Friday, March 16, 2007

Building Bagamoyo

Help Arrives!

Last year BH built homes for two families in need (see Newsletter Dec 2007). Both houses benefited the families greatly, but the building methods needed improvement. I (Terri) did some research on natural building and came across a website created by some people in Canada who build homes using “cob”, which is mud mixed with fiber such as straw. I wrote to natural builder Elke Cole to ask if there was a way that The Baobab Home could use more sustainable building methods. At best I hoped for some email advice and maybe an expressed longing to visit one day and help. Instead, Elke flew to Tanzania with enough donated funds to build a house for a family in need. She even repaired Mama Habibu’s house to prevent water damage.

In October 2006, we were asked by ward leaders to help Mama Rehema and her family- four generations of women and children living in a completely run down house. We teamed Elke up with some great local builders who call themselves the Renovators (more on them soon). Together they used traditional methods with new knowledge added by Elke. The Renovators and Elke exchanged technology and laughter while building a gorgeous, structurally sound house for Mama Rehema and her family. Mama Rehema pitched in and the team taught her how to perform maintenance on her new walls. She is thrilled, grateful and proud about her family’s new dwelling. You can see more of Elke’s work at Elke, thank you for gracing us with your vast knowledge, team spirit and joyful presence!! Karibu Tena! (Welcome Again!)

Building in Bagamoyo

I often describe the state of housing using the story of the Three Little Pigs. The poorest of the poor live in houses of thatch. The vast majority of people live in houses of mud and stick. For most though, the “”goal”’-- the status symbol--is a house of made of cement. Many believe that cement is more modern and therefore ‘’better’’ than dirt as a building material. However, even as early as 1975, the first President of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere said that “The widespread addiction to cement…is a kind of mental paralysis”” He urged Tanzanians to get out of the trap of coveting western ways and to work with what they had and could afford, and what worked for this climate.

Good, sticky soil for building is hard to come by in Bagamoyo because the soil is often sandy. Sometimes cement is helpful as a foundation, however, our goal is to build houses and to teach people to build houses that do not use up natural resources like wood, faster than they can be replenished. Also mud is cooler than cement, much more energy efficient and far more environmentally friendly. Thanks to Elke, we know it is possible to build strong, comfortable houses made predominantly out of mud and clay.

“”Sustainable Construction .”supports human dignity, while minimizing negative impacts on the natural environment- Building Without Borders- Joseph Kennedy

BH Wants to Build MORE!

Hundreds of families are without adequate housing in Bagamoyo. Heavy rain can blow a thatch roof off, erode a mud wall, or create dangerous molds in poorly built houses. If you are interested in joining us here in Tanzania or if you would like to donate the money for a house from afar, please write to us at We would love to tell the next family that we are ready to build again. We can’t build homes for everyone however and we hope in the future to pay the Renovators to teach the techniques to people who can build their own houses.

If you are interested in natural building, we highly recommend that you get a copy of Building Without Borders, edited by Joseph Kennedy. Also check out

(Ir)responsible Advertising

I missed my chance during the ad campaign to write an editorial, so I will write here. While I am looking for a copy of the ad, picture one of their ads if you will. The VodaCom Celular phone service VodaMillionaire Contest! The advertisement is tinted in gold. A man and a woman are poised regally…he on a throne-like chair, she draped on him. They are wearing glittery clothes and displaying a rich, sedentary life- lounging around. The message is that if you win the million shillings (less than one thousand US dollars) this life can be yours! Why not a picture of a woman using her winnings to pay her nephew’s school fees or a man getting his wife the heart operation she needs?

What is development? Spreading ridiculous values of abundance and over- consumption? An ad for the casino (yes, CASINO) in Dar features ONLY white people in tuxedos and fancy gowns. The message here is, if you come here, you can play with your money like the foreigners! Who is coming up with these ads and do they live in the same Tanzania that I do? And don’t get me started on the dangerous skin bleaching products, and advertisements featuring only light skinned blacks. Advertising is such a powerful ………and potentially dangerous tool in development. When I hear people singing jingles, I warn people here…….keep your mind to yourself while you still can. There are still relatively few jingles out there in Tanzania, but they are spreading like a fungus….

