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. :)


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Excuse Me, but, Where did October go?

Hello and welcome to November!

I am shocked it's come so quickly and am now scrambling to think of all the things I have to do with the kids before I leave in ONE MONTH! I am so sad to think of leaving and when I sit with the kids I get all emotional knowing I won't be able to see them after I've gone. That's life, and I'm trying to "detach" otherwise I'm going to feel bad or the poor guy who has to sit next to me on the flights home.

I wanted this blog to be a sort of "Ode to Volunteers" because I am constantly inspired by the people that are working here and spend all the time and money it takes to get here (especially since you have to get about 12 vaccinations).

The Volunteer House is about a block away from the Baby Home in Pasiansi-Mwanza, Tanzania, East Africa. It is a very large house with four bedrooms: one double which Ciara and I sleep in, two singles (twin bed sleeping one and full bed sleeping two), and a bunk room sleeping four. There are no vacancies at the moment which means there are interesting people to get to know and more resources, as everyone brings with them different "essentials." It is transient in nature because people come and go on schedules from around the world, but this particular group has been together for a month with only a few additions. The house is an energy vaccuum. No matter how long you stay you are always feeling very tired (because of what we are doing all day?)and some like to think it's the altitude or some other phenomenon "in the air."

Once we've gotten past the usual "where are you from?,"-"how did you find out about FA?"-"How long will you stay?"-"What kind of chocolates did you bring?"-conversations we usually talk about our crazy shifts and the cute things the kids did that day. You might think a group of nine people would run out of dirty-nappie horror stories but we never do and as I mentioned in a previous blog we will stay up late talking about the kids' milestones or blossoming personalities. Now we are at a stage where the "tiny babies" who sat in their blankets and barely moved or made a sound are heavy enough to feel when you pick them up and have started to smile and laugh and form sounds of their own. It's strange and exciting for us to watch them grow right in front of our eyes!

We are with these people (actually all women) everyday, all day long. If something so awesome and exhausting wasn't bringing us so close together I think on some days (some of us) might have killed one another, but we all get along very well. Currently we are composed of Ciara and myself (she's the best roommate ever), Erika the volunteer coordinator, a few fellow Americans from Washington Hannah and Melissa, two German girls Johanna and Ramona, and the newest additions from the UK Alice and Izzy.

At any given time we can be found doing "Insanity" with Ciara (a crazy workout video), reading, doing crossword puzzles, watching the first episode of Friends over and over (we have no remote and the TV crashes frequently so you have to constantly start it over from the beginning), looking at the work/activity schedule for the week, working on the baby's Life Books, getting ready to go to the market, looking at rain outside (the storms here are amazing), trying to get the toilet to flush, sleeping, making tea for the askari, baking "the Tanzanian-version" of whatever we are trying to cook, reading Cosmo's "35 ways to make you Happier" and mentally adjusting the 'Buy something nice for yourself at Macy's' to 'Go to the market in Mwanza and get a few slices of cheese.'

Reminiscing about home we often find that we all have a lot in common and that we are thankful for living this simple life and for being in a place where simple things make you happy and there's nothing to do in the face of a problem except laugh it off. Most of the volunteers have learned to appreciate our new home for what it is and realize that while the standards of living are much lower, we live in a house that is very safe and a far cry from the slums.

We laugh about our ever-gurgling stomachs and cling to our TUMS like it was gold. The "Africa-sick" is a constant reference to our weird ailments and has become a source of entertainment. Trying to figure out the culprit "dudu" (Bug!) that's responsible for everyone's discomfort and being thankful that we don't have this-or-that symptom on top of it infiltrates daily discussions.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Thank you

I need to do something that I should have done a long time ago.

Thank you to everyone who has been a part of our Forever Angels experience. So many of you attended our fundraiser and have donated money to the baby home. Words cannot express how thankful we are for that. There are so many things that the baby home needs and your donations really do make a difference in the lives of the children here. I know it's hard to imagine because you aren't here to see what your money or items have done, but please take it from me that they are VERY much appreciated.

Because of your donations, we raised enough money for a solar hot water heater for the baby home! The power goes out ALLLLL the time here and when that happens, it is very difficult to make bottles for babies or give warm baths. You should see their little bodies shiver at 7am with a cold shower. :( Thanks to you though, this will no longer be an issue! Amy said that because we are in the rainy season right now, she isn't going to start building the solar water heater until after Christmas, but it's in the works! I will have her take and send me pictures of the completed project when the time comes so you can see just how amazing it is going to be! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

Forever Angels would not be able to save the lives of so many children if it wasn't for people like you. I know this sounds cliche and a little cheesy, but it is more than true. You guys ARE making a difference in the world, one solar water heater at a time. :)

If you would like to further donate, you can go to the Forever Angels Click "Support Us" and then follow the links to the Just Giving website. Again, thank you so much.

All my love,



As a continuation of my last blog entry, I have a little story followed by an announcement.

Yesterday I was playing in the "garden" (British term for back yard) with the children when Zawadi, one of the older girls, came and jumped in my lap. Talking turned to tickling and then tickling turned to snuggling. For those of you who need clarification on the term "snuggling," it is the simple act of blowing air on a child's neck until they laugh so hard they can no longer speak or complete any function of any kind besides the occasional scream and constant squirm. That's the Webster definition of course.

Zawadi then stopped with the snuggling session, sat up with a very serious look on her face and said, "Mama Ciara, don't go back."

"Don't go back where?" I ask.

"Don't go back to England or California."

"You think I should stay here with you forever?"

"Yes. Do not go back to California."

My heart broke (again...I'm sure you're getting sick of me saying that, but it did). Little does Zawadi know that going back to California is something that I struggle with. I wished with all my heart at that moment that I could have said, "Okay!" or even "How about you come home to California with me?"

In order to satisfy this craving of extending my stay in Mwanza, I have decided not to stay forever, but to do the next best thing. I am going to stay at the baby home for Christmas! (Surprise!) Amy asked if I would stay for Christmas, as the baby home is short on volunteers at this time. The baby home also has a HUGE Christmas celebration in which all the children who do have families (but are unable to care for them until they are a little older) have their families join them for Christmas, all the mamas bring their families, AND all the children who have left Forever Angels to go back to their families come back for a Christmas visit! There will be three or four hundred people!

On top of all that, as most of you know, Christmas is a very big deal in the Portwood house. We LOVE sharing our traditions with whoever wants to be a part of them. I think one of the biggest reasons why I have decided to stay is so that I can share that joy and love with children who have never had that before. ANNND, you know how important a baby's first Christmas is? Well, I get to help about 30 kids with their first Christmas!!! How awesome is that?

