Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Christmas Blessings

Usually I actually enjoy writing our annual Christmas letter. But this year, I feel like we’ve bared our souls almost weekly so there’s very little to write about! Last year at this time, we were frantically trying to sort everything we own into things to send to Africa, things to be stored, and things we needed until we left, but wouldn’t be bringing to Africa and things we needed until we left, but then needed to be stored. Oh, and celebrate Christmas in a way that was “normal” without trying to create something artificial because we wouldn’t be celebrating our American Christmas again for a while. I guess it must have been completely routine because I don’t remember any specifics about it!

This Christmas we celebrated in shorts. We opened a few presents that magically appeared under a baobab tree made of banana leaves and decorated with some favorite ornaments from home. We celebrated with new friends and ate delicious ham and roasted potatoes and yummy desserts. It was much lower-key than Christmases we’ve celebrated—and that’s saying something, because with no family near, we’ve celebrated very low-key Christmases! This year, our kids didn’t ask for anything, or make a wish list (either they’ve truly been transformed, or they have the child’s assurance that gifts will somehow appear on Christmas Day!)

This year, we are surrounded by people who don’t celebrate Christmas, except for a church service and perhaps a little extra something for dinner. Who can’t possibly understand Santa Claus, wish lists, and only “5 more shopping days until Christmas”. Who may have a little extra for new shoes or clothes or school supplies, but probably won’t. And maybe won’t need them anyway—the news reports that when the new school year starts next month, 50% of students who are eligible to attend secondary school won’t be going because there are not enough schools.

33% of the people in this country will attend church on Christmas Day and give thanks for the greatest gift we have ever been given, that of God’s Son. They will celebrate the blessings in their lives. They will remember those who are less fortunate and, like the widow, will give out of their poverty, not out of their excess. They will gather with family if they are able and enjoy a meal together.

The other 66% will not attend church or recognize Christmas Day as anything but another Monday. They don’t recognize the love and hope that arrived with the birth of a child so long ago. Yet they also carry on every day, struggling against tremendous odds to try to do what all of us do—earn a living wage to provide for their families, to try to hope for something better for their children, something more than what they have today.

This past year has been the biggest blessing of our lives. No matter how tired, frustrated, or whatever else, we recognize the tremendous gift that we’ve been given in being here and every day we feel more and more at home. And we have been reminded every day, often in ways that are not always pleasant, that we have been abundantly blessed in comparison to most of the rest of the world. The challenge of “blessed to be a blessing” is to live our lives intentionally in ways that reflect our faith and our gratitude in service to others. We’ve found it to be a difficult assignment, one that I don’t think will ever become easy.

Thank you to all of you who are sending Christmas letters and cards and photos! We are pleasantly surprised every day at the post office to receive an actual letter or card—yes, they are arriving! We have so enjoyed reading about your lives over this past year and we’ve had some great conversations about things we didn’t do this past year. Those trips down memory lane were fun and we found we didn’t feel like we missed out on something, another sign that life is good for us here. Again, we can’t thank you enough for all your words of support, encouragement, and prayers that have sustained us every day. We have come to realize how important you all are to not only us, but to the mission of Peace House Foundation. Whether you’ve written a check, volunteered your time, attended an event, visited us (or will visit), or sent an email, you have contributed to what is happening here in a very powerful way.

Wherever you are, whomever you’re with—enjoy a peaceful and blessed Christmas with family and friends. We will keep you in our prayers in the coming year. Merry Christmas!

Heri ya Krismas!

Here is our funny little Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. I was so excited when I took this picture because the kids were in bed and they had no idea they were getting presents. Family had sent gifts but we had kept them hidden. Saturday they went out and got some little trinkets for each other, so when they went to bed, they each had 2 small things under the tree (and since they knew they were from siblings, they'd be small). Noah only had one, owing to a tantrum Ava threw in a store so she was sent to the car. As he went to bed, Noah said, "I am very thankful I have even one present. I wish all the kids in the world who got only one or none presents would get 10 more." A sweet sentiment. Then, "And I wish kids who got 2 presents would only get 2 more so that way I'd have 11 presents but Cameron would only have 4." Sigh. So much for altruism, at least this year! Actually, Noah is the most generous of all of them when it comes to gift-giving. He has a good sense of what his brother or sister would like and is a very thoughtful gifter.
Christmas Day arrived, the presents under the tree were a huge surprise and after a cinnamon roll breakfast we settled into a pretty traditional gift opening. Noah is aiming to play on a World Cup soccer team some day so he loved his soccer uniform as well as new legos and a Star Wars encyclopedia. Living in the moment, as he always does, he proclaimed this "the very best Christmas ever!" Amen!

Ava was princessed out, with barbies, a Belle dress and other royal trinkets. She wore her Belle dress most of the day and slept with her new dollies. She is anxiously waiting to try out some craft-y things and has already formed new families with her new Breyer horse.

