Sunday, August 31, 2014

Blink Blink, or Can't Stop the Cuteness Redux

This is just a silly, throwaway post as it is a holiday weekend here in the U.S. and I am actually swamped with other work at the moment - finances, fundraising, and feelin' funky (I jest....) - but still, I wanted to put something up for the week.

The first "Can't Stop the Cuteness" video back in March featured my little mchumba (fiance) Baraka with his toothless grin and stuttery speech.  This vid shows Haika (aka Blinky Ghost from Pac-Man) with her bucktooth smile and, well, blinky eyes.  

I know I am poking good fun, but this video actually makes my heart fill up because this was the same day as the Lego-building episode and she was really up and down that day.  Haika comes from a pretty horrible home situation - mama died a while back, auntie *raises* her (not very well, IMO) - and Haika is prone to some very scary personal risks to which her intellectual impairment has left her even more vulnerable than your average seven-year-old.  We have had a tough time breaking through to her even just on a psych/emo level, forget about trying to get anywhere academically, and I think she is probably a candidate for Gabriella, but we are monitoring her in Msaranga for the moment.
Anyhoo, the day of the wageni/Lego-building, Haika stuck to me like glue, chattering away at my side, so I got out my camera and prepared to take some video.  Well, what do you know?  The girl is camera-shy!  As soon as I started rolling, she clammed up and all I got was a few moments of slow blinking, which were actually pretty adorable in and of themselves.  Oh well, at least you can enjoy her precious smile and take my word for it....this girl has found her voice!!

Monday, August 18, 2014


Okay, so this entry does not actually feature the game of Jenga in which players take turns removing one block at a time from a tower and then attempt to re-balance each removed block back on top of the tower until the whole thing comes tumbling down - NOTE TO SELF: (and Angi, Evelyn, Danna and Philip, the Cartusciello family, and any impending visitors to The Toa Nafasi Project) that would be a GREAT idea of something new to do with the kids - but because the word jenga is the Swahili for "to build" and the kids were indeed building on this particular day, I feel it is an apropos heading.

So, after tuckering ourselves out playing soccer and learning kickball, the wageni group of Petersons and Cartusciellos along with me, Angi, Evelyn, and the Tanzanian staff retired inside where we were lucky enough to have the chance to play with a ton of Legos, courtesy of a friend of Angi's who works at the Lego Store in Boston.  Truthfully, I had NO idea what a ginormous success this activity would turn out to be.  I had bought larger block sets in Arusha and at the Nakumatt in Moshi, but they didn't even compare to the popularity of the Legos.  We settled in groups on the floor and set ourselves to jenga-ing!

I sat with Haika, a little girl who suffers from both psycho-social issues due to a really messed-up family background which we are trying to rectify as well as some intellectual impairment.  She had a hard time understanding that in order to fit the Legos together, you had to put the grooved parts into the empty spaces and I kept telling her to turn just one block over but she would turn both over every time, thus having the same problem, just in reverse.  Then when I would take the blocks from her to show her myself, she would lose focus and rather than watch my example, she would pick up more blocks and continue to have the same struggle over and over again.  She became very frustrated and start to cry but I stayed with her all afternoon and when she finally put one and one together, so to speak, she was so happy she reached to me with outstretched arms and a big hug.  Well worth the wait, I'd say!

My cousin Philip and Mike Cartusciello Jr. commanded a group of young men and, as I was busy with Haika, I didn't really get to see what they got themselves up to though I assume that they managed to communicate through the international language of "boy" and build "boy" things like guns and airplanes and snips and snails and puppy dogs' tails, and things of that nature.

Sophia, the Cartusciello daughter, became very enthralled with one of the little girls in the program, Jesca, and spent the whole afternoon together with her.  They built things with the Legos, but Jesca also showed Sophia her schoolwork and they sat for quite a long time at the desks studying together while everyone else was playing on the floor.  Needless to say, Sophia made a friend for life that day!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Kicking and Screaming

Greetings from New York City, my dear readers!  Bet you all weren't expecting that one!!  I am more than pretty sure that what with my busy months of June and July (travel, illness, wageni, personnel changes, general busy-ness, etc.), I neglected to post that I would be coming back to NYC for my annual stateside sojourn in search of funding.  Oopsy.

To be honest, this year's trip crept up on me pretty quickly as well, and I was so busy last month that I didn't even get to update the blog as much as I would have wanted.  But that's okay, it just means that my first bunch of posts from the U.S. will be chock-full of Tanz stories, of which there are many.  For the next 3+ months, I'll be splitting my time between NYC and DC, networking, researching grant opportunities, taking care of financial matters, and addressing other non-program-related aspects of Toa Nafasi.  Holla back if anyone's in the New York or Washington areas and wants to get together.

Anyhoo, a couple weeks back, I wrote about the first few wageni who rolled through the Project but since Kelly and Andrea, there have been many more, the most notable group being the Cartusciello family, comprised of Michael Sr., Tina, Sophia, and Michael Jr.  Michael Sr. is a tax law friend of my dad's and, upon hearing about the Project from him, expressed interest in being a part of it.  His wife, Tina, was also enthusiastic having a background in special education herself as well as being a speech pathologist.  College-age daughter Sophia and high school athlete son Michael Jr. came along for the ride.

In a lucky coincidence, my own auntie, Danna Peterson, and her teenage son Philip, had also planned a trip to come see the Project at the same time, so I was able to combine the two family vacations into one super-sized one, the likes of which National Lampoon would have been proud to behold.  We planned a week for both families to come out to Msaranga Primary School and hang with the kids and a week of safari so the visitors could see all the natural beauty that Tanzania has to offer (ahsante sana, Pristine Tours, for helping with that jazz!!)

Originally, the boys, Philip and Mike Jr., wanted to run a brief sports camp with the Standard Ones for the week, but the Muslim holiday of Eid interfered and with two days off from school, we had a very abbreviated time to play.  Still, I think we managed to make the most of the short time we had and both families had a lot of fun teaching the kids kickball and playing soccer.  As Angi was still in-country for their visit and Evelyn volunteering with the Project, they also got to be part of the family fun.

There are tons of photos and videos from the visit, so I'm splitting them up into sections, and just posting the sports items this time.  Next time, you'll see the kids playing with Legos (donated by a friend of Angi's who works for The LEGO Group, ahsante sana, Lego Company!!) and Sophia making a new friend.  Until then, check out the "kickin' and screamin'" below!

 Philip plays a little one-on-one with Milulu.

Young Mike gets in on the action.
 And you thought World Cup was over....

Mike Jr. getting ready to "pitch."
 The ball in motion.

 Mike Sr. and Sophia watching from the sidelines.
Vumi helping to explain the game of kickball....
after getting the explanation herself!
Kickball Cartusciello-style.
More from the Cartusciello/Peterson/Rosenbloom/Stone-MacDonald/Keane/Temba family vacation next post!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Additional Faces of Edwin Ludovick

This'll be real quick since I'm already running late to start my day/week, but I wanted to put something up since I haven't posted in far too long.
A couple weeks back, I wrote about a young man named Edwin Ludovick who is a Standard One student at Msaranga Primary but is not, in fact, part of The Toa Nafasi Project.
He is doing exceptionally well in school actually, especially given his proclivities for trouble-making.  Still, he loves to come by the Toa Nafasi classroom and rabble-rouse in his spare time.  Check the latest from Ludo below!
Hamming it up on the far left.
Lord of the flies, liege of Liliput.
He walks a lonely road, the only one he's ever known....
Teacher's pet.