backlog #3: North Mara, TZ, Barrick Gold, polluted waters, rain, motorbikes, fixers, FGM, abuse, poverty, tradition

nyamongo village

23.11.09 – 03.12.09
1. after the masaii mara i travelled back south to tanzania – not far south of the kenyan border on the eastern side of Lake Victoria, the North Mara, the Mara region of northern Tanzania. I travelled in a mini bus of 12 seats that had about 30 people – i have been in crowded buses before, but this was insane. they then tried to fit a man who had busted his leg and was bleading, on top of a rusty suitcase, and his small boy who was wearing an oversized suit – i dont know what happened, but it didn’t work. so – i arrived in Musoma, a town on the shores of Lake Victoria, i got taken to a hotel, the most expensive in town, of $25 a night – more than i had spent anywhere, but i really wanted a clean bathroom, to myself; I know, greedy, but i needed it. I met with my fixer, rhobinson, who had been organised through the TZ institute of information and… something – he was great, very humble, but active, a journalist himself, and he owned a motorbike – on which we were to travel hours and hours on dirt, dusty or wet roads interviewing people for a week. he organised the schedule, tomorrow we would start with the community affected by Barrick Gold’s North Mara mine – about 2-3 hours away on this motorbike of 60km an hour, sometimes 80..

2. we left around 9 after i struggled to find internet that worked so i could read my editors comments/wishes/focus for the articles. the article is yet to be published, as my editor is covering the copenhagen climate conference: http://www.ips.org/TV/copenhagen/ – so hopefully after then they will be put online. I am still waiting for 5 more stories to go up. so i will publish the drafts; unapproved by the critical CAPITAL LETTERS of my editor. whom i love and respect for teaching me much about writing and journalism. and although my time brief doing this; has pushed me to continue. i hope.

so. on the bike.

3. through the police blocks – where are you going? ‘to tarime’ – why? ‘i am looking, researching’ ‘im a tourist’ – haha, put the helmet on her, for saftey ma’am.

4. it’s really green here, it’s really been raining, and will, on and off for the next week. the landscapes dotted with rounded huts with pointy roofs. thatched, mud, villages, so normal now, i love these glimpses, flickering by on the back of a motorbike. slow and quickly. this boy, he’s little, a baby really, picks up a bucket, throws it on the ground. these girls, they hop. they laugh and chase each other. these boys push a tire along the ground, yelling something at the same time. these women carry water on their heads, babies on their backs. this old man does nothing, these young men lean against the side of their shop, chewing a piece of grass, turning their gaze as we pass. these goats block the road, they don’t notice the horn, these cows block the road, they don’t notice the horn.

5. the peaceful hum, splatter, purr of the motorcycle , the wind snaps at my face, i hide behind rhobinson, to hide from people’s gaze as well as to hide from the wind.

rhobinson the trusty fixer and journalist, and our helper in nyamongo village, waiting for the rain to stop

6. upon arriving in Nyangomo village, Rhobinson had arranged for another man to help us – visiting people who had complained of skin diseases due to bathing in the Tigithe River after it was contaminated in early May – after lining was removed, but, a scandal. ongoing – he organised us to meet local councillors and chairmen, and to talk with local small-scale miners who visit the site every day to earn about $1.5 per day off gold sales. locals use mercury to extract the gold, using their bare hands and home-made equipment, often grinders are contained within homes at the base of the mine, refusing to move.

7. so we visited the contaminated area, we visited areas where water was discharging from the mine (which i was later to learn is from natural springs (uncontaminated..?) that sit underneath the mine). we were too late to travel back to musoma, and more people to visit the next day, so we stayed in a cheap guesthouse in the village centre, that smelt like petrol and had drunken people yelling into the wee-hours, but i was so tired i fell asleep amongst it all underneath the hole-full mosquito net.
Rhobinson tells me a story which i can’t understand/comprehend, about a woman who is beaten, abused from a young age, who goes on to move about across tanzania continuing to be beaten and abused by those who she comes across – i ask him about stories to cover women’s issues in the Mara district, and this is what he tells me – Female Genital Mutilation is still huge here, abuse is huge, education for girls is still so low… AIDS, the list goes on. So i fall asleep thinking about corruption, abuse, tradition, poverty, FGM, aids; i feel kind of numbed, numbed by everything – as if to say “oh, you have such a terrible life.. okay, who else can we talk to?” – im not sure this is how i really feel, but it feels a little how i feel – as if the lives have piled up and i am no longer actually seeing them on the same level, one by one, a reality by a reality. there are so many – and each person has one to tell.

