Tanzania in Retrospect-Mark Biernacki’s Journey to Tanzania, Part I - December 6th, 2013

Journey to Tanzania – Friday/Saturday, July 5/6, 2013

A seven hour flight to Amsterdam along with a five hour layover kicked things off. From there, a jammed packed plane took us to Nairobi for yet another seven hour flight. The international flavor was all around me as I sat squeezed in the plane’s coach section. Across the aisle sat a French woman who was thankful one of the flight attendants spoke her language. Next to me in the center seat was an elderly Kenyan man who wore a baseball cap with the word “Texas” embroidered on the front and a replica of the Kenyan flag on the bill.

I’m still getting to know my travel partners, all of whom are volunteers for this TDS adventure (the students left with Dr. Thurmaier one week earlier). There’s Dan who will be my roommate once we reach our final destination. Jeanine is Dr. T’s wife and has done this trip before. Tricia is another returning volunteer having last been to Tanzania several years ago. Heidi is one of the architects who designed the library we will be building. Carol and Helen, both from Wisconsin and long time acquaintances of the Thurmaiers’, round out the group. Except for Heidi, we’re all in the 50 years plus age bracket.

Mr. MooshThe Nairobi airport is what one would imagine. Our layover here was only for 2 or so hours but they ended up having the most strict of security details. A small pair of scissors that made it all of the way from Chicago undetected was picked out by the one lone guy at the X-ray machine in the boarding area for our flight to Kilimanjaro. A problem with the plane’s paperwork delayed our departure from Nairobi, making the late hour even later. Finally, we made it into the airport in Arusha, Tanzania. This airport made Nairobi’s look plush and modern. We met our driver, Mr. Moosh, who took us to our hotel for the evening while playing and singing to the country and western music on the van’s radio. On Saturday morning, the wake up call came right on schedule. Our journey and our transit was to continue. I was feeling as if we’ve already been on an adventure with just the travels we have done so far. Yet, there are more travels to come before we start on the tasks we originally came for.

Mr. Moosh took us back to the Kilimanjaro Airport for our flight to Mwanza. Another travel snafu greeted us at the baggage check counter. For domestic flights in Tanzania, we each were limited to one checked bag. Of course, we each had two checked bags, most of which carried the school supplies and other donation items for those that live and go to school in the Musoma and Nyegina area that would be our final destination. The extra charge came in at $500 USD! Jeanine was ever the trooper, refused to pay a penny more when asked to, and then dug deep into her bags to fork over the cash. Most definitely this was an unanticipated expense not a part of the original budget and expense planning.

Father Leo KazeriFather Leo Kazeri, one of the head priests at the Catholic Church and the parish that covers Musoma area, greeted us at the airport in Mwanza. Again, with each successive airport, the facilities and services became more and more primitive. This one in Mwanza was definitely at the bottom end of any that I have been to. But, what is one to expect? I think it is a great experience to see these types of places and what people deal with.

Fixing a flat tireOne van was used for our luggage, the other was for us volunteers. First, we had lunch at a very nice place on the lakeshore. Then off on a long and dusty 4 hour ride north to Musoma. Many people walking along the road, donkeys, goats and cattle all over the place, bicycles, screaming trucks and vans rushing by each other with only inches to spare, wildebeests off in the distance as we traveled along the western edge of the Serengeti, women and young girls with large water containers or bundles of wood on their heads, people washing themselves and their clothes in whatever puddle or pond they can find, basic living conditions with homes made of mud brick with thatched roofs, and trash and garbage strewn everywhere. We blew a tire about halfway through the ride. Our driver worked effortlessly to change it out while the rest of us stood in the shade of a nearby acacia tree while watching a young boy shepherd a herd of cattle in the nearby fields.

Side of the roadFishingCarrying

Into MusomaFinally into Musoma and to the Epheta Retreat Center that is located right on the shores of Lake Victoria. We arrived right at dusk so weren’t able to see everything about the place just yet. The staff fed us a simple meal of rice, fish and beef along with some pineapple and legumes. We were soon dead asleep exhausted after our long journey.

What a whirlwind of the past two days! An adventure was already had, yet we haven’t even begun the real adventure and purpose of our trip.
—Mark B.

Volunteers Depart, Students to Zanzibar - July 20th, 2013

Friday was a long travel day for us, though successful. We had a french toast breakfast at 6:30 and gave the cooks at Epheta our thank you gift for being very creative at giving us tasty food for 3 weeks. They have been so responsive to our requests for variety and more fruits and vegetables.

We loaded the cars to carry luggage and boarded the bus. We were already behind scheduled 7:30 departure, but then someone forgot her phone and we had to turn around (only 2 minutes out, fortunately). (We’re not mentioning Rachel’s name though.) Then we had to stop to pick up Br. Masini at his school (he is going to Zanzibar with us). Now we are 1/2 hour late departing. Ahhhh, this is classic Tanzania, and we just needed to “go with the flow” as we say in the states.

