The following is, in retrospect, an unbelievably long blog post, and probably not the best way to begin this! My apologies! I generally travel to Tanzania with someone who is far more organized than I am, and ask them to take notes. Since that wasn’t possible this time, I decided to write a journal as a way to remember the details, and then after a few days and a few requests, sent it home to just a few people so they could see what I was doing. This is that journal, copied here with pictures added. It is not literary brilliance, but just the trip as my brain was processing. Hope you enjoy! sheri
Sunday, March 13 Today is the first day I’ve had to sit down and start writing, and it won’t be much! Jet-lag has hit hard this evening, and I’ve got very little enthusiasm for journaling.
The trip went well, considering it was 24 hrs long. After our quick jump from Des Moines to Minneapolis, we got on the Amsterdam flight at 3:30 pm, which didn’t really lend itself to sleeping, so I didn’t. It’s the first time I’ve stayed up all the way through that flight. We arrived in AMS at 6:30 am, or 11:30 pm by my body’s clock, and spent 4 hrs on the ground trying desperately not to crash. We finally took off around 11 for Kilimanjaro. Again, it was fairly uneventful and I slept 4 hrs. Unfortunately, it meant I missed the memo that said we were re-routed over central Egypt to avoid the “north Africa issues”, and we flew right over the top of the Aswan Dam! I woke up and saw what was happening just as we were passing the south end of the lake, so I can officially say I’ve seen it, but I wish I’d seen the 30 minutes before that!!
Our first night was in Moshi at the Parkview Inn, and I slept like a baby, had a great breakfast, and then we took off for an interesting experience attending a Church of England service for ex-pats, conducted in English. The priest was everything you could ever want in a stereotypical Anglican Priest, which was extremely satisfying in a strange way. The message was delivered by an evangelical American, which was somewhat less satisfying as cultural experiences go in TZ, but it was ok. After church we did the usual money changing, minutes for the phones etc. It wasn’t a great shopping day, since most everything was closed for Sunday, and around 2:30 we gave up and headed to Same.
Wow, is it hot. After 3 hours on the road with a hot wind blowing in the hot Land Cruiser, we arrived bedraggled at the Elephant Hotel in Same, to a warm welcome from our favorite front desk girl, Glory, and cold mango juice. You know, just about any amount of heat can be forgiven for a good glass of mango juice and a smile! We are staying in beautiful air-conditioned rooms with western style toilets, and I’m not sure this is really Tanzania…. except that my modem and phone don’t work yet, I can’t understand the directions which are all in Swahili, and the electricity just boinked out on us a little bit ago. It’s back on now, but I’ll keep my flashlight nearby. I think I may need to call on Eli or Atheman to fix the modem and phone tomorrow. There are monkeys and mongoose running all over the yard, and I have an inch of grit on the bottom of my feet. Hmmm. Maybe it is Tanzania after all.
With that said, I’m off to bed. This is certainly starting off as a completely different trip than anything I’ve done before! I’ll try to stay current every night with the journal. Note: The first two weeks of my visit, I will be working with the team from Empower Tanzania, Inc (ETI) on an ongoing project that we call “The PEPFAR Project” because it is funded by a PEPFAR grant from the US government. It is an AIDS relief project that is in its 4th year, preparing to do an assessment. If funding continues, we will scale up both in the Pare Mountain area, and in a new region, possibly in southwest Tanzania. Our ETI Board President, Phil Latessa, manages this project, and we have also brought another board member, Todd Byerly, who is both an electrician, and a former missionary to Tanzania. His construction skills as well as his cultural and language experience are going to be VERY valuable! The project does two things: 1) It trains local health care professionals in hospitals on HIV palliative care, or hospice care as we call it in the US, and then it trains nurse supervisors to lead groups of local Community Health Workers (CHWs) to go into their own villages and assist families to give palliative care to HIV patients. Much of the reason this matters, is that people who have HIV in extreme rural areas deal with huge stigma issues, and are often shunned by the community, who fear the disease and will not care for them. Because villagers fear this stigma, they refuse to be tested or treated, thus spreading the disease. By addressing the issue of how to safely care for the dying, and educating the community about how HIV is spread and not spread, you address this fear, and people begin testing and treating the disease. …..at least that is the theory. Our assessment will tell us if it is true. 2) As the teams of CHWs developed over the 4 years of the project, they began requesting training in more areas. Since they were already in the village working, why not expand what they could do? A program called ‘Safe Motherhood’ was added to their training last year, in response. This training is simple. They are given skills in counseling pregnant women to seek medical care during the pregnancy, and deliver in hospitals. There is a very high maternal mortality rate in extreme rural areas where