Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hindsight and Reflection

I've been home now for two and a half weeks. Its hard to be back. I don't really know how to describe my emotional state at this point - I've never been in this place before. Throughout my life, I have always been in touch with how I feel. Typically, when I'm upset or frustrated or simply in a bad mood, I am able to identify why I am feeling that way. Now, I'm lost. I departed thinking I would come back with even a greater sense of self, yet nothing can be further from the truth.

Tanzania is constantly on my mind. Irene, the child who I came to think of as something similar to my daughter, is always in my thoughts. I miss the other volunteers every day. In many ways, I have not even began to deal with the seperation from the things listed above. With the exception of one breakdown, I have not cried. What I continue to feel is numbness. I find it hard to be happy, yet feeling sad is also a struggle. As a former teacher said, I look "emotionally heavy". I become frustrated easily. I have bad days, where I am in a bad mood for no particular reason at all, other than that I am home.

Right now, I'm struggling to find a balance between two people: the person I was before I left (the one that my friends still expect me to be), and the person who feels like I do now. I believe the healthiest solution lies somewhere in the middle of those two, as I intend to take as much away from this experience as possible, yet I would like to return, at least in part, to the unconditional happiness I felt before.

Right now, I need people to understand. I need people to realize that I might need some time to get over what I left behind. I need people to know that going out and drinking my face off isn't incredibly appealing right now. I need people to understand that if I haven't spent the last two weeks dedicating my life to finding out when we can hang out, it's not because I dont want to be friends, or because I'm an asshole. It's because right now, I need some time. I need to sort out who I am and what I'm feeling before I can do the full blown social thing again.

People ask me what bothers me most about being here. It is not the commercialism, as I thought it would be. Don't get me wrong, the first time I saw a kid in a grocery store throwing a fit because his mother wouldn't by him a chocolate bar I felt I was going to be sick. But, I miss more than anything how selfless the people of Tanzania were, my housemates included. Everyone was there for you, even if they were a complete stranger. Here, everyone looks out for themselves. Socially, Tanzania is far more advanced than we are. People are nice there. They may be missing some things we would classify as living essentials, but they're happier. It's the happiest place I have ever been, and because I am no longer in that place, I have some soul searching to do. Bear with me.

Friday, May 22, 2009


I leave Moshi tomorrow.

I have received several emails and messages in the last little while saying things like, “you must be excited to come home!” Unfortunately, I am not. I don’t want to leave here. I don’t want to leave Tanzania. There are certainly people I miss from home and will be excited to see, but seeing those people is what is exciting, not the going home part. Please, for those of you who I am going to see, keep this in mind. I may not be all smiles when I arrive back in Canada. Keep in mind that I made a life here as well. I have a home here; I have a family here, and here, I have made a difference.

There is a difference between the goodbyes I said at home when I came here and the goodbyes I will have to give tomorrow. Instead of “see you in three months,” these goodbyes are likely for good.

I am not reluctant to leave because of I feel I haven’t accomplished what I set out to do, because I have. I am fortunate enough to be able to leave here saying I accomplished everything I could have. I was able to do a lot for White Orange Youth while I was here. I wrote 5 comprehensive grant proposals; I organized and carried out a national AIDS memorial event; I taught safe practice to many people; I handed out thousands of condoms; I helped plan and carry out mobile testing events; I showed the accountant how to do accounting, and I learned more than I could have ever imagined. My volunteer term was a success. For that, I am lucky and thankful.

Yet, I have many things to do before I leave. So many pictures to take, so many goodbyes to say, so little time. I am not ready to go.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Rip and Roll - Extended Version

My placement has occupied the majority of my time for the past two weeks. Lately, my typical day has consisted of working 9-7 in rural communities around Moshi. I have been helping organize and carry out various VCT testing events. VCT stands for voluntary council testing, a mobile HIV test that is very easy and efficient.

Basically, what we do is drive into rural communities throughout the Kilimanjaro region (usually 1-2 hours away), put on a show consisting of dramatic and musical performances in the market area, and encourage people to get tested.

The performers are from a group called Kiliwizard - a group of talented individuals who dedicate their talent to providing 'edutainment' (rapping, singing, druming and dancing all the while communicating the importance of HIV/AIDS prevention). They are really cool and really talented, and there is two guys within the group who have released a song that gets radio play in Tanzania. They act as the draw... initially come to see them, and then hopefully they will decide to get tested.

Set up in tents, we have several testing stations with qualified nurses. It is all very confidential; even White Orange Youth (my organization) staff are not allowed in the tents while testing is in progress. On a typical day, we test between 150 and 200 people. About 7 percent are found to be positive. In tbe event of a positive test, the patient is given a referal to a nearby source at which they can obtain free HIV medication and counselling.

The test itself is actually pretty cool. They prick your finger the same way one would to measure blood sugar if they were diabetic. You place the drop of blood on the end of this stick and dilute it with a chemical I cannot remember. Then, a liquid bar moves across a strip of paper, if the bar stops in one of two places, the test is postive. If the bar passes all the way to the end of the strip, you are negative. I tested one day because I wanted to see how it worked, and for the record, I was negative. Hahaha.

My main role for the VCT testing campaign is instructing. Using a penis model, I show people how to properly put on condoms and answer any questions I can. You would be incredibly shocked with how many people here do not know how to put on a condom. One of the major problems within the Kilimanjaro region is that sexual health education contradicts cultural norms, so it is ommitted from school curriculum. Things we take for granted are not-so-common-knowlege here. My instruction is a 15 step process... not just rip and roll. If sexual discussion makes you squirm, you may want to skip the next 2 paragraphs. The condom instruction process is as follows:

1. Check the expiry date on the outside of the box.
2. Open the box and remove the condoms.
3. Read the instructions printed on the inside of the box.
4. Check the expiry date printed on the condom package itself.
5. Verify that the condom package still has air surrounding the condom.
6. Rip off one of the condoms.
7. Open the condom from the jagged side of the packaging.
8. Remove the condom carefully.
9. Place the condom on the tip of your erect penis.
10. Pinch the end of the condom to ensure there is a place for semen to enter.
11. Roll the condom on until you reach the base of your penis.
12. Immediately after ejaculation, the female must remove the condom. This is because the fluids on the outside of the condom belong to the woman, therefor helping further prevent the spread of HIV.
13. Make sure the woman removes the condom in a way that it is not turned inside out, which may spill semen.
14. She must then tie the condom in a knot, preventing spillage.
15. Dispose of the condom in an appropriate trash receptical.

