Another hillside …….

And today my heart is hurting again. An early morning call from a manager asking me to come to the office. I could tell something was wrong and leapt out of bed, pulling on my clothes. Running down the corridor with mamas in tears all along it, asking 3, 4, 5  times  “what happened?” “who is it? ” with mamas too distraught to answer me. I looked at the Tumbleform chairs and said “Yusuphu?” and they nodded and pointed to the office. Yusuphu lay there, washed and laid out in the back office, cold and rigid under a white sheet.   Just shy of four years old, a  smiley great big character of a boy with cerebral palsy and a few other issues, was even more beautiful in death and his arms and legs usually bent by constant muscle spasms were finally straight. I sat on the floor with him, just sobbing, for the short life extinguished in a few minutes by  a massive seizure.

A short life but, aside from the fevers and painful spasms that punctuated it, a life in which he looked for joy and loved every opportunity he had to share time and happiness with people.

Its a bit of a cliche to the ‘what did I learn from him?’ but seriously he was a great teacher without realising it .

I have slowed down a lot but sometimes I still get very impatient in Tanzania with the time it takes for things to happen. Yusuphu, along with the other more severely disabled children at the Baby Home, taught me more about patience than anything else.  Sometimes it took  20 minutes to eat 2 cups of food. takes Sometimes it took 5 minutes to move 12 inches across a mat. Sometimes it took 4 minutes for him to co-ordinate all the muscles it took to raise his head up and keep it up long enough to look at everyone in the garden . Sometimes it takes a whole minute to form a word and get it out. But when he got there, when he accomplished, the joy on his face was awesome.

What do you do when you get up in the morning? You open your eyes, stand up, walk to the bathroom.  Imagine waking up and not being able to walk. Imagine trying to shower but not being able to turn on the water alone. Imagine going through life seeing everything differently, and nobody really understands you. . We take things for granted all the time. We take being able to communicate feelings for granted. What if you could not tell your mum that you loved her?  What if you couldn’t run and play with other children? Yusuphu was clever – a brain much less affected than the rest of the body he was trapped in, he loved to join in any games and was  heartbroken when he was left out or was not able to do what they could. And it hurt my heart to watch his pain and frustration. Do not take things for granted because someone would love to be able to do things by themselves.

Yusuphu was mainly non-verbal. He was very good at expressing his choices through his eyes and expressions. You just had to slow down and watch carefully. In the last few months though, we were working with his language and he had just started springing whole words on us when we least expected it. “Yummy” was the last word I heard him say – about a cup of banana and peanut for snack. But actions still speak louder than words and teaching the other kids to do the high fives as well as saying hello and hugging him to show they were pleased to be with him was so worth it to see his face. And to watch him very slowly move his hand to hold on to Blessing, who has microcephaly and does not have as much control over herself, showed how much he used actions when he didn’t have the words himself.

And Yusuphu never gave up. He concentrated so hard to lift himself and to make movements. Almost crying with exhaustion but not giving up until he’d achieved it. And I  cried with joy  too when he finally managed to do it.

He changed my life without even realising he changed it.

So a  few hours after he died, we walk, along with many mamas and guards who came in on their day off, in silence up the hill. This is the quietest this group of people ever are – on the walk to bury a child (see Feona’s Journey and For Others) . The sun blazing down on the parched cemetery up the hill, overlooking the lake, and all raising their voices in harmony to sing and to cry and to put the small coffin in the ground.

Finally free of pain. High five, PhuPhu!

 

This entry was posted on October 15, 2018. 2 Comments

In need of a bit of Disaster Planning…..

We regularly take packed ferries across the Sound to Kamanga and the occasional fishing boat to one of the small islands

.to visit families ( see ‘You can take a horse to water…’)

but I’ve not been out to Ukerewe Island for about 3 years.

It’s a 4 or 5 hour boat ride from Mwanza so a group of us went for a couple of days rest and relaxation to cycle round the beautiful, peaceful island

but it’s a thriving business community with farms. fishing and textile making.

There’s one ferry a day so we ran for the afternoon ferry back, along with a couple of hundred people and huge bags of crops, fish and handmade goods going back to Mwanza to sell in the markets there. The inside seating area of the boat was full to bursting so we crammed on the front deck. There’s never an option to turn people away because a boat ( or bus or train) is too full here. As we set off, the rain started to fall and eventually the Captain took pity on us and let us shelter in a narrow, cramped corridor behind the wheelhouse for the rest of trip of the slow and choppy voyage.

Every other trip is like this – high-spirited and friendly but cramped and  overcrowded .

It still comes as a shock though when the accident waiting to happen, actually does.

