Day 8- March 15
We had a long drive out of Singida today, back to Katesh. We got up early to leave the hotel. I don't think I will miss it much. I have really enjoyed my trip- some parts have been hard, but I'm so glad I came. I'm glad that I don't have to spend another night in that hotel, though, to be completely honest.
That far-away mountain is probably Mt. Meru, but I'm not making any promises.
I sat near the front of the bus on this trip. Usually I camp out near the back. It's a good thing I sat up front, though. When we were almost at the center, Sean looked over at me and asked kind of quietly (as quietly as you can on a big noisy bus) "Jessi, did we remember to get the suitcase full of supplies out of the office?" Um, no. No, we did not. I didn't know where they were- I didn't realize we were storing them in the office, I just assumed they were on the bus with the rest of the luggage. We filled a suitcase with our art supplies for VBS. Each day when we traveled to a center, we had a suitcase full of gifts. I never saw them appear on the bus, and I just assumed this one, like the others, would kind of magically appear. Oops! I told him no, and he said we'd work something out, because we still had the supplies we were donating to the center. Robert, a member of my family group, had taught a few of us how to make origami butterflies a few nights ago. We figured we'd keep them on hand for the older kids. I didn't think Robert had put his origami papers in the supply suitcase. I turned around and asked to confirm, and sure enough, he had his papers and instructions in a bag with him- on the bus!
When we got off the bus, I just kept thinking of a conversation I had this morning with Joyce. I was pretty nervous at breakfast. My stomach is kind of shutting down anyway (it's tired of the food, I think) and was anxious on top of that, and she noticed I wasn't eating and I guess was acting kind of twitchy. I admitted to her that I was feeling pretty nervous about our VBS day. I thought about it a lot last night, too. I just felt like if anything went wrong, it would be my fault. Like if the crafts didn't go over well or my teammates thought they were stupid or whatever. I guess I really am hard on myself. Joyce said not to worry about it, because everything was going really smoothly, the kids would be happy to see us, and "honestly, what could possibly go wrong?" At breakfast, I thought she was right. Ha! What could go wrong? Well, we could leave all our supplies at the hotel. Sean said someone would go back and get them later, and donate them to a nearby center. It's a good thing we made those examples and put them in the suitcase- otherwise they wouldn't know what to do with a bunch of coffee filters and pipe cleaners, you know?
I think the kids at this center were a little more used to visitors. The kids here actually reminded me a little more of American kids. I may be basing this entirely on the fact that I saw two girls with glasses, though, and I only saw one other boy with glasses on this whole trip. Most of the kids I saw had neat and tidy uniforms, too. This contrast might be because this center is closer to the city (meaning Arusha), while Singida was definitely more rural and had more economic challenges. The kids at this center were really enthusiastic in their singing- even moreso than the other groups we've seen so far on the trip. And they were hardcore dancers. I mean, they brought the house down. It was pretty cool.
This is my "I'm tired" face. Also, I'm so thankful for that pashmina. My mother in law brought it back for me from India. I used it as a wrap for those very brief times that I felt a little chilly because of the rain. And I hid stickers in it at this center, because the kids were rabid for them.
I have to say that I don't remember much about this day, and not just because I didn't journal as much. It was hectic and there were so many kids.We didn't get to spend that much time with them. After some introductory comments and music, we split into our ministry teams. A few were outside, and ours was in a classroom (I think one other group, the music group, was also inside.) Sean told us as we headed off that we were in the area with the most desks. We were directed to a single classroom- and I don't know if I've mentioned this, but classrooms here are stand-alone buildings, like one room schoolhouses. Only they're made of tan stone/brick things. So we had this littler room with bench desks that would fit two big kids, or three at most, I guessed. We definitely had four or five squeezed in there at times. As we were walking to the building, I was searching the files in my brain for a craft idea for the younger kids, because I didn't think there were enough of us to do origami butterflies with all of them- there's space restrictions, and the language barrier, and all these other things to consider. I heard Emily mention handprints. I have mentioned Emily several times in these posts (and if we're friends on facebook, she pops up in several of my pictures, too.) I have to tell you that I'm so thankful she was on this trip. I'm really glad I met her- she's just nice to be around, and is very smiley and does her eyeliner nicely. Also, she studied in Japan for a semester, not far from where my sweet friend Amanda lives, and she likes Sailor Moon (we sang the theme song one morning while waiting for the bus!) I made lots of new friends on my trip, but it seems that Emily was around for a lot of the biggest memories I have! Like meeting Dori, and sitting at the same table during lunch at our first center. Things like that.
