Thursday, January 24, 2013


Morning Everybody! I want to let you know that I will gradually begin switching over to only using my Wordpress blog over these next few weeks. I have found that I am now posting the exact same things to each, but the design elements are superior on wordpress. So why don't we all come together there?
The address is  I look forward to seeing your pageviews and comments there. Asante sana! (thank you very much)
I'll post this message again in a few days for my not-so-regular viewers to see the message as well.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Sunday Philosophies

This Sunday’s church service was really different and pretty remarkable. We started with the worship group as usual, but this Sunday they were just so on it! They were mostly New Life kids and I was so amazed by their skill. All the instrumentalists could play every instrument, and the lead singer was this girl, Jane, who I have taught before and I had no idea what a stunning voice she had. Strong, deep, and gentle…man, I was blown away. If that wasn’t enough one of most popular gospel singers in Tanzania, Upendo Kilahiro, joined the musicians for the last few songs, as she was in town from the Uzima Launch Conference that ended the day before. Maybe this incredible musical energy fed the sermon to equal its strength.
The sermon was about prophecy. Baba preached a very short sermon about Saul from the Corinthians. He shared a bible story about how one time Saul couldn’t find his donkeys, so he asked God where they were. When his neighbor and family did not know, he turned to God. Baba theorized that God lost the donkeys on purpose so that Saul could be found. Saul was not a perfect man – he had performed many a sin and did not always rely on the Lord. But God put him in a place of need so that He could help Saul out in a far greater way than just helping him locate the donkeys.
God lost the donkeys so Saul could be found. This presents a different perspective on an element of faith that has always bothered me: we are most likely to look to God in a time of need.
A few years back, my Mom’s only sister passed away. She was young and lively, a big part of our lives. I remember when I found out I was shocked and confused, so I began to pray to God for the first time in a long time. I grew instantly angry with myself for falling into the illusive trap of faith. I, who had chosen for the past few years to not prioritize faith, was suddenly praying my heart away because it was convenient; it was the only answer I had left. Just like Ancient Greeks and Romans used their Gods to explain elements they struggled to understand such as rain, light, and tidal patterns, I used my God to help me grasp death at a young age. I was angry with myself for depending upon the comfortable illusion that my confusion could be accurately reasoned by a higher power. We learned thousands of years later that science was the true answer to the prayers of the polytheistic ancients, so why should it be any different for me?
Well maybe there is more than one explanation for the weather. Maybe science handles that which can be explained, now or in the future, but all else is really in the hands of someone or something else.
Maybe, there’s a great finger pushing around the chess pieces so that every now and then, when we get knocked down in some way or another and are forced the look up and say, “Who did that? And why?” But maybe that Finger isn’t even asking us to look up. Maybe It wants us to look around too. Saul went first to his family and friends. I joined my family and friends in mourning when we faced the loss of my aunt. Maybe a primary part of being found stretches beyond our relationship with that Finger and into our relationships with those around us. We are all familiar with the idea that pain and suffering draws us closer, but what if it doesn’t end there? What if that’s the whole point of the pain to begin with?

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sick of Kili Yet? I'm not!

On the way to work this morning, I was graced with this stunning sight. Usually, on a cloudy day you can't see Kili, but the mountain was gorgeously framed by these clouds this morning. Princely snapped a pic with my phone as we were walking

Culture Blurb: Buffet Style Meals

This is a small cultural difference that I hardly noticed until last night. I was thinking about how, through my blog, I hope to provide snippets, like short video clips, for people back home to get a taste of my experience. So last night I was thinking, they probably have a misunderstanding of what dinner looks like, because it is similar, but not quite like dinner at home.
Everything is served buffet style to a degree. The larger the event, the more buffet it is. For example, each night at dinner, we cook the food and then bring it onto this small glass table in the living room. There are two big comfy chairs, a couch for two, and a regular chair that we position around the food table at dinner. We stack the plates with the spoons atop (Tanzanians don’t often use forks) next to the food. Guests eat first, then men, then children, then women. For the first few weeks, this meant that I ate first, but now I count as a woman, which I am quite proud of. Often times the wife serves the man and the children food. Like any buffet, you go down the line and take your food. We don’t eat at a table, rather on the arm of the chair or our laps.
When there are many guests, we take out many tables and eat outside with a full buffet table. I guess the buffet style is just more space and material efficient, but I thought I should clarify that we eat both lunch and dinner buffet style each day.
Even at the mzungu gatherings we go buffet style

