Thursday, July 8, 2010

Back to Bangata

On the Fourth of July, hours before most people back home stirred themselves for a day of barbeques and sprinklers and fireworks, I squinted up into the midday sun and began walking up a muddy, bumpy road lined with banana trees.

I shifted a little bag of groceries from hand to hand as I passed a busy street market with fruits and vegetables of every color spread out on the earth, women fanning small fires as they grilled ears of corn, dogs sleeping in patches of sun with their noses twitching under the flies, bridges and small houses and a church where voices rang out in song.

My heart was beating a little faster than the long walk up Mount Meru’s lower slopes demanded. I scanned the shady road for familiar landmarks. This little patch, here, with the path running several feet above street level – I definitely remembered it. And the one and only fork in the road. Take the left one, I remembered, and you’re in Bangata.

The village hadn’t changed much to my eye, if it all. I passed the school where I spent two weeks studying Swahili all day, every day and felt a little shiver of anticipation. I was almost there – just ten minutes more. I stopped to buy a few glass bottles of passion fruit Fanta. Was three enough? Would they be home? Would they remember me?

Finally, I stood where the path ran off to the left, and paused a moment to collect myself. A little girl approached me shyly and asked what I was doing. I said, “I’m here to visit Mama and Baba Pili. Are they here?”

She nodded and beckoned me down the path. We rounded the corner and there was the house, looking exactly the same with its neat lawn and flat stone walls and cozy little front door. I walked up and knocked.

No answer. I glanced over my shoulder and saw the girl racing around to the backyard. I followed quickly, smiling a little, sure that Mama was in the kitchen in the backyard, not wanting the girl to ruin the surprise.

But she wasn’t there. The kitchen was empty. Two more little girls looked at me in surprise, and I asked if Mama Pili was home, knowing she was most likely to be the one home during the day. One of the girls said, “Hapana. Amesafiri.” No. She is traveling.

The expression “my heart sank” is really a very accurate description. I swear I felt it thud somewhere around my toes.

But one of the girls ran inside, and I heard voices. Very clearly, I heard her say “mzungu.” I edged inside, glanced down the hallway, and saw a middle-aged man, slightly stooped, shuffling toward me with a confused expression.

“Baba Pili!” I said, “Mimi ni Emily, nimerudi!” It’s Emily, I’ve come back!

And he just lit up like Christmas. He gave a loud shout, something wordless, and pulled me into a hug, and we just stood there laughing and hugging and thumping each other on the back for at least a minute. Tears prickled my eyes. This was awesome. Even if I don’t sell a story the whole time I’m here, this moment alone made the summer worth it.

I took out the food I’d brought as a gift (just in case they asked me to stay for supper, I didn’t want to arrive empty-handed). We sat, we poured the Fanta, and with Baba's little bit of English and my little bit of Swahili we started catching up. Mama was gone because she was off visiting Pili – their oldest, a daughter who is exactly my age – who is a teacher now a few hours away and who just had a baby! Fredie, the middle child, is about 21 now and at college in the capital city of Dar es Salaam. And the youngest, Farajah, who was an undersized 13-year-old when I last saw him?

He came ambling in, looking almost as small as before, but narrower and taller like he’d been stretched a few inches. He grinned at me shyly and came in for a hug. We spent the next hour, hour and a half taking pictures and reminiscing a little. The coffee table book about Cape Cod that I brought them as a gift last time was on their mantelpiece, dusty and beginning to weather, proudly open to a picture of some salt marshes. The two little girls (who turned out to be Baba’s daughters from another mother – not entirely sure what the story is there) loved the camera and once I showed them how to work it, they got a couple of really great shots (only one of which, sadly, survives for me to show you today). 

I was only there a couple of hours, tops, but man! I walked back down the road from there as giddy as I’ve ever been, escorted by my little entourage until we reached the edge of the village.

“Nitarudi tena!” I promised as I hugged them one last time and set off. Back to Arusha. Back to Nairobi.

I will come back again!

1 comment:

  1. Hey! hope that you had memorable time at bangata! it is a place for everyone to make history and adventures. hope that you will fullfill your promise" nitarudi tena!" karibu tena! regards
    olarip tomito, banagata native