April 20, 2013
Friendship forged in Africa
Cortland woman hosts Tanzanian after meeting him on 2010 trip
When Dorothy Poole traveled to Africa in 2010 with her son and daughter-in-law, she was struck by the kindness of her African driver.
On the first night of her trip, driver Steve Kimei, of the city of Arusha, Tanzania, noticed that the 84-year-old Cortland resident was struggling to get in and out of the Jeep.
“The very next morning he had built me a stool,” Poole said.
When Poole was confronted with a bathroom that she could not consider using, Kimei went out of his way to make sure he stopped at more suitable facilities.
Kimei was so nice, polite and well educated, Poole thought he had to come to America and see what life is like here.
Wednesday Kimei was in the midst of his second trip to Cortland, spending the morning telling preschool children about life in Africa at the Pomeroy Street Child Development Center with Poole, a Yong Street resident.
Kimei, 29, had also visited in May.
Kimei has gone with Poole to the center where Poole works as a nap time aide two to three times a week since he arrived March 25. Poole’s great-granddaughter, Saydee Willey, 5, attends the preschool class Kimei spoke to.
“I am a driver and I normally work in the bush, inside the national park,” Kimei told the class of 4- and 5-year-olds.
The park contains a variety of animals, including elephants, zebras and lions, he said.
“We have also giraffes,” Kimei said, which caused a commotion among the children.
“Don’t say snakes!” interjected a little girl.
“And a lot of snakes,” Kimei said, laughing.
“Do you have any dinosaurs in Africa?” asked Nathan Harrington, 4. “What about piggies?”
How long it took Kimei to travel to Cortland astonished the children.
“It take me like four days to get here,” Kimei said.
“How many airplanes did you take to get here?” asked Harrington.
Kimei took three planes, Kimei told the boy.
School children in Tanzania are not as privileged as the children in America, Kimei explained to the preschoolers.
Before children can go to school they must first reach their right hand over their head and touch their left ear without bending their head, he said, a feat none of the preschoolers at the center were big enough to do.
The schools have no chairs, and the students sit on dirt floors, or bricks if it is too dusty, Kimei said.
Children sometimes have to fetch water before class begins to sprinkle on the dirt floor to minimize the dust and sometimes they have to carry water for themselves in a bottle from home, he said.
One child asked if the students use soap to wash their hands, and Kimei said that soap is not available.
Punishment for misbehaving children is different as well.
“If you scream a lot, if you don’t listen enough, you’re allowed to get sticks on body or hand,” Kimei said.
To play, the children collect plastic bags that they roll up and tie together with rope to make a soccer ball, he said.
Cortland is much smaller than the city of 2.2 million Kimei is from, but has much more infrastructure than Arusha, which has only two stoplights and two paved roads, Kimei said after visiting the students.
“Here its very quiet, calm,” he said, adding that it is a great place to raise a family.
Poole, who asked Kimei to stay with her after continuing their friendship on Facebook, would like Kimei to stay in the U.S. permanently, but too many visas are required and the process is too difficult to get through.
On his visit, Kimei has paid attention to the simple pleasures that Americans take for granted.
Kimei has been very cautious about how much water and electricity he uses, Poole said.
In Arusha, the hydroelectric dam only operates during the rainy season, and even then power service cannot be guaranteed, Kimei said.
“Sometimes it can go even two months without electricity,” he said.
Food storage is very limited, he said, and without reliable electricity, no refrigerators could run, so most people walk to the market every day for food.
“They don’t have a lot of sugar over there,” Poole said, and Kimei has noticed the higher amount of sugar in American food.
Kimei attended a very sugary festival on this visit — the Central New York Maple Festival.
“It was great,” said Kimei, who entered the pancake eating contest and downed four pancakes.
Kimei will return home May 6.
Harrington asked Kimei how long it would take to get back during Kimei’s visit, eliciting smiles from Kimei and the preschool teachers.
“It will be the same — four days,” he said.
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