When I was a kid, before we went to church on Sundays, my dad would have the TV on. Richard Roberts (Oral’s son) would sing “Something good is going to happen to you, happen to you, this very day. Something good is going to happen to you, Jesus of Nazareth is passing your way.”
Something Katherine Kuhlmann would be on, and she would start her program by saying “I belieeeeeeeve in miiiiiiracles!”
I don’t believe in miracles, not anymore, but when you’re learning a strange language in a strange land, things happen that make even a skeptic like me take pause.
Part of it’s just the natural function of the brain, which is capable of so much more than we know or understand. After less than two weeks in Tanzania, I carried on conversations, almost entirely in Swahili, for a couple hours at Woodland, having a couple beers, and eating the best barbecued chicken and cucumber salad I’ve ever tasted. I talked to Genes, the owner, learning all about him and his family, and his 25 years in business (he’s 48), and his trip to Czech Republic. I told him I’m going to the Pare Mountains tomorrow, and he said that’s his home. He told me he speaks Pare and Chagga in addition to “a little” English and Swahili. I told him about my dad, and his life as a language teacher.
It poured down rain — the first rain since I came — and I learned to say “rain” and “big rain” and a few other words.
I talked to strangers, and the girl from the kitchen, who asked about my wife. I talked to a security guard for a while, and to the guys who work there, Julius and Leodgard, who is Genes’ son. I told them I didn’t want to walk home at night, so could someone give me a ride on a motorcycle. (I acted it out with my hands, vroom vroom!)
As I was finishing my beer and watching TV, a guy in a hoodie stopped in front of the TV. I said “Habari,” and he responded in perfect English. I told him so, and he said, “I watch a lot of movies.” I struck up a conversation, and he told me he’s a musician. He went to South Africa to record but got framed and spent three years in jail. So now he’s back home in Moshi.
“Pole,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay, it made me who I am.”
He told me his name, but I can’t remember. (The African names are harder to remember for me than the Western ones.)
We talked about American music, and he said he’s been listening to his father’s record collection. He loves Bob Dylan, so I told him I was from Minnesota, and that I was a musician. I asked him if he liked country music, like Johnny Cash. He said he’s heard of Johnny Cash, but his favorite is Don Williams. I sang a few lines of “You’re my Best Friend,” and he said his favorite song by Don Williams is “I believe in you.” We simultaneously broke into “I don’t believe in superstars, organic food and foreign cars.”
He told me he was playing at a little place down the road called Glacier. I said I might come, but I had to go home first to see if my friends wanted to come along. I gave him my email and website and said I’d like to play music sometime. He said if I came to Glacier, he’d get me up on stage.
As I got on the motorbike (“bota bota”) to go home, it started pouring rain, and by the time we got there I was soaked. The driver said he was sorry (“pole”), and I said “sawa” (something like “okay”). Sarah and Alfred were there, and I told them all about it and confessed that I’m a musician. They wanted to hear my songs, so I showed them my website and my Reverbnation page.
Alfred and I decided to go to Glacier, but Sarah declined, nervous about our trip to the mountains tomorrow. She tried to call us a cab, but three strikes indicated that it was not to be. Besides, it was pouring, with house-shaking thunder and lightning.
As I’m writing this, the rain has stopped, and I can hear the music from Glacier, which is more than a mile away. Sounds like “La Bamba” to me. Maybe “Guantanamera.”
I wish I was there, and I hope I get the chance to hear him sing, and that he sends me an email and we can talk music sometime.
Even if it doesn’t work out, it’s amazing what a simple “habari” can lead to. Miracles, almost.