Cameron is a pre-teen now and realized it at the end of the day when he was looking around for something and said, "Hey, where're all my toys?" It was then he realized...he didn't get any! Then he looked around, saw his new iPod shuffle and very cool messenger bag and said, "Oh, yeah, my iPod!" He was so thrilled to get it and is starting to get some music organized. I remember being his age and thinking the same thing about no toys for a Christmas and feeling a bit "lost" even though I loved what I had been given. He's definitely in the transition to being a teen. He did get a few small things and kept himself busy "helping" Noah with his lego kits.
They all loved getting new books (Star Wars and Xmen and animal encyclopedias and novels) and new movies, so they are not too deprived in those areas!
We spent the afternoon with our neighbors and their family from the States playing games and eating a great ham dinner. The kids all played, watched a movie, then early to bed. Pretty much what we'd do if we were back in Minnesota. We were/are very thankful for the gifts we received from family and friends as well as the blessings we've received this past year.
Hope your Christmas was fun, merry, peaceful, and joyous!


Monday, December 25, 2006

Forget Christmas Shopping...How Many Days til Harry?

It’s here! Well, not really here so much as titled. If you’re not a Harry Potter fan, well, read no further. Cameron and I are HUGE fans, and our extreme anticipation at reading the last book is tempered only by the fact that we know it’s the last one. Cameron plans to overnight DHL our copy to us and then we have to shut the internet down until we’re done reading it so we don’t become tainted by any advance gossip or information before we’re done reading.

I won't even get into how great the books are--most of you have read 'em with your kids. If you haven't, or if you don't have kids--START READING! It's not just kiddy lit. One of the great aspects is the author's refusal to take the easy or sanitized road--it's a serious story and it she really delivers.

Mind you, the buzz is that the book won’t be released until sometime in July, so we know we’re really early with all the excitement…

Yeah, I know this has nothing to do with Christmas. We haven't had electricity for 3 1/2 days. The first thing I post when it comes on is this. Go figure.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

December in Tanzania...

...means wearing sunscreen, since it is summer, after all. And hiking in big open spaces. Like these. Actually, it wasn't hiking in the traditional sense--it was more like walking around in the grass. You can't really get a sense of how steep the hill is, but it was like a big bowl (Cameron and I immediately mentally skied it) with a deep karonga (ravine) down the middle. It was absolutely spectacular! Erwin, who runs the Heifer Project in Tanzania, took us out, along with some friends (that's Lucas, Ava's friend from school). Considering the wide open spaces all over the place, hiking and camping are a bit tricky. You can't just go out and clomp around--for one thing, who'd watch your car? You have to know where to leave it or who you can get to watch it for you. Then you have to either speak Swahili very well and/or know the people who are living in the area you want to hike in. You probably will have to pay a small fee to walk around their space. For camping, you need all of the above--you may also need a guard for people or wildlife, so again you have to know the area or be able to negotiate all of that, or bring an interpreter along (it was much easier back home--drive up, pay the fee, and off you go).

But we had a fantastic time--the weather was hot, with a nice cool breeze--the kind that makes you forget to wear sunscreen and then you regret it later (but we remembered). The view was breathtaking. As we looked down we could see herds of cows and goats, and small bomas surrounded by brush fences. We were followed by the young boy in the picture with Ava and Lucas and for a short while some very young (probably 7-8) year old children who took a break from herding their goats to trail along behind. No wild animals, but lots of birds. We need to get a bird book, as there are so many interesting birds here! And let's face it, it's pretty easy to identify the mammals around here!
And despite the skiing comment--absolutely no complaints on this end about the lack of snow. Nope, not missing the cold at all! We all came back unanimously agreeing that it was a practically perfect day in Tanzania!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas...?

Well, Christmas somewhere. Like here, for instance. It's a bit surreal sweating and listening to Christmas carols. And my snowmen look suspiciously out of place here, as do my snowflake window clings. But Christmas means a tree, don'tcha know. I could have brought my 7 foot beautiful evergreen along with me. I could run over to Shoprite and spend $8 on a crummy little fakey tree. But why would I do that? I could do this instead...

It's a baobab tree. Made from banana leaves. And shellacked. My houseworker and gardener clearly think I've gone 'round the bend. Why wouldn't I have a "real" tree?! But we all love it. We brought some ornaments from home and I bought some lights today. It took about 5 minutes to decorate the thing and the kids were very excited to see it all lit up tonight. Along with a few other Christmas tchotchkes, we're ready for the big day.

Christmas here is very...eclectic. Expats from all the different countries have their own Christmas celebrations, the wealthier Tanzanians adopt many of our traditional elements of the holidays, and most Tanzanians don't really celebrate at all except for a special church service and a maybe a bigger meal on the day. Since the new school year starts in January here, most children's gifts are shoes or clothes or a new uniform, if they get anything. Wealthier children will get fancy dresses or clothes to show off at church (like we do at Easter) or toys. Without the malls, the ads, and all the commericial reminders of Christmas, things have been very low key here. No one has asked for anything really, although Ava has asked if Santa comes to Africa and expressed some concern at the lack of a chimney and the fact that we have bars on the windows and doors. Gifts have arrived from family in the States, but we have hidden them away and not told them anything. I'm sure some people (read: Noah) will be a bit anxious as the day draws nearer and the tree is suspiciously bare underneath. Mark has tried before to get me to keep all the presents hidden until Christmas Day, but I couldn't do it. It was too much fun watching the anticipation. I think this year, though, it'll be so great because on one level the just know there'll be something, but they haven't been at all preoccupied with planning what they'll be wanting and getting. As with everything else here, we'll just have to wait and see.
Even my phone is ringing "Jingle Bells"!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Trouble with School is...

