Travel by our Karimu volunteers to Tanzania began on the evening of August 1 with a routine flight from San Francisco to London, followed by an endless layover in Heathrow. But the flight to Nairobi did not start routinely for those of us stuffed into the tail end of the Kenya Airways jet. We found ourselves sharing those few cubic feet with a young Kenyan man who, unlike our volunteers, had not chosen to fly to Africa―a trim, well dressed, very black man in his twenties whom UK authorities had put on our nearly full flight to deport.
He refused to go meekly, biting one of the men trying to carry out the deportation order and howling for several minutes. Meanwhile another security agent, a two-hundred-fifty-pound bruiser who strove to maintain calm as the veins swelled in his neck, smilingly assured me that the screaming would stop upon takeoff: “At that point the game’s over, i’n’t it, mate?”
We never found out if takeoff would have silenced the Kenyan man. His resistance won him at least a little bit of extra time in England, though surely not on the terms he desired. The security officer in charge, bitterly rejecting the Kenyan’s apologies for biting one of his men, finally gave up. Four agents removed the Kenyan from our jet and muscled him back into the van which had recently dropped him off on the tarmac. Heavily outnumbered and now silent with apprehension, he disappeared into the van’s black box.
The security detail wouldn’t―and maybe couldn’t―explain what the Kenyan man had done to earn deportation from the UK. Yet his hysteria reminded me that Marianne and I must swim upstream when we take Karimu’s volunteers to Africa. As the journalist Richard Dowden observes at the beginning of his masterful Africa: Altered States, Ordinary Miracles, “Few go there” since “Africa has a reputation: poverty, disease, war.” Though we lack Dowden’s deep and wide experience of the continent, we know by now that these three horsemen of the Apocalypse can deliver only scraps of the news about Africa. Yet we also know it is a continent that many people wish to escape, like those whose photographs appear at http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2009/01/african_immigration_to_europe.html. These include the sixty-nine would-be illegal immigrants who arrived on the beach on Spain’s Canary Island of Tenerife on October 15, 2008, and the one hundred one saved from rough seas by an Italian naval frigate near Malta two weeks earlier, and the eighty-six jammed into a tiny fishing boat which, on September 18, Spanish authorities had towed to the Canary Island of Gran Canaria, and on and on.
The African continent is huge and Karimu is small, like our goal: to journey to one little corner of Tanzania and work there with the villagers, many of whom have become our friends, to make it a place nobody would want to leave.–Don Stoll