Wait... First go to your sink and pour a glass of fresh clean water to drink... then come back and watch this short video.
Wait... First go to your sink and pour a glass of fresh clean water to drink... then come back and watch this short video.

African Empowerment Project is committed to implementing and nurturing community run development projects focused on creating opportunities for income generation, achieving access to quality education, and improving health and wellbeing, in order to empower the people of Africa to build a sustainable life for themselves and future generations.

How YOU can help!

Please visit our website at www.africanempowermentproject.org to learn more about who we are and how we are empowering the people in the village of Mnang'ole, Tanzania to pull themselves out of poverty.

You can make clean, accessible water and safe, healthy lighting a reality for the people of Mnang'ole by clicking below:
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Sunday, May 29, 2011

The goodbye...

I was awoken before 6 am by the voices of people gathering outside our home, anticipating our departure at the arrival of the early morning dala dala(overcrowded mini bus) to the village... You see the Noah's battery was on it's last leg and could not keep a charge so we were depending on a boost from this dala dala in order for us to depart this day.. As it drew closer to the 7 or 7:30 arrival of our rescue vehicle there were dozens of people gathered around. We took advantage of this time by taking photos of ourselves with this mama and that child and this bibi(grandma) and that babu(grandpa)... Something that often occurs when we realize that we want permanent record of our time spent with those whom we have shared experiences that we don't went to forget! This was clearly one of those times... Finally the dala dala arrived and while the men were busy boosting the Noah, we said our last kwaheris (goodbyes) and asantes (thank yous) ... The most dificult moment was when I walked over to to say goodbye to my dear old friend Rashidi, a warm and kind old soul, always smiling, even though he can't see....the sweetest old man I've ever met. While holding my sweet little Fadhira in my arm and I embraced my African babu, Rashidi... the tears I was holding back began to flow..(crying in public is frowned upon...) but for those who know me well... It's almost impossible to expect me to hold back tears when saying goodbye to those I love and won't see for a time... I'm truly going to miss him... Then looking around at so many people gathered to say goodbye I realized that this village is MY HOME... I will be back many times and will feel the comfort of coming home for many years to come... All my team had gathered in the car so with a tearful goodbye to Mama Fadhira and reluctantly allowing her to take Fadhira from my arms, I climbed in the Noah and with my eyes welled up with tears, I slowly drove away from the village... I'm quite sure that the same hole I felt in my heart is the void they will feel as they walk by our home each day ... Absent of the laughter and energy of children playing games and singing with us in our front yard under the big tree... I'm quite sure they miss us too... I guess this means we were successful... Not only did we leave lanterns to light their nights... A brightness fills my heart with each thought of my time there in Mnang'ole!

Finishing up my work here..

After lantern distribution and education around solar energy and clean water practices, and the pilot composting program. My remaining goals were to get photo and video documentation of each person in the village and of the solar lanterns in use as well as more water collection video and photos. Because most families leave for the farm in the morning and return late afternoon my window of time to take photos was around 4 pm to 6 pm each day. Unfortunately this was the same time as the adult English class so it limited the number of times I could attend the class. So late afternoon we headed out to gather as many pictures as possible and early evening capture photos of how the lanterns were being used. I made the trek to the water source only 2 times but enough to gather more photos and video! In the end I was pleased with what we accomplished... And surprisingly the people were just as pleased... As it turns out they LOVE to have their pictures taken and even more... They love to view their picture.  This next realization took me by surprise and gave me an even deeper perspective into the lives of my people… You see most of these people do not own even a mirror so they have never seen themselves... Really… Such a foreign concept that took me a while to wrap my head around... This made the process of taking a photo and showing it to them through the tiny LCD screen on my camera... So gratifying for me! To see an 80 year old woman look at her clothes and then at the picture on the camera, and look back and forth a few times to be sure it was really her in the photo... honestly.... that was one of the most humbling and rewarding experiences ever!

Other fun experiences:
One day my team and I ventured to Luvu beach, an hour walk from Mnang'ole. We spent the day there enjoying the Indian Ocean. We purchased fish from a fisherman who had just brought in his catch of the day… and we asked a women in the village of Luvu to cook it for us... for 500 shillings... (or 35 cents) she cooked up lunch for us!!! Children gathered as we sat under a 'banda' (covered, self-contained little patio) eating our fish... so curious about the mzungu in their village... Most have never seen white skin other than last year when I made a visit to this relaxed ocean village... to swim...

Another day we walked an hour to Saidi's farm so that Jess and Rachel could see what they grow and experience the farms of Mnang'ole. We watched in awe as Zambda so methodically, and efficiently removed the pods from the beans and lentils. We asked to purchase some lentils and beans and kasava… But they insisted that it be a gift from them to us... that night we had a great dinner… fresh from the farm!

One of the last nights we were there, a man who was partially blind came to get his lantern, as he wasn't at the distribution a few weeks back. When I handed him his lantern, he joyfully began to dance around singing 'Dada Beth gave me a lantern!!! Thank God she came to our village... this is now her home...she is one of us… she us no longer mzungu!!!'  One of the highlights of my weeks in Mnang'ole!

The last day in Mnang'ole I learned that...Apparently a government auditor came to inspect and observe the school recently and found some issues with the way they are teaching so they have developed a plan of action to remedy the problems... I wish I knew more about this ... But there was no time to get the information.  Hope to learn more about this in the coming months.

Jess and Rachel and I began distributing some of our clothing and items we knew would be useful to the people in the village. The greatest moment was when I brought my sunglasses, to Rashidis's wife...as the sun bothers her eyes. I also gave her a pair of sandals... She was soooooo grateful!! Kissing my hand 100 times... She was telling her blind husband what I had given her and then put the sun glasses on him and told him how wonderfully handsome he looked in them!! They both enjoyed this moment so much... Laughing and thanking me over and over again! Then to top it off ... Early that evening Salim called to me to tell me I had a visitor. There I'm my back yard was Rashidi's wife... Dressed in her best clothes... Dancing around with joy, rocking her new sunglasses and sandals as if she had just come from a shopping spree on 5th Ave. What a heart warming and joyful moment for us both as I joined her in dance!

