Friday, December 15, 2006

Precious Gifts

On Wednesday I received the most precious gifts I have ever had the honour to accept. One of them bit me.

I thought the day would be about giving, not receiving. I went to the home of my sponsored child Frank, in a small community outside Dodoma, Tanzania. We had flown to Dodoma from Arusha in a tiny bumble bee of a chartered plane the day before.

Early in the morning we (I, my Beloved, and a friend of ours) were picked up by Emmanuel and Peniel, World Vision staff whom we had met the day before. After tea at the local W.V. project ofice, and a courtesy visit to the local government office, we finally drove to Frank's village. The road was washed out, so we walked the final kilometer in the blazing sun. Past fields being turned by women and children with hoes, and new struggling crops of peanuts, millet and corn. We crossed a dry riverbed where there were two dug out water holes with a few centimeters of cloudy water being collected in buckets and gourds. As I climbed the far riverbank I saw a small family compound of two mud buildings surrounded by a fence of thorn branches. A little boy ran out of the compound, down the path toward us. Frank. My heart lept. When he reached me, Frank silently looked up at me with his amazing big brown eyes, and gripped my hand tight.

I said: "Habari Frank, naferahi kukutana na wewe." (How are you Frank, I am very happy to meet you.) Not a word in reply. Just a giant smile and a vice grip on my hand as he turned and led me to his home. The next few hours are an intense, joyous blur. I was introduced to Frank's 6 siblings, some half siblings, his sister and her children, his Mama and Baba, and his Grandmother, who I greeted with the respectful "Shikamoo". He showed me inside his house. Three rooms of mud walls, with dirt floors. But walls lovingly decorated with designs in coloured mud by his Mama. The fire pit inside had no chimney, and I imagined the stinging smoke when a meal was prepared. Frank showed me his bed, a woven mat on the ground that he shared with two younger brothers. Tiny chicks wandered about, inside and out, but the adult chickens kept their distance. I soon found out why.

I gave Frank and his parents the gifts I had brought: Food staples, clothing, soap, shoes, school supplies and a football (soccer ball). Frank, who had told me in letters his favourite game is football, showed me his old ball, a piece of foam tied in string. Then Emannuel said that Frank and his family had some gifts for me. First was a water gourd and cup, decorated with my name. Then a carved wooden spoon. And, to my amazement, a beautiful wax-dyed kitengi, a two piece cloth with designs in red, orange and black. How could they afford this? And then Emmanuel announced that Frank's Baba (father) had a gift to show how much he valued our coming so far to visit Frank. I heard a commotion behind me, and Frank's oldest brother cornered and caught one of the chickens grazing and clucking in the compound. A screeching, flapping gift of enraged feathers and beak was put in my arms. And pecked a chunk out of my hand.

Emmanuel explained that the gift of a chicken was an extreme honour, representing a large part of the family's posessions. "I cannot take it" I whispered, "It is too much!"

"You cannot refuse it, it would dishonour Baba and Mama."

"But I cannot take it home to Canada."

"Don't worry, we will take it back to Dodoma, we can sell it and use the money to help Frank's family."

That fiesty gift escaped her leg ties twice in the truck, flapping and squawking her displeasure. If attitude adds flavour she will be one tasty, though skinny meal.

It was hard to say goodbye to Frank. In only a few hours he stole my heart with his quiet smiles. I will forever treasure the memory of him grinning and gripping my hand to take me down the path to his home.

When B and I had hugged Frank goodbye and climbed back into the truck, I looked over at B who had taken off his glasses and was wiping his eyes. I have rarely seen B cry. "Hard to let the little guy go," he choked out. Yes, it was.

For a few hours, two families from very different worlds shared laughter, learning, and love. We exchanged gifts. Our gifts to them were barely a token of the abundance in our life. Frank's gifts to us were an unbelievable honour.

It was a perfect day.

Asante sana rafiki mpenzi Frank. (Thank you very much my dear friend Frank).

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Hakuna Matata

I have just finished my first 24 hours back in East Africa,in Nairobi. Wearing my husband's underwear. Lost luggage problems. Don't ask! It's not even a local issue, the screw up is at Heathrow, were apparently hundreds of bags are getting left behind by BA because of full flights and not enough baggage hold space. I've been told many times "Hakuna Matata (No worries) Mama, it will arrive." Yes, but this year?

It is wonderful to finally be here. What hit my memory first this morning, as we walked on a path to the market, was the smell. Woodsmoke, lush vegetation, flowers, open drains, and garbage. Dizzying! Then the shrieking of the Ibis' overhead. The smell and the sound must have unlocked some long unused corner in my brain, and Kiswahili phrases I did not remember I knew danced into my head. After all these years Africa still grips my heart and and lives in my veins.

The month ahead will be one amazing adventure. Now if only my panties would arrive.

At the Masai market in Nairobi:

B at the giraffe rehabilitation centre, Nairobi:

Monday, December 04, 2006

Reigning Cats and Dogs, Part 2: Oh Henry!

Henry joined our family zoo Labour Day Monday, 2005. The name of the day should have been a warning.

B and I had talked about getting a young companion for our big old bitch Tika. (No, I don’t mean bitch in the canine sense, I mean in it in the cranky, temperamental, eat-other-dogs-for-sport sense. Bless her heart.) It had to be a puppy, because puppies are the only dogs Tika does not try to mutilate. Actually she also likes male dogs with their equipment intact. She is a motherly, slutty, bitch. We love her.

So we were on the look out for a male puppy. Our other four animals are pound or SPCA rescues, and we endorse them for adopting family pets. However, we needed a very young puppy, a male, and it had to be a big breed to match Tika, who is an 85 pound Lab / Shepherd cross who likes to wrestle. We heard about a 10 week old yellow Lab puppy available, and the timing seemed right, because I would be off work for several more weeks recovering from surgery. So I convinced B that we should just check him out. As we left he said: “Are we sure we want another dog? Can we handle the extra work? What about the extra money?”

“Come on,” I said. “We’re just going to look at him, and check out what his parents are like. We don't have to take him” I assured him, as I loaded a towel-lined cardboard box into the back of our POS car.

“I don’t think I can hold a 10 week old Lab puppy and not take him home” replied B.

(I knew that about you Sweetie. I was counting on it.)

Henry was the only one left from his litter. Perhaps that should have been a warning, not that we would have paid any attention. He looked twice as big as I expected for a 10 week old puppy. That really should have been a warning. But as B predicted, Henry had us on first sight.

The first indication we got of his, um, intelligence, came a few days later, as he walked across the deck and right into the open hot tub without missing a step. And sank to the bottom. He is still no smarter, just bigger. Much taller than Tika. He looks more like a Great Dane or a small pony than a Lab, and nothing like his parents. Either some errant gene that lay dormant for generations exploded to life in Henry, or his Mama was sleeping around.

He is spectacularly stupid, and amazingly clumsy on his long skinny legs. He has chewed 9 shoes, 4 pairs of sunglasses, 3 pairs of reading glasses, a jewellery box, 12 pieces of Tupperware, 5 hair clips, a borrowed book, and a lot of mail. He has eaten plastic bags, flip flops, 6 entire avocadoes, a bag of apples, a shaker of fish food, most of the leaves off my Jade plant, many bananas, and all the pears that fell from our neighbour’s tree. He is an escape artist, and has been dragged back home by bemused neighbours several times. He jumps on our bed and drops on us with a mighty THWUMP in the middle of the night. He is a drooler and a gifted farter.

And we sure love him.