Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Compassion Joys: April

I love recounting my Compassion blessings each month- and I love reading other people's Compassion Joys, too! Click the button below to visit Jill's blog and link up, or read some other posts!

 Compassion Family


This month we got three letters from Carlos in Peru, one letter from Prayer in Indonesia, and a first letter from Patricia in Brazil! Two of Carlos' letters were delayed a bit, as they were written in December.




New Kids!

Two weeks ago, I received a new correspondence child in Haiti! His name is Kevenel and his birthday is June 16! He's just 7 years old! He's sooooo cute. I'm really happy to have a Haitian child again, after Joane left the program last year! I have a lot of love in my heart for Haiti!


My mom also got a new correspondence child this month, and I'm really excited for her. Her child in Burkina Faso was pulled from the program a month or two ago, and she just got around to asking for another child. She now has 12 year old Swati in India!


This month I was able to send gifts to four of my kids! Katie C. is taking two bags to Peru for Carlos and Mishel, and Kim H. is taking two bags to Honduras for Sandier and Eduardo! I haven't had my Honduran boys for very long, so it was a little hard to shop for them. But hopefully they like the things I was able to send!


I'm doing another fundraiser with Apparent Project to raise money for the moms and dads in Haiti, and for my next trip with Compassion. I'd appreciate your prayers for success in this fundraiser. I sold quite a few items in the first few days, but since then, nothing. I would really like to sell all of the items I have, because that would mean $750 for Haitian families. I have them for a few more weeks, so we'll see! I thought it was neat that my Haitian jewelry arrived the same day that we got Kevenel. Maybe I'm supposed to go to Haiti for my next trip? : )

I'm looking forward to reading everyone else's Compassion Joy posts!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sweet Greetings from Indonesia

It's Mail Call Monday once again!

It's a one letter week, but that's better than a no-letter week! This week we heard from Prayer in Indonesia.

Prayer opened his letter with "I hope Mrs Jessi is doing well." He shared that he and his family are doing well. He also told me about some recent natural disasters in Indonesia. There has been a lot of rain and flooding, and some landslides. The problem was pretty widespread, but Prayer and his family are ok- their village just had some heavy rain and wind. I'm glad that they're safe, and I hope that Tasya's family wasn't too badly affected, either! 

I've got to get to work on another batch of letters to send out, too! My city's most famous even, the Kentucky Derby, is coming up this weekend. The Derby festival is an exciting time where I live- there are fireworks, parades, balloon races, and other fun things going on! My extended family also celebrates my birthday on that weekend, anywhere between a week and a few days early. So Derby's extra fun, because of cake and presents! : ) I always write to my kids about the Derby festival, since it's the most interesting thing that happens around here! My cousin and his family are coming up from Florida for the Derby, too, and I finally get to meet my baby cousin Brooklyn- she's 1 year old now! It will be fun to spend time with her while her mom, dad, and big brother are at the race! 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Sweet Greetings from Peru

It's Mail Call Monday once again!

This week I was really surprised to get two letters from Carlos in Peru! I had already received a few letters from him recently, and those were dated in December. Usually it just takes about 6 weeks for Carlos and Mishel's letters to get here from Peru, so I think there was a little bit of a back log. The letters I received this week were written in March!

Carlos shared a little more about his birthday, which was in November. He said that he got two shirts with the birthday money we sent, and that his friends gave him a surprise party at his house! He also said that his favorite food is ceviche (which is raw fish that's "cooked" in citrus, it's really yummy) and that his favorite soccer team is Real Madrid. His favorite player is Cristiano Ronaldo, because of how he "dominates the ball." I love learning more about my kids' favorites! Carlos also said that he likes to study history and learn about his forefathers.

I also have some fun outgoing mail this week! I've got two small baggies heading to Honduras for Eduardo and Sandier, thanks to Kim H., who is heading there in May! I got a Spanish Bible, a small journal, some pens and pencils, and a pocketknife for Eduardo, and Sandier is getting a coloring book, pencils, crayons, bubbles, a t-shirt, and some wind-up cars! Both boys are getting bubblegum and Airheads candy, too! I'm really excited to send these things. And a few weeks ago, I got to send two small bags to Carlos and Mishel, too! I can't wait to hear from them and find out what they thought of the gifts I sent!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sweet Greetings from Brazil and India

It's Mail Call Monday again!

Today I got two letters! And no bills! That's always exciting. : )

The first letter I opened was from Jayid in India.

Jayid's letter was called "How I Have Fun." It was all about what he likes to do in his free time! Jayid shared that he likes to play games at home. At the project, he enjoys games, stories, and drawing. He also likes cricket and carrom, which is a board game. I looked it up, and it's apparently a little like billiards or table shuffleboard. Jayid also said that during school holidays, he likes to play outside. He also enjoys Sunday school and music club at the project. Jayid's letters are always written by a project worker. This time they shared that he asks for prayer for his dad, and that he will be having annual exams this month.

I was also very excited to get my first letter from Patricia in Brazil!

Patricia was added to our account at the beginning of December. Early in April, I sent Compassion an email asking if they could look into whether or not a letter was on the way. In the process I also learned a little more about the letter-writing changes that Compassion has made over the past year and a half! Anyway, they said that Patricia had a letter on the way, and sure enough, here it is!

Patricia opened her letter with "Hello, dear Jessi Jones!" She says she's doing great, and she had a vacation at home with her family. She played with her friends, helped her mother, and went to church. Now she is back at school (in the 7th grade) and the project. She said that the project is very nice, and she is "in MQV2." I don't know what that means, though, and google wasn't much help! She closed the letter with, "I expect to get a letter from you. Kisses!" and she drew little hearts by her name. The translator then made a keyboard heart when they typed up the translation, which was a sweet touch that I appreciated. : )

Now that Patricia's first letter has arrived, I am going to ask for another correspondence child! I'd like to take on a few more, if Compassion will let me. I have been on a mission to get folks to write letters, and take on more correspondence kids, since I got back from my trip!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Innocent's Story

Hearing the testimony of Innocent* was a big part of what finally made me break down emotionally on one of the last days of our Tanzanian tour. I think that my book knowledge of the world and the circumstances in which our sponsor kids live helped prepare me for some of the things I was going to see, like the small houses and torn clothes and other things that are sad on the eyes and the heart. But sometimes, you can't prepare. You can't prepare yourself for some of the challenges that people face, around the world. It's not just Tanzania, but it's definitely something I haven't encountered back home.