The last night we invited Saidi and his wives and families for a big feast of fish, rice, pasta, sauce and papaya... There were 19 of us all together... What a feast we had in the back yard! Bibi, his second wife's mama, was saving some of her food from her piled high plate... When asked if she would take her leftovers with her ... This tiny frail woman said.... "Of course...I will eat it when I wake up… I haven't ever had so much food… If I ate like this every day I wouldn't fit through that door." Pointing to the 3-foot opening in the back fence! What an amazing time of sharing food and laughter together! Following dinner we lounged around on the straw mats in the back yard enjoying the simple presence of each other... Good friends with lives, language and homes a world apart from each other! This scene replays in my memory, bringing a feeling of peace and hopefulness to my heart and mind!

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Some of my favorite moments..

* Playing and observing children's games in our front yard...
-A form of jump rope that brings me back to the 60's .. But some of these kids have SKILLS!
-A form of hop scotch...  
-Creations of art in the sand using small pieces of broken glasswear, rocks, and random materials are used to create temporary mosaics in a small section of sand
-Children mimicking a variety of adult chores such as mixing ugali(a staple food made of flour and water), or pounding skins off corn or millet with a long stick.

*Sitting on grass mats on the front of peoples yards enjoying their company, despite our inability to understand most of what each other says..

*Sharing a chair with the neighbor women... Holding their hands or leaning on each other ... A clear warm feeling of the understanding of each other and the friendship we share despite the language barrier...

*Many village friends stopping by to greet us.. Some with a 'hello how are you?' for those brave enough to practice the one English phrase they know...Others with a 'mambo' or a 'Habari za Leo' or a 'hujambo' or a salama, or all of the above!

*Learning and playing a new card game from our Tanzanian friends' last card'... A great card game!  This game is coming back to America with me!

* Bringing medicine to my dear old friend Rashidi, the blind elder and his wife ..

* Walking around the village with a trail of children holding my hand... holding my skirt ... Escorting me to each and every destination !

* I had never experienced drumming and dancing in my village of Mnang'ole until one of the last nights of our stay. Kapingo, our friend and water and firewood porter arranged for some drummers to come in late afternoon to play for us... As it is here in Africa, 4pm really means  6 pm so I was not able to get good video.. .Though it was enjoyable...This day it was so short as there was an important 'football' (soccer) game in the village.... so they promised to return the next night! So as promised a group of 6 or 7 men arrived and lit a small fire beside them.. I'm assuming for light though I neglected to ask if the fire held any other significance, and then they began playing drums as well as pieces of metal. As soon as the sound reached the villagers ears... men, women, and children arrived at our front yard by the dozens! Soon there was singing and women and children circling the drummers dancing in a unison dance style while singing to the beat of the drums. Then an elderly woman began chanting something and the rest of the women would repeat her words... Though I recognized some of the words I was not sure what they were singing but assumed it was some traditional song they all knew... Gratefully, Mac came to me and informed me of what they were singing...The words went something like this... "Thank God for sending Beth as a blessing to our village.. You are welcome and thank you Beth"... I wished at that moment that I had my own song to sing back to them thanking them for their hospitality and for accepting us as their friends!  Of course tears began to stream from my eyes as I was dancing outside the circle... Holding sleeping Zakia in my arms.... A moment of a lifetime...

* Watching the big football match between the married men in the village and the unmarried men, (both teams made a visit to the witch doctor in the village with the intention of obtaining some sort of power to win the game...) so if married men won... did it work???? or if the unmarried men won did it work??? Anyway...My favorite part of this football game was the celebration after a goal was scored... All of  the women and children who were rooting for the scoring team would run into the middle of the playing field... Screaming and laughing and throwing grass in the air!!! The amount of energy and enthusiasm coming from these women and children could have lit up the whole village. Honestly I don't remember who won.. You can see that the game itself was the least of my concerns... The extraordinary moments of cultural exchange are always what captures my interest... But I think it was the married men who won...

So many more moments that come to mind... but I'll spare you today!

Composting and teaching...

Our work began with a meeting with 10 farmers.. Both men and women interested in learning how to improve their soil to yield better crops. We met in a building they use for prayer, (as the village has no mosque) to present the composting program that was given to me soon after I arrived here in Tanzania, by Peter. He is an agricultural trainer and consultant for the Peace Corps here in Tanzania. The program teaches them that they can improve crops, and create pest resistant soil using merely the resources they have right at their fingertips.. Again, like with the solar energy training, they listened intently to my words through Mac's translations... Nodding their heads and some sitting on the edge of their seats as of they could not wait to get started... Following a lengthy training session we set out to hunt for the materials needed to make a pilot compost pile.  I wanted them to all participate in the making of one before they set out to create their own... It was a fun and active process as everyone set out to gather 'browns' 'greens' food scraps, and water used to wash today's dishes (no soap, as they use dirt and ash to clean their dishes.) Then they all worked together, chopping the browns into small pieces with machetes and layering the browns, then greens, then food scraps, then soil, then water, then browns... Into a nice one meter by one meter square... The whole while, reminding them of how to add materials and to care for their compost piles as the days and months progressed.  I took many photos and video of the process and hope to hear of positive results in the future... Farming is their mainstay, so any way that they are able to improve their crop production, the better. We gave them 2 days to prepare their own compost piles on their individual homes and then went around to check each one... Many needed some tips...adding more food scraps or water or less browns... but for the most part they looked good and most took the project one step further by creating a fishnet fence of sorts around their pile to protect it from the goats and chickens wandering freely around the village. Then we returned a few days later to be sure that their piles were producing heat...Which tells us its working! 6 of the 10 farmers actually followed through and each one was eventually working properly. We met with Mohamed to explain very clear next steps for the piles and how to expand to 3 piles so that there will be a continual supply of compost over time... He is the only person in the village who reads and speaks a fair amount of English.  I left all the Peace Corps materials about farming and composting with him... Directing him to utilize the literature to expand the farmers’ knowledge of back yard gardening with rainwater collection integrated into these small-scale gardens.

