Hanging out with Namibian Elephants

This blog would not be possible without superstar photographer and film maker Tiffany!

When asked, I’m not quite sure how to describe my experience in the Namibian desert with EHRA (Elephant Human Relations Aid).  If I had to put it in one sentence I would say that I’ve never worked so hard, been so dirty and yet so satisfied to fall asleep under the night sky.  With the exception of one night of rain, I was completely charmed by the most alive stars I have ever seen.  No light pollution, just an occasional headlamp from a late night trekker on their way to the designated pee alley. 

My large dose of satisfaction came with the simplicity of our mission and the almost total dependence on nature and each other.  Other than lunch mid-project, in a small town while staff replenished supplies, we were totally in nature – no phones, no internet, no walls, no doors.

EHRA Namibia (https://www.ehranamibia.org/) helps build peaceful relationships between desert elephants and communities.  “Elephants, livestock and humans are sharing the same waterpoints, which not only sparks conflict, but also results in human and elephant fatalities.”

The mission is to implement practical solutions that help combat elephant-human conflict by building protective walls around waterpoints, educating locals on conflict mitigation tactics and continuous monitoring of the different elephant herds.

Our time was divided into three ways of working and living.  Base camp, work week’s permanent camp and a nomadic existence during our week of tracking.  It started with a delightful night at base camp where we organized everything to depart for the work week site.  Base camp has a huge wonderful tree house where we slept with snorers on the far end.  I don’t snore but it turns out that I have conversations in my sleep with Jacob.  Odd – I don’t know a Jacob!!!

Base camp 5 stars!

We were so naive!  Choose between sleeping in trees or an already assembled tent, a makeshift kitchen, permanent toilets, showers.  Styling with headlamps we trotted out our urbane camping flair, dreaming of our effortless commune with nature.   The morning did nothing to dissuade our dreams with coffee or tea delivered to us in our sleeping bag.  We eventually learned that this lovely tradition was followed by hard labor and a hot desert sun.  

Toilets – #1 and #2!

After a breakfast of oats and toast we packed up and started to load our trucks.  The wheel barrels, shoves and tools indicated that our dreams of effortlessness may have been premature. 

For personal use, a small backpack with a change of clothes and some essentials was a challenge for some, but it turned out a second set of clothing was unnecessary  use of space (more later).  After packing the trucks, normally a full day’s  work, we headed to our campsite for work week.  After a few hours of driving we arrived outside a small community where a water source and solar panel required an elephant proof wall.  Everything that was packed came down (not by itself) and the camp was set up for the next 5 days. 

Preparing dinner work week camp!

We will get use to the hard labor and desert sun! Not today……

WORK WEEK.  Under the hot desert sun we built a wall!  First, we dug a 4 foot trench, filled it with rocks from the desert and mixed sand and cement to fill the trench and make a solid foundation.  From the beginning we were schooled on the notion that this wall would need to discourage large desert elephants from getting to the water supply and solar panel housed by it. 

Did we really sign up to build a wall?

The seriousness of our wall was confirmed when, Barb, on her way to our makeshift toilets, encountered big boy PORTHOS, a 3O year old alpha male with a chip on his shoulder (more about Porthos later).  We spent our lunch watching him scratch an itch on a 20 foot tree.    Many in the group had not experienced an elephant in the wild.  It was more fun watching their faces than the farting, itching Porthos.  His performance, although a bit sophomoric, was award winning and perfect for the audience, after which, we got our first lesson in elephant tracking from fearless leader Fabio.  If reincarnation is legit, he was an elephant in a past life.

Bad boy Porthos …. watch out that is our work week toilet!
FABIO….half man – half elephant!

WORK WEEK ……And boy did we work!!!

Now that we had a foundation it was time for the wall.  Porthos confirmed the need for a high, strong wall so we got busy!  

The 21 friends from MN eventually divided work into three areas – sand/cement mixers, rock collectors/transporters, and wall designers.  After making the rounds in each job, Lori and I settled on being permanent rock stars.  Heading up to the hills behind our sight we collected and loaded rocks of all sizes and shapes, vaulted on to the loaded truck to the site, and emptied them at the base of the wall for the designers.  I never counted the number of round trips!  Each time we were joined by a mix of others from our group.  Around 4:00 PM school kids from the village joined as rock stars and I had to keep close track of my work cloves and hat. 

Designers Jennifer, Jane and Sam!
Mixers Joan and Kari!
Jill …. sand anyone?
Rock delivery from Collyn
Designer Kevin
Lori thinking of Coke!

Gus checking the work!

Thanks work week. Dirty, hot and scraped up, I have never had a firmer core! 

Beautiful desert sunset so not worried about hygiene!

In the village we discovered a shop with a cooler.  Following a day’s work we found our way there for cold beer and coke.  Lori and I got a liter of coke and passed it back and forth like a couple of junkies.  Not sure if the cold or sugar was more addictive.   Each day we wiped out the proprietors supply and she happily reported to Fabio that she now has money for a new addition.  This was clearly a WIN WIN.

