Back in Bristol

The words culture and shock come to mind. After a brief spell in London, I had the feeling that I wouldn’t really get down the culture shock road, but its hit me now. Motorways and good roads, and buses that aren’t full with loads of legroom and no goats and chickens to deal with… it’s pretty nice really. Right now I’m in the canteen in Bristol, enjoying a pint of Orchard Pig, awesome, some cool jazz playing in the background and a whole pub full of hippies all being hippy all around me. In the six hours I’ve been back in Blighty I’ve made friends with some tramps outside Victoria station, met two polish girls who thought I was some travelling hobo (close) and then walked across Bristol with a broken belt and spent half the time pulling up my trousers and sharing my Portsman cigarettes with all the homeless people outside the pub. None of these things are particularly special, but they are special to me. Because this is where I am from, because this is where I got the idea to go to Africa in the first place, this is the place I had to come back to, and it’s the place I shall stay while I’m here. I have a job interview on Friday (yep I know, that was quick!) and then start work for the main job on Monday, if the Friday thing doesn’t go so well. £40,000 a year is a lot to turn down, so we’ll see how it goes.

Beautiful people, beautiful music, wonderful cider and amazing artwork all over the place. It’s difficult to remember what it is I hated about this so much that made me leave. Honestly, even though this is the third time I’ve come back to England, this is the first time it feels really different and special. I’m poor. Really poor. I can only afford one more pint before I have nothing left, but hey, what is the world coming to if a man can’t spend his last few quid on a pint in his favourite pub. Life gets better…

Work shall begin in earnest, and I have already began painting the picture of the festival in Zanzibar to those around me. This is the place to make it happen. I can hear conversations amongst musicians going on all over the pub, two guys with Macbooks are discussing their set layout for a gig this weekend, the DJ is playing Ella Fitzgerald now and I really need him to come if that’s how he does it, and above all else, it’s just so lovely to be back. There’s a marshall amp sat in the corner, a load of CDs from local artists being sold on shelves on the wall, each table is hand painted with mad artwork and everyone here is dressed so well and so cool. Even the little toddler who keeps coming over to check out my guitar is wearing cool hippy little shoes and her dad is smoking rollies and has a head of dreads that makes mine look juvenile in comparison. Coming home never felt so good.

I’m going to see my Grandma on Sunday with my Auntie Lesley, and will be travelling up to Scotland some time next week to see mum and Simon and the kids, it’s all a bit too much. Going from daily sweating, drinking and constant shifting around the place working and fixing things back to this… I am in awe of this country, and feel proud to be British again. Everything works here.

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Moving off the mountain

This blog is entitled “life on the mountain” and it is perhaps time I updated this to reflect the changes in life that have happened and what is about to happen from here on in.

I no longer live in Marangu. I am however, still in Tanzania, and the mountain still plays a big part in my daily life; when I go to the toilet in the morning, its pretty much all I can see out of the window. This getting up in the morning has changed somewhat as well, I now cannot sleep for the life of me, and have been waking up naturally at 6.30am every day and getting out on my bike to enjoy the morning, and start each day with some exercise and a good deal of fresh air to go with it. I generally do about 20km first thing, down to TPC, get a cheap coffee from a little duka down there, then head back up through town up to shanty, and back down to Rau where the house is and where the shower sorts me out. I’m in the garden with my morning coffee as everyone else wakes up, and so my day has already began. From here on in is the freelance part of my life that I am now enjoying so much, I am free, I can choose where I want to work and what I want to work on. I get a couple of hours of UK work in, which fits nicely into an “out of hours” time for them, then its off on a bus up to Marangu, check in to the Hotel and work on their server and infrastructure, then back up to Mshiri for lessons with the kids, see friends, walk in the forest, then back to Moshi for the evening and all the fun that goes with it. Living with other westerners is actually far more relaxing than I ever anticipated. For a start, there is nobody who interrupts my sleep. Unfortunately, sleep is naturally interrupted by the sun and the general heat in Moshi, but otherwise, I live in a private space that gives me freedom as well as security and a social life. My dreads have never looked better, they are clean, get washed and dried by the sun twice a week now, and are starting to look after themselves now that I am looking after their wellbeing. I have lost a lot of weight, perhaps because I don’t eat enough, but mostly because of the extra exercise that I get each day, and the heat that really takes it out of you if you’re not careful. This tied in with a rather lovely Zanzibar suntan is the new me that is heading back to the UK in a couple of weeks.