While we were visiting one of the last centers on the tour, a few of the kids stood up to give their testimonies. In many ways, the testimonies by all of the kids were the same. They talked about the ways that they had been helped or changed in the four primary areas Compassion works to help: physical, socio-emotional, cognitive, and spiritual. That means the kids work on health-related stuff (hygiene lessons, for example), relational issues (whether it's obeying your parents or how to be a good friend), educational (tutoring and other lessons) and growing in their faith. We heard that list repeated many times throughout the trip.

Then Innocent stood up to tell her story. I have no idea how old she was. It's hard to tell with these kids. I'm guessing maybe around 13. She was small. She started out by telling us that her life has changed for the better since she was registered with Compassion in 2009. "When I started coming to the center, I was a stubborn child." And we all laughed, because it's cute when kids admit that they're stubborn. We never guessed what would have come next.

"The devil used me in many ways that I had no control over. I killed many children."

Innocent went on to describe that when she was younger, she was sent to kill people- children in hospitals,  children in their homes, parents and elders. Witchcraft was mentioned. It was unclear to me as to whether this was the method used for what she was describing, or if it was physical, in-person. I don't want to think about it. I didn't want to ask about it. Innocent went on to say that she knows that she had no control over the things that happened when she was younger. And she told us that she doesn't belong to the enemy anymore. She belongs to Jesus. She has been released from those shackles. Bought and paid for by the redeeming blood of Christ.

If Compassion hadn't been there, if they hadn't partnered with this church, and made the resources available for Innocent to be registered and begin receiving the benefits of the sponsorship program, where would she be now? Would she still be used as an instrument of the destroyer? Would she ever get the chance to know Jesus?

I know that many of us are aware that our sponsor children live in areas where people practice other religions, like animism and local religious practices. I think that since we aren't used to that kind of stuff in the Western world, we don't think much about it. If we get a new sponsor child, we may assume they're already a Christian. Or if they're not now, they will be soon. We may assume that if their families aren't Christians, that they are indifferent at best. I know that I have read about local religions being practiced in some of the areas where my kids live. But I never thought about the people that those other religions affect. I assume my kids are safe and I think I forget about everyone else. I forget about the kids that aren't in the program. The families that aren't near one of these churches. Because I hadn't seen any of their faces, I just didn't think about them. But now it's personal for me.

I can never come close to describing what it was like being in that church, hearing Innocent's testimony. In fact, it was while I was journaling about her testimony later that afternoon that I had to call my mom, and just burst into tears. Remembering it hurt too much. Thinking about how scary it all was hurt too much. And I was so afraid, for all the other children. How many millions are living in areas where there are no Compassion projects? There are almost 70,000 children registered in Compassion's program in Tanzania. Do you know how many children live there, though? The population is over 45 million. Over half of those are children. The majority of them are under the age of 15. Over 20 million many of them are safe? And that's just in Tanzania. Evil can be found in every country and every continent. It's a scary thought.

Before I got home, I knew I needed to share Innocent's story. I needed you to know that it's not just economic bondage that these children are dealing with. Compassion's mission is to "release children from poverty in Jesus' name." But that's not all they're doing. They're releasing children, and their families, from the grip of evil. They're protecting them not only physically, but spiritually. They're partnering with local churches to serve the earthly needs of the people, but they're also equipping the church to give people a chance to know freedom in Christ. I think that I needed you to know that these kids face bad things bigger than dirty water and a lack of education. This is the real world for them. The more I think about it, the more sure I am that Innocent was not the only person at that project affected by this stuff. I mean, each project has 200-250 kids. She can't be the only one. Remember this when you're praying for your sponsor kids. Remember to pray for their spiritual well-being. Remember to tell them to put on the full armor of God. Remember to pray for the project staff, too. They'e warriors on the front line.

Below you'll find some kids who are waiting for a sponsor. They all live in areas that we visited during our trip. If you're unable to sponsor a child at this time, please be praying that these kids find sponsors soon. The more children that are sponsored, the more that can be registered and begin receiving all the benefits of Compassion's program!

Pius has been waiting 499 days for a sponsor. He is 15 years old, and his birthday is January 30. He lives in the Katesh region. He has 7 brothers and sisters. Families that are able to earn income in this area usually earn an average of $10 per month. 

Happy is 18 years old, and her birthday is November 11. She lives in the Iringa region. She is still in middle school but her performance is above average. She also attends a Mennonite church. Families in this region that are able to earn income usually make an average of $10 per month. 

Christina is 17 years old, and her birthday is November 25. She lives in the Kisaki region. Christina attends center 814, which I visited on our trip! She lives with her grandparents and three other children. Families in this region that are able to earn income make an average of $3 per month. Also, you can click here to read about the day that I visited Christina's center. 

Hamidu has been waiting over 6 months for a sponsor. He is 10 years old, and his birthday is September 24. He lives with his mom and five siblings. Hamidu lives in the Singida region, and attends center 901. I didn't visit this center, but I believe that the other half of my tour group did. Families in this area that are able to earn an income usually make about $48 per month. 

*Innocent's name has been changed for her protection

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Tanzania Tour Recap: Days 11 &12

And so begins the recap of our last day in Tanzania. We woke up on Tuesday and headed to breakfast. I wish I had felt better on this leg of the trip, in part because the hotel provided some foods that I really like for breakfast and dinner. The breakfast buffet was just as large as the dinner buffet, with an omelette bar, breads with a toaster oven, bacon, fruit, cereals, little pancake thingies...and baked beans. No one understood why there were baked beans on the buffet. But I knew! There is still European/British influence over here (like having tea) and, while I've never been to England, I read a lot of British authors. One of my favorite series talks about eating beans on toast for breakfast, or eating chips and beans. I would have been quite happy to have beans on toast, but my recent experiences with my tummy convinced me not to have them. On Tuesday, I woke up with some major sinus issues. I just had a few cups of hot chocolate and a roll with butter for breakfast. I was so thankful for that hot chocolate! It made my face feel better and was very comforting.

