To the ends of the earth…and back!

The Roof’s Arrival… piece by piece

Day 4: Saturday, July 11

I arrived a little after 9am and began reading some stories to the children as I waited for Al, Sandy, Heather and Julia to arrive. Since two of the giant kick-ball type balls had been pierced within the past few days, the children would constantly say “BOOK!” “BOOK!” as they nearly dragged me to the office door. Like most children, almost all their words, arrived in shouts.

Those words that did not arrive in shouts often came in the form of choking words between sobs/tears. Of course, it is never easy to understand children when they are crying or sobbing. Imagine trying to do so as they are crying AND speaking/mumbling in a different language, all the while expecting you to understand exactly the pain they are experiencing. The most amusing/frustrating moments occurred when the smaller ones, those under 7 or 8, would approach me crying and explaining exactly the cause of their sadness. Thankfully I got good at deciphering their Kiswahili speech and listened for key words, such as the name of the culprit, or watching for gestures suggesting what had happened. For the older children and staff, it must have been hysterical to watch. Luckily, the language of an embrace is universal so I was easily able to comfort them if not able to fully comprehend the back story!

The men purchased the roof today! It was very exciting. The corrugated metal arrived and sat in the corner as the carpenter, Al, Yusuf, and Godfrey began to finish nailing the extra, stabilizing pieces of timber into place. At one point, as Godfrey was sawing some wood, two of the children approached him and held the end of the timber to stabilize it. (Please see bottom photo) Heather also took a turn at helping to saw the wood to give Godfrey and Al a break.

Back to School…Before leaving Shalom, I spoke with Mama Warra about shoes and school uniforms since I knew school would be commencing on Monday, We started by looking through the shoes. As I looked through the piles of old shoes, I was a bit too quick to judge “good” versus “trash”. As I watched Mama Warra fetch some ones I had placed in the “trash” pile, she explained how she could make them like new with a little polish and some new laces. I was humbled by her resourcefulness as I realized the grave differences in our definitions of “good” and “trash.”

We placed some shoes out in the sun to dry en route to the storage room where I sifted through 20 or so sweaters, shirts and shorts as I counted how many were still needed. There were 27 children who attended school so we began counting. Our inventory of the clothing needed included: 4 skirts (especially for two of the older girls who were taller), 2 shorts, 7 shirts and 7 sweaters. Additionally we needed 12 pairs of shoes, 10 pairs of shoe -laces and a dozen of the signature black and white stripped socks the children must wear to school. After my inventory recording was over, I made my way up to the classroom to continue some English lessons. As I left Shalom that night, some of the shoes were still drying in the sun, awaiting a new chance with the soon-to-be purchased shoe-laces.

More English! At school time that afternoon, I sat in the back again and Teacher Massawe. Sandy and the girls joined me and TM came back to ask me to teach possession again. As I was a bit more prepared today, I still had to pause for a few moments and make sure the girls agreed with my exercises and they were not too difficult. Shortly before I finished the lesson, the family headed out to return home. asked me to teach the children possession–similar to the same lesson we had worked on the day before. At the end of the class, TM asked me if I would visit the nearby school where she teaches. I complied excited to see where the children from Shalom are educated. I was to meet TM at 4:30 on Monday.

I stayed past dark teaching the children. Only the older ones had stayed until this late hour as I worked on more possession as well as the alphabet and shapes. A few of them are really excelling in English and I cannot seem to obsess over how to make sure they have opportunities to continue excelling. Agnes, one of the said English stars, had assumed the role of translator for me, as she was consistently at my side and witnessed many a time when the young children cried/tattled to me. Anyway, as we worked on the lessons, these children were so hungry to learn that they did not even notice their dinner was ready for them. Suddenly though, the lights switched off and we were all left in the dark. Agnes was right by my side, feeling for me.  Within moments, Mama Warra arranged for one of the male staff of Shalom to escort me back to the volunteer house, which too had lost power.

Daniel and I sat for 35 minutes or so chatting in the dark as Joyce and Anna* took turns running about in the dark.

*Joyce and Anna are 3 and 2, respectively, and normally stay at the volunteer hosue with all of us. They are quite energetic, as most children this age are, but they’re especially rambunctious. They are nothing short of absolutely adorable. Both came to Shalom when they were infants so it is the only home they can recall.

Day 5: Sunday, July 12

I awoke early in the morning and was finishing up breakfast when Mama Warra’s son, Daniel, was leaving for church. I quickly asked if I could join and got my stuff together quickly. We walked for about twenty minutes before reaching Grace Church. We chatted en route…Daniel is at university right now and hopes to become a lawyer. We talked about life and school and of course the most popular question sequence arose: 1) Do you have babies? 2) Are you married? 3) Why not?, before being interrupted by a small group of five children alternating between “Good Morning!” “Mzungu” “Hello!”

