Saturday, November 24, 2012

Here's to the crazy ones...

"Here's to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes... the ones who see things differently -- they're not fond of rules... You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them, but the only thing you can't do is ignore them because they change things... they push the human race forward, and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do" -- Steve Jobs

As you all know, Tyler Addison and I have been working extremely hard to get our non-profit organization up and running--- we finally have everything going and the website is looking great! We created Neema Intl. with a certain vision in mind-- we believe that every child deserves a life filled with understanding, support, dreams, laughter, and most importantly, love. Neema International has adopted the Tuleeni Orphanage as its primary focus and as the beneficiary of all its fundraising. Our mission is to make sure that these 78 children never have to feel unwanted, unloved, or unimportant. It is our goal to provide these children with all the necessary tools to succeed and to help build them a foundation for the best future possible. The 78 Tuleeni Orphans, Mama Faraji, and her husband are currently living in a rented home that is suitable for only 40 people. Neema International has been working collaboratively with a few other non-profits and two amazing individuals, Jackie Weiss and Eric Nelson, to raise money to build Mama and the children a new home. Jackie and Eric have been extremely helpful and truly such an inspiration to me. I will be moving to live with Mama and the orphans after I finish graduate school. With the help of Neema International, I hope to empower these children to realize their full potential and importance in this world. For us this is not a job. This is our passion. And our future. And therefore, it is our goal to continue finding ways to invest in the lives of Tuleeni's promising youth.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Don't Blink

About 15 months ago, before I came to Tanzania for the first time, me and my boyfriend at the time had a bad breakup and I'm not going to lie, I was completely heart broken. As they say, when it rains, it pours-- and yes sure enough, after we broke up, everything else seemed to be falling apart. Days continued to come and go and before I knew it, two months had passed and it was time for me to leave for Africa. I was excited to go but I was unsure of what to expect there. Little did I know, it would be the best thing that ever happened to me. "When you find yourself in some far off place and it causes you to rethink some things you start to sense that slowly you're becoming someone else, then you find yourself. When you make new friends, in a brand new town and you start to think about settling down, the things that would have been lost on you are now clear as a bell, and you find yourself. Well you go through life so sure of where you're headed and you wind up lost and its the best thing that could of happened, because when you lose your way, its really just as well because that’s when you find yourself. I have found myself.

Don't blink. Time flies by too quickly. I feel like I just got to Tanzania and now I only have 4 more days here. The thought alone that I have such little time left here at home brings tears to my eyes. And to the kids eyes. What hurts me the most is that no matter how many times I tell them, I don't think they truly know HOW MUCH they mean to me.  But as I am writing this, Lucky just told me that he doesn't want me to leave and that he will hide my bags, my phone, and my passport so I cannot go. So sweet. The kids here and my friends back home always want to know why I don't want to go home where I have everything I could ever need back home. This "perfect" life. I look at the kids and tell them, "yeah everything but you.." and besides, all this "things" I have back home, they aren't what I want. They are just things. I don't need things. I need people. I need experiences. I need laughter. I need tradition and a community that respects one another. I need culture. I love serving others. And catering to their needs, and in turn, it caters to my needs because all I need in life is to be happy, and here, I find that every day. Its funny to me-- every time someone looks at my blog or my pictures the FIRST thing they say is "AWW you look SOO happy" or "you sound soo happy". Well they are right. I don't only look happy, I AM happy. My inner spirit is mirroring the smile on my face and my heart truly feels warm. I look at them and I fell myself living for someone else. I am not living for me. The things I do everyday, yes they make me happy, but they only make me happy because I see that they make my kids happy. I like being different. The things I do here matter. They are important. And I am able to see the effect of my hard work. I'm proud of the person I am when I am here because I feel like I'm being ME. The REAL me. No makeup, no hair dryer, no nice clothes, or nice jewelry, no manicure or pedicure or facial or anything-- just me. In my purest and realest form. I don't need menial little conversations and small talk and gossip that occupy our lives when I am in America. I don't want to talk about who did what to who or who is dating so and so's ex-boyfriend. I want to talk about the things that matter. Family, education, laughter, how we together can make a difference in this world. I want to teach. I want to teach parents the importance of loving your child and how a little quality time and a hug and a kiss can mean so much. I like teaching alternative ways to discipline instead of hitting children and explaining WHY hitting isn't the answer and WHY it is SO IMPORTANT to give children choices. A very smart woman, the founder of Toto Aid, Urmila Kumar, once told me "if you are born blessed, those blessings aren't for you to keep" they are instead there for you to take around the world to spread love and joy and to bless the lives of other individuals. I am enjoying being here and heeding her advice. Speaking of her, I actually went to Arusha to visit with her board members and see her work. --I know I haven't blogged lately, so I will do a quick recap of the last two weeks.

Two weeks ago I went to Arusha to meet with Toto Aid and met Davi and Sajeeda. I went to visit schools and to talk about scholarships for the Tuleeni kids. Jordan and Rachelle came with me and we stayed with Davi and his family for three days and two nights. It was LOVELY. Davi and Sajeeda took us to Edmond Rice School to meet 8 of the students that HEF/Toto aid sponsors. The school was beautiful. It was amazing to see these children's dreams coming true and how Urmila is responsible for helping them. What a remarkable woman! After we went to Edmond rice, we went with Sajeeda to the New Life Academy where we interviewed class seven students who would be entering secondary school in the fall. We are interested in sponsoring these kids and so we were getting all their grades and interviewing them to see which ones we thought would be best for the Toto-aid program. In November, there is the national examination for entry into secondary school. It is only over math and English and the entire test is in English. The class 7 Tuleeni kids will go to take this exam. If they score 60% or above, they are eligible to go to Edmond Rice-- Sajeeda is coming to Moshe this week to meet the Tuleeni class 7 students and to see who they want to sponsor-- even if they decide that the child would be a good individual to sponsor, it is in the child's hands to ace that exam to be able to enter the schools which Toto Aid pays for. This is what Jordan, Rachelle and I have been tutoring the kids for-- this is the opportunity of a LIFE TIME for them and could truly turn EVERYTHING around for them. I would LOVE for them to get this chance and I really hope some of them can pass this exam. When we were in Arusha, we went to the Masaai market and I bought lots of beaded things! I found these two beautiful little beaded angels-- I bought both of them. 

