Diary account brings Tanzania trip to life

Karen Lerpiniere in Tanzania
Karen Lerpiniere in Tanzania

A SWINTON woman has won a writing competition for her account of a day spent doing community work in Tanzania.

Karen Lerpiniere set off for east Africa with Foulden’s Hugo Sanders in September as part of a working party with the Vine Trust for what turned out to be the experience of a lifetime.

They were inspired by their two children, Elizabeth and Joe, who had previously raised money and travelled to Peru with the same charity as part of a Eyemouth and Berwickshire High School team.

The Vine Trust started work in Tanzania in 2011, building a home for 40 children, a school for 300 and smaller homes where adults can live with orphaned children within a community.

It was this community work within the Moshi area of Tanzania, in the foothills of Mount Kilimanjaro, that Karen, a psychiatric nurse currently working at Kelso Health Centre, and Hugo, an architectural technician, helped with during their visit.

On her return home, Karen wrote about her experience, and her diary entry for September 13, 2012, won first prize in the Vine Trust’s writing competition.

Here is her account of one day in Tanzania and her thoughts and feelings about her experience:

OCTOBER 2, 2012

First day back at work after the trip. Driving in, I’m thinking, “What was I doing this time two or three weeks ago?” Oh yes...

SEPTEMBER 13, 2012

5am and I’m woken by the Adhan (the call to prayer).

6am and I’m fighting with my mosquito net to get out of bed.

8am and I’m joyfully singing Kumbaya with the rest of the group, Mama Dafrosa and her staff to start the day.

10am and I’m discussing Cognitive Behavioural Therapy with Mama Louie in the Dala Dala (a minibus taxi) on the way to Kwa Sadhala where we’re helping to build a house for Mama Elizabeth and her family, marvelling at all the sights and sounds along the way.

11am and I’m shovelling soil from the trench that’s being dug for the foundations of the house

Midday and I’m picking up stones from the African plains with a Maasai Tribesman for the foundations of the house , watching dazzlingly beautiful azure birds flitting between the amazing trees.

1pm and I’m eating fried chicken and hard boiled egg in the African sun, looking at the snowy peak of Kilimanjaro rising above the clouds in the blue, blue sky.

2pm and I’m learning to ululate with the local mamas.

3pm and I’m engaged in an international exchange - “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” from us to the children in English and back again in Swahili.

5pm and I’m back under the mosquito net trying to have a wee nap before going out to eat, but reeling from the day’s experiences...

If I had to choose just one word to describe the trip, I would have to make one up and it would have to be something like ‘surwhelmingami’ – a tsunami of surreal and overwhelming experiences. But even that wouldn’t cover it.

Because it wouldn’t tell you how beautiful the children are; how warm, loving, welcoming, respectful and courteous the people are; how dignified, despite their appalling circumstances; how determined to make things better for themselves and their children; how happy.

It wouldn’t convey to you the majesty of Kilimanjaro; the staggering beauty of Ngorongoro Crater; the Slumdog Millionaire –like assault on your senses of the streets of Moshi; the incredible girth of the baobab trees; the I’m-going-to-have-to-nip-myself-now sight of elephants, giraffes, wildebeest, buffalo, hyena, gazelle, rhino, hippo, simba (lions) on safari.

It wouldn’t capture the tragedies that some of the children have to endure here; the squalor of their living conditions; the poverty and suffering; and it wouldn’t tell you the first thing about the hope, faith, belief, vision, aspiration, inspiration, sense of possibility and potential that flourish in such unlikely surroundings.”

It wouldn’t tell you how much fun it is to be connected to by the Vine Trust to help change lives; what a privilege and an honour it is to have such an opportunity or how easy it is just to make that decision to be part of it.

It wouldn’t tell you anything like going to see for yourself.