Monday, July 2, 2012


I think this has been the hardest part to write. Goodbyes are never easy first of all so 42 goodbyes seem really hard right now. It is amazing to me that it is Elena and my last night in Moshi. We went into town today to get money to pay Greg for the Safari, which was amazing! We got to see lions, giraffes, zebras, buffalo, impalas, elephants, dik diks, ostriches, wildabeast, flamingos, gray crown cranes, jackals, wort hogs, baboons, black rhino, gazelles, elands, a cheetah, hardabeast, hippos and lots of birds. The first night we got to stay in this fancy hotel called the High View and then the second night we were at this place called High Camp which was wall tents on the rim of the Ngorngoro crater, there was hot water in both of the places we stayed which was such an amazing treat. Cold showers are nothing to complain about but they sure do make you appreciate warm ones :) The High Camp that we stayed at was like a giant tent with a full bathroom and a big king size bed. We had to have Maasai escorts on the grounds because a leopard had been on the area the night before! During the night Jackie and Elena even heard lions roaring but I missed it because I was fast asleep. It is just so weird that Elena and I take off tomorrow night for Amsterdam. Jackie will leave on Wednesday for Zanzibar with our friend Rachel. Elena and I spent the day at the orphanage today and we started to realize how sad we are going to be to leave. Agnes made me promise that I would come back someday and it is a promise that I am really willing to keep. I can not imagine never getting to see  all these people again. All of these people that I have grown to love so much. Spending time here has been truly incredible and I speak for all of us when we cannot thank everyone enough for making it possible. Especially Dr. Greg for being so gracious and opening up his home to us. Everything has been so amazing and I know tomorrow is going to be filled with tears.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro

Tova and me at the summit
I just got back yesterday from my six day trek up the mountain. It was amazing, I ended up getting placed in a group with four other people a Norwegian couple and a father and son from the states. I was supposed to go with teacher as my guide but somehow the women I was supposed to go with on the 16th just never showed up so I ended up with this group and we left on the 17th. I was pretty nervous the first day and even and a little lonely, we got to the starting point for the machame route and it was packed, I mean so many people were there, we had to wait around for about an hour and a half for permits and stuff then we signed in and started hiking, after a few hours going through rainforest we stopped for lunch then walked for a few more hours where we were camping for the night. there was a portable toilet set up and a mess tent, It was truly camping in style. I got a knock on my tent around 6 and raphilie (we didn't learn his name tell much later) was like "hey sister, i have water for wash." It was nice to get to wash my hands and splash a little water on my face. then about thirty minutes later raphilie was back saying it was time for tea, the tea spread was awesome, we had tables and chairs and popcorn and peanuts and who knew all I had to do to get some milo ( my favorite drink from New Zealand) was climb Kilimanjaro. Dinner was awesome too, it usually consisted of like three courses, soup, main and then fruit for dessert. Jackie and I thought we were good on a camp stove these guys were like gods, One day for lunch we had fried chicken and french fries. After dinner our guide Innocent came in and took our oxygen levels and told us the plan for the next day, The second day hiking seemed really long it was pretty steep. I was spoiled rotten though because all we had to carry were day packs. The porters carried all our luggage plus tables, chairs, food and tents. there job truly looked difficult and they did all the walking we did in about half of the time! this time we were walking through really shrubby areas and we had only walked about four hours that day so after taking a break we went and took a hour walk to acclimatize a little  it was so beautiful. I guess we were in what is called an alpine desert the the mountain just seems to go on forever. While I was hanging out reading though I did get homesick for the orphanage and Jackie and Elena. The second night we were finally above cloud cover even though mist would roll in occasionally and swallow everything up, it usually drifted by within ten or so minutes so the stars that night were amazing, unfortunately I was a little cold in my big tent all by myself, in fact a was a little cold almost every night. The next day we had a big day of hiking it was about 7 hours we were all really glad to make it to camp. By this point we had all really started to bond and we got each other laughing a lot while we were enjoying meals a common joke was when someone would do something clumsy we would call out "altitude sickness!" cause we heard that loss of coordination was a side effect. Then there was another day of hiking (imagine that...) and we reached base camp. Where we had an early dinner and then all went to bed around 7 so we could wake up at 11 and get ready to leave for the summit around 12. This is about the time when I went into my backpack the get my long underwear only to see that they were NOT in my bag. It turned out fine though I had enough layers and I didn't really ever get to cold while I was hiking. The night was so beautiful, when we woke up I was nervous but mostly just tired. We started our trek up the mountain, about 3 hours in my guide took my day pack which made walking fairly bearable. we had occasional breaks for water but we couldn't stay still to long or we would get cold. One of the Norwegians had to turn around I'm not quite sure what time but he wasn't taking altitude medication and was starting to feel really sick. Finally we reached Stella Point which is about 45 minutes from the actual summit. Here Tova the other Norwegian had to take a long break she really wasn't feeling well but she pushed on. We Made it to the summit around sunrise but it was pretty cloudy so we couldn't really see to much, It was still really beautiful. One wouldn't really think of the summit of a mountain being a busy place but it was PACKED there were so many tourists it was crazy, in fact the whole way up the mountain was really pretty busy. When we were leaving for the summit and looked up all you could see was this long trail of headlights winding up into the night. I got really tired coming down from the summit and was really happy to make it back to base camp but we only got about an hour to rest then we ate lunch packed up our stuff and walked another four hours to where we were camping for our last night. The Norwegians brought chocolate as a celebration and man was that good. The next day we hiked all the way down where a zara van brought us back the the Springland hotel. There were a bunch of people trying to sell us stuff as we left and I had forgotten how nice it was to go six days without someone being like "Hey you want to buy this" "what about this" or "its a very good price" luckly on the drive back to springlands we drove past Dr. Greg, Jackie and Elena they were across this little train track canyon thing so I couldn't run and hug them like I wanted but Jackie tossed the house keys over which I was so happy about cause all I really wanted to do was go home and shower! After getting our certificates I went back to the house got all cleaned up did my laundry. Jackie and Elena got back and I was so happy to see them! it was awesome being reunited I was extatic! Greg came back about an hour later and it was great to see him too then we headed over to the Orphange and that was the best! being greeted by all the kids there after being gone was so awesome. I was so happy to see everybody and just hang out with them for a little bit. Greg picked up Shannon last night at the airport and we got to see her today, she is such a great lady we are all very happy she is here, especially Greg. All is going well, great to be back very very happy I got the climb the mountain.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Smiling Faces and Police Chases

