Showing posts with label climate and culture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label climate and culture. Show all posts

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ode to Fall

One of my trademark sayings in the classroom (evidently!) is, “Where does the time go?”  My students of the past can even do the sigh and the slump of the shoulders as they look at the clock for me.  (You never realize how much you do something till you ask the kids that watch you all day!)  But as I walked around my neighborhood yesterday, I realized I was feeling the same way yet again… only this time, it wasn’t about the time of the day and how much we had left to get done.

For the past four years, I’ve lived in places where the climate changes come VERY SLOWLY.  I remember the first time I finally saw leaves change color in NC... in November.  I was thrilled!  I didn't realize how much my body was longing for that perpetual change in seasons.
Battle Park, in Rocky Mount, NC
In Tanzania, the difference between hot and cold season is pretty minimal... at least in Dar es Salaam.  In cool season, for example, it is sometimes cool enough to use a sheet as a cover to sleep under!  So now that I’m back in Michigan, I’m ecstatic.




But I’m realizing something.  With drastic seasons come drastic changes… changes that come and go quickly.  I’ve been reveling in fall.  But I'm realizing I want it to stick around for another year or so before moving on.  I want to play in the leaves some more.  I want to go to the apple orchard again.  I want to smell cinnamon spice and drink hot cider and watch the leaves fall and experience the on-fire image of the sun shining through the leaves of a tree alight with reds and yellows. 

But the leaves... have fallen.  And the weather... is changing quickly.  Pumpkins have come and gone.  Somehow, November snuck in without me realizing it.  And today, as I talked to someone about the upcoming weeks, I realized that Thanksgiving is only TWO WEEKS AWAY!!!

There are certain moments you know you need to treasure because you know they are few and far between.  Right now, for me at least, that’s how I'm feeling about the changing of seasons.  I’m not sure when I’ll next be in a place where the leaves are turning and the crisp fall air stings your nose and frost comes and covers the green grass with a blanket of white crystals… maybe next year, but who knows!  As for me, right now, I just want everything to hold still.  To just stop.  So I can breathe.  And revel in God’s creation for a few more… months.  And hold on to things that I treasure.  And not let them fall away. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Transition Tena (again)

July 12, 2011  <--(yep, this is a bit out of order... I forgot to post this last week!)

I’m in my last week of school at Black Forest Academy (Germany) through PBU… and it is going by fast!  I’ve completed three masters courses in the past three weeks, each in one week.  Needless to say, each has been very challenging in its own way.  I definitely “hit a wall” last week and wasn’t sure I would make it through to the end.  But here I am, still going   one    day    at a time, with grace being extended from people all around me to make it through   one   more   moment   each   day.
It’s crazy.  I feel like I’ve finally got my feet on the ground.  I can successfully drive a stick-shift car, fast, on the right side of the road.  I know how to get groceries.  I’ve found my way around the little towns where I learn and live.  I know where to get ice cream :), how to buy berries from unmanned stalls on the street, and which juice tastes best.  I’ve gotten to know my sweet housemate and we’ve gotten into a routine.  I know how to work the laundry machine and know not to do it on Sundays.  I mostly remember that I'm in Europe, and have successfully learned how to spell "Kazakhstan."  I’ve almost gotten a vague concept of how recycling works here.  (Gelbe S├Ącke, what?!)  

Of course, it would really help if all the instructions weren't in German!!!  It looks pretty clear on this diagram... but don't be fooled.  I spent many a minute standing in front of bins after lunch wondering what to do with each piece I had left!  Mostly I just gave up and threw them in... something.  Who knows if it was right.
I’m not so overwhelmed now when I see people wearing shorts, and am almost past thinking I should cover my legs when I go into stores “downtown” wearing pants.  I’m making connections with amazing teachers in international schools from around the world and with great neighbors who live in the apartments around me.  And now, I’m leaving.  In less than a week.  

I wonder if I’ll ever get used to a life of transition?

I was talking with my roommate today (who is from S. Carolina but lives and teaches in Seoul, S. Korea) about everything that has happened since we arrived.  I’ll have to catch you all up on the, uh, “adventures” we’ve been through on my blog when I get to the States and have a bit more time!  But car troubles, budgeting, walking for miles, everything breaking and going wrong, emotional transitions and embarrassing moments were definitely all a part of the initiation process to Germany.  And through it all, God has been faithfully showing up in little and big… weird and crazy… insane and mundane ways.  Every day.

my sweet housemate, Katie, and I

dinner and movie night with new friends
ice cream after celebrating the "graduation" of two of our classmates... they're finished after this year!
I’ve also really appreciated getting input and new ideas for teaching after not having much “outside” instruction the past two years.  And I’ve LOVED getting to know people who think missional, purposeful life is normal – who aren’t weirded out when I get overwhelmed in the grocery store – who have been on furlough before – who get it when the little things (like a hot shower, or a “beautiful” cloudy rainy day) are exciting - who understand what the ups and downs of transition are and happily listen to me process things out loud because they’ve been there before.  It’s almost like God knew what He was doing when He put me here for school!  (Crazy how that works!)

Looking forward to seeing you... or keeping in contact... soon!  Thanks for your prayers and support! :)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Cuteness Factor

4 June 2011

My friend Marie and I have a cuteness rating factor of clothes here in Dar.  We can mention, “that’s a cute dress!” as we drive down the road, and both of us know which person out of the twenty around our car we’re talking about.  There is a very basic, very practical categorical method to this madness that we have developed through experience and many hours of dripping sweat.

First, in order to be considered “cute,” an item of clothing has to be cool.  Cotton fabric is a must.  With a bit of spandex to keep its shape.  In a place where humidity is often near 120%, it’s easy to understand why breathable fabric is so important.  And good, breathable, cotton lining, considering the sun blazes through anything you wear in the first five minutes to burn your skin.

Second, any dress or clothing here has to be comfortable.  Meaning you can move and not worry about … well, anything.  As a teacher, and in a breezy city with serious cultural specifics of what’s ok and what’s not, that means well-below the knee for sure.  (Due to the necessity of walking places here, it also has to look ok with chacos or flipflops on your feet… :)
Third, it has to be, well, cute.  A stylish design.  Nice fabric and pretty colors.  Attractive.  However you’d describe something you like.

But here’s the catch.  Even if it’s a nice dress, if it looks good and fits well, but it doesn’t fulfill the first two obligations, it is automatically cut out of the running.  No questions asked. 

Yes, this might not seem fair at first.  But we’re not here to bring equal opportunity to all clothing.  We’re here to survive, and hopefully, thrive.  And sometimes, it takes drastic measures to make sure that happens.

Fabric (and examples of clothes) for the fundi...
The good news is that we have fundis here that are relatively inexpensive.  It’s fun to find good fabric, bring it down to the local tailor, give them your idea of a design, and hope that, after a few visits, it might turn out looking good!  I’ve gotten a few great dresses made this way… and others that, well, let’s just say I could have stepped off the Mayflower and fit right in with the crowd.  Just hand me a Thanksgiving basket.  Seriously.  (And that was a design I copied off a website from the States…)

But sometimes, every once in a while, we just yearn for something new.  Something that, you know, fits well.  That looks nice.  And that we’d actually dare to wear outside of the East African community.  (I say as I contemplate the fashionableness of my wardrobe in preparation for studying in Germany in less than two week's time…) 

And that’s where online shopping comes in.
As I look online for possible clothing options to order, I sometimes get frustrated by their options for searching for clothing.  While I don’t want to search through hundreds of pictures online, (think limited internet availability and paying by the MB of internet), I also don’t find their automatic searches very helpful either.

