To the ends of the earth…and back!

Feels like coming home…days 1-3

Building a roof….

After writing letters, sending emails, and making phone calls telling friends and family about the “Roof Project” at Shalom Orphanage Center, over $6,500 was collected, exceeding our goal of $5,000! In addition to my delicate self, the family of volunteers: a father and mother, their daughter and the daughter’s best friend, at Shalom during my stay. Many emails were exchanged in preparing for the big trip, with Rick, the volunteer family, and with Yusuf, our Tanzanian partner without whom the project could not have happened.

After a very special 7-hour drive via bus from Nairobi to Arusha on July 7, I arrived in Tanzania. I never quite understood the term “off-road” before this particular journey. As most of the road in Tanzania was under construction, we only had spurts of the journey that was actually on pavement. It was so dusty even with the windows closed, that as I peered into the air inside the van, I could see clouds of dust billowing. What made the dirt choke me even more was that I had allowed myself just a few sips of water during the journey. Water + bumpy roads = NO FUN if you wish to not wet yourself. AND, for those of you who know me, I shuddered at the thought of recreating the Ann Taylor* moment on a bus in Africa. *Note: when I was 19 I had a not so fun experience learning that I could not “hold it” for as long as I had previously thought. The consequences were rather alarming though of course provide for some laughs now…

Anyway, once we entered Tanzania, the familiar beauty of the country made me feel as though I had returned home. Some of my fellow passengers were businessmen so they seemed uninterested in peering out the window. I, on the other hand, could not get enough and was practically hanging out the window. A little later, as I looked down at my arm, I was a few shades darker and got initially excited that I had tanned so quickly. “Wow, the sun IS hotter over here.” Almost immediately I rubbed my finger along my arm only to rub off some of my “tan”. I whole new meaning to “spray-on” tan, friends.

As we drove on the streets of Arusha, yes STREETS, paved and all, I got so excited because I knew we were close. We passed the Cultural Center, coffee plantations, the Maasai Museum and the plant-lined roads that I had remembered from my previous trip before pulling into La Bella Luna where the shuttle drops off passengers. As I disembarked I prayed that Mr. Nnko, Mama Warra’s husband would be there to greet me. The last communication I had had with them was that I was to call Mr. Nnko. This would have proved to be rather interesting as my cell phone refused to work in Africa. Worry not! Mr. Nnko was there with a little sign bearing my name and within moments I was in his car, beginning the final leg of my travels to Shalom…one final two-hour drive. As we began driving from Arusha, I immediately began to remember the familiar roads on which I had traveled last February and March with my JOI friends. It really felt like coming home once we began traveling from Arusha to Karatu, though I had only previously spent roughly two weeks there. The landscape was mostly the same, vibrant and breathtaking. The clouds hang so low, it was as if I could have plucked one from the sky. As I gazed out the window, Mr. Nnko remarked, “I can tell you love Africa. You should come back and stay for one or two years.” [This was a statement I heard from many people over the course of the next two weeks.] Just before we got to the Lake Manyara region, I noticed how terribly dry the land was; there was hardly any green. Apparently the rainy season had been very dry so many families were suffering from lack of crops/higher prices at the market.

Just before dark, we arrived at the same familiar dirt road I had remembered. As the red dust jumped off the ground into our car windows, I felt my excitement grow as I knew we would shortly be at Shalom. We made a quick stop at Highview Hotel to say hello to the volunteer family: Sandy, Al, Heather, and Julia. After briefly chatting, we headed to Shalom to drop off some food. [[*Note: Sandy is a dentist and brought supplies to check each of the children’s teeth and Al is an engineer who can build just about anything you need. Heather and Julia are energetic rising-juniors in high school, eager to help in any way needed.]] Just as we pulled up, a chorus of “Baba” could be heard because the children saw Mr. Nnko’s car. For many of the younger children, and some older ones too, Mr. Nnko is the only Baba they know, so you can imagine their excitement upon seeing him. Likewise, once they saw my very white skin and blond hair, a chorus of “muzungu” meaning white person, filled my ears. Since it was nearly bedtime for the children, I briefly embraced a few then got back into the car, but not before a little girl named Agnes introduced herself and intertwined her fingers with mine.

