Monthly Archives: July 2015

Life updates

So life..

Life has been lifin’ and unfortunately I haven’t had much time to finish my Tanzania posts. I just wanted to give a quick life update.

I reached my 1 year anniversary with this beautiful city. It’s been a fucking ride. Time is escaping me and I don’t like it.

A few things have come full circle. Some things are still in the works. And other things need to be tended to.

I started a new job. It’s at an awesome tech start up. I feel  like I now have a little bit of home incorporated into my life. But I also feel mad anxious. There’s so much pressure to perform and produce that I might be giving myself an ulcer. Time will tell.

I also started my coaching certification. There’s so much to it I can’t even begin to start to explain in the little time I have to update you. (I’m going to meet up with some friends in a bit across town for drinks and a pretty view). It’s causing me some anxiety as well if I’m going to be honest. I’m looking for a few more clients so please get in touch with me if you are interested in coaching or want to understand more about it.

It’s hot as shit and humid as hell right now in New York. It’s disgusting.

Huxley got fat while I was in Africa. I put him on a diet. He’s still cute and lovable and is so happy to be around people. I got a new walker for him since I work long hours and get home now around 7 or 8. We’re both adjusting to our new schedule.

All around me there are things happening. Not all good things but I’m grateful for so much. Please continue to send your good vibes my way.This second year of New York living is gonna be a crazy one.

xx-lei

Advertisements

Teaching the little ones

I have such a greater appreciation for teachers since volunteering in Tanzania. I have never felt like I’ve wanted to become a teacher but I respect and admire those that do and those that are. It’s a commendable job that often doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.

A lot of the days I was left alone with the older ‘baby class’. Basically the 4 year olds who were more advanced. The other volunteer, Kelsey, would stay with Mama Frida in the ‘baby class’ of 3 year olds and a couple 2 year olds. And the 3rd volunteer, Claire, would be in the big kids class of 5-7 year olds with Madame Eva.The days when not as many kids showed up to school we would only split into 2 classes and Kelsey and I would tag team the ‘baby class’.

Below is myself, Mama Frida and Kelsey.

IMG_0629

My first day in my own class was trying to say the least.The problem was the communication barrier and not having an aide help translate or help keep the kids quiet and focused. Quite honestly, the first time I taught alone I left the school day feeling so frustrated and defeated. My patience was tested and I felt like I failed so I was disappointed in myself.

IMG_0329

IMG_3749

I think the best advice I could give when volunteering in such a short period and when never having the experience before is to just allow yourself some forgiveness and patience. Cut yourself a break. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to save the world going into a program like this. There are time and financial constraints. What you can do is give what you can with compassion and love to the children. I had to remind myself when I became frustrated and felt hopeless that I had never done this before. That my purpose isn’t to change the educational system in Tanzania but to help provide support and to do what I can in the short amount of time I was there.I had to woosah and just roll with it. Kids are gonna be kids no matter where you are. I just needed to have fun with it and be patient!

IMG_0496

Any time the classroom started to get crazy and I would feel their focus start slipping away I would break into song. The kids loved to sing. They know so many English and Swahili nursery songs. It was fun to watch them get excited and become involved again. Or I would bust out the camera. The kids loved getting their picture taken and seeing it after. It was too cute.

IMG_0677

IMG_0676

IMG_3754

IMG_3752

The other 2 volunteers and I taught them the hokey pokey when we were there. I forgot how long the song was and how much energy it required. It always left me winded. hah!

My lesson plans consisted of Math – numbers from 0-100, basic addition, problems that highlighted missing numbers etc; as well as English – going through the ABC’s, associating a word with each letter, shapes, colors, and body parts. Kelsey and I made posters for the classrooms as tools. I also used colored post its below to help re-emphasize colors.

IMG_0499

It was fun to go around the room and point at articles of clothing the kids were wearing for colors. They would get so excited and start bum rushing me and yell “teacha teacha” and point to their undershirt or their sock or what have you. Drilling the color purple into them was easy because their uniforms were purple.

IMG_0282_2

Sometimes I would take the kids outside to the painted mural on the side of the school so I could quiz them on animals and colors. Why there is a dinosaur with all the other animals I’m not quite sure.