The next project was to go into the school and teach English to the primary school children. I was prepared with songbooks created by my good friend and AEP board member Ann. I discovered early in this lesson that the younger children did not know how to read Swahili so trying to use these songbooks written in Swahili and English was futile. Eventually I left the books with the English teacher to use the way he saw fit... He was quite excited to receive these teaching tools... In the end we decided to teach them 'head, shoulders, knees, and toes' and even this was a challenge... We continued to sing and play this for the remainder of our time in the village. They would ask to do both this and the hand clapping game each and every day while we were hanging with them outside our home. Though this plan to teach English in the school failed in a sense, I did not feel the urgency to teach English to these young children:  A. Because they really should be concentrating on reading Swahili first and B. Because they now have an English teacher, which was a pleasant and surprising addition to the school staff since last year.  I did however make another exciting discovery along with a shocking piece of information that has renewed one of my goals.

One day when leaving the school at 4 pm, a few of the men in the village were standing outside the school room with notebooks in hand so I went over to greet them and ask in my broken Swahili along with English what they were doing.  Assuming they were waiting for some sort of meeting... Surprisingly they were there for an evening English class. Curiosity drew me to stay and observe this class.  I had so much fun in this class!!! It consisted of a group of around 10 men desperately trying to learn English. It was one of the cutest things I had seen in a very long time. They each were required to say 'please teacher, may I come in?' before they entered the classroom. This day they were learning 'This is' 'that is' 'these are' 'those are'. I was able to give the teacher some tips to avoid some confusion with a and an. He asked me to come help another day. After class this day, a handful of these adult students stayed after class to get clarification on when to use 'a' and when to use 'an'.. Then I quizzed them at the end of this impromptu teaching session.. And they were so pleased with this new knowledge!  I loved this and returned a few times to work on plural and singular and past and present.   Next visit to the village, I will prepare more lessons after I communicate with the teacher about their progress. One thing bothered me so much, and in the end, led me to a huge discovery. I wanted to know why there were no women in the class...  No one could give me an answer. I would invite the women to the class each day but no one ever took me up on the invite.  Finally one of my last days in the village... I received my answer.  This clarified so much for me... Not only in terms of why women aren't attending English class.. But most likely why this village has a lack of any type of business and why in many ways they are so far behind neighboring villages.
I was told...Up until 7 years ago there was no formal schooling in the village of Mnang'ole. Our friend, and water and firewood supplier, Kipingo, told me the history of the school and Mac translated.. 50 years ago the government wanted to build them a school... The elders of the village refused the offer out of the fear that along with this secular education there might be a Christian influence somehow and since 99% of the village is Muslim, they did not want this kind of influence. Therefore, the village remained without a school until 7 years ago when a few of the younger parents who had been educated in neighboring villages, decided that they wanted a school for their children so they approached the government. The government refused to build a school for fear that they wouldn't really send their kids to school. They did send a teacher, however, and 4 years later, after the enrollment proved that they were serious about this request, the government agreed to build a school building.   So... Last year they just graduated the very first class from primary school, to secondary school. (They must still travel to the next village for secondary school as Mnang'ole only has a primary school.)

So now let's back up a few years or so now... What about 8 years ago, or 20 or 50 years ago? You guessed it!  No one went to school... Unless they had enough money to send their kids to a neighboring village. Most could not afford this soooo... there are very few educated adults in the village of Mnang'ole. They are illiterate and lack basic knowledge that most of us take for granted... This answers so many of my questions...Like... Why have they not thought of small business ventures? Why do they allow their children to miss school? Why are simple verbal instructions so difficult for them to grasp? Why were they taking so long to read the water boiling and solar lantern instruction sheets I prepared in the states and copied for them to have? These sheets included photo images as well as written Swahili instructions.  They were not reading it... they were just looking at the photos and trying to pair that with the words we were speaking...   Man.. eye opening to say the least!

When I return I have a new job ahead of me besides raising money for the next projects….To do some major research and investigation into how to proceed in implementing adult basic education to the adults of the village.   What type of education is going to be most useful?  Are their government programs already in place? If not... Who does this already? and how can we implement a program successfully? I love a challenge......

On our way to Mnang'ole again !

After a few days in Dar Es Salaam and Bagamoyo we were given the green light that the roads were better so we bought our tickets for the 10+ hour ride to Lindi and at 5:30 am the next morning we were at the bus station ready for the journey... I wish I could begin to describe the hassle to get on the bus...in brief... it was dark and muddy and we were struggling with all our bags in hand to find our bus (that was already leaving) among dozens of other busses in this muddy bus yard... Mac, my Tanzanian volunteer, who we were meeting there, was already on the bus wondering where we were... When we spotted the bus, we chased it around pushing through crowds of people, struggling to be allowed on board this over crowded bus... eventually pushing our way on board. Unknowingly our porter still outside the bus with one of our bags... Till Salim realized we were missing a bag.... Luckily he was able to squeeze his way to a window... Call to the porter... and give him 2000 tsh and get the bag, all while the bus was moving. Then for an hour we stood in the isle, legs squished between bags piled up in the isle.. Not able to stand straight, leaning on seat backs and other passengers sitting in the seats we paid for. I was so confused as to why we were not able to take our own seats but was too far from Salim to ask him what was going on. Finally an hour later around 30 people got out of the bus at a bus stand and our seats were freed up.  Apparently they double book seats for this 1-hour section of road to gain some extra income. After a few hours of our journey...as expected... The road became bumpy and we were thrown from our seats a few times by the huge potholes on the 65 k section of road that took 4.5 hours to pass through. At last we arrived in Lindi, picked up the Noah that had been waiting patiently for us, grabbed a few supplies for the bush, and set out for our last 1 1\2 hour rough road with the Noah into the bush. The most amazing moment of my 2 months here in Tanzania occurred as we approached the village... Salim, the DJ, was playing 'We are the World' on the iPod when outside the first mud hut we passed were two children sitting at a table doing their homework with the dlight solar lantern we (African Empowerment Project) had given them a few weeks earlier, illuminating their work... My eyes filled with tears... My heart filled with a sense of extreme joy and I knew at that moment my work was a success!  I could never have received a greater reward than this, for the work I am doing!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

On the way to get my volunteers..

