Sunday, November 10, 2013

Celebrating a big day with "family"

A funny thing happens when you move by yourself far away from the only life you’ve ever known.  You immediately feel something different.  I remember sitting by myself on a bed surrounded by pale yellow mosquito netting in the semi-darkness of the hotel room my first night in Tanzania.  If I had looked out the 4th floor window into the darkness, I would have seen people below, spending time together at the end of a day.  I could hear voices from below, but their world was not yet mine.  No, I was alone.
Dar es Salaam through the humidity on my first night in Tanzania 

With feelings that I’m positive were magnified by extreme fatigue and nerves, I felt the most alone I have ever felt.  Here I was, in a new country, surrounded by people I couldn’t understand and who couldn’t understand me.  At this point, I had only met two people who could speak English: my taxi driver and the man at immigration, who asked me with a tired and stern look on my face what I was planning on doing in Tanzania, took my money and pointed me on.  It was hard that first night to not think about the people I was going to be without for the next 12 months.  For the first time in my life, I knew what true loneliness felt like.

As is usually the case in times like this, things looked much better with a couple of hours of sleep.  As soon as I stepped off the bus in Dodoma, all feelings of solitude left.  Now, 3 ½ months later, it’s hard to remember what it felt like that night.  The strange feeling I felt that first night has been replaced by an equally strange one: the people who were strangers even 4 months ago have now become family.

Nothing can ever replace the friends and family I have at home, who have been my family for years.  My mom will always be my mom and my dad will always be my dad.  Rather than replacing my family at home, it has grown.  Nothing could possibly show this as much as the surprise we planned for one of the CAMS teachers for his 60th birthday.

When the staff at CAMS found out that Peter Swaffild would be celebrating his 60th birthday in Tanzania without his family around, we decided to do something about it, without his knowing.  Fueled mostly by Sarah Vaughan, another teacher, we threw him a surprise party.  Sarah collected video clips of staff members wishing Peter a happy birthday, and sent away to his children, who are living as far from each other as they can, to add their messages.  She edited together a video of all of us and planned a part to show it.

On Friday night, some of the men from school went out for drinks after school, then stopped by a friend’s house to “pick something up.”  What Peter didn’t know was that we were sitting around back with meat on the grill, music playing, and salads made waiting for him to walk around the corner.  The look on his face was priceless!

You see, we all have felt, at some time, a little alone.  We all miss someone and it is especially hard to be away from them on important days.  We were more than happy to celebrate with Peter as a family.  Not as a replacement for his family, but as an extension… and it was great to have his kids there as well, at least as a projection on a wall.  I am forever blessed to be a part of this family.
No, the balloons weren't directly over the flames, but it's cool that they look that way!
Yup, I think he was surprised!
Party planner and guest of honor share a hug!
Blurred by the dark and a slow shutter speed, but you can tell he's happy!
Opening gifts with friends.
A toast!
Enjoy your meal!
I think he looks happy!  On the left side of the picture is Brian Orlay.  He's a YASCer from last year's class who got a late start in coming to Tanzania and is going home this week.  You can check out his blog here.
One of Peter's daughters.  He was really surprised to see her and...
...more so to see his son.  It was really great to have their videos to add to ours!
The cake!
Yup, still happy!
What's a party without a few songs?
How do you open glass pop bottles without an opener?  Use another bottle (with multiple levels of success.) :)
It was so great to share such an awesome day this this man.  He is really a fantastic person and I was so happy to be able to share his 60th with him.

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