Sila on the Lawrence news

The local Lawrence news station picked up the basket weavers story I posted yesterday from The Epoch Times. The anchor came to my office at KU and interviewed me today. She also interviewed the Foxes’ NGO Coordinators, Jenny Peck and Geoff Knight as well. Unfortunately, their knowledge, words and names didn’t make it into the final cut for some reason. But if you’d like to see me talk about Mufindi and my friend Sila the incredible woman and weaver you can watch it here:

And here’s that amazing photo of Sila as she weaves….

Sila Ng'igwa (Photo courtesy of Heart4Photography)

And another in her home as she shows me her baskets on the day we met….

Sila Ng'igwa in home with her beautiful baskets

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Threads of Hope: Starting the blog anew…

Inspiration – a nice way to say, “the kick in the arse I needed” – comes in the form of an interview and subsequent article in the international newspaper, The Epoch Times, yesterday has put me back on the track of renewed blog vigor.

Here is the article:

The past 6 months have been busy in Kansas (and Minneapolis thanks to Annie and Bridget, also NGO volunteers) with events to spread the word about Mufindi and of course fundraise. I will share stories and photos from those events here soon. Plus if you want to host an event where you live, just shoot me an email (noelle.tanzania@

For now, enjoy the article and this time I promise updates and more Stories from Mufindi will follow.

Upendo pamoja.

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Baskets, baskets, baskets

I am so far behind on writing here and I apologize. I really need to buckle down and get more days written. In the meantime, I wanted to share information about the baskets that are handmade by the women in and around the village where I lived.

With the leaders of the basket group. Sila, Mama Barton, Katherine, Augusta



Sila instructing the ever-smiling Augusta on a new basket design

 income‐ generating

Going door-to-door buying baskets from the women in Igoda village

 dyes are 
 this area
 and others 

In the home of Sila, the premiere basket weaver in the area

 an outlet
 weave baskets
 goes toward 
more skilled
 for teaching
 their families.

We like to say that these are “not just baskets.” They represent the continuation of a long-standing Tanzanian traditional art and allow women with HIV/AIDS and their families a livelihood, when other avenues for income may not be available or possible. One woman’s story…  Adera is a single mother living in Igoda village in the Mufindi District of Tanzania. More than 10 years ago, her husband left her to raise their six children alone. Since leaving, her husband’s second wife died of AIDS and Adera took in her two children, caring for them in addition to her own six children, as well as her two sisters.

Adera and two of her children posing with some of her baskets

After becoming very sick in 2004 and consequently testing positive for HIV, Adera went without treatment for two years. She was told to, “go pray to God to get better, there are nomedines.” It was not until 2006 that Adera was able to begin treatment for HIV.

Adera is a leader and advocate in her community. Since first testing positive, she has always been open about her status. Her children know she is positive, as do all of her neighbors. At the advice of a doctor, she also encourages others to get tested. Recently she encouraged a neighbor, who despite being very sick, was against testing and treatment. At her urging, Adera’s neighbor went to the clinic with her children.

Today Adera feels healthy and is doing very well. She has had all eight children in her care tested and all are negative for HIV.

Katherine carrying a large basket I bought from her for myself

 minimum donations to ensure women are compensated appropriately. Currently these baskets are only available by contacting me – please feel free to do so by emailing me at or leave a comment below.

Girls from the orphanage sort baskets in the village

Photos of some of the baskets I have available right now are pictured below…

bakik detail

A few batik tree skirts and stockings also available

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16 August: Children

Monday would be the beginning of my tour through the villages to learn about all the NGO’s projects. It began with a very welcome trip to the Children’s Village in the morning. This grew to be my favorite place on earth. This orphanage was started by the NGO and consists of 4 houses (with 2 more being built in the next year). During my time in Igoda there were 44-46 kids living and thriving there. Each house has a head mama and the house of older boys (12-16) has a house mama and baba (father). The mamas and babas are paid by the NGO. Food, supplies and medicines are also provided to the children. All the kids have chores to help the adults and keep their homes running smoothly – they cook, clean, work in the gardens, haul water and wood, and watch after the younger kids. The kids there thrive. They love each other as siblings and the house parents are their mamas and babas in every respect. The consistency of care and love they receive is unparalleled in my opinion. Not that I have spent a lot of time in orphanages, but these kids are all smiles. Joy, laughter and love reign supreme at the Children’s Village. I spent the majority of my time at the CV lower house. The four houses are built on the side of a hill/mountain with the oldest boys at the top and the youngest kids at the lower house with the babes and Hezroni…


With my background in health and disability, I wanted to work with people with disabilities in Mufindi. Hezroni is a 15 year old with Cerebral Palsy and HIV. His parents both died of AIDS. His father cared for him the best he could despite his own illness and made it clear that he wanted Hezroni to have every opportunity afforded him after he was gone. Hezroni went to live with his grandmother who was a drunk and not taking good care of him at all. The founder of a neighboring NGO, Village Schools Tanzania, met Hezroni and were able to help him until Foxes’ NGO built the Children’s Village. Hezroni lives in the lower house with the younger kids as transporting him up to the other houses is difficult as he can’t walk on his own. He does have a wheelchair, however, sometimes the terrain is difficult to maneuver. This was the morning I first met Hezroni and it was decided that I would be working with him every morning for 1-2 hours during my stay. Over the course of 5 weeks, each day Hezroni and I did exercises for PT/OT, learned some English and mostly learned to write letters, numbers and the most important of all… His name. When I started working with Hezroni he knew the alphabet and numbers in English, but only if recited in order. We decided to work on that and especially his name.

