Sunday, July 29, 2007


Hi everybody! Sorry I haven't posted anything in a while. This was my last week working here in Tanzania so it was pretty crazy trying to tie up all the loose ends. But what an amazing week it was! I promise I'll post the highlights when I get back. But for now I'm packing up my things, cleaning my apartment, saying some last goodbyes, and heading to the airport to pick up my family. Hopefully they recognize me, big hair and all!

This has been the most amazing summer. Thank you to everyone who made it possible!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Just a few pictures...

cooking traditional Tanzanian food with Abdullah's wife, Fatima. do you like my green kanga?

I gave tootsie rolls to some small children who were watching me talk to Peter. I tried to show this boy how to open the wrapper but when I went to put the candy in his hand he pointed to his mouth. I hope he enjoyed it!

having lunch with Daniel's family on Sunday afternoon. That's his son on his wife's back, and next to her is his sister.

some of the huge boulders in Mwanza. see the tiny person standing on the right?

here I am with Samson from KCMC showing our test user, Peter, how to use our folding prototype.

here I am with Joseph by Lake Victoria (this is where we got to eat breakfast in the morning!)

Let me catch you up....

July 20-22, 2007- Naenda Mwanza!

This weekend Joseph and I went to Mwanza, a place which Tanzanians call “Rock City.” It was his first time on an airplane so it was quite an adventure. He told me that he wasn’t scared at all but his palms sure got sweaty when we began to take-off! I can’t remember what it was like when I first flew on an airplane because I think I was only about 7 or 8 months old. However, I do remember being terrified of the bathrooms on the airplane. For some reason I was convinced that if I flushed the toilet I would get sucked down out of the plane, so I made my mom go in after me to flush. Don’t tell anybody!

Mwanza was unlike any place I had ever been. They call it Rock City for good reason; it looks like chunks of Stonehenge have just been dropped all over the place! There are huge boulders all over the place, with even more boulders balancing on top of them. On Saturday we went for a walk to a place called Rock Beach which was a stretch along the shore of the lake where they have some of the biggest boulders. I asked somebody if people had arranged the boulders like that themselves to which she replied, “why would they do that?” It was certainly a sight to see!

Lake Victoria is really gorgeous, and we were lucky that our hotel was right on the water. Nobody seemed to be swimming in the lake, but it was nice just to enjoy the view. All the other guests at the hotel ate their breakfast inside the air-conditioned restaurant, but we took our food each morning right up to the water, so close that I swear my toes were getting wet!

Joseph has a cousin who lives in Mwanza so we met with her to get the scoop on what to do. She took us to this shopping area that reminded me so much of Canal Street in New York City, except without all the Asian people and fake handbags. But each stall had clothes hanging in the front, and then you got to claw your way to the back to find even more goods. It was a lot of fun and I came away with some cute purchases.

When Joseph was much younger he had spent some time helping out at a rehabilitation center for blind people. I don’t know the whole story, but basically the sponsor wasn’t a good guy and the organization ended up corrupted, with money promised for the center never making it into the right hands. We had some really amazing conversations about the problems of Tanzania and what is being done to alleviate them, which ended with us deciding that we need start our own organization! I still have three more years at MIT, and even more if I go for a graduate degree, but I really think that we are on to something good here and I can’t wait to see where it takes us.

July 16-19, 2007- A Week in Review

I don’t even know where to start because far too much has happened this week! There is no way I can write about everything so I’ll try to capture the most important things. Upon some advice from my mom, here are my top ten highlights from this week (in no particular order):

1.Visited Emmanuel, a 12 year old boy who was housebound since birth because of a disability, but is now able to attend school because of a wheelchair provided by Mobility Care. When we asked him what he wanted more than anything he said “education.” Unfortunately, while the wheelchair allows him to attend school now, some of the other children are not very nice to him. We are looking into finding him a sponsor so he can attend a school in Dar es Salaam which is only for disabled children. It’s the same school where Daniel received his education and he turned out pretty amazing!

2.Returned to Moshi to visit Peter, the user who was testing our prototype. He was really pleased with the chair and offered some especially helpful feedback. He even pushed himself all the way to town and back in the chair which we clocked to be at least 15km each way! Peter was really an inspiration and I hope that I will be able to stay in contact with him. He’s an avid wheelchair tennis player and will be part of an exhibition at the PAWBA (Pan African Wheelchair Builders Association) 4th All African Wheelchair Congress this September, which I’m hoping to attend!

3.Made several new friends while waiting for and riding the daladala. 1) In the morning I walk down to meet Daniel at one of the bigger bus stops so we can ride together. A very nice man named Steven has elected himself to be my guard in the morning while I wait for Daniel. My Swahili and his English have been exhausted but somehow we still find ways to communicate, usually with large hand gestures! 2) Two mornings in a row I sat next to the same guy on the daladala so we took it as a sign and became friends. Benson was very excited that I want to learn Swahili, so he now sends me text messages in Swahili with the English translation in parentheses. 3) Later in the week I was riding in a very full daladala (what a surprise) and I was basically sitting in the lap of a Maasai man. As it turns out he’s an electrician and a tour guide working at the lodge where I’ll be staying with my parents when they arrive! So I’ll have to look for him next week.

4.Visited Usa River Rehabilitation Center to meet another wheelchair user who would be testing our prototype. Edmund was a bit shy at first but he seems excited to be part of our project. He doesn’t leave the center so he won’t be able to take the chair on public transportation, but he attends classes at the center and should be able to give feedback regarding the use of the chair in an indoor setting (which we don’t have yet). Everybody at the center was very friendly and from what I saw it looks like an amazing place. The only problem is that there aren’t enough centers like it around!

5.Took my folding wheelchair prototype on the daladala with me. Our test users have taken the chair on public transportation, but I’ve never been around for that. In order to reach Usa River to meet with Edmund at the center we had to take the chair on the bus. It was interesting to see how the conductor reacted to the chair, where he wanted to stow it, and what the other passengers thought. The wheels slide easily under the seat and chair itself can be placed comfortably in the front row against the bench, or even on the lap of the user himself.

