Mary Kate Parmer
Mary Kate Parmer
Tanzania, 2022
Hi! My name is Mary Kate Parmer, and I am so excited for this 3 month journey in Arusha, Tanzania! I will be an occupational therapy intern at a Hospital and use the time to continue my graduate school research on Global disabilities and applied behavioral analytics in special education. I'm very excited to live under Mount Kilimanjaro and immerse myself in a whole new culture! Read More About Mary Kate →

Week eleven and I touched Heaven

Week eleven and I touched Heaven or at least got close…

Sorry for the large delay in posting I spent most of week ten prepping and all of week eleven climbing the largest mountain in Africa. Due to the Tanzanian census most regional hospitals and boarding schools closed for the last week in July and first week in august giving me the perfect opportunity to climb Kilimanjaro without missing work.

At about 5,895 meters or 19,340 feet. It is the largest free-standing mountain rise in the world, meaning it is not part of a mountain range. Also called a stratovolcano (a term for a very large volcano made of ash, lava, and rock), Kilimanjaro is made up of three peaks: Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira. Kibo is the summit of the mountain, while Mawenzi and Shira are extinct, Kibo is dormant and could possibly erupt again. Scientists estimate that the last time it erupted was 360,000 years ago. The highest point on Kibo’s crater rim is called Uhuru, the Swahili word for “freedom.” The mountain is also known for its snow-capped peak; however, scientists warn that the snow might disappear within the next 20 years which is a tragedy of epic proportions.

I chose to take one of the most popular routes for a 6 day and 5 night trek. Called the Machame route about 50% of all climbers choose the Machame route. It is also one of the cheaper routes due to its easy access and shorter itinerary. The Machame route is also known as the Whiskey route, given its reputation for being a tough climb, in contrast to the easier Marangu route, which is known as the Coca Cola route.

It’s also considered one of the most scenic routes passing through 7 diverse climates, dramatically switching weather conditions and flora every few hours.Day one was a drive to Moshi and logistics of checking in at the machame gate with passports. After all the registration we began a six kilometer hike to the machame camp through rain forests with beautiful flowers and a low grade heat and humidity. Day two was four hours of vertical incline until we were above the cloud line where we would stay until the last day on the mountain. Day three was more alpine dessert with fewer trees and more sun and wind before lunch at lava tower. The four was by far the longest but also the best we started scaling Baraka wall where it felt like we were on top of the world but still we’re in the peaks shadow.

After what seemed like six different times going down and then back up we had lunch at Katanga camp. The last location with easily accessible water. We elected to keep going after lunch all the way to the final camp and arrived by 5. After a quick dinner we attempted to get some sleep in the freezing camp a few hours before waking up at 11pm. We donned at least six layers of clothing and ridiculously puffy down jacket burrowed from local guides and friends. After seven hours of slow incline in the dark with nothing but head lamps and hot water bottles. 
After stopping to admire the sunrise and a few more hours of incline we reach the summit of Kilimanjaro and the highest peak in Africa standing over 19,000 feet.

Unfortunately after a short amount of time celebrating in the very thin air we had to turn around to go down. What took us over six days to climb would only take one and a half to descend.

After arriving back at camp around 12 we had lunch and a brief nap before packing up and trekking down to the last camp. We slept in the rainforest before hiking the last few hours out on Tuesday morning.

Overall An incredible journey that showed me how capable our bodies are of intense situations even through the elevation headaches and a couple of instances of vomiting. I couldn’t be more proud of myself for accomplishing this and I’m so grateful for all the people who followed along and encouraged me to climate also the friends I made it along the way at each camp. A truly surreal moment of my Lumos trip to complete something that’s been so high on my bucket list since I was 16 years old. After coming home from the mountain we spent the rest of the week easing back into Arusha life and gearing up for my last few weeks in Tanzania.

Sincerely yours,

Mary Kate Parmer

Weeks Eight and Nine

Weeks eight and nine and it’s going fine!

Monday we celebrated 4th of July surrounded by British volunteers six of them compared to two from the United States was an interesting experience but they were good sports about the jokes. Tuesday was another day at the hospital but a new volunteer who’s a recreational therapist back in the United States will be at the hospital three days a week and foundation the other two following my schedule. It’s nice to have a companion to travel with to work. Wednesday I brought a friend to the hospital run making the 12k much more bearable and then we went to several of my housemates last social dinner.

