Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Seasons Greetings 2013

Greetings, readers!  I hope everyone is in fine form this Christmas season!!  I am well, currently on a brief stopover in Amsterdam on the way to Kilimanjaro.

I, along with my parents (sister couldn't come as she is an OR doc, but is sorely missed) are enjoying all that the city has to offer before returning me back to my second home (and life's work!) in Moshi.  It's cold and rainy here and I am poorly dressed for the weather, having packed for the 85-degree heat of Tanz, but we are managing to survive with the help of some gorgeous museums and sumptuous restaurants.

Not too much more to report at this time except to share this video taken at the Concert Gebouw; to me, there is nothing more iconic nor evocative of the holiday season than the sounds of Handel's Messiah.
Merry, merry and happy, happy!!  Next week, I write from Moshi!!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Mis-Education of Sarah Rosenbloom

(For Julia) 

"Every man has two educators: that which is given to him, and the other that which he gives himself.  Of the two kinds, the latter is by far the more desirable.  Indeed all that is most worthy in man he must work out and conquer for himself.  It is that which constitutes our real and best nourishment.  What we are merely taught seldom nourishes the mind like that which we teach ourselves." -- Carter G. Woodson 


As I prepare to leave a snowy, cold New York City for the warm, balmy clime of Moshi, Kilimanjaro, I have taken some time to reflect on my life to date and, in particular, the dualities and dichotomies that have presented themselves since the very beginning.

Obviously, the circumstances of my birth -- being biracial and raised with strong ties to both sides of the family as well as exposed to two religions -- has played a key role in forming this double-sided nature of mine.  Neither black nor white (Mom is Jamaican-Chinese and African American, Dad is of Eastern European semitic descent), neither Christian nor Jewish (raised Jewish, attended Hebrew School religiously (haha), had a Bat Mitzvah, but will never be fully recognized as such because Mom is "shiksa"), I struggled to make a place for myself in the world where no place naturally existed.

It was tough going.

As a young child, I had not one but TWO imaginary friends.  (Yes, I am willingly sharing this information in a public forum).  They were twins known as "The Jacky Boys."  My parents remember quite vividly my relationship with these guys, the proverbial angel and devil on my shoulders.  Predictably, one twin was good and one was bad.  And one side of Sarah was naughty and the other nice.  Very naughty and very nice.

Later on, I believe the words "identity crisis" were never more fully realized than in the teenage version of myself.  This played out most deeply in my thoughts about my appearance and I went to absurd lengths to straighten my hair including daily blowouts at the salon before school followed gales of tears if this couldn't be accomplished.  It was as though I wanted to blast away my strange, mixed-up ethnicity along with my big, kinky curls.  Green contact lenses, and various body image issues came next, seemingly in an effort to "whiten" myself.  Midway through high school, I switched lanes and somehow decided being white and Jewish was actually quite uncool and rejected that identity in favor of Funkdoobiest-era blackness ("We real cool" and that type of thing.)  With the advent of hip hop and my own burgeoning interest in slam poetry, I was able to justify a juvenile split from my Jewishness.

Over the course of the 20 or so years since then, my identity has changed in a multitude of unexpected ways, one of which has resulted in my expatriation from my homeland nearly seven years ago.  Upon reflection, it feels as though I have finally found that place I've been seeking out where both sides of myself can peaceably co-exist and neither has to push the other out.  I don't mean that Tanzania is geographically this place, but rather that the work that I am doing now, and the way the Project is set up has allowed me to have the best of both worlds: East and West, developing and developed, village and city, African and American, field and office, flip-flop and stiletto.

As I reflect on my return (T-minus 48hours!), I see the life I've cultivated to this point as remarkably whole as opposed to the divisive way I used to live.  Sure, those who know me (and some of you know me VERY well) know that there will always be some element of "all or nothing" in the way I run my affairs (such is the curse of the OCD perfectionist), but as for the overarching schematics of my persona, they have been strangely blended together in this new me: Sarah Rosenbloom, Founder & Director of The Toa Nafasi Project.  Who woulda thunk I'd have to travel 7,500miles from home to "find myself"??

So, I consider myself doubly lucky to have had the education I have, and I hope to be further educated by the experiences that lie ahead.  I have two homelands, two cultures, two families, and two traditions that I can call my own and, fairly seamlessly, pass between them.  And, even luckier than having these things, I am really super-duper lucky that most of the people in my life have accepted and understood this new situation; that family and friends have remained as constant and supportive as they have is a huge relief.  And a blessing.

The education that I was given was certainly not foolish discourse, that I concede.  Even with my identity crises and all the confusion of my formative years, I was given a pretty good jumpstart, thanks to Mom and Dad.  But what has set me apart today, ON THIS VERY DAY, is the education I have given myself.  Had I never left the West Village back in 2007, had I never left book publishing or the comfort of my five-floor walk-up, I certainly would be nowhere near as informed about the world I live in as I am today.  I would not have this awareness of other people, the experience of living amongst them, and the empathy to try to help them in some small way.

And, while I can give myself the props for getting on the plane that first time, it is actually all the people I met in Tanzania, all the experiences I had (both good and bad; yes, Freddy Lyimo, I am talking about you), and all the work I have done in the past seven years that has edified me.  The Toa Nafasi Project was born out of a need I identified in Msaranga when I first taught there years ago!  And now, it is my raison d'etre!!  It's actually quite remarkable....

At any rate, forgive my self-indulgent post this week and look out for next week's entry from Amsterdam where I'll spend a couple of days before landing in Moshi on Christmas Day.  After a couple weeks of preparation, I'll be back at Msaranga Primary, observing a new set of Standard Ones with Vumi and Mama T, and it'll be all about the kids again and less about me, so....stay tuned!!
THEN: my first night in Moshi, 2007.

