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The Camino–thus far

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Focusing on the journey

Well, dear friends, I have safely and successfully completed the second full day of our Camino pilgrimage. I will definitely write more once we have completed the journey, in three weeks, but for now thought I'd go ahead and share some details from the first few days of my journey. I should preface this: it seems adventures follow me wherever I go!

Oh and in case you want to keep up with our adventures on a near-daily basis, my lovely and fellow peregrina is keeping a blog here!!

A delayed start
When asked, “Where did you start the Camino?”, some may say their hometown, or the city from which they flew/took the train, or even the city in which they begin walking. So, I suppose I can claim mine began at the ever-exciting Newark airport (as I feel most partial to this–and it makes this next bit all the better!)

My generous mother dropped me off at lovely EWR (Thanks Mama K!) and within 10 minutes of my arrival, I was checked in and ready to go. I should’ve known this was not going to mean smooth sailing for the remainder of my time there, but I would like to say that I am an optimist, so at that moment, 310PM, I was feeling great! Just my 20Ib pack, a SPANISH IN 15 MINUTES book, my enthusiasm, and my delicate self, watch out Spain!

Fast forward to 645PM: on the runway we sat (Flight was supposed to take off at 555PM EST). While not quite a shocker that we were so delayed, I came to realize that my layover in Lisbon was merely an hour so hoped we would make up the time. Admittedly this probably would have dawned on me sooner than the in-flight announcement made 4 hours into the 6 hour 30 minute flight, had I not been concentrating so hard on not losing feeling in various parts of my body. Yes! You guessed right: not only was I in a middle seat, but it was doubly special being in a DOUBLE middle seat–the four seats across type deal. Normally when traveling with at least one person I know, it’s not so bad. When traveling by yourself though, it is not nearly as amusing because while your dear friend might find close proximity to you fun as you each struggle to get comfortable, or said friend has patience with your frequent trips to the toilet, strangers can be less flexible. Another confession: this seven hour experience has inspired me to write a series of THANK YOU LETTERS, so I shall be perfecting those in the coming weeks/months, as I feel the need to express my gratitude. Needless to say, the first few thank you notes will be for the man in 36E, the woman on 35F and the woman in 36G–those loving individuals who surrounded my 36F winning seat! My next notes will be for TAP PORTUGAL and the individuals working at the Lisbon airport. Upon arriving, a hearty mix of these two groups would ask where I was going. Upon saying “Madrid!”, they each responded, “Oh, Madrid? RUN!” After all, who doesn’t love an early morning run? I have had plenty, though only one other time did I feel so lethargic, which leaves me to wonder which is more fantastic? 1) A 2005 early AM training run for the NYC marathon during which I whacked my left arm against a van’s side mirror. (The car was parked.) Apparently one’s depth perception is a bit off when attempting a 4+ mile run following an all-nighter studying. OR
2) Monday morning’s 6AM sprint up 30+ stairs and across an airport terminal, through customs and security all the while passing hoards of people staring. Now that I think of it, it seems ironic the latter included more people shouting “RUN!”
I will leave the decision to you as I no longer wish to think of either!

Anyway…

In Spain!
I safely arrived in Madrid shortly before 10am to be met by the group! For those of you who have not been, Spain is gorgeous!
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Leaving city of Burgos for our first day of walking (Tuesday)

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This little guy was on his own pilgrimage!

Rolling hills and mountains, as well as expansive plains and quaint small towns have filled our days thus far as we have followed a famous CAMINO DE SANTIAGO route as mapped out in John Brierely’s book. Church bells have welcomed us as we enter and pass through towns and birds’ songs have accompanied us as we walk on. Today, fields of poppies and other wild flowers decorated the greenery and seemingly endless wheat fields as we passed by old monasteries and hospitals turns hostels. The vastness of the buildings is humbling and I have found myself speechless with wonder as I attempt to imagine what it may have been like to walk these same paths thousands of years ago. Many sick and ailing pilgrims began the trek and needed to stop at hospitals whilst en route. Yes, I too am on my own pilgrimage in need of healing, I suppose, in search of something greater than myself. Needless to say, each moment has reminded us all of what a gift this time is.

