Sunday, May 28, 2006

Kazi Nyingi

Once I wrote an entry for a different blog ( about a man named Kazi Nyingi here in Bagamoyo. I am going to print it here because on Tuesday, Kazi will start to withdraw from heroin. He confided in Caito, my husband several times about it and finally, Caito took him to the doctor. I want to republish the blog and tell Kazi about any comments so that he knows people are rooting for him. Kazi has done so much more than clean nappies. He has helped us build a home for some kids, he delivers formula on the fly if we need it for a baby..he is always there helping us and I hope we can be there for him.

Even if reprinting blogs is not good etiquette, I think the folks at loungechicken will understand.

Kazi Nyingi vs the Machine

Some people might find it appalling that we pay a man two dollars to clean our son’s dirty diapers, or maybe shocked to learn that he’s a heroin addict. I was my own version of shocked and appalled, but I am over it. It's Tanzania, and I don't know if the rules are different, but most of the time it doesn't even look like the same game. Kazi Nyingi is his name and it means "a lot of work" in Swahili. At first I thought this was a hilarious, but admirable, tool of self promotion, as I imagine that there is a lot of competition for day labor, but I've learned he is most worthy of it. The first time I met him was when my husband Caito’s bicycle was stolen. Caito went to where the heroin smokers hang out and asked for help. Kazi and his friend found the guy who stole it and got the bike returned somehow. I was impressed. I remember him telling the story of the bike retrieval and thinking "Maybe Caito meant cocaine? This guy has a lot of energy!" He’s probably in his late twenties, thin, but muscular, and he smiles a lot. He’s got big eyes that are a little wild. He often wears cut off jean shorts with a rope for a belt.

When our son Justis was born by c section, Caito washed the diapers the first week, but he had 800 other things to do, so naturally that was the first thing he attempted to outsource. I tried to do it once in the second week, but I knew I'd hurt myself. Caito asked Kazi. This is how I know some people might be appalled, because I was. I couldn't even look at him at first because I thought he'd hate me for being such an inept white woman. I imagined he felt degraded, but too in need of money to say no, and it was my/our fault. I also wasn't thrilled that "this man" was cleaning my kid's diapers. We'd had a US government surplus washing machine donated to us, and I kept hoping it would be repaired soon so my conscience would be cleared, and I could deal with defecation the way rich people do... by whisking it away. But Kazi always greeted me in the same, almost jubilant way, and without fail, he asks how Justis is. I started to feel less hung up and gave him some of my old dresses for his mom. One day I asked him about his only daughter and, although she is not of school age, he just said "she's learning, she's learning". I gave him a pair of white patent leathers to give her, and thought it was sweet the way he looked at the shoes. And while I'm sure he has a gruffer, street wise side that he doesn't show me, he has an innocence about him that to me is unusual, and very definitely not simpleminded . One day he and another guy were at the house doing some work to help us prepare the house for the orphanage we are starting. Kazi said that we should have just let him do it all because the other guy was lazy. My admiration grew. Even still, I resorted to assumptions and stereotypes when he just didn't show up one day. I figured he probably hadn't had steady work in awhile and had taken a day or two to score some heroin to smoke and he'd turn up in a few days.

Then one day I was sitting in front of a store and saw a big blue flat bed and a bunch of men, one of whom was Kazi. Shopkeepers get together and rent one truck to haul supplies to our town from the port of Dar es Salaam. The bags in back were enormous-almost the size of a full grown person. 50 kg of sugar, 100 kg of beans, some even more. There must have been 10 men standing around the truck, but only Kazi was lifting anything. I stared at him as he maneuvered the bags onto his back and made his way slowly to the stores without help. Again, he is not a large man and the strain looked incredible. Did he insist on doing this alone? Were the bags too wide for two people to carry? The other men, and the ones playing cards nearby, all watched him too, but not with the same awe that I did. They seemed used to it, as if saying “whew, that’s kazi nyingi!", and I saw where his name came from. He will not turn work down and he laughs at people who do. Now I can't figure out when he has time to smoke heroin. I think that the times he doesn't show, he just finds some other, more profitable work.

