"The greatest oppression is to those that don't truly know they are not free."


Discovering a New Continent

***** ETHIOPIA *****

(Coming Soon)

***** TANZANIA *****

I have been in Tanzania for 2 weeks now. I live in a mud hut with a family that has 7 children though only 4 still live at home. I sleep on a wooden cot with a mosquitoo net hanging overhead from a branch that sticks out of the mud-daubed walls. I eat plain bread out of a bag with chai tea in the mornings. I take about 7 different pills and vitamins in order to avoid malaria, scurvy, and constipation. I eat one of 4 different meals for lunch or dinner: rice with beans, beans with potatoes, beans and corn, or a grits-like mash with spinach called ugali. I have lost what I estimate to be around 4-5 pounds judging by the expansion of my clothes around me and the degree that my ribs stick out. I work on site digging trenches, gardening, hoeing, etc. I teach HIV and AIDS prevention  3 days a week in a high school to a class of 40-50 16-20 year olds. I teach a class of elementary students in the local village twice a week.

Our Mud Hut

Our "Shower"

Dust-crusted Shoes

But the absolute joy of my teaching experience is in tutoring 7-year old Farajah every day in our children's home. Farajah was orhpaned at 4. Both parents died to AIDS. He was the only person at his mom's side when she died. He has an older sister, age 10, who also lives with him at the OHS children's home. He is the sweetest boy, full of energy, physically talented, with the biggest eyes that show straight to the center of his little heart. He is in 1st grade but he cannot read. So I am teaching him. And he is learning and learning fast. I tell him I love him because I really do. And he loves me too. We get along famously.
I am always dirty here. There is no way to avoid it. We live in dust and dirt and clay and sand and mud. Those "Save the children" spots on TV in the States show the kids looking so pathetic and dirty.Well we may not be living in luxury, but dirt no longer conveys a sense of helplessness to me. Dirt is merely a way of life.


Our kids

Africa is home to the most stunning vibrant and unreal sunsets in the whole world (at least the parts that I have traveled). I love to climb the hill behind our site and see the whole village sprawled out below and the mountains in the distance and the deep reds and fiery oranges washed with a rare purple.

Sunset from the Hill

Everyone here is called "mama" or "baba" or "brother" or "sister". And we really do feel like family. We dont know everyone. But anyone is always welcomed to anyone's little mud hut for a warm meal, some hugs, and some belly laughs.

Dada in the Kitchen

Making Chapati Bread with Baba

Supper at Baba Zaki's 

More to come from the land of Safari, Mt. Kilimanjaro, Lake Victoria, the Masai Tribe, and AIDS.

With the Girls on our Hill

Masai Cows (Gnombe)

***** SAFARI *****

We had our first 3 day weekend off this week. I went to Ngoro Ngoro crater and the Serengeti for the most amazing safari trip one could ever ask for.

Safari Mates, Volunteers, and "Dadas"

First ingredient: the best safari mates. My roommates and fellow volunteers, 5 of us in all, animals lovers and adventure seekers, campers and PB and J eaters.
Second ingredient: the best tour guide in all of Africa, our friend and coworker, Rasta Reggie, funny, loving, dedicated, knowledgeable, and already a good friend of ours.
Third ingredient: our own OHS safari land rover with a pop-up roof in order to stand our our chairs and have an unobstructed view of the landscape and wildlife.
Fourth ingredient: DYI PBnJ's and spaghetti and tons of matunda (fruit).
Fifth ingredient: awesome OHS tents--what i like to call "veritable palaces"
Last ingredient: 2 reggae CD's played on repeat for 48 hours, courtesy of Rasta Reggie

Rasta Reggie on the Shifting Sands

Loaded up and ready to go we set off for Ngoro Ngoro, a massive crater made thousands and thousands of years ago which is home to 3 kinds of life: the Masai people, the Masai livestock, and the wild animals (all sorts except for giraffes which cannot survive at the low altitude of the crater on account of their oversized hearts). The crater introduced us to tons of hungry hyenas which we watched rounding up herds of zebras and wildebeasts. Unfortunately we missed the take-down of one unfortunate wildebeast by the pack of hyenas. We came up close and personal with 3 baby jackals that suprisingly tried to climb into our car. Reggie said in all his safari trips he's never seen any animals get that close to the car. But the most exciting up-close encounter happened, of course, when we stopped the car for me to go use the choo. As Crystal and I were in the choo, reggie and the other girls walked over to a beautiful old tree right next to a hippo pond. (The bathroom was one of the areas where you were actually allowed out of the car.) As they walked over, they heard a weird growling sound. Reggie looked up and immediately shouted, "F***!!! it's a lion!!" A large female lion had been in the tree the whole time and as they got closer, she got ready to attack. She jumped out of the tree in Reggie's direction and landed only 2 feet away from him. He fell down on a tree root in fear and thought he was dead as the lion hovered above his face and growled at him. One of the girls ran, one froze, and the other probably saved his life by shrieking "REGGIE!!!" The lion turned and ran in fear as i walked out of the bathroom to a very rattled group of safari mates.

