Friday, April 18, 2008

Hi!! I’m home, back in is wonderful to be back, this time...not at all like last year, there is a huge difference...I know where I am going with my work in Africa now, a focus, direction – raising money, for the HURUMA Orphanage..see below..way below!!
...and toward the MASAI GIRL’S EDUCATION FUND...a huge thanks to everyone who donated last year. We are sending 19 girls to secondary school now, girls who without your support would be at home, at age 13, married, pregnant and toiling with little.....In Masai country the men look after the cows, the women do everything else: caring for children, building the bomas, collecting water, wood, cooking, washing, cleaning, care of goats, cows and raising money to support their families...

Now through ICA TANZANIA, these girls will have a chance to finish school, to become teachers, doctors, lawyers, tv announcers..whatever it is they dream....with a promise to bring their education and leadership back to their communities...I interviewed every one of them, some in schools, some at home in their bomas with their families; 6 had run away to the safety of the school, unable to return to their families where they would be whipped and beaten and forced to marry old men, for a dowry of goats, cows. The head mistress allowed them in..and paid herself for their uniforms, food, bed, books....they were now in form 2 and 3..but without sponsorship would be unable to graduate and move on to further education or jobs without paying their back fees....This program is allowing them that. One girl was forced to leave school this year, half way through, with no she is back, with a supportive family, she is lucky..she is the Masai girls in the pink checked sheet.

As well...ICA TANZANIA supports two HIV AIDS positive groups, each with 35 members, mostly women, as men are still adverse to going public with their status...the stigma is still high. Most of these women have been thrown out of their homes by their own families and their husbands who have left them; once small business owners, perhaps women who sell their somosas, rice, bananas, they have lost everything; with children and grandchildren to look after, and with no resources now of their is terribly difficult for them. IN these HIV AIDS positive groups they support and work with each other; they are all on the Anti Retro Viral drugs given freely by foreign donors and their governments to keep the virus at bay. Most feel well, but long for support to start their own mini businesses: rice, bananas, cooking, baking, etc....but cannot afford start up fees...

We are sponsoring, thanks to you! several women now....but I hope to do more in the future, thank you!

I have often felt, that what we have is NEVER ENOUGH...but I am told when i am there, over and over, that every little bit counts...and if it can make a difference in one person’s life, in one family, this is very good, so let’’s keep it going....

I’ve got four speaking engagements set up already, and am looking for other opportunities to share my stories, pictures, projects - so if you know of any organization or group I could come to speak with, schools, churches, Probus, Rotary, private homes, grandmothers, etc.....please let me know.....

I've written extensively in the last few months - no, the last two years - about the Home Comfort Orphanage in Mto Wa Mbu....the kids I loved to take swimming, the shelves, benches and tables we had made, Seanna and Sierra and all the fun they had teaching art, the safaris, Elia - the little guy i wanted to adopt..all of it.

Well, it was wonderful to spend time with them, to work with them, and i will never ever forget those little kids...and as well, I am sorry to report that, in March 2008, I discontinued all forms of support for that orphanage, realizing that they had ample resources of their own. They did not need my help.

But with every they say, somewhere out there, there is a lining....


Things in Africa catapult – way more quickly there than they do here.
Things are simpler there, maybe it’s with lack of bureaucracy, you just move on, and get things done.

It’s Wednesday at 4: - 5 days to go before I leave for Canada. The Home Comfort Orphanage project was over. Thank you to everyone who offered sponsorship support - it would have been great. And to those people whose donations provided wonderful things for those kids....full day safaris both years in a row, tables, benches, shelving, samosas for 38 people every Sunday, bananas, avocados, clothing, sheets, towels, swimming...I was so glad to help.

Back to...
Wednesday at 4: The ICA office was filled with volunteers, students, youth, generators, tv., videos.. waiting for Charles to jump into his truck and off we went to another HIV AIDS awareness workshop - this time in a small village buried deeply into lush green hills, about 200 people sitting on the grass, benches, rocks in the middle of a forest grove – all ages, babies being nursed, school kids, older men and women.

Me. I am despondent. I want to get out, take off, to Arusha, to Nairobi, anywhere...two months of working in that place, it's finished, and what about those kids?

But here is Charles, my ICA Project Coordinator, who insists, you are coming with us. He is the kind of person who looks at a situation. Is it working, is it not?? If it’s not, then move on...forget the old place - they don’t want you or anyone else interfering in their business. Take every thing you know and transfer it over to a place that needs you, who wants you. “tomorrow, I am going to take you to see another orphanage, tomorrow at 8am. We’re going!” I am like, are you nuts? Charles it is Wednesday, I am leaving Monday. There is no time. And I don’t want to go to another orphanage. He insists.

The next day he picks me up, with Elizabeth our ICA nurse, and Peter, a student volunteering with ICA over his spring break from school in Uganda. My gawd what are we doing?? I am thinking.

Off we go, not too far, just off the main road, we turn left onto a road wedged between the stalls of artist’s just on the edge of town. A small sign painted on an arrow marks this second orphanage, newly opened just three months ago - THE HURUMA PRE SCHOOL ORPHANAGE. It is still in the Mto Wa Mbu area, in a district called Majengo, flat with lots of land, small impoverished houses, a farming community. This place has 53 kids, aged 2-6 - ten who live in (sleeping five kids on two single beds – widthwise, one for the girls, one for the boys), the rest living with grandmothers or relatives in nearby homes.

All have lost parents to HIV AIDS. The orphanage operates out of one main room with a cement floor in the middle of the Director’s house, no desks, chairs, the children are sitting on the floor. There is a blackboard propped up at one end, one window with little light. Dark, cold, derelict. Jutting around the perimetre of this room are 4 little rooms each one rented out by families. There is a mud floored passageway filled with little shoes, next to pools of water from last night’s rain, running out into the back yard area - a big open space with a stick shed operating as a kitchen, chickens and ducks plodding about.

This place was thrown together from the heart, out of need - not from the pocketbook - by people in the neighbourhood, a loosely knit group of farmers, village district leaders, small business people, each one donating what they can..dropping off food, assistance, services. There is one disfunctional toilet at the back of the yard behind a screen. That is it. This place has absolutely NOTHING - no books, furniture, paper, crayons, pens. The Board, consisting of the director, a few local village govt types, neighbours, donate money for the salaries of two teachers – that’s it.

We sat down on benches at the side of the classroom, 40-50 little children on the cement floor. The teacher is up at the front of the room, laughing, smiling, directing the children. He introduces us. They said their hellos, in English, in Swahili, in unison, they sang, spoke, they stand up, sit down, one little Mirium gets up in front of the group and leads a song about orphans. Lively, happy, vibrant. These kids, genuinely engaged and enthusiastic.

Charles has been working with the director, a local farmer, on the HIV AIDS issues in this area for three years; he knows him well, and trusts him completely.

I sat, watched, wondered, and thought. I got up and did songs with the kids. These weren’t my old kids, but new kids, dirty, poor, with only one outfit on their backs; but they were happy and alive, and surviving as best they could what life had served them - surely they deserved as much of a chance. I pondered.
I talked with the director, the two teachers, with the two local govt people who are on their board. I walked around outside. I interviewed a couple of kids, watching the activities going on in the big yard behind them, the children laughing, playing together, gossiping, having kids should.

It was Thursday; I am leaving Monday. No time. But something turned around inside. All of a sudden, we are laughing, singing, playing. I open a big suitcase filled with art supplies, we pull them out, one by one, art supplies that were to go to the other orphanage. . Okay, my gawd, so much to do, but let’s get started!! But first of all, before we start. The money. They have nothing. I am the first foreign donor to really see this the place. They are not on the main road attracting safari tourists. How to get started on the right foot right off the bat. I wasn’t going into this without Charles, busy as he is, without ICA TANZ. support. The Director asks Charles to put together a strong Board, to be their Financial Director in charge of all financial donations and dealings. He says he wants nothing to do with the money. He knows the other Board members but he does’t know how an infusion of money into this orphanage might change them – he wants to focus on the kids, not the money, wants only to manage the place, get it going for the kids. I can't believe my ears! Wow!

We draw out the ten live in kids and take a group picture. Then the ten who will be seven next year, and off to Primary school in January. They will need uniforms, shoes, books...we make notes. We go outside and take a picture of each kid. I am stooped down shooting; each kid is pulled into my vision, one after the other. They have no idea what’s happening, we are trying to get them smiling, move others out of the background., on and on we go. Peter is standing up recording as fast as he can write: full name and a description of what they are wearing: blue t shirt, with penguins; Flintstone sweat shirt, cowboy jacket. One after the other, 53 kids! We sing more songs; the kids have warmed up, swarming, laughing, singing. The energy is incredible! We start to interview the teacher, the Director about the children, one by one. The history, where did they come from? Who looks after them, what do they do? What happened to their parents? When? We stop for the day and walk back into Mto Wa Mbu...I can’t tell you how happy I am!
The next day I jump out of bed, race over to the carpenter and order a big table and 8 benches – to be ready next Friday.

I race into Arusha for a meeting with Sinai and their international auditor. Stories of corruption everywhere; you have to be careful, how to set things up from the get go, for accountability. We are all learning.

I jump onto the bus, back to Mto Wa Mbu..Peter from Uganda is waiting for me in the office in a little room with the Huruma director, teacher and three village leaders. We sit there in a circle, batting a nasty swarm of mosquitoes way into the night, until a description and story for each of the 53 children is written. It is brutal! But great when we’re finished.

