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!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Leaving Tomorrow

Friends - we have some bad news...we have to leave tomorrow. That means we will no longer be able to wake up at 8am, start beers around 2pm, and go to sleep around 11pm.

This place is a whole new world from where we've been. We miss the kids tons, but all the sleeping, amazing sunsets and cocktails have been easing the pain. We'll give a little closing update in the next few days.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Lasy day at LIA

Hi all, today is our last day with the kiddos. It’s going to be very difficult and we are not looking forward to it at all. We have honestly had a life-changing experience and are so grateful to have met every single person involved with Light in Africa here in Tanzania. Thank you to all of them for changing our lives.

On our way to Zanzibar for a week now – check back in later!

Abby and Sara

Market

Yesterday, we went to a local market to buy some shoes for the kids. With the help of Dada Gudilla and Dada Gloria (two wonderful ladies we will miss very much), we made our way out to the bustling market located on a free area of dirt (with stands made of scraps of wood - or so it looked). There you can buy everything from shirts and jeans with Obama’s face plastered on it to Steve Madden hand-me-down shoes.

Sara and I were “mules” in her words, as we were of no help bargaining the prices or even picking out acceptable shoes – these women just know better! I did get to pick out one pair of gold Nike shocks, which I was real excited about for some little girl. It’s amazing that all of our hand-me-downs – you see labels from Good Will, Old Navy, or Ross (we even saw an AWESOME New Kids of the Block sweater we wanted to buy off someone) – are Tanzanians “new” clothes.

After about three hours and a lot of haggling on Gudilla and Gloria’s end, we bought 73 pairs of shoes for around $360! These kids go through shoes like crazy and it’s they are really a hot commodity around the homes. We were happy to be able to contribute some of our raised money to this. Today, we left money for the rest of the children to get shoes as well.

Clinic

Due to the amount of children at LIA who have the “virus”, a hospital in Moshi (largish town near Boma) now sends out a team of doctors and nurses to Tudor Village to handle the kids monthly testing and prescription handouts.

I unfortunately realized immediately why they were testing only certain children – Abby however, came to understand the meaning of the clinic at an inconvenient time, while we were playing with the kids in the make-shift waiting room. I had a few minutes to shove my emotions into that dark place we all have for the time being, Abby regrettably did not.

Realizing that a child, who you’ve come to love over just a few short weeks, was given an incurable disease that (given their circumstances) will more than likely end their precious lives shorter than is fair is incredibly hard to swallow.

I kept thinking – she’s such an amazing kid – funny, beautiful, thoughtful, etc., etc., etc. what if she’s not able to become that changing force for Africa I know she can be? He’s so smart and kind, with a healthy dose of mischief, what if by the time he’s old enough to make a difference, or even have a family of his own, he’s not healthy enough to do so? These children were born with a curse, and I feel like it’s so unfair that it’s their problem to deal with – they are just an innocent victim. Thankfully however, Mama Lynn has made sure they receive their medicine and the doctors are able to keep up with their monitoring and keep them the healthy and vibrant child we know and love.

Abby and I were lucky enough to be able to help out with that aspect as well – financially and with hands-on support. The day after the clinic at Tudor Village, a few of the kids were required to show up at the hospital in Moshi for further testing. So, we, along with one of the Mama’s (i.e. caretaker) took off for Moshi with 8 kids all under 12 years old, including one baby, and one with special needs and a lot of energy We paid for all eight children to be seen by a doctor, have blood taken, and whatever else they did in the check-up rooms, along with x-rays for two of the kids. Total cost - 27,000 shillings, (which is under 20 dollars), a few boxes of cookies, 4 hours of our time, and priceless memories.

KIA Lodge

There is a beautiful hotel near the Kilimanjaro airport called Kia Lodge, and due to Mama Lynn’s relationship with the owner – her kids get to use their swimming pool for free. Since we first arrived five weeks ago, we’ve been very excited to take a few of the kids on an afternoon trip to the pool, and thankfully yesterday – we were able to make it happen.

One of the Mama’s chose for us to take a girl who has been especially helpful in her home (to our excitement – we’d already fallen in love with this girl) and we picked two of her friends to join us. We told the girls we’d pick them up after lunch, and by the time we were able to break away, it was around 2pm. The girls had been waiting and were dressed up adorably for their little afternoon out.

No children can actually swim (clearly lack of swim lessons available), regardless of the fact one of the girls we brought with us thought she was actually a fish. The afternoon was amazing and we had so much fun splashing around, playing Marco Polo, and watching the airplanes take off from the airport. Amazing way to spend an afternoon and something I plan on doing many times the next time I’m here.

Mirerani health dispensary

When we were discussing with Mama Lynn what all we could do with our donation, the idea of a health dispensary in Mirerani was brought up and we immediately loved the idea. As you’ve read, the town is a literal pain in the butt to trek through (I’ve got bruises to prove it) and without a bank you can imagine a hospital is out of the question. What the town does have however is a health dispensary (heavily supported by LIA).

As ignored as the actual town is, you can only imagine what the surrounding area is like – right? Now imagine something worse…that area is where LIA does their heath dispensaries. These people are living about an hour away (via Land Cruiser) from the “town”, and have very limited access to any resources – medical/food or otherwise necessities. So, Abby and I (with donor money) paid for one doctor, two nurses, a Land Cruiser to get us all to the very remote Maasai village, as well as all the medicine previously requested by the doctor (yes, in Tanzania – you just walk into a pharmacy with money and walk out with whatever you want).

