GOVERNMENT ANTI CORRUPTION FORCES ABOUT TO SHUT CORRUPT ORPHANAGES ON SAFARI ROUTE!!
WITCH DOCTORS, PICKUP TRUCK TURNS OVER, ORPHANAGE DIRECTOR IS DEAD!! BURIAL CEREMONY, ELECTION! 67 ABUSED CHILDREN WAITING FOR A HOME!! and in the midst of all of this...i get shingles, or if you live in Africa: herpes zoster!!! What you see is a thousand nasty red boils bursing out on your rib cage all the way round to the back! Days and dark nights of writhing pain, endless waves of stubbly blunt knives jabbing into your rib cage on a repeated basis without relief, over and over..like having a baby, but with no baby to wrap into your arms at the end of the day, constant, deep, and jabbing.
I thought for awhile i was dying.
Mis-diagnosed, mis-medicated, and when i got the right pills, they were too weak in intensity.
Before the job is over, i make my way back to Canada...
with a little story to think about:
From Ethiopia to Washington i'm doing pain killers and sitting across the aisle from a white guy with two little black childen, one on each side for 15 hours, watching him carefully tuck one into her seat belt, hold the boy in his arms as he begins to wail, and talk, and wail all way from nightime into morning.....gathering both gently as he makes his way up to the toilets, and back....a long journey home. So as we are about to land,i ask him..s whats up? what can this be about? He and his wife have adapted these kid from Ethiopia. they have two of their own, age 5 and 7...and these kids are 3 and 6. Oh my gawd! The entire family had visited to meet their new children a month before. Lots of fun with their own kids playing with kids from the orphanage...taking them toys....laughing, singing songs..a translator helping them to communicate with the brother and his sister they would soon be welcoming into their family.This man went back a month later, with all the immigration papers intact, a suitcase of new clothing for these kids, toys, and a world of best wishes from family and friend..of course it would take some adjusting..it could be difficult, but so far so good!
Well, James set himself up in a guest house near the orphanage and brought his new children over. The little one, the boy age 3, threw temper tantrums allweek, and when he began to wail...he wouldn't stop...he spent most of his time with the boy, while his sister demanding attention, and not getting it, turned her back on him and the project. Refused to get dressed, pack, or leave....huge heaving crying bouts, both of them, while James became more and more worried that perhaps they had made the mistake of their lifetime.His wife had been a lifesaver, warm and positive on the phone everyday with advice from others through the internet who had done this, it takes time. a lot of time. breathe. it will be better when we get them home.
I had four hours to wait in Washington. and so did they. Immigration into the U.S. can be a pretty heafy challenge at any rate, but with two little beings from another universe who don't speak English. Man! The little guy had a silent meltdown lying under the rows of stationary chairs in front of us, looking morosely into the flooring. His balloon broke. he went limp into a petulant "I'm unhappy" mode, wilting into the floor refusing to come our, but it is quiet, quite harmless and i'm told that was nothing. He is very cute, and knows it, a sweet round face with big black eyes..and a little nose that he wiggles like a bunny. When i copied this...he reached out and slapped me hard in the face...we turned this into high five when he twisted his body and shot me a mean kick landing the full side of his good American shoes on my shin.
Cute. but scary. At 3, i was afraid of him.
She was my angel. we held hands and danced through the baggage area....the huge expanse of the airport and by the end she was calling me mommy. This wasn't good. Her new mommy was waiting in Atlanta with the other two children. OUr goodbyes were quick and sad for me, vastly bewildering to her, reaching out, grabbin, her eyes darting in fear - yet another one leaving. The massive huge ness of what these people were doing.
At the handprint immigration desk, Jim stood with tears running down his naked, raw with feelings, face, revealed terrible biggest fears that this could damage his own children permanently.....
Later, in an email...he describes their trip to Atlanta:
"...Too bad you missed the flight to Atlanta. There were two Semagen tantrums (which are a thing to behold) and 3, yes, 3 vomiting episodes between the two of them. Not to provide too much detail, but we were thoroughly soaked and stinky by the time we met teh rest of the family. And thanks so much for your pictures - they'll be cherished for a lifetime...
The adjustment here has been fairly tough as expected. I think we're ok with everything except for how poorly our other children are dealing with it. Although we prepared them as much as possible, they have no idea how to deal with the intrusivenesss, the tantrums, the screaming, the snatching of personal belongings, and most of all, the new competition for parental attention. Megan and I are struggling to learn how to deal with it and meet everyone's needs as best as possible. I hope the scars won't be too deep before everything settles."
I can't get this family out of my mind.
Back home to Toronto, a circus of pain killers every four hours...anti virals, anti nerve and anti itch for the hives i have since acquired. I'm scared, the pain could become chronic - I've been drugged out, bedridden, a week of hallucinating images.
Couldn't speak, or write...so sorry to those who expected to hear from me.
I jumped on the plane with two days notice.