A new addition!!!

Day four we took an afternoon break to visit the school.  Way cool!  It was surprisingly convenient to stop for drinks on the way to our campsite.

Learning the local language.

Both weeks, we each carried a back pack with a change of clothing (rarely used) some wipes and a few essentials.  Additionally, we had our bedrolls to keep from sleeping directly on the ground – a surprisingly luxurious front row seat to the stary nights! 

A side note – no showers during work week so no reason to change clothing.  We did carry wipes in our very limited packing, but it mostly took only the top layer.  My priorities became floss, brush and wipe the sand from my eyes!  When we showered on the weekend at base camp, it took four soapings to get my legs clean.  While I’m on the topic of hygiene, between work week and tracking week, we got our – one and only – glorious shower at base camp.  So digging into our left behind bags for clean undies and shampoo was pure delight.  Glistening noses and clean hair, we were barely recognizable descending from the outdoor showers above the camp.  I patiently waited near the end of the line, spellbound by each transformation.  Anticipation has never been so grand.

Everyone needed a shower but the best diry hair came from John and Jenny!
Milo and Thrangi managed to stay clean and fashionable everyday!

The effort of packing and unpacking, plus having space for us and our gear on the trucks, meant conserving space for essentials.  Our kitchen required two grates for cooking over the fire, food, cooking pots, eating dishes and utensils.  Both weeks we carried water for drinking and cooking.  Week one we needed many shovels, wheel barrels, water containers for mixing cement/sand, and assorted tools.  All needed to be loaded and unloaded plus cleaned at the end of the work day.  Yep, hard work but increasingly satisfying.

On our first night we numbered off into five duty teams managed under the iron fist of Curtesy, an intern from the university majoring in natural resource management.  Despite her bossy stinker personality we all fell in love and were heart broken when she couldn’t join us tracking week.  We took turns yelling her signature “DUTY TEAM” but it just wasn’t the same.


A team’s duties started with dinner dishes and the next morning they delivered coffee tea to each person at their tent or sleeping bag at 6:15 AM.  That meant, up early, setting the fire to boil water for drinks and oats, and flipping bread over the grill for toast.  The team cooked, cleaned and served breakfast, lunch and dinner then passed the baton with dinner dishes!  Gus, Scott, Milo and I were the dream team.  Our first night we had a serious sand storm for dinner.  Delicious mashed potatoes and spicy chicken were served with a side of sand.  We were so relieved to pass on dish duty to the beauty team.

Curtesy bossing around the dream team Gus, Scott and Me. Milo missing?

We finished work week with the foundation and two level of the wall complete.  A reluctance to leave a job half done was met with the implication that the group following us would have an average age much lower than ours.  So, on to base camp for two days of luxury  and super-duper showers!

It’s a wall!
Time for showers!

Saturday was unpacking and reorganizing …… SHOWERS.  Sunday we went to a nearby town to replenish supplies, dip in a pool, use internet and enjoy lunch (not prepared by a duty team) with cold draft beer!  It definitely qualified as heavenly!

Oh so clean, lets go to town!
SUPRISE… we came home to clean laundry!

Get packed…..

TRACKING WEEK ……here we come elephants!!!

Now tutored in self-reliance, we packed the vehicles for our nomadic week tracking elephants.  Our loan encounter with Porthos during work week elevated the excitement to engage with the desert elephants. 

Tracking week was nomadic.  We packed and unpacked each day and slept on tarps on the ground or in one of the tents set up for those who preferred to be inside – not me.  Concern, about losing the buff bodies we achieved during the hard labor of work week, quickly disappeared.   

Mats for dinner seating and roll out for sleeping!
The cousins Nancy and Barb enjoying the new campsite!
Pre-dinner chat!
Elephant quiz
Setting up to sleep under the stars!
Pre-dinner social!

No rest…..

Tracking week workout … good for the core! Packing, unpacking, set up tents, take down tents, cook clean, enjoy the camp fire and fall asleep to the stars!

You can get fascinating information about Namibia bush elephants on the EHRA website (see above).  We were focused on five resident matriarchal herds in the Ugab and Huab River regions.  Porthos was the alpha male for one of the herds until Benny came along, challenged and defeated him. Now he was left to roam the desert alone.  And he was pissed!

An SOS came from a village where Porthos had his way with their grain and water supply.  Darn Porthos – after a full day of tracking him with no elephants in sight, the long faces were too pathetic to ignore.  At dinner Fabio announced that we would leave Porthos to his roaming and head to a known heard the next day.


The first herd encounter was magical.  We settled in to watch them eat, talk and eye us to make sure we were enjoying their show.  One of the females walked up to Kristin (in the truck) and touched her leg with her trunk.  Perfect!  Kristin planned our trip and had a lifelong dream of seeing elephants.  There were tears.  She will tell her grandkids about that touch.

