Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hi..greetings from Arusha..where i am holing up in a great little hotel with a swimming pool and free internet!! if you can believe, cheap, snug in the middle of a banana grove, quiet, and this being their low season, i am the only one here!! Bliss...had to get out of Mto Wa Mbu, Arusha is a little cooler, especially at night, and this week was especially trying, interviewing 73 people, mostly women, all of whom are HIV AIDS positive, hearing their stories, my gawd! WE are hoping to set up a micro finance project with them, my new job when i get home...very exciting, most of these women have what they call small businesses, meaning they are selling bananas from other people's plantations along the roadside in Mto Wa Mbu, dreaming of expanding this business, taking their bananas or other fruits of nearby or far away villages to sell. Or women who now have 10 chickens, making baby chickens and selling their eggs at the Mto WA Mbu market, wanting to expand to 30, maybe 100 chickens, building bigger chick houses, more medicine, more food. All of these people are on ARVs, the anti retro viral drugs which enables them good health now, after fighting this terrible disease, as long as they follow the rules and eat well, don't take alcohol and take their pills regularily.
What else: WE talked with women who want to travel to Dar to buy kangas, the colourful sheets tied around the waists as skirts, drapped around shoulders, wrapped ingeniously around heads of all women here, new businesses, or start growing vegetables, onions, carrots, lettuce, cauliflower (I sure don't know where they sell this, i would kill now for cauliflower soup, or cauliflower doused in cheese sauce, my gawd it has been too long!), tomatoes, starting small businesses selling in local markets, or opening small shops with keroscene, maize and wheat flower, soap, telephone cards, biscuits....three solid days of talking with people, each one with a new idea, or maybe an idea of their neighbour, some asking for four times the amount as others for the same small business...not really knowing costs and prices, but determined to start something new to improve their lives. Everyone wanted to begin new, or to expand, to raise funds to send their kids to primary or secondary school, to pay for the expensive school fees, uniforms, shoes, and books, all of this to help their children gain an education which absolutely none of them were able to afford themselves.\

Here it is all about education. Everyone, no matter who they are or where they come from, with only one desire, to help their kids through primary, then secondary, then on to high school and if they are lucky, university. It is a dream. But without education they know their kids will go no where.
Primary school is basically free here, but for the equivalent of $50. USD for uniforms, shoes, books and school fees. But after 7 years of this, around the age of 14 or so, they are out on the streets unless someone can come up with the $550 required for the first year of secondary school, for most it is prohibitive. Thus you get kids, hoards of them standing on street corners hawking cheap necklaces and bracelets created by factories in China, or worse still, hanging around asking foreigners for jobs, alcohol on their breath. The girls without a chance to go further after primary, stay at home to help their families, get pregnant, get chased out of their homes, some 60% seek illegal abortions, the rest having their babies, many of whom are left on church steps or with neighbours and family, or dumped on the side of the road. Boyfriends without homes or jobs, run away, mothers too, often drifting into prostitution to allow themselves a little cash to send back to child caretakers or maybe just for a little bit of fun, these girls being children themselves.
Exciting to dream of this project, all of us, these mainly women all of whom live with HIV AIDS, and our ICA staff, planning carefully the next steps - a 5 day workshop facilitated by Charles, where they will divide themselves into small groups of 5 people, all striving to borrow money for like businesses, and learn exactly what costs they will incur, how to begin to run responsible businesses, how to handle their customers, how to keep their books. And finally, what exactly is micro financing, borrowing, at an interest rate of 12 percent, that money going toward ICA volunteers who will work singularily with each borrower, as advisors, as counsellors, and as monitors after the loans have been given.
REcipients will pay principal along with interest, small amounts monthly, rather than a big sum at the end, for sure to cause fear, perhaps enough for the borrower to run away.
This 'running away' expression is huge here! I have the vision of husbands and boyfriends and borrowers and mothers leaving families and children all running down the road, duffel bags flying behind them in tow, each one head tailing it out of town as fast as they can, a gleam in their eye as they dash away from whatever responsiblities they are unable to face. It is everywhere and always.
I have just spent the day recording into this computer the bios of 40 of our living in or living out pre schoolers our primary school kids from the orphanage, each one with a different story, most of which include someone 'runnning away'.

The mother left pregnant by the husband besought with too many kids too many responsiblities, no job, no money, no house, no food, giving up, leaving her often with having to somehow come up with the money for even basic needs: food, shelter, primary school. Or the father dying of HIV AIDS, leaving his wife sick as well, her father and mother taking over, both of them in their 70s or 80s, eaking out a small existance as temporary farmers even at that age, bent over in half working fields, trying desperately to help their grown child. It is insane. And it is often, with each child, a story, and hundreds, thousands in line behind them

