A weekend like no other!

Dear Family and Friends,

It's Sunday night and I'm feeling a bit shell shocked as it has been a weekend like no other!  On Saturday morning as the mist was lifting from the patchwork of green hills Ruth and I were on our way to Luhunga village to meet Sila, a master basket weaver, and her students.   Persistent snorting sounds from a distressed penned pig accompanied our walk down a long narrow pathway leading to a compound surrounded by banana trees and a field of newly planted maize. Curious young children and women sitting on low stools weaving baskets greeted us - "Kumwhenye" (a greeting in Kehehe, the local tribal language).  Twilu, Jenny's red headed delightful 1 year old, joined the fun in her chiffon pink dress and crawled everywhere in the red muddy soil.  Colourful kanga material is interwoven with local reeds and grasses into beautiful shapes creating baskets we couldn't resist.  Most of these women have lost their husbands to AIDS and this income generating project becomes their main means of support for their families.  

Onto the faraway village of Ikaning'ombe with Jenny, the NGO's capable manager, her child Twilu and Twilu's daytime caregiver, Florian, who is a wonderful young man.  Florian has invited us to his home and wants us to meet his mother.  We arrived at this village with its expansive vistas, a forest with broccoli shaped trees and lush shambas (farms) and were immediately surrounded by a large group of smiling children who followed us single file down a steep path leading to Florian's home. 

His mom invited us into her spotless thatched mud home.  The interior is dark and smoky from the open kitchen fire.  The only source of light comes from the low narrow doorway.  In the corner are light blue eggs in a nest laid by their resident hen.  Small benches are placed around the interior.  We chatted in our inadequate Kiswahili and thankfully Florian and Jenny could translate.  We moved outside and sat on a large blue tarp shelling dried red beans with the children and women.  With a long curved panga (machete) Florian and his mother cut down a bunch of green cooking bananas (plantains).  We reentered the hut where Florian's mom had prepared a lunch of ugali (a tasteless white glutinous mass) accompanied with stewed pumpkin leaves and red beans.  With one hand we were told to make a small ugali ball and with our thumb make an indentation into the ugali to scoop up the pumpkin leaves and beans.  Much to our surprise (and Ruth's relief) it was delicious!  I even asked for seconds!

Today the sound of a scurrying rat running upstairs and across the floor above our bedroom woke us up before sunrise. Who would be first to get up to discoverany traces of this intruder?  Not me!  With a group of peace corp workers and Geoff and Jenny we attended the "mnada" (market) in Mdabulo where people come from surrounding villages to visit and shop.  The road was lined with vendors displayed goods -  colourful cloth (kangas) draped on bamboo poles, Obama toques hanging from large umbrellas, mountains of plastic shoes and secondhand clothing from afar, dishes and containers from China, slabs of pork pieces with heads and feet on wooden boards and barrels of "pombe" (local home brew).  It was vibrant and fun.

After lunch I took a visiting Swedish missionary dentist to the Children's Village (orphanage) a block away from the volunteers' house at Protea Point. Jenny was there to admit 1 1/2 year old twin boys.  Twins throughout Tanzania have the same names and are referred to as "kulwa doto".  "Kulwa" is the first born and "doto" is the second.  Two weeks ago the twins' mother and sibling died on the same day which left the father with five children to raise on his own.  Overwhelmed and unable to manage he sought help from the orphanage.  When we arrived one twin was sitting on his "bibi's" (grandmother's) lap and the other on his father's lap.  Both children had distended stomachs and were eating a bowl of rice and beans. It washeartbreaking to see the sadness in the father's and grandmother's eyes.  I couldn't imagine being in their place.  If the father can get back on his feet, his beautiful twin boys will return to live with him.  The Children's Village is a place of hope and many children thrive here.  Hopefully this will be the case with Kulwa and Doto.

It's been a memorable weekend with its highs and lows.  I'm kind of glad it's over.

With love,