Monday, September 29, 2008


Natalie - new to RVCV - came to visit the clinic this morning.

She had a boil on her leg - which led to an infection inside - that Frank worked on over the weekend. She came just to make sure that things were all better - which they are!

She is gaining weight and seems to have really come to life - three weeks ago she wouldn't make eye contact, smile, make any noises. Now she is a completely different baby.

Still very small for 16 months, but on her way to as full a recovery as is possible!

Calm and happy!
How cute is she?

Weekend Clinic at RVCV

Joshua - in a time-out in Sara's office - although as you can see, he wasn't taking it too seriously.
Edina and one of our Mamas - waiting in line to see Frank at clinic - she had an upset stomach.
SO cute! And by the way, nothing was wrong with her. Seeing the Doctor is just so much fun!
Safi, one of the nurses from FAME Medical - at the dawa (medicine) table - ready to fill prescriptions and give injections!

Clinic went well - almost 100 patients in two days - and only Dr. Frank to carry the load.

It is always great to spend time with the kids. I gave Swedi and Ismail math work-books and told them that if they finished them by the time I came again in two weeks I would give them a prize. About an hour later they found me in the office - workbooks TOTALLY finished. Oops, no prizes on me - they didn't realize that they might have to wait!

More to come ...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

House Invasion

So, the past few days have been filled with bugs.

The other night I got eaten alive by mosquitoes while having an evening meeting with a visiting donor. My feet and legs look as if I have painted polka-dots on them.

My bathroom is an ant haven.

And then yesterday I came home and found lizard poop on my bed. (I know that lizards aren't bugs but they are in that same annoying, moves to fast, makes me sick, list of yucky things)

All to be out done last night at 5am. I had been sleeping soundly - as soundly as you sleep while you worry that a lizard is defecating on or under your bed - but regardless, I was sleeping. Suddenly the most horrifying sound woke me up - I sat straight up in bed.

It sounded like a fire alarm. SHRIEKING!

But we don't have fire alarms. This is africa, lets be serious.

What else could sound like a fire alarm? My appliances consist of a toaster and a fridge. Could it be my night askari, Fabi, sending some sort of emergency whistle?

Then is came to me. I know that sound. I have heard it at RVCV. A bat!!!!!!! Popo in Swahili.

So I got out of bed and went into the hallway. The noise intensified and was almost deafening - no exaggeration I swear - my ears were vibrating! It must be dying I thought - maybe rabies?

The sound was obviously coming from the guest room. So I went and yelled for Fabi, gave him a broom, a box, and a towel and explained that he needed to procure the bat and remove it.

He agreed. I went and hid in my room.

After about ten minutes of banging and crashing and swearing n Swahili, the sound stopped. Fabi exited the room and called to me. I peered around the corner of my door - not sure if seeing the bat was such a good idea - but there in between Fabi's two fingers was a


For the love of god, how can a cricket make that much noise?

Obviously one of the wonders of the world.

Thank God for Fabi!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Slowly slowly

So, I have been offline since last Wednesday - or I would have written more. Bright and early Thursday morning, Susan and I drove into Arusha to stock up on the basics and outfit my house with the essentials. Basically, we went grocery shopping. And it took two full days. When we got back late on Friday I was exhausted. I felt like I had been hit by a semi. All for some groceries. My mother reminded me that she can make it to and from Heinen's in under an hour. Thanks for rubbing it in.

I worked on Saturday, here at the clinic. We have a women's group who meets once a month to watch videos on health and female empowerment issues - all in Swahili. They LOVE it! Singing and crying and yelling and clapping along with the plot of the film. So much for the American standard of being quiet for your fellow movie goer.

Sunday was a lovely off day. Sara, the volunteer coordinator from RVCV, and I got to hang out and relax a bit.

Back to work this morning with a bang. A three year old girl came in, her hands and feet infested with funzas - a kind of worm that is in the dirt here and then burrows into skin. This little girl was abandoned by her mother and left to live with an elderly grandmother who is not capable of caring for this little girl. Not bathing each day combined with crawling and playing in the dirt has led to dozens of funzas.

I sat in with the doctors while they basically cut open each of her fingers and toes in order to remove these pea sized worms. Dr. Frank had sedated her and she didn't feel a thing but it was incredibly painful to watch.

We will follow up with Rift Valley Children's Village in hopes that this little girl can recover there and potentially make a move there if things don't improve.

At least she made it here before her blood went septic from the worms, which would have killed her.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Such is Africa

It is Wednesday again, so Mary and I had grand plans for our parenting class this morning at the orphanage. But alas, the head Mama and some of her staff had to go to Arusha for a "funeral" and so they asked to cancel the session. Susan told me that they have had a lot of "funerals in Arusha" lately. Oh well. We will try again next week.

