Monday, June 15, 2015

Last day in Berega

Well, here it is.  My last blog post of my time here in Berega.  If you have been reading any of these since I got here a year ago, you’ll know that this experience has been a crazy whirlwind of an adventure.  Lots of extreme highs and even more extreme lows, but overall the most incredible and rewarding time of my life.  The last week has been filled with packing and cleaning, and cherishing each moment I have left with my kids.  I’m pretty scared about returning to the ‘normal’ world, what things will be like without my school, my students, and everything else about this place I’ve fallen in love with.  Going home and attending school seems like the most boring thing ever compared to the continuous excitement I’ve had over here.  I would honestly stay forever, if I didn’t truly believe it was God’s plan for me to go to medical school so I can be of more use to Him in the future.  But I never know what is in store for me, maybe I’ll come back to Berega one day as a doctor!

Getting ready to leave has been a bit stressful to say the least. Because exams are this week, I’ve spent most of my time writing, correcting, and printing off tests in 10 subject areas.  I gave my English and Science tests on Thursday and I am so proud of my students. More than half passed with a 70 or higher in every class!  And it’s only the midterm so those who didn’t pass have 6 more months to study for the final.  It’s been the most incredible thing, to teach these kids and see them learn and grow, and to know that I have played a role in this fundamental stage of their lives.  Some of these kids could barely write a sentence when I first met them, now they are writing full paragraphs and imaginative stories.  I can’t imagine anything more rewarding than being a part of these students’ education. 

So the day after my tests I threw a huge party for my Standard 1, 2, 3, and 4 kids. To say this was chaotic would be an understatement, but it was so much fun.  We did relay races, played games, had a football match, ate snacks, gave away prizes, and took lots of pictures.  Then that night, I invited the older kids to come sleep over at my house…  we had a blast!  We watched movies and had pillow fights, talked til late into the night and snuggled on the floor.  It was wonderful.  If anything, I’ll come back to Berega just to have another sleepover!  Seriously, those kids are the best. 

Today was my last day of school, I gave back my graded tests and explained to my students the things they got wrong.  Then we hugged and kissed and cried the rest of the day.  My heart completely broke to see my sweet kids crying and then having to say no when they asked if I would please stay in Berega.  I just can’t believe I won’t see these children whenever I want to, that I won’t hear ‘Teachaaaa Chaween’ anymore, that kids won’t be knocking on my door all afternoon hoping to play with me.  I know I’ll come back but not knowing when is the hardest part.  I think of these children like my own and going back to America after all we have been through feels like I’m abandoning them.  I hope they know how much I truly love them and how much they have inspired me, and that I’ll think of them always for the rest of my life.  They have given me more joy, contentment, and love in these past twelve months than I’ve ever felt, and I hope I’ve given the same to them. 

If you have ever thought about volunteering abroad I highly recommend it.  It will open your eyes and fill your heart and enrich your life in ways you can’t imagine.  I’m so grateful for the things I have done here and the people I have met, but I know it’s time to move on to the next chapter- medical school!  So take care everyone, until next time!!  Oh and the internet isn’t good enough for pictures this time, but I promise a whole bunch of them when I return to the land of fast wifi!!!

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Visitors from America

The kids playing with all the fun stuff Laura and mom brought.
Only eight weeks to go… it’s so hard for me to believe that in the nearby future, I will be back in America living the same life I was before I got here- well plus medical school.  Tanzania seems like home to me now.  The people, the food, the culture, the language.. it’s what’s normal.  But I try hard not to think about where I will be in a few months, and focus more on what I am doing now.  The school is going great.  All the students are so wonderful, and are learning more every day.  My students are particularly awesome.  Sometimes they ask questions I don’t even know the answer to so I have to go look it up, and then I get to learn something new!  I feel like I learn more as a teacher than I ever did as a student.  I’m learning how to set boundaries, what behaviors I can and will not put up with, the most effective ways of getting my point across, what I know and what I want to know more about… I’m learning how to be patient, disciplined, loving, tolerant, trusting, and committed, even when things aren’t going my way.  This has helped me to grow in ways I never would have been capable of in America, and though it isn’t easy, it’s been incredibly enriching.  I think I’m learning more than my students are!

Oh yea, she was feeling the love.
So my mom and good friend Laura came to visit me a little while back and they had such a blast.  I
split the classes so they could teach too, and just like I figured they fell in love with my students.  What’s not to love though?  The innocence, the joy, the laughter… no one is a stranger to those children.  I was so grateful to share this part of my life with people from back home, it’s not easy to explain this place to those who have never been to Africa.  Now I think they understand more of what’s special about Tanzania and why I chose to come here for a year.  Laura taught my classes how to do the hokey pokey and now it’s their favorite thing to do!  They especially loved meeting my mom, most of the kids call me ‘Mom’ so they started calling my mom ‘Grandma’ and she loved it!  It was really such a great time. We were at the school for four days, and on the second day we went to dinner at a Tanzanian teacher’s house.  Mom actually killed and de-feathered a chicken!  I’m sure their whole family thought we were ridiculous because we were all screaming and jumping around when we were trying to catch it, but to them it’s just a normal day.  Everything here is fresh, straight from the ground or the animal.  And even though there wasn’t as much meat on that chicken, the flavor was better than anything I’ve had back home.  We all sat around the fire while it was cooking and watched the sun go down.. it was a very African experience.  After a few days at the school, we went on safari to Mikumi Park (where we saw TONS of animals!) and then to Zanzibar for two days, we had so much fun!  Overall it was a very nice little vacation.
Me holding the chicken mom was about to kill.

