Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday July 19, 13 7:30pm - Heading home

Wow – what a night.  So you know how in every group there are always some personality conflicts?  Well our group was no different except that EVERYONE got along great EXCEPT 2 people – a couple who started off the trip on day 1 with the husband declaring “I don’t want to go with the group”… not one time but 3 times.  We even went out of our way to go pick him up when he missed the ferry to Zanzibar (due to a lack of personal responsibility in looking at the times for his little adventure that was definitely NOT part of our travel plans).  Through the entire trip he was abrasive, offensive, and rude to the local people telling them that their homemade wares were “not worth” what they were charging.  And you know what – our purchases weren’t about buying something that was “worth” the dollar amount.  They were about giving to a community who took the effort to make beautiful hand-made unique wares.  The $15 for a bracelet that we could make with safety pins and beads was valuable because that $15 provided food for a family for a few days!  UGH!  So we get back from an amazing journey through Ngoro and he proceeds to exit the vehicle and verbally bash all the work that was done on the trip because his add-on trip that begins the next day didn’t suit his schedule.  He and his wife had us constantly rolling our eyes, walking away out of embarrassment that someone might think WE were his wife, and the best part… his profession is working with companies to help improve their customer service experiences.  Basically he was, is, and probably always will be a self-absorbed a$$.  Because I’m a good person, I’m not about to say his name but no worries – his business won’t be getting a single referral from my professional network.  Mean people should just go away!

End rant.

So after getting back to the hotel we all took showers after 2 days of safari driving.  It took me 3 body washes and 2 hair washes to get the water to run clear I was so filthy.  Still 24 hours later I still think I feel dust in my hair.  The shower was great and the wine among my new friends was wonderful.  We dined, shared memories, exchanged email addresses, and I know that most of us (except self-absorbed couple X) will stay in touch. 

Willie, me, and Joyce at the last stop where I got my ring.
Today everyone left for his or her respective journeys by 8:30am and it was just I.  Joyce, our trusty guide, picked me up from the hotel and took me on a downtown Arusha adventure complete with riding the dali dali (bus), walking all over downtown bargaining for a futbol jersey for John, a Masai Shuka for me, and a Tanzanite ring for my anniversary (Thanks Richard!!).  

A guy followed us until I turned around and made eye contact letting him know that I saw him and I wasn’t afraid.  He backed off but then the local guys noticed what we were shopping for so they started harassing my guide Joyce.  She’s a tough cookie and I was so glad to have her.  Arusha was fun but NOT somewhere I would have walked without someone who knew the language and the town.  I much prefer Moshi to Arusha. 
Happy 15th anniversary to me!

We made it to 5 jewelry stores and finally on the 5th one I found the ring I wanted.  It is a beautiful Tanzanite band to go under my solitaire in memory of my trip and my 15th wedding anniversary.  I love it and since I haven’t bought a fancy piece of jewelry in 15 years this should hold me over for a while. 

Well – when I got to the airport in Dar Es Salaam the security guys started giving me a very, very, very hard time about some rough tanzanite I had in my souvenir bag.  They said I had to have papers from the Minister of Minerals or something that said it was ok for me to take this out of the country.  Seriously?  I bought it at a tourist shop taken to by our guide and NO ONE told us we needed papers to ask permissions to take the stones.  I was glad that I didn’t buckle – I did my best to convince the guy I was an honest person and had no idea and eventually I asked to talk to someone higher.  He came over and at this point I was shaking I so didn’t want to leave my $80 of stones behind.  They really weren’t going to let me take them – thankfully I got the guy to agree that if I showed him my receipt for my new ring (which I was NOT wearing) he would let me take the stones.  I showed it to him and he started to hesitate.  

Then after asking why I was here again I explained that we had gone to hospitals, what Smile Train does they said, “you are good for us”.  I was in tears and shaking – partly out of anger, part out of frustration and a little bit of thanks that I didn’t have to leave my stones.  I really think these guys were trying to hustle me and because I pushed and pushed and had a receipt for my ring they realized it wasn’t going to work.  The funny thing was at the end of the episode one of them told me something along the lines of ‘you can never be too safe.  Always ask for a manager because some of these guys are just trying to get money out of you.

