Sunday, December 27, 2015

Here's to a New Year

Tracy & Kelly - Team OMAAT
Hope you all had a good 2015.  Bet you didn't think you'd ever hear from me again.  In all honesty, I wasn't sure either.  I'd been meeting with a book editor this year who has been encouraging me to publish a book, but it's been slow going.  My writing came to a screeching halt.  He'll be happy to see me writing today for the first time in over a year.

Just to recap... 2013 & 2014 were such massive years, so it's probably not surprising that I needed all of 2015 to recover from them.  I spent all of 2013 training to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest free standing mountain in the world.  I did the climb (and got to the summit) in September 2013 and spent an additional 5 weeks in Africa.

In July 2014, I flew from NZ to Vancouver, bought a van and drove over 5,000km across Canada in 60 days collecting warm winter clothing and school supplies to (somehow) ship to Tanzania (I wasn't sure how I was going to do it but thought I'd figure it out when I got there) for the Porters of Mt. Kilimanjaro and for the orphans and Maasai children. You have no idea how many people told me I was crazy and had no idea how difficult and next to impossible that was going to be.  I never listen and I do what I want.

Kelly Friis taking inventory in her garage
I reconnected with my old high school friend Kelly Friis who convinced her husband to allow me to sort the items in their garage. Kelly was adopted so she had a personal interest in the work I was doing.  She shared the story with her friends and ended up doubling the amount!  This woman is a serious super-star.  She has a heart of gold.  I'm incredibly lucky that she is part of the One Mountain At A Time team now.  I couldn't do any of this without her.

Mama Zara, the owner of Zara Tours & Zara Charity, knew someone in the import/export business who ships things to Tanzania regularly, he offered to help us get the items to Africa.  It all came together.  Kelly and her hubby got everything ready to ship and I boarded a plane for Tanzania.

I spent the next 3 months working with Zara Charity on all of their various community projects plus others that I discovered and got involved in as well (and ultimately introduced to Zara Charity who now support them).

  • I spent a month in the Mount Kilimanjaro Porter's Society office getting to know the needs of the men and women of the mountain
  • I spent my evenings and a number of day trips visiting the children at Kilimanjaro Orphanage
  • I visited the elderly
  • I spent time with Bibi (the medicine woman) healing people in the village with my Magic Hands and learning about African herbal medicine
  • I initiated the Mattress Project at the orphanage - raising enough funds to buy brand new mattresses for every bed (45 total) plus two new bunk beds.
  • I found new, worthy charitable projects to get behind and connected them to existing projects for support and mentorship 
  • I visited a school for the disabled where the Albino children are also protected from harm
  • I gave English lessons to staff and helped to update and edit the Zara websites
  • I trained staff in massage and spa techniques
  • I spent time with the Maasai in different regions learning about their culture and ways to help with their education
  • I met with the nuns of Kisikahaba to discuss community outreach and visited hospitals and medical centres
  • I facilitated and helped distribute donations of sporting goods and school supplies to various schools and children's centres
  • I organized the Dreamer's & Doers books to be sold in all Zara Properties, with 100% of the profits going to Zara Charity 
  • I went to a Poaching Protest 
  • I participated in an AIDS Awareness run with AIDS orphans
  • I watched a 10 year old boy die from AIDS (which he contracted on the street from being raped by drug addicts as a toddler)
  • I took photographs, sharing everything on social media

That's a brief overview.  The time I spent in Tanzania was incredibly productive and extremely rewarding.  I made so many friends who became family.  I was a different person in Africa, it didn't matter that my skin was white because inside I was a black woman.  I felt like I'd connected to my primal soul and reconnected to my authentic self.

I was given freedom to choose the projects I was called to work on.  Mama Zara was my mentor, she trusted my instincts and supported everything I did.  I loved that woman.  She is an incredible role model and I was so grateful to have her unconditional support.
Zulfa and I in the MKPS office

I worked directly with Zulfa who became a sister to me.  Zulfa works in the Porter's office but she also does a lot of work for Zara Charity as well.  She was so dedicated to her work and always smiling.  I enjoyed working with her so much. I'm sure the feeling is mutual (judging by the look she's giving me in the photo).  Zulfa often told me how good I was at making things happen.  She told me that I accomplished more in my first three weeks than she was able to accomplish in three years!  That's the power of social media and being well connected to people around the world.  Zulfa was a single mother, working hard to provide for her daughter and her family.  She brought me to the market one afternoon where she bought a half a dozen shirts and trousers for her father for his birthday and posted them to him in Dar Es Salaam.