Thursday was a Tanzanian holiday called Saba Saba with the day off of work my boss took me to get our nails decorated and lunch to celebrate before another Swahili class with the other volunteers. To say goodbye to some of the great volunteers that made the house so full of life and fun we went up to a campsite for a goodbye campfire!

Friday I brought some volunteers to destiny to play with the children between occupational therapy sessions and later went on a home visit to check on children too far from the foundation to come for therapy.

Friday night we made s’mores and one of my childhood favorites called banana boats. Saturday was spent cooking and prepping to host church at the house on Sunday before some school work and card games. On Sunday we went out to breakfast and bought day passes to a local hotel pool to hang out before a big dinner with all the volunteers in the house back from weekend excursions. Also I learned how to solve a Rubix Cube.

On Monday it was tough saying goodbye to some good friends after three weeks of adventures. However it’s nice to know if I’m ever in England I have several people to grab coffee with and with social media it doesn’t feel like quite a permanent goodbye!  Tuesday was another day at the hospital with seven Occupational therapists between the five Arusha college students finishing practical hours and the three volunteers. It’s great seeing how each person creates a treatment plan and approaches an injury in a unique way and being able to collaborate from different backgrounds. Wednesday we did a medical outreach seeing over 150 patients at a Maasai village outside of Arusha delivering medication. I took the blood pressure, thankfully not manually, of offer 100 patients. 

Thursday and Friday I went back to the hospital for One of the volunteers last couple days. We also got to participate in an African drumming and dance class before volunteer dinner and karaoke night. The weekend was spent around Arusha catching up on homework at a local coffee  shop and learning to cook with mama, and of course lots of playing with the host sisters and their friends!

While everything might not be as new and exciting these last few weeks have been some of my favorite despite all the goodbyes. I have enough Swahili vocabulary to communicate at a basic level still with a lot of gestures and google translate but its allowed for stronger friendships with some of the people in my house. It has also allowed me more comfort in the street talking with neighbors and using public transit and at more local stores and resturants. I have been to learning a lot about life in Tanzania from so many different people and truly feel a part of the community I have been able to create for myself between the hospital, foundation, and house.

Sincerely yours,

Mary Kate Parmer

Week Seven

Week seven highlights; a three day safari through Serengeti and Ngorogoro Crater. It was an experience straight out of a dream and I had the opportunity to see hundreds of animals right before they begin to migrate up to Kenya and insane scenery of world famous national parks! For the second time I got to camp in Africa and again it was a few very cold nights and early mornings but worth it to see the animals we did. Below are some of my favorite pictures I got with just my phone and an awesome driver who got us so close to so many animals.

Before the weekend excursion I spent time meeting new volunteers and showing them around Arusha and our neighborhood. There are now eight volunteers living with my host family which leads to loud dinners and lots of last minute outings. Only two days were spent in the hospital this week since Thursday was another medical outreach. We delivered medication and well checks to a school not far out of the city around two Massai villages for students two years old to six years old and the school is fully funded and built by Project Abroad which is an amazing thing to get to be apart of even in a limited role.

Spent a day at the foundation working on nonverbal communication with multiple children and attempting to begin strategizing with the staff to address the food insecurity displayed by several of the children. Below is a photo of one of the children coincidentally wearing a sweatshirt repping my home state of Nevada!

Tourism and Safari in Tanzania

Safari in Swahili means “travels”

A major part of Arushas revenue comes from tourism specifically Kilimanjaro and the wildlife excursion through the parks. This means much like the rest of the world the last few years with international travel limitations caused a lot of loss to the country and individual who rely on tourism to pay their bills and feed their families. Now with Covid restrictions lifting globally the safari industry is back at full capacity with hundreds of land cruisers with open tops heading out daily for one day to ten day safaris with everything from tent camping to four season lodges depending on the clientele. Tourism companies plan the excursions but the drivers/guides and chefs are the real backbone of the safari industry. The drivers have cultivated a community of there own enjoying nights together at campsites as the tourists eat dinner and sleep. They are constantly stopping and talking to each other about what animals they have seen in what area to ensure every car sees every animal they can. When are car got a flat four other trucks stopped to help us change the tire in an environment as harsh and massive as the Serengeti having friends to rely on isn’t just nice but essential.