6.Went to Abdullah’s house to meet with his wife who wanted to teach me how to cook Tanzanian food. Fatima was so excited and really put on quite a show. Her and Abdullah agreed that I couldn’t cook Tanzanian food unless I was wearing Tanzanian clothing, so after donning a piece of kanga we got to work. I explained that I really didn’t know much about cooking at all, so she gave me all the easy jobs like slicing the tomatoes and washing the coconuts. We cooked a large beef stew and a cabbage salad, but the pinnacle of the event was learning how to cook ugali, one of the most traditional Tanzanian foods. Made from ground maize and water, I can only describe it as a very stiff porridge. And it’s so filling! I felt so full after eating that I nearly had a food coma and Fatima insisted that I take “a small rest” before heading back to Arusha. It was certainly an unforgettable afternoon!

7.Was invited to have dinner with Rosemary, my Kenyan neighbor. She prepared a delicious meal and even though she had arranged a beautiful setting on the dining table, she insisted that we sit by the TV because her favorite program was coming on soon. Would you like to guess what show she was talking about? Desperate Housewives! I haven’t watched that show in a long time so I was really behind, but it was still so entertaining!

8.Felt tremors as a result of a large earthquake not too far from Arusha. As I was falling asleep on Sunday my room started shaking which seemed strange, but I have a wild imagination and came up with plenty of possible reasons for this. Then the next morning I read in the paper that there was an earthquake! The ‘quakes were estimated to be about a 5 on the Richter scale, and we continued to feel aftershocks and tremors for a few days after this. Everybody is perfectly safe, but apparently some of the larger tremors sent people running from their offices and homes!

9.Had some really amazing conversations with the staff here about some problems they have been having and what we can do together to fix them. While I’ll be really sad to leave this place at the end of the month I feel like there is so much I can still do once I return to the States. We generated some really interesting ideas and I’m excited about the possibilities that lie ahead!

10.Visited the Sibusiso Foundation to show Shirley and Christina (two other MIT students) around. I had already been overwhelmingly impressed by the center when I toured it last month, but if it’s possible I was even more amazed this time! They insisted that we stay and have lunch with them and when I explained that my friends at Mobility Care were expecting us for lunch and would be sad if we didn’t go back they said “but we will also be sad.” The staff here are really incredible and I walked away with many e-mail addresses of people who want to keep in touch!

So there you have it. While that sums up the most important experiences from the week there are still plenty of things that I couldn’t include. As you can see it was a pretty busy week!

Monday, July 16, 2007

I know how much you all love pictures....

Beat posing next to the walker he built for a small child. They don't have a design for walkers already, so the staff here came up with this one!

Joseph carving a celebratory pineapple. apparently his job last christmas was to carve the pineapple so he was really good at it!

here I am outside of TATCOT, the Tanzania Training Center for Orthopaedic Technologists. I hope one day I can teach here!

Here, There, Everywhere!

July 15, 2007- Lunch with the Namkessa’s

This was the weekend of following through on some things that I have been wanting to do for a while. Yesterday I went to the market and today I took Daniel’s whole family out to lunch! After a quick stop in town to buy a small gift for Daniel’s son, Joseph drove me to Daniel’s house so we could pick up his family. We really packed ourselves in there; Daniel and his son, little Joseph, in the front, and then myself, his brother Freddy, his sister, and his wife Emily in the back. So cozy! Little Joseph really likes cars so he was having a blast in the front, and at one point he was even playing with the shifter when big Joseph wasn’t looking!

We went to the AICC (Arusha International Conference Center) Club which had a beautiful garden for us to dine in, and a cute little playground in the back where we all took turns taking little Joseph to play. On the other side of the parking lot it also had a row of tennis courts where two guys had gotten into a heated match. Even though it was called a “club” it was certainly not a “country club” in any sense of the word. However, I’m sure it does cater a bit more to the middle and upper class.

Anyway, I had been telling Daniel for a while that I wanted to take his family out so I’m glad I finally got the opportunity to do it! We had two large platters of kuku choma, chips, and a whole huge tilapia! I didn’t think we would be able to finish but the guys really pulled through and finished everything off. Daniel pronounced himself the official winner of lunch which nobody could dispute.

Little Joseph was quite the entertainer throughout the meal. He would get up and run around, then cry a little, then get up and run around some more. He’s fascinated by cell phones, so whenever somebody’s phone would ring he would go chasing after them. When it was my turn to take him on the playground we played on the swings which he loved! The smile that washed over his face when I pushed him on the swing reminded me so much of my cousin Eli’s face when you rock him on our hammock. Something about that swinging motion just amazes those kids!

After lunch we headed into town because another student from MIT had arrived at the airport and was on the shuttle to town. Christina will be a senior in the fall, and she’s traveling pretty much all over the world to visit other students working on Public Service Center sponsored fellowships. Her plan is to photograph and document our work so it can be more effectively shared with our campus and community at school, and also to raise more awareness about the problems people face in these countries, what we’re doing to help them, and how we can do even more to help. It was nice to have some female company so we spent the rest of the afternoon chatting about school, our summer projects, and of course boys.

Rosemary, my Kenyan neighbor, had us over for tea which is always fun. She’s just such a bubbly woman! She’s a single mother and her only son is at school in the States so I think she enjoys the company too! As delicious as her tea is, it wasn’t quite enough to fill us up so we went out for dinner. Christina had just come from Uganda where apparently they don’t eat a lot of meat, so Joseph and I decided to take her out for kuku choma, even though we had just eaten it for lunch. Apparently we can never get tired of it!

July 14, 2007- Kwenda Sokoni (Going to the Market)

Last Wednesday I wrote about the chaos of finding a ride home because of the large market that was being held a few stops up from our workshop. The market is also held on Saturday, so I decided that I had to see the place where all the women were going with their large baskets of bananas and pineapples. What a sight it was! The place was mobbed and people were selling anything and everything. Those selling the same item tend to cluster together, so first I passed the women selling cloth, then the tomato salesmen, the potato guys, the women with oranges and avocados, and so on. The market is held in Tengeru which is where Joseph’s family lives, and his mother insisted on accompanying me to the market. I don’t think they get many “visitors” if any, so it was pretty nice to have an official escort!