Well we got a new teacher from America, her name is Lisa and she has been such a blessing.  I was starting to get worried about leaving my students without a ‘mzungu’ to make sure things run properly, but now she is here and staying for at least a year.  She is teaching remedial classes for the students who are really struggling.  This is wonderful for them to get that personal attention, but also great for the rest of the class who don’t want to wait for me to explain things a hundred times to the kids who are behind.  Remember I talked about Phaustine in the last blog post?  Well he has been in remedial and he is doing SO MUCH BETTER!  His English has improved and he can actually read a simple book cover to cover and only mis-pronounce a few words.  I am so impressed with how he is doing, and it’s only taken a few weeks with Teacher Lisa to get him up to speed.  So things have been running really smoothly, and it’s nice to have another American there to talk to and help me out.  I talked her into taking the Standard 4 English class so I could teach Standard 4 Science, this has been super fun!  Standard 4 has the most brilliant students, and most want to be doctors and nurses , so they are interested in all things science.  Lately we have been talking about infectious diseases and how to prevent/diagnose/treat them, we’ve talked about the digestive system and what foods our bodies need to survive, and now we are on plant and animal sexual reproduction (the giggling has almost died down..). I have loved every minute of it, not just because I love science but because I love how excited they get about science.  What I would do for a microscope for those kids… oh well, maybe next year. 

Mom de-feathering the chicken with T. Samson.
On safari!
Other interesting news about Standard 4, we recently went to another private school about an hour away to take a mock national exam.  In Tanzania, to go to Standard 5 (fifth grade) the students have to pass an exam covering every subject they have in school.  The problem is that the test is in English and most schools don’t teach English, mostly because the teachers don’t know it, so the majority of kids don’t pass and this is the end of their academic career.  But our school has had a native English speaking teacher since it began so our kids are fabulous at English, and most other things, so we really weren’t worried.  

We just thought it would be a good idea to have the kids take an exam similar to what they will take at the end of the year and see how they do.   The good news: since you only need a 45% to pass, most of our kids did well above that.  We enforce a 70% passing rate so even though a 50% didn’t seem good enough for me, it is good enough for Tanzania.  The not so good news:  the kids really struggled with the test because the English was not correct and they are used to proper English from us at all times, so they kept getting really confused. Also, they are not used to taking paper exams. We don’t have the money to print a hundred pages every time we want to test the students, we just use the blackboard to give them quizzes and see how well they know the material.  So they had a hard time, but from now on we will work on making more paper tests to prepare them better.  All the time and effort we have put into the school would be no good if our kids don’t pass this exam.  Overall, it was a great experience because now we know where our weaknesses are and what we need to focus on.  It was also really good for us to see how other schools are operating and what we can improve on.

A beautiful female lion resting under the shade.

 Well this last week was pretty stressful because all of our boarding kids and about half of the local kids got pink eye.  We found out that the water supply at boarding was extremely dirty and unsanitary; there were all sorts of bugs and worms in the well that they use to wash clothes and bathe in.  And because pink eye is very contagious, every day there were five or six new kids who showed symptoms.  There was nothing we could give them so we just said they need to wash their hands often and not touch their eyes, but they were sad when we had to send them home.  The church is supposed to be responsible for keeping the well water clean so they cleaned it yesterday and hopefully, this won’t happen again.  But that’s the thing about Tanzania, it’s all about reaction.  There is no prevention.  They just wait until someone is sick or dying before doing anything, instead of doing regular maintenance to make sure bad things don’t happen.  But what can we do?  We can educate our children so that when they grow up, they are more responsible than those that came before them.
Awesome herd of elephants at the watering hole.

Also last week, my friend Martha and her friend Lisa came to visit me… of course me and Martha both caught the pink eye, which was expected but still not fun.  Besides that, I think they had a really good time meeting the kids and seeing the school.  It was nice to have visitors again, I feel loved to have so many people come out here to see me!

Posing for the picture.

Well that’s about it.  Things are going well with the school and Berega.  Scott and his team of workers are finally getting started on building the new school.  Their goal is to have three classrooms built by the end of the year… but you know how that goes, nothing ever happens in a timely manner here. But the director of Hands4Africa, Dr. Brad Logan, is coming in a couple of weeks and he is sure to get things moving along. I am really looking forward to meeting the generous man who gave us this wonderful opportunity,  I hope that one day I can do as much good in the world as he has done for this place.  I really do miss my family and friends back home, thank you all for loving me and supporting me through this journey.  I can’t wait to see everyone in a couple months!  But for right now, I am just soaking in each moment and enjoying life to the fullest.  Take care.
Obviously, these monkeys were having more fun than we were.

Friday, February 20, 2015

The new school year

They. Love. Pictures.

