Thursday, September 28, 2006

What a View!

Here is Peace House Academy from a whole 'nother perspective. While Charles and Andrea were here, we were able to ask a friend with a plane for a favor and he flew them over the school site for this great shot. Unfortunately, when you come to volunteer, we can't promise you'll get this view...but at least you can map out your early morning walking/running routes!

Starting at the bottom, the pairs of squares are the student dorms. Just to the left of them and at an angle is the dining hall. Above them, the egg-shaped road circles the hill--you can see the volunteer housing on the lower right of the loop. At the left on the narrow end, you can see the headmaster's house and our house which is to the right. Along the top of the loop are the teacher houses. Directly to the left of the narrow end of the loop is the administration/classroom building. Above that is the workshop area.

This view from higher up shows the whole project area. You can see the fence line around the approx. 100 acres. A large section of the land to the right of the loop has been planted as an orchard.

Karibuni wote! (Welcome to all!)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Maasai Experience in Eluyai

This week I had an amazing opportunity to spend two days and overnight in a Maasai village called Eluyai, about 3 hours from Arusha. Mileage-wise, it’s really not very far, but in terms of road conditions (or lack of roads) and culture, it’s another world entirely. PHF has a video/recording/production team here for two weeks to do some filming and photography of PHF. Andrea and Charles are absolutely amazing at what they do, which is creating magic. They are able to see and record images and events in a way that draw you into that experience and make you feel like you’re really there. They are also tremendous blessings in that they donate their time and talents to PHF to make our work here come alive. One of their tasks was to record traditional Tanzanian music, including the Maasai. That's Andrea manning the computer and Charles hunched over to snap one of those photos that all of us amateurs can't ever seem to get!

In many ways, the Maasai story is comparable to that of the Native Americans. They are traditional nomadic pastoralists who are in great danger of losing their way of life. The need/desire to “fit in” to a more Western culture, the encroachment onto their land of private reserves, agriculture, population growth, the ongoing ravages of the climate are all threatening a way of life. A group called Aang Serian (Maasai for “house of peace”—how appropriate is that?!) is working to preserve and record their way of life and made the arrangements for us to go to the village. The husband and wife team of Aang Serien (she’s British, he’s Maasai) have a vested interest, in that we visited his village. You really can’t go to a village on your own—it’s often perhaps not safe, and it is very inappropriate. In order to visit, you need to have an invitation and introductions by someone who is connected to that village and can accompany you to make introductions. It’s also difficult to go without some purpose. On this occasion, we had both.

We left in the morning, carrying Lesiker (our guide), Andrea, Charles, me, Remy (our driver), and a cook. As willing as I am to be open to new cultural experiences, we were warned in advance that we may not want to extend that to traditional Maasai food, which typically involves milk and blood for drinking and meat (roasted and raw, organs, etc.). Especially with volunteers who are on a tight schedule of a lot of work to do—so we took the recommendation of bringing a cook who whipped up some great Tanzanian food while we were there. We stopped in a small village to pick up some meat (goat—and fresh! It was baaa-ing on one side of the road and being skinned and gutted on the other) and some other food items. Then we left the road and headed out across “roads” and washouts, climbing steadily until we reached the village. We were greeted by Babu (Swahili for “grandfather”). He is the elder of this particular family group. He has 4 wives so everyone in this group is related. Most of the people spoke only Maasai. A couple men spoke Swahili as did a few of the older children who are attending school—I imagine that would not be terribly unusual in smaller villages or more remote areas where not many attend school and the tribal language is spoken—in many of those areas, Swahili is learned when (if) children begin school or as a necessity if someone comes to a larger area where there are larger numbers of educated people. Only one person other than Lesiker spoke English, which would be typical in small villages (which begs the question, why have all secondary education in English when only 2-3% of your country’s population speak it?) When we arrived, everyone turned out to see our very interesting group! We brought gifts of coffee, sugar, salt, and oil, which is common when arriving some place new.

