7/7/10 The first day
The two translators that Melody and I are using are basically our lifelines and the only way we can complete our research study. Killion is the head translator that has worked on medical translations for a long time. He speaks English, Swahili (a major language in Africa), and Luo (a local tribal language). His 20 year-old daughter, Pili, has a great sense of humor and also speaks those 3 languages. She is currently on summer break from “high school” which is the equivalent of a community college in the U.S. Everybody in Shirati seems to be so friendly and so laid back, its really welcoming. We briefly trained our translators and then started walking out to the villages. On our way to the first household, a swarm of little kids ran up to us foreigners and smiled. One cute little girl held my hand and walked with me for awhile. The kids also shouted out “mzungu” which is the equivalent of “gringas” in Spanish…it means foreigners or most often white people.
Life here seems very relaxed. We usually don’t start or meet people at scheduled times. All the med students finish their clinic work by 2pm, an early end. Then for the rest of the day we play with local kids, walk around the area, talk endlessly, and then watch the world cup at Dr. Esther Kawira’s house. She is the American physician that lives here and sets up the SHED foundation med school program. She has also been a tremendous help in my research project. She also is one of the few households with TV and internet. So far, its only been 2 days and I totally feel like I’m adjusted to living here.
7/8/10 A week in Africa
Its pretty amazing that exactly 7 days ago I was in my LA apartment where my room is much larger than some families’ huts that fit 5 people, where cable TV is a staple not an unattainable luxury, and everyone owns a car rather than walk for miles each day. Although I think that most people think of poverty-stricken African communities as lacking so much, I feel like they also have more than some of the richest people in the U.S. It is true that everyone pretty much gets malaria at some point in their lives in Shirati and that many residents live on less than $1 a day and rely on catching or growing their own food. At the same time, it seems like they are sometimes happier and more content than wealthy people that I know. Instead of stressing about money 24/7, being angry all the time over something, fixated over material things, or worrying about life, many of the residents are super friendly and laugh easily with strangers. You would never guess unless that some of these generous families have lost young children to malaria until you ask this on a questionnaire.
The research has been going well so far. I really enjoy walking into the Yakina subvillage and going house to house to complete our questionnaires. So far we have had nearly 100% participation, this is an unheard statistic in the U.S. Every participant seems to answer our questions and even let us observe their bed nets in their bedrooms. A lot of expectations that I had of mosquito net use are different. In this subvillage, everyone seems to know that malaria is caused by mosquitoes and that bed nets help prevent this. Nearly everyone we survey has at least one net, though usually old and torn. Melody and I have been giving nets to those that need it. It is sort of a sad situation, literally everyone has had malaria multiple times in the entire area…even our educated translators that always sleep under nets. Many of our participants have lost a child, brother, or friend to malaria. It is sort of a way of life, getting malaria is equivalent to getting a cold in the U.S. Ironically even though parents know that malaria tends to severely affect their children more so than adults with immunity, we have found that many households that have limited nets will have the parents sleep under it and leave out the children. Perhaps one of the way to make net usage more effective especially if you want to cover the children would be to provide enough nets for everyone in the family. News travels pretty quickly, everyday it seems like people approach us and let us know that they need a net if we have not visited them. I really love the swarms of young kids greeting us mzungus and absolutely delighted with my digital camera.
7/12/10 All around bad day
Mondays never start out right, but today seemed especially draining. The morning began amazingly, Melody and I followed the nurse and physician assistant in our group to distribute their crayons, stickers, and notebooks to kindergarteners. The kids were so cute and very excited about the stickers, Frisbees, and blow up balls. They also taught me how to count to 10 in Swahili and I taught them how to in English. We left the school and met up with our translators. Pili and I were following up with a household that had an old lady that took care of her grandson sine she had requested a net a few days ago. We knew that this older woman was widowed and her son had died so she was left with her grandchild whose mother had also ran away. Halfway through the interview, Babu, the cute kindergartener we saw just an hour ago comes running in. He was super excited to see me. In primary school which is paid for by the Tanzanian government, kids are provided with uniforms. Once Babu got home, he switched into his regular clothes which were shorts that were so torn that his arms and buttocks were exposed. When we went inside the grandmother and Babu’s mud hut home, we saw that their bed consisted of ripped pieces of mattress, a fire cooking pit, and very worn ragged items. Monday is known for its weekly market a few towns away. The grandmother said that she walked all the way to the market to beg and managed to get a few oranges and a cabbage. She said that the boy is hungry and she had oranges for him since the school does not provide many meals. She also said that she would probably have relatives care for Babu. Just seeing this site made me want to change it. I decided right then that I want to pay for Babu to go to secondary school which is an unattainable task for the poor.
Moving from that heartbreaking moment, we went to another household. It looked abandoned since there was a nice brick house but half of it was exposed to the outside and a dead thorny bush was covering this open space. The only reason I decided to proceed forward was because they had a few small rows of corn which meant somebody had to have lived there. Pili knocked on the door and we heard a noise that sounded like a cat but more like a person. We knocked again and then looked into a window. To my horror, there was a boy inside naked and on the bare mud floor in the fetal position looking back at us. It was clear that he had serious mental disabilities since he looked about 7-8 years old and could not speak at all, he just muttered sounds. We started walking away after being shocked about finding this boy and he started to cry until we returned. The door was locked from the outside, clearly not wanting the boy to go outside. There was no couch for him to sit on and he was next to the thorns growing into the room. The windows were barred and the entire setup looked like a jail since he had no toys, bed, clothes, or food there. This was the most horrifying thing I have ever seen for a child, especially one with a developmental disability. A neighbor then came by and opened the door to where the boy sat. She explained to us that the boy was normal until the age of 2, his mother would leave him from early morning to night, he stays alone in the house, and that she would occasionally give him porridge when she came over. We thanked her for the information and left completely shocked and speechless. I had to fight back tears seeing this skinny boy locked up in what was like a jail cell and neglected so badly that he cried when strangers left him…all of these circumstances just because he was mentally handicapped.