Magical touch!

I swear the elephants knew about our work from the previous week and were greeting us as partners.  After a bit of showing off they marched right toward us with perfect eye contact and parted just as they reached our vehicles.  It was powerful.



The Week…

During the week, we had several elephant and community encounters, learned how to track the elephants using foot prints and poop, and reveled in a sliding party on a giant sand dune. 

But the last day we had to find Porthos!  A major detour on our way to base camp we were able to track him and report the sighting.  Because of our deadline, we got only within a half mile before we had to turn back. 

Kristin on his trail!

There he is!
Hurry, lets get him!

We found the elusive Porthos but he quickly slipped away! 

From afar, I could see his pleasure in letting us know that we were simply amature trackers heading to a nice hotel with showers!

Better Late Than Never

My apologies, I have been totally blog negligent!   I arrived mid-January and my hair has been on fire ever since!

Every time I think, tonight or this weekend I will set aside some time, a “once in a lifetime” opportunity steals me away.

Being fair, I would start this with my November time in Cambodia, instead I will work backwards and sometimes hop around.  So I hope the stories and photos are entertaining enough to keep your attention!

Yesterday I jumped back into work after 10 days with a group of friends from home.  They were mostly Minnesotans and mostly virgin safarians.  My friend Annie and I planned a cultur/wild life/FAME tour, with no opportunity for boredom or hunger.   To my surprise, my friends are Rockstar shoppers.  Tanzanian economist are, no doubt researching the seismic blip in the economy during their stay.  I’m most proud of their support to the women when we visited 4 different tribes.  They did not hesitate to overpay for bling in exchange for smiles.

Annie Birch “Bebe” Aurora Africa. It’s the way to experience – not just see – Africa!

So, what’s up with this tour?

Some arrived early to the beautiful Rivertrees lodge to hang out with different species of monkeys, mitigate jet lag, and imbibe in fantastic wood fired pizza.  The Finch and Swanson parties did their jet lag mitigating with silver backed apes in Rwanda and joined up with us on night three. 

Monkeys everywhere finding their way to your roof for a most unique wake up call!

Colobus Monkey

Jet lag was challenged with a visit to a coffee farm and lunch/shopping at …… (Rivertrees gift shop was already empty).  The following day we did a walking safari in Arusha national park with some “so dam cute” giraffe and an introduction to warthogs.  I didn’t want to spoil their eagerness to take giraffe photos with the idea that these little darlings would pepper every landscape, competing for our attention with the show off Zebra!

Mom and baby twiga (giraffe in Swahili)!

All together now, we headed toward Karatu with our first stop at a Masai Boma.  As in past years, Ruben was our guide with a peak into life on the boma, a bit of shopping with the women and a delicious lunch at Isotok. 

Boma stop/shop!

I’ll take two of these😁

Fortified we headed to MEGA shopping at the African Gallery to give friends, Nish and Puneet, an opportunity to show off (and send off) their amazing collection of tanzanite, art, and African ware. 

Tanzanite anyone?

Finally we settled in to Baghayo lodge for a cool dip in the pool, farm to table eating, and delightful suites.   Up early the next day for a walk to the wonderful FAME (Foundation for African Medicine and Education) where I spend 3 months each year.  Check out the 6 minute video!

Tours were led by superstars Prosper and Saidi with an open arms welcome from all staff who had been hearing about the Minnesota group since I arrived in January.  Three sessions gave staff an opportunity to mix with medical experts in our group, for intimate discussions about post-surgery care, pediatrics and data management.

Prosper showing off our maternity center!

Pediatric ward!

After a walk back to Baghayo and a dip in the pool, we donned our finest and went off to a party at Annie’s garden house where everything was orchestrated by the beautiful Pascalina. The guest list included some of the finest ambassadors from FAME and I was very proud of their ability to mingle and make lifelong friends for FAME.  A lovely dinner back at the ranch topped off the day.

Hanging at Annie’s with FAME ambassadors!

The group departed early the following morning for the incredible Ngorongoro Crater, a UNESCO world heritage site.  I had new employee orientation sessions back at FAME so (my mini-me) Prosper spent the day charming the group.  They quickly learned that wild life would be plentiful in Tanzania.  The day was filled with the usual suspects and the rare black rhino.

Annie worked her travel magic and our bags appeared at The Plantation Lodge, just when you think things can’t get more beautiful.  And the dinner was a heads up on just how great a farm to table meal can be.  Once again staff and accommodations were superb AND the gift shop is still being restocked.

A new day where we split up into 3 groups.  One group did the elephant hike north of Gibbs Farm.  Another spent the day at the amazing Rifte Valley Children’s Village.  My group choose the 5 AM departure for lake Eyasi to hunt with the Hadzabe. Emmanuel found a babou tree on the river to serve a late breakfast spread before we headed to our visit with the Black Smiths and then on to the styling Datoga women! 

That night the group enjoyed another amazing meal, discovered the wine cellar and competed over who had the most fabulous day. 

Who knew the wine cellar was below the bar?

Sorry to miss our last Plantation meal, I headed back to Karatu for the annual FAME party.  Aside from William telling me that they postponed the party until I could attend, I would never miss this opportunity to dance with my peeps at FAME.  Yes dance, there is little sitting – only fabulous outfits, dancing and warm hearted speeches in Swahili!

Dancing away the night!

The following morning the Finch/Swanson party departed for Zanzibar with the wonderful Ram amid great appreciation for their humor, perspective and shopping skill. 

That left THE WOMEN!  We headed to Indutu for a fabulous Serengeti adventure.  Eleven women meant two trucks with our guides continuing the adventure with. Now they were able to show off their experience and education in wild life management.  We had the animal finder and stand up comedian Emmanuel and the serene and lovely Comfort!  And the glue to our enjoyment Bebe Birch.  It was as if they had called ahead to discuss with the animals what we should see to be completely charmed.  It was a bush bonanza!

Emmanuel, Comfort, and Bebe

Our home in the bush was magical.  Six days before our arrival the team set up our camp and served our every need.  How the chef managed the fabulous soups in a kitchen tent was a mystery.  Pre-dinner drinks were around a fire and – of course – a full moon.  Our lion pride visited after dark, following days of animal entertainment while zebra welcomed us home.  If it seems that I exaggerate….I don’t.  It was everything I wished – for my friends to fall madly in love with my second home, the beautiful Tanzania and its people.

A very satifying three months….

I’m back home with the unrealistic expectation that spring would greet me!  RIGHT!  April 14 and it is snowing! 

As consolation for the grey and cold, I will visit the work and faces from my time at FAME.  With that comes the lush green of the landscape, the beautiful colors worn by the African women and the warm smiles that light up every face.

Views from my house. It was a daily gift?

First the endearments – I’m known as DEanEE, Professor, grandma, or Bibi.  This was my first time there with white hair, hence the last two.   But the most endearing was shikamoo.  Thabit, our head of security, greeted me with it often and brought to my attention it’s meaning.  I noticed strangers greeting me this way.  It included teenage boys on the streets in Karatu and an immigration officer who turned from stern to a smiley fist bump with shikamoo,once he saw my hair.  Thabit taught me that this lovely term means “I give you my respect” and you then respond with marahaba “I accept your respect”.    We should adopt this here!

My white hair earned me many wonderful moments, like these kids who traded me taking some cool photos of them for touching the straight white stuff on my head.

I will pepper photos and stories of some of the people while others have appeared in my earlier blogs. I will miss many, but certainly not because they aren’t an important part of my Tanzanian family.  Over the years the trust and friendships have deepened to a very satisfying place.  It was an important launch for the three months of work we had ahead.

How do I begin with the work?  What makes sense is to break this into a couple of parts.  First, I’ll cover the work on the 2022 – 2027 Strategic Plan (SP).  Then move on to developing work plans and communicating the strategic priorities to all staff. 

A friend asked if I knew what I was going to do before I left.  “NO” I just went with a suitcase of colored post it notes, a box of sharpies, markers for the white boards (that I installed my first year there) and a robust sense of humor!   My main goal was to fully engage everyone in meeting outcomes.  It worked.  At the end when they celebrated my time there.  I could honestly say “none of these fabulous ideas were mine”!  I’m most proud of that. 

I first sent them away in unlikely couplings that maximized creative brainstorming around a set of questions. We then came back together to consolidate the ideas and prioritize for those ideas that should focus FAME resources over the next five years. 

I believe this approach will be used long after I’m gone.  Anthony, running one of the best labs in Tanzania, likes to say when he sees me “brainstorm, consolidate, prioritize”.  He also told me that his family is doing a SP. 

Anthony and his lab team.

Gabriel, our lead doctor, said “we never waste time in your meetings”.  That was good to hear because the next set of meetings, to build out the workplan for each of the five strategic priorities, meant that managers and supervisors saw a lot of me over my three months there.

Dr. Gabriel and a white board.

In meetings, humor was always the special guest!  Once I suggested more whiteboards.  William said “if it was up to you we would have one in every room and I’m putting a stop to having them in the toilets”.  The room started in on brainstorming the productivity advantages to whiteboards in the toilets!  I have always said FAME toilets are so clean you could eat lunch in them so it spun out from there.  Having 12 siblings taught me the value of fun with a touch of chaos AND when to rein it in.

Started my training to lead meetings at the age of 4. Me on the left, sister Beverly and brothers Ken and Tom.

Ok, back to the work!  Once the strategic priorities were approved by the board, we convened a team of involved department heads and supervisors to determine activities and resources needed to advance each priority – the workplans. 

Grounds and housekeeping LOOKUP session.

