Wednesday, December 4, 2013


Day 5  

Time is passing by quickly – however each day is slow and full. Rich. It was my second day at Good Hope and already it feels familiar. I worked with an 18 year old boy today to help him write about his background and ambitions in English – something he will need for his application into vocational school. Hamidu is a bright young man who is desperate to improve his English, and become a tour guide (two years of school). He caught on quick and we decided to continue our lessons for the rest of the week so he will be very prepared. 

I spent some time showing Asia, one of the Good Hope directors, how to use Excel. She caught on quickly and soon became enamoured with the power of the tool -- and the range of font colours! The kids are really growing on me with their enthusiasm and curiosity. The classroom is tiny and the chairs are borrowed from the bar next door. When he gets customers, he calls over and a few kids jump up and return their chairs - and the teacher doesn't miss a beat. It is sweltering and uncomfortable inside - yet there is no complaining - except by me as I struggled to make my hair disappear off my neck and control the trickles of sweat rolling down my back.

The office has a desk planted in the middle of the room - and no chair in sight. Chairs come and go all over the place. As we stand around the table discussing the plans for the day, a chair will suddenly appear behind me with a smiling face urging me to "sit".

These kids are teaching me much and as I expected, I am taking more than I am leaving. I am falling in love with this magical place and resilient people.
Director of Education Khadija Salim takes a Sprite break

Other two directors, Oliver Canada and Asia Ally

Me and the inspiring women directors of Good Hope


Day 4 November 12, 2013 

The van was almost empty – only me and Phil the army vet left – as it rolled along the rutted dirt pathway posing for a road and rolled up to the Good Hope Community Support Centre. Catherine, one of the veteran volunteers (she’s been here for weeks/months), and I are the only two assigned to the Centre and she clearly knew her way around. She hopped out ahead of me and starting greeting the children who ran up with open arms and a chorus of “teacher, teacher!”.  I took a look around and waved goodbye to our driver Daniel and Sarah, our CCS Program Manager.

Where to begin? I had read that volunteers often feel left to their own devices, and it’s true – but I had been warned. You have to just jump in and figure it out as you go. Mama Khadija met me graciously at the door and I felt a little of unease melt away. We were in the Majengo neighborhood of Moshi, one of the most marginalized in the community. But the dirt yards were swept and the trash piled and burning on the side of the road. The children at the centre are aged 13-16; but they appear younger and smaller than their years. Their smiles are wide and eyes bright as they quiz the new mzungu – what is your name? How old are you? How many children do you have? What is your mother’s name? and so on…. When I explain that my mother died, they put their hands on my arms and in quiet voices tell me “I am so sorry about your mother".This – from children who are HIV positive or who have lost one or more parents to AIDS.

They asked me to bring pictures tomorrow and I promised I would. I accompanied Oliver (one of the trio of founders) on three home visits to sick and ailing people and I couldn’t help but be moved by the love and empathy from the neighbours. This is a community reaching out to one another, and as Oliver strolls up and down the dusty pathways waving and calling out, she is greeted warmly by all whom she meets.

The school Is conducted in two rooms, each about 10 ft by 12 ft, and each with about 23 children sitting in plastic chairs or on the floor, notebooks and pencils clutched in their hands. Sometimes they cram 35 children into the room and the others peer through the window to get their lessons.

And then of course, there is the outdoor class under a tree with a blackened piece of wood for a blackboard. There is a community squatter toilet in a rundown building with a khanga thrown over the door frame for privacy. It is humble but cleaner that many I experienced in my travels.

Today I observed and tomorrow I will be teaching. After a delicious lunch we had a visit from Dr. Martha, a local doctor from the clinic who discussed health issues facing Tanzanians. She was a noble looking, elderly lady with the exhaustion and pain of many years etched into her face. She too is on the front lines fighting for her people and the survival and health of her country.

After dinner we made a trip into town to buy khangas. A lady in the community was killed in an accident and when her father-in-law heard the news, he also died. Many of the volunteers and the CCS staff left for the afternoon to attend the funeral, and therefore had to dress traditionally. At one point there were 19 of us piled into a van build for 13 – dala dala style. 

At first pass you could choose to see poverty; that which seems to be lacking, but it would be tragic. This is a community that struggles and celebrates in unison, supporting one another, in which commitment runs deep, and the mantra "it takes a village" is ever apparent. It is a community rich in relationships and I admit, I am a little envious. But that aside, I choose to be inspired by the love and welcoming spirit that is palpable - or is it hope. Good hope...

My class
First we clean
Jill dressed in her khanga to attend the funeral

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


Dennis and his brothers
Day 3 - Karanga

The duelling dogs and rooster crows almost won out last night but I finally dosed off before sunrise. I was a little slower today as I donned my skirt and headed to the outdoor dining hall for our communal breakfast. It doesn't take long for the contagious energy of the group to fuel me up.

Today was all about getting out into and learning about the community outside the walls of our home base. We were divided into teams and each assigned a different mission. Ours was to turn left outside the gate and follow the road to the Eleroi Nursery School, and find out the name of the teacher as well as the CCS volunteer who would be working there in a few days.

The dirt road that runs outside CCS seems to be carved into the earth – more pathway than road. And the lushness of the vegetation greets you, as do the family that lives a stone’s throw across the way.  The children smile and wave, calling “jambo” – competing with the bleating goats and barking dogs. The smoky wood fire aroma is omnipresent as are the small cooking pots bubbling over the fire in the yards. As we totted down the laneway lined with banana and coconut trees, greeting everyone we met (greetings are very important in Tanzania) we searched in vain for a sign for the school. Of course not only are there no street signs or names, building signs in this tiny rural neighbourhood are few and far between. The squeals and laughter of little children was the only sign we needed. While our team lead went in search of the details we needed for our assignment, my team mate Katie and I enjoyed the barrage of “karibu’s” (welcome) and hugs. The experience was reminiscent of Kenya and the love that had filled my heart there, was obviously to be found here as well. We spent more than the allotted time with Teacher Luke and the children, listening as they sang the ABCs and some Swahili folk songs and finally bade them farewell … Henry, Victor, Laura, Janet, Peter, Dennis, Mary and many more.

What we learned was that the people in this community are welcoming and want to share. They are happy to have visitors (including us) any time, and they are proud to show you their goats, pigs, chickens and how they live. They smile and nod, shaking your hand, uttering the appropriate Swahili greeting – and offering assistance when my own words faltered.

After our delicious lunch we finally met with representatives from our work assignments. Many in the group are serving at orphanages and schools and have many in their group. It looked as though I was going to be alone at Good Hope Community Support however I lucked out when I learned that an experienced volunteer (Catherine) had been serving there for four weeks. She cautioned me that I will be surprised at how different our placement is from others – that we will be serving in a slum and amongst three strong women (Oliver, Khadija and Asia) who started the organization with little resources and a mountain of resolve. Mama Khadija was engaging but shy. She gently reminded me not to fan myself with the bottom of my skirt in front of the boys as it would not be proper. She assured me though, that if I could administer nothing but love and hugs, it would be enough. I told her I could do that – and much more.

I am, after all, a neighbour. 

A typical open air kitchen

Banana groves created our enchanted forest just outside our gates

Our neighbour Dennis insisted on taking our picture

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Pasha – Warm it up

Sunday, November 10, 2013 Day 2

The rooster did his job this morning and beat Jill’s phone to the punch with a cocky wake up call. The first glimpse of a new place is always exciting, no matter where you are, and this morning was especially so. Jet lag gave way to curiosity and I was anxious to explore my surroundings by the light of day (as we had arrived in the dark, late in the evening.). I scrubbed my travel dust off with a very quick shower – wet then turn water off/lather/ turn water on to rinse. Water conservation is a must!

Camera in pocket, I strolled around the luscious grounds, kitchen garden and mango trees soaking up the moist, warm breezes of Karanga (Moshi). Breakfast was served by Primo, our chef (yes that’s his real name) and although I took a pass on the porridge, I was more than satisfied by the crepes, eggs, fruit and thick black coffee.  I got creative with the powdered milk offered for the coffee and borrowed the hot milk intended for the porridge – Tanzanian latte!

We spent the morning and afternoon getting fully acquainted with the customs and culture, sitting around in our open air dining hall and in amongst the mango trees in the garden. Lots to learn and absorb – don’t cross your legs, only use your right hand for greeting, eating and giving/receiving gifts. My brain is struggling to remember the all important Swahili greetings and handshakes. I swear they borrowed one from the Masonic Brotherhood.

