Monday, June 30, 2008

Rainbow in the Storm

Another Monday, more drama surrounding the orphanage. We began the day hopeful that the kids in the baby class (kids 3-5) were going to be having their first round of testing completed at the local hospital. Megan, Magnus, Morgan, and I split into pairs, with Morgan and Magnus heading to the hospital and Megan and I to the Village. On our way to the Village, Megan and I received a call from Morgan informing us that there were a handful of kids who had arrived at the hospital that she didn't know. This was immediately a problem as we had explicitly told the orphanage director and the representative from the hospital that we only had enough funds to test the children who attend the orphanage school, not every child in the Village. We told Morgan to take a headcount and call us back with the number of kids who did not attend the orphanage school. Minutes later we received the news that 3 students who arrived at the hospital did not attend the orphanage school. Megan and I were thus left with the task of confronting the orphanage director on this error.

I'm not a confrontational person and have a tendency to allow people to walk all over me. Despite being very upset and frustrated with the orphanage director, I knew I didn't have it within me to deal with the orphanage director. The task would have to be left up to Megan. When we arrived at school, the kids were playing around and we were notified by our teacher that the kisd would not be having school today as there was going to be a visitor. After the orphanage director greeted us, Megan immediately began questioning her about the extra children at the hospital. She reminded her that we could only pay for the children who attend the orphanage school and asked why there were extra children at the hospital. The orphanage director's response was a look of shock and denied having anything to do with the situation. She placed all of the blame on the secretary, even while Megan reminded her that she had attended the intital meeting where the doctor was present and where it was made known that we would only pay for the children at the school to be tested.

I was really proud of Megan for standing up for us and the children. To ensure that no extra children would be snuck in later in the week, we created a master list of all the children who should be tested. Thinking we were out of the woods, we proceeded to play with the kids. Nearly 20 minutes after Megan's initial confrontation, an older student came to me saying that the orphanage director had requested my presence. I nearly fainted. I'm being brutally honest when I say I don't do confrontation and conflict. I bit the bullet, though, and headed to the orphanage director's hut. The meeting was brief and included one of the new volunteers from Europe. The orphanage director played completely dumb with me and asked me what was going on. I informed her that we were frustrated with hearing different things from different people and not having our requests respected as volunteers. I probably wasn't the best advocate for us, but I let her know that we didn't appreciate having things happen behind our backs as we were being transparent with her and wanted the same from her. She simply nodded and smiled as if there weren't any difficulties at all.

After the meeting, Megan and I stood around playing with the kids until a huge coach bus arrived. This is an incredible feat as the Village is incredibly rural and has very narrow paths. How this bus made it to the school is beyond my imagination. At the sight of it, the kids began screaming and shouting as if they were meeting Santa for the first time. Inside the bus were our guests-- 8 white women from Virginia who were on a missionary trip. Missionary trips are totally not my thing and I knew I was in for an experience when I saw their t-shirts ("born to serve") and heard that Megan was greeted with the phrase, "May God Bless you." A pastor from the Village ushered our kids into the one room schoolhouse and introduced our guests. For the next 45 minutes, the kids performed for our guests by singing and dancing to traditional Tazanian and Biblical songs. Megan and I snuck out when the guests began their Bible session by teaching the kids a lesson about being sinners and using the blood of Jesus to protect them from the bad deeds they do.

The orphanage director was nowhere to be found when we left and so we called Morgan and Magnus to check on the situation at the hospital. Morgan informed us that things were not going well at the hospital and that our help would be greatly appreciated. Megan and I bought some bananas in the Village and headed to Arusha. When we arrived at the hospital, Morgan informed us that we had not been given the adequate number of doctors and counselors that we had been guaranteed and for whom we had paid. She also told us that the kids had not eaten or drank anything all day (by this time it was 1:00 PM) and that the orphanage director had forgotten to send food or money for the kids.

Helping with the kids at the hospital was a surreal experience. On top of the corruption, poverty, and poor politics that are happening in Africa, the horrendous and unsanitary conditions at the best hospital in town make it evident why HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB are ripping through this continent. The hallways and rooms were packed with people. There was no security anywhere. There was blood on the floor in certain areas. People roamed through the building freely, moaning and groaning, obviously in pain. Our poor children were obviously hungry and scared. When Megan and I arrived, they were finishing the HIV tests, which consists of a finger prick to draw blood. I led two children into the room to have their fingers pricked and each of them wept while gripping my body tightly. I nearly cried myself. We then moved to a different area of the hospital to have the kids' vision checked. I'm not sure how accurate this test was as all of the kids were in shock from the HIV test and many of them refused to talk to the doctor. Our little Baracka trembled as the doctor asked him to identify the letters.

Magnus was oru hero today as he bought all of the children two bananas each for a snack. The kids were so famished that they ate the bananas in less than a minute. At 2:00, the doctors decided they were finished for the day (urine, malaria, HIV, and eyes were the only tests completed today) and ushered us all out of the hospital. Having eaten nothing but bananas all day, the representative from an international orphans program (on-site at the hospital to assist us with logistics as he speaks fluent English and Kiswahili.... he's totally wonderful) bought each of the children a plate of pilau. We lined the kids up under a shelter on the hospital's premisis, had each of them use some hand sanitizer, and fed them their lunch. The shelter was absolutely quiet and the kids ate with wonderful manners and patience. Knowing they were probably dehydrated, Megan and I purchased abotu 10 bottles of water to pour into cups for them. They drank these in one big gulp.

After lunch we hung around for another hour waiting to hear when the remaining tests were to be completed. It was fun watching the kids horse around and interact with the few parents who were there (all kids had to be accompanied by a guardian.... the orphans' guardian is the orphanage director and her husband). By request of a few kids, we sang 5 Green and Speckled Frogs to a raptured parental audience. Magnus and Morgan were the tickle monsters. Megan passed her sunglasses around to her adoring fans, Clinton and Freddy. I managed the entrance to the shelter and the choo. It was a spectacular end to a crazy day.

Before leaving this evening, we were told that only one child tested positive for HIV today, Baracka (which we already knew). We also found out that one child had an eye infection. The remaining tests will be completed tomorrow at no additional cost to us since the doctors were slow today. We may not have had everything go as planned today at the hospital, but we're very happy the testing is happening. Tomorrow is another day and we hope things run smoothly and that our children remain healthy.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Tanzanian Church

Pastor, H, Mama, Michelle, P., and Megan after church today.

By invitation of Pastor and his family, we attended the morning protion of Pastor's church today. I would not consider myself a very religious person and do not attend church, so I was a tad weary of attending a Protestant church service in Tanzania. I wanted to be respectful of Pastor's beliefs, though, and show my support for the work he does, so I woke early for the 1 1/2 hour dalla-dalla drive to the Village. Megan, Morgan, and I were expecting the dalla-dalla drive to be smooth sailing this morning as it's Sunday and much of Arusha closes down on Sunday's. We were incredibly wrong. There wasn't much traffic today to slow us down, there just weren't very many dalla-dalla's traveling to the Village. What is usually a 5 minute dalla-dalla transfer in Arusha turned into 30 minutes today. Finally, already a half-hour late, we arrived in the Village.

Pastor met us at his favorite tailor shop and walked us to his church. The church is nestled deep within the Village and has a beautiful view of Mt. Meru. As we walked up to the church we could hear the villagers singing a beautiful song in Kiswahili. We were escorted in by an older female villager and shown to a bench on the right side of the church. The Village church is a large log cabin-esque building with a tin roof. Sunlight and the breeze constantly filter through.