When we returned to Moshi on Wednesday, I gathered mama and the children in the living room and presented them with one of the angels. I told them that one angel would stay here with them and one would go with me to America. This way, we would always be together and I will be able to watch over them while I am away. Mama was BEYOND thrilled and the kids were so excited. They called it "Malaika Neema" which means "angel Neema" they put it way up high on the mantel so it is the first thing you see when you walk into the house. The angel has a wood head and so the kids drew eyes and a smile on it. I also bought mama a new dress and head wrap. She danced around in it and modeled for us and looked absolutely BEAUTIFUL. It was such a fun evening.  The following evening, there was no electricity as usual and everything was pitch black. I needed to go outside to get my sheets off the clothesline but couldn’t find my flashlight. I stepped on uneven ground and heard my ankle crack. I let out the loudest cry and of course, the kids have only ever seen me smiling and happy, so they were sooo worried. Duy and Mama carried me inside and wiped my tears and found a cold water bottle and a cold can of jam to use as “ice” for my ankle. The swelling was ridiculous. I didn’t go to the hospital because I figured it was just a sprain.  We put some candles in the living room while we rested my ankles. The kids all came in and started to pray and sing worship songs in Swahili. They prayed for my fast recovery and for my safe return from Ghana. We sat together holding hands in the dark and singing for about an hour. It was so wonderful and I couldn’t help but tear up. We felt like such a family and I was thrilled to have them with me at a time when I was hurting. Turns out, the next day, my ankle was MASSIVE. Realllyyy nasty haha. But I was fine. Mama and the kids continued to worry as usual, which was sweet.

 I left for Ghana the next day at 4am. The flight was beyond miserable and there were so many complications. It was a full day of traveling… 24 hours. My hands and feet always swell up when I am on an airplane but this time, my foot got HUGE!!! It was CRAZY!  I spent one week in Ghana. It was amazing and I truly enjoyed seeing another part of the continent that I love so much but I was very homesick for Tanzania and missed mama and the kids so much. I spent most of my time with the staff there because the staff is made up of Ghanaian individuals and I always say, when I am in Africa, I want to be with Africans-- I love Americans and other volunteers but I can be with Americans when I am in America. While I'm in Africa, I want to live like an African and I don't want to be treated any differently. I helped cook every day, I was up at the crack of dawn everyday, and I did my laundry by hand and ate the traditional Ghanaian foods with my hands like I am supposed to. One of the staff members, Vivian, told me that I am "a real black woman" of course this put a HUGE smile on my face. I got my hair braided in its entirety while I was there and did some shopping for the kids. I volunteered at the Happy Kids Orphanage and School every morning and had a ball with the children. They were beautiful as always and had contagious smiles and giggles. We worked on three and four letter words all week and on Friday, my last day there, I gave them a test, they had to each write 10 three letter words and 10 four letter words on a piece of paper and if they got 100% they got a piece of candy. They ALLLL studied the night before and all aced the test! I was so happy for them and to know that I actually was able to teach them something. They lit up when they saw how proud of them I was. While in Ghana we went to this monkey sanctuary where—it’s a big forest and you go in with bananas and the monkeys literally jump out of the trees and land on your head or shoulders or arm etc. it was crazy. We also went to the largest waterfall in West Africa and did Batik making. All are pictured below.  It was a great week and I learned a lot—however, I was sooo excited to return home to Tanzania. Whenever my airplane lands in Kilimanjaro, I get this rush inside me that is like none other. There was something even more special about coming home this time because I had only been gone for a week then opposed to months like usual, and returning back to Tanzania made Tanzania truly feel like home. As soon as I landed, I was able to converse and speak the language and the custom/immigration officers remembered me from the week before and said “welcome back neema” and it was so heart warming. Unfortunately, the airlines lost my bag and so I would have to return back the next day to go get it. The next morning, I ran outside to greet mama and all the children. They screamed and laughed and hugged me and even picked me up. they were soooo happy to see me and I was even happier to be home. We all sat down together and discussed the trip—at about 2pm, Paul arrived at Tuleeni to drive me back to the airport. The orphans have never been to the airport or seen a plane and so I took 4 of them on a little field trip—Jasiri, Jonas, Lucky, and Little Hellen. We jammed out to music with the windows down the entire drive there and they were so excited when we pulled up to the airport. After I got my bag, I took a picture of them in front of the airport. Before we left, I opened my suitcase and took out the drums and other little presents I bought for them from Ghana. When we got back in the car, there was a mini concert in the back seat of the kids playing with the drums and being silly. It was such a fun afternoon. The Tuleeni kids and I were talking about me going home one day and they asked me “what will happen if you find some guy in America and you marry him there and you don’t ever come back” it was too cute and sweet but I couldn’t help but giggle. I told them that its going to take MUCH more than a man to keep me from them. But to reassure them, when I was in Ghana, I found this beautiful ring with Africa on it. I bought it and put it on my ring finger and so now the kids know that I am “married to Africa.” They loved it and their smiles were priceless.

 In Arusha with Toto Aid and Rachelle and Jordan!

The BEAUTIFUL school of Edmond Rice

Just hanging around with my loves :)

Left: Mama in her new dress from me and us holding the little "Angel Neema" 

The BEAUTIFUL Ghanaian children 

Monkeys, Batiking, waterfalls, cooking with the staff... Ghana fun :)


Friday, July 20, 2012

Let's Go Fly A Kite!!

So a little more about this past Sunday--- after I took Malaika to the bus station and the kids had finished their church service, Me, Rachelle, and Jordan took the kids down to the big feild to go and play games. We brought jump ropes, frisbees, bubbles, and a soccer ball. We had a BLAST!. Jordan and Rachelle taught the kids some fun rump rope songs and games and the kids loved it. As usual, the kids are beyond adorable with bubbles--- below are some pictures of little Derricki with his bubbles-- as each bubble floated away, he screamed "BYEEEE!!!" and waved to all of them. It was such a beautiful day outside. I wish there was like a real park with a swing seat or something here. When we were out playing games the other day, I couldn't stop thinking about when my mom and dad used to take me and my older brother, Justin, to parks in Houston-- the pumpkin/cinderella park, the one in Meyerland with the long balance beam looking thing made out of logs and when you tried to walk across it, it wiggled and shook and you had to balance... Then there was the other park with the really high red tower thing that you had to climb up-- if you are reading this and you are from Houston, you KNOW what I'm talking about! I told the kids about these parks and how when we used to swing, my mom used to sing to us. I would sit in her lap and she would sing "Lets go fly a kite up to the highest height and send it soaring up to the atmosphere, up where the air is clear... " Sunday brought back a lot of childhood memories. After the park, I went on my adventure with the kids-- here are pictures! Click on the pictures to make them bigger!!!