Pili and I decided to survey one more house before lunchtime. This household did not hold any happier times. The man that we interviewed had a very bad leg that did not function well for walking. During the survey, we found out that he only had one tattered net, 6 children, 3 of which had malaria, he could not afford to buy nets, and he has had 2 children die of malaria in the past. He also said that for his three sick children with malaria, we went to buy an inexpensive drug at the store. The translator told me that this was no more than a pain reliever. I told him that I would try to get some of our med students to his home if I could. At this household, we gave 3 nets in total hoping to replace the current ragged net and cover all 9 people living in that household. The man was extremely grateful for the nets and the rough time hanging them up was completely worth it.
By the time lunch rolled around, I was so emotionally drained from the 3 households. I told Melody about the situations and she felt equally as shocked and compelled. We started to talk to one of the SHED members who is Dr. Kawira’s husband about the situation with the orphaned Babu living with his grandma. He gave us such constructive advice and is basically helping us set up a sort of scholarship for him to ensure that he has food every day and has the opportunity to go to secondary school through donations. I felt so much better about Babu’s future since without secondary school, he would have no chance of breaking out of poverty. Melody and I also went to the large Monday market and with about $5, we purchased bananas, peanuts, large fried fish, anchovies, tomatoes, and onions. The market was so vibrant and so full of people from different regions. We then gave the food out to the grandma and Babu and attempted to give food to the boy who was locked up. The grandma appreciated the food and when we headed back to the mentally handicapped boy, nobody was home. The boy seemed excited to see us and lept on the window bars and was biting down on them. We tried to give him a banana through the window bars but he did not seem to understand how to eat the banana. We further investigated his situation with another neighbor. The boy’s name is Junior I believe and he is actually 10 years old though he looks much younger. His mother is a widow that works all day with 3 other children. Apparently he is left naked since he takes off all of his clothes when he has them on. The neighbors explained that the door is locked from the outside since he runs away. We started walking back since it was about dinner time and ironically ran into the boy’s mother. We gave her the rest of the food and told her that it is intended for Junior. She explained her situation and it sounded much like what the neighbor was saying. I think a part of me wants to be angry with her for leaving this poor special needs child locked up for 10 years and then another part of me realizes that what were her alternatives. There are hardly any special needs schools or programs in the entire country, no special ed teachers, and money is always a barrier. I still can’t get the disturbing image of the naked boy sitting on the bare floor crying out of loneliness. Even if he does not have full mental capacity, he still has feelings and is a human being.
7/14/10 Thinking about Junior
We went back today to survey Junior’s mother since she had requested a net on Monday. It was a tense interview, but we got to see the inside of her home and we did ask if it was ok if we kept visiting her son. He went outside when we came and liked playing in the backyard. Junior seemed much happier today since he was outside and running around. We learned that Junior’s mom is in fact a single mother since her husband died and is able to support the family by working all day and coming home to take care of her children. She does not seem to have many resources like family to help care for her kids or financial stability. I began to think about what I would do if I was a mother in the same situation. I found it hard to do anything differently than Junior’s mom. It is a shame that Tanzania and Shirati do not really have institutions to educate and house people with mental disabilities. Sometimes they just roam around the village ignored by others. I suppose the other times they are locked up in a house. As my one translator pointed out, at least she didn’t abandon or kill him like some families do.
I want to be able to help pay to send Junior to a place where specialists will be familiar with his disabilities and help him lead a meaningful life. I was only able to find one special needs school which was 13 hours away from Shirati. It is interesting that conditions like leprosy were highly stigmatized. Then a leprosy ward was established in Shirati and now people with leprosy have a common community they can feel comfortable in and receive health care. What if something like this could be established for those with mental disabilities?
I turned 23 today! I decided to spend it doing manual labor for the first time in my life haha. My day started out with Melody leaving me the sweetest post-it notes and letter, one of the nicest anyone has ever written me! She also got me a beautiful necklace from a local shop and my favorite chai tea brand..sooo incredibly thoughtful and sweet. There is a clinic in Roche which is 28km away from Shirati. The Village Life Project has been working on building a new health care clinic which will serve the remote area. Our friends Emily, Richard, and Bryant have been working up there to build this clinic with local workers. Melody and I spent the first part of the day measuring where gravel and dirt would be poured then we were put in charge of hammering mud bricks to break them down into gravel sized pieces. I admit that was pretty fun destroying bricks but I soon realized that I had 2 blisters on my hand and managed to cut myself against a rusty metal post (good thing I got that tetanus booster just a bit ago). The best part of the day was when we got to go to a water committee meeting. We got to meet with members of the village while Bryant led the meeting on how the water system would be created at the clinic using rain and well water that would be collected in tanks and then a solar panel would heat up water. The system definitely seems environmental as well as great for limited resources in the area. The committee also talked about how they started teaching village residents of Roche how to use a slow sand filter that was introduced by Village Life. Its really fascinating since muddy and dirty water would be poured through layers of sand and the protozoa in it would destroy harmful bacteria as well as sift out the mud to create “maji salama” or clean water. I definitely learned a lot today and have a whole new appreciation of construction work and manual labor. When we got back to Shirati, it was really sweet, my translators got me small gifts. Enock got me this awesome bracelet that has woven into it the colors of the Tanzania flag. The green stands for vegetation, gold for the mineral wealth, black for the people, and blue for the adjoining sea. A few people went with me for some chai tea at the local bar then headed to drink at the Freedom bar afterwards. I’m a fan of $1 Tanzanian beer and $2 flask of Conyagi which is a Tanzanian hard liquor that tastes like rum. All in all, I had a great birthday celebration from the construction site, meeting, friends, and night.
