To the ends of the earth…and back!

12 weeks later…

Hello dear friends and faithful readers of my adventures as a delicate flower!

It is hard to believe I will be boarding a plane in just six days for the USA. The past 12 weeks have absolutely flown by. I am still trying to catch my breath!

Mama called the Doctor and the doctor said…

As much as Ellen and I love the children, we try and work from home on Saturdays to catch up on emails and any other outstanding items we need to address. Last Saturday as we were just having coffee, a Shalom staff member called me and said that there was blood in one of the toilets from a sick child but due to embarrassment, none of the children made a confession. I rushed over to Shalom and within about 20 minutes we were en route to FAME Medical clinic just up the road. FAME was started by Dr. Frank and his wife Susan, native Californians and has a large Tanzanian staff peppered by some mzungu (white/European) volunteer doctors. Simply, they do amazing work and we are so lucky to have them just up the hill from Shalom.

As we sat waiting for the children to be seen, it was clear how sick they were. Normally boisterous and laughing, they all sat rather subdued in the waiting area. Two hours and seven prescriptions of dawa “medicine” later, we were headed back to Shalom. FYI we have been in discussion with FAME to reestablish their relationship with Shalom so we can get great health care for the children. Thankfully, we’re up and running!

FAME also offered free physicals for the 51 watoto (children) of Shalom so this past week we graciously accepted the invitation and began the physicals. Ellen and I, along with two Shalom staff members, Loveness and Daniel, headed up to FAME on Tuesday and Thursday first with a group of 23 then another group of 19, respectively. We will take the final 8 this coming Tuesday morning. Anyway, Ellen and Daniel headed up in a cab with the smaller of the children while I walked up the road with Loveness and 17 children. I walked with Emanuel on one side and Loveness (one of the children) on the other, each clenching a hand. Though I originally thought Emanuel was walking slowly because he had on shoes too large for him, I took a closer look and noticed he looked withdrawn and not as lively as usual. After we made an impromptu pit-stop on the side of the road for both children to relieve themselves, I piggy-backed Emanuel for the last 10 minutes of the walk. As his six-year old body became dead weight on my back, I realized just how sick he was. We soon learned the poor thing had a 103 degree fever…we promptly got him some dawa.

Luckily most of the FAME staff is Tanzanian so they reassured the children in a language they could understand. There are some American volunteers too and because Ellen and I have been such a constant in the children’s lives these past few months, the children’s reactions to wazungu is not one of fright, as is the case with some Tanzanian children.

It was beautiful chaos as the children were checked for worms, malaria and HIV. (We have 6 HIV children we knew about and were happy to know that no others have the virus). Ellen and I were pleasantly surprised by how well behaved our children were in the sitting room for the two hours it took to accomplish every physical. Almost all of the children received ALOM, the de-worming dawa,  12 of them had malaria, along with my delicate self, (compliments of the rainy weather we’ve been experiencing as of late), and more than 10 are anemic. *If you would like to contribute children’s vitamins, please email us at shalomorphanagekaratu@gmail.com for our mailing address and details on sending us gifts.

Anyway, many of the children were fine as they went from room to room to be checked, whether weighed, told to stick out their tongues or the unanimous favorite: to receive a needle’s prick for the blood test. Some of the older ones surprised me with their fright and hesitance to even enter the lab room where blood samples were taken. In fact, they would rush by the door, pretending they’d already been inside! I had to hide my smile so as to not anger or embarrass them. One of the little girls, Tina, was particularly skittish as we entered the lab room. As she sat on my lap and saw the needle coming, she began to hyperventilate, screaming, “Nataka Eliza, nataka Eliza,” meaning she wanted me to stick the needle in her tiny finger. The nurse, not knowing I was Eliza, questioned Tina, asking her where Eliza was. Somewhat surprised I could understand the exchange in Kiswahili I answered her myself! Later, before the final two boys had their blood drawn, I sat down and had my blood drawn, fearing I had malaria—a fear that was confirmed about 20 minutes later. Once Shedrack and George saw that I too received the lovely prick of the needle, they were more at ease! It was funny though to watch their hesitance, as they were the oldest of the children that day.

This past Wednesday was a national holiday: Tanzania’s Independence Day so we waited until Thursday to take the next group of children up to FAME. I actually stayed home from work and rested in bed, as the malaria was particularly bad. In between fevers, chills and complete exhaustion, I noticed how restless I am when I am unable to do anything. One of the girls who’ll attend Tumaini next year through our Child Sponsorship Program, Agnes, came to check on me and brought me lunch. She is often by my side as a translator, though less and less now that I am learning my Kiswahili.

The malaria meds are given over the span of three days to kill the parasite, so by Thursday I should have been feeling better and probably would have been back to myself had I rested that second day. Because we needed to take the next round of children up, I decided to go up Thursday morning with full intentions of returning to bed in the afternoon…quite the adventure awaited me though, as is the case nowadays!

Around 9:45am on Thursday, Ellen and I piled into cab with six of the smallest children—two of whom are 11 months old. For most of them it seemed it was their first time in a car and because the road is not paved and mostly uphill, they particularly enjoyed themselves. The herd of goat and cattle and then the tractor on the way back all added to the experience!

Once the children’s files were ready, again it was the eldest who were more hesitant to have their blood drawn. As I walked into the waiting room to get another child for a physical, I saw that Julius, one of our six year olds who normally is running around playing football always with a large smile was fighting to keep his eyes open. As I felt his head, it was burning hot so I told the doctors he needed to be seen next. The little peanut couldn’t even stand because he was so weak, so I carried him back and we found out he had a 104 fever. Immediately we had his blood tested and as he rested on my lap too weak to even lift up his finger, the tears came…mine I mean! It dawned on me in that moment that I would be leaving in just ten days and would not be returning for a few months. Likewise, I realized how right it felt to be there in that lab room with Julius in my lap and two other beautiful children looking to me for comfort as they awaited their turns for the blood test. Not wanting to scare them with tears, I quickly dried my eyes.

