The Magical Mystery Tour Continues!!!

Our magical mystery tour continues to take us away!!! I guess I can’t expect anyone to really understand the experience we are having.  I’m not sure I understand the impact fully myself.  All I know is that it is deep, spiritual, profound and it has changed the lives of The Lewis Boys.

Since our last blog, we had the Art Festival at Creative Solutions, the school where the boys and I have been working in Mangapwani, Zanzibar.

What a great time!  Jackson and I were in charge of the children’s games.   We filled coke bottles up with sand and had a bean-bag toss to knock them off a pedestal.  We also had jam jars that you had to toss bottle caps into to win prizes.  The kids loved it.

There was amazing local art, performance and dance, face painting and food.  The villagers from all around came from near and far to participate.  

The sense of community was like my memories of summer camp.  Lots of interaction, conversation, laughter, games, food, stories and more.  And then it was late evening and it was over….  Fun was had by all.  We slept well that night under our protective mosquito nets, having eaten our fill and done the dance.


Saying good-bye to my class at Creative Solution was once again excruciating.  I had learned to love each and every one of them.  We were and are a family.  We have shared our life stories with each other, our struggles, our victories, laughed our heads off and, all the while, I did my best to teach them English…. And they in turn, taught me some Swahili.


The warm nights sitting around big wooden tables in open-air huts quizzing my eager pupils on the names of the continents, action verbs, and adjectives will stay in my heart for years to come.  And you know what?  We never finished class on time…ever.   We always ran over and we didn’t want it to end.  Most of them lived miles away and would walk home by foot at 11pm at night.  I would go to bed exhausted but so incredibly satisfied with a renewed sense of purpose.


I took a day off and went into Stone Town.   Mbarouk, our fearless leader, visionary, and man I am happy to call my friend,  took me into to town on the back of his scooter.  It takes about 1 hour…. On dirt roads through some of the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen.  He introduced me to his mother who lives in the center of Stone Town in a small concrete home… though she and I couldn’t speak each other’s language, we “got each other” and she made me laugh and I adored her.



I managed to get a box shipped home and ran a few errands for the school and then went on an adventure through the narrow alleys of historical Stone Town.

It was a hub for the slave trade back in the day and has an “old world” feel.  Little carts and tiny shops selling spices, fruits, vegetables, art and souvenirs…  All with an ocean breeze and wonderfully kind people smiling and trying to speak English with you.


Jackson misses the ocean…. Jumping off huge rocks into the waves…  He misses his nursery school class that each morning pounced on him… and pulled his hair and hugged on him and made him laugh constantly.

And Buck misses the cats, the chickens, the puppies, collecting bottle caps, getting up early and hanging out with his pal, Mbarouk. He misses Marina, Asha, and Margaret and his pal, Kibopa.


We all miss our friend, Kibopa…the coolest guy.  He is the main English teacher there, and an artist in his own right, from the mainland of Tanzania.  He will be a life-long friend for sure.  He took the time with the boys and I to explain so much of the Tanzanian culture to us.  He had also lived in America so he was familiar with our world as well.  He cooked great french fries from scratch and helped both Jack and Buck with homework.  We had the great pleasure of meeting his daughter Marina, as well.  She came over from the mainland to hang with her dad and us.  She is an amazing artist and a blast to be around.


Also Margaret… the girl with all the joy!   The maker of puppets and a great actress who did a performance at the Art Festival that nearly made me wet my pants.  Thanks for making every day fun and energetic.  We miss you yelling… “J.D….. Jambo… Habari!”.  And Asha and Khamis…. We miss you guys too!

And another honorable mention…. One of my favorite students, Mr. Abdollah.  What an amazing man.  He’s the man who showed up each night most prepared and ready to work.  He invited Jack and I to go visit his Bee Farm.  We donned our bee outfits and visited the hives in the swampy beach forest.  It was remarkable… then a tour of his local school, the beach where he and his family opened fresh coconuts with knives and offered us refreshing coconut milk, and then back to his home where his entire family greeted us with a sit down snack of delicious food laid out traditionally on mats on the floor in their home.  So cool.

Thank you, Mr. Abdollah.  I was so fortunate to spend time with this man who works so hard in his community to make a difference, runs a large family and still had the time and energy to come to English class a few miles away for his house.  You are the best.

Our Zanzibar memories are so embedded  deeply in our hearts.  Talk about “The Love Revolution”.  We couldn’t have been made to feel more welcome.  The good news is Creative Solutions, Mbarouk, Kibopa, Marina, Margaret and the rest…. We will all see each other again, that much I know.  It is most certainly not our last outing to Zanzibar.


After tearful good byes, we headed to the mainland of Tanzania to spend a few days off for Xmas… just the boys and I.  We had originally made a reservation at a hotel on a little island off the coast of Bagamoyo.  Imagine our surprise when we arrived to find that they were overbooked and didn’t honor our reservation.  And just a day before Christmas.  Arghhh…  Shame on the Lazy Lagoon!!

But knowing that the North Pole had an eye on us and feeling certain that we were on “The Nice List”,  we were lead by the North Star to great accommodation at the Traveler’s Lodge on the beach in Bagamoyo.  It ended up being perfect and Santa Claus managed to find us nonetheless.


We went and visited 13th century ruins and walked around Bagamoyo, a little beach village.  The boys and I met up with some of the local artists in the village and they showed Buck and Jack the ropes of Tanzanian wood carving. Very cool!   The Christmas spirit prevailed even though being in a Muslim country, there was little Yule tide décor.


Now we have arrived in Nairobi and have been swept away to Kisii  (western Kenya) where we have joined Don Howard of Rotary International to work with students from 8 different schools in the area.  But that’s the next blog by week’s end.

