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by Amy Carter
part 2 of 2

From the Kitomari home we traveled more than one very bumpy hour in Land Cruisers up the slope of a dormant volcano named Mount Meru. At an elevation of 6,000 feet above sea level, we were still only at the base of the mountain. As our bodies bounced and swayed up the windy, dirt road, we passed many women, men and children walking down. The women carried baskets of avocadoes on top of their heads and children waved at us with smiles that lured out our cameras. It is impossible to not smile in response to even the sight of these children, who nearly always turn their eyes to stare at our own. For many of us missing our own children, every day it is tempting to wrap each of them into a hug and kiss their dust-covered faces.

When we finally arrived at our destination, we were greeted by Mama Anna, a short, round woman with the personality of a natural entertainer. She and the other women in her group welcome us with a song and undulation, their tongues trilling in a way that none of our group are able to accurately mimic. Afterward we introduced ourselves, each of us labeling ourselves "Mama" and "Baba" followed by our oldest child's first name. I was "Mama Owen," and I don't know that I've introduced myself as proudly as in that moment.

"Ubuntu" is an African term meaning, roughly, "I am because you are." As we stood in the circle, chanting in Swahili -- I, however, not managing much more than the commonly used greeting "jambo" -- and sharing our lives, we weren't separated by geography, economics or gender. We instead were united as parents, children and individuals earnestly seeking to learn more about one another and celebrating our humanity, successes and challenges. We shared a lunchtime meal of chapati, stew, rice, fruit and tea prepared by their hands. Mama Anna and her husband Ishmael then told us about the Heifer training he had attended in 1992 that taught him how to build a cow shed and how one year later they passed on one of their cows to another family in need. In 1997 they began producing award-winning cheese, and now people in the community travel to their home to purchase the cheese and other produce. One of their children has gone to university and they have contributed to the building of a school.

"I am thankful," Mama Anna said. "All things have happened because of Heifer."

Each member of the group participated in churning butter as the women danced and sang around us. Even I, rhythmically challenged, was glad to take one of their hands after I finished turning the heavy blue cylinder. They gladly taught us how to transport their luggage -- bananas, in this case -- on top of our heads, and we helped to smash coffee beans in a large mortar. Three of the women demonstrated by alternately lowering and lifting their pestles in what -- for them -- became an easy, graceful dance. Ishmael joined us around the mortar, throwing his grandson into the air, the giggles of a little boy joining in our song.

We were family that afternoon, discovering joy, blessings and unity at the base of Mount Meru.

Amy Carter is a research and communications specialist at Heifer International. This week she joins a study tour of Heifer projects in Tanzania. You can read part 1 of this post here.

Amy Carter (center) practices the art of carrying bananas.


Casey Neese