27th August – Sheila and Oscar
Oscar and I had another lovely day. As Oscar’s football skills had been such a success in Mustafa’s yard on the previous day, we started the day there with Oscar giving Brian, Mustafa the guide’s son, a two hour training session. Although Brian is only five, he picked up the techniques quickly. Oscar tells me he taught him how to do both rabona and step-overs.
Mustafa showed me that he was wearing a pair of my warm walking socks from the bag of stuff I had given him the previous day. He said he would keep the 3G T-shirt for himself – he likes the logo of the mountain on it designed by Gwen – and that he had given one pink Catching Lives T-shirt to his wife and one to Beebee. I protested that the shirts were far too big for them – both women are small and the shirts extra large. He said that was no problem – the women are good sewers and will tailor them to fit!
During the football coaching I was outside Beebee’s house again on her broken plastic chair while she sat with me on her tiny stool for some of the time. However she was clearly not feeling too good. I had brought her a packet of lemon and honey menthol cough sweets, which were well received. All the neighbours came out to try one. Most people here seem to have coughs and catarrh. People say it is because of the weather – but it seems pretty mild to me – in the mid 20s in the sun during the day and the teens at night. I suspect it may have something to do with the enormous amount of dust raised on all the dirt roads by motor bikes and other vehicles. My skin, hair and clothes have been dusted in it at the end of each day: it is amazing in the circumstances how clean the majority of people appear to be. The families in Beebee’s compound share one cold water tap and three hole-in-the-floor toilets, which are kept carefully locked. The women seem to be constantly brushing down their kids and their floors and washing clothes.
Mustafa’s plan for after football was to take us up the road immediately behind his house to see a beautiful valley and waterfall in the foothills of Mount Mehru. On the previous day we had discussed transport for the trip. The normal means of travel would be by motorbike taxi.
We have seen groups of men on bikes at intervals beside the road on all our travels, and I had assumed the were just lads hanging out. However, I now know that they are the equivalent of taxi ranks – you hop on the back and the driver takes you where you want to go for payment.
Mustafa told me that one of his aims is to own a motorbike, so that he can earn money during the rainy season from taxi driving, when it is too wet to act as a guide on Kilimanjaro.
I decided that going by bike would be ok, provided Oscar wore a proper helmet – the Hopkins boys are not allowed even to ride a scooter without one. My reasoning for agreeing to it is that these are not boy racers: they are ambitious men who have worked hard to buy their machines, and, like taxi drivers, would be very anxious not to damage their vehicles by any careless manoeuvres.
I do know that I am known for being reckless however, so it was a hard think! In the days before child car seats and safety belts, Stewart’s parents borrowed a car in which to drive down to Manchester to visit us for a week. Jae was one at the time. We all set off from Manchester to spend a day at the beach in Rhyl and when Jae fell asleep on the way, we just laid her on the rear parcel shelf for the journey. How unthinkable is that today! We also used to think nothing of knocking back a few glasses of wine and then driving home – and very frequently there would be many more people in the car than seats. It wasn’t unusual to sit on someone’s knees during a journey. I am very aware that Jae’s generation are much less casual in these respects than mine was. Oscar was quite certain his parents would not allow him on a motorbike, but was willing to run with my decision.
The dilemma was solved for us, as it happens. Mustafa had acquired some bits of fabric for my appraisal, and I bought two of them at exactly the price he said, without the usual negotiation. It is normal for people to ask for at least twice what they expect to get – but how could I knock down a guy who has been so kind to us? I had also given him $10 US more than he had told me transport and permits for the outing would cost. He was quids in, so he approached a friend and acquired an extremely plush mini-bus, with seat belts (!) for the outing. That produced a big smile and a sigh of relief on Oscar’s face.
After putting two litres of petrol into the vehicle, we set off up the track. It was the most amazing bit of driving! There were enormous lumps and pits in the road, and Mustafa had to hang out of the window to negotiate through them at snail’s pace. The only other vehicles on the track were motorbikes and trucks. We would have been there in a fraction of the time on bikes! I was anxious we would do serious damage to the vehicle, which I would have felt morally responsible to pay for, but happily it survived intact.
When we got as far as it was possible to go, we abandoned the vehicle to the care of two small boys, whose job was to protect it, and walked on up to a check point, where there were guards. I couldn’t quite see why a waterfall in lush green countryside with fabulous views needed armed guards.
Mustafa explained that there are still tribal skirmishes in the area, and one tribe might poison the water source of another. As the river coming down Mount Mehru provides water for most of the Arusha region, it is essential to protect its purity.
When we came to the river gorge, we had to climb down steeply to the river bed, where we were met by two lads, who I thought were about Oscar’s age. It quickly became apparent that they had appointed themselves as hand-holders, as we had to cross the river bed balancing on stones a dozen times or more, as we advanced towards the waterfall. We really appreciated their hands to help us keep our balance.
The taller of the lads told me he is 18 and that his friend is 15. They were amazed to hear that Oscar, towering above them, is only 13. The boy said he had never been to school as his father is dead and he didn’t have the money. He said he had been holding hands in the river bed all his life and that he had learned English from people like me. Mustafa was convinced that the lad was spinning me a tale: who knows?
Themi waterfall, when we got there, was spectacularly beautiful! The water fell vertically into a pool, with cliffs covered in trees and foliage all around – the only patch of sky visible being directly overhead. I will never forget that unique and peaceful place.
Getting out of the gorge again was quite a climb, and had I known, we would have worn our boots as Mustafa had, rather than worn out old trainers (me) or fashion ones (Oscar). I shouldn’t complain though – the younger boy wore flip flops!
I was pleased when Mustafa said that climbing out of the gorge is something like climbing Barranco wall on Kili: we might not have climbed the mountain, but were up to scrambling up something similar to one of the most difficult bits of it!
I haven’t spent the last few days in Africa as I imagined I would, but I know that Oscar and I have had some real life enhancing experiences.