MV Nyerere was coming in to dock at Ukara, the next island to Ukerewe, At 2.30pm  on Thursday 20 September.  The capacity of the boat was 100 people and 25 tonnes of freight. More than 200 people were on board and the goods including cement and building material for a project were way over the weight limit. By all accounts the Captain was not on board and had left a boat hand to steer the boat in. A turn taken too sharply, people rushing to one side of the boat as it neared the shore and a flat-bottomed boat – the whole thing just flipped over in seconds. Anyone inside was lost even if they could swim as the goods shifted and blocked the doors. Very few people here can swim so, of  those that jumped clear, very few made it to the water’s edge only 50 metres away where people gathered but stood helplessly as they couldn’t swim out to help them. Those that did come eventually from other boats to help wore life rings themselves as they were not strong swimmers.

We take a lot of things for granted in the UK. The RNLI is definitely one of them. A charity, financed by donations, To save lives at sea. In the UK, within minutes an RNLI boat or a helicopter would have been at the site . Divers would have been at the site with rescue equipment. And here there is nothing…..and here there is worse than nothing because there is bureacracy and corruption. The police boat that was the first responder couldn’t get there because it ran out of petrol. The police don’t get paid much and frequently siphon off money for themselves so did not have a full tank. There were no underwater lights available to help with the rescue. Dar es Salaam Yacht Club put out a call to members and shipped a case up on the late flight. But there was no-one on site from Customs and there might have been VAT to pay on it so the collector was told they would have to wait until the following morning to take the lights. Intervention from a badly behaved mzungu got the crate out eventually – already 1 am by then.

There was an initially speedy response from Social Welfare. With more than 120 women dead, there may be orphans/families in need of additional suppport and we were asked to send a Social Worker. Intrepid Vicky set off on Wednesday 26th.

No priority for workers travelling to the area so she didn’t arrive until Friday ….and then was told that, although more than 220 bodies had been identified, no assessment of need for their remaining families could start until the boat was turned over and the rest of the bodies removed, identified and buried. So she sat and helped families burying their relatives in sight of the upturned boat.

After a few days they started the assessments for children. It had been market day so people had come across from a number of different islands around making tracing relatives a long and complicated task. And once word got out that there was compensation then they also had to weed out the people who were not really relatives or would not be spending the money on the children. 190 families lost one or both parents in the accident – the youngest child is 4 months old , most are over 1 year. An unimaginable high number of carers and wage earners for a group of small communities . The impact will be felt for a long time.

10 days after she left we hear from Vicky ( there are very limited communication systems on the islands) . She, and another social worker,  have identified relatives to care for all of the children so none need to be brought back to Forever Angels  and we will be monitoring the youngest via a social worker on Ukerewe to ensure that they can be fed properly or, if not, they will join our Outreach programme.

The boat is back in service. And you can only hope there have been some lessons learned. Must admit feeling a bit nervous about our next trip across the water.

 

 

 

This entry was posted on October 8, 2018. 1 Comment

Out to the sticks…..

We cover the  whole Lake Zone around Mwanza and a few of our families are up near the Serengeti, which is a 2 1/2 hour drive away.

We headed out there Friday to catch up with some of them.

Kibeshi was born with microcephaly (a very small head and brain) and subsequently is quite severely disabled. His mother could not cope and left him with her own mother who lives in an isolated house. Bibi Kibeshi is in her sixties and not the sprightliest lady but working hard to make sure Kibeshi eats well. There is a such a stigma against disability, especially out in the villages where it can be seen as possession by evil spirits and the children are often killed while young, and there are so few resources to help that I am always so impressed with those relatives that really try their very best for children with additional needs.

We had helped Bibi Kibeshi (Kibeshi’s grandmother) to buy a plot of land and seeds not far from her house and we wanted to check on her cotton crop which should have been ready to pick. Apart from Richard Scarry’s ‘What Do People Do All Day?’  I had not seen cotton growing in fields before and was inordinately excited to see the fluffy cotton wool balls growing on bushes in the fields along the route.

Bibi Kibeshi had already harvested her cotton and was getting ready to bale it up to sell to a local dealer.

A neighbour was helping her to prepare some sweet potatoes that she’d grown – some to dry and sell , others for the family to eat.

We delivered a buggy that was a bit knackered but, at least, meant that Kibeshi could sit upright outside during the day instead of lying down which would help his breathing.

The houses out here are very much spread across vast tracts of land. We’d worked out the best route but it was still a good half hour drive between each family.

Off next to Mariam and her aunt, Kesha, who has been struggling for a while. We had set Kesha with a kibanda (vegetable stall) that had been doing really well but people stopped coming when her brother came to stay, very sick with AIDS.

There’s something about this picture that I love – it just really sums up the quiet curiosity that children show when I step down from the truck, not running away, not moving closer, until they are sure what they are dealing with!

Fortunately , Kesha has managed to hang on to a lot of her capital and as her brother is now taking medication and improving steadily, she is hopeful that she can restart her business next week. A number of things can de-rail a business but ill health or death of family are the main ones that can devastate it because of the financial cost and the cost in time that it takes. This family has been badly affected by HIV – Mariam’s mother died of AIDS, her uncle has it and Aunt Kesha was diagnosed with HIV just after she took Mariam in although she started on medication straight away and is pretty healthy now – and, of course, little Mariam is infected too. 

