Wednesday, April 2, 2008

They were all out at Fikiria Kwanza Academy on Monday, dressed for success and ready to celebrate the opening of the brand new library financed and built by The Foundation For Tomorrow in this, our first year on the ground in Tanzania.

Mandu was lookin' sharp.

Helena was looking radiant, as always.

And the MC was lookin' straight up Superfly.

Have you ever been to a library dedication in northern Tanzania? Not even that; have you ever been to a baptism, a wedding, a confirmation ... anything where they have a catered, sit down meal?

For the members of the TFFT board and their relatives who were in attendance on Monday -- as well as for our videographer Justin and a potential future employee Lali, whose mouths dropped to the floor when the "cakie" came rolling down the aisle -- dessert was a pretty shocking surprise. That is because their respective answers to that question would be "No." Hunter and I, practical Wabongo weupe after nine months of living in TZ, would say "Yes." That's why the main event of the pre-ribbon cutting ceremony hardly raised a ripple for us. We're keki veterans.

"Cakie" is a euphemism for goat.

Goat is actually pretty tasty, if you don't mind the salt. Or the hooves. Or the fur. Or the look of absolute anguish stuck on its face as it breathed its last breath on earth. Or red cabbage stuffed into its mouth to add aesthetic value, an almost comical attempt at distracting us from what the red cabbage is stuffed into. I personally am not bothered by it, because of how much I love Elton John. "It's the cirrrrrrrcle of liiiiiife!" right? Even so, I don't see myself ever making the transition from flour, sugar and eggs to the flesh of a domesticated animal for celebrate-good-times-come-on food.

It seemed at times like it would never happen, the end of this project. So it feels great to know that if one day hundreds of years from now, archaeologists come across the site of Fikiria Kwanza Academy in what used to be Arusha, Tanzania, there will be anthropological evidence that The Foundation For Tomorrow left its mark in East Africa.

The library is finished, folks. Almost. It's open, but not 100 percent ready. Whether or not you want to admit it to yourself, Africa Time is something larger than each and everyone of us. Things move slowly here. To fight it is just swimming against the current; you can only go so far before you just run out of strength. Thus explains the delay on the container full of books donated for the library, a shipment that has arrived, but which hasn't been able to clear customs; thus explains the fact that our carpenter finished about 10 percent of what he claimed he could get done by the deadline.

So it's a finished building, (a really, really nice one, if you asked me), just not a finished library. But hey, tumejitahdi; we're doing our best. To make it look more complete for the opening, we got about 500 books on loan from TACODA and moved some computer monitors in there from the FK computer lab. But if I was a kid at that school, I sure wouldn't be complaining.

And here's why: PILLOWS!

I'd take the life of an Ottoman pasha over the life of a student sitting up straight in a wooden chair any day.

All of those pillows were in our house, temporarily, until the library was ready to go. They were huge, soft, and colorful, seeing as it was just a bunch of foam stuffed into a shell sewn from kanga and vitenge fabrics we bought that infamous day in the Tengeru market.

Part of me, and part of Hunter, I'm sure, wishes Africa Time had let us keep those pillows just a few more days. I love those pillows.

Hunter gave an awesome speech in Swahili before the ribbon was snipped -- (I helped him with the translation, don't tell him I said that) -- and then translated it into English for the few people in the crowd who didn't understand the first go round.

He was the man with the plan on this project from start to finish. All praise be unto Mwindaji, kwa kweli. The two of us divide up job responsibilities amongst ourselves, and he was on the Fikiria Kwanza library. Watching him up there addressing such a large crowd of people, speaking adeptly in a language that he knew nothing of just nine short months ago, making people laugh and nod in agreement, it was pretty cool.

Just not as cool as those pillows.

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