ICA nurse Elizabeth collects the blood from 30 children in four hours the next morning to test for HIV AIDS...result: only one positive case out of the whole group.

This is great news, considering their backgrounds.

The National Health officers can’t register this orphanage officially – the Director’s house is derelict; but there is no money.
We decide to relocate, We find a much larger house - brand new and almost built - on the same road with lots of space, enough for 30 children to move in permanently...with a huge playing field right next door belonging to the Catholic Church. They agree to let us use it. We will not buy until we are confident all is up and running smoothly.

RE Sponsorship. Decided not to find individual donors right now. None are in primary school - 10 will begin next January.
By then we will know how the operation is doing. By December we’ll finance uniforms, books, school fees for those kids, but not until then.
I’m drawing up budgets for food, staff (teachers, director (yes! He asked for a small salary, music to my ears, cook, manager, medical, maintenance.

It is incredible how these things are coming together.....this time, it feels right....

COMING HOME...........30 hours in the air, on the road, in the airport...tough, but filled with vim, vigor, raring to go! What a difference in only a few days....
I am excited to get back! It is not like last year. Back then, mid February, 26 below and sinking..Johnny and the babies had invaded lovingly my house, theirs was under renovations, so we all lived together for three months..i couldn't write, i couldn't think, and i didn't know what to write or think, where i was going, what i was supposed to be doing with all these things i had seen and felt in Africa. I cancelled my Art Retreat for that summer. I floundered. But sooner, or later, someone asked me about my experience...and from then on, I couldn't stop talking...Great people set me up, in Creemore, Rowlie Fleming...the centres..Probus was incredible....finally...being able to tell my story, people actually listening...interested. and raising money, for what: goats for the HIV AIDS group in Handeni..bikes for the Home Care workers in Harare Zimbabwe...the Masai girls education, the Orphanage...all of a sudden it was coming together..

A YEAR is different...when i left, i knew i was going back...this time, I have a good sense of what projects to work on, this time, I know more of where I am going, of where I can focus my efforts; it is empowering and exciting...and I can’t wait to see my family and friends.

A WEEK LATER: back in Toronto.
-A contact from the States called, he’d been through Mto Wa Mbu a month ago, visited the orphanage, read my blog, wants to help. He’s proposing financing with his international organization. TBA....
-RE the new building: Charles got an estimate of $10,000. US, to renovate fully: electricity, water, 5 completed rooms, windows, doors, outdoor kitchen, toilets, showers ...
-Owner offers 4 years rent for $10,000 cost to finish.
-Swedish donors promise start-up refurbishing financing, with support.
-Charles agrees to put together a strong Huruma Board; coming to Toronto in August.
-The Creativity Art Retreat is filling up beautifully, we have some spaces left...please check schedule if interested:
-Gary has built another bedroom for the River House..going up this weekend...very exciting....

...a journey of joy, despair and resilience through the Orphanages of Tanzania, Masai tribal peoples, HIV AIDS pandemic...
I’ve got 4 speaking engagements coming up....
Two in Dunedin at the art retreat during my workshop: Saturday nights, 7pm. May 10 and May 31st.
Dufferin Arts Council: Monday May 5th...1:30pm Rosemont Centre, across the street from the Globe.
Brampton/Flowertown Probus: Sept 03. 10am. Jim Archdecin Centre, 292 Conestoga Drive, Brampton.
IF YOU know any other group I could speak to....

And There is a feeling of spring in the air....

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

AMSTERDAM INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT..10.10am.Dutch time...11 am Tanzania..and Toronto, 6 hours back..4am...home in 12 hours!...4pm this afternoon, it seems impossible...tired, sleepy, lost in a haze of sitting up most of last night, cramped and, passports, endless heaving, shuffling along with my life right now, a series of black bags - purse, backpack, the ever present camera case Jim told me never to let out of my sight! all squished in and on top of each other on the airport cart with two incredible paintings Tiko gave me yesterday - wrapped and rolled and tied at each end with surgery tape, oh Africa...

But before the goodbyes, and my little kids, and Charles and Emanuel and Peter, and breakfast with Marva and Norbert, and the story that rocked our week and quite suddenly, in the last four days, a second orphanage - the first, sadly, a tale of corruption, betrayal, lies -

I whisper a big hello to a beautiful new friend Professor Richard Odingo..justlast night, Nairobi - 10pm in the lounge filling with people, just before boarding, deep in thought, I AM LEAVING AFRICA...hurting and remembering my boys: Elia, Justin, Zack, Stefoni, Jackson, the last day at the pool, we stop at the Masai market a little way down from the orphanage, and in a little circle on the side of the road, we say goodbye...they know i am leaving, their little heads are down, i bend over and kiss them, one by one. i tell them NAPENDA, each one NAPENDA with their name, I love you. I pray they will be okay....Wilfed is with them, with me, we shake hands and say goodbye, it is time to go. I am heading into the Masai shop to run away, to hide my tears, to buy a necklace, broken, tears surging, I can't help it, the shop guys are distressed, POLE..sorry...pole, they dont' know what to do....

Dotto comes along on his bike as if by chance...i hop on the back, hold onto him tight and we make our way slowly POLE POLE, back into town. For a moment the wrenching calms.

And now, in another country, Professor Richard, sits down next to me, his dark blue winter coat thrown over his knees, a big smile, "they had snow in Europe these last days, did you know?", shrugging the coat. And as if by magic, here we are, two strangers bound by that smile on the road, in the air...travelling, opening ripe with possibilites, slipping in and out of lives together, moving silently through time, space, night and day in unison, like a symphony if you just let it, so now, when i'm feeling badly, there is this man out of the blue, sitting next to me. He works in the Environmental field, he says and with a bit of probing, Climate Change. Wow, i say, you must not be too pleased with Canada these days, the powers that be following like limpid lemmings down the road along with their boy GWB - Professor Richard is the Vice Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the same group of international scientists who shared the Nobel prize with Al Gore several years ago. It wasn't until today, reading the Harold Tribune article, front page, Guardian too, the situation much scarier, worse than they thought, that i realized that this was his group they were writing about, and that this man from Nairobi who has given his life to it for over 20 years - world wide, is sitting next to me. He is a little tired - Ethiopia yesterday, Nairobi today, Amsterdam, Budapest tomorrow -back home Friday, conferences, workshops, meetings...he loves Toronto, Montreal,he loves Canada, he could imagine living there..we are into full conversation, India, China, that great article about China's change, economy, manufacturing of stuff,in the Atlantic - cars, trucks, pollution, rampant.. Peru and a water project where they collected dew from hovering clouds circling the top of a mountain, mist and rain, to harness for irrigation..incredible. We move onto the plane, our seats are close, we arrange to sit together, the woman next to me offers him her seat, and once again i thank God for this mystical meeting with this wonderful human being - Does this just happen when we travel? Our seemingly chance encounters, the phone rings, someone shows up, exactly the right person, the right time, the job gets done, the information passed along... uncanny,mystical..i watch with delight, trusting the universe, of letting things happen...that all will be well.....

I hope to keep writing this blog from Canada if i can..there is so much to say, but at home, I remember well from last year, i couldn't do it. Nothing came, no inspiration, nothing. I read over the blog i had written - the strength, emotion, power, experience,memory, gone. It felt as though someone else had written it, someone else had been there. Not me..
But now,
So many things to tell..ecstatic with filming we did Saturday. Charles, me, Peter - a gorgeous student completing high school in Uganda - Manyara Secondary School, an outdoor classroom of about 40 kids...with PETER acting as host, Charles on the camera, i just sit down on the grass and watch...
My goal to get a few interviews with kids, in English about their feelings,what they know about HIV was incredible, over two hours of tape, poignant, stories, of a mama being sick and dying, of the daddy, baba, running away...of the Masai and their sexual practices, of prevention, condoms, viginity, can't imagine this conversation in Canada..and all on tape, with Charles wearing a ROOTS CANADA shirt, you bet i will be taking it to Michael out!

and that last harrowing four days....the orphanage story, the new orphanage, meeting, interviewing, taking photographs..the house down the road next to the Catholic church, available to rent, to move them much to tell....and i will, promise,when i figure out, how,
big hugs, see you in a few hours away....can't wait....

Sunday, March 30, 2008

SPONSORSHIP! Orphanage children sponsorship, from primary through secondary school...

Thank you to everyone who has written to ask the details about sponsoring one of these great here we go!! hopefully, for your information...

Of the 17 kids who are living full time in the Orphanage, we have 6 going to school already, PRIMARY SCHOOL: compulsory and government paid in Tanzania for every child beginning from age 6 or 7 and continuing for 7 years .
Costs yearly, include school fees, uniforms, books and shoes, costing approximately $50. US a year.In addition, primary school children living at the orphanage need assistance with food, medical and basic costs of living, clothing, $250. year. TOTAL: $300. per year,plus Western Union and Tanz banking costs of $50.
GRAND TOTAL: for Primary school aged children: $350 per year.
Your donation of $350. per year for 7 years is better realized with one payment, because Western Union transference costs are high. I am working through ICA CANADA, and ICA TANZANIA; We have agreed that all payments will be deposited into a seperate bank account in Tanzania, and monies will be dispersed four times a year to the Orphanage, with receipts for payment received detailing school costs, uniforms, food etc. These receipts will be mailed or scanned by computer and sent back to you.
Each year, in December, you will be asked to send again the following year's $350. donation for your child, which will cover the year to come.

