Friday, July 11, 2014

Bits and Pieces

“A traveler moves among real people in their own milieu and learns from them, soaking up their wisdom and philosophy, their way of being in the world.  A tourist simply hops from one tourist highpoint to another, skimming across the surface, cramming in quantity rather than quality, and comes away with his soul or imagination unchanged, untouched by the wonder of a life lived differently.”  Roxanne Reid

Retirement has allowed me to travel in a different way, with different goals.  I know we’ll continue to travel to check off the sites, but I also know that it isn't the same as what I've been doing these last couple of months.  After this experience, I know I’ll return to Africa to spend time learning more about its people, where the only animals I meet are the cows, goats and chickens on my way to an orphanage.

This will be the last entry of my blog while I’m still here (as it happens, I wrote most of this entry while in TZ, but my last 4-5 days there were very busy, so I’m posting after back in the states when I had the time to write about my last couple of days and attach some photos).  The post has ended up being a bit of this and a bit of that, all of which I don’t want to forget.

Swift Justice

Baba Gertrude went to a church meeting the Saturday after I got here, which lasted all afternoon.  He told me afterwards that they had been meeting on a “village problem”:  the village had seen an increase in the use of alcohol and marijuana.  I’m not sure how it was decided who the attendees at the meeting would be, but it sounded like it was those men seen to be the leaders of the village.  The result of the meeting was a proclamation, which was read at all churches the next day:  there was to be no marijuana use in the village and alcohol could not be used before 3 PM.
Today was the follow-up meeting of the village leaders.  When Baba Gertrude returned I asked how it went and he said “very well.”  Since the last meeting alcohol use has decreased.  He didn't mention marijuana use.  I assume it has decreased as well. 

He then proceeded to tell me that certain members of the community had been directed to attend the meeting for a "hearing."  The first hearing was of an older man, who continued to use alcohol against the terms of the proclamation.  Well, the man showed up drunk.  I guess you could say that they believe in swift justice here as four of the village leaders in attendance took the man to the woods behind the church, found a “good” stick, and gave him 10 lashes!  You can imagine the look on my face.  Baba Gertrude took it in stride and said that he wasn't sure that the man would remember the meeting, but he was quite sure that the pain he felt tomorrow would prompt him to find out what happened.
The next hearing was of some teenagers who didn't heed a village practice that it was up to them to prepare the food and oversee the preparations for any village funeral.  The teenagers were reminded of their obligations and told that if they didn't step up, they would be more or less shunned by the community until they changed their ways.

Baba and Mama Gertrude with Gad (Gertrude was at school)

Local Medicine

Mama Gertrude came down with a chest cold today.  I had some zinc lozenges, which I have used with positive results.  I’m not sure that she used the lozenges since Baba Gertrude soon left to find some mutton.  He is going to boil it down to get oil (a/k/a grease) for her to drink.  He tells me that it makes you feel warm inside.  Maybe it will work, I don't know, but it turned my stomach just thinking about it.  I sure hope it doesn't make an appearance on the dinner table!

Volunteers in the Village

While talking with Jeremiah one day this week, somehow the subject of volunteerism came up.  Jeremiah said that when Wazungu (plural of Muzungu – white people) first came to the village to volunteer at the orphanage, the villagers laughed.   (Remember this is a small village with few volunteers).  He said he has seen a change in attitude among the villagers over the couple of years volunteers have been coming to Nkoaranga.  Many of the villagers now accept the volunteers as they come and go and try to welcome them.  More importantly, he has seen, and discussed with others, a change that has come within the community after observing what the volunteers do.  The villagers now support members of the community when needed.  For instance, there was a special collection at church last Sunday for someone who had to go to Nairobi for an operation.  He said that a few years ago that would not have happened.  How much of what he said is reality, I don’t know, but I have been stopped several times by villagers, who thanked me for coming to help the children.  (I told him that I know some would say that the villagers were reacting to the revenue the volunteers bring to the community.  His response was that there aren't enough volunteers in the village to make a real difference to pocketbooks).
(An addendum to the issue of volunteerism:  When I was going through immigration at JRO, the immigration official asked  as he checked my paper what I had been doing in TZ so long.  I said I had gone on safari, but the majority of my time was spent volunteering with orphans.  His response was "well, I guess you're done with that."  I didn't get what he meant so I said "pardon me."  He repeated it.  I then understood after seeing the look on his face that he was assuming I wouldn't be back - I had gotten it out of my system, so to speak.  After I told him that I would be back, and, in fact, I was coming next year, he said "Thank you.")

