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Gruezi and daughter's amazing trip to Tanzania

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Aug 8th, 2009, 09:35 PM
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Gruezi and daughter's amazing trip to Tanzania

My 15-year-old daughter and I just returned from 3 weeks on a volunteer/cultural visit to Tanzania. We went through the organization Cross Cultural Solutions (CCS) and stayed in a home base just outside of Moshi. We had an amazing experience. I worked at a regional hospital there and my daughter taught at a pre-school at the local prison (for staff and inmates children).

It feels quite a challenge to describe everything about our experience in a Fodor's trip report, but I will summarize a few things by saying:

1. We loved the Tanzanians who were so friendly and welcoming to us. What a contrast to the reserved Swiss here in Switzerland where we live! We feel like we have more friends in Tanzania than anyplace else right now. Just thinking about all our new friends brings a smile to my face.

2. The children are so beautiful and friendly and my daughter soon earned the nickname Angelina Jolie in our group as she was pretty intent on bringing a bunch of her new little friends home with her. Children there are not taught to fear strangers and at any time will come up and hold your hand and walk with you in whatever direction you are going. The older children are so pleased to try out their English with you and very quickly are calling you friend and telling you they love you (love and like being basically the same word in Swahili).

3. The scenery is so different and we shall never forget the red clay, the banana trees, the mountains (although we saw very little of the cloud-covered Kilimanjaro) and the incredible sunsets.

4. We did one-day safaris to Ngorongoro Crater and to Tarangire and saw some more incredible scenery and tons of wildlife. Our guide was wonderful and we'd highly recommend him if anyone is interested. He drove very carefully which is important as the highway there is treacherous with many unsafe drivers and fatal accidents. We enjoyed the safaris, but not near as much as the drives through all the villages where we observed first-hand village and rural life.

5. Health care is really a whole different world. As a nurse, I learned so much and felt really rather inept to help. Resources are very limited. I was so impressed by the health care workers who do so much with so very little in terms of diagnostics, supplies and equipment. Maternal and infant health and HIV are huge issues. I had learned a lot about both in school and at my current job with a pharmaceutical that provides vaccines to developing countries, but I really witnessed the reality first hand at the hospital in a way no paper, book or photo could adequately describe. Some of what I saw was pretty shocking and the images will stay with me for a long time.

6. Education is also very different. Students have small paper booklets for their work (kind of like the "blue books" we used in college for exams) which they must erase and re-use for lack of supplies. Corporal punishment is accepted and very common. Many children eat only the porridge served at lunchtime at school and are often hungry. The children wear uniforms to school and in the mornings it is wonderful to see them in their various school colors heading off to class and excitedly waving to us Wazungu (white people) in our van. Those in our group who taught at schools were greeted each morning by hordes of smiling excited children and lots of hugs.

7. The Maasai still live in huts made from sticks, sealed with cattle dung, and thatched roofs and have multiple wives. There is a strong division of labor - men with the livestock - women gathering water, cooking, building their huts. I saw young Maasai girls my daughters age and younger in the labor and delivery wards having babies. Tanzanian men who are Christian may not have multiple wives, but keeping other women is common as are having children with various women - sometimes supporting them, sometimes not. The life of a Tanzanian woman is typically a very hard one with few achieving more than primary education.

8. We had a brief lesson in carrying bananas on our heads and we were shocked how heavy a huge bunch of bananas are - made us appreciate even more the huge buckets of water, bags of maize, and in one case an entire bed we saw people carry on their heads!

I'm still processing everything we saw, experienced, and loved about Tanzania. I'd be happy to answer any questions anyone might have about visiting this country, our volunteering, the organization we were there with, etc. Just let me know what you want to hear about.

gruezi
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Aug 8th, 2009, 10:34 PM
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What a wonderful experience you and your daughter shared. Thanks for posting a report and yes, I am always amazed at how much one woman can carry on her head … gives me a headache just thinking about it.
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Aug 9th, 2009, 02:27 AM
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A great report, what an incredible experience, and some wonderful memories for you and your daughter.
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Aug 9th, 2009, 03:21 AM
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Your trip sounds fantastic - I wish I had read it a year ago when we planned our safari. (Of course, you had not gone yet.... What a different perspective of visiting the country. Have you done this type of trip anywhere else in the world?
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Aug 9th, 2009, 05:46 AM
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Thanks twaffle and nelsonian for reading and for your nice comments.

megdean - we have not done a volunteer trip before. Since my children were young, I have emphasized service. When I was their Girl Scout leader and later as their group advisor through the National Charity League we did a lot of service projects. We've done a lot of things like Meals on Wheels, working with mental health facilities and nursing homes, and making quilts for babies with AIDS. I'm not very religious and this was sort of my way of bringing spirituality into their lives. Last year this same daughter and I had traveled to Morocco together but did not do a service project. Nonetheless, the trip was a great eye opener in terms of how women in other parts of the world live. This trip was really special because we had the chance to "help" but even more importantly to really get to know the people and understand what their lives and challenges are all about. Yes, the safari was fun, but nowhere as interesting as getting to know the people/culture.

