Over the past week and a half I’ve gotten a pretty good idea of what life is life for the neighbors at the Kimara office. This morning again when we arrive there are two small boys wondering at the mzungu (white people) in the bus. They may be school age (I believe they are) but they are not in school. Two women (their mothers?) build a cooking fire each day and cook rice. Today a water truck arrived and they filled several yellow containers with water.
Ed and Mr. Manyama co-facilitated a session on grief counseling. Ed explained his activities as a crisis intervention councilor in Nova Scotia. It sounds as if funerals are not so different in Tanzania as they are in Canada. Extended families gather and support each other.
The session lasted into the afternoon and we shared our final lunch with our Kimara friends. It was difficult to say good bye to them knowing that many of us we would never see them again
Today we are visiting a school in the Kimara region. KPE doesn’t conduct sessions in schools, but Ed requested that we have this opportunity. The school is large, with open air classrooms and the ever present finches flitting in the rafters. 270 of the student in this particular school are orphans. We all brought school supplies which we will leave with the teacher. Ed led a session with the students (10-12 year olds?) explaining where Canada is and what it is like. By African standards, Canada is sparsely populated. Nova Scotia, Ed points out would easily fit within the area of Tanzania, but while Nova Scotia has a population of less than 100,000, Tanzania’s population is 40,000,000.
This is the day everyone in our group was looking forward to. It’s the Children’s Day at KPE. Each Staurday Kimara brings 60-70 children into the center and, using music, drama and stories, helps them to work through what is happening in their lives. But today, at the request of the children, NSCC students will set the agenda for the whole day. And what a wonderful day! The students organized a sing along, Canadian Bingo, an art exchange project with a school in Nova Scotia, and (I can’t believe how successful this was) a game of Red Rover.
Jessica brought 120 MacDonald’s Happy Meal toys (..a huge Thank You to her neighbor!) and each child (and adult) present received a toy. We had well over a hundred more toys which we left with Kimara to use for home visits and future sessions with the children.
Today was a day everyone took photos and the children loved having their picture taken. A highlight of the day was when the Masaii guards allowed Jessica to take their picture. To this point we had been very respectful of the Masaii and worked on the assumption that they did not want their photos taken.
A side note about the Masaii: : “Exotic, noble, aristocratic, freedom-loving, independent, savage, impressive, arrogant and aloof…” (The Rough Guide to Tanzania, p. 446). The Masaii warriors (their designation from age 13-45) are definitely in a class of their own. The warriors we ncountered at Kimara were dressed in traditional red checked and purple robes. Now, think about just how much cool factor is required to pull that off and still look aloof! But the Masaii are tall people and carry themselves very erect. The security guards at Kimara also carry three-fool long bush knives. Nikki asked Mr. M about them and he explained that security was a common employment for the Masaii men because they are “brave and sincere”. And really, really, cool!
Kimara provided lunch for everyone (some 100 people) By 3:30 we were exhausted and it was time to say our good buys. That was not a simple process.
You think we might have called it a day, but we had plans to go to the cultural center for a show and dinner that evening so after a quick stop at the grocery store for safari goodies, it was back to the Econolodge to get ready. The dinner was a good as Monday’s lunch had been and we got a front row seat for a theatre group performing traditional dance and music.
Today we joined Mr. Mayama for a drug counseling session at one of the Kimara satellite offices about ten minutes from the main office (by rut and road). Mr. Bennet, the caretaker of the satellite center, did most of the translation today to allow Mr. Mayama to focus on the “user” population they were trying to reach.
All of the African attendees seemed bright, young and healthy, although basic logic tells me that this group probably exceeds the general statistic for HIV infection. But they are so young and healthy looking! They certainly didn’t look like a “user” or even “at-risk” population. (Goes to show what I know) Mostly male, teenagers…there was a lunch provided after the session and I have to assume some were there just for that reason.
After the introductions, Gideon, one of our favorite Kimara staff members, led a brainstorming session regarding the ground rules for the discussion. This was, of course, all conducted in Swahili so we found out what it was about when Mr. Manyama translated.