Stayed in Lindi over night in order to buy the bus ticket the day before departure. We were late for a quality bus so we had to settle for a budget bus which meant it probably leaks when it rains and could have any number of problems... Which in the end was the least of our problems! About an hour and a half after we hit the road we came to an impass... The road was filled with mud and rivers of water.. The bus was going nowhere as there was a que at least 50 busses long behind a truck stuck in the mud ...it was unclear at the time what was keeping them from pulling the truck out or making the road passable.. We waited all day sitting on the bus because if you stepped out of the bus we would be covered with mud... Most got out only to relieve themselves. Around 6:30 pm there was no progress so we were told that we would be staying overnight in the bus!!! When I heard the news and said 'SERIOUSLY?' to Salim .. Two other men on the bus turned to me and stated ever so clearly...'seriously!' We had no food and only a small amount of water.. But really that was not so much of a worry for me as how I was going to sleep on this smelly uncomfortable bus... Babies had pooped their pants and mothers had no clean clothes for them on the bus... It appeared that we were far from any homes or civilization of any kind.. By 8:30 pm I was not sure how I would survive the night... Soon though I settled into the fact that I had no choice but to try to sleep and hope that I could sleep all the way till morning... I did fall asleep and slept off and on till about midnight when I was woken by Salim .. He had taken a walk and found a small hut a short distance away where a woman was selling rice cans tea from her home... I was actually thrilled to take this messy muddy walk to get some rice but mostly to get away from the smelly bus! We sat there in the rain under this damp dark banda for a few hours just to pass some more time. Around 3:00 when the Mosquitos were so thick they were eating me alive, we went back to the bus and I slept off and on woken often by that familiar head bob we all know of... till dusk. Then we began to see military officers gathering around.. Apparently they were directing the progress of this situation. After a couple hours we decided to get out and see what they were really dealing with ...ahead was a que 25 trucks and busses deep and probably 50 or so deep behind us... What i observed was Sooo interesting..though noone seemed to be making any moves to remedy this situation there were many groups of men gathered together in different areas along the road speaking very loudly and pointing infaticaly at each other speaking their minds about how they think they should resolve the problem and then moving into heavly conflicting conversation about the political situation thatcbrought us all together in this place. The fact that they have building rhis road for years and promises to complete it continue to come up empty. Along with the fact that the contractors have not been paid by the government yet this month so all construction and progress has cone to a halt! Today poses yet another problem. It was saturday and the contractors don't work on the weekend so each of the vehicles stuck in this mess had to contribute 2000 shillings ($1.50) to pay for a bulldozer to pull this one truck out of the mud and push some mud around to make the road passable. Around 1:30 pm we were finally on our way.... What a relief!! But... As I expected we were stuck a few more times before we actually free and clear of getting stuck. I have never ben so happy to arrive in dar as I was today! So good to sleep in a bed this night! The next night we picked up the girls at the airport at 3:30 am. Their first day was spent getting tshillings from the ATM and getting them acclimated to the Tanzanian ways! Salim suggested we go to the dispensary for a malaria test because of all the Mosquito bites we had from our bus adventure. Sure enough we both had it.. It has become like getting a cold for me now.. Just take the meds and go on with life ...so more introducing jess and Rachel to Tanzanian food language and people in Dar. Went to buy bus tickets to lindi and were told that it is taking 2 or 3 days to get there because if the rains and bad road sooo ... Plan B...off to Bagamoyo we went for a few days to experience Tanzanian culture at it's best.. Drumming, dancing and beaches of the indian ocean! Took a cheap hotel on the beach and enjoyed amazing times sharing my good good friends of Bagamoyo with my American friends!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Settling in...

The house was finally completed after a week or so.. and I learned that Siadi was going to stay in his own home and the new house was to be the property for African Empowerment Project! The furniture I ordered from a carpenter in the next village arrived little by little… first came the bed… so that I could move in and have a place to sleep… it arrived still sticky from recently applied polyurethane. But never the less it was here and I could move into my own place. Eventually another bed , a few small tables and some chairs arrived.. mostly carried by bicycle… till there was enough furniture to support my volunteers and myself.

With my own place came the dilemma… how will I get water and cook and clean and complete my projects.. this led the the realization that I would need a house girl… yes… I have a house girl. A sweet gentle young woman named Adijah. She is working for 10,000 T shillings a week… the equivalent of $7.50 a week… more than most people earn in this village. You can imagine the guilt I feel, allowing her to work for this low wage… I will need to reward her in other ways when I leave.

Stating to really feel a part of this community now. I believe that the villagers are now comfortable with me and trusting me. They seem to enjoy sharing their skills, their traditions, their, culture with me. A neighbor stopped by to inform me that she was about to pound the millet she had in a bowl to remove the skins before milling into flour.. she asked me to come watch her. Every day someone stops by to bring me corn, or cucumber, or even a papaya! Their way of showing gratefulness for the lanterns I’m sure. Each morning I hear the older children on their way to school and the younger ones waiting for me to emerge from my front door. I taught a few of the children the hand clapping pattern I learned as a child… the one that you sing Miss Mary Mack to… I was thrilled when, the day after I taught them this game I observed many children playing it in the village… It seems that within 24 hours they had taught it to their friends and neighbors…if I sit outside me home in a chair they gather around waiting for their turn one by one to play this game with me… while they wait to play with me they now play with each other. I think the reason it struck me so to see them playing this simple hand clapping game I taught them is because I know that this game will be played for years and generations to come…and that is an amazingly powerful feeling!!!!! It make me realize that each and every thing my team of volunteers and I are able to teach them …that they will benefit from… will have a lasting positive effect on this village. That is what I will call empowerment!

While I write this in my journal… I can hear the school children singing and marching through the village on their way to school, led by the accompaniment of drums, played by two children in the front of the parade…they are on their way to school. This is a ritual I have observed in a few other villages in Tanzania. Such a sweet pleasant sound to my ears each day.

I have a new little friend Fazira… a 22 month old little guy… so cuddly and sweet… he comes to me each day now… his family lives right next door. He is now a permanent attachment on my hip! Right now As I write he is jumping on my lap looking for a hug… hopping off.. playing a bit and returning within minutes for another hug… this has been going on for quite some time…he doesn’t realize that I am enjoying this game as much if not more than he is!!!