I have to thank Jarred for this amazing Christmas gift. He is paying for me to extend my stay and change all my flights. I have never met someone so selfless. Jarred has been so incredibly patient with me and all my dreams. He has hung with me as I went to college 3 hours away for four years, then decided to study abroad on my summers and spring breaks. Then he supported me as I made the decision to go to grad school, moving to Africa for five months, and now is helping me to extend my happiness for one more month. His exact words were, "Ciara, you have to do it. It's what makes you happy. It's worth it to me." Wow Jarred. He must really love me right?! I am the luckiest girl in the world. Thank you my love. You mean the world to me and I promise I will come home (eventually). :)

I also have to thank my family for...well...not freaking out about me missing Christmas. I know how much it means to you to have me there, and I wish I could be two places at once, but again, I know you know how happy being here for Christmas will make me. My poor mom said that she was okay with me staying here for Christmas until "NSYNC Christmas" came on her ipod. Don't worry Mom, Cody's NSYNC Christmas dance moves are enough for the both of us. :)

Lastly, I have to thank Cacey for being such a good sister. She has been my partner in crime here and it's so great to have her with me. When it came to deciding to stay, Cacey would LOVE to of course, but simply can't afford it. Jarred offered to pay for her flight too, but she (unlike selfish ol' me) just couldn't say yes to such a huge gift. She is very disappointed about not being able to stay, but she is also VERY excited and happy about seeing our family for Christmas. (It also helped soften the blow when we told our parents that at least one of us would be coming home for Christmas).

My dream would be that I could transport all my friends and family to the baby home for Christmas to share the magic that is loving children in need of love. Because that is not possible, please know that I will be home in spirit.

One more thing...THANK YOU GINA WOOD!!! She sent us a package that arrived yesterday! It had all the essentials...a new water bottle, dessert mints, beef jerky, and the newest, cutest Victoria's Secret undies. :) You're the best. You have no idea how happy that made us! It was the highlight of the volunteer house for the week for sure!!!

Love you guys!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


As Cacey said, "Pole" for not writing sooner. We have been very busy holding and loving babies.

On that note, this blog entry is going to be short and sweet.

I just want to say that I am so happy. Actually, "so happy" can't even begin to describe how I feel about spending seven days a week with 55 of the most incredible little people on this planet. It's not happy at all. It's a deep, inside, hurts so good kind of feeling...wait, that doesn't describe it either. I don't know then. I just know that I can't imagine doing anything else right now or ever. I don't care if I get diarrhea-ed on 40 times a day with ten batches of throw-up and forty kids who won't stop crying. These kids are my heart and my soul.

I am in love. I am so undeniably and remarkably in love with these kids that the thought of going home makes me want to barf, cry, and scream. (I know, I know. I will come home, don't worry...).

I just want you all to know that I couldn't be...happier.

Happy birthday Code-Blue! We love you so much and talk/think about you every single day. I think the other volunteers actually feel like they know you. We are constantly saying things like, "Our brother Cody...blah blah blah...well, he's our baby..." We are SO sad we can't be with you on your 18th birthday, but know that we are thinking about you and love you with all our hearts. We are so proud of you and everything you do. I can't believe you are now an adult. Be good Code! Cacey and I will forever fight over you and about who loves you more. I do of course...duh. :) 18 kisses are flying to you from Tanzania. Muuuuaaaaahhhh!

My Tanzania

"Pole" (sounds like Po-lay and means "sorry" in Swahili) for not posting earlier, but we have been on a very tight budget and getting into town and paying for the internet is more trouble than I can "be bothered" (its a British thing) to deal with. I was going to just start this post at the beginning of my stay and average out the details of everyday life how I see it in Tanzania.

The trip from Kenya started out nicely, except I didn't actually have a ticket on my flight. The company I had already paid just "forgot" to buy my ticket and they weren't very "pole" about it when I contacted them about it at 6am from the airport wondering where my ticket had gone. Either way I figured it out, paid again for my flight to Mwanza and one way or another ended up with a visa and ran right into a sickly Ciara as I exited the hot sticky airport. We drove straight to the volunteer house and I spilled about Kenya for about seven hours in our bunk room and felt Ciara's fever from across the room.

Mwanza is beautiful. As the second largest city in Tanzania it's bustling streets are lined with people from all over Africa, and occasionally decorated with Mzungus. The huge, somewhat rectangular rocks are aged and discolored but give a majestic frame to the lining of the city and Lake Victoria's reed shores.

The volunteer house is limited at times on its water supply, electricity, fridge space, plumbing capacity and living quarters by "usual" standards, but after about six hours living there anyone becomes accommodated and very comfortable. It is safe, and its going to be home for the next few months, and I've come to appreciate the high-quality lifestyle we live here in Mwanza.

The local market is about a block away and serves as a prime example of the basic principles of supply and the keepers adjust their stock according to the wants and desires of the "rich Mzungus" who favor cold Fanta sodas and Savannas (local cider). Every morning we wake up to the vocal stylings of a few men we call "The Ramadan Men" because while they are an everyday-thing they were supposedly much more passionate during Ramadan. These men are not our particular favorite locals since he begins his broadcast of hymns from a loud speaker around 5am, again at 530am, again at 6am and so on throughout the day. The first few nights it was so loud I thought he was singing from inside our room. Sometimes forgetting I'm in Tanzania when I wake up, I get confused and think I've been relocated to somewhere in the middle east. Then we hear the askari's cell phones go off and hear the sounds of Swahili and realize we are where we should be.

The early morning walks to the baby home are like the calm before the storm; the blush pink clouds of sunrise are so vibrant and teh last few gulps of crisp air are consumed before joining in the chaos. Depending on the shift, you are welcomed by thirty grumpy but excited toddlers having just been roused from sleep. Yikes. There are some still half dreaming, some bursting with energy, some quiet, others fussy, fighting and screaming. They are all so adorable and bring a smile to my face no matter how many snotty noses I clean up within the first five minutes. I could cuddle them all to death and most of the time go to bed praying for a few extra limbs to use to soothe and give hugs and kisses. The smart ones attack quickly once you get through the gate and wrestle you to the floor in a panicked "mamma" with surprising and quite impressive persistence and effeciency. Most of the next three hours is spent with about six of them bouncing on your lap, hanging on your arms, leaning against your back, or pulling on your legs. They are laughing, crying, peeing, pooing, screaming, and cooing. One moment you are getting a completely open-mouthed (and yes, totally welcomed) kiss on your face and the next minute you flinch from a bit finger and an earring being ripped out. To some less-qualified individuals this situtation sounds comparable to a retired-teacher's torture chamber or maybe a scene in a film titled "Babies Revenge" but for Ciara and myself there is more joy than a trip to Disneyland (officially now, NOT the happiest place on Earth) a vacation to Hawaii, or a great night out in Vegas (okay, sans alcohol of course but we would just end up giggling like toddlers and waddling them them, too). Either way my point is simply that this orphanage is such a fun place to be and most days the hourse fly by with all of us hurrying around carrying two at a time and frantically calming whichever baby we can get our hands on. There are multiple feedings, countless dirty "nappies" little ouchies, crying, laughing, playing, etc. Every child is so special and I only wish I could spend more time cuddling and helping them grow as individuals. At the end of a six hour shift, I've never been so tired. It still amazes me that my heart can withstand the amount of times it breaks in a shift, or how many times it can feel so completely full with love. It is a physical and emotional workout!