We arrived in good time for the volunteers to go through security and check bags, with farewells said outside the airport. By the time the student group got through security and baggage check, the volunteers were already out the door and on their plane. We watched their plane heading for Kilimanjaro airport and on to Nairobi, wishing the Njema Safari! (a good journey).

The rest of us flew to Dar es Salaam. It was a bumpy takeoff—too much excitement for Nelisha’s first small prop flight! We finally landed in Zanzibar, and had our first meal at the outdoor food bazaar, aggressively courted by each of the food stands to try their kabobs of fish, chicken, somosas, etc. The last group got to bed about 10:45. A long and happy day indeed.

Quick Update - July 19th, 2013

We had a fine last day in Musoma. Met with local government officials in the morning seminar, and faith-based NGOs in the afternoon. We had last minute shopping and a farewell dinner at the Afrilux Hotel.

Next up, volunteers headed home, student group to Zanzibar!

2013 Serengeti Safari - July 17th, 2013

A lion and cubs during the 2013 Serengeti Safari.

A game drive doesn’t get much better than:

  • Seeing a leopard with 2 babies in a tree.
  • Watching a cheetah catch a baby gazelle, then not kill it but give it to her baby cheetah to play “catch the gazelle!” It was amazing to watch. Every few minutes the baby cheetah would let the gazelle loose; it would run away and the baby cheetah would easily catch and release again. Gazelle games!
  • Looking at a 2 week old baby giraffe hop around and nurse.
  • Watching a mother and 2 lion cubs casually stroll past the car (not quite in touching distance, but very close!) and meander off toward a group of Thompson’s gazelles (an enticing breakfast).

 

When we returned to the campsite for breakfast (about 9am), we discovered that a pride of lions had caught a Cape Buffalo just next to our campsite while we were off watching the other lions, cheetahs, and leopards! It is such an amazing experience; no wonder the Serengeti is called one of the 7 Wonders of the World.


Video by Mark Biernacki, Music by African Tribal Orchestra

30th Wedding Anniversary - July 15th, 2013

Sunday was for celebrating the 30th wedding anniversary of Kurt and Jeanine/Baba na Mama Anna. There was the 2 hour special Mass (9-11am) presided by Bishop Michael, followed by gift giving, choir performance, and lunch. Gifts to the happy couple included 2 live hens, which Jeanine graciously held for the couple. (They were donated to Epheta, which has many hen houses for eggs and dinners!) Then evening special party with other guests, complete with more gift giving, dancing, and dinner. We managed to get home by just after 11pm…..long day before the safari. (Still looking for a picture of the hen gifts to post….check back to this post for an update….;) Tomorrow is the Serengeti camping safari.


Video by Mark Biernacki, Music by African Tribal Orchestra

Work Day and Volunteer Island Visit - July 13th, 2013

Lindsay and Nelisha practicing masonry at the Nyegina Library site.Lindsay and Nelisha practicing masonry at the Nyegina Library site.

Today’s project work was a half day. We spent about an hour helping to construct the sign announcing the project (financing, contractor, etc) with each student pounding some nails, then erecting the sign. Later we were passing more sand with students, UMABU board members moving rocks, and NIU students Nelisha Gray and Lindsay Schoeder practicing masonry (pictured). The TDS volunteers spent the day visiting Rukuba and Irigia islands (which the students visited the weekend before). The island visit is an unforgettable experience, as one sees abject poverty at a level that is difficult to imagine and comprehend.


Video by Mark Biernacki, Music by African Tribal Orchestra

Microfinance around Musoma - July 11th, 2013

One of the 19 women who belong to microfinance borrowing groups in the Bukwaya area presents information on her group borrowing to students and volunteers in an afternoon seminar.

One of the 19 women who belong to microfinance borrowing groups in the Bukwaya area presents information on her group borrowing to students and volunteers in an afternoon seminar.

The 2nd seminar day was focused on microfinance as a development tool. We visited three microfinance NGOs in the morning: FINCA, AFREDA, and SACCOS Musoma. We learned how they work and who are their clientele. In the afternoon, we met with 19 women from various microfinance groups that work with AFREDA and UMABU to develop their businesses. The women own restaurants, sell vegetables, and cereals, and run shops. What we learned from the women is that they struggle very hard to pay back the 36-60% APY interest rates (this is not a misprint). The default rate is amazingly low because the group members have to make the loan repayment for a member who is sick or is away for a funeral and cannot make her payment. Still, they manage to make a profit even after paying back the loans. Some groups have moved past AFREDA loans and now have their own internal lending program. The picture above captures the presentation of one borrower explaining her circumstances to the NIU students and TDS volunteers.

