Wisdom of the Young

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs
A young girl and her first walk into town.

Submitted: July 31, 2016

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Submitted: July 31, 2016

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There was a picture in this morning’s paper of an eight year old girl who had written a letter, apparently self-motivated, to our Prime Minister. She had empathised with the homeless because her father had taken her with him to distribute food to some of the less fortunate in her city. Every now and again you hear of kids doing this sort of thing. The Prime Minister probably had a laugh about it, as they do, and followed his own agenda regardless. But we should listen to kids, they have their own wisdom.

It doesn’t take much, but this reminded me of Nai. She was the eight year old daughter of the director of the NGO I was working for and we saw a lot of her because our respective accommodation was separated only by a thin wall, living under the same roof.

She wasn’t allowed ‘to bother’ us but of course we were something new in her life and we were perhaps exciting to her, so she spent a lot of time with us. Her mother or brothers would call, ‘Nai!’ and off she would run, purposely leaving her sandals behind as an excuse to return as soon as she had the chance!

Our first attempts at Swahili were feeble because we could not concentrate on what our teacher was trying impart while we were busy in the middle of setting up the tree nursery and for us, every experience was new and to be savoured. But Nai caught onto the words we did know and worked her language around them. She knew English, not well, but far better than our Swahili! She knew we had to learn the local language, so rarely would she help us out by speaking English, forcing us to practice.

A visiting expat who spoke better Swahili was concerned about Nai, because she heard her using her helpful, imperfect language, but it was perfectly understandable for us.

One Saturday we were going to walk into to town for some stores, so we asked Nai if she would like to go with us. The walk is not difficult; ten minutes down the dusty Sanawari road, the bottom end of which is a small market that can become hectic there with a lot of foot traffic. Across ‘spaghetti’ junction and then along a tarred footpath for another ten minutes past Mt. Meru hospital, the main hospital in the area. Somewhere there when the traffic allows, we cross the road towards the AICC complex where there is a keepilefti, the wonderful Swahili word for roundabout! Once across the keepilefti, another five minutes or so to reach the main tourist area where the Post Office can be found and the Clocktower, which is also a roundabout but just known as ‘The Clocktower’ which is said to be halfway between Capetown and Cairo. Arusha on a Saturday morning is bustling and vibrant.

Tanzania time is Tanzania time, and an hour late is nothing to be concerned about. The oft quoted phrase is, Haraka, haraka, haina baraka. ‘Hurry, hurry has no blessings.’ Nevertheless Nai was ready at the appointed time. And again, Tanzanians show us Kiwis up! She was dressed up in her Sunday best, while we were in typical, even rough casual clothes.

Mama Baraka had given her a few shillings for spending money, not enough for a soda, but enough for some peanuts or some traditional sweets. All the time she was to hold the hand of one of us!

Nai had never been into town before so the whole experience was exciting for her and it was the first time she had ever had spending money! The going was slow because she would stop and look, which we thought was fair enough – if you are going to give a kid an experience, you might as let her experience it.

Once past Mt. Meru hospital there are always a few beggars, some we had come to recognise and we usually shared some money among them from time to time, but with Nai, we thought it better to keep moving along.

Just before the first keepilefti there was a man sitting cross-legged whose hands were pollarded by leprosy. [I’m not being disrespectful here, pollarding is a type of tree pruning and it best describes for me, how the poor man’s hands appeared.]

Nai clearly saw this guy begging and halfway across the road she tugged my arm and she led me back to the man! She gave him all her spending money!

The actions of an eight year old African girl that day puts most of us to shame!


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