Ay yi yiiii where to begin??? Well it’s officially been 60 days inTanzania! So much has occurred it’s a little overwhelming to even think of writing it all down. So I’ll probably condense a lot and let the pictures and captions do a lot of the explaining. (and in case you’re not a read to the bottom type of person- there’s a gofundme.com link so check it out!)
But an example of how each day is crazy and different: this was today.
Started the morning meeting with a carpenter about a special project I’m working on, walked to the orphanage, hung out with the children, on stirring duty for the giant pot of ugali that would be lunch, then in the afternoon hopped on the back of a dirt bike with a friend from the orphanage (yep there were 3 of us on there including the driver, don’t worry mom and dad I’m fine!) and trekked up the mountain to a local dressmaker whose shop was smaller than the size of my bedroom. Spent part of the afternoon designing a dress in broken English and Swahili for a wedding I’ve been invited to, then walked through banana trees and foliage for a good 30 minutes to reach the house of my friend for a quick snack break( rice of course). Then it was time for the dirt bike ride back down the mountain- where the entire time the driver never even had to turn the engine on, due to the incline. Reached the bottom- hopped into the dala dala (bus), see a mother board the bus and hand her baby to a stranger in the front and push her way to the back to the only available seat, then I joined the chain of hands helping to pass the baby from the front of the bus to its mom in the back, stopped to buy food coloring that I’m adding to white paint for a craft I’m doing with the kids ( because colored paint for crafts is not available here so making my own) then a nice 1/2 mile walk to home. All in a day’s fun!
I’ve really settled into life and a bit of a routine here. One thing that also seems to be a part a part of the routine is the rain- OH my goodness it never stops! Once we had our clothes drying on the line for 5 days straight! Finally we brought them in in desperation- I was running out of dry clean clothes! We utilized every surface in the house to hang clothes and when it looked sunny it was a mad dash to the laundry line to hang our clothes for the 1 hour of sunshine. It finally appears to be letting up which is great, because walking on muddy roads is no picnic either. Seasons are also opposite here, so it’s heading into the chilly season and that combination of wet and cold makes everyone sick. All the kids were coughing with runny noses last week and now I seem to have caught whatever they had as well, but I’m on the recovering end of it so no worries, just a cough is hanging around.
So Monday to Wednesday I go to Cradle of Love Baby Orphanage and it’s funny how things change. At the beginning I thought I would always be with the babies but now I choose to usually always be with the 3-4 year olds! Perhaps it’s because I miss my own four year old nephew or because every time I visit the nursery the babies seem to sleeping but I’ve really grown to love this older group! (I’ll be doing a night shift in the nursery soon tho- I’m sure the babies won’t be sleeping then!) Additionally I’ve really gotten to know the staff and now a good amount of my time each day is spent in the kitchen helping prepare the meals and then I also eat at lunchtime with the staff. It’s nice being around a circle of women in the kitchen and it’s comforting in a sense to have a daily communion like this as I miss moments in the kitchen with my family back home. It’s also been really good to watch and learn how to cook African dishes. I have a new respect for cooks who have to prepare large quantities because literally stirring the giant pot of porridge, my arm aches and I almost break a sweat!
I’ve also tried to learn as much Swahili as I can. I think it’s easy to get comfortable and stick to English and only communicate with those who can speak English, but that just can’t work for me… mainly because I love to talk to any and anyone, and additionally I need to know what people are saying about me! Ha at the beginning of my time here I probably accepted some marriage proposals by accident, but now I can distinguish if someone random is telling their friend I’m their girlfriend and I can butt in and say “Mimi siyo mpenzi wake!” (I’m not his girlfriend! I don’t know him!) My Swahili definitely isn’t great by any means, but I try because the bottom line for me is if we can’t communicate we can’t connect and we are strangers in the same room. While I have experienced how connection can transcend the lack of common language, if I’m going to be in a place for an extended time I want to learn as much from the people there as I can and I can do that so much better if we can speak and share life. They’ve led a different life than me, and thus have a different world view and I’d love to see through their lens and get a different perspective. Plus, when dealing with a room full of kids who only speak Swahili, you find you better learn some Swahili fast or it’ll be a room full of chaos! Swahili really is so different from English though, especially in the sounds used and the way your mouth forms the words, so it’s been quite interesting trying to learn and at the beginning especially I looked and sounded ridiculous trying to pronounce words. Random fact: there is no letter Q or X in the Swahili alphabet!