many, if not most women do not receive prenatal care and deliver in their homes with untrained local midwives. Our purpose on this trip is to begin asking questions that will lead to an assessment over the next year of the impact this program is having on the communities and the health care system in general, and then attempt to convince the local medical community and national government to integrate this program into their system, and budget. This makes what we have begun sustainable, and will eventually take it out of our hands and put it completely into the hands of the local people and government health care system. Quotes: “A strong woman knows how to keep her life in order even with tears in her eyes she manages to say ‘I’m ok’ with a smile.” Nivo Kisinje, Nurse Educator “We chose women who are good neighbors and would do this kind of work anyway; we just gave them the skills” - ETI President Phil Latessa Monday, March 14: Kisangara Today we visited our first PEPFAR site at Kisangara. The head trainer/nurse there is Martina Msuya, and she leads a team of 10 CHWs, all women. They have been a team for 4 years, and it shows. They clearly are tightly bonded, and they showed a lot of enthusiasm and willingness to talk. When asked if they were using their safe motherhood training, they described a number of opportunities they have had to encourage women to come to the clinic to deliver their babies. They also have had a group meeting with the village to introduce them to the idea that they should be giving birth in a health center, and teach them some basic hygiene skills with the new baby, especially making sure that the clothes of both the mama and child are washed to prevent infections. Although they don’t actually give any kind of care, they feel that their campaign to get women to deliver in the clinics, and being “armed” with informed medical reasons for this decision, as well as other small tips to keep the mamas and babies healthy, makes them feel they are making a significant difference. They were told that the government would now be making morphine available to their program in single dose sizes, and they were ecstatic! Apparently they’ve been treating their dying patients with nothing more than aspirin, which is very inadequate.
When asked why they do this job, and what impact it is having, we got some very moving responses: - The community thinks well of them and needs them. - It is a call from God that they are able to respond to. - It has done a lot to reduce the stigma of HIV in their communities, and even among themselves. One woman openly admitted that before this training, she was one of the people who was very afraid to be near an HIV patient. - The entire village attitude is changing about HIV, not just their patients and families. - They are changed by the whole experience.
Patient Visit: After meeting with the Village Health Workers and Nurse Supervisor, we went to visit a patient. It was an old man who had suffered a stroke 3 years earlier, and was bedridden. This is not an easy country to be old and sick in, and he was very appreciative of the care he was being given. Mostly, his family cared for him, but the CHW came in and helped, and brought him medicine. He seemed uncomfortable but not in pain, and enjoyed our visit very much. Thoughts about the Palliative Care Project after day 1: - Kisangara is a good team coming together to do good work - Although the CHWs are trained to care for HIV patients, clearly they are also using those skills to help dying patients suffering from other things, like strokes and cancer. It is a good example of what happens when you empower someone with skills and information. There are a lot of unanticipated benefits from this program. They are taking basic concepts and applying them in areas we didn’t anticipate. - The support is not just to make the patient’s life better, but also makes the life of the whole family better. Long-term illness affects everyone in the family. - This program is very powerful, and we need to find ways to tell the story. - Families are so key in this culture, where there are no nursing homes for the old and dying. Meeting with Eli Kisimbo Eli Kisimbo and Pastor Mpinda are our two main staff people on the ground here. Eli is our Country Director, and oversees everything, while Pastor Mpinda is the PEPFAR project manager. I got the impression that Pastor Mpinda has PEPFAR full time to work on, and while Eli is involved, it is not Eli’s project so they have to be careful of not getting on each other’s turf. Eli is looking for ways to be useful outside of that…. so we discussed having him work on developing the goat project into something transferable that ETI can take to other locations once the model is fully functional in Hedaru. He has degrees in both Livestock Agriculture and Community Development, so he’s perfectly suited for that task.
I also had a brief meeting with Rosemary Solomon, head of women’s programs at the Lutheran Diocese office, in the afternoon. Mostly, it was about me and Penny wanting to stay in Same on Thu and Fri when Phil and Todd go to Moshi, and we need something to do.
Have I introduced Penny? Penny, my buddy and friend on this trip? She is the other woman in our gang of four at this point, and I love having her here! She is a nurse and the COO of Planned Parenthood of Iowa (and I believe with the recent mergers, the rest of the Midwest and most of the known universe), and she is here to lend her expertise to the safe motherhood program.
