Life without electricity – Uhomini Village, Tanzania, 2000/01
In November 2000, I moved into the village of Uhomini in rural Tanzania, as an SPW (Student Partnerships Worldwide – now Restless Development) volunteer. We were posted to live with this rural community with a cunning plan – we were there to chat with people, learn about life in the village and see if we had any skills and knowledge which we could share.
We ended up setting up an Environment club in the local primary school, teaching people how to build fuel efficient fire wood stoves and building piggeries with the school and a couple of womens groups as income generation projects.
I think I learned alot more from Uhomini than Uhomini learned from me though…
I remember panicking slightly on the bus to the village for the first time… my Kiswahili was only a month old and pretty basic, so I spent a couple of hours cramming some vocab – I know I learned the word ‘Kuni‘ on that first journey. I figured ‘firewood‘ was going to come in useful.
I also learned what a wonderful place rural Tanzania is. Uhomini is at the foot of some magnificent mountains, the world around is full of nature, agriculture, birds, brilliant stars and amazing people. Children, 6 year olds, 2 year olds even, 6 year olds carrying 6 month olds, are free to roam around the village in small gangs, care free. It’s a world away from city life in the UK.
But it’s also a pretty tough life.
SPW told us that, when we moved to a village, we would be expected to go to church each week and attend funerals. I’ve never been to so many funerals in my life. Old and young were dying. My neighbour’s baby died. Why?
Because life is tough in a rural village. I don’t know all the reasons, but here are some off the top of my head….
Because people have limited access to basic services. Because people do not have the money to travel along the mud road to the nearest town and pay hospital fees. Because people live in mud huts without running water. Because people cook with firewood and inhale smoke every day. Because people use kerosene to light their homes and inhale fumes every day. Because Hiv is invisible until it’s too late. Because you need a steady income to be able to afford the things that can help…like condoms, like education, like a balanced diet, like electricity.
I likened life living in a mud hut to camping. It was the closest I could get. Camping… but in a house made of mud which got dusty in the sun and muddy in the rain. Camping with rats and mice who would have the run of the place each night, steal socks, mix these with tomatoes and make a nest out of them.. and somehow evade our mousetrap but still eat the food…until we got wise and tied food to the trap with an elastic band… that got them!
But you know, life in a mud hut is exciting for a while…
Using kerosene at night was interesting for the first couple of nights..until eyestrain kicked in, the fumes made me feel sick and for me…it was easier just to go to bed early.
Waking up each day was inspiring with smiling children all around and I felt full of life… but that always changed when I fell ill. When that happened, the comforts of a nice cup of tea, biscuits and a sofa were not there.
.. no, when you’re ill, you have to get up before dawn, hop on the ‘once a day bus’ to town for a few hours and get yourself to a clinic… which is the last thing you want to do when you’re sick. But at least I had the money to do that.
When the day came, after many months of village life, to actually leave the village, I didn’t want to. Who wants to leave a place that is so different to the life you’ve always known? Well – I guess that does depend on the place.
As I left, I walked away with Ellen (a fellow volunteer) along the road and I remember looking back to see Festo, a wonderful 4 year old boy who had come to see us every day and probably could not believe that we were leaving, waving goodbye. It was then I wondered to myself…
‘Will life in Uhomini be the same next year? Answer: Yes.’
‘Will it be the same in ten years? Answer: Pretty likely.’
‘Will it have houses with running water and electricity in 50 years? Hmm, would not be surprised if the answer is a resounding … Nope.’
It was then that I really started thinking…‘What to do?‘
More photos from Uhomini click here: