(My wife, Marianne, and I wrote this post together.)
We are getting ready for our seventh trip to Tanzania, and the sixth trip on which Karimu (www.karimufoundation.org) volunteers will accompany us. This June we will travel with thirty-eight volunteers, whose ages range from the mid-teens to the mid-sixties. They come from all over California, except for the four Chinese students who attend high school in Southern California.
When the two of us first visited Dareda Kati in 2007, the villagers would occasionally see tourists (like ourselves) staying for a few days in the home of a farmer named Marceli. The house in which he lives with his wife and their eleven children is extremely simple—like nothing that any of our volunteers could imagine living in. It is built out of bricks, however, while all the other homes in the village are mud huts. By comparison, Marceli is well off.
But now the villagers expect us to arrive every year, along with many other mzungus (“foreigners” in Swahili). Even though our time in the village is short, a lot gets done. As we write this post, two engineers from Bridging the Gap Africa (http://www.bridgingthegapafrica.org/) are in Dareda Kati, having driven there all the way from Nairobi, Kenya, a couple of days ago. They are surveying the site where our volunteers will help the villagers build a permanent footbridge so that many hundreds of people will no longer be cut off from medical care, education, and supplies by the torrential rains that hit East Africa every March and April.
We also hope to build another modest teachers’ duplex at Ufani Primary School, so that the government will send two more teachers. Its classes are overcrowded because so many parents want to send their children to the school that the villagers and Karimu volunteers have renovated. Ufani has become known for its excellent teachers and for high scores on the nationally-administered exit exam that offers Tanzanian children their only chance to qualify for secondary school.
The numbers of people who want to travel with us have grown, and so has the variety of our projects. Now and then, someone will ask us if we envision a time when we will no longer travel to the village, or if we have an exit strategy. These questions reflect the belief that development work should aim to create a self-sustaining community.
The success of Ufani School’s students, the appetite of its teachers for ongoing professional development, the gradual extension of pipes carrying clean water to every part of the village, the improved medical facilities, and the health of a handful of small business cooperatives, like the HIV patients’ chicken farm, all point to the villagers’ own determination to become self-sustaining. This supports our hope that the need for Karimu’s presence will disappear some day.
But when is the right time to exit a friendship? When is the right time to tell friends that we no longer intend to visit them? When is the right time to tell friends that we have no more need to enjoy their company or to walk and eat and talk with them?
Last August, Paul Yoronimo, Ufani School’s Head Teacher, reminisced about our first visit to Dareda Kati. He reminded us of when it came time to say goodbye to the teachers who, in less than a week, had become our friends.
“Don, I know you did not want to raise our hopes that you would return.”
He paused. Paul wishes he could speak English better than he does, so he speaks slowly and carefully in the attempt to do his best.
“I think you were sad, but you did not want us to see. You held your body and your face like this.”
Paul stiffened, making his face into a mask.
“You said, ‘We cannot come back. This trip cost Marianne and me a great deal of money, and we are not rich. But we promise that we will try our best to raise money for your school.'”
“Do you remember what happened next?”
Neither of us could say a word to him.
“Don, I reached over to you and put my hand on your arm. I looked you in the eye and said, ‘But you belong to our family now. You have entered into our hearts. You must come back.'”