Week 7 marks halfway through my hundred days in Africa and it is bitter sweet as I have learned so much about rural medicine, global disabilities, and Tanzania culture. My Swahili is still very basic but functional. This community continues to welcome me everyday and patiently teach me everything from medicine to cooking and everything in between. This place has challenged me to make connections and forged relationships through language and cultural barriers and taught me more about my self while reshaping the way a see things and adjusting the my schema of community, work, and life I had before arriving.

I can only hope my second half is as enlightening and amazing as the first!

Sincerely yours,

Mary Kate Parmer

Week Six

A week in Review

Monday, I went back to the hot springs with two friends to celebrate their last week of 3 months volunteering in hospitals in Arusha. It was lovely to see the spring when it was less busy and a great way to enjoy some of the final days of their company.

Tuesday was more work at the hospital. I also had a meeting with my professor and academic advisor during a power outage. On Wednesday, after a day of work at the hospital, the hospital staff bus stopped for exercise, which was a 12-kilometer run on the side of a major road complete with music and some walking. Some hospital staff even set up fruit in water stations with the Salien ambulances. It was great community building and nice to be a part of, but I really wish I had been warned, so I didn’t have to run it in scrubs and a long sleeve shirt.

On Thursday and Friday at the foundation, I was able to get oil to finish fixing the wheelchair donated to one of the children with cerebral palsy and brought the same friends from the hot spring to meet the children before saying goodbye to them that night at group dinner.

Saturday and Sunday were spent helping my roommate pack and preparing for the next one before attempting to handwash laundry again. Sunday, I went to several markets with my host mama watching her prepare to feed six volunteers and her entire family for the week.


While goodbyes are difficult for everyone, I realize how lucky I am to have made connections and friends with other volunteers that makes every Thursday dinner a little bit sad. This week I said goodbye to the last of the volunteers that arrived before me and taught me so much about navigating Arusha and what weekend excursion to go on.

Instead of genuinely saying goodbye we say see you later with an invite to visit our home countries, from France, Belgium, Ireland, Germany, and the UK, to a state over from where I live all the way to Japan and New Zealand. It’s been wonderful making friends and connecting with others over volunteering and life in Africa before comparing our home countries. This is all thanks to Projects Abroad. I underestimated all the benefits of traveling through an organization. Airport pick up, help with a SIM card, and help learning how to get to my placements were all expected. However, a staff that checks in on me weekly and treat me like family is beyond lovely and weekly dinners or Swahili and culture classes to help me get the full Tanzanian experience and build friendships with other volunteers. Not to mention giving me a wonderful host family and all the previously mentioned new friends. When applying for Lumos I was incredibly critical of international volunteer organizations, as the whole concept of voluntourism and white savior ideology is something I don’t take lightly. It was important to me that whoever I chose to travel with and volunteer theough did it in a holistic way that supports the community and local professionals. My objective while here is to learn and observe different occupational therapy treatments and education of disabled people and children while challenging myself to learn a new culture and language. I feel that projects abroad allow me to do that without fear of harming the community or diluting the culture I am here to learn from and help a little.

Sincerely yours,

Mary Kate Parmer


Week Five

The week in Review

Monday was spent seeing patients at the hospital that were in the surgical ward. Fortunately, the newer wing is finished for the pediatric ICU. Still, unfortunately, this means the therapy ward has to be cleaned and painted after hosting the ICU for the last few months. This mostly cosmetic project could take a week or month, so for the time being, we will be floating throughout different wars and spaces. Tuesday was another Swahili class for volunteers learning more about Tanzanian culture! On Wednesday, all the medical volunteers, primarily nurses, midwives, premed students, and me met to travel out to local villages with a doctor and the projects abroad staff to complete medical outreach. We took vitals and checked-in patients before the doctor saw them, and then filled the physician’s prescriptions with donated medicine. This cycle was completed 129 times over the day. It was a very cool thing to be a part of and good practice for taking blood pressure and learning common Tanzanian medicines and illnesses.

Thursday and Friday were spent at destiny foundation, performing basic passive stretching on most children and teaching one to push his wheelchair independently.

