Archive Page 2

Tie and Dye 4th of July

our witches brew...

As we stood around the boiling stew of purple dye and old table cloths, I laughed to myself and thought, “Wow, this is the most random 4th of July I’ve ever had.”

It all started last Friday when we visited the New Jordans Womens Bank in Isiolo, Kenya. All of them are big mamas with huge smiles and loud laughs. They see us and clap their hands shouting “Karibu tena!” (Welcome back!), kiss us and hug us like we are their children returning home. We are at the Mama Joanina’s house, the biggest mama of the group and my favorite. I remember the first time I met her I thought “Well here is the embodiment of Mama Hope.” She spends her time visiting and comforting the sick and eveything she says is heartfelt or flat out hilarious. We have come to Joanina’s to attend New Jordan’s weekly bank meeting. In 2007 when we first trained these 15 women in community banking, I told them that Mama Hope was founded in honor of my mother who passed away and they all hugged me and said “Well WE are your mothers now!” And believe me they take this role very seriously. Before we are even seated all of them start in with the questions. “Ny-eela, how is the USA? How is your family? Why are you so skinny? Do they not feed you in your home? Why are you not married yet?…etc…”

Meet the New Jordan's Women's Bank

After the initial grilling ends. Everyone gets quiet as Madame President (Geraldine) calls the meeting to order. They each take turns paying their dues to the bank. Each women has her own business due to loans from their New Jordan’s bank. Five years ago they started the bank with 330 Ksh ($5). And over the last year they have saved over 104,000 Ksh ($1,195). They also have used 39,000 KSh ($500) to bring food to people in the communitiy with HIV/AIDS, pay school fees for children who cannot afford it and pay for the transport of sick people to the hospital.

Then Madame President announces proudly, “We have learned to Tie and Dye!” Everyone else nodds with excitement. She tells us that a man came and taught the bank how to tie dye old clothes and make them new again. She also says that, “No one else is doing this and these tie and dye clothes are now in high demand in Isiolo! We want to come together and have a Tie and Dye shop where we could sell our clothing!”  Bryce suggests they should name it “Haight Street” Again everyone nodds excitedly and then they invite us to come tie and dye with them on Monday.

In college, I used to run a summer camp so tie dying is something I have done many times before and I thought I knew what to expect. A couple buckets with colored dye, some old tshirts and rubberbands. I was totally wrong! This was like extreme Tie Dying!

We all sat around with a bunch of old clothes, some twine and a butcher knife. The women started tying the twine around the clothing and we started to mimic them. They laughed at us and told us “No you need to make the twine TIGHT or it won’t work.”

The women showing us how to tie the twine TIGHT

Outside a few women were preparing purple dye in a pot of water being boiled over fire wood. Once the the clothes were ready they were are all submerged into the boiling pot and stirred with a giant stick. The fire was crackling and spitting, threatening to set our skirts on fire. I felt like we were a bunch of witches over our cauldron. Once everything was at a steady purple boil, Hadija looked at her watch and said “Now we wait 45 minutes”.

During the down time Amy and I decided to teach the women how to do the Macarena. They loved it and in return sang us a song and taught us a traditional Kenyan dance. We were all having a great time when the buzzer went off. Everyone then headed outside, pulling their items straight from the boiling hot water with their hands. Then they put fire wood on again and started boiling the water for the blue dye.

Needless to say Tie and Dye is an all day activity. And right around 3:30pm we finally got to see the results of our work and they were really beautiful. Everyone stood around admiring their old material transformed into new bright beautiful sheets, shirts and skirts.

Admiring our work

Look at our purple and blue hands

At the end of the day Mama Joanina came out dressed from head to toe in Tie Dyed clothes dancing around and cracking everyone up. She then took me, Amy and Bryce and gave us each matching tie dyed outfits while all the other Mamas clapped proudly for us like we were their children. Bryce said it felt like camp graduation. Amy and I just could not stop smiling.

Our mamas cheering on our new look

Tie and Dye family portrait


The Ride

The Ride: by Amy Vaninetti




I want to tell you about one of my favorite parts of traveling Africa, most would say that this would be their least favorite, but let me explain why I love it so much….

