Learning, Planning, and Giving in Tanzania

February 16th, 2017 | Jason Mackenzie IMG_4613

Greetings in Swahili take quite a bit of time. I fear I will never get passed even the simplest of greetings but I’m not too worried as people here are friendly enough and don’t seem to mind. In my flatmate’s couple of weeks here she has nailed the entire phrase and can even pick up on conversational nuances. She seems determined to learn the language. I am mostly determined to stay cool and build a great playground….

Walter says Swahili is the 11th mostly spoken language in the world. Listening to people speak it, you can catch a little Spanish, a little Arabic, a little German and a bit of French. According to Janet, it’s because this has been a friendly trade route for centuries and these different languages just filtered into the dialect.

My flatmate goes to work much earlier than me so she was gone by the time I woke up around 7:30 am. As a habit, she locked the screen door when leaving so I’m locked inside until I can flag someone down to unlock the gate. I will say to them in Swahili “Mambu biti” (how are you) and he will say back “Poa” (I am fine). Then my plan is to frantically point at the screen door latch. If all goes well I will be out of here in an hour or so.

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Walter and Janet doing what they do best– loving, supporting, and embracing young people.

Walter and I have been discussing developing a deeper partnership between FOCC and Play 360. Tanzania seems like a very easy country within which to work and it feels quite exotic in that it would be a great place to bring tour groups as well as student groups interested in getting to know the culture and build playgrounds. Also, partnering with FOCC means Play 360 will have an on-the-ground relationship with a strong organization dedicated to its mission of helping children with disability and illness. FOCC seems equally dedicated to education as it does to treating illness and addressing issues of inclusion.

With respect to the playground we are building, we’ve determined as a team that it should be designed to be inclusive of all children, those with disabilities, those who are fully abled and those who are undergoing treatment for cancer or hydrocephalus. Many families with sick children feel as though their children should be kept inside and not bring embarrassment to the family. However, our hope is this playground will create a fun, and public space for all children, even the sick ones. We’ve decided the playground should include the following elements:

  1. The playground pieces are not jarring as the hydrocephalus children cannot be shaken about
  2. There is an element of light/dark contrast in the colors for those children undergoing chemotherapy who are having issues with sight
  3. The playground is inclusive for all children encouraging integration and community
  4. Encourages sick children out of their homes
  5. A sensory garden for all disabilities
  6. Could integrate the traditional conga dress since it is cheap (instead of paint)

The nurse got into a deep conversation with Walter in Swahili about a particular hydrocephalus case in the room. It was a small child with a very large head being held by who I assumed was his mother. She had clearly come from far outside the city based on her attire. While almost all women here dress in beautiful and colorful clothing, the people from the very rural areas clearly stand out. They are rare in the city, maybe 1 in 500 or 1,000 but their robes and jewelry stand them apart. She was in a blue robe and had large beaded earrings up and down her ears and a very large necklace to match. She had grey eyes and was impressive to look at.

So, Walter is talking with the doctor in Swahili for a while then he says “Hey Jason, maybe you want to hear this story?” Note, people always speak in English around me unless they don’t speak any English so I simply assumed the doctor didn’t. He proceeds to tell me that this child needs a particular antibiotic before he can get the hydrocephalus surgery and the antibiotic costs between $50 and $60 USD and without the antibiotic the child will die so he needs some kind of sponsor. “Damn!” I thought. “Ok Walter, I will sponsor him.” The nurse responds in perfect English “We always love when Walter brings someone by the hospital.”