Wednesday, March 29, 2006

The Best for Last

OK, I give up. It's taken 3 hours to upload these pics and I'm just done. But I couldn't leave without sharing this spectacular shot of Mt. Meru, taken from the banda at the site. It's truly breathtaking on a clear day. Just think, when you come to volunteer, you can wake up in the morning and turn in at night to this scene! Well, maybe not at night, because it would be dark then and you wouldn't see it--unless you went to bed really early--and then you wouldn't have been a very productive volunteer that day--but maybe you had malaria or something, and then we'd cut you some slack. But then you'd be too sick to enjoy the view anyway.

Volunteer note--if you come, you won't get malaria. That was supposed to be humorous.

More Construction

This is the from the top of the hill looking toward the back of the campus. The silver building is construction office. This the beginning of teacher housing.

This is also teacher housing. Remember, every brick, every cement block, every foundation that is dug is done by hand with no power tools. You can see how deep the trenches are for the foundations...between 4-6 feet deep and dug only with pickaxes.

Additional note--today (Thursday) we saw a hole for a water tank that was 10 feet deep and 25x25 feet square. It was dug in 1 week by 5 guys through rocky clay dirt with nothing but shovels. Wow.

Construction has started!

Construction has (finally) started on Peace House Academy! These pictures are great because they show the site so beautiful and green because of the rain. Believe me, last month it was baked hard and dusty from the heat! It's amazing what a little rain will do--although it's amazing in a totally different way when you see what it does to the road. There are places that are almost impassable. The road to the school winds through maize fields, which have been planted with no thought to erosion prevention. Many of the fields have furrows that run perpendicular to the road with no contour farming, so the rain pours down the furrows onto the road, carrying away the topsoil. In fact, there are considerable erosion patterns on the school site that need to be dealt with to preserve the land as well. Bear with me...the upload speed over here means I can only upload a couple pics at a time, so there will be multiple posts to get everything up...

In February a group of terrifically amazing people from Chicago called Project 640 arrived in Arusha to have fun and do good works for PHA. Their efforts raised over $100,000 for our work! This is the (almost-finished) banda they began when they were here. On this day it was SO hot (over 90 degrees), yet inside it was cool and breezy! Great work guys!

The guest housing will be on the hill behind the banda. Here the bulldozer is leveling out part of the hill for the first guest house.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto

Tonight we went to the international school's performance of "Blues Brothers". It was fun to see close to 1/2 the school participating and so much energy. The school really has a strong sense of community and participation that I really like. It was also fun to see a very American show and music done with accents from around the world.

At intermission they had snacks and beverages for the audience--including wine and beer.

Now that you've lowered your eyebrows, admit it--this really isn't a bad idea. I, for one, have sat through several school performances in my day that would have been enhanced with a beer or a small glass of wine.

Saturday, March 25, 2006


Some people have asked about safety here, especially since I've mentioned our guards several times. We do feel safe here. And if you feel safe in Minneapolis, it's because a) it is a safe place and 2) it's a very familiar place for you. That's how we feel about Arusha. At first everything makes you nervous, because you feel like you stand out and you don't know anything, but quickly you get used to things and places and you start to feel part of things.

That being's clear that any Westerner has money, so your property can be a target, which is why most people have gates and walls around their homes, and guards. I doubt seriously that our guards would be able to defend us from serious (armed) intruders--the night guard only has a stick and the day guy is really just our gardener. What they're really for is to make sure that someone is always at the house, to answer random people who knock asking for whatever, and (OK, I'll admit it) to open and shut the gate when you come and go. Dishonest people in the area, like those types everywhere, notice patterns of who's coming and going and when. Barking dogs and gaurds just remind people that the property is being taken care of.

Now, there are some things we do a bit differently. Driving around at night is generally not encouraged--we drive home once a week from a restaurant or something, but I would not go out of town alone in a car. So going to the airport (which is about 40 miles away and the KLM plane arrives at 9:00-ish) would be out of the question unless I brought along someone with me. When I to the market, I'm very careful not to open my wallet and keep my purse very close. If we park in town, I don't leave packages or backpacks the car and often I try to park in front of a store that has it's own guard. But those things are OK if I can do that; if not, it's not a big deal.

Really, because of the color of our skin, we are afforded certain privleges. By the same token, the color of our skin also singles us out as people with money and therefore perhaps more at risk for pickpockets, etc.

The truth is, I stopped reading certain sections of the Star Tribune a couple years ago because I couldn't take reading about the lists of murders, suicides, robberies, etc. that were being published every day. We spent a week in San Diego and Los Angeles in June and didn't worry any less about being pickpocketed at Disneyland.

So there you have it. We're safe--you'll be safe when you come to visit.

By the way, this is our night guard, Godfrey. He's awesome. The kids love him and he's always up for a game of soccer or whatever after dinner. That's Ava, Happy, and Fadhili with him (our housekeeper's kids).

