Tuesday, February 2, 2016


I have put off writing this for a long time. I think about writing it constantly but despite my hands’ desire to write it, my brain refuses to let them take to the keyboard. However, today is the day. My hands are taking control and my brain is nothing but a passenger in the car. Hope you’ll join us for the ride! You know I never fail to bring adventure, right? :)

So, this is a 2-part entry.  Shocking, right? After the EPIC WATERMELON SAGA , I know you expect nothing less than a 8 chapter novel!  However, this time is different.  It’s 2-part because the stories are so opposite I don’t want them to share a screen. I don’t want them to be anywhere near each other for fear of one contaminating the other. Part 1 is The Sweet because good news needs to be shared first.  Part 2 is The Bitter.

I would have and should have announced this MONTHS ago but once you read part 2 (The Bitter) you will be far more forgiving of the delay… I hope.  However, without further delay.. let me tell you the sweet sweet news…

We did it! We made this happen and I’m SOOOO proud of everyone!!!! It has been an incredible journey (I cringe using this word as it’s been overused by every reality show on TV but it does seem appropriate for the adventures that have happened to make this a reality!) There have been oh soooo many ups and downs… so many obstacles overcome… socks pulled up… tears dried…  screams yelled… hugs given... laughs spilled… and love shared but through it all, WE.KEPT.GOING.  We all kept going.  You kept believing in us and we kept giving it our very best!  I personally cannot ever thank any one of you enough for your support, in the form of encouragement, hugs, a sympathetic ear, financial donations, equipment donations and all you did to help us spread the word! Without everyone’s commitment, we never would have accomplished this incredible feat! So, from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!!!

I now I need to take a minute to toot Tabitha and Victor's horn! I wish everyone could meet them!! They are an incredible duo who I have had the privilege to work with! They are the definition of a TROOPER!! They never gave up or gave in and in the end, Tabitha and Victor made this happen!! Throughout construction, they were on site every day, working alongside the contractors.  Through one of the rainiest rainy seasons, they were there! In the burning hot sun, they were there…   And as of October, ground that had just been officially broken in April, held a beautiful COMMUNITY CENTRE complete with an attached living quaters!  It may not sound like much but the amount of love, sweat and tears that have gone into making it happen makes it priceless! Check out more picture HERE!! It's beautiful! 

Our next step is to start running a nursery school in the building. It will be in the mornings and the plan is to keep our amazing after school sports program running in the neighbouring town until we are ready to move it on-site. Tabitha is just in the process of getting the benches and tables made and hopefully by February we can officially open our doors to the first class of nursery school students at Hero Home!! From there, the possibilities are endless! Our future plans definitely include workshops and seminars for community members, tutoring for students, and anything that can have a positive impact for the community!

That’s the amazing Tanzania news! Now on to Rwanda where the news keeps getting better and better with every visit!

In 2008, we broke ground on two little classrooms so we could help Marceline move her 80 students from her front porch to a beautifully painted, fully equipped classroom.  In 2013, we took it 10 steps further and added a library, books, toys, school supplies, a rain water catchment system, toilets, 7 amazing play structures, and a fence. In 2015, we were able to take it another huge leap further!  Thanks to Marceline’s incredible dedication, we now provide the students with warm, delicious and incredibly nutritious porridge everyone morning! Never did I imagine that we would be able to get to the point of offering a daily breakfast program for the kids but Marceline expected nothing less! The vast majority of the students walk to for 8am  with nothing for breakfast.  The play, learn, sing, and dance in the heat until 11:30, at which time they walk back home.  Some of them may not have their first meal until 1:00pm or 2:00pm.  Marceline saw everyday how this impacted the little kids (aged 3-6) and was committed to doing something about it.  She got parents on board and they contributed a small amount towards buying the porridge supplies – corn flour, sorghum flour, and sugar.  GO! provided some initial funds to buy the cookiing supplies and subsidize the extra costs to make porridge happen.  We decided to do a trial run for the last three months of the school year to see how it could work.  Thanks to Marceline’s dedication, it was AMAZING! She got up at 7am every morning to prepare the porridge and then set it to cool.  The kids then went in shifts around 10am to have a HUGE cup of nutritious porridge! (Sorghum flour is extremely high in protein, iron, fibre and vit B so every cup has huge benefits for the little kids). The parents were thrilled and Marceline could physically see an increase in energy in the students.

The new school year started in January and thanks to extremely generous donations and through the sales of the hand-drawn thank you cards, we have raised enough to cover the 5$/day that it costs to provide porridge for all 87 students! (Yup, you read it right! It costs 5$/day to buy the flour, sugar, water, and cooking fuel to prepare enough porridge for 87 kids!!)  The parents are still contributing towards the costs and we have committed to subsidizing the remaining expenses until we can come up with a way to find the money locally.  This may go slightly against our mission of creating completely self-sufficient projects, but when it comes to providing a healthy breakfast to a 4 year old for 6 cents/day, it's ok to make an exception.

So there you have!! I bet you haven’t read that much good news in one-sitting in a long time!!! When you look at all the saddest and destruction in the world these days, I think it’s always important to remember, there is so many people here and overseas that are doing incredible things for others and are succeeding in making their little corner of the universe a better place. TO ALL OF YOU AND ALL OF THEM, THANK YOU!!!!

Now, whether you read Part 2 (The Bitter) http://amazingamandaintanzania.blogspot.com/2016/02/part-2-bitter.htmlor not, is entirely up to you.  However, regardless of what you read, I do want you all to remember that there are AMAZING people out there doing AMAZING things everyday to make the world a better place! And theirs accomplishments need to be shared and celebrated!!!


I’ve struggled with this next post for the last few months.  I’ve debated and continue to debate whether or not to write it.  But I’ve decided until I finally just get it out, it will continue to sit in my head and take up much needed space!