We were the first to arrive to the small structure made of timber pieces nailed together. I took a seat in the middle, a red plastic chair, rather than the wooden benches in the back. The children followed us in and sat down in front of us as the one bold leader of the group stood between my knees and the chair in front of me. Daniel and I sat quietly alternating between reading our Bibles and praying as the children’s eyes never left me. After a few minutes they got bored and walked outside…only to return moments later with huge smiles on their faces and a newfound sense of confidence. Needless to say, they resumed their posts and smiled at us.

I bowed my head to pray again as I thought of the past few days I had spent at Shalom. Within moments, as more members shuffled in, I opened my eyes and saw some of the older girls from Shalom as well as Mama Warra and one of the staff, Monika. The little girls, all from the late night English lessons, took turns making eye contact with me before shyly returning their eyes to the front. The choir was amazing and it was so refreshing to be in a place where people so freely and expressively displayed their love for God.

At one point, the six little girls went to the front and danced as the congregation of 40 or so sang. Though all songs were in Kiswahili, it was easy to follow along and be thankful. Throughout the service, the choir would go up and sing a few songs as one woman or man would lead the group to the tunes of the keyboard’s automatic beats. All the while, the choir danced and danced. It was breathtaking to witness such expression.

As the time for the offering came, a few members exited, just to return with chickens, ducks and even a goat in hand! To witness these people giving so freely when they have so little reminded me of the poor woman who gave her coins, all she had. I found myself with tears consistently in my eyes or down my cheeks. Just before the sermon, Mama Warra took the mic and explained why I was there and how the Family and I had been helping. Luckily Daniel translated so I wasn’t completely in the dark. As soon as I heard “Elizabeti” the tears just wouldn’t stop, for a combination of joy, honor, and absolute peace filled my heart. Mama invited me up to the mic to say a few words with the help of Daniel to translate. As I looked out at the beautiful people before me, I realized how blessed I was to have the opportunity to serve. I walked back to my seat and was silent, not wanting to forget any details of the morning.

After a fiery sermon (sorry was in Kiswahili so no translation provided), we sang one final song then Mama Warra and I walked back to Shalom. We talked about the service as well as life in general. The popular sequence of questions came and after telling Mama I was not married she replied, “Good, you need to be free now!” That was definitely not lost in translation—she and I saw eye to eye! We greeted neighbors as we walked back and Mama taught me the difference between some of the greetings so I could change it up a bit as I spoke to passers-by. I tried it on a few people and they seemed more than delighted that I spoke to them in Kiswahili. Luckily they didn’t ask anything beyond “How are you?” so I was able to understand!

Al and Sandy had attended a local Roman Catholic Church that same morning so they had plenty of stories from their time of worship too.

Mama and I shared a delicious lunch before returning to Shalom for another fun-filled afternoon. As we ate, she repeated a story that Dorkas, her younger daughter, had share with me the night before: There was a young woman from Karatu who just gave bith to a child and was looking to abandon her. Because the mother was so poor, she was unable to afford an abortion so had the child full term but “wanted to get rid” of her. As Dorkas had told me and Mama Warra repeated the details, I was horrified. The mother proceeded to go around to people with threats that she would run away and leave the child who was just two days old. As Mama Warra told me the familiar and sad details, a happy ending was soon to come. Mama told me I should rest and take it easy because I had had some long days with the children. Though I indeed was tired, my energy was high and I couldn’t bear the thought of keeping still, a problem I have…

Because it was Sunday, no work on the roof was being done so I had extra time to devote to the children. Likewise, we were able to see what supplies would be needed for the week and purchase them.

After speaking with Yusuf on Mama Warra’s phone, he told me the family wanted to go into town for some shopping. I excitedly accepted the invitation to tag along, for I knew we would finally have the chance to purchase necessary school items. Equipped with my little black notebook and some cash (THANK YOU ALL DONORS), we piled into the van and headed down the little dirt road.

 I was so surprised by the pricing of the clothing. Relatively speaking it was incredibly cheap, though to people in Karatu, it is very pricey. For example, the sweaters the children wear as the top layer of their uniform are 10,000TZS—roughly $7.50 and the white button down shirts they wear underneath are roughly $5.00. Yusuf, Godfrey, the family and I walked to different stops and purchased the items we needed. We allowed Yusuf to do most of the purchasing and ALL of the negotiating because just the color of our skin could sometimes catapult the prices.  Yusuf and Godfrey also have a good eye and keen sense of quality, so we were extra lucky to have them assist us in navigating which shops have top quality items and which sell knock-offs. We were hounded all the same wherever we went with some little children actually brushing up again Julia and touching her skin before running away! (Julia was the fairest of all of us with blond hair and blue eyes.)