As you can see, it is very step by step. To be fair, I was not aware of step 12, although it makes sense for high-risk HIV/AIDS areas. I also have to instruct women here on how to use female condoms, using a vagina model. I had never seen a female condom before (not a diaphram, this is different) but they are, well.... interesting. It looks like one of those giant tubes you crawl through at a play house when your a child. Basically the women inserts the tube into her vagina, leaving the ring at the open end on the outside of her labia. They are nasty. Primarily, we encourage their use to commercial sex workers and women involved in transactional sex - that is our politically correct term for prostitute.

So here I am... Graeme Hoit, the sex-ed teacher. Who would have thought that I would have the maturity to carry out such instruction.

I also sometimes work crowd control, preventing those in line to get tested from peering in the testing area. And, believe it or not, I was one of the main forces in designing and painting the banners used for the events. I believe there are some pictures on facebook of these.

All in all the activities are awesome. We are accomplishing something: by updating people on their health status, we are helping to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS due to ignorance. Although I now often arrive late, or miss many meals because I'm out on location, I feel please with what were doing. Those of you hoping to see a skinny Graeme may get your wish upon my return after all.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Heaven and Hell

Before, I spoke of one of my favourite places in the world: Tuleeni Orphanage. The children have nothing except each other, but that is all they need. They are happy. They are loved, and on the couple days a week when I am able to go there, it is always the highlight of my day. This post will be dedicated to contrasting Tuleeni with the other orphanage associated with CCS: Upendo.

The word upendo in Swahili means love, yet nothing could be a more false representation what is actually practiced at this orphanage. Unlike Tuleeni, the building is amazing – there is adequate space for all the children, each has their own crib, there is a room for playing, a room for eating, a room for sleeping, a courtyard, a playground, murals painted on the walls, an adequate amount of workers and a large bin of toys. Yet, I have never been to an unhappier place in my entire life.

The orphanage is run by a group of nuns who declare themselves The Precious Blood Sisters of Upendo on the sign outside the building, as well as several workers who, for the most part, were once orphans themselves. The unhappiness begins with the corporal punishment. They beat the children with sticks. These children are all younger than 8-years-old, with the majority under the age of 4. The children are hit for reasons that I cannot even begin to comprehend. For example, one day at Upendo, for no reason at all, the workers decided that the boys were not allowed to go into the playroom. The children were lined up against the wall and asked to sit down. They were made to sit there, on the cement floor with their backs against the wall for hours with no explanation; if they moved, readjusted their position, or talked, they were beaten.

The children are not potty trained. They are not provided with diapers, which, to be fair, is not that uncommon here. The issue is that the children are beaten for wetting themselves. These are 2-year-olds. If they do pee themselves, they are forced to remain in their wet clothes, despite having the luxury, unlike most of the children at Tuleeni, to actually have other sets of clothing. The workers’ way of dealing with this situation, instead of making an effort to potty train the children, is to try and stop them from peeing all together, thus, the children are not given water. They do not understand the ramifications of severe dehydration, especially at such a young age. The children are so thirsty that, sometimes if a child pees on the floor, others will try and drink the urine.

Two weeks ago there was an incident with one of the baby girls who had a very severe ear infection. She is one of the cutest, most precious children I have ever seen. She screamed constantly. She had a fever, her ear was noticeably swollen and red, yet the Sisters refused to take action beyond consulting the on-staff nurse, saying she was fine, yelling at her to stop crying. She was administered painkillers, but nothing to cure the raging infection. They would shove q-tips in her ears while she was screaming, saying they were cleaning it out. Finally, one of the girls who is placed at Upendo intervened and took along the doctor we have volunteering at CCS to examine her. To the best of my knowledge, she is healthy now.

Intervention by CCS and Upendo is not well received. Many of you may be reading this wondering why the hell we haven’t taken drastic action against this cruelty. We are volunteers, there is nothing keeping them from simply saying CCS volunteers are no longer welcome at Upendo. Then, nothing would ever change. It cannot be something that is dealt with by us telling the nuns and workers what to do. It needs to come from a very respected Tanzanian source, and it needs to be long term. The volunteer who is placed there now is outlining a careful, calculated plan to change Upendo. We are all praying to God it works.

The children at Upendo rarely smile. They have adequate resources, yet they are incredibly unhappy. They may have basic needs; they may have toys and their own bed, but they are not loved. When we think of ‘the lucky kid’ from our childhood, we think of the kid who had the cool toys and the good food in their lunch. We think of the kid who wore the nice clothes, and drove the electric powered mini jeep. Yet, that kid was probably not the lucky kid. What every child needs, more than any toy or outfit, is love. What would make every child happy is the care that is give at Tuleeni, not the materials given at Upendo.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Climbing a Second Mountain

Coming to Africa, I prepared myself for many things. I packed my bags. I obtained the necessary documentation. I was ready to leave home, to leave all the people, culture, language, and surroundings I have come to know. I was ready to try new things and meet new people. I was ready to do something, and possibly the first thing, completely on my own. I was ready to climb a mountain. Yet, there is one thing I completely forgot to prepare myself for, and without a doubt it has been the hardest thing I have had to do in the past two and a half months: saying goodbye.

I don’t mean saying goodbye to the things I have grown accustom to back home, but as in goodbye to the people that have become my family here. Because everyone here is out of their element, living in a world completely alien to what would be considered normal in our lives, we are quickly unified. The volunteers share many of the same desires, life goals, philosophies, and of course, water bottles. Within the first couple days here, boundaries are broken and relationships are formed. Even though we may have met only weeks ago, bonds are formed in an uncommon way. These are the people you live with, eat with, talk with, cry with, laugh with, and miss home with. One could describe the relationship here as friendship, but, truly, family is a better adjective.

The sad thing about building such familial relationships is that, unlike your family at home, this family is short lived. There are a few people I will likely see at some point in the future, after we go our separate ways here, yet, there are many who I will likely never see again.

