Day 10- March 17
We were so thankful that we woke up feeling better than the night before. I went to breakfast and fixed myself a cup of drinking chocolate. I sat with Sean that morning, our group leader. He was asking me about what I did back home, and we talked about the VBS day a bit. I think I was telling him about the library and how I get to do crafts and thing even though I'm not the children's librarian. He said that the crafts turned out wonderfully, and things turned out great, even though we left all the stuff we'd planned on using at the other hotel. He then said "you must be a very calm, level-headed person", because I didn't get flustered about the craft thing. I cracked up and told him that literally no one who knew me would ever describe me as calm. I thought that was funny. But I guess it goes to show you that under different circumstances (like being so far away from home, in a special situation, surrounded by people I don't know) you respond differently to things than you would if you were in your comfort zone.
The kids were supposed to show up at about 9:30 in the morning, so Christina and I headed back to our room after breakfast to get the bags we had for our kids. While we were there, I got on facebook on my phone (yay wifi!) and my friend Heidi had just posted that the buses with the kids were pulled up at the hotel! We ran outside and there was a golf cart waiting to speed us over to the playground/convention area of the hotel. The buses arrived early, but they waited a little bit to bring the kids to us. The place where we were meeting was pretty awesome. There was a two story building that could be used for meetings. On the first floor, there were lots of tables and chairs. There was a patio area outside, where they were setting up food and drinks. On the second floor of the building, there was a big open room where we'd be keeping our gifts for the kids, and restrooms. Outside there were several pieces of playground equipment. There were a few swings, jungle gym type things, some monkey bar stuff, a few benches and chairs...there was a small trampoline that was broken, but I think the rest of it was in working condition. Lots of space to run and play! We formed two lines to greet the kids, and we were going to sing for us like they did when we visited the centers. As our kids arrived, and since we were greeting everyone with "Jambo" and shaking hands, the singing didn't work out after a while, but hey. We tried. It was fun seeing the different sponsors finding their kids as they made their way down the line. Sometimes there were shy hugs and handshakes. I looked over and Krista, who was at the beginning of the line, was just standing and hugging her girl tight. They were both crying. I was told right before the kids came up that my child was late. I asked "one, or all of them?" He wasn't sure, but he guessed just one. I didn't know which one it would be, though.
At one point, a nice man with a suit jacket reached out to shake my hand, and asked my name. There was a small child tagging along right behind him, and then another man and a teenage boy. When I said my name was Jessi, I was looking at the little boy tagging along with this fellow. I have one picture of Bonifas, and he's smiling. This kid had the same smile. I shook his hand and told him I was really happy to meet him. Then the man in the suit jacket said "and this is Said, and brother Bonifas, from his child development center." I got a good look at Said and gave him a hug. I told him that he had gotten big, which didn't really make sense since we'd never met before. But he looks so much older than he did in my last photo of him, which was from November 2012. By process of elimination, I determined that Elisha was the one stuck in traffic.
My boys and their helpers made their way through the rest of the line, and then we all split up and went off with our kids, to spend some time together. We were told that we could bring down a few little gifts to keep with us as icebreakers, and then we'd do a real presentation of gifts later in the day. I had shoved the small photo albums I brought for the boys into my pack, and we went to find a seat. The best we could do was to sit on the edge of the broken trampoline. I had Said on my left, and Bonifas on the right. Said was wearing the leather sandals I've seen in some of his other pictures, long pants, a polo shirt and a track jacket. He brought a backpack with him. Bonifas was wearing a collared shirt and a little sweater. He looked so handsome! They both did. We sat together and talked for a little bit, with the help of the translator (I wish I had written down his name- it wasn't easy to remember!) Bonifas had a long car drive to the meeting place where they all loaded on the buses. Said got to ride in an airplane! I asked if it was his first time on a plane, and he said yes. I asked if it was exciting, and he said yes. They said it was a 45 minute flight. He had the little carry-on tag on his backpack. I was so happy for him, that he got to have that experience. I asked if he was nervous about being on the plane. When the translator asked him, he smiled and said something. The translator laughed and said "he was not afraid because he is not a small child." I laughed and told him I was nervous about the flight coming to Tanzania, because it was such a long trip! I described how long the journey was, and the stops we made along the way. I told the boys that it was a miracle from God that I was sitting there with them, because I wasn't sure it would ever happen. I told him that so many friends and family donated money so I could go on the trip, and I also made crafts and sold them to raise money. Said looked interested and asked what I made, and I thought, well shoot. How am I going to explain fusion beads? And the fact that I would make cartoon characters out of melted plastic and sell them to people? I did my best. He said that people where he lives make jewelry and cloths.
