Tanzania 2014 – Day 5 Feb 25

Today I took it much easier than yesterday. I was not feeling very well when I woke up and had no appetite all day. I had to force myself to eat breakfast and a small snack during the day. I had a little hunger at the end of the day. We arrived a the site around 9:15, I went to check in at the dental clinic to find out what Lisa had planned for the tablets. My goal for the day was to get them distributed to the people who are need them and train them how to use them. The first one went to the Charles, the headmaster of the school. I sat down with him for a bit and explained the tablet. He picked up it very quick and said he generally knew how to use them. We tried putting his SIM card in the tablet to get internet, but were not able because he did not have credit. I then met up with Holly, the American who is managing the project for Lisa. I showed her some of the basic stuff she needed to know on how to use the tablet, she also picked it up very quickly.

I ran into Jamal and wandered around a bit with him. We went to see how progress was going on the house being built for Anna, the head mistress. They painting was nearly complete, and it looked good. We then went and found Mr. Gilbert, the biology, physics, and chemistry teacher. We were able to sit in on one of his classes, which was very interesting. The students were very smart and involved in the class, very different from my experiences in school. A small group of students had prepared a lesson about sulfur dioxide, how to product it, what its properties were, effects on the environment, etc. They taught the other students, with the teach interjecting where needed. The teacher had the class ask several questions of the group presenting, then the group quizzed some of the students. Each time a student spoke they had to stand at their desk. Many seemed to be shy about us being in the classroom, they would cover their face or mouth when asked a question and try to suppress their giggles. After class was over I was able to attend tea with a small group of the teachers. We were served a sweet corn bread and some sweetened barley tea. I had a good time chatting with the teachers.

Later I found Anna to teach her how to use the tablet. She had many questions but seemed to be a quick learner. I gave her my email address in case she has any questions in the future.
After I was done teaching Anna, I went to find Lisa so we could go into town to purchase SIM cards for the tablets and to get Maaru some tools I want o get him. Holly had already taken the truck with some other members to deliver soccer balls to another village, so we went to see the new land Lisa had purchased.

She bought a 1 acre site for 2.5 million Tanzanian shillings (about 1700 USD) and another 4 acres for 10 million Tanzanian shillings (around 8000 USD). The plots are nice and abut directly to the orphanage property. We went to meet the woman who sold Lisa the smaller plot. She was probably in her 60s or early 70s. She invited us into her home, which was a small compound with two mud huts and a small cement building. There were a lot of baby chickens running around and a small, completely adorable, puppy. She thanked Lisa for buying the land and said it made her able to send her grandson to school, but she was sad she could not afford to send her daughter. She asked us to help her. Lisa said we would think about it. As we were leaving the woman picked up a chicken and gave it to Lisa as a gift, “for dinner.” I think it was the first time I’ve ever been asked to hold someone’s chicken for a moment while they tied their shoe.

Later we went back to the school, I helped cover some children’s books with plastic protectors, and there was a girl who passed out so I ran and got our dentist with the most medical experience. She recovered after a bit but was very shaken up. She was on some kind of medication and forgot to take it. We are not sure if she at an asthma attack or seizure.
Once that was cleared up, there was a small dedication for the sewing building that was recently built in honor of a girl who passed away. Her parents donated the money because their daughter loved to sew.

We made our way back to he hotel and had dinner, it was a chicken curry with mashed potatoes. It was very good.

Tanzania 2014 – Day 4 Feb 24

Alana woke up sick around 3 am this morning. She was puking and had very bad diarrhea. It was very difficult to sleep because the power kept cutting in and out and the hotel generator would kick on, which is right below our window. It is very loud and the exhaust comes in our window. The dogs were going crazy all night, Alana kept getting up to run to the bathroom and the fucking rooster outside our window started crowing around 4 am, and would not stop.
When I did get up I felt alright, went downstairs to have some breakfast, it was picked over. I ended up custom ordering scrambled eggs (good but small serving) and eating a left over breakfast “sausage”(basically a hot dog). I went up to the room to check on Alana, ended up having some diarrhea of my own. I took a Cipro and started to feel a little better. I went down to the bus waiting for me to go out to the site. At this point I was feeling very sick and was worried I wouldn’t make it through the ride without vomiting. The worst part was the dirt road out to the school. I was greatly relieved when we arrived.