Many volunteers have come and gone since my arrival. I’ve said goodbye to my two mamas, and to several others who I will always remember. Yet, thus far, the goodbyes have been spaced out - two one weekend, one the next ect. However sad it may have been, it was manageable. This weekend was the hardest goodbye I have ever had to deal with. 10 members of the CCS family went home, including those I have become the closest with. I know that there are those I will see again, some even this summer, but it is different here now. The dynamic of CCS has changed. There is an emptiness felt at the meal table. We are few now. And although we will continue to build these relationships with the new volunteers who have arrived, the relationships made previously will not be forgotten.

Goodbyes are hard, yet there is something you can draw from all of them. As one of us here was told in comfort, “There are those who are in your life for a long time, and there are those who are in your life for a short time, but it is the impact they make on you that is significant.” Even though some of the people I have met here were only in my life for three weeks, they have made an enormous impact me, and for that I am thankful.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


So, here it is, arriving by popular demand...... my description of the food! First of all, dispose of all your inklings as to what the food I'm consuming each day is like, because I guarantee it is nothing of the horror and quantity you are picturing. The food here is awesome and plentiful. We have a chef named Primo. Really. That's his name. Seriously. I want to take him to school with me next year!

Traditional Tanzanian food is present at every meal, accompanied by a western option. The main staple in Tanzania is a food called ugali (oo-gah-lee). It resembles mashed potatoes by appearence, yet is far closer to playdoh in texture. Essentially it is flour mixed with water until the correct consistancy is achieved where you can mold it into whatever shape desirable. Playing with your food is allowed here. haha. Basically you eat it by grabbing a tablespoon sized piece of it, rolling it into a ball (using only your right hand as the left hand in Tanzania is associated with hygiene), making a dent in the centre so it resembles a mini bowl, and scooping another substance (lentils, sauce, small vegetables ect.) into the dent with your thumb. Then, consumption. It is awesome. I think part of my enjoyment comes from the fact that when I was younger, I really wanted playdoh to taste good because it looked so appetizing, but I always felt disappointed when I tasted how salty and unappealing it was. Now, I have a replacement!

Lentils are a big part of the diet as well. I believe this is because meat isn't very affordable for the general public, even though we usually have a meat component to our meals. The meat is almost always chicken or pork and typically comes in one of the amazing sauces Primo makes. (Ironically not spaghetti sauce). It is usually intended to be mixed in with rice, which we have at most meals as well. Fruit is not a dessert here. It is a part of every meal. Pears, fruit salads, pineapple, and BANANAS!! I will not be able to eat bananas when I return in the same way I could not appreciate orange juice after Cuba. They are just amazing here. Always! And I'm not even a big banana person. One thing I must address though.... papaya juice = amazing... papayas themselves are really gross. They may be the mushiest type of food I have ever eaten and have a very odd, bitter taste that one would not expect after sampling them in juice form.

To go along with the traditional dishes is often something more familiar to our taste buds, such as the rice and meat listed above, or sometimes for a treat grilled cheese, egg salad sandwiches, pizza, or spaghetti. All of course with a local twist.

The things they don't have here that I probably miss more than anything from home are milk and red meat. Diary is just not common here. I assume it's due to the fact that very few people actually have refridgerators. I miss it. I typically drink a lot of milk. I actually have been eating the powdered milk here. Yes, eating. I consume it in granule form from the tin. It is excellent now, but I feel like when I get home it will be one of those things that only seemed reasonable at the time because of my body's needs. I also crave a lot of ice cream and chocolate, which are expensive, but available here. If you know me well, you know that these are two things I eat very little of at home, yet here, I simply can't get enough.

Red meat is something I feel is more important to my daily life than inhaling oxygen. It to is dearly missed. Upon my return I may request a roast for my first meal... but for myself. The rest present will have to find something else to eat.

Breakfast here is made up of crepes, scrambled eggs, oranges, and toast. It's usually the same thing everyday, which is fine by me seeing as I have at the same type of food for breakfast for the past 10 years of my life.

So, in conclusion, those of you who were expecting to see a withered, very skinny Graeme upon my return will be quite disappointed. Primo lives up to his name.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Mud, Bugs, and Plugs

The rainy season has arrived! This means that:

1. your pants are always muddy.
2. cars can't get down dirt roads because they are now mud.
3. the power never works - hence the lack of internet activity on my part for the last 2 weeks.
4. flip flops are often lost during walks into town.
5. laundry refuses to dry. The main problem with this is that if laundry is left out for more than an afternoon you risk the danger of bugs called 'jiggers' laying eggs in the seams of your clothing, which apparently will hatch into insects that enjoy burrowing into your skin. (Anyone remember The Mummy?) So everything, including underwear, must thoroughly be ironed.
5. bugs have taken the opportunity to start breeding like crazy! We get swarmed by flying ants here... which are actually massive, yet harmless. I mean literally swarmed... like thousands of them flying around your head. Some of the girls are quite terrified, which provides humour for those of us who were raised by mothers like Julie Hoit, who let everyone know that nature is a peaceful, harmless thing of which all forms should be embraced and celebrated.

Although it is certainly better for the farmers of Tanzania, general consensus is that the low season sucks. hard. It is not constantly raining, but when it does rain... it feels more like you are getting a bucket of water thrown at you rather than a nice downward sprinkle.

The CCS homebase is surrounded by the most dense hedge I have ever seen. It's around 7 feet tall and has many thorns. We all feel quite safe because of it. Yet, the other day, it rained. Part of the road outside CCS was completely washed out, and by this I mean there is a four foot deep, 10 foot wide trench that runs perpendicular to what was formerly our means of transportation. The problem, other than the fact that you can no longer turn left out of CCS, is that a significant portion of the monsterous hedge that used to protect us, no longer stands erect. It has fallen into what is now the San Andreas Fault of Moshi. The CCS staff then took this opportunity to let us in on the fact that three years ago the former homebase was attacked at 3am by thirty men yeilding machetes and two others with machine guns. um????? Thanks for the timing? I should add to the end of what I have just mentioned that no volunteers were injured.

