Student News

Tanzania #6: Kitongo Happiness

Heather Brown – March 17, 2018

Three students on the Tanzania trip share their reflections. Mae Emerson writes about her reading buddy; Tavian Njumbi writes about the importance of community; and Megan Graves finds joy in cooking and cleaning.

Reading Buddies

Written by Mae Emerson (’19)

As I walked up the concrete ramp to the “library” (a small room with about four book shelves, each shelf barely half full with books), I saw Mag, my reading buddy, sitting on the rough woven carpet with four books surrounding her. Mag was nine years old, and liked cats and elephants, wished she could be princess Ariel, liked the color pink, and really liked my watch (which most people say looks like it came out of a cereal box). When Mag spotted me walking through the door, she instantly stood up. She didn’t come to me, didn’t smile or wave, but she gathered two Magic School Bus books, Baby Beluga, and The First Day of May. She stood and waited as I removed my shoes and dropped my backpack. When I got a few steps onto the rug, she ran over and pushed Baby Beluga against my chest. I was instantly excited, because I think I liked that book equally as much as she did. We sat down on the floor, and she scooched herself so close to me that she might as well have been sitting on my lap. I read one page, she read the next. Mag would stop at words like “mother” and “can’t,” pointing and saying “here,” and I would pronounce them, then she would continue.

We took our time looking at the pictures, talking about where and what the Arctic Ocean is, and what whales are. We read facts about Beluga whales and learned about light as Mag was introduced to Mrs. Frizzle on the Magic School Bus. Once we finished The Magic School Bus, it was time to go. We put away our books, put on our shoes, and headed out the door. Mag found my hat and my sunglasses and began to act like me, strutting down the dirt path leading out of the library. We laughed our way down the road to the girl’s home dining hall, and sat down for prayer time. We sang, prayed, laughed, talked and shared stories about our day. After spending my night with Mag, I began to realize just how special Mag is and will be to me. We played a new game called “weasel.” We got into a big circle and sang “I saw the weasel, find the weasel, keep it going, keep it going.” As we sang, we passed around a shoe behind our backs and the girl in the middle had to try and pick the girl who had it. As Mag walked me to the gate and let go of my hand to give me my last proper hug of the night, I realized I hadn’t stopped smiling since I walked up the concrete ramp to the library.

Kitongo Happiness

Written by Tavian Njumbi (’18)            

When we first got to Tanzania this week, I was glad to finally be home: Africa. I could, at long last, enjoy authentic tropical seasoning in African food, and bask in the scorching tropical sun that I had missed for five-too-many months (especially after my first harsh New England winter). But over the past few days, these have been the least of my concerns.

Living in an urban neighborhood in Nairobi, Kenya, it is easy to forget the situation many Africans endure every day. Coming to Kitongo has been a reminder of these situations I had promised to help fix in my childhood naivety. I was aware of the happiness people find in poverty, yet I hadn’t understood why anyone living in such conditions would ever be happy. The people here have taught me that happiness isn’t found in wealth, nor in a lavish life. It’s the feeling of belonging, of being part of a community that loves and accepts you for who you are. It’s the vivid joy apparent in the girls’ voices during each prayer session, and digging three-foot holes in the unforgiving African heat with my Deerfield group. It’s the joy I find in teaching a Swahili word to one of my Deerfield friends, and seeing them making an effort to use it in their conversations with Tanzanians.

In only four days of interaction, the Mainsprings girls have shown me that my future happiness won’t be determined by the car I drive, but in the friendships I make and maintain. I hope that I will someday find my own Kitongo, and that may very well be back here in Africa.

Finding Joy in Cooking and Cleaning

Written by Megan Graves (’18)

The aroma of porridge wafted down the street, reaching us as we walked toward the kitchen. The five of us were prepared for a morning of cooking. As we approached, a smile spread across Mariam’s face as she greeted us all with a hug and a bubbly “Habari.” Cooking and cleaning are two things I will not claim to be particularly good at. I think my family could attest to that; however, this morning I was able to hone my skills at both cooking and cleaning. Although my “cooking” was limited to the 80 leaves of kale I cut, it only seemed to affirm the fact that I am, in fact, terrible at preparing food. When the children arrived, I was relieved of my subpar cutting position to serve the fifth grade and the seventh-grade breakfast. Steam rolled up towards me as I sunk the pitcher deep into the vat of milky brown porridge that had previously been prepared by the cooks. A perfect line of kids stood in front of me, waiting to receive their breakfast. After burning my hands three or four times on either the drip plate or the porridge in the vat, I got the hang of serving. Like clockwork, the kids would place their cups on the counter with a light clack, and before the clack subsided, their cups would be filled almost to the brim with porridge.

It wasn’t until it was time for clean-up that I truly shined. After sweeping the entire lunch room, Erin, Liv and I stood by content with the work we had done, satisfied and ready to take a break. Paul, one of the men from the kitchen, came out with four different cleaning utensils and a hose. Before, I would have been daunted by another task after previously admitting my exhaustion, but as he handed me the mop and instructed me to push the water and dirt out from under the canopy, a surge of energy revived me. It’s not often that one will hear me say I enjoy cleaning. But today, after hours of it, I can honestly say I would go back and clean with Paul and Mariam again in a heartbeat. The faint tune of Mariam’s humming, accompanied by the sporadic giggles from passing children as they witnessed us struggle with our tasks, created an atmosphere that one doesn’t want to leave – no matter what.

Recent photos from a cooking class: