I was awakenedin the middle of the night by the sounds of a vicious animal fight outside out hotel. It’s 4pm in California so it’s either 2am or 6am here. For the life of me I can’t remember. PepeOne is located about 2 blocks from the main street in Arusha in a very nice neighborhood of gated compounds. After a few hours after nightfall, the area is dark and quiet. The sounds of a multi-animal fight to the death lasted a few minutes and then it returned to a relative peace and quiet. No sounds of autos, horns, airplanes or trains. Just the occasional bark of a distant dog. I (of course) tried to log on to facebook and there was not even the sound of wifi in the air. For the first time, I feel away from the real world. This place is different. I feel like I’m one power outage away from the real Africa.
Today should me my first taste of the need and the impact of Asante Africa’s work in East Africa. I’ve seen other people’s pictures, watched their videos (those of much lesser quality than one made by Heward and Elley), heard their words describing the children, and felt the passion of Erna Grasz and her team as they work with every ounceof strength to bring quality education to this world. Today I will sense this directly with my own eyes, ears, and hands. No more translators, or second hand accounts thatenable emotional detachment. After today I fear I will have no excuse to not really understand. Today is really the reason I’m here. After all the stories and pictures – I do not know what to expect.
Today started like any other day in Africa. Breakfast at 7am. They were out of eggs so the option was toast and sausage (hot dogs) or not. I decided to skip the “not” and ordered the sausage and toast. This was a wise choice and went very well with the eggs when they arrived. Oh – such 1WPs. Our driver (and Asante Scholarship Coordinator in Tanzania – Albert) was right on time with a land cruiser that we would need on the road to Makuyuni, Tanzania about 2 hours west of Arusha. The path out of Arusha was snarled by traffic through the slums of West Arusha. Here thousands of people live in extreme poverty. We were asked not to take pictures. Not safe.
I learned very quickly why the wheel wasn’t invented in Africa – because with these roads, wheels don’t help. When we got to Makuyuni my first thought was – this is where people who live in the middle of nowhere go to “get away.” This is the high plains of Africa in middle of Maasai country. I kept thinking “Where’s the water?” The area reminded me of the area between Merced and the Sierra foothills (during the summer). There were a few more trees here but each are struggling to hang on in this arid world. There were many herds of cows of goats being tended (frequently) by school age kids. This is obviously a rough place to make a life but it is also just a few miles from the Rift valley – the birthplace of mankind. Humans have been living here for millions of years. Longer than the IU – Purdue and Ohio State – Michigan rivalries combined.
We pulled into the primary school just a few hundred yards off the road and we were immediately greeted by a few 10s of school kids. It was a little like Lady Gaga getting off a bus. We were an instant hit with most of thekids (the shyer ones would come around later). The school was a bit of a shock. I knew there were many many children per classroom and the classrooms were a bit underdeveloped but the magnitude was stunning. The physical infrastructure (floor, walls, roofs) were largely intact. Asante AfricaFoundation had helped the community construct latrines which provide privacy (especially important for girls as they reach puberty) but it wasn’t the infrastructure that moved me.
It was the hundreds and hundreds of smiling children in the classrooms and running around the schoolyard just happy to be alive!
During the slow period (when classes were in session) I approached a group of 5 preschoolers near one of the classrooms.
Took a few pictures and they giggled as I showed them the pictures on my camera – just like a 4-5 year old would do in the US. I had stumbled on the, now obviously brilliant, thought at Target about a week ago and I had a bag of smarties with me. I unwrapped a few and I was a hero. My brother and I had always said “When God has a snack, he eats Smarties.” I try to send a bag to my brother in July every year for his birthday. This year Ed, you have just made a donation to East Africa!
The morning was wonderful! The children were beautiful and full of life. The fact that they didn’t have books or pencils or paper to work with didn’t stop their learning. They were engaged and very eager to learn even though the classes were very big and crowded and the teachers were working with almost nothing except a chalkboard.
We filmed a few interviews with Asante Scholars: Lepolili and Kelvini. (I like Kelvini’s name – named after the great scientist?) Watched them queue up for lunch. The were all excited about the food cooked right there on a wood fire: porridge for the pre-schoolers and boiled beans for the older ones. There were so many needs here it’s hard to describe.
Several times I’d find myself out in the schoolyard taking snapshots, sharing the images on the back of the camera and getting giggles and shaking hands. I’d look around and I’d realize I was shaking hands with 50-100 kids. I felt like Barak Obama on the campaign trail while the secret service was on lunch break! It was amazing!
I had also purchased a soccer ball to give to the headmaster for the kids to play with. We worked a filming opportunity that you will have to watch our video to see (no spoilers here). We left the ball with the headmaster and we go into the car at about 2:30 pm. We had been there about 5 hours but it seemed like it went by so fast. I will also never forget it. As we drove off I thought about how I would ever write about this….and the day wasn’t close to over! It would get better and even harder to find words.