MY FIRST AND SECOND IMPRESSIONS OF TANZANIA

I have been to Tanzania twice.

In the middle of 1989 I found myself standing inside an air- conditioned bank in Mombasa, queuing to change a travellers cheque… I turned away from the counter and locked past the security guard, through the frosted glass doors and onto the street. As I stood and as I watched, an old man pulled himself along the dusty pavement with his hands, dragging his spastic legs along beneath him. It was a recurring theme throughout our six weeks in East Africa. I, the foreigner, waiting to change my western currency which would probably be worth more in Kenya shillings than he would ever own. Herein lies the gulf that separates Us from Them. And yet poverty, on this scale, is not really that different from the begging which we see in most European cities these days. What is different is the overall poverty of the nation.

KENYA AND TANZANIA

This poverty was much more apparent in Tanzania, where we moved next, than in neighbouring Kenya. Since the early sixties, when Kenyatta and Nyerere took their respective nations down very different paths from independence, these two republics have grown further apart. Kenya has, quite successfully, trodden the path towards capitalism. While Tanzania remains the limping socialist state – an economic slave to its massive international debt. Yet by concentrating on the profiles of the countries I think it is possible to overlook what is actually happening to the people who live there. I met a Christian in Nairobi waiting for a bus, who had grown cynical of President Moi and his false front – as he saw it. He had been forced, through lack of money, to leave school at sixteen and was now working as a labourer for about £l per day. To complete his last two years of education would have cost him £350. This, he knows, is too much for him. He knows too, that, if he could complete those vital years he could escape from the mire in which he is stuck. “It all depends on who you know”, he told me. It was very sad to see such an obviously intelligent person so frustrated and helpless.

In sharp contrast, In spite of the multitudinous problems which face Tanzania, the people whom we met and worked alongside in Iringa ware so contented and radiant. As the Pastor of the Anglican church said to us after dinner at his house one night, in his slow and deliberate English “….though we are poor, we are rich in spirit”.
It would be simplistic and stupid to conclude from this that, although Tanzania’s economy is in a pretty bad way, its people are far happier than their neighbours in Kenya. I was, though, left with the overall impression that, bearing in mind their respective situations, the Tanzanians were more cheerful than their counterparts in Kenya.

STANDING PROUD AND STRONG
It was especially clear, from our limited insight, that the churches in Tanzania are not allowing their circumstances to stunt either their faith or their vision for the future. The work which our Tear Fund Task Force Teem was doing involved clearing the foundations for a new cathedral in Iringa. This reflects the growth of the Church in Iringa, and the vision of Bishop Mtetemela for the Outreach Zone – now the Diocese of Ruaha. From the moment we arrived it was clear that we were welcomed as the world-wide family of God. Surprisingly quickly we had made some very close friends – not least the children, to whom we often gave wheelbarrow rides on the building site ! Wherever we went we were treated as guests of honour and looked after extremely well. When, after only three and a half weeks in Iringa, the time came for us to return to Britain, I realised how deeply we had become involved in the community. And even though, by this stage, many of us had been ill, some seriously, we were all very sad to leave Iringa and some very dear friends.

It was a marvellous way to spend the summer and to give something back after being spoiled for so long in our opulent and lazy society. I have many memories still clear in my mind (not least that of being woken up at five o’clock in the morning in a hotel in Mombasa by a woman screaming as her husband beat her). The lasting memory though, will be that of the Church of Iringa, standing proud and strong despite all the difficulties it faces.

AN EXPLOSION AND A CELEBRATION
My second visit was in 1990 when I was employed for the summer in the CMB Packaging (formerly Metal Box) factory in Pugu Road, Dar es Salaam. Sitting on board the M.V. Zaitun I watched as she struggled to tow a similar , if slightly more capricious, beast onward to Zanzibar. The trailing dhow had left Dar es Salaam twenty six hours earlier but, after an explosion caused by a battery wired up incorrectly, had been drifting for a full day with five of the crew lying dead on board.