The full church serivce at Pastor's church typically lasts 8 hours (from 10-6), but we told Pastor we could only stay from 10-12. The portion of the service we sat through was very unique. Mama and Pastor sat at the front of the church on the left with another Kenyan, female pastor. Pastor's daughter, P., and her cousin, H. sat with a handful of kids on the left side of the church. There was a great deal of singing and dancing, all lead by the older children, including H. When we walked in I didn't even notice H. leading the singing at the front of the church as she looked so grown up in her red top and skirt. Once Megan pointed her out to me and I smiled at her, she grinned a huge grin back at me. Along with the singing and dancing, there were large chunks of time devoted to prayer chanting. This was a little uncomfortable for me, but I bowed my head and listened intently.

The portion of the sermon we heard was led by the Kenyan pastor. Her preaching style was very passionate and loud. She requested a great deal of Amen's and Halleluiah's, which the villagers willingly gave her. I couldn't follow her sermon as it was primarily spoken in Kiswahili with the occasional English. She did mention pregnant women a lot and appeared to be reading a story about Samson. I did pick up on her request that people disregard the people in your life who bring you down and that you should forget about yesterday as it's dead and won't be coming back ever again.

When we left, Mama invited us for lunch on Tuesday. The plan is to come for lunch and to see the updates on the house. It'll be exciting to see how much progress has been made.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Picture Update

Our students with the masks they created on Thursday.

Megan and I at the Arusha Coffee Plantation.

Megan and I at the Arusha Coffee Plantation.

ICTR Update

I'm sitting at the Impala Hotel in Arusha for an hour while Megan, Morgan, and Lindsey talk to a Tanzanite dealer about pruchasing some Tanzanite. While I wait around, I thought I'd find more information regarding the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda court proceedings we witnessed yesterday. If you go to the following link, you can see all of the court reports for the case we sat in on: Nsengimana Case.

A brief synopsis of this case:
Former Vice-Chancellor of the Christ the King College of Nyanza, Priest Hormisdas Nsengimana, a Hutu, is being tried for genocide and crimes against humanit. Nsengimana has pleaded not guilty. Pastor Nsengimana is accused of having killed a Tutsi priest and seven women from the same ethnic group in Southern Rwanda. Ït is believed that Nsengimana, a Hutu extremist, wanted to exterminate the Tutsis. Before the genocide in 1994, Nsengimana did not hide his hatred for the Tutsis, including his own students, fellow priests, and other employees. He has been quoted as saying (at the time of the genocide), "time is over where churches are to be used as refuge for Tutsis." He was also allegedly the spiritual leader of the group "the Dragons" or "the Death Squad." The members of this group were very active during the genocide in the town of Nyanza. Nsengimana is also believed to have said, "When my rifle kills five people, I feel rested."

The witness we heard speak yesterday was a former teacher at Christ the King College and appeared to have been a Hutu supporter. At the time of the 1994 genocide, she was living in an all women's hostel across the street from the university. The prosecutor questioned her on whether she knew about various people, many of who she claimed to know if, but not have any further details. The prosector also asked her about her knowledge of 60 displaced students who stayed at the university of Easter break. Again, she claimed to no nothing about these students, even when a letter (written by Nsengimana) was read aloud to her that specifically stated there were 60 displaced students staying at the university over Easter break. Another large part of the court hearing we heard dealt with questioning this witness on her knowledge of a roadblock placed in front of her hostel. It is alleged that Nsengimana requested this roadblock, and a few others, be placed near the university to catch all Tutsis who were using that road. Once again, the witness claimed to no nothing about the roadblock, even stating to the prosecutor, "I don't understand why you're so obsessed with this roadblock. I don't have any knowledge about a roadblock in front of our hostel." The last portion of the court proceedings we heard dealt with the prosecutor questioning the witness about a pathway near her hostel that lead to the university. It is alleged that this is where Nsengimana murdered a Tutsi priest.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Human Rights

Re-evaluating our expectations of this trip has allowed Megan and I to redetermine our purpose here. We continue to be frustrated with the lack of support we're receiving and the actions that are taking place at the orphanage, but we've decided that our purpose now is to teach when we can and to document everything else. For the past two nights, when we've come home, we pull out our avocados, bananas, and oranges (bought from two of our students' older sister in the market inthe Village), cheese (imported from Holland), and peanut butter and have a tea time in our bed room as we document the events of the day. When we're at the orphanage we're respectful of the orphanage director's authority and focus all of attention on the kids. We're "free" (open and transparent) with the orphanage director about anything we do (taking Onesmos to the hospital, offerring to pay to have all of the kids tested for HIV, etc) and are giving 110% to our students. While we're working with the kids, though, we tuck in our heads the events that happen which don't settle well with us: no food being served to the kids for lunch, teachers not coming to school, a teacher hitting children in the head, etc. Our hope is to be able to appropriately advocate for these children when we arrive home.

In good news, we've been given permission, after a long discussion with the orphanage director, to have all 85 of the students at the orphanage school to be tested for HIV, TB, and Malaria and to also have a full general physical. This will cost $180 a day for each doctor and and additional $8 per child. The American doctor who will be leading the team of physicians we'll be working with believes we can get this accomplished in 1 week. We start on Monday by taking the baby class (3 and 4 year olds). Children with parents will be accompanied by at least one of their parents. Orphaned children will be accompanied by a volunteer. We're still in need $400. If you're interested in donating to this project, please e-mail or comment. Once we have all of the children tested, the plan is to work with an international orphans NGO (I forget which one, a representative came and spoke with us on Wednesday) to sign the children up for various programs that will allow them access to free or discounted medicine.

Today we missed out on school to attend a session of the Rwandan Genocide Tribunal trials being held by the UN. These trials have been taking place for the past 6 years and are held here in Arusha. Many of the court proceedings are open to the public for free. Anyone with a valid passport can come to the AICC building in Arusha and sit in a room with headphones and listen to the court case as it takes place. The trials take place in multiple languages (French, English, Swahili, etc) thus the need for headphones with translation. Today we heard the testimony of a female witness who appeared to have information about a group of Hutus who murdered 6 Tutsis and a Tutsi pastor in 1994. We only saw the cross examination of this woman as her earlier testimony was held in a closed session. For 3 hours we listened as this woman tried to defend the Hutus she knew as a professor at a college in Rwanda. From the looks of the judges and lawyers faces, as well as the tone of their voices, this woman didn't seem to be very compliant. From what we could gather, she held a great deal of information about these Hutu men, but wasn't being cooperative in sharing this incriminating information.

Moment of the day:
* On Thursday Megan and I had our students decorate paper masks. After each child had decorated their mask, they placed them over their face and played "Heads up 7 Up." They picked up on the game surprisingly well and quickly began to cheat, which is very typical of American students. The grins on their faces during the game were priceless!

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Picture Update

Magnus and Barracka on their way to Barrack's house. These two have become an inseparable pair, with Barracka searching for Magnus whenever he's scared or upset.

Our students eating lunch yesterday. Lunch, which sometimes isn't served, was ugali (mashed cassava) and shredded fish. The kids typically scarf down their meals and beg each other for any left over scaps.

While sorting through clothing at the other project, Megan and I attempted to make light of the situation. This is not the project we paid to participate in, but appears to be where the orphanage director wants us to spend the next 4 weeks.