Simultaneously, each department had a LOOKUP session.  These were based on the notion that success comes from alignment.  It comes when each member of an organization is focused on doing a specific job but when they look up they see the same thing.  This includes FAME‘s timeless mission, vision and values followed by the next five year’s strategic priorities.  We then did an activity – yes with colored post its and sharpies – around a set of questions.  What skills, knowledge, resources, etc. do you in your department (kitchen, housekeeping, reception, doctors, lab, pharmacy, etc.) need to advance these priorities?  Appreciation, for knowing the direction and the opportunity to provide input, was expressed across the board.  The sessions gave me a chance to remind each department how critical they are to all that FAME achieves. 

My head spins when I think about pulling out just one example.  But suffice it to say, “those spotless toilets are not the only place clean enough to eat lunch”.  Daily, floor too ceiling, cleanliness through out the hospital happened without hesitation. That included my house where Veronica and EVA spoiled me!

Vernonica and Eva who keep me clean and cared for especially when I was sick.

The folks in reception are hired from the hospitality industry and it shows.  Their warm welcome is part of the healing!

Check in here and take your seat in our outdoor waiting room!

Medical records has their very own priority ushering in data collection and analysis to support all aspects of patient care, administration, and accountability to funders.  

Medical Records Rock Stars

One of the strategic priorities is Plan for the Unexpected to ensure that the lessons from Covid inform future adverse events.  Each department met with nurse Anne’s husband Don, an engineer from Iowa who joined us for the last five weeks.  Thankfully he was eager to take on this big project with engineering precision!  I attended as many as I could and received the notes from all.  It broke my heart to hear of the challenges that covid presented to a limited resource environment with a government who did not allow using the word “covid”! 

Lessons learned with Don or Babu.

It was clear that the mission of “patient centered care”, was the driver of amazing creativity and resilience.  At the core was the approach to communication, particularly considering the government restrictions.  Following the guidance of the CDC and WHO, staff developed a framework for internal protective processes and proceeds.  All departments adopted the framework and spread it to the broader community through family, friends, churches, and other community organizations. When a patient was sent home to recover their family was taught how to care for them and protect the family.  They also educated other hospitals on their approach.

Chef and kitchen manager Samwell

Pharmacy lead by smarty Egbert, developed the internal production of cleaning solution, significantly reducing plastic bottle waste and cleaning supply costs. 


Kitchen changed from buffet to serving lunches and moved tables outside for social distancing and fresh air.  Handwashing stations are everywhere and will stay.  So many more examples demonstrate what happens when resourcefulness becomes a substitute for resources.

I’ll miss the best group of doctors and nurses on the planet. It was so great to see my old friends who have been there since my first trip and will never let me live down the jamba mishap. And the many new medical staff who are wonderful additions to the energy at FAME.

I can’t do this blog without a nod to many important sidekicks. 

Charlie and Meow joined me for lunch each day.
Ema – HR director and stand up comedian who was my interpreter with departments who needed translation to Swahili.
Sue our story teller. Check out her stories in the FAME website journal. https://fameafrica.org/journal
Valance who kept my technology mess ups to a minimum. 

AND my very smart and capable “Mini-Me” Prosper.  He will ensure follow through on all of the important decisions.  I would have been lost without him!

Sir Prosper

The three months was packed with opportunities, laughter and learning for me.  The commitment to learn and grow at FAME is beyond cool and I’m so proud to be part of it!  

Weekend Adventures in Tanzania

Yes, I say this every time but IT REALLY has been too long since my last blog.  So where to start…….  I’ll start with weekend stuff and follow-up with work next.  Work deserves its own blog.  The people and progress at work are too important to share space with weekend frivolity.

Let’s start with the hike yesterday.  Dr. Shama and Jacob from reception, organized a group for a 22 kilometer hike through the jungle to the rim of the Ngorongoro Crater.  Or, as I lovingly call it “the death march”.  One of our guides carried a rifle to scare off – not kill – any aggressive animals.  It was not needed.  The elephants and monkeys were busy with their daily tasks and barely noticed us.  We encountered some leopard poop on the trail but our guide Emma said “they are shy and will not come out”.  It was not an easy hike! 

Jacob and Dr. Adam Sahide and Alivia
The hikers!

As I was the oldest by 20 years, I heard more than once “if grandma can do this you can”.  I got lots of support from Jeorge, whose grandmother is my age.  When it was steep and slippery he took my hand. 

The grandson!

And Emma would say to the group “we are almost half way” (a six hour hike).  And then he would whisper to me “only two hours left”. 

Cedric and Emma our fearless guides.

We all gathered at Happy Days for a celebratory dinner and were joined by Dr. Mike’s Neuro team.  They are here from U Penn for a month doing neurology clinics both here and in villages.  This is a specialty not easily found here so the lines of people to be seen are impressive. 

