I didn’t know it then, but when I arrived in Tanzania a few weeks ago, I made a choice. Had I known how that choice would affect me upon my return, there are moments when I think I would have chosen differently.
I chose to immerse myself completely into the experience. I willingly opened my heart and mind to everyone I met and invited them in. I chose to get down on my knees so I could be closer to the children. I chose to play and get dirty with them. I held their hands and I picked up the little ones. I gave hugs when it was welcomed and tried to make them smile and laugh. I showed them pictures of themselves on my camera. I learned a few Swahili words which were never enough to really express how I felt. But enough to assure them that I would be back the next day. I fell in love with the people that spend their lives teaching and caring for these children every day. By comparison, my six days seem so insignificant. Each day, I laughed for the small successes and connections made with children who have huge challenges. Children who are deaf, blind, have albinism, and those who were abandoned. And each day, I cried.
The back way
Each day I made small routine changes to cushion the impact of my choice. I avoided using the compound’s main entrance. Instead I used the back entrance, which connected the compound to the children’s school. It was the longer way, and I walked under a canopy of trees. Going the back way made the compound feel less like a concentration camp and more… normal. I stopped going into or any where near the girls’ dorms. I could not bear to accept that every day, these girls live with an intense stench of full sewage tanks. After being swarmed and rushed by many kids who begged for more gifts, I avoided being alone with them. How on earth would I express, “Yes, I know it’s not fair.” I hid behind my video camera. I didn’t say goodbye.
Closed, for now.
My heart and mind are closed for now. I seek shelter from the hurricane of emotions that may carry me away. My vocabulary is paralyzed and I’m unable to share the experience with others. Not without feeling a hollow and deeply painful ache in my chest. My fellow volunteers understand. For now, I am somewhat silent about my trip. I hope that soon I will find the way out. Because these children and countless others need help. Please visit www.asante-mariamu.org to learn how you can help too.