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Plaster House, Tanzania

We’re Off!

January 29, 2016

Yeah! It’s time to go back to Tanzania. Seems like we’ve only been home a short while but we’ve stayed tight with our friends and Plaster House and they are calling us back.

Quick catch-up. Some of you may remember that last summer my oldest daughter, Anna, then 13, and I spent the month of June volunteering at The Plaster House in Arusha, Tanzania. Anna’s essay, This I Believe, appeared on this website, A Writer’s Space, in the Fall 2015. Pictures of the children we got to know and love are on the website gallery. This time my youngest daughter, Layla, 10, and I are headed back to volunteer.

Why now?

A team of surgeons from Colorado travels to Arusha twice a year to perform reconstructive surgery on children with clubfoot, cleft palette/lip, burns and to train local surgeons and anesthesiologists, gratis. These children rehab at The Plaster House. The doctors arrive February 5 for one week and Layla and I will be there to help in any way we can.

CO Surgeons copy


But there’s a little more to it.

Two documentary filmmakers are coming with us. Lane Brown and Tom Attwater, of the University of Montana digital filmmaking program will be filming one child’s journey from her home, to Plaster House, to the Arusha Lutheran Medical Centre for surgery, back to Plaster House for rehabilitation and, eventually, back home. Lane has filmed in Africa before. Abdulai documents a day in the life of a Ghanian patriarch (, password screener). Lane and Tom together created Woodfire. Filmed near Missoula, it follows Casey Zablocki, through the long process of firing a traditional anagama wood-fired kiln. Woodfire will premiere at The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival in Missoula, February 26.

And, there is still more.

We’re taking fifty snuggly hoodies to the Plaster House kids thanks to my friends Addie, Cheryl, Cindy, Jen, Julie, Lydia and Stacie. And we have lots of clothes and shoes donated by Layla’s classmates.

And, there’s still more.

When Anna and I left Tanzania last summer we vowed we would figure out how to help Plaster House grow. At present, Plaster House is a breathtaking cluster of Spanish mission-style buildings perched on Mt. Meru, an almost three-mile-high volcano that dominates Arusha. But it’s full. And when the Colorado surgeons are in town, tents and cots fill the interior courtyard. I cannot overstate the danger of flu or meningitis. Sarah Rejman, the director of Plaster House, has plans for a new dormitory and volunteer housing on land adjacent to the current buildings and owned by Plaster House. I have been dedicated to learning about what it will take to raise the $350,000 needed for the project. It’s been a steep learning curve. I am now educated on 501(c)(3) non-profits, crowdfunding and, website design, social media, annual reports, five-year plans and oh so much more. I am grateful for my friends who are professional fundraisers and have accepted my invitations to coffee.

I know you guys get this in your email but have you been to my website? I learned when I returned last summer that most readers never go to the site to see the pictures and other stories that are posted on different pages. I dare you. Click here. Enjoy.

I’ll be in touch.



Plaster House, Tanzania

This I Believe, by Anna Eby

September 10, 2015

By Anna Eby, Age 13, Freshman at Bozeman High School

Shouting, laughing. The sound of happiness overwhelmed me as I walked past a wall covered with colorful, African themed plaques with names of donors on them. I continued walking. In front of me was a small grassy field, a play set with a slide in the middle. Concrete and tiled benches lined the edge of the lawn. Everywhere I looked there were children. Newborns to 18 year olds sat on the grass and benches talking, sliding down the yellow slide, playing board games. A group of boys were playing in the middle of the lawn with a four square ball. One boy kicked it, undeterred by the casts on both his legs, another boy headed it onto the red metal roof with crutches laying on the ground beside him, forgotten. Something brushed against my leg. I looked down to see a small boy standing next to me, a slightly deflated volleyball in his small, dark hands. “Unataka kucheza kwa mimi?” He asked nervously. Do you want to play with me? I nodded, showing I understood and he tossed the ball into my hands. We threw the ball back and forth a couple of times, before some other child took it, and ran away with it. We stood there together, not talking, just looking around. Feeling slightly awkward, I asked what his name was. “Jina lako nani?” He mumbled something. I leaned closer.

“Nuru.” He said.

“Twende, Nuru!” Let’s go! He took my hand and we walked around the field passing other children playing checkers with lego pieces or shoots and ladders. He walked with his little six year old legs and sat down on one of the concrete benches next to a tiny girl with casts on both legs.

“Mzungu!” White girl. squealed the little girl. She slid off of the bench and waddled over to me. “Mzungu, mzungu!” She grabbed onto my jeans and giggled.

“Jina lako nani?” What is your name? She just giggled more. I lifted her up by her armpits and carried her over to the bench. She sat next to Nuru and smiled at the ground, occasionally laughing to herself. I watched the two of them smile, laugh, and talk in Swahili that was too quiet and fast for me to understand.