Thursday night, dinner with all the volunteers was at a Chinese restaurant, and on Friday night, I visited the local resort to see the grounds and restaurants. The resort was beautiful, but hard to reconcile that it’s the same Africa I have been living in it explains why most locals in Arusha assume all visitors are affluent.

Saturday morning, I cooked French toast with my host mom and sisters, which they called egg bread, a very accurate description. Later we showed some newer volunteers around the neighborhood and Maasai market a center full of hundreds of small shops full of souvenirs. On Sunday, all the volunteers attempted to make a cake, and we watched football with the host family.

Culture Maasai Tribe

I asked my friend Patrick Langai Munga an occupational therapist who grew up in a Maasai in Ngorogoro, to help me explain the Maasai. Patrick speaks Maasai, Swahili, English, and is learning Italian and incredibly smart and articulate, so I hope that some of the color and intricacies of his stories and explanations transfer to this post.

I have mentioned that most Africans in Arusha speak their mother tongue, Swahili, and maybe English. Popular mother tongues or tribes include Chaga, Ngoni, and Maasai. The largest non-indigenous tribe in northern Tanzania and Kenya is the Massai tribe. It boasts numbers of over 400,000 in the Arusha region of Tanzania alone. The hospital I work at is in the outskirts of the city and the last medical center before rural western Tanzania; this means over half of our patients are Maasai and specifically in the pediatric ward, families live at the hospital until treatment is complete, giving me plenty of opportunities to meet and work with many Massai men and women.

Traditional Maasai clothing is a Shuka, a brightly colored and patterned cloth that drapes around the shoulders while another is tied around the waist. It is worn daily either in a hybrid with more western garments or alone. Maasai culture is patriarchal and polygamist still in many families. A traditional Maasai man’s wealth is contingent on three facets the number of cattle, children, and wives. Most the wives are at the minimum ten years their husband’s junior and Marry near the age of 15, if not before. While not all Maasai choose to raise cattle and take multiple wives, it is still practiced. Specifically, those who choose to attend university and live in the city are much more modern in example below is a picture of Munga in a suit jacket for work at the hospital, although he says sometimes he likes to put on his traditional clothes and walk around Arusha city to remind everyone he’s still a very proud Massai man.

Munga tells stories of what it was like growing up in the African wild near Ngorogoro crater and Serengeti, casually mentioning having to defend his family’s herd of cattle from lions, Hyenas, and buffaloes at the age of 8. He also cannot comprehend why tourists pay so much money to see the animals from a truck when they are friendly enough to pet, especially elephants and giraffes, since they live around villages like his.

The Maasai face a lot of influence to cease some traditional practices that are inhumane or cause environmental harm. The most egregious practice that humanitarian organizations and human rights volunteers try to stop is the act of female circumcision or female genital mutilation, it’s rather graphic, and I will not go further into it in the post but suggest you look into reputable sources like the World Health Organization or United Nations if you’re curious. Male circumstances is seen as the ceremony to signify the end of childhood and is only earned after the boys finish living in the deep African wilderness without help, before the 1970s, it was necessary for them to kill a lion before returning home. The medical procedure is preformed by the village (Witch) doctor with no anesthesia and if the boy expresses pain it brings dishonor to himself and his family and hinders future business deals and marriage prospects.

Other traditions and ceremonies that are well known and not contested by modern society include jumping and dancing ceremonies. After watching lots of Patrick’s videos and a demonstration, I firmly believe that most Maasai’s verticals are no joke, and no ceremony is complete without barbecue. Maasai is also very much a culture built in the respect toward elders and my favorite anecdote of Patrick’s is that if an elderly Massai, even if you’ve never met, asks you to run an errand after having you introduce yourself, you have to do it. When he was 12, Patrick had to walk 38 kilometers to a different village to collect four goats for a man he had never met and never saw again, but he told the story with an amused smile and said, “ that’s life, ya’know?” Even though it’s not a life I know or can relate to it is incredibly interesting, so I hope to hear and share more stories with you all.

Next week should be more of the same, with hopefully a few more patients in a fixed hospital wing, but I would be surprised if it’s finished before July.