I'm pretty sure we will do something like this again next year. We hope to have my older daughter along next time. She was busy working as in her first "real job" and sent me a cute text one day that said, "I'm so jealous you are doing something meaningful while I'm sitting here making Powerpoints of sales figures!"

We met a few other families who were doing this kind of thing together. All shared what a great experience it had been.

gruezi
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Aug 9th, 2009, 06:05 AM
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Nice to read a different report, especially about what is actually doing on the ground in the communities. You both did good and I thank you for this.
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Aug 9th, 2009, 06:52 AM
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Hi gruezi,
Thanks for reporting back. Your trip and cultural experiences sound fascinating. Would love to see pictures if you're willing to share. Please tell us about every little detail that you can think of - we eat that kind of info. up.

Questions;
What were your accommodations like? A friends daughter just emailed from Ghana about her housing - she's helping out at an orphanage and didn't fully understand prior what her housing would be like. She also didn't understand the concept of a bucket shower, LOL. In her case it was literally a bucket that she dumped over her head. She's learning to be a good sport and not take things for granted. Every young/old person should do this.

It sounds like you were in a Masai community - were there other locals as well? If the people you dealt with are anything like the people I've met you'll have friends for life.
I'm glad you got to see the Crater - pretty impressive - eh?
I'm also happy that you and your daughter had such a wonderful opportunity to do something so wonderful together.
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Aug 9th, 2009, 07:28 AM
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Such a wonderful wonderful experience. Thank you for doing it and thank you for sharing it with us!!!

I am also interested in more details.
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Aug 9th, 2009, 07:44 AM
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sandi - thanks for reading and for your nice thoughts.

Hi cybor -

So glad you got to see my mini-report. We did have an amazing trip and it is a special bond we'll always have.

I have to say I was very uncomfortable taking photos and don't really have many. Many Tanzanians suspect we are taking pictures in order to "sell" them. Also, I had to really think about why I wanted the photos... A few of the younger people did take a lot of photos including at the hospital. My daughter took a ton of photos of her students who were delighted to pose, but would it really be right take photos that mostly just showed the poverty and need I was seeing at the hospital? Sigh... I don't know. The nurses were delighted to have prints of photos and we did try to accommodate them by getting copies made.

Here are the three stories that stand out for me from my volunteer work:

1. A very old frail grandfather bringing in his 4 year old granddaughter carrying her on his back to have her CD4 count done. His pants were held up by a rope. He and the daughter were dirty. The little girl was in a bright pink satin dress albeit old and dirty. A young man joined them and I asked if she was his daughter. "No, I am a neighbor home from seminary school on break. I came along to help them get here from their village. The girl has HIV. Both her parents are dead." When the grandfather took the little girl off the bench, I noticed she had no underclothes on. He put her back on his back and walked off. They had to come back again the next week.

2. I was in the burn/fracture ward. Adults mixed with children. The children (and some adults) there get a lot of burns from the fires used to cook in the front of the huts. There were also a number of children in "traction" for fractures and a lot of elderly in traction for hip and pelvic fractures. Stones from outside the ward on the ground are collected and are used for the traction weights. No pain medicine is given before the burns are debrided. Heartbreaking. One morning a "screen" was in front of one of the beds. While another volunteer and I played with the children, 2 men came in with a primitive wooden casket and removed a dead body from behind the screen and walked out.

3. Labor and delivery - 3 hard tables with rubber mats on them. No pain medication. We saw a number of dead infants. The dead infants are wrapped in a kanga and placed on a little shelf under the table where the live babies are placed before the mothers are shuffled out with them, immediately after birth, to a bed in a room with about 20+ other new mothers/babies. Once, there were dead twins on that shelf for over a day. On the day I left, a dead baby had been lying there for over 2 days. I still have no idea whether the family comes for the baby or what happens...

Moshi is more of a Chagga community and our little neighborhood was very friendly and filled with kids. We found out that the children right across the road that we played with every day were pretty much being raised by all the local women as the mother was a prostitute and rarely at home. The baby was not even two and about as sweet as you can imagine. It was hard to not take her home with us.

We did see many Maasai in Moshi but not really living there so much. Their homes and living situation we saw as we were out traveling to the national parks. Our guide pretty much just drove off the highway and circled around until he saw some Maasai women at home and for 15,000 shilling (about 11 USD) they showed us their "home". The children were literally covered in flies. But they were happy and smiling. So who am I to judge?

