Saturday, June 30, 2007

What to do...

June 28, 2007- Rest for the Weary

Last night I really thought I was starting to feel better. My friend Joseph had come over to check on me because he had heard that I was sick, and after hearing that I hadn’t really eaten much all day he promptly took me out to get some dinner. We ordered “take away” to bring back to the guesthouse and stopped at the Duka La Dawa (pharmacy) to get some medicine for my stomach, which was starting to feel worse again. When we unloaded our feast we found that we didn’t have any utensils, so Joseph used my Swiss army knife to cut spoons for us out of the cardboard lid that the food had come in. I still couldn’t eat much, and unfortunately I started feeling quite sick again.

Joseph bought me some ginger ale, which apparently is a universal beverage for those with sick tummies. Who knew! I decided that maybe I could just sleep off whatever I had but Joseph convinced me that we should go and find a doctor. At this point it was nearing midnight, as our trip into town to get dinner had taken us on quite a tour, introducing me to about half a dozen of Joseph’s friends!

After trying two hospitals that were closed for the night, we arrived at the Arusha Medical Centre, which despite the padlocked chain around the gate, was open. The nurse at the desk promptly called the doctor who had presumably gone home for the night, and I waited patiently, looking around to be sure that this was a good, clean place to be. It appeared very nice and modern and Joseph confided that this was where he would come if he was sick.

The doctor was a very nice older gentleman with perfect English who swiftly drew my blood, ran a few other tests, and sent me back out to the waiting room. The waiting was the worst part. I’m sure I didn’t wait long but it felt like forever, and apparently I turned a concerning color of red. The doctor emerged, delivered a sheet of paper to the nurse, and retreated back into his office. Okay I’ll cut to the chase and fill you in. The nurse was happy to report that my blood came back clean, and I did not have malaria nor typhoid. Phew! I did however have some bacterial infection of some sort, for which she gave me an antibiotic and her phone number, incase I should have any problem. The doctor and nurse were really fantastic and I would recommend their hospital to any other visitors to Arusha.

My stomach pain has been coming in waves today. Sometimes I feel alright and other times I really need to lie down. Today I spoke to a doctor from the SOS International System—an emergency system for travelers that the Public Service Center signed us up for, thank you!!—and she confirmed that the medication I was given was ideal and that within 2-3 days the pain should be relieved. So, more rest! The staff at the guesthouse have all been really great, checking up to make sure that I’m doing okay. As much fun as it is to be at the workshop, I’d be pretty useless right now, so I just have to suck it up and wait until I get better, which should hopefully be soon!

June 27, 2007- Taking it Easy

Normally when I’m sick at home (which isn’t all that often) I curl up on one of the plush leather couches in my family room and watch old shows on TiVo while my mom heats up some soup. Well, there is no microwave, no plush leather couch, and the only tv is a tiny one in the front of the guesthouse playing odd shows in a language I can’t follow. I slept late today, getting up when a few construction guys resumed work on what can only be the roof directly above my room.

I made a short trip to the internet café to post some pictures--which I hope you are enjoying—but the power went out about halfway through my time there so I gave up and went to get something to eat. I went to my favorite place across the street from my guesthouse and ordered chipsi mayai, which is basically like a potato omelette. My stomach could only handle about half the dish, but I didn’t want to offend the cook by not finishing. Hmmm… what to do…. I found a couple napkins in my bag and wrapped up my leftovers while nobody was looking so I could smuggle them out, making my plate appear empty. When I got back to my room to unload my lunch I found that some of the potatoes had leaked out to the bottom. I hope I got them all out!

I slept a bit more and then spent what remained of the afternoon revising an old questionnaire and reading up on some other disability-related organizations in the area. Certainly takes “working from home” to a whole new level!

June 26, 2007- Trouble in Paradise?

I’ve been here for almost a month so it’s pretty much a miracle that I haven’t gotten sick until now. I wasn’t feeling so hot when I woke up this morning but I figured whatever it was would pass after I had some breakfast. I worked in the office, sorting through information I’ve gathered from interviews with wheelchair users. I take lots of notes in my notebook during these interviews, but usually I try to write down so much that it comes out a bit messy! Agnes loves helping me learn Swahili, so while I was in the office (which is also our kitchen and dining room) she would pick various things up and ask me to name them. Cup- kikombe, banana- ndizi. Now if only somebody could explain the subject-prefixes and verb tense markers to me!

By lunch I was still feeling pretty sick. I knew it was bad when I could only eat a few spoonfuls of Agnes’ wali, which I usually love. I decided to call it an early day and headed home to rest. I’m giving my body 24 hours to get better, and if I still don’t feel well then I’ll have somebody take me to the doctor. But it’s really amazing that I haven’t gotten sick before now!

I was supposed to go to Moshi tomorrow but the user who we were going to give the chair to was just admitted to the hospital for pressure sores. So I’ll have to try again next week. Perhaps it’s a sign that I too need to rest, as the last few days have been pretty crazy.

June 25, 2007- Lots to Do

Sometimes it’s so quiet at my guesthouse that you can hear a pin drop, and other times it sounds as though hundreds of desperate shoppers are storming into Wal-Mart on the day after Thanksgiving. Okay, so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I think you get my point. Unfortunately last night was one of those shopping stampede days, so I was pretty tired today, but I had lots of fun things on my agenda so it didn’t matter how sleepy I was!

After I got off the daladala I stopped to buy bread from a tiny stand across the street. At one point the woman selling me the bread said to her friends in Swahili something to the extent of “ah this girl understands a lot of Swahili, more than she can speak,” which ironically Daniel had to translate for me! Still, I think I’ve come a long way!

On the walk from the bus stop to Mobility Care I passed a man who was clearly training for a marathon. I always read about the amazing athletes from East Africa who sweep the marathons, so it was very surreal to be passing one in the middle of his training on his home turf. If I see him again I’ll have to get his name…. perhaps I saw him at the Boston Marathon and didn’t know it!

It turns out that Agnes is a big fan of American hip-hop, so we made a big playlist of 50 Cent, Tupac, Akon, etc and played it off my computer while the two of us were working in the office. At one point we were both singing along to “In the Club” which was really quite cute.

I spent the rest of the morning riding around in my prototype, basically putting it through as much stress as I could to be sure that it was strong enough. I rode it around Mobility Care for awhile, going up and down steep ramps, small steps, and even slamming it into the wall on purpose sometimes. Later I went out onto the road outside and had a lot of fun aiming for as many potholes as I could. The other people passing on the road all had a good chuckle watching the crazy mzungu bounce around in her wheelchair!

We had arranged to give the chair to Zacaria, our test user, this afternoon, so I wanted to get as much time in the chair myself before then. Once I was satisfied Daniel and I packed up and headed out to catch the daladala. The conductor had no problem taking the wheelchair onboard and even helped me to fold it, but I later found out that he was a friend of Daniel’s which might explain why. Zacaria works for Money Maker Pumps, making a simple irrigation system produced by the Kickstart company. I’m pretty sure it was one of the showcased items in the Cooper-Hewitt Museum’s ‘Design for the Other 90%’ exhibit. He was very excited to be testing our chair and went for a quick spin around the block as soon as he sat down!

Once he came back, he wanted to give me a tour which I certainly didn’t object to. Packed into this small, two-story building were about 30 guys cutting, welding, grinding, and painting these pumps. Let’s just say I got a pretty warm welcome! I’ll be back on Friday to pick up the chair and gather Zacaria’s feedback which I’m really looking forward to.

I didn’t get enough Bongo Flavor when I bought the CD from town last week, so Daniel took me to visit another one of his friends (basically everybody is a friend!) who burns music off his computer. We all had a lot of fun picking out the songs, and I’m currently rocking out to my new CD as I type this!

The CD guy was really close to where Daniel lives, so I decided to stop by with him to visit his wife and son. I picked up some bananas on the way and meandered up a winding road behind Daniel, where I’m fairly sure no other visitors have gone. All the children love to shout out “how are you” when I pass by, but they usually don’t understand when I answer. Nevertheless it’s really cute.

Daniel’s wife, Emily, is such a sweetheart. She doesn’t speak any English but just seeing her smile is enough. She insisted that I have some wali and beef before I go and you really can’t refuse food if it’s offered to you, not that I would ever turn down wali! She’s really an excellent cook, especially considering she does everything without electricity. Daniel’s son, affectionately known as little Joseph (so as not to be confused with big Joseph), was even cuter than the last time I saw him if it’s possible. He absolutely loves cell phones and even though he can’t talk yet, he has figured out how to put the phone reasonably close to his ear and let out a little noise that sounds like “hey.” I promise I’ll photograph this next time!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Picture Frenzy!