Plane ride to Zurich – excellent as was the last flight on Swiss.  They have amazing food, amazing customer service, very calm and friendly.  Now I’m on a United flight from Zurich to New York and yep, the world is right, the United flight service leaves much to be desired.  Sorry.  The attendants were very abrupt with the international passengers, not taking the time to make sure they understood the answers to their questions.  Just not as nice as they could have been.  Then I finally got to Newark airport, so happy to only have 1 flight left to get home.  After traveling for 30'ish hours and being awake for the last 40'ish hours I was eager to be in Raleigh. Not so fast... apparently at 9am that morning United had cancelled my 4:15pm flight to Raleigh due to 'weather'.  I call foul!  They booked me on the next flight leaving at 8am the NEXT DAY!  No voucher for a meal, no toothbrush, no t-shirt since all my clothes were filthy, no hotel.  They actually told me that I had to spend the night at the airport, it wasn't their problem.  NOT how I wanted to end my trip so after lots and lots and lots of tears, I got a hotel room and went to bed.  

I made it home Sunday morning at 11am to my happy kids (Roy didn't recognize me for a few hours!) and a happy husband.   No place like home!

Thursday, July 18, 2013 3:45pm - Ngorongoro Crater

Our evening was spent at the Rhotia Valley Tented Camp; however, we were here for less than 12 hours so we didn’t see much.  What I do know is that this camp/lodging was built by 2 doctors from the Netherlands who own and run a children’s home for orphans supporting 36 kids on site and 14 more in the village.  They provide them with food, clothing, education, and job training so they can be productive Tanzanians in their town.  

Driving out of the hotel we saw all the children in town walking to school – the children in primary (standard 1-7) usually walk up to 45minutes to get to school and the secondary school (middle/high school) can sometimes walk 1.5 hours to school each way.  Walking is a way of life here – everyone does it and no one complains.  There are buses but still, many people walk.  I was surprised to see children as young as 4 or 5 walking to school completely unattended!

Masai doing a welcome dance
Thursday we spent the day at the Ngorongoro crater on a safari and saw amazing sights! 

I got to dance with the women!
We started out going to a Masai village – called a Boma – where we each paid $20US (30,000Ts) and were greeted at our car door by a Masai man.  Our guides name was Titika (spelling?) – he was 37 and had lived here his entire life.  The village did a traditional welcome dance and song and invited us to join them.  The ladies let us wear a necklace and held our hands while we jumped.  It was so kind of them to include us – I was smiling the entire time.  After that we were taken into the walls of their community – well fence really – and into a home. The home we went in was that of a man where he lived with his Mama and Papa.  He said he has 25 children but I’m not sure if he was saying he personally had 25 children or that there were 25 kids in the village.

Sweet babies, cold feet!

She was about 1 year old
and so happy to see us!

There were about 5-8 little babies some wrapped on their moms back and some toddling around.  All of them smiling and their Mamas were happy to let us take pictures.    We were escorted to their school where there was one teacher with about 25 kids.  They sang us a song and then showed us how they can count to 10 and then by 10’s to 100.  Their chalkboard had a 100-grid, the ABC, and the multiplication table for 3’s.  Our group was all smiles the whole time and we were able to make the Masai smile too!

After we were done they walked us back and were interested in our watches – I was out of money so I offered to trade them my watch for 2 necklaces!  3 members of our group traded their watches for jewelry – probably not an ‘even’ exchange but knowing that we were supporting their village and how much they appreciated the watches was worth it.

Minutes before we left our guide, Titika, told me he wanted to ask me a question.  He said, “Do you mind it?” pointing to his village?  Grinning from ear to ear I said “no” and then as we walked I asked him if he had children and he said “no” – we added “not yet” and he smiled as he told us “that’s why I wanted to ask you a question”.  I never knew Masai men flirted J It was extremely flattering.  Upon getting in the car we compared notes and he had been asking all the ladies if they were married!  What would he do if someone actually did want to stay!

The game drive was different from the day before mostly in the terrain.  To reach the crater we had to drive over a mountain, through very thick clouds, and descend from 2700meters.  The Masai village was about ½ way down and was still very chilly but the bottom of the crater was warm and sunny.  It felt light a scene from a movie!   

Ostrich, hyena, jackal, zebra, wildebeest, hippos, a pride of 12 lions – 2 of which were hunting, so many birds… and more – I’ll remember more when I get my pictures printed.  Throughout the trip I’ve been having the idea to create an animal photo book for Roy with animal pictures I’ve taken here!  That should be fun to look at.
I loved the land in the crater because it was so peaceful.  At our zoos we always see the animals divided but in their natural habitat the zebra, wildebeest, warthogs, gazelles, ostrich are all living peacefully – until the lions come to town.  The crater was such a serene place – I see know why people don’t want to leave here. 
We now have a 4 hour drive back to Arusha, overnight at the African Tulip, and then tomorrow I don’t have a flight out until 3pm – I’ll be at the airport by about 1pm – so no idea what I’ll do until then!  Everyone is leaving very early so it will be just me.  If I don’t have anyone to go around with I’ll just stay at the hotel and watch movies in the lobby!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013 – Game Drive at Tarangire

Some of the Baobab trees
(pronounced bobo) are over
1,000 years old
Elephant skull at the
 entrance to Tarangire
Our guides, Joseph and Alfan, met us at our hotel and picked us up around 9:30 for the 2-½ hour drive to Tarangire.  On our way out of town we stopped at a shop to buy some Tanzanite.  I already wished I had purchased a fancy ring for me but even better – I got 3 pieces of raw Tanzanite and 2 pieces of green Ruby for John to put in his rock tumbler.   Once one of the Tanzanite stones is tumbled I’ll take it to a jeweler and have it made into something I can wear on a necklace every day to remind me of my trip.

We made it to Tarangire and had a box lunch before beginning our game drive.  The landscape at Tarangire is amazing – many Baobab trees around the park some as old as 1,000 years! It's all a bit surreal… it felt like we were just at a state park so I had to keep reminding myself we were in AFRICA and these animals were not brought here, they live here, migrate to and from here, this is their true home.  We saw many zebra and wildebeest and got extremely excited when we finally saw elephants. 

I have to pause as I am writing this on our way back from the game drive and we are at a road and the Masai and crossing with their cattle – the Masai are pastoralists so they herd goats and sheep around Tanzania and Kenya.  They wear traditional red robes and all carry a big stick to prod the animals along.  Most of the Masai we passed waved but one lady threw a rock at our bus from a distance.  All in all, they didn’t seem to mind the tourism.  

We did learn that the Masai babies born with clefts are usually killed or left in the wild, abandoned, discarded, thrown away.  How incredibly sad – Smile Train is trying to educate and get the word out as much as possible (possible being the key word here) so that they can see that this isn’t something that happened by superstition but can be fixed.  It is a big hurdle to get the native folk living in their native mind set to come into town and even more go to a hospital, and more so to have surgery. 

Back to the game drive, the elephants at first were far away and we were taking pictures through our binoculars (or just I was I guess) but by the end of our safari we had more than one opportunity to watch them no more than 20meters from our car.  Amazing!  We saw a family of baboons crossing the river and heading up into the palm trees for the evening.  Many of the babies were riding on their mamas back and one was even taking a nap.  They reminded me of Roy.  I was given a very nice scarf/wrap by the Smile Train Africa team and can’t wait to get home and practice wrapping Roy on my back like the women here do.  The kids look so happy and I can’t think of anything better than having him smooshed up against me all day long J
I miss my family but we are staying so busy that when I miss them it is more in the context of “I wish they could see this for themselves”.  You never really ‘get it’ until you see this first hand.  Photos don’t do it justice.

Me with Eva & the bracelet she made
out of cow bone
After the game drive was over we were heading out and we saw some warthogs but they didn’t feel social as they rooted in the mud so no good pics of them.  We left the Tarangire Park and went to a shop that sold things by the local women and I bought a bracelet made by Eva out of cow bone.  I will be wearing this ALL the time and when the string breaks – I’m restringing it.  I specifically asked Eva to show me something that SHE made and this is what she picked out. 

Oh yeah – earlier in the day on our way into the park we stopped in a village and Adina wanted some chapati – no idea what that was – so we saw a young mom and her 2 kids and our driver, Alfani hollered out the window.  She brought us a bag of hot chapatti for 500 shillings (about $0.30).  It was this delicious flour-based pancake almost like a crepe cooked over a hot griddle-type thing and oh my, it was delicious.  

The food here is wonderful, but I’m not eating any meat.  The first day 2 people in our group came down with stomach issues so I’ve been going vegetarian while we are here.  All the food is ‘real food’ – greens, rice, beans, chicken, goat, cow (they don’t call it beef), bananas, potatoes – you’ve never tasted a better potato!  Their chips (fries) are ah-mazing… like nothing we have in America, anywhere.

Now we are heading to the Rotia (ro-tee-uh) Valley tented camp for the evening.  This is yet another wonderful place – a children’s home for kids who have been orphaned. The tented camp was created to provide financial support for the children’s home.  I’ve got 3 bags of clothes and shoes for them too so I’m sure it will go to good use.