Week Four

This week was the first time I felt settled into a routine; I spent a lot of time with my host family. I bought a soccer ball to pass around when I get home from work and am learning a few new Tanzanian card games and yard games. The weather has been cold by African standards since it is wet season. So we have spent more time inside the house watching movies and soccer matches most nights. At the hospital this week, I got to work with several recovering stroke patients along with my regular appointments. A kind tourist who’s a social worker back in America donated lots of toys and games for the children at the foundation. It is much easier to get the children to agree to treatment and stretching with the promise of soccer or playing in the sand afterward.

This weekend a new volunteer moved into the room, and we spent Saturday out shopping and exploring more of the Arusha city center and spent Sunday resting and watching movies between playing outside, and practicing Swahili.

This week I wanted to highlight the hospital since the remodel of the pediatric ICU is almost complete. By the end of next week, the physiotherapy/ occupational therapy wing should be returning to normal. A normal for them, but it has been a shared space since I arrived at Selian Lutheran Hospital.

Most of the work my department completes is outpatient, meaning patients travel to the hospital for an appointment and go home afterward. Once a day, we make rounds through the medical and surgical wards to check on post-surgery patients and those in the intensive care unit.

Pictured is Nikas, an occupational therapy student close to graduating from a college here in Arusha, checking nerve and muscle function in a post-orthopedic surgery patient with an external fixture securing his multiple broken bones after a motorcycle accident. Our most common post-surgery patients are those with nails and cages keeping the leg in place, and we continue to see them as outpatient clients after the external fixture is removed as they practice putting weight on the freshly healed bone.

While Arusha has near a dozen hospitals, Salian is one of the biggest, boasting a smaller in-city location and the sizeable multi-building compound I travel to daily. It is also, according to unsolicited information I get from locals after telling them where I work, one of the more expensive hospitals. For context, a single occupational therapy session that has no real-time limit, we work with the patient until fatigue or the treatment is complete for that session costs 10,000 Tanzanian Shillings or $5 United States Dollars, and that is without insurance. The hospital is fully staffed with intelligent doctors ranging from general medicine to anesthesiologists but still struggles with supplies and materials. At the Wednesday meeting, it was announced the order for dopamine and anesthesia was delayed so there would be no major surgeries until it arrived. It is incredibly rare that they actually put a patient entirely to sleep, even an amputation. I got the opportunity to sit in on the patient was awake and not hooked up to any vital monitors the entire procedure, so this announcement did not have too much effect on daily operations.

My daily routine at the hospital starts with catching the staff bus at 7 am, just a 10-minute walk from my house on the main road.

After arriving, morning devotion and service starts around 7:45 and go until 8:15. After most of the general staff leaves, doctors and specialists stay, and the interns present on current patients and weekend or previous day admissions. Departments take turns presenting research or teaching on a subject, often until 9:30 or later. After the doctors follow the interns to the presented patients, they presented and hear more specifics. Sometimes I tag along on the rounds if I don’t have a patient of my own and get to learn a lot from the interns and surgeons. I see my patients the rest of the day or assist in cases with the other occupational or physiotherapists and staff until lunch, around 2 pm. Then the hospital bus starts to leave close to 3:30, and I take that home. Sometimes I grab a snack or drink with my coworkers and some friendly nurses after work. This has been one of my favorite past times in Tanzania as it makes me feel like an actual member of the staff and not just the white volunteer that needs most things translated to English. I also get to hear firsthand about the difficulties of health care here and learn about their lives and families, creating friendships I hope last past my 100 days here.

The hospital is wildly different than any I have been in back home, but the care they give and the effort the medical professionals put in are the same. Similarly, doctors here and back home face the same dilemma of how to help those who they know cannot afford the bill they are accruing. Perhaps the most unfortunate universal I’ve witnessed so far.

Next week the medical volunteers will travel for an outreach project in a rural village, and I am very excited to share that process with you all. I also get to take another Swahili class and welcome new volunteers and say goodbye to some that have been here since I arrived.

Sincerely Yours,

Mary Kate Parmer

Week Three

Week three

Another three days of work at the hospital, mostly with babies developmentally behind on their milestones like crawling and walking, as well as a few recovering stroke victims and healed fractures. I visited the Maasai market with other volunteers to look at handmade items and buy a few gifts to take home to family and friends. On Thursday afternoon, all the volunteers completed medical outreach. We went back to the juvenile detention center for general well-checks with a local doctor and administered donated medication on the doctor’s prescription. At the Destiny Foundation, it was a lot more playing and passive stretching. This is my first time working with children with Cerebral Palsy, so most of my night consists of reading articles and finding stretches or strength exercises for each of the children. I also got photo permission from the foundation and can not wait to share with you all how cute these children are.

