Sunday, November 28, 2010

"It's a Thanksgiving Miracle!"

I wanted to post a little something about our very special Tanzanian Thanksgiving.

First of all, when I organized this trip in my head Thanksgiving was "my last hurrah" and my sort of goodbye treat to myself. This means that I saved a lot of my outing costs to buy cheese, cream of mushroom soup, broccoli, amarula, etc.

The other American volunteers along with Ciara and me planned this elaborate meal and then decided that taking on three dishes each, all taking a considerable amount of effort to make, we would delegate smaller dishes to the other volunteers to lighten our load. We bought ready-cooked chicken for the bird. We bought rolls from a local restaurant. We made the British volunteers bring the stuffing. :) The next hurdle in planning was the fact that for the three or four days prior we had electricity for only about six hours at night, and no water pressure. The tank refills itself when the power is on so we were running very low. All of these things were discouraging, but we decided that Thanksgiving was an important tradition we wanted to share with the other volunteers and that we would have a plan if the worst was realized.

That Thursday started out more special than any other Thanksgiving morning I've ever had. Izzy, a volunteer from the UK made us a little banner with American Flags that hung over the kitchen table that said "Happy Thanksgiving to all you lovely American ladies." The fact she must have spent hours making this sign and also decorating little hats for us to wear that looked like something Uncle Sam would have on his rack made us all feel so special. I shed a few tears thinking how considerate she was for trying to make us feel like we were at home. I walked to my shift that morning feeling like it was actually Thanksgiving, and I was so thankful to be here enjoying the people I'm with and sharing my love with the babies.

The power went out at the baby home around 8am and I knew it had gone out at the vol house as well. I just looked at the other volunteers as if to say "u*** oh" but we all assured each other it would go back on.

When I got home I chopped and prepared and set aside everything all ready to be put into the oven that would never come on. I got so discouraged because I had spent literally from 9am until around 2pm preparing everything and we all just sat helpless and prayed for the power. Not to mention the large toaster oven we have takes double the time to cook everything than is recommended so we were going to have to get started on the sweet potato casserole, broccoli casserole, mango crumbles, and reheating of everything else ASAP.

The dinner started at 7:30pm and by 4:30 I was so frustrated and feeling sorry for myself that Ciara and I left the house (with broccoli casserole in a makeshift "oven" I tried to create on top of one of the propane burners) and we went for a walk to gather our composure and find all the things we have to be thankful for. Of course, we ended up at the baby home, cuddling all the tiny tots and hoping they would feel as bad for us as we did for ourselves. Looking back I am somewhat shocked at my poor attitude but I had been waiting for this dinner and thought it would be well worth missing out on other group volunteer activities throughout Mwanza. I think I was also so sad to be leaving in a little over a week and wanted this dinner to be perfect for all of the others celebrating their very first Thanksgiving!

The stress melted away as time passed. The other failed dishes of mine were inconsequential as the other dishes were brought to the table and we realized just how much edible food we had made on three burners, no power, and no water.

I looked at our full table, thanked everyone for coming and welcomed them to an American Thanksgiving-Tanzania style. I explained everything we had: herb rolls from Binti's, buttered and peppered corn, broccoli casserole, two types of stuffing (seriously the best I've ever had), onion gravy, garlic mashed potatoes, chicken, sweet potato casserole, stir fried veggies in balsamic sauce, cooked eggplant and aubergines, German Christmas cookies, mulled wine, and s'mores for the fire later.It was a meal without rice! Without beans, chipati, and chips mayai! It was a Thanksgiving Miracle, and it was so beautiful. We were having a feast, and it was going to be really good. :)

The pressure was off by that point, and everyone knew I was stressing, but were all so excited for our holiday and we sat around in our common room and shared what we were thankful for. It was really quite special. Hannah had a friend from home come with his Tanzanian friend who thanked us for including him in such a special occasion and he also thanked God for bringing him to our home have such an amazing meal! We finished most of the food between the 13 of us and sat in the candle light with head-torches just chatting and happy to be together which is what the day was meant to be. We sat outside by the new fire pit and drank mulled wine and enjoyed the stars. The power came back on around 10:30pm as if to say the day was over and we could get ready for bed without the candles tonight. It was another thing to be thankful for.

