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