Chicken wire now lies in place of the hedge that once was.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Importance of Two-Way Communication

Accompanying all the elightenment I have recieved and all the things I have learned, is a small void that I have felt for the past couple days. It is not necessarily that I miss home, as the actual place, or that I am away from the people I love. Those are things I can handle. What has been hardest for me, is that I have absolutely no idea about what is going on at home, and with all of you. I do not know who is in the playoffs; I am completely unaware as to who won March Madness; I don't know the most recent TASShole activities, and I have no clue what the jeanwall looks like at Bootlegger. Although I am currently galavanting through Africa, those things are still important to me. I have made an effort, through my blog, to tell you all how my life is going, what I have been doing, and how I feel. Now it is your turn. Tell me your funny stories, your sad stories, your accomplishments, your failures, your university acceptances, your hook-ups, and most importantly, explain to me what the Buffal0 Bills organization said in defense to the media as to why they signed T.O.

So send me emails, or facebook messages, and let me know... what is going on in Peterpatch these days. It doesn't have to be significant. Act as if we were sitting in the cafeteria, or around the dinner table, or wherever, and share what is happening in your life... I will continue to try and do the same in return. I cannot promise a reply to every message or email. What I can promise, is that I will read them, and that I will feel a little more comfort because of it.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Prophet Abbas

There is a man here, who is very well known to CCS volunteers, named Abbas Alula. He owns a safari and African expedition company called Bushman Expeditions and Safaris, and is the man who CCS typically books through. Abbas is known throughout CCS and Moshi, as we're trying to spread the word, as the Jesus of our time. The man is a prophet.

I feel in order for you to get a visual, I first need to describe His appearance. Men here are short. Like very short. I am on the tall side of average, and outweigh pretty much anyone by at least 20 lbs. Abbas, on the other hand, is around 6 foot 4, and not a small man. He actually rivals the largest person I have seen up close. Yet in spite of this brooding figure, He is the most gentle, calm, and welcoming man I know, and certainly has the biggest smile I have ever seen - the ear to ear kind you see on cartoon shows. His handshake is not the firm kind we appreciate as manly in our culture back home, but a warm gentle touch, embracing your hand with both of His, as you would do if you were handed a baby chick. "Hello my kaka (brother), thank you so much for blessing me with your presence today," is what usually follows this handshake.

Abbas is very wise, and offers bits of advice that you could have sworn came from an ancient greek philosopher. The man speaks in metaphors. When explaining the preservation of culture He simply said: "A tree cannot grow without its roots, my kaka." For His philosophy on foreign aid policies, He used this description: "You see this hand, 5 fingers, all different sizes and different thicknesses, but they all work together."

In addition to running a pretty major safari company, Abbas is also a painter, a local volunteer, a yoga and aerobics instructor, a photographer, and he has his own coffee plantation. Mind you, this is only what I have discovered so far, as we typically find out a new speciality of His every week. He does everything!

We have determined that He is in fact a prophet, and deserves his own cult following. I intend to fully participate. He even has a prophet name. If I were to start a religion it would not work, solely for the reason that there could not be a prophet Graeme. It just doesn't work, Prophet Abbas on the other hand, has a very nice ring to it.

In addition to the crazy Russian impersonations I have promised upon my return, I will also provide Prophet Abbas impressions.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Warm Hearts of Local Men

So far, the majority of my blog posts have been directed toward the shocking things I have seen or experienced as an outsider looking in, most of which paint a depressing picture of Tanzania. What I have failed thus far to communicate, beyond a few short mentions, is that there are many local people in Moshi who are making a substantially larger difference than any international volunteer could hope to make.
There is a group of young local men here who are just incredible. They dedicate their time, when they aren't in class, to helping out at schools, organizations and orphanages. The future of this nation truly lies with this generation. There are so many who care, and want things to be better for future generations.
There are people who have started schools in their back yard, and sponsored orphanes to go to school, despite not being able to afford electricity for their own home. People care here. They care about eachother far more than we do at home, and that is something that I will certainly miss upon my return.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Tuleeni Orphanage

Here, we have placement in the morning, followed by lunch at 1, and then we either continue placement activities, have free time, or do other types of volunteering. One of the places you can go in the afternoon is an orphanage called Tuleeni (Too-lay-nee).

I made my first trip to Tuleeni earlier this week. I had been to other orphanages here, but this one is very different. It is basically a cement wall that encompasses a courtyard – a term I use here very loosely. The pebbled courtyard is probably about 30 feet by 30 feet, and is also home to three goats, two chickens, and four wild dogs. There is a large mound of firewood in the centre, and a tap for water that sticks out of the ground. Within the cement wall, there are several rooms where the children sleep 7 or 8 to a bed. Seeing 8 kids in a bed is a beautiful, yet solemn sight. You will likely see nothing more adorable in your life, yet when the realization comes that this is not a cute sleepover, that this is actually how these kids sleep, every night, the novelty fades.

Tuleeni is home to about 30-40 children between the ages of 2 and 14, many of which are HIV positive. They eat porridge twice a day, everyday. They do not have clean clothes. There is no electricity. There are no toys. And yet, the children are happy. I will share with you three of their stories:

When we arrived, most of the children were at school. There are several, however, who do not attend school for various reasons. The first child I met was a young girl, probably around 4, named Asha. Asha is HIV positive and has a disorder that resembles cerebral palsy, but she is so sweet – always smiling and always looking for a hand to hold. She cannot speak, but she does make sounds that are pretty clear indicators about how she is feeling. Mentally or physically disabled children are often abandoned in Tanzania. Asha was found in a field when she was just an infant and brought to Tuleeni.

The next child that made a lasting impact on my first visit was an 13-year-old boy named Felix. Felix spoke better English than everyone at the orphanage, including those who worked there; he often acted as a translator to the others. He is so smart. We talked about his school, what he was learning in his classes and what his favourite subjects were. Felix loves English and Math; he does very well in these classes. He is very interested in Science, but admits it is harder than the others. In Tanzanian schools they do not have music class, art class, phys Ed, or music. All the classes that make Western kids actually want to go to school are left out in the education system here, yet the kids don’t mind. They look forward to learning the difference between an adverb and an adjective, even though back home, most kids fell asleep during these lessons. We talked about ice hockey, admittedly Felix would have rather stuck to soccer, but I figured I would do Gary Bettman a favour and spread the love of our sport. Felix wants to be a pilot when he grows up. I told him he’d have to come visit me in Canada.