TANZANIAN GOVERNMENT ABOUT READY TO SHUT DOWN CORRUPT ORHANAGES!! They just needed a place to put the kids.
This was monumental. This was the moment we have been waiting for, praying for, to get rid of the corrupt orphanages on the safari highway running through town. We had written to our embassies, we had implored the Tanzanian government to do something about this, but until now, nothing.
At times we were afraid for our own lives.
Before I left, for my own safety, I deleted a blog describing and naming those responsible for the onging corruption of orphanages on the safari route. These places of horror for children, had specifically been set up by corrupt directors, as businesses to lure in well healed safari tourists. I had written furiously about children packed into rotting intolerable rooms and intentionally kept sick, hungry and poor to enhance the haul. I knew what i was talking about. I had worked with the king pin of one of these orphanages for two months before realizing what the whole thing was about. This guy, was now up for rape charges, afer sexually abusing one of the older kids, while he was taking her to secondary school. Four years ago, I had worked at his orphanage, and fell in love with his kids. Was devestated when i found out what he was doing, and became a whistle blower, imploring others to stop working for him. Back then i wrote it all on a blog, and received threatening emails. He'd spent time in jail, had a criminal record, and carried guns in his car.
I'd been threatened with my life once before by this guy.
I deleted the piece.
And now, the government was now about to shut him down.
They could no longer ignore the rumours, the facts. Some of them could no longer justify the bribes they were receiving, too many children were being hurt, and too many people knew about it. He had been paying off church members, politicians, local village leaders, and safari drivers who had been rewarded for including his orphanages on their tour packages for the last five years. By all accounts, he had racked in thousands of tourist dollars, still holding those children ransom - victims, and until now with no one to help.
It was to be a takeover, and it had to be kept quiet.
Any leak of government plans, and they were afraid he would run.
He was up for rape charges in November. He had legally handed his orphanage over to one of his key workers, and was no longer officially in charge of that one, at least not on paper. But everyone knew he was still the boss. This new operator had been his key connection to the world, as he spoke and wrote English beautifully. He was the one who answered emails and phone messages from donors around the world, on behalf of the director. He was the one who kept unsuspecting donors in touch, encouraging monthly payments, lifetime offerings.
The director was still at the second orphanage he had opened on the other side of town.
It had 16 children, in two rooms...the house was close to the road, with no area for the children to play. The toilets and showers were outside, at the back, a makeshift kitchen outside, a fire.
No books, no classroom, no tables or chairs - it did what it was supposed to do, it tugged at the hearts of anyone passing through. There was a 'contribution box' in the front room, painted white with hand written letters, 'please help us'. It pulled pocket books out of pockets, checks books out of purses. It made new friends every day, every month, every year.
And still the children were sick. Undernourished.
The rape charges seemed to have been the last straw. He had left the orphanage with a girl to drive her to a government secondary school, but stopped somewhere en route. He raped her and kept her his prisoner for a few weeks, until she was able to slip away and tell her story.
He was arrested and put in jail for a few months this winter, but was now out on bail.
After signing over his first orphanage, he intended to convert this second one into a daycare, where he could add more children, and not have to deal with sleeping arrangements at night. The job could get done by day for far less work, staff and hassle. He seemed to have it worked out, now all he had to do was get through this ningling court case.
A big of back history.
Four years ago, i was drawn to a rickity little house on the dusty safari route sprawling with children, dressed in rags. Everytime i arrived, they flooded into me, one little boy entranced by the dark nail polish on my toes, a small girl dripping with HIV AIDS liasons sitting on my lap, with drooping eyes and no energy, but ensconced there, one hand wearily swatting the others away. Back then, there were 16 kids living in two rooms, with two beds in each room, sharing sometimes four to a bed. there were no shelves, the few raggidy clothes they had were dropped in piles on the mud floor. No tables, chairs, benches. No books, toys, art supplies. Nothing.
Nothing but their big beautiful smiles which greeted me each time i visited - their willingness to pick up a few words of English, learn songs like Head and Shoulders, and Doe a Dear....I couldn't resist them. During my time off from working on HIV AIDS presentations and projects, i made my way down the road to see these kids as much as i could. I took them swimming in the safari tourist campsite pool, and was astonished at how easily they learned, jumping in, laughing, not afraid. Each time they drew pictures, of their lives, of mama and baba, of times gone by, of the orphanage, of lions, and giraffes and elephants. A lunch of chipati, boiled egg, samosa poolside, and we were on our way. The treat of a lifetime for these kids; and something we would consider pretty ordinary back home. We rented a bus and took them on safari, living ten minutes from one of the worlds best parks to see the animals, and they had never been.
I loved those kids as my own.
The director of this orphanage seemed happy to see us each time we arrived laden with fruits, vegetables, oily paper bags of samosa, soda...treats for the children, and for them I bought two more beds. I had a big dining table made, with benches, and a couple of chairs....I measured the small horrible rooms for shelving and brought them in.