As the first hour moved ahead, more and more young boys (at least they look like young boys to me) joined the group. Seating in the small room soon became a problem. I shared my straight-backed wooden chair with Godfrey, a young guy who came in with his ball cap in his hand and two cell phones. I wondered about the phones. (This is a real anomaly. Almost everyone we’ve met has a cell phone. Even some of the Mamas during the Grandmother’s Day had cell phones. Obviously, text messaging is cheap here. And obviously communication is important. But at home I don’t carry a cell phone, and it seems such an odd indulgence in these circumstances. I guess it’s not possible for me to understand or explain everything here.)
There were five females in the group. One young girl had the most beautiful baby girl – huge baby eyes, healthy-looking, interested in everything and dressed in a little pink dress.
The group was uniformly engaged and interested in what Mr. M is saying. And that seemed to have something to do with inventorying the drugs used in the area. One the white board he listed nine, I recognize cocaine and petrol. The list also included Gubeli (Ecstasy) and Pombe (Alcohol). In Africa drugs touch youths 15-45 in large numbers. Above that age the user population is smaller and not significant.
Nikki occasionally tried to relocate her video camera and tripod in the tightly packed space. She had ear phones on and was monitoring sound as well as visuals. She was trying to be inconspicuous but that was a challenge with forty-some people packed knee to knee to a 16×10 space.
While there has always been traditional drugs used in Tanzania, today’s more serious problem stems from the movement of ‘hard’ drugs from the eastern countries such and Pakistan and Bangladesh in the 1970s and 80s. Africa originally was not a market, just a transfer point but it wasn’t long before the merchandise was tested. When drugs were introduced in the 1980’s (by North American standards that was actually quite late) HIV/AIDS was introduced during the same period of time. And the danger of drugs is not just the injections. Under the influence people will engage in riskier sex and there is the possibility that a user may be raped or sodomized while high. The group is warned that IV drug users have twelve times more chance of being infected with HIV/AIDS.
The discussion moved on to safe injection sites, an interesting concept for the African participants as it seemed to them (and some Canadians will agree) that this is the government condoning drug use. But Jolene made the excellent point that not only does this work to stop the spread of HIV and Hepatitis but it also puts the users within reach of councilors and services which may lead to possible recovery.
At one point Mr. M got caught up in the discussion and perhaps forgot to translate or have Mr. Bennet translate. After forty minutes of animated Swahili, he explained that one young man in the front row has stated that he used that morning; he wanted to know what Kimara could do for him. Mr. Manyama’s response, translated for our benefit, was “ We will listen to you. We are here for you.” (I suspect from the length of the discussion that this translation was not comprehensive) But now I understood why Mr. Manyama’s focus was on the Swahili discussion. He was engaged with someone he felt was ready to receive help. To stop and translate would have been a distraction at a crucial point. As well as we were treated at Kimara’s sessions, at that point we were secondary and after a very brief translation (or perhaps more an explanation) Mr. M returned to the Swahili discussion.
At the end of the session Mama Kiwia spoke to the group in Swahili. There was lots of vocal agreement with her comments. Despite their circumstances and the facts of poverty and despair this group faced, they put their heart into this discussion.
When one of our group asked whether drug users here were ostracized by their families (as they sometimes are in Canada), the answer was yes – for those who still have families. Many in this group had lost their parents and other family members to AIDs.
Today we accompanied Mama Elizabeth and Mr. Manyama on two home visits. The first was with a grandmother raising four of her grandchildren. When we arrived, the Mama and her grandchildren, spread reed mats under a tree in the yard and we all sat comfortably. The Mama told us her story; she used to be a teacher (for 30 years) and five of her children died of AIDs. They were all educated and professionals. She spent all of her retirement money caring for them and now she’s looking after their children, Spelasia , Eric, Witness, and Sharon. She showed us the small garden where she grew food for the family and brought out some of the reed mats she and the children wove. A large mat (~8X8) would take up to a month to weave by hand and would sell for $35,000Tsh ($35USD) and smaller ones were$20,000-25,000Tsh (~$20-25 USD). With the money she made selling mats she paid the children’s school tuition. Although the mats were bulky and would be a challenge to pack, two of the girls bought one each. It was a great sales day for the Mama and before we left we gave the family a gift of Maple Syrup from Canada.