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.....

here I am at Hell's Gate National Park in Kenya

Kilimanjaro! this is officially my new desktop picture.

this is me testing the prototype on the road outside Mobility Care... I seem to have made some new friends!

here I am trying out the new tricycle that Mario is working on at APDK

this is in the gorge at hell's gate with our guide, Patrick

Monday, June 25, 2007

June 24, 2007- Back to Arusha

This morning I caught the shuttle back to Arusha, and I was thankful for the opportunity to sit for five hours without moving! A chatty Filipino man sat down next to me, and after a few minutes of talking I found out that he worked for the United Nations, and was pretty important there! He was very interested to hear what I was doing in Africa, and engaged me in conversation until we both fell asleep. At the border another woman boarded our bus (who had apparently missed the departure in the morning but had now caught up) and sat down on the other side of my UN fellow. As it turned out she also works for the UN! I was able to go through immigration quickly because I already had my visa, but the other travelers took forever waiting for theirs so I was able to have a nice long chat with Rosemary, my new UN friend. She had just returned from visiting the US, as her son just graduated high school in Florida. I really enjoyed meeting both Rosemary and Sergeant Litto, and I hope to meet up with them again soon. They have both invited me to visit them at the Rwanda Tribunal so I’m pretty excited! I also met another woman from Dar Es Salaam on the bus who invited me to come visit her if I ever go to Dar. I love how friendly the people here are!

As soon as I got back to Arusha I scrambled around trying to find an open internet café so I could post this incredible backlog of entries, but it seems that everybody decided to take the day off. After being here for a few weeks I have an assortment of about six internet cafes that I vary between, and they were all closed! So I apologize for these being so late, but I really tried.

I somehow had missed breakfast and lunch so I went across the street to Raha Snacks, an adorable little restaurant a few yards from my guesthouse where the owner is always very happy to see me. He makes the best fresh-squeezed mango juice I’ve ever had—not that I’m an expert or anything, but I’m pretty sure it can’t get any better than this!

Daniel was anxious to hear about my trip to Nairobi so we went to another new restaurant and he listened to me tell stories for quite some time. Later, Joseph joined us for dinner which was kuku choma (literally chicken barbeque). I had it the very first night I arrived but I had forgotten how delicious it is! I’m becoming quite good at eating with my hands now, and Dad, you would be proud of how much meat I can get off those chicken bones now!

June 23, 2007- Hell’s Gate National Park

When Mario asked me if I liked mountain biking I said yes because it seemed like a really cool thing to do. I didn’t really think about the fact that I probably had not been on a bicycle since the ‘90s, let alone an off-road mountain bike. We set off this morning for Naivasha via matatu, from where we would catch a cab to Hell’s Gate National Park. We rented mountain bikes at the foot of the park and began the 2km ride up the park entrance. Let’s just say I was pretty terrible at riding this bike! Once Mario helped me adjust the seat and figure out how to change the gears it got a little better, but already my legs were killing me.

They gave us a map and pointed us in the direction that would take us to a gorge, about another 8km away. Okay, no problem. It’s just a bicycle. Little kids ride bikes, so can I. What a ride it was! We had been biking for maybe a kilometer through a vast valley carved out of the mountainside when Mario suddenly exclaimed, “woah there are zebras over there!” I nearly fell of my bike I was so excited! Just off the trail was a herd of zebras grazing in the grass. And then up ahead there were impala. And then there were warthogs. It was incredible!

When we arrived at the gorge they asked us if we wanted a guide and we hesitated, but finally gave in. Boy am I glad we did. The places Patrick, our guide, took us were places that Mario and I later decided were places we would have thought were off-limits had we been leading ourselves. There were many times when I needed all four appendages to get myself through! Patrick told us lots of great stories about the area, showed us where they apparently filmed part of Tomb Raider, and took us to several hot springs. One was so hot that they were boiling eggs in it!

The gorge was totally amazing, but after finally ascending back out I realized that I still had another 10km bike to get out of the park. I did my best but unfortunately my best was a little slow. I also seemed to have a problem starting and stopping. Once I got going it was fine, but twice when I tried to stop I ended up slamming into Mario. I’m sorry!! Somehow I made it out, with a little encouragement from Mario and a little self-peptalk that involved numerous references to Lance Armstrong. We managed to catch the matatu just before it got dark and were on our way back to Nairobi, very sore butts and all (why can’t anybody invent a comfortable bike seat?)

I’ve never needed a shower more in my life! After I removed the pound of salt that had deposited itself on my body, we went out to get some dinner with Samir. We hadn’t really eaten much all day so I had quite an appetite! We had nyama choma which is a traditional East African dish of barbequed meat. It’s served on a communal tray put in the middle of table and it’s really quite an experience! I’ve only ever eaten it with other guys, and last time one of them said, “wow, this really makes me feel like a man, eating meat with my hands.” Mario and I decided that we want to open up an East African restaurant in Boston. It would be such a hit! We just need to bring back a herd of goats to get us started.

It was an unreal day, both totally amazing and incredibly exhausting! I pretty much couldn’t move by the end of the night, but it was so worth it!

June 22, 2007- Off to Nairobi

I had been thinking about visiting Mario, another MIT student, in Nairobi but I wasn’t really sure when and if I would really go. He called last night to say that he had found a really great day trip for us this weekend so I decided to go for it! There are daily shuttles that run from Arusha to Nairobi at a pretty reasonable price (especially when you bargain for the resident’s rate!) The driver of my shuttle seemed excited to have me onboard, and asked me if I would be his co-pilot and sit in the front passenger seat. Not only do I have the world’s worst sense of direction (Mom, you can vouch for that) but I was clearly the only person on the shuttle who had no clue where we were going! Luckily Teddy, the driver, had been driving this route for 20 years so he didn’t need my help. It was a really interesting drive through ever-changing scenery which I really enjoyed. Crossing the border was a little chaotic. You have to get off the bus and file your departure form on the Tanzania side, and then you can walk across through No-Man’s Land into Kenya, where you file your arrival form and get your visa. When we crossed into Kenya Teddy told everybody to put their seatbelts on. I asked if this was because it was the law, or because the roads were so crazy and everybody just laughed! Hmmm.

Nairobi is so big! I was totally amazed at it’s size, and I was really happy to see Mario waiting for me at the station. We walked briskly through City Center to catch the matatu up to APDK, the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya, where he’s working this summer. The matatu is basically the Kenyan equivalent of the daladala, except it has a limit on the number of passengers each can carry so it doesn’t get nearly as crowded as it does here in Tanzania! But the roads are infinitely more crazy so it’s just as well.

I got to spend the whole afternoon at APDK, meeting the staff there and seeing what Mario has been up to these past few weeks. He and his group at MIT came up with some really amazing improvements to the hand-powered tricycle and it was awesome to get to try it out! We took the tricycles out for a spin around the compound which was quite entertaining to everybody who passed by.

After work we headed to Upper Hill Campsite where Mario is staying. It’s a really cute compound with tiny, individual cabins and lots of tents on the lawn. Many travelers and volunteers stay there so it’s a good place to meet people. We went to this adorable Ethiopian restaurant for dinner where they served us enough food for an entire family, but it was really delicious! After dinner we met up with Samir, one of Mario’s friends from the campsite, for a drink. From what I pieced together, Samir is a Kenyan, but lived in England for five years, and now travels to really crazy places to do freelance photography. So cool!

June 21, 2007- Finishing the Prototype

As soon as I arrived at Mobility Care this morning we got right down to business! Agnes taught me how to attach the upholstery using shoelace string and how to set the front castor wheel. Our mechanism was sticking a little at first because of the extra layer that the paint added, but after playing with it a few times it was okay. Beat helped me put the finishing touches and voila—we finished!

I was so excited I had to take the chair out for a spin. So Daniel accompanied me on his wheelchair and we ventured out in search of some rough terrain. Luckily you don’t have to go more than 20 feet to find the potholes of your dreams. I wheeled that chair over the biggest bumps and down into the biggest holes that I could find and it was as sturdy as ever. We rode up and down the road for quite some time, until my arms were thoroughly exhausted. Throughout the day I road the chair around Mobility Care in a variety of conditions to see how it felt, and it was really quite comfortable! Early next week we will be giving it to somebody to test, and I’ll be anxiously awaiting his feedback.

Wenxian left to go back to Singapore (via MIT) tonight, so we were also very busy saying goodbye to him and making sure he got off safely. We really had a lot of fun working together so now I’m going to have to get used to doing this on my own. Luckily I still have Mr. Daniel to look out for me!

Daniel and I had dinner at Florida 2000 tonight. There are a bunch of restaurants around town named by American cities so we decided that we have to go to all of them! Next is Washington D.C. Bar. I absolutely love this place!

June 20, 2007- Wednesdays in Moshi

There’s no way I could possibly describe everything that happened today, because there was honestly never a dull moment, but I’ll try my best…

We set off this morning for Moshi and boarded one of the big buses. There were a lot of guys walking around the bus station with books of tickets, and I’m pretty sure most of them weren’t real. One of these fake conductors got on our bus and tried to charge me 6 times the usual price for my ticket (which is how I knew he wasn’t real). Once he understood that I wasn’t going to fall for his trick he gave up and left. Once the bus was mostly full we finally left the bus station. Wenxian and I were seated in the fourth to last row, and all the rows behind us were suspiciously empty.