IMG_0671

IMG_0672

IMG_0673

When my patience was severely tested I would break out the construction paper and crayons I would bring to school with me. I would have the kids draw through the alphabet with animals and objects or draw simple shapes that I would first draw on the chalkboard. When that failed, just having them draw anything quietly worked for me. It was fun to see them so excited about the colors. I would hand out each construction paper and have them repeat the color of it to me. I would do the same with the crayons. It was exciting when they knew the colors on their own and would ask for a specific one.

IMG_0683

It was even more adorable when they would show me their drawings proudly.

IMG_3755

IMG_3317

IMG_3321

IMG_3325

IMG_3758

IMG_3326

IMG_3327

IMG_3329

IMG_3756

IMG_3330

IMG_3331

Sweet Jennifer below never smiled and was very quiet but was so so lovable.

IMG_3332

One day the classroom I usually taught in was occupied by visitors. So we went to the church and I tried very unsuccessfully to teach them something. They were very hyper and excited to not be in the classroom. What happened instead was we sang a lot of songs, drew on construction paper, and when a couple of the boys ran around screaming through the pews of the church I conceded to what clearly was going to be a play day and I took them outside to do just that. I was told later that they could hear us in the other classrooms. Oops!

IMG_3459

IMG_3457

I wasn’t always left to my own devices with my own class. Thank goodness! It was always such a great reprieve to share the responsibility of teaching with Kelsey or with Mama Frida. Kids have soo much energy.

IMG_0635

IMG_0639

IMG_0640

Look at all these adorable faces!

IMG_0581

IMG_0299

IMG_0580

IMG_0301

IMG_0300

IMG_0303

IMG_0308

IMG_0310

IMG_0311

IMG_0313

IMG_0315

IMG_0317

IMG_0319

IMG_0320

IMG_0326

On certain days we had workbooks that we give the children to practice their math. For the younger ones it can simply be tracing numbers for the older ones it was usually addition. They also had homework as well. One day I surprised Mama Frida and the kids with fresh new pencils. She was so grateful and full of thanks. Something so little can make such a huge difference and can go a long way in these schools. The kids were ecstatic! They always wanted the pencils with erasers intact and became really sad when they weren’t. This was huge for them.They broke out into a “Thank you teacher” very loudly and happily. It made my heart swell.

IMG_0644

IMG_0646

IMG_4065

IMG_0243_2

Porridge time also was a bit of a reprieve. It gave us a chance to catch our breathe and observe these beautiful children.

IMG_0505

IMG_0585

IMG_0586

IMG_0587

IMG_0260_2

IMG_0263_2

The stickers were reserved for really great days and a special treat for the kids. We would hand them out at the end of the day before we were picked up. The kids were so excited they got to choose which one they got.

IMG_4052

IMG_4054

IMG_4056

IMG_4057

IMG_4058

IMG_4061

IMG_4063

IMG_4064

Each day that passed I fell more and more in love with these beautiful children. It proved to be very difficult to say goodbye. I’ll share that experience with you all soon…

More on community and cultural learning

For one of the learning sessions we just sat around and talked about attire, greetings, traditions for ceremonies and really just anything that came up about cultural differences from each of our own countries. We had volunteers not just from the US but also Turkey, Argentina, the Philippines, Italy, France, and China.

In Tanzania the women wear kangas. They have sayings on them that mean different things and must be worn correctly although there are a variety of ways to wear them as depicted below.

Most of our at home activities took place in the common area where we also had breakfast lunch and dinner.

DSC_0066

DSC_0065

DSC_0069

DSC_0071

DSC_0078

DSC_0086

DSC_0089

DSC_0090

DSC_0092

DSC_0096

DSC_0122

DSC_0098

There’s also a specific handshake to greet your peers and those older than you. When you say hello or hey to someone you say ‘Jambo’ short for Hujambo. When you greet an older person you say Shikamo Mama or Shikamo Baba for respect. Elders are treated in a high regard. You can even shikamo your older sister (dada) or brother (caca). Shikamo translates to ‘I hold your feet’. The response by an elder would be ‘Maharba’. Which means ‘I am delighted’.

There are other greetings as well like ‘habari’ which means how are you. The typical response when being asked questions like these is to say ‘Nzuri’ which could mean fine, or good, or okay.

DSC_0103

DSC_0107

DSC_0109

DSC_0120

DSC_0121

DSC_0129

DSC_0130

DSC_0133

We weren’t allowed to have alcohol at the house but I had found out from a previous volunteer who left the day I arrived that there was a “bar” around the corner. It wasn’t so much a bar as it was someone’s house that partially served as a store. Enter Josephina’s. We would frequent this place a lot. Mama Josephina was great. We even met some of her kids.

