Friday, June 30, 2006


This may LOOK like an ordinary lorry, but carries the most anxiously-awaited cargo since the latest Harry Potter installment. It's carrying approximately 315 boxes of books for PHA, donated by Books for Africa in St. Paul. Here it comes....

Oh, did I ever mention it also contains OUR STUFF?! The stuff I once said wasn't important, the stuff I once said all of you should get rid of (well, that's not true--I said pare it down), the stuff that has been stuck in customs since mid-March...has finally arrived. Did I remember what was on it? You bet I did--you don't pack and inventory 60 boxes without knowing what's in each one! Is there anything I've looked at and thought, "Now why did I pack that?" No way! From dishes to spatulas to cough drops (we're all hacking away right now) to my down comforter to family photos to legos, everything is absolutely perfect! What were we most pleased to see? Well, Cameron has his books, Noah has his cars and action figures, and Ava has her dressup clothes. I've got a down comforter, and Mark...well, he's usually happiest when we're all happy! Oh, our mattress! Actually he was gone all day so he hasn't really had a chance to absorb everything, but he has been itching to do some camping and we're set now with our tent and sleeping bags!

This view of the container looks a bit empty, doesn't it? Actually, most of our stuff is at the front (under Noah and Ava). Behind the wooden frame are the books for the school library and resource center. At the time we were packing, it seemed like such a lot and we were worried we would run out of space, but since we didn't pack the actual container we were surprised that there was extra room. Which is probably for the best. Trying to find places to store things is a bit difficult. We have a pantry behind our kitchen which we'll organize more efficiently, but the rest of the house is pretty inefficient storage-wise. Each bedroom has 3 big cupboards--two with shelves and one with a rod and shelves. The shelves are very deep and with not a lot of space between them. Above them (7-10 ft. off the floor) are big cupboards--great for sleeping bags, etc. but not so great for things you might actually use often. And Arusha just hasn't gotten around to opening an IKEA here (although we have met a lot of Swedes). We also have to keep an eye to the new house at the school site which will have even less storage than this one, so really here less is more! The good thing is that there's very little here to acquire so what we have shouldn't grow too much in the next few years!

So tonight feels like Christmas--which is good because it's technically winter and actual Christmas won't look or feel at all traditional (but I did pack some decorations!) and we feel blessed again with so many comforts and reminders of home.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Thought (and a Book Recommendation)

"People go to Africa and confirm what they already have in their heads and so they fail to see what is there in front of them. This is what people have come to expect. It's not viewed as a serious continent. It's a place of strange, bizarre, and illogical things, where people don't do what common sense demands." --Chinua Achebe

Which of course is both the joy and frustration of living and working here! But I'm particularly drawn to the idea that we view things based on what we already imagine them to be like--and not just here, but in so many walks of life. In fact, when we are most frustrated, we realize that that's usually what we are doing!

By the way, Achebe is Nigerian and his book "Things Fall Apart" is considered one of the great African classics. Great book club book or just a good read!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

PHF News Updates

For those of you who followed our "Golf 100 Holes" event in June, Marc Papineau and Dana House have now raised a total of $161,446 for PHF!! What a great feat--thanks guys!

PHF will also be hosting its annual Colors of Hope fundraiser on October 28th. It will be held at International Market Square with Don Shelby doing the honors again as emcee. If you've attended before you know what a great event it is. If you haven't attended, please consider setting that evening aside and joining other PHF supporters for a wonderful cause. I guarantee you won't regret it!

Also, Project 640 is a group of terrific, dynamic, hard-working, passionate Chicagoans (Chicago-ites?) who are constantly working in overdrive to promote the mission of PHF and are having a great time doing it. They were here in Arusha in February and will be returning in 2007 as well. You can read about them on the PHF website (click the Project 640 link) or go to their own website

The PHF website at has all the latest PHF news or send an email to and ask to be put on the mailing list for our newsletters.