When I get there, some soulsearching needs to take place, and some rather big decisions need to be made: What am I doing with my life? Where am I going with this festival idea? Do I really want to live in East Africa?

Coming home has always been an unknown, from the first time when I came back all depressed, banging on about how wasteful we all are and how life in Africa is so simple and pure, blah blah… the reality is much darker, and the second time was a flying visit, with a reason to be there, as I helped my mum move my grandma to the retirement home and just worked for money. This time I have a purpose, I think, and as long as I don’t drop the ball, it should be a productive and useful trip, where I finally show everyone who I have become, and what that person is now capable of.

I feel like this time I cannot let any of my previous emotional or social ineptitude stop me from speaking to who I want to speak to, and being who I want to be. What I have learnt from my week on Zanzibar is that the picture you have of yourself in your mind, isn’t necessarily what everyone else sees, and with that in mind, I am ready to paint a better picture of myself for all to see and know. Without a dream it is hard to envisage a future without getting stuck on the daily rituals of work and displeasure, but with a renewed sense of vision and a real goal to work towards, I have all the tools available to me to be the Craig I can be, and prove myself wrong, that I am not the loser I have been lamenting lost time over, but the man in charge of his life. Even without money.

That last point sadly isn’t something I can just ignore though, it is unfortunately a huge part of what makes the future so bright. A sudden change of heart with regards to how I make my money, how I spend it and how I refill the coffers when things get low, it’s a time to consolidate my winnings and bring together the favours and opportunities in front of me to better understand how my own life and that of those around me will improve as a result of my hard work.

Chasing money and idiots who don’t want to pay aside, I am looking forward to closing off my time in Tanzania with a bang. DJ duties continue, as do the networking and socialising that make up what Moshi is to me right now, but what I am feeling above all else, is the ability to see the road ahead, and clearly too. I know what is expected of me, what I expect of myself, and I will be thoroughly disappointed if after all this change and direction finding, if I don’t end up on the beach in January 2015 surrounded by people who’s lives are being changed as a direct result of my hard work. We’ll see, for now, its time to pack the bags, drink the last safaris, finish off my work here, and get my brown tanned ass back to cold-land and see what father Christmas has for me this year!

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And finally…

So it’s been a while, but here we go, first post as a new man, as a productive and exciting person, as me, Craig, as I shall be for the rest of my life.

So she’s changed me, and for the better. This isn’t all about her, there is way more to this than just a girl and a beach, this is about how I conduct myself, how I create my friendships and how I deal with those as time moves on. What happened happened, there is no denying that, but what it means is important and needs to be processed properly before its possible for me to move on with my life.

I can be an addictive person. Whether it’s too many cigarettes or beers, whether I start making noises when I shouldn’t do or whether it’s a drug infused coma I put myself into, I can be very moreish on things I like. It works the same way with people, and this last little experience has taught me more than just a few things about myself as well as how other people work. Just to give you an idea of what I’m doing right now, it’s Saturday morning on Jambiani beach on the south eastern part of Zanzibar, the girls have just left for the ferry to Dar and their journey down to South Africa, and I’m finishing my coffee, with an awesome Chemical Brothers mix, and preparing my set for the debut of DJ DEATH on Zanzibar tonight, as I will be playing music at Coral Rock for their full moon party just a few hundred metres up the beach from where we are. This is the real part of all this, and in all fairness I owe the confidence and motivation for this all to her. Festival plans and parties and moving to the beach have all been forefront in my mind, clouded by the blonde, but now they have my full attention, and from this moment forwards, I am no longer the IT guy who lives on the mountain, but an event organiser and DJ who works in East Africa and who will bring the best music festival this country has ever seen for the beginning of 2015 right here on the beaches of this beautiful island.

I’ve been dancing with no shirt on, barefoot in the sand to some awesome minimal techno. I have argued with Maasai idiots and protected my harem from unwanted attention, I have drank my weight in tequila and rum and managed to survive to the other side. I am now feeling slightly deflated but excited. I have a new chapter to concentrate on now, and the best part is its what I have wanted to do with my life ever since I was old enough to buy records. It’s real, its not just a dream, it is my dream, and from today onwards I am making it my reality.