The babies all have a story, and everyday I spend with them I've chosen a new favorite and wonder how I will ever leave here without them. I am resigned to complete heartache and devastation when our time here runs out, and have explored every dark corner in my imagination trying to design a plan to smuglgle them all home with me. I am willing to pay the extra weight. How can I leave Neema here? What about Rebecca? Is Jacobo adoptable? No one appreciates Moses like I do! And then we stumble back to the volunteer house and collapse into our spaces and exhale at another shift come and gone.

We will have walked past a soccer match going on at the field in the center of the L-shaped market, right in from of Ramadan Men's broadcast center, and I always day dream as we walk past that the ball gets forcefully, but fortuitously jammed into the speakers and everyone will cheer. A girl can dream.

Walking around anywhere in Mwanza is quite interesting anyway most days. We obviously stand out and most people shout the only english they know and we end up hearing "Good Evening New York!" or "blue, red, green!" or "What's up?" or "Hi Mzungus!" At this point we remember that we don't look like everyone else, tell them we don't have any money, and laugh to ourselves. It's interesting to me that growing up being "white" was never something I used to describe myself, and now it is the first thing I think of. These differences are hard to adjust to since we were raised not to distinguish people by their color and people walk around saying basically "Hey pig-skin-colored people!" I always tell Ciara one day I will respond with "Hey black person!" It's not a racist thing here, and its hard to get used to it, but I am thankful to be so far displaced from western issues of race and color. Here we are a decoration to their society, and since we are here to volunteer, they are usually happy to see us. :)

At the end of a long day out, you'd think we could find other things to talk about, but we all usually end up discussing the babies and all the funny and cute things or horribly naughty things they did. We discuss their milestones, how to help the ones that struggle, give warnings and advice and general support for our challenging opportunity. "Time off" is usually spent running into town to get food, use internet, or time to be ill. I don't know how God worked this out, but I had a fever for around three days that only hit me after 7pm and lasted until about thirty minutes before I'd have to go on shift the next day. We all just say to eachother when some weird stomach issue or digestive issue pops up and leaves just as quickly as it hit, "oh, must be that weird-cyclical-African-flu-thing, or something like that. You will be okay" and we all just get on with it. Every volunteer agrees to get sick on their day off. I have been lucky enough to have only experienced a corsage size of the bouquet of symptoms that go along with these strange illnesses we all get. It's something we all get used to like re-using soda bottles, paying $14 for six slices of cheese, or wishing the cockroaches in the kitchen a pleasant evening before tucking the mouse in your sock drawer into bed.

I am here for only a few months and being here for only a short time so far it already feels like a place I will sorely miss. Besides the fifty-something faces shouting "Mama Kezey" and fighting for a first cuddle or last kiss, Mwanza is culturally enchanting and full of love and struggle, and has everything anyone could ever want (except Kikoman soy sauce-I can't find that anywhere...and basil...and good candy).

It's a place where laughter comes at you out of nowhere and friendships are formed over spilled beans. I am happy to be living in the moment and to appreciate all I had growing up, and all that I have now. You get the feeling that if you were to cease to exist in the next day your last thoughts would include "Yes, my life is full, my heart is full." But there are loads of smiles to be given out tomorrow and who will make sure Shalom gets extra food at lunch? So we make sure we are there and hope that our hearts can stretch a little more. So far, that's My Tanzania.

Love, Cacey

P.S. I miss you all! Happy 18th Birthday Cody, I love you!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Making Pineapples into Pineapple-ade

As you have read, since coming to the baby home, I have become involved in the ongoing issue that is hydrocephalus in Mwanza. It is something that has touched my heart and left me asking, “Why?” on so many occasions. Again, such a simple procedure that can save a baby’s life is being held off because of money.

This is something that I feel I need to clarify based on some responses I have received regarding my previous blog entry about hydrocephalus. As you may recall, I wrote that the women in the hydrocephalus ward are “literally just waiting for us to help.” Some might interpret this as meaning that these mothers are “lazy,” unwilling to work for themselves, their children, or their future, and would instead rather wait for mzungus to come and “save” them and their children. This is neither the case nor what I was trying to convey.

In America, when one discovers she is pregnant, there are a series of tests and scans to determine anything and everything about the unborn child. Our technology is so advanced that we can even tell if the child has his father’s nose (3-D ultrasound) or his mother’s lips. In Tanzania however, a woman finds out she is pregnant and then hopes she and the child survive. My point is, parents would be completely unaware, before the birth of the child, if the baby has hydrocephalus or not.

Now, imagine you are this pregnant woman. You start to feel contractions so you gather about a week’s worth of food for your two young children whom you are leaving at home alone while you have the baby. You now make the five hour journey by foot on uneven, dirt roads to the nearest hospital (keep in mind this walk is being done while you are having unbearable contractions). You reach the hospital and have the baby without any labor-related complications besides the beatings you received by the doctors and nurses for making noise while pushing (true story- women must be silent during child birth or they are beaten).

A few days after giving birth, you begin to notice the size of your child’s head growing rather large and altogether too quickly. Your baby is diagnosed with hydrocephalus. You and your baby are now moved upstairs to the hydrocephalus ward where you discover you will be spending the next undetermined amount of time in a small room with thirty other women and thirty other babies.

The reality of the situation is that your child has been born with hydrocephalus and is slowly going to die because you cannot pay the $250 for the surgery. You also realize that your two small children at home are also probably going to die because you are not allowed to leave the hospital or this new baby.

I stand corrected: The women in the hydrocephalus ward are NOT “waiting for mzungus” to come and help them. They do NOT expect that anyone is going to come and help them pay for their baby’s surgery. They have simply been given a sentence to carry out the next six months or so in the hospital because they have a baby with hydrocephalus. They have no way of knowing their baby was going to have hydrocephalus and even if they did, it would be impossible for them to save up enough money in even three years time to pay for their surgery. They simply do not make that much money here. It would be like a mother in America having a baby that needed a million dollars worth of medical treatment. If this mother could not afford the million dollars (and insurance didn’t exist of course), she had to wait in the hospital until the child died.

Again, these women did not expect Amy to come and help them, but it just so happened that Amy found out about this situation and wanted to help.
Now that that’s settled...
Cacey, Emma, and I went back to the hospital to take more pictures for the women and children there. Guess what? Because Amy put the photos on the baby home website and asked for donations for the surgeries, we got all 27 babies their surgeries!!!! There were only a few babies that we recognized from the last time. They had all gone home. To us, it was $250. To them, it was a miracle.

Unfortunately, there are now 38 babies and their mothers in the hydrocephalus room. This is less than a month later. Like I said before, hydrocephalus is an ongoing issue in Mwanza. There are always going to be more and more babies with the disease until someone comes and does research and then educates the people on prevention (if possible).

