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Mikumi Solar Project –

As my first real international travel experience, I had no idea how deep the meaning of welcome could be. Since we have arrived in Mikumi, karibu is probably the Swahili word that I have heard most often. Every time that we have entered a class room or have been introduced to people I have heard this word. When we walked through the village ‘Karibu’ rung out frequently.
In fact one early morning during a power failure before the sun had risen, I was writing at the table by the light of a small lamp when I heard voices in swahili and footsteps passing our lodgings. They must have noticed my small light because the footsteps stopped near my front door and the voices faded.  I stopped writing thinking maybe something was wrong and we all sat in silence for a couple of seconds and then I heard a very soft tentative “Karibu?”.  I opened the front door and found two of the security guards who had been making their rounds. They saw my light and wanted to talk, to exchange welcomes and to find out who we were and where we were from. It was an example to me of how things should be, having a thirst for conversation, exchanging ideas and cultures, not jaded by technology and encased in our own little worlds. I think back to the many times I have entered an elevator and stared at the door with everyone else, or pretended to be busy checking messages on a phone in order not to have to speak, and I know that it would be a rare occasion here.
But it goes beyond just a simple greeting, the greeting is usually led by a huge smile and a welcoming hand shake, and a genuine desire to join your circle, to know more about you.  Skype calls back home were always community events, opportunities to crowd around and see family, to learn a little more about you and the way things are back home. They all wanted to see pictures of houses and pets and family, anything that would expand their vision of the world, and help bridge the distance between us.
As a mature student, they found it interesting that I would go back to school and learn something new.  I was a bit of a curiosity, but mixed with the normal welcome was respect. Babu, grandfather, is a term of respect and through my first week here I have heard it often. I have learned so much, been reminded so many times of the spirit of generosity and friendship.  This is a place not easy to forget, you arrive as a tentative stranger and leave reluctantly as a friend. Refiki!!

Barry Sonmor

Electronics Engineering Technology

NSCC Marconi Campus

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