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Richness in poverty
a travel story by Joke van den Brink in Tanzania.
6 - 29 December 2008
Green, red and blue are the colours I experience as I land at Kigoma airport, where I am welcomed with open arms by Father John, THE face of our foundation in Kasulu. This typifies the attitude of the people in this land: openness, colour, warmth and laughter. He had already travelled to Kigoma the previous day especially to be on time to collect me; a three-hour car journey if it isn’t raining. That’s how it works here: no effort is spared to make sure that you are comfortable.
The trip from Kigoma to Kasulu is magical: the redness of the earth; the green of the vegetation; and the blue sky, occasionally grey when a rain front passes over, as it often does in the afternoons. The temperature is pleasant. With every journey in the coming three weeks I am constantly amazed by this environment. Sometimes we pass through a village:
subsumed in the red of the earth, with houses of stone or mud, roooves of thatch or corrugated iron, often half-built until there is enough money to build further.
I see colourfully clad people and uncountable numbers of children, whose faded clothes blend into the colour of the earth under their feet. Sometimes I feel like a queen and feel a little embarrassed by all the attention. So many people wave to me, shouting out: Mzungu, mzungu!, meaning ‘white person’. Later on, in Dar Es Salaam, I see a white person and nudge my guide, Melchior: “Look, a mzungu!”
During the first few days, there are plenty of opportunities to get familiar with the culture. The day starts early: at half past six there is enough flowing water to have a cold shower, followed by mass at seven, breakfast with coffee, tea and white bread and jam, honey or peanut butter. Lunch is at one o’clock: ugali, rice, potatoes and brown beans and bananas. There is also meat: chicken, pork or beef, but this is usually so tough that I decide to go through life there as a vegetarian. Dessert often consists of mangos, and sometimes juicy pineapple with a natural flavor that we are not used to here in the Netherlands. 
The evening meal, at 8 o’clock, consists of the same ingredients with an additional tablespoonful of vegetables: cabbage or cooked leaves from the bean plant. 
In the three weeks that I was there, I constantly had a slight feeling of being hungry. I never had the feeling that I had eaten to my full satisfaction; the food fills the stomach, and that is all. This was confirmed in a conversation on the subject: “we eat to fill our stomachs”. The luxury of our eating behavior in the Netherlands is unknown there. I found this aspect of my journey challenging, and I longed for a good old-fashioned Dutch boerenkool-stamppot. 
At this time of year, there is an over-supply of mangos, some of which are left to rot away because there is no way to preserve them. It would be exciting to set up a project to deal with this problem, I think. 
Coming back to my typical day: around five-thirty in the evening, a bucket of warm water is left at my door, together with a strong piece of soap - the daily washing ritual involving a mug and a piece of soap. I look forward to this every day. In the evening the generator supplies electricity from six-thirty to half past nine. It is just enough to charge my mobile phone and my camera. We also eat at that time and watch the Tanzanian news: whatever is happening in the rest of the world is lost to me during those weeks. After eating I have half-an-hour to write in my diary or to read a book before the lights go out, and then it is time to sleep. 
One Saturday, a Kasulu Foundation day is organized by Father John. This is the first time such a day has taken place. Lots of the sponsored children come to the pastoral centre, traveling for hours by bus or by dalla dalla. The dalla dalla is the most readily available form of transport for the population, small buses with enough seating for 12 people. But there is room for 25 people as long as there is enough space to stand, and if the door is left open you can also hang half outside! 
Most of the children do not know each other, so everyone has to feel their way: What’s your name? Where are you from? How many brothers and sisters do you have? All the usual greeting rituals. After handing out bottles of soda (a rare treat for usually reserved for Sundays and holidays) and a plate with a sort of olliebol, we gather in the meeting room where Father John welcomes the children. At the end, we share out the shoes and jumpers that have been brought from the Netherlands. I have a chat with every child, supported by Elise, whose English is good enough for her to act as an interpreter. It’s a pity I don’t speak Swahili, but with the help of Elise, and later Agnes, the ice is broken. Children do not often come into contact with white people and some of them find it a little scary to talk with me. 
A lot of these children only see their families during the holidays. The school is further than a day’s travel away, and the children therefore live on the school grounds. This also costs money, but people are prepared to makes sacrifices so that their children can go to school. Many of the children are keen pupils and want to show me what they have learned at school, trying out their English. We have fun with some language games, trying to teach each other new words, using hands and feet to make ourselves understood. The open way in which they make contact moves me. Picha, picha: photo! Everyone wants to be on the photo: people are proud of who they are! Agnes borrows my notepad so that I can photograph her as a university student, which is what she wants to be in the future. It is such a pity that I can’t distribute the photos immediately and that people have to make do with the image on the camera. I realize that a few of the children might not even know what they look like: I haven’t seen many mirrors. 
Nearly all the children report that they’re doing well. That’s how they experience it despite the physical complaints such as headaches and stomach aches and the facts that there is no money for a doctor, or that one of their parents has passed away, or that their houses are in poor repair, or that they don’t have enough to eat. There is a form of acceptance for which I, as a Westerner, have a deep respect. This acceptance is not fatalistic, but rather it is an acceptance of what there is and a satisfaction with this. They would like to become doctors, nurses, teachers, or seamstresses or technicians, all professions that are relevant in this land and this culture. One of the children, a boy who has cycled 20 kms (and then on these roads) to meet me, proudly tells me that he wants to be the president of Tanzania. This seems to me to be a really good idea: what a great kid! There are a number of children with a lot of potential to stimulate development here. 
The following week, I spent a lot of time traveling with father John in the jeep.
But we seldom traveled alone. There is always someone who can use a lift, or else a few men come with us in case the car gets stuck. There are no asphalt roads here. The red earth is clay-like and if there is a shower the road quickly becomes unusable. 
I spend a few days in Kabanga, visiting the children in the village. The houses are dark inside. With the flash, I make a few photos of ‘bedrooms’ that never see daylight. I suppose some people never know what their bed looks like. Many people sleep on mats made from the stems of sugar plants, but others sleep on the earth itself or else on a wooden frame. I meet people who rely on the gifts of others because they have no income and yet still manage to have enough left over to send their children to school. Despite all this, they are proud to let you see where they live, and you are always welcome at their table and in their house. It impresses me time and again, this experience of a richness that we in the west no longer experience. 
Among other things, I visit the hospital in Kabanga, which is trying inventively to cope in the almost complete absence of financial support. Here, a priest has managed to provide a source of energy that produces electricity, with the result that there is electricity and water day and night. I realize that we could achieve a lot in terms of development through the provision of sun-panels. I think that it is essential for the development of children that they have access to the wider world, for instance though the internet and TV. Also, the provision of electricity is essential to good health care. Sun-panels can cost as much as 1000 Euros, not including maintenance, which is more than a year’s salary even for someone earning well in Tanzania. 
Education provides the basic knowledge and English language skills that are essential for the local population to benefit from developments in other lands. Electricity is essential in order to apply this knowledge at a practical level, for instance in preserving foodstuffs (in glass or tins?), for technical developments and for the application of medical knowledge for humanitarian purposes. It is also necessary for communication means such as computers. The above example in Kabanga demonstrates that the provision of electricity is an essential next step in the development process. However, it is also essential that the natural social richness of this beautiful land is maintained alongside such developments.
More photos:
Stichting Kasulu KvK: 02086436. Rekeningnummer:
De stichting is officieel opgericht door middel van een notariele akte en als een goed-doel-instelling aangemerkt door de belastingdienst.