Zulfa wanted to do her Master's Degree at university but she was nervous about the fees.  I told her to sign up, to trust that the money would come.  I was teaching her the power of intention and manifestation.  She took my advice and enrolled in university.  Within a few months the father of her child came back into her life, realizing what a mistake he made.  He's supporting his family and paying her tuition. They are getting married tomorrow (December 28th).  I'm delighted for her.

The three months flew past.  I was conflicted because half of me wanted to stay and the other half was ready to return to New Zealand.  My life in New Zealand was packed up in boxes and stored away, I had no "home" to return to.  I was exhausted and run down.  I'd contracted a virus while I was in Africa and when I finally got back to NZ, I crashed. I'd been gone for 6 months and traveled around the globe.  I didn't know how I was going to pay my bills or rent because most of my clients had moved on.  Going away that long was committing business suicide.  Lucky for me, I have the most loyal clients on earth.  I am very very blessed.

The doctors didn't know what virus I'd contracted but it had definitely affected my heart.  There was evidence of damage on the ECG and they suspected I'd had a minor heart attack while I was away.

I had so much work to do but no energy whatsoever.  I found a furnished house to rent while my stuff remained stored away.  I just didn't have the energy to move and unpack.  I felt very unsettled and unsure of where I was meant to be.  This is one of the disadvantages of being so adaptable... my heart breaks a little more every time I connect with people and then have to leave.  I'm convinced it wasn't a heart attack at all, but more likely heartbreak.

My body was experiencing adrenal fatigue.  I had no energy so I slept a lot and when I wasn't sleeping, I felt chronically depressed (even though I wasn't depressed, I was just really really really tired).  Returning from the Western world was too much of a contrast from the work and life I was living in Africa. 

I also experienced writer's block.  I had so much to say but I couldn't write it down.  It was all very frustrating.  I'd lost my mojo - big time.

I wonder how much of that also had to do with the fact that the container carrying all the stuff from Canada was taking much longer than expected to get to Tanzania.  I was starting to lose hope that it would get there at all.  I'd been warned about the corruption at African ports, I'd seen it myself when people sent items via Air Freight.  I had people constantly asking me if it was there yet and I had to tell them that I hadn't heard a word.  I felt like I let people down and it was a terrible feeling.  I knew I'd done my best and that it was out of my hands but I was secretly disappointed in myself for believing I could do what everyone said was impossible.

I gained nearly 10kg too.  No energy, no exercise and eating far too much chocolate and carrot cake (comfort food).  I tried to climb the Mount (which I could easily do, twice) and I barely made it halfway.

Despite my exhaustion, I moved into a permanent rental, enrolled myself in a 36 week Money Management course and learned about Trusts, Property investment, Stocks and Shares, setting up a Will, etc.  I've also started a Life Coaching Course.  I'm preparing myself for whatever is coming next.  I've been going with the flow and accepting that whatever comes across my path is meant for me.  I'm still a yes person... just a tired one.

Zulfa sorting some of the school supplies which were delivered to the Maasai Pre-school in Ngorongoro
Then in September (2015) I got the news that the container had arrived!  It was 7 months later than originally expected.  I couldn't believe it.  Mama Zara had to send people to Zanzibar to collect it from customs.  It was a big deal and one that ended up costing thousands of dollars in customs fees and land transfer costs.  But it brought so much joy and happiness to the communities and NGO's I wanted it to get to.  Mama appointed Zulfa in charge of sorting out the items and distributing them on my behalf.  She did an absolutely amazing job.  It was a pretty major feat!  The items went a long way, I couldn't believe how much we sent.  Every day Zulfa sent me photos of the different people the items were given to and remembering that it was me who sent it.  It was very emotional.

