Tuesday, October 11, 2011

sitting here the bright morning sun blasting into the courtyard outside my office door, i can see a group of 8 men, lounging on tippy plastic chairs, engrossed, Swahili, Charles inside the closed door across the hall giving someone a test for HIV AIDS...emerges to tell me that these guys are planning a friends father's funeral, who can contribute what, who can go to the burial, tonight..in Africa they don't embalm and celebrate soon after the death..all the while i am waiting very patiently and very silently without complaining for one hour for this computer to connect into my blog, and finally, after many attempts, i am here. Bravo!
Wrote yesterday...and since then- a day later, reporting a great meeting with Charles and Abdul about our possible future orphanage facilities...I drew out the idea plans we have talked about, a big communal kitchen...a pre school, maybe a primary...with small houses big enough for up to 14 kids sprinkled about, a playground, goats, veg garden...library...we look at all three options for where this could be...a govt given plot, the land and houses we currently occupy, or the big plot across the road...Abdul settles on the one i like best...IF we can strike a deal with the owners of all three houses...plus two adjacent plots, with one, get this, adjoining the English medium primary school..where, if we can manage to reduce the private school rates with the principal...maybe our kids can go there...

it is now, all a dream...but dreams here in Africa come true and i'm banking on it...

And in the afternoon, sitting here at this computer with Charles working on staff and visitor policies...rules for child protection...another chart of our organization...one with the staff and their responsibilities..one with the names and ages now of the children...living in and next week meeting the guardians and the kids living out sprinkled around the community...our menu..
And last night, dinner of shish kabobs with little pieces of charred beef bbqed alongside a plate of chipsies...a boy from the streets slumped into a nearby chair, maybe 12, 13years old, he can't go home, his father beating him brutally, with no relatives or friends to take him in, watching the guy cookingthe bbq..watching us eat.
Charles calls him over...what can be done about this boy? As they talk in Swahili i see that look of such pain on his face, the way the mouth is open and set, drooping, holding itself there. i have felt it once in awhile in myself. that mouth, just open and hanging ...the eyes brimming hot almost with tears, shining and anciently sad...he sits down - i can't help myself, i rub his back, i am so sad and sorry..our orphanage is full ...and this boy, Charles calls him Msonjo cause he comes from the Msonjo tribe, but what is his name? has made his way on the streets, stealing and prostituting, whatever, anything to keep himself alive, and tonight talking with Charles and this white lady from Canada rubbing his back, he doesn't flinch. Waiting now for his dinner..

This morning at MiCasa, the cafe around the corner, i am lying on the floor showing Miriam the owner some pilates moves, and she invites me to run with her tomorrow morning at 6am! great...i am feeling good...much better than the days around missing Thanksgiving back at home...another day!!
but here...i copy yesterday...and see you tomorrow!

Jambo! Happy thanksgiving!!

I miss you all out there…tried to reach Canada last night, so many times, but every time someone picked up, a series of weird screeches sounding like the yelping of some wild animal emoting from this side of the planet! The lines went dead. Ah…I am lonely...

Mto wa Mbu..Saturday night, driving over here from Arusha we saw over 20 giraffes standing silently alone, or in groups chomping on the top branches inside a clump of thorn bushes, alongside the road. The sun setting, long dark and very tall silhouettes against the night sky. Welcome to Mto Wa Mbu….a supper of roasted goat chopped into small pieces and served on one plate for all of us to pick at, dip into salt and hot sauce and encircle with a right handful of ugali, the national staple in Tanzania, other than rice, sort of like thick crème of wheat cereal, hot, where you grab a clump of it, make a ball, stick your thumb into the centre to indent into a spoon-like scoop, to collect your goat and hot sauce!

Hamidu our driver without a car, but always with one of Charles friends from ICA lending transportation for us…this time a Masai guy called Henry - a safari driver, who speaks great English, who will be my translator I hope, when Charles is away this week…

Charles’ family, Grace his wife with his two little boys, David and Derrick moving from Dar to Arusha to be closer to Charles. Grace transferred her work as a nurse for the military..their worldly belongings being shipped in this week, with Charles at the other end receiving, then driving to Dar to bring his family back.

It is good. He needs to be near them.

I am sitting in my office at ICA Mto headquarters, with, in the next room one of our PLWHA people living with HIV AIDS support groups meeting Monday morning – a roomful of mostly women, wrapped in colourful cloth and magnificent and matching head pieces, great habari, jambo!! How are you doing? Karibu, welcome back!

My uncle lent them through ICA one year ago, four seed start-up money to embellish their small businesses, and here we are one year later, all four groups have paid us back. Great…meeting in a few days to determine success and challenges of that project.

Over to Majengo orphanage bright and early Saturday morning heralded by a stampede of welcoming happy children, showing us the new office they built this year just outside our main space. It is big, spacious, clean. Charles had the outside painted pure white. Yesterday I bought cans of oil paints to create a mural with the children…lions, elephants, giraffe, sun, moon, stars..whatever they want, in red, pink, blue, green, yellow…pouring rain today, so we start tomorrow…one of the older boys, an amazing artist. On Sunday surrounded by a mass of kids, I am drawing animals on one of those echo sketch pads, this boy takes it, erases mine and draws a much better elephant than I ever could; wow! This guy, who has just graduated from primary school will design the mural.