Knowing that this problem is bigger than we are, Emma, Cacey, and I decided to make it our mission to bring just a tiny bit of joy into these women’s lives by taking and bringing them pictures of themselves and their babies. We also brought them each two cloth diapers and two towels. The excitement we caused in the hospital that day is hard to explain in words. The women were elated. It was a child-like, Christmas morning type of excitement. They were proudly showing their gifts and sharing their pictures with one another, giggling as they bounced about the room. Although we were doing something so small, it was nice to be able to do something to break up their solitude and sorrow that will last for weeks to come.

Just putting it out there one more time: If you or anyone you know (organization or personal contact) would like to sponsor one, a few, or ongoing hydrocephalus surgeries, please, please, please let me know.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Is Aid Killing Africa?

This is a controversial topic that was brought to my attention during my time at Ol Malo and I want to bring it up to see what you all think.

There is a rumor going around that different types of humanitarian aid are doing more damage to countries in Africa than they are actually helping. This is not a new idea, but it was brought to attention at an international level with the release of a book called "Dead Aid" written by an African economist Dambisa Moyo. Her opinion has indeed ruffled a few feathers on the political level and economic level (NGO's, etc.) and raises an important question for people who provide different types of donations to third world countries.

I would like to preface this blog by saying I am not an economist, and I know very little about the structure within African governments that controls the distribution of aid, but I want to share what I've learned from seeing it first hand at Ol Malo with the Samburu tribe and talking with people who were born and grew up here.

Basically, foreign aid is an unstable phenomenon in Africa. People usually give in spurts; during times of drought or the recognition of extreme hunger and poverty. Everyone in the western world believes that giving giving giving as much money or clothes or to funds that send food is the best possible way to support these suffering people. The reality is that for individual groups of people in Africa, the aid is fleeting. The governments receive the aid and either tax it before distributing it to the different groups, or they distribute in large amounts at the wrong time! The result is, for example, a village who has become dependent on rice/grains, and when the money stops flowing (like when there's an economic crisis!) the grains stop coming and they are left with no skills to help them make money and get more food. There is a well known adage that explains this concept: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

This is a very simple truth that when you look at aid in Africa seems to apply in a startlingly sound way. The corrupt governments in place here seem to live off of the idea that Africa needs pitying. This has crippled their industrious spirits and allowed room for complacency. Of course this isn't true in every case of foreign aid, and there are millions who have been saved by medical aid, clean water, etc. but even things like this have killed more than they have helped.

A few real examples:
There was an organization that donated thousands of pounds of corn meal to a Massai village in northern Kenya. The Massai's entire way of life is based on the condition and number of cattle they maintain, and they do not typically rely on grains to survive. They eat a diet that consists mainly of meat and blood which is obvious due to their cash crops of cows. In 2009 there was a horrible drought and the people in this particular area began to eat the grains and not their cattle because this cattle was a symbol of status and they wanted to do everything they could to keep up their high numbers. What happens as a result is that the high number of cows eat the depleting amount of grass because there has been no water. The cows end up dying anyway because they have no more land to graze and the Massai end up going hungry. What should have happened was they selectively kill their cattle which in turn eat less grass and when the drought ends, there is not a lot of cattle, but there is enough to sustain the smaller herd. Very basically, you can see how in this situation aid wasn't the right answer for these people. They needed someone to teach them about sustainable grazing rotation, etc. The fact is, had the aid not been there the people would have just eaten the cows as usual and been more careful about the impact the herd had on the grazing lands instead of being preoccupied with the status of many cows.

The Samburu tribe who live near Ol Malo have also come across a problem with this same type of food-aid. They receive a type of aid that they don't actually consume as food. The Samburu eat a similar diet to the Massai which is meat, milk, blood. They receive this grain and end up getting bored and brewing it into a type of alcohol. Now, they're diet consists of meat, milk, blood, and alcohol. You can imagine the types of problems which stem from this: alcoholism, violence, death, etc. It sounds grim and maybe a little far fetched since everyone thinks all aid has to be good, but it isn't!

The fact is that when some of these organizations (who do mean well) come in to "save these poor people" who seemingly live this 3rd world lifestyle they aren't examining what might actually help them in the LONG TERM. A very simple way of looking at this is that if you give a young girl who normally wears a kikoy and beads (and nothing else) a dress from the U.S. and she wears this dress everyday and tears it all up on the acacia trees because its made of a different material, or it gets worn by the process in which they wash their clothes, or faded by the sun on the equator because she's outside all day long-then of course this girl is going to look horribly disheveled. In reality she doesn't NEED the dress, or shoes, or shampoo, or whatever else westerners think she needs because culturally it was never needed. She is also happier wearing her traditional kikoy and beads because she feels more comfortable in them.

Over the past few weeks it is clear to me that certain types of aid for certain types of people is completely unnecessary because their culture just doesn't call for it. You and I might think that giving money for someone to have certain types of food or clothes is a great thing because we can't imagine living without those things but they just don't need them! It causes more problems than it solves.

I am not saying that all types of aid are bad, nor that anyone should stop wanting to give or find ways to better the quality of life for others around the world. All I am suggesting is that people need to be more aware of what their money is really going toward. It might help to actually research some of these places that are legitimately helping in the long term, and aren't just a temporary fix for a larger ongoing problem. I can suggest you pick up the book Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo just as a starting point to understanding the different types of aid. I don't think her solutions outlined in the book are necessarily correct, but I definitely got a different perspective about aid in general by listening to her talk about the book itself. You can also look up "Aid is Killing Africa" on YouTube and it comes up with some videos of this author talking about aid in Africa.

There are many people in Kenya who believe certain types of help are completely useless, and it has been interesting for me (as someone who's here mainly to VOLUNTEER) to talk with them about what I am doing here and why it may or may not be the best thing. There are many churches, for example, who are set up to help "save" people and then they leave about two years later a small town built around an abandoned church that houses thieves, prostitutes, and no more resources. Again, I don't want anyone to think I am suggesting that their donations aren't legitimate, but you all need to be thinking about how to help others in a way that is going to build on their skills and create opportunities for them, not just allow them to rely on foreign assistance that may or may not come in the future.

*You can also check out I know my immediate family knows about this but it's a website you can go to and you basically loan small amounts of money to entrepreneurs in developing countries for them to buy, say, a cow or something small to get their milk-selling-business up and running. So you "loan" this $50 to a man in South America and he gets this cow and starts his business and makes money, and pays the loan back to you. Kiva sends you a message that says, "You have KIVA credit..would you like to donate the money to someone else? Would you like to cash out and get your money? Or Would you like to make that $50 a donation that the man in SA can just keep? It is an awesome system, and it's a great example of the right type of aid. Having hospital floors tiled is another good one...

Sorry this blog isn't so "exciting" but it's been on my mind an incredible amount. Kenya is a country full of creative minds and it's horrible when the guy who makes and sells me my sandals at the coast goes out of business because Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt just sent a truck load of FREE sandals to Watamu and now no one will buy them from this guy because there's free sandals everywhere. He's now going to take his extra corn meal and brew a batch of bubbly to drowned his unemployed sorrows.