Here in Arusha we will say goodbye to Rachel on July 5th and welcome Scott Augustine, the chairman and founder of PHF as he arrives to take a look at our progress as well as meet with business and church leaders in the community and in Dar es Salaam. On July 28th we'll be hosting Joe Storms who is going to be doing some photography of the students supported by PHF.

Things are happening!

And So It Begins...

You all remember Ava--sweet little girl with the head of yellow curls? Last week she asked to have her hair braided in little braids all over her head. Looked strange, but she loved it. We took the braids out a couple days later and she slept on it and the next morning she had...straight hair! Of course she loved it and has been asking for straight hair since. So this morning I blew her hair out and she wanted her picture taken for the blog. This is the pose she chose:

Every woman reading this will recognize that "need" to have her hair be something other than what it was. I personally have spent my entire life hating my hair and would change it before changing any other aspect of my appearance. But I started in junior high...Ava's only 4! Maybe she's just enamoured with the idea that she can have her hair do different things. Her hair is much longer now, which she also likes, so the curls are not as bouncy as they used to be. And, because of the time spent outside, she wears the ubiquitous ponytail every day to avoid tangles so we are seeing less of them anyway.

By the way, we think the Cameron and Noah clean up nicely, too! Cameron is also undergoing a hair revolution and I'm fighting the urge to take charge and cut the front. He's decided to try growing it out quite a bit longer. I frequently chant to myself, "pick your battles, pick your battles," knowing that adolescence is coming!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Hillman Clan

Here we are--all present, all looking at the camera, no one grimacing or looking (too) pained--all in all, a pretty good shot! Given, that, don't be surprised if it's also the Christmas shot this year! :-)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Another guest post from Rachel

Hello everyone!

I have been having a great time in Tanzania! Teaching at St. Margaret’s has been going really well. Almost all of the kids – even the very young ones are able to play “Hot Cross Buns.” Now, some of them have learned “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” and the older children are learning to read music. It is difficult for them because they have never been exposed to sheet music before, but I am confident that they will at least know the basics by the end of my lessons. A pleasant surprise - St. Margaret’s has assigned a teacher to follow me around and take over the music lessons after I leave. I’m glad the recorders will be put to good use!

One of the things that I really enjoy about Tanzania is the interesting street life. I especially enjoy going to market here. Everything is so fresh and delicious. It is also a very interesting learning experience – you never know what you will find at the market! On our last trip, we discovered chunks of “clean” dirt that are frequently eaten by pregnant women. I guess that I had always incorrectly believed that dirt is inherently dirty! Carla was brave enough to try a bit and reported that it tastes just like the garden variety.

Other than fresh fruits and vegetables, I am not altogether very impressed with Tanzanian food – it is very bland! Most of it is also not designed for nutritional value but to fill your stomach – a lot of carbohydrates. However, I have discovered one traditional Tanzanian food that I like very much – feed corn! That’s right – the stuff that is fed to animals in the States. Women often roast it by the side of the road and charge around $.10 per ear. It is surprisingly addictive.

This Thursday, Carla and I are planning to take an all day trip on a camel through a Massai village. We may be very sore on Friday – but how can one pass up such an opportunity?

Anyway, as you can see, things are going very well here, and I really appreciate your thoughts and prayers! Take care!


How is Rachel Doing?

Well, those of you who know her...

I think this seems to sum it all up.

And these little guys seem to think
she's doing an OK job as well. They're patiently waiting to learn that old standby "Hot Cross Buns."

Learning the fingering for "B" and hoping to add "Mary Had a Little Lamb" to their repetoire.

P.S. Rachel's doing GREAT!!!

Happy Father's Day!

Actually, we kind of forgot Father's Day until it was announced in church, which is fine with me. I'm not a big fan of holidays which to exist only to stress someone out because they have to "do" something to somehow prove their love or devotion. But what better way to celebrate than by throwing on an African man-skirt and having a good ol' barbeque?