Jackie, Upendo, and Bright hanging out outside the computer room
Gracie being silly with Jackie's earrings
Elena sorting HUNDREDS of books!
We had quite an exciting Wednesday afternoon! In the morning we needed to run to the market to get some vegetables and as Elena and I were going into a small shop on Main Street suddenly a throng of forty yelling men went running down the street being pursued by armed special forces in military jeeps! Everyone on the sidewalk took a step back as the parade zoomed by, faces peered out of windows and doorways to get a closer look at the spectacle. Less than a minute later, the sirens and shouts could still be heard from a distance but all traces of the police chase had vanished and people resumed their business as if nothing had happened. We asked a man if he knew why they were being chased, and in broken English he told us that that morning the dala-dala drivers had gone on strike, most likely because of a 300% increase in their taxes, and negotiations must have broken down resulting in a high speed pursuit of the drivers down Main Street. The dispute was resolved just after noon and the dala-dalas resumed their business, but the image of the chase still played itself out in my mind. Moments like this is when you really see the differences between living in Africa and living in Alaska. With the average inflation rate 25-30% a year, rampant government corruption, deteriorating school systems, its hard to imagine how a country like this can even progress. But the instant that you meet people like Greg, Teacher, and Sammi (a student Greg sponsors in Kenya who will be here for the rest of the month) you can see the hope for this country manifested in human form. We have met so many people who are truly making a difference here, it’s inspiring. Just coming out of high school we are given endless possibilities of things to do with our lives. It gets overwhelming. What if I get stuck doing something I don’t enjoy, what if I make the wrong choice? How can I do something meaningful with my life? Seeing the work of people here in Africa has really brought to light our ability to make a difference. Being the change we wish to see in the world isn’t as hard as people let on. That’s when you begin to see the similarities of living in Alaska and living in Africa. We struggle to shovel snow, while they struggle to carry water. We may live in different situations, on different continents, but we are all striving to better our communities and to take care of our loved ones.