Left: Jackie and me 
Right: Jonas and me 

Derricki screaming "bye!" at the bubbles

Jackie and me playing and doing cartwheels! 

Top left: Abdalla, Amani, Baracka, and Me
Bottom left: Baracka and me
Right: Freddie and me

Left: Shedrack "touching the sky" as part of the jump rope game-- song goes "teddy bear teddy bear turn around, teddy bear teddy bear touch the ground, teddy bear teddy bear look up high, teddy bear teddy bear touch the sky!" and the jumper is supposed to do each action as it is said

Right: Rachelle, Jordan and me twirling the rope for the kids

left: Pendo and me walking down our bumpy African road
Top right: Me pretending to be Rafiki from Lion King and holding Pendo up like Simba
Bottom right: me being goofy with little peanut

THE BOYS!!! Here are some pictures of my beautiful, wild and crazy children on our adventure last Sunday-- Shedrack, Jonas, Lucky, Dominique, Baracka, Abdalla, Amani, James, and Tumaini!

Top left: me, thigh deep and in my clothes, in the freezing cold river holding the fishing net...
Bottom left: one of the Tuleeni dogs, Chapati, laying in the grass watching all of us in case anyone fell in-- being a loyal dog as all dogs should be :)


Every couple of days, a cow is slaughtered at the little stake behind the orphanage-- after dinner one night, I walked behind the house and the cow was already there to be slaughtered in the morning-- which breaks my heart but the kids and families around here HAVE to eat... anyways, here is me petting the cow and loving him before his not so lovely fate in the morning...

This picture was taken at Mama Jacobo's little restaurant which I eat at daily. starting on the left is Baba Juma, then Mama Jacobo, then me, then Mama mdogo, and then Robati-- his name is Robert but everyone calls him Robati. They have been teaching me to cook Tanzanian food and here, I am rolling out dough to make chapati. 

 Here we all are again together. They are like another family to me here besides Tuleeni-- and they look out for me and Pendo all the time. I love them. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

every good story has a dog

I'm here not because I'm supposed to be here, not because someone made me come here and or not because I'm trapped here. I'm here because I'd rather be with yall than with any other people in the entire world. That's why I am here.

I went on the most amazing adventure with 9 of my older boys yesterday-- Jonas, lucky, shedrack, tumaini, baracka, amani, Dominique, and James-- and our dog chapati went all the way there and back with us. It was so far and he still followed us and stayed with us through the woods. We went down to the river to fish to catch food for dinner. I will post pictures and details tomorrow. But seeing chapati run along side of us made me think of pendo...I have been talking to my parents about trying to bring pendo home with me at the end of the summer. They said they would look into it and I began trying to find out stuff online about bringing a pet from Africa to America. Pendo is too big now to fit under my seat on the airplane and so she would have to go with cargo which will cost me so much money. My dad asked me why I felt it necessary to bring her to America and that maybe I should let her stay here and be part of my world here. I could do that, but with the way animals are treated in Africa, there is no telling if she will still be alive or healthy or anything when I come back. The doctor told me when i first found her that if i had left her where i found her and didnt bring her in for her shots and to get dewormed etc, she would have died. Everyone here always says "pendo, kwenda na mama yako" which means "go to your mom" and at this point, she def thinks I am her mom. I feed her, bathe her, make sure she is drinking clean water, give her toys and treats, and put a roof over her head at night time so she doesn't get hurt by the other dogs that fight at night. She sleeps in my bed and wakes up at the crack of dawn to go to the bathroom. Regardless of the time, I get up and take her outside and then she comes galloping back into the house and licks my face. My Dad told me that I have to also realize that if I pay $1000 to get her back to America, that's $1000 i could be spending on the children here. While I obviously want everything and more for my kids, and I turn myself inside outside and upside down for their well being, I have been told I have to take care of myself too. And while I have managed to get through the months in America ok in the past, each time I come here, my bond with the land, the children, the community, etc gets stronger and makes it harder and harder for me to walk away and focus on my life in America. We all know that dogs make great company and can be the best companion when we are feeling lonely. So not only will pendo keep me company the way any other dog would, but her name is pendo which means love in swahili and every time I say her name I'll think of Africa and smile and being around her all the time will remind me of all the memories I had with her in Africa and it will make me feel close. Close to the kids. Close to Africa. Close to
Mama and baba. close to my memories. And close to that feeling over 100% satisfaction and happiness that i feel when i am here. My mom keeps telling me she understands how I feel, and no offense to her or anyone else but no one understands how I feel because they haven't been here. Not just how i feel about leaving pendo, but how i feel about leaving africa. They haven't lived my summer and haven't grown as a person through experiences here. Most of them have no clue what it feels like to not have enough money to pay for the necessities one needs to survive. I'm not talking about a phone or a computer or a car or anything of that sort. I'm talking about having to decide whether you should feed yourself first or your children because there isnt enough money to feed both of you. I gave Sabina some rice and beans the other day. She came to me like 2 hours later and told me she was starving and she hadn't eaten all day. I looked at her confused and asked "what happens to that plate of rice and beans?" she said "I gave it to Alan Edward and Samson to eat. They were starving" these are her three children. Here is an 18year old child having to make decisions no person, especially not a child, should ever have to make.

This weekend, malaika came to surprise the kids for one day Yesterday morning she left and as I was driving her to the bus station, I was thinking about how I only have a few weeks left here and how much it's going to break my heart leaving these kids again. But it's not just the kids i will miss... It's everything. It's the smiles and the greetings from every person who you pass on the street... It's the culture. It's the modesty and honesty. It's The laughter. The giggling children playing with water bottles and sticks as toys... It's the satisfaction with all the little things in life. It's the adventure and thrill I feel every morning when I wake up. It's going to bed at night knowing that I will not only see my kids in my dreams but they will be there to greet me at the crack of dawn when I wake up in the morning. It's cooking dinner on wooden logs with flashlights under the stars. It's the unexpected moments that become the best memories. Its feeling alive and knowing that im living and not just merely existing. It's working to earn my keep. It's appreciation. Dedication. Curiosity and strength. Its giVing every child and person a voice and a choice and showing them that this life is theres to live. It's the little boy or girl who sees me walking and runs over to me and holds my hand and smiles while we walk even though we have never met and I'm a complete stranger. It's speaking Swahili and being a part of something bigger than myself. It's teaching. It's being neema. It's greeting mama and baba every day after work and bringing them food and chai after a long day of work. There is a high level of respect here for those who are older than you. I love catering to mama and baba the way an African child would. I never thought that of all the amazing trips my family has taken me on, that my favorite place ive ever been would be the least luxurious of them all and the complete opposite of what you would think a "vacation" would entail. I never knew I could love working and teaching and studying and walking so much. This place has truly become home and I can't wait to make it my home after I finish school. I always tell the kids, I may go Away for a little while but I will always come back. Always

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Neema Deo Kiwia

I am sorry that these blogs have turned into a once a week thing instead of every day or every other day-- but I guess its a good thing because I have been too busy with the children to be able to sit on the computer.. plus, this is the first time I have had electricity all week haha but still, I have definitely been busy.

