“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” ― Ghandi

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Three Years and Nine Trips Later.....

Greetings readers!

Kathy here, not Rebecca. It has been a long time since my last entry, almost three years actually. In that time I have traveled back and forth between my home in the US and Arusha, Tanzania nine times, spending about three months in each location before taking off again. To say that Tanzania has become my home away from home is very true, and in the very near future I will be residing in Arusha full time. But more on that later.

The last three years have been a series of trials and tribulations, with many hard lessons learned, my faith in humanity tested, and my perseverance challenged. I have leaned much about myself, and in the process discovered that I am stronger and more resilient than I ever gave myself credit for.

I have also learned that I can do without a lot of "stuff", that I appreciate a slower and more relaxed way of life, that too much emphasis in many cultures is placed on the acquisition of "things" while we miss out on the simplest forms of happiness and pleasure, and that "pole pole" (slowly slowly, in Swahili) takes on new meaning when living in Tanzania. I have learned that too often we take for granted much of what we have in our daily lives, things that people living outside of America (or any of the more developed countries in the world) simply do not have: like running water that flows out of a tap when you turn it, or reliable electricity and internet and phone service, decent medical care, reliable transportation, and even government assistance for those that need it most. And even though I can do without a lot of stuff, I still possess more "things" than most people here in Tanzania will ever own.

But what has been happening in the past three years that raised my awareness? Well, I attempted to start a safari tour business with someone I thought I could trust, a Tanzanian. I had the idea that after I graduated with my Bachelor in Social Work degree in May 2013 that I would come to Tanzania and put my social work background to use. But knowing that it would be hard, if not impossible, to find a paying job in the field of social work, in a country where I do not speak the common language, I decided to try running a business that would generate an income for me that would allow me to do my "heart work". The plan was solid - tourism in Tanzania is a driving force in the local economy, and who does not want to visit the Serengeti or climb Mount Kilimanjaro? There are about 300 registered tour companies, with possibly another 500-700 operating "illegally" (without business registrations and licenses, etc). 

Sadly, my choice of a business partner was a very bad one, one that cost me lots of money that was loaned to me, and also lost me a good friend (my US investor). My best friend. We established the business, bought a safari-equipped Land Cruiser with money loaned to me, and built a fabulous website. But one thing I learned, too late -- unless you live full time in Tanzania, it is very hard to run a business with a Tanzanian partner, because the poverty is too great, and the temptation to pocket cash, even from your own business, is too strong for some people to resist. And so my business partner conducted safaris when I was in the US and never reported the income. And when I found out, I told him I wanted out of the business, and then my problems really began in full.

The years 2013 and 2014 were the most challenging years of my life in a very long time. I desperately wanted to be in Tanzania doing the heart-work I feel called to to do here, but I spent most of that time starting the business, jumping through all the hundreds of legal hoops required to run a business here, learning of my business partner's shady dealings (summer of 2014), and now trying to extricate myself out of the business. In a country where corruption infiltrates every aspect of life, many people will do just about anything for a small amount of cash. I learned the hard way (isn't that how most life lessons are learned?) who my TRUE friends are, and who were just using me for the opportunities they thought I could provide them.

But patience and perseverance have paid off. And while I am still mired in the business, it seems likely it will be over soon, and I can find something else to do with a safari-equipped Toyota Land Cruiser. In the meantime, I have met dozens of like-minded people here in Arusha, foreign and locals alike, who all want to help the gracious people of Tanzania move out of the cycle of poverty - without creating a society where people live off of handouts. Our shared vision is one of creating sustainable programs that will assist people to change their own lives, whether through education, or vocational training, or just becoming aware of the possibilities that exist outside of one's own secluded village. 

And so here the story begins. After two years of waiting, struggling, head banging (yes, I get frustrated often!), and occasional doubt, a new adventure awaits me. One of those people I met along the way is a young woman from North Carolina, named Katherine Kelly. She spent the last two years building a pre-school in a village called Mateves, located outside of Arusha. She has graciously invited me to join her team as the Community Outreach Social Worker, and in January 2016, we will open our doors to the first students. In the meantime there is much work to do in the village, getting to know the local residents, determining their needs and how best we can assist them. Then we will start enrolling the 3-7 year olds in classes. In the afternoons, adults will come to our center to learn a trade, study English, learn how to start and run a small business, learn how to farm more efficiently, and any other subject they want to focus on. 

That's what is coming.....so stay tuned for regular updates, and a little more about what the last three years have taught me about living in a culture far different from that which I know. I hope to keep up this blog on a regular basis. For it is as true then as it is now...... Little By Little, A Little Becomes  A Lot.

You can also follow our project at African Community Empowerment Company Tanzania (there is a blog here too) and on our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/acectz?pnref=lhc

Friday, December 7, 2012

Who Knew........

....that when I wrote "no goodbyes, just "until we meet again" " that it would be just six months later??

YES - I leave for Tanzania (sadly, alone this time, not with Rebecca) on December 26, 2012. I will be there for just over 3 weeks, and then return home on January 20, with one day to spare before starting my last semester of college. (I graduate in May with my BSW - Bachelor in Social Work.

I will be attempting, once again, to blog about my experience, but for now I have to finish my last assignment for the semester.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

No goodbyes, just "until we meet again"

I started this entry on our last day of volunteering in Moshi, but only just now have been able to write the last sentence.

June 22, 2012, Friday

Our last week has been an upheaval of emotions. Both of us have been sick and we missed three days of teaching at KOC. We hated to not go to the orphanage and we missed seeing the children, but at the same time, knowing that we leave on safari on Sunday, we knew that we needed to take care of our health, get as much rest as possible, and avoid contact with sick kids! However, even being sick, we still needed to travel into Moshi each day, for lunch (it is not provided at the house since most volunteers are at their placements and not here for lunch) and also so that Rebecca could go to the medical clinic. One of those days, the dala dalas were not running because they were on strike. As far as I understand, there are no unions here like we have in the US, but still the drivers went on strike.  We heard no news afterwards as to whether they were successful in their attempt to negotiate fare increases, but today the cost of a dala dala ride was still 300 TSH. From what we understand, the government sets the fares that drivers can charge. With no dala dalas available, we took a taxi into town, which was fine since Rebecca was not feeling well anyway.

Anyway, back to the upheaval of emotions. It was with sadness, and regret, and some amount of guilt, that we stayed at the house for three days and did not see the children. Especially since we knew that our time here is so short, with only a matter of days remaining to this part of our journey. But in some ways, perhaps it made our final goodbyes to the children somewhat easier, as it was almost like we “eased” our way out of our time there.

As I write this, it is now Friday evening, and we have said our "goodbyes" to the children at Kilimanjaro Orphanage Center, and also to the children at the Salama Center that we met through Luka. When we arrived at KOC this morning (late because the dala dalas to Pasua never stopped at our usual waiting spot and we eventually resorted to a taxi), we encountered a classroom full of visitors who had presented the kids with tons of candy and balloons, and the kids were so preoccupied with them, the candy and the balloons that they took no notice of us at all. Usually when we arrive in the mornings, they jump up out of their chairs, stand, and scream in unison: “Good Morning Teacher!  How are you Teacher?” Today……..nothing. I felt such sadness in my heart that we could be “replaced” so easily. The rest of the morning sped by quickly, with a steady stream of guests arriving to tour the orphanage (this is a common practice, one I assume is designed to encourage financial support from “wealthy” mzungus). So we had almost no time to spend with the children that was not being interrupted by guests wanting to take pictures and draw numbers and letters with the kids. Eventually, we asked Lucy, the Director, to gather the children for a group photograph, and we began the tough job of saying goodbye to children who speak almost no English and who certainly have no comprehension that we are not coming back on Monday, or Tuesday, or for a very long time, if ever.

Will they miss us? Will they wonder why we do not return? Will they wonder if they did something that caused us to leave them, just as their parents left them? These questions, which have no answers, tug at my heart. Will the next round of volunteers to show up treat them with the same care, kindness, and love as we did? How will the new volunteers know what lessons we covered, or that Shabani can do addition and knows all of the numbers without counting them out, or that Maurena is much smarter than she appears, once you get beyond her shyness? How long will it take them to discover that Bisuni loves to stand at the head of the classroom and lead the whole class in a loud and clear voice while they sing “head shoulders knees and toes……” Or that Yassini is very, very smart and can do addition and multiplication without his makeshift abacus? How long will it take to realize that Elisha is a boy (with the short hair and gender-neutral clothes it can be hard to tell), or that Bright loves to be held on the swings while she hums a sweet song?

I knew it would be hard to leave, but I did not know that I would leave so much of my heart, so much of myself, with these children. I am studying social work back at home, and want to work with children. Is that what brought me here? These children, and the angels who care for them, have touched me in profound ways. The children have so little, but they taught me so much: generosity, acceptance, kindness, forgiveness, love, and how to smile even in the face of adversity. I will remember the children, and this time in Tanzania, always, and always with love and gratitude for the opportunity I was given to join them on this journey.

And so we did not say goodbye to our new friends in Tanzania; instead, we said, "Until we meet again".

"Don't be dismayed by good-byes.  A farewell is necessary before you can meet again.  And meeting again after moments or a lifetime is certain for those who are friends." ~ Richard Bach

Saturday, July 7, 2012

To teach, or be free

On our first day visiting the orphanage with Deb, Lucy, the Director, asked us if we wanted to “teach” or “be free”. As I explained in a previous blog, since we did not understand the question and we are not teachers, we chose the “be free” option. That lasted until the next day, when we learned that the “be free” option meant doing chores, which is not really what we signed up for. So, we became teachers to ten 3-6 year olds.
Despite two storerooms full of books and other donations from around the world, we had virtually no supplies. Bear in mind, this is not a school, but an orphanage where one of the activities was to provide a pre-school education to children who had no access to a public or private education. One room was filled with donated books of all kinds, from preschool books to Harry Potter novels and out-of-date encyclopedias. This room was locked and the only person with a key was Lucy, who, throughout our stay, was frequently not at the orphanage. The main storeroom consisted of boxes and boxes of (mostly unpacked) donations of crayons, colored pencils, workbooks and blank notebooks, coloring books, chalk, modeling clay, paints….all kinds of goodies. Nothing was sorted and I doubt anyone even knew what was in the boxes. One day I tried to make some sense out of all of it, but since I had no shelf space or smaller storage boxes to sort things into, I quickly abandoned the idea of trying to make order out of chaos. Instead, I chose some items I thought we could use and took them out of storage. The only person with a key to this room, besides Lucy, was an Italian man who seemed to be a business intern, who spent all of his time in the office on his laptop, and who guarded the key as if it protected gold bars.
Needless to say, we lacked supplies. Getting my hands on a box of new pencils that still had erasers on the ends (the kids loved to chew the erasers off the pencils, and then did not want to use a ‘broken’ pencil) was a huge success, until I went to look for the one and only pencil sharpener, only to learn that it was locked in Lucy’s private room, and she was gone for the day. They never threw anything out……piles of used workbooks stood in stacks all over the place, with names of children long gone written on the front, and the pages torn and tattered, with every line filled. We used pieces of broken chalk that were so small we could barely hold it in our fingers, while boxes of brand new chalk sat in the storeroom. Finally, I absconded with a small box of chalk and hid it on a top shelf of the classroom. Finding an eraser for the chalkboard never happened, and even keeping a dirty old rag around to wipe the board off was a daily challenge. It made me wonder who needed that old dirty rag every day after we left, and for what.
Our afternoons became a time for creating lesson plans for the kids. One day, Rebecca hand drew 10 connect-the-dot pages filled with diagrams for the kids to make their numbers. On another day, she wrote out sheets with math problems, we stopped at a photocopy shop in Moshi, and had enough copies made for each kid to get one. We found stacks of new, unused workbooks in the storeroom one day, and took them home to label them with their name, month, and subject (Math or English). We did not discard the old ones, since it was clear nothing got thrown out, but we did put them aside and used the new ones. We started taking them home at night to write lessons in them, but were scolded by Lucy for not leaving them at the orphanage at night.
One day, in our third week, some other volunteers were in the book storeroom, with all the books spread out all over the floor, trying to arrange them in some fashion. I found a couple of early-reader books that I thought would make nice storybooks for our kids, and I hid them on the top shelf of the bookcase in our classroom. The next day they were gone; I have no idea to where, but the kids never did get to hear the Dr. Seuss story, or the Wheels on the Bus. Alphabet and number flash cards disappeared the same way. It was as if they had all this stuff, but had to save it for a rainy day. I had heard about this when volunteers bring donations to an orphanage or school, but here, since they had so much stuff, I thought it would be easier to make use of some of it. This turned out not to be the case. Desperate for erasers one day (all the pencils had no erasers and the kids NEEDED their erasers) I found a packet of erasers in the storeroom. I took out two of the erasers and pocketed the rest for another day. Within a half hour, one of the two erasers went missing, surely into the pocket of one of the kids. My inquiries as to the whereabouts of the MIA eraser went unanswered.
In all fairness, these kids have NO toys. They played with sticks, blades of grass, the metal caps to soda bottles or plastic water bottles we would occasionally leave behind, the gravel that filled their courtyard, the rare lollipop stick, or empty candy wrappers. Reminiscent of my childhood, when my brother and I made dirt roads in the spot on the side of our house where no grass could grow, they needed no toys to entertain themselves (we did have little matchbox cars to drive on the dirt roads we made). Everything and anything was a toy in the making for these kids. I found it rewarding to see that kids could still be kids without the adornments of expensive toys, gadgets, video games and cell phones. I felt like I was witnessing some purity of childhood or something, a time when imagination ruled and kids did not need to be entertained by “stuff”. It was certainly a “back to basics” experience. The day we gave them modeling clay to fashion the alphabet out of, they all tried to eat it. I cringed many times when I saw the stuff they put in their mouths, filthy things from the ground, in a place with no sanitation, no soap, indeed, little water. Is it any wonder they (and eventually we) were always sick?

So, back to teaching… we had no teaching materials and no books, but we coped with what we had. The children could say their alphabet, but when it came to naming a letter out of order, they could not do it. This was true for their numbers, as well. Rote memorization was what they knew, so we worked hard at getting them to actually learn the letters and numbers. It was a challenging process for two non-teachers. Another example of rote memorization was when the children performed the “head, shoulders, knees and toes” song, wherein you point to each part of the body as you sing the song. If I took the words out of order and asked them first to show me their toes, they would point to the head. Practicing addition was another challenge: Lucy had them drawing circles to count and add. She would draw, for example: 00000 + 0000 = which was supposed to represent 5 + 4. They could count that there were nine circles, but the concept that they were adding four to the existing 5 never did sink in for most of the kids, even the ones who seemed to “get it”. Not being teachers, we had no idea how to go about teaching the concepts behind math. One day we did an internet search to look up basic math lessons, and found suggestions to use objects of daily living to have them count and then add them together. We had nothing like that, except maybe pieces of gravel. No coins, or buttons, or poker chips, not even enough bottle caps. Besides, they just would have played with them anyway.
However, with all the challenges and the language barriers that existed between us, we loved our time spent with these precious children. They always had a smile for us, and always greeted us with a loud and clear “Good Morning, Teacher, How are you today, Teacher?” chanted in unison. They wanted to hold hands with us, or sit in our laps, and would usually “fight” with each other over who got the honors first. They loved Rebecca, and could not get enough of being with her. Bisuni developed a game with Rebecca wherein when Rebecca would ask her, in Swahili, what her (Bisuni’s) name was, she would answer Rebecca. Then when Rebecca asked her what her own name was, Bisuni would answer Bisuni, and point to Rebecca. This child is three years old, and could not speak English, but they had this game they played together and Bisuni knew she was being funny!
One of my favorites (it is very hard NOT to develop a favorite) was the little girl named Bright. She is four years old, and is HIV positive. Just prior to the end of our four weeks, she started on a course of anti-retrovirals (ARVs) to treat the HIV. She had waited FOUR months to start treatment. This despite the fact that a retired US physician oversees the medical care of the children at KOC. It is a lengthy and costly process to obtain the medications needed to treat this awful disease, one that Bright was born with. The first day after her first treatment, she was not in class, and I later found her sleeping on the floor. However, after the second day, she was back, full of energy and with a bounce and liveliness to her that I had not previously seen. Despite not feeling well, this beautiful little girl always had a smile for me.
            Bright’s little body was covered in scars and what looked like mosquito bites. She loved sitting on my lap on the swing, and as we moved in unison she would hum a song, and occasionally add the words. I have no idea what the song was about, but it was mesmerizing, and I can still hear her little voice singing in my head. I do not know her story, why she is an orphan living at KOC, if she has any family at all who could care for her, or if her treatments will continue.
In a way, I do not want to know the back-story for any of these children, as it would most certainly break my heart. I have heard enough stories of other children at the many orphanages to know that their young lives have been riddled with heartbreak, loss, and difficulties beyond our grasp. That is enough for me, and is what calls me back to Tanzania. The past is behind them, but their hope lies in the future.

“Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.”    ~ Emily Dickinson.

A day in the life.......

These next blog entries will be written from the comfort of home in the US, not from far away in a land called Tanzania. As you know if you have been following this blog, internet access and power outages restricted our ability to post anything on a regular basis. Also, time just got in the way: evenings around the volunteer house were spent talking with fellow volunteers, who came from all corners of the world, or recapping for Deb our day’s events, or creating lesson plans for the kids we were teaching at the Kilimanjaro Orphanage Center (KOC), or just trying to get a much-needed shower. So, in the next days and weeks, I (maybe Rebecca, also) will try to recapture those moments, and perhaps we can paint a picture of a land far from home that soon came to feel like a second home. The quote from a fellow volunteer, posted below that I borrowed from the Foot2Afrika website, speaks volumes for me as to why Tanzania, and the people of that country, touched our hearts in ways I am not sure I will ever be able to put into words. However, try I must, so here goes……

Within days of our arrival in Moshi, our days took on a familiar routine. The trip from the volunteer house was a 45-60 minute walk to the town of Moshi. The house was located in a village northwest of downtown Moshi, called Soweto. Awaken at 6:30, attempt to take a shower (this was soon abandoned on most days, as we found other times during the day when having water for a shower was a better bet), then a communal breakfast prepared by the great chefs of Foot2Afrika (Msafiri, Lymo, and Sarafina). Breakfast consisted of freshly made fruit juices, fresh fruit (mango, papaya, passion fruit, pineapple, watermelon, banana), toast, hard boiled eggs, a thin pancake that resembles our crepe, an occasional omelet, a delicious bean dish made with tomatoes and green peppers, some fried dough things that were not my favorite….I forget what else. The options changed daily. Oh…..and instant coffee with powdered milk. In the land of freshly growing Arabica coffee beans, not one cup of freshly brewed coffee. For freshly brewed coffee, we had to go into downtown Moshi and go to one of the “western” coffee houses. Coffee, and the electric brewer to make it in, are luxuries that few Tanzanians can afford.
After breakfast, at about 8:15 AM, we would head out for the trek to Moshi. In the beginning, we walked the long dirt roads and paths to Moshi. Imagine our first day, thinking it would be impossible to retrace our route without Deb, but by the third day or so, we had it down. Turn left at the gate with the scalloped edges, turn right at the burning trash heap, turn left where the woman sits on a wooden stool, leaning over a wood fire roasting corn on the cob. There are few road signs telling you the name of the road/dirt path. However, soon we were pros. Arrive in town hopefully by 9 AM, stop at the Kilimanjaro Coffee Lounge for bottled water and to use the rest room, walk to the dala dala stand and wait for one heading to Pasua. In the beginning, it was nerve wracking worrying if we were in fact getting on the correct dala dala. They do have the names of the beginning and ending stop on the front of the vehicle, but still, the fear of getting on the wrong one and heading to some unknown place was a tad disconcerting. Soon though, we even had that figured out. Then, pack into the dala dala. There were occasions when we would pass one up because it was too crowded, but dala dalas to Pasua did not come by as often as others did, so usually we accepted.
Two stops later, the dala dala stopped at Mbyuni market. This market is a sprawling expanse of outdoor stalls and mats placed on the ground, where everything from produce to furniture can be purchased. This is where the dala dala picked up women with their baskets and bags of produce, fish, and an occasional live chicken. Sometimes this stop lasted 20 minutes while bodies and bags were rearranged to make room for waiting passengers. It is not as if this was the only dala dala leaving the market and heading to Pasua; a dala dala is not full until at least one body is hanging out the open door and people are standing hunched over the seated passengers. Many times baskets of produce would be hanging out an open side window, or perched precariously on the roof. Everyone held each other’s bags, and even kids. There was no such thing as personal space: if a row of seats was meant to seat four, it was not full until seven people occupied it, and you were sitting on one hip with two people crammed alongside you. There was a protocol for arranging knees with the person seated in front of you. At first the dala dala ride felt a bit overwhelming, not only because of the crowded conditions but also because of the smells, from people, fish, you name it. Soon it became just another part of the adventure, as every dala dala ride was unique. I actually miss them.
The dala dala to Pasua dropped us at the “Bingo” stop, and from there we walked 10-15 minutes through the poorest village I had ever seen. People sold goods from makeshift stalls made from tree branches and cardboard boxes, or maybe torn canvas or sheets of plastic. I once saw a woman in one such stall that was sewing on a treadle sewing machine, in a space not much larger than four feet square. The stall was made from scrap slats of wood, with a tin roof, and no solid walls anywhere. Chickens and goats wandered freely around, feeding off the scrap piles of garbage that dominated the pathway to the orphanage. Children played in the dirt, making toys out of sticks, bottle caps, anything they could find on the ground. They always greeted us with “mambo” or “jambo” or even a “good morning” here and there. Often times they shouted “mzungu” which means foreigner or white person. Many of them asked for “peepee” which is Swahili for “candy”, or for money, and then once they learned we had cameras, they wanted their pictures taken. What a thrill it was for them to see their smiling faces looking back at them from the digital display on the back of the camera! They were always smiling! Everywhere we went in Tanzania, the people were smiling, friendly, and courteous. Displays of affection and emotion, especially anger, are not expressed in the Tanzanian culture. But the motto “hakuna matata” (no worries) really describes their approach to life…..expressions of rudeness, impatience, or frustration were never witnessed by me during the five weeks we spent in Tanzania (except by mzungus!).
On the last stretch of our walk to the orphanage, we were always greeted by a group of children who lived in a house along the path. I do not know if they are related, but they were always together. You may have seen photos of them in our album. The “mama” was always outside, sweeping the dirt ground of loose dirt and making everything tidy. This too was something we saw everywhere. Many homes, especially those in the poorer villages, have space only for sleeping, and oftentimes even the cooking takes place outdoors. Consequently, the family spends much time outside, and the women are always sweeping the dirt to clear it of the loose dust that forms everywhere. Or, if on a sidewalk, they wash the sidewalk with rags and a pail of dirty water, bent over at the waist, taking great care and pride in making what little they have clean and orderly. At this one house along the way, chickens and roosters ran about the yard, squawking loudly at us as we passed. These children also begged for candy or money, but soon became content with having their pictures taken. The mama would watch us from the yard, smiling and waving at us, as we picked up and hugged the children, who were always so excited to see us. The children always took our hands, “fighting” over who got to hold whose hand, and walked us to the gate of the orphanage where we would bid them goodbye until it was time for us to make the return walk back to the dala dala stand.
Eventually we got tired of the long walk from Soweto into downtown Moshi, and we began catching a dala dala from a stop near the volunteer house. This saved us at least 30 minutes on the commute, and cost 300 TSH, or about 20 cents. We still had to go to downtown Moshi to catch a dala dala to Pasua, as there was no direct route between Soweto and Pasua. Still, this allowed us to use the last “western” restroom we would see until we left the orphanage and returned to Moshi in the afternoon. The dala dala from Soweto to Moshi dropped us off at the Moshi bus terminal, where we were greeted by the same piki piki drivers (motor bikes) and taxi drivers, all hoping to give these mzungus a ride. After a bit, they realized we were “locals” and stopped asking, but we never failed to draw attention. Never once did I feel unsafe though: they just wanted to either sell us something, or give us a ride, since all mzungus are “made of money” and are a possible source of a sale for the day, which could mean the difference between eating and not eating that day. As I said, the level of poverty and need is beyond the comprehension of most of us “foreigners”.
So that was the day’s journey for four weeks. We would spend about 3 ½ hours teaching at the orphanage and always left before the kids had lunch. We arranged our day this way for several reasons. First, after lunch the kids took a long nap until the older children returned from school, so there was really nothing for us to do other than chores, like cleaning the outdoor pit toilets, which frankly was a chore we did not want. Second, on our third day we were served lunch that I found to be inedible. It had little whole, dried fish in it that resembled sardines and it was so salty I gagged on it. Seeing the little fish heads was not very appetizing. Throwing food out in a country where people are starving went against every fiber of my body, so I secretly passed my plate to one of the boys sitting next to me. He inhaled the food, but looked around surreptitiously to make sure he was not going to get in trouble for getting an extra portion and not sharing it with the other children. I felt bad for putting him in such a position, but he obviously needed the extra food. Lastly, to take food from the children, when we could afford to buy lunch in town, was thoroughly not acceptable to either of us. Lunch was provided free to the volunteers, but it just felt ethically and morally wrong to take food from those who had so little. Every day, we bid our goodbyes to the kids before lunch and set off into Moshi where we ate lunch and were glad to have a western restroom to use (Rebecca never did get used to the squat toilets, but having lived in Japan for a year, it was not so foreign to me).
We never did connect to a permanent afternoon project. Most volunteers divided their time up as we did, but had a set assignment for the afternoon. For a variety of reasons, we did not take on a permanent assignment in the afternoons, and thus we had free time for shopping, or going out to Hope Village to see CeCee, or later to see Luka and the kids at the Salama Center. It made for a more relaxing experience for both of us, and gave us the opportunity to get a more varied outlook of the different orphanages. It was time well spent, and the four weeks flew by way too quickly.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Just This, words from a fellow volunteer:

Unable to put my experience into my own words just yet, I borrow these words from a fellow volunteer, which can be found at the Foot2Afrika website:

"Go to Africa because you can have the most beautiful dresses custom made. Go to Africa because you don’t need to live by a watch. Go to Africa because the food is amazing. Go to Africa because the daladala makes a morning commute exciting. Go to Africa because children who seemingly have nothing will give you everything. Go to Africa because you will be welcomed like family. Go to Africa because you can watch zebras run free. But if you go to Africa with some idea in your mind that you are going to save Africa, I think you will quickly realize that Africa will save you.
In the end, I know that what we gave was nothing compared to what we were given. And those gifts and lessons we were given will remain in my heart for the rest of my life."
Truer words could not be spoken.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

you too can change the world

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” 

~Margaret Mead

Saturday, June 30, 2012

We're back from safari!

It is Saturday evening and we have returned to the Foot2Afrika house in Moshi after being on safari for 7 days. Safari was an amazing and awesome experience which we will have to recap in the upcoming days. We also have thousands of photographs to upload. But for now, we are exhausted and need some rest. Sunday we have the day to hang out at the house, pack, and hopefully get some blogs posted and photos uploaded. Lala salama....good night!

Oh......thank you, asante sana, most especially to Thadei, our safari guide, and also to Safari Infinity, for a magnificent safari! More to come......

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sickness takes over the house

Rebecca and I have been sick for the greater part of the last 3 weeks, due to the fact that we are always around sick children at the orphanage.  I missed a day of teaching at KOC during our second week here due to a bad cold, and then started feeling a little better. Then Rebecca started feeling sick and I got sicker, and then we passed it all around the volunteer house. And the other volunteers are always around sick children also, so the house is a bed of germs and viruses and bacteria, and we just pass it back and forth.

Rebecca went to the medical clinic today, and for about 30,000 TSH (about $19 US) she saw a medical doctor, had blood work completed, and walked out with 4 medications, one of which was like the ZPAC antibiotic we get at home. $19.00!!!!!!!!!  In the duka la dawa (pharmacy) you can purchase many prescription medications without a prescription. We may have even been able to purchase the ZPAC without the doctor, but as it was, we just got it at the medical clinic where they did the exam and the bloodwork. Some (but very few) things are easier here than at home.

At the Foot2Afrika volunteer house, many people have come and gone during our stay here. I am not sure how many people can stay here at one time, and we have not had a full house yet, but there is always turnover, with new people arriving and others leaving. When we arrived, there was a large group of volunteers from Ireland (18 of them), who left and were replaced by a smaller group of 5. Foot2Afrika has a partner organization in Ireland (TVP) and they send many volunteers to Tanzania. This weekend 5 volunteers from Ireland leave, and more will arrive. A brother and sister from Norway depart, and start their Kili climb, followed by safari, while 2 others from the US leave on safari. And of course, Rebecca and I leave Moshi to start our safari. It is with sadness that we end our time here. Hopefully we will all be healthy!

Monday, June 18, 2012


Answers to some questions we have been asked, and various other bits of information:

- It is hard to distinguish the young boys from the girls, since all the young kids have their heads shaved. Names are not always a help either: we have one boy in our class whose name is Elisha. I do not know if there is an age, or a custom, at which time the girls start to grow their hair longer.
- The dala dala ride to most parts of town cost 300 shillings. The conversion rate for US dollars to shillings is currently at 1585 shillings per dollar. Dala dala rides are therefore a very inexpensive mode of transportation,; hence the need to pack as many bodies and baskets of produce into one dala dala.
- Walking is the main mode of transportation, followed by dala dala.
- In terms of the vehicles on the streets, I think that small motorcycles are the most numerous, followed by dala dala, then taxis, followed by private cars/jeeps, etc. There are also many bicycles on the streets. They all have the right of way over pedestrians; even the men pushing carts full of goods have the right of way over people walking.
- We have not seen one traffic light/signal since we arrived. Many intersections are crazy, and very dangerous. I have no idea how there are not more accidents on the roads. We have not seen one accident since we arrived, other than a bicycle that tipped over while trying to stop.
- Satellite dishes are most likely for television. There are few land line telephones, and it seems almost everyone has a cell phone. It is unlikely that anyone has internet access at home (well, maybe a few do), as this is a very, very poor country. Even seeing a television in a home is shocking, due to the depth of poverty that exists here.

More to come......time for a shower before folks return from their projects. I LONG for a good shower!!!!!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

new photos

New photos of smiling children are posted on Picasa. I have also added captions.

My (our) apologies for not getting a new blog post up: the time just rushes by!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Here comes the bride...

Wednesday June 13, 2012

Three marriage proposals in the last week ... I'm not sure I can keep up with all the demands of three men fighting over me. The first happened in the beginning of the week and I just kind of laughed it off because I thought he was joking. His name? Moses. He is a local flycatcher who has been following us around for the past three weeks. As mom puts it "he goes gaga every time he looks at me." When he first proposed he told me I was worth one cow... talk about a slap in the face. He then raised his price to two cows. You're probably thinking what on earth is she talking about, cows? Yes.. It is Tanzanian Maasai tradition for the male to pay his wife's family in cows for her hand in marriage. On average, one cow costs about 500,000 to 700,000 shillings which equates to about $300-450. After I found out how much one cow costs, I kind of felt bad for telling him I was worth more than that. He probably can only afford one cow, if that. I don't feel too bad though because Maasai are also entitled to more than one wife, so who knows how many other mzungu's he's trying to wed himself to. Since then, Moses has successfully seeked me out in a crowd of people and has made it nearly impossible to escape. He tells me that he has to win over the affection of my mother before he can proceed with our (mine and his) relationship. When he finds us on the streets of Moshi town he won't talk to me until he says "shikamoo mama" to my mom, then he directs his attention to me. For those wondering, shikamoo is a respectful way of saying hello to people older than yourself. Mom gets a kick out of the fact that he is trying to win her respect, and she says her new plan is to tell him that if he seriously wants to marry me then he will have to buy 1,000 cows. I think once he hears this he might change his mind about his marriage proposal.

As for the second marriage proposal, that happened last night. This individual told me that he loved me and he wanted to know if I loved him. Funny thing is, I know NOTHING about this person, and he knows NOTHING about me. He got offended when I asked "how can I love you when I don't know you". He told me "when you know, you know". I find it kind of funny because I've always been the kind of person who believed that when you loved someone you would just know. Perhaps he's correct, but unfortunately I just don't feel for him the same way he feels for me. African culture regarding relationships and marriage are a lot different here than they are in America, and I unknowingly accepted his marriage proposal. He handed me a simple red rose and I just thought he was being nice and giving me a flower. I know that in America the red rose is often associated with romance and affection but apparently in Africa it means you are accepting his love, so therefore his marriage proposal. I also learned that if he gives the woman a red rose in a crowd of people (which he did), that signifies he is serious and he's not ashamed to admit his love. Great for him, but bad for me... I've never been the kind of person that was good at rejecting people, so I'm not sure how to go about this. I've been warned by our friend Cessy that if I don't let him know how I feel now, than I will only be giving him hope and leading him on. I can already see that taking affect within the last 24 hours because he was very insistent that I had to give him an answer on whether or not I would give him a chance. He is also not too fond of other men talking to me or even looking at me. I wonder what he would do if he saw all the flycatchers who follow me around town...

The third and final marriage proposal, for now, occurred this afternoon on our way to lunch. This person happens to be another flycatcher, who knows fiance #1 (Moses). The best part is that he is the SAME person who sold a souvenir to my mother for three times the price we should of paid. I saw him this afternoon, while being held up with Moses, and told him in Swahili that he had ripped us off on this item. He then proceeded to tell me that I was beautiful and a very nice girl. Not exactly the answer I was expecting after I had just insulted him and his shop that he works for... A few minutes later I had had enough of all the flycatchers swarming us so I started to head towards the restaurant we were attempting to go to. He proceeded to follow us to the restaurant with his arm around my shoulders. In Swahili he said "wewe nimzuri sana" which translates to him thinking that I am great.. then in English he said he would like to make me his wife. Did I forget to mention that he's probably a 60 year old man, with dreads? All I could do was laugh, partially in disbelief and partially in disgust.

I'm starting to wonder how bad it would be if I didn't have my mother with me everyday walking through town. I have a feeling my marriage proposal count would be a lot higher if not for her being there. Luckily, I have people like Cessy who was able to spend a decent amount of time telling me all about the African culture regarding relationships and marriage. For now, no wedding dates have been set....