Another observation, there are not gender stereotypes with clothing.  Little boys run around in pink jackets, rainbow hats, girls wear boy’s shorts, whatever fits.   I saw an adult man on a motorcycle wearing a pink sparkly puffy coat.  I just love that – clothing is only functional.  So as you have clothes you don’t want, I have an address in Tanzania where we can send them for good use, gender doesn’t matter.  In one village there was a lady walking down the street in what was surely someone’s prom dress with a mermaid bottom. It was just a skirt to her – beautiful probably – but still just a skirt.

I just saw a Masai man on the side of the road talking on the phone… cell phones are HUGE here.  Since areas are so remote and electricity isn’t easy to find you can’t guarantee that everyone has a phone in their home and few have TVs.  Radio is very big for communicating too.   The cell phone stores all have cards like lottery tickets where people can buy prepaid minutes and scratch off the card and have a code to add minutes to their phone.

This also allows them to transfer money to people – they call it m-pesa – and Smile Train uses this to help pay for transit costs for patients who can’t otherwise afford the bus fare.  They will send them money via SMS, the person goes to an m-pesa shop to collect their money, and it’s so easy.  

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Tuesday July 16, 2013 11am - Arusha

We just left the Plaster House, which is the boarding house for the Arusha Lutheran Medical Center. 
A Mama and one of her children at Plaster
House.  They do amazing work providing food
and shelter to children recovering after surgery.
At the Plaster House they do not turn any child away – after patients are treated they are sent to the Plaster House for after care so there are children with many disabilities – burns, orthopedic patients, clefts, and more.  The moms of the babies are allowed to stay with the children so there was a wide range of people at the home.

Arriving with toys, colors, Legos, note pads, erasers, and balls (all brought by Sue) was a great idea – it was an ice breaker with the kids because kids in any country still are the same at their core – smiling, playful, curious, yet a bit reserved.  A few of the children had been to school before and were great artists so they were excited to have paper, pencils, and colors to use.

With a Mama from Plaster House.
She had 2 of her 4 children with her. 
Sweet little guy enjoying
his new crayon and paper
There was one Mama who had 4 children, 2 of which were at the center.  One was 7-years old but the size of a 2-year old.  He seemed to have both physical and mental developmental delays and her other child had a clubfoot.  Her daughter with the cast on her foot was my best friend.  I taught her “hug” and we colored, played on my phone looking at pictures, and her Mama was eager for me to take her picture. The Mama enjoyed looking at my photos on my phone of the two of us together and then the pictures of my babies.  As with children, Mamas in any country are the same… proud of their babies.

The Mama little girl I taught
to say "bye" and "hug". She
mastered the iPhone camera!
Seeing the babies was a very emotional experience for me.  These mamas all sitting around with their little babies – one was a 3 year old named Paulina and another 7-month old baby boy.  Using our guide Joyce I was able to tell the Mamas that I too had a little girl named Pauline and a 7-month old baby.  Hopefully they felt a bit of a connection, however, the people of Tanzania are a very low key, soft spoken people so excitement is hard to come by. 

I didn’t want to leave.  It’s not that I felt pity for these children, but playing with them, tickling them, teaching them to blow raspberries with their mouths, just felt so right – helping these kids be kids for a minute and not a kid with a disability.  If I could have given them everything I had I would.  

How I wish I could do more for all these children but I know that the care they are receiving at the Plaster House is amazing.  There are 5 house moms who work for 4 weeks then go home for 1 week caring for all these children. 

He loved seeing his face
on the camera!
The Plaster House is currently an 18-bed facility with 49 children, at least 10 Mamas, and 4 house moms.  The communal courtyard seemed to be the hang out area as mattresses were stacked high in the corner.  They are building a new facility that is a 50-bed house so I imagine as soon as that opens they will have well over that number since no one is turned away.  The children can stay here as long as they need to –whether that is a few days for a cleft patient or months for patients requiring plaster casts to be replaced weekly. 

What a blessing to have my eyes opened yet again to the ‘real Africa’.  Our Hotel is amazing but it’s not Africa – this was Africa.

Next up, a patient village in Moshi.