I was not feeling well, so I planned to just stick around for a bit then head back to the hotel. I went to check out the tilapia pond that was recently almost completed. It was basically a concrete cistern filled with river water. Jamal was with me. and we decided to follow the supply hose down to the river. It was probably about half a mile to a mile through fields until we got there. The river was completely filthy. We passed a few folks building a small structure. I asked them what they were building, he pointed to the river, then to the talpia pond saying “fish”. My suspicions were confirmed – they were building a pump hose for the pond.

We walked back to the school and poked around for a few minutes. I looked for the bus or truck to take back to the hotel since I was still not feeling well, but it had already left. I was stuck so I figured I might as well be productive. I re-rigged the small swing that was bought with the rope and hose we purchased yesterday. I borrowed a chair from the staff and hung the rope swing. It was discovered a few hours later by a little girl, I ran over and snapped a picture of her playing. Much later Lisa said she had to break up a fight over the new swing. I caught another boy playing on it and snapped his photo, he was having a grand old time.
Again on my mission to find the bus I wandered back to the dental clinic to see if they knew anything about it. I was feeling a little better at this point, but still wanted to go visit Alana and take a bit of a rest.

The dentists were in semi crisis because they could not find the boxes left last time to raise the patient chairs. They were constantly bending over at the waist or kneeling on the concrete floor. I was drafted to work with Joseph to find the boxes. We searched for a while and tried calling Tanzanian Holly to ask if she knew were they were. She did not, so we called Anna, she said her husband Maaru had stored them from last time in the shed. Maaru did not know where they were. He took us to the storage shed where he had put them. We did not find them, so we were asked to try and build something. Bob and I worked with Maaru and found some plywood (a very rare item, I am wondering if it was being saved for something else). Bob and I started planning while Maaru went to gather tools. He eventually came back with a very old hand saw, a tape measure, pencil, and hand poured nails. Maaru went to try and find the hammer, while Bob and I got to work measuring and sawing.

I’ve never used a hand saw to cut a 3/4 inch piece of solid plywood. I never will again. Oh. My. God. It took so long and we had to switch back and forth to get through the full 4 x 8 piece of lumber. By the time we had a few pieces cut, Maaru came back with a “hammer.” It was a piece of pipe with an old hammer head crudely attached. Gotta work with what you have. We finished one box and took it in to Dr. Edelen, he was very happy to have it. We noticed the other doctors kneeling on the concrete floor, so before we started the next box (needed four total), we rustled up some cushions for the doctors to kneel on temporarily.
Bob and I went back to start work on the second box, Maaru helped us with some of the cutting so it went much more quickly. We finished up the second box and delivered it to Dr. Moening, he was super happy.

We went to start on the third box, and Bob got pulled away to talk to some of the staff about what he will be teaching them while here. Maaru and I finished up the last two. He did most of the sawing, God bless his soul. He could not have had a better attitude. The saw was very dull by the end of the last box, and he was really struggling to finish the last cut. I could tell he was disappointed about losing the saw. I told him I will buy him another. Between the 3rd and 4th box, we took a lunch break. I had to force Maaru to come inside for a short break, I tried to get him to eat some of the food they older volunteers had prepared (PB and J), he refused until the older black lady basically forced it on him. This is very common in this area. Many people are lucky if they get one meal a day. I was never able to get Maaru to drink some water, but I was happy he at least got some food.

Maaru and I went right back to work after finishing our small meal. We finished up the fourth and final box for the doctors and delivered it. I took a small break from the work to check out the shop that was setup to help raise money for the orphanage. They are teaching the girls how to sew purses, shirts, and wallets to sell. I ordered a custom African shirt, they took my measurements and said it would be ready tomorrow. Cost will be forty US dollars. When I was getting my measurements taken Maaru came back to ask me to help him install the camping showers Lisa had brought. I was feeling very beat, exhausted, and sunburn, but I just had to help him after all the work he did for us.

