A good day becomes evident in the morning...so the Swahili proverb goes.
It was ice cold but the sun was shining. That means much to folks living in the Northern Hemisphere. I had rushed to the bakery to get fresh bread. Now hold on. In East Africa eating bread is not that preferred as Maandazi, Vitumbua or Sambusa.
Maandazi - pic from Taste of Tanzania
Bread is the queen of light meals and breakfast in places like London.
I had just purchased a fresh loaf- still hot and soft and smelt so tantalizing that I needed all will power to stop, slit a chunk and well...eating while rushing is not healthy, they say. Speaking of health, I had to pop into a pharmacy to buy something. This needed further will power because there was a queue. Next pharmacy was a further ten minute walk. So I decided to join the line. Gave my order, paid, bingo; told to wait.
“How long is it going to take?”
The sales clerk gave me a certain disapproving stare.
“Only joking, sorry.” I quickly said. The annoying and menacing queue spoke volumes.
I waited for my medication. The pharmacy was busy. People tend to fall sick much more in winter even if London’s sun teased and waved a wand of magic outside.
I sat beside an old English lady.
She was really, really frail and fragile and seemed to have problems breathing. One weak hand held a walking stick (costs approx five thousand shillings in cheap shops across London), the other her purse. Watching her I mumbled a silent prayer. “May those who rob such Wazee burn in hell. May those who hurt the elderly, rot in hell. May those...” Perhaps she felt my unspoken chanting with God. She grinned.
“Morning,” I smiled back.
What nice teeth she possessed. She continued grinning. Alive. Pretty.
“Enjoying the wait?” I wondered.
“Oh. As long as I can breathe my darling.” Her voice was deep with a musical resonance. Like those Hollywood actors from the by gone eras. 1930s. Groovy lady.
“Bad winter, huh?” I suggested.
“Yup. The flu kills me. My body is in flames. Just want to rush all the time but I cannot breathe anymore. The damned cigarettes I used to smoke are punishing me now. I am going to be 83 next month. My mom is 102 and she laughs at me. She can run up the stairs, while I struggle even to walk to the shops. Can you believe that?”
She chuckled. Everyone appeared to listen. It was as quiet as it was pleasant. I was itching to ask if she had been on television. She spoke clearly- like those seasoned broadcasters. Sounded familiar. Like a star.
“Did you use to be on TV?”
She laughed and keeled over but supported herself with the stick.
“Sorry,” I murmured.
“Never mind young man. I do it all the time. I fall over in the kitchen; I fall over when I am walking. The other day I fell over my cat but you know cats. They have nine lives. Mine has sixty.”
We laughed and the disapproving sales lady joined in too. I shuffled my precious loaf of bread.
The pleasant aroma of the tormenting bread was punishing everyone.
“You have just been to the bakery?”
“Yummy. Go home, cut some cheese, fry some eggs, make coffee. Perfect.”
She said perfect with rolling rrr’s. Sounded like roaring lorry.
“No. I was never on TV. I was a teacher. Used to teach children with learning difficulties.”
“You mean disabled kids?”
Again rolling rrr’s.
“This society really cares for disability.”
She bobbed her head, up and down. “We used to be bad many decades ago, though. We have come a long way. Disability was viewed with superstition. A devil’s curse. In those dark ages horrible words like crippled and retarded were used. Terrible. I belonged to movement for change. As a carer and tutor you had to be tolerant and speak carefully to the disabled.”
The pharmacist popped out.
I raised my hand.
“Macha.” I corrected.
“Sorry, for mis pronouncing your name.”
I took my medication.
“Where is your name from?” The 82 year old lady wondered.
“I see. I have the same problem with my surname. It is written N T I N A S....but pronounced N-dinas. My dad was Greek, my mum English. I have been correcting people on how to say it throughout my life.”
As I left the woman I reflected on the complex nature of differing names, language, culture, spellings and phonetics. How folks pronounce your name depend on their cultural background. Most London born native blacks tend to say Macca instead of Macha, whereas Asians do it right (Macha) and Latin Americans say Masha, what about Germans?...Mmmh... Guess.
Magha, for Christ’s sake.
-Also published in Citizen Tanzania- on Friday February 7th, 2014.