The doctor with us at the Maasai heath dispensary is one of the doctors at the dispensary in Mirerani and it was a great pleasure getting to know him. He has one of the most genuine smiles and frequent laughing episodes of anyone I know, and seeing this hope/joy in someone who has seen such terrible things was very appreciative. We were able to sit with him in the makeshift clinic as he very efficiently diagnosed his 150ish patients. Most of the people (who had heard via word of mouth about the clinic and many traveled from other villages) had waited outside in the heat and sun for hours to be seen by this man, and many were able to diagnose themselves. They knew they had lung problems (bronchitis) from all the dust, they knew they had worms (don’t actually want to know how), malaria (due to the increase in information circulated), etc.

Many of the kids who showed up (most without parents) had a skin fungus growing on their head, which left untreated, turned into giant puss filled blisters. Abby and I were able to help out with that area, as neither of us have any medical knowledge that goes further than Gray’s Anatomy. We took turns putting an often time very scared child on our laps, and dipped them back over a bucket of water while the other scrubbed their head with antibacterial soap. After we instructed them to stand in the sun while their head dried, we applied a layer of ointment over their scalp, and sent them off with the rest of the medicine tube and instructions on application by a LIA staff member.

Cost breakdown for the day…

570,000 shillings for medicine

80,000 shillings for the Land Cruiser and driver

30,000 shillings for the doctor

30,000 shillings for two nurses

Total Cost – 710,000 shillings (which is around $470)

That equals to about a $3 a person cost for this incredible experience, that unfortunately due to the high cost around here, will not be able to happen again until May or June – when the official "volunteer" season begins.

Mirerani day 3 - food kitchen

Our third day at Mirerani, we helped out at the Light in Africa Food Kitchen. As mentioned in other posts, the Food Kitchen runs five days a week and serves an average of 400 people a day. The kitchen used to run six days a week, but the organization who donates the food, had to validate their donation through “research”. That essentially means they quit sending food for 5 or 6 months to see how necessary the kitchen was. Turns out, as everyone would have told them, it was extremely needed – one girl who visited the kitchen daily for her only meal starved to death in her home (mother had died of AIDS previously and left her alone).

Now for what Abby and I did at the kitchen – she was a soux chef, I was a bus boy. For 3ish hours, she was bent over a hot pot of rice (by pot I mean end-table size GIANT bowl) serving two heaping scoops of rice/bean/meat mixture with two cucumber slices, one tomato slice, and a third of a banana. The cool thing about the meal the kids are served is that it includes 100% of the recommended amount of nutritional value (as in many cases, the meal will be the childs only of the day).

My job as bus boy was to clear off the tables from their bowls, cup and spoon – as well as wipe the tables/bench down. I’m confident I had way more fun at my job than Abby did, as I was able to “talk” with the kids during my job. That means I jibber-jabbered on, and they looked at me like I was crazy (pretty much the theme here). Many of the kids had their tattered school uniforms on, but others were wearing literal rags. One little boy I remember had his adorable little butt-cheek showing from hip to knee, until his older sister strategically folded them when she noticed other kids were making fun of him. The incredible poverty and hopeless of the town can bring me to tears even now, and knowing that these kids have no one, and every day are vulnerable to terrors I can’t even imagine can make your stomach turn. In an area populated by criminals, prostitutes, and the children they make – you can draw your own conclusion.

The work and dedication Mama Lynn puts into this hopeless “town” is beyond remarkable, and I’m incredibly grateful for being able to witness her work with the people.

Car break down

On our second day in Mirerani, Mama Lynn decided that we would all go swimming with her kids. We loaded up into her 4 Runner – 5 adults and 10 kids – and made our way down the “road” (an unpaved road in miserable condition that would actually be perfect for 4-wheeling). During the dry season, this place is too dry, and in the wet season, it gets so much rain that it is cut off from the rest of the world and the roads wash away. The people’s houses (which they make out of clay) also wash away.

Heading down the road, the car decides to stop. We get out, me to escape the heat of the car, but absolutely no help in the car department (I left this to Sara – she always had her Leatherman on her), and by some freak coincidence, a man drives by, who helps Mama Lynn with daily things she needs done in Mirerani. He gets out to help along with some others (one clearly intoxicated). After about 30 minutes of trying to figure out what was wrong, and Job and Maria (2 of the kids) translating for Mama Lynn, we called a Land Rover to come pick us up (or so I thought) – there is no way we could have walked the kids back in that heat.

A full Land Rover (also used as a city buses or Dala Dalas) arrived. As I prepared myself to wait for the next one, we were told to get the kids in the car. We were then “towed” – which at first consisted of a rope and later, a chain – by this land rover back to Mirerani, all 15 of us, and the man who had stopped to help us. I asked Mama Lynn if this was the longest swimming adventure ever – she said no, just her daily struggles! I am going to have nightmares about this woman alone on the side of the road with her 11 children. Sara and I’s next goal is to raise enough for her to get a new car By the way, it was the spark plugs...

Mirerani - hopeless poverty

LIA also has 2 houses in Mirerani, a desolate town located near the airport. Mirerani’s claim to fame is that it’s the only known place in the world where the gem Tanzanite can be found, and there are several Tanzanite mines – some operated by foreign companies. However, unlike most towns where precocious materials have been found (think back to the Gold Rush), it has done nothing to help the wealth in this town. In fact, last year during the wet season, 120 miners died trapped in the mines – we didn’t stay glued to CNN for that one, did we? The money yielded from the mines (and it’s a lot) does not help this place, not even Tanzania. Most goes to South Africa. It is the most barren, hopeless, and to be blunt, poor place I have ever laid my eyes on.

Mirerani has no clean water. It’s not only contaminated with the general bacteria and viruses common in the water here, it has way too much fluoride, which turns the people’s teeth brown and deforms their leg bone structure to the point of crippling them (remember Rachel?). There is no bank, no post office (mind you this town is bigger than Boma, where the other houses are located and there are at least 2 banks there). Why? Due to the Tanzanite, criminals flock there in hopes of finding a stone or hiding there, because they know no one will look for them there – the Government has chosen to forget about this place. The place is also abundant with Masaai people, who have absolutely archaic beliefs – such as FGM (female genital mutilation). They are STILL performing female circumcision on very young and teenage girls!

