Tuesday, July 24, 2007

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!

1 comment:

JKM said...

WHat can I say....Amazing as always!