IMG_3095

IMG_3096

Every time we left the compound it was required we sign out.

IMG_3097

IMG_3101

IMG_3103

IMG_3104

IMG_0555

IMG_3296

cheers

IMG_4989

IMG_0030_3

IMG_0031_3

IMG_0077_3

Other times when we would go into town (every Tuesday & Thursday from 4-6) in which there were opportunities for cold beers then as well. The beer choices were aptly names Serengeti, Safari, Kilimanjaro and there was also a cider called Savannah dry that some of the girls loved. It was too sweet for me so I stuck with beer for the most part.

In town we would hit up the super market to get any essentials for showers and what not but also if we wanted to get supplies to bring to our placements. Every time we got to town we were bombarded by guys selling tchotchkes like bracelets, small paintings or jerseys.

Loading up the vans on our way to town.

IMG_3304

IMG_3258

IMG_0459

First time we exchanged currency. Felling like bajillionaires. Makin’ it rain all over Moshi. The conversion rate was about 2000 shillings to 1 US dollar.

IMG_3264

After each visit the view of the Supermarket and ATM became redundant and boring.

IMG_3273

IMG_3434

As well as going to the Pristine office across the street from the ATM.

IMG_3435

All the beautiful beers we weren’t allowed to take back to homebase. What a shame indeed.

IMG_3087

A fun place to get amazing art made by local artists. I wanted to buy a painting but even after bargaining they would cost hundreds of dollars. Instead I opted to take pictures of the paintings. 😉

IMG_3265

IMG_3082

IMG_3084

IMG_3086

IMG_0541

IMG_0542

IMG_0543

IMG_0544

IMG_3266

IMG_0545

IMG_3267

IMG_0546

IMG_0548

IMG_3268

With one of my 3 roommates, Kelsey

IMG_0551

Our awesome CCS drivers that were way more than drivers, Baba John & Joseph

IMG_0552

There were so many salons everywhere and they all had pictures of celebrities either hand drawn or on a banner like this in the front. Here we have Ludacris. I also saw Obama, Aaliyah, Kanye, Bob Marley etc

IMG_3269

Pretty little souvenirs

IMG_3085

IMG_0549

Walking through town. Karibu means ‘you are welcome’. You can say it in the context of first arriving somewhere or even when responding to when someone says ‘asante’ (thank you).

IMG_3270

IMG_3271

IMG_3272

The beautiful Mosque in the center of town

IMG_0648

Down the road not too far away was a Hindu temple

IMG_0652

IMG_0265_2

IMG_0650

IMG_0653

The bus station. We were advised not to take the dala dala buses as they are overcrowded and super unsafe.

IMG_0651

IMG_0112_3

It seemed like Coca Cola sponsored all of Tanzania as there were signs everywhere. That and also signs of Vodacom. Ironic given I had just recently quit working for the global company Vodafone. hah!

IMG_0113_3

IMG_0406

IMG_4309

IMG_0461_2

Enjoying beers as a restaurant in town. ‘Karibu tena’ means ‘you are welcome again’ like come again or welcome to come back.

IMG_3274

IMG_3276

IMG_3283

Community and cultural learning – Part II

I mentioned in my last post that we visited a local tribe for a day. It was such a cool experience. Because of the distance and the full agenda we didn’t volunteer that day. We packed ourselves in our 2 big vans and headed off into the mountain to a town called Marangu.

The Chagga tribe are one of the largest ethnic groups in Tanzania and they’re predominantly located in the mountains of Kili. The have a long history of war with other chieftans and neighboring tribes like the Maasai. They live in the slopes of the mountains thus being in a favorable area for agriculture because the climate is typically rainforest and dense. The Chaggas mainly produce maize, beans, bananas, and coffee beans. Apparently, Arabica coffee is a huge trade export from this region.

Our first stop was to go see a blacksmith. The men had also made these cool spears below. They actually used spears like these back in the day.

IMG_0124_3

DSC_0968

DSC_0970

DSC_0976

DSC_0977

DSC_0978

IMG_0125_3

IMG_0120_3

IMG_0126_2

IMG_0128_3

IMG_0129_3

Our next stop was the Chagga market. Lots of dried fish and bananas. Also a lot of materials for kangas (traditional women’s pieces of cotton fabric with a pattern and a saying that is tied into skirts or dresses).