Mama Fatuma and Mama Sarah are an animated pair, firmly dispersing important information while exchanging humourous, affectionate barbs on the side.  The staff are simply wonderful – friendly, gracious and kind – as were the complete strangers whose house I wandered up to (mistakenly thinking it was our home base) and who invited me to go on safari with them (they were just getting into their land rover). They smiled and pointed the way to the road we had missed.

Our group of 21 is diverse with 10 from various branches of the same large corporation; a mother/daughter team, mother/son team, a couple celebrating their 25th anniversary, an Iraqi war veteran (US), and another pair of feisty older ladies who are great friends - just like Jill and I. Most of the group is from the U.S. however there is another Canadian in the group as well as people from Germany (hubby will be happy), Slovenia, Croatia, Brazil, and Costa Rica. We shared our goals and expectations and they prepared us for our work assignment (which we start Tuesday). People are all here to explore and experience and that is something to give us all common cause.

The air is humid and warm – neither hot nor cool – until the sun comes out and hits you. The climate and landscape appear tropical – not unlike any Caribbean country that I have visited. The sounds that abound – complaining goats, birds squawking and singing, the odd baby crying, and singing coming from somewhere in the distance. The aroma of wood burning mixes with the heavy perfume from tree blossoms… I wonder if I will remember that as the fragrance of Tanzania, that will linger in memories for years to come. 

Today's take away was a little clapping song they shared with us to keep in mind at our assignment:

Pasha (warm it up) - get oriented
Beresha (improve it)
Kanyaga (stomp it) – overcome obstacles
Busu (kiss) – enjoy the volunteer experience

Safari is booked with Pristine Trails for next weekend (half the rate quoted online), and we have already started to bond as a group.

Internet access is sketchy so I haven't been able to upload my beautiful pictures. Stay tuned.


Sunday, November 10, 2013


Day 1 November 9, 2013

Sixteen hours in the air and 22 hours of travel and we finally arrived in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania. The trace smoky aroma of wood burning and the warm humid breezes were our welcome as we stepped off the plane onto the tarmac. I watched Jill’s face and I could tell she shared my feelings of excitement, and that it was all a little surreal.

By the time we cleared Immigration (after a meeting with officials in their office regarding our volunteer CTA stamp  that we needed – but couldn’t get – and drove the forty minutes to our CCS home base, we were all travel weary. We had a warm welcome from Sarah, our Program Director and a brief orientation – reminder to not brush your teeth with the tap water – and then we were shown to our rooms. T

he home base is a large white adobe-like building with lush gardens. Our room has two bunk beds and a single but with there only being three of us sharing, we have the upper bunks for storage. They didn’t have Jill and I in the same room initially but we agreed we wanted to be together and one of our trip mates was kind enough to offer to switch. So day one – first night, we popped our malaria meds, brushed our teeth, climbed under our mosquito nets and fell into a ragged sleep.

Bunk beds - just like camp!
Closet space
Our beautiful home base
The outdoor kitchen where Primo worked his magic

Monday, November 4, 2013


Photo courtesy of Good Hope Facebook page
Finally, the moment I have been waiting for -- getting an email from CCS telling me what my volunteer work assignment will be in Moshi Tanzania. I could barely control the adrenaline rush as I opened the attachment. The CCS team matches your skills and interests with the volunteer needs of the service organizations. I had hoped to work in the HIV/AIDS support group, and my wish was granted.

I am assigned to the Good Hope Support Organization in Moshi. They provide education, skills, knowledge, support, comfort, safety, and love to children infected or affected with HIV/AIDS, orphans, people suffering from illness, and the disadvantaged to help them create an empowering life of hope. There are young children and youth in the community who are not able to attend secondary school, and this group also helps provide them with Nursery education and English instruction respectively.

I am not sure if I will have much to offer but one thing I know for sure, I will take away more than I leave. I have so much to learn. I can't put into words how I am feeling -- my anticipation and excitement is larger than life right now.

Jill has her own assignment (I'll let her tell you about it) so I can only imagine the exchange we will have in the afternoons. Double the pleasure!

Hard to believe that in a few short days we will board the plane for Tanzania - and return a few weeks later, changed forever, with the imprint of Africa on our hearts.

Everything is possible.


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Test Run

With little over a week until we depart for Kilimanjaro, we're down to the short strokes. Preparation is kicking into high gear. Tonight I laid my first "draft" packing list out on  my bed to scrutinize the collection. I may whittle it down a little more when it comes time to actually pack it into the suitcase. I went heavy on the tee shirts as it will be hot and humid and with the volunteer placement for the first half and the cultural experiences in the afternoon, I may burn through two a day!