We decided that Rosemary would try and line up some home visits for us, especially focused on very poor women. They can show us some things about daily life. I have seen it before, but I’m sure it will still be a great learning experience. This is Penny’s first visit, so with her passion for women and women’s issues, I hope she will find this interesting. We are also going to visit the market with Rosemary. While Rosemary was here, we got on the subject of the upcoming Diocese General Meeting for the Women. It is tentatively scheduled for sometime between July and Sept, and they expect around 60 women. If we can pull together a delegation willing to come from Iowa, they would even extend the dates to Oct/Nov. Of interest: - soap making workshop - Colored paper lampshades a la Julie Lowe from St. John’s in DSM - Quilting lessons - Laughing workshop done in CR when she visited I will take this home and hand it off to Carol at St. Andrew’s, I think. If we could somehow get the word out and find 2-3 women willing to come put this workshop on, and if we could find even a little Synod financing, that would be fabulous. By 8:00 pm, we were all ready to pass out right there on the table so we went to bed. It didn’t feel like a full schedule, but in fact, an awful lot of stuff got done! It was a good day.
Tuesday, March 15: Vudee Today, we did a site visit at Vudee. I’ve been on a lot of rough mountain roads in Tanzania, but I do believe this one went straight to the top of the list! It was almost an hour of crawling up what they TOLD me was a greatly improved dirt road that hung on the edge of the mountain like a string laid down in the forest, covered in rocks. The only thing that saved us, besides Martin’s amazing driving skills, was that the rain from last night had pretty much dried, so it wasn’t slimy. The up side, however, was that the views were absolutely breathtaking.
Yes, that tiny piece of dirt in the middle of the picture is our road ahead, and that hill falls ALL the way to the valley floor below! Did I say falls? Freudian slip…..
We ended up at the top of the mountain in the clouds, standing in a little market place with tables of vegetables and corn laid out under thatch-covered awnings, and it was a photographer’s dream! The Tanzanians wanted to shop for food to bring their wives, so we just stood there under a shade tree and watched this little remote world go by for about 30 minutes. It was amazing! Penny and I, who are missing our grandchildren right now, got our hands on a beautiful little baby girl, and passed the time making fools of ourselves trying to get her to laugh, and taking pictures.
Even Todd, who lived here, was taking pictures
Oh, she was adorable!
Vudee is the birthplace and childhood home of the Kisimbo’s, so it was old home for Eli. I asked him at one point if it was hard to live in dry hot Same after growing up here, and he laughed and said “absolutely not! You can’t grow corn up here, and we were always hungry!” Ok, things are not always as they appear, are they?
Women selling corn they hauled up from down below.
After getting the shopping done, it was time to go meet the Nurse Supervisor, Amina, and the team of CHWs. This team included 2 men, and it was quite amazing how different the dynamics were. Of course, it was not apparent if it was a gender or a personality issue, but the men did all the talking as we met, and even when asked a direct question, the women tended to answer briefly or tell the men, who then answered us. Not sure how to interpret that, so we’ll just call it an observation.
CHWs at Vudee
Things they would like more training in: - How to spot symptoms of Diabetes and Hypertension, so they can suggest that their patients go see a doctor. - How to do more with the safe motherhood, more than just sending them to a clinic. - Could we please include thermometers in the kits? - The supervisors do not have their kits yet (we were already aware of this, and it is being dealt with)
Then, we fielded two questions/complaints that I thought illustrated a few issues; one being the briefer time this team had been together (only 2 years, instead of 4) and the other being possible leadership issues that could be addressed with the Nurse Supervisors in future training. - They have to walk great distances - They were given amaranth flour but they would like oil too….it is dry in their mouths.
Now, I guess you have to understand the situation to realize why these questions were really a leadership issue…. 1. Vudee is so high and remote, you can’t even ride a motorcycle to get to most of the surrounding area. They walk great distances to get everywhere…. why should this be any different? 2. The amaranth flour is designed to be added to their regular corn flour or eaten as porridge mixed with water to increase the nutritional value. They already have to buy oil (which, in their defense, is outrageously expensive) to mix with their flour, so amaranth wasn’t causing an increased demand for oil. It is, however, greatly improving nutrition.
