Gongali Village School

Gongali Village School
children at the Gongali Village School, built by Primary Schools for Africa in Nov/Dec 2010

Thursday, 9 January 2014


UPDATE NO. 2 - 30 Dec 2013

Hi All

Greetings from Africa Tanzania

The construction of the Teacher Residences is proceeding well after a few hiccups. Fabian Ammas, our regular builder, had a little difficulty with the overall dimensions of the building. When I measured the overall length of the building and noticed that it was a little shorter than shown on the drawings, I was quite upset. But when I measured the width, it was a little longer. FANTASTIC! That effectively cancelled the mistake by adding back the lost space. After a few adjustments with the furniture planning, the new layout ended up just as well as the original. How was that for luck? I was so relieved and so was Fabian.

installing trusses
building trusses
I spent a couple of days helping with the roof framing. In the mornings, it was off to work. The village was only a few kilometers from my hotel room, so I would load up my hammer and saw into my backpack and cycle to the site. The discomfort of extremely bumpy and dusty clay roads was more than offset by the cheeriness of locals “jambo-jambo”-ing me along the way. Roof framing the dormers over the entrance was a little trickier than the norm for Fabian’s carpenters, so I installed the valley beams, king post  and ridge beam for one of the two dormers to the size and location I wanted. Then they could frame the other one to match.

framing valley beams for the dormer
I love carpentering and get so caught up with it that I forget to keep hydrated. That can be dangerous for us “mzungu”s. I remember three years ago at Gongali when I almost blacked out in the hot sun. These days were even hotter (well into the 30’s) and I came close to repeating that experience again. Eventually, I disciplined myself by setting the alarm on my I-phone for the half-half rule: a half-liter drink of “maji” every half hour.

These residences will be far superior than the previous ones we built at Gongali and Kilimamoja. I’m very pleased with the prospect of the new teacher families having an indoor kitchen, toilet room and shower room. On one day at the site, I met with the plumber and we decided on the location of the sink toilet and shower fixtures, as well as the routing of piping to the septic tank. After work I cycled over to his shop in Karatu and selected the fixtures including the kitchen sink, a western-style stainless steel flush-mount type with drainage sideboard.

90% complete
The construction is a little behind schedule. The opening will now be the 7th of Jan. At that time, all walls will be cement plastered, but not painted, and not all windows and doors will be installed. Fabian estimates he will finish the building a week or so after I have departed to Canada. Peter Hayshi, the Gongali Mayor, will replace unavailable Lazaro Titus as the VIP official for ribbon-cutting.

Gavin's soccer ball gift
One free morning, Mathew and I arranged to meet Askwar Hilonga at the "Old" Gongali School, our predecessor in a different ward of Gongali. This is where Mathew and Askwar went to school as children. We met a couple of teachers and a few children and highlighted the visit with the donation of a couple of much needed soccer balls to the kids. It was the gift from my stepson Gavin Miller in Victoria; he gives me some to donate to the African kids on my every trip. Such a wonderful gesture from a thoughtful guy! 

I had hoped to spend Christmas in Arusha with Mathew Sulle and Claud Goi’s families,
but opted instead to help Fabian on 24, 25, Dec, as he and his crew were adamant to work those days to recover some lost construction time. I went to Arusha instead on 26 Dec with my suitcase of gifts and spent the 27th with both families at Claud’s home. It was great! I enjoy being with the kids, Mathew’s Lissa and little Maureen, and Claud’s two boys, George and Benedict. George and Lissa’s English is as good as mine, so we were able to have very meaningful conversations. I gave gifts, two things they loved; chocolate and some spending money, typically for clothes. We ate some good traditional Tanzanian food. And merrily we sang, surprisingly, English Christmas songs they played on CD’s. Although, I admit, “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas…”seemed a little out of place.

fixing brake problems
I planned a meeting on 2 Jan in the village of Mae, near Moshi, for a potential new school project. Too expensive to taxi there from Arusha, so I rented a car! For the first time! The Tanzanian “Russian roulette” style of driving is a little scary; drivers pull out to pass only to make it back at the very last nano-second. Some don’t – and continue to drive through! – forcing oncoming cars to move over, creating 3 lanes out of the two. The locals react to this with a sort of bland acceptance, but it happens way too frequently for my liking. Though after a few days I was OK; acclimatized but wary. I had a little scare as I descended a very steep road; the brakes shuddered violently. The problem; a buildup of brake shoe dust. 20,000 shillings ($12.00) later at a local open-air garage, I was on my way again.