SECONDARY SCHOOL: WE are hoping that sponsors will commit also to following through the 4 years of boarding in a government Secondary School if an when your child passes examination requirements to continue their education. Secondary school in Tanzania is not paid for by the government.
Costs: $400. per child. which includes school fees, uniforms, shoes, books,medical, food, bed, desk, chair, transportation, accommodation costs. Western Union and bank cost.

I have yet to work out how we can receive tax receipts for our donations. Bear with me! when i get back to Canada i can work on that issue.

Have to run!
so far 9 people have expressed serious committed interest in working with this project; i have great photos of each child, plus a detailed description of their short lives until now, their family, history,health and personalities...i will be putting all of this together when i get home next week...!
big thanks!!

MY GOD!! Half of Mto Wa Mbu is under water, massive wretched flooding!! 100s of people have been left homeless - the whole north side of the village, and all the way out for about five kil. is submerged. Took a cab north slogging and weaving through sweeping rolling water waves across the highway all the way up to the the bottom of the car door...people loaded down with mattresses, furniture, tv sets, computers, all their worldly goods en masse holding them high and carrying onto any dry spots they can find on the road, you see full families with hoardes of children sitting on soaking wet sofas, on top of matresses propped high on top of bureaus right on the road surrounded by hundreds of people on bikes, on foot out to see the damage - it is horrible.

The Sunlight internet cafe is underwater, Josef has stacked huge bags of gravel and sand at the door trying to keep the water out..the massive cement troughs flanking and running along each side of the highway, measuring about 12 feet deep, 8 feet across - the one of the north side full of water, the one on the south emptly. A sea of water, you can't tell at all where the trough is, and gawd help the poor soul who slogs across a front lawn soaking wet all the way up to his unfortunate bottom - no kidding, the poor sod who mistakes where in earth this huge ditche is and strides right into disappearing under the weight of his worldly belongings..besides the fact that most can't swim! Someone drowned last night. Had dinner with a guy from the Cultural Centre who was awakened at 6am with water pouring into his room through the space under his door. By 7 it had climbed all the way up past the point where the mattress had been on its springs....he'd propped it up atop the wall between his bathroom and bed, along with the tv, computer, clothes, shoes, kitchen cooker....everything and anything he could save....crazy...helicopters flying overhead surveying the news, it hasn't let up for the last three nights.

BIG RAINS..every spring through til starts in the evening sometime after midnight with a sort of restlessness stirring in the air, the wind coming up, trees and branches blowing, a feeling that something is about to happen....around 4am it begins, pounding down seemingly out of the blue like a herd of stampeding buffalo, each hoof heavier and more insistant than the one before, the crashing and beating against the tin roofs and always the dripping like a Chinese torture test of some pipe or other out there banging amd clanging on top of all this noise..the whole raging scenerio doesn't let up for two hours or so, and then just as suddenly as it came now becoming quiet, softly diminishing in size and in volume and in its own way silently moving on. Next, the high pitched singing of frogs gleefully celebrating all this new rain, just next door, shrieking like a chorus of school girls practicing for a Xmas concert, relentlessly and never ceasing until this over all this commotion comes the first awaking of the roosters who also crow with glee as morning breaks. One after the other, they don't shut up, the frogs, the roosters, and finally the drivers of the huge safari trucks parked right outside my window, stomp on outside and banging doors all of this around 7am, they jump into their trucks and rev up their engines, pollution spewing from the back. they rev and rev, the engines screaming now, louder and with each rev, with more force. These guys, they can't just turn the damn things on when they are ready to go and take off. No, they seem to like to activate all this nonsense and sit in their trucks laughing and talking for a good fifteen minutes until one by one for some reason, they move away..

My morning began this way. Where after the excitement of the storm subsided, the, the singing and croaking of the frog medly, and then the roosters and finally, as Charles predicted last night, the huge truck right outside my window reved into full activation. Ten minutes later, I swing at the mosquito netting which reminds me each morning of a bridal veil, grab a towel, wrap it around my waist and wrench open the front door, ranting and shouting at this idiot to turn the wretched thing OFF!!

Sorry for bothering you about this little story but is an occurance repeated almost daily which drives me mad and this morning i did something about it. Of course to no avail...the driver and his passenger looked at me, this crazy white woman shouting and waving wildly...the security boy standing on the porch gossiping and passing the time with them, his mouth now open in a sort of awe shape, staring, and nothing happens of course, nothing. They sit in their truck and just look. Finally, in their own sweet time, they gun it up one more time, and move slowly down the road. As i climb back into bed, I can hear this truck making each corner through the village and on out to the main road, no doubt sludging its way through the floodwaters out of town, the sound subsiding slowly, a good long way before blessed silence descended, once again...

I write of the excitement here, the intensity of the projects, the sweet children, the big jovial woman, my friend who is HIV POSITIVE sitting on a bucket on the side of the road eaking out a few shillings everyday selling bananas, cheerful enough, calling jambo, hello! Life here in Mto WA Mbu. But I want to write too, it isn't always anything? Ever? Unlikely. Lonely nights without electricity by the light of a diminishing flashlight heading out to Mi Casa for a handful of french fries mixed with a dribble of tomato sauce and salt and wrapped in an old newspaper to stave off hunger and quickly back home - tedious hours before sleep under said bridal net with flashlight and a book. Not great. A friend lures you into a meeting and then pounces for money, the feeling of not being a person - just some sort of white becon out there with a black purse seemingly filled with shillings, the endless greetings from across the street, demanding that you turn around, stop, say hello, when some days you just don't feel like it. Plans changed. REarranged. Waiting. Inability to talk, to understand. To know what's going on. Feeling very alone...all part of being so far away from home, away from the security of friends, family...of routine, there is none here.

One week to go, a lot of loose ends to tie Swedish friends left with great plans to purchase a building for the orphanage; Meetings with the orphanage board, varying opinions...understandings and misunderstandings, language mishaps, but we push forth for those incredible little kids and hope to move on...the kids amazing as always. Marva from Israel returned after a bit of a rest in Zanzibar and it's great to have her back - as Seanna, Sierra, all the volunteers and the Swedes cleared out of town all on the same weekend.
Charles and i have to head out to one more Masai village for a last round of filming and interviewing with four more girls selected into Secondary School...and on to a the Manyara school to interview a class of high school kids about HIV AIDS..we should have done this weeks ago, but time flies by..

Am thinking about coming back home, once in awhile these days, and how this will be, how it will feel leaving Africa, leaving my little kids here, saying goodbye and moving away from this life of feeling especially such a strong sense of meaning, of purpose, of a trying to make a bit of difference, of care. I asked someone once, is there anyone here, any family free of helping, free of looking after others?...And she said no...our lives back home, with so many free to come and go as we please, on our own, or busy in our own little families, without a care for others, vacations, lunching, dinnering, lingering, relaxing, massage, a life seemingly of great leisure, and for many with little anxiety beyond the stress of what to do with themselves that day. But here everyone, literally every single person has someone in their family, or a relative or close friend in serious trouble, in terrible need, sick, dying, or starving and trying to make ends meet, its straight on survival every day, every night, where to get the next shilling, how to get together a meal for their family, simply, how just to live.

Seanna wrote a couple of days after returning, not only of the immense snow, and ice, and cold, the bland greyness of that land, but of the isolation, the lack of community, the fierce individualism, nuclear families buried deeply into singular lives, the lack of people together on the streets, of colour, activity, sound, the lack of smell..animals - goats, cows and chickens, people with sticks, Masai purple, red and blue..puddles in pock market mudways - yesterday a man walking into one purposefully cleaning his flip flops one by one....and even, tho i am a little tired of it sometime, always, everywhere you go, that great welcoming exhuberant JAMBO!!


Thursday, March 27, 2008

JAMBO...two posts today....loving sharing it with you!! enjoy!!

JAMBO!! just discovered at this brand new exciting internet cafe just opened in Mto Wa Mbu catapulting this village into the 21st century, that the good owner Justin has made a wipe of his computers, gone into my blog pictures on my special machine marked SERENGETI and erased them all out! 3 hours of selecting, preparing, reducing, cropping, gone, YIKES!! I ask him which he replies I am finished with those pictures, why should he keep them?? he says placidly....ah....patience - okay, well, that is just that...we begin again..

YESTERDAY, a memory never to forget, with 5 boys swimming, age 7 to 12, the older ones: Elia of course, Jackson who I sing 'we got married in a fever, hotter than a peper spout!' the Jackson country song, Zackaria the oldest - calm, wise, watching, Stefoni the showman, entertainer, and Justin - sweet Just in Time..i found you just in time'- they love these songs with their names - these kids never get out of the confines of the Orphanage except for school - day after day cramped into that small compound, moving around with 30 other kids - three rooms off a small courtyard at the back which was flooded Easter day with torrential rains and mud. The children were confined not only to their little dormitories, but to their BEDS! Mud and water everywhere. I was up in Moshi over Easter, but two very wonderful people from Sweden who've been working with the ORphange came by, saw this travesty and put their collective minds together. The next day with an agent they went through four properties, buildings already built and ready to go, locating one which is PERFECT for our little orphanage! 15 rooms! if can you imagine! 5 bathrooms, all of this off a good sized courtyard in the middle, ready to move in except for building a kitchen, cleaning up a little and a fresh coat of paint, and its a go!