Last weekend my friend Caroline parked her two little ones with the nanny and we headed off to Moshi.  There we met up with my friend Melora who is working there with a women’s NGO for 3 months.  I’d had a bit of a stress meltdown, so the 3 of us eating out, sampling the cocktails and playing gin rummy was everything I needed.  Oh and Moshi sits at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro so the view was not bad!


The weekend before I settled in here and got some time with Dr. Shama.  We did the walk to Karatu for the Lilac Café Greek salad – yes greens.  And we polished off a couple of bottles of wine in the evenings.  Shama is an infectious disease doctor with the CDC.  With her I have developed germaphobia!  I could give you so many examples, but one this morning put me over the top.  Over coffee she and Dr. Masya showed me a worm from a patient.  They said you can get it from walking barefoot.  Yikes I do that all the time…….  If she wasn’t such a great adventure side kick I would run the other way when I see her.  Oh yah, she said last night “check for ticks”.   Ugh……….


And the weekend before that my friend Melora and I met for a walking safari in Arusha National Park at the base of Mount Meru.  We stayed at the beautiful River Trees resort with great food, wine and nightly gin rummy.  The safari delivered a giraffe trifecta.  They came out in droves along the ridge line and right next to us on our walk.

With Rhamira our walking safari guide. She loves her job!

I think that pretty much gets us caught up on weekend adventures.  Next weekend my friend Annie is back from her safari in Chad and we are going to the Plantation for the weekend for some R&R.  It’s a beautiful place.  The following Saturday I catch my flight home.  Can it really be 3 months already?

Next blog will be the faces and work at FAME!

Never miss the Ngorongoro Crater

I can’t believe it has – again – been so long since I have written. That means I need to go back three weeks to our visit to the fabulous Ngorongoro Crater and then on a friend’s nearby boma.

When I first arrived in Tanzania it was hot and very dry. While discussing the lack of grass for cows at the Isotok boma, I promised the medicine man that I would do a rain dance. Yikes! It has been raining pretty much every day since.

So back to the Crater…..It had been a particularly rainy 48 hours so the road to the Crater was a slippery slide. It is red earth with sloping sides. We and the other safari trucks were stopped for an hour from cars and a bus slipping down to the ditch and waiting to be moved aside for traffic to flow. When we did move it was pole-pole (slowly in Swahili). Thankfully, we did a couple of stops with our guide Paul before we got on the road – a stop for pipi (candy) for the kids in the boma visit and then to Jambo Caffe for the best double shot cappuccino ever!

Finally we reached the Crater entrance and started the steep decline into one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

-It is also one of the places left to see black rhino.  We saw plenty but none close up. I’ve been to the Crater often and found it a great place for all animals (expect no giraffe there).  But the animals were huddled in warm dry places, out of our view.  I was bummed for Collyn since it was her first safari but it didn’t keep us from loving the beauty and hanging with the hippos when we ate our lunch.  And much to our delight, on the drive to the boma, we saw a huge elephant with well-developed tusks running in the field next to our truck!

Early afternoon we climbed out of the Crater and headed for Kitashu’s boma.  He is our Maasai social worker at FAME.  During the week he stays in Karatu but weekends goes home to the boma to be with his family.

One at a time…….please line up. I don’t know how to say that in Swahili🤔

When we arrived Kitashu was helping to deliver a baby so we kept ourselves busy handing out pipi while the kids sang for us.  Mom’s hung out in the back to ensure good behavior.  We also left two bags of sugar for the adults to use in their tea.  YIKES not sure those were good gifts for a boma with no dentist.


When Kitashu returned he took us into his home to meet his wife.  To our delight, she and a friend dressed us in traditional garb to dance for the community.   

How many cows would you pay for this?

When the festivities were finished Kitashu walked us to a lovely spot where we washed our hands and were served roasted goat – a very special treat.

Public health……………….

yummmm …… good goat

We made a gift to the boma for the kindergarten they are building.  Kids from the boma walk far to a school starting with primary grades.  Some say they don’t want to go.  But a kindergarten can get them excited about learning so when the time comes they are eager to go!

As we departed the women gave us a special gift.  It was quite a rewarding and satisfying day!

Poly poly, we left the crater area waiting for mud sliders to be moved!

Celebrate Retirement Tanzanian style

Always a couple of weeks behind on my blog I will need to start with Dr. Ivan, who started at FAME in the very beginning.  To celebrate his retirement in style and honor his part in the growth of FAME was a serious venture.  Dressed in our finest, we arrived at the designated venue at the precise time, or apparently one hour early in Tanzanian party time.   I am quickly learning how unfashionable it is to be punctual.   

Although the guests had not arrived, the blaring dance music was right on time.   The place was decorated for a royal wedding with even the chairs decked out and a high platform, bejeweled with lights, for Ivan and his wife.

Royally cool!

As the guests, and finally the guests of honor arrived, it was clear we had somehow moved to a place of great celebration. 

Ivan and his wife dancing in to their place of honor!

Dressed in their finest and out of uniform my friends were a kaleidoscope of personalities. Drinks in hand the speeches commenced, all without the cloak of brevity, they honored this great man for his work. 