The locals in Africa travel from town to town via a Matatu because it is the cheapest way to travel. A Matatu is a 1980’s 12 seater van that they use as a travel bus. The seats are very small to where your knees hit the seat in front of you and your shoulders are rubbing up against the person beside you. There is very little ventilation, so on a 90+ degree day this can be quite a sweaty ride. They not only pack it full of people, but they pack it full of peoples stuff; under the seats, by the side panels, in the legroom area, anywhere they can find a free square foot. Very cozy to say the least.

You buy a seat in the van, and if you are the first person to board you get the best seat, but could be waiting 2 hours for 11 more people to hop on board. Once the van is to capacity you begin driving and the whole vehicle starts to rattle and shake. The locals call this an “African massage”. You bounce and shake as you hit the road full of dips and potholes. At first you feel like at any moment the van is just going to spontaneously combust, every steel piece of the vehicle falling apart as you roll out onto the open road. After about 10 min of this, you start to get used to it, and this is when I start to find the fun. Seeing it just like the Indiana Jones ride at Disney Land but without the snakes popping out at you. Instead there are people darting out in the middle of the street, as if they were playing a real life game of Frogger and they are the frog. There are cars swerving to try and pass each other coming inches away from hitting one another. There are no traffic lights, so it is a free for all and everyone is trying to get somewhere fast!

View of the road from inside the Matatu

Yesterday I was in one of these Matatu’s as we drove 5 hours from Nairobi to Isiolo, where Mama Hope’s water projects are located. The conditions above may paint this drive as undesirable, but I just love it! I’m jolting back and fourth in a packed car with a funny old man, a mother with her small baby, and a bunch of middle aged African men, listening to bongo music, with pineapples under my feet, driving past small villages and road side fruit stands…. and then it hits me, this is Africa! This is what I love. The little imperfections, the closeness, and the lifestyle so real and raw and different from my own. Pulling over on the side of the road to hear the driver get out and announce “no brakes”… But never the less after some thumping around under the vehicle we’re back on the road again, driving with our flashers on the remainder of the way. I love it all, from the hawkers who bombard you at rest stops; shoving fruit, sodas and crackers in your face trying to get you to buy their goods… to the beautiful scenery that changes from lush rolling hills of banana trees and forest, to a desert full of shrubby trees and dirt as far as you can see.

My and Nyla's feet on Pineapples

Even though this ride is far from the comfort I get at home, with my butt asleep, my knees aching and hot as a sauna… Somehow I’m at peace; more so than I have ever been in the US. I’m relaxed and ready for every bump and shake this ride has to offer. Because its the ride that puts everything into perspective and in the end, soothes your soul. When everything is out of your control, and nothing is ideal, it is so freeing. This is what the ride is all about. Realizing… This is Africa, and it is beautiful! Some people say we’re insane for driving 5 hours in a Matatu with the locals, instead of chartering our own SUV, but I think they are the crazy ones because they’re missing out on the little experiences that make life so rich. It’s the ride… and I hope you all can take it some day.

The Kaisut desert in Kenya

Arriving in Africa

Arriving in Africa: By Nyla Rodgers

Dancing with the women of our partner community in Kambi Garba, Kenya.

A week before leaving on this trip to Africa my best friend’s mother told me, “When all the other little girls were make believing they were princesses your were busy pretending you were in Africa.” After hearing this I started to think back and realized that I always had a fascination with Africa.  I remembered that I wrote my first grade essay about Kenya. I remember using my grandpa’s atlas to trace the outline of the country and drawing the mane of a lion like a sun with an orange crayon.  And in 1986 when I was 7 years old and Paul Simon came out with “Graceland” I would belt out the song “Under African Skies” and imagine all those stars and think “someday I will see them.”  So it was no surprise to me that 20 years later when I first stepped off the plane in Nairobi,  I felt like I had returned home.
This is my 6th trip to Africa and ever since that first trip in 2006 I continue to fall deeper in love with the culture of this incredibly beautiful continent and people.  I feel like each year my heart must expand so that it can fit all the love I receive and give as we travel to all our different partner communities.
This year I am traveling with Amy Vaninetti, Mama Hope’s Operations Director and Bryce Yukio Adolphson, Mama Hope’s Visual Journalist  and so far we are having an amazing time.  During the next two months we will be visiting all of Mama Hope’s seven partner communities across Kenya, Tanzania and Ghana.