I had no idea what these children had been through. In their small life they have probably endured more pain and hardship than I ever will. And for the first time, I didn’t feel sorry for them. After all of my life being told to feel sorry for the poor African children, I didn’t pity them. Because they had something I did not, something that I, and most people, seek quite dearly. Pure happiness. These two children were the happiest people I have met in my life. And they sat next to me on a concrete bench, the girl with both legs in casts, the boy with scars on his arms and face. They chewed on stale bread, and watched another boy in a wheelchair tossing a ball to my mother. They were happy.

I believe that happiness can be found in some of the saddest, dirtiest, poorest places on earth. These children don’t have much, they know that. They are very grateful for what they have. They’re minds are not weighted and riddled by greed. They have difficult lives so they make the most of everything.

Nuru once had two casts on both of his feet like the girl does, his bones bent inward from the water he drank. His legs are now perfectly normal. He is happy, even though he spent six months of his short life away from his mother. He appreciates the chance he was given and loves the new opportunities he now has.

The girl, who’s name I later learned is Ebenezer, has clubfoot. She is happy even though she goes between sitting in a bed all day, and hobbling on bent and plastered legs. She is happy even though she has to balance on two feet that are at a 45 degree angle from her knees. She loves life more than anyone I have ever met.

It is hard to remember what I have learned from these two since I have been home for a couple of months. But sometimes I will get flashes, when I see little American kids, the same age as Ebenezer and Nuru whining about this or that. I remember how appreciative Nuru and Ebenezer are. I learned more from those two about happiness than I think I will learn in any psychology class. I strive to be more like them everyday. I believe we all have a lot to learn from them. I believe in happiness.



Joyful Time

June 18, 2015


It’s dreary outside this morning. No outline of the mountain at all. And fairly dark for 6:30 a.m. I awoke before dawn and had the rare chance to lie in bed and listen to the birds as they too awoke. Only a few bird songs. Winter is curious here. All slows down. Fewer birds. Fewer people out and about. All hunker down even though the low at night is a mere fifty degrees. Perhaps all bodies need a season of rest, no matter the temperature.

We are winding down our second week at Plaster House and have our eyes on the calendar now. Only two weeks left here in Tanzania and there is still so much we want to do and people we would like to see “just one more time.” Time is fleeting.  But it is oh so full.

Our time at Plaster House has been full and rich. So much so that I will surely need time to digest these experiences.  What I know now? That working with children means being present and aware each moment, a yoga practice. And that working with children also means giving. Giving of ourselves each and every moment we are there. But the gift we bring of ourselves every day does not match the gift the children present to us each day. The gift of joy and magic and smiles and song and play.  Continue Reading…

Family Stories, Tanzania

Goodbye, For Now

April 12, 2015

I opened a book this morning that Sarah gave to me a couple of mornings ago, Journey to the Heart, by Melody Beattie. Sarah told me to open the book to any page and read and discover a little something about me, my day, a deeper look into the present. Today’s title, “See How Each Soul Has Touched You.” The section talks about the significance of a relationship unnoticed until later. It talks about such a relationship as a dance, quiet interactions, themes barely noticed. Appropriate for today?

Sarah left for Nairobi yesterday to be with her Mum and Dad. Her Mum, who is 75, found two lumps in her breast last week and this past weekend had a mastectomy. The surgery went well and we are hopeful that she will be released Tuesday or Wednesday. Sarah will help her get settled at the “the club” in Nairobi and return home on Wednesday.

Sister, Denise, is here. Close by. Planting the farm along with the farm workers. Getting the beans, barley and grass seeds safely into the ground. The rains have arrived and the farm is alive with growth, tractors and farm workers, mostly women dressed in traditional colorful, multi-patterned clothing. I am teary-eyed knowing that we will be saying goodbye to our friends in less than two weeks.

It’s not difficult to “see how each soul” here has touched us. Sarah, Denise, Di and Chris. First friends, now family who took us in, provided us with a real home, flowers in the vase at the center of the table, birthday party for Layla, surprise birthday cake in the fridge for me, welcoming, warm invitations to dinner at their houses, much, much needed challenging conversation about pretty much everything under the African sun.

By staying here and settling in with this family who has lived in Tanzania since before independence, we have experienced Tanzania as we would not have other wise. Some things as simple as the truly hidden away restaurants — turn left off top road, head past the rock quarry (where the most extreme poor sit and crack rock upon rock) and you will find Damascus restaurant, an oasis with a swimming pool and an unrivaled view of Mt. Meru. Head further up the “road” to Zanzibar-style homes owned by some of the wealthiest of Arusha. And, don’t forget about Abyssinian, also off top road. The best Ethiopian food prepared by your Ethiopian hosts. And, of course, Khan’s chicken-on-the-bonnet, I described in an earlier post. All places most expats have never been too.