As we neared the bottom of the shopping list, we headed back to our first stop: the seamstress who sold us most of the sweaters. Yusuf had talked her into coming to Shalom and measuring the 4 girls and 2 boys who needed new skirts and shorts, respectively. She was so beautiful that I found myself doing what most of the little children I had met within the past few days: staring!

When we got back to Shalom, we called the girls and boys in to be measured. The looks of sheer excitement as well as shyness rendered me speechless, a mighty hard thing to do! They were so excited about receiving these new clothes that when the seamstress asked their names, they shyly spelled it for her in whispered tones, unable to hide their beaming smiles! I will never forget those few moments.

We drove the woman back to town and negotiated some pricing before going to buy the necessary cloth from a few more stores. I was so grateful for Yusuf and Godfrey as they acted both as my translators and guides.

(Sorry, no pictures from today!)

Day 6:  Monday, July 13

I awoke at the normal time before 9am and had breakfast just before heading the Shalom. It was so much quieter because most of the children were at school.

*Important Update: upon arriving at Shalom, I was told the two-day old child that I had heard about over the weekend had come to Shalom Sunday evening! As I walked into Mama Warra’s bedroom at Shalom, I was surprised by the tiny size of the little girl, even though I had been a nanny and had years of experience with children of all ages. Perhaps the thought of her mother wishing to having nothing to do with her made her seem smaller. Regardless, I couldn’t help but want to call her “peanut”–a nickname my own mother used on me throughout my childhood, and even now as a 24 year old woman! The child was beautiful and peacefully sleeping as Mama introduced me to her. She still had not been named so we just called her “the new baby”.

Sandy, Julia, Heather and I spent most of our time with the younger children once they had finished their morning classes, as well as tapping into our creative side! Since there was no poster/information about the children or staff at Shalom, we decided to make something for visitors to see and for the children to enjoy! I had been taking photos since I arrived so I sifted through them and began printing some good quality portraits of the children and the staff.

I realized I was missing some photos so we went on a mission to the various corners of Shalom looking for the staff and some children to capture their portraits. After a successful twenty minutes or so, we returned to the office and found some construction paper. Once we finished taping together four over-sized pieces of red construction paper, we began sketching some ever-popular bubble letters to say “Welcome! Karibu! Shalom Orphanage Center….Meet Our Children!”

As we moved from the office to a flatter, more spacious area, we found ourselves somewhat shouting, even though we were just 2 feet from each, for the men were busy nailing the roof and supportive timbers into place just outside the window. Heather took a brief break from cutting/sketching and joined the men outside in sawing some wood.

Some of the children would take turns going to the windows and watching the men hanging the roof and timbers, regardless of the deafening pounding. Before returning to play, they would curiously look on to what we were doing, or just sit with us, happy to have our company.

The family and I went and shared lunch at the volunteer house, a tradition I came to love and enjoy so much. We were so busy throughout the day that lunch time was often the only time we would have to catch up and share our experiences from the day with each other. Over lunch we shared our respective stories from visiting church on Sunday, mine at Grace Church, and Al and Sandy’s at the local Roman Catholic Church. We also exchanged past times of traveling as well as some crazy stories from Heather and Julia’s high school, and one teacher in particular who is quite a character.

The family left after lunch for a short safari so I returned to the orphanage and finished some more work on the poster.  The children had a particular fondness for pictures AND picture-taking so once they saw a camera in your hand, they all joined in “PICTURE PICTURE!” while coming as a herd towards you! And not just one could take a photo, every single child insisted on taking one or two…or ten! Needless to say, many pictures the family and I had were of our waist to chin area. Sometimes there would be an occasional shot where the child had managed to get more than our chin in the shot, though there were not many! And of course, there are a couple of videos on my camera when the children would try to take a self-portrait or capture some of their brothers and sisters, not knowing they were recording. It was priceless!

Anyway, Yusuf returned in the evening to check up on the roof’s progress and to clarify one important thing for me: 4:30 in Tanzanian time is really 10:30am!! When I had explained to him my requested visit to the nearby school, he corrected my confused self by explaining that days starts at 1—which is really 7am.

Luckily I’m still pretty so was not too confused for too long!

After teaching some more English lessons until dinner time, I awaited someone to walk me home. Much to my joy, Teme, the Maasai warrior/guard at Shalom accompanied me on my walk, but not before we worked on some basic English words for about fifteen minutes. Teme is incredible and told me about his family in between “kite” “bow” and various animals…

Another fantastic day! 

One response

  1. Sandy Eleczko

    I love reading your blog. It brings back all the memories of our fantastic trip. YOu are destined to continue this work. I am lookingforwards to seeing you againsoon.

    11/08/2009 at 20:07

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