Elena and Maurine
Debora "helping" while we sorted books
Yesterday we FINISHED THE COMPUTER ROOM! Elena and I spent two hours scouring the streets of Moshi searching for the perfect table and chairs to put in. We finally found a shop with a sturdy table and four chairs set, and two lamp stands. So after lunch we met up with Teacher, Greg, and Sammi and we went to go buy them. After ten minutes of negotiations, we got a good price and the guys hopped up on top of the Rover to tie everything down. When we brought it all back to the orphanage, the kids saw the furniture on top of the car and went straight to work. Five little boys climbed on top of the car and untied it all, then like ants carrying objects four times their size, the kids hauled the chairs, table, and lamp stands into the computer room. Now the painting is done, the furniture in, the rugs laid out, the books shelved, the computers connected, and the lamps installed, the room is complete! In phase two we will be teaching the older kids basic computer skills like using the internet and word processing programs. It was a very successful day! After setting up the room and playing with the kiddos for a bit, Elena and I headed back to our house to make Rice Krispie treats for Brook when she gets off the mountain today. We are so excited to hear about her adventure! We have all been healthy, happy, and having fun. Things are moving so quickly now, its hard to believe that we have already been here for three weeks! We’re sending lots of love to Haines, hope you guys are getting some sunshine!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Maize, Praise, and Cloudy Days

Brook ready to go

This morning we watched as Brook dawned her back pack and headed out the door to begin her ascent of Kilimanjaro.  It crazy to imagine what she'll be accomplishing the next six days.  19,341 feet is no cake walk, but we know she's going to have a lot of fun and work hard.
Teacher with Zainabu on the left and Eliza on the right
We just got back from picking up Eliza from her boarding school.  She is deaf and mute, and was found about a year ago begging with her blind grandmother.  They made a pretty successful team with Eliza being able to see and her grandmother being able to hear.   But one night two volunteers were walking back to the orphanage and saw that Eliza was all alone so they brought her with them.  She fit right in to the orphanage and when her grandmother was tracked down, Eliza was so at home that everyone agreed she should just stay.   Finding a good school for someone who is so severely disabled is no easy task here though.  Greg and Teacher went sought out a few schools but none of them seemed right until they found St. Francis.  The application process sounds like it was pretty brutal but after a few months she was accepted and has been at the boarding school for six months.  Jackie and I drove about an hour with Teacher and Zainabu who is one of Eliza's closest friends at the orphanage.  We got there during church service so we sat outside and listened to the choir sing and the prayers in Swahili, and watched as it was all interpreted into sign language by one of the older kids standing on a chair.  Once the service was over other families started to arrive and we watched as kids were reunited with their parents.  About half of the students are deaf and the rest have various other disabilities.   The school is very nice and clean and all the teachers we talked to were incredibly nice.  It was great to see such a well run place here.
Brook, BeBe and Jackie
Yesterday we went to see Thomas' grandmother who lives about six miles from town.  We took her groceries, cooking oil, and some new shoes and a kerosene lamp to replace her broken one.   Thomas is 16 and one of the oldest boys at the orphanage.  Before he came to the orphanage every morning he would walk all the way into town to beg for money then walk all the way back at night.  Now that he's at the orphanage he's doing well in school, is a great soccer player and a very nice young man.  After meeting his grandmother I see his kindness is a family trait.  She was incredibly gracious and patient with Jackie, Brook and I as we struggled with our Swahili.
Shedrack and Thomas at his Grandmas'
After getting back from the country we got to work making a new brochure for the orphanage.  Jackie and Brook took the lead on that and I went back to the orphanage to help Georgie, the Italian volunteer, with the new book shelves in the computer room.  The brochure was finished in just a few hours and looks great.
We've been back to the farm property to pick the rest of  the maize and it'll take a week or so before it'll be dry enough to process.
We're hoping for a hot sunny day soon so we can take some of the kids swimming at the local YMCA, but it's been very overcast here, still very hot by our standards but I think most of the kids here will end up shivering on the side of pool if we try to go in this weather.
Things have been going by so fast it's hard to keep track of everything that's been happening but we will try to post more frequently to keep everyone at home updated.

