IMG_6494We’ve been back for three weeks now and all these sharp edges, clean streets, stern but efficient people, and endless days of winter seem at once odd and very normal. Neither of us felt quite like we’d expected to feel back in this hyper-organized and fast-paced world. We thought we’d both feel lost and alienated because it is so fundamentally different from the slow-moving, slow-going tropics of sub-Saharan Africa. But maybe six months was never long enough to become alienated in this way. Although we learned to love our new world in small-town Africa, we never lost our deep-seated connection to these strange, western ways. The ‘pole, pole’ (‘slowly, slowly’) of Africa may have gotten under our skin, but the umbilical chord of home was only ever stretched, never severed.

Yet something about this schism between Switzerland and Tanzania continues to strike me every day. Whether it’s the guarded Swiss children – in Tanzania we passed hundreds of shy but insatiably curious children every day on our way to work, while here they’re taught not to say hello to strangers – or the almost unbelievable efficiency with which official matters are handled – from buying a train ticket to sorting out taxes – I find myself slipping back into this world while trying to retain a connection to our slice of cool and chaotic Africa. I can’t help but to appreciate how organized and predictable life is here, but in many ways it is the cold, polar opposite of a life we came to love and feel comfortable with; a distant world only a 8-hour plane ride away.

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IMG_9669Saying goodbye is always rubbish. It’s sad and utterly exhausting, and can serve as a painful reminder of the fact that those we hold dear will not always be around, and may be there for the last time as you hug, kiss or wave goodbye. But it’s also the flip side of love, of affection and of compassion; it is the necessary heart-breaking yin to love’s heart-making yang. Without the other neither would be as meaningful or half as powerful. Without the sadness of a goodbye we’d never realize how deep that connection we share can really be; how what was once so alien can become so familiar and so precious.

And after so much yang here at Amani, it was time for our inevitable dose of yin. After an adorable, tear-jerking leaving ceremony with the children yesterday afternoon – complete with tears, hugs, speeches, songs, and lollipops – today was our last day at the centre. Deep down I had dreaded this day, as had Boogie, and played the day out a million times over in my head, thinking: How will I feel? How will the children react? How will I pull off the proverbial bandage without too much sadness both on our part and on theirs? I’d cried and agonized over it, only realizing in these past weeks what a deep mark they had left on us both and how much it would hurt to say that final goodbye. I always knew that goodbye would be worse for us – they see people coming in and out of their lives more than most – but their timid and beautifully heartfelt goodbyes yesterday had made me dread the moment even more.

We’ve really grown to love these tenacious, funny and almost unfailingly lovely kids. Their spirit – that childlike innocence that survives and thrives regardless of tough, even tragic circumstances – never seized to amaze me. Their resilience and ability to bounce back after abuse, loneliness and endless hungry nights on the streets will never leave me. The fact that the weight of the world has not gotten them down is as good of a testament to the strength of the human spirit as anything I can imagine. (And the fact that they can be so open and so kind while going through puberty is frankly amazing.) I would never have internalized this lesson had it not been for them. I would never have known, really known deep down, the power we all carry within us if I hadn’t spent this half a year getting to know street children in Africa.

And then suddenly, after a good 130 days at Amani, countless afternoons playing football or teaching reading for Boogie, dancing to Michael Jackson with the girls or playing improvised board games on the yard for me, it had all come to an end. As the afternoon sun started setting over the yard, all the kids gathered in the dining hall to watch Home Alone II. We grabbed our backpack from the office, walked into the room, waved a quick goodbye and left with tears welling up in our eyes. A few kids ran after us and gave us a hug, but most, even if teary-eyed, stayed glued to the screen. It was probably for the best that we left them there that way: 70 kids packed on a few benches, hunched over each other or lying on the floor, packed like little raggedy sardines, utterly focused on soaking up every bit of Swahili-dubbed hilarity that Macaulay Culkin could muster up. We tried our best to catch the attention of the kids we’d grown closest to but I’m not sure we managed. I hope we did. I hope they know how much they meant to us. I hope they always will, even if our memory – like most memories at that age – eventually fades into a far-flung corner of their ever-malleable, ever-changing minds.

I cried as we walked home on those strangely familiar, dusty paths, flanked by beautiful bougainvillea in bloom and people tending their tiny farms – an almost ludicrously idiosyncratic and painfully idyllic African scene. I guess I cried because the goodbye seemed so final – with kids coming in an out of the centre you never know who’s there next week, let alone next year – and because my nostalgia for this place and for all the people in it suddenly seemed so raw, real and inescapable.

Sitting here I feel utterly drained and blessed at the same time. A really funny dinner with our (adult) friends and colleagues took the edge off all the sadness and introspection. As did making this with our fellow volunteers. And tomorrow’s full of stuff to do, so I should really hold on to at least some of the melodrama for later…

But for now, dear friends at Amani: Tutawakumbuka wote. Mara kwa mara. (We will remember you all. Always.) And I really hope to see you soon, somewhere, someday.

-K&B

IMG_9037What I’m looking forward to:

Family & friends: Dinners with people whom I share a lifetime of history with (with wine, haven’t had that in six months). Talking about our experiences and hearing about everyone else’s six months. And simple banter with the guys, where a crass joke follows a crude one.

Being back in a system that works, where people have real choices, where you find innovation, creativity, culture… a million different ideas from people who try to create something every day.

My electric guitars, musical friends, and a massive amplifier. Concerts and nightclubs, where the bass pulsates through every bone in your body.

