Monthly Archives: July 2017

The Build

The Build Site – Day 1. The fundi (foreman) sits waiting for his workers while Leki does a little dance and Nhatebu just shakes his head.

Building a school in Tanzania is a little bit different than building a school in BC. On the other hand, there are some similarities.

As you can tell by looking at the photo, when we arrived a previous group had built the foundation and filled in about 2/3 of the floor. We worked to complete the floor and start the walls.

The floor consists of large rocks – 5″ – 7″ spread out and a cement mixture poured over them. The mixture consists of 7 wheelbarrow loads of a grey black dirt, 4 wheelbarrow loads of 1″ gravel, two bags of cement and water. Here’s the process’

  1. Move the 7 wheelbarrows of dirt approximately 10 metres.
  2. Move the 4 wheelbarrows of gravel approximately 4 metres
  3. Four people using spades mix the dirt and gravel, turning them over and over until well mixed.
  4. Add the 2 bags of cement and mix all over again.
  5. Carry buckets and buckets of water approximately 50 meters, add to the dry mixture and turn over and over and over until it is a decent consistency.
  6. Carry heavy buckets of the mixture to the incomplete floor – approximately 5 metres.
  7. Pour the mixture onto the rocks.
  8. Trowel until reasonably smooth.
  9. Repeat as necessary.

This is not work for the faint of heart. I opted for the troweling since I couldn’t do the mixing. Not an easy task, but much easier than turning over the mixtures. It was amazing to watch how effectively this was done. It was also amazing to watch the work of the other 24 people on the build. I know this may come off as somewhat sexist or stereotyping, but the kind of heavy lifting and manual work which was necessary is not usually done by women.

Each time we started work, water had to poured over all the bricks in the lower rows.

Cathy wets the bricks

Once that was done the mortar was prepared.

Mark and Barb add the water while Anneli and Margaret are at the ready to mix.

After the blocks were put in place, the wet mortar was added.

Missy and Liz mortar them together

You see the big pile of blocks under the green arrow?

See the blocks?

Originally the blocks were just beyond the people filling the wheelbarrows in the photo below. (More on that in a moment.) They had to be passed by hand from their old location to the middle of the classroom. Part way through the passing, the hard-working Ms Trudeau (Disclaimer 3: name changed to protect her true identity) let loose with a “THERE’S A HUGE RAT – I SAW ITS TAIL”. This caused a rapid changing of position as those on the lower level immediately sought refuge on a higher level. After a delay, and as you may imagine, the passing of the blocks slowed down as we waited to see if it reappeared.  After a couple more teasing looks at the tail, the little guy finally showed himself (or herself, I can’t sex these things). Turns out it was just a gecko and apparently one of several who made their home in the pile. Quite amusing – in retrospect of course.

Shovel, shovel, shovel. BTW see the green circle – that’s where the buckets of water had to be carried from.

Now, see the green box? If you look back at the first photo in the post, it is the area just to the right of the fundi, between the 3rd and 4th rows of blocks. This entire area had to be hand dug out and moved elsewhere – fun, huh?

For those of you unfamiliar with masonry, sometimes you have to trim a block or two.

Good use of a machete

One way to get around the job site…

On our final day, Me to We Tanzania 2017, Community Leaders, Fundi and his assistants.

Our group

The Shoe Blog

My “steel-toed” workboots

It’s Easy To Have Your Heart Broken – Revised

(Disclaimer: There is a possibility, unlikely of course, that I didn’t get all the facts straight – there is definitely a language issue between the teachers and us. Even though they speak quite good English sometimes there were misunderstandings. Hopefully, if there are errors the someone on the trip will correct me in the comments. Thanks.)

This morning we spent a couple of hours at the school we are involved with. It was truly an eye-opening, heart wrenching and inspiring experience. Let me give you a description of the morning and then the emotional response.