I was incredibly moved by working with Maaru, he worked so hard, never complained, hardy ate or drink, all for what is probably only a few dollars a day. Reflecting on the experience later with Alana I broke down in tears talking about it.

We went and hung the showers in the boys bathrooms first. Their current bathing method is to fill a small tub with water and basically rinse off with the tub. We installed a battery powered camping shower. There is a battery pack and switch (4D cells), connected to a small pump with a hose and small spray head attached. The pump sits in a bucket of water, when turned on the water sprays through the hose. According to the reviews, one set of batteries should last about 1000 showers. We left extra batteries and solar rechargeable batteries for them to use. We moved on to the girls shower. We installed three of these showers in each bathroom. One of the girls was soooo exited to have a “real” shower she turned it on and jumped in with all her clothes on and did a little dance! Installing the showers took a very long time, and the smell in the bathrooms is awful since there is no running water or flushing toilets. They are all squaty toilets that just basically drain to a hole in the ground. I was feeling okay up to about half way through the installation, then the smell started getting to me. I started to feel very sick again, and I think Maaru could tell. I felt bad because I couldn’t help him as much as I would have liked.

I helped Maaru clean up his few tools, he was very appreciative of my help, grabbed my hand with a big smile on his face and asked if I could help more tomorrow, of course I said yes.
After putting the tools away I started walking back up to the dental lab to see what the plan was. There was a land cruiser just about to leave so I hopped on board. I was worried I would be sick on the ride, but managed to survive. On the way back to the hotel we passed a large field with maybe forty kids in it, tilling the soil by hand with hoes. The truck had to slow down for a speed bump, the kids caught site of us and ran over screaming for us to take their pictures. They were working insanely hard. Some of the folks tried to snap a few pictures when the supervisor noticed us and started running toward the truck scream very loud, the driver speed away, a little scared. He obviously didn’t want us taking pictures of his child laborers. The older black lady (Dr. Clarence’s mom) was very upset by what we just saw, she kept asking the driver why the children were working. She eventually screamed at him, “Why are there children working in the field and not adults like you and me?!”she was very deeply upset, and I don’t blame her. The driver politely ignored her, either because he didn’t want to get into it or he didn’t understand what she was asking.

We arrived back at the hotel shortly there after. I stripped and jumped in the shower. I felt so exhausted, sick, sunburned, and just worn down. It doesn’t sound like we did much, but I’ve never had a harder days work, physically or emotionally.

I relaxed for a while and recapped my day for Alana. I wondered of Maaru was able to relax or if he was still working. Visited briefly with my mom and Jamal and eventually wandered down stairs for dinner.

I spoke for sometime with Lawrence’s cousin, Chris. He lives in Nairobi and is currently between jobs so he is working as a translator for the week. He does PR/marketing for oil and gas companies. Dinner was vegetable curry. It was good.

Video courtesy of my brother in law.

Tanzania 2014 – Day 3 Feb 23

Today was our first full day at the orphanage/school. We loaded on to the land cruiser about 9:15 in the morning and headed out to the site. We started by going through all the cases to find the dental equipment, then carting those cases out to where the lab was set up. It took several hours to get everything sorted through and carried up to the dental lab, because it was quite the hike. Once it got a bit later, some of the school children got back from church and started helping carry stuff out and it went much quicker. I started unpacking the dental gear and helped set up the lab for the rest of the morning. Once the lab was in decent shape I left it to the experts to finish and went back down to the main building to help setup for the “shop” we had for the staff families.

Lisa organized donations for the staff to come through and pick up things for their kids, such as backpacks, clothing, pencils, crayons, a few small toys, soccer balls, shoes, towels (a huge luxury item there), some toiletries, and the flashlights Alana and I purchased with the money we raised. The idea was to have each family have a helper, to get things for them and help pick out clothes, most items they were only suppose to have one of (like the flashlights), however it sort of turned into a free for all. We tried to keep them from taking more than their quota, but as soon as we turned our backs they started stuffing extras into their bags, so we eventually gave up and whatever they got, they got. We set a side a few extra flashlights to check with the staff members tomorrow to make sure everyone got at least one.

