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.


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?



Funny how I’d forgotten what the easiest way to a child’s heart is: the age-old act of tickling. As we were leaving Amani on yet another gloriously sun-drenched Friday afternoon, little Hamisa and the beautifully expressive Mwanaisha (previously featured here) were playing on the slide in the yard, climbing up, sliding down and asking me to join. Tired and in a bit of a hurry I was eager to get a laugh out of these two and decided to give them a little tickle instead. And boy, does tickling work like pure, unadulterated magic. As I launched into a tickle the girls giggled, squirmed, begged me to stop and then shouted ‘Tena!’ (again!). Bellies, necks and feet all received their fair share and I even managed to snap the above picture in the slightly frenzied process…

A great book on neuroscience that I’m currently reading gives an interesting evolutionary twist to the story: As the author, Dr. Ramachandran argues, tickling may have evolved as an early playful rehearsal for adult humor; a pre-form of humor, if you will. Much like an adult in danger, the child’s instinct when faced with a menacing monster – the adult about to tickle them – is to react with fear and flee, but when the giant turns out to be gentle instead, the expectation of danger is released in the form of explosive laughter. Perhaps tickling works universally because it taps into our deep-seated wish to be loved through touch and our instinctive reaction to a potentially dangerous-turned pleasant surprise: the monster is friendly after all!

Thank you, Hamisa and Mwanaisha, for reminding me once again what it means to laugh for no reason, enjoy the moment for no reason and just be: Joyous, pure and at peace.


This gallery contains 7 photos.

Our Amani friends are fantastic – sometimes shy, a little reserved in the way that teenagers often are, interesting bordering on mysterious, and most of all fun – but today we had the distinct privilege of hanging out with some little ones at a friend’s project called Kilikids, a twenty minute drive outside Moshi. It’s …

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IMG_9622I come bearing gifts of equatorial Christmas cheer a day later than planned as our internet bailed on us last night and WordPress kept acting up (hence the messy formatting of this post). Although I feel a million miles away from the wintery vibes back home and even more distant from the mulled-wine-by-candle-light Christmas mood, Saturday was the annual ‘Kristmasi’ party for the Amani kids and neighborhood tots, complete with a borderline inappropriate Santa who was grinding his way through the audience, ‘giftis’ for each kid and mountains of local delicacies, washed down with liters of Coca Cola beverages.

The day was hot, action packed, fun and totally and utterly exhausting. (At one point I thought I was going to spontaneously combust, having run around in the blistering heat taking photos of hundreds of over-excited kids for hours.) All staff arrived at 8am to prepare the day all the kids had been given a new set of clothes the night before. Beaming with pride over their new outfits and fresh kicks they all had this amazing, confident swagger about them as they ran out to greet us.

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From left to right: Jifti, Boogie and Fanueli at the back, Sele and Robert at the front.

We had a good day today: relaxed morning, productive afternoon at work and lots of fun reading and playing with the kids… But we also got our first bittersweet taste of what it means to become (unexpectedly) attached to one of the kids and have him leave (again, unexpectedly) to be reunified with family.

Because Amani isn’t an orphanage it aims to reunify children when possible, either with immediate family members or extended family like uncles, aunts and grandparents. Although there are some kids at Amani who really have no one they could be reunified with and will likely stay at Amani until they grow up, most will be reunified at some point, either successfully, in which case Amani continues to support them and their families by paying for school fees, providing food aid etc., or unsuccessfully, with an all-too-real risk of the kid ending up back on the streets and possibly back at Amani. The reality is that reunification is hard because it usually means that the underlying reasons for why the child ran to the streets in the first place have to be addressed (extreme poverty, destructive family dynamics etc.), and the lure of street life has to be broken. The hope, however, is that family ties that have been restored with the help of Amani’s social workers will keep the kid anchored and will allow him or her to grow up in a familiar environment and supportive community.

And so the day came for one of our friends, Sele, to return to his home village and to his grandfather, his only surviving family member. I don’t know that much about his case but I think Sele is about 11-12 years old and has been at Amani for some months, even years. Judging by the commotion that broke out as the other kids found out that he was leaving he was also very popular. One kid said to Daniel, one of the social workers that was standing with us, “Ah, Sele is leaving? He’s smart like an adult.”

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Her expressive little face melts my heart every time.

When we visited her daycare center a few days ago – she lives at Amani but goes to a local private daycare center that Amani pays for – she did face number two on the top right corner with her hands covering her mouth. Not sure if she was horrified or super excited because of our surprise visit; I’d like to think it was the latter… 😉

– K&B