TANZANIA and Three Essentials:  

Willing Hands, Curious Minds, Open Hearts


Visiting a foreign country in a group of ten who are committed to performing meaningful service at a small rural village school is an extraordinary opportunity.  A partnership between Madventurer and Friends for Civic Engagement at California State University Fresno’s campus led to this opportunity.  MAD (Making a Difference) is a foundation from England that sponsor’s sustainable service in many countries (http://www.madventurer.com/home.html).  The Friends for Civic Engagement Foundation is also dedicated to local, national and international service that enhances student learning.  (http://www.fresnostate.edu/academics/cesl/programs/fce/) A 12x12 hard cover book about this experience is available at Blurb.com or through me at a discount.

 

The village of  Nkwamwasi is located in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania Africa.  The mountain is the fourth highest in the world and rises over 19,000 feet above the sea.

 

We were greeted by a group of students who exemplified service with a smile as they carried our luggage about half a mile because the road was too slippery for our van to bring us to the house. They also brought the many, many bottles for our drinking water.

 

We brought mosquito nets and sleeping bags for our “on the floor” sleeping accommodations and I was pleased to learn I had a bed, an advantage of being the oldest.  We slowly adjusted to the lack of hot water, and on occasion the lack of water and electricity.

Eating was never a problem as we were nurtured by the food from two dedicated cooks.  We knew good food was coming when we entered our accommodations and found one room full of veggies.  Our warm hearted cooks prepared three excellent meals a day on a single burner attached to a propane tank.  Their cooking day began at 5:30 am as they boiled water, prepared eggs, pancakes, and plates of fruit and vegetables.  They worked through the day pealing and preparing so that stews, spaghetti, chicken and other nutritious lunches and dinners were available. 

Each day serving at the school began with a “hike”, not always easy in the slippery soil, sometimes walking with community members. Notice when the walker was a mother of a young child the village member carried a heavier load. On our first service day we were greeted with dance and song by school staff and students. Gathering in a circle we laughed and joined in the welcome celebration. I was especially impressed by the joy of the children.
The tour of the school was troubling. Limited supplies, stark and bleak classrooms without electricity, and toilets that our students would rather walk the over 1 mile round trip to our lodging than use were seen in silence. The school cook prepared school lunch in a smoky kitchen with a wood-burning stove. Smoke from these conditions contributes to premature blindness in many African women. I thought of my grandchildren and their experience in elementary school: well-lit classrooms full of color and computers, choices for lunch including pizza, hot-dogs and hamburgers and clean toilets that can be used without squatting.

 

Our students participated in two main projects; tutoring English and helping create a garden.  The tutors focused on using Africa animals to teach concepts such as fast/slow and tall/short.   Village students were very enthusiastic, fun loving, curious and many learned quickly.   In response to being taught the ABC song they taught us songs.

 

Transforming a large piece of ground into a planted garden involved labor I was happy I did not have to do. Following initial tilling of the soil the children, after walking some distance to obtain fertilizer, brought large and heavy buckets on their heads so planting would lead to the desired results. I must admit I didn’t want to get very close to these buckets out of worry some of the contents would spill on me. More tilling and some measuring were followed by planting and a new procedure in my knowledge of vegetable gardens; “shading”. Plants were cut, brought to the beds and spread to protect the small plants from drying heat. Hauling the water for sprinkling on the new plants was the celebration of success and the beginning of the growing process.
What impressed me was the work ethic of these African children. Each day they arrived early and with good cheer, some shoeless and others in worn out shoes. They joyfully played with their guests from California. They were most interested in our cameras, having their pictures taken, and taking over the role of photographer.
Get a group of college students together and automatically cards appear. At this age “Hearts” and “Scum” take the place of “Fish”. And the game “Mafia” with many creative adaptations brought the “finger-pointing” quality from each person. These games gave some relief to the hard but rewarding work of our service.
We also did some traveling. Our first field trip was through the mud to a beautiful waterfall. Our path was along a stream, did I mention it was muddy? Adventurous students saw animals and played in the water returning soaked.
We next experienced a coffee farm. Oscar’s daughter was delightful, giving us glances perhaps because we had a hard time not looking at this charming child. Oscar described the 13 steps to making coffee, make that great coffee. We witnessed it being ground so that the hulls are separated from the bean, using wind created by the smoking fire hulls flew and remaining beans were poured into a very hot pot for roasting. I was impressed by the energy of stirring the beans as they roasted. Beans were then ground by hand and grounds poured into a boiling pot of water. After skimming from the top of the pot and pouring through a filter each of us tasted delicious Tanzania coffee. I brought some home and my wife agrees it is outstanding.