I sit writing this as twenty of my sweet students dance and laugh around me, screaming out “Teacha Chaaleene, take a pitchaa!”  They braid my hair and sit on my lap and tell me they love me, and my heart is so full.  Sometimes I just cannot believe that this is my life right now.  But I also cannot imagine being anywhere else.

The rainy season made this place green and beautiful.

Well it’s been a while since I have written.  Scott and I went on vacation for a month and it’s been a whirlwind ever since.  Our Christmas and New Years’ was spectacular.  We ate on a boat overlooking the Eiffel Tower in Paris, walked through Westminster Abbey on Christmas in London, stared up at a monstrous Golden Buddha on New Year’s Eve in Bangkok, swam and bathed with elephants near a Thai beach to ring in 2015… it was the adventure of a lifetime.  I did get my wallet pick pocketed in Paris, which was and is very inconvenient, but I didn’t let that spoil even one day of my trip.  I just felt so thankful that I had the chance to travel to so many amazing places.  I honestly never thought that would have been possible (and those that used to know me would say they never thought it was possible either).  But God’s plans and designs usually exceed my own, and for that I am incredibly grateful.  I will admit, I felt a bit guilty for leaving the village for that long to spend so much money.  But I was encouraged again and again to go and refresh my spirit.  Sometimes I forget to take care of myself here because I am so invested in the children, and as worthwhile as teaching them is, I needed a break.  I had been getting burnt out there at the end of the school year.  By the end of our travels, I felt unbelievably rejuvenated and was ready to come back to Tanzania to work.
Where one of my students lives.

Goofy girl Gile, with the most precious smile.
Our journey to Europe and Asia was somewhat of a shock to my system.  To be around so many people, all those buildings, the traffic and the variety of food… it felt surreal after 6 months of dirt roads and mud huts.  It was difficult at times, comparing the affluence of such big, developed cities to the poverty ridden state of Berega.  How come there is such a disparity between the two?  Why are there hospitals and schools and clean water over there, while the people here struggle to survive?  When will more people start sharing their wealth and technology with this side of the world?                                                            These are some of the questions I couldn’t stop asking myself. 

 But I did force my mind to turn off sometimes so I could forget about the problems here and enjoy my holiday.  Analyzing and worrying it to death was definitely not the solution.  So I did have a wonderful time, experienced three amazing countries and met with lots of great people.  I am so so glad I took that opportunity to travel. That being said, I did miss the village life.  I missed my students, I missed my home, and I missed the simplicity.  Here, the only money I spend is $3 a week at the market for rice, beans, and vegetables, I don’t worry about my appearance or whether my clothes match, and I can walk everywhere I need to go.  There is a certain freedom in living in the ‘bush’, away from the grind and the expectations, the constant hustle of trying to keep up with those around you.  I don’t feel the need to be anything other than the best version of myself and that feels pretty good.  More than anything though, I missed my kids.  Those little ones hold the keys to my heart and no fancy vacation could compare to spending time with them.
Watching a movie at my place.. special moments.

It’s weird.. when I first got here, I felt like a year was going to be this astronomical amount of time, it felt like forever.  But now that I am more than halfway through my commitment, I realize that the time is literally flying by, so much faster than I want it to go.  Since I’ve gotten back, I have made a conscious effort to savor every moment of my life here.  I used to get so caught up in day dreaming about America, cheeseburgers, medical school, my friends and family.  Now I remind myself that in six months, when I’m back home complaining about iphones and gas prices, I’ll be dreaming of being back in Tanzania, wishing I could play with my students and eat rice and beans for dinner.  One of the most important things I have learned here is how to live one day at a time.  I used to say it all the time back home but now I actually try to live it.  Because I know that this is one of the most defining experiences of my life, and I don’t want to waste a single moment thinking about things I can’t control.  For the first time ever, I’m not trying to plan and fix what hasn’t happened yet; I just sit back and enjoy whatever is happening at the time, because it’s special and won’t last forever.
Sweet Abby wearing my glasses wr
Standard one improving their English with storybooks.

Sometimes I think I am becoming desensitized to many of the day to day events that occur here.  But then there are moments that amaze me and blow my mind, and then I know I’ll never get completely used to it.  Like the time I threw a bag of beans in my yard because they were infested with hundreds of bugs… a few minutes later I found three women scraping them out of the dirt and putting them into a basket.  In my limited Swahili I explained that there were bugs in them, but they just begged me to let them have the beans.  Of course I said yes, and as they walked away I felt a mixture of amusement and sadness.  I’m sure they thought I was nuts for throwing any kind of beans out, insects or not. 

Then there was the time I was in the shower and the electricity went out, so I called Scott to hold a flashlight so I could finish my shower.  Then as I was all nice and soapy, the water ran out too. I stood there freezing in the dark while he ran to get water from another house. I was furious but couldn’t help but laugh at the ridiculousness of the situation.

Then there’s the day my sweetest student Abby asked to go outside during a quiz.   I said no, and then she whispered in my ear “I need to go pollute the air”. I was stunned into silence, and then we both burst out laughing like it was the funniest thing in the world. 

And of course, there was the week when I was chased by a bat from one class and then a squawking chicken flew into my other classroom, creating all sorts of chaos among the children and shrilling screams on my part.  These are the times when I truly love and appreciate where I am and I hope, wish, and pray that I remember each one forever.
Standard two working hard in their extremely cramped room.