Everyone is excited! Ecstatic! The Board of the Orphange, we donors and the children. And now the details...the owner who offered the sale for $75,000 US overnight, after wisetalking from friends and relatives proclaimed it was too first he wouldn't sell, but maybe he will, but for much a higher price. Of course. When there are Europeans involved, American, white, the price catapults, it is always this way, and to be expected.

To buy a building in Africa, in Tanzania anyway. You must check first for ownership, not only who owns this property, but what relatives, spouse, children may be involved; sales happen only according to the wellfare of children. Deeds must be produced and signed not only by Village Government Officials, but by neighbours of the property in order to justify and verify plot dimensions. Ownership. Money is exchanged, and as far as i can understand, it is a go.

My Swedish friends have left for home, due to return in a month to finalize the dealings, all going well; I keep saying all going well, from experience..there is so much to do. The Orphanage board must take responsibility for checking the condition of the property, the renovations needed, budget and the ownership and Village offical/neighbours verification. Once this is accomplished, by no means and easy feat, our Swedish friends will have raised the money for the purchase and renovations, beds, linens, tables - whatever needed to move these incredible little beings well out from an intolerable situation to a safe and secure place where they can begin to breathe and grow..

WE agreed my responsibility is for the SPONSORSHIP of the children - all 16 of them, who are full-time living permanently on the premises. I have figured out to the best of my ability, and again this is no mean feat, the day-by-day monthly budget of running such an establishment: food, rent, staff, soap, cooking oil, maintenance, plus yearly school fees, uniforms, shoes and books....I am setting up a program where i can offer friends back home the chance to help individually one of these kids through the 7 years of Primary through to Secondary school, for a further 4 forms...a huge commitment, but for many of us, easily arranged and affordable.

This is an exciting and worthwhile project, and already my Swedish friends have found someone to take Sifoni (see hugely smiling artist at the pool), a little lion of a guy with a personality to fit his magnificent Simba status!, someone to sponsor a little princess called Neema, and a woman who is a retired dentist in Sweden who has asked for 5 boys to sponsor all by herself! Beware my dear friends in Canada. When i get home, i will be putting together information sheets on each of these children, with their short and, in every case, heartbreaking stories, photographs -and will be on the lookout for Canadian sponsors...Between all of us, i am certain that within a year or so, we will have every one of these children sponsored well into their teens, living in a wonderful open airy large new home, with a playground out front and a garden out back. It is our dream!

Today ICA is beginning a 3 day workshop on CAPACITY BUILDING specifically for the five Orphanage Board members to teach and offer support and professional expertise in areas such as accounting, donor accountablity, staff growth and teaching HIV AIDS training, prevention, testing with home care for our three children who have tested positive. ICA is doing this gratis, a huge favour to me, and showing once again their commitment to this community - these workshops generally costing each participant $200. US dollars, in attendance.

And...ah the swimming, yesterday....everytime i go to the orphanage now, i am surrounded by them, the ones who have been and the ones who are dying to go..they hover, smile, hold my hand, look into my eyes and without English yet murmur softly PIGGA PIGGA to me, one after the other...Pigga means KICK!! and that's what i am constantly telling them KICK!! Legs: MGOO, Arms: MCCONNELL, easy to remember that word! PIGGA PIGGA! So everyday i am saying no, not today, in a few days, so many other things drawing me away. Finally, yesterday we take off, laden down with bathing suits, art supplies, a plastic bag filled with greasy sombosa, bananas, boiled eggs and chipatis and two big soccer balls. WE pick up bottles of coke, fanta and water and head into the campsite which is very nice, built specifically for safari travellers, white foreigners, with hot and cold running water, a deliciously inviting swimming pool surrounded by wide and open plains of freshly-mown green grass, deck chairs, tables and a staff there who i know well, and who love these kids. Their second time here, and today they leap like pros into bathing suits, a quick shower and dash into the pool.

Justin has joined us this time, unable to come before with malaria, so i start with him sitting at the end with his feet in the water only watching. The others, having one lesson under their belt act like they have been doing it forever, showing off and blowing bubbles underwater, jumping up and down, diving off the side, heads down - there is absolutely NO FEAR....none. It is astonishing, I could never imagine this! i am wary of Justin, his first time in a pool. But it is unjustified...he watches the others, moves himself in slowly, and within minutes is jumping up and down! I have to tell him to keep his mouth closed underwater and he is on his way, joining the others PIGGA PIGGA practicing and copying each other, front crawl, stride jumps, somersaults. i am not kidding. Could swimming actually be a natural normal activity? are we coming from fish? Is it only our FEAR which stops us?? Could this be true??

And following that, i wonder, is it only our terrifying fears that stop us from doing so many things? Could we, without fear, without a basic but maybe learned lack of confidence achieve so much more if we just gave ourselves half a chance! At every age, not only with children, but why not, as we get older too - just allow ourself to get out there and try it! What is there to lose?

I am thinking of painting...all my life i thought i couldn't paint, couldn't sing, couldn't paint. I always envied secretly those who were artists! They had something special i thought to myself. I wish i could, but i can't. And that was that! A bit of a diversion from my African blog... but back in 1975, Bracebridge, Ontario, my mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I stopped my life as i knew it and moved into her home, learning about homeopathic everything and helping her in whatever ways i could to make the last ten months of her life manageable. To help with my stress, i took a little watercolour painting course in a basement of a church, nothing lost, nothing gained i thought, something to alleviate the day to day worry - and in Bracebridge, a small town, who cared? Little did i know but this was to be the beginning of a love affair which keeps me fascinated to this day! Every night we watched old movies from the 40s, my mom and i, with a table set up in front of me, watercolours, a pot of water, some paper..and i practice, enchanted with the way the blues moved into the yellows making green, brushing with red, brown, purple, it was again, astonishing....i now know, EVERYONE CAN DO IT! That summer, after she passed away, i opened my art retreat, basically for me to learn how to paint! I hired the best teachers i could find, and while learning myself, created a community of hundreds of other would-be and accomplished painters over the last 12 years, again..a miracle....

I am telling this story, because without my mother's illness, i would never have allowed myself the opportunity to try art making....and as it is with these kids and swimming, ANYONE CAN DO IT!! I KNOW!!

Flip back into yesterday...we swim, we lie on the mats wrapped in big fluffy royal blue towels, we bask in the sun, we drink Fanta, Coke...we eat, we bring out the art supplies and draw...a couple of us are AMAZING ARTISTS!! Look at my boy Elia..he is incredible. When i get home i am determined to make a calendar of ELIA ART!! He is a natural and they are all great! Jackson makes three solid lines down the page with neon yellow markers and calls it 'the highway through MTO wA MBU', their imaginations stretch and sparkle. They put their shoes on and run through the grass, kicking the soccer balls; Job the head chef of the hotel rolls up his pants and joins them, running, leaping, so much space, all of them laughing....

As the day draws to an end WE pack up and walk slowly, all 6 of us back across the two mile safari past rice fields and rows and rows of jam-packed artist's stalls exhibiting Tinga Tinga inspired paintings - Tinga himself having been shot to death by police 35 years ago by mistake, another story - rows of paintings swirled with palatte knife, paintings of elephant, giraffe, MASAI...zebra...monkey, mountains, flowers, lion....and on into the noise and bustle of Mto Wa Mbu cental, the shops, bars, restaurants, bus depots, shoe-shine stalls with four or five guys sitting side by side, behind old and new shoes displayed and waiting for business, some sewing on peddle machines outside shops filled with fabric, with little piles of garbage burning inside small fires, little charcoal burners cooking chipatis, french fries, eggs along the road....the buses atop with grocery, baskets, bundles, people of all colours, size, wrapped in calicoe, with babies slung on backs, pails, bundles atop heads, heaves of grass, wood, boards stacked and dragged along in big wooden wagons...we move along...past the long open avenue of jungle and trees and the odd baboon family frolicking and on toward the orphange, under massive fig trees thick with pelican birds flying, leaping and shitting and stinking at will, with little babies learning to fly from nest to branch - a never-ending white with black tailed endlessly moving mobile swinging with bird life, high in the trees as we walk underneath, some of which falls down, splat upon the pavement, life and death along the road, as we move one by one along. Jackson and Justin are bouncing the soccer balls, Stefoni his little hand in mine, and independent Elia and Zackaria lag along behind, perhaps unwilling to say goodbye to the memory of such a perfect day...

more and more and more..later! BEDAI!!!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The dreaded fly infested sojourn inside the Masai boma of course turns into one of the most incredibly memorable experiences i have ever had in my whole life! We drive up into the boma high upon rolling green hills in the middle of the most beautiful country on the planet with an awesome vista of 360 degrees, with mountains surrounding on all sides, Masai warriors, the chief, a parade of women and children coming out to meet us, the Chief's father, a very old man with a wrinkly face, rheumy black eyes sparkling - has 8 wives still living on the boma, each one the mistress of her own hut and ample supply of goats. Once a chief, having passed this honour on to his son, he is sitting on a plastic chair under a huge old acacia tree anticipating our arrival or more than likely eagerly awaiting the big bottle of Tanzanian scotch i have in my back pack. We assemble, Sierra the centre of attention, amidst flies, but not so many as I remember from last year - a nice breeze, the greeting of honour with the father first, Sierra her head bent low with a sort of bow, he touches the top of it and spits into her hair! With Seanna and i we shake hands with our OL PAYAN SUPAI, which means basically old man, how are you? in Masai - hello to everyone you must note as you greet the gender and agement of each person, from the very oldest right down to the little girls and little boys, ENDITOS and LAYONIS....we move en masse in through a small entranceway cut out of the thorn fence which surrounds the entire community protecting the fifty or so mud dung-mixed-with-ash huts woven intricately with large and small sticks of wood...each hut owned and built by the woman, the men visiting when the spirit, a time of giving presents to the chief and to his wife: art pencils, pens, paper, skipping ropes, vegetables for our dinner, rice, greens, tomatoes....theirs will be a mixture of freshly-taken goat's milk and blood, maybe some pieces of meet. We take our bags into the first wife's boma,a small round hut, clean and swept out for our visit, inside it is dark but for the tiny window just above the small and very short mud and dung hardened platform we are to sleep on that night. IT IS covered with a large piece of cowhide and set into a small cubicle, wall to wall bed so to speak. There is a mud floor, with another small half enclosed bed platform where the first wife and chief will slee. There are a few stones in the middle of the hut set in a cirle burning with left over embers of a fire. Next to our 'bed', there is a tiny sort of room with a small entranceway which we learn later will sleep 30 small goats less than a foot away from us during the night, a wall of dung and sticks between....The flies stay mainly outside.

