I walked out the gate for the last time, carefully closing it behind me. I walked slowly, unwilling to move fast. Tears were building up in my eyes. Mama V walked along me in silence. I tried not to look back, I tried to move forward but I couldn’t fight it anymore. I stopped and turned around. Beyond the horizon, above the clouds, floated Kilimanjaro’s snowy peak.
The whole time I tried really hard not to think about saying goodbye and leaving. It was denial but I didn’t want to acknowledge that there will be a moment when I will need to say goodbye and walk away. Mama V stood beside me. She reached out and touched my hand, gently squeezing it.
“Will you come back?” asked Mama V.
“I hope so.” I paused. “God willing.”
She nodded. “God willing. I will pray for your return.”
“Thank you. I hope I can come back. I will miss you all too much not to come back.”
“The kids will miss you too. We all will.”
“They do really like you. You should remember that.”
All I could do was nod.
Two months ago on my first day volunteering at this orphanage in Tanzania, the children and I collected pebbles. I counted in English, children counted in Swahili. We all learned. The same would happen when I chopped veggies for lunch stews. I said in English, they said in Swahili. They laughed when I said it completely wrong. They were way better at mimicking me than I was at repeating after them. It happened so fast I didn’t even realise what was happening, but very soon I was living for that moment in the morning when I would walk through the gate and be greeted with the children running towards me screaming “Teacher Katie!”. It was the hours spent with kids that mattered the most from there on. Every moment with them was a precious gift. Soon I started to regret how attached I was getting to the children, and to those views of Kilimanjaro on my daily walk and from the orphanage’s yard.
In my second week there, one of the girls grabbed my hand and simply said, come. But where, I protested. Instead of answering she just pulled me by hand. I gave in and followed. We walked to the other side of the small brick building that housed the storage rooms and Mamas’ quarters. As we rounded the corner, she pointed to the horizon. Kilimanjaro, she said. Yes, it is, I said. On the top there is snow, she said. Yes, the white top is the snow. She nodded. We stood there for a moment staring at the horizon. I looked over at her, she looked more serious and in thought than I would ever expect a six year old to look. But then her stare broke, she smiled. Can I have some chalk, she asked. I smiled back, maybe later.
As I stood there with Mama V, looking at the peak, I tried to memorise where the snow lines were. Someone told me the snow was melting, maybe to be gone in our lifetime. For now, it glistened in the late afternoon light. Children’s laughter and squeals echoed from the yard.
I regretted getting attached but looking up at the mountain again, I forgot about that regret. All I remembered was love and hope I found in this corner of the world. The snows of Kilimanjaro will melt, the kids will grow up, the time will move on, but before all those things happen, there is a lot of life still to be lived.
About author: I am Katie Chakhova. I loathe the question “where are you from?”, there is no simple answer. Travel and writing have both been part of my life since childhood, forever linked and integral parts of my life. I am passionate about this amazing world we call home and stories we tell about it.
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