Well we are in the fourth week of school and things are going well.  It started out rough, one of our teachers who said she was on her way to Berega never showed up.  We called her and she was still at home in Dar es Salaam, and said she changed her mind, she had another job.  Well thanks for being so considerate as to tell us the day before school started!!  So we had to re-hire the teacher who had been beating the kids because he was our only other option.  We weren’t happy about this but there is a serious lack of good, reliable teachers in this country.  Also, because we don’t have room for the Standard 4 students, we had to put them in a room at the church.  Someone failed to tell us that the pastor who had the key would be out of town, so we couldn’t get into the room and had to have class outside for a week.  And then, another teacher said he had to leave for two days to go pick up his certificates in another town.  He didn’t come back for 10 days.  I was left trying to control and teach two classes, which as you can imagine was exhausting.  In America, if you leave work for that long and told the boss you would only be gone two days, you’d be replaced in an instant.  But again, there’s a lack of good teachers here so we do the best we can with what we have.  All this nonsense can be summarized with the phrase “This is Africa.”
My standard three boys.

With all the struggles aside, the students are doing fantastic.  I got a new group of kids for Standard 1, straight out of pre-school, and it was pretty intimidating at first.  They didn’t speak hardly any English and it’s incredibly difficult to teach 25 children who don’t understand a word you are saying.  But those kids are like sponges, after just a few weeks of listening to me and doing a few simple English games, they are starting to get it.  They are answering questions and reading words and starting to make sentences.  It has been incredibly rewarding to see such an improvement in them in such a short amount of time.  To know that I am helping to lay the foundation for their education, teaching them the language and the skills that will hopefully lead them to a higher standard of living, is the most rewarding feeling I’ve ever had.  Plus they are just too cute!  My standard 2, 3, and 4 classes are also doing well.  Standards 2 and 3 are really starting to put the pieces together, figuring out how to speak and write well, actually remembering the things they learned last year.  Standard 4 is the most fun though.  They aren’t just learning what, they are asking why.  They want to know everything so we have the most awesome conversations about life and science and the world.  Their usage of the English language is just amazing.  We talked about the word ‘committed’ one day, the next day they were all using it in their conversations. They completely astound me.
Saturday afternoon walk with the girls.

 I didn’t realize how great our kids were doing until we got a new student, Phaustine, from another private school in Dar es Salaam.  He was in Standard 4 there, but as soon as we tested him we knew he had to go back to Standard 1.  He got maybe 10 points on the English and Math exams (the one our kids had an 85% average on), he can’t spell a word or say a complete sentence, and he cannot read to save his life.  This made me so incredibly proud of our school and our students, that we have raised the bar so high that other schools can’t even compete.  But it also made me pretty sad to think that he came from a nice, expensive private school and yet, cannot even read a sentence of English off a page.  What are they even teaching there??  So I feel really grateful that I get to be a part of a school that is producing such remarkable results and educating children that are the brightest of any others I’ve ever met.  I am positive that our students are the future of this country; they are going to be the doctors, lawyers, pilots, and politicians that are going to make the changes this place needs.  And I get to be a very small part of that.  What a gift. 
Life long memories in the making.

I think this thing is long enough, please comment here and leave me your feedback!  Also, please no more packages.  It's actually very expensive to pick them up and the boxes can get lost/stolen/damaged easily.  But please still consider donating at  That way we can support the local economy by buying supplies and can start building our new school..  Construction should start soon and we need all the help we can get.  Until next time!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

School ends so the traveling begins

The kids just love playing with my hair.
This place is full of staggering contradictions, which are very difficult to describe.  Some days are filled with so much love and gratitude for the children I teach, I think my heart will burst with joy.  Other days are overshadowed by feelings of frustration and loneliness, when I just want to curl up in a ball and go back to America where things make sense.  Sometimes I revel in the simple freedom of this place, never looking at a clock or trying to keep up in the constant rat race, living moment to moment.  Other times it drives me crazy to never have a schedule and to live on ‘African time” where nothing happens when it's supposed to. 

I showed The Lion King on our last day.. they loved it!

The most beautiful pink flower bush by our house.

Every day I am amazed at the incredible beauty of Tanzania, the rolling hills and green mountains in every direction, trees of every species and flowers in every color, bright blue skies and the most amazing sunsets I’ve ever seen.  And yet, I am saddened that the beauty is set in the background of such poverty, houses made of sticks and mud, streets filled with reeking garbage and waste, starving children in tattered rags.  Then there are moments when I envy the people here, their generosity and hospitality, their willingness to share whatever little they have with others, and their complete faith in God who they trust will never fail them.  I have never met people who are more content and satisfied with their lives, though they are poor in material wealth they are rich in all things spiritual.  But then the next moment I feel deep despair for my neighbors, that they have limited opportunities for education, must walk miles to retrieve water from a hole in the ground, and aren’t able to obtain good and proper health care when sick.  I have thoughts of “Why me?  Why am I so blessed with every convenience and resource I could ever need or want when they can’t even obtain the basic necessities of life?”  When I walk through this village I am overcome with equal amounts of joy and sadness, faith and hopelessness.  This entire trip has and continues to be a roller coaster of extreme emotions, but no matter how uncomfortable or difficult it may be, I am grateful to God for every minute of my life here.

