Dear Family and Friends,
"It is time to take a pause," Yusto announced as he stood up to take a well deserved break from his varied duties as Igoda's gifted teacher librarian. As our trip to Tanzania unwinds it is time to "take a pause" and reflect on some of this year's experiences. I"ll start with Yusto who puts his heart, soul and creativity into teaching expectant classes of children entering the library. His expressive ways captures their attention and ours too. His simple greetings in English, their third language, transformed into delightful vignettes. Stories came alive as he translated with dramatic embellishments in English and Kiswahili. It's a pleasure to work with Yusto - a man who would love the opportunity to complete high school and attend teachers' college. I cherish and learn from his cultural insights. After a recent discussion about the behaviour of many men in the village, their lack of responsibility and commitment to their wives and families, Yusto sadly shook his head saying, "Women have heavy burdens in love." To have the villages of Mufindi populated with Yustos would have a lasting transformative effect!
Upendo, meaning love, lived up to her name as she lovingly prepared meals at Protea Point for hungry volunteers. Shortly after sunrise, I could hear her sharp panga whacking a branch, then the smell of woodsmoke from her cooking stove. We would be drawn upstairs to inviting aromas of home cooked buns and bread. Two days ago she called me into the pantry to see Mama Gideon's gift to us - a live chicken protesting its confinement. Returning to the kitchen a few minutes later I discovered the chicken's status had altered dramatically. It lay in a motionless heap in the kitchen sink while Upendo and Mama Gideon efficiently plucked and dissected. This was to be our last lunch of the year at Protea and they were determined to celebrate it with a rare table sighting - a piece of meat.
Frida and Akida, are 20 year old dedicated young people who work for the Foxes NGO improving the lives of orphans and vulnerable children. While we were there they both helped to rewrite The Princess and the Pea in Kiswahili and co directed it. During the day Frida works as a practical nurse at the Children's Village caring for orphans. She is putting her sister through secondary school and gives money to her mother who has a pombe (alcohol) problem. Frida put her own education on hold but this year retook her Form 4 exams in addition to working full time, growing vegetables in her shamba and caring for her family. When her exam results arrived it was heartbreaking as she learned she had failed and was utterly devastated. Of those students in Mufindi who were retaking this exam 117 received a D and 143 failed. She was sobbing and believed her dream of becoming a nurse had evaporated. Fortunately with donations from our charity we are going to support her at school full time. After obtaining a nursing degree, Frida wants to come back to Mufindi to work which will greatly benefit all those who come in contact with her.
Visiting Blantina is always uplifting and yesterday was a perfect conclusion to our stay in Mufindi. Blantina is 35 years old but looks more like 65. She suffers from ostio genesis imperfecto, a degenerative bone disease. Blantina is tiny and very fragile. Hugging delicately and with caution is essential. With the use of a walker she is able to get around and care for her two children. A year ago when we first met Blantina she was sitting on a small stool amid billows of smoke from a wood fire. Her home was made of mud with large gaping holes in the makouti (straw) roof. This made life very challenging during the rainy season. She didn't complain or ask for any help. Ruth's cousin was touched by Blantina's courage and sent $2,500 - enough for a new home. It was into this new home that Blantina and her children welcomed us. We helped to unwrap her new mattresses and placed them on her new wooden slatted beds. Her large intelligent eyes were beaming. Then in a soft voice she gave a prayer of thanks. There wasn't a dry eye in the room. Blantina is looked up to in the village as a kind, caring and deeply religious woman.
When I'm "taking a pause" I most often think of the children. The small waifs standing by the dirt road greeting us on our way to school, children running along the road with handmade toys as simple as tire rims and sticks, children listening wide eyed and intently to a story, running children eager to receive their meal in a mug, long lines of children walking home - up and down the hills after long days at school and performing children who have found their voices on stage.
Most visitors to Tanzania come to see the incredible wildlife. But our trips are about people. I must admit something is missing if I don't catch a glimpse of animals from a car or plane window. Today was no exception. We left Mufindi in a 12 seater plane which landed 4 times before eventually reaching Dar. Safari clad passengers were being picked up and dropped off in various locations in Ruraha park and the Selous. From my window I saw herds of elephants, giraffes, zebras and clusters of wallowing hippos. Although the spectacle from my window should have distracted me, my protesting stomach finally rebelled after the fourth landing on a bumpy dirt runway. It didn't help after seeing a crippled 12 seater plane at the side of this runway. It had come to an abrupt stop after colliding with a wandering impala.
Ruth and I are returning with souvenirs of our journey. Not the kind we had hoped for. I am covered with flea bites and Ruth has a nasty, festering red bite called Nairobi eye. Regardless of the physical irritations we've picked up along the way, I will miss the intensity, the surprise, the sense that life is very real - hard, and at times quite lovely!
Goodnight and see you soon.