One thing you will notice wherever you go in Tanznia is how many children there are everywhere! I think I understood that Babu's 4 wives have a total of 12-14 children. Some are quite young (I think his youngest wife is around 18 years old) but others are old enough to have their own families so there were lots of children. Everyone is referred to as "brothers" when in fact they are actually cousins. It's too confusing for me to try to puzzle out the family tree! Older girls (like the one in this picture) have the responsibility of caring for the littles and often carry them on their backs while their mothers are working. Although I didn't fully understand, there are clearly defined roles and responsibilities at each age group. Several of the children I talked to were teens (14-16 years old) but in the equivalent of 4th-6th grade. Since the children that looked about 6-9 seemed to be in charge of the livestock, I wondered if they start school when they are done with that responsibility.
I’m using words like “village” and “boma” but not necessarily accurately. The “village” is probably a number of the communities, each community being a collection of family-related homes. Where we stayed, the people were all related, but they were all also related to the other grouping that were scattered around. “Boma”, which is often used to describe the Maasai home, it actually either the family community or the enclosure made by brush and logs.

The Maasai are known for their beadwork and both men and women are highly decorated as a matter of course. They wore more of their special ornamentation (the large collars, the head and face decorations) for us when they were singing, but everyone, down to the littlest child, wears beaded bracelets, earrings, necklaces, and anklets. They are also known for wearing red and even though their clothes are understandably worn and dusty (given the work they do), they look beautiful as they go about their daily lives. We provided a rare break in the routine. Everyone loved our digital watches and the children constantly sneaked up behind us and rummaged through our pockets. The children loved to climb on the car, while the women took advantage of the mirrors to check themselves out! At the same time, I loved watching the cows and goats come in as night fell (the cows are kept in a pen made of logs and branches, goats/sheep in a “house”, calves and kids are in the family homes) and the littlest children “herding” with tiny switches when they weren’t playing. This particular village has no water so the women walk quite far to bring the water up on donkeys and portion it out. The older children attend school and the younger ones tend the animals during the day.
We gathered away from the homes under a tree—Andrea has engineered a sound recording system that is amazing compact, efficient, and high-tech. She has a professed love for bright, shiny, gadget-y things that beep and squeak, so her job suits her well! The homes are at the top of a hill overlooking a vast plain with the famous volcano Ol Donyo Lengai (an often active volcano) close by and the outside rim of Ngorongoro Crater in the distance. It was an almost surreal contrast of timeless music and culture surrounding 21st century technology.

As the group began to sing, more comparisons to Native Americans came to mind. Not only the colorful clothing and beadwork, their songs are very rhythmic, using no instruments) and there’s a movement that is very organic in how it enhances the singing. The woman move their shoulders and move up and down, making the large collars bob as they sing. The silver bangles jingle throughout.

One of the most impressive dances involves the men jumping up and down. It starts almost like a warmup, with the men jumping up and down a few times, then coming down hard with a thump, then moving aside for the next one. As they continue, the singing becomes more intense and louder and the jumping gets higher, almost like a contest or a challenge. It’s just spellbinding and a unique blessing to be able to watch them perform in such a spectacular setting.

Everyone loved the opportunity to see themselves on camera, and to hear themselves singing after Andrea recorded them. I loved watching them listen to their own music—each person would immediately begin to move and sing along as if they were doing it for the first time.

(You’ll notice that many of my pics have microphones or Charles in them…well, I suppose that’s OK…they are the professionals and I guess it’s only right that they would have the better angles.) It's amazing how they were able to completely ignore an "mzungu" (white person) with a camera inches from their face, but they rarely seemed to notice! Make no mistake, though, most people loved getting their pictures taken and then seeing them in the camera! One of the gifts Charles and Andrea are leaving is sound and photos that Aand Serian can use to promote their work as well as working with one of their workers who is doing photography and video. There are some really talented people here who just don't have the means to access training--so Andrea and Charles' time and talents are a huge gift in that respect as well.
We slept that night in a larger home that Gemma and her husband Lesiker (the Aang Serian leaders) sleep with their family when they are there. It was constructed like the other homes (stick frame covered with mud/dung/ash “cement” and grass roofs) but it was bigger with 3 beds, a couch, chairs, and a “sink” (no plumbing, just buckets). There were 2-3 small windows with glass. There was also a guest bathroom outside, made of plastic over a frame and with an actual padded seat inside. The typical home is much smaller for a family of up to 8 people. There would be one central room with a small firepit for cooking. There would be a bed made of cowhide covering grass that would double as a seat where everyone would sleep (or sleep on the floor). Part of the room would be walled off, where the calves or kids (goats) would stay at nigh. Windows are narrow slits. Compared to Il Boru, where we live, the silence was heavenly—well, except for that one donkey that had plenty to say several times that night! Before going to sleep I stepped outside to most beautiful stargazing I’d ever seen. No light pollution for hundreds and hundreds of miles. The sky was perfectly clear, the Milky Way bright, the stars actually twinkling…I think there may not be a better place on earth to watch the stars!