Mama Lynn lives in Mirerani in a protected home with eleven children in her house. One child was taken in after his mother was dieing of the virus and asked Mama Lynn to take him, in fear that he would be snatched up by the mines due to his size. It’s estimated that nearly 3,000 children work in the mines (most abducted), as their small size allows them to maneuver into little nooks to find the gem. Other children have been with her since their birth and she considers them her kids and they call her Mom. We ask her – why stay in the place? She answers – if we don’t start to change it and educate the future generation, who will?

So, this is where we stayed for 4 days – in a near ghost town, only reachable by Land Rover that has no hospital. For this reason, nearly 60 percent of women die in child birth. Every second house is a victim to the virus. Mama Lynn, this 65-year-old lady, is out here on her own, changing things (a 3rd house is planned with a maternity ward). As you can imagine, it was a real eye-opener. Not to mention our hotel, which was infested with cockroaches and was most likely a whore house!

The Christmas Card -Continued

After finally having success at printing out our cards, we then had to make them (cut and glue onto card stock paper). This took many evenings and many mugs of boxed South African wine, as well as afternoons of the girls trying to “help” and Alena (a volunteer from Germany) lending a hand as well. Once we had the cards made and ready for the kids to decorate, the real lesson was learned.

The worst part about doing the Christmas cards was having to deal with the kids who didn’t have sponsors and knew it. One of the girls we have become extremely close with called me out on my error, and I felt terrible. I had been at her house collecting girls off our giant list, and without thinking – I asked her if she wanted to come do her Christmas card. In a very ashamed manner, she whispered to me she didn’t have a sponsor. I felt terrible, and tried to recover by asking her if she’d make a special one for me. Thankfully she agreed, and the other girls who didn’t have sponsors didn’t say anything when we asked them to make cards.

The great part about the sponsorship process at Light in Africa, is that Mama Lynn just pools the sponsorship money together. She would never tell a child they can’t eat, or go to the doctor because someone hasn’t chosen to sponsor them. The real benefit for the individual sponsored child is the relationship that is formed through letters. The below part of this post is a plea for sponsorships…

It costs LIA $15,000 a month to run this organization, which is actually very little compared to all it does. It feeds, clothes, pays for school (many of the kids go to private school because the public school teacher beat them), medical bills (keep in mind the large number of her kids who have the “virus” or other special needs), pays the staff, runs a 5 day a week food kitchen in Mirerani (serves average of 400 kids daily), runs a home for seniors, and regularly picks up medical bills, and other costs of people in both the Boma and Mirerani community.

Abby and I are each going to sponsor 2.5 kids (we are going to share sponsorship of the un-sponsored girl I talked about before), and trust me – it has been hard deciding who. Rather than choosing the kids who are most memorable (most of them already had sponsors), we have decided to chose from the kids who don’t have sponsors and have touched us (let’s be honest – EVERY ONE somehow has).

If you are interested in sponsoring, we’d love to help with suggestions on who you could request. Each one of these children are remarkable, and I’d love to be able to share with you their magic – for lack of a better word. Visit the LIA website for more information.

P.S. Light in Africa USA is in the process of becoming official for those interested in the tax break

Fire Drill

Volunteers are asked to conduct fire drills at Tudor Village and Pilgrams (the boys home) while staying here. One Saturday, we decided to do ours. Without telling anyone, we both made our way to the rusting car wheels hanging in trees that are used as the siren for fire. After ringing the “bell”/clanking the wheel with a piece of rebar, I ran into the Tumaini house, to help the children with special needs get out.

To my surprise, the older children from the other houses were already in there, grabbing the kids bigger than themselves, who are unable to walk due to cerebral palsy or who are deaf and blind, and carrying them out to the set meeting spot. I was amazed at their efficiency (yes, that is a word that is not often used here in Tanzania) and caring for the other children. Neema, a 10-year-old who has really touched us, nearly broke her back trying to carry out Beatrice, a girl bigger than her!

After less than 3 minutes, all staff and children were out at the designated meeting spot and accounted for. We were excited by the success and the seriousness given to the drill and gave out pee-pees (CANDY) to everyone. A couple weeks later, we tried this again at the boys home, only they had hidden the warning bell to ring! Those mischievous kids – let’s just say they got an earful from Mama Lynn.

The Christmas Card

Our main job while volunteering was to have the children make Christmas Cards and take pictures for their sponsors. At first, when given the job, we thought – great, we’ll have it done in a week and move on to something else. Little did we know…

After designing the card, we wanted to print out our design to paste on the over 200 cards we had to make. This proved to be no easy task. First, in the design process we used the Internet to download pictures – took FOREVER. Second, we tried printing our design in the office – there was no USB cable. Third, we went to the office at Pilgrams to print, but there was no ink. 4th, we went back to Tudor office with the USB cable from Pilgrams, which did not work with Sara’s computer and they had lost the installation CD for the printer. This next part chronicles our numerous other attempts:

5. Go to Boma to print, the town has no electricity

6. Find a store with a generator, they are out of yellow ink and the printer is from the USA, but paper A4 (took us awhile to figure out)

7. DAY 2 of trying to print: back to first shop in Boma, only a photo printer, no USB connection

8. Went to another shop, where the computer either didn’t have Adobe or they lost the installation disk to install the printer on the computer that did

9. Back 2nd store from day 1, still didn’t have yellow ink. By this time, a boy named Adam (who ended up wanting 1500 dollars from Sara and I to open a shop) decided he should help us

10. Adam took us back to the place that could only print pictures

11. Store across the street from picture place – no color ink

12 – 18. All stores that didn’t have color ink or no USB connection

19. Internet shop, ran out of ink while printing

20. Back to store with no yellow ink, they had finally got new ink.

After 20 attempts, we were able to print out 20 copies, which took an hour. We learned our cultural lesson: what is easy and routine at home (press print), is a process in Tanzania. Adam taught us that what would take 3 minutes Mwzungu time (our time), would take 30 in African time – you just have to add a zero to the end of the number! Needless to say, the Christmas card was a process (to print out all needed copies, we photocopied some in the office and ended up buying the other office a print cartridge), and had taken us all four weeks to get them done! But, most importantly, we learned how things work here

Monday, November 15, 2010

BUSY

HI Everyone,
We have been very busy, so we are trying to get some blog posts up soon. We are still doing great and really enjoying ourselves.

