At 7:30am I got out of my very comfy bed, showered and went to the dining room to have a coffee before the others got up. Not 2 minutes later Jim arrived and we chatted while eating our breakfast. The breakfast is included and is a full buffet complete with an omelet station and is delicious.
Sian joins us and we wait for our meeting at 10am with Mumbi’s ground handler, Lawrence, who will take us to visit the orphanage today, the Bethlehem’s Children’s Home. Close to 11am we note that Lawrence hasn’t arrived and subsequently the front desk staff tell us at that Mrs. Munisi is waiting for us. Mrs. Munisi and her son Ghana were the ones to take us to the Children’s Home and not Lawrence, and the time was 11am and not 10am. We just shrugged our shoulders and said ” this is Africa, just go with it” or in Swahili, Hakuna Matata – no worries!
We gather the items we brought to give to the Home and the children and 5 of us literally squeeeeeze into a vehicle better suited for 4. Luckily the drive to the Home in Arusha is fairly short. We arrive and are greeted by 11 absolutely gorgeous children aged from per-school to grade 6. They were so excited to meet us and were so polite, introducing themselves with some very unique names – Brightness, Happiness, Witness, Glory, Dorcass, Juvenali, Eliud, Neema, and some more familiar – Angela, Debora, Ibrahim.
The excitement reached a higher level when we brought out the goodies we had brought with us; T- shirts, pencils, pens, crayons, writing booklets, toothpaste, nerf balls, beanie babies and the most sought after – skipping ropes and a soccer ball!! They put on their T-shirts and copious amounts of photos were taken with them displaying their new gifts. There is laughter, words of thanks in English and Swahili (Asante), and typical arguments amongst them over a favourite toy.
We were expecting to return to our hotel and to our pleasant surprise, we were invited to join them for lunch – what an honour for us. Prior to lunch Mrs. Munisi told us her story on how she came to form the Children’s Home. In 1993 she was paralyzed due to a stroke with her youngest of 5 (Ghana) only 1 1/2 years old. While recuperating (some 9 months or more) young street kids would play outside her window and she would send them away. After several occasions of this happening, she had a dream where a voice told her to care of these children. She relayed her story to her church pastor and he said perhaps it is God speaking to you.
The school that the children had been attending no longer had a teacher so Mrs. Munisi began to teach them through the help of her own children. At this point in her recuperation her speech was very limited. As time goes by her health improves, she continues to take teaching courses and teach the children at the church. Many of these children have no homes or family and the Pastor urges her to take the children under her wing. Mrs. Munisi declines as she has her hands full raising her own family.
Not long after she has yet another stroke which required surgery. The Dr. told her husband that, in his experience, even following surgery the chances of a full recovery was not good. Prior to awakening from the anesthetic she said God spoke to her once again and this time she promised that if he would help her fully recover she would care for the orphaned children. She does fully recover and with the help of a German coworker at her previous secretarial job, she purchases land. With help from foreign volunteers they build the home with 4 bedrooms to house the children. She has become a franchise through the Bethlehem Children’s Home and works tirelessly to get sponsors to send the children to school, clothe and feed them. The Home has celebrated 7 years, during which time Mrs. Munisi received a Theology degree, and Juvenali has been with her for the full time. It is an amazing story of faith and compassion and I only hope that I am doing it justice!
Following this moving story we are asked to join the children in the classroom for lunch. It was a delightful meal and covered one of the items on Sian’ to do list – have a traditional Tanzanian meal.
Now it is time to say goodbye to the children – Ghana and Mrs. Munisi are showing us around Arusha. The kindness and generosity just never ends. The 5 of us once again breathe in and squish into the 4.5 passenger Suzuki and depart for the town centre.
We stop at the Museum on Tanzanian history and I was surprised to learn that, from the late 1800’s to 1919, the country was ruled by Germany. The British Army in Kenya defeated the German army in Taganiyka in World War 1 and Tanzania was then ruled by Britain. In 1961 Tanzania gained the independence and the Uhuru (freedom) torch was carried from Arusha to the summit of Kilimanjaro, now known as Uhuru Peak. The original torch now resides in the museum.
From the museum we head to the Central Market. The market is crowded, has tight makeshift aisles crammed with vegetables and fruits of every description. Sian and I both took a photo of the chaos not aiming at anyone and 2 ladies started yelling and screaming at us in Swahili. Our hosts explained that we only wanted to capture the essence of the market yet the ladies continued to yell and walked away swearing in perfect English. We put our cameras away and shell shocked meandered throughout the rest of the market. The very same lady was found at the opposite end of the market screaming and chasing young kids away as they were selling veggies and were not allowed to. She was causing quite a fuss and arguing with other vendors – quite the lady! We decided that was enough of local markets!
Our next stop was the Shoprite where no one yelled, we took no photos and happily purchased water for half the price of the hotel, and wine for our return from the peak. Sian found several gifts to buy from a street vendor and I purchased a Tanzanian SIM card for my phone.
Mumbi was still a few hours away so we were dropped back off at the hotel and said goodbye to our great hosts. We spent some time around the pool – I drank tea and had on a sweater while Sian braves the cold water of the pool. Hunger pangs hit the 3 of us at the same moment and we headed in for dinner.
As we were finishing up dinner, Mumbi arrived and we had a joyous reunion. It has been eight years since we have last seen each other although we have been in touch via email and phone. Mumbi briefed us on our schedule for the next couple of days and we know we are being picked up at 10am, but who knows by whom – Hakuna Matata!
Mumbi then left to spend the night with Mrs. Munisi. Sian and I continued to chat until 11pm and then went to sleep.
Quite the first full day in Africa!!