All the kids at the Children’s Village stole my heart. I had reservations and worried about becoming too attached, for me and for them, but quickly learned it would be impossible for me not to get attached. Again, it was time for some stickers…

8 month old Rachipia, he had me within the first 5 minutes

Melania, Ene and Tosha

Children's Village in Igoda

I went and spent time with these kid nearly every day I was in Tanzania. It was always the highlight of my day to work with Hezroni and then just play with the kids. Some days we would draw and write, some days we would blow bubbles, some days we would dance and sing songs. Every day was a joy.

The kids quickly learned to check my pockets and my backpack for surprises. Before I left, I purchased a lot of little gifts to take with me for kids and the people I met. If invited to people’s homes or shown a kindness I thought proper for me to have something to give in return. And for the kids, I just thought it would be fun. My friend Jen who had lived in West Africa said that little, fun toys would go a long way and boy did they! I took crayons, paper, plastic lizards, toy cars, pencils, rings, bracelets, whistles, bubbles and of course lots of stickers. These particular items were picked out by my friend Alice. Four-year old Alice was thrilled to help me find things for the kids in Africa. I took photos of her choosing the items and showed the kids there and vice versa. So fun! I used a lot of the toys with the kids at the Children’s Village (others I used later in my visits to sick children who we maybe had to poke and prod and needed a little something to brighten their day). The kids also grew to love my hair. Four-year old Tito especially loved to take out my hair clip and comb my hair or try it out in his own…

Silly, joyful Tito

Tito is the sweetest kid I’ve ever met. He loves to play and laugh and hold hands. He also is not very fond of pants, won’t wear em (sound familiar?), so the mamas dress him in skirts and he’s just grand.

Our next stop on the morning tour was Igoda Primary School. It was about 3 miles from my home to the school. A beautiful walk through the trees and village anytime of the day or night. The NGO has added classrooms and a library at Igoda Primary. The only primary school lending-library in Tanzania thanks to the African Book Box and their Canadian donors. When first arriving at the school, Jenny had some terrible news to share. A four-year old girl named Scala had died that morning. Scala had AIDS, her parents had died of AIDS and she was in her aunt Sarafina’s care. Her parents had instructed Sarafina to make sure Scala kept getting treatment. Sarafina chose to not give her the ARV’s, instead deciding that “god would heal her.” There will be much more about Scala in entries to come, but this Monday morning, five days into my time in Africa, a child had already died of AIDS.

In Tanzania school is broken up into two stages, each with their own levels similar to the US grade-level system. In primary school there are 7 Standards (levels). Kindergarten is not included in these levels as some schools don’t have them, but Igoda does. Instruction in primary school is in Kiswahili. Kids in kindergarten (and/or Standard 1) learn Kiswahili. Many of the children do not know when they start school because in their villages and homes their tribal languages are spoken. For example, in the Luhunga ward (where Igoda is located) the first language spoken in the home is that of the Hehe people, kahehe. While there are some similarities, oftentimes a person who knows Kiswahili can not understand the tribal languages.

Igoda Primary School

When a student is in Standard 7 they are required to take and pass a test in order to move on to secondary school. If they fail they cannot take the test again. It is a one-time, winner-take-all kind of thing. Keep in mind that these kids walk miles to school each morning, so they are tired. They more-than-likely leave their homes without eating, so they are hungry. They very likely may be sick as well.


How does one concentrate to learn when hungry, tired and sick? Let alone learn everything one needs to know year after year in order to pass one exam. If they don’t pass to go on to secondary school, their education ends, limiting their futures to farming, craft-making or unfortunately the streets and alcohol. Not to mention that the language of the wealthy and educated is English. Having only a primary school education usually means one only knows rudimentary English, further limiting kids’ futures.

World Map created by children at Igoda primary school

Those that do pass can go on to Secondary school which is mase up of Form 1-4 (and sometimes a Pre-Form class). All of a sudden instruction for all classes is in English. Students may or may not have had English in primary school and even if they did, it was most likely taught by a teacher who doesn’t know English fluently her/himself. Teachers are also known for collecting pay and not teaching. In the rural areas this is quite easy because the government doesn’t check on them. The teachers may physically be in the classroom (simply in a requirement to collect their pay), but no learning is taking place. One of my friends shared a story of when she was in school and her teacher would simply tell them to read the book, despite the fact not all kids had a book nor knew how to read it.

