Making a difference

Here is what I wrote for section 4 of my VSO preliminary progress report, under the heading:
VSO finds it very useful for both internal and external use (e.g. sending to sponsors, etc) to have detailed descriptions of volunteers’ daily lives and work. Please use this space (and extra paper if you wish) to describe what your life is like.

I’m writing this sitting at a plastic garden table under a palm-leaf parasol, in a T-shirt and a fleece. Its cold; a chill wind blows through the garden of Le Clique Hotel — the nicest looking restaurant in Tala, and that’s not saying much. Temperatures here at this time of year fall to the low teens, just as it said in my placement description, still its hard to shake off the idea of Africa being relentlessly hot. Goose-bumps are forming on my arms.

Its my first visit to Le Clique, despite having lived here for 6 months. Local eating places lack appeal, as does the prospoect of being a solitary white man dining in public, and all the attention that brings (even now two children are giggling at me through the fence). Today I’m taking chai and filling in my placement review forms while waiting to meet some local friends, on African time. They have had to rush their sick baby to the local hospital. (The children have come closer now, daring to approach my table; the man hacksawing metal next door to make window frames has started to sing tunelessly).

This is Tala. I don’t see much of it during the week: I work teaching IT at the secretarial college a mile up the road. I live in a nice bungalow on the college compound; it takes me a minute to travel to work, if I walk slowly. I cycle to Tala market, now and then, to buy groceries and vegetables, to post letters, to fend off requests for money and, apparently, to entertain the local children who love to shout greetings to me as I pass:
“Hello British, how are you?”

College keeps me busy during term time preparing largely unenthusiastic young ladies to sit for shoddy exams in IT that are prepared as part of a franchised IT diploma scheme by a university in Nairobi. Nevertheless it is the only chance at education some of these young ladies will get; the college does a great job and it is rewarding to be part of it. I’m not yet certain if my presence here has made things better. It has made things different: I’m making a difference!

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