It was 4:30 Tanzanian time but really 10:30 wazungu or foreigner time. Tanzanian time is six hours behind our time as the watu or people believe the sun comes up at twelve, goes down at twelve. We’ve discovered it’s useful to ask which time we’re on! Loud throbbing music blaring from large speakers greeted bibi’s (grandmothers), babus (grandfathers), mothers with young children and babies, fathers, village officials as they gathered at Luhunga Secondary. It was Graduation Day for 112 Form 4 students. A day of mixed emotions as sadly none of them were amongst the 6% of Form 4s in the whole country who passed their national exams.
On either side of the precariously constructed stage made from roughly hewn wood were rows of chairs. On one side were students in their freshly washed green and white uniforms. On the other side colourfully dressed villagers. In the middle an expanse of brown grass for the performers.
Mr. Nabiot, a dedicated hip teacher, was a skillful M.C. Through his hand held mike his rapid fire Swahili kept the crowd engaged and enthusiastic. All of the performances - songs, dances, raps and a play were created by students. The raps elicited the loudest applause and high pitched shrieking or ululating.
The play was about a family trying to encourage their son and daughter (a boy dressed in florescent pink) to take school seriously. The son was weak and succumbed to marijuana. The distracted daughter did not put time and effort into her subjects. Meanwhile the parents and teachers were tearing their hair out. This is all being translated loudly in my ear by the Deputy Headmaster. Finally all is not lost as the government’s new slogan “Big Results Now” hits home, resulting in a transformation of the son and daughter.
After several hours it was time for the guests of honour to speak. That would be Ruth and I. With my fist in the air I shouted, “Luhunga, hoy yay!” They shouted back. We did this three times! I decided I didn’t mind making a fool of myself and greeted them in Kehehe (tribal language) and Kiswahili telling them I was so happy to be back in Tanzania and to be with them. Their good natures shone through as they laughed and ululated at my attempt. Our speech was focused on their library built by the African Book Box for Luhunga Secondary two years ago.
We know it is not being fully used and emphasized the library is for all students, teachers and the community. It’s not only a study hall but a place to read stories, African stories and stories from many countries. Using books from their library we tried to demonstrate that between the covers of books in their library a whole world can be discovered. Ruth concluded by showing a new book about Nelson Mandela and reading one of his quotes about the importance of stories and how they speak to children throughout the world.
The ceremony finished with the students walking across the stage as we handed them their School Leaving Certificates, shaking their hands and saying “hongera” (congratulations). It’s a bittersweet hongera as some are ready to leave school but others desperately want to continue with further education. Hopefully many will retake their exams. But surmounting the obstacles especially with limited English is daunting. The government’s Big Results Now campaign rings hollow when resources are in short supply and support on a national level is nonexistent. Perhaps an infiltration of interested young people from abroad could offer a short term solution.
After five hours and a humble meal of chips and small pieces of meat we said our kwaheris or goodbyes.
Love to all,