Passing briefly past the home of Kulwa and Dotto, twins that left the outreach programme a few months ago as they were progressing well and their mum had a sewing business set up. It was great to see them looking so big and healthy.

 

The final call of the day was to Mama Shoma. It’s not overly common practice but quite a few men out in the villages take more than one wife, to help tend the fields or to provide more children. Last time we came out here , Hassan, our Community Development Officer,  and Anna, the Social Worker, spent an hour calming a dispute between the wives because one had been given more land than the other one. This time around the wives had fallen out because the second wife, the buxom fun widow who had most of the husband’s attention, had accused the first of stealing potatoes off her land and the  first wife, the quiet one deformed by cysts,  was not speaking to the second one.

Forty five minutes later of Hassan’s impressive negotiating skills, giving everyone time to speak and helping to explain why it had to change for the sake of the small children involved as well as the parents, we were ready to leave. It wasn’t an appropriate time to set Mama Shoma up with a business so we’ll wait til she comes in to us for weighing Shoma to talk more to her about the fish business she wants to set up. Sometimes the two wives set-up works well out here but, in this case, where there is definite favouritism towards one wife, it is not going well at all.

With a long drive ahead, we set off back along the bumpy roads to Mwanza,  with this week’s music selection from Hassan so there was a lot of Celine Dion and Dolly Parton, to get ready for next week’s fun. Definitely no two days the same here!

 

Multi-Tasking

When both children have to be fed but you really want to listen to the training session……

Tiny Children

I am very aware of my colour, my weight, my relative wealth, my cultural background and my education as I work out here. It’s impossible to hide it, and a bit disingenuous to even try to, but I do try to be as aware of my impact when I am out in communities and be respectful of local custom and culture. This week was the first time since my visit to the local malnutrition ward (see ‘Carry On, Doctor’) that I really felt like a colonial memsahib, Lady Shat-Beazel, on a mission in a village.

The main aim of the outreach work is to ensure that children a) survive their childhood (which 1 in 5 currently don’t) and b) that they do so in the care of their own family, not in an institution.

Even when these two came in 2 weeks ago, 2 months premature and one month later no heavier than their birth weight, with a mother in psychiatric care with puerperal psychosis and her younger sister having to leave her job in a hotel to care for them, we still prioritise training the aunt to make up feeds and send them home.

But one week later and no weight gained and an aunt who said she just slept through the night and didn’t get up to feed them, I requested that we made a home visit.

Scrambling up a hill,  on our hands and knees at times, to the family’s home we were met with a small pitch-black coal-hole of a room. I could hear someone crying on the floor and, when my eyes adjusted, found the twins’ mother, released from the psychiatric ward, off her meds, having lost touch with reality some time before and terrified by the sight of strangers in the home. After I’d calmed her down and tried to explain who we were, she hugged us and scrambled back over the mattress on the floor to sit behind the pile of blankets -which it turned out was covering the twins – rocking and giggling like the first Mrs Rochester at the sight of lit candle.

We took them out for a look and found them very dehydrated and limp. Aunt had no watch and could not tell the time anyway and had no phone to set alarms. She only fed them if they woke up and cried which was not very often! And on that day they had gone over 4 hours without a feed. She made up some bottles and we fed them, trying to suggest ways to remind her to feed them such as on every mosque call and every time she ate, when she woke up and when she went to bed but with no light in the room she would not be able to make them well in the dark anyway . Leaving them behind felt beyond dreadful, knowing that they were unlikely to survive. Frankly, leaving the whole family behind felt dreadful, with the mother a real target for rape if she wandered too far out of the house and the young aunt, who was not the full shilling herself and whose life had been turned upside down just a few weeks ago.

But  the bottom line is  there is a healthy female carer in the house so it is very hard to persuade Social Welfare to remove children in this situation, partly because it is so common.

Fortunately, the next day the Saturday social worker on emergency cover at Social Welfare headquarters, Pamela, was in a good mood and the managers persuaded her to issue a care order so 2 hours later Helen, a volunteer ex health visitor,  and I were scrabbling up the hill once more with Hassan. Trying to be as subtle as possible (in terms of being very quiet at least and respectful – you can’t get away from groups of small children following you and shouting ‘wazungu!’) and telling the neighbours we were taking the children to hospital to save face for the aunt, we picked up the twins and marched off back down the hill to the landrover, feeling with every step ever more like Lady Shat-Beazel and her friend, the Honourable Figgy Rothchild du Broadbottom, carting off the little black babies amid the curious gazes of every villager we passed.

One nasty moment when one of the twins stopped breathing for longer  than was comfortable in the back of the car and then we were back at the babyhome. The twins are ‘incubated’ – as in swaddled in blankets and kept in isolation  with minimal handling by one designated mama.

Both are now able to suck so can be fed by tiny bottles.

And hopefully aunt has taken mum back to the hospital for a re-assessment and prescription (and actually filled the prescription)

Aunt can visit whenever she wants and the twins will go back, but realistically, and hopefully,  not for a couple of years.