Fellow volunteer Kadir bargaining

DSC_0991

IMG_0134_3

IMG_0133_3

IMG_0132_3

IMG_0130_3

DSC_0987

DSC_0951

DSC_0993

IMG_0136_3

DSC_0992

During the times of war with the Maasai in the 1800s the Chagga tribe developed a brilliant system of defense.

The Maasai tribe live in the lower plains of the country where the climate is dry. They invest in their livestock and cows are their prized possessions. (I will get more into the Maasai tribe in a later post). There was a time when there was a drought in the region causing the  Maasai to raid the mountains for resources. They resorted to brutality and force. Aside from taking their resources they would kidnap boys/men to turn them into slaves. They would take young girls/women and rape them to reproduce the Maasai blood. After the women had 3/4 kids within a short timespan of a few years they would then kill them because they had no further use for them.

After continuously being pillaged for resources and people the Chaggas started building caves underground in the mountains to stay safe from the Maasai. Ironically enough, this idea originated from Turkey and was passed to the Maasai people but it was the Chaggas and not the Maasai that put it into place. These caves had long tunnels and not only housed the people but also their livestock. To ensure the cows wouldn’t make noise to give way on location they would be fed volcanic ash to keep them thirsty and by drinking so much they would not produce any sound and eventually pass out.

It took 2 generations to build this ingenious system of caves and tunnels. Many Chaggas continued to die during that time but they were very smart and found ways to defeat the Maasai. They trained guards in the different dialects so they could speak the Maasai language. (This was all before Tanzania was nationalized into one language. The Maasai and the Chagga spoke bantu languages)

Within the beginning of the tunnels they had security posts where 3 men would be waiting. As the first Maasai would come down they would be clubbed by one then dragged off by another. The Maassai would then be told by the Chaggas in their own language to go down slowly and low because the tunnels were just getting more narrow. The Maasai would continue to come down one by one and continue to get clubbed. If they cried out the others above would think it was because they must have hit their heads. Each one would be clubbed and dragged off eventually to be chopped into pieces and thrown down another tunnel that lead to the river. Because the Maasai never found any remnants of bodies they would just assume the others that went down just vanished.

The Maasai also thought to smoke out the Chagga people by poison. They would find the opening of the hidden entrances that led underground and hold the toxic powders and fan them into the ground. Quickly the Chagga men would grab cow hides to prevent the fumes for going into the tunnels. They had also built holes for ventilation within the caves so that the everyone else deep in the tunnels didn’t have any issues breathing. During this time most of the Chagga people below didn’t even know this was going on. The Maasai would do this for a week. Once they stopped they assumed the Chaggas were dead and went down below only to be killed by the guards and cut up and sent down the river.

There were thousands of Maasai killed during this time. Even though there is a war history between the 2 tribes they coexist and continue to trade today.

It’s amazing how brilliant the Chagga were in defending themselves and their people. They built a spectacular system that allowed them to preserve their tribe and their culture.

We were able to tour one of the caves that still exist today. None of the caves are inhabited by people. They are just there as a reminder of what was the past. A lot of the caves have been closed off due to natural progression of the mountain. You can see in one of my pictures below that there are roots growing below the cave.

IMG_0168_2

IMG_0167_3

IMG_0138_3

The entrance below would be covered by tree branches, leaves, etc

IMG_0165_3

IMG_0145_3

These stairs were added for tourist use

1907490_895498737177263_278092216013201525_n

11403164_10153360265930708_6785741968464136700_n

IMG_0151_3

IMG_0150_3

Below is where the 3 guards would stay and wait to club the intruders

IMG_0147_3

IMG_0146_3

IMG_0149_3

IMG_0152_3

IMG_0143_3

IMG_0179_3

The below huts are where the Chagga resided above ground. It was typical for the animals to be in the hut with them.

IMG_0158_3

IMG_0161_3

IMG_0160_3

IMG_0159_3

IMG_0156_3

After the tour of the caves we got down and brewed some delicious Arabica coffee directly from the coffee bean plants on the grounds.