Before the store event went happened, Alana, myself, Lisa, Lauren, Matt, Maaru (Anna’s husband/contractor for the school), Anna (one of the head teachers), and our driver William went into town to pick up some extras for the night’s party and some hardware that was needed to repair the swing set. On the way, we stopped at Williams’ house. He has been driving for the school since it started and saving all his money. He bought a plot of land near the school with his savings, and has been building a house by himself with the help of his friends for the last 2 years. The house is very impressive and very large compared to the shanties and huts most families live in. It was quite amazing to see what he was able to do with the help of the orphanage.

After we left William’s house we went back to the hotel for Lisa to change some money. We then went to the gas station to fill a tank for the generator and the pickup truck we were riding in. We were all hanging out in the back of the truck for the ride. It was a true African experience. Lauren caught the eye of a guy a the gas station, he pointed at her then winked at me and gave me the thumbs up telling me he liked her. We then went to the hardware store where Alana, myself, and Maaru got out. Lisa and the others went off to by plates, plastic tubs, and silverware. The hardware store was in one of the shanty shops back in the heart of town. The roads were all dirt, only the two main cross roads in town are paved. The first shop we went to did not have the size bolts we were looking for. I thought saw some in the counter and asked to see, they would have worked, but where just a bit too long. Maaru insisted we not buy them and check elsewhere. The shop keeper did not like this and started slamming the screws back into the bin. He shouldn’t have been so upset as we did buy about 12 meters of rope from him and a piece of plastic tubing, so it wasn’t a complete loss. We went down a small alley to another hardware store to check for screws, they did not have what we were looking for either and sent us across the street. How many hardware stores does one town have? The last hardware store had the screws we were looking for (sort of), so we purchased them. The shop was run by an old married couple and only had a few small bins of screws on the shelves. They seemed happy to have the business.

Maaru called his wife and they came by and picked us up. We went back to the orphanage and unloaded our purchases. We finished setting up the shop for later, then went back to the hotel for a short break, some water, and to freshen up (poop). We went back to the orphanage about 30 minutes later, and found out they had already eaten all of the food for the party (some of our group had stayed behind and started the party since they came out later in the day than we did). This was disappointing as most of us were very hungry. The party started with long introductions, the school teachers performed some native African dances for us, a small prayer service was performed. After all this we had the store event for the families (described above). We cleaned up and partied a bit, the African kids sure love to dance, and boy do they have moves!

We went back to the hotel around 8, ordered dinner and sat around bullshitting until our food arrived at 9:45. We asked the kitchen what would be quickest, they said fried chicken and fries, so we all ordered that. It took more than and hour and a half to prepare! I think they actually go out after an order is placed and buy the chickens, pluck them, and cook them (not joking!). I’m not sure what we got could really be considered chicken by US standards, it was more like bones with some skin attached. I got about three decent bites of meat off mine.

We paid our bills, then headed back to our rooms to shower and rest. I showered first, so I actually had some hot water, and I didn’t even get shocked! Let me clarify about the “shower”. Its not so much a shower as a navy bath. You wet yourself down with the shower head (that just barely trickles water), shut the water off, soap up, then do your best to rinse off.

Tanzania 2014 – Day 2 Feb 22

Today we had breakfast at the Nairobi hotel. It was buffet style, consisting of hard boiled eggs, small read sausages, cinnamon toast, baked sweet potato, an assortment of fruit, as well as coffee and tea. It was pretty good. We boarded our bus at 7 am and took off for a very grueling ride. We drove for about 2.5 hours and stopped at an over look for the great rift valley. There were many people selling curios, but they were laid back and not pushy. The view was gorgeous, the pictures do not do it justice. It is quite odd because it is not a national preserve of anything, so there are a few small developments in the valley. The most notable consisting of several very large telescopes.

