TIA: This is Africa

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

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It has been over a month since I said goodbye to Moshi.

It feels more like a lifetime. A world away from here. Everyday I think about my experiences in Tanzania with longing and wonder. Did it really happen to me? Did I swim in the Indian Ocean, van surf down Mount Kilimanjaro, get to know great people from around the world? Did I really walk on the rooftop of Africa, see lions up close, kiss giraffes and hold crocodiles? Did I meet and fall in love with some of the greatest kids I'll ever know, did Moshi really feel like home, did volunteering become my way of life, did I truly discover some of the harsh realities people face? Will the lessons stay with me forever or will Africa slowly fade away? If I'm being honest, how much does that scare me? What will happen next and how can I build on what I know now? How can I reflect my memories, the lessons and truths learned, in my life back home? Well...I am still working on it. Here is what I know now.

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People say that this is an experience of a lifetime. And it is, I do not wish to take one moment I had in Moshi for granted. But for me I feel like that phrase falls flat. How can those four little words sum up the last two months of my life. They don't describe what I have felt or seen, they do not encompass all of the quirks, joys, fears, and beauties that have existed for me. I know that I can not sum up Tanzania in four words or less, I guess that is why I have written so much on this blog :). I hope that by reading my posts over the last 2 months, you have learnt something new and now have no need to listen to me sum up my Tanzanian life. You have heard about it, experienced it, and seen it a long with me. Perhaps you have felt some of my happiness, sorrows, and excitement. And maybe you now have the desire to seek the unknown or help where you have never thought you could. It was my hope and reason for documenting my days abroad.

I encourage everyone to leave behind what they know, to experience a new world and reality. It will open you up to all kinds of possibilities you never imagined, for instance teaching 50 kids who don't speak your language or climbing the highest peak in Africa. Yet I know that these trips are not possible for everyone. And for those of you whose lives are going down different paths than my own, there are still many ways to help, because we can all make a difference no matter where we are.

I know that those who sponsored me as I went on this trip made a difference, to me and the people of Moshi, just by opening their hearts and giving what they could from the convenience of our hometown. You do not have to travel abroad to effect change, although it is a great way to see the world through new eyes. Perhaps, think about doing something through your own community (soup kitchen, Non-profits, hospitals, ect...), look at Kiva.org (a great way to help people out of poverty. looking in to this one myself and have heard good things!), or sponsor a child to go to school (it could be less than your days wage for an entire year of education). I believe that every bit counts, even when you can not see it. If a child smiles, if a woman can finally get her business up and running, if you make someone feel cared for. I have recently come to realize that it all matters.

Through CCS, I learnt that every action we take is added to and built on until a combination of good deeds works together to bring about a positive difference. You may not see it now but it is entirely possible that down the road someone has lifted themselves out of poverty, received an education, or come back from a life they thought to be over. In God's eyes we are all worth the effort.

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Coming home has been an interesting change. Life was never perfect in Africa, it is not what you dream it to be or what you conceive in your mind (not in my experience anyways). I do not want my time there to come across as a fairytale, I do not want it sugar coated or made out to be anything more than what it was. Even though, upon reflection, I remember every moment with fondness, there were many difficult times to be had. These, combined with the amazing experiences and happiness that Africa brought in to my life, make up for one complete and worth while journey.

But the journey does not end with my departure from Moshi. It continues, so long as I keep Tanzania in my thoughts. For now I am dealing with a small case of reverse culture shock. I struggle every day to reconcile the person I was while in Africa with the North American side of myself. Can the two personalities co-exist?

In Africa I was able to enjoy a life with few possessions but lots of great moments and people. Home is not devoid of these things, yet there is a selfishness that exists which is hard to overcome. It is a relatively unconscious way of life that most Westerners adopt. I find myself fighting between the extremes of both worlds every day.

I also feel a keen sense of lose and detachment. I have lost that connection that comes with having immersed yourself in a new way of living. I miss the people and the pace of life that was Tanzania. I miss its problems, as stupid as that sounds...I rather be able to see it everyday and confront it then sit back and pretend that these things aren't happening in our world. I hate that it is so easily pushed aside here. It makes me feel helpless. (I do believe that every little bit counts, and what I can do from home matters. Yet, having just come from the forth poorest nation in the world, things are a little skewed.) The funny thing is, that when I was there, I felt helpless as well, not having the solutions to problems that are so ingrained in Tanzanian life, that are right in front of me. I guess it will never be perfect and you will always be envious of what you do not possess...in this case my home in Moshi.

It is not just the Tanzanians or their culture that I feel a detachment from. But losing the every day conversations and interactions with my fellow volunteers has been a struggle. Finding like minded people, those that share the same passion as you, is not always easy. When you find it, do not give it up. All of us at CCS had a common goal and a love for Moshi that isn't easy to share with others. When you are pushed together in a confined area you draw on each other. We became like a family, the volunteers and staff. It was a great environment for learning. Sometimes now, when I need to get these things off my chest or reminisce, I no longer have the opportunity to do so. It is not uncommon, when you share life experiences with people, it is them who will best understand. Losing the direct link to this sucked, no other words for it. haha. We do hope to have a CCS reunion soon though!

Despite all of the above I think this might be the biggest frustration:
The tabloids in the supermarket. Is that necessary? Really? When people are dieing from starvation? When Mary can only feed her family one meal every second day? When my kids have no resources available to learn what they need to know? When the people of Uru, Kilimanjaro live in such poverty our minds can not comprehend it, even after we have laid eyes on it? It is disgusting. I like fashion as much as the next girl but this is just ridiculous. Famous people are inconsequential compared to what is really happening, compared to real life. The End.

Despite some of the negatives I have experienced since coming home, I am settling back in to life well. I miss it everyday but I also love my home and the family and friends I came back to. I love being able to share Tanzania with them. It is really the two extremes of both cultures that throw you off because they have such opposing views on life. They can not be reconciled, you just have to fight through the clutter everyday to find your balance.

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Most importantly, I try and remind myself everyday of those kids that I love so much. They were some of my greatest teachers, bringing me to the realization that every laugh, every smile, and every word counts. In retrospect, they taught me to be optimistic through it all. Through being with them, I learned that my reality can change, who I am can be better if I am willing to try and am open to the possibilities. Like them, I seek to better myself through education, without fully understanding the repercussions in my life. I hope that I continue to see these repercussions for years to come, I do not wish to forget.

I suppose it was not just my kids that taught me these lessons. Without the privileges and conveniences that frequent our lives in Canada, Tanzanians often find themselves surviving. They struggle and fight because they know no different. Even in the little things, like washing their clothes by hand or walking every where, there is no break. The determination found in the daily life of Tanzanians that continues to amaze me. We would not be happy with these inconveniences because we know no different. It isn't that they are better or we are better. It is just a difference of circumstances. I wonder every day why God choose to give me this life while he gave others a different struggle to sort through. I try to remind myself of this so as not to give in to the temptations that surround us every day. I will admit that I fail more than I succeed. Big surprise, I am far from perfect. I am so far from it that I can not even imagine it. But of this much I am sure: if they can live as they do I am fully capable of the little efforts it takes to change my perspective and lend a hand. Even if I can not go back for years to come I will try my best not to lose what I have gained from Tanzania.

But more than just the struggles and hardships, I have seen the importance of putting people and relationships before money and possessions, a love for nature and the outdoors, and the need to appreciate the little things (like a sticker on the hand, a bag of rice, indoor plumping, a pencil). Living in another culture lets you absorb all of the good things it has to offer. I am so grateful for the opportunity to see both the good and the bad.

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I sit here feeling like I have many more things to share with you, so much that hasn't been covered, or things that have been said that are completely unnecessary. But I have done my best to share my life with you. I know I can be long winded at times so I thank you for sticking it out with me :)

As for Tanzania, I will go back. I can not see any other way. I fear that it gave me much more than I could have ever given. I will reflect on it with both a joy and a sadness. And when the memories begin to fade I will always have this blog to remind me what my Tanzanian life was truly all about. It was real and it was beautiful.


Life is full of love and adventure. Go and find it.
Hakuna Matata <3

Saying Goodbye...

Friday, June 10, 2011

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The word goodbye holds so many underlying meanings and emotions. It is not the simple, uncomplicated word that it appears to be at first glance. Goodbyes can be unpleasant, painful affairs. Although, it can offer the hope and excitement of a reunion in the future. Goodbyes contain all of the moments, big and small, that you have shared with that person/place and all of the memories that you will cling to as you move forward in life. Goodbyes are bittersweet, full of the joy and thankfulness these opportunities have given you but also full of the sadness that comes with leaving something wonderful behind.

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I am so grateful for my time spent at Tulivu Kindergarten. My kids have shown me a whole different side to myself that I never knew existed. I never thought that I would be able to stand in front of 50 kids and teach a lesson when they speak Swahili and I speak English. And I sure didn't think that I would fall hopelessly in love with them either.

Before coming here teaching was not something I ever desired to do but I am so glad I was forced in to it. That satisfaction you get when you see understanding dawn on your students face, or they get the answer right for the first time, is a high in itself. You want nothing more but for them to succeed. Helping these kids and making them smile everyday has been the greatest gift.

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Today I did a little less teaching and added a little more play to the mix :) I figured it was my last day and the kids deserved to have some fun, smile and laugh. In the early morning we played games; duck, duck, goose and What Time is it Mr.Lion (instead of wolf). The kids had a lot of fun with it. All of them wanted to be Simba. Next we brought out some bubbles. I don't think I have ever seen kids go so crazy in my life. They were screaming and jumping all over the place. Watching them try to catch the bubbles was hilarious. There was so much life and energy in them today and I couldn't have been happier.

After they went in to the classroom we played some music for them (speakers and ipod provided by some other volunteers). The kids danced along to Waka Waka and Waving Flag. So much fun!! It is so funny when the kids here sing waka waka, 100 percent adorable. They were shaking their little hips and having a good time. We passed out stickers, just because we could, and because the kids love putting them on their hands and face :)

Once porridge was done and cleaned up I passed out some bracelets that I had made for the kids. Fashioned out of three pipe cleaners, they were bright and easily adjustable :)Just a simple thank you to the school, since our resources are pretty limited.

