Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Kuku Mrembo

Sunday, July 24th, 2016 marked the one-year anniversary of Vumi Temba's death.  She was my dear friend and sister, beloved and respected colleague at The Toa Nafasi Project, and a ray of light in some pretty dark places.

I'd been considering for weeks how to commemorate her life and death on this first anniversary; how to think about her, talk about her, write about her.  What to say to her.

Song lyrics and poetry couplets ran intrusively through my mind, but these trifles seemed too forced, stale.  No meaningful, original thought came to me and I couldn't even say I took any pleasure (bittersweet albeit) in what I had imagined would be a creative and emotionally cathartic process.  I generally live for that crap.

Certainly, there was and still is great sadness, that is not in question.  But why I did I not feel it more acutely on this momentous day?  Quite honestly, I felt her loss no more or less than any other.  So, what was the big announcement I had wanted to make, the great secret I had to spill?

I went to her gravesite in Marangu and waited for the wave of emotion to overtake me.  The family wanted to know what the program was, but I said I had no plans or speeches, just to sit for a while.  My eyes were dry.  My head was clear.

I made a final attempt to call up an emotion suitable for this critical occasion, our reunion, but I had nothing out of the ordinary to say.  No big proclamation for the living, no secret surprises for the dead.

It was then that I realized that the importance I had attached to this day and this place was something drummed up, imagined.

I talk to Vumi EVERYDAY and in ALL PLACES.  I don't need to go to Marangu to see her.  (Not that I mind, it's very quiet and pleasant there, and I'm happy to visit with her family.)  But she is with me all the time.

I realized that I'm constantly in contact with her: seeking her approval, celebrating congrats, picking stupid fights.  She has not left me at all!  In fact, she has more time to devote to me and Toa Nafasi than ever....

So, what I had been planning to mark with some gloomy yearly reminder is actually just the new normal.  This is how it is with Vumi these days.  And it's okay.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Second Time Around

Hi everybody, and many salaams from the heart of Moshi town where I am enjoying a sunny afternoon, catching up on computer work and correspondence after a two-week break.

After my Amsterdam jaunt, I had a couple weeks' work and then it was time for yet another vacay.  This time, rather than a leisurely excursion in Europe, I was destined to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, the largest free-standing mountain in the world and the highest in Africa, for the second year in a row, third time in my life, with my dad, also known as Papa Bear.

Dad arrived a couple days prior to the trek in order to get over the initial jetlag of coming from America and also to rest up before our big challenge.  We drove around town and saw friends; went out to the golf course at TPC, Moshi's sugar plantation; visited the Toa kids at Gabriella; took Drogo to the vet for boarding; and generally enjoyed the sights of Kilimanjaro at town level.

Then, it was off to the races.

Like with my mother last year, climbing Kili was meant to be a bonding experience for me and my parents, one at a time, a trip for us to really get to know each other, me in my 40s in Tanzania, Mom and Dad in their 70s as my guests.  (See:,

As with Mama Bear, Dad and I climbed the Marangu Route, the *easiest* of all the routes and the only one with huts rather than tentsWe were aiming to get the most rest, and be out of the natural elements as much as possible.

Still, sleep and comfort proved elusive.  We were on a big freakin' mountain, after all!  We managed to insulate ourselves from the cold fairly well, but the Diamox we had taken to help with acclimatization kept us both awake with frequent trips to the toilets, which were far away in the frigid dark.

I coped okay, but Dad, after five sleepless nights, was sufficiently exhausted that he did not attempt the summit.  I was actually rather grateful for this as last year, with Mom, it took us a whopping twelve hours to reach Uhuru Peak and I was curious to know what my personal time would be, sans 70-year-old appendage.  That, and also being able to walk without the fear that I was inadvertently committing parenticide by forcing these fogies up the hill....

Turns out I did quite well!  7.5hours from Kibo Hut (base camp) to Uhuru and 3hours down, another 2.5 to meet Dad back at Horombo, our home away from home, where we had just spent three previous nights acclimatizing/resting.

