Tanzania – A Divine Appointment in Itigi

*Note – My day in Itigi was so rich in experience that it deserves 2 posts.  This is part one.

On this day we loaded onto our buses for the ride to Itigi.  We would drive for a couple hours further into the heart of Tanzania.  I had the wonderful experience of sitting next to Peter on this trip.  Peter is a staff member with the Tanzanian Compassion country office.  We spoke about the differences in our cultures.  I learned that Peter paid 2 cows for his wife.  When we asked him if that meant the money equivalent of 2 cows he said, “No!  I gave her father 2 cows!”  Peter is from the Maasai tribe.  Because my youngest brother’s name is Peter I referred to him as “My other brother Peter” or “My Maasai brother Peter” for the rest of the week.

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My Maasai brother Peter

Itigi was a noticeably poorer area than where we had previously been.  However as we pulled up to the project we were again greeting with more warmth and enthusiasm than you can imagine.  The children were clapping and singing.  We got off the bus and after the round of handshakes and “Jambo”s I was greeted by the project director.  This man took me by the hand and joyfully led me and another lady from our group to the church.

Again we got the privilege of hearing some beautiful singing courtesy of the choir.  They broke into harmonies and I started recording some of it.  I was sitting in my chair thinking, “This is one of the most beautiful sounds I have ever heard!”  As I was recording I began to notice some of the children.  They were singing with such intensity and emotion.  I looked closer and noticed that some of them had tears streaming down their faces as they sung.  As they continued to sing you could sense the Spirit in the room.  I switched off the camera and just took it in, committing it to memory.  As I wiped tears from my eyes the song concluded.  Our translator wanted to explain the meaning of the song.  The theme was that parents should lovingly watch after and take care of their children and not abandon them.  He went on to explain how the children were not sad, but the deep meaning of what they were singing about.

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Not for one moment did I believe that what I had just seen was an act.  It was too real, too intense.  Those tears did not just switch off for the kids after the song was over.  I had to believe that some of them had experienced or closely knew someone who had experienced just what they were singing about.

The “God” moment was just about to get bigger.

A girl came up to give her testimony.  As soon as she began I could tell it was very emotional for her.  As she spoke she became visibly more emotional.  Joseph, our translator told how that when her dad found out that her mom was pregnant, he left them.  Then at some point he sent someone to kill both of them.  They were unharmed, but her dad returned when she was 3 and kicked her and her mom out of the house.  She spoke a little more and then began to tell of the difference Compassion and the church had made in her life.  By the end she was on her knees, sobbing.  She was so thankful for Compassion and the church for the change in her life.  As you can imagine we are all a wreck at this point.  As she made her way back to her seat several of our group jumped up and embraced her….sobbing.  I was sitting next to Keith, our team leader.  Joseph turned to Keith and asked if someone would pray for her.  Keith turned to me and asked if I would.  I stood up and walked to her.  I put one hand on her shoulder and the other in the air.  Our group gathered around her and I prayed.  I can’t tell you what I prayed, but I know that I have rarely prayed with that much force in my voice.  You could feel God’s presence.  I know that the words coming out of my mouth were not of my doing.

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But this story gets even better.  At each center it seems that a certain child or group of children would hang around with one particular sponsor.  On that day this beautiful child seemed to spend a lot of time with Stephanie.  I even have a photo of them together.    Sean our other team leader had brought several child sponsorship packets with him from Tanzania.  Two days later, Stephanie was flipping through the packets and she saw this beautiful girl’s face!  She was unsponsored.  Stephanie had traveled to Tanzania with her grandmother, who is a sponsor, but Stephanie herself did not sponsor a child.   Immediately she grabbed hold of the packet and as of today Stephanie is the brand new sponsor or this precious girl in Itigi!

IMG_0809 God knew this beautiful child in Africa before she was born and had a plan for her.  God knew Stephanie would travel to Africa.  On a warm African day in March 2014 he brought them together….and 2 days later He would show us why!  I’m just so happy that I got to witness the moment.

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Tanzania – Amazing Where Life Will Take You

Our 2nd full day in Tanzania found us visiting Compassion centers in the Singida area.  Since our group was so large we divided into 2 groups with each group visiting a different project.  My group would be visiting TZ-901.  But first, we organized all of the supplies that our group had brought.  We were able to give each center we visited a suitcase full of school supplies, craft items, and toys.