So we improvised. In the suitcase of donated supplies, we located all the construction paper and drawing paper that we could. We pulled out some scissors just in case. We rounded up markers, crayons, and colored pencils. Robert started a quickfire origami class. Kelley had a refresher and then was able to pass along his amazing, newly acquired skills to the others in our group. We did some demo handprint butterflies really quickly, and threw together some demo origami butterflies as well. And then the kids came in. The first group was comparatively small, and was a good mix of older and younger kids. In this first meeting, we asked the kids which craft they wanted to make. Maybe this was a mistake, because that meant our best origami people were scattered around the room, and that made more work for Hellen, who was helping us with translations. The kids enjoyed it, though. And one of my favorite moments of the day was seeing a young man (later I learned he was an LDP student doing a service day at the center) making handprint butterflies. I would have pegged him for the origami, but you never know what's going to happen.
For group 2, we saw that there were a lot of older kids, so we just told them they were doing origami. We didn't even give them the option, and they didn't care. A lady from the project (based on her age I'm guessing she was a volunteer church lady who helped out with meals and stuff) sat in the front row, eager to learn how to make an origami butterfly! She didn't speak English, but she smiled a lot. It was sweet. It reminded me of teaching a grandma a new craft or something. I liked it.
I held my camera in the air while standing at the blackboard so I could try to get a shot of the whole room.
The drama group was right outside our classroom. That's where we sent the kids when we were finished with them!
The groups got progressively bigger. We had four groups for 25 minutes each. We did a round of handprint butterflies with a very large group that seemed to be primarily younger kids, and then we did a final round of origami. The time flew by. I mean, we did this for two hours, and I can tell you that it felt like 20 minutes. It was over so quickly. And after it was finished, we headed back to the main church building to eat lunch. We'd been at the center for a few hours, and I didn't really feel connected with the kids at all. We hadn't taken a tour (we would right before we got on the bus, just zoom through really quickly), we hadn't even really had time for conversations. I don't want to tell anyone I didn't like this day, but it was so dramatically different from the rest of the trip. I didn't even really get the chance to talk to the kids during lunch, because they knew I had stickers in my bag, and I got a lot of requests for them. We also played with my camera some. But the only two names I learned at this center were the names of the girls I asked to hold up their butterfly artwork as we waited for lunch. And I learned their names because they wrote them on the papers. I made an effort, I promise. It just didn't really work out for me this day. There wasn't small group playtime, or time for coloring or pictures or anything like that.
...and Fausta-Thomas. I said "Fausta! I met a girl named Faustina yesterday." She just looked at me and said "Fausta-Thomas."
They ask for pictures, and stickers, and move on when you put them away. I cannot stress this enough- no matter how old your sponsor child is, they are not too old for stickers.
"We are very cute. Don't you want to give us stickers?"
I spotted this guy while I was making my first round, handing out lunches (we asked to serve the kids most days.) I said "ooooh, Snoop. Your hoodie. Nice." And gave him a thumbs up. I don't think he understood most of what I was saying because he smiled hesitantly and his friends laughed and told him something. On the second time around, I motioned for him to stand up so I could take a picture.
This little lady was super cute, but she was persistent. Oh so persistent. She kept asking for stickers (in Swahili, but it didn't take long to figure out what she wanted) even during prayer and while the pastor was speaking. I gave her some, but she just kept asking! After a while she toddled off and I saw her making her way toward another one of my fellow travelers. I'm pretty sure I know what she was going to ask him.
I told her I liked her earrings. So we took a picture together. Fancy ladies.
Our last group of crafters had some extra time to kill, so we handed out stickers. Origami butterflies don't look quite like butterflies when they're covered in stickers.
The center was nice, from what I remember. They had the nicest computer room out of any we'd been in. It actually had some carpet in there- not something we were used to encountering. Everywhere we'd been so far had wood, stone, or dirt floors. Or glossy tile, as was the case in our hotel in Singida. It just seemed a little out of place to end our tour, as far as the centers went, with a day that didn't have as much interpersonal connection. It was still interesting to see what a full house looks like at one of these centers. I thought that our day at 229 had some crowded moments, like squeezing into a small-ish room for lunch, but there weren't even that many kids there, technically. It wasn't a full attendance day. God bless the center staff members- they must be wiped out at the end of each Saturday. And the kids were still going strong, despite a choir and dance performance, and the special activities we did. When I got on the bus, they were doing flips off what looked like an old mattress propped up on a rock. Like a makeshift trampoline, or something. It was nuts.
The mattress jumping field
He looks like a little preacher man.
