Monday, August 28, 2006

A Twist on a School Reader

An excerpt from Noah's 2nd grade reader, entitled "Rotten Apples":

(as an introduction, the children are gathering apples in their yard when a man selling secondhand items comes through on a horse and wagon. The children give the horse a basket of apples, but the horse only eats the rotten apples, which the children find funny/curious)

The horse ran into a car park (parking lot).
"Look out!" shouted Harry.
The horse began to sway.
It made a funny noise.

The horse went slower and slower.
Suddenly, it stopped.
It laid down and went to sleep.

Harry and the children climbed off the wagon.
"This horse is drunk!" said Mum.
"Why is it drunk?" asked Biff.

Harry looked at the horse.
"The rotten apples made the horse drunk, " he said.
Biff was sorry.
Harry laughed. He didn't mind.
Many people cam to see the horse.
They bought things from his cart.

Now, I ask you, what would you do if your young reader, curled up next to you on the couch, was reading this story, assigned to him from a legitimate (albeit British) reading series? Well, if you're in Tanzania, you just shake your head and giggle.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

This is the Day...

Today marks a big event in the life of Peace House Foundation--the signing of the formal agreement of partnership between us and the Lutheran diocese. When I first came here almost 4 years ago, we began the process of writing the agreement. Since then the agreement has undergone countless permutations as we've learned more, but the conversations have always been limited to visits here by board members but the distance and lack of technology had made the process difficult.

For the past 3 months, Mark has spent a huge amount of his time streamlining the agreement, working with an attorney here, and manymanymany phone conversations with PHF about how best to represent our interests. The culminating document (shrunk, I think, from our first draft 4 years ago of 20+ pages is now only 3-4) was signed yesterday.

It was a difficult process for several reasons--first, the church here (not just the Lutheran but also the Catholic and Anglican) is very powerful wields a tremendous amount of influence. They are used to complete and unquestioned control and management of their programs. PHF, of course, wants to maintain overriding control of the financial and operational aspects of the school, while at the same time giving the church the role of participating in the decision-making processes. There were also cultural differences as the church officials had to understand the procedures for hiring and establishing procedures in seveal areas that were decidedly Western in nature and not familiar to them. The cultural norm of not questioning or challenging superiors or elders was put to the test during these discussions. We also had to learn about how business, formally and informally, is conducted here and how to meld the two points of view.

The outcome, however, is very positive. The agreement provides a framework for Mark's work here and defines the roles of each organization, which was badly needed. Of course, there will be ongoing discussions that challenge and clarify the agreement as both sides continue to learn how to work together, but it is a tremendous relief to have this accomplished!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

PHA is Hiring

Now, if I give you this link, you have to promise only to read it...and ooh and ah over the fabulous appearance, the wonderful text, and the sterling professionalism it exudes. Because Mark gave all the professional information to me and I wrote most of it and then gave it to Karen Peterson who put in her typically flawless final form. And, when it wouldn't fit with the other ad on the page, she smooshed it into yet another fantastic permutation, guaranteed to get us the best applicants for the job.

And then Kate Krebs, computer genie extronindaire, made it look totally cool which is what you're looking at when you go to the link.

But remember, I said read and ooh and ah only. You can't apply, because the job is here in Tanzania...and it's really for a Tanzanian, since it is a Tanzanian school.

Of course if you're reading this and you are Tanzanian and you are in Tanzania (or you can get here) and you're qualified, then apply away!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

It's Not Always About Us...

So I'm giving you a virtual tour of PHA as of this week. It's so exciting to see how things are progressing. At the beginning, it was hard to see work getting done since it was all about digging the foundations. Now that so much of the building is now walls going up and roofs going on, every day brings new changes.
Some of you may remember Project 640, our first volunteer group that spent a week here in February. They worked on a nursery where we could start raising trees to plant. To date we've planted over 5,000 trees! The trees are very important as there is no shade on the property and there are serious erosion issues that will be helped by the trees. As they are thinned out they can also be used for firewood.

The 640 will be surprised to find that the little trees that were planted (like these here)...

...are now this big in just 5 months! It's really unbelievable how fast things grow here! All along our huge fence the plants that were inches tall in February are now almost to the top of the fence in places. Good water, good sun, cool nights...a perfect combination!

Wouldn't you like to come and volunteer? You can, you know. Just contact Peace House Foundation and they'll get you set up, no problem!

You can sit here in the morning or evening, sipping tea, and looking at Mt. Meru in the distance. This candlabra tree is actually a giant cactus and is the only one on the site. It's fantastic!

You will retire at night to one of our comfortable guest houses. Although you will be on-site and able to participate in the daily school activities, the guest houses provide a quiet respite in the evenings.

