Monday, January 31, 2011

beach bums

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Back before sickness struck I took Annikah and crew to the beach to survive a power outage afternoon and they enjoyed sand, sun, and sillyness. They did not even mind the scorching hot sand and dirty water (the winds and tides have changed making for some mucky water round these parts). Nope, for 3 little watoto it was all fabulous fun. And I loved taking pictures of the adventures.....
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and we are never without an interested audience...
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Sunday, January 30, 2011

we're back

We arrived home last night after a long day that proved to be a bit restful (lunch at our favorite restaurant) and a bit stressful (sitting in traffic in a steamy car and a delayed plane meaning entertaining hungry and tired children for way too long). But we made it back and the only thing we forgot (at least we think) was the 4 dollar on sale box of Rice Crispies we bought and were pumped about which although tragic we can live without. We had hoped that because our plane was delayed and it was already dark we could sneak into our house without being detected but no-go. Before we even got out of our friend's car neighbors were coming over to check in and we were welcomed by an entourage of shule watoto throwing flower petals and celebrating our arrival (how in the world they knew we were coming back then I will never know...maybe they were prepared and then saw us pull in and made a dash to be the welcome committee). Everyone helped us carry our luggage in and after hearing the sorted details about Miss Evy they told us they prayed for us and said we should go rest. It was special and warmed my tired and a bit beaten down heart. I am so amazed at the girls and their ability to be resilient and Anni's ability to "go with the flow." She had a fabulous time on "our adventure to Dar" as we called it since "emergency sickness evac" was already taken. She just loves family time and exploring new places. We had some time this morning to pray for protection against these sicknesses and be together just worshipping our Lord and thanking Him for His provision, care, and love. And that was good. Really good. Evy is back to her Warrior Princess ways and we are all resting, cleaning, and tackling the mounds of laundry left in the wake of a week of chaos and travel. Tumerudi salama. (we returned peacefully).

Anni and Evy LOVED the dogs at the house we stayed at....
but poor Anni had an allergic reaction and was banned from playing with them after her eye swelled up (luckily we were staying with a doctor!) and she is fine now.
they even had baby turtles at their house.....
adventures I tell you....

Thursday, January 27, 2011

the down side....

Lots of days I write about how much we are learning, how amazing this place is, and how much I feel enriched and alive by living and working here. And mostly that is how I feel and want to share the abundance and gratitude we feel. But there is a down side. And right now it is kicking our collective butts.

I finally got online today after 3 days to lots of emails with amazing words of encouragement, prayers, concerns, and some FB junk (honestly stop inviting me to gigs in Chicago I LIVE IN AFRICA..ok, now that is off my chest). We are in Dar again. It was an emergency. Again. For Evy. I am honestly so tired physically and emotionally that I make no claims this post will make sense at all but I just wanted to express my gratitude for to everyone that has uttered a prayer from far away, called, sent a message, or thought of our family this week.

Short version....Evy, Anni, and I all were sick on Sunday with fevers so we rallied, drugged up, and had snuggle fests watching movies on the laptop and tired our best to hide from visitors who found out we were sick and had to stop over to visit. We thought things were getting better but Monday Evy's fever went very high and remained high. We found out about a Danish doctor on the island who came to look at all of us on Monday and recommended we watch her carefully and control the fever with the stash of children's ibuprofen and Tylenol we had sent out after the last sickness debacle. Then after many hours of fever the doctor recommended we take her to a local hospital to get blood tests but also said if she continued to be sick since there was nothing he could really do on the island for her if she got sicker. We sat forever at the hospital amidst tons of locals and finally squeezed our way into the lab and had her blood drawn. No malaria. No typhoid. Supposedly everything was fine. On Tuesday morning her fever spiked to over 105 and she was listless and obviously her little body was wrecked with sickness. We were panicked she would have another seizure and made a quick decision that I would take her to Dar on the plane to avoid being stuck on our island if something else happened. Anyone who has ever held their sick baby knows how much your heart aches, how desperate your prayers become, and I was there once again. This is really true no matter where you are but here we live where the weight of decisions like this are so difficult because if you fail to act you could be in a situation that would quickly become an emergency. And for us to be honest this sickness stuff is grating on us. We know it is meant to discourage us and steal our joy and are battling to not allow that but we just feel so wrecked when our kids are hurting and when we have few options to help them.