For anyone that is new to this blog, SORRY! You’re kinda jumping in at the end when there has been a whole 10 years of back story! I don't tend to hold back in the blog and this time is no exception.  So, if you would rather not keep reading, that's cool.  I’ve decided to write this for everyone who has been along for the crazy RIDE!  For those of you who started following along back in the days of me getting kicked in the head by a bush buck, getting sick up a mountain and then getting carried and dropped down a mountain, the meningitis mishap in Zanzibar, the mice fiasco in Rwanda, Walter the 10 inch worm, the massive theft in Mwanza which resulted in the loss of 7 years of documents, or any of the adventures we’ve had on this ten year, never-ending voyage! I’ve decided to take you along for one last ride.  You’ve come this far with me… I can’t leave you out now.. although maybe I should and maybe you would rather i did.  Just remember, the upside of reading these stories is that you don’t have to live them! :)   

So, I’ve often described Tanzania as that abusive boyfriend that keeps kicking the crap out of me and I keep willingly going back for more.  Well this year, prophecies were fulfilled…. Although, the dude who kicked the crap out of me certainly was not a boyfriend.  He was and will continue to be, a stranger.  The next part is hard to write and hard to read, so if you don’t want to keep reading… now is the time to stop.

So, on July 29th, at 6:00am while out for a morning run in Kisesa, Tanzania (the town I’ve lived in on and off since 2012), I was attacked by a man with a knife.  I will spare you many of the details but basically, I was out running in the town.  A man in a track suit and runners came up behind me.  We greeted each other and he started jogging beside me.  After a minute or so, he stopped and grabbed me by the neck and pulled out a knife.  Initially he asked for money but when I couldn’t provide any (it was 6am and I didn’t have any on me)… he pulled me off the road and proceeded to beat, cut, and rape me.....  The event ended when 2 girls came out of their house to begin morning chores, heard the commotion and started screaming “THIEF”.  By this time, the damage was done and the attacker let me go and ran off.

The minutes, hours, days, and weeks that followed were a bit of a blur.  I once again had the pleasure of navigating the terrible Tanzanian medical system (highlights or rather low lights include – needles breaking, freezing not taking, visiting 4 clinics until finally finding a place that had tetanus shots in stock, having a doctor complete the police report and then asking for a bribe, and being given ARV meds that are no longer used due to their harsh side-effects).  After that, I got to deal with the horrendous Tanzanian police who are some of the most corrupt people in the world (low lights on those interactions include being told I’m fat, I should eat less and exercise more – all this only a few short hours after the attack). I then got to deal with my Canadian Insurance company (EXTREME low lights include being told rape was not covered by insurance, they may or may not cover a flight to Nairobi to get proper treatment for my injuries, and they needed to verify with higher ups whether they could cover the removal and follow up treatment of the stitches I got for the massive cuts to my fingers – yeah, apparently Canada is no better!!). After dealing with ALL of that on the day of the attack, I then made my way to Nairobi to stay with my friend (the amazing Carla Unger and family) and get the treatment I needed.

The adventures continued for 2 months after the initial event, it included surgery to get the tendons and nerves repaired in my index and middle finger on my left hand (the 2 days in the hospital after surgery were an adventure in itself - the nurses were happy to see Carla and I finally leave), follow up surgery on the middle finger when it wouldn’t heal which involved removing skin, tissue and blood vessels from the ring finger and sewing it on to the middle finger and then sewing the fingers together for 2 weeks (It took “crossing my fingers” to a whole new level)!  That was followed by a third surgery to separate the fingers which of course came with its own adventures on the operating table!  However, thanks to my incredible hosts (The amazing Unger family) and support from family and friends, I survived!  And although not everything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.. it does make you smarter!  My fingers may never be the same and my hopes of being on the Canadian Olympic Volleyball team are officially over.... but on the upside, I have learned a lot in the process.  

So, there it is.  This is perhaps the shortest blog entry I've ever written.  I guess I should clarify the title. The more I think about the, the more I realize Bitter is the wrong title for this post. I did it more for the play on words but it is inaccurate.  I am NOT BITTER.  In fact, I am far from bitter.  I'm incredibly grateful to be alive and almost completely unscathed.  (Two little fingers on the left hand is so minor in the grand scheme of things).  I know too many people in Tanzania who have had far worse incidents with worse results.  I have a friend who lost her right arm in a bus accident. Another who broke both legs after being hit by a car, a dear friend who lost his sister-in-law and her baby in child birth, and most recently and tragically, one of the girls from the sports program – and Tabitha’s best little track star, lost her life at age 7 in a house fire.  For those reasons, and many more, I am so grateful for my outcome.  

Wilemina (Wile) - our track star who sadly is no longer with us.

So, that's the last adventure for now.  I'm sure there will be more in the future but right now my focus is trying to get my fingers healed.  Thank you for reading.  Thank you to everyone for all your support over the last few months and the last few years, through the ups and downs, twists and turns, the good, the bad, and the ugly.  I could not do what I do without everyone’s support and encouragement.  

Asante sana. Thank you so much.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Started from the bottom.....

... now we're HERE!!

Get ready! This may be the shortest post I’ve done in a long time! My laptop died in at the end of April and I only just got a working laptop on Friday so I haven’t been writing much.  I thought I’d write up a quick blog post now that I finally have a working laptop!  
So, in early April, after the watermelon harvest adventure, we began with our next step in the creation of Hero Home – building the actual Community Centre!  Initially we were looking at starting with building the house and office.  However, after weighing all the options, we decided a Community Centre was a bigger priority.  By having the Community Centre, we can begin offering a variety of different programs to kids and youths in the community. Our first objective is to provide a space to run a nursery school.   There had been a small room being used as a nursery school in Bukama (the name of the village where our land is) but it has since been shut down. So, we knew this was something that definitely needed to happen!
We drew up some floor plans, hired an AMAZING contractor and got to work.  We had everything planned out perfectly… however, mother nature unfortunately had a completely different plan for us!
If you remember from the last newsletter, we were anxiously anticipating the arrival of the rains!  We suffered through the heat and dust all of February and March… everyday thinking the rains would come.  By mid-March, we started giving up hope and assumed it was going to be a drought year. HAHAH! If we had a nickel for every time we were wrong, we’d be a lot richer!
At the very end of March, just as we were preparing to start building, we got a few days of rain.  Nothing to blog about, but decent rains.  After about a week or so, my running route to the lake turned into a swamp. It was disappointing but exciting at the same time! The weather finally cooled off. The trees looked less sad and shriveled up. Grass started sprouting! The dust settled a little!  All was well in Shirati.....
Then the REAL rains came!!  The never-ending, day-in-day-out kind of rains! It turned into the exact opposite of a drought year! It was like mother nature was intent on making up for lost time! So while the contractor would work hard building the walls up, mother nature would come along and wash them out. The contractor was amazing and kept working hard despite the crazy weather!! The progress was difficult but he kept persevering! He’s an amazing guy and incredibly committed to his job!!! It’s been 2 months and by the end of this week, all the walls should be FINISHED!!!! 

