A few days ago I asked the director of the language school if there was something I could do to get more time practicing language. There are many secondary students around the campus who love nothing more than to speak English with the foreigners around here. However the director gave me an assignment to "find a friend" and ask them questions off this list. They were basic questions like: What is your name, where in TZ are you from, where do you live now, do you have a family, etc, etc. I took it upon myself to do this assignment in town and try to somehow make a friend (rafiki) there. To make it as hard as I could on myself I wanted to take the daladala (minivan, public transportation) both ways to town and back by myself. Additionally, I wrote a quick note to a friend so as to have one more thing to do in town - mail a letter.
I want you to know that when I got back to the Lutheran Junior Seminary I was very proud of myself for doing it all alone. During the couple of hours in town I didn't really 'make a friend'. But I accomplished a number of small projects, including finding the post office, and buying stamps all in Swahili.
I kept telling myself I can go home on the daladala, I don’t need to take a taxi. So I made my way to the place I thought the daladalas for our area start from. When I got to the open side door of the daladala there was a man (probably about 50-55) that gestured for me to take the seat opposite him just inside. But when I started to get in, he took the seat he offered and left me the 'better' seat he had. I thought him very kind for giving up his seat for me, though either would have been fine. We exchanged smiles of understanding and I thanked him in Swahili.
As is my custom now I use the time sitting on the daladala to study faces. This man's was quite easy to read. As more folks pushed into the van he would kindly smirk, I would catch the humor out of the corner of my eye and smile back at him. As I was sitting there (I think I waited only 15 minutes for it to "fill" before we left) I suddenly thought, I hope I'm on the right daladala. So I asked this man in Swahili, "Mzee, tuna enda Mikese?" He was pleased that I asked him and answered in the affirmative. But I still didn't have enough courage to strike up a conversation.
You or I would have counted the van quite full after maybe one or two more got on, but there was quite a fuss about the mgungu’s feet being in the way and they got pushed in farther so other’s could stand where my feet had been on the floor. I am not sure what was all said about me, but it didn’t all sound pleasant. I’ll learn how to tuck in better next time. In the end I would guess close to ten more squeezed in.
It's really odd, I thought as I sat there that one can sit so close to so many people and even be face to face and not really talk with them. I like my personal space, but I am glad that I do not have an issue with having it all invaded for a short daladala ride. If there were not stops between the seminary and town center it would take about 10 minutes. But once we got going it took about 25 minutes. I have yet to be on one that doesn't stop for gas (petrol). That makes me think they only put enough in for one trip.
So out from town over several speed bumps to the main road that leads to Dar, stopped at the petrol station, and folks get out and shift around some. Here's my chance, even though I have been sitting across from this man for 20 minutes already I say very quietly, "Mzee… Habari yako?" (Which basically means: Old man, how are you? "Old man" is a compliment in this culture and a term of respect - how's that for different?) He smiles again ever so pleased with the conversation and asks me how I am too. From there I quietly launched into the litany of questions for Him allowing him ask me all the same. The man sitting next to him now is also pleased to be listening to the mgungu speaking Swahili. It seems like only moments pass and he is realizing he's close to his stop. He had already told me we were one stop apart.
He told me as he got out that I was welcome to come and practice anytime. I know he meant it because hospitality is paramount here. I can't remember his name, though because it was an African name I hadn't heard before and I am not exactly sure what school he teaches at. But I was so pleased to have read him correctly. I was so pleased to have had so many successes by myself.
Here is the bonus - today I told the director and my tutor (for this week) the entire story in Swahili of everything I did yesterday in town. It was decided that I should have more of these kinds of field trips. What's in store for tomorrow- an all day trip to a Maasai village with Pastor Herb (long-term missionary here).