I watched as my hosts carefully selected maize, potatoes, carrots, and tomatoes. Choosing the best, tastiest, healthiest vegetables seems to be an artform, with the buyer carefully holding each item before tossing it in their basket. I tried to ask what they were looking for when they were weighing the item in their hand, but apparently it’s not a skill that can be taught!

I bought a beautiful piece of kanga, which is a cloth that women wear here usually as a wrap, and it has a small proverb in Swahili along the sides. From the English translation they gave me, mine says something about peace on Earth. Before leaving the market Joseph’s mother said she had some business to take care of, so we sat outside and had some sodas while she scurried around. Then she sat in the car and rolled up the window so we couldn’t see what she was doing. Hmmmm. What can mama be up to? At the end of the day when we drove her back to her house, she plopped a small package wrapped in silver cellophane on my lap. I tried to tell her that I really couldn’t accept a gift and that she didn’t need to get me anything but she wouldn’t hear it and insisted that I wait until I reach home to open it. So I followed her wishes and when I arrived at my apartment I opened my package to find a beautiful set of traditional Tanzanian clothing! The blue and purple cloth has an incredible white design along the hem and it fits me as though it had been specially made just for me. I don’t know how she did it!

Before going back to town we stopped at the Mountain Village, where Joseph’s father works. We were waiting for him to return from a tour so we sat outside in a beautiful garden overlooking a large lake. The chairs in the garden were absolutely gorgeous. They had been designed so that from the sides they look like giraffes. When I told Joseph how much I liked them he said, “oh thank you. I made them.” Haha very funny. Good joke. After 10 minutes of me telling them I didn’t believe him, one of the staff at the hotel confirmed that Joseph really did make those chairs! Right now I’m trying to figure out how I can bring one back because they really are beautiful.

I was planning to meet up with some friends from work for dinner but I was so exhausted from my long day at the market that I passed out when I came home and didn’t wake up until the next morning!

July 13, 2007- On Again Off Again

The internet at Mobility Care has been out for almost two months, so I was really excited on the way to work this morning when Daniel announced that it was back up! He informed me that the technician had fixed it just before lunch yesterday, and he had spent the rest of the day sending e-mails until it was time to go home! I managed to squeeze in some quality time catching up on my correspondence this morning until it went out again. Apparently it tends to be “on again-off again” so everybody is sure it will be back soon.

There are two dogs that always walk around the property who were both very, very pregnant the last time I checked. Well of course the one day I go to Moshi they both had their babies! So the Mobility Care family now includes 16 tiny, incredibly cute puppies! We decided that maybe we can use them as a promotion, like “buy 5 wheelchairs, get a free puppy!” What do you think?

Word seemed to spread quickly that the internet was “working” at our workshop so the afternoon brought us many visitors. Toward the end of the day Emmanuel, one of the occupational therapists from Sibusiso, stopped by. A few weeks ago we had tried to make plans to go to dinner together but it didn’t work out, and today Emma wanted to redeem himself. Mr. Daniel is a huge fan of pork so after he and Emma debated for some time about the best place to go, we set off for The New Bar. Apparently it’s so new that they haven’t given it a real name yet! The pork was served on a communal platter (as always) and was mixed with vegetables. Unfortunately I picked up what I thought was a piece of potato, but which my mouth confirmed to be a large piece of fat. Mmmmm. Other than that the meal was quite tasty!

July 12, 2007- Moshi!

This morning I set off for Moshi to visit Abdullah and the guys at KCMC. My new apartment is too far to walk to the bus stand, so I took the daladala to town. When I got off I started heading for the bus stand and an older gentleman who had been on my daladala caught up and was walking with me. He was very excited to see that I knew where I was going without taking out the “travelers bible” which I deduced to be the Lonely Planet guidebook. He was very sweet and even helped me to find a good shuttle that got me there in 90 minutes, as opposed to my usual 2+ hours.

It was nice to be back in Moshi at KCMC because it had been too long since I had last visited—which all the guys let me know! “Why have you been lost for so long?” they wanted to know. It was drizzling when I got there, so we quickly packed into Abdullah’s car and headed off to find Peter, a wheelchair user who would be the next to test our prototype. Luckily Abdullah had four wheel drive because it was a crazy ride up the side of a mountain, on a road that quickly turned to mud. To my untrained eye all the roads and “driveway” looked the same, so I’m amazing that we managed to find Peter’s house. We did have to ask a few people for directions, which they usually answered with something like “turn left at the banana trees up there” or “go back to that big pothole and turn right!”

Peter leaves 10+km from town, and he has to push himself there often. The daladala conductors usually refuse to take him because of his wheelchair, and now when the roads are muddy they don’t even come up near where he lives. Peter was really an inspiration. When the front wheels on the hospital wheelchair he was given wore out after a few months he made his own from some spare wood. Now he has happy to be using a three-wheeler from KCMC which he even plays wheelchair tennis in! I told him that next time I come to Tanzania I’ll bring my racket and we can play which he’s looking forward to. The area around his house is pretty crazy, so it should provide an awesome environment to test our prototype.

As we were talking with Peter and explaining our prototype to him a kindergarten class let out and about 15 small children came screaming down the hill from our school. When they saw us they became completely silent, watching my every move. I had some Tootsie Rolls in my bag that Wenxian had left here, so I scrounged up enough and gave one to each of them. I demonstrated how to open the wrapper and eat the candy, after which all the children wanted me to open theirs. It was so cute! I’ll be going back next Thursday to talk with Peter and gather his feedback on our chair (and I’ll have to remember to pack some more candies for my new friends!)

On the drive back to KCMC we got into a really interesting conversation about “bride prices.” Here it is custom for the man to give something to the family of his wife-to-be. Usually the man gives an assortment of cows and goats, although in some tribes they also give blankets and some other small animals. According to Abdullah I would be worth at least 20 cows, which I took to be a very nice compliment! All in all, I’m not too sure how I feel about this custom. From what they’ve explained to me, it helps to unite the family of the groom with that of the bride because they have shared something very special. They were very interested that in my country the man doesn’t pay anything for his wife, and I think they all want to find wives from America now! At one point the conversation was so funny that Abdullah had to pull over to the side of the road because he was laughing too hard to drive! My trips to Moshi always provide me with a good abdominal workout.

After work Shirley and I treated the guys to some nyama choma for lunch, which was tasty as always. But I nearly choked on my food I was laughing so hard at one point! Abdullah was very happy that we were enjoying ourselves so much in his country, and he told Shirley he hoped she would come back again soon. When I asked him why he wasn’t asking me to come back he said, “I don’t have to ask you to come because I know you will be coming back very soon! But you know I will be very happy for you to come.” He went on to say that he would be most happy if I became his sister-in-law. (Everybody here refers to their fellow citizens as brothers and sisters, so I suppose if you marry here you then have thousands of sisters-in-law and brothers-in-law!)

We went to KASI after our late lunch to see how everybody was doing there. Unfortunately Dr. Nyamubi was home sick but I chatted with him briefly on the phone and we have plans to meet up soon. He also told me that he has seen my blog so if you’re reading this now, I hope you feel better soon!!! KASI is an amazing organization and I’m really excited to see how we can get involved.

I had been asking Abdullah when I could meet his wife so I was pleasantly surprised when she was there at KASI! Fatima is the cutest woman and so sweet! When I told her that I had heard a lot about her she said, “Even me, I have heard things about you!” Abdullah likes to make jokes about having multiple wives but he really just does it for a laugh. He’s very devoted to his wife and even called her “my little angel.” Awwwww! Next week she wants to teach me how to cook some Tanzanian dishes, because you know, obviously I’ll never find a husband if I don’t know how to cook good ugali. This place charms me even more each day!

Albert walked me to the bus stand and made sure I got on a good shuttle. The big bus stands are always packed with vendors, walking around with all sorts of things that they try to sell you through your window while you wait for your bus to leave. I helped myself to some “Glucose Biscuits- Boost Your Energy” and a newspaper, but sadly I had to turn down the man selling soap, the one with radios, and another who was selling socks. Ironically the biscuits didn’t boost my energy at all—rather, I fell asleep halfway through the trip. Although that might have been due to the exceptional heat being produced from all the bodies packed closely together.

It had been quite hot in Moshi once it stopped raining, so at first I didn’t mind the cold that greeted me back in Arusha. But when Joseph and I went out for dinner later that night it was really chilly! It’s very charming to sit outside under the beautiful thatched roofs at these typical Tanzanian restaurants, but sometimes I find that when the waiter comes around with the hot water to wash our hands, I want to ask him to pour it all over me so I can warm up! I don’t know how I’m going to survive the winter in Boston this year!

July 11, 2007- Lots of Wageni (Visitors)

I was feeling very rested after my relaxing trip to Zanzibar and I was excited to get back to work at Mobility Care today. Everybody wanted to hear about my trip so I regaled them with stories while we worked. Apparently I can be quite the storyteller!

We had so many visitors today! First was Bingo, or Mr. Beads as I like to call him. I had visited him in his hometown of Monduli a few weeks ago where he makes the most amazing things with beads. He had finished my things and was very happy to deliver them today. The blouse he made me is so gorgeous! I put it on, along with the headwrap he made from the same fabric and everybody was so excited! They started calling me “mama Afrika” which means “African woman.” I was even paraded around the property in my new apparel so everybody around could see! Bingo is being sponsored for a wheelchair, so after the excitement over my new clothing settled down, we measured him for his chair.

Daniel and I continued to work on the prototype of our folding tray. I was worried that it was becoming too intricate and difficult to produce but Daniel assured me that everything was simple and there was “no problem”. Then again, the Tanzanians are very fond of that expression, with at least a dozen ways to say no problem, no worries, or some variety of the sort.

A short while later we had two more visitors! Zachariah—one of our test users—showed up with Freddy, Daniel’s younger brother. Zachariah was there to be measured for a wheelchair and Freddy had come to show him the way, and also to visit us! He had his heart set on going to medical school but has been unable to find a good sponsor, so he has decided to go to the Monduli Teacher’s College to become a science teacher. Then he can save up the money he needs and pay his own way through medical school here. He would really make a fantastic teacher because he’s so passionate about the material. I wish him the best of luck!

Just as were leaving work at the end of the day, a school bus from the School of St. Jude got lost around Mobility Care. After helping them out, they offered to give us a ride to town. It was quite a sight, all of these adults packed onto this little school bus!

A few weeks ago when I was coming back from Nairobi I wrote about how I made two very nice friends, both working for the United Nations Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda here in Arusha. When I was on the beach in Zanzibar this weekend Rosemary called to see how I was doing. I explained that I had been very busy because I just moved to a new apartment and after a very funny exchange we figured out that not only do we live in the same apartment, we live right across the hall! At first she didn’t believe me and wanted to knock on my door but I explained that I wasn’t there because I was in Zanzibar, but would come and visit as soon as I got back.

So tonight I went across the hall and spent a lovely time chatting with Rosemary, and enjoying some delicious tea that she had prepared for us. She has a son who is about my age who just finished high school in the states, and will be starting college in the fall. He must be pretty smart because he’s majoring in aeronautical engineering! She’s been living in her apartment for almost 3 years now so it looks much more homey than mine, and it was a lot of fun to chat with her about anything and everything. At one point we even played dress-up in her closet because I was interested to learn more about East African clothing. She’s thinking about maybe coming to work in New York after the Tribunal finishes up next year so I’ll have to return the favor and have her over for tea in Waccabuc if she does!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

You asked for it...

here I am at daniel's house with his adorable little son!

I can't remember why I have my head tilted at such an odd angle here, but I'm pretty sure I was checking to see if the tray was situated at the correct angle. at least that seems like a reasonable explanation for why I look like that!

here I am with Mr. Mangoes in Zanzibar! he really did have the tastiest mangoes.

here is Mr. Lucas working on one of the special children's wheelchairs.

Agnes and I making burgers and hot dogs on the fourth of july. note her festive clothing!

here I am on the dive boat in Zanzibar with my divemaster and official buddy, Mbwana

doing a stability test on Daniel's wheelchair.. and having a little fun!