They ask:
  • Would you like long sleeve, short sleeve, or spaghetti strap?  
  • What kind of neck line?  
  • What color?  
  • What specific brand?  
  • Is this for work, or for the beach?  
  • Flowery or flirty?  
  • Are you serious?
Really, that’s just not very helpful at all.

I want:
  • length.  longer than anything you’re offering, please?
  • fabric.  Cotton, with a bit of spandex to hold its shape during hand-washing and line-drying.  And good lining.  (None of this polyester stuff!)
  • cost.  $15 or less.  With nondescript packaging and shipping to Africa available, please!? :)
Ok, I know that really, I’m just dreaming.  While I love finds like what I mentioned above, they are few and far between.  I’m better off going down to the local used clothing market, paying 500Tsh each for 3 pairs of trousers, and having one pair mostly fit.  Grabbing a kanga (piece of cloth) to wrap around my thighs.  Then giving the other two pairs to someone who could use them, and trying again.
The truly flattering Tanzanian method of hanging clothes with open hangers to make them look as BIG as possible!  Just what I was looking for... :)
Sometimes, I just wish there were sites online that catered to what’s REALLY important… :)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hot Season – The really hot, really humid, really sweaty reality

22 Feb 2011

I was talking to a good friend in the States the other day, and realized just how little I must be communicating about the reality of hot season in Dar to people back home.  For another great perspectives on this “season” from a co-worker and friend, click here.  I guess I don’t mention the trials this season provides because for one, it’s just part of daily life here… nothing out of the ordinary.  And I just don’t think ordinary is all that interesting to talk about.  And two, it’s better to not think it’s out of the ordinary because then I’m just tempted to complain.

Here in Tanzania, there really aren’t the "normal" fall, winter, spring, and summer seasons.  Not by the Equator.  Instead, there are hot and cool… or dry and rainy.  That’s pretty much it.

There are some areas of Tanzania where it gets cold.  There are mountains.  The air is dry.  And it must be great.  (Even though heaters aren’t installed and there’s no such thing as insulation in houses… so it’s not all that amazing in reality.  It’s cold.  But it sure seems like a nice alternative!)  Here in Dar, there are no mountains, no dry air, just hot, by the ocean muggy and humid-with-a-pretty-view-but-a-very-sweaty-face kind of weather… all the time.
Marie and I FREEZING on our way to Mbeya last June, where it's much cooler.  We packed every piece of clothing we owned because we had nothing warm to bring.  It was probably in the 60s. 
Oh, the cool, dry air of Mbeya!   I would so live here if I could...
Look!  I'm wearing long sleeves, jeans, AND shoes!  And not even breaking a sweat.  This was quite a happy moment...

It’s true.  We have air conditioners in our classrooms.  (Everyone can gasp… what?  There are missionary teachers... in Africa... with air conditioners!?!)  And a lot of people have them in their bedrooms.  (Double gasp!)  But in a lot of ways, this concept of air conditioning is a misnomer.  Because in our classrooms, the individual air con units pretty much serve to lessen the humidity, but don’t drop the temp much at all.  They're not big enough for the size rooms we have, and the heat is just too much for them.  As in, my unit is set for 22 degrees Cel (72 F), but usually sits at 32 degs C (90 F)… or 28 C (82 F) on a good day.  No freezing classrooms here!  And if you want to be a successful teacher, or survive the day with anything left to make it home that night, grade papers, AND make dinner (assuming you have power or a gas stove), you want an air con to lessen the humidity levels in your classroom!
If you look closely, you can see the little red light meaning there's power going to this unit in my classroom.  And the little green light means that cool air is coming OUT!!!
Last year, as part of a service learning project, the secondary students would come to our classrooms to measure the heat and humidity.  The idea was to make sure we were using our air cons wisely and to register their affect on the environment.  On one particular day, when there was a good ocean breeze coming through and it felt cooler, I didn’t get around to turning my air con on.  It was interesting to hear the report.  They said, “you’re classroom is actually a lower temperature, but your store room feels cooler… your classroom is 92 degrees with 95% humidity, while your store room is 95 degrees with only 80% humidity.”  And yes, that’s a cool day.

**Side Note: Sometimes I wonder just what happens if it hits 100% humidity.  Does it start spontaneously raining from the ceiling?  I’d love to hear your thoughts… :)

Anyway, it’s hot.  A friend from Florida recently compared our weather to that of Florida’s in July.  "It's pretty much the same," she said. “BUT, in Florida it’s only for one month – here it’s four to six months.  And in Florida we go from our air conditioned houses to our air conditioned cars, to our air conditioned stores and offices… and back home again in comfort.  We’re never outside.”

Here, it’s different.  Hot season is from November through March.  Everyone moves slowly because they know that where they’re going, it’s just going to be even more hot and stuffy than it is outside under the blazing sun.  And the equatorial sun... is... HOT!
I guess the good news is, the sun is also consistent.  Unlike gloomy MI, we get 2836 hours of sunlight a year, according to that's about 7.8 hours of sunlight on average per day.  Is it sad I'm now a fan of overcast days? 
The other difference is that here, during hot season, the power is often “rationed” because there is just enough electricity to power the country.  Or the city.  That means that the government-run distributor of electricity physically cuts off power to certain areas of the city for a certain number of hours or parts of days so that they don’t go over what can be produced.  And the catch is, everything electric here is hydraulically powered… and so during the hot, dry season, when there’s no water to be seen (except in the ocean!), the power gets less… and less… and less…

People have said that this is the worst year for power cuts since 1996.  And that’s a year that has gone down in history.  Right now, the school, businesses, houses, everyone is pretty much on a no power one day, but getting power back on that night… then power the next day, but no power the next night schedule.  One day on, one day off… and then the alternate nights.  Recent comments from people include:
When people Skype us, they always ask, “why are you sitting in the dark?"
"Well, you remember what we said about the power cuts? This is it!"
Then the next time they Skype us, they say the same thing...  Hmm…
Or a recent FB status from a co-worker:
Power for two days in A ROW!  I love my life! :) :) :)

This affects more than you might think.  It's not just the lack of fans that make life tough.  But venders can't keep  drinks cold, so no one wants to buy them.  Printers can't print by due dates because there's no power.  People are losing whole freezers of food at grocery stores and have nothing to compensate the loss with.  It's a real problem.

Less importantly, but more personally as a teacher, the other bummer is the unreliability of a good teaching environment.  HOPAC has a generator, but it’s not large enough to allow us to use air cons all over campus.  We can use fans (yay!) and lights (I could really care less…), but no air con.  And teaching every other day with 90% humidity is just getting to be tough.  And old.  And tiring.  And no relief in sight?  Even worse.

It’s no wonder so many people are so exhausted right now.

On the bright side, when we moved, we somehow (unknowingly) managed to choose a house in one of the few areas of the city which are unaffected by power rationing to a large degree.  Usually, it means that you live near a big politician or someone really important (who has the influence and money to say they don’t want their power cut).  Lucky them.  But for us, it means we live near the power plant, who pays extra to get consistent power to produce electricity for the government-run group that distributes the power.  Don’t ask why they have to pay for the power they produce in the first place, but I’m not complaining!

So on the good side, we’ve actually been able to sleep for the most part.  I don’t have an air con, but a couple of fans on highest power along with windows open, a cold shower before bed, and NO sheets make a world of difference when it comes to a normal night of sleep in Dar.  AND, it’s been great to be a blessing to others who don’t have the same luxury as we do when we can invite them over on nights they don’t have power…
My beloved, battery-operated fan.  Totally worth the weight and space of carrying this from the States.  What a blessing this is inside my mosquito net when the power goes out!
So while all of you are dealing with the power outages from ice storms, you can know I feel your pain on the other side of the world.  Consistently.  And while I know that the cold creates some serious problems that aren’t to be laughed at, and while I know we ALWAYS want what we don’t have… I also hold strongly to the opinion that you can always put clothes on, bundle up, curl up in fleece blankets, and snuggle next to the fire with hot cocoa as you look at the pretty snow… but there’s a limit to just how many layers you can take off to stay cool!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Looking on the Bright Side

24 January 2010

I rather enjoy reading older “classic” literature, and lately I’ve been on a kick. I’m loving the fact that with my new kindle (thanks, mom and dad!) I can download most of these books to read for free! (I never would have considered such a gadget in the States – I like sharing real books too much! – but the perks of not having to carry heavy novels across the world and adding weight to my already over-stuffed baggage just seemed too great to resist!)