A few guys came to the back behind us and were all whispering and looking around suspiciously. This is where my very creative imagination came into play. I dreamt up a few crazy situations, which mostly all ended up with my face on a milk carton. At this point many other passengers were turning around to look at the back, and the guys in the back continued whispering. At the intersection where we should have gone straight to go to Moshi, we suddenly turned right, which only fueled my imagination more. Next we pulled into the police station which I totally didn’t see coming at all. A policewoman boarded the bus, walked to the back, said something in Swahili to the whispering guys and got off.

At this point a friendly guy with very limited English decided to sit down next to me and try to explain what was going on, because I clearly looked very confused. Apparently there was a man lying down in the last row, and according to my new friend he was “dirty.” Dirty, dirty? Maybe the whispering guys were smuggling drugs? My new friend then explained that we were going to Mt. Meru Hospital, and started waving his hand across his throat. Maybe he was trying to say that the man was dead? No way. This cannot be happening. When we pulled up at the hospital a few more policemen and a United Nations security guy came onboard, whispered a few things, and left. The next thing I knew they had opened one of the back windows and were passing a man through the window to some other men on the ground. Shortly after that the bus started up, we were off to Moshi, and I never really found out what happened to the man who was laying in the back. What a start to the morning!

When we finally arrived in Moshi we headed straight to the workshop at KCMC. After chatting for a bit with all the guys, we left with Abdullah and Sam to go see Richard who had been testing our chair for the past week. After 10km on one of the bumpiest, dustiest roads I’ve ever been on, we arrived at Richard’s house and all his children came running out to greet us. Overall Richard really liked our wheelchair! He took it on the daladala on Sunday and his experience was much better than when he has tried with his old, rigid wheelchair. Usually he is turned down by several conductors, but when he told them that his wheelchair could fold he was picked up by the first one that stopped! Before we left he asked if we wanted to trade—he would keep our folding chair and we could have his rigid one! He tested the chair in some really rough situations and he was very happy with how it performed. There are a few small things that we can improve on, but I’m really happy that it’s working out so well! Abdullah is busy rounding up more people to test the chair, so next week I’ll likely be going back to Moshi, and probably once a week every week thereafter.

The guys at KCMC are really great. On the way back to town Abdullah stopped because he wanted to buy us gifts! He bought me a really cute necklace with an elephant on it, and in return I treated him to lunch. He had to go to class so I met up with the other guys from the shop for a drink before making the trip back to Arusha again. They always want to know when I’m coming back again and have asked repeatedly if I can stay longer, instead of just making a day trip. It’s really quite cute!

Of course the trip back to Arusha had to be another adventure. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until all of a sudden the bus just pulled over onto the side of the road and stopped. People started clamoring in Swahili and then about half of the bus just got off. At this point it was actually pretty dark, so I stuck my head out the window to see what was going on but really couldn’t figure out anything. Should I stay on the bus or should I get off? What if I get off and then the bus leaves without me? Just as my patience was really starting to wear thin and I was getting pretty concerned, the engine started up again and everybody climbed back on the bus. I still have no idea what happened, but I’m glad that I finally made it back to Arusha safe and sound!

June 19, 2007

Before going to work this morning we ventured into town to do some shopping. Wenxian will be leaving on Thursday and wanted to get some gifts, and of course I would never turn down an opportunity to go shopping. It was fairly quiet when we first got started as it was still pretty early, but by 9 the streets were bustling with people. It was really quite an adventure to say the least!

Mr. Beads had come into town to pick up fabric to make a shirt for me, because apparently the fabric in his village isn’t good enough? I had left him with a few special orders on Saturday, and I had written everything down in his notebook so he wouldn’t forget. So for example, for my bracelet I had written “bracelet: Tish TZ 2007.” I was really excited that he had finished my bracelet, but when he handed it to me it seemed like there was a lot written on it. I guess Mr. Beads likes to follow his directions very exactly, because my bracelet read “Bracelet – Tish – TZ – 2007.” It’s absolutely priceless. I wonder if my shirt is going to have “shirt” written across the front of it…

I can’t remember the last time it rained here. Now I’ve never been a fan of rain, but the roads are getting so dusty! I just did my laundry and I swear my jeans are an entire shade lighter now that the dust has been washed out.

Emmanuel came with another child from Sibusiso to be fitted for a wheelchair. He usually stays for a bit after the fitting to talk with us which is always entertaining. At one point everybody was talking in Swahili and the only part I could pick up was “Pork House” which kept being repeated. Somehow we ended up in a big conversation about pork and where the best place to get it is in Arusha. (Daniel’s favorite is Pork House.)

Even though Daniel is Christian, he has this Muslim cap that he likes to wear (just for the aesthetics I think). It was really funny listening to him talk about pork in that hat. I asked him if he has ever inadvertently gone into the Pork House with that cap on and he just laughed, which means “yes” in my book.

Another note about food (because I can never have too many culinary experiences in one day): I always see people on the sides of the streets with big wheelbarrows full of oranges that they peel and sell, but they’re always this light shade of green. I finally gave in to temptation today and bought an orange from one of the guys while my daladala was stopped and waiting for more passengers. First he peels the orange so it still has some of the white skin, but all the green rind is gone, and then he slices it in half. It was one of the best oranges I think I’ve ever had! Once the daladala got going the wind started blowing my hair into the orange, so the woman seated next to me took it upon herself to hold my hair back while I ate. Where else could you eat a delicious, fresh orange while a total stranger holds your hair?

Back at Mobility Care, Beat put the finishing coat of paint on our wheelchair, and it’s hanging in the storeroom to dry. Everything should be ready to be assembled when I get back from Moshi on Thursday. I can’t wait!

June 18, 2007- The start of week number three

There must be some special ingredient in the rice here, because I honestly cannot get enough of it! Cooked rice is called “wali” in Swahili and it’s probably one of the most commonly used words in my vocabulary here. Agnes made wali for lunch today at the shop, and then I ordered it again when we went out to dinner tonight. I’ve yet to meet a wali that I didn’t like! According to Wenxian the rice here is made from longer grains, and not to be racist but he’s Asian so I trust pretty much anything he says about rice.

This morning we showed Mario around our workshop and filled him in on everything we had been doing the past two weeks. Hopefully I’ll be able to make it up to his workshop sometime to see how he’s been doing on his tricycle too!

Later we walked down to Sibusiso, the center for mentally disabled children on the same road as Mobility Care. As many times as I had seen children from the center come in to be measured for wheelchairs, I had yet to actually visit. As we walked in I was struck by how beautiful it is. It’s set on a large piece of property that used to be a coffee plantation, and all the buildings have perfect thatched roofs. We got to see our friend the occupational therapist in action, working with some of the youngest children, and then we got to tour around the complex. Among my favorites was a wonderful playground where some of the mothers were playing with their children. It’s hard to explain, but it was terribly sad and at the same time extremely heartwarming to watch. And somehow it reminded me of Patch Adams.

After our wonderful visit we headed back to Mobility Care, enjoyed a delicious lunch of wali and beef, and said goodbye to Mario. Then it was back to work on our chair. Daniel taught me how to put the finishing touches on the upholstery, which involved using a punch and hammer to cut holes and then fastening eyelets in their place. He’s always very amused when I turn out to be handy with the tools! In the meantime Wenxian finished grinding the chair and Beat painted it with the anti-rust primer. We’re almost there!

June 17, 2007- More Exploring in Arusha

I was hoping to sleep-in this morning but I think my body is just used to getting up around 7 so it wouldn’t let me. I lazed around my room trying to go back to sleep, and finally gave in and just got up when a rooster started cock-a-doodle-dooing outside my window. It’s a good thing I got up because just after I came out of the shower someone started banging on my door. I was actually kind of frightened because I couldn’t imagine who would be looking for me so early, but when I opened the door I found a small, harmless woman with a bucket and a towel. She didn’t speak a word of English, but I quickly gathered that she wanted to clean my room which I certainly didn’t object to! The floor had gotten quite dirty from all my dusty clothes and especially my shoes. I hastily grabbed my laptop and headed out to the internet café, leaving my new friend to clean.

I finally figured out how to post pictures on here so I hope you’re enjoying them! I came back to my spotless room (which I was very excited about!) to drop off my laptop, and then headed out with Daniel to do some exploring. Since it was Sunday the streets were fairly quiet and it was really nice to just walk around. We went to a small music shop where I got a CD of Bongo Flava, which is basically Tanzanian hip-hop. The locals usually get pretty excited when they find out that I know about Bongo Flava so it’s always good for a laugh!