Our first day of evaluation went really well. We were supposed to go to Bwiri today but couldn’t get plans to go through at the last minute, so are instead returning to the Yakina village to evaluate those that we gave nets to. Visiting some of our participants was really rewarding. It seems like some of the people we had completed the education intervention with had their nets hanging down and tucked in during the day, answered correctly on how often they should wash nets, and even had our laminated education tags hanging! Our control households which we did not give the intervention to, seemed to possess the same knowledge as before so we know that those that received the education did not diffuse knowledge. After the evaluation survey, we then gave the education to the control groups. Our education intervention consists of telling the participants about the cause of malaria, how it can be severe in young children, describe the net we give them, to wash the net only 4-5 times a year, never wash it in the lake, dry it in the shade not direct sunlight, and to leave the net hanging down and tucked in all day to avoid any mosquitoes at night. Beyond the verbal part, we also have a laminated card that looks like a big bookmark with a hole in the middle to hang with a net…its like an instruction card. We also offer to help hang any nets and show them how to properly tuck them in. While designing this project, I wasn’t sure whether people would necessarily adopt the new behavior after 10 minutes of explaining, but it seems to be working some of the time!
7/18/10 Monday Market Madness
After surveying a few houses about 2 miles out in Yakina, Melody, Enock, and I went to the weekly Monday market where many gather from surrounding towns and even Kenya to buy stuff at the huge market. Its quite a spectacle. There are tons of stands selling used clothing, fish, produce, etc. The last time I went to the Monday market, Melody and I bought fish, tomatoes, peanuts, and dahga (its like anchovies) for Babu, an orphan, and his grandma. This week, we decided to buy clothes for Babu. Apparently bargaining does not work here if you are a mzungu. Nevertheless, we got a bunch of clothes for less than $5USD. We bought Babu three shirts, two pairs of pants, one pair of shorts, and shoes. When we got back from the market, we listened to a talk from Dr. Machaga, the regional malaria director. He was describing how they will do indoor residual spraying for the entire area since the government is paying for it. This type of spraying involves using pesticides on the inside of households to eliminate mosquitoes. I think the process is quite expensive and spraying only lasts 6-9 months before it needs to be re-sprayed. During the lecture, I learned a lot about malaria control and mosquito elimination using different methods. I’m really glad to be doing our mosquito net behavior usage study since malaria is a top killer of children in the area and long lasting insecticide nets seem to be an effective way of not getting bit while sleeping. Education certainly plays a huge role for people to understand how malaria is caused and how to properly use nets to maximize protection.
7/20/10 Exploring Bwiri
Today is the first day in Bwiri, a new village that is 14km away from Shirati. We are surveying the other half of our households here since a malaria director said that Bwiri is hard to reach due to its bad roads leading up to the village and that the many government handouts of nets and education might not have reached there. The roads are pretty bad, our car drives at 45 degree angles at some points, crossed a small stream, and drives on lots of huge rocks. Its like riding on a safari or off-roading at some points. When we arrived, we met with the village chairman and secretary, pretty standard procedure before interviewing members of a new village. Since it appears that many people in Bwiri never received nets, we decided to prioritize our surveys and free nets for families with a child under 12 months. We only have about 100-150 nets left so we knew that we could not cover the 600 families in the area. At first I had my hesitations for coming all the way to Bwiri, a 40 minute drive, and paying money to do so with transportation and all. But the need for nets and education in the village is very great. Unlike the other village we have been surveying called Yakina, not every household had a net in possession. Melody and I would have preferred to give more than 1 net to families or cover all families, but we have such a limited number. I am pretty excited to see the rest of the village and see the impact that our intervention can have on this village. Its also so gorgeous here, its higher up in the mountains and there are tons of big scenic rocks.
7/21/10 Funny stuff about living in Tanzania
Living in Tanzania has its share of funny moments especially when you are a mzungu learning for the first time. Everything tends to run on Tanzania time. So when I request a driver at 8am, I can expect him to show up at 9:30am or even 11am. The architects here building a new clinic find that their electrician is worse. He arrives 1 week and 4 hours later than scheduled, so I guess I have it good. Swahili and Luo are the main languages spoken in this area. Some students learn a bit of English in primary school. I love it when I walk down the street and young kids ask “What is my name?” and I look confused and ask back “I don’t know what is your name”. It happened like three times before I realized they were asking about MY name not theirs haha. Some funny but horribly dangerous situations often involve the independence of children. Today I saw a 2 year old with a machete just playing with it and chopping at a tree. Other days I see kids that look about 4 years old carrying their baby sibling on their back. I’ve also had almost marriage proposals or talks of possible engagement. Dowry is accomplished by giving cows. I estimated that I’m worth about 200 cows (estimated $4,000 USD). Some guys just ask about how many cows it would take to marry a mzungu. The bad thing is that the more cows you get, the more work you are expected to do once married. Another random thing I find amusing is that people in the area wear a lot of clothes that have been used from America. So far I’ve seen a polo that says Retail Manager of Cracker Barrell, numerous college tshirts, Blockbuster employee shirt, and men wearing shirts that are very obviously designed for a woman. Bugs and critters take an entire different meaning here. So far in our hostel, I’ve seen 1 scorpion, 2 bats, 1 gigantic spider, a rainforest colorful frog, cockroaches, brown geckos, and tons of ants. There’s all kinds of wildlife in this area, but I’ve been handling it well except for the tarantula sized spider in the living room that ran faster than I did.