Then, there was Irene. Irene is 5, and a very pretty little girl. She doesn’t talk a whole lot, she mostly just sat and held my hand, yet she had a wonderful smile that would brighten anyone’s day. Irene, like most kids here, was a pretty big fan of the swing (where you hold their hands, lift them up, and swing them back and forth). I will never forget the infectious laugh she released during this. I was then told Irene’s story. No longer than a month ago, when Irene was walking to school, as kids 3 and older do here, she was called into a man’s house and raped. This 5-year-old child, so innocent and pure, was raped. It has yet to be determined if she contracted HIV.
I sat beside this quiet little girl and held her hand, and more shockingly, she held my hand. At Tuleeni, Irene wouldn’t see many men, so for her to trust me enough to hold my hand, or even sit beside me is hard for me to understand. You meet these children, you hold their hands, you play with them, and then you here their stories of abandonment and horror. At this point, I felt nothing else than a strong urge to hold these children, to bring them home. I understand this is not possible, yet some part of me wishes it was. I think how much better Asha would be cared for, she could go to a school, she could learn. Felix could change the world one day. And Irene… Irene could be loved and protected.
I have told you the story of three children, but there is so many more with similar stories. I am going back to Tuleeni this afternoon, to laugh with Asha, to hang with ma boy Felix, and to hold Irene’s hand. Without a doubt, I will meet another three children today and here their stories.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Education System

With this post I would like to address one of the largest problems Tanzania is facing today: battling against their own education system. Essentially what has been set up is a system in which it improbable that you will reach success. First of all, school is very expensive. Primary school is free, yet after that, it becomes very hard for people to afford. This creates a neverending circle of poverty for most families - if you are uneducated and poor, your children will likely meet the same fate.
Even if your family is able to pay your way through, it is not very easy to pass. All through primary and elementary schools the children are taught only in Swahili, yet as soon as they reach secondary school, they are taught solely in English. This would be the equivelent of the average teenager from Ontario, who knows some French, moving to a Quebec when they are thirteen and having to learn everything in French. Not easy.
Everything the kids are taught in primary and elementary school is wrote. As soon as you walk in the door they may say, "hello teacha, how are you?... I am fine sankyou teacha," but they have absolutely no idea what that means. They can count to 10, but if you show them a page with four dots on it, they wouldn't have a clue as to how to identify the quantity of dots. They recite the days of the week, but are unaware which ones they go to school on. It's sad, and also very hard on the volunteer 'teachas' who have making efforts to communicate with them.
To be a teacher in Tanzania, all you need is to have completed schooling above the age that you are teaching. For example, many of the local teacher who are teaching the equivalent of grade 4 have a grade 5 education.
This problem is one of the largest contributing factors to the divide in Tanzania - there are a few people will a lot of money, and a lot of people with no money.
So for those teachers back in Canada who can't find jobs.... learn some Swahili and come fix this system. haha.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Pole Sana

Before I get into my intended topic of this post, I would like to inform everyone of the light at the end of the tunnel. Sally is in school. She arrived on Tuesday and has attended everyday after that, including today. Also, the Witch Doctor has gone into hiding somewhere, because apparently the police have actually continued to look for him. We DID accomplish something. I DID make a difference.

Anyway, I will continue on with the new topic. Pole Sana (pronounced Pole-ay Saw-na) - if you have talked to me at any point during my stay here, you have likely heard me use this term. In Swahili, it is an expression of deep sympathy, yet, it is appropriately used at any possible time that one could say "sucks to be you." It has become a staple here at CCS Tanzania and is said probably more than anything else... similar to the phrase "don't worry about it, it's Cuba" frequented any conversation I was engaged in on our wonderous adventure to the Carribbean.

The best possible example I can give you of a 'pole sana' situation was one that happened to another volunteer that was at CCS. One thing you need to understand about Tanzania is TFT (Tanzania flex-time). Nothing is scheduled, and if it is, it will certainly not run on schedule. Things happen when they happen and when people can get to them.

So: the other volunteer travelled to Zanzibar for the weekend - for those of you who are completely geographically challanged, Zanzibar is an island off the east coast of Tanzania in the Indian Ocean; it is said to have some of the most amazing beaches in the world and is a very popular tourist area. Upon her return, she arrived at the airport at around 2 pm and handed her ticket to the airline receptionist. The receptionist then said, "Ah, 3 oclock flight left at 12, pole sana." That happens here. Yet, with a pole sana, any feeling of angst is simply supposed to evapourate. So, the volunteer, who had been here for a while just laughed, because really, that's all that you can do here. She proceeded to walk the 5 meters back across the hall to the ticket booth and exchange her ticket for a Precision Airline flight at 5 oclock. After that was worked out, she turned around, took the 5 steps to the other counter and, once again, handed in her ticket. "Oh, no Precision Airline flights today, pole sana." You would think that they would have communicated that across the hall to the ticket booth and stopped the sale of Precision tickets, but that just wouldn't be fitting. haha. T.I.A. (this is Africa).

So, please, start using it back home, because I know when I return its going to become a known saying. "Your computer crashed in the middle of your paper? Pole sana!" ... "Your classroom hampster gave birth to a little of babies, then over the weekend ate them all and died? Ah, pole sana!"

Get used to it! It is one thing that I'm sure I will bring back to Canada!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Traditional Tanzanian Medicine is Hard to Swallow

Again, I apologize for my tardiness. Yet, this time, I needed to wait for a conclusion to what has been happening here before I posted the whole story. I have been back and forth several times as to how much of the following story I will actually post. I have made the decision to tell you everything, yet I need you to understand that I do not need to be lectured on how to be safe in a foreign country, and you need not worry about me. I would not have changed my actions if I were put in the exact same situation again; I acted as I chose because it is who I am and what I stand for. That being said, here is an explanation of my last couple days:

As I indicated in the previous post, the organization I am volunteering with sponsors several local orphans for school. It came to our attention, on what seemed like the most normal of mornings, that one of the orphans that we had sponsored, lets call her Sally, had not been attending school for the past month. The accountant from the organization, who does a lot more than accounting, told us that the word on the street was that Sally had been kidnapped by the local Witch Doctor and was likely being drugged and used as a sex slave. Sally's story was that her father had passed away a couple years prior and her mother was unable to work due to her progressing case of AIDS. Essentially, she is a street child.

