It was an hour or so before dusk when Florian came to our door and Susan gave him a seat in the living room and called for me. It was too dark in the house for me to see his face and so I said let's go outside and go for a walk the two of us.
So, what do you want young man?
Everyone -- all our students, people in the village, really everyone -- is just thrilled that last night the big D6 bulldozer arrived! Work has begun in earnest at the college clearing out three additional meadows -- we have a lab building to build in one meadow, 4 new lecture halls planned for a second meadow, and in a big meadow way to the back of the campus we're going to put in three more houses for professors. Once that's all done, we're going to use that bulldozer to put in a serious firebreak -- a huge road -- that will completely surround our entire 55-acre campus.
I remember the first time I was confronted with the reality that using the names of people and not their numbers upset the government medical personnel. We were distributing people's files on a HIV/AIDS clinic day a few years back and I got scolded and told that we were the ONLY clinic in the whole region that used names -- and the head doctor didn't mean that as a compliment. She really was angry. I remember that it really struck me odd that using names and not numbers would be so disturbing –especially in a place where people have never gone to school and consequently don’t know numbers.
When we came to the first bridge I knew we were in trouble. The river was a torrent and water had already risen right up to the bottom of the bridge. I could see that on the other side of the bridge part of the road had already been washed away. My heart sank.
The last official moments of our leadership conference were over by 9 pm, but the distribution of everything from textbooks to soccer jerseys, receipt books to report cards went on until way past midnight. And then at 2:30 in the morning, the first bus pulled away from our college campus where we had held the conference to take people to town so they could start catching buses and trucks that would take everyone back to our schools scattered over the eight regions of this country. All day I've been receiving SMS messages on my phone, and tonight the first of those are actually getting home.
We had walked down the hill around the corner and we were standing in the middle of a meadow on the college campus, surrounded by these beautiful towering pines, on the place where we’re going to build the chapel one day.
A totally great day! With my boot cast finally off and my broken ankle clearly on the mend, this is the second day that Susan and I have been able to take an early evening walk out to the forest together. And Jonathan, after ripping apart a lot of dead computers with his students out at the college, performed “brain surgery” on my laptop -- and although I was sweating bullets during the whole delicate half-hour operation, eventually he pressed the button and I held my breath and my laptop came back to life again.
Every time I have heard people talk about celebrities from America coming to Africa, I have found myself strangely relieved that we live in such a remote village. I figured it would mean I would never have to worry about any celebrities choosing to come here.
By Friday night I had pretty much made up my mind, enough at least, to ask Susan on Saturday if she could send someone to find her friend Bahati and ask him to come see me. He had been the butcher in the village for years and years until he got very sick with AIDS. It was nearly nine years ago when Susan helped out their family, and everyone got tested and she got him started on the ARVs. That was when he “came back to life” – and he started butchering meat again for the whole village!
As the years have gone by and our lives have changed and everything here has grown, Susan and I have acquired a lot of names. I remember the years when I was known as Mkongo (“the man from Congo”), Fundula Mtonto (“the one who reveals all that was hidden”) and then Mr Vinton morphed into Mzee Vinton and then just simply Mzee (“the old man”) or Msee by those of the Hehe people who can’t pronounce z’s. Susan went from being Mrs Vinton to Mama Joshua and Mama Yona and then Mama Vinton, Mama wa Wingi (“the mother of many”) and then just Mama to everyone.