The town is definitely buzzing about the construction as it is quite the impressive building! We decided to have a central hall that can be divided into two classrooms. We attached a room on the back for a teacher to live in and we added a massive veranda on two sides that could be used as an outdoor classroom.  It’s very exciting! Hopefully by then end of July everything will be finished!!!
You can check out some of the pictures on our facebook page! There are more to come too now that I have a working laptop!
Most importantly though, we want to say THANK YOU to everyone who bought us building supplies and supported our fundraising initiatives!!! It’s been an incredibly long and challenging process to get to this point… but we made it!!! Thank to everyone’s continued support and encouragement in what we are doing, we were able to persevere and actually get to the point of building the community centre!! It was a long road…  but it feels amazing now that we’re here!!!  
Thanks to everyone’s support, we were able to buy ALL the cement, steel rods, sand, gravel, doors and windows that we could possibly need!!! We bought everything from the local town which means we were also able to support the local economy and all our workers are from Bukama which means we are investing directly in the community! THANK YOU SO MUCH! We wouldn’t be able to do any of this without you guys!!! 
Hope everyone has an excellent summer! Check back soon for pictures of the finished centre!!!!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Funny Story (in the not sooo funny way)

Feb 28, 2015

So, here’s a short little story to brighten your day. I promise it’s actually short!  
Last night, the power cut out around 2am and only managed to come back on sometime around 5:42am. Normally I’m ok without power but Shirati is at the end of a very long dry season so it is incredibly hot, especially at night. I sleep with the windows open, though they do little to diminish the heat.  There are also lots of mosquitos and I don’t have a mosquito net so I sleep with a fan which solves both problems at once.  It cools off the room and keeps away the mosquitos (or at least it makes a noise louder than the buzzing and therefore it seems like there are no mosquitos). Anyways, the power, once again, cut out for most of the night so it was a hot and buzzy, sleepless night. I feel asleep around 545am (within minutes of the power coming back) and woke up at 7:45.

But this is not the point of the story.  I only mentioned it because while lying in bed waiting for Tanesco (the oh so loathed electrical company) to turn on the power,  I actually thought that the power cut was going to be the worst part of my day.  It wasn’t....

So, I got up and headed to town to grab a “taxi” to Tarime where I was catching the bus to go to Mwanza. Let me clarify the word taxi. Don’t let it conjure up images of shiny yellow cars with one person stretched out in the back. Here taxi cars are a regular hatchback kind of car but they are used as a small bus, each with its own route between specific towns. But unlike regular cars in Canada where everyone has a seat and a seatbelt, these hatchbacks magically transform into clown cars where people are piled in and piled in.  

We started with me in the back and an old dude in the front. Then two young women, a baby and a 7 year old girl piled in the back with me.  The 7 year old was carrying the baby on her back and as she got in, she took off the baby and handed him to me.  Anyone who knows me, knows that, whilst I have been endowed with a body primed for bearing children (wide child-bearing hips and ample bosom), I was not endowed with the oh-so-crucial, “mother” gene.  I reluctantly took the baby while they piled into the car.  However, once in, no one made any effort to take the baby back.  

So there he was, sitting on my lap.  Just like how a dog is able to find the one person in the room that is afraid of dogs, this baby sniffed me out.  My hesitation in holding babies in cars on hot, dusty, bumpy roads is two-fold.  One, I know all too well that their diapers are usually little more than a couple of layers of thin cloth wrapped around their bottoms and two, bumpy roads can make anyone a little queasy, even babies.  So, with no other options, I got the baby comfy and tried to make him sleep.  However, he was far too intent on examining every nook and cranny of this strange white person that was holding him.  Once he was satisfied with his examination, he fell asleep on my chest (which luckily provided good cushioning for the bouncy road). 

Not long after we started our journey, we picked up another passenger which meant we were 4 adults, one 7 year old, and one baby in the back seat.  The funny part of the story comes after an hour or so on the extremely bumpy, dusty road. We finally got to the pavement and picked up another passenger.  She sat in the front seat with the old guy.  Don’t think for a second that the front seat is a bench seat, it’s not. It’s two separate seats, but somehow they always manage to fit 3 or 4 people in the front. I have actually been in the car when the driver has someone share his seat with him. It’s always a bit terrifying.

Anyways, as we picked up our 9th person (6 of us in the back, driver and passenger already in the front), I looked over at the baby’s mom and there was nothing but a look of terror.  Her eyes were wide open and her lips were sealed shut .  Before I could ask if she was ok, she leaned over me and started to puke out the window.  Oh wait, let me clarify the order of events.  She leaned over me, started to puke and then made it to the window.  Yup, all those worries about the baby peeing or puking on me were for nothing.  Instead I got puked on by the mom.  Luckily it was more smooth than chunky but it still got on my thigh and dripped down my leg.  Yup.  Add that one to the list.  I quickly hopped out of the car and let her get by so she could puke a few more times on the side of the road.  Then the driver hurried us back into the car and we went the last 30 minutes to the bus station.  She managed to hold it in and then puked again when we got to the bus station. Always an adventure.  Always!!