We got back on the bus after about 20 minutes, and headed down into the valley. The roads got progressively worse as we went, but remained paved the whole way to our next hotel. They were very rough and full of potholes, and each cross road had a small town filled with shanties. At each little town there were several enormous speed bumps. These speed bumps grind everything to a halt because you have to creep over them. They are not like US bumps that just require you to slow down a little.

After another 2-3 hours of driving we stopped again at Kissi Mart, basically Walmart in Africa We explored the store a bit, and stocked up on water a 50 shillings for 1 liter. Most places sell bottled water for 150-300 shillings. Jamal bought some whole milk in a paper carton. It was like a large sized version of the icy triangle push pops we have in the US. Lisa purchased some trash cans and brooms for the orphanage/school. Back on the bus we went.

We drove another 3 hours and reached the border of Kenya. We drove across and parked in the neutral zone. We sat on our bus for a few minutes while Lawrence organized what we had to do. Several people from the orphanage/school met us at the border, they had been waiting since 2 pm, we arrived around 5 pm. While waiting for Lawrence, there was a very loud verbal argument happening on trucks next to us. It started getting out of hand, then a police officer showed up and calmed things down a bit. We went to the Kenya passport office, which was on the backside of a building down a very narrow walkway. It felt suspicious, but everything worked out. The customs guy just glanced at our visa, stamped it, and sent us on our way. We then walked across the boarder into Tanzania, and waited in line at their customs/immigration office. The line moved slow, but we got through without any issues.

The school people unloaded our bus while we were going through the customs process and loaded them onto the orphanage/school buses they came in. We brought so many cases that they had to organize a few extra cars to drive us. I ended up riding to the hotel in an old Toyota truck with three guys who only only spoke Swahili. As we drove, kids would look at us, and when noticing I was white, would start waving. The guys in the truck thought this was hilarious when I waved back.

We arrived at the Goldland hotel, which is actually surprisingly nice considering the location. We dropped our stuff off in the rooms, then headed right back down to the buses to go to the orphanage. Its about 20 minutes to drive out to the site, the first 10 are on paved two lane roads, then the last 10 or so is a single lane dirt path approximately 2 km long. It was very bumpy, we ran into several herds of cattle and had to wait for them to clear the road.
We approached the orphanage the children ran outside, extremely excited to see us, they were jumping up and down and screaming. They mobbed us as we got off the bus, hugging us, shaking our hands, asking our names. It was very touching. We unloaded the bus, which took quite a while. It got dark, so we loaded back onto one of our buses and headed back to the hotel. We had dinner, which was flat beef steak, mashed potatoes, and coleslaw. It was good, cost was 10,000 Tanzanian shillings. We checked our email on WiFi at the bar, then headed up to the room.

Alana tried to shower, but could not get any hot water. I went in to assist. I turned the temp up on the on-demand electric water heater. I then tried to turn the supply valve to the heater on, because Alana said it was just a trickle of water. I had her turn the shower on while I adjusted the supply valve as the water was running. I reached over to adjust the shower head and got the shit shocked out of me. There is definitely some faulty wiring. The power went in my right hand, across my chest, and out my left hand. It was very painful. Alana thought I punched here at first because my hand shot back so hard. I was very shook up the rest of the night.

Tanzania 2014 – Day 1 Feb 21

Preface – I want to take just a moment to preface this blog before I get into the details of my trip.
First, as you read, keep in mind that most of this was written after the end of very long days. I was tired, jet-lagged, and physically exhausted. I’ve only done some light editing after the fact, so if certain parts aren’t up to my normal standard of writing or don’t flow well, you know why.

Second, I want to provide a few quotes from my favorite philosopher, Terence McKenna, before we begin. I didn’t hear these quotes until a week after my trip, but they really struck a chord with me. The first quote is about people who don’t travel, or more generally don’t push their own person boundaries:

“The people who don’t go anywhere are in danger in missing a major point about what is going on.”

