John and Babs in Tanzania

Page 8

July - September 2007

At the end of the school holiday, a week-long workshop had been planned for ALL staff - it wasn't an option and there was no extra pay. The title was "Interactive Teaching & Learning". Teachers from other schools were invited, and some turned up; unfortunately, not all of the Hekima staff attended - some wanted a holiday.

Hekima Teachers' Workshop
Mary-Ellen - Our Inspiration

Hekima Teachers' Workshop
Full of Busy

The workshop was arranged by an American academic organisation which visited the school annually to work with teachers and selected students; the students selected were the Form IV students who had just finished their remedial teaching. We were quite excited at the prospect and looking forward to hearing what the facilitator had to pass on. The week proved very interesting indeed and we learned a lot ourselves. It became clear to all that resources, such as writing paper and handouts, was indeed a major issue in Tanzanian education at this level. We were able to put some of the ideas into practice when the new term started.

Interestingly, the day before the Americans arrived, the internet returned after not working for five months - miracles do happen! However, after they left, it was back to being intermittent again; that meant sometimes needing to use internet cafes in Bukoba or the Rural Computer Centre at Kibengwe.

The second term started at the beginning of July and we continued with our routine day-to-day work. We were still very frustrated at being unable to discuss the work we were doing, both positively and negatively. VSO operates by co-ordinating the work of volunteers with Partners in a three-way arrangement. Our Partner is Sister Esther, and there should be an ongoing dialogue. VSO was beginning to become concerned about our placements, so our Programme Manager, Vincent, came over from the Office in Dar es Salaam and met with Sister Esther. We then had a fruitful and enjoyable evening with him, but the meeting, planned for the next day and involving the four of us, was cancelled because Sister Esther was too busy. That was when alarm bells started ringing.

VSO had organised a Kagera Region Educational Workshop for two days in mid August, rearranged from mid July. Partners and volunteers had been invited, so that any issues and problems, as well as progress, could be discussed; a full programme of activities had been devised. However, Sister Esther did not attend, nor did she arrange for a deputy to attend. VSO was very disappointed, so Vincent arranged to visit Hekima the next day to speak to her in person. This time, she was still 'very busy' and kept him waiting for over 2 hours - he was not happy! Later in the afternoon, when he came to see us at home, he was very cross. It appeared that expectations for the Partner (Sister Esther) and the volunteers (us) were different; among the problems was that Sister Esther had been told (by someone) that, if she got a VSO volunteer, she would get funding from the British High Commission, which, of course, is nonsense. Vincent said that he was sure our skills would be better appreciated elsewhere. The Manager who set up our placements had since left VSO and we began to question how well they had been set up in the first place. Hekima had had a number of volunteers previously, but hey were used to the type who were told exactly what to do by Sister Esther. They had never had VSO volunteers before, and found it difficult to cope with the VSO ethos of sustainability and volunteers who were not willing to do all the work for them, but instead wanted to help the local people develop their skills so that they can manage things for themselves in the future. It was decided that we would be transferred by VSO to another placement in Tanzania; we would be moved by early October thereby completing a year. The new placement would have to be set up, and we were asked to keep the news that we were leaving confidential until it was organised. Hekima would not have VSO volunteers again, we were told.

Our roller-coaster life continued its ups & downs over the next few weeks. Babs persevered with teaching and developments within the Home Economics Department, and John with visits, workshops, meetings and skills development. We both needed Hepatitis B top-up injections and tried several times to arrange them at the local Bukoba hospital; on one occasion, everything was prepared - needles and everything - but we were expected to have brought the (refrigerated) vaccine! We realised that going to Dar es Salaam would definitely be a safer option. As the mid-term Break was approaching we started to plan our journey, in conjunction with VSO. Suddenly, however, with less than a week's notice, the Break was brought forward by 2 weeks, to allow Hekima staff to go on a safari. A group of 15 teachers and other workers had been selected for that; not surprisingly, we were not on the list! We then had to move fast to arrange our trip - which is very difficult to do in Tanzania!

Bukoba-Mwanza Ferry
A Few of the Many Bananas Carried

We had done quite a lot of travelling by plane so we decided to start our journey by boat, crossing the corner of Lake Victoria from Bukoba to Mwanza - a 13 hour overnight trip. This proved to be an excellent choice. We managed to book one of the few cabins, which was fortunate because conditions were very crowded - a lot of passengers and it was very difficult getting around on the boat, stepping over the hundreds of bodies sleeping on the floor. There were also a lot of bananas!

We arrived in Mwanza about 7am and had arranged to stay with Liz, another VSO volunteer, for a couple of days. We exchanged news, had breakfast and then went exploring. It was Helen's Birthday, and first Wedding Anniversary, and we had arranged to speak to her during the morning. She rang us as arranged, and, after catching up on usual mundane issues, she added at the end of the conversation that she was pregnant and we were going to be grandparents in April!! We were over the moon and it took us completely by surprise. Babs began thinking where on earth would she be able to buy knitting needles and wool! We continued sightseeing and were very impressed with this new area. We then booked seats on a bus to take us on the next stage of our journey, to Arusha, where VSO had suggested there might be a suitable new placement for us.