Yes, the crater was gorgeous. We liked the wildlife better in Tarangire - more abundant and natural seeming whereas the crater was almost like a zoo. I loved all the landscape everywhere - so varied. And the sunsets were just stunning.

I just can't get the red of the soil out of my head and the women and their clothes and the way they went about their chores and of course those smiling friendly children!

gruezi
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Aug 9th, 2009, 07:53 AM
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Great report and would love to hear more about CCS and their operations and details of your stay since I may volunteer for one of their projects too.
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Aug 9th, 2009, 08:05 AM
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OOPs! I forgot to report back on our accommodations.

Actually, they were pretty nice all things considered. We had 2 sets of bunk beds per room with a toilet and real shower. We did have hot water sometimes and sometimes not. We had the power go out, but not very often.

The beds were comfortable and the linens clean once per week (one week they forgot but normally it is once per week). My daughter and I had both brought our own pillows and pillowcase and were glad of it. The rooms were not that clean - especially by my standards and things were broken (towel bar and toilet paper dispenser broken and on the floor for 2 weeks until I got tired of looking at them and put them on the top of the wardrobe). The wardrobe was small and shared with 3 others so really no privacy or space. I actually bought a plastic rack in town for my underwear, medical supplies and books as otherwise I would have lived out of my suitcase for three weeks.

Sometimes the toilet wasn't so great and little "gifts" were left in there that would not go down as we came to call them

The food was good with the exception of breakfast which just was mostly carbs and for me with the hospital work I needed a full stomach. I was always happy on the days they gave us eggs. We had amazing avocado salads, mangoes, banana fritters at lunch and dinner. There was meat but not a lot of it. I did not mind. Many in our group were vegetarian or vegan anyway. All meals were served outside under a pavilion on plastic sheeted tables. Sometimes I wished for a clean uncluttered table but overall it was fine.

For me, the hardest part was the dorm living. I'm almost 50 and my standards of cleanliness and privacy were quite different from the predominately college-aged kids there. Also, the first week I had the top bunk and it was pretty uncomfortable for night time trips to the john IYKWIM. LOL. I have a few bruises from getting down from there!

Like anytime you do these things, there were a few nutty people in our group. A few left early. A few came with a LOT of prescription drugs. A few were just not mature enough for the experience. OTOH, I met some amazing young people who were truly wonderful people and inspiring in their goals and the kind of things they plan to do, or had already done, with their lives. Fortunately, my 15-year-old gravitated to the good kids and knew who was trouble.

We could pay for our laundry to be hand washed and line dried or do it ourselves by hand in big plastic tubs. Underwear you must do yourself as it is considered very degrading to wash someone else's underwear. We did a little of both - paid for some and did some ourselves. We whine a lot about our little Swiss W/D but we grew to really appreciate it during those 3 weeks! The women who did the laundry were masters at getting red clay out of nursing whites!

The home was supervised by security and had a gated entrance which was locked at night. I felt very safe. It was very noisy at night with lots of fighting dogs and such beyond the fence. Roosters crowed at all hours and the Mosque call to prayer woke me early every morning. I did bring earplugs and used them every night. Some people really struggled to get good sleep. I'm a lousy sleeper all the time so it was business as usual for me.

Hope this is helpful.

gruezi
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Aug 9th, 2009, 08:18 AM
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moremiles,

I was very pleased with CCS. They provided very good speakers, swahili lessons, and some outings each week. I had a lot of help from them up front deciding on which program to attend and I think this one was perfect for us. I wanted a clinical experience, and although they do not guarantee a particular placement, I did get that. A few people on our trip had done other programs with CCS. Many said that the CCS Karanga homebase was their favorite. Another mom and her daughter in our group had been to India with CCS and preferred it to where we were because it is located at the base of the Himalayas, but said the food, cleanliness and program was not as strong there as in Tanzania. Her daughter actually got pretty sick in India. We had absolutely no diarrhea and the worse we suffered was a pretty bad cold which I'm still recovering from. (Ironically, I had every kind of medicine but nothing for cough or cold!!)

If you have any specific questions about the program I would love to answer them and I encourage you to go to their website and see what they offer.

gruezi
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Aug 9th, 2009, 08:31 AM
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wow... those are amazing visual pictures Gruezi. Thank you for sharing them.

How did it feel to be practicing as an RN again?
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Aug 9th, 2009, 08:55 AM
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Hi MomDD,

It was hard to really help too much which I think most medical professionals feel frustrated by. Things are done so differently you don't really feel qualified. In the US, we are so specialized as medical professionals. Here, the doctors and nurses needed to know how to do everything with limited resources.

