Our last night here in Tanzania is bittersweet. It’s been such a great trip, and even though I’m happy to be heading back to the States, I can’t help but feel a little sad. I’ve grown to love Tanzania and it’s many different peoples.
Yesterday stands out as one of the most interesting days of the whole trip. Starting off the morning hunting with the Hadzabe tribe in the bush was like nothing I’ve ever experienced, and it was surprisingly not as gross to eat the birds they killed than I thought it would be! Spending the afternoon with the women of the Datoga tribe was quite the experience as well. They even painted our faces in the patterns of their facial tattoos. Today we stopped by a NGO here in Arusha which gives disabled people the opportunities to blow glass and make jewelry, which was an amazing thing to see, and just added to all the awesome people we’ve met. Tanzania is such a beautiful country, and my experiences here have taught me so much. I can’t wait to come back!
Henry McDonald, 4/23/14
I saw a Lion today. The king of the jungle. The big man on campus. The alpha of the world. The top of the food chain. The peak of perfection. I saw a Lion today.
Dylan Parsons, 4/23/14
Few words were spoken as we drove away from the Janada Batchelor’s Foundation for Children (JBFC); the silence spoke more than we could possibly have achieved with words. We shared the inexpressible sentiment built and reinforced through hours of intimate shared experiences with the dozens of unique, inspiringly-high-spirited, non-exclusively loving and caring girls who made their home at JBFC. Coursing through us all were emotions so powerful they brought tears to many an eye (ours and theirs alike). As stated, these sentiments are inexpressible, but I will try to help the reader understand as best as I can – using the analogy of a rope. A relationship between two people is like a rope connecting them; a relationship built with someone through one medium, one aspect, is but a single, tenuous thread threatening to snap; the relationships we built with the girls and the figurative ‘ropes’ that went with them would make the steel cords of the Golden Gate Bridge look like pieces of soggy spaghetti. We created a figurative thread through every medium, every aspect, through which a figurative thread could be created. From intellectually-straining-but-rewarding school tutoring, to tedious-but-convivial friendship bracelet making, to long games of soccer under the blazing African sun, to singing and dancing and praying under the moonlight, starlight, and/or bulb-light, to cutting bamboo, tilling fields, and digging ditches in the sweltering heat of high noon, to teaching songs like “Help!” by the Beatles and “Imagine” by John Lennon, to learning how to skin a potato with a machete (I could continue, but I’ve myriad other things to say), each and every one of the members of the LWS Tanzania Trip of 2014 connected with the girls in an unprecedented, thorough, and simultaneously heart-warming-and-wrenching manner I’ve not experienced before.
Even as I write this, sitting in our safari vehicle mere minutes from JBFC, I can feel those ropes tugging back at me, at all of us. As I search my mind for inspirational things to say, a somewhat hackneyed-but-potentially-applicable quote entered my mind: it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved before; I started to write it, but I realized that it doesn’t apply. We haven’t loved and lost, we have loved and gained. Every second we spent there did nothing but improve our lives and the lives of those around us (I hope), and nothing, not even our much-dreaded departure, could take away from that. To say we loved and lost would be to throw away everything we gained; no, not lost. I hope I speak for one and all when I say that our stay at JBFC was no mere item on an itinerary, no memory to store away in a scrapbook and push to the corners of our mind – our stay was a true privilege, a life-altering journey, a transformation of mind and soul. There is typically a time during a new trip when I can say, “I’ve done things like this before.” That time passed and flew away within the first day. I’ve never experienced anything like this abroad or at home, and I doubt I will again – until, of course, my inevitable return to JBFC; that’s right, it’s on the bucket list (look out, Tanzania, I’ll be back; once something is on the bucket list, it may as well have already happened – there’s no stopping it).
Enough of that; where one journey ends, another begins: so commences our 10-day safari through the Serengeti, and the final 10 days of our senior foreign trip. I hope the volumes I’ve spoken speak volumes (heh) of our experiences – those who know me well know it takes something significant to get me all sappy like that – and that the remainder of our trip is as fantastic as it can be. Who knows, maybe we’ll build some strong ropes with the lions, giraffes, and hippos (oh my!).
Eric Einstein, 4/22/14
As we leave JBFC to head toward the Serengeti and what promises to be an incredible safari, it is with mixed emotions. We are excited for the adventure ahead of us, but all of us are blinking to hold back our tears as we say goodbye and asante sana (thank you) to our friends at JBFC. It’s always hard to leave people that you have come to love. It has been incredible to see the connections that our students have made here. Through song and dance, farming, daily activities, prayer, friendship bracelets, cooking, and tutoring, we have created connections that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives. Two weeks seems like such a short time, but time seemed to stand still during our visit here.