Your guest house does have a kitchen, but you'll want to take some of your meals here in the dining hall with the students and get a sense of typical Tanzanian fare. Breakfast here is typically tea and bread and maybe some uji (like runny Cream of Wheat). Lunch includes ugali (like stiff grits--filling but not a lot of taste), beans or rice, sometimes cooked veggies. Dinner is a variation on lunch, but may include a sauce made with meat or cooking bananas. Fresh fruit (whatever's in season) may be available as well. Eating with the students will also give you an opportunity to get to know them, ask questions, and give them time to ask questions of you.

I do like this picture a lot. It's the road going through the teacher housing. It looks like we have an actual town going up here! It looks so cool! Actually, PHA will be a community when it's done, which I like very much. I like the idea of all of us being a part of something so new and raw and uncharted.

Brick-making in action. We actually have a brick-making machine that makes 2 bricks at a time. We also have the manual way which makes 1 brick at a time. For either way, they shovel cement into a form, pull down a press/lid, and then lift the form and slide the blocks out on a board. It's a time consuming process for sure.

The administration/classroom building has finally hit ground level (after working on 8 ft. deep foundations). The tiny blue shed in the background is the guard house for the maingate.

By the way, I'm taking no responsibility for the quality of this pic. I'm having to upload each pic 3-4 times (at around 2 minutes per upload) and I just can't explain why some pics cooperate and some just turn ugly on me.

The same is true for the dorms. Now that building is at ground level, things will look like they're moving very fast (and maybe they really are!) It's a bit intimidating to see the footprints of such large buildings and think of the number of students that will be living in them!

Here's our house, getting more done every day. It's funny--they've put in the wooden door jambs, but the walls are still rough blocks. Interesting.

Whoops--does this pic mean I slipped something in about us? Sorry.

OK, that's it. I have some more great pics, but after 3 days, this is as far as technology here will let me go and so I'm done. Really, it's much more interesting in person--come and see for yourself!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Some More Stories from Tanzania

If you've been reading us, you will have heard about the O'Neils. Steve is the former head of Minnehaha Academy who is running Haven of Peace Academy in Dar es Salaam. Haven of Peace is Christian mission school that attracts a great mix of missionary, diplomat, and Tanzanian students. They just celebrated their one year anniversary here in Tanzania.

They have been a tremendous inspiration to us as they have shared their experiences and faith working in their lives. They were such a blessing, too, because they were with us as we worked through the theft issue a few weeks ago. We have really enjoyed getting to know them.

Denae, his wife, has started her own family blog at Tales from Tanzania. Their stories about their lives there are definitely worth reading.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Another Nairobi Moment...

At the boardwalk zoo, Ava and I found ourselves surrounded by a group of Kenyan students who were on a field trip. A teacher asked me, "Could we have a photo?" We are often asked to take people's pictures here, but I had to tell him, "Sorry, I don't have a camera with me." He replied, "No, no, we have our own cameras." Sure enough, 3 adults dug out their 3 cameras. Then they just stood there, looking at Ava and me. I said, "OK, so give me your camera and get in a group and I'll take your pictures." And then he said, "No, no, we want to take a picture of YOU." So they all gathered around Ava and I and took quite a few pictures of us with the group, with smaller groups, etc.

We went to the zoo to take pictures of animals. They came to the zoo and took pictures of us. Too funny! Then it occurred to me--this is what celebrities have to do all the time. People watching them, following them, acting as if every little thing is so very interesting, and then asking for photos. Honestly, it doesn't happen very often, but I was definitely amused by the whole event!

Friday, August 11, 2006

A (Surreal) Trip to Nairobi

We spent 3 terrific days in Nairobi with no drama or trauma and had a great time. It was a bit surreal, though, in some ways--we did get our fix of Western culture, African-style.

Of course, if you come to Africa, you expect animals, and one thing this place does is deliver them in a way that America just can't ever match. Everything back in the States is very..."safe." Which is good, but sometimes not exciting (see our former posts about the Snake Park). Here in Africa, they just don't spend so much time worrying about being too safe--hence the fun!

We went to a "boardwalk" (zoo) and to Noah's delight, these cheetahs were more than willing to cooperate by getting up close and personal. The other animals we have already seen on safari but this was a big treat. At one point, they both jumped up and ran across the field.

We also visited the Langata Giraffe Center, where very endangered Rothschild's giraffes are raised. The platform is about 15 feet off the ground and the giraffes are very gentle (and slimy). Next to the center is the Giraffe Manor, an English manor home built in 1932. For a sweet $400 a night, you can have a giraffe reach his head in through your 2nd story window to say "howdy." The center did an excellent job of teaching about conservation and uses donations to help Kenyan students afford transportation to come and see the giraffes. It's a sad fact, both here and in Kenya, that so few children actually ever get to see the animals for which their countries are so famous, yet they will eventually make decisions about wildlife management, population management, etc.

