Wednesday April 5th:
Sher, Daniel, and I went to town today to buy a few things for the Olive Branch kids and ourselves. It took hours (one hour bus ride to Mbeya plus shopping and return time) but we eventually found speakers (the kids were missing their dance parties since the last speakers broke!), clothespins, an English DVD that Daniel wanted to gift the kids (we only found ONE in all the hours of looking… they are mostly Swahili or Chinese in the stores), and souvenirs for home from a Rastafarian guy that Daniel knew.
We had a coffee break at a pretty trendy little upstairs balcony cafe that Cristina had recommended. Their sign, like most store signs here, starts with “Karibu” which means “welcome”. People say it all the time and you reply “‘Asante”. Greetings are a really big deal around here! The cafe’s featured lime soda was really cooling and the sandwiches were a welcome treat. It seems rare to see foreigners here in Mbeya but there were a few Chinese people in the cafe. One small boy on the bus returning back to Uyole ran up to Sher and hugged his legs, probably because he was so excited to see a foreigner with his brown skin and curly hair. Most people in Uyole have shaved heads- men, women, and kids. Sher’s wild curls really stand out here! Some kids like to run their fingers through his hair… it’s pretty fun to watch. A little on the strange side was that when I sat beside the window on the bus ride back, a lot of people kept touching my arm and saying hello. It was friendly and not creepy at all but I couldn’t believe how many people noticed my paler skin on the bus right away and wanted to touch my arm through the window!
Later in the day, I read “I Am Malala” with the kids and we got up to Chapter 5 in one sitting! We all took turns reading in a circle and Erica from Toronto would stop every once in a while to have a discussion and ask me questions. Sher was better at answering the questions about SWAT Valley specifically since he grew up there as a child, but he was in and out of the room during the reading. We talked all about feminism, different cultures and how women are viewed, Islam vs extremism, etc. It was a really mature talk and I was impressed not only by the kids’ reading skills and pronunciation but also their understanding of the topics we were discussing. I’m noticing that kids here are really brilliant… they’re truly sponges that soak in whatever you choose to teach them.
I’ve also noticed that the culture here is so empathetic. I only wear my air boot in airports now (I’m pretty much done with it… the broken toe is almost healed) but when I arrived with it on in Dar es Salaam, a few locals looked at the boot and looked really sad. One man came up to me and said sorry and pointed at the boot! And whenever someone is sick, people apologize and go out of their way to find a solution. It’s really amazing…. and this is coming from a Canadian, the culture known for being polite! Also on the buses, no one is pushy. You get squished for sure but people don’t push you like I’ve experienced in other places in the world. People here often seem genuinely concerned for the comfort and safety of others, more than I’ve seen in any other crowded place.
In the evening, we hung out with the kids in the common room until late at night. Their spring break just started today and lasts until the Tuesday after we leave. A local girl also named Erica taught Sher how to make a thread bracelet and so he’s working on one for me. I gave manicures with hand massages to the kids while Toronto Erica played piano and Ellen from Ireland sang. She is a talented vocalist…. Sher and I could’ve used lessons from her before our mehndi party where we were forced to sing! Haha. The kids were fascinated by my mood ring and also wanted to watch my friends and family’s mehndi dance videos on my phone over and over. Especially Harry Pota (that’s actually his name- a kid about 8 years old who is HILARIOUS) and has the most extreme facial expressions. It’s fun just watching him.