I gathered up all the tissues I brought on the trip, we loaded up the buses, and headed off to the Tanzania country office. We had a little it of a drive- I think it was about an hour and a half. The Compassion offices are the bottom two or three floors of an office building in Arusha. To get into the building, our big bus had to turn into a very narrow drive, drive down a hill, and pull into a very tight parking lot. Our driver was amazing- there were many times when it seemed we were about an inch or two from scraping a wall or another car. This building was definitely not designed to have visits from buses!

My bus arrived second. We were already running a little late, by maybe 20 or 30 minutes. Devotions and worship were supposed to start at 8, and it had been our goal to get there in time. We got out of the bus, and saw this big fat wormy thing crawling in a drainage ditch. He left a trail of slime. I have no idea what he is, but he was interesting looking, so I took a picture to show to my husband (the guy who will call me while I'm headed to work to tell me about a big moth he saw on a wall.) There were some washrooms outside, marked Ladies and Gents, and a few people stopped in to use them. I asked if they were "holes or toilets." They said holes, but very nice, with tiles, toilet paper, and they were flushable. I started wondering if I could wait until we got to the airport that night- I'm sure the facilities wouldn't be great at the market we'd be visiting later in the day, but I definitely prefer real toilets to the holes in the ground. We got inside the building and headed to the common area- the other group was already inside, and worship had started. We came into a big room filled with nice chairs, and a space in the middle with a projector screen. The group, Compassion staff and fellow travelers, were singing an unfamiliar worship song. We got there in time to listen to two or three songs with them. I sat on the end of a row, with my purse, my tissues, and my biiiiiiig plastic bag filled with gifts for other sponsors! I looked down at one point and noticed I had a big yellow streak on my hand and arm. I had packed the gifts in the biggest plastic bag I had, which I got in the Amsterdam airport when I bought my purse. It was bright yellow, and apparently, the dye they use is very friendly and comes off the bag easily. Baby wipes to the rescue!

We spent the next four hours listening to presentations by the different departments of the country office. We also saw some familiar faces- Philbert, Raphael, Pando, Peter, and Jennifer (I didn't see Hellen there, but there were lots of people) who had traveled with us for the past week. I also saw some folks who had come to our fun day and acted as translators. I didn't spot the nice man who helped me with my boys, but I saw a few ladies who had been helping some of my friends. The presentations were really great- I wish I had been able to record them, because there was so much information in there. I remember some bits and pieces. We were able to ask questions after each presentation, too. Since the information I remember is so scattered and random, I'll just share some bullet points, and see what pops into my brain.

  • The folks who "supervise" different projects are called partnership facilitators. I also heard them called CFPs. Each CFP is assigned at least 15 centers to oversee and help out. They're required to visit each one at least three times a year, but each project usually gets more visits than that. 
  • Tanzania is divided into four or five regions by Compassion. One of these is the Lake region, up by Lake Victoria. There aren't as many centers there. The biggest region is the central region. It includes a huge land area and many, many cities. As more centers are added, the central region will be further broken down. 
  • There are currently no CDCs on Zanzibar. I asked if they had plans to go there, and what it would take to make that happen. They said that there are churches on Zanzibar that are ready, but there are other factors that have to be considered to make that happen. It's all up to God's timing. 
  • Many more churches in Tanzania would like to partner with Compassion. One thing that they have to look at, though, is whether or not they'd be able to get sponsors for those kids. The way it was explained to us, Compassion does number crunching and determines, for each country, "this is how many new sponsors we're projecting for you to have this year." That's what helps determine how many new centers they can open. 
  • Compassion recently opened CDCs in two regions in the southern area of the country (I wish I had written them down!) The area is extremely poor and has some enormous economic struggles. They are also almost entirely Muslim. The department head doing this presentation said that the local faith leaders did not want Compassion coming to work there, but after a while, the people basically said "we are struggling. We need help, and they can help us. We want to do this, even if they don't share our beliefs." It seemed to me that the local faith leaders still weren't too happy about it, but no one can deny the good things that Compassion brings when they begin working in a community. 
  • My friend Pando, who sat beside me on almost every bus ride (and would surprise me with random questions, like "Why did Detroit go bankrupt" and talked a lot about current events), is a field researcher. He does interviews and writes papers after Compassion puts forth things that I want to call experiments, but that's probably not the correct term. He told us about a report he was finishing up. Compassion handed out 8,000 water filtration systems to families in an area. And each water filter makes so much clean water that it benefits more than just the family that has it. They're able to share with friends and neighbors. Anyway, Pando then did a survey of 200 of those families. He found some amazing things  For example, before the water filters, over 50% of adults were experiencing waterborne illnesses, and over 60% of children. After the water filters, the incidence of illness in children dropped to 11%, and in adults, less than 2%!!! Pando said that one reason the rate of illness in children hadn't dropped quite as much is because the kids are still going to school and accessing water there- and that water probably isn't coming from a filter. He said that he spoke to so many people who just cried talking to him. One woman said that she used to have to go to hospital every week because she was so sick, and it just kept happening. Over and over again. But she hadn't been back to the doctor since she got the water filter!
  • Students in the leadership development program are both education minded and service minded. They do a lot of service projects. Two LDP students were at the center we visited on Saturday, helping out on VBS day. I saw one of them, and I thought that he looked older! They helped serve lunch and assisted with some other things. LDP students are also required to participate in a sort of support group with other LDP students. It helps them grow as Christians, and they can encourage each other in their studies and in every day life. 
  • We also saw some photos of some families whose lives are being transformed by Compassion- they're receiving new houses. There was a family whose home was destroyed by flooding, and the home wasn't super sturdy looking to begin with. Then we saw the after photo. It looked like a proper house. A tiny one, but a house nonetheless. The homes that Compassion builds are three rooms- one for the parents or guardians, one for boys and one for girls. Cooking and washing up are still taken care of outside in other buildings. But these homes have floors and real walls and roofs. It was exciting to see. 
We did have a break in the presentations- time for tea! They had set up a table in the foyer of the building, with tea, coffee, hot chocolate and snacks. I was waiting in line and saw a bowl of something that looked very familiar- POTATO CHIPS. I asked my friends that were nearby: "are those chips? Real chips? Like, from a bag?" THEY WERE. You have no idea how exciting that was. They weren't quite as salty as American chips, but they had salt and were properly fried and had a bit of grease on them. Just like home. They might have been Lays. That's what they tasted like. There was also a bowl of almonds and some plantain chips. I filled a napkin with potato chips, made myself a cup of wonderful hot chocolate, and we stepped aside to look at the posters and signs to have a chat. I then noticed that there were more bathrooms inside. And do you know what was in there? Real toilets! I was so happy. I kept clapping my hands and singing little songs about the toilets and the chips. It was so wonderful. And did I mention there was air conditioning? The first we'd experienced on the trip. I heard some people saying they felt a little cold, and they were laughing about it. 

