Waiting for the “Big Man”

Graduation from seventh grade has been celebrated at Olbalbal. Primary school in Tanzania consists of seven grades, then there are four years of high school followed by two years of junior college. After that some few lucky students go to a college or university.

As elsewhere, there is always a guest speaker at the graduation, usually a political figure. I received an invitation to the event at our local grade school that announced it would begin at 10:00 AM. Knowing that things don’t begin on time and nobody would expect things to start at ten in the morning, I waited till 11:30 AM to show up. I was the only person who appeared “so early.” I returned to the mission and waited till one in the afternoon, thinking that the celebration would surely be in high gear by then. On arriving at the school at one o’clock, I was told that the guest of honor had not yet arrived. Plenty of parents had come and everyone was passing the time enjoying the company of friends and students. No one seemed at all concerned that the ceremonies were scheduled to have begun three hours ago. Nor was there to be heard any criticism of the “Big Man”, our guest of honor, who was holding things up.

People are used to waiting around for a “Big Man”. The Big Men are immensely busy with their immensely important matters and expect everyone to hang around till they have time to turn their attention to a something as mundane as a seventh grade graduation at which they have agreed to be the guest of honor. Anyway, I seemed to be the only one put out by the tardiness of the “Big Man.”

I went back to the mission and waited till 3:00 PM. On returning to the school, I was told that they were still waiting for the guest of honor, now five and a half hours late. I returned to the mission. Finally at 4:00 PM I went back to the school certain that the “Big Man” would have shown up. I was surprised and disappointed to be told that the graduation had taken place during the hour that I was away. They had substituted the Olbalbal Village Chairman for the guest of honor and had the graduation. The Village Chairman had been waiting around with everyone else.


Lobiko Tuke holding his graduation gifts pictured with his brothers.
Lobiko Tuke holding his graduation gifts pictured with his brothers.

It was a frustrating day. I missed the graduation but learned something of local culture.


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