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An old hospital which would treat the ailing and leave bread out for passing pilgrims. Now in the place where bread once was, pilgrims may leave notes of well wishes or prayers, often held in place with rocks.

Karen, Monika, Mary, Rick and I were spoiled our first two nights: spent in a hotel and a spacious country home, respectively. In fact the latter had a magazine and poster with the signatures of Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez, who reportedly had also been to the place, most likely around the time of filming THE WAY. Cannot blame them; what beauty! The squawking peacock, though an annoyance to most others, felt like a warm welcome, reminding me of my childhood. Our neighbors had one, so for the 10+ years we lived next door, the peacock’s squawking was like an alarm clock at all hours!

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Here we are on the home’s porch before beginning day 2!

Many laughs have been shared thus far as we converse in English, Spanish, French and German with those around us. I’ve attempted to teach these fine people some Kiswahili, as I have an affinity to switch to it the more tired I become! That said it should be known: I fall into the first and third language categories, though am slowly absorbing more Spanish. Thankfully Rick and Monika (who is German and therefore fluent in the language too!) both have a good handle on Spanish so it has mostly been drama-less. I should also admit that I honed my gesticulating skills whilst in Tanzania so can sometimes communicate via (near) interpretive dance! Ah, another reason to write a THANK YOU note to Tanzania.

We will be covering roughly 20km/day, sometimes more, and so far I’ve learned a few lessons. The most important though, is definitely the importance of rain gear. I was excited to get started this morning until about minute 3 of walking, when Rick looked at me and asked, “Is that your rain jacket?” Enthusiastically I replied, “YES!” Rick then took my left cuff in his hand, felt it, then replied, “This is not a rain jacket, it’s a wind breaker.” And there you have it friends–yet another thank you note! My first purchase once home will be a rain jacket!

The first 60 minutes of the trek were very wet, involved Rick tying a green tarp around me–which, it should be known, was NOT waterproof either–though admittedly it has provided for some fabulous writing material so not all was lost (except the mobility skills of my extremities!!) It too enabled many to have a chuckle whilst looking at me. Truth be told, I felt like a teenage mutant ninja turtle so it wasn’t quite that bad! (NOTE: check Karen’s blog for a frightening picture of me donning the tarp–had I had a chunky belt, perhaps I could have pulled it off better!). Two other fun facts: there’s a decent chance each of my shoes weighed 2 lbs after trudging through mud so 1) not only was I finally 5’9″ (mud is like that of Karatu which cakes onto one’s shoes) but 2) so too will I soon have Herculean quadriceps! Either way I am just thankful that now, 7 hours later, I am finally dry.

Funny enough, at dinner tonight, as we all shared our favorite moments from the day, I found myself sharing my freezing moments as a turtle as being my most memorable. Due to the wind which caused the rain to fall at an angle, blinding me, and the ensuing cold, all I could focus on was one step after another. Polepole like on Kilimanjaro Certainly all I could see was a few feet in front of me anyway. The struggle to press on and not give up (and call a taxi to the next town–if not I knew more Spanish!) reminded me of super uncomfortable moments and how they are the ones which sometimes teach us the most.

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Walking into town once the sun emerged!

It is only day 2 so I am very optimistic that the trip shall continue to be even more fabulous–though hopefully with less rain. Once Rick and I got settled in our hostel–top bunks, yay!–we ventured into town in search of rain gear and hot sauce. Success in both categories! Karen, Monika and Mary are in a neighboring hostel because apparently us 5 together is too overwhelming! Or, because some hostels have rules that groups of more than 3 cannot stay together! Either way, onward we continue!

For now, it’s music time so as to drown out the choir of snores. Ah, hostels!

Thanks for reading!!

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Rain gear! A poncho with backpack holder for moi and waterproof pants for Rick!


Adjustments

The last six weeks have been challenging, to say the least.

From the moment the KLM plane flew over frozen lakes and snow-capped treetops, to the overwhelmingly expansive supermarket aisles, it became clear that an interesting journey lay ahead of my sun-soaked self.