Anyway, I recently read the story of Pollyanna. I know the term is overused and generally doesn't have a positive connotation, but the “Glad Game” seemed like something fun to try in my classroom when everyone gets down (or when the power is off and it seems like the day is never going to end…) One of our class rules is to be positive (along with being respectful, being responsible, and being prepared…), so it seemed a good fit.

Today, I tried it. We thought of how, despite hearing the secondary assembly loud and clear – and hearing air horns blasting and shouting from the nearby gym, we were thankful that…

  1. The secondary students were having fun learning about Jesus.
  2. It’s ok for people to dance and sing and enjoy spending time with our Creator – and that we don’t have to be super-serious about God all the time.
  3. We have the Bible in a language we can understand, and this can touch the student’s hearts.
Then we shut the doors and windows and turned on the air conditioning so we could focus on learning math. (Shh… don’t tell the principal – we were on generator power!)

As I sit here at my desk completely soaked through with sweat from the hot weather and lack of air con, and as I consider how yesterday, it was -7 degrees Fahrenheit at my parents’ house in MI… I decided to think up some reasons why I’m thankful it’s hot right now. (Turns out that the secondary students quieted down after a while, which is great… except then I didn’t have an excuse for the air con. Back to the “mbezi beach breeze” for cooling our classroom down!)

Here are my thoughts:

  1. No having to shovel snow
  2. We don’t have to lug around big heavy coats, hats, mittens…
  3. No clunky snow boots! (and no getting the bottoms of your pants wet!)
  4. Student-made snowflakes make me extra happy – I’m not sick of them!
  5. No need for hot water – you want it as cold as possible for showers.
  6. No slippery roads – which is good, because traffic is insane enough in Dar without more chaos ensuing!
  7. You get to use your mosquito zapper ALL YEAR LONG! (Unlike my poor dad, who has to wait to use his Christmas present till mosquitoes come out again…)
  8. No fear of freezing when the power goes out.
  9. Clothes take up a lot less room in the closet when they are all thin and light and cottony – and they weigh a lot less to carry in luggage!
  10. No seasonal depression disorders from not enough sun – we get FULL sun nearly every day of the year!

Happy Looking on the Bright Side Monday!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

One Day, One New Experience, at a Time... (Adjusting to Culture, Day 2)

21 December 2010

Yesterday, I really didn't venture outside of the house too much.  I spent time opening all the packages of things I've ordered via Amazon to bring back to Tanzania with me (and Christmas presents for family... shh don’t tell!!!!), checked out the new look of my parent's house, and tried to stay awake after 5pm for dinner with my family.  I huddled under a much-loved fleece blanket and wore my fleece slippers from college days... and marveled at the size of my brother's three huge "puppies!"
Today was a different story.

Doctors appointments are always fun, but especially so when you’ve been living out of the country and don’t know how to answer most of their questions.  “Who gave you a prescription for such-and-such?” uh… prescription? (You don't really need prescriptions in Tanzania... just the ability to get to the Duka la Dawa (pharmacy) and the name of the drug.)  “What were the directions that came with it?” uh, there were supposed to be directions in ENGLISH?  “Who is your regular doctor?” hmm… good question... maybe you???

In getting to these questions, though, I had to do something else out-of-the-ordinary.  Driving.  On the right side of the road.  While sitting on the left-hand side of the car.  My mom graciously accompanied me on the first outing, just to make sure I remembered how to drive.  But on the second trip, I found myself saying, “Keep right, keep right…” over and over and over… just to make sure I stayed where I was supposed to. 

I also hit Meijer for the first time in a very long time, which was just a lot bit overwhelming!!!  Even the kitchen section (anyone need a frying pan?) just put me in awe.  To imagine so many pots and pans available for reasonable prices, and good quality at that!  I probably looked a little silly walking around with a camera taking pictures, but I just had to share my amazement with all of you.
So now, here I am, trying to figure out the missing luggage situation with KLM AGAIN.  This is one part of traveling that I do NOT relish.  After a similar missing bag situation with my parents last summer, which was never recovered… I’m wondering if the packages that I have in there for people will ever come. Taking it one day at a time... :(

Monday, December 20, 2010

The New World (or culture shock, day 1)

20 December 2010

People who originally came to the U.S. of A. called this the “New World…” and I have to agree.  Since arriving in this country last night I’ve found a few strange phenomenons I felt it would be good to share.  It may turn out you think these are normal, but I can truly assure you – they are not.

Hot water in the shower… 1. it’s strange that it feels good and needed.  2. No flipping of switches or 15 minutes of heating water required beforehand!

Boots.  It seems the newest rage as of late is to wear boots with fur up to your knees.  With tight pants underneath.  Maybe this has been around for a while, but for me (living in the land of sandals-only-or-else-you’ll-die-of-heat-stroke), it’s a little new.  (Note to self: Evidently it’s a good thing for missionaries to sit in airports for several hours on their way to their home country… this way they can discover the latest fashion trends and how not to break them!  Although I’m sure I’ll fail anyway…)

Stuff.  It’s amazing to see stuff for sale in airports… like m&ms.  electronics.  and real movies (not just the kind that are burned in China).

There are also a few things that are slightly terrifying me…

Water fountains.  They have water that you can drink right out of the tap.  And for that matter, water out of the kitchen sink tap that you can drink.  Is it safe???

Being able to plug a computer or any device into the wall without worrying about power spiking.  I’m having a tough time trusting this…

Realizing I don’t have to keep every electronic device I own constantly charged in case the power goes out for a couple of hours… or days.  Will it really still be on tomorrow???

COLD!  Brr.  Did I really live in this place for the first 20 years of my life???  Then again, I'm loving using more than half a sheet to sleep at night!!!  and I'm definitely wearing a fleece blanket around the house today...

Stuff.  I kind of forgot how much stuff I have, even in my room, from college and my earlier life as a teacher.  There are drawers with sharpies, tissue paper, and pipe cleaners strewn about, as if you can get these anywhere!  I forgot that once upon a time, I would go to Walmart the night before a school day to buy such things for a craft project for my kiddos… instead of ordering them via a kind friend or parent from the States 6 months in advance.  Really, I forgot some of these things existed in bulk at all!

AND I’m realizing just how many books I have.  It’s sad how many kids books I have collected over the years for my classroom and can’t bring with me to the Land of Tanz! :( My kids would LOVE these and I wish I could bring them all.  I feel like my “pile of potential things to bring back” is going to start growing out of control quickly…

Anyway, that’s all my musings for now.  Happy start to your holidays, and continue to be thankful for the blessings all around!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Kwaheri, Tanzania, kwa Sasa!

(Bye, Tanzania, for now!)
18 December 2011

It's a funny thing, this word Kwaheri.  As a person who doesn't like transitions and who hates goodbyes, I'm a big fan of See Ya Laters!  (Tuta anon badai.)  That's what most Tanzanians will say when leaving, even for a long period of time.  (Or, at least that's my experience... Heffts and others, correct me if I'm wrong!)