How I spent my day

One of the things that people have repeatedly reminded us about here is that you have to be patient with every aspect of life. You won't be able to get nearly as much done in a day as you did in your former life and you shouldn't try. Just go with the flow.

Lord knows I'm not the most productive person, even on my best days :-) but Friday I figured with a plan, I'd check off a bunch of "must-dos" on my list, namely--

Buy butter, bread, milk, coffee, and some more fruit/veggies
Pay the electric bill
Pay the water bill
Order a couch
Meet with church officials about cars/residence permits (update only)
Rent a post office box
Mark also had to have a work contract approved by the general secretary

So here's how it went:

I took the kids to school--left around 7:25 and got back home around 8:45
Ate breakfast and answered a couple emails
Called the guy who makes couches (again) but no answer
Mark and I head into town around 9:30--I get dropped off at the post office

At the post office--I wait in line. Get to the front. Ask for a post office box. Am told to stand "over there". Go "over there". Wait. Tell another person I need a post office box. She tells me anyone who opens the box must fill out a form and submit two photos each. Ask to take forms with me because I don't have photos. Explain that it's more efficient to bring back completed forms than it is to fill them out here. Leave the post office (after finding out it closes at 1pm) to walk up to the water office.

Water office--Meet Mark driving away. The meter was read last week, but they don't have the information in the office yet. Pay the balance that is on the accounts (about $1.50) and will just wait til the end of the month to check again.

TOTAL TIME: 50 minutes

Electric office--Mark gets in line. I go two blocks over to buy a bootleg DVD for $8.00 (includes 5 movies). Then go to the bakery to buy bread. Meet Mark on the street. The meter was read last week, but they don't have the information in the office yet. Pay the balance that is on the accounts (about $14.00) and will just wait til the end of the month to check again.

TOTAL TIME: 45 minutes

Mark needs to meet the general secretary at 11:30. He decides to head in at 11:10 to see if he can catch him in--then we'll meet at a cafe for early lunch. General secretary is not in--we meet to get pics taken and then for lunch.

LUNCH--Mark orders 1 crepe with jam. Takes 45 minutes to get the food and another 14 minutes to get the bill. I got my samosas (cold) and my soda (warm) in 5 minutes.

General secretary calls--where's Mark? Go over to office. They review contract, I wait. They decide to meet again at 2:00 with shipping agent. It's 1:00. I need to leave at 1:30 to get kids at school. Decide to go to grocery to get bread/milk/coffee. Grocery store is closed. Remember that everything closes around 1:00 until 2 or 2:30. Run to computer store to check price of printers. Stop at little duka to get hooks to hang mosquito nets and fabric for a blanket.

Drop Mark off at shipping office and head out to school to get kids. Agree to pick Mark up when I come back through town. Stop at Shoprite after I get kids to get milk/bread/coffee. Fruit/veggies are outrageous there. Call Mark to see if he's done. They've just started (2:45). It's raining on and off so I agree to stay in town to give Mark a ride home. Take kids for milkshakes an then to bookstore to wait for Mark. Mark shows up. Leave town at 4:15.

So, never got any furniture ordered. Never got to the market to get fruits/veggies. Found out how to get a po box and pay bills, but will spend probably an hour on Monday actually paying for it. Will spend at least 2 hours shopping for food for the week. Wonder how to keep kids occupied for the 3 week break coming up. Wonder how to get anything done efficiently. Wonder if we get two cars will we be more efficient. Wonder if there is word for "efficient" in Swahili.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A word from Mark (finally)

I was on our Internet phone last night in a conference call with two college buddies and they told me to tell my wife to include me more in the blog....except for an occasional picture, they were wondering if I had made the trip and how I was doing. I'll try and take a few minutes on a regular basis and make posting.

First, I think it is amazing that I am here in Africa on a conference call with the United States for free. When I first started dating Carla (1982) it cost me nearly 20 cents a minute to talk to her and she only lived 25 miles away. I also had to catch her when the neighbors on the party-line were not trying to make a phone call. Those of you who have spent your life in the city may not know what a party line is, but several families share one phone connection. Each has a different ring and it takes quite a bit of cooperation with people you don't know to make a call. We just got our Internet phone working last week and for me it came a great time. I was feeling very isolated and alone after the first six weeks here and the ability to just call home was great. My parents live in Gig Harbor Washington, so I only see them once or twice a year. The phone has been the way I have stayed in contact with them....talking to them on a very regular basis. I surprised them on their cell phone somewhere in Iowa. I can imagine them standing in the mall sharing the ear piece talking to their son in Africa. I know without a doubt that everyone they met that day learned the story of their surprise phone call from Africa.

I have had a good first two weeks of working. I must have set some reasonable goals as I have been able to accomplish most of them. One of the most important things I have been trying to do is to get a contract set with a retired head master (school principal) here in Arusha. He has started three schools during his career and they have been very good schools by Tanzanian standards. He is a strong Christian man and, I think, is hoping to be hired as the first headmaster of our school. The board and I have been searching at this point, for an advisor, not a principal of the school yet. It has been hard to communicate both my respect for his experience and success, and my need to have someone with his connections along side me as I learn here while also making it clear that our work relationship will likely be temporary....that there are no promises of future employment. We are, I think, close to an agreement. Maybe tomorrow.