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Just north of Newark Airport

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Remnants of the terrible winter the northeast experienced!

Culture shock has taken up residence, making a daily appearance as I walk around the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn, quieted by the change in my perspective. The pace and pulse of NYC exhaust though thrill me as I (attempt to) settle back into life here.

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An empty street

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View of lower Manhattan from the Manhattan Bridge, taken during a sunset walk home.

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A slightly different view from my commute in Tanzania

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Sunset whilst walking home in Tanzania

Many questions have arisen about my next steps: “Where will you work?”, “Where will you live?”, and the most common: “You’re not leaving again, right?!” A handful of caring friends have even made efforts to set me up with would-be suitors. Never a dull moment! FYI these are all fantastic questions I hope to answer soon, so stay tuned!*

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A hat, anyone?!

Indeed it is most daunting to approach my future and the reality that this is the first time since 2009 that I have arrived in the US with no definitive plan to return to Tanzania for more than a visit. That said, it is quite exciting!

The ending of one chapter and subsequent beginning of a new one usually bring much reflection, so for this reason I am especially grateful for my upcoming pilgrimage: On May 18, I am flying to Spain for a three week journey along The Way, or El Camino de la Compostela. You can read more about it here!!.

Thousands have made this journey over the years. As I join these throngs, I anticipate continued adventures! Likewise I am hopeful that I’ll retain some of the Spanish I’ve been attempting to learn so that I don’t confuse those around me with my French/Kiswahili brain! Twendeni mes amigos, er, something like that!!

*Though I am no longer in Tanzania, I am still managing Journeys of Solutions’ Child Sponsorship Progam, and would be happy to answer any questions about JOS’ work!! Likewise, can answer questions about Tanzania Education Corp’s continued work in/around Karatu and/or direct you to TEC’s on the ground team!


Decisions

Sensory Overload

I have learned recently (and subsequently apologized to those around me, asking for patience): when given more than one option, I have difficulty making a decision.

I didn’t realize how bad this was until I recently entered a food court at the Cape Town international airport. Though I certainly haven’t starved whilst in Karatu (echoes of “Mama Afrika” ring in my ears), options sometimes were limited. Simply, most times when eating in town, the majority of items listed on the menu were not available. I grew not annoyed (admittedly it took a handful of repeat circumstances to break me) but rather understood limitations. I even appreciated them for when presented with the facts you are left with two easy options: you either take it, or leave it! So, when seeing a smoothie place, cafe with fresh baked bread, loads and loads of delicious salads and hearing espresso machines’ whistles, I was stopped dead in my tracks…


Thirty minutes, a cigarette break (for my travel companion Charlotte), and lots of mind juggling on my behalf later, we were seated, drinking and eating. Note: I would have included photos but I was too dumbfounded and overwhelmed to do anything but stare and deliberate over how to proceed.

Needless to say, my subsequent visits to some super markets left me immobile. Thankfully Charlotte was behind me, pushing me along. Without her, I’d likely still be standing in front of some Milo cereal boxes.


Still Speechless

It has been one week since the bittersweet farewell at Tumaini. For those of you who know me well, you know it’s a rare moment that I actually have no words. The afternoon at school last Friday was one such rare occasion.

As I walked the familiar route to school, I wondered if my footprints were firmer in the red clay due to the weight of emotions I was experiencing. Note: in walking home I remember little of the journey so didn’t check. Upon arriving to school I was unable to actually say “Good bye,” rather I opted for a simple “See you,” selfishly trying to mentally concoct circumstances that might bring me back to Karatu very soon. FYI I’m still searching…

Shortly following lunch, and a few tearful hugs, the farewell ceremony began upon the beautiful multipurpose court. With dear friend Tom and the lovely Caroline and Angela by my side, we listened as the students shared poems, songs and dances. A special thanks to dear friends Annie and Susan for joining the festivities!! After the beautiful displays and heartfelt words, I was thankfully able to share some words of gratitude without tears (but boy did they come later!!)!

