Last night I walked out of my house after around 9pm and walked in the college compound. The night watch men were, as usual, sitting resting against the hostel walls with their bikes and bows and arrows next to them on the grass. I sat between them and rested myself against the hostel wall. They greetted me:
“Yes”, Said David, in expectation.
“Yes!”, I confirmed. Simon laughed. For some reason, that’s the way it goes.
We started to converse and the subject of christmas came up.
“Which one of you has been asking to drink wine with me?”, I asked.
“Myself”, David replied, “on Saturday”.
“Well, I will not be here on saturday”, I told him, “I’m leaving to Nairobi on Friday to visit a friend in the city who was going to go away and stay on a farm…”, my arms flail in a vaguely Northern direction, “… but her plans fell through and now she’s going to be on her own, so I will go and visit her. So we must drink wine togehter tonite!”
And with that I unzipped the pocket of my fleece vest and pulled out a bottle of “Celebration” fortified wine and stood it down, with a satisfying clink, on a piece of concrete between us. Then I started to extract three glasses from other pockets and stood then next to the bottle. Simon laughed again; so did David.
We sat and “Celebrated” together for an hour or so. I had also brought some sweet pastry snacks that Sr Euphemia had made for me. Conversation was slow at the start but familiarity, or possibly the wine, fortified us; Simon moved to close the triangle around the bottle and we talked of England, and air fares and other lives.
David, it turns out, is almost 60. I find it hard to believe. He used to travel to Tanzania and back, in some capacity I was unable to decypher, for a transport firm as a kind of assistant to the truck driver. Once I’d had enough to drink I did my party piece and counted to ten in Kikamba. They were impressed, as only drunk old men can be. We talked of languages. They each speak three: Kiswahili, Kikamba and Kizungu!
Well my Kikamba extends to simple greetings and counting to ten. Despite that training course in Makueni at the start of this vacation (which seems so long ago after the Cisco training course I’ve been doing) my Kiswahili still remains sub-conversational. So, by a process of ellimination, Kizungu must be the language I was using to talk to these men last night. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Kizungu is the language you use to speak with a Mzungu. English: the language spoken by the wazungu.
A couple of weeks ago, Theresa (the Peace Corps volunteer who has joined Holy Rosary College) arranged an afternoon seminar about America. She set out to dispell some myths that she perceived in Kenya about her countrymen and, in deed, about all white people: **not** all Americans are rich, **not** all Americans are white, etc. The kind of thing that helps to perpetuate what is known as “the donor mentality”: no need to work and solve your problems, just wait for the mzungu donors to give you something. At the end of that talk she made a personal appeal to the crowd who had come, lured by her delicious Bananna Nut Bread and other sweet things. She explained that she was offended by the way children here shout out “Mzungu!” and “British”, sometimes in a less than friendly sounding way. So she asked those present to take care to tell the children that this was bad manners and to suggest they should call her Mwalimu instead.
Yesterday afternoon I visited Elizabeth, a local lady who has befriended many of the volunteers here. she told me how she was helping Theresa to develope her country, by telling the children not to shout “Mzungu”:
“Don’t call her Mzungu, I tell them, if you call her Mzungu she won’t give you anything, but if you call her Teacher she might give you something.”