Working on the Brochure 

Much Love!
Agnes, Viola, and Glory
Brook, Elena, and Bebe's cow
Elena and Shedrack

Monday, June 11, 2012

Poa Kicheze Kama Ndizi (cool and crazy like a banana)

Brook, Shedrack, Mwana, Kurusumu, Georgie and Winnie
It's hard to believe we've been here for two full weeks!  Things have started to go by so fast.  Today Jackie and I went to the orphanage early to help with chores and more rice drying.  Brook went with Auntie Lucy and Bright, the little girl with HIV, to the local hospital KCM for Bright's appointment.  It went well and she was deemed sick enough to get prescribed anti-retro viral medication.  KCM is the most equipped hospital for this area, but health care here is pretty minimal.  A few days ago the three of us went with Bright for a chest x-ray.  Chest x-rays are mandatory for HIV patients to check for tuberculosis before they can be given medication.  The hospital is in a nice looking five story or so building, but only the bottom two floors are actually in use.  The rest of the building is empty I guess.
Maria, Jackie, Kurusumu, Neema, and Bright
        After we were done at the orphanage and Brook and Lucy got a hold of us, we went with three of the girls from the orphanage to town.   We met up with Dr. Greg and Daniel who were busy meeting with the Irish Volunteers from the preschool.  Their organization sponsors a few local kids to go to public schools here.  Last week they wanted to check in on some of the kids at school.  When they got to one of the schools they were greeted by a line of children on their knees being beaten by the teacher.  Not an uncommon thing to see here in public school, that's why Greg's made sure most of the kids from the orphanage are going to private schools.  The Irish women were upset with the site but told Greg at their meeting today that they'd seen the same thing at a school in Korea except the kids had to kneel on pens.  They were understanding of the systems here and will still be sponsoring the kids to go to the school.  I'm very thankful that beatings aren't an acceptable form of discipline at home haha.   Anyway once we all met up we went looking for furniture and rugs for the computer room.  We were very successful and found good deals on two rugs and two small couches.  Now that we have those and the painting done all we'll need is a few lamps, a shelf and a couples days to organize all the books they have  and the room will be ready.
Jackie holding Maria and Brook with Julius on her shoulders

       Yesterday we went to the orphanage's half acre banana plantation with a bunch of the kids.  It's about a 10 minute walk from our neighborhood.  We cut down a few bunches of bananas but most of them won't be ready till the end of next month.  They aren't sweet yellow bananas that we're used to, they're hard and green and taste more like potatoes.  After going into town for lunch we went back to the orphanage to hang out with the kids and help clean.  Jackie and Brook were there for a bit but then went home to start making tortillas for dinner as tortillas  are vastly absent from the stores here and we all wanted a slight change from stir-fried veggies and rice.

Jackie, Lucy, and Mary-Stella
Walking to the Bananas
Jackie and I got back to the house and looked up a tortilla recipe. Unfortunately we opened what we thought was corn flour only to find out we had bought a large box of corn starch, We ended up having to make flour tortillas. I was pleased that they were so easy to make. once the dough was made we couldn't really figure out how to get them into a tortilla shape, especially because excessive pressing down on our table is not good for the fine African craftsmanship. As the table is already falling apart, we didn't want to break it anymore. Good thing Jackie came to the rescue with her intuitiveness and decided to use her water bottle as a rolling pin. Jackie would role them out and I would fry them up in the pan. It took at least an hour to complete 12 tortillas but it was totally worth it. I also decided to cook up some beans with chili powder and cumin to give it a little Mexican flavor. I went slightly overboard with the chili powder, Elena said it was a little unbearable so I ended up rinsing the beans and cooking them up again. The turned out good but still on the spicy side. Cooking here has been really fun, Jackie and I usually end up with a story or two by the time dinner is served.

