BWEJUU Village, East Coast Zanzibar Island, Tanzania, East Africa– Bwejuu is a place where the soul is revealed- where Spirit forces joy, pain, desire, fear, hope and anguish out in the open to fill one’s plate with need; need to know; need to be true; need to plan; need to atone; need to forgive; need to love.
In the middle of a moon-full night, Bwejuu wakes the soul to listen to itself, to shake out the dust of bitterness then polish it to reveal a fine sheen of optimism.
On a still, starless night, the ancestors speak through the Spirit in Bwejuu. They say, “Take this problem apart and re-work the pieces into another whole that is a solution.” They whisper assurance to counter the false apprehensions murmuring into the other ear in the dark.
On a cloudless afternoon where the sun is felt and the cloves are smelled but neither is seen, from a seat on the veranda of the former colonizer’s house, we are surrounded by the melodious tones of Swahili sung-spoken by residents of the village descended from those who were colonized. Here, the ancestors produce a spectacular panorama of muted colors and lithesome movements.
As the tide moves slowly in from the far edge of the reef, there is the barely discerned rhythm of women bending to their seaweed plots, just ahead of the thrust of the water. This is what it must have looked like upon the return to the African coast of those enslaved who walked off the ship at the Carolina port and turned and walked back into the water toward home.
Ebony carvings turn into children leaping across the stage in front of us at the edge of the white sand beach to the accompaniment of tinkling laughter. They are unaware and uncaring of my being audience, running together in sex- segregated groups of four and five, their grace the same as slender young gazelles.
This way a bicycle crunching wet sand as the long-muscled male cyclist bears the woman swaddled in kitenge cloth from head to calf, her hands carefully at his hips. Overtaking them a motorbike with two gentlemen civil servants from Zanzibar Town on board.
Kadija and her two sisters arrive with their babies and the henna. We retreat to the back courtyard so they can uncover themselves while they decorate our bodies. Our ears fill with fast-paced Swahili that we can tell by their halting sighs and hushed intonations to be the latest local gossip. Mtumwa and Deanna, young girls almost women, smoothly fasten themselves to the procession, letting their head coverings fall, giggling with their own versions of the chatter and brazenly taking charge of the junk food treats from America.
It is all a snapshot to be pasted in the scrapbook of the soul. Bwejuu will change and not be nurturing. We will keep returning until then.
um/Journal Entry – November 1997
Watching the sunrise outside the front door of the Bwejuu Village Guest House
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African Epiphany #437,772,287: In Africa, stuff becomes what it is: stuff, stuffing life, you can eat it or not, It’s just stuff, the air inside the pillows, not even the feathers. My stuff becomes anybody’s stuff, useful for the day; always destructible, by a child or by a fundi. Nothing is classifiable-there are no kitchen knives, only a “knife” that “you can use for food when we are done” cutting electrical cords with it. A new chair becomes a rest-stop for a sandy-dusty old uncle and the just painted floor only something to laugh at when a baby drops a bit of chewed-up mango pulp from her mouth. The freshly-lacqured dining room table is a platform to admire the child’s prowess as he climbs up to lay across it, sleepy but rebellious. It’s not a thing anymore. They are all not a thing-they are not things, nothing, hamna. And so it is with stuff/possessions/feelings: Life in it’s nothingness, becomes a whole new everything.
um/Bwejuu 18 October 2004