When I came to Tanzania I really wanted to get a good idea of how orphanages work and I feel like that has definitely happened. I’ve seen how meal prep goes, what bills there are to pay, and I love accompanying the cook on the weekly grocery trip to the huge open air market. It’s fascinating how many fruits and vegetables we need for one week! For example- 60 tomatoes and 12 pineapples! (That costs less than 20 bucks)
I lucked out so much with my host family. It truly does feel like a family and I feel 100% comfortable and we laugh a lot . It’s typically my host mom and dad, Joshua and Beatrice, and a U.K. volunteer Jess. Jess was supposed to leave about 3 weeks after I arrived to head home to England but ended up extending her trip for another 3 months so it’s been really fun hanging out together. We go dancing every week and it is definitely one of my favorite parts of the week. We probably dance for 5 hours straight, the music is great, and Tanzanians can dance! 10 Americans from Florida International University in Miami are staying at the lodge next door and eat dinner with us now every night. What a small world! I’m all the way in Africa and students from a school I attended are now here! It’s crazy to kinda be the experienced voice of a Tanzanian traveler and answer their questions and show them around the town when a month ago I was just as new to it all as they currently are! The food here is still great although I do miss some American food. I still love how all my food is unprocessed and a good amount of it even comes from my backyard here. At the nursery school there are three huge avocado trees with over 100 avocado on them each! That’s wild to see when in the US, it can sometimes to be hard to find good avo in the grocery store. Miraculously the number on the scale hasn’t changed despite a huge increase in carbs in my diet here. One day I had rice for breakfast lunch and dinner! All the extra walking is probably all that is saving me from not fitting into any of my clothes! So amen for that haha.
On Thursdays and Fridays I teach at the nursery school. One thing that has been interesting to deal with is such a lack of resources. I’m blessed in that I have a lot of experience with young children and spent much of high school as director of a program for young children where we taught about many different things- animals, manners, plants, etc – so I have a lot of games and crafts in my arsenal to pull ideas from. Howeverrrrrr, it’s different and difficult to not have supplies easily at your disposal. At the nursery school there was not even paper or crayons and only broken pencils when I got there, so any craft ideas I have to be really creative to find the supplies. And it’s not like in America where I can go to Wal-Mart or Michaels craft store and have everything in need. I have to go to little stalls that sell stationary and try to find what I need. Another things that can be tricky is planning the lessons. One night, with no copy machine, I was up till 4 am making alphabet worksheets for sixteen children by hand. There’s no library to go get books from, and while I’m lucky to have google on my cellphone and Pinterest from which to gain lots of ideas, the teacher here doesn’t have access to the internet to get pictures from or lesson plan ideas. I try not to use too much technology in the classroom, such as showing the kids pictures on my tablet, because I don’t want the teacher to have trouble capturing their attention when I leave because they’ve gotten used to technology, as she will only have the chalkboard to teach them with. I did find some lesson books in Swahili here in a bookstore that have been a big help. But all in all it’s been a good challenge and I try to do things that the teacher can replicate and expound on in the future with resources she has. For example- everyone in my household now knows to save toilet paper rolls because so many crafts can be made with them! I’ve learned it doesn’t have to cost a lot to be good- one day we made paper mache bowls and all that took was some flour, water, and old newspaper! And the kids absolutely loved it. It was so cute, when I started making the flour and water paste (it’s the glue for the craft) one of the children was like “You are making chapatis! ” which is a flat bread here in Tanzania- quite delicious by the way. Most of these kids have never made crafts before which is a crazy thought. Imagine trying to be a preschool teacher but only trying to teach your five year old students verbally, with no coloring or crafts, or books or drawing. Not an easy task for their teacher! The teacher has not gone to school for teaching but simply has a big heart for children, so I’m glad to try and give some new ideas for the classroom from my experiences with kids in the past, even though I’m not a trained teacher either. Additionally it’s been really good to have dialogue about discipline of children. For example- hitting children in school (which unfortunately is not uncommon here in TZ), and even though at this school it was only a tap with a pen on the hand, it’s been nice to see changes implemented and that completely reduced. The concept of “time-out” was a novel one that will also hopefully cut down on discipline issues and disruption. I’ve really grown attached to the kids at the nursery school and a typical day is teaching from 10:30-1:30, then lunch and just hanging out with the kids till 5 pm. At the end of the day over 20 kids pack into an 8-seater van for their drive home.
