Without Borders...

Abby and Sara have been best friends since they met in the dorms at Colorado State University in 2002. Each year since then, they have been on at least one trip together, with the last few years consisting of backpacking travels through Europe.

In 2010, they decided to put their desire to see the world towards a more constructive cause. Instead of taking an adventurous vacation, they chose to visit Tanzania and volunteer with Light in Africa for five weeks.

This winter, they are going back to Light in Africa to volunteer for another five weeks, and can't wait to see how much "their" kids have grown!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Whew – Merry Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve, 9:22 p.m. in East Africa. It’s long been dark and Sara and I are just getting ready for bed, scrubbing off the dirt of the day in shower. Just another day here, but definitely not the Christmas Eve I’m used to.

Today, we finished getting ready for Christmas – a job we have had since we got here and it really has been an undertaking. We have made our lists and checked them way more than twice, hoping every kid is accounted for and putting a lot of thought into each of the 200+ gift bags.

Part of our soccer crew
Together, with Tony ( a volunteer from California, who had spent the past couple Christmas’ here) and Arlene (a volunteer from New York), we finished decorating the room we will hosting the kids in and it looks great! We even had time to play soccer with the older boys at Pilgrams. I say “play” very loosely, as they don’t trust enough to pass to us – might be all the screaming we do when balls come near our faces.
Tony and Sara - expert decorators of African Christmas 

It’s hard to believe our time here again is nearly to an end and that we actually are ready for Christmas. Everyone tells us that this is the most ready they have ever been – so we’re excited. All the Zawadis (gifts) are ready and we are anxious – like kids waiting for Santa! But we’re waiting to play Santa.

Mostly, we’re excited to see the kids’ faces and just spend time with them tomorrow. Christmas like we Westerners know it, is not the tradition in Tanzania, but we hope they will think it’s very special.

We’ll let you know tomorrow. Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas from East Africa! Abby and Sara

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Long and Dirty Day

 As Abby said, we’ve been putting together Christmas gifts for all the 230ish kids supported by LIA for weeks now.  We finnnnallllyyyy got all the outfits settled for the kids in Mirerani, and as Lynn wants the kids to wear their new outfits on Christmas, we hand delivered the clothes for Lighthouse (boys home) and Fleeze House (girls home) yesterday. 

We didn’t have the chance to stay in Mirerani (actually a good thing!) like we did last time, but the down side of not having to sleep in the whore house is we didn’t get to spend much time with the around 65 kids who live out there.  When we dropped off their Christmas outfits however, we had about an hour at each house to try to trick the kids into liking (or remembering) us.  I used my iPhone and love of tomboy type activities, while Abby immediately did whatever she does to get in good with the older kids. 

After the visit to the houses, we stopped by the food kitchen again.  We actually recognized some of the kids that were there from a few weeks ago – and better yet, they remembered us.  The only time these kids see white skin is when LIA volunteers come out and help feed them lunch.  Most are so shy and scared, it takes ten minutes of making stupid faces and demonstrating random ‘skills’ (like flicking a pebble across the room) to make them warm up to you.  They pretty much just laugh, and then hide their faces, then try and do exactly what you did.  There was one little girl that was terrified of me though (even though I was ignoring her).  The other kids thought it was funny how scared she was of me so they kept pushing her at me…she must have thought I wanted to adopt her – haha.

After the visit through Mirerani to see all the kids, we somehow ended up driving through the Tanzanite (high priced gem only available from this area of Tanzania) market.  The route was actually kind of stressful, as the car was so surrounded by shady looking fellas the Land Rover was constantly honking - third world style.  I didn’t get too worried though until Tony (another volunteer who’s older, over 6’ and has worked and volunteered all over E. Africa) looked around at Abby and I sitting in the rear of the vehicle and said, “Mama Lynn would not be okay with you guys being here”.  I think I just said, “uhhh….should we lock the doors”?  Although I absolutely felt on edge driving down that street, it was pretty interesting seeing how that ‘blood’ gem trades hands.

Tony had two neighbor girls who raised $100 for him to buy some goats for LIA, so Abby and I were thrilled when we were able to tag along.  As I grew up with goats and still think they’re pretty cute, I was excited to go to the largest live stalk market within a few countries (yes, countries – not counties).  We pulled up to this field-ish area, and there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of goats (the cows, sheep, donkeys, etc. have another area).  Maasai were everywhere, some with a heard of around twenty, some with a heard of one, but EVERYONE wanted you to look at their goats. 

I was happy to oblige, and was quick to ignore the ugly goats and point and smile at the cute ones.  Tony and Paulo (the guy who was actually doing all the work that goes into buying goats from a field) were not too thrilled with my eagerness to let the salesmen know I liked their merchandise, and they kept telling me to keep my mouth shut and my head down – yeah….right.