Okay maybe that's a bit much but seriously guys, just think about it.

New Slogan: "Ol Malo: Making Travel Insurance Compulsory"

Animal Sightings, Scary Walks, and Close Encounters

**I decided that since Europeans and most Africans take baths and not showers there exists a very simple way to tell how good/exciting your life is by examining the color of the bathwater! So, at the end of a bath you can tell if you've had a good day at Ol Malo by just how muddy the water is when you get out. :) I have tried to rate each of the following experiences by the color my water would have been after the day's events.

One night after dinner Chyulu and I started to make the 1/4 mile trek from the Guest House back to her place/my tent in the darkness with our flashlights. We had just finished telling the guests the story of Andrew running into a lion on the path back home one night and I was as a direct result not particularly excited about this walk. Chyulu said she didn't like walking at night without Andrew (he was away at the coast) and she stopped to pick up a rock. I laughed nervously, stuffed my belongings into my pockets to free my hands and picked up two of the largest rocks I could throw. We continued walking and about halfway we heard a very loud roar. She stopped and said, "oh, that's a lion." I thought, "no kidding!" and my next move was to turn around, but she said we needed to get home. I walked as quickly as I could to keep up and we decided to sing loudly and clap the rocks together to let the lion know we were very large and scary things not to be messed with. I was just hoping hoping hoping we didn't run into anything because even a small dik dik would have made me pee my pants. We made it home safe, but the next morning were horrified by the site of a large oryx carcus left by lions about 15 yards away from the path we were on. These things were so close, and we didn't even know it because of the cover of night. Bath water: fairly cloudy!

I was left at Ol Malo for one day and a half to run everything while the Francombe's went to a family gathering in Nairobi and I had to walk home to my tent from the Lodge in the dark...alone. My flashlight decided after about a minute into my walk that the battery was too low to go on and I was left in the dark trying to find my way. I thought all my good luck had finally run out I decided that I would need to just take a deep breath, let my eyes adjust for a minute and keep walking. Since there were hyena in the area I started singing "We all live in a Yellow Submarine" over and over marching along making big loud steps to let anything know that I was coming. I'm pretty sure anyone in Laikipia could have heard my horrible singing because I was shouting the words as loud as I possibly could. My heart started beating really quickly and I gave my flashlight a smack against a tree for being so stubborn. The battery must have just popped back into place or something because it came on and I pointed it forward to try and find the path again. All I could see were big yellow-green eyes. Six of them. I gasped and froze, trying to see if the eyes were big enough to belong to a cat. They were just to the right of the path, so I knelt down and picked up some large rocks to throw. My plan was to throw, scatter the eyes, yell and scream, and then run. This was the best plan I could muster and I tightened my head-torch and began throwing as hard as possible. I don't know what the animals were, but the combination of my fear of the lonely night walk and my previous experiences at Ol Malo made me certain they could have swallowed me whole. It might have just been a few jack rabbits but I was at my tent in such a short time it would have given any African short distance sprinter a good race. I laughed out loud at how scared I was and put the dogs to bed, fed the owls, and brushed my teeth without any concerns. Bath water: somewhat cloudy.

The longest night in Africa: I went to bed in the second week exhausted as usual and really looking forward to a good sleep. It had started raining and I was wondering how well my tent would keep me dry that night. I wrote down the day's events in my journal quickly and must have fallen asleep straight away. About two hours after I had gone to bed, around 11:45ish, I heard something walking around my tent. I thought it was the wind or just general night noises but then I got a sense that it was an animal milling about and it sounded larger than the average curious night creature. At one point I noticed there were several of them, and they were sniffing about. I tried desperately to go back to sleep and convinced myself it was just dik dik or the resident black-tailed mongoose on the hunt with a friend. About an hour later I woke up to a cold nose in my face (my cot was at the edge of the tent the mesh netting started right about bed-level). The nose sniffed twice hard and I immediately froze. It moved slowly along the edge of my tent and collapsed at the front of it, bending my tent in slightly. It was a small group of hyena! If anyone has seen the t.v. specials on hyena, they are disgusting creatures (they are actually quite amazing but I was upset at them for messing with my sleep). They are dirty, smelly, and efficient animals. They can bite clean through bone and my sturdy tent seemed more like a barrier made of paper when I realized they were sniffing at ME and basically had me surrounded. I could hear them going into my "bathroom" and running into the large drums of water for my shower, and just HANGING OUT. I realized they were getting shelter from the rain under the tarpola of my tent but I didn't sleep one bit. I was awake the whole night making a plan if one of them tried to get in and tried to gage how long it would take Andrew to get down here with his gun if I screamed. I coudn't remember from discussion if a hyena would get scared and run away or if they would get scared and attack. This lapse in my memory and concentration made the night very frustrating. I can honestly say that since I was alone with my thoughts and so scared about my bed making that loud squeaking sound similar to a wart-hog that I was absolutely terrified. The beasts moved on around 4am and I have never been so happy to see the sun rise. Chyulu and Andrew laughed at me since the hyena would have most definitely run away had I made any kind of loud noise, and Andrew had fun teasing me and insisting that it was probably only a lone hyrax (small rodent-like mammal) keeping me awake. Bath water: significantly muddy.

One day in the car on our way to a Samburu Manyatta (homestead)we spotted three cheetah about 100 yards away. There was a mamma teaching her two young teenagers how to crouch and then sprint. We watched them sprint off and it was so amazing! Bath water: still pretty clear

I rode horses down to the river with Andrew, Chyulu and their friend Toby who was visiting. I am not very experienced on horses so I always think it's very exciting to ride. My horse was terribly disobedient and loved running through thick acacia trees covered in thorns and this particular ride I had to dig out about 12 thorns from my limbs afterward. The exciting bit of the ride started when my horse decided to gallop downhill and my saddle came undone. My feet came out of the stirrups and I knew I was going to get hurt before the day was done. I luckily hung on and finally got my horse to stop and Andrew and Chyulu stopped to help me get sorted out. Andrew was standing next to me when Toby's horse stuck his nose in Chyulu's horses bum. The horse freaked out and gave two great kicks. The second one was harder than the first and hit Andrew square in the shin. The noise that comes from a snapping bone I can tell you is enough to make you lose your breakfast. Luckily for me we hadn't eaten yet and we all scrambled to get off our horses and help Andrew. He is the toughest Kenya Cowboy there is, and we had to talk him out of continuing on horseback down to the river and waited for a car to come intercept him. [He is "fine" now and still insists that his leg isn't broken too badly at all. He limped about for only a few days and then announced he wouldn't limp anymore despite the pain because he didn't like the look of a man limping.] I rode on with Toby and Chyulu the rest of the way and a few hills from the river site we stopped because there were lion on the opposite hill. My horse figured out what we were discussing very quickly and decided to run the rest of the way since he already knew the path and wasn't too fond of lion. I lost the reigns after one of many sharp turns and had to hold onto the mane-hair for dear life. Once again I had accepted defeat when we arrived at the site and my horse stopped. I got down in the most ungraceful fashion and nearly collapsed on the ground. Samuel worked at the stables and was waiting for us and was pleasantly surprised by my early arrival. He could tell I had been over a few bumps and kindly squished his face at me to acknowledge my obvious discomfort, but laughed as I walked away without my usual smile. I thanked Chyulu and Toby for offering a leisurely horse-ride back after lunch and chose instead to sit in the big, predictable, diesel-fueled car with the guests and the guide with the gun. I thought I made the right decision and ended up seeing a pack of wild dogs, or African Painted Dog about 23 strong (one of the most rare animals in the world and the hardest thing to see in Africa) as they ran into two lion! We got about six feet away from a large female lioness as she sat on her kill also. It was the coolest ride back from the river ever! I was thankful for the traumatic horse ride because I wouldn't have chosen to sit in the car that evening on the way back! Bath Water: You'd lose the baby for sure.