Stay tuned!!
Abby and Sara

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Election time in Tanzania

Since we arrived two weeks ago, Sara and I have noticed what appear to be election posters all over. Big land cruisers also drive around with loud speakers pumping up-beat music and someone yelling something over the loud speakers. Well, Sunday, October 31st was the big day for the regional prime ministers as well as the president. Although Tanzanians are relatively peaceful – yet spirited and passionate – no one was expecting really bad violence as was the case in Kenya. However, as a precautionary measure, we were asked not to leave Tudor Village until after Tuesday, when the last results were announced, as there were isolated cases of cars windows being smashed in and heated arguments in Boma, the “town” next to Tudor.

On Monday, the results were coming in and the ruling party appeared to have been overthrown in Hai District, where Boma is. The ruling party is CCM, and if you are for them, you give a thumbs-up and the other party is the peace sign. We learned this from the girls at Tudor, when I gave them a peace sign and was immediately scolded for being for the wrong party – thank goodness for learning this within the safeness of Tudor walls!

Monday night was not a quiet one. Sara and I heard what sounded like fireworks coming from the direction of Boma. It turns out; it was actually gunfire and maybe small bombs (At least that is was Dada Gudilla told us). This was however, not gunfire aimed at people, rather as warning shots in the air. Because the ruling party was overthrown, the results were held for some time, and the now ruling PM wouldn’t sign over his post. That’s why people were getting riled up and storming the headquarters in the district, and the gunfire was in the air as warnings. We weren’t thaaaaaaaat scared (granted we had had a couple glasses of our awesome box wine), and neither should you be, but we were also happy to be at Tudor, where we feel really safe, mostly thanks to our Masaai watchmen.

--Abby

October Birthday Party

With over 40 boys at the Light in Africa Pilgrim House, and around 80 kids at the Tudor Village site – having an individual birthday party for everyone is impossible and impractical. Not to mention, many of the children don’t know what day they were born, their age is just estimated, and a day of birth is made up, sometimes. Upon arrival to LIA, Mama Lynn gave us the task of planning a “small and simple” birthday party – which was exactly what we delivered.

We were given the name of 8 kids who had October birthdays, and we set about trying plan our first birthday party for 16 children (each child with a birthday was able to invite one friend.) With the help of our godsend Gloria, we ordered cupcakes from a “bakery” (no frosting L), picked up juice concentrate, cookies, suckers, silly birthday hats, and a gift for each birthday kid. We mostly gave out stuffed animals, but also gave out colored pencils (with cool fuzzy stuff on the end), and a silly hand clapper with candy to our only birthday boy. We introduced Pin the Tail on the Donkey (I drew a donkey with a giant bare butt on a piece of cardboard), as well as had a very intense water fight – complete with water balloons.

We both felt the party was a decent success, but couldn’t really get a read on if the kids enjoyed themselves and liked their gifts. The kids are so modest and reserved when you give them gifts, that because they didn’t do the “normal” squeal and run off to play with it – we thought we didn’t do that great of a job. However, the next day, we noticed a few of the kids still had their presents’ wrapping paper, the home-made card, and parts of their birthday hat. In the end, I think everyone had a great time, and they really appreciated having a special afternoon in celebration of their birth. As an October birthday girl myself, I know I will never have another party without seeing each one of their gorgeous faces.

--Sara

Language barrier – pee pee

We are learning a little Swahili everyday, and generally not remembering any of it. I think both of us wish we could do more, even though most people speak English and many of the kids quite well. But, you can just tell that these girls are so hiliarious and so full of life, and I wish that for just one conversation, I sould tell exactly what they were saying to eachtother to get their true personalities.

There have also been mishaps. Sayuni, a toddler from laughter house, whose smile and general excitedness makes you feel like you could never be sad again, was making her Christmas card the other day. She kept saying “pee pee”. I brought her to the toilet for the volunteers, foreign to her and her normal whole in the ground. She proceeded to go number 2, but then kept saying pee pee. I took her to another toilet and she went number 2 again, and then to a bush and she tried again, until I realized she must not have to go pee pee, but I found it so cute that she willed herself to poop, because I told her to. Later, I found out that pee pee means sweets – talk about lost in translation!

--Abby

Rachel

Rachel is the oldest girl at Tudor Village, at the age of 15. She helps Mama Nisa (who cooks are meals) out at meal time and is an all-round beautiful and wonderful girl. On Wednesday, we went to Machame, on the foothills of Kili to visit Rachel in the hospital after an operation on her leg. You see, Rachel comes from an area called Mirerani (more on that later), where the water is contaminated with fluoride. The people from this region have brown-stained teeth and often crooked legs.