Playing with the students at Ngeya Primary

This is Amy’s second trip with me  and it is so fun to be traveling with her again. She is constantly glowing and bringing warmth to everyone she meets.  She feels like I do that a part of her heart has always been here in Africa.
We are also traveling with Bryce who is on his 5th trip here documenting Mama Hope’s projects.  Everyone knows him and his camera.  His Swahili is almost perfect and when we arrive to a community immediately people are calling his name.   He will be busy documenting all of our adventures with his beautiful photos and video.

Bryce in action with partner Rocky Muuri in Maai Mahiu, Kenya.

For the next two months, each of us will take turns writing on the blog.  We are not just going to be sharing project updates we will be posting our personal stories, funny times and crazy adventures.  So stay tuned because as we’ve learned  the unexpected is always expected.

Kweku’s eyes

In the combined 7 months that I’ve spent with Kweku, this is what I’ve learned.  He is what I would define as “preciously cheeky” meaning he is capable of being a really big brat, but he’s so cute, half the time don’t even care.  Even when I want to smack him on his particularly round behind, he could just smile at me, and I would give him whatever he wanted.  I’m pretty sure he’s aware of this, which is why he continues to laugh and be a little poo whenever anyone is trying to discipline him.  Many volunteers claim Kweku as their “favorite”, and after you meet him, it’s easy to understand why.

Kweku is the smartest of all the kids his age, and will quickly demonstrate his counting skills if asked.  He can count to 100 almost without taking a breath, and every time he sits on my lap, he counts my bracelets multiple times.  He also likes to inform me of how many I have, multiple times.  He has a big belly, and a round booty, and enjoys dancing to ghana music (like most of the kids) and is a better dancer than I’ll ever be.  He can bath and dress himself rather efficiently, especially if he is competing with Kevin as to who will finish bathing and dressing first.  Kweku is  pretty competitive, so he usually wins.  Unfortunately he is also a sore loser, and he pouts and cries when he doesn’t get his way.  But within 10 minutes or so, he’s over it, and goes back to playing.  He recently told me that his best friends were Joe and Kevin, and they have a new fascination with toy cars that Chelsey recently brought for activity time.  They have races (of course) and for some reason, Kweku’s car is always the winning car.  This could be because he likes to give himself a head start, and because of his sneaky intelligent advantage, Joe and Kevin don’t always notice.

This past weekend we went to the beach again, and Kweku sat on my lap in the tro tro on the way there and back.  For some reason this happened the last time we went too, so I’ve had a bit of time to observe his behavior when we leave the orphanage.  While many of the other kids fall asleep on the way home, Kweku stays awake until the last possible moment, till his eyes possibly can’t stay open any longer.  He doesn’t just sit, he looks.  He looks at everything.  He observes everything that passes by, sometimes without blinking for what seems like forever, and takes everything in until his eyes can’t stay open anymore.  As he sat on my lap and I fed him plantain chips, he didn’t stop for one second to look at me or anyone else in the tro tro.  He was looking outside, taking in all his surroundings.

This made me wonder, what else has Kweku seen?  What else have those precious little sneaky eyes observed?  I’ll never know.  What I do know, is that he’s probably seen and felt things that we have never seen and felt, and that we would never wish upon a 5 year old.  And there is no denying that his life has been different than probably any child you know, and his eyes have seen things that you will never have to see.

But I can tell you what Kweku sees now.  He sees 3 meals a day, and his big belly going to bed at night nice and full.  He sees his best friends Kevin and Joe, and 23 other brothers and sisters, who look out for him and act as role models.  He sees toys, clothes, and a safe bed.  He sees school, where he learns more and more everyday.  And he sees a new house, a new house that still isn’t finished, but is on it’s way to being his new home.

