It felt familiar to be travelling back to Kome the other week. Things are generally less exhausting when they are more familiar, because your brain is having to do less work. Even the odd disaster here and there seemed familiar – this is the moment that the push start was enough to get our front wheels off the ferry, but not enough to get the battery started, leaving us in limbo for a few minutes until someone ran off and got a car battery and a couple of wires to get it going!
Our children were also more settled with the familiarity. On the way there Tabitha asked me whether the local children would call out ‘friend’ or ‘foreigner’ when we got there. We arrived to calls of ‘Tabitha’! She’s not the only one being called though… both our children have adopted this very distinctive way of calling me ‘Mummy’, and they do it quite a lot, often many times in a row until they feel they have my attention. There are now about 20 other children on Kome Island who imitate this, so for me there is no escape!
So much of our life on Kome for the time being is about language learning and engaging the community. It was evening when we arrived and as soon as we had unloaded the car we wandered around to all of our immediate neighbours’ homes. It is challenging being limited by language, but they all greeted us warmly and it is something we’ll strive to do on all our visits. Our children have really taken on board the local culture of greeting people and they always run out to give their greetings to whoever arrives. They spend about 20 minutes greeting our night watchman most evenings in Mwanza! I was very proud of them so confidently greeting all the locals on Kome. Greetings are generally done on a person by person basis the children dutifully greeted everyone with ‘shikamoo’, which means ‘I respect you’. It was a bit of an adjusted to get them used to using this particular greeting when we first arrived in Tanzania, but they’ve taken on board the importance of respecting older people, whether you know them or not.
Simon spent much of the trip sorting our practical things for the house. This included cutting up sheets of corrugated iron and turning them into a guttering system to collect rain water, and putting up lots of shelves in the house. Both of these things should improve the quality of our lives while we are there. Our house on Kome is pretty basic – this is our kitchen:
We bought a stack of Swahili-English children’s Bible story books before our trip and a local ball (plastic bags stuffed into a woven exterior). For a period each day we let the local children in to our garden to play with ball and then have stories. The children just loved the books; they probably don’t get many opportunities to see nice big colourful pictures and hear stories being read. Each time it was them that put the ball aside and asked me to bring out a book (or two, or three). I didn’t want to make any assumptions so asked whether any of the older ones wanted to have a go at reading the Swahili, but they preferred me to. I don’t want our children to learn Swahili from me, but as it happened the local children started repeating every line of the story after I read it. So I would read in Swahili, the children would repeat in Swahili and then I’d read the page in English for our two. This felt like a good learning opportunity for everyone! (I should add that Swahili is totally phonetic so actually pretty easy to read, even if you don’t fully understand what you’re reading.)
I also spent some time at the RICHI clinic while we were there. We’ve had some challenges working through the practicalities of running the health education project, but it was good to have another opportunity to work through the issues further. I think we’re making good progress now, which is encouraging.
We deliberately went across for a weekend this time, because we wanted to start getting connected to some of the local churches. Due to a bit of a miscommunication we ended up going to two different churches and having food with two different pastors. It was lovely to do it, especially since it was one of the pastors’ last Sundays on the Island as they are being transferred, and we’d built up a good rapport with him over the past few visits. But it also meant that the children had to sit for quite a number of hours in Church, followed by trying to sit nicely in important peoples’ houses after having sat for so long already and not having eaten any food for very many hours. It was actually over eight hours from breakfast to lunch in the middle of the afternoon and Reuben didn’t get a nap until the evening. Our children are used to eating about every two hours in the morning! We will work on planning things a bit better to avoid that happening again! The good thing about Tanzania is that children are such a big part of the culture and mamas are generally experienced in managing children and can often see very quickly what the problem is. When a child is chewing eagerly on a straw and scoffs a handful of raw rice when they see it, you don’t need to make excuses about unsettled behaviour, the locals can see that the child is hungry! We’re also fortunate to be a fish, beans and rice loving family as that’s what we get served everywhere we go! I think the locals are too afraid to serve us the local dish, ugali, and I’ve hardly eaten any since we arrived in Tanzania!
Daily life on the island continues to be quite a bit of work and it often feels like a lot of effort just to stay clean and fed. This trip had the added joy of a visit from a plague of flies. For the first time I really understood what it must have been like for the Egyptions! Apparently it’s quite common during the rainy season, so we won’t look forward to more of the same! I also feel the need to add that we will always be happy to receive visitors, but appreciate that not all our visits would necessarily want to travel with us! So don’t be put off, if you would like to visit us, but would like to enjoy all the luxuries of modern life, these things are available in Mwanza!