On our way across town we passed herds of people on their way back from church. It was really beautiful to see everybody in their colorful Sunday best. We ducked into a few craft shops where I negotiated some pretty good deals, if I do say so myself. And the list of things I want to buy just keeps growing!

After a few hours of meandering around town we realized that we had completely missed lunch, so we headed over to another new restaurant to get something to eat. I think our goal of 60 restaurants in 60 days is definitely going to happen!

Wenxian and Mario arrived back from their safari just around dinnertime, so we met them back at the guesthouse, and were just deciding where to go for dinner when I got a call from my friend Joseph (who picked me up from the airport). We hadn’t seen each other since that first weekend so he was hoping that we could meet for dinner. The more the merrier! He and Daniel debated in Swahili for a few minutes, and suddenly we were off. We went to a place called Triple A, which is a large restaurant/bar with a DJ. We were totally in luck because tonight they had a bunch of live dance performances too! There was a group of acrobats that did amazing cirque de soleil-esque stunts, a group of break-dancing/hip-hopping guys, and even a disabled guy who danced on his hands! I think there may be some incriminating photos of me dancing somewhere….

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Busy, busy, busy....

June 16, 2007- Visiting Monduli

This morning I set off for Monduli to visit a friend of Daniel’s who is a so-called “bead master.” His village is nestled in the Monduli Mountains, about an hour away from Arusha via dalla-dalla. As crowded and packed as it was on the bus, it was really interesting to watch the scenery change out the window, which my face just happened to be smashed against! Once we were out of Arusha the landscape quickly changed to flat plains with rolling mountains far in the distance, dotted with Masai herding their animals around.

Bingo, or Mr. Beads as I like to call him, was really a whiz with his beads! I picked out a beautiful beaded necklace, and left him with a few special orders to work on, including a Father’s Day gift for you, Dad! He does some really amazing work on clothing too, attaching beads in really pretty patterns. So he took me across the street to be measured by the tailor who will make a shirt for me, and then Mr. Beads will decorate it. It was really funny when I was being measured by the tailor because she kept babbling away in Swahili to her partner. It reminded me of being the nail salon at home and wondering if the Korean woman doing my nails was telling her co-workers how smelly my feet were. Either way, I can’t wait to see how it all turns out!

Around the corner from the ShopRite is a small shopping center filled with fancy coffee shops and other high-end little stores. It even has a gelato shop where Daniel and I decided to stop for a bit today. It looks kind of out of place here, but the gelato was delicious so I can’t complain!

Just before dinner we met up with Daniel’s friend Zakaria who I had met at the airport when I arrived, but hadn’t seen since. He doesn’t speak a word of English so Daniel had to play translator for most of the night, but he didn’t seem to mind. I’m not sure about the specifics of his disability, but Zakaria currently uses a tricycle to get around, and will be testing our wheelchair as soon as it’s done! According to Daniel’s translation, Zakaria is very excited to be involved in our project and it was nice to get to know him a bit before giving him the chair.

June 15, 2007- A Few More Tweaks

As we were building our first prototype, any problems that arose were pretty much fixed on the spot. Consequently, we found that in the end we had a few mechanisms that were no longer necessary. So we spent the morning really studying our product and getting rid of anything that we didn’t need anymore. We don’t want this new design to cost much more than the current one, so any excess material has to go!

The folks from Sibusiso came around again this afternoon, but this time with just one mother and child. The young girl’s wheelchair was ready, so she was here to be “fitted.” Because the children’s chairs are so specific and intricate, after it’s finished the children have to be fitted to make sure that all the straps are in the right place, etc.

After the fitting I had a nice chat with Emmanuel, the occupational therapist from Sibusiso who I had met very briefly the day before. He was really knowledgeable about the children and their conditions, and it was amazing to watch him work with them. He was also really excited to see our project and to find out more about what I was doing at Mobility Care. And it didn’t hurt that he was absolutely adorable. I’m trying to set him up with Agnes so we’ll see how that goes!

Around dinnertime Mario, another MIT student who is working at a tricycle/wheelchair workshop in Nairobi, arrived here in Arusha. He and Wenxian are going on a short safari this weekend, but I decided not to go since I’ll be going on a long safari with my family at the end of July. There’s still plenty more to see in and around Arusha to keep me busy until then!

June 14, 2007- Back at Mobility Care

As much fun as Moshi is, it was nice to be back in Arusha at Mobility Care today. Everybody was excited to have us back and wanted to hear all about our safari (Swahili for journey) the previous day. The staff at the two workshops know each other pretty well so they enjoy exchanging stories. Abdullah had told some pretty entertaining stories about Daniel when they were studying together at KCMC, so I had to tell Daniel the stories again to see if they were true!

The wheelchairs they make here have cushions made from two different foam densities—one is soft and squishy for comfort and the other is thicker to provide stability and shape. Mobility Care’s supplier for the thick cushion is in Nairobi, so Lucas had gone off to pick it up. Daniel had to meet him at the border to make sure he made it through customs alright. Apparently the border guys try to make them pay tax on the items they bring across, so Daniel goes to help smooth talk them through without paying. Once they understand that the material is being used to make wheelchairs it’s usually fine. Just before lunch Lucas arrived with about 15 large mattress size pieces of thick foam which we carried into storage. According to Daniel this is enough to last them a year and a half!

Along the same road as Mobility Care is the Sibusiso Foundation, which is a center for mentally disabled children. An outreach program finds the children, and then brings them to the center with one of their parents. From what I’ve heard, I believe they stay there for about three months learning about the disability, how to manage it, etc. They are supported by the Lillian Fund (I think) which allows them to purchase wheelchairs for most of the children before they leave, making them one of Mobility Care’s biggest supporters.

Today Sibusiso brought in 6 young children to be measured for wheelchairs. We were not expecting them so it was quite a surprise to suddenly have 6 kids and 6 mothers wandering into the shop! I hastily rounded up enough chairs for everybody so Beat and Agnes could begin taking the measurements. The chairs that Mobility Care makes for these children are really remarkable. They have all sorts of special straps and side supports, and even mudguards over the wheels for those children that are not able to push them.

While it was great to see that these children would soon be getting wheelchairs, it was really quite sad to see how much they were suffering. After the children left, we all sat around and talked for a bit, digesting what had just happened. Beat said something to the extent of “I’m happy that I can help by making a wheelchair, but sometimes after work like this you just feel sad.” So I did my best to cheer him up and assured him that he was doing an amazing job to help these children.

This led us into an interesting conversation regarding donations and international sponsors. I’ll be writing more about this soon, after I’ve given it some more thought. I really think there is vast potential for us to get involved on a deeper level here. Just need some more time to figure out how!

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Thank you to everybody who has been leaving me comments. It's really great to hear from you all and I love reading them! Keep them coming! I promise pictures are coming soon. Hope all is well!
Love Tish

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Apparently my hair looks like gold?

June 13, 2007- Another Visit to Moshi

This morning we set off for Moshi to visit Abdullah and his workshop at KCMC. Wenxian (the other student from MIT) and I were starving when we arrived, so we quickly stopped for breakfast. I tried mtori, which is kind of like a banana porridge with chunks of meat. Everybody else at the place was eating it so it seemed like it must be good, but I guess my stomach just wasn’t ready for meat so early in the morning!

The first prototype of our folding design had just been finished, so we were in Moshi to deliver the chair to Abdullah’s friend who would be the first to test it out for us. Abdullah has a really cool car that is outfitted so he can control everything with his hands because his disability does not allow him to use his legs anymore. I’m not sure how he got it, but he said that somebody helped him order it from Japan (hint Alex!) We packed Abdullah’s wheelchair and our own prototype into his car and headed off to the small village where his friend lives.

When I asked him how far it was to the village he just kind of laughed. It wasn’t the distance so much as the condition of the road that made it entertaining! I’m not even sure you could call it a road at some points because some parts were entirely covered in grass. Luckily it hasn’t rained in a few days so there wasn’t much mud, but the car had such a thick layer of dust on it by the end that it actually looked like it had been painted brown. We joked about making a video game that would be about driving on these Tanzanian roads. Forget Cruising World or Grand Theft Auto, try navigating the giant potholes and large rocks here!

The man testing our chair this week is named Richard and he seems like the perfect man for the job. He lives in a very rural area, as you can imagine from the description of the road to his house, and uses his wheelchair to travel at least 5 kilometers each day. He even pushes himself all the way to town sometimes which is over 10 kilometers each way! I had the opportunity to sit down and ask him many questions about his wheelchair usage (while Abdullah translated) which provided some great information. He’ll be using our chair for a week and then we’ll be back next Wendesday to get his feedback. And of course the atmosphere wouldn’t be complete without pigs and chickens running around behind us.

