Friday, February 1, 2013

Bibi Maria

Last week, one of the women from church invited us to visit her for tea.  Her name is Mama Tumaini and she is our housekeeper Veronica’s mother.  She lives in the village of Kivumbi, a walk of about 1-1/2 hours.  On Wednesday, Bwana Alfred came to our house to take us there.  He is a member of Irente Church Council and a good friend to us. 

We left our home at around 2 pm and walked up the mountain, past a small waterfall, through part of Irente Farm property and then onto the next mountain.  The scenery was beautiful and the walk was not too strenuous.  Alfred was surprised that as two “wazee” (old people), we could walk without too many stops to rest. 

We passed through several small villages of brick or mud homes.  Almost every home we passed had a small flower garden and a shamba (farm).  The area around each house is well cared for.  Many people greeted us as we walked.  Because of our truck, many of them have ridden with us, so they knew us already.

When we arrived at Tumaini’s home, we were greeted very warmly.  She lives in a mud home surrounded by similar homes of many family members. Tumiani served us coffee, a delicious vegetable stew, and some roasted corn on the cob, all home grown.  She grows and prepares her own coffee, which she sells in town.

Mama Tumiani and Bibi Maria
After a short time, her mother arrived.  Bibi Maria is a small lady with beautiful, clear eyes and a big smile.  She walks with a stick that is almost as tall as she is.  She does not speak Kiswahili, so Alfred translated our conversation into Kisambaa (the local tribal language).  Bibi had some coffee with us and started eating the corn on the cob.  We were amazed to learn that she is 110 years old!

Bibi Maria was born in 1903.  She has no idea of her birthday, only the year of her birth.  She raised nine children and has many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  Many of the children who sat in a row across from Tumaini’s house watching us are her descendants.  She understood that we are here from America.  She knows about President Obama and that his father was from Kenya.  We enjoyed our visit and our conversation with her, Tumaini, and Alfred.

Bibi Maria was born when Tanganyika was a German colony.  She saw the defeat of the Germans and the arrival of the British.  She lived to see the independence of her country and its union with Zanzibar to create Tanzania.  She has lived through many things.

After we returned home, Tom and I talked about Mabel Haller, the matriarch of a large family from home.  Grandmom Haller was the oldest living person we had ever known.  She missed reaching 100 by a few months.  At her funeral a granddaughter’s husband spoke about her and all of the progress she had seen.  I remember that Lou had asked her what the improvement was in her lifetime that she appreciated the most.  Listening to his question I thought of man landing on the moon, automobiles, and jet planes.  Grandmom Haller had answered “indoor plumbing”.   Tom and I talked about places like Kivumbi, where there still is no indoor plumbing.  Close to Tumaini’s house, there is a water tap and community wash area for everyone’s use for laundry.   They have a latrine outhouse.  Like us, they wash with bucket showers. 

On our way home, a large Tanesco truck, the Tanzanian electric company, had passed us.   The truck was loaded with electric poles.  They are in the process of bringing electric service to Kivumbi.

We were struck by the differences in the lives of Bibi Maria and Grandmom Haller.  Because of the places where they were born, their living conditions were almost opposite.  We in America and “the West” are blessed in so many ways that our brothers and sisters throughout the world cannot begin to imagine. 

More important, though are the similarities.  Both of these women lived or are living long and wonderful lives.  Both have, or had, large families who surround, or surrounded, them with such love.   Most important of all, God’s love for each of them is the same.