The next morning, we boarded the bus at 6am and started the most terrifying journey of our lives. We had seats at the back of the bus. The first couple of hours were OK, but then we left recognisable road surfaces and continued on earth tracks and across fields; for most of the next 9 hours, we bounced up and down while tightly gripping the back of the seats in front for all we were worth. At one point, there was a loud bang and, when Babs stuck her head out of the window, she saw that we had had a blow out; the tyre was replaced quite efficiently - they seemed used to doing it. Later, John literally hit the roof. You can imagine how thankful we were to reach Arusha in one piece. The driver managed the whole journey with less than an hour's break.

We were so pleased with the hotel we found - it had a hot shower. We spent a couple of days sightseeing and visiting the prospective placement. Although it was quite touristy, we were warmly welcomed wherever we went and the views of Mt Meru and Mt Kilimanjaro were amazing. The bus journey had been really stressful and so we decided to travel the remainder of the way to Dar es Salaam by plane; fingers crossed that the air company would give passenger comfort a higher priority than the bus company did.

Dar es Salaam
View from the Econo Lodge Hotel

We arrived safely, and quickly started to recognise landmarks from our previous visit, just under a year before. We had appointments for our injections at the IST Clinic used by VSO. These were straightforward - vaccination record up-to-date, job done. Then it was suggested that, since we hadn't seen a doctor for a year, we both had check ups. We both had problems with toes, which were examined and it was found that we had 'jiggers'; these are fleas that live in sand, burrow into the skin around toes and lay eggs. The treatment started with soaking our feet in Omo (washing powder) - it was touching to see us sitting in the treatment room, sharing a bowl! Babs' were squeezed out quite easily, but the two in one of John's toes needed cutting out, downwards from the nail. The Omo soaking needed to be continued in the hotel, so we later had to search the shops for a foot-sized lunch box! Our medicals continued with tests of blood, etc. These resulted in us being treated for amoeba and worms. Dr Belia was concerned about irregularities in one of Babs' breasts and advised a mammogram and ultrasound scan; this was a terrible shock which we had not expected. The only appointments available were the following week. Our flights back to Bukoba were already booked and so needed to be re-arranged.

After the diagnosis, we had to wait for the tests and still longer for the results, but we used the time profitably. We spent some of the following few days in discussion with VSO concerning the new placements. We also had time for relaxation, and had a couple of visits to the beach as well as a cultural museum, the Village Museum on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam. Overall, instead of the 4 nights in Dar originally planned, we were there for 19.

Kipepeo Beach, Dar es Salaam
Babs Enjoying the Sea

Kipepeo Beach, Dar es Salaam
Babs Relaxing on the Beach

Village Museum, Dar es Salaam
John at a Haya House

Village Museum, Dar es Salaam
African Drum & Dance Group

During this time, the Clinic contacted John, asking if his PSA was usually so high; we didn't know what this was. On our next visit, Dr Ype explained that there may be a problem with his prostate gland and that he should now have an ultrasound scan. This was at yet another hospital, so we were beginning to find our way around the medical centres of Dar es Salaam; this was not exactly what we had planned when we left for top-up injections. In the end, Babs' results were inconclusive and further scans were advised in three months - but she was OK. However, John had a nodule in his prostate and the next stage was a biopsy, which was needed fairly urgently. This was not possible in Tanzania and, although it could probably be carried out in Nairobi or South Africa, the doctor thought that returning to England would be the best option. VSO set about organising our flight back to Hekima, and then onto England.

On top of all that, two days before leaving Dar, we had even more bad luck. On the Saturday afternoon, while eating at a table on an outside terrace of a restaurant in the city centre, Babs had her handbag stolen. We saw nothing; presumably the thief took it by reaching along the ground from behind. Fortunately, John had the passports and other valuables in his bag - we had to look on the bright side! The restaurant people weren't much help, but we insisted on seeing the Police, and eventually three men turned up - they could have been anyone, but we assumed they were plain clothed policemen. We were then taken in the back of an enclosed truck with two other policemen carrying large guns! We were escorted into the police station, and then our original contacts left. More hanging around. We came to realise that it's very inconvenient being robbed during a weekend! It became very difficult because our Swahili was not up to this situation and, understandably, their English was poor. Eventually, an English speaker asked questions and wrote a statement on a scrappy piece of paper; although he wanted to know what religion Babs is, he didn't need to know the colour of the bag! We were then passed onto another policeman to transcribe the statement, and would have to come back on Monday for it to be authorised; we would be on a plane at that time. In the end, we knew we would not get the bag and its contents back and so decided to cut our losses and look for somewhere to buy a bottle of wine! We were anxious to stop Babs' bank cards - but this was a weekend. On mobile phones from Tanzania, it would have been very challenging! We decided to contact the British High Commission on the Sunday and, for once, we were in luck. The Deputy High Commissioner had been on leave and was going into the office to catch up with some admin. We met him at the front of the building, he took us through loads of security and then arranged for us to use one of the landlines to cancel the cards. It was easy! In actual fact, some of the contents, including bank cards and identity cards, were later recovered. They had been pushed into a post box, and the Post Office sent them to VSO with a note referring to the items that had been 'accidentally stolen'!

More to come from John and Babs in Tanzania soon.