Over the weekend, I got to explore a little bit of Moshi, the town at the base of Kilimanjaro. We spent Saturday at the incredibly beautiful Kikuletwa Springs, a wonderful place to swim. Complete with monkeys, a rope swing, and little fish that try and nibble at your feet.

After hours of swimming, we settled into a bed and breakfast and had dinner under Kilimanjaro. On Sunday, we started the morning with a hike to Materuni Waterfall, a massive fall where the snow from the top of Kilimanjaro falls into the valley, and it is as cold as it is beautiful. After some lunch, we got the opportunity to make coffee with some members of the village residents, and we were taught the entire process from harvesting to dry roasting and eventually got to drink it. It was delicious and a nice way to warm up after the coldest waterfall swim of my life. They also discussed the Chaga tribe and the way of life living on Kilimanjaro. Then just an hour drive later, we were back in Arusha in time for dinner with my host family.

My home life here in Arusha…

I live with an incredibly kind family with lots of children and family members, friends and staff around all the time. The house is capable of sleeping over 8 volunteers along with all the family but this last week it was just two of us. Kim a volunteer from the Netherlands teaching English at a village school and I attempted hand washing our laundry with the help of our host sisters As a thank you, we found some ingredients for s’mores at the local western market.

After spending most the day in the hospital I come home and run around with the host sisters before we all settle down to do homework. I read articles and continue graduate school fieldwork and notes while the five year old practices her English. It is great fun but a little distracting to do our “Kazi” or work together before we watch some television normally a soccer game or cartoon depending what’s on and then dinner. Living with a family is not only fun and comforting but it allows me the ability to see some family dynamics and scenarios are really universal. For instance sisters fighting tooth and nail one minute and playing together later like nothing happened, or my host dad sitting at the table saying “Do your homework so we can go to sleep” to too tired young girls that had all afternoon but neglected it until the last minute, which is very reminiscent to my own elementary school work ethic. Also mamas’ worrying your not eating enough and giving massive portions of homemade food, and adult children stopping by unannounced just to say hi and have dinner or lunch are all familiar scenarios just in a new place. Living at a 8 and 10 hour time difference from my own family leaves the best time to calm right before bed and catch up with them or have a virtual meeting with professors and classmates until I go to bed and do it again the next day. I imagine week four be pretty similar, but I’m excited to keep you all updated.

Sincerely Yours,

Mary Kate Parmer

Week Two

Weekly Recap:
This week led me to a few new experiences and several new locations. I started the week at Selian Lutheran Hospital just like last week. Seeing several occupational therapy patients ranging from post-op orthopedic breaks in external fixtures to children showing developmental delays and weakness in one hand. After two days in the hospital, I experienced my first medical outreach day with all the other projects abroad volunteers. We visited a juvenile detention center and taught a basic first aid and CPR class emphasizing burn care and treatment. Due to most Tanzanians cooking on open coals or flames, burns are the number one cause of admittance to the pediatric ICU at the hospital I’m in. We also brought basic hygiene kits and discussed proper hygiene and STD prevention with the group ranging from ages 13-to 17. After the other volunteers and I got a chance to check out Shanga marketplace and hotel, a craft center run by adults with disabilities, specifically deaf and paralyzed artists creating blankets, bracelets, blowing gas, and other creations. On Thursday and Friday, I started at a new placement. I will split my time along with the hospital and the Destiny Foundation. Thursday in place of social dinner, which is once a week l with the other volunteers where everyone from all projects and different host families gets together to talk and compare home countries and work sights over dinner. It’s also a chance to plan weekend trips and for the organization staff to make announcements and check in on all the volunteers. This week instead of just dinner at a local restaurant, we took a Swahili class. A fun fact I learned about the language is that every word in Swahili ends in a vowel, all the commonly used words that don’t are Arabic words adopted into the Tanzanian dialect, for example; “Salaam,” which means peace. We also attempted a Cooking class, learning how to make samosas and soup with one of the host families. After social dinner, all the volunteers go out to a karaoke bar and say goodbye to those leaving that week. It’s also a popular place for volunteers from other organizations and the only place so far I’ve run into any other Americans.