Well, it would be hard to know where to start. The education system in Tanzania has so many problems. This little episode can give you an idea of how people can be shut out of the system. Our housekeeper, Yasini, lived at a Baptist seminary prior to coming to work for us. His oldest daughter (15) and oldest son (10) have gone to government schools (public schools). His 3rd child has always gone to a private English school. Going to an English school gives a student a leg up on being able to learn efficiently in English as all secondary schools are required to teach in English (another huge impediment to students being able to learn effectively, but that's another story). When Yasini moved his family to this side of town, Fadhili switched from a private school to a government school.

And then came the problem. The government school, while allowing Fadhili to attend, would not officially register him. Why? Because he didn't have the proper government school forms. Yasini spent most of this year trying to get the school to accept the information, records, and letters from the private school, but they wouldn't accept them. There really was no reason, and of course no one would put themselves out to help him solve the snag. Fadhili finished this school year (school here runs January-December) and did very well.

Except the school won't register him and if he's not registered, he can't take the required national exams next year. And if he doesn't take the exams, he can't continue past 4th grade. Yasini went to another government school to see if he could go there for next year and was told that he would have to submit the same kinds of records he doesn't have for this current government school. What's more, even though Fadhili has attended school every day this year, because he's not officially "registered" the school can say he really wasn't there at all.

In this situation most Tanzanians would be absolutely stuck, with a child that would not be allowed to continue his education because of some stupid glitch and a group of very unhelpful people. Unfortunately, this is the kind of thing that happens all the time in all walks of life. There is no rhyme nor reason for what happens here. Fortunately, Yasini works for us. When he told us about the problem, we decided to step in and send Fadhili back to a private school where he can continue learning in English and where he won't have the troubles he's had this year with registration. Funny, when Yasini showed up at that school, they had no problem registering him. His school fees for the year will be 150,000/= (about $130), an amount that would not be possible for Yasini or most Tanzanians to afford.

We also decided to offer his brother Amani the same benefit. Amani was the top student in his grade this year and it will also give him a leg up to be able to learn in English. Fadhili's English is very good, having been in school learning and spending so much time with Noah, but Amani also speaks quite well and will catch on quickly, as he's a very serious student.

Less than $300 for a chance at a better education. To learn English before being thrown to the wolves in secondary school. To have the chance to compete for a very precious (and scarce) spot in a secondary school. For us, not much. For them, it's all the difference in the world.

If that's one thing we've learned here, it's that a little used wisely can do so much here. Yasini's wife can continue to sew and care for their littlest girl (age 2 1/2). They have the money for Johanna to continue Form 3 next year. They have been able to do better than most who work similar jobs by living at the seminary and then with us this year, avoiding rent, water, and electricity payments. When they move into their own house this month (and finally have their whole family together again), they will be able to continue to keep their family as a priority, something that is very difficult to do here. We are happy to be able to do something that can help our friends in this way.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Rugby Rocks

Not that I know really anything about it. Except that it's way more fun than football. The action is non-stop, similar to hockey or soccer--none of those mind-numbing timeouts. You can throw the ball to almost anyone and play doesn't stop when the ball hits the ground. When teams are trying to grab or block a throw in, they hoist a skinny guy up by his shorts into the air. We've seen the national team play a few times and loved it. Rugby is big here in Arusha and you can have lunch/dinner at the fields in the bar and watch the professional teams have at it.

Cameron's chasing a Simonson. The Simonson name is legendary here among missionary and development circles. Dave and Eunice raised 3 large excellent rugby players. It's clear that the genes have been passed to the next generation, but Cameron's giving it his very best shot!

Crazily enough, Cameron loves to play. Crazy because he's never really been interested in team ball sports before. Crazy because you don't play with pads. Crazy because he's, well, the teensiest bit frail looking (he just read this and is objecting to "frail", but I didn't say he was frail). But he's having a great time, so he signed up for the interschool rugby games this weekend. I was a bit worried when they took the field--fielding 6th-10th grade boys on the teams! A few minor adjustments to the rules and they were off.

I myself would be careful about just leaping into a tackle with a bunch of 15 year olds! But if they don't stop the ball carrier and get the ball away from him, he'll just lob it to the next kid on his team and the play continues!

Oops! Interception! Good hands, Cameron--unfortunately, Mr. Red Shoes snagged the ball and is off. We had a great time cheering everyone on.

Cameron's house team came in second for the weekend sports event, which made them feel good. The whole school from kindergarden through 10th grade is divided into 3 teams. During these sports days, the kids compete to earn points to win the house cup at the end of the year. This weekend there was swimming, volleyball, netball, soccer, basketball, cricket, and rugby. They also have a couple track and field meets during the year as well. Everyone participates, all the parents turn out, everyone cheers everyone else on--a great weekend.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Kuangalia, Kujifunza, Kupanda

To watch, to learn, to grow...we're doing it every day! Scott and Sue Augustine had the opportunity to see what's growing at Peace House Academy when they visited this week. The absolutely gorgeous greenery was thanks to incredible amounts of rain. One of the puddles on the road coming in was over the bottom of our Landcruiser's doors! Mucking boots were a necessity, but the views (of Meru, when the clouds cleared) and the rest of the buildings was well worth the mess!