I stayed at a volunteer house just down the road from Shalom. In addition to myself, three of Mama Warra’s biological children stayed with me along with two of the little toddlers from Shalom. Since it was summer time, they were off from university so they came to Karatu to help Mama with duties around Shalom. The two daughters took turns cooking, washing clothes and caring for the children, while Daniel ran various errands with some of the Shalom staff. They were nothing short of fabulous and most hospitable my entire time.

Day 1: Thursday, July 8

I arrived at Shalom around 9:15am and was pleasantly surprised to see the work already begun on the roof! Yusuf was a complete rockstar and had previously arranged plans with the mason, carpenter, and other worker who helped to complete the roof. A final layer of concrete was being smoothed into the walls of the roof’s structure. Before Sandy, Al, Heather, and Julia arrived, Mama Warra gave me a tour of Shalom, as it had changed very much since my last visit. As we walked around, Mama told me there were about fifty children currently at Shalom, five who are HIV positive. As we walked to the back of Shalom, Mama showed me the chicken coop built last July by a man from New Jersey. There were also two structures started by a woman from Holland—a much needed dining area and kitchen. Because the woman ran out of funds, both structures stand perfectly, yet neither has a roof, nor are the floors finished. Currently the children’s classroom, where the young ones are taught in the morning and the older ones in the afternoon, doubles as a dining room for mealtimes. The current kitchen is no more than a fire inside of a makeshift structure of branches and mud. I shuddered as I thought of what the “kitchen” must be like in the rainy season. Obviously, these two structures are near to the top on the priority list!

In making steps towards sustainability, Shalom has five cattle and since one is pregnant, they’ll soon have six. Three of them are milking cows which is an incredibly bonus because there are three infants whose diets are just milk. Likewise, the children who are HIV+ receive special diets, which include this cherished milk. Additionally, as previously mentioned, Shalom has the chicken coop and about 1-acre worth of farming, from peppers and other veggies and even bananas.

In addition to Mama Warra, there is a dedicated staff that takes care of Shalom and its children, from washing clothing and preparing meals, to tending the livestock and food. There is even a Maasai warrior, Teme, who is the guard.

Once the family arrived, a mighty and chaotic chorus of “YOU” along with a sprinkling of “Muzugu” consequently greeted us! Because school did not start until the following Monday, all of the children were there, each vying for our attention simultaneously! It was nothing short of crazy! After the children sang a few songs for us, we presented Mama with a Certificate of Appreciation that listed names of donors and handed out little Cadbury chocolates to the children. In an attempt to keep things somewhat organized, we brought out construction paper and began helping the children draw pictures. Soon, Heather began make paper airplanes and instantly there were dozens of papers soaring through the air as laughter ensued. We also sang some songs and danced with the children, teaching them the Hokey Pokey and other favorite songs requiring movement.

Also, a local teacher, Teacher Massawe, stopped by to teach the older children for about an hour in the afternoon. I sat in the back and just watched them learn as  TM wrote various exercises on the board. Within a few moments, TM approached me and asked if I had ever taught before. Racking my brain of such a memory, all I could think of were my days teaching VBS, as well as tutoring refugee youth at the International Rescue Committee. After affirmatively answering, she handed me the chalk and said, “Please teach them about possession. Here you go.” As one might imagine, I was dumbstruck for a few seconds and I walked up to the board. Within moments though, the children were busily copying down my exercises and repeating words for me. It was fantastic.

By the end of the day, the outerlayer of concrete was just about dry.

I had dinner with Mama and Mr. Nnko. As I listened to the full back story of the orphanage and Mama spoke to me with the help of Mr. Nnko’s translations, I saw her broken heart for the children. We chatted extensively about Shalom’s past, present and desired future. As they asked me if I would consider returning for a longer stay, I held my tongue so as to not make promises I could not keep. It was so frustrating to hear how little support Mama received. I learned there is no consistent funding/steady flow of cash coming into Shalom. Rather, money comes in spurts when visitors come by for a visit whilst on safari. Of course, they do also experience those return visitors, like myself, who after visiting Shalom once, feel motivated to raise money and return to help. I was so grateful for this time because they both were so transparent and truthful about the struggles and successes.

I stirred restlessly as countless lyrics filled my mind–those of children’s songs that I thought to compose. I eventually fell asleep to echos of laughter and “YOU!”

