Heading back to Rift Valley Children’s Village is never a disappointment. The success of the village and the Tanzanian Children’s Fund has been nothing less than spectacular on so many different levels, though, first and foremost, the children and the family that has been created there. The other facets of the TCF have been equally impressive and have included their education initiatives, starting with the local primary school, and now including the secondary schools within the Oldeani district, the health initiatives (which is our purpose there), and, finally, the microfinance and financial empowerment of the women’s group in developing and marketing their crafts.
Not to sound like a broken record, but our plan this morning was to arrive early to begin seeing patients and finish at a decent time as we had plans to visit with an old friend, Daniel Tewa, tonight. Once again, best laid plans seemed to dictate the day here as we finally arrived at the village no earlier than we had yesterday, though there was still some hope that we would finish early enough for the residents to get a tour of the village and to shop in the duka. We had left all the medications overnight there in the pharmacy, along with all our supplies in the offices, so there was virtually no set up on our arrival and we were quickly back to seeing the backlog of patients who had shown up to see us that day. With everyone quite familiar now with how this clinic was run, they were ready to begin seeing patients quickly. Amos, one of translators, was unable to make it today as he wasn’t feeling well (since he doesn’t drink, it could not have been from the visit to the Dungu the night before) so we were down one of our team, but given the fact that there are plenty of people at the village who speak Swahili and wonderful English, finding another translator on the spot was not an issue.
It turned out that today was a holiday here in Tanzania. It was Mawlid al-Nabi, celebrating the birth of the prophet Muhammad, though the specific day was a bit of a question as the government here had not quite decided which day it would be until this week, finally announcing it a day or so ago. Having confusion about which day a holiday is going to be observed is just so “Africa” and perhaps one of the first things you learn here, which is to expect the unexpected. As long as you have few plans, then life goes along quite well, and you are seldom disappointed. Making plans and having expectations is a set up for being disappointed. As Frank always says, “TIA,” or “this is Africa.”
Our lunch today was again a wonderful feast with cheeseburgers and rolls, sliced tomatoes, pickles, and other condiments to place on top. Delicious French fries that several of us took full advantage of (I won’t mention any names) along with salad and fresh fruit on the side. Scrumptious and certainly satisfied my need for a good burger for at least until I get home. After lunch, it was time to visit the duka and do some shopping for gifts. The Woman’s Group here has always made incredible things and has continually branched out to new designs – batik jackets, bathrobes, computer sleeves, shoulder bags, wine bags, glass holders, and more – all very well made and very affordable. What began as a very small operation making only a few tchotchkes has now grown into a much broader selection of items and is being sold through a number of lodges and other partners throughout Tanzania, all being promoted with help from the TCF along with their microfinance opportunities.
We did seem to have a rather short afternoon after all, which allowed for the residents to have a nice tour of the Children’s Village that was led by our translator Nuru, who had grown up here in the village and has now graduated from college as a pharmacy technician and is in the job market, so biding her time and gaining some experience by helping out at FAME. She has worked with us numerous times in the past over the last years and has always been a welcome guest to join us anywhere and everywhere given her incredible personality and willingness to be a part of our team. The very first time she had worked with us at Oldeani, when she was still in secondary school and at the time thinking about becoming a physical therapist, she wrote me the sweetest note thanking me for allowing her to join us. Nothing could have been further from the truth for it was us who should have been thanking Nuru.
The tour took a bit longer than I had anticipated, though we were able to send the other car containing most of the FAME personnel on their way home given the night before we had been so delayed in getting home. When they finally finished, we loaded everyone up in the stretch Land Rover and were on our way back to Karatu in now time, again taking my preferred alternate route home through the fields and then down into one of the valleys while avoiding the African massage road all together. We were still running later than I had anticipated, so it was decided that we would just go straight to Daniel Tewa’s rather than home first, though did have to pick up Judith, another FAME volunteer, who was going to join us for our visit. Judith is a surgeon from Germany who is transitioning her life to Tanzania and working here at FAME for a short while until she decides on a more permanent position. I had invited her to come with us to Daniel’s for the evening.