The doctors gift. Ann in front in blue.

No celebration would be complete without Ivan and his wife cutting the cake and feeding it to select party goers who danced to earn their cake.  Dr. Ann grabbed me.  We have a history of going out to shake our bottoms at local establishments, so I knew it was my turn to dance for my desert.  

Next it was gifts from all hospital departments.  And, you guessed it, the gifts were danced to the royal couple.  Several hours in we had all earned the feast prepared by Sam, our hospital chef, and his amazing staff.


More gifts……

Heading home I was glad that Dr. G and I had decided, mid-party, to cancel our 7:30 AM session with the Doctors.  It was a quiet time at the hospital on Friday, except for the new born babies who did not get the message!

Next a visit to the fabulous Ngorongoro Crater and a friend’s nearby boma!

the party is over…..

For the past month I’ve been sharing a house with Collyn, Rose and Matilda the cat.  Charlie the dog occasional drops down for a quick hello, but mainly he and Meow stay at the hospital where they laze around until lunch, hoping for a piece of something to drop to the floor.  Next door is Nurse Anne from Iowa who has most of her meals here.  Nurse Brad (staying at Annie and Susan’s down the road) occasionally can be convinced to join.  

So our house has had end of the day happy hour on this fabulous outdoor patio (where I am now).  Our libation was mixed with laughter, personal and work talk, complete with meals delivered by Sam’s crew.   

At least once a day we found ourselves officing at the Lilac Café where the lattes and cappuccinos flowed and Lidia kept our tabs until they bloated and she was concerned we would skip town without paying!

Early in our stay Annie and Susan kicked us off with a wonderful dinner at their house, before they headed off to see friends in Nairobi.  Frank and Susan had a rocking cocktail party at their house.  Susan and I had fabulous gin and tonics – what a treat! 

Since I convinced Collyn to come for three weeks to do her much needed data and finance work, I wanted her to have the full experience.  (It worked, she stayed a full month and will certainly come back.) So our weekends have been full – Maasai, Hadzabe and Datoga tribes, Lake Eyase, and a great Ngorongoro Crater trip (next blog I promise).  We did lots of walks to Karatu with Anne to shop, eat and dodge the bling sellers and bajaji drivers who looked at us funny when we said “we just like to walk”!  On our 6 mile round trip, the road was strewn with CUTE kids who want to say “hello” and ask for pipi (candy in Swahili).

Rose left on Thursday, Friday we said goodbye to Brad and I made a final goodbye breakfast for Collyn this morning.   

GREAT, I did a full rotation on my TRX, some laundry and now listening to my favorite playlist on Spotify while working on this blog – all things that were sorely neglected – but I’m lonely.

Nurse Anne will no doubt wander over for a glass of wine and Sunday leftovers. AND tomorrow is Monday and I’m back to work with my favorite hospital staff on the planet!  Their specialty is healing broken hearts.  I love how they pronounce the E so I’m DianE or Kizito calls me Professor and one of the doctors, who thinks he is a comedian, still teases me with Jama!

Nurse Anne modeling the happy hour view from our outdoor room.
Annie and Brad at farewell dinner.
Rose in here fabulous new suit! Ms. Fashion
Racking up a tab at Lilac.
Matilda the pest and my new best friend.
Yesterday Anne and I did our final walk and lunch in Karatu with Collyn! 15,000 steps…..
Charlie and Meow say goodbye to Rose, Brad and Collyn.

A special thanks to Collyn for sharing her important expertise, for her easy immersion into the FAME culture and for leaving an everlasting mark on the “new day for data” at FAME!

I have two more months so lots to come! And we still haven’t debriefed on so much good work, Dr. Ivan’s retirement party, surviving giardia and the amazing day in the Crater!!! All coming soon!

Hadzabe Datoga Fun

It has been way too long since I last blogged! (Is that a verb?) I will catch up a bit while drinking chicken broth, my first sustenance since the onset of a wicked case of giardia…….YUCK MISERY!!!!

So lets go back two weeks to our visits with the Hadzabe and Datoga tribes.  Friday night we arrived at Ziwani on Lake Eyase where we each had our own castle…yes that’s correct. 

After a fabulous dinner we headed to bed with a 4:30 AM wake up call looming.  A quick cup of coffee and we were off with our guide navigating the bush highway to the middle of nowhere.  There we found the Hadzabe hunters around a fire, joking, laughing and passing around something suspicious.  Our guide said “they like their happy smoke”!  From the start they were super welcoming and fun. 

At sunrise we set off to hunt.  Sometimes walking and others running, we followed them through the bush while they scored mostly birds and small animals. 

Four and a half miles later we arrived back at their camp to meet some of the women and buy bling.  The hunters skinned a bird and put it in the ashes.  They offered it for a bit of breakfast …. Hummm not bad! 

