I have just returned from Tanzania, but to say I am “home” doesn’t feel quite right, for Tanzania (and Uganda) are now as much home to me as is the U.S. I have never felt more completely alive than I did during our one-week visit to the Shepherds Jr. Primary School in Arusha. Our days and nights were filled with music and open hearts. The children are unspeakably beautiful, and every moment felt absolutely essential. It wasn’t all smiles and happiness, mind you . . . in addition to the bliss, there were heart-wrenching stories, stone-serious conversations, and more. But it was all real, and in that, I have found immeasurable fullness and grace. The fact that these children so willingly open their hearts and raise their voices to us, is one of the deepest blessings of my life.
On the day after we arrived, I finally was able to call home to the U.S., only to find out that my precious 7-year-old nephew, Ryan, had died while I was on a plane to Africa. Ryan had many special needs and had been in Children’s Hospital for over a month undergoing chemo for his recently diagnosed leukemia. And yet, it was an absolute shock to me. Ziggy, one of the dogs at Ujamaa Hostel where we were staying, came over and sat next to me as I heard the news. He didn’t move until I hung up, and then he got up and casually trotted into the back yard from where he’d come. I’ll always be grateful to him for that. Ryan was, and is, timeless. He loved African music, especially the Samite cd’s that I gave him when he was a baby, and in the subsequent days, as I dove headlong into our work in Tanzania, every child’s voice was his voice, every expression of joy was his joy. At least once every day, in the middle of song, I experienced a lift in energy that was so blissful I thought my body would never contain it. I watched it happen to the children too. It was like a frenzy of love. Ryan was with us. I am certain of it, and although I can offer nothing with which to convince you or show you proof, I know it to be true. Sometimes, it feels as though the world is too much becoming.
And so, I have left one home and returned to another with a deepened sense of purpose and conviction. OneVoice is blooming into all I had ever dreamed and more. My gratitude to our Gang of Love on this trip is immeasurable. Kim Jackson, Danny Schwartz, David Reynolds, and Kuna Malik Hamad, are not only immensely talented people, but they each share a passion for our mission, and gave all of themselves. They are my family. Mama Lucy, Mister Ben, Mister Hermann, Leah, Carren, Gideon, Patrick, George, Hilde, Wilton, and so many others at Shepherds Jr. have enriched me and saved my life in more ways than they’ll ever know. They are my family as well. And Arusha, all musty dirt roads, sweat and woodsmoke and exhaust and unfiltered sunlight and brooding clouds. Teeming with life and noise, and yet somehow, a felt stillness and quiet at the center. Arushans don’t generally greet you when you pass. But all you have to do is raise your eyebrows in their direction and you will be the recipient of the fullest, face-swallowing smile and a hearty “Jambo!” (hello!). Arusha too, is my family.
There are some photos posted already and there will many more to come along with video. My greatest hope is that we have been able to viscerally capture something of Africa in general, and of our dear new family in Arusha and at Shepherds Jr., because after all, you are our family too. One can never have too many homes.