After getting to Dar, and waiting thru over an hour of traffic in the back of a sweaty cab I arrived at the clinic with her. My cab driver was a complete rockstar though as after he heard she had a high fever and was really sick he drove down the wrong side of the road and asked some military people for help escorting us through what could have been at least 2 hours of traffic. He also then waited for us at the clinic to hear how she was. Awesome. Evy feel asleep in my lap and finally rested in the cab. After arriving the doctor ran tests and we now know she has a bacterial infection that showed up in very high white blood cells but no malaria or typhoid. We also know we really cannot rely on any clinical diagnostic tests on the island since we have now experienced false negatives, wrong medicine prescriptions, and complete lack of care. This is yet another reason my heart breaks for people here. Yes, we had to use money we were saving for a vacation, we are totally freaked out, and inconvenienced for the entire week BUT we have options. And we can help our children if they are really sick.

So after the test results we started the antibiotic injections. After the first day and night (with me sleeping next to her on the floor most of the night since I had no pack-n-play and she needed meds every 3 hours) I took her back the next morning but her fever spiked again and she screamed straight for almost 2 hours before crying herself to sleep. Poor baby. At this point in my complete exhaustion I called Jason and begged him to come over since I was not handling everything and really had not put the baby down for 2 days. I was desperate for reinforcements; for someone to write down the doctor's advice, pay the cab driver, make food. We are a team and I needed him. He was in the midst of craziness with Anni's school bus breaking down but agreed to head out after packing some more clothes for me and Evy and grabbing everything he needed. He and Anni arrived yesterday and we all went back to the doctor today. After getting injections for 3 days Evy is doing better, she is eating and drinking again. We are staying here though until we are sure she is better. For me that means no fever and acting like her Mtundu self. No heading back island side just yet. Plus, we are even hoping to take Anni to a pool to somehow redeem an otherwise very stressful trip. We have stayed with friends near the clinic and now are at some friends of friends a little farther out but with more room. It is actually very quiet even which is amazing and everyone has been so generous in housing and feeding our freeloading selves. Emails from many of you and neighbors and friends calling everyday to check in and assure us they are "ombea dua" (saying special prayers) for us has made us remember we are part of a family, a community. Which makes us know we are loved from afar and from a couple hours across the ocean. And that is powerful.

Friday, January 21, 2011

as if I needed another reason... think my husband is the BEST Papa around. He came home last week and asked Annikah is she would accompany him on a Papa-Anni date to a park (I would say the park but we are moving up in the world as there is now 3 places we can go! Although the operating hours are sketchy at best). When a pretty dress, a piki piki ride, and roadside popcorn were added to the mix she could not stop smiling.
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How precious is the love, acceptance, and time of a father in the life of his daughter?
It makes my heart smile.

Thursday, January 20, 2011


I have been silent for almost a week. That must be some sort of record for me. I guess I have not had much to say. Lots of thoughts, lots of listening, and lots of questions more than anything. It has been a rough week and a great week and all around I have been reeling with all that is going on in my head.

Last night we ate dinner at 10:30pm. Not bad considering how much we were able to fit into the time proceeding it but still pretty ridiculous. After morning work, teaching at the school, and what seemed like a stream of visitors (seriously, do they time that?) I took our neighbors to a clinic because after over a week of their eldest daughter have excruciating pain from an infected tooth I finally realized they were not taking her because they did not have the 5,000Tsh (about $3.50) to pay for the tooth to be removed and they were unsure how much bribe would be required at the government hospital. Seriously, sometimes my heart physically aches for what people go through here. I know there are hardships everywhere and we all struggle. After all, we are promised that in scripture. But I was so convicted that I have uttered complaints about having to take the ferry to get medical care for Evy. Medical care that I can afford. Medical care that is so above anything available here. And I whine. Lord, forgive me.

