Good things continue to happen in Tanzania. When I go to Woodlands, as I did yesterday with my housemates to watch Liverpool battle Manchester United, they greet me by name. Cheers to me; I am becoming the Norm of my local watering hole.
At school, I’m teaching students how to start a blog and create an online newspaper. I am taking photos of school events and sharing them with the community. I’m getting to know more and more students, who continue to impress me every day. They seem so much healthier — psychologically and physically — than the American students I’ve known. It makes me wonder if Americans are like rats in some kind of perverse laboratory, fed Doritoes and stationed in front of televisions by some cosmic sicko just to see what happens. One obvious difference: People here spend more time outdoors.
I traveled to the mountains this weekend with a group of students and staff and climbed through hillside villages to the top of the ridge, where I viewed Kilimanjaro and Mt. Kenya and Mt. Meru and a lake called House of God. Everyone was happy, and it reminded me once again that nothing pleases me more than introducing young people to the natural world. I feel fortunate to be able to participate in that here in Moshi.
I continue to meet new people every day, and to develop relationships with the guards, janitors, gardeners, and other teachers — Africans, Europeans, North Americans. With many, I practice Swahili every time I meet them, and it is clear what someone once told me: that the most beautiful sound in the world is the sound of one’s own name, spoken by another person.
The musician I met the other night emailed me, addressing me as “kaka mkubwa.” I looked it up on Google Translate, and it means “big brother.”
“Hi Brett,” he said, “was nice seeing you that day, hoped to see you later at the show, wondering what could stop you from attending a live concert with an invitation to jam.” I wrote back that it was the rain, and that we tried three taxis with no luck. He said he likes to make friends with positive people — a description few would apply to me back home. We agreed to meet at Woodland tomorrow. We may jam together yet.
Today after class I walked to town with Madalena, my Portuguese housemate, to pay for our upcoming safari. It was a great walk, my steps lightened by good conversation with a new friend. She helped me understand, through her own experience, why an introvert in one’s own culture can be an extrovert in a strange one.
Tonight, my friend stood me up again, but that’s okay because he’s a busy man with a job and a family. Instead I met another man, a world-traveling nurse from Denmark who believes in revolution, especially the revolution that occurs in one’s own heart. He said he wished someone would teach him basic Swahili grammar. I borrowed a pen and a small piece of paper from Neema (not Naima) and gave him a lesson. Something my father would’ve done.
I also saw the owner of Woodland, Genes, and introduced myself to his wife Charity and his friends. They were grateful and welcoming — in a way that my fellow Americans have so rarely been.
Samuel, the night watchman, met me at the gate, and we taught each other language once again. I asked if he has a dictionary to learn English, and he said he doesn’t, so I am determined to get him one — if I can find one in Moshi. He said if he has one he will learn English at home, and I believe him. I taught him “see, saw, will see,” and he was thrilled. I thanked him for protecting us, after teaching him the word “protect.” He remembered “stars” and I taught him “clouds.” He said once again, “I am happy for you,” by which I think he means “I am thankful for you.” I returned the compliment.
Last night he sang the Tanzanian national anthem, and a Swahili gospel song, and an English song he learned in school. I tried to sing The Star-Spangled Banner but forgot the words.
“Nina kaka mkubwa wako,” I said. “I am your big brother.”
“I am your younger brother,” he said.
We try to put so many difficult things into words, but it’s the easy things that matter.