Ellia Chiang ’21, Hanna Deringer ’20, Christina Halloran ’20, and Mason Zhao ’20 reflect on the meaning on making new friends and the difficulties of saying goodbye.
Looking up and seeing a full moon reflecting upon the lake, I sat next to MB and Nikhil. Each of us were quiet and lost in our thoughts as the chatter of the Maasai and the sadness of the girls filled the air surrounding us. We had already finished our last good-byes to the girls for the night and were waiting for the rest of our group to finish. It was extremely hard saying bye to the girls, even only knowing them for a short amount of time, having already established a deep bond with each one of them. From working with them in the classrooms, to hearing them sing during prayer time, to our dance parties and games of “mingle-mingle” and “mama in the kitchen”, to telling stories and jokes to each other, every single experience has drawn us closer to the girls of JBFC Mainsprings and to the students of St. Joseph and Mary. So, it was heartbreaking to say our last good-byes.
I have learned to love and treasure every one of these special moments with the girls, students, and members of the Deerfield community. I will always remember Namisi braiding my hair after dinner, breakfast at Papa’s, the beautiful singing of the girls, Winnie, the cutest three-year-old girl, who always sat in my lap during prayer time, playing cards almost every day during break, singing throw-back songs with Lexi and Mason during the safari, giggling at pictures in books with my reading buddy, and the hugs from the girls throughout the day. These ten days have impacted me so much and have made me realize how important it is to love and accept others as the girls had immediately taught us the first night.
As I drove back home yesterday, it felt strange looking outside. I had become so accustomed to seeing the farms and paths- filled with children walking to school cheerfully waving to us, to women carefully balancing buckets on their heads. It is with heavy hearts that we say good-bye to Kitongo, Tanzania.
Our group had an action-packed last day filled with a variety of emotions. Even though we were all excited to connect with family and friends back home, we all knew we would miss JBFC Mainsprings greatly. Things came into perspective as we had our final prayer time with the girls. Laughing, singing, dancing, and eating some rice beans were all a part of the night. Sentimental and heartfelt letters were exchanged between friends from both groups and though we had only known each other for a little under two weeks, it felt like we had been a small family for a lifetime. Before saying our last goodbyes to the girls, we spent the day playing soccer, eating the chickens we had all personally helped to prepare, and traveling to a nearby government school to compare and contrast with the JBFC school. While every moment from the day had a memorable and fitting end, my personal favorites were the moments leading up to the end of our last soccer game with the girls.
We started our walk from the guest house chatting endlessly with the JBFC girls. I looked around and noticed everyone smiling; though this was small, it made an impact on me and proved that the love we all shared for each other was real. As we approached the soccer field, I was stopped by some of the local children because of my water bottle. The preschoolers were astonished by the colors and patterns. I tried my best to communicate with them since they only understood Swahili, but it was no use. Even though we could not fully understand each other, that did not stop us from holding hands and laughing about how interesting my water bottle looked and how funny it was to be skipping on the dusty path. They walked me to the soccer field and then said their final goodbyes.
We played soccer until prayer time, wishing that time would stop so we all could keep having fun. This was one of the final activities we would have with the girls and none of us wanted it to end. Deep down, as much as we loved prayer time, there was a common feeling of sadness as we all knew it would really be our last hoorah together. Despite these emotions, we all played our hardest, laughed our loudest, and spent each moment as best we could. I will always miss the girls from JBFC and I think I speak for everyone on the trip in saying that they will forever hold a special place in all of our hearts.
As the enormous, bulging sun peaked over the distant mountains, everyone smiled, laughed, and hugged as we took in our final moments in this amazing place. Watching the glowing ball sprint up the horizon line, silence fell over the group as we reflected on the past 10 days in Tanzania. Our family descended down the rocky hill for one final meal at Papa’s: the classic toast, eggs, potatoes, fruit, and, of course, papaya juice. The minutes ticked down. Most of the JBFC girls stood between us and our looming departure time with tears streaming down their faces and long hugs being exchanged one last time.
Throughout our time here, the girls hugged us every time we saw them or left them, so it was hard to imagine how emotionally wrenching these final goodbyes would be for us. Despite just spending a short time here, relationships and memories were created that will last forever. These incredible girls made an impact on all of us, and will continue to inspire us to be hard working, be kind and respectful to everyone, be tough, never complain, and never give up. I will forever remember the girls, the things I have learned from them, and the overall experience of traveling to a new world in Kitongo, Tanzania.
Looking through the crowds of girls dressed in their familiar school uniforms of royal blue collared shirts and red or tan skirts (depending on their age), I felt a shudder of sadness as I realized my reading budding, Getrude, was not there; I surmised she must already have ventured to school. As we drove past the school on our way out, however, Getrude came running out of the students gathered to say a final goodbye. We embraced one last time; I still cannot believe that I will likely never see her again.
We finally pulled out of JBFC and onto a familiar main road: the same road we ran on every morning to start our days. Every time, a herd of students heading to the government school (located very close to Mainsprings) ran with us, some holding our hands and others smiling and laughing, just happy to be there and fascinated by us strangers. Almost every morning, the same girl held my hand as she ran to school. Although she couldn’t speak much English and I could only say a few words in Swahili, with a very thick American accent, we had an instant connection. These special connections, which are enough to create a lifelong friend, are not always made through similarities or even spoken words, but simply a smile or another kind gesture.
This familiar place, the welcoming ambiance, and the incredibly kind and amazing people are things I will never forget. Every child who I high-fived, every passer-by I greeted with “mambo,” every student who smiled at me will forever be etched in great detail in my mind; these are the moments that have changed me forever.
Goodbyes are hard. Goodbyes are harder when you know you’ll never see her again. Some goodbyes last until the next one occurs, while others mingle with eternity.
You said your temporary goodbyes to the younger girls, to Hawa, Bella, Zai, Doto, Kulwa, Bahati, Wande and Samantha. Your interactions, starting now, will be in the form of pen and paper until your next encounters. You said your temporary goodbye to Africa. You smiled as she ostentatiously displayed her beautiful sunrise, and screamed when she released a thunderstorm. You laughed as you learned her language, mispronouncing and butchering words as you went.
You said your final goodbyes. That was the last time you saw Lau—her contagious smile, commanding voice, that smirk she always made to flaunt her basketball prowess. That was the last time you saw Yamisi, yet you still don’t know what she was gossiping about that night. All you have to remember her by is her laugh. That was the last time you saw Emma, the girl whose voice you envied due to its ability to convey a harsh stipulation in the tone of a gentle soothing.
I’m keeping the individual stories to myself—those were mine to make and mine to keep. But my experience with the girls at JBFC can be summarized with, believe it or not, a Chinese song. Although the extent of my ability to speak mandarin is very limited, I do know the first phrase of my favorite song. It looks like this: 朋友一生一起走, which is roughly translated to: friends will walk with you your entire life.
Everyone knows that our group—the 60 or so of us congregated in the center of campus, will never physically reunite again. But our shared experiences within the past two weeks will walk with us forever. Every single moment of discomfort, contentment and sorrow has taught a lesson. Yet, as I attempt to summarize the experience I’ve just completed, I’ve come to a realization that words cannot justly sum up the journey.
I came into this trip expecting awkward moments of silence and detachment from language, yet never encountered either. The bonds we have formed have taught me lessons such as the importance of a smile, that shared discomfort means increased confidence, and to never touch a dog after it runs through agricultural byproduct. Each lesson is engraved somewhere within me, and each connection I have formed with a JBFC girl will stay with me a lifetime.
For more pictures of the Tanzania trip, click here.