The Sheldrick Trust was founded by David and Daphne Sheldrick (he was the original warden at the Tsavo Parks) to help rhinos and elephants orphaned by poachers. Here at their center (open for only 1 hour each day) visitors get up close and personal with the 7 baby elephants that are currently under their care. The infants are raised and then sent out into Nairobi National Park with armed guards during the day to learn how to live in the wild. Eventually they are released into Tsavo National Park. Poaching in Kenya continues to be such a problem that all elephants and rhinos in game parks are monitored! They did also have a "baby" rhino (3 years old and much too big to be allowed near the guests) who is spending his days in the wild (guarded) and nights back at the center. I wondered how it helped that these elephants were so used to people and seemed to enjoy them--but once freed they are not likely to come into contact with people, the way bears, etc. are in the States. The elephants were the definite (animal) highlight of the trip for all of us!

Not that the rest of the family was overly interested, but I loved our stop at the Karen Blixen home. You'll recognize it from "Out of Africa" because they used the actual house for the exterior shots. It's hard to imagine this house, now in a very upscale neighborhood, being out in the bush. Back in the day it was very luxurious (her original furnishings are still in the home) but by today's standards it's very small and spartan. I loved the movie and have read a couple of her books, but I'm now wanting to read a good biography of hers. The move is very misleading, I think, about her personal life, which was terribly sad and tragic. We ate lunch nearby at another "coffee house" built in 1908 by a Swedish farmer who later built the Blixen home. No one who tried to grow coffee here was successful--the altitude was blamed (Nairobi is at almost 6,000 feet) but it's actually the soil acidity that was the problem. Karen, the suburb named after her, is a very posh place--absolutely beautiful!

Now the surreal part--Nairobi really is very beautiful--it reminds me very much of Southern California in the vegetation, which is lush and green everywhere we looked--and also in the size of the white stucco, Mediterranean-tiled castles perched on hills behind massive gates everywhere we went. In the visitor areas, it is amazingly wealthy--real mall, ala The Galleria, water parks, movie theatres, mini-golf, great restaurants--all for a price. It really was amazing--very Western, albeit with some definitely African quirks. It is easy even in Arusha to insulate one's self from life and the daily interactions with Tanzanians, but in Nairobi, it is possible to have virtually no contact with anyone but expats. Because Kenyans begin English in primary school, everything is in English--news, signs, etc. We did hear Swahili being spoken, but often, even between Kenyans, the language of choice was English.

The surreal part, once we downed our mochas and headed out around town, is that Nairobi is an African city and millions are desperately poor. On our return from the boardwalk zoo, we crested a hill and spread out as far as you could see in either direction, were the Kibera slums, where over 1,000,000 people live in unimaginable conditions (these are the slums from the movie "The Constant Garener"). The contrast between the wealth of the few and poverty of the many was hard to take in. It's here in Arusha as well, of course, but we were left with an unsettled feeling, especially once we stepped into the mall, well-insulated from whatever unpleasantness might be lurking outside.

Just to clarify--I ate those Oreos right up, thank you very much! And loved the chance to go to a movie. And if you ever get the chance to go to Nairobi...take it! But it's not how the vast majority of people live on this Earth, much less in this corner of the world. And that bears remembering.

I'd love to tell you about the great restaurants we ate in, but (sad to say) the highlight foods were (in no particular order)...pretzels, Skippy peanut butter, Oreo cookies, and Ritz crackers. AND they were all fresh. And yummy. And expensive. And yummy. Between Nakumatt (Target) and Uchini (Cub Foods) the kids were in heaven. I should mention their reaction as we entered Nairobi: "Look, Mom! A stoplight! Look! An overpass! Oh my gosh--a 4 lane road!" Guess they've been away from "civilization" as they remembered it for a while! Another highlight was a real movie ("Cars") in a real theatre with real popcorn (the word "real" kept popping up from the kids a lot this week) along with mini-golf and a real pedicure (OK, that last "real" was mine and it was heavenly). As you can see, Noah finally found himself at home here, happily comparing prices on the Oreos and Ritz crackers.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

For the Men in Your Life

I loved our pastor at our home church in Bloomington. Rick was a great leader--he always challenged our congregation to get out and LIVE your faith, however that might be. Every Sunday I would listen to his sermons and always came away amazed at the challenges that he put to me personally, challenges that were always wrapped in the grace that all of us desparately need in this world. So both Mark and I were so sad when we learned that Rick was moving on to another calling.

You can read more about his new endeavor at Phoenix Risen. It's a small group individual counseling/life management/transition for men that I think fills a huge need in our culture in the States. The longer I've been married, the more I've seen the discrepancy between the relationships I have with my friends and the types of relationships Mark has. I've seen so many examples of men feeling isolated and struggling alone with issues that are not "men-only"--but the way that men are attempting to face life's challenges and the support that they derive from their friends, colleagues, and family memebers is vastly different than what women experience.

Anyway, take a look at his website. If you know someone who is struggling, pass the word along. Mark and I can personally vouch for his expertise and ability to touch people's lives in a truly meaningful way.