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Again we were treated to such a warm welcome when our bus pulled up.  The children were singing and clapping.  After getting off our bus we were immediately led to the office to sign the guest book.  Then we greeted the children with plenty of “Jambo’s” and “Good Morning’s”.  At each center we visited we would sit mixed in with the children.  It was always fun to see which kid would gravitate toward your chair.  The kids that would sit around us would tend to stay near to us the entire day.

IMG_0372The choir performed and again we got to enjoy some of the most wonderful singing and dancing.  At this point I’m beginning to wonder if we might need to institute a little dancing at my church.  It sure does add to the level of sheer joy!  Testimonies were given and reports were presented.  I was beginning to understand how important our visits were to the centers we went to, not only because we were the first sponsors to visit these projects, but we were also joined by staff from the country Compassion office.

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We toured the grounds and saw the classrooms, computer lab, and offices.  As in each center a detailed binder of documents was kept for each child.  I loved to see the amount of care that is poured into each child.

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We spent the next hour or so just playing with the kids.  Bubbles and stickers were a big hit!  We had stickers EVERYWHERE!   On the hands, faces, and arms, everyone had a sticker on them.  My camera was again popular.  I had quite the little group of photographers before it was over.  Girls or boys…it didn’t matter…everyone wanted a photo. IMG_0486

Before our lunch we made our first home visit.  We divided up into smaller groups, and my group walked a short distance to Kassima’s home.  He was a 15-year old boy who attended this Compassion project.  He lived with his mother.  His grandmother lived nearby and she joined them for our visit.  We filed into a very humble home that was made of simply made bricks and a metal roof.  Even though the floors were dirt, they had been meticulously swept as had the area around the home.  We sat on a mat and some chairs and stools.  There was very little light and after a few minutes our translator suggested that we might move outside and sit in the shade.  It seemed a bit awkward.  Here was 8 white Americans asking questions about this Tanzanian woman’s life.  She seemed a bit shy or possibly overwhelmed by it all.  The boy’s grandmother was quick to jump with with conversation.  We talked for a while, asking Kassima about his goals and challenges.  We presented the family with a box of food and some gifts for their home.  Before we left we asked how we might pray for them.  As we began to pray, the local mosque began broadcasting over their speakers.

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There would be several moments over the course of this trip that would just hit me, and I would ask God to burn them into my memory.  This was one of them.   Here I was, a farm girl from Southern Illinois, and I was sitting on a mat in the shade of a African tree.  I was sitting outside a home the was so simple and humble by American standards.  In fact I’m sure most of you have sheds and outbuildings that are fancier.  While Muslim prayers were being broadcast loudly, I joined with people from different parts of America that up until 3 days ago I had never met, and we prayed for this beautiful family.

I was amazed at where life had taken me!

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After our visit we had lunch at the center.  This day we went through the line with a plate in each hand.  Then we served those plates to the children.  You would not believe the food.  I counted no less that 11 different items that were piled onto those plates.  To the best of my memory it included:  white rice, pasta, boiled potato, mashed potatoes, rice cooked in a broth, chicken, spinach, a meat curry, vegetables, plantains, fruit salad.  It all got piled onto the plate.  By the end I was starting to have trouble balancing my 2 full plates.  When it was our turn I asked Sean, our group leader, if there was a polite way to decline an item.  I didn’t want to offend anyone, but there was no way I could eat all of that food and I didn’t want to be wasteful.  I was assured that I could just say “No, Thank You” and move on.

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We had our lunch and the little girl next to me did take down all that food!  We were then each presented a gift from the children.   They brought a scarf to each of us that they had made.  They were precious to us!

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We left with plenty of smiles and joy in our hearts.  We would share our day with the other group in the evening and hear their stories.  I did my best to write down those things I wanted to remember.  Then it was time to collapse into bed and do it all again the next day.

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Tanzania – On to Singida

After two full days of travel we caught a night’s rest then we were up and at it early the next morning.  Our hotel had a box breakfast for us to take with us, so we hit the road.  Breakfast was interesting.  I at the banana, hard-boiled egg, and croissant, but decided to skip the package that looked like a hot dog.  I figured the protein from the egg would be enough.

As we drove through Arusha the thing that stood out to me was that there were people walking everywhere.  Such a contrast from suburban America.  We get in our cars, back out of our garages and drive wherever we need to go, even if it’s just down the road.  Here if you needed to get there, you walked.  I also was struck by how colorful the women’s clothing was.  Bright colors everywhere!  America is a drab place in comparison (clothing-wise).