This weekend some of the volunteers went camping at a spot that has more stars then I’ve ever seen with mount a telescope and a great view overlooking Arusha City it also sits under Mt. Meru, the major peak that’s shorter than Kilimanjaro and closer to Arusha. There was a campfire and live music with a barbecue, and it was an enjoyable way to relax after another busy week. Also, as the wind picked up and the temperature dropped, it was nice to sleep in a sweatshirt and under a blanket in the tent; being cold in Africa is a rarity that I’ve come to love.

For a new experiences and a bit of culture, I want to discuss the transportation options here in Tanzania but specifically in Arusha… There are five modes of transportation for those without private cars, and they are walking, Taxi, Dala Dala, Tuk Tuk, or Boda Boda; no one has been able to tell me why we say each of the last three twice. Walking is the most economical option, and it is practically impossible to go anywhere without a quick ten-minute walk to the main road wear most transportation passes and waits. A Dala Dala is the second most common transportation, and they are large vans that travel along set routes; they have a conductor that opens the door and ushers you in and handles payment while the driver stays seated upfront. The vans may follow established routes but if you want to stop before the end of the line, you have to notify the driver or conductor by hitting the top of the van or yelling stop in Swahili over the music. A tuk-tuk is similar to a golf cart but with 3 wheels and is street legal but rather slow. It’s a great choice if you’re with a group and not going too far. A Boda Boda is a motorcycle taxi for one person to hope on the back off (or two if you’re a local, but I don’t see myself ever being that brace), and while you’ll get where you want to go very fast, it’s also the most dangerous way to travel with no helmets and high speeds on dirt roads and major highways. They are, however, the only transportation that will allow you almost door-to-door service without having to walk and are much cheaper than a taxi. All are intimidating the first few times and require a guide the first couple of attempts, but two weeks in, I’m starting to get the hang of it, thankfully though most mornings, I have the luxury of riding on the hospital’s staff bus as it stops near my neighborhood at 7am.

Universal; creativity is fed by necessity. This week I started at the Destiny Foundation, a school and residential care facility for children with disabilities. The most common diagnoses are Cerebral Palsy and Autism, and the children range in age from 4 to 17. While the sleep rooms are clean and adequate, and the classroom has chairs, desks, and posters, the occupational therapy room is barren. This means to perform assessments and treatments, I head to the playground and observe mostly. On Friday, I drew a hopscotch course in the dirt to assess motor movement and imitation in some of the older students and drew circles to have the student move rocks around to watch fine motor skills and problem-solving skills. I have always thought it’s essential to not rely on just toys and machines but to have other contingencies in place for comprehensive care; however, the level of resourcefulness I need here is a whole new level. Luckily I’ve never shied away from a challenge and have great classmates, professors, and coworkers back home to bounce ideas off and send me articles that might be helpful.

This week starts my new schedule of three days at the hospital and two at the foundation, with maybe a few home visits mixed in. The routine will be nice, but I wouldn’t be surprised. If plans change and that is alright because it is just a part of the adventure.

Sincerely Yours,
Mary Kate

Week One

It is crazy that I have already been here a week. It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long, but as I type out all I’ve experienced in such a short time, it’s no wonder I fall asleep so early every night after action-packed days. So far, I’ve met dozens of incredibly kind people, tried five different modes of local transportation, been called a muzungu (white person) thousands of times, shadowed lots of occupational therapy patients, assessed a few behavioral therapy patients, visited a vocational training center for disabled adults, saw some giraffes and zebras under Tanzanias’ volcano called “the mountain of God” hiked to a waterfall and biked through some villages before trying some traditional banana beer, and attempting wood carving, and painting. I can also confidently say I know over 15 Swahili words but having a conversation passed through an initial greeting is still way out of my abilities.

To give this blog a little structure instead of a stream of consciousness, I hope to start each week’s blog with a quick recap before teaching a Swahili term/phrase or a Tanzanian philosophy to you all. Before discussing something new, I’ve experienced and highlighting something universal I’ve witnessed.