We had such a wonderful time with the Compassion staff at the country office. The head of Compassion Tanzania was so nice and wonderful to listen to. I think my favorite speaker was Sister Agnes. She's kind of Philbert's boss. She had  pretty braids and a pretty red dress and a big smile. And she was funny. I really liked her. 

Lunch was two levels up from where we spent the majority of the morning. On the second floor, there were offices, including the mail room. There were four people in there when I stopped by, working away. I didn't want to get in their way, so I took a blurry picture from the doorway.

Lunch was in a mostly empty room on the third floor, that had a few tables, desks, and plastic chairs. They served traditional foods for us- chicken, rice, pilau, greens, beans, fruit. The only difference from lunch at the centers was that they also served chapatis. I saw some people spooning their lunches onto chapatis and making a makeshift burrito for lunch! I didn't feel like eating much, so I ate some beans and rice and a little bit of banana. After we ate, we stayed in the same room and listened to two LDP students give their testimonies. One of them, Benson, is going to be president of Tanzania someday. He's charismatic and driven and he loves the Lord and loves his people. And he's been planning on being president since he was a kid! As we left, I shook his hand and told him I'd vote for him if I could. We got back on the buses and headed out to the market. 

The market was so stressful. Going in there stressed me out more than anything else on the trip. As we were on the way there, Keith was giving us all these pointers- stay in groups of three, don't take your purse, here's how to haggle, etc. I felt so freaked out that I claimed Keith as my market buddy and just stuck with him as we walked around. The market was interesting. It was a bit like an outdoor flea market, only extremely high pressure and very crowded. We only had about an hour there. There are women set up at the entrance to the market, selling their wares from blankets because they can't afford a stall. The stalls are dark and concrete. Everyone is hollering for you, grabbing your hand, insisting you come into their shop. One guy wouldn't give me my hand back when I wanted it. Tawnya took off her nametag because she felt weird after people kept hollering it at her. All the ladies called me sister, and several said they liked my skirt. The bad thing about the market is that everyone was selling basically the same stuff. Everywhere we went on the trip that sold souvenirs, it was all the same. I think that some things are made in Tanzania, and some things are imported. The bathroom break area/gift shop on the road to Singida, the market, the gift shop in Tarangire, the tiny stand at the mountain lodge, and even the shops in the airport- they all sell the same things. Here's a list. 
  • Wood carvings of various sizes
  • Soapstone carved animals
  • T-shirts, scarves, and wraps
  • Beaded sandals
  • Beaded necklaces and bracelets
  • Batik paintings
  • Postcards
  • Bottle openers
I did buy a few things at the market. Keith got a basket full of stuff for around $15 after a lot of haggling (he has a strategy and it's very effective.) I got a string of beaded cuff bracelets for my Bible study friends (I got them from a lady at the front, after her buddy around the corner was really rude and didn't want to give me any kind of a deal.) I felt good buying the bracelets because I know they're made right there- we saw some of the women working on them. They make seed bead bracelets, and these metal cuff things, and some other beaded projects. I got a wooden trinket box for my aunt (it had elephants on it, and they're her favorite animal) and some small carvings for both sets of grandparents and my cousin. Just little knick knacks. I really wanted to bring something back for them, but after a while I wasn't particularly interested in getting a souvenir for myself, which is definitely not what I would have expected. My boys brought me things, and I got my batika from the CSP and a collar necklace from Tarangire. 

We left the market and headed out. The sun was setting as we headed to the airport. The sky was beautiful. We had Mt. Meru in the distance behind us, and we knew that Kilimanjaro was nearby. We finally found it, but it was completely obscured by clouds. I took a picture. You can see a tiny bit of the slope on the horizon, on the right hand side of the photo.

Kilimanjaro is the dark blue-ish line on the right side of the horizon

And there's Mt. Meru, and the pretty sunset

Kilimanjaro airport is pretty small. There are just four gates, and they all share the same waiting area, and you have to walk out onto the runway to your plane. The only food in the airport is at the bar. There's a little grill that serves burgers, egg sandwiches and avocado sandwiches. We all had burgers, I think, with fries (chips.) Mayonnaise is the only condiment you can get on your burger, which is fine. If you want cheese, it's shredded. The burger itself was good- it had onions mixed in. They brought around ketchup for the fries, but in Tanzania, ketchup is tomato sauce. Literally, just tomato sauce. It's very runny and thin, but it helped. I was basically out of Kleenexes at this point, so I went to the little line of shops and asked around. They sell vaseline, but not Kleenexes. No tissues. No hankies. No nothing. I pretended I had spilled part of my drink and asked for more napkins at the bar...I got three. I was able to buy some magnets at the airport, though. The souvenir shop had asked way too much for them, but the airport shop had them for a decent price. I was really happy about that. My friend Jess and I collect fridge magnets- when she goes on a trip, she brings me one, and vice versa. So I got us some Kilimanjaro magnets. 

We were finally able to get on the plane, and I slept almost the whole time. We had to stop in Dar Es Salaam to let more people on, but I only woke up briefly for that. I was miserable at this point. Descending in the plane made my head feel like it was going to explode. I had my hands on my ears and my eyes were watering. I was trying really hard not to cry, because I felt whiny and I was embarrassed. One of the flight attendants was really nice and brought me a stack of napkins to keep with me. When we took off again, I went back to sleep, and didn't wake up until we were landing in Amsterdam- when my head was exploding again. 