My standard 3 boys playing football (soccer) against the local school.

We scored a goal!!

The biggest obstacle I have had to face so far happened a few weeks ago when many of my students’ parents failed to pay school fees.  Our school costs 450,000 tsh a year, or about $280, which pays for the teachers’ salaries, supplies, and two meals a day.  Because we are non-profit, every cent we make is put back into the school and usually we spend more than we take in.  Now $280 doesn’t sound like much to us, I spend that much on food shopping in a month back home, but it’s an astronomical amount to the majority of villagers here.  Most of them live on less than $2 a day so this is a huge struggle for them.  The government schools are much cheaper but, as I’ve already described, the condition of the government schools here in Tanzania is awful- not enough teachers, not enough supplies, not enough classrooms.. the other school nearby has two teachers for upwards of 500 children. You can imagine how much learning is going on there.  So parents are put in the impossible position of either sending their kids to a good school or continue providing for their families.  But since our school cannot function without school fees, when parents don’t pay we have to send the children home.   This was the most difficult thing I have done here.  To take twenty of my kids out of class and tell them they had to go home, even though it isn’t their fault their parents can’t pay.. the looks on their faces broke my heart. When they started crying, I barely held myself together.  I just felt so angry that I was put in that position.  That the system is so broken here, these beautiful and incredibly smart children have to miss out on their only chance for a decent education when they did nothing wrong.
My groupies :)

Last day of school stickers.
It just doesn't seem fair.  In America, even if you are the poorest of poor, you can still get a good education for free.  In Tanzania, only 1% of children actually finish school and make it to college, there are just too many hurdles that get in the way.  Somehow though, most of our student's parents eventually come up with the money, they borrow or get another job, they are desperate to keep their kids in school.  But a few came to me and said they simply could not afford to pay, or they would not be able to buy food for their families.. so what could I do?  I agreed to help, I just couldn’t keep my students out of school.  Sometimes I just feel so helpless here, like no matter what I do I’ll never be able to do enough. People will still die from preventable diseases and kids will still go without food and education.  I try to stay positive and focus on the fact that we are making a difference for the 100 children at St. Mary’s and THEY will be able to make a bigger difference here than I ever could.  So that is the motivating force that keeps me moving forward!
End of school dance party.

Playing their first game of pinata.. with water balloons.

On a more positive note, we gave our end of the year tests and the students did great! 
 Our average English and Math scores for every class was between an 85-88% which is incredible.  I just have to brag on these kids for a minute, the average scores in every other school I know of is a 30-40% and that is considered passing.  But because we raised the bar so high and made a 70% the passing grade, these kids have worked hard and now have the highest test scores of any other school around here!  We even found out that two of our students who left to go to other schools in bigger towns became number one in their classes. So we are definitely doing something right here!  The last day of school our students sang and danced for the School of Nursing graduation, they were the only ones who performed in English and everyone was super impressed.  They were seriously so cute and confident, they amaze me every day.  I’m going to miss them now that school is over…. But I am also thankful for a six week break!  Teaching is exhausting.
Performing at the SONAB graduation.

Me and Ima, my little Massai warrior.
Another exciting thing that happened this week,  one of my students, Ima, who is a Massai, invited me and four of my other students to a wedding celebration in Ifunde, where the Massai tribe live.  We had to walk really  far through the literal African bush through the rain to get there, but it was worth it.  I am amazed by the Massai tribe, they have kept their cultural customs for hundreds of years now and don’t see any need to conform to society.  They dress in patterned linens that wrap around their bodies, the women wear the most beautiful extravagant jewelry from their stretched earlobes, and the men carry walking sticks with machetes hung on their waists. 

They hardly use any technology, with the exception of the occasional cell phone, and their houses are made of mud and manure.  They live far away from everyone else, with lots of land to herd their cows and raise their many children.  There are no shops, no electricity, no machines, and no direct access to water. I got to go inside Ima’s house and as I looked around, I couldn’t fathom living that way, and choosing to do so. But I guess I am just a spoiled American brat.  We had a great time though, listened to some local music and saw some dancing (the Massai men like to jump high with their sticks), played with a few babies.  It was one of those very surreal moments when I was like “Am I dreaming I am in National Geographic right now?”.  I just tried to soak it all in, because I know these experiences only happen once in a lifetime.
Ima and his family in Ifunde.

Well in a couple days, me and Scott are leaving for our around the world vacation!  About time too, we are both getting pretty burnt out- the heat and mosquitoes are unbearable and we are constantly running out of water and electricity.  We leave for Paris on Wednesday and will spend four days there (so look for my selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower), then we will head to London for two weeks (for a British Christmas to rival that of Harry Potter’s), and then a week in Bangkok (to celebrate an exciting New Years Eve that will hopefully not end up like the Hangover..).  Although I love Berega, a few weeks of normal food and Western comforts could be just what I need to rejuvenate my spirit so I can return to Africa in January refreshed and ready to work. 