Never let the odds keep you from doing what you know in your heart you were meant to do.
This week, the children all went back to school-- they have been on holiday for the past month or so. I decided to start going to school with Mama to teach-- she works at a government primary school called Mrapanga.  we have about 13 kids from Tuleeni who go to school here. It was awesome seeing their faces light up when they saw me at their school. The first day I taught there, Mama told the class that they needed to behave  because I was her daughter and they needed to listen to me. I only taught for about 30 minutes the first day. I spent the rest of that day grading papers. Yesterday morning, I woke up early as always, walked over to Tuleeni to pick up the children, and then we all walked to school together-- the kids took me on this shortcut path, which was still a 30 minute walk, but it was beautiful-- through the trees and the corn stalks and dirt paths. I was in heaven. When we arrived at school, there was a teacher hitting a whole line of students with a stick, one by one. I ran over and interfered, which wasn't very professional, but I DONT deal with hitting children very well, ESPECIALLY in a school setting-- If you beat children at school, they will be scared to go to school and will not want to learn. I pulled the teacher away from the children and started speaking very sternly to her in swahili. she was STUNNED that an American could speak swahili. I went to the principal's office and told her what this teacher had done and how I had previously been told that Mrapanga DID NOT hit children. The principal called the teacher into the office and yelled at her and explained why hitting was not allowed and how it is only detrimental to the children's development. I was pleased with how the talk went and felt t better about the situation. I then got to have my OWN class to teach for the day. I taught english to class 5 students, which is like 5th grade. I taught ALL day-- It is so cool to me that I can be in a classroom of swahili speaking students and TEACH. you cannot teach english if you don't know swahili. I was shocked at how much I actually knew and I had NO problem teaching these students.  I think I was supposed to teach all subjects but the kids really wanted to learn english so we carried on with it. After a few hours, I wanted to get to know the children a little more while we were still learning. We started talking about all the different types of work and jobs people can do. After we listed them all on the board in swahili and english, I went around the room and asked each and every child what he or she wanted to be when they grew up. They answered with teacher, doctor, pilot, soldier, priest, cook, banker, carpenter, nurse, and my favorite one, president. I loved hearing all their dreams. After they all told me their dreams, I gave them a lecture that i doubt they have ever heard before. Some things in swahili are EXTREMELY hard to say because the swahili dictionary is 1/100th of the size of the english dictionary. So I tried my best to get my point across and I know they understood me because smiles appeared on their faces as I was talking. I told them "listen to me. to every word i am saying. now you have told me your dreams. and they are all wonderful dreams and you will be great at whatever you choose to do.. and you are NEVER allowed to give up on your dreams… especially not because someone else tells you that you can't do it. you are smart. you are wise. you have the power to be whatever you want to be in this world. If someone tells you that you can't do it, you look them in the eye and say 'Yes I can' and if anyone, and i mean anyone, whether it is your friend, your parents, or even a teacher tells you that you are stupid, you look at them and say 'no i am not, i am smart' i know that talking back to someone can be scary and or disrespectful but YOU ARE NOT STUPID and don't you ever let someone make you think otherwise. When I was a little girl, I said that I wanted to make a difference in this world and that I wanted to go and help people who were in need of love and support-- as I grew up, there were many people who laughed at me and who thought that my dream was unachievable and that I was foolish for thinking that one person can make a difference." A little boy raised his hand as I was saying that last part about people doubting me, he said " but wait, Teacher Neema, aren't you doing what you said you wanted to do when you were little? you are here in Africa helping us.." my eyes definitely watered up, I thanked him for his kind words, and we moved on to the next subject because after that, there was nothing else that needed to be said. I ended the class period before lunch saying, "please don't ever forget what I just told you... I don't mind if you forget everything else we have learned today, just please don't forget what I just told you."

Never get tired of doing little things for others. Sometimes those little things occupy the biggest part of their hearts. 
the other night, the stars were shining SO bright-- and as you now know, the kids and I have a special bond through the moon the sun and the stars, but especially the stars. We brought a blanket outside that night, laid it down on the dirt, and then bundled up together on it. It started with just me, little hellen, Lucky, and Jonas. But then little Neema, Joyce, Vanessa, and the baby twins came and joined us. everything was quiet expect the typical animal and bug noises you can hear at night. I put on some music for all of us-- we listened to my "change the world" playlist-- starting with the song "My Wish" I told the kids they had to listen to the words and know that I mean each and every one of them… we stayed outside for a while looking at constellations and shooting stars, which they called "walking stars" it was really cute. They asked me what a star was. I told them that some of them are actually planets. They didn't believe me until I showed them this picture I found online of earth as imaged from the Voyager 1 spacecraft as it exited the solar system in 1990. In the picture, earth is nearly 4 billion miles away. in the picture, it is a tiny little dot. The picture I showed them had a quote on it by Carl Sagan talking about this little dot, which is actually Earth. "Look at that dot. thats here. thats home. thats us. on it, everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you have ever heard of, every human bend who ever was, lived out there lives right there. the aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines. every hunter and roger, every hero and coward. ever creator and destroyer of civilization, ever king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "super star", every "supreme leader", every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-- on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam." Lucky and Jonas couldn't believe that this little speck of dust in the picture was earth. I started telling them that everything in life is all about the way that you look at things. about perspective. and that some people look at Africa and feel bad for those living in poverty. but when they look at poverty, they feel heart ache instead of the desire to make a change. Jonas looked at me and said, "you mean, people like you.. you see things different" I told him that my favorite thing about myself is my eyes… not for the way they look but for the way they see.. because I have seen things in my life that lit a fire inside of me and gave me this desire to go make a change. and no matter how many people say I can't or the world is too big to make a change, I look at that picture of the little speck of dust and the world doesn't feel so big anymore. I am unstoppable.  the most powerful force of nature is the human soul set on fire.