We had a bit of a layover in Amsterdam, which was a relief. I stopped in the bathroom to freshen up, and then sought out a souvenir shop. I picked up more magnets for myself and Jess (little windmills that move!) and some souvenirs for my parents. I was running really, really low on money now. Really I had overspent, since I had to pay so much in baggage fees and everything getting there. I got my mom a pack of tulip pens (tulips are her favorite flower.) I wanted to bring my dad some flower bulbs, but they were too expensive after converting Euros to dollars. Instead, I got a heavy box of stroopwafels for him and my brother. Those are Dutch wafer cookies- they're thin waffle-looking things with a layer of syrup in between. They had them at the snack bar on the flight to Tanzania, and they were so good. You can get them in caramel or honey flavored. Then I left my carry-on luggage with my group near the gate, and went with Jeanie to find some breakfast. I got a hot chocolate and the best muffin I've ever eaten- chocolate with white chocolate chunks. It was so good. I never found any tissues, but when I came back to sit down with my group, my friend Emily said she had seen some. She offered to go get some for me, and I gave her the last of my money- a $10. I told her to bring me everything they had. She came back with a bag full of a dozen little Kleenex packets (they're folded differently in Europe, so they make a tinier package. And some were printed with cupcakes) along with $5 in change! Woohoo! My baggie of tissues and I headed onto the plane. For the last leg of our trip together, I was seated with Joyce, my family group leader. She had the window, and I settled in to watch TV. More of my favorite shows were available for watching on this flight, including three episodes of my absolute favorite- Arrested Development. It was comforting to be able to watch something I love, that always makes me laugh, when I was feeling so poorly. I watched all those and then watched Top Chef for the next 8 hours or so. I felt some better, but got a bit of an upset stomach as we were flying over New York. We landed, went through customs and immigration in America, and headed to find our bags. A few people had to race off to get to their flights, so we kept having to stop and say goodbyes as we waited for our bags. Once I got mine, I gave out a few hugs to some brave souls who were willing to hug me, said "see you around facebook"", and made my way to the sky train or whatever it's called to find my terminal. When I got there, I stopped at another souvenir shop. I spent the last bit of my money (I found a little more in my wallet) on two NYC magnets, and an incredibly expensive sandwich at Au Bon Pain. I ate and got on facebook and talked to my mom on the phone- without having to worry about the minutes! I was able to tell her a little more about my day with the boys, and she told me some stuff going on at home. 

My connecting flight to Charlotte ended up being very full, so they offered to check my carry-on at the gate. That was nice because I just had my purse to worry about. Strangely enough, out of all the flights I'd been on, the two domestic flights coming home were the least comfortable of all. A lady had a fit on the New York to Charlotte flight, because she wanted a book and some other stuff from her luggage....that was underneath the plane. They finally got her to sit back down, but security still greeted her at the gate. Fun. When I got to Charlotte, I found that my flight had been delayed. I wouldn't be leaving until when I was originally planning on landing in Louisville. I lost it. I was sick and hot and uncomfortable. I was exhausted and had been wearing the same clothes for a long time. I went in the bathroom and cried. It took a while to find my gate, because some bits of the flight info had been updated, but others hadn't. For example, the board said my flight was on time, but the gate had changed. So I got to the gate, but since my flight was actually delayed, they said another flight was there. I finally determined where I was supposed to be, went and got a drink, and came back to sit down. I dozed off a few times. There was another security issue with a man who swore he wasn't drunk insisting on taking the plane that left before ours. Closer to time for us to depart, several people wearing University of Kentucky shirts came and sat down. Most of them weren't traveling together. A college-aged girl sat across from me, and I told her I was so glad to see her shirt, because I'd been very far away from home, and it was so good to see another Cats fan. She smiled and said that we were playing really well (the tournament had just started.) And then we headed home. My parents, my husband, and my mother in law were waiting for me at the airport. It was dark and quiet. My mom was waiting for me with a box of Kleenex, some cold meds, and framed prints of the pictures of my boys that I had sent her two days before. I headed home, took a shower, and went to sleep. And that was the end of that. 

I have a few more stories to share on here, but this is the end of my recap posts. The trip was such an incredible experience. and I am beyond thankful that I was able to go. It was life changing. I want to go back. I miss Africa. I miss the Tanzanian people. And I am also really looking forward to going on my next trip! 

Thanks for reading my posts! I know they were long and a bit rambly, but I had lots to share! : )

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Tanzania Tour Recap: Day 10

Here are my memories of the most important day of the trip- the day I got to meet my boys!

Day 10- March 17

We were so thankful that we woke up feeling better than the night before. I went to breakfast and fixed myself a cup of drinking chocolate. I sat with Sean that morning, our group leader. He was asking me about what I did back home, and we talked about the VBS day a bit. I think I was telling him about the library and how I get to do crafts and thing even though I'm not the children's librarian. He said that the crafts turned out wonderfully, and things turned out great, even though we left all the stuff we'd planned on using at the other hotel. He then said "you must be a very calm, level-headed person", because I didn't get flustered about the craft thing. I cracked up and told him that literally no one who knew me would ever describe me as calm. I thought that was funny. But I guess it goes to show you that under different circumstances (like being so far away from home, in a special situation, surrounded by people I don't know) you respond differently to things than you would if you were in your comfort zone.

The kids were supposed to show up at about 9:30 in the morning, so Christina and I headed back to our room after breakfast to get the bags we had for our kids. While we were there, I got on facebook on my phone (yay wifi!) and my friend Heidi had just posted that the buses with the kids were pulled up at the hotel! We ran outside and there was a golf cart waiting to speed us over to the playground/convention area of the hotel. The buses arrived early, but they waited a little bit to bring the kids to us. The place where we were meeting was pretty awesome. There was a two story building that could be used for meetings. On the first floor, there were lots of tables and chairs. There was a patio area outside, where they were setting up food and drinks. On the second floor of the building, there was a big open room where we'd be keeping our gifts for the kids, and restrooms. Outside there were several pieces of playground equipment. There were a few swings, jungle gym type things, some monkey bar stuff, a few benches and chairs...there was a small trampoline that was broken, but I think the rest of it was in working condition. Lots of space to run and play! We formed two lines to greet the kids, and we were going to sing for us like they did when we visited the centers. As our kids arrived, and since we were greeting everyone with "Jambo" and shaking hands, the singing didn't work out after a while, but hey. We tried. It was fun seeing the different sponsors finding their kids as they made their way down the line. Sometimes there were shy hugs and handshakes. I looked over and Krista, who was at the beginning of the line, was just standing and hugging her girl tight. They were both crying. I was told right before the kids came up that my child was late. I asked "one, or all of them?" He wasn't sure, but he guessed just one. I didn't know which one it would be, though.