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Open Air

“Yo, yo listen up my brothers and my sister. Today I am going on a trip to AC, yeah you heard me de A-city Arusha Town yao. And when I go, you know I’m going to bring…” Florence takes a deep breath before he begins delegating the items he’ll bring for each person, “An apple, a ball, yee, a cat, a dolphin for you my friend, an epo for you, and for myself imma bring…a frog.”
“A what?”
“No, before that.”
“An epo…”
“As in apple?”
All the guys began laughing and lightly teasing Florence for switching to Swahili.
“Bro, I said an elephant, not epo” Kelvin chimed in, between laughs.
As we played from there on out, whenever someone got to E, we all said Epo instead of Elephant, and had a good laugh over it.

Last night after the conference was over, Princely and I rode in the New Life truck to get home. The truck has been running since the 1970s and many times the passenger door opens during the drive, but by some miracle, the truck runs steadily. The open back is often used to carry both people and heavy machinery or materials. Last night we used it to carry the Uzima musical equipment from the conference to the church. After all the instruments were emptied and we were on our way back to New Life, Princely and I hopped in the back of the truck with six New Life students. A fuss was made about me getting back there, “No, no it’s too uncomfortable, sit in the front sit in the front.” But in fact I had a blast.
I showed them the game that I usually play in car rides with my family. The first person says, “I’m going on a vacation to _______ and I’m going to bring (something that begins with an A).” Then the next person says the item from the first person that begins with an A, and adds their own item that begins with a B, and so forth through the whole alphabet. It’s a memory game of sorts.
Had I suggested it to my friends at home, they probably wouldn’t have been interested. But last night, I got the perfect mix where the guys were eager to play, but then they were still goofy and boyish, pretending to act all thug as we played.
It was one of my favorite moments since I have been back because I was able to actually connect with the students on a friend level, which was something I was somewhat nervous to do last time. I thought it was more important to maintain a sense of authority over them, instead of being peers. But we can be both, I think, because I know that if any of them came to me and had something to teach me, I would listen to them. Therefore when Pri and I go to their classes and teach them, they will listen even if they view us as peers.

When they all got out of the truck at New Life, they greeted me goodnight with a “Usikumwema Dada” Sleep tight sister instead of the usual, “Goodbye Madame” and a casual handshake-hug thing as opposed to an actual handshake. As Princely and I rode in the back on the way home, I was all smiles the whole way. He gave me a congratulatory squeeze on my shoulder and without a word he understood.

Friday, January 18, 2013

1, 2, Catch Up

Before I crawl into bed, I will write a quick word about the conference. It started Thursday and today we finished our second of three days. It’s been smaller, far smaller, than we expected, but really great. The first day we had some wonderful speakers and heard beautiful testimonies. Today we had Tanzanian starlight Upendo to join us as a lead singer during worship. We also focused more directly on the Uzima Crisis Pregnancy Center today and shared much information about abortion and the need to raise awareness against it.
(Side note: In one of my college essays, I wrote about how my time in Tanzania has affected my view on the Pro-Choice Pro-Life debate…I’ll have to post about that here sometime soon.)
We decided that this rise against abortion will be one of our key focuses for 2013 and in fact even gained a Muslim business partner today, which is incredible for a Tanzanian Christian organization.
Each day I am learning so much (besides how to speak fluent Swahili which is a bit of a drawback because the conference is mostly in Swahili) and becoming so comfortable. It feels like I’ve been here for so much more than a week because I feel an increased sense of independence as I begin to really find my place in this organization, this culture, this community, and this family without leaning on others for support all the time.
I apologize for the vague nature of this post, hopefully I will soon supplement it with a fun story to support one of the many inspirations I have experienced this week.
Uskumeza! (Sleep tight)

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Along the Beaten Path

I was walking through downtown Moshi the other day and this stunning waiting-to-be-a-picture view was literally right on the path. Sometimes the hidden wonders of this town aren't so hidden at all

Wednesday, January 16, 2013


These past few days, also my first few days back in Tanzania, we have been preparing for the Uzima conference that is happening Thursday through Saturday of this week. Last night, some New Life students came by to help hang posters through town. Before they dispersed, they all came and prayed over one of the fliers, a symbol for prayer over the event itself. Hopefully Uzima is in your thoughts this weekend as we host our opening conference to about 500 women.

If I could rule the world...

