March 27, 2016, Marana- He has only been among us, here in Arizona, for about ten days, along with his two brothers and two sisters. None of the kids speaks English, and they only know a smattering of French. Swahili is their mainstay. Shante (SHAN-tay), age 3, and his siblings, have come to us from DR Congo, by way of Tanzania. The children, and their caretakers, joined thirty-four others of us, at a Unity in Diversity musical festival, on this bright, but thankfully breezy and cool, Easter Sunday.
Despite all his family’s travails, Shante walks with a swagger, and a purpose. His take on life is strictly one day- or one moment- at a time. That is the joy of being three, nothing has assumed an air of permanence in life, as yet. He looks up at the tall, well-built drummers, themselves having come here from the Republic of Congo-Brazzaville, speaking just enough Swahili to make the kids feel welcome. They show Shante their drums, and lift him up, so that he may tap on the skin and feel his own rhythm start to stir.
After a few minutes of this, and a ping-ping, on the keyboard of a Cuban musician, fresh from the city of Holguin (visited by Pope Francis I, last Fall), Shante comes back down, off stage, and lingers by my seat for a bit, then goes along his way, back to be with his sisters.
They take part in a second-round hunt for plastic eggs, filled with jelly beans. The girls manage to find all remaining eggs, within two minutes of search. Shante gets his share of the take- four plastic, jelly-bean filled delights. He eats one jelly bean, and that’s enough. For a child who has seen, and tasted, little of sweetness, a little bit goes forever.
Shante has his dream- as yet locked behind the door of linguistic disparity, and development. A three-year-old’s Swahili is, after all, no more proficient than would be his contemporaries’ Norwegian, Spanish, or Kwa Zulu, in other parts of this hard, but exquisite home of ours. His eyes, though, are scintillating. This boy is sharp, and will make his way in the world, regardless of circumstances. He shows interest in the music, whether African, Caribbean or Bluegrass, and dances to whatever tune is being offered. He examines a blind man’s Australian bush hat, carefully fingering its strap and felt covering, as the patient man abides the probing. He works the crowd, and sizes each of us up, by looking us in the eye, for a minute or two, before moving on to the next person of interest. He offers a brief opinion of what he has seen and heard, to his oldest brother, who nods in assent and holds Shante close, for a few minutes.
I keep saying this: We, the elders, are in good hands with the generations that are rising.