I missed everyone at home terribly, and admit that for the first time there were some moments during the day that I really actually wanted to be at home, but I had the best Tanzanian Thanksgiving that there will ever be! I shared some of my special traditions and joked about how stereotypical it seemed to have made our meal in the manner we did. God was smiling at all of us Thursday and we made the most of what we had which turned out to be much more than what a lot of other Americans could have afforded this year! How lucky we were to be together, to be healthy, to be doing this work here and loving our full tummies, full hearts and the babies that filled them!

We had a long day but all the money, time, sweat, and tears that went into it made for an extraordinary holiday. I have so much to be thankful for, and hope that everyone at home was able to find the things in their life that shouldn't be taken for granted. I have less than a week left now, and as I look back at this experience as a whole I realize that ever day is spent at least in part giving thanks for the many wonderful things I have in my life. I have been shown so much kindness and love and have learned so many valuable lessons.

I am sad to be leaving so soon and to be going back to a country where Thanksgiving is only one out of 365 days in a year because in Tanzania you give thanks EVERY day.

See you all soon!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Charlie and Shalom

This is not going to be a long entry, but I just wanted to point you all the the Forever Angels website to read about two of the baby home's most loved babies, Charlie and Shalom...and their three-year-old brother David.

Amy writes on her blog about the twins and relinquishment. It is interesting that just a few days ago I wrote about relinquishment in the hypothetical sense. Now, it could really be happening. Amy's words capture the dilemma that is relinquishment perfectly, so rather than try to explain, please visit to read about what's been happening.

Please keep this family in your prayers.


Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Last night was a sleepless night. I woke up a thousand times sometimes wondering where I was, being hot and sticky and wrapped up in my mosquito net like the Bug that I am. My alarm sounded too soon, and when I looked at the time it said 6:47am (shift starts at 6:30!) In my tired confusion I tried to understand why the time didn't sound right, why I hadn't heard the other volunteers getting up, the gate open or close, and I sat up and asked Ciara,

"What time does your phone say on it right now?"


"Jamani!" (means "oh my goodness" in swahili)

So I woke up 20 minutes late for shift and only arrived to the Tiny Baby House 27 minutes late. I realized the kids had pressed all the right buttons on my watch the day before for my day to start an hour later than it was supposed to. I thought I would get a formal warning and that "oh, I could get fired" feeling lingered on the back of my neck as I stepped in the door. They greeted me the same and didn't mind that I was tardy at all and I realized there isn't much they can actually do if a volunteer is late (send me home?!) but I still felt really guilty and mentally scolded myself until the second I stepped into the room where eleven tiny babies rubbed their sleepy eyes and cooed in their feety pajamas. Aw, Heaven!

I did miss out a bit because normally I get there and get to bathe all of them which is a treat that pulls at the heart strings. Instead, Mammas Adelina and Nema took turns picking up the crying/stinky ones and bringing me back clean, glassey-eyes angels in bright outfits.

Before I knew it they were ready for more food and I sat feeding three listening to Brian coo as Briton clearly enunciated "Dada, Dada, Dadaaaaa!" (meaning "sister") and was excited to note that November 9th Briton spoke his first word! in his lifebook. All the nappies today were "dirty" but none showing signs of illness or discomfort for the babies which is always a good thing. Some of the tiny babies are so tiny that the first signs they can't keep their fluids in we must report it to the managers, and therefore worry, until the nappies are normal and fevers subside.

Joseph, Joshua, and Josephine are the trouble makers of the group and today was no exception, but they were whisked into kangas as soon as the high pitched screaming began and no amount of silly play or funny facial expressions could soothe them. I walked around showing Maua the world outside through the window and thought how lucky I was so be holding such an adorable little thing, and have another one squeaking at me on my back! It makes me so happy in the moment, yet so sad that this situation will probably never occur in my life again after December 4th (the day I fly home). I took a deep breath and closed my eyes and smelled their sweet baby smells until a familiar voice brought me back from wishful dreaming.

Ciara came in with Angel to let me know she was being taken home today, as she's been adopted, and I needed to give a few last kisses and say goodbye. Angel is a baby who is constantly trying to get your attention, and I was so happy thinking she will finally receive the full attention and love that she deserves. What a lucky little girl to have been taken care of so well at Forever Angels and now to be going to live with a Mamma and Baba. I was hesitant saying goodbye, but so glad to see that once again the purpose of this organization is being fulfilled.