On the way back to town Abdullah surprised us by stopping for us to visit another friend of his who uses both a wheelchair and a tricycle. It was really interesting to talk to him and find out what he likes and dislikes about each. The tricycle is good for going into town because it is easier to propel, but it is really quite big so he must use the wheelchair when he works inside. He said that if a folding three-wheeler was available he would definitely want one, because then he would be able to take longer trips by folding his chair and putting it on the bus. Yay!

Abdullah is really such a great guy. When he visited MIT last semester I had the chance to meet with him one-on-one and I remember him being really shy and quiet. But now that we’re here in Tanzania on his home turf he’s really in his element, cracking jokes left and right! He’s in the process of finding a bigger space to move his workshop to because currently they are too cramped, and he told me that the new workshop will have two offices, one for himself and one for MIT! The only criteria was that I have to come back and help him decorate it. I think I can handle that!

The rest of Abdullah’s guys (Albert, Abdallah, and Samson) are also a ton of fun. We all went out for a drink after they finished work, but Abdullah had to leave early because he’s taking a class that he needs to qualify for admission to university—he’s hoping to start studying for his bachelor’s degree next year! They all wanted to know when I would be back again and I assured them I would be back next week. They really are so sweet! Everybody loves when I try to speak Swahili, so hopefully by next week I’ll have learned a few new words to impress them with.

The bus ride back to Arusha was, as always, an adventure. I was seated in the last row, right on top of the back wheels, so every time we went over a bump I was thrown in the air. I swear I flew clear out of the seat several times!

June 12, 2007

Quote of the day: “You’re hair, it looks like gold.” Are we looking at the same head of hair? Seriously? I think my hair is starting to get a big head from all these compliments haha.

I had promised my friends at Mobility Care that I would make them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches one day, because they wanted to know what real American food was like. Today was our day! When we got off the dalla-dalla the Supa Bread truck was parked just across the street so I bought the biggest loaf of bread they had and we headed down the road to work.

I described all the intricacies of peanut butter and jelly that I could think of-- you can do a simple sandwich with just two pieces of bread, of if you’re like my brother you can use three and make a triple decker! If you’re packing the sandwich and are worried about it getting soggy, put peanut butter on both pieces of bread so the jelly can’t soak through. I could go on for quite some time! Daniel was my first victim to try the pb&j and he loved it! Next was Agnes who described it as “so delicious” and wanted to know more about sandwiches in general. “How many kinds do you have? Maybe 10?” Ah, if only I could take her to an American deli! The list of sandwiches is infinite I think.

Similar to the way an alcoholic builds up a tolerance to alcohol, I think I’ve built up a peanut butter and jelly tolerance. Everyone else was very full after one sandwich, but I swear I could have eaten at least two more! It must be because I’ve eaten so many in my lifetime. Mmmmmm.

The fabric for our chair hadn’t arrived back from the tailor because apparently she is sick, so this morning I decided to use my extra time to make a big to-do list. I took my notebook and sat outside in the sunshine, looking out on the huge banana trees and mango trees that enclose our little haven. It really is a beautiful place. The main part of Arusha is constantly buzzing with people and always seems busy, but 20 minutes on the dalla-dalla and a nice walk down a rutted mud road takes you to the wonderful, secluded workshop where I spend my weekdays from 8:30 to 5:30.

The three-wheeled wheelchair is advantageous because it’s kinematically constrained with the ground at all times—that is, it always touches the ground at all three points, whereas a four-wheeler can wobble back and forth like those desks at school that never seem to be stable. The road that we walk down to get to Mobility Care from where the dalla-dalla stops is pretty typical of the roads here (with the exception of the Arusha-Moshi and the Arusha-Nairobi roads which are paved) — rocks jut out everywhere and potholes the size of bathtubs sprinkle the landscape. So I decided to see just how well the three-wheeler could cope with this difficult terrain. I took Daniel for a spin in his wheelchair, which turned into me pushing him up the hills and then chasing him down. From my little experiment, I have to say that it really lived up to the challenge. The wide front wheel was able to pass over anything in its way and according to Daniel it was even quite comfortable! Then again he’s used to riding on the dalla-dalla so he might have a different scale for comfort.

On the dalla-dalla back to town this evening I was sitting on the end of one of the benches where I was sandwiched by an elderly gentleman who was standing up. I swear his jacket must have been made out of straw or something because it kept rubbing against my face, leaving a nice abrasion. Oh the dalla-dalla. I know I’ll miss it when I return to the nice spacious buses in Boston.

June 11, 2007- Back to Work

They love my hair here! I don’t know what it is, but everybody here seems to love my hair! And I’m not talking about the hair that I used to spend forever straightening at home. I’m letting it go on its own, and you can imagine how crazy my hair can get given this climate! When I’m finally able to post pictures you’ll know what I’m talking about.

One of the guys at the shop, Beat, had wanted to open a hair salon when he was younger, so he was particularly taken with my hair. When I told him that I had cut it just before I came here he was very upset and wanted to know if I had saved it, and if so could he have some. I love it! At one point I picked a piece of hair that had fallen out off my shoulder and was about to toss it on the ground when Beat stopped me. He took the piece of hair and said in his very careful, deliberate English, that maybe he could keep it so he could remember me after I had gone. From anybody else that would have been kind of creepy, but from him it was absolutely adorable. I assured him that we still had at least 50 more days together, and promised him that I would come back again soon.

We were waiting for the fabric for our wheelchair to come back from the tailor in town, so in the meantime we began brainstorming on the Vodacom project. Our original project for the folding three-wheeled wheelchair is still our main priority, but this Vodacom thing is too cool to pass up. So I’ll just have to do some more work on my own time.

Mobility Care, where I’m working, is just so wonderful. They have really nice black polo shirts with their logo that they wear on special occasions, and they gave me one to keep! So I suppose I’m officially part of the staff now? They also have the most wonderful brochures which I saw for the first time today (I don’t think they hand them out often). It has a beautiful picture of a woman in one of their wheelchairs buying some fruits at the market, and on top it says, “Go and live your life. Nenda na ukafurahie maisha yako.” It’s perfect.

Monday, June 11, 2007

A Weekend in Arusha!

June 10, 2007- Day trip to Mulala

Earlier this week I had booked a day trip to Mulala with a local tour company, so this morning I set off on what turned out to be quite an adventure! My guide, Eric, was about seven feet tall and as skinny as a pencil, but he was very entertaining. We took the dalla-dalla up to the junction at the base of Mulala, at which point we had to switch into another car which just happened to be a Land Rover. But it wasn’t like one of those stretch Land Rovers they use for safaris where everybody has their own comfy seat. It was a Defender without the roof in the back, so people could stand, and they really packed us on there! I estimated that there were 35 of us standing in the back, but my guide thought it was more like 45. I honestly don’t know how they do it!

I didn’t know much about the place I was visiting so I didn’t know what to expect. Once we were packed in, we started driving up the most twisty, steep hill ever. It was absolutely beautiful though because it was flanked on both sides with banana groves and coffee trees that I could literally reach out and touch, they were so close.

After about 15 minutes of this bumpy ride I thought we had reached our destination. I was wrong. We got out of the car and now it was time to walk. And I’m not talking about a pleasant stroll on flat ground. This was a full out hike up the side of a mountain on a dirt road with potholes so big that I could lie down inside of them! We continued our ascent up this little mountain, passing small houses and many villagers along the way. There were many small children and they were all really excited to see me! As we were walking little groups of these small children would surround me and walk with us until they got tired. It was so cute!

As we were about halfway up this mountain, I found out that my guide actually grew up in this town, and his family still lives here. That explained why he was saying hi to every person we saw! Although his conversations with other villagers were good opportunities for me to rest my feet and guzzle water.

Just as I thought we had made it to the top of this mountain, we started going down again. There was a river on the other side called Ngalaliko River that he wanted to take me to, but the route was pretty much straight down! Two young boys came with us to clear the path which had been overgrown by the bush. When I finally made it down it was definitely worth it. It was so beautiful down there, surrounded by a thick forest everywhere, and not another person in sight.

Unfortunately, since we had come down the very steep slope, we now had to climb back up it. It was during this climb that I found out that Eric also guides treks up Kilimanjaro, so this was probably nothing for him! I was so happy when I made it to the top, but suddenly we went around a corner and there was another steep slope in front of us! At this top of this slope was a small house, which turned out to be the house that Eric had grown up in, and the place where all his young brothers and sisters were living. A small pack of little boys had followed us up here and they were very entertaining. I was taking pictures of them with my camera and they thought it was the funniest thing ever. Everytime I showed them a picture they would all fall into the grass laughing! I’m going to guess they’ve never seen anything like a digital camera before.

We were resting at Eric’s house enjoying the view when one of his sisters brought out steaming cups of milk for us. Now those of you that know me will know that I’m not a big milk drinker; maybe I’m lactose-intolerant or something. But it’s not polite to refuse food here so I had to take it. Later Eric took me to see where the milk came from, but it was unclear because there was both a cow and a goat tied up to the stake he was pointing at. Please let it have been the cow! It was time for lunch so I took out the lunch that had been packed for me, but there was no way I could eat it while I was surrounded by my pack of shoeless little boys. So I cut it up into small pieces and let them eat it, which they were very thankful for.

