Saturday, 7 April 2012

The first two days...

After several looooong flights, we arrived at Kilimanjaro International Airport. The visa process was simple enough, though the officers had trouble understanding that we were not with a company, nor were we staying in a hotel. It was also Dad’s first experience with “Africa time” though having worked with Palm Island long enough, he handled it well.

Mr Michael had said he would be there to greet us at the airport and take us to Mama’s (the airport is about 50kms from Arusha), so I was quite pleased (maybe a little smug) to tell the many eager taxi drivers (“Miss, taxi? Miss! Sir, you want taxi?”) that we were waiting for our friend to collect us. However, after waiting awhile, I purchased a Tanzanian sim card and credit to call Mr Michael, who informed me he was unable to collect us as his wife was unwell in hospital. Hakuna matata, I admitted defeat and told the taxi drivers “To Arusha please” and we were on our way.

Taxi man: “Which hotel?”
Kasey: “No, we’re not staying in a hotel. We are visiting friends.”Taxi man: “You are visiting friends?! Where are you going?”
Kasey: “Kaunda Road. Do you know it?”
Taxi man: “Ah no”Kasey: “It’s ok, I will show you. You know the clock tower?”Taxi man: “Yes, I know it”.
Kasey: “Go there, I will show you”Taxi man: “You know it?! You know Arusha?”Kasey: “Yes, so you can’t rip me off!”Taxi man: “Aya, aya, ok!”

The drive into town is a whole new experience for those who have not been to Africa (or from what I’ve heard, most third world countries). Buses, dalla dallas (the local transport – more about them later), boda-bodas (motorbike taxis that were non-existent in 2009 are now everywhere), taxis, bicycles, safari trucks, wagons, people and goats all competing for space on the highway. The general consensus is ‘if you think you can make it, go!’ and “If there is room, why not squeeze through…just make another lane”. There are a lot of traffic accidents in Tanzania, but I’m surprised there are not more. The roads/traffic/drivers are the main reason I do not try to convince Mum to come here…I think the drive from the airport to Arusha would be enough for her to catch the next plane home. Dad on the other hand took it all in his stride. I secretly think he loved every minute of it. It was the day before an election, so there was a lot of extra traffic and people rallying on and beside the roads. Very different to our recent state elections, which are somewhat low-key in comparison.

As we are getting into Arusha, I realise that I recognise the smell! I’ve never really noticed that I could identify a place by the smell before (I mean specifically, not just the beach or the creek), but as we got closer I caught a whiff and said “Oh my god, Arusha has a smell!” I’m not sure what it its (one of the guys here has suggested it is burning rubbish), but I’m betting if you blindfolded me and dropped me into Arusha I could tell you I was there, simply from the smell. It made me feel so happy and I was wishing the roads were not so packed so we could be at Mama’s faster.

After stopping at the ATM for some Tanzanian shillings, at the store for water and toilet paper (mzungu essentials), and pointing out a few landmarks along the way (the United Nations Tribunal for Rwanda, the clock tower, the bridge where Maria got macheted) I directed the taxi to Kaunda Road. We were getting closer! We pulled up at the big blue door, said ‘asante’, and in we went.

Only Aika and Joe knew we were coming; Mama, Baba, Catherine and Godlove were all kept in the dark. We dumped our luggage in the yard and made our way to the front door. “Hodi!” I said, which is the standard “Hey, I’m here, can I come in?” After a minute Aika’s head poked through the door, followed by a squeal and a massive hug. Anatoly, Catherine’s son, also raced out, despite never having met us. Aika then called for Mama – what we’ve all been waiting for – and she didn’t disappoint us! She ran from her room with her arms raised, and actually picked me up “Kesia, Kesia, my bebe, nakupenda sana, karibu sana. Is it you?” In my excitement, I forgot my basic Swahili and introduced Dad as my dada (which means sister in Swahili)...which Dad captures on film. He was filming on and off throughout this, but he eventually had to stop. He didn’t get the part where Mama dropped to her knees praising God for bringing us to her. She then (and many times since) told Dad “she is a good girl”, “she is the best girl”, “she is my daughter”. I'm hoping Mama has raised me up a peg or two in Dad’s books…surely now he thinks I can do no wrong? Hehehe.

Mama and me, reunited :)

Goddy was the next family member to come home. I caught his reflection in the door to the kitchen and snuck in…man I wish Dad had have filmed this one! His eyes popped, his jaw dropped…his face was pure shock. “Kessy! What are you doing here?!” Classic. Catherine came home not long after. I tried to hide in Dad’s doorway but she spotted me. She was also shocked, and very happy, especially when we told her we would be here for her wedding. Joe came home later that night, and in typical Joe style was cool as a cucumber, and very happy to meet Dad. Mama soon got Baba (who will be home on Thursday) on the phone, and we are looking forward to my two Babas meeting.

There are two other guys staying with Mama at the moment; Tom from the UK who is, like me, returning to Arusha to visit his orphanage. Last time he was here he stayed at the volunteer house, but heard about Mama Joe’s and couldn’t resist. Luke from the US is friends with my kaka Andrew who was at Mama’s for my first few weeks in 2009. He is here for almost a year (and staying in my bachelor pad out the back...which means I'm back in my original bed in the girls room). 