What was really happening is that they were using this program to see if they can beg a little more “stuff” or profit from the wazungu (white folks). It is not only impolite and undignified in this culture, but it is a sign that they have some attitude issues, and it was clear that it irritated Mpinda and Eli. Being non-confrontational Tanzanians, they made a joke….”what?! You want us to buy you a helicopter so you don’t have to walk?”….but the message was clear. Then Phil stated quite firmly that this is not a food program, it is a health care program, and the whole thing was laid to rest. VERY interesting dynamic, at least from my standpoint, as the one who may be doing a lot of the leadership training with the supervisors.
They also asked for an increase in their stipend, which in fact had already been discussed and approved before we came, so it was an easy yes, but on the heels of the other two requests, it made me think about why people do this job, and how to recruit people who do it for the right reasons, as well as how to possibly remove someone from a team who is doing it for the wrong reasons, and influencing the whole team negatively.
Success stories: - As a team, they did a village-wide presentation where they role-played how they take care of HIV patients, designed to help reduce the stigma. They then asked people to get themselves tested. - One woman said she enjoyed having time to talk to patients, and give them spiritual care. They really connected, and missed her on the days when she was not there to visit. - They have had some successes in convincing women to go to clinics to deliver their babies. In this area, most women deliver at home.
We went to see a patient who has been bed-ridden for 8 months with bladder cancer, and was being cared for in his home by his wife and family. He was a sweet and very talkative man who seemed to really enjoy our visit. He was excited by the prospect of morphine for his pain, and yet he seemed to be quite accepting of the pain, which had to be considerable. It didn’t show in his demeanor. We prayed with him, tried out our Kipare phrases and got a laugh out of him, and left thinking that this is a man who is dying with dignity and peace.
We traveled back to Same, rested briefly, and then headed over to the home of Paulina Mrutu, who is a diocese worker that helps Rosemary Solomon. She is a widow, extremely poor, and a very good friend of the Byerlys. Several years ago when she was raising her own children, plus trying to care for extended family on about $30 a month, and in a one room apartment, Todd and Lori decided to try and find a way to build her a new home. With the help of Phil and Judy Latessa, they raised $10,000 and built a very nice little 3 bedroom home with a water tank and a small amount of land to farm a few miles from Same. They have continued to “adopt” this family, and help with education and small things. She is a wonderful woman, and was proud to entertain us and show us her home. Her daughter was there with her grandson, and we enjoyed a simple, but delicious home-cooked meal.
By 8:30, we were in our usual comatose state after a long day, and I don’t recall if I read 3 words or maybe 5 before I fell asleep, but it wasn’t much!
Wednesday, March 16: Kifula and Usangi Today’s visit was to Kifula, a village up in the N. Pare Mountains above Mwanga. It is a beautiful area, but much more developed than Vudee (yesterday) and a LOT easier to get to! No fear of falling off mountains here. When we arrived around 10:30, they were ready and we got right to work.
The Nurse Supervisor in Kifula is named Liliani Shedrack, and she leads a team of 9 women and one man, who also happens to be an evangelist. Does that make a difference? Hmmm. It is a very lively team, and they had a LOT to talk about!
Success Stories: - The patients are now seeking them out! Initially they had to convince people to use their services, but clearly they have developed a positive reputation. - Patients that have been hidden in their homes are now being brought out. - They are starting to get referrals. - They are happy with the training they have received, because they now understand why women don’t come to hospitals to deliver, and they are able to council them more effectively. - Women are coming to the clinic earlier in the pregnancies.
Issues: - Women are automatically tested for HIV when they are pregnant, but there is a real problem getting their partners to be tested or learn anything about how to make the pregnancies safer and produce healthier babies. - Men don’t like to come to clinics or workshops - Men don’t think this is their problem - There is a stigma going to a clinic…if you are being tested for HIV, you must think you have it.
A variety of things were discussed to overcome this problem: - Send out a personal invitation to the men to come to a meeting where they can learn the information. - Make the meeting informal and informational - Provide something like cokes or food for the men
One issue that was brought up concerning this approach is that some women get pregnant with a married man, and then how do you get HIM to get tested? The idea of the group presentation for the whole village would maybe address that.
