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The Working Life of Linda Fabiani MSP
W/E 21st November 2004


Jambo from Tanzania to Scotland from Davie:

Well, what a wonderful week I’ve had! Got back around 10.30 last night (Sunday) and still on a high. For new readers’ benefit – I’ve been in Tanzania for a week, shadowing the Hon. Estherina Kilasi MP in her rural constituency. The main Party, the CCM (Revolutionary Party who have been in power since independence), for the last election, introduced affirmative action on their national list for women. Estherina, however, was elected first-past-the-post in the Mbarali Constituency (unusual, and I think only one of two female constituency MPs). The British Council are funding a project amongst women in UK legislatures and their Tanzanian counterparts. Estherina was here in Scotland earlier this year.

So, set off on Saturday and arrived in Dar es Salaam around 9.30 am Sunday to be whisked away from the airport for a 1200 km Land Rover drive south-west to Mbeya District.  Twelve hours, one puncture and one lunch-stop later we arrived at Utungele to stay the night. I thoroughly enjoyed the drive – what a great way to see the countryside, some flat plains, some wild bush and some great mountains and valleys. First impressions – red earth, trees/flowers, townships, mud-huts with corrugated tin roofs, ribbon development along the country’s one main road – shacks, stalls, shops – people everywhere walking, on ancient bicycles, in clapped-out cars and vans. Vibrant colours – red, orange and yellow. This road also goes through one of the national parks, so, real elephants and antelopes!

On the way I learned a lot about Mbarali Constituency – 16,000 sq. km., population 235,000. Quite a constituency to service, especially since there’s only one real road through it; most visiting requires off-road driving. Estherina’s husband tells me that when they ‘do’ the constituency, they set off and travel round it for two months.  Certainly puts travelling round Central Scotland in context.

Utungele Lodge was in a coffee plantation – great setting, nice surroundings, but no working generator, no running water. That was all fine, I’ve coped with this in other places, but you know, problem with no electricity is that the beasties don’t bother to hide when you walk in just with one candle flame! Wee lizards I rather like, but I’ll never get fond of cockroaches – I was so whacked though that I just kept my boots on! By morning, the sun had chased them.

Monday morning 8 am – two hour drive to Rujewa to meet the District Commissioner and District officials. District of Mbaya was created around 10 years ago, and seems to be well organised with lots of community development work going on – credit unions, agricultural co-operatives etc. We had picked up a translator, Enock, for me on the way – Tony Fisher and Flora Mahika from the British Council travelled with us, but Tony reckons his Swahili isn’t good enough whilst Flora reckons her English isn’t.  Also travelling with us I discover are a retinue of journalists – TV, Radio and Press, so we are a convoy which causes great excitement when we drive through settlements.

Next stop Ubaruku – what a welcome, dancing, singing, hundreds of folk. The Women’s Rice Trading Co-operative seems to run the show here – strong, strong women. The format seems to be everywhere that the District Commissioner introduces everyone, gives the crowd a lecture about the importance of education for the children and how learning reading and writing isn’t enough (Tanzania has achieved 92% literacy for 15 to 24 year olds, with 89% net for primary school enrolment). There’s a big Government secondary education push, but senior schools are not generally Government funded and with 36% of the population below the national poverty line it’s hardly surprising that there’s a big drop-out rate, especially for girls. Estherina then gives a speech, and I follow her after a very formal report on the project is presented to me. Scotland as a country is not something that rural Tanzanians recognise – I am the lady MP from England. Doing my best though with postcards and Saltires!

Getting and sustaining secondary education for your children is hard here, but the commitment is immense. Next stop Mawindi Secondary School. They have 70+ pupils, one teacher (Headmaster himself). No electricity, shortage of water. Building started back in 2001 by parents, have had some small grants from various charities. It’s far off the beaten track and attended by teenagers who come from far and wide. Apart from some Masai people (more about them later) who I’m told just materialise from the bush, the youngsters generally live on site – two dorms, boys and girls, consisting of wall-to-wall mattresses. The Headmaster tells me that his main problem is trying to get teachers to locate to such a poorly serviced area. I wonder if there may be any small ‘visiting teacher’ initiatives back home that could help in any way. I don’t vocalise these things to where we visit though because it’s unfair to raise false expectations – if anything can be done, well that’s the time to talk about it. As everywhere we go, a wonderful concert is staged. I know that these events are ‘stage managed’ by the organisers, but the enthusiasm of the villagers and schoolchildren is genuine. I suppose when you live so far away from anyone else, then a visit is a huge event, and everyone enjoys the time out and festival atmosphere.

Drive to Rujewa where we’re staying at the Usungilo Lodge for two nights. Rujewa is a town of 16,000 people, the Lodge is in one of the main streets – small, no running water, but there is electricity and hot food! My room’s fine and comfortable, and no visible sleeping companions. The noises are amazing though – all sorts of living sounds, constant, both internally and externally, but rather comforting.

