Sunday, April 03, 2011

Leaving for home

We spent the weekend in Dar es Salaam so that we could see the kids from Boona Baana, Malinga and Isaack's orphanage. Malinga used his birthday gift money (he waived gifdts this year) to take the kids out for a nice dinner. The kids have grown so much and turned into wonderful young men and womne.
Pictured here are Linus, Isaack (X2), Amina, Mandara, Eliza at Sea Cliff. We went to Spur's for dinner...kind of like South African Ponderosa. It was a fun night. I have also included pics of our taxi ride there...a Bajaji ride...Hannah can't stop talking about it.

Tender Mama's Spa Service

Hannah and her friend Magali decided to open their own spa service apptly called Tender Mama's Spa service. You were 'mostly welcome' as they say here in Tanzania to any service you desired (or a combination thereof). For those of you who know Hannah, even a little bit, you will know that she can be relentless when she gets an idea in her head....she will ask you if you want a massage or a facial or a pedicure over and over again until you say YES. Then you need to receive your wonderful service and hurry up and pay her! She is going to make us a lot of money someday.
Our friend Charlie was one of Hannah's esteemed customers...that is real avacado on her face...they are in season and just falling off the trees here.

Shakira has arrived!

My good friend Abbas and his wife Neema just had a baby girl. A sister to their son Shakur. They named her Shakira!!
The pictures say it all...she is beautiful and we were awaiting her arrival for most of our time here.
Congratulations Abbas, Neema and Shakur. Welcome to the world Shakira!

soccer days in Moshi

There will be many amazing memories created for Isaack, Malinga, Jack and Roman who played soccer at sunset on several day seach week.
They play on dust not grass.....just imagine the dirt!

Malinga's Adoption is almost final

We have made some major progress with respect to Malinga`s adoption here in Tanzania. We presented to the High Court of Tanzania on March 14th only to discover that the judge who was presiding over our case was ill and would not appear that day. We were told to return on the 21st and this time he appeared but, our social worker (who was also present) had not yet filed our final social welfare report. He delayed us for another 2 days to allow time for her to file the report with the court...he was being very accommodating because Mama Minde, our lawyer, had informed him that we were returning to Canada on April 2nd. We were very grateful for the kind treatment since that same court had lost our previous file and not allowed us to re-file a copy of it for a whole year...when they were absolutely sure it was definitely lost!
We were all a little strung out after 3 separate trips to the court house but the judge was in a good mood (although very serious too) that morning. He asked Roman and I to each swear that we promised to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help us God. He then asked questions like ‘how can you prove that you love this child as much as your other children’ and ‘how can you prove that you will be able to provide for him for his whole life?’ and he asked Malinga ‘do these people treat you the same way as they treat their other children?’ was pretty intense. I teared up at one point as wel because Roman had to go first and he said some pretty wonderful things about how much he loved Malinga as a son and it made me want to marry him all over again...we have learned a lot about ourselves, our marriage and being parents through this process.
The judge then wrote some stuff in his notebook and said ok, I will grant the order for adoption and you can pick it up on Friday...and that was it.
We now have to submit these documents in Canada to have his adoption processed by Social services in Ontario. Not sure what kind of obstacles we will face on the other end as we try to make Malinga truly Canadian. I am sure there will be a few.
Oh, and in case you are wondering...his new name will be Malinga Yeates Zablocki (Yeates is his new middle name..not hyphenated with Zablocki). I wanted to get a bit of the Yeates name in there...I think having it as his middle name is the perfect compromise.
It has been quite a journey so far..but as my friend Caroline always says..’everything worth having is worth waiting for,.....

Making chappatti and eating bugs in Moshi

Hannah, Malinga and Jack have become quite the Tanzanians. They have a little routine every morning with Daisy, their tutor. At about 10:30 they walk around the corner to the chapatti stand and buy freshly made chapatti and fried cassava. The chapatti`s from the stand are kind of like oily pita bread but they taste delicious. Over time, Hannah and her friend Magalie (whose mom and dad are staying with us this month) asked the chapatti lady how to make them. They then went to the duka (store) on the corner and bought corn flour. Sam, Magalie`s dad helped them make chapatti on a rainy Saturday morning. Hannah made one that looked like a happy face and then carried it around to the lady at the chapatti stand for a taste test. She told them it was `’nzuri sana, or very good! Her friend at the stand also tasted it and said...chumvi..which means salt..meaning it needs more salt...she was always a little bit grumpy at the best of times.
On that same rainy Saturday we had a big downpour and Malinga immediately noticed that the ‘termites’ were out. These termites are actually like larva with wings and according to many Tanzanians, they are quite the delicacy. Malinga told the other kids that he had eaten these bugs in his previously life in, of course everyone wanted a chance to taste them. The kids proceeded to collect a bunch of the bugs and then they friend them in butter and salt (in my perfectly good frying pan!)....Jack was the first to try them. He said they taste like French fries....Malinga ate a few and Hannah chickened did mom and dad.....I have tolerated a lot of ‘firsts, in Tanzania, but eating a big white larva –like bug was not going to be one of them!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The other story of Rwanda