I have officially moved into my little house. Yesterday, as I finished unpacking, I heard what I thought were voices in the backyard. Upon further inspection it was only a cow in the yard next to mine, munching away. So much for noisy neighbors.

Susan and I are heading into Arusha tomorrow to stock up. Karatu is booming but the shopping options are still pretty limited.

I have been feeling very accomplished lately; I hooked up my own water filter, hung my own mosquito net, and have begun driving on the left side of the road (the dirt road, more aptly referred to as the rut filled dust bowl that people around here call "the road") - things I never had to do back home.

We had a good laugh last night at dinner. Susan asked how things at the new house were going. I told them that my shower was extremely relaxing. Relaxing because you can barely call it a shower. More like a heavy dripping. And when you try to wash your hair in a heavy dripping you basically just have to stand there for quite some time and wait. Hence, quite a relaxing shower.

All in all it has been a successful start to my time here with Frank and Susan.

I hope that all is well back home - the news on the economic front has looked pretty grim from what I have had time to read on the web.

More to come ...

Sunday, September 14, 2008

RVCV Update

I was supposed to move into my little rented house on Friday but that was postponed a bit - so instead, I got to go with the mobile clinic team up to Rift Valley Children's Village for the bi-monthly village clinic.

It gave me a chance to say hi to all of the kids - whom I haven't seen since last December. They are all doing AMAZINGLY well! Taller, happier, calmer and succeeding in school far beyond my wildest dreams.

Our kindergartners took the Standard 2 (Second Grade) test - just to see - and all passed it!

Benja, currently our oldest at the Village is in Standard 5 but got a 90% on the Standard 7 exam.

I sat with Ismail for hours on Saturday (he is 8, in the second grade, his mother died in childbirth and he sat in a crib in the maternity ward for almost 4 years before being transferred to India). He read to me from a chapter book and then we did some long division problems!

And for those of you who have been before, it isn't just the Manyara kids who are settling into their life at the Village. Serengeti and Terengeri are both doing really well too. Paulo is testing off the charts in school - he gets 100% on every test. The volunteers are even having a hard time challenging him.

Simone has calmed down, Eva looks like a young lady, Vicenti (from Serengeti) is ENORMOUS - we have to get a basketball team going.

And of course, Baby Vicenti, is no longer a baby. First of all he has been replaced by Baby Musa and Baby Natalie (both of whom have already gained weight), but more evident, is the fact that he just isn't a baby anymore. Although he did love the attention he got from me - someone who remembers the days when he didn't talk yet - or more importantly, whine yet.

And just in case you were wondering, he still runs with his little arms plastered to his sides - waddling like a duck - it is still the cutest thing.

I am impressed each year I return with the ways in which the kids are each maturing and growing. The chaos of having so many kids all in one place is always going to exist, but the bottom line is that things are well.

The kids are healthy and happy.

And at the end of the day, that is all that counts!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Pain and Happiness

Yesterday, I began another facet of my job here with Frank and Susan, which is to assist their Community Development Officer, Mary, with certain projects that I might have experience for.

Mary has been working for Frank and Susan now for years and speaks perfect English. I have worked with her before on mobile clinics in the area and up at RVCV. She is a real gem!

Every Wednesday morning, she and I will be teaching "parenting" classes (of sorts) at an orphanage located very close to the Clinic. The orphanage is run by a Tanzanian woman and her husband who is a Christian pastor. It is called the Shalom Orphanage. Frank has been doing health screenings of all of the children and the director inquired as to some assistance with issues like discipline.

Rift Valley Children's Village it is NOT. Nor did I expect it to be; but Mary and I have our work cut out for us. It only took moments to notice some of the topics that we will need to counsel the staff on. Hygiene being first and foremost. Every child had their hands in their pants, complaining of being itchy. Runny noses, ring worm - all obviously the result of not bathing everyday. I couldn't find a bar of soap in the entire place!

But I have to say, the staff were amazingly open to Mary and I, and were also very forthcoming about their own backgrounds and the issues they were having with raising so many children (42 at the moment).

We began the session with introductions and then Mary invited each staff member to share with the group their greatest pain and their greatest happiness. I, as the guest, was invited to go first. I began with my greatest joy - my family - I discussed our close knit family and how supportive they are of my choices.

But then, I couldn't really think of a greatest pain. Every family has illness, the death of grandparents, the passing of a much loved pet - the basics. I spoke briefly of what has been a more recent pain, the painful departure from my parents and brother in light of my trip here to Tanzania.

Ok, all done, onto the ten staff members. Well, imagine sitting in a tiny concrete room for two hours listening to the most heart wrenching stories you can imagine. First in Swahili and then, to make sure I understood every word, Mary translated it all into English.