A picture for you to imagine. Ava and I have developed a fun tradition of going for a run together. It is always directed by her and she can actually run for quite some time. This started for us on Christmas day when she turned a family walk into a Dad/daughter run. I'm sure it was something to see us in the States when we were jogging down the road, but I assure you the Tanzanians don't know what to think when this little American girl leads her dad down the dirt roads and over the mud puddles. Some laugh, all comment, many join us....especially other little kids..... How lucky I am that she wants to spend this time with me...a good time for talking too.

A final note: I am so grateful that Carla has started and kept up with this blog, for you who read it and later....for our families memories! I'll try not to spoil her writing!

A Followup

I thought perhaps I should delete the previous post and either drop it or write something more edifying in it's place. But no--I'm actually having a bit of a bad day (for no particular reason) and so I'm leaving it on--if you're going to read the blog, you'll end up seeing me as less than stellar sometimes. (haha)

The bottom line is what it is. I'm not going to be able to change what's going on. We just have to be thoughtful and intentional about our decisions and be OK with that.

As a mini-cultural lesson/followup--the basket girl did not leave. When Mark came out for a run about 30 minutes later, she was still there. She said, "I am waiting to hear your answer because you are the baba (man/father) and you will make the final decision." So he did. Something else to get used to!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


Last week a young woman showed up at our gate selling baskets. The baskets are really nice here, woven from grass and usually with some color. They're very durable and compared to what you'd spend back home, really reasonable. I hesitated about buying at the gate, thinking that if I did this, the word would get out and I'd be inundated with people selling stuff--and my day guard doubles as the gardener so I don't have someone right up front to run interference for me. But she was very nice and the baskets were a good price and they were larger than what I usually see, so I bought 4 for Tsh20,000 (about $16.00). Then she asked if I would buy more.

break for cultural explanation: In Tanzania people generally do not come out and say what they mean. A common phrase is "labda kesho" meaning "maybe tomorrow" but it really means not at all. It's used in combination with "sihitaji" (I don't need it), "sitaki" (I don't want it) or the final "hapana!" (no).

So I said "labda kesho". We had talked about our work here a bit, and she asked if I would buy more for the school. I said no. I said maybe next year--not tomorrow, not the next day, not the next week, not the next month.

Yesterday she shows up at my gate asking for some extra money for rent. I said no.

Right now she's sitting outside my gate with square baskets that she told the guard would be for our school. I told him to her that I would not be buying anything.

This is driving me nuts on several levels. First of all, I'm having the guard do my dirty work. I'm not sure why, except that it's what everyone does. Second, I made my point very clearly and yet she comes back.

I know that by Tanzanian standards we are very wealthy and as such I need to be expected to be hit on for everything from buying stuff to asking for work to flat out begging. That I can accept. Part of our personal mission here is to determine how to use our giving to make a difference in addition to what we are doing with PHF.

What drives me nuts right now is that eventually I'm going to have to go out there and bluntly/rudely tell her not to come back. Then she'll go away thinking that the "rich wazungu" are mean and don't care about Tanzanians. Which is not true at all.

What is true is that Mark and I believe we are stewards of God's gifts to us and we want to use them in the best way possible--which is not by hand outs to every person that comes up to me with something to sell or a story to tell.

Facts about AIDs in Tanzania

As of 2004, 38 million people worldwide were living with HIV/AIDS. Approximately 25 million of these people live in Sub-Saharan Africa. (UNAIDS)

Of the 37.6 million people living in Tanzania, an estimated 1.6 million are living with HIV/AIDS. (UNPOP/UNAIDS)

By 2010, AIDS is expected to increase the death rate in Tanzania by more than one-half, and life expectancy will drop from 56 years to 47 years. (World Bank)

By 2005, Tanzania will lose 9.1 percent of its active labor force due to HIV/AIDS, and by 2020 the labor force loss is expected to be 14.6 percent. (UNAIDS/UNPOP)

Each year in Tanzania, approximately 50,000 to 60,000 children are born HIV-positive. (UNAIDS)

Some 140,000 Tanzanian children under age 15 are living with HIV/AIDS. (UNAIDS)
State of AIDS Orphans

In sub-Saharan Africa 12 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS. By 2010, this number will climb to 18 million. (UNAIDS, UNICEF, USAID)

In Tanzania, 980,000 children have lost one or both parent to HIV/AIDS. (UNAIDS)
22% of Tanzanian children under 15 years of age are AIDS orphans.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Our Trip to the Snake Park

Yesterday we took a family trip to that wonderful tourist attraction, the Arusha Snake Park. Actually, it was pretty interesting and I learned some very interesting things there, namely...