Our hiking group. From left to right: Michelle, Mitch, Jake, Luke, and Jeff. We LOVED hiking with these boys and felt a great sense of camaraderie with them as we were all in friendship pairs. Check out the mud on our legs. At one point, Jeff and I were crawling on all fours up a steep, muddy slope. The chant from the others was, "Who will make it up first?!"

Megan and I at the twin waterfalls in Kilimanjaro National Park. We got close enough to feel their spray and to dip or hands into the cool water.

Megan and I at the first waterfall in Kilimanjaro National Park.

Another day, more annoyances. Things continue to be awkward at the orphanage. The orphanage director is very cold towards Megan, Magnus, Morgan, and I, while being very chummy and friendly with the three new volunteers. While playing with the kids today, a new volunteer asked Megan if she thought the orphanage director was trying to befriend the new volunteers because they're naive to the realities of the financial situation at the orphanage. Megan couldn't have agreed more. We've been put into a really bad place at the orphanage and are obviously not welcome by the orphanage director.

Morgan and Magnus met Pastor in the Village this morning to purchase the windows, cement blocks, and bags of cement for his new house. A big thank you goes out to everyone who donated me money. So far, I have spent $500 assisting Pastor pay to rebuild his house. I will have exact totals tomorrow for what was purchased. Today I spent another $370 of my own money to help pay for the windows. I'm hoping my uncle will come through and have his company (Central State Windows) donate the money for the cost of the windows. While in the Village, Pastor informed Morgan and Margnus that he would no longer be working at the orphanage. He feels frustrated by the situation there and doesn't want to spend the rest of his life fighting her over how to run the orphanage. He was unclear, however, on when he would stop working there.

While preparing for class to start, our teacher (the wonderful teacher Megan and I work with... who was the only teacher that showed up to school today) pulled Megan aside to tell her that she was very sad. She quickly left and Morgan walked into the room with the news that Pastor was leaving and that he thought our teacher might be leaving as well. After our teacher pulled both Megan and I aside later in the day to say we needed to have an important talk tomorrow, we can only assume that she's in support of Pastor and will also be leaving the orphanage.

Knowing that the two people we trusted and fully supported at the orphanage are potentially leaving the organization is really frustrating and disappointing. With 4 more weeks left at the orphanage, Megan and I are in a precarious situation. On the one hand, we don't want to support a corrupt program and continue to work in a situation where we aren't wanted or appreciated. On the other hand, we want to continue teaching our students as we've completely fallen for them and they're starting to show some improvement. We have a meeting on Friday to attend regarding our "positions at the other project." We do not want to be spending the rest of our time at the other project, but both the orphanage director and our VPGC seem to believe this is the best use of our time. We continue to be frustrated with the utter lack of support we're receiving here in Arusha and the fact that we always seem to be in trouble.
In good news, Megan and I taught today! :) Our students continue to enjoy writing in their "All About Me" books. Today they wrote about who their friends were and what they liked to do. It broke my heart when none of them cold think of something they liked to do with their friends, even when it was explained to them in Kiswahili. These kids are missing out on the pleasures of childhood. While we taught, Morgan and Magnus were able to take Onesmus, a 4 year old child, to the hospital to get a sever skin infection examined. Without their help, he never would've seen a doctor as he's a double orphan who lives with 7 siblings, including his pregnant 19 year-old sister, and the orphanage director felt medical attention wasn't necessary. He was put on two antibiotic pills and a cream. We had his head shaved and have all been using gloves when we're around him. Megan, Magnus, and I also got to do our first home visit. We stopped by Barracka's (6 years old) house to meet his mother. Barracka is the only known HIV+ child at Jane's and lives with his 22 year-old HIV+ mother. The father has never been in the picture and Mama Barracka struggles to make ends meet. She dreams of owning a salon someday, but doesn't have the means to buy all of the supplies and pay to rent a facility. Magnus brought a bag of apples, a jump rope, a box of matchbox cars, and 20,000 shillings for Mama Barracka. Both Barracka and his mother were very appreciative. Megan and I are planning on visiting Mama Barracka in a few weeks to have her braid our hair. We plan on paying her 15,000 shillings each, more than she makes in a month.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Health Update

** The Cipro. totally helped kick out my diarrhea. Since being in TZ, I've brushed my teeth with bottled water, drank only bottled water, and have avoided eating any produce that isn't boiled, peeled, or piping hot. I'm also constantly walking around with socks and shoes on, unless I have my chocos on. Thanks for all of the concerns! :)


Many would agree that I enjoy a good political discussion here and there when I'm in the States. While here in Africa, however, I've tried to avoid any discussions pertaining to American politics in order to keep myself safe. I have on occasion shared the Obama love (having a Kenyan father makes Obama incredibly popular here in East Africa) with a few of Pastor's friends, but other than that I've kept mum on my liberal stances. Unfortunately, I can't seem to avoid the politics at the orphanage. Despite my greatest attempts to stay out of the political drama that is enfolding within the orphanage, I always seem to get sucked in. Today was no different.

Without going into too much detail, for awhile now, there have been financial difficulties at the orphanage. This seems to be a common problem across Tanzania. The financial difficulties at the orphanage, however, has a direct impact on the children being served as well as volunteers who donate their time and money. The lack of food for the children, the postponed building of the orphanage center, and the complete lack of resources despite a constant flow of donation money is an obvious red flag. Megan and I have been informed of the financial problems by a few volunteers who have been frustrated with the situation. Pastor has also given us his side of the argument. During our initial, awkward meeting with the orphanage director, she was immediately on the defensive with us and attempted to lay some ground rules down for us in regards to donating items, including money. We were essentially told that everything had to go to the kids, whether our donors (Mama Bertucci, the Mayer family, my parents, etc) had specified a certain project or not. This put me on edge as I believe that the only person I'm responsible to for donations is the person who donated the item. While in this meeting, Megan spoke up and informed the orphanage director that she felt we were the wrong people she needed to address as the specific situation she was referring to did not involve us. Unfortuantely the orphanage director continued to discuss the issue with us along with other political issues they're dealing with within the orphanage.

Since that meeting, we've been trying to lay low by focusing our attention on teaching the kids while they're at school and using our free time (with the orphanage director's approval) to assist Pastor in building his house. We thought we were out of the woods last week as things went really well in the classroom, but I guess good times can't last forever. Yesterday while walking to the dalla-dalla stop, we received a call from Belinda, another volunteer, telling us that the orphanage director didn't want us coming to the orphanage, rather we were to go and sort through clothing at another project. We complied and assissted in packaging 30 boxes for families in the area. It was a quick job, but it had to be done. When we left, the director of the program asked Megan and Belinda to come back the next day (today) to help deliver the boxes. They both agreed.

Last night as I was planning for today's school lessons, Morgan (a volunteer we room with), was pulled aside by our VPGC. He informed her that he had spoken to the orphanage director and that she did not want us (Megan, Magnus, Morgan, and I) coming to the orphanage the next day (today) because we would be utilized better at the other project. Morgan informed our VPGC that she didn't sign up to work at the other project and that she wanted to go and teach the kids. Paraphrasing Morgan, our VPGC told her that we need to stop trying so hard to always be fixing something and that sometimes you just need to do nothing.