The next morning we reconvened to record another 4-5 songs, including more jumping. Fantastic! You’ll notice that in many of the pictures people, but the men especially, are standing very close, often with their arms around each other. It’s a very common sight, even in town, when you see Maasai gathered together. I suppose it’s an extension of living in an extended family setting where everyone’s somehow related, not to mention the very close quarters where everyone lives and sleeps. But it’s more than that—they always seem to be easily amused and truly enjoy each other when they’re together. Our driver, who comes from a region near where we live, confirmed this. He confirmed that the Maasai have a reputation for getting along well and really enjoying each other.

It was time to leave. I wanted to stay, although I’m not sure what I’d do. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to be able to be there for more than some sort of cultural visit—a drop in and look around and leave type of thing—and to get a glimpse of a lifestyle that is so vastly different in every aspect from anything I’ve ever known. It’s hard to describe the experience and my pictures certainly don’t do it justice—perhaps some of the professional shots will make their way here at some point. In any case, it’s a slice of a life that is changing quickly—it was a privilege to be able to catch a bit of it this week.

I just reviewed this before publishing and I'm surprised how familiar all these faces looked to me after just such a short time. The Maasai are a common sight all around Arusha, and my guards and gardener look just like all of these guys...I just can't imagine buzzing in and out of a cultural photo op. and thinking that I had any sense of life for this group of people. Not that I really have an understanding at this point changing? Well, isn't this whole journey life-changing? But even this brief experience makes me want to learn more, do more, experience more...and THAT is life-changing, no matter where you are.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The News from Arusha

Note--This article is from this week's local paper, The Arusha Times. When we arrived, I heard that there's no "free press" here. I thought that meant that the newspapers (at least the main ones) were controlled by the government. That is, I think, true--but "free press" in this case actually refers to money. As in, if you want a reporter to cover something newsworthy, you have to pay them to come. On the other hand, if you want to write an article and submit it yourself, they'll gladly take your "news." I'm pretty sure there's not a lot of verification and fact-checking going on. In any event, PHF is in the news this week...

ELCT’s Peace House Academy opens next March. Construction of phase one of a 7 billion shillings secondary school for orphans is due for completion in March next year. The boarding school which will cater for form one to six students is being constructed in a 100- hectare piece of land located at Kisongo near Arusha Airport. The school is being constructed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, Arusha Diocese with support of sponsors from Minnesota in the United States of America. The land was allocated to the diocese by the government. Bishop Laizer of the ELCT Arusha Diocese told the Arusha Times last week that construction of the first phase of the project started in March this year and would be complete next March. Upon completion of the first phase the school, to be known as Peace House Academy, will admit 640 students from all over the country. Construction work of structures such as classrooms, dining hall, assembly hall, teachers quarters, a rest house and a workshop is on going and the pace is impressive. Registration for the first batch of entrants will be announced in October this year and they will all be orphans. According to Bishop Laizer the project is meant to be the diocese’s contribution in the national programme for poverty reduction. Bishop Laizer further explained that the overall vision of his diocese is to have some nine secondary schools by next year. The diocese is already running six secondary schools namely Enaboishu, Ekenywa, Kimandolu, Ngateu, Moringe and Maasae Girls.

The construction of the school is a very big feather in the cap for the diocese and so it is often referred to here (especially by church officials) as "their" school. Considering that we derive considerable benefits by partnering with them, we don't mind too much, although the "support" mentioned from MN donors is more than "support". We're pretty sure we won't have student registration ready and announced in October, but we are preparing for that task, which will be tremendously difficult in its scope of identifying, screening, and confirming the eligibility of the potential students that will attend the school. Each student will have to meet certain criteria, and will have to be certified to be either an orphan or a significantly impoverished child, a task that will be very time-consuming and difficult, but absolutely necessary to ensure that the mission of PHF is carried out.

In other news, Andrea and CJ, PHF's very own video team, are here for two weeks, so look for some great pics (if they'll let me have a few to share--if not, you'll just have to look at the ones I take). They are capturing some great pics of PHF work, the construction, and some traditional music and dance from Chagga and Maasai groups. It's always great to have visitors!

