Friday, December 07, 2007

In Praise of Grandmothers

Just one more blog inspired by traveling with Ema, lest you all think the other boys have disappeared. During our trip to Moshi, I had a chance to meet Ema’s maternal grandmother, the woman who raised him. We got off the bumpy dala dala and Ema went to go get her in the bean fields. When I met her she wore a faded skirt and headwrap that had once been brightly colored. Her hands and feet were caked with black dirt. She put down her hoe to hug me and thank me for being a mother to Ema to replace her daughter, taken by AIDS. It took all I could do to hold back tears which I knew would be so strange to her. She walked far ahead of us on the way to her house. We walked about a half mile, slogging through rich earthy mud, so unlike the sandy soil of Bagamoyo. Each house along the way was made from red brown earth and trees and everywhere there were mango, avocado, and coffee trees and 5 or 6 different kinds of banana trees.

She is 87. She birthed Ema’s mother when she was 47, her last of 8 children. Only 2 are still alive, but she cares for most of her grandchildren. She never went to school herself, but she tries so hard to keep her grandkids in school. She now has one in primary still and two in secondary. Although the schools they attend are not of great quality, the kids feel purposeful and they are learning. At home I remember people loving grandparenthood for the precise reason that the responsibility level drops and it’s just love, love, love. But to be 87 and still having the breadwinner instinct cranked up to full volume? Retirement? What is that? She tried to take MY back to relieve me of my load when we were walking.

Antiretroviral therapy is changing the face of HIV/AIDS in Africa, but it will take a long time. These grandmothers, and aunts and uncles are still the ones on the front lines doing most of the work. Bibi Issa, Bibi Idrissa, Bibi Fatuma, Bibi Omari, Gertrude in Uganda are just a few of the outstanding grandmothers and great grandmothers who have helped us to help kids. Asanteni.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Dromedary Drama

By the time I walked down to visit the camel (See below), the verdict had already been reached to spare her life. I got two stories as to the reason why. The first story is that the camel is pregnant and therefore was not sacrificed. The second story is that she refused. I like to think that she is pregnant and that’s why she refused. In any case, she is still there grazing away in all her glory. I regret my earlier neutrality but revel in her triumph nonetheless. A cow was called in as apparently, no bovine consent is required. Prayers were sung again and a relatively subdued feast ensued.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Camel Country

We were driving home from the bus stand the other night. Caito turned the corner onto our street and there was a huge camel! In front of the massive animal, sitting on the porch of a house, were about 15 people and a bunch more kids. They just watched in silence from afar. We laughed at the strangeness of it and drove down the road.

That was almost three days ago and what’s even stranger than the camel is the fact that the The Baobab Home has been almost completely silent since the camel got to town. All the kids in the neighborhood have been camel gazing. They visit, touch, listen, mock and feed the camel. Naturally, I wanted to know where she came from and what she was doing here. It’s been hard to get an answer that is not shot out in rapid fire Swahili from the sheer joy of the experience, but this is what I got.

She is a sacrifice. About once a year someone in Bagamoyo decides he wants to thank God and have a party. The going rate for a camel in these parts is reportedly over $1000, but apparently it is not bought but donated to a Muslim religious teacher. Right now we are in the buildup period. The camel is admired and loved and taken for long walks that are more like parades. A banner is carried in front of her and a stream of kids follows her everywhere. Rarely do people climb on board the camel, but occasionally. From what I have been told, the men in charge talk to the camel and read to her from the Koran. They pray over her and they pray in her honor. They cajole her. They ask her first very politely if she wants to be sacrificed. The amazing part is that everyone I have talked to says that the camel eventually cries true tears, and lays down in agreement. It turns its neck and is cut. Many people don’t stay to watch that part, but then a feast ensues with camel meat for all and special spiced rice. Christians and Muslims are all invited. Absolutely anyone is welcome until the meat runs out. What happens if a camel does not agree? Most people said that you have to continue to “bembeleza” the camel, to soothe it as you would a cranky child. A few people remember cases of when a camel would not agree and was forcibly cut. When that happens, the meat does not taste as good.

Last year the man who organized the event added his own excitement…he had a “dream” that a ring was inside the camels stomach. Lo and behold a ring was found (or produced) when they cut the camel’s stomach. Everyone cheered.

