David's Letter About Willy

February, 2004

Dear Mom and Dad,

Willy said my name today. Which to you, must certainly not sound like much 
as you know nothing about Willy, but for me and him, it was a very momentous 
occasion.

Willy is about two and a half or three years old. He is the son of my 
counterpart, Joseph Sabonga, and lives about three houses down from mine. 
He is quite cute, in his flip flops with his homemade car in tow on a 
string.

I met Willy during my first week alone here. Sabonga, as my counterpart, 
had invited me to lunch at his house after we finished with the days 
terminal exams at school. We arrive at his house, and I sit down at the 
table, and Sabonga goes to bring Willy in to eat. The problem is that Willy 
saw me come into the house, and refused to be tricked by his father to eat 
with the white man and instead sits outside, bawling. Eventually, he lets 
his father bring him in, and without ever taking an eye off me, quickly eats 
a few spoonfuls of food fed to him by his father then returns to hide in 
some corner.

I tried to talk to him a little in my broken Swahili, but, as I really was 
barely able to greet anyone, and I didn't really understand what his name 
was, I imagine I just made matters worse rather that better. I tried my 
best to bribe his love with gifts of cakes and toys (one of my Dad's 
tricks), but that didn't seem to help anything. By this point, he would see 
my bright white skin from 50 yards away, and whether or not I was actually 
on my way towards him or not, he would take off in a panicked run toward the 
nearest wall or Tanzanian, to hide behind whichever one he came to first.

After a month and a half of this, I got tired of being overly nice and 
gentle with him, so when I would see him, and his eyes would get big with 
fear, I would say "Willy, kimbia!" which means, "Willy, Run!" And he would 
do just that: turn around and high tail it for some safe place where he 
could keep an eye on me at a distance.

Lately, I got to a point with my Swahili that I can at least make 
rudimentary conversation. So, I would ask him "why are you scared?," or 
"You're still scared today?" or "Willy, what do you say?" and "You can talk, 
can't you?" and so forth. Still though, he liked to keep me at as safe a
distance as possible, if at all possible with one Mama's skirt between him 
and me.

Until today. Today, as Willy heard me talk with the teacher I let garden 
the little plot outside my house (or rustic cabin as I like to call it), 
Willy peeked his head out of the neighbor's house. We had our usual one way 
conversation, which he did not run away right afterwards, but did stay on 
the other side of the garden. Since there were about four other kids over 
by me, he decided it might be OK to come play with them. When I saw that he 
had come within a couple yards of me, I said "Willy, umekuja" which means, 
"Willy, you came!" at which he ran, but only half way back across the 
garden. Slowly, as I continued to pretend I understood the conversation in 
Kiswahili with the teacher, he came over again.

There is an older sister figure to Willy, Gladi, who is definately not 
scared of me, to the point that she enjoys the game "Throw Things at David."
As I talked to her, and as she threw random pieces of trash at me, Willy, 
out of nowhere, said "Daudi" which is my name in Swahili. I turned and 
looked at him and said "Willy, you CAN talk!". He just sort of looked at 
me, with this pensive look on his face, not certain yet of what he had just 
done. Then he said it again. "Daudi", but this time, something left him, 
some deep rooted fear, and he discovered that he was a powerful man able to 
say my name. Immediately, Gladi, who always calls me Daudi, scolded him and 
told him to call me Mwalimu (teacher) which he then retreated back into his 
unsureness and barely mumbled, "Mwalimu". For a split moment, though, he 
had conquered a great beast within him. 

I love you and miss you,

David