Matt and I are no strangers to moving. This is saying a lot for a small town Texas girl who’s entire moving experience prior to becoming an adult consisted of relocating from one house to another across town. In the eleven years that Matt and I have been married our little family has moved nine times. This means we have lived in nine different house, not counting the few times we have squatted for a bit here or there (Hi Mom and Rachel!). We have lived in three different states and on two different continents. However all of this experience could not have prepared us for what it would be like to move Neema House from the original location into the newly built Neema Village.
To say that we had been plotting and planning the move for a while would be quite the understatement. For the past several months the Neema House management team conducted weekly meetings where we would discuss and then discuss again our moving strategy. Every day we would stand together and talk about moving this or disassembling that or which child would need extra support and care. We had plans on how to move the kitchen so we could provide for kids in both places. We had plans about which staff would work at the new facility and which staff would stay at the old place. We scheduled the guards and the cooks and the drivers to be split between the two locations. We figured out a menu to be served to make life easier during the transition. We would talk about it and think about it and dream about it and fret about it and plan about it and then look at each other and wonder how in the world the actual event was going to play out. I will let you in on a little secret about living in Tanzania, and that is that the best laid plans are NEVER what actually happens. Maybe it is like that in every corner of the world, but the adage felt particularly potent on July 15th, the Day of the BIG MOVE, Part one.
The day dawned bright and clear. The three giant moving trucks were scheduled to arrive at 8 am, 9 am, and 10 am…African time. Naturally, all three showed up at the same time. The volunteers had their tennis shoes laced up and I had my clip board in hand. The entire staff (41 people) were present and excited about a new workplace and overtime pay. We arrived with a plan and a dream. What happened after that is a blur, but I will tell you as best I can. We had decided that we would try our best to get everything moved in two days. That meant that we planned to move the big kids and toddlers and aaaaalllll their stuff as well as part of the kitchen, the store room, the office and the playground on the first day. The second day would be the rest of the kitchen, Rebekah’s apartment, laundry, the volunteer house, the crawling babies and tiny babies. I know most of my readers have never been to Neema House, so you cannot imagine how tightly we were packed into our old house. Just imagine if you wanted to move your grandmother, who happens to be a clinical hoarder, out of her giant mansion only to find out her house was filled with 46 babies and everything it takes to care for those babies. It was a lot like that, minus the grandmother.
Our plan was ambitious, but we had three trucks and a ton of people committed to the task so we decided to give it our best shot. The staff was waiting like horses ready to burst from the gate. Matt and I arrived, fired the gun, and they were off. It was like a looting, but instead of running away, everyone dropped what they were carrying in the front yard and ran back for more. Bags of clothes, twenty beds, chest of drawers, desks, boxes of toys and the random child (just kidding!) all came flying out. Anything that could be considered a container was filled with anything that needed to be contained and shuttled out to the yard. I saw our oldest nanny carry a loaded filing cabinet out of the house on her top of her head. How she got it up there probably defied the laws of physics, but out she staggered, laughing at my shocked expression. By the time the first truck arrived around 10 AM, half the contents of the house was sitting in the driveway. The first moving truck turned out to be a huge, open bed dump truck. The truck was very high and difficult to get heavy items into the bed. Tanzanians know, “many hands make light work”. In less than ten minutes a group of people, like a fire line, had the truck loaded and headed off to the new property.
At that point Matt and I realized our best defense was to divide and conquer. If by conquer we meant have a hazy shred of control over the way things were packed and unloaded. I sped off towards the new building to head the receiving crew, and Matt stayed at the original house to direct the loading crew. Mama Musa marched between the staff like a four star general directing her troupes. Michael and Dorris were busy not only getting their new apartment set up, but also assisting with getting things unloaded and overseeing last-minute fixes on the house.
It was an A-MA-ZING feat of team work and answered prayers!!! I am still in awe of all the work that was done in a very short amount of time. The staff, volunteers and the guys driving the trucks worked so hard and so fast that by 2 PM, everything we had planned to move that day, and MORE, was safely inside the new building.
The big kids were the first to ‘come home.’ I could not help but get teary as I watched them triumphantly run into their new sanctuary amid the cheers and claps of nannies, volunteers and construction workers. It was a worthy homecoming to a castle built in their honor. The occasion was also momentous because it culminated years of hard work, stress and prayer on the part of so many, but particularly Matt and Micheal and Dorris Fortson.
As the nannies would come over from the other building they would sing, laugh, and hug each other and us with congratulations and excitement. The day ended in a flurry of trying to find PJs, diapers, soap, and towels. There was much arranging of beds and hanging mosquito nets.
There were also water leaks aplenty (one shower facet fell off the wall and sprayed water all over the crawlers), a malfunctioning hot water heater, and a few minor electrical problems. As we closed The Big Move, Part 1, we all agreed it could not have gone any better.
The second day, The Big Move, Part 2 was much harder. I think we had used up all of our excitement and anticipation on Part 1. However, even with our weary muscles and tired minds, at 3:38 pm on July 16th, I got the text from Matt that he was headed over with the very last load. Inconceivable! Two days of work and we had moved 46 babies, 40 employees, Rebekah’s apartment, a house full of volunteers with their kitchen, beds and belongings, laundry, storage, the office, and four years of accumulated baby stuff from one location to another. No one knew where the bibs were or how to turn on the light they wanted. I kept walking into the wrong room or forgetting where things were put. Looking back, the move could be described as both traumatic, and also that it could not have gone any better. Everything was moved, nothing major was broken, no babies were lost, all the staff is settled, and we all lived happily ever after….and some of us are headed to the beach to recover!