I was dressed in a beautiful khanga with printed words saying “Your kindness/love is forever treasured,” adorned with beautiful jewelry and received a stunning Ujamaa carving. The outpouring of love still keeps me speechless as I re-look at pictures and recall the many moments I’ve shared at Tumaini. As if the afternoon wasn’t fantastic enough, I was blessed to share tea with Tumaini’s principal Mr Allan and his wonderful wife, Janeth. Mr Jimmy joined the fun as we chatted with the newlyweds!

Here are some more glimpses of some of the warmest hospitality I’ve ever experienced…

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After the ceremony the upper primary students enjoyed sodas and lollipops while the pre primary peanuts received lollipops. We did “Cheers” before enjoying sips of soda–I think I did about 600 of them!!

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enjoying sticky hand shakes and high fives–why just eat a lollipop when you can run it on your hands…and mine?!?!
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Following sodas, the photo opps began!! Felt like I was on the red carpet…suppose for all intensive purposes I was, well upon a red clay carpet!!

Standard VII Class
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Teachers

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Clinton, tz’s future president!20140228-185538.jpg

Tumaini’s fantastic nurse Victoria
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After enjoying tea with Mr Allan, Janeth and Mr Jimmy
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Until we meet again…

Though I’ve known the decision for quite some time now, it is still hard to fully process its magnitude: Simply, tomorrow (Friday 21 Feb) will be my last day in Karatu, Tanzania, for an undetermined length of time. Tanzania has been a huge part of my life–most of my 20’s actually, so clearly leaving here brings many mixed emotions. I know I’m ready to leave though bidding adieu and saying my goodbye’s have brought many emotions, specifically since this is the first time I will be leaving Tanzania without a specific return date in mind! The fact that I will be departing nearly 6 years to the day from when I first arrived to climb Kili seems especially bittersweet. Additionally, having dear friend and fellow ’08 Kili climber, Tom Stevens, with me has brought much comfort. Tom spent a month here last year and was able to attend the beautiful water well naming ceremony at Tumaini. Likewise he’s a huge supporter of the work here in Tanzania and such a fantastic friend. He’s also been resident photographer so I’m especially grateful for that, as I’m usually behind the camera snapping the shots, rather than in them!

Over the last few weeks I have, almost daily, answered questions about my departure and have found that only one answer suffices: “Mimi, sijui nitarudi, lakini Mungu Anajua.” (I do not know when I will come back but God knows.) While I have learned so very many, many things during my tenure here, one of the most refreshing lessons I’ve learned is just how little we can control. Note: by “just how little” I mean, “NOTHING. We can control nothing!” Also, “refreshing” can be used lightly in some cases, as at times this fact has proven quite challenging!! Having been an event planner in NYC for several years kept me looking forward, sometimes 12 months out in order to make all necessary arrangements long before actual events. Living over here in Tanzania has really shown me how to live in the NOW and truly be present, appreciating every moment for what it is, rather than looking towards later, tomorrow, next month, next year etc. I believe I’ve shared this in the past, but just to drive this point home, please humor me. When saying “See you later” to friends at home, I may mean later that day, in a few months, in a few years…But when saying it here, I’ve found that it is understood that I mean later that same day. Further if I mean anything beyond today, I must say “Tutaonana Mungu Akipenda”–We will see each other if/when God wishes. So true.

Anyway, I will continue my volunteer work with Journeys of Solutions so stay tuned for updates regarding the phenomenal children supported through JOS. As for my work with Tanzania Education Corp, TEC has just welcomed a great team of 2 to continue its meaningful work in Karatu. To that end, you can subscribe to TEC’s new blog to stay up to date with glimpses from life at Tumaini. And of course, check out Facebook pages for both JOS and TEC.

Thank you for your unending and immense support…Hope you enjoy these (and others coming) farewell photos with glimpses of some of the extraordinarily beautiful souls I have come to know as dear friends.

Caroline, Angela and TEC founder Carol Hall being introduced to Tumaini
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New Uniforms!