So, the accountant, two other volunteers, and myself set out to Sally's house to talk to her mother. After walking for a couple hours to try and find this house, we were greeted by an elderly woman (Sally's mother) and welcomed in to sit down. We sat clueless for a while as the accountant and the mother engaged in a conversation in Swahili that was far past anything we have learned to comprehend. We were told by the accountant upon departure that the mother was denying Sally's abduction. She told the accountant that Sally was simply at the hospital for the day because she was a little sick and that is why she was not home. We knew this was not true, as she had not been to school in a very long time. What we did not know, was why a mother would like about such a thing when her daughter was in clear danger.

We then went to the Witch Doctor's house, where the whole situation went from being something of oddity to that of reality. At the house we did not find the Witch Doctor or Sally, what we did find was another girl. She told the accountant that Sally was in fact staying with the Witch Doctor, but they were not home. She also told the accountant that her brother had been staying there before, yet hadn't been seen for a week. The boy was around 5. We needed to contact the Witch Doctor so the accountant could try and reason with him to get Sally back to safety and to school. So, I left my phone number, with an alias, and told the Witch Doctor in a note that I was a tourist who wanted to recieve one of the tours he conducts of his forest. It was the plan that when he called me I would set up a meeting with him, where the accountant would meet him. Sketchy, I know.

When we were leaving the Witch Doctor's we asked the accountant what she thought had happened to the boy, to which she replied, in a shockingly calm way, "I think he has given him to the ancestors." Meaning she thought the Witch Doctor had murdered this boy. I had just set up a sting operation with a child abductor, probable rapist, and possible murderer. That is how that day ended - awaiting a phone call.

What was frustrating during this day was the organization's reluctance to contact the authorities with the information they had. I am quite aware that the police in a first world country are significantly different than those of the third world, yet this was escalating into a situation far beyond my maturity level. This day was essentially The Hardy Boys, yet written in the style of Chuck Pahlnuck.

Day 2: We started this day by going to seek advice from a human rights lawyer. We explained the situation thus far and she told us that we needed to present the case to the police. (Duh?) But, first, we needed to go see the mother and tell her we were going to the police with the evidence we had in an effort to try and get her to admit what was truly going on, so that she too could advocate for police intervention. We set out for the mothers house, yet this time we were not greeted by the elderly woman - we were greeted by Sally's brother. He was far more co-operative. He told us that not only was Sally living with the Witch Doctor, but so was Sally's mother, in secrecy. He said that he too thought that Sally was being used as a sex slave, but told us of another, equally as scary situation. Days before, Sally had presented her brother with a letter which required his signature. Apparently the letter stated that the Witch Doctor knew an American man who was going to take Sally to the U.S. and provide her with an education, all that needed to be signed was a form of parental consent. We learned that Sally had never met this American.

I can not begin to explain what I was feeling at this time and what was going through my head. There is this girl, who is being raped by the 60 year old Witch Doctor, who has promised her a way out - a way out that does not exist. It is quite obvious to us that a simple letter does not suffice as adequate documentation to bring someone from Tanzania to go the school in the United States. There was no American. This was the Witch Doctor's way of having Sally's family believe that she was safe, yet they would never see her again. At this point, we got scared.

We rushed to the police station, with the brother, and presented the case. We were told by the human rights lawyer to ask for a specific cop who was supposed to be very good. He was drunk. We talked to another man, who from what I could tell was quite high up. He explained to us that under Tanzanian law, if the mother said it was okay for Sally to be there, there was little they could do, as she was still a minor. Yet, they agreed to check out the situation, as we reiterated that it is not legal for Sally to be withheld from school, and the situation of the missing boy is very scary. They then proceeded to ask for money to carry out the investigation. URGH! This day was my culture shock. There is a girl who is being used as a sex slave, who is being fed a made up story about an American who is going to take her away, and there is a boy who is missing, yet no one seemed to care. Everyone was thinking about number one. The one thing we had going for us, was that there were three white volunteers present. The police were afraid that if we were not satisfied with the action they had taken that we would use our power of influence to create a situation that was not favourable for them. They told us to meet them back at the police station at 6:30.

They wanted us to go with them on the police raid to the Witch Doctor's house. I am not a cop. I do not know the language, and I do not know my way around the Witch Doctor's village. I should not have been going along. Yet, he enlies the problem. If I did not go, there was no guarantee at all that action would be taken. There was no guarantee that anything would be done to help Sally, or this little boy.

At 7 o'clock, The accountant and I, as well as the other volunteers who insisted I was not going alone, pilled into the back of a police truck with six police officers, equipt with AK-47s. The truck was the kind that we envision to be used for smuggling illegal immigrants into the US, the one with a tarp covering the back. It was dark, and I was in the middle of a police raid in Africa.

We arrived at the house to find Sally, the missing boy, Sally's mother, but no Witch Doctor. I spent the entire time that we were in the house, when heated Swahili was exchanged between those present and the police, talking to the little boy with what basic Swahili I knew. I was scared, yet I cannot even fathom the thought of being 5 years old and having the place at which you stay swarmed by men carrying automatic weapons. Sally was taken for questioning.

On the way back, I sat beside Sally in the back of the truck. Nothing was said, no acknowledgement was made. I felt as though I should have said something, even hello, but I couldn't manage anything.

We hung around the police station long enough to find out that Sally would not co-operate. She would not admit to staying at the Witch Doctor's, saying only that she was visiting for the night. She said that her brother and her did not get along and that he was only trying to get her in trouble. She said that she was fine. She denied that any promise of America had been made. There was a girl that was in grave danger, she was being used as a sex slave, and manipulated, yet no one cared. Not even the girl.

Sally remained at the police station overnight, awaiting bail. It is illegal not to attend school in Tanzania. She was released on the condition that she live at home and that she attend school.

I went to Sally's school today. She was not in attendance.

I have never felt more frustration. I struggled with things I should not have been exposed to in an effort to provide this girl with safety, to even provide her with opportunity, to tell her this American was not real. For what? nothing. You cannot force someone to change. You cannot force a country to change. I know I did everything I could have done, and certainly more than I should have done. I saw no change. I saw no reward of having helped someone. Sally will continue to live with the Witch Doctor; she will not go to school; who knows what will happen to her in the end when 'the American' takes her away. There is nothing I can do.

Someone very close to me once said "help the people you can, and learn from the ones you can't."