Nope, not some ancient ruins...just the student dorms on the rise. Each dorm room will house 8 students, with rooms for a warden/matron (the term here for the dorm monitor). There are small courtyards and lounges as well for students to do some studying or hanging out. Actually, I think it will be interesting to watch how students here "hang out" and whether it looks like the way students hang out back in Minnesota.

All of Peace House Academy is great, of course, but the dining hall may just be the nicest building on campus (now, I'm saying that without the actual classrooms being done) but it really is beautiful. In fact, a number of people have commented on the size of our "chapel" not realizing it's the dining hall. The interesting roofline was a change to allow more floor space (somehow, it's a construction thing I don't really understand) but I do understand how great it looks!

From the inside you can get a feel of how light and spacious it feels. On the upper left you can see a row of windows that let in light, not to mention the large windows and doors. The best part about the space is it is a dining hall, a performance center, a chapel, a meeting space, a dance hall...the possibilities are endless. So many buildings here are dark and low and bleak...this one just feels so good!

Back at the heart of the school, which are the actual classrooms...this is one of the science rooms. The small wall at the back will eventually separate the sto rage/lab prep area from the classroom. What I love the most about the classrooms (aside from the size) is again, the size of the windows and the amount of light that gets into each room. We've seen classrooms with just the tiniest windows that hardly let in any light or air. The science classrooms are double the size of the other rooms to allow for science tables and movement for labs, etc.

Lame joke time--here's one of PHA's biggest supporters...literally! Get it? He's a supporter but it looks like he's actually supporting the beam!

OK, there's a reason for the delete key, but for some reason I'm opting not to use it. Now, I'm not sure what to say...

Except that Scott looks a little happy, doesn't he? Kind of how we look whenever we visit the site. Kind of how you'll look when you finally realize you've actually arrived in TANZANIA!

Isaya is our gardening/landscaping genius...so hardworking, so committed, so knowledgeable. What a coincidence! So is Sue! The two of them really spent a lot of time time going over the 26,000 trees he's planted, the hundreds of fruit trees in the orchard, the nursery, and all the plans for the PHA site to make it healthy and beautiful. Isaya's been possibly just about the best thing about the PHA construction project!

Isaya's been so great about doing so
much without spending lots and lots of cash. Most of the plantings done so far have been cuttings or seedlings he's raised or had donated by local businesses. This little nursery, put together by Project 640, is filled with tons of small plantings of all sizes, waiting for their moment. He's also growing grass in another section (grass here grows by spreading, rather than from seed) so that it's ready to grow in an actual yard.

Arusha is pretty arid. Lots of succulents grow here. The rain patterns and soil type provide the perfectly worst combination for erosion. Much of growing success is dependent upon factors beyond human control. Be that as it may, when you have the ability to water things, they will GROW! This little acacia was 8 inches tall back in July. We are watering regularly to ensure that all the plantings have a good start before leaving them to thrive naturally. It's hard to believe--but encouraging, as the site is very hot and dry in January/February/March, so the faster the shade can arrive, the better!

This "little" tree was planted last February--yep, less than 1 year ago--when it was less than 12 inches tall. It's now close to 9 feet! Can you believe it?!

(Another great thing about Isaya is that, because of him, we don't have to worry about any of the landscaping stuff, which is good because we're both of us completely novices in the gardening world!)

As we were leaving I happened to catch a Maasai on the top of the hill. What a contrast between an ancient past and a vision of the future. The Maasai are a particularly vulnerable group; in many ways, their situation mirrors that of Native Americans in the 19th century. What does the future hold for these and other marginalized Tanzanians? It is our hope that PHA will provide the means for students to answer that question in new and innovative ways.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Heifer Project

I know many of you are familiar with the Heifer Project, a terrific organization that provides livestock and small animals to needy families in developing countries. Families receive a good milk cow, or a goat, or a flock of chicks, then they pass along some of the offspring to other families, thereby spreading the blessings. When you donate to Heifer, you can choose which animals you want to "buy". You can learn more about Heifer Project at www.heifer.org and see what they are doing around the world.

Erwin is the director of Heifer Project in Tanzania and a new friend to Mark. Originally from Vermont, he has been here for over 20 years and raised 3 sons. His wife just passed away about 3 months ago from cancer. Her funeral was one of the most inspiring tributes to a person I have ever witnessed. I had only met Esther a few times through Bible Study but I was surprised at the sense of loss I felt--I was never going to have the chance to get to know her the way so many others did. Their faith, their marriage, and their commitment to Tanzania provides a wonderful model for how life should be lived.

I wanted to share some of Erwin's message about some Heifer work from a trip he recently took. It's a wonderful view of how transformation can take place in the lives of people here and how the recipients of Heifer's blessings actively participate in that change.

