The Orphans is mostly set in the rural Tanzania I remember from the early 1980s, but some of the technologies used are much more recent. To that extent, it is anachronistic. Don’t forget, though; it is fictional, made up, lies. All of it.
Max Matham is a self-employed freelance forensic accountant living in a quiet village in Buckinghamshire. Della Jont is a hard-nosed businesswoman who presses Max into working for her, investigating alleged financial irregularities at an orphanage in East Africa. Max soon finds that some disturbing things are going on at the orphanage, and becomes involved in a set of intriguing events involving orphans, government agencies, witch-doctors, an old university chum and a multinational pharmaceutical company.
Beginning on 10 January 2016, I shall publish The Orphans here as a serial; one scene each Sunday.
The full list of scenes so far published is here
The Orphans. Chapter Eleven, scene two: Preparations.
While waiting for Kanene to let me know whether she would be coming with me, I went ahead and booked two return seats on a Monday morning flight from Dar to Songea, returning Friday afternoon. If she hadn’t come, I’d just have had to put up with spreading myself across two seats. Those flights weren’t usually full, anyway, as more people made a weekly commute from the regional capital to the national commercial capital than the other way around. I also booked a vehicle and driver for the week. I could have asked the orphanage to pick me up, but I wanted to be independent. I had in mind to visit some of the local villages, to see for myself what conditions were like. I knew that the orphanage only had one Land Rover, and didn’t want to leave them without transport.
I had already confirmed with Hannice’s office that the following week would be clear, and told Lindy that I would be available at Nocturne all week. I settled down to a couple of days of ‘me time’, reading and writing.
On our way out to Zinga on Friday morning, I asked Kanene if she had been able to get permission from her father for the trip to Ruvuma.
“I do not need permission,” she said, “My father does not rule me. He does like me to do certain things for him, so I should ask him before I go away.”
“And he wants to be sure you are safe,” I reminded her.
“Yes. When I said you wanted me to go with you to Jont Orphanage, he became unhappy. Not angry, just sad. I asked him if he didn’t want me to go, but he said, ‘you must go, but be sure to tell me all about it when you get back.’ I don’t know what he meant by that.”
“I wouldn’t worry, Kanene. You can come with me, and that is good. Have you flown before?”
“You mean in an airplane?”
“I have never before been in an airplane.”
“This will be quite an adventure for you, then,” I remarked, while noting to myself how well her spoken English was progressing. It wasn’t something I could tell her, without proper preparation, as I was sure she would become self-conscious and possibly slip back. I would tell her during our next session; we were having a thirty-minute period each day when I helped her with conversational English, followed by a session when she would help me with information about the culture and cuisine of her country, as well as a small amount of incidental Swahili conversation. This arrangement has helped us both, as well as having brought us closer together.
Our day in Zinga was very much like our previous visit. After lunch, Sekelaga took us to the school her children attended. The school was putting on a drama and dance performance involving a number of the under-11s, including Habibu and Zahara, Sekelaga’s children. The play was set during the country’s colonial past, its message being that although a few local people did well out of it, the overall effect was to suppress the existing culture, to westernise as many of the indigenous population as were needed to provide profit for the colonisers, and to pretty much ignore the rest.
I was pleasantly surprised by my ability to follow the proceedings. My ability to speak Swahili was still limited, but thanks to Kanene, I could understand much more. If this version of history was correct, I didn’t like what I heard, and I really felt like I stood out as one of only a small handful of non-native people present.
After the play had finished, the teacher who had organised it sought me out.
“Good afternoon. My name is Mercy Kariuki. I wrote this play that the children performed for us. Am I addressing Miss Matham?” she asked, in rather formal, but well-pronounced English.
“You are,” I said, “I enjoyed the play.”
“Did you?” she responded, “It was not at all complimentary to your forebears, and I hope it did not offend you in any way.”
“Not at all,” I replied, “although it did make me feel a little uncomfortable about my people.”
“I have heard about what you are doing in Tanzania, Miss Matham, and you have no reason to feel uncomfortable among us. I am also familiar with Mr Knight; I have known him personally for some years and was very sad to learn of his accident. Let me make it clear, Miss Matham; the play was set a long time ago, although the issues it discusses still affect us. However, there are today very few wazungu – Europeans – who have the same attitude to my people as those men did more than a hundred years ago; sadly, there are still some, but not so very many these days.”
“I hope we have grown up and developed, Ms Kariuki—”
“Please, Miss Matham, call me Mercy.”
“Thank you, Mercy. I’m Max, by the way. As I was saying, I hope we westerners have grown up, and developed emotionally and in tolerance, in the way your people have developed economically and in aspiration. It still distresses me to know, that in order to thrive; even to survive; in the modern world, the whole of Africa and Asia have had to model their development on the dominant western, post-Christian cultures.”
“That, Max, is the cross we must all bear; if you will forgive the metaphor. And it is as much a cross for the followed as it is for the followers.”
Having planted that thought in my mind, Mercy left us and approached another group. Kanene tapped me on the shoulder, “Are you ready for some good local cooking, Max?” she asked.
“Lead the way, Kanene,” I replied, “lead the way.”