Once Upon a Time in Bamba

Dawn breaks over the crest of the mountains as I sit outside sipping a steaming cup of local chai (tea), made from plant barks and spices grown in private plots throughout the hillside. As the sky begins to fill with light the village community begins to come to life before my eyes. In front of our modest three bedroom house made from local bricks and mud a man begins to climb the palm trees, collecting coconuts and palm juice to sell in the local market. All around me I watch children dressed in school uniforms running barefoot with their small plastic bags with a notebook and pencil inside to the local primary school just down the path.

Bamba Village sits in the valley of these mountains

Bamba Village is the smallest village in the Kiroka Ward and is beautifully nested at the base of the Uluguru Mountains. Off the beaten path, rumour has it that this community had not received any foreign assistance with the exception of one ‘nightmare’ story where one man arrived to ‘take blood’ from the villagers. According to the elders in the community, no one has returned to work there since that one story a long time ago.

Switching gears for a moment I think it is important to explain how I came to work in this village for the past month. After completing my environmental needs assessment in all five villages in the Kiroka Ward, including Bamba Village, I set out to start small environmental projects in the region. The needs assessment for Bamba raised several environmental concerns but most notably ones surrounding the village being at the source of a freshwater river that feeds several villages in the region as well as the high rates of deforestation on the hill slopes. Furthermore, the community members stressed that a lack of education on safe drinking water was their number one concern with respect to the topic of water. Accompanied by a group of YCI volunteers from MUNHOPE (a health based club from Memorial University), we set off on our one month project to do a Clean Drinking Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Education project.

MUNHOPE Volunteer Reegan, Me, local friend Rama, and MUNHOPE Volunteer Mike

However, now I have digressed from the main story behind this blog post, which is the story of how privileged I was to work with such a beautiful community and the stories that I was told along the way…

Its around 7:30am (English time) now and the volunteers and I are just starting to eat our breakfast of boiled cassava roots or sweet potatoes, today is another long day. Due to the fact that the villagers in the community are only available from 11:00am to 3:00pm we have to eat as much as we can so that we can last well after the training with only a small snack of a few cookies. Although I was never given a reason for the time constraint in the morning, I was very sternly informed that all training must end by 3:00pm because the Kiroka Ward adult football league has started and it takes time to travel to a distant village to either watch or play in time for 4:00pm. Of course, I never want to get between a Tanzanian and their football, so we always did our best to have them out on time!

After a few hours preparation in the morning we would slowly walk over to the primary school to set up for our day’s lessons. As soon as we were within site of the school, school children would race down the hill as fast as they could to carry any items we had in our hands, even if it was only a few markers. Then, excited to be in our presence they would slowly walk back up the hill with us greeting us with the very formal and proper Kiswahili greeting of ‘Shikamo’ (literally meaning ‘I am kissing the ground you are walking on’.. or something like that!) used to greet anyone that is your elder. After gracefully setting our items down in an empty classroom the children would then run off to join their classes again.

Running a sanitation and hygiene activity

As our ‘students’, most many years older than us, began to fill the classroom we began to answer any questions they had about previous lessons or began to talk about our experiences in Bamba village. Finally, once most of the participants arrived we would start our daily lessons. To give a bit of an introduction to the uniqueness of the audience we were teaching, on the first day of training we asked the participants what they wanted to learn most out of the training and the primary response we received was ‘I am just excited to be taught anything you can teach us, thank you for coming here to teach us..’

After a late afternoon lunch, we would organize ourselves and finalize plans for the next day (sometimes needing to change the schedule a bit to repeat education that we thought may need extra emphasis or sometimes adding topics that we received a lot of questions about). Thereafter we sometimes went to the football field just beyond the house to watch or join local play or would stroll into the center of the community to spend time with the villagers. One afternoon I spent several hours in the center of the community, primarily with the women in the village, using my broken Swahili to guide me to helping them peel vegetables for their dinners, learning how to plate hair (and having them attempt to plate mine, which did not look so great! Haha), and learning about how daily life as a woman in Bamba was…

Evenings in the village are relatively quiet and were either filled with sharing stories about Bamba and ‘the outside world’ with one of the local villagers (Rama) who spoke a decent amount of English or reflecting upon the events that occurred in the daytime. The first night we stayed in the village we spent the whole night cooking dinner and talking with our local friends, Rama and Hamisi, learning how to properly peel and prepare the green leaf like vegetable to be ready to cook as well as sharing stories about Bamba and Canada.

I learned more lessons and stories in the few days and nights spent in this village than I ever could have expected and have never been so grateful for the experiences I had there. Although I would love to showcase all the stories told by the elders in the community, including the time ‘when lions used to live in the region before [they] established the village’, or ‘how the Tanzanians actually won the war against Uganda’, or ‘the story about when the elders decided to build the first school’ (without any support)… I sadly just don’t have the space to write them all in! Therefore, although there is no easy way to end a blog post where one could talk about a truly beautiful community, tucked in the corners of the Uluguru Mountains in rural Tanzania, forever, I will end with this brief story about the last evening spent in the village..

The thatched hut where I first performed my needs assessment in Bamba Village over three and a half months ago…

Its around 5:00 pm (English time) and I have been talking with the women in the centre of town all afternoon. One of the women in my training course saw me from a distance and a smile lit up on her face. Yelling my name for me to come over and join her, I kindly say goodbye to Happiness and the other women I was braiding hair with and went over to the thatched hut where I held my first meetings in the community three and a half months ago. After arriving into the hut, the woman stands up to greet me and insists we walk down the road a bit. Clueless as to what was going on, she stops in at the local shop just down the road and buys 300 TSH (about 19 Canadian cents) worth of bananas from the shop and hands them to me. Her eyes light up as she says in Swahili ‘Please, take them back to your home and enjoy them with your dinner. Thank you so much. Thank you’. I try to ask her (in Swahili) if she would like to join me to eat them or if she would like one now, but she insisted I return to my home to eat them. Holding back tears, understanding the true beauty and sacrifice of this gesture, I thank her repeatedly and went back to our modest house to share them with the volunteers.

-Larissa Duma, IYIP Intern, Tanzania 2011

YCI’s International Youth Internship Program (IYIP) placements are funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Our IYIP interns spend 7-9 months working with YCI’s partner organizations in Latin American, South America and Africa. The application process to become an IYIP intern is highly competitive. Applications for our 2012 internship positions will open in early November.

For more IYIP blogs, check out our IYIP section.

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