We begin a half kilometre walk to our first farmer, Nicholaus Mwakabelele, who with his wife and three children live on one side of a dirt track, the other side of which has been constructed four fish ponds. Nicholaus is the village fish farmer motivator, a farmer volunteer who promotes adoption ofthe improved farming methods he has learned at a special, two-week training. He and his wife immediately take us across the track to view his fish ponds. They each measure approximately 14m by 12m. His wife brings some groundcorn to throw out over the water to entice the fish to the surface forviewing in two of the ponds. Suddenly the water appears as if to boil withthe activity of fish accustomed to regular feeding. As she describes how she feeds the fish with regular placing of manure in the small cages at thepond edge, her young child whimpers at her knees. Without stopping mid-sentence but lifting her daughter and beginning to suckle her, Mrs. Mwakabelele continues to describe the benefits which the fish have broughtto their family. A new red fired brick house has been constructed besidetheir older thatched mud brick house. Two local cattle feed behind the house, oxen which were purchased from fish sales. They have also purchased a plough, and are very proud of their achievements.We go behind the house to view the oxen, and Nicholaus and his wife bring out four trees which they want us to plant together with them as a memory of this day on which we have visited. We feel humbled by this demonstration of significance they have given for our visit, and their thankfulness for the work of Heifer.

Nicholaus describes how in 2003 after receiving training he began promoting fish ponds among three of his neighbours in his village and the adjacent village. Since then the project has expanded to 9 villages and 142 farmers.From 5 original ponds, there are now 207. Farmer group trainings have been successful, as members have learned by doing, sharing the heavy work of digging ponds together. Group leadership is also diversifying; one of their leaders recently returned from group leadership training, and another has attended training on tree nursery management, both courses offered through Heifer assistance. The larger portion of fish farmers are women who have seen this as a veryimportant project for nutrition and income for their families.

Before we are taken to visit another nearby farmer, Nicholaus tells us that he is relieved. Just last week the case which was raised against him was settled by his paying a fine. He spent two nights in jail in July, and made several trips to the district headquarters 30 kilometers away to try to clear this case. It was becoming too expensive for him to pursue, so he simply asked to be found guilty and pay a fine. The reason he was arrested was that he was implicated through his fish farming promotion, being one of many who have caused the water levels in the Ruaha River to decline seriously over the past few years. Of course this is misdirected zeal by the district authorities - there are several more direct reasons for this decline: from the accumulative effect of several consecutive years of drought, from the destruction by over-grazing and denuding of large areas of the Usangu Plains by in-migrating herds of thousands of local cattle, goats and sheep by Maasai and Sukuma from areas to the north, from the increased area of irrigated rice farming in the district, and from the denuding of hillsides and hilltops in many parts of the Southern Highlands which feed the headwaters of this great effluence. While there are so many who can take responsibility for contributing to this decline in water in the Ruaha River, there are few who could be so easily implicated as Nicholaus. He was an easy target, and it was cheaper to pay a fine and be relieved of the harassment of prolonged litigation. Meanwhile, his fellow fish farmers arepreparing an application to the district authorities in order to be allowed to continue their fish farming activities, their defence being that their water use is having a relatively minor impact on the declining watersources, and is a highly productive use of that scarce resource. Furthermore, out of the fish farming groups, village environmental committees have been formed in some villages, and are already starting to plant indigenous trees to safeguard the headwaters at the springs where the streams begin. The project holder and project supervisor both feel that the farmers will be heard and the impending restrictions dropped.

We walk back along the track through other small farms of Igurusi now dry, awaiting the rains. On the way we meet a young blind man to whom we are introduced as a fellow fish farmer. He beams with pride as we take pictures with him. We cross the road where several underemployed youth are just hanging about, and on to the farm of Eliabu Mwisa. We are astounded as we approach his mud brick house compound flanked on one side by huge ponds larger than we have ever seen constructed by hand. Eliabu is the one of the original farmers in the fish farming group, and is proud not only of his own ponds, but of those of his neighbours' nearby, one of whom is a crippled woman there leaning on her stick. He shares how his neighbours worked together to enable her to have a pond, how they assist her to harvest her fish, and to periodically replenish water in her pond. She approaches us and listens intently as we discuss levels of production and the importance of emptying the ponds regularly and restocking with appropriate numbers of fingerlings before the tilapia fish have reproduced in such numbers as to be too numerous for the size of the pond.

We visit a few more fish farmers, including the group chairperson who is a very energetic woman. We hear more testimonies and are gratified by the sharing and caring which has occurred within the group. We learn of their resilience in the face of adversity as some of the original farmers have described how they were derided at first, like Noah for building the ark. Once fish started to be harvested the derision promptly ended. We hear howthe fish farming has brought a number of other spin-offs such as the environmental protection of springs, the more intensive integration of livestock in order to better utilize the manure, and upon drying of the fishponds between seasons, the use of the pond sediment as rich fertilizer for the fields. We are inspired to hear from a woman that upon harvesting her pond it was the first time she had ever held Tsh 100,000= (about $85). We are impressed that the project is able to help people from all strata within the village - that it is not exclusive like some of the other livestock enterprises which Heifer promotes which may be too difficult forthe poorest families to manage.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Grease is the Word...

...and the ISM musical this year. Remember "Grease"? I do. It was 1979 and I was on my first date. My mom drove me and my friend Sarah and our two dates to the movies, 20 miles away. We rode in the very back of our Blazer so we could have some privacy. I got my first kiss.

My friend Karen and I were having a very silly IM conversation trying to remember those teen idols that we adored back in the day...Scott Baio, Leif Garrett, Shaun Cassidy, etc. When we wondered who the boys were pining after, Mark announced with absolutely no hesitation "Olivia Newton-John!"

Now that I've rewatched it I can see why. She was truly adorable (and pretty hot in the black satin pants). I always thought John Travolta was a bit too "Vinny Barbarino: (thereby dating myself seriously with that reference) and whole movie was a bit cheesy (and racy) but so much fun.

