Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Merry Christmas!

We are especially blessed this Christmas to be able to spend it with Mark's parents, who are visiting for 6 weeks. They live in the Seattle area and are very busy and travel quite a bit with their Marriage Encounter work around the US and Europe so we don't often connect with them (they live in the Seattle area) and never at Christmas. Unfortunately, their first week posed some trouble. On the first day of their safari, Ann dislocated her hip, something that is a recurring problem since a hip replacement 6 years ago. So, instead of seeing lions, leopards, and hippos, she got an up close and personal tour of a hospital in Arusha. That was after a 2 1/2 hour ride in the back of a landcruiser on bad roads and a total of 6 hours after the dislocation happened. Ouch. Definitely not the adventure she was hoping for. Amazingly she was in pretty decent shape within a few days! They will be finishing the rest of their safari later in January.

Another special treat this Christmas was having Mark's dad give the sermon last week and today at church. He's quite a good preacher and it was fun to have him share his gifts with the community and hear him again. I've learned to be prepared, though--no story or past episode is sacred--you'll never know when you might end up in a sermon, or get called on for something! Today, he called on the congregation to share any Christmas memories they might have. We heard from people from Ghana, Cameroon, Congo, Finland, Sweden, Tanzania, Germany, and the US. Everyone talked about the foods they ate. It was interesting to hear that sharing a meal together is a focal point of celebrations around the world.

We had a wonderful (hot) Christmas, after a funky Christmas Eve. Mark and a friend from Canada and 2 boys from our church took off very early on the 24th (4 am) to climb Mount Longido. Under the threat of dire bodily harm should they be late for any Christmas Eve family activities, they climbed to the top (about 9,000 ft.) and must have kept a brisk pace, since they were home by 4:00. They had great views and saw several herds of buffalo along the way (one of the reasons you have a guide whenever you head out for a bit of hiking here). While he was trekking the bush, the kids and I made some Christmas cookies, a rare treat as I really don't like baking much! Lots of butter, sugar, and mess turned out a great batch of colorful shortbread cookies!

A couple days before a tree branch came down on the power line to the house and things had been wonky since then. On the 23rd we had very erratic power and very low--finally, the fluorescent lights wouldn't light, the power would blink on and off rapidly for 20 minutes, then go off for a half hour, then on for 10 minutes or so, then off again. Normally, this would be maisha ya Tanzania (life in Tanzania) and something that is on the order of the day. However, when you're preparing to head out on a trip for 9 days and you're trying to wash clothes (remembering to leave time to air dry on the line, except when it rains, which it did most afternoons this week) and you have some concerns about the food in your freezer because it's already starting to soften...well, then you start paying a bit more attention to the ramifications. Without a washing machine, Mark took to the yard to get the job done, a sight that, when combined with me wandering out to open the gate, horrified our garbage man. He couldn't believe we didn't have "people" and that a man was doing laundry. Given that this was happeing around 4:30 and everyone had left work about 2:00, it wasn't all that strange. Actually, on any given day, it's not that strange to find us actually working at our house! Later, we were attempting to iron clothes in a house where the rooms were almost completely dark but there was enough power to heat the iron up a bit, so it was a bit like ironing by Braille! FINALLY, after an earlier visit and a few calls to Tanesco, a truck showed up about 10:30 and tinkered with the lines and voila! Electricity! Soooo useful for washing and ironing and, I don't know, seeing. Of course, being tired by that point, we pretty much turned off the lights and went to bed!
Up until we moved to Tanzania and we all stopped sleeping in, it was not unusual for us to be able to sleep until 8 or 8:30 on Christmas morning before the kids got up. This year I was severly chastised for being in bed at 6:45! Like last year, there were no presents under the tree when the kids went to bed. They are optimistic and pretty confident that presents are coming, but not being able to see them, they really have no idea what to expect (and no expectations of anything, either). So getting up and seeing everything laying out is quite a treat! The kids loved their books and movies (I'm a bit embarrassed at buying more movies here than I'd ever have imagined!) They included Calvin and Hobbes comics, books in the Peter and the Star Catcher series (great for the pre-teen set), 2 seasons of M*A*S*H, a season of the Dukes of Hazzard (that one's for Noah and his dad), and the new Harry Potter. Santa brought them each lots of candy and a magic wand, so we spent much of the morning being hexed and jinxed and narrowly avoiding a poke in the eye! Because of the power issue and the laundry crunch I dropped plans for a more interesting breakfast than the usual toast and cereal and we opened presents and headed off to church, something that we don't normally do on Christmas Day.
In our previous lives, we usually spent Christmas Day with just us. We visit our extended family in the summer when we have more time and the weather is better for traveling. So spending Christmas with a big group is something new for us. We had a fabulous ham dinner with LOTS of potatoes and terrific pie and wonderful company. Our friends Tom and Sally hosted with their daughter and her husband and their 2 friends, as well our friends Mike and Maguy (lately from Alberta) and her mother from the Congo. Last year we spent Christmas with Tom and Sally and her other daughter and her family, so I guess we're slowly getting to know the whole clan. They live in Seward, Alaska, in a house with no running water, no plumbing, and no electricity. Hmmmmm, that sounds vaguely like some place I know! Ava found a coloring buddy, and the boys disappeared to spend some rare time playing Wii (although I did notice a few older "children" heading back for a game or two as well). There was definitely something for everyone and it was wonderful to be able to share Christmas with old and new friends and family all together.