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Visiting some Maasai friends who draped us in beautiful beaded bracelets, necklaces and earrings! One of TEC’s sponsored children comes from this village

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Perusing the mamas’ work–most of which they proceeded to drape upon us!

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Tom showing some photos to one of the children

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Special Goat Roast celebration/farewell at Shalom

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Tom joining the football game
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Enjoying girl time

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One of the newest Shalom children sponsored to attend Tumaini, Samwel

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Dance Party!!

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These two were babies when I first stayed at Shalom in 2009!

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Headed out to Alalailei Village inside the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. Along the way we weren’t alone on the road!!

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Six Tumaini students come from this beautiful village–and here is the gorgeous matriarch
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After enjoying delicious food and chai, Tom and I were presented with lovely beadwork. So too did I receive a load of items for my mom. The unending generosity was overwhelming.

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REUNITED AND IT FEELS SO GOOD!! After a full few days of farewells, Tom finally made it to Tumaini where he promptly settled in with Mr Jimmy!

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Tomorrow is a farewell bash at Tumaini so stay tuned for additional photos soon!!


Celebrate Giving Tuesday with Tanzania Education Corp to help match a $25,000 gift!

Tanzania Education Corp (TEC) has just received a gift from an anonymous donor of up to $25,000 for 1:1 matching funds to support the completion of the permanent library and computer lab spaces at Tumaini Junior School!

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With a total of $50,000 Tumaini can complete Phase 1 of the building, which includes the installation of the roof, walls, windows and doors on the new academic building’s fourth floor. In doing so, the school shall continue to educate the future leaders of Tanzania and maintain its stellar reputation for providing quality education.*

To give right now, you can donate online, otherwise you may send your check made out to “Tanzania Education Corp” with “Roof Match” in the memo to Carol Hall, 6 Norfolk Rd., Chestnut Hill, MA 02467. All donations are 100% tax deductible and naming opportunities are available!!

We are ecstatic to continue our meaningful work at Tumaini and hope you shall join us!! For additional details about the challenge, please see TEC’s most recent newsletter below and/or email me: elizabeth@tanzania-schools.org.


*TUMAINI’S SUCCESS: In 2013, Tumaini placed 1st among 96 primary schools in the Karatu district and 40th out of 15,656 primary schools in the nation.

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DATES TO SAVE!!

Attention San Francisco and Rochester-area dwellers! There are three exciting events coming soon, each providing opportunities to see glimpses of life at Tumaini Junior School! Further you’ll also have the chance to join us, Journeys of Solutions and Tanzania Education Corporation, through supporting the meaningful work we do.

DOCUMENTARY PREMIERES IN SAN FRANCISCO

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Thursday, October 10 7PM
Studio One (CA 128), BECA Department, SFSU
1600 Holloway Ave.
San Francisco CA 94132
Remember the group of dedicated SF State students who visited Tumaini in June? Well, they’ve finished their documentaries about Mr Bayo and Tumaini and Mrs Bayo and Lake Eyasi Girls Vocational Centre. The students will premiere each documentary next week so stop on by and say Jambo!

VOLUNTEER TOM STEVENS SHARES HIS VOLUNTEER EXPERIENCE
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Thursday, October 10 7PM
6750 County Road 32
Canandaigua, NY 14424
Come hear about Tom’s monthlong stay in Karatu this past February. His hard work included installing a playground at Tumaini alongside local workers, painting a beautiful mural with the help of Tumaini staff and students, and assisting in the library and computer lab!

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JOURNEYS OF SOLUTIONS EVENT
Saturday, October 19 7-10PM
Rochester Pillars
35 Washington Street
Rochester, NY
Tickets are $25 when purchased on the JOS website or $30 at the door.
Come learn more about the handful of JOS projects around the world. Maureen McGuire, WROC News Channel 8 Anchor is the MC!
Can’t attend?! Worry not my friends! Visit the website to make a donation to one (or all!) of JOS’ projects!

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QUESTIONS?! Please email me for contact info/additional details for above events!!
elizabeth@tanzania-schools.org OR orphanageprojects@journeysofsolutions.org