OK, I will now admit to everyone that in the past years, I have purposely neglected to tell everyone that it was birthday on March 9th. It’s not because of a sense of martyrdom or anything like that, only that I’ve never made a big deal of it my entire life and as I get older, it just seems to be that much less important. I have also managed to spoil surprise birthday parties in the past mostly because of my need to always know what is going on (very much to a fault). When I was 13, my mother managed to plan a surprise birthday party for me at Disneyland during a school trip, nonchalantly saying that she and my brother were planning to go the same day and wouldn’t it be nice to meet for lunch. Of course, she had planned a party for me, having brought a bunch of my friends along and having ordered a big cake for me at one of the restaurants along Main Street. I was having a blast with my friends on the rides and just decided that I would meet my mom and brother later in the afternoon. She was not very happy with me.
For my thirtieth birthday, Kim had planned a big party with all my friends from medical school with the theme of “over the hill.” It was a surprise party and everyone was to wear black as if attending a funeral and the cake was decorated in black and white with a tombstone and “R.I.P.” gracing the top. Knowing my past history, she simply said, “OK, I’m planning a surprise party for you so don’t ask any questions of anyone and make sure you’re available that night.” I understood my marching orders and was able to attend a wonderful get together of all of my school friends who were all dressed in black, and even more wonderful, I have managed to outlive my R.I.P. cake and have enjoyed many more birthdays following. I have now been coming to FAME almost every March since I started (I came one April and found the heavy rains and getting my Land Rover stuck axle deep in the mud were not conducive to our work here) and, as such, spend my birthdays here. Three years ago, Pauline, a prior volunteer coordinator, Jess Weinstein and Jackie Herold, both residents working here with me at the time, planned a surprise party for my 60th birthday at the Highview Hotel close to FAME with about fifty guests that was a truly amazing get together with dancing and celebration long into the night. Perhaps this should have been a message to me to reconsider my prior approach to this issue.
For this trip, though, I had decided that I would just spill the beans to the others and simply let them know the day of my birthday. We had already made plans to go out to dinner at Gibb’s Farm that night as it is one of my favorite places to eat here and I knew that everyone was looking forward to a relaxing night out and enjoying ourselves. The clinic again began on a very slow pace, similar to what we had seen the day before and most of our patient had been finished by lunchtime (usually around 1-2 pm) so it was decided that we’d head back to the house to relax and asked them to call us if anyone else showed up for the day. I think it was around 3 pm before we finally left for home and having discovered that my internet was out for the week, I was going to run into town for some airtime vouchers which is the way that you load money or airtime onto your phone here to purchase internet bundles. We also needed some extra groceries for our trip to Manyara National Park as we were bringing our own lunch – peanut butter and jam sandwiches, hardboiled eggs, chips and lots of water. You should never travel anywhere here without a sufficient stock of water in case of an emergency or just a plain breakdown, which is not too unusual here if you have read my blogs in the past. Daniel, Jon and I went into town to buy the groceries and airtime vouchers while Sheena and Adys remained behind at home to relax.
Though we had intended to make our lunch before heading out to dinner, by the time we got back home, it was too late for that plan so we relaxed a bit as well and then got ready for our nice dinner and drinks at Gibb’s Farm. It’s always important to get there before well before sunset as the views of the surrounding topography from the veranda are just incredible and like no others. In addition to the five of us, we had invited Ann Gilligan another volunteer at FAME, and anyone else who also wanted to go with us. Ann was the only one that took us up on the offer, which was not surprising as the other everyone else were long term and unable to go that often due the expense. Ann is a nurse practitioner specializing in birth positioning and working here at FAME for a few weeks to see if it would be a good fit for her to come back on a more regular basis. She has been working with Every Mother Counts, a US non-profit that has worked with FAME in the past and had a group working in Arusha this month. Ann decided to check it out here and I suspect that she will become a regular here in the future like most of us have over the year.
Gibb’s Farm, for those who haven’t read my blog before, is an old coffee plantation that used to run as a small village of worker that made everything in house and became a lodge a number of years ago. It was sold several years ago to new owners who have managed to keep the absolute same ambience and feel of the original plantation and have turned it into one of the top destination resorts around. It is not that it is incredibly posh, but rather it is still very Tanzanian, albeit a bit on the pre-colonial side of things. It remains a working farm and most everything is grown there that is served on the table. Sitting on the veranda sipping my Moscow Mule is like taking a time machine back in time 100 years or more. It is beyond relaxing and one can feel the stress of everyday life simply melt from your body with each minute that you’re there. The management of Gibb’s graciously allows us to have dinner there even though we’re not guests of the lodge because of what we are doing here. Many of the staff at Gibb’s or their family are also patients of ours and have known many of them for many years.
Gibb’s also serves as a studio for a number of local artists who use it as their base of operations and paint local scenery and classic views of the region. The lodge itself is decorated with their art, all of which is for sale, and well worth the cost when you are on a trip here. Our dinner was a delicious four course meal with multiple entrée and appetizer choices, all of which are farm to table fresh and very unique recipes. The house bottle of wine matched perfectly and was a welcome addition to the various dishes that were ordered. One cannot go wrong here with anything you order and it is a true pleasure to experience a meal such as this anywhere in the world and even more so here in Tanzania.
After dinner was finished, I heard the waiters banging a drum and beginning to sing “Jambo, Jambo Bwana…,” which is a song of celebration they usually sing here for many things and in this case, it preceded singing “Happy Birthday” to me. The other two tables eating at the time also same to me and it was all great fun and quite a way for me to remember my birthday here in Tanzania with my friends.
We drove home by the short cut that I always use for Gibb’s and can be a bit intimidating for those who are not familiar with the roads in Tanzania and the darkness of the night here. I have driven these roads now for a number of years and feel comfortable on these in most situations, but will admit that in the heavy rains and previously mentioned slip and slide conditions, it can become a nightmare to even the most accomplished drivers. Four-wheel drive is great, but when none of the wheels have any traction, there is very little once can do.
Once safely home, it was time for us to get the lunches for tomorrow made. I worked a bit first on my camera equipment, getting batteries charged and making certain that I had everything needed for the trip to Manyara the following day. When I drive, I obviously am unable to shoot photos, so usually hand over my cameras to the others to take photos. It is a great opportunity for the residents to have the experience of shooting a big DSLR camera with a long safari lens that is perfect for wonderful wildlife shots. The others began to work on the lunches with Jon taking over most of the duties for the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in a factory-like fashion and Daniel initially working on Ziploc bags of water for the cooler. I think Adys and Sheena were both sharing duties on the hard boiled eggs. The house was filled with music and dance while they were working and it was a real sight. The entire process took less than an hour so that everyone could get to sleep as we were planning to leave bright and early at 6 am so as to get to the park when the gates opened. Everyone’s dreams certainly contained visions of wildlife that night and we were all hyped for tomorrow, even me, having been on dozens and dozens of safaris by this time. There is just something about taking people on their first safari to see the wildlife here that is so exhilarating.