She will go home, to her boyfriend, and will forget about me. Or at least try. That’s what she needs to do, and in turn what I need to do is avoid the self-destructive behaviour that I know I’m capable of and use this energy to do something amazing and positive with my passion and anger and love and rage. Compiling playlists in my head day in day out is what I do best, and to get paid to provide that service to others is what I want to be doing forever. Music is an emotionally charged activity, and without passion or a muse at least to concentrate on or be inspired by it is difficult to concentrate on the aspects of it that need attention. Writing music and playing other people’s music can be both tiring and enlightening at once, and being able to use that power to effect, under pressure, with hundreds of people waiting for the next beat is I believe what I am best at, and I intend to be everything I have sold myself to be tonight. This party is gonna be awesome. The soundsystem is huge, the equipment is probably the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of using (they are using a Traktor Pro/Kontrol S4 setup like I have learned on) and with the green light to be myself and play what I believe in this is the first real and big opportunity that I’ve had since I gave up playing music back in 2005 to concentrate on my career.

The career part took care of itself, it put me in the place I am today with an incredible set of skills at my disposal, and a freedom of spirit that I know lots of people envy and look up to. I have a strong and confident grasp of a big African language which along with local knowledge, my open and honest mentality and a damn fine record collection I am in the best place to build this up to being the end-game. The one big opportunity to make good on everything that I have worked so hard for in the last 32 and a half years. From losing my father, being kicked out at 16, failing university and becoming a full time stoner with basically no future, I have turned myself around, given myself the tools to deal with life and all its little quirks and drawbacks, and finally see where I am supposed to be, which is everywhere. There is no way I am supposed to have a home in one place. I am destined to walk this land forever, I see that now, and through the power of music and love, I shall set my own world on fire and bring smiles and happiness wherever I can. Yes, right now I’m crying, but it’s a happy time, a new chapter, and a new road I’m walking on now, with bare feet and silly sunglasses, head held high in the knowledge that I am everything I want to be, and I can’t fucking wait to see what happens next. I’m not waiting for something to be done, I’m doing it myself, and that’s the best part of all of this.

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Come celebrate with me. Calling all DJ’s promoters and bands… we need you!

Building up a new life in a new country has its drawbacks. First off, there is the language issue. I have dealt with that in the only way I know how, I’ve learned Swahili, and speak it every day, even think and dream in Swahili most nights. Second there is the work and accommodation factor. I’ve been struggling with this one, but feel strong enough to deal with whatever I have to in order to be happy. Third and finally we get to friendships, relationships and love. This is where it’s all falling apart, and I’m about ready to crack quite frankly!

I follow my heart, and then wear that heart on my sleeve, proudly. I can’t help it. Every once in a while there comes along someone who changes everything, and right now I’m going through what can only be described as a painful journey of discovery. There have been girls in my life here, stories about which are all over the pages of my blog, but this one is different, as instead of making me continue with who I am, it’s made me strengthen my beliefs and strive to be a better person all round. She ultimately is going home, so regardless of what really happens next, I’m going to be left high and dry in a couple of weeks when she departs. Following that and in order to protect my own daily self, I am heading back to the UK for Christmas and new year, to re-invigorate my friendships back there, and try to get a semblance of who I really am, given all the changes I’ve been through, and exactly how compatible I am with the rest of the world, or whether I do indeed need to live in the forest with my dogs and forget everything else.

So I’m feeling kind of lost in the ether of everything at the moment. Stuck emotionally in a position that I know is not going to end well, with someone who I believe is worth going through the pain for, but ultimately, it’s not up to me. Women have a power over us, that in my time in Africa I had forgotten almost completely, but love, lust, or just downright plain fancying the pants off someone has reminded me what we’re on this earth for, and for the first time since I was a kid I’m thinking about the future in a positive and constructive way. We paint pictures of who we are, and present those to the people we meet, and no matter who you are or where you hail from, those pictures, and in turn our comprehension of what they mean all stand to make us who we are, and where we’re going. I don’t think I can go through this again without first knowing that I have painted the right picture; a true image of myself, who that is and what it means to those around me. All of our lives are just a series of moments we choose to play out or ignore, and in this particular scenario, for better or worse, I’m choosing to play it out with all my heart, even if it destroys me.

Back to work, and life in Tanzania continues to bring its struggles and strife, but I have recently rediscovered my passion for what I originally came here for, and have been leading a class with two locals helping me out with the Swahili and general lack of understanding, but all in all, what we are achieving together serves to keep my original intentions alive and well. The sharing of knowledge, in a country like this, is an integral part of the learning process for most people, and often the most overlooked part of each person’s own personal development and education. I believe that through the power of their own self-will and determination, these kids and young adults are capable of achieving anything they want, their only drawbacks are often things which have been imposed on them by their society, and things which I believe can be undone. Bringing their level of exposure of the world up to a level where they feel empowered to find out whatever they want about anything at all gives me huge satisfaction, and I just hope that it hasn’t all been in vain. Should I not return to Tanzania to live forever, I believe that the few I have worked with will have gained something from my time here, and I encourage them to dream, to hold on to those dreams and never let anyone tell them they can’t do whatever they want. It’s a lesson I need to learn about my own life, having almost forgotten what it is that makes me the person I am, what drives me, what I dream about and how I can use those dreams to build a future for all around me to benefit from.

