John and Babs in Tanzania

Page 9

September - December 2007

We returned to Hekima in mid September, knowing that we were due to leave at the end of the month. We spoke to Sister Esther who said she did not know when we would be leaving and did not have the phone number for our Programme Manager; we arranged the contact between them. Life continued, but it was very difficult because none of the other staff nor students were aware of what was happening. We started tying up loose ends and getting things ready for packing. It was made more complicated by not knowing whether we would be well enough to return, and, if all were to be OK, where we would be transferred to. So we sent some things by post to be kept at the VSO Office in Dar es Salaam, to await our return or to be distributed if we don't return.

Babs with some of her Form III Nutrition students

John with Joyce, a Science Teacher at Iluhya School

For Babs, there was the marking of yet more exams that the girls had done after returning from the mid-term break, while we were still in Dar es Salaam. She made sure she was up to date with the schemes of work.

John started going round his schools for the last time, to say goodbye to the science teachers, heads and students; he made sure he explained in full the reasons for us being transferred and the complication of returning to the UK for medical reasons. He rounded off the schedule of meetings and workshops, and left the teachers with some sense of achievement.

Finally, a week before we were due to leave, at one of the 7am assemblies, Sister Esther announced to Hekima students and staff that we were leaving. Everyone was aghast; there were a lot of tears, including from Babs, and we were appalled that everyone was told in this way. Babs particularly wanted to tell her Department staff and students herself. Nevertheless, over the next few days, she was able to outline the background and explain about our transfers and the need to return to the UK; everyone was devastated. It was now all systems go, rounding things off, packing up the whole house and getting things ready for our trip home. Most importantly during those few days, we had to say our goodbyes to the many friends we had made. It was very, very difficult.

John with Vincent

Babs with Sister Aloysia

We had acquired quite a lot during our time at Hekima; we gave away as much as we could, to people and places that could make use of the items. In the end, we posted two boxes of books and notes to England and brought all the rest, including the drum, with us - we had excess baggage to pay for! We went on our last shopping trip, by daladala, into Bukoba. We had a couple of visits to the Bank. We needed to stop ATM cards, which hadn't been possible by phone. Later, we wanted to draw some US dollars, for the journey, and transfer all but the minimum from our Tanzania account to the UK; that took three and a half hours!

It slowly became clear that our journey home was going to be even more tortuous because the plane that crosses the lake, from Bukoba to Mwanza, was broken - something had got into the engine and it was grounded for a few days. Road travel is not advisable and so there was no alternative but to fly via Entebbe, in Uganda, and Nairobi, in Kenya; from there, it would be back into Tanzania, to Dar es Salaam, for our flight to London. Our friends at Kiroyera Tours made the arrangements for the transfer by car to Entebbe, and VSO booked our flights from there - it was all a bit last-minute and did not help the way we were feeling.

Farewell to Hekima
John & Babs with Boaz

Farewell to Hekima
Home Economics Department in our Sitting Room

Leaving was very difficult and many tears were shed. Babs was showered with lovely presents from her students and from her Department - things that she will remember for a long time to come. She also had loads of requests from girls for pen friends. Finally, the time came for us to leave the house that had been our home for most of the last year.

We started the journey by staying at our favourite hotel in Bukoba for our last night in the region. Several VSO volunteers and lots of other friends had arranged to meet us there and we had a great send-off - it was a memorable evening. The next morning, after breakfast, there was torrential rain - we like to think of it as Bukoba shedding tears because we were leaving!

The car in which we travelled to Entebbe broke down on the way, so we had to wait at the Ugandan border for a replacement and then transferred all our bags; nevertheless, we arrived with time to spare. After trying to check in the luggage, we found we needed an ATM machine for local currency to pay for the excess baggage; this was made more difficult because of the cancelled cards and bank transfers, but was eventually sorted out. At Nairobi, we had to leave the plane, walk into and out of the terminal building and then back onto the same plane again, but different seats! We arrived in Dar es Salaam very late at night, took a taxi to the city centre, complete with all the luggage, and were warmly welcomed back to our hotel. After a few hours sleep it was back to the airport for the long leg of our journey. This time, when we booked in, there was a query over our e-tickets! After a worrying hour or so, the problem was sorted by a very helpful French technician who fixed the computer system. This resulted in us being upgraded to World Traveller Plus and so, in the end, we were very lucky. We had an excellent daytime flight, with good meals and entertainment, and were able to see some of the amazing and vast Sahara Desert on our way to Heathrow. There, we transferred to the Manchester flight, for the final leg of our journey, and arrived on time, some two days after leaving Hekima.

