Well, serves me right for talking about dry, hot weather...the night we got back from our two-day safari, a major thunderstorm kicked up over the lake and the rain was fierce-sounding on the tin roofs of the Big House, where we had dinner, and the Guest House. I loved the sound, and didn't mind the occasional spray across my pillow (remember: no glass in the windows), but I was worried about Ben, who was returning on a Monday overnight ferry from his former PC town across the lake - the lightning was amazing and I imagined it making the passage rough. When I emerged from my room, I noticed Mama Emma mixing up something (in a bowl that sat on the kitchen floor - I have noticed many women bent over from the waist doing tasks on the floor or ground that could be done standing up, if one had a counter or table). I guessed that she was preparing mendazi (the chunks of fried dough) for breakfast, and joined her in the mixing of the dry ingredients (in a bowl on the floor). When flour, salt, sugar, baking soda, and yeast were mixed (with the fingers), she picked up the bowl and gestured that I should follow her. So, in my pajamas and houseslippers, I followed her up to the Big House where we added water and mixed some more, then turned the dough out onto a counter and kneaded...I guess I acquitted myself pretty well at these tasks because she pronounced me "safi" several times, which means "clean" or "cool." The dough resting, I cut up a pineapple on the counter--I've really missed eating fresh fruit and veggies while here--and then Mama Emma put a rolling pin in my hand and had me flatten half of the dough. Then we cut it up while the oil heated on the stove and, finally, fried the pieces. Voila: Tanzanian mendazi (accompanied by pineapple and coffee) for breakfast.
We had a very mellow morning, as Ben didn't arrive back until 9:30 or so, and David slept another hour after that, fighting off a cold. I did yoga on the porch while we welcomed back Ben and heard about his trip to Bukoba, and then we all set out with Chris to see a few more things in the area. First we went to the local government primary school, which is physically close to JBFC but very very different. It was wrenching to see the abysmal conditions in classrooms (broken up concrete floors, nothing on the walls but dirt and bird- and bat- excrement, broken chalkboards); children in torn and dirty clothes (most wearing the school uniform but only about half wearing shoes); very few teachers and almost 600 students (so that most students would sit in a classroom without a teacher much of the day); a long walk home and back at lunch time, so that some students don't return at all after lunch. I was really hit hard by this visit, and have to wonder: what incentive do these children have to go to school? what can they possibly learn? what kind of future do they have? The conditions here brought into sharp focus the relatively good situation at JBFC, where breakfast and lunch is served each day, the number of teachers is quite good and the commitment of teachers is palpable, the facilities are decent, and children are learning and thriving. Later in the day I was moved to tears while describing the visit to one of our group who had spent the morning setting up some computers at the JBFC school - to think of what my own children have at their public school in the U.S....
Actually, a recurring thought I have had this last week is that I don't really know much about the range of poverty in the U.S.--as we drove the main road between here and the Serengeti, with small homes on the side of the road with tin roofs and tattered curtains and people living much of their lives outside (eating, cleaning dishes, washing clothes, playing), Ivory remarked that such houses would not be out of place on roads he has traveled in South Carolina. And, of course, there is urban poverty in the U.S. as well, with less of the outdoor living element, but with a similar lack of comfort and beauty. However, I think it might be safe to say that there are ways in which the infrastructure here is lacking that are not paralleled in the U.S. on this scale: people drawing buckets of water up from water holes surrounded by goats, ducks, and cattle, for instance; entirely unpaved roads; a major lake of the world that people can't swim in because of the bilharzia parasite carried on the snails that live in it; sporadic electrical supply entirely dependent on a diesel-powered generator; the wide-spread use of outdoor latrines; the lack of emergency medical care or vehicles. It was a sobering visit.
After seeing the government school, we headed for the rice paddies and fish ponds that JBFC maintains. It had been raining now for almost 18 hours off and on, and so we walked along very muddy paths littered with cow patties and goat dung towards our destination. On the way, we passed the community "cow dip," where livestock is treated twice a month for parasites and ticks. Once we got close to the rice paddies, it was apparent that there was a high likelihood of getting really dirty on the way to the fish ponds: the narrow and slippery paths were raised between adjacent rice paddies and it was tough to keep your balance and not fall right into the rice paddies...we laughed a lot, and both of David's flip-flops, slurping through the clay-like mud, broke. JBFC had tried raising tilapia in these fish ponds and they grew well but wouldn't mate...Chris guessed that the ph balance may be off, and we added aquaculture to our mental list of possible trip projects for D.A. kids.
Then we headed for the small rural clinic that is on the edge of the village: the building was funded by a USAID grant, but then stood empty for a couple of years. Two years ago JBFC renovated and painted the building, and have asked permission from the government to hire a physician's assistant who could serve an administrative role in organizing the clinic as well as lead community health programs. Inside were spartan conditions: concrete benches; very simple wooden desk and two chairs; minimal medicines in the cabinet; ceiling and walls that were a little run-down looking. No one was in the building, though it's supposed to have personnel on staff 24-hours a day, but Chris noticed that the nurse (who lives next door) was around, and she came over to give us a quick tour. A few simple beds with very basic mattresses, no curtains for privacy, no chairs for visitors..and the "delivery room" made Sheryl and me queasy!
We headed back to the JBFC school for lunch--steamed cornmeal and stewed greens--and then spent an hour and a half checking medical evacuation plans by placing phone calls to the two services that DA has agreements with, testing what they would recommend/how they would suggest getting medical care / where they would send us if we had an emergency situation, etc.
That night we'd been scheduled to have dinner in the village at 6pm. Imagine our surprise when the host and a couple of members of her family showed up at 5:45to escort us - I guess you never can tell when an appointed time is to be taken seriously. So our host, her two granddaughters, the six of us, George, and two Masai guards we picked up along the way traipsed through the center of the village of Kitongo. I noticed garbage in piles behind the houses, and people preparing cooking fires in front of the houses on the "street" (really a dirt path weaving among the mud-plastered brick buildings). After passing through the center (some shops selling clothing and drinks), we turned on to the main path that connects the village to the government school. We had to walk around cow patties and avoid puddles and in one spot a cow that was staked on one side of the path had wandered across the path so that its rope created a trip-wire that almost brought one of us down.
Dinner was a jovial affair, as our host's family was "very excitable," as George put it, and there was lots of "kariboni!" ("welcome") and "thank you" and "delicious" as we ate mendazi (the fried dough), white rice, stewed cassava greens, pinto beans, and a little chicken in a delicious sauce. A long, low table had been set up in the middle of the courtyard (which had small buildings on three sides and chickens and goats wandering around), and the food seemed to have been cooked in the smallest building, rather than outside as I had seen it done everywhere else. I didn't look into the other two buildings, but I assume those were sleeping quarters, as there were a few younger children, and one older man, who retreated into those buildings when we arrived. Sheryl, a baby magnet, had a three year-old on her lap throughout the meal, and we talked to the two granddaughters, both JBFC students, about their upcoming exams. We had brought a few gifts with us, and they were received with much enthusiasm, and we had lots of super-sweet chai (tea). Around 7:30, after sunset, we started off, again accompanied by the Masai and the two JBFC students. It was much more difficult now to avoid the cow patties, but somehow we remembered that trip wire. We did not, however, have enough time to respond to the village drunk careening towards us on a bike, and I somehow ended up locking horns, as it were, with the rider, sustaining an abrasion on my calf, a big welt on my thigh, and a light bruise on my elbow. Our hosts and our Masai guards were really apologetic ("pole, pole"), and I was a little shook up but mostly fine. It was fitting that this one day included both a psychological blow (the public school) and a physical one.