When Morgan informed us of this conversation, as she was asked to do so by our VPGC (don't ask me why he refuses to talk to us as a group), we all became very upset. We knew that just yesterday (Monday) a new group of 3 volunteers had arrived to work at the orphanage and were living in our host families homes, a mere week after we were pulled for financial reasons. Our interpretation of the orphanage director's desire to keep us from coming to the orphanage was that she didn't want us talking to the other volunteers about our frustrations and that it was easier to just push us out. Knowing how much I had invested in my classroom, I made the decision last night to go into school today.

Going against the grain and facing confrontation head on is not my strong suit. Thus, making the decision to go to school today wasn't easy. I had nightmares all night, made obvious by my tangle of sleeping bag, stuffies, and blanket. I awoke this morning by myself and headed off to the Village, an hour and a half trip. Simply making it to the Village alone in one piece was a huge accomplishment. I was harrassed on the dulla-dulla when the driver wouldn't give me back the correct amount of change, but I stood my ground until he paid me. I was repeatedly called Mzungu (typically a racist term for white person), yet I ignored each call. I was definitely worried about the orphanage director's reaction when I turned the corner at the school.

When I arrived at school, it was raining and no one was there except for Pastor and a handful of children. I collected the supplies I needed and went into the classroom to play with the kids. The teachers arrived an hour later (already an hour later for school) as did the new volunteers and the orphanage director. I taught for 2 hours before break time. During break time I had tea with the other volunteers and saw the orphanage director. She was not pleased to see me. She tends to be very passive aggressive and simply said to me, "Why didn't you go to the other project?" I informed her that I was here for the kids (her words from our first meeting) and that I didn't want to leave their teacher without the lesson plans I assured her I would have. The orphanage director scoffed at me and left the room.

For the 45 minute break a man from an international orphans program discussed the ways in which his program is going to assist the orphanage in becoming a more reputable program. Everything he said was wonderful, but it just felt as if it was arriving 10 minutes too late. Elsa, a volunteer who's been here for 10 weeks and leaves on Monday, asked all of the hard questions as she's been dealing with the difficulties at the orphanage much longer than the rest. The man was very helpful, yet the orphanage director continued to be icy to Elsa and I. After the meeting, Elsa and I went back to our class and finished teaching for the day. I meant to talk to the orphanage director one on one to ask her about the other project situation (supposedly there's going to be a meeting on Friday about our position at the other project), but she had left early.

I do NOT want to be involved in the politics at the orphanage and don't want to spend the next 5 weeks working at the other project. I also don't want to spend 5 weeks feeling like I'm constantly walking on egg shells regarding the teaching I want to do. I came here to assist the children at the orphanage and would like to continue doing that until Megan's parents arrive at the end of July. If the orphanage director is going to be cold towards me and continue to make it difficult for me to teach my class and work with our teacher (the WONDERFUL Tanzanian teacher of my class), I'm going to be very physically and emotionally drained. I'm also frustrated with the lack of support from our VPGC. He seems to believe that the orphanage director can do no wrong and can't seem to understand why we're frustrated with the situation at the orphanage. All in all, it's making for a very frustrating and annoying trip.

The More Boys I Meet (the more I love my dog)

No, I do not have a dog. Yes, I did use the title of a Carrie Underwood song for my blog title. The longer I am in Africa the more I am cheated for money or asked for money or personal belongings by African men. It's safe to say that white women are an easy target. For example, the dala-dala ride cost 100 shillings extra just to get to the internet cafe because we were white. The man collecting the money wouldn't stop laughing even as we continued to hold our hands out to receive our appropriate change that we never got. It was only the equivalent of appx. 8 cents - but when people try to cheat you everyday, it gets old fast.

My day started when Michelle quickly exited the hostel to teach the kids at school. I was so proud of her for not letting the politics of everything get in the way. We'll see what's to come of that. I waited for Belinda and we headed off to another project where we packed up boxes of donations to take to an orphanage. It wasn't frustrating at all when we arrived and half of the boxes we had packed yesterday were un-packed. Nor was it frustrating when it took us 3 hours to deliver these boxes to an orphanage 20 minutes away. Did I mention the fact that the man in charge of delivering the donations asked me to pay for the "petrol?" Please refer to the title of the blog.

Once we arrived at the orphanage, things went smoothly. The orphanage was very, clean and organized (many of the things I have been missing about America). We took in the donation boxes and passed each children their own teddy bear. Danny and Stacie - I took a picture of the boy in his Purdue Sweatshirt. The kids, as always, were the best part of my day.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Picture Update

Megan and I in hour 3 of our 7 hour hike in Kilimanjaro National Park.

Sweet, sweet Musa-Luca. His father is currently dying of AIDS and skin cancer. He is bed-ridden and will most likely die this summer. When completing a school project, Musa-Luca commented that he wanted to grow up and become a doctor. May all of his dreams come true.


I'm still dealing with the bad case of diarrhea. Unfortunately I have no idea what the cause is and thus can't avoid certain things. After attempting to control things with Pepto, I took out the big guns and took my first dose of Ciprofloxacin, the medicine percribed by Dr. G. for Traveller's Diarrhea. I took the pill about 2 hours ago and am still feeling the queasy stomach. I haven't felt the need to puke and am knocking on wood that it never happens. The plan for the rest of the day is to go back to the hostel to eat lunch and nap. If I'm not feeling better tomorrow, I'm going to take the day off and give my body time to rest. My hope is that I just need a day of rest and relaxation and I'll be good to go.

*Naser- A few common Kiswahili words Megan and I use frequently in the classroom are: "sikiliza" (listen), "andika" (write), "kaa chini" (sit down), "chora" (draw), and "inzuri sana" (very good). Test those out on your younger siblings the next time you're helping with some homework. PS-- When do you leave for Greece?
*Dad- Thanks for the DMB reference. Did you get the CD's I mailed home? Hopefully you've been listening to your favorites. I miss you.
*Mom- I had bug spray on. The mosquitos are nearly non-existent in this part of Tanzania due to the higher elevation and cooler weather. I was wearing bug spray during our hike (I was even carrying some with me), but a random bug (it felt pretty big) landed on the crack of skin on my back between my jacket and my pants and bit me. Megan's been watching it for me and I've been putting Benadryl cream on it. It itches a bit and is a little tender to touch (you can barely see the bite). I'll keep you updated.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Visit to Moshi

We're currently sitting in an internet cafe in Moshi with our friends, Jake and Mitch. We met the boys here in Moshi on Friday and have spent the entire weekend here. The bus ride to Moshi began in Arusha on Friday around 2 PM. After being told we would be charged 2,000 shillings (a little less than $2 US), Megan and I were forced to pay 2,500 shillings when we refused to give up our bags (to be placed out of our sight) in order to accommodate another passenger. I'm usually very willing to make space for others on public transportation, but in the case of a mini-bus, making space for others means cramming five people into a bench built to hold three. If our mini-bus had crashed at any point, which is totally possibly, I have no idea how we would've gotten out. Every space of the bus was filled. Kids were sitting on strangers' laps, strangers were sitting shoulder to shoulder with their bags at their feet, there was absolutely no leg room. The other bizarre aspect of riding a mini-bus is that there is no air conditioning and the windows are kept closed the entire time. With nearly 40 people on a bus built to hold at most 25 and absolutely no air flow, the stench and heat produced inside could have killed a puppy. It was the longest bus ride of my life.

Friday evening the boys met us at the bus station and took us to a local bakery. We then headed back to their house to meet their host family. Their family is considerably richer than Pastor Harry's, which was made obvious by the porcelain choo, electricity, and running water. Their family was very sweet and allowed us to watch as they cleaned a freshly killed chicken.

