A Perfect Beginning

After an overnight stay in Amsterdam sandwiched between two nine- hour flights, our KLM plane came to a welcome standstill on the tarmac, black as the Tanzanian night. Passengers hurried to the glass doors with the sign Kilimanjaro International Airport. Above the sign a clear starry night. The usual crush of people and confusion on arrival was quickly sorted out. For the first time at this airport Ruth and I were not stopped by customs’ officials, who are usually eager to rummage through our baggage, hoping to find items to tax. When we emerged into the balmy Tanzanian night our good friend, Restus Sanka , quickly appeared from a patiently waiting mass of people holding signs. He was a welcome sight for weary eyes. The fragrant air was filled with the scent of frangipani and whiffs of wood smoke. Tumefika hapa - We are here! It was good to be back!

Outlines of small dukus or shops, and the occasional glow from cook fires etched the consuming darkness until we reached the outskirts of Arusha, Tanzania’s second largest city and the major hub for tourists going on safari. Sharing a tall Kilimanjaro beer before bed completed our arrival, a traditional toast Ruth and I started 12 years ago.

The next day was devoted to shopping for books. Although our hefty suitcases were crammed with books of African content, we required more. Setting up a library at a secondary school, providing additional books to a library the African Book Box (ABB) had recently established and supplying books for primary schools. There are never enough books!

Finally we were off to Karatu District, the location of ABB’s present projects. Short distances from the paved road daily life of the Masai was unfolding. Large circular fences of thorn covered bushes dotted the landscape – homes of the Masai. These bomas or enclosures keep predators out and away from their precious cows. Under the equatorial sun children were herding goats and cows.

After two hours we arrived at the town of Mto wa Mbu, River or Place of Mosquitoes, the towering Rift Valley escarpment in the background. The main street was lined with women sitting under stunning red flame trees selling red bananas and vegetables. With one important stop to make before reaching our destination we turned off the road to Majengo Children’s Centre, a home providing food, clothing, education and love to 97 vulnerable children. Majengo, which means to build, is supported by Simone Hamilton’s organization from Toronto and skillfully managed by Neema Mugala. Truly an amazing place, where they are “building futures, one child at a time.” As we entered their new library, an inviting converted room, children were reading on rush mats, propped up against large cushions covered in bright Tanzanian fabric. Everything was locally made – the blue bookshelves, round, square and hexagonal tables, chairs and a couch. The atmosphere in their library had that just right feeling! They are delighted with their new library and we are too, happy that ABB could support this project.

The power of culturally relevant books was reflected in the radiant smiles of Majengo’s children! It’s what ABB is all about.

Reading in English and Kiswahili The Manadazi (Tanzanian Doughnut) Man, an African version of The Gingerbread Man adapted by Liz Priestman and myself, whimsically illustrated by Elaine Olafson. One child licked the Maandazi Man! Ruth brought a delightful wooden puzzle with African animals donated by Jalu Toys.

A perfect beginning to our month in Tanzania! Much love,