*We are surrounded on all sides by incredibly deadly snakes, including the black mamba (whose bite is almost 100% fatal and is the fastest snake on land), the gaboon viper (which has the longest--4 cm.--fangs of any snake), several varieties of spitting cobras, boomslangs, and several types of boa constrictors which have been documented to kill people. The kids have already learned not to walk around in tall grass or bushes without a stick or reach their hands into bushes for things. But I've learned that it will be a cold day in you-know-where before I go hiking around in the woods here.

*Americans are too worried about safety. Theoretically this was a zoo. My children have been to a lot of zoos. They understand that the animals are potentially dangerous, but they don't have to worry about them because of the barriers that prevent them from getting too close. Our first stop was the Nile crocodiles, the largest and most dangerous crocodiles in the world. These bad boys were about 7-8 feet long and laying right next to the fence. Oh, did I mention said fence is the kind of chain link fence you use to keep your dog in your yard? And did I mention that that was the ONLY thing standing between some people's children and the jaws of death?

Next stop was to see some caimen babies (caimens are like miniature crocodiles) which were about 18 inches long. They were securely kept in a little pen. Oh, did I mention said pen was a concrete ring about 18 inches high--and that was it? And that some people's children could actually reach in and touch them if their parents didn't spazz and yell beforehand?

Then there were birds--they had been injured and couldn't be released into the wild. There was a beautiful goshawk. Ava was interested in the baby chicks that had been thrown in to feed it so she leaned in for a closer look--and the goshawk flew right at the chicken wire (that's right--just chicken wire) to let her know that he didn't appreciate the attention. Next door was a big vulture that was clearly spending its days trying to break out, judging from the large holes it had torn into the wire of its cage.

*Sometimes you can have too much information. Like knowing just how many poisonous snakes there are in Tanzania. Even though everyone who lives here assures you they've never seen one. Or the fact that one of the displays for the boa constrictors included not only the fact that they've attacked and killed people, but actual photos showing a boa cut open with a hapless farmer INSIDE! Really! Now I'm the type whose kind of interested in bizarre and kind of creepy facts, but I thought I'd find those pics on an obscure website, not right up there on display! Good thing it was too high for Ava and Noah to see.

But we really had a great time--really! One of the highlights was the black spitting cobras. Luckily they did put the poisonous ones behind glass, but it was ordinary glass, not that plastic safety plexiglass. So I tapped on the glass to get their attention. They immediately crawled right up to the glass. When I tapped again, one rose about 2 feet straight up and flared its hood and leaned forward until it was nose to nose with Noah. Very impressive. Actually most of the snakes and animals were pretty animated, not like typical reptile displays we've seen.

They also had a camel ride...for about 50 cents, not the $5 they were charging at the Renaissance Fair this summer. The kids, especially Ava, loved it.

So if you come to visit, you can be sure that the Snake Park will be on your itinerary.

Meet Yasini

This is Yasini, our housekeeper, and his family--his wife, Lucy, sons Amani (left) and Fadhili (right) and baby Happy, who turned 2 today. They also have an older daughter, Johanna, who is in secondary school. They are a wonderful Christian family and we have really enjoyed getting to know them. (click on the pic to enlarge for a better view)

We also feel a strong sense of responsibility to him and his family. Yasini worked for 13 years at a Baptist seminary and had a very good position caring for volunteers and the guest houses. His job, however, was going to be phased out and it was very difficult for them to realize they had to leave to find other work. So along we came. But we live far away from the seminary--their oldest daughter had to start boarding school, Amani now lives with his aunt and sees his family a couple weekends a month, and Fadhili left an English medium school at the seminary to go to a government school near us. And, prices for food are much higher here than at the markets where they previously shopped. Now, this may have all happened anyway with whatever job he had to take, but these are huge changes for a man very devoted to his family. Also, when we move out to the PHA site, they will have to make changes again. So we worry about the struggles that they are facing as well, ones they may not feel comfortable sharing (yet).

Despite their own needs, they also have a young girl (about 16) living with them who helps out. Elizabeth's family did not have money to support her after her father died, let alone go to school, so she lives with Yasini in his home and helps out with Happy and their family in exchange for room and board. Which I think is pretty inspiring--because the salary we pay Yasini is very fair in terms of housekeepers, but like most Tanzanians, he lives close to the edge. Yet, he gives this help to someone else in more need.

We feel really blessed to have Yasini and Lucy and their family in our lives!

Saturday, March 18, 2006

A couple corrections...

My friend Lindsay's blog is actually Her kids were in MNVA last year and we did a coop with my other friend Karen and another family. Her kids went to Spanish immersion this year and I really missed them this fall. She has great insights on so many things and makes great food (and sometimes posts pics of it) and since I have an ongoing obsession with food I miss, I check in to see what she might post :-)

And I think Ruka (which is the kitten's official name) has fleas, not lice. I don't know that that's any better, but for some reason I'm less bugged (haha) by it. I looked up info. online to make the diagnosis. All I know is that I had lice in high school once (it spread through our school after a big basketball tournament where we all piled in rooms together for several days) and getting rid of it was a gross pain in the neck. And that was with drycleaning and big washers and dryers. My washer takes 45 minutes to run a load and it has to hang dry. So if I had to wash everything, it would take forever.