After meeting Jake and Mitch's family, we headed out to dinner with their friends Luke and Jeff. Jeff volunteers with Jake and Mitch at their conservation project and Luke is a Peace Corps volunteer who teaches in Morogorro. We had an enjoyable Western dinner (pizza) with great conversation. It was nice to be surrounded by people with similar interests and a belief in bettering the world around them. When we got to our hotel that night, Megan and I both commented on how much we enjoyed talking to smart, humble, genuine people.

Saturday was our big adventure. We went with all of the boys and their "brother," Oscar, to hike in Kilimanjaro Park. Our destination was the twin waterfalls. Unfortunately it had recently rained and much of the park and surrounding village was completely mud-filled. Our dalla-dalla could only take us halfway up the village before fishtailing, forcing us to hike an additional 1 1/2 miles to the start of our hike. The hike itself was very enjoyable, despite the mud. Actually, the mud might have enhanced the experience. We all fell multiple times, myself a few more times than everyone else, because we hadn't thought to bring our hiking poles. By the end of our trip, we were covered in mud, leaving our shoes and hands unrecognizable. I was bit by a few bugs and caught a few thorns in my hand, but I'm no worse for the wear. I am a bit sore today, though.

After hiking for nearly 5 hours, we made it to the twin waterfalls. My words can't do them justice and I'll attempt to post some pictures when we arrive back in Arusha. The entire hike gave me a greater appreciation for nature and a stronger desire to do my part to help conserve the planet. I never expected Tanzania to be this beautiful. There are probably hundreds of surprisingly beautiful places across the planet that I don't know about. That alone encourages me to remain as eco-conscious as I can. If I can do my part to preserve these majestic corners of the world, I'll have spread their beauty.

The hike ended up taking a total of 7 hours, with no food other than bars and nuts. By the end of the day we were both exhausted and hungry. We ended the day at a local restaurant called, "Golden Showers." Famished, we ate fish, chips, veggies, and chipate (a local bread product similar to a tortilla). All in all it was a wonderful weekend with wonderful people. Megan and I feel really blessed to have met Mitch and Jake and look forward to other excursions with Mitch (Jake heads back to Chicago in a week).

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Potty Talk

Emotionally I'm doing well, but I've come down with my first case of diarrhea. Attempting to relieve myself in the choo [pronounced cho (as in hoe)- o (as in oh my goodness)], which is simply a hole in the ground you squat over, is not the easiest of feats. It's also fairly disgusting. I never realized how wonderful traditional toilets were until today. I visited the choo at school three times and each time it became increasingly difficult. To make matters worse, it rained all morning and all of my clothes were soaked when I arrived in Ngaramtoni. I'm sure my hiking boots will never pass an inspection by the US Health Department. 4 Pepto's later, I'm still feeling slightly rumbly in my tummy, but am hoping for the best. Of course, Megan's stomach is made of steal and she's working on the opposite problem. We've decided that we need to combine forces to create the ultimate stool.

We had another great day at school today. The kids are dedicated learners and are particularly thankful for everything we teach them. After each lesson, they shout in unison, "Thank you, Teacher!"

Today we split into our English groups. Megan's group worked on writing their names and singing the ABC's. Offhand, I heard our teacher correct Megan's version of the ABC song. The Swahili version is fairly similar with Z being pronounced as "zed" and sung to a different tune. Megan reports that her group of students, about 7, have no letter concepts and a very difficult time spelling their names. My students continued working on the short -e and short -u sounds. The students used the flashcards I created and sorted the words according to the vowel sound they produced. I also wrote the words on the board and had the students practice sounding them out. We finished by drawing pictures for each of the short -e words. When I collected their homework from yesterday, those who completed it smiled proudly, while the few who forget looked extremely embarassed. I reassured those students that I wasn't upset, but they still appologized profusely, "Sorry, Teacher. Teacher, I do more."

We finished the day by creating "All About Me" books, my mother in-law's idea. Megan begane the lesson by reading the book, "Whoever You Are," a wonderful story about diversity. We discussed with the kids the things that make us the same and different from one another. Sweet Nuru shared with us what love means, "I would hug someone if they're hurt and tell them they are ok." The kids were enthralled with the book. As I sat back listening to Megan, I looked at all of their faces and their eyes were glued to the book and every now and then they would chuckle as our teacher translated the book into English.

After Megan read the book, we created the kid's personal books. The kids were in awe that we had created books of paper just for them. Our teacher pulled me aside as the kids chattered away in Swahili and said, "They're saying, 'It's like a real book!' They are very happy to have this book." We had the kids write and design their covers (Title: All About Me. Author: Musa, picture of Musa). Each kid numbered their pages and we then had them fill in the first page. I wrote on the chalkboard "My name is Michelle. I have 6 people in my family." The kids copied this onto their first page and wrote their own names and how many people they have in their family. We then had them draw each family member and label them. At the end of the period, each kid came to the front and read their book.

Megan and I are really proud of the kids. Their really working hard and are being challenged more than I think they have ever been. When we've left each day this week, our teacher always says, "The kids, they are so tired." Today we even had a few with tears of exhaustion in their eyes and one who was nearly asleep at his desk. I'm happy their working so hard, but I don't want them to over-exert themselves. We may have to scale back a bit.

Moment of the day:
* Seeing all of the girls' drawings of themselves. In Tanzania, it's required by the government that students wear their hair shaved. Thus, all of our students have short hair. All of the girls in our class drew themselves with long, flowing black hair that flipped at the ends.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I thought I might have a go at this blog since my all of the keys on my keyboard appear to be working and the internet is only 3 times slower than at home. This is Megan, by the way. Things are slowly settling into place. We have a long daily routine that begins with a 1 1/2 hour commute to the Village and usually ends with a visit to the internet cafe before we dala-dala back to our hostel. Wednesday's begin with 2 hours of sports/gym for the kids. In other words, there are 2 soccer balls to share amongst 58 children, lots of hopscotch and Michelle's adapted version of 4 square. I can't forget to mention the young, innocent face of one of the children that found amusement in peeing over the cement wall. Apparently, that's the same anywhere in the world. I am happy to finally be teaching. Michelle continues to be my guide and teaches the first grade class. I either teach with her or teach the small groups that need special attention.

This morning we had a meeting with our volunteer program ground coordinator (VPGC), Pastor, the orphanage director, the orphanage director's husband, Michelle, Lindsey and Morgan regarding our volunteer duties. It sounds like a nice plan, to have everyone sit around and get on the same page, however, there are a lot of unsovled problems and political issues that I do not care to be involved in. I do not know what our VPGC and the orphanage director spoke about prior to the meeting, but the orphanage director set foot on the defensive which did not make for an open conversation. We were basically told that we can not give our donations to whoever we want to and when we give our donations to the kids, we must take pictures and give them to the orphanage director and our volunteer program. What if I just want to give a kid my shirt without any strings attached? All in all, things have gotten better, but the expectations of this trip and reality are very far apart. I have faith that all of these experiences will build character and be beneficial even though I may not feel it at the time.