Rachel had to have her leg broken in 6 different places to try to fix the crookedness. She was delighted to see us in the hospital, and we were quite happy to see her smiling face. Her room was shared with 20 other women of all ages and alignments. Her bed was stained and the room smelled of urine, all in all, I wanted never to have to be patient there. The women seemed to being doing fine though, all talking to each other and exciting about us visiting. I could tell Rachel was the life of the room, and she had made many friends, including her Masaai next bed mate. Although we were borderline appalled by the hospital facilities, we were touched by the spirit of the people and community feeling – don’t think you get that back at home, where people get mad about sharing a room with just one person.

Now Rachel is recovering back here at Tudor, we are glad to have her back. She loves singing and laughing. Most of all, she – like all the girls here – loves Shakira and her World Cup Waka Waka song. We have it in our heads all day, and it doesn’t bother us one bit. These girls have natural rhythm and are teaching us some moves, even though we generally can’t get our bodies to move like theirs!

--Abby

African Funeral

I’m not sure there is anything more tragic than the death of a child, even in a place like this – where death is so common. Thankfully, the death was not one of “our” kids, but a neighbor of ours and a classmate of theirs. The girls told us about it one afternoon when we were playing on the playground – they kept taking the climbing rope and putting it around their neck. We gathered after asking enough questions at that time and later that evening when we heard a woman yelling and crying, that a boy around 11 years old had hung himself, and they saw the body. Abby and I were both horrified, but also not sure how much we missed in translation.

The next day, when we were with our friend Gloria, she told us what happened to the boy. Apparently the little boy was trying to recreate a kung-fu move he had seen Jackie Chan perform in a movie. He had tied up bed sheets in a tree, and was swinging around on it – somehow the unimaginable happened trying to reenact a move.

The day after the accident, we saw at least 100 chairs on the boys parents property, and people slowly filling them all up and every spare inch of space surrounding them. The boys’ schoolmates were even escorted to the funeral by teachers. It was such a tragic accident, and hearing so clearly the mothers heart wrenching cries, made for a solemn few days at Tudor.

-- Sara

Monday, October 25, 2010

Africa Update - One Week In

Abby and I are sitting here at an internet cafĂ© (operated by one of many Indian families in the area), sipping on delicious Lassi’s (i.e. yummy tropical flavored yogurt drinks) hoping to be able to check off many of our items on our To-Do list. One of the tasks Mama Lynn gave us to finish before we leave, is to help all the sponsored children send out Christmas cards to their “families”.

Neither one of us considers ourselves crafty, and we are honestly not looking forward to the artsy part of the task, but are very excited to be able to spend some quality one-on-one time with about 200 of Mama’s kids. So today, we’re looking to our greatly missed friend GOOGLE to help with ideas for templates. As it’s about a 30min drive in a taxi to get to the internet, our posts will be about once a week – but we hope you take a little time to read below and see what we’ve been up to since we arrived last Sunday night.

Also, if you haven’t already, please take a look at the Light in Africa website. This incredible woman, along with some incredible local help, has been saving and altering the life of everyone she meets, including ours.

Asante Sana! (Thank you)

To read these posts in chronological order, jump down to the post titled Karibu. Also, more pictures to follow, this internet speed is killing our patience.

Happy House

Happy House is such a fitting name for the home of 17 toddlers. Each and everyone have captured my heart in their own way. Like all nursery’s, the kids range from the shy ones, who inevitably know how to flirt with their eyes from across the room, to the kids with the incredible energy and mischievous spirits that make you laugh so hard, and at the same time think – I’m going to need a time out from you! The one thing they all have in common? They want a hug…

When we first meet the kids at Laughter House, they greeted us on the front steps of their home and sang us a welcome song. The second they finished their serenade, they were running towards us with arms open and giant baby teeth grins. Since that first encounter with the toddlers – my love for them has grown exponentially.

I’ve been blown away with their generosity and care for each other. My second play date with the kids involved each of them getting a cookie – and after they all scampered off to nibble (and I mean nibble!) on their cookies, a few of them offered to share with Abby and I! I know adults who would barely do that (mom?!?).

They also love our sunglasses! You think they are looking at you with love, but really, it’s their reflections in your lenses they are so enthralled with. After they get tired of looking at themselves, they want a turn to wear them and show off to their friends. Some like them on top of their head, and others like to wear them normal or upside down. One beautiful girl, Nama, took mine from me after an especially long and dirty day, and was so appalled with the dirt on the lenses and frame, she proceeded to clean them off for me – with her tongue.

Life at Tudor and laundry day

Here at Tudor, we have it pretty good. Our first week in a tent – which during the winds from 8:30-11:00 p.m. seemed as if it would collapse – was actually quite cool and our room now is more than nice, mosquito nets, spiders and all. We wake up around 7:30 every morning and have breakfast, which consists of white bread and peanut butter, a banana and if we are lucky, beans or eggs or little hot dogs that we would never think of eating in the U.S. – not even after several cocktails. This past week, we have filled our days with playing with the children either here (spending the majority of the time with the toddlers) or at Pilgrams, the boys home about a 10-minute walk away. For lunch we have bread and peanut butter again, and dinner is warm. We are most excited for African night, where we get rice, meat, beans, as well as a delicious chapatti flatbread. The kids here eat very, very well, too – with huge helpings for every meal.
Armed with bug spray, sunglasses, and sunscreen everyday (and never forgetting to take our doxycycline) we go about our day among the strangest insects you’ve ever seen, birds, geckos, and the new village kittens. By the end, we not only have disgustingly dirty feet and dust everywhere, but are also covered in children wee, as our Brit friend Polly would call it, slobber and God know what else. However, just to see one of those smiles on these kids makes it all more than worth it.
Our first Sunday was also our first laundry day. Sara and I both realized, we had never hand washed our own laundry. Moms, you can save your comments, we know we are spoiled. Little did we know, we had three little girls – Jackie, Elisabeth, and Amina – who eagerly wanted to help us. Not only did they help, they taught us a lesson or two, laughing at Sara and I’s ignorance. First, you must wash your whites, getting the next lightest and so on. Rinsing is done in another bucket, and we also proved to be inept in ringing out our clothes, and were told how to do so properly. After hanging the clothes out to dry, and both of us happy not only to have the help but also the wonderful company, we figured out that our clothes were whiter than we’d seen them. In fact, I had not been able to get stains out on my white shirt for months, now – gone! And this without hot water – instead brown water – and a spin cycle. It reminded me of the laundry facilities in Bombay, where clothes came out spotless, although washed in seemingly dirty water. We decided not to think about how much soap is actually still on the clothes, as the girls insisted on pouring in loads of our concentrated soap.
--Abby