But everyone agrees it just might be the sweetest kitten on earth (esp. for kids who've never had one) so we'll have to stick it out. I mean, without electricity to worry about now, we need another hardship to endure.

Friday, March 17, 2006


Awhile ago, a friend of mine ( posted a pic of her daughter’s birthday. She turned 11 and wanted a special cake that is a tradition in her family and then wanted to turn all the lights off and pretend they didn’t have electricity and hang out by the fire. Lindsay wrote, “may she always be content with simplicity.”

I have thought about our experience here in Africa and what I would hope for my children as a result. I want to them to realize that they could take risks in their lives and face challenges and that they could meet those events with confidence. I want them to have a concrete understanding of how most of the world lives every day—and it’s not like their lives in Bloomington. I want them to see how people have faith in God when they have almost nothing. I want them to see that the world is much bigger and far more interesting than just the borders of the United States. I want them to be able to say “yeah, I’ll go there and do that” because they know they can.

But I decided that Lindsay’s wish for her daughter is at the top of my list for my own children. Daily we fight a losing battle with acquisition and keeping up and we invent all sorts of reasons why we do it. We say that the kids can’t compete well if we don’t start them early. We say that our lives will be enriched if we have that whatever-it-is. We say that we’ll make that time for something later. Maybe that’s true, sometimes. But I think it probably isn’t. And we’ve fallen victim to it as much as anyone. But here I’ve heard the repeated message from families that, despite the challenges and hardships, their quality of life is better here than back home. It’s the upside to the frustratingly slow and inefficient way things often get done here.

So, good work, Lindsay! You’re on the right track. Thanks for the inspiration.

Simplicity—it’s not just for the Amish anymore.

The difference between TZ and the US

The police here are not always the source of law and order. There are police stops on the streets where they pull cars over and look for violations. Sometimes they require fines to be paid that don’t actually make it back to the office. You have to be firm and ask for a receipt, which will require them to actually turn in a fine rather than pocket it. They don’t like that.

If you don’t have the money to pay on the spot, they will take your car away and take you to jail until you can round up someone who can pay.

If you yell “mwizi” (thief) in the market, people will chase that person down and beat them to death. Really. A recent picture in the news showed the police rescuing a would-be thief from “mob justice.”

There is no ambulance service. You flag down a car (or the police order you) to take the injured person/s to the hospital. When you get to the hospital or clinic, treatment will be refused unless you pay in advance. So if you are delivering the person, you will either have to pay their bill for them, find a relative who can come and pay, or leave them there and let whatever happens happen. You can imagine that it is not in most people’s interest, then, to stop and help someone who is injured. To those of who have been raised to know that hospitals will treat emergencies, and a general understanding that people will help those in an emergency (and that medical help is always close at hand) these practices (and the resulting effect on human behavior) make me angry and frightened.

You need to always carry/have lots of money. No credit cards or checks are accepted. We use an ATM to get our $ from the States and even though you’re not “supposed” to have large amounts of money in your house or on you, the fact is that you need money all the time. So you have to always remember to go to the ATM. Then, you get your money in 10,000 shilling bills. But then you need 100 shillings or 300 shillings for something and no one can make change easily for more than a few thousand shillings. So you have to try to break down the large bills into smalls, which you can do at the bank where the ATM is. Except the queues (lines) are always impossibly long. We are still getting used to a cash only life.

Another First Day of School

The first day of school—again.

Monday was an auspicious day for the Hillmans. It was back to school time. We lined up and took the obligatory picture before heading off to class (which I think I've accidentally erased). For the rest of the year I will drive the kids to school in the morning (we leave at 7:30 to make sure we’re there by 8:00) and pick Ava up at noon 3 days a week. The boys will ride the bus home 3 days a week and I will be picking them all up at the same time twice a week. It’s a 40 minute roundtrip so I’ll be spending a bit of time in the (beater) car. When school starts next year, we’ll be in line for signing up for the bus for both a.m. and p.m.

They were all understandably nervous about the start. Cameron had a track and field day this morning and was put on a team (the kids are all assigned house teams (ala Hogwarts) and compete throughout the year for the house cup), but then was switched to a different team which threw him and made the rest of the event a bit hard. He did very well at several events, however. He rated the rest of the day as a “7” (high praise from him) and is looking forward to leaving on a 4 day camping adventure with his class. He has just returned from his class camping trip where they met very remote tribes, watched firemaking with a couple sticks, jewelry making, hunting, etc. and had a great time. Monday he will be trying to learn a dance routine for the school production of "Blues Brothers" where his class are backup dancers. He's really the bravest person I know right now!