And this is all thanks to a pretty great man named Pastor Elisha, some really great orphanage staff, some willing volunteers, and people like you, who have donated to build him a new home.  I’ve said it 100 times, and I’ll say it again: Tell everyone you know about Kweku, and all these beautiful children.  We owe it to them.

Do you know Kweku? Support him. 

~ Lauren Wright

Mehwatche! (it’s been awhile!)

It’s been awhile since my last post, mostly due to the fact that Bawjiase internet is never working, and I have limited money for traveling to Kasoa.  Spending 30 cedis during the month of March has proven to be rather challenging, so here are some of my thoughts:
– Due to the new year and increase in oil prices, things are becoming more expensive in Bawjiase.  Everything from pure water, to food, to tro tro rides have increased, and until my one cedi per day endeavor, I didn’t really have to think about it.  I can understand how prices increasing by even 5 or 10 pesewas makes a difference, and it makes living from day to day more difficult.
– While it’s relatively easy for me to save money for a couple days to buy phone credit or go somewhere, I definitely wouldn’t be able to do this if I didn’t have all my meals provided for me, medicine if I need it, and a house to live in.  My little challenge is nothing compared to how most people actually live, and while it’s challenging for me, it’s not my life. And I often find myself thinking about how I would feel if it actually was my life.
– There is a spirit in Bawjiase of generosity that I haven’t found among people anywhere else, and I’ve now realized how amazing this generosity actually is.  While I find myself being protective over my one cedi, people here are always lending each other money, sharing food, inviting people to stay with them.  I’ve been challenging myself to spend at least a small portion of my money on someone else, and it’s  harder than one might think.  I have an always-expanding admiration for the people here.

Overall, this exercise is proving to fulfill it’s purpose: It’s challenging and making me think!  And I would recommend to anyone to embark upon a similar challenge.  It’s good for the soul you know? 🙂

In other news: The roofing sheets are going up this week for the new building!  VICTORY!  My computer won’t let me put pictures up, but I promise I will soon!  Unfortunately, the roofing sheets were more expensive than expected (due to price increases, and some needed modifications of the original estimate).  So please continue to tell others to donate!  Right now we have enough money in the Mama Hope account to finish the roofing, but we still have to finish the inside (doors, cupboards, floors, etc).  While I’m waiting for the modified final estimate, I can tell you that now more than ever we are in need of donations!  Thank you SO MUCH to those who have donated so generously, without you we wouldn’t have gotten this far!

In other exciting new: My family is coming tomorrow!  My mom, Dougie, and Wes will be arriving in Accra tomorrow afternoon, and I am so excited to see them!  They are coming with many suitcases full of donations from Covenant Presbyterian Church, and I am so grateful for the generosity of the people of this congregation!  You’re making a difference in the lives of  some beautiful children 🙂

Other things worth mentioning:
– March 6th was Ghana’s Independence day, and there was a great parade from different schools, organizations, and businesses in Bawjiase.  Grace and Mary marched for Presby school, and Vlad took some great pictures that can be seen on the United Hearts facebook page.  They were so proud, and they should be.  Ghana is the best country EVER.
– In the past weeks I’ve tried some interesting food.  While Gus, Vlad, and Sophie, all ate significant portions of this food, I only took a small bite of each (I’m not as brave as my fellow volunteer pals). We ate Grasscutter (a giant rat that is considered the best meat in Ghana) and snails.  Grasscutter tasted like pot-roast with an after-taste of poo, and snails tasted like the bottom of lake Michigan. yummmy.
– For all of our friends who may be wondering.. Spencer is alive and well in Ghana!  He got here on Tuesday, and is adjusting very well!  He’s doing great here 🙂
– Our dear friend Vlad is leaving next week, much to my distress and dismay.  He’s been here for the past 8 months (but in total from all his trips to Bawjiase, over a year!).  He has done such amazing work at the orphanage, and he will be greatly missed. 😦 meh soo papapapa! (I will cry!)
-This past week, Chelsey and Sophie took Agogo to the psychiatric hospital in Cape Coast, to get him new medicine for his epilepsy (we realized before that his previous medicine was ineffective).  Since we were all leaving early that morning, Agogo came to the volunteer house for a sleep-over, and he slept with me in my bed!  He spent most of the night with his giant head resting on my belly 🙂

Well, that’s all I have for now: Next time I will add pictures!