And since this particular barbeque was not lighting well, Mark is taking lessons from Elizabeth, our housekeeper's helper, who is a whiz at lighting these tiny jikos!

Please feel free to share your thoughts/fashion suggestions on Mark's attire. We are a bit concerned.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Remember What I Said About My Stuff?

Well, forget it. I miss my stuff. I want my stuff.

As you know, we sent a shipping container from Minneapolis at the beginning of February to Tanzania. We were told it would arrive by mid-March, so we figured mid-to-end April. The container holds 15 pallets of donated books (each pallet has 20 boxes weighing at least 75 lbs.) for the school and our personal possessions--among these are a digital piano, a trumpet, our kids' clothes and shoes for the next 3 years, personal toiletries/medications, our "kitchen" (dishes, silverware, pots/pans, knives, etc.), the boys' complete lego collection, DVD/CD collection, a DVD player, mattresses, bikes, and approximately 30 boxes of personal books.

Through a clerical error, the paperwork for the shipping container was marked to clear customs in Dar es Salaam and was placed into a secured area at the dock. We were advised to avoid doing this as it was more time-consuming and expensive than going to the smaller port of Tanga. After 3 weeks of trying to sort this out and being told the authorities were not going to release the container to Tanga, we decided to go ahead and just have the container go through customs there. The company that is handling the customs clearing here went to Dar to make sure the paperwork was in order.

Last week, we were told the crate was close to being done (which may or may not be true). So we were VERY surprised when we received word that the container was en route to Tanga. Against the wishes of TRA (the Tanzanian tax authorities), who have now levied a $10,000 fine against the shippers for moving the container. Additionally, there are also dock fees that are owed because the container has been sitting in Dar. The shipping company has not taken any responsibility at this point for any of the difficulties that have happened.

Now all of this is just material stuff. We've been getting by without it. We had 2 house fires in our history that put "stuff" into perspective. And if the ship sank or exploded, I think I could handle it, really. But this...I don't know if it's clinging to something that's not important in the larger scheme of life, or a sense of helplessness, or what. Some things could be purchased here, although at exorbitant cost (kitchen stuff). Some can be brought over again from the States, but at cost (clothes/shoes/DVDs/CDs). Some can't be gotten here or delivered (books). Some are not replaceable.

This latest turn of events marks the lowest point to date morale-wise since we've been here in Arusha. It's not Tanzanian inefficiency--it is a company that has mismanaged everything from the beginning. We are so looking forward to watching a movie on the weekend, or reading a book, or being warm under comforters, or playing with new friends with toys, or being able to function more efficiently in the kitchen. Now we don't know what to expect or really how to advance the issue. Our shipping guy here is working to try to get the container released while TRA fights their battle with the shipper, but we're feeling pretty dismal right now.

So the moral of the story is either give it all away because it just causes pain later, or grab it all up and keep it tight because you could lose it. I can't decide tonight.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Wana Jenga! (We are Building)

Construction continues--the actual administration building foundation's are being dug and walls are going up everywhere! This is the headmaster's house (note the beautiful flowers on the farms in the background!) It really is a spectacular view at this time of the year. Sunny and green everywhere! You really should come to see it! But trust me--skip the rainy season! :-)

Cameron's Final Project

The international school that the kids attend is an inquiry-based learner-driven program, so there is a big emphasis on the student creating the framework for learning and using what they've learned. Today Cameron's class are showing their final primary projects (they will all be in secondary school next year).
The project began with a central idea--"Humans have an impact on the world around them." From that the students had to develop their own research project and focus. Topics ranged from indiginous peoples farming to pollution. Cameron chose farming techniques and soil conversation, a topic that is very important here and one he knew nothing about. The key is that everything was student-lead. Other than meeting with him once a week and monitoring his progress, we were hands-off, as was his teacher. At the show this afternoon he displayed his work.

Cameron worked to develop his guiding questions that would direct his research efforts. This part was challenging for him, as he has been used to having a teacher tell him what to do or how to organize his project. It was frustrating for him when the teacher wouldn't tell him he was doing it "right" but would ask him questions designed to direct his next steps. But off he went to work!