IMG_0190_3

DSC_0005

11427167_10152932326796630_703172440244938963_n

IMG_0191_3

DSC_0026

DSC_0030

DSC_0021

11251617_10153360265835708_372080382700675864_n

IMG_0194_3

DSC_0032

DSC_0033

IMG_0197_3

IMG_0199_3

Once we finished our coffee we drove to the waterfall. I didn’t anticipate that it was going to be quite a hike down to the waterfall. In my naive little mind I thought we were going to make a stop get out of the van and take pretty pictures. That’s not what happened. We had to earn the pretty pictures. I won’t lie and say the hike was fun for me. I’m very fearful of heights; moreso falling from such great heights. I did have a panic attack on my way down. I had to talk myself off the literal and figurative cliff as we descended. There was even a very steep area that a guide was stationed to help people down.

IMG_0207_3

IMG_4180

IMG_4182

IMG_0206_3

11267427_10153360266630708_2752497875253181272_n

IMG_0220_3

IMG_0212_3

Sisters Mary Grace and Nicole. Nicole was one of my roommates

DSC_0037 (2)

IMG_4221

IMG_0215_3

Much happier going up and with actual steps.

IMG_4181

One of my other roomies Beth

IMG_0205_3

It was such a wonderful day rich with culture, beauty and fun.

IMG_0181_3

IMG_0185_3

Our drive home was serene and just as beautiful. What a day, indeed.IMG_0223_3

IMG_0225_3

IMG_0226_3

Community and cultural learning

Sorry for the delayed posts. Tanzania already feels like a lifetime ago in New York minutes but it’s so nice to relive the moments as I express them to you.

Our days at homebase were so busy. Sometimes it was difficult to catch a breath or process all that was going on. I felt like I was there for months simply because of all we did in one day and not sleeping well from the jet lag. Our schedule was back to back. Some of us even opted out of an activity or two because we were completely exhausted.

Flying across the world into a different time zone there’s a period of allowing your body to adjust. Top that off with a different culture, learning a new language, getting to know people you are sharing close proximities with, and doing something most of the group have never done before (teaching) causes one to expend a great deal of energy. To make for even greater exhaustion is to add, oh i don’t know, lots and lots of kids to the mix.

Our weekends were free to us to do as we pleased. Throughout the week Monday – Friday we had different activities planned with little free time and an 11PM curfew.  The activities were really great way to learn about the community and the culture. The curfew I didn’t much care for when it became inconvenient on my last few nights.

We had Swahili lessons, speakers that gave presentations at homebase – a local politician talking on education and country history (which I missed because I took a nap instead and was happy to learn I didn’t miss much) and a representative from NAFGEM: Network Against Female Genital Mutilation to spread the word on FGM (This was by far the hardest thing to sit through. Although it was hard I completely understand the need to be educated on it and learned very interesting and disturbing things), we visited a local hospital, had a night of tribal dancing, took a tour of the CCBRT (Comprehensive Community Based Rehabilitation In Tanzania – they worked on issues of disabilities such as like club feet, cleft palates etc), visited a local tribe (Chagga), had reflection as a group on our placements and anything that came up surrounding that, was given an open session on local dress and traditions and greetings, visited the local Amani Center for street children, as well as had nights scheduled where we were taken to town and had free time to go to the market, hit up the ATM, go shopping, grab drinks or go to our tour company Pristine to work out any issues revolving the tours we signed up for on the weekends.

Whoah. That’s a lot right? It sure was. But a lot in a really good way.

CCS was really great in that regard. We jumped headfirst and immersed ourselves completely and in such a short amount of time learned a great deal. It was definitely a different way to travel. I am used to being left to my own devices when traveling or going to an excursion or two with a tour group that albeit fun, didn’t quite provide background on community issues.

George was one of our program directors at homebase. This is his office.

 IMG_3073

Swahili lessons in our common area.

IMG_3220

We spoke to doctors and took a tour through the local hospital. It was definitely a culture shock to see what was available. As we were walking I even noticed a needle on the ground. That couldn’t have been good. The grounds were open and I didn’t see any individual rooms. There are a handful of doctors that work in the hospital but they mostly rely on medical volunteers.

IMG_0603

10501993_10153404292297072_3051819655833721780_n

10600351_10153404292117072_3598834410494555655_n

11377388_10153404292127072_2601405170188665119_n

DSC00068

DSC00078 (1)

This last picture is the beautiful view of Moshi from the 2nd floor of the hospital.

IMG_3379

CCBRT is a private disability clinic and relies heavily on large donations. They offer free treatment to kids up until the age of 5. They are the largest disability provider in Tanzani and give such a wonderful service to the community.