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Photos are posted

I am still in the process of adding descriptions, but all of my (Kathy's) pictures are up on Picasa, just follow this link.

For now, lala salama.

My first bad day

Friday, June 8, 2012

Yet another long and exhausting Friday.. this time I'm the one who is sick boo-hoo. I seem to have caught a cold from the other children as I sniffle just about as much as they do. My sinuses are all congested and I haven't felt like doing anything all day. That didn't stop me from going to the orphanage this morning, even though I thought about staying home. The children were rowdier than ever and I had zero patience. I ended up actually yelling at one of the younger boys, Elisha. Not only did I surprise him but I surprised myself. I thought oh my goodness did that really just come out of MY mouth, did I scream "No" to a child who was only seeking my attention? A minute later the boy was in tears and despite the other kids saying another kid hit him I couldn't help but think I was the reason he was crying. The feeling I got over seeing him cry and thinking it was my fault made me feel even worse that I already did. Elisha is a tough child to deal with on any given day (I think he suffers from ADD) and I'm used to telling him no, but never to the extreme that I did this morning. The whole rest of the day I have been thinking about whether or not he would forgive me or even remember once Monday comes around. Hmm, maybe I should of taken the day off after all.

The day didn't get much better, I mean lunch was nice in town and we did some shopping with Deb's friend Iesha but I myself didn't feel much better. We went to Mbuyni market which is the biggest market in Moshi town but the whole time I didn't feel comfortable. I was warned before entering to hold on tight to my belongings because people in Mbuyni market are known to snatch your bags and run. Once inside the market there's constant noise (no unusual), people are calling out to you all around, it is hot, it smells bad from a combination of the people, trash, and the "fresh" fruit, and I just wasn't having it. I'm used to people staring at me because I guess mzungu's are still somewhat of a rarity but these stares in the market just felt different. Maybe it was a combination of me not feeling well and having a preconceived notion to be careful, but I certainly wouldn't have the desire to go back there. I have never had anything bad to say about Tanzania until now and it kind of makes me sad because bad experiences aren't what I hoped to get out of this trip. I wonder if I had gone on a day when I felt more like myself if I would have had the same reaction. Now I'm back at the house resting on my bed, hoping I will be able to get some sleep before dinner because I am exhausted. All in all it was an OK day but nothing to rave about. I'm still greatful for this opportunity and still inspired to do better but I just need to get my energy back before I take on any big tasks. Tomorrow mom and I, and hopefully Deb, are going to meet Luka at his center and spend the afternoon there. He is hosting dancing and drumming lessons with the children so it should be a fun yet relaxing way to end a busy week. Our time here will be half over tomorrow and it just doesn't seem possible... can I stay a few extra weeks?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Things from home I miss

Friday June 8, 2012

Things from home I miss:

A hot shower – one that isn’t either scalding hot or cold, or just a drip of water coming from the faucet
Clean clothes washed in a washer and dried in the dryer
Access to the internet whenever I want it

We have been here for two weeks and barely gotten on the internet when others could.  The Foot2Afrika computer guru, “Dr. B2B”, told me yesterday that it is a problem with the operating system on my new HP laptop. According to Dr. B2B, apparently Windows 7 Home edition drops internet connections like crazy, so he told me I needed a whole new operating system, which he installed. I hope I will not kick myself in the butt later (sorry David!). So now that I have my laptop back, I have tried to access the internet and I get a message telling me that “term limits are exceeded.” The explanation I got for this message is that our password has expired and Deb has to assign us a new one (this will be our third), and she is not here to do that, and so I wait. Not that it matters anyway, since we have a power outage at the moment and I could not be on the internet anyway.

It has been a tough day for basic needs; so far today, just since we arrived back at the house at 5PM, we have lost both water and power. So the next time you feel frustrated at something you expect to have and don’t, remember that here in Tanzania, that is part of normal daily living! 

update: Saturday morning - power was out until after midnight last night, and this morning there is barely any water. I am SO IN NEED of a shower it isn't funny.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Making a Difference

I believe many volunteers around the world undertake these volunteer experiences hoping that we will "make a difference". I know I did, and I think Rebecca did also, but I will let her speak to that if she chooses. And it is indeed a nebulous concept. I know that I have never known what to "make a difference" would "look like". It is something I have sought since I was a teenager. I remember Mother Teresa, and looked up to her as someone I believed made a difference in the world, and I also knew I would never be another Mother Teresa-like role model. So I never followed that instinct in me to go out into the larger and unknown world and find the meaning for me of what it means to "make a difference", until now.

During my short time here, I have wondered if anything I do here will make a difference; am I providing something measurable?

I don't have an answer to this question at this time. I/we still struggle with the question of what to do at Hope Village. We really want to go there and spend time with the children helping them with their English, and we know that our time now is very limited (a very short 2 weeks). We look at the cost and weigh how much the money could benefit them, and would that make a more measurable contribution than our presence for 10 days? and what about the children we are teaching at Kilimanjaro Orphanage? Will we have contributed anything sustainable to their future? I have learned that while 4 weeks felt like a really long time when we were still back at home, it is very little time when you are here hoping to "make a difference" in the life of a child. How much English can we teach them in 4 weeks? Will anyone take our place when we leave, to continue the work we started? 

And then there is the BIG question (and I wondered this even before we set foot in Tanzania): will we have done more harm than good? We develop a relationship with these amazing children who have already suffered so much, and then we leave them. What do they think? do they question why? do they wonder if THEY did something WRONG that causes people to leave them? Do they think that people abandon them because they are bad? I know from experience, and my training as a social worker, that children take the blame for things that happen to them, and internalize experiences as some how being their fault. I hate to think that "our" kids will wonder what they did that caused us to leave them. They have already lost parents, grandparents, and siblings, and their home. More questions with no answers.

On our first day at KOC we were asked if we wanted to "teach or be free". We didn't really understand the question and we certainly had no idea what being "free" meant, as we had no idea what there was to do besides teach. So we said we wanted to be free, thinking that meant we could be free to decide what we wanted to do each day. But on the second day, other volunteers showed up. We were already teaching, and they were assigned to clean the outdoor pit toilets and prepare food for lunch. If that was what it meant to be "free", we quickly decided we would teach. I questioned if that was the best use of a volunteer's time? They have 3 women there who do the cleaning and food preparation. If they have too many volunteers that they must assign some to chores, maybe volunteers should be placed elsewhere (they were later reassigned to another volunteer project, and they were not there with our NGO, Foot 2 Afrika). Hopefully the NGOs bring volunteers to the country who have a skill that can be utilized, something that when the volunteer leaves, something sustainable will be left behind. If it makes me a horrible person to say that cleaning toilets or cutting up fruit for lunch is not what I had in mind when I traveled half-way around the world, to "make a difference", then so be it, I am a horrible person, guilty as charged.

So it is difficult to know if what we do here will indeed make a difference. I know that if I return here, it will be for a longer time than one month. I am already trying to figure a way to extend, but my non-refundable air plane ticket makes that highly unlikely. But a month is a very short time when what you hope to do is influence a child's life, to prepare them for an uncertain future, to give them a basic understanding of the English language to better prepare them for Secondary school (where they will be required to learn in a language they were not taught in Primary school). 

One person cannot save the world, or an entire country, and that has never been my goal, neither to save or change the people of Tanzania. That would be quite pretentious of me anyway, to think that I know better. But I do believe that, little by little, or inch by inch, the work of a few, or even of one, can have a ripple effect around the world. Perhaps if I touch one life, perhaps inspire or fuel a desire to learn, I will in fact, have "made a difference."

