Every single one of these is a remnant of some kindness, some moment so singular that I cannot help but relive it again and again as I sit now, quiet and deflated, in the restaurant of my hostel. I wish that I wasn’t here, listening to a group of Americans gossip loudly about their “awful, passive-aggressive” relatives, feeling my chipsi mayai digest in my stomach, breathing processed air while Mt. Meru looms in the nearby darkness. I’ve been in the bush too long. How easy it would be to get on a car bound for Loibor Siret! Thank goodness I have some months to settle in before I move to New York. The moment our Land Cruiser drove into Arusha, all I could think about was, “There are so many people..and they all seem so..high class! How will I survive?”
The first thing I did was shower. It had been 12 days since the last one – by choice, and out of being too busy. When I walked into the hotel and into the bathroom, I saw my hair coated in red dust, and tanned skin. It’s been a long time since I was around regular mirrors. My own reflection startles me now. “Is that really me?” I shampooed my hair 3 times, scrubbing myself over and over, feeling like a different person now that my shell of dirt had been shed and now that my hair is black again.
The car ride was something out of my parents’ fears, but out here, nothing out of the ordinary. We left Loibor Siret at 7:00, making a couple of stops in the village. One of them is Paulina’s home, “Kwa heri (goodbye), Paulina!” She runs up to the car and wishes me a safe travels. Then she asks “When are you coming back?” I just look at her, “I don’t know…” She gazes at me with wise eyes, and again wishes me a good journey. I miss her as soon as we pull away. We make stops in Kangala, Narakauwo, and random places along the road to Sukuru, Madukani. At each place, we picked up or dropped off people. One girl who got on with me at Loibor Siret and who smiled at me the whole way, got off after 2 hours, “I take a computer class here. Safe travels, good bye!” she tells me. I miss her too. But we are 16 people in one Land Cruiser. In the front seat – the driver, two children and a baby. In my row – a large Maasai elder, me, a tall Maasai man, a kind Mama who is missing one eye and her adorable child (who seems to have chicken pox). In the back, two bench-style seats on which are crammed – another Maasai mama and her baby, two more women, and three men, all their knees pulled up to their chins. On the roof – the man who takes the money/organizes the rides, plus all of our luggage.
Due to the size of the man on my left, and the fact that our driver LOVES the right-hand side of the road (which of course slopes to the right), my right butt-cheek holds all my weight for three hours of the ride…I am squished on all sides. But after a while, all the children and babies fall asleep, and the adults quiet down while we jumbledy-bump down the hard-pack dirt roads, and I feel almost comforted by the lack of space between us all.
I woke up in the dark this morning, after having jolted awake every hour to check the time. As I walk to the bathroom, the Perseids gift me with three shooting stars. I have some time, so I wander up to the kitchen, only to find that Tuma is already there. He has water on the stove for coffee, and is mixing batter for pankekis. He then asks me, “Lunch boksi?” and proceeds to make a zip-loc bag containing a tomato sandwich (with the crusts cut off), an apple, an extra pankeki, and a juice box. I’m ashamed to say that I left a total mess of my dishes, as I ran off. But when I got to Arusha, and the city spit me out into my hotel room, the mashed sandwich and pankeki was the most comforting thing I could possibly experience.
I am not too proud to tell you that I held back tears the entire time I said good-bye to the staff, to Kelly and Tuma in the morning, Paulo driving me quietly to the village in the morning except to say “you shouldn’t leave, you should just stay here,” and as the Land Cruiser pulled away from Loibor Siret. Kelly’s sweet hug, all her care in making sure that Paulo got me there on time, and asked the driver to grab me a taxi once we arrived in Arusha, and our glorious dance party the night before.
We had a music swap last night, with Kelly giving me her bongo flava music, and me giving her a song that I’d gotten from Andrew earlier that day: Old Crow Medicine Show’s “wagon wheel.” We belted it out at the top of our lungs, dancing on Kelly’s woven mat, reveling.
The night before, Tuma made us a feast. Stuffed squash, roasted vegetables, and grilled lamb. Buddy broke out a treat that he brought us from Arusha – blueberry swirl ice cream, mixed with strawberry compote courtesy of the APW fridge and Christy’s cookery skills. Earlier yesterday, Laly had presented us with her own surprise – Montreal-style bagels with chive cream cheese. We’re a very food-centered group ;) Anyway, it was all delicious, but somehow not as special as finally getting our APW shirts…the official sign of us being a part of the Noloholo staff.
The entire day yesterday flew, flew flew. I woke early, watched the sun rise, worked furiously to tie down loose ends (if not wrap them up, entirely). I packed up, holding in my dismay at the sight of my emptied campsite.
And in the end, Anne asks me what I’ll say in my capstone journal entry. Is this that entry? I thought a lot about final lessons from this summer, but all I can think about is how kind everyone has been to me. I think about how much of a stranger I felt like at the beginning of the summer and how I kept asking myself again and again: What am I doing here?
I think about how when I left, I did so overwhelmed by the sensation of being cared about, and of caring for. And now, just like last year, I think of this: It is the cause of conservation that drives me to pursue these projects, and yet every year it is the people who make the days worth living so well. I truly believe that I could not be more lucky than I have been. Let no one tell me that the root of humanity is evil, for I have seen the best in many...and the best is truly inspiring.
These past few years, I’ve thought that I would always travel for work, that my skills would be best used if I straddled multiple places. I’m no longer sure this is true. After a while, the pain of leaving a community who I have just begun to fall in love with, is too vast. How many more times can I do this? Am I more suited for settlement? Only my future holds that answer.
I’m looking forward to leaving Arusha tomorrow. This city is now just an in-between place, halfway between the boyfriend that I’m in love with, and the community at Noloholo who stole part of my heart.