Another day Chyulu and I took a young girl to Baboon Rock on horseback where she was to meet her family (they chose to walk). This was actually the first time I had trotted, and then cantered on a horse. It was very amusing to my two companions who are both very experienced on horses and loved watching me bounce uncontrollably and generally having a hard time holding on. Chyulu and I were to take the horses back quickly because the sun was going down and we didn't want to be stuck on horses in the dark. We had gotten pretty far and I thought I was used to the cantering when Chyulu said, "okay, if you're comfortable we will canter up to the top of this last hill to the planes and then canter back to the stables because we need to hurry." She gave me a few pointers and said "just hold on!" We started up the hill in the dim light and were galloping before I knew it. About 3/4 the way up Chyulu's horse slammed on its breaks and reared nearly throwing her off. My horse quickly stopped and luckily I was concentrating because he reared and Chyulu started yelling at me to turn around and go back down the hill...quickly. I looked ahead and about 45 feet up the road were two large elephants with ears raised and trunks swinging and shouting charging at us! I just thought, "oh goodness this was on the list of the worst possible things that could happen on a horse out here!" and then she reminded me outloud that it was THE WORST and I turned my horse and he knew how quickly I wanted to go back down. I knew I couldn't fall off. When we got far enough away we turned to look and the elephants had stopped and were on alert just looking downhill toward us. We noticed then that they had a calf with them and Chyulu said she didn't think they would come any further but that we needed to watch for the rest of the herd who would most likely sneak up on us in the dark. After rounding up the stray horse with no rider and creeping slowly up the hill we made it to the top without incident in about 35 minutes. It was very dark by this point, and the horses were spooked by every little movement in the bush on the way back. They knew it was past the time they were supposed to be out and we were all pretty tense for the rest of the ride. Chyulu exclaimed when we got back that it was the most exciting ride she's had here in years, and I was so happy to be alive I found myself giggling annoyingly for the rest of the night. I was definitely high on adrenaline, but thought how I will enjoy telling my kids someday how their mom is the coolest lady ever for having run from a charging elephant in Africa and live to tell the tale. I have never felt more alive. The closest experience I have that compares to the feeling afterward is from when I went either skydiving or bungee-jumping, and now putting all three of those things together my life seems more adventurous than ever! Bath water: Get out a shovel and the Draino.

Some other fun occurrences include:

Meeting the pet Kudu at Ol Malo for the first time (a kudu is about the size of a small pony and looks a lot like a very large deer), her name is Tendala which means "kudu" in Swahili and she crept up from behind me and gave me a big kiss on the cheek. To my surprise, this HUGE animal had been curious about me and decided to say hello. I was sitting on the edge of the cliff at the Lodge and nearly fell off I was so startled.
Feeding the owls...these owls are so sweet and I will try to get pictures up but it was my job to catch mice, crush their skulls, cut them up, and feed them in pieces to the owls. It was a horrible job and the first time I didn't feel well after, but cutting up animals was something I unfortunately became accustomed to at Ol Malo. The owls are so big and beautiful and I loved petting them and greeting them everyday.
Seeing lion was always exciting, and it made walking to my tent at night interesting. I saw two lion very close up, and others from cars and on horseback. They are so beautiful, and more curious about humans than anything else.
Seeing the Wild Dog was incredible. Everyone gets excited because its such a rare occurrence, and I didn't have my camera on me when we saw them but they look like a cross between a dog and a fox, about the size of a coyote, deep black in color and every single one has a different pattern on its fur in either white or deep red. They are beautiful and very elusive animals. They are the most efficient hunters in Africa.
I was also lucky enough to see a large porcupine one night steeling dog food, scorpions, spiders the size of tennis balls, jenet cats, mongoose, impala, gazelle, elind, giraffe, zebra, and more! The cool thing is that I saw these things while either walking, riding horses, riding camels, or driving which is very cool and exciting.
I was also made to test an solar powered electric horse fence (yes it was definitely working and yes I was concerned about my heart murmur but when they tell you "no dinner unless..." I have to say I was always the "dummy").
I was made to run up Baboon Rock to deliver twelve cold Tuskers to a group of guests who were having sun-downers on top of the rock and in my sandals I slipped going up the steep face of it. I landed on my tail bone and immediately didn't care who needed beer. Ouch. I was sore but became a hero for delivering the beer with record speed (meaning it was still cold when I got to the top).
I caught a catfish with my bare hands from the river with Dixon-he said that since I did it without a hook and lure I am now truly a fisherman. :)
Went for a walk with a large group and Hussein, our guide, said that if they saw us started to charge we needed to strip off our bright clothes and run up the hill following him. There were some guests who didn't get the "no bright colors on nature walks" memo and Hussein at one point turned and said quietly but with gumption, "Take off the clothes and please go quickly with me." Like usual, I laughed after everyone was safe at all the things I would never hear in California.

As you can tell my time at Ol Malo was very adventurous and exciting. There are so many more gross and gory stories I have written down but these are some of the more interesting ones. If you want to know about scraping spider eggs out from under toes or drinking goats blood I can share them with you per request but thought they'd be too much for some people. I think I am now twenty five times more brave (times one for every day I spent at Ol Malo) and am going to have a hard time looking for adventure and trouble as exciting as I have experienced so far in Kenya. Had I been taking baths and not showers, I would say there was enough mud in my water at the end of each day to cloud a lifetime of bathing sessions. :)

With more to come and much love,

Now You're Speaking my Language

This is an account of all the tasks and things I was in charge of doing at Ol Malo. The range is fairly large and I loved/appreciated doing all of it to prove I was a hard worker and earn my keep.

I must first introduce you to a woman named Wenjiku. She is a very hard working woman who runs the House at Ol Malo. This means that at any given time she is responsible for making sure up to 20 people are well fed and have absolutely everything they might possibly need (and trust me, these guests pay a lot to ask for the most outlandish things you've ever heard of and she makes it all happen). I worked a lot of the time with her at the House and got to know her well. She is single (which is unusual for her mature age) and in charge which makes it extremely difficult for her since men don't respect women in authority positions and many of the other workers are male. She is probably the hardest working woman I have ever met aside from my own mother and I came to admire her very much for her ability to do whatever Andrew and Chyulu asked with such grace and determination. I spent a lot of my time working at the House with her and learned all my odd jobs through her instruction.

