Happy Sunday to my faithful followers.
Today I shall reflect on my first seven months of life in Moshi, IE: my time at the Amani Centre for Street Children. Those seven months have passed with my living and working in a pretty cosseted environment and I fully appreciate that I have been protected from a lot of the cruder aspects of life in a developing country which is in the grips of abject poverty.
As always, with no taskmaster at my heels nagging about word count, plot, point of view or theme, I shall ramble through my thoughts as is my wont. There’s an old-fashioned expression for the etymologists among you.
I live in a comparatively luxurious and highly westernised home tucked away in a smart, well protected compound of three houses with a 24 hour watch man, guard dogs and Security Company cover complete with panic button. This I will not relinquish, my Father taught me to never look a gift horse in the mouth, and whatever that may mean I am staying put!
For those first seven months I left my safe and secure home and walked the 35 minute route to Amani. I passed tiny breeze block built open structures that serve as shops cum restaurants cum bakery cum homes. Cooking outside is the norm, indoor kitchens have not caught on yet despite the heavy rains. Small gas-fired burners similar to those you may take on a camping trip or a good old-fashioned fire are the favoured modes of cooking. I would pass starkly different homes, some simple wooden frames with a corrugated iron roof and other fairly solid-looking breeze block structures, most in obvious disrepair. These would nestle comfortably alongside the elaborate gates and high walls of the oftentimes quite magnificent palaces tucked away in their private compounds.
All of this shares the same dirt track that serves as a road and has potholes the length and breadth of miniature Grand Canyons, this same road can literally change structure and formation overnight in the heavy rains. The rain can and does literally change the course of the road and would often render sections almost impassable. The locals from all the various standards of homes, from shack through to palace, all club together with their shirts off and clear away the rubble, the rocks and the mud to recreate some semblance of a highway passable for the footfall (children lucky enough to attend school regularly walk for upwards of an hour each way), bicycle traffic (often with six-foot steel girders perched alongside the wily rider), boda boda’s – motorcycle taxi’s I have mentioned before, dala dala’s – 16 seater minibus which are the local transportation method and regularly cram upwards of 25 people within their non tardis-like interiors and the occasional private car.
This was my daily route and at the end of my extremely pleasant walk I would arrive at the Amani Centre which is, again, a secure and comparatively luxurious compound. By luxurious I mean the hard work and effort of twelve years of voluntary donation and funding has created a home for street children where classes are small, each child has study books, each child has a desk and each child has his or her own bed and three good meals a day (Mama Mary I miss those dinners!).
I would return home of an evening and settle in to my wifi driven evening without any real hardship at all, unless you count my constant yearning to soak and relax in a bath a hardship. When the electricity goes off the solar is there to protect me, I am not roughing it. So my working week was pretty much protected, OK the stories and past lives of the children I worked with will and do bring tears to my eyes but I was not exposed to living or working in those circumstances.
Amani is staffed almost entirely by local Tanzanians and a few Kenyans, there are two Westerners on the payroll. Here I started to appreciate the massive cultural differences that separated me from my colleagues. So much of what I would take for granted in a normal working day is completely new and revolutionary to them. But again, I would add that these are some of the more fortunate, educated Tanzanians that have secured working roles within a stable environment with a regular salary and access to budgets for improvement within the workplace. More importantly a lot of these people are following their chosen career, the Teachers chose to teach and the Social Workers studied to work in this field. Balance this against the House Girl that worked for my Landlady who did the cooking, cleaning and washing for the entire three bedroomed household seven days a week and came to the post grateful for the job and with her university degree certificate under her arm.
Unfortunately whilst education is the key, nothing will deter me from that viewpoint but its expansion within the country has a negative side re not enough jobs to go round. Correction in the field of Education for example there are more than enough pupils in the schools to occupy the trained teachers but there is not the space, IE: classrooms, nor monies to provide more schools and pay the Teachers. Incidentally state school classes here have an average of 54 students with 70 not uncommon. One text-book per twelve or thirteen students is considered good; one per class is not uncommon.
My weekend experiences have been the hubbub and jostling of Moshi town centre, dala dala rides and exploring the markets. Evidence of the issues are everywhere, street beggars missing limbs or with small children are on every corner and women walk the streets with their wares in huge baskets perched on their heads. Bananas, household utensils, vegetables, you name it they carry it up there. Often you will see ladies with a single shoe or trainer on their head, this is so that you know what range of goods they have to sell. Just yesterday whilst in town we witnessed the screaming rubber of an emergency stop that would do Miami Vice proud and watched the street sellers (mainly women in this instance) flee to the side streets leaving their treasured wares behind. These were then unceremoniously collected by the police and taken. One would assume the street vendors considered losing their livelihood’s ware a small price compared to being actually being caught peddling without a licence or whatever transgression they had committed. It makes me wonder …
Life here is colourful to say the least. I have never had issue with the street sales guys that constantly harass mzungu’s (white foreigners) tagging alongside and offering chit-chat and friendly advice in the hope that you will purchase one of their handmade bracelets or banana skin art or come and visit their “workshop”. Fifteen years on the Costa del Sol with “looky looky” men touting bongos, watches, silly head-gear and the like have prepared me for such encounters and I find the street guys entertaining, friendly and a great way to practice my Kiswahili. If you are polite in your refusal of their wares they are fine. Respect is not a lost or old-fashioned concept here, rather it is the norm. Poor they may be, but respectful they are too and I like that.
That my friends, is a brief walk through my impressions of living life in Moshi to date, I have now chosen to shake my life up a little and have stepped outside of what had become my comfort zone. The differences are stark and I shall share them with you as the weeks pass by but today I share my cosseted first seven months with affection, laughter and fond memories.
Be happy, healthy and thankful, my friends. Xxx