Top left: Amani being a good big brother and feeding baby Hilda
Bottom left: Me and sweet Derricki
Right: Dominique playing with Ismaeli

Beautiful little Celestine

Left: Mama and Me
Right: Hellen kati kati and me! Hellen came into town this week for a check up doctor appointment from her stomach ulcers and malaria. It was so good to see her feeling better and smiling again

Sabina is a girl who I met last summer when I first came here. She was only 17 and has three kids. She had a sad life growing up, which isn't my story to tell on the internet-- she comes from a village where child marriages occur and women and young girls are not treated well at all-- but last summer, Mama had rescued her from her home village and brought her here with two of her three sons. For one reason or another, the third son stayed in the village. One day this summer, Sabina just disappeared and took her youngest child, Alan, who is photographed in all these pictures, and left her middle son Samson here with us. She went back to get her first born son, Edward. Last week, she randomly showed back up in Rau with all three of her children by her side. WE WERE THRILLED to see her and to know she made it back safely. I hadn't gotten to see little Alan since Christmas and I was so happy to get to hug him. I also got to meet little Edward who is 6 years old. Edward only speaks his mother's native language and doesn't speak swahili, so it has definitely been a rough adjustment for him. but he is warming up to people now which is good. All three of her kids have been raised in Sabina's home village and have seen far more terrible things than a child ever should have seen. Not to mention, their mother was a child when she gave birth to them so they have had little to not educational attention or discipline. We are working hard to help Sabina and her three little ones get back to a loving family here at Tuleeni and to start the next chapter of their lives. 

Beautiful Alan

Samson, who is Sabina's middle child, is 4 years old-- here are him and Alan playing together and doing headstands 

Alan chased Pendo around ALL day one day last week-- he finally caught her and the pictures are precious

me and my little peanut 

me and the kids showing off our AMERICA PRIDE tattoos on the 4th of July 

Above and below are pictures from our uncle Rogatus' padri sherehe-- He just became a priest officially on Thursday and these are pictures from the ceremony, the mamas cooking food for the party, and Jonas, Lucky and me all dressed up for the ceremony/party. When we were at the party, I was sitting with Mama and Baba and was telling them this story about the other day when I was in town-- apparently, there is a no littering policy in Moshi which I was unaware of-- I was eating some corn that I bought on the street and I threw a piece of the cob on the floor like we do in Rau all the time. This police man stopped me and asked me to come with him to his office. I met with the head of their department and talked to him about me littering. THANK GOODNESS I knew swahili because it gave me major brownie points here-- there is a 50,000 shilling fine for littering-- this is about $30. I looked at him and told him i refused to pay that much-- I know from stories mama has told me that the police here aren't like the police in america and you can always barter your way out of things. I remembered this as I was sitting there and I looked at the cop and said, yet again in swahili which made it even better, "Excuse me sir, I live here and I rarely come into town. I only came here to buy vegetables to make dinner. I have an orphanage I work at here and have to pay for schooling and food for 50 children!" He was so impressed that I lived here and that I spoke swahili and that I was working with an orphanage and helping out the people here-- He said "okay fine, only give me 25000 shillings, I will cut the fine in half for you since you are doing so much work here" he asked me for my name to write on the receipt for the payment and i said, "Neema..." he said "Neema who" I didn't want to say Neema Stein because that is clearly not African so I responded with "Neema Deo" He wrote it down on the paper and let me go on my way. "Deo Kiwia" is Baba's last name but he uses "Deo" for short. As I told Mama and Baba this story, they were rolling on the floor laughing and so proud of me for getting myself out of 50,000 shillings. They then told me that from now on, my name would be "Neema Deo Kiwia" and that I was officially their daughter. Baba looked at me and said, "you know, now your boyfriend or future husband has to ask my permission and offer a gift in exchange for your hand in marriage" He smiled at me because this was a common Chaga ritual which I was aware of. Chaga is the name of the tribe that Mama, Baba, and all their family is a part of. there were 250+ people at this party for Uncle Rogatus-- he is Baba's little brother-- Baba is one of 14 kids and so there were so many families and friends there to celebrate with us. It was such a cool experience. 

A great picture I took of Mt. Kilimanjaro the other day

Me and some of the kids playing around last night--- lucky's face is priceless

Saturday, July 7, 2012

It's the little things that mean the most.

Its all in us to defy expectations and to go into the world and to be brave. and to want. and to need. and to hunger for adventures. to embrace change. and chance. and risk. so that we may breathe and know that we are free. this week has definitely been one to remember. lots of bonding, laughing, learning, and loving-- its been a week of reflection, decision making, understanding, and progress. I felt closer to my kids and Mama and Baba this past week than I have ever before.  This morning, we went to a funeral in a town about an hour away— mama came into my room last night and told me "Neema, there was a death in the family, we have the funeral tomorrow— wear black if you have something black if not, you will wear a kanga of mine" Mama Mende, who is mama's sister, lost her mother in law, Bibi Beatrice last night… she was very close with all of the kids and mama and the family— Mama didn't bring the other wazungu that are staying here with us or anything.. she didn't even mention it to them. but she said it to me like she EXPECTED me there as a member of the family. and I was the only white individual there with over 200 Tanzanian individuals. It was such a beautiful ceremony and while i didn't understand everything they said because they speak swahili sooo fast, i was able to pick up on some of it and really enjoyed being there with mama. I love how mama speaks to me in swahili now and introduces me as "mtoto wangu" which means "my child". 4 of the older guy orphans who are my age were there today with us and after the ceremony and lunch etc, I was walking around looking for Mama mende, her husband, and their three kids to be there to support them and Baba just thought I was lost or something and pointed up the hill and said "kaka wake kule" which means "your brothers are over there" I smiled and walked over and sat down with my brothers and chatted. being a mzungu usually puts you in such a position that you can't blend in— everyone is always pointing you out as a mzungu and so you cant really stay under the radar… but today, I did. It didn't seem as if I was any different from anyone else. I sang the prayers and Hymns in swahili, held my mama's purse for her the way children do for their mothers here, spoke swahili when i was spoken to, and fit in as if I was a local. I felt a sense of love, comfort, and belonging.