At this point even more brothers and sisters showed up. One of them, Magreth, was really excited to talk to me and practice her English. She’s 16 and absolutely adorable! She wanted to take me to see some monkeys so off we went, up another mountain and down the other side. Her English was really amazing and when I told her that, she replied saying that she thought mine was better. Well I hope my English is good! Before I left she asked if I would write her a letter when I went home, so I took her address and promised to print out and send the picture I had taken with her. Remind me if I forget to do this!

On the way back we stopped at the school where they have a soccer field. A big match was about to begin between the Mulala village and a neighboring one. The field was not in great condition, as it was basically carved out of the side of a mountain. The goals were made from pieces of wood and had not net, and there were no lines. But the people were so excited! I think the entire village was there to watch! Plus it was Sunday so since many people had just come from church, they were dressed in such beautiful clothing! I think I might be one of the first white people that has come to one of their matches, so I definitely drew quite a few stares. And I’m getting pretty used to being called “mzungu” which quite literally means “white person.” Haha

By now I was so exhausted I didn’t think I could walk another step, but it was time to leave Mulala and head back to town, so we began our trek back down. Eric offered o carry me if I was tired and I was so close to letting him. He estimated that we walked about 20 kilometers up and down these mountains, which only made me feel more tired! But when the 90 year old village grandmother started to pass me, I picked up the pace and we finally made it out. We took the dalla-dalla back to town and I probably would have fallen asleep right there in the car if it hadn’t been the dalla-dalla and I wasn’t surrounded by people, baskets, sacks of rice, etc.

The day wasn’t anything like I expected it to be (or like the guidebook said it would be) but it was absolutely amazing. I got to experience things that few visitors have the opportunity to do, and I truly felt immersed in the culture!

I should probably go out and get something for dinner because I haven’t eaten much all day, but I really don’t think my feet can carry me any further. Just standing up to take a shower was painful. I think Advil is sounding like a pretty tasty dinner. Tomorrow it’s back to work at Mobility Care and we have a lot to keep us busy so I’m looking forward to it.

June 9, 2007- Time to Explore

I met Daniel and his brother this morning and we headed off to the Karibu Tourism Fair. For the past 8 years Arusha has been hosting a huge tourism fair for all of East Africa. The idea is that all the hotels, restaurants, etc set up a booth, and then safari organizers can go around and talk to the owners and see which ones they like and want to include on their safaris. So the first few days are only for people “in the trade” but today it was open to the public, and it was mobbed!

It almost reminded me of the homecoming competition in high school when we had to decorate a hallway, because some people really went above and beyond in decorating their allocated tent spot. Some of the hotels from Zanzibar and sprinkled sand inside so it looked you were at the beach, and many of the tented lodges had set up their actual tents complete with canopy bed and everything! Even though there’s no way I could afford to stay at any of these places, it was really fun to talk to them as though I could.

And I was so excited to see an ambulance at the fair! It was there to give out information to tourists on travel insurance and stuff like that. They had set up all their equipment outside and were showing people how to use it, but alas none of it said LVAC so the search will continue for the Lewisboro VAC donated equipment. I had a lovely chat with one of the EMTs who gave me a tour inside and talked to me at length about her training and such. Plus she was really excited that I was also an EMT!

After the fair we headed back to town and relaxed outside for a bit. I had a little Swahili lesson with Fred, and then Daniel joined us and we went to another new restaurant for drinks. Daniel gets a different beer every night and lets me taste it first to see if I like it, but so far I’ve only liked one. I think I just don’t really like beer in general! But there is plenty of Coca-Cola Light to keep me happy.

Later that night I ventured out to meet my new friend Becca, who I had been put in touch with through my uncle (who is a friend of her mom’s). She’s from Westchester and the same age as me, so it was nice to be hanging out with somebody like myself for a bit! We went to a place called Masai Camp, which really wasn’t a camp at all, but rather a large open restaurant/bar where a lot of volunteers like to hang out. It was a lot of fun but I couldn’t stay long because my guesthouse locks its gates at midnight. I actually didn’t make it back until about 1 and the gates were infact closed, but I banged politely on the window and one of the owners came and let me in. I felt so bad coming in like that but he seemed to think it was quite funny!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

The end of my first week here! Lots to report about!

June 8, 2007- Off to Moshi!

This morning we headed off to Moshi to visit KCMC, the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center, and KASI, the Kilimanjaro Association for the Spinally Injured. It began with a very chaotic journey via dalla-dalla, as most days seem to start off! Everything seemed to be going well; we got on a nice, spacious dalla-dalla, and we were very comfortable. I should have known that it could not last because the words “spacious” and “dalla-dalla” never go together! Just as we were passing by the junction for the airport our bus stopped, and we were all ushered onto another bus that was stopped in front of us. Apparently, the two dalla-dallas were both about half full, so they decided to put all the passengers in one dalla-dalla, so the other one could turn around and start the next trip. Now we were totally cramped, sitting five or six across in a space meant for much less than that, and people standing in any other available space. I wish I had a picture of this! The thing with the dalla-dalla, is that people bring all of their things onboard with them; large baskets, sacks of grain and rice, bowls, jugs, bananas, small children. It’s really a sight.

When we arrived in Moshi I was struck by how hot it is! Arusha is surprisingly cool; I usually wear a sweatshirt for the morning and night. But in Moshi, I think I was already sweating before I even stepped off the dalla-dalla! KCMC is a huge medical compound, with a big hospital, a medical college, and a wheelchair workshop just to name a few. A man by the name of Abdullah Munish is in charge of the workshop there, and I had been lucky enough to meet him when he visited MIT a few months ago. So it was really great to see him again, this time totally in his element, buzzing around his shop. He is acting as a supervisor of my project, along with Daniel, and has so much great advice to share. Plus, he’s teaching me “street Swahili” so I can blend in as a local. He’s totally amazing—I’ll definitely write more about him in the upcoming weeks.

Abdullah’s shop is also working on a prototype of our design, so the main purpose of the visit was to see their progress. They’re almost done! They were having a few problems with the chair, similar to the ones we had in Arusha. Basically the chair was bending in the middle, near the third wheel. We racked our brains for what seemed like forever, and came up with quite a few good ideas. Abdullah has a friend who seems to be his designated “test rider,” so I’ll be going back again next week when the chair is finished to meet this guy and deliver the chair. Then we can start gathering feedback!

Next we stopped for a quick meal in town because none of us had eaten breakfast and it was already 2PM. I’m not quite sure how I managed! Then it was off to KASI where we had an appointment to meet Dr. Henry Nyamubi, the Director of the Association and a truly remarkable man. He was so pleased with the work we were doing and really encouraging. He kept saying “fantastic, fantastic!” KASI is really amazing, organizing rehabilitation services for disabled people, a school for disabled children, camps for new wheelchair users, and even special job training for disabled people.

Dr. Nyamubi was also excited to get our help on a new project he has. One of the biggest problems a newly disabled person faces is finding a way to get back into the workforce and generate an income for their family. One way to do this would be to turn the wheelchair into a base for a small business. Vodacom (one of the three big cell phone companies here) has recently made a huge deal with KASI to do just that. They have agreed to pay for 100 wheelchairs, that will be used as a base for a small business, selling cell phone “top-up” cards, chargers, etc. Everybody here has a cell phone—and I mean everybody—and you have to buy the minutes in advance. So basically you buy a top-up card from a shop, scratch off the number, type it in, and now you can use your phone to make calls! Dr. Nyamubi has enlisted our help in designing a wheelchair that could be used for this purpose. So it needs a safe place to store the cards (some kind of basket or bag or drawer), and a large umbrella to provide shelter and shade, and also to promote the items. I’m soooo excited to begin working on this and I’m honored that Dr. Nyamubi has even asked us to help! I think it could be really amazing!

His office was just across the yard from a pre-school class, where I met three adorable young boys, maybe 3 or 4 years old. They were very excited to be saying “hi, how are you?” and when I left they all were shouting “bye-bye, bye-bye!” I’ve found that wherever I go the children seem to be especially excited to see me—probably because they haven’t seen many white people before?

After this meeting I stopped at the ATM, and then as we were walking up to the bus station I was completely mobbed by vendors selling jewelry, paintings, postcards, etc. In Arusha there are also a lot of vendors, but if you tell them “no thank you” they leave you alone fairly quickly. But here in Moshi they would not stop! One guy even waited for me outside the ATM! His name was Jimmy Carter, but he didn’t seem to know about the former US president by the same name. Unfortunately I’m terrible at saying “no,” especially when they start telling me how poor and hungry they are. I ended up with a couple of souvenirs that I probably didn’t need, but at least I know that those people will be able to eat a good meal today. Plus, after I bought something from Mr. Carter, he decided that he should escort me through the busy intersection, even taking my hand and skipping along. It was actually quite cute.