As I write this, there is talk that the camel is pregnant, in which case the sacrifice is off and someone has to come up with a cow in place of the camel. My instinct is to root for the camel of course, but I sit here and debate whether it matters much. I’ve seen a bullfight in Mexico and a massive pig slaughtered in Spain after being chased through town. Chickens killed by the hundreds for fast food in the USA and turkeys are decorated and praised on a table. I could get high and mighty and claim vegetarianism, but I love fish and squid. I guess that I will just attend the event for as long as I can and decide based on fact not theory. ...developing.....

Friday, November 23, 2007

In Memorium

Naima, daughter of Mama Mwajuma, passed away 3 weeks ago. Just 36 hours before she died, her mother had taken her to a traditional doctor who cut her uvula- the flap of skin that hangs in the back of the mouth. Her mother gave her some kind of herbal salve by the spoonful, reportedly to stop the bleeding. We believe that this is what killed her, however despite our help, her mother had been taking poor care of her.

This was my first time hearing about uvula cutting. I believe that it is not that common anymore however I don't know the frequency because people normally don't admit to that kind of practice. Naima is not the first baby to die shortly after the cutting. We will now be more vigilant so that it doesn’t happen to any of our kids in the future.

Rest in peace, sweet Naima.

Help Emmanuel for Free...or Sell Your Vote to Obama!

Emmanuel, Justis and I are back safely from Moshi Tanzania, at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro. One of the reasons we went was to continue the search for Ema’s father. Thankfully, we got a little closer, but we have a ways to go. Ema visited the farm where his father used to work in Rongai clear on the other side of Kilimanjaro. The owner said that he remembered “Mzee Juma” very well, but that he left a long time ago- about the time that Ema’s mother and father split. He told Ema that Juma was a good tractor driver and that he most certainly stayed with farm work when he returned to Kenya. The man advised Ema to check the tea plantations in Kenya. The most helpful news though, was that we got confirmation from someone who saw him living in Bungoma, Kenya just four years ago. Frustratingly, Bungoma is just a little ways away from Busia, where Caito and Ema went last month.

On December 27, 2007 Kenya holds its national elections. We want to get notices up at every voting site that we can. We have several targets:

Foreign volunteers in Bungoma (Habitat for Humanity, other orgs)

Foreign travelers going to Mt. Elgon (notices should be posted on travel boards such as and thorntree)

Government officials whom Caito and Emmanuel met on their Kenya trip

The Kenyan Embassy in Dar es Salaam

Any and All people residing or working in Bungoma who have emails online (more people than you would think)

We are tapped out on funds and we are reaching out to you, our supporters, to help us do our research the good old fashioned way, on the internet! If anyone wants to help, please just do web searches (using google and non-google engines) for Bungoma and collect all the emails or phone numbers that you can for NGOs, local government officials-anyone with a pulse in Bungoma. We will then send a letter or call them. If they agree to help we can send a notice to print and be posted at the voting polls. If anyone wants to post on the travel web boards, that would be a huge help.

Emmanuel remains hopeful. When I spoke to his grandmother, the woman who raised him, she told me that Emmanuel has always been determined to find his father. As a small boy he set out alone for Nairobi to find him and was brought home by police.

BONUS QUESTION!! In my research, I found that Emmanuel’s father belongs to the same tribe as none other than Barak Obama. That makes Ema and Barak both "Luo". Anyone who happens to be chatting with Mr. O can tell him that he can buy my vote for the cost of an all expense paid trip to Bungoma in service to a fellow tribesman.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Emmanuel Closer to Finding Family

I wish you could all sit and listen firsthand to the stories of Emmanuel’s journey to find his family. Caito and Ema both loved the trip so much and can’t say enough about the people they met in Kenya and the hospitality that they were greeted with. The people of Busia went out of their way to help Ema and they had everyone from local officials, tribal leaders and taxi drivers on their team. Although one family was suspicious of his motives(did he want school fees or other support?), another family wanted to kill a goat and welcome him home just because they share the name Wasweta.

