It really is difficult to explain how filthy life can be here on Kome. The ground is made of black dust-sand that quickly turns to tarry mud once it gets wet. With no taps or sinks, it’s easy for water to land on the floor and with children in and out all day it’s easy for the floor to be covered in the black dust-sand, as a result, mopping alone can feel like a full time. There is a constant breeze coming off the lake, which continuously blows dust in, covering tables, shelves, pots and pans etc. The bricks are poor quality and between their natural nightly crumbling and the work of ants, bits of the house must be swept out each morning. And that’s all the baseline. Most people here do not have a concept of germ theory.
For most people soap seems useful to get the food off your hands after you eat, while washing with water alone seems suitable before eating. I never see soap in or near toilets and water is used alone for cleaning when in the toilet. We forget that using toilet paper is not a global norm. Babies wear small sections of regular cotton cloth tied round for a nappy (no disposables here!). They may have a plastic cover, but I’ve never seen one that fully covered the ‘nappy’. Once the baby is sitting and beginning to move around this is abandoned and an effort is made to start trying to predict when they need to go and squatting them outside. When this goes wrong the child is taken outside and washed and life carries on – again no effort is made to find soap and there are no lovely baby wipes or nappy bags. If it’s wee it’s left in the sun to dry for a bit, if it’s the other then it’s washed onto the floor. In one of the sanitation seminars we asked what should be done with dog poo (dogs are left to roam free, like all the other animals here) – no one could answer the question and it was clear that the answer was that nothing is done with dog poo, except perhaps toss it in a bush if it’s directly outside your front door.
It would be easy to judge this approach, lack of knowledge or consideration for hygiene. That is, if you forget that the great sewers of London were only put in because London stank so much Parliament could no longer meet, and that it was only after they were put in that they realised the affect they had on reducing disease!
Anyway, the point of this ramble isn’t to complain about how difficult the environment is here (although you may guess we’re beginning to look forward to our forthcoming UK trip), but just to put context to the challenge of keeping everything clean when a new baby arrives. It takes so much water to keep cleaning that black dust of everything, to wash and to scrub. Mobile children need a full scrub down every day, none of this sitting in a warm bath and a little bit of a wash down that is common in the UK. Although it’s harder to see on the Tanzanian children, I know from how black our children look at the end of the day, that full on scrubbing is definitely needed! All baby maintenance and clothes washing is done by hand. And all that water has to come from somewhere, and it’s not a case of turning the tap on!
When we were on Kome last week I had the privilege of joining the women from one of our health groups as they visited one of their members, who had given birth the previous night. Of course the biggest way the women could help was to carry water. I don’t know how long the women will continue to carry water for the new Mum, but I’m not sure how soon I’d feel ready to go fetch my own after giving birth! In the local custom the mother is allowed to go outside whenever she likes after giving birth, but the baby will stay inside the house for a month.
When we arrived at the ferry port ready to cross over to Kome this week there were a lot of fairly heavily armed police representing the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. We quickly realised that the were looking for fish – people exporting fish from Kome illegally, either because they hadn’t paid the proper duties for commercial fishing, or because they were catching fish which are prohibited. We weren’t surprised to notice a few large fish lorries on the other side of the crossing, who had perhaps decided against taking the ferry at that time! On a previous visit to Kome we were met by low spirits as apparently the Ministry had visited and burned all the illegal fishing nets. I’m not totally sure on the rules, but I think that on the ones they use the holes are too small, thus they catch young fish, which is contributing to the depletion of fish stocks in the lake.
On the day of our arrival this week we noticed some awkward behaviour from the neighbours and by the evening they were beginning to act a bit strangely. They finally got up the courage and suddenly a group of men carrying a couple of logs walked through our gate and up behind our house, with no explanation. They reappeared a few minutes later with the logs balanced across their shoulders, like pall bearers carrying their huge illegal fishing net, which had obviously been hidden in case the Ministry made the crossing once again. Apparently it’s not the first time the property of the unlikely whites had been used as a illegal fishing net stashing zone. For these people, who can sparsely afford the basics needed to stay alive, it’s pretty hard to explain that they need to protect the lake for their future, they just know that small holed nets will bring more fish and more money now. Ironically when there are fewer fish, the price goes up, but somehow the changes will need to be made on a community wide basis, because no one is going to be the one to choose to catch fewer fish.
Everything is so raw in these communities – they are surrounded by animals and dirt, while they carry about their works of fishing and farming. They know how to scrub better than any white foreigner I’ve ever met, but there are big concepts of unseen germs that they don’t yet get. They need to fill their bellies now, while they need to learn to plan for the future. It’s such a privilege to get to work with these people, after all fishers and farmers were the people Jesus spent so much time with. But about the dirt… I’m glad to be back in Mwanza for a week, then one more Kome trip before we’ll be in the UK. We’re already planning our ‘must eats’!