But there are more serious conversations that have taken place here too: the hard, hard, hardships of doing business in a developing country in Africa where new taxes are levied regularly and applied retroactively; the cycle of poverty of the citizens of Tanzania – where the average worker’s pay does not allow for saving even a penny for something as necessary as a child’s education in a non-government school where teaching English is THE priority; the convoluted politics of the upcoming election in November, including the new anti-foreign worker law; the fact that women must get their husband’s permission to get birth control or choose to be sterilized and hence family planning in this overpopulated country is non-existent; that most of the well-meaning NGO’s of the last four decades have created a culture of dependency where hand outs have become the norm and the newest concept of macrocredits continues to fail because most of the population has never had to repay a “handout.”

We have come and now we will leave — with a much better understanding of Tanzania. What will each of us do with this new knowledge? We will have to wait and see. But, what we will do, feel, and think of our new family, I hope is not a mystery. I write this now as a promise to myself to never lose Sarah, Denise, Di and Chris. Wherever you are, we are with you.

The sun is just starting to peak through the clouds on Mt. Meru. Another African sunrise. I hear a safari vehicle headed down the farm road. Probably coming to pick up the Israeli family staying in House One for the last couple of nights. That’s going to be us in just twelve days. My heart aches. So much ahead and leaving so, so much behind.

New story in Travel Shorts about our visit with the Bushmen (fun and funny!) and photos in the Gallery.



April 3, 2015

Apparently on islands in the Indian Ocean there are no wells, only rainwater and of course, the ocean – the turquoise, translucent green, Tiffany blue, silent white foam in the far distance, ocean. All salt water; only salt water. Drinking water is transported to the islands by boat or plane for the tourists or the inhabitants who can afford it.

What I am getting at is that there is no such thing as a cleansing, refreshing, not sticky freshwater shower. Day four and my skin and psyche have not adjusted. One more day to go. At how many days does the skin stop itching? At how many nights will I no longer be awakened by the sensation of sheets being peeled off my legs?

I’m not sure I want to know. The words of a spoiled, white girl from the comforts of the U.S. who has only been to the westernized islands of the Caribbean and Hawaii. Imagine the surprise of stepping into a saltwater shower, brushing your teeth with salt water.  Something I only did one time before darting to the other end of the beach bungalow for the mini plastic bottle of water the hotel provides free of charge. Blech!! And I thought I was nauseous on the snorkeling boat.

I’m not complaining. I’m really not. I am just learning new things about myself and about the world. Islanders of the Indian Ocean eat, bathe, hunt, fish of salt of the sea; storing rain water for drinking. Me, I am a white girl with skin sensitivities I had been unaware of and way too tight to buy enough bottled water to bathe in!!

Oh My God! A tropical downpour! Layla! Go grab our shampoo!

Please check out new pictures in and new Travel Shorts.  Cheerio!




March 13, 2015

Our journey to Amani Children’s Home for Street Children began months before we set foot on the continent of Africa. If we weren’t coming to Tanzania to do service work, I wanted to at least bring some “things” from home to children who needed those “things.” After way too much time researching which travel book to buy and then settling on the British Bradt Tanzania Safari Guide, I had my answer on page 86, “ is a website…which enables travelers to give direct help to small charities, schools, or other organizations in the country they are visiting. …The website describes organizations that need your help and lists the items they most need.” I liked this part best, “Check what’s needed in Tanzania, contact the organization to say you are coming and bring not only much-needed goods but an extra dimension to your travels and the knowledge that in a small way you have made a difference.”

I found on the Tanzania list the Amani Children’s Home located between Arusha and Moshi. Perfect

On their website was a 4-page list of items they requested of visitors to Amani. I emailed Amani to ask if any of the hundred or so items were more important than others. Salma Khatibu, Communications Officer, emailed back that everything on the list was a priority and that she was looking forward to our visit in February. She included directions and her phone number. As a family, we picked Legos, as we had access at Sacagawea Middle School in Bozeman, Montana to not just hundreds of Legos, but thousands. We also sourced soccer and volleyballs, air pumps and pins, dry erase markers and white board wash. One duffel bag was designated exclusively for Amani.

The Amani duffel visited Los Angeles and then Istanbul, sat barely noticable under the Zanzibar bed that doubled as a couch in the apartment we first called home in Arusha. In our new home in Kimemo, we hid it away in one of our many closets.