We spent some time on Christmas Eve reflecting on those blessings after a few days of trying to get meals done, laundry done, bathing done (no electricity means no hot water) by Christmas morning! The fact that we have access to electricity is really a blessing when so many don't. My housekeeper, for example, has not had electricity for many months due to a glitch with Tanesco (we paid to connect it, the guys did but pocketed the money and didn't turn in the hookup to Tanesco, and now everyone in the neighborhood is being punished by not having it reconnected, which will eventually cost $500, which is an impossible sum) and has not had water for almost a month for no explainable reason.
Often, when people come to visit for a week or so, stay in hotels or with us, .and enjoy the good restaurants here, they are struck by two things. One is that poverty is everywhere. The other is that Arusha is very modern in many ways and has quite a few amenities for the missionary/expat crowd and for those others that can afford them. When my mother and sister visited in May and June, we were on a 3 week struggle with having any water at our house. This week with Mark's parents we struggled with getting electricity. Suddenly, all the things you count on to be efficient and accomplish the task of the day are not available. Even after almost 2 years, it wears on you more than you think it would. I'm told that after 10 years, it wears on you more than you think it would. It's hard for "outsiders" to understand. We laugh (or sometimes wince) when we hear that we are living in the lap of luxury. There's no doubt that we are in a privileged class compared to most Tanzanians. Everything else aside, our education and access to information and resources is something that most people here will not ever have. We continue to be surprised by being overwhelmed and adjusting after 2 years!
Maisha ya Tanzania. It's what you say when things aren't going the way you want them to and there's nothing you can do about it. It's a reminder that you can't fight most of those things and that you have to figure out how to deal with it if you're going to be able to live here. Today we were happy to say "maisha ya Tanzania ni nzuri sana." Today life in Tanzania is very good! We are so thankful for so many good things that have come our way, for the support we have received during the hard times, and for friends and family near and far. We are looking forward to a very special trip to Egypt, truly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and the chance to share that with Mark's parents. We will be spending a week there and will be back on the 3rd, so tune in for updates on events from there. Then, it's back to work and life!
We wish all of you the very best Christmas, one of peace and blessings and reminders of the most precious gift that was given to us on this day so long ago. Here's to an uneventful and blessed 2008!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Signs of Christmas

The signs of Christmas are out--but maybe not what you'd expect if you live in places like Minnesota or Montana. Here in Tanzania we know Christmas is coming because we have the end of term swim gala! With sweltering temps. in the 80s, no ads, no malls, no decorations, we sure don't feel the same urgency that I'm sure is gripping so many of you right about now!

Cameron's class had "Why move?" as their guiding question this term. Topics included electricity (currents and circuits), pre-algebra properties, dance, running/physical fitness, Islamic art, and the book Holes. All of them having themes or connections to movement. FOr their final project they studied refugees, which included a boat race. They had 10 minutes to design and 1 hour to build a "raft" and sail to freedom. The results, as you might expect, were hilarious. Cameron's team definitely gained points for effort, but no matter how hard they paddled, the boat didn't seem to go anywhere! He's already looking forward to next year when their project will involve spending the night in the woods Survivor-style, competing for food and water and different challenges to focus on teamwork.