In my last post I wrote about a lead. Unfortunately, it was a false one. Although they haven’t found his father yet, they uncovered so much new information about who he is, and who his brothers are. On the last day of the trip, when everyone’s hopes were in the basement, they found out that Ema was not born in Kenya after all, but just across the Tanzanian border in a spot closer to Moshi. They learned that his mom had a drinking problem and Ema’s father tried to take in all three of his sons, but Ema was too young. They learned that Ema’s father was/is a tractor driver, and they even learned the name of a man he used to work for in Tanzania. They learned that for most of the trip they were operating under a false assumption about his tribe, based on his name. They now know for sure what tribe he belongs to in Kenya and where they are based. The problem was that they had to get Ema back to school and could not set off for a new town on the last day.

In November, we think we can send Ema back to Longai, Tanzania where his father was last known to be living. We are confident that he will find his brothers and/or father there. It's Tanzania, and we must wait.

Emmanuel and Caito want me to thank The Townsend Family along with Shane Hofeldt and coworkers. They add that "We are still trying. No retreat, no surrender"

Thursday, September 20, 2007

News from Kenya

Just got a text message from Caito and Ema in Kenya. They have been giving out cards with Ema's story on it and a phone number. They got two text messages today from a teacher they met in a village near Busia:

1)Hi I am looking and i have found somebody who says he knows that man. I will let you know as soon as I can contact him.

2)I have established that the guy Richard Juma belongs to a group of people that live far of from this area. By tomorrow afternoon i will give you a good report.

Hope is alive an well in all of us! Caito and Ema are doing fine. Their trip west from Nairobi was not easy though! It was supposed to be 6 hours but it took almost 18. The roads were very very bad. They said that they have met so many nice people along the way.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Ekesaa Goes Home

We know him as our beloved and incredibly kind Emmanuel, or Ema for short. About 18 years ago though, (he doesn't know his true age) he was called Ekesaa. He doesn’t remember Kenya, where he was born, nor does he remember his father or two older brothers, but he very much wants to find them. His Tanzanian mother left Kenya with baby Ekesaa and took him to live in Moshi, Tanzania, renaming him Emmanuel. Ema's mother told him very little about his family, but did say that he should go look for them one day.

When Ema was about ten years old, angry and hungry, he stowed away on a bus going to Dar es Salaam. When he got caught, a kind woman paid his fare. He told her he had relatives in the city which he didn’t. He lived on the street for years in several different shelters. Once he made it home to Moshi where he found his mother “waiting for him”. She told him that she wanted to see him before she died and she died shortly after. He went back to Dar es Salaam. In 2003 he started school in Bagamoyo. He passed the national examinations to start secondary school in 2005, but the shelter where he was living could not afford to send him. At that time The Baobab Home took him, along with the guys who had become brothers to him, as part of our family.

Last December when we sent Ema back to Moshi for the holiday we encouraged him to get all the information he could about his family. He was told his father’s name ( Richard Juma Wasweta)and the names of his brothers(Unyango and Samson).

Caito and Ema left yesterday for Kenya by bus to begin the search for Ema's father and brothers. They didn't have many facts other than names. They know that Ema’s father fought for Tanzania during the war with Uganda during the Idi Amin years. Caito called this morning from Nairobi to say that they already determined what tribe Ema belongs to based on the name Wasweta. The tribe is from the town Buseto just outside of Busia on the border of Uganda. They were told that the tribe is well organized and even has a registry. Finding them at all will take luck, but getting the tribal connection is half the battle. All three alive after 18 years in the wake of HIV/AIDS and massive flooding is a lot to hope for, but we are all hopeful anyway.

We are so grateful to Jill and Alan Townsend of the U.K. and Shane Hofeldt and his coworkers in Maine, USA. Together they are paying for bus fare, food, printing costs for flyers and notice cards, hotel costs and any “tips” to people who help along the way. Thank you for making this possible!!

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Baby Naima

Mama Mwajuma is a single mother who lives close to the Baobab Home with her 9 and 5 year old daughters Mwajuma and Aisha and her 3 year old son, Abdul. Most people who visit BH remember Abdul because he carries a lot of worry on his young face. Last weekend Mama Mwajuma gave birth to Naima. She was only about 5 pounds, but is doing well. She had an 11th finger removed, but she will remain with all twelve of her twinkling toes.

