April 2, 2017 – A free day in Arusha….


Waking up to the sounds of Arusha, really Njiro, is always such a pleasant experience. The house is quiet here now as Nan, Chris and Jamie departed yesterday and the only others up are the two women here who help Pendo with Gabriella and the house as Pendo is pregnant with their fourth child. I can hear them working in the other parts of the house, washing the floors, which is done each and every morning, moving the furniture and being careful not to make too much noise. All around I can hear sweeping in the yards as every house has an askari that is working to clear off leaves and debris left by the night. The roosters are crowing, birds are singing and now gospel music is playing in the distance, soft and pleasing as the sounds here always are. The boys are still asleep as are Leonard and Pendo and I value the quiet time to sit outside on the porch and contemplate how remarkable Tanzania really is, with its extreme natural beauty and resilient population. I can hear children playing outside in the neighborhood now and they are the future of Tanzania and the reason why it is so important that we continue to return and work with them to allow this country to reach its full potential.But alas, my time to contemplate this remarkable country and its people is short-lived this morning as Lenox and Lee appear at the door looking for me. In the past, when they were younger, it was often a struggle to entertain them during my visits, but now they are becoming young men with that level of self-consciousness that one develops at that age has now set in. Though I’m sure he minds it only a small amount, Lenox is saddled with Gabriella as she will have no one else hold her, walk her or push her in her little car when he is around. She simply adores him and it is difficult at times to get her attention when he is in the room.

My hero, little Ibraham on the trail

I receive a vague text from Sokoine on WhatsApp this morning as he is now in Arusha at his in-law’s house. “Shikamoo dr! Am slaughtering a goat now. You may come around 10:30 this morning.” Shikamoo is a greeting of respect to one’s elders and requires a response of “Marahaba” meaning I accept your respect. But I am not certain what the goat slaughtering has to do with anything, though when a Maasai slaughters a goat, it is a special occasion. I text him back in short order, but he has gone radio silent and I’m left to make the decision of whether I head over to his in-law’s house, where the wedding was in October, or go with Leonard and the boys who were planning to play soccer. As is usually the case, I let my stomach rule the day (Nan would be proud of me) along with my FOMO (fear of missing out – I learned the term from Jamie this trip) and made the decision to see what was up with the goat feast and to visit his family.

Driving from Njiro to Mianzini isn’t normally a long drive, but I couldn’t quite remember the turn to take to reach his in-laws and he still wasn’t answering his phone. Every little alleyway was congested with people out either shopping Sunday morning or heading to or from church. Luckily, I finally realized that I had saved the route on my iPhone’s navigation software that I use when I’m here just for these instances and I’m now as good as gold. Unfortunately, though, there is a bus parked right in front of the alley on which I need to turn and it looks like they have no plans to move soon. There are five or six men working on placing a full size sofa onto the roof of the bus, not a minor operation, but they finally accomplish their task and the bus moves on leaving my path now clear. The alley is hardly large enough to walk down, let alone drive a huge stretch Land Cruiser that towers over everyone. I’m careful not to let it hit the roofs or the posts holding them up as I pass through and successfully make my way to their gate and park in front of a small school nearby.

Ibraham standing on their new property.

Sokoine’s father is a minister and was working that morning so there were few of his family at home. I found Sokoine in the slaughter house next to the main building and they were all cooking the goat. Pendo, his wife, was there and she quickly offered me some goat stew as is the custom here as one never enters a Maasai home without being offered some food or drink. They would consider it an insult otherwise. It was very tasty as is usually the case, savory and rich with several chunks of meat and lots of broth, but there was something round and more firm in my bowl as well and I knew that it was some part of an organ that I would not normally put in my bowl had I been serving myself. I did what you do here, though, and ate it along with the rest as I didn’t want to offend Pendo even though she would’ve been perfectly fine had I not eaten it.