During week one, I’ve been trying to adjust to “African time” the Tanzanians say “Pole pole” which translates to “slowly”. Life in Africa is lived at a leisurely pace, meals are long and times are more suggestions. The only hard deadline I have is that the hospital staff bus picks the other employees and me in my neighborhood up on the main road at 7 am although some days it’s 6:50 and others closer the 7:10. Morning devotion begins between 7:45-8 and the worship choir and morning meeting end close to 9am. Everything that follows within the hospital is done at a relaxed pace. Patients will wait all day to see the doctors or therapists with no complaints; each appointment lasts as long as the treatment needs it too. It’s not uncommon that staff takes a breakfast and lunch break at the nearby cafes throughout the day before the bus leaves to drop everyone back home around 3:50. Compared to this new routine, the American medical system looks like a formula one race, and the thought of an 8-10 hour workday baffles all Tanzanians.

I have a few theories on why Tanzanians embrace pole pole, some in regards to how long it takes to get places, and some involve that the country sits very close to the equator making all days virtually the same length in daylight. But I think it mostly boils down to intentionality. When people have committed to something, the do it with their being and prioritize family and faraha or “happiness” above all else. Here an occupation is just that and not an identity and a persons importance is separate from how busy they are.

One of my favorite universals that I have witnessed everywhere I’ve gone is demonstrated mostly by children, and it’s play. One ball and a few active participants can transcend any language barrier. One of the custodians brought in his nonverbal 9-year-old son for me to meet in the hopes of helping him come up with alternative communication systems and drills to practice at home to grow his language that currently is just one-word “mama”. At the same time, the occupational therapists at the hospital speak English and are kind enough to translate. Most needs and wants of the boy were easily expressed through nonverbal communication like gestures and pointing. We spent hours passing a soccer ball, bouncing an exercise ball, and juggling. It was fun and filled with laughter but gave the physicians and myself a ton of observational data to work with we could assess fine motor skills, problem-solving skills, and cognitive reception all while playing. After we met with the parents and gathered more information discussed a few options for low technology communication devices like picture books or Swahili sign language and we are following up at his school to talk with his teacher in a few weeks. All this was done while the little guy played with balls and puzzles and just had fun.

I’m excited for another week of patients in the hospital but starting this week on Thursdays and Fridays, I will start going to the Destiny foundation a day program for children with disabilities and split my time between the two places and plan to participate in few medical outreach trips with other medical volunteers in my organization out in more rural villages.

Sincerely yours,
Mary Kate

Travel and Kariburi Tanzania

Hi friends,
It took well over 30 hours of travel but I made it to Tanzania! After leaving Nashville at 3pm on Wednesday I stepped off the plane at Kilimanjaro international airport at 9am on Monday. Flying through Qatar was neat as I’m a pretty big soccer fan and was able to see a couple of the World Cup stadiums from the plane when departing. After several movies and meals and only 3 layovers I was picked up at the airport by the volunteer coordinator. After about an hour drive we arrived in Arusha and I met my host family and had breakfast before a long awaited shower and change of clothes.

Then the logistics of exchanging money, getting internet, and learning the public transportation options on a brief town tour had to be taken care of. By the time I got back to the house I got to meet the other volunteers staying with the Chilala family as well as the hosts’ daughters. The night we went to dinner with more volunteers and I was given some great advice over burgers between conversations about our home countries and comparing projects. Finally I got to crawl into a bed for the first time since Friday night.

Day one was more logistics and paperwork before I met my mentor at the hospital she is an incredibly intelligent occupational therapist who fortunately for me speaks three languages one of which being English! The physiotherapy ward is also being shared by the pediatric post-operation unit while the remodel of the hospital is taking place. This means its a constant bustle of kids and nurses as well as outpatients coming in for physical and occupational therapy appointments, there is never a dull moment.

While my Swahili is rudimentary at best I am now incredibly familiar with the word “Karibu” the word or phrase means welcome, you are welcome, or welcome in. This is spoken to me on an hourly basis sometimes in response to me saying thank you but mostly by the kind doctors, nurses, and therapists who want me to feel comfortable in the unit. It’s also said by people on the street and everyone in my host family and its working because I do feel very welcome and excited for the next three months!

Mary Kate