Kids helping kids and the Mzungu

One of the more touching things we have seen here is how willing these kids are to help and how they look out for each other. For example, Mary, a child found by Mama Lynn locked in a closet by her parents as she was stricken with cerebral palsy (disabilities are seen as curses here and children with ailments are generally abandoned and the mothers who birthed them punished due to old witch doctor beliefs), who lives in Laughter house is so cared by the other children, that when we give out cookies, they always make sure she gets one, not keeping the extras for themselves. Grace, another girl in that house was so sick that she was burning up all over. The other girls took my hands and made me touch her, so I knew that she was not well and would pay special attention.

Another touching example came on our first Saturday when loads of school children from Moshi came to visit Tudor Village – where we live and there are 4 homes. Together with a past volunteer named Matt, who was visiting with the international health organization Bupa for the day, we went to Boma to get cookies and juice for the visiting children. Before receiving their treats, the visiting children were asked to leave something for the children here at Tudor. They brought anything from soap to lollipops to school books. This was incredibly heartwarming – here where kids, who have little according to our standards themselves (no iPod, no cell phone, most likely no new clothes), giving kids with even less little gifts.

Bused on vehicles older than any bus you would see in operation in the U.S. and sitting at 3-4 to a seat (just think of the liability issues there) they packed into their buses. One yelled out the window – “Hey mzungu, take my picture” – to me, which was unfortunately heard by Mama Lynn, who went on the bus asking the children to treat us with the same respect as they do any other elders. You see, Mzungu means white or of European descent. We hear this all the time on the streets, like we are spectacles. Mama Lynn and her son, Marcus, get quite upset at this, saying that we don’t go around calling them blacks. I am not quite sure how I feel about this, and unfortunately don’t understand the culture enough to know if it is derogatory. Many cultures have this, and most likely, we of European descent were sure to make this distinction, if we don’t keep doing so today.
--Abby

Mama...

Is the name given to mothers and caregivers here in Tanzania. Those older than you are called Mama and those your age are Dada or sister. One special Mama and the whole reason for Light in Africa is Mama Lynn. A former social worker from the U.K., Mama Lynn felt called to Africa over 10 years ago (according to her, God said “Go to Africa” and she felt paralyzed until she happened to see a travel agency where she was standing and booked a ticket.) After her first visit, she knew that she had to come down and help. She left her family behind (that’s right, 3 kids and a 20-year marriage) and of course, all the conveniences of the Western World. She now lives in Mirerani, a “town” that doesn’t even have a bank or post office, let alone running water.

She started her first home on the side of the Kilimanjaro mountain and since, LIA has expanded at tremendous pace. At present, there are 237 children (here, the word orphan or orphanage is not used) and it is important to remember, that this is not just a children’s home. LIA also cares for the community, feeding over 1,000 people a day, at its homes with the children and staff, as well as at a food kitchen. Mama Lynn also estimates that because of the organization, over 40,000 people have been helped in only 10 years.

Listening to Mama Lynn, also a great storyteller, is truly inspiring. After seeing the worst of what the world has spit out, she still retains an excellent since of humor and wit – imposes absolutely zero judgment, and welcomes you immediately. It may sound cheesy to say, but we both feel truly honored to have encountered such a person in our lifetimes. While I have not yet equated my will to go to Africa to God (I don't think Sara either), I too, felt called for no apparent reason. If anything so far, this experience has really shown me that one person can make a difference – a 40,000 person difference. Today is also her 65th birthday, so here's one to you, Mama Lynn.
--Abby

Dala Dala and the Mountain

On our second day in Africa, we got to have our first Dala Dala experience. A Dala Dala is essentially a mini-van with about four rows big enough for 3 people, but generally fitting 4 and one row facing backwards to the rest of the bus. Our first ride had about 26 people on it, and I have seen them literally bursting at their seams with people hanging out the window and standing in the open door. Dada Gloria – an amazing woman with a bright smile who grew up on the mountain where she took us on this day – was nice enough take us and show us and our new friend Polly, a volunteer from England, on the trip. After two rides (clutching to our bags for dear life) and about 700 Tanzanian schillings (less than a dollar), we arrived at the mountain.

We began our mini-trek up the side of the mountain (the mountain being a foothill of Kilimanjaro) among gorgeous scenery of palm trees, banana trees, and coffee plants, and arrived a short time later out of breath and only a little sweaty ;). There, we saw Mama Lynn’s first children’s home. Next to it, we went in to see an elderly, bed-stricken woman. When greeting her, she wouldn’t let go of my hand, asking me to come on to her bed with her. Dada Gloria and the woman chatted, and then Gloria prayed for the woman. On her feet with eyes closed and hands out, she began to pray, becoming louder and more powerful with each word. By the end, she was shouting – the elderly woman, although barely able to move, had her hand out as well – what I can only assume was a prayer asking to eradicate the effects of the woman’s recent stroke. Looking over at Polly and Sara, I could see the tears in their eyes as well, all of us touched that Gloria, this bubbly lady full of laughter had so much passion and so much faith, and this, all for another person.