Tanzania & Mufindi portions of world map

Teachers often use corporeal punishment in their classrooms as well. Kids who are hungry and tired don’t pay very good attention (naturally) so they are beaten, further compounding the learning process. If a student goes to secondary school they must cross another exam bridge at Form 4 in order to graduate and pursue higher education if they choose.

In short, the educational system in Tanzania is broken. That’s not to say that the system in the US is perfect, far from it, but in Tanzania the educational system holds people down. Foxes’ NGO has been doing something about all this. At Igoda primary they have built a library…

Library at Igoda Primary School

A full-time librarian/teacher, Yusto, was hired. Yusto is a native of Igoda village and lives not too far from the school with his wife and children.

The amazing Yusto teaching in the library

He teaches English to kids and adults at the library. Yusto is THE man.

Not only is Yusto an EXCELLENT instructor (you should see the kids when they are in his class!), but he is also one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. He helped me so often when I was there and he freely shared his life story with me. This man has big goals many of which he has achieved and many more I know he will accomplish!

School cooks preparing uji

The NGO also started a food program at Igoda primary school called “Meal in a Mug,” known as uji.

Headmaster Mr. Sapula overseeing the kids line-up for uji

Uji is a hot porridge made of rice, grains, soy beans, water, sugar, water, and ground peanuts – all ingredients available locally in Igoda.

Having my first taste of uji. After some trepidation, I learned it's delicious!

After some initial trepidation on my part, I learned how delicious uji is. Reminded me of childhood and eating Cream of Wheat while watching cartoons. That sort of warm, fuzzy, full, content feeling.

Due to the kids being so tired and hungry each day, the NGO realized that providing them a hot meal would be very beneficial to the learning process.

Attendance on this day: 97%

And boy has it been! Not only are kids more focused in their learning, the school attendance has skyrocketed to over 90% each day.  Word has gotten out that Igoda Primary is the place to be!

At Igoda primary the school day begins each day at 8:00 am, with a break for uji at around 10:30. Lunch break is held from 1-2:30, during which point the kids are free to go home for lunch or stay on the school grounds and play football, basketball and/or do chores around the school.

Igoda Primary students procession after lunch

At 2:00 before the kids return to their classrooms they all gather in front of the school for song.

Primary students drumming (ukumbi in background)

A group of older children, playing drums, lead all the students in a procession of song and music. For me, this was a magical time each day and even more amazing the first time I watched. After the procession, they line up by standard level for announcements before returning to class.

Kids line up for announcements after lunch processional

On this, my first day at the school, the kids were quite curious as to who the new mzungu (white person) was. Luckily not so much so that no one talked to me. There were some gregarious kids who smiled and talked immediately. Especially after I spent a little time in one of their lessons…

Sitting in on Standard 2

Igoda Primary Kindergarten building

The next stop on the Igoda primary school tour was the Kindergarten. When we first approached the building I asked Akida when the class was in session. He laughed and told me they were in there right now. I was dumb-struck. We were standing right outside, next to the pillar and by the open window, and yet I couldn’t hear a sound. The kids are so well-behaved and eager to learn! Incredible.

Igoda Primary school Kindergarten class

Upon announcing ourselves to the class (Hodi! May we come in? Yes, you may), we were greeted by the Kindergarten teacher, Cornelia. These 5-7 year olds had me from that day forward.

Alphabet lesson by Noelle... What letter is 'F'?

I even stepped in right away that first visit and taught a little bit that first day. And of course the stickers made an appearance at the end of the school day.

I didn’t want to leave them and told Jenny promptly that I would do anything with those kids.

Luckily, days later my dream came true when Headmaster Sapula asked me if I would like to teach English to the kindergarten 2 days a week! Would I ever!

Kindergarteners enjoying their stickers from mzungu

I’ve never taught elementary school. I have absolutely no credentials, aside from being a native English speaker and loving kids. Further, as I’ve mentioned previously I fully expected to be utilized (and want to be) in health care and with people with disabilities. The closest I’ve ever come to teaching kindergarten was teaching american adults who couldn’t read.

More sticker fun

Not exactly the same thing, but I was thrilled to know I was going to get to spend time with these kids. After a couple hours with the kindergarten, it was time to leave for the day. Knowing I’d be back a couple times each week made leaving alright. Even though they did sing me the Good-bye song…

Kindergarten class singing me good-bye for the day

Near Igoda Primary School, Foxes’ NGO also built the ukumbi (community center) last year. The ukumbi was officially opened on World AIDS day 2009 (Dec. 1st) and since has been used as a central gathering place for the villages in the ward.

Ukumbi (Community Center)

The ukumbi is managed and lead by Mama Ivon and Titus. These two are amazing individuals. They communicate with all the villagers and plan programs and festivities to hold at the ukumbi.

Inside the ukumbi

While I was there the ukumbi was used for the monthly bibi (grandmother) and babu (grandfather) teas and seminars on alcohol and HIV. The ukumbi has proved to be invaluable for the NGO’s work and the villagers. In the future, they hope to use the ukumbi for social gatherings. Such as to show films, celebrate weddings, etc.