NOW: sunday lunch in Msaranga with Angi, 2013.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Event-fully Yours Redux

Okaaaay, finally a moment to breaaaathe!!

So, I think by now most of you have gathered that the Friend-Raiser in Washington, DC last month was a huge success.  I was pretty nervous in the days leading up to the event, knowing that 50+ guests would be in attendance from all walks of not only my life, but the lives of all my family members!  I had friends from grade school there, colleagues from the publishing world, colleagues from the development world (some of whom I had only met a few times or just spoken with via email!), friends and colleagues of both my parents, my childhood nanny (who roasted the most enormous turkey you've ever seen), and my college boyfriend!!  It was....you guessed it....AMAZEBALLS!! 

But despite the build-up, the sensation of so much being at stake, performance anxiety, and general collywobbles, the actual day of the event, I was a veritable ocean of calm.  It was actually my parents who were snapping at each other, so much so that my mom took a vow of silence in the last couple hours prior to the evening in order to calm her own nerves.  My sister was really the only sane one in the house and together we went through my PowerPoint and speech a couple times so she could give me the pointers I so sorely needed.

Me and Julia, four years younger and four inches taller....
life's not fair!! 

Once we reached the venue (the house of a dear family friend, and now new TTNP board member, Romana Li), I was running on adrenaline alone.  Angi came early as did Scott Livingston who produced the logo, business cards, brochures, etc.  My parents and my sister ran around Romana's house sorting the comestibles while I set up the Razoo donation page on the computer, the PowerPoint slide show, projector, and screen, and the guestbook and name-tags.  Then, the first guests began to trickle in....
Believe it or not, this is the best picture of me and Angi....
Me and Scott, partners in crime!
Our hostess, Romana Li, introducing me.
Romana and my parents. 

Everyone and everything was really lovely from that point on.  I think all four of us Bloominators were beaming with pride and happy to be there together.  I spoke to many, many people individually about the Project in advance of the presentation and then gave a ten-minute or so speech with the slides.  This was followed by a Q&A session at the end of which a representative from the Ambassador's office showed up and voiced her support for Toa Nafasi.  

Mindi saying a few words....
A slide of downtown Moshi projected onto Mindi! 

I think it was really effective to have me speaking from the heart first, Angi chiming in during the Q&A from the POV of the Special Ed expert, and Mindi from the Embassy, legitimizing the Project all-around.  I can't totally remember all the details of what I said or how it all went down as it felt a bit like a dream (my Cinderella moment!), but I know it was one of the best nights of my life!!

Aside from the funds raised (and believe me, Mama made bank!), I was also feeling the love and in some ways that's even more important than the money....however....if you have not yet made a donation to The Toa Nafasi Project, take a moment to do so this holiday season either by going online to www.toanafasi.org or sending a contribution to The Toa Nafasi Project, P.O. Box 20086, New York NY 10014. 

And to all those who were unable to attend the 2013 event, I hope to see you at the next event in 2014, and hopefully we'll be able to do one in DC and NYC as well!

I'll end here with some more photos and a really nice note from Ambassador Mulamula herself.  Next week will be my last missive from NYC; the following Friday, December 20th is Travel Day and you'll be hearing from me from Schiphol Airport, my midway point between here and Kili!!

And more guests!

Romana's husband, Bruce, talking with Scott.

My former Swahili teacher, very good friend,
and TTNP board member, Veronica Rovegno!!


Dear Sarah,

I wish on behalf of the Tanzanian Embassy and on my own behalf to congratulate you and your team at Toa Nafasi for a successful event.

I couldn't attend in person but I believe my colleague, Ms. Mindi represented us effectively.  She was really inspired by your work and efforts in fundraising for the good of our children.

We thank you and Veronica once again for your kind invitation and thoughtfulness.

With warmest regards and appreciation,

Amb. Liberata Mulamula
Tanzanian Embassy
Washington DC

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


I know I'm late to download on the epicness of my "Friend-Raiser" in DC last month, but dammit, there simply are not enough hours of the day to do all I have to do so, to my most loyal readers, apologies, but you'll just have to wait another week....

Until then, this is more important: TODAY is "Giving Tuesday," a national day of giving to kick off the annual holiday season added to the calendar on the Tuesday following Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday.  #GivingTuesday is a campaign which celebrates and encourages charitable activities that support non-profit organizations.

So, TODAY, Tuesday, December 3, 2013 is the second annual Giving Tuesday and, in the same way that retail stores take part in Black Friday and online retailers Cyber Monday, the creators of #GivingTuesday want the giving community to come together, asking that partners create and commit to a project for/on #GivingTuesday and then help spread the word to their networks.  (May I politely suggest The Toa Nafasi Project??)

#GivingTuesday started with New York’s 92nd Street Y which brought the expertise of nearly 140 years of community-management to the project.  The United Nations Foundation then joined as partners, adding their strategic and communications clout.  An amazing team of influencers offered their ideas, contacts, and wisdom to help shape and improve the concept and a powerful list of corporations and non-profits agreed to be founding partners, spreading the word and committing to their own #GivingTuesday initiatives.  Since then, countless organizations, friends, and leaders have all added their support and talents to make #GivingTuesday a reality.

As a registered 501(c)(3) non-profit organization with a specific initiative, The Toa Nafasi Project is a legitimate humanitarian cause capable of accepting tax-deductible charitable donations at this time.  Businesses, families, and individuals are encouraged to be generous in whatever ways matter to them, whether that means volunteering with or donating to a favorite cause.  So, please consider The Toa Nafasi Project this Giving Tuesday and throughout this holiday season!  Cheers!!