Noah went on a fieldtrip to a nearby coffee plantation as his class is studying seeds and growth. He was reluctant to say he had a good day, but I think he enjoyed himself. He did not have a very positive experience starting first grade in Minnesota, so I think he’s waiting to see if things are better here. And, he’s the biggest homebody of us all and would rather be at home than anywhere else. He had show and tell and brought his lego set and seems to be enjoying himelf.

Ava cried for two days about school. The language camp school day was very tiring for her and less interactive than she’s used to so she didn’t want to go. We left her standing in the playground looking very forlorn, clutching her blanket…and picked up a wild child that could count to 10 in Swahili and sang all the way home. I think it went OK--however, she has teared up every morning when I dropped her off, but her teachers assure me that it's just an act. They all have swimming every week which is a highlight of the week.

I felt a big pang driving away that first day. Having Cameron at home for the last couple years was such a blessing for both of us. And it consumed so much of my time that he was really the prime focus of my days (anyone who’s homeschooled knows what I mean). Plus, I hadn’t expected to say “goodbye” to Ava so soon. It will take time to adjust to having them away during the day. I guess now is the time to put my feet up and browse my People magazine and eat bonbons—but neither of those things exists here. Rats.

Read a Book

Read a(nother) book

I’m just finishing reading “Nine Hills to Nambonkaha” by Sarah Erdman (thank you Dr. Matt and Lisa!). The author spent two years (1998-200) in a small village in Cote d’Ivoire in West Africa. It’s an amazing story of her life in a small isolated village where the problems of the “modern world” are just beginning to encroach on centuries of tradition. It’s very good and I’m getting chills as I’m reading about a well-baby program that she’s worked to establish for the mothers in the village and the empowerment that the women feel with the knowledge they’ve gained. It would be a great book club book!

But even though Cote d’Ivoire is on the other side of the continent, the description of daily life would be very similar to villages in Tanzania, even near Arusha. Some people have said they thought we were brave, or sympathized with our potential electricity shutoff (which has not been mentioned again due to heavy rains in the reservoir area), but compared to the author of this book, we live in a suburban paradise. You can’t imagine how much work it takes to simply live here—and probably for most people around the world. Everything takes so much time and effort and all of the safety nets we take for granted simply don’t exist. The line between living and dying is very fine, even for those with some education or money. They live without expectation of change, yet they are unfailingly friendly and generally helpful. Yes, there is crime. Yes, we are hounded by begging and street hucksters whenever we step out of our car. Yes, the prices offered to us are always too high because we are “wazungu”. That’s a part of life here. But when we ran out of gas, 4 people gave up an hour to help us. When we practice our Swahili, people are patient and gently correct our grammar to help us learn. We are not very brave—the Tanzanians who live and work and raise families are the ones with courage and strength. They’re the ones to be admired.

By the way, the word “mzungu” or “wazungu” is the term applied to all white people here. It can be a slur, but is generally just a collective term, and one that we use about ourselves as well. It literally means “one who goes around in circles”. The story is that when early Europeans arrived and explored the area, they went from point to point and eventually ended up back where they started (in a circle). Later, it came to mean the people who went around and around, not knowing what to do. We feel that we fit that description completely, as we rarely know what to do or where to go when we start out!

Also, by the way…apparently the main water pumps for most of the city of Arusha are above us on the mountain. And they can’t turn off the power here or there would be no water for the city. So—wow for us.

Our new family member.

This is Kitten. He came from the duka down the street where the children saw him and begged for a kitten and reminded me how I said they could have one if only we didn't have a dog.

We think his name will be Ruka (Swahili for "jump") but we're waiting for Cameron to weigh in with his decision when he gets home. I'm hoping he likes the name because the other frontrunner is "Cutie" and I personally cannot bring myself to call anything "cutie". Paka (Swahili for "cat") was another (albeit lukewarm) option.

After the first day, he really does jump all over everything so I think Ruka is a perfect name.

Did I mention lice? Yep. The poor thing's been bathed, scrubbed, and dusted several times this week and is not allowed in bedrooms until I certify that he's clean. But we couldn't debug him until we had him home and there was no place to keep him while we cleaned him. I pray God is granting us protection from infestation because we rescued this poor thing from a bleak future.

Well, I don't know what I did...

But here's the birthday boy, looking a little too "teenagery" in my opinion. I'm realizing how much I valued the homeschooling time we had together now that he's back in school. He really is a very interesting person when you get to know him. I always have fun when we go places together...and now I miss him.

Maybe if I cut his hair, and he looks younger, I can keep him younger.

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday, Cameron!

Poor Cameron. He can have a tendency to be a bit cynical about life. I suppose he'll feel very slighted by his birthday entry, because it doesn't have a picture. I can't get photos to upload from our computer, so...

But he had a good birthday. We left language camp and picked up our furniture, shopped for food, and settled in at home. We had ice cream (again--cake here is just really really dry) and he opened his present--a Lego Star Wars Turbo Tank--which had been on his Christmas list as well. He was very surprised and excited! We finished up with birthday dinner at Khan's BBQ (see previous post about the auto parts store by day/BBQ by night) which we always enjoyed.
He started school Monday and left Tuesday with his new class for a 4 day camping trip. He's coming back today and we're all excited to hear how it went and to have him home again.