People who don’t travel and don’t expand their horizons will always be stuck in the same place. This was a tough trip for me physically and emotionally, and I am now a different person from when I left, which leads me to the next:

“What happened to me in ten days, was more than happened to my friends back home in a year.”

I think it is fair to say this is a very true quote of this trip. Our trip was only ten days, but in those ten days I’ve grown more than most people I know will for the entire year. I saw the bush, the plains, the desert, I jumped with the Maasai, played with orphans, saw endangered rhinos, learned African dances, and was witness to extreme poverty:

“Nothing is as boundary dissolving, except psychedelic compounds, as travel. Travel is really up there, go to these places, there are many many places and they are not to be taken at face value. They are parts of your own psyche, they are syntactical intersections of intentionality and cognition. The fact that you have to fly there on KLM is only incidental. Because what you come up against in these other places is cultural relativity, and the deep coming to awareness of cultural relativity is finally permission to look at who you are, not who they say you should be.”

When we go to these places that our outside our own cultural norms, you really begin to look at not just yourself, but the people you surround yourself with and the culture you have built together. Many people just go a long with the pack, and blame their faults and traits on the culture they were raised in. However, there needs to be an awakening – we are the culture, we create it, everyone has an influence on it:

“A alchemist, Athanasius, said “the highest mountains, the oldest books, the strangest people, there you will find the stone.”

Be forewarned – the first day was not terribly exciting since it was all travel. Now…on with the show.

We started our trip from Columbus International Airport (CMH). We dropped our dog off at the dog sitter’s, went back home, packed up the car, then went to pick up Alana’s brother. We loaded his stuff into the car then took off for the airport. There was some confusion at check in because Alana did not come with me, she dropped us off with our four bins and large bag then went to park the car. The Delta attendant didn’t seem to understand why she wasn’t with me when I started to check in. Jamal and I go our four large bins checked, leaving the dental chair for Alana to check.

A few minutes later, she came and checked in, the clerk asked her if she was checking two bags. Alana didn’t remember what she picked on the self check in and just assumed she said two, so the clerk marked her carry on bag and the large dental chair bag. As we were walked away from the check in counter the woman came calling after us, all flustered. She had marked the dental chair bag to go to Boston, and another man’s bag to go to Tanzania. She disappeared, then a few worried minutes later reappeared and assured us everything was kosher. We gave each other worried looks and went to security. Sure would hate to be the guy going to Boston when he finds out his bag is in Tanzania.

We got through security, with only a minor problem – Jamal had a large bottle of water and got detained for a few minutes. Rookie mistake. Arriving at our gate, we discovered that our flight had been delayed by an hour giving us only 1 hour in Detroit to transfer. Jamal got a big greasy burger from Johnny Rocket’s, Alana got chicken strips (having craved a DQ chicken strip basket earlier), and I got a chicken club salad.

We got to DTW, made our flight, got to Amsterdam, got lunch at BREAD!, then went through security at the gate to meet up with my mom and the rest of our travel buddies.

The flight to Kenya went fine, but was grueling and a little cramped. KLM doesn’t leave quite as much room as Delta. We de-boarded the airplane on the runway, and walked to a VERY crowded and smelly bus. The bus drove us a good ways to the terminal, where we unloaded. We got through customs without any problems, and much quicker than anticipated. After a lot of scrambling and worrying, we rounded up our 37 bins, and headed out.

Leaving the airport was the first and only time I’ve ever truly felt like a minority. A sea of white eyes with black faces met us as we exited the airport, staring us down. We crammed all our crap on the bus, having to forfeit many of the seats to hold equipment, and took off through Nairobi to our hotel. Traffic was crazy, no one seemed to notice that there were lanes painted on the road, people just drove where ever the hell they felt like. We drove down many narrow winding streets in our giant bus, our driver an expert navigator. We checked into our hotel, which was a bit of a wake up call. I’m sure its probably one of the nicer hotels in the area, but is disgusting by US standards. The walls were dingy, the shower gross with all the grout lines covered in mildew/mold, and I don’t think the comforter had ever been washed. On the upside, they did provide toilet paper.

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