Tragedy recently struck this region as a bus filled with elementary school children crashed off the side of the mountain and over 30 children died. The entire town and country was shook by these events, and a massive funeral was held in the city.
Education in general here can be a bit of a struggle. The government recently took away schoolfees, which is a plus for those who previously couldn’t afford to send their kids to school, but on the other hand so many more children are now flooding the public schools and there is neither space nor teachers for them! In the government schools it is not uncommon to have ONE teacher for a classroom of SEVENTY students! Imagine trying to makesure all the children are learning, it’s impossible, and one on one attention can never ever happen. A teacher here told me “you just have to generalize and assume and hope they are all learning.” Her children are lucky to attend private school but even there a good classroom ratio for her 7 year-old child was one teacher to 45 students! As a result of the influx of students, many schools have now gone to half day systems. Some children come in the morning- filling the classrooms- some classes are even held outside- then at noon they leave to go home and another batch come to fill the free classroom space and start their school day. Many schools do not have the money to feed children and often the school will let the children out early so they can go home to eat. I ate dinner with a teacher and her family and her personal childhood story of how school was for her in the villages is quite sobering. Many children wake up before dawn to make the long journey to where the school is. She said they wouldn’t eat before they left then they would be at school from 8-4, and since there was no money for food there either, they wouldn’t eat all day. Then they would go home, but perhaps their parents wouldn’t be home from work yet so imagine- no food till 6 pm! And these are young children, six year olds and eight year oldstrying to learn on empty stomachs and with no school supplies- not a recipe for success at all. But I’ve also seen the schoolwork these children are required to do and it’s challenging! Some of the questions are definitely more advanced that’s what their age group would be doing in the US.
But let’s switch to some positive talk-some areas of progress: 🙂
One thing I’ve noticed here in Arusha is a huge lack of soap. People typically do wash their hands religiously before meals (many homes have a sink right in the dining room or a family member goes to each person with a bucket and bowl of water at the table) but the hand washing can often only be with water and hand washing after the bathroom is not that common, especially as when you are out and about shopping or something, most public bathrooms won’t have soap available. Here in many places a bottle of soap is literally a soda bottle half filled with water half filled with soap, with holes poked into the lid and it makes sense- soap is so concentrated might as well dilute it to make it last longer. So one night I spent my time making these “soap bottles” for both the orphanage and the nursery school. At the nursery school, furniture is sparse and so the children were eating the food sitting on the cement floor and weren’t washing their hands before meals. This is especially a problem because some meals are eaten with the hands, no cutlery involved, so hand hygiene is really a critical need here. Well I got a large mat for eating time for them to sit on and taught about hand washing, even making up a little song for it, and now hand washing takes place before every meal! That’s 30 kids now eating with clean hands and that’s a win in my book! It’s great to know it’s really sticking with the kids as the director of the nursery school told me that he tried to give one child a cup of tea ( hand washing not really required to drink a beverage of course) and they said “No! Madam says we must wash our hands with soap before any food!”
It’s been really great to see other changes put into place at this daycare center, and it really is a nursery school with a great cause of empowering woman so they can go to work and support their families.
I’m busy basically alllll the time- whether it be at the orphanage, teaching, or planning a lesson, or running around the markets purchasing shoes or supplies with donated funds, or hiking for fun. I’ve been working on one really big project here and it should be finished this week! Can’t wait to reveal it to you! 😉
SOOOOO how can YOU help?
I have one month left here and I really would love to leave this nursery school and one other in the area with cabinets stocked with school supplies and food! Additionally, the children could use sleeping mats as they normally nap for three hours usually sharing a small twin bed or on the cement floor. Personal water bottles ( like sippy cups) would also be really good as the kids don’t drink much water.
I have some other projects in mind too and the good thing is if you feel inclined to donate, unlike donating to a mass organization and not being sure where your money has gone, I will be here making sure it goes right to supplies and helping the children and will show you the pictures to prove it! Plus foreign currency goes a long way here! One friend from college donated $60 and with that I’ve been able to buy about 30 shoes for orphans here!
If you’d like to help, just click on this link and the go fund me webpage will tell you all about it!
My favorite lil Guy at the orphanage, Gifty. We love to sing together.
Whittling down the “paintbrushes”. Next challenge project: totem pole?
Chopping of the wood into paintbrush handles!E
Handwashing is a thing now before meals! Success!