Finally, no thanks to me, the guys were able to agree on two wonderful goats for Tony’s donor girls.  The lady goat we immediately named Zawaiti (gift in Swahili), and the very endowed male we got is named Chakula (food).  The hope is that ‘food’ will give some gifts to our girl ‘gift’ before he’s our dinner.  When we have to fill out the customs declaration form that asks if we've been around any live stalk, we're going to be lying severely when we say no.

The best part of this goat experience (for me) was teaching these tough African kids how to milk a goat.  They will walk through cow poop, pull 3’ thorns from their feet with little limping, and pick up giant bugs for fun, but if you let a dog lick you too much, or touch a goats nipples – you are the grossest and funniest thing alive.  I was clearly doing all I could to gross them out, talking about five of the bravest (or weakest) of them into trying to milk it, and they all though it is horrible.  To really get them squealing, I’d shoot the goat milk at their toes.  Never thought I’d be able to make an African child grossed out, they must have all been city kids.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

5 days until Christmas – do you have your shopping done?

We do!!! (hopefully!) A Christmas miracle.

One of our BIG jobs has been getting ready for Christmas here. All kids in Light in Africa care receive a new outfit and then a bag full with a toy/gift, new underwear, socks, a toothbrush, a juice, biscuits/cookies, and some sweets. For over 200 children, this job has been (needless to say) keeping us very busy. Luckily through our friends and family who gave us clothes and gifts as well as the various things gathered over the year by LIA, we had a good place to start – so we thought.

It turns out, 2 nearly 30-year-olds, who don’t have kids and only really spend time with African children, have no idea what will fit which kid. Outfits we picked out for 6 year-olds would maybe fit 3 year-olds. Also, we know most of the kids at Tudor Village very well, but the kids at Mirerani and Pilgrams, we have maybe seen a couple times – so had we been left on our own we would have some interesting outfit and gift choices.

Frida, Sara, Rita (our hero) and me
Luckily, we had two of the older girls, Rita and Frida, came to the rescue. Rita and Frida came to LIA as children and have both been here nearly since the beginning. Now, getting ready to start college or further schooling, the kids are serving LIA for a year before moving on. They have helped us sort out the clothes and gifts for all of the kids, trying to remember who each one is and all the kids in general.

Then we went to the market the first time, looking only for girls clothes. We were originally told that for pants it would cost 2000 schilling each (the equivalent of about $1.50). Unfortunately, as it is close to Christmas and we are Mzungus (white) – we were not able to buy pants, they were giving us prices for 20,000 schillings, almost 10 times the price. Luckily, we had Rita and Frieda again to help bargain.

We spent hours the first time walking through the market trying to find the right sizes. And then if we found the right sizes, trying to find something that at least half-way matched. And then if that all worked out, something that didn’t have some kind of hole in it. On the first day, after lots of sweat from walking around the hot market and then sitting on the crowded buses, we were happy to enjoy some lunch and Fanta pineapple with the girls.

Then, on Tuesday, we had to tackle the rest of the boys clothes. We needed to buy for over 30 children, and given our first experience, we were not too confident that that would happen in one day. We decided to go to Arusha (a bigger city, where all the Safaris go out to the Rift Valley and Serengeti and where the Rwanda trials are currently taking place).

Pastor Frank (a long time staff member of LIA and a truly wonderful man) drove us with Rita and then an older boy Freddy to Arusha. Freddy was to be our body guard, but as he can’t stop smiling, we decided to be extra cautious ourselves, too.

piles of clothes ready for deserving owners
When we got to the market, all we saw was a maze of fruits and vegetables filled with people. We walked through what we though was the whole thing, quite discouraged that we had driven a hour to not find the market and with the thoughts in the back of our head – there’s only 1 week until Christmas. We stopped in the middle of the market – worried.

Then, we opened our eyes to a little shop right in front of us. Rita asked how much the pants were and the man replied 22,000. Discouraged, she started to walk away and Sara and I knew we had a long day ahead of us. Then, something made her turn back, and she way able to get them down to 7,000 (a little over 3 dollars) per pair of pants. We were able to find 30 pairs! And then 20 shirts!! We were done in less than a hour. Pretty convinced some sort Christmas miracle.

gifts ready to be packed
Yesterday, we bought the juice, cookies, candy and hopefully last two pairs of pants. Now its just time to wrap everything and triple check that all the kids are accounted for. A big job – but thanks to the great help and company, Sara and I have enjoyed it and are really looking forward to seeing all the Light in Africa kids on Christmas day!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Birthday Party

Birthdays are celebrated monthly at Tudor Village, and each month, it’s one of the volunteer’s jobs to plan a party for all the kids whose birthday falls in that month.  As a birthday party for November didn’t end up happening, Abby and I combined the November and December kids into one party.  All the kids were about 10 years or older, so we started thinking about what types of fun things we could do for their party.
First, we thought about doing the “standard” Light in Africa birthday party.  We’d have sodas, little cakes, everyone would get a small gift, invite one of their friends, and we’d all play games.  The problem we kept coming up with though, is what game does a group of nine kids (aged 10 to 15) want to play?  Pin the tail on the donkey?  Na, probably not.  What about donkey rides from a local Maasai?  Also, not likely the local Maasai woman would not be interested in removing her water buckets from her donkey to accommodate.  Maybe laser tag and ice skating at the local event center?  We called, but they were all booked up with other parties.  So…we decided to do something a little different, but ever popular.  Instead of getting them gifts and having a party at Tudor Village, we’d take the birthday kids swimming at a hotel.