Joseph and I at lunch one weekend afternoon.

our MIT sand castle! I swear the picture doesn't do justice to all the hardwork and sweat we poured into that.

I know I've been slow to post these.....

.... but here they are now! Read all about my Fourth of July Celebration, progress on making a foldable tray for the wheelchair, and my recent trip to Zanzibar!

June 10, 2007- Back to Arusha

Unfortunately this morning we had to leave Paradise. Usually I’m pretty sad when a vacation comes to an end, but I think this time I was okay because I knew that even though I was leaving Zanzibar, I was going back to Arusha—my home away from home. While going back to Arusha means back to work, it’s work that I love doing with people who I really missed. Awwwwwww.

The flight back routed us through Dar es Salaam which made for an interesting trip, but I was happy when we got back to Arusha. My refrigerator seems to only have one setting regardless of how you turn the knob, and that setting is freezing! So all my fruits seem to have turned to stone over the weekend. Oh well. I guess I’ll just have to buy more! Other than that the apartment is in tip-top shape. We returned from Zanzibar mid-afternoon so while we were waiting to meet with some friends for dinner I enjoyed the view from my perch on the fourth floor.

I took Mario to New Countryside Bar, a restaurant close to my apartment where they serve the best kuku choma (barbequed chicken). After I ordered the food the waitress proceeded to ask me another series of questions that I was not expecting. I presume she was asking how much chicken—half, quarter, the whole thing? But unfortunately I don’t know any of those words. Mario and I tried to demonstrate “one half” using some entertaining hand motions but eventually the waitress realized we were going nowhere fast and gave it her best guess.

Somehow we were still hungry after this (maybe we needed more chicken?) so I decided we should get chips mayai, the tasty potato omlette that I like so much and which Mario had yet to try. Joseph was back in town so he joined us for our second dinner of the night. In the middle of this meal my friend Boniphace (Taye Diggs’ twin) called because he was with another friend who wanted to take us out for pizza. I may have still been hungry after the chicken but by this point I was really full! We met up with Boniphace and his friend just to say hi, and somehow I was convinced to order a cappuccino and a nutella crepe, which Joseph happily helped me finish. I think I’ve officially spoiled myself in terms of food these past few days!

June 9, 2007- Fish Galore

I had gotten certified as an Open Water scuba diver a few months ago through a physical education class at MIT, so I was really excited to be in a place with such amazing dive sites. In Massachusetts I had to wear two super thick wetsuits, booties, gloves, and a hood so I was delighted to be diving in such warm water!

When I got on the boat the divemaster asked everybody to introduce themselves and their diving background. Well it turns out that all my fellow divers were these amazing advanced divers who had logged tons of dives all over the world. Then there was me, the baby who had just gotten certified. When he was making buddy pairs the divemaster picked me for his buddy and basically took me under his wing. It worked out amazingly because not only did he take really good care of me, but he knew where to find all the best fish so I got a really amazing tour! We did dives at two different sites of about 40 minutes each, at a depth of about 20 meters, and it was amazing!! I was a little scared when I hopped in the water and was greeted by a school of jellyfish (my archenemy next to snakes) but Mbwana, my buddy, picked one up and started playing with it to show me that they were harmless.

The fish we saw were amazing! Big ones, small ones, long ones, skinny ones—blue, green, orange… you name it! It was just incredible. Between the two dives they served up some freshly cut pineapple and bananas on a flipper that doubled as a tray. I think this place really set the bar for the rest of my diving!

I came back around 2 and quickly had lunch so I could get back onto the beach. It was quite a relaxing afternoon, going back and forth between playing in the warm water and napping on the beach. Ahh… to be in paradise. Before I had decided that I would definitely get married in Antigua, a Caribbean vacation spot that has become like a second home for my family, but I think Zanzibar might be in the running now. I guess it depends on who I marry!

After another Zanzibar sunset we showered and headed for dinner. Another restaurant on our beach was having a barbeque so we decided to go for it. We sat at a table that had been constructed from an old dhow and ate under a sky filled with more stars than I thought could be possible. They had built a little bonfire on the beach so after dinner we relaxed by the fire and just enjoyed the atmosphere.

July 8, 2007- Up to Nungwi

This morning Pandu arrived bright and early to transfer us to Nungwi, a beach on the northern tip of Zanzibar where we would be spending the next two nights. Our hotel was called Paradise Beach Bungalows, and what a paradise it was! The water was an amazing mix of dark blue and light turquoise, dotted with old dhows and fishermen paddling their boats with long sticks a la Venice. I quickly changed into my bathing suit because I couldn’t wait any longer to get on the beach and feel the fine white sand between my toes.

As I splashed into the water it suddenly occurred to me that I was in the Indian Ocean. I’ve never been in the Indian Ocean before! I was struck by how incredibly far away from home I was and reflected on the path that had taken me all the way here. I don’t want to get all dramatic and serious but I did do some quality thinking under that scorching sun.

At high tide our beach was just one of many along the coast, but at low tide the water goes out so far that all the beaches between the different hotels connect together into one long, long beach. So as the water moved out we walked around a bit, exploring this charming new place and of course making lots of friends along the way.

We were talking about how much fun it would be to make a sand castle when I suddenly had an idea—let’s make a sand castle of MIT! Emily and I had built part of the campus as a gingerbread house for a competition around the holidays (which we won I might add) so making it out of sand couldn’t be much harder. We must have looked pretty silly, 3 adults digging on the beach, making odd shapes with the sand and obsessing over the location and design of each mound. Building the Stata Center was a lot of fun—just toss random piles of sand all over the place and you’re done! A group of South African college students were taking bets on what we were making, so I tried my best to explain that we really weren’t strange people, we just wanted to make a sand castle of our school. Okay, so maybe we were a little weird but it was a lot of fun! The pictures don’t do justice to our MIT castle which lasted for most of the afternoon, until two dogs decided to wrestle in it.

It just doesn’t get cold here so as the sun was setting I was still laying on the beach. I had my feet pointed toward the water, and as the sun came down it made this beautiful pink line across the water that could have been connected straight through my feet to my head! I felt so perfectly aligned with the world, as bizarre as that sounds.

July 7, 2007- Off to Zanzibar!

