To the ends of the earth…and back!

ELIIIIIIZA!! WHERE’S ELIZABETI?

Habari my friends!

Hujambo? (how are you?)

As expected, the shuttle drive from Nairobi to Arusha was quite special and even as I watched the beautiful African landscape, it felt as though I had never left. There were some tourists who were traveling on Riverside Shuttle for the first time and fielded their questions to me, which was a somewhat odd experience. I didn’t realize how much I had learned about Tanzania and the process of stopping at the borders…that and they were comforted that I spoke English. Anyway,  since the moment I arrived in Karatu last Wednesday evening, there has hardly been time to even catch my breath. From meeting with the two JOS volunteers who did a fantastic job (read below) to visiting with the children and staff, trying to conquer jet-lag, running to the markets for much needed uniforms, making new posters for the classrooms to help the children learn about animals and where/how they life, giving tours to visitors, to finally and most importantly prioritizing what needs to be done at Shalom, I think it has registered that I am back!

As Mr. Nnko drove me down the familiar road to Shalom, we met some of the 5 or so children who had been my English students in July. Their hands and arms waved furiously as their mouths stood agape at seeing me. It was so heartwarming and soon shouts of “ELIZA!”  filled the air. They were en route to school so there wasn’t time to greet them, but I received a wave of hugs and smiles and shouts as we pulled into Shalom’s property. I was nearly knocked over by some of the older ones who almost tackled me! We could only stay briefly because I needed to get settled but the children would not let go of my hands long enough for me to enter the car. Home, at last.

Sue and Barb (jos volunteers) were great and a special thanks to them for their work! We all had dinner on Wednesday night to debrief and chat about Shalom. [The first thing both Sue and Barb and Yusuf mentioned was: “The children keep asking: “Where’s Eiza? Where’s Eliza?” I felt sort of bad that they had had to field these questions, but of course I was so flattered too, as I had missed the children dearly.] The murals in the bedrooms are beautiful–start and cars/footballs (soccer balls) decorate the boys rooms, while flowers are upon the walls in the girls rooms. Sue, Barb, Godfrey, and Yusuf did an impeccable job on these!! Additionally, a new coat of paint was applied to the walls of these 4 bedrooms so they seem so much brighter now! An entire 2nd set of uniforms was purchased for the 26 school-aged children.

In fact, bright and early on Thursday morning–so much for conquering jet-lag– Yusuf, Godfrey, Sue and I headed to the markets. AS we walked through the familiar streets to pick up the remainder of the items–17 pairs of shoes, 22 shirts, 18 sweater, 20 pairs socks-we paid a visit to the seamstress who made the pants and skirts in July. She remembered we and we both shared a laugh. She is to deliver the final 11 skirts and 15 pants sometime this week for the children.

Later on Thursday, as I stood on the newly finished veranda from July, time seemed to stand still. Some of the boys were playing football on the veranda while others were sitting on the steps coloring various pictures. Some still were running about in the front, taking turns pushing each other in a wheelbarrow. In between taking turns with each set of children, I just felt absolute serenity. Suddenly, Samwel shouted, “HELICOPTER!” Instantly, about 15 children joined him on the grass while some other gathered on either side of me to gaze up at the sky. As they were all silent peering up at the sky, I wondered, “Would they ever be able to feel the thrill of soaring through the clouds in a plane or helicopter? Would they be able to one day look down on their beautiful homeland with wonder, as I had just days before?” Within a few minutes, the soccer game was back on and laughter and shouts of “eliiiiiiiza” filled the air again.

I learned quite a lot within the first day back at Shalom and I must admit, I was pretty overwhelmed at the moment. Some much for “pole pole” (slowly). Among the updates: a new washing machine was donated by a passerby on safari and the corn mill hut structure is complete. We are now just waiting for the machine to arrive. Additionally, a donor is in the process of raising funds for the crucial addition of a well. Similarly, I also learned that Shalom’s water had been turned off because they didn’t have enough money to pay the bill. First thing on Friday morning, Mama and I headed over to the Water Supply  Office and paid off half of the $1,000.00 bill. (Accumulated since April!!!) The water was turned back on shortly after our visit and I will return later this week to pay the balance.

The rest of Thursday and Friday were quite busy. I started more posters and English lessons for the children. I thought I was hallucinating from dehydration as I began to hear English in the foyer. I opened the door to a group of 12 tourists from America. Though Mama Warra usually works with the safari guide to welcome guests and give them a tour (she speaks Kiswahili and the guide translates) they asked me to go ahead and do this one. Secretly, I was relieved because just the day before Mama and the guide had used their normal system and the translation was rather abrasive. Also, once the rapid-fire questions began, I was more than relieved that I was the one fielding them. In these moments, I was yet again reminded of how vital my English-speaking abilities are at Shalom. Especially because our main way of income is through the tourists who pass by whilst on safari, I was ever grateful.

Once the guests had departed and I had generously handed out my card, I continued work on English posters. Some of the girls found me in the office and promptly shut the door behind them so as to have some alone time with me. Even though we didn’t speak much as I enlisted them to help me sort through coloring books for pictures of animals, they just craved the time with me. From time to time they’d take turns asking me about a specific color for filling in the pictures of animals. “Eliiiza, this one?”

Once I had segregated the pictures into land, sea, air animals, the three girls and I ventured to the classroom where the older children  (the younger ones were still napping) began coloring the animal pictures. I had a big animal book where the children could look up their animal and see the colors, but many just made their animals rainbow colored. Again they all insisted on showing me their animals every few moments as they progressed with coloring, writing the animals name and their own name. As I thought, “Wow, this is going really well,” I heard the excited screams of the younger children and like a flood, they all poured towards me shouting “picture” “color!” wanting their own coloring page. Thankfully I got some sense of order with them while trying to peel the suction-cupped fingers of two of the smallest from me so I could walk around. Ah, those brief moments of calm in the classroom with the older ones were just a blur now!

Friday night, Mama and I headed to town, a 20 minute walk, to pick up Ellen. I was so excited for her arrival, not only for someone with whom to work for Shalom, but also so I’d no longer be eating all my meals alone and only talking to my journal at night. As is the custom here, the two young women who work at Shalom and stay at the volunteer house with me, merely prepare the food and set it before me and only after I have eaten will they have some food. On a few occasions in July I was insistent enough that they joined me. Anyway, after the power went out at the internet café inhibiting my blog update last week, Mama and I sat in the dark for about 30 minutes waiting for Ellen. Soon enough she was here and the real fun would begin. [ellen will be staying at Shalom for at least two years with a possibility of extension…]

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