First Work Day - July 10th, 2013

Cory shoveling mixed concrete into buckets for the Nyegina Library and Community Resource Center

This was our first work day, and we spent most of the time moving sand from piles into the floor frame. By Thursday we will probably be pouring cement around the rocks that the workers will place on the sand base we laid today. We passed the sand by shovels dropped in cement bags and passed along a line of hands, each taking and passing to the next, until the end of the line where they sand was spilled onto the ground.

We were joined by boys and girls at the school, community volunteers, and a few teachers who were not in class or grading exams. Cory was dedicated to shoveling mixed concrete into buckets that were then carried by students to the new foundations for the walls. Cory, who is visually impaired, was redefining “impaired” in Tanzania for the Nyegina Secondary students.

-Kurt Thurmaier

Volunteers Arrived and Islands Visit - July 6th, 2013

Good News! The TDS volunteer group arrived at Epheta in Musoma this evening, about 6pm. All their baggage came with them! They are tired but in good spirits.

The student group spent the day on Lake Victoria, visiting two islands with fishing villages. There are many problems on these islands. One is supposed to be a protected bird sanctuary, but there are about 300 fishing folk living in a settlement with no permanent structures, including no schools, no clinic, no wells, no toilets. The other island has permanent legal residents, yet has enclaves of very poor people with very high HIV+ populations, prostitution, malnourished children, and other issues. There is a school, and there is a new kindergarten (funded by a German foundation), so progress is being made. The church congregation welcomed us warmly and provided a delicious lunch. The leaders introduced themselves, and then the students were challenged to introduce themselves in Kiswahili (as they had practiced in class all week). They need more practice, but they gave it a fine effort and that was what really meant a lot to the congregational leaders who had hosted us so enthusiastically.


Video by Mark Biernacki, Music by African Tribal Orchestra

Wishing a Safe Journey to the Volunteers - July 4th, 2013

The 4th of July is not an event in Musoma, Tanzania, but we had reason to celebrate anyway. In addition to another beautiful day, and great progress in our language class, TDS Intern Brandi now has her missing luggage with her clothes and other things for a month! Notice the smile on her face!

The TDS volunteers are leaving from O’Hare today, joining us on Saturday afternoon (July 6th). Prayers and thoughts for their safe journey are much appreciated.

We now have updated contact phone numbers for Dr. Thurmaier and Brandi, if you need to contact someone in the student group or volunteer group.

*In Tanzania: Dr. Thurmaier Mobile: 011.255.682.198.561

*In Tanzania: Brandi Smith Mobile: 011.255.688.139.173

Please note the time difference: Musoma is 8 hours AHEAD of Chicago time. So 8am in Chicago is 4pm (afternoon) in Musoma.

Contact Information - June 26th, 2013

In a little over 24 hours, students will start heading to OHARE International to meet with the study abroad group and catch the first of three flights to Kilimanjaro Airport in Arusha, Tanzania. Below, friends and family can find contact information of key members of the leadership team for the 2013 Experiential Learning with NGOs in Tanzania Program.

We ask that you please be patient with our communications from Tanzania. It is a Third World country, and sometimes the electricity is out, sometimes the server is down, sometimes the phone exchange is overloaded. And sometimes we are just going to be having so much fun that we are not going to pause to tell you what is happening! So……don’t worry if you don’t hear from us every day. We will do our best to post to the Twitter feed and Blog.

Tanzanian mobile numbers will be updated upon arrival in Arusha. Please note the time difference: Musoma is 8 hours AHEAD of Chicago time. So 8am in Chicago is 4pm (afternoon) in Musoma.

KT & Brandi

The Countdown Begins! - June 25th, 2013

The countdown for the 2013 Tanzania Work-Study Program is racing ahead. The NIU and UW-Lacrosse students will leave for Tanzania with Prof. Thurmaier on Thursday, June 27. The students are busy writing their first papers and reflection letters.

The clock is ticking down but the fundraising by the Work-Study volunteers (and a few students!) is ticking up! As of today, their friends and family members have already contributed more than $7000. All of these gifts are applied directly to the library building costs. (The volunteers pay their own way to Tanzania.)

We had the final pre-flight SKYPE session with UMABU staff on Thursday, June 20th and excavation begins on Monday, June 24th! The rock wall that will hold the foundation and floor will be built before the volunteers begin “pouring the floor” on July 9!

Now is a great time for you to visit the Library Build page http://tdsnfp.org/library-build to meet the volunteers and choose someone to support with a generous donation.

Be sure to bookmark this page to follow the progress of the student and volunteer groups as they work together on the  Library and Community Resource Center.