So, after realizing the issue we made plans to go later that night and we had a full car with lots of interested (and I think just plain bored) kids. We headed out and while my friend, her daughter, and I went into the clinic they other kids played outside and waited. This was the "nice" clinic and it was still dirty, old, and crowded. Luckily there was only one other person ahead of us in the dark hallway that led to the dentist room which gave me hope I might make it home at a reasonable hour. As my eyes wandered over at the paint peeling from the walls and we listened to several people screaming in pain I tried to calm myself and pray. I just feel so angry people have to live like this. Not that our pampered Western way is the "right" way but that people should not have to chose between feeding their family or going to the doctor. I just felt anger rise within me that others have to make those choices. And then I also sensed such peace that Jesus is here. That he is close to those who suffer. That he is with me when I step out and in such meager, small ways try to help. That in sharing my life I am loving and really living. Oh, Lord I want to live, help me have courage.

We all went in and then the nurse quickly examined her, gave her mother some stern words about brushing her teeth, gave her an injection to numb her, and sent us out to wait until it took effect. She had tears streaming down her face and was obviously shaken and scared. I just tried to comfort her, make her laugh, and asked her if I could pray for her. She said yes and we prayed. Then she went back in and after about 5 more minutes she started screaming in pain so her mother quickly grabbed my hand and we went outside so we could not hear her. Her mother explained that it is shameful to cry and she did not want to hear. The whole experience felt very void of compassion. And I think it is in part because suffering is so normal. People are 'zoea' (accustomed) to it. Yet, although it seems more normal it is no less profound. No less needing of love, mercy, and intense and immediate attention. Oh Lord, be here, break through fear, poverty, pain and be the source of light.

My friend's daughter came out with her head covering wrapped around her face and blood dripping off her chin. But she was so relieved the cause of her pain was gone and told me she was happy she can return to school now. I went with my friend to the dimly lit office where a large woman wearing a vibrant red and yellow dress and head scarf wrote in a notebook the charges, took my money, and was a bit irritated she had to search for change. The procedure and the extra medicine all in all was about $7. Many people do not get the medicine after because it costs extra. We are talking possibly life threatening infection or 3 dollars. Not a choice I have ever had to make but many people make it daily. And most of the time I live like that reality is not life as usual for many people. Oh Lord, help them in their suffering and help me in my comfort and my apathy. Help me to be changed, to be awakened, and to love.

We walked back to the car, collected the children, and piled circus clown style in the car. And then is where it went from an "average" day here to an "African day." The car would not start. At all. Like dead kabisa. So I called Jason who was putting Annikah to bed (Evy was already sound asleep) and had no way to come save us. Plus I could barely hear him because of a bad connection but I made out that he suggested to try to shake the battery connection. As soon as the locals around us realized that we were having car problems and that the clueless Mzungu was leading the charge about 10 men jumped in action. I love that a problem is always every one's problem here. You are never alone. There was many debates about what the problem was, lots of car talk I could not understand (not that I could understand this even in English!), and many people running off to retrieve a tool or a light. We were a sad motley crew I tell you. Me, my friend, her bleeding and drugged up daughter, and 4 other kids (2 of whom did not have shoes because they jumped in the car last minute). Stranded. In the dark. Just to make it more interesting my phone was about to die and since we had been using my friend's phone as a light to check the battery her phone was also dying a slow, beeping, death. After about 45 minutes I called Paula and asked me to come rescue us and take us home (since none of us had even enough money left to ride the dala dala). Paula sent her husband and with my vague description of where we were (on the market road across from the big mosque next to the lumber yard but not quite at the stadium) and he tried to find us in the dark. Problem was I had no phone battery to call him and we even saw him pass by the kids and I started running and screaming but he did not see us. As you can imagine all of this ridiculousness soon drew a crowd and we were surrounded (your problem is EVERYONES problem.. remember). Rich finally made it to us after a phone via Paula to tell him to turn around and after convincing the guys we would just leave the car and head home we climbed in his car and were on our way back. The thing was we were laughing the whole time. Even me; the girl who likes to be in control of situations, who likes to know what comes next. It was either laugh or cry but because I was with my friend (who also felt bad this all was caused because I offered to take them to the doctor) we were in it together. And that made everything somehow ok. We got home and Jason then joined Rich to go tow the car to our auto garage at the VTC where she now sits awaiting some major overhauls. By the time he made it back it was after 10pm and I was still taking down laundry and talking with my neighbor so he headed out to buy some street food. Yep, it was a day.