The second home visit was with a grandmother who lost four of nine children to AIDs. She caught HIV herself while caring for her daughter, and now she is raising her grandchild, Angela, a gorgeous eight-year old who also has HIV. Her remaining children will have nothing to do with them because they are afraid they their families may catch the virus.
During these visits the Kimara team brings small bags of corn and wheat, they check that the families are accessing the ARV (antiretroviral) programs available to them and continuing to take the medications. That these medications need to be taken with food is an issue for people who don’t have food.
The Kimara region is called a “peri-urban” region of Dar es Sallam. We might call is a “suburb”, but once you’ve experienced it, you’d know that the word “suburb” doesn’t quiet bring the right images to mind. It is a sprawling neighborhood of deeply rutted dirt tracks lined with 8×10 and 10×10 corrugated iron shops. The nearby homes are a hodge-podge of the same corrugated iron, wooden sticks, mud, thatch, and occasionally grey fire bricks. In front of most huts, people tend charcoal cooking fires. There is no electricity and no running water here. There is not much wood available and it seems all of the cooking fires are made with charcoal. Charcoal production is actually illegal in most Africa countries because it is taking a significant toll on the continent’s forests. In the bush, trees are harvested and burned in combination with sand to produce the charcoal “pellets” (a generous term for black chunks). These pellets burn longer than wood alone and are the main fuel for cooking and heating. A plastic shopping bag of charcoal will sell for about $1,000Tsh (~$1USD).
Current statistics suggest half of sub-Saharan Africa’s 600 million people (leave out the Arab countries of North Africa) live on just 65 American cents a day. Robert Guest, author of The Shackled Continent suggests that even this figure is “misleadingly rosy”. In Kimara I know I am amongst the people on the low end of that statistic. Yet, as our mini-bus lurches and bumps along to the KPE office that first morning, Ashley tells us that we’re going to love this place; it is her favorite place on earth. She right of course; we do.
So how do you go about tackling an HIV/AIDs epidemic if you are just one person in a community where at least two of every ten people are infected? (Tanzania HIV indicator Survey, 2003-2004) In 1992 Pfiriael (Mama) Kawai joined with seven others to start Kimara Peer Educators . Kimara’s core activity area are:
Care and support
Capacity building to local emerging NGOs/CBOs on HIV/AIDS Programming
Participation in research and linking it to grassroots communities for effective HIV/AIDS responses
Networking and collaboration
As needs were identified (such as school tuition support and drug counseling) Kimara has expanded their activities where they could to meet the needs. But they have always adhered to the core values of peer education and community action. In 1996 Kimara became an official NGO (non-government organization) which made it eligible for foreign aid.
Today over twenty people work /volunteer at Kimara and there are three satellite offices where counseling and peer tutoring sessions are held. These are still in the Kimara district but perhaps five to ten kilometers away. When people have no way to travel except by walking, it is important that Kimara can bring its program to other parts of the community and they are very proud of the satellite operations.
During the orientation session with the Kimara staff we got to put some context around what they were trying to accomplish. In this community most families eat one meal a day. An average family would be six people and it wouldn’t be unusual for them to rent one room. There are no subsidies for the unemployed. Since in all of Africa only one person in ten holds a formal ‘job’ (Guest, 2005, The Shackled Continent, p75 ) that stat would be closer to one in a hundred in Kimara. Primary education (to grade six) is free though bus fare to school is the reason many children cannot attend. Secondary school tuition (grade seven to twelve) is $20,000Tsh/year ($20USD). Unemployment is still a problem even for the educated and unemployment leads to a high crime rate.
At dinner that evening our group tried to make sense of what we had seen and heard. Katie Orr, probably because as Director of NSCC International she’d been there before, pinpointed the problem that was unsettling to us. She said, “You’re facing an uncomfortable truth; you are in a position of power by virtue of your passport and your skin color.” To that point, none of us would have described ourselves as rich or powerful, and it wasn’t a description that sat well with most of us.