24-04-2021 by Freddie del Curatolo
"Good morning, sir."
In 2021, it is still normal to be addressed as 'hello' by local children.
At the end of the last century, locals learned it from tourists, from the villa and flat owners of the first residential invasion.
Now it is in the air, part of the phonemes carried by the wind on the beach, painted on the walls of Lamu Road, stuck in the humidity of the tropical plants.
Parents and older siblings use it as an interlude and a few words have entered common usage even when there are no mzungu around.
The new street kids, who have unfortunately increased in this period of very little schooling and hunger, wave their little hands, lurk at the side of the road and shout their smiling greetings to get noticed.
Who knows, those white people will stop and maybe they will have a candy or a coin for us, maybe they will take us for a ride in their beautiful car or for a dip in the pool of their rich house.
There are still plenty of Italians, despite everything.
Not all of them have a beautiful car and a rich man's house with a swimming pool, but none of them live on hardship.
Even if, with the inevitable decline in tourism, they are becoming a rare commodity and will inevitably diminish, forty or more years of presence in Malindi and its surroundings cannot be erased.
The local population and especially the children, who have always been more receptive, have learned their customs and habits and have become accustomed to their way of doing things.
They know when it is possible to attempt an approach or when it is better to stay away, because Italians are not all the same.
There are those who look the other way because there are too many poor people, those who cannot resist giving at least a penny, those who have favoured the child of one of their employees, a mother or father they like, an orphan, a guest in a shelter or a particularly brilliant student.
There are those of 'candy solidarity' and those who look like army colonels, but in the end do good for many children in Malindi.
The mzungu, at least here, should be thanked anyway and what you can give everyone is a smile, accompanied by a greeting.
It costs nothing, and above all it does not cause pain, fatigue or discomfort.
For that there is already life in the huts, the queue outside the hospitals hoping for God, the hard work in the fields of the mother and the work on the building site of the father, who smashes blocks of marble for 2 euros a day and it is to be hoped that with one and a half euros he does not get drunk.
Yet something distinguishes Kaingu's passionate greeting from that of the other children dressed in a few dusty rags and a joy they take directly from the earth, like roots feeding on sun, fruits of nature and humidity.
Kaingu says "good morning, sir", not "hello".
It is the equivalent of the classic Kenyan welcome, which in Swahili sounds 'Jambo bwana'.
Like that catchy little song that illustrates how the rite of greeting for newcomers is practically the national anthem in these parts.
Kaingu is nine, maybe.
Maybe eight, he's been going to school for less than two years, but he doesn't really want to study.
But his age starts when he was baptised, the same day his parents registered him at the registry office.
Two duties for the price of one.
His peers chase a pair of shoes, a coloured T-shirt, a nice pen to show off to their classmates with pride and make those who say "you are friends with a mzungu, a white man, aren't you ashamed?" swell with envy, but in reality they dream of a pen like that, and of a friend different from the usual ones.
Kaingu, on the other hand, is not a smiling victim of 'candy solidarity'.
Although he is reluctant to study, he shows a great willingness to learn and his lively curiosity should be rewarded.
Because even a street kid can become a professional in his profession.
He has received a very precious gift which, contrary to what one might think at first glance, he has not yet sold: an Italian-Swahili dictionary.
Every day Kaingu learns a new word and pronounces it in front of a mzungu to see what effect it has.
When someone corrects him on the accent or the correct pronunciation, he frowns, opens his big black eyes and asks "excuse me?" until the Italian repeats the word. At that point, the tiny, highly effective recorder in the child's head is already working.
He will not forget that word for the rest of his life.
Mobile phone, Notebook, Trousers, Ice cream, Car, Eat, Tired, Run.
Every day a dozen new words.
Alone, at nine years old, he is learning a language.
Yesterday someone responded with a proverb to his greeting: "While there is life there is hope".
"As long as there is life there is hope': he repeats this all afternoon and looks in his dictionary, clutched in his hands like a jewel or a rosary.
Life - hope.
Now his greeting is complete, and it can only make one smile but also squeeze the heart:
"Good morning, sir! As long as there is life, there is hope.
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