We have posted positions for the headmaster, head of residential life, and a purchaser/accountant and applications are coming in. Daily we are given advice about how to discern the best and honest candidate for the job. Keep Mark in your prayers as he leads this team effort.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Where We're From

This isn't really about Tanzania, but it is about us. Many of you know that we have lived in the Twin Cities for 18 years, but we were very unusual in that a) we weren't native Minnesotans, and b) we lived pretty far away from our families. Admit it, you Minnesotans--there's some genetic link/pull that keeps y'all pretty close to the Midwest! That's something that we actually looked forward to as we started our family--knowing that they'd be native Minnesotans and the odds that we'd live near our grandkids would be pretty good. Well, then we moved to Tanzania, so who knows now?

So this bit is a peek at our families...

But you ever have a picture that just catches the essence of someone? This is Noah at 4 at his preschool program. He is dancing with his best friend from "back home". They had two years of preschool, 3 seasons of soccer, and two seasons of baseball together in their short lives. Noah is so enthusiastic and loyal. The joy on his face just shows him loving life and living in the moment.

Update--Noah's little buddy reminded me that there were also 2 seasons of floor hockey together, too! What a pair. We miss you guys!

I'm 10 years older than my sister and so for most of my life I didn't really get to know her. One of the blessings of having kids is that she and I have become much closer. She's crazy, though--totally Montana. She's bungee-jumped (and not necessarily in a yes-we-know-what-we're-doing-and-we-have-insurance-so-you-can-trust-us kind of way), gone sky-diving, and jumped off bridges into the river in Glacier. She is forever buying stuff and ice cream for my kids when we go to Montana and has access to cool stuff like jet skis, boats, and ATVs, which my kids love. Here she's reining it in a bit because Ava's on the sled but even this sledding day involved risk of bodily injury!

My brother, Greg, is also a bit crazy. He can be gruff-looking, but he has a heart bigger than Montana. He'd give you the shirt off his back, no questions asked. He went through a pretty bad patch a few years ago and he stands as one of the people I admire most for his transformation. That's him with a gun, showing Cameron how to shoot. The gun Cameron is holding actually belongs to my sister (sitting) and it's sized for a child about Noah's age. Really. And now that some of you are getting wound up about guns in the hands of kids, let me say that there's no cheaper entertainment than a box of 100 bullets (purchased at the grocery store for $4.00) to keep a kid occupied. Cameron took the whole thing very seriously and was very careful. It's a Montana thing.
My brother has always loved fireworks, too--the bigger the explosion the better, which my kids also find fascinating.

Incidentally, I'm actually the black sheep of the family--consequently, I'm pretty sure I've missed out on a lot of fun in my life.

This is not good. Not because I worry about Mark, but because I have photographic evidence that he successfully encouraged my babies to leap off this same cliff. It's a practice jump--he took Cameron up to a 30 foot drop and jumped.

Actually, all dads should do things with their kids when their moms aren't around. They have a ton of fun in ways you just can't have when Mom's near. And it really does turn out OK. Too often I think we as moms don't have enough faith in dads. I'd've been so putting my foot down on this one.

My mom is great with the kids. Sadly, I've inherited none of her patience and gentle nature. She's always willing to play games or color and tries to think of ways make sure their visits are fun. Well, she lives on 30 acres of woods and owns a whitewater raft, so I guess fun's a given. I used to try to think of things for her to do when she came to visit us, things she doesn't normally get to do in Montana, things that sometimes didn't involve the kids, but she said once, "I don't come to do those things, I come to see the kids and you." 'Nough said.

Yeah, Mark doesn't like this picture. I guess the headbands are a bit politically incorrect. The water softener company's been handing them out at the Flathead County Fair for something like 60 years and we all wore them as kids every summer. Rodeos aren't very politically correct, either, in many circles, but if you've never been to one, man, are you missing out! Especially if you can go to one out West. A bar in my hometown has bullriding once a month. It's a blast.

The highlight of every year is our camping trip with Mark's brother and his family who live in Idaho. Here are the cousins--the oldest is now 12 and Ava is the youngest. Neither Cathy nor I would necessarily choose camping as our first vacation choice, but we are unanimous in our recognition of camping being the best way for us to get together and have a fantastic time. The Hillmans camped for every vacation. We stay at the same campground (Avalanche) and take the same hikes every time we go. We did Yellowstone and the Black Hills, but I miss Glacier every year that I don't go back. I'm sure there are really beautiful places in the States--I wonder when I'll see them. The boys are crazy here and Ava's too young to know the danger she's in!