Sounds easy right, well – nothing ever is here.  It’s the best and worst part about this place.  We planned to leave around 1pm, but only two of the kids showed up.  Silly us – they eat around 1, we should have known they would not leave before eating lunch.  We finally left around 2pm, loading six people in one tuk-tuk (rickshaw) and five people in another.  Then, we went to the bus station in Boma, found an empty dala-dala and waited for about 25 minutes until they crammed another 15 people in the minivan.

After finally arriving in Moshi about an hour later, we had to walk about 30 minutes to the hotel we were planning on swimming out.  Only problem was, we found out it was closed for a wedding.  Plan B was swimming at the local YMCA.  We paid about 30,000 shillings for fourteen of us to swim (two other kids and an adult had been at the local hospital for tests so they were able to join us). 

Swimming suits in Tanzania are not your normal suits.  They pretty much wear whatever they have (shirt and shorts), so getting seven preteen to teen girls outfitted appropriately for swimming was actually a bit of an ordeal.  There was plenty of swapping shorts, giggles, and then swapping again.  Finally…we made it to the pool around 4pm.

The kids had an amazing time - laughing, splashing, trying to float and trying to drown.  Abby and I had a great time having goose bumps for the first time since we’d arrived in Tanzania.

We had to get out of the pool at 5pm, as we have a 6pm-ish (dark) curfew, but a pool party is a fantastic party in any country.   

Monday, December 10, 2012

21 deep in a land rover – this is the Tanzania I remember.

 We have now been in Tanzania for 2 weeks and during the time, I kept thinking, wow, Tanzania has definitely changed in two years. Here, we now have hot water, coffee, breakfasts that don’t only include peanut butter and white bread, and even Internet. There are now tuc-tucs (the rickshaws from India) to take us to the little town Boma, so we don’t have to walk the 30 minutes to get there. And, we have only see one cockroach and what was most likely a tarantula, but not near the creatures we were used to having in our rooms two years ago.
Getting medicine ready to be distributed

Well, Friday, on our way back from Mirerani, I was quickly reminded where I was. We were in Mirerani to put on a medical dispensary for the people of the town, who don’t generally have access to medical services, let alone free medical services. We were able to help over 100 people, mostly provided them drugs for Malaria, respiratory illnesses and infections as a result of weakened immune systems due to HIV/AIDS.

Playing with the food kitchen kids
The dispensary took place at the Light in Africa food kitchen. We were also able to help out there, where about 300 kids are fed generally their only meal of the day. The kids names are recorded and they are given a big helping of maconde (a mix of beans and maize), a piece of fruit, and a glass of water. Somehow, however, on Friday, the food kitchen was quite full and the food ran out with about 20 kids left. Sara and I’s hearts just broke seeing the kids peering through the holes in the wall, hoping to still get in. They were given water and piece of fruit, but we were just aching thinking that might have to hold them over until the next day. Ramesha told us, that the food kitchen was unusually busy that day – probably because they knew we were there – and normally there is enough food. That helped calm us a little bit.
Sara's new buddies

These people of Mirerani also do not have access to these medical services or much food, as the only way to reach this town is a bumpy Land Rover ride, which are obviously few are far between for these folks. So after the dispensary, we hoped in the public transport of a Land Rover. For 2,500 shillings each (about the equivalent of $1.75), we were able to get back from Mirerani, along with 21 other people in a normal sized Land Rover. At first, the four of us climbed in the back (trunk) sitting on the ledges which were little benches. That was already cozy. Then, another 2 men came in the back and sat on the benches. That was just squished. Then 2 other men came and stood with their heads out of the tops. That got claustrophobic. I thought, alright nice and full, let’s get on with it. And then we picked up 2 more women (who were not petite), who also stood – making it 10 in the trunk and a driver’s helper hanging out the top. I felt nauseous and obviously not too thrilled about the safety situation on this unkept, dirt road – contemplating where to hurl if needed. I decided in my hands would be the best bet.