That’s all for now, please consider donating to my page or the Hands4Afridca website to help us build a new school!!  And prayers are appreciated for safe travels.. Happy Holidays!
All of St. Mary's school!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

We need a school!

Well ever since the last entry, things have gone surprisingly well.  Sure, the electricity has been going out almost every day, in the evenings there is always a massive swarm of mosquitoes circling my head, and it’s getting so hot here I sweat through my sheets at night, but I have just been so happy to get into a solid rhythm with my students at school.  Those children are amazing.  They fill my heart with more joy and purpose than I have ever known, and I thank God every day for the opportunity to work with them.  Of course they are kids and can be difficult, they steal each other’s pencils or talk loudly while I am teaching, and then I have to scold them (which is really hard for me to to do, I'm still learning).  But the moment one of them looks up at me and smiles or laughs, the room suddenly lights up and all is well.  It’s truly a blessing. 
They just LOVE pictures!
Anyway, Teacher Liz needed to leave for some R&R so she went to Cambodia for three months and left me in charge.  On the one hand, I love to be in charge because most of you know I like to control!!  But on the other, this has left me with a lot of responsibility.  All the teachers come to me for questions, the parents want to talk to me about their children, and I am expected to deal with many of the disciplinary issues.  I’m also making and correcting all of the end of the year exams and am doing most of the grading.  But this is great practice I suppose, for future years of accountability as a doctor.  I think you all must be dying to know how a typical day looks like for me here, so I am going to indulge you:

My standard 1 kids making words out of letter tiles.
I wake up every day around 7 am to the loudest rooster crow I've ever heard, it’s literally like the dang bird is right next to me in bed.  The roosters, chickens, and cows are always roaming around our yard looking for scraps and are completely oblivious to my need for extra sleep.  So I get up and start boiling water for my coffee and oatmeal, then spend time in meditation and prayer.  This has become significantly more important in my daily routine, since it has proven to be one of my only comforts and sources of serenity.  I would not be surviving here if it weren't for this conscious contact with God every day.  He provides me with the hope and strength to stay in His will and to keep doing the next right thing, no matter how hard that may be.

Around 8:15, I leave my house to walk the ¼ mile to school.  On the way of course, I get pointed and stared at, while hearing shrill little voices scream“mzungu!”.  I am pretty sure this is the first word the village children learn.  At first, I thought it was cute but lately, it has gotten on my nerves.  Would you people please stop calling me a rich white foreigner every time I leave my house!?  Gheesh.  Once I get to school though, I hear the sweetest sound. All my students see me through the window and yell “teachaa Chaareen, teachaa Chaareen!” (the l’s and r’s are really hard for them to pronounce).  Then without fail, several children run out of the school to hug me and take my bag to carry.  It’s my favorite part of the day.

Standard 3 doing long division on the board.
My first class is English and Math for Standard 1 (equivalent to first grade), this class can be difficult because many of the children are just beginning to learn English so there is a definite language barrier.  But we practice reading and writing, grammar and spelling, addition and math, and problem solving.  The more often we do the problems, the better they get, and the more they hear my English, the better they learn it.  The next class is English and Math for Standard 3 and this is my fun class.  These students have been learning English for 4 years now and are almost fluent.  I don’t have to slow down to speak, they just get it and continually ask questions. They love to learn, they want to know about everything, and they are so incredibly smart.  Not to mention they are the best behaved class because they are more mature than the others, most of them are 10-14 years of age.  (Many didn't get the chance to go to school before or had to be held back because they didn't learn enough in other schools.) I can leave them alone for an hour to do long division by themselves and when I come back they are all finished and reading books quietly.  Their writing is getting so good too, they are beginning to get more creative and insightful.  It is so great to watch them grow and learn.  I should mention that for most of my students, English is their third language.  First they learn Kaguru, their tribal language, then Swahili, the national language, and then English; one of my kids is even in the Masaai tribe so English is his fourth language!  And he is only 13, such a smart kid.  So the fact that these kids are reading and writing English pretty efficiently after having only been learning it for a couple years is amazing. 
Playing Simon Says with Standard 2, really great for English listening skills and they have so much fun.
After Standard 3 is an hour for lunch.  On Mondays, I use my lunch hour to go to the market to buy fruits and vegetables for the week.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I use that time to teach English at the Bible College.  Next door to our school is a small college, only about 20 students, who are learning the ins and outs of Christian theology so that they can go on to be pastors in the community.  I was asked if I would help teach English and I said yes.  English is so useful in this country because it links these people to the rest of the world and improves their chances at gaining employment.  I really like teaching the bible students, not just because they are willing to learn but because they are adults.  I never have to scold or yell at them to be quiet, they are always respectful and they always listen.  But that doesn't leave me any time for lunch so I just grab a handful of peanuts and keep going.  I like my days to be busy though!

The school sink.  You do not want to see (or smell) the toilet.
When lunch time is over, I have Standard 2 which is my in between class.  They are not as difficult as Standard 1 because they know more English, but they are still grappling with several important concepts.  They are great to work with though because almost every day I see them making the connections in their school work. They are starting to really figure out the reading, writing, and math and when they do, their faces light up. All my students are wonderful in that way, they work really hard day after day and when they finally understand it, they are so excited.  Each one of them will get the biggest smiles on their faces, they will pump their fists up into the air and jump up and down, so happy with their accomplishment.  It’s the sweetest thing and makes a lot of the frustration in teaching the material disappear, because they make it worthwhile.
Our courtyard during play time.  They are literally playing with dirt and sticks.. and are happy about it!  I don't think American kids would feel the same way.

