Saturday, July 12, 2008

After Shock

This is the hardest entry to write. In part because now I am back to the craziness and hustle and bustle of daily life in America and in part because if I am to be honest I will sound negative, so I will start with something positive. Despite the fact that we live in an emotionally detached country that cares more about productivity than relationships, I was overwhelmed by the number of friends new and old and family members who wrote me notes beforehand to send good wishes and afterward to check on my safe return. So although we may use Facebook instead of a handshake or a hug, I know people out there love me and that connection is an invaluable part of every culture no matter how we express it.

When I returned to the States I thought I would be happy to be here and I would kiss the ground after landing on July 4. Paris was my first stop and the giant billboards of Cartier and Givenchy and all the other couture in the Charles De Gaulle airport were too much to bear. I slipped on my ipod and tried to drown out the distractions of grumpy people and security checkpoints. Then after landing in Norfolk I saw all the typical sights of a country filled with excess like this woman who was grossly overweight and wearing short white shorts and high-heels. Thank you for sharing your cellulite and veins with us — welcome to America the home of the free and the way too brave.

The first day or two back were a daze of eating normal food, drinking wine, getting back into my routine and generally being annoyed with Americans. Thankfully it seems like God always sends one person who gets it, a person who you don’t need to explain why you are feeling anti-American, while others just stare at you out of disbelief unable to relate. Like when you get upset at the waitress for throwing away your to-go box because you know there really are people starving in Africa. So when this woman came up to me at church last Sunday and asked if I was feeling anti-American I finally felt normal for having those feelings. Sometimes a connection with one person can make all the difference. And now back to reality. Thanks for sharing my journey with me.

Traveling Show

A lot of people have been asking if it was hot. Tanzania is below the equator and this was winter season so temperatures got up to the 70s some days and down to the 50s other. It was dry, perfect weather, but my African friends were freezing.

After leaving Longido I traveled to Moshi to send the last 5 days with Gina in the city where she lives. Here I spent Saturday shopping for gifts and drinking real coffee for the first time since I left. All the wonderful Tanzanian coffee gets shipped out thanks to the Tanzanian government officials who probably pocket all the profits. They have this coffee in a can called Africafe and yes it is about as good as Taster’s Choice instant.

We were supposed to go out to dinner the night before, but there was word that people had been robbed at local restaurants so we ordered Indian take out. There are many Indians in Tanzania so it is easy to find Indian cuisine in the larger cities. Saturday night we were brave and ventured to a local German restaurant that didn’t even serve German food but did have a large number of Indian dishes. I was up early Sunday to go on my two day safari — I thought I was going with a group of 80 experienced missionaries, but instead got stuck with 80 Pentecostals, many who were first time travelers, who had not seen any of the real life of Africa while on their mission trip. After I told them I was Presbyterian one lady even informed me that I was in the right jeep — i.e. I would finally get to experience the Holy Spirit. I guess you need to have some kind of emotional breakdown in order to experience the third person of the Trinity. All that being said it didn't turn out as badly as it could have. They did not lay hands on me.

Well, we made too many pit stops and ended up getting to Lake Manyara very late so we couldn’t enter. Instead we went to a preplanned tour of a Maasai village. Not what I signed up for. It was like going to the Colonial Williamsburg version of a village and I felt as if we were exploiting these people. In the end the women all brought out their jewelry to sell so I think they were the wiser as they charged exorbitant prices to these mzungus.

We then went on safari and I saw monkeys, giraffes and the backs of hippos in the hippo pool. That evening we went to the Ngorogoro Crater, which was magnificent. We stayed at the swanky Serena Lodge and I actually had two hot showers in less than 12 hours just because I could. Yeah for clean hair. At dinner I met a group of young people from Colorado, who were with the Pentecostal group and thankfully redeemed my experience with them. I wish I would have been asked which jeep I wanted to sit on---I would have chose Colorado over South Carolina any day of the week. Anyway we hung out by the fire pit in the lodge drinking the local brew and chatting.