Update: 3 weeks later and both twins are over 2 kg now and will be out of isolation in a couple of weeks time if all goes well.

This entry was posted on April 23, 2018. 2 Comments

And we’re back!

“I never knew of a  morning in Africa when I woke up and was not happy” Ernest Hemingway.

It seems to be true . I am drawn back time and again. Initially by the love of a child (see ‘Dancing with a Limp’) as much as the country, but ultimately the work of Forever Angels and the people will always draw me in.

As I sit at the first weighing session for our Outreach parents, the harshness of life here hits me again and why we are trying to help hits me  again. In one glance, the Baby new last week

Is  lying on the ground next to the baby that started 6 months ago

 

and this week’s new motherless twins are being held by their aunt

next to the grandmother trying to hang on to the twins that came last year.

I look at the successes of children whose dads we now have set up in good businesses

and the failure of a system that will not remove a child from a healthy (or even unhealthy )  mother ‘just because’ the child has not gained weight for over 2 years so we have to sit and watch this little girl die.

And we’re back on the road again with the truck ..

A bit of marriage counselling for one couple. We bought dad some glasses as his sight was very bad. We went t o take a picture of him and he told us his wife had thrown the glasses in the lake. Furious, we put him in the truck and took him back to his wife who said he had only brought home 1,000/= last week (30p) and Forever Angels  had bought him glasses so he could bring home more money for the family and as he hadn’t brought home much , he didn’t deserve to keep the glasses.  40 minutes of ‘how can we work together’ and finding the glasses which had just been hidden and explaining he’d never earn more without them

….and on we went ……..

buying hair pieces for an aunt with twins who we set up with a hair salon last year

Buying charcoal for a young couple

and for a widowed mum with  a cleft palate who struggled to find other work because her speech was so poor

giving training on feeding to a mum with learning difficulties who was not managing very well

having a sing song in the truck

It’s like I never left !

 

This entry was posted on April 9, 2018. 1 Comment

11 Reasons Never to Run a Fundraiser in Tanzania


Most of the funding for the Baby Home comes from the UK either through grants, child sponsorship or volunteers taking part in events. So I thought it would be a good idea to try to set up a fundraising event in Mwanza itself, a charity dinner aimed at richer local people, to raise money for the children’s food for the year, to be called Chakula kwa Chakula (Food for Food). There used to a generic charity ball here but it had been abandoned a few years before (clue 1!)  but we had never attempted anything like it. I was immediately joined by 2 very keen helpers who had previously been volunteers, Jolien and Phoebe, and we set out to have ourselves a fundraiser.  Here’s a number of reasons why we may not be attempting it again……

  1. Think of how you might do this in the UK. Check all the costings out online, compare them and hit the button on the best one to pay by card? In Tanzania, you can not arrange anything online as a) most businesses are not online and b) ,even if they do have access to emails, it is not appropriate to do business in that way. Everything must be face to face, following the leaving of a letter of introduction at the front desk; it must include a LOT of polite conversation groundwork first before you can broach the subject of what you want; and no firm details are ever confirmed on a first meeting.   The set-up of an event here takes at least 10 times as long as it would at home. Here’s Jolien and I, togged up in safety vests, to try and get some cheap beer out of Serengeti Brewery, 20 km out of town.
  2. There is often a complicated hierarchy of who should be asked to donate things -even if you know its someone else who will actually make the decision. If you do not follow the hierarchy, you will not get what you have asked for. You will hear “ah, if only you had come to me first, I could have given you this. Now I cannot offer you anything”
  3. There is no culture of charitable giving in Tanzania. People support their own, often extended, families but not other people’s families. In particular, if a baby is left to die somewhere, then that should be its destiny. We’ve sort of interrupted that a bit by rescuing them so its our lookout if they then need to be fed.  In practice, this means that  shops/companies are not used to the concept of giving things away for free in exchange for publicity. We spent a long time explaining how that might work.
  4. Tanzanians do not like to disappoint so will often offer or agree to things, and then, are likely to change their mind about whether the item  is actually free or indeed available. This can be a tad stressful in the week before the event.
  5. There is no culture of raffle draws so people tended not to understand how they got nothing for their money but a slip of paper, and how that might turn out to be a 2 day safari in the Serengeti. Also 50% of the population are Muslim so do not gamble. Hence selling was a little slow until we hammered the international schools.
  6. A 2 day Serengeti safari with night in a luxury lodge is not as special a prize in Tanzania as it is in the UK!
  7. An open auction bidding on items is completely alien to most Tanzanians – what were we thinking!
  8. Tanzanian women in particular think they know better than the mzungu (white folk) which, coupled with item no 4 above, led to an almost disaster as the tent erected for the function comprised 3 small tents scattered around the field, rather than one large one as Mama Moringa thought we had failed to grasp how to hold a function. This did lead to an unfortunate incident on the morning of the event, when I discovered this, as my annual angry outburst left a selection of security guards amused and stunned, our administrator restraining me with a hand and Mama Moringa almost losing her big smile as I shouted ” Its December. Its raining. And there’s no roof. Where exactly were you going to hang the fairy lights we ordered? From the f***ing clouds?”
  9. Many descriptions of items offered are very loose – ” yes, I can get you a sound system/freezer for all the ice cream/a band. They’ll come on the night” so the sound system and dj were incredible but the chest freezer could only hold 2 buckets of ice-cream, not 6, and the half the band forgot and were doing something else on the night. Some items were great, like the generator in case the power supply failed (common occurrence in Mwanza), but we had to recruit 6 strong men from the market and borrow someone else’s truck to transport it.
  10. The day before the event a massive crocodile was fished out of the lake after it attacked and ate a fisherman just off the area we were having our event on. Extra security was required for the lakeside!
  11. Tanzanian staff are prone to taking things. One of the men putting up the decorations in the tent took the mobile charger we were using which left us without phone communication for most of the afternoon. A little loss of stock was to be expected and our Bar Manager was on the lookout . But, by around 1am, it turned in to a Keystone Cops special – two of the bar staff were drunk (the male almost incapable of standing); a bottle of vodka went in the 3 seconds it took me to bend down and pick up some litter, with Amy in hot pursuit it was found with a small stash of other bottles down by the water’s edge; I was chasing backwards and forwards after staff as they tried to stash full cider and beer bottles in the soda crates to take back to the bar next door; one crate was found behind a tree full of the starters from the tables; and then the really drunk one fell in to the ice water vat (size of a hot tub) that we were cooling wine in. Nothing to do but laugh at this stage.