Cameron, I promise I'll post a birthday pic when I get this thing figured out!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

About the rain...

You know, I was thinking about the posts and emails I've sent about the electricity situation...and I think I have to confess I may be responsible for it. See, I get these emails from people that have a short story and promise that I will be either be showered with blessings or cursed forever if I don't pass them on to at least 10 other people.

And I don't. Ever. So you if you've ever passed something like that on to me, you now know that I'm the weakest link in whatever chain email is being passed around. Sorry.

But now I'm wondering if there's something to that after all...

Because right now it's raining like crazy and it's louder than heck on the metal roof. And today's news reported that the resevoir is somehow miraculously high enough that the shutoff may be postponed for several weeks, by which time enough rain may have fallen to take care of the problem this season.

So either the news reporting is a bit dodgy here, or I'm actually controlling natural events by not passing on chain emails.

You decide.

OK, just a couple more animals

Now, I know what I said about animals and pictures, but Cameron and Noah just got back from a two day trip to Ngorongoro Crater. It's about a 3-4 hour drive from here--they went with 6 other kids, two dads, and teachers and camped there. We were very proud of Noah who spent his first away from home adventure in a tent in Africa with strangers. And Cameron scored some great pics so I'm sharing again...this'll be it for awhile, though--safaris don't come cheap and we will actually have to get productive now!

This young lion was less than 4 feet from the car when he decided to pose for some shots. An older lion eventually scared him off.

The hippos were a big hit. Did you know more people are killed by hippos than by any other animal in Africa? They're a lot faster (apparently) on land than you might think. There are places where you can take a river safari and cruise past them...but you know it'd just be some little wooden boat and I personally would be fainting and wetting my pants at the same time.

It's baby time! Lots of newborn zebras, buffalo, and this little wildebeest...but I keep thinking about those lions...

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

A (superficial) word about the Oscars

Now, I know I just posted a very serious story about our situation here, but I also just found out that I missed the Oscars, which I thought were next week--imagine, they went on without me! But I'll contribute my 2 cents...

If you haven't seen "Crash" you really should. It's a very painful look at race relations in America. I was left very disturbed and with an unsettled feeling that this is probably a pretty accurate portrayal of how people see each other. Which is pretty sad.

Matt Dillon (former teenage heartthrob) does a spot-on performance as a racist cop who is also tormented by trying to care for his dying father who is unable to navigate the maze of health care to get help. (btw--he also does a great turn as a self-centered pretty boy race car driver who goes over the edge in "Herbie Rides Again")

And Reese Witherspoon, who is really great in everything, too--if you haven't seen "Walk the Line" and/or bought a Johnny Cash Cd--well, shame on you! Everyone talks about Joaquin Phoenix--and he was tremendous as well, but her strength, not in just supporting him, but in resisting him, too, was amazing to watch.

And then I left the country without seeing anything else. Someone told me that in 6 months I wouldn't know or care about American pop culture, but I don't know...I admit it...I love pop movie culture, esp. movies. So there. And I have friends who will make sure I continue to keep up with the minutae of the celebrity movie world, even if I have to resort to watching bootleg movies here.

Which I won't be able to do because I won't have any electricity.

News of the Drought

Since I've recently sent a note about the umeme (electricity) situation, here are some excerpts from the local papers...

The Mtera hydroelectric power plant could close down any time from this Friday because the water level has dropped further from 698.50 metres to 687.48 metres. The obvious outcome of such an eventuality would be an economic crunch of immense proportions as the country would be left with only the Songas gas-to-electricity power plant, which has also scaled down its output after a transformer broke down two weeks ago. (note: Songas powers only the Dar community)

However, the severe drought the country is experiencing, coupled with intensive human activities in the Great Ruaha catchment area, have resulted in significant shrinkage of the Great Ruaha tributaries’ regimes that feed the dam. Because of this, the country has been forced to reduce consumption through long hours of power rationing and frequent outages that have affected production in all sectors of the economy. With key economic sub-sectors such as tea, cotton, coffee and manufacturing forecasting a drop in their earnings due to power rationing and severe drought, the closure of the Mtera plant and its satellites dams could bring the economy to its knees never seen before in the past 10 years during which the economy recorded a bullish surge.

And from another report...

After a three-year spell of severe drought, water sources in Longido District, Arusha Region, have all dried up, forcing residents to trek long distances in search of water. Most families in the district now have to make do with less than 20 litres of water a day. To make things worse, the safety of the availably water cannot be guaranteed.

’People buy 20 litres of water for between 600/- and 700/-. Not all families can afford this,’ she said, adding that she had never before experienced such a severe drought. Her granddaughter, Anna Laizer, told The Guardian that all the water sources in the area had dried up. ’The rivers and lakes have all dried up. All places where we used to draw water are now bowls of dust,’ she said. ’There is isn’t a single drop of water in this village.’