First stop Tuesday Madibira Secondary School – what a welcome! When you visit a school the whole community turns out. This school has been going for 4 years now – I was surprised that it was so short a time because it seemed very settled and organised. Better staffed, but better located, than Mawindi School the previous day. Main problems again student drop-out. The District Commissioner has a rant about this to the crowd and shows off the young successful Tanzanians who are in our convoy – Flora from the British Council, Enock the translator, Renato from the TV company; they’re good examples, but I suspect started from more privileged backgrounds than most of the youngsters here. Having said that Estherina Kilasi herself comes from this constituency and showed me the village and the house where she was raised – it certainly couldn’t have been an easy upbringing. It was at this school that I first tried ululating (that wonderful sound that the African women make when celebrating) – difficult, much to the hilarity of all present! I’m persevering though – determined. I think my dancing caused as much hilarity – what really strikes me about the singing and dancing here, compared to home, is that the boys and men sing and dance with the same gusto as the women and girls. It’s so uninhibited and just sheer celebration of the joy of life.

Moved on to Madibira Smallholders Farming Co-operative and Community Bank/Credit Union. First of all visited the paddy fields and irrigation works. 3000 shareholders in the Co-op, with one hectare each. It is interesting that in a family, wife is an individual shareholder in her own right, and any child when they reach the age of 18 years. It was a government sponsored scheme and elements of ownership have already been passed to the Co-op with more to come. The irrigation works by damming a nearby creek and using varying ground levels to flood the field – no machinery to break down, the only maintenance being to make sure that the channels are kept clean and free from brush.

Moved onto the community hall to meet the Community Bank representatives. Again I receive extremely formal reports on the two projects. Read out in full and then presented in a sealed envelope. This is the tradition and extremely useful to have the written copies when you’re packing in so many visits in such a short time – helps to sort it all out in your head later. I was able to speak to the community about the co-operative movement and the credit union movement here in Scotland – okay, we don’t face the same adversity, but let’s face it, historically we did. There is common ground. I also spoke about fair trade – the rice grown here is organic and I had been told that their main issue to surmount is marketing, so I mentioned the Fair Trade Foundation. No-one had heard of it, even Estherina and the District Commissioner (never did learn his name!). I had presumed they would know these things; you should never presume. If nothing else, it’s good to drop seeds of knowledge that can grown and maybe help in the future.

A good lunch again – lots of rice, pulses, banana stew and fruit. I realise that I’m starting to accumulate gifts. So far, earthenware pots/khangas (cotton wraps), a massive sweet potato, and now lots and lots of rice!

Still in Madibira Ward in the afternoon at another public meeting. This is the first time that I am really aware of just how my presence is being used politically for the CCM. The registration for voters for next year’s election is ongoing at the moment. The District Commissioner is quite blatant at this public event, for example – along the lines of “Do you know that if you had not voted for the Honourable Mrs. Kilasi, then the Honourable Mama Linda would not be here, because no-one in the UK would be interested in Madibira!” I suspect Enock was not supposed to translate this bit – I had noticed a couple of times that the DC had distracted him at crucial moments. I quite like being ‘Honourable Mama’ though! ‘Mama’ seems to be the casual way of addressing women – I’m told that ‘Bibi’ which means ‘sister’ is more formal.

More singing/more dancing/more tutoring in ululating – CCM Teeshirts seem to be the normal apparel here – more gifts (cooking stool to sit on while I’m stirring my pots).

Everywhere we go we are late – by hours! It seems to be the norm though, so we don’t reach the formal reception back in Rujewa until 9.30 pm, although it was supposed to start at 7.00 pm. Important officials there, including the Regional Commissioner, district councillors, community leaders. Very formal meeting, long introductions, long speeches from all of us. However, once the formalities were over, the fun began again – great food, great dancing, great fun dressing me up in traditional clothes! Driving back to the Inn I couldn’t understand why I was so hot until Flora pointed out I had the equivalent of six dresses on! Bed at 1.30 am to be on the road again at 8.00 am.

Well Wednesday was a real treat. Two hour drive, off-road, to Matabete village to visit the Masai women’s group – community co-operative making their beautiful jewellery to sell. The men tend the cows. The Masai, also known as the Cattle people are nomadic in Tanzania and Kenya, and are one of the few (some folk said only) main tribes in Africa who have maintained both a genetic and cultural identity. I noticed everywhere we drove through, and later in the week in Dar es Salaam, that you could immediately pick out Masai people because many still wear their traditional clothing.

Again, the entire village was out to meet us and the concert was to me like watching a movie. I remember as a child seeing film of these people - tall, thin, majestic, proud – being fascinated at their clothes and jewellery and the way they danced; the warriors jump (vertical take-off!) and the women shimmy like nothing I’ve ever seen before (a saying of my dad’s came to mind – “It must be jelly, ‘cos jam don’t shake like that!”). I felt so privileged to be there, on the spot, and watching this spectacle – not only that, but being welcomed, and sitting down to eat with them. The Masai seem to exist on a full protein diet – meat, meat and more meat, not a veggie, carbohydrate or fruit in sight. The original Atkins Diet.