They’ve built a huge outdoor dining room, cement floor and thatched roof at the back of the group of houses we call Majengo. Philippe, one of the original boys, points up to an empty space on the ceiling and says TV…he wants a TV plus 5 bicycles for the older kids to run around in, and they shall get them somehow, this week. The inside of our main building, which we have occupied for the last 2 ½ years is filthy….the plaster crumbling – two years of a hundred little hands, n dire need of a paint job. Charles hired Hamisi from our overnight pension, we bought four buckets of good paint, brushes and plaster, and today they begin. Plus ordering 4new tables and benches and the promise from a local carpenter to repair the ones we already have, the slats holding them together broken down from a million little feet, kicking. We’ve done a lot in a couple of days.

Big talks about education. For the young kids under 7, a pre school on site with two great teachers, Glory and Grayson who speak only a little English; the older kids trot off to one of four nearby govt primary schools, but with no English….consequently, when they graduate after 7 years into English-speaking-only secondary schools, they have trouble.

On the side, four of our kids are being sponsored by a guy from the UK into nearby private English medium schools - a decision we have to discuss. Is it fair that only a selected few get to go to private school, the others waiting and hoping for their chance? Or who are we to deprive those chosen kids an English education? What is best for the orphanage? We have heard from other orphanages who observe a ‘no gift policy’, where each child must be treated the same, otherwise jealousy and discrimination can divide and erode.

Charles says the govt primary schools actually offer a better all-round education than expensive private English medium schools, but they don’t teach English. We have decided to bring one or or two really good English teachers on site and full time to teach our kids and staff..at least for a couple of years before we build our whole new facility. At that time, we may build our own primary school, one that teaches English and Swahili, in a government approved program. And when they get older, maybe a secondary school, or trade schools….

We’re considering options. We’ve created a 2013 group back home to research other Tanzanian orphanages to decide what kind of facility we want to build over the next two years. I toured 6 acres of land that the local government is offering us for free which includes an already half-built primary school, with four classrooms and one office. It is a big wide plot, open and flat, but about 3 miles away from our existing premises. Location, location, location.

Across the street from where we are now is a huge plot, perfect for our purposes, owned by a Tanzanian woman married to an American, who we’re checking into, re availability and cost. There ia a possibility of buying our existing three rental buildings and expanding from there. All options at this point.

Currently, with last December’s expansion, there’s no doubt, we are overloaded! Where once we had 27 kids living in with a staff of 12, we now support 77 kids living in, with 18 staff, with another 37 kids living out around the community, their education and medical needs! It was an emergency, we pulled together the best we could do. We’ve got three houses with 3-4 bedrooms in each, a dormitory system with as many bunk beds possible, and in the case of little ones, sleeping two to a bed. The dormitory system is common in Africa.

But we have seen also a system where smaller houses are built around one big communal kitchen and dining area, with each house supporting a mama and 12-14 kids, offering a much better sense of family…Kids in each house become a unit, a family unto themselves. A much preferred system, more expensive, but one well worth considering.

But for now, our kids are getting the best we can provide: a clean and loving environment, good food three times a day, regular medical check-ups, and clean clothing and uniforms. We realize this as temporary, excited by plans down the road for a much bigger and better facility for these kids.

Last night, Charles and I raced across a wide plain of darkened desert just outside of town, for dinner at our friend Abdul’s incredible, brand new lux and wonderful safari lodge. Outside on a stone patio overlooking Lake Manyara in the distance under a sprinkling of a million stars and almost full moon, a warm wind blowing, with a few glasses of wine and dinner fit for me! Any of you out there coming to visit Majengo, and going on safari, you must stay a night or two at this magical place. Abdul has hired Masai tribal warriors as his manager and security guards, adorned in beaded necklaces and great drooping ear lobes, dressed in red plaid blankets and carrying spears, they are stationed at every corner along paths winding through tall grasses to separate boma like guest homes, made of thatch and cement, fit for me! I helped Abdul a little last year. He had finished this incredible place, but had no water! He’d erected a pipe running from pure spring water some 20 miles away to his hotel. But along the way, Masai women chopped into it, collecting pools for their cattle…Not once, or twice, but along the route in a period of 6 months, a good 250 times!!! refusing to leave it alone, despite what Abdul promised and did for them! He gave up and tried to drill for water on his premises, but found it salty.

Finally, he built a separate line for the Masai, teaching them how to turn off and on the water themselves. Abdul’s hotel pipe now is strong with good pressure, the only guaranteed water source in the district.

Every time I come here it is a different experience. With Charles last year applying for his masters which would take him away from Africa for a couple of years, our ngo, ICA, wound down their main projects. Charles was refused his visa twice to the UK for no good reason, is moving his family to nearby Arusha, and plans to take an online masters in international public health from Liverpool. All good. He will be able to stay with his kids and wife, work on his masters in Arusha at home, and still coordinate the comings and goings of the orphanage in nearby Mto wa mbu.

But with no other major projects in Mto Wa Mbu…the office is quiet these days but for the mooing outside my window of a neighbouring cow and the incessant blasting of rap down the road, a rooster crows. We’ve cut our staff down to two, Hamidu who doesn’t speak English and Charles. When he takes off, I am on my own, struggling with kidogo Swahili, next to none! A challenge so they say in the struggling communities...a calamity in my world...but only for a few days...

And this too will pass….

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