Adult English classroom in the ukumbi

There is also a classroom in the ukumbi where Jenny teaches and introductory Adult English class (I taught this class in her absence in the coming weeks, but more about that later.)

Last, but not least, on this day we went to see Madici Secondary school and meet the Vinton’s who founded the school. Susan, Steve, Joshua and Jonathan Vinton started the NGO Village Schools International. They have built private schools in several African countries, most of them in Tanzania.

VST - Village Schools Tanzania at Madici Secondary School

The private secondary school at Madici is about 7 miles from Igoda village where Foxes’ NGO main base is located. The Vinton’s and Jenny & Geoff work closely together as they do their work. Their work varies quite a bit, but the communication and care that all of them demonstrate are astounding. I love and respect each of them so much. On this day I met the Vinton’s and saw their school. The school is run by a local whiz of a man, Roderick. There’s really nothing Roderick can’t do.

The school has local teachers as well as volunteer teachers chosen by the NGO from around the world. These volunteer teachers live in the community and learn from their students as well as teach.

Teacher housing at Madici

One long-term volunteer teacher, Sarah, was such a firecracker. So full of passion and love. She’s one of a kind, just like Steve and Susan. (Susan and I grow very close over the next 5 weeks as we work together in the villages, but again, more on that later…).

Madici school is a tight ship. They keep their students in-line and love them at the same time. Students have to pay more to go to a private school like Midici, but Steve & Susan (and their donors) make it possible for students to get assistance in paying fees if they work at the school.

Chairs of tardy students locked away

In an effort to make students accountable for being on time and in the classroom, if a student is late or misses class their desk is locked away. Only when he or she comes to class on time do they get their desk back the next day. And this eliminates the need to beat the children for being late – a win, win!

Students who work to pay their fees can be found cleaning, cooking, planting or even building. For example, the students at Madici Secondary school built their own damn and holding pond. The advantage of having this is not only for the sake of having a water source nearby, but the students also know how the pump works.

Susan, Geoff & Justin as we tour Madici's holding pond

They did not have to buy a fancy expensive pumping system because they built it themselves. Further, when it breaks they know how to fix it locally. Waiting days for a repair person to come from Dar would be highly inefficient and costly.

My fifth day comes to a close with a wonderful meal at home. I eat the wonderful food Upendo has cooked for me and hit the hay.  Of course after playing with my new buddy, Upendo’s son Stephen for just a little while… 🙂


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15 August: Waking into my dream

It’s Sunday morning. The African sun is shining and I feel wonderful. I woke up into my dream. Jane Goodall once said that when she first got to Africa and woke up that first morning in her tent in Tanzania it was the happiest moment of her life because she was there, in her tent, in Africa, living what she had always dreamed about as child. I heard her words after my return and nothing could explain how I felt that morning any better. It was a unique combination of happiness, disbelief, elation, pride, anticipation and without even a hint of jet lag. I was ready. Already my whole heart was in this… it wasn’t until later that I discovered my whole heart was bigger than I knew…

So after some lazy time staring out over the hills of Mufindi while snacking on a granola bar Sunday morning, I took the path from my house to Geoff & Jenny’s (remember they are the NGO administrators). They told me to come over for breakfast as on Sundays Upendo (the woman cooking for me) went to church as it was her day off. After breakfast we would start our first day of touring the NGOs projects in the area and go to the mnada (traveling market) in Mdabulo.

Care and Treatment Center in Mdabulo was our first stop. Not realizing that the trip from Igoda to Mdabulo wasn’t actually too far (5-6 miles), but hearing the road was tortuous, I popped some chewable Dramamine as the group of us took off. Probably the first thing I noticed about the village of Mdabulo was the electrical poles. After not seeing any for a couple days, it was odd to see these wires strung around. And it never stopped striking me as odd upon every trip to Mdabulo. The roads were also bustling. Sundays in Tanzania are great. People are out and about in their finest clothes and walking the roads to visit friends, family and go to church. I was definitely always under-dressed for Sundays. The road to get to the Care and Treatment Center is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen…

Road to Care and Treatment CenterDuring my stay I should have taken the time to take some photos walking along this road, but alas I think I was too busy talking.

Health care access in rural Tanzania is like nothing you can imagine. You hear about lack of health care services in developing countries, but until you see it and know the people who need the services it doesn’t really sink in. Trust me. Let attempt to give you a little perspective…. In Luhunga (the ward in which Igoda village is situated) there is a dispensary. It is basically one room and one doctor that serves over 10,000 people from the surrounding rural area. While the dispensary itself is clean and nice, keep in mind that people with all ailments, injuries, diseases come here for whatever treatment they can receive. There aren’t any kind of machines or the power for refrigeration of medicines. There are hospitals that have some of this equipment, but the nearest is Mafinga – a 2-4 hour bus ride depending on conditions. Remember a person has to have the money to take the bus, the money to get into the hospital once they arrive and even then Mafinga still often turns people away after traveling this distance. You don’t just call and make an appointment in Tanzania.

