Really, do I look like I’m Somalian?

 We had a great view of Mt. Kilimanjaro from the airplane – the closest I have ever been in these many visits.  I was met at the airport by my friend Merritt, who works for the US Dept. of Agriculture.  She’s stationed in the US embassy in Ethiopia and came to Tanzania to spend the weekend with me and see Tanzania for the first time.  In the morning, we met my “son” Abdul and the driver he arranged for us, and we headed to Lushoto – a 5 and a half hour drive south to the mountains.  We got stopped twice en route – once by immigration who wanted to see my passport to make sure I wasn’t an illegal Somali (Do I look like I’m from Somalia?), and then a second time by local police who shook down the driver for a dollar and seventy five cent bribe before we were allowed to move on.

Lushoto is beautiful.  And cold.  I have been cold this whole trip.  Only in South Africa did my hotel have heat.  So if you’ve been picturing me under the hot African sun this whole blog, you can readjust your picture and add hoodies and scarves and sinus tablets to the picture. I have given land in Lushoto on a gorgeous mountain – it was given to me by Abdul’s family.  I instead instructed them to put it in Abdul’s name, and Abdul and I want to use the land to build a GO Campaign project for local youth.  (If you are reading this blog, you probably know who Abdul is.  If you don’t, you can go to the GO Campaign website and read about him on our Projects page.)  They’ve already cleared the land of the trees (they were not native trees and caused soil erosion) and they are all coming together to build a road to the land.  GO only has to pay a small amount for tools and to feed some of the workers, but the rest is being done on a volunteer basis because they know whatever project we ultimately select will benefit the community.

We met with village leaders and asked their opinion of what the greatest needs are for local children and youth.  We went in one house that had two teachers, on of whom had one-eye and was getting a hair weave put in, and she told us about the problems of education in this area.  In short, after primary school, the majority of kids either aren’t able to pass the test to move on (due to poor teaching, lack of materials) or they aren’t able to move on because they can’t afford secondary school.  (One man we talked to blamed the poor education system on western influence – specifically women’s trousers and the demise of corporal punishment.  I’m not going to give his opinions the heaviest of weights.)  I’ve suggested creating a community youth center, where locals would volunteer their expertise to train youth in vocational skills.  GO can provide the materials, but locals must volunteer to teach.  It can start in people’s homes, and if things go well, GO can build a youth center on the land.  All kinds of good things could happen once the center is built, but it’s best to get the community to weigh in and participate first, so that they will take ownership of the project.  Later volunteers from all over could come and lend expertise. I’m excited.  This is a beautiful place, the people are very welcoming, and it could be a really great thing for the community and for GO one day.  I could even see myself retiring here one day.

I’ve neglected to mention that the children of Lushoto follow you around like you are the Pied Piper.  They come out of nowhere and follow you everywhere.  And they aren’t begging for anything.  They just want to follow you.  And they LOVE having their picture taken.  In fact, I’ve never seen kids so anxious to have their picture taken. (And I’ve taken pictures of lots of kids in lots of places.)  Merritt can’t believe the difference from Ethiopia, where children are constantly begging.

Our hotel is small, but perfectly fine.  The only weird thing is that they have small hornets’ nests in the restaurant area.  The owner says the hornets have been there since he build the place 5 years ago and they don’t bother anyone, so why get rid of them?  He says no one has been stung.  It’s kind of weird and unsettling, though they do seem to mind their own business, so maybe it’s ok to live side by side with wasps in your dining room?

The rooms, though chilly, are clean.  I thought Abdul was tapping on my window one morning, so I opened the curtains in a dramatic flash to say hi, only to find a giant black and white crow pecking on my window.  I shut the curtains and jumped back 5 feet.  Call it a brief Alfred Hitchcock flashback.

Sunday morning Merritt and I decided to go to the church next door.  We think it was a Catholic church service.  It was in Swahili and I could understand enough of it, but the best part was the music.  They had a really terrific choir and the music was fantastic.   No matter if you are religious or not, there’s something about African music, especially live church music, that is truly magical.  People seemed surprised to see two white people in the church, but everyone was welcoming.  It wasn’t till we were halfway through the service that I realized the church was split with men on one side and women on the other.  And I was sitting in the other.  Oops.

We took some great walks and hikes here in Lushoto.  The landscape is stunning.  I’m sorry about the deforestation that occurs, and I noticed a lack of birds because of it, but it’s still a gorgeous place but I think the trees and birds will come back.  Abdul’s cousin joined us as a guide for much of our trip, and when I asked Abdul to remind me his cousin’s name, he couldn’t tell me.  He forgot.  He’s spent the whole weekend with him!  Seems names aren’t that important here.  I asked ‘What do you say when you want to call to him? You say ‘hey….???’.  He said ‘I don’t know.  I just run after him.’

Perhaps the most special moment of this trip was a visit to a pear tree.  Abdul told me he recently found out he was born under a tree, here in Lushoto.  We went to see the tree.  It was the first time Abdul had been there.  We heard the story of how his mom went into labor while walking back from her work (making local brew) to her home up the mountain, and so she sat down under this small tree to rest, and Abdul would not wait.  He was born under the tree, with the help of a woman who lived nearby who was called to come assist the birthing.  We went and found the woman.  She had not seen Abdul since he was born that day, over 20 years ago.  We thanked her for Abdul’s life, and she was very happy to see him all grown up.  Everyone was taking it in stride, but afterward I couldn’t help think what a remarkable moment this really was.

Last time I drove to Lushoto I think it took 9 hours to get there, and maybe 6 coming back.  This trip was 5 and a half to get there, and only 4 to come back.  This driver should enter a speed rally.  I tried not to look as he passed cars in the opposite lane and we flew by oncoming traffic with merely a few inches to spare.  We did see a fatal accident on the way back – a crushed car and an overturned truck.  Driving is a dangerous business in Africa. I especially disapprove of the rise in motorcycles and how they are used for taxis. Today I found out that Abdul and Colman (another teen we have long supported) frequently use these motorcycle taxis. I really got angry with them – riding around with these idiots who don’t even have proper licenses – and without helmets! Oy. They think I’m just being old-fashioned and that I don’t understand how the quick rides on the motorbikes make their lives so much easier. I told them they’re being stupid and they don’t understand how the quick rides can bring quick death. I may bring them to the local hospital this week to see the many beds filled with motorcycle accident victims. If they won’t listen to me, maybe they will listen to those with mangled limbs.  I feel like I’m turning into some nagging old grandparent… Next think you know I’ll be telling them to turn down that new fangled rock and roll and put Sinatra back on the jukebox…