Basically the moral of this story is that, if you didn’t get puked on today, than you’re having a better day than I am so rejoice and enjoy!
Wait... it's not done... there's more...

Part 2 - March 1st, 2015
I wrote the first part of the story around 8 pm that night. I had already arrived in Kisesa and had made my way to friend’s guest house. Unfortunately, there was a wedding happening next door so all the rooms were full. Fortunately, the one room where the staff girl slept had a big bed and she was willing to share.  So, I crawled into bed nice and early (after a sleepless night and a long bus ride) and wrote my little story. When I finished, I was convinced being puked on was the worst part of my day. I was wrong again....(I'm kinda getting tired of being wrong all the time... ) 

By about 9pm, I was feeling itchy. I felt some bites on my arms and feet but it hadn’t heard any mosquitos so it didn’t make sense. I laid there for a while, trying to ignore the itchiness.  There were more bites and I became itchy in more spots. I finally got out of bed around 10 to check the bites (of course there was no electricity so I used my head lamp) and the bites had quickly turned into massive welts.  Easily bigger than a toonie.  It was definitely not mosquitos.  I had never experienced this before so I was not sure what it could be.  We checked the bed but didn’t see anything. I thought maybe spider bites, as I’ve been bitten by spiders before, but there were too many bites and we couldn’t see any spiders.  Then… on the bed.. we found the culprit. Bed Bugs!!!! 

So, another bucket list item checked off.  By this time it was almost 11 pm, the wedding guests were arriving and creating a lot of commotion. I decided to sleep on the floor where I could hopefully avoid the bugs.  That didn’t work… I still kept getting bitten. By this time I had a good 20 or more welts of various sizes across my body.  Through it all, the other girl was sleeping on the bed. I have no idea how she did it. 

Around midnight I talked to my bed bug exterminator friend back home for some expert advice which calmed my nerves a little. Around 1am, after still not sleeping and still getting bitten, I decided to leave the room completely and took up a spot on the floor in the entrance way.  The wedding guests were probably surprised to see a white girl sleeping on the floor but at this point, I was indifferent to their reaction. I tried to sleep and not scratch too much and I think some time around 530am, I feel asleep (this is starting to be a pattern…). I woke up around 800am and as per instructions from the expert, I washed every piece of clothing by hand.  I took all my stuff out of the room and went through it piece by piece to make sure there were not little friends hiding anywhere.  I moved out of the room and found some floor space in the office for the following night.

So, that’s the story. I’ve include some pictures on facebook for your viewing pleasure. 

I’m not sure what the moral is now. Maybe it’s,  never think you’re having a bad day because it can always get worse. On a side not, while I was washing my clothes, I watched a goat get slaughtered…. Yup…your day can always get worse.

Hope you’re all having a great day! :)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

I Carried A Watermelon - The Saga of the Watermelon Harvest

Feb 22, 2015

When Tabitha dreams, she dreams big and then does whatever it takes to turn that dream into reality!!! After much research and study, Tabitha and Victor decided to start a watermelon farm to help raise money for the construction of Hero Home! 

On December 1st, they planted 1 kg of hybrid watermelon seeds. I wasn’t here for the initial stages but their stories suggest planting the seeds was an adventure in itself.  They dug, they tilled, they toiled, they soiled… I don’t know the details but they did the things that farmers do…except they did it by hand (even the “fertilizer” part…and here in Tanzania they use nothing but the most “natural” and “organic” fertilizer… that’s the polite way of saying they use cow dung.)

They were fortunate enough to have a sizeable pond nearby and they dug a small reservoir and were able to pump water from the pond so that they could water the fields.  Like I said, Tabitha goes big!!  For 60 days, along with two young worker dudes, they worked hard to tend to the every need of the little baby melons.  

I know growing the plants was no easy task but that story will have to be told another time. This saga starts once the watermelons had already matured in to beautiful, juicy fruits (noticed that I used the word fruit to avoid saying they matured into beautiful, juicy melons! We need to keep your mind out of the gutter and focused on the story!!)

So, get ready for The Saga of the Watermelon Harvest.  I know my stories tend to be lengthy… but this adventure is beyond what I could have expected, so be prepared for an even longer tale! To make it more manageable, I’ve broken it down to day by day, play by play.

CHAPTER 1 – Monday, February 9, 2015
As any watermelon farmer knows, and as I learned upon my return to Tanzania, hybrid watermelons take between 60 and 75 days to fully mature.  After patiently waiting 69 days, Tabitha decided it was time to harvest their 2 acres of watermelons. After talking to a few different Kenyan buyers and trying to negotiate a fair price, she was still torn between selling them all to a buyer for a less than desired price or attempting to sell them ourselves in the market.  We decided that regardless, harvesting needed to happen as they were going to start bursting open in the blazing sun.

So, Monday afternoon, we rested and got ready to head out to the field (about 12 kms from town) for a night harvest. We decided a night harvest would be best as there would be less distractions and we could be ready in the morning to transport our watermelons.  We headed out at 8pm with Victor and Tabitha on our motorcycle and myself and Alima, a high school student that has been staying with us, on another motorcycle. Just as we arrived on the field, we got a phone call from a Kenyan buyer offering us 22Ksh (25 cents/kg). Since it was the best price we’d been offered so far, we decided to accept the offer. With a buyer lined up, we headed down to the field to get to work.

At 10:00pm, with our knives and scissors in hand, we all got to work cutting the watermelon stems and piling the melons in small piles. To any passerby our field was nothing but darkness and six bobbing lights.  To us, it was nothing but watermelons everywhere we looked.  For 4 hours, we worked like a good rescue squad moving up one row and down the other.  In the first corner of the field, the watermelons were a decent size, nothing to write home about, not even picture worthy, but definitely a nice couple kilos each.  As we moved up towards the better soil, the watermelons kept getting bigger and bigger until every second watermelon, someone would hold it up and yell out, “I found Grandpa”.. . “ohh, this one is Uncle for sure!”  and of course everyone would have to stop and look.  They were ginormous! Easily 8 or more kilos each one! 

