Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Bit of Hope

Twice in one week I broke the golden rule and left the house without toilet paper...and this time it cost me.  After a quick breakfast at the coffee shop in town, Jasen and I went with Marianne to the bus to send her off.  Her time here is up and she is headed back to Norway.  Of course, nature strikes when you least expect it here and not only did I have to find a bathroom, but I had to stop to buy toilet paper somewhere, too.  Let it be known, the two are NEVER in the same place.  I had about 20 minutes before the bus was scheduled to leave, so off I ran.  Well, for the first time in the history of buses in Africa, this bus left, not only on time, but a few minutes early.  While I was fishing around for my phone (which I dropped) in the dark back corner closet "bathroom" (aka - hole in the ground), Marianne was pleading with the driver to wait for me.  We hadn't even said goodbye.  She also tried to call me, but of course, when I dropped my phone it broke open and I couldn't receive any calls.  The way I see it, my stop to buy toilet paper cost me my chance to say goodbye to Marianne - and I have no one to blame, but myself.  So, a quick shout out to my friend:  "Marianne, I love you and miss you and I'm so, so, so sorry I didn't get to hug you goodbye.  Now you must come back!  Safe travels, my dear."

A quick update on little Abu, who I mentioned in an earlier post:  He is doing much, much, much better.  Thank you to everyone for your prayers and for asking others to prayer.  After 3 years of pain, lethargy, and uncertainty, the doctors believe the problem was a peptic ulcer.  The medication is helping tremendously and Abu is doing great.  His family is truly appreciative and so thankful to have their precious little boy healthy again.  I can't begin to imagine how frustrating it was to go three years with no real guidance or medical support for the local doctors.  Please don't misunderstand me, there are some great doctors here, but often hospitals are short-staffed and trained physicians are hard to come by.  Many times patients are treated without even seeing the actual doctor.  After such a long time, I know Abu and his family were extremely discouraged.  Thank you everyone, for lifting them up!  We are so happy he is doing better!

I'll be heading back to Arusha the second half of this week and, while I have a lot of work to get done for the safari company, I also hope to have some time to meet with Mama Jane again.  She and her husband were so warm and encouraging.  In between, locating an office for the safari company, buying camping equipment and visiting hotels to develop partnerships in the area, I hope to sit down with Jane again and hear more about her goals for the future.  Many of you have heard me talk in the past about the importance of education here in Tanzania - in all of Africa for that matter.  Without it, many children have little hope for a stable job or income in the future.  While public education is "free", families still have to buy uniforms, books and school supplies for the children.  On a salary often less than $1 a day, these costs are enormous - and many times impossible to incur.  With few exceptions, even families who can afford to send kids to school here have to choose which of their children they can send.  It is often a decision based solely upon gender and birth order.

In addition to rising school costs, East Africa is currently experiencing one of the longest and most devastating droughts it has seen in over 60 years.  Almost 10 million people are severely affected by food shortages and in desperate need of food aid.  Food costs at the market are literally rising daily.  Tanzania has not been hit as hard as Ethiopia, Somalia, Kenya, Uganda and Djibouti, but the food shortages in neighboring states are affecting life here.  Smugglers are taking truckloads of food over the borders to Kenya and Uganda in hopes of receiving a higher price for the food.  In turn, Tanzania is beginning to experience food shortages and prices are rising here, as well.  Our power outages last about 12 hours a day now, forcing prices up, as well.  Everyone I speak with is worried about the future.  Even though Fatuma has a stable job and room and board, she too, is worried, stockpiling as much food as she can store for the future.

I read a great opinion article earlier today.  It was written by an African who was looking for other Africans to write stories of hope and promise in their local newspapers.  Stories that told of the progress being made on the continent.  He argued that much of what Westerners hear is about the devastation, corruption and desolation on this continent.  Africa is still behind much of the rest of the world, but it is also moving forward.  Yesterday, the people of South Sudan celebrated their independence as a state and freedom from the dictatorship of Omar al-Bashir.  We cannot even begin to imagine the horrific occurrences these people have nearly all witnessed firsthand.  Though they have a long journey ahead of them, South Sudan is free and moving toward a better tomorrow.  Every day literally thousands and thousands of organizations in every country on this continent are working, step by step, to improve the lives of those in their communities.  At the same time, many organizations back home in the States are doing the same thing for the people here - and it is helping.

I try not to stand on my soap box too often, but if you have a moment, check out some of the links I have posted to the right.  I will do my best to list them by location.  These are just a few of the organizations doing small things that make a big difference in Africa.  Many are just looking for a little bit of your time.  If you have a free Saturday or a few hours in the evening, maybe you will find an organization that you could get involved in.  Or you could host an event of your own.  Maybe it's just enough to get your wheels turning right now.  Even if what you find simply tells the stories of progress, instead of tragedy, in Africa, it is enough.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Third Time's a Charm

My first mattress had the consistency of one of those foam pits kids jump into.  From the first night that I sank down into it and onto the wood bed frame, I knew I was going to have a tough time sleeping.  What I didn't know what that once it caved in, it would never regain it's shape.  I spent a couple of weeks trying not to fall into the pit in my mattress every night in order to avoid a sore back in the morning.  Late last week, I confiscated one of the mattresses from another room that was no longer in use.  After 5 minutes on it, I thought I would be sick.  It literally smelled like cow manure.  For two nights I try air freshener, sneaker spray and candles.  Nothing helped.  On Monday, Fatuma helped me switch mattresses - again - and I am finally sleeping well!  Most nights I feel like a 5 year old kid in my malaria net fort....and I have to admit, I love it!

Remember Memoria, the gigantic flea market in my neighborhood I told you about earlier?  It is only open on Tuesdays and Fridays and, yes, we were back again yesterday.  On the hunt for shower curtain rings - which we didn't find last time - and some containers to store rice, sugar, flower and ugali in.  The containers we found right away.  8 large containers and 8 smaller containers.  They were brand new and the total was less that $15 US.  Perfect.  On our search for shower curtains I discovered what must be the biggest "Bridesmaid Dress Graveyard" in the world.  Tara, you should get on a plane and get right over here.  Many of the dresses looked like they were right up your alley!!  On Friday I may return again just to take pictures so that you can all see these beauties.  You may even spot one you were forced to wear!

Anyway, I finally found a few shower curtain rings that were attached to a curtain.  Unfortunately, my stubbornness got in my way.  The girl would not let me purchase just the curtain rings.  She wanted me to buy the used curtain, as well.  Usually when you say no and begin to walk away here, the vendor will track you down and change their mind.  They see a mzungu (white person) and try to get all they can from us.  Well, this time it didn't work - and I am still showering behind a moldy door.  Fatuma laughed at me and away we went.

To be honest, yesterday was not my day.  Every daladala was full or just sped right past us, so Fatuma and I ended up walking the 7km into town to buy medicine for little Abu, who we had visited earlier yesterday morning.  When we got to the pharmacy I was cut off several times by other customers who kept pushing in front of me, over me or around me at the counter.  Then we went to the post office so that I could mail some postcards and register a PO Box for JustUsFriends.  The woman in the office said my postage was 100 Tsh short, but she didn't have 100 Tsh stamps so I needed to buy 300 Tsh stamps.  When I purchased the stamps the guy at the postage counter outside said I had what I needed.  I went back outside to him and found out the woman was just trying to charge me extra postage.  And the PO Box?  Well, they're all taken and we'll have to wait until next month to see if there are more.  Oh, and the guy who manages the PO Boxes is on leave so no one can tell me how much they will cost.

After the 7k walk, the pharmacy and the post office, Fatuma and I decided to grab a quick lunch.  An hour later our food arrived and her order was wrong.  Fast forward another thirty minutes and we were finally on our way to the market.  By this time it was about 3pm and we were pretty much exhausted.  So exhausted that when the spice guy handed me the bucket of pili pili to look at I didn't think twice and took a big whiff - of spicy red peppers.  Pretty sure I burned my smelling sensors and sneezed about ten times (with no Kleenex or toilet paper to be found anywhere).  I broke the Golden Rule:  Don't ever leave the house without toilet paper.

After the market we went to the paint store where I was interrupted several times, again, and purchased more paint for the house.  I'm overseeing the interior painting of our house in Moshi while Jasen is gone and it is quite the task.  After one coat, the walls are nearly as dirty as they were before.  No one speaks English and trying to explain the the paint belongs on the walls and not the ceiling, floor, baseboards, beds, suitcases, shoes, shower grout, light switches and windows is a bit difficult.  You get the picture.

As frustrating as the day could have been yesterday, I've learned to take things in stride and laugh at as much as possible.  It helps to have Fatuma with me.  She sees the humor in everything.  For being a Tanzanian who was raised in the villages, she has more of the mentality of a mzungu than a local.  And while she's more forgiving at times than I am, she finds many of these experiences to be as crazy as I do, too.  I don't know what I'd do without her.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Lazy Sunday Afternoon

After a week in Arusha, I am back “home” in Moshi.  We arrived late Wednesday afternoon and pretty much crashed.  Now that I have gotten some much needed rest, I am so happy to be back here and to see Fatuma and Sumaya again.  While I can’t say that I miss the gigantic hot tub, western toilet or firm mattress from the hotel, my tiny little room here at the home base is a welcome site.  And seven days without Fatuma’s chai and chipati was about all that I could handle. 

Fatuma said it was too quiet while we were away.  She missed the laughter in the house.  We do tend to laugh quite a bit!  Margaret has left for her next adventure, Marianne is in Zanzibar for a week and Sumaya is in Arusha visiting her aunt for the weekend so it’s just me, Fatuma and Jasen in the house.  Between Fatuma’s laugh and mine we still manage to keep things loud around here though!

Yesterday, Fatuma and I went on the hunt for a couple of shower curtains to replace the mold-covered doors on the bathroom and shower stalls.  We went down to Memoria, a large - and by large, I mean gigantic - outdoor flea market of sorts in our neighborhood.  We went from stall to stall asking for a shower curtain.  Often we just got blank stares.  One woman even pretended to know what it was, but said she didn’t have one.  She got called out by the woman in the stall behind her who started teasing her, saying “You’re from the village.  You don’t even know what a shower curtain is!  Why would you say you do?!”  After what felt like a couple of hours or searching, we nearly gave up.  Thankfully, Fatuma finally found a woman who knew what a shower curtain was.  Not only did she know what a shower curtain was, she knew where to find one for us!  Now if we can just figure out a way to hang them…

It’s a quiet Sunday afternoon here in Moshi.  After getting up at 6am and spending nearly 5 hours doing the laundry, Fatuma is laying down to take a nap.  Jasen went into town and I am sitting at the kitchen table, listening to Jason Mraz, and working on the new website for JustGoodSafaris.  I may be jinxing myself, but we’ve had power since last night and I even have a fan on in here to keep cool.  All in all, it’s shaping up to be a pretty good afternoon. 

While I'm keeping busy with the work for Jasen, I am also faced with so many people who need so little on a daily basis.  On Wednesday, Mama Jane shared with me that she and her husband James had purchased 4 acres of land on the side of Mt. Meru in Arusha.  They are praying that God will provide them with the money they need to build a new orphanage and school on the land.  They are currently renting and can only permanently house 11 children onsite.  The rest go off to distant relatives during the week and Jane invites them in on the weekends to make sure they are being fed and looked after.  With a new school, Jane could provide a Christian education to many children who otherwise would never have the chance to even attend school. Thursday, it was a young boy on the street selling bracelets he had made for just over a dollar.  He was kind and remembered me from my last trip here in January.  He told me he hadn't sold one bracelet that day and it was already 4pm.  Friday, I met a 6 year old boy with a high fever and severe stomach cramping named Abu, who has been sick for 3 years.  He needs a CT scan and a GI scope at KCMC, the large hospital here in Moshi, but his parents can't afford the 120,000 Tsh (about $80 USD) for the tests.  I met Margaret, Abu's school teacher, after learning about her from a 3 or 4 little girl walking home from school.  Fatuma and I went to visit her classroom and I watched her pray over little Abu.  Although his family is Muslim, he told his mother he was in so much pain he wanted to visit Teacher Margaret so that she could pray to her God for him, too.  Margaret rents the land her corregated metal school room is built on.  The local authorities are threatening to shut her down because the 60 students who attend classes with her barely fit inside the room she and some volunteers built.  She is praying for the $3500 she needs to buy a small plot of land in the neighborhood and another $5000 to build a proper school room.  Yesterday, Fatuma shared with my how sick her husband's mother is.  She has had gout for years, but they can't afford any medication.  Rajabu (Fatuma's husband) is barely making $3 a day, sometimes working 12-16 hours a day, driving a taxi in town.  Fatuma told me if I went to see where his family lives in the village I would not be able to stop crying.  She helps support them as much as she can and often brings food out for them to feed the family.  I can tell by the pain in her voice that she wishes she could do more.  So do I.

Tomorrow morning Jasen goes back to Arusha to start working with the kids at Good Hope, Ally’s orphanage.  I wish I had the time to go with, but I will stay back here in Moshi with Fatuma and continue working on the website, fliers and business plan.  There is a lot to get done and not enough time to do everything.  We have painters coming in tomorrow to repaint the inside of the house.  In the morning I am going with Fatuma to a Margaret's small school here in Soweto (my neighborhood) to observe her class and visit with Margaret.  She teaches 3-6 year olds, preparing them for primary school.  I’m really looking forward to our visit.  

Wishing all of you a fun and safe 4th of July weekend!  Jasen suggested we try to find some fireworks to have our own celebration here in Moshi - I told him I didn't want to be within 100 yards of any fireworks made in Africa!  Set some off for me back home...