Fresh food… Mozzarella di Bufala, antipasti, feta, salads, a freshly baked ciabatta.

Driving in the hills around Zurich.

City visits (first London, then Florence, hopefully Paris, Berlin, Helsinki…)

Less sweating

What I’ll miss:

The simplicity of life lived at a totally different pace.

The 1000 exhausting greetings every day… acknowledging everyone you see, even if it’s from a moving car.

Amazing Indian curries for 1/6 of the price

The archetypal, awe-inspiring, Avatar-trumping nature of this cradle of life.

Our fellow volunteers and all the other great people we’ve met here.

My many street kid friends…who will replace that humor, that enthusiasm, that perseverance of the toughest people I know?

-B

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It took six months to the day, but we’ve finally got our permits and can now safely and legally exit the country – and, in a rather strange twist – enter (and volunteer) again until January 2015. Mysterious are the ways of the Tanzanian Department of Immigration: it not only took six months to process a couple of pieces of paper, and another visit today to get the permits validated with a barely legible stamp in our passports, but instead of giving us our $550 visas for the duration of our stay, they – very kindly, I must add – gave us two-year ones instead.

We’d heard lots of pretty bad stories about corrupt officials asking for kickbacks in order to process visas or get back stolen passports, and although we’ve thankfully dodged that kind of treatment, the shadow of ‘kitu kidogo’ as the Kenyans call it (‘something small’ = bribes), looms large over everyday life. It does untold damage to the economy, and fundamentally, possibly irrevocably, erodes the trust people have in their elected representatives. Although the problem is well publicized in Kenya (I can only recommend ‘It’s Our Turn to Eat’ – a shocking, highly informative primer of Kenyan politics examined through the lens of a mass-scale, high-level corruption scandal) and underlies the fears for renewed ethnic violence after today’s election, Tanzanians – at least on the surface – seem much more passive and resigned about the scandal brewing in their midst. Sadly, however, there would be every reason to rise up to this sorry state of affairs in this beautiful country: Tanzania recently beat Kenya to second place in Transparency International’s East African Bribery Index, only barely trailing behind bribe-soaked Uganda.

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162 down, 12 to go and I’m looking forward to…

Long , lazy dinners with friends and family. Meeting our two new nephews and their proud parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles

A glass of good red wine and a delicious cocktail or two (you won’t get past a rudimentary G&T here)

Vietnamese food

Good chocolate

Going to the movies

Riding my bicycle

Walking around town without being covered in dust, choking on the fumes of (probably) toxic burning trash or dodging deranged street chicken. Wearing unreasonable shoes on even road surfaces

Cool, fresh air plus a dusting of fresh, powder snow (too much to ask for in March?)

Reliable power and ipso facto, reliable internet and refrigeration

Long walks with Billie, the Danielsson family dog

Having a healthier relationship with mosquitos again (I find the whole ‘kill or be killed’-type situation over here a little draining)

But I’ll miss…

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IMG_6129Our mighty and ever-so-slightly imposing neighbor is more often than not hidden away behind high, fluffy clouds. But as afternoon turned into evening today she suddenly revealed herself, dressed in the very finest clothes Mother Earth could provide: a full, fresh coat of blindingly white powder snow. The impending end of the long dry season has brought daily storms around the mountain and this one seems to have left a particularly enchanting mark. The glaciers may be receding at an alarming pace, but snow still caps this beautiful mountain every now and then, reminding us that the roof of this hot and heavy continent is still as white and light as ever.

Even the usually blasé locals (“oh, that thing again…”) seemed in awe of her mountainous majesty and we couldn’t help but to stand there and stare at the humbling beauty of it all. A friend is climbing the mountain this week and I have to admit a smidgeon of envy swept over me: shouldn’t we be up there too? Next time, maybe. And that’s a pretty strong maybe. Can’t think of a better reason to come back sooner rather than later: Kili and the kids…

Good night from the foothills of this beast of a mountain. She’ll watch over us tonight.

-K&B

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Crazy how the weeks just pass. I wrote the last blog post a week ago and it’s suddenly Sunday again. As we’ve gotten settled in a routine here it’s become just like it is back home: Mondays morph into Fridays in the blink of an eye. But I wonder if it’s a product of age – doesn’t time just fly faster and faster as you grow old – or familiarity? Maybe heat plays a role too – doesn’t the predictability of each hot and sunny day play into these patterns that make our brains forget about time, about the fleeting uniqueness of each day, each passing moment?

And how can you slow down this proverbial train? The funny thing is that although we’ve of course been thrown off course by this profoundly humbling and deeply invigorating experience, leaving behind all that was comfortable and cozy back home, even dusty East Africa has become so familiar, so normal that our brains only wake up to the craziness of it all in moments where something extraordinary happens: like when Boogie had a positively ancient local doctor tell him “Una malaria, rafiki yangu” last week (“You have malaria, my friend”, and don’t worry – after a serious course of Malarone B’s oddly mild form of the big bad M seems to have been defeated and we’ll have it checked again next week).

And in a way as we approach the end of our trip we’re getting ready to say our goodbyes to everyday Africa before we get completely absorbed by its hypnotizing ways and seductive slowness. The heat’s been intense in these past weeks as the beautifully warm but crisp mornings inevitably turn into relentlessly hot days. As we mentally prepare to say goodbye to this mysteriously charged, life-affirming, happiness-inducing, yet completely maddening place, we try to absorb all its goodness in our minds and in our memories. We try to make sure that we’ll always carry a piece of Tanzania with us: a piece of this beautiful country that will see us through even the toughest and coldest spots back home…

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