Tanzania: the return

Less than an hour after landing at Kilimanjaro airport, I was driving the dirt road to Save Africa to hold my kids in my arms.

Today it finally hit me that I was here. Even though I jumped right into the life I love as soon as my plane landed four days ago — and have seen my sweet, beautiful kiddos at the Save Africa orphanage every one of those days — it wasn’t until I was riding into town in the morning that my being here, here where I never imagined I’d be when I dreamed of Africa, settled over me.

I felt that deep sense of familiarity and comfort despite so much I still do not know about this country. The fullness of my heart. The rush I get from the vibrance and commotion all around me. The hand of grace that guided me here…And I had to discretely wipe back the tears that filled my eyes, and for a moment, seemed unlikely to stop.

With my dear girl Jesca

It somehow felt like the day came full circle when I stood with my kids at Save Africa for their prayer time. I was there well into the evening when everyone was called inside. I had been sitting with some of the girls in the yard and followed them into the classroom, unsure whether it was dinner time, bed time or simply getting too dark for them to be outside.

They continued playing and horsing around as usual until Violet entered the room and spoke to them. They all took a seat, some on the benches used for the pre-school during the day, others pulling plastic chairs from stacks in a corner. When I asked what was going on, Witness told me it was religion time.

I thought she meant a class but what I experienced will always be among the most beautiful and moving memories of any of my years here.

The kids stood up and began to pray, in Swahili of course, but it sounded to me like the Our Father and Hail Mary. There were several other prayers, called out by Jesca, and then they started singing. I was standing, too, and while I had remained silent and unmoving during the prayers, here I could clap alongside them and follow their hand motions. I had caught the oldest boy Stefano’s glance several times during their prayer recitation, aware he was amused by my initial bewilderment when this all began and now when our gazes met, we openly laughed, especially when I fumbled some of the hand gestures.

With Francis, the founder of Save Africa

There was one song in English that I joined in after it was repeated a few times, and then everyone fell silent, and I heard Jesca say, “Now pray.” I looked at her in confusion. Was this some kind of transition back to spoken prayers, were they asking me to pray over them…? Finally, I blurted out “Me?”

She said, “No, now we all pray out loud.”

And the room began to fill with all of their voices speaking their personal prayers out loud. At first I just listened, let their quiet fervor wash over me, their language of blessing and petition knitting us all in earnest community. Then I joined in, and praying for these dear magnificent children as I stood among them, wondering too at their own prayers and what one asks for when joy blossoms against what I imagine to be an endless ache, brought me to tears for the second time that day.

Several other prayers for loved ones fell from my lips, too, though every now and then I would pause, arrested by the impassioned resonance of Stefano’s voice, mindful of Witness and Jesca on either side of me, Agness, who’d been lying with her head in my lap just minutes earlier, pressed against my back. Aware of my immense fortune to be there, to share in this ritual…to have found my way to them at all.

Then their voices started dropping off until the room was silent. There was a final prayer, and it was dinner time.

From left: Jeladdin, Anuari, Salma, Hajurati, Tony and Agness

Soon, I’d be making my way home, with my brimming heart, carried by the sound of their laughter, their joy, their reverence…all of it knotted in gratitude and love.

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