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, 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.

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.


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.

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.


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


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)