I like comparing lifestyles in U.S. to Tanzania. I never realized how much of babies we Americans are. Its extremely rare to own a car in the area unless you are extremely wealthy so almost everybody takes piki pikis (motorbikes), bicycles, or walks. They are also pretty good at cutting down waste. Whenever you buy a soda or beer, the shopowners are adamant about you bringing back the bottles. Apparently Coca Cola pays these shopowners to return the glass bottles which are then sterilized and rebottled. Tanzanians also cut down on plastic waste by giving you the bare minimum plastic shopping bag. There is no such thing as doggy sweaters, gem studded collars, or pampered pets here. Dogs and livestock all have a purpose to herd the farm or be part of it. I realize that giving birth is way over-hyped in the U.S. Shirati women pop out babies, breastfeed, wrap a cloth diaper, and carry their babies on their backs with this colorful long cloth. Baby monitors, strollers, playpens, baby showers, teething rings are all completely unnecessary. Apparently babies grow up just fine without Babys R Us.
7/22/10 Need more nets in Bwiri
In Bwiri, we saw a good number of households. I chose a bad day to wear a white skirt and flip flops. We ended up doing some hiking, passing through corn fields, and minor rock climbing to get to some remote houses in Bwiri. There is still a great need for nets in Bwiri. In the other village we surveyed called Yakina, nearly everyone had mosquito nets and were educated on the basics of how malaria is transmitted through mosquitoes. In Bwiri, the majority of people did not have even a single net. They also had different ideas of how malaria is spread: cold wind, water, person-to-person, etc. Melody and I would love to provide more free nets since its one of the most effective and affordable ways to prevent malaria, a major killer of kids under the age of 5. If you would generously consider donating, please Paypal my e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and we will use the money to buy nets here to give out to Bwiri.
7/24/10 We have 131 households
For the past two days, we’ve been spending long days in Bwiri. Its so beautiful up there, but the houses are pretty spread apart so we have to hike a lot to get around. I think we must walk about 5 miles each day. We usually arrive at 10 or 11am and then leave at 5pm with lunch on the field. It does seem like a lot of people missed out on free nets from the last government campaign and many of those with nets have very tattered nets that really reduce protection. Today, David, a Dutch medical student followed up us along and had some medical use. He took a look at a back injury and wrote a medication for a boy with a really bad fungal infection that was eating away at his scalp. During our first survey day in Bwiri, we met a toddler with a broken right femur and it was being held together by a local bone setter’s wood contraption that looked like a big bracelet. I was pretty horrified at the sight since the little boy started screaming when his mom moved his leg. David got to take a look at that boy, but unless his parents want to and can afford to bring him to the hospital, its really hard to do anything. We finally finished doing baseline surveys and interventions in Bwiri. Between the two villages that we’ve been surveying, we have a total of 131 households after 3 weeks of work!
7/25/10 Bless the rains in Africa
A bunch of us were going to go hiking today but it started raining. I also played the “bless the rains in Africa” song because the rain totally reminded me of that song haha. Josiah also came over the hostel and we worked out some more details with sponsoring Babu, the orphan kindergartener that we met. His aunt Suslia was willing to take him in and his grandma was happy about the idea. Melody and I will share sponsorship of Babu and probably pay around $50/month for his school, food, clothing, and other necessities. Before we leave, we intend to buy him a bed with mattress and clothes as well. Since we have been so incredibly busy in Bwiri and not coming back until 6pm, its been difficult to visit Babu or Junior in the Yakina village. Its incredibly hard to believe that we only have 2 more weeks in Shirati which is quite insane actually. Sue also got about 60 lbs of donated soccer equipment from a local NJ girl’s soccer team and it includes soccer balls, uniforms, and shin guards. The only issue is that it costs $350 to ship here and probably won’t arrive before we leave. At first I was thinking that we could use the equipment for an established team or something, but then realized why not start the first girl’s soccer team in town!? There is basically no female recreation activities here, so it would be pretty awesome. The only thing is to recruit enough girls, funding for a team, borrowing a soccer field, and a coach. Melody and I are thinking about who we can entrust to start the team. We got a suggestion from someone to maybe donate the things for a secondary school to start a girl’s team. We would of course need at least 2 teams so they could scrimmage each other. I totally wish I didn’t have to go back to the U.S. and stay to make this happen. I remember how fun and amazing doing soccer in high school was and to be able to start a revolutionary girl’s soccer team here would be incredible!
7/26/10 Last 2 week countdown
Today is the start of the last two work weeks in Shirati. Melody and I have so much to do and I am definitely hoping that it can be done. We are doing evaluation in Yakina for the rest of this week. Towards the end, we really want to bring the crayons and coloring books to some local primary schools and have a coloring contest of our mosquito net images. We will also have to return to Bwiri the last week we are here to evaluate. Its been challenging trying to figure out if anyone wants to help us start the first girl’s soccer team, we would need a coach and another foreign student to make sure it gets implemented. Finalizing our ride back to Nairobi on August 8th and booking a hotel in Egypt seem pretty necessary too. Today was the first Monday that we did not head to the weekly market, we were tired today. Melody and I each surveyed 8 households in Yakina and then proceeded to bake peanut butter cookies with Hershey’s kisses on top for Daudy’s birthday tomorrow. At the end of the night we celebrated the birthday and had some people over our hostel. Apparently our hostel is the “nice” place since its one of the few in Shirati to have running water, showers, and electricity most of the time. I know that I was expecting to shower in lake water with limited electricity here, but its really quite nice. Our accommodation fee also covers a cook that makes us all of our meals, laundry service, night watchman, cleaning in the hostel, and Dasani water bottles. So despite the cockroaches, bats, and other critters we room with, the hostel is pretty awesome.
