The Karimu volunteers did no work today, which the village has set aside for saying goodbye to us. But the Bridging the Gap Africa people, Harmon Parker, Nate Bloss, and Sylvester Ouko, are following their own schedule. They have much more to do before their planned departure next week, so they were present for only about half of the three-hour-long farewell celebration, and they missed the sendoff meal entirely.
These are dedicated men, since they skipped out on the meal even after I had tried to tempt them with a description of its climax: a sheep barbecued intact and almost completely furred—with the fur unsinged—that has been propped up in a standing position by a wooden frame. The fur is stripped only from the flanks, where the cooked meat has been carved into little cubes that come away from the animal effortlessly, on toothpick skewers. Even though the meat is too gamy for me, I can’t help admiring the artistry of the chef, whom everyone calls Pasua. (Pasua means “slit” in Swahili, we’ve been told.)
Harmon, Nate, and Sylvester hope to supervise the pouring of the last load of cement by next Monday or Tuesday, July 15 or 16. Then they will leave so that the cement can cure and they can start on at least two new bridges in Kenya. They anticipate returning here to finish the bridge in October.
Our last several hours in Dareda Kati before we leave for three days of safari, and then fly home, are often breathless, as people who expect to have no contact with Marianne, Dr. Susan Hughmanick, or me for another year scramble to sell us on the merits of their pet projects.
But most of the villagers who snatch a few minutes with us are only looking for a last chance to make a personal connection. Just before the celebration began, one of the Ufani Primary School teachers pulled Marianne and me aside. Edward is a gangly, middle-aged man with an expressive way of speaking. His bony wrists are especially prominent when he makes broad gestures with his arms, which are slightly too long for the well-used tweed jacket that he always wears over a sweater. (Dareda Kati’s daytime highs in the seventies at this time of year may seem ideal to American visitors, but Tanzanians are chilled by the Southern Hemisphere’s winter weather.)
We worry about Edward’s teeth, which he shows often and which have been hurting on and off for a couple of years. Today his smile is apologetic because he wonders if he has offended Marianne.
“We Africans are afraid that it does not show respect to call an older woman by her first name!”
At fifty-five, Marianne remains very attractive and energetic (this is the consensus view, not just her husband trying to make nice), but she did not bat an eye. She knows that, in Africa, to be older is an unqualified good.
“Therefore,” Edward continued, “will you tell me, please, what it is proper to call you? I think maybe it is better to call you Mama Mateo.”
Matthew is the name of our oldest child. In the village we sometimes see the mother of one of our translators, Alfred, who is the oldest of eleven children. We call her Mama Alfred, having no idea what her own name is. Neither do the few villagers whom we have talked to about it know her first name.
In past years, Edward has sometimes asked what he could give us, since, he says, we have given so much to the village. Because we find it hard to make Edward, or any of the villagers, understand how much they already give us, we did accept a gift from him once. We would not take the ten thousand Tanzanian shillings, or six dollars, that he offered. But we allowed him to buy us a bottle of water for a thousand shillings, insisting that he keep the change.
Edward has asked a less complicated question today. Marianne answers that Mama Mateo would be fine; he has already gotten used to calling her Marianne, however, so he can continue.