With bugs swarming in our ears and eyes, we carried on cutting and piling.  Our progress was only slowed by trails of army ants that would sneak up on us, crawl into our socks and shoes and start biting. It made for quite a scene… you’d be bent over, bum in the air cutting a stem and then 2 seconds later you’re jumping up and down trying to get the ants off. 

In the midst of the army ants, something found its way into my eye and it started to swell and burn.  The official diagnosis of my eye problem was that a certain bug got in my eye and peed.  Tabitha said it first but multiple people agreed with the story.. “oh yeah, a bug peed in your eye… it’s quite common.” It was a new experience for me, that’s for sure!

At 215 am, we finished cutting every last watermelon on the 2 of acres land.  We took a short break with bread, cookies, and some water and we were just getting ready to start carrying the watermelons to the edge of field when a few drizzles of rain fell down on us.  I hadn’t seen rain since I had arrived over 3 weeks prior and Tabitha said there hadn’t been rain since December… so none of us thought for a minute that the few drops would prove to be any more than a tease.  HAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAH!!! Man, we were wrong!

When it rain is it pours! And it poured!!! When the few drops turned into a down pour, we grabbed our stuff and took cover in the mud hut that our two worker boys had been living in.  I’m not knocking the mud hut at all.. it’s a beautiful hut that Tabitha, Victor and the boys built themselves and it’s awesome! It’s made of mud from a termite hill and the roof is made from reeds with a plastic tarp on top and it has an awesome bed made from trees. It’s nice and cool in the afternoon and it’s well ventilated.  That said, it is not where you want to be with 5 other people at 3am in the middle of the biggest rain storm you’ve experienced in a long time.  The rain poured and poured!  I’ve seen some good rain storms in my years here, but this one may have been one of the biggest. It was insane!!! The plastic tarp did what it could to keep the rain out but we still got rained on.  Maybe it was the exhaustion (probably) but all my mind could think about was the rain washing away our little mud hut.  After an hour of pounding rain, I didn’t even care that our watermelons were being pounded by the rain, I only cared about our house not being swept away.  I gained a whole new appreciation for flash floods.  I never really understood how people died in flash floods.. like, how did they not see it coming and then escape, but while I sat huddle in the corner of the bed in our hut, I had a new understanding of how it could happen.  

I realized in the morning that I was probably being a bit over-dramatic but an exhausted mind is rarely rational.  Somehow through the rain storm, I still managed to have a decent internet connection so anyone who saw my facebook posts that night knows that I was pretty much freaking out!!! Like I said, an exhaust mind is rarely rational!

Chapter 2 – Tuesday, Febraury 10, 2015
The rains subsided around 6:30 am.  Even before we poked our heads out of the hut, we were already prepared for the worst.  The watermelons were so ripe that the pressure from the rain could easily have been enough to burst them.. never mind all the water they were sitting in.  When we finally saw the field, it was nothing but mini swimming pools with the watermelons just chillin’ inside. 

Having already lost close to 4 hours of work time, we quickly got to business.  With our rice sacks and buckets, we went to the piles, loaded our rice sacks and started carrying them to the edge of the field were the semi would come to pick them up. 

You know when it rains and you’re trying to avoid the puddles and then you accidentally step in a puddle and after that don’t care anymore… that was us.  For the first trip, you tried to find a path where there wasn’t water.  Then you accidentally step full on into the mud and after that.. you just don’t care!! Victor, the two workers and myself carried watermelons while Tabitha and Alima sorted them into piles of big and small.

As the day progressed, well over a hundred people came at different times to check out the action.  They couldn’t believe we had harvested at night.  Some people came to help, others to eat.  Some carried a few watermelons and then sat down and ate a few melons.… some actually helped. It became somewhat of a U-pick watermelon farm… with people eating more than they carried. The kids were the best.  They would bounce through the fields, find one or two watermelons and carry them back on their heads! It was quite the sight! I think if I was less exhausted, I would have appreciated it more, but even as I was, I did manage to appreciate how awesome it was.  We slopped through the mud back and forth but for some reason, the watermelons never diminished. No matter how many trips you carried, it always felt like there were more waiting in the exact same spot.

Around noon, the Kenyan buyer appeared.  Here is where adventure number 2 starts.  He was very nice. Very friendly, personable, blah blah blah.  He complimented the watermelons, the fields, our work, etc.. and we carried on with our job.  After countless trips and of course a few watermelon breaks, we finally finished carrying all 11,000 kilos of watermelons.  Victor and I figure we each carried at least a ton or more, our 2 worker guys probably did 2 tons each or more (they were machines!! Victor and I carried 5-7 good sized watermelons each trip, the boys probably carried 8-10 or more! They were insane!!!). The other hundred or so helpers carried or ate the rest.

At  3:07pm (after 8 hours of carrying watermelons), we finished!!!  We collapsed in the hut and devoured watermelon after watermelon!!!! It had been the perfect day for harvesting.  The night rain had made things cool in the morning and the sun only got hot by noon, unlike most days where you easily reach 28C or 30C by 8am! Tabitha talked with the buyer who assured us his semi was on the way.  He also assured us he was taking ALL the watermelons. He also assured us after some debate that he would pay cash as opposed to putting the money in the phone bank account
**side note - phone banking is a big thing here… basically your phone is a “bank” account. You can put money on your phone line and send it to someone else’s phone line,  anywhere in the country… the only issue is that someone could essentially send you money and then call the phone company and say they made a mistake with the number and the money is returned to them.. so for business purposes, it’s less than ideal.

So with everything confirmed, we sat back and waited for the semi… and ate. Everyone ate! Kids, old dudes, teens, mamas, cows, goates.. everyone! Nobody left our field without being full of watermelon! The field looked like a battle ground between mouth and watermelon and mouth was definitely victorious! There were rinds everywhere and faces were dripping in watermelon juice! It was quite a sight!!