In front of Angela's home.
3 families share this
common cooking/
washing area.
We got to go see Mama Ana and her daughter Monica who is 3 ½ years old.  They live on the border of Tanzania and Kenya outside of Moshi.  When Angela was born her mother was very sad, as she had never seen anything like this before; Angela also had a congenital issue with her eyes that required surgery.  A friend of Mama Ana told her to go to Arusha and it could be fixed.  She took a bus into Moshi and another into Arusha – which after being here I realize that is such a huge venture away from their home.  To us a 90-minute drive is nothing, to them it’s another world.  
Angela's friends and sister in the way
back of the picture.

Angela was extremely shy and afraid of all of us so I don't have any pictures of her.  I would have been too – but her Mama was very quick to invite us into her home.  They lived in a room they pay $4 for; Mama Ana and Angela, her sister age 7) and her father.  Inside their home are a queen size bed, 2 chairs and a few posters on the wall.  All in all their house is about a 10x10 square.  Running water is non-existent as is electricity. 

The kids in the neighboring houses were excited to see us and play games and learn how to throw a Frisbee.  By the time we left Angela was smiling and happy to smile for us – as long as we stayed on our bus J

Our youngest patient with her 2 sisters
and brother (and me). They did smile
but not for my picture :)
Dr. Gitahi teaching her to
say "welcome" in English
Dr. Gitahi greeting Grandma,
who lived just up the hill
Next up was a visit with another sweet little girl & her brother (14) and 2 sisters (ages 10 and 7).  She was about 3 and had her surgery in 2012.  The repair was done so well, it was hard to tell it had even been done! 

These kids were all very kind but very reserved and a bit protective.  Again, the language barrier was present and I wish I had words to tell them thank you for letting us take their picture.  Hopefully they saw it in our eyes.  Their home setup was more expansive than others as they had a stable with a cow, a bunny, many chickens a goat and some crops.  It was a bigger house with what looked like 2 rooms and Grandma living up the hill.  In order to reach this house we had to hike about ¼ mile through a single track trail that would have been considered a ‘hard trail run’ if I had my running buddy, Callie, with me.  This is the walk her family makes daily to go to anywhere.

Little boy, probably 7 or 8,
doing what boys do... showing
off for the camera
Upon leaving this last house there was a group of about 12 kids sitting on a hillside one of them doing handstands.  I went back and got him to do it again and took a picture to show him.  The bigger boys sitting behind him were saying, “photograph” so they obviously were in school.  
One other boy and a girl were curious about the photo and he decided to do a little showing off so I made a movie of him walking on his hands and showed him.  That got a good laugh out of them all.  As we were leaving their Mama was calling to them; hopefully I didn’t get them in trouble.

Driving through Moshi and the rural areas is an experience.  Children as old as 5 are herding animals on the road side, everyone is walking no more than 1 foot from the road where cars are driving, passing each other, weaving, and honking.  I was told that car accidents are the #3 cause of death here.  I see why.  I did notice some Masai men walking along the road in their red robes/gowns/wraps and getting on the bus to go back to their villages.  There is definitely a culture of hard work here.

2 wonderful workers from the
Arusha Lutheran Medical
Center & Plaster House
Between lunch and the home visits we got to go to the market and do some shopping.  Our guide, Joyce, took us for a traditional Tanzanian lunch served buffet style.  I opted for cooked greens (kale & pumpkin), rice, beans, and potatoes/fries.  It was delicious!  The drink Coca-Cola is everywhere.  I remember years ago seeing a Coke ad that showed people all around the world drinking Coke and one of them was an African man in red traditional attire; now I know that was a Masai man and yes – they do drink Coke too.  That wasn’t a marketing gimmick.  

So the shopping was fun. Since we didn’t plan on going to another store for shopping I did most of my shopping there.  While I wanted to buy everything I just got a few small things realizing that even though everyone wants lots of ‘stuff’ back home more ‘stuff’ is the last thing we need.  I tried to get usable items that weren’t just going to sit; that’s just so wasteful.

My biggest take away from this trip is how much excess we have in America and I’m as guilty as anyone of having too much and wanting too much.  We could learn some lessons from the people here – be content with what we have, live a life that is wholly focused on family and not focused on the family next door or anyone else’s things or opinions.  The Africans here are a very content people, happy to invite us into their home without apology or excuse.  Things are tiny and tidy with just what they need, no more.

Onto dinner.  We ate at Bay Leaf and had an amazing meal in African time.   Dinner was ordered around 7:30 and at about 8:15 our appetizers came, around 9:15 our dinner, and around 10:15 dessert.  It was a very pleasant way to spend the evening visiting with everyone.  We also celebrated Jane's (from Smile Train Africa) birthday - yummy cake!