His final display included a powerpoint presentation (which included information and photos taken around the Arusha area and on the PHA site of erosion and good/back farming practices) a science experiment writeup showing the amount of soil loss from different farming techniques (the jars in the photos show the soil runoff), a journal that all his work product and learning/planning, and his planner, his overall framework for the project. Yikes!

We are so proud of his effort and the level of work that he produced. It was an 8 week project and the biggest academic task he's ever tackled (and one that wouldn't be attempted in such an independent way at home until at least 8th grade). He spent at least 3 hours a day on it 6 days a week! Way to go Cam!

Monday, June 12, 2006

My first week in Tanzania

Hello, everyone! Hopefully, this will be one of many guest posts that I make on Carla's blog! I have had an amazing first week in Tanzania. I have wonderful hosts, the weather has been beautiful, and everyone has been so friendly.

As you can see from Carla's previous post, teaching at St. Margaret's has also gone well - I plan to start teaching some of the older kids how to read music later this week. They are such quick learners and are very respectful of adults. Every time I enter a room, all of the students stand and say in unison, "Good morning teacher" and when I say good morning and ask how they are doing, they reply "We are fine, thank you. How are you?" It is so cute.

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about how best to use the resources that God has given to me. While this was something that I had thought about occasionally in the U.S. it is very difficult not to think about it here. Every day on the street I see children who do not have enough food or proper clothing, I am confronted with clearly suffering and diseased beggars in town, and yet I have so much. How should I respond? I am still working that out and probably will be for quite some time! However, my time here so far has been a good reminder that all that I have been given is not mine, and thus is not mine to hoard!

However, it has difficult not become a little cynical after being asked for money time and time again. I don't like that because some of the requests are probably valid, but after so many requests, I find myself holding tighter to my money and possessions than ever. While I cannot give to everyone who asks for money, when I do give, I want to do so joyfully.

Anyway, I hope things are well with all of you! Take care!


Sunday, June 11, 2006

Rachel Visits the Snake Park

So how could we NOT take Rachel to the Snake Park? Out of respect to our readers, we have not posted pics of our last visit, which was feeding day. In which several mice and a bunny met their Maker right in front of our eyes. Sadly, nothing that exciting this time.

No, we did not arrive by camel. Ava just loves to do this and Rachel was more than accommodating. Does she look scared? She took off her glasses--maybe so she didn't have to look down?

There always seems to be some new twist to the Snake Park. Today it was "hold a baby crocodile" day. Cameron was a bit nervous, so we're telling him to hold it over the pit in case he drops it. You'll notice the pit is not deep, nor is it covered...the better for young children to reach in grab something when their parents are distracted, I guess. They're baby Nile crocs, the world's largest croc, and although tiny now, they do have some wicked teeth!

The olive snake seems to be just about the only non-threatening thing at the Snake Park. Ava's definitely fear there! But since we saw this particular snake swallow a mouse a few weeks ago, I wonder if it's not somehow sizing her up for lunch...

Even Rachel proved to be brave and intrepid! Funny, I guess I forgot to mention this part when I told her about things to do in Africa...she's a terrific sport in more ways than one...she's letting me put pics of her on my blog!

And finally for those of you who wonder just where Mark is on this blog...well, he's working so hard all the time we just can't seem to get a picture of him! But he did emerge out of the workshop for this occasion and manhandled the local wildlife with the rest of us!

And one last note for those who might wonder why I'm not in the scene--well, HELLO! These pictures don't take themselves, you know! And I'll go on record stating that this stuff with lizards and snakes doesn't bother me in the least (well, not the poisonous ones) and I've chased down plenty of both in my lifetime!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Rachel's Here!