I know this post is late. I should have written it way back when Roman and I first returned from Rwanda. I wanted to tell the stories of the Gorillas but did not know where to start to tell about the genocide. After our gorilla tracking, we checked into what is now the Kigali Serena Hotel. It used to be the Hotel Diplomates..this is where the RGF had their headquarters...essentially where the government machinery that orchestrated the genocide were holed up for months prior to and during the genocide. General Bagasora was the kingpin. Just down the road was the Milles Collines, where Paul Rusesabagina, who had been the hotel manager at the Diplomates, was seconded by the hotel management company to go to the Milles Collines and keep things running. What he ended up doing was saving the lives of hundreds of Tutsis and moderate Hutus seeking safety. He risked his life and the life of his family to save others. The story is told in the book and movie called The,Hotel Rwanda. Roman and I sat around the pool bar at the Milles Collines and had a late night snack on our Saturday night in Kigali. It was surreal to reflect on the events that went on there. It was also a reminder that life goes on.

Paul Kagame is Rwanda's current president and who was the general of the Rwandan Patriotic Front that took over Kigali to push out the genocide perpetrators (essentially the army of the government of the time). He has worked very hard to restore peace by focusing on reconcilliation and restorative justice. He could not have asked thousands of Tutsis to return home to Rwanda after fleeing during the genocide and live next to their neighbors who killed their family members without helping them to cope with the horrors that ocurred, and, to help them make sense of why the genoide happened and to ever so slowly work towards forgiving those who killed. Much of the peace has also come because many of the survivors have played a hand in the process of justice by sitting in local village courts (called the grass courts) to watch the perpetrators be brought to justice. Thousands (more than 100,000) Hutus were jailed after the genocide and now many of them are being released. They reintegrate back into the communities they had come from but continue to do community work for their period of see them on the streets...sweeping, digging ditches etc. Their uniforms are pink.

Many of these Hutu villagers who were swiftly jailed on their return to Rwanda were simple people living a pastoral life but whose minds were poisoned and brainwashed by the government media, largely through radio annoucements and music that was designed to build a hatred so powerful that once provided with machetes, these men (and some women) of the Interahamwe were able to go out and kill their neighbors, friends, wives and even their own children. You see, many Hutus were happily married to Tutsis in Rwanda and both tribes had prior colonization lived in relatove peace. It was the foreigners who colonized them-Germans and then the Belgians who saw the ability to pit one tribe against the other in order to gain power. The Tutsi's have committed genocidal crimes in the past too..just not on the scale that the Hutu led government were able to in 1994.

The thing that I didn't fully understand until I read more books on the subject (Roman and I have been reading everything we can get our hands on since we visited the Rwandan War Crimes Tribunal in Arusha Tanzania in 2007) is that the genocidaires (the planners and the perpetrators) all fled by the millions to the Congo..just over the border at Gisenyi to Goma. They were able to hide out in Goma's UN sanctioned refugee camps in the Congo and were protected by the UN. While in the camps they developed new Interahamwe cells and terrorized Tutsis in the camps who had already escaped the genocide once. Many Tutsis still died in these camps at the hands of the Interahamwe. These criminals were fed and clothed for more than a year by the United Nations while Tutsis in Rwanda starved and tried to rebuild their lives with literally no focus on what had happened to them.

The world seemed to get it all wrong...even after the genocide had happened (and was still happening, the world focused on the growing humanitarian crises (cholera and a volcanoe eruption) in Goma-this focus on the refugees and not what had happened and was still happening in Rwanda was largely due to pressure from the United States who not only failed to act during the genocide but blocked UN efforts to launch a big enough force to stop the genocidaires from committing atrocities...after the genocide, the United States government (out of guilt perhaps) decided to then put 300 million dollars into the UN camps in Goma....if they had funded just one quarter of that amount to fund the UNAMIR force in Rwanda that was head by Romeo Dallaire, it is believed by many experts that the genocide could have been stopped.

