Tales from Tanzania - O'Neil Family Blog

Though we have already been in Tanzania for one year, this is a journal of our time at Haven of Peace Academy in Dar es Salaam. Karibu sana.

January 25, 2008

Saying Good-Bye

Mama Rebeka has been my Tanzanian friend perhaps the longest of anyone here. She is the wife of our night gaurd, Molel. She used to come and visit me when I could speak no Swahili and we would just stand there smiling at each other. I have no idea what would bring her back time after time - except maybe a free soda. But she kept coming every so often and my Swahili got a little better over time and soon we were able to talk during her visits.

She is perhaps by best Tanzanian friend. We have been out to visit her home in the bush - she only comes to the city on occasion. We have met her mother and her four children. She has made many beaded gifts for us and we have invested a little bit in her business. We have seen her children sick and prayed for them as they battled fevers or the flu. We greet each other everyday via her husband. We have invested the way Tanzanians invest in friendships.

She told me she was going back to the bush recently and it finally hit that I probably would not ever see her or her children again on this earth - I do plan on seeing her later in heaven! I, of course, began to think of what I could give her as a gift - a going away present. As we were talking somehow it came up that she had never seen the ocean before. I was at first shocked that someone who has travelled all the way from the savanah bush to Dar es Salaam and stayed here for six months had yet to actually see the ocean but when money is tight why would someone spend it on transportatin to get down to the ocean - there is no practical need. So there it was - my going away present would be to take Mama Rebeka and her kids and who ever else might be around to the beach.

I picked her up where they stay and after some initial screaming by her youngest, Rebeka, who was frightened to death of a vehicle, we were off. They oooed and awed when they first saw the ocean. I think they had no idea of how big something could be. We all just stood for a while on the beach, gaping at the size and smell. They asked about a boat in the distance and although they knew about fisherman (Masaai hate fish) but had no idea what a fishing boat looked like. After awhile I drew her down into the water and we all tasted it and put our feet in. The kids, of course, screamed and retreated to playing in the sand.

My pictures of this event are wonderful, I think, because they express Mama Rebeka. The ocean was new to her, vast, big, something she knew nothing about. I imagine having grown up in the savanah bush that she had rarely even seen a body of water besides the watering holes for cattle. I know she had never had a body of water large enough to have completely immersed herself in. But with a smile on her face, and giggles of delight, she ripped off her robe and dove in relishing in it all.

I wish I could be more like Mama Rebeka, ripping off my old robes and giggling with glee while I dive into something new and unknown - even something as big as the ocean - very little fear but just joy and relishing in the glory of it all. We went home and though Mama Rebeka doesn't know I will be leaving Tanzania yet, I felt good about giving her this one little thing even if it has no practical value and even though it is only a memory. I also walk away with a gift, a lesson learned from Mama Rebeka.

It turned out Mama Rebeka has not left yet and there have been many more days of coming to say goodbye to me and I have given many more good-bye gifts. The trip home for her has been cancelled many times but I am ok with that - am still learning it is just the Tanzanian way.