Noah said this week he hated school. Except for art, maths, and swimming. I don't believe him really. His topics this term were Art Attack, in which he studied various artists and did a focus study on da Vinci, Keys to the Kingdom, focusing on the scientific classification of animals, and Archaelogy. What kid wouldn't love art, animals, and ancient stuff (including him)?! He does love to swim, though, and placed first in the crawl and in the relay. He's very competitive and loves contests and games. He's getting ready to swim the breast stroke here for his relay team.

After over a year of watching all the fun as a preschooler, Ava was absolutely thrilled to finally be able to participate on her house team. Her class swam the width of the pool using their favorite stroke. Ava did the breast stroke and was very excited to earn a point for her team. She was a little disappointed that it was more ofan exhibition instead of a proper race, but had a great time! She loves school, by the way. All of it! Ava's class focused on transportation and a unit called A Seed is a Promise, focusing on how plants grow.

Other signs of Christmas are more traditional, but they still bear a unique Tanzanian flavor. Listening to Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby is a bit surreal! We are approaching our 2 year anniversary here in Tanzania. Some days it feels like we've only just arrived; on others, our former Minnesota lives seem very vague and fuzzy. We've faced another year of challenges, some of them monumental (and hopefully once in a lifetime). I don't think we are yet at the point where we "rejoice in our sufferings." We'd rather skip ahead a couple chapters in Romans to "knowing that in all things God works for good." When we focus on God's intent for good, we stop trying to figure out why and start to look at how--as in how we can move forward and use our experiences in a way that glorifies Him. Now, if only those answers could be made painfully obvious!

Life is lived closer to the edge here and there is a greater recognition of the fraility of life and a deep appreciation for the blessings it brings. We swing wildly between the certainty we can't live here another minute and the belief that we are called to be here for a long time...sometimes in the same day, which makes getting things done a little difficult! It is so inspiring to live among people who see so much good amongst so much need. It's a powerful reminder about where we need to keep our focus.

I was never one to want to travel over Christmas, always preferring to spend it at home--and we have spent most of our Christmases away from family so for us this is not so different. But I do miss familiar things. I miss Christmas carols in all the stores, I miss the decorations at the mall (even though I hated the mall between Thanksgiving and Christmas), I miss renting Christmas movies every weekend, I miss the Hollidazzle Parade and the Dayton's/Marshall Field's/Macy's Christmas show. I miss my big evergreen tree and all my decorations. Most of all we miss all of you. We are so thankful for the friends that we have here that we will share Christmas with and for Mark's parents who are able to be here with us for the next 5 weeks. Even so, we feel far away. We wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a new year filled with the richness and blessings of all that God has to offer.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Siku Kuu Watatu.

Happy Birthday to you,

Happy Birthday to you,

Happy Birthday, Mark and Carla,

Happy Birthday to you!

And Happy Anniversary, too! This was a big one--20 years! We had great plans that went awry and spent a family week together back in October instead. *Sigh* Maybe for the 25th. On the other hand, I spent a week with my family and had a wonderful time. I've spent 20 years (26 years total) with a wonderful man. Life is good. I wouldn't trade that for a dinner or a date for anything!

The First PHS Field Trip

Field trips are the norm in the States. Here at the kids' school Cameron, Noah, and Ava go on some pretty amazing trips--Ngorongoro Crater, the Indian Ocean, a Maasai village. But Tanzanian students rarely get to go on a field trip. So a chance to climb on a bus to visit the Snake Park was a huge treat for our students at PHS. They did a great job and were very brave, considering how Tanzanians are deathly afraid of snakes! In addition to this trip, they also spent a day working in a nearby village to finish a road. It was very hard work, and we were very proud that all 120 student participated in their first service project on behalf of PHS. They had an opportunity to see first hand that their efforts can make a difference to others!

