Many of our readers are aware that I will be returning to my other home in Africa in
4 short weeks. At times, all of the extra paperwork and preparations become almost
intimidating, but gratefully, I am fairly well-organized and super at making (and following) my lists.
I was fascinated with Africa when I was about 8, and saw an article in National Geographic about Mt. Kilimanjaro, and also, the wildebeest migration. After visiting several of the African countries for a couple of seasons as a tourist and photo-journalist, I truly fell in love with Tanzania -- its' culture, lifestyle, and mainly, its people. I now have the joy of living several months each year at the foot of this awesome mountain, and volunteering for a variety of Foundations and groups. My first year actually living in Moshi (my village in Tanzania), I worked a few months teaching teenage boys in a Juvenile Detention Facility. These kids seldom were sure of their ages, had no known family, and were street-kids. Few of the boys had more than 1 pair of shorts, and if they were lucky, also a ragged shirt. (I spent a lot of time handsewing bits of their clothes back together so they'd have something to wear!) They had usually been arrested for such heinous crimes as stealing bread because they literally were starving to death.
I had thought I would be teaching English, but rapidly realized they were receiving little food, so got special permission, and the boys and I hand-dug much of the prison grounds and planted vegetables for them to eat. It was incredibly hard work, but to not only be teaching them a skill they could use, but also helping to provide them with food was the most rewarding (and hardest thing) I've ever done. I've also become involved in the Girl Guides in Tanzania (the original version of Girl Scouts), a business group of ladies who have AIDS, taught in a public school with teens with cerebral palsy as well as some severe learning challenges, and have done photography for a variety of orphanages and other Foundations. This year, I will be working a few weeks for Give a Heart to Africa, and will be helping African women who have raised their families as single parents learn new skills and hopefully develop and maintain successful small businesses. In addition, I will be busy continuing with past projects. Oh, I'm far from sainthood; and YES, I do make time to go on many safaris to photograph my friends in the wild. Interestingly enough, I've been there long enough that I usually am not required to take a guide with me anymore, just a well-trained and knowledgeable driver. Because of this, we're able to see (and "shoot") many things the average tourist would not see!
Many people ask how I can do this financially. I do receive some donations from friends, and from speaking engagements. I also am a very hard worker. I now officially have 3 small businesses that help. My photography, of course, is the biggest project. We produce my photo greeting cards from all over the world, postcards, and prints of all sizes. I've always loved to cook and bake and this year, my skills officially became a company: PATTICAKES & CO. It was named by a friend from Ireland who fell in love with my banana pancake, hence the name. We've been making dozens of cookies, cinnamon rolls, breads, and even entrees -- all are packaged ready for the freezer and the upcoming holidays. Needless to say, we've been very busy.
My life IS very different in Africa with little stress. My friends half-jokingly say that I'm like a used car -- I come back to the US for new body parts (joint replacements due to my OA), and then return to my work in Africa with my doctors' encouragements! No, I'm not pain-free in Africa either, but am gradually turning to more traditional healing there. My favorite cook made me hot tea with fresh ginger, honey, and lemons from our trees as a bronchial decongestant the year I had malaria. By avoiding spicy food (because my African healer recommended it), the long incision for my Total Knee Replacement was completely healed in 4 weeks (much to the amazement of my American surgeon!).
I was concerned that, with all of my joint replacements, my life would become far more restricted. SLOWLY, I have discovered that my pain is less if I continue to do most things. I had hired a guy to mow, but discovered he was doing an awful job, so...I'm no longer wasting the money, but doing it myself. I've found that if I mow the front 1 week, and then the back the following, my yard continues to look nice, but I'm not exhausted! My TV died a few months ago, and I decided that, since I seldom watch it in the US, and of course NEVER in Africa, I didn't need to waste the money on a new one (I'd discovered the cheapest I could find was $250 - and that amount really is helpful for me in Africa.)
I KNOW I've made a positive impact on many lives in Africa, but I've received so many positives in return. I lost about 35 pounds last time in Africa (and kept it off) when I finally learned to pretty much eat an African diet (if you don't grow it or pick it, you don't eat it). I've not really become a vegetarian, but meat of any sort is quite costly (and often of dubious source). It's the easier, softer way to just avoid it! I've learned to sort out my "wants" from my actual NEEDS. I don't have a car (few people do) - walking is the primary source of transport where I live, but our rocky dirt roads and paths are hard for me to walk on, so I've become better organized. If I MUST hire a driver to take me into the village, I wait until I can accomplish several errands at once (and hope to have someone who also needs a ride to share the cost). Our staple food is ugali (somewhat like a very thick corn meal porridge) which we often eat more than once a day with fresh fruits or vegetables. For protein, we eat a variety of dried beans (cooked of course) and lentils. Most vegetables available in the US are here also. Clothes are all washed by hand (we often have electric outages); dishes, too! We all read a great deal in the evenings -- it's wonderful living in a small place with young people from all over the world.
So, in a very few short weeks, I'll be returning to my friends and adopted family in Tanzania. Most people that know me well in the US realize what my work means to me.
I'm grateful for the medical help in the US, and extremely grateful to be able to share and help in Africa, in SPITE of all of my surgeries for OA!
I know I'm where I want to be, I know I'm where I need to be, I'll write when I can!
Published On: September 30, 2010