A boy that we interviewed in the village of Mihembe, Mtwara District in southern Tanzania, showing us the slow process of filling buckets with water (see the right photo for ones he prepared earlier), from a pool of cloudy water that stagnates at the bottom of a hand-dug hole.
I gave quite a different lecture last week to any I’ve given before. Though I wasn’t particularly nervous, I was gleaning with sweat. My audience sat in front of me on plastic chairs, of a size that I would definitely get my bottom stuck in if I even tried to sit down. The wide-eyed onlookers gave an impression of being interested, at least to start with. Their ages ranged from three years to around twelve, excluding the patient teachers. They all belonged to the Christian Missionary School, set up to educate the next generation of God “fearing” individuals living in the middle-class commuter belt of Dar es Salaam*. (In response to my concerned enquiry, I was told that fearing actually meant respecting/understanding. OK.) Though the students are taught in English from Nursery, my strange accent & vocabulary may have introduced a bit of confusion and my blinding colour been a source of distraction. I think the students in the bigger chairs at the back probably understood 50+% of what I said and provided plenty of (mostly) appropriate answers to my many questions. Importantly, everyone got the message about being a tree when I asked them to. After explaining who I was (I thought it best to miss off the tropical peat swamp forest palaeoecologist role), I tried to convey to them how important the environment is and the different ways we’re hurting it and the many animals that live ‘inside’. A highlight for me came when a three year old, some 10 minutes after I’d asked what animals I might find in the (tiny – yet containing lions, giraffes, other big animals that I’d prefer weren’t there) zoo somehow around the corner, stuck his hand up to proudly announce “horse”. At that point, I was reassured that my conservation message was being conveyed loud & clear.
Anyway, once my talk/animal showcase was over, the real education began. My host, Hilda, showed them all a great documentary she had helped to produce: Maji ni Uhai – Water is Life in Kiswahili. It tells the story of water: where it comes from & goes to, what it’s used for & why it’s disappearing, with a particular focus on the Great Ruaha River catchment (obviously a worthy cause). I found it quite overwhelming to see all of the challenges the river is currently facing in maintaining a clean (enough) flow from source to sea, with extraction of water for agricultural irrigation, small-scale arable farming, livestock ranches big & small, and the multiple sources of pollution. But the film was inspiringly optimistic in offering solutions: turn off taps, don’t chop down trees – plant them, don’t drop rubbish (a particular Bugbear of mine), amongst others. Promisingly, the students could recall some of these actions afterwards, as well as the animals that had featured in the film, ofcourse. Hopefully they’ll remember and conserve both.
Another Guest Lecturer experience to add to my CV.
*So I’m in Tanzania….more on that later.