At one point, a nice man with a suit jacket reached out to shake my hand, and asked my name. There was a small child tagging along right behind him, and then another man and a teenage boy. When I said my name was Jessi, I was looking at the little boy tagging along with this fellow. I have one picture of Bonifas, and he's smiling. This kid had the same smile. I shook his hand and told him I was really happy to meet him. Then the man in the suit jacket said "and this is Said, and brother Bonifas, from his child development center." I got a good look at Said and gave him a hug. I told him that he had gotten big, which didn't really make sense since we'd never met before. But he looks so much older than he did in my last photo of him, which was from November 2012. By process of elimination, I determined that Elisha was the one stuck in traffic.

My boys and their helpers made their way through the rest of the line, and then we all split up and went off with our kids, to spend some time together. We were told that we could bring down a few little gifts to keep with us as icebreakers, and then we'd do a real presentation of gifts later in the day. I had shoved the small photo albums I brought for the boys into my pack, and we went to find a seat. The best we could do was to sit on the edge of the broken trampoline. I had Said on my left, and Bonifas on the right. Said was wearing the leather sandals I've seen in some of his other pictures, long pants, a polo shirt and a track jacket. He brought a backpack with him. Bonifas was wearing a collared shirt and a little sweater. He looked so handsome! They both did. We sat together and talked for a little bit, with the help of the translator (I wish I had written down his name- it wasn't easy to remember!) Bonifas had a long car drive to the meeting place where they all loaded on the buses. Said got to ride in an airplane! I asked if it was his first time on a plane, and he said yes. I asked if it was exciting, and he said yes. They said it was a 45 minute flight. He had the little carry-on tag on his backpack. I was so happy for him, that he got to have that experience. I asked if he was nervous about being on the plane. When the translator asked him, he smiled and said something. The translator laughed and said "he was not afraid because he is not a small child." I laughed and told him I was nervous about the flight coming to Tanzania, because it was such a long trip! I described how long the journey was, and the stops we made along the way. I told the boys that it was a miracle from God that I was sitting there with them, because I wasn't sure it would ever happen. I told him that so many friends and family donated money so I could go on the trip, and I also made crafts and sold them to raise money. Said looked interested and asked what I made, and I thought, well shoot. How am I going to explain fusion beads? And the fact that I would make cartoon characters out of melted plastic and sell them to people? I did my best. He said that people where he lives make jewelry and cloths.

I asked the boys about their families. I did confirm Said's sister's name, which was translated wrong in one letter. It's Moshi, and she's 10 years old, which is good because I was worried the stuff I'd packed for her would be a little too "young." Bonifas is the second of four children. He has three sisters. One of them is named Karen, which is my mom's name! Bonifas (also called Boni and Bonifasi) grins as he speaks, and as he listens. He just smiles all the time. He smiled extra big when I told him about his sister sharing a name with my mom. The boys also told me about some of the livestock they have, and Bonifas said that they have some donkeys. My grandmother has a pet mule, and the markings I saw on the Tanzanian donkeys reminded me of Wilbur (the mule.) So I told them about the horses at my grandparents' house, and about Wilbur, and that Mammaw even has a t-shirt with his picture on there. Bonifas got excited and asked what we use donkeys for where I live. Well, nothing really! I said that Wilbur was a pet, but my uncle and my grandpa have a garden, and one of the big horses they used to have would help pull a plow. Then they got to asking what we grew in the garden, and they told me what they grow. I told them I had eaten watermelon every day in Tanzania, but where I live, watermelon only grows a few months a year. They were interested in comparing our lives like that. They also took the time to tell me thanks for writing and sponsoring them. They did a little presentation out of it. I would do anything for these boys- I don't need their thanks. But it gave Said the opportunity to talk about when he broke his leg- he apparently fell out of a bus or truck after leaving school one day. While he was describing this, and telling me that Compassion paid for him to go to the doctor, he pulled up his pants leg- he has a big scar. I have a feeling he had to have surgery on his leg. I'm so thankful that Compassion got him the medical help he needed! And I'm glad I got to learn a little more about what happened. I also had the chance to tell the boys how I became their sponsor. I told Said about how I wanted to write letters to kids, and asked for a correspondence child. I had been asking for girls, but when I stopped, I got him- and I love him so much. Then I told them both that I registered for the trip as an act of faith, that God would provide the money to go. I told them I started trying to find sponsors for other Tanzanian children, and if I found a sponsor for a child, I would bring a gift for that child. I told them I tried to find a sponsor for Bonifas, and I loved his smile. After about six weeks, I told my mom I was sad that he didn't have a sponsor because he was so handsome and happy. And now she helps me sponsor him! The translator loved this story, and told Bonifas "smiling found you a sponsor! Smiling is wonderful!"

Then we decided to look through the pictures I brought. Before I left, mom and I put together photo albums for all three boys. They basically had the same pictures in them. I labeled them as she put them in the albums. They eagerly looked through them, pointing and looking to me to tell them what each picture was. They just ate it up. And then I told them that there were blank pages so they could add pictures that I send to them, whether they're pictures of our time together, or other random pictures I send. Bonifas smiled away. He's so happy! After we looked at photos, we were called over to the building so we could have tea together. I fixed a cup of hot milk and added some chocolate, but I wasn't paying attention (because I was so excited) and didn't see that they put out the cocoa. Which is just plain cocoa. And I didn't add sugar. Needless to say, I didn't drink much. They also had the little fritters and African donut things that we'd had a few other times during the trip. As we were sitting and enjoying our tea, Elisha showed up with his helper from his center. I heard they had a 12 hour drive, and then got stuck in traffic coming into Arusha. They sat him down by me, and he gobbled up his hot milk and fritters. He was soooooo shy at first. When I'd ask questions, he'd speak into his shoulder, away from me, and even the translator could barely hear him. This is a stark contrast to how he acted the rest of the day. After tea, I went upstairs and brought down the soccer ball and pump that I had brought for Said. We then went outside and played! All three boys are good. Said is also great with the little boys. He didn't seem annoyed that they were there- he just acted like a big brother or responsible babysitter, helping them with their food and tea or whatever else they needed. We kicked the ball around outside....Elisha did tricks and crazy kicks and ran around like a madman. Bonifas is very clumsy and falls down a lot. He fell down every few minutes kicking the ball. And he fell down a lot later, too. But he smiled the whole time.