I am not sure what to tell you about what we saw and did on this leg of our is difficult. We went to the Genocide memorial in Kigali first. It is funded by a humanitarian organization called AEGIS that focuses on keeping the stories of human genocide alive inour world so that we can learn from what has happened and stop future generations from suffering similar fates. The Kigali memorial tells the story of how the genocide occurred. There are testimonials and films. It is very moving. The museum also tells the story of other genocides. Some we know much about such as the Jewish Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis (when the world said Never again.... and yet still....). They also tell the story of the Armenian Genocide, Cambodia's killing fields, the Balkans...

There is a very moving exhibit of the brief stories of children who were murdered in Rwanda. I have attached a few pictures. There is a mass grave with 250,000 souls buried there. There is a beautiful garden surrounding the mass grave.

One of the meorials we went to was about 45 minutes from Kigali in a town called Nyamata. The church looks like a regular somewhat modern African Catholic church. The sheer size of the killings that ocurred there are only evident when you enter. The benches of this lovely church are filled with stacks and stacks of clothing and personal items tat were found in the mass graves in the area. The bones of these victims are buried here on site in a mass grave and others are in Kigali. There are 50,000 people buried in Nyamata's mass grave. There is a glass box with a coffin in it in an underground crypt built beneath the church seating area. This coffin contains the remains of a young woman who was savagely murdered along with her baby during the genocide. Her surviving family (who found her after she was murdered)allows her to lay in rest here as a representative of all women who died in Rwanda during the geneocide. They want her to be a reminder of the crimes that were committed against women....I don't need to go into can use your imagination.

Another genocide memorial we visited was in Ntarama. In this little village there was a catholic church where 5,000 Tutsi's and moderate Hutus sought refuge. They thought that that would be sacred ground that no one would touch. They hid there for weeks and then the Interahamwe came and slaughtered them all. There are doorsways that you can see where grenades had been thrown through them and there are bullet holes everywhere. Some victims were burned alive in the building at the back where they were cooking for the massess who were hiding there. All the bodies that were recovered in mass graves in that area have been placed on display within the church as skulls and bones on racks. Most of the skulls bear the nachete wounds visibly on them. Other bodies were placed in coffins that are also located there. They put bodies in coffins that were thrown into latrines. These did not decompose in the same way as others to produce just they needed proper burial in a coffin. There are shelves of people's,school books, dolls, pens, rosaries and many Tutsi ID cards that they were forced to carry. It brought tears to my eys as I examined these little items that once represented the day to day lives of ordinary people, who went to that church to try to live and survive.

The woman who gave us the tour was soft spoken (we were the only ones there incidentally). She sits all day at the site as a specially trained historian to tell the Rwandan genocide story correctly. She took us around the back to a room that looked like a Sunday school..little benches and a dirt floor...she said that this was a Sunday school when the church was functional but it became the baby killing room. It would seem that the quickest way for the Interahamwe militia to kill babies was to hold them by the feet and swing their heads against a brick wall. That is exactly what they did here. I did not know it while we were standing next to the wall...she just looked over as she told the story as she had many times before. I eventually looked at the wall I could see that blood, and bone fragments and flesh are still stuck there (I have included a picture of this wall..taken from the doorway of that little building). A gruesome but important reminder to never go down that road again. The savagery is hard to imagine and I promise you, that is the only gruesome story I will tell. There are many more but....words fail me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

More and You Tube links to festivities.....

Please see our cake cutting at
Please see the crazy Mkombozi dancers at

More of the grand opening celebration

More of the grand opening celebration

Pamoja Tunaweza Grand Opening Celebration at the new building March 8, 2011

March 8, 2011 was International Women's day and we chose that day to be the grand opening of our new women's centre in Moshi, Tanzania. We are sadly leaving our old location on Arusha Road. There were many firsts that occurred there and we have fond memories. The new centre is a powerful new beginning for us. We were able to purchase the land and building through the generous donation of a Tanzanian-Canadian man named Sadru Mohamedali and his wife Khairoon. We also thank his extended family, Nina and Imi Moloo and their sons Husein, Ali and Raheem for their ongoing support. We hope they will visit the centre one day in the near future so they can see the gift they have given us.

The day started off with special announcements and greetings and then we had dancing from a group of young men from a vocational training program called Mkombozi. They perform dancing and acrobatics. They were a crowd pleaser! We also had dancing from our business training and microfinance group from Chekereni Village. These women (and 1 man!) danced for us and sang in the traditional Tanzanian way. We felt so honored that they chose to participate in the grand opening in that way.

I told a bit of the history of the centre and our relationship to CACHA and Kilimanajro Women Information Exchange and Consultancy Organization. I wanted people to know where we started and how far we had come. I know that we also have a long way to go and wish I had a lot more resources to do more for our clients and the community. I really felt the presence of our motto 'one woman at a time' as I looked out over all of those women at the grand opening whose lives we have touched over the last 3 years. I also need to thank my dedicated staff and volunteers who work hard to keep us going and believe so much in what we do.
I will append some pictures of that beautiful day and will try to attach some videos either to this site or via YouTube. The dancing really was amazing.