This morning we set off early to catch our flight to Zanzibar! Zanzibar! I just can’t say the name enough. Precision Air runs a shuttle from town to the airport for free so after a quick trip to the ATM and a stop to get some egg chop for breakfast we arrived at their office. I suddenly realized that I had forgotten my passport (I know, so silly of me!) but as it turned out I didn’t need it because I wasn’t going out of the country—I just used my driver’s license instead. While we went to wait inside somehow the shuttle left without us, 20 minutes before it was scheduled to depart!! I could feel “airport Lou” starting to creep up inside of me but Joseph calmed that beast and handled the problem effortlessly, getting Mario and I our own private shuttle to the airport.

Kilimanjaro Airport is so cute! I had arrived very late at night when I came in June so I didn’t really see much of it then. Like almost everything here, it’s really very charming. Another MIT student, Shirley, met us at the airport because she had been in Moshi. We all jabbered away about anything and everything and before we knew it we had landed in Zanzibar! I was certainly not prepared for the heat. Arusha has been so mild, even chilly at times, so I was overwhelmed at first by the sun!

I spotted a man holding a sign that said “Tesch x3” who I deduced to be our driver. After exchanging the usual Tanzanian hospitalities, Pandu helped us into his jeep and took us over to Stone Town, giving us a detailed history of everything we passed along the way. We checked into the Safari Lodge which was nestled between stone buildings along narrow streets just wide enough for people and bicycles.

Feeling adventurous, we asked Pandu to suggest a couple places for us to check out. A short walk took us to this amazing spice market where we all bought lots of souvenirs. Along the way we passed through wheelbarrows and stalls of people selling all kinds of fruits which is always my favorite. I made a new friend who I affectionately refer to as Mr. Mangoes because he had the most delicious mangoes! He sliced one up for me in a pretty creative fashion and I munched it on the street as we weaved between the spice stalls. It really doesn’t get much better than this! I love talking to people on the street so this was a great opportunity to practice my conversational Swahili.

Pandu had told us about this amazing fish barbeque that was pretty close to our hotel so before it got dark we headed over there. I can’t even being to explain this place! It was basically a pier on the water covered in rectangular tables with people selling anything and everything to eat. The fish guys had big tables with kebabs of every kind of fish, crab, lobster, etc. When you selected your items they would pop them on the barbeque and cook it right there for you. It was really fun to watch the whole process from beginning to end. The tables always seemed fully stocked because the “chefs” had guys behind them scooping up the fish—but the funny part was that these stockers seemed to be scooping up the fish right from the sea! In reality they were just picking them from their stock below on the beach, but from where we were it really looked like they were just fishing them from the water!

We tasted Zanzibarian Pizza which is essentially this really thin piece of dough that the chef puts scoops of meat, tomatoes, mayo, and an egg on. He mixes it all together, cooks it in a frying pan, and then cuts it into neat little finger-food sized pieces. It was surprisingly delicious given the ingredients! A later pizza guy I found was making chocolate and banana pizza which of course I had to try. I took a picture with him and instead of saying cheese, he instructed me to say “yummy yummy!” I love it!

After stuffing ourselves full of food it was still pretty early, so we decided to stop for a drink at this cute little restaurant overlooking the water. It was run by a very sweet Hindu family who really chatted us up. The man who appeared to be the owner was this very sweet 67 year old guy who had been born and raised in Zanzibar, but who had traveled to lots of other places. He told us charming stories from his life and bragged about his house on the island that costs him only $4 a month! One of his sons joined us who must have been mildly autistic because he was rattling off the capital of every country and its major airport. It was a very memorable night to say the least. I have the worst sense of direction in the world (mom, you can vouch for that) so luckily my companions were handy navigators and got us back to our hotel easily at the end of the night.

July 5-6, 2007- Work Work Work

What a busy week! At Mobility Care we have hard at work prototyping our first design for the foldable tray, which is coming along pretty nicely. The only problem is that everybody is so excited to work on it, that I feel bad reminding them that they should be sure to take care of their own business first before helping me with mine. It seemed like an easy task at first—just cut a rectangular piece of wood and have it fold out onto the user’s lap. But alas it’s much more complicated than that. The user needs to maintain full functionality while in the chair—so basically this means that when folded, the tray cannot hinder the user in any way. In other words, when it’s folded you shouldn’t even be able to tell that it’s there! I’ll write more about this when I have an update, but for now we’re still prototyping and working out the kinks.

On Thursday night Joseph and I went on a wild goose chase looking for sheets and blankets for the apartment. We drove past closed shop after closed shop until Joseph suddenly had a brainstorm and took me speeding off toward Sakina. The Sakina Supermarket can only be likened to a luxurious Target. Not only is it open until close to 10pm, but when you enter you are greeted by your own personal shopper who carries your basket and helps you select your items. I wanted to buy everything but limited myself to a case of Coca Cola Light (the closest thing to Diet Coke), peanut butter and jelly fixings, and a variety of fruits including one very large pineapple.

Outside the Supermarket we stopped to get dinner and while we were waiting we had some egg chop. To make egg chop you basically take a hard-boiled egg, cover it in meat, batter it, and then deep fry it. Needless to say it’s absolutely delicious. Just don’t eat too many!

On Friday night Mario arrived from Nairobi so after picking him up we met with Mr. Daniel for dinner. I think this week must have really worn me out because boy was I tired! Mr. Daniel was thinking that we could go somewhere to dance and listen to music after dinner but I was way too tired for that. We had an early flight to Zanzibar the next morning and I still hadn’t packed so we headed pack to prepare for our trip.

July 4, 2007- Fourth of July

Happy Fourth of July! I hope you all had a happy celebration, wherever you were. I had promised my friends here at Mobility Care that I would prepare a real American lunch for them on this occasion, and boy did we have a feast! I had a small American flag that I had brought from home, and using some colored pens I managed to make a small Tanzanian flag to hang next to it. When Agnes arrived this morning I was totally surprised to see her decked out in full Tanzanian traditional clothing. She had even brought one piece for me to wear! Even though it’s not practical for the kind of work we do here, Agnes felt that she needed to wear it because today was such a special day. How sweet!