A few days later....
HAPPY EASTER!!from Arusha town, Saturday afternoon,- Seanna and Sierra left last night,in great spirits. What an incredible experience they have had - each day filled with art projects with the orphanage, masai visits, the bomas, long walks through banana groves, safaris, rice, beans, chipatis, and chipsies, Fanta, Swahili..Sierra is studying Africa next term! Charles drove us all the way from Mto Wa mbu,a quick dinner at the BIG BITE the best Indian food in town, and to bed at the Arusha Naaz Hotel right across from the Patisserie Internet Cafe, where all the muzungas hang out, a few blocks down the street from KLM to change my flight home...

Where was I? The Masai boma....the sleepover....ah....once sort of settled we move outside the hut into the flies, there is no getting around it, bomas with cows and goats and donkeys have flies, and children with goat milk stuck on their faces, hands, attract them, millions of them...Sierra is drawing with a stick animals into the dry red ground between huts, 20 or thirty kids surrounding; the chief leads us out to greet at sunset the goats and cows as they are brought back to the boma from pastures, Masai warriors with long sticks and swords herding, the sun sinking, women with little metal cups squatting down for milking, a child holding the goat still at the other end. We try to milk, the teet slippery and thin, it keeps running away! I am getting NOTHING!! you hold it between your thumb and index finger at the top end and squeeze down very tightly, a bit dribbles out and on we go. Time for Sierra to choose her very own goat. Chief lost his cell phone a few weeks back, so in exchange I buy Sierra a goat...the one she chooses is white, a twin, a female and one which likely we are told will produce twins of her own within the year. My very own goat, named Lynn, white and black, has a baby boy goat called Connell running around under her for milk as she tries to dash away. The Masai don't count, they don't have the concept of counting in the way of their lives, but they do know each and every goat and cow, which has its own markings, family, personality and colourings. It is extraordinary that, when one goat goes missing out of a herd it is immediately missed, the warriors or young boys found responsible and reprehended...with someone sent out quickly to bring it home.
At night, the animals are lead inside the thorn fence into the huge circular boma area which is divided in sections by intricate fences made from long and short sticks of varying widths woven together. Each male who has his own wife, or a number of wives depending on how many cows he owns, the wives each having their own hut within this section, shared with livestock: a large area for cows, smaller for goats, donkeys, etc...a circle of thorns inside for baby cows, and as I said, the baby goats sleep inside the huts each night.
At this boma, the old father has had 10 wives in his time, with maybe 40 or so children, no one knows for sure, without the counting. Most of the female siblings have married and moved on to new husband's family bomas; the brothers marrying and setting up sections of their own within the whole. Children of all ages, cows, goats, donkeys, fully decorated Masai warriors, women of all ages and stages, all the wives of the many brothers living together harmoniously. Each person has their own specific chores: all the housework, cooking, fetching wood, milking of the animals, children, building and maintaining the mud huts, clearing, washing up, shaving the heads of the children, husband and warriours and beading is the responsibility of the women - with children and young girls helping. Young boys learn herding from the time they can walk. It is not unusual to see these little guys, aged 4 on, draped in tattered red and blue sheets with only a stick to wack at wayward goats out there with the backdrop of green hills all day long, from early morning till sunset - without water, without food.
The older boys, age 12 and on up, warriors now, Morani...having successfully endured and accomplished the most important ceremony of their lives, circumcism, where the act is done at the same time alongt with tens,hundreds of other boys - each operation performed sitting down outside the boma of the mother, without anaesetic, using the same knife from one boy to the next, each one without breathing, without moving a muscle - a sign of honour and strength to his family. Morani have the responsibility of the cows, revered amongst the Masai, each day walking them to further pastures in search of water, grasses, herding, buying and selling, medicine and finally during ceremonies, the slaughtering, skinning and roasting. The rest of the time, Morani are entertained by young girls in the community.

The job of the traditional Masai chief is to sit in a plastic chair outside the boma of his wives to greet and listen to the problems of people in his community, some walking to see him for twenty or thirty kilometres, easily. WE joined him that night at the boma, as night fell, an almost the full moon casting its perverbial silver light spilling magically over eerily structured fences, cows, Morani, huts and children. Cow bells tinkled, donkeys braying, squawking like old men at a coctail party - the women off cooking in a special kitchen hut. Two men are shown in...each grave, sitting a distance from each other. One has gone to the community land offices and has officially been granted a large piece of land to build his family boma. When he arrives at the site, he finds it has been already taken, built on by another man. He is angry, a fight ensues, they take the problem back to the land offices who send them to the Chief. This is an easy one, the chief tells us. He simply tells man number one to allow man number two to continue the possession of this land as he has already built fences and huts, and offers another large plot as compensation. Everyone is happy, they stay the night and leave as friends in the morning.
A good five hours later our dinner arrives, a large round dish of rice mixed with vegetables we provided; Sierra has had a banana and is asleep on top of the sheet of cowhide thrown on the ground at our feet. We wait for the ceremony the Chief has organized for our visit, as neighbouring Moranis begin to appear in full dress from outside bomas, young girls Sierra's age of 7 and older clustering together, each one with a wide white beaded circle of decoration at their throat, warming up, singing in high pitched tones...the MORANI come and go, these warriors who have the full strength and support of the entire community, arrogant, haughty some of them, beautiful, high cheek boned, tall, over 6 foot five, lanky and lean. The come and go silently, sinking into the darkness, into bomas, huts drinking cow milk and blood readying themselves for the traditional dance they are about to perform.....
The Chief tells us it is time. Sierra awakens thankfully, we do not let her out of our sight. WE move through fences over freshly made cow dung, sticking and squishing into our sandles, shoes amongst the cows, the dance is to begin...

The warriors bunch together in a circle tightly as our boys do in a football huddle, the young girls on the outside. The boys are making sounds in unison, the intake and outtake of their breath, each one together the sounds getting louder and louder in this first part of the ceremony...the girls high voices much like those of our First Nation people in their drum their way cheering the boys gets louder and louded, the boys moving together up and down, but still standing in one circle - i learn later that in this first part of the dance, it personifies the killing of the lion, with the girls outside giving support....

Next the warriors are in a big semi circle at one end, the girls at the other, the girls tilting their white neckpieces enticingly rythmically, up and down and singing in their sweet young high voices..the boys in groups of two or three race down to the girls, darting toward them, close in on them and then leaping back to the formation of their semi circle..the voices the chanting changing with this dance, they dart, leap back and forth, louder and louder, the boys and girls singing. This part I am told the next morning, is in memory of the days when Masai left their bomas in search of cows to steal in neighbouring tribes...the darting toward the girls is the running in to steal the cows - the Chief explaining that Masai believe that all cows rightfully belong to Masai- then the grabbing of the cows and bringing them back safely to their bomas....

And finally the jumping, the Masai warriors darting into the middle of the circle, two and three at a time, and making their famous unbelievable high leaps into the air, shouting! Their long hair, tied into tails, flying into the night, up high and back down, over and over, the shout, goes on for half an hour this part.....revealing to us later, that the warriors are showing their happiness. ON the sides of the circle young boys watch, jumping a little on their own, darting into the circle with the warriors, i am sure dying for the day of their own circumcis, where they too can progress from become men.

The Chief beckons us that it is time now for us to leave.
As the dancing and chanting continues, louder and louder, more insistant, the humming of the voices, the intake, outtake of the breath, the little girls, the jumping, the frenzy...we are not to stay. I know what it is that we are missing; it is time for us to take Sierra away. This is the custom, the practice of Masai, the ceremonies, the young girls and the Morani - centuries old, ancient in is not for me to judge, but for me to acknowledge in these days of HIV AIDS..that this is a practice that someday soon, surely will have to stop.

We fall asleep on top of the cowhide bed made of cow dung and sticks, hard and too short, our legs curled up in the fetal position, all night long tossing from one side to the other, we three, with the tribe of baby goats squeezed in together, a thin wall away from where we sleep - farting, grunting, wacking their tails against the walls as if in the knocking at a door and shitting - the fresh smell of goat dung wafting lazily through the little hut. The Chief comes in a little later and crawls into bed with his first wife; little bed bugs make their presence known, here and there, small uneventful little bites...all through what is left of the night until morning.