Minutes Before the Lion Attack

I was very sad not to have seen it first hand but very glad that Reggie and the rest were still alive.

The Mysterious Crater

Pumba (Swahili for Warthog)







Baby Jackals

Punda Milia


Buffalo Soldier

Safari Style

***** HIV/AIDS *****

It took a while for AIDS and its effect on this part of the world to unfurl in my experience and consciousness. And it is still an ongoing process of realization. The first people I met infected with HIV were some of the kids and mamas that live in the OHS house. Only one of the kids, however, is actually allowed to share her status with the volunteers. 4 year old Bahati who is the adopted daughter of our director, Hori, and his wife, Lena. Bahati is a diva, full of life, energy, sass, opinion, personality. She puts up with her pediatric AIDS shingles. She stoic-ly accepts injections and medicines. She is survivng and conquering. But she is only 4. She will battle for the rest of her life. And at some point, only God knows when, the quiet period of her virus will close. The virus will have killed enough immune cells in her body to leave her with a CD4 count of less than 200. She will have full-blown AIDS. And like millions of others, she too will be robbed of her precious life by a disease that cannot be cured.

There are other children in the house who are also HIV positive. They dont know their own status though and neither do the volunteers. That information is guarded by the "parents" of the house. And all the children, positive or negative, take their respective medicines and vitamins without question as to who is taking an anti-retroviral and who is not. The kids are just given a chance to be the spunky, energetic, individual kids that they are and fully live a childhood that is not afforded to so many of their comrades in this part of the world.

So HIV is here on the homefront, but day to day we see smiles and giggles and energy and tantrums and doggy piles and all the other elements one would expect in a house with 21 kids. The kids force their neighbor, the Virus, to take a backstage role while they all dominate the stage with their lively theatrics.

We had an HIV testing day in the village where we teach HIV curriculum in the schools. We advertised the testing day for a week and a half prior. Posters in hand we walked mile after mile of dusty road, climbing hill after hill to reach one Masai boma (family compound) after another. We talked to hundreds of red and purple shuka robed Masai warriors, mamas, kokos and babus (grandparents), and their dusty children. Kokos and Babus laughed and said: Why would an old person like me test? I dont do anything like those crazy young people do to get AIDS. Mamas said: If i found out I was positive, then what? There's nothing I can do about it. Besides, Jesus is the only cure. The men said: We Masai have leaves to make medicines out of to cure anything. Many made empty promises to come test. But come testing day, not one shuka-wearing Masia entered our testing tents, despite our rebuffs to uniformed concepts, our urging that testing is the only way to prevent the spread of the disease, our insistence that the test was free, painless, and quick.

Yet we tested 106 people that day. And I saw the glimmer of achievement to all that we do here in a sometimes seemingly hopeless situation. Our students came out to be tested. Masai all of them, but pursuing education, uninhibited by tradition and superstition, enlightened by not only our curriculum but their own experience and critical thinking. We tested 106. We had 106 negative results. We have a promising next generation. We have hope to end this cycle. We have individuals who care about their own health and care about the ability of their generation to stay healthy and strong. We have young people who overcome stifling fears and stigmas to take a stand against one of the biggest enemies to their countries success and prosperity.

AIDS is a hopeless case if you only look at the ignorant, the unwilling, the victims, the surrenderers of the community. But if you look far enough down the road and watch this minority of enlightened and empowered young people carry their knowledge, conviction, and motivation for change and solution to region after region, year after year, you see hope and you see a way to end  this cycle. 
Princess Bahati

Ibra and Ima King

Lulu and Niko


***** TO TEACH *****

Since I was either 5 or 7 years old, I thought to myself, If I don't become a zoo keeper, I think I shall be a teacher.

I began working as an ESL tutor at age 9. Special ed tutor at age 13. Nanny at age 16. Literacy clinician at age 18. SAT tutor at age 19. TESL certified at age 22. I enjoyed every one of my teaching jobs and was good at it.

Yet, upon graduation from college, I was still not convinced of my career choice. I flirted with the idea of going back to school as an architect. It might have worked out...

But then I came to Africa.
And within one week, it all became clear. I must teach. It's too late. I am already a teacher. Nothing else feels quite as right.

Even in our mock teach-backs during O-week before we started teaching in the schools, every lesson I was able to teach I wanted to make my students (mock or not) think about things they might not have thought about before. And through thinking draw conclusions they might not have realized before. I love to learn from them as they learn from me. I love to present ideas, discuss, think, analyze, problem-solve, learn. And I love making my students love to learn too.

Being in front of a class room is one of the most comfortable places in the world to me. It's my work. I can get to know each face day after day and attach it to a personality. There are the know-it-alls, there are the ones who don't know it all but try really hard. There are the "I-could-care-less" kids. There are the kids that avoid eye-contact at all costs lest they be called on in class. But all those labels slip away when you interact one on one. Curiosity and thought exists in every student, regardless of their reputation or confidence level. I like to find that well of learning and help draw it out.