I am awaiting my realization. I am waiting for some greater lesson to be taken from this experience.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

My Placement

I apologize for the length of time it took for me to make this post - I have been busy doing lots of different things.
So, I have been place with a non-profit, non-governmental organization dedicated to AIDS prevention and local youth empowerment. The organization gives presentations to local youth, truck drivers and commercial sex workers (prostitutes) on how to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS. They also raise money in an effort to send local orphans to school.
Here is the amazing part of my placement: there is no red tape. I do not have a set schedule, and I do not have set activities. I can do what I want when I want to, which seriously works for me. This is my niche. I can come up with activities, fundraisers and presentations and deliver on them, yet I struggle when I am held back by administrative guidelines. This works for me.
In addition to being free to make the most of what I have, there is another volunteer placed with me who also makes my placement great. She wants to make a difference as badly as I do, and she brings a lot to the table. We operate in very different ways (as usual when I am partnered with someone else), and it just works. We have goals, and by working together, I fully believe that we can accomplish what we have set out to do.
What I am currently doing, with the exception of the past two days (a post will follow to explain these activities), is researching and writing proposals for government grants from foreign countries. Right now, what the NGO can do is limited to the funds that they have been given from grants. Applying for a grant is essentially the same as applying for a scholarship. I was lucky enough to gain a bunch of experience in that type of sales pitch this past fall. What a grant proposal typically consists of a summary of the organizations goals, a presentation of a series of activities that the NGO plans to carry out, and a budget of those activities including the total amount you are asking for. So, we (the other girl and I) have narrowed it down to what grants we are applying for and will start the application forms shortly.
Following this, I will be traveling around to different communities giving a series of presentations on AIDS prevention, which I am excited about. Also, one of the major goals that we have is to show our NGO how to become an efficient organization all the while understanding the different speed of this culture. There is no hurry to do anything here; there is no sense of urgency, but there must be a sense of purpose.
There is a lot of good to be done at my placement. There are countless things that I will be able to help with, and at the end of the day, if I accomplish anything that I have listed above I know that a difference will have been made.

There is a part II to this post that will follow shortly, outlining my last 2 days, which may I tell you, have been the sketchiest of my life.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Rau Village

Yesterday, the group of volunteers took a day trip to the village of Rau. Villages and towns are very different in Africa. Towns are filled with shops and people and have cars and roads. Villages are the places that you see on the world vision commercials, with huts built from mud and people living in shockingly impoverished communities. Rau was no exception.

It started out as a fun day trip, we all brought cameras, we tasted the local 'banana beer', which has more of a wine taste than a beer taste, and we met the chief of the village. In the chief's living area, there were several chickens, goats, and a bunch of pigs that he kept to sell. He was not dressed in the spectacular clothes one would picture to complement the title of chief. He was wearing dirty, raggity clothing. He was an extremely nice man and encourged us to take pictures of his village. I certainly took this welcome openly, snapping a total of 250 pictures in the 2 hours we were at the village.

We saw poverty unlike anything I have ever seen, but another part of what we saw, something else unlike what is considered normal back home, was extreme happiness. The children, running through the village, between the mud huts, were laughing, smiling, holding our hands, and glowing with excitement. There is a sadness that passes over you when entering a place of such poverty, yet, the children made this adventure one of the happiest I have ever seen. They exemplified the true Tanzanian way of Hakuna Matata. They demonstrated that material things are not what makes happiness, and that as a society, the west is certainly worst off for our greed. Appreciate what you have, because it certainly is far more than you need to be happy.

I have learned so far that one of the best ways to make a child happy in the community is to take a picture of them and show it to them on your digital camera. They love to see themselves in a picture, as it is quite likely that many of them have never clearly seen their own face. Mirrors are a true luxury here. The innocence of the children, the way you can make their day with anything you do, is astounding.

The trip to Rau quickly went from an excursion filled with smiles to one of feeling true hopelessness. At the conclusion of our so called tour, we were invited into one more home. There we saw a teenager lying in bed, unable to move. His mother explained to us that two years ago, he fell out of a tree and hit his head, suffering significant brain damage. He lay there, bed bound, unable to talk... for two years. He would look at you, reach out and grab your hand, acknowledge you with his eyes - you could tell that he was present inside. She explained that he was unable to receive rehabilitation treatment because it was too expensive and the hospitals here did not have the proper resources to deal with such a severe injury. He will likely die in his bed in the not too distant future as a result of the suffering his body deals with because of his immobile situation. If this child were in the West, he would be walking, he would likely be speaking, and he would have a life. Yet, this is Africa.

The trip was concluded with a bus ride of solemn, quiet thought.

Regardless of how my trip started out, I was truly reminded why I am here. I am not here for the tourist attractions. I am here to make a difference. I am here to make a change in someone's life. I only hope that I can be successful at what I have set out to do.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Walking Through the Moshi Market

I would like to first start this post with the topic of driving. First off, they drive on the left side of the road here, which is very disorienting. Upon arrival, I was unaware of this and became quite alarmed when I awoke from a nap on my shuttle bus from the airport when it seemed we were going to crash head on to another car, as to the best of my knowledge, we were on the wrong side of the road. Not the case. The traffic here has one speed. It does not matter if you are in the country with nothing around, or driving through the market with thousands of people, you are going 35 km an hour. It seems extremely slow in the country, but in the city where there are massive amounts of people and other cars and the roads are pretty much dirt pathways between little hut like shops, you're flying.
The rule we all know and love back home, "pedestrains have the right of way", certainly does not apply here. You dodge cars... with the five d's of dodgeball - dodge, dip, duck, dive and dodge.
The horn at home is reserved for emergencies, greeting friends, driving through the liftlock tunnel, and letting that guy who cut you off know he's an s.o.b. Here, it is used far more losely. Like hey, im going to follow the road around the corner... Honk. Hey, there are people around, honk. They clearly took the drivers ed lesson of "communicate with your horn" seriously here.
Anyway, so walking through the market. I was about 4 inches away from being hit by a car yesterday... not like tapped, where you fall down, get up and toss the bird, but like broken leg, hospital visit, surgery, dying in African hospital hit by a car. You see, this one was my fault. On this road there were 4 driving lanes, with a median splitting them into northbound and southbound on the road. So I am on the sidewalk about to cross the street, I look left, step out and bam! A car comes from my right and nearly knocks me over. Ah yes, the other side of the road thing. Apparently this is important. So for all of you (one of you) who are coming to Tanzania shortly, remember that looking left, right, left before you cross is now right, left, right.