11392926_10153411019002072_3486492981508107830_n

11393013_10153411018992072_653263487488536787_n

11392810_10153411019012072_2055862159396518331_n

1480716_10153411018997072_972147780774228288_n

IMG_4073

IMG_4072

The Amani local orphanage and center for street children. This was down the road from homebase towards town. They also rely very heavily on large donations.

IMG_4207

IMG_4206

IMG_0051_3

IMG_0050_3

IMG_0049_3

IMG_0048_3

IMG_0046_3

IMG_0047_3

IMG_0045_3

IMG_0042_3

IMG_0040_3

IMG_0039_3

IMG_0037_3

IMG_0035_3

This beautiful boy below was autistic. Behind him a teacher was giving a lesson to the other children.

IMG_0034_3

Some of our group walking back to homebase after the tour.

IMG_0052_3

Traditional dance night! This night was SOOO much fun! We had a dance group come to home base and set up in the beautiful front grounds of homebase. They danced and we danced with them. It was such a great night. Wish I had more pictures but it was so dark outside so lighting wasn’t ideal.

Our program Director Mama Thea is in the middle in orange representing one of her tribe’s dances.

IMG_4096

IMG_4122

IMG_4141

IMG_4166

*More pics to come on all the cool learning activities! I am missing Tanzania something real fierce at the moment and I feel so blessed I got the chance to have that experience.

These beautiful kids

When signing up for CCS and going over the website there is an abundance of information available. It can get a bit overwhelming. There is info on the homebase, the staff, info on what to pack, there’s a forum for posts on past alumni with tips and shared experiences etc. When you fill out the forms you’re able to highlight your skillsets and request specific volunteer opportunities. I knew when I signed up that all I wanted to do was work with the younger kids. I love being around children, they bring me so much joy. It’s amazing how all they require is love and patience and they are so content and happy.

Prior to leaving for Africa I knew my placement was at Presbyterian nursery school. I was aware that the kids would be from ages 3-7. There was not too much else I knew. I found out during intros and orientation that 2 other volunteers would be at the same school. It was helpful that after our orientation and lunch we were introduced to some of the teachers at the schools to become acquainted and help establish a relationship and talk out any concerns while setting expectations. It was great that we did so as us volunteers were quite a bit nervous and had no idea what to expect. We met one of the teachers, Mama Frida, and her son Ahobokile who helped assist at the school on occasion. Mama Frida didn’t speak fluent English but her son was able to translate. The main take away I got from our meeting was that we were to focus on English and basic math/counting and that there would be lots of singing! Mental notes of old nursery songs ensued..

Although the nursery school is under the church it is open to all children of different religious beliefs and was established in 2010. It has 3 classrooms of up to 150 kids total during the school year. The kids are to wear purple uniforms but some families may not be able to afford them so some kids wear what they have. While I was there 2 teachers were present, Mama Frida and Madame Eva, and there was probably around 45+ kids in attendance depending on the day. The classes are divided into the ‘baby class’ and the bigger kids who were 5-7. Some days I was with another volunteer, Kelsey, in the baby class in one classroom. Most days I had the more advanced of the younger kids, the 4 year olds in my own classroom. I’ll get into that craziness another time… Every day there is porridge served around 11AM.

While it was our summer it was nearing the end of their winter rainy season. Given that most of the kids walk to school not everyone was in attendance as the rain deters. Unfortunately, the biggest need is during their summers as there are more students but there aren’t that many volunteers.

I was hoping that by the time I arrived in Tanzania the sun would be ready and consistent. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case as it rained on and off. It wasn’t terrible but it wasn’t ideal as when you have with a lot of kids at such a young age the want is to play and to especially play outside in the sunshine.

IMG_0628

The educational system is Tanzania is as follows:

  • Nursery school/pre primary: 4-6/7 year olds
  • Primary school: 7 – 13
  • Secondary: Must pass an english exam to be eligible for Secondary school, 14 – 17 year olds
  • Secondary Advanced: 17-19
  • University: 3 or more years

Our workdays started early. We would leave homebase at 7:30 am. There were 24 volunteers and 2 big vans. A larger group than I expected. Typically school starts at 8 AM and ends at 12PM. Because we had such a big group of volunteers some of us would get there before or after 8  depending and get back after 12.

