The sheep served at the ceremonies that end Karimu‘s annual trip to Dareda Kati Village is prepared in the same way as the sheep eaten by nineteenth-century British visitors to Tanzania—then called Tanganyika—whose intentions may have been different from those of the Karimu volunteers. One of the earliest British visitors, so the story goes, told his hosts that the meat was wonderful. The Tanganyikans heard this as ndahful.
Our ndahful is prepared by a specialist whom our Tanzanian project manager, Joas Kahembe, brings here from his own city of Babati. The specialist has become so closely identified with his profession that no one knows him by the name his parents bestowed. He is simply Pasua: Swahili for “slit.”
Some of our volunteers decline their hosts’ offer to eat an animal that still has a face, and the Tanzanians seem to have no problem with this. Whether or not the Tanzanians understand vegetarianism, at least they recognize it by now, after Karimu’s seven trips to the village. (Understanding is a straightforward matter for neither the Tanzanians nor their guests, of course. Sifaeli Kaaya, who loves ndahful meat and, like a typical villager, would kick a dog before he would pet one, was shocked by my account of the industrial farms from which most Americans get their meat. “It is cruel!” he said.)
Although I keep expecting a volunteer to pass out when the ndahful is wheeled in front of us on the wooden frame that supports its still-furred legs, this may never happen. More speeches are added to the closing ceremonies every year, numbing the volunteers’ reactions to the appearance of ndahful, which is reserved for the very end of a long afternoon. When we saw ndahful for the first time, in 2009, it shocked our vegetarians; now they are merely dazed.
As always, Marianne and I were the last to leave the ceremonies in order to return to the Integrated Agricultural Training Center for the night. The requests for photographs, the goodbyes, and the tears go on for a long time. The villagers know they will not see us for another year, which, for nearly all of them, means a year with absolutely no contact. Their emotions, and our own, exhaust us.
So we welcomed our chance to walk with Selena for most of the two or three miles back from Ayalagaya Secondary School to the Center. Because she speaks no English, the conversation would be superficial and undemanding. We did not know that the old woman was a witch.
Kaaya and Justine Sokoitan explained this to us at the Center as we sat and drank tea with them while waiting for dinner. Marianne may have raised the subject of Selena as a way to distract Kaaya from stewing over Kahembe’s speech at the ceremonies. Joas had used the occasion to insist, legitimately enough, on his own honesty with the project funds that Karimu wires to him. At great length, he had emphasized the good fortune of the villagers in having himself to work with. Kaaya, who never receives an invitation to speak, was hurt that Kahembe had not bothered to mention his own faithful service as the on-site foreman who carries out Kahembe’s direct instructions.
When Marianne met Selena last year, she formed the impression that she was a healer. Right away, Kaaya and Justine set us straight.
Marianne asked hopefully whether Selena was a good witch. This seemed plausible, since the old woman had talked mainly about her grandchildren during the walk from Ayalagaya. The conversation had been simple because it was limited by Marianne’s basic (yet much stronger than my own) grasp of Swahili. It was pleasant, however, as conversations about grandchildren usually are. The unequivocal response by Kaaya and Justine therefore disappointed Marianne.
It seems that Selena’s bad witchcraft manifests itself as poisoning, though neither Kaaya nor Justine could name any of her victims.
But there was also the case of the husband of our dear friend in the village, Yasenta. A few years ago, Yasenta’s husband, Léoncé, who now farms and also makes furniture, worked for Justine at the Center. Then Justine heard that Selena did not want Léoncé to work there. Mysteriously, Léoncé requested a leave, which Justine granted and from which Léoncé never returned.
Justine has no idea why Léoncé’s place of employment would have concerned Selena, since she has never had any connection to the Center. Still, it’s best not to ask too many questions about the business of a witch. Justine made it clear that snooping into the affairs of a witch might cause her to take an interest in you.
When Marianne asked if Selena admitted to being a witch, Justine and Kaaya laughed. No witch would be foolish enough to do that. On the contrary, Kaaya said, she conceals her witchcraft in the Pentecostal church.
Justine elaborated: even though the people of the Iraqw tribe—who probably make up ninety percent or more of the population of Dareda Kati—spend hours in church every Sunday, they are not truly Christians. They hold other beliefs, Justine said, which they hide in the local Catholic, Lutheran, Pentecostal, and Assemblies of God churches.
He lowered his voice to make sure that the Iraqw women who staff the Center’s kitchen could not hear him. One must be careful about the Iraqw, he whispered.
Justine, who is Masai, looked at his fellow Lutheran, Kaaya, who belongs to the Meru tribe. Kaaya nodded.
I thought the afternoon’s farewell ceremonies had drained away everyone’s emotions, but I was wrong. The foreigners scheduled to leave on safari early the next morning had plenty of emotion left, as did the handful of Tanzanians who shared our meal. They included the kitchen women. Because the women would not need to get up before sunrise to make breakfast, they could eat with us and then take all the time they wanted to finish up in the kitchen.
The kitchen women wept, despite Justine’s best efforts to comfort them. He is solidly built, so giving him one of the last hugs for which I had strength felt like hugging a bear. Sifaeli Kaaya, who has a smaller build, requires a different kind of hug, and for a few moments there was a possibility that I would fail him. But I loosened my grip before I could crack his ribs.