This past June, I packed my husband and two younger kids and shipped us all off to Tanzania. I’m joking. They actually had a choice to come. Well, my husband did (smile).
Tanzania is my birth country and although I have lived elsewhere, I still call it my home. The last time I was there was in 2010. I went with my daughter Ruh, who didn’t make it with us on this trip (very sad face), and we had a very satisfying 10 weeks there. We went to Ngorongoro Crater, Arusha National Park, and to Zanzibar where we saw the church were people were sold into slavery, and the cells in which they were held captive, awaiting to be taken away to distant lands. Of course we swam in Zanzibar’s beautiful, I mean b.e.a.utiful waters and ate many a delicious food at Forodhani Gardens by the docks.
But enough about 2010! Here we are in 2016 and this trip was much more about family, introspection, growth, and of course, lots of fun!
We arrived in Dar es Salaam mid afternoon.
The excitement started quickly as our three year old daughter disappeared while we were in the parking lot. Yes. Three of us thought she was with the other person (short version of the story), and when we all three gathered by the car, I asked where she was. The next thing I know, my husband engaged his inner Wally West and was gone. I felt completely responsible for this because it was my home country we were in. I kept thinking that we made it through three flights, layovers, about 24 hours of flying, and we aren’t here 20 minutes and our daughter is lost. At the airport. In a parking lot full of moving cars. And she doesn’t speak the local language. But let’s stay positive. I head toward where I saw my cousin go, when I thought she had my daughter. Sure enough, she had left the parking lot, headed back toward the airport doors (I should note the structure wherein you walk to the airport doors is only two-car widths away from the parking lot) and was calmly walking back toward the parking lot. I called out to her and safely got her. Meanwhile, two people were telling me they had JUST seen my husband in two opposite sides of the parking lot. Needless to say, she rode with daddy to our next destination.
We were blessed to have a few homes in which to stay. We started off by hanging out at my mom’s: Bibi Sally’s house. She kept us fed with delicious foods and made sure there was always hot water for tea and coffee. She also introduced me to a Fanta Orange cake, which I pretend doesn’t exist, so I don’t cook it now that we are back in the States! This was our youngest’s first experience sleeping under a mosquito net and taking baths from a basin. There was cool running water through the shower head, but I think they preferred the mini pool experience best.
After feasting on Ndizi Bukoba (everyone knows, the best green bananas you can cook, are from Bukoba; West of Lake Victoria) (Of course we come from the same region. Hehehe), chapati, vitumbua, yam, fish, and many more things, we went to my sister’s house, aka the Come Here Let Your Big Sis Take Care of You House.
My sister has what we, in Florida, call a Sun Room. It may be called the same thing elsewhere, but basically it is a room that is screened in instead of walled in. It makes for a really nice room in which to sit and relax, or eat. This is where we had our dinners. This is also where our children played and bonded with their cousins. Our son became quite the chef in the play kitchen! Before getting to Tanzania I told my husband about our street foods, including beef mishkaki (Tanzanian-style kebabs). It just so happens that there was a really good place, a mere 5-minute walking distance away, that sold mishkaki, chipsi-mayai (fries and eggs), roasted pork, and other foods. So while at my sister’s, we had a lot of mishkaki!
It seems the common thread of my experiences is food. LOL! I love food.
Our next stop was my brother’s and sister’s house. Or should I say…the Nutella and Uptown Funk Household. Our three-year old was having a blast playing with her cousins! She could fit their clothes, which made her feel like a proper big girl! She also immediately bonded with her uncle, and listened to everything he said. He hadn’t given her Nutella yet (that I know of) so the bond was genuine. My niece could give Bruno Mars a run for his money when she sings and dances to Uptown Funk. She’s five years old. She showed us a lot of moves and sings without inhibition!
After one more stop we went to Arusha to attend my Nutella brother’s wedding. We rode a charter bus there so we had a really good time getting to know one another on the bus. The 2016 version of us. Our oldest brother was with us as well, as was our youngest brother and our dad. Oh yeah! I haven’t talked about that. I hadn’t seen our dad since March 1991. It was a bit surreal to be riding the bus together, and watching my dad take a nap as the sun rose over the horizon. It was also my first time meeting my youngest brother, who is only ten years younger than I.