We have other Hillman cousins, too. Steve and Jen live in the Quad Cities and we are terrible because we don't see them nearly as much as we should, considering they're not so far away. Whenever we get together, I feel bad when we leave because we have a great time, too. Ava loves her girl cousins! And Andrew loves books and legos so he's a perfect fit with Cameron and Noah. Actually, there are 10 Hillman cousins, the oldest being 12 and Ava being the youngest, so there's always someone who's the same age to hang with!

Mark's sister Diane is on the left. She lives in the Seattle area and we don't see her nearly enough, either. Confession time--we have limited vacation time and it's 24 hours to my mom's house in Montana, another 4 to Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, and another 8-9 after that to Seattle. The drive with kids just kills us to go that far, so we end up stopping at my mother's house. She lives 20 miles from the entrance to Glacier, where we camp every year. We just don't get out to the coast as often as we should...

This summer instead of camping we spent the week in Idaho with Mark's brother and family and Mark's parents. Cathy's parents live next door and they have a pool and the cousins have go-karts. We tubed, went to an amusement park, and generally had a fantastic time. Mark's parents did a great job teaching their kids about faith and family. We'll be blessed if we can raise the same quality of kids they did. We were so sad leaving, knowing we wouldn't see them for 3 years, but then we realized it was just 3 camping trips we would miss! Then it didn't seem so long...

This is us on our first full day in Tanzania. My friend Lindsay posted a funny pic of her and her attempt to get all 4 kids to "look nice" for a family shot. It's been my experience that if you want a nice family picture don't have more than 2 kids. You just can't control for more than that. This one is rare, because we're all in it and we're all looking pretty normal and not too shell-shocked. Cameron looked at the picture and said, "Geeze, that was a long time ago!" It was 7 months ago--but in some ways a lifetime. We are not the same people that you see in the picture. We are changing in little and in fundamental ways, learning about ourselves as parents, Christians, and Americans, trying to discern what is the best of what we are and what we have to give. We are truly blessed by the family you see here, the friends that are reading this, and the God that provides what we truly need.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Shopping For a Good Cause

Assuming you're not going to be able to shop for a good cause on October 28th at PHF's annual silent auction/dinner (and really, why wouldn't you be able to?) this is the next best place. There's a Ten Thousand Villages shop on Grand Ave. (I think across from the Cafe Latte building). It's a great organization by the Mennonites that practices fair trade and encourages local groups in different countries by selling their crafts in different stores around the country. Prices are reasonable, too! If you can't get to Grand Ave. in St. Paul you can go here to learn more about them, find a store near you, or order online.

One of the sad things I've realized is how many great artisans there are here in Tanzania and how very few of them are able to export things for sale. Of course, that's true for many organizations in many countries--however, if you see something for sale from Africa, it's likely to be from Kenya or South Africa. Tanzania just doesn't seem to have the connections or whatever it takes to get an opportunity to market their goods. Zanzibar and Dar have tremendous carvers and the Maasai typify Tanzania with their beadwork. You can see and purchase great items from Tanzania that will be for sale at the October fundraiser! So do it!

And, if you really are serious about not attending our fundraiser (and again, why wouldn't you--it's great fun and great food and great people and a great cause and I would appreciate testimonials from previous attendees that I can publish here!), then Ten Thousand Villages is a terrific way to support artisans in countries around the world. There's something for everyone!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Noah's New Look

I love seeing kids who've lost both their front teeth! Case in point...

OK, I was going to use the word "adorable" but given Noah's penchant for mugging for the camera, well, perhaps "adorable" isn't the right word. But when he relaxes his face, he is pretty cute.

I've always loved his bright blue eyes and his absolute enthusiasm for life. When he came back from his first day of school and I asked him how it went, he said, "Better than I could have hoped!" How can you not love that positivity?

Friday, September 01, 2006

Tanzania's Next Olympic Star?

You can't see the caption at the bottom of the pics, but it reads, "Tanzania's Young Olympians"! Somehow, an old-ish white guy ended up in the shot, though.

Mark and his friend Steve entered the race, which was cancelled, several weeks ago. They ran it two weeks ago. It was called the Arusha Marathon, but it was only 25km. The 5k (which actually ended up being about 5 miles) started an hour late. When Mark paid his registration of $20, it included a tshirt and shorts, transport from the end of the race back to town, and post-race food. None of that delivered, though! He had a great time, finishing 4th in his group.

You also can't tell, but he's branded his loyalties all over himself. Those are Minnetonka shorts, his Luther tshirt, and his PHF hat. Thanks for the advertising, Mark! Posted by Picasa