Coming Home, Thankful for Gifts Received

Saying Kwaheri to the Indian Ocean

Intrepid and joyful River Explorers

The view from the office will never be the same….
………….. see what I mean?

Winifrida’s gift to Chris

“There’s a whole world out there that needs you, down the street or across the ocean. Give.”

Bill Clinton, Giving

The chilly, misty air was undeniably Victorian, startlingly so.

“Must mean it’s time to go home,” flashes through my mind as I fasten my coat, a rare event for me in Kilema. But, as Steph and I walk through quiet, dripping trails lined with coffee and banana plants and the occasional flame tree in flower, the familiarity of the scenes around me brings a surprising rejoinder, “Maybe you are home.” Quite a bolt that second one: the surprising feeling that Kilema and environs have, in their own way, come to feel like a home as well.

The feeling is reinforced by the familiar rhythm of life around us. We pass Sunday greetings to familiar faces returning home from church or social visits, bibis and mothers often resplendent in kitenges and kangas of spectacular colour and pattern. Soccer buddies of mine jokingly smile and call, “Mzungu”, offering a gentle fist tap greeting, or even better, the three part handshake culminating in thumbsnap and mutual thumbs up to each other. Orphans or HIV positive patients I have treated in the HIV Centre wave and we see familiar faces gathered at their corner mbege bars for Sunday afternoon banana beer and conversation.

We are returning home from a special afternoon with a dear colleague from the HIV Centre, Mama Adella Kessy (seen in several of the photo albums we have posted online this year), and have shared beer and wonderful food from her garden as she has regaled us with stories from her life among the Chaggas of Kilimanjaro, most incredibly tales of her grandmother who died at age 126 in 1996 and insisted that only dancing be allowed at her memorial.

I glance at Steph’s radiant face as she speaks with Mama Kessy and, somewhat beer-assisted, catch hold of a small ray of her radiance, which distills into an enduring feeling of thankfulness for all the gifts given us here. The support from CACHA to come and be in Kilema; the endless generosity of the hospital community which has welcomed, housed and fed us; the similarly endless generosity and support from so many friends in Victoria and elsewhere for the children and families we are working with; the devotion of Babu Ross and Bibi Judy in coming all the way here to visit and the love of all members of our families in supporting and encouraging us.

Gifts have been given which will always remain with me. Worn bibis walking hours to ensure their HIV-infected grandchildren will see a doctor and squeezing my hand joyfully as they leave, “Asante mwa nangu” (thank you my child); joyful smiles of HIV patients on treatment who return bearing gifts of mangoes and avocados after serious illness, gaining weight, thriving and believing they have a future; meeting dozens of visiting Canadians, old and young, here with Rotary and CACHA, determined to contribute to positive change in the lives of people here (this most movingly the case recently with my four fabulous colleagues from Victoria – Carolyn, Anne, Caite and Irene – what a delight to have now been shoulder to shoulder with them on two continents).

Winifrida’s smile, featured above, has been among the most surprising gifts. In December, I feared she was sliding to AIDS as she lost weight and had worsening skin manifestations of HIV and started to lose hope, missing school and not taking her medications. Kula, kula, kula”, (eat, eat, eat) and “dawa kila siku” (medication every day) were my twin exhortations to her and she has been a star on both fronts, improving wonderfully in all respects and delighting in literally surprising me with from behind hugs and arm grabs whenever she visits the Centre.

The greatest gift? My family. Steph has astounded me this year with her relentless passion for her work, logging unbelievable hours and absolutely delighting in the people she has met and relationships she has forged. She will be the first to admit what a profound impact being here has had and plans to return soon, possibly in Jan 2009 with Eva. Lachlan, Eva and Sasha have been marvellously resilient in the face of change and challenge, have grown in ways I cannot yet appreciate. I look forward immensely to seeing how our Kilema time shapes their futures.

The children have been wonderful givers and helpers themselves: from serving or handing out food during orphan days to medication counting for health caravans to school and play supplies for colleagues and soccer friends. They have been brave witnesses, far from home and what is comfortable for them, but still meeting face on the injustices and challenges of life here: severe corporal punishment of fellow students at school; extreme poverty around them and severe illness and frequent deaths at the hospital.

I have delighted in their insights: they have remarked often how people here surprise and amaze them in their strength and ability to carry on with smiles and laughter. They have learned to always seek out the possibilities in the faces they encounter.

As I enter the time of long good byes with my ever gracious and graceful Tanzanian friends and turn west and north with excited anticipation at west coast summer reunions, Sunday’s feeling of thankfulness again returns. I feel the time has been far too fleeting, and that some or all of us will at some point return to this gorgeous place which has started to feel like a second home. I leave with some contentment at what I have been able to give, but understand to my core that I have been given and received much, much more.

Yes, a good time to go home. Asante sana Kilema.

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