It was really cold today so we brought the gas stove inside to cook, and after taking care of our usual morning business Agnes and I set off to prepare the food. She was very excited to learn how to make hamburgers and hot dogs and let me tell you, she was one fast learner! I think she’s now officially ready to open up her own American restaurant here in Arusha.

I made a poor conversion between grams and pounds which led me to buy far too much meat, but luckily everybody had brought their biggest appetites today. Lucas and Agnes each packed away two cheeseburgers and Daniel had a burger and three hot dogs! I couldn’t have been happier to see them enjoying it so much. After taking a few bites of her burger Agnes announced, “now I am no longer in Tanzania. Now I am in America.” I explained that while it was lunchtime for us in Arusha, my friends and family in America were still sleeping—and everybody here was very excited that we had begun the celebration for everybody back in the States!

As if we weren’t busy enough already, today we had so many visitors! I think I mentioned earlier how KASI had found sponsors for 10 wheelchairs, so three of the new users came today to be measured for their wheelchairs. When they smelled the food coming from the office/kitchen they were delighted to partake in the festivities as well!

On Wednesdays there is a huge market at Tengeru, a town just a few stops past Mobility Care. For all the previous Wednesdays I have been in Moshi, so I’ve missed the craziness that ensues when you try to catch the daladala on Wednesday evening. Let me tell you, it was a pretty big adventure! Because the daladala stops at the market before coming to our stop, each one was jam-packed with people (and their various sacks of goods) by the time it reached us. We finally decided to take a daladala out of town toward the market, where we would get off and switch to come back. It seemed like a good idea, but when we reached the market the people rushed the bus and piled on so fast that there was no way we could get off! So we had to ride out all the way to Usa River (the last stop) and then we stayed on to come back. I’ve talked about how crowded the daladala can be, but this really broke all records. At one point I counted at least 25 heads in a space meant for 16. Now add in the fact that everybody has large sacks of oranges, rice, tomatoes, and plenty of small children! It was certainly an experience I’ll never forget.

I had found a really nice apartment and I was supposed to move my things there tonight, and then I would move myself in on Friday after the current tenant moved out. I called to tell her that I was running late and she informed me that it didn’t matter because she had already moved out! Ah, so I can move in? Yes! I hastily packed up my things so I could get over there before it was too late, but the landlord was happy to come over and let me in (and collect his money of course.)

It’s a beautiful apartment with a gorgeous view from its perch on the fourth floor. The only problem was that despite being furnished with a bed, sofa, etc, there were no blankets or pillows. Apparently I was supposed to bring my own. It’s not a big deal because I can buy those things for very cheap, but nothing was open because it was so late. So I pulled on my sweatpants and sweatshirt and I was actually surprisingly warm for the night! But hopefully tomorrow I can pick up those last items that will make the place really great.

Joseph had come over to help me move my things from the guesthouse to the apartment and to thank him I wanted to make a proper American Fourth of July dinner (because he wasn’t at our party this afternoon). Unfortunately I couldn’t come up with much given the hour, so we had a delicious meal of French fries, Crystal Light Lemonade, and the smallest Snickers bars I’ve ever seen. I’d say that was pretty American!

I would say that this was one of the best days I’ve had here, but really, every day is amazing. Each day I meet more amazing people, I learn things I never thought I could learn, and I share moments with friends that I’ll remember forever. Okay maybe that was a little sappy, but this has really been the most amazing summer. Thank you to everybody who has supported me along the way.

July 2-3, 2007

The past two days just flew by. In fact, the past month has really flown by! I can’t believe I’ve been here for a month already, and I certainly can’t even begin to think about the fact that I only have one month more. Tonight Daniel informed that he already had figured out how he could extend my stay. He has decided that he can just talk to KLM and have them cancel all their flights out of Tanzania, and warned me not to be surprised when I have to stay for a few more weeks. Ahhh, I wouldn’t mind that at all!

We’ve spent the past two days brainstorming on the Vodacom project, specifically how to make a foldable tray. The idea is to have a large rectangular tray that the user can pull out when they want to “open up shop.” The difficulty is in finding a mechanism that is simple to produce, easy for the user to use, and sleek enough so that it does not hinder the user’s regular activity. We have two ideas that seem pretty on target, so we’re ready to start prototyping!

I went running around town before work this morning to find all the supplies needed to make a proper American feast for the 4th of July tomorrow. I managed to come up with hamburger meat and Heinz ketchup, but there are no hamburger buns anywhere! I think I may have to give in and use the regular SupaLoaf bread which we make our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on. In any case it should be a really fun day!

Monday, July 2, 2007

Feeling better!

July 1, 2007- All Around Arusha

My guesthouse is very nice but after being there for a month it’s starting to lose its allure. So I decided to see if I could find an apartment to rent, perhaps something that will feel more like a home and less like a motel. A friend of Joseph’s who I had met at the birthday party last night knew of a good place so I met up with him to check it out. I should have realized that being Sunday, nothing would be open. So the office at the apartment complex was unfortunately closed but from the outside it seems really nice! He’s going to make some calls for me and hopefully I can figure it all out by the end of the week. I’m pretty sure my adventure in apartment hunting can’t even compare to what my brother will soon be doing in Manhattan! Good luck Alex!

In the afternoon I met Joseph and we went to have a very late lunch with one of his brothers who is a chef at a restaurant outside Arusha. I told him that when I open my East African restaurant at home he has to come and help me! After lunch I went to visit Mr. Daniel at his home because I had not seen him much this weekend. His wife and son gave me a very warm greeting as always, and I was also happy to find that one of his sisters and his brother were also there. After the sun had set it became very dark, so Daniel set up a lantern and we all sat around and talked. It reminded me of those rare nights at home when the power would go out and we would all sit around by candlelight.

Joseph’s friend Tony—affectionately nicknamed Tony Blair-- was having a problem with his car so we went to help him out after leaving Daniel’s house. After we gave him a lift to his house he insisted that I come inside and greet everybody, including all the neighbors and their children! I must have met half the population of Arusha by now. I love it!

