Imagine getting on an airplane for the first time and flying thousands of miles, on your own, to attend school in a strange country where people speak a foreign language.
That's what 13-year-old Daudi Lomoyani did.
Daudi is an international exchange student from Africa who is in eighth grade at Burgundy Farm Country Day School in Alexandria. A few days before classes started in September, he left his parents and two little sisters in Arusha, Tanzania, and flew more than 7,600 miles to the United States.
Waiting for him at Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia was Joel Christenson, who teaches at Burgundy Farm and is a close friend of Daudi's family. Daudi (pronounced DOW-Dee) is living with Christenson for a year.
Daudi speaks Swahili and Masai, the language of the tribe to which his family belongs. His father, who runs a safari company, taught him some English and thought that Daudi would benefit from studying in the United States. Christenson, who first met Daudi's father while teaching math in Tanzania years ago, speaks some Swahili, so he and Daudi can talk to each other.
The most surprising thing about Washington, Daudi said, is the number of cars. Very few people have cars in his town, and the streets are always full of people. "That was very different to me, to see no people walking," he said.
Daudi also has been amazed by how big the houses are here.
His family's small brick home in Arusha has no electricity or running water. Every day after school, Daudi would take an empty 10-gallon container and walk for 15 minutes with his father and older cousins to fetch water from a public faucet. His family makes two trips each day for water, which is used for cooking and washing. Daudi carries the full container home by balancing it on his head.
Daudi's favorite foods at home are rice, chicken and ugali, a cornmeal mush similar to oatmeal. Here, Daudi likes to eat cereal and pizza.
More than 2,000 children go to Daudi's school in Tanzania, compared with about 270 at Burgundy Farm. The school day in Arusha starts at 7 a.m. and doesn't end until 5 p.m.
The first weekend Daudi was here, Christenson took him to the Chesapeake Bay and helped him learn to swim. Daudi said he loves the bay and going swimming, which is not something kids in Africa generally do.
Sometimes, Daudi said, he feels homesick. He tries to call his family every weekend, but telephone connections can be bad. It makes him feel better when he looks at the orange-beaded bracelet on his arm. It's a traditional Masai bracelet that his aunt made for him. Daudi never takes it off.
It also helps to remember the reason he came to Washington. "I am here to represent the people of Tanzania," he said proudly.
-- Sandra G. Boodman