In order to learn Kiswahili, Heather and I think it is necessary to begin sleeping in the village two nights a week. One of our favorite places in the village is S—’s porch where a number of men gather every evening (Heather sits with S—’s wife, T—-). S—’s house is perfect for language learning because there are always people on his porch hanging out with time on their hands to talk to us. Three days ago, I asked S— if we could stay at his home, and he kindly agreed to have us. On Wednesday night, I stayed over for a test run.
I arrived at the porch gathering on time for coffee and homemade peanut candy (kashata) at 5:30 pm. After the coffee and kashata, people began to drift from the porch to eat dinner at their own homes. S— and I moved across the dirt road to his other home, a mud hut where they cook and eat. Besides the family and friends that join S— every night on his porch, there are others who come by his home to see his wife T—-; they sit at her plastic table to purchase some of her coffee and kashata. Near this crowd, S— and I sat together on a mat to eat what T—- had prepared for us: rice pilaf with fried bread (chipati) and black tea with pepper and ginger (delightful).
Dinner was great, and I thought that afterwards we would certainly go to bed, but we simply moved back across the road to the porch for a few more hours of rest and conversation. On S—’s porch there is a 5 pm crowd and then another 9 pm crowd. As the 9 pm crowd gathered around (only a few), I was tired, so I leaned back on the moonlit porch, resting my head on my Tilley Hat against the wall. Since there are no chairs on this porch, all the men recline together. Next to me, K—- reclined, and the three of us began to talk together while a few others silently listened off to the side.
I asked, “S—, K—-, do you pray five times a day?”
“Yes,” They said, and then after a pause asked me, “In which direction to you pray?”
“I pray like Jesus; Jesus said that God is seeking those who pray in Truth. Maybe direction is not important; we can pray to God with our faces toward heaven.”
“Ahhh…yes,” They responded, showing that they understood. Then, as well as I could in Kiswahili, I asked them a question about the Quran.
“Does the Quran say that Muslims should listen to the ‘People of the Book’” (this phrase refers to Christians)?” K—- explained,
“Yes because your books declare that Muhammed is the prophet of God.”
“Have you ever read those books?” I asked.
“Very little” said K—-. I replied,
“Well, I have read them, and you have read the Quran. If you help me understand the Quran, I’ll help you understand our books.”
“Have you found Muhammed in your books?” they asked.
“Bado (not yet), but I will keep looking,” I said.
“I want to read the Bible in Kiswahili, but I cannot get it,” said K—-.
“K—-, S—, if I get us the Bible in Kiswahili then maybe we can read it together.”
“Yes,” they said, “We can do it.”
After this discussion it was already 11pm. As I contemplated asking them if I could go to bed, they asked me if I wanted to go watch football (soccer). I wondered to myself why they stayed up so late with the mosquitoes, but I could not turn down a late night mysterious soccer match. We walked together across the road behind an area covered by palm tree leave fencing. There, inside the sanctum, was a large crowd of men sitting on ground mats and fixated on a single TV, watching a European soccer game (Manchester vs. Turkey). As I found my way into the crowed and squeezed between my new Tanzanian friends, I rejoiced on the inside knowing God had given me one more piece of Tanzanian life to share in and made me one step closer to these men’s hearts. I also secretly gloated because I was the only man there able to understand the English broadcasters (LOL).
I finally made it to bed by around 12:30am. And of course, in good African fashion, they made me sleep on the best bed in the house. Even though it was the best bed, I had the worst night. Sale, who was beside me on a floor cot with his son, quickly fell asleep and snored the whole night through. On top of that, I had drunk coffee at 5pm and then tea at 8pm. The evening caffeine fixes were keeping me awake. I layed there trying to sleep, trying to block the noise, trying to pray, trying anything to make use of the time and keep my patience. My insomnia was worsened by the fact that I had to pee. I was already under a net, and I didn’t want to step through the people and get my feet dirty going to pee outside. No one likes to leave their bed to use the bathroom in the night. Because of these obstacles, I figured I would just pee in my almost empty bottle of water. As I began to perform this feat, I missed the opening and began to pee on myself. The first time this happened I still could not figure out what went wrong because it was dark inside the room and I was slightly delusionary. After three times of missing the hole and peeing on myself (and the bed), I figured out the problem. Unfortunately I had to use my shirt to clean up the mess, and I still couldn’t fall asleep.
Soon enough the 5:30am Muslim call to prayer rang out “Allah Akbar!!” and again “Allah Akbar!!” (God is great) and Sale made his way with his son to the mosque. The call to prayer put me in a dilemma. I thought—how can I, after last night’s “Jesus talk” lay in my bed to sleep while all the faithful Muslims get up to pray (even if they do pray towards Mecca)? The Muslims didn’t know that I had good excuses for staying in bed to sleep now that snoring S— had finally left the room. So I decided to respond with S— to the call to prayer and make myself get out of my wet bed to do something “spiritual.”
About 15 minutes after S— left, I took by Bible, sat on the front porch, and began reading and praying. S— joined me there with his Arabic Qur’an. Together we sat in silence on his prayer mat reading our holy books. I hope we sat together as friends.