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 :)