Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Final Goodbye

As I am sitting in Baby Class, grading final exams and making sure that they can re-write the number “2” multiple times, I hear the lunch bell. My heart starts beating faster and faster, and I can feel a knot in my stomach starting to coil up. I know that I will have to say my goodbyes in just a few minutes. As I walk outside, I am handed goodbye notes from left and right and am being hugged and pulled every which way. It somehow feels unreal to me, like I am not present.

How can this be happening? I have been dreading this moment since the first day I laid eyes on the children that would soon be taking a piece of my heart. Within the first five minutes of arriving at LOAMO the first day, I clicked with all the children. They were willing to invite me into their lives and give me all their love. Therefore, these amazing, natural friendships are not an easy thing to let go of. After countless hugs and goodbyes to all the amazing kids that I will never forget, it was time to go.

However, we didn’t have to say our final goodbyes to Class Six and Seven. We planned a dance for them and all the teachers and staff. I have never seen kids so excited for something that was so simple and easy. When I walked in to Class Six earlier that day, each student showed the whole class, one by one, what their outfit was going to be for the dance. They couldn’t believe that they wouldn’t have to wear their school uniform.  The enthusiasm that was filling the children was incredible.            

We quickly decorated the venue, Maasai Camp, and made food for them. We had only two short hours to complete all of our duties. Who knew that Fairy Bread was a popular item in Tanzania? You simply load butter onto white bread, then add colorful sprinkles… this was new to me. It had to be healthy. We cut 1,000 orange slices, and made plenty of other food to ensure that everyone left the dance feeling full. We quickly decorated the club, hanging up streamers, and creating the word “LOVE” with a bunch of paper hearts that said each student and teacher’s name inside of the heart.

As soon as the kids arrived, there was no holding back. Everyone ran onto the dance floor and showed their moves. It was so different than a middle school dance back home where everyone would just sit around the dance floor. The vibe here was amazing, and boy, can those kids dance!

When the generator shut off, it was our dreaded cue to say goodbye. We all proceeded outside into a circle. A few students formed a line and started giving each one of us a white rose and a red rose. The white rose symbolized peace, the red was for love, and the green stem and leaves for health. We were also each given a beaded bracelet. This was very emotional for me, and I couldn’t believe that the time had come. After the touching ceremony, we proceeded to say our goodbyes. There were long hugs and lots of tears.  All of the kids got into the school bus and were sticking their heads out the window. I walked up to the last window, and I saw my best friend, Meek, hanging out of it holding out his arm for me to hold. I did not let go of his hand until the bus pulled us apart. 

After the bus left, I just felt numb. I didn’t realize that I may never see those incredible kids again. However, I wouldn’t be feeling heartbroken if the kids and staff at LOAMO hadn’t made such a mark on my heart, so I know that all of these feelings are out of love. I have learned so many lessons on how to live a happy life from these kids. Appreciate the small things, accept others, and love no matter what your situation might be. I am extremely thankful that I was granted with this opportunity, and that these kids came into my life.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Simple Yet Complicated

We come from a world where the majority of people don’t know how to listen to others. It is a very simple task, yet somehow can be unmanageable for mankind to achieve. People are taught to put a smile on their face, even if they feel pain. It’s crazy to think that every person you walk past in the grocery store, post office, mall, or any public place has their own story, their own struggles, and their own emotions. The average person may know only a few people’s stories and true feelings.

On such a short trip, I have been able to connect with and hear the stories of so many people. Not only have several individuals and families opened up to me, but I also have met people who are willing to hear my story. What’s amazing is that the only thing it took was to listen and to be listened to.

Almost every night, our group has had deep, therapeutic discussions before bed. Sometimes we are asked fun and silly questions, but other times we are asked to share uncomfortable situations that we are used to keeping bottled up. It is very refreshing to have a group of people keep quiet and just listen to you talk; I am so used to being interrupted by people, or have people revert your story back to them, and it is nice to finally be heard.

Throughout this trip, we have gone on many home visits. The people that we visit have a very hard time affording essential items, have had loved ones pass away, or have fatal illnesses that they can’t treat. It might be a little intimidating for the families when a group of “wazungus” (white people) come into your home and bombard you with questions, but for them to know that someone cares is very important. All of the home visits have been to the house of someone who is connected to LOAMO – that of a student, a teacher, or someone from kitchen crew.

Happy faces with smiles from ear to ear, kids running around, and laughs that you just want to record and listen to whenever you are down are just some of the things that you get to experience at LOAMO. So hearing that I am going on a home visit to the house of someone that I see smiling and laughing everyday is emotionally challenging for me. Coming to the realization that the child who always comes running up to you, jumps into your arms, and seems so perfect and innocent, goes home to a one-bedroom house shared by four other people is heartbreaking. It is amazing to see that people with so little have so much love to share. I wish people in America had more love to share. These kids have inspired me to not take anything that I have for granted and to love with all my heart. I am beyond grateful.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

It Is Easy To Forget

Have you ever wondered why we live the way we do? It is very easy to forget your morals and values. It is easy to forget that we are all human; no one is better than anyone. It is easy to forget that we were put on this planet to love, create peace, and live in unity.