In Mdabulo (the village I’m on my way to this Sunday morning) does have a hospital and a Care and Treatment Center (CTC). The hospital has a maternity ward and is staffed with nurse midwives. The CTC provides HIV testing, serves over 1000 patients who are HIV positive and dispenses ARVs. Sounds pretty good, right? Well, here’s the problem… The CTC is only open about twice per month. People know which days these are and leave their villages long before sunrise to walk to Mdabulo in hopes of seeing the doctor and getting their ARVs. Here’s where another problem arises… people in TZ keep their own medical records. Everyone has notebooks (pretty much exactly like the blue books that college students use to take exams) that they carry with them to any medical facility and the doctors write down why they were there that day, a diagnosis (and I use that term lightly), and any medications they were given. This does seem to work to some degree and later on as I start to work with people in their homes, it really is helpful to be able to look through their notebook at what doctors have written. However, when it comes to HIV positive patients, their height/weight and ARV dispensing information is kept by the doctor who comes to the CTC. So imagine this for a moment…. You are a doctor who is serving thousands of patients with thousands of ailments, alone, without an office, and you are paid next to nothing by the government. You travel 55 km twice per month in a car loaded with supplies, medicines and files to a village where you are a guest. You don’t know the villagers, you don’t know who will show up and when so you can’t gauge exactly how much medicine to bring and all 1000+ files won’t fit in the car with you. What do you do? You do the best you can. Next, imagine you are a patient who has left her house at 4 am with a child or two on her back and walked 20 km just to be able to get her medications for the month and/or have her CD4 count checked and/or see if secondary conditions to her HIV are causing her to become ill. She walks. And walks. And walks. She arrives at the CTC and she is instantly in a mob of 400 people, all also waiting there to see the doctor and/or get meds…

crowd waiting at CTC

Standing room only on a stardard CTC Day (8/19)

She waits patiently, children in tow, to be checked-in. She gets to the front of the line to get her weight checked only to find out that her records are not at the CTC that day. They were either forgotten, misplaced or just lost. She can’t be seen by the doctor. She can’t get her ARVs, she can’t get blood drawn for a CD4. She simply has to turn around and walk back home and wait three weeks until the next day the CTC is open. In that time her health could go downhill, the rains could come and prevent her from walking back, she could run out of ARVs and compliance could lapse through no fault of her own, her child or another family member could be sick on the next CTC day and she needs to stay and care for them. The obstacles to getting treatment are endless in these rural areas. Yes ARVs are made available for free to Africans. Yes doctors travel to Africa to work in hospitals. Yes lots of money is spent in aid from many countries around the world, but none of it does a bit of good for the man, woman or child who can’t even get the treatment or to the doctor.

Now, I want you to imagine you are a 10 year old girl. Your parents have died of AIDS and you are an orphan. You are living with your elderly bibi (grandmother) and going to school when you can afford it and eating when you can afford it. You worry because you get ill frequently and from what you’ve learned in school about AIDS, you want to be tested. Your parents died of AIDS. You know all this. You know you can go to the CTC in Mdabulo where your parents got treatment, but that’s a 15 km walk by yourself or a lot of money to catch a bus. You get sicker and sicker and weaker and weaker. You somehow get enough money to get on a bus (the ways of getting this money could be from selling baskets you made or vegetables form your garden, or much much darker ways of getting money…). You get tested at the CTC, yes you are HIV positive. You find this news out alone, knowing  your parents died of the same disease you now have. You will have to keep coming back for ARVs and have your CD4 checked. You go back to your village with this new knowledge and are stigmatized. The kids at school torture you, tease you and you have no friends. You’re 10 years old with the knowledge of a fatal disease, you are completely alone and now you hate going to school. Yet, somehow you find strength and you have courage. You manage to get back to the next CTC day in a few weeks. Upon arrival you find that they don’t have your records, you’re sent back home. This happens again the next month. And the next month. You are getting weaker and weaker and the travel to Mdabulo is only adding to your decline. Finally, after months your records are there. You have a blood draw, the blood is taken by motorcycle to another facility 50+km away to be tested with a CD4 machine (that’s the nearest one). Now there could be delays getting the results back because of course someone has to go physically get those results, the machine may be down and the one person who knows how to service it is across the country. Or maybe the clinic with the machine simply doesn’t have the money available to purchase the costly reagents. So you wait and wait some more. Results finally show that your CD4 is 4. You have four cells in your body that are working to fight off disease and infection. The full-blown AIDS you now have should have killed your small, 10 year old body by now, but you’re tough. You take your ARVs and you fight. You have taken every step within your power to keep yourself well. Still you’re only 10 years old and you’re doing this on your own. And all you’ve done to care for yourself, is simply not enough. Your name is Felista and the world is worse off because you are no longer in it. Think of how much such a strong, smart, determined person could have accomplished. Sadly, this story is quite common here. 52% of kids here have lost at least one parent, if not both. Around 40-45% of all people living here are HIV positive. You do the math.