Mama Mwajuma is HIV+ has been on Antiretroviral Therapy for some time so we are hopeful that Naima was not infected.

Dee and Al Hahn Rollins donated the money for Naima’s first few months of formula so Naima will not be breastfed at all, improving her chances of staying HIV free. We are hoping for another donation of about $160 so that Naima can get at least 6 months of formula. If she is doing well we will graduate her to porridge and milk at that time.

**Mama Mwajuma gave us permission to disclose her HIV status.

Summer Volunteers/Visitors Help A Lot

Summer is always a busy time for us. The boys are home for 5 weeks and we tend to have a lot of volunteers and visitors.

This summer Marjolijn joined us for her second visit to us and brought her friend Hilde (both from the Netherlands). They held down the fort at the breakfast program Monday through Friday. This job is not for the feint of heart because these kids have a LOT of energy!

Charlotte and Claire of the U.K. helped us care for Mama Habibu and her two special needs kids Habibu and Shabani. Charlotte and Claire built a set of shelves for them, helped clean the inside of the house, gave the boys exercise and love, and took them to the beach.

The money that the volunteers raised in their home countries before arriving has helped us a great deal. Marjolijn and Hilde’s funds went to help a boy get an operation. Charlotte and Claire’s donation went toward an income generating project for a mother with HIV. The money built a shelter so that she can raise ducks. We still have some set aside for other income generating projects.

Ans Groener also visited this summer from the Netherlands. Ans is a biologist and the guys, particularly William, were thrilled to meet a real scientist. Ans brought donations from home that helped us get everything the boys needed before going off to school. Dank u vel “ waholland” (thank you to the people of the Netherlands!)

With so many visitors, volunteers, and the guys home from school it seemed a good time to get everyone together for a day. We took a dhow to an island off the coast of Bagamoyo and had the island to ourselves for the afternoon. It rained a little but who cared?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Gender Bender Benedictor

We are currently feeding an 8 month old baby named Abdul. His mother died shortly after he was born. His father is a fisherman and can’t care for him and he got very sick for awhile. We pay for his formula and porridge so that a relative can care for him. Recently, Abdul’s father had a problem with the caregiver. Our boys Benedictor and Benard were home for the evening and helped us out. They acted as mediators between father and caregiver, delivered the food and cared for Abdul. Benedictor was more than willing to carry him on his back in a khanga. Abdul is growing slowly but surely and he liked the ride with Benedictor.

Men carry babies a lot in Tanzania, but they don’t carry them in khangas! Khangas are an essential part of every Tanzanian woman’s wardrobe. They are beautifully colored cloth with a Swahili proverb on them (see blog below by former volunteer Carissa).

Friday, August 24, 2007

Teen Talk

Aaron Kohn is not your average teenager. You wouldn’t know it right away, but the world map in Aaron’s brain doesn’t contain the same boundaries that a lot of people take for granted. At 16 he traveled all over the world and has already directed, created and edited his own documentary about San Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert (check out Aaron’s work seeks to show that beneath all sorts of difference in musical tastes, income levels, education and skin color, etc. we are all more alike than we are different.

On his way to check out a school in Botswana that he may attend, Aaron decided to pay us a visit. He is creating a radio program and wanted to interview our boys about their experiences on the street, and hear what their aspirations were for the future. The boys were more than happy to share their stories and get their turn at the mic. For some it was a rare chance for emotional catharsis. Although the luxury of planning for the future is a bit new to them, the guys are getting used the idea and talking with Aaron facilitated that.

One day during Aaron’s visit we all took a trip to Kiwangwa Secondary school where one of our former street boys Yassini studies. It’s a bit of a haul on a very bumpy road. First we stopped to meet with some of the Wamangati, a tribe of nomadic pastoralists. They have a settlement just outside Bagamoyo. Unfortunately, most were at the cattle market, but we had a nice morning in a pretty grove of trees.

Off to Kiwanga School, situated in a town known for its pineapples. Yassini was so glad to see us! William, Benedictor and Emmanuel were happy to get a chance to see old friends. The school was in the midst of building 100 bunk beds. For the past few years students have been sleeping on the floor but now the beds are almost ready. On our tour of the dorms we found a girl with severe malaria so we took her back to Bagamoyo for treatment.

