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
- 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! : )