I arrive at the CTC. It’s not an official CTC day this Sunday, but I still get to meet the amazing full-time nurse midwife who runs the joint. She keeps everything going. The most exciting part of being at the CTC on this quiet day is that I get to see and tour the expansion. When I first arrive in Mufindi, the CTC is waiting to hear if they have gotten approved by the government to move from “temporary” status to a fully accredited center. What this means for the area is immense. There will now be a place (and the “place” is already built and waiting) where ALL the records will be stored. No more walking miles and miles to only find out that your records weren’t in the car that week. They will be open not just two days/month, but 2 days/week. There will be a lab for running tests instead of having to take them by motorcycle to another clinic. There will be electricity and water for the lab. There will be rooms for pre-testing counseling and post-testing counseling. And an educational room for classes about living with HIV/AIDS. There will be a waiting room that is INDOORS and has chairs. No more huddling, standing outside in the rain and mud waiting to be seen. And no more waiting in that crowd of 400+ because with more open days people have more options and not everyone has to come at once. I see this building and it’s an amazing improvement…


New Mdabulo Care and Treatment Center

CTC Waiting area

Waiting room in new CTC

CTC Lab, during construction

Sink (Sink!) in CTC Lab during construction

Are you ready for some good news now? During the time I was there, the CTC got official approval from the government! Files would be transported in mid-October and right now the doors should be wide open. And if that’s not enough… Also while I was there the amazing donors from Canada were able to secure funding for a CD4 machine ($50,000 USD). The Mdabulo CTC would have its very own machine. No more sending blood samples far and wide and waiting for results. Currently, the machine is being purchased… soon, they’ll have it. However, this doesn’t mean all is perfect at Mdabulo CTC & hospital. Remember the hospital portion consists of basically just a few rooms for Labor & Delivery.

Mdabulo hospital

There are no facilities or equipment for anything except for these rooms with beds for labor, delivery and post care of babies. The NGO however has planned and begun construction to expand the hospital…

New Mdabulo hospital, under construction

This new hospital is just adjacent from both the new CTC building and the labor & delivery building. The hope is for this building to get completed – funds are needed to do so. It has been designed in the hopes of containing an operating room (the nearest being Mafinga, 2-3 hours away), eye care/surgery area, 30-40 beds (with room for adding more), dental facilities and of course, the staff to run it and perform the necessary procedures and then all the equipment (x-ray machine, ultrasound, etc.). As you can imagine the cost to create something like this is great. Well, great in Tanzanian terms. In American terms, construction of a new hospital is 10’s to 100’s of millions, but in TZ a hundred thousand would finish this project. This, my friends, is a VERY worthy cause and we need donations desperately. (If interested, please let me know and I can make the connection for you.) You can start to now see what a hospital would mean for this area, for these people.

So my Sunday morning has been touring and learning about the health facilities in Mdabulo. Before coming to TZ, this is where I had pictured myself working upon arrival. Of course, it has now quickly become apparent to me that with a clinic only open twice the whole time I’m in-country, I’m going to need to be doing other things as well.

Now it’s time to hit the mnada. These traveling markets do circuits around the villages throughout the month.  Today it happened to be in Mdabulo. You can buy clothes, shoes, fabric, radios, knives and many other things at the mnada. It’s the Tanzanian version of running to the mall. Except, well, I hate malls and I love the mnada.

Mnada in Mdabulo

We decide to get ourselves some grub here. Yes, they tell you not to eat street food in a developing country until your gut can take it, but I simply don’t care. I must do as the locals do and dive in. Hell, I’ve been in country 3 days, I’ll be fine.

Got meat?

Now while the pile of fresh meat looks delightful, I opt for some chipsi mayai (potatoes & eggs).

Chipsi preparation

So since we all realize we are too hungry to wait for the potatoes to cook and then the eggs as well, we opt for just the chipsi portion of our meal.

Chipsi roasting on an open fire...

Time to find a spot among the crowd and enjoy our feast…

Speaking of crowd, did I mention that as I stand and wait or wander around the gawking is endless. And I love it. I smile and give my mambos, shikamos and asantes. I scare children left and right – simply by smiling or speaking a couple words they turn and run. I simply cannot stop smiling the entire time I’m at the mnada. It’s elbow to elbow people. I stand out like a sore thumb (1 of the 3 white people in town) and on top of it all I have this giant smile on my face that must lead many to believe I’ve lost my mind. And maybe I have, but I love every minute of it. And I do end up making a few friends…

Making friends at the mnada

This is the first day that Noelle’s infamous stickers make an appearance. Sharing stickers and photos seems to break the ice with every child I come in contact with over the weeks. Another volunteer comment at one point, ‘You can always tell when Noelle’s been in the village, the kids have stickers on their foreheads.”

Isaak, far right, who I will later work with

Wondering who the crazy white lady is...