Everyone who knows me knows I am capable of massive amounts of cleaning at once and that I am very thorough. Ol Malo is constantly kept in top condition and everything is cleaned and dusted everyday which makes for a huge task since there are six large rooms with at least two beds each in the House. I scrubbed floors some days, took everything off shelves to dust, cleaned the bathrooms, swept hallways, you name it! The rooms are so much more beautiful than the pictures online can capture, and I was caught frequently sitting in empty bathtubs just admiring the view and scolded for it. :) I worked twice as fast as anyone else so I figured taking short breaks to look at the workmanship of the high ceilings or lose myself in Samburu artwork in the corridors was okay! I washed dishes in the kitchen and got used to the Kikuyu music playing on the radio. My favorite thing was to get the more serious guys in the kitchen to dance with me as we washed and dried and put away hundreds of dishes and everyone would laugh at the crazy Mzungu trying to dance like they did. If nothing else I think they appreciated my attempt at making what they came to call "deesh-time" more fun.

Give me four days, two large very chaotic pantries, and free reign and I will work a miracle. Chyulu gave me permission to clean and organize the food stores. Oh it was such fun! Most people (actually I think everyone else) would think I'm crazy, but I really enjoy organizing pantries, cupboards, etc. I had so much fun re-labeling food shelves and cleaning out containers people started to watch as though I were putting on a show. I think the main reason the kitchen staff in both the Lodge and the House liked me so much was because I made their job of finding butter beans and saltanas so much easier. I made an inventory system for them as well to keep track of how many of each item they had left, and established pars for each item so they knew when they needed to order more. I felt so much better afterward and we celebrated with cups of Kenya tea and a newly discovered bag of dried apricots.

I put together a recipe book for Wenjiku and taught Dixon, George, and Kazungu (the kitchen boys) how to make all my favorite things. We had fun serving this food to the guests and looking through the windows at their reactions to this food since the staff have very different tastes to most Westerners and thought my food was rather gross. Most guests approved though and I picked the most simple recipes to share so the kitchen liked how easy it was to prepare. The recipe book was a gift to Wenjiku when I left and she said that all the recipes in it were to be named after me. On the last day we had "Kezi's Bean Salad," "Kezi's Quiche," "Kezi's Fried Rice," "Kezi's Bloody Mary" and "Kezi's BBQ shrimp." I felt really guilty for inadvertently taking credit for these things that weren't my creations but thought it was a sweet gesture.

I was usually scared before spending time with guests I had just met. The people who stay at Ol Malo are all very well off, very well traveled, educated, influential, and generally way more interesting than I will ever be. These people are difficult to talk to, but I found myself having amazing conversation with them and enjoying serving them their drinks and making sure all was as it should be. I have come up with a list of these interesting characters, some very cool and some not cool at all:

A family from SANTA BARBARA! I was amazed at meeting this family on my second day at Ol Malo. The young girl actually applied for a job at Santa Barbara Roasting Company and I recognized her immediately. Taken so far out of context, I only knew she looked familiar and she looked at me the same. I was astonished that I had actually done a phone interview with her and we had mutual friends in SB. It gets even more weird...her mom is best friends with Mark Gustafson's mom! Mark is the guy who visited Guy who was with him to pick me up at the airport when I first arrived in Nairobi! She was talking about the son of this friend of hers who was visiting a schoolmate from S.B.and I said, "Are you kidding? Is his name Mark Gustafson?! I spent 8 days in Nairobi with him! I went to Vegas with him! I am his friend!" Oh wow, I couldn't believe that here I was in the middle of nowhere in Kenya and here are these people from Santa Barbara. What. A. Small. World.

Along the same lines...a politician and his family from Newport Beach who are originally from SAN LUIS OBISPO, CA. They lived off of Hwy 227 in SLO and actually knew where my house was. They had family who graduated from AG High. No way. The dad was taking a last vacation before returning to California to run for public office. He was very nice and I would vote for him. :) All his children either graduated from Harvard, Stanford, or Duke University, so they were educated and interesting people to talk with.

Dr. Green from E.R. My mom would appreciate this reference because most people know this man as Goose from Top Gun, but I knew him as Dr. Green because we watched E.R. after dinner sometimes at home when I was younger. He is a very nice man, has a very down-to-earth family.

The man who invented the Mac Book: He is very nerdy, somewhat socially awkward, but a very nice guy. His family included a spoiled six year old named David who was the worse-behaved child I have ever seen. No one else in the family even heard David once he started whining and I thought they must have all developed a high selective hearing condition because this type of whining was impossible to ignore. After getting to know the dad I asked him why MacBooks don't have a USB port or CD drive and he laughed and said it was "all part of a larger plan" ...ya, to make money I teased. He responded with an all too well rehearsed "Can you wait for the second version?"

Future Duke of Yorkshire. He was part of a bigger group traveling with Andrew's family, and after about two stiff drinks this rather scrawny and pale English boy named Edward or "Eddie" divulged that he "rather fancied [me]." He actually stole a guide's machete, ripped off his shirt and asked me, "Would you kiss me if I told you I tamed lions?" When I bit my lip and swallowed my laughter he quickly removed his glasses and asked, "how about now?" I was rolling after that, along with everyone else, and it's one of my fondest memories of any car ride at Ol Malo. I did get out of the car, bow in his presence and kiss his hand just to be fair. That's probably the closest thing to royalty I am going to get without my sister being around. :)

There were also some authors, doctors, businessmen, a rich spanish guy we all called "oil tycoon," a few fun newlyweds, adorable babies I got to take care of for a few hours here and there, a guy who worked with Obama and had a bunch of pics on his camera of funny things in the White House (like dancing on tables and licking statues!), and then just some small families vacationing in Africa looking for some adventure. I really got along with most the guests and insisted on hugging them all when they left. It is amazing how close you can get to people just by serving them their tea or swimming with their kids in the river during the course of only a few days.

I loved all my odd jobs at Ol Malo, and for every privilege I was awarded there was a lot of hard work to be done. I don't think I have ever been so fit and tan in my life after spending so much time in the hot sun doing so many different things. I am now known as one of the hardest working crazy Americans in Kenya which isn't a hard title to earn since there aren't many of us here. :)

More to come...

Love, Cacey

Friday, September 10, 2010

Arriving at Ol Malo

Hello everyone!

I am so sorry it has taken me so long to get these blog posts up, I have been away from the internet and it has been so lovely! :)

I want to start by acknowledging the huge difference in the subject matter of my posts in comparison to Ciara's posts. We are both experiencing different sides of Africa and are obviously both incredibly moved by them. I want to send Ciara my love for being so brave and strong for those babies. I can't wait to see her and help do what she's been doing for the past few months. Her spirit is absolutely incredible to me!

