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Trade In Your Timex for a Bag of Balloons—A Tanzanian Adventure

Kat and I just returned from an indescribable trip to Tanzania. We worked at an orphanage for special needs kids and Boma ‘longombe secondary school. This was my fourth trip and Kat’s first. Here’s a piece about the experience I wrote for my Facebook page. More about the wood part of it later.

spike_balloons_throng_malende

When you go to Tanzania, trade in your Timex for a bag of balloons. The balloons are infinitely more useful and you’ll never regret the decision.

When you trade in your watch for balloons you can sit on the steps of a guesthouse in remote Bomalongombe, laughing while you make balloon animals with three dozen children. It means you can teach one another: Mbwa means dog, pua means nose, mbili means two, their presence means they trust a stranger traveling in their midst.

happy_kids_ballooons

Your watch will only make you anxious over the graduation slated for 10:00 a.m. that starts at 1:15 p.m. Your watch will make you forget it’s more important to have tea and connect with old and new friends than to stick to a schedule that makes you hurry and scurry, so you can hurry and scurry some more.

Balloons let you give something new and mysterious to a one year old-and to learn about parenting in return. My grimace says “I fear your child. biting this balloon, will get an unpleasant surprise.” The mother’s smile says, “Yes. And that way my child will learn it’s not a good idea to bite a balloon.” It makes me think we no longer let our children bite balloons; we hesitate when it comes to letting them, regardless of age, learn about the natural consequences in life. We take away balloons, fearing the “pop” will scare or scar them.

kat_kid_DIRA_balloon

Balloons grant you passage to the back of a village church where the choir is practicing hymns; songs where the words are different but the melody is the same. Balloons help you realize that music and faith link us together though we live half a world away. Balloons make a mother trust you enough to let her 2-year old sleep in your arms while you listen to her sing in the choir. Balloons make you realize if the tables were turned you might not feel the same trust.

Balloons help you cheer on the blind youth choir singing to welcome you. Balloons help you celebrate the 103 students graduating from school, heading into a world where opportunities are slim compared to ours. Balloons help you contain the joy you feel in seeing a four year old walk for the first time under her own power. Balloons make the work of building bunk beds for 100 students a little lighter.

spike balloons mwatasi

Balloons help you realize the nine people you’re traveling with for two weeks are all kids at heart. Balloons make me realize how incredibly lucky I am to have a fearless, loving wife by my side as we travel.

kat_mwatasi_balloon

Balloons allow you to give away something to kids that aren’t given much; to add a splash of color to a life that can be dusty and dry. Balloons are hugs and hope. And when they sail away you realize hope is a fragile thing.

When you trade in your Timex for balloons you trade in your anxiety-Am I going to lose it? Scratch it? Gum up the mechanism? It allows you to exchange something made of steel for something truly enduring-memories that can only be had by living.

A balloon allows you to leave a part of yourself-your very breath-in Tanzania. Fitting for a country that takes your breath away.