"Home" is another weird concept for me.  As a single (which definitely changes everything), home is often where I am not.  I'm "going home" to Kalamazoo, and when I'm in Kalamazoo, I'll be ready to "go home" to Tanzania.  I wonder if this ever really changes... hopefully at least when I get married some day!  Or whether this just has something to do with the transitional status I've been in seemingly since arriving at college.

Anyway, the fact is that I'm going "home."  To Kalamazoo.  Today.  For a quick, two-week visit to see family over the holidays.  Yes, I know.  I'm crazy.  Yet with my brother and his wife coming from Florida, and others are coming in from across the country, it seems strange NOT to make the trip to see everyone at once.  And since I haven't been "home" in a "while..."

As many of you know how good I am at worrying, I've made a list of all the things that are on my mind as I head towards this strange, very culturally different location around the world.

  • Snow!  Enough said.  (Today in Dar it's 90 degrees, sunny, with a humidity that promotes boiling while standing still)
  • Dress - I'm just glad I'm going at a time when everyone will be bundled up... I'm not sure how I'd handle seeing short shorts right now... 
  • Family - I love them!  And I can't wait to get some great hugs! :)  But I'm a little overwhelmed to imagine EVERYONE (my brother, his wife, her parents, my parents, and me) all sleeping in the same house over the next couple of weeks...
  • The question - "What comes next?"  Another inevitable transitional question that I'm sure will come up again and again while I'm home...  I'll fill you all in later!!!
  • Flights - Making it through, with no bad connections or delays or weather issues or bad announcers and speakers that don't let me here when they're announcing my flights... PLEASE PRAY!!!
  • FRIENDS - No, I'm not worried about this :)  But it will be weird to see friends married that weren't, friends with kids that I've never met, etc.  Lots of changes going on!
  • Jet Lag - I'm going home for two weeks.  Just pray that I get over jet lag both ways quickly... and that I don't arrive back in Dar any MORE tired than I am while leaving! 
Ok, the list goes on... but it should also include things like the amazing questions of what food I'll get to eat (I'm thinking Arby's!.... with Chick-fil-a milkshakes as a close second, except it doesn't exist in MI)... what kinds of great kitchen house stuff I can find that will supplement our very meager selection of utensils in our new house here... the overwhelming prospective of being in the dollar section of Target again or the Dollar Tree (Yes, I am definitely a teacher)... and replenishing my supply of Craisins, dried cherries, and maple syrup flavoring for the next several months of life in Tanzania!

But most of all, I'm just excited to be going "home."  And I'm praying that, no matter what happens, I'll be able to enjoy - and be present - and thankful - about whatever is going on and whatever God has planned!

Kwaheri, Rafiki!

(P.S.  If I don't get to see you in the next few days, please don't take offense!  I've got lots of visits to make to see family and not much time for anything else.  I'll look forward to seeing ALL of you this summer sometime... and truly CAN'T WAIT till those reunion times come!!!)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tanzania is Changing Me

Things I find slightly sad:

Every time I need to give someone my address, I have to look it up on a newsletter I’ve sent out to all of you!  (Locational addresses are unheard of here - I currently live at Mbuyuni Junction near Silver Sands and Tegeta... got that?  The only address I'll ever have here is the P.O. Box where you might send something to me!)

My first thought as I dropped chocolate cake on the floor today wasn’t, “I dropped cake!” but “Oh, man! Our floor just got washed today and it’ll be a few days till it gets cleaned again… the ants are going to have a hey-day!”  And yes.  I did eat it. :)  It was a newly cleaned floor, after all!

When we’re making pancakes, dinner, or basically anything with sugar, it’s not an uncommon question for us to voice… “do you mind if we have ants in our meal tonight?”  And the response, “No.  They’ll be cooked.” 

I get excited for several hours of power at a time, stuck all together.  And ice cream that stays frozen. 

We have a "chocolate freezer."  (You have to understand that things like chocolate chips are only available in the States - and that such special treats must be hoarded until a proper cause for celebration...)  Even our sprinkles for cakes and cookies reside here, because they will melt otherwise.

I like cloudy days (yes, I am from MI!) because they mean the blazing sun is shielded from my shoulders. 

I haven’t eaten a blueberry in over a year and a half.  And I can count how many times I’ve eaten strawberries on one hand in that time.  That, my friends, is sad. :(

I think nothing of doubling the flour in a recipe for bread or cookies as we get closer to Christmas… and as the humidity triples in the air around us!

I'm contemplating doing my "melting point" experiment for our third grade States of Matter unit with cubes of frozen butter instead of ice.  Last year I couldn't keep the ice cubes frozen long enough to get from the freezer to my classroom to perform the experiment!

I only purchase spices in heavy-duty plastic containers because I know we will have to pound them against the counter several times before each use to break up the humidified clusters…

I’m overwhelmed at the thought of going to Meijer… both because it’s a dream come true and because I know I’d be so overwhelmed.  And Target is not an uncommon place for me to visit in my dreams, usually in a frantic search for something for my classroom… :)

I get really excited for things like… ELECTRICITY!  A quiet house.  And working internet.

Happy Wednesday, all! :)

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Facebook. (or, the pros and cons of living life in a "far away" place)

3 November 2010

 Facebook.  Sometimes, it’s one of those love-hate relationships.  Generally speaking, it is AMAZING to be able to keep in touch, see pics of friend’s kids, and be updated on the daily happenings in people’s lives (see red arrows above!).  But sometimes, it’s also a way for me to realize that there is “more out there” than what I have, and to yearn for these things, these people, and these relationships myself.

A less-than-important example of this concerns the recent changing of seasons.  Lately I've been seeing pictures of friends in the States who are bringing their kids to the pumpkin patch.  Others are planning apple orchard trips.  Sweaters are coming out, and comments about the cool, crisp air are flowing through the posts.  Here in Tanzania, though, we have officially reached the season of multiple cold showers a day; sweating in the heavy, humid morning air; and being thankful when we realize that even the Tanzanians are sweating profusely... and not just us expats!  The feeling of being far away can be minimized or maximized by FB and other communication, depending on the day, the weather, the mood, or whether the power is on or off.  Here are a few of the things I’ve been missing as of late…

I miss snuggling under a comforter to get warm at bedtime, or putting on a sweatshirt at night...
I miss eating ham and being able to get good, Swiss cheese!
I miss autumn, and the changes of the seasons...
I miss being able to text and send pictures via phone with my fam – grr, AT&T!!!
I miss wandering in the woods or in God's creation by myself... or sitting under a tree in a park to journal... and not being seen as asking for a proposal…
I miss walking across the street and NOT suddenly wondering if I should have put on a kanga (a piece of fabric to cover the outline of my legs)
I miss Christian radio stations in the car and new music in general...
I miss Target. Meijer. And the Dollar Tree...
I miss my family...
I miss having other teachers at my same grade level...
I miss sitting face to face on a couch to talk, process, laugh, pray, whatever with close friends in the States...
Yet with all the things I miss,
the food, the places, the people,
the end of the matter
is that GOD has brought me here.
Jesus said, "Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life (Mark 10:29-30).
Then, on the flip side…

I love the pace of life in Tanzania, and that relationships are way more important than any scheduled meeting time...
I love being a part of an organization that is spread all over the world, and yet has a common purpose and goal in mind...
I love working in a school where the gospel is of utmost importance… and where kids can feel free to be themselves…
I love seeing baobab trees, umbrella acacias, and bamboo growing on our school property…
I love eating FRESH pineapple and knowing how to make spaghetti sauce from scratch, starting with a visit to the market down the street...
I love going for semi-daily walks with a friend, and finding ways to “get away” from the city within the city…
I love having roommates that go on emergency ice cream runs for me when life gets difficult…
I love living in a place where my family has gotten to visit and can understand (at least a little) why I'm here...
I love living in a place where I can hear cows mooing as they walk past my window…
I love getting out of Dar es Salaam and saying, “I’m finally back in Africa!”
I love knowing what I'm doing is making a very real difference in the Kingdom, mostly because this is where I'm supposed to be...
I love living in a place that is highlighted at least once a week in the Picture of the Day on National Geographic…
I love knowing that I can wake up to see the sun rising over the Indian Ocean every morning... and feel the cool (sometimes!) breeze coming off the water at night…
I love having “family” here, there, and everywhere around the globe… and having people I can go to at any time of day or night – and realizing that God puts these people in my life no matter where I might live, work, or play…

I love realizing and remembering that God is faithful to those He has called.  That He is going to stand firm in His promise to never leave us or forsake us, even when life gets hard.  I love that, despite never thinking I wanted to do missions (or understanding what it was!), God has called me to this place, this time, and these kids to serve and love on and pray for.  And despite the hardships and difficulties… despite feeling very out of place and far away… despite wondering what the future really does hold… I have a peace to know I’m exactly where I am for a reason.  And that, through it all, God is going to be right there with me.