The official goodbye ceremony was at the end of the day. They set up a table at the front of the class, with flowers (fake), table cloths and doilies :) All the kids wore their "goodbye crowns" and us volunteers were each offered a soda with some milk and honey crackers. Mama Mwanga presented me with a flower (also fake), a card and an official letter of thanks and recognition. It was really sweet. A lot of the kids from my Pre II class were asked to say some words, shook my hand, and said a formal goodbye. I almost couldn't get through that part but I was pleasantly surprised with my ability to hold back the tears.

After class I was lucky enough to get to walk four of my kids home, Esta, Jenifa, Shifra, and Gidion. Seeing where they lived made saying goodbye easier, knowing where they are at and who their parents are. Surprisingly to me, none of them had fathers living at home.

Esta lives with her mother and sister in a one room house with no space to maneuver. Jenifa has lots of room to move around and lives with her mother and grandmother only a few minutes from the school. Shifra and Gidion live quite a distance away. Shifra lives with her sister and where her parents are wasn't really explained. When we walked in there was a very cheesy soap opera playing on the television. Shifra ran to change out of her uniform and we sat and talked to her sister for a few minutes. At Gidion's house I met his mother and sisters. It is a two bedroom home with a little bit of space to work with. We were offered soda's and talked until we were finished. Gidion was adorable and told his mother that she could stay and take care of his sisters cause he was going to go to Canada with teacher. Haha. I would have gladly taken him home :)

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I will never forget my kids at Tulivu or Magareza. I hope to hear about them in the future because I will miss them more than anything else. They have affected my life in ways I did not expect. I am so grateful and will take everything that I have learned through my placements home with me. I wouldn't trade my African experience for anything :)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

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A month ago I wrote a blog about my home visit to Mary and her family. Today I was fortunate enough to see them moved in to their new home. Before they were living in a dingy one room house, with a foam "mattress" acting as a bed and an assortment of pots, dishes, and clothing decorating the floor. Now they are settled in to a two room home with tiled floors (sort of, it is more of just a covering for the cement but definitely a step up), real mattresses, sheets, pillows, and electricity!

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In the last month, since I have last talked about Mary, she has had many health issues to deal with and been in and out of the hospital. This is due to her sickle cell anemia. It was a close call but she is on the mend.

I should also mention, speaking of health, that Upendo has been recently tested for HIV/AIDS. Mary, who has contracted the disease, was breast feeding her until about 6 weeks ago. So there was a huge chance that baby Upendo would get sick as well. But all the tests have come back negative so far!! Very, very good news.

Because of her poor health the children have been living with neighbors and friends of the family. Denis, her 5 year old has been staying with Mama Olivia, a woman who works at Jipe Moyo, one of our CCS placements. We got to go and see him today and bring him to the family's new home. Seeing him again was just what I needed. He has the sweetest spirit and his smile steals your heart. I can not explain the joy that little boy brought me today. Despite everything he has been through in his short life, his smile still reaches his eyes and he trusts without hesitation. Clinging like a little monkey, he loves to be hugged.

Denis is very underdeveloped for his age, as are the other children in the family. Upendo is 11 pounds underweight and her older brother Shedrack, whom I met today, is 14 but appears to be 9 or 10. He has also been diagnosed with sickle cell anemia, like his mother, and has not developed at a normal pace.

Denis has been slow to develop mentally as well. He has yet to be enrolled in school, as I have mentioned previously, and therefore is talking very little and does not know what most 5 year olds are expected to know. Yet he still remains very interactive and picks up on things very easily. I know that if he was given the chance he would succeed.

Therefore, my roommate Susan and I have been working with the family to find a school for him to attend. Last Friday, I went to Jipe Moyo (where they orchestrate the home visits) in order to visit the schools in the area of Majengo (the village where Mary lives). Mary wants Denis to attend a local day school and we want nothing more than that as well. He deserves the opportunity to learn and thrive.

We found a school called Saint Louis, about a 15 minute walk from the new house, which makes it easily accessible. It is a private catholic school. Amani, a founder of Jipe Moyo said that it is the school with the best reputation in the area and that it has very good facilities. We met with the administration and were able to discuss Denis's enrollment. He starts July 11 after the current break is over :)

I am so excited for him and hope that he is happy there. He is so smart that I do not doubt his capabilities. However, I do worry about how far behind he is and how that will effect his presence in the classroom. But this little amazing boy who had no chance at education is now on his way to new opportunities. People say that education is one of the keys to development and sustainability. I agree. I am happy that the family has this chance:)

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Since I am leaving in 5 days I had to say goodbye to the family today. I hope that I see them again in the future. Not really a goodbye, just see you later. I would love to visit Tanzania again!


Hope you are all doing well!! See you soon! xoxo

Beautiful Nairobi

Sunday, June 5, 2011

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I will forever remember this weekend as the giraffe kissing-crocodile holding-elephant petting-good time having-totally amazing experience of a lifetime. I think I have to classify Saturday as one of the best days I have had since arriving in Africa almost two months ago. To think I never planned to visit Kenya while I was here! I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to see some of Kenya's beautiful sights, with its skyscrapers, wildlife, and great people. Unforgettable.

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We left CCS behind after placement on Friday to make our way across the border, with the Dar Express bus line, to Kenya. We drove through the Tanzanian country side for four hours, the scenery changing from the lush rainforest to the barren desert. At times, because of the absence of proper roads, I swear we were off roading. Picture a big coach bus zooming through the dirt and dust and that was us. Sleep was not much of an option as I bumped around in my seat.

We reached the border and piled off the bus. First things first, we went to the Tanzanian offices to receive our exit stamp. Simple, done, no questions. Before we knew it we were walking across the Tanzanian border, through no man's land, and in to Kenya. We walked out of one country and in to the next :). We were surrounded by trucks, it felt more like a dusty run-down truck stop than a government run border crossing. Dingy little shops lined the road while goats and chickens wandered here and there. Garbage littered the streets the farther out you looked. The whole experience would not have been complete without Maasai approaching us with jewelry to sell.

Going through Kenyan customs was fast and easy. 25 dollars US got us our Kenyan visas. Stampeded and inspected, they handed back our passports. We were officially in the country. Back on the bus we went. 2 more hours saw us in the city of Nairobi.

I would describe Nairobi as the African New York. The city lights caught my attention immediately. Moshi does not have street lights so the glow of the city caught us all by surprise. Hundreds of people lined the streets, out for a night on the town. The city was alive, it hummed with excitement.

When we stopped on the side of the street, at the Dar booking office, there was a taxi from our hostel waiting to pick us up. We piled in to the car, anticipating the end of our journey. Our taxi driver was extremely nice but as the city lights faded and we turned on to a dirt road after 15 minutes of driving, we all started to feel a little weird. It was one of those situations, as a woman traveller, where you start to think "where is he taking us and how fast can I run". haha. Completely unfounded worries, but when you are with someone you don't know in a foreign country you can not navigate your mind wanders.

Needless to say, we reached our hostel safe and sound. It was about 20 minutes outside the city down a dirt road, with many other hotels surrounding it. It was beautiful with nice gardens, great staff, and plenty of space. It was like a hotel with dorm style bedrooms. We bunked with a 16 year old from Atlanta Georgia who is in the city helping to restore and stock a library. I couldn't imagine leaving home at 16 to do something so selfless! Really nice kid.

The hostel had rooms upstairs and down stairs hosted a large foyer, a living room with cathedral ceilings and a TV, a fully stocked kitchen, free internet, a dining room and laundry services. They were so helpful and accommodating. They were even great enough to hire a car for us for Saturday.

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We woke up at 8 o'clock Saturday morning to shower and eat breakfast before heading in to the city.

First thing on our list was the elephant orphanage. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust was set up in Nairobi to rescue, take care of, and rehabilitate orphaned elephants and rhinos. The most common reasons for orphaned elephants are as follows:
1. Increase in population and development. Most elephants are orphaned because of humans. The development of Kenya is taking away from the elephants natural habitat and forcing them out of their homes.
2. Poaching. Still a huge problem in Kenya, poaching is the second biggest cause of orphaned elephants.
3. Accidental deaths. This includes elephants falling down water wells, where the Sheldrick Trust has found some of the orphans we were able to see on Saturday.

The best time to see the elephants is during their feeding, between 11 and 12 in the morning. The youngest elephants are feed first. They were beyond adorable! The watching area is a big dirt field, with a tiny rope separating the tourists from the wildlife. We got to pet the littlest one, who was only a few months old. He had a blanket on his back to keep warm and followed one of the workers around like a puppy dog.

Next it was time for the older orphans to be feed. Out went the little ones, running to keep up with the group and in came the bigger elephants ready for some grub. They get fed out of a bottle with a formula specifically designed to help them reintegrate in to the wild later in life. I didn't catch what exactly was in this formula because the crowd was pretty excited and loud. So it was hard to here all of the explanations given by the workers.

We stayed and watched the elephants for a half hour. It was so cool to see them in their environment, interacting with each other. Next we went on to the Giraffe Center, about 10 minutes away. This was one of the best experiences I've had in the last two months!

In the center there is a balcony area so that you are face level with the giraffes and a ground floor where you can see the giraffes and really take in the height and immensity of these beautiful creatures. From the balcony, seeing them face to face, was unbelievable. If you put a pellet of food between your lips you can even get a kiss!! Let me say that it is weird but fascinating haha. Getting a kiss from a giraffe is a must in your lifetime. Fly to Nairobi and do it! :)Their tongues are rough and obviously a little slobbery but their saliva is a natural anti-septic.

You can't touch their faces, like you would pet a horse, because they don't like it and will headbutt you. Other than that they are gentle and peaceful animals. Eating out of your palm, there lips feel firm and fuzzy. When we went to ground level to feed the giraffes I was a little hesitant at first. You have these huge animals reaching down out of the sky to eat from your palm. You just see them diving towards you and you automatically want to dart out of the way. But if you stay you get to interact with a wild animal in a way that few people ever get to do :).

