Bedtime Stories in Swahili

Tonight, I went to have dinner with the Ronos. This family truly has become like my own Kenyan family, and since their oldest daughter is going back to Nairobi tomorrow for college, they invited me over. And they slaughtered a chicken for the occasion.

When I was little, I helped with slaughtering chickens, sheep and more on my grandparents’ farm, but somehow, as an adult, I don’t like seeing my dinner run around just prior to it being served to me… The Ronos just laughed at me for not wanting to witness the death of a chicken. Involuntarily, the hen lay down her life for us. Yikes! Not surprisingly, I had just a small bite of the chicken. I had plenty of sukuma wiki (Kenyan spinach, translated as “push the weak”) and fruit. And chapatti, probably one of my favorite Kenyan dishes. (It’s like a flour tortilla.)

My favorite part of the evening, though, was killing time before dinner. While the hen was still being cooked, I headed over to the children’s rooms in the East wing to “eat news,” as the Kenyans say. I was visiting with the girls about school and such. And then I did something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time: I read them a story in KiSwahili! Keep in mind that my Swahili is still very limited. But I had studied Zulu in college, so the pronunciation is the same, and the girls had a blast. They kept asking me to read more stories.

What struck me, though, was the type of stories in their KiSwahili text book. There was a story about a boy who had lost his parents to AIDS. The girls translated as I read (so I would understand!) and to use their words, “AIDS is a disease that doesn’t like medicine.” The story goes on about how the boy then lives with relatives and has to tend to the cattle, and how he cannot go to school because there’s no money. Fact is, that story is like many of the children’s lives!

I told the kids that we’ll be watching a movie tomorrow night. I wish you could see their faces! It’s the biggest treat to them! We’ll be watching Veggie Tales, probably two episodes. Kevin, a quiet 10-year-old with the brightest smile, literally jumped from excitement. His whole face lit up! Out here, it’s a 6-hour drive to the nearest movie theater. Seriously! So the only movies these kids have seen is what we have shown them. I might just go to town tomorrow and buy popcorn for everyone! Will see. I know, though, that rather than watching the movie myself, I’ll be sitting watching the kids’ faces! In December, I showed them Madagascar, and they still tell me how much they liked the movie!

For those of you who have seen Madagascar: When visiting with some of the kids about the movie afterward, I asked them questions like who their favorite character was, and why. One girl immediately said, “The zebra! Because he forgave the lion!” Wow. I wondered how many Western kids would’ve said the same…

So, are you joining us for the movie tomorrow? Bring your own popcorn! In fact, would you bring enough for 96 kids?

Originally posted February 4, 2006

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