Friday, September 17, 2010

A Normal Day in Dar (aka. International Living 101, according to Crystal)

16 Sept 2010

Today was a fun, fulfilling, laughter-filled day, but it started off pretty much the same as usual.  Kids came into my classroom from eleven-ish different countries, some of whom have parents who met on the field from different parts of the world.  I tried to greet a first grader with “Good morning!” in Danish… to no avail.  She didn’t even realize I was speaking her language!  When the bell rang at 7:30, I gave my kids directions to sit at the carpeti in Swahili, and we got going with our normal routine.  We started the school day with prayer and remembered our Tanzanian government as we head into elections… the Bibleless People group of Dongshiang in China… and our primary principal who will soon be coming from the UK… as well as the various hurts and travels of kiddos in my class and their families.  Then off to math, where we discovered Miss Lucas is NOT as adept at teaching rounding in one day as she had hoped she might be!

Break came, and I tried to get some work done.  But one of my kids came in and explained how she and her twin brother often travel to Johannesburg over Christmas with their aunt to visit their grandmother.  I also heard that they had gotten a Wii for Christmas with Super Mario Brothers Racing but the Wii never actually worked.  She came in a few minutes later to tell me matter-of-factly that her brother had called her something-or-other at recess, which in the language of Afrikaans (spoken in S. Africa, which is where they're from) means something really bad.  New knowledge for Miss Lucas for the day!

A Tanzanian student in my class who had gotten beat up over the summer when he refused to give his bike to some older kids on the street, and who has been in and out of my classroom all term thus far due to surgeries for his broken arm and physiotherapy, got sick once again from the antibiotics he’s on and had to go home.  He excitedly told me he should be here every day next week!  Poor kid.

At the same time, my Spanish-speaking student from Guatamala, who just arrived recently, greeted me in Spanish on her way in the door from break.  I discovered the only response to "Como esta?" I could think of was "Nzuri!"

The day continued as I learned that black markers really don’t work on overhead projectors… that old English, albeit in the chapter book Robin Hood of Sherwood Forest, is really difficult to say and even more difficult to translate as you read aloud to third graders… and that the homemade noodles my friend made (who is from Germany; who lives and works in Mbeya, Tanzania; and who was staying at our house, yay!) are just as good for lunch left-overs as they are the first time around.  I struggled to find a map of Europe that would work for my Medieval Times activity, and realized that the new password on my school computer won’t let me access school email… again.

Meanwhile, another “Knight Support” fire truck arrived at HOPAC to help fill the pool so we could start our class’ weekly swimming lessons – hopefully soon! (Knight Support is our guard company for campus.)

After school I headed out to the Danish Hair Design place with friends to get my hair cut.  I thought the place would be run by wazungus (white people) because of the name… but it turns out the owner was born in Tanzania and raised in Denmark.  She came back to the Land of Tanz a few years ago with her family and started this great place.  Of course!  As usual, a mix-up came when she realized the person who had been told that there would be FOUR people coming had only written down one… but the lovely owner rectified the situation and fit us all in anyway.

Off to home.  My roommate Kate decided to quickly whip up some calzones for dinner.  Everything is made from scratch here, so I started cutting up the veggies and we put tomatoes on the gas stovetop we bought recently to prep the sauce.  Good thing, since a few minutes later the power flickered and then went out.  We grabbed the kerosene lanterns that are always kept handy, used the “torch” or flashlight to grab the matches, and got the flames burning within minutes.  Marie’s Swahili lesson with her Tanzanian bajaj driver continued on in the other room, and Kate and I kept on making dinner.

Except, of course, that calzones usually need an oven to bake.  And ours happens to be electric.

Yes, Kate is actually using a coke bottle for a rolling pin.  You get creative when you need to!  I should also add that this is NOT Kate's regular hair-do... the stylist got a little 80s when she styled Kate's hair at the end!
Instead of heading over to our neighbors who have a gas stove that actually WORKS (unlike our other neighbor's whose oven keeps breaking...), we thought for a minute.  Kate knew of a recipe where you could make cookies on a frying pan – THANKS International Wycliffe Cookbook! – and realized if we made little calzones we could do the same thing.  Sure enough, the “hot pockets” were fabulously delicious, and we whipped up some frying pan cookies with dried apricots (instead of raisins) to add to dinner as well. 
Light's out pictures never give a good perspective.  At least you can see that the kerosene lamp is going behind her... because the room was otherwise pitch black!  Thanks, Tanesco (our trusty local power company) for another great adventure!

Making Frying Pan cookies with cut-up dried apricots instead of raisins... which we didn't have.  They were AMAZING!!!

We had to laugh as we realized we could totally make this meal "out in the bush" - with flour, tomatoes, green peppers, onions, and a bit of sugar!  Another useful life skill added to my resume.  Go Team Creativity in the kitchen!

As I cut up veggies in the dark with the amazing knife our fourth housemate brought from Alaska after getting my hair cut at a Danish hair salon by a Tanzanian raised in Denmark… as we listened to Swahili in the background of the African-made kerosene lamps… as we fried calzones and cookies on an American-bought frying pan and a Japanese gas “cooker”… and as we laughed at the adventure and our quick transition into cooking without lights or oven, never thinking this should be a stressful situation… it dawned on me.  Life here is never boring.  It’s always an adventure.  And my life is truly better because of its daily international perspective!!!

Thursday, July 1, 2010


1 June 2010
Today, if you go to (the Tanzanian version of Google), you might not just get the usual swahili web page responses that we usually see here.  There's also a very cool picture of a kanga for the Google logo, as seen below.

For those of you non-Swahili speakers, the Swahili above says: UNITY IS STRENGTH, DIVISION IS WEAKNESS.  The flags, left to right, are: Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, and Rwanda - the five East African countries

One of the first things you learn about clothing here in Eastern African is about the Kanga.  It's a piece of fabric that originally had designs of guinea fowl (or "kanga" in Swahili) on them.  Now they have many many "mengi" (many) different designs and colors, but there are some things that never change.  The first is that they always come in sets of two (think about what you see above, then another one end-to-end on the right hand side...).  This makes shopping with a friend fun as you can buy one, split the material, and split the cost!  Every kanga has a border around the edges of different designs, as also seen above.  Lastly, there is always a proverb or political message written in Swahili on the fabric.  This is important to check before you start wearing it around... for obvious reasons :)  (Click here for a list of kanga sayings, their translations, and their meanings).