Women and girls trek long distances in search of water, but they sometimes return home empty-handed or they are forced to spend a night or two from home in search of water. ’They walk for more than 16 kilometres in search of just 20 litres of water. And if they don’t get it, they don’t return home till the following day,’ he said.

When does an adventure stop being an adventure and start being harsh reality?
And what must it be like to have to live in these conditions at this level every day?

Monday, March 06, 2006

Some Monkeys

Here are some monkeys that caused quite a commotion at the lodge pool on Saturday afternoon.

Here is a monkey that jumped on our picnic table and grabbed some bread that Cameron was just getting ready to put in his mouth right out of his hand. He was a colorful character.

More of those Animal Pics and Tarangire information

I'm not sure these require much in the way of explanation...

Tarangire National Park is only about 120 km from Arusha (less than 2 hours on a paved road). It has the Tarangire River running through it which provides water year-round. Because of this it's considered the best "dry season" park in the country, as animals concentrate heavily in the area during the dry season.

It's rained quite a bit in the last week and we're were surprised to see how green everything was! Many of the animals (esp. zebras and wildebeests and giraffes) have begun to spread out so we worked hard for the animals we did see. We had a great guide with us, though. We did see two lions and 3 hyenas, although they were not clear enough for photos, so you'll have to take my word for it! We also found impala, harebeests, reedboks, waterbucks (all classified as DLA--deer like animals) as well as lots of interesting and colorful birds.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Requisite pictures from our weekend at Tarangire

I won't bore you too much with our pics from Tarangire this weekend. Honestly, you know you can find better animals just about anywhere. But I will mention that the pics I'm posting were taken by Cameron and I think he did a great job!

Do I even need to mention what these are?
During the dry season, it's like watching squirrels in your yard to see these. They've started migrating now that it's rained a bit and so we only saw 6-7.

This is a dik-dik. They are very tiny, about the size of a beagle and very shy. This one was camped under a bush by the road. They're actually pretty easy to see since they seem to stick near the road.

More pics to follow, as well as a description of Tarangire National Park.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Swahili time--part 2

My friend Karen has this thing--when I write something, she always makes it look better. And I like that. So here's her explanation on Swahili time...

Tanzanians start their "day" at sunrise, not at midnight like we do. Since they are so close the the equator, sunrise is pretty much always at 6AM, it doesn't vary with seasons like it does for us. So they start their day at 6:00 AM, putting it at the top of the clock. That means that one hour after sunrise is 7AM - the hand on the clock will have advanced one hour, but on Western clocks the hand would point to the "1", not the 7. If you just think of the top position of the clock as sunrise, and that the hand moves around an hour at a time you can do the conversion in your head. And apprently there is something in the way they SAY the time which indicates morning or afternoon (everything is also confused by the fact that they do not divide their days into halves based on noon like we do - the AM and PM system - they have different words for early morning, mid-morning, etc. throughout the day, I think it's based on where the sun is in the sky. Not easy, but at least now I can understand the logic behind the system.

She's right, of course--she always is. But still--we're telling time using this system on a "traditional" clock, and calling the time what the clock actually says, but not what they actually mean. So, according to this explanation, when the hand is pointing to the "1" they'll say seven o'clock--but they really mean 1:00.


Today's culture lesson from an unwilling student

One of the great things about traveling is learning about new cultures. You can learn that some things are really great, perhaps even better than what you're used to in your "real" life. You can appreciate some things that seem quirky or eccentric because they add to the sense of adventure you're experiencing. You can learn to tolerate some things that you will either never feel comfortable with or completely understand.

And then there are things that just seem plain wrong. Today's lesson is on telling time Swahili-style.

Look at the clock above. Look at where the numbers are located. Imagine the big hand pointing toward the 12 and the little pointing at the 7. 7:00, right? And you'd never confuse whether it was morning or night because the context of any conversation would tell you what time you were referring to.

NOW...renumber the clock so that there is a 6 where the 12 is, a 7 where the 1 is, and so on. Go on, do it on paper. The clock will be renumbered so that each number is now directly across from where it is on the "standard" clock.

Now imagine the big hand pointing straight up and the little hand pointing toward the 7. It's no longer it's 1:00. Morning or night? The actual position of the hands indicates that it could be morning or evening. Not the time of 1:00.

To make it more interesting, when the time is written out, they wouldn't write one o'clock--they actually write seven o'clock!

So...when I read seven o'clock, I need to mentally move around the dial to understand they really mean one o'clock and then translate the words into Swahili, and then try to remember if they meant am or pm. And maybe they said some other important things during that conversation, too--not that I would know, because I would be hopelessly hung up on getting the time figured out.

There are no "Swahili clocks", by the way. Just the kind we all have. And you will always have to clarify whether you are talking Swahili time or English time when making arrangements.


(to be culturally fair, I should mention that Mark has picked this up pretty easily--which is annoying--so I suppose it could be just me)