En route back to Bagamoyo the van popped a tire. No one seemed to mind though. The guys got out and made up the Baobab Home rap and Aaron got it all recorded. Thank you Aaron and family! Karibuni Tena.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Frida Doing So Well in School

We don’t see them often because they have other places to live, but the Baobab Home also sponsors two young women in secondary school. Frida’s mother and Siwema’s parents all died of HIV/AIDs. The Towndrow family of the UK paid their back school fees and now send $110 for each twice a year to cover tuition. Recently I visited Frida, pictured here, at school. Her teacher could not say enough about how well she is doing. The burden of not knowing whether she can continue school is lifted and that has freed up her energy to study and excel. She holds a gift from the Towndrows.

Tutaonana Lynne (we will see eachother again)

The picture on the left is not very clear but note that everyone is smiling in anticipation of Lynne Christenson’s chocolate cake. Lynne interned at the Baobab Home this summer and did so much to help us in many and various ways. She updated the website, tutored some of the guys in English, got them all started learning the computer, filed, sorted, wrote grant proposal material and did other office jobs that most volunteers want no part of when they come to Tanzania. Some of that may be forgotten one day in the annals of Baobab history, but Lynne will be forever known as the one who brought chocolate to the Baobab Home. She cooked cakes and brownies the likes of which no one here had ever tasted. The security guard nearly bit his own finger off eating her carrot cake. In the picture we are celebrating the collective birthdays of our (former) Street Boys. None of them know their real birthdays or ages so Lynne just baked a cake for all and they got to make their first birthday wish….

Thank you Lynne. We miss you! asante SANA. Karibu tena!!

Baby Steps

Our very first client, Asia, has been thriving for almost three years and her success continues to inspire us. When she told us about her friend Mwanaidi, we were eager to help Asia to help her friend. Mwanaidi is a mother of three. Several years ago she suffered from tuberculosis and believed that she was cured. She miscarried a baby about 5 years ago and was given some medicine by injection. No one knew it at the time, but tuberculosis was developing in her spine. The gradual lose of feeling in her legs she attributed to the injection she got after the miscarriage.

When Asia brought her to us she could barely stand up. We took her to the government hospital for a cyst removal operation but they didn't know what to do about her paralysis. During several months of waiting, Mwanaidi got worse and could not even stand alone. With the help of The Health Resource in Conway, Arkansas we were able to learn about her condition, called Pott's disease. Now Mwanaidi is getting the medicine that she needs and we are so hopeful and confident that she will walk again. Despite the fact that she is older than Caito, she insists on telling all the doctors that her name is Mwanaidi Caito (the daughter of Caito) because he takes such good care of her. Thank you Asia! If you would like to contribute to Mwanaidi's monthly travel expenses to Dar, please contact us at

Friday, August 03, 2007

Smile! You're on camera

Jumanne (his name means Tuesday in Swahili) is taking your picture! He made his camera out of dirt and dried it in the sun. Having seen our son Justis using a nebulizer for asthma, Jumanne and his friends lately take turns playing doctor and " make" a nebulizer out of a rock, a piece of long straw and some cardboard for the mask.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Aisha Yusuphu is doing great. Born March 21, 2007 at 3.4 kg. Her father was
beaming with pride when he told me that she is now 8 kg. Two years ago Aisha's parents lost their
twins due to malnutrition. Thanks to Aaron Scott and others Aisha is getting all the formula that
she needs. Thank you!!Aisha's parents are both taking Antiretroviral medicine so we are hoping
that Aisha will be HIV-free.

Tanzania in Ten Days!

Thanks to the Hendrix Lilly program, ten students and two professors from Conway Arkansas
visited with us in May for a high speed, fun filled and inspiring 10 days. They painted the new building for our breakfast program, helped us get care for sick children, cleaned the home of one of our clients with HIV. We also visited the Wamangati tribe, the slavery museum, took the kids on a field trip to see crocodiles, swam in the crystal blue water of one of Zanzibar's beaches, took a tour of the spice island. The Hendrix brought tons of clothes, shoes, toys, medical supplies and vitamins for the kids of Bagamoyo.

Thank you Hendrix!!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Zuhura Back in School Thanks to Little People of America(LPA)!

