Yenni’s Tale

June 29th, 2001
Arusha, Tanzania

I met a woman tonight. She is from the Netherlands, fifty eight years of age and calls herself Yenni. Gray haired and soft-spoken she is. I had noticed her the first day I stayed here at the Meru Inn. But I had not spoken to her then. Tonight we sat at the same table having dinner and she told me a tale.

She has been coming to Tanzania about every other year since 1994. Asked what triggered that first trip, she said it was because her son Jim, then twenty-nine had wanted to meet his father. Yenni had met Jim’s father thirty-six years ago in the Netherlands. He was from Tanzania and had been an exchange student in the agricultural school in Holland for a short while. They had met, and had a relationship. Afterwards they had each gone their separate ways. He had gone back to Tanzania and she had had a son. She had brought him up herself with help from her parents. They had lived on her parent’s farm. I remember her telling me how difficult it had been then to live and bring up a black baby in rural Holland. She had had no contact with Jim’s father all these years. Now here was Jim wanting to meet his father. And so they came to Tanzania looking for him.

They went first to the Dutch embassy in Dar Es Salaam but that proved to be of no help. They then went to the Agricultural School in the hopes that someone somewhere could help. Yes, they were told, there were records but were not of much use without a plethora of details and paperwork. All Yenni had to go by was Jim’s father’s name and the name of the village he had come from. They decided to stop at the village and make inquiries. They were at the village when they were approached by a man. The man asked them what they were looking for and was told their tale. He told them to wait; that he would be back soon. And wait, they did. He was gone no longer than ten minutes. He came back with a smile to tell them that Jim’s father was still alive. He left again and after ten more minutes was back again to relate that Jim had a brother in Tanzania. That he had family here. This man had, in the space of an hour found Jim’s father. He still lived in the same village that his parents and grandparents had lived in and died in. Jim had found not only his father, but a host of cousins, nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles. Jim had thought he was alone in the world and now found that he not only had a huge extended family, but a warm welcome.

Ever since then they have been back every couple of years. Two years ago Jim, his (Turkish) wife and five year old child rented a house in a village nearby and lived there for a year and a half. Yenni too has been back just as frequently. She works as a medical assistant in Holland and when she is here she volunteers at the medical centers. Her fondest hope is that when she retires in a couple of years, she will be back here permanently. I could see it in her eyes as she spoke – this was home for her. Much more so than where she has lived most of her life. She, who had never thought to come to Tanzania, now cannot imagine living elsewhere.

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