John and Babs in Tanzania

Page 3

(Started 15/12/06, eventually completed 24/12/06)

The best-laid plans ......!

It’s several weeks since we hoped to write more regular, and shorter, updates. But a more reliable internet connection was wishful thinking. Added to that, we have both been very busy at school, particularly as the end of term approached, and, as previously described, everything in Tanzania takes ages to do!


After John’s initial baptism of fire, his workload with the other schools has become much less – mainly thinking about planning. There are lots of ideas, but putting them into practice will involve considerable amounts of time and effort – and, probably, frustration. And we came here for a change!

The school year ended on 1st December, and the last 2 weeks of term was school exams, marking and reports. We have both been involved in invigilating exams. These lasted for a week, from Saturday to Saturday, and just as boring as invigilating in England. The girls continue to surprise us in their ability to work so hard, and for so long. Most of the exams were 3 hours, with none less than 2 hours, even for Form I; there were 2 exams a day, starting at 8am and 2pm. They rarely started on time, because of the corrections that had to be read out and understood by the girls, in one case, taking 20 minutes!


Babs was thrown in at the deep end with marking Nutrition and Textiles. She insisted on a marking scheme but the task was quite difficult, trying to decipher some of the explanations. She set about the marking with her usual determination and completed her allocation on time. The marked papers were then returned to the students, who are allowed to consult the teacher if they did not agree with the marking! So, about 20 students descended on Babs, trying to make her give them more marks; some were adamant, and thrust their papers under her nose. It is, however, very difficult to say to a student that a sentence just does not make any sense, especially when it is their second language.

The next major crisis occurred when all the term marks and exam results had to be put onto the computer database which could then be used to generate the reports. This was a minefield, because it didn’t work, and John ended up trying to sort out as many of the problems as he could in the time available; eventually, it all seemed to make sense. The only working printer in the school, which is only supposed to print on one side, was then put into overdrive to produce all 211 of the two-sided reports. We finished putting them into the envelopes at about 11.45pm on the Thursday evening, and the girls left with them at 6am the following morning.


After the exams, there were no lessons but the girls were kept very busy indeed, emptying dormitories, cleaning and gardening, when it didn’t rain, which included planting over 2,000 pine trees! We think they will be glad to get home for a rest.

Hekima Girls Secondary School
Staff in December 2006

End of term on that Friday morning was without 5 of the Sisters, who were at Retreat. For the rest of us, there was a 2 hour staff meeting, followed by Departmental discussions and a staff lunch in the canteen, a very enjoyable meal of a somewhat higher standard than the normal daily lunches and followed by free beer! At the staff meeting, Sister Esther informed everyone who would be the new Heads of Department and Form teachers, there was some discussion about the exams and the arrangements for the start of the new school year in January were outlined. Most of the staff have left the school for the holiday, but the Sisters are still here, and so are we, so there is some activity going on. A few of the staff are returning for 27th December, when there is the entrance exam; this is for a few Form I girls who didn’t sit the previous exam in September and for those wanting to join the school in Form II. They sit the exam, it is marked and results are given all on the same day!


Nest week, we will be at the VSO Conference at Dar es Salaam. After that, we will traveling across to Zanzibar, with a few other volunteers, for Christmas. We have hired bandas on the beach; these are thatched huts with just a bed and mosquito net. There is no self-catering and showers etc are communal, but we are hopeful of a peaceful and relaxing break.

The next term starts with a staff meeting on Saturday 6th January and then Form I start on 8th January, although some may not arrive for a day or two. They have an intensive English induction for the first few weeks, before starting all their subject classes in English; most of them will have been taught all their lessons in Swahili. The rest of the girls return on 22nd January so things will be quite hectic after that.

Hekima School
In the rain

The weather here greatly improved for a few days and we had no rain at all for 3 days, so we guessed (wrongly, as it turns out) that the short rainy season is over. We have been told that the long rains (alas) begin in March, so we must try to buy ‘rain boots’ (ie wellingtons) before they all sell out. Overall, apart from the rain, we think weather here is ideal. The days are not too hot (yet) and very comfortable. The nights are cool, however, and we have a blanket on the bed! But at least we are able to sleep.

Our Hekima home
The back garden

We are gradually making our house into our own home, including hanging some pictures and adding a few African nick-nacks. Extra hooks have been added wherever necessary and we also now have a toilet seat! Babs’ sister, Sas, has posted us a fibroptic Christmas tree, complete with batteries, and a jolly Santa figure, which now feature in the living room.