The African way of life is truly amazing and can be a lesson that everyone can learn from. Every step I take there is a wave, a handshake, a smile, a “mambo” and a “karibu”. What stood out to me most was that there is no ego here. This is very different for me because in America, there is a huge separation of classes. It would be rare if a CEO of a company talked to the janitors or the hired help. However, people here in Africa treat others as equal to themselves. They see no separation in different social classes, even if they might be at the top of that pyramid. The kitchen staff at LOAMO is treated equal to the headmaster or even the founder of the school. Yesterday at LOAMO, I brought picture books to read to the 3-year-olds. Little did I know I would be reading to a much larger audience. Two teachers came up to me with the picture books and asked me if they could practice their reading with me. They would read the book, sound out the words, and laugh at themselves when they would mess up. They were willing to learn even if it meant reading “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” and “Mr. Seahorse” to someone who was 15 years younger than them. This may have been normal to them and their everyday attitude towards life, but it made a huge impression on me. Let go of your ego and just enjoy life without worrying about what your social status is going to be or what others will think of you. It is easy to forget that we are all the same. It is easy to forget that one doesn’t need to act high and mighty to earn respect.

It is easy to forget that you don’t need to stay mad at people in order to show and prove that you are mad and that they did something wrong. One of God’s main purposes is to have others forgive each other no matter what the circumstance is, because that is what he does for us everyday. Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to go on another home visit. Madame Juliet, the 3rd grade teacher at LOAMO, took us to her mother’s house. This house was not in a nice part of town; some people would even say it is the ghetto. Living there was Patricia, who is Juliet’s mother, and Patricia’s three grandchildren who are fourteen, twelve, and three. These children belong to Juliet’s brother. He does not live with them because there is not enough room in the house, and his children do not live with him because he has been jobless since 2007 and cannot support them. The mother ran away after the first two children were born, came back to drop off the youngest child, and left again. Juliet financially and mentally supports three children that are not her own; however, she would argue that they are most definitely her babies.  Later on we asked Juliet if she has resentment towards the mother for leaving the children for her to take care of. With a smile on her face she replied, “Not at all. I am very sad she left because we miss her and we loved her very much.” My jaw dropped open when she said this. For a woman to take care of three children, along with her own child, and to not hold a grudge towards the mother, was amazing.

It is easy to forget this simple yet amazing way to live life. You are only given one life, and to spend it holding grudges, being rude, and not treating others as equals is a shame. I have truly learned an amazing lesson that will carry me through tough times for my whole li

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A World Apart

It’s strange to think, and easy to forget, how diverse the world is. One thing might be a necessity to one country and unknown to another. I have been realizing and pondering this many times throughout this trip. It can be sad and puzzling that some countries don’t have essential things that get many people through the day, however, it can also be very incredible how unique different cultures can be.

Yesterday I was able to hear about a situation that was unlike anything I have ever heard of. Noella, an eleven-year-old girl who attends LOAMO as a 3rd grader, was nice enough to invite us into her house to learn about her story.

After a very bumpy ride down a dirt road that lead through a village, crammed into a minivan, we ended up in a peaceful area with tall trees, green landscape, and a small, tucked away, cabin-like house. As we were walking down towards the house, a little old woman with brightly colored, traditional African apparel swiftly walked towards us with a smile on her face that stretched from ear to ear and hugged each and every one of us. We were invited into the small, two bedroom house, and she insisted that we all sit down in the living room. The house consisted of a living room with about three chairs, a couple of benches, and two small bedrooms in the back. The family would cook all of the food outside over the fire since there was no kitchen. The house had wires and electrical outlets throughout it, but we later learned that there has never been electricity there because of the cost.

As soon as we were seated we started asking questions with the assistance of Ms. Flora, one of the teachers at LOAMO, to help translate. We noticed that the mother of Noella was not there, only her grandmother and father, so the first question we asked was where her mother is. We learned that her mother died from HIV when Noella was only three months old. The family never talks about Noella’s mom because it is not culturally acceptable to grieve over someone for long. The family gets three days to grieve after a loved one has passed, and then they must go on with their daily lives. After asking more questions we also learned that Noella’s father, as well as Noella, are both HIV positive. One thing that shocked me the most is that Noella did not know, but we are assuming so now, after our visit; her father thinks that she is too young. They both take medicine every morning; however, Noella is still constantly getting sick because her immune system is so weak. On top of Noella’s sickness, she also has a skin disease. It looks like a spotted birthmark that is covering her body. It does not itch nor hurt her, but I can tell that she is very self-conscious about it because she is constantly covering her face with her hand and wearing a hat. Noella and her father both get free medicine at the clinic for their HIV, but her father said that he can no longer afford medicine for her skin.
We all left Noella’s house feeling sad and curious about why her father wouldn’t tell Noella about her sickness. We feel that it can affect her life in years to come and she deserves to know. However Jodie, the owner of the house that we are staying in, said that hearing that you are HIV positive in Africa is equivalent to going to the doctor in the US and hearing that you have the flu.

