16 September 2015

I just had a fascinating discussion with the head teacher (mwalimu mkuu) at the primary school, and decided that before doing any other work, I’d write a bit about it.

The teachers have borrowed an inverter for the solar panel here at the primary school, so I’ve been able to come and use some electricity recently. Every so often I get to chat with the mwalimu mkuu about various things – if he’s in his office – which is great because he speaks awesome English, and it’s always fun to hear what he has to say (a very well educated man who has lived all over TZ). He was here today, and I decided I would ask him about the odd feeling I had walking to the duka (shop) this morning to buy some rice, oil, and candles. It felt like everyone was walking around on egg shells that they knew they’d break but were still trying not to crack, sticking to where the shadows would exist if the sun were down, talking quieter than usual, standing in groups and looking at me almost like an intruder (I usually receive some sort of excited greeting from at least one person in a group – not those sideways glances). This was all very subtle, but it certainly made an impression on me – people were acting differently, like they all knew something but couldn’t talk about it.

Apparently that was basically the case. When I told the mw. mkuu about the somber and secretive feeling in the village center, he let out an all-knowing, “ahhhhhhh,” head tilted back, eye brows raised. After a few moments of him nodding his head in silence, he then went on to explain the situation. Apparently, a boy went missing three days ago, and was missing for a full 48 hours. His friends said they left him after dark to return to his house, but his parents said they did not see him that night. Last night the boy returned, trembling and unable to speak. There was talk about odd behavior earlier on, like how he set fire to his clothing and mattress. The mw. mkuu said the boy greeted him the night of the disappearance, and seemed like any other normal kid. He also knew the boy from when he went through primary school (he now attends an upper level at secondary school) – nothing exceptional. All in all, the mw. mkuu doesn’t have an answer for what happened to the boy.

The villagers do, though. They believe it’s witchcraft. The boy’s family is a large one and there is conflict within. The boy’s father, (S___), who I’ve actually worked with a bit, was accused of murdering another family member years back. Let me attempt to explain… Years ago, that family member thought that S___ caused the death of S___’s brother’s daughter with witchcraft – she was hit by a car crossing the road. In response, he tried to poison the well that S___ uses. That back fired because in the process of poisoning the well, the man broke the well, making S___ suspicious. The details are unclear (for me at least), but in the end that man was murdered (or as the mw. mkuu said, assassinated). A lot of the family thinks that S___ knew about the poison and had the man murdered. Now S___ and others believe someone is using their powers to bewitch his son in retaliation. And that is why the boy set fire to his clothing and mattress, that is why the boy disappeared into the night for two days straight, only to return shaking and without the ability to speak.

All I could do was shake my head in disbelief that this happened and was happening right here in my village. The mw. mkuu said he was disappointed to hear all this talk from some of the people he works closely with, some of the people he thought he trusted. S___ completed four levels of secondary school – he should know better than this… I agreed, then told him as a shook my head that it is such a juicy and dramatic story it would make a great book. He took the wrong meaning from my comment and told me that I would be wasting my time to write a novel about this situation, that writing a story about it would make no difference for the people here because so many are illiterate and would not be able to see my message. He then spent about 20 minutes on an enjoyable rant about how some people think that the only way to increase literacy is to increase development, but in reality you need to increase literacy before any sustainable development can actually occur. I, of course agree with him, but all the reply I could muster was “first things first” because I was so surprised and laughing to myself thinking of where my simply conversational comment took us.

This is my first personal experience with talk of witchcraft in the country, though I’ve heard endless stories from other volunteers revealing just how superstitious some people here can be. To be honest, it’s kind-of freaky. I keep thinking back to how irrationally people acted in our nation’s past when they were frightened by the thought of witchcraft. It doesn’t seem like people are put on trial here, though, if they’re suspected… They’re just murdered. Needless to say, I’m staying out of it! The mw. mkuu told me other stories about witchcraft in areas he lived before. He said another head teacher he knew faced a dangerous situation because a number of students at the school kept falling down and passing out – aka they were bewitched. People then pointed fingers at the head teacher, and eventually he had to leave before anything worse happened. The mw. mkuu here is worried that students might start associating going to secondary school with getting bewitched, causing them to drop out and not continue with their education. That certainly won’t help with the literacy rates. He explained that if you think about the perceived cost-benefit analysis for the students, it’s just not worth it. This seems to be an interesting situation that happens all over TZ in many different ways – not just in relation to schools and schoolchildren.

Well, that about wraps up that fascinating discussion that I enjoyed in English. In other news, I’ve made it through all those bananas after eating diligently, baking another loaf of banana bread, and giving some to friends as zawadi-s (gifts). Now I’m fully focused on the avocados, though right now they’re ripening too fast for me to keep up. I think I’ll probably give some to the primary school teachers. Or maybe I can make avocado bread… hmm…

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