I'm currently sitting on a veranda looking out onto the Indian Ocean. We are at a resort called Peponi about 30km south of Tanga having an extended weekend break. Went on my first ever snorkelling trip yesterday which was brilliant, then chilled on a sand island off the mainland. I also got sun burnt for the first time since being here, I feel this fact will shock many people that it has taken me this long!!
I thought I'd use this blog as an opportunity to share, with my avid readers, an insight into an hour of each of my weekdays. That hour is between 5pm and 6pm. Mactabe!!! Translation - library. Now when you think of a library you think, quiet and tranquil, people reading, calmness...... However in Milingano mactabe has in the past brought fear and dread. Our house in Milingano is the location of the mactabe and it consists of loaning out books and toys. Toys being the most prominent, this is mainly games, toy cars, dolls, fancy dress, footballs. We distribute items through a window with bars to hold the masses back.
Our first mactabe experience was on our very first day, in an information pack left by previous volunteers it said that 'at first it may seem stressful.' I will be editing this to 'at first it may seem terrifying!!' On that first day we opened the mactabe to charging children all shoving their arms through the bars calling out for the toy they want. At tjis initial stage we knew none of the children and very little kiswahili to have a clue what they wanted. It was resolved by following the direction of the point. This mactabe was made particularly worse by a lady we have since imaginatively named the chicken lady, who decided we would like a chicken shoved through the bars wings flapping. If at first we seemed to not enjoy this experience by the third time we most certainly did not! This story extended to us asking the house girls to stop the lady pushing the chicken through the bars. The housegirls unfortunately didn't realise what had happened and later relayed the story to a teacher from the school. He, now called Chicken Man, decided to arrive at our house the next day with a chicken, to which I believe we may have screamed 'no no no!!' Quite probably highly offending the man as to receive a chicken as a gift is quite an honour!
Returning to mactabe, over the weeks we feel we have tamed mactabe somewhat. However the process really starts from the moment we wake up. As the children seem to have little concept of time, we often get young children outside our house and at our window, calling 'teacher, mactabe.' In the evening after school the crowd starts to gather and they remain for the two hours between school and the mactabe opening. As the hour of 5 approaches the knocking on the door begins, and the incessant calling, 'teacher, mactabe!!'
After the initial roar of children at the opening of the shutters, the process of finding what children want begins. Some children will take a toy and play with it for the hour, others may take two or three in that time and enjoy them all. There is, however, a group of young girls who seem to take out about ten items over the hour. They will take something look at it then return it. Footballs are very popular, however, although they play football very well over school lunchtime, at mactabe they seem to take a ball and let no one else play. The most frustrating time is when a child wants something and informs me with a point in the general direction. This requires me to go through every item in line with the point, and the child says yes or no. More often than not there is nothing there that they want, and the process continues for some time. An amusing occassion was when a girl seemed to be pointing on the floor and I was saying there is nothing there, eventually I realised that she wanted my slippers!!
The latest favourite though is snakes and ladders, and it is really good to start seeing the children actually play with the toys. As there is only two of us and about 50 children some days, it's very hard for us to go out and show them how to play. Gradually however they are learning what to do and then teaching others. Progress has been made since our first mactabe experience, and I no longer have the fear in my stomach as 5pm approaches. Children are starting to learn that if they smile sweetly at us and ask in their best English 'Please may I have ........' they will usuallly get what the want.
When 6pm arrives, the process of collecting in all the toys begins. We shout out into the street that mactabe is ashia (the library is closed) and the children will bring all the toys back. Often they are promptly returned, some children require a little persuasion. There are a few children who will assist us with this. Filipo in std III will run around snatching the toys of small children and bringing them to us. Often as we are eating dinner after mactabe we will hear filimbie's (whistles) playing in the street and then a knock at the door as the late items are returned.
Although a draining hour of the day, in some strange way I think I will miss mactabe when my time here comes to an end.