In the two days before the meeting, I decided to look up a couple of NGO’s; Londoner Katy Allen, of VEPK, who organizes an English-teaching training program for local teachers, and Raines Rydell, a very interesting Swede ex-patriot who has project-managed scores of churches and schools in the Moshi/Marangu area. They lived a short drive from Moshi in the village of Marangu, which is at a high elevation on the slopes of Kilimanjaro.

Fantastic view from my Moshi hotel room
I phoned Katy, but she was in transit from Dar Es Salaam, so I proceeded anyway to have a look at her training facility located up a very steep road above Marangu. Unfortunately, my 2-wheel drive couldn’t make the last leg of the climb, so I settled for a beer at a local mountainside bar that happened to be adjacent the residence of Katy’s colleague, Dilly Mtui. There I shared a drink with 85 year old Babu Mtui, of the same clan as Dilly, who explained why some locals were loudly proclaiming “Never again, never again!”  “It is because when they drink too much, they shout political slogans in English.”

Raines Rydell (R) with daughter Teresia and her family
I was more successful with contacting and visiting Raines and Anita Rydell, also living up a steep slope above Marangu. I had met his daughter, Teresia, husband Bogoran Hordegard and several grown children during my stay at the Msimbazi Inn in Karatu.  They had just returned from a safari, and invited me to meet their dad as we may have a lot in common. This 73 year-old man is amazing. Apart from 20 years of successful NGO work funded by the Swedish government, he has managed to build himself a beautifully crafted and well engineered home on a very steep slope tamed by a series of perimeter concrete retaining walls to form several descending grassed terraces. “The concrete has too be mixed in the right proportions – 3 sand/aggregate to 1 cement - that is the key to success.”  “Thanks for the tip,” I said, “I’ll check my builder’s formula.” 

Raines and his self-built home
“What are you working on now?” I queried. “Mostly retired, but with some project financial consulting.” What I found extremely commendable was his “hobby” of funding and building homes for the most needy in his community. “Those mud huts they have lived in are so flimsy, and it is amazing that they have never slept on a mattress, and I have a nice workshop where they can build the beds.” I left in good spirits, having enjoyed the family conversations since their English, as is the case with most Europeans, is very good.

with Hon Aggrey Deasilie Joshua Mwanri
Mathew drove from Arusha to accompany me at the meeting in Mae Village to discuss a possible new school project. It was very memorable, and significant. A local political celebrity, the honourable Aggrey Deasilie Joshua Mwanri, the federal Minister for Regional Administration and Local Government, chaired it. He was on holiday in this his home village and took the opportunity to help the local school authorities. We met in their one-only classroom building with fifteen or twenty villagers who squeezed into the small desks and joined us in the opening singing and prayers. An imposing figure, tall, handsome and well-dressed, Mr Mwanri, in a deep voice, spoke softly but passionately of the need for this school. He translated my English speech phrase by phrase to both the delight and disappointment of the audience, as I offered a commitment to build, but along with a subject-to of funding. I would really love to help this village. 

Village of Mae school project personnel
Unlike other projects, these folks seem to be so sincere and motivated, offering all available resources from the community, especially District Office engineering assistance, since the site has one major challenge. It is mostly steeply sloped. I hope to be able to build something within a year, and offered to start their master planning of the site once I receive a complete site survey. Their local civil Engineer is helping with that.

I returned to Karatu on 3 Jan and now look forward to meetings with Gongai and Kilimamoja teachers in the next few days.

End of Update

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