I went back into the room and fed and played and laughed just as hard as the babies did. Hannah came in to visit and ask what time I got to shift and I felt bad admitting I was late but just like anything else in Tanzania you laugh it off and go on with it. She casually reminded me how much I'd kill for a milkshake and then went back out to help with the Toddlers in the main baby home. Johanna came in a few minutes later and we sat with Ashley (a special needs baby) and he managed to sit unattended for almost five minutes! What a milestone!

I couldn't believe the time had gone by so fast when Izzy walked in to take over for me. I sat an extra couple of minutes to play with Kasigwa. She had gotten here only a few days before I did and I still can't believe how much she's grown and changed in such a short time. Picking her up before, it was hard to tell there was a baby in the blanket at all and changing her was so scary with legs so fragile and only about as thick as a quarter! Now she's what I call a "real baby" meaning she moves and cries and is chubby! :) I was having a conversation with her about how thankful we both are to be sharing this day, and my heart sank a little bit more.

I managed to clean all their ears before I left today, which was totally gross but someone's gotta do it! I found out that San Luis Obispo, CA was ranked the 2nd happiest city in the WORLD, I caught onto some more swahili (the level I am at still is shameful), and went to the kitchen to collect my lunch. The chipati and cabbage was without ants today! Hooray!

I walked out of the baby home feeling happy as usual and looked to the garden to say hello and goodbye to the kids and tried to find Ciara. I waved at Alice, said hello to Zawadi, Davie, and Maggie, and still couldn't find Ciara anywhere! Then, sitting right in front of me behind the gates on top of the blue gym mats was a small pile of giggles and underneath was my Big Sister, looking smaller than ever under a heap of about eight wiggly black bodies. She waved at me with a tilt of her head and smiled as if to say "Doesn't get any better than this." The kids are happy, well fed, and in good hands. Another baby was taken to a permanent home today!

I get home and eat what I now call Deja Vu-Chipati and Cabbage and wonder how this day could have been more of a success: More kisses given? Not possible. Smiles received to par? Yes, but I am always striving for more. Learn any Swahili? Yes...No, because I can't remember now what it was Neema said. Then I looked on the counter in the kitchen and realized Johanna and Ramona left me the remaining Chicken Curry from their lunch at Tilapia. Score! And I get to spend the rest of the afternoon with my fellow Americans Hannah and Melissa. Bonus! AND Johanna decided to make the entire vol house lasagna for dinner tonight. !!!!

Maybe I'm still dreaming and November 9th hasn't actually come yet, but either way its time to share and remember. Yet another Perfect Today.

Love with a heavy heart,


This is not complaining, okay? It is simply the cry for suggestions...

Let me explain the ingredients our diet here in Tanzania consists of (being girls on a budget and not being willing to spend almost $15 for a small hunk of cheese at the local Western supermarket in town):

Green peppers
and the occasional mango

Doesn't seem too bad right? Well, it honestly wasn't for a while, but Cacey and I have tried every meal combination we can think of and frankly, I can't have rice, scrambled eggs, oatmeal, peanuts, sugar cookies, cake, or soup EVER again.

Again, this is not a complaint, but if you have any ideas of what we could make using the ingredients listed above, please, please, please email us your recipes.

Thank you!

Saturday, November 6, 2010


Living at a baby home, you see many children come and go. This week, an amazing couple from America, who are currently living and working in Arusha, Tanzania adopted Happy (now named Zara Grace). This couple has been in the process of adoption for a year and a half and being able to finally bring Happy home is more than a dream come true. Congratulations Hannah and Zack! Cacey and I hope you keep in touch!!!

Living in the world where adoption is a very common topic of conversation, it is tempting to discuss which children you personally would "choose" to bring home with you. Last week, I had an interesting thing happen where this hypothetical conversation became a little bit more real (A LITTLE BIT).

While working in the tiny baby house, the father of the twins Brian and Briton (age seven months) came to visit. I first want to say that at the baby home, I DO NOT have favorites, however, Brian and Briton melt my heart. While talking to Brian and Briton's dad, he told me he wanted me to have Brian and take him home with me to California. Inside, I was screaming, "OKAY!" but my response was, "You can't separate Brian and Briton."