But those with the least came forth the strongest. Local painters, who struggle to make a living trying to sell to tourists, gave us paintings and jewellery; local dancers gave their time for free in exchange for a dinner of rice and beans; and bar staff from the next club came over to help us decorate the tables 30 minutes before it started because Mama Moringa had wandered off to get her hair done and not left enough table coverings.

And Jolien’s beautiful smile got us a large lump of sponsorship from such Dutch miners.

And some people, like Don, who gave us our security guards for nothing, didn’t fancy the event but sent a secret bid of $400 for some Tanzanite ear-rings.

Volunteers joined in to organise everything and expats dug deep when bidding was going slow on the children’s art work.

And it was a lovely evening. Even the tent looked awesome by the time the decorating was done. We didn’t need to hang the fairy lights from the f-ing clouds after all!

And we raised £10,000 and secured commitments from some local companies and families to donate bags of rice, sugar and flour throughout the coming year.

But, a fortnight later as I still chase bids and drive round handing out the prizes too big to move on the night, I’m not sure I would do it again……

 

This entry was posted on March 12, 2018. 1 Comment

A Cut Above

Always gently amused shop names with a bit of thought to them like the hair salons called Permanent Solutions, Hair Apparent, Shear Delight and Hair to Eternity,etc.

However, I’m not entirely sure what the owner of this one, which we passed on the way out of town, was thinking of!

 

 

Dancing with a Limp

 

 

My heart is breaking.

Oscar was abandoned here not long after birth, a premature baby thrown away on to  this  rubbish tip, amongst rats and foul trash birds ( the giant marabou stork)

Found, we think by the Oscar he was named for, and taken to first the police station and then the hospital where he spent a month being fed and but left alone lying on a bed.

By the time he got to the baby home, they thought he couldn’t see or hear as he was so unresponsive, locked in to his own little world away from the horror outside.

I met him when he was 5 months old, asked to go and check his skin as he had eczema, like my son Luke used to, except that in black babies, the affected itchy skin goes pale. Oscar was a very pale, itchy brown , with a black bottom! Still locked in his own world, hiding from the pain and confusion of outside, he wouldn’t make eye contact and, when able to move himself, would pull the blue bucket they used to keep the bottles of milk in over his head and rock. To be fair, it did look funny but he would sit under there for as long as it took someone to bring him out. At the time, I just thought this is so unfair, to be abandoned in such a horrible way, to be ‘locked in’ unable to respond to the world around and to have burning, itching eczema on top of all that!

One morning he was lying so still and quiet in his cot, with his hands clasped in front of him. He had bad conjunctivitis in both eyes  and couldn’t open them. Instead of protesting in any way or crying out for help, he was just lying there like ‘of course another shit thing has happened to me’!

 

In a busy tiny baby house , babies were fed in multiples , stacked facing away from the mama feeding them. I started working with him daily, encouraging the mamas to feed him as if breastfeeding so he at least had the option to look at them – he never took it but started holding my hair to keep contact.

As a big baby, he still wouldn’t make eye contact or look where he was going. So he’d check where you were and put his head down and crawl towards there, not noticing you’d moved until he got there, then set off again. There were no buckets but he rocked vigorously a lot of the time. I’d started him on a programme of games with the SEN mamas, playing peek a boo using a mirror; interacting with puppets and the Lucy Moonbeam doll for less threatening contact than with real people; hiding and revealing toys to show that things do come back; sensory activities with water and foam to encourage him to form attachments.