By 630pm, the Kenyan said his semi was at the Kenyan border and it would arrive in the morning.  Tanzanians are renowned for being very welcoming people and Tabitha and Victor are no exception.  We offered him the hut for the night which he greedily accepted without any objection (despite knowing that we had worked through the night and all through the day and were beyond exhausted while he on the other hand, had napped and ate watermelon all day).  

The six of us sat outside and cooked some food, which we also shared with him. (are you picking up on the fact that this Kenyan guy was not all he was cracked up to be). After dinner, we curled up on the ground around a small bonfire and tried to get some sleep while guarding out 11 tons of watermelon.  
Day 2 was officially over.

Chapter 3 – Wednesday, February 11, 2015
After a cool and sleepless night, the sun finally rose and our day began.  The Kenyan left at 6am to go meet the semi at the border (about 1 hour away).  We woke up, ate some watermelon and waited… and waited… and waited…. And then waited.  Around 9am, we heard from guys at the border that the semi had already left but still there was no sign of the Kenyan.  At 1pm, he finally arrived with a 10 ton semi and 6 workers.  Having spent 24 hours waiting for the semi, we wasted no time getting to work.  The Kenyan (notice how I don’t even give him a name.. that’s how much I liked him) and a female worker went to work selecting the biggest watermelons.  Apparently they wanted to biggest ones at the front of the trailer as they are the heaviest.  That was fine as we knew they were taking them all.
**side note - I’m sure by this point, you can guess that the manure is about to hit the fan, but there is a reason hindsight is 20/20.  While you’re there and in the middle of the process you can’t know what to do differently. Any type of business transaction requires some amount of trust and faith and if you have neither, you won’t get far in business.  That said, we learned tons from this experience….Please don’t judge us too harshly!

So, the Kenyans started selecting the largest “grandpas” and “uncles” and “big brothers” of the watermelon patch! They’d fill a rice sack, carry it to Victor, he’d hook it on the meat scale and weigh it.  A different Kenyan worker and I would write down the amount of each bag and then it would get packed in the semi.  By 430pm, we had weighed 200 bags and we had reached 7,609 kilos of watermelon and all the biggest ones had been selected.

That’s when things got really fun! (fun in the not so fun way). So, the main Kenyan guy started talking with Tabitha about a price for the remaining watermelons (there were about 1500 kilos of “small” watermelons left with each melon weighing between 2 – 4 kilos).  He had the gall (yup, I used the word gall, not sure I’ve ever used that word before but that’s exactly what he had…), to offer us 8000Ksh for the remaining watermelons!!!! I know you can’t appreciate how insulting that is until you do the conversions… so I’ll help you.  He basically offered us 88$ for 1500 kilos of watermelon. Yup, that’s some GALL!!! Basically 6 cents/kg.  INSANE right!! We were fuming! By that point, there were a few minor things that weren’t going perfect, but that was just the final straw!!!! Tabitha went back and forth for a bit with him. We of course were angry that he hadn’t said anything about offering a lower price for smaller melons. He on the other hand was used to taking advantage of farmers.
*Side note – the saddest part of all this is that it is a completely common occurrence.  Many farmers are skilled at farming but often lack formal education and therefore, they are sadly, taken advantage of by forceful buyers.  Far too often, farmers will get ripped off for all their months of hard work and at the end, they may not even see a profit.  It’s a horrible situation! You hear about it on TV or in the news or on fair trade brochures, but it is definitely eye-opening when you experience it firsthand.  I have a new respect for the plight of farmers.

So, after refusing his offer, we continued debating back and forth.  At different times, both sides threatened to take the watermelons off the truck.  We agreed that he would leave the smaller ones and we’d deal with them ourselves.  Better we sell them than lose money on them! Then it came time to pay.  Any predictions? Yup, the jerkface (bet you didn’t see that one coming), refused to pay.  He told Tabitha he had no money.  He suggested that one of us would go with them to Kenya to get that money! HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Hilarious! We all know how that story would end.  So it was not even an option!  We debated back and forth… with no real solutions. He didn’t have the money on him and we were not going to accept that he just put it in the phone “bank” account.  In the end, Victor got on the phone with his friend in Nairobi, Kenya.  His friend went to the phone agent and the jerky Kenyan sent Victor’s friend the first payment.  Once we got confirmation from Victor’s friend that he had received and withdrawn the money, we gave the go ahead to the Kenyan to send the next installment.  The total price was 168,000 Ksh (1800$ which is a lot of money in Tanzania) and there is a maximum amount that can be sent in each transaction so the process took a while.

In the meantime, the other Kenyan workers were trying to pack up the semi and get ready to go.  We were having none of it.  By this point, we had a solid posse of people at the field, including mamas with machetes, our soccer kids, teenage boys, old people, drunk people.… the works.  We were all ready for action should action happen.  I took up a seat on their spare tire that was leaning against the back door of their semi.  It conveniently prevented them from packing up the truck!! I had our soccer players sit on the second spare tire.  I sat and waited while each transaction was processed and gave the kenyan workers the stink eye (meaning I stared at them with my peed-on, infected right eye). It was amazing how quickly their behavior changed once they realized we were not to be messed with.  Suddenly the 6 of them were not as powerful as the 25 people we had standing around.  As we were waiting for the last transaction, the drunk (and probably high) semi driver got fed up from waiting around and decided to hop in the semi and put it into reverse.  Let me assure, I can more quick for a big girl!! :) Everyone got irate and started yelling at the driver! It was quite the scene. Tabitha was ready to throw down the gloves!! 

We eventually got confirmation that the final transaction had gone through and the semi sped away.  We may have been left with our 1.5 tons of good size watermelons (plus another 1.5 tons of smaller melons) but we didn’t care.  What was more important was that we showed them you can’t mess with farmers! It was quite the victory! I’m sure the story of Tabitha and how she out did the Kenyans will be passed down from generation to generation!!! Perhaps in the future it will involve a zebra out doing a lion or something.. but regardless, the story will not be forgotten!!!

With the Kenyans gone and the watermelons still there, our boys took up position to guard them through the night and we headed home for a shower and some much deserved and much needed rest.  We bought some sodas to celebrate and quickly ate and collapsed. With that, day 3 was officially over.