He replied, "Okay, then you take both of them to California."

Again, inside screaming, "OF COURSE I WILL!" but I knew this was not the "right" thing to do. After about an hour of conversation, I convinced their dad that he needed to be a responsible dad and take care of his children because they are AMAZING, ADORABLE, SMART, HAPPY, etc etc boys that deserve to be with their father.
(but MAN I wish I could take them!)

At the baby home there are children who have been abandoned and have no family whatsoever. These children can be adopted. There are also children whose mom's died during childbirth, but they have a father or other relative who can care for them and will go back to them when they are a little older. These children are not up for adoption. There are also children at the baby home whose mothers are psych patients and are unable to care for them. However, because they have a relative that is alive (although in a hospital), they cannot be adopted and will therefore live in an orphanage until they are adults.

This brings me to the topic of relinquishment. When a parent or relative is still alive, they have the option of relinquishing their child. This basically means they give up their rights as parent to Social Welfare and turn them over to whoever is going to adopt the baby. Now, in the case of children whose mothers are psych patients, relinquishment is of course ideal so the child does not remain in an orphanage forever. However, in the case of Brian and Briton for example, is relinquishment really the best thing?

Why would relinquishment be a "good" thing?
1. In the case of children of parents with psych issues
2. A life in America would award the child more opportunities than in Africa
3. In a place like America, for example, the child has a much lower risk of getting a disease and/or even dying from something like malaria or HIV.
4. If an individual from a Western nation is unable to adopt because of laws like having to live in Tanzania for three years, adopting a relinquished child is "better" than adopting no child in the sense that this child will be loved and cared for.

Why wouldn't relinquishment be a "good" thing?
1. You are taking a child from relatives that love and care about the child
2. You are taking a child from his or her culture
3. This child has a family and someday they will want to know who their family is and why you took him/her away from them.
4. There are other children out there who have no family and need to be adopted
5. In a way, you are taking advantage of an individual's (the biological parent) ignorance. Most people here do not understand the concept of adoption and the thought that their child could go to America sounds like a dream to them. They most likely don't understand that this means their child will never come home again.
6. The adopted parent may experience a high sense of guilt for reason #5.
7. There are different standards of living in this world. Just because we consider the lifestyle of an African individual to be a lower standard of living than our own doesn't mean that it's not good enough or that the people here are not happy. They are happy and taking them away from that isn't necessarily fair.
8. If the laws, such as staying in the country for three years for example, are turning you toward relinquishment, you can always adopt a child from another country, such as Ethiopia where the adoption process is shorter.

The concept of relinquishment is difficult for me to wrap my head around. On one hand, people can fall in love with a child and "walking away" from them is extremely difficult (trust me) knowing you can give them an amazing life with you. However, is it right to take them from their family, from their culture? Is it selfish almost? I don't know.

Take Brian and Briton for example. Their dad gave them away to a complete stranger (me) after knowing me for only an hour. Is he really going to give them the love they need and deserve when they go back to him? Is that fair to them? But is it fair to deny them their true and natural family and their wonderfully rich culture? I really don't know.

Let me know your thoughts.


New Little Bundles

Since arriving at the baby home in July, there have been ten new additions to the Forever Angels family. I would like to talk about a few of them and their stories just so you get an idea of how the baby home gets its children.

This is typically what happens...

Amy gets a call from Social Welfare saying there is a new child needing a home. Amy then drives to Social Welfare, signs the necessary paperwork, names the child (if the child's name is unknown), brings the baby to the baby home, feeds the baby, gives the child HIV and Malaria tests, and then the child is put into the crazy mix with the other children. Sometimes the child settles in quickly. However, most of the time, they are completely freaked out - which is the best way to describe it. They just sit there, watch the other children push, bite, dance, sing, scream, etc, and then they cry. They are also usually TERRIFIED of the mzungus, for some of them have never seen a white person!

Jacobo: Jacobo is the 14-month-old with Infant Depression that I wrote about a few months ago. His story is that he was abandoned in an empty house. A passer-by heard him screaming so went to investigate. She saw Jacobo covered in ants and crying, so took him home, bathed him, and then took him to the police. He had an extremely difficult time adjusting to baby home life, but I am happy to report that he is laughing much more these days! Hoorrraaay! Cacey and I both have a special place in our hearts for Jacobo...

