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!