By Charlotte Hill O'Neal
"I speak with an African tongue", the children at J.S. Chick* elementary school roared.
They stomped their little feet loudly as they continued.
"I hear with my African ears and I see with my African eyes!"
I marvelled at what these children were shouting out so fervently. Their little faces looked so serious and determined as they marched and shouted and waved their hands signalling that they had questions for me to answer.
They wanted to know so much about Tanzania.
"What kind of government do you have in Tanzania?" this, mind you, from a fourth grader! "Do you have a president or a king?" another asked. I struggled to write down Kiswahili translations on the blackboard as quickly as they shot questions at me, and they were copying down everything I said in their little daftari notebooks.
They could count in Kiswahili and they already knew several words and phrases in Kiswahili. I was reminded of the 60's when black college students all across America were fighting for the right to learn African history and everybody was going around with afro picks in our thick naturals, singing the lyrics to a song advertising hair products.
"Watu wazuri" the song went, "use Afro Sheen...beau ti ful people, use Afro Sheen"... (we didn't know then that it was Kiswahili we were singing, but we did know that the words came from somewhere in Africa!)
J.S. Chick elementary was one of the fruits of that struggle in the 60's and my time there was one of the highlights of my visits in Kansas City rating right up there with the surprise assembly they hooked up for me at DeLaSalle Education Center and the fun time we had at a Japanese restaurant that was laid out like a kung fu movie set complete with waitresses beating loudly on tambourines; scarred doors and thick tables where a meat cleaver welding chef chopped and cooked the food right at our table (right on the table actually) with hot flames leaping four feet into the air causing us to choke and laugh through billowing clouds of smoke.
Memories of another place that still brings sweet sensations and phantom good tastes to my mouth was eating at Udipid's, an Indian restaurant where the food was all spicy vegetarian and so good and where I discovered the proprietor was actually from Kenya. My son, Malcolm, (whose Kiswahilli still runs rings around mine, even though he's been away from home living in the states for several years now) and I, would have fun each time we ate there, speaking Kiswahilli with that restaurateur so many thousand miles from home. Then there was a Sunday morning at Strangers Rest Baptist, the church that I grew up in and where I noticed the elders where getting fewer and more feeble, passing on and making way for the new generations; and a visit to my alma mater, Wyandotte High School (named after one of the many Native American tribes that used to roam that area chasing after the bison buffalo that was their staple diet; smoking their peace pipes and firing little clay pots in communal kilns; tanning hides for their beautiful leather dance outfits and afterwards, sewing on feathers and beads in intricate patterns so similar to the bead work of the Maasai in Arusha.) It's so weird that Wyandotte High seemed so much smaller than I remembered. And the security at that school (which when I attended had been integrated only three or four years before by black kids like us, who were bussed in from miles away everyday to fill whatever quotas needed to be filled during those days of segregation (read 'apartheid') in that Midwest American town of the 1960's) was amazing and complete with metal detectors and uniformed police! It was amazing to see the water fountains on the Plaza (an upscale shopping area) which used to be flooded with hippies and revolutionaries selling Panther Papers back in the day, now quietly and gently running with pink water to remind women about breast cancer awareness.
I thought of all the little things, memories that I would share with Brother Pete when I got back home in Arusha. I settled into my seat, locked my seatbelt and I got comfortable in the airplane headed toward the big city 'the Big Apple' New York. I wasn't looking forward to riding in those underground subway trains and I didn't know what adventures would befall me there.
Check out the next issue of Arusha Times to share Charlotte's adventures in New York!