Day 2: Friday, July 9

We got an early start today. Upon my 9:30am arrival, the family and Yusuf were already hard at work. Al was lending a very much appreciated helping hand while the ladies were up with the children, reading books, and dodging flying soccer balls. Sandy brought the necessary tools to check each of the children’s teeth so around 10:30am we began calling in small groups, or one-by-one. Many of the children excitedly and fearlessly said, “AH” as Sandy checked their teeth as well as painted fluoride on them. There were some who were more frightened than anything, though for the most part it was pretty smooth sailing. Much to our joy, only a few of the 47 children we checked had cavities or missing teeth. Once Sandy finished, we presented Mama Warra with a slew of toothbrushes, toothpaste and floss.

We spent the afternoon teaching songs to the children and attempted to think of other fun activities amidst the ever-present “Muzungu”/“YOU!” chorus, as roof made some great progress! We tried to show the children the fun of bubbles, but it was a little crazy as each grabbed for the soapy solution, knocking more of it onto their feet and the feet of their brothers and sisters. The occasional bubble would make it into the air and like a herd, the children would zoom towards it laughing and screaming to be the closest. It was a spectacularly chaotic time, but most enjoyable nonetheless.

Before lunch, Teacher Massawe returned for more lessons. Again, she had me teach english to the children, who, by the way, are insanely bright! Their little sponge-like brains retain such a vast amount of information. At the end of the lesson, TM invited me to the local school to see her classes and meet some other teachers.

Once the lesson was over, we went down for lunch to the volunteer house before heading to Lake Eyasi for a short safari. During our time at Lake Eyasi, we would be visiting the Bushmen and peoples from the Datoga tribe. As we ventured into the bush, I had no idea what to expect. After about a two hour drive through more of the beautiful countryside, we were there! The fam stayed at a permanent lodging hotel, which was beautiful and I must go back sometime, while I stayed at a local place just down the road. Yusef, Godfrey and I shared some dinner under the amazing vastness of the sky–a sight I had sorely missed since climbing up to Uhuru.

We drove another few minutes after dinner to our accommodations. After chatting and catching up with Yusuf for a bit, I wrote in my journal under the dim light of a gas lantern as the full moon peeked through my window along with the howling of a nearby hyena. 

The wind continued throughout the night as the curtains danced against the windowpane.

Day 3: July 10 Visiting Lake Eyasi’s tribes

We awoke at 5am and had breakfast in the dark. By 6:15am the sun had risen and we were on the road to the bush. As we approached the desolate land, we could not believe people lived there. We heard rounds of coughing and hacking as we neared the Hadzabe Bushmen. As is the custom, we shook hands with the chief as well as most of the men there before we were given any sort of instruction. The men were quite small in stature and very lean with excellent muscle definition, their build supporting what we had learned: they are nomadic and live entirely off the bush and hunting. As they sat around the fire trying to warm up, they passed around a pipe. It turns out there were five families living in this specific group. Most men looked like 15 or older, with younger boys who would mosey between the different circles of men gathered around their respective fires. The chief and a young boy who proved to have one of the best shots, showed us the bows and arrows, some of which were poisonous so as to speed the death of the victim. The men and women remained separate. As our guide explained how they were almost ready to leave for hunting, we briefly walked over to the group of women.

Much like the men, the women were gathered around a fire to keep warm. They too were coughing and every child’s nose was runny, and eyes teary. They also were dressed with beautifully colored beads like the men. Julia, Sandy, and I opted to stay with the women while Heather and Al ventured with the men to go hunting. Our morning was spent sitting with the ladies and the young children, who communicate in a language of clicks. As we attempted communication with very little luck, one woman was particularly friendly and gave us beads to make jewelry. In order to get some of the beads they use in their jewelry, they will trade items with other tribes. Likewise, they trade items for the much-coveted Makaranga, as I believe it’s called. It is similar to marijuana. While the men go off hunting, the women either sit around or go looking for roots. We followed some of the women, each of whom had a child on her back while using a sharpened branch to dig for the roots. Within a few minutes, our new friend pulled three roots from the ground and consequently cut one open and sliced three pieces off. As I took it and place the bitter root between my tongue and teeth and began chewing, the woman seemed please. Meanwhile, Julia, Sandy, and I were trying to decided if we should continue chewing on the celery-like root or spit it out. As we saw the women spit it out, we were nothing short of relieved!