On that note, and along the lines of my own dreams and ambitions, the biggest project et to unfold in my mind is that of my own music festival, hippies and all, on the beaches of Tanzania, but ultimately bringing people from all round the world together to celebrate how music can change all of our lives, and bring us closer together, no matter where you’re from or what you love. It’s a big ambition, but something that I believe will work, given the right level of effort and time, and throughout all of this, I will be finally working on the real dream I have had ever since I first dropped acid in a field in Somerset. The little piece of my brain that I left behind back then when I was 16 has finally returned to me, and now I am ready to let it speak to me, let it direct me towards ultimate happiness, and make a lot of people happy at the same time. The atmosphere I want to create, rather than the business model or proposal that ultimately needs to be made, is the driving force behind all this. With the right people on board, we can all live out this dream together, and so I genuinely hope that whoever you are, whether you know me, whether you read my blog regularly or just coming here for the first time, I want you all to know I love you, I need you, and I hope to lose that piece of brain again with you, on the beach in early 2015. See you all there!!

So if you’re interested to know more about the proposed venue, initial plans, or are just as excited about this as I am, please get in touch, I’d love to hear from you and get your input. Together we can make this happen!

Contact me on graigchq@gmail.com or hit me up on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/graigchq

Speak soon, keep the love! :D

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One Man and his Dog(s)

Tightly wound fibres bind the two halves together forever. Hanging down from the hook above, their throw provides shelter from the cold and windy harshness outside, and without them things are left bare and open, exposed even. I’m talking about curtains, sadly, and nothing more romantic than that. It has reached the time where I decide what to do next, kinda like the minute by minute decisions that most normal people take, but mine involves a long contract in a foreign country and needles and thread if I am to sew and make my own curtains. I am of course, using them as a metaphor for many other things but the very fact that whilst at the market last week I spent a good deal of time looking at fabric and sheets, tells me that I am making a nest, and inadvertently am settling in to something that just two weeks ago I was ready to give up and walk away from.

A number of things have happened to help me see the light and change my mind. Firstly there is work. Katy is back, and as always, her outlook on life in Tanzania is difficult to bear without a wry smile or even a full belly laugh. Her unique position in the way things run here never fails to cheer me up and drive me forward, and after spending nearly a whole day with her this week sorting out her new laptop, I’m pleased that I have her as a friend and work colleague (well, Boss really). I have also upped the game in terms of both the number of hours I’m putting in at Solsoft, and my commitment to it, re-writing the update rules for all our clients, and finally giving in to laziness and getting my teeth stuck into the backup procedures. It’s all incredibly boring to be honest, but I have been enjoying getting a few wins under my belt with some successful resolutions and plans, and strengthening my relationship with them, which for the time being, is crucial to my survival, and those around me.

That neatly brings me on to my biggest issue right now, which is the people I live with. I initially moved in here four months ago with some broad but quite involved plans to create a place to live where I can settle down a bit with my dogs, feel comfortable, relax even, and on the whole I have seen quite the opposite. The initial arrival of Luke that lead me to move out of the “free” accommodation I had before was a mood that didn’t last long, as not long after Christmas and all the issues that followed I needed to move again. This time, with his help, I was looking to make something bigger, perhaps even open up the house for volunteers to live with us and work in the village. The problems that followed will not be detailed on these pages, but let it be known that I am now doing this entirely on my own.

I hired Tipo to come and work at my house, giving him a fair, if not generous salary for doing so, and rather naively figured that at the age of 29, he would be able to take this opportunity by the horns and try to improve his situation. Pretty much everyone around me, including lots of locals, all said that I was paying him too much, that I was giving him freedom beyond his understanding and it would all end in tears. Sad to say that they were probably right, and I have been left with a bit of egg in my beard and a pool of stinky water on the floor – literally. It’s not that I don’t like him, quite the contrary, in fact I would say that the fact I like him has given him a sense of complacency that is interfering with the way our lives run. I’ve given him a room of his own, with his own toilet and shower, locking door and access to the whole house as his own. His responsibilities are to get up and see to the puppies, feed and watch the dogs throughout the day, and just generally keep the house in a good order and be the man that’s there when I am not. Sounds simple huh? I don’t expect him to wash everything, I don’t expect him to be able to get everything done each day without some small issues, but I did expect him to be able to take his salary and look after himself personally as a real human being, without me having to baby step him through it all. His English is appalling, so we speak Swahili only in the house and that means that with my rather limited vocabulary and Tipo’s horrible grammar we often struggle to make each other understood, especially when it comes to anything emotional or to do with each others’ work and personal lives. There is a huge cultural divide between us, and although I wanted to just leave it at that, I came to realise this last week that it is not just a case of having different lives or education, but actually Tipo has never had to look after himself before, and so has no idea how that might work in practice.