I picked up my anti malarial meds as well as a back up antibiotic just in case my nasty tooth acts up. I withdrew my American money and scoured each bill to ensure that none were dated prior to 2006. Apparently they aren't widely accepted in Tanzania. I am going to bring the equivalent of $100 dollars in Tanzanian schillings to spend in the village and roadside stalls. And I am considering unlocking my phone so I can buy a SIM card there and use my phone to tether. Have to keep the blog updated!

Final webinar this week with CCS and the rest of the group who will be volunteering in Tanzania at the same time. Jill and I agreed to learn our key Swahili phrases on the plane over. (I pity the people who sit in front of us). Hopefully then I will actually remember it.

Note to self: remember to pack some nuts, trail mix and other snacks that won't melt.


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Friendship Safari


Let me introduce you to Jill, the other half of the Tanzanian adventure. We will both be posting to this blog so you will get all sorts of perspectives! Lyn

There are certain people who seem to come into our lives for a reason, and my friend Lynda is one of them. We met in Grade 6 when I was the shy kid who had just moved from the big city to a small town, and Lynda was the outgoing kid who decided we were going to be friends. Turns out, I hit the friendship jackpot. For more than 40 years Lyn has been my confidante and my guide, blazing a trail that has helped me navigate almost every one of life’s turning points – from driving cars to dating boys, from becoming a mother to losing a mother.

When Lynda returned from her trip to Kenya a few years ago, I could see that it had a profound impact. She said she would be going back to Africa, and planted the dream that we would make the journey together.

There’s something about turning 50 that leads you to stop putting things off, and start saying “yes” to the things that really matter. So that was my answer when Lynda decided it was time to make the dream of her return trip to Africa come true, and asked me to be a part of it. (Or maybe it was more like “Yes, but I should tell Walter first, since this will pretty much wipe out the family vacation fund.”)

Thanks to an incredibly supportive husband and family, I’m now about two weeks away from the journey of a lifetime – a journey I never imagined I’d be making at all, let alone with my treasured friend. I’m nervous, excited, open to possibility. I’m wishing I could remember more words in Swahili. Good thing we have the long flight to Tanzania to brush up on our vocabulary. Perhaps we’ll discover a word to describe a friendship that’s taken us from goofy Grade sixers to where we are today. That is, if we can stop giggling at my hoodie pillow.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

To Do

My "to do" list is paying off. I finally had my travel clinic appointment last week and got the hazards lecture and the shots I needed -  typhoid  and a Twinrix booster for Hep A/B. Although the yellow fever vaccination is not required, the shot I got for Kenya three years ago is a little extra insurance. A prescription for the anti-malarials  and served up with a reminder to take the meds with lots of food along with a script for Cipro to treat any infections I may get. I am just debating whether or not to bring my own mosquito net.

And today, to my relief, I received my passport back in the mail with a Tanzanian visa on page 6.

Things left still "to do" include:

  • get a root canal (no joke)
  • work on my Swahili!
Unataka mimi bahati.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Busy Time

As part of the orientation for volunteers, CCS requires us to participate in a series of three online video conferences.  I just completed two of the three with Emma from CCS. There were about eight of us on the video call as she walked us through important information and steps to take to prepare for our volunteer experience. I booked my trip months ago and it has seemed so far off but during the last call, it hit home just how close departure time is and that I basically have about eight or nine weeks to get working on my Swahili.

Emma emphasized that knowing some basic Swahili phrases would make our experience that much more enjoyable and valuable. As she put it, "it gets exhausting after a day of playing charades". I am going to order some Swahili kids' books to help me with the language.

My immunizations from Kenya are still valid so I think I'll just need a tetanus shot and some malaria medication.