As we left the giraffe center our driver told us about a park not far away that housed crocodiles. We could enter the park for about 10 dollars so we were all for it. The crocodiles were scary and amazing. The guide was really knowledgeable. He kept a stick with him to point out parts of the crocodile, and poke them from time to time. He did this to show us how they attack. If you ever come across a crocodile always stand on the side that their tail is curving towards. When they attack they wipe their tails around and turn their jaw for the kill. Witnessing their fast reflexes I knew that I never ever want to encounter a croc in real life. How did the crocodile hunter do it?!? They can break your bones and sever limbs with their teeth. Their tails can knock off your head if you are unlucky enough to be in range.

The crocs make a low hissing noise in their throats when they get angry. It is like a rumble. The oldest croc they had in their facility was 40 years old. The youngest were around 2 years old. These ones we got to hold. Now I can officially say I've held a crocodile :) Although the guide was helping with holding the neck! Wasn't looking to lose a finger on this trip. Their bellies are so soft and squishy but their backs are hard as rock and scaly. A very interesting contrast.

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One place that we all really wanted to be able to see on our trip was Kibera, one of the biggest slums in East Africa. It is 20 km wide and houses 800,000 people. This is about the distance from Keswick to Fredericton. Imagine the entire population of New Brunswick squeezed in to this tiny space.

As we approached the slums our driver warned us to lock our doors, just in case. With the windows rolled down slightly the stench of garbage, feces, and death filled my nostrils. My eyes weren't really connecting with my brain or my heart at that moment. I couldn't really believe what we were seeing. Most of the buildings were tin lean-tos, two walls and a roof. The tin was rusted and run down. There may have been a few feet between each house. Within the slums themselves there are no roads so we were just seeing the outskirts of Kibera. Cars are not a possession they have the luxury to own. Most residents walk to the city to work, 18 km total.

Garbage lined the streets, a permanent fixture as we drove along. Dogs roamed, eating it here and there. Children dug through it to discover what treasures it held for them.

I was numb to what I was seeing. I was astonished. I am heart broken. It was the worst poverty I have ever witnessed. There is currently a government run project in place to clean up the slums and raise the quality of life. I hope to learn more about it in the future.

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We eat lunch/supper at a place called Savannah. Slouchy couches and great food. Just what we needed after a long day. The rest of the evening we walked around the heart of the city, blending in to the noise and the atmosphere. We went in to a few shoe shops and souvenir stores, but didn't buy much.

As we walked it was impossible to watch your step because you were to busy watching the cars. They rarely stopped for you, traffic was crazy and fast. We came to one very hectic intersection and as we were crossing the road Jennica, one of my friends here at CCS, fell in to a man hole. Yes, a man hole. One second she was level with me and the next second I was looking down at her, trying to help her up. She was out of there in a flash, trying not to cry and limping across the street. Thank God nothing was broken! But I think it scared her pretty bad at the time, being in an unknown city, with hundreds of people all around you, and bleeding on the street. Not Ideal. Becca, another friend, ever resourceful, pulled out her first aid kit to attend to Jennica's leg. She didn't have everything she needed but we worked with what we had. We can now say that we taped a pad (to keep the blood contained) to Jennica's leg in the middle of Nairobi. Random! But she is doing better now, just a little bruised and scratched up.

At night we were going to go out but, after Jennica cleaned her wounds in a shopping mall (haven't seen one of these in a while, kind of felt like home) bathroom, we decided to change plans a bit. There just happened to be a movie theater by the bathrooms and the Hangover II was playing. Really funny but still like the first one better :)

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Sunday morning we woke up bright and early at 4:45 in the morning. We had found out that the Dar Express left for Moshi at 6:30 in the morning so we wanted to make sure that we got tickets. Easier planned then accomplished.

We arrived at the booking office at 5:50, 10 minutes before they open. We were the first in line but they still made it beyond difficult for us. First, we had to wait for the people going to Dar es Salaam to purchase their tickets, then they told us there were only 6 tickets available to Moshi, then they told us 'sorry' those tickets have been sold. How they got sold in the few minutes we had been standing was impossible. We knew they were just trying to box us out because we were foreigners and it left an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach. I would like to think that if I encountered a foreigner in my home country, whether richer than me or poorer than me, I would treat them with some respect. We were not feeling welcome at all. But keep in mind that this was our first bad experience with the people in Kenya. Everyone else was so welcoming and nice!!

So after getting the run around for a few minutes they decided to show us another bus station that maybe could help us out. But no, they were sold out of Moshi tickets as well. We called our home manager, Deo, to see if he could help but there wasn't much he could do from a distance.

We decided the best thing to do was return to the Dar Express office to negotiate. There wasn't anyone currently on the bus and we figured there were still tickets available but they just wanted to scare the Muzungu's in to giving them more money. And unfortunately I think we were right. There is this misconception that all foreigners are rich but they don't understand that where I come from I am not made of money. Yes, in Africa my money is worth more but it isn't like I have unlimited funds to work with. It is a very frustrating aspect of the culture here to be classified and judged without question.

When we returned to the Dar office they were still not budging. They brought a driver to us who was offering to drive us in a minibus (aka. dala dala) back to Moshi for 200 dollars. TaChyla, an amazing incredibly funny human being I have met through CCS, laughed in his face. We were not having anything to do with that. We asked them one more time and they settled to give us the tickets for $3500 Kenyan shillings. Twice what the ticket is actually worth and twice what we had payed to get to Nairobi. But what could we do? I didn't want to be stranded in the city. So we took the offer and rushed to the bus before they could give us any more trouble.

I felt so cheated and frustrated. This was the first time in my life that I really felt signaled out for my race and nationality. I got a taste for it and I didn't like it. I am thankful that I do not have to deal with it on a daily bases and feel bad for those that do. It makes you feel yucky, for lack of a better word. You feel angry and annoyed and disappointed. I wish I didn't have to give in to them, to prove a point, but from past stories I have heard I wasn't willing to give up my seat home. A few of my friends had encountered the same problem in Dar es Salaam and had to ride a dala dala back to Moshi. 8 hours packed like sardines in to a minibus. Not for me!!

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My experience in Nairobi was unforgettable and I am soooooo glad for the chance to see another side of Africa. i plan on revisiting Kenya in the future. I still have to see the rest of it!!

ps. Just found out this afternoon that there was explosion in the city of Nairobi Sunday after we left. It was around the bus area, don't think it was a bomb on a bus though. Don't really know many details but so happy we were out of the city. It is all over the news here. A lot of people were injured so we are feeling pretty grateful at the moment.


Take Care everyone! See you in a week :)

Ninakupenda

Thursday, June 2, 2011

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I did a craft with my kids at Tulivu today. It was really fun and I think they really enjoyed it! We usually do songs and games in the morning because there are not a lot of resources to work with. Most days it is just me and my imagination to keep the kids entertained and learning. But since I don't have much time left with the little ones I have decided that now is the time to pull out the big guns.

I spent time last night cutting hearts out of red and pink construction paper. Then I wrote I Love You (ninakupenda) on each heart. Because I have been teaching them "you are my sunshine", I wanted to stay on that affection track haha. We got to sing the song again today and they love the "i love you" actions.

I gave each kid a heart and let them decorate it with stickers and crayons. A lot of them drew pictures of random things: people, suns, houses, cars, chickens...It was so much fun going through them afterwards and smiling at all the drawings they came up with. They absolutely love stickers!!

I had them all lift up their hearts at the end to show them off for a picture :) I will share that on my blog once I get back from Kenya on Sunday. They kept saying "I love you, I love you" over and over again. It was so cute.

I am going to hang them off the beams in the one room school house. That will be a project for after placement next week. I can't wait to decorate the classroom with the kids art :)

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I gave the Pre II's a math test today, similar to the worksheets I gave them yesterday. Most of them did great which made me so happy but there are 3 kids that need a lot of work. They didn't really understand the concept of the value of a number at all. I want to work on addition and subtraction with them next week so we will have to keep that in mind.

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Leaving for Kenya tomorrow after placement! Taking the Dar Express to Nairobi and going to the elephant orphange, the giraffe center, and Kibera, the largest slums in East Africa. I'm really excited!!

Talk to you all soon! xoxo

Salama na Upendo

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

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How am I so blessed to have three amazing days with my kids in a row??? I do not know. They are so precious. They want to learn and be loved. And I have not been able to stop myself from falling in love with them all. Even those that get under my skin haha. My heart has grown so much because of these little Tanzanians. They will never know the impact that they have had on me no matter how much I try and show them.

I feel like another week and a half with them is not enough. Today as they sang their national anthem and said their prayers I was amazed to think that next week is my last with them. I feel like I have so much left to teach them. If I could stay to see them through life then maybe I would be satisfied. But I know that extending for another week, or month or year would never be enough. A lot of CCS volunteers decide to extend their programs once the end draws near. I think it is because there is always more to do, you never feel finished here. There is always more to learn, see, and teach. It is hard to leave and be satisfied because you just want to know that they will be ok and well taken care of.

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I was able to continue with my teaching of "You are My Sunshine" to the school today. The more we sing it the better they get. They could actually sing the tune with most of the words today :) Not that all the kids got it but a lot of them did, especially the older ones. Even after the morning, some of my pre-2' were singing it during Math class. They also kept pointing at the sky saying Jua (sun) and drew suns on their papers. I want to get the song translated so that I know they understand exactly what it means to be someone's sunshine.

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My Math lesson went extremely well today. I wrote out 15 work sheets by hand last night(there are photocopiers in town but could not get to one), 10 questions each. Each question contained a specific number of shapes, which they had to count, to find the right number value out of three different choices listed. They had to circle the correct answer. I wanted to make sure that they all understood the value of numbers before we introduce addition and subtraction to them, which Mary said they hadn't been learning. I know they are ready because they all got 10 out of 10. SO PROUD!!

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One downer for the day: some of kids weren't allowed to eat again for the second day in a row. It was harder to deal with today. Yesterday I went with those whose parents could afford the food fees, to help them with the porridge. But today I stayed behind in the classroom with those whose parents can not afford to pay for the porridge at school. There is probably about 10 of the kids who were called out of class to receive a meal. The rest were left with me. I felt horrible for them. I'm sure they are aware of what is happening because they use to participate in porridge every day and now aren't allowed. Mama Mwanga told me yesterday that it is to teach the parents a lesson that they can not expect things for free. She hopes the kids will go home to their parents and complain so the parents will pay their fees.

I wanted to distract them, and myself, from the realities of life. We sang songs like the hokey pokey, head, shoulders, knees, and toes, and Old McDonald had a farm. I was dieing to do something a little more entertaining but since the school has absolutely no supplies (ie. reading books or inside games) and the kids weren't allowed outside I was all we had to work with. So I tried my best. It broke my heart. I kept a big smile on my face.

How unfair is it that these little ones are deprived like that? I wanted to tell Mama Mwanga that I didn't think it was right when we could easily pay for it. It makes me think about their home lives and what they must be like for them if their parents can't even afford the basic necessities like food. Do they have food at home or do they go without there as well? How often are they hungry? Or am I just jumping to the worst conclusions?

This is one change since the break that I am really not happy with. However, there have been other, more positive, changes. The kids are given a longer recess time which I am really enjoying. The break between lessons increases their attention spans. Plus it is great getting to watch them play and have fun. I've also noticed that the office is in much better order. It use to take at least 20 minutes just to get the children's work books all in order and handed out. It seems they have become more organized and efficient in this area of the school and I am very thankful for that. I was planning on mentioning something once the break was over and I got back to the school. I was going to spend a day after class but now I don't have too :)



Thanks for reading xoxo

A Little Piece of Happiness

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

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We had three new volunteers come to Tulivu today, Laura, Hannah, and Samantha. Every 3 weeks CCS gets a new group of volunteers and this time three of them were placed at my Kindergarten. It will be great having them there to share the experience. Plus, with other volunteers you have more support and can get more things accomplished.

They really enjoyed their first day!! I was so happy to hear that because I remember how overwhelmed I felt my first day at Tulivu, I wanted to crawl in to the fetal position and forget about it haha. It is a very intimidating experience.

Today we started the school day off with games, as we usually do. We all joined hands in the middle of the dirt playground to sing songs, like ring around the rosy, the wheels on the bus, the hokey pokey, if you're happy and you know it, and one Swahili dance song. We then got the kids to play another game, similar to Fishes and Whales except it involves a lion trying to catch, first the girls and then the boys. I love watching them run around laughing and enjoying themselves. After games it was time to line up to sing their school and national anthems and say their prayers.

When we went in to the classroom the new teachers introduced themselves, we have 7 in total now!! But Mama Mwanga doesn't do a lot of the teaching so their will be 6 of us in the classroom for the most part.

When we split with the Pre-2's we taught them some more English nouns, very similar to yesterday. Not much new to report there. One of my new students, Samueli, had to be told exactly what to write in his work book, letter by letter. He couldn't really do any of the lesson on his own. I love being able to work with my kids individually so that isn't the issue. But I don't know if he is at the right level. The poor boy, I'm not convinced he should have been moved up.

I just have to finish this short update by saying that aAt recess today Shifra was the light of my life. I love that little girl. She kept getting me to spin her around and around, she loved the dizzy feeling :) Her laugh was precious and contagious. I could have hugged her all day long.

It is amazing being with these kids. It is so simple but so rewarding. They make you feel welcome and happy. It gets frustrating at times when they are all pulling at you and demanding your attention but it doesn't even compare to the positive aspects of being here. If I am giving them back half of what they have given me then I am satisfied because they have given me so much love. Often here life is rough and seeing those kids laugh, play and smile is the best. Every little bit counts.

Back at Tulivu!

Monday, May 30, 2011

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Today was my first day back at Tulivu Kindergarten since their break began 3 weeks ago. It was an amazing day with the kids and teachers!!! A great way to start my last two weeks at CCS.

I had missed the kids so much so hearing them screaming "teacher, teacher" and seeing them running towards the van as we pulled up to the gate was perfect. It was hugs all around! The kids were all smiles and in such a happy mood. I think the break did them good :)

We didn't play games outside this morning but went straight in to the one room school house. After a little bit of teaching from Mwalimu (teacher) Remini, I was invited to the front of the class. We went over some of the songs I had taught them before the break, The Ants Go Marching, Baa Baa Black Sheep, and Mary Had a Little Lamb. They don't usually sing all the words because they cant pronounce all of them. but when they know them they try their best to sing to the tune. Usually you can tell where they can't pick up the English words in the song because it gets significantly quieter and there is lots of mumbling. But it familiarizes them with English while having fun.

Today I introduced 'You are my sunshine' to them. As I went over all the words, speaking them and getting them to repeat, they did really well at saying them. But once I put them in to music it got a little more difficult. They could say all the words individually but putting them together in a sentence and to a tune they lost the ability to pronounce. I'll keep working at it!! Some of them really liked the "I love you" part because they enjoyed the actions :).

Before I knew it, it was time to split up the classes. When the pre-2 class left to go to their porch classroom I was surprised...there were 6 new kids!!! I'm debating whether some of them belong there. Nickson and Irene should have been moved up a while ago though so that is awesome!!

Today in class we learnt some of our nouns. This consisted of introducing English words to them, having them write them down and draw the picture associated with the word. Today we talked about and drew an apple, a jug, a house, and ice cream. These random items were chosen by our teacher Mary haha. We also gathered items around the school yard to show the kids and tell them what they are in English. These items were a hoe, a bucket, a basket, and a pot. Eventually we were calling on individual students to identify the items. They were really good at retaining the words but we will test them tomorrow to see if they remember.

After the lesson it was play time!! The kids went crazy around the yard. Skipping, soccer, and swinging among other things. It was great to watch them having so much fun!

At porridge time I was called in to the teachers office. Mary, such a sweetheart, bought me a Coca Cola and a package of milk and honey crackers. She sat me down for a good chat. It was such a great conversation and so nice to get to know more about her. She asked about where I come from and where in Canada I am located. She wanted to know when I was going home. As I was talking she asked if she could come home with me :). I said if she was ever in Canada to look me up. She asked me if I've enjoyed Tanzania and I assured her that it is a beautiful country. I have loved my time here.

I found out that she has a little girl named Farahja, who is 3 years old. Mary is 23. She really wants to go back to school to further her studies in teaching. She received a certificate to teach nursery school and wants to continue on this track. The only set back is the school fees and whether her family, she has 3 brothers and 2 sisters, will be able to support her financially. Most of her family lives in Dar es Salaam so she doesn't see them often. It was great to hear about her goals and aspirations.

Because I was taking pictures of the kids earlier, I had my camera laid out on the desk. I asked if she wanted her picture taken and, like most people here, she said yes. They love pictures of themselves, probably because it is so rare. I made her smile, with teeth, because most Tanzania adopt a neutral expression for pictures, not really sure why. She loved the picture!! She wants a copy to give her daughter so I'm going to try and go to the print shop in town. I felt like it was a bonding moment for us haha. She was just really open, which hasn't happened since I started at Tulivu. One thing I really felt like I was missing was that connection with the teachers, mostly because we haven't had much opportunity to exchange or discuss. I think getting that opportunity today made me sigh with relief. It felt comforting and welcoming.

After I was done my snack it was time for more music! The kids were awesome. They were shaking their booties, doing a little shakey shakey, and singing their hearts out. Literally at the top of their lungs. It was hilarious and adorable. I got a video of it :) They were full of life today. I hope I have a lot more days like this one before I leave.

I mention all these details about today because in my mind it was one of the most perfect placement days I have had. They may seem trivial but every good moment counts here. The kids were all smiles and bubbly, the teachers were so welcoming and happy to see me, and I felt excited to be back at the school where I started. It was just one of those days you want to remember.

My Last Day at Magareza Nursery School

Friday, May 27, 2011

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Today I said goodbye to the kids and teachers of Magareza. When I woke up I could hear the rain coming down and got very disappointed very quickly. This usually means that few of the kids will show up and we will be stuck inside. But lucky me the rain soon let up and the roads were not bad enough to keep the kids home!! We had 63 today and were able to do the art/science project we had planned.

Since it was my last day I had the idea that we should combine the classes for a group activity. I wanted to have them do nature rubbings, something fun and educational. I remember doing them as a kid and it was always so much fun! So we gathered the kids and had them collect leaves in groups. While one group was outside we were inside reading to the others. I read them Canada 123, a book I had purchased at the Toronto airport on the way to Tanzania. It was fun to show them a piece of where I come from. There is a map in class A so I was also able to point out to them how far away Canada is from Tanzania. As I was reading I came to realize just how weird some of the things in the book most look to them, hockey and polar bears are not something you would ever hear of in Africa :)

After they all had their leaves picked out we were ready to start the rubbings!! We split the kids in to two classes, handed out paper and crayons, and got started. The kids found it fascinating to watch the leaves come to life on paper. It was fun to see how proud they were of their drawings. Each had about 4 leaves on their page. I think they really enjoyed the activity!!

Grace helped me pick up all the leaves and throw them outside as the kids were let go for porridge time. Our time together today was precious. She just wanted to hold my hand and go where ever I went. She looked at me and said "Teacher, picture". I bent down to get a picture together and she kissed my cheek and told me she loved me. I must say that she stole my heart. It is just amazing how close you become with some of your kids so quickly. They trust you so fully.

We walked over to the eating house together and sat down so she could enjoy a cup of porridge. The kids go crazy in line waiting for food, lots of pushing and shoving. But once they have those cups in their hands they sit down and drink. The noise level drops significantly. Today after porridge the kids got bananas! It was a treat :)

We hung outside for a bit longer and then it was time to say goodbye. Once all the kids were sitting they announced that Teacher Amanda would be leaving Magareza. I am sure it is very hard for them because they see teachers come and go often.I feel horrible that they have to deal with the change constantly. It isn't fair and I wish I was able to stay with them to give them the stability they deserve. Unfortunately a lot of us volunteers have limited amounts of time.

