Day 300: Scoping out School
Thankfully, nothing was expected of me the day after I arrived in town. Photo: Isaac Stone Simonelli
MY CROTCH and legs are sticky and swampy in the heat of the school. It's an open-air, high-ceiling building, freshly painted blue. Today is an orientation of sorts.
I sit at a wooden table with the headmaster who is meticulously writing up with the Monthly Test Time Table with pen and paper. One of the groups of students, learning chemistry, sit in front of a chalk board next to us. Other classes are behind thin wooden partitions in the metal, warehouse-like school.
A child's crying from a far corner drones on and on.
I didn't sleep well last night. My post-midnight restlessness continues, exacerbated by the heat and mosquito bites on my hands and ankles.
I've already decided to buy some football shorts; I need some air flow between these legs. I probably also need to do laundry. I've been on the road for more than a week and not attempted to do laundry once.
I'm sure I stink.
It wasn't until I was rolling around in bed last night that I realized that I didn't have proper slacks or a dress shirt to teach in. They aren't necessary, but I like to be properly dressed. I ended up making it work with nice t-shirt and a black pair of cargo pants.
In the morning, before Ephraim and Fanny, pick Joseph and I up, the pair of us are sipping tea and eating mandazi on the couch.
“So why did you start Help the Orphans Foundation?” I ask.
“Can I tell you my story?” he asks.
Joseph's mother died when he was young, so his father took a second wife to help raise the boys.
“She would not pack food for us to take to school and when we came home, the doors would be locked,” Joseph said. “My father was always away at work, so we had to go to trees and find our own food or eat nothing. Often we ate nothing.”
The story fell into the very real category of “evil stepmother”. The woman had her own children who she loved, while she despised Joseph and his younger sibling. Then came national testing. Joseph scored not only the top score in his school, but in his entire county.
“I was given some money and the opportunity to go to the best school in the nation,” he said. “My stepmother said we could not afford it, so I could not go. But then, when the mayor was giving me the award said, he said he would arrange for the money so I could go to school.”
However, this idea also didn't satisfy his stepmother, as she knew there would not be enough money to send her kids to the same school and to provide them the same opportunities.
“One night, I went outside and could hear my father crying. I looked for him and found him crying over my mother's grave,” Joseph says. “I didn't want to cause him any more pain so I decided to run away.”
With only a couple of dollars Joseph ran away. He was maybe eight years old at the time. He lied to truck drivers to hitch a ride to Kibaha Maili Moja, where he quickly spent what little money he had on chips and soda.
“I dug through trash to find food and drank water in the streets. I found a couple pieces of cardboard and put them under the tree you saw near the bus station. That's where I slept, even when it rained,” Joseph says. “I was like a wild animal. People thought that I was crazy.”
However, through his musical abilities and the church, he was rescued. Someone took him under his wing, taught him how to sell water and sodas to people on the buses as they came through town.
“Then, I had money, so I could eat. I saved money until I didn't have to sleep in the streets anymore,” Joseph says.
A smart kid and a born tinkerer, Joseph taught himself how to fix mobile phones and continued to save money.
“Now, when I have money, I spend it on building the orphanage in my Father's village to take care of children who don't have parents and to provide children with an education.”
There's a knock at the door.
Ephraim and Fanny have arrived.
We all set off for the schoolhouse, where Fanny is greeted by giant white smiles glowing with adoration.
I meet a couple of the teachers, the co-founder of the school and the headmaster, who are all sitting behind a short partition separating piles of ancient text describing “what is email” and a couple rows of computers that look like they were decommissioned in the mid 90s from the students.
Fanny and I walk with the teachers into the tiny village abreast the school, buying chapati from a couple women flipping the bread over hot coals outside mud-brick houses.
After tea and chapati, Fanny and I head into Kibaha Maili Moja to meet up with Joseph for lunch and then check out the KCC Hotel, were I can have a coffee and get online with the laptop.
Later that night, after Fanny leaves for Dar el Saalam to catch a ferry to Zanzibar the next morning, Joseph and I eat a simple dinner prepared by his wife.
“How does the drone work?” he asks.
I explain that it's a quadcopter that's operated with a phone.
“It can fly about five kilometers away,” I say.
“You white people are very clever.”
“I think it's Chinese actually.”
“No, a white man is behind it. They make themselves look like a Chinese company and work in China to avoid taxes, but the Chinese can't come up with this,” Joseph says emphatically.
Though that might have been the case a couple decades ago, Chinese manufacturing and skilled labor force seems to have dramatically improved within the last five. However, I decide not to press the point.
“I think I can build one,” Joseph says, starting to explain how he'll be able to find small motors and propellers. “The remote will be the hardest part.”
He gives me a big shy smile.
“I can fix many things,” he says. “What about the dice?”
I explain the premise of Dice Travels.
“So often we spend too much time and energy trying to find the best option when there isn't enough information readily available to accurately make that choice. And then, even if we do select the best option, we can't know that for certain, so we end up being unhappy with the choice we made. People don't realize how often the choices we make don't really make any difference.”
“Sometimes I keep so much stress. What to do? What to do? What to do? Now with this I know,” Joseph says, clearly grasping the utility of dice decisions.
“Right, but it only works if you are completely committed to following through on what the dice say. Once the dice are rolled, you have no other options – there is only one path.”
“Can I try?” he asks.
I hand him the die.
“So how does it work?”
After growing up in the US, where dice are symbols and artifacts in our everyday lives, it's strange to be reminded that the perfect cubes aren't something with which everyone is familiar. Up in the mountains of Sapa, Vietnam, the H'mong women who I offered a chance to guide me for the day with the roll of the die had never seen the object. It was their first time rolling a die.
“Okay, so you said if it's a one or a two, you go to bed; a three or a four, you go outside for fresh air. What about a five or a six?” I say.
“A five or a six, I stay here.”
I show Joseph how to toss a die.
He drops the cube on the coffee table.
It lands on a four.
Later, while looking around for a bucket to fill for my shower, I find Joseph outside. His big belly pushes out over his swimming trunks as he attempts to recall some Thai Chi that a Hungarian volunteer taught him.
He gives me a big smile and then tries to show me some kung fu that the same volunteer taught him.
The man is a sponge for ideas.