A Lot Like You

A Film by Eliaichi Kimaro

Mama Kimaro’s got a new column…

August 11, 2013

For 7 years, Mama Kimaro wrote a weekly column–“Development with Common Sense” for The Daily News, a national Tanzanian newspaper.

After taking some time off writing, Mom has resurfaced with another column…this time, a monthly column with the Korea Times!  Here’s the link to her inaugural post, From the Slopes of Kilimanjaro.

And because I have internet trust issues, I’ve pasted the article below…


From the slopes of Kilimanjaro 
By Younghoy Kim Kimaro

I am a Korean-born Tanzanian in her late 60s, living on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro with my husband, Dr. Sadikiel Kimaro.  Growing up in Korea, I was totally addicted to a cartoon series, “The Jungle Prince,” a cartoon about a little African boy with bright round eyes and a headful of curly hair who always got tangled up in adventures.

If someone told me then that I would get tangled in my own adventures to end up living in Africa, I wouldn’t have believed it. Not in a thousand years.  Yet, here I am, living out my life on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro and loving every moment of it. On a clear day if we are up early enough we can catch a glimpse of Kilimanjaro’s snow-capped peak from the veranda of our home. It has been a long and winding road from Seoul to Mt. Kilimanjaro.

My husband and I met at a graduate school in the U.S. He studied economics and I had my nose buried in books on African politics and African socialism then, though later I switched to economics.

After 30 years of working at the IMF (for him) and the World Bank (for me) and raising children in Washington, D.C., we retired from our jobs, packed up our bags, and returned to my husband’s home village in Mwika, on Mt. Kilimanjaro.

We’ve been back in Africa more than 10 years. Long enough for mountains and valleys to have changed? Long enough for one born and raised on the other side of the globe to become rooted and feel one with the people and the surroundings. And the longer I live in Africa, it strikes me how alike we are though at first we may seem so different.

As in Korea, age is much respected here. Life expectancy in Tanzania is 58 years. People on the mountain tend to live longer. Still, late 60s makes me “mzee” (an elder). Respect so readily proffered to age helps one to grow old graciously.

Like Korea, the extended family plays a big part in one’s life. They participate in all life-defining moments ― engagement, wedding, birth of a new baby, baptism, confirmation, funeral, burial. They plan together, contribute, celebrate, and grieve together. I recall many such gatherings of the extended family on such occasions in Korea and much warmth that was shared.

I find some faces in Korea and Tanzania strikingly similar. One Mghase in our village always makes me think of President Park Chung-hee ― round faced, high cheek bones, well set jaws that show strong will on a perennially serious face. Is that just my own illusion or is it for real? I had to find out. At one Rotary Club meeting, I circulated few pictures of President Park and asked the members to vote whether they thought the two looked similar or not. The vote was unanimously affirmative. Mghase was voted an African look-alike of President Park.

What do we do in a remote village on the mountain to keep us busy? It is a round-the-clock engagement in development projects to build a new rural market, improve milk production, automate a milk pasteurizing plant, improve school management, improve Math’s teaching, set up a community library, provide micro-credits to market women, pipe water to all 29 primary and secondary schools, deworm the school children, and so on, together with fellow villagers.

“Must be very hot there,” people remark when they hear that I live in Africa. That’s not a far-fetched remark considering Mt. Kilimanjaro is only 3 degrees south of the equator. But the mountain rises to 5,895 meters above sea level. People inhabit its slopes up to about 3,000 meters. The altitude moderates the temperature considerably. Most mornings and nights on the slopes are cool and crisp. It can also get downright cold as now.

Because of the northern/southern hemisphere phenomenon, our seasons are just the reverse of those in Korea. As Korea goes through the sweltering heat of summer, we are shivering in cold. I am writing this article wrapped in a polar fleece jacket, a scarf around my neck, and woolen socks to keep my toes and ankle warm.

In this cold weather I long for mid-August. Around the 15th as Korea celebrates its liberation from the Japanese rule we, on Mt. Kilimanjaro, are slowly liberated from the grips of cold weather. Rains fall in fine mist. “The planting rains,” so say the old folks here. Fine mist gently soaks the soil. Plants are happy. Lush vegetation on the mountain slopes grows lusher and the temperature warms up. ‘Tis time for the seeds to burst forth and push up their shoots. As the weather warms up, their roots will spread out in the soft, humus-laden soil.

So what should you readers expect to get from this column? Some insights into the people and their lives on Mt. Kilimanjaro dabbled with reflections on development issues that Tanzania faces and how they compare to Korean experience; some sharing of stories from our project undertakings. Most of all, I would love my column to do what “The Jungle Prince” did for me. Keep my readers’ interest in Africa fresh and alive.

The writer is residing on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania now. She worked for the World Bank for nearly 30 years and her email is yhkimaro@yahoo.com.

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