Sunday, 22 June 2014

Am acquaintance of mine returned from Africa

yesterday. Her journey there was a pilgrimage of sorts.
She spent three years living there when she was very young. Her parents were missionaries. They took their three children with them and went to build a hospital and a school and do the other things that missionaries do.
R... went back to see if it was as bad as she remembered.
"I thought perhaps I was being unfair to my parents. They believed passionately in what they were doing. The hospital was never completed. The school never got started. Corruption got in the way. They still believed in it all - even managed to convince themselves they had done the right thing."
The family spent three years living in a transportable hut supplied by the missionary organisation which sent them there. I know about the hut because a friend of mine later had it dismantled and transported to another location where better use was made of it.
Yes, better use.
R...'s parents are no longer alive. Her mother died about five years after their return from Africa. Her father about eight years later.
R... cannot talk to them about why they went and certainly not about why they went so ill prepared and with so little support.  She wants to do that.
"You don't just take three young kids and go off like that. We kids were supposed to be doing correspondence work from here but Mum never had time to supervise it properly. We all got sick. Mum and Dad were supposed to have some language training before they left. I suppose they did but I remember Dad having to ask this man to interpret all the time. We kids could talk to the local kids but my parents never really did talk to their parents."
And that was what interested me.
"When you went back could you remember any Swahili?" I asked her. I was curious to know if, once again surrounded by the language, she would remember any of it.
She nodded. "I thought I had forgotten it all but I heard words and remembered them. I didn't say anything for a few days and then I went into a shop on my own. The person who was serving was talking to someone else and then he turned around to me and I just asked him. It wasn't until I got outside again that I realised what I had done. I felt like a little kid again. It all made me feel like a little kid again."
R... says she does not want to go back again. It was, if anything, worse than she remembered. The part built hospital has never been completed. The school was never started. The local children she knew were young adults. They did not really remember one another. They are still poor and saw her as rich. She felt out of place. Her experience was interesting but it was not romantic or beautiful.
"I would always be a little kid in Africa," she told me.

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