Tanzania: Liz in Bukoba: “The Disabled Outing”

 

Let me start this communiqué with the Walk of Shame. I was walking home from Mugeza (the Bukoba suburb that sits on a hill about 8km away from the city) last week, my cheeks burning partly from the 88 degree heat but mostly from the shame that I was feeling.I took the dalah-dalah (bus) up to the disabled school and was unable to accomplish any of the things that I had set out to do up there.Because of the language barrier it was impossible for me to organize the children, either individually or in groups!I hung out for about an hour, chatting (mostly just greeting everyone and laughing and smiling and giving high-fives) but to get anyone to listen to me proved impossible.Even the teachers who speak extremely limited English could be of no help.I was so embarrassed and upset that I was on the verge of tears for the first leg of my march back to the city. I had two hours to sort things through in my head all the way back to Bukoba and part of my calm was delivered to me by an amazing woman who spoke no English at all.

 

I met this woman about half way down to Bukoba town and we fell into step.I was happy to have a companion for the remainder of the walk as I was feeling very lonely and sad and once we had exchanged all of the pleasantries that I know in Swahili and I had told her my name (she never told me hers) we had a series of comfortable silences that I found as inviting and peaceful as a hug from my Momma.When she had arrived at her destination which was a few minutes from my own, I had the equivalent of 2 dollars for her in my palm as a shook her hand and thanked her for her company.She has no idea how much I appreciated her, but considering a well paid housekeeper makes around 20$ a month here, I think I gave her some indication.

 

When I arrived at Raza’s home we agreed that one wonderful and rewarding project for next Sunday would be to take all of the disabled children on a picnic at the beach if they cleaned their dorms and bathrooms first on Saturday.

 

Upon arrival at the disabled school in Mugeza on Saturday we were greeted by a wonderful teacher who told us that the other teachers were in the city for the day renewing their teaching certifications and that they would be gone all day and the cleaning could not happen that day. I pretended to be disappointed and even a bit angry but thinking quickly I struck a deal: when the teachers return, they must recruit the students to help in the cleaning of the dormitories and the restrooms (concrete blocks with a squat hole) and I will return the following day and inspect their work and if I am satisfied I will take them all on a picnic at the beach.The teacher said it would be done so we left.

 

Sunday morning I was told that the transportation that had been arranged would be at Raza’s petrol station at 9am.I asked if this meant 9am Bukoba time or New York time and Raza laughed and assured me that although the driver was African he would be sure to let him know that there was a mzungu (white person) waiting for him so that he should not be late.

 

At 11am we are finally in the truck en route to Mugeza.I am sitting in the front of a flat bed truck that is used for shipping cargo with the three orphans Hussein, Abdullah and Hamza (who like to go everywhere with people and are the most active people in Bukoba!) and I fear for my life.The roads are very bad but the driver is speeding out of control and I know there are no shocks or seat belts in the front and I cringe to think of what the disabled children are going to do in the back!We get to the school and none of the teachers or students seem very surprised that their transportation looks more appropriate for moving crates of soda than disabled children, so I pretend that I am okay with it as well.It seems that this is the way that they are hauled around when going anywhere together.Laughable when you think about ‘short buses’ with those elevators that go down to the sidewalk and the slowly come back up again.Have you ever felt like just picking up the wheelchair- or crutch-bound person and sitting them in the bus in order to speed things up?Well that is exactly what we did, and while some of them were not easy to lift, most of them are small children and I could just follow the lead of the others and hoist them up onto the flat bed and direct them to a relatively safe area, much less time consuming than those elevators!Most could get in with a small boost and climb up but several were just passed in like sacks of potatoes.

 

I inspected the dorms and the restrooms and they were very clean with all of the beds made and the mosquito nets tied nicely.Although the women’s dorm still had a faint smell of urine the teacher said that that was permanent and she didn’t know what it was from (it was worse the last time I was there, so at least there was improvement!) andI said that I was satisfied so we loaded the kids into the truck along with the Head Mother and Father who mentioned that some of the children were still on holiday.

 

I then came up with the brilliant suggestion that we count the children and there were fifty-six of them plus the Mother and Father and the teacher and I sat in the front with the three boys.I am not ashamed to admit that I was too chicken to ride that flatbed.Fortunately because of the weight of the load and the bad roads, the driver was forced to go very slowly (1st gear) all the way down to the beach (and on the way back our load was so heavy again that he had to go slowly or the truck would not have made it up), whew!