Hadija started crying first. I don't do well with crying, especially when kids cry. I just wanted to cherish their smiles. But soon Grace was in tears and then Ronalda started soon after. I tried to comfort them all in turn. I wanted to wipe all their tears away. Grace, who had been all smiles and full of love was so upset with the change that it broke my heart. Hadija could not stop and all I wanted was to see that grin with the missing teeth one more time. But I held it together and kept my tears at bay.

To show my thanks to the kids I had bought candy for all of us to share. We passed out lollipops and orange drops to all the kids. It was sticky!! Glad I could give them a little yumminess to finish off my time at Magareza. After the candy was passed out I made a speech, at Daniel, our local volunteers, request. He translated. I told the kids of Magareza that I had so much fun teaching them and that it was a great experience for me. I reminded them all that they are very smart, beautiful, and talented children. I told them that I would miss them and always think of them. I would remember my time at Magareza and smile. I finished by telling them that I expected them to study hard and be good. The speech was promptly followed by Prosper, a little boy in class C, asking if I will return. My reply was "I hope so".

To finish off my goodbye Magareza was kind enough to present me with a gift. Much to my surprise I was presented with a beautiful piece of black and yellow fabric. I plan to get it made in to a dress of some sort before I leave Moshi. They wrapped it around my body and thanked me for the time I had given and the teaching I had done.

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After class today the other volunteers and I felt that it would be really interesting to see where some of our kids live. We were able to visit the homes of Hadija, Prosper, and Adventi.

We went to Hadija's home first. She lives inside the prison compound. Her house is located in the policing area, where the government provides housing for the police officers. As an officer with a family they were given two rooms in the compound, no matter the size of the family. In their rooms there is Hadija, her parents, and her two brothers. The room that we were invited in to was about 8 feet by 8 feet. Very tiny. It was full to the brim! A couple of love seats, a bed (where Hadija sleeps), a TV stand with a 27' television, and a coffee table. No walking space that is for sure.

We sat down, Hadija found a spot on my lap :), and were introduced to Hadija's mother. With Daniel we were able to tell her that we were Hadija's teachers and that she had a very smart daughter. We thanked her for bringing us in to her home and offered her a bag of rice. After a few minutes it was time to move on. I said my final goodbye to Hadija, hugged her and told her she was a very smart and beautiful girl. The tears started again and I blew her one last kiss. Leaving her house was the hardest moment of the day. I felt choked up, I didn't want to leave her behind. I walked it off as we moved on to Prospers house.

His house is located off the compound. By walking some back roads, and threw the corn fields we got there in about 20 minutes. I can't believe Adventi and Prosper walk to school by themselves everyday!! Could you imagine 5 year olds walking the streets at home by themselves???

Prosper's home was a lot bigger than Hadija's but there were holes in the floors, holes in the walls, and dirt everywhere. We were invited in by his Grandmother and asked to sit. Prosper lives with his Grandparents and his father. It wasn't explained to us where his mother was. He ran to his room to change out of his uniform and then we sat down for a quick chat with the family. Prosper has the most adorable laugh and he is so full of life. He has a crazy amount of energy and never stops running around! He was very entertaining. Before leaving we offered the family rice, it is customary to bring something when visiting in Tanzania. It would be rude to come empty handed.

On to Adventi's house and the end of our journey. He lives about 5 minutes from Prosper off the compound. They are such cute friends! They are always together at school.

Adventi lives behind a small convenience store with his mother. He ran to change out of his uniform and then rejoined the group. He had saved his lollipop and candy for home and unwrapped both to stick in his mouth haha. He is so cute and his mother was very welcoming. We hung out outside the shop and talked but time was short and soon had to move on.

It was so great seeing some of the conditions that our children grow up in. Very eye opening morning.

I wish that I never had to say goodbye but it is life here at CCS and all of us volunteers go through it. I loved spending time at Magareza and am so grateful that I had the chance to meet all of those wonderful kids. I won't forget them and how loved they made me feel. It was a great experience.

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Some local CCS volunteers put together a soccer game this afternoon for Giamani, who I had met on home visits a few weeks ago. He loves soccer but because he is bed ridden rarely gets to go to games. So today the game was in his honor. I admit I don't really pay attention to sports but it was a great time with friends and I was so happy they were able to organize that for him. I think he had a really great time. And Laura, one of our volunteers, said that when they dropped him off home she was able to help him walk to his front door!! So awesome!


Until next time! xoxo

In These Few Days.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

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My time is winding down at Magareza. Tomorrow will be my last day and then it is back to Tulivu on Monday. I am sad to leave them behind, knowing that I will never get to see them grow up. I wish that I could see what they will be like and what they will end up doing with their lives. The unknown for these kids is unsettling and I am trying not to focus on it as tomorrow draws near. It amazes me how you can fall in love with your children in such a short period of time. They are so precious.

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In the last few days at Magareza I have been teaching class A subtraction. At first it is a lesson at the blackboard, giving different children an opportunity to come to the front of the class and work on problems, individually and as a group. We used pencils to demonstrate values as we talked out the math problems. Mama Vicki started the lesson today in Kiswahili and Rachel and I finished with English.

After the initial lesson it was time for individual work time in their math books. They were expected to answer the 10 question we wrote on the board. This is where the difficulty set in. They seemed stuck when they had to think it out for themselves. But when I sat with the kids one on one and walked them through the problem they would discover the answer. Time, patience and attention were key. I find that individual attention is the key to success in all of our lessons.

Magareza has a bucket of bottle caps that has been very useful for Math. The kids can see the value of numbers and visualize better the math they are learning. I have started my own collection of bottle caps to take to Tulivu with me for the purpose of making math more accessible to my pre-1 and pre-2 classes there. It is a small collection at the moment but hopefully before I leave in a few weeks I will have enough for all my pre-2 kids at Tulivu! :)

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Every day it seems that the kids surprise me. Today Hadija told me she loved me and wanted to be hugged constantly. She is a little sweetheart, and I confess one of my favorites. She is so full of life. She is an attention seeker but I think she just wants to feel accepted and loved. I admire her joie de vivre.

There is also a little girl named Grace who has stolen my heart. She is so quiet and understated but very smart. She seems like one of those old souls who grows up way to quickly. As we worked on lessons this week Grace decided to sit on my knee and kiss my check. I have rarely felt so loved.

The children at Magareza are like sunshine. They have been a blessing in my life and have brought a smile to my face every day. I have shared many precious moments that I hope I never forget. They just want to be acknowledge by you and listened to. There are so many great kids with a load of potential. I pray that in the years to come they are able to discover this potential and put it to good use. I wish that I could witness all that they will be.

I will cherish always the few days I have spent with them.

The Circle of Life.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

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Here is the list of animals that was put together of our safari. Not an exhaustive list but a good idea. There was lots to see!!

Animals Seen in Ngorongoro Crater:

1. Baboons
2.Zebra
3. Wilderbeast
4. Thompsons Gazelle
5. Secretary Bird
6. Ostrich
7. Elephant
8. Lions
9. Rhino
10. Hippo
11.Jackals
12. Hyena
13. Crested Crane
14. Woodland Kingfisher
15. Serval Cat
16. Waterbuck

Animals in Lake Manyara:

1. Blue Monkey
2. Baboons
3. Impala
4. Mongoose
5. Giraffe
6. DikDik
7. Tawney Eagle
8. Elephant
9. Warthog
10. Flamingo
11. Buffalo
12. Hippo
13. Zebra
14. Wilderbeast


Going to post some pics I gathered today on my picture page. I wish that I had mine to share but since my SD card decided to go in to lock down mode I won't be able to share those till I get home and do some recovery work. One of the girls was nice enough to let me go through her pics and steal some :) They will be available asap!!

Habari za Safari?

Monday, May 23, 2011

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My Safari was pretty awesome :)

We saw a ton of animals!! One of the ladies kept a list so I'll share that with you soon.

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As an aside. Tonight I had a little incident with my camera. I tried looking at pictures on one of the other girls computers and my memory card screwed up. I believe it wanted to format to the computer and when we refused it locked up. Now all that it says is memory card error and no pictures show up. Thank God for Becca, the other volunteer, because as I got settled in to depression mode she was researching how to help. She figured out that it is a common occurrence with the HP memory cards and that a lot of people still recover their pics through a recovery software or the manufacturer. So I feel reassured that my pictures are still on the card just in hiding. Why do I share this you ask? Well I had planned to do my safari post all in pictures because I felt that it was rather self explanatory but now I can no longer share my pictures with you. I am hoping to jump on one of the other girls computers tomorrow if I can so that you will get the full effect of the safari. Hopefully I can upload some of their pics. Unfortunately I won't have any Kili pics to share until I safely recover my memory card, except for those already posted on FB. Just wanted everyone to know that is why the pictures might be in short supply for now.
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We booked our safari through Pristine Trials, the Moshi tour operator that I have been dealing with while here in Tanzania. They made it such a great experience! So much fun and so relaxing after our stressful Kili adventure. I went with other CCS volunteers. We choose the camping option, which really was luxury camping. Our tents were hoisted on platforms to protect from rain and we did not need sleeping bags, there were two cots per tent with sheets and pillows provided. It was a laid back atmosphere with great food (same Pristine Chef that went on Kili with me. David is awesome in the Kitchen!) and friendly faces.

On Friday we left CCS after placement. Our first stop was a Masai village outside of Arusha. We drove for 3 to 4 hours and arrived at our destination. It was a part of the cultural experience, but honestly you could tell that the village, although truly a Masai homestead, was staged for tourists. Even the wives had made jewelry to sell to the tourists at the end of the tour. I think they had done this many times before. Despite the slightly contrived feeling of the visit it was still interesting to see what a Masai village looks like, how it operates, and to experience their cultural dancing and singing. Upon arriving the children came out to greet us and the women and men got ready for the traditional dance. It is common knowledge that you will be asked to dance, and jump, with them. Masai are famous for their jumping, very hard and very high. They wear shoes made out of tires that help with this.