A Family Sunday

This past Sunday I really became immersed in African family life.  I had a cooking lesson after church:  Mama Gertrude taught me to make chips mayai, which can best be described as an omelet with French fries cooked in it.  Some folks add minced vegetables and top it with catsup or hot sauce.  I know the description doesn’t make your mouth water because mine didn't when I first heard about it, but it is really, really good.  
After our lunch, we went to visit Mama Gertrude’s family.  We had talked about doing this soon after I arrived, but I didn't appreciate what such a visit would take on their part.  We had to take two taxis and a daladala only after going to the market in USA River in order to bring a bag full of groceries with us.  It took a long time and a lot of effort.
Mama Gertrude's parents were delightful.  Her father spoke English fluently.  He is a small farmer and, for my benefit, took us all on a tour of the farm.  He is a step ahead of the practices that I've seen generally.  He has drilled a well deep enough that they have a reliable water supply.  He has also designed a biogas system using his cows' manure so that they no longer need wood to cook. 

Mama Gertrude and her mother (called Mama Tumaini (Mama Gertrude's name - it does get a bit complicated)
(Funny memory:  As we took the tour of the farm, Gad started running around and went right into the collection area for the cow manure.  Baba Gertrude screamed and took off after him to try to stop him.  Baba Gertrude thought he was running into solid ground, but he soon found out that it was just an area where the manure had dried on the surface.  Before we knew it, Baba Gertrude and Gad were ankle deep in cow manure.) 

Gad taking off - I just happened to get a pic

All in all, it was a very relaxing day and they seemed to carry on as they would have on any given Sunday.  There was music and Baba Gertrude even had a few dance steps.  There have been pros and cons of choosing to live with a family, rather than staying at the volunteer house.  But having the opportunity to see a bit of real African life, and being included in it, has been pretty special.

My Week with the Kids

In case I haven’t mentioned it, the weather has been awful since I arrived in Nkoaranga.  It turned cooler several days after I arrived and there were days and days and more days that it drizzled and the sun didn't make an appearance.  Well, on Tuesday we awoke to sun.  I wish I had taken pictures to show what this meant to the orphanage.  The clothing situation by this time was desperate.  Kids were without underwear, no socks, and new buttonholes were cut into pants to make them fit.  So on this sunny day, every bush, tree, and even the playground equipment (such as it is) was covered with clothes by noon. 

Gad in his snow suit.  He actually wore this for two solid days because they were so cold.  (Jeremiah told me that they don't call them snow suits because, of course, they have no snow.  They call them Father Christmas suits.)
When it came time to break from the classroom, there was no place to go.  So off Emerte and I went taking the kids farther up the mountain to a green open space with a cow and several goats.  Filipo tormented the cow.  Shujaa cried because he was afraid and then he stepped in a cow patty and cried some more (BTW, Dick, he’s the one I’d bring home if I could, but Tanzania has some rules that are impossible for us to meet.  I can hear your sigh of relief as you read this).  It was chaos plain and simple.  But, boy, did they have fun. 


We tramped through the woods hunting umbrella tree leaves that each of them could use to cover me (I’m sure if there is such a thing as poison ivy here, I have it).  My hand seemed to be a prized possession.  It really was a fun filled, but exhausting couple of hours.  (I’m including a couple of pics, but I only had my pocket camera and not the better one).

The search for the "right" leaf


Baracka and Maureen

Maureen (this is pronounced Maureenie)

I promised them that I would bring my computer the next day so they could see some of the pictures I had taken.   I put together a picture show that night including pics from the safari Dick and I had taken, animals from our pre-TZ trip to the DC zoo, pics of Dick (they yelled Bibi Chris’ mume each time he popped up), and pics of Pepi and Zoe, our two French bulldogs, which they loved seeing.   They were silent as it played the first time, except for Maureen’s cry of where was she (her pic didn't appear until almost the end).  I had to play the darn thing four times and then only stopped because I was hoarse from talking so much.  (The children only speak a few words of English, but since being here I've spoken English to them.  That mixed with my couple of words of Swahili, and some pantomimes thrown in, we usually get by.  It's only when I need to know exactly what they are saying, or they need to know exactly what I'm saying, that I ask for a translator). 