Before our farewell dinner, the girls locked us out of the dining hall to prepare. When they brought us in, our jaws dropped. Not only did the food smell and look incredible (it was a delicious feast!), but they had brought the couches out from their dorms and created beautiful name signs for each of us. We felt so honored. After we ate, we sang and danced the night away. During our time here, we’ve taught the girls “Help!” and “Imagine” by the Beatles and they have taught us Swahili songs – can’t wait to show off our Swahili version of “Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes!
Every night before bed, the girls say prayers together, and this became one of my favorite moments on the trip. Although I’m not a Christian, the music and Swahili prayers are beautiful, and many of the girls have taken time to help me write out the Swahili lyrics so that we could sing along. In the dining room lit by a single bulb, we sit on the floor and the girls, even some of the youngest ones, lead songs, prayers, and readings, always asking if anyone has prayers to add. I taught a Hebrew song to some of the girls. They have an incredible ability to hear a song once or twice, even if they don’t know the language, and can sing it perfectly within minutes. Hearing their voices sing “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu” in rounds with me, I often had to stop singing because I was either smiling too much or choking up from the beauty.
After prayers, we all share hugs and say “oseku mwema” (good night) and “lala salama” (sleep peacefully). After our last night and celebration, there were many teary hugs. The girls had spent all afternoon “cleaning the art room,” which actually meant that they were creating beautiful cards for us. They also made a huge poster with notes to each of us on it. We were all moved beyond words.
Yesterday talking with JBFC’s incredible and inspiring staff members, Seth, Melinda, and Travis, our students reflected on their time at JBFC. By the end I was almost as sappy as Margi was, and had given up on trying to not let tears fall. In addition to the tangible things, learning about permaculture, rural life in Tanzania, education, music, language, dance, and more, our students reflected on how they felt so welcome into JBFC and loved getting to know the girls and learning to open their hearts. In many aspects, we may have taught the girls, but we learned so much more by opening our hearts and engaging with them.
The JBFC employees told us that they had never seen the girls do anything so extravagant for any holiday or to honor a group of visitors, nor had they seen groups make the connection that we made with the girls. They were blown away by us – no one had used music to connect in the way that we had, nor spent so much time or heart getting to know the community. They commented on how all of the girls had opened up to us, even ones who are usually more reserved and shy. One girl who has only been here a few months, and who came from a fairly unstable home (to put it lightly), and who would barely speak when she arrived, was running around, trying to hug all of us as many times as possible for the past few nights, smiling, laughing, and chatting with us.
We still have an exciting final ten days of the trip to look forward to including: the Serengeti; Ngorongoro Crater; Lake Manyara and Lake Eyasi National Parks; hiking Ol Doinyo Lengai; and cultural visits with the Massai, Hadzabe, and Natoga tribes. Despite this, many of our students have asked if we could stay at JBFC longer, and as we drove away, we stared out the window at Lake Victoria and the villages we passed through, every smiling child reminding us of our new friends, no, new FAMILY, that we’ve come to love. We look forward to staying in touch and many of our students have already talked of returning to visit and volunteer in the future.
Margi Missling-Root, 4/19/14
One of the things that the Tanzanian girls have really enjoyed is the exchange of music that has taken place. Henry and Dylan have sung solos during our evening gatherings. Einstein and I have taught rounds. We also taught them Imagine, How Great Thou Art (they knew the Swahili version), and Dylan taught them Help, by the Beatles. We wrote down 6 copies of the lyrics and then they pick up on the melody very quickly. JBFC is off the grid so the girls have no internet, computers, or cell phones so they are very accustomed to verbal learning. It is amazing to sing with them. Dylan and Henry
are superstars because they have sung solos. Drew performed a play with Julie, an awesome older student, and it was phenomenal. It was definitely a highlight and he has gotten many kudos for it. All of the students are reaching out and contributing greatly to this experience. It is really beautiful to see. During tonight’s debriefing activity, two of the kids said they are going to be really sad when they have to leave. Three others continue to state that the thing they are most looking forward to is to continue to be with the girls and build a stronger relationship with them. So needless to say, it is a powerful experience.
We have seen beautiful birds and sunrises, distant lightening storms, beautiful rainbows and picturesque landscapes. As I have said before, JBFC feels like a love-filled sanctuary. They are doing so many things right and the organization is only six or seven years old. For instance, as part of our permaculture lesson today, they ran us through the process of putting in a solar pump to get water out of the lake. Right now they use a diesel pump. Once they get the system up and running they will provide filtered water to another NGO and to two locations in the nearby village. It is a very impressive project. The group is mature, fully engaged, respectful, curious and full of compassion and loving energy. It is an honor to be with them.
Linnea Zink, 4/16/14
Our days here at JBFC have been so busy that the past week or so has been an absolute blur.