7/29/10 Girls Soccer
The beginning of the day was slow to begin with since we were following up with a bunch of different houses and nobody was home. As Pili and I were walking home around 4:30pm, a bunch of secondary school boys asked us to play football (soccer) with them and we just walked by. I decided when I got home that I wanted to at least watch and maybe join so that we could get more information about how their team works and how we could use their setup to start a girl’s soccer team. I brought Melody and Pili back and really glad we had Pili to translate since everyone spoke mostly Swahili and Luo. We were watching the boys try-outs for about 15 minutes and then spotted some girls playing with a ball at the other end of the field. Pili said that they were playing handball, a sport I have not heard of, where there is a team of 7 and you throw the ball like basketball but there is no bouncing. There is a tall circular hoop to score. I haven’t totally gotten the game down, but those are the basics. First we sat down and watched the game then I decided to join in and try some passing. It was really fun passing the ball back and forth. The ball was funny enough a soccer ball. At some point, the local girls and I started kicking the ball instead of throwing it like hand ball. Soon we were all laughing and kicking the ball. I’m pretty sure that there have been very few times that the girls have played soccer or used their feet to kick a ball. Once the boys started seeing us kick a ball around, they felt a need to walk over and join in. The boys are so much better with football since they were able to juggle, dribble, and pass without any issues. Soccer is way more emphasized in boys than in girls. The day was so amazing. One girl promised that she would go back to her secondary school and write down the names of all of the girls that are interested in playing. The 7 girls there seemed very interested and thought that other women would want to join also.
7/30/10 Crayons, coloring books, and more soccer
Today is Friday and we had a 10am appointment to bring our mosquito net coloring pages and crayons that we so laboriously brought to Tanzania. We made 500 copies of the coloring book and brought about 55 lbs. of crayons in our luggage. The school experience was fun but kind of sad at the same time. Since we have limited materials, we decided to involve the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade of two local primary schools. The general purpose of this event is to promote mosquito net use among children in a fun way. We would first have our translator explain that malaria is caused by mosquitoes, nets help prevent mosquito bites, and then briefly explain each of the 6 images in the coloring packet. Then we had the children write their names on the packet and color one chosen page. We then collected the packets back because we are taking them home to judge which student has the best colored photo and then award them a prize, probably a mosquito net, on Monday. Then on Monday we will also give them back their packets and also donate 3 crayons per child.
The sad part about visiting the schools is seeing the condition of the classrooms and education system. One of the teachers told us that there were 700 kids and 12 teachers which means about 1 teach for every 60 students. Each grade would consist of 50-100 kids crammed in one classroom probably fit for 30 children. The kids would share a small desk and wooden bench with up to 4 children per desk. The room is very bare with no fun posters, colorful art, or educational materials. None of the kids had their own crayons, markers, scissors, or anything near that. The teachers didn’t seem to have much chalk either. I thought it was incredibly sad that some classrooms full of an entire grade of students had no teacher. It seems like the teachers actually rotate between classrooms. We left at about noon for lunch and the kids returned at 2pm and we returned at 3pm and the 4th grade class did not seem to have a teacher that entire time before and after the lunch break. There was also nothing on the chalk board like some of the other classrooms indicating that they were working on some sort of lesson. A lot of children and teachers seemed to be missing. The number of students that we prepared materials for based on the total estimate given by the headmaster was significantly less than the children present today. The good thing was that they kids that were there really enjoyed the coloring and crayons. They were all so sweet and for the most part well behaved. I can’t wait to visit the second primary school and return to this one for prizes on Monday. Wish me luck on judging, its too difficult!!
At about 5pm today, I went back on the field sans translator but had the accompaniment of Melody and Louisa. Louisa is a German medical student that recently moved into the SHED hostel. She was smart enough to bring a full size soccer ball. I’m pretty sure all the secondary school kids really wanted to play with her golden soccer ball. We returned to the same spot where Pili, Melody, and I had played handball the day before with a tiny bit of soccer. Today was amazingly fun as well. Louisa, Melody, and I played handball for a long time with the girls. We then switched to soccer. Somehow I managed to organize teaching some soccer basics with no Swahili or Luo knowledge (and very limited soccer skills too). But all the girls lined up and we did dribbling, passing, heading, chesting, and stopping the ball. It was going amazing but then some girls had to leave and then a bunch of the secondary school boys started to join and hogged the ball showing off their juggling and long kicks. Today we had so many more girls than the 7 from yesterday, we must have had like 15-20 girls. It was so awesome, some of them started calling me friend and sister. I’m so thrilled to have local rafikis. The girls were so inviting and funny. Even though there was a huge language barrier, there were still general gestures that you can understand in any language. The girls were so amazing, they learned the basic soccer skills so fast and they were totally playing in their skirts the entire time and most were barefoot or wearing flip flops! They want us to return tomorrow and I want to continue this girl soccer building!! I am definitely loving it here in Shirati, I’m not ready to go anytime soon and am so sad that I basically only have 1 more week. I really wish I could stay a few more months, I’m entirely too happy here but learning so much at the same time.
8/2/10 Simon Says
Today we returned to the primary schools. Over the weekend, we had a few of our friend judge the coloring pages that the kids colored on Friday and determined a winner for each grade. They were all girls and the prize was a net. We then gave 3 crayons to every student in the class. Melody and I originally wanted to leave the crayon with the teachers to be distributed, but quickly learned from our translators that anything left to teachers is usually stolen to bring back to their own families which is very sad. Melody and I also decided that since we thought it was horrible that some classes did not have teachers at all for hours, we played Simon says with the class in an attempt to teach the primary school kids basic English body parts. The kids loved it and we did too. I totally wish that I was staying longer and would love to teach a class.
So Killion, Melody, and I return to the school after our visit to the market so that we can complete our education and apparently the school was let out early today. Interestingly, all the girls in primary school were cleaning. They were sweeping the floors, taking out the trash, and washing the chalkboards including 1st-7th graders. The boys were sitting around talking. I couldn’t believe that the sexism starts so early. On a daily basis we see men just sitting around all day while women in town are carrying things heavier than their body weight on top of their heads and working very hard. Its unfortunate that not more girls go on to get a high education since they are so hard working and diligent.