I have never been so covered in dust.  I breath and dust that is more like a dirty powder comes into my mouth so that I can actually taste it, and it is not good.  My glasses become so dense that I remove them only to discover the dust that was gathering on the lenses now is in my eyes.  Those with scarves cover their faces for some protection.  My clothes will never become clean again.  A three hour ride with lots of slow traffic until we travel the last two hours on this damn road.  

We are on our way to a Maasai village.  I’ve been intrigued by the Maasai since I saw a documentary included high jumping “warriors” in very impressive attire on my local PBS station.  I don’t know this nomatic tribe lives in a desert, a very, very dry desert.  If I knew how difficult our ride there and back is I may have missed the trip.

Alas I am here and see the houses surrounded by dirt and dust.  I visit the children’s classroom made of twigs and aluminum.  It has just been completed and replaces the previous “classroom” under a tree.

I witness the arrival of the young males in the tribe, they jump high, very high. They bring our students to stand before them as they jump, the “fear” they create is mixed with laughter and joy. One of our students joins in the jumping. We laugh.
They kill and skin a goat in our honor. Though I see most Massai walking there is one shared motorbike. Like the school children back in “our” village the Massai love the cameras. They take pictures and ask us to take several of them posing with their friends. Some are brave and ask our female students to be their brides, some of our students end up with many husbands, Fresno State polyandrous ladies. We laugh again.

   Before we depart we give children our remaining water,

   we know they travel miles to obtain water for herds of  

   cattle and goats not to mention themselves. I wish we

   had more to leave. 

   I wish I had drunk less on the dusty road. 

   Our trip home is quiet.

After another week at the school the excitement of our first hot shower in over ten days was almost as exciting as the anticipation of visiting two game reserves.  

Tarangire National Park is home to the most elephants per square kilometer in the world.  Fortunately for us the once hunting ground became a National Park in 1970 just 9 years after Tanzania obtained independence from the British.

We enjoy magnificent elephants, zebras, baboons, birds of all types and even termites with lizards playing “king of the mountain”.  Student delight at seeing the first Elephant was infectious.  We also view the magnificent Baobab tree that based on legend was thrown to the earth and planted upside down by an angry God.

A visit to the famous Ngorongoro Crater ends our last weekend in Tanzania.  This very large conservation area is over 12 miles across and almost 2000 feet deep.  Geologists estimate it was once the tallest mountain in the world and then “lost it’s top” and collapsed into the breathtaking and Caldera.

It surprises me that people and wildlife share a harmonious co-existence in the crater. We see many more animals and even a lion eating a water buffalo.
We witness Massai herding their cattle, a practice that has been going on for about 200 years. Over 42,000 Maasai live in the conservation area with their cattle, donkeys, goats and sheep. The leave their “homes” in the adjacent woodlands and mountain slopes each day and graze their herds in the crater.
I leave the crater inspired. The opportunity in Tanzania was not without its challenges. No hot water, long distances walking, and the emotional impact of seeing significant poverty all added stress. The hard parts were far surpassed by being in the presence of beautiful Tanzanian children and adults who were not only welcoming but also embraced each of the ten of us. I won’t soon forget the feeling of holding a beautiful child, having his hand in mine, seeing school children clean their own school walkway, taking class photos of each class and the school teachers and the look of sadness on faces as we spent our last day.
Yes, Curious Minds, Willing Hands, and Open Hearts makes a difference in me and in the world.