Expect the unexpected

To my dear, dear family and friends,

This has been a FULL week with its usual and not so usual ups and downs. Tuesday was CTC (Care, Treatment and Counselling) Day for HIV/AIDS victims.  Our ailing car, packed to capacity with orphans from the NGO's Children's Village, carefully made its way to the new CTC facility (built by the NGO). It is located at Mdabulo, a hilltop village developed by Italian missionaries many years ago. Dr. Mganga who has recently joined the NGO took Ruth and I on a tour of this large impressive building. A steady stream of mothers carrying babies, young children, men and women entered quietly, sitting on benches across from cardboard boxes stacked haphazardly with their files containing personal and vital information about their HIV status. Once their names had been called people moved to a long hallway lined with black chairs. With heads bent and clutching their files they were waiting to enter the consultation room before going to the dispensary to receive their ARVs (anti retroviral drugs). A 10 year old girl, the same size as the late Falista, was leaning against the wall, holding her file, patiently waiting. CTC was orderly, sombre and very, very sad.  But this facility is indeed saving lives. Thanks to the collaborative efforts of Don and Ruth, my husband Terry, Bob Olafson and Stephen Lewis a CD4 machine, which determines how suppressed the immune system is, will soon be here. This will have a significant impact.

For some reason we continue to be surprised by sudden unexpected changes in our daily plans. Tuesday afternoon a full dress rehearsal was planned in the large "ukumbi" as showtime was scheduled for the next day. Minutes before the rehearsal, Frida - our capable co-director, quietly knocked on the library door to inform us that a large community meeting was in progress in the hall making it inappropriate to traipse in with 20 excited young actors. Oh dear what to do? No dress rehearsal and an undecorated stage! Early the next morning we arrived with Dr. Patrick Ney (a Canadian doctor who had previously spent 2 years in Mufindi) and were greeted by 20 expectant actors. A buzz of activity as everyone mobilized - panga wielding actors trooping in with 12 foot banana leaves, frantically adding finishing touches to the Princess and the Pea banner (in English and Kiswahili) and hoisting the banner above centre stage. This last minute burst of activity was in front of early bird bibis (grandmothers) and babus (grandfathers).

Meanwhile the slow and laboured procession of bibis and babus continued as they shuffled through the Ukimbi doors to make their way to the front. They have come from afar walking up and down the patchwork hills. Ruth and I took each person's hand and greeted them in Kehehe (key -hay hay) - "Kamwene, Kamwene" (Hello, how are you?). By 11:00 a.m. we looked out onto a sea of bibis clad in colourful kangas and babus in farm clothes with an assortment of toques and large floppy hats.  308 had managed to make the trip!  By the time the Igoda students had assembled every chair and all spaces in the aisles were occupied.  Well over 800 people were expectantly waiting. Our now seasoned actors didn't disappointas they performed confidently and comically.  Johari Chang'a, an 11 year old orphan, transformed into the perfect prince. A star was born! Laughter erupted as he tells the Ethiopian fake princess that he rejects her because she has jiggers in her toes. His improv responses are relished by the audience.  Before coming to the orphanage and to school, Johari was living in the forest with his bibi and the resident monkeys in a makeshift shelter. To see his bibi with her grandson, Prince Johari, basking in the afterglow of the performance was a poignant moment. Delightful laughter greeted the diminutive Princess Dominca as she climbed the bed of 20 wildly colourful afghan "mattresses".  After an hour the imaginary curtain fell when the lengthy Mufindi wedding ceremony came to an end with a final song, dance and drumbeat.  At the end a bibi quizzically asked, "What was the aim of this play?" It seems in her day the choice of a son's wife was a decision left to his parents. Times change everywhere.

Ruth and I, Peace Corp workers and NGO workers served heaping plates of beans and rice from steaming sufrias to the patiently waiting bibis and babus. In a small room behind the stage the actors sitting in a circle were enjoying a cast party with a bottles of pop. Akida, the other co-direcctor, was asking them what they had learned from this experience. Finding the right person to marry and showing wisdom and maturity before marrying were the common threads running through their conversation. Who would have thought these events would result from The Princess and the Pea!

Thursday and Friday were teaching mornings for us. We both love being back in the classroom and I guess some would say we go to great lengths and distances to do this! On Thursday afternoon we visited the remote village of Ikaning'ombe. We were there to see the elementary school which was literally crumbling around their feet. There are 296 studentsand 5 teachers. Half of the school population are either orphans or classified as vulnerable children. Dirt floors, disintegrating concrete walls, leaking metal roofs, no shelves, few desks. The chickacheya (kindergarten) with small wooden benches without legs scattered on the dirt floor was a bleak place to begin a child's formal education. I wanted to wave a magic wand and shout, "We'll help!"  We immediately went into fix it mode!  With the help of a local fundi (carpenter) desks will be made and cement bought for the floor. Geoff wisely said it was important to get the village involved and they will be responsible for collecting sand to lay on the floor before the cement.  With the villagers help wehope to assist this school one classroom at a time. The donations from home enabled us to increase the teachers' books from one curriculum book per subject to many. 

On Friday it was the same story in Mwefu - minimal resources, inadequate buildings. Two classes are crammed into a crumbling brick room without windows. There is only a half wall at the end of the room which allows nature's forces to regularly interrupt their learning.  We're often asked if we will be returning to Mufindi. With the help of our generous donors it seems we still might be a bit useful.

Love to all,