I asked the boys about their families. I did confirm Said's sister's name, which was translated wrong in one letter. It's Moshi, and she's 10 years old, which is good because I was worried the stuff I'd packed for her would be a little too "young." Bonifas is the second of four children. He has three sisters. One of them is named Karen, which is my mom's name! Bonifas (also called Boni and Bonifasi) grins as he speaks, and as he listens. He just smiles all the time. He smiled extra big when I told him about his sister sharing a name with my mom. The boys also told me about some of the livestock they have, and Bonifas said that they have some donkeys. My grandmother has a pet mule, and the markings I saw on the Tanzanian donkeys reminded me of Wilbur (the mule.) So I told them about the horses at my grandparents' house, and about Wilbur, and that Mammaw even has a t-shirt with his picture on there. Bonifas got excited and asked what we use donkeys for where I live. Well, nothing really! I said that Wilbur was a pet, but my uncle and my grandpa have a garden, and one of the big horses they used to have would help pull a plow. Then they got to asking what we grew in the garden, and they told me what they grow. I told them I had eaten watermelon every day in Tanzania, but where I live, watermelon only grows a few months a year. They were interested in comparing our lives like that. They also took the time to tell me thanks for writing and sponsoring them. They did a little presentation out of it. I would do anything for these boys- I don't need their thanks. But it gave Said the opportunity to talk about when he broke his leg- he apparently fell out of a bus or truck after leaving school one day. While he was describing this, and telling me that Compassion paid for him to go to the doctor, he pulled up his pants leg- he has a big scar. I have a feeling he had to have surgery on his leg. I'm so thankful that Compassion got him the medical help he needed! And I'm glad I got to learn a little more about what happened. I also had the chance to tell the boys how I became their sponsor. I told Said about how I wanted to write letters to kids, and asked for a correspondence child. I had been asking for girls, but when I stopped, I got him- and I love him so much. Then I told them both that I registered for the trip as an act of faith, that God would provide the money to go. I told them I started trying to find sponsors for other Tanzanian children, and if I found a sponsor for a child, I would bring a gift for that child. I told them I tried to find a sponsor for Bonifas, and I loved his smile. After about six weeks, I told my mom I was sad that he didn't have a sponsor because he was so handsome and happy. And now she helps me sponsor him! The translator loved this story, and told Bonifas "smiling found you a sponsor! Smiling is wonderful!"
Then we decided to look through the pictures I brought. Before I left, mom and I put together photo albums for all three boys. They basically had the same pictures in them. I labeled them as she put them in the albums. They eagerly looked through them, pointing and looking to me to tell them what each picture was. They just ate it up. And then I told them that there were blank pages so they could add pictures that I send to them, whether they're pictures of our time together, or other random pictures I send. Bonifas smiled away. He's so happy! After we looked at photos, we were called over to the building so we could have tea together. I fixed a cup of hot milk and added some chocolate, but I wasn't paying attention (because I was so excited) and didn't see that they put out the cocoa. Which is just plain cocoa. And I didn't add sugar. Needless to say, I didn't drink much. They also had the little fritters and African donut things that we'd had a few other times during the trip. As we were sitting and enjoying our tea, Elisha showed up with his helper from his center. I heard they had a 12 hour drive, and then got stuck in traffic coming into Arusha. They sat him down by me, and he gobbled up his hot milk and fritters. He was soooooo shy at first. When I'd ask questions, he'd speak into his shoulder, away from me, and even the translator could barely hear him. This is a stark contrast to how he acted the rest of the day. After tea, I went upstairs and brought down the soccer ball and pump that I had brought for Said. We then went outside and played! All three boys are good. Said is also great with the little boys. He didn't seem annoyed that they were there- he just acted like a big brother or responsible babysitter, helping them with their food and tea or whatever else they needed. We kicked the ball around outside....Elisha did tricks and crazy kicks and ran around like a madman. Bonifas is very clumsy and falls down a lot. He fell down every few minutes kicking the ball. And he fell down a lot later, too. But he smiled the whole time.