Dance partayyyy!!
After school, I have an hour to myself to clean or exercise, and then some of my students come to my house for an after school class.  These are the kids whose reading and math skills need serious work so I give them extra individual attention in those areas.  We work for an hour and then I let them have fun for 30 minutes, they color or play with legos and cards.  And almost inevitably, they ask if I will turn on some music so they can dance.  Now let me tell you, there is just nothing like having ten of these sweet Tanzanian children bouncing around you, shaking their body parts, and laughing at the top of their lungs.  I have had some rough days here, but by the end of the dance session with my students I am filled with more love for those kids than I can explain.  It makes me truly appreciate the place I am in and the work I am doing.

When my house is child-free again, me and Scott work together to make dinner, usually rice and beans or soup, and then we can finally relax and watch a movie.   By this time I am filthy, sweaty, and absolutely exhausted, but I am also more at peace than I've ever been in my entire life.  God is using me in ways than I never could have imagined and I am so grateful for that.

Our gathering of die hard fans.
On the weekends we usually relax, unless we go to Morogoro for supplies.  I grade or make tests, clean the house, and take walks around the village. This is always an adventure because since we are the only white people here, kids are fascinated by us (well everyone is).  They just laugh and stare at us, follow us around, and yell at us in Swahili.  I am able to speak to them in the little Swahili I know and they just love it.  These kids are worse off than mine, their clothes are tattered, they never have shoes on, and they are covered in mud.  But they are so full of joy and laughter, and all they want is to play and get a little attention.  By the end of our walk, I have five of them clinging to each of my hands and my heart just melts. I wish that I could put every single one of them in St. Mary’s School, because the majority of those children will never get a decent, or even a basic, education.  But you can’t save them all I suppose.  All I can do is hug them and smile, and show each one of them that they are special.

Now I must mention, our school is SMALL and falling apart. Our classrooms are overcrowded which makes it unbearably hot and uncomfortable, making mine and the students' jobs way more difficult.  It also keeps us from taking in any more students because we simply don’t have enough room.  This is sad because we really want to expand and give more children the opportunity to attend our school.

Also, Standard 3 will be moving to
We are at maximum capacity!
Standard 4 in January (the first Standard 4 we have ever had) and we have nowhere to put them.  We have had to ask the church if we can have a class in one of their rooms, which is inconvenient because the kids and the teachers will have to walk back and forth from the school to the church every day.  Scott and his team are working hard to start the building of a new school (which will have 14 classrooms, a library, and maybe even electricity!).  We already have the land and due to a few donations, workers have leveled the area the school will be.  To continue, we need more funds.. and that’s where you come in!  We would be well on our way if everyone who read this blog donated $20.  Please think about giving to this wonderful cause.  You would be affording hundreds of beautiful children the chance at a good education and a better life.  Without a new school, we cannot hope to continue our mission and I am positive, it’s God’s will for us to continue.  With the holiday season coming up, I know everyone is looking for a place to give (wink, wink).  Well here it is!  Please go to the Hands4Africa website on the right hand side of this page (if you want a tax receipt) or click on the Gofundme link (if you don't care about a receipt) and donate.  Tell everyone you know about this effort, we need a school!!!  Now please!!  Get on it people!  Ok thanks for listening to my rant.  To close, I would like to quote my favorite pastor Andy Stanley- “You may miss money you spend on yourself, but you’ll never miss money you give away”.  Thank you for considering us, God bless you.
The land the new St. Mary's school will be built on hopefully.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Plight of the visa

The view of Mt. Uluguru from the bottom
Most of the time, I am full of awe at the wonder and beauty of this country.  Other times, I am completely disgusted and saddened by its condition.  The past week has been a whirl wind.  So I’ll start with the good:  last weekend Scott and I climbed Mt. Uluguru with two German girls who are volunteering at the orphanage.  This amazing mountain overlooks the town of Morogoro and is a treasure chest of bio-diversity- hundreds of species of flowers, plants, fruits, and butterflies live there, and many of them cannot be found anywhere else in the world.  So needless to say, it’s pretty awesome.  Scott has been dying to climb this mountain ever since we were in Arusha last year and we finally got our chance. 
Just one of the many beautiful plants we saw.
Sophie and Miriam knew a guy who would take us up the mountain for free and since it was only a 6 hour hike, we figured we could do it all in one day.  Now, I am not a mountain climber (and should never become one) so the trek was a bit much for me.  Uluguru is incredibly steep and rocky, not to mention I haven’t been to the gym in three months so am pretty out of shape.  I was huffing and puffing all the way up, Scott even had to get behind me at one point and literally push me so I would continue on.  It was rough to say the least.

This view made every painful moment worthwhile!