EVERYONE should know their status if they are sexually active is the message.
o Use clergy and village leaders/elders to send out the message? o Go to leaders in the community first, and convince them, one-on-one that they need to support these efforts. Then, when invitations go out, or clinics are held, they will support it vocally, and others will follow. o There is a strong cultural issue concerning who can council who….it involves both gender and age issues, so it is important to think about that and have a wide variety of CHWs, as well as a wide variety of kinds of presentations. o When a doctor sets his clinic up to treat all things in one location, not just HIV, that helps with the stigma. Then no one knows if the patient is going for HIV counseling or something else. o Slowly, people are becoming more willing to admit that they are HIV positive, because the drugs can do such a good job of extending their lives, and they know how to be safe with their families. o There is a big need for education among the men on how to care for pregnant women. Especially, they need to understand the impact of the heavy physical workload on a pregnant woman.
A mama getting her baby weighed at the clinic
It was obvious at the end of this discussion that this team is extremely vital and looking constantly for new ways to be of service to the community and expand their impact. It was very exciting to listen to them talk, and see the passion they have for their work!
The Patient Visit: Because we were short of time, we chose to visit a man who had recently been admitted to the health Care Center, and was suspected of having HIV. After the last two home visits, when the patients were clearly happy to see us, and seemed relatively comfortable, this was quite a shock.
He was a young man, probably in his 30’s or early 40’s, and was accompanied by another slightly older man who was described as ‘some relative’. The patient was sitting in somewhat of a fetal position on an exam bed with no sheet, in fresh urine, and shivering under a kanga and light blanket. He was clearly feeling very very sick, but the thing that stood out most was the terror on his face. Without speaking, or really even showing any kind of response more than a stare to the 8 or 10 people standing around him in that little room, he most closely resembled a small rabbit caught in a corner by a cat, with no where left to go. His big eyes looked out at all of us, and fear came off of him in waves.
The young man had become sick some time ago, but was too afraid to come to the doctor. As he got sicker and sicker, everyone in his family tried to make him go, but he refused. Finally, the CHW heard about the situation, and using the counseling skills she had learned in training, went to him in his home, and spoke to him. She didn’t elaborate on what she said, but when she was finished, he decided to come to the doctor. The whole situation was almost surreal as I realized what a powerful thing had been created in these CHWs. As Phil said, the program took a woman who already had a great gift to help her community and her people, and empowered her with the tools to do it effectively.
Of course, what the young man didn’t know yet, or at least believe, is that once he has been tested, he has access to free antiretroviral drugs and other medications that can not only make him feel good again, but will extend his life for many years. Once he knows that he is HIV positive, he can take steps not to infect others. So much is possible if you can get men into the clinics to be tested and educated, but they simply won’t do it. What this CHW did when she convinced him to take that first step and come to the Health Center was life changing for the whole village!
We finished the visit with a prayer for the man, and without taking a single picture, we left. All I thought about for the next hour was how such a simple thing as what we had just observed could change the lives of so many people. Sometimes, as Americans, we value only the big things with the big impacts and the big programs, forgetting that one tiny pebble thrown in a pond can ripple all the way out the very edges. These people want to change their lives for the better, and are willing to give almost superhuman effort to do it. If we can just choose the right people, and empower them with skills and information, they will take it to places we cannot even imagine.
Our next stop was a quick visit to Pastor Mary Jo Maas at Usangi Bible College. She is from Waverly, Iowa, and is serving there as an English teacher. She took us around the grounds and showed us the work of the college with great enthusiasm, and then fed us a meal that was SO appreciated! We were hungry after a long morning, running behind, and ready for a break. We couldn’t decide if the chapati (fry bread) the samosas, or the fried potatoes were the best, but we ate a lot of all of it. After a short meeting with the head of the school, we were on our way.
On the way down the mountain, we stopped at the Usangi Girl’s Secondary School where Todd and I each sponsor a young girl in school. He visited Anna Mrutu while I visited Pendo Mshana, and while the 20 minutes we had to say hi seemed entirely too short, the girls were happy to see us, and it never hurts to connect with the headmasters where the money is being sent. Eli Kisimbo mentioned SEVERAL times to him that this money needed to be spent wisely, so make sure these girls are learning. Funny!
Todd and Anna
Me and Pendo We finally arrived home around 5:00, exhausted, and ready for some down time. Sabina, the missionary from Germany who is currently working with the Pare Diocese on development projects was here for just a short time to say hi and introduce herself, and then we ate dinner and hit the sack. I’m ready for a day off, I think! Phil and Todd are due to leave for Moshi in the morning to pick up the next two people on our team, and do some shopping. Penny and I plan to stay here, take the morning off, and then go out with Rosemary Solomon for the afternoon.