Five hours later, we have walked the moors...i have my video camera taking the most exotic footage i could imagine, playing with the children, meditating and waiting in this timeless zone of life moving along very very slowly, the Morani awakening, cows and goats filing out into pasture with young boys, the capturing and slaughtering of a chosen sheep, its fur carefully punched away from its body with a tight fist skillfully and sliced away...a small fire with the leg, ribs, parts of the body on stakes and roasting. WE are sitting in a grove of trees in good shadow, the hot midday sun beating down, a blanket of cowhide, small pieces of lamb passed from the knife cut and given in thanks, first to the Morani who sit a bit away from our little party, and then on to is out of this world as we know it, this nomadic, primitive life unchanged again for centuries, these people practicing the same ceremonies, chores, lives as their ancestors and as the ones who came before them. They have shared fully with us, given us everything they have, allowed us the priviledge of peaking a little into their is boggling, it is miraculous, it is awe inspiring, and for us, it has not been easy....

Charles truck comes...we move quickly through the heat of day,collecting our bags, our goodbyes, with one last ceremony where Sierra is given a Masai name by the women...the flies are mean, following us into the truck, hundreds of them into our backpacks, my camera case, the windows open, we move on, and back to our world thankfully.....

Monday, March 17, 2008

Hi..great news!! the LAND for the site of a new ORPHANAGE was legally approved this morning in a little circle of us perched on hard wooden chairs around two desks pushed together in the middle of a field at the local village office: Charles, me, Juliette and a director of the Orphanage meeting with the village ward officer, a land officer and a community liaison person of this region. Everyone knows everyone, knows what land issues are under dispute, court, fightings, or not. And this one is clean! The last two plots we looked into were flagrantly up for sale and being sold quickly, both by people who officially owned the land but on paper and legally, had absolutely no rights to it! No wonder they were putting the pressure on, take the money and run! The next step is drawing up the Agreement to Purchase and await the donation funding soon to be confirmed from our Australian contacts! Keep your fingers crossed!! After that, i will be gone...someone connected with the Australian group will oversee the project, the design, engineering, water, electricals, permits and approvals and the actual building of this little dream which just may come true!
We shall see!

Just learned that the boy who robbed has been taken into the local jail for questioning - i don't know the process, would like to get repaid for the gear he bought and then let him run away; i am sure he has been through enough - my feelings, but that is my opinion only and certainly out of my hands.

Tonight, this afternoon, armed with fresh vegetables, tea, sugar, art supplies and a big bottle of local Scotch for the Chief's aging father who sits all day under a big tree greeting various members of his huge family: his 8 wives and 40 children or so with their offspring, our Chief, his two wives and 5 children, and so it goes... the rickity drive out to the Masai Chief's boma this little compound of cow dung, ash, stone and sticks, fences of protection created from thorn trees and inundated with the infestation of millions and millions of flies, everywhere i remember, in your face, nose, mouth, under your watchband, inside your shoes and sleeves- because of cows and goats living inside the boma... a ceremony of honour while Sierra will choose her very own goat, a leg of lamb followed by the dreaded by me sleepover. Tomorrow, after a breakfast of goat pieces and banana we traverse the tundra a mile or so to catch the back of an open Land Rover on the wily path to slowly pole pole wend our way back to Mto Wa Mbu.........I am apprehensive about this experience which usually i would be beside myself with. Spoke at great lengths with a doctor who treats and visits Masai bomas regularily who refuses the sleepover, his one and only time spent sitting up all night around an embering fire, so knowledgeable and terrified was he to rest his body full length out upon the bug and tic infested cowhide bed provided. Baby calves and goats with tics jumping, roaming the mud floor at his side.
I am taking my video camera, with lots of pics!
To be continued!!!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Hi...\Overwhelmed with daily activities, it never stops lurching in high gear from one huge project to the next, but before a big hi and thanks for your emails, love to hear from you, Lindsey's movie shoot, the wonderful babies and all that snow stacked without dreams of removal, massive fires cooking Queen and Bathurst, Obama and Clinton neck to neck in a race of gender and colour, Mexican and Chilean holidays in the sun, successful surgeries and even something about the Leafs! So far away, so completely impossible to comprehend..renting the River House, the Art Retreat, wow!

But first, we are so busy, every single day, leaping from Masai villages, to schools, to HIV AIDS workhshops, with orphanage hospital checkups, to land surveying and purchase agreements! to a NEW ORPHANAGE! all my U.S. money stolen/ jail, release, Sierra's new diet of chipsies and Fanta and plain without sugar donuts, and on to this morning's safari with 30 kids....
Sierra and Seanna have taken Mto Wa Mbu with a storm! Especially Sierra! lots of white visitors racing briefly in big safari trucks sitting in the back seats without stopping, through dust and colour and everyday confusion across our little town, but each one much older and certainly not 7 years old with flowing dark hair, white skin fastly tanning and working everyday at the orphanage - a leaping, dancing girl with spirit, exhuberance, singing songs in English and Swahili! teaching hopscotch, art with paint, felt, tissue and skipping ropes that sing - dancing merrily, a veritable open, happy, and friendly Snow White - MAMBO, JAMBO to everyone they meet, she and her mom as they saunder through town, a child attached to each hand, girls on each side, arms interlocked and crossed at the back like they have known each other forever. A never-ending smattering of hello, goodbye, thank you! how are you and they are on their way. Everyone wants to touch this girl, her arms,her hair especially, the older women calling from plastic chairs and stools selling bananas and rice along the road, or the clusters of young boys who call themselves business men, hawking handfuls of bracelets, necklaces made from bone, beads,string, calling CANADA from every corner with more verve than even before! All day, everyday, without stopping.

This Girl. She doesn't eat eggs: boiled or omletted. Or the little rice buns called kitumbua we eat every morning; or the bitter spinich like greens next to rice and beans at lunch, dinner, or little hard-to-chew pieces of beef, goat, or chicken roasted and served on a big platter shared around the table; she doesn't like plantain or chai or chipsies mai-eye, a sort of fast food omlette made with precooked french fries mixed with scrambled eggs. No. She likes chipsies plain with bottles of Fanta, a cup of porriage Seanna brews every morning, a slice of stale donut smeared with Canada-brought peanut butter the only thing for protein - but only for 2 weeks, this feast of sugar and carb. No harm done.

Seanna is astonished by how quickly thing are accomplished here, and so am I. As always, Charles from ICA Tanzania is in the middle of those miracles. I wrote of little Martha, HIV positive oozing hands and feet, sores open, running nose, sick and sitting on Seanna's lap on Sunday - her first visit to the ORPHanage. We spoke to Charles that very night over ugali, a corn like creme-of-wheat staple which you role up into a ball in your right hand, make an indentation with your thumb into a spoon and scoop into vegetables or meat and sauce to be popped into your mouth....
The very next day, Monday, someone took her to the hospital for medication.
Tuesday an ICA home care worker visited the orphanage, two kids now positive under her care, not just for today, but for good: for regular monitoring, hospital visits, medication, for checking blood levels - all of this was done in two days.

On day three, Wednesday, we loaded 16 little kids into the back of Charles' truck at 8:30am, each one with a sample of pee and poo collected and labelled and stashed carefully into a clear plastic bag the likes of which Juliette and the two staff magically produced earlier, by lining the kids up as they rose sleepily from their beds and lead, one by one each to the toilet hole at the back of the orphanage. It was an astounding and stunning feat, the poo collected on paper and carefully spooned into a small cardboard matchbox, each child, one by one till you count to 16! I can't imagine how they did this. A match box, we asked? to which the doctor said, we use what we have, and it is all we have - once again a solution for every problem lacking, to what we take for granted back home.

Jammed with hair flying freely my girls illegally in Canada and squished in amongst the 16 others we arrive in fifteen minutes to the Government Free hospital for full out check-ups for every one of these kids - and all of this organized in the space of a day, this is how it is done here. As Seanna said it would have been three months waiting for appointments for five kids, let alone 16. Three hours later, with Sierra outside playing JUDICA SAYS (Judica the orphange director) we were out of there, with two testing mild malaria,a handful of pills and we are on our way...

Selela, a village of Masai set deep into the dry grassy turf of rolling hills and green brown valleys flanked on both sides by the massive hard and jagged rock of the Great Rift mountains...Selela, if i ever had another child i would call her this, its weekly market in full swing with hundreds of Masai women, children, old men and young haughty bedecked warriors sitting, lolling, loafing and playing, selling bananas, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, everything and anything on the ground - beaded necklaces and bracelets strung up on large wooden panels, callabah gourds tanned and brightly polished decorated in strings of leather, beads and used as jugs to hold freshly milked cow or goat milk mixed with blood, drained from the throat of a cow with a sharp knife or bow and arrow in the right place, and once taken, clamped tight to heal. Seanna in the middle of a swarm of women, one removing the small silver earing from the pierce in her lobe, and then again unattaching a much larger and beaded in white, yellow, red, blue from the stretched hole from the huge hole in her own ear, measuring a good deal wider than that of a loonie, toonie back home. A hootenany of women, laughing, exclaiming and watching with wonder wrapped in purple and blue sheets as Seanna attaches her new earing onto her own ear, and for that matter an array of beaded necklaces around her neck - bartering, bantering, laughting widely and collecting a very large circle moving in and surrounding her.