Baobob tree at the maize field
On Saturday we went to pick maize with Greg, a few of the older kids and two of the matron, at the property three miles from our neighborhood.   The property is 17 acres of maize and beans.  The rainy season was a little dry this year so there's almost no beans, but there will be some maize.  In February the crops were planted and the land was hand tilled.  The neighboring property used a tractor on his land and his plant are beautiful but there is no maize on them!   We picked for three hours and brought back about five, 100 kilo bags of maize back with us.  It was a nice overcast day and we left early so it wasn't too hot.  Hopefully by the end of the year there will be a well drilled on the property so they'll be able to irrigate and really do well with the crops.
Bringing the Maize home!

It's been a busy few days and a lot of fun!

-Brook and Elena

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Rice, Respect and Radiance.

          Yesterday was our last day helping out at the pre-school for a little while. In the morning Elena and I, along with Teachers wife Dativa, hopped on a dala-dala into town then walked from there to the school. That morning Brook went with Teacher and Gregg into town to get gear for her Kilimanjaro ascent in the next couple weeks. At the school we again went to baby class b, the class of mid-level six year olds, and were greeted with "Good morning teacher!" from the 60 children in the classroom. We helped them with their math lesson, labeling groups of dots with the correct number, and then the teacher handed the class over to us and we went through the alphabet matching letters to words that began with that letter. "Capitol letter A, small letter a, a is for apple." We made it all the way to Z! Later we helped serve lunch and clean up after porridge, which is a cooked cornmeal sort of soup that is a staple in schools and households here. After lunch it was time for us to go so Elena, Daniel and I all hopped on Daniels motorcycle. Daniel is a very good driver, the roads here are dust paths riddled with ditches from the rainy season and man-made speed bumps that you have to navigate around. Weaving around potholes we took a side trip up to a smaller pre-school run by a woman called Teacher Happy. She started teaching at this pre-school that was first started by a church pastor, but after six months the church withdrew support because the pastor was discovered to have been embezzling money and left town. Teacher Happy never received a single pay check but hung tough because she was so committed to the children she was teaching.  When Gregg, Daniel, and Teacher heard about this they contacted her and now help with supplies, rent, and salaries for the school which teaches 26 kids. Daniel had to go talk to Happy because the preacher at that church (who isn't a very nice man) has been threatening to take away the desks at the pre-school because they were bought with church money.  He now wants to start at a new pre-school and will need to reposes the chairs and desks to support his next scam.  It's hard to imagine such a selfish man exists. Without the desks, the kids would have to sit on the dirt floor of the unfinished building where the school resides. Once Daniel got the details of the story from Happy, he contacted Gregg and new desks are being made as we speak so that the church can have theirs back.
On our way back to our neighborhood we paid a visit to a women who used to tend a garden for the orphanage.  She claims to be 103 but people are very loose with birthday here so it's more likely she's in her late 80s.  Either way she is completely on her own.  Social Security only became a concept here within the last four years so people of her age don't have that kind of support.  HIV has wiped out almost an entire generation of people here in East Africa, leaving many orphaned kids but the even more over looked demographic is the elderly.  The women we met lives in a small mud hut that she graciously invited us all into.  She has a few chickens but not much else.  Teacher and Greg drop by and give her money periodically and make sure she's doing well.
It was a full day, and that night Rachael the fundraising coordinator for Peaks for Poverty, a charity based out of Dar es Salam, came over for dinner. It was nice to have company for dinner!

Today was very busy as well! We began to process the rice that the orphanage has grown. After running errands in town, we headed over to the orphanage and began to sweep the grass and debris from the drying rice in the courtyard.

 This was only five fifty kilo bags of unprocessed rice, at the orphanage and in the storage shed there are still 2000 kilos left to process!