The importer/exporter felt so good helping that he offered to do it again.  I spoke to Kelly in Canada and suggested doing another collection next year but when she heard that he had another container leaving in a few weeks she enthusiastically set out to collect school supplies to send over in time for Christmas. She's like an energizer bunny.  Her goal was to collect about 10 boxes of supplies which she figured would be easy enough.  Within 2 weeks she had collected 27 boxes of school supplies and exercise books, a whole school science lab (microscopes, teachers manuals and textbooks), soccer balls  and more.  Again I was just amazed at what this woman is capable of doing!  She's so incredible.

This science teacher gave us a whole lab including textbooks
Kelly got in touch with Chance to Play Charity

Mama Zara isn't getting involved in this shipment for good reason. I've been working at finding large sponsors to repay Zara Charity but unfortunately timing isn't great as everyone is helping the Syrian Refugee crisis. I feel indebted until that money is raised (about $4,000USD).

Instead, our importer/exporter guy (who's name is Yaquob) is going to help clear this current container from customs and deliver it. Kelly started a Go Fund Me page to help raise funds and so far we have $900 of the estimated $1,500 it will cost once it arrives. The container is due to arrive in a couple of weeks so any extra I will pay out of my savings.

Kelly and I have got some good contacts in Canada who would love to see this project continue. We've started something really amazing which is helping connect communities to each other. Yes, sending money directly to Africa would be easier but money doesn't "connect" us on a personal level.  We are sending them "pre-loved" items that can't be bought in Africa.  They are coming from families who want to see a child who has absolutely nothing, enjoy something their own children loved.

What I have found is that when people give us their things, they want to know who is enjoying them. That's the connection. People are so attached to their "stuff" in the Western world, their "stuff" becomes personal. "Stuff" equals love. People think they don't have a lot of money to give but they certainly have more stuff than they need. Our world is sick. Consumerism can ruin people's lives.

The Maasai children given books, toys and shoes
Supporting an entire community in remote Ngorongoro

This project builds a bridge... by helping the people who are so attached to "stuff" to become conscious and start sharing what they really don't need with others who do.  

I truly believe this is going to bring communities together. As people connect, even if it's through inanimate objects, we are creating relationships.

I saw it first hand when I collected that first container load. People were so excited to see who was getting their things. Children who didn't want to part with their favourite shoes (even if they didn't wear them) were happy to know they were going to a kid in Africa who didn't have a mum or dad and never owned shoes in their life. The Western child felt a deep connection to another child through a pair of Nikes... or a favourite doll... or whatever.  This small act of kindness reprograms a child from selfishness to selflessness.

Papa Joe with his new ruck sack and shoes
Imagine if every year we get one school to give us their old microscopes and textbooks or their old computers? Eventually we will have created a new school in Africa.  That's just one school! There's an opportunity here to reach out to many more.

I know I dream big, I can't help it. Together we can do this. It's really achievable. Besides, I want to get back to Africa as soon as possible.

I saw my friend Dr. Anna Rolleston for a cardiac assessment at the Cardiac Clinic.  I saw her before I climbed Kilimanjaro because I needed reassurance that I could do it.  Most doctors advised me of the risk (due to my high blood pressure and unusual heart condition).  Anna is a different kind of doctor, she knew I was going to do it regardless of what anyone said.  She told me to go for it, because she understands that life is short and it's meant to be lived to the fullest.  Unfortunately I never had a post assessment, which is a shame because when I got back after the climb in 2013, I was in the best shape of my life.  Unfortunately I stopped training after that.  So when I saw her a couple of months ago, I told her that I felt worse than ever.  She hooked me up and ran my test, my blood pressure was at an all time high of 220/180.  It was the kick in the butt I needed to lose weight and get my health back on track.

Slowly, slowly I am building up my cardio and weights thanks to Anna and her team.  I'm finally getting my energy back.  I asked my trainer last week if I could step it up a notch and he kindly reminded me that I am recovering from adrenal fatigue.  Oh right... thanks for reminding me.

After 6 weeks, my blood pressure is reducing at a steady rate.  I can't take medication because I have a very low heart rate so if I take a blood pressure tablet, my heart rate drops even lower and I feel more tired.  The answer for me is exercise and relaxation.  We are working on balancing my sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems through interval training.  It's incredible how exercise impacts blood pressure.  I'll have to write about that.

I need my strength back.  There's a lot of work to do, communities to support and lives to change.

2016 is going to be a very good year.

If you'd like to help us help them, go to our Go Fund Me page to donate.

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