The second day I was there I scrubbed in for surgery and assisted with two cesareans, and an appendectomy. It was really interesting and pretty cool, but later I realized I am not at all trained or qualified to do this and what would have happened to me had the surgeon stuck me with the suture needle? I stayed away from surgery after that. Next time, I will bring my own prophylaxis for a needle stick. I also did a lot of work with the CD4 counts and similarly it made me nervous as there is no protocol for contact with infected blood. I felt very torn between wanting to help and have an interesting experience and accepting that I also am a mother and owe my own health to my family.

I was also torn between respecting how things were done and feeling things were done very indifferently to pain and suffering. This was something that was really difficult for all of us.

I have a great respect for what is being done given the circumstances, but still I felt inept and unqualified to really be of help.

Really, I learned much, much more than I was able to contribute. I hope that I can find a way to use this knowledge in the future. Perhaps my masters degree will be in global public health.

One thing I am doing in order to help is to create a guide for future volunteers at this hospital. This did not exist before and I think is a real need. I worked with 2 other volunteers to meet doctors and nurses from various departments there who work well with volunteers and have tasks where help is needed - for instance, taking BPs in L&D, rolling gauze, cleaning and weighing babies - simple things that anyone could do without judgment or without taking over someone's job.

It was fascinating to do rounds and to sit in on consultations, but I really wanted to "work" more and that meant sometimes just entertaining burned children.

Yeah, it was great to be in a nurses uniform again and also exciting to see some possibilities for my future career.

A lot of people asked me theoretically if I'd move to Moshi if my husband was transferred there... There is an international school after all. Yup, I would go.

Just writing here is helping me sort everything out in my head. I tried to keep a journal there, but frankly I was often just too tired or overwhelmed so didn't write much.

It was a pretty life-changing opportunity.

gruezi
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Aug 9th, 2009, 10:26 AM
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wow. I enjoyed everyone word of your report, gruezi. It's all about helping one's neighbor and when we help our neighbor, we help ourselves. You and DD did that - well done.
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Aug 9th, 2009, 11:52 AM
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Great report. Thank you for sharing.

Our guide and cook (who has since died) from our first trip were Chagga from outside Moshi. I wonder if you met Adrian or his children!

I have a great respect for what is being done given the circumstances, but still I felt inept and unqualified to really be of help.

Really, I learned much, much more than I was able to contribute. I hope that I can find a way to use this knowledge in the future. Perhaps my masters degree will be in global public health.


I think this is the paradoxical drawback--and benefit--of "volunteer vacations." I did one when I was quite young in Mexico and discovered that there was no shortage of people who already lived there who could do my job but no money to pay them! Of course I wasn't a skilled nurse just a college kid. It did, however, open my eyes to the way many people live. I'm sure your daughter got a lot out of it.

I hope you do go into public health. It sounds as if you have much to offer.

Thanks again, gruezi. The rich smell of the clay earth will stay with for a long time!
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Aug 9th, 2009, 12:25 PM
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seetheworld - funny, I think my 15-year-old helped a lot more than I did! She worked pretty hard and really related well with the teacher who ran her school. I'm so proud of her for stepping up to such a big role. She's a tiny thing - barely 5 feet tall but pretty grown-up. She loved the children and is already talking about ways to help them. One day she brought them all bananas and it was a really special treat along with the usual porridge. They called her "teacher". It's so important for the children to learn English as their secondary education requires it. Hopefully she was able to teach them a little bit.

Leely - thanks for your encouraging thoughts and for sharing your own experiences. I did have some conflicts about what our role was as volunteers for sure. Lots of the young kids did not feel that way, but of course none of them have yet been through labor so how could they really understand the nature of the L&D ward? For me, helping to better organize the program and learning as much as I could about Tanzanian health care became my way of contributing. I know this will shape things I do in the future as a nurse and also in my current position.

gruezi
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Aug 9th, 2009, 05:21 PM
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Gruezi,
Thank you so much for posting the link to this report in the Lounge. Never would have found it otherwise, and it is a really interesting read.

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Aug 9th, 2009, 05:56 PM
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Gruezi, I have a friend who has been a public health nurse for over 10 years. She has spent many months at a time in sub-Saharan Africa and southeast Asia (mostly AIDS education, prevention programs and the like). There's certainly no shortage of projects especially if one can get grants. Really, consider it as something you may want to do after the kiddies fly the coop. If you can coerce your husband to trail after you around the world.
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Aug 9th, 2009, 08:10 PM
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Great Report and what a lovely experience you and your daughter had.

Nice to read a report more about the people than the animals.

It is a refreshing change !
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