Monday, 24 May 2010

Notes on the road from Arusha

Below, some random observations from the trip last week to Tanzania. You can link to the article in the Times, by scrolling down to the following post, entitled At last, intelligent aid for Africa's poor.

Wherever we went, town or country, there were hundreds, thousands of people walking. Walking along the roads, across the countryside, children in smart school uniforms disappearing across the vibrantly green fields, towards unseen schools or homes, women with bales on their heads, Maasai men with their red and black cloaks and sticks, all just ambling along. There's a beautiful rhythm to this movement, almost hypnotic, and it's something which goes on and on, from dawn to dusk.

The Indian community in Tanzania is much older than the Indian community in Britain, though presumably it owes its origins to the same thing - the British Empire. We saw the remnants of the old colonial culture languorously displayed on Sunday at the TGT Club on the edge of Arusha city. It's an old sports club, built alongside a coffee plantation, now in the hands of American owners. On the field opposite the pavilion, a group of Indian men were playing cricket, while the predominantly white diners in the restaurant and bar looked on. The different cultures and origins of the residents have some curious results: Paolo, 13, born in Arusha to a Belgian mother and an Italian father, was a huge cricket fan, and (by all accounts) a very good player. Doubtless, he'll qualify to play for England soon enough.

There are unintended consequences to the Galvmed story. The charity's ambition is to wipe out 13 livestock diseases and this objective will almost certainly be realised, perhaps even within a decade. The benefits for remote, poor farming communities across Africa are incalculable, increasing wealth and food security exponentially. The same process will change communities forever, a trend already under way in the Maasai communities we visited. These are farmers who, for generations, have been used to losing most of their calves to disease - but now almost all are surviving. Calves vaccinated at a cost of £5 sell for £350 at market. 
In other words, a herd of 300 is worth a huge amount, in anyone's money and some of these pastoralists are rapidly becoming rich. As these individuals gain wealth, the communities around them are changing: there are plenty of traditional huts and bomas (farmsteads), and most of the people we met dressed in Maasai shawls - but other dwellings have replaced their straw roofs with corrugated iron, some houses in remote communities are built of concrete, and a few people own cars and lorries. When we were out in the countryside, in the early morning, Noah Lemorongo, the 40-year-old chairman of the Engarenaibor community asked me in English whether I owned a motorbike. I couldn't understand why. At lunchtime, as we walked away from a bustling village market, he drove up to show off the shining bike he'd bought himself, as if to show off his wealth. Still, as these communities change, it is very striking how many of the younger Maasai choose to remain in the countryside, close to the heart of their traditional way of life. (Note: The photo shows the chairman and half of my fat head, an image that proves the equation: "Wade + baseball cap = Michael Moore.")

The school we visited was blessed with Anna Remi Nchira, a headmistress of outstanding quality. She reminded me very much of the headmistress at my daughters' school in Edinburgh, as if there is some essence of headmistress that is shared across the world. A group of guys from a Western charity and a British newspaper represented important guests - she wasted no time in very formally welcoming us, and, then, just as she should have done, making demands of us, asking us to help her pupils and teachers.

Just as the walkers in the countryside give a glimpse of what like must have been like in pre-industrial Britain, Arusha City (population: 1 million) has the whiff of 18th and 19th century London. It's the whiff of cattle, hundreds, probably thousands of cattle, which are kept in small holdings, right at the heart of the the city, enabling the locals to have access to a constant supply of rich, untreated milk.

Local buses are illuustrated with pictures of great Tanzanian heroes. Here's one we spotted near Arusha coach station. Reading right to left: Barack Obama, Martin Luther King, Michelle Obama, Benjamin Mkapa and Julius Nyrere (both obscured) Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, and ... that's right, pop pickers, Lionel Richie.

No comments: