Our trip to Tanzania - East Africa was truly a wonderful experience and we all came back a little more grateful for the life we have here, but also missing the simple life we experienced there, as well as the gracious people we met. Click on the title to read more ...
Our trip to Tanzania - East Africa was truly a wonderful experience and we all came back a little more grateful for the life we have here, but also missing the simple life we experienced there, as well as the gracious people we met.
Going as a volunteer is definately not as demanding as what missionaries face, but it was perfect for us. Such a good thing for our children to experience too - just for them to see first hand how many people in the world live, and what being "poor" really is like. It was an "eye-opening" experience for Jon and I too because the people were happy and seemed far less stressed. They laughed a lot and did not seem overly concerned with inconveniences - life just rolled along. Resilience is what they had, especially the women, and although they were poor, they were very rich in spirit, so that brings up the question "Who are the poor ones.? That is what goes through my head now that we are back home again living in our rich, comfortable, yet stressful modern world. I really can't say that you can come back from a trip like that and be the same person - not as an adult anyways. And I hope it will have had an impact on the girl's life, if not now, then later on, as right now they are at that self-absorbed stage of life. I've already threatened them about moving to Africa and living in a mud hut! haha. Anyways, back to our travels.
We left Vancouver on July 13th with sixteen pieces of luggage - half which was filled with school supplies that we collected from the girl's schools and some clothes and toys that I had bought on sale or dug out of the girl's "too small" trunk. I was still packing and weighing suitcases at 3 a.m. on the morning we were to leave and my mind and nerves were frazzled. We had to leave by 7 a.m. and I hadn't even went to bed yet or packed my own stuff. I was thinking to myself, "what are we doing this for?, what if such and such happens? How about if the kids get deathly sick?, and what important items have I forgotten to pack...?" All the negative thoughts that one thinks when they've been so busy trying to get things done, are sleep deprived and anxious about this venture. The only important thing I did forget was the battery charger for the new video camera I had bought for the trip so that was annoying. Once we got on the plane though, I did start to get excited, and Jon and the girls were very hyped up about going. The mom always seems to have the brunt of making sure the house is in order, instructions clear for the house sitters, and all loose ends gathered up. No wonder we are so cranky when it is time to leave!
Now looking back I don't know why I had to have every loose end tied, but I am abit of a perfectionist that way and I know you ladies can relate.
Our flights took us to Toronto, then to London where we had an 8 hour wait before catching our next flight to Kenya. It's a good thing as we had much rejuggling to do with all our bags. From Canada, you are allowed two pieces of hand luggage plus a lap top computer, and then two pieces of checked luggage. We had three laptops that my brother Dave donated and had asked us to bring over for the orphanage and schools, and he brought one over too. He was also heading over to Tanzania and helping out in a different orphanage and school so we would meet up with him there. He arrived in Tanzania two days before us. Anyways, in Britain they only allow you to have one small carry-on and a laptop so here we were wondering how we were to get all these bags on the plane. Finally we discovered that there was a place in the airport that wrapped luggage together so you could put two bags together as long as it didn't go over the allowed weight so we spent a hundred bucks getting several bags plastic wrapped together, but still had abit more hand luggage than we should of. Luckily the airport people let that go - we found that if you mention you are going to an orphanage, they will let some of the rules slide! Everyone has a soft spot in their heart for orphans. That was an ordeal though, and like I say, it was a good thing we had an eight hour wait as it took most of that to figure out what to do with all our bags, as well as pass all the strict security rules at Heathrow airport and long line ups for everything. We let out a huge sigh of relief when we were finally on our way to Kenya -our next stop.
We had a few hours to wait at the Nairobi airport which certainly gave us our first impression of Africa - disorganized, dirty, cramped and crowded! Finally after about 48 hours of travelling and waiting in airports, we arrived at the Kilimanjaro airport near Arusha, Tanzania. I remember during the flight, Jon waking me up to see the impressive Mt. Kilimanjaro which I peeked at for about 3 seconds and promptly fell back asleep. We were exhausted and sleep deprivation had caught up to me. We were so relieved when we got off the plane to see my brother Dave and a staff member from Global Crossroads (the organization we booked our volunteer holiday with) waiting for us. We could not wait to get rid of all this luggage. Unfortunately, there was too much luggage for our flight, probably due to us, so our bags were coming in on the next flight, which was in a couple of hours. We ended up getting some lunch at the airport and just waiting for our bags to show up which amazingly, they all did! Now the problem arose of "why so many bags?", and poor Jon who hadn't even packed any of them, except for his own, had to explain to the customs official that much of the stuff were just school supplies that were going to the orphanage and school that we were volunteering at. Well, the customs fellow decided that he should look through a bag and found some very nice pens along with all the school stuff. He promptly stated that he had children in school too, and they could use this pen. Jon gladly gave him all four pens. He was just thrilled and said "Enjoy your stay." Yes, this was Africa!
The first night we stayed at one of the better hotels due to the recommendation of my brother who had stayed at a noisy one the night before and wanted to get a good nights sleep and a hot shower. Most places don't have hot running water unless they are the higher end hotels so we agreed to that knowing that a good night sleep and hot shower sounded pretty good. We ended up meeting some other volunteeers that were with the same organization as us, as well as the country coordinator for Global Crossroads and also the man (Mohan) who runs the company from the States. He treated us all to supper at the hotel restaurant. It was a surprize to see him as he lives in Texas but was on business checking out the different orphanges and seeing how things were going. They also try to find other organizatons that people could volunteer in as it is becoming a popular type of holiday now, and they also make money off it which helps fund the different organizations. We had talked and emailed him several times about our placement before booking. I think it is a good organizaton to go through although only about one-third of what we paid went to Samaritan village. We all had supper together and got to know everyone a little better. We also met a young women who had just finished working at the orphanage we were going to and it sounded just perfect. Tommorrow we would be picked up by Josephat Mmunyi who is the man in charge of Samaritan Village orphanage where we will be helping for the next four weeks.
The next bit of anxiety we had was when we were all cramped in two single beds at this hotel and what do we feel but an EARTHQUAKE!!! I didn't remember reading anything about earthquakes in Tanzania and later found out that it isn't a common occurance, but througout the next four days, there was several tremors which was caused by a volcano in the Arusha area that had been acting up. It was big news there and was on the front page of the local newspapers. This apparently had the local people worked up too so we weren't alone. The largest one we felt registered about 6.1 and only lasted a few seconds but that was long enough for us. Kayla and Jodie thought it felt neat though and were hoping to feel another one!!
It was great to finally give Dave two of the computers for the school and orphange he was helping at and one of the suitcases of school supplies. Then Dave went one direction with a fellow from Good Hope orphanage, and we went the other direction with Josephat to a beautiful and jungle-like little village called Moshono which was about 10km from the city of Arusha .There we were greeted with many shy, black, smiling faces and white teeth. Josephat was a quiet, gracious young man and could speak fairly good English so that was a big help. Most of the people living in the villages speak mainly Swahilli so communication was more difficult than we thought it would be. The older children could speak some English as they learn it at school and one of the young "Mama's" could also speak pretty good English. We did learn a few basic words of Swahilli while we were there too, which is actually a very easy language to learn. Words are pronounced just as they are spelled. Anyways the first week they kept telling us we need to rest and although we did need to get over the jet lag, we were anxious to help out too. The children ranged from 5 weeks old to 13 years old and they were beautiful, sweet and sometimes really bratty. The babies were so much fun and so cute. there were ten children two and under, and fourteen children from three to thirteen. The thirteen year old was at boarding school and would be coming home in two weeks for school holidays so we would meet her later.
The youngest mama (23years old) was Agnes and she got us involved first as we could easily ask her what we could do to help. She soon got us feeding the babies, diapering them and bathing them which was the girls favorite job.The babies are usually abandoned at birth and are found by social workers or local people. They are then brought to the hospitals and checked over and then an orphange that has room will take the babies in. The hope is that the children would be adopted by other Tanzanian's but that is not happening as quickly as they hoped so many of the children have been there since birth. Often once a child is two or three, they will not get adopted so the orphanage becomes the only home they know. Samaritan Village felt like a home too, and the children were well cared for and loved , although they lacked that "one to one" attention. They see themselves as a family though, and from what we saw, this orphanage was well run and well funded.It was so interesting for us to see that the babies drink their warm milk or their thinned porridge which is made from ground corn straight out of a cup. None of this bottle stuff and boy, when they are hungry, they just gulp it down. It tastes good too as it is sweetened with brown sugar, and butter and mixed with warm milk. This ground corn is what they make their main meal of ugali out of which would be like our potaotes. It looks like stiff mashed potaotes and is quite bland on its own, but they usually cook a tasty stew to go with it for dinner or supper. We were impressed with the food, and although it was much the same day after day, it was very tasty and healthy. The green cookiing bananas are their staple food too along with rice, beans, fish, chicken, and tasty tropical fruits such as papaya, mango, pineapple, coconut, passionfruit and of course the sweet yellow bananas. Again I'm sure we ate better than what most people do there, and the Mama's probably put a little more effort into their cooking when they have volunteers staying. Agnes and I had some good times together as she could speak good english.
Our main occupation was playing with the children when they got home from school, helping them with homework, doing crafts and other games with them and just trying to keep them entertained and happy so that the Mama's could run the household and get the meals ready. There of course is no modern luxuries to help them with their work, and they just finish one meal and it is time to start thinking about the next. Always an endless pile of dishes to be washed and dried too, and not many clean or dry dish towels to do it with. I had to really just try to overlook a lot of things and prayed we would stay healthy. And we did, except for a few bouts of diarrhea, which I managed to avoid. I washed my hands a lot and when we went to town with Josephat I often bought more cloths and towels and a few other household items that they were short of, plus lots of hand wipes for us. Things certainly are not as clean and sanitary as we are use to, but to my surprize, we all stayed relatively healthy, considering all the runny noses and skin sores that the children had, and no hot running water.
The hardest part of the job was keeping the children from fighting with eachother and destroying things while they all clammored for our attention. Some of the younger children were a little on the wild side, and the orphanage seeemed to lack consistency and discipline from the Mama's and Josephat, which of course isn't an easy job with 24 children, but the older children also helped a lot with the younger ones, especially at bath time. At times we just needed to take a little break from the chaos and escape to our room. Luckily we had our own little house to stay in behind the orphanage with our own bathroom and even a flush toilet that worked occaisonally and a shower that trickled out a bit of cold water. This was high end living for a village in Tanzania where most of the people still live in houses built with mud and sticks and don't have running water or electricity. A daily sight was seeing women carrying buckets of water on their heads with such grace and ease, and a trail of children running behind them. It was like going back in time to the days where we didn't rely on vechicles and machinery. Life seemed so simple, and even though most of the people are poor and have to work very hard for very little money, they are a joyful, smiling and extremely gracious people. Makes us look to be a miserable lot of selfish people who have more than we need but are still unhappy. That is especially noticeable to me now that we are back home again. And although you want to keep that carefree and grateful attitude, it seems much harder now that we are back home again. Anyways, we were so pleased with our placement, and although Kayla and I didn't have a chance to work in a school, it was great working all together as a family at the orphanage. I prayed a lot while we were planning this trip that God would place us where He felt was best and God did just that.
Of course Jon was in his glory with sweet little babies to hold and children that always wanted to be with him. They all loved any bit of attention we could give and we gave as much as we could. Sometimes the girls would get abit overwhelmed by their constant "wanting you to play", and being followed about, but we certainly felt needed and loved.Kayla sometimes referred to the orphanage as "entering the war zone."
There was one little girl of two that especially touched my heart. Her mom had died of AIDS and her Dad was sick with it so he had to put both his girls in the orphanage. Her name was Flora and she had these big, sad, brown eyes. She became very attached to Jon and I as she wasn't in school yet and would often follow us about or sit on the front steps of our house. Luckily her and her sister are not HIV + but there is one little baby that is HIV+ and she is quite sickly and frail. I hope she will make it. Somtimes they become HIV negative because of the antibodies they develope in utero. Her mom too died of Aids. Also several of the children get bouts of malaria which makes them very sick but luckily they have access to medicine. We are still taking our malaria medicaton and so far we are fine.
There were times I got abit cranky with the children too and a couple times even swatted a few of the them when they were really naughty or sent them to their room. This was mainly during the last two weeks of our stay when all the children were on their one month winter vacation. They called me "Mama Sue" right from the start and Jon was called Dad by some of the children or Mr. Jon by the staff. The children all called Josephat "Father Mmunyi " which was his last name and they loved him dearly. He has such a big heart for children and it clearly showed. The Mama's were all very committed to the children too, but there are eight of them - usually two on at a shift, and they all had their own ideas about mothering and running a household. A few of the older ones had funny ideas about making sure the children were bundled up really well and although it was their winter, the temperatures were so pleasant (around 18-20 degrees celcius) during the day. We had very few cool, rainy days. It was perfect for us. They also didn't like you to take the children out after their daily baths and let them crawl around because they might get dirty. Most of the time the children were just put back into their cribs after they were fed and changed and that just bothered us so much. We wanted to get them up, hold them, help them to stand, and take them outside. The problem though was the more you took the babies out, the less content they were to be in their cribs, so it was easier on the Mama's if you kept them in their beds and didn't ruin their routine. The big problem was that the Mama's just didn't have the time to give the babies or the other children the attention they really needed. The board members and Josephat though did see the need for the children to have more stimulation and attention so they do want to have more volunteers come in just to do that, and they often get visitors from other churches that come to visit and spend time with the children. That was the most bothersome thing for Jon and I though was to hear the babies awake or crying and not feel like we were free to just pick them up. Often we did, but then sometimes all of the babies would wake up and then there is only four of us and 10 babies to look after and some disapproving looks from the Mama's. We tried to be careful to not overstep our boundaries or disrupt their routine too much as I know that volunteeers can often just be in the way and more hindrance than use.
We also helped the Mama's out by doing loads of dishes, sweeping the floors, setting the tables for meals, tidying up, organizing the children's closets which was totally destroyed again within a day or two, taking the dry clothes off the line and folding loads of laundry that one lady washed all by hand in buckets of cold water and soap seven days a week. She showed us how to do ours too, and we came to dred washing day. Next time we go, we will pack lightweight clothing and a lot less of it!
Before we left, Jon gave all the staff a cash gift as the average wage is between $1.00 to $2.00 dollars a day. Hard to believe - we spend more on a cup of coffee in North America! I had brought some gifts for the children and a few items for the staff so the girls spent time organizing all that and one night we had a little party and the girls handed out the gifts to the children and we bought ice-cream for a treat. We also were able to distibute the school supplies to several of the schools and other orphanages that Josephat took us to. We visited the various schools the children attend as different aged children go to different schools. All of them were private Christian schools though and Samaritan Village is a Christian orphanage. I was abit disappointed in the lack of care the children took with the gifts we gave them. They were more interested in taking things apart, and before long cars were broken, cards and books were ripped, felt pens were dried up, crayons were chewed, sunglasses
broken and often it was the children breaking each other's things and then loads of shouting and tears. That became quite tiresome, especially when they expected a new car or item. I think this orphanage got a lot of free things and the children were not shown how to take care of their stuff and respect each others belongings. Josephat did take care to keep some items in his locked office that the children couldn't destroy.
I loved watching the children get ready for school in the mornings. They look so neat and proud in all their different colored school uniforms, and they start school at the age of three so that when they are six, they can speak and understand basic English. The government is making great efforts to try to get parents in the villages to send their children to school and have made primary education free, but parents still have to pay for books and uniforms and some just can't afford that, especiallly those living in rural areas. Most of the children at the orphanage are sponsored so the cost of their uniforms and supplies are covered and some of the schools have buses that come and pick the children up. Josephat has a van that was donated a few years ago by someone in the States so he drives the children to their different schools every day as well as overseeing the running of the orphanage, buying all the food and supplies, and being the father to 24 children. He is an amazing fellow and only 29 years old. When Jon asked him what his future plans are, he says that this is where he will stay because this is where God led him. It was so nice to be among so many faithful believers who rely so much on God for their needs, and truly believe that God will provide. When you see how their needs get met - it is so true.
Most of the population is Christian from different denominations, and then there are also Muslims and other sects. Josephat took us twice to the Luthuren church that he attends which is right near the orphanage and where the children go to sunday school. The service is three hours long - the first half filled with lots of singing and dancing and then the second half with the sermon. We certainly stood out with our pale faces, and the girls with their braces on their teeth. The pastor wanted us to sit up at the front of the church on the more comfortable chairs; we would have preferred to hide out in the back. Like I say, they treat you so well and do all they can to make you comfortable. Then the minister asked us to tell the congregation what we were doing, where we are from, ect. and it's a good thing that I'm not overly shy as I ended up doing the speaking and Josephat translated for me in swahilli. Jon and I became very good friends with Josephat and we got along very well with all the staff. There was also Fred who was the gardener and "odd jobs" man, and Masauri who came every day about 6 p.m. and stayed until morning. He was the night security man and always had the Mama's laughing, but we of course did not know what he was saying. Maybe they were laughing at us haha. - the muzungo's ( meaning white man who walks aimlessly about) That's about how you feel in Africa!
We did get to go on a four day safari with my brother Dave and it was so amazing to see lions, lepoards, elephants, hippos, baboons, monkeys, giraffes, water buffalo,
gazelle, zebras, flamingos, vultures and more. The landscape was breathtaking - just like something you would see in "National Geographic". You will need to come and visit us and see our photos, but even that doesn't do it justice. Already I have done one presentation at the girl's elementary school, have been asked by one teacher at the Middle school to do a presentation for his class, and next Tuesday there are a few older ladies from our church that get together so they want me to come and talk about our trip. I would also like to learn how to do a power point presentation on my computer and then maybe do some talks at the churches or at the community centre in the hopes of raising some money for Samaritan village or for the organization that helps fund all the many Grandmothers in Africa who have their grandchildren to raise because their parents have died of aids.I think that one is called "Can Go Grannies". There are so many orphans in Africa due to Aids - it is unbelievable! I know if we could have brought a couple children home with us, we would have. Of course we all had our favorite little ones too so it would have had to be three or four.
This experience did help us bond as a family and we felt needed and appreciated by the children and staff. Josephat told us that we were the first Canadian volunteers that they have had, and that we worked very hard helping them. Yes, we did work hard and kept busy, but it felt good and we were sure tired by 9 p.m. He also told us that most of the volunteers they get are young college students who want to do something different but are maybe not that eager to change dirty diapers or entertain a bunch of noisy children ,so instead they just put a couple of hours in playing with the children and then do their own thing. That was a surprize to us! One of the larger Mama's told Josephat that she gained two kilos since we arrived because we lightened her work load. That was a good laugh! It was nice to know that we did help lighten their load abit and were of some use. I was so proud of how well the girls managed the little ones and helped out, but a month was long enough for them and for me too. Jon I think could have stayed longer.
We were also able to help fund some of their projects, buy them some needed supplies and Jon committed to donating $1000.00 a year to them so they called us their Canadian Ambassadors. Like I say they are very gracious people! Josephat was so thrilled to receive a laptop computer from my brother and Dave stayed at our orphanage for a couple of days and helped him out with it, although he already knew quite abit about computers, having had an old one before. The children loved it too because we put our photos on there and Dave brought some DVD's they could watch .So far we have received several emails from him keeping us up-to-date on the children and staff.Since we left, one little boy named Mark who learned how to walk while we were there and was one of the girl's favorites was adopted by a local family, and now they are getting a new baby in. One day we would love to go back and visit them all. The board members had a little "ceremony" for us before we left and presented Jon with a nice african shirt and me and the girls got these beautiful colorful african dresses. It brought tears to our eyes. And then our last night at the orphange, we cooked a canadian meal for them and bought ice cream for desert - the children's favorite part of the meal. They definatley preferred their ugali and stews over our mashed potatoes and beef.
After our month at the orphanage we flew to the island of Zanzibar which is 97% Muslim so very different and also very interesting. We spent five days at this wonderful village called Page. The beach had beautiful, fine, white sand and the Indian Ocean was so clear, blue and warm. We also went on a tour where you swim with the dolphins which wasn't as relaxing as it sounds. We spent a couple of days seeing the facinating city of Stonetown and then we were all so ready to come home, but we still had another five days before flying out. We headed up to the touristy northern part of the island which again was very nice, but the weather turned abit rainy, and it was difficult going from being so busy at the orphanage to being tourists. Five days would have been plenty. Still it was such a great holiday for us, and Jon and I would love to do more of that type of thing - I'm not sure about the girls though especially as they get into their teen years. It did feel so good to put our feet back on
Canadian soil again though, especially after experiencing the confusion and corruption at the airport upon our departure from Zanzibar. It still has a long way to go to becoming a popular tourist destination which the government is hoping for. Everyone wants a tip for just doing their job and it never stops. We didn't feel that in Arusha, probably because we had Josephat looking after us, and the African people seemed friendlier and not as pushy as the people from Zanzibar. All one country but it sure felt like two totally different ones.
I could go on and on but I have been writing this for the last several hours and I do have to get some work done. The weather here is so nice and summery still. The girls are back at school - they are both in the same school, same class and have the same teacher. He is new to Merrit and is originally from Mali (northern Africa and a French speaking country). He is also very black and has quite a strong accent eventhough he has been in Canada for many years. We just met him the other night and would like to have him over for supper one night. He heard about our trip to Tanzania this summer so we have lots we would like to talk to him about. The girls are happy to be back at school and see their friends again. Jon and I are having some issues with that, and suddenly it seems (especially in grade 8) that they want as little as possible to do with mom and dad and constantly want to be socializing with their friends. We've had to make a few rules about T.V. computer, phone calls and time with friends, but hopefully we can arrive at some fair common ground where she feels that she has some freedom, and we feel we can trust her to make some good choices. I guess what worries us is we know the stuff we did, and as parents you try extra hard not to have them experience some of those things and yet they probably will anyways. I know from 13 to 16 are the difficult years for parents and youth so we will happily take any advice you can give us. Jodie is not such a concern yet as she is so involved with her gymnastics and she always seems to find things to do, whereas Kayla relies on computer, T.V and her friends. She will be starting swim club again soon which will help keep her busy twice a week and there is always homework and reading. The girls are both in band too - Kayla playing the trombone again and Jodie chose the trumpet.
I'm back at Farmer's markets again and they go until the end of October. We are getting quite a few orders for halfs and quater sides now so that makes it more profitable. Soon Christmas will be upon us again so I guess my next letter will be sending out Christmas Wishes from our home to yours.
Sue, Jon, Kayla & Jodie