AIDS orphan # ??? million

I am not a doctor or nurse, but I believe that my neighbor, Mama Issa, died of shame today. It could have been one of the other AIDS related illnesses, but I am pretty sure that it was shame. Had she not had this case of shame, she would have gotten the free and necessary medicine months ago and probably been on the road to recovery right now, instead of having her sisters clean and prepare her body for burial. For so long, people said “Mama Issa has a stomach problem……..Mama Issa is in the hospital again””. She wasn’t around much so I could put it out of my mind and assume that it really was a stomach ailment. Then finally, I saw her last week, laying outside on a woven mat. Her mother said “they took her blood to Kibaha”” which, among people in the know serves as a code for saying that they tested her CD4 count, and she was getting Anti Retrovirals for HIV. She was extremely skinny, but I had seen people who looked far worse recover so naively assumed that she would get better. Although we know them quite well, and have helped other kids in the family, I had barely met Mama Issa. The last thing I saw her do, despite her apparent lack of strength was reach up and smack her niece. I told her that I was glad she was getting what she needed and I went home.

Today, Caito watched the activity at the house and knew that someone had died. I was invited to mourn so I donned a kanga. We sat in a dark mud room on the floor. Mama Issa’s body lay in the next room and her mother and sisters stayed with her. I sat next to Mama Mwajuma, who has been attending the ARV clinic for a year and tried to find the right words to say. Women filtered in and, as they crossed the threshold began to wail. This upset everyone, including me, and a fresh shower of tears would flow. Her sister, Mama Rama moaned Jamani over and over. Then, things would settle down until someone new arrived. I left and brought cooking oil to contribute to the large pot of food being cooked.

I feel cold. Mama Issa is lying not 300 feet from me. Caito sits with the male mourners. I sit behind our fence and type. Have I no respect? Her son has no mother, a family grieves, but all I can think is “why did she wait?””

Fight Club

The boys wanted to watch a movie. I explained what little I had. Fight Club, they chose. I tried to tell them that I didn’t think they’d like it. “there’’s a lot of fighting’’ I told them. They laughed. “We’ll like it”, they insisted. They were no doubt thinking of Jean Claude van Damme, Rambo or some other violent film that has made it here. In each section of town there is usually someone with a tv and a vcr who gets hold of these movies and plays them- again and again- for a dime or so entrance fee. I tried to give the boys some background on Fight Club so that they might see past the violence. But how could I explain the alienation of men in America? That so many feel so dead inside that they have to start a club to hurt each other just to feel alive? They hated the movie and never finished it.

Eid el Fitur

The muslim holy days of Eid el Fitur here, at least on the surface, is like Easter for Christians in the United States. Eid follows Ramadhan, a period of self denial that makes Lent look like a walk in the park. Most Muslims, except if they are old, ill, or children, fast all day long until evening. In Tanzania, they break their fast with a little binge of food and a special tea. But after the 40 days is over the real celebration occurs- two or three days of eating and celebrating. In some ways it seems more like relaxing- the tension of all that denial over. Almost every child, even ones who are living inn squalor or malnourished, get something new to wear. They wear that outfit all week as the celebration fades.

The week after Eid this year three kids in our breakfast program wore one piece, long sleeve, zip-up snow suits for days in a row. The sun was blazing and these kids had on their snowsuits. Two of them pulled them down around their waists and wore just the pants, but they didn’t want to take them off. What stood out to me was that SOMEONE loved these kids and wanted them to have something and that they, wanted to be part of the celebration at whatever cost. But I also wondered how many meals it cost to buy those snow suits. And who in the used clothing business was stupid enough to send them here in the first place? And where are the snowsuits now that Eid is over?