Another highlight in Moshi was the Moshi Institue of Technology (also known as MIT!) They have a big billboard in the middle of town so of course I had to snap a picture!

Thankfully we took a larger bus back to Arusha; kind of like the same size as a coach bus, but without the plush seats and air-conditioning. I sat next to a very nice young guy who was studying at a college in Moshi. On the bus they kept playing American songs by artists like Snoop Dog and 50 Cent, so my new friend John and I sang along together for most of the ride. He was very excited that I knew most of the words! Plus I had my first Kilimanjaro sighting en route!

I was very happy to arrive back in Arusha, which is now beginning to feel like home. Awwwwww. Daniel’s brother Alfred, whom I had met a few days earlier at Pizza Arusha, joined us for a drink after dinner which was nice. I think I wrote before that he’s very passionate about becoming a doctor. Tonight he decided to start teaching me the names of all the body parts in Swahili, so if I ever get a Swahili-speaker as a patient on the ambulance I should be all set! Later a song by Shakira came on in the restaurant, upon which I found out that not only is Shakira one of his favorite artists, but he thinks I look just like her. Hmmm… not really seeing the resemblance, but I’ll take the compliment!

June 7, 2007- Day Four in the Workshop

After lots of good brainstorming last night, we had several solutions to the problem encountered with the frame yesterday, so this morning we were ready to get to work. We cut, we grinded, we welded, and we grinded some more. Essentially, the load on our mechanism was too much, so the steel was bending under the weight of the user—not good! We added an extra constraint along the bottom and it seems to have fixed the problem! We cut the fabric to make the seat and backrest, and Lucas will deliver it to the fundi in town who does the sewing for all the chairs. As soon as it’s here, we can officially sit in the chair and really start testing it! Conveniently, there is plenty of rough terrain to mess around on.

Today I was wearing a polo t-shirt (you know, with the little Polo logo of the horse) and Daniel asked me, “is this the mark of your tribe?” I quickly answered no, but in retrospect, maybe it is? Haha

Over lunch they had many questions today. First, Lucas was interested to know what “American culture” food was like. I gave it a bit of thought, and then delved into a lively discussion of hamburgers and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I also told them about the Fourth of July and how we have a big party, which they were very excited about. So if ShopRite has the fixings I need, I promised I would make them real American food on July 4th. I can’t wait! Beat was very curious about MIT and how students are chosen to go there. He also wanted to know how much it costs, but I really didn’t want to tell him!

In Arusha there are people lining the streets selling things; I guess you would call them vendors? Agnes wanted to know if people did that in the United States. The best analogy I could think of was Chinatown, but you try explaining the concept of fake handbags and rolexs! I really love our conversations over lunch, and I’m pretty sure they are enjoying them too. I wonder what we’ll talk about next!

Daniel and I have made a deal that since I’m here for 60 days, he will show me 60 restaurants (a new one each night for dinner). He’s certainly living up to the challenge! Tonight we ate at the African Queen Restaurant which was delicious as always. It’s just around the corner from my hotel, and it was hopping with locals so it must be good!

Tomorrow we’re off to Moshi so I’m sure I’ll have lots more to report then! And just as I said that the rainy season seemed to be over, it has begun to pour. Hopefully the power won’t go out again!

June 6, 2007- Day 3 in the Workshop

After a good night’s rest in the new hotel, I was ready to go this morning. We headed off on the dalla-dalla, which was very crowded, as usual. The people here are very friendly, so I suppose they don’t mind squishing together!

After work yesterday Agnes asked me what I would like for lunch the next day, so I gave her some money to get chicken, as she is a very good cook (and an excellent wheelchair technologist!) So this morning I was sitting in the office having a hot chocolate with Daniel and in walked Agnes, holding a live chicken in a plastic bag! Daniel assured me that this was a “natural hen” that took many years to grow as big as it was, and we were lucky to be having it. Those with weak stomachs may want to skip this bit…..because next Daniel took it outside to cut the head off, and I decided that it would be fun to watch. Bad idea! After it was officially dead, Lazaro picked the feathers off, and prepared it so Agnes could cook it. I wonder what will happen if I ask for beef tomorrow?

Progress on our prototype was very speedy today. I swear I blinked for a second and Beat had welded the entire frame! Unfortunately the steel is not holding up in one particular place, so tonight we will all think about the best way to solve it, and hopefully tomorrow we can fix it! Overall things move quite slowly here, which is a very nice change of pace from MIT. When we’re working, we work quickly and efficiently, but when we are resting, we really rest!

This afternoon we had a very nice surprise. There is an organization called Kilimanjaro Community Based Rehabilitation, which goes out into the local community to find people with disabilities, so that they can help them find and receive care. They offer a camp for children with disabilities, a place where parents of children with disabilities can meet together, and even administer hearing tests and fit hearing aids on the go. They brought a young boy today who has spina bifida, and needed a wheelchair. When they placed him in the wheelchair, he had the biggest smile on his face. I swear I’ve never seen anybody so happy! They had to make a few modifications to the chair so it would fit properly, so I played with the boy while he waited. My Swahili is very limited, and his English was non-existent so it made for a very interesting time! Right now I’m learning how to count in Swahili, so we practiced together.

There were two guys from Kilimanjaro CBR who brought the boy in, along with his father, and they were amazing. They were so smart and so dedicated to their work. It was inspirational to say the least. They have just built a center called House of Hope where they will base their services, and I hope that I can visit it someday soon!

Daniel is always entertained when I try to speak Swahili, so today he challenged me with some Swahili tongue twisters. Give this a shot: Kale kakuku kadogo kako kwako kaka. Seriously, try and say that ten times fast. Hell, try and say it one time fast! In return, I told him to try: how much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard! I shot a video of it too so remind me if you’d like to see it.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Lots of old posts... finally posted!

As promised... here all the entries that I have been writing... and now I can finally post them! I found a nice internet cafe (I use the term cafe loosely) where I can plug my laptop in, just around the corner from my new hotel. Hopefully this should be enough reading for you all! Pictures will be coming soon!

June 5, 2007- Second Day in the Workshop

Today was my second day in the workshop and it was another great day. This morning Daniel met me early to help me move to a new hotel. The one I was in was good, but it was on a main road so it was very noisy throughout the night. I swear this city never sleeps! So this morning I moved to a Kitundu Guesthouse, which is cited in the Lonely Planet Guidebook so it must be good!

Then we went off to the market to buy some food to bring to the shop, because they have a big refrigerator but nothing in it! I got to sit in the front on the dalla-dalla again this morning which is really fun, because you have the best view. To my Land Rover fans out there, they are everywhere! I pass a dozen or so each morning, maybe more. I even saw a Land Rover that was being used an ambulance!

It was quiet in the shop today because Beat and Lucas were not there. They were off on business, buying some materials for the wheelchairs in Nairobi. But we did a lot more work on our prototype which is coming along very nicely. I think we should have it working by the end of the week and ready for testing. Right now business is very slow in the shop, so we have lots of time to work on our project.

Today Agnes made omelettes with potato for lunch. I must have been looking at it funny because there was no silverware, so I wasn’t sure how to eat it. Agnes found a spoon to offer me, but once I realized that everybody else was just eating with their hands, I dug right in! Today’s lunchtime conversation was politics. They wanted to know if I liked Mr. Bush or Mr. Clinton. Apparently Bill came to visit Arusha sometime in the late 90s and he brought his long American car, which I think must have been a limo? Wonder how he got that on Air Force One?!

For dinner we went to Pizza Arusha, which boasts “the best damn pizza in Africa.” It wasn’t quite like Bertuccis, but it was very good. I think even Daniel enjoyed it! He has been soooo helpful since I’ve been here. Our day starts in the morning when he meets me at the dalla-dalla, and it ends in the evening over dinner. Tonight his younger brother joined us which was a nice surprise. He had just been in Moshi at a meeting at the medical college. He wants to be a surgeon, even without watching Greys Anatomy! He was great company, but I have to say, it was very surreal talking about mitochondria and Newton’s laws with him over dinner!

Now I settled in my new hotel, which should be much quieter tonight. The only problem so far is the lack of toilet paper. Not sure I can go two months without it!

June 4, 2007- First Day in the workshop

Today was my first day working in the workshop, and boy what a first day it was! Daniel met me this morning and first we quickly stopped at a store so I could buy a new charger for my cell phone which seems to have gone missing. Not only did they have exactly what I needed, it was only 5000 T. Shillings (or about $4). Once that was taken care of, it was time to head to Mobility Care, via dalla-dalla.