The colors of their outfits are phenomenal. Blues and reds that stand out against the dirt floor and the brown huts. They promptly form a line in front of us and we watch as they begin to sing together. The men make a noise I can't really place, a guttural call that bubbles up from their throats. The women chant along to the rhythm. They are showing us their traditions and quickly ask us to join them in the dance. This dance consists mostly of moving the shoulders, as well as the middle of the body, along to the rhythm. For this you are wearing a traditional Masai necklace. With the shoulder movement you are designed to move this necklace up and down. I felt pretty ridiculous because you don't actually know if you are doing it right but I can tell you that I did it with a huge smile on my face. It was really fun to be a part of! The woman that was holding my hand kept smiling and laughing..don't know if she was laughing with me or at me...

After the dance we were given a tour of one of the Masai huts by Joseph, the Chiefs son. It is pitch black inside, made of sticks and cow dung, usually takes about two weeks to build, and houses the livestock, women, and men of the family. It is very tight quarters. They cook inside the hut so you can imagine the amount of smoke they inhale! Joseph told us about the dedication it takes to be a Masai warrior, you must kill three lions, and about how to seek someone for marriage, you have to have at least 300 head of cattle for a bride price. Once we asked our questions and got our answers we were more than happy to step back outside in to the light and fresh air.

I think some of the Masai men like to joke with the women tourists because they had a couple of us discussing how many cattle it would cost for us to be willing to get married. TK, one of my fellow volunteers, demanded 1500. haha. They actually looked like they were trying to figure out how they could make that happen. When I was asked, my answer was simple; I grew up on a farm and don't need any more cows, thank you anyways. I may have also slipped in that I had someone waiting back home :) It was funny to us and all in good humor. I bet every tourist gets it. It is entertaining to discuss how many cows you are worth! Never thought about myself in terms of cows before haha. Another cultural experience to add to the books :)

The next day was where the Safari part of the trip began. It was time for Ngorongoro Crater!! What an amazingly beautiful place! The crater, which was once a volcano, formed when an eruption caused the volcano to collapse in on it self some 2 to 3 million years ago. The volcano was thought to be relatively the size of Mount Kili and now forms a 610 meter deep volcanic caldera. The beginnings of the human species were thought to have stepped foot there as many as 3 million years ago...There is a lot of history in this crater and it was fascinating to be there experiencing it all first hand.

When you arrive at the entrance you continue for about an hour down some very twisty, narrow mountain roads. After the coffee tour experience I found myself holding my breath numerous times! But seeing the inside of the crater from the top settled me a little bit, it was a sight! Once we reached the Crater floor we were able to appreciate it more fully. The sky was a perfect robins egg blue, contrasted against the lush green on the crater walls that were covered in foliage. This in turn was contrasted by the almost barren, brown grass of the crater floor. The colors of the crater all mixed together was a feast for the eyes. I can not wait to share pictures with you all!! I wish they would serve it enough justice.

The first thing we see in the crater was Zebra's. I couldn't help but automatically think of my niece Hannah and how cute she sounds when she tries and pronounce Zebra and of how much she would want to jump on their backs for a horsey ride :) Their stripes were striking. Very gorgeous animals. We saw hundreds of them in the Crater! They seemed to be everywhere. We also had the pleasure of seeing numerous groups of lions. One of the best parts of the Safari!! The lions were generally sprawled out near the roads, sunbathing. We saw a few young males being lazy and then a group of lionesses with a cub suckling on his mother. It was precious!! He was so tiny and right by our vehicle. Got some awesome lion pictures! They had a thing for laying right under the safari trucks, I think because of the shade. So when we did decide to leave the drivers had to be careful to not run them over! Unfortunately we weren't lucky enough to see any kills or fighting. That would have been pretty amazing.

We also caught some rhinos, pretty far off, but I guess they are very rare to see in the Crater. Next it was a fascination with Elephants. We saw a few old timers wandering the crater floor, which is where they usually come when they know it is the end. There is actually a genuine Elephant graveyard located in the crater. Bones and all. The crater also gave us sightings of an insane amount of wilderbeast, some monkeys, lots of birds, and a hyena.

That night we left the crater satisfied. It was a full day of sighting animals and taking their pictures. We relaxed by the bonfire and headed to bed to rest for another full morning of safari.

Next we were on to Lake Manyara, a Masai name for a tree they traditional use in healing practices. The scenery was still beautiful but not quite as jaw dropping as the day before. There are a lot more trees near the Lake, which stretched out far in to the horizon. When spotting it for the first time you can't help but notice the dominant pick hue in the water. I think there had to be thousands of flamingos!! We also got to check out the Hippo pond, they are the silliest looking creatures. They don't do much but are still great to watch!

In the crater what we saw the most were Giraffes. They were beautiful. Among my favorites of the safari next to the lions and hippos. They could stand so still in the trees you would pass them easily. They are so majestic and glide graceful among the trees as if they have all the time in the world. I didn't realize their spots could be so dark and jagged. really cool.

After lunch we were set to head back to Moshi. It had been such a relaxing weekend but I was sooooo ready to get back in to my placement. I felt so disconnected from CCS and just wanted to be with the kids :) However, we had one more pit stop to make. Camel rides!! Yes it is random and who thought we would do it on Safari, but we did. I thought I would fall off. The jerkiest movement ever! They basically fall to their knees and then stand up so quick. I felt like a kid at the fair getting excited about the pony rides haha. But it was fun!!! And we had a great laugh about it. Camels are the weirdest looking creatures.

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So now I am back at CCS :) Thank God!! It has been such an amazing experience this last week and I am so grateful that the staff here gave me the opportunity to climb Kili. I was an exception, since my school was on break I was allowed to take a few days out of that to break as well and have my amazing Kili adventure. I have felt slightly off about this because I have missed my days away from the kids so much but I think of it as one more way I was able to become accustomed to Tanzania. I experienced its natural beauty as few have the chance to do. I don't regret it because it was such a profound experience for me, you really get to know yourself when you are trapped on a mountain forcing yourself to take one more step. I feel like it offered me insights and was a part of my whole learning experience. CCS is not just about the placement, it is about the people, the country, and the culture. Here Kili is a part of the people. Still, I was very glad I did not have to take off any extra time for the Safari, I couldn't have done that so I'm lucky it was on a weekend!! You become so attached to your placement here it is almost like eating and sleeping. You feel alone without it. I have no doubt this will be a part of the struggle when I leave to go back home.

Today with the kids was perfect. I am still at Magareza for those who don't know. They were learning to write their names :) We had them decorate name tags for their desks. It was a really great lesson for them! Some still struggle with a few letters of the alphabet, which was a part of the actvity. To assess where they are lacking. There was one little girl, Sirila, who could not understand the concept of the letters at all. I would show her the S in her name, and she would repeat after me perfectly, but then when asked a few seconds later she would still claim it was a C. Very frustrating that she wasn't actually focusing on the letters. She did not really get it so she has a lot of work to do compared to the others.

At break time it made me so content when Hadija and a couple of the other little girls gathered around me to play hair salon. I had little girls trying to braid and twist my hair for about 20 minutes. They love it! Most of them dont have hair so I think it is really entertaining for them to play with it. I must say I looked pretty stylish when they were finished with me :) haha. It was a precious moment I will always cherish. So simple but it meant a lot to me.

On the Rooftop of Africa.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

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Hey Everyone!!
I know it has been a while since my lat post but I haven't had access to a computer in about a week and a half. Seems weird to think that much time has past... The last week has been crazy full of adventure, starting with my hike up Mount Kilimanjaro and finishing with Safari in Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara. This post is going to be dedicated to my experiences on Kili. It was one of the greatest, most difficult things I have ever done and therefore deserves an honorable mention.


Day 1:

We left CCS for Kili Saturday May 14 around 10 am. We had an hour drive up the winding roads of Mount Kili to reach the entrance gate to the Marangu route, which is located at about 1970 meters altitude. There are several paths leading up the mountain to the highest point in Africa. Susan, my roommate who climbed with me, and I choose Marangu because it gives its climbers the best chance of reaching the summit. We had a little bit of paperwork to do, met some of our team (we had two guides, 7 porters and 1 cook), and then we were on our way. The journey started around noon.

The first day of hiking is a trek through the rainforests of Kili. The colors of green and the lush vegetation is amazing, absolutely beautiful. I wanted to capture it all on film but pictures don't do it near enough justice. We stopped briefly for lunch, where a mongoose wanted some of our food. It freaked me out at one point by coming so close. Dumb I know, but they are the ugliest things, weasels with red creppy eyes.

A total of 3 and a half hours for our first hike and we had reached Mandara Hut, where we would spend our first night on the mountain. It is located 2700 meters altitude. The facilities consist of a dining hall, numerous huts (4 small bed spaces per hut with little room to maneuver), and the quarters for the tour teams. The weather at night was already starting to get chilly so we couldn't wait to curl up in our thermal sleeping bags and fall asleep. And that is exactly what we did after eating a hearty supper. It was early to bed to rest our bodies for the next hike.

Day 2:

The second day started us on our journey up to Horombo hut at 3720 meters altitude. The path upwards began in the rainforest, same as the day before, but quickly shifted in to the moorlands, where the view was clear and grass and short trees were the dominant scenery. We kept our pace very slow, pole pole as our guides Adam and Mase kept reminding us. They have both each climbed the mountain at least 70 times so I trusted their judgment! The phrases of choice on this trip for them were pole, pole (slowly, slowly) and twende (lets go). Our guides were adamant about taking our time, letting our bodies adapt, and drinking at least 3 liters of water a day to keep the altitude sickness at bay.

On our way through the moorlands we met up with one of our friends Mark from CCS. He had just been to the summit and was on his way back down. We were hoping we could do the same and willingly took his good wishes! After a few hours it was time for lunch, then back on the trail quickly to continue our progress.

The hike that day seemed surprisingly easy compared to the day before. The first hike felt to me like I was walking up a staircase for 3 and a half hours. But on our way to Horombo I think the excitement was pushing me forward some what. I was in a positive mood that day and couldn't wait to get closer to our goal. I was in a good place and negative thoughts about reaching the top had yet to settle in.