This is Elisha
This is Said
I was pretty surprised that Said got on this merry go round thing, obviously meant for smaller kids!
As Bonifas and Elisha passed me on this thing, Elisha shouted something and then they started making gunfire noises. The translator said "he wants you to know he's shooting at you." Pretending they're on fighter jets is a bit more masculine than big plastic duckies.
Guess who's about to fall down?
I am not athletic. I was also wearing sandals, and that's not the easiest thing to kick a soccer ball in. I mean, these kids can kick it around barefoot, but not me. So I ended up sitting down to take some pictures. A few other folks joined our game to kick the ball around. It was very hot on this day- maybe the hottest day of the trip- and playing outside made it even hotter. I was getting pretty worn out from the sun and playing, so I suggested we go inside and play with some of the art supplies I brought. I brought down the pencil bags full of stuff, the crayons, markers, colored pencils, and drawing pads, We all sat together and I talked to the translator and the boys while they drew. Bonifas' drawings are very interesting, and a bit hard to figure out when he's not there to explain them. As they drew, I was guessing what they were drawing- in Swahili! That picture dictionary that Faustina and I made really came in handy. Said started drawing an airplane, and I looked it up. I called out "ndege!" and he gave a small smile and nodded. The translator said good job, and told me that ndege is also their word for bird! They just call them both the same word. Then Said started drawing a bus. Faustina had told me that bus was "dala dala." When I asked Said, he shook his head and just said "bus." Then the translator laughed and explained again that a dala dala is a specific kind of bus. One kind is smaller, like the ones we'd been driving around in. But then there are big ones that go through the cities, carrying loads of people and whatever they're taking with them- even if their "luggage" is livestock, like chickens and goats! We cleaned up our art supplies and went back outside to play some more before lunch, and it was lots of fun (but very hot.)
When lunch was served, we went through the lines. It was a self-serve buffet, set up by the same folks that had served us dinner the night before. I think the kids were used to being served at the centers, though, because they stopped at each station and held out their plates. They got some of everything, but they didn't serve themselves. I think that the hotel employees were a little confused at first, but that's ok. There was more of the same food we'd been eating- some traditional stuff, like the chicken, rice, and pilau, and then some of the stuff for tourists, like macaroni (plain pasta) and rolls, I think. I know that I ate a few bits of rice and some cucumber raita, and then cake and fruit for dessert. The translator asked if I wasn't used to the food, and I explained that many of us had a bad stomach the night before. He smiled and said "ah, you must be selective!" Bonifas ate his food fast. And he ate a lot of stuff. Said chose a Mt. Dew to go with his meal, and that's what I had picked, too (this was the only time I saw that drink on the trip!) The Compassion staff members were getting their food, so we were alone with no translator, but I held up my Mt. Dew and gave him a thumbs up, and he laughed. Elisha didn't eat much because he was still full from tea/second breakfast, and he got a little restless. I gave him my camera to show him pictures from the trip, and then let him wander around and take some. I had a nice chat with the translator. When the boys were quiet, he'd ask me questions about America or my family. He was so nice and very helpful, but I think it would have been nice to also share what I was saying with the boys, even though they hadn't asked. Just random stuff, like "I asked her how long she's been married. She said four years in January." But the boys didn't seem like they were left out, so I guess it was ok.
