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A Letter From Tanzania

Kalisti works for me as a houseboy. He is 20(ish) years of age, an ex-streetboy, thief and thug. He came to me after serving three months in an east African prison for theft. I chose him – and it upsets many folk that I should choose an uneducated thug to help me – and he’s been with me for a year now. He has a fiancée and is about to marry her soon. He has taken a week off to travel to the other end of Tanzania to get a “permission to marry” letter from his fiancée’s family.

Kalisti returned last night and Mama Freda (my landlady, who is a distant relation of Attila the Hun) wanted to share the excitement of Kalisti’s experiences. So we went to eat with Mama Freda in her garden – we pooled our food and sat on a grass mat under the full moon and shared a meal. It was so bohemian!

Kalisti had the experience of his life! He paddled in the sea in Dar es Salaam – this was his first ever sight of the sea and sounded like a life-changing experience for him. I wish I had been there to share this experience. I would have loved to see him in the sea; trousers rolled up to his knees and experiencing the ocean for the first time in his life.

There are hundreds, nay thousands, of baobab trees around Iringa and this also impressed him; as did passing through Mikumi National Park on the journey from Dar es Salaam to Iringa. The main road cuts through the park – he managed to spot giraffes, impala, zebras and a herd or two of elephants.

The village where he went to obtain the letter was high in the mountains close to the Malawi border. It was cold, and Kalisti has never experienced real cold before. He said that in the mornings he drank boiling water straight from the pan to defrost himself – a little exaggeration here, I think. He was struck – saddened – that in the home village of his fiancée the people there are so very poor even by African standards. It is so cold and they eat maize and beans only. There’s no money for medication – if you get sick, you die. He visited the graves next to the homes and counted the many small graves of the young children who had died. It has truly shocked him. There are so many charities working in Tanzania – Plan International, Care International, GTZ (the German government aid agency), OXFAM – but they cannot reach into all these remote villages. It is sad; tragic, really.

The houses are made from local clay bricks baked in huge wood fires and the roof is made from grass – not thatch but hay, I suppose. All the houses were low roofed and doored and Kalisti (who is very tall) kept banging his head.

He succeeded in getting the letter to allow him (aged 20) to marry his fiancée (aged 24) – strange that he has to get permission. He used all his savings to travel to get this letter, which would have been a waste of money in my eyes, except he has had such an education over the last week.

Pastor Geoffrey visited twice today to organise the wedding – well, not really a wedding, a small ceremony then off to live life in dire poverty. We must get some cards to announce the wedding and ask for donations. Kalisti is to be married next week. It is too soon, but who can stop the headlong rush of a young man and woman who have to be married?

I am thinking of taking Kalisti into school tomorrow. I want to get him to tell the story of his adventure. We will rehearse tonight. I think it might be fascinating for the children to share with Kalisti his adventure, and Kalisti is like a child when he gets excited about something.

He also wants my new guest bed as a wedding present and won’t take no for an answer. I see we will have to fight about this. I am putting my foot down and at the same time thinking how to afford another new bed.

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