The Jewellery Co-operative was fascinating – all the women in the village and beyond participate, and the profits are used to educate the children. Some wonderful photographs and fabulous memories. Everyone in our entourage bought loads of jewellery for gifts – beautifully made pieces of beads and metal.

Two school visits in quick succession in the afternoon – Amani Secondary school which has been going for 2 years and Chimala Secondary School which is a well established school (1984) generally for children of government officials, office-workers etc. and therefore better funded than others I’ve visited. Both fascinating – Amani for the sheer commitment and dedication of teachers and parents, and Chimala for their achievements – 2260 pupils have graduated from here, some to further education. Also, this school participates in the community by outreach health teaching (voluntarily by teachers) and by providing tap-water services.

I hope very much that I can in some way create links with schools I’ve visited and schools in Central Scotland. Not financially particularly, but just to allow those in Mbarali to know that people are aware of how hard they are trying and that they have support. It can only do both sides good to learn from each other.

The final visit of the day was to the town of Igurusi to visit youth projects – literacy, health awareness (generally HIV and AIDS). This was I think the poorest place I visited during the three days, and I really don’t think I’ve ever seen so many children in the one place. From the moment I left the vehicle I was mobbed by them – prodded, nipped and stroked, all very affectionately though! More speeches! More singing! More dancing! More politicking! A big treat for Enock here – a couple of dancers came on and he was delighted that they were from his tribe, the Nyakyusa, and he could show off his culture to me. They were so funny (supposed to be) and I was seriously in stitches watching the shapes they got into and their facial expressions. I even got a shot of banging their big drum – what a tension releaser that is, I should get myself one here in Scotland!

Well, that was the last of the constituency visits. I’ve yet to really mug up on all the reports I was given, and to seriously think about how I can do anything to support any of these organisations, even in the smallest of ways. I’ll have to seriously mull it all over and speak to some folk in Scotland.

Thursday left the Inn at 5.30 in the morning for the drive back to Dar es Salaam. It took 13 hours this time because we broke down halfway. Well looked after by the local folk though while we waited for a replacement. Dar es Salaam’s Holiday Inn was a pleasure on Thursday night I must say – lying in the bath contemplating just how damned fortunate my life is. I remember the first time I visited East Timor (the 1999 Independence Ballot), when I came back I found it difficult to tap back into what was going on in Scottish politics at the time because it all seemed so unimportant in comparison. Also, there was a feeling of residual guilt that I was safe and privileged. But, you have to get over these understandable feelings, because they really are not constructive and it doesn’t help anyone else if you go around with a hair-shirt on all the time. There’s a balance to be struck between awareness and despair, and I must say that what I saw in these four days was a people which despite facing hardship every single day had a joy of living that was uplifting. We could learn so much from them about what really is important when you remove the fripperies and look at the basics.

Anyway, enough of my internalising!

Friday was a day of press-conferences, meetings with the High Commissioner (in Commonwealth countries you don’t have a British Ambassador, you have a High Commissioner – a bit Gilbert and Sullivanesque I think), Department for International Development. The DFiD funding to Tanzania is currently 80m and rising to 110m next year, 75% of this being paid as general budget support to the Government (strictly monitored because there is still a corruption problem – doesn’t seem to be directly into the pockets of high officials or anything suchlike, but more of a ‘perk’ culture).

Also discovered this morning that we’ve been on the TV News every night and in the press every day. The TV company have promised to send me the videos of the diary they took in the constituency, so that will be really useful for presentations to schools etc.

Final visit on Friday was to the Tanzania Women Lawyers Association – a membership organisation of women lawyers who give free services to Tanzanian women, in the absence of any legal aid provision. Cases dealt with are mainly matrimonial, land and domestic violence. Currently, in the absence of definitive laws, traditions are followed - for example, if a Tanzanian woman is widowed the property or any belongings of her husband’s, if there are no adult sons, first shout goes to the husband’s oldest brother or father. This organisation lobbies for changes in law and fights individual cases in the courts. They are also very active in campaigning on HIV/AIDS issues. Extremely impressive. Again, links with any professional such organisation in Scotland would be welcomed by the Management Committee.

Saturday – my last day – was pure relaxation. Dar es Salaam is a lovely city, with quiet beaches just a short ferry-ride away, and fascinating markets just a short drive. Spent time saying goodbyes to Estherina and Mr. Kilasi, to Flora and Tony from the British Council. I really couldn’t have had better company for a week, and really appreciated the time they took, even on a Saturday to make sure my experience was great right up until the end. It was.

Kwa herri from Flora and the kids in Rujewa.


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