But if a cloth fell on his head, he would still just freeze and lie still, not try to fight his way out of it like a ‘normal’ child.

Christmas Day he looked me directly in the eye for 5 long seconds – the longest ever gaze he’d managed – it took a while before he managed it again but, that was it, I loved him!

I tried to work out whether it would be unethical to drug him and hide him inside a stuffed toy to take home!

Late walking but, when he mastered it, he never stopped moving – fidgeting, climbing, biting and punching everywhere he went, like a firework going off constantly.  He slowly started talking and just after 2 years old he was consistently keeping eye contact with people. A  visiting Special Needs teacher said it was the clearest case of ADHD she’d seen, possibly with a little autism thrown in. Possibly caused by a mother on drugs during pregnancy but we will never know. Not always my favourite on a daily basis as he was hard work, but always the one I loved completely whatever he was doing.

So by 3, I’d found a range of  calming mechanisms for the SEN mamas to use with him – sipping hard through a straw, chewing, playing with playdough, colouring, drumming, repetitive card recognition – and if he stopped looking at people, they’d take him off to the sensory room to bring him back to earth.

With each white family that came to look, I hoped he’d win their hearts because they would have some understanding of his needs and at some point he would be in an education system that would support him. ADHD (and in fact most behavioural or autistic spectrum disorders) don’t exist out here and, any children that exhibit those behaviours are seen as naughty and beaten more.

By the middle of this year, we were giving up hope a bit and, at the end of August, I had just secured him a place at Mavuno village, an orphanage community out near the Serengeti, comprising houses  near the lake with a young foster  mum and dad and up to 8 children, with a farm plot to keep busy on and 200 acres to roam on, a small school on site and staff experienced with hyperactivity and a sponsorship programme so I could continue to follow his progress from a distance. They agreed to take him early so that he could settle in more easily than a later transfer. An orphanage is not a great option but, as they go, this was a good one for Oscar.

And then it all got turned on its head. He was chosen. Any family choosing him was going to be hard. But the one that did was a a typical Tanzanian pick – a bored looking quick appraisal of 6 of the boys  and a ‘yeh, we’ll have that one – I’ll pick him up in a couple of weeks – i need to check when I cana get a day off work’ ,an older childless couple, both working so he’ll be raised by a housegirl, sure he’ll ‘grow out of’ any hyperactive  behaviour he ‘picked up in the babyhome’ once he’s away from there and no interest in finding out more,  a schooling where he’ll be beaten….and ….. the kicker….. I will never, ever see him again!

I packed him a little bag  containing things from the sensory room used to calm him down that he might be able to use himself and a couple of his favourite books.

His mum has come today to take him. Very Tanzanian but at least asking questions about his favourite food and what he likes to play with.

It’s hard to explain the level of grief I feel – about half for him that, after such a hard start in life, his life will continue to be harder than it ever needed to be, and all the rest for me, for  losing this funny, clever, beautiful little boy from my life. What are you supposed to do with all the love you have for somebody if that person is no longer there?

                                                                                    (with one of the babyhome mamas)

I’ve heard loss  described as something living forever in your broken heart that doesn’t fully seal back up.   It’s like having a broken leg that never heals perfectly—that still hurts when the weather gets cold, but you learn to dance with the limp.

I’m currently dancing with a limp.

 

 

This entry was posted on November 30, 2017. 5 Comments

Off on a Bit of an Adventure!

So ……decided a bit of an adventure was in order and set off with Sean the Sheep on a 24 hour five flight bonanza down to Namibia. Tanzanian crew at the airport were unable to hold back the laughter as we all said a little prayer that my rucksack would arrive at the same time as me.  Arrived in Swakopmund,  tired and irritable to a land of incredible huge red sand dunes …..and with no luggage!

So Day 1 – Swakopmund, Namibia. Parochial little town with beach on one side and dunes and desert on the other. Spent the afternoon scouring the shops for cheap tourist T -shirts and toiletries in case the luggage never actually made it to me as I was joining an overland truck the next morning and heading in to the Namib desert!  Relaxed with an awesome spinach and bacon quiche and a coffee and amaretto ice in a quirky little cafe then slept a plenty at Stay@Swakop

Day 2 – Joined the truck full of cheery folk coming from Johannesburg  and headed for  Spitzkoppe. We were a mixed crowd of nationalities – Spanish, Italian, Dutch, German, Australian . The SPitzkoppe is a massive granite formation toweriing 700 metres above the desert plains below and contains  rock art dating back 2 million years when the San people used it to leave indicators to the next tribe as to which animals were in the area  .

 

Day 3 – My luggage joined me in time to take Sean on a trip to the petrified forest. The ground is littered with these beautiful pieces of petrified wood from thousands of years ago and, in places, whole trees have been preserved when flooding knocked  them downstream .

