To view almost all the photos I took you can go to Steve's photo album
The team arrived Saturday, June 17 at the Kilimanjaro International Airport which is about 1 hour away from Arusha where they would be staying their first night in Tanzania. Normally we use the safari vehicles to pick everyone up at the airport, but this time our safari company (called Cheeky Monkey) used what is called a coasta. A coasta is a medium sized bus which was perfect for everyone to get a comfortable seat and the luggage.
It took a rather long time for the team to get through immigration. About an hour and a half but this is normal in Tanzania. Also, normal in Tanzania is to have every bagged checked at the customs stop and when you bring in items for VBS they want to tax it. This year it was the bears they wanted to tax. It took me about half an hour to convince them they did not need to tax the bears and get them loaded up on the coasta.
We got to Raha Leo and had a quick meeting about times in the morning for breakfast and departure. The Raha Leo is a quiet, small hotel with a great staff I have found in Arusha. Rooms are great and on the lower cost side. In addition, there are a lot of folks from around the world at the breakfast table every morning. I also distributed multiplug strips for folks to use their USA plug equipment with the African plug outlet.
Sunday morning, after everyone got breakfast and packed up the luggage in the FDM truck we set out for Singida at a leisurely 9 AM. We travel paved roads all the way through Babati and to Singida. Babati is significant because it is halfway along the route and I have found a new lunch spot there that has clean restrooms and good food but is more open and pleasant feeling. They also had sugar free soda.
Our vehicles for today and the rest of the trip were the ubiquitous Toyota Landcruiser in a tan color. Heff and Dennis were our drivers this time. I was the trail vehicle in case something went wrong and had the luggage with me. My dad rode along with me to keep me company.
The trip to Singida is at least 6 hours despite the distance being roughly 190 miles. Every time a cow touches the road they install a new set of speed humps and a 50 km/h signs for a cattle crossing. We got to our hotel, Aqua Vitae, around 4:30 pm. This left us enough time to take a walking trip down to the lake for some scenery and to stretch our legs after putting up our luggage in the rooms. The Aqua Vitae is part of the Stanley Motel family in Singida. The owner’s son is one of my hardware contacts and he sets up my reservations to make sure they are what we want. The hotel is nice and affordable but is hit and miss on hot water as are all hotels in Singida. We, l almost all but the ones with guaranteed hot water are very expensive or too small to accommodate our team like my normal hotel.
Dinner as always was an adventure both in the time it takes to get it and the fact the girls who bring it to the table normally don’t know what the dish is they are bringing. So, things that are similar looking like Chinese noodles and spaghetti cause a lot of confusion.
Monday morning, we start our trips to the valley and we started the travel early leaving at 7:30 AM. Of course, breakfast is not ready at 6 am as promised and is just starting at 6:30 am. The road to the site is about half paved because the area through Tumuli is always being repaired. My thought on why that area is always being repaired is because it is where they make the asphalt and those guys need work. The trip takes close to an hour and a half.
In Kinampanda, we picked up Jeanette who is a peace corps volunteer teaching at the Secondary School. Since school is out in June for the harvest, she came along to see the site and meet the team. We also picked up Loyce in Singida as our Translator while on site. Our drivers could do the translation, but it always helps to have an extra to help.
When we arrived at the site, we got the staff (except the teachers) to come out and worship with us. As always, William ditched the devotional duties off so I had to come up with something on the fly. This was the first chance to meet and greet with William and Martha on this trip because they had left for the valley early to pay respects to the family of a friend who recently passed.
After our morning worship, the team went to meet the kids at the school and the teachers. The first day Bill and Pat led them with a Bible story about Daniel and Lion’s den. There was a skit, coloring, a game of protecting Daniel from a soccer ball that represented the Lions, and they made paper plate lion’s masks on a stick. They also had their porridge and bananas which were a treat from Jim and Vicki back home (the bananas). The kids loved them and enjoyed playing with the team, but the first day the kids are somewhat reserved with that many people. We had 74 kids at the VBS program.
The kids left at noon to walk home and the team sat down to a lunch they brought with them. After lunch, we did a site tour and talked about the buildings and when each was built. Next was to start work on the playground areas. Part of the team started painting the wood for the Playground Activity Center (PAC) with primer, another group started working on moving the dirt to level out our future soccer field, and another group started working on our imaginative play area motorcycles.