The dalla-dalla is what they call the public transportation system here. Each one is a like a big mini-van that can seat upwards of 16 people, and it only costs about 25 cents each way. I wonder what the MBTA would make of that! All the dalla-dallas start in the middle of town calling out to people to get on board. They keep driving around town until they are satisfied with how many people they have, so if you get on an empty dalla-dalla, you might be idling around town for quite some time!

After about 15 minutes we got off the dalla-dalla and started to walk up the street to Mobility Care. It’s up a long, muddy road, but it’s a beautiful walk with coffee trees lining the sides, and it smells amazing!

The workshop is so cool! It’s a beautiful building with great machines and tools inside, and the other people are so nice! There are four people working there, my supervisor Daniel, two other guys Beat and Lucas, and one woman named Agnes. There is also a gardener who takes care of all the plants (hint hint Dad) and a security guard who watches the place at night.

Today we took things slow and just got to know each other which was really great. We showed them pictures of our idea and then we worked on making our first prototype. Wenxian had worked on it a bit at the workshop in Moshi, so we only had a few more kinks to iron out. Agnes made a nice lunch for everybody and we all ate together under a little thatched hut also on the property. Mobility Care has a beautiful piece of land, with banana plants, papaya trees, and even avocados growing on it! There was an avocado seed lying around in the grass, so Agnes helped me to plant it. So I’ll have to come back in a few years and see how big it is!

Over lunch we had a lot of interesting conversations. All the people in the shop are eager to teach me Swahili which is great, so I’m learning lots of words and phrases, and in turn I’m teaching them about the United States and little things about history which they like. Daniel was curious to know about “these red Indians living in USA” so that made for interesting conversation!

After lunch we got back to work, continuing with our prototype. We’re almost done with the most critical module and it’s looking good so far. They are very skilled with the machines, and can make the parts very quickly.

After work we all took the dalla-dalla back to town, and then Daniel, Wenxian, and myself went for dinner. I had samaki and chips which is fish with French fries.

Just after we returned to the hotel the electricity went out, but I was lucky to have my awesome wind-up flashlight courtesy of M+D’s trip to the LL Bean outlet. It has flickered back on a few times but I’m not sure it’s here to stay, so I’m taking it as an excuse to go to bed early! Goodnight!

June 3, 2007- First Full Day in Arusha

I met Daniel and Joseph this morning for breakfast. Maybe I just wasn’t that hungry, or maybe I was still jet-lagged, but I just could not finish my breakfast! Luckily Daniel was happy to help me out ;-)

After that we headed to this amazing craft village where I could have easily spent the entire day (and my entire life savings). I decided that I wouldn’t buy anything today, as I have two months to do so, but I started making a big list of things I want. It’s just so cool!
We made one more stop in town at the ShopRite, which is essentially a large supermarket. Ironically, this was the first place that I saw other tourists.

Next we went to pick up Wenxian who had arrived by bus from Moshi, and went to the hotel to drop his things. After taking care of that, we headed to a cultural museum where I learned all about the evolution of man. At least the Africans believe in evolution! Then we came back to the hotel for a small lunch, which Daniel would later tell me had really filled him up!

Daniel took us to an internet café just up the road from our hotel which was good, but they didn’t have wireless, so I had to use their computer. Which is why all these blog entries will be posted very late, and I have not been able to send pictures yet. Here I am in Africa wondering where the wireless internet is. Pretty funny.

I had asked Daniel if I could meet his family sometime, so off we went up through the mud to his house, where we met his wife and his one-year-old son also named Joseph. His wife was soooo nice! She didn’t speak any English, but I did my best with my limited Swahili and she was all smiles. And their son was so cute! I had brought some small matchbox cars, which he loved and raced around the room. We soon found out that Joseph loves cell phones and will do anything he can to play with one.

We enjoyed their company for quite some time, and then Joseph (big Joseph!) came to take us out into one of the villages. We visited a Masai village where we got to go for a ride on a camel which was totally awesome! Unfortunately, the other highlight of this village is it’s famous snake park. Yup, snakes. I was brave enough to walk around and look at the snakes behind the glass, but when it came time to put one around my neck, I think I was hiding behind a tree!

By this time it was getting dark, so we headed back into town for dinner. Daniel and Joseph took us to a nice restaurant that was part of a very nice hotel (La Bella Luna something?) where they had a live band which was very entertaining. Daniel knew one of the band members, so he was very excited to play for us. He kept calling me American Woman which made me want to break out into the Lenny Kravitz song, and I even went up and danced with him! Incriminating pictures to follow.

I’ve noticed that it takes a really long time for the food to come out, once you have ordered it. Maybe I’m just used to getting my food quickly though. In any case, it’s nice because you have lots of time to talk with your fellow diners while you wait. And then when the food comes, nobody talks, everybody eats.

I’m now back at the hotel, showered, and ready to go to bed! Tomorrow will be my first day at Mobility Care and I’m very excited! Daniel will meet us in the morning to help us with the public transport (the dalla-dalla) bright and early! Unfortunately I can’t find my cell phone charger anywhere so I’m a bit worried. I had it in my hand this afternoon and now it’s gone. Hopefully it will turn up in the morning.

More to come tomorrow!

June 2, 2007- Arrive in Kiliminjaro

It was the most amazing smell—so clean and pure. We finally landed at Kilimanjaro, an hour late, and then it took almost another hour to purchase my Visa and make my way through immigration. Luckily my bag was waiting for me, so I picked it up and headed out into the waiting area to find Daniel. There were about 30 people all waving signs of different safari companies and I have to admit, I was a bit overwhelmed. Suddenly, off to the side I saw a sign that looked familiar. “Tish Scolnik.” Wait a second, that’s me! There was Daniel waiting for me! After a very warm welcome, he introduced me to two friends of his—Zachary and Joseph—who had also come along to welcome me. Joseph has a car, so when Daniel needs a ride, he’s his main man.

We ventured out into the warm Tanzanian night, bound for Arusha. I entertained Daniel and his friends with my very limited knowledge of Swahili, and before I knew it we were in town. After a quick stop at the ATM so I could get some T. Shillings, we arrived at the place where I would be staying, The Annex Hotel. It’s a very simple room but it has everything I need, including my own bathroom and shower, all for under $10 a day (and that’s for a double!)

I asked Daniel about getting a SIM card for my phone, upon which he promptly pulled several from his pocket! I picked the prettiest one and put it in my phone. Then we added minutes by purchasing a card from the hotel reception. Crazy!

I was all set to just unpack my things and rest in the room, but Daniel insisted that I must be hungry and I think he was right! So off we went again, this time in search of a meal. Mind you it was close to 10:30PM by this time! After a short drive we arrived at a lovely local place, where I advised Daniel that perhaps he should just order something for me, as everybody was babbling away in Swahili and there was not another tourist in sight. Talk about cultural immersion!

The four of us shared a large platter of kuku (chicken) and chips (French fries). Before the meal started a man came around with a large pot of hot water which he poured over your hands so you could wash them (he did this again at the end which was perfect seeing as I had just eaten chicken with my bare hands). They were very excited for me to try a real African beer, so I indulged and tried the lightest one, Tusker, complete with an illustration of an elephant on the bottle. (I kept the cap as a souvenir).

I wish I had taken my camera with me! Our waitress was the sweetest woman who didn’t speak a word of English, but who (through translation) I found was super excited to be serving a tourist like myself. I even got a special handshake from her when the meal was over!

Now I’m back in my room, trying desperately to figure out how to dial internationally. Mom and Dad, I’ve been trying forever to call you but it doesn’t seem to work. Maybe I have the country code wrong? Nobody at the hotel here can figure it out, so it will have to wait until the morning. Hope you aren’t too worried!

For now I think it’s time for bed, even though it’s only 7PM at home. Daniel is coming for breakfast at 930, and Wenxian will arrive at 11 so I will have lots of company tomorrow!

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Welcome to Amsterdam! I finally arrived here at Schipol airport after a two hour delay in New York. I managed to fall asleep shortly after boarding the plane, and when I woke up an hour later we were still sitting at the gate! Then the captain announced that he didn’t know how much longer we would be, but if he had to make an estimate he would pick one hour. They had to turn off the engines to conserve fuel, upon which it became stiflingly hot. That’s when I met Incredibly Smelly Dutch Woman. ISDW was seated across the aisle from me, but decided to put her things in the bin above my head. Unfortunately for me, ISDW was wearing a cut off tank top, so every time she went into her bin, her incredibly smelly armpits stared me in the face. Luckily we took off after about two hours of sitting on the runway, and I was on my merry way to Amsterdam.

In about an hour I’ll be boarding my plane to Tanzania, and I can’t wait! I’ll write more when I get there!

Tuesday, June 5, 2007


Hi everybody! I've been here in Arusha for a few days now and it's absolutely amazing!! I wrote some very long blog entries on my laptop, but to use the internet I have to go to the internet cafe, so right now I can't post them. But I wanted to write something to quick to let you all know that I'm alright and that I'm having an amazing time!!

Expect lots more to come soon!!