The back of a Land Rover, where we had actually 10 people
But, 30 minutes, several bruises, pretty intense back pain, fallen-asleep limbs, and sweat-filled (probably not just my own sweat), we arrived to the bus station back to Boma, all in one piece. I remember thinking – yep, that’s the Tanzania I remember. And, these people have to do this everyday – what a different world. And in case you were wondering, we now have discovered more creatures too, further confirming for me that Tanzania is still Tanzania, but more on that later!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Bodily Fluids

Rosy & Mary
We all know mom’s have to deal with some horrible things.  It starts at the contractions, and probably ends about their death.  As a single, non-parent person – I don’t have to deal with many issues that aren’t my own, and I like it that way.  My dog is trying to teach me how to deal with the unpleasant issues that come along with caring for something or someone, and I’ve heard enough stories from my nurse roommates to realize other people are able to help out in these areas, but I’m aware I’m weak and like to walk away when certain situations arise.

I have issues with smells – issues that involve an involuntary gag reflex and total loss of control.  Every time I have to pick up my dog’s poop, I gag to the point of tears and break out in a sweat.  Now that you have an idea of my lack of composure, imagine me getting puked on by a sweet little six year old with motion sickness. 

I had been sitting next to Rosy on the bus (one of the twins) on the way to Tanga, and when we returned from the bathroom break at the rest stop, her sister Mary was in my seat too.  As they are tiny girls, there was no problem fitting the three of us in the two seats, until Mary started spitting (or so I though) out the window.  As I’m watching her “spit”, I kept thinking, huh – that’s a lot of liquid for a spit.  I’d ask if she was okay, she’d give me a silly little smile and nod yes.  I thought, weird - ohhh well, back to my sandwich.  Then…it happened again, with more “spit” this time.  I asked Ramesha if he could please ask her if she was okay. He assured she was okay, but yes, she was throwing up out the window.  When I look over at her – she just smiled at me again, and her twin laughed (AWESOME, I got stuck with a pucker).  Ramesha just handed me a plastic bag and smiled.  Everyone just smiles here, and no one thinks maybe this is a problem.

A few minutes go by, and she starts using the bag, but not well.  Something takes over, and I help her hold the bag.  I’m sure my face is horrified, and I probably stopped breathing, but all I know is I held the bag, got puck all over my hands, and didn’t puck in response.  I felt awesome and adult that I held it together.

Two days after getting puked on (and proudly not puking on someone back!), I got peed on, by Mary’s twin Rosy.  We had been at the pool swimming, and she urgently ran up to me and said TOILET.  So, we grabbed our sandals and went to the bathroom.  I assumed she just wanted an escort, until she started to try pulling the bottom of her one-piece swimming suit down.  I started to help her remember it comes down from the shoulders, and she starts squatting – on my foot.  Again, I’m sure I looked horrified, but I didn’t freak out, and she just smiled up at me.

Later that day, after our shower at the pool, a bird pooped on my head.  Everyone said I was lucky, but I think that’s just the polite thing to say to someone who has had lots of unwanted bodily fluid on them.

Moral of the story – now that I’m rounding my 29th year, I think I’m growing up.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Our Mandela

Our new friend, Mandela

Mandela in our sunglasses. Unfortunately we don't have any yet of the smile, but will take some shortly!
One boy we took to Tanga was from Pilgrams, near Tudor Village. Mandela loves to sing and dance and has a smile that will one day break many hearts, as it definitely broke ours!
Mandela got to go to Tanga even though he was not from Mirerani because he is new to Light in Africa. LIA took him in after his mother accused him of taking the equivalent of 20 cents. She then proceeded to beat and burn him. His face is still healing with raw scars about a year later.

Meeting this boy, anyone in their right mind would never think he would steal or do anything remotely wrong – leading me to believe that she was (like so many of these children’s parents) – mentally ill. For Sara and I, it is unthinkable to imagine that anyone would do such a thing to a child, but especially this boy with his beautiful, innocent smile and the best facial expressions you can imagine.

Mandela is about 11 with the heart of about 11 eleven-year-olds. He helped make our job easier by looking after all of the kids. If one didn’t get a mango that had fallen down from the big tree outside our hotel, he made sure they all had one. He helped all of them swim (as he was the only one who actually could), even Mary, the ~100 pound 12-year-old who used water wings. If the kid’s juices were uneven, he would make sure everyone got the same. His protective nature, even of us, was just cool.

Mandela is like the other kids at LIA, who are willing to share anything – even Mary who shared all her water wings and goggles with all the other children at the beach. But those kids have been living with 200 other children for years, and Mandela is relatively new – showing us again that Light in Africa really treats every case specially and works to integrate the children quickly.

Even with his extreme maturity, he is still a kid. I would find myself walking and suddenly my hand being grabbed by Mandela, even though he didn’t need – just wanted the warmth of another person. If we would smile, he would back. Not knowing why. So again, the children have given us more than we could ever give them – the gift of knowing truly special people.