If I could rule the world of traveling educators and missionaries, I would set down a few ground rules.  
  1.           Before you travel, you must familiarize yourself with the culture you are entering into. Right now, there is a pair of teachers giving phonetics seminars to the New Life teachers. Yesterday I stopped in for a few minutes of their seminar to find they were teaching a bit about the sounds vowels make when doubled, for example the sound “oo”. The lesson wasn’t bad, but it would have been much more culturally relevant had the teachers known that “oo” in Swahili makes and elongated “O” sound. Had they known this and clarified that in English “oo” = “oo” not “OHH”, the students would have been able to make a connection and better retain the information.
  2.       After arrival, you must spend a minimum of 2 days familiarizing yourself with the local culture before beginning to export the information you plan to teach. When I prepared to teach public health in Tanzania, I came with a binder full of information, some of which has proven relevant, much of which hasn’t (often because the information is too basic for the audience I am teaching). It is crucial to take time to get to know your audience because often times a national, even regional culture is not representative of the locals.
  3.       Finally, please be willing to adjust. One of my favorite pieces of advice I have received during my time here in Tanzania is “I hope you find what you’re not looking for.” It’s one of my favorite quotes because whenever I find it coming true, that is when I am enjoying myself the most. This rule of being willing to adjust is just as much for the sake of the visitor as for that of the visited. If we travel and only find what we expect to find, what’s the point of traveling at all? If travel planning to share information and we do not adjust to the needs of the culture, what will be gained on either end?

These are all of my rules for now. I’ll be sure to add if I think of some more.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Good to be Home

Somehow I never grow tired of the view from my doorstep...

Up in the Air

Yeah -  you can sit here. It’s amazing how a certain squint paired with a particular hand motion delivers the message, even among people who speak different languages.
He sits quietly for a while listening to music through a pair of standard earphones.

“You tell when they call, yes?” He points to the headphones, “I can’t hear. And the accent…eck.” It’s like he’s waving away a bad smell.
I take a moment to dissect where each word ends and the next begins before I answer him, “Yes. Of course.” Pause. “Are you going home to Amsterdam?”
“Me? No. I’m Russian. You cannot tell?”

So that’s when I met my Russian friend. In the airport we spoke about the beautiful cities of the world, of families and work and bars, art, mythology. My favorite topic was the Soviet Union. Though he introduced himself as Russian, I learned about half way into the conversation that my new friend was in fact Ukrainian.
 “We are the same really,” he defended. “Imagine you live in New York and you move out San Francisco, and then poof! California is new country. You still are from New York or America really.”
He went on about how much better things were before the split, “Education – free! Work was easy to find. My father even received free flat from government after he finished at University of Moscow.”
Though I was skeptical of the government boons, I was so intrigued to hear this alternate perspective of the USSR: a blanket of prosperity rather than a dictatorship.

We sat together on the plane (not by chance, he organized for me to have my seat moved). By the time we reached our seats, the mild scent of gin on his breath had grown stale, but it wasn’t long before he ordered a whiskey from the flight attendant to freshen it up. He pointed at the glass after downing it in a gulp, “Born in Siberia – this is the first way I learned to keep warm.”

I listened as Vlad presented his argument about the USSR to our new seatmate, a Somali man in his late 30s.
“You are an ideas man!” Said our Somali friend to Vlad.  “You need to get this stuff out there, you know? Become a government figure, make changes!” He was optimistic and thoroughly excited by the potential of this man whom he had just met. I couldn’t help but notice how beautifully African his mentality was.

“Excuse me for asking, but how old?”
My first response to Vlad’s question was a grin and our Somali friend quickly interjected, “No, no, my friend. In America you never ask a woman her age.”
“I don’t mind,” I said, “I’m nineteen.”
But they didn’t hear me, which was entertaining.
“Yes, is same in my country – never ask. But I was just curious. I am 41. See? No problem, that’s how old.” He waited for a response, but I just nodded. Finally, as if it was of his own accord he said, “Forget it – I do not want to know.”

Hair comb…toothbrush…toothpaste! Having found what I needed, I looked up to find the cashier, and there was Vlad at the perfume section of duty free in the Amsterdam airport. “You changed mind? You come to Kiev?”
I laughed. “Are you coming to Tanzania?”
“No, not this time. I suppose we meet in other life. Maybe in Moscow.” He turned back to his perfume shelf for a moment and I started toward the cash register. “Aleesa!” He called. “Great talking. Thank you.”
I smiled, “I couldn’t agree more. Thank you.”