Sunday, March 22, 2009

Small Joy

Menlo Park, CA -- I'm back stateside and awash in more than 1000 photographs, which I'm slowly uploading to Flickr for your imminent viewing pleasure. I'll spare you my ecstasy of self-flagellation over not posting more, better, sooner here. Instead, I'll share this photo, which keeps leaping out at me like, er, a rabbit hopping out of a stock pot.

I snapped this pic as I wandered about Lushoto, a leafy market town nestled in the Usambara Mountains. We'd arrived by bike earlier that day, and so I spent the afternoon moseying around by myself. The main road was full of children walking home--from school, if they were affluent enough to attend, from elsewhere, if not.

One copse of willowy schoolgirls in their uniforms--which included a sweater, even though the temperature was well above 90 degrees F--bravely tried out their English on me. I returned their kindness by playing photo-shoot for a half hour. The digital camera--with its instant replay capability--is a fantastic toy, especially for kids who seldom see pictures of themselves. 

The girls tried out all manner of complicated configurations and cryptic gestures.

As we sat reviewing our handiwork on my camera's display, one of the girls--Amina, the first to speak to me--sweetly adjusted my sunglasses on top of my head. As her fingers lingered, I figured out what she was after. And so I took down my ponytail and let all the girls touch my hair. (When I lived in Japan, several people walked right up and asked to touch my exotic dishwater locks.) Oohs and ahhs ensued. I think my manky helmet-hanks were thrilling only because the girls had sacrificed their own hair for the privilege of attending school.

After we parted ways, I wound up walking behind these two girls. 

Their gentle camaraderie was not unusual; throughout Tanzania, grown men hold hands when they talk, as do women (although people of the opposite sex seldom touch in public.) 

Overall, the children of Lushoto's good behavior was likewise unremarkable. The entire four weeks that I was in Tanzania, I witnessed only three kids crying and two bickering. Among adults, I saw a grand total of two express anger, and never towards me. 

Makes me wonder where all these holy terrors at my local grocery store came from. And their kids are even worse.

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