Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Bucket List

Well, I've been back just over a week and I've already forgotten what it was like to live in New York!  Africa will do that to you, it's all very full-on, all at once, both the personal and the professional, the strategical and the logistical, it's.... a lot....

Monday I went to school as planned and met up with Hyasinta, Mwalimu Mshiu, Mwalimu Temba, Headmaster Kennedy, and the whole Msaranga Primary crew.  I also got to meet my six (!!) new hires, a bevy of beauties who have been in training with Hyasinta since October.  This will be the first month they are full-time Toa teachers, and we have planned to observe them next week as well as to show them how the assessments are done.

Since the 2015 Toa kids were only tested once last year, we have to do their second assessment so we can see their progress.  Hyasinta assures me they are all doing great, so we can use this small cohort, maybe 50 kids or so, to help the new teachers practice assessing.  Then the real work will come next month when we test the new class of Standard One students at Msaranga, probably about 150 if past years stand as example.  After Msaranga, there's Kiboriloni, Mnazi, and Msandaka, the three additional schools.  Hyasinta has already created teams of the teachers so we know who will go where.  She and I will float from site to site, keeping things under control (as if!).  Already we have a slight problem at Msandaka which is both a bit far and also in quite a poor state.  For instance, we don't have a classroom to use there!  The headmaster suggested chini ya mti (under a tree), but when the rains come, that ain't gonna fly either.  Not entirely sure what we'll do, but that bridge seems far in the future, we'll cross it then.

The rest of the week, I was here, there, and everywhere!  The bank (multiple times), bureau de change, motor vehicle department, car insurance office, and other delightful places like that.  I actually accomplished quite a lot although of course, quite a lot still remains to be done.  My mother will be here in two weeks, so I'm saving the really crappy tasks for when she gets here!!  Tanzania Revenue Authority, here we come!!

On Wednesday, I met up with Mongi, Vumi's husband, and we had a tender moment.  He admitted it has been hard without her and he is planning to move from Msaranga to Mjohoroni so as not to be reminded of her constantly.  I also saw Grace, Vumi's daughter, who just turned five years old.  She got tall these past four months while I was gone!  She looks like a little lady, so much like Vumi, it's scary, with her upside-down teardrop-shaped face and wide-set eyes.

My mom and I had ordered a doll for her when I was in the States and I brought it with me in the box and everything.  (Rarely do Tanzanian kids get brand-new toys or books here, so I wanted G to know that this gift was especially picked out just for her.)  We had gone back and forth about the doll for a long time.  If you Google "dolls for children of color," you get a wide array of variously offensive objects.  I thought about an American Girl doll and I know they have brown and black ones, but to bring something of that size over, I probably would have had to buy it an actual plane ticket!  My mother was adamant that the doll be soft so G could cuddle it and she was keen on a teddy bear, but I thought Tanzanians don't really know what bears are, so I nixed that idea.  We finally settled on a Madame Alexander doll with a soft plastic face and lots of black curly hair.  Her body is pillowy and brown and she is wearing an Isaac Mizrahi leopard print outfit (oh, how the mighty have fallen, Isaac!) and Rayban sunglasses.  She kind of looks like me, actually.  G loved her at once and named her Angel.

The following day, I returned to Mongi's house in order to escort G to her new boarding school in Holili, near the Kenyan border.  I had suggested we keep G in Kilimanjaro rather than send her to Dar es Salaam, which was the original plan, where she would have lived with Mongi's relatives.  I don't know what kind of school she would have gone to but certainly not one as nice as the one we found for her here.  I also felt (rather strongly) that she should remain where we are: her dad, me, Hyasinta, everyone in Msaranga who knew her mother.  Grace now knows that Vumi is gone, but I don't want that to signal the end of her relationship with her.  I have so many photos and videos and funny stories from these past 8+ years to share with G when she is ready.  I want to keep Vumi alive; for Grace, for me....