IMG_3420

IMG_3357

IMG_3873

IMG_3363

IMG_0491

IMG_4268

IMG_0493

IMG_0669

IMG_0679

IMG_3890

Can I just say I’ve never taught before. With that said I’ve been around kids a lot of my life. I don’t have a big immediate family but I have a huge extended family. My mom is the oldest of 11! And although they’re for the most part in the Philippines growing up there were always a lot of kids around. Teaching kids though? A whole ‘nother story in it’s own.

IMG_0472

IMG_0564

IMG_0577

IMG_0662

The first day we were doe-eyed and eager. We met Eva and were so relieved to know Mama Frida. The kids showed immediate excitement when we arrived. They were already in the classroom and in the midst of songs. The greeted us with wide beautiful smiles and such happy faces eager to please. Every morning as the school day begins Madame Eva says a prayer, has the children join her in another prayer and goes over a verse from the bible the kids recite throughout the week.

My first day I had a very special moment. Let me preface this by saying that although I grew up catholic and attended a private school from kindergarten to 8th grade I don’t consider myself to be a very religious person. I do consider myself to be spiritual. My beliefs are that of my own and I probably lean more towards a Buddhist way of religious thought if any at all. I don’t believe in the need to advertise or preach to others one’s own religious/spiritual beliefs. My relationship with God is that of my own. I am openminded to other’s beliefs although I feel religion separates. Which given history seems to be the purpose. I don’t feel that we as humans need more ideas of thought to separate. With all that’s going on in the world right now what we need is compassion and unity. Anyways, that’s neither here nor there.

IMG_0497

Back to my sentiment..

That morning on the first Monday of volunteering at my placement I felt something so beautiful and so much more powerful that I can explain. I’ve felt this before. The best way I can explain it is that I felt so humbled to the fact that in that moment I felt that there was a divine power so much greater than me; so much greater than I could explain. It was comforting and full and overtook me. I guess what it felt like was pure love. I don’t know how to explain it better than that. It was love and it was incredible. Eva was leading the kids in prayer in swahili and everyone had their hands up to the heavens and I was getting teary eyed as I did the same. In that moment things felt right. There’s a certain peace in succumbing to the fact that I am just a tiny spec in the universe and that there is a greater power so much bigger than me and so unexplainable.

These beautiful kids and my very short time in Tanzania thus far were already teaching me so much. I couldn’t wait for more of what was to come.

IMG_3112

IMG_3148

IMG_3188

IMG_0504

Introduction: A little town called Moshi

When I signed up for Cross Cultural Solutions and I researched the organization I decided rather quickly I wanted to go to Africa. I had never stepped foot onto the continent and I frankly didn’t know when I would get the opportunity to do so. That, coupled with the fact that there is so much need in Africa and being that this was a volunteer trip, not just a vacation, made it an easy choice. CCS had 2 options for Africa at the time I signed up. One being Moshi in Tanzania in the Kilimanjaro region and 1 in South Africa in or around Cape Town. I thought that Cape Town wouldn’t be as rich of a cultural experience so Moshi won by a landslide.

To help you understand where I was below are maps of Africa and Tanzania specifically. On the Africa map Tanzania is in the East with Kenya and Uganda to the North, Rwanda, Burundi and Democratic Rep of Congo to the West and Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique to the South. Moshi is in the North East in Tanzania bordering Kenya.

africa_maptanzania

To give you more background; Moshi is a municipality. A town consisting of over 200,000 people in the Kilimanjaro region based off of Mt Kilimanjaro, which is a dormant volcanic mountain. It’s the tallest mountain of the African continent and the highest free standing mountain in the world! I’ll get to more of Kili in a later post. More on Moshi. Moshi is a lovely town with even lovelier people. There are a lot of tourists given the popularity of hiking the mountain and also a lot of volunteers from the states and elsewhere that have decided to call Moshi their home. But what’s great is that you don’t get the ‘tourist’ vibe at all. All the mzungus (white people is the translated term. I know. Even I was called a mzungu because I was a foreigner. And it’s not at all meant to be derogatory) speak fluent swahili for the most part. Kiswahili is the national dialect of Tanzania, it is also the dialect of the surrounding countries I mentioned above that are in East Africa. I think it’s a beautiful language. The intonations and emphasized vowels make it seem like you’re singing happily. Hmm.. what else about Moshi? Moshi produces a lot of resources such as maize, sunflower oil, millet, beans, bananas etc. The local tribes are the Chagga tribe and the Maasai tribe. I’ll get into more of that later as well.