Today we have been asked by the district seceratary to come to the next village to talk to him about why we are here in Mnang’ole. Word travels fast between villages and the next village aught wind that the people of Mnang’ole are receiving lanterns and they want to know who’s supplying them and why they aren’t getting some. Apparently Saidi had not told him about the work that AEP is doing there and he would like to be informed of all the goings on in the villages that he presides over.

A woman came by today looking for me… she thinks she has malaria… they think I am able to cure all their ailment… apparently when I use hydrogen peroxide and Neosporin and bandages to help those with cuts…. They assume I am a medical expert… I had Salim tell them clearly during the lantern distribution that I am nto a doctor so if they need paoin medications or help for a minor cut I can help but otherwise they must go to the hospital.. but this information must have got lost in translation as… almost every day, someone comes to me for help with major infections, swollen body parts, breathing problems, eye sight problems, etc., and I have to rell them to go to the hospirtal and then walk away feeling rejected… some day they will have a hostpal here… for sure. Musi has a terrible infection on his leg and a very deep whole in his leg… it had been like this for weeks and it is very infected….. a very small baby next door has been crying for weeks and now his ear is visibley red from the outer ear… Im sure he has an ear infection… but they are not intending to bring him to the hospital… they wanted me to give him some medication to fix the problem… on to or the fact that the cost and distance for the hospital s an issue here…there is a big problem here with ignorance about medical care… anyway..we drove Musi and the baby to the nearest hospital about a 30 minute drive from the village.. the doctor gave the baby and antibiotic for an ear infection and Musi, an infection of an antibiotic and dressing for his leg and was told to come back for 5 days for more injections. I paid the $ 7 that it cost for both kids however the battery on the car died so I was not able to bring him so with the fee paid for for the intections they went to the hospital each day by bicycle.

In twpo days we will go to pick up mu American volunteers, Rachel and Jessica, in Dar Es Saalam… The road from lindi to Dar will be impassable by car now because of all of the rain.. so we will bring the car to Lindi… leave it there and take the bus to Dar… then come back on the bus to Lindi and hope that the rains stop before we must return to Dar at the end of the girls stay.

As I write today I am really enjoying the huge tree outside my home… it provides a cool place to sit and relax…. And greet the neighbors passing by… each and every one stopping to carry on the series of greetings common here in Tanzania… We say ‘hey how are you,?’ with a response o ‘fine’.. in America, and then we move on to other ipertainant information… here the greetings go like this… “Mambo?’ with a reponse of ‘Poa” then it goes something like this.. Habari?’ “Nzuri” then … Salama?’ “Salama” ….and so on sometimes with 5 different greetings virtually all meaning the same thing…

Feeling more and more at home each day.. Fazira just came running to me from his home... Bare butted.. With his shorts in hand.. Wanting me to dress him...my boy... I just observed the cutest Childs play I have seen .. Two toddlers with sticks as tall as themselves in hand.. Facing each other...Pounding them into a hole in the dirt pretending to be pounding the skins off the grain as their mamas do each day!!! This was surely video worthy ! Last night 17 year old Abdilahi and his friends came from secondary school for the weekend... There is no secondary school here in Mnang'ole so they must go to boarding school at the cost of 90,000 shillings ($125) a year... So they came to visit me early evening and a few began to speak in english.. We began teaching each other our native languages... This is the best way for me to learn ... From those who are desiring to learn english as well. We had so many laughs trying to annunciate what we were being taught and before I knew it it was 9 pm... Wish they were here full time so we could do this every day! My neighbor... Mama f
Fazira(Fazira's mama) has so many kids around and I knew her and Saidi only had 2 children..so was confused as to where they all came from. Turns out she has taken in her sisters kids after the death of both her sister and her brother-in-law. A 4 month boy..the one with the ear infection.. A 3 year old and a 14 year old, Rashidi... He speaks more English than any of the younger kids in the village...he is so smart and so sweet. Though the story of the loss of these 3 young Children's parents is so sad.. The way the family comes together to care for each other is beyond sad... Bibi ( grandma) lives there as well and each of the 8 people in this family shares in the caring of each other ... I'm envious of the tight family units of Tanzanian families.z
When I went to the next village yesterday Fazira was saying to his mama all day.. Yuko Wapi mama Beth? (where is mama Beth?)

Rain season means many days of rain and then... Joto sana(so hot)!
My house is simple and pleasant. Three bedrooms and a sitting room, a sufficient back yard for cooking and hanging clothes and a large toilet room... Simply tall grass walls a cement floor with a hole 2.5 inches in diameter .. Yes you must be a good aim to use my toilet! My favorite thing about this toilet room is showering under the stars at night!
Adijah is so amazing.. She arrives at 8 am... Fetches warm milk and chipati and serves us breakfast .. Then she sweeps the floor, goes to get water then washes our clothes, prepares lunch and dinner and sweeps the yard.. All for $7.50 a week... Shameful!
Tomorrow we leave for lindi ... We will leave the car there and take a bus to dar... The rain has made the roads impossible to travel with a car... Can't wait to see the girls!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Welcoming and success!