You probably won't remember Eugene from the movie. He was the nerd who helped Patty Simcox organize the dance show. The T-birds also tripped him down the stairs and used a joy buzzer on him. I only mention it because Cameron auditioned for the part of Eugene and found out today he got the part. It's a small part but he'll get to sing and dance in the final number and is a good start for a kid who is doing this for the first time. He has gotten lots of very positive feedback from his drama teacher about his abilities and is very excited. And I mean this in the most complimentary way--he does the "nerd" thing very well. When he competed in Destination Imagination he created a "nerd dad" character that got very good feedback. Those of you who know him to be pretty quiet and introverted would be surprised to see him acting so unselfconsciously when he's had the opportunity.

Congratulations Cameron! We're very proud!

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving/Happy Birthday

So what does a Thanksgiving turkey look like in Tanzania? Pretty much like I imagine it did at your house (I'm referring here to the actual bird, not Dr. Jacobson, who is showing off his wife's amazing talents of cooking a giant bird while the electricity goes on and off all day). There was stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberries, squash, and even a green bean casserole! Pecan pie (pecans from the States) and apple crisp for dessert. We had a great time Thanksgiving Day with about 30 friends at the Jacobsons, then repeated on Saturday with another smaller group. On Saturday, Mark sat down with an extremely focused look in his eyes, determined to put away as much food as he possibly could. He finally stopped, saying, "Oh, I'm hurting now" and then got up for pie. It was a great first Thanksgiving here, very traditional and lots of fun!

Friday we celebrated Mark's birthday with a decadent cake from a shop called Chocolate Temptations. We got him a travel mug for his morning coffee (funny that we didn't pack one of the hundreds we had back in MN!). Here he is giving us a look as if to say, "There better be more than just a MUG!" Ava: "Quick, Mommy. Run and get the other present. HURRY!" Or maybe he's just a bit tired, since we're eating in the dark (no electricity).
But everyone was pleased with the hammock. I've got a great place for it at the new house--right on the veranda! Mark seems to have either a recessive or missed gene for relaxing from work--maybe when he hsees us all piled in he'll get the idea! The kids love to celebrate their parents' birthday and make a "fuss" over their dad. They tried to drag him around the house on the hammock, but found Mark to be a bit too heavy (maybe all that food from Thanksgiving!)

Bustani ya Wanyama (the Zoo)

Our house often feels a bit like a zoo...we're not the best at cleaning up after ourselves, and the noise level can get pretty high. But I'm starting to feel like an actual zoo...

Introducing the new puppies. Not technically ours, but I see the writing on the wall already. They are boxer/lab mixes and will be guard dogs for the school site eventually. Right now they are just completely cute and teeny eating machines. Moshi (Swahili for "smoke") and Rugby hopefully don't actually need to be vicious--people just need to think they are. Black dogs bother Tanzanians and the owners of the parent dogs have some very funny stories about reactions their boxer, ranging from fear of his size to believing he's part human because of his pushed-in face. Both parents were very good-tempered, but territorial, which is great. You can see the puppies both have more of a lab look to their faces right now. Within 2 hours they've completely taken over Sydney's food bowl and sleeping basket. Syd loves to play but is obviously put out at losing her basket. They'll live in a large kennel area during the day both here and at the site (sure they will, Carla. No really, they will. I'm serious about this) and will walk with the guards and be off-leash at night.

I tried several times today to get a pic of Kobe (Swahili for "turtle" and it's pronounced Ko-bay) but he's too shy and pulls his head in. Yes, he's a real tortoise I found walking down the road. They're pretty common out on the drier flats, but this guy was near our house, so we added him in. He doesn't require any attention, other than turning him back over if Sydney gets too excited. The kids love having him poke around the yard. Later in the afternoon we were able to catch him just a bit. It's funny, when we approach him, he hisses and hides, but when Syd comes up and tries to chew on his leg or head, he just keeps walking.
For the record, I don't really know if it's a him or a her.

Friday, November 24, 2006

I am Sick (and not from all the turkey)

OK, I can’t keep quiet about this. First of all, I should state straight up that I completely believe OJ Simpson killed his ex-wife and her boyfriend. I think the jury was blinded by a combination of being afraid that they would look racist and that horrible fascination our culture has with celebrities and athletes.
Who’d’ve thought that this could sink even lower? I don’t know where to begin with all of this—so I’ll just go straight to the horse’s mouth.

"This was an opportunity for my kids to get their financial legacy," Simpson said in interviews after the book deal was abandoned by its publisher. "My kids understand. I made it clear that it's blood money, but it's no different than any of the other writers who did books on this case."

HELLO?! It SO is different! For one thing, other people weren’t the actual murderers (and if you believe that OJ Simpson is really innocent, then you probably won’t want to keep reading). For another thing, other people wrote about the trial, or the arrest, or the evidence. They so didn’t write about how they “might” have killed people, and then gotten away with it in some sickeningly desperate attempt to stay in the limelight.

