Itende, Pilau, and Kyejo

This week I’ll work backwards. This weekend was very busy, all three of us are trying to fit everything in. Only two weekends left. Yesterday Katelyn went to Kasiba, a crater lake past Mbambo on the way to Tukuyu. Dot and I rode on the back of Isaac’s motorbike to a different crater lake called Itende (which we found out later Mwaikema has never been to—hard to believe we’ve been somewhere our local geographer has not). Itende is up in the mountains near where Isaac grew up. He invited us to the lake last Sunday after we walked to Lwangwa to see him sing and play guitar in the choir there. He’s very sweet and handsome with a gap between his two front teeth. His English is also very good. I was surprised to learn that he had never gone to secondary school because his family could not afford it. Instead, he took qualification test, which something like a GED, and went to study carpentry in Tukuyu. He was so proud to be showing us where he grew up, his parents home, his uncle’s home, and the church he attended as a boy (it was also the church he worked on to pass as part of his final carpentry exams).
He brought us to a very small, local congregation to worship where they had an incredible youth choir. They were so pleased to have us visit and gave us seats at the front of the church. Hearing them sing is something I will never be able to find words for. I’m not religious and I wouldn’t say the feeling their voices gave me was god, but the energy and emotion in their voices filled every space in the small, crumbling dirt church. One mzee told me Isaac that were the first wazungu she’d ever seen.
The congregation bought us each a soda and a couple bunches of bananas before we began hiking to Itende. The hike was a series of steep ups and downs and having hurt my knee on Saturday, I was forced to go very slow. Isaac would yell back to me “Hannah! Are you okay?! Pole sana Hannah. I know you are fast but today is slow with an injury.” We reached Itende, a deep, figure eight shaped lake, at the hottest part of the day. Isaac told us that he used to play there when he was a boy and he used to believe it was very large. Although it is deep, no one ever swims there. He said there used to be many monkeys near the lake too but yesterday there were none.
We took an even steeper shortcut back to the church and hoped on the motorbike. Sometimes, if the road was too rocky or steep, Dot and I would climb off the bike and meet him at the top of the hill. On one hill we went off the road and into a small ditch. Isaac laughed and apologized then asked if we would please push. We stopped at his uncle’s home again on the way back, where many of his family were sitting in the shade of a tree on a cliff that overlooked the lowlands toward Kasiba and all the way to Tukuyu. They were all very happy to see us and to share their home. They laughed with me when I told them the story about my fall and why I was limping. It was interesting to see that they’d installed a solar panel to their house since electricity doesn’t go that far into the mountains. I couldn’t stop smiling when we were with them but Isaac was the happiest of all, showing us everything that was so important to him and doing it with so much humor. My favorite introduction was to a man who he described as the one who has given him much good advice. He told him he should go to Tukuyu and learn to be a carpenter. It was such an amazing day that left me feeling really close to the people we have been living with.
Now, about the hurt knee. On Friday, some of the boys in our class, the ones who are the most local, living in Ndembo village (between Manow and Lwangwa) told us they wanted to climb Kyejo with us on Saturday. Unsure if they were serious, we told them if they really wanted to do it they had to come to our house very early at 7:30 or 8:00 in the morning. On Saturday morning at 7:45 I was reading No.1 Ladies Detective Agency in bed when I heard BAM! BAM! BAM! Dot yelled “Girls! Someone’s here for you!” Frank, Mponjoli, Erick, Umboke, and Diana all waited on the porch while Dot filled water bottles for everyone and Katelyn and I quickly got ready. The seven of us headed up behind our house toward Kanyelele. We walked to the carbon dioxide plant, which took us all the way around to the other side of Kyejo. Erick’s father, Fredy, the supervisor at the plant, just laughed when he saw us. He asked how we communicated with them. When we told him we spoke English together he looked shocked and said “They understand you!?” Erick just nodded impatiently.
It was a great hike, laughing and taking picture the whole way. It is pretty awesome that we could all spend an afternoon together as friends, communicating with our broken languages. They all have such strong personalities. Umboke is the sweetest, refusing to let me carry my backpack the whole way up and making a video of everyone eating manganga berries together. Frank is so quick and clever. He’s so smart. He was asking about the English words blind, deaf, and mute. I told him he should be a mute because he’s always talking. Frank looked at me with his big, round eyes, wrinkled his eyebrows and just started miming things as if he was unable to speak. He’s hysterical. On the way up he insisted on being the one to carry my camera and took very good care not to lose the lens cap. Mponjoli’s kind of the bad boy. He’s also very smart but so full of attitude. “Ponjo” doesn’t walk, he struts and his reply is always a cheerful but sarcastic “Okay, teacher” through his big, white smile. Erick looks just like his dad, with a funny grin. He’s pretty serious, always scratching his chin or rubbing his forehead like he’s thinking. He’s sneaky though, and just grins when he gets caught. He started pushing me in our tea time football game. I gave him a look as if to say woah! He just raised his eyebrows, grinned, and wiped his sweat from his forehead. Diana and Erick are cousins. She’s Mwaikema’s younger daughter and is very sweet and smart. You can always count on Diana to try to answer questions in class. She has big, round eyes and a very shy smile. It’s always funny when I’m teaching and look out into the class and see Diana and Yusuphu with their fingers buried deep in one of their nostrils. Diana because she’s thinking and Yusuphu because he’s always bored.