Zuhura Twaha is the daughter of Mama Saadani, founder of our breakfast program. Zuhura had to leave high school a few years ago because she did not have the money to pay the fees. Zuhura has a condition known achondroplasia. People with this condition are often known as dwarves. Zuhura has never met another person with her condition, but she now knows that she has a community behind her....and reaching out to her.

We connected Zuhura to LPA Online, the Little People of America. Thanks to the efforts of Bill Bradford, LPA awarded Zuhura a scholarship of $500. The Wiseman family of Illionois matched that. Together the two awards will cover food, lodging and education for Zuhura for one year at boarding school. Zuhura starts the llth grade (Form 5) in January and could not be happier. Thank you Bill Bradford, the Wiseman family and LPA!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Building Bagamoyo

Help Arrives!

Last year BH built homes for two families in need (see Newsletter Dec 2007). Both houses benefited the families greatly, but the building methods needed improvement. I (Terri) did some research on natural building and came across a website created by some people in Canada who build homes using “cob”, which is mud mixed with fiber such as straw. I wrote to natural builder Elke Cole to ask if there was a way that The Baobab Home could use more sustainable building methods. At best I hoped for some email advice and maybe an expressed longing to visit one day and help. Instead, Elke flew to Tanzania with enough donated funds to build a house for a family in need. She even repaired Mama Habibu’s house to prevent water damage.

In October 2006, we were asked by ward leaders to help Mama Rehema and her family- four generations of women and children living in a completely run down house. We teamed Elke up with some great local builders who call themselves the Renovators (more on them soon). Together they used traditional methods with new knowledge added by Elke. The Renovators and Elke exchanged technology and laughter while building a gorgeous, structurally sound house for Mama Rehema and her family. Mama Rehema pitched in and the team taught her how to perform maintenance on her new walls. She is thrilled, grateful and proud about her family’s new dwelling. You can see more of Elke’s work at Elke, thank you for gracing us with your vast knowledge, team spirit and joyful presence!! Karibu Tena! (Welcome Again!)

Building in Bagamoyo

I often describe the state of housing using the story of the Three Little Pigs. The poorest of the poor live in houses of thatch. The vast majority of people live in houses of mud and stick. For most though, the “”goal”’-- the status symbol--is a house of made of cement. Many believe that cement is more modern and therefore ‘’better’’ than dirt as a building material. However, even as early as 1975, the first President of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere said that “The widespread addiction to cement…is a kind of mental paralysis”” He urged Tanzanians to get out of the trap of coveting western ways and to work with what they had and could afford, and what worked for this climate.

Good, sticky soil for building is hard to come by in Bagamoyo because the soil is often sandy. Sometimes cement is helpful as a foundation, however, our goal is to build houses and to teach people to build houses that do not use up natural resources like wood, faster than they can be replenished. Also mud is cooler than cement, much more energy efficient and far more environmentally friendly. Thanks to Elke, we know it is possible to build strong, comfortable houses made predominantly out of mud and clay.

“”Sustainable Construction .”supports human dignity, while minimizing negative impacts on the natural environment- Building Without Borders- Joseph Kennedy

BH Wants to Build MORE!

Hundreds of families are without adequate housing in Bagamoyo. Heavy rain can blow a thatch roof off, erode a mud wall, or create dangerous molds in poorly built houses. If you are interested in joining us here in Tanzania or if you would like to donate the money for a house from afar, please write to us at We would love to tell the next family that we are ready to build again. We can’t build homes for everyone however and we hope in the future to pay the Renovators to teach the techniques to people who can build their own houses.

If you are interested in natural building, we highly recommend that you get a copy of Building Without Borders, edited by Joseph Kennedy. Also check out

(Ir)responsible Advertising

I missed my chance during the ad campaign to write an editorial, so I will write here. While I am looking for a copy of the ad, picture one of their ads if you will. The VodaCom Celular phone service VodaMillionaire Contest! The advertisement is tinted in gold. A man and a woman are poised regally…he on a throne-like chair, she draped on him. They are wearing glittery clothes and displaying a rich, sedentary life- lounging around. The message is that if you win the million shillings (less than one thousand US dollars) this life can be yours! Why not a picture of a woman using her winnings to pay her nephew’s school fees or a man getting his wife the heart operation she needs?

