The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

11 09 2011

So I titled this post the good the bad and the ugly for a reason.  I’ll start out with the more somber news, the ugly, continue to the bad, and then finish with the good.  I think that will flow much better than ending with the ugly news. 

This past Sunday started out like any other.  I slept in, enjoying the tranquility that comes with waking up in rural Tanzania to the birds chirping and the oversized and vibrant sun creeping over the horizon.  I continued with my bi-weekly task of sweeping the house, cleaning my choo, and basically tidying up.  After finishing up with my chores I took off towards the road to grab an early lunch in anticipation of the American Top 40 music downtown.  The countdown usually starts around 2pm so I’m always careful to do everything before this time so that when 2pm rolls around I can just relax, lay on the couch in my living, and let the sweet sounds of American pop music lull me into a mid-afternoon nap.  I got to Mama Kilasei bar on the road for my steaming heap of tasty rice, beans, spinach, and a cold coke.  As I was about to finish my meal, one of the mama’s who usually takes care of me there proceeded to tell me “ahh, I’m so sorry”.  In a confused state I asked what for.  She said that the wife of Mr. Mdeke, the second master (equivalent to an assistant principal in America), had passed away earlier that morning.  I stared at her and asked her to repeat what she said because my Swahili is still not at that level yet but sure enough she passed away.  I hurriedly paid for my meal (66 cents USD) and went back up to my house to see if my neighbors and friends near the school knew about what happened.  I talked to all of them and it was apparent I was one of the last people to find out, which is typical.  I went back to my house and started to listen to the AT40 when my neighbor Stanton came in and asked me if I knew what happened.  I said that I did.  He said that him as well as the rest of the teaching staff at the school was going over to Mr. Mdeke’s house to support him.  I of course agreed and said I’d be ready in 5 minutes.  As I got ready, I couldn’t help be a little nervous.  My experience in America with funerals and dealing with death had been minimal.  I vaguely remember the funeral of my grandpa since I was so young.  I remember being with my grandma when she was in hospice care and the types of feelings of sorrow I experienced there.  I also remember the funeral of my jajie and distinctly remember my dad and other family members putting golf balls and golf clubs into the casket so that my jajie could still continue with his passion for golf upstairs with the big man.  These experiences were fairly long ago and while the memory of them still stays with me, I remember it was people who were comforting me rather than me being the person to do the consoling.  The prospect of playing the role of consoler to someone for the loss of their wife, for situations for this were like was slightly daunting.  To compound my feelings of anxiety, I wasn’t sure what to do or how to react.  It would have been daunting enough with my inexperience in the context of American culture, let alone Tanzanian culture.  Nevertheless it was obvious I needed to go.  I would just try to follow what my fellow teachers did as best as I could.  So me, Stanton, Joseph, Bony, Madam Eliza, and Madam Eliza set off for Mr. Mdekes house.  As we approached, there were people milling about the perimeter and the sounds of people singing and crying were distinct.  As we entered it was clear that at events like this, for the most part the women mourned separate from the men.  The women where all sitting in the courtyard singing songs while the men sat or stood outside conversing among themselves.  All of us teachers were ushered into a room.  There was another elderly woman visibly shaken in the room along with two children.  The elderly woman was Mr. Mdekes mother and the two small children were Mr. Mdekes.  Even though I’m not fluent in the languge, I didn’t need to be to see how much pain she felt inside.  Other ladies were trying to encourage her to take a cup of chai but she just refused, sitting there solemnly, losing the battle to fight back tear which were trickling down her face while her grandchildren sat on the bed next to her.  After about 15 minutes Mr. Mdeke came into the room and all us teacher’s stood up, shook his hand, and offered our condolences.  Neither me or my fellow teachers said much as Mr. Mdeke conversed about plans to take his wife to the mortuary.  I wanted to say something to try to adequately express my condolences but I just didn’t know if there was really anything I could say.  I think it was enough that we were there keeping him company, or at least that’s what I think.  After another 15 minutes or so we all went outside and continued to wait around and converse with other villagers.  Then finally I heard screams from inside the house; apparently they were preparing to take the body from inside to the ambulance.  When it was apparent this was what was happening, our fellow teacher Bony told us to follow him so that we could help.  Of course I followed but the thought of me helping to carry the body of this man’s wife, whom I barely knew out to the ambulance only added to my anxiety.  However, when we got inside it was apparent that there was already enough help and we watch as the body was carried (covered of course) out of the house.  Behind the processing, all the women were following, some weeping and crying uncontrollably.  The body was loaded into the car and everyone gathered around as the village leader made some comments regarding details of the funeral to be held in town the next day.  The mission near to the school had a bus, there was a large truck that one of the small business owners would be loaning to take anyone interested in attending into town for the funeral the following day.  As the doors shut on the ambulance, many of the women let out one final shriek and we all watched as the ambulance drove away towards town. 