But that was yesterday. Today I am still processing the week and trying to make sense of the welling emotions, pieces of information, and still crazy pace of life. Without detailed explanations that right now I am not prepared to give we had some difficulties with where we live. Trying to discern what is the truth amidst lots of gossip. I had a few sleepless nights because not fully understanding the culture, the issues, and trying to deal always in a second language is hard. No, it is really trying. But as I type now looking back over the last few days I am again reminded how amazing He is. How He is working in every detail in our lives and how He is always more interested in what He is doing in us than through us. I am learning so much and my heart is being changed. I really never knew how to pray before I came here. Of course I did everyday but not with the same desperation. The same resolve and conviction. The same wide open eyes. The same humulity that comes from knowing I cannot solve problems. The same soft and broken heart. The same all-in complete dependence. And it is awesome.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

get shakin'!

Last Thursday a LONG afternoon was driving me nutz. You know one of those parenting days where you just wanna hide out or hold your breath until 7pm...or is that only me? Evy flat out refused to take her afternoon nap, Anni was particularly whining and bossy, some visitors stopped in 'in the midst', and Jason was out in the village with no end time in sight. Yep, I was spent and it was only 4pm. In Mama-World that is no good. But after some attempted refereeing I decided I needed to rally and we needed a project to keep us busy and happy with minimal hollering, crying, and desperation (ok, mostly mine).
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We made use of some paint, local wooden cooking spoons, and soda bottle caps to create some shakers and they turned out pretty great. Our shakers were begging to be used so much so that the 20 minutes drying time felt like an eternity to 3 little watoto.
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No worries we soon 'shook what our Mamas' gave us'! And the result was so hilarious I could not stop singing in this video is particularly heinous but I was having so much fun I really did not care. We are enjoying a new Kiswahili kid's song CD we got the girls for Christmas and soon guests appeared at the windows to watch the crazy Wazungu house fun. These kids got moves!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

school days and a crush..some Anni news

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Decisions about schooling for children are never easy and in my experience they are intensely personal. But I love to debate, to wrestle, to discuss, and to learn. I never assume I have all the answers or even a few of them for that matter which is good since it drives me to prayer. Being an educator and a mother makes me think about these things a lot. Maybe too much. We never wanted to make decisions for our kids about their education just because that is what everyone else was doing. Not that everyone is neccesarily wrong but that for us we wanted to know that we really thought through the options taking into account that each child is created uniquely and each family has different seasons, needs, values. As a teacher I am a firm believer in the benefits of public school. That a family committed to making a difference in a community can really impact families by sending their children and supporting them in a public school setting. They can also learn a lot too and be challenged and grow! Now, this position was a lot easier to take a firm stand while I was teaching on the South side of Chicago and before I had children of my own. But still, there it is. I am still a die-hard public education supporter but with age and experience I am also realizing that different choices for different families can really be the best option. God has a sense of humor for sure as is evident by the fact that I was heard to have said on more than one occasion "I will never home school" and then God took our family to a place that in time I may need to make that decision for our family. I have also seen some amazing families use homeschooling as a means to make room for life and learning and that gives me new perspective. So, we are not ruling out anything. For now, Anni attends a local private school that costs about 10 dollars a month. That is a lot here since many people cannot even send their kids to the local government schools since you need a uniform, books, pencils. The government schools also teach religion and many require girls to wear head coverings so for us it would not be a good fit. I have seen the classrooms of over 50 students in one room and I see why learning is so difficult here. It puts a lot of perspective on how we look at education in the West.