Daniel is a very special friend, though he would tell you up front that we are not friends, but rather family. I first met Daniel in 2009 on my very first visit to Tanzania with my two children and while volunteering for a few days at a local school that just happened to be in his village. As one of the elders, Daniel worked with us while painting and then invited us to visit his home. He is a very unique individual as he is so incredibly well-read and well informed on world events and locations yet has never left his home country of Tanzania. He is the local historian of anything related to Iraqw tribe, Tanzania, East Africa, and beyond. He continually amazes me with his knowledge of the world, yet has no interest in traveling for, as he once told me, “how would it benefit my family?”
The Iraqw tribe was at odds with the Maasai, particularly over the ownership of their cattle. The Maasai believe that all cattle are theirs and that taking cattle owned by someone else is merely returning the cattle to their rightful owner. Because of this, the Iraqw began to build houses that were mostly underground though with a domed roof and had room for all their livestock to live inside at night, safe from the Maasai. Anyone walking across the roof of one of these houses would be immediately discovered and chased away as a thief, or worse, attacked. When Tanganyika joined with Zanzibar in 1964 to become Tanzania, Nyerere and the government realized that the only way to build a country and create any infrastructure was to move everyone into villages together and to ban the use of any unique features such as the Iraqw underground home. Daniel had spent the first twenty years of his life in such a house, or tembe in Kiswahili, and, after telling his children about them and having them think he was crazy, finally decided to build an example on his property, not to live in, but rather to educate others about the history of the Iraqw.
In the early 1990s, Daniel began to build a small, though completely accurate and authentic, Iraqw underground tembe. Today, it stands as perhaps one of the only authentic Iraqw houses in existence and stands as a memorial to his culture’s history. It is visited by many scholars and students who wish to learn about the history of the Iraqw for Daniel could spend many hours on end describing how the Iraqw have lived in this region of Tanzania after coming from the north several millennia ago. Having visited his home on countless occasions, I have come to learn a tremendous amount about this amazing tribe and feel very fortunate to have had such a teacher. As Julius Nyerere, the father of Tanzania, was known as Mwalimu, or teacher, to his country, Daniel Tewa has been my mwalimu for all things Tanzanian and Iraqw.
I have brought every group of residents to visit Daniel and to have either a meal or coffee. With the pandemic, it has been coffee more often now, but sitting out in his yard and sharing his African coffee (boiling milk and coffee together) is more than a wonderful experience. He tells stories of Iraqw culture and amazes everyone with his knowledge of US and world geography and politics. Having the ability to visit friends and family here with the residents has truly enabled this to be more than just a medical rotation for them and, though perhaps a bit less than cultural immersion, has allowed them to feel a part of the community, even if for a shorter period of time than they would have liked.
We visited Daniel’s traditional underground Iraqw house, though by the time we visited after several cups of coffee, it was rather dark. Lit only by our iPhone flashlights, it was probably more realistic than any of us would have guessed. Daniel proceeded to describe how everyone slept in the house, men on one side, women and children on the other, and animals in the back in a small corral that housed them during the night. Afterwards, we all gathered in the small living room of his standard Bantu house that he had built years ago and where I have shared many meals with him. When I had first visited him in 2009, he was entirely off the grid, using methane gas produced onsite from a mixture of cow dung, cow urine, and water for heat, light, and cooking. Though he now has electricity connected to his home, he continues to produce methane from his cows and uses it for cooking.
Everyone left Daniel’s home that evening a bit richer for what we had learned from him and what we had seen. Relationships such as this are rarities in this world, and we should cherish them. Tomorrow morning we will all be departing for the Serengeti and two nights in the park. Everyone will be going to sleep tonight with thoughts of the migration and big cats.