As expected our arrival was celebrated with children running to the car...waving and the sweet familiar voices of the children calling out 'Mzunguuuuuu!' (white person) one of the children ran to fetch Saidi to tell him of our arrival at his door step.. I was looking around for the new house they were supposed to build him but saw no sign of it and began to get slightly concerned.. Saidi arrived shortly after.. Appearing very happy to see us! We were welcomed into his home and I was directed to put my bags in his extra room .. More cause for concern.. Very frustrated with myself at this moment that I didn't know enough swahili to ask what's up with the house .. I had to prompt Salim to inquire.. Soon we were following Saidi to the new mud hut still needing cement floors... Apparently they were waiting for me to bring the 90,000 tsh( about $70) for the cement... This meant a few days of us sleeping in Saidi's home till the house was complete... Though I was slightly disappointed.. Hoping for some independence and privacy this time.. I quickly adjusted my attitude with the simple thought ... What difference will it really make in my life right now... Can I still accomplish my mission under these circumstances .. The answers were clearly none and YES... With that I settled into my room and Salim in his... Attitude in check! Everything looked the same ... So peaceful and comfortable .. This village.. Walking around we were greater by familiar faces and many many children.. Running to hold my hand.. My home here in Tanzania for the next few years.. It felt good! To my surprise ...at early evening, A 27 " colored tv emerged from my room covered with a conga.. And brought outside with speakers and a DVD player.. Into an enclosed area of grass walls.. 'the theater'. So strange and foreign to me... The village with no water or electricity or hospital.. Saidi purchased the equipment and generator in order to provide entertainment for his village.. After dinner, around 8 pm the people began arriving .. Some with a bucket in hand ...mnangole's version of byob.. Soon the sound of an indian movie... With the mouths speaking a form of language from India.. Yet swahili emerging from the speakers... Filled the village... The admission fee was 500 tsh for adults and 100 tsh for kids.. Respectively About 30 cents and 7 cents... And those who came were fixated on this low budget comedy.. Laughter filling the space... Echoing throughout the village! Something to lift their spirits ... Something to take their mind off the hard life they endure each day .. My mind however switched rapidly from this joyous reflection to.. Practicality.. How can something like this be used to raise money and sustain the well or fund another project in the future. I will talk to Saidi about this idea.. This was Thursday night. Friday brought another surprise...disco!!' someone had some CDs of traditional Tanzanian music, and Tanzanian hip hop, and bongo flava!!! The young people came in droves to dance and socialize.. Alcohol free as there is no alcohol in the village.. Good clean fun.. Teenagers are the same everywhere... They want to socialize and dance.. And find private little spots to hide and make out with that special one! This night the music didn't stop till 2 am... So strange... Is this a sign of how rapidly things can change in this rural village with no water, electricity, hospital, or adequate schools? The next day we would discuss furnishing my home with beds.. Chairs and tables. Saidi called a carpenter in the next village to place an order... And we also discussed the process for distributing lanterns, and running an educational session about the advantages of solar, how To charge the lantern...and about the importance of boiling water to remove bacteria from their water and in turn eliminate death and illness caused by waterborne bacteria. Saidi arranged for the villagers to come in small groups to the school late afternoon over the course is several days.. For important information.. The next day as we were taking a stroll through the village we heard someone yelling throughout the village... Turns out he was the town crier!!! Announcing to the people that they should attend this very important meeting... I had my doubts as to how affective this form of mass communication would be... The following day at 4 pm a school full of people arrived... And each day thereafter , the same... Apparently the town crier is more affective than email.. Telephone or radio announcements.. You could see in their eyes great anticipation of what we were about to share with them. First, with Salim translating from English to Swahili we introduced ourselves for those who had not met me last year. Then I shared information crutisl to their health ... Using the back board and rough diagrams about the bacteria in the water they use and the fact that it is the cause of cholera and diahrea. They listened intently... Hanging onto Salim's every word and looking very carefully at the handout I printed for each if them.. Depicting and dscrbing in swahili how to boil and store the boiled water and what the activities are that require boiling ... Then we shared info. About the detriments of costly kerosene and the advantages of solar power ... Then Salim explained in detail how to use and care for the lanterns. We explained to them that the money they would save from not having to use kerosene.. Will allow them to purchase another lantern in a little over a month. Then we distributed the lanterns. One by one as there names were called out by a community member... Each came to take their lantern and showed appreciation with a hand shake and a slight bow. I could not have been more humbled than to hand over one of these lanterns to an elder and have these beautiful, wise people look at me with gratefulness like I had just given them a car.. Possibly the best gift they had ever received! When the meeting was over they all went outdoors and took their lantern out of the box to try to see how They work. Each day around 4 pm we repeated this Training until all the lanterns had been distributed.. Only 8 out of 210 did not attend the meeting... So pleased with the turnout.. Can't wait to see then put to use!!!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Travel adventures continued ...

Following our rewarding morning with Kandora.... With a patched tire.. We were 'on the road again' preparing mentally for the road ahead.. After about an hour it showed it's ugly face.. Right in front of my bumper .. 'here we go' this 65 k section of road from dar to lindi has been under contructiom for years.. Recent Promised completion dates have been august 2010, Jan 2011, April 2011, and now june 2011, however I leaned yesterday that the contractors have stopped work becsuse the government has not paid rhwm yet..so progress has come to a hault.. And the rains are deteriorating much of the work that has been completed so far.. The results.. Pot holes, huge orators in the road .. Some filled with water and some filled with mud... Large sections of road we call a mud bog in the us.. The mud boggers of the bush of Vermont would be in there glory.. But this lady from VT isn't loving it.. So needless to say this 65 k took me 5.5 hours to get through .. And man..the tension from cringing as I approached each section of terrain with anticipation of bottoming out or sinking like quicksand into this unknown crevice, river( literally sections were just like passing through a river), or series of potholes.. Never have I dreaded moving forward in a vehicle like this experience ... FINALLY the moment I had been praying for.. The end of construction and onto clear, smooth paved road... I soon realized that the Noah was on empty .. And NO gas stations in sight .. We kept driving hoping and praying that gas would be around the next bend... But nothing but mud huts and deserted land.. The moment I had been dreading came .. The car began to hestitate and the Noah finally came to a halt. So now the only tohing to do was for Salim to do was to flag someone down and hitch a ride into the nesrest town with the 10 liter plastic water jug we happened to have in the car.. Get some gas and hitch another ride back to the Noah and I ! The first truck that came by kindly gave Salim a ride.. My instructions were to stay in the car with the doors locked.. But I had to pee so bad .. So I disobeyed orders and got out in the pouring rain and went into the bushes.. Just as Salim was returning with news of the gas situation... Hey when you gotta go you gotta go! so there was no gas in the next town but the guy he received a ride from called another guy in snother town with a pikipiki.. Motorcycle .. And he agreed to bring us gas..about 20 minutes, $40 and 1/4 of a tank later we were rescued and back on the road..Now... We are only a few hours from my village of Mnangole.. Or so I thought.. Just a few more miles down the road the saying 'bad things happen in 3's ' Came true for us... another flat tire .. Yes... It's true...more waiting for rescue ... As we couldn't find the jack to replace it with the spare tire... Let's just say it was very dark and late when we finally made it to lindi.. The city an hour south of Mnang'ole... Slept in lindi that night ... The lanterns were to arrive that night in lindi as well buuuutttt.. This IS africa... They had notceven left Dar Es Salaam .. They would leave dar the next day ... Ha! That was wishful thinking... 1 day turned into 4 days... The good thing is it have us an excuse to visit Mtwara ... A Major town in the south.. With some life and energy... Mainly because there is a small airport amd a few colleges.. We visited the port for some major importing and exporting... The main export out of Mtwara is cashew nuts... They ships numerous containers of raw cashews from here headed to India to be processed (roasted shelled and packaged)..a friend of Salims explained how unfortunate it is that Tanzanians dont take advantage of the opportunities to gain big profits from their own resources.. They grow the cashews here but the big bucks comes from the processing and distribution ... I hear over amd over again how Tanzanians dont know how to use their resources... Miles and miles of beach up and down rhe coast with no hotel, restaurant, or resort... And even the locals dont use this beautiful indian ocean for their own pleasure... So anyway...the lanterns finally arrived... New tire... Mattress for girls... And the back full of lanterns, water.. Detol to clean our water for showers... and FINALLY... Off to Mnang'ole... Challenged by 19 kilometers equivelent to an hour of rough road.. Arrived at my final destination at 3 pm.... Home Sweet Home!!!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