Michael has moved in with us, for two reasons: one, because his sisters have left and he is now on his own in a house with no locking door and no electricity, and two, because he serves as the perfect link to help Tipo and I understand each other better, and prevent me from kicking him out on the street with a few cigarettes and a bag of clothes. Yes, it has actually come to that point, where I am so sick of his asking for things that he should be getting and buying for himself, that we have gone back to the drawing board in how we run the house, and with Michael’s help, have made a plan that should see him learn more about how life works, as well as take more responsibility for his own life and affairs, whilst not costing me any more stress or money than I already pay him. Simple concepts like ownership are fairly foreign to people like Tipo, who have never been given anything of their own before, and who certainly don’t chase material possessions as their raison d’etre. We have had to divide the fridge up into three sections, we each chip in an equal amount of money each week for the food we consume in the kitchen, shared things, and I have made it clear that anything that is not on the kitchen table, is not for public consumption, but actually belongs to someone who paid for it, and who expects it to still be there when they decide to eat it. His salary has been increased to reflect the fact that now he will contribute towards the electricity bill, and not a fixed amount each month, but a percentage, ie. If the bill is smaller he pays less, and the same with the gas for cooking, we will all pay equal thirds to provide these things for ourselves, and in return, I pay all the rent and cover any eventualities that might spring up if anything goes wrong. We will have a kitty in the house for buying extra things like more rice or vegetables, tea, sugar, and have established rules of conduct for getting drunk and breaking things in the house. From now on, if something is broken, the person who broke it will replace it from their own pocket and not just mine. Three bodum cafetieres and a thermos flask have led to me making this decision, as I felt that our man here was getting to the point where he felt whatever happens, Craig will fix it, and the reality is that I can neither afford the time or money to continue providing a life for him where he is not taking responsibility for his actions like an adult. After all, he is 29, 6 years older than Michael, who had no problem surviving with his sisters each month on less money than Tipo spends on alcohol. There is also the fairness factor, because Michael does not smoke, he costs me less each day, and if I give Tipo 500 shillings worth of cigarettes each day, I should also give Michael that equivalent too, but Michael is capable of living within his means, and that made me realise that it has to stop.

Perhaps a little selfishly, I used my own experience living here when I first arrived as a way to show Tipo that nothing is free, and you have to work and deal with consequences of your actions. It’s true that I have always had more money than him, but there have been times where I could not afford to buy cigarettes; after the second or third one, most people, regardless how loaded they are get pretty tired of providing an addict with their fix and when this behaviour continues day in day out, month in month out even, you reach the point where a line has to be drawn, and some sort of responsibility taken for your own actions. I took a piece of paper and outlined how three cigarettes a day was well within his budget should he take that budget seriously, and that if he noticed, I do not spend my free time drinking beer in bars, but will ration my money so as to enjoy the times when I am out drinking with friends.

The alternative to all this would be to move out, go back to where I didn’t have to pay rent, sell or give the dogs away and lead a simple life where I am responsible only for myself, but that would not make me happy, neither would upping and going into town and living with wazungu, which is very tempting if only for the fact I know I could leave a packet of cigarettes on the table and know that nobody would steal any of them. The final way out is to buy a ticket back to Europe and put all of this behind me. These are the easy options, and I have given them a good amount of time to mull over and consider the consequences of each individually and to the best of my ability impartially, but the truth is, I wake each day and see my boys, see the mountain over the ridge above the house, breathe in the fresh air and drink the clear water from the spring and it reminds me that life is worth working for, and all these problems are just minor hiccups along the way.