Also, next week, we are being visited by our dear friends (more like family, really), Uncle Bo and Uncle Ed. They are coming from Charlotte to meet us here in Nairobi and then we will continue on with them to Cape Town, South Africa to continue our work at an HIV orphanage.  Very excited.  It will be nice to see some of our local tribesmen and apparently they are bringing us some “western world” supplies…. like Aleve, Clif Bars, etc.

Know that we are safe, missing the homeland, wishing you all a very happy, healthy New Year and we will see you later in 2012!   Let the spirit of giving be on your list of New Year’s Resolutions….  Help some one near or far…. There’s a world out here who are in  desperate need  of a helping hand.   Let me know if you need suggestions.   I’ve got tons!!!!  Love you all.

Oh!   Watch out for The Parade Magazine next week, they are doing an article on us in their up-coming issue… and check out our interview on NPR.  (We are the 2nd half of the show.)

Thank you for all your support!  The New Year has amazing things in store!  xxjd







Posted by JD in Tanzania, 9 comments

Jambo from Zanzibar!!!

White sandy beaches, warm tropical breezes, the sound of rain on tin roofs, bustling markets with the smell of cumin and cinnamon, brilliant colored vegetables and yes, the stench of the fresh catch of the day… wide-open smiles with sparkling white teeth, dark brown skin, the vibrant kangas (the women’s clothing)… then add the sounds of Swahili and laughter in the air… We are indeed in Africa…  Zanzibar, to be exact.

This island is famous for being a hub of the Arab slave trade back in the 18th and 19th century and, of course, known worldwide for its spices and beautiful beaches.

The pace is slow.  They call it TIA…  “This is Africa”.  And they have a phrase called, “ Pole Pole” (pronounced Paulie, Paulie), meaning “slowly, slowly”.  Not an easy task for a westerner who has been taught that faster and more efficient is better.  But I am learning.

The boys and I have arrived on this lush oasis off the coast of mainland Tanzania in east Africa.  We were welcomed with open arms by Creative Solutions, an art school in the small village of Mangapwani built by Aida Ayers and Mbarouk Saad.  Here, children and adults are offered all kinds of educational opportunities.  I am currently teaching English in an open-air classroom, and Jackson and Buck are helping run the pre-school group.  The kids are so angelic, creative, available and joyful.

Currently, we are preparing for an art fair on the 17th of December, which will bring the locals together to sell their wares and share their art.

Our work here is especially gratifying, as each student is sincerely eager to learn. To master English here on Zanzibar is to open up a multitude of life possibilities and opportunities.  Farming and the tourist trade are two of the major industries here, and English is essential for the success in either field. All of my students (10 to 30), depending on the day, have managed to steal my heart.  We talk in broken English and they try to teach me Swahili…they fascinate me.  We talk about farming, how they hook up their ox to their carts, raising goats, how they pick the Jack Fruit off the trees… We talk about futbol, and music ( one’s favorite called “Bongo Favor”)…and we drink Coca-Cola, Orange Fanta and Stoney Tangawizi (my new favorite – it tastes like spicy Ginger Ale)…. And the best part is we laugh our heads off.

This small village offers little opportunity other than farming, but the locals do their best to eek out a living.  To have some land and an ox, cow, goat or chickens is to live well.  Again the thing that strikes me most, is the joy in which they live.

Creative Solutions is a vital part of Mangapwani, offering a haven for those who want to improve their lives. With a small staff of teachers and helpers, this place is making a huge difference.  They function on a very small budget but they are certainly not compromising on the education they are providing.  Twelve In Twelve is committed to help this school.  Anyone interested in organizing simple books for their library or even pencils, pens and paper or composition books, please let me know.  They are functioning with the bare necessities and need help in every area, whether supplies, monetary donations, and/or volunteers.  They have plans to expand the facility by adding a second classroom.  Currently the adult classes and children’s classes are held under the same roof.

On our down time, the boys and I head down the road to the beach.  Not your average beach.  I know I am prone to painting extravagant visuals, but this beach is picture postcard perfect.  White sand, turquoise blue water, seashells still in tact, sand crabs scurrying sideways and deep blue skies with billowing clouds.  Words don’t do it justice.  Just know that when we are there, the boys and I look at each other with this grin of “Holy Cow!”.  Sometimes we will be walking down the road in this euphoric tropical setting and Jackson will look just look at me and say, “Dad….  We are on Zanzibar in East Africa”.  And we will all three just get it!

Last weekend we went into Stone Town.  Jackson, Buck and I took a Dolla-Dolla.  That’s a sort of bus/taxi that is filled to the brim with people.  There were so many people crammed in that little bus that eight people were hanging on the outside of it, Jackson being one of them.  It was a crazy adventure.  Buck and I managed to get to a seat inside peering across at men, women and children staring and smiling at us.  A beautiful feeling… boiling hot, but beautiful, nonetheless.

We are on the journey of a lifetime.   And the good news is we know it.  The people we have met, the sights we have seen, the experiences we have shared together… it has all been extraordinary and life altering.  And not just the pleasant parts either.  We have been given the opportunity to experience the poverty, the need, the less fortunate, those just trying to survive…  the hungry, the sick, the poor, the crippled, the lepers and the orphaned. This is a sacred journey that will stay with us forever.  When I say that we will never be the same, it sounds trite.  But I feel it and I know my sons do too.  The world is a big place full of different cultures and customs… But we are members of the human race with hearts, with pain, with joy, with needs, with hope, with the will to survive.   We are all in this together.   I hope that our volunteering in each of these places so far has been of some help.  I think it has…   and there is so much more to do.

Until soon….









Posted by JD in Tanzania, 9 comments