Back to school
Helen and I decided that we wanted to make the most of being in Tanzania and to soak up as much of the local culture as possible and with this in mind asked Embesi to arrange for us to visit a local primary school. Ronnie needed to rest and the others girls weren’t up for joining us so the pair of us put on our walking boots again (we were still wearing the same clothes as we had all week, with the odd t-shirt change here and there!) and trekked out of the hotel up the track towards the school. The sign for the school was just up from the hotel, past Mammas place and we thought we would be there within 10 minutes. Wrong!
As we got to the top of the track we turned off the path and headed into the jungle at the foothills of Kilimanjaro. Neither of us had brought our walking poles and found it quite difficult to negotiate the steep muddy track that had been made worse with the heavy downpour we had had earlier that morning. Embesi had never been to the school either so our ‘guide’ was basically going on instinct as we made our way up the hill. Half way up we came across a lady with a little girl. Embesi spoke to her and we discovered that her daughter was unwell and they were heading for a medical centre next to the primary school. This lady just smiled at us as we continued on, slipping every few paces, looking ever the novice trekkers! She however, managed to stay dignified and upright in her flip flops whilst carrying the child across her shoulders!
We eventually came across a clearing and two young boys came cautiously towards us to help direct us to the school. As we approached the school it was obvious that it was a lot bigger than we thought it was going to be. We had emptied our Kili stash of sweets into two carrier bags thinking that there may be enough to go round but we later found out that there were 600 children in attendance at the school. A few of the younger ones were coming out of school and heading back down the hill for home. They stopped to stare at us and we offered them jelly babies. I had to eat one myself before they took their chance but it was smiles all round once they had got the taste! We took some photos and they were so excited to see themselves on the screen it was heart warming. I wondered what they made of these strange white women and hoped that they didn’t feel patronised in anyway.
We headed in to the school grounds, past a football pitch with goals made of sticks and I immediately thought of Scotty. I knew he would love to be here and to have a game of footie with these kids and thought it was such a shame that those still on the mountain wouldn’t share in this wonderful experience. The headmaster’s office beckoned and the lovely, big smiling, Tim welcomed us to his school. An Oxford University calendar was hung on the wall and Tim looked at us with some reverence when we said we lived in Oxford! He gratefully accepted the bags of sweets but explained that he would have to keep them for excellent work due to the numbers in the school. He proudly showed us round and took us into a class where the students were studying. The children sat straight and proud and were very pleased to show us their exercise books. The classroom was barely more than 4 walls and a roof. The floor was mud, the desks old and battered, there was no glass in the windows. There was absolutely nothing else in there, no pictures, no toys, no books, no aids to help their education in anyway, just an empty room other than a treasured chalk board. They stood and sung the national anthem and I bet you can’t guess what I did then…oh ok you guessed, I cried once again!
We took photos and the kids were so excited. They all wanted to have their picture taken and then to look at themselves on the screen. They laughed hysterically at their own images and I was humbled yet again.
Helen and I asked Tim what he needed for the school and took the address so that we could try to send him out a box of bits. The kids outside were enjoying their break and came rushing over to see us, desperate to see what we were all about. Some children were playing with a ball and it was then that I realised that it was made of rags tied to together with string. A ball and pump went straight to the top of my wish list for these kids.
Before leaving we visited the school kitchen. All the vegetables were grown on site and the chef proudly showed us around. Helen and I were amazed and awestruck at the same time. The chef was an old man, and he was cooking on the floor, on a pile of wood. There were vats of maize and beans being prepared for lunch. He smiled at us and proudly posed for a photo. I wished my own children could be there to see these images and hoped that they would appreciate everything they had back home.
Absolutely everyone we met that morning had a ready smile. All these people had so little but they seemed genuinely happy and very appreciative of our visit. We left feeling totally humbled and I knew this day would stay with me forever.
We managed to slip and slide our way back down the track, passing men with machetes collecting firewood. At one point I went arse over tit so to speak and ended up on the floor with a pain in my backside! A little old man came rushing down the hill behind me and I was totally overwhelmed when he handed me a walking pole that he had crafted out of a branch.
We met everyone else at Mamma’s for lunch and regaled them with our stories. Whilst we had been away they had heard that Karen was on her way down, another chest infection had taken hold. Everyone up there was in my thoughts all the time and I wondered what lay ahead for them tonight, the summit night. Rubens reported back that Scotty and Megan were struggling too and I couldn’t wait for tonight to be over and know that they were all heading back down the mountain. I had come to the conclusion that the mountain didn’t want such huge numbers of people on it and it was trying to tell us something. (God, I’d never been this philosophical before!!)
Another restless night followed and I hoped that there would be news in the morning.