31 July 09
As we left Remba Primary, Dan Otedo, head of Suba Teacher Guidance and Counseling Association and our partner on the ground in Mbita told us we’d need to make a detour before heading to the boat.
We’d failed, we were told, to check in with the Beach Management Unit. Protocol dictated, Dan explained, that visitors to the island check in with the BMU as a matter of security.
A spark of sarcasm asked both what exactly they were securing and how thorough they really were if we’d made it from the far end of the island to the school, talked with the faculty, met the students and then started our way back with only the suspicious looks of the island’s inhabitants to hold us back. I kept this to myself.
The Beach Management Unit Office was at the tend of the island near where we’d docked. Making our way meant navigating through the maze of shacks and stalls that had led us to the school. The only comfort came when I felt a small hand in mine and looked to see a little girl from the school holding my hand. As soon as we made eye contact, she slipped her hand from mine and fell back giggling to walk with her friend.
Dorothy, one of the members of SuTGuCA said the little girl had never seen a white person before and had been curious what I felt like.
“What did she think,” I asked.
Dorothy asked my new friend what her impression had been and laughed at her response.
“She says you are soft.”
Putting her childhood side-by-side with mine, I had to agree.
Up a small hill and we arrived at the offices of the BMU. The tin building with a view of what qualifies as urban sprawl on Remba was locked.
“The head of the BMU will be here soon,” said a man who I now registered had been with us since we had disembarked. I had noticed him silently observing in the staff room at the school and just chalked him up as an overly passive teacher.
It turned out he was a member of the BMU and had been the one who had advised Dan of our faux pas in failing to check in when we arrived on the island.
We stood in swarms of sam waiting and pretending not to notice suspicious stares from the locals.
Five minutes later, a large man in shorts and a tank shop approached the office with slender man in dark pants and a bowling shirt by his side. They unlocked the padlock securing the BMU office and made his way inside. Happy to be out of the sun and relatively sequestered from the sam, we followed the larger man inside.
Plastic patio chairs were arranged and we took our seats with the larger man and the man in the bowling shirt seated facing us on a raised platform.
I didn’t really start to feel as though there was reason to worry until I heard Dan respond to the BMU chief inquiry as to why we were on the island.
Remba was our tenth school visit in three days and I had heard day explain TWB-C and our work with SuTGuCA enough to fill in for him should he be taken by a coughing fit mid-sentence. This was not the standard response.
The mixture of apprehension and put on reverence in his voice led me to think we had committed a larger transgression than had earlier been indicated.
The situation was uncomfortable.
Here we were, sitting in front of the head of the very unit we had just learned was turning a blind eye toward the education of Remba’s children – and we hadn’t popped in to say hello when we’d arrived.
Making matters worse was the fact that midday equatorial sun on a tin structure provides a person with a personal understanding of a cake in an Easy Bake Oven.
The BMU chief didn’t notice. In fact, it appeared as though we were keeping him from his nap. As the members of the team took turns introducing ourselves, I couldn’t quite tell if his eyes were open. I felt like Luke sitting across from a possibly-inebriated Jabba the Hut.
After some questions asked for the ceremony of it, Dan spoke up.
“We have some other schools to visit today, sir, so we would greatly appreciate it if you would release us to continue on.”
While I was attempting to put the word into proper context, the BMU chief nodded his assent and we had sprang to our feet to shake hands and make a hasty exit.
I’m not sure if we were in any real trouble; Dan still just laughs when I ask. What I do know is the state of affairs in this pseudo-governmental building did nothing to show me a reason to hope for the children of Remba.
I’ve had some time since we left Remba, and I still can’t find the hope. I want to.