Back Home Again

Helen and Mike, our daughter and son-in-law, met us at the airport, and we stayed with them for a couple of days as we re-acclimatised to the developed world! We then travelled across the country to our home in Darlington. Everything was fine with the house; it had been well looked after by friends and family, to whom we are extremely grateful.

At home, we could not get our phone landline reconnected for anything less than 12 months, which was too costly, and so we had to stick with pay-as-you-go mobiles. It also meant that we no longer had access to the internet. We thought it would be easy to find internet cafes, but they don't seem to exist any longer, probably because most people can now surf the net at home. Consequently, e-mailing proved much more difficult than we had expected. We no longer have a car, and so have to rely on public transport. There are times when we feel more isolated than at Hekima!

We had several medical visits. John's first appointment with the consultant at Bishop Auckland Hospital had been arranged by our doctor for just after our return home. This was followed by quite a long wait for the biopsy itself, which was only a little uncomfortable. Another wait for the results, but the outcome was excellent - there was no sign of prostate cancer. Babs saw our doctor and then had an appointment at the Breast Clinic in the hospital; however, she had to wait an extra week for the results because part of the mammogram system was not working. Thankfully, her results were also excellent - there was no sign of breast cancer. Relief for both of us! During this time, we kept VSO in Tanzania, and the Medical Unit in London, informed of progress, and later were able to send the written reports. We eventually got the medical clearance to return.

The temperature gradually became lower, and the shortening of the day became obvious - a far cry from the heat and regular sunset of Tanzania. We were also very aware of our reduced weights, and feeling better for it, and so decided to try to take steps to maintain them; these included some new, smaller size clothes!

The uncertainty, and our feeling of being 'in limbo', has been very difficult to cope with. We haven't known what the future holds for us, and, consequently, have not been able to make plans - we've generally tended to live from day to day.

However, all the waiting did give us the opportunity of meeting up with a number of relatives and friends, both locally and in France. Although the travelling was a little difficult at times, it was great catching up with their news and telling them something of our wonderful and unforgettable experiences as VSO volunteers in Tanzania.

Krakow, Poland
John with Grzaniec

Krakow, Poland
Part of the huge Market Square

We also decided to go away for a few days holiday to celebrate our good health and John's 60th Birthday. We went to Krakow, in Poland - somewhere we hadn't been before. It's a beautiful city, with lots of history, and we found plenty to do; as well as the city centre and the Jewish quarter, we visited the Salt Mine and the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum, the site of the concentration camps. The Polish food, drink and hospitality were great, and, because we had taken the thermals, we didn't find it too cold - and the mulled wine (grzaniec) helped!

Krakow, Poland
Celebrating John's 60th

We continued our discussions with VSO in Tanzania about the new placements. However, it became clear that this was going to take some time; sadly, we would miss seeing all the volunteers and staff at the Christmas Conference in Dar es Salaam. We started to get back into the swing of the build up to an over-commercialised English Christmas, and all that goes with it. We tried not to get too carried away with the excesses, without being too Scrooge-like. Nevertheless, it was very different from last year in Zanzibar. Helen and Mike came across to spend Christmas with us - their last one as a twosome! They stayed for nearly a week, and we had a wonderful time.

Christmas 2007
Christmas Day in Darlington

Christmas 2007
Merry Christmas from the Charneys & the Priests

We hope you all had a very Merry Christmas, and wish you a healthy and Happy New Year. We would like to thank all those who contacted us by e-mail or website comment. It was really lovely to hear from so many of you, and we're sorry that it's still quite difficult to reply.

More to come from John and Babs in Tanzania soon.