This vast dusty plain is what is across the road into the school. It seemingly goes on forever

The camp we are at is about 2 hours from Arusha in what can only be described as appearing to be in the middle of nowhere. The school is about 250 yards from the camp. As we approached it you could see the kids running to the gate and lining up in two lines, one on either side of the path. Then they started to sing a welcoming song. We went down the row, shaking each child’s and adult’s hand, while saying Jambo – hello.

The school has 230 students from grade 1 through 7 and consists of 9 cinderblock buildings. There is one building for grade 7, one for grades 6, 5, 4 and 3, and 1 for 1 and 2. There is a washroom for the children and another for staff. There is a cooking building and 3 teaherages. There seemed to be one teacher per grade and one classroom per grade. The school was originally built in 1995 by the community, and I think it was likely built with wood. Over the years the We organization has  transformed it into the cinderblock school with high ceilings and glass windows.

We were in two classrooms, the grade 7 class where there were about 15 kids who gave us a further greeting, and the grade 1 room with no kids. We spent a couple of hours listening to some speeches and then talking to the teachers individually. The classrooms had just a few things on the walls – a chart of the numbers 1 – 99, the vowels, some examples of addition (grade 1 class), a drawing of a uterus (grade 7 class)…

Grade 1 classroom

Grade 1 classroom

Grade 7 classroom

Grade 7 classroom with drawing of a uterus. I guess sex ed is a world wide topic for grade 7…

Although all of the teachers spoke English, several of the staff and community members spoke to us of their appreciation in Swahili with our Maasai guides interpreting for us. It was clear they deeply appreciate what We has done and what we are going to do while we are here.

The school serves an area of approximately 20 km square. There are about 800 adults plus children. As far as I can tell, there is no central village, but rather scattered homes throughout the area – think early prairie homesteaders. The students walk to school – some up to 10 kilometres each way. Many of them start out each day at 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning to be at school for 7:00.

The ubiquitous school bell, calling the kids to class

School isn’t totally mandatory and some parents keep their kids home because it is just too far. Some kids leave home in the morning, hide in the bush all day and then go home when they see other kids coming home, telling their parents they were at school all day. If the kids don’t show up at school for a couple of daze there is a community liaison who goes to the home to talk to the parents. Still others will send their oldest to school but keep the others to look after the family goat herd.

Most students only go to Grade 7 and then stay home. There is a national exam at the end of grade 7 which covers the 9 subjects they take. In order to go on to secondary school, they must achieve a certain level.

The area we are in is a Maasai region and they speak Ma. When the children come to grade 1, they are forced to learn Swahili as that is the national language and that is the language they are taught in. They start to learn English in grade 4.

To become a teacher you take a two year course after the completion of secondary school. Once you are a teacher, the government tells you where you are going. The teachers here live in the teacherages – sometimes going home on the weekends and sometimes staying there as it is too far to go. To become a principal, you are appointed by the “ministry of education.”

The government does not fund education other than textbooks and teacher salaries which are very low and apparently secret as they wouldn’t tell us how much they made, other than new teachers get less and old teachers get more. Parents provide the school uniforms and supplies and if they can’t afford them their daughter/son go without or borrow from a friend.

The children have very little food. It didn’t appear that a recess snack was in the cards. The school has a small cooking area and the kids collect sticks of wood for the fire and the school provides one cup of maize based porridge at lunch each day at lunch time.

The school has no electricity although the wires are in place and they are just waiting to be connected to the grid. They do have some solar power but that appears to be used solely to power the satellite dish for the tv which is the entertainment for the teachers in the evening.

The visit generated a wide spectrum of emotions for me.

Walking down the line of children was an interesting experience. Many of the kids had vibrant sparkling personalities and greeted me with great big smiles and a very healthy JAMBO! Others were quiet but would engage with a quieter Jambo while others had an almost blank look and seemed to not even have the energy to shake my hand. It was a very unsettling feeling to see the lack of light in so many eyes.

I chatted with the principal for about half an hour and I was immensely impressed with the staff’s dedication to the kids and to the value of an education. They have very little to work with in terms of supplies. When I compared it to what I had when teaching it was overwhelming. There is no PAC to fundraise and no financial resources in the community to call upon. I came away with both sadness at the discrepancies and huge respect for what they are doing. Despite all the shortcomings they endure they all seemed to be very very happy – lots and lots of laughter.