 

We got to Spice Beach at around 11:30 and stayed until 2pm.Most of the children were screaming happily for the entire duration of the outing. The boys got naked and jumped right into the waves while the girls took about an hour of edging far away from the boys and then slowly jumping in.It was so beautiful to see them smiling and laughing and splashing and I was very glad for my life guarding certificate because, lest we forget, most of these children are severely handicapped.That did not matter and they did not care and so, keeping a watchful eye, I did not intervene at all.One of the blind children (there are about a dozen) was sitting in a chair and I just grabbed his hand and made him walk with me at his own pace while I held his hand right into the water!He was so cute and laughing and happy, it was so much fun that I found myself laughing along with him.I did the same thing with the other blind children and it was a blast.No language skills are necessary to explain what they are walking towards and how it makes them feel.

 

I was so proud of these children and their bravery as well as their natural ability to take care of each other and themselves.They hung their own we clothes out to dry, loaning each other wet shirts and clothes for swimming to keep maximum clothing dry.Also it was so sweet to see who takes care of whom, for example there is one girl who is mentally handicapped and she is the guardian of these two girls who are blind.Another girl who has just had eye surgery and now can see is always giving a piggy-back ride to another girl who has extremely stunted growth and deformed legs and takes a long time to get around on her crutches because she is about 2 feet tall.Another thing that was so amazing was seeing the children who have club foot or other leg deformations running in the sand!They have a hard time getting around on land because if their toes are pointing to the sky and completely externally rotated they are walking on a very sharp point at the end of their leg that is like a heal.This is painful and typically they cannot put all of their weight down on that leg (in many cases it is both legs that are affected) but on sand this problem is much less severe and they were running around.It doesn’t hurt to fall on sand like it does to fall on packed earth so all of the children seemed a little more carefree.

 

At 2:30pm the driver came back to the beach to get us (because I made sure that he knew he was supposed to be there at 2) and we loaded the kids onto the flat bed and headed over to IZAAS where some of the older orphan girls along with 2 of the women who work for Raza and Mama had cooked a lovely dish of pilau with meat and rice, veggies, potatoes, onions and tomatoes and spices as usual.

 

Interestingly the disabled children have very different eating habits from the orphans.Partly because they are used to being catered to due to their various disabilities and partly because they are fed regularly and are never worried where their next meal is coming from.Another thing that I noticed was a group of sulky girls who sat at the back and didn’t eat, some of them eventually decided to start crying.It took a long time for it to be explained to me that these girls are vegetarians and would not touch the pilau.I was surprised but impressed and began to wonder what kind of gourmet food they are served up at their school that they can afford to be so picky.Mama cooked them some plain rice and gave them bread and fruits and the salad that was served to everyone and then I distributed the sodas and the children were happy (sort of). If you want to make a child happy, give them soda.

 

Around 6 we loaded back up to return, the children seemingly grateful that such a tiring, if not exciting, day was coming to an end. I caught a glimpse of us in a store front window and it was so comical looking that I was not surprised when the police man pulled us over at the permanent police check point at the outskirts of town.He asked where we were going and the driver said “Mugeza”.”Carry on then.”As though he saw nothing wrong with 58 people riding the back of a flat bed truck up a hill where there are basically no roads!To me we looked like a cross between someone shuttling Mexicans across the California boarder (only we kept the tarp on the truck open) and really bad accident waiting to happen.

 

It was such a positive experience for the children and for myself I was on cloud nine the entire way home.Much different from my walk on Friday!It turns out that the last time they had a group outing like that was a full year ago.I felt so badly for them when I heard that and it is such an easy thing to organize.It only took a little initiative and a very little bit of cash.The total cost for a day at the beach including truck and driver, lunch for 60, petrol for Ruta’s vehicle and soap and cleaning supplies was less than 150 USD.Best money I have ever spent.Seriously, I feel like if they only get this type of opportunity once a year, they will remember it for a long time!

 

One of the projects that I would love to organize for the children is the purchase of a vehicle similar to the one that we used to bring them down to the beach.It would be between 10 and 15,000 USD and enable them to go on outings whenever the teachers (who loved the distraction and change of scenery as well!) decide to take them, they could go to town, or visit other disabled schools, go to the beach and the fisheries, I feel like it would be a very worthwhile project.

 

2 Responses to Tanzania: Liz in Bukoba: “The Disabled Outing”

  • Assistive technology
    Thank you for sharing your story. Hopefully if you get to stay in the same area for a while you can pick up the language enough to work with the people more.
  • Sarah
    Liz- I love your stories. Thank you for sharing. I feel like I'm a part of your amazing trip through your writing. I can't wait to read more, hear more from you once you are State-side and of course see pictures. Miss you!
    Sarah

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