I am but one man and his dog, and for Zawadi’s friendship and companionship I am forever thankful. She has been through all of this with me, and now, like me, has dependants who need her each day to provide teaching and support, and if I give up on her, I am sending a message to everyone around that when the going gets tough, its best to run away. Nope, I am not going to do that, I am to persevere only, and I am sure that the roads we take on this journey will all lead us where we want to go, if in fact we do really want to go there. For Tipo, this is a choice of life with me or life on the street, and I really hope that he can see what I am trying to do for him, and begins to take his own life more seriously, as Michael and I are showing him every day. At least for his child, who is now three months old, he needs to grow up and be a man. If it wasn’t for me, he would have been thrown out of the village as soon as she got pregnant, and now it’s time for him to realise his potential, and be the father that his little boy will need. It starts with buying your own cigarettes, and I hope it ends with him moving out some time in the future, to get a house with his family and look after them, as we all do for our own.

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The State of Affairs

Perhaps it’s time to reiterate what is going on here and what it is that I have come to Africa to achieve. It all started of course with the computer centre, and my Google search for “education projects east Africa” which luckily lead me to several NGOs based in Tanzania, Kenya and Malawi, and of course the conversations with Katy that followed which lead me to come to Kilimanjaro and work for VEPK. It seems like such a long time ago that I was at home, sick from work and spoke to Katy for the first time about what I could do and how I might help the project and the village, almost like I have lived another life again since then, as I have changed in almost every way.

When I arrived I knew that it would be hard work, I knew that I would struggle with the language and the people and the way of life, but what I didn’t expect was to get so heavily involved in so many things that leave me eternally busy each and every day (well that last part is only 50% true, I always find time to chill with the dogs and hang out at home). So I began to re-invent the computer centre from the ground up, breathing life into the computers that needed it, and restructuring the network and infrastructure to suit the way life is up here and make it work for everyone. Adding a 3G connection to the system, learning how to optimize it and make it work for 20 computers has been the biggest personal work challenge, but still I haven’t touched on what it is that I actually do there, and how it has helped the village. To explain, I need to go into more detail of how education works in Tanzania, and how I saw, and continue to see, myself working within that framework to provide something unique that didn’t exist before.

Swahili is the main language here, and is spoken by pretty much everyone. It was introduced as the first language of the country at independence by Nyerere himself, and has remained the main way of communicating across the country. Unlike our neighbours to the north, Tanzanians did not keep their English teaching up, and instead concentrated on making Swahili the de-facto language for the entire country for each and every tribe of people here. It has had mixed effects, some good and some bad, but in my view it was essential in order to build the solidarity that most Tanzanians have for their country and definitely helped bring down the barriers between tribes that still exist in other countries. The negative effect it had was to lower the general level of literacy in international language like English, instead focussing on uniting the country together. Now we are in a different situation, we have one national language, and the need for that to be expanded upon is growing. It is essential that Tanzanians are able to communicate with the outside world, to capitalise on the strong growth in economy that all east African countries are experiencing, and that means only one thing, we all need to speak better English.

This is a double-edged sword of complication. For a start, primary schools are taught in Swahili. That means, like at home, there is one language each day for everyone to speak. Primary school runs 7 years from standard I to standard VII and then that is the end of government paid schooling. Students then need to pay to go to secondary school, which contrary to all sense and reason is taught in English, by teachers who on the whole do not have the grasp of English strong enough for it to be of any use to most kids. It’s easy to say, let’s just put everything in Swahili and get on with it, but it is not as simple as that, as the books that exist are torn and tattered, to replace them across the board with an entirely new Swahili-based curriculum would take time and lots of money that no Tanzanian government official is going to pay. So we are left with what we have, a broken system that is failing its students year in year out.

I came here to teach IT, or to at least provide some IT services to a community that has none. It began with a few individuals that could speak some English and I quickly realised that in order for me to really reach out and get into their minds, I would need to be able to communicate more effectively, and I began to learn Swahili. As time wore on, I realised that the few gifted students I had only appeared to be more intelligent or knowledgeable than others because of their education, their family upbringing or sadly their family income. Those families that could not afford to send their kids to secondary school at the first opportunity often fell out of the system altogether, learning about the world through the quite frankly awful television and radio services here, or by talking to other people around them. It’s not that they couldn’t learn how to use a computer rather that the idea of what a computer is for has been left out completely and they have no idea why they need these skills, or in fact what those skills might entail once they have been attained.

