(otherwise known as the much-delayed excerpt from ‘The Red Earth Sings Beneath Our Feet’)As promised, and then promised again.
When I went to Tanzania in 2010, I knew, ahead of time and on some basic level, I would come away from the experience changed. I didn’t realize the extent of that change until 6 months after I returned. This is an excerpt from the journal I faithfully wrote in every day while in-country, which remains the heart of the story I wanted to tell.
Sunday, July 18.
This morning I woke up under my mosquito netting and remembered I am in Africa.
Please pinch me.
The neighbor’s rooster was making a racket a half-hour before my alarm went off. All the other roosters from within a half-mile radius—and from the sound of it, there are a swarm of them—joined in. It was raining lightly, and I could almost taste the damp soil essence wafting up to my window. All of it—the sounds, colors, the feel of the air on my skin—is very different. I don’t yet have the words to explain or describe it. I hope I will eventually.
Arriving in Kilimanjaro was rather anticlimactic. I saw nothing but a smattering of lights that [my German row-mate on the plane] Papa Pavel said was Arusha, Tanzania’s third-largest city and an hour’s drive from Moshi. We deboarded the plane in the balmy night. I have never walked out of the maw of a monster of a 747 into open air, breathing in the newness from the open door; never descended the open staircase onto the tarmac, still warm from the afternoon sun.
A young man with a Cross-Cultural Solutions sign met me and Rachel, another CCS-Karanga volunteer, at the arrivals gate. Daniel was entertaining and welcoming, and kept making us laugh (“Jenifa, welcome, hellooooo…”) which was good because it was distracting our attention from the crazy drivers. Apparently it is common practice to drive with your brights on at night, and flash them at oncoming cars in greeting (Daniel: “It’s like how we say ‘Jambo’ with our cars”). Apparently it is also practice to drive on whatever part of the road you feel like, although Tanzanians usually drive on the British side of the road. In any case, it was too dark to see much, and I was exhausted. Almost too exhausted to feel much of the washboard dirt road we turned onto to drive through Karanga village.
We were met at the door by Mary the housekeeper, Mama Lillian and Baba Fulgence. Mama Lillian is the Karanga program director, and is—as she puts it—”a new mother to you all.” Baba Fulgence is like your favorite grandfather. You know, the one who magically pulled coins from behind your ear and sang songs with you when you were a kid. After a glass of mango juice and an animated discussion about John Cena (WWE was on the TV when we arrived), Rachel and I were sent off to our beds, feeling extremely grateful and welcomed. And absolutely exhausted.
This morning, I stood on the second-floor veranda and noticed avocados swinging from branches not five feet from my face. We have an avocado tree! And the avocados are as large as my open hand.
It is much too overcast to see Mt. Kilimanjaro. Apparently we can catch glimpses of the largest peak, Uhuru, on very clear days, through my bedroom window in the early morning.
After breakfast, our new group met for orientation and paperwork. During which we discussed in great detail the CCS policy banning sexual fraternization. I’ve known Mama Lillian for all of 12 hours, and I’ve already gotten the Sex Talk from her. Such a mother!
Besides me, there are five others just starting out, all women. We’re very diverse in our life and work experiences, but have bonded already, merely from embarking on this adventure at the same time. We received more information today about our placements, and I received something of a surprise: my placement has changed. I will now be volunteering at Kiwodea, a women’s empowerment center and nursery school that is within walking distance of Karanga. This is incredibly exciting, as I will get to work with women in the community on economic sustainability issues and business creation. And will get to play with kids. I will find out much more tomorrow, when our site supervisors come to the Karanga house to share lunch.
After orientation, we went on a driving tour of Moshi Town. It was very fast and thus hard to see much of it, but we drove through the main market street where women in brightly patterned kangas (wrap skirts) were selling fruit and vegetables and shoes and belt buckles and anything else you could imagine. Most of it was a blur, and I am looking forward to going back to explore on foot, with my camera.
Home base is beautiful. Karanga, in all its simplicity, is beautiful. To get to and from home, we journey about a half mile over a dirt-packed washboard road that is determined to eat the axles off the van. It is a brain- and- backside-numbing experience, that half mile. Greeting us by our gate is Brenda, the three-year-old neighbor who fearlessly plants herself in the dirt in front of us, usually with a stick or an item she stole from another kid.
There are numerous quirks, living in a house in an African village, which I think are entirely unique to this experience. At night, you can hear bush babies jabbering and whispering to each other in the trees—they sound like small children laughing. During the day, right around lunchtime, the neighbor’s goat starts yelling; he sounds like an old man with a hernia and a bad case of indigestion. When the wind is particularly strong, it pulls the coconuts from the clutches of the palm trees and drops them directly onto the tin roof of the dining area, scaring the living daylights out of all of us. The laundry room is our backyard, and my “washing machine” is a hose, a bucket and my two hands. There are birds and bugs and other flying things I have no hope of ever identifying. And there is a fine red dust that clings to everything—leaves, tree trunks, walls, feet, goats… everything.
It is all still wavy around the edges, as though I’m walking through a dream I had a few years ago about how this experience might feel. I am having some difficulty connecting to the realities of this place, and that I am really here.
Yet, at the same time, it feels like I always have been here. Or was supposed to be. Odd.