Chapter 4 – Thursday Febrauary 12, 2015.
Are you still with me? Don’t worry there is only 7 more days to this adventure! :)
Thursday morning, we woke up bright and early, exhausted but ready to transport our remaining watermelons to the market in a nearby town to sell ourselves.  We had a 4 ton pick-up lined up and ready to go.  I headed to the field and Tabitha and Victor followed behind.  The pick-up arrived but to our disappointment, it was not a 4 ton pick-up, it was a 2 ton pick-up that could carry up to 4 tons.  However, it was a tiny pick up and wouldn’t even fit half of our watermelons.  We gave the driver some watermelons then he asked for my hand in marriage or rather he agreed to be married to me
*Side note- in Swahili, “kuoa” means to marry someone and “kuolewa” means to be married.  Obviously, it is the man that marries “anaona” and the woman is married “anaolewa” however, this old man was totally ready to be married!  

We sent him on his way and spent the rest of the day eating watermelon with the many visitors that stopped by and we unsuccessfully tried to find a 4 ton pickup. It was a long, hot, unsuccessful day.  But on the bright side, it makes for a short chapter :)

Chapter 5 – Friday February 13th, 2015
Haha, it just dawned on me as I write this, that Friday was the 13th.  I had no idea at the time.. but it seems entirely appropriate that we’d get the most unluckiest day of the year while we are dealing with our watermelons.  So, Friday morning, still fairly tired, I set off at 6am to go to the nearest “big” town (Tarime) to find a 4 ton pick-up.  I got there and searched around. I made some friends and “nimeuza sura kidogo” (in English, it translates into “sold some face” but roughly means “hustled””… as one must do when trying to get things done). I eventually secured a 3.5 ton pick-up and we headed off to the land.  We got there by 830am and our boys and volunteer helpers/eaters were ready to go.  We loaded up the 3 tons of watermelons in the truck and we were rolling by 1100am, leaving behind a few remaining watermelons and a few volunteer eaters.  We covered the semi, I climbed in the back with the worker boy, and off we went.  We headed down the dusty road to Sirare, a town that borders Kenya and a place where we thought we could quickly sell off our remaining watermelons in a day or so to other Kenyans looking to buy wholesale watermelons.  We were told watermelons were scarce so we were fairly confident we could sell them quickly.   So confident in fact, we hardly packed a bag.  Tabitha, Victor and I all left the house with the clothes on our back, toothbrushes (except Victor), phone chargers and a few minors items.  Again, that hindsight thing is a powerful tool...

So down the dirt roads we went.  In no time, I was covered in dust!  The one night of rain did little to clear the dust from the roads!  We got to the first police check stop so I hopped out of the back, hopped on a motorcycle with Victor and sped ahead while we waited for the semi to pass through the police stop. 
**Side note - Tanzania has some new law that says you can’t ride in the back of semis.  However, drivers have chosen to interpret the law as “you can’t ride in the back of a semi while passing through a police check.” According to them, the law does not apply before or after a police check.

The pick-up arrived, and I climbed back in.  The driver decided to avoid the other police checks by taking an even smaller and even dustier dirt road.  By the end, I was covered in a think brown layer of dirt.  We got on the main road, one more police stop, one more motorcycle ride and we finally made it to Sirare. 

We went to work unloading the watermelons and of course, it started to rain. The dust and the rain were a perfect combo! (that was of course sarcasm. They were as good of a combo as Ike and Tina….).  So we got set up and started selling.  People weren’t used to the hybrid watermelons (they are used to the dark green ones that aren’t nearly as delicious).  Sales were decent but it was already quite late so we started covering up our watermelon.  Then, right on cue, the next obstacle.  We had unloaded our watermelons on the side of the road at a place where people typically sell fruit. There was a guard for the area and he of course wanted to charge obscene amounts to guard our watermelons.  We considered staying with him through the night but we were discouraged from staying as the town itself isn’t overly safe.  Tabitha had some fellow runners that she could possibly get to come guard with him but the guard refused.  He argued that he couldn’t trust whoever we put to guard with him. With no other option, we negotiated a better price and hoped for the best. Although we all know what’s coming, right?? It was of course Friday the 13th so you know we can’t possibly have good luck! We grabbed some food, grabbed some rooms and headed to bed. Day 5, over and out.

Chapter 6 – Saturday, February 14th, 2015
Happy Valentine’s Day! So before the crack of dawn, we were up and getting back into our same outfits as the day before (my clothes were not only dusty but also a bit damp… it was less than desirable).  By 600am we were back at our watermelons and of course, no surprise, tons were missing! Yup, the guard failed to do his job of guarding and well over a 100 watermelons were taken. We talked to him, we yelled at him, but in Tanzania, sadly, there is little you can do.  We can go to the police but they just want a bribe and then you have to pay them to look into your case and then at the end of it all, it’s just our word against his… So, we let it go.  

Saturday was market day we had high hopes.  There was a local lady that typically sells fruit so we hired her to sell our melons.  She spoke the local tribal language and new people and stuff.  However, halfway through the day, we realized she was not all she was cracked up to be.  She was selling big watermelons for cheap and just not really trying.  So we let her finish the day and that was the end of that. 

In the evening, Tabitha’s runner came by.  His nickname is Rhino… and I can assure you it’s not an ironic nickname (like big guys being called Tiny).  He was well over 6 feet, his biceps were massive and his arms were almost as long as his body.  He’s a sprinter and javelin thrower.  He came to have a few “words” with our guard and that was the end of that. We went to bed and again, hoped for the best.

Chapter 7 – Sunday, February 15th, 2015
Again, we were up by 530 and at the watermelons by 600am. Thanks to Rhino, every watermelon was securely in its place. Our selling lady was at church so we took to selling ourselves.  We rocked it! Between Tabitha and her dreds and not looking like your typical mama, Victor with his awesome dreds and being called Rasta by every passerby, me - the white girl that speaks Swahili and Rhino, we were a force to be reckoned with! 