8/3/10 Unexpected twists
Tuesday means it’s the first day going to back to Bwiri to start evaluating houses that we had surveyed about 2 weeks ago. It has start today since Saturday is when Seventh Day Adventists worship, Sunday is when other religions worship, and Monday is the large market day. We took 3 translators and had Pili survey by herself without us since she is super independent. Unfortunately there was a funeral so most of the people that I had to evaluate were not home. Bwiri days are always long days, we leave around 9:30am and get there at 10am to finish around 5:30pm after walking slash hiking in the hot sun the entire day. Its amazing how large Bwiri is and how spread out the houses are. Since the roads are so bad getting to the village as well as within the village, not many people come up here to distribute government programs. You can tell that the health of people here is worse than in the main Shirati area. Lots of kids have some sort of fungal infection on their scalp and there is no nearby means to a hospital if an emergency were to occur.
After surveying in Bwiri, we went to play soccer. Of course we were super late arriving back to the hostel at 6:30pm. All of the secondary school girls that we normally play with left. The most unusual thing happened. Mamajunior, the mother of Junior the boy that is mentally disabled and locked up all day, walked by the field and I passed her the ball. She started to join us as well as another random man. Mamajunior was laughing hysterically and playing soccer barefoot. I realized just then how powerful soccer can be as well as just having some recreational time. Here was a woman that I think I despised at one point before knowing her for how her son Junior lived. Now I was laughing and playing soccer with her knowing that she probably had a million responsibilities for her 3 children after this. I realize now that she is just a person and a mother that had to make hard choices in her life. She is a single mom with a son that has a disability that has no resources to help him develop. I decided a bit ago when I first saw Junior and his terrible life locked up that I wanted to raise awareness and at least try to help establish some sort of special education institution or curriculum for children like Junior. Tanzania does have a place and school for people who are blind or have leprosy, but nothing for mental disabilities. The society leaves little choice but to shun these vulnerable groups away or have them locked up.
This week is definitely a bittersweet one where we want to get everything done and live up the last of our wonderful days in Shirati. Melody and I know that we are in for no sleep with all that we want to do between starting the girls soccer team, evaluating in Bwiri, following up in Yakina, giving Babu his bed, playing soccer with the locals, visiting primary schools, and whatever else. We started out the morning by going to Mkoma primary schools and handing out coloring pages and crayons for the kids to color and have a contest with our mosquito net images. Immediately after visiting the schools, we hop in our car to go further away to Bwiri to continue our evaluation surveys. Today was another long and hot day on the field but also slightly disappointing since most of our participants were still at a funeral. After returning from Bwiri, we again played soccer with Junior’s mom but this time we had a bunch of little kids. It was so fun since we were scrimmaging on teams. We played intensely for about 2 hours I think. It was so much fun and such a great workout.
In the evening, we pushed for Killion to get his two potential girls soccer coach friends to meet us at the Royal Price pub to discuss matters over some beer that Melody and I would cover. The four of us met and had quite a productive meeting. The two coaches were already willing to lead this effort and wanted to meet with the headmasters of two primary schools tomorrow. They have a plan to recruit about 50 girls total and form 4 different teams that would play each other in the two local primary schools of Shirati and Mkoma. The only negative aspect to our meeting was the fact that when we tried to reaffirm with Killion that the coaching would be done on a volunteer basis, he asked us to consider paying the coach. Being in Tanzania for 5 weeks, this comes as no surprise to me that someone supposedly doing something nice is expecting to get paid and our translator Killion is the human resources guy. I could tell that Melody was pretty upset about this. I tried to play off the situation which is a good tactic in Tanzania by telling Killion that we can maybe discuss stipends if they girls soccer team idea even takes off and is successful. Everybody assumes that we are made of money since we are mzungus. After paying for about 6 beers for the coaches and Killion, we hoped that something would come of this meeting.
8/5/10 Amazing day with Babu
In the morning we were accompanied by Killion and the two prospective coaches. The coaches went with us to the primary schools to ask for permission from the teachers and headmasters to start a girls soccer team and recruit using the school. We first went to Shirati primary school and then went back to Mkoma to ask about soccer as well as announce the winners of the coloring contest and handed out crayons. We were getting really positive responses from the teachers and school staff. The two coaches continued to get names from teachers and interested 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. As for the coloring book front, we didn’t realize how far 60 pounds of crayons would carry us. We gave about 3 crayons per kid in about 6 different classes and still had so much left over. After visiting Mkoma primary school, we went to Bwiri for a bit more of evaluation surveying. After returning from Bwiri, we were finally able to drop off the bed to seal the deal on the Babu sponsorship business. We loaded up the bed frame, mattress, sheets, pillow, bed nets, and back pack for the little guy in our car. We drove to his new guardian’s house which is a nice brick 2 bedroom household. Just as I was thinking about how amazing it would be to see Babu while we gave him his first bed, there he was playing and chasing after our car. He was also wearing the clothes that we got him a week or two ago which thrilled Melody and I that they fit. By this time, we recognized us. It took a bit to set up his bed frame and bed net, but it looked so nice once it was done. The minute the bed was made, Babu hopped into bed and got under the covers while we were still trying to put up the net. Babu was also given a backback with pencils, a notebook, ruler, and pens. The little kindergartener was so ecstatic. We told him to study hard in school and that we wanted to see him go to secondary school. We ended our day with pictures as the most beautiful sunset was in the background. I could not have imagined a more perfect handover of the bed and marking the beginning of our sponsorship of Babu Aneti.