And the kids…I really canNOT get started on that. Actually, I think the whole situation was so horrible that I can see the children wanting to believe their father was innocent. But at least one of them is close to adulthood and I can’t believe that they would gain any peace of mind from a book that dredged up such painful events in such a terrible way. Why is this man allowed any contact with children? Plenty of us have been raised with no financial legacy, and have no illusions about leaving any wealth to our own kids, and have spent a great deal of our lives parenting in such a way as to provide a very different type of legacy for our children, one that I dare say will mean more and do more than cash. I suggest that Mr. Simpson spend some thinking about the legacy he already has given to those children.

"My kids would have been coming into a lot of money," he said, adding he desperately needs the cash because his retirement funds are dwindling.

Sad. I wonder, should I be writing a book? My parents have probably burned through my inheritance, I bet, and I’ve got nothing, either. Oh wait, I and MOST OF THE REST OF THE WORLD WHO ACTUALLLY GO OUT AND EARN MONEY AND MAKE IT JUST FINE!

Publisher Judith Regan has portrayed the book as representing "O.J.'s confession," and it reportedly contains a chapter where he explains how he could have committed the killings.
But the former football star says he didn't commit the murders. He said the book was ghostwritten.

"When I saw what he wrote, I said, 'Maybe you did it because they're saying the chapter contains things only the killer would know.' I don't know these things," Simpson said.

Simpson said Wednesday he never spoke to Regan until taping the TV interview.
"In the course of the interview I said, 'This is blood money and I hope nobody reads it,' " Simpson said.

I HATE bad liars. Lying is wrong, but really, if you’re going to do it, be consistent. If he desperately needs cash because his retirement funds are dwindling, why does he hope nobody reads it?! And it was ghostwritten? And he really didn’t know what the book said until just before the interview? Sorry, OJ, but are you really that na├»ve after all those years in the spotlight? Really? You never ONCE wondered what the book was about?

I also despise the glib way he talks about the whole event, even when it happened. From the beginning his attitude was so….wrong. His comments are insensitive, callous, cruel…I keep thinking about his children, who lost their mother, and have to watch their father carry on like this.

Simpson declined to say how much of an advance he received for the book, but said it was less than the $3.5 million (U.S.) that has been reported. He said the money has already been spent, including some he used to meet his tax obligations.
Simpson was acquitted of murder in 1995 but was later found liable for the killings in a wrongful-death suit filed by the Goldman family. Simpson has failed to pay the $33.5 million (U.S.) judgment against him in that case, and his pensions and his Florida home cannot be seized.

He said Fred Goldman has helped drain his finances with "frivolous lawsuits," including one he brought recently attempting to deprive Simpson of the commercial rights to his name. Although Simpson prevailed in court he said he spent $17,000 in legal fees.

Simpson, 59, said his NFL pension pays only $1,700 a month and the private pension he amassed during the days when he was a popular TV pitchman and sports commentator is being halved next month because he's had to dip into the principal.

Hmmmm…well, I’ve learned not to spend money before I actually have it. And, the median income in America (50% of the population is above and 50% below) is about $46,000 a year. I’m pretty sure that whatever “desperate” financial straits Mr. Simpson has found himself in, he’s better off than pleeeeeeeenty of his fellow Americans. I’d love to take a look at his house, his car, his wardrobe, his dining/entertainment expenses, his golf fees—in fact, I’d be more than happy to show him how to trim his grocery budget, how to cut clothing expenses for growing children, how to have a fun date without spending a lot—and I’ve got plenty of friends who do it better than I do. The murders aside, this is just another sad story of an athlete who was nothing more than what he could do on the field.

I probably won’t keep this on the blog for long—it’s really out of character for what I want to write about. But since I just came back from Thanksgiving dinner and was thinking again about all the blessings we’ve received and the things I still miss that I’m so thankful for in absentia…this is a sad sad reminder of a less than stellar aspect of our culture. Thank heavens someone finally had the common sense to pull the plug—unfortunately, it was the same organization that seemed to think this was a good idea to begin with. Can’t something be wrong just for its own sake, instead of waiting to find out whether “the public” approves or not?!

Note: Quotes are from an AP article online today.
© Associated Press 2006

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Freely you have received, freely give.

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. ~JF K

I admit it--I'm not very good about being thankful. Oh, I can always come up with all the things I'm really thankful for--and sincerely mean it. But I so often find myself thinking about things I think I don't have, or from a more negative perspective, which is frustrating and not at all where my heart should be. So often being thankful on a daily basis requires a concerted effort on my part.

Grace isn't a little prayer you chant before receiving a meal. It's a way to live. ~Jackie Windspear

But this Thanksgiving I am reminded every day of the blessings we have received. I could write pages about each one, but for now I'll just say "thanks." Without you, we wouldn't be us, and we are better because of you.

Our family and friends who email and call and give us an inside look at life "back home" and keep us sane way over here. And I will mention Karen in particular, for packing and shopping and organizing and listening and im-ming at all hours of the day and night.

Peace House Foundation, for allowing us to take this incredible life-changing journey

Peace Lutheran Church (Bloomington) and Trinity Lutheran Church (Hayfield) for prayers and financial support that give us daily strength and ease some worries

Rachel, Joe, Debbie, the folks from St. Stephen's, and the rest who have visited or stopped by on their way through town. You have no idea what a lift it is to see someone from "home".

Anyone who has sent chocolate chips, cereal, goldfish, fruit snacks, licorice and other very non-essential but wonderful treats!