After we left Katesh, we headed to the tented camp. It is gorgeous here. There was a long drive through part of the park to get to the hotel office to check in. We were all peering out the window, looking for tracks in the dirt by the bus tires, and squinting at the trees and tall grass, hoping to spot an animal. I couldn't help but be reminded of Jurassic Park. Several people kept talking about how it looked like Jurassic Park, because of all the plants and the mountains in the distance (I don't think Tanzania looks like Hawaii, though.) And I sat in my single seat and mumbled, with Jeff Goldblum intonation, "now eventually you do plan to have dinosaurs on your, on your dinosaur tour, right?" Because I'm hilarious. And then we saw a stork and some zebras.
The dining area-slash-deck of the hotel is where the front desk is, so we all gathered around, sat our bags down on the tables, and enjoyed the gorgeous view of Lake Manyara in the distance. The nice hotel lady came and told us all these wonderful things as we sipped juice handed out by other hotel staff. She said there's wi-fi, hot water in the showers, and the vegetables and fruit are washed with "mineral water" (aka bottled water) so it's safe for us to eat.
Our view of the lake
Christina and I were roomies once again. I don't remember which room we were in. And it's not really accurate to call them "rooms", because they're actually little bungalows. The floors are raised off the ground and are made of wood. The walls are canvas and screen, and the roof is too, but then that's covered with metal sheeting. We had three beds with pretty teal and purple covers and pillows. A guide lady showed us where everything was. The bathroom had a canvas flap for a door, but beyond the flap there was like, furniture. The sink had wood and metal shelves around it. The toilet had its own little door. There was a place for my suitcase (Christina just had a rolling tote bag thing, and we had sent part of our luggage on to Arusha- the stuff we didn't need at the camp.) There was a desk, too, and little end tables. Such a big change from Singida! We had some time to sit on our beds and think about how awesome the place was. We could see impala from our little deck, but it was hard to get a picture. Christina was able to Skype with her family for a little bit. It was so funny because she said she was at the room with me, and her mom asked if I was the one who got sick. She said no, and her mom said "she got sick from eating fish." So Christina asked me about it- yes, I did. Everyone else knew, because my mom had been posting in our facebook group! I was the only person who had a cell phone signal pretty consistently, so she was able to tell everyone else that as a whole, we were doing pretty well. I know that some of the other family members were concerned because they hadn't heard from their loved ones at all during the trip so far. I also liked hearing Christina talk to her family because she's from Georgia, and that kind of accent is more familiar to me than most of what I've been hearing on the trip. Which may sound weird, but whatever. I like the south. It was comforting.
The food was amazing at the tented lodge. It was just hotel food, but gosh, presentation means so much. And so does familiarity. We got some shots of the sunset on the way back to the dining area. I sat down at a table on the deck (the actual "dining room" had canvas walls, too.) A waiter came over and asked what I wanted to drink, and I just wanted water. And he brought me a glass. A glass! I only drank out of glasses a few times during the trip- when we arrived at the mountain lodge on our first night, and then at the tented camp. And the water was COLD. It was gorgeous. We were invited into the dining room and saw a nice buffet set up for us. There were three kinds of salads (the novelty of raw vegetables!) with three dressings. And I can still remember what they were because I was so excited. There was balsamic vinaigrette, olive oil, and HONEY MUSTARD. You can never understand how excited I was about this. I will eat honey mustard on anything. I eat it on my french fries. On chicken. On casseroles. On everything. Seriously. I got a few cucumbers from the salad area, and then poured a bunch of honey mustard on my plate. That night I ate like, four dinner rolls, some jacketed potatoes (with honey mustard), and one bite of chicken. At the end of the table, they had a cheese board with some white cheddar on it. This was the first cheese we saw on the trip. I was excited. I clapped my hands and sang "cheese cheese cheese!" Margaret, who I had thought was really quiet the whole trip, said "you must like cheese as much as I do." We bonded over cheese. It was beautiful. And you know what else was down at the end of the buffet? Dessert. Something that looked like flan, a "cheesecake" (which tasted a lot more like a butter cake or something like that) and a peanut cake. And fruit. I had a piece of the cheesecake. There were folded cloth napkins, and more than one fork, and candles on the table. It was beautiful and lovely.
A few yards from our tent
Arriving at dinner
Tomorrow we're putting our luggage on the bus, going on the game drive, and then the land rover things will take us to Arusha. Our luggage will arrive before us! I don't know how lunch fits in there tomorrow, but that's ok. The mountain lodge is nice and I'm looking forward to having familiar breakfast food (I read the reviews of this lodge online before the trip, and I've been telling people about the things I remember. I hope it lives up to the hype- real eggs that aren't hardboiled!)