Tonight, we met again with the coaches and this time they came to our hostel to meet. They showed us the amazing list of 50 girls that had committed. We also planned to have a meeting on Saturday mostly for Melody and I’s sake that we get to actually see the beginning of the first female soccer team in Shirati before we leave. Sometimes we have our doubts about the coaches, but then again, who else would we use instead. I can’t help but wonder when the money and payment situation is going to pop up in the future…probably when I’m back in the U.S. Nevertheless, we plan on getting 6 balls from people going to Musoma and get the first practice started for Tuesday evening. It was determined that practice would take place 3 days a week on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 4-5:30pm. We are definitely making progress on this front.
8/6/10 School visits and disappointment
This morning Melody and I briefly visited the Zappe kindergarten kids and handed on mosquito net coloring pages and crayons. The kids were so adorable. When we returned, we decided to take Pili and Enock with us back to Shirati primary school and hand out the massive amounts of crayons we still had left and coloring pages specifically to 1st and 5th grades since they were not included in our original activities that targeted 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grades. We quickly rushed back after giving the kids crayons and coloring pages so that we could make our 9:30am ride to Bwiri. First a bit of time passes then two hours pass before someone is able to reach a driver. A few more hours later, we realize that there is no driver coming since they were all not available. It was a huge disappointment because we had told many families in Bwiri to meet us at the village office at 11am to pick up their free nets. Since today was Friday, we really wanted today to be the last day that we go to Bwiri and do survey work so that we can rest tomorrow. That didn’t happen after many hours of trying to figure out if we can go or not. So we went to make some bags in Kibwana and then surveyed a few people that we lost to followup in Yakina.
At around 4:30pm, we heard soccer cheering going on and went outside to the nearby field behind our hostel. The games were much more crowded than I expected. I felt like I was back at a high school football game. There were two secondary school teams there from different far away schools. First there was a women’s handball match where they all played in long skirts. Then the secondary school boys had a soccer match. It was so cool, everytime someone scored, there would be a huge rush of people onto the field cheering and singing. Being the only mzungus at this large crowded game, we definitely got a lot of attention. Gotta love it when people keep trying to touch your hair since it is fascinating to have long hair. The kids were super amused by pictures and that they could see themselves on the digital camera. At one point, it was so adorable. I picked up a kid’s English workbook and I saw on the grass with about 7 kids while we read through different parts of the workbook. I would say the object in English and they would say it in Swahili. Moments like these are way too amazing. It makes me feel like part of the community being at the soccer game and playing with young children.
8/7/10 The last but possibly best day in Shirati
Today is the last day in Shirati. I’ve definitely been dreading the end of my amazing time here. At 10am we went to the first girl’s soccer meeting at Mkoma primary school in a classroom to go over rules, soccer positions, and practice schedules. I was completely amazed when I showed up, the two coaches had over 50 girls from 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade sign up. The girls looked so excited to be there even on a Saturday. I wondered how all these girls were able to come to the meeting since I know many of them have so many duties like cooking, cleaning, and taking care of younger siblings. The two coaches explained the different positions, the 18 and goal area, practices that will be held 3 days a week, and the attire that they need to wear. When it came time for questions, the girls asked about who can shoot and where does defense start. One girl asked a question in Swahili and then Killion translated it. She wondered why is it that we wanted to start a girl’s team for them. The question surprised Melody and I. I was so filled with emotion that I started to tear up. We briefly explained that we wanted to give girls a chance here in Shirati to play sports, build sisterhood, and further their education. I was so touched that they would ask such a question knowing that a girl’s soccer team has never been started before and that this was an opportunity typically directed only at teenage boys. Towards the end of the meeting, we wrote down all of the names of the girls and their shoe sizes since Mel and I will try to somehow fit them all. I also decided to bring the clothes that I wanted to leave behind and raffle them off. I brought a pair of shoes, 3 pairs of socks, white pants, a white skirt, a t-shirt, and 2 pairs of flip flops. When I held up the white skirt, all the girls were super giddy, I suppose that was what everyone wanted. I really really wanted to give them all of my clothes and other pair of tennis shoes but knew I would need them later on. After the meeting, all of us took a picture together. I then called out for a team huddle where we put our hands in a circle and then shouted “Girls Soccer!”. I could not be happier with the progress we have made since our initial idea for the first girls’ soccer team. I really wish that I could be there for their first practice on Tuesday. The two German medical students living in our hostel went down to a city 2 hours away and they were able to pick up Tango soccer balls for us to have ready for Tuesday. All I know is that I need to come back soon and see the progress of girls’ soccer in Shirati.
Immediately after the girl’s soccer meeting in the morning, our car had arrived for our trip to Bwiri. Today is the day where we decided that we would distribute our remaining nets in a systematic order. We told the Bwiri village leaders to construct a list of 30 individuals with the highest need for nets whether they have a baby under 1 year of age or have multiple children without nets. We knew that we had such a limited number of nets that rationing is our only choice. When we arrived to the Bwiri community center, there was a line out the door. Apparently they had sent a notice to the town for all women with babies under 1 year to get a net if they did not already get one from us. It was very frustrating since we only had 63 nets and there were many women waiting outside as well as people on a list for which we promised them a net. A sub-village chairperson was also there requesting 18 nets for his subvillage since we did not at all survey or distribute nets there at all. At first the list that they had given us consisted of 75 people, Melody and I were not happy at all. This was the exact situation for which we did not want to happen where we would have more people that were promised nets than what we actually had. We were also afraid of double dipping with previous participants that already had nets or dishonest people that would bring someone else’s baby to get a net. After much debating among us, our translators, and the village leaders, we decided to split the remaining nets a few ways. We would reserve 10 nets for the far subvillage, save the 15 nets for people we had already promised, and also give nets on a first come first serve basis to the women that were waiting outside. Surprisingly, it worked out ok where we basically had just enough nets for everyone that waited outside after reserving a specific number of nets for people on lists. The day was definitely hectic and a bit stressful. I think that is the one thing that I have had to learn to deal with, everywhere I go or anyone that works with me such as our translators, we get asked for nets. This includes village people that didn’t get nets, those that got a net but want more, our driver, our housecleaners, our chef, doctors, strangers, children, and the list continues. I even got asked for nets by our own translators! Its definitely a game between keeping the nets for those that you feel need it most while trying not to make too many enemies by hogging the nets.