All the new friends we've made and our faith community at ACC who have answered questions, listened to complaints, offered prayers, dinners, drinks, and friendship and have Arusha feel more like home every day.

Everyone who has supported PHF financially, prayerfully, or with their time and talents. You are doing amazing work!

In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich. -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

And in the spirit of other things I'm thankful for this week on a daily basis-

Good health--one of my biggest areas of concern and we have been blessed to have no serious issues.

Punctuality and efficiency--well, perhaps you can't appreciate it until you do without it. Which is also a blessing because you have the opportunity to see life in a startling new way. But there's something to be said for it, just the same.

The privilege of being educated, of being American, of being white, of being able to go through life and not have to think about these gifts I've done nothing to deserve.

Toilet paper, clean public bathrooms, consistently stocked grocery stores, checking accounts, cheese, cheap cereal, food variety, anonymity, Target, electricity, movies, the library, and good roads.

Having to learn a new language, being cut off from a world of familiarity and making a go of it with your family, new perspectives, great new food, email and Skype, international friends, finding out that "our way" isn't always the best way, learning to appreciate the unknown and unplanned, and being challenged in our faith.

Isn't it interesting that what I am thankful for in my former life tended to be things and what I am thankful for here are experiences?

And above all, God, from whom flow all our blessings, who has promised to work for good in all circumstances, and who provides the way and all that we need to follow Him. Both Mark and I have found increased comfort in this, now that our illusions of control are stripped away and we are faced daily with need on a scale we could never have imagined. In all, we trust in His love and His plan.

Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true thankfulness comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds.—Theodore Roosevelt

Monday, November 20, 2006

Ava, Ava, Ava

Ava loves her hair. And braids. So it was only a matter of time before the twain should meet. Yasini's daughter is home for break and agreed to give it a try. This is the end of day 3 so I'm giving it a day or so more before they're going to have to come out. It took about an hour to do.

And if you look verrrrry closely, you will see another change. Ava suddenly decided she wanted her ears pierced. Of course it didn't matter that I told her it was going to hurt. Now all of Arusha knows something happened in town today! :-) She recovered by the time we got home and was able to drag herself to the mirror to preen a bit.

She has also decided to (finally) eat her bread crusts and choke down cauliflower and green beans so she can be very strong and healthy and tall and "still a little bit skinny" because she loves running and her ballet class and wants to be good at both. Funny girl.

Happy Birthday, Mark

Saturday is Mark's birthday. The kids continue their obsession with this idea of a "golden birthday" as being something ultra-special (that's when you turn the same age as your birthdate). Imagine getting treated special because of a coincidence!

So last night Noah wanted to know when Dad's golden birthday was. I said it was a long time ago, and then added, "Back when he had hair." Noah took a good long look and then remarked, "Yeah, back then he might have been good-looking. Now he's realistic." Here's our "realistic" dad and husband with former President Mkapa back in July.
Realistic or not, we have been so blessed to have him as a father and a husband. It's also our 19th wedding anniversary this week--we've actually been together, though, for 25 years. How's THAT for realistic?!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

New Faces and News at Peace House Academy

Introducing Theopista Seuya, the first headmistress of Peace House Academy! As in the United States there are not a lot of seondary heads who are women so we are also excited to have her as part of the leadership team. Theo has been an English teacher for several years and the assistant head (where she assumed virtually all of the head duties) at a private school in Moshi. She has been working for PHF in Moshi on a part-time basis where she helps organize the scholarships paid to students in need in that area. Her interview significantly impressed the hiring team who overwhelmingly supported Theo as the best candidate. Theo's husband works for WorldVision. They have 3 children and another on the way.

Dickson Casmiri is our first accountant/purchaser. He is from the Moshi area and has just graduated from an accountancy institute here in Arusha. This is his first professional job. This was a difficult position to fill, given the financial responsibilities and the scope of the work required. Some applicants were just too expensive, others were clearly not trustworthy. The two finalists were split--one has good accounting experience but no purchasing, the other had purchasing but no accounting experience. Mark devised a great problem-solving task requiring both candidates to perform simulated job duties using an accounting program neither had used before. Dickson quickly showed himself to be the best candidate for the job.

Things are proceeding on the construction front, sometimes well, sometimes slowly. We are in the "short rains" season, but were deluged last week, causing a work slowdown and some damage to some foundations and water tanks. The inconvenience is offset by the realization that lots of rain and sunny warm(er) days means great crops and more food for the people.

A big thanks to those who attended and/or supported our annual Colors of Hope fundraiser. It sounded fabulous and we are anxiously waiting for our chance to see the photos and video that was shot here in October. Turnout was excellent and the generosity of so many people will definitely make a difference in the lives of children here in Tanzania.

We are anticipating the arrival in February of Project 640's return. This is a group of folks from the Chicago area who have given their heart and soul (and cash) to further our work. They were here last February and worked on the tree nursery and the banda and are returning for more fun and hard work. A group of 20 teachers from Minnesota, Mississippi, Chicago, and New York will arrive in June to share their expertise in curriculum writing and best practice methodologies with our teachers and students (and perhaps other teachers in the area as well). Another 640 group will show up in September. What a blessing to have so many who are willing to share their time and talents with us!

Of course, there's always room for more. Our volunteer housing is quite suitable for a longer stay! Karibuni wote (welcome to all!)