I slept in the room with two complete strangers, which is always interesting. In the morning the crater glowed orange and we could see little dark specs moving about on its surface. At first when we entered the crater the novelty of all the animals made us want to stop the jeep every 5 feet. My meek and gracious fellow travelers kept yelling "stop" or "go" louder and louder as if decibel levels affected our driver’s ability to understand English. I quickly memorized the Swahili words for “please”(tafadahli) and “stop” (simama) and “let’s go” (twende) so that I could at least try to create a rapport with the driver.

It was a great day of watching zebras, wildebeests, water buffalo, various antelope, and of course a pride of lions that were trying to make a kill and may have been successful sometime after we left. But my biggest joy was seeing the bull elephant with his magnificent tusks. We only saw him at the very end and I would have been sorely disappointed to miss seeing an elephant as that is one of the main reasons I went on safari.

On Tuesday Gina and I went to visit two orphanages in the afternoon. It was great to see the love the workers had for these children — some who had been abandoned by their parents. One child was there because his father killed his mother. The first place, Kili Kids was run by a single African woman named Margaret — she was the woman who arranged my safari as well. Here I brought out my bubbles and began to play with the kids. One girl latched on to me as soon as I came and would not let go. We toured the facility, which was clean and simple. There was laundry going around the clock and a woman who cleaned twice a day. The kids even had two indoor bathrooms to use. But the second place was even more impressive. An American church ran it and there was a huge playground, a schoolroom with DVD access, where Veggie Tales intoxicated the children when I arrived. They also had much-coveted air conditioning.

The following day was my last and so Gina and I and two other missionaries hiked the first level of Mt. Kilimanjaro, which was mostly rain forest. The mist felt great on my face as we hiked and I think I got the bug to try to make it to the top. Towards the last part my companions had fallen behind and I trudged ahead with a little German boy — he asked his mother something and she laughed and translated. It seems as if he didn’t know there were white people in America because all he has seen is rap videos. I am not sure if that says something about his mother or about us. In a weird twist our taxi driver the day before didn’t know there were any black people in America.

On Thursday Gina and I awoke very early to take shuttle to Arusha so that Steven could drive us to the airport. I enjoyed my last cup of bad coffee at a place called Bamboo Hut and then we were on our way. The most special part of the day was stopping at Longido because the staff at LOOCIP had prepared a going away party for me. I was touched and felt really embarrassed because I did not need all that attention. The people there are wonderful and will always hold a place in my heart. I hope I can return again to help in any way I am able. In the meantime I am working on getting their brochure printed in the States and if any of you have an old Mac laptop you can donate please, please let me know. I want to direct you to the Web site, which should be launched soon at Please visit the site. Do you know that between $200-$400 a year can send a child to primary and secondary school in Longido. My one African friend had a sponsor from first grade through college — some guy in Minnesota she never met who made a lifelong commitment to this young woman who is flourishing now.

As I said before, you never know who you will be transporting when you travel in Tanzania. So when we left Longido we brought parents and their children to a home for disabled children. This was a heart-breaking experience and filled with emotion for me, especially since this was the end of our trip. The Maasai ostracize the disabled so the most important aspect of this place was that children were treated and then assimilated back into a normal school so that the other children would become accustomed at a early age at interacting with those with physical disabilities. The man who ran it was Maasai and overcame his disability to become leader of this organization. He was impressive as were the men who fashioned “off-road” wheelchairs out of bicycles. Although it may not have been as modern as what we would have, it goes to show that human ingenuity will find a way to make limbs and equipment to create a better life for these kids.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Chai and Truckrides

Because I have been busy with my work as you can imagine there is not much time to write on my blog. Monday I spent the day writing and talking with people. Since the last entry I was able to finish interviewing the staff and have written their bios for the Web. Perhaps one of the hardest things to hear was how the women with AIDS are ostracized by their families despite the fact that it's most likely their husbands who gave it to them because they have multiple wives.

