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The House of Mama Kilala

Tuesday I head into town. It takes me a good hour to find somewhere that will take my travelers cheques- the New Mwanza Hotel has a bureau but the exchange rate offered is a derisory 1000 shillings per dollar. The banks either won’t take them or want to charge me $40 for the privilege. I’ve heard similar stories from people traveling in Tanzania so my advice would be ditch the travelers cheques for a visa card. It’s surprisingly satisfying to see foreign cash coming out of a wall straight from your account.

Kevis finds me at the Salama Cone. He was the guy who originally introduced me to Baba Lau. There is no spark of personalities between us two. We could be living in different worlds but he has the same slow but direct approach that Leonard has. He shows me his house- the same place he was living in before- a solidly constructed compound right next to a large drainage ditch. In the dust around the ditch people sit hammering, bending, shaping and sorting. Turning the broken and thrown out into something that can be reused. Car parts here, bottles there. Kevis’s place is well maintained and firmly secured compared to the other three corners. He invites me in and sits chewing Myrra while I finish a glass of water.

I don’t have a phone number or an address for Dr Kilala but I do know she is somewhere on Bugando Hill. I take a daladala to the top of the hill. A very sick looking man shivering and sweating and trembling and obviously desperately in need of medical attention gets on and refuses to get off to the jeers and laughs of the passengers. I don’t understand the whole of what is going on, what they are saying or why this happens but I see a clearly sick man being force-ably pulled from the daladala, thrown to the ground and kicked. The passengers continue to laugh as more people are squeezed on, presumably pleased they will be on their way. I am deeply shocked.

At the top of the hill I get off and head for the hospital. I introduce myself to a security guard in order to find out where I should go but I don’t have to ask him because right then the guy I met Sunday at the Bulabo appears and happily offers to show me Herta’s house straight away. The short walk from the hospital gate leads to the walled and gated compound of Dr Herta Kilala.

Mama Kilala is an earth mother in a long flowing dress looking healthy and strong and at home with her years. She welcomes me warmly and we talk about family and Mwanza. She owns four houses in town and rents them out and she takes in lodgers- students at the university usually. The main bright room leading down to the garden is a nursery school where she looks after and teaches the local children- heavily subsidized by the fees she charges for the few ex pat children who arrive with doctors, teachers, engineers and airline pilots.

As it happens Mama Kilala has rooms to spare and so we agree I will return next Monday to stay for a few days. Suddenly I have an entirely new perspective on my Mwanza experience and a fantastic opportunity to learn the ins and outs of Mwanza life from someone who has seen the place grow from a tiny town to its current half million population and status as Tanzanias second biggest city.

I decline an invitation to dinner– I want to get back to Kisesa before it’s dark. The journey back I am wrapped in a cool stream of air blown though the open window.

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