After lunch, we went back outside to present gifts. They headed on out while I ran upstairs to get the backpacks. We had a few chairs near a tree, so we all sat down. Each project worker (Brother Bonifas from Said's center, quiet Rose from Bonifas' center, and the nice young man who came with Elisha) had a camera, and they were ready to take pictures. The boys presented gifts to me first. I was surprised, and very honored. Elisha brought several gifts. I think they probably took him to a souvenir shop and let him pick out whatever he wanted. He brought a tote bag, a Tanzanian flag, a Maasai postcard (which I had also seen at Tarangire) and a notecard that had a tiny batik painting. These things were really cool, and they were everywhere. It's pretty cool that he brought me one because I had thought about getting one, but I was low on money, and this one is special because he picked it out and wrote his name on the back! Said's gift was a kitenge cloth from Morogoro region, where he lives. He draped it over my shoulders and I worked really hard not to cry. The kitenge cloth is just a big, versatile piece of cloth. It can be used as a dress, a top, or whatever you need it to be. Then they said Bonifas had his own gift- he wanted to pray for me. So I sat down, and he put his tiny hands on my arm and prayed. I have no idea what he said, but he said it quietly and in Swahili. And then he said amen, and smiled, and we shook hands. The Compassion staff took photos of everything- each individual gift. We ended up using all the memory in my camera, and switched to my phone.
Then it was my turn to present gifts to the boys. I had a backpack full of stuff for each of them. I said Elisha should probably go first, because he is just a ball of energy that never stops, and I didn't think he'd be able to wait very long. Seriously. Any time we stopped to even talk for a moment, he'd spot a piece of playground equipment he hadn't attacked yet and run off!
I didn't get to take a picture of the stuff in the backpacks the night before I met up with the boys, but I do have a photo of them with each individual item. Washcloth 1, washcloth 2, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc. It was sweet.
Bonifas went second. His stuff was almost identical to Elisha's, since they're so close in age. Like, they each had four Hot Wheels cars, but they were different. They each had an activity book that my mom had picked out. They each got a polo and a long sleeved shirt, but different colors. Things like that.
Bonifas never had his sunglasses on straight.
While Bonifas was opening his backpack, Elisha was wandering around in the background. When he got the sunglasses out of his bag, he put them on right away, and they looked great. So Bonifas is holding up soap and hand towels and getting his picture taken, and I hear Said chuckling beside me. Elisha is sitting off to the side, sunglasses on, holding the harmonica up to his mouth. He looked like a little blues singer, even though he didn't know what that was!
Then it was Said's turn. The first thing he brought out of the bag was the hot pink princess bag I put together for his sister. So I explained who it was for, and he opened it up and held a few things up for the camera. He went through the rest of the bag, and when he got to the necklace that I brought for his mom, I stopped him and told him there was a special story that went along with it. We found out last year that Said's little sister Huba passed away. When I read the letter, I was on the phone with my mom, and told her. We already knew that I was going to Tanzania.She got Said's mom a "memorial tear" necklace in memory of Huba, which was a little silver necklace that had a rose and a Bible verse on it. So as I explained this story, that it was a gift from my mom to his, Said quietly said thank you, and Brother Bonifas (or Big Bonifas, as I started calling him) came over with tears in his eyes, and shook my hand and said "asante sana. Thank you so much." It was a nice moment.
Elisha was getting restless as Said went through the rest of his gifts, and wandered into the pictures a few times. After we were done, we had some more playtime. The little boys wanted to run around on the playground equipment, and I told Said he could play, too. There was a single swing on the jungle gym they were climbing on, and I went to swing on it. Said came over and pushed me! I thought that was so sweet! Elisha and Bonifas just run and jump and climb nonstop. It's crazy. They yelled and shouted. Anytime Elisha wanted me to come see something, he would yell "teacher! Teacher!" and then make a face and run away. He liked it when I'd roar at him like a lion and start to chase him. Or he and Bonifas would be standing, waiting for me to run after him, and I'd start walking toward them while looking at something else, pretending I didn't see them. They'd be standing there giggling, wondering if I was going to come after them. And then I'd roar and they'd take off, shrieking. It was so much fun. I taught Said to play tic tac toe on this giant board they had, with the x's and o's painted on little barrels that spun. We tied most of the time. When Said wants to stop something, like the merry go round, or he's tired of tic tac toe, he'd say "enough!" in English. And I loved it every time he said it. He was pretty quiet when I was with him- not out of shyness, I think, but it just seems like part of his nature. He has a low laugh and a low, quiet voice. When the boys were running around like crazy and I needed a sit down, he would sit in a chair next to me, with his hand on my chair. He was just happy to be with me, even if I wasn't doing anything interesting.