Outside of class, I teach literacy one-on-one to Farajah who has struggled with reading for several years now. To teach Farajah requires that you not get sucked into the sob-story of an orphan who misses his mom. And that is the hardest part. To teach Farajah requires you to know how to wrestle a goofy and work-eschewing kid. To teach Farajah requires patience above all else. To teach Farajah requires you to know how to make him believe he can do something before you're even sure if he can do it or not yourself. Knowledge of literacy curriculum is the last, not least but certainly NOT most important, requirement to teach Farajah.

Mama Jessica and I teared up a little while Farajah bounced beaming and shouting from room to room upon successfully reading his first ever one-page story all by himself. Farajah can read. 

I think when you find that occupation where you don't ever really feel like you're working that hard, where everyone tells you you are great at your job, where you learn new things every day, where every day feels worthwhile, where you know part of what you did will last forever in someone else's life...I think then you've found out just what you were meant to do.

And so, I must teach.

Teaching our Girls

Student/Teacher Love

Secondary Teachers with Head Girl and Head Boy

My Form 1 class (9th grade)

My Form 3 class (11th Grade)


I am a young woman alone with my roll-on suitcase (which is the bane of my existence on world travels. The thing could be empty and still weigh a hundred pounds) and my small brown knapsack sitting in an airport for the seventeenth time in the last 3 ½ months. I’ll visit nine more airports in the next 2 weeks. Really, what am I doing? …This thought emerges from time to time and never a concrete answer follows.

I’ve been in Tanzania for two months and already I’m itching to go. I think part of why I like to travel is to just be in airports and on planes and trains and in transit to the next destination. In all things in life, I am a fan of the process and don’t so much care how the results turn out. I love the part where you never know what’s gonna happen. Everything could go as smooth as the peanut butter I’ve taken to carrying around in a small tub with a handle. Or everything could fall apart before your eyes. Or, if you’re really lucky, everything will fall apart just enough for you to have a good surge of adrenaline before by fate or mercy or your own sweet cunning it all comes back together into that narrow escape. No matter what happens, it’s always a story. And collecting stories is a penchant of mine—always has been.

I like sitting in places like airports to stir my thoughts like a pot of stew. I could have made the analogy to a vegetable or alphabet soup but stew seems more fitting to me as it is a bit harder to stir, messier—your spoon seems to bump into more things with each rotation. Not that my mind is always chunky with thoughts. Honestly, sometimes that blank stare I wear can’t even pretend to be a pensive gaze into the distance on account of the real void of the brain behind it.

Anyways, trains. I rode one from China to Mongolia—the legendary Trans-Siberian Railroad. One of the more Harry Potter moments in my life, I’d have to classify. Two more trains I will ride. Casablanca to Fes and Marrakesh to Casablanca. I don’t allow myself to imagine a magical Arabian nights setting for fear of disappointment. Magical setting or no, there is something inherently fantastical about a train. Most importantly, I don’t get motion sickness on a train. If you know me and my issues with cars and boats, you would take a moment to thank the Lord for my lack of motion sickness on trains. Of course, as thankful as I am for this, it’s not numbered SO high up on my list pf blessings merely on account of the fact that I encounter trains in my life only 3 times every 22 years or so.
I can’t believe I will be almost 23 when I get home.

How untouchable are trains! No stop lights. No traffic. Yet they fit right into the landscape with the smallest disturbance of only a 7 foot-wide track. Oh, and some tunnels blasted through mountains when necessary but who is there to disturb in the center of a mountain anyways? Train windows remind me of thos old moving picture machines that you stick your face into and crank a handle on the side to make a series of scenes crawl slowly before your eyes. Trains. Travel by train.

I love the lack of attachment the perpetual traveler has toward material things. It is of utmost importance (on account of aching backs and fee-happy airlines) to keep your luggage light. In the process of elimination, you find that really a human only needs a handful of things to be happy and healthy. Things when you do not need them anymore you merely bid adieu in the place where it’s necessity expired and you do not look back like Lot’s wife did. Trinkets are another story. Curios. Those curious things that after your travels you put into your Ger or Boma or Bedouin’s tent and when someone comes over for tea, they pick it up and gasp, “ooh, I’ve never seen such a curious thing!” And then you smile a knowing smile and slip into a nonchalant recounting of the story of how such a curious thing came to reside in your Bedouin’s tent. You see, it really is all about stories.
I’ve taken to collecting small vials of sands…magical Gobi sand, Shifting sands of Serengeti, white sands washed by the Indian ocean, Sahara sands, sands of crumbled pyramid dust at Giza, black sands shiny with mica in New Zealand, volcanic sands in Hawaii….sands. Maybe I’ll put each kind into a small hourglass and try to figure out the significance of sands and travels and time. Or maybe I’ll just use them to time each team’s turn when we play Taboo. I’m really good at Taboo.

Once I get on this plane, I’ll leave Tanzania. I’m not sure if I’ll ever come back. And I’m ok with that. Did you know that I’ll be riding camels in three different countries?