How are we doing?

October 2009:
Well the news was a bit disappointing. Abasi hadn’t done particularly well in his mock exams. In fact he was well down on the grades he needs for entry to a medical degree. He said that everyone found the exams difficult. However those are exactly the words my daughter used in her A levels. But Abasi is hard working and intelligent, so I suppress my natural cynicism.
He has revealed that the teacher who was giving him private tuition in the holidays has agreed to continue helping him at the weekend. He has to travel 50 km on the bus at the weekend to get there. With further probing I find that he is struggling to meet the bus fare. I sort that out for him, and the email exchanges become more social. I try little bits of Swahili and he helps with phrases that I sometimes manage to translate. I have now found out how much his father earns. Having been unable to complete school due to financial difficulties means his father is penalise for lack of an education. He earns the same amount in a month as I earn in three hours. Ok, I know the costs and standards of living are different, but it opens your eyes.
More bad news. Abasi has had his mobile phone stolen on the bus coming back from tuition. I haven’t been able to get any details of how it went missing, but it doesn’t sound like he was hurt. However this is a big problem as email is our main communication medium. It costs only 3 shillings to send an email from his phone, but it costs 1,000 shillings to get a slow internet connection for half an hour in an internet cafe. Now I’m left with a bit of a dilemma. I need to be able to contact Abasi easily if I am going to make sure I get him his chance, but is a mobile phone a necessity or a luxury? And of course a new mobile phone is a status symbol to young people in most countries. I’ll have to think carefully about this one…
November 2009:
I decided to get him a phone. He was keen that I should get one in the UK and send it to Tanzania. Mobiles are certainly cheaper in the UK but that is usually because they are tied to a specific telecomms provider. And once you add on the postage cost (£20 or more) plus import duty of 50% there is not much difference. So I sent him the money. As luck would have it he got a phone with a reasonable amount of ‘street cred’ at less than it would have cost in the UK! It appears that mobile phones have even more status to young Africans that they do to young Europeans, if that’s possible.
More technical issues. The camera that Abasi was given on his trip to the UK stopped working a couple of months ago and the camera shops in Dar Es Salaam can’t fix it. They haven’t seen that model in Tanzania. Abasi has sent it back to me with this years school trip. I’m flattered that he trusts me to sort this out. With the camera came a letter, some hand made African bead work, a photo of his family and a box of Tanzanian tea bags! The tea bags are a significant present. When Abasi stayed with us he saw that I drunk Kenyan tea and he was keen to promote his country’s tea. And six months later he’d remembered that. The camera is with the manufacturer awaiting a decision as to whether it gets fixed under guarantee.
Abasi hasn’t seen his family since April, when he returned from the UK. I find out that he will have to spend Christmas at the school as he can’t afford the bus fare for the 800 Km journey home. This would cost the equivalent of half a month’s salary for his father. I received an email from Abasi recently saying that since I had been helping him he really felt he had a future. That really made my day.
December 2009
A busy month of revision and mid term exams for Abasi plus a graduation ceremony all before breaking up for Christmas. Some minor good news. The camera has been fixed under guarantee, but I’ll wait until after Christmas to return it. By mid month its all over and he’s heading on the long journey home. When he gets there I get an excited email as his father has built an extension to their house, and they now have a room for a separate kitchen. We exchange Christmas photos and I find out Abasi has spent Christmas day at home alone while his family go to a wedding. He has to stay behind as he plays keyboard in church and there are 2 services on Christmas Day. I don’t know if this makes him happy or sad.
I am surprised to find that Abasi’s family do not have mains water in their house, though I don’t know why it should have surprised me as this is common. We cover the cost of the water connection as our Chrismas present to Abasi’s family. And that finishes the year for us…