Meanwhile, back in the Haven of Peace, His Holiness the Pope was being driven from the airport in the state Rolls Royce along roads resurfaced for the first time in years. And so, while thousands of ecstatic Tanzanians in festive, papal tee-shirts lined the dusty streets of the town in the hope of a brief glimpse of Papa Yohana Paulo, five of their compatriots lay cold aboard a dhow in the Indian Ocean.

These two extremes highlight well what for me is a real dichotomy of life in Tanzania. Whilst I was bluntly reminded from the one horrific accident of the endemic low regard for safety and of the implicit cheapness of life it was equally obvious from the other that this country, given the occasion, is as capable as many others.

Again and again, in my work at the factory, mistakes were made which left me struggling to uncover the crux of the problem. Did I not explain, slowly and clearly? Did I not check and double check? Was the job too difficult? The situation was further complicated by the fact that every so often I would be taken aback by a particularly exact piece of work. Now and then I glimpsed the spark of pride which must be fanned into flame if this factory, and others like it, are to survive the difficult years ahead. It must be said though, that, at the end of the day, deadlines were met, and there were times of immense satisfaction and teamwork during my six weeks at the factory.

SHOULD WE PULL OUT?
I cannot help asking myself, however, whether the West is not asking for something that Africa is not ready to give when it tries to force its own high technology world upon her. In a travel book by the late Shiva Naipaul I read the views of a Dutch charity worker living in Tanzania who sums up my thoughts succinctly:
‘I do not want (the Africans) to repeat the mistakes we have made in Europe. Why must they too have factories and pollution and political p arties ? If that is what you mean by development, then, no I do not wish to see them ‘develop’. Why make them try for the impossible? It will only lead to unhappiness’.

So does Tanzania need ‘aid’ ? Is there a place for the army of twentieth-century Vikings who have set up camp in their own village – Valhalla – just outside Dar? Should we pull out and leave Tanzania to muddle along as best she can? Are there any answers, or is Africa, with her colonial past and deep-rooted tribalism, a mesh of problems too complex to untangle?

DEVASTATINGLY HUMBLING
In 1990 I went back again to Iringa to see the other side of the country’s make-up. I was invited to lunch by the church carpenter and his wife in the two bare rooms which are their home. Typically they had prepared food for me, a Mzungu, which they could ill afford (he earns the equivalent of £65.40 per year) but their generosity and warmth towards me was something that brought tears to my eyes and I shall not quickly forget. Yet, mixed with their joy, they were mourning the recent death of their five-year old son from diarrhoea which had failed to be treated quickly and correctly. It was devastatingly humbling for me to be able to encourage them, and when the time came for me to leave, it was 1 who Pelt the poorer. It is this spirit and this love which so many of the Tanzanians whom I have met are so quick to give that makes the call to action so much louder.

Surely though, the answer is not merely to throw money at Tanzania from our financial high-ground, After changing a fifty-pound travellers cheque in a bank in Arusha I gave the loose change from my small fortune to a leprous old woman who was begging on the pavement outside. She held out her fingerless bands and looked up at me with two blood-red eyes. As I walked away I asked myself what it was exactly that I had given that woman. I fear that ail that I gave her was money. For it is so much ‘cleaner’ and easier to give her of my pocket than it is to dig deeper in my heart and to give her the love and respect which she deserves as a fellow human being.

Perhaps it is wrong to scale up the conclusions from this incident to a macroscopic scale but I think there is a lesson to be learnt here. Whatever we tell ourselves, it is actually very costless for us to part with some small quantity of money which can be sent to some small corner of our little world. It is very much harder to reach deep within ourselves and to give of what we are rather than of what we have. I knew that when I got back to the Oxford world I would be faced with the same issues which had confronted me in Tanzania. I knew that, as I walked through the Radcliffe Camera after dark, the same people would be silently crying out from their doorways. I only prayed that I would be strong enough to answer their cry and not just to do the easy thing and pay off any conscience. I fear that the day that I cease to hear them will be the day that I am the beggar for ‘many who are first shall be last, and many who are last shall be first’ What good is it to a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?
John Drew

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URL

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.