This is Elisha

This is Said

And Bonifas!

I was pretty surprised that Said got on this merry go round thing, obviously meant for smaller kids!

As Bonifas and Elisha passed me on this thing, Elisha shouted something and then they started making gunfire noises. The translator said "he wants you to know he's shooting at you." Pretending they're on fighter jets is a bit more masculine than big plastic duckies. 

Guess who's about to fall down? 

I am not athletic. I was also wearing sandals, and that's not the easiest thing to kick a soccer ball in. I mean, these kids can kick it around barefoot, but not me. So I ended up sitting down to take some pictures. A few other folks joined our game to kick the ball around. It was very hot on this day- maybe the hottest day of the trip- and playing outside made it even hotter. I was getting pretty worn out from the sun and playing, so I suggested we go inside and play with some of the art supplies I brought. I brought down the pencil bags full of stuff, the crayons, markers, colored pencils, and drawing pads, We all sat together and I talked to the translator and the boys while they drew. Bonifas' drawings are very interesting, and a bit hard to figure out when he's not there to explain them. As they drew, I was guessing what they were drawing- in Swahili! That picture dictionary that Faustina and I made really came in handy. Said started drawing an airplane, and I looked it up. I called out "ndege!" and he gave a small smile and nodded. The translator said good job, and told me that ndege is also their word for bird! They just call them both the same word. Then Said started drawing a bus. Faustina had told me that bus was "dala dala." When I asked Said, he shook his head and just said "bus." Then the translator laughed and explained again that a dala dala is a specific kind of bus. One kind is smaller, like the ones we'd been driving around in. But then there are big ones that go through the cities, carrying loads of people and whatever they're taking with them- even if their "luggage" is livestock, like chickens and goats! We cleaned up our art supplies and went back outside to play some more before lunch, and it was lots of fun (but very hot.)

When lunch was served, we went through the lines. It was a self-serve buffet, set up by the same folks that had served us dinner the night before. I think the kids were used to being served at the centers, though, because they stopped at each station and held out their plates. They got some of everything, but they didn't serve themselves. I think that the hotel employees were a little confused at first, but that's ok. There was more of the same food we'd been eating- some traditional stuff, like the chicken, rice, and pilau, and then some of the stuff for tourists, like macaroni (plain pasta) and rolls, I think. I know that I ate a few bits of rice and some cucumber raita, and then cake and fruit for dessert. The translator asked if I wasn't used to the food, and I explained that many of us had a bad stomach the night before. He smiled and said "ah, you must be selective!" Bonifas ate his food fast. And he ate a lot of stuff. Said chose a Mt. Dew to go with his meal, and that's what I had picked, too (this was the only time I saw that drink on the trip!) The Compassion staff members were getting their food, so we were alone with no translator, but I held up my Mt. Dew and gave him a thumbs up, and he laughed. Elisha didn't eat much because he was still full from tea/second breakfast, and he got a little restless. I gave him my camera to show him pictures from the trip, and then let him wander around and take some. I had a nice chat with the translator. When the boys were quiet, he'd ask me questions about America or my family. He was so nice and very helpful, but I think it would have been nice to also share what I was saying with the boys, even though they hadn't asked. Just random stuff, like "I asked her how long she's been married. She said four years in January." But the boys didn't seem like they were left out, so I guess it was ok.

My boys!!

After lunch, we went back outside to present gifts. They headed on out while I ran upstairs to get the backpacks. We had a few chairs near a tree, so we all sat down. Each project worker (Brother Bonifas from Said's center, quiet Rose from Bonifas' center, and the nice young man who came with Elisha) had a camera, and they were ready to take pictures. The boys presented gifts to me first. I was surprised, and very honored. Elisha brought several gifts. I think they probably took him to a souvenir shop and let him pick out whatever he wanted. He brought a tote bag, a Tanzanian flag, a Maasai postcard (which I had also seen at Tarangire) and a notecard that had a tiny batik painting. These things were really cool, and they were everywhere. It's pretty cool that he brought me one because I had thought about getting one, but I was low on money, and this one is special because he picked it out and wrote his name on the back! Said's gift was a kitenge cloth from Morogoro region, where he lives. He draped it over my shoulders and I worked really hard not to cry. The kitenge cloth is just a big, versatile piece of cloth. It can be used as a dress, a top, or whatever you need it to be. Then they said Bonifas had his own gift- he wanted to pray for me. So I sat down, and he put his tiny hands on my arm and prayed. I have no idea what he said, but he said it quietly and in Swahili. And then he said amen, and smiled, and we shook hands. The Compassion staff took photos of everything- each individual gift. We ended up using all the memory in my camera, and switched to my phone.

Then it was my turn to present gifts to the boys. I had a backpack full of stuff for each of them. I said Elisha should probably go first, because he is just a ball of energy that never stops, and I didn't think he'd be able to wait very long. Seriously. Any time we stopped to even talk for a moment, he'd spot a piece of playground equipment he hadn't attacked yet and run off!

I didn't get to take a picture of the stuff in the backpacks the night before I met up with the boys, but I do have a photo of them with each individual item. Washcloth 1, washcloth 2, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc. It was sweet.

Bonifas went second. His stuff was almost identical to Elisha's, since they're so close in age. Like, they each had four Hot Wheels cars, but they were different. They each had an activity book that my mom had picked out. They each got a polo and a long sleeved shirt, but different colors. Things like that.

Bonifas never had his sunglasses on straight. 