Positive Points
+ We now know how to spot a dala-dala thief. Do not change places on the dala-dala when they ask, it's just a trick to steal. Or, you could just watch Michelle. If she has her metal water bottle out and ready to hit an attackers hand as it gets too close to anyone's valuables then you should hold on to your money!
+ The kids have been wonderful. The first grade class is so fun to work with. Michelle and I love analyzing the kids and discussing their different personalities. There are some things that can be done regardless of the language barrier. My heart tends to fall for the shy, quiet kids although I would completely miss out if the class clowns and bossy princesses did not exist.
+ Does anyone else find it ironic that our electricity in the hostel goes out every night since we left our mud hut that didn't have any electricity?
+ We are going to Moshi this weekend to visit Mitch, Jake, their brother Ocsar, and some waterfalls in Moshi National Park.
+Michelle's homesickness is weakening:) Maybe it's because she found out it was possible to adopt a child from Tanzania - watch out Evan!! Musa's pretty cute!


A quick update. Megan, of course, did a beautiful capturing our day today. Read the post above for her insight into our trip.

I've started linking the blogs of the volunteers we've befriended while here in Tanzania. It might be interesting to read the blogs of our friends to hear their opinions and perspectives on life in Tanzania.

Yes, it's true, I found out today that it's possible for Westerner's to adopt Tanzanian children. The biggest hurdle a Westerner has to overcome is residency. Essentially, a Westerner must live in Tanzania for 6 consecutive months. As soon as I heard this, along with a comment that the Orphanage Director is open to volunteers adopting double orphans from the Village, my wheels began spinning. I immediately e-mailed Evan when I got to the internet today and am hoping to have a good conversation with him about this. There are obvious pros and cons to adopting at 24, but my heart leans towards adoption. I have a feeling, though, that Evan will end up being my source of reason and put the kibosh on this for the time being. There are two kids, Musa and Clinton, however, who've won me over. I'm trying not to get ahead of myself and really waiting until I talk to Evan and the Orphanage Director about the realities of adoption.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Picture Update

Megan and I at the future site of the Orphanage. This site will hold an actual orphanage (building with bedrooms), cafeteria, and school. Due to financial issues, the building of the orphanage has been put on hold indefinitely. Currently the orphans in the Village live alone at their parent's homes or with other family members (typically older siblings or grandparents). Megan and I's first grade class. There are 17 students in this class. The classroom is shared with three other classes (kindergarten and preschool). The board at the front of the room is painted black and utilized as a chalkboard.
Orphans headed home early from school due to a food shortage. For the past two weeks, the students at the Orphanage have not been fed lunch. This is due to a food shortage that is a result of financial problems. When there is no food, the kids are sent home early and miss half of the school day. All of the kids walk to and from school unescorted. Typically these kids walk between 1-4KM to and from school each day. It's heart breaking watching the little three year olds walk through the village alone. They all appear to have an incredible sense of direction.
Orphans eating porridge. Part of the food the students receive is a small mug of porridge. This is served daily and appears to have no nutritional value.

Sitting with two of the orphans at the Orphanage. Pastor's mud hut. Megan and I lived here for a week before being moved to the volunteer hostel. The cement bricks to the left of the picture are the current portion of Pastor's new house. In Tanzania it is common practice to build what you can and stop when you run out of money. When you obtain more funds, you continue building. We plan on paying for a building the rest of Pastor's new house for him in the next 3 weeks. The mud hut we lived in currently houses Pastor and his wife. Other buildings on his property house his children, neices, mother, cow, goat, chickens, kitchen, and choo.
Megan and I in the City, the city our village is located in. Mount Meru is located behind us. The roads in the City can barely be considered roads and more likely resemble trails. Much of the local business takes place in the general market area of the City, including the selling of produce, timber, and fabric.

Mount Kilimanjaro from our bus ride to Arusha. I'm in shock that this is what I plan on attempting to summit on my first backpacking experience. I really am crazy. Megan and I in Arusha waiting for our fellow volunteer, Moragn, to arrive. Notice the backpacks on the front. This is the standard practice in Arusha if you're Muzungo (white person) and want to protect yourself from having anything stolen. Petty theft is very common in Arusha and obvious tourists, such as Megan and I, are prime targets.
Megan and I in theVillage, with Mount Meru in the background. We were so stressed and overwhelmed the first few days that we didn't realize how close we were to Mt. Meru. Luckily we had a beautiful day and were able to bask in Meru's beauty.

Choo (bathroom) break on our 10 1/2 bus ride from Dar Es Salaam to Arusha on Sunday, June 8. Our bus ended up breaking down in Moshi which caused us to sto every 5 KM or so to fill the radiator with water. The 1 hour trip from Arusha to Moshi ended up lasting 4 hours.

Monday, June 16, 2008


Life in Africa, thus far at least, is completely erratic. One day I'm planning on coming home in the next week, the next day I'm feeling as if I never want to leave. Last week was particularly difficult due to financial, food, and safety issues on both our volunteer program's and the orphanage's part. Watching the trip you planned for 2 years seeminly wash away in front of your face is a difficult reality to bear. It's hard to put into words the amount of frustration and stress I felt last week. Being here in Tanzania, particularly the Village, is very overwhelming due to the incredible amount of need that is coupled with bigger picture issues of corruption, racism, and poverty. It will take time to work through these big picture issues, but I'm constantly journaling and talking to the other volunteers in hopes of having some clarity on the situation.

We're still on for building Pastor's house. We've had to be assertive about our desire to complete this project as our volunteer program would like us to simply focus our attention on the orphanage. We plan on keeping the orphanage as our main priority and spending our alotted 6 hours a day volunteering there. In our free time, however, we plan on using our own money to assist Pastory in completing his home. Getting dirty and doing physical work will be very rewarding and we hope to have the house completed in full before we leave in 6 weeks.

School went well today. We missed the first half of the school day due to a late start to the day (breakfast at our hostel across town wasn't prepared on time). I was able to complete a basic assessment on the first grade class. I graded the first part of the assessment over the weekend and it's evident that some of the students are doing well, while others are struggling. The plan is to divide the students into groups according to their ability and then teach from there. Luckily I have an incredible mother in-law who has been assisting me with coming up with creative lesson plans and ideas to use in a classroom with no resources.

Pastor invited us over for lunch this afternoon to surprise his wife and eldest niece, W. They were both happy to see us and immediately ran to us with huge grins on their faces shouting, "Caribou sane!!!" (You're very welcome!). It was great getting to see Pastor's family once again and to be warmly welcomed into their home. I was told by Mama that H., Pastor's 13 year old niece, wore a purple suit to church on Sunday. Mama told me, "Michelle, H. looked so smart at church. She sang so beautifully with her new suit!" I owe Michelle English a big thank you for the clothes she donated. Everyone in Pastor's family was finally wearing a new outfit today. The pride and joy on their faces was felt by everyone at their home.

Moment of the day:
Having my students color pictures of their names. As each child finished their name, I hung it on the wall in their classroom. Every child beamed with pride and whispered to their friend each name as it was taped up. I've never seen a classroom of children so excited and happy to see their own names taped to the wall.

PS: Still not able to add pictures. More attempts later.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Home and School

Due to some poor financial situations (which included a lack of funding for Pastor to feed us appropriately), Megan and I have been moved out of Pastor's home and into a hostel in Arusha. We'll be spending the rest of our 6 weeks in this hostel with other volunteers in the area. We owe a HUGE amount of thanks to Megan's dad, Don, and my father in-law, Bob, for making the appropriate calls in the U.S.