It took a lot of time to put together the slide show because of my computer skills (or lack thereof), but I knew it was well worth it when I saw the look on their faces and how much they enjoyed it.
On my last Sunday here, we took them to a playground near Sakina (an hour ride).  We had two vans full.  As we pulled out, the kids were dumbfounded – there was not a sound and some of them had their mouths hanging open.  I had Shujaa and Peace on my lap.  They just soaked everything in the entire ride. 
When we arrived, Shujaa screamed and began to cry.  He was so scared.  It took him a long time to “let loose,” but he finally did.  I don’t have many good photos because I didn’t have two hands free to take them.  It was an exhausting day again, but it was so worth it.

Frankie needed a bit of encouragement

Shujaa before he decided it was all OK

Not sure about the train

But soon he decided it was all Okay

And didn't want to take time for his Peanut Butter & Jelly
Brighton had a blast

Vicki climbing up the slide

Peace is unsure of the PB&J (they don't usually have it and a few of them didn't like it sticking to the roof of their mouths.  Peace just chewed it all up and then decided he didn't like it and spit it out).

A Wedding Tanzanian Style

I was lucky enough to be able to attend a wedding my last Saturday in TZ.  It was held in the village of Machame on the outskirts of Moshi.  We left Nkoaranga at 9:30 and were scheduled to meet our bus at the bottom of the mountain at 10:30.  When the bus finally pulled up at 11:30, it wasn’t exactly what I expected - we had a chartered daladala! Being chartered didn't mean much, it sure didn’t mean abandoning the daladala code that “there is always room for one more.”  We had 26 in that damned thing! 
We had been told the wedding began at noon and the ride was 45 minutes.  From the get-go we knew that there was no way we were going to make it on that timetable even if everything went according to plan and, of course, it didn't.  The daladala driver didn't know where the church was and the other passengers were Maasai, who had never been there.  After stopping for directions a number of times, we rolled in at 12:45.  But we needn't have worried, folks were still milling around the church grounds, the ceremony didn't start until close to two, but you sure couldn't miss the beginning of the celebration:


(Leading ceremonies with motorcycles seems to be a customary thing.  I remember seeing a funeral that was led by a whole group of them).  

The ceremony resembled a Catholic service, except this one lasted almost three hours.  I went thinking that we'll just be in the background – observers.  Little na├»ve on my part, don’t ya think? The celebrant spoke in Swahili of course, but all of a sudden he bellowed in English “I think we have guests in the house.  Would you introduce yourselves?”  All eyes were on us.  (There were three volunteers with me).  Each of us had to stand and announce our name and where we were from, then (no kidding) there was applause and trumpets played.  So much for staying in the background! 

I don’t have good photos of the service, but there was lots of music:  several choruses, Maasai singers, and the trumpets, who seemed to play whenever they wanted.  I have included a few clips just so you can hear, and I can remember, the music.  The sound is not good and my video skills need practice.  I was really disappointed that I didn't have any of the trumpets.


The reception was on the church grounds.  The setup was unlike what we're accustomed to in the states.  Folding chairs were set up row after row, kind of like a school play, with a "stage" set for the bride and groom.  There was an emcee.  

The stage is set for the bride and groom

The food was served buffet style and we were again singled out for it.  Since we were guests, the emcee directed that we would be served first.  This was in keeping with Tanzanian culture of making sure guests feel welcome, but it was a bit embarrassing - we were wedding crashers for cripes sake! We didn't know either the bride or groom, but we were served first.  (We did come with an invited guest, but I didn't even meet him until the morning of the wedding).  

(When the issue of going to this wedding came up, I asked Mama and Baba Gertrude about it. Did folks really go to weddings who weren't invited?  They laughed.  Yep, about one thousand people showed up at theirs.  The whole village.  I could not figure out how you plan for that).
Then there is the tradition of gift giving.  There is not the customary table for presents in Tanzania.  Instead a line forms for the guests to deliver their gifts to the bride and groom.  The gifts are literally danced up the aisle.  If two people gave a picture frame, the frame was passed back and forth between the couple as they danced up the aisle.  But in Tanzania, everything for the house is provided to the bride and groom.  In other words, a couch is carried up the aisle as its gift givers pass it among themselves , dancing the entire time, as is a refrigerator, etc. etc.