Whilst in Arusha I had the warming pleasure of seeing a few people I hadn’t seen in a while. Well, one first cousin I had never met was there, and when I saw her all I could think about was her younger sister who passed away a few years ago. She was older than I, and was one of my closer cousins. We stopped by a few relatives’ homes and it was really good to see them and meet children who weren’t yet born in 2010 (or who were just babies).
One person who isn’t my blood relation, but who is my sister, I hadn’t seen in nineteen years! Our stars always led us on paths away from each other, but this time they aligned and we saw each other again; as women; as mothers; with our little kids playing together in the living room. What a surreal experience! To top it off, she had a friend book from 20 years ago! You know the one? You get a thick notebook or ledger book, decide on a set of questions, then you ask your friends to answer them. Things like birthday, favorite colors, favorite song, and favorite food, prelude questions like ‘What type of boy do you like?’ Then if your friends are awesome, they paste pictures too, that you can both laugh at, when you see them again after 19 years.
My brother’s wedding was simply beautiful. We had a great time talking, dancing, taking photos, and even had some good ol’ fashioned family drama. It made us grow more and solidified even further (if that’s possible), that at the end of the day we love one another and that’s that. My oldest niece and I took photos of what we could see of the Milky Way. It was such a gorgeous sky we were under, and it’s an aunty-experience I will always remember.
We (my family unit) decided to stay in Arusha a little longer than everyone else. We did a little sight-seeing, ate some nyama choma and visited my aunt again.
When we returned to Dar es Salaam we only had a few days left before leaving for the United States. So my older brothers organized a trip to the beach. We all went and it was another fantastic family outing. The little kids played in the sand, while the bigger kids (us) debated with my mom about facts and opinions of life. Well, I actually didn’t actively participate this time, as I was having too much fun listening to the participants have various conversations. I also studied myself in contrast with what my mom, brothers, sister, and husband were saying.
As I said before, I hadn’t seen my dad in 25 years. I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but it was an easier meeting than I thought it would be. When we were at the beach he asked for us to move forward with a new life and leave the past where it is. You know how a moment can hold so much information, and the same moment (say five seconds) can go by really quickly? Well, when this five-second moment was over, it seemed to me like it flew by but as it was happening it was all the time in the world and contained oh so much thought! I felt small in the face of the ocean and the grains of sand that made the beach on which I stood, and felt like I didn’t want the past to stay where it is because I didn’t have answers and I wanted them! But the grains of sand beneath my feet and the sun in the sky shining on the water that crashed onto the shore….they said “okay” and put a smile on my face and I went on to ask my dad what he wanted for lunch.
The last couple of days were a bit trying. I got in arguments with my mom in ways that had never happened before. I am her last born, and a girl. Some times it seems that these two facts matter, even though we are all pretty forward-thinking people in my family. This time it seems my mom acknowledged that I have grown up. I think she still held me as her baby in some ways, but this trip put our relationship in a new phase or chapter (smile). I am thankful for my mom and all the positive things she has instilled in us.
My purpose in sharing all these little details of my trip home is simply this: We all have our family stories. Some are extremely messed up, and some are fairytale-like (I think there are some of those out there). However, I wager to say that most families fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. On social media most of us only talk about our achievements and how well our children are growing up. We may talk about causes that are close to our hearts, or reach out when there is something seriously urgent like a surgery needed for a loved one. Often, though, we neglect to talk about the simple and growth-inducing things that happen in life. Maybe we do so purposely, or maybe we do so subconsciously. Maybe we feel these things are too private or make us too vulnerable. At this point, though, I really want for us to look at each other differently. All of us. To see how alike we are and how although our individual struggles and victories are valuable and cannot be compared to the next person’s, that we all have ups and downs. If sharing this journey can make one person feel that he is alright, then I’m good with that!