In the 'Noah' on my way!

Finally on my way to my destination ...April 3rd... In a Toyota Noah ... My friend, escort, translator, Salim by my side ... Ready for the 8+  hour trip to Mnang'ole... Knowing what was ahead on this journey but confident that I could do it!  I am now referring to the rough road... 65 kilometers (4-5 hours) of really rough road I had experienced as a passenger on a bus last year... I was ready for the challenge! Setting out from DAR we waited to eat breakfast until we were an hour or so out of the city.  We chose to stop in a village, like many in Tanzania …With a few shops and restaurants among the side of the road... Wooden shacks with scrap metal and branches from local trees for rooftops... Rough cut tables and benches made from local trees... And torn up plastic table clothes... nailed to the tables in an attempt to provide some sort of sanitation to this rough dining.   As we pulled up to the village a kind man waved us down to tell us that we had a flat tire. This was the first time of many that I realized that I would have been a damn fool to have attempted this journey on my own. There was a 'fundi' (repair man) ready and waiting to provide the service of repairing the tire and making a few dollars to feed his family that day. This project again did not go down without some minor setbacks.  A. We could find no jack in the car and no one close by had one either.  One was located but it didn't work... This is Africa my friends!  Finally a working jack was located… So we set out to eat breakfast. Before deciding on the restaurant of choice, we were greeted by a young boy appearing to be around 9 years old with some mental disabilities. He was quite charming and brave, shoeless, with tattered clothing and clearly hungry.   His name... Kandora! His charm captured my heart and within minutes we were hand in hand… Eating sorghum porridge together... While he bounced his frail body on the bench to a local song playing on a nearby radio just as an American 9 year old might bounce to a pop song on 96.7 in Burlington! He ate only a little of his porridge as I'm sure his stomach is the size of a golf ball.  People surrounding us were all talking about how happy Kandora was today!  Just as I was about to suggest to Salim that we buy Kandora some sandals…Salim was already walking toward a local shop to purchase sandals for our new friend. As we were trying them on him for size a man nearby stated … It's a shame this child has been walking around for years shoeless and it took a complete stranger to notice and give the boy some shoes. I could not have been more pleased then to watch this young boy walk around town with pride… Sporting his $1 flip-flops... Like a man who had just purchased a $300 pair of Italian leather shoes! Problems repairing the gash in the tire afforded us more time with Kandora.  The next treat was to bring him to get his hair cut by the local barber for 75 cents!  As he strutted down the street along side us holding my hand with pride, people in his village were commenting to him… He was saying something to them as he held his hand out to them… apparently what he was stating back to them was…'Leave me alone.. I'm busy… we have things to do!'    Salim says that Kandora will be the talk of the town for years and is sure that he will never forget this day, all of his life! I was sad to say goodbye to Kandora that day. As anyone who knows me well, can imagine, I had tears in my eyes as we drove away! I WILL stop by this village when we return to the city and seek Kandora out to let him know I have not forgotten him! Next chapter ...the remainder of the journey to Mnang'ole was not without more adventures….

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Flexibility is key

My preparation for the journey to Mnang'ole included
purchasing mattresses and other household goods for my new home (mud hut)...ie. A bucket for washing clothes, soap for washing clothes, basin for washing dishes, cups, plates, a thermos for tea(called chai here), and kibao cha nazi ( a crucial instrument consisting of a collapsable wooden seat with a sharp pronged piece of metal on one end, used for scraping the coconut out of the shell...) (this IS the only food available in my village for flavoring to the food..) banking, phone and Internet service, meeting with crucial parties about lanterns, etc., this took a few weeks the way things work around here. If you think it will take one hour in America, it will take 1-2 days here ... If you think in will take one day in America .. For sure it will take one week at least here! I was fortunate..I think.. To be able to rent a car from a friemd for around $650 .. He needed money to finish a cinderblock fence around his mama's house and I needed transportation to get around.. You will understand the comment 'I think' in a moment... I was faced with the intimidating challenge of not only sitting in the drivers seat on the righthand side of the car and driving on the left side of the road but dodging bikes, crazy dala dala(mini bus) drivers, men pushing carts carrying 15 foot poles, pedestrians crossing everywhere without notice, and cars cutting you off left and right..and even in the city dodging potholes 2 - 3 feet deep! For those of you who think NYC drivers are crazy.. You ain't seen nothin'! My final goal was to meet with Peter from the Peace Corps, who was kind enough to have lunch with me and share some secrets to improving crops in rural villages using only resources right in their own back yard. This appointment happened just as planned because Peter is from Massachusets! After March 31st I was ready to head to Mnang'ole .. Now just waitng for my Tanzanian volunteer to arrive from university abroad.. As is often the way in Africa.. You must be flexible and have a plan b and a plan c.. It turns out he had extended his stsy much longer so.. I was left with the question.."who will escort me the 9 hours to Mnang'ole? I only felt panic for a few hours and was almost ready to brave the trip on my own.. I've always loved a challenge ...when I was blessed with a choice of 4 different friends willing to escort me on my long journey .. Kulwa was the one who made the most sense as he had a training down that way so that was the plan.. However one thing led to another and it turned out I was not able to leave till Sunday .. This was too late for him to go so in the end .. My dear friend Salim joined me on the adventure from Dar to Mnang'ole... What am I learning more and more each day? Worry does no good, and everything ALWAYS works out for the good! Grasshopper... If your reading this.. Your words are ringing true !!! HA!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Oh the places you'll go and the people you'll meet ...