After getting the grass, leaves, and rocks out of the rice, it was re-bagged and loaded on top of the Land Rover to the processing machine where it was fed through a grinder to remove the chaff. Leaving us with beautiful, home grown, white rice. The rice that the orphanage has been able to grow on its farmland, Gregg thinks, will be enough to last them an entire year. That will save them about 2000 used in food costs! With one of the new bags of rice Daniel, Gregg, Elena, Brook and I drove out to Shanty Town, which is must be ironically named, as it is the nicest neighborhood in Moshi.  We visited a small orphanage run by a woman named Cecilia. Cecilia got a masters in social work and saw the problem of orphaned and at risk kids in Moshi. She took action and opened her own orphanage all out of pocket and how has five kids living permanently at a house she is renting. She is an amazing, selfless lady with so much love for helping the kids. But even though her operation is small, taking care of five children single handedly without a steady source of income is hard, and she has been having some financial stress. She's been battling to get electricity on her property for two years and it just now seems like she's finally made progress in getting such a basic necessity.  There is no government support for the much needed operations people like Cecilia run.  The orphanages that the government does support are big operations and unfortunately not very much of the money goes to actually helping the children.  When we went out to see Cecilia we brought books and school supplies that the Kilimanjaro Orphanage had extras of, as well as a new bag of rice. The gifts were greatly appreciated and in the future we will be out there more to help out and spend time with the kids.
We've met the most amazing people in our short time here.  People that battle with the poorest of circumstances and face a new challenge everyday, they're truly unsung heroes.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

It's 7:00 and the power's out again.  We just got back from the orphanage and it's weird to see all the shops that are usually lit up and blasting music, quiet and dark except for a few candles.  The atmosphere of the neighborhood is pretty different.  Greg is trying to scrounge up some kerosene so we can use his camp stove to cook dinner.  The power's gone out quite a few times since we've been here but usually it comes back on after about an hour.
Today was our second day working at the pre-school center in Majango.  We took the Dala-Dala into town and from there it's just a short walk, but you have to walk through one of the rougher neighborhoods in town.  By now we're pretty used to being called Mzungu, which is what white people are called here but literally means a person that walks in circles.  There's over 300 kids at the pre-school, although it didn't seem like nearly that many until we had to wash all their dishes from lunch.  The pre-school is split into three classes A, B, and C.  A is the oldest kids and C is the youngest.  The C classroom is pretty chaotic and there's a very pungent smell of pee in the air.  There's not enough seats for everyone so having a place to sit is a constant battle for the kids.     
There are 5 teachers and 2 local volunteers.  It's hard for educated people to find good jobs in Tanzania and people will spend years volunteering at school, hospitals and banks with the hope that when someone leaves they will be first in line to be hired. Despite not being the most equipped learning environment the kids that are interested really do well and anything is better then being out on the street. At the pre-school we worked in the B class, which is mostly six year olds. Today we finished working with the English sounds for the alphabet. A says aaaaaaa, B says baaaaa, that sort of thing. We also introduced the hokey-pokey and they tried to teach us a song about washing cars. It is great teaching the children, but with a hundred kids in a classroom and with our inability to speak Kiswahili it makes you wonder if we are more of a distraction than actually helping. Even if our attempts of teaching C says cah doesn't make it to the children, we are for sure helping to teach the teachers. One of the teachers we worked with had self taught herself English and wanted to teach the students English but she was not sure about English phonetics. As we danced around in front of a bunch of distracted kids she sat in the back and took notes on all we said. Its inspiring to see this young woman strive to better herself so that she can better the future generations of Tanzania. It is good to know that there are people like her that we are able to help.
It is suprising to see toddlers walking around alone in our neighborhood.  Most of the time they are with older siblings, but kids taking care of kids is as common as maize around here. Families tend to have many children, after a new baby is born the youngest child is turned over to the older siblings to be raised.  Dr. Greg and Teacher are doing so much and it's wonderful to be part of such a good thing.
We're not the only Mzungus at the Day Care though, there are about six women from Ireland that help with the older kids, they're pretty nice and much more fashionable than we are haha.
The electricity is still out, Brook and Jackie just finished making some killer spaghetti on a kerosene cook stove outside. We finally got some sharp knives which makes cutting vegetables much easier! We were using butter knives before... Which worked but took a lot more time and got frustrating. We'll keep you posted on our adventures! We have one more day at the pre-school and then we are heading off to the corn fields. Things are going good in Tanzania, we are all healthy and safe, and well fed! We love hearing from you guys too!