Recent, popular kangas in Tanzania have featured two very popular, very familiar faces.  One is that of President Obama (a HUGE hero around here with many people!), and the other is Michael Jackson.  Imagine a bright orange or yellow background, with a black border, and a massive portrayal of one of these two popular faces in the middle...being made into any one of the several options found below.  I think you're starting to get the picture. :)

For those of you who watch the Emmy's, it turns out that Obama kangas were popular even before the US Election.  I just found this picture on Google images, straight off the run-way from 2009!
What, exactly, might you use such an amazing piece of fabric for?  Well, I'm glad you asked!  There's actually a book on the market that answers your question to completion, called Kangas: 101 Uses: Fashionable, Functional, and Fanciful.  BUT for those of you who aren't quite ready to rush out and read the book, here's a quick synopsis of ten fashionably fanciful functions you can use the cloth for.

  1. The traditional use of the fabric is to make a wrap-skirt.  It's simply the cloth (as seen above - 1 side of it) wrapped around your waist to make a covering.  I'd always wear it over something, but it makes an easy "more appropriate" clothing option for covering the outline of our thighs when we're going into areas that are heavily Muslim. 
  2. As you can see above, you can also use this fabric to make a variety of other clothing options.  I've not made pants (yet) but I do have skirts and dresses made out of different designs. Thus far, I've found different designs from those above to use for my creations - and have been much happier with them in the end!
  3. In the midst of hot Dar es Salaam, kangas have a variety of other functions as well.  One of these is to cover your head and shoulders when you walk.  When we first saw someone doing this we sure they were die of heatstroke... but it turns out that a light piece of fabric covering you from the brilliantly hot equatorial sun really does make a difference in keeping you cool!
  4. In colder places, like Mbeya - or in Dar when you reach a much-to-be-longed-for coldly-air-conditioned room - you can use such useful pieces of fabric to wrap up in.  They make a great shawl or leg covering to shield against the upepo baridi (cold breeze).  
  5. Kangas are also extremely useful when sitting outside a bus that has been broken down, in terms of shielding your legs from the relentless mozzies (mosquitoes).
  6. If you think to bring your belongings overseas in an Action Packer, kangas are perfect for covering the box and making it into a small shelf or bench.  They also make a great tablecloth for coffee tables, and protect furniture when fundis decide to use your newly-purchased bedside tables pieces as tool benches.  (Fundis are "experts" - sometimes self-proclaimed, other times well-trained and good at what they do.  The term could be used for carpenters, plumbers, tailors, mechanics, electricians, lights, anything.)
  7. Recently, I tried out my mad-skills of carrying things on my head.  I don't have it quite down yet... ok, I have a long ways to go!  But it turns out that wood of the table, rubbing against the skull bones on my head, just doesn't feel very comfortable.  Needless to say, I gave up within a couple of minutes.  In watching Tanzanian women more carefully, I've since discovered their trick.  They roll up a kanga into a soft circular shape, put this on their head, and THEN put their water bucket, pile of sticks, or basket of veggies on their head.  I'm not to the point of being able to do this with a baby on my back (also in a kanga), while holding onto a small child with each hand (meaning the bucket/sticks/etc are balanced perfectly as they all walk along together...) but perhaps this small piece of knowledge will help me get there a little faster!
  8. For all you mamas of watoto kidogo (little kids) out there, here's your fast, cheap, easy option for keeping your child with you at all times... and going about daily life in the meantime!  Simply lay your baby face down on your back (with you leaning bent foward from your waist, of course), wrap a kanga around you so that they are tightly held against your back with legs sticking out on either side, and tie it over your shoulder and knotted across your front.  Wahlah!  None of these expensive kiddie backpacks for you!  Maybe you'll even set a new fashion trend :)
  9. Back to home uses.  Kangas make GREAT window coverings, or curtains.  They are fun, brightly colored, come in a variety of styles that fit your fancy... and are just about the right length and width to cover the windows in your house.  I've opted to use something a bit less African-ish for my room... but one of my roommates used these and they looked great!
  10. Last but not least, kangas make a great option for gift wrap.  They're a little more pricey than the paper kind you're likely to find at a local MEIJER... pole sana (so sorry!) to those of you who aren't lucky enough to have such a great store near your home!  But kangas ARE reusable and versatile for any of the purposes above.  So if you ever get a gift wrapped up in a largish cloth with a border, a Swahili saying, and bright colors, you now know what to do.

    Wednesday, March 31, 2010

    You Know You're Living in Tanzania When...

    I recently saw a friend of a friend’s blog listing ways you know you are serving overseas. Here’s a few of hers that apply, as well as several others that are unique to life in Dar!

    You Know You’re Living in Tanzania When:
    • You look up the weather of the place you’re going to – only to discover it’s not recognized, that the weather is “not reporting” (probably because the thermometer melted!), or that the place “doesn’t exist” at all.
    • You’re learning to self-diagnose and know where the local duka la dawa (house of chemistry… or pharmacy) is that has what you need. (No prescription required!)
    • You bring mozzie spray, sunlotion, water, and a kanga with you wherever you go.
    • You have at least two Action Packers (plastic storage lockers) which are covered in fabric and being used as furniture.
    • You’re not surprised by the sounds of city-wide groaning or cheering when the power goes off or comes on. And you have the power company's phone number on speed dial.
    • You know how to scrap your meal plan and come up with something good and fast when the electricity goes out an hour before dinner.
    • You cook with grams, cups, milliliters, Fahrenheit, and Celsius
    • You've figured out things you never would have understood back home - electricity, computers, plumbing, and exterminating.
    • Your students bring in hedgehogs and lizards that they found on the playground, and can recognize puff adders on sight.
    • You keep a headlamp next to the bed, and you use it frequently. AND You have a set location where “the flashlight” resides so you can find it easily in the dark.
    • Your list of favorite things includes kerosene lamps!
    • You think that Parmesan cheese and nature valley granola bars are the best gifts you’ve ever received.
    • You start your “cuteness” rating of clothing on others by first looking at the clothing’s coolness factor. Then comfort. Then colors and design. :)
    • You're satisfied having accomplished three out of seven errands when you go to town.
    • You often come home repeating an unknown phrase over and over to look up in one of several resources.
    • You bring Bibles in two languages to church, plus a dictionary, and still only catch 1/4 of the sermon even though you were paying attention. (not for me, we have English services in Dar! But out in the villages, church looks a little different…)
    • Broccoli and lettuce seem exotic, while mangoes and papaya seem boring.
    • You use cloth rags for cleaning instead of paper towels, and it's not because you're environmentally conscious.
    • You rate your cold by how many toilet paper rolls you’ve been through, instead of tissues… and you dream of lotion-infused Puffs!
    • You write newsletters and take family photos every month… or make sure that every exciting event is fully photographed to share on FB!
    • You laugh when you see a magazine photo making a mosquito net look charming or romantic.
    • You routinely use words like mozzies (mosquitoes), sunnies (sunglasses), trousers (pants in the UK are what you wear UNDERNEATH!!!), and sawa (ok) routinely… and feel that your vocabulary is better off from it’s Australian, UK, American, Tanzanian, and Netherland influences.
    • You routinely walk to the wrong side of the vehicle to get in, and bump your right arm on the window every time you try to turn around to watch as you back up while driving.
    • You know more about vehicle clearance on cars than the features inside. And you're excited when you find one whose instructions aren't in Japanese!

    Saturday, March 20, 2010

    "Stop Making Sense"

    I have a friend, Meghan, who is volunteering with WorldTeach in Rwanda for a year. You can check out her blog here. Her recent post completely describes what we often struggle with in Tanzania as well. Even if someone happens to speak the same language, the meaning is not always understood. You can imagine this happening in anything from getting erasers for my classroom from the Tanzanian office staff, to explaining the procedures for cleaning to our house help. We definitely have plenty of opportunities to learn the virtue of "patience" here in Africa!