Today I am writing from Mtwara Tanzania ... 95k from my home base.. Mnang'ole. I was not able to blog from the bush, as the network I signed up with had no service. I have changed network and hope to be successful in communicating when I return on Wednesday. During my first few weeks here in 'Bongo', slang for Tanzania, I met some amazing people while preparing for my journey to Mnang'ole. Most importantly I met some friends of whom I had only met on facebook.  What a joy to meet them in person and spend time with them. I was welcomed with open arms and great concern for my well being... In turn I met friends of friends .. I have a network of brothers and sisters here with whom I have built bonds that I'm sure will last a lifetime. I am so grateful to them all! For anyone back in the states who has the least concern for my safety… Fear not! Trust me these friends won't let anything bad happen to me!

I also met two amazingly strong and beautiful women. First is Khadija Mwanamboka.. An award winning fashion designer/guru… Who so graciously invited me to her fashion show at the Double Tree in Dar es Salaam ... The show featured a variety of designers... In particular a Masai designer who incorporated traditional Masai style into his contemporary designs. Photos will come later! I met with Khadija a week later to learn about her NGO serving orphans in Dar and about her plans for supporting young women and teens by providing vocational
training for them. We chatted about ways that we can support each other in the future. She too continues to check on me to be sure I'm ok in the bush!!

The next woman I was honored to meet was Anne Kilango. She is a prominent member of parliament... Well known not only here in Tanzania but in the US as well for her strength and courage to speak out against corruption.. (google her name to learn more.. It's quite fascinating.) What struck me just as much, was her story.. She came from nothing in the bush of Tanzania .. Had 3 children .. Eventually became a single mother. Her strength and determination and willingness to work hard led her to the opening of a bridal shop where eventually she was traveling abroad to purchase goods for her shop. She became an advocate for local women and eventually she was invited to sit on the parliament ... Appointed by the president ... Her most recent term she was voted in by the people... With 65% of the vote. She is feared by some because of her strength and transparency and willingness to expose the truth! In 2009 the United States government presented Anne Kilango with an award for exactly this! I was honored to spend the day with her and her husband… My dear friend William's baba!
This concludes this post but there is so much more to say... Tonight or tomorrow I'll be back with more updates. Keep in mind that I am writing this with one finger on my iPhone. My finger is tired! Peace to you all ...please leave me a note to let me know you have been here! Asante sana!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Heading back to Mnang'ole, Tanzania to bring 'LIGHT' to the Village!

Wow!  Where did a year go?  Like a worker bee, I am preparing to leave in 11 days to begin AEP's first 'Project Trip'.  March 17 I leave JFK for Mnang'ole, Tanzania to complete the projects we have been preparing for the past several months.  

I have 3 Tanzanian Volunteers and 2 American Volunteers joining me this time around.
Here's what we will accomplish:

a. Water sanitation (boiling) education.. to prevent
  outbreaks of cholera until we can drill a well
  (projected date of drilling is September 2012)

b. Kerosene vs. Solar energy education 

c. Distributing one solar lantern to each of the
  200 homes in the village.

   ***See Light for Life below, to hear how 
   the distribution of a single lantern to each home
   will make amazing changes for Mnang'ole!

d. Teaching English in the Primary school using music 

e. Teeth hygiene education and distribution of 
  toothbrushes to every person in the village

e. Worm farm/composting pilot program with 10 families

f.  Photo Documentation in preparation for a sponsorship
  campaign for the well, when I return to VT in June

g. Computer training in Lindi with a few teenagers, 
  a 45 minute drive from Mnang’ole to improve
  AEP/Mnang’ole communication, and to prepare for a
  'pen pal' program with local VT school classroom

h. Working with the newly developed 
  Community Based Organization in Mnang'ole
  on organizational development to make a more
  affective organization for change

Light for Life
This project will bring one solar lantern to each home in Mnang’ole

The Situation:
* Mnang’ole has no source of electricity and a lack of
   affordable, and environmentally friendly lighting sources.

The Problem:
* The sun goes down around 6 pm every night, all year round
   in Mnang’ole.
* For those who can afford kerosene, families use kerosene
   lanterns for a light source.
* Many of the people of Mnang’ole cannot afford to purchase
   kerosene to use as a light source.
* These families must leave the family farm mid-afternoon
   to return home to prepare dinner and complete household
   chores before 6 PM.

The Consequences:
* The use of kerosene is an extreme health, environmental
  and safety hazard.
* Families who do use kerosene spend nearly half their 
   income to purchase this fuel for lighting alone.
Productivity on the farms is severely reduced due to
   daylight constraints.
* There is a great loss of valuable productivity time in the
   evenings, particularly for those who cannot afford kerosene.
* Children who are lucky enough to attend school
   are not able to complete homework tasks if they cannot
   afford a light source in the evening.
* Even for those who use kerosene lanterns, the lighting
   is insufficient for most tasks.

The Solution:
* Educate the village about the health, environmental
  hazards and economic hardships caused by kerosene usage
  and the subsequent benefits of solar energy.
* Introduce each family to solar energy usage by providing
   each family with one solar lantern.

The Benefit:
* Provide the people of Mnang’ole with a way to experience
   the health and cost benefits of solar energy first hand.
* For those who previously used kerosene, replacing them with
   solar lanterns will almost double their expendable income.
* Provide families with 4 to 8 hours of evening light for cooking,
   cleaning, and productivity.
* Provide families with more hours of farming productivity.
* Provide children who already attend school, with the ability
   to complete homework tasks.
* This additional money will provide many families with the
   funds to enable them to send their children to school.

I'll be in touch as soon as possible, after I get settled in my second home, Tanzania!