And, finally, the cake.  There was a traditional cake, but not cut the traditional way.  Layers were given to different groups of guests to take.  We and our fellow daladala riders got a layer to take with us.  On the way back to Nkoaranga someone brought up the cake.  One of the Maasai pulled out a machete and passed out slices going down the road!

But that wasn't the only cake.  Tanzanians usually have a "goat cake."  Rather than describe it, I'll just show pictures.  It was really good.

It's impossible to tell the story of this adventure adequately, but I really felt incredibly lucky to have had the experience.  The Tanzanian people are some of the warmest you will ever meet.  They all went out of their way to welcome us and make sure we had a good time.

As an added bonus, I saw Mount Kilimanjaro for the first time while at the wedding.

Saying Goodbye

Mama and Baba Gertrude had a special dinner for me my last night.  Mama Jeremiah (Baba Gertrude's mother) and Happiness (Baba Gertrude's sister, who had come from DAR to meet me) were there.  Mama Gertrude prepared my favorites.  At the end of the dinner Mama Jeremiah gave me a kanga (traditional skirt worn in East Africa) and Mama and Baba Gertrude gave me a traditional Maasai Shuka (the blanket that Tanzanians wrap around their shoulders and wear everywhere.  Dick came to appreciate them while on safari).  While Baba Gertrude wrapped the shuka around me, he said "you have brought warmth into our home and we want to make sure you always stay warm when you leave." 

I can't tell you how lucky I feel to have had the opportunity to stay with this family.  They have been wonderful to me and always made me feel at home.  In fact, when I left with my bags the next day, Baba Gertrude said "this will always be your home."  

Having said goodbye at the first orphanage I knew how hard the goodbyes would be this time since these kids were older and understood what was happening.  I was actually tempted for half a minute to take the chicken way out and just disappear.  But, of course, I couldn't do that.  So the morning of my flight I went up to say my goodbyes. 
When I got to the classroom I asked Emerte to translate for me.  The responses to my leaving differed among the children.  Usoufu was angry.  He initially wouldn't look at me, folded his arms and put his head down.  He wouldn't let me take his picture or give him the kiss I gave each of them daily.  But after I made my rounds to the other children, he smiled at me, gave me my kiss, and let me take what turned out to be a great picture of him.
Shujaa crawled on my lap when his turn came.  He rested his head on my shoulder and played with my hair.  He then said I love you in sign language.  Afterwards he again rested his head on my shoulder, but then it was back to reality - he looked at me and said “potty.” 
When I went to walk out of the room, they all turned and yelled “goodbye, Bibi Chris.” 

There is not much more I can say.  Life continues there.  Another newborn arrived the day before I left (I found out since I've been home that he has a hole in his heart).   know I didn't make any big changes in any of their young lives, but I just hope that I gave them a smile and a feeling that there are people who love and care for them.


I had already planned a trip next year before I took off on this adventure.  It included a visit to TZ, but it didn't include any volunteering.  I've rearranged my plans since I got home so that I'll get to spend at least one week with them in March. I sent the kids a message to let them know.
Little Bennie wasn't happy

Shujaa after the potty

Usoufu after he got over being mad.  He's such a handsome boy. He doesn't live at the orphanage, only comes for preschool.

Maureen - isn't she a beauty? - she loves to have her pic taken
Pics Taken at Other Times

Peace (pronounced Peacie) with Diana in the background.  We were preparing to give Diana her bottle.  He is the little guy we are sponsoring.

Baracka and Usoufu


The Village Hotel (That is tar paper on the exterior.) (I didn't intend to put this in my last post, but I kept forgetting to get a picture)

Saturday, June 21, 2014

It's the Small Things


"When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable.  It is designed to make its own people comfortable."  Clifton Fadiman

I don’t have to take the daladala to the orphanage that I’m volunteering for on this last leg of my journey.  It’s a relatively short walk, but who knows what I'll run into. 

This is my path.  I've run into cows, goats, chickens or all three on my way to the orphanage.  You can't tell here, but it's straight uphill from where I'm staying.

It’s not that very far from the orphanage I was volunteering at before the safari to the one I’m at now, but structurally the two are worlds apart.  Let me give you a snapshot of my typical day here:  in the morning, I “teach” a class of 16 kids between the ages of 3 ½ and 5 ½.  Most are toilet trained, some not so much.  We pray that there’s no rain for the afternoons.  If there is rain, I’m in a room full of kids between the ages of 1 ½ months and 5 ½ years.  Yes, they are all in the same room. 