The way of life here is very different to life as we know it. Families in the US will grieve a death for years and years, and if someone were to be HIV positive it would almost feel like your life was over. No culture is right or wrong, they are just different and that is what makes the world so unique. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

No Money- No Problem

“One does not need money in order to be happy.” This is a term that is nonchalantly thrown around
but I haven’t completely embraced, nor understood it until this trip.

Three students were able to do a home visit yesterday, but this was no ordinary home visit. This was for Mr. Kimaro, a computer teacher at LOAMO, who is endlessly living in survival mode.

At school Mr. Kimaro always has a huge smile on his face, makes the children laugh, and is very educated as well. He always looks very nice with a sports jacket and button down shirt every day. So, by judging on the outside, one would think that he is able to go home to a nice house and warm dinner every night.

The visiting group described Mr. Kimaro’s neighborhood as being an area with about ten tin “pods.” At first they thought that all of the ten pods belonged to Mr. Kimaro because each pod is smaller than the average American bedroom. They soon realized that Mr. Kimaro rents two of the pods. One was like a living room with a small stove that is usually not in use because the family cannot afford propane, and the other pod has one small bed to sleep in. Mr. Kimaro has a family of five: a four-month-old baby girl, a 3-year-old girl, and a 7-year-old boy. The mother and children sleep in the bed together while Mr. Kimaro sleeps on a foam mat on the floor.

When Mr. Kimaro is unable to teach because of a school break, he works day-to-day jobs. He will sometimes Sherpa up Mt. Kilimanjaro to carry 70 pounds of things for rich tourists, and he will maybe get paid 5,000 shillings, which is equivalent to three dollars in American money.

This got me thinking: why do I deserve a warm house, a huge bed to myself, and a guaranteed meal three times a day? What have I done in order to earn this wonderful, fortunate life? Why doesn’t Mr. Kimaro deserve the life I was given? It makes me feel guilty about every time I have complained about being too full because I had eaten too much, or the Internet being too slow, or cursing the TV because it isn’t working.

Mr. Kimaro’s story has truly astounded me and has really touched me. Coming from the United States, where most people put themselves before others, it was wonderful to hear how selfless Mr. Kimaro is. All of his hard work is for his family; he would put them before himself any day.

Even though Mr. Kimaro has a much tougher life that most people, he is very grateful for the things that he does have, like a family to love and a place to sleep, even if it is on a thin foam mat. I hope this way of life can someday take over the US, and I will do my best to be more appreciative of the luxuries I have. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Pure Happiness

Pure Happiness

After two days of non-stop travel, 5 hour layovers, and airplane food you have never seen in your life, it sure was an amazing feeling when our plane flew directly next to Mt. Kilimanjaro. The snow capped, unreal, majestic-looking mountain was breath taking. These past five days have been filled with endless amounts of joy and laughter. It’s refreshing to be around people that don’t have many materialistic items, but they sure do have an abundant amount of joy.

From touring the town of Arusha with the infamous Rasta John, walking though the very busy and crowded food market, touring a museum with the most beautiful art I have ever seen, and experiencing my first Dala Dala (which is a 10 person van that crams 20 people in it with full bodies hanging out the window), it is safe to say it was a day filled with memories that will last a lifetime.

Our first volunteer opportunity was at Cradle of Love… which is now hands down my favorite place on earth. Cradle of Love is an orphanage for infants and toddlers that have been neglected, abandoned in corn fields, or are unable to be taken care of by their parents. My heart instantly melted when I first saw the babies. We arrived when they were waking up from their naps; they filed out of their rooms holding their arms up being attracted to us like magnets. All they wanted was some love and attention, and believe me… that is just what they got. The smiles and giggles at every silly face you make and tickle you gave filled my whole body with warmth and joy.

Monday was our first day we worked at LOAMO: the school we will be at for the remainder of our trip. Immediately walking into the school, smiles, giggles and whispers were peeking out of doorways. Finally all at once everyone came running to us and clung onto us like their life depended on it. They were in awe about my hair. The whole day the girls and boys would play with it and touch it. If a piece of hair would fall out they would all fight over who got to keep it. This continues to show me that one doesn’t need to have a new car, or a shopping spree to make them happy.

The youngest class at LOAMO is baby class with kids ranging from 3-5, next in Kindergarten, then Pre Prep, and then classes 1-6. I have been working with class six for the past two days and will continue to for the next week. It is very easy to communicate with the children there because they have all of their classes in English so they can understand you perfectly. I have been able to grow so close to these kids and I know they will always have a special place in my heart. Each day I find a new note written in my notebook from the 6th graders telling me how much they love me.

Getting up in front of the classroom and teaching about past participle verbs, malnutrition, and geography about Africa can be very intimidating at times, however, there is no judgment with these kids. This experience has already started to shape me to be a better person and change my outlook on life. One doesn’t need to have materialistic items to be happy. A simple piece of hair can make their world.