Olivia Geraci (’19) and Emily Stonestreet (’19) both describe their experiences at Village Night.
Post below written by Olivia Geraci (’19)
“Jambo!” We were greeted at the entrance to the complex with a warm grin, a handshake, and a hug. Inside the court-yard the free-roaming chickens clucked around our feet. Our host introduced herself, and we all went around in a circle reciting our names in the badly pronounced Swahili we learned in our lesson. As we were guided to our squat table surrounded by brightly colored blue and pink plastic chairs, our host, Mama, turned to me and pleasantly asked, “Habari?” Knowing I was meant to respond, I glanced down at my hand. Fear gripped me as I realized the response to Mama’s question wasn’t one of the words I had scribbled down in blue ink earlier that day on my palm. I responded with “asante,” and felt self-conscious as it sounded rough on my tongue. This had been my fear before the village trip— that we would not be able to talk to or relate to our hosts. I waited in anticipation, wondering how she would respond to me saying “Thank you” to her question of “How are you?” I thought she would look at me in confusion, but instead she gave a good-natured laugh, and we sat down at the table.
At dinner, the space between the two stone houses was filled with the aroma of typical Tanzanian rice and beans and spicy chicken that danced in our nostrils. Along with the Tanzanian food, our guests cooked us some “Marikani” food to make us feel more at home, and I am not just writing for the blog post when I say that it was some of the best tea and donuts I’ve had. Our conversation started slow, and despite my interaction with Mama, I again wondered if my fears about our language barrier would come true. However, Emma, the president of the girls’ government at JBFC who had come along with us, broke the ice. She tried to convince us she was a teacher at the school and twenty-five years old, and she almost convinced us until Mr. Emerson asked the year she was born and she had to think for too long. Emma continued her antics all night long. We would ask how to say different words in Swahili, and she would purposely tell us the wrong word to the amusement of all the Swahili speakers at the table. We could always tell when she was lying by the coy smile that would rise on Mama and Baba’s lips.
As dinner came to a close, all our stomachs were bursting (for the first time I was happy to be wearing our long elastic skirts), and smiles lit all of our faces. With the help of Jonas and Emma, we thanked our hosts for their generosity and offered them the water bottle filterer and a solar powered light we brought as gifts. Mama and Baba thanked us for coming, and said we were all welcome back anytime. Mama and Baba even said that now we were part of their family. Although we had only just met them, I truly believed their words were genuine.
In the end, my fear about our language and cultural barrier being a hindrance did not ring true. A large part of this was due to the JBFC girls (especially Emma) and Jonas, who acted as our translators for the night. However, I think that without translators, the experience would have been just as special. Although our hosts used words to welcome us, their expressions and warm nature said more than either of us could in English or Swahili.
Post below written by Emily Stonestreet (’19)
“Karibu! Karibu!” The woman’s loud, high- pitched voice welcomed our group into her home as she met us all with hugs and a smile that stretched wide across her face. After walking along the winding dirt path and drenched fields that led to the village, I was eager for dinner yet wary of what to expect. We were visiting Miriam, the head cook at JBFC, who is notorious for her infectious laugh and entertaining dancing. She immediately made me feel at home as we settled in for dinner. Our group of Deerfield students, intern teachers, girls from JBFC, and a Maasai, sat around a low table on the dirt ground and under a tin roof. Before long, Miriam and her daughters served us Tanzanian doughnuts, and we started to get to know her better, managing to cross the language barrier that divided us with the help of the JBFC girls and the little Swahili we had learned that afternoon. As the meal went on, Miriam revealed stories of her past and how she came to work as a cook in Kitongo. Little by little, I learned more about Tanzanian culture and how it compares to life in America.
As we ate maandazi, rice, and chicken, Mae turned to Reka, a JBFC girl, and asked her to translate a question for Miriam saying, “If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live.” It took her a minute, but soon a smile stretched across her face and she replied, “Kitongo.” Her answer surprised me. Despite the rustic conditions of her surrounding village, Miriam would choose happily to live there.
After the meal was over, our host led us outside and began to dance. I mimicked the moves she made, and soon everyone joined in. Every few minutes, Miriam would let out a screeching laugh and clap her hands as she watched us dance in amusement. Her grandchildren approached me cautiously, but soon enveloped me in hugs and high fives. I have never felt so much love from children whom I met only seconds earlier, and who didn’t speak any English.
My visit to Miriam’s home reminded me that living in extreme rural poverty does not necessarily mean living in sadness. Because of the way Africa is often portrayed in the media, many people believe that families in villages like Kitongo are both unhappy and helpless. This was definitely not the case. Although she didn’t have electricity or running water, Miriam had a spirit that lit up the room. She welcomed strangers unable to speak Swahili into her home with open arms and danced with a carefree spirit that couldn’t help but make me smile. Given the chance to live anywhere in the world, Miriam wouldn’t change where she lived, because there really is no place like home.