Of course, both of us being Rosenblooms, we were entirely unconcerned for our own safety, even in our various miseries, and totally preoccupied with how the other one was doing.  When I descended from Uhuru to Kibo, I had the ranger call down to Horombo to let Papa Bear know that Goldilocks was doing just fine.

We made our final descent the following day and I was given my certificate for the second year in a row: a successful summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro, "the roof of Africa"!  Enjoy the photos below!!

Dad at the junction between Horombo and Kibo.  We hiked this twice: once on our acclimatization day, after which we returned to Horombo, and then once for realz after which we continued on to Kibo.

Me and Papa Bear upon reaching Kibo Hut, base camp on the Marangu Route.  Dad was dunzo after this.

Also at Kibo Hut, with Mawenzi behind us.

The next day, for the brutal summit, I followed Methley Swai, our friend and guide, up to the top.

I have written about Methley many times on this blog in both capacities, but for more info, check those two entries about last year's climb and also this day trip with Angi back in 2013:  Methley's company is called Just-Kilimanjaro - look it up!

Stopping for a breath before a beautiful backdrop.

Me and Methley strolling to Uhuru.

I clearly never lost my zest for story-telling, even at nearly 6,000meters!  Looks like whatever I was going on about was pretty funny though!!

Uhuru Peak: veni....



PS: And for all the naysayers who wondered what we could be doing up there at Horombo all that time, here's a little peak into a day in the life....!

PPS: Any potential trekkers out there for July 2017, let me know....!!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Wake Up, TZ!

From the Tanzania Daily News, see below an article titled "Government Solicits Private Sector Support to Improve Education."

Hmmmm, whatever happened to "Hapa Kazi Tu"???? 

C'mon Tanzania, help US help YOU!!!!


The government has urged the private sector and development partners to support the education sector through monetary contributions.

The call was by the Deputy Minister of Finance and Planning, Dr. Ashatu Kijaji, during a recent fundraising gala for the education sector.

The event was held in Mwanza and organized jointly by a non-governmental organization, the Angeline Foundation, in collaboration with the Ilemela Municipal Director, John Wanga, and the Ilemela District Commissioner, Dr. Leonard Masale.

Dr. Kijaji said that the private sector has to cooperate with the government and ensure that there is availability of better education infrastructure in the country.

"Let's work together to bring development for the benefit of our country.  We should start with education."

"You, as the private sector, have a greater role to play," the minister said.  "The government alone cannot afford to incur all expenses for development issues.  This is the responsibility of each one of us.  I appeal to you to contribute the little you have for education."

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Magufuli Not Foolin'

Hi all, I am just returned from the mountain after a successful summit to Uhuru Peak, the "roof of Africa," blog entry to come, natch.

Since I'm just getting my sea-legs back (quite literally!) and retraining my fingers to type, this post shall be a reprint from a recent article that caught my eye.

From the Tanzania Daily News out of Dar es Salaam, this piece is titled "Low Desk Manufacturing Speed Irks Magufuli."

It brings a glimmer of an ironic smile to my face as what we really and truly need right now, prior to the desks, is more classrooms!  In fact, when I get back to work next week, this will be a priority as Toa Nafasi's work with the kids at Mnazi Primary School has halted due to lack of space in which to teach.

It also makes me chuckle to see just how many things irk this man, Magufuli.  He has been in the news a lot lately, making radical decisions that are affecting everyone I know.  18% VAT, anyone?!
President John Magufuli yesterday ordered the Prisons Service and National Service (JKT) to speed up the exercise for making desks so that the government could effectively offer free education to Tanzanian children.

The Head of State was speaking after receiving more than 60,000 desks from the two institutions to be given to Members of Parliament (MPs).  In April, Prisons Service and JKT were commissioned to manufacture 120,000 desks, which would be distributed to various constituencies in the country.

Yesterday, President Magufuli expressed his dissatisfaction with the speed in manufacturing the desks saying it has taken too long considering the available labor force in the two bodies.  "I am not satisfied with this speed, I want to be honest on this matter.  Prisons Service and JKT have everything to enable them finish this job within a short time, they must improve their speed," he said.

