Bath time with Scarlet O’Hara! Africa Continued…

Thursday, February 24, 2005
Bath time with Scarlet O’Hara! 2.24.05

ThursdayThe week is speeding by faster than I ever imagined that it could and as I went to school today, I reminded myself over and over to make each moment count. I have come to love these children so much and the thought that I am only a couple of days away from leaving them is more than I want to think about right now.
Today, I bought in a book that my friend Nicole sent with me to read to the kids. It is a book on taking a bath and it has elephants and other animals taking baths as well so I think it might be interesting to them. The story time is as follows……

Me: Bath time is fun! My little sister takes a bath!
…..long silence as I show the picture to all of the children……
….even longer silence as Jesca tries to figure out how in the hell to translate this….

Jesca: $@#!% ^@%^$°⁄fl·‹ Y&*@#&›·‹ &Z@*$&#@)$* Z&*97 %#$^!% &^@#&$(…..&$*#$)…..
(Translation: The time for one to bathe oneself is a time that brings much happiness to the family and to ones self….the daughter of my mother which is smaller than I also takes the time to bathe oneself so as to bring about cleanliness….)

And then I read the next page………..I could go on but I bet you get the picture! I add to the fun by trying to make up the story when the one that is written obviously won’t do. For instance, the long section about the pet dog getting a bath and having his own shampoo? Not gonna happen!! And the section about rinsing off baby sister in the sink with the spray attachment……well these children have never seen a sink, much less a spray attachment!! Needless to say, there was much confusion on the children’s part and much laughter on mine, but I think in the end they all enjoyed the story! As for Jesca, well she just thinks that I have lost my mind!
The morning sped by and I had a moment of panic when I heard the van coming to pick me up. Only one day left with my babies. It makes my breath catch in my throat when I think about it so I decided to do what any self-respecting southern girl would do….think about it tomorrow! That Scarlet O’Hara had the right idea!
Instead of going back to the house, this was the day that I was going to speak to the girls at Mama Lucy’s school and I was really looking forward to it. Christie and Julie opted out and instead, my friend Sarah asked to come. Sarah is 24 going on 40 and is really an amazing person. She has been here a couple of months and her life long dream is to come back and work in the Peace Core. It didn’t surprise me at all that she would want to come talk to the students…..she is not one to let an opportunity like this pass her by! I think that is why she and I get along so well!! We took a taxi to the Arts Center and Mamma Lucy was waiting there to escort us to the school. The young girls from a few days ago were all there and the first thing they did was take turns standing up and introducing themselves. Almost to a girl, they were painfully shy. One young woman in particular seemed overwrought with the thought of speaking to us. I finally couldn’t stand it anymore. I asked Mamma Lucy to translate for me and I walked up to the young girl and asked her to stand up. I gently pulled her shoulders back and tilted her chin up. I told her that she was smart and beautiful and that no one in this world should make her look at the ground. I told her that she had strength that she was unaware of but that we could all see it and that she could claim her place in this world. A shy, wide smile took over her face and the other girls laughed with her. I think they all realized at that point that we didn’t bite!
When it was time for us to speak, I asked the girls what they thought of America and Americans. I asked if they all thought we were rich beyond belief, and that we were all famous. As I watched them nod, I was overcome with the futility of what I was trying to do. What was I trying to do? Was I trying to convince them that I wasn’t rich? Or famous? How do I tell a person that has no indoor plumbing, and that lives with twelve other people that I, who own a home and a car, is simply middle class? How do I explain that the luxuries that I seemingly have are very mundane in America? I just couldn’t do it. To even try seemed laughable. Instead, I talked to them about education. I talked to them about school being the key to all of their goals and how I had spent twenty years in school. As I explained to them that they are the future of this country, Mamma Lucy nodded her head in agreement. I have never felt the power of words so profoundly as I looked at that small group of girls listening intently.
After I was done, Sarah stood up and told them her story. Everything that she said, from having a father that thought she should get married rather than go to school, to working two jobs to put herself through university, was something that these girls could relate to. As she continued to talk about power and education and having the right to say ‘no’, all of the hair stood up on the back of my neck. I was standing at the rear of the classroom watching Sarah speak when I knew without a doubt that something powerful was happening. There were children gathered around the outside of the window to listen, several adults had joined us in the room, and the students in the classroom were engrossed in Sarah’s tale. And something was happening. I don’t know if I will ever know what went on in that room that day, but something moved, and someone was touched, and a difference was made in someone’s life. Someone’s in addition to my own.
Class wound up with us all taking pictures of each other and hugging. This is something that Tanzanians do not do often…..hug each other. I laughed and told them that we were going to show them what Mzungu did when they made a new friend. I enveloped each one of those young girls in a big hug, trying to commit their grins to memory. All of the forces that brought me to this country are coming to a head and I feel like I am being swept in a tide. All of those cliché statements about us all being small pieces of a grand puzzle are starting to make such sense and I can feel that I am almost done here.
Baba Charles drove us home slowly, swerving to avoid the bus-sized pot holes. Dust hung heavily in the air as the sun started to set., and everything seemed to be moving at a slower pace than normal. As I looked out on the people walking to their homes I realized that I couldn’t differentiate between the time I was an outsider here and the time that I found myself at home. Only one day left in Africa…..

“When all is said and done here at the ending of the day, I look out on this world and it still takes my breath away…”
“Robin’s Song” Small Potatoes

Anna aka Mud Butt

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