Lauren Wright

“Obruni, give me one cedi.”

This is something I hear quite often while I’m walking in town, something that typically irritates me.  Cedis (for those that may not know) are the ghanaian currency, with one cedi being the equivalent of about 75 cents, and 100 pesewas equaling 1 cedi.  For comparison purposes, it’s easier to think about 1 cedi being 1 dollar, and pesewas being the equivalent of cents.

The fact of the matter is, many people in Bawjiase, live on about one cedi per day.  Now, you might be surprised with the number of things you can actually buy for 1 cedi.  For example, I could buy 10 oranges, or 2 egg sandwiches, or a coke and 3 mini bags of peanuts, or 5 small bags of laundry soap. Things here are much cheaper than in the U.S., and when you first get here, it’s fun and exciting to see how much you can get for as little money as possible.

But the fact of the matter is, I never really have to think about money.  I can pay for things with 5 or 10 cedi bills, buy whatever I want at market, and get as many cookies and cokes and as much phone credit as I want.  If I wanted to travel (which I never really do, I’m a little home-body) I could basically go wherever I want.  I don’t have to think about paying for my meals, my clothes, my housing, my medicine, supporting a family.  If I were to ever need anything, I could ask my parents to help me out (like they haven’t done enough for me already). Like many people my age that I know, I am a product of a unearned advantages.  And this is something that I think about and struggle with all the time.

So, starting March 1st, I’ve decided to set aside 30 cedi (about $25) for the month of March, and only spend 1 cedi per day.  Now this is no where near the equivalent of how many people in Bawjiase are living, considering I have clothes, meals, housing, and access to medicine.  It’s more the equivalent of how the Orphanage staff live from month to month.  Fifi makes 30 cedi per month, but eats at the volunteer house/or orphanage, and has clothes, a phone, and a place to sleep.  So for practical purposes, Fifi will be my standard.

What this means is: If I want to go somewhere (like Kasoa for example) I will have to save up for 2 days, because a tro tro is 90 pesewas each way.  If I want to buy phone credit, I will also have to save up, because it’s only sold in units of 2 cedi.  I have also decided that I can’t eat any food from outside of Bawjiase (which means no shoprite), and when my wonderful parents come in March, and bring me a variety of protein bars and candy, I’ll have to wait till the end of March to eat them.

I can still buy anything the orphanage needs, and things for the kids and orphanage staff.  I have also decided that I won’t count the internet time I am using to blog, since I’m accountable to all of you wonderful Mama Hope donors for updates on the new building.  But if it’s anything personal, I can’t spend more than my allotted 30 cedis for this month.  I will keep you updated on how it goes!

Speaking of new building updates…. The roofing is continuing to progress!  Here is a pic:


ROOFING HAS OFFICIALLY STARTED! VICTORY!  While we were thinking that it was going to start about 2 weeks ago, we are happy to report that the carpenters are working diligently to put a roof on our building! Here is a picture :

WOOHOOOO! It’s so amazing to watch the progress, and it’s thanks to people like YOU that we are able to put a roof over our children’s heads!  Our number one priority now is finishing the new building, and Katherine and I have over $5,000 more we need to raise to make this a reality.  So please keep on telling others about this project!  Donations keep rolling in, and any little bit helps!  Thank you (always!) for your support!

In other exciting news, United Hearts new website is officially up and running!  Check it out!  This site will continue to be updated with information on our current projects, and we appreciate any and all feedback!

More information about the sustainability projects will be coming soon… We’re still waiting for estimates for goats and chickens, and prices are continuing to climb after the new year.  But these things always work themselves out, even if it takes awhile (T.I.A.)

Things are continuing to go GREAT here, the kids are beautiful and wonderful and happy 🙂  This is a pretty short blog, but I’m pretty hungry so I’m gonna go home and eat. hehe.  More updates soon!

Lauren Wright 🙂

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 23 other followers