On the 8th of August I got on a plane from Wilson Airport and flew to Naynuki to meet a family friend of Guy's named Chyulu Smith. She rides horses for Kenya and was competing in a horse show there and is the fiance of Andrew Francombe whose parents own and operate Ol Malo. I was to find my way to the sports arena and drive up to Ol Malo with Chyulu after the competition.

I got off the eight-seater plane and my plan was to grab a taxi and ask where the sports arena was and wander around until I found Chyulu (who I'd only met once). As soon as I got off the plane and grabbed my bag from underneath a man came up to me and said, "Are you Kezi?" Close enough! I decided I was and asked him how he knew I would be here. :) He replied that blonde horse girl asked him to come pick me up and I decided in Africa this was the closest thing to a safe bet I was going to get and hopped into his taxi and prayed he would take me to the right place. Don't worry, he did! He also offered to take me climbing up Mt. Kenya someday because his second job is a guide for climbers, so I got his information and wandered around the sports arena looking for Chyulu. I found her quickly and decided to relax and enjoy the sunny weather since I'd been stuck in freezing Nairobi for weeks. After she was done we loaded up the horses, packed all the stuff away and headed down the road toward Ol Malo. After about five hours on a washed out dirt road, I thought I had a mild concussion from all the bouncing, but we had made it. The drive for the most part was absolutely beautiful and I was so excited to be getting farther and farther away from towns and cities; this was The Bush.

In the dark I could tell we were in the middle of nowhere and Chyulu and Andrew's newly built house didn't have electricity so I couldn't wait to find my bed and wake up to this place everyone revered so much. It took me a few minutes to find my tent in the dark, and I remember running into a large steel drum at one point and running into what seemed to be small structures built with sticks and grass. I slept soundly despite all the far away animal noises and woke up to a man "knocking" on my tent to serve me hot tea around 7am. Wow!

I spent the first four hours there learning how to clean horse tacking and it was a messy job! I hadn't seen much of the grounds yet, but it was green as far as I could see. From the horse stables I recognized both the Lodge (the original building where Rocky and Collin Francombe host guests) and the House (built four years ago, where Andrew and Chyulu host guests), each right up on the edge of the plateau overlooking the whole of Laikipia. After earning a professional degree in horse tacking-cleaning we headed down to the river to share lunch with some guests.

On the way down I saw both types of zebra they have at Ol Malo, giraffe, their camel herd, Impala, and elephant! The lunch site was the most beautiful picnic you've ever seen looking upstream on the Ewasso River right next to some rapids on a clean patch of sandy beach underneath a massive fig tree. I was in love already. We set up safari chairs, small oak wood tables, a small bar area, and a table full of fresh salads, quiches, fruit, and cheese for lunch with the guests. We had towels for everyone, intertubes for going down the rapids, a rugby ball, and lounging areas. I would get used to setting up this site many times but I was always amazed at how civilized and and luxurious a lunch in the middle of nowhere could be. We had a great lunch and the river was cool and refreshing, and after the guests left Andrew suggested I stay behind and help pack everything up.

This is where the hard work began, and it was a welcomed task having spent so much time with people not letting me lift a finger or clean up after myself at all. The hot sun factored into the speed of our work, but after about an hour the three guys from the house and I had everything loaded up onto camels and we started walking towards where the car had been hidden. It is about a fifteen minute walk uphill from the lunch site to the car and carrying baskets full of wet towels and jugs of water wasn't easy. I was happy to see the car, and we unloaded the camels and started loading up the vehicle. This took another 20 minutes and we loaded into the back of the truck right as the sun was setting. On the drive up we looked for game, discussed where my ancestors came from and they tried to teach me some Swahili and Samburu. The latter is the language the local tribe near Ol Malo speak, and it is very different from Swahili. I would come to know all the kitchen guys and drivers very well, and we were friends quickly.

Upon arriving at the Lodge I was instructed in broken English to go back to Andrew and Chyulu's house because I smelled bad. I giggled at their honesty and headed toward where I thought was Andrew and Chyulu's house. :) Well about 30 minutes later (literally on the correct trail it takes five minutes to walk to their house from the Lodge) I arrived in the dark to their house sans flashlight or torch of any kind, with a huge gash in my left leg with a thorn stuck inside it about 3/4 an inch.

I literally ran straight into Muriuki, the man who served me tea that morning, and he told me my shower was ready. I didn't know quite how that worked since a shower is ALWAYS "ready" and was pleasantly surprised by the accommodations. My shower was basically a tin bucket with a fawcet head coming out of the bottom, with water heated by a small fire from underneath the steel drum I ran into the night before. The water is hoisted up by a rope thrown over the branch of a tree and a flat rock is placed underneath for you to stand on. So clever! The shower area itself is enclosed by large branches and filled in with grass. It is surprisingly private and works very well! I had a hot shower under the stars and thanked God for allowing me to be in such an extraordinary place. Then I remembered I had a gash on my leg and quickly went back to my tent to sort things out. I brought my first aid kit and decided it would be more fun to use the gloves and sterilize the tweezers to get out the acacia thorn. I thought I was being so brave and rugged sitting in my tent performing small surgery on myself, but the reality is I might have only gotten on stitch at any hospital and any African would have just pulled it straight out, dusted off the dirt and slapped the leg and said "I'm fine." Well I'm from California and I thought I was being brave. :) I butterflied the thing and got dressed for dinner and didn't mention my adventurous hike to anyone.

Dinner is a always a four course meal beginning with cocktails and ending with fresh ginger or mint tea. I served drinks in the beginning and helped host during the meal and took wake-up tea/coffee orders for the following morning. Every meal goes down relatively the same in each of the different breakfast/dinner/lunch settings and I learned quickly the order of business and my role and hostess with an eager enthusiasm.

The first day, although I didn't know it at the time, was a very typical day at Ol Malo: wake up early, have tea, organize the guest's day, go to the House and help prepare either breakfast or lunch, go down to the river and set up lunch site, pack everything up, get back and shower, serve drinks before dinner, eat dinner, prepare for the next day, sleep like a rock. There was a certainty you'd run into some kind of danger or have an adventure of some kind. This guaranteed bit of excitement made every day different and so much fun. I could make a blog for every day in the near month that I stayed there, and am so thankful to have learned so much about the Samburu tribes, the people who lived and worked at Ol Malo, the animals, the land, and some interesting high-profile guests we spent so much time with. I am forever grateful to the Francombe's for allowing me to stay in that tent I came to appreciate so much and for feeding me and keeping me safe but on my toes. I feel like a different person having stayed there and seen so much, and I hope you enjoy reading about all the different facets of Ol Malo through my experience.

I will keep blogging as fast as I can, because I leave for Mwanza in three days! I can't wait to see Ciara. I miss everyone so much, and am looking forward to December when I can give my parents and brother long obnoxious hugs. :)

Love, Cace