Moving out of Pastor's house was difficult because the money situation was not his fault and we didn't want him to think we didn't enjoy living with him and his family. We payed him in Tanzanian shillings for the food he paid out of pocket to feed us (food that should've been paid for by our volunteer company). Everyone in his family cried when we left, including his 13 year old niece (a double orphan), H., and his 6 year old daughter, P. Of course, Megan and I cried as well. It's hard leaving such a warm, loving environment when you know the people who cared most about you weren't being treated fairly. We informed the family that we'd be back to see them on Monday, but we feel like our comment was lost in translation.

Little does Pastor know, however, that we've found our purpose in the Village. Megan and I, as well as the two other volunteers in our village, Magnus and Morgan, have decided that we have the money and man power to finish building Pastor's new house. We'll be surprising Pastor with this news on Monday when we hope to start the project. We're expecting the project to take about 1 month to complete. We plan on using $500 of our donation money to go towards this project. We chose this as our pet project as Pastor has given so much to the community and doesn't have enough to provide appropriately for his own family. He is a modern Masaai man who has an incredible heart and looks out for everyone. This is the best way we can thank him.

Although we're going to be spending a great deal of time working on Pastor's new house, I am still focusing my attention on teaching at the village school. I've been working primarily with the older students, approximately first grade. Another volunteer and I gave them a test today to determine where their abilities lie in English and math. I'll be grading the first half of the test this weekend and finishing the test on Monday. The plan is to then break the class (about 15 students) into two groups according to their abilities and teach them accordingly. I've already created basic consonant-vowel-consonant spelling lists and lesson plans to teach next week. I'm thinking we'll need to go back even further, however, with some students and focus on letter identification.

I'm quickly falling for my students. I now know all of their names and am beginning to distinguish their unique personalities. Musa Luca is shy and reserved, most likely because he's dealing with the stress of watching his father die a slow, painful death of skin cancer and AIDS. Sophia is sassy and bossy. Freddy is very smart and quick to learn. Winniefreida comes from a family of 10, with two mothers and one father (traditional Masaai men have multiple wives), and she always comes to school with a bright smile on her face and incredible spunk. Clinton is constantly covered in dust and dirt, yet smiles shyly when I complement his work with a cheerful "inzuri sane!" (very good!). Jackson always has a huge grin on his face and leaves school by shouting, "I love you Teacher Michelle!" It's only been a week and I'm completely head over heels for this class. I'm positive part of my heart will be placed in the palms of each of these kids when I leave in 6 weeks.

Need requests:
* Any financial donations to assist in building Pastor's house would be appreciated. We have enough for the basics (cement blocks, wood beams for the ceiling, tin for the roof, windows, doors, etc), but do not have enough to purchase enough beds and shelving units for inside the home. Pastor lives with his wife, his 6 year old daughter, his orphaned neices (W.- 19 and H.- 13), and his mother. He also frequently houses volunteers and other people in need of a warm place to stay. Please e-mail or comment if you'd like to donate money to go towards Pastor's home building.
* $500 a year sponsorship for either P. or H. in order to attend a boarding school. Neither girl is receiving a quality education and both are desperate to learn and enjoy school. Please e-mail or comment if you're interested.

PS: Pictures aren't loading at this computer. I'll try a different internet cafe this weekend.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Meeting the Needs of Others

It's hard to write a post today. Earlier today I received an e-mail from the UVA student I student-taught with in Charlottesville letting me know that one of our students had been shot and killed in a random act of violence. This is one of the moments they don't teach you how to handle in ed. school, especially when you're thousands of miles away in a third world country. I still want to work in a poor, urban school where this is a reality. I just wish I were in a better position now to handle my first loss.

At the moment, the best I can do is fill you in on some needs that need to be met in our village. I'll be attempting to post any needs on the blog that I believe you can assist me with. You can either comment or e-mail me to let me know how you could be of assistance.

Need Request 6/12/08:
1. A Kenyan, Christian missionary is staying at our host family's house. He is in his mid-twenties and speaks basic English and fluent Swahili. We spoke with him for a long time last night and he filled us in on his deep passion to visit the United States, particularly Los Angelos. He would like to come and work with a local church in the states to learn from them and bring his skills back to Kenya. If you have a church in your area or know of anyone in the Los Angelos area that might be able to assist him, please let me know.
2. We are in need of creative ideas to use in the classroom. There are little to no resources available, the classroom is shared with two other classes, and the teachers have no formal training. We are also dealing with a language barrier. We're in particular need of introductory English reading and math lessons.
3. Our host father, Pastor, would like to connect with Americans who can assist him in meeting the needs of his village. Pastor has an incredible heart and has given everything he owns to help his community. He has no money (he can't even finish building his own home), yet he has found ways to pay for street children to attend boarding school, to feed and house orphans, and ways to empower the local widows. If you are connected with any organization or are personally willing to speak with Harry about his visions (IE: HIV/AIDS prevention training in the village, funds to complete the village orphanage, and others), please let me know.

The most important thing I've learned thus far is that you can't rely on a middle-man in Tanzania. This may be a problem in all third-world countries, but it is a particular problem we've noticed in Tanzania. Because of this reason, I am only going to post the needs of people who I trust and feel as if I can truly serve. There are a plethora of needs that need to be met in this area, but all too often corruption is involved and the people who need the most assistance don't receive it. My hope is to directly impact the lives of the people I meet and not allow corruption to seep into my assistance.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


I'm feeling completely overwhelmed today. The realitites of serving a poor, primative village are starting to set in. I'm not exactly sure what role I'm supposed to play. There is an incredible amount of need in the Village. I as a simple Mzungo (white person) am seen as a meal ticket, but I'm not sure how I can best meet the needs of this population.

Simply walking through the village and interacting with the children at school, I find I develop a huge pit in my stomach. Many of the villagers live in traditional Massaai mud huts and have no running water or electricity. There is little to no food in the area. Most people (including us), simply eat bananas, ugali (similar to mashed potatoes, but with a thicker consistancy, less taste, and no nutritional value), stew with beef fat, rice, and chipate (similar to crepes). The primary beverage of choice is tea.

Many days the kids go home from school hungry as there wasn't any food available to them for lunch. The children arrive at school whenever they want and typically wearing the same outfit they wore the day before. Their outfits are the countrywide uniform accompanied by heavly used t-shirts, tanktops, and ratty sweatshirts. Some arrive without any shoes on and many simply wear flip-flops.

It's obvious that some are not healthy-- they have constant runny noses, deep chest coughs, and are tired. One child has tested positive for HIV, but with an estimated 50% adult HIV rate in the village, there are bound to be more children who are HIV+. I have spotted a few children running around with mouth sores and lesions on their tounge, both signs of end stage AIDS.

The schooling here is poor. The village teachers come and teach whenever they want. One simply chose not to teach today. There is no formal outline as to what the children are going to be taught and their teachers have no background in education. The teacher today asked me what she should teach her students because she has no idea how to teach. I couldn't tell her what to teach since I have only briefly met the kids, so I offerred to assist her in whatever she thought was best for today. The supplies that are available are extremely primative and of little use. There is a room of donations, but they're not typically used (which I haven't figured out yet).

The biggest issue the Village is facing is HIV/AIDS. In this village, according to the villagers, HIV/AIDS does not exist. People just die. There is no prevention happening here. You simply do not talk about the disease. Adults are ot tested. Men have multiple wives. Men and women cheat on each other. Prostitution is a way of life. If you are found to have HIV/AIDS, you're completely ostracized. Although the children have been tested once, two more rounds of testing are needed. The results, however, are only useful to the volunteers. No child will receive any treatment as this would signify that they are HIV+ and thus kick them out of the community.

