Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Day with My Kids

Fidesta, Damiani, and Yudathade
July 7, 2014

Pat and I spent the next day with Fidesta, Damiani, and Yuda, visiting schools and talking with administrators.  The pace of the day was slow and easy, and I was able to enjoy just being with them.  Remember, these children grew up without parents, and although they are no longer children, they seemed eager to absorb any radiance of mother’s love I could offer, so I gladly indulged them. 

Damian recently finished teacher’s college and had been assigned to a school in a very remote area of Tanzania.  He must travel two days on a bus to get there, and only one bus passes through the village each week.  Communication is difficult and electricity almost non-existent.  How ironic it seems that I gave him a watch to keep track of time in a place where time stands still.  Yet, like many first year teachers, he is excited to go.  He wants to make a difference in the world.  So as Fidesta prepared dinner, Pat and I offered him advice, and you could almost see him filing away this wisdom in his mind. New teachers in Tanzania receive little, if any, support.  My hope is that Damian does not burn out quickly in that harsh environment.  I will keep him in my prayers. 

Fidesta’s life has not been easy since I left Tanzania.  The challenges she has faced and the pain she has endured in her 21 years would make you cry at the injustice in this world, but she has never lost hope.  I cannot help but wonder how much more comforting it would have been for her to have had a mother around to confide in and to reassure her that things would get better.  All I could offer her was a small token to remind her that she is loved, a bracelet with an angel charm, a guardian angel to watch over her.  Fidesta is just finishing her first year at KAM College where she is studying to become a clinical officer (kind of like a physician’s assistant).  Just for fun, or maybe to reassure herself that I am indeed healthy, she listened to my heart and took my blood pressure.  Then, she gave me an extra helping of the delicious food she had prepared: rice, meat, and greens.  I do love those greens!  I looked around at her room, all that she owned packed into a few small bags, a thin mattress on the floor, a candle mounted on the end of a plastic table to provide light to study by at night.  She misses me very much, and she will cry when I go, but she is different now; wiser, more confident, hopeful, and somehow I sensed that she will be ok. 
Yuda had still been a scruffy, scraggly little boy when I left him three years ago, but now he is a man, 18 years old, strong and handsome.  I had Leopold to thank for that.  Today we would check out the school where he would enroll next week.  Yuda had also decided to become a teacher.  The life of a teacher is not easy in any country, but I know from experience how rewarding it can be, so I would not try to dissuade him.  Yuda seemed happy with his choice, and from outside appearances, it did seem to be a nice place, but being familiar with Tanzanian schools, I would reserve judgment until he actually begins his studies there. 
Yuda has always been a shy, quiet boy, but as the day wore on, I could see the light dimming in his eyes.  He was turning inward, and I sensed a profound sadness surrounding him.  Too soon, the shadows grew long and the day was coming to an end.  The kids escorted me to the bus stand.  Damian needed to go home and pack for his trip the next day.  I gave him some pocket money.  He promptly used it to get me a taxi back to the hotel.  I had left Yuda’s gift back in my room, so he and Fidesta rode with me to get it.  When we arrived, the taxi driver went to get some dinner and I ran up to the room to get the gift.  It was a cross and on it was written Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans that I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a future and a hope.” Yuda clutched it tightly and his eyes teared up as he thanked me for remembering him. 

Now the time had come once again to say good-bye.  Oh God, why did you not give us more time?  I hugged Fidesta and told her that I loved her and would pray for her every day.  Crying, she went to sit in the taxi while I said good-bye to Yuda.  Oh Yuda!  Why is it always so difficult to say good-bye to you?  How I wish I could stay.  I hugged him, and then I felt the wall around him collapse.  He hugged me tight for a moment and then he went out and got in the taxi with Fidesta.  The driver had not returned yet, but I did not go out.  Why add to their misery?  I stayed in the hotel and waited until the taxi finally pulled away.  Oh Yuda, if I could release you from this pain, I would.

Return to Tanzania

Return to Tanzania
July 5 – July 16, 2014

I had always imagined what this day would be like, returning to Tanzania.  Now after nearly three years, it was going to happen.  I had tried to sleep on the long flight, but excitement and anticipation kept me awake.  What would they look like?  Would they recognize me?  Was I still an important part of their lives?  So many memories were racing through my mind.  I remembered the pain of leaving long ago, not knowing if I would ever see them again, not knowing what their lives would be like. My heart felt as if it were skipping beats as the plane finally landed, and Pat and I made our way through all the necessary queues to claim our bags.  Then, as I was waiting to grab my bag from the carousel, I looked out the open door at the people gathered to welcome their loved ones, and I saw them.  Rather, I saw their light, the light of happiness which seemed to surround them as they waved and whooped and called to me.  Somehow, in an instant, I had retrieved my luggage and had gone out the door and was in their arms again, showered with flowers, cards, and love.  Victoria, Aggie, her new baby Anticlea Ruth, Neema, Maria, Adolph, Brighton, Damian, Fidesta, and Yuda had all come to welcome me home.

 My entourage escorted us to our hotel, some riding in our taxi and the others coming by bus or budaji. Someone ran out for sodas and we sat in the lobby to catch up on old times, but after two days of traveling and very little sleep, my head began to spin.  My family left me then, assuring me that they would see me soon, and I reluctantly went upstairs.  But oh, how good it felt to finally take a shower and then stretch out flat on a bed!

I fell asleep quickly, but it is in the stillness of the night that awareness finds me, my thoughts so vivid and clear, maybe fueled by mefloquine (an antimalarial drug), but real nonetheless. Why had I traveled thousands of miles to this place?  Surely not to see the environment of Dar es Salaam, a dirty, smelly, over-crowded city. What compelled these people to take time from work or school and spend their precious money to come and greet me?  Who are we to one another?  The horn of the muezzin interrupts my musings.  This early morning call to prayer stirs something deep inside me, seemingly refocusing my eyes, sharpening my ears, and attuning me to what I had seen at the airport.  The light I had seen surrounding them had been the love of God.  We are drawn to one another, like moths to the light, because there is no way we can resist the power of this force.  God brought us all together, each one of us broken and beaten down by life, and He healed us with His agape love.

(Another small miracle that I cannot explain is that my proficiency in Swahili seems to have improved, even though I have not heard it or spoken it in nearly three years.  I had no problem understanding or being understood.  I even served as translator several times, although sometimes I found myself speaking Swahili to Pat and English to Victoria).