While I am grateful we have more options and in general better standards than many schools here I still firmly believe that we Americans can sometimes hold our children's education as so important that it can become an idol. As if the only important thing in life is to have the best grades at the top school in order to get into the highest ranked university to get the best job. We stress so much and there are waiting lists for the top preschools. There is so much more to life than that and I pray that while our children miss out on some of the American school culture by living here they are learning so much they could never understand or grasp living back home. Of course we want Annikah and Evy to have a great education and enjoy the benefits of learning and thriving in a school setting but we also know there are things far more important you can never learn in any school.

Miss Annikah started school last week again. Her school now has the official title "Eden International School" and although she is still the only "international" pupil we have high hopes :) We are not sure what the future holds but for now this little school has been a great place for us. Anni graduated from the "baby class" and is now in the "Green Group." A few days I have stopped in early just to observe from a far to see how she is handling everything and by the smiles, giggles, and friends she has we think she is doing pretty good. There are days that she has a rough time and to be honest those days are really hard for us since while we know she would have hard days at "home" too it seems harder to be the only Mzungu kid here. So we struggle and we pray together. We are trying to support the teachers, students, and parents and be a part of the community there since there is so much we can learn. This morning was a big day: Anni took the school bus for the first time. I went with her to make sure she would not be scared and we talked it up a lot. She has been asking to take the bus for some time but it clenched it for us when they rented a a better, safer bus, and we found out our friend and neighbor Hadija rides the bus everyday with the children to keep the chaos at a minimum and help the smaller kids. This is a huge blessing since she can watch out for Miss Annikah. Anni was timid and a bit shy when we first got on but after Jabril climbed on board she was giggles the rest of the way. Which brings me to my next point: I think we can officially say Miss Anni has her first crush. Everyday when she comes home she has some sort of story about Jabril did this, they played this, he laughed when she said this. Yep, it is serious. Last week when I was visiting a friend Jabril was playing outside and asked me "Annikah yupo wapi?" (where is Annikah?). When I came home and told Anni she said "really, he asked that." I was stunned since tons of people everyday greet her or ask about her but she folded her hands over her mouth and giggled upon hearing he wanted to see her. Then at our grand opening a women came up and introduced herself to me as Jabril's mother and she said she just had to meet me since all Jabril talks about is Annikah so I think it is safe to say the feeling is mutual. So, back to the bus...once Jabril boarded the bus and sat next to Anni she was giggling and having a blast the whole way. When we arrived and everyone got off the bus she headed to her classroom without even saying goodbye to me since she was already hanging with her rafiki. Evy and I will walk down to the bus stop in a few hours and hear the tales of the bus ride home. Prayers that it goes well and Anni continues to thrive.
She is a big school- going, crush-getting girl! Ah!!
Anni and said crush

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

this place

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For Christmas J gave me a morning to myself to enjoy a coffee in town and then wander around taking pictures. It was, well, sorta perfect. The morning started with a downpour that was more than welcome while I sipped my coffee, poured through a great book, and listened to the rain pound every roof and surface surrounding me. The morning ended in steamy heat, flooded streets, and zogo (chaos) at the market. Somehow over the last two years the "different" has become more "normal." This place with its vivid smells, brilliant colors, chaotic noises is so special to me. The amazing people made in the image of their Creator makes me so blessed I get to be here. To see this all. To experience it. And to capture a bit of it.
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can you tell what this is? I stepped in it (yep, with flip flops on) before I realized...stupid Mzungu
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Tuesday, January 11, 2011