On Tuesday morning I was able to spend a few moments with a group of women who are HIV positive. Before I left home I had requested scarves and some of the women I work with at WM generously donated scarves for me to give to the women here. Well these women with AIDS loved the scarves and were happy to shake my hand. Most of the community shuns them, so they feel very alone. About three or four had babies on their laps, which made me wonder if they had been tested as well. They were going to the hospital about an hour away to be treated. One of the programs LOOCIP has is AIDS treatment and care. There is a lot of shame and cultural stigma with AIDS so no one wants to get tested. One man took his wife's children away and gave them to one of his other wives. It's an endless cycle that will not change unless the culture decides to change. There are many Christian Maasai who have decided to only have one wife and have made other lifestyle changes as well. Of course there are all the other customs such as female circumcision -- that are slowly beginning to change.

On Tuesday afternoon I needed to go to the jewelry market--I had no problem helping the local economy. Actually, I took many wonderful photos of the Maasai women making the jewelry. You see not only do the Maasai women have to build the home, clean it, make the food, take care of the children---they also have to make the money. I am not quite sure what it is that the men do except sit around all day and talk and drink. They are supposed to shepherd, but they train the boys to do this young and so we never saw anyone over 20 tending the livestock. Anyway these women were given microbusiness loans from another local community group and have been learning the basics of what it means to own your business.

Wednesday I spent most of my time in the computer lab again---we had a bit of a stoppage issue in our indoor outhouse and were afraid that we may be using the hole in the ground outside, but thankfully the "plumber" came and fixed it. He came with nothing but a surgical mask and rubber gloves and somehow several hours later everything was back to normal--I stayed away long enough to miss the details. In the afternoon we went to take a baby photo for one of the brochures. Upendo, the women who runs the program for young mothers, let us photograph her baby. She served us chai which is mostly milk mixed with a few spices and a lot of sugar. They serve chai her all the time ans it is very different than Indian chai or what you would get in Starbucks.

This morning we went on a crazy ride through the country to a village were some staff and volunteers were meeting with a group of university students from Holland. The truck ride was crazy and despite almost losing my eye on a tree branch it was great fun. Thank goodness I had sunglasses on. The scenery was breathtaking---orange brown land with acacia trees and mountains on the horizon. LOOCIP is in a tree-lined compound so sometimes it is difficult to see the landscape. Standing in the back of the truck was the perfect opportunity--and on the way back we got to play everyone's favorite game-- how many Maasai can fit into the back of the truck. This time there were 16 of us. In order to save fuel sometimes the driver would cut the gas and coast--I think there was something about that in "On the Road."

I will try to attach some photos now. If I am not able there will be a slideshow when I return. Tonight is my last evening in Longido---a place I hope to return to again some day.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


In America a person can go for days without being touched. In Tanzania you can barely walk five feet without someone shaking your hand. To the people here it is more important to have relationships than to be on time. If they are walking along the street they will stop and greet everyone they meet along the way, so you can imagine how long it takes to get anywhere.

The day after the funeral I spent at the LOOCIP compound taking in my new surroundings and adjusting to muy rustic camping environment that I would be living in for the next week and a half. I have picture of the indoor outhouse and the "shower" which only has cold water. The kitchen is very limited, but we get food delivered and most every night that means beans and rice. If there are noodles or potatoes that is a big treat.

My friend Gina was having a pastor's conference that day so I joined her for a little while. Pastors from many denominations gathered and it was interesting to watch and listen to them pray. It seems to be the practice here that instead of everyone praying their prayers silently to themselves they pray outloud. Since I don't know Swahili or Maasai I left after a bit and walked into town with another missionary, Liz. This was my first experience with the Maasai people. They wear colorful clothes draped around their bodies and have elongated earlongs because of the jewelry they wear. The women, who have closely shaved heads as do the men, work with beads and make beautiful jewelry. The men are shepherds and warriors and carry staffs with them.

It was market day and I was a bit overhwhelmed as Liz didn't prepare me at all----people were everywhere and of course these two white girls, mzungus, stood out like sore thumbs. It was dusty and reminded me of towns that you see in old western movies with wooden shack like shops everywhere. Most Maasai still where traditional garb, but you do see jeans and suites on the men occasionally and women with wigs and more modern style skirts and dresses. We bought our groceries and returned home.