I am on the bus roaring down the road from Mto Wa Mbu en route to this two day holiday now in Arusha, yesterday. It is packed with every seat taken, with even fold up seats unfolded now in the middle of the aisle, each occupied, wedged in, the sun pouring in from the left side where i am squished in, my black bag on my lap, my book by Thomas Friedman, an American journalist Hot, Flat and Crowded which i can't recommend more highly. In front of me is a very beautiful Masai woman, young with crinkly eyes dressed in a blue sheet over the usual red checked, her ears dripping with masses of white beads carefully woven together, hanging from huge holes forced open by years of dowel spools or Kodak film holders. We look at each other with interest. Smiling. She has gotten on this bus with four plastic gallons of something which they are keeping for her at the front of the bus.
Alf way to Arusha she makes her way to the front, waves at me, and gets off the bus, the porter handing her the heavy jugs of whatever, one by one out the door. Masses of people selling roasted peanuts, bottles of water, candies, hard boiled eggs, home made buns, kitimbua raised high in their hands, crowding each other pushing to gett their goods to sell at window level. I look past them to this Masai woman who I see now unwrapping the blue cotton sheet from her shoulders, folding it in half, and resting it on the road. On top of this, she sets all four gallons of whatever. Next, she is wrapping them up, tying a knot and creating a hoop like handle out of the fabric, twisting and twisting and finishing off with knots at either end, tested and pulling each one carefully for strength. Next she bends over and hikes the whole thing up and over her head, pulling her arms through, and then hooking the hooped fabric onto her forehead, she picks up two other bags in both hands and stands carefully up. This enormously heavy load, carried soley by her forehead, holding up, as she makes her way through the crowd, out of my sight.

I love to write. I don't love to edit. I try to capture what i am thinking and seeing and experiencing first hand, as though i am talking with someone, without worrying about how it will sound, whether my spelling is right, or my grammar, like the beginning of a painting, i especially just want to get the energy, the feeling of the place, the atmosphere down. I see things, and hope i can remember, wishing with all my heart that i had a computer with me, or the means to record it all as they are, there and then.

Friday night i get a call from Peter. I am walking down the road from the orphanage, in the dark, stumbling over pot holes on the road, bicycles wizzing by, hoping not to get hit, clutching onto my bag always with me. He, Sabina our nurse at ICA who and teaching prevention, and two of our volunteers, Glory doing legal field work on women and children's rights, and Mini just in from Arusha working with community development. They are at the Zanzibar 'talking about their future', and inviting me to come. All these kids, in their twenties, sitting around a little table in the dark, drinking sodas, or a beer, discussing their lives. Their work. Their dreams of the future. Each one adament to finish their education first, get good jobs, get a good grounding first, before allowing themselves to fall in love, to get pregnant, to have children. This doesn't seem to happen at home. So often, we fall in love no matter what, and let our lives lead us where they may. Do we sit down and say to ourselves, like Peter, who has women falling in love with him wherever he goes, tall, outgoing, friendly, nice, smart...a catch in anyone's eyes, do we say no? Wait. It is not time. First we must finish our education. We must get great marks, as he has just done in high school, and then on to university. We must get a profession and rise as far as we can, before we take on the responsibility of raising a family, getting a wife.
Maybe he has heard too many stories of 'running away'!!
But do we do this?
I dont think so!
Education. It is really all that there is to raise themselves up and away from lives of such poverty we can't imagine. Thousands of people i see out there, everyday. Toiling in a field, hacking away with a hand hewn hoe hard red ground filled with stones, or standing all day waitressing in a restaurant from the time i have breakfast till around 8 with dinner, for a mere $1.50 a day - impossible for us to imagine. I tell them, if kids back home don't get through high school, they create their own jobs, or some way to make money, many ending up at McDonalds, behind counters, or working retail, or going back to school when they are older, if they wish. WE hve opportunities if we want them. But here, without education, they don't. I am talking today to the waiter who brings me cheese (cheese!!!! the first time i've tasted this for almost two months!) omlette, who has finished at the top of his class last year in a one year hotel training course. With dreams someday of becoming a safari tour guide, he is learning English well, about treating foreign tourists, we talk about that book Hot, Flat and Crowded, brilliant.

Two weeks to go.
Tomorrow back to Mto wa mbu....
Bios, budgets, meetings, tying up...our Masai girls education fund, i have barely spoken of this. We have't had access to a truck this year, hence haven't gotten out to Masai country to check in on those great 16 girls we are sponsoring, but have heard not great stories this year, about teachers leaving government schools for higher salaries in private school with 750 students and now left with only 12 teachers, few books, no stationery - it is daunting. Four of our girls finished their last year secondary a month ago, with marks coming in terribly disappointing to them. One passed somehow with good enough marks, on her way into high school with shining eyes and dreams to become a doctor one day...two with marks too low for high school entry, but high enough to get into nursing and teachers colleges..and one having failed. It is not their fault. I know these kids, they have worked hard, but without teachers, books, pens and papers, how are they supposed to do well? It is all over Tanzania now, a huge problem, you work hard enough to get good enough marks to get into formidably expensive secondary schools, setting your families back years financially, and then, not your fault, you fail. My gawd.
I sure don't know what the answers are.

There is that great guy Greg Mortesson from the US, but raised in Tanzania not to far from where i am right now, building schools one at a time, in Pakistan and Afghanistan right now, over 75 of them and growing, and mainly for girls....maybe i will write him to come back to Africa, we need help here!
Got to get off this machine. There are two in this room, but the one next to me is missing the @ on the keyboard. A dribble of tourists, Germans today, file in one by one striving to reach their internet servers, but without that @ get no where.
Outside i hear them now, waiting over their Kilimanjaro beers, baridi, cold...
best i go.
hey, enjoy the spring like weather over there. I hear its amazing...
see you soon!! can't wait!!
big hugs.....L
ps, trying not to think about what i have to do when i get home. Scary. I am relocating my Creativity Art Retreat from a glorious spot a couple of hours north of Toronto on a river, filled with high trees and great people, to the bowels of downtown Toronto. Into a big building with no trees or plants or flowers or rivers....yikes, what have i done!

have a great week!

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