After we sat around some more and the women continued smoking, they cooked the roots and handed us more. So as to not be rude because they were being most hospitable, we complied and chewed on the bitter root again. I must say, it is much tastier after a little bit of fire has warmed it up. Perhaps it tasted to good because the women had been smoking and we had been somewhat downwind…

Julia, Sandy, and I realized how little these women had: the clothes on their back and their children. Of course, they had all they needed. The homes were made of the sisal plant (see photos below) and they were the only structures. Sometimes when plastic bags or old rice bags are found, the bags/canvas is placed over the branches of the sisal to provide additional shelter. Again, as I thought of the rainy season and how it must affect these families, we wondered how they survived.

Anyway, after about 2.5 hours of sitting, we ventured over to where the Bushmen and Yusuf were and took our turns shooting a bow and arrow. Luckily, we used regular arrows rather than those that were poisonous! They were not too difficult to shoot, though I was standing still and not running full speed as most times the hunters are as they pursue their prey. The bows and arrows were intricately made and it was obvious much detail went into personalizing them, from the type of feather used, to the various carvings. After hitting the target, which consisted of a stump with a skull nearby, the men and Heather returned, and we were off.

The morning hunt apparently had been very busy, with the men catching some squirrels.

After a short drive, we reached the Datoga tribe. The Datoga men are known to have many wives and will live in one structure that has separate rooms. The man has his own room and each wife has one room to herself. The children, when still young and if a female, will remain with the mothers, while older boys will eventually live with their fathers before having their own families.

Just as with the Bushmen, we first greeted the chief, thanking him for allowing us to visit. We then went on to greet each woman. The children were rather shy, yet would steal glances as they thought we were paying attention. The Datoga women were gorgeous and so friendly. As we were invited into their house, we learned more about their lives as they inquired about ours. The structures were made of branches and cow dung. Apparently the women had the glamorous responsibility of collecting the cow dung used to complete the structure, how lucky! As we sat and chatted with the ladies, with the help of our guide, they ask Sandy if the three girls were hers; and were most surprised to learn she only had one child. Many of the women averaged 4-5 children. The women made necklaces and we ended up purchasing a few before heading outside to dance with them. I should say jump, because that’s what we did. These women were serious jumpers too; even one of the pregnant women was partaking in our enjoying dance, though I must admit I was a combination of worried as she was very far along in the pregnancy, yet intrigued at how high she was going!

As we said our farewells, we again shook hands and thanked them for their hospitality. All of this happened after the women insisted we take photos with them, holding all of the necklaces. The women freely embraced each of us ladies as we took turns being photographed with them. Following each photo, we showed the women the pictures on our cameras and an eruption of laughter ensued.

We had one final visit to a local tribe who made jewelry, utensils and arrows out of old locks and other items made of metal. We watched as one teenage boy melted an old lock then passed it along to another teenager who then shaped it into a bracelet and used two weapons to chisel designs into it.

It was incredible to see how all three groups of people could live on so very little. The most surprising was of course the Bushmen. Throughout the remainder of the trip, I could not shake the memory from my head of their small babies with puffy, teary eyes. As I thought, “How on earth?” I had to quickly remind myself this is the only life they know and they seem to be doing just fine.

We ventured back to Karatu. The family returned to Highview and I to Shalom to see about the roof’s progress. I was pleasantly surprised to find it in great shape! The concrete was totally finished and soon (tomorrow) we would purchase the corrugated steel used for the roof, as well as extra timber for support.

Before heading back to the volunteer house, I taught the children “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and the “Itsy Bitsy Spider”. Most knew Twinkle Twinkle and their little voices just echoed with excitement as they shouted/sang to me. Itsy Bitsy was a bit hard because of the English. They had all the motions and picked up the tune so most so hummed or shouted random words as they remembered them. The very young just waved their arms and smiled at me proudly. It was beautiful! After reading some books to the children after being dragged to different corners of the play area, I walked home exhausted and had some dinner before falling into bed.

One of the many highlights is I have been successful at correcting the children when they shout “Mzungu” at me. Rather than a chorus of this word, “Eliza” or “Elizabeti” is what I hear upon arrival and departure…still shouted though!

One response

  1. Linda Lee

    Hi Liz!

    This is Linda Lee from RWC..just read your blog and its so AMAZING!! That’s so awesome that you’re out there!! I’m really blessed and challenged by your heart for people and your willingness to use your life to serve them. Keep updating please! 🙂

    06/08/2009 at 11:58

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