Asante sana.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

A mzungu who's too nice for her own good

June 6th 2012,

Karibu (welcome),

This morning we got a little bit of a late start out of the house, mainly because the last thing I wanted to do was get out of bed. But nonetheless, just the thought of seeing the kids made me excited and out the door we went, headed to catch the dala-dala from Soweto to Moshi. After each dala-dala ride I enjoy them a little bit more, mainly because I am happy I survived but also because what else can you do but laugh? Just the thought of a dala-dala ride makes me laugh because it's unlike anything I've ever experienced back home. Once in town we didn't see any of our usual "friends" aka flycatchers which was kind of sad because I thought maybe they got tired of us telling them hapana asante (no thank you). I will admit it is quite entertaining talking to these people because it makes for good conversation. I think mom gets a little more frustrated than I do with them, but I have a hard time ignoring them. In fact this afternoon one of our daily flycatchers literally sat outside the restaurant we ate at for lunch waiting for us to leave so he could try and persuade us to go to his shop. I will admit, this one guy kind of creeps me out, so I was nervous to leave the restaurant but mom kept saying "head down and don't say a word" ........ That didn't work because as soon as he saw us exit the patio he came running over and I just bursted out laughing, and mom was like "Rebecca stop laughing!!!" but I couldn't help it (as usual). But dont worry too much, he eventually gave up but I wouldn't put it past him to show up randomly again tomorrow. As for the others that we usually see in the morning, we saw them in the afternoon walking through Moshi. The one, who seems pretty attached to me, calls me his dada (sister) and recently he's been trying to get me to go to Pasua to see his own orphanage with him one day but I am very skeptical. The best part was he introduced me to his "director of the orphanage" who was with him... a man I had seen only once, today at lunch. At the time I was wondering who on Earth this person was because I didn't recognize him, which is unusual for me (even here), but he just kept waving at me like we had been best friends for years. And it wasn't until I ran into my "good friend/brother" that I recognized the man and I thought to myself "ok this is creepy, a man I've never met seems to know exactly who I am so that means you must be telling him all about me." It is very hard to tell if these people actually want to be your friend or if they are just trying to get money off of you, or worse a ticket home aka marriage. All my friends at work made a daily joke about me going to Africa and getting married, but now I'm seeing how common that is around here, and how persistent they can be when asking.

As for the time spent at the orphange, as usual it was another eye-opening experience. I feel so blessed to spend this time with these kids, but I'm sure they appreciate it even more. Yesterday one of the girls, Bright, wasn't in class. We learned that Lucy had taken her to the hospital and turns out she is HIV positive. I know thousands of children in Africa are HIV positive but for some reason when you personally know that child it makes it even harder to swallow the facts. I know she will live a difficult, uncomfortable, and short, life if she is not provided the proper medication. I'm not positive on whether the orphanage will be able to support her and her illness or not, because even though the center is supported through an Alaskan organization I'm not certain on what kind of money is available. Emmason, one of the guys who started Foot 2 Afrika with Johnson, speaks a lot about the troubles of children who are diagnosed with HIV. He says that many of the children of this generation are born with HIV and that the likelihood of them living a long life is slim to none, mainly due to the lack of money to buy the medication. And even those select few who can afford the medication, he says the kids don't want to take the medication because it makes them feel sick. It breaks my heart knowing that these children are forced to deal with either death, or a medication that makes them ill everyday. What kind of life is that? However, Bright was back in school this morning so that made me happy to see her. As usual, she had her "bright" smile across her face but I could tell she wasn't feeling well. A couple of times she started fights with the other children, making them cry, and a couple of times she cried. It's hard to see this every morning but it's a side of life that many of us will never experience or are even aware of. I hope that by writing about my experiences I can spread the knowledge and let others know that there are children out there who NEED help.

All together there seemed to be a lot of crying this morning. Maurina cried twice, once because I handed back the wrong paper to her and didn't realize, and because she doesn't speak much English I couldn't understand why she was passing it to someone else. In the end it was my mistake, and frankly a silly thing to cry over, but it just goes to show how fragile these children are. Husseni cried when he got his finger stuck between his chair and the desk behind him. Shabani, one of the older boys also cried, which I've never seen him do. For a good 10 minutes I sat next to him rubbing his back but couldn't get him to stop. Lucy came into the classroom and told him that if he didn't stop crying he wouldn't get the piece of candy he was promised earlier. Mom made the comment later on in the day that she felt Lucy is a little harsh on the kids and doesn't show much affection. I understand her point of view, but I also know that being assertive is probably the only way the children listen to her. And it's true because everytime she walks in the classroom the children go dead silent, unlike for us where it can take me five minutes to get one child to sit down and by the time they sit down there are four more running around like maniacs. Luckily, I was able to put a smile on Shabani's face when I told him it was time for porridge, which secretly meant he didn't have to sit in the classroom! haha

I was able to get a bunch of new pictures of the children, especially of Shabani, Vicenti, Juana, Bisuni and Bright. It is so nice to be able to capture these moments so friends and family can see the children that we are working with, thank goodness for technology! It doesn't hurt that these children practically beg to have their picture taken :) For anyone out there who is not friends with me on Facebook but has somehow found this blog feel free to check out the pictures, or even add me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/media/set/?set=a.4049820887536.2179070.1342404391&type=3

I'm not sure where I left on the whole discussion about Cessy and her children at Hope Village but we met with her yesterday (Monday) and had an open and honest conversation about what was best for her. We were aware that she would more than appreciate us spending time with the kids but we also discovered that it would cost us about 50,000tsh a week to go to the house in the afternoons. To us this isnt a lot of money, but it would be for Cessy. We brought up the option of us either using that money to transport back and forth everyday to be with her and five kids, or to simply give her that money to buy food, water, electricity, etc. Ultimately she couldn't decide because for her personally she would rather us be with her and the kids. She is a single 27 year old woman who has given up her entire life for these children and a lot of people dissaprove, so consequently she is lonely. But she is also aware that the children would ultimately benefit more from having the money because currently they need new uniforms for school and Cessy's rent on the house is due August 1st. Back home Deb, mom and I had a long discussion and Deb suggested that we could still give her the money, and possibly meet her in town (or somewhere less expensive than her house) and spend time with her either shopping or getting lunch. I like this idea best because I feel that between the other two options, whichever one I chose, I would feel like I wasn't doing enough. I say this because I know how valuable time is here in Africa and the kids would enjoy having us around everyday, but I also know that money is scarce here and how nice it would be to not worry about where you are going to find money for a few weeks. Tomorrow we are meeting Cessy for lunch in Uhuru Park so we can give her our decision.. I'm hoping that when we finally say it I will feel at ease, as if I'm doing her good.

On the brighter side, yesterday we met a friend of a friend I have back home in Uhuru Park for lunch. His name is Luka and he has his own orphanage center in Mgengo (?) called The Salama Center. His fiance, Gina, was also there and she is a mzungu from Boston who currently lives in Nairobi (it's cheaper to fly from there). They met when she volunteered at his center back in 2009.. little did she know she was meeting her future husband ;) They are scheduled to get married on July 21st, which is great but I was told June 21st by said friend back home. I was also told that I was invited to the wedding... but unfortunately I will be back home in NJ, most likely working .. bummer :( Anyways, Luka is a fascinating person and like all the other people I've met here, I am inspired by his dreams and aspirations. He has a VERY infectious laugh and everytime he laughed I would laugh. Mom was telling her stories of adjusting to Africa, and even though I had been there and witnessed these stories first hand, I couldnt help but laugh to the point of tears simply because he was laughing. He is such a sweet man with an enormous heart, and he accepted me as his new friend immediately. In fact, we are going to his center on Saturday when all the kids will be there and he will be hosting dancing lessons and drumming lessons. I can't wait! It's kind of funny to think that I have a real friend here in Tanzania, besides everyone at the volunteer house, who I feel so comfortable with after meeting him once. So asante sana to a special someone back home for giving me his number so I could call him and start a new friendship :)

It's getting late and I'm starting to not think straight so I think I'm going to head to bed.. I will post more tomorrow about another day full of adventure!

Usiku mwema, lala salama.
(good night, sleep well)

Choices, and the really hard decisions

Monday, June 4, 2012

Each day we are finished at our primary placement, the Kilimanjaro Orphanage Center, at about 12:30 - 1 PM. After that time, the young children we teach eat lunch and take a long nap. The place stays pretty quiet from then until the older children get out of school. So we have been looking for a second orphanage that we can go to for the afternoons. Over the weekend we visited a center for street children called Msamaria, and we  also met CeCe from Hope Village.

I think Rebecca wrote about CeCe and the children at Hope Village, but to refresh your memory, CeCe is the "mama" at Hope Village, which is home to 5 orphaned/abandoned children. She is 27 years old and dedicates her life to taking care of these children. She has a very nice house in a suburb of Moshi (Shanty Town) but it has no electricity. She has no money for food, school fees for the children, or to install electricity from the road to the house, or anything else. She teaches the women from Rudisha how to bead, sew, and make jewelry, so that they can sell the products to make money for their center (the Rudisha women's center is home to women who are HIV positive). So CeCe makes a very small amount of money each month, which goes towards supplies at Hope Village. There is NEVER enough money. 

CORRECTION: CeCee teaches the women at Rudisha business skills and marketing. These women are not HIV+ (I confused them with another group if women). They sew bags and kangas, and make jewelry. CeCee's role is to assist them in learning how to run their business and make a profit so they can become self-sustaining, and also to help them market their goods both locally and internationally. For this, CeCee is paid a small wage, which she uses to support Hope Village.)