For years in BC we have talked about the lack of funding of education. While that is correct and while we should not compare what we have to what the community of Engutukoit doesn’t have, perhaps a better understanding of what can be done with less would lessen our own frustration.


(Disclaimer #1 formerly Ed. Note: Geoff is on his own for this trip. Terry is home in Penticton entertaining her book club ladies. He’s pretty sure the 23 women and 1 other guy will keep him in line)

We are now on our way home and I’ll start to write my posts over the next little while. It was difficult to find the right time and mind set while we were there. It was an amazing experience and I frequently had to shake my head to comprehend that I was in Africa. For those of you who have followed the blog from the beginning, you know that I am often a little sarcastic and occasionally irreverant. I also used a wide variety of photos, both posed and not in order illustrate the ideas I wanted to share. I’m not sure how much of that is going to come across in the Tanzanian postings. The Me to We organization is doing good work in the communities it is working with. However,as I mentioned previously, they frown on the types of photos I frequently utilize. We were asked not to take pictures of people at their work or outside their homes, on the street or in restaurants and markets, etc. I knew going in these restrictions existed and I have tried to limit those types of shots. However, there may be some included over the posts. On the occasions I do this I hope to do it judiciously and with respect to both the Tanzanians and the We family. There so many fantastic shots that never were taken that I hope Dayvo, Anna and Sahana will forgive the ones I did take. And now off to Arusha, Engutukoit, Tangangire National Park, Mount Kilimanjaro (Kili to those in the know!) and environs.

There is just no other word to describe it. I am sitting here in The Peter Gilgan* Leadership Centre in Arusha, Tanzania. It is one of the most fantastic and yet unsettling experiences I have ever had – and this is just day 1! On my right there are 7 Canadian women, 4 of whom are battling it out over a crib board and on my left is a Masai warrior, one of two who will be our guides for our 10 days here. How’s that for surreal!
We landed at Kilimanjaro International Airport at 3:10 this morning and got through customs by 4:30 – 32 hours after checking in at YVR. A very interesting experience. First you line up to get a visa – $50 for Canadians but $100 for Americans – who knows what the charge for whathisname would be.
After you pay for your visa, you line up again to see the first customs agent who gives you the actual visa and then sends you the second agent who checks the work of the previous agent and stamps the visa and away you go. I’m guessing they are working on the concept of full employment.

You do get a nice photo of yourself though


The red arrow on the left is Arusha, Tanzania and the camp is on the red circle on the right is, obviously, the camp.

We were met by our facillitators Anna and Sahana, our Masei guides Lekititi (Leki) and Nhatebu – both in full Masei regalia, and our drivers Omari and Amani.
We are very close to the equator – 3 degrees south and it gets dark (6:30 – 7:00 pm) and light (6:30 am) almost instantly so driving in to Arusha this morning was in the dark. The drive in took about an hour and a half and we saw lots of people walking to work along the very narrow highway – not a place I’d walk for sure. We were discussing how dark it was and suddenly the headlights went off. I figured it was our driver Amani turning them off to show us how dark it really was, but no, he says “Oh oh, I have a problem”. Now it was DARK, we are now parked on the side of a (remember, it was very narrow) highway with no lights – front or rear. Twitchy is a pretty good way to describe how we were feeling. However, Amani jumps out, pops the hood and discovers it is just a loose connection. When was the last time that happened to you and your car?
When Terry and I have travelled to other parts of the world which might be considered developing countries, one of the most noticeable things was the poverty one sees when driving in to a city. It was no different here. Although it was dark on the drive, it was clear that many of the homes along the way were a reflection of the lower economic situation. It will be interesting to see it in the light of day.
We arrived at the Peter Gilgan Leadership Centre to a light breakfast of toast, fried eggs, fruit, coffee and chai. Now, serving 25 people fried eggs all at the same could cause some kitchens a little challenge, but not with We. Each time we had fried eggs, over 50 were presented in a warm chafing dish. While they may not have been piping hot, they were always tasty and nutritious. In fact all of our meals were nutritious, tasty and, as they say in China, delicious! The only complaint I had – at least until the last day – was that the lunches were always vegetarian – and those of you who know me can figure out my reaction to that! However we did have a fantastic coriander chicken on the final day. Thanks Steven.
After breakfast we had a chance to rest in our tents. Now, my idea of camping is the Holiday Inn Express but these tents were fantastic – complete with an ensuite I’d like to have in Penticton. Plumbed in shower and sinks with hot water and flushing toilets. Pretty cool. (Disclaimer #2: Not to say we don’t have running water in Penticton…)
In retrospect, perhaps I should have opened the window flaps to get some light in there, but you’ll get the idea.