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We left Arusha and drove toward Singida.  This would take several hours.  We were stopping at a Compassion center in Katesh on the way.  As we drove we passed many Maasai dwellings.  My parents live near Amish territory in Illinois.  Amish compared to the rest of the residents of Central Illinois is what the Maasai seemed like compared to the other Tanzanian people.  More primitive.  Their homes were mud huts.  They could be seen herding their cows and goats; sometimes right along the highway.

After a while our buses pulled to the side of the road and our leader said that we were going to take a quick bathroom break.  All of us laughed…..and then realized he wasn’t kidding.  I decided I could wait.

We arrived in Katesh at the Compassion project.  There were the children dressed in their best.  They were clapping and singing as we pulled up.  What a greeting!  We were all smiles as we were welcomed.

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The children sang “This is the Day” as we walked toward the church.  Then they led us to the building.  We were treated to the first of what would be many beautiful choir performances.  After the beautiful singing and spirited dancing, we sat down to lunch.  This would be the first of many meals that would look a lot like this one.

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The food tasted good, but we would see a LOT of rice in the next week.

We spent the rest of our time playing with the kids and touring the center.  Our cameras were a big hit and the kids loved taking turns posing and then snapping photo themselves.  Even the staff got into the spirit.

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Soon it was time to go.  We were each given a DVD of the choir as a gift.  We said our goodbyes and we resumed our drive to Singida.  We arrived at the Aqua Vitae Resort in Singida later in the afternoon.  My room resembled more of a small dorm room.  However this is Africa afterall.  If anyone was expecting the Hilton then they really had checked their sense of reality at the door.  This trip really wasn’t about our personal comfort anyway, and in reality these accommodations were so far above what the majority of the people lived in.  I was a little disappointed that there was not internet access, only because this was the means of communication that I had with my family back home.  Fortunately a generous woman in our group lent me her phone every evening to send a quick text message to my husband that I was alive and well.

The next day would bring another visit to a child center and another full day of unforgettable experiences.

Tanzania – Part 2, Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore!

I had a non-eventful flight up to New York, landed at Kennedy and caught a glimpse of the Manhattan skyline.  We landed at terminal 4 and we were leaving out of terminal 7.  Fortunately I just followed Harlan and Terry and didn’t have to over think the process.  We met up with our group headed through security.  At this point I’m realizing that a carry-on with wheels is a genius idea that I did not happen to have before I left.  My carry-on is quite heavy.  (A point that will come back to bite me later as I board the plane)  After security our entire group congregated at the gate and we spent the time getting to know the people we would spend the next 12 days with.

We were flying KLM to Amsterdam and apparently they have carry-on weight restrictions.  Most of the others in the group had their carry-ons weighed when they checked in.  Not me.  I was pulled out of the line to weigh my bag and purse.  I use the term “purse” loosely.  It was more like a small overnight bag packed with ipad, documents, wallet, snacks, a book, camera, and anything else I thought I might need on the flight.  Needless to say I quickly went over the 26 lb. limit and my carry-on had to be checked.  I was told I would see it in Kilimanjaro.  Not being convinced I made a mad scramble to grab anything necessary in case I ended up with no luggage.  I managed to pull a ziploc bag with some clean socks and underwear.  Hopefully my luggage makes it to Africa or things were going to get real interesting, real quick!

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There’s nothing like the feeling of screaming down the runway on a Boeing 777.   Loved every minute of it.  We settled into our overnight flight across the Atlantic.  I was in the middle seat of the side section.  I quickly discovered two things.  Sleeping on a plane, at least in the economy section, is almost impossible, and if you have personal space issues the economy class is not for you.  I was sandwiched in between 2 wonderful people in my group and we became quick friends.  We had to out of necessity!  We landed as the sun was coming up in Amsterdam.  My body said it was still 1:00 AM.  Time to find some European coffee!

After stretching our legs for a couple hours we were on board for our longest flight.  Amsterdam to Kilimanjaro would take about 9 hours.  Sean our trip leader suggested that we try our best to stay awake so that we would adjust better to the time difference.  No problem….we’re still in economy, there will be no sleep for me.

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I managed to either be assigned or trade for a window seat on all of my daytime flights.  The aisle seat makes it easier to get up and move around, but again, taking into account I’m a traveling newbie, I loved being on the window.  During the course of the day I saw the Alps, the Pyrenees on the Italian coast, Sicily, the Mediterranean Sea, and the Sahara desert.  It really puts into perspective how beautiful our world, God’s creation, really is.