The classic model of showing someone Microsoft Word and Excel, working with spreadsheets and databases just does not fit the way people live here, and so I had to rethink exactly what it is we teach and how we go about it. It remains that students that say they understand English in Swahili but then cannot answer a simple question put to them by me do get left out. I feel bad that I cannot help them the way they want, but I have to stick to what I believe in and re-iterate to them, that the computer can unlock countless possibilities to them in their lives, but in order to understand what it is they are looking at, their grasp of English needs to improve first. I have trialled English tuition on a number of occasions, with limited success, as most don’t want to admit that they went through several years of secondary school not understanding what was being taught. Others who really try to learn more progress more quickly, and with the brightest of students, I always look to train them in the dark art of self-promotion and sustainability, using myself as an example of how an individual can achieve whatever they want should that person really put his or her heart into it and get stuck in. If I can learn Swahili in two years, then these kids can learn English throughout their lives. Once their literacy has improved, I see massive improvements in every aspect of their work. From their initial conduct, which is often shy, reserved and wholly submissive to authority, right through to their ability to work on their own initiative I try to help them see that yes I am here to help, but I am not doing anything for them, I am just giving them the tools they need to be able to do it themselves. I said this at the beginning and I stand by it right now.

From among all these people I have some good friends and colleagues, who are moving on their own lives and learning how to lift themselves up in this country which is not easy at all. They are taking the bull by the horns and pushing themselves towards new frontiers and it warms my heart to know that I have helped them on their way. From all of this mess; from within some of the poorest families in this country I have seen more than just a glimmer of hope that things will improve, I have seen the future of Tanzania, from within the eyes of the children who now have access to the outside world through the medium of internet and communication and who are seeing their country as a place that they aim to better themselves, rather than putting up with problems and issues that their forefathers did. Some of the most beneficial conversations we have are often nothing to do with computers or English, but rather just story telling about how the rest of the world is, how politics compare here and back in Europe, and how normal people live in such different ways across the world. It is highly motivating to reach out to a community in this way, and through nearly everything we do I aim to be part of the village to show them that there are some wazungu like me who do not wish to just go home when the going gets tough, but are here, like them, struggling with the daily problems as if they were my own.

Dispelling the fallacy that you “need” to go to a good school or college in order to get a good life is terribly important to me, as I honestly believe that before anyone goes on to further education they need to have sat down with themselves and really thought about what it is they want to do with their life. Without any knowledge of the outside world, or limited knowledge based on media and culture, it is incredibly difficult to make these decisions, and that is where I see the computer centre residing in the near to distant future. It is a place where people can come and have a go, learn about something without having to pay school fees, or just come and get familiar with the technology in a way that lights a spark in their mind. Its ran as a business, although heavily subsidised, but will continue even after that monetary input, as I believe that what we have built there will be able to survive the toils of time, and eventually become a successful place, ran by the people for the people. Sounds a bit cliché doesn’t it? Well all things are based upon experience, and mine is limited at best, but what I do know about the world I share as much as I can, and I just hope that moving forward, the people I have chosen to continue where I left off will see it this way as well, and be able to show each other what it is they are missing, and bring this wonderful country and its people right up to where they belong: known and not forgotten.

So what’s next? I believe that education is the key, but not in the traditional sense. Over the next few months I will be getting more involved in the work that VEPK does across the board in Tanzania, helping train teachers in schools around the Kilimanjaro region, and working more with the teachers and schools in the local area to help share this vision with as many people as possible; and always remembering where it all began, in Mshiri, above Marangu, where I call home.

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Highs and Lows

A raft of posts and updates on Facebook leave me feeling like I miss home. Not just a little bit, but a lot. Perhaps I’m being a little nostalgic when I see pictures of St Pauls Carnival, the pre party and after parties and all my friends enjoying their weekend without me. Not that I wouldn’t be welcome, but 4000 miles is a long way to go for a pint of cider. Scroll down and I see another of my school friends has got married, to a beautiful woman on a beach in Spain. Then there was another mate who is selling his car, for £6000. Someone else is asking for a lift to Bristol for a concert they have tickets for. Another friend who has just left VEPK is now doing well for another NGO in Moshi and seems to be happy and enjoying himself. All these things serve to give me an idea of what each of these people are doing, how they got there and what it is that defines them. It’s the curse of social networking that we now have this constant feed of what each of us is doing, yet without it how much of what we know about people would be different?