We tuck into a restaurant of cow dung mixed with terra coloured earth, ash and stone; Masai warriors with spears roasting goat leg on a stick in the dark served on a small wooden table sliced into small pieces and shared.

Masai Girls Education fund....we've chosen to sponsor 6 girls safely ensconced and hiding out in secondary school, having run away from their families and predetermined marriages with much older men- their fees mounting and up until now, unpaid. Last week, in the Masai village of Engaruka two hours away, an active volcano erupting angrily from the bowels of the Oldonyo Lengoi mountain, the mountain of God, every five minutes and just two mountain tops away from the village, the community staging nightime ceremonies every week in an attemp for the Gods to make it stop. We choose another two girls - one who had been in school for six months but who had to leave due to lack of funds, and the second, a girl who had finished successfully one year and who, at her graduation of that year passed a note to a village elder concealing information than her father was planning marriage upon her return over the holiday for the price of 100 cows- a dowry which would curtail forever her education. In this note she beseached him to allow her refuge in the school over the following month holiday until school begins again.

After the goat, we are taken off main roads across tuffs of scrub and dry valleys to meet the family of another girl we are told needs financial help. She is at school, we learn, and are greeted by a sister cooking something over an open fire in her boma and looking after three tiny children of her own sitting outside in the dirt - a young girl herself barely out of her teens. Her own mother has passed; the father a farmer, poor, uneducated but one who values education for his daughter; the four sons out into the hills with a stick herding cows belonging to wealthier Masai; her two sisters gathering firewood for sale at the market. The stories wherever we go are similar and real and help is needed for these girls to continue schooling, to learn, to better themselves and eventually their community - to make changes they acknowledge which will eventually change some of the customs of the Masai community. It is an ongoing discussion, but these changes, or altercations, or shifts in cultural practice are needed in a society wrought with customs which ultimately may, likely, in the end, destroy them.

WE head out to the school to meet the sister of that girl, who is standing for a photograph with two others who ICA sponsors already: one will be a teacher; another a tv announcer, and my girl wants to be a doctor, who intends upon coming back after university and medical degree, and to work strongly with her own people.

Sponsorship - thanks to the many people who have donated and trusted me with money to bring back to Tanzania over the months I was in Canada between March and December adds up to a commitment towards 15 Masai girls beginning or furthering their education in Secondary School this year. Secondary school is for five years, the first year being the most expensive. The government funds Primary School for kids aged 7 up to about 14, but not secondary. The first year of Secondary will cost approximately $385. US funds. which will pay for bed, desk, uniforms, medical, transportation, food, books, etc...the following four years will be about $200 per year per child. By sponsoring these children, we have committed ourselves to keeping up the donation of funds until they reach high school or university level; and after that we hope to continue funding until their education is finished. It is a great goal, and commitment and as i see it, one of the concrete ways this country can move towards bettering the lives of its people.

Between the Masai girls education fund sponsorship, and the sponsoring of 16 little kids at the Home Comfort Orphanage in Mto Wa Mbu - some currently in primary school- the rest still in the orphanage...all the way through to university or is a wonderful project, concrete and doable, and one of which i am certain i will discuss at great lengths to everyone and anyone who will listen! Beware!!

The Orphange NEW BUILDING PROJECT. Last week we met with two women from Australia, missionaries from Rotary, who are working in nearby Arusha, who visited our little orphange, one of whom cried upon viewing first-hand the facilities, the needs, the three-to-a-bed, the lack of facility, electricity - no classrooms, no proper kitchen, sink, fridge, toilet facilities, no playing area, no garden. We need desperately to expand, to find land, to build our own new orphanage - we must!

She collects the Pastor Neiman, and several other people, trustees from their international charitable group called Sinai...and brings them to Mto Wa mbu on Friday for a big meeting with our director Judika, the assitant director Juliette, another two volunteers, Charles for local advice and I. We take them around the Orpahange, the children all lined up at little desks and wearing royal blue sweaters sing their little welcoming song entitled WE ARE HAPPY. WE have two plots of land to show them, both out of town, both around an hectacre and a half and on flat land, but one is confused with ownership with poor drainage; we unanimously settle on the second one situated next to the Secondary school about two kil from the govt hospital and an easy half hour trot to the local primary school.

WE seek out the owner who wants 8 million Tanzanian shillings for this plot - a total of $8,000. U.S. Doable. We settle into lunch chairs inside a grove of banana trees at the back of Mi Casa restaurant on the third street away from the middle of town, and launch into the details of a major group decision: to form a partnership agreement between the orphanage directors and the Sinai group, and to begin the legal transference of land ownership to the ORPHANAGE.

WE have done it!
Pastor Neiman who is responsible for decisions for the Sinai group has given his approval; the Orphanage is ecstatic! we all raise a toast, shake hands and it is done!! The beginning, only the beginning, the hard work of raising the land money has begun this week; but in the months to come, the designing of the new buildings, with two classroom, separate dormitories to sleep 60 kids, dining areas inside and out, reception, offices, storage, kitchen and proper indoor toilet and shower facilities, if i have told you all this before, please skip over and forgive, i am just very happy!!
All of this will cost between about 50 to 80,000 US.

From this vantage point, doesn't seem like a lot, but maybe, coming home, it will be, but with all of us working on it , you never know!!
and what else!

Taking four big boys, age 8 to 12 swimming at the campground pool, with Sierra who can swim, they can't. They take a scary time to put their face even in the water to blow bubbles, but in a short time, five hours later, they are jumping and diving in, faces under and swimming!! I am standing in the pool arms outstretched to prevent them from leaping into the deep end...they love it so!! PIGGA PIGGa I shout, KICK!! and they do.

And today, in a big rented bus, 30 little kids trundling up the steep stairs, settling in, excited, we head out only a few miles away to the Lake Manyara National Park...for our very own safari!! Juliette our director and a teacher we brought along had never been on safari - the animals a short half hour away from the orphanage - with only 10 kids with great memories of last year's outing, the rest have never seen a giraffe, elephant, gizelle, zebra....any of it, all of it....
Sierra too, and Seanna....and to stay in the Masai boma, for an overnight!! Chief brought his first wife in by bus yesterday for a ritual meeting of my girls, laden with beaded gifts and an invitation to his very large and royal chief's boma for a ceremony, -a roasted lambs leg as we are becoming used to goat, with a gulp of unpasteurized cows milk, mixed with blood which i have decided is not likely going to happen. Sierra is to choose her very own goat from his tribe, to be marked by branding with fire her initial in its ear and to be hers forever - a lady goat to have babies, to join the mother and baby boy goat given to me in honour last year by the Chief. She is needless to say very excited!!

The following i sort of dread. Sleeping overnight all night long in the dung hut called the boma, on top of a ledge of mud and stone covered in cow hide, together the three of us, in the dark, sharing with baby goats inside and small calves, a fire glowing in the middle, and, this part I shudder, with maybe tics, lice and bed bugs, i dont' know...I am bringing my yoga mat, a sheet, blanket and a can of Raid....
\In the morning, he has arranged a ceremony of sorts, with women, children, and arrogant warriors, Morani they are called, to sing and dance, and in the case of the Morani in full dress to jump high. Oh. My. Gawd!! with more later....

Is anyone reading this still?
Too long, four hours and the pictures not even ready to insert. Seanna and Sierra have gone swimming, have come back, written to Ted, and are expecting me for dinner right now in a small restaurant about a mile away...

The robbery...nasty, ongoing and my fault too for leaving hidden in my room the money in a small black pouch underneath pants and t-shirts on the bottom shelf of a little cabinet, for giving the two cleaners my key and being gone all day.....both were arrested and put for four days separately into tiny wooden jail cages - without bed, without toilet, a pot in the corner a dark mud room, locked tight. Both were let out together because I couldn't deal with it. Otherwise court, a few months in jail, arrest, interrogation, torture. all of it.

WE knew who did it. She was sacked. The other, a young, quiet and shy boy stayed on, with me apologizing, being so nice and feeling terrible for it all.

A week later we discover, he is a rich man this boy who cleans for my guest house, a new tv new radio blaster, new bed, cabinet and shoes. The doctor who owns my house, collected the stuff with receipts rehires the girl falsely accused who returns defiantly and angrily, the boy vanishes and the sorry plot continues.............
Hours later...goodnight!!!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Kilimanjaro Airport: Seanna and Sierra arrived Saturday night! Incredible to see them, excited, wound up after two days travelling, Toronto to Amsterdam - 8 hours, a bit of a wait and on to Kili for another 8 hours. Charles driving, with me, his wife Grace and baby David and S and S and all the bags stuffed into the back of the truck, Arusha town overnight at the AM hotel, breakfast and a good hike around the huge bus terminal - a wild and gleeful cacophany of sound, colour, smells, big hot smelly rubber tires, busses dressed up to look like circus caravans, 'I LOVE JESUS!', 'GOD IS HERE!' stark and slashed in big letters across the front, sides, back, simba, giraffe, elephant, stipes, polka dots erupting JAMBO!! Habare! and little Sierra aged 7 learning MOMBO! and POA! How's it going? Good! and very cool and way faster than her language-challenged but still trying very hard, pole pole slowly grand mama and we are on our way, past the huge white Tribunal headquarters for the 12 year or so long Rwanda Trials wrapping up, past the great rows of yellow flowering trees, slum stall after stall selling furniture being made, their first glimpse of women wrapped in exhuberant colour balancing pots, buckets, huge bags, boxes on their heads, babies strapped onto backs, cooking cobbed corn over little fires juiced by wood, keroscene, oil, husky men in never been washed, dusty and oversized western shirts and pants pushing huge wooden carts like wheel barrels carrying sofas, lumber, wood, anything and everything, with cars and trucks and buses and bikes swerving and honking moving fast in and out with walking and running people moving alone and in groups along avenues flanked with footward - boot after boot lined up in a row one after the other with its mate precariously balanced atop, a fake leather pyramid of shoeware without feet, second hand from America, Europe, Asia, heels, toes, hiking, running, jogging and walking, beside hardware, tall and wide portable walls standing upright with wheels pushed along laden heavily with everything a traveller may or may not want, trashy, flashlights, hair rollers, sox, t-shirts, towels, bags of chips, chewing gum, boiled eggs, kitumbua little rice buns fried like golden greasy mind is racing....