After lunch we were off to the community of Engutukoit where the school is. First of all though a little about the roads in Arusha. The ride from the paved highway in to the Centre takes about 15 minutes and it isn’t paved or even gravel. It is a dirt track which I’m sure in the rainy season would be nearly impassable. In the non-rainy season cars throw up an awful lot of dust on other cars and the many people who walk on it. It is interesting because the area around the centre is a very popular area for the rich caucasians in Arusha. We were perhaps half an hour from the centre of town and 15 minutes or so of that was getting back to the highway.
From the centre to the building site was about an hour and a half – with the last 20 minutes on an even more dusty road. We had a bus and a Land Rover. On the ride in from the airport, I was in the Land Rover, and everytime we travelled after that, either one of the guides or drivers told me to get in the car when I went to get on the bus. This had it’s good and bad points. I had leg room but no a/c; I had a good view, but lots of dust found its way into the cabin. The price one pays! After day 1 I encouraged Amani to be sure he was “Number 1”.

Just a tad dusty…


Not a lot of vegetation near Engutukoit

The camp at Engutukoit was similar to the centre with one or two exceptions. First, no running water. The water comes across to the camp from the school, a distance of about 250 yards. More on this in a subsequent post. So, with no running water, there obviously weren’t any flush toilets. Just drop toilets. Now the staff at the camp did a yeoman job to keep the toilets (I think there were 7 or 8) fresh, but c’mon, I gag taking out the garbage. Water for showers was kept hot by the “magimogi” (sp.?) who would bring three gallons (I think) of hot water to your shower stall and pour it into the bag, which you could then turn on and off before and after sudsing up. Very effective. I got smart after my first shower. Leave the flipflops ON when showering, then you don’t keep slipping on the rubber mat floor. Smart, huh!

My tent at Engutukoit


Drop toilet on the left, shower on the right

Next post – more at Engutukoit.

The Shoe Blog

What else?
Only took three times almost falling on my butt to figure out I should leave them on.

In to Africa


Well here I sit at YVR waiting for:

Plane ride #1 – Vancouver to Paris 9 hours and 45 minutes

Plane ride #2 – Paris to Nairobi 8 hours and 5 minutes

Plane ride #3 – Nairobi to Kilimanjaro City 3 hours and 11 minutes.

Leave Vancouver 1:30 Sunday afternoon and arrive Tanzania at 3:10 Tuesday morning.

I’m going with the Me to We organization. Check out what they are all about.

Should be a wealth of incredible experiences. Helping to build a school, seeing how people live in a small African community, going on a one day safari, climbing to base camp of Kilimanjaro and living with 23 women and 1 other man for 13 days.

Should also be interesting in terms of photography- it is frowned upon to take random photos of people. One needs to have developed a relationship with individuals beforehand. Chances of continuing the Shoe Blog might be limited.

Finally, we will have limited (read no) access to the internet, so although I will write a daily (hopefully) post, I won’t be able to publish until the 21st or 22nd. Look for them then.

The Shoe Blog

Okay, so I am not really supposed to have done this, but on the other hand I did take it on the beach in Penticton yesterday so it doesn’t really count.

Look closely- Just what you wear to the beach

Asante Sana