So, Hyasinta, Mongi, Mongi's sister Christina, G, and Angel the doll all piled into the Roller Skate (nickname for my tiny Suzuki) and we headed off to St. Ritaliza, a boarding school about an hour north of Moshi near Taveta, Kenya.  The place was actually quite beautiful with well-kept grounds and good buildings.  I had pre-paid everything in full from school fees to the dorm stuff she would need, so I thought we would be in and out fairly quickly.  Not so....

Typically, there was no formal registration process and so we waited perhaps an hour and a half to enlist G.  Hyasinta knows me well enough to know I don't do the Tanzanian version of a queue - pushing and sweating amongst the masses in utter chaos - so she was good enough to do the dirty work.  Below, you can see a sliver of Hyasinta as she got close to the front of the "line": she's the flowered pattern between the two stripes.  I had anticipated some back-and-forth over money, and so had steeled myself to fight the good fight, but actually there was no shida with that at all.

The real shida came with the matron who we had to see after registration.  She needed to go through G's things to make sure she had everything she was supposed to have.  Fine, fine, until.... the bucket.  Oh, the bucket and its many issues.  Apparently, girls were supposed to come with blue buckets, but on the forms we had received from the school, it was just listed "1 ndoo" or "1 bucket."  No mention of color, shape, size, etc.  Just a bucket.

I had been standing off to the side rather than being all up in the matron's business, so I missed the initial part of the conversation that Hyasinta, Baba G, and Baba G's sister were having with her.  Playing with Grace just seemed more fun.  However, once it was clear that there was some problem and having witnessed some words being exchanged, I came over to check out the situation.  It took me a moment to process: Grace can't go to school because her bucket is the wrong color?  Yes.  But, it's just written "1 ndoo" with no mention of color, how were we supposed to know?  Ask other parents.  But, this is our first year, Grace just turned five and is starting nursery, there's no precedent, and we don't know other parents yet!  Arms crossed in signal of resignation, tutafanyeje?  (What will we do?)  I started to raise my voice to say we'd bring the right color bucket another day, for the moment orange would do, but of course I knew this wouldn't fly.  Unwavering adherence to the smallest rule is the Tanzanian way!

Just when I thought we were gonna have to turn around and head back to Moshi with our shameful orange bucket and our tails between our legs, Baba G's temper started to flare.  I'd never seen him this way!  I liked it!!  I mean, the poor man has been widowed six months, he's just trying to do right by his kid, we had paid EVERYTHING in full, could this crazy matron lady not work with us to solve the all-important bucket issue?  We were ten minutes from the Kenyan border with nothing around us but tumbleweeds and the blowing wind, no bucket shops to speak of.  If the matron had her way, we would still be sitting there, staring at each other unable to come to a conclusion.

But after some strong words, Baba G went running down the hill, presumably got a ride all the way back to Moshi to get the requisite blue bucket.  I actually didn't stick around for the exciting conclusion to this storyline because the crowds for Grace to get a uniform, mattress, sheets, etc were crazy, and I would not have returned to Moshi until nighttime so I left shortly after Baba G peaced out and Christina stayed to wait with G and settle her in....  So truthfully, I don't know if the bucket was actually procured and was the right shade of blue....

At any rate, G is now a nursery student at The School of St. Ritaliza of Mt. Carmel, and I'm just praying I made the right choice in keeping her here as opposed to sending her to Dar.  I really just wanted to do right by Vumi and give G the best possible chance for a successful future.  That I am able to do this financially is obviously hugely gratifying to me, but I do hope I'm not applying my mzungu sensibility to a Tanzanian problem.  Mongi and Grace are not the first father/daughter team to lose their matriarch but I hope I'm handling the situation appropriately.  It's a fine line to walk, but I feel Vumi would give me a sign if she was displeased.  She is ever-present.

At any rate, what's done is done.  Mongi is VERY happy, says I'm Grace's mama now, but we know better, I'm just her crazy auntie!!  G is in school until vacation in March, so we shall see what her first term brings.  As for me, I'm back to Msaranga Primary, doin' the down and dirty with the village kids.  More to come on that next post.  Until then, have a peek at G's new digs!

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