We were invited to tour a tent.  They are hunter gathers so their homes are not meant to be permanent.  Our guide said they like photos of animals.  I showed them photos and videos from past safaris and my Rwanda hike with the silver backed apes.  They were beyond delighted pointing and making sounds to mimic the animals.  They had not seen apes so they were intrigued. 

My friend Collyn then showed them photo of US animals and that got lots of questions.  Our guide Joseph is Datoga and also spoke Hadzabe!

After a full morning we headed back to Ziwani for a late morning breakfast and then off to visit the Datoga tribe.  Here we were welcomed by the beautiful happy women of the tribe.  They invited us into their house where we mashed corn while they sang for us.  I congratulated them on a woman president and they joked about, now telling the men to mash corn if they want dinner.  They were a total blast!!!

The Datoga are known for their metal work.  They travel to dumpsites to collect anything metal…recycling wizards.  They have a process where it is melted and made in to jewelry, spoons etc.  The men take great pride in their work.

melting metals

carving bracelets

We went for the jewelry!

We headed back to Ziwani where we spent the rest of the day lazing in total comfort and a great dinner with our driver Ram.  Sunday Ram took us for a walk along Lake Eyase and we traveled back to FAME for a FULL week. 

More of what you have missed soon but my bed is calling me!

The Overachievers

The Overachievers

Like me, everyone here has a strong desire to learn or as I like to say “learning is in the FAME DNA”.   It’s what keeps me coming back. 

A bit of background…..in 2003 Foundation for African Medicine and Education started as a mobile clinic serving the rural Karatu region.  2006 the first 12 acres were purchased to build a hospital.  Much has happened since then with continuing progress in every aspect of the hospital.  There is a special focus on reproductive and child health with a new building started in 2017.  This is THE best place for prenatal care and delivery.  I love stopping in at the maternity center but need to give the new moms their privacy.  So I get my fill of cuteness on WELL BABY TUESDAY when parents bring kids for free checkups, vaccinations etc.  The hospital is overrun with adorable little ones.

One of the practices here that feeds the learning hunger is the volunteer program.  A volunteer is here to coach, improving the skills and confidence of the Tanzanian staff.  And I can say personally it is a profitable transaction for a volunteer. We learn things that are unique to this experience. It is rich in understanding culture, language and the hearts of people who live differently than us, but share the same inner workings.  One cavate for me is language.  Swahili gets stuck on my tongue and comes out unrecognizable and, too often, laughable.  Kind of like my first two weeks here in January 2018 when I said fart to everyone thinking I was saying hello.

The past two weeks I have referred to the heavy load of work that is now taking shape in the updated 5 year strategic priorities.  That process and more about the FAME overachievers in photos below. 

A robust SWOT exercise where the management team weighed in on the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to inform the strategic focus of FAME.
This is Dr. Adam leading a group of nurses through interpretation of lab results. It was a clear message that doctors and nurses are a team!
All here are living the FAME DNA!

Next blog I will describe the amazing weekend we had visiting the Hadzabe and Datoga tribes near Lake Eyasi!

Cows are everything…..worlds apart

Sandwiched between a robust first week of meetings and the upcoming “booked solid” week, we headed out for a bit of the two Tanzanias. We took an overnight at Isoitok a tented camp that allows a glimpse into the daily life of a Mahsi boma. In almost every way the boma is the simplist of living, where any developed world opionions about how to live and be happy must be set aside. We ended the weekend at Gibbs farm where the natural beauty of Africa marries western comforts for privilaged safarians. Fabulous food at both places.

My time in the boma was part wonder for the creativity and resilence and part heartbreak for the women. We started with the smiley care takers at Isoitok and medicine man, Ruben. After settling in our comfy bush tent Ruben took us on a medicine walk that ended at the top of “little Kilimanjaro”.

Ruben used his machete to make a tooth brush with tooth pick end. Hmmm good idea! We heard about trees that offered every remedy.

We hiked to the top of little Kilimanjaro with a stunning view of Lake Manyara. He then served cold wine and a tasty snack that appeared from his backpack. Finaly back to the camp for a delicious dinner and great wine!

The next morning Ruben made the journey with us to the boma in his shoes make from mortor bike tread. Comfortable and sturdy ……..
Ruben told us that the cow is everything in the Mashi community. It is used for meat, blood, beds, even a wedding dress and more. These cows were left in the boma pen because they are too weak to go for food. The lack of rain required a long walk to get the little grass available to eat so only the healthy made the journey.
But I learned it was the women who were everything. They build their house where they live with their children, cook, care for children and the young daughters – sadly – bring a dowery of cows to increase the herd for the boma.
The wives are also entrepreneurs who sell their wares.
They were very willing models that allowed me the opportunity to capture the beautiful colors on my different settings!
And then on to a late lunch, a few miles away, at Gibbs – the other Africa. An interesting weekend to be sure.

Next post I will bring you up to speed on our work at the hospital. Really good stuff…………….