Once Julius’ blood was taken, the doctors sent us to the observation room so he could rest and the fever could go down. I sat on the bed as he dozed, in between bouts of fever and chills, and rubbed his back. I stopped for a second as I reached for my bag and he immediately woke up, fearing I had gone. I then changed to the seat next to the bed so he could hold my hand…thus was the case for the next 90 minutes. Luckily Ellen had a washcloth so we wet it with cold water, trying to cool his little body. I could have wet it with my tears as I was completely overwhelmed with my attachment to the children. Next Saturday, December 19, the day I leave Africa, is going to be quite a challenging one.

Within about 2.5 hours, all of the children had been seen so we headed back down to Shalom. As I took Julius back to his bedroom and got him some electrolyte water, I told him to rest up and I’d be back later. I tucked him in then gave him a kiss on the forehead. I have never seen a child’s facial expression change so quickly from feeling completely sick to one of utter happiness…his big brown eyes lit up and his beautiful smile returned by my a simple and genuine gesture. Needless to say, Thursday was a day of joyful tears!

Later that afternoon we got a call from Susan at FAME asking us to come and pick up the children’s dawa. We had an entire box full of meds for almost 30 of our kids. Once we got back, we explained to two of the caregivers all of the meds and how to give them to the children.

Ding dong the bells are going to chime…

Ellen and I just attended our second Tanzanian wedding this past weekend in Arusha. One of the assistant pastors at Mr. Nnko’s church was getting married so we were invited to the festivities. I met Peter, the groom, back in July during my visit and he is a super genuine and lovely man. His wife, Anna, is just the same…we could not have been happier to attend the send-off on Friday night and wedding on Saturday.

Tanzanian weddings are different from those to which I am accustomed. The send-off, the night before the actual ceremony, compares little to the rehearsal dinners I know well in the states. The send-off is a dinner, yes, but it is on a HUGE scale! Friends and family alike attend and many gifts are given via a line of dancing well-wishers. At one point in the evening, the bride-to-be walked throughout the room looking for potential suitors…it was hysterical to watch as various boys and men tried to cajole Anna into thinking they were her groom. Eventually she made her way to the back corner where Peter was sitting. It was SO fun to attend.

Friday, prior to arriving at the send-off, Mama presented Ellen and me with two brand new and beautiful outfits to wear for the wedding. They were especially made for us. Mama has such an eye because they fit just about perfectly…not too snug to bring any more attention than we already receive, but not too large to make us look frumpy! Hahaha. We were so grateful and please check back in a day or two for photos from the wedding!

Saturday morning, Peter came to the house and was just ecstatic that he was to be married within a few short hours. He was so gracious that we were able to attend and we tried to express how grateful we were to have been invited. He’s such a sweet man. Prior to the wedding, I had to call Dr. Frank to call in a prescription for me…when I had malaria my immune system was down so my delicate self is still sick unfortunately. After a quick drive into town and only 7,000tsh later (roughly $5USD), I had two prescriptions, one for amoxicillin and one for doxycycline. Cheapest I have ever paid for either of these two…did I mention I didn’t have to file an insurance claim to pay that fee? Amazing!

Anyway, the wedding ceremony was just beautiful. Since Peter is the assistant pastor at the church where the wedding took place, it was a fantastic celebration! The church choir danced and danced as they wished Peter and Anna the best. As we did at the last wedding in November, Ellen and I were invited to sit in the front along with Mama Warra and Mr. Nnko—he actually started the church a few years ago. Additionally because he and Mama were standing in as Peter’s parents, they were seated in the front. The ceremony was much shorter than the last one so within about 2 hours we were headed to the reception at a neighboring hotel.

Again we found ourselves seated in the front because of our relationship to Mama and Mr. Nnko. The choir celebrated again with song and dance. When the time came to present gifts, we walked up with Mama and Mr. Nnko. Their gift was a king-size bed, which was a fully assembled wooden frame one that was carried from the back of the reception hall to the front…of course via a line of dancing well-wishers. It was fantastic to be part of that line!!! As we sat back down and let the slew of other well-wishers continue to shower gifts on the couple, they received some more blankets and pillow cases/sheets for the bed. Of course each time they were presented, the gift givers added it to the made…it was awesome! The little flower girl, clearly having missed her nap, kept eyeing the bed and many of us kept watching her with our breaths held, hoping she’d take advantage and make a good photo opp!

A beautiful day completely!

***UPDATES ON THE CHILD SPONSORSHIP PROGRAM WILL BE POSTED WITHIN THE NEXT DAY OR TWO. PLEASE CHECK BACK OR FEEL FREE TO EMAIL ME FOR DETAILS***

We will be sending our first six children to board at the local English-medium school, Tumaini Junior School which has a phenomenal reputation and is known for its rigorous curriculum and skilled teachers. Needless to say, we and of course the six children, are very excited for the wonderful educational opportunities that lay ahead.

please check back for photo updates on Tuesday!

2 responses

  1. Liz,
    Please keep in touch with us when you return to the states!

    14/12/2009 at 15:23

  2. Elizabeth, you had me in tears as I read about the clinci visits and your feelings about going home. I cry after just 2 weeks there, I cannot even begin to imagine the emotional rollercoaster you are in for. We will pray for you to have a peaceful return and that you have many people to support you and provide an ear and a shoulder when you need it. God bless you for the work you did while you were there. What on earth will you do when you get home? I’d love to hear what kind of job you have that allows you to take months off at a time throughout the year. That doesn’t happen in my government social worker job!! 😦

    15/12/2009 at 14:46

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