What is development? Spreading ridiculous values of abundance and over- consumption? An ad for the casino (yes, CASINO) in Dar features ONLY white people in tuxedos and fancy gowns. The message here is, if you come here, you can play with your money like the foreigners! Who is coming up with these ads and do they live in the same Tanzania that I do? And don’t get me started on the dangerous skin bleaching products, and advertisements featuring only light skinned blacks. Advertising is such a powerful ………and potentially dangerous tool in development. When I hear people singing jingles, I warn people here…….keep your mind to yourself while you still can. There are still relatively few jingles out there in Tanzania, but they are spreading like a fungus….

AIDS orphan # ??? million

I am not a doctor or nurse, but I believe that my neighbor, Mama Issa, died of shame today. It could have been one of the other AIDS related illnesses, but I am pretty sure that it was shame. Had she not had this case of shame, she would have gotten the free and necessary medicine months ago and probably been on the road to recovery right now, instead of having her sisters clean and prepare her body for burial. For so long, people said “Mama Issa has a stomach problem……..Mama Issa is in the hospital again””. She wasn’t around much so I could put it out of my mind and assume that it really was a stomach ailment. Then finally, I saw her last week, laying outside on a woven mat. Her mother said “they took her blood to Kibaha”” which, among people in the know serves as a code for saying that they tested her CD4 count, and she was getting Anti Retrovirals for HIV. She was extremely skinny, but I had seen people who looked far worse recover so naively assumed that she would get better. Although we know them quite well, and have helped other kids in the family, I had barely met Mama Issa. The last thing I saw her do, despite her apparent lack of strength was reach up and smack her niece. I told her that I was glad she was getting what she needed and I went home.

Today, Caito watched the activity at the house and knew that someone had died. I was invited to mourn so I donned a kanga. We sat in a dark mud room on the floor. Mama Issa’s body lay in the next room and her mother and sisters stayed with her. I sat next to Mama Mwajuma, who has been attending the ARV clinic for a year and tried to find the right words to say. Women filtered in and, as they crossed the threshold began to wail. This upset everyone, including me, and a fresh shower of tears would flow. Her sister, Mama Rama moaned Jamani over and over. Then, things would settle down until someone new arrived. I left and brought cooking oil to contribute to the large pot of food being cooked.

I feel cold. Mama Issa is lying not 300 feet from me. Caito sits with the male mourners. I sit behind our fence and type. Have I no respect? Her son has no mother, a family grieves, but all I can think is “why did she wait?””

Fight Club

The boys wanted to watch a movie. I explained what little I had. Fight Club, they chose. I tried to tell them that I didn’t think they’d like it. “there’’s a lot of fighting’’ I told them. They laughed. “We’ll like it”, they insisted. They were no doubt thinking of Jean Claude van Damme, Rambo or some other violent film that has made it here. In each section of town there is usually someone with a tv and a vcr who gets hold of these movies and plays them- again and again- for a dime or so entrance fee. I tried to give the boys some background on Fight Club so that they might see past the violence. But how could I explain the alienation of men in America? That so many feel so dead inside that they have to start a club to hurt each other just to feel alive? They hated the movie and never finished it.

Eid el Fitur

The muslim holy days of Eid el Fitur here, at least on the surface, is like Easter for Christians in the United States. Eid follows Ramadhan, a period of self denial that makes Lent look like a walk in the park. Most Muslims, except if they are old, ill, or children, fast all day long until evening. In Tanzania, they break their fast with a little binge of food and a special tea. But after the 40 days is over the real celebration occurs- two or three days of eating and celebrating. In some ways it seems more like relaxing- the tension of all that denial over. Almost every child, even ones who are living inn squalor or malnourished, get something new to wear. They wear that outfit all week as the celebration fades.

The week after Eid this year three kids in our breakfast program wore one piece, long sleeve, zip-up snow suits for days in a row. The sun was blazing and these kids had on their snowsuits. Two of them pulled them down around their waists and wore just the pants, but they didn’t want to take them off. What stood out to me was that SOMEONE loved these kids and wanted them to have something and that they, wanted to be part of the celebration at whatever cost. But I also wondered how many meals it cost to buy those snow suits. And who in the used clothing business was stupid enough to send them here in the first place? And where are the snowsuits now that Eid is over?