President Magufuli said other organizations including NSSF and the Bank of Tanzania (BoT) have promised to provide money to support the campaign.  But he was worried to dish out the cash to Prisons Service and JKT due to the low speed they have demonstrated in the first place.

"BoT promised to provide 4 billion shillings for desks, NSSF as well has promised to support us, but I am not happy with their speed.  Therefore if there would be no improvement, I will not hesitate to give the tender to other organizations which can deliver on time," said the head of state.

President Magufuli said Prisons Service and JKT could involve other people in the business so that the job could be finished as planned.  "This is an emergency, they must improve speed so that students can get quality education in conducive environments," he said.

President Magufuli said 60,000 desks for both Prisons Service and JKT means each body manufactured only 30,000 desks in a period of more than 90 days.  He said there were many prisoners in various prisons in the country and thus he expected the exercise to take fewer days.

According to President Magufuli, Prisons Service and JKT were manufacturing an average of 30 desks a day.  "This is not enough, we have many people in our prisons, they are eating for free, I expected prison warders to use them effectively in this exercise," he said.

The head of state stressed that students need desks and not otherwise.  "We need desks, the only discussion here is desks and not otherwise, we do not like to hear anything else but desks."

Monday, July 4, 2016

Let Girls Learn

Last week marked the start of a multi-country trip for First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters, Malia and Sasha, in the name of girls' education around the world and the "Let Girls Learn" initiative.

According to the New York Times, Mrs. Obama began her trip with a stop at a leadership camp for girls in Liberia, where she urged teenagers in one of the world's poorest countries to keep fighting to stay in school.

With her own teenage daughters joining her, Mrs. Obama told the girls in the camp that she was "just so thrilled to be here with you."

"I'm here to shine a big bright light on you," she said.

Education for girls is the central theme of the First Lady's trip, which also includes stops in Morocco and Spain.  She was welcomed on her arrival in Liberia with a red carpet and traditional dancers.

In connection with the visit, the United States Agency for International Development announced up to $27 million in funding in Liberia for "Let Girls Learn," an initiative introduced by Mrs. Obama and President Obama last year.

Liberia was battered by civil wars between 1989 and 2003.  Ebola swept the country in 2014, killing more than 4,800 people and forcing schools to be closed for months.

The country, founded as part of an effort to resettle freed American slaves, has deep ties to the United States.  The country's oldest vocational high school, in Kakata, is named for the civil rights activist Booker T. Washington.

The school suspended midterm exams, which had been scheduled to start on Monday, "to allow the students to give Mrs. Obama a rousing welcome to appreciate what the United States has done for us," said Harris Tarnue, the principal.

"She will be a real inspiration to the young girls around here," he said.

As First Lady, Mrs. Obama has previously visited the African nations of Botswana, Ghana, Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania.

From her "Let Girls Learn" promotional materials, she says, "I see myself in these girls, I see my daughters in these girls, and I simply cannot walk away from them."

Imagine being told that you are not allowed to go to school.  Imagine being told that an education -- one of the most fundamental building blocks for a healthy, long, and fulfilling life -- is simply not an option for you.

It's hard, right?  But, for millions of girls around the world, it's a reality.  In fact, more than 62 million girls -- half of them adolescents -- are not in school.  Millions more are fighting just to stay there.

These girls deserve a chance to fulfill their potential.  All girls deserve that chance.

Around the world, a girl can face complex physical, cultural, and financial barriers to education.  She may have a long, unsafe walk to school from a remote village.  Sometimes, even when a school is nearby, it may not have adequate bathroom facilities for girls -- meaning that female students have to stay home when they have their period.  And, even after overcoming all of these obstacles, she may face school fees that her family is unwilling or cannot afford to pay.

Yet, we know that educating young girls has a tremendously positive impact on the world.  Girls who are educated earn higher salaries, raise healthier families, and can even boost their countries' economies with their contributions to the workforce.  That's why, when girls receive equal educational opportunities, it can transform lives, families, communities -- entire countries.