Last night was village night and a highlight for me and most of the group. We were split into two groups, and then each group was paired with a Maasai guard and three of the JBFC girls. They escorted each group to the home of an employee of JBFC. My group went to the home of a boy named Katula. Katula and two of his sisters attend JBFC’s school. His parents also both work here.
The walk to their house was about thirty minutes (we estimated 2 miles). Personally, this walk was the best part of the evening. The sun was just about to set. A rainstorm was rolling in, so half of the sky was filled with huge thunderheads while the other half was perfectly blue. The landscape was incredibly green, and we gained enough elevation to be able to look back and see over the bay of the lake. As we passed by houses, little kids would run outside and wave. Sarah and I can’t get over how each kid is “so cute, just so cute” (Merry!). I (of course) left my camera behind… this will probably be my greatest regret of the trip.
When we finally got to the family’s house, we awkwardly sat around the table as the family turned down our offers to help, repeated “welcome, welcome, welcome” over and over, and loaded the table with food. We filled the time by passing Henry’s water bottle around and making everyone hold it up to their faces so their eyes were magnified and they resembled bush babies. Margi made everyone participate, including the Maasai guard, who was thoroughly embarrassed.
For dinner we had rice, beans, beef, cabbage, tomato sauce, mandazi (doughnuts), and lemongrass tea. I think it was the best meal we have had. I ate way too many mandazi.
The walk home was just as beautiful as the walk there. The moon was just rising over Lake Victoria. We caught a glimpse of it before it disappeared into the clouds. It was absolutely enormous and bright orange.
La la salama (sleep peacefully).
Drew Boatwright, 4/16/14
Our trip is approaching the halfway point and JBFC has been amazing and full of so many fun experiences. I’ve met so many friendly people and I’ve been blessed to make as many connections as I’ve been able to. My reading buddy, Julie, and I have had a great time reading Charlotte’s Web together. She seems extremely passionate about learning more English and improving her reading. She asks me to pick out words for her to learn on every page. It’s inspirational how passionate she is about learning. She seems attentive when we tutor her even if we aren’t the best teachers. I’m happy that we’re here at JBFC, and I’m excited to see where this trip takes us next.
Dylan Parsons, 4/14/14
Before I start, forgive me in advance if I ramble – I figure that’s what you’re here to read.
Years have passed since the incident that sent me here to JBFC in Tanzania, Africa. Although I have seen my fair share of strange people in this world, this large group of young men and women getting off of that big bus look quite bizarre with their huge backpacks and styled hair. Why do they all look so tired at merely10:30 pm? Things are just getting started around here! So they figure they’ll just come into our compound and be accepted like one of us into our daily routines? Sounds good!
At least, that’s what I figure was going through some of the heads of the many girls of the Janata-Batchelor Foundation for Children (JBFC) who greeted us when we arrived to the compound a few days ago. All the fears and worries that may have been running through our heads were immediately dispelled by the greeting-brigade of girls enthusiastically asking our names, offering to take our luggage, and then proudly insisting when we respectfully declined. It seemed to us as though our arrival was the highlight of the girls’ week – and that made it the highlight of ours. We couldn’t see much as we walked through the dark, humid air to the building in which we’ve been sleeping, but the morning light yielded the area’s breathtaking beauty. Unfortunately for the reader, the beauty of which I speak is none that a photograph, a video, or even an overly-wordy and descriptive blog entry can encapsulate (but believe you me, I’ll do my best). While the natural beauty of the landscape itself – the growing flora fed by the ever-rising Lake Victoria a mere hundred feet away – contributes significantly to the feeling I speak of, it is overwhelmed by the more cultural, ‘spiritual’ beauty that arises from the lives and actions of the people we’ve encountered (and those of many we haven’t). Although I’m normally not one to go about describing things in the ‘spiritual’ sense (maybe I’ve been around Margi a touch too long – not that that’s a bad thing), there is an undeniable (and contagious) feeling of jubilance, camaraderie, acceptance, renewal (how long would you like this list to go on?), hope, and compassion that connects like a web among the girls themselves, the JBFC employees and volunteers, and us.
We’ll be tutoring some of the girls in subjects dictated by their needs in school – we’ll be working with girls from Pre-K all the way up to seventh grade – three days a week (just for the next week, of course – we depart next Monday).
So far, we haven’t been exposed to the sweltering, unbearable heat of stereotypical Africa that we’ve been led to expect (no complaints here), although we’ve all grown a few shades darker since our arrival – hours in the field digging irrigation ditches and playing soccer and frisbee have made sure of that. While I’ve yet to take Travis, the Guest Director at JBFC, up on his offer to take us up to a tall water tower on a hill early in the morning for a fantastic sunrise view, what I have seen in my uncharacteristically early mornings is still breathtaking. The sun, a deep orange, rises over the horizon directly in front of our porch area, and casts a column of light across all of Lake Victoria, illuminating the landmass in the middle of the lake and, of course, giving new life to the roosters here on campus (much to the sleepy man’s dismay).
