Friday, January 27, 2012

Settling In

I alluded to my uncertainty about where I was headed in my last blog post – but let’s be honest.  You all know me well enough.  Let’s just call it like it was:  All out anxiety over the idea of sleeping on a mat on a dirt floor, with no running water, rats nesting around me at night, zero electricity and a cow sleeping in an indoor stable in the central room.  Ok, maybe I wasn’t worried about the cow, but you get the point.  I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into.  Zero.  Zilch.  And, while my mind was wandering to the worst possible scenario, somehow I just kept thinking that it would be ok.  I mean, I’ve made it this far, right?  I figure I can pretty much grin and bear just about (let me repeat – just about) everything now.

Thankfully, my expectations – or lack thereof – were greatly exceeded.  After a long day of travelling with many stops (none of which included a bathroom), we made it to Madisi at about 9pm.  Now before I go any further, let me clarify something that I didn’t understand before: Madisi is actually just the name of the hill upon which the school was built.  Whenever VSI builds a school, the village chief and the people of the village decide where the school should be built.  The land that is chosen is always the best land in the area – what we would call “prime real estate.”  Madisi is no exception.  The hill is actually a relatively large mountain at an elevation of 6000 feet (which means extremely pleasant, cool weather!).  From the top where the school is located you see miles and miles of mountains, valleys, rain forest, tea plantations and coffee crops.  The view is one of the most beautiful I have seen in all my life and for the next four months I get to live on the top of this mountain.  Last night before dinner, Susan took me to a hidden sitting space.  We walked down the path that cuts through the forest in the back yard to the edge of the mountain and I was greeted by a scene that reminded me of Gorillas in the Mist.  In that magical spot several mountains seem to come together in a circle creating a sort of crater effect in the middle.  The crater valley is covered in dense rain forest that is now protected and home to monkeys who play among the trees.  Susan has planted some gardens along the path and there is a covered bench where I can sit, read and enjoy the view. 

I’m sure you are all dying to see pictures, but until I can get some sort of internet connection up here, I don’t know when I’ll be able to upload anything.  I have email access on my phone, but that’s about it.  As I am writing this I don’t even know when I will upload it, but the past two days have been so full already I knew that if I didn’t sit down to type now I might never catch you up.  In the meantime, here’s hoping I can upload this soon!

(Update:  Found internet while we were travelling in the car so I am taking advantage of it!)

For the time being I am staying with Steve and Susan, their two boys Joshua and Jonathan and Morris the dog.  I can’t tell you how excited I was just to be greet by a dog when I arrived!  He and I have become fast friends.  The house reminds me of a clash between Little House on the Prairie and Meryl Streep’s home in Out of Africa.  It is big and has an openness to it.  While we don’t have running water all of the time, it is pretty consistent.  Thankfully it rains for a short time almost every day so the rainwater fills the basins which makes life a little easier.  I am, sad to say, back to the bucket showers, but hey, that’s life.  I can’t complain about the food at all.  It has been amazing.  My first night we had spaghetti with red sauce – which is pretty common around here – but we also had homemade garlic alfredo sauce, garlic bread, a fresh salad and dill dressing….what?!?!  Everything is freshly made.  Even the bread.  We have a huge vegetable garden next to the house – and when I say huge, I mean what most of us would consider a hill side.  The garden has strawberries, guave trees, passion fruit, zucchini, squash, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, green peppers, oregano, basil, dill, and a lot more that I am forgetting. 

As for the work itself, Wednesday, my first day here, was an insanely busy day.  The community we live in has a nearly 40% HIV/AIDS infection rate.  After being here a short while, Susan started a program to transport those she met who were infected to get the ARVs they needed to become healthy again.  Now, seven years later, with the help of many of the villagers, she has built a clinic that serves almost 500 men, women and children.  Twice a month they travel from miles away on foot to receive their medications.  She also provides education for new mothers on how to prevent the passage of HIV to the new babies.  New babies in the area are also given milk and formula.  It sounds relatively simple, but formula is extremely difficult to find here and VERY expensive.  Susan again got help from some of the local villagers and they have managed to negotiate a good price for the formula from South Africa.  Anyway, Wednesday was CTC day, the day when everyone comes to the clinic, which is just down the path from the house, to receive their ARVs.  Susan took me to the school in the morning at 7:30 am to meet her first class.  The next thing I knew she handed me the exercises and lesson book and said she had to go to the clinic.  I was teaching an English class.  Well, as things happen here, one class turned into four classes and by 2 pm, after pretty much winging 6 hours of class, I was starving and exhausted.  (Props to all of my teacher friends – I don’t know how you do it every day!) 

After the last class, I walked down to the house during the student’s break and met Susan on the path from the clinic.  She immediately took me down to meet some of her friends.  Thankfully, by 3 pm we made it back to the house for a quick bowl of beans and rice and then it was back to work.  I spent the rest of my afternoon meeting mother’s and their children, tracking who came and handing out milk and liche (a soybean, peanut mixture with another ingredient I have forgotten).  Around 6 pm we went to visit a women who did not show up for her ARVs during the day.  She has a cancerous infection on her leg that is common in pregnant woman who are HIV positive.  Susan had arranged for her to go to the nearest large town to get a referral so that she can go to the only cancer treatment center in Tanzania that is located in Dar es Salaam.  I am told the center is over-crowded with two or three patients to a bed.  But it is the only option Tanzanians have.  The trip will not be easy, but the treatment will save her life.

And that was just the first 24 hours!  Tomorrow Steve, Emmanueli, Sarah and I are leaving for 3 other villages where we will help teach a computer-based book keeping system to designated people at the schools.  Students pay for their tuition as they can and with over 3,000 students you can imagine how keeping track of the schools fees can get messy when everyone is paying a little bit at a time.  Tuition is the equivalent of about $25 for a year and some students pay that in four or five installments.  That’s a lot of receipts! 

I’ll update you again when I can – and hopefully get some pictures up, as well.  Pray for internet!  It may not seem as important as rain, but sometimes it feels like it!

Monday, January 23, 2012

On the Road Again

As some of you may know, I have recently made a change in my plans for the second half of the year – a BIG change…but a great one!  I am writing this post from Wihanzi Guest House in Iringa, TZ.  I’ve had my dinner – chipsi mayai (a favorite of mine made of eggs and french fries, especially at the cost of 1600 Tsh – about $1).  
Chipsi Mayai

Wihanzi Guest House
I took a 13 hour bus ride from Arusha in northern Tanzania, down to south central Tanzania today.  It’s been a long day;  however, judging by the speed (or lack there of) of my internet here, I have a feeling it may be difficult to post anything from the villages so I figured I better give you all a quick update now.  Also, when you have a chance, take a second to look at my “Photos – Munich 2011” page on the right.  I’ve uploaded a few more pics from Germany that I didn’t get time to put up over Christmas. 

This morning I said goodbye to my dear sweet friend, Carolina, who I met in Arusha over Thanksgiving break.  I nearly missed my bus.  Everything here in Tanzania is slow…except the long distance busses which seem to be in the biggest rush when you are trying to load 3 suitcases and a backpack in the storage space underneath.  The ride was hot and long, but beautiful.  I saw 3 herds of elephants, several impala and a random warthog along the side of the road.  And the landscape in central and southern TZ is amazing.  We were moving too fast to take pictures, but as soon as I get some I will post them on the blog.

After a lot of “no’s”, much prayer, and good advice from friends and family, I have been given the opportunity to work as an intern with Village Schools International – Tanzania (VSI).  I won’t go into much detail about the organization now, as I’m sure I will have much more to share once I get to work, but take a minute to check out their website  Steve and Susan Vinton started VSI in 2005 and have since helped poor villages build over 20 secondary schools in rural Tanzania, with many more in the works.  There is a severe shortage of secondary schools for children here in Tanzania.  Less than one in eight children will ever have the chance to attend secondary schools purely due to a lack of space, teachers and schools.  VSI is working to bridge the deficit between supply and demand in rural Tanzania

Tomorrow morning, Steve Vinton and a couple of the Tanzanian VSI workers who have been with him since the beginning will pick me up and we will head out to the village of Igoda where Madisi Secondary School, VSI’s first school, is located.  I believe I will be living in Igoda, but to be honest, I have no idea where or what to expect.  I’m a little nervous that my excessive luggage might even scare Steve away!  I’m hoping he sees what’s in my heart before he judges me by all the stuff I’ve managed to cart across Tanzania in my bags!

So tomorrow I am heading into the unknown.  I may or may not have a shower, flushing toilet (or flushing hole in the ground), real floors or even a tin roof.  Who knows.  But, what I do know is that working with VSI in Igoda, Tanzania is exactly where I am supposed to be.  And while it may be challenging and a huge lifestyle change for me, I am not afraid.  Something big is around the corner…I can feel it. 
Mt. Kilimanjary - 1.23.12