Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Africa (03/05/09)
TITLE: Pencil Friends
By Marlene Bonney
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Greetings! My name is Shamira. I am ten years. I was born in Usango, a mountain village of Tanzania, where I lived with my first family. Now I live at Faith Mission Orphanage School many miles down the mountain, with my younger brother, Alto, and my little sister, Tatu.
My schoolteacher here, Sister Salome, gave each of us names of children in America to be our pencil-friends. I chose your name--it sounds beautiful rolling off my tongue! We learn English, which is very different from our country’s musical Swahili or even the Ki-Pare dialect of my village. Do you go to school, or do you stay home and care for your family like I did? School is a great luxury and privilege here. Are your parents alive? Do you have sisters? Brothers?
Our country has much poverty and hardship. When I lived in Usango, I helped my mother take care of Alto and Tatu and with many daily chores. My father was lucky to share a plow with village neighbors so he could plant eggplant, selling it down the mountain. How he used to sweat from pushing that plow! My brothers and I used to follow behind him in our bare feet, walking in the fresh furrows, until Mohamed, my oldest brother, got bit by a rattlesnake sleeping there. The village witchdoctor was summoned, but Mohamed died, anyway. We were not allowed to ever mention his name again, because it made Mama grieve. In my memory, I see my papa, with his fimbo (cane), trudging back at dusk along the rough upward trail, with a smiling face and an empty cart roped to his waist creeping behind him.
Sister Salome says you have water reservoirs inside your houses in America. This is hard for me to believe. I walked far every day to our water source with a big pail on my head to bring back our daily supply. During our rainy season, we could catch the water with pails, and didn’t even have to boil it first for drinking, which was much easier!
At the mission, we help tend goats, kuku (chickens) and shambas (garden plots) that supply our food: eggs, spinach, potatoes, chicha (greens), and maize (corn). We even have banana trees close by! The goat’s milk is very sweet and I feel blessed to have a full stomach! What kinds of food do you have there? Whenever Sister Salome takes the long, overcrowded bus ride to Moshi, she returns with Fanta Orange Soda, our favorite treat!
We have much sickness in Tanzania. An epidemic called AIDS killed my own parents two years past. I cared for them as they wasted away on their soiled pallets, but I could not save them. Mama Julio (my grandmother) toiled to make our meals while I tended my brother and sister and parents. I liked watching the golden corn kernels gleam in the sunlight as she ground them to make ugali or shelled and cooked them with beans (makonde) or mixed them with water into thin porridge, ugee. My parents got weaker during this time until a day I could not waken them. Mama Julio walked Alto, and Tatu and me three days to this compound. We miss her, our aunts and uncles up the mountain, but we are safer and loved here.
What is your church like? We walk two hours to a big church led by Pastor Charles. He says Jesus is the Bread of Life and we never hunger or thirst in Him. This means everything to us, since here life is water and water is life in physical terms, all our time being used to live. Our service lasts several hours. On occasion, we eat at the pastor’s house before returning to the mission grounds. The scenery is beautiful as we walk along the rocks and cliff edges, where hibiscus and bouganvilla grows in abundance, framed by baobab and acacia trees. We are rewarded at the end of our climb to a breathtaking view of Lake Jipe and Kenya in the distance.
I hope you will write and describe what your life is like in America, and in my next letter, I will tell you about my close friend, Neema!
God’s blessings on you,
Your New Friend,
P.S. Sister Salome asks you to thank your church for the rolled bandages and pill bottles sent to the mission hospital. They are much needed and appreciated!
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