In looking to volunteer at Hope Village, we have to look at how much it will cost for us to travel out there every afternoon. It is a very long walk, and time is short from when we leave Pasua to get Hope Village, and then be back at the volunteer house by dark (6:30). It almost certainly means taking the dala dala from Pasua to Moshi (600 TSH for both of us, about 55 cents), then a taxi from Moshi town to Hope Village and a second taxi from Hope Village to the volunteer house, at a total cost of about 10,000 TSH, or about $6.50 per day. That comes to about $35 a week for transportation to help out CeCe at Hope Village. So we talked with Deb at length over the weekend about how the money could best be spent. Does CeCe need us there to help her and the children in the afternoons, or could she use the 50,000 TSH per week we would spend on taxi fare? These are valid questions when the PURPOSE of volunteering is to help the children! Is having a (small) part of the money to run electric from the street to the house, or money for food or uniforms or rent more important than what we could offer the children in terms of teaching English, or helping with homework? The thing we have found is, there is no easy answer. So Deb advised that we ask CeCe what she needs more, and so today, we made a second trip to Hope Village.

CeCe is an amazing woman: you know just being in her presence that she is an angel sent to care for these children, and she takes all the challenges in stride. The home is named Hope Village because what she offers these children is...Hope, when they had none before. What they have with her is a home and a family, a mama and "brothers" (ka ka) and "sisters" (da da). And of course, hope. So we put the question to her, and after all our tears dried, she could not answer. The choice was too hard. She told us that she is lonely; being a single woman taking care of these 5 children. She has taken "stray" children under her wing since she was 16 years old, giving to the children in need half of whatever she had, be it food or money. She was always asking her parents to help out other children, when she herself came from a family of 5 children (she is the oldest). She said she feels a connection to us, and likes having our company at her home, but she knows how much they need money for: 1) rent, 2) electricity, 3) food, and 4) uniforms for the 5 children so they can stay in school (the school has threatened to not allow the children to come to school if they do not have the proper uniform). She knows  that our presence in the home and our time spent with the children would help them immeasurably (more on the failed educational system in another post). In the end, she could not choose, and left the choice to us. We left telling her that we would think about it, talk about it with Deb, and call her. I left there with a heavy heart, but one filled with love and admiration.

Upon returning to the house, we ran into Deb and we told her the story and our dilemma. Initially it was our plan to try to raise money when we return home to pay to have the electric run to the house. But if she needs money for rent, what good does electric do if you have no roof over your head? And you would think that if she had the electric run to the house that the landlord would credit her the amount (or at least part of it) for making improvements to the property, but that is not how things work in Tanzania. After all, TIA! (This Is Africa!). 

Now the choices have become even more complicated for us. Give her the money we would spend on taxi fare and let her use it as she needs? Teach the children English, and help them with their homework? And what about the money we hoped to raise for the electric? Should the rent come first? There are SO MANY competing needs, and no answers.

So tonight we head off to bed with choices and decisions floating in our heads. Our goal here is to help the children, but what exactly does that look like? There are no answers, only more questions, and they weigh heavy on our hearts.

Lala salama (Good Night).
Kathy & Rebecca

Monday, June 4, 2012

The View From the Other Side

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Kathy here, posting for the first time since we arrived in Tanzania. Between the busy days, long walks, fatigue, frequent downtime on the internet, and power outages, there has not been much opportunity to write. So I am going to do a bit of catching up here and maybe give a slightly different perspective than the one Rebecca has presented, just to give the “view from the other side”.

Of course, Sunday we arrived late, got a tour of the compound, and went to bed. Monday we headed off to Moshi for the first time, and I have to admit I was not at all prepared for that experience. We walked the 45 minutes to town, on “roads” and “sidewalks” that were barely passable on foot. Every step I took I had to look down at where I was placing my foot, the terrain is that uneven. Many “roads” are really just dirt paths worn into the ground by passing vehicles, sometimes two lanes, and sometimes not, but still meant for two lanes of vehicles. All manner of “vehicle” has the right of way over pedestrians, including bicycles and men pushing carts laden down with supplies of all kinds. Intersections are not controlled by traffic lights (I have yet to see one) so crossing an intersection requires looking each way a dozen times and then running, hoping nothing will hit you. No one will stop, or even slow down for a pedestrian. So by the time we arrived in the center of Moshi, I was exhausted, not so much physically (although I am not used to that much walking at one clip) but mentally. All my senses had to be on high alert at one time, with new sights, sounds, smells, and an ever-present awareness of all that was happening around us. Rebecca wrote about the man who “followed” us into town, and I have to admit to being afraid he was going to try to grab my purse and run. But usually those that follow you are hoping to start a conversation and then get you to buy something, either from what they are carrying with them, or by taking you to a shop where they have arranged a commission-type arrangement with the shop owner (they are they flycatchers).

The center of Moshi (Moshi town) is lined with small shops and vendors lining the sidewalks, all of them selling all manner of products, some new, some used, some local goods, some foreign, lots of vegetables and fruit, all from baskets or carts overflowing into the “sidewalks”. The sidewalks are narrow paths of (usually) uneven concrete slabs. The flycatchers (always men) stroll the sidewalks, linger at intersections and in front of stores, calling out “mambo” or “jambo”, hoping you will stop or make eye contact, any slight indication that they might have a second or two to try to sell you something. I found it scary, and overwhelming. I am a person who likes to smile at people and make eye contact, but here that is an invitation to be stalked and hounded. Men will also just ask for money, with a story about being sick or having a sick friend. When you see the level of absolute poverty that exists here, it is not hard to believe they are indeed starving or sick, but if you give to one person, you will have others lining up.

The streets and buildings of Moshi town are old, rundown, and dirty. Nothing is new. There is no infrastructure to support growth or even to maintain what exists. Trash is burned along the roadways, in yards, wherever there is space. There are a couple of western-style establishments (mostly coffee houses) that are frequented by westerners, and they have running water and flush toilets, so there is a water and sewer system in some areas, but certainly many places have no running water or sewer, or electricity. Along the walk to Moshi town we pass by houses that are cardboard shacks or mud huts, with no electricity or running water. The depth and breadth of the poverty that exists here is something most of us foreigners cannot begin to fathom.

After lunch and taking care of some business, we headed out for the orphange in Pasua, and we had our first experience on a dala dala.  Rebecca described the way they shove 25-30 people into a minivan that might have seats for 8 people, along with their various bundles and baskets full of produce from the market. But you also have to picture an ancient (looking) minivan, rusted out, falling apart, seats torn, windshield broken and held together with tape, barely running, then shove 25 hot, sweaty bodies into it, bumping along dirt roads full of ruts and boulders, at least half of the passengers standing all hunched over, and that is a dala dala ride. And don’t forget to add the baskets of produce and the odd chicken. For my first dala dala ride, I got to be one of the standing passengers, leaning over the seat to my side, clutching an exposed rod in the roof of the van, feet firmly planted on the floor, hips and knees locked in position, holding on for dear life! I was TERRIFIED on that ride! One bump and I would be in someone’s lap or take down 6 other standing passengers. And just when you think not one more body will fit, they stop to let on 2 more people and 5 baskets of produce. Whoever has a lap or a free hand holds the baskets or bags of produce. And then it comes time to let people out, and people literally climb over each other to get to the door. Occasionally people will step out to let others get out, but often they just jostle around, rearranging body parts to let people through. Along the ride somewhere (I think after the stop right before where you are getting off) the kid who collects the fare starts signaling to pay the money.  Most of the time I keep my money in the button pocket of my cargo pants, which is down by my knees, so getting to it is nearly impossible while moving. Thankfully, they are patient. Of course they announce the stop in Swahili, so you just have to hope they will signal to you that it is your stop, or you eventually get to the point where you recognize your location, and you know to get off (that is, of course, assuming you can see out the window, which is not usually the case). There is nothing in the US with which to compare a dala dala ride.

Conditions at the orphanage are shocking, but the children and staff are welcoming and friendly. The director, Lucy, greets us with open arms, and the children all want to be hugged or hold our hands. But the place is run down, the children dirty, everything is falling apart. They have a rain cistern for collecting rain water during the rainy season, and outdoor pit toilets. They do have electricity though, which is a big deal. To save on the cost of gas, they cook over a wood fire. The faucet for hand washing, or washing dishes, is outside in the central courtyard. I am still uncertain if there is a shower area; it might be under the water cistern, but there is certainly no wash room or indoor bathroom with running water. I do not think there is a refrigerator for keeping food cold. Oftentimes the “store room” is a small, dark room with a dirt or concrete slab floor that stays cool and produce is placed on the floor or ground. My overall impression is that the children are starved for attention and interaction, adorable, lovable, and living a life we cannot imagine. There is a story to each one of them, which we do not yet know, and may never, because Lucy speaks little English, and we speak almost no Swahili.