Yona: Yona, about two-years-old, was abandoned in town, near city hall. A teenage girl saw him alone, so waited with him for his carers to arrive. They never came and eventually the girl had to leave him. The police saw the girl leave Yona, so they arrested her for abandoning a child. The girl and Yona spent the night at the police station until the police finally decided they were of no relation. Once at the baby home, Yona settled in very quickly. We love to watch Yona dance! He shakes his little bum and sings at the top of his lungs. Precious.

Joshua: Joshua came to the baby home at one-month-old. He has the softest, curliest hair you've ever seen. It feels just like fake doll hair and it's hard not to touch! Joshua's mom suffers from some sort of mental disorder and was found wandering the streets of Mwanza naked, carrying her baby. The police took Joshua from her and he was taken to Forever Angels. Now, two months later, Joshua has about 5 chins and a huge long as he's being held that is.

Marcus: One of the happiest of the tiny babies, Marcus is ALWAYS smiling. Marcus came to us about three weeks ago and is such a good baby. He was abandoned in a ditch on the side of the road.

Maua and Sabina: Twin girls who arrived at Forever Angels at just six days old. They were SOOOO tiny and are incredibly beautiful babies. When you pick them up, it is as if they weigh nothing, and all you feel is the weight of their blankets. SOOO TINY! Sadly, their mom died shortly after giving birth to them and their father can't afford formula milk. They will stay at the baby home until they are old enough to survive on normal food. Their dad comes to visit them frequently and often texts Amy, "How are my baby girls?" We love him.

Kasigwa: Kasigwa arrived at the baby home at about one week old. Her mom began having serious headaches after birth and sadly died on the way to the hospital. Again, Kasigwa's dad can't afford formula, so he brought her to the baby home until she is older.

An interesting story about Kasigwa's name...apparently, the word "kasigwa" basically means "child whose mother died." It is not a name we would give a child in America even if this was the circumstance right? Well, this is the name Kasi's father gave her and it is a popular topic of conversation among the mamas in the baby home. Last week, I was talking to one of the mama's about Kasi's name, and me being name obsessed, asked this mama what she would name her if she could change her name, etc. We laughed about the different names we thought would suit her for a few minutes and then coincidently, Kasigwa's dad arrived for a visit. Without me knowing, this mama went into the other room and told Kasi's dad that I wanted to change her name!

Okay, yes I admit, I would like to change her name because of course it is sad to be known as "the girl without a mother" (or even have her name serve as a constant reminder to her father that his wife died), but I wouldn't EVER suggest it! Obviously, her father named her that for a reason and he thought it was a nice name. It is NOT my place to change HIS daughter's name by any means! Well, this mama came back into the room I was in and told me that Kasi's father would like to talk to me. "About what?" I ask.

"About changing her name."

"WHAT?! What did you tell him?! I am not going out there!" And I didn't...for about twenty minutes. The mama came in again and said that he was waiting for me and wanted to know why I wanted to change his daughter's name.

I had to face him. I felt so horrible I wanted to cry. Here was a man whose wife had just died a few weeks ago and he decided to make a tribute to her by naming his daughter Kasigwa. I could have kicked myself for even talking about it to this mama. To make a long story a little shorter, I went out there and told him that I thought it was a lovely name and that he shouldn't change it. He asked what I wanted to name her and how he would go about changing the name, etc. I didn't answer a single question, but just kept saying, "No, no, no. Keep her name. I'm sorry. I didn't mean it!"

UGH...put a sock in it Ciara.

Jasmine (age 3 or 4) and Neema (age 11 months): Their mother went to a woman's house and asked for water. When the woman came back, the mother had left her children. The woman cared for them as long as she could, but realized she could not support herself and her own family along with the girls so she brought them to Social Welfare. Jasmine and Neema both have many scars all over their bodies from being abused, including whipping marks on their backs and possibly burns (?) on their genitals. Jasmine has settled in nicely to baby home life, but Neema is having a more difficult time. She is especially afraid of the mzungus and can often be found screaming her head off at the sight of me. Pole Neema. I'm not so bad, really.