This all makes me wonder what on earth it is I’m doing, and at what point do I have the right to turn around and just walk away from it all. Of course that in itself is basically impossible as I have people who rely on me, I have dogs that I and I alone love enough for them to survive and have good lives, and then there is the vast array of things that I do each day that are going on regardless and all of it leaves me wondering at what point do I become who I want to be? Am I going to be forever just building up and building up with no direction or goal as to where it might lead? I have a reasonable amount of success under my belt, but why has that not translated itself into the life I should feel happy living come thick or thin? The grass is pretty green here, but there is always another field…

I am still struggling to find ways to make this work for me without lots of outside help. Still playing poker the odd evenings in the vain attempt to get a few more dollars, but it’s really a waste of time. Further down the road there is a huge amount of work coming when the cameras and other stock get back from China, but that for some reason leaves a funny taste in my mouth when I think about it. It’s not that It’s unethical, far from it, it’s a good business opportunity to make some good cash and get my skills used in a positive way; but it isn’t what I want to do, and given how I am surrounded by people who I am teaching to follow dreams it seems like a cop out to invest in something that I don’t fundamentally believe in. Also, it has only netted me £80 so far for a couple of days work and a fair bit of running around. There is much more on the horizon, and I know the others are fired up for this, so I am looking forward to getting started for real and see whether it fits in. Even if this doesn’t work, or is a short lived project, there should be a couple of thousand dollars in it for me, so I’d be a fool not to get involved.

Then there is the love and be loved issue. As readers will know I have had a few girlfriends here over the last couple of years, and none of them have lasted. Not for want of trying though, but I think I have been out of practice in how to treat women, nice women that is, in that I have no idea what’s happening to me and when something nice does happen, I have no idea what to do with it. Just last weekend I was with someone and I got the feeling that she liked me, so what would any normal human being do? Well, that’s not what I did, I actively made my way away from her, because I was scared as to what might happen. There have been many like this, and many more that I do end up sleeping with that I have no interest in whatsoever. I seem to have become the master of picking up for a Friday night and have lost all powers of allusion when it comes to women I’m actually interested in. Especially white women. At the age of 32 and 17 years after I moved in with my first girlfriend this is bad form, and needs to be remedied. I want to take someone on a date, show them a good night, get enthralled by their conversation and find out that we love the same bands, seen the same movies, want the same things from life or that she has a weird infatuation for Patrick Stewart (that last one has actually happened before!). In any case, I need more than what has happened of late, and in return I think I need to put more effort into what it is that I am offering, because from where I am standing, I’m not a particularly good catch right now.

But what does that in itself actually mean? What is it that defines us? Christian Bale in Batman would have you believe it’s not who you are but what you do that defines you, I’m not 100% sure. What we do and what people see us do are often two different things. Whether to the opposite sex, our prospective customers and colleagues or just to each other our outward presence is important to us, and to understand what we project is to perhaps understand what it is we are looking at and how that affects the perception of ourselves and each other. Looking more closely to the details of my own life it depends on which day of the week as to what shape, colour and mood I see in front of me. I am a man of highs and lows in every sense of my being and I often see things in a broadened polarised way that is hard to understand. This is the reason why I can be triggered by such silly details as a guy who I met a few years back on a beach in Serbia is selling a car that I could never afford will set me off when if I recall I have turned down jobs that would have enabled me to be in that position myself. I have lived in Bristol for a good few years, going to all the festivals and street parties and have enjoyed them, when now I am getting involved in that scene over here, and have the opportunity to be right at the centre of it all as a DJ. I actually have nothing to worry about save where to get next month’s rent money from. Looking around however, I do see a lot of people who are projecting a false sense of being and who are hiding behind the veil of secrecy that your online persona affords. Here in Tanzania a lot of people are yet to fully understand the power of putting yourself out there as someone you are not, but are very quick to do it anyway. Amongst my friends and colleagues back home it is a very different story, littered with subtle yet obvious tales of woe and suffrage. Behind it all however we are the same, we see green grass over yonder and wish that we could bask in its glory; we steal glances at those more or less fortunate than ourselves and make our judgments accordingly. For me I need to keep myself to myself for a while, try to maintain life as it comes, and keep working hard to get…. well, whatever it is I’m aiming at. From an all-time high, to the ultimate low, I have been there, bought t-shirts and sent postcards, and it never gets any easier to see the road ahead.

For today, I’m rocking my newly cut-short and freshly deep-cleaned dreads, clean and pressed white t-shirt and an array of Tanzanian bracelets and adornments that all serve to project who I want people to see me as, and I wear a whole-hearted sense that I am someone individual, I have something that nobody else has right now, and I’m gonna flaunt it, show it off, and be all that I can be yet again until it’s time to go home tomorrow and face the village again. Work continues, life continues, and despite it all my name remains the same, I am Craig, hear me roar, or if you can’t do that, then catch me every Friday at Pamoja Café in Moshi from 7pm- midnight.

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