An email arrived from Salma. When are you coming? She hadn’t forgotten us and certainly wasn’t going to let us off the hook. I emailed her back. Could we visit on a weekend, on a Sunday? The girls are in school now at ISM, Arusha Monday through Friday. Anytime after 1:00, just let me know which day, she responded. Weekends went by. Another email from Salma. Late in the day last Friday I confirmed with Alex, Saturday is the International Fair at school, Sunday to Amani. Are we good? Yes. I let Salma know.

Sunday morning we pull out the map. Goal — lunch in Moshi, visit to Amani, Rivertrees for pizza and a swim.   Sounds lovely, except that Amani is really practically in Moshi and Moshi is at least 2 hours from our house. Nix lunch in Moshi, pack peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, throw in a few Isagenix bars. And, sorry kids, we may not have time for a swim but like every day, throw in the bathing suits and towels — just in case.

Three police stops later[1], including one for speeding (that’s a story for we circle the first roundabout in Moshi with plenty of time for lunch.

Continue Reading…

Tanzania, The Arts

Ibuka Dance Meets Chicken-on-the-Bonnet

March 4, 2015

The first sentence for this essay that came to mind as I sat entranced under jacaranda trees last Saturday night, was, “There are no words to describe this and sadly because I am not a professional or even an avid photographer, I do not have my camera with me. How could I possibly describe these sights, these sounds, these feelings?”

Hmm. I guess I could simply begin by describing the scene in which I felt truly part of by our new Arusha home.

Alex, Anna, Layla and I along with our new family from Kimemo, Sas (a sobriquet for Sarah) and her sister Denise have arrived at the Ibuka Dance theatre atop Themi Hill, south of Arusha. We stand at the top row of an amphitheatre. My eyes scan the scene and I am caught completely off guard by Mt. Meru hazy in the last of the evening sun dwarfing the stage roof. My eyes move overhead to a half moon directly above. Wow, I say to Anna, look at that, gesturing to the mountain. She takes my hand and encourages me down the stairs about midway to a row of cushioned benches.

I am a bit stunned. When Sas invited us to accompany her and Denise to Ibuka’s performance she described Ibuka as a labor of love of an American girl whom Sas wanted to support. I had envisioned a small, unprofessional indoor dance studio. I certainly should have known better, at least about the indoor part. Everything here in North-Eastern Tanzania is outside, schools, businesses, restaurants. Why not a dance studio?

Alex disappears and then reappears Continue Reading…



February 24, 2015

Self-safari to Arusha National Park? In the Rav 4? It’s only 45 minutes or so down the road. I think we can do this. Okay, let’s do it.

We head out of our “manor house,” I like to call it, around 9:15 on Monday morning (four-day weekend at the new school). We are well-stocked, picnic with every piece of possible picnic food in our fridge and pantry, salami, gouda cheese, two different kids of “crisps” aka chips, chopped tomatoes, apples, pineapple, crackers, cookies, a loaf of bread, and the egg salad we have made with “mayonnaise” that tastes a little too much like Miracle Whip and a decent Dijon to spice it up, a five gallon jug of drinking water, four pairs of binoculars, two cameras and two cell phones.

We have a detailed park map which has identifiers for birds, mammals and flora that we might see. Excited and hopeful, we wave goodbye to the askari (guard), Irispa, at the gate, turn left to the “top road,” right to the east and we’re off. We have been this way before. Just yesterday we went to Rivertrees Lodge on a tip from a fellow traveler on our Serengeti safari. Fabulous pool, really good food, monkeys in the trees and expats welcome. We were not disappointed. If today works out as planned, we will be back at Rivertrees by four in time for dinner and a swim.

Continue Reading…

Family Stories, Tanzania

On The Move — Again

February 18, 2015

We have moved out of our indoor camping facility where we hung the wet laundry on an indoor line to avoid the possible burrowing and egg laying of mango flies in the damp clothes.  Reports have it that if you wear the clothes with the eggs implanted, they may burrow into your skin, incubate and hatch.  They do just fly away when that happens but sounds like it might be good to avoid, if possible.  Most people here iron their clothes in order to kill the eggs but standing over a hot iron in the hottest February (normally the hottest month) in Tanzanian history seems well, hot.  So we shared our only living space with criss-crossing laundry lines and with Anna who used the couch or “Zanzibar bed” as her bed — sharing the full size bed with Layla had become bruising.

The urban camping theme played out each night with the screened windows wide open. Intermittent yelps and cries of the neighborhood dogs scared my sleep away.  Alex and I were well-tented in the lower double bed of a bunk bed encased in mosquito netting.  Each time I came in and out of the tent, I hit my head on the bottom of the top bunk.  I lay cursing looking up at scribbles on the cross planks – Nico, Sarai – the names of the previous owner’s children? Continue Reading…