Help from Down Under

We are grateful to all of our volunteers, but I need to make special mention here of Lauren and Monica, sisters from Australia. They have left their mark all over Bagamoyo and Caito and I are deeply grateful to them for keeping Baobab Home matters under control in Tanzania while we went to the United States. We couldn’t have done it without them.

Lauren arrived first and began volunteering at the breakfast program. For those not in the know, this consists of 4 hours a day of managing a lot of small children with a LOT of energy and strong vocal ability. Meanwhile, using money that Lauren and Monica had raised in Australia, Lauren helped us by paying for the finishing touches on the houses that we built for Mama Habibu and Mama Salama since we had gone over budget. Lauren also used about $1000 USD of the money they raised to buy science equipment for the Matimbwa school, a government run secondary school that had no laboratory equipment. Among the items she bought were microscopes, test tubes, scales and a periodic table of the elements poster.

Just in case all of that wasn’t enough, Lauren held English classes for about 6 young women in secondary school. Mwajuma, Liziki, Halima, and all loved the classes and the field trips their teachers took them on. When Monica arrived from Kenya in December, she joined Lauren at the breakfast program, helped instruct the young women in English and helped to make sure that the street boys got their food money while we were away.

In their spare time, Lauren and Monica became connoisseurs of kangas, the brightly colored cloth women wear here (see poem below). We trust that they will one day return to us because they seemed to have developed a little addiction to the cloth…..



Coming Home-January 2007

Coming Home

I know that I am home now because my feet never stay clean for more than an hour after I bathe. My coffee just doesn’t have that same taste and our mattress is on a slope. When we got off the plane in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania wrapped her loving arms around us in a humid hug. But by the time we got home to Bagamoyo she was blowing kisses on the strong winds that kept us cool since the power was out. It was such a lovely night. Now it’s been more than two weeks and the United States seems a bit like a fleeting dream. It wasn’t always an easy journey, but it was like when Dorothy and the gang got to Oz. Caito got new stuffing (6 kilos of it) and I got to take great showers and get cleaned up like Dorothy. We were energized by all the support we were met with, and deeply renewed of purpose.

Some observations that I can’t quite wrap up in a common thread, but I trust you to find for me:

My Aunt Mary was right when she taught me that poverty is relative. I grew up in middle class America. I often felt a sense of lack- the right clothes, better furniture, a vacation, but I lived in the absolute lap of luxury! Here, we are perceived by our immediate neighbors as being extremely wealthy. The feeling is contagious because I feel wealthy and thankful. When I go to the city and see other expatriates, however, I feel like a pauper. Some teenagers in the United States worried that we were abusing our son for deliberately raising him ‘’in poverty’ yet he has never known lack a day in his life. In fact, he lives at the Baobab Home which is the Disneyland of Bagamoyo.

The other day I tried to get work done in the afternoon and a neighbor girl named Mwajuma came over. She is in the second grade. Her mother, sister and brother all are HIV+. We have tried to do income generation projects with her mother, but they haven’t worked so we help the family with food often. Mwajuma had gotten the ruler smack and was kicked out of school for not having notebooks. She was crying and her mother sent her to me. I could have just given her the dollar for the notebooks but I had a little righteous anger that needed to get out. I went to talk to the principal about her educational philosophy. I needed to ask her how she thought a ruler smack would help a child who the ‘headmistress’ is a stern, unsympathetic soul, who had no answer for me but she said she’d put Mwajuma on the list of especially needy children (the no- beat list?) and that God would bless me. I wondered how she knew this.

Two nights ago we listened all night to the sound of neighborhood women drumming, singing and celebrating two girls becoming women. They played all night and I wondered if at some point the girl’s celebration had just turned into a big party for the women. Part of me wanted to drop in, but it was also nice to just listen. The girls are different now. They hold their heads higher. I hope the feeling carries on long past when the beautiful henna tattoos wear off their skin.

It is good to be home. We have three new street boys in our care. More mouths to feed, more school supplies, more hands to work, more love, and more joy in the house. We are going to make 2007 a very good year.