Saturday, April 4, 2009

"Piga Picha"

It was a beautiful sunny day in Seela, Tanzania. I’m playing with the children outside. A little boy, probably about 7 years old motions to me to follow him. He has a shy smile on his face and he speaks quickly and with a measure of determination. I pick out the Swahili words “njoo” (“come”) and “nyumbani” (“at home”). “You want me to come to your house? Mimi na wewe? Nyumbani yangu?”

He nods. So we go hand in hand. We walk down the road a short way and then down a dirt path to his home.

He shows me where the calabash are growing. “Piga picha” he says….”Take a picture” (by now, all of the children are well acquainted with the magic of my camera). I take a photo, show him the photo on the camera, and he nods.

We walk closer to the house. He takes me over to his brother and we greet each other… ”Hujambo Mama” ”Sijambo” “Habari za leo” “Nzuri, asante, nawe” “Salaam sana” “Asante”.

The little boy stands by the coffee tree where his brother is picking red, ripe coffee berries. “Piga picha” he says again. And I take a picture, delighted as he is with these photo opportunities. “Piga picha” again as he kneels down by the bucket of red coffee berries, and then as he stands first by the goat, and then in the doorway of his home, built of rough timber and a tin roof, gaps between the boards big enough to peer through.

Each time, he checks the camera to make sure I took the photos. Each time looking with a nod of confirmation and a shy smile.

He then pulls me by the hand, around to the back of the house.

I am not prepared for that I will see. My hand goes to cover my mouth as I stifle my unexpected intake of breath. The realization rocks me.

This is the little boy who people in the village had been talking about quietly in the days since my arrival in the village. This is the little boy whose mother had died the week before.

He had brought me to her grave.

“Mama Sue,” he said solemnly, almost a whisper, “piga picha.” It was my turn to nod.

As he stood there next to the rough wooden cross on which his mother’s name was painted, I silently complied with his simple request. “Piga picha.”

A picture of a little boy at his mother’s grave. That must have been how I looked as a child, standing at my own mother’s grave – 40 years earlier – when I was 7 years old.

The cycle of life and death never changing.

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