June 30, 2007- Saturday in Arusha

I’m planning a trip to Zanzibar hopefully very soon so I had a chat with the agent who is helping me with the booking this morning, and then went to one of my favorites, Dreamers Café, for breakfast. They have the best donuts in town and they always have plenty of fresh passion fruit juice. But that might not have been the best choice for food given my sick stomach, and I’m pretty sure I ended up paying for it this afternoon!

Amos Winter, the instructor of the class at MIT where I learned about wheelchair technology in developing countries and a really amazing guy, had put me in touch with a friend of his who he had met here in Arusha. Boniface had been away for a few weeks but was back in town and wanted to meet me! Now is probably a good time to mention that in Amos’ description of Boniface, he said “this guy looks just like Taye Diggs.” So I set off into town looking for Mr. Diggs’ long lost twin.

After meeting Boniface I have to say that was a pretty good description! He doesn’t know what Taye Diggs looks like so I promised him next time we would go to the internet café and I would show him, or he could just look in the mirror. He was really great company and he was born and raised in Arusha so he knows all the best places to go. Needless to say we will be hanging out again soon.

I got hit with another wave of stomach pain this afternoon, maybe as a result of my poorly chosen breakfast, so I went back to the guesthouse to rest some more. My mom told me to make some toast or oatmeal which would be a great idea if I but had a toaster or hot water! Thank you mommy!

When I was feeling better Joseph came to take me to dinner. We went to the Triangle Polygon Restaurant, which brings the number of restaurants I’ve eaten in here to well over 30. When we sat down there was one of those little stand-up menus on the table that you would find at many American restaurants—you know the kind that lists a couple specials or something and has very appetizing pictures of the food. I was completely overwhelmed when I picked it up to find that it was advertising tempura shrimp and vegetable springrolls on one side, and apple pie and tiramisu on the other. It was like finding an oasis in the middle of the desert! But like an oasis it wasn’t real; the restaurant was just using it as decoration because they liked the pictures. Nevertheless the meal was still delicious. My chicken was served with a border of fresh cucumbers which the waitress saw I was really enjoying, so she had the chef prepare me a whole plate of chopped fresh veggies. Sometimes I think they spoil me too much!

Joseph’s supervisor was celebrating his 40th birthday so after dinner we went over to the party. He had an adorable little house with a small garden bordered by tall banana plants, that had been filled with tables and chairs, each decorated with a small bouquet of flowers and candles. I felt bad that I was kind of crashing this party but I was greeted with nothing less than the warmest hospitality (although that seems to be the case everywhere I go here!) A few guys were very excited to talk about American politics with me which has actually happened a few times before. Barack Obama’s father is from Kenya so everybody in East Africa seems to very excited for his campaign, as am I!

June 29, 2007- Back to Work

Sometimes it’s just nice to have some company, so I decided to go back to work today even though I wasn’t quite 100% better. Everybody was so happy to see me, and I couldn’t have been happier to see them too! They filled me in on all the things I had missed and I told them entertaining stories about my past few days, most of which involved me trying to speak some muddled Swahili.

Agnes cooks lunch out in this little gazebo/hut on the property using an old skillet over a gas flame, and I’m always amazed at how delicious the meals are that she prepares. I decided to join her today even though my culinary skills are limited to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and hot pockets. I think she must have been happy to have the company out there because she engaged me in conversation for quite some time! She’s only a few years older than I am so it was really interesting to see what her life is like, and what life is like for women in general here.

Whenever I go out to eat at the restaurants I’m usually surrounded by men, and if there are other women there they are usually accompanied by a husband or boyfriend. Now don’t get me wrong, I definitely have seen small groups of women at restaurants before, but they usually seem to be just having a drink and not eating. When I asked Agnes about this she thought it was pretty funny. From her explanation it seems that many women don’t like to eat in restaurants because they themselves cook all the time. It would be like Ralph Lauren buying clothes from J. Crew (or something like that). When I open my East African restaurant back in the States I’m making Agnes my head chef!

As usual we were making wali (rice) and vegetables, but I had also bought some pasta which Agnes wanted to cook. The brand of pasta is called “Mr. Pasta” but Agnes decided that they had made a mistake and that this was actually “Mrs. Pasta” because in her words “they are so beautiful.” I think they were the Farfalle butterfly shaped pasta, but it was just so adorable to listen to her talk about them!

In the afternoon we were all outside working—Beat was painting, Lucas was cutting footrests, Agnes was assembling sideguards, and Daniel and I were discussing something with Dr. Nyamubi on the phone. KASI periodically receives funding from outside sponsors to build wheelchairs, so Dr. Nyamubi wanted Mobility Care to build 10 wheelchairs! The only problem was that he needs pictures of the users to send to the sponsors so we were just discussing how I can help them out this time. (And there just might be a special gift waiting for Daniel before I leave that will help them to do this in the future after I’ve gone! But shhhh.. he doesn’t know yet.)

As we were packing up at the end of the day Daniel and I hurried off to meet Zachariah, who had been testing our chair this week. His feedback was really fantastic and he was so excited about the chair! He had taken it on the daladala without any problems which was great to hear. He also found the design particularly useful at night for when he needs to “park” his chair. Usually he has to leave his chair outside of his home because there is no space to bring it inside, but this is dangerous as somebody could easily take it. With the space he saves by folding the chair, he was able to bring it inside and store it safely overnight without worrying. So cool!

It was already late so I decided just to take the wheelchair to my guesthouse rather than drag it all the way back to Mobility Care. I wheeled it back to Kitundu and then set about folding it. Let’s just say I attracted quite a crowd! Everybody wanted to see what I was doing and it was really fun to show them, although I’m sure I looked pretty ridiculous. Several people wanted to help me carry the chair down to my room, where it is now safely “parked” for the weekend.

Joseph took me out to dinner but I haven’t quite gotten my appetite back yet so I’m not sure how much fun I was. He decided that what I really needed was a steaming cup of fresh milk, to which I tried to explain that dairy products usually make me feel worse, but “lactose-intolerant” isn’t part of my Swahili vocabulary yet. This restaurant had a small menu with mostly African food, but a few American items listed like hamburger, hot dog, and pizza. I’ve been to a few restaurants that boast these delicacies, but they never seem to have them available when I ask!