Yesterday morning, we saw some chickens in a coop; yesterday afternoon, we saw an empty coop; last night, we had fried chicken.
We have two lovely women that we/they call “mamas” who come into the house each morning and cook us breakfast, make us tea and coffee, and giggle at us when we try saying anything to them in Swahili. Lunch has been an assortment of cornmeal (ugali), bread, beans, sugar, rice, and other plain-but-filling meals to keep us going during the days. Our dinner meals have been quite close to Margi’s first-day comment that she could eat rice and beans every night (be careful what you wish for, Travis told her).
The Maasai people hired by JBFC for security have a fascinating dance in which one jumps in time to a given beat (a guttural sound made by the surrounding Maasai that we have utterly failed to reproduce). Another then joins in and the two jumpers compete to see who jumps higher. Some of the boys were fortunate enough to partake in a mini-version of this dance with a few Maasai tribespeople the other day, although we didn’t compete with them – I imagine the videos of that will be rather popular in the time to come.
Some of the girls are doing a fairly good job in remembering our names; of course, they’re disappointed when we miss a step in naming each of them and their 44 friends.
Although I know you’re disappointed to see my characteristically garrulous entry end, it’s off to bigger and more tasty things for me (breakfast time) – but don’t worry: I have so much to say, I’m guaranteed to be back on the job in no time. Until then, enjoy the life of not seeing your next meal walk by the path during your current meal (not that it isn’t a little fun).
(Note how the entire last paragraph could have been summarized by “goodbye”… That’s what I’m all about.)
Henry McDonald, 4/14/14
I am proud to be here. I’m proud because before two years ago I never would have thought that I would be having this experience. It wasn’t easy getting here, it took us about three full days of travel but we are finally here at JBFC and three days in. The days are hot and long but there is nothing better than seeing these girls so excited to see us in the morning. They sing, they dance, and they play. They do everything young girls should be doing at their age, and if they were not with this organization they wouldn’t be doing those things. It is truly beautiful. I’m realizing as the days go by that I love this type of work and am already considering coming back and volunteering for a longer amount of time.
So far we have done work to help the campus become more self-sustaining by creating a gray water system that will use the water from the dining hall in order to grow trees and other plants directly behind it. We have toured the bustling local village that has one bar with a single speaker that you can hear all the way from my bed on the campus. We have watched the local Masai’s traditional dances with the beautiful lake Victoria as a backdrop. But the girls at JBFC are our main focus. They are all very smart and funny, and fun to be around. It is only the third day in, but I know that I won’t want to leave when that day comes.
Peace from Kitongo, Tanzania
Margi Missling-Root, 4/13/14
We are having a wonderful Sunday. Got to sleep in, then went to a breakfast of chapati and sugar along with very sweet lemon grass tea, which grows all along the walls of two buildings. I have given it a try twice but it is just too sweet so I might pick some lemon grass and make my own tea. After breakfast the girls ran the church program which included lots of singing.
We lathered up with sunscreen then hiked to two villages, and the students got a real taste of Africa. To an inexperienced traveller, it seemed that some villagers were aggressive in their approach to sales and seeing white foreigners. Some discomfort was felt but nothing was obnoxious or threatening. It was a good learning opportunity.
We came back to a lunch of cornmeal and beans, rested a bit and started creating lesson plans for our teaching sessions tomorrow. Now it is hangout and rest time before futbol. We are on our lovely porch reading, writing, listening to music and generally staying out of the sun for awhile.
Tonight we are supposed to have a fancy dinner; the villagers killed two chickens, a lamb and a small steer. We are all happy and healthy.
Ahh. The breeze has returned.
Drew Boatwright, 4/12/14
It’s feels like we’ve been here a week or so; I’m not entirely sure how long we’ve been here and the days have seemed to blur together into a colorful blend of new friends and fun experiences. From capture the flag in endless rainfall to watching the Masai soldiers perform dances, every moment has truly been a pleasure, and I feel at home in Africa. Occasionally, homesickness sets in and I begin to miss my friends and family back home, but most of all I miss my bed and a good nights rest. These feelings pass quickly as a new day begins full of challenges and memories waiting to be made. I look forward to playing soccer with the girls at the school and later reading with my reading buddy, Julie, as we attempt to finish our journey through the world of Charlotte’s Web. I look forward to the cool mornings on the front porch where I can read quietly or converse with my friends while I look forward to the new experiences that await me in this magical place.