Being placed over the kitchen has been a very good opportunity to make friends with the workers. Last week Ester, one of the workers, invited me to come visit her home. We originally arranged for Monday at noon, but after waiting for an hour I gave up and figured she had forgotten. She hadn't forgotten, she just came at "noon" Africa time: closer to 2:00. I had a meeting at 3:00, so that didn't work out and we rescheduled for Wednesday.
Ester came to the center (actually closer to noon Western time) and called for me at the gate to the missionary compound. I quickly slathered on some sun-block, knowing it would be a bit of a walk and the sun was decidedly strong today. I met Ester at the gate and she grinned. "Mado kerowa!" She greeted me cheerfully in Sena.
"Tado kerowa pyadidi, penombo imwe?" I responded as she had taught me just last week. She laughed and grabbed my hand to lead me out of the center. You don't see couples in Africa holding hands very often, but same-gender hand-holding is quite common as just a sign of friendship and togetherness. Just outside the gate we were joined by Brazito, a very tall first-year student at the Bible School who had apparently developed a friendship with Ester and was invited to accompany us. Ester excitedly chattered with several people in Sena as we walked along the road, though the only word I could pick up consistently was nyumba which means "home", so I guess she was telling them that I was visiting her home; apparently a great honor to her. We walked for some time in the beating sun, Ester and Brazito chatting in Sena and occasionally addressing me in Portuguese. We entered the Dondo bus stop area just as the mosque began wailing the call to prayer over the loud speakers. Our area is dominated much more by witchcraft than Islam, but there are enough Muslims to have a little mosque in Dondo. There are a lot more churches—we're winning. We walked past the bus stop and all its little shops, restaurants, and bars, and made our way toward the market. All of the trees and concrete walls along the way either have a painted red ribbon—the symbol of a cure for AIDS—or they are brightly hand-painted with advertisements of some of the most predominate companies and products of Mozambique: the two cell-phone companies, yellow-and-teal mCell and blue-and-white Vodacom comprise some of the most common ads all around the country, along with the red Coca-Cola and beer ads, the green and black condom ads, and the occasional Colgate or laundry detergent ad as well. We passed some ladies selling pineapples and avocados on the side of the road. Brazito asked if we have avocados in America, and informed me that they are called bakoti in Sena.
We stepped into the little market area, which much smaller than the Beira market I described in a previous blog post, and is becoming a place I enjoy going as much as I can. I like the bustle and familiarity people have with each other, it being a fairly small town and all. There are sacks of beans and peanuts, little piles of onions, plastic buckets of all shapes and sizes stacked on display, clothes laid out in the dirt for sale, brightly colored capulana wrap skirts hanging from the bamboo-structures' ceilings, and the usual array of sundry other items at the little shops: matches, notebooks, thread, soap, etc. Ester bought a grass mat and had Brazito carry it for her out of the market.
We walked on in the blistering heat. The wide paved streets lined with big concrete houses gave way to wide dirt roads with little concrete houses, which gave way to narrow dirt roads with mud houses, which we finally turned off to a very narrow sandy foot-path through the coconut-tree-shaded village. Chickens and ducks scurried about our feet, and children squealed "Mazungu! Mazungu!" (white person) when they saw me. I just smiled and waved. We passed a whole parade of high-school students on their way to afternoon school, all in their matching uniforms of dark green pants/skirts with a matching ties and light green button-down shirts. After walking for half an hour since leaving the base, we finally arrived at Ester's house, which was one of the poorest looking ones in the whole village. The bamboo frame was completely visible as most of the outer mud of the house had fallen off. Some of the holes in the walls had rags and old clothes shoved in them to fill in the gaps. The roof was made of the common corrugated material, but it was all very tiny scraps that were pieced together and likely leaked with every rain. Ester is a widow, and though she does have consistent work on the base, she struggles to care for her 6 children plus the 4 orphans she has taken in. She spread out her brand new grass mat for us to sit on the ground under a big tree next to her house, then busied herself with being hospitable. She tried to get her youngest child, Marcia, to come out of the house to meet me but she was terrified and just kept crying (I felt horrible). Her other children and those that live with her were bold enough to sit with me, but they were awfully quiet and shy.
African village life is so relaxed, laid-back, and communal. It always feels so peaceful—there is very little noise except for the voices of chatting neighbors and playing children, the random farm animal, and the birds. Some teen-age girls, Regina and Alima, came by and sat with us the whole time I was visiting—there's no rush, no stress, no worries. Ester sent her son Pedro to go buy me a soda and some cookies, and again I felt a little frustrated knowing she was spending money on me that she didn't really have, but I also knew that turning down her hospitality would be a much worse thing in the long run. When Pedro returned with my almost-cold pineapple soda (my favorite) and the little banana-cream-filled cookies, I tried sharing them with the kids every time Ester's back was turned. Most of them refused, but one adorable little five-year-old girl, Lina, was absolutely fearless and accepted the cookies gladly and finished off the last bit of my soda.
Ester busied herself preparing lunch on her little 1-foot-tall charcoal stove, so after a couple minutes of silence on the grass mat, I pulled out my notebook and informed all those around me that I really wanted to learn their language, Sena. I started with just pointing at everything I could see and asking them how to say it. Tree? Muti. Sky? Nkuzulu. Child? Mwana. Banana? Mafigu. After a while I graduated to simple phrases: I'm eating: ndiri kudya, I want: ine ndisafuna, she is washing a plate: akusuka prato. Little Lina would grin and giggle every time I attempted to repeat the phrases, it must have sounded strange to hear this foreigner saying things she understood (either that or I botched the pronunciation so badly that it was funny…). Ragina and Brazito were very patient and helpful teachers, and I had filled up two-and-a-half pages of my notebook by the time lunch was ready. Lunch was bits of fried fish with rice, and it was quite good. There was no silverware, so I was grateful for the experience I gained in Bangladesh eating rice with my hands. I tried out some of my new Sena with Ester, and she just gave her usual high-pitched "Shee!" (a sound the Sena people make when they're surprised) and looked very pleased. The fried fish was a little salty, so I was very thirsty afterward but knew better than to accept the water—didn't particularly feel like getting giardia this week.
After eating together and visiting a little longer, Ester picked herself up off the grass mat and asked if I was ready to go home. Honestly, I would love to spend far more time in the village, just making friends, learning the language, and eventually sharing the love of God with them when I have enough to communicate. But for this afternoon, my village time was up, and it was time to make the half-hour trek back to the mission base.