Our bus pulls away from our stop, leaving its two lone wazungu passengers in its wake of dust and diesel fumes. Kara turns her head left and right to stretch her neck.
"I want to be back in Nungwi."
We walk across the road and knock on the big metal door. The small opening slides open and when the eyes see who it is, they're replaced by a big grin and a shout in Swahili. Jonathan opens the gate and hugs us as we walk through. Andrew walks out of the guard gate and hugs us as well.
"Karibuni! Habari za safari?" (Welcome! How was the trip?") His big white teeth are about all I can make out in the encroaching darkness.
"Nzuri," (good) I reply. His big hand messes my hair like I'm one of the toddlers. I feign anger as I fix my hair but he knows it's just an act. Kara and I say good night and promise we'll chat more tomorrow when we're rested.
"Go. See your children," Jonathan laughs after us as we continue our trek towards the main house. "They've missed you." I wonder if the kids have even noticed our absence. They didn't seem to notice any of the other times we've been gone for multiple days.
We settle into our room in the newly completed volunteer quarters. I sit on my bed with a loud sigh and I glance around before settling on Kara's smiling face.
"Let's go see the children."
We're both up before she even finishes the sentence. We carefully make our way down the stairs and around to the back door. It's hasn't been locked yet so we're able to sneak in. Unspoken between us is the understanding that we want to surprise the children. We make our way as quietly as possible to the change and laundry room where the kids are being bathed before bedtime. We open the door.
"Hello," we call out.
All the chatter stops at the sound of our voices and there's a moment of silence while all the heads turn towards us. Suddenly, the room erupts in noise.
The nannies move forward to hug us and the toddlers walk and crawl as quickly as they can towards us. Maria gets out of her bath completely naked and beelines for my legs. Her wet, shivering body presses against them while Mama Musa tries to coax her back to the bath. She looks up at me with a big smile.
"Mommy," she screams. I pick her up, give her the biggest hug I can and then hand her back to Mama Musa. Kara and I gather up the toddlers and older babies that are done their baths and take them to the play room. I sit down on the ground and am immediately beset by Joshua, Cory and Simon. They crawl over my legs, drape themselves over my back. They have me pinned to the ground.
They hug my arms.
They kiss my head.
They tell each other that 'mommies are home'. Nosatwa comes crawling out from the change room with her pajamas only half on. Hadija comes running out after her to catch her and finish getting her dressed, but I pick up Nosatwa and tell Hadija that I'll do it.
"It is good to see you," Hadija tells me as she hugs me. I'd hug her back but Benny is pulling on my free hand as he jumps, repeating 'mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy'.
The older toddlers start to do laps around the area stopping on each go round to hug Kara and me. Kara has Junior in her arms and a huge grin on her face. The last time Kara and I were in this room was after Queen had died, very unexpectedly, in Kara's arms. Tomorrow, Kara will depart Tanzania for Uganda and continue her overland trip to Cape Town. I am so happy that her last memory of CoL will be of all this joy and not the sorrow which greeted us on our last day before our two week holidays began.
As the younger toddlers and babies take up residence in our laps, the older toddlers wind themselves up. They can't stop running and screaming. Constant calls for our attention keep our heads turning left and right. Philip stops running. As he turns towards us, he pulls his pajamas up over his head and throws them in the air.
Cory follows, then big Maria, then Benny. Soon, all the toddlers are naked. They throw their pajamas in the air, catch them and thrown them again. They scream 'mommies, mommies' each time. I teared up. I have never felt so missed in all my life.
We leave the toddlers totally wired and in various states of redress. We apologies to the nannies for getting the kids riled up but they're so happy to see us back, they don't seem to mind. We can still hear the toddlers shouting 'mommies are home' as we make our way back up the stairs to the volunteer quarters. Sleep may be a long time coming for the toddler room tonight.
"I needed that," I close the door behind me as I say it. I lock us in for the night as Kara moves into the kitchen to make some tea. We make eye contact and despite the tears dancing on her lower eye lashes, she's flashing me the biggest grin her mouth can make.
"So did I."
"Better than Nungwi?"
"Better than Nungwi."