In the middle of all of this, we had an injury to one of our team members. Fortunately, we had medical staff who could handle the situation. She was a trooper even though you could tell she was worried. Who wouldn’t be? Our clinic is nice for the area but it is no American doctor’s office. In fact, she confessed later that as she toured the building she was glad that was not where she had to go for her medical visits. She took nine stitches on her head which is a tough place to stitch up. As I said she was a trooper, but we had her rest for the rest of the afternoon in the ward building with one of the team leaders keeping her company. The story has a happy ending as her doctor back in the states telling her they did a good job stitching her up and it has already healed and the stitches dissolved. Thanks to the many prayers from folks back home she only had pain for less than a day. We did make her take it easy during construction the next day as a precaution and wash her hair with bottled water that we knew would be clean. She did help work and participated fully for the rest of the week.
We left the site around 4:30 after putting up our tools so we could be back around 6 PM. After arriving I placed our order since I had forgotten to do so that morning. Not that it really matters because they don’t start cooking it until we return. So, dinner was not ready until 7:45 PM. It was interesting as usual to see if I could figure out what they were carrying and match it up with the order. After dinner, we discussed the next day’s VBS program and had a devotion. After everything was done with the team, I had to buy water for tomorrow and upload photos to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. I finally got to bed around 1 am.
Tuesday, we went through a similar routine with breakfast and departure time. Today it was just our translator joining as Jeanette had to get ready for her departure from Tanzania since her Peace Corps service is coming to an end.
On the site, we did our morning devotion and then off to see the kids who were very excited to see the team return. Emily and Alex lead our VBS program on the Good Samaritan including a skit, coloring pages and putting hand prints on a sheet that already had hand prints from kids in the states. The kids were really into their coloring and interacting with the team today. The snacks today were some sugar wafers I purchased in Arusha. Most of them were not sure about them at first but after their first bite, they looked like it was a hit. We had 70 kids at the VBS.
The best part about the VBS was when we put the kid’s handprints on the sheet they went over and our team cleaned their hands of the paint. Well, when our team members put their prints on the sheet the kids set about cleaning our hands without any prompting.
Today we donated eyeglasses and empty prescription bottles to the medical clinic for distributing to the patients. Our work consisted of more soccer field dirt moving, setting the tires and giraffe art center in concrete, assembling the wall supports on the PAC, and painting some of the existing playground structures.
Tonight, we started to get into a rhythm with the food orders and what everything was. The night was a little longer for me as I was allowing everyone to use my internet connection.
Wednesday, we got to the site did our worship and then Karalee and Julie presented the feminine reusable hygiene products that St. Mark UMC from Greenwood, SC sent over. This is a huge program I have wanted to start up. It is estimated girls miss 50 days of school every year due to menstruation and lack of hygiene products.
Wally led our VBS program about Jonah and the Big Fish and we had goldfish snacks. He had a cool coloring page that you cut out Jonah and put him on a popsicle stick and then you can make him move in and out of the fish’s mouth. We only had 64 kids today because one of the families had an event.
We also had a wonderful gift of a brightly colored parachute and beach balls for the kids to play with. They had a blast helping to bounce the balls with the parachute and just running in and out as it went up and down.
On the worksite side of things, we finished up one motorcycle, made goals for the soccer field, painted the giraffe art center and attached the face boards to the PAC on the climbing wall and slide wall. The goals were a lot more difficult to make than anticipated because the fittings are not belled out for the pipe to slide in. The pipe had to be sanded down. Once I realized how difficult this was for them, I got out the power sander. They still need the plastic mesh screen and to be painted. The soccer field was almost completed as well.
The motorcycle is ½ of the truck tire with a 2x6 inside the tire to hold it together. The bottom has a U-Bolt set into concrete with some rebar. You then attach the handlebars to the 1x10 board and attach that board to the 2x6 with deck screws brought over by the team. The kid now sits on it and rock in different directions. I have rubber bicycle grips for the handlebars after a final coat of paint is applied.
The giraffe body is painted with chalkboard paint so the kids can draw and write on it. This is the first animal of the planned art center. I am hoping to add an elephant in the near future.
The church members started showing up around 3 for their normal 5 or 6 PM choir practice. It is disappointing that they did not join in working on the site but just stood around looking at us. This is a fairly common Tanzanian trait.
When we arrive back at the hotel I check on dinner prep and confirm it is to be ready at 7. So, at 7 they tell me they are planning to have it ready by 8 which means 8:30. After several discussions we got 7:30 promised and delivered by 7:45 PM.
Thursday morning it appears dinner was too much work for them so they never got the hot water ready. Something about using a big water heater like the old group coffee makers and not understanding it takes 45 minutes to heat water if it is full.