The last thing I do before leaving the mnada for the afternoon is go see the man with the fabric. I want to have clothes made for me while I’m here. Tanzanian clothes, made by Tanzanian hands, out of Tanzanian fabric. The fabric is nothing short of incredible…


The fabric man

And 42,000 TSH later I have yards and yards and yards. I have enough to make several skirts or kangas for myself and yards as gifts.

After a wonderful first, full-day in Mufindi, we are invited to Mr. Fox’s home for a spectacular dinner. With full belly, happy heart and under the waxing Tanzanian moon, I walk back to my home… to bed and to Nala….

Half sweet, under-the-covers cuddler and half monsterous terror

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14 August: Africa from the Air

Saturday morning (also my grandparents’ 61st wedding anniversary, great things happen on August 14th), driver and vehicle awaiting me, I paid my bill at the guest house using all the Tanzanian Shillings (TSH) I had to my name – the night before, being unable to do simple math at the cash machine, mistakenly thinking I’d be broke if I withdrew 400,00 TSH! I set out from Onnela guest house and into the streets of Dar.

Not only was my driver with me, but luckily the amazing, Nick Sanga (an employee of Foxes’ Safari camps) was with me to translate. Nick helped me navigate the streets to exchange money and get to the domestic terminal to catch my flight inland. Driving in Dar is something beyond proper description. I can’t do it justice and regret not having any photos. I know that many developing countries have traffic issues, but I swear Dar has additional problems all its own. Again, trust me. Let’s just say I wasn’t in a vehicle that didn’t hit another vehicle the several times I traveled around Dar with various drivers and waiting in traffic without moving for 2-3 hours is not unusual in the least. Tanzanians unique use of blinkers still has be baffled.

Traveling from Dar to Mufindi takes about 12-15 hours by car & bus. It’s out there and the roads are treacherous and dangerous. Two fatal bus accidents occurred just in my village during the time I was there, which is not unusual. One-lane, dirt roads with huge holes and deep ruts formed during the torrential downpours of the rainy season coupled with steep inclines/dropoffs in the mountains make travel arduous. Most people walk, bike or use piki-piki (motorcycle) as cars are rare and buses are dangerous (and costly for locals), but necessary as cars are exceedingly rare outside of cities. Knowing that my chances for getting confused and lost due to the multiple, necessary bus and car transfers I’d have to figure out on the fly to get from from Dar to Igoda village, I chose to go by fly. In a 8-seater bush plane…

The flight was spendy by my standards, but I rationalized with myself that flying over TZ and seeing the landscape from that vantage would be an experience of a lifetime. Not that I was complete kuku (chicken) and didn’t want to get lost immediately. My first challenge occurred when checking in for this flight. I had opted to pay for my flight upon my arrival at the terminal. No way I could carry that many TSH, but I was assured via email months ago that paying by credit card was fine. Sure, if you credit card works. Mine did not. And considering it was 3 am in the states, contacting my banks would do no good for hours. Luckily, like all the upcoming adventures and speed-bumps in Africa, the kindness of strangers saved me. A kind woman took me back over to the international terminal to take out as much cash as I could in one day. Turns out that utilizing all my accounts was still going to leave me 200,000 TSH short. I knew I was stranded and was trying not to panic. I’d have to find a bus afterall. While I sat in the tiny terminal waiting area, heart racing, I tried to map out what to do next. I was losing that control I loved. Deep breathes, Noelle. You’re in Africa, that’s all that matters….

Again by a stroke of luck and kindness, the airline allowed me to pay what I could in cash and they would keep trying to run my credit card in the upcoming days. Needless to say, this would never happen in the US. They assured me, “we know where you’ll be if this doesn’t work.” No one goes where I was going. Safari-ers get dropped off near National Parks, I was going to a field by a lake in the middle of nowhere. Grateful as probably I’ve ever felt up to that time, I was off.
Flying over Dar was surreal and wonderful. After just about 15 minutes, I was over the ever-changing vast expanse of Tanzania.

Like nothing I’d ever seen before, my heart opened and tears came to my eyes as the landscape opened up before me, sharing its bounty…. Savannah, rainforest, mountains, hippo, wildebeast, elephants…

Yes, I said elephants!

By 2:00 pm I was approaching the landing strip at Lake Nbwanzi, where Geoff from Foxes’ NGO was going to fetch me by car and take me the remaining 1 hour to my new home. The tea fields glowed in the distance…

I’ve landed in Mufindi. I’m on my way home. The rainforest and tea field vistas are breath-taking. Over the next hour’s drive, Geoff tells me about the area, Mr. Foxes’ history and the villages in which I’ll be working.

The volunteer house I’ll be staying is amazing. Throughout my stay I constantly feel it’s just too nice. I have a bed to myself, shower (most of the time) and the amazing Upendo cooking me the most wonderful food.There’s even a Karibu (welcome) lunch awaiting my arrival…

My translator and new friend Akida and I sit down to feast.