    "When we arrived in Kigali, I headed to La Posita (the post office). I had been told by three different people from our group that I had two packages waiting for me there. Our Field Director had gone to see if she could pick them up since they were send c/o her. However, she only managed to get the smaller one out for me. When I arrived at the package pick-up area, I told the man at the counter that I was there to pick up a package. He asked if I had a package pick-up slip. I had been warned about these. “They always ask for a package pick-up slip, but no one has ever actually received one.” So I told him no, and he brought out a large book of names, which I was also warned about. You are supposed to find your name in the book and provide identification proving that you are that person, and then they go retrieve the package for you. While I’m sure the names are entered in the order that the packages are received, there are no dates stating when the package arrived and having no idea of the volume of package traffic they had, I had no clue where to start looking. After 15 minutes of searching name by name and passing several names of people I knew, I started getting a little frustrated. I knew my name had to be in there (someone from our group had sent me a text message a few days before saying that she had seen my name in “the book.” ) So I asked the man at the counter if this was the only book they had. “yes, there’s no other,” he said. So, I continued looking.

    Finally I spotted my name, but it had been signed off by my field director, so I knew that this was the smaller package. I showed it to the man and asked if it was possible if there were two packages under this same entry. “No,” he said. “And this one has already been picked up. If there is another package, this person would have picked it up too. But probably it has not arrived yet.”

    “This is impossible,” I told him, “I was told that there were two packages here under my name.”

    “If it is not in the book, then it has not arrived,” he answered firmly.

    So I continued looking with no luck. Now I was getting really frustrated. “Can you just look in the back and see if there is a package by this name?” I asked. “ No, if it is not in the book, then it has not arrived yet,” he replied. “No,” I countered, explaining again, “When this person came to pick up the other package, there were two packages.”

    “That is impossible. Because then she would have taken that one as well.” He was getting visibly impatient with me.

    I was getting equally impatient with him. Even though he spoke English very well, I knew that there was some invisible communication black hole between us in which lay the meaning of my words and the unspoken, commonly understood workings of the Rwandan parcels office. And probably my package. I didn’t know how I could be anymore clear that there was another package for me and that it had arrived. And he didn’t know how he could make me understand that my package was not there. I took a deep breath and told him, “No, they told her that she was not allowed to take it. She tried to get both, but they would only let her take the smaller one.”

    “…oh… your package is not small?”


    “Then, it is in this book,” he said, his voice immediately calm, as he pulled out another book.

    In my head I rolled my eyes and thought to myself, “Meghan, you just need to stop making sense!”

    This new book was much neater, and after about 5 seconds, I found my name three pages back.

    If a Rwandan had come to pick up a package, never having set foot there before and never having discussed the procedures of package pick-up, I’m fairly certain that with a glance or two and maybe some eyebrow motions they would have had their package in their hands in under 5 minutes. No wonder my students have such a hard time with critical thinking skills and rationalized communication… who needs those when you’re born with an innate sense of knowing what’s up."

    Wednesday, December 30, 2009

    What is Today, Anyway???


    You might have noticed how my dates are a little sporadic in the way I write them on my blog. That’s because my brain has been a little sporadic, too. Ok, ok. What I mean is in the sense of not knowing any more how to write a date correctly, because I’m surrounded by a community from around the world that has too many ways of recording a single day in history!

    If, and when :), you come visit, you might notice a few other things I’m “mixing up” or changing in my everyday life. Mosquitoes are now “mozzies,” pants are sporadically starting to mean the things you wear underneath your “trousers” (the pants that kids sing "I see London, I see France..." about), jumpers refer to sweaters, and I often speak of things being “proper” instead of nice, or real. Also, flour might be brown or white – it doesn’t matter what it says on the outside of the bag; surprise! Sugar is never white (instead, it’s the same stuff that people pay more for or that you get in fancy restaurant packets for coffee. Hmm…) And making pancakes – or tacos – or spaghetti (including sauce) – or anything else we consider “quick and easy,” is now a made-from scratch process. I’m not surprised to find glass, or bugs, or wiggling worms in my food (or flour), and think it’s normal to walk up and down the street looking for real flour to bake with. I also get super-excited for things like kerosene lamps, gas burners, and candles… all of which make power-outages much less of a chore!!! Watch out, world, I’m not exactly sure what I'll be like before I get back to the States!

    Wednesday, December 9, 2009

    Sounds in Dar

    December 4, 2009
    I’ve always thought the little animated noises on computer programs were funny. You know how you’d hear those funny little background noises when you played Sim-Farm, or now, Farm-Town? The “moo” randomly calling out, the funny squawking noises… or the cars honking and the city sounds of Sim-City. Somehow I never really connected these with the real world.

    But now, I’m pretty certain the makers lived in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

    Outside my window right now on a Friday at 7pm, I’m hearing…
    * cows mooing sporadically
    * Swahili praise music from a local wedding, that's actually not bad...
    * Cars honking – and a loud, random semi-of-sorts that just blurted its horn outside my window
    * Random callings to prayers from the mosques nearby
    * Music playing (mostly from the 90s) from the bar across the street, and another radio shouting out the news
    * the thumping of loud base music playing… somewhere
    * my fan in my room (trying to keep me cool)
    * and a random “blurt, splat” from a brass band on the back of a pick-up truck (one of the many ways that weddings are celebrated here are to have a conglomeration of brass players hop on the back of a truck and play random noises (maybe songs?) as they drive through the street. Of course, they also have ribbon and flowers to decorate the surrounding cars - mostly looking like they belong in a wedding funeral.) Megs, I seriously think you should consider this for your wedding!!!

    Tuesday, November 24, 2009

    5000 Coaches

    One of my favorite movies is “Akeelah and the Bee”. Akeelah is an amazing speller in a run-down local school, and begins to be coached by a professor for the National Spelling Bee. For one reason or another, though, the coach had to stop just as she was beginning her final training stretch, and she felt totally alone. Her mom, and many others, helped her to see that she had 5000 coaches – people all around her in her community that were all willing to help her learn the words she needed in order to succeed.

    Lately, I’ve been realizing I’m in a similar situation. No, I’m not training for the National Spelling Bee. But I am training to be able to communicate with those around me. And though I can often be frustrated with my lack of skills, or feel alone in the process, God is showing me that He’s given me five thousand coaches right around me.

    Whether I’m going out of our compound… walking in to school… greeting my househelp at home or cleaner at school… going across the street to the duka… in my classroom with my kids… or talking to new friends at church… I can practice my Swahili anywhere. And there is always someone who’s willing to help me.

    Today, our friend Edward (who also happens to teach us Swahili) brought us to Kariyako. This is the place where you can supposedly find EVERYTHING you want or need. On the dala dala (bus) to and from, we practiced our Swahili as we learned the names of trees, plants, places, and things. On the way back, I practiced saying that my younger brother is coming to visit on December 12! It didn’t matter that we were on a bus filled with Tanzanians; he was willing to help, and I had learning in an every-day situation. (And, it made the hour-long trip go by much faster!)

    Once again, I’m realizing God did not make us to be alone. Even as He chose to confuse our languages for His glory at the Tower of Babel (something I often wish hadn’t happened…), He is now graciously giving me opportunities to practice a new language – and providing people to teach me – everywhere I go.

    Five Thousand Coaches. Though sometimes I feel 5 million miles away from anything that seems right or familiar, I’m once again reminded that I’m surrounded – and that I am not alone.

    Adventure Number 1,573: Going to Jordan’s Duka

    We have an on-going “list” of adventures, all numbered, here in Dar. Life here is FULL of adventures at every turn!

    Today, Marie and I were planning to go to Jordan’s Duka. There are dukas everywhere, but this duka in particular is known because they sell cheese (about $28 for a huge chunk, which is reasonable here!), juice, and milk. When Marie came in my classroom after school, we decided we had just enough time to catch a bajaj there and back before our Swahili lesson at our house.

