Goodbye Africa

We are so sad to say goodbye to Africa and the amazing experience we’ve had here. We realize how unbelievably lucky (and perhaps a little strange) we are to have spent the past three months here. Not every couple can say that they’ve volunteered in a third world country and spent about 23 hours a day every.single.day. together and somehow grown fonder of each other’s company. This experience has definitely brought us closer and taught us a lot about ourselves as individuals, us as a couple, the complicated world of foreign aid and development and the importance of viewing ourselves as global citizens.

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Almost two and a half years ago, Joost and I started dating. I remember sitting on my bed in my dorm room and showing him pictures of my last trip to Tanzania. I told him that I wanted to go back. He responded, ‘I don’t ever want to go to Africa. It is too far from my bed.’

And now, here we are. (mwuahaha…)

Here, we have found joy in living more simply, patience in the midst of challenges and the delight and peace evoked by a child’s smile.

Of course, there are some things we won’t miss: the constant stench of burning garbage, washing our clothes in a bucket, slathering on DEET on date night instead of perfume, the corruption, the need to boil all of our drinking water/water to brush our teeth.

But for everything we won’t miss, there are about five things that we will miss in its place.

We will miss having fresh mango every morning and avocados the size of my face.

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We will miss our long runs. Somehow, I have a hard time imagining a more picturesque running route: dirt roads alongside Mount Kilimanjaro, shaded by banana trees, with monkeys and baboons running across the road and playing in the trees, brightly colored butterflies floating alongside us, stopping for water breaks when herds of goats, shepherded by young boys, overtake the road, giggling children running behind us like the pied pipers of Moshi.

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I will miss Joost’s beard, which he claims will never make another appearance (remember that one time he claimed that he would never go to Africa?…).

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We will miss the other volunteers. From the minute we walked off of the airplane, Adam and Terry have helped us adjust to life in Africa. They encouraged our projects and helped us find ways to contribute to the school. They showed us around town and taught us how to catch a dala-dala, the local public transportation (although we quickly learned that Joost is just too tall to fold into a van already crammed with 20 people). They took us clubbing, to parties, to poker games with other volunteers and ex-pats from the area. They’ve shared our frustrations and our triumphs. They gifted me with the most romantic birthday card I have ever received. They have quickly become friends and we hope that we will overlap with them in America someday soon when (or if) we are all back in the country! (Sorry for the creepy alien iPhone pic)

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We will miss the staff. We have an unbelievable hotel staff that quickly became family. Everyone, from the maids to the cooks and waitresses to the gardener, has brightened our stay. We will especially miss Teddy and Innocent. We got to spend a lot of time with them in town, searching for library furniture and buying supplies for the hotel. They are always quick to smile and offer reassuring words. They offered invaluable assistance in translating, haggling prices and showing us around. We have shared beers with Ino and I got to experience a girly shopping trip with Teddy—not quite the same as shopping in the US! They are patient and wonderful and we cannot imagine what it is going to be like to wake up without their happy faces to greet us first thing in the morning.

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And most of all, we will miss the students. Our kids are clever, hard working and eager. Even on our worst days here, a quick trip over to the school lifts our spirits. Is there anything more delightful than being greeted with a massive hug around both your legs by a smiling child? We will miss hearing them sing in the mornings. We will miss reading storybooks. We will miss coloring pictures. We will maybe miss attempting to teach long division. We will miss Catherine’s sass and spirit, Arafati’s ceaseless good manners, Mack’s infectious smile, Diana’s love letters (to me—sorry Joost!), Ibrihi’s knowledge of soccer and purple glittery butterfly backpack (not something you’d typically see on the back of a ten year old boy back in America), Siggy’s intelligence, Stephen’s bottomless pit of a stomach, second in size only to Joost’s.

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As we prepare to head back to Europe, I am reminded of a quote that has helped me through many goodbyes over the years: “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” –A.A. Milne

We have had the most incredible time and there really are not enough words to describe our experience here. We both sincerely hope that we will be back sooner rather than later.

Tonight, we fly back to the Netherlands, where we will stay with Joost’s family for two weeks… then it’s off to England for six months!

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