After lunch, Akida shows me the trail over to the Children’s Village (orphanage) and Geoff & Jenny’s home. Upon arrival, I am pleasantly surprised to meet Meredith, a Peace Corps volunteer from the neighboring village of Mdabulo and her boyfriend Justin. I learn that Justin is going to be taking the 5-day tour of the NGO’s projects with me. While I know immediately that Justin and Mere are stellar people, I’m mostly just happy I can speak English. Not that I haven’t (and don’t throughout my stay) spoken English, as I have Akida as my translator. A good thing too, as my Kiswahili just doesn’t roll off the tongue like it did when I was in the privacy of my own living room. Frustrating to say the least, and the least possible was just what I was saying.

My first night in Mufindi starts with a peaceful, quiet walk at sunset. The only sounds I can hear are those of birds and children playing in the distance. No motors, no hum of electricity or phone lines, no airplanes overhead, no sirens, nothing but peace and the sound of children.

I feel like I’ve never felt before and it’s indescribable… Now I’m starting to know why I’ve needed to be here for so long… Tonight, I sleep well. Right after a self-portrait.

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12-13 August: Hodi… Karibu…

So as I’ve said previously, I’m going to write a day-by-day account of my time in Tanzania. Then I plan on using my blog as an avenue to disseminate information about East Africa (Tanzania mostly, obviously) and the on-going work of Foxes’ NGO. I welcome any and all comments, questions, rants, NGO donations, marriage proposals and offers to pay off my student loans. Thank you for your support.

I left Kansas on Thursday, 12 September 2010. Hard to believe that was nearly 3 months ago. Throughout my planning process I was pretty carefree (those that are close to me may beg to differ, but we’ll go with carefree). Sure there were stresses regarding how I’d get to from the airport, where I would stay in Dar Es Saalam and then how I’d get to Igoda village in Mufindi, but it wasn’t until the night before I left that the thought of my plans to travel alone into the unknown started to scare me. Historically, I’ve been a person who likes to be in control and thinks through every possible outcome, over-analytic-control-freak sums it up pretty nicely. I knew I had to let all of these natural tendencies fall to the wayside, but could I? I had no idea what to expect of my new temporary home or of myself. Yet no way could I back out, I wasn’t THAT nervous.

Traveling for nearly 24 hours passed in a flash. I was so excited, checking off each successful step of the journey as a small victory. I was really doing this! I arrived at the airport near Mt. Kilimanjaro (Moshi) around 10 pm, 13 August, Tanzania time. Darkness never allowed me to see Kili, but knowing it was right there outside my plane window made me giddy. I started chatting with the few people left on the plane – something I never really do on planes, but like I said, giddy giddy giddy. The mere hour it takes to get to Dar Es Saalam (hereby referred to as simply, Dar) went by slower than the trip over all of Europe and Northern Africa.

Before I go any further, a brief geography lesson….
Tanzania is in Sub-Saharan, East Africa on the Indian Ocean – south of Kenya and Uganda, east of Rwanda, Burundi and Congo, north of Malawi and Mozambique. The capital of Tanzania is Dar Es Saalam, which is centrally located on the east coast. Tanzania is divided into 26 regions, I would be living in the region of Iringa. Within Iringa there are seven districts, my new home being the Mufindi district. Mufindi is situated in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania, famous for it’s tea fields built upon the steep mountainsides in this very rural area (photos to come). At an elevation higher than Denver, Mudfindi has a fairly cool climate year round. When I arrived in early August, it was nearly the end of winter. Some mornings there was frost and I could see my breath under the covers at night. My home itself was in Igoda village. Although I also spent a lot of time working with people in neighboring villages on the “small” and “large” loops – Luhunga, Mdabulo, Mkonge, Mlevelwa, and Lulanda mainly. For all you visual learners, maybe this map I mocked up will help see exactly where I lived and worked.

I arrived in Dar at about 11 pm, local time (3 pm CST) and much to my relief the kind and beautiful Winni was waiting for me after customs – customs consisted of walking by and smiling at a guy sitting on a chair. Little did I know at the time, but I was very fortunate to arrive when I did… late at night = no traffic. You haven’t really seen traffic until you’ve seen Dar traffic. Trust me. I was whisked toward the peninsula part of Dar where I had made reservation at a Danish guest house, normally apartments, but they let out a few rooms on a nightly basis. When I first made “reservation” at the guest house my Kiswahili failed me and I was never quite sure they knew I was coming… but when in Africa you go with the flow, take everything as it happens and make decisions on the fly. Luckily however, they had my name up on a board and a room with a shower was awaiting me:

I was so pleased and impressed. Room also came complete with can of “Flying and Crawling Insect Spray.” Hatari!

I was finally in Tanzania. It was a little hard to believe and so, so exciting. My feet had touched African soil. My lungs were breathing African (humid) air. I was tired and disheveled, but happier than I’d ever been. Yes, I had made it. Time for a self-portrait.

Little did I know, true joy was yet to come…

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