The first thing the kids do in the morning is brush their teeth.  It's hard to get a good perspective of this in a photo because the room is so small.  All 16 are crowded into the bathroom and spit into a squat toilet.  You don't have to fight with them to brush since they consider the toothpaste to be pipi (candy).  They want to do it again and again.
Folks back home would have heart failure if they saw some of the antics that take place in a normal day here.  Yesterday Baracka decided to climb up on the cupboards (this is allowed and, in fact, the mamas use the countertop as a place for the older children at times to contain the chaos), but he decided to walk the ledge behind the cupboards!  Remember all floors here are concrete (including those in the home where I’m staying).  Then, Filipo decided to pile all the cushions on one chair in the “sitting area” and play Tarzan while flying onto the floor.  I can’t say that I am calm while all this is going on, but I noticed today that I wasn’t yelling “acha” (quit that) every two minutes as I did for the first couple of days.
Baracka.  He gets into all kinds of trouble, but I believe it's because he is really smart and is bored.  Although he gets into mischief most of the time, yesterday he was content to sit on my lap as the others played.  He is a Maasai - the only in the orphanage.
Another Hospital Experience
Yes, I had to go with two little ones to the hospital again, but this time it’s not the hospital experience itself that I want to remember, but one little guy:  Ebenezer (Benni).
Somehow Benni got a chunk taken out of his big toe.  No one seems to know how or when it happened, but the gash was the length and depth of his toe; the whole piece was just gone.  It had been uncovered and there was no sign that any kind of antiseptic had been used on it.
I took him into the examining room and the doctor ordered dressing and antibiotics.  The nurse had to debride the injury because it was so old.  She pulled on a string and asked me if it was from stitches.  Of course, it wasn’t.  She pulled on the string and out came all 2 plus inches of it, along with other pieces of dirt.  After she reopened the wound, she poured alcohol and iodine over Benni’s toe a number of times.  It was swimming in the stuff.
The reason I am retelling this story is that Benni didn’t flinch.  He held my hand and didn’t move through the whole ordeal.  I couldn’t help but wonder how does a 5 year old not move a muscle while undergoing such a treatment? It had to be a learned response taught by the many things he has felt and seen in his young life.
Ebenezer (Benni). I don't know how I managed to get a pic of him not smiling.  He usually is. 

(The other little one that went along to the hospital was Glory.  She had a “rash” all over her head and it has spread down her back since I arrived.  Diagnosis:  a fungus, which the doctor said was very contagious….)
Glory.  She is really shy when you first meet her, but has a great smile once she knows you.  Her father is the daytime guard at the volunteer complex.  The foundation supporting the orphanage has just given Baba Glory a microloan to open a shoe repair "shop."  He has his stand in front of the complex.

The Universal Solution
One of the mama’s sandals fell apart and she was hobbling around using one of the children’s flip flops.  I decided we should try taping it together with the duct tape I had brought.  I wish I had a picture of all the children and mamas gathered around me as I tried to put it back together.  Now they are using duct tape to attach alphabet cards to the wall, along with everything else.  But here’s the best:  Franky, who is nearly 4, is almost never without his thumb in his mouth.  Emerte bandaged his entire thumb up with duct tape to keep him from sucking it!  But it worked – he never put his thumb in his mouth while the tape was on.

Franky.  I don't know how I managed to get his pic with him smiling.  He is usually scowling or crying with his thumb in his mouth.

Emerte.  She is from Rwanda and came to Tanzania to escape the genocide.

Managing 26 Kids

I'm embarrassed when I look back on my reaction to how the kids were dressed when I first got here.  I remember thinking how hard is it to get girls' clothing on girls, boys' clothing on boys, and shoes that match?

But I soon learned that when you have this:

You tend to get this:

And this week I found myself putting mismatched shoes on Neema.

Lining up for their haircut.  You should have seen me flinch when the razor blade was pulled out to trim their cuticles.  But there was no blood.

Pics of some of the kids


Irene.  Look at those cheeks.  She's a happy little thing.

Baracka (he's the third Baracka we have).  Don't you like the haircut? He has a twin sister.  We have two sets of twins currently.

Isaac.  He always has this smile on his face.  He'll sing and sing over and over "asante"  (thank you).

Shujaa (meaning Hero).  He is a sweetheart.  He sat by me feeding a doll for almost an hour.  I was caring for the infants while the older kids were playing outside.