Habari za leo? How are you today?
We were on our way to a celebration. Our 18 km journey finally led down the winding track to Mwefu Primary. It was Graduation Day for Standard (Grade) 7 students. All of the long wooden desks had been taken outside and arranged on the dirt parade ground in front of the school. Facing the desks was a rectangular stage constructed with long narrow poles. Rice and maize meal sacking bags had been stretched over this frame. White doilies created a scalloped edge at the front of the canopy. Under this 3-sided enclosure were tables at the front with arrangements of artificial flowers and three rows of chairs for the special guests (Ruth and I included) and the honoured guest (the NGO’s Geoff Knight). The celebrations were scheduled to begin at 10:00 a.m. Was this mzungu (European) time or Tanzanian time?
All of Mwefu’s students had congregated outside waiting in the sunshine and delighting in the music provided by the hired D.J. The African beat coming from two large speakers managed to drown out the hum of his generator. Electricity is coming to many of Mufindi’s villages but is bypassing Mwefu. Pole, pole (slowly, slowly) villagers were arriving on foot for the celebration. Time was ticking on and it was past 11. The proceedings could not start without Geoff, the honoured guest. But he had had to take a girl from the orphanage to the hospital for a blood transfusion.
Meanwhile all the students were up dancing and Ruth and I joined in. The children loved it and crowded around us moving in time to the music. We were one large pulsating mass! Finally Geoff arrived at 11:30. It was time to begin. The speeches, songs, poems, dances, drumming and a special display of student acrobatics were all centered on the 32 graduating students. Each class had composed the words to their farewell songs which were in either Kihehe (local language) or Kiswahili (national language). “We are crying because the Standard 7s are leaving.” Many of the songs encouraged the Standard 7s to continue on to secondary school. At the end of each performance the M.C., a teacher with cool dance moves, would urge the audience to “makofi, makofi” (applaud, applaud)!
All eyes were on Geoff Knight as he gave his speech in Kihehe and Kiswahili. He had people laughing, nodding in agreement and quietly listening. People truly appreciate his gentleness, insightfulness, dedication and diplomacy. Geoff has a deep understanding and respect for the people and their culture. Although Canada is his home country, Mufindi is definitely home now to him, his equally amazing wife, Jenny Peck, and their two red headed young children, Twiloo and Tukay.
Now it was the Standard 7s turn to perform before receiving their graduation certificates. Their rap was wildly received. Geoff was translating for us. “Education is the key to our lives. Three cheers for education. Keep going to school. If you enter into prostitution you will get AIDS.” While the rap continued parents were running up to their graduating students putting coins in their pockets. Mamas were ululating (a back tingling celebratory shrill) and waving kangas (bright cloth) in the air. The only song in English was their parting song. “Although we are going far away we shall never forget you!”
It was a day I would never forget! From our reserved seats we looked out at a colourful patchwork of proud mamas and babas (fathers), bibis (grandmothers) and babus (grandfathers), wide eyed beautiful toddlers, students in their well worn freshly washed blue and white uniforms. Mwefu Primary, a small school of 299 students, situated in one of the poorest of the poor villages in Mufindi and almost completely destroyed in a storm last year, joyfully performed for their community and celebrated their students in an event lasting five hours. Hongera! Mwefu, safi sana!
Congratulations! Mwefu, very cool!