8. after the end of the next day i return exhausted to Musoma – try to write something but end up drinking amarula watching the soccer on my comfortable hotel bed – thinking of how to retell these stories…

9. the next day rhobinson takes me to a village about an hour out of Musoma to talk with women who are the victims of abuse and of FGM –  didn’t really know what to expect – nor had i prepared my questions or research about the issues. but going on the little time we had i jumped on the back of the bike and listened to rhobinson brief me along the way – yelling over the top of the motorbike engine – actually i tried not to talk on the back there, because when i did he would slow down to about 50km an hour and i knew we would never reach the village.

10. the women; about 8 of them, were gathered around at the edge of the house in the Kitarmanka village, along a dirt track somewhere in the musoma rural district- sitting on a woven mat, they brought chairs out for us as we arrived – and so; i didn’t know where to start, who they were or what i was asking them, but rhobinson just said “they will tell you their story one by one” – and so i pressed record and started taking notes.

Justine Mahunda

Justine Mahunda: I was born here in 1964, I was married in 1984, to a man named Mahunda Sendi. He paid 25 cows and 15 goats for my dowry. When I got married I already had one child who was born in 1983; I moved with her to my new husband’s home. My husband was so much older than me, he could have been my father! I was forced to marry him by my family, because of tradition; the responsibility is of the parents, he offered a good price for me.
He was always abusive because ; he had 5 wives – so he kept some wives and got rid of the others…
We had three children together, and in 1988 he chased me away from the family?
Why?
Because he had found a new wife, I was already the third wife for him.
I went to the elders – who, according to tradition, the husband must provide land, he did, but never provided and money or support for me, I lived with my children alone with nothing since 1989. He had a lot of cattle but gave me nothing.
My husband died in 1989. He was killed by somebody called Jumaa Nyansambo, who was my new boyfriend – who is now in jail for the murder.
(the story is a bit muddled and hard to follow…)
We were/are always in conflict; it is a normal style of living for us here.
That day; the day he killed my ex-husband… he came with a knife to my home, and cut me here (she points) and here on my head (she shows) – then my son came to protect me and Jumaa took an axe and cut the son with the axe in the waist and the cut his arm in three pieces! he then cut his shoulder as well and took the knife again and cut my son twice on his head. My sons name was Sergere Mahunda, age 23. We took him immediately to Musoma hospital, it was late at night – he passed away the next morning.
Jumaa ran away to the neighbours house and tried to kill himself – They took him to the hospital too, where he was arrested and taken to jail.
He never attends court, but I hope one day he will be tried; although, it is not neccessary now, what else can be done?
Accordng to tradition… it is normal for women to be beaten..
But does the community accept that it’s normal? Do people agree with it?
There are two types of conflict; one is the kind when people are always in conflict, so it’s normal, the other is when a man beats his wife almost to death, then it is a problem, then they can get divorced.
He could be me if I had done something wrong, or even if I hadn’t, it was just normal> this is just the way the man behaves… It is very difficult to find a man that does not beat his wife..
But people accept it in the community? As ‘normal?’
We get beaten inside the house, so people don’t see.
Are things changing?
Now people are starting to change their minds about this; if people complain to the community, but if a woman is quiet she is only doing this to obey the marriage – to complain is to abuse the marriage. If a wife was beaten by her real husband it is accepted, but not if he is not her real husband…
By law it is illegal, but if a woman takes her husband to court then she won’t be accepted back into the family. Traditionally women are supposed to take her husband to their parents to fix the problems, and it worked, but now most people take them to the police or to a court of local leaders – it is starting to change now and women will be accepted back into the family.

she went on to talk about alcohol as the main cause of problems between husband and wife, and she told me that she used to drink a lot, and accepted that she was beaten for drinking. I asked the women in the gathering who had been to school, only some 3 out of 8 or 9 had finished standard 6, which would be.. primary school? – some finished at age 14 or 15, others at age 20. And i asked if at school if there was much education around domestic abuse – they simply shook their heads and said that they were taught how to cook, etc..

It started to rain heavily and we moved inside – one of the older women of the group told me her story, which was strange, also horrible, but i didn’t understand it entirely.. beaten by police? who stole her 15 cows..? also married to an old man, who was rich (with cows) and had 4 wives – she had stomach problems, ovary problems and could give birth, so was kicked out of the house. She contracted TB and couldn’t work anymore – she still lives with her mother.. the story trailed off as I was totally lost and not sure if I could ‘use’ the story for anything.. – We began to talk about FGM and this went on until dark, we were all crammed, now there was about 15 or so of us in this bare dark blue room in this house – talking about FGM, the traditions, the horrors; the mindsets – then i clicked each of them –
and the story is to come in the next couple of posts..

kitarmanka women

11. the following days were spent trying to chase government officials for quotes; going back out the North Mara mine and interviewing Barrick and doing a mine tour – then trying to complete the FGM story and start another story on girls and education. I ran out of time and wanted to leave, to go, to go to cairo and be settled again for a little while – i don’t know why i needed to rush so fast, but i had this plan in my mind and i followed it.

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