 

We then visited a village of the semi-nomadic Himba tribe. The  Himba  have been extremely susceptible to Western influence and have lost a large portion of their land to farmers, engineers, miners and many were displaced during the wars that raged between Namibia and Angola. The dwindling number of pastoralists that still exist in their natural environment are protected as far as possible by creating a “buffer zone”, or an “educational tribe” where tourists who would like to get a better understanding of the way of the Himba, their lifestyle and their traditions, can do so without interfering with those still living in their natural environment. The income that this specific tribe generates from the visits goes towards the education of orphaned Himba children and assists the tribe in giving them a chance to learn about their own culture and heritage; but I still found it quite uncomfortable and ‘zoo-like ‘ as it is only women and children   and they have constant streams of visitors so spend their day sitting trying to sell goods they have made while their children ask for money.

Day 4 – The first of many very early morning starts, we made the short drive to the Etosha National Park. Etosha is the venue for some of the most unique game viewing experiences in Africa. Different from the Serengeti with its large rivers, Etosha has many waterholes , natural and manmade, so you get an incredible selection of animals in one place . The first one we stopped at had zebra, impala, ostrich, giraffes, kudus and Hartebeest all together.

Spent the evening after dinner just sitting at a water hole watching 7 rhino coming down for a drink and gently sparring for top position.

Day 5 – Our second day in Etosha was  another full day to exploring the park.

We went on to the Pan itself – a massive salt pan of a dried up lake . Cue novelty group in a frying pan picture!

Stunning floodlit water hole viewing tonight with a herd of about 30 elephants coming down and then 2 lionesses with cubs.

Day 6Woken in the early hours by torrential rain which continued all the way through packing up and breakfast time. yee ha !

A last early morning and short game drive to the gate and then we set of for Windhoek, the capital city of Namibia. After a brief stop at the craft markets of Okahandja we arrived in Windhoek in the afternoon. We took a 2 hour guided walk through the city centre and to look at to view some its better known landmark buildings from colonial times and statues from the independence, including only part of their history museums which I’d have liked to look at for longer.

Day 7 – Today we traveled  east and made our way to neighbouring Botswana and the Kalahari Desert. Starkly different to the Namib Desert after which Namibia is named, the Kalahari is much greener and is no less dramatic. It covers over 900, 000 square kilometres. When we arrived, we set off on a Bushman walk with a group of San people. This felt much better to me than the Himba women as they were a family group , seemed to be having a great time themselves joking with thier visitors and took a real pride in sharing their heritage with us as they showed us how to find water, start fires and identify medicinal plants. They said they liked tourists to come and take pictures to help keep their culture alive for others. We met up with them later for a series of healing and celebratory dances – and a chance to join in.

 

The accommodation at Ghanzi Trail Blazers was basic huts but we did all have an ensuite bathroom – albeit outside!

Day 8 – Today  we journeyed to Maun, the gateway to the Okavango Delta, and our launching pad for the Okavango Delta excursion. It was a long old day on the truck with only a cheery song to keep us going for part of the way.

But it ended at Kamanga Motel with its lovely tiny pool and a tub of icecream so that was good.

 

Day 9 –  Carrying everything in a small back pack this morning we boarded our flight. They were not kidding when they said it was a small plane!

 

This unique and unusual ecosystem sees the annual flood waters of the Okavango River fan out into the sands of the Kalahari Basin. The seasonality of the flood waters lends the Delta its ever changing character. We were coming in at the end of dry season and while  water levels were quite low the tranquillity of this area was evident as soon as we arrived. Having splashed out on the flight and tented accommodation, muttering slightly at the vast expense, was so not expecting the level of luxury in the Mapiro tented camp.

I kid you not, This was our bathroom in the tent….

 

Took a sunset boat trip for a few hours, bird spotting , with a Ronnie Snapper ( dark rum and ginger beer) Sean not paying attention properly.

 

Day 10 – Spent a day in  the Delta starting with a boat ride for a few hours through the papyrus canals spotting baby crocs (the big ones hide too well) and hippo . We then set off in mokoros (small dugout canoes) with local polers to another part of the delta for a nature walk which seemed to include quite a lot of identifying diffferent types of poo!

Day 11 – The departure lounge was a bit bijou but the plane was a bit bigger than the one coming in.  It looked quite straight forward so I thought I’d fly for a bit.

Leaving the Delta behind we touched down in Maun and reunitede with our truck. Spotted Richard Branson at Maun airport – showing just how fancy this part of the trip was! We travelled today across the northern section of the Makgadigadi Pans, the road to Nata was lined with iconic Baobab trees. As a  portion of our route bisected the Nxai Pan and Makgadigadi National Parks, our bushy-bushy stops for a wee came with warnings not to go too far as there was wildlife wandering around.

Day 12 – We  got up early this morning and we continued north to our camp on the banks of the Chobe River. IN the afternoon, we set off  in an open truck  , to view some of the 60,000 elephant in the Chobe National Park and then a leisurely boat cruise amongst the hippo, elephants and crocodiles as the sun went down followed by a lovely meal around the campfire.