We sat for some time in her parent’s home, having soft drinks that she had run to the store to buy for their guest as soon as I had arrived, when Sokoine asked me if I would come with them to look at some new property that he had just purchased, but hadn’t yet seen and where he wanted to build a house for his family. It wasn’t in walking distance so I offered to drive them and we were promptly heading well south of town through a wonderfully lush region with many, many inhabitants and lots of activity. On the way, we saw a soccer field not far off the main road (I use the term main here quite liberally) and I wondered if this might be where Leonard and the boys were as he had told me that they were not playing at the old dirt soccer field where they had played before that was situated on the slopes of Mt. Meru in the village of Ilburo. We didn’t stop to check then, but I decided that we would on our way back from the property.

Ibraham and other family playing Angry Birds on my iPad – an instant hit

We made one turn off the main thoroughfare and eventually arrived at a spot which Pendo announced was the trail we would have to walk to reach the property. Ibraham was with us and as we strolled along the small path, he and I held hands as we walked in front of his parents. He is an amazingly well-behaved child and his appearance is the most perfect combination of his parent’s looks that anyone could have imagined even if they had been given a sketchbook and the skilled hand of an artist. We walk past small groupings of houses here and there, some built and some half-built in the tradition here (it is their way to “bank” their money in the bricks of incomplete structures). We finally arrive to an area with a few buildings and a large planted field on one side, the other side backing up to the edge of a canyon a short distance away with a small river at the bottom. Their property consists of a small plot on which to build their house and Sokoine is already calculating in his mind how to get a portion of the fields that adjoin it. This is all a slow process, though, something that will take place over several years and not immediate as they are used to making plans here that may take that long to come to fruition. This is not a race.

Walking back to our vehicle, I have Ibraham on my shoulders and he is glowing, constantly looking back at his parents to make certain they see his lofty position in life for the moment. I can’t wait to return here when they have begun their house as it is such a lovely spot, and though remote for now, it will soon be bustling with activity here, very likely the center of a new community. On our way home, we pull into the soccer field we had passed earlier to find Leonard, Lenox and Lee, who are all amazed to see me there, wondering how it is that I found them in this incredibly sprawling area around Arusha. This is how it happens here, though, constantly bumping into friends and acquaintances wherever I am. Driving through the parks on safari, coming down from Ngorongoro Crater, at the airports, out in town, a day doesn’t go by that I don’t see someone I know after so many years of returning here.

We head back to Mianzini and, of course, Pendo runs out for water and soft drinks to accompany the plate of freshly cooked goat meat she puts on the table. It has been grilled and seasoned and is just the most tender and tasty goat I have ever tasted, I think. It is now time for me to leave and head back to Leonard’s so I could spend some time with the boys. I say goodbye for this visit, though I know that Sokoine and I will be in contact by email and WhatsApp, not only as colleagues working together as part of the FAME Neuro project, but also as close friends who both have great respect for one another.

At Leonard’s home, which is my Tanzanian home and and my Tanzanian family, I am again served lunch (how many meals can I eat in one day?) and somehow manage to consume enough to be respectful. The afternoon is warm and sunny and the humidity is rather low. The remainder of the day is quiet and I catch up on my packing for the flights tomorrow with time to reflect upon our visit here which has again been a perfect combination of medical and cultural immersion. It has been long enough for everyone who accompanied me to feel a part of this country in some small fashion and to have shared in the gratitude of our successes and the heartbreak of our to frequent limitations that are part of the learning process for each and every one of us. No matter how much we know what to expect, it is never easy and we will all continue to work to bring change to this small part of Africa that is now also our home.

Tomorrow I fly home and will not return for another six months, During that time, not a day will go by that I won’t think about my other home and my friends and family there, all of who I will long to see again knowing full well that it is only a matter of time. What will the future hold for all of us, we never know with certainty, but what we do know, is that some portion of it will always remain within our control and it is for this, perhaps very small, part that we strive to do our best and to make those decisions that will not only benefit each of us, but all of us. For it is one world we share and we must always continue to make it the best we can for all of its inhabitants, wherever they may be.

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