Help from Down Under

We are grateful to all of our volunteers, but I need to make special mention here of Lauren and Monica, sisters from Australia. They have left their mark all over Bagamoyo and Caito and I are deeply grateful to them for keeping Baobab Home matters under control in Tanzania while we went to the United States. We couldn’t have done it without them.

Lauren arrived first and began volunteering at the breakfast program. For those not in the know, this consists of 4 hours a day of managing a lot of small children with a LOT of energy and strong vocal ability. Meanwhile, using money that Lauren and Monica had raised in Australia, Lauren helped us by paying for the finishing touches on the houses that we built for Mama Habibu and Mama Salama since we had gone over budget. Lauren also used about $1000 USD of the money they raised to buy science equipment for the Matimbwa school, a government run secondary school that had no laboratory equipment. Among the items she bought were microscopes, test tubes, scales and a periodic table of the elements poster.

Just in case all of that wasn’t enough, Lauren held English classes for about 6 young women in secondary school. Mwajuma, Liziki, Halima, and all loved the classes and the field trips their teachers took them on. When Monica arrived from Kenya in December, she joined Lauren at the breakfast program, helped instruct the young women in English and helped to make sure that the street boys got their food money while we were away.

In their spare time, Lauren and Monica became connoisseurs of kangas, the brightly colored cloth women wear here (see poem below). We trust that they will one day return to us because they seemed to have developed a little addiction to the cloth…..



Coming Home-January 2007

Coming Home

I know that I am home now because my feet never stay clean for more than an hour after I bathe. My coffee just doesn’t have that same taste and our mattress is on a slope. When we got off the plane in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania wrapped her loving arms around us in a humid hug. But by the time we got home to Bagamoyo she was blowing kisses on the strong winds that kept us cool since the power was out. It was such a lovely night. Now it’s been more than two weeks and the United States seems a bit like a fleeting dream. It wasn’t always an easy journey, but it was like when Dorothy and the gang got to Oz. Caito got new stuffing (6 kilos of it) and I got to take great showers and get cleaned up like Dorothy. We were energized by all the support we were met with, and deeply renewed of purpose.

Some observations that I can’t quite wrap up in a common thread, but I trust you to find for me:

My Aunt Mary was right when she taught me that poverty is relative. I grew up in middle class America. I often felt a sense of lack- the right clothes, better furniture, a vacation, but I lived in the absolute lap of luxury! Here, we are perceived by our immediate neighbors as being extremely wealthy. The feeling is contagious because I feel wealthy and thankful. When I go to the city and see other expatriates, however, I feel like a pauper. Some teenagers in the United States worried that we were abusing our son for deliberately raising him ‘’in poverty’ yet he has never known lack a day in his life. In fact, he lives at the Baobab Home which is the Disneyland of Bagamoyo.

The other day I tried to get work done in the afternoon and a neighbor girl named Mwajuma came over. She is in the second grade. Her mother, sister and brother all are HIV+. We have tried to do income generation projects with her mother, but they haven’t worked so we help the family with food often. Mwajuma had gotten the ruler smack and was kicked out of school for not having notebooks. She was crying and her mother sent her to me. I could have just given her the dollar for the notebooks but I had a little righteous anger that needed to get out. I went to talk to the principal about her educational philosophy. I needed to ask her how she thought a ruler smack would help a child who the ‘headmistress’ is a stern, unsympathetic soul, who had no answer for me but she said she’d put Mwajuma on the list of especially needy children (the no- beat list?) and that God would bless me. I wondered how she knew this.

Two nights ago we listened all night to the sound of neighborhood women drumming, singing and celebrating two girls becoming women. They played all night and I wondered if at some point the girl’s celebration had just turned into a big party for the women. Part of me wanted to drop in, but it was also nice to just listen. The girls are different now. They hold their heads higher. I hope the feeling carries on long past when the beautiful henna tattoos wear off their skin.

It is good to be home. We have three new street boys in our care. More mouths to feed, more school supplies, more hands to work, more love, and more joy in the house. We are going to make 2007 a very good year.