Thursday morning I met with Steven early in the morning to discuss what I needed to do and then he took me and Gina to his home village so I could see a tradional boma and visit an area that needs a new well for people to draw water. Right now women and children must walk 2 kilometers with their donkeys for water. We hiked around where the well is and saw the hill where people must climb with their cattle to get water. At Steven's house we met his mother and brothers. She made us curdled milk to drink and it was like have to swallow a glass full of sour cottage cheese--it wasn't as bad as the lamb. We had roasted corn for lunch which is another traditional Maasai meal. On our journey there we saw ostriche, monkeys, adult and baby giraffe and a very rare long-necked gazelle that was found only in Longido.

Friday was filled with meetings. I spent the morning with the LOOCIP staff finding out what they needed of me and what everyone did for the organization. I set up meetings with each one individually and since then have been busy meeting, taking photos and trying to write my brochures for LOOCIP. Next time I will tell you more about the people I have met and the wonderful passion for this place and for helping their fellow Africans.

I went to a baptist church with Gina today as it is the only service that is spoken in Maasai and has aspects of their culture. The three girls sat with us and loved putting their beautiful black hands against our white skin. There is no more loving form of communication than a smile and human contact.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Funeral

First of all let me say that the trip, thankfully, was uneventul and even a little disappointing beccause I didn't even get to sit next to an African or any foreigner on my flight from Amterdam to Nairobi. Unless of course you consider an engineer from Minnesota foreign.

But from the moment I landed the adventure began. Gina and Steven met me at the airport in Nairobi and then took us to the hotel on the outskirts of town. I climbed into the front---they drive on the opposite side by the way---and was prepared for some crazy driving, including a petrol truck that almost hit us. Nairobi is a city of nearly 3 million. In Kenya as in Tanzania every place has a guard--homes, hotels, etc. It looked a bit sketchy at first, but was fine once we were inside the gate. Gina was just so excited to have hot running water.

I found out that night that the next day our task was to be a great one -- carrying the dead body of Steven's nephew back from Nairobi to a small village near Longido. Four family members climbed in the back with the luggage and Gina was in the back with the other two, while I had the front seat and was able to soak in all I could as we drove south. Red ribbons tied to the mirrors flapped in the breeze as we drove and onlookers stared at the coffin on top of this Land Rover full of people. As far as I am concerned Coca Cola should be responsible for paving all the roads in these countries because the only constant from town to town was a Coca Cola stand. They should at least be sending dentists to all these people. The towns looked very different from Nairobi---shanties on the side of the road with dirt everywhere. If you don't like dust I would suggest that Africa not be on your list of places to visit. It's everywhere.

When we arrived to the burial place we were asked to stay for the funeral. There is nothing so intimate as being with people who have just lost a loved one and I was only one of two wmungus(white people) blessed enough to witness the event. Just when you think you are experiencing one of the most uniques moments in the world cell phones start ringing---yes CELL phones. These people have no running water and live miles from anywhere and have cell service. My mom and dad cannot even get service in Lee, NH. So the next time you want to blam McDonald's for global commercialization you might want to blame the person who invented the CELL phone--wasn't that Al Gore? Afterward we went into the hut of the mourning Maasai family--a rare glimpse into a primitive world. As a symbol of repect we had to take a piece of meat and sit with the elders of the village---did I mention it was raw, well slightly seared, lamb? You can imagine how much fun that was for me especially as I was staring at a cow who was about five feet from me. Needless to say that was one of the most difficult things I have had to do so far.

That is all for now---I must go back to our house and eat some beans and rice.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

June 14, 2008

Well I have packed my bags and am ready to go. Now I just need Peter, Paul and Mary to drive me to the airport tomorrow. I am posting a map of Tanzania. The village where I will be most of the time is called Longido---it is not on the map. Look for the brown text that reads "Mt. Kilimanjaro Nat. Park" under Kenya. Longido is located by the letter "K" on the border of Tanzania and Kenya. I will also be taking trips to Arusha and Moshi, further east, where my friend Gina lives. Hope to have a chance to post on Tuesday. Until then ....