Each and every baby at the baby home has a story like these stories. Each and every baby has parents who couldn't care for them in one way or another or at all. Because of these stories, Cacey and I are constantly reminded how thankful we are to have parents who have supported us in each and every way imaginable (and MORE). These stories also pull on our heart strings and make us want to take each of these babies home with us (more on that later). Someday we will. Someday we will give an orphaned baby a home. Now I just need a job... :)


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

In Lieu of Turkey-Day

I know it's a little early to be talking about Thanksgiving but I'm sure I'll wake up tomorrow and it will be the end of November, so this blog is about what I'm thankful for.

I made a board here out of cardboard and scratch paper and titled it "Today I'm Thankful For..." after we had about four days without power and were running out of water. I decided this list was going to be things I am thankful for IN TANZANIA since these are often very basic. My idea was that I would take the board home with me and whenever I get all cranky about the speed of the internet or thick traffic I would be happy that I have a computer at all, or that the road I am parked on is paved! I am going to give you a list of some of the things that are on my board and descriptions as to why its on there. If you're having a particularly difficult day just glance at this list and be thankful for simple things. :)

I add something to the board everyday. They are in no particular order, except for the first and last entries. Enjoy.

My Parents (on the board about five times)
Forever Angels
Maya Angelou (wrote some great books)
Ciara's collage (she made a huge collage with all our pics from home!)
The Mamas at the baby home
Good Health
Dried cranberries
Rx glasses
Hugs from Emma...or any baby for that matter
Rice without rocks in it (all the rice here comes with bugs and rocks for free! We have to get them out as though we were panning for gold...except its not gold, its rocks that break your teeth.)
No Internet (its nice sometimes to be free)
Friendship bracelets
Having running water
Not having stomach issues today
Passion fruit
New Friends
Warm tea
Pens and pencils
My Parents
Scaring goats at the marketplace
Adoptive parents
Hardship (you can always learn something from hard times, and the more difficult life seems, the greater your potential to grow)
Dancing Babies
Passport stamps
Mosquito nets
Testosterone (on short supply, and sometimes I don't want to talk about my feelings anymore...I used to live with all guys so I'm struggling here)
Wrinkley-nose smiles
A roof (even if it's leaking, like the one in Ciara and my's bathroom)
Germans (do I really need to explain? Probably, but I'm not going to)
All Baby Home staff
Pink Nail Polish
Kangas (what you use to carry a baby on your back)
Strawberry Lollipops
A shower (even cold least I'm clean afterwards!)
Departures (this is both figurative and literal, as well as contextual: Jeanette leaving was a good thing, but in a different way than Happy who left yesterday with her new adoptive parents Hannah and Zach, but also in a different way as a stomach bug leaves)
To have a family
Swimming babies
Boat trips
Hair ties (the babies would render me completely bald if I couldn't keep my hair up and out of their ninja grip)
Not sleeping on a top bunk
Fanta Passion
Having shoes
To be here with my sister and share this experience with her

Okay, so the list goes on and on but my point is that all of these things are either really hard to find, really expensive, or I'm just sooo thankful for it! I thought originally I'd write one per day on the board but find myself writing about ten per day and being very sincere and happy. Although I do find myself complaining about stupid things occassionally, I am always reminded by this list that there is so much I have here that all my neighbors don't. I get very emotional when I look at this board because I can relive the days and moments I realized how important bottled water is, or malaria medicine, or disposable diapers!

If you just flew through the list I would urge you to go through it again slowly and imagine what it would be like to be without. The range of this list is extraordinary but very substantial. Imagine if you didn't have salt, for example, and how boring a lot of your food would taste and what an adjustment it would be to have soup or meat without salt! Think of the preservative value of salt! Then again, think if you didn't have a family (like most of the babies) and that you didn't have a soul who belonged to you. It's a heavy thought, but what a revelation to witness and understand how important your family is!

This November I would like to ask everyone to spend a minute everyday and think of something really simple you are thankful to have. It could be a working telephone line so you can call your best friend, a front door that locks at night to keep you safe, a pillow to rest your head on, a nail file, puppies, cheese, anything!

I am thankful for so many things that I am overwhelmed. The foremost are my parents, family, and friends, and that they are all healthy and safe. I am very thankful that I am loved and supported everyday by those aforementioned. Wow, what an amazing month November is going to be. :)