 The following day, the students in Form 2 had mock, or practice examinations for the large nationwide test they will take at the end of the year.  I was chosen as an “invigilator” or what we know in American English as a proctor.  The head of school called a meeting as school opened and talked about such things as contributions for Mr. Mdeke and plans for all teachers not administering the exams to come to town for the funeral ceremonies if they so wish.  Everyone, according to their ability for events such as funerals and weddings gives what is called “michango” or in other words money towards the event.  Since I was selected the previous week as one of the proctors for the exam, I was to stay behind at the school while most of the other teachers went into town for the funeral.  The next day after the students had finished their exams, I was told that we would be going over to Mr. Mdekes home again, for what was described to me as just a way to keep him company so that he wouldn’t have to be alone while he dealt with his loss.  Again when we arrived, the men were all sitting in one room and the women were in another.  The women all had pictures and photo albums and were rehashing old memories.  The men however sat in the other room.  We were reading the paper, drinking soda, and talking politics.  It may sound insensitive but I figured that anything to momentarily take his mind off of his loss for a short while was worthwhile.  We ended up sitting there for over 4 hours, just being there and filling the space in his house with people to support him.  During this time food was served, a traditional meal of ugali, beans, and cabbage eaten with our hands.  From what I was told, this type of thing, people coming over to just be with him would continue for a week or more.  I don’t want to say that it was a good experience because of course you never want to have to experience something as heartbreaking as a friend losing a loved one, but it was an experience none-the-less.  It gave me some insight into how people over here deal with a loss and what it looks like, and for that I feel like again I have a better understanding of the culture. 

So now that I have the ugly out of the way, on to the bad.  Or I should say almost bad.  I’ve told a few people this but I have recently decided to start training for the Kilimanjaro marathon which is in February of next year.  I’ve been trying to get out at least 3 times a week and to start getting back into a routine of running.  Recently on a few of my typical routes, there is some random guy, maybe about 20 years old who when he sees me, he stops what he is doing (herding goats and cows) and just starts to run with me.  The first time it happened, he scared the living hell out of me.  I was happily jogging along when all of a sudden I heard the noise of dried cornstalks breaking and see this guy coming at me like a freight train.  I jumped back but he just settled in next to me and ran with me for about 20 minutes.  Now I’m used to the scene as it plays out and I actually start to look for him when I cross the area he normally is hanging out in.  I’ve tried to talk to him and get his name and all that but he doesn’t answer and continues running, which I guess suits me just fine.  Anyway, I plan on doing the full marathon and it’s been a while since I’ve done any type of intense training so I decided to start early.  One day the past week I was on a long run of about an hour.  I was feeling surprisingly good and was moving along at a good clip.  As I came in from the open field where I was running to the neighborhood near where I live, I noticed two small children in the road directly in front of me along with around 6-7 dogs.  As I jogged closer, I think I may have spooked the dogs because they started to bark at the kids.  The kids gave a small scream and proceeded to run into their house at the precise moment I passed them in the road.  What happened, as I would shortly realize, is that I had sneaked up on the dogs and startled them, thus taking their attention away from the children and in turn making myself the center of their attention.  Now again, those of you who know me personally know that I’m not usually a big fan of dogs and haven’t spent a lot of time around them.  So when I jogged passed this particular group of dogs and they started to chase after me, my reaction was not to stop running, which would have been the logical thing to do, but it was rather to run faster and attempt to outrun a pack of feral African dogs.  When I looked down, the dogs were literally nipping at my heels, growling and barking.  Clearly in a short distance race, the faster creature is the dog but it didn’t really register to me that I was fighting a losing battle.  As the pack of dogs chased me I proceeded to jump over a ditch, scramble up the other side, and cut my arm on an acacia bush before bolting into the first mud hut house I saw.  I came bursting into the courtyard of this house, completely out of breath.  At the same moment, there were two bibi’s inside and one came out and shooed the dogs away.  At first they were both in shock that a white person in running shorts just came busting into their courtyard but then started to laugh.  As I was doubled over sucking wind, this bibi (grandma) proceeded to tell me that these dogs were friendly.  From my doubled over position and between hyperventilating, I turned my head up to tell bibi that I respect her opinion that the dogs were friendly but didn’t entirely believe  her because no less than 30 seconds previous I saw about 7 sets of teeth snapping at my heels.  After the dogs dispersed, I thanked bibi for the help and began my slow jog back home, nursing more than just my physical wounds.  I had officially been rescued by a grandma with a broom who couldn’t be a day younger than 70 years old….

 So now that the ugly and the bad are out of the way, on to the good.  I’ll make this one short but sweet.  After school one day this past week my neighbor Charles called me and Stanton into his house.  He said “here, I have these invitations for you”.  I opened it up and saw that it was a wedding invitation.  When I looked at the name it said “Jacob Wimilie” so I assumed that maybe his brother was getting married.  I exclaimed “nice! Your brother? Or a cousin?” He smiled at me, chuckled and said “no, that’s me”.  Me and Stanton looked at each other, started yelling, and gave Charles congratulations for getting married.  The date is October 1st, so I’m anxiously awaiting the ceremony.  I had been to one other ceremony, but it was for someone whom I didn’t really know, and was only actually invited because I gave money, which is the cultural standard here; invite as many people as possible in hopes that the sum of money will grow.

 So there you have it, instead of the good, the bad, and the ugly, I’ve given you the ugly, the bad, and the good.  Other than this, things are going well here as I become more and more comfortable teaching.  I’m eagerly preparing and anticipating the arrival of my two dear friends Chris and Amber who will be making the grand trip over to Tanzania in 3 weeks to visit me during my mid-semester break.  As a teaser, I’ve posted the websites of a few of the places we’ll be staying when they come into town.  We’ll be doing a safari in Ruaha National Park and staying here: then flying from the game park to Zanzibar and staying here:

So if you were thinking about coming to visit me but weren’t sure, the invitation is still open until I leave next year.  Karibuni Sana!





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