Thursday, March 17: Penny and Sheri’s Excellent Adventure Did I say morning off? Silly me! Does anything every happen the way you plan it? I woke up at 3:30 am, as usual, but was able to go back to sleep until 5:00. THAT is progress! The jet lag is almost finished. I pretty much lounged around drinking coffee and enjoying the fact that I had nothing to do until 2:30. After a shower and shampoo, I was thinking about heading up to breakfast at 7:30 when my phone rang. It was Phil, letting me know that Clement from Hedaru was waiting in the lobby to deliver some paper work. Mmmm. So much for my morning off. He joined me for breakfast and we discussed the goat project, the schedule, how the water project is going in Hedaru, and some of the things I will need to address when I arrive in Hedaru …then politics in America, the recession… By 11:00, it was clear that Clement spent money to drive up, and didn’t intend to leave until he got some good quality time! It was a great visit, and fun to see him, but at 11:00 he headed back home, and Penny and I ordered lunch. Around here, you order an hour before you expect to eat, because they cook it all from scratch and it will be at least that long.
Little Rosemary At 2:30, Rosemary showed up with Lamek, the diocese driver, and we all headed out to a woman’s home in the country for a visit. This is a woman of the parish also named Rosemary, whose husband used to be one of the night watchmen at the diocese office. He was killed in a motorcycle accident 4 years ago, leaving her a widow raising 5 children, now ages 7 to 19. For the sake of clarity, we’ll call her Little Rosemary. She is exceptionally poor, and Rosemary wanted us to see what life looks like for this kind of woman, who represents a huge demographic in Tanzania.
We pulled up to her home, out on the edge of town. It was a tiny little house, probably 20 ft by 10 ft. total, made of mud bricks and a tin roof and red dirt floors. It did have window frames with bars, and a door with a lock, so at least it was finished. For outbuildings, she had a tiny chicken coop with 3-4 very mangy chickens, a building that was once the original mud and stick house, now being used for a kitchen, and an outhouse so small that I wasn’t sure how anyone over 4’8” and 70 lbs could ever use it. Of course, that is about how big Little Rosemary was, so I guess it was ok.
Little Rosemary’s house, with Rosemary and Penny
Penny, Rosemary, and little Rosemary in the bedroom
Our sweet little Rosemary in the kitchen
We began by going into her living room, a tiny room that just held a love seat, two chairs and a coffee table. Each chair had a lace cloth over the back, and a cloth covered the table. There was cloth hanging over the one window, and on the door, she had written, “In this house, we trust in God”. We all sat down, and introduced ourselves and talked a little about our families. She was clearly completely intimidated, but like all Tanzanian women, she was quietly friendly and did her best to be hospitable. She let us look around the house, starting with the bedroom that contained two beds with mosquito nets over them both; one for her and the smallest child, and one for the girls. In the corner was a tiny little pile of things that looked like their clothes, and nothing else. The second bedroom, on the other side of the living room, had a pile of ten 5-gal buckets or so with lids that she probably stored water and maybe some food in, and a few cooking pots and plates. That was pretty much the total of her possessions. Against the wall was another bed, which she explained was for the boys. It did not have a net, but the boys only visit since they are off at boarding school, so that made sense.
After seeing the house, we wandered out in the yard, which was nothing but dry red dirt, and saw the outbuildings. I asked where she bathed, and she said that the room where they store firewood off of the kitchen was big enough to bathe in also. There was no bustani (kitchen garden) but she said sometimes if she could find a place where someone had dug up the dirt to build a foundation for a house, but had not built it yet, she could use that plot to grow a few vegetables. Of course, without rain, nothing actually grew, but she had done it before.
We asked her to describe her day, and it basically ran the same schedule as every woman in Tanzania that i’ve met, living in these kinds of situations.
• Get up around sunrise (6:30) and sweep the house and yard of debris
• Make tea, and get the children ready for school.
