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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

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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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If you’ve ever found yourself wondering about the global dominance of Coca Cola (Is it really the most recognized and valuable brand in the world?) look no further than Africa. Again, I may be extrapolating based on one sample country, but it’s hard not to be struck by the sometimes surprising ubiquity of the red and white cursive script on this one billion-strong continent. You find it on billboards, street signs, shop signs and on the clock tower of the main roundabout; entire houses are even painted in homage to this all-powerful, all-knowing brand. In absence of money to make signs or buy paint, Coca Cola has cleverly stepped in and found an easy and effective niche for its branding: Don’t bother advertising through media, just sponsor people’s daily lives.

And they’ve been extremely successful. Not only are bottlers of Coca Cola products local big-wigs – they even came to Amani before Christmas to donate food and gently persuade/bribe our former street kids with candy and warm Cokes – but their drinks are absolutely everywhere. From bars and restaurants to family celebrations, soda bottles are not merely vehicles for quenching one’s thirst, they’re gifts, very minor status symbols of sorts; a sign that the buyer and the receiver have bought into the candy-colored Coca Cola dream of a better life, perhaps even a better world. This subtly aspirational message resonates in still-poor, but forward-looking Africa; a place where the small joys in life – the new set of pens, the crisp new shirt, the joyously orange Fanta bottle – mean so much.

As long as local governments lag behind in providing both the material and psychological building blocks for a better tomorrow, millions of aspirational Africans will look to corporations, and outsiders like China, for help.

-K&B

It’s hard not to fall for the lived-in, Middle East-meets-tropical-Africa charms of Zanzibar. Without romanticizing the poverty that many of the island’s inhabitants suffer, or overlooking the neglect that has caused UNESCO to threaten to remove the island’s historic old town from its list of World Heritage Sites, the island positively oozes a kind of otherworldly charm. It’s made all the more palpable by decades of decay and the sheer weight of the history the island carries; you smell it in the labyrinth-like alleyways of the old town after the rains, you see it in the peeling paints and crumbling facades of the buildings, and perhaps most arrestingly in the unusual ethnic diversity of this small island – from Arabs to Africans and all shades in between. You can also just feel it. It’s history you don’t have to read about or intellectualize – it’s just there, each and every day, staring straight at you as you stare back in awe.

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