Here's Rachel! Fresh from Minneapolis, she arrived safe and sound Thursday night in Tanzania. Rachel is our first solo volunteer and a member of our home church (Peace Lutheran). She is giving recorder and music lessons to students at St. Margaret's Academy, a primary school near Arusha. St. Margaret's was just celebrated for having the 4th highest test scores in the nation--test scores are the only measure of a school's quality, so this was a big honor for them.

Although the students in Tanzania can sing beautifully and effortlessly, they have little formal music instruction and no opportunities for playing musical instruments. They were so excited to learn that a music teacher was coming!

Like all students, it's hard to resist the tooting and honking that seems to go on in every classroom, but they are enthusiastic and very keen to learn. These are the Standard 6 and 7 students, most of whom are between 12 and 14 years of age. In one 40 minute lesson, they have learned that old stand-by "Hot Cross Buns". The Standard 1 and 2 students (6-8 years old) will need a bit more practice!

Rachel will be teaching 3 days a week. During each week she'll see all 350 students twice so that all students will get at least 7-8 lessons. The recorders and music that she's collected will be donated to the school in hopes that they will be able to somehow continue music there.

In case you're wondering, St. Margaret's is not a PHF-sponsored or affiliated organization. Rachel will also be working on PHF things as well; however, she had been awarded a scholarship from her college and because we had known her, we were able to establish a connection for her. She is a unique case in that respect. We are thrilled to see a familiar face here and her first two days have been great! Check in and you should see her guest-posting about her impressions and experiences while she's here.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Those Tanzanian Blessings

Blessing #1: Arusha Community Church. Our church is interdenominational and represents Chrisitian faiths from around the world. It's unusual in that it is lay-lead and has no pastor, the idea being that this format keeps the church more ecumenical, rather than Lutheran or Methodist, etc. There are always a number of pastors attending as well as excellent lay preachers! What makes it a blessing is the way that we have been so warmly welcomed into the church. It has been a source of support, information, and faith-building that has helped us tremendously. Everyone has come here from someplace else for a variety of projects and it creates a diverse dynamic that's really exciting to be a part of. I attend the women's Bible study (last week there were 22 women from 19 countries), Mark attend the men's study, and we also do a study with the people in our neighborhood.

Blessing #2: Isaya. He's the man in charge of planting the trees and orchard at PHA. But he's doing such amazing things everywhere! At the site he has told his workers that since they are working at a school, they are also students. He has a rotating system of work so that all the workers have a chance to learn about how trees are planted, raised, and cared for properly. When they have learned a particular skill, he moves them onto another task and moves another group in. In that way, he's helping to teach these workers techniques they can use with their own farms or on other jobs. He's very interested in all aspects of the PHA project and has offered some good suggestions for future planning in terms of planting. He also works with his village and nearby villages to improve farming techniques and move toward organic farming. He is also building a dam with a turbine that will create its own electricity to run the pumps to carry water to a village and a secondary school. He also has been working with Cameron this term on teaching him about soil conservation and farming for Cameron' big school project. He is a true gift from God, not only for PHA, but for all the people whose lives he touches with his efforts and compassion.

Blessing #3: Our staff. Yasini (our housekeeper) is helpful on all fronts. He works hard, helps with our Swahili, and is a great father to his children and friend to ours. Nda (our gardener) speaks no English and has only spoken Swahili for a few years (he is Maasai and came to Arusha from Ngorongoro a few years ago). Communication is time-consuming but he is always patient with us. He works hard every day all day with almost no direction from us. We have heard many stories of housekeepers and gardeners that have to be monitored constantly in order to get minimal work done. Both Nda and Yasini are above reproach in that respect. Godfrey (our night guard) puts in a 12 hour shift nights a week on our porch. Ava and Happy (Yasini's daughter) run to the gate to greet him every evening and he spends the first couple hours every night playing with the kids. He has become part of our family as well.

Blessings abound here, as they do everywhere, even in the midst of the hardships of life. We are blessed to be here in this beautiful country, surrounded by extraordinary people, doing what they have been called to do. What more could we ask for?