The hill up to Horombo huts was not a little one. It was very steep but once we reached the top, we registered with the park attendants and went to our assigned hut for the night (it had the same set up as Mandara huts). The view from Horombo was one of the best on the mountain. The clouds would surround the huts making you feel like you were in heaven. Or if you are weird like me, kind of made you think back to your childhood and episodes of care bears where they would jump around in the clouds :). I loved seeing the clouds around the mountains edge, especially when you first wake up in the morning. And at night you could see the lights of Moshi below, a very awesome view.

So after dinner it was another early night on Kili. It seemed that the sun, the altitude and the hiking took their toll on us. I was always ready for sleep on Kilimanjaro. I was usually in bed by 8 o'clock if I could help it!

Day 3:

This was acclimatisation day. Not a pleasant day for me. It was early to rise as usual, around 7, to get breakfast in our tummies and our feet moving down the beaten path. For acclimatisation day we were only set to do a short 4 hour hike out to a place called Zebra Rocks. These cliff edges really look like they were painted with the stripes of a zebra. Really cool to see. We moved on shortly after taking in the view to get closer to Mawenzi, one of the other peaks of Mount Kilimanjaro. We rested with Mawenzi at our front and Kibo at our back. If we looked we could see our destination of Uhuru peak far in the distance.

This day for me was the most difficult, minus summit day, because I didn't feel like I was accomplishing much, I wasn't getting any closer to my destination, even if technically it was the right move to do for our bodies. They say that taking the extra day to get use to the altitude increases your chances of summiting exponentially. I felt out of place, very restless, and the altitude was getting to me. I had a splitting headache, nausea, and exhaustion was becoming my new best friend. I didn't want to wait around a day just reading books, sleeping and playing cards, I just wanted to get going.

Day 4:

This was our last hike before summit! We were on our way to Kibo, the last compound on the Marangu route. Kibo rests at 4703 meters altitude. This is where the oxygen levels can start affecting you, and our guides did warn us to take it easy as we got closer to Kibo. A slow steady pace was always the way. The wind was also crazy on this route. Really glad I had packed my windbreaker! It was in our faces and forceful, slightly chilly as well.

Our scenery for our hike to Kibo was the Alpine desert. Very barren with lots of rocks and sand. Very little life out on the plains except for those making their way to Kibo and the peak beyond.

Once we reached Kibo, around 2 in the afternoon, we had a quick bite to eat and then it was time to rest. We would need it to start our final and most challenging hike come midnight. Unfortunately for me, I was to restless and got no shut eye before supper. Just wrote in my journal and read my book. The same thing happened again after supper. I think I got around a half hour of shut eye before we were woken up by our teams at 11pm on May 17. We had a quick cup of tea, half a Mars bar, and some biscuits (tea was a daily occurrence on the mountain and they loved giving us energy boosters like chocolate as we hiked, can't complain about that haha) then we piled on our snow gear and were set. It was the beginning of the end!

Day 5:

This was a day of little sleep, cold, determination, and pain. We started trekking at midnight with the hopes of being high enough to see the sunrise over the mountain in the morning hours. The moonlight showed us the way and I was determined to focus on the feet in front of me and not the daunting task ahead of us. So Mase's feet were my guide throughout the night. The path started and we zigzagged across the mountain, as it was to steep now to go in a straight line to the top.

For the first 5 hours I was set. Pumped up and ready to go. I was excited and felt healthy. The moon was so bright and beautiful and it wasn't even to cold. A fresh sheet of snow had fallen as we had rested at Kibo, and it caught the light of the moon perfectly. We walked at a very slow pace making steady progress. We stopped often to rest up and drink enough water. I jammed out to my MP3 player at this point, needing the motivation and soundtrack :) Think I listened to everything possible...country to rock to oldies. They all helped me push forward. By keeping my mind off of the long hours that remained I was able to keep negative thoughts at bay. One of the owners of Pristine Trails, the tour company we have dealt with here in Moshi, Musa had suggested this approach. He told me that one of the secrets is to not think about it. If you drink your water and keep your mind occupied you should reach the peak. So the music helped, as well as thinking of things back home. Focusing on all of you and what might be happening and what has happened. Of course my mind always wandered back to the mountain and the exhaustion that was creeping in, but I tried my best to not think about it and stay positive. I even had to resort to making up my own little story at one point :) It was like reading a book in my head but it made the hours pass better than if I had kept my mind on the steepness and longevity of our hike.

After the first 5 hours the climbing started to get to me, as well as the altitude. We were close to the summit of Gilman's point but had a few hours to go yet. This is when my migraine kicked in and my head started to feel like it would explode. The nausea wasn't as distracting and painful but it was still there. The exhaustion from having not slept crept in at this point as well. The MP3 player went away and I just focused on one step at a time. I just kept following Mase until the sun began to rise.

Around 6 o'clock in the morning the Tanzanian sun showed itself on the horizon. We were almost at the summit but I insisted we sit down on some of the rocks to watch the beauty of it and get some pictures. So glad I did that. It is not something you would want to miss! It was bright and colorful, oranges and pinks and purples reflecting off the snow. Mawenzi stood proud in the distance as we looked out over Kilimanjaro, with Kibo camp a tiny speck below us.

After the sunrise we continued for about an hour before we reached Gilman's point. I got there alone, as Susan had to take a break and my guides encouraged me to continue. Getting to this point, you felt like you were at the highest point of Kili even though you had a few 100 meters to go. We had reached the ice cap, it was like having a brief encounter with a Canadian winter while in Africa :)

I guess I had not fully paid attention to where Gilman's point rested in relation to Uhuru peak, my mind was getting fuzzy, my body didn't want to keep up the pace, and I felt like the task of climbing was pretty much over. When Susan, Adam, and Mase reached Gilman's, at 5685 meters altitude, I was informed that it was another hour and a half, at least, to the highest point at Uhuru peak. Right then and there I almost backed down. I didn't think I could stay awake, let alone walk for another few hours.

But we continued on after a short break for tea. Couldn't give up now after climbing for days. I needed to finish what I had started. The sun was up now and it was easier to see our footing. Also, now we could see just how high up we were. It was unreal. I was actually a little nervous for the climb down since I'm not the greatest with heights. But that was a ways away yet. First, Uhuru and the rooftop of Africa.

We continued along the summit edge, going up and down and all around the rocks, crevasses, and cliffs for about two hours. Soon the exhaustion had reached the point where I could barely keep my eyes open. It was a struggle. I couldn't really register much except moving my feet slowly but surely. My head was literally nodding and my eyes kept shutting as I walked behind Mase. This continued until I saw Uhuru in front of me at 5895 meters altitude. The sign stood in contrast with the snow straight ahead. A beautiful savior of a sign!! haha. I think the adrenaline gave me a little pick me up then. Although the altitude headache stayed on full force.

Uhuru peak on Mount Kilimanjaro has to be one of the most beautiful things I ever have and will ever see. The glaciers were breathtaking, the craters and valleys unreal. The colors captured me, with the bright blues against the crisp white of the snow and the dark grey of the rock and cliff edges. I can not wait to share pictures of it. I only wish that I had been slightly more coherent at this moment. The journey really gets to you. So we spent about 15-20 minutes taking it all in, getting our pictures, and then turned around and continued back the way we had come. I wish more than anything that I could get back there, without all of the effort and pain, to take it all in when I am at my best, so my mind could register it all. Still one of the greatest moments of my life so far!

Our trek back to Kibo took a lot less than the 9 and a half hours it took us to reach Uhuru. After about 3 hours, around 12:30 pm, we were on the ground at Kibo thanking God we were still standing haha. We had a quick bite to eat and a cat nap for about an hour before continuing down to Horombo hut. They try and get you out of the highest altitude zone as quick as possible so that it doesn't affect you more than it already has.

We stayed that night at Horombo. My muscles were killing me!! Coming down the mountain screwed up my knees pretty bad and all I wanted was a good ice pack, which didn't happen. We attempted what Adam called Kili skiing, where we basically ran/glided down the sand of the mountain peak to reach Kibo camp (it is sand until you reach the ice cap). We had our ski poles so we were all set (used them for support on that last hike)! It was doing that, that killed the legs. The pressure from running down such a steep hill. But we made it quickly!!

Day 6:

The last day on the mountain!! We were ecstatic to get back to Moshi, out of the camping, unclean (fyi didn't shower on the mountain because where water was available it was ice cold so we decided to smell instead, which is how most hikers do it haha), hiking mode. We started at Horombo at 8 in the morning, reached Mandara for lunch around 11:30 then kept going until the entrance gate. We were officially done before 2 pm. By the time walking down hill was over, blisters had popped on the soles of my feet, my ankles were wrecked, and my leg muscles screamed (I limped around like a moron for two days haha). But we had made it home safe and sound!! Plus we had the experience of a lifetime! It was priceless!

I can not fully explain the beauty and hardship of Mount Kilimanjaro. It is something everyone should experience for themselves to get the full effect :) But if you don't have that opportunity I hope that the little ramblings I gave you here helped you experience it to some extent.


I'll write about Safari tomorrow! And hopefully will have pictures then too!

Take Care xoxo

Rainy days, Kili prep, and Home Visits.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

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The rain has caused some disturbance here in Moshi. Not as many kids have come to school these last two days and the mud is just ridiculous! It is like you have an entire backyard stuck to the bottom of your shoes. Because many of the kids of Magareza must walk a long distance to school (I have learned since my last post that a lot of the kids are actually from out side the prison) they will not show up when it rains. The mud is so slippery, there is no traction most of the time.

Yesterday we had approximately 20 kids out of the 106 enrolled at Magareza. Today maybe about 50. We did have enough to divide up the classes today, I stayed with class A, the oldest kids. For most of the day we had swahili class. They reviewed their vowel sounds. It was a lot of repetition. After break and porridge the kids were asked to draw pictures of the family. Some of them were really good drawers. I was really impressed by a little girl named Grace, she drew each person and colored them in with such care. She is very intelligent.