Day 13 – Crossed the border in to Zimbabwe and travelled the short distance to Victoria Falls,  also known by the local name of “Mosi-oa Tunya” (the smoke that thunders). As we were in dry season, only half the falls were flowing but it did mean we could actually see them as when they are flowing fully the spray is so thick you can’t actually see the falls. Absolutely stunning and so peaceful  – it must have been such an incredible sight for Livingstone to come across as he chomped through the jungle.

 

Had a lovely last dinner altoghether as some of our group were going on to other trips and enjoyed some lovely lovely local singers and dancers, including a wonderful rendition of ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight” ( possibly not a traditional Zimbabwean song!)

Day 14 – Seemed a perfect day to go and try a bit of white water rafting down the  Zambezi River  at the foot of Victoria Falls . Apparently its the longest, fastest, steepest drop and most terrifying rafting you can do ! (Read that after I’d signed up. )

4 hours and 19, mostly Grade 5 rapids with a few smaller ones thrown in for free. Steered by Frank and NQ,  we survived the Washing  Machine, the Gnashing Jaws of Death, the Devil’s Toilet Bowl , Terminator 1 and 2  – but Gulliver’s Travels was the one that nearly did for me. A 700m long grade 5 rapid that we were warned before entering that if we fell in we’d have to ride the rapid because  they would not be able to get us back in the boat during it. We got the angel wrong and you side of the boat got hit full on and we all ended up in the water, being churned at speed. I hit the side of the boat, and then got knocked off by the next swell which was also strong enough to rip my trousers off! Not having been able to get a breath since I’d gone in and staring in to the depths of brown water it did cross my mind that I might die and what a stupid way to go it would be. Moments later  I was hauled on board by NQ and Joern and, as I coughed and spluttered in the bottom of the boat, mostly heard the gales of laughter as they realised I had no trousers on (fortunately I was wearing a swimming costume not pants or that could have been a whole other horror story).

4 hours later I realised I had also made a tactical error. Climbing the 700 feet down in to the gorge for the rafting, I had not fully factored in the 700 foot vertical climb out of it! Knackered and dehydrated, we set off on this Death March up the ravine. I was plodding slowly but thought I might just make it until I heard the guide behind me on his radio saying we were only halfway. Shortly afterwards my legs buckled and wouldn’t work very well. I held NQ’s hand as they coaxed me up a bit further and then we hit an almost sheer climb. “Tell us if you surrender”said Frank “and then we will do Plan B!” Oh the humiliation – Plan B turned out to be getting a piggy back up the sheer bits by the very strong, but way smaller than me, NQ! Made mental note to ensure his tip reflected the feat of strength required to haul me out of the gorge. Finally made it to the top , got doused in cold water and filled with lemonade. Back on the bus, knowing that I would be unable to walk well for at least a few days.

Frank talked to us on the drive back about his home and what was happening in the country. Their unemployment runs at 90% now with most people scraping a living selling what they can and living in poverty. President Robert Mugabe, now 93, is stockpiling cash so people are not allowed to withdraw money from their own accounts if they have it and he has just sacked his vice-president to put his own wife in that position and also sacked the chiefs of the Army who he feared were opposing his regime.  Many Zimbabweans are unhappy and the atmosphere is building up to a change soon.

With long queues outside the banks and groups of people on corners discussing when they thought the army would make its move against Mugable, it felt like a good time to leave! But very aware of all the ordinary people trying to make a living caught up in the fall out of a regime that is focusing on personal attainment not its people.

My cheap four flight option home involved travelling down to South Africa and then back up to Nairobi. Settled in to my second flight with an awful comedy film, I felt my ears pop and noticed on the flight tracker on the screen next to me that we had dropped from 37000 feet to 20,000 feet and then that the flight crew were hastily collecting everyone’s food trays , in to large bin bags. An announcement came on that due to a technical problem we were going to make an emergency landing and to listen carefully to the crew! Ah an excellent end to a lovely holiday where I’d almost died once already – ditching in to the sea! Fortunately, a) I grew up with an airplane safety engineer so had already checked i actually had a life jacket and had done a kinetic walk to the EXIT to ensure I could get there in the dark and b) the captain came on to explain they had had to shut down one of the engines as it was leaking oil so we would be making a landing at Harare, rather than just dropping where we were, but just might be coming in fast! At least it was a landing at an airport  – although frankly the way we left Zimbabwe, Harare ,its capital, was quite likely to be in the middle of a coup by the time we landed.

Come in fast we did indeed, with fire engines coming to meet us, but we landed safely and set off again a few hours later. News came the next day of President Mugabe being put under house arrest by the Army Chief although it all seems at present to be going quite smoothly.  My thoughts are with the people we met there and hoping they and their families remain safe in the next few months.

Enough adventure – welcomed back for a quiet life!

This entry was posted on November 23, 2017. 1 Comment