First night at Mama’s and we feasted on brown rice, beans, chapati, small meat, cabbage, and watermelon. It’s good to be home.


Our first Sunday in Arusha, so of course Mama and the girls were off to church at various times in the morning (we gave church a miss this week). Instead, Dad and I took on the town, and walked from Mama’s to Friend’s Corner (where we will catch our daily dalla dalla). Another first for Dad, having to deal with old guys trying to sell paintings, and young guys trying to sell safaris/Tanzanite, or just wanting to be friends with the wazungu. I didn’t see any of my old acquaintances, but am hoping that this is simply because it’s Sunday.

Home after our walk, and Mama has made us potatoes (oh the carbs!), small meat, small ugali, and pears (when I say small, this means Mama is only cooking a little bit). Small ugali because wazungu don’t like ugali. Ugali is the staple food in the Tanzanian diet, and it consists of maize flour and water cooked and stirred until it is the consistency of rubbery mashed potatoes (though not as tasty). It tastes like nothing much, and eating a lot of it can be quite a challenge (as I found out last time), but the Tanzanians love it. A prime illustration is last time a couple of us took Aika on a day safari to Arusha National Park. The safari company had packed us delicious sandwiches and cakes, but Aika nibbled at the edge of the sandwich and said she preferred ugali. We all had a laugh about it (Aika included), and I think of that day every time I eat ugali. I don’t think Dad was a fan either, but we managed to eat enough to satisfy Mama (“Mesheba?” she asks, which means “Are you full?” “Nimesheba sana Mama!” meaning “I am very full Mama!” “True?!”)

Because Mr Michael was unable to meet us at the airport, he arranged to come to Mama’s on Sunday afternoon. Upon greeting him, his reaction was exactly as I expected; quiet, understated (very different to Mama), but elated. Also, it was my turn to be surprised as Mr Michael bought along Mr Benja, who is the only teacher remaining at the school from 2009. He also did not know I was coming.

Kasey: “You didn’t know I was coming?”Benja: “No, I didn’t know. Even when we arrived at this place I thought ‘Why are we here? Who are we seeing?” and I didn’t know until I just looked up and saw your face. I am very happy. Karibu sana Kesey”Kasey: “Asante sana

I was so happy to see both Mr Michael and Mr Benja, who I spent so much time with in 2009. Since then, I’ve been in regular contact with Mr Michael, and Mr Michael has taken an interest in making contact (via Facebook of course) with many of the people who have supported Memorial School through sponsorship and donations. Dad is one of these people, as he took a keen interest it what I was up to while here in 2009 and everything that’s been done since I’ve been back. Finally meeting Mr Michael was a bit overwhelming and choked up my big, strong daddy. It was very sweet.

We spent the afternoon chatting and planning the next day at school. Mr Michael informed us that unfortunately he and Benja would not be at the school for our first day, as they were travelling to Tanga (300 kilometres away) to support a student whose mother had passed away that day. Hard to imagine a director/headmaster of a school in Australia taking the day off to travel that far (takes a lot longer on African roads as well) to comfort a child. But as Mr Michael said “We want to support and comfort the child, and let him know that he is loved and valued. When he’s sees us, his teachers, he will feel that he is loved.” Talk about going above and beyond.

We bid them farewell (“Tutaonana Jumanne” or “See you Tuesday”), and then had a chat with Joe about the weather. It was so dry on the drive from the airport, and Dad, being the weather lover he is, had plenty of questions for Joe about the drought and the long-awaited “long rains”. Joe said it had not rained in months, and that the rains were very overdue. Within 15 minutes we heard our first thunderclap, and within half an hour it was pouring. Perhaps we are good luck ;)

For dinner we had white rice, beans, chipsi, small meat, and Mama’s awesome tomatoes (I don’t know what she does with them, but this time I am not leaving until I've learnt how to cook Mama’s brown rice, chapati, tomatoes and cabbage).

Quotes of the day:
“Be free. Be as if you are in Australia. Be at home.” Mama, Mr Michael, and Benja at various times.
“No meat, except meat” (Mama explaining to our vegetarian that there is no meat in anything apart from the small meat being served…classic Mama).

Loving life :)

Mama and Aika preparing chapatti


  1. Kasey that sounds amazing. Looking forward to hearing more of your stories and when you get back you must speak some swahili for us :)

  2. Awesome work Kasey - this blog is a brilliant idea! Can't wait to hear more x

  3. You are writing! and beautifully too- I am laughing out loud and my heart is smiling for you and I am taking deep, emotional breaths. Moving stuff ...I love the quotes and the honesty and love that you write with. xxx

  4. Kasey you are amazing! To return to such a magical place and to have made such a difference....a true inspiration! Enjoy every minute and although its hard when you are there as you are going to be busy, please keep writing!

  5. Wow Kasey! Mama definitely got it right... YOU are a good girl... and a true inspiration.