Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Best Day EVER!

Ok, so maybe not ever, but last Saturday I did feel a little bit like Rapunzel must have felt when she left the tower for the first time.  I've been waiting for 3 days to blog about the day so I'm just going to jump right in.

Friday I came back up to Arusha for the week to finalize my plans for the upcoming semester.  Saturday morning I woke up and immediately thought of Mama Jane (if you haven't yet, take a minute to read my last blog post about her).  I had plans to meet with her later in the week, but couldn't wait to see her and the kids.  Plus, a few other friends here wanted to meet her, too.  Saturdays and Sundays many of the village kids, most of whom are orphans, come to her "center" in Ngarimtoni just outside Arusha.  It just felt like the perfect day to go.  So Jill (from Canada), Carolina (Sweden), Benny (Tanzania) and I got up early Saturday, stopped to get coffee, picked up some food at the market for the kids and ran a few errands.  We also stopped for a great lunch at a small Japanese restaurant and I got sushi!  Yes, sushi in Tanzania.  Between the latte and sushi, my day was already off to a pretty great start.

Benny was kind enough to drive us around for the day which saved us a ton of time trying to get from place to place on local transport.  Of course I told Mama Jane I remembered how to get out to the center, so we lost a little time driving in the exact opposition direction, but we finally made it to Mama Jane's around 3pm.  After jumping out of the car to get a huge hug from Jane, I went inside with Carolina, Jill and Benny where the kids were all waiting patiently for us to arrive.
After a quick introduction we were treated to several songs and dancing by the kids.  There is absolutely no way to explain the feeling I have watching these children sing.  I tried to explain it in my other post about Mama Jane, too, but words are so inadequate.  There is so much joy packed into such a small, simple room.
Benny even got up to join the kids!
After the music, we all went outside to play with the kids, laugh with them and get plenty of hugs.  We only had about a half an hour because the kids usually return home at 3pm on Saturdays, but those 30 minutes were full of laughter and smiles.  I wish somehow you could all come to visit Mama Jane's.  When we got in the car to leave, Jill and Carolina had the same reaction I did the first time I went.  They both said it was their best day in Tanzania so far and couldn't stop talking about what they wanted to do with the kids and when they would return.

Benny and Mama Jane spoke for a while when we were playing with the kids and made plans for us to go visit the land Jane and her husband have purchased for the new school and orphanage they hope to build.  Benny also runs a nonprofit here in Arusha called Green Living Planet.  He's been busy doing some amazing work with kids in Arusha teaching them to plant trees, properly dispose of trash, and take care of the land they live on.  He also has plans to expand his education programs and start sustainable gardens through the local communities.  While Benny and Jane were talking they discovered that the land they each own is practically connected!  They discussed some of the conservation projects Benny has been working on, as well, so we decided to stop by one of the project sites first.  Mama Jane, 5 of the boys that live with her, Caroline, Jill, Benny and I, piled into the car and headed out to our first stop.

The land Benny's uncle owns is beautiful.  Benny has plans to build an education center on the land where school kids can come to learn more about land and trees and plants and how to take care of the environment.  He spent a few minutes talking with Jane's kids and asking them questions about what they knew.  He has a knack for teaching.  The boys were engaged and excited to talk with him.  It was pretty cool to watch.  We had climbed up a hill on the property and on our way back down to the car we saw a rainbow in the distance.  Another pretty cool sign that day that a lot of things were coming together for a reason.

Most of our day was spent driving on rough roads and our trip to Mama Jane's land next was no exception.  We arrived to a place in the road that was heavily washed out by rain.  Benny looked at it a few times, tried to find an alternate route and then decided to go back to put his "off-road" vehicle to the test.  I don't claim to know anything about driving a manual vehicle so I just sat back and held the kids down as best I could.  He backed up and gunned it...right into the mud.

The kids stood back, watched, and giggled in disbelief.

Mama Jane (in her Sunday best) gingerly dug up a few rocks to use for traction.
I did what I do best:  Throw in my two cents.
And with the help of several villagers we were back on our way in about 30 minutes - Mama Jane and one of the boys holding on for dear life in the front seat.

We arrived to Mama Jane's just before sunset.  The property is amazing.  It is in a rural area outside of Arusha and the view from the land is breathtaking.  We walked around the property for a while talking about Mama Jane's dreams for the future.  She currently has 17 children living in a rented house with her in Arusha, with a couple hundred kids coming to the center on the weekends.  Her dream is to build an orphanage that can house as many children as possible.  She also plans to build a secondary school where the orphans and other neighboring children from poor families can get an education.  A large garden will be put in to provide food and income for the school and she and her husband hope to provide projects for local Maasai women to be a part of so that they can earn extra income, as well.  I asked Mama Jane if the boys with us knew what the land was for.  Her eyes lit up and she said, "Oh yes.  We come out here often together with all of the children so that they can pray over the land."  

I can't begin to imagine what Jane and her children must feel when they visit their land.  Jane and her husband have saved for years just to purchase the 4 acres you see them standing on.  I can see such pride and hope for the future in their eyes.  The children see such a bright future for themselves.  Jane has so much faith that all will be provided at the right time.  She chooses not to focus on how long it took to save the money just to buy this land.  Or how much longer it could take to save enough to build an orphanage and a school.  The children don't worry that it may take so long that they won't even get to live there.  They simply believe.

We said our good-byes shortly after and made plans to connect again.  As I mentioned, Benny and Jane are going to work together on a few projects. Carolina is heading back next weekend to play football with the kids.  Jill will be teaching children's health classes at the center and I am meeting Mama Jane this Friday to see her building plans and talk further about her needs.  We are all in love with what Jane is doing and choosing to believe for Mama Jane and the children, too.  She is doing amazing work here.  I just hope I get to be a part of it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Back to Bwejuu

Almost immediately after posting my last blog post, I was struck down...with a fever that is.  I had decided to take a "mental health" weekend.  So completely American of me.  I know.  I booked a hotel room with air conditioning, got a manicure and pedicure and planned to spend my entire weekend working on research and ironing out my plans for the next 6 months.  Nothing went as planned.  I guess I shouldn't even be surprised at that by now.  I ended up getting strep throat which, for the first few days, only presented as fever, chills, body aches and nausea.  As horrible as I felt - and trust me, it was pretty bad - I am extremely thankful I had found myself a nice little air conditioned room with A/C, a toilet and a shower to spend my weekend in.  I pretty much stayed in bed, curled up in the fetal position, for 48 hours. By Sunday morning I caved.  I couldn't get my fever to break and all signs pointed to malaria.  Thankfully, by Monday morning I figured out it was strep throat - very uncommon here, but relatively common for me.  I received lots of prayers, emails, messages and texts.  Thank you, thank you, thank you!  All of my friends and I have been sick a few times now and we always talk about how great it is to get messages from friends and family.  Laying in a hot room for days on end gets a bit boring while you are trying to recuperate and in the fever-filled haze we inevitably check our cell-phones and emails every 30 minutes or so for some hint of what is going on outside.

I'm fully recovered now and am realizing how quickly this portion of my program is coming to an end.  This past weekend Jenn, Ashley, Roger and I went back to Bwejuu (our favorite hide-away) for Jenn's birthday weekend.  Keavy, our fifth amigo, got a bacterial infection and was house-ridden for the weekend.  We missed having her around, but have decided it's a great excuse to repeat the seafood feast we had on our final weekend here in Zanzibar in early December.

Ally, Iddi and the gang at Pakacha Bungalows threw quite the birthday shindig for Jenn.  The ocean perch you see in the picture above was, without a doubt, some of the best fish I have ever had in my entire life.  And, as usual, everything was caught fresh for us that day.  We also went on a dhow boat trip this weekend, had bonfires and played plenty of card games.  All in all, another great weekend.

I'm sure some of you are thinking all I ever do is go to the beach!  Sometimes I even feel like that.  In many ways I'm anxious to be back on the mainland and back to "work".  Our time here in Zanzibar is really specifically for language learning and most of us have put our research and volunteer interests on hold while working on getting a handle on the language.  As for me, my original plan was to move to Dar es Salaam for the spring semester so that I could take some courses in Tanzanian foreign policy and local government systems.  I've done some more research and connected with other U.S. students who have taken courses in Dar and the university appears to be a bit lax and unorganized.  After a lot of thought and research, I've decided to pursue my own research interests independently next semester.  One of the advantages of this is that I will be able to begin work immediately after Christmas.  University wasn't scheduled to start until late February.  My new plan allows me to use my time more wisely here.  I'm hoping to partner with more schools and orphanages over here in Tanzania and explore some new programming possibilities.  For those of you who remember Mama Jane and her orphanage in Arusha, I've reconnected with her and hope to see her over my Thanksgiving break to explore helping her further.  I can't wait to see her again!!  What an amazing woman.

I've got a few other things up my sleeve that I can't wait to share with you, but until I get final approval I'll need to keep my mouth shut.  In the meantime, I'll try to stay out of trouble and stay healthy.  Love you all!