Some points she covered in the call:

  • long skirts and covered shoulders for women while at the volunteer assignments
  • we'll be handwashing our clothes and ironing everything (even undergarments) to kill any mango mealybug eggs (sounds yummy!)
  • all meals will be authentic Tanzanian cuisine
  • don't bother with credit cards - cash society so bring US dollars for extra curricular activities (safari) and Tanzanian shillings for local purchases
  • no alcohol on the home base - zero drug tolerance (duh!)
So it's "busy-time" -- time to get focused on what needs to be done in the next few months to ensure that I am prepared to wring every ounce out of this adventure. In other words, it's getting very real.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013


Couldn't wait to get my volunteer package and today, there it lay on the kitchen table - a bulging cardboard envelope bursting with things inquiring volunteers need to know! It's been my experience that reading up on the culture and country and preparing in advance can really enhance the travel experience. CCS made sure we had lots of reading material ... volunteer information, placement info, participants handbook, luggage tags announcing to the world that I am an international volunteer and an over-sized CCS tee-shirt.  No shortage of materials here. Most importantly I need to find myself one of those Swahili language CDs and get some basic phrases nailed down -- "where is the bathroom?", "how much does this cost?", "what is your name?", "can you guess how old I am????".

So far I am very impressed with CCS and their staff; their experience in organizing these volunteer trips is evident. The support has been exceptional. The website is rich and comprehensive and includes a CCS community page to help us connect with alumni and other volunteers. Haven't found any of my com padres yet but I can't wait to!

With every little development, movement forward my anticipation grows. And really, isn't that half the joy? It's the journey -- AND the destination.


Sunday, March 17, 2013


I had a call from Katie from Cross Cultural Solutions; she was just checking in to make phone contact. We chatted about Tanzania and what I could expect on my volunteer experience. She reiterated what I knew to be true - that the volunteer experience is simply the setting for a cross cultural exchange. I joked that I hoped any young ones on the trip wouldn't be disappointed to get stuck with a couple of old ladies (Jill and I) and she told me that so far, there isn't anyone under 32 years of age. Not that it matters... but it adds to the excitement to learn more about the profiles of the people we will be sharing our time with.

So hats off to Katie and CCS; it's been a wonderfully positive experience thus far, with Katie providing attentive, professional and personal service. Next step: pay up!


Saturday, March 9, 2013


Aisle or window seat? Our flights are booked and our seats, selected. Jill and I connected by phone this phone and went through the process together online. I pulled up Seat Guru to help us pick the best seats possible. There are so many decisions -- over the wing? (ideal for emergency escapes); how close to the water closets (smallest closets ever); and whether we should sit in the "middle four" or in the "side three". I have visions of my head on Jill's shoulder as a complete stranger drools on mine.

As we moved through the booking screens, Jill kept reminding me not to look at the price -- "just keep pressing enter". It almost left me groping for Gravol. It's costing a small fortune but the good news is that we're paying for the flights so far in advance that we'll have lots of time to save up in the upcoming months.

And so it begins.

Next up: immunization inquiries.


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Africa Part 2: A New Adventure

A new adventure is in the works... a return to Africa, but this time it will be to Tanzania and I will have my forever friend to share it with. Stay tuned as we work out the kinks, get ourselves organized and educated, and prepare for our Tanzanian volunteer trip. I am not exactly sure what to expect but I do know that Africa is under my skin and from the first breath of fresh Kenyan air, I was convinced Africa was the cradle of civilization -- I felt like I had come home.

Well things are in full motion and the flurry of emails have begun -- how to prepare and articles to read about Tanzania; suggested Swahili language CDs and books; vaccination requirements; visas and entry paperwork; and the list goes on...

Tanzania is taking shape before my very eyes and I can feel that tingling in the pit of my stomach that I get when I anticipate something good is about to happen. When my friend asked me about Africa and told me she would like to voluntour with me, I was afraid to get my hopes up. I waited for several days for her email with subject line: Trip. Then it arrived with the simple message: "How do we book this thing?"

We finally had a chance to touch base today after having booked the volunteer part of the trip last week. We were giddy and full of questions, ideas, and speculations - all expressed in rapid succession, in overlapping sentences. It'll be our first trip together since we were 14 and 16 years old and we both agree that it is OVERDUE!

We have no illusions; although it's called a volunteer trip, the purpose is really a cultural exchange to ultimately build bridges. We will leave with more than we give and if we are lucky, we will leave a little of us behind and take a piece of Tanzania home with us. It has me reflecting alot on our attitudes and intentions toward developing nations. I realize that often our good intentions have far reaching, negative consequences and I have to take more time to research my participation in philanthropic efforts to ensure that they align with sustainability and do no harm.

In the meantime we will have months of planning and anticipation to look forward to. I am beyond excited even though it is months away, however at the risk of wishing my life away, I will anticipate the trip with a measure of restrain (but not really)!