Since Rebecca has written about our first day at the orphanage, I will not recap that. On Wednesday, we headed out for the usual trek to Pasua, and I walked about ten minutes and knew I would never make it the rest of the way. We turned around and went back to the house, where I rested for the entire day. I know now that I was dehydrated from all the sweating (it is cool here for them, but I have been hot most of the time) and while I had been drinking a lot of water, it was not enough. I was overheated, dizzy and light headed. So I stayed on the couch all day, and drank 3 liters of water!

In retrospect, I think I also needed some “down time”. We had not stopped since we arrived, and I was feeling a tad overwhelmed. The first two nights here, I went to bed seriously thinking that I would not survive the harsh reality of life here in Tanzania. While lying in bed those first two nights, I actually had to wonder what it would cost to book a return flight home, and then not get back any of the money I had invested thus far. I wondered if Rebecca would stay if I left. I wondered if Deb would let me help out around the house, so I could stay the rest of the time, not miss out on safari, and not lose all my money. Wednesday turned out to be my “assimilation” time, a time for assessing whether or not I could really handle the life style, culture shock, language barriers, all the walking and sweating, lack of a good shower, change in diet, always being dirty, dusty and sweaty, and those god-awful dala dala rides. I didn’t know this on Wednesday, but figured it out only later. By Thursday morning, I was reenergized and ready to meet the challenges ahead of me. By Thursday evening I was bemoaning the fact that we already had been here almost a week and time was flying by too quickly.

All of what Rebecca has written about is true for me also, but I also wanted to acknowledge the “other side” of my experience. The children tug at my heartstrings, the people, the culture draws me in and I want to learn more and experience life here fully, and at the same time, the enormity of the poverty and the level of need leaves me feeling overwhelmed. Life here is hard and there is no getting around that, other than to keep pushing through.

Deb and I have had many long conversations about how best to assist an entire country without creating a welfare society that depends on volunteers for their very survival. What would they do if all the NGOs and volunteers went home? What would happen if the donors and sponsors stopped giving? The educational system here is abysmal, and even the government schools cost parents money, money that many of them do not have. We are talking about $100 a year to send child to a government run primary school. For us, that is nothing, for them it could be 1/3 of their annual income! It is a conversation for another blog post. 
For now, it is time for bed. It is 10 PM and I should have been in bed an hour ago. We have an early morning call every Monday through Friday, and miles and miles of walking ahead of us. Tomorrow we are buying bananas for the orphanage, and some for the group of children we meet every day on our walk from the dala dala stop to the orphanage. We need to buy them before we get on the dala dala, as there is no place after the stop to buy them. It will be comical to be among the group of women climbing onto the dala dala with our bundles of produce  I wish we could capture a photo for you, but that is doubtful.

For now, good night…….lala salama.
Asante sana!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

One step at a time

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Jambo! Tomorrow we will have been here a week- unreal!!! It's amazing how FAST the time is going by and I'm starting to think four weeks isn't long enough. I never want to come home, I wish all my friends and family and my puppy could move here and then I'd be 100% satisfied. Wishful thinking...

This morning I got to sleep in.. a little bit... 7:30 as opposed to 6:45! Usually on the weekends breakfast is served from 8-10 while during the week it is served from 7-9. But this morning a big group of about 20 people were leaving Foot 2 Afrika to go on safari and then go home! They were a soccer group from Ireland who were here for two weeks teaching/coaching football (soccer) to the locals.

Much of this afternoon was spent in Moshi shopping and eating with Deb.. First we stopped at I-Curio where I spent 80,000tsh on two pairs of really soft African style pants, a shirt that says "Elephants are the only ones who should wear ivory", a shirt that is very African themed, and two more pieces of jewelry! Then we stopped at a couple of fabric stores so mom could buy fabric to make her own khonga's (skirts) and some pants. Then we stopped at a restaurant called Indoitaliano and it's exactly what it sounds like.. there is one menu with Indian food, and one menu with Italian food. I, of course, chose from the Italian menu where I ordered a mini margarita pizza. I got a kick out of the fact that I can order Italian food in Tanzania... although it's nice because I'm still a little skeptical about eating true African food. Speaking of getting a kick out of things... this morning I was taking a shower and as the Irish group was packing their stuff into the Safari trucks they were blasting DJ Pauly D (one of the horrendous and obnoxious characters from the Jersey Shore TV Show). To be honest I was enjoying the first few seconds of the beat until I hear "yo yo yo this is DJ Pauly D in the house" and I thought to myself "OH MY GOODNESS this is so wrong on so many levels I should not be hearing him all the way in Tanzania!!" Then I began to wonder how on Earth he is so popular in Ireland, or anywhere for that matter... like there are thousands of helpless people who DESERVE and NEED the kind of attention he gets and instead we put all this focus on a person who can't rap or make music to save his life. Can you tell how angry this makes me? Ugh.... For the most part the music in Africa is beautiful, I love the rhythm and it always boosts my spirit. There are a few times where I recognize some of the songs the local shops are playing, like Usher or Mariah Carey, but I just think it's funny.

So anyways, after we had lunch we continued our shopping in hopes of finding index cards so I can make flashcards to practice my swahili. I've done an OK job at remembering some words but would love to learn more. For instance I know how to start a conversation

Rebecca: Mambo (Standard greeting)
Mom: Poa (cool)
Rebecca: Habari (how are things?)
Mom: Safi (safe/peaceful) or Nzuri (good) **I've never heard someone say bad**

There are some variations such as when mom says poa, she can also say poa vipi, which would eliminate me saying habari and instead I would just say safi or nzuri. What I've discovered is that after I've gone through this whole greeting process many locals then think I know more swahili.. and I really don't. Other words I know are usiku mwema (goodnight), lala selama (sleep well), dada (sister), caca (brother), ndiyo (yes), hapana (no), tafadhali (please), samahani (excuse me), asante (thank you), asante sana (thank you very much), karibu (welcome/you're welcome), karibu sana (you're very welcome), maji (water), mbili (two), jano lako nani (what is your name), pole (I'm sorry), pole sana (I'm very sorry), pole pole (slowly), and probably more that I just can't think of at 10:30 at night...

Back to the index cards, we couldn't find any so we settled on little itty-bitty notebooks where I will just have to make my own flashcards. Oh well, this is Africa (TIA). After that adventure we stopped for some coffee (my first coffee in a week) and a crepe at the Kilimanjaro Union Coffee House. This required going to a different part of Moshi I wasn't used to but all the same, I loved it! We got to walk down Market Street where a lot of stands are selling anything from sunglasses to socks and shoes and everything in between. Then we made our way to Nakumat, a Kenyan based supermarket. Let me tell you.. this thing is MUCH fancier than any supermarket or grocery store I have ever been in. This thing was two stories with very modern check out lines- it was awesome! After spending about 20 minutes here we made our trip back to the house because it was getting dark. This time we got to take a different route which was nice because we got to see some new scenery and some different faces. I swear I see the same faces every day and have actually made acquaintances with this one guy. Of course he's only trying to get me to buy some of his artwork made out of dried up banana peels but every afternoon I run into him on Chogga Street. He calls me dada which means sister in swahili :) So, if ANYONE is interested in a banana peel piece of artwork let me know because I'm sure it would make him more than happy!!

Tonight at the volunteer house its been fairly quiet with the big group of Irish students gone. Because they were such a big group, two of our chefs went on the safari with them (Msafiri and Leemo). Msafiri is probably my favorite staff member here because he genuinely is so sweet. Everytime he sees me he asks me how I'm doing and he also calls me his dada (sister). Plus he speaks good English so he's more than happy to speak to me in English :) So anyway, we only had Sarafina and Godye (not sure on the spelling but it's pronounced Go-dee) to cook us dinner tonight but it was still delicious! Godye is also the one that offers us different beverages and I learned today his nickname is Pamella (after a bar nearby the house called Pamella Bar). After dinner we experienced our second power outage, which I hear is rare to happen two nights in a row but whatever, we brought flashlights!!

One other thing I accomplished in the dark tonight, besides this blog, is I got in contact with a friend of a friend back home. His name is Luka (short for Lukanga) and we are meeting in Uhuru Park on monday afternoon for lunch! It is kind of cool to know someone back home who knows this person, and now I have the chance to meet him! I hear he is a wonderful down to earth man and based on his text messages he seems like a sweetheart. I've never even met this man and I already feel so welcome and he tells me he can't wait to meet! I am very excited -- he is the one whose wedding I have been invited to so I hope I get some more details about that as well as a chance to see his school/orphanage he has, called The Salama Center. So asante sana (thank you very much) to Cesar for giving me Luka's phone number and telling him about me.. now I have another friend in Tanzania!

Usiku mwema for now!! xoxo