Week 2 in Machui

We just got internet back after being without it for a while so I’m going to try to catch up on the last week and a half in the next couple of posts.

After a relaxing day at the beach, the rest of this past week was very busy. On Wednesday I was back in the dispensary. This time though, I helped at the registration desk and actually interacted with people, which was great. I picked up some more Swahili phrases and got to test my growing knowledge of the language. The people really appreciate the effort I am making to use their language and are happy to add to my vocabulary. Most of them would like to learn more English too, so we have a nice give and take relationship.

Anyway, back to the health clinic. Their patient records are archaic, to say the least. They consist of pieces of paper, essentially and each is assigned a number. They are filed based on when the patient first came to the clinic, in cubbies. The system was somewhat confusing at first, but I’m starting to pick it up. The patients have a card they are supposed to bring to each visit that has their number. The major flaw in this system is that if the patient forgets the card, we have to search through piles of paper to find their file. It is time consuming and frustrating, to say the least. The wheels in my head have been turning, trying to dream up a better way to organize the files.

One of the things we record is age. It was interesting to see how young some of the mothers were and to realize that they had their children when they were my age, or even younger. My instincts are not to pity them though, but to simply realize that that is the way of life here. I’m coming to have that attitude about a lot of things here. Sure the people might not have as much material goods or money as we do in America, but most them have a house, food and a family to love. They seem so happy, so why would I be sad for them?

For the first time, I am experiencing standing out because of my skin color and for a person who doesn’t like to be the center of attention, it can be nerve racking. The children especially stare, because they don’t know that it’s rude. I want to tell them: I’m just a person like you! The sisters told me a joke they have in Africa about why people have different skin colors. When God was making people, he “cooked” them. He left the African people in the oven too long, but took white people out in a hurry. We all laughed for a long time about this.

On Thursday, I went into town with some of the sisters again. Three of them were leaving for a retreat at their motherhouse in mainland Tanzania, so we brought them to the ferry to see them off. After this we did some shopping and I bought my first khanga. A khanga is a colorful piece of cloth, usually with a Swahili phrase on it, which is used for many purposes. One of the sisters might show me how to make a dress out of mine.

We visited St. Joseph’s Cathedral while in town, which was the first Catholic Church in East Africa. It was locked when

St. Joseph's Cathedral

we arrived, but they made a special exception for the Sisters and let us in. The Cathedral was beautiful but kind of a wreck because it is undergoing renovations. We met another order of Sisters who lives near the Cathedral and help with its upkeep. Just when I thought I knew them all, I learned another greeting used in Zanzibar. This one is “Tumsifu Yesu Christu”(Praise be Jesus Christ), and the response is “Milele Amina”(Forever Amen). These people sure do like saying hello.

To finish the week, I had the chance to attend a local wedding on Saturday and it was a beautiful ceremony. I think I need to find a synonym for that word, because I keep using it to describe everything here. The marriage ceremony seems to match up with ours fairly well, but I’m sure that’s because it was a Catholic

The couple coming out of the Church.

ceremony. One of the reasons I love the Catholic Church is because of it’s universality. Here I am in the woods of an island off of Africa and the Mass is still the same. It may be in Swahili, but I know exactly what’s happening throughout. The Mass for the marriage lasted at least 3 hours, but it was definitely worth it. I was informed that the celebration would probably last two days.

Sunday happened to be yet another Feast Day but the Sisters also had what they call a day of recollection. This means that they try to be silent for most of the day and reflect on all that God has been doing during the past week. It was strange, not talking at meals, but I’ve always heard that God is found in silence.

The feast day that accompanied this silence was that of St. Anthony of Padua. The Indian Catholic population here in Zanzibar randomly has a special devotion to this saint and completely overran our church. I could tell the locals were not thrilled about this. After Mass, they handed out sweets and bread to the children. There were special performers who sang and danced and they were wonderful. The Indians all go to the beach after Mass to celebrate and invited us, but the sisters decided they were all partied out. I still have yet to experience a “normal” weekend here in Machui.

What do you think?