Every single staff member had suffered the loss of a parent early in life. The lack of a father. Step-parents who did not accept them as their own. Physical abuse. Starvation. Loss of siblings to disease. Lack of funds for education. Poverty. Alcoholism. Being uprooted from one location to another. Feelings of abandonment. Lack of love. On and on and on ...

The guilt of not having pain in my life to even begin to compare with theirs was palpable.

We, as the western world, so often wonder why places like Tanzania can't get their act together. I am not sure that with backgrounds like theirs that I would even know how to get out of bed in the morning. Much less help my country get its act together.

On the walk back to the clinic, Mary and I discussed the enormity of the situation. We decided to start with soap.

More pictures!

Just one section of the newly organized store room!
Each doctor (Dr. Frank, Dr. Mshana, and Dr. Ivan) has there own office for seeing patients.
The whole clinic runs on solar power but with the sky lights that the architects installed, there is limited need for lights at all.
The other end of the clinic - the main entrance.

The FAME Clinic is truly one of the most gorgeous and modern facilities in the entire region - I have never seen such quality anywhere else!

The Clinic!

One quick pic - as I experiment with compressing for the web - whew, the internet connection could not be slower!

More to come ...

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

New Additions to RVCV

Yesterday was my first day at the clinic and I started off getting to observe the first physicals for the two new additions to the Rift Valley Children's Village. A little boy, Musa, is 9 months old. And a little girl, 16 months, arrived without a name. India, the director of RVCV, named her Natalie - after India's mother.

Both children came from villages about two hours or so from where the clinic and RVCV are located, in some of the most desolate and destitute areas of Tanzania. Musa's mother recently died of AIDS and was left without any extended family to care for him. He weighs only 15 pounds due to malnutrition. But he was alert and expressive. Although at 9 months he can't sit on his own much less bear weight on his little legs. He is too young and too small for an accurate HIV test. He did test positive for malaria.

Natalie was in much worse shape. At 16 months she weighs only 16 pounds and does not walk yet. Her eyes were bright but she couldn't muster up the courage to smile, she was exhausted and incredibly shy. They only explanation is malnutrition - her labs all came back clear. The HIV test will take a few days. All India knows is that Natalie's mother suffers from mental illness and her family (as in the majority of Tanzanian families) assumed that Natalie was therefore mentally ill as well. All we can assume is that by not feeding her enough they hoped that she would pass away before anyone noticed. Someone did notice and Natalie ended up with India.

The blessing for them both is that they are now in the hands of the mamas, volunteers and staff at RVCV and will be fed and pampered 24/7. Without Rift Valley, these beautiful babies would most likely not see their first or second birthdays.

I will take pictures and hopefully post them as soon as I get up to Rift Valley for my first visit. Although by then I would bet they will be pudgy and full of smiles!

More to come ...

On the ground!

Greetings from Tanzania! So, I apologize for the initial delay in writing but working out an internet connection is always challenging this far outside of any city, town, village.

But things are now off and running. This was my second full day at the clinic. I arrived safe and sound in Arusha last Wednesday evening and spent Thursday in Arusha visiting my friends at Cradle of Love Baby Home. I then came out here to Karatu on Friday morning after stopping at Shoprite for some groceries.

Shoprite is my barometer of Tazania's progress. Five years ago, on my first trip, Shoprite, a South African chain, had just been built and for the coming year the shelves remained only moderately stocked with basics that you could get anywhere in Arusha. A year later, on my second trip, the array of choices had improved but the shelves were not completely full and imports ran out quickly - if your timing was off you would only ever hear about the amazing things you could get there.

On my third and fourth trips, in the last year, vast improvements had been made. As my mom and last summers crew can attest to, shopping there had become quite fun. Things were almost always in stock and there were plenty of things that were worth the ridiculously high prices.

On this shopping trip - my fifth time in Tanzania - I almost fell over! The shelves can barely contain their contents! It was amazing!

Although, they were out of SweetnLow. A real bummer.

But, minus the SweetnLow, I made it up to Dr. Frank and Susan without a hitch and have begun work as their volunteer coordinator. We don't have any volunteers at the moment, so I have been doing what I do best; ORGANIZING. An enormous container full of ordered medical supplies arrived a few weeks ago and the enormous job of sorting, shelving and labeling all of these new supplies has fallen on my shoulders - without complaint. You should see what happens to my parents closets and cupboards at home when I have a day off!

The weather is lovely, cool mornings and warm afternoons, but the dust is incredible. This is the driest time of year and there is no avoiding it. I walked home from the clinic today - a forty minute walk - and by the time I got home I was covered in a thick layer of red clay dust.

That is all for now, off to dinner, Susan is a wonderful cook - especially with the limited supplies. I will be moving into my own rented house this weekend.

More to come ...

Miss you all ...