Diana was tired on the hike up but on the last stretch to the top she took off her flip-flops and crawled up the steep grassy ridge with her hands. We sat on the top together, everyone just resting and looking out across the valley and over to Rungwe. Katelyn and I needed to be at Mwasamwaja’s at 2:00 so we rounded everyone up and started down. Frank, Mponjoli, and Erick sat back down and said they were too hungry and needed chips maiai. I told them there were no eggs on the mountain and left them there. Eventually they ran after us. It was a very hot walk back but one woman invited us to her home and shared some water with all the kids. When we passed back through Kanyelele Fredy bought us each a soda and with the change bought Katelyn and I fifteen eggs! Eggs are the best gift. I think that’s what I’ll start bringing to people when they invite me for dinner in the US.
We told everyone we’d buy them all chips maiai when we reached Mbegele but when we reached a duka they said they were all out. We all dragged our feet back down to our house, past Isaac’s shop. Dot and Isaac just laughed at how tired we all were. Dot had met some of their parents on the way to Lwangwa who thought we would never make it with the students as our only guides. I think it was a better adventure that way. It was clear that no one really knew where we were going but it was so fun.
Once home, Katelyn and I had to rush to shower and get ready to go to the Mwasamwajas’. On the way down I bought chips for our hungry students and Katelyn and I started running down the road to Lwangwa and just before we reached their house I tripped on a rock. It was a very dramatic fall and all the kids nearby giggled as I limped the rest of the way.
Mama Mwasamwaja went right to cleaning my bleeding hand and knee. She sent me to the bathroom where she ran warm, salty water over the cuts on my palm. Then she told me she must put salt on them She dabbed a little salt on my hand then disappeared to another room to get some clean, white fabric. Oh my goodness it hurt. I yelled out for her in pain and could hear her chuckle from across the house. Without her First Aid kit all she had was salt to clean the cuts. She told me her grandchildren always say if something hurts you shouldn’t take it to bebe (grandma) because it will only hurt more.
Finally she blew off the salt and fed me warm beef stew with bananas instead of potatoes. For the rest of the afternoon we sat on the back porch talking, sharing pictures, and preparing pilau, the national dish of Tanzania. Pilau is a rice dish with beef, onions, garlic, and lots of sweet spices. I feel like I’ve been welcomed into their family. Their oldest son was there helping cook (she taught him to cook even though it is not Nyakusa tradition for men to prepare food). She’s a really amazing woman and has done so much in her life. Before she was married she was sent to Germany by her church. They also spent a few years in the US together when he was getting a degree at Wartburg Seminary in Iowa. They have so many photographs documenting their travels and all of the amazing things they have done. So much of their life has been dedicated to learning and teaching. He has taught all over the country and founded Manow Lutheran Junior Seminary in the early 1990s. They are definitely some of the most interesting people I’ve met in my life.
I’ve been so lucky to have spent so much time getting to know her. I took Thursday off this week and went with her to her shamba in Ikombe. I got to her house around 8:00 am and helped her prepare her delicious, sweet, milky chai over a fire in the kitchen behind her house. We walked about a mile together to her shamba, bringing chai to her husband. They’re behind on tending to their maize because of the recent death of two of her brothers. I helped her plant beans and then, while she rested in the shade, I helped two women weed the corn. They laughed but said I was a hard worker. Mama told me they never thought a wazungu could work. We took a break for chai before planting more beans. She did everything in one motion, making a small hole with her heel, dropping in two beans, then gently covering the beans with her toes.
We walked home and I continued to weave my mkeka while she napped next to me on the porch. When Mwasamwaja came home we prepared ugali (stiff corn porridge) and a beef soup. We ate together and they told me they were so happy I had decided to spend the day with them. She told me I was her granddaughter, gave me a hug and kiss on the cheek, and said she would think of me whenever she ate beans or corn. I hope that someday they can return to the US to visit, and of course I hope I can come back and visit them.
It was a good week. Busy but very comfortable. I feel close to our friends here and it makes me so happy to know that they have welcomed me into their lives.
There was not a lot that happened in class this week. On Tuesday, just before dismissal, Frank asked to go to the bathroom. When I told him he had to wait he said “Ok, I poop in the class.”

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