We all have seen the news, newspaper pictures and charitable organization ads calling for aid to Africa and displaying the extreme poverty hitting the region. Even as we speak a multitude of African countries, the poorest in the world, are facing an unprecedented hunger crisis and the UN and NGOs are all sounding the alarm. Luckily Tanzania does not face such extreme disasters however poverty still has many ugly faces.
A month and a half has gone by and I am comfortably settled in Arusha. My host family, the neighborhood, my work with the Mama’s,… all is more or less running fine (more on that in subsequent stories). However, throughout my interaction with the locals they often remind me I haven’t seen the “mbaya” (e.g. bad) yet.
I met Yakobo, my best Tanzanian friend to be, by coincidence while strolling my neighborhood’s streets with my Tanzanian brother Gady. You heard about Yakobo, his mom Mama Wambura and their organization LOHADA, through the other projects I established to help them: Banda La Kuku, sponsoring children, etc… Well, Camp Joshua Primary school was established by LOHADA in the poorest suburbs of Arusha: Sokoni1 and Ungalimited. This area lie a kilometer south of Arusha in a very arid sector since most rivers and streams coming down the slopes of Mount Meru are drained by the communities living on the mountain’s footsteps and ultimately by Arusha itself. Sokoni1 bakes under the sun and is blanketed by a thick layer of dust. That is until the rainy season hits which turns the area into an awful mud pit. Although Sokoni1 isn’t big in size, I estimate a good 15,000 people pack this small settlement. Most of its inhabitants have left their village lured by the “richness” (subjective word) of the big city only to end up here. Facing worse conditions if they return home, they settle in Sokoni1 where they live in mud and stick houses inter-connected by a maze of alleys. Entire families are crammed in a small 3m*4m room they now call home. The room usually has a bench or a couch, a bed and many foam mattresses they unfurl at night for everyone to sleep on. They have no running water rather a dozen or more 20-liter “gallons” (a.k.a. cylindrical containers) they use to go fetch water from the neighborhood tap. Needless to say there are dozen upon dozen of people, mostly children, each with a pile of 10 or 20 of these gallons waiting for her/his turn to fill up… if they’re lucky and water is available.
Back at their home, the mother and/or elder sisters would be preparing dinner (most families cannot afford lunch here) on a small charcoal grill at their houses doorstep. Some of them cannot even own a grill, so like we do when camping, a few stones and a wood fire makes-up the cooking area. The washroom is common per each compound of rooms and consists of a “big-box with a hole in the ground”. The neighborhood has an awful stench as it’s crisscrossed by open drain and sewers which you have to jump over or juggle to cross by walking a wooden plank.
In this midst of it all, 100’s of kids makes these alleys their playground: they play with wood sticks, with these murky and disgusting drains, they try to find something interesting in the garbage or a favorite, make a football out of the many plastic bags that litter the place. Some of them show real ingenuity: check the picture below for the wooden” car/truck” controlled by a long stick & a string and with wheels are made out of the sole of flip-flops!
Of course once yours truly walks by, this mzungu (white person), then all bets are off and a cortège of screaming kids will buzz around me, some of them wanting to help, other curious about my presence here and all of them screaming and repeating: “how-R-Youuuu” or “good morning” (regardless of the time of day). The sorry state of the neighborhood is also reflected on the kids: most wear torn and/or over sized old-cloth handed down through the generations, some have no shoes, others are dirty while a few are downright filthy. Worst, once the parents also see this mzungu they send their kids to ask: “give me money” to which I do not shy to go face-to-face and reprimand the parent’s behavior.
What do people here do for a living? That is, if you could call it “living”. Well nothing changes much in the poor world; people join the herd of the many selling a handful of veggies (carrot, tomato, greens,…) in the Sokoku (e.g. the main market), other sell 2nd hand clothes, a few do hair braids while many fry/grill food for sale on the side streets. None of these jobs make ends meet. So the first solution is to procreate and have many children, 4 or 6 in the hope it will improve their situation. Unfortunately poverty also pushes people towards hideous acts: alcoholism is rampant and these people drown their misery in homemade alcohol or beer (usually made out of banana). Child labor is appalling but its worst when the parents send their own children, as young as 8 years old, to work cleaning other people homes, laboring the fields, hauling stuff or getting paid to wait in line for water,… all for a meager sum of ~500TSh/day (30cents) (yet it is an important some for them). Many times I had to face such situations where, with the help of a teacher or Yakobo or Mama Wambura, we had to go search the neighborhood for some of LOHADA’s school children who, even if offered free primary school, their own parents forbid them to attend in order to “work”! And it only gets worst: prostitution is common and a few cases of under age sex also happen. As for the husband/father, if he’s around that is, he will be worried about his next drink and many take out their anger by beating and abusing his wife and children.
Sokoni1 is not on the radar of most charitable organizations and both the state and the federal authorities seem to have conveniently forgotten its resident. But this is exactly where I want to work, trying to make a sustainable difference in these people lives. In the coming days I will bring you the stories of the Mama’s we helped thanks to your donations. In the mean time, here are some pictures of the kid’s life in Sokoni1 while next time, you’ll be welcomed in the home of some of it’s residents.