A student may not remember the things that you taught them but they will never forget the way you made them feel.  I have spent every morning teaching english and math to some of the kids. it is AMAZING how much the want to learn and how eager they are for me to help them. jonas, lucky, and tumaini did tenses and vocabulary this week. i taught them a wide variety of different words to describe themselves, how they are feeling, and to describe others. in tanzania, when you ask someone "how are you" the answer is always "good" its like they don't feel that they have the choice to say that they are anything other than good. i showed them Urmila's curriculum book and told them that there are many other ways to feel and to express yourself. one of the words i taught the kids was "compassionate" and when i finished explaining it, Jonas looked at me with this little confused look on his face and said "so.. compassionate is like what you are right???" it was the cutest thing. I started working with little 5 year old Derricki on his spelling and reading this week. We worked together for a couple of hours this week— I would say a word to him and then he had to write it down— we did over 200 words this week— and he got about 180 of them correct. These were long words and he applied the same technique of sounding out each syllable and writting them down bit by bit on the paper— it was so amazing to watch him light up every time he got the words correct. and honestly, i felt such a sense of happiness and joy for him because there is nothing more exciting than working hard and having that effort pay off— i made sure that he was WELL aware of how great of a job he did and how proud of him I was. He skipped recess and snack time and asked me if I would stay with him and give him more words to spell. He told me "neema, I love to learn". I looked at him and told him that he was a brilliant little boy and that if he keeps working hard and holds onto his drive, all of his dreams can come true and he can be anyone he wants to be. he said nothing back to me afterwards… he just smiled at me.

"May the wind always be on your back and the sun upon your face. May the winds of destiny carry you off to go and dance with the stars" Johnny Depp
the other night, Lucky and Jonas and I were finishing a movie in my room. us three were all cuddled up in my bed. i had my arms around both of them with pendo at my feet. as they rested their heads on my chest, i felt every little bit of stress or worry or anything negative literally escape my body and i immediately felt a smile appear on my face. i kissed them both on the top of their heads and then they glanced up at me and smiles back. I wasn't even watching the movie. I was sitting there dreaming of the future and thinking about what it has in store for these two amazing children. As of this week, I am officially sponsoring both Jonas and Lucky in school— I pay for their school fees which include uniform and books etc— I couldn't be more thrilled to be able to help out two kids who I love so dearly and to send them to an English Medium Primary Private school… When I told mama that I decided I wanted to sponsor the boys, she was BEYOND thrilled. Money has been really tight and school fees are due this week and next week— me sponsoring the boys took a large chunk of stress off her shoulders, even though she still has about 20 students fees to pay:( but still, she was so excited and Lucky and Jonas were thrilled as well because they know that if I am willing to pay money for them to go to school, that means that i believe in them.. which i do. so much. I went to arusha this week to meet with Davi and Saaj, Urmila's friends from Toto Aid to discuss them sponsoring some of the orphans for secondary school. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them in Arusha and will be going back within the next few weeks to meet with them again :) I love how much work we do to make sure the kids are getting the best education possible.

"The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams and are willing to get their hands dirty to get there" with everyday that i passes, I tell myself  that I could never imagine being any happier than I am right now but then the next day rolls around and I find that I'm proven wrong in that things just keep getting better and better around here and i some how have reached this like overpowering level of happiness that even i, little bubbly, energetic neema didn't think was achievable. i never thought i could be so happy waking up at 6am every day, taking freezing cold "showers" with my bucket and my cup to pour water on myself, using my little squatty potty toilet which is literally a hole in the ground in my bathroom… i never thought id enjoy sitting on the ground with a bucket in between my knees doing my laundry with a bar of soap--- scrubbing the dirt out of my clothes daily until my hands are beyond freezing and pruney from the water. and then hanging them to dry with a sense of accomplishment knowing that i did them myself instead of paying someone to do it the way other wazungu (visitors) usually do. i still have so practicing to do in that department-- its always a problem when i go to hang my clothes on the clothes line because my hands are so cold from the water, i have a tendency to drop at least on article of my newly washed and wet clothing into the dust and dirt on the ground. but then the kids always laugh and it makes it totally worth it. Josephine, Ericki's mom, told me the other morning that the orphans all say they have never met a "mzungu" which is a foreigner or white person, like me...she said "you are so different from all other wazungu" when i asked her why, she said "you love to help out.. you like to do your own laundry, you like to help cook, and you love to learn... other volunteers have never taken the time to learn to cook, do laundry, or speak swahili the way you do.. and most importantly, you're the only one who keeps her promises and comes back" my eyes watered up when she was saying all this and she laughed at me because she knows i always tear up when people say nice things to me… I was thinking about what she said to me and its funny because i have always loved to learn and i guess it just seems natural for me to help out.. i mean, that is why i am here..

Your life is your message to the world. make sure its inspiring…
we have had like 4 different groups of 20+ volunteers come and meet the orphans and talk with us and play with the kids. We always start with an introduction and mama first introduces herself and then always introduces me, sometimes as a volunteer, sometimes as a care giver, and sometimes as her daughter. She then turns the reins over to me to tell the Tuleeni story to the volunteers in english or sometimes she tells it and i translate to english for her. mama told me she loves the way I smile when I tell the Tuleeni story and that my passion and love for this family and for the children shines through as each word comes out of my mouth. I always laugh and tell her mama, it's not my mouth speaking… it's my heart. Her, the kids, the community. Everyone here has made such an impact on my life and there is no way I could ever go back to the person I used to be. One of the volunteers who had come with a group to visit Tuleeni was about 13 or 14 and she told me that when she grew up, she wanted to be just like me… i was so touched and so thrilled that i could be an inspiration to someone. Standing there talking to these volunteers and telling them my story made it all feel so real. they wanted to know why I do the things I do and what brought me to Tuleeni. i told them "its been a really long journey. like goes back to the time when i was little.. i have always wanted to make a change. and people have told me that my dreams are too big and that i couldn't do it alone and it takes more than one person to make a difference. well the only reason i am still standing here talking to you today is because i never let the voices and opinions of others discourage my dream…" because its the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world who actually do. I got asked the question "are you moving here permanently?" on a number of occasions… im a moving here. that part of the question has a definite answer. the permanently part throws a little curve though. my parents have paved a nice path for me. a great family, a wonderful jewish community, so many friends, and so many different things to get involved with… and ultimately, i know they want me to come home and live in this world they made for me… but id be lying if i said that is the life i want for myself.  A wise person once told me "do not follow where the path leads but instead, go where there is no path and leave a trail. I love doing the expected. because thats who i am. and I refuse to do what others want me to do or to do anything JUST BECAUSE its what i am SUPPOSED to do. I will not let anyone's opinion or reaction to my decisions dictate my next move. while people were asking me questions, this girl said to me "have you ever heard that andy warhol quote that said 'im afraid if i look at something for too long, it will lose all of its meaning'?" being as addicted to quotes as i am, i have heard this before but never thought about it in relation to me moving to tanzania and how a huge reason tanzania is so amazing to me is because it is so different from what i am used to. I can see where he is coming from in this quote but as far as tanzania goes, there is so much here for me to learn and see and so many more experiences awaiting my arrival and the meaning and value behind this place gets bigger every day.