The first day i have been able to get at this blog...each day I am sitting in this chair in the brand new internet cafe owned by Jusef who is often not here and therefore with a big unwanted sign outside saying in English CLOSED. I am spending my days writing the text for the brand new orphanage website, hours and hours everyday when Jusef is not gone to Arusha to deal with politicians and beurocrats who he says are harassing him because of his new successful business.

I am photographing the kids and interviewing the director about each child, the stories heartbreaking each one of them, frightening and terrifying little backgrounds of immense loss, abuse, hunger, physical destruction, hopes and little lives destroyed by HIV AIDS, mental illness, poverty - no women's rights; no children's rights and surely, no one caring. Hundreds of stories in this little town by itself, and multiplied by a million times over across Africa and all over the planet, but for me a wee microcasm (sp! oh dear! trying out many versions, but no spell check) of life...small fables. The mother tested positive, the father irate and enraged, he who is positive himself, he who brings in the disease, he who won't get tested and he whom moves on from one to another. The children standing by watching his rage as he hacks off her hands around the wrists both of them, bleeding, crying, wailing in silence - with no one to help. Helpless and Hopeless. Those two. The father running away. Brothers and sisters shouting to uncles, aunties, neighbours, friends, anyone to help - mama rushing to the hospital, little ones rushing to somewhere, no mama no papa, scared and alone with homes destroyed, gone. Or maybe wrapped up in a blanket and left in a church doorway, the pastor taking her in and giving her his name, and some years later, beautiful little she arrives at this Orphanage alone.

Stories, like these, one after the next. Pictures, instant photographs of bright, smiling faces, huge grinning eyes laughing because we are taking picture, because someone cares, because someone is holding, hugging, ruffling in their fingers their short twisty hair, running a warm hand down their back scratching, holding little fingers - laughing, watching, needing, singing, jumping, playing just like one huge family of pain all hugging together and trying to forget.

My God it is indescribable.

The woman, another Lynn, from Australia with a Mission working in Arusha crying barely able to speak, telling her pastor of what she saw in this little orphanage in Mto Wa Mbu, blurting out in gulps, 22 children swarming little ones no whining or wailing, dressed in well-washed rags with holes and tears, pushed in and cramped side by side along long benches inside one hot and small classroom made of cement.

We meet in Arusha, eating good Indian food over a round table of five people to plan a new Orphanage. Land, buildings, budgets, contract coordinators, timelines, fundraising among sag, paneer, nam, chicken, herbs and basmati which costs what one child eats at the Orphanage for one year and we move along.

You can't change your life, everything of the way you live. You can't change the way the world works, the way the world is. You don't stop eating good food, wine, beer, you wear nice clothes that you launder and change everyday, you get your hair cut, or curled or coloured and you stay in a nice place with hot and cold running water, with your own real toilet and not a smelly round hole in the ground swarmed with mosquitoes, infecting flies.
I took Elia to the pool in the campground where the safari tourists stay, to the washroom for him to change into his bathing suit - shorts of sorts, thread bare over a pair of grey underwear; when he finished he called me back in, and with a split second gesture of should he throw the jeans he's been wearing and the t shirt he is clutching into his arms into the toilet -a place of water, a place where maybe they get washed? Or not?

He'd never seen a toilet before.

The Elia story: His mother and father died of HIV AIDS. His brother and sister were taken away by an uncle who couldn't take three, he was the little one who stayed with the grandfather, no grandmother, no employment, no means to raise a little boy...his personal two-sided one page history tucked amongst the others in the blue three ringed binder in the office understates, in a few lines, 'lived in difficult conditions' only. One can only imagine what this means, beatings, whippings, hunger, survival, until he somehow reaches the Orphanage at age 6, the oldest at that time - a strong and sturdy little leader boy who never cries.

Land here. WE are on the lookout for new land. A plot. A new Orphanage. WE are excited by a plot a few over from the orphange, great location near the school and hospital, large and open without a building. Seemingly, a miracle until the sage begins. The owner. Large, pushy, mean. The pressure to buy, now! this very week at the latest! The cost swoops from 21 million ($21,000 US money)down another 5 million, and all in a couple of days, we are elated. I take Charles over and a woman calls him from her car. Are you buying that land? she wonders, and if you are, don't!! The guy selling it, this bully, doesn't own it! A woman does, whose husband left it to her, but this guy rearranged the papers with the underhand passing of shillings to the village council, broke it up into plots and sold it as his own. Court feud, fighting, squalling, stalemate. She has the papers; he has the trussed up deeds; he will sell; she won't, ever, so we move on.
To another plot without drainage, swampy and now filled with garbage to suck moisture, stinky, smelly, polluted and no.
Another piece out of town, three miles from school and hospital.
And this one,
To be continued...........

Sierra taking the Orphanage by storm Sunday afternoon....and every day since. 35 little kids entranced, she looks like SNOW WHITE with winter white skin and long silky hair snarled and twisted, but dark and flowing....running to and fro, with six kids on each finger, the boys holding back watching in wonder. She takes over with big pieces of chalk on her own, racing outside and drawing a hopscotch on the cement porch walkway, throws the stone and hops, a troop holding their breath and then a cheer! Everyone clamoring to try. Covered in children, sitting on the scrubby grass under a tree, the boys climbing the branches high and showing off, calling 'head and shoulders, knees and toes', English, a way of communication, she has learned the Swahili words, she leads a song.
I am simply blown away!
I don't know this girl of mine.
We lie in bed; i read her stories. We draw pictures, we plan tomorrow's class.
Seanna, her mom and the best mom a girl could ever have, my BINTI daughter, beaming, proud, a history of teaching kids with Regent Park's very poor and deprived, politically correctly called and labelled 'disenfranchized' in that newly renovated section of town...fresh off 16 years of directing ART HEART- these stories in Africa not a stranger, known well to her. She digs in, this family of mine, both of them, every afternoon at 2 oclock sharp and laden with art supplies, glue, felt, sizzors, gold paint in little plastic tubes to squeeze out above stuck on eyes, noses, mouths, for wiggly hair- they made puppets yesterday to near hysteria and glee.

Sierra lying up high on the freshly carpentered brand new bunk bed in the girl's dorm, lined up on her tummy with seven little girls laughting....two brand new and just delivered bunk beds in each room, totaling six beds for 9 kids freshly labelled and named, and for the big girls at least for the first time in two years - a bed of ones own.

Seanna sitting outside on the cement runway in the sweltering afternoon sun covered in children with the one little HIV AIDS positive child ensconsed deeply and forever welded onside and inside and onto her lap, the lesions on her arms, legs, mean with more than a few open ....we cover them with bandages marking her with stigma as she holds herself back from the other children- nose running and a little feverish, yet content in Seanna's careful arms.

Later we ask Charles, what to do about this girl? How easily can HIV AIDS transmit? Through saliva? through a running nose? Through food, water? Through leaking liasions? None of that. Not at all, except with the liaisons, IF and only IF another person with open and bleeding wounds, cuts, sores rubs up against her, and by nature she is staying away. Not with food, not with water, not with even sharing the same cup. But with toothbrushes, yes, if there is a sore in the mouth, an open cut; each child here with their own cup, toothbrush, towel in their own cubbyhole shelf.

The next day she is taken to the hospital, her white blood count is still high, a test called CR 4....they administer ARVs, anti retroviral drugs only when the CR4 blood count dives low, but this girl is not there yet. They give her medicine and she is sent home.

My organization here, ICA works with HIV AIDS in adults, children, testing, teaching, educating, counselling, seemingly the only group in the area active and making a huge difference. Charles just called while i am writing, assigning and driving a home care worker to the orphanage to take over the responsibility of monitoring this girl.....her very own nurse to watch over her, to take her to the hospital and most importantly, to teach the staff and the kids about HIV AIDS, hygenene, prevention.
Each day is different.
We move along.
Got to run...back soon! and whomever is out there, thanks for reading!!

Oh!! and ps....this first picture is of Timothy who is 7, the same age as Sierra who is in Grade 2 in Canada. Timothy can't reach his hand up and all the way over his head to touch the tip of his ear with his fingers, a test given to childfren all over Africa to test age and enrollment for school. Timothy therefore is prevented once again from beginning school this year....

and the second picture...

Beautiful inside and out, Juliette
the assistant director sitting outside the Orphanage every afternoon as the children who can touch their ears come home from school, checking exercise books and homework, exclaiming on marks, and giving great encouragement.