Anyways, I flew out of JFK and had a connection in Amsterdam. I wish I was able to visit Amsterdam this trip but I wanted to spend as much time as I could in Tanzania and many years ago I spent some time in Amsterdam so it was a quick layover of my eyes being overstimulated with fake tulips, heineken beers, and cheese then I was on my way to Tanzania.

IMG_2986

IMG_2990

IMG_2991

IMG_2994

IMG_2995

My flight landed around 8PM and we deplaned in the middle of the runway in the tiny Kilimanjaro Airport. For being an International Airport it had the bare minimum when landing. Immediately I was in line for customs and once I got through that a few steps more and I was at baggage claim. Easy peasy.

I got in a day before most of the people in the program were scheduled to arrive.  I had booked a hotel to get my bearings about me and get some good rest before I started the program. What was cool is that coincidentally the people I sat next to on the plane also booked the same hotel. It was a very lovely mother and her 2 also lovely daughters. They had booked safaris and such to celebrate one of the daughter’s college graduation. When we got to our hotel and settled a bit I met them at the bar and we chatted and hung out for a bit.

IMG_2996

IMG_2998

IMG_3004

IMG_3005

The next morning I met them for breakfast and bid them a good trip. Unfortunately, it was raining so there wasn’t too much I could do and the views were a bit restricted. I caught the tail end of the rainy season my first few days in Moshi. But it wasn’t too bad as the hotel grounds were beautiful. I talked to other guests staying at the hotel headed to climb the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro and tried to learn some swahili from the bartender.

IMG_4593

IMG_3009

IMG_3012

IMG_3015

IMG_3018

IMG_3022

IMG_3024

IMG_3025

IMG_3026

IMG_3027

I was getting picked up by the CCS drivers around noon so I had some time to relax beforehand but I was anxious to meet people and see the house and what not. When the drivers, Baba (Baba means father. It is said out of respect. Just like if it’s an older woman who likely has kids you call her Mama) John and Joseph picked me up we went to the airport to pick up 4 others that were on the same flight. As we waited Baba John and Joseph taught me a lot of Swahili. I already knew how to say hello or hey ‘Jambo’ and thank you ‘Asante” but they taught me how to say things like how is your morning/afternoon/evening, my name is, how much is that, car, brother, sister, etc.

Once the others finally arrived we had an hour drive northeast to Moshi. It was a beautiful drive. Endless crops of maize and sunflowers. It was during that drive when I really felt ‘holy shit I’m In Africa’.

IMG_3035

IMG_3038

IMG_3039

IMG_3044

Once we arrived at homebase we met Mama Thea, our program director, and were greeted with fresh mango and guava juice. Mama Thea has been with CCS for a number of years and gave us a brief intro and welcome to Moshi. We were to have our complete intro once everyone arrived in the next day or so.

IMG_3058

IMG_3053

IMG_3072

IMG_3056

IMG_3066

IMG_3049

IMG_3051

IMG_3063

IMG_3955

IMG_3059

IMG_3047

IMG_3046

IMG_3048

It was myself and Nicole, one of the people we picked up at the airport, who were in our room first. Honestly, I expected the accommodations and bathroom situation to be worse so I was pleasantly surprised when we got there. I’ve had roommates on and off for the past 14 years but I’ve never had to share my room with anyone other than a boyfriend so I’m happy to report that it was an easy adjustment and we all got along very well and our shower and toilet schedules were not an issue in the least. All of that was definitely the biggest relief as I had some anxiety around it all.

A lot of the group arrived later that night after Nicole and I fell asleep. We woke up so confused with they got in; not knowing what the hell was happening or what time it was. And they didn’t even know we were sleeping in the rooms so there was a bit of chaos and confusion. hah!

The rest of the group got in the next day. That day we had an orientation, introduced ourselves to each other, staff included, and learned more about CCS’s involvement in the community. So much info to take in!

It was a bit overwhelming at first trying to get settled in and what not along with the jet lag and the simple fact I was in Tanzania. Also, the excitement and nervousness of volunteering kicked in hard. Nervousness seemed to be the group consensus as none of us were teachers and only 1 of the volunteers had done this previously. We didn’t know what we were getting into! Good thing we left our expectations in our home countries because we were definitely in for a ride!

More on my time in Tanzania to be continued. I am really enjoying reliving my experience in Tanzania by telling you all from the beginning how things played out. I want to hold on to these feelings as long as possible…