Meanwhile, the big American washing machine was fixed and I had a month of blissfully mindless diaper cleaning. I’d been away from the USA long enough that it amazed me I could get work done in my sleep! Add soap, press button, do something else! Wow,and it may be cheaper! But the machine got the diapers all tangled and it frayed them. Maybe it was just that they've gotten older, but the machine doesn't get them as clean as Kazi does, and now it's broken again. Since ours is probably one in 5 washers in the town (the others are at hotels), there aren't any Maytag repairmen around and getting it fixed is not easy. Perhaps because both are black men, I am reminded of John Henry- the real man and not the tall tale one. I think about how the whiteys building the railroad in the US, eager to save money and time, brought in the steam engine† to replace the laborers, many of whom, like John Henry, were ex slaves. John Henry challenged the machine and won (although unfortunately it killed him). I wonder if the steam engine ever broke down? Kazi beat my machine, and he didn't show again today. Man vs machine 0/0. Woman against stinky pile of diapers, outcome unknown

Monday, May 22, 2006

Untitled Poem

It makes sense that our first post from a volunteer should be from our first volunteer, Carissa Guild. Actually, she sent it to me a while ago and said I could post it.

A kanga is a piece of cloth the size of a sarong that almost all women wear here. They have designs and a proverb on them.
Asante Carissa...........


an elegant wisdom
wrapped up in
dirty colorful kangas

skinny girls in beauty-filled
hole infested
dresses with swollen feet and penetrating glances

intoxicating incense of trash that’s
burning ash
is hovering in the air captured by the

sun’s setting dancing drums carried on a
salty breeze
unreadable faces silently questioning

carrying thin children
wrapped up in
dirty colorful kangas.

gracefully stirring a meal above a fire chin raised with
indignation a subtle violent nod

erupting from an inside her head regally
wrapped in red
cloth distorting her fragility fighting with immunity

a child’s playful nobility watching as if torn from
a vibrant
erased painting--yet breathing

the song’s a conversation, the hope
has hardened
unbelieved, their laughter remains uninhibited

lying in hospital beds
wrapped tightly
in dirty colorful kangas.

black arms hugging bones of shoulders
ripped and tied
back together blue t-shirt standing in the sand seeing

overfed and manicured tourists drift
in and out
and by down along the seams of ocean and his

life? something a little unnerving for feeling too
to see too needy for lack of receiving outside his own

twelve year old body like the caged bird’s bars
by society a broken shell wildly escaping oxygen
then forced ashore by the tide just
child mchanga malaika

wrapped up in
a dirty colorful kanga
or torn t shirt.

Inaugural Blog

They say the first blog is the toughest to write.........ok, "they" don't, but it is, so I need to get moving and get this one written. KARIBU! (that's " welcome" in the language of Kiswahili).Whether you have reached here via the Baobab Home website ( or you are a bonafide blogger who reached us by a more circuitous route, you are very welcome. As some may know, my Tanzanian husband Caito and I, along with our infant son Justis and a growing army of incredible supporters around the world are opening an orphanage in Bagamoyo, Tanzania. While we wait, and sometimes struggle, to get our license, we are supplying several orphans and other vulnerable children (OVC) with nutritious food and getting others to Antiretroviral Therapy for HIV/AIDS. We feed breakfast each day to between 10 and 40 OVC, and provide a community reading/play center in our home to dozens of kids. We also send 6 (former) street boys to secondary school and provide uniforms for several primary school kids.

This blog is in large part for me, because, well, I don't have a lot of people to talk to in rambly American English here in Tanzania and I have a profound need to do that. It's also a way for me to let you, gentle reader, in on some stories of our everyday life here that I think many would find interesting, sad, funny, and sometimes, dare I say it? maybe even englightening if I have had enough coffee to write well that day. I envision this as a "backstage" for our newsletter and I hope to get to some of the more "meaty" ethical issues we face and invite others operating small NGOs to contribute.

I would also like it to be a forum for our volunteers to share their stories of life here, and their work experience. I think that could be especially valuable for future volunteers.

Before closing this brief intro, let me send copious thanks and praise to David Novak, my technological guru, who hath made this blog, and many other important things for the Baobab Home possible. He and his wife Geraldine are en route to Namibia to begin a new chapter in their most nomadic and interesting lives. We wish them kila la heri (all good luck) and hope they don't forget us up here in TZ. As always, thank you so much David!

So that's. This week I will commence with some short stories. Thanks for visiting!
Mama J