"If there is ever a tomorrow that we are not together, there is one thing you should always remember— you are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think. But most importantly, if we are ever apart, you will always be in my heart and I will always love you" One night this week, I was laying on my bed listening to music and petting pendo and the song "Never Alone" by Lady Antebellum came on. I hope the children know that they are NEVER alone and that i am always here for them.. whether i am in the same room as them or half a world away in America. while i was listening to this song, i realized another reason why i am so happy here. there is no such thing as loneliness here. there is so much love circulating and so many people who want to know you and want to love you and want to be you friend. i walk down the streets and all the people in the village pop they heads out of their huts and holler "Mambo Neema!" the children all run over and hug me and i feel so welcomed. Everyday i eat my meals at the orphanage or at mama Freddy's or Mama Jacobo's place-- these are two mamas who live in rau right near the orphanage where you can go and sit and eat. they run these little businesses from their homes and cook the best food. mama jacobo lives RIGHT next door to us and so i see her five times a day. i swear she is just as excited to see me every time as i am to see her.. she has become very protective over me and like a mom to me. she doesn't know a word of english so i am forced to speak swahili which is great and has really helped me learn. i hope the people here know how much they mean to me. not just the children. but everyone. its the little things. like when i am walking in the village and people i don't even know say Hi neema!! i hope they know how much i look forward  toto stopping by each one of their shops every morning when I'm out walking Pendo JUST so i can see their bright shining face and get my hugs and kisses. Most people think I'm crazy for wanting to live here permanently. And maybe I am. but live here is good. Like really good. And my days aren't fogged with drama and gossip and materialistic things that occupy the minds of so many individuals back in America. Everything I do here matters. I am important here and I am needed. I get to spend my days working and teaching and seeing smiles appear on beautiful faces all day long and each one is more beautiful than the one that came before it. and the funny thing is, I do the same stuff every day and it never gets old. I love not spending my days sleeping in, doing my hair and makeup, and deciding which outfit to wear and if i feel cute or not etc… i love not being surrounded by shopping malls and expensive restaurants. I love not seeing billboards every 5 feet and asphalt highways that go on for days. I love my long skirts, my dirty feet, my messy hair, my huge smile, my bumpy dirt roads, my mosquito net, the sounds of all the animals under the moonlight— the dogs barking at the moon, the cows and goats calling out, the ducks and chickens squawking, and the crickets and locusts humming and chirping… and the moon and the stars here.. they are truly breathtaking. The moon truly lights up the night because it is so bright. I could lay under the moon and stars with my kids for hours. we find joy in all of the simplest things in life.

Home is not the place that you were born or the place that you live. But it is the place where they understand you. Family isn't always blood. its the people in your life who want you in theirs. The ones who accept you for who you are. the ones who would do anything to see you smile. and who love you no matter what. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Just another week in paradise :)

sooo since my last update on Tuesday, quite a lot has happened! Tuesday evening, a group of med school students from England came to visit the orphanage and did checkups on all the kids-- weighed them, measured them, temperature, malaria checks, etc. It was AMAZING to have their help! On Wednesday, we went out to Uru to build for the first time since the car accident. WE GOT THERE AND BACK SAFELY :) Some volunteers from CCS came to build with us for a few hours and we are so so soo close to finishing all of the foundation and phase 1! On Thursday morning, Duy, Jordan and Rachelle left to go to Nairobi for a few days to relax and site see. While I have missed them, I have had the kids and the house all to myself so its been relaxing. I spent most of the day on Thursday teaching some of the students and reviewing what they learned this past term-- some of them were confused on the concepts they learned and so we did some practice problems. Thursday night, I had dinner with my friend Edward at this Chinese Restaurant which was surprisingly good. When I got home from dinner, Pendo was snuggled up with my teddy bear, as usual, asleep on my pillow. On Friday, Jonas, Lucky, and I decided to go on a little day trip into down... we walked there which was about a 30 minute walk--- I always enjoy walking with these boys-- our conversations are hilarious! As we were walking around town, I had Jonas holding one of my hands and Lucky holding the other. People in Tanzania drive so crazy and so every time a car would come by us, Jonas griped my hand a little tighter and pulled me in towards the curb as if he were protecting me from getting hit-- it was really cute. I couldn't help but smile every time he did it. They went with me to run some errands and to buy some beaded shoes that I need to bring back to America for people who asked for some. We found some GREAT pairs of shoes... the boys helped me pick them out. After a long day of walking and shopping, we went to Chrisburger for lunch. I know that the boys have been dying to eat a burger and they never ever ever get to have one because its too expensive but I really wanted to treat them so they ordered burgers for lunch and their smiles were soooooo priceless. I walked around to each of them and cut their burgers in half for them so they could fit it in their mouth. I felt like my mom for a minute---she always used to cut our food for us. Our waiter came over to talk to the boys and asked them what their named were. Then he said, "and what's your mom's name?" They replied "Neema" and for some reason, my eyes teared up... happy tears of course. After lunch, Lucky stood up in the restaurant and said "Ladies and Gentleman-- we are so happy today because our very special mommy, neema, brought us here. Thank you and please clap for her" I WAS DYING LAUGHING! it was the CUTEST thing I have ever heard. After lunch, we walked all the way back home. By the time we got home, we were exhausted. When we got home, helped mama remove the beans for their pods-- the beans grow on these vine things and we lay a huge pile of them on the ground and leave them there in the sun for a day or two-- the sun dries the plants out and makes the beans come out easily-- all you have to do is take a big stick and beat the plants over and over again and then you shake the plants and flip them around and do it again-- we did this for about an hour and then when you pick the plants up, all the beans are on the ground and ready to be picked up and sorted through. we have to remove all the mulch and dirt and rocks from the pile of beans first, which took a while. Pendo was adorable when we were hitting the plants... she kept barking at the sticks and then would run and lay in the plants and then chased her tail and ran around the house chasing the ducks and chickens and barking at them. She was so unbelievably hyper-- but so precious. I love watching her chase other animals because she thinks she is so much bigger and tougher and scarier than she really is. After we finished with the beans, we cooked dinner which was makande, which is corn and beans cooked together into this like soup thing. I  actually really like it. there has been no electricity all week and so after dinner every night, Pendo and I go to sleep because there isn't much else we can do when we can't see anything. Yesterday morning, I woke up at 6:30 as always, did my laundry, walked to the market up the road with Pendo to bring back some food to cook for the day, and then took a shower. I did more math and English stuff with the kids in the morning for about 2 hours. After we finished studying, the kids played on this mound of sand we have sitting at our house right now. We were so hot and sweaty from running around and playing so I asked the boys if the wanted to walk down the road to the Keys Hotel and go swimming. My camera died and so I couldn't take any pictures but the boys swam in their little boxer briefs and wore little floatie things on their arms so they could swim... they were the cutest little things I have ever seen. After we finished swimming, I wrapped the boys up really tight in their towels, dried off their heads and layed them in the sun to warm up. The pool was freezing as always. After we all got dressed, we headed back home. We stopped to buy some roasted corn on the way-- while i was eating mine, one of my teeth chipped in the back of my mouth... weird. Its only a small chip but I was a little freaked out at first. Then Lucky and Jonas suggested that I fill the hole with a piece of corn or a little rock or something.... always coming up with the best ideas. After we got home, we ate dinner, looked at a map and talked about places we wanted to visit, and then went to sleep. This morning, I woke up early because Pendo was crying... Dogs aren't treated well in Tanzania and yesterday, Pendo was out playing and Mama thinks some mean kids might have thrown rocks at her or something... she has been in miserable amounts of pain all day and so I have stayed inside and sat on my bed with her for hours... I hate seeing her like this. She is walking funny and is having trouble moving. I am going to take her to the vet tomorrow. Anyways, there's my update for right now. Here are some pictures from the week. 