But as hard as the hike was, I will say it was TOTALLY worth it.  The views were breath taking, we saw the most stunning plants and flowers, and I felt really accomplished when we made it to the top (well it was almost the top, to go all the way we would have had to rock climb up a vertical cliff and that was not gonna happen for me).  But I was pretty excited that my first mountain climbing experience was on one of the most beautiful and flourishing mountains in Africa.  That is, until Scott and I got lost on the way down, took the wrong trail, and almost ended up dangling off a cliff.  Thank goodness two little boys saw us and pointed us in the right direction so we could finally make it back down the mountain.  We sure did make it interesting!

What a public toilet (or choo)  looks like in Tanzania...
Now to the bad part of last week:  our status became illegal.  When we landed in Tanzania, they gave us a 90 day visa that was supposed to last until our work permit was approved.  Well, we realized a little too late that we were on the last day of our visas and had to rush to Morogoro to the office of immigration to get an extension.  Everyone was saying it would be no problem, they would just give us a stamp and we would continue with the work we were doing.  But of course, nothing in Tanzania is ever that easy.  The officer at the department of immigration saw us as cash cows and wouldn't give us a visa extension unless we paid him $400.  Now this is not the first time I’ve seen corruption and bribery around here.  Twice, we have been riding in cars that got pulled over by the police (or flagged down because police stand on the side of the road) who then took our drivers' licenses and refused to let us go until we paid them off, even when the driver didn’t do anything wrong.  I also found out someone I know had his teaching degree stolen and duplicated, and now he cannot get a job because the thief is using his credentials- and most people here think this is a sufficient way to find employment.  And then there is this guy, a supposed trusted government official, trying to steal from us when we are workijng toward the betterment of this country.  It was so frustrating and disheartening.  Of course, we did not have that kind of money, and honestly did not want to give in to his bribe, so our only choice was to leave Tanzania.  Without a change of clothes, deodorant, or toothbrushes, we were in for a rough couple of days. 

A nice welcome into a new country.
We hopped on a bus to Malawi the next morning and for the next ten excruciatingly painful hours me and Scott feared for our lives.  For some reason, people like to drive like maniacs here.  Our bus driver, who had 100 people, including children, in his care, drove 90 miles an hour on the worst roads I’ve ever seen.  We literally came within inches of slamming head on into a petrol truck because he did not feel like checking if someone was coming before he tried passing the car in front of us.  We went so fast around corners that luggage and people were flying out into the aisle.  The bus ended up getting pulled over because the driver was acting like evil canevil, and a cop came on the bus to check everyone’s passports.  My heart started thundering like crazy because a.) we were one day over our visas and b.) we were headed to Malawi to renew it which is technically not allowed.  But the man looked at my passport, asked why I was going to Malawi, and I said we were going for vacation, just to travel.  He looked at me real hard, I said a silent prayer, and then he just walked away.  I was so relieved.  We have already seen what corrupt officials do here, I did not want to see what would happen if they caught two illegal white people.  So we made it to the border safe but of course, it was closed so we had to stay in one of the most disease infested motel rooms for the night.  I’m sure I got TB just by sitting on the makeshift bed.  But thank goodness, we were so exhausted we didn’t notice the hundreds of biting mosquitoes or the smell of manure coming from the choo.
A dala dala.. Personal space is obviously not an option here.

In the morning, we met up with one of the girls I met on the bus, a really nice lady who spoke good English, and she agreed to help us.  We crossed the border, got our Malawi visas, and then we decided to stay a few hours.. I mean, we had just traveled two days to get to Malawi, it would be nice to at least see some of the country.  We found out that Lake Malawi was only 30 km away so we grabbed a dala dala (super packed and uncomfortable) to get to the lake, and I am so glad we did. 

You can't tell, but we both smell really bad right here.

It was just as beautiful as any beach we’ve ever been to… there was pretty white sand and clear blue water, but you could still tell it was Africa because there were people bathing and washing their clothes in the fresh water.  Me and Scott had a few drinks in the sun, and walked along the beach, finally getting a moment to relax.  We had a wonderful time.  So after our bask in the sun, we went back to the border, got across to the Tanzanian side with a new 90 day visa, and made our way to a hotel to wait until our next 5 am bus.  Another unbearable 10 hour bus ride back to Morogoro, a 3 hour cramped trip in a Noah, and we finally made it back to Berega.  I have never been so happy to see our house!!  Five days of unexpected traveling, fear of immigration, dreadful buses, and the same pair of clothes (I have never been so filthy before), and we were so glad to settle back in to the village. 
Not a bad place to run away to though.

Now you would think that since we had been through a lot the past week, we would finally catch a break.   But unfortunately for us, that was not the case.  Both me and Scott were woken up at 3 in the morning, overcome with the worst bouts of vomiting and diarrhea.  For the next 24 hours, we were violently ill, fighting over the toilet, and unable to keep anything down.  It was absolutely disgusting. Thank goodness it passed so we could both go back to work the next day, I did not want to miss another day with my kids.  This week has been wonderful though, besides a little bit of exhaustion and dehydration, mostly because I am so filled with gratitude- gratitude for a feeling of safety and for my renewed health.  Plus, I am so thankful for Scott because I don't think I could have made it through all that chaos alone. And hey, as bad as things seemed at times, we did have a pretty awesome adventure!  Until next time, tutuonana!