Monday, February 20, 2012

A New Family (Homestay Day, and Adam talks to the cat)

Today, we woke up, ate breakfast, dressed in our skirts and blouses (or long pants and shirts for men), grabbed our cameras, gifts, sunscreen, toilet paper, and headed for our designated vehicles. 
    The time was 8am.  We were headed to spend the day with our homestay families.
   We were going to live for a day with a family who would graciously welcome us into their homes, and direct us as they saw fit.  Our center director told us to expect anything from working and cleaning in the house to herding cattle to cooking and playing charades to break the language barrier.
   Two students per household, and my partner was my good friend Adam.  I was excited to be partnered with a man, because men and women play very different roles during the day around a Tanzanian household.  We were to be staying at the house of Bwana Leo Erinest and his family. 
   It was even better than I could have ever expected.
   We were spoiled rotten.  And I met a woman named Kristin, who delighted in showing me off to her friends.
This is one of my sisters, Emiliana.  There is also Lucia.
   Upon arrival, our babu (grandfather) greeted us with a large smile and a loud karibu!  (welcome!)  We were taken to a pair of stools and sat down.  We were treated to chai (tea) for breakfast, and told (quite adamantly) that we were guests, and would not need to do work while visiting.  Unlike some other groups, Adam and I were treated like favored guests, and were allowed much of whatever we asked for.  Picture-taking was encouraged, and if we wished to help cook or herd cattle, then we were allowed to “lend a hand.” 
   To sum up our day succinctly: Arrive, chai, talk, walk with cows/goats, tour of surrounding lands, play with children, cook lunch, play with children, spoke with the women at the water spigot, talk, play with children, talk.
Our brothers and Adam, cattle, and goats.
   Adam and I were allowed to tag along when the cattle and goats were taken to pasture to graze.  We watched the animals, and at the same time were given a tour of the area by our kaka (brother).  When we told him we were studying the environment, he abruptly began to tell us of farming in the area, land erosion, and walked us all over to identify trees and grasses.  He even asked about American farming, and was amazed to know that any farmer could own more than 20 cows at a time.  We attempted to explain the concept of a cowboy, and in saying “n’gombe mvulana,” or “cow boy,” he looked startled, contemplative, and then burst into laughter.  I believe he thought we literally had mixed hybrid boy-cows in America.  Needless to say, we provided a lot of funny statements to laugh at during the day.
   Back at our home we were given the chance to help cook lunch.  With two pots, one spoon, three rocks and some firewood we were able to provide lunch for 15 people.  With the three rocks positioned so as to support the pot above the fire, we first cooked beef in cabbage with onions, salt, and tomatoes.  In the second pot we mixed water and corn flour continuously to make ughali.  Positioned inside the small jiko (kitchen) the excess of smoke burned our eyes (often I was stirring with my eyes closed), and their cat was anxiously waiting for some scraps.  We were teary-eyed and smelled like a campfire, but the results were well worth the small troubles, because it was delicious!  I don’t know if it simply tastes different here, or we were just proud to know that we’d contributed, but we were delighted to share our meal with the rest of the family.
   My favorite parts of the day? There were three that stick in my mind prominently: conversing in Kiswahili with my babu na bibi (grandfather and grandmother), comparing American animals with African animals with our brother, and playing with the children.  Mind if I elaborate for a short bit?
School kids watching us.
   Babu na bibi only spoke Kiswahili, but were very happy to allow me to stumble through conversations with them.  They were proud, congratulating me often, and were quick to point out pronunciations.  My bibi often shuffled Adam and I into the shade to sit, so our very-white skin would not burn.  Poor Adam was pink by the end of the day.
(L-R) Pascali, Innocent, Erika, and Hendrix
   My brother and his friend spent many hours comparing their animals to ours.  It had never occurred to me how difficult it would be to explain a bear or a wolf to those who had never heard of such animals, much less seen them.  We took turns drawing pictures in the dirt, with hilarity ensuing at my picture of a bear.  They were convinced that a bear was something of a large rat, and we let it end with that.  They couldn’t wrap their heads around a mountain lion, or lion-without-mane.  If I’d thought of it later, it must’ve sounded as if we had lions without hair slinking around our mountains.
   The kids… my new brothers and sisters.  If you know me, or you’ve probably figured it out, I adore kids.  They’re sweet and funny and always fun to play with.  Here in Tanzania, where light-skinned folks are few and far between back in farmlands, the children are very excited to interact with any mzungu.  A group of children walking to school caught sight of us and beat-feet over to us, giggling and chattering as fast as they could.  My brothers and sisters, however, were a bit shy at first.  With a series of funny faces, smiles, and chasing games, they were quick to warm up to the strangers in their home.  But the best part of their time with us?  When Adam spoke to the cat.
Some local children watching us cook.
   Yes, Adam took the time to talk to the cat.  Upon seeing the creature slinking through the house, Adam said “jambo, paka,” prompting giggles from our new siblings.  No one talks to cats, so why was he?  Even better, knowing the kids would get a kick out of it, he would meow at the cat; the cat would respond.  What stories the children must’ve told their friends, that the visitors in their home danced, made silly faces at whim, and spoke to the cat.
   A wonderful day from start to finish, and we were fervently welcomed back again, having been named honorary children/cousins/siblings.  How lucky I am to have another family this far from my home in America!

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