Lucky, Jonas, and me playing on the sand mound

Ericki and Jasiri playing in the sand

Jonas and lucky with their burgers on the left and on the right, just a picture of their beautiful smiles 

Left: Johny and I hard at work hahah
Right: the CCS volunteers and the construction workers

Top left: Johny and me building 

Bottom left: Me and Hannah on the land-- she is a CCS volunteer whose placement was at Tuleeni for the past month. She is from West University and lives like 5 minutes from me hahah she left yesterday to head back to the states. 

Right: Pauli and me on the land.

My darling little puppy... I am kind of obsessed with her if you can't tell.. but the good thing is, the feeling is mutual!

Two of my favorite pictures of me and my little peanut 

Mama and Me beating the beans pods

xoxoxooxox Love always, Neema

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A birthday re-do

So it turns out that one of the kids was playing with my camera before I went to bed and deleted all the pictures from my birthday… I know it was an accident and I didn’t want to be mad at her but I couldn’t help but cry because my birthday/anniversary with the kids was such an important day for me. So I spent most of yesterday morning crying and I thought it was going to be a pretty crappy day. All my boys here felt terrible for me and were so sad to see me crying. After an hour or so of sulking around, the boys pulled me into the classroom where we had my birthday party and told me that they would buy a cake and put it in my face and we could take pictures all over again. It was so sweet—they tried everything to make me smile. I laughed, kissed them on the heads, and went into my room. I remembered that I had brought chocolate and vanilla pudding powder stuff from America to make with the kids—today was the perfect day to make it! Jonas, lucky and I walked up to the Rau market which is about a 25 minute walk and we bought milk. We brought it back to the house, got a bowl, and made the chocolate pudding first. The kids had never tasted pudding before and they FLIPPED for it. I loved seeing them smile so much that I made them the vanilla one too. Normally, we share this kind of stuff with ALL the kids but today there were just 6 of us—which made it even more fun. While I was making the vanilla pudding, the boys went into my room, found the party hats and the leis, and all came running out of my room with balloons and the hats and necklaces on screaming “happy 21st birthday neema!”  and they handed me my camera. Abdalla and Lucky stuck their hands in the pudding and put it on their face and said, “neema, take a picture! Lets recreate your birthday party!” My whole body filled with joy as I watched them try so hard to make up for the pictures I had lost from my actual birthday. I joined in the fun and made us some juice and we had a little mini party. We colored, ate pudding, listened to music and took pictures. It turned out to be a pretty awesome day. Before I went to bed, Abdalla, Amani, Baracka and I played a game of SORRY! on my bed. When I come to Tanzania, I spend most of my time at Mama’s house where we have bedrooms for some of the older orphans—we also have some of the younger kids stay here but most of the little ones sleep down the road at the actual orphanage. Part of the reason I'm so close with Hellen, Lucky, Neema, Jonas, George etc is because they live here at mama’s. Abdalla, Amani, and Baracka have been staying at mama’s house with me since the car accident—we want them here in their own beds until they heal because they normally sleep three to a bed and we don’t want anyone accidently hurting each others wounds. So as everyone always says, everything happens for a reason… and if it weren’t for the accident, these boys wouldn’t be living here with me and we would not have grown to be soooo extremely close. Prior to the accident, I didn’t see these boys very often and I definitely didn’t know them that well. But now, they are my little brothers and we are EXTREMELY close. Its been so great getting to spend so much time with them. Anyways, I was able to find some pictures from my birthday on other peoples cameras and such so I have posted those below. I also put up pictures from the weekend of us blowing bubbles, playing soccer, and just goofing around.  Enjoy!

From the left: Ericki, Jackie, Amani


From the left: Jasiri (George), Jonas, Josephine

My pretty little puppy, Pendo-- she's getting big!

From the left: Amani, Dorisi, Jasiri (George)

 From the left: Abdalla, Amani, and Baracka
The kids faces as they watched the bubbles float away... I love these pictures 

 From the left: Lucky, Jasiri, Jonas

the boys playing soccer

the other day, we were at the soccer feilds and Lucky decided he was going to do me and Malaika's makeup... WITH DIRT! here is our photoshoot 

Duy, Rachelle, Jordan and me goofing off at dinner Friday night


A few other birthday pictures  

These are my favorite-- the kids made this beautiful birthday banner for me and colored it and everything. It is hanging up on my wall here in my room. On the top right, is my Tanzanian shaped cake and on the top left is me with my "21" 

The kids and me eating pudding and recreating my birthday pictures

 My AMAZINGGGG boys goofing around and making me smile yesterday :)