    We headed over to the place across from our house where bajajs (three-wheeled motor vehicles) and piki pikis (motorbikes) are sitting with people who really don’t want to give wazungu (white people) business. Ok, they jump at the chance to get our attention, but they also leap for joy at the opportunity to get way more money from us than they should. So after approaching 4 different drivers, and being told prices that were too much (they wouldn’t come down), we set out on foot.

    We needed some exercise, anyway! (And the Indian Ocean breeze is much better around 4:30pm than any earlier in the day…)

    Along the way, we tried to wave down several bajajs… a couple already had passengers in the back, and one strolled by completely empty as we watched the bajaj driver texting as he drove, on what looked like a Blackberry. Must be all those Wazungu passengers that helped fund it!

    We made it down to Africana (about ¾ of the way to the aforementioned duka), where we were sure to find a taker. This is a huge hangout place and crossroads where everyone is coming and going, and you can get transportation to and from anywhere. We contracted a bajaj to take us to Jordan’s Duka for 2,000 Tsh (Tanzania Shillings; about $1.60 American) to bring us the rest of the way, wait for us, and take us home. Still a bit too much, probably, but it was worth it to know we could get home with bags in the end, and in time for our Swahili lesson, no less.

    Before you assume I’m being stingy, picture this: wherever I go, I automatically get the “mzungu” (white person) price. It gets pretty old, pretty fast. For instance, the other day Marie was making her way home from the store, and went up to a bajaj driver on the road.

    She asked “shilingi ngapi?” (How much will it cost?)

    The bajaj driver said “alfu sitini” (60,000 Tsh).

    “ Hapana!” (No!) Marie said. “Alfu sita!” (6,000Tsh)

    “Sawa” (ok), the driver replied, and off they went.

    If you have white skin, you have money; simple as that. They know what’s fair, and don’t care. Sometimes, in circumstances such as this, they’re just trying to see if they can get more than is fair – and then willing accept the normal price. Other times, such as today, they refuse to budge. And, with Marie and I, lose business because of it.

    The deal seems to be: the more money they can get out of one person, the more they’ll charge everyone else in the same situation. Our landlord recently swore we were bluffing when our neighbors said they couldn’t afford his raised renting rates. They think we have huge coffers in the States that we’re just not willing to give them – not people who are willingly sacrificing to support us out of their own income! It’s a foreign concept, this wanting to live on a more even-keel with our neighbors – but it’s also a point to ponder. If we pay whatever they ask, it raises the prices for everyone, including our Tanzanian neighbors. Our willingness to pay ridiculous rates means that business owners can afford to raise their prices – and in the end, locals are left out of the loop when they can’t afford them. Despite wanting more for themselves, they are really doing a disservice to their own country and people around them.

    Usually, we are able to curtail the problem by being prepared. We often ask our guards or other Tanzanians for fair prices before heading out for an item… then decide ahead of time what we’re willing to pay. (It works out well to go in twos!) Even if they refuse to come down, they often call out to you and lower their prices when you walk away. Or sometimes, they just lose out on the business. Recently, I asked some of our Tanzanian neighbor boys how much a newspaper costs… then how much they thought I would have to pay. They looked surprised as they realized what I meant, and asked how I knew I would be charged a different amount. In the end, I’m thankful for the resources I’ve been given – and want to be a good steward of these in helping all those around me, here at HOPAC and around the whole of Dar!

    Thursday, November 12, 2009

    What is Hot??? A Theory of Relativity

    27 October 2009
    I recently discovered that incessantly comparing the weather of the place where you are living, as compared to the “magical” seemingly always perfect weather of where you’ve been before, is a part of culture shock. It was good to find out I am normal, because it seems that the hot topic of discussion these days is the heat. Marie and I, coming from northern-most States, have lamented time and again that we miss the fall leaves changing, that we would like some cooler weather, and just how nice it really would be to put on a sweater once again. While I’m sure that many of you would LOVE to change places with me right now, I am finding it harder than I would have guessed to completely skip the autumn and winter seasons this year. (I came at the end of “winter” here in Tanzania, and we’re now in Spring heading towards the season of summer.)

    The deal is, it is hot. And I, personally, have always enjoyed cuddling up with a good book in front of a raging fire. The problem is, the fire-source here in Africa is the SUN. You step into it and realize that you are weary, hot, and worn down from the very rays that hit your skin. And I’m definitely not going to snuggle up with a good book in the hot outdoors… unless, of course, the power is off. Then the front porch is a great place to catch the latest breeze!

    In our multiple discussions of Marie and my northern-most family and friends, vs Elaine’s family and upbringing in Florida, we’ve been reminded of just how relative “heat” really is. For Michiganders in the spring, 60 degrees is short and T-shirt weather. For Floridians, that’s the time to bundle up – its getting cold! And as we pass by our compound guards in their heavy winter coat, hat, mittens, and pants first thing in the morning (it’s probably 80 degrees F, just for reference!), we have to laugh. It seems that the epidemic of being cold in hot climates is uncontrollable. I just wish, for myself, that this problem would hit me!

    Last week, as I talked with a secretary at our school, she mentioned just how hot it has been getting. I have to admit, I appreciate when Tanzanians complain about the heat, because it makes me realize I really am not completely crazy! She went on to say how 2 months ago, it was freezing (getting down into the 70s), and now it’s already hot. They all think I’m crazy that I think the upper 70s with a cool breeze sounds LOVELY!!!

    In talking with my mom the other day, she asked how the weather was. (It’s hard to tell, since the weather usually doesn’t change the temp for 2-3 weeks at a time…) I said warm but not too bad. It wasn’t until I told her the temp that I realized how much my perspective has changed. Yes, it is VERY hot and muggy… but I can’t let myself think that way. It’s only spring – summer is coming, and it’s going to be a long trying one at that!

    A Few of the Perks to Living in Dar

    10 November 2009
    I was taking a shower last night when I realized the ridiculousness of me plunging into the cold water – and refusing to turn on the water heater. I thought back to friends who’ve said that it’s best to take hot showers in hot weather – I’m not sure I’m sold on that yet. Anyway, sometimes the best way to live and transition to a new place is to LAUGH!!! Here are a few of the perks I’ve come up with from living here in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania!

    10. Improved hand-eye coordination, as I master the skill of killing mozzies (mosquitoes) with one hand. Kyle, you'd be proud! :)

    9. The opportunity to laugh – hard – as I learn to say things like nyenye (yes, think Chinese-sounding), and as I make up my own new version of Swah-English. (No-sante?!) I’ve also started to add Spanish into the mix, sometimes not even sure if I’m speaking Spanish or Swahili.

    8. A great opportunity to learn the process of sweat vs. hydration – and practice it daily. It’s got to be good for your pores, right?!

    7. A constant supply of “karibu - welcomes” everywhere I go. (I guess that should mean I’ll never feel lonely…)

    6. A new appreciation for things like: candles, colored pens, corn syrup, cereal, and ziplock bags.

    5. A never-ending question to mull over as to why there are so many cows – everywhere – and yet beef and dairy products are outrageously expensive. (Must be everyone is saving up their cows for bride-prices…)

    4. Learning new things about the United States daily, such as “There are no M’s in America” or “Obama was my next door neighbor – I grew up with him.” Should I be impressed???

    3. A new appreciation – and love – for cold showers. (Not to mention AC!!!) No need to turn on water heaters here!

    2. A beautiful palm-tree sunrise out the window every morning, and a nice ocean breeze as you get out of school (yes, that means 4pm, mostly!).

    1. Having a sweet vacation spot for people to come visit. Karibu!