On the way down passing the river, Dada Gloria informed us that the people who lived up in this area had to fetch their water from the river twice a day, as their was no running water up there. We were amazed as the one trip without a bucket of water on our heads, was enough to wear us out. The Dala Dala ride back left us just like the trees and vegetation around the road going up the mountain – covered in dirt! Not minding the dirt, we enjoyed a Fanta Pineapple (DELICIOUS) at Mr. Price, the “Western” store located Boma, the town closest to Tudor Village.

Karibu!

Abby and I arrived to Kilimanjaro Airport safe, sleepy, and with a full belly of airplane food, around 8:30pm on October 17th. We were herded through the “terminal” by all the arriving tourists (mostly climbing Kili or doing safaris), and without any organization or formal line, waited what felt like an hour to pay $100 (US citizen pay double) to receive our Tanzanian entry visas. Imagine the shuffle to get to a crowed bar, but without any music and large backpacks in your way.

By the time we received our visas, very surprisingly, all four of our checked bags were waiting for us. We loaded each other up like mules, one backpack on our back, one on our front, and one being pulled behind us, and headed out to what we hoped was the front of the airport to meet our ride. Thankfully, Mama Lynn herself, along with her youngest son Marcus, and Light in Africa’s only current volunteer Polly greeted us.

On our drive from the Kilimanjaro airport to the Light in Africa Tudor Village in Boma, Mama told us a little about what we can expect. For our first week, we would be sleeping in a tent – yes tent – to try and “wipe out all preconceived notions, help us understand some of the poverty around us, and break down our Western habits”. After she gave us that little “talk” we had about 10 minutes to digest before we arrived, and let me tell you – there was some definite nervous laughter coming from us.

Even though the tent was about the size of a bedroom, our first night was a shocking one for sure. What felt like all night, I heard too many roosters who don’t understand their job of waking people up only at sunrise (i.e. cock-a-doodling ALL night), neighboring goats, LIA’s pet donkey Dolly (who they just noticed is actually a boy), frogs, many new bird sounds, and thankfully – have encountered minimal bugs.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Baby Shower?

People don’t really surprise me too often, but over the weekend, I was blown away. My parents were nice enough to throw me a going away/birthday party, and we had a very nice turnout of friends and family bearing gifts. The gifts were not for my birthday however, (which was perfect – I’m not 12) the gifts were for my unknown African babies. In all actuality, it turns out I hosted a co-ed baby shower with a keg of bud light and a bonfire.

People brought school supplies, story books, coloring books, board games, soccer balls, diapers, shoes, shirts and almost everything in between (see picture). I can not wait to see the look on everyone’s face when I open up the suitcase, and I’m able to tell the kids about the wonderful people across the ocean that care about them enough to buy them presents, without ever meeting them.

As Abby mentioned earlier – we not only reached our donation goal of $3000 for Light in Africa, we were able to surpass it. We still have not decided how we are going to allocate the funding, but we are very anxious to get to the facilities, see what the needs are, and go from there. Please consider helping out, if you haven’t done so already, and I promise we will do our best to make sure you are able to witness the positive results right along with us.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Overwhelmed

Last week, I had my last day in my department at Siemens. Leaving with mixed feelings (great department with great colleagues, but ready for a new challenge), I was overwhelmed by the support of my fellow coworkers. I received many gifts for LIA - from teddy bears, to games, to bottles, to office material for the LIA staff. I am so grateful to have such support from all areas.

Also an overwhelming experience yesterday - we reached our fundraising goal! We have set out chipin (the widget on this page) higher, and really excited about what we be able to do with the funds. Stay tuned - Sara has more overwhelming updates to come :o)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Fundraising....With Four Weeks to Go

Our Tanzanian departure date is fast approaching, and I’m trying not to think about it too much. It’s my personal method for dealing with stress. However, as much as I’d like to avoid thinking about everything I still have to do and buy before I take off on 10/16, I can at least feel good about a few of the things we’ve accomplished.

Combined, Abby and I have raised about $1500 – only $500 short of our volunteer fee. Abby has already dropped €300 at the pharmacy on vaccinations, and I’m up next week. I’ve slowly been picking up random supplies for the trip, like antibacterial wipes, sunscreen, shorts long enough to be appropriate in a predominately Muslim community, and bubbles. Yes, bubbles.

The Volunteer Coordinator at Light in Africa let us know of some supply needs the orphanage has, as well as some gift suggestions that could help make a kid smile, which is really what this whole thing is about. Abby and I are both hoping to bring over an extra bag full of presents, and so far we’re off to a great start. A very generous co-worker of Abby has given some items for the kids, and my aunt and her cute little quilting club have made MANY blankets and quilts for us to share on their behalf.

Thanks again for all the support – holy crap, I’m going to Africa in four weeks. See map below for where exactly.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Tollwhat? ....

Tollwut! Or the German name for Rabies. Yes, my friends, in just three short weeks, I will be eligible for such a dog tag. Amazing...
The decision to get vaccinated for rabies was not easy and I was actually told by some, I don't need it. Well, 160 euros later, I will be getting it. And should I get bitten, I still have to do to a doctor right away -- hmm... Maybe I just wanted more stickers in my "Impfbuch" (this is the German term for vaccination book - I know have one)
On Wednesday, I got vaccinated for yellow fever. Not just any doctor can give the vaccine and it is supposed to be quite tough to take and can have side-effects. Until now, I am fine and have not yet turned yellow. But will keep you updated.
Otherwise I will be getting cholera and meningitis - the vaccines that is. I made this mistake in German, telling a colleague - "Ich habe Tollwut bestellt," meaning I ordering rabies. She got quite a laugh. Who know which vaccines one really needs, if any, but the Impfbuch is starting to look quite colorful.
Sara and I are still trying to decide on Malaria pills - any suggestions?