We ended our last day by having dinner at our hostel with our 3 translators. The rest of the evening we spent packing. I definitely have much much less stuff than when I arrived. I was barely able to carry my 3 pieces of luggage that were all maximized to the 50 pound limit. It was mostly due to the coloring books, surveys, crayons, and liquid products we were carrying to leave behind. Shirati has been the most amazing experience. I feel so different now than when I started. I remember being so nervous and not knowing what to expect. Sometimes it amazes how differently my life was readjusted from LA to Shirati. In LA, I often would spend money to eat out, have an active nightlife at clubs, drive my car around everyday, and sit poolside looking at the skyline in my apartment. Immediately in Shirati, we have no hot water but luckily have well water and electricity. Everyday I come back covered in dirt from the red sand that blows up from the dirt roads drenched in sweat after spending the entire day walking miles in the burning hot sun. Still I never minded any of it, in fact I loved it all. The landscape is amazingly beautiful as are the sunsets and the people. The children are so friendly and so adorable. I really enjoy walking house to house to see and understand how everyone lives. I definitely never realized the things I take for granted as well as all the unnecessary things that I have in my life. I appreciated the strength and resilience of everyone in Shirati, they seriously never ever complain about life no matter how difficult they have it or how painful something is. I have made so many local friends with our translators, secondary school girls, soccer team girls, people we meet in the villages, and random strangers that talk to us.
8/13/10 Lets start a revolution
I am currently on the plane on my way to Cairo after a fantastic safari experience. Over the past few days since we have left Shirati, Melody and I keep sporadically coming up with ideas of what we can do. Immediately after our safari, we took a taxi into town and purchased cleats for the coaches (it was their single personal request), 2 more soccer balls (since 2 out of the 6 brand new balls that we originally bought exploded), soccer goal nets (the first set ever in Shirati), and cones (to facilitate practices). We also went to a digital print shop and had 55 photos printed of the group picture of all the girls to send back with Pili and Enock along with all the equipment. We also bought some small things for Junior’s mom and had a picture printed for Babu. Ideas keep streaming in. We were thinking about some sort of sustainable fundraiser that our girls soccer team could do in Shirati to help fund their future equipment and cut out reliance from us foreigners. Mel and I are also super motivated to help Junior and his family. I still think of Junior, a 10 year old, that spent his life locked behind bars simply due to circumstances of him having a mental disability and constrained resources in his family and in the entire country. I truly want to go back and raise awareness of mental disabilities in developing countries and how they are unrightfully neglected.
Since the beginning of our trek to Africa, so many of my perspectives have changed. I knew that I was idealistic coming in as a person in my early 20’s. Although it is sometimes difficult to face disheartening situations or handle reality, I still feel like my naïve outlook brings determinism. I was blatantly told by some adults that Junior’s situation is essentially hopeless and that I should concentrate on things more worthwhile efforts such as vaccinating lots of children. Those statements, although I realized their well-meaning intentions, angered and disappointed me leaving me feeling more helpless. If we decided that one life was not worth saving because it is not cost effective and not worth it, then why would we ever want to save a person with cancer or AIDS since we could just spend the money on vaccines. Nevertheless, I’m learning to channel that frustration to something productive. I am hoping to appeal to large U.S. non-profits in the mental disability field to help as well as consult with special education teachers. In a dream world, I would raise enough money to build and staff a special education school for children in Tanzania since there is only one right now. I know it is possible though, since leprosy wards have been built in Tanzania and the government covers all citizens with HIV or AIDS with medications. In my short life, I’ve learned that if I feel passionately about something and brainstorm a bit, it is totally possible to make a difference in that cause. I look at the ecstatic 50ish girls in our soccer program and it is so inspiring to know that if opportunities exist, willing and eager people will embrace them. I hope that the excitement that Babu expressed about his newfound clothes, bed, and school supplies will help him realize that secondary school and university are attainable things in his future that looked so bleak just a few weeks ago. I think that we are all capable of creating revolutions in small and large ways. It starts from an individual level whether it is somebody that is first in their family to graduate college or winning first place in a race. I believe that the same self drive can be expanded to encompass families, communities, and the world.
I was reading in “Half the Sky”, one of the most inspirational books I have ever read dealing with empowering women all over the world and battling issues such as sex trafficking and maternal mortality, that volunteering in developing nations is so essential. I could not agree more with that. Although some cynics may say that the amount of money that is spent on a few people traveling to Africa could be better allocated for funding projects, I (and the authors of Half the Sky) disagree. I feel that the reason is because the few that venture to poorer regions of the world are usually affected by what they discover: a world that exists beyond their own. A positive chain of events continues after that point whether it be that person lives their life knowing how to appreciate things and not waste or they may inspire others to become involved and further contribute. I wholeheartedly recommend that everyone should travel to a developing country and live with the people and learn if it is possible at any point in their lifetime. I know a lot of us have unwarranted fears about the illnesses, violence, and instability in poorer nations, myself included. In reality, its often much more unsafe in an American major city…Los Angeles has way more petty crime than Shirati in my experience. Once you work through the hesitation and nervous anticipation, you grow so much as a person and take away lifechanging experiences. Like they say, you can read all about poverty and culture in a book or watch it on TV, but until you are actually there, you will never fully understand it.