Gerry was here just for a few days but we kept him busy between the Grand Opening, meeting friends and neighbors, teaching us and praying together, visiting my English class, and a quick visit to a small island for swimming and seeing the turtles. Within a day of him being here word had spread and as I walked to the VTC neighbors stopped and asked me if the rumors of a "Mchina" (a Chinese person) staying at our house were true. No matter how many times we explained that he was actually American they always referred to him this way, Waswahili call it like they see it for sure. No need to be PC here. Our favorite quote came from my neighbor who called me over to ask if he was staying with us and then proceeded to tell me she would be around tomorrow to "look at him." And indeed she came to do just that. Ah, the burdens of being a Mgeni. But our time with him was great and he has now set foot in our home for now; one of the few people from our old world that have collided with our new and that means so much to us! Asante Gerry & safari njema!
hanging out with Pamoja's English students
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exploring the island and basking at the beach together
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um......our girls are beautiful.
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Monday, January 10, 2011

Pamoja's Grand Opening!!

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Pamoja had our Grand Opening ceremony on Thursday! It was crazy busy and a complete circus since most details are done last minute resulting in near heart palpitations for us anal planning types but we made it through!! Our team leader had the most work as he gave a speech, entertained the high up important people, and ran around organizing everything. The rest of us were sorta like his roadies and tired to help the best we could. I scrubbed windows, cleaned, bought ribbon, organized the students for pictures and entertained the girls (no small feat for a 6 speeches in a row). Jason set up chairs, made certificates for honored guests, video taped the ceremony, and helped with kid wrangling. Miss Annikah was even given a special job to hand the scissors to the honored guest for the ribbon cutting. She was stellar and pretty stoked she would be on TV! Plus, she got so much attention being the adorable Mzungu kid she is (I am telling you she works that angle for sure)!
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Anni loved her big job..handing the scissors to the watu waheshimiwa (the respected people)
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The "official procedures" were tiring and at at times boarded on ridiculous (ie. we had to have a certain size picture of the president in the office, special seats for certain people, etc) but I think we managed to negotiate the rules and cultural norms without too many Wazungu mistakes thanks to the local school planning and helping us with so much. This partnership also meant lots of BIG surprises; a 50 person band showing up last minute, a cancellation of one honored guest thus meaning we had to erase the plaque and re-do it the DAY OF the ceremony. A bit stressful to be sure but we chose to just laugh and then get to work. But it also meant there were really lots of hands working together to make the day a success and we could not have done it without their help. And even if things were not all as we planned I think the spirit of partnership, cooperation, and togetherness was what it was all about. Watching the first round of students proudly sitting watching everything made everything worth it for me. This is their school and they were so excited to see all the pomp and circumstance! It was an exhausting day but we are so excited the vocational training center is officially open and we can now really begin serving students, empowering staff, and hopefully blessing people here! As we reflect on the last two years it has been amazing to see the favor God has given us with the government, the partnership with the local schools, and the team effort this place has taken. We were so excited for our team leader and his wife since this project has really been their baby, given birth by much sweat, sacrifice, and patience. Hans even teared up during his speech which really shows just how dear this little school has become to us. As we were finally leaving after the ceremony and thanking people for their help so many people said "hamna shida, tuko pamoja" (no problem, we are together) and I think that about sums up our prayer for this place. Karibuni Pamoja!!! We are now official!!
erasing the sign last minute and printing the new guests of honor names. Flexibility required for living here :)
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the military band arriving....yep...they all were crammed into a truck!
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guests of honor arrive
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guest of honor table
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so many good friends came to support us
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our amazing friend Gerry from Chicago who gets mad props for coming out to attend the ceremony! He was one of 5 Americans (counting our family :) in attendance
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tours of the school
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the English department
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guests enjoying soda and snacks
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first official round of students at Pamoja!