The market is quite amazing, there are many shops, all selling artisan type things, scultures, paintings, jewlery. The Tanzanian people are amazing artists. There are many who's paintings are astounding, and quite often you meet with the artist that painted them in the market. Its like a really big Kempenfest, for those of you who know what I'm talking about. Then there is the food part, where you can by produce and meat (like St Lawrence Market). It was here where I saw one of the coolest things: massive slabs of raw meat being mutilated by butchers. It was awesome, you could see all the muscle fibers and insertion points on the skeletal parts that were still attached. I was pretty excited, everyone else gagged and left. Haha. There are also a lot of places that sell brooms... like the largest assortment of brooms I have ever seen. I guess it really is dusty here.

In the actual market, if you are white, you will be followed. People will show you everything they can with a 'special rafiki price for you because you are my friend'. For some advice, the 'special rafiki price' is about 300% of what it would be if you were a local. There are some places you can blend in when traveling and appear as if your not a tourist, but a stocky white kid in Tanzania is pretty much screwed with that. Hapana, asante (no thank you) are two words I will always remember, as within that two hours I was at the market, I must have used them several hundred times.

Anyways. Keep it real Canada.
Watch some hockey for me; I'm missing it already.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


I made it. I summited Kilimanjaro at 7:30 am on February 24th, 2009. The highest peek - Uhuru, the one i reached, is 5985 meters above sea level, and is the highest point in Africa. There are so many stories that I could tell of my climb -so many amazing things and so many hardships - that I do not know where to start.

It is without doubt the hardest mental and physical thing I have ever done. I cannot begin to express the amount of exhaustion the human body is able to feel. When climbing, you walk at about half speed of that at which you would walk down the sidewalk. 'polepole' is what they say here... Swahili for slow. Yet, you are exhausted. There are 4 completely different ecosystems that one experiences in climbing. You start in a rainforest, followed by a desert, followed by a moon scape, followed by a glacier. I anticipate many of you to see the pictures upon my return home. Each day, you wake at 7, eat breakfast, pack, leave camp at around 8, and climb till about 3, at which point you most likely nap until dinner, eat, and then go to bed again until the morning. On the summit day, you do all of this beforehand, yet instead of waking at 7, you wake at midnight and begin climbing. At sunrise (630 am) you are scheduled to reach Gilmour's Point, 5685 meters above sea level. Then from there you climb to Uhuru, the top of the mountain, which I, along with Dingo, reached at 7:30 Am.
It is at Uhuru that I experience the biggest release of energy I have ever thought possible. The adrenaline was gone - I broke down and fell into tears, this was captured in a video some of you may see later. The hardest part though, was the descent. There is no adrenaline, and there is all the altitude sickness. You are sick; your head is splitting, and you are absolutely exhausted. My guide had to keep kicking me to wake me up, as i fell asleep about 6 or 7 times on the way down from the summit... which can be very dangerous.
Yet now, I have made it. I am at the hotel, safe, free of any symptoms. I feel nothing but pride.
I climbed with two other tourists. They were both Australian, and thank god for them... without their company i doubt i would have made it. I will tell you their story, I hope that if either of them reads it in the future, they will not feel as if I'm exploiting what they have done for entertainment, but simply that I am telling a tale of love and courage that I believe everyone should hear.

One of the Aussie's, we'll call him Kangaroo, is a 52 year old father of three, one daughter and two sons. His one son recently passed away at the age of 25. It was this son who had planned to climb Kilimanjaro shortly before his death. Kangaroo, courageously decided that to honour his son's name, he would climb the mountain for him. The other Aussie, let's call him Dingo, was the son's best friend. He heard of Kangaroo's intention to climb a couple weeks before its start date, decided to accompany him. Witnessing their commitment to this climb was something amazing. In the end, Dingo was successful in reaching the top, and gave one of the most heartfelt tributes I have ever witnessed. Kangaroo made it to William's Point, which is 5000 meters above sea level. An amazing accomplishment that anyone would be proud of. They surely carried out the son's legacy with their brave efforts. It was a quest I was not a part of, but I cannot describe with words the honour I feel to have witnessed such courage.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Does This Make Me a Blogger?

So there are these people in this world who have blogs. They are bloggers. I feel as though i do not fit into this group of people, I am simply a person with a blog... I believe the best way to explain this would be to alude to a similar aspect of many of my friends' lives. There are Trent Students, and then there are students who go to Trent. I am a blogger as much as a non-button wearing, meat eating, white, straight male is a Trent Student.
So... I have a blog now. It's official... this is my first post of hopefully many. I intend to share the thoughts, experiences, and wonder i shall experience upon my travels to the other side of the world. Which brings me to my first topic: waiting.
I have spent the last two weeks waiting - waiting to pack, waiting to say goodbye to my friends, my family and my girlfriend, and waiting to leave. It is the waiting that is killing me. My life as i know it is about to be thrown out the window and all i can do is wait for it to happen.
I need to just go. I wish I could simply wake up and be there. I wish I could do it all in one quick motion, like the way you would rip off a bandaid. I can't. It will be long, it will be drawn out, and it will be hard. Luckily i have been surrounded by people who have been 100 % supportive.
I have shared my anxiety with a few people... yet for most I put on a brave face. I tell them all the things i know i believe, yet I just can't see at the moment. I tell them that three months goes by quickly; I tell them that I am just a little nervous; I tell them I whole-heartedly am looking forward to it. The truth: I am so afraid. I'm afraid I'm not strong enough. I'm afraid i will miss everyone the second I get there. I'm afraid that I will come back a different person, and that my friends will be different people and that what we have now will not exist when i get back. Yet, i know this will pass. (I hope this will pass).
When I get scared, I refer to one of the best pieces of advice I have ever heard: "Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming." I am swimming. My eyes might be closed... but I am still swimming.
The other day I my sister called me from Egypt. She too embarked on a scary, life changing adventure. I told her about my anxiety and she shared with me the perfect quote. The one i needed to hear... which she always does. She said, "The brave may not live long, but the cautious don't live at all."
I am scared shitless. I am excited beyond belief. I am sad. I am extatic.
I am going to Tanzania.
9 Days.
The goodbyes will start soon, let that be addressed in another blog.
Wish me luck, with my trip, and my blogging.