Friday, August 13, 2010

"It's not okay with me" & "Just six weeks"

It's not okay with me....Is the name of a book I recently read at the recommendation of a friend. The book, more of a blog on printed on paper and available from used book sellers at Amazon, is written by Janine Maxwell, a former exec of a successful company, who dedicates her life to various causes in Africa after being emotionally uprooted due to the 9/11 attacks. At first, I wasn't completely thrilled with the story. God (in either all caps or normal) appeared in nearly every paragraph and the writing didn't seem like writing, rather someone lecturing me on Africa - and I had had my share of lectures. Not that I didn't want to read about her spiritual journey, but I also didn't want to read her version of the new testament.

Getting more into the book - I was able to connect with Maxwell on a level right at the surface. She helped me realize a good point. When thinking of the continent, we (society) too often tend towards, in her words, "It's too much. It's too big. It's impossible." Of course, Maxwell credits her favorite 3-letter word for helping solve lots of these problems, but she really highlights the stigma most individual face "What difference can one normal person really make?"
Not all of us are Oprah or Nelson Mandela or Bill Clinton - so how can we as individuals help? I found myself falling into this mentality when speaking of our trip - saying yeah, I'm going to volunteer "just for six weeks." Really downplaying something - that shouldn't be. These mere six weeks CAN change something and CAN create resonance - no matter how small the frequency. Just think what can happen in six weeks - entire ecosystems can be destroyed from millions of gallons of oil or on a lighter note, and with the right commitment, entire villages can be brought back to life.

So, I will be keeping that in mind - no more "just for six weeks," because who knows what "just for six weeks" can bring. I am confident to find that one person can make a difference, even if it's becoming fully convinced of Maxwell's message: "It's not okay with me."

Conicdently, on the occacion of this blog post, I found an interesting story about one guy started with helping out just a little - his "just six weeks" - and ended up dedicating a lifetime to helping causes that were too big, too much. http://www.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/08/12/cnnheroes.marysmeals/index.html?hpt=C1

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

"Hakuna Matata - What a Wonderful Phrase"

As a welcome to Abby’s and my blog – we each wanted to give a quick personal introduction as to why we are going to work at the Light in Africa orphanage this fall.

Abby has given her perspective and reasons for this decision recently, and now, I am going to attempt to bare my soul (which anyone who knows me well, realizes how terrible I am at it, so please bare with me).

As Abby details below – this whole little volunteering in Africa thing is her fault, errr idea. I’ve always wanted to do something a little more important with my life than having a good time, and traveling the world is high up on my priority list, so this little trip seemed like the perfect option. Plus, I’m way too chicken to do anything like this on my own, so traveling with my favorite person to a new place is a no brainer for me.

To be very simple about my life adage, I believe in having fun - plain and simple. Luckily I have been very blessed to have a great family and friends who generally are right on board with this train of thought. So, in the language of my soon to be temporary home, I believe in the life motto of "hakuna matata" (for those of you who haven't had the pleasure of watching the Lion King, “hakuna matata” is Swahili for "no worries").

It could be because of this “no worries” mentality I generally have, that I feel it is so important to help those who have nothing but worries, and have no opportunity to change their life. I have been fortunate enough to have a life that is for the most part easy and trouble free, and it is probably because of its ease and lack of real pain, that I feel giving back to those who have absolutely nothing, and no one, is so important to me.

So, with all this in mind, we have each taken on the challenge of getting ourselves to Tanzania, and raising $1500 to hand to Light in Africa on our arrival. Our goal is for this blog to be your opportunity to take this journey with us, meet the people we meet, and understand the experience as we go through it.

Love and thanks,

Sara

Monday, July 5, 2010

What is this? What are these two up to now?

Hi Family and Friends and whoever may have happened upon this blog,

As most of you know, I have been blessed with having not only a great support network including families and friends, not to mention a wonderful best friend, Sara. We met nearly 8 years ago in a shared dormitory bathroom at CSU. Despite a ocean in between us for 4 years, we have remained the best of friends and even taken a trip together in Europe for the past three. This year, we have decided to invest our time and efforts to a better cause and volunteer with an organization called Light in Africa in Tanzania. This blog is devoted to this experience - from our way there, our time there, and our experience after the fact.

Why? might you ask that I decided to embark on a volunteer journey? That is something I have been asking myself and can clearly remember one clear moment. At home in Colorado, visiting my family, I was talking a walk - to Starbucks of course - and couldn't shut the thoughts up in my head - Will I get a good job? Was doing my masters abroad going to pay off? Where will I end up? - then it dawned upon me for some reason - on this walk to Starbucks - that I am extremely lucky for everything and everyone I have. Although nearly nothing in my life has worked out according to my original plan, it has all worked out and quite well, for that matter. So why all these worries about material, frivolous STUFF? I'd been so worried about getting a late start in my career, so worried if I made the right decisions, that I had forgot how lucky I really was. I wanted - needed - a wake up call.

That's how I came to the idea of going to Africa - there on that walk. Why Africa? Well now I can say because of the dire need, because of the expected 43 million orphans on the continent, because of the 30,000 children that die each day in sub-Saharan Africa, however, this FACTS were unbeknownst to me at the time. Something drew me to Africa - something drew me to give back. Maybe it was my recognition of how lucky I was - lucky to have great parents and a great support systems, let alone running water, food or modern medicine. So it was set in my head, I was going to Africa.

The next day, I reunited with Sara and told her of my plans. She teared up, said how much she missed me, and was onboard from the start. We found Light in Africa, an orphanage in Kilimanjaro, through friends of mine, who had volunteered there before. We applied, and were accepted. Now, you're nearly up to speed on how this came about and please stay tuned for more information on the organization, our way there, fundraising efforts, and most of all, the experiences we encounter in Tanzania.

Thanks for the constant love and support,
Abby