While Bonifas was opening his backpack, Elisha was wandering around in the background. When he got the sunglasses out of his bag, he put them on right away, and they looked great. So Bonifas is holding up soap and hand towels and getting his picture taken, and I hear Said chuckling beside me. Elisha is sitting off to the side, sunglasses on, holding the harmonica up to his mouth. He looked like a little blues singer, even though he didn't know what that was!

Then it was Said's turn. The first thing he brought out of the bag was the hot pink princess bag I put together for his sister. So I explained who it was for, and he opened it up and held a few things up for the camera. He went through the rest of the bag, and when he got to the necklace that I brought for his mom, I stopped him and told him there was a special story that went along with it. We found out last year that Said's little sister Huba passed away. When I read the letter, I was on the phone with my mom, and told her. We already knew that I was going to Tanzania.She got Said's mom a "memorial tear" necklace in memory of Huba, which was a little silver necklace that had a rose and a Bible verse on it. So as I explained this story, that it was a gift from my mom to his, Said quietly said thank you, and Brother Bonifas (or Big Bonifas, as I started calling him) came over with tears in his eyes, and shook my hand and said "asante sana. Thank you so much." It was a nice moment.

Elisha was getting restless as Said went through the rest of his gifts, and wandered into the pictures a few times. After we were done, we had some more playtime. The little boys wanted to run around on the playground equipment, and I told Said he could play, too. There was a single swing on the jungle gym they were climbing on, and I went to swing on it. Said came over and pushed me! I thought that was so sweet! Elisha and Bonifas just run and jump and climb nonstop. It's crazy. They yelled and shouted. Anytime Elisha wanted me to come see something, he would yell "teacher! Teacher!" and then make a face and run away. He liked it when I'd roar at him like a lion and start to chase him. Or he and Bonifas would be standing, waiting for me to run after him, and I'd start walking toward them while looking at something else, pretending I didn't see them. They'd be standing there giggling, wondering if I was going to come after them. And then I'd roar and they'd take off, shrieking. It was so much fun. I taught Said to play tic tac toe on this giant board they had, with the x's and o's painted on little barrels that spun. We tied most of the time. When Said wants to stop something, like the merry go round, or he's tired of tic tac toe, he'd say "enough!" in English. And I loved it every time he said it. He was pretty quiet when I was with him- not out of shyness, I think, but it just seems like part of his nature. He has a low laugh and a low, quiet voice. When the boys were running around like crazy and I needed a sit down, he would sit in a chair next to me, with his hand on my chair. He was just happy to be with me, even if I wasn't doing anything interesting.

Said and I were sitting and watching the other boys. I got out my phone to see what time it was, and I had a text from my mom. I decided to turn on the cell data and send her a picture. Said understands enough English to know what I meant when I said "let's send a picture to my mom." So I sent this and said "Said says hi!" When she responded, I told him "my mom says hi", and he smiled!

I turned around and my boy was putting on one of the shirts I brought. I'm so proud. #BBN!! Go cats!

Elisha came over and we took a picture with him, too. He heard "picture" and wanted to grab the phone. Said was trying to hold him back and explain that we would take the picture....this is the best shot we got. : )

Fun game: throw a soccer ball to kids on a swing set and let them kick it while swinging!

Said and I had fun on the swings. Rose, in the background, came over to push me. I said I was fine, but the translator said "we will help our sister!" I think we should call each other brother and sister more often. 

Elisha told Bonifas to get his sunglasses and harmonica. When they were ready, they came over and started playing for me. I have video of this and it's amazing. Elisha only knows a few words in English, and one of those words is "whassup." 

Elisha reading the Easter book my momma got for him

 Bonifas and Elisha got matching soccer bunnies! 

Our time was coming to a close, so we gathered for prayer. The boys shared prayer requests with me, and I wrote them all down. They all asked that I pray for their centers, as well as their schooling and families. Said and Elisha want to be doctors when they grow up. Bonifas wants to be a science teacher. I prayed for them, and thanked God over and over that we were able to spend the day together. Earlier in the day I had burst out with a "Bwana asifiwe", or "praise the Lord!" They all loved it and the translator gave me a high five, and said I was becoming a real Tanzanian.

We all gathered together for a group picture- the whole, big, crazy group. Said sat beside me. Bonifas and Elisha just jumped in wherever they wanted to (I think they moved about six times as we were arranging ourselves, trying to fit in the shot.) Then we walked up to the access road where the buses were waiting. We said our goodbyes. Bonifas and Elisha just smiled and said kwaheri (bye) and were ready to be on their way. I roared at Elisha one last time, and he roared back and smiled. I told Said I would write to him as soon as I got home, to tell him I got home safely, and he laughed when I told him that it would probably take two months to get to him. Then Brother Bonifas stopped and spoke with me before he left to get on the bus. He was such a nice man. He told me thank you many times, and blessed me and said that he has worked at that center for about 10 years, and he was so glad that I wrote to Said and cared about him, and told me that it makes all the difference in the world to the kids where he lives. Sponsored kids have such better lives in that area, he said, and the whole community knows it. And he thanked me some more, and shook my hand and gave me a hug, and told me they'd be praying for me. I am blessed to have met him,

I stepped off to the side where the other sponsors were, talking and crying and waving at the kids on the buses. I didn't cry as I saw them leaving, but I think I might have when I got back to the room, or maybe before bed that night. Just a little bit. It's hard knowing that I probably won't ever see them again this side of heaven. It was hard knowing I'd be heading home the next day, after this amazing and incredible adventure. At this point, our journey was essentially over. All my thoughts about what to do when I got home- what I'd say to people, what stories we had to share, how life was going to be different- started settling in. And we talked about that a little bit after dinner. It's a really weird feeling. It's just very surreal.

My day with my boys was great. I'm thankful for every minute we spent together. I'm glad we were all feeling better and that illness and discomfort didn't get in the way of our time with our kids. I'm glad that I got to learn more about Bonifas' and Elisha's personalities- I still have several years of form letters ahead with both of them, and seeing them in person, talking to them and watching them and listening to them, has definitely made me feel more connected to them in a way that it might have taken years to develop through letters. The whole day was amazing, and I loved it.

There's still one more day of recaps to go, so be sure to check back and read about our time at the Tanzania country office. I learned a lot, and I do have a few things to share from that day as well!