The highlight of the day was when the garbage collector guys came by to pick up the street garbage.  As we had taken to sharing watermelons with kids, seniors and anyone that asked, we also decided to give the garbage collectors some watermelons.  Being the daughter of a janitor and avid dumpster diver, I have the utmost respect for trash collectors.  We gave them 2 nice watermelons each and they were incredibly grateful.  They said that since people had started selling fruit in the spot, they had never received anything.  It felt good to be able to give something to others. We had a great day and sold plenty of watermelons all day. By the end of the day, there were still plenty of watermelons to sell.  We packed up at 8pm with a renewed optimism.   We headed to bed, exhausted but hopeful. Day 7 done.

Chapter 8 – Monday, February 16th, 2015
Once again, we got up early and hesitantly dawned our filthy, filthy clothes!! You know it’s bad when I have an issue with the hygiene level. My clothes were covered in dust, sweat, hay (as the watermelons were sitting on a bed of hay).  It was bad.. .and it was only day 4 of wearing them. We took to selling and again, sales were good but we didn’t quite get the wholesale customers we were expecting.  A couple people took 30 or 50 melons but mostly it was one or two.  We had a solid customer base of young girls that would buy 5-8 melons and then cut them into slices and sell them on the street. They were definitely entertaining! Complaining about the price, the size or whatever they could complain about. We joked around with them and despite all the complaining, we had a good time with most of them.  By the end of Monday, we still had well over 500 melons.  Despite the fact that we were selling most of our watermelons for 30 cents to 1.25$, we still managed to bring in a few hundred dollars.  We packed up and headed to bed. Day 8 over.

Chapter 9 – Tuesday, February 17th, 2015
A new day… the same filthy filthy clothes! The clothes were so incredibly dirty from the dust, the rain, the watermelons, the sweat, the dirt from being on the side of the road all day… not to mention picking up the dusty watermelons…. It was bad! I had managed to wash my sports bra but it didn’t dry by the morning so it was just slightly less dirty and more damp.  It was bad! Real bad!! And that’s coming from me…..

We once again headed to our watermelons. Victor headed home that afternoon and Tabitha and I continued to sell until the evening.  That afternoon, the seller lady made us an offer we couldn’t refuse.  She offer to buy the remaining watermelons at a discounted price.  Little did she know we were exhausted and ready to be done! We sold until the evening and then agreed to sell her the watermelons.  We counted the watermelons in dark and of course, it once again, it started to rain.  We sold off our remaining 240 watermelons (not too bad considering we started with over well 2000 watermelons) and we called it done!! Tabitha and I headed to the guest house in the pouring rain, relieved to know that we only had to put on our clothes one more time!!

And that’s all she wrote! (I say “that’s all” like it was some short tale.. and not some massive 9 chapter saga).  It was quite the adventure. In the end, we made just under 2500$, which more than covered our expenses to grow the watermelons, so we are thankful.  It is probably the hardest earned 2500$ I’ve ever experienced! However, what we learned in the process was just as valuable as what we made in profit. 

Of course there is an epilogue.  You didn’t think I’d include a prologue and not have some kind of epilogue at the end.

So, through the entire experience, there was one thing we always remembered. Hero Home and Hero Fields (the name we gave to the watermelon farm) is a charitable organization and through growing the watermelons, we were able to do MANY charitable acts.

1. We fed people. Lots of people!!! Like, lots and lots of people! People came from all different villages during the harvest to eat and eat and maybe help a bit and then eat some more! We easily feed a couple hundred people and more than half a ton of watermelons were consumed in the 3 days we were at the field.  Then, hundreds more were eaten while we were selling in Sirare.  Kids ate until they themselves decided they were full.  Street kids came and hung out and Tabitha feed them until they were beyond full.  We fed seniors, mamas, street people and everyone in between. Anyone that passed got a taste and many walked away with huge slices of watermelons and even bigger smiles.  My favourite is still the garbage collectors but there were also a few individuals with mental challenges that came by to eat.  There was one mama with her daughter that both had some mental challenges and they would pass by a few times a day and we’d give them a watermelon each time.  So, if nothing else, We Fed People!

2. Tabitha showed people what is possible.  At the start, people definitely laughed at her. Both to her face and behind her back.  When the rains were pouring in December and she was scooping water out of each seed hole, people thought she was crazy! No one has tried growing much more than cassava, tomatoes, onions, beans and corn in the fields near Hero Home. A couple people have done small patches of the black watermelons but with minimal success.  Definitely no one had tried hybrid watermelons and no one had considered that big of a field.  People thought she was crazy… and then 60 days later, they changed their mind.  She showed them what was possible. Sometimes we need to see things before we can dream them. Tabitha showed people something that they can all work to achieve.  That in itself is a charitable act! 

3. Tabitha also showed farmers how to deal with buyers! Not being a push-over, standing your ground and holding out for the best.  That’s what she did and other farmers watched her.  Hopefully she also sent a message to the Kenyan buyers that not every farmer is uneducated and there to be taken advantage of!

4. Tabitha provided income for people. While we were at the field, mama’s came and bought watermelons for a super cheap price so that they could go and sell them in the local markets and make money for their family. In Sirare, we provided beautiful watermelons for well over 20 girls to cut and sell on the street.  We gave them a great price so that they could in turn, make a huge profit and provide for their families. We were incredibly generous with them, selling them at a cheap price, allowing them to return any unripe watermelons and allowing them to pay us at the end of the day. 

4. We made money.  We turned a profit and all that money will go back into the community and right back in to making Hero Home a reality!

So, there you go.  That’s the end of the Saga.  If you’re still with me after all those pages, than thank you!! If not, I totally don’t blame you!! I am Icelandic and you know the Icelanders love their epic Sagas, so it’s in my blood!!  There will be plenty more adventures to come and hopefully one day soon I’ll get better at summarizing! :) Stay tuned! Thank you! Asante sana!

Check out some pictures of the adventure on our facebook page!