Thanks for joining me! If you want the background on my trip to Tanzania last year check out my blog I kept last summer before continuing on. 🙂
Weeki Moja (Week 1- Day 0-3)
Sorry I haven’t updated via blog but by the end of each day I’ve been wiped out! But don’t worry I’ve been jotting down the gems of each day so let’s get started. The travel was relatively uneventful but I had a layover in Amsterdam so I can officially say I’ve been in Europe! The highlight was that on the flight from Boston my seat mate was a girl my age who’d been volunteering for 10 months in Nairobi. It was really fun to swap stories and it distracted me from the takeoff (fun fact: I HATE flying). By the end of the 8 hour flight we were fast friends and explored the Netherlands airport together (side note: its the coolest and cleanest airport I’ve seen- even had a free library!) Another 9 hour flight later and the wheels were touching down at Kilimanjaro airport. Unfortunately I arrived at night so I didn’t get to experience seeing the hut dwellings as you near the landing strip, which the first time for me was absolutely surreal.
My host mom picked me up at the airport with my 7 year-old neighborhood best buddy Ibra so that was an awesome surprise. Some rice and chitchat and a bucket shower later it was time to crawl under the mosquito net and call it a night. (I kinda forgot about the opposite seasons here and it’s pretty dang cold at night!)
Returning to Tanzania feels like stepping into a second skin, and honestly Usa River hasn’t changed much at all. The bumpy road to the house still jostles you around the backseat giving you what they jokingly call “The African Massage”, the fruit vendors on the side of the street recognize me and shout a greeting, and the familiar faces, sights, smells and sounds make me feel like I’ve never left.
Day 1 is interesting. The normal nocturnal sounds of the gangs of stray dogs that roam the streets keep me up my first night, and the time-challenged roosters awaken me before the sun, battling for the attention of my ears with the Muslim call to prayer, but the melodic chant wins out and lulls me back to sleep.
I visited the Vipaji daycare center/nursery school down the street and was really happy to see all the positive changes that were still being put into practice! Hands are being washed before each meal and after bathroom trips, the new mattresses are utilized for nap time, and each morning the children brush their teeth in the Happy Teeth Center when they arrive. The clean water program where water is boiled and placed into individually labeled bottles each morning is going strong and I loved seeing the children grab the bottle with their name on it, freely drink purified water throughout the day, which before wasn’t really an option. At first though I didn’t see some of the faces from the class last year and was saddened to learn that some of them had to leave due to an inability to pay the low fee, which just highlights the level of poverty we are seeing and honestly the poverty can still smack you in the face even though it’s a regular part of life here.
So the day was highs and lows.
Sometimes you can forget the impact you made, you believe you did good work but you question if it actually made a difference in the daunting face of how much needs to be accomplished?
You forget until you hear a child humming a song you taught them last year…
You forget until you hear the clink of trains and can see the gears turning in children’s heads as they lay out train tracks in new patterns in a nursery school that never had toys…
You forget until the mother next door whose whole livelihood is a fruitstand made out of plastic tarp and sticks has her child deliver an entire bundle of fruit to you as a gift because she remembers you used to color with her son every day. It’s crazy how much can be said with one avocado…
The grins and shocked faces of the children when they recognized me were the cutest things ever!
With every child’s smile I remember my purpose and why I’m here.
It’s nice because it’s legitimate validation. Not validation by the amount of instagram likes or the grade I got on a test or the impression I gave at a job interview.
But it’s validation of the human kind; that you helped add a little happiness to the world and that it will live on.
This was a busy day of meetings- with the playground construction company and the education coordinator at the local college on how I can arrange for the education of the nursery school’s teacher and get her signed up for classes. Plans were laid out and discussed and prices bargained.
But what an honor to be able to grant someone the gift of education. I realized in my own life years ago how important the gift of education is, as scholarships allowed me to go to a college I never could have afforded. Seeing the tears well up in Madam Rachel’s eyes as I delivered the news that because of donations we would be able to sponsor her education, reinforced just how valuable and precious education is because you it provides a platform from which you can jump and improve your status in life and reach your dreams. That was one of the most satisfying moments of my life and she was so so grateful as she has wanted to continue her education for years. She signed a contract to stay at the nursery school for three years following the completion of her education, therefore it’s mutually beneficial for all parties.
I went to the orphanage for what I thought would be a simple catch up visit but within 5 minutes was handed a baby to take to the hospital! I was happy to see they trusted me still and it was great to see the workers I really bonded with the year before. The trip to the hospital was bumpy with me holding baby Deborah in the backseat of a Jeep but we made it safely without incident. The local hospital is really bare bones and between three other toddlers from the orphanage who were there due to sickness we had to wait for over 4 hours in outdoor waiting areas. The doctors were just nowhere to be found. One child was throwing up, and the hospital staff wasn’t alarmed nor makes any efforts to clean up any vomit in the middle of the floor- that’s up to you. Additionally patients at the hospital must provide their own food, water and bed linens and it is quite common in the maternity ward to see two mothers sharing a bed. If you don’t have family near by to bring you food you won’t eat and if you don’t have money at the exact moment of your visit you won’t get service or medicines. It’s really tough to see the hospital system. Luckily baby Deborah had a positive hospital visit. We went to the back of the compound where there was a big canvas medical tent and she received a physical therapy checkup. She’s only a couple months old but due to severe neglect from birth by an mentally unstable mother and due to being confined in bad positions her arms and legs were twisted at odd angles and moving her limbs caused her much pain. This time though she had full extension and rotation with not one tear shed!:) Great improvement! Ended the day with seeing the mother of one of my kids from last year at her small shop. I was brought excitedly to the house down the street where she was, so that was great to see her as she’s grown past the age of the nursery school. Finished the day with a 30 min walk to the bank ATM then it was time for Sabbath and rest! 🙂
I went to church with my host family and 2 other volunteers from England who are also staying at the house. It was fun to sing with the children and see some familiar faces. Following lunch I went with the volunteers and my little neighborhood friend Ibra to a local hotel with a swimming pool. I’d brought over swim trunks, a kickboard, and goggles for Ibra and it was his first time to a pool! But the water was freezing so it was legs in only for us! The goggles were a huge hit with him though and I saw him wearing them around the neighborhood all week!
So I have the Bible app on my phone and while I was sitting at the airport waiting for my flight to Tanzania my phone buzzed and up popped my Verse of the Day notification and it could not have been more fitting. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
Isaiah 41:10 NIV
Just like God knew what I needed in that moment He knows what YOU need right in THIS very moment. I’d like to think that God had it planned from the very jump as the tech developer or random computer algorithm was sequenced to select this verse for this very day when I had my pre-travel jitters. I believe that God totally does care about our lives down to the little details. So open up to Him, He wants to be with you in the good and the bad, and the one thing I can guarantee is that His plan for you is amazing, you should ask Him about it. 🙂
Much love and stay Irie,