Said and I were sitting and watching the other boys. I got out my phone to see what time it was, and I had a text from my mom. I decided to turn on the cell data and send her a picture. Said understands enough English to know what I meant when I said "let's send a picture to my mom." So I sent this and said "Said says hi!" When she responded, I told him "my mom says hi", and he smiled!
I turned around and my boy was putting on one of the shirts I brought. I'm so proud. #BBN!! Go cats!
Elisha came over and we took a picture with him, too. He heard "picture" and wanted to grab the phone. Said was trying to hold him back and explain that we would take the picture....this is the best shot we got. : )
Fun game: throw a soccer ball to kids on a swing set and let them kick it while swinging!
Said and I had fun on the swings. Rose, in the background, came over to push me. I said I was fine, but the translator said "we will help our sister!" I think we should call each other brother and sister more often.
Elisha told Bonifas to get his sunglasses and harmonica. When they were ready, they came over and started playing for me. I have video of this and it's amazing. Elisha only knows a few words in English, and one of those words is "whassup."
Elisha reading the Easter book my momma got for him
Bonifas and Elisha got matching soccer bunnies!
Our time was coming to a close, so we gathered for prayer. The boys shared prayer requests with me, and I wrote them all down. They all asked that I pray for their centers, as well as their schooling and families. Said and Elisha want to be doctors when they grow up. Bonifas wants to be a science teacher. I prayed for them, and thanked God over and over that we were able to spend the day together. Earlier in the day I had burst out with a "Bwana asifiwe", or "praise the Lord!" They all loved it and the translator gave me a high five, and said I was becoming a real Tanzanian.
We all gathered together for a group picture- the whole, big, crazy group. Said sat beside me. Bonifas and Elisha just jumped in wherever they wanted to (I think they moved about six times as we were arranging ourselves, trying to fit in the shot.) Then we walked up to the access road where the buses were waiting. We said our goodbyes. Bonifas and Elisha just smiled and said kwaheri (bye) and were ready to be on their way. I roared at Elisha one last time, and he roared back and smiled. I told Said I would write to him as soon as I got home, to tell him I got home safely, and he laughed when I told him that it would probably take two months to get to him. Then Brother Bonifas stopped and spoke with me before he left to get on the bus. He was such a nice man. He told me thank you many times, and blessed me and said that he has worked at that center for about 10 years, and he was so glad that I wrote to Said and cared about him, and told me that it makes all the difference in the world to the kids where he lives. Sponsored kids have such better lives in that area, he said, and the whole community knows it. And he thanked me some more, and shook my hand and gave me a hug, and told me they'd be praying for me. I am blessed to have met him,
I stepped off to the side where the other sponsors were, talking and crying and waving at the kids on the buses. I didn't cry as I saw them leaving, but I think I might have when I got back to the room, or maybe before bed that night. Just a little bit. It's hard knowing that I probably won't ever see them again this side of heaven. It was hard knowing I'd be heading home the next day, after this amazing and incredible adventure. At this point, our journey was essentially over. All my thoughts about what to do when I got home- what I'd say to people, what stories we had to share, how life was going to be different- started settling in. And we talked about that a little bit after dinner. It's a really weird feeling. It's just very surreal.
My day with my boys was great. I'm thankful for every minute we spent together. I'm glad we were all feeling better and that illness and discomfort didn't get in the way of our time with our kids. I'm glad that I got to learn more about Bonifas' and Elisha's personalities- I still have several years of form letters ahead with both of them, and seeing them in person, talking to them and watching them and listening to them, has definitely made me feel more connected to them in a way that it might have taken years to develop through letters. The whole day was amazing, and I loved it.
There's still one more day of recaps to go, so be sure to check back and read about our time at the Tanzania country office. I learned a lot, and I do have a few things to share from that day as well!