• Go to get water for 1-2 hours
• Fix lunch for the children who come home from primary school for an hour
• Go to get firewood for about 2 hours
• Go to the garden if you have one
• Fix dinner for the family
• Do laundry or any other small work
• Go to bed at around 8:00 pm
She had been asked not to fix us anything to eat, so at this point, it had been 45 minutes, and it was time to leave. We wanted to leave a small gift, so Rosemary suggested cash for her to buy food. I had no idea how much would be appropriate, so wanting to err on the side of too much rather than too little, I told her thank you for her hospitality, I wished her God’s blessings on her house, and I gave her 20,000 shillings, or about $14. She gasped in shock, she covered her mouth, and then she promptly burst into tears and began hugging everyone. Obviously, I guessed a little high. We had probably given her enough to feed her family for several months, and it was clear at that point just how deep this woman’s poverty really was. Penny cried, I cried, Rosemary smiled, and then we all hugged again. As someone said to me once, “money cannot fix everything in Africa, but it can sure fix a lot!”
Next stop was a Pastor’s widow named Yulea, or mama mchungaji (mama pastor). Her husband had died about 4 years ago, and she was living in a sparse, but much larger and nicer home. She had a chicken coop with a number of chickens, quite a lot of furniture, and had clearly been a woman with much more than our little Rosemary ever dreamed of. She was now retired, but in her youth had been a nurse midwife, and mother of 6 children. They were all gone now, but there seemed to be a few other people living with her that we couldn’t quite understand…friends of cousins and their grandchildren and ????? I can’t always tell exactly how they all find each other, but people take people in all the time, and rarely does a house sit empty for long.
Mama mchungaji was a wonderful woman with a wise old face, a huge warm smile, and a ton of energy! She wanted to teach us how to cook, so she brought us to the kitchen where we all sat down on little stools, and watched her prepare bean soup. She used some bizarre tool that I can’t even describe to take the meat out of a coconut and make coconut milk for the soup, and all the time, she talked about life and her travels with her husband, and her visit to America in the 1990’s. She was absolutely delightful, and we all just sat there and enjoyed essentially doing nothing while she cooked. It reminded me of being a child, and the hours you spend watching your mother or grandmother work while you chatter and talk and time just kind of stands still.
When the soup was finished, we ate a little to try it (it was really good!) then did the short tour of her out buildings and it was time to go. Penny did the honors this time, thanking her for her time, and giving her 20,000 shillings as a small gift. I guess I didn’t expect the same response, because my perception was that she had much more, but she almost burst into tears, and spent quite a bit of time hugging Penny and thanking God! Hmmm. $13 is a lot of money here.
From there, we walked a very short distance to Rosemary’s house, where her sister in law, a friend, and Rosemary’s daughter, Mary, had been cooking dinner. We ate a wonderful dinner of soup and rice, and a juice made of carrots, avocado, passion fruit, and mango. WOW! It was amazing! Mary came in and talked to us and told us all about her ambitions to be an international business woman. She is entering Form 5 in a week, and we’ve been hearing all week that Rosemary doesn’t have the money to send her, and is looking for help. On principal, I have been saying no, even to myself all week long. You simply can’t keep giving and giving to everyone who asks, right?
Wrong. Mary has been in school in English for many years, and speaks almost like an American with a slight British accent. She is extremely bright and charming with big goals, and the minute you meet her you see the future of this country with more hope than you did just an hour ago. How can you not support this in some way!? Rosemary had asked for about $700, which we couldn’t do, but Penny and I decided to pool our resources, and do $100 each. It isn’t enough for the whole year, but it will allow her to get on that bus and go next week, and then Rosemary will have to figure out some way to pay the rest later.
Again, there were screams of delight, and a lot of relief on Rosemary’s face. We all hugged and Penny and I left….it was an amazingly low key, but really fun day. Ok, so maybe it’s the fun of being Santa, right, but I don’t think that’s really it. I felt like we got to see inside a reality that is rarely shown to us here, and we were welcomed graciously and warmly, even though I’m sure they wondered why we were even requesting these kinds of visits. As Todd is so fond of saying, “they already think all wazungu are crazy, so just don’t worry about it.” We didn’t, and it was a great day!
Rosemary called a cab, and Penny and I laughed all the way home that we felt like we’d been let out of sight of our Dad. Phil and Todd were in Arusha, there was no one watching over us, and we got to just go off and do whatever we wanted, really for the first time since I’ve been coming here. My extremely broken Swahili had been enough to get us around all day, with Rosemary’s help in translating, and it was fabulous!
Friday, March 18 - it is noon, and we’ve been shopping this morning, but that’s about it. Todd and Phil return this afternoon with 2 more people to join the gang, so there will be plenty to write about, but week one is finished and I want to get this sent home tonight so people can see what we’ve been up to. Keep us in your prayers, and I will try to keep up enough to send another update sometime in the next week!
~ mama sheri