In late September, I spent a week in East Africa recruiting Tanzanian and Kenyan students to pursue degrees at Ajman University. Studying in the UAE has become even more desirable now that getting visas for the U.S. is growing more problematic by the day. I’m proud that Ajman University offers an excellent and affordable education for students of all nationalities.
Sitting by the hotel pool in Nairobi on my last morning in Kenya, with chai on my lap, I thought about all the great moments in the trip. Here they are, in no particular order despite the attendant numbering:
- Asking a young man who visited our table in Dar es Salaam what his name was. “God Bless,” he said. “Oh, thank you,” I said. “What’s your name?” Again, he said “God Bless.” So I tried in Swahili. “Jino lako ni nani?” Again, he said, “God Bless.” Finally, I got it through my thick skull that his name actually was “Godbless.” An Abbot and Costello moment in Dar es Salaam. Nice kid that Godbless, and patient too.
- Walking into a gift shop at the Dar regional airport much to the shock of the shopkeeper. I couldn’t figure out why my presence threw him. “Am I a surprise?” I asked, wondering if he rarely had customers. He nodded, then said, “A big expensive surprise.” I guess my paisley suit, high heels and blond hair threw him for a loop.
- Talking with a lot of young African women at the Recruitment Fairs who are very interested in science and engineering careers!
- Getting to know Dr. Joseph Lutta, a Business Professor at AU. He’s from Kenya originally, and the same village (Maragoli) where I worked as a Peace Corps volunteer. He’s a wonderful man and was a huge asset on the trip. We make a great team. He earned his Ph.D. at LSU and has worked all over the world. There was a time when I thought people from Maragoli would have very few opportunities to pursue higher education. I was very wrong. In fact, Maragoli people are getting degrees and jobs around the world and have been for a long while. I hope to recruit a few to come to AU — maybe even some from Munzatsi Friends School where I taught from 1986-1987.
- Seeing Mount Kilimanjaro from the airplane. So glorious. Made me cry a bit. The sun was setting and the mountain’s majesty moved me in a way that only God and Mother Nature can do. One day, I hope to stand at the base of the Mountain to look up at it. I’ve only ever seen it from above.
- Getting a good-natured offer to teach English and swimming at an international high school in Arusha. The headmaster (originally from the Philippines) and I hit it off completely during the recruitment fair in his area. I told him that I was very happy at AU and that maybe the best thing I could do for his school was to help graduates come to Ajman for their college degrees.
- Meeting my unlikely pal David Simpai, a Masai warrior, for breakfast in the Crown Plaza Hotel. My family and I met him when we were on safari back in March. A magical and meaningful connection was made immediately. We’ve kept in touch ever since. Anyway, on this occasion, David traveled to Nairobi from Narok in his traditional dress (on a public bus for five hours) to visit with me. He’d never been to Kenya’s capital city before. He came bearing many gifts — necklaces, beads, bracelets, earrings, and a stunning dress handmade by his wife who is also named Nancy. We were quite a sight of gift-giving exuberance in the restaurant. David like the breakfast buffet but was troubled by the sight of fish. Maasai don’t eat fish — only cow meat and blood. He seemed to enjoy the pancakes, though, quite a bit. As we parted company, David said he was heading over to the Nairobi airport before returning to Maasai Land because he’d never seen an airplane up close.
- Having breakfast the next morning with my dear friends Anne Desma Chirande, Board Member, and David Atwera, Headmaster, from Munzatsi School. They came all the way to Nairobi (an 8-hour drive for David; and, a 1-hour flight for Anne who is expecting her third baby) to visit with me and discuss the Bercaw Scholarship Fund we’re creating for the Maragoli community. They are incredible humans and I’m lucky to have a deep connection with both of them.
I’m sure there is more to report, but my brain — and my heart — are full.