What then is my role? How can I appropriately make a difference in this community? It's something I'm going to have to mull over. I have a few ideas... paying for the final HIV tests, assessing all of the kid's English skills and creating developmental lesson plans for the teachers to use, etc. Unfortunately, I'm not 100% positive I can make a difference here. I feel like a small band-aid on a gaping wound. I'm not going to give up, but it's certainly going to be difficult.

Shout outs:
* Jessica--- Keep those kids in line at Poco. You would die if you saw the kids here.
* Bob--- I wish you could mail Megan and I a salad, actually.
* Mitch--- Come save us when Magnus leaves.

Funny moment:
I wasn't sure where I should brush my teeth, so last night I brushed it in the "choo" (bathroom= hole in the ground surrounded by a wooden shack). My Masaai mom said to Megan while I was in there, "Is Michelle brushing the teeth? This not America. She needs to be free and brush the teeth out here."

Monday, June 9, 2008

Arrived in Arusha

I must begin this post with a few appologies:

*Danny and Stacie Courtney-- My biggest appologies for any and all grammatical and punctuation errors found within this blog. It's amazingly crazy how little 30 minutes feels, especially when the keyboard is horribly sticky.
* Naser-- Sorry for continuing to spell your name in correctly. Luckily the version with two -s is more traditional.
* Megan-- Sorry for misrepresenting you at any point in time. I should clarify that the homesickness experienced was mine and not "ours."
* Jake and Mitch-- Future appologies if any of these blog posts are "i-pod worthy."

Onward to Arusha.....

After an incredibly long (approximately 10 1/2 hours) bus ride, we arrived in Arusha. We anticipated this was going to be a long day, but thought we were out of the woods when our bus ran smoothly for the first 6 hours. Upon arriving to Moshi and the base of Kilimanjaro, our bus broke down and we could only drive about 10 minutes before we needed to stop and refill the radiator with water. At about 9:30 PM we arrived in Arusha and were met by the assitant director of Village Orphanage. We gathered our bags and headed to the village.

I haven't had much time to really reflect on the life we're leading, thus a brief synopsis. Megan and I are staying in a traditional Masaai village with the assistant director's family. This man, Pastor, has three children and one wife. The one wife is a critical detail as Masaai men traditionally have multiple wives. Pastor refers to himself as "a modern Masaai man." We are living in the mud hut (corrugated steel roof) of Pastor and his wife. Our room is the extra bedroom they keep for volunteers and is approximately 10 ft by 7 ft and contains one shelf and a bed that's just over twin size. Luckily Megan and I are skinny, so we both slept comfortably last night, head to foot. There is no electricity or running water. We use our head lamps at night and use the village toilet (literally a hole in the ground that is encased with wood for privacy.... we've yet to attempt #2). We haven't bathed yet, but will be using boiling water poured in a bucket to sponge bathe ourselves.

Two of Pastor's kids are attending school at a boarding school 200 KM away. Pastor had to discontinue building his modern, brick home because he used his money to send his kids to a better school. His youngest daughter, P., lives with us. She, along with her two cousins (their father and mother died) live in a different mud hut in our village. Pastor's mother also lives in a mud hut in our village. There is also a mud hut for cooking (about 4 ft by 4 ft), a mud hut for the family's cow, and a fenced in pen for the family's goat. There are also chickens wandering around the village.

The orphange we're volunteering at, is actually not an orphanage. We are simply working at the village pre-primary school (2-7 year olds). All of the local kids (many who are orphans) come to school when they choose to and when we're there to teach them. There are two local teachers, but supposedly they're not very reliable. Essentially we'll be making lesson plans on our own and attempting to teach these children the skills we believe they need. Their primary language is Swahili, but they all appear to know basic English. The school is very primative, with wooden benches and wooden tables for the kids to work on. They're provided a pencil and an old notebook to complete their work in. The chalkboard is an old piece of wood that was painted black.

According to the other volunteer we met, HIV/AIDS is extremely stigmatizing in our village. Approximately 50% or more of the village adults are believed to be HIV+, but many do not know or unwilling to find out. Many find out they have AIDS when they are near death. HIV/AIDS testing is not done in this area and there is no HIV/AIDS prevention work going on in our village as the Masaai people do not want anything to do with the disease. The mantra of our village, in regards to HIV/AIDS, is "don't ask, don't tell." The volunteer we met today used her own money to have all of the village's kids tested a month ago. Only one child's test came back as positive. In order to fully test, however, three tests have to be completed. I'm most likely going to use the financial donations to pay for the final two tests to be completed by the American doctor in Arusha.

Pictures to come in the following days. Keep the comments coming!

Shout outs:
* Melissa-- Thanks for all of your wonderful encouragement. I totally felt the hug and have used your words to help me out when I was really feeling homesick.
*Naser-- Always good to hear from you. Swahili is a pretty fun language. It's very phonetic. You might try picking it up, especially with your Arabic skills.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Reflections on DES

It's been an interesting first week here in Tanzania. As you know, we spent this first week here in Dar Es Salaam, the largest city in the country. Through our Swahili courses (Mambo!--- Hey!) and our tours of the surrounding area, we've begun to better understand this new world around us. We were warned of culture shock, but neither Megan nor I really expected to start learning so much so quickly. By simply immersing ourselves in the Tanzanian culture and community, our eyes have been opened to a world that we never knew existed.
I have found that the Tanzanian people are very friendly. Surprisingly, the entire time we've been here, I've yet to feel scared. There have been moments when I felt I should be more conscious of those around me and the choices I was making, but I've never felt as if I were in a dangerous area or situation. In general, the Tanzanian people (at least those in DES) appear to be equally interested in us as we are in then. We are some of the few white people in most the areas we've traveled too. Just as many of us have never seen so many Africans, I'm assuming many of the Tanzanians have never seen so many white Westerners.

I've been struck by the utter poverty in DES. Many of the roads are unpaved and have huge potholes. There is a dirty film of grime and filth that covers the entire city. Chickens and goats roam the streets freely. Many of the people work in markets or along the streets selling the same goods (videos, t-shirts, sunglasses, etc). Young kids roam the streets at all hours looking for entertainment. Despite all of this, it feels like the Tanzanian people are very happy. This may be a result of not knowing what their missing out, but I'd like to believe they are genuinely happy with the lives they lead. I'm looking forward to better understanding this issue and the role Western assistance plays in providing the Tanzanian people with more opportunities.

Overall, we had a wonderful week. We've made some incredible friends from all walks of life. We've enjoyed delicious meals cooked for us by a local Tanzania. We've spent time connecting with our new friends and the locals at a neighborhood bar. We've swam in the Indian Ocean and walked the streets of DES. No trip is without it's difficulties, though. We've been taken advantage of as Western women and been charged more money by the local GC (our volunteer group) representative. We've lost our box of donations that contained all of the books, toys, and children's clothes. We've also yet to receive the financial donations you all willingly gave. We've been homesick for our families in the States.
With both the up and downs, we're taking this trip in stride. Traveling to a third world country entails hardships, but is also coupled with the opportunity to learn and grow. As we head out to Arusha tomorrow (10 1/2 hour drive), we look forward to connecting with some amazing children and women. Oh, and the plethora of Western restaurants... mmmm pizza!