Planting the seeds…. (Day 9)
Our last day in Kondoa began with samosas (an Indian triangular shaped fried turnover – with either meat or potatoes inside), boiled eggs, Tanzanian doughnuts, hot tea, fruit juice and potatoes. There was a bit of a scramble to get everyone organized – Lilian and her daughters were returning to Dodoma to get ready to go back to school next week and their son, Amani was going to go with us to Itolwa on the way to Dodoma.
We loaded up the LR with all of our luggage, the driver, Bishop Given, Amani, me, Christopher, and John and began the very long, very bumpy drive to Itolwa. Itolwa is “the back of beyond”. This is deep, deep into the dry and arid region of Kondoa.
These are very poor people. There is a mixture of Muslim and Masai people living here. The majority of the people are herders – goats, donkeys, or cattle or some combination of the animals. The Anglican Church represents the main Christian group. Bishop Given started his work as an evangelist in the area, so that is how he came to know of the deep desperation here. Fifteen years ago he began by riding his bicycle out to Itolwa and it would take him all day. He said the road was there, but it was not as wide. It took us about 3 hours in the LR.
As we drove along the landscape changed from dry and dusty to just dusty. Everything was dusty. We could see donkeys pulling carts as we drove along, there was very little vegetation and I don’t remember seeing any garden plots at all. Bishop Given explained that the reason we saw so many mosques in each village was that rival families had their own mosques as a sort of power play. However because of the poor education in the region most of the imams and the people there only memorized the Koran in Arabic, so they really did not know what they were reciting. The identification as a Muslim was based more on tradition than conviction.
We drove down into these dry river - bed gullies onto concrete “bridges” that would be flooded whenever there was a heavy rain. I am sure there were periods of time when these roads were impassable. Along these dry river - beds there were huge holes that had been dug for wells. This area is very sandy, so the sides of the beds were not very stable and yet I could see the heads of small children looking over the tops of the “wells” as they filled up containers with water. Or people would stand on the edges of these holes and drop a bucket attached to a rope and pull the water up by hand – one bucket at a time. It is very time consuming, difficult and dangerous.
We stopped to visit the church that had been established at Itolwa. They have almost 300 members. The very patient parishioners who had been waiting for us to show up greeted us warmly. Everyone came over to shake hands and welcome us – “Karibu”. I’m quite sure there were some Masai grandmas there – they were very short, lots of wrinkles and huge holes in their ear lobes.
Once again we went into the brick walled church for an enthusiastic performance by the choir with the portable generator operated keyboard. It was beautiful – I wish I could be so confident it my singing voice that I could just belt it out! There was a report of the state of the parish – an increase in membership, a need for pre - schoolteachers, and a new church being planted in another village. These are all good things! We were given Masai robes as gifts. I have been touched time and time again by the generosity and hospitality of these very poor in material goods, but rich in spirit people.
Another lunch in another pastor’s house – but this time the hospitality touched me even more because there was no evidence of a garden in the area. All of the bananas, the tomato stew, and the oranges had to have been bought from some other community and transported there so that they could serve us a meal. I am sure they were also being hospitable to their Bishop, but the fact remains that it was no simple matter to get the ingredients for our lunch. So even though some of the meat looked questionable, I served myself some rice and had some tomato stew and hot tea.
Once again I was amazed at how many people can squeeze into a Land Rover – I think I counted somewhere around 12 people total – plus all of our luggage that was in the back! At any rate, we drove over to the well that this community uses.
I will try to describe the scene that awaited us there, but I am afraid that words will fail to capture the true impact of what we observed that day.
Try to imagine a landscape that is sandy, with dunes, a massive ravine created by flash flooding, and huge holes that pockmark the area. There is very little vegetation and what does exist is very scrubby looking. Very little shade is available. The holes are not fenced off in any way. This appears to be a major destination for finding water. There are herds of cattle and goats and donkeys intermingled with women and children who are there with containers to collect water.
As we walked past a hole I looked down and there at the bottom of a dry well was a cow that had fallen in and couldn’t get out. It must have happened sometime in the morning because it was lying on its side and I could tell it was still alive, but just barely because it did not make a sound, but just looked at me. I continued walking trying not to imagine what would have happened if a child or woman had fallen in and been injured – where would she get help? No one appeared to care about the cow – not that anything could have been done anyway – there was no way to get it out and it probably had broken something, so it would stay there until it died.
There was a bore well that had been dug and capped off with a concrete top; it was operated by a hand pump. The man who owned it charged money for the water. It was cleaner water than in the hand - dug wells – they had animal manure in them. The other wells were dug by individuals to try to access the water
We watched as one man stood on the edge of a well with a rope and a bucket as he brought the water up. Christopher estimated that it was about 8 meters deep. He was barefoot; there was no railing to hold onto, nothing to prevent him from falling into the hole. At another site we watched a man walk down an incline to another hole, take a rope and put a bucket into the hole and pull up the water for an estimated 12 meters. Bishop Given said that it every year at least one woman would die from falling into one of these wells.
It was truly one of the most soul searing experiences that I have had – the desolation, the isolation, the other worldliness of the landscape were just almost overwhelming. At least in the other villages we had visited they were doing some farming to feed themselves, there seemed to be the possibility of hope. Here it was so tempting to think that nothing could be done. However, the people in the area are not without hope – they have been searching and they have found that in the Anglican Church – that is why new churches are being planted. I decided to take solace in that for now.
We returned to Itolwa to drop off the parishioners who had accompanied us and found out that they had a snack waiting for us. While we were sitting there with our hot tea, bananas and oranges Bishop Given was explaining to me that the men wanted to know why he referred to me as “Pam”. In Tanzania I should be referred to as “Mama Justine” or John should be referred to as “Baba Julian” – adults are identified by the name of their eldest child. I laughed and said that there have been many times when I have been known as “Justine’s mom” and that was okay with me!
We said our goodbyes and continued on our way back to Dodoma. It was close to 7 o’clockby the time we pulled up to the Gaula’s house. We had time to settle into our rooms in the guesthouse that is attached to their house before Bishop Given and Lilian joined us for dinner. We didn’t know it but we were in for a treat – Lilian had prepared Bishop Given’s favorite dish. A green banana stew that I must confess was my favorite dish of the whole trip. It was made with onions, carrots, garlic, potatoes, green bananas and coconut milk – a truly unique Tanzanian dish. I would have been happy just eating that for dinner.
We discussed what we had seen that day in Itolwa. Africa Windmill Project would like to commit to exploring a realistic solution to the problem of access to a safe water source. This will be a project that is different from what they typically do, but the need is so overwhelming that it is not acceptable to just do nothing. So solutions will be explored.
Unfortunately it was rather late by the time we finished eating, so I only had enough time to talk for a while with Bishop Given and Lilian. Lilian and I looked at the latest purse designs by the ladies sewing class. I bought samples to bring back with me and will be taking orders – so be prepared!