This blog about my time at Kesho Leo is more than a little overdue. This is partly due to the following reasons:
a) I can write about anything you like but am not very good when it comes to writing about myself
b) I will therefore do almost anything to avoid it and
c) Every time I thought about what I should write about I was overwhelmed with ideas and didn't know where to start, so didn't start!
Anyway to make this a little easier for myself I decided to simplify things and share a little bit about some of my most memorable/favourite moments and experiences volunteering for fws in a David Letterman- style Top Ten sort of format, so here they are (in no particular order though!):
1. Learning to sew: Part of my role at KL was to help out the Kesho Leo Mama's Sewing Group. I'm not sure if they expected me to show up and teach them things but I have to say before this I hadn't sewed anything since about Year 10, and even then I think I broke a needle/got a bobbin all tangled/just made the machine stop working every time I went near it. This became apparent to the Mama's quite quickly and my role became that of oversee-er/ideas person/sometimes cutter. Coming up to KL to help out with the Sewing Group became an enjoyable part of my week as it generally involved a lot of laughter with (and some brilliant singing from) Mama's Gladi & Oliva, who always set to work with enthusiasm whenever I came up with a new idea, like Christmas wreathes made form scrap, bunting, multicoloured aprons and purses and the (dreaded) stuffed animals! I also eventually got over my fear of the machine with the help of Helena, whose calming presence and patience in teaching are incomparable to anyone I've ever met, or think I ever will!
2. Mudi's morning office entry: I don't think anything made me laugh more than seeing Kesho Leo Project Manager Mudi burn into the volunteer village on his dirt bike in a blaze of glory, like some kind of action hero, and then remove his helmet and greet us with a very polite 'Good morning guys'. I also enjoyed his general morning greetings as he entered the office, which usually went something along the lines of 'Good morning guys. Mambo Bwanaaaaa Joshua, Mamboooooo... Mrs Nurse etc etc... Are we all feeling happy, because it's a beautiful day and we're all alive? Fantastic, yeah ok mate, that's cool mate.'
3. Salimu: While there's obviously no picking favourites when it comes to all the brilliant KL kids, there's some sort of infectious happiness that spreads to you whenever Salim is around, and luckily for us Salim seemed to like hanging around, and took to dropping in to say hello at the Volunteer Village on his way home from school every couple of days (often walking, because as his teacher informed a very amused Mama Gladi, he would often 'eat his bus money' ie-spend it on chocolate instead of the bus!). From learning sign language together to watching his eyes light up with delight as he discovered all the different tools and colours available in Microsoft Paint, there was no better or more welcome interruption to an afternoon’s work than a visit from Salim.
4. Simon's (Volunteer Village Security Guard, Translator, Veggie Salesman...) terrible sense of humour: Simon never failed to get laugh out of us with his antics, from brining us messages from Maggie the guard dog, to pretending he didn't recognize us through the peephole of the front gate for several minutes, even putting on his 3D glasses to assist him, to playing horrible children's songs at maximum volume for a whole day, and of course making it his duty to write the name of his alter ego 'P-Diddy' across the back window of the Land Cruiser as soon as it was coated in dust (much to Mudi's annoyance...)
5. A simple one but... Cleaning my teeth and looking up at the stars. It might sound a bit clichéd but there was something special about gazing up at the sky each night at the thousands of stars in that very clear Tanzanian night sky. The only thing that ruined this experience was accidentally stepping on a frog while you were doing it...
6. Conversations with Bibi Franki: These were another highlight of a visit to Kesho Leo, and almost always ended in a big fit of laughter and a lot of leg slapping from Bibi. Despite my limited Kiswahili (especially in the beginning) we managed to semi-understand each other and think whatever the other one was saying must have been very funny. I think I actually learned a good part of my Swahili from these conversations as she never made me feel silly for trying to say something, and at the same time was not afraid to correct my mistakes either!
7. Walking from the Volunteer Village to Kesho Leo with Nurse June: This was always an entertaining experience as true to Tanzanian form, but somehow even more so than anyone else, June would stop and chat to almost everyone we passed on this walk, and took a real interest in what they had to say too. A typical line of questioning would go something along the lines of:
'Good morning Bwana, how are you? How is your family? How is your crop? What is it that you are growing here? How old are you Bwana? What year were you born? Oooooh, my goodness, you are very old, you should go and take a rest inside.'
In between catching up with everyone June would share her knowledge on all sorts of things from history and politics to medicine, farming and local traditions with us, and asked just as many questions about how these things work in our country. I don't think I'll ever learn so much on the commute to work again...
8. Learning to drive a manual 4WD - I remember Mudi saying something about it not taking long to get used to driving in town as we turned into the hectic nightmare of an intersection that is 'Friend's Corner' (false advertising...) on my second day in Arusha, and me laughing to myself thinking 'As if I'll ever get behind the wheel HERE!'. But thanks to some very patient and encouraging teachers in my fellow volunteers I eventually managed to make it all the way to 4th gear without stalling, aaaand drive in town, and kind of enjoyed it! I think Jacinta, Health Volunteer at the time, deserves a medal for her patience in some of these situations... And wouldn't you know it, the week before I left Arusha they installed what I believe to be the second set of traffic lights in town at 'Friend's Corner'!
Well that did turn into a bit of an essay once I got started so I'm stopping there at eight! Anyway the moral of the story is while volunteering at Kesho Leo wasn't always a walk in the park like this may make it sound, it is these little moments and memories that make it such a brilliant experience, and to anyone considering it I would say just go - you won’t regret it!