We began production right away upon arriving at Lake Eyasi. We made the mistake, however, of interviewing three of the girls in front of their classmates, all of us, along with Rachael and her husband and the Bayos. Understandably, the girls became nervous and froze up, so we re-interviewed them the next morning in a small office where very few people could be present. By that time, as well, the girls had become acquainted with the students so they were more at ease, such that they were animated and emotional in their interviews. The conditions for production are not great here; there is a lot of wind and the classroom is big and echo-y, so the students are learning to control the situation – good practice for them and necessary for this project.
While the students were interviewing Lightness and Rachael, I spent time with the vocational school students. There have been a lot of changes in the program since Brian and I were here in 2013. The focus of the school has changed to an emphasis on completing secondary school and passing the test that reflects secondary school knowledge. (This isn’t a GED, per se, but it has the same effect; it allows students to go on for higher education.) On the board, soon after we arrived were a series of chemistry questions that yours truly could not begin to answer. We have seen math, Kiswahili, and civics lessons, as well. There are three young women who want to go on to be nurses, and others who have other dreams.
The vocational program has taken a back seat now as the focus is on empowering women to reach their dreams. I had remembered the school as one in which the typical student was a young woman who had become pregnant, usually because of rape or lack of sex education, and who, as a result, had to drop out of secondary school. Then the treadle sewing machines imported from mainland China were new, there were several knitting machines, and the young women were not only learning these skills but attempting to sell their wares to tourist and schools. (School uniforms here usually include a solid-color sweater, knitted with acrylic yarn on a machine.) Now, many of the machines are broken or in need of parts; there is one knitting machine; and although some of the girls are learning these needlework skills, the focus is on secondary school and going on for more training. The students are not necessarily mothers, but young women from the ten villages surrounding Lake Eyasi who have had to leave secondary school for any of a number of reasons, including the inability to pay school fees.
At any rate, I spent some time with the young women who were doing sewing. I had been concerned because I had seen a number of their garments, and found seams in the wrong place and threads that didn’t match, etc. I was looking for an opportunity to offer some skills to increase the professionalism of the products. (Now, although the girls are not necessarily training to become seamstresses, some of them still will purchase treadle* machines and go back to their villages to sew as a way to support themselves and their children.) They have a rudimentary instructional sewing book, but the line drawings are not that clear. So . . . I showed them how to do a waistband so the stitching doesn’t show. Then I demonstrated flat-felled and French seams. Then they wanted to learn how to do a herringbone stitch, which is a hand stitch used on hems, so we did that. Then someone wanted to learn how to do cross-stitch (a type of embroidery, to the uninitiated), so we did THAT – and then went on to straight and chain stitches. I had a great time – and was exhausted by the end of the several hours! Keep in mind that all of this occurred with THREE hand needles and THREE different colors of thread (white, black and purple).
(Note: I plan to buy the girls some needles – and thread, if I can find it – before I leave Tanzania. AND when I get home, I plan to collect notions to send with the next person traveling to Tanzania from San Francisco. If you have materials to contribute, please let me know.)
Anyway, the production continued while I was with the girls. By the end of the second day, the interviews were done, and all that was left was to shoot B-roll.
*If you are wondering why I say TREADLE machines, it is because electricity, where it is available, is intermittent. You can’t count on it. So an electric machine would not be reliable here.