First full day in Mbeya by Graham:
Like how sleeping under a mosquito net feels just a little like sleeping in a four poster bed.
Like the sounds of dogs barking and growling all night, like the call to prayer invading your dreams at stupid o’clock in the morning.
Like the temperamental showers first thing in the morning. Hot water for the first five minutes, but only a trickle – a double handful every three to five seconds.
I’m going to need a new pair of shoes when I get home. Mine are so ingrained with dust after just one day, I doubt they’ll recover.
We had a lie in today – breakfast at eight, then into the fray.
Actually the morning was a lot gentler than expected. First we had a team meeting in the chapel at the karibuni centre, then we all headed out to Airport where we met with the church leaders from all the local areas where Grassroots operates. That took us to lunch – tasty samosas with mince and roasted plantains (savoury bananas. Yum).
After lunch things went up a gear or two. I was rescued from the mayhem and conscripted into making some changes to the twenty or so laptops that we’d brought over for the school. By the time that was done, interviews were well underway and everyone massively busy, so I offered to do some data inputting and spent the rest of the afternoon transferring data from completed interview sheets into the database. This much to Spud’s disgust, who wasn’t the least bit impressed with me coming all the way out to the back end of beyond and still finding a way to sit behind a computer.
Work continued until bad light stopped play, at which point we all climbed back into trucks and vans and headed back to karibuni for much needed showers and a meal.
In four hours or so this afternoon I managed to put a couple of dozen forms worth of data into the database. The team as a whole did hundreds of interviews, and by the time this trip’s over will have done thousands. The effort involved in processing the data on one of these trips is immense. There are half a dozen people still punching data in even as I type this (at 10pm), and they’ll most likely continue till gone midnight tonight. If they end up with the same knots I had in my back, I wouldn’t be surprised. As unglamorous as the job is, it is still quite a gargantuan effort and no small sacrifice, so hats off to everyone who does it.
You can’t help being affected by the nature of the data either. Children who’ve lost both their parents. Children who sleep on the floor, who’s only source of water, for drinking, for washing, for anything, is a neighbourhood standpipe or well, or who have to pay their neighbours for it. Children trying to learn in classes with upwards of fifty pupils (I think the largest class size reported in my two dozen forms today was eighty eight), and they’re the lucky ones because they have an education.
It becomes cliché to talk about how much more we have in our world than these people, but the truth of it doesn’t really sink in until you experience it first-hand. Even now I’m not particularly far from my usual affluence. I’m relaxing on a comfortable bed, in a room with painted walls and glass windows, lit by electricity, with running water in the adjoining shower and toilet, and typing into a computer the cost of which would sponsor a child here for eight years. The disparity is too great to grasp completely.
I remember coming home from Chad twenty odd years ago, and shortly after returning, I went to a local supermarket. I remember the toothpaste aisle being larger than most of the shops I went into in Chad. There were twenty different brands of toothpaste and probably half a dozen variations within each brand. In Chad your choice was toothpaste or not.
It would belittle the struggle these people face to make some pithy remark about which of us is the poorer. Certainly I would hate to be in their place, and it is a tragedy of stupendous proportions that so many people struggle on as they do in a world as rich as ours. It is still striking though to think how many young faces have smiled at me today, have taken some delight in meeting with us crazy wazungu. For all their poverty, these people could teach us a thing or two about how to live life.