When Seanna, my daughter and Sierra, age 8 arrived, they brought a suitcaseful of art supplies and worked with the kids every morning for a week. Sierra went back to Canada and raised over two thousand dollars for these kids. I decided to adopt one of the boys, Elia and bring him back to Toronto but discovered that in Tanzania you have to live there for two full years before they would consider you as an adaptive parent.
I was heart broken at the time.
But not half as heart broken as to when i slowly discovered exactly what this place was all about, where they money was going, and that this indeed was a lucrative business which i had helped expand! And I wasn't alone...
Volunteers from Sweden, Australia, Austria, Germany, Israel....we were all in this together. Each one of us adding our own skills and ideas to help these children.We formed an international team...i was the sponsorship chair, arranging for money to be committeed for each child for schooling through their secondary years....but when i discovered the corruption I dropped away and by doing that, lost track of these kids loved for almost a year. Slowly, as the truth dawned on the others, we all left that orphanage, sick with worry that that director would carry on as he always did....with new volunteers, with new money.
We were sickened by this discovery. One couple had given him $5,000 to buy a new plot of land for a new facility. Yes, he opened the second orphanage, but continued with his fragulent ways. Back home we contacted our embassies and wrote letters with proof of what was going on.
We had to rescue those children we had all gotten to know so well. One of us, our Austrian volunteer, managed to contact the guardian of each child, and persuaded that relative to bring their child home. Within days the legal guardianship of those kids was transferred to us. We hired a wonderful couple as mama and baba, and rented a home for them to set up in...one by one the children were rescued....all except two: my little guy Elia and his friend Jackson, who were sons of mothers in the director's tribe near Arusha....
In the end, the Pambazuko Children's home was born..with 16 children from the 'bad' orphanage and a mama and baba.
Of course, the director simply replaced those children with more kids and went about his business increasing his income with a second orphanage he set up along the other side of town. This way the drivers could dip into each place, the tourists unsuspecting that they were owned by the same guy.....the drivers taking a percentage of the fill.
Pambazuko grew healthy children...today, we have 13 there all from the original grouping. They are in incredible health, big, bouncing, healthy. Their mama and baba care for them as lovingly as their own...
But it was the Majengo Orphanage to whom the government came to to ask to take new kids, if they shut down corruption on the highway....
Of course, we said yes, we had no option.
That was back in August, then, we waited for weeks for the government to make a move.
Charles finally called me, get over here: the time had come!
First two days, met the government official in charge of the shut down and his social worker who would help with the children. They'd done routine checks and discovered not only those two orphanages on the highway, but three more, and had decided all five had to go!
I travelled to the government town of Monduli and met the chief executive officer of the entire region; we talked corruption. I committed Majengo to taking on the job of relocating the children into our care. We thought there would be about 20 kids, but now with 5 orphanages, the numbers had exploded to 67!!!
Of course a lot of those kids could have been relatives of the director, or even his own kids! Or plants to make their orphanages look crowed. The numbers would decrease once we interviewed the children's guardians.
But in any case. We needed more space.
Working with village leaders Mayunga and Raymond in Majengo village, we located two houses behind our majengo orphanage which would work well, we could share the outdoor kitchen and facilities, staff....Mayunga contacted the house owners.
We were on our way.
We went into both houses and measured the rooms, went back to the office and made a floorplan. Determined the bed counts, 19 bunks!! and went out to estimate costs!
Still having problems with my bank card...only one machine and that not working!
Cashed my $5,000 'in case' money into shillings and put a downpayment on the beds.
Roared into Arusha and ordered 38 mattresses with plastic covers....
Downpayment. Sheets, blankets, mosquito netting.
we did all that...
we also lent out $9,000. to 4 Vicoba micro finance groups of people living with HIV AIDS for a six month term, no interest contracts...it was an incredibly busy time!
But too much stress. I got shingles and took to bed, and fortunately Jamie from Warren Pennsylvania arrived. Charles, on sabatical, returned from Dar es Salaam and took over estimates and negotiations with house owners...
In the middle of all this...the director mentioned above was killed in a trucking accident en route to Handeni, reportedly to invest in witch doctor power. I went to the burial and was overwhelmed by the emotion. Strange the way life goes. This was a guy that we were really afraid of, especially if the government shut him down, thus destroying his financial basis. WE were going to be the recipients of the kids in his two orphanages..and i was certain that he would not be pleased.
Tho the owners of those two houses approved of our taking them over, we still had to help their tenents find new lodgings...which meant finding them places much better than the one they were leaving...and helping them with a further six months rent. We had no alternative. We were desperate for those houses next to Majengo, and those people had a right to our helping them, if they agreed to leave.
Three weeks later:
House one vacated, renovated and furnished, ready to go!
House 2: priest and wife still there, squatting, refusing to leave.
Charles in talks....
I went back to Toronto, saw my doctor, and took to bed with percaset and a few other nasty heavies...Jamie coming home today!
Government busy with country wide Tanzanian election...no time for shut down..
Me...feeling a wee bit better...you can find me in bed, Toronto.
will write again....