The sun set and we landed in Kilimanjaro.  The song that KLM played on board after we landed… “Happy” by Pharrell Williams…and we were!  This was a smaller airport and we had stairs to get off the plane.  Stepping outside we were hit with a warm wind.  Palm trees were swaying and the excitement was evident!  We walked into an airport with no air conditioning, but full of ceiling fans that keeping the place cool.  The floors were wood.  The entire place screamed, “You are not in America anymore!”  Miraculously both of my bags appeared on the carousel.  We headed out to 2 buses.  Our luggage got strapped to the top.  I had visions of my suitcase flying off into the unknown, but credit to our drivers, they knew what they were doing.  We made the 45 minute drive to our hotel.  I remember even the air smelling different, like burning wood.  I’m sure due to the fact that this was how a lot of the cooking was done.  We unloaded at the hotel and sleepily made our way to our rooms.

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After a cold shower (hot water would be hit and miss) my roommate and I opened the window, turned on the fan, crawled into bed, lowered our mosquito netting and collapsed.  Sometime in the night a bird or something that we don’t have in Indiana made a noise outside.  I woke up a bit disoriented and had this very real thought, “Whoa!  You’re in Africa!”

Tanzania – Getting there

I’m back from Tanzania and have experienced so much!  Too much for one blog post.  So, I’ll just have to break it down day by day.  Enjoy! 🙂

tripAfter 9 months of planning and preparation my alarm went off at 3:00 AM and I was hit with the very real thought, “Good grief this is really going to happen!”  Dusty and I loaded up the luggage and we headed to Indianapolis International Airport.  Let me just say a 5:45 AM flight is EARLY!  I was to fly to Dulles Airport in Washington D.C. and after a 50 minute layover, fly to Kennedy airport in New York City.  There I would meet up with my group and fly to Amsterdam.  Three more hours on the ground then we would be bound for Kilimanjaro airport in Tanzania.  Some background info:  except for 3 days spent in Southern Ontario between Niagara Falls and Michigan, I had never been out of the United States.  And let’s face it…except for the maple leaf flying from the flagpole and the fact that the speed limit is in kilometers per hour, southern Ontario is not that different fromIndiana.  Also up to this point I had only flown once, and then I was with a person who knew what they were doing and I just followed them around.

The airport slowly crept to life and as they opened the gates to security, Dusty kissed me goodbye and I was off.  I got through security with no issues.  My checked bag weighed in at EXACTLY 50 lbs, and I settled in at the gate.  After boarding the plane we sat…and sat….and sat.  Seems that the crew that was to service the lavatories did not get their job done.  So we waited for that.  Then, we waited as they de-iced the plane.  At this point I’m realizing that I’m not going to make my connection.  I wasn’t too concerned because I knew there was another flight to NYC at 12:30 PMthat would get me there in plenty of time.  We taxied out and then stopped.  Seems a light came on and it needed to be checked out.  United, I’m not thrilled with you at this point.  We FINALLY got airborne with no chance of making the connection.  We landed in DC as my other flight was taking off.

IMG_0147Off to the United Customer Service counter.  (A job you could not pay me enough to do)  Fortunately I got a woman who was trying everything to help me out.  She cheerfully said that I was re-booked on a flight to NYC that would land at 5:30 PM.. No good.  I’m scheduled to fly toAmsterdam at 5:45 PM.  She then asked what airline I was on to Amsterdam.  I said, “No, I’m meeting a group at Kennedy.  I have to be in NYC by 3:00 PM.  What about the 12:30 PM flight?”  I was told that flight was overbooked and not an option.  She then said that the best case scenario was to fly from Reagan (remember, I’m at Dulles) to Newark and then I could take a cab to Kennedy.  At this point I start to get a bit nervous.  What will that cost and I’m not convinced there will be enough time.  As the words were coming out of her mouth she got a puzzled look on her face as she looked at her screen.  “Hmmm….you’ve just been assigned the last seat on the 12:30 PM flight.”  Well of course I have. J  Too many people praying for this trip not to!
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As it would turn out, while I was waiting for this flight I saw a couple with a Compassion trip guide just like mine.  Harlan and Terry were part of my group to Tanzania.  We got to spend the time visiting and getting to know each other.  And instead of trying to navigate around Kennedy, I just followed Harlan.  Worked out all the way around.

We landed in New York, met up with our group, and got ready to head across the Atlantic.