“Bush-church” visitation was always a joy. When station duties allowed, or when communion was to be held at a church “out there”, we always made a point to visit, especially on Sundays for preaching and fellowship and encouragement. It was also “out there” that we learned much about Sukuma culture and customs.
Always when we visited, we were treated at least to sweet, milky tea, maybe with chapatis or maandazi – or boiled yams, peanuts or cassava root. The Sukuma used to say “one handed tea is poor man’s tea”. In other words, if you didn’t have something to hold in your hands besides the tea cup, you were in a poor man’s house!
On other days, especially on Sundays when a good number of folks attended the church meeting, a good!, full, African meal was served – ugali (mush), rice, ngoko (chicken) or beef – or sheep or goat! -, greens. Delicious! I would go back to Tanzania in a minute (if it didn’t cost so much!) to have one of those great Sukuma meals!
And always, just before leaving to return to the mission station, a trip would be made to the kitchen – the “women’s” cooking hut – to thank the ladies who had prepared the meal. Sometimes, just as an expression of thanks, a gift of salt or sugar could be given.
After the meal, Carol and I made our way over to see the ladies who prepared the meal. Where we ate was on one side of the village compound; the kitchen hut was on the other side. We walked over, past the ash heap of the nighttime fire, past the cattle pen, skirted a dog sleeping near those ashes and greeted the ladies, thanked them for the great meal and talked a while.
As we turned to go and started walking back, the dog woke up. Thinking there was no problem we kept going. As we went past it, it jumped up with a growl and latched onto Carol’s arm puncturing the skin and drawing blood. The “man of the village”, a church elder, immediately came to her aid, beating off the dog and expressed his concern and regrets for what had happened.
But his next question floored her – and me. Holding on to the dog he asked, “Do you want me to kill it?” Of course not! But custom required that an animal (dog, cat, cow or whatever) that injured a guest should be killed to appease the person for the injury that drew the blood.
We recognized that the dog was surprised by our invading “its territory”; we were persons it didn’t know; we were brazenly walking toward it. It only attacked because of a perceived threat – and we were the threat!
As we drove away to go home, the church elder again voiced his offer. Again we said, “Yaya, gutiho mhayo” (“No, there is no word”). He thanked us, no doubt relieved his guard dog would not be harmed. And for many days after the incident, whenever I saw him, he asked about Carol’s well-being.
And Carol still has a small scar in the crook of her arm!