought about how the girl had met a version of me that I admired. Enthusiastic about our work here, nonchalant about the conditions, hands pocketed in my shorts, alone and at ease. I like that version. She should hang around.
Breakfast in Shelui: here
Dinner here is beef and rice, and sodas in glass bottles. (My teeth will rot.) I am losing weight, but it is an Aida-complaint, easily pushed to the back of my priorities out here. [...] But, like I said, my little journals grow fat.
Grocery shopping: sweet bread, onions, bananas, glucose biscuits
Buying pineapples on the road
Sometimes Munchkin appears, giggling, and we play games with big facial expressions. Yesterday she made a ball out of a passion fruit. There are none in the market, deeper into the village; this is the perk of living by the side of a busy transport route. [...] The fruit I crave appears sporadically on rickety wooden carts - bananas and green oranges, mostly, but sometimes pineapples too. A few days ago children all over the village tried to sell us mangoes by the dozen. A lorry had overturned on the road heading east: easy pickings for young entrepreneurs.
The road home, ascending the hills en route to Dar
Lindsey sleeps. My temperature is still climbing.
It was a very different experience to visiting the hospital in Singida, but I guess I am back in the capital.[...] I go through the long bureaucratic process again (although at least this time it is in a language I understand.) After almost five hours I’m told I have dysentery, and leave with antibiotics and exceptionally foul-tasting rehydration sachets.
I spend the next couple of days under my mosquito net, reading novels cover to cover and thinking about the photographs I’m not taking. Once, when Lindsey is away, I hear angry chanting from somewhere below, and when I venture out the cleaning staff explain there is “a riot” going on in the street. Under my mosquito net again I hear a noise I recognise but can’t place, that puts the hairs on the back of my neck up; when I look across my balcony there is a man lying on the roof next door with a machine gun, loading and unloading the clip. I close the door, stay under my mosquito net, and when I can’t stand it any longer I take Acer out onto the balcony and take cover behind a screen, and shoot for myself.
[I return to England with fragments of a whole which I worry make little sense; this entry feels stuttered and inelegant. But there is a little more to come.]
In the evening we walked to the school again to meet a fundi to build us tables. As the sun sat the dust rose up into the sky, and the children called out "mzungu!" for smiles and waves. Stalls along the roadside played radios, tuned to the same channel, and when I got over the shock of hearing it - of really hearing it, here - and began walking again it followed me from stall to stall up the road. Zahara sang the way she had through my headphones during dark Canterbury walks and on long, snow-covered train journeys, a song which conjures for me always a future filled with photographs, distant places, and a moral purpose. It's the album I bought after I'd just been commissioned by READ for this trip. Safe in my tiny Ellenden room I would lie on my bed and look at my map of the world and imagine a wildheart future: a righteous path.
So much of that seems to have been swept up in the dust around the skirts of the women in the desert. At least, I have come to question the feasibility of it. I am not on a snowy train to Cambridge any more: I am under an African sun. But hearing that song here in the heat of the evening brought that rush of hope and expectation and confidence over the sea and the desert and the jungle to where I stood in Singida Town - camera, indeed, in hand.
"Some people live their dreams", Zahara sang across the road to me, "Some let destiny pass them by | Tell me the reason why nothing ever stays the same. | Everything may be rushing on me | And everything may be too slow on me | But I'll be here holding it down | I know where I am going | I know where I am going."