The VBS today was Noah’s Ark put on by Jerad. There was a lot of fun to be had with the kids wearing masks and becoming groups of animals boarding the boat. The snack was animal crackers. We also gave out the bears. Unfortunately, my camera did not take great pictures of the kids so about 20 of them were unusable. I will post all the adopted bear photos in their own blog next week. I could hear discussions about what to name their bears as I was taking pictures.
I also had some fun showing the kids how to use the monkey bars on the PAC. It was a lot of fun though a bit overwhelming to have 78 kids trying to get you to lift them up all at once. I really loved seeing some of them struggle but not give up getting across.
While we did VBS the two drivers worked to finish the soccer field. They were joined by Alex when he finished his part in the skit. This is not something we pay them to do, they did it out of their own desire to help. This is not a common Tanzanian trait.
We cleaned up the site, took photos and then left to eat lunch on the ridgeline overlooking the valley.
After lunch, we went into town so they could visit my hardware store, go on a walk through the market, shop for colorful cloths and ride three-wheeled motorcycle taxis to the lake. When we finished up at the lake and intruding on a sending off party for photos, we headed into town and ate at Azam’s for dinner. Most everyone ate plain French fry omelets called chipsi mayai. The rest ate them with roasted goat meat mixed in.
Friday, we were up early to drive to Karatu outside the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area. Along the way, we went into Tarangire National Park which is the home of the elephants. It did not disappoint with the team seeing probably 100 elephants before the day's end.
The only unfortunate thing about this part of the trip is that I did not give clear instructions when I asked one of the drivers to put my computer bag in the very back. They put it in the very back of the seating area and not the storage area in the very back of the truck. Yep, it got stepped on at some point in the excitement to see the animals and cracked the screen. That is a lot of fun on a touch screen computer because it registers all the cracked lines as constant touches and is opening windows and programs faster than I can close them to get the work done I needed to get done. Fortunately, since I dropped them off I have found a way to cut off the touch screen and I am able to get some work done.
We stayed at the Karatu Lutheran Hostel which is a very nice quiet hotel. (have you noticed a theme about my hotels and the word quiet) Next morning we were up early again to start our full day safari into the crater. The crater was formed by a volcano which was believed to be taller than Mt. Kilimanjaro which is the current tallest peak in Africa. It is the largest unbroken caldera in existence. There are no fences and animals are free to come and go as they please. This is relevant because you may run into some along the road.
It was a great safari. I do have one really great story with two parts. There were a group of lions (2 females and one male) napping alongside the road. All the trucks were pulling up to take pictures. There was a line started and trucks would pull up to take pictures and move on for the trucks behind to get in. This worked for a while but then a lot of trucks just pulled up to the front and crowded in. About this time one of the females got up and laid down in the road. It was our turn and we took our pictures and moved on then turned around to come in the line from the other side to get a different view. While we are waiting in the second line, Dennis tells me his binocular case went outside near my door. I open my door and stick my leg out trying to snag the strap. This only pushes it farther away. Now I must step out of the vehicle while we are roughly 30 feet away from the lions and get the case. What I am disappointed in is that no one got a picture of me doing this.
Then we get up to where they lions are from the different angle and the two females have crawled partway under a vehicle so they cannot move without risking hurting the Lions. The get our driver to pull and rev the engine while they rev theirs in hopes of scaring the lions into moving. Several attempts and it finally works. One of the female lions moves out to the grass and looks back at the offending truck, ours, and I realize as she and I are looking at each other from a couple of feet away that my window is still down from trying to get the case. I just smile and roll it up slowly.
As we were leaving I got a great shot of three elephants on the side of a mountain.
We stopped to eat at Pepe Italian Eatery and Hotel as we were going back to Arusha. It was wonderful. Then on to our hotel Raha Leo again.
We had a relaxing morning since we did not need to leave until 9:30 to get to church on time. We went to Arusha Vineyard Church and had a wonderful worship session before going to McMoody’s for lunch. The bad thing about a larger team is the time it takes to get food for a lunch order. McMoody’s is quick normally but it took over an hour and a half with our 11 team members, William and Martha, the drivers, myself and Jeanette’s family that had joined us at church. This significantly ate into our shopping time. But everyone had a chance to buy gifts and Tanzanite at the Cultural Heritage Center.
We needed to leave Arusha by 5 PM for their 8:55 flight because it takes at least an hour to get to the airport and get your ticket plus your normal 2 hours for security inside the airport.