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After lunch today Susan and I went with Edward, from Pristine Trails, our tour company, to rent our gear for Kili. It took about an hour. I got really excited!! It seemed ironic to me that I don't own nearly as much warm clothing living in Canada but here I am in Africa trying on down jackets, gaters, and snow pants. I am going to get everything packed tonight to make sure I am all set. We start this Saturday at 10 am!

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Right after picking up our gear we were scheduled to do home visits with Amani, a local volunteer. He has been participating in home visits for the past four years, two days a week. He is also a founder of two of the schools here in Moshi, which CCS places volunteers in. These schools are Mtoto Rau and Jipe Moyo. He is only 24 years old.

We met him at CCS and walked the 40 minutes to a village outside the town center for our first stop. We entered the home of Giamani, a 40 year old man who suffers from AIDS and neuro-syphilis. He currently lives with his mother, who takes care of him as he is unable to get out of bed. He can sit up but has lost the function of his legs. Their house is one room, with two beds. There was clothes laying everywhere, but there wasn't any room for much else. There were six of us in there at the time of the visit, as well as her adorable great-grandchild, and that was a tight squeeze. We sat on the beds since there was no place to stand and talk.

Amani was our translator and helped explain Giamani's situation to us. He is on medication for AIDS. I never knew this before but the government of Tanzania provides medication to AIDS patients free of charge. This is medication taken once AIDS takes hold, not while the patient is suffering from HIV. We were able to see the meds he has been taking. Since he can't leave his bed (altough Amani takes him to soccer games every once in a while because he loves sports and use to play when he was able), his sister makes hospital visits for him. They can not afford the cab fare to taxi Giamani to the hospital every month. She gives updates on his condition to the doctors and they in turn provide the medication. She is the sole provider for the family, as she is his only sibling. Amani told us that she works at a saloon to help make ends meet.

Watching Giamani and being in his house was not easy. You could notice his struggle clearly in the way that he held his body, how he sat up and positioned his legs. But he smiled when Amani engaged him. He is a brave soul. His wife (unofficially Amani said) and son abandoned him when he contracted the virus, not an uncommon practice here. His son is 11 but he hasn't seen him in 5 years, since he left Arusha to come to Moshi to live with his mother.

After giving our thanks to Giamani and his mother we continued walking. After about 15 minutes we came to our second house. This was the home of Mary and her children. She has four boys, two who are in school. The younger children are Denis, who is five, and Upendo, who is a year and a half. It was when she gave birth to Upendo that she contracted HIV/AIDS. She suffered severe blood loss and needed a transfusion but the blood was tainted with the virus. To make the situation even worse, she has been breast feeding Upendo. They do not have enough money to feed him otherwise since she can not work, her husband has passed away, and her family has refused to support her, forcing her in to isolation. Again we witnessed the abandonment that comes from having HIV/AIDS.

Mary is only 35 years old with such a huge burden on her shoulders. Not only does she suffer from HIV/AIDS but she also has to deal with a disease called sickle cell anemia. It causes her a lot of pain. She has suffered from a wound on her ankle for about 5 years now, I believe it is a result of the disease, however the treatment and cause of it was hard to understand. She says that the wound is most painful when she tries to sleep at night. Unfortunately, her oldest son has contracted the disease as well. He also suffers from an enlarged heart and has problems with liver function.

The house that they live in is one room with a foam mattress on the floor. Trust me, after sitting on it for a few minutes I know that there is no way it could be comfortable with 4 or 5 people sleeping on it together. They have little else. We gave her rice as a gift and I offered some candies to her and the kids. I was fortunate to have put them in my bag earlier that day!

Right now her son Denis could be going to nursery school but the family can not afford it. One of her sons is currently being sponsored to go to school but Denis has yet to be sponsored. When I asked Amani about it he said that she is waiting for luck, it is all she has to lean on. I asked how much it would cost for a year of nursery school...the answer shocked me. A total of 36,000 shillings would be sufficient to start Denis's schooling. That is about 24 dollars. To us that is a dinner out or a new shirt, to them it is the opportunity for education and a future. The injustice of the situation is unreal. That little boy deserves an education just like anybody else. I know that his mother would love to give that to him but she can barely afford to feed her children let alone pay school fees.

Mary told us while we were there that visitors make her feel comforted and loved. She feels consoled when people show that they care. I was so happy I could be a part of that as hard as it is to acknowledge that there are people in this world that live in such hopeless conditions. It overwhelmed me at that moment to hear her say those things to us. Who am I really but a spectator in her home? I know nothing of what she suffers or feels. I can not begin to understand. Yet she welcomed us with open arms to help us understand the differences between our two worlds. She is so strong to keep going everyday. It must take a lot of will power.

Coming out of these home visits you get a weird feeling in the pit of your stomach. I don't know if you've ever had that feeling where you are just off kilter emotionally, you can't really pin down how you feel. Maybe it is a mixture of emotions just throwing you every which way. There is a sadness and disbelief accompanied by a strong desire to do something.

I have not fully processed the day yet but it was a full one. I hope to do more home visits after Kili. Until then I'm sure that Giamani, Mary and her kids will pass through my mind often.

This may be my last post before Mount Kili...Wish me luck, send positive vibes and prayers my way!

Tutaonana!! xoxo

The Sun will Come out Tomorrow...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

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Keep in mind that this post does contain some information that may upset some people. FGM is not an easy issue to discuss but it is something that all women and men out there should be aware of. Education leads to change.

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Yesterday afternoon we visited the Network Against Female Genital Mutilation (NAFGM). As you can probably imagine, it wasn't the most pleasant hour of my life. However, it was an hour I do not regret. Very informative and eye opening. The atrocities of FGM had never really crossed my mind up to this point. I knew that it was practiced but without any details it is easy to pass over in your mind. I am so glad that I can no longer sweep it aside and forget about the pain these women, girls, and children suffer. Being in that place, trapped where you believe FGM is ok, must be such a dark place.

We entered a tiny office space consisting of three rooms, on the third floor of a downtown building. The five of us who went sat down in front of Francis' desk, the man who gave us the presentation on FGM. He introduced himself and dove right in. He spoke about NAFGM's efforts to educate citizens, and stop FGM, in two different regions of Tanzania, one of them being Kilimanjaro.

In Kilimanjaro it is the Masai tribe that is known for FGM. It is very prevalent in the villages, with almost all women participating in the practice (according to an independent study). It is encouraged by most members of the community. The fathers want their children to have FGM because women with the mutilation recieve a better bridal price. The mothers believe it will make their daughters better wives. And the potential husbands believe that it will allow for better control over their future bride.

The community believes that FGM allows for better cleanliness. This is a VERY misconceived notion. Many, many years ago fungal infections in the vaginal region were more common, as water was not readily available in the rural areas, and so getting cleaned up wasn't as easy. They believed that removing some of the female genitals would thus rid them of this problem of infection. WRONG. What they remove is actually there to protect against dirt and bacteria...this is a major factor NAFGM is focusing on.

It is the elderly women in the communities, most of the time, that perform the mutilation. We were unfortunate enough to be shown some of the tools previous practicers of FGM have used. When they left the practice, because of NAFGM's encouragement, they donated their tools to the cause, to show people the truth. Most of them were very dull knives in different shapes and sizes. Ouch, to say the VERY least.

The girls/women/children that this is happening to often don't have a choice. NAFGM is working on giving them their opportunity to choose. Most of the time they are brought up with the idea of FGM, they know it will please the village, they do not know any different, they do not have the ability to out run it, or they are to young to say no. Now that the women and girls are becoming more educated about their options concerning FGM, the villages have begun performing FGM on children at younger and younger ages. This way they can not stand up and say no, there is no protest. This is one way they are trying to outrun the change that is coming. It is horrible.

Francis took the time to show us the three different types of FGM. If you are interested in knowing more you can probably find resources online, I won't go in to much detail here. The first is the most common, where the clitoris of the woman is cut. This is done mainly to prevent the pleasure of the woman. When men use to go to war they wanted a way to make sure their woman could not commit adultery. They believed that the clitoris controlled sexual desire, so without it the woman would be faithful. Again not scientifically accurate, thus the need for education in the villages. The second form of mutilation includes the cutting of the clitoris along with the removal of a part of the labia. This allows more bacteria to get inside, even though they believe the opposite. Again, another way to control the woman and keep her "clean". The third is the most horrible. Mostly practiced in Ethiopia and Somalia, it includes the steps outlined in the second form of mutilation as well as having the woman completely sown up, except for the tiniest of holes to allow for urination....I cringed seeing this. I think I literally ached and there wasn't even a possibility of that happening to me. Keep in mind there is no pain killers! The most common form of mutilation in Tanzania is the first. A lot of complications, especially during pregnancy, and with female bodily functions, arise after the mutilation, as you can well imagine.

After detailing the types and consequences of FGM, Francis put on a video to give us an idea of what this really was. He warned us going in and we had heard from other volunteers that they had to leave the room at this point. The Inter-African Committee put together a video to show the absurdity that is FGM. We saw a video of a child, a toddler really, I would guess 2 years old, who was undergoing FGM. First, the "doctor" started by cutting tribal marks in to the little girls chest. Secondly, he performed FGM. The child wailed and was being held down to endure the torture. I watched but I could not hold myself together. It was the most horrifying thing, I can not imagine what possesses people...The poor child, I wish she did not have to go through something so traumatizing.

Francis told us that originally, when NAFGM was established in Tanzania in 1998, 35% of people (not sure if the statistic was for the entire population or just the rural communities, sorry!) practiced FGM. This has since been reduced to 25%. A positive to focus on. I think that as the younger, more educated generation takes control the practice will be used less and less. One can hope!

This post was not for the light of heart. But remember that if we do not educate ourselves then the problem will never be fixed. Ignoring the issue only adds to the troubles. We can not help children, like the one I saw in that video, by tuning out the facts. These woman will only be able to see the sunshine if education wins out. That is why it is important that people like you and me stand up, and help them stand beside us.

Thank you for reading and learning along with me.