Kaiser and his Mum, Adela
Our near neighbours

Our hotel, Bukoba

Exotic plant, Bukoba

Another exotic plant

Campsite, beach & Lake Victoria

The end of term was complicated by the fact that our visas ran out at the end of November. VSO had known about this since we arrived, but, nevertheless, we got an urgent text from them to attend an appointment at the Immigration Office on the Monday at 10am. It was John’s birthday on the Saturday, so we decided to spend the weekend in Bukoba and stayed in a hotel which is quite central so that we could easily get about. It was lovely, and even had a warm shower, but it was also nice to get back home again. On the Sunday evening, we joined Bart and Wayne, two of the other VSO volunteers, at the town’s campsite which they had helped to build on the shores of Lake Victoria. They have recently made a pizza oven, and trained a local chef, so we all had pizza and beer on the beach around a log fire as the sun set; it was brilliant! We still have to pinch ourselves sometimes to remind us where we are and what we are doing!

Bukoba campsite
Babs & Bart

Bukoba campsite
Wayne playing volleyball

The next morning, we arrived early at the Immigration Office, had a brief interview with the Regional Immigration Officer and were given a single copy of the form to be completed; we had to take it to the shop next door and pay for two photocopies. We returned with them, duly filled them in and, after yet another long wait, our visas were extended for a further 2 months, which should last until our work permits arrive. The next stop was the Post Office where we arranged to rent our own PO box, and this was a comparatively painless process.


We had been told that we could not open a bank account until we get work permits, but we decided to check for ourselves. The Bank was heaving with people and there were no queues, but we managed to speak to someone who told us that, if we got a letter of introduction from Sister Esther, we would be able to open an account. On our next trip to Bukoba, we took in the letter, but were then given 2 forms each, to be completed by existing customers of the Bank. On our most recent trip to town, the Bank was closed! We can’t help comparing our experience here with Banks in the UK competing to attract any new customers.

Communication here continues to be a nightmare. We’ve given up relying on the internet here working; typically, it’s on for a few hours before being off for several days at a time. We are having to spend time in the cyber café in Bukoba, when we are in town, which, although not expensive, is not ideal and it’s sometimes busy so we have to wait. Our phones don’t pick up a signal around the school; it seems that our European ones are less sensitive than local ones. We’ve tried various experiments but have come to the conclusion that we need to buy new phones; hopefully then we will be able to maintain some contact with the outside world through texting.

To get into town, we have to rely on daladalas, which run very erratically. Last week, after waiting 40 minutes in the rain, two went past, but were full and couldn’t stop. We went back home and came out again 2 hours later when the rain had stopped. We were half way up to the road when one went by, so John waved and the driver turned back to pick us up. It wasn’t full and so we had a comfortable journey until, just outside town, we got a puncture; no problem, however, as the driver jumped out, grabbed a big rock off the side of the road to jam under the wheel, changed the tyre and we were off, all in 10 minutes and we never left the bus. There is currently a big crackdown, by the police, on the number of people permitted on the daladalas. However, it’s not really a problem because the driver waits at the depot, as usual, until he fills up with his quota, then leaves and, just after the check-point, he stops and several more people get on. On the last trip, Babs was standing, facing the back of the daladala, holding the roof with one hand and was passed a screaming baby to hold in the other arm! On the return journey, we left the depot and went in the opposite direction to normal; we thought we had got on the wrong bus, but the driver was avoiding the checkpoint, and we continued, with a very full bus, over a field at a very jaunty angle, into the hugest potholes in the earth ‘road’ that we have ever seen and through really rough terrain. We were both really worried that we would overturn, but we’re here today to tell another tale!

Sister Tryphina & others

One of the sisters here at Hekima has been celebrating 25 years in the sisterhood this week, and we were invited to the main ceremony on Friday. As this was going to be at least 4 hours in length, because she was not the only celebrant, and all conducted in Swahili, Sister Esther suggested we go around noon to join them. We dressed appropriately, and set off for the venue, which was festooned with pennants and decorations, arriving part way through the proceedings. We were greeted warmly and immediately ushered through all the people standing around the doorways and into the Church. It was a lovely experience, and, although we could only guess what was going on, we were able to listen to the wonderful singing and dancing.


We will be thinking of all our relations and friends back in the UK, France and anywhere else you are, especially at Christmas. We hope that you have a lovely time, and, when the New Year arrives, we hope it is a happy and healthy one.

More to come from John and Babs in Tanzania soon.