We provided a delicious Tanzanian buffet and cake. There was champagne popped and a ribbon cutting....the ladies from Chekereni cut the ribbon and then broke into the most amazing dancing and ululation....I stood there and wept. I was home.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

African Womens' Voices Project-Goma, Congo

I have been interested, sad and angered about the plight of women in the Democratic Republic of Congo for several years now. During their long drawn out 'war' between rebel groups, the soldiers have used rape as a powerful weapon of war to keep women living in fear of repeated violence. There has been some attention brought to this issue by world media and books on the subject. One organization called Women for Women International has done a lot of work to sensitize the world to this important issue. There is a book by a woman named Lisa Shannon, an American woman who became insprired to do charitable 'runs' to raise money to sponsor individual women through Women for Womens project in DRC. Lisa's book of her journey is called 'A Thousand Sisters' and it describes Congo as the worst place in the world to be a woman...and after our recent journey to lay the initial ground work for our African Womens' Voices Project, we agree that it just might be the worst place. You will hear more about our project as it evolves over the next few years.

We travelled with Alyssa Ferguson, our current project coordinator at the Pamoja Tunaweza Women's Centre and with Ms. Deborah Melman-Clement, a writer based in kingston, Ontario who also volunteered on our last caravan as a logistics volunteer. We flew to Kigali, Rwanda and made our way by bus to Gisenyi. We made our way across the border to Goma, DRC....with a few small bumps along the way.
Entering Goma from Rwanda was like night and day. On the Rwandan side in Gisenyi, on the shores of Lake Kivu, it was like being in resort town like Lake Como, Italy. Many atrocities happened in Gisenyi during and after the Rwandan Genocide, but they have miraculously moved on and rebuilt, whereas, Goma (and most of Congo)are still trapped in a post conflict situation and craving for better governance from Kinshasa and help from the international community. There is a huge UN presence in Goma because that is where millions of rwandan refugees escaped to during the genocide. Unfortunately, the world poured aid into Goma's camps to 'save' the refugees....this happened because the indifference of the international community resulted in little or no intervention DURING the genocide to stop the killing of Tutsis (1 million were killed in 90 days)...when the world recognized their mistake they threw millions of dollars into the refugees situation, but, most of those who escaped to Goma were genocidaires who had been the perpetrators of the genocide and had orchestrated the murder of their fellow Rwandans. Goma has dismantled some of the camps and the Rwandans have been repatriated to Rwanda to stand trial if they were suspected of committing crimes against humanity. Goma is a different world with a large (still erupting) volcanoe towering above the dusty city. There was at times a look and feel of desperation in the faces of the people because the poverty is extreme, but in general we felt safe.

Our goal in Goma was to visit a hospital called 'Heal Africa'. It is like an oasis in a desert. You can google 'Heal Africa' and read more about the history of this hospital. They provide care for many medical problems but are especially good at dealing with injuries of the war and the issue of vaginal fistulas. These develop when a woman has a difficult labour and the baby's head is stuck in the birth canal. The injury to the vagina and surrounding structures leads to severe problems with leaking of urine and sometimes feces. These women suffer terribly as outcasts in their community. The fistulas can also develop when women are violently raped, and during the last decade there have been many women who have developed these in DRC. The hospital has a residential program where these women can stay during the long process of their surgical repairs. They help them to rebuild their spirit and bodies.

I have included some pictures of our group (which included 'Jean' our guide and translator, Goma at night and of Heal Africa.

Our Trip to Pangani By Hannah Zablocki

We went for the weekend to a place called Pangani. We went with Heather, Jeff, Sully and Whit.It is a beach place that takes 8 hours to drive to from Moshi. We took a dalla dalla minibus and it was called Happy People Everybody's bums hurt by the time we got there because there was 2 hours of bumpy roads!
The hotel was a beach lodge called Emayani Beach Lodge. It was very hot and I got a big tan. We stayed in a 'banda' on the beach. It had a toilet and shower and a big bed for mom and dad with mosquito nets and a cute little bed for me. The beach lodge had a bar and restaurant and we were almost the only people there. We did a lot of swimming.
The best thing about that place was that there was a turtle rescue organization down the beach. They try to protect turtle nests and help the baby turtles get to the ocean. Only 1 baby in a thousand survive!
I have added some pictures of the babies making their way to the ocean. I have also added some other pictures of us at Pangani. Enjoy!