We are always so happy when we see them turned out so nicely in their uniforms! They were so proud to get them the day that President Kikwete visited and have done a great job of taking care of their things. They left for their end of year break on December 7th and will return mid-January to begin their first year of secondary school. They all made tremendous progress in the 12 weeks of pre-form preparation in terms of improving their English (some of them spoke almost no English when they arrived) and their overall sense of security and confidence in being able to attend school. Most of them have returned home to their families and were very excited to see them again. For many of them, leaving to come to school was the first time they had been away from home or out of their village, and there was a lot of homesickness the first weeks of school as students adjusted to being away from families. It has been an ongoing reminder that so many of our students do come from families that love them and want the best for them, but don't have the resources to provide for them. Some did come from homes where they were treated very poorly and worked as servants, but we learned that even though a child had very little in terms of basic necessities, they weren't thrown away. There was simply not enough--food, clothing, money, time--to go around. Their families won't recognize them after 12 weeks of good food and generous portions at that!

PHS has amibitious expectations for its students. We aim to be the best school in Tanzania. That's a good thing, I think. But as anyone can tell you, working with children is rarely a linear process. You can't do x and y and automatically get z. There are few guarantees and a tremendous amount of patience is required to see the final results. Sometimes you never see them--students come and leave and never return.
Teaching is a faith-based profession, even if you don't believe in God. You have to believe that what you are doing today makes a difference, that you are effecting a change that may not be realized for a long time, knowing that you may never understand your true impact. That's why we don't celebrate a grand ambition as much as we celebrate the ordinary, yet momentous, moments in these students' lives. Like every other student in the world, they are typical, yet extraordinary. They are beginning to define themselves, not by what they've lost, but by what they can achieve and accomplish. Who they will be in 4-6 years when they leave PHS is a work in progress. We are so priveleged to be witness to what they will do.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Movin' OUT.

Many of you know we had some serious troubles at our house here in Tanzania, to the point where we needed to move. I figured moving here would be a lot easier than when we moved from Minnesota to Tanzania--we don't have hardly any stuff by comparison and we didn't actually have to load and unload the truck ourselves, since there are always lots of people hanging around willing to earn a few shillings. But I did have to pack everything up and get rid of junk. And I learned about another great aspect of American life--cardboard boxes. As in, you've got 'em there and we don't here. None. We had a bunch from our move to TZ, but there was a time when it looked like I was going to have to unload a box at the new place and then carry it back to refill, which would have taken a looong time. A friend who moved away last summer gave me her boxes, which her gardener had helpfully broken down by slitting all the side seams and leaving the tops and bottoms taped together. So those were less than useful. It took more effort and energy than I thought, but I did get it all done, mostly single-handedly, in a week, moved it all in a day (while managing to spend a couple hours at the Christmas fair, too) and unpacked in a week.

The new house is in town and if you've been to Arusha, it's near the Impala Hotel. The area has been rented by a lot of UN workers and is considered very safe. Our house is bordered by other houses on 3 sides and a well-lit street in the front, so we are quite happy. In the picture it looks huge, I know, but it's actually one long duplex divided (the white wall is the edge of our yard and our house). The kids are very excited because it's got 2 stories! They love the swing, too. For the most part it's laid out very nicely and sensibly, much better than our old house. The only odd thing is that the kitchen doesn't have any upper cabinets, just ones under the counters and those are smallish so that it's hard to store things and then bend down far enough to see anything. Every house has strange quirks here, though. We'll stay here for awhile while we (still) wait for housing to get done onsite. Yep, still waiting...

Yasini, our terrific housekeeper, has moved on to better things. He applied for and was hired at PHS as the head cleaner. He was very qualified, having been a cleaner at a college here for 12 years before working for us. This job is better for him financially and provides more stability now that he doesn't have to worry about what will happen to him whenever we leave. His wife, Lucy, took over for him at our house. We love her just as much and my Swahili is growing now because she speaks very little English. We
both speak enough of the other's language to make sense of each other!
Thanks to a tip and some exploring on Picasa I'm back (fingers crossed) to posting my own pics on my own blog! Thanks, Karen, who was posting for me for awhile. I've got the camera and just enough tech know-how to be back in the saddle again. Stay tuned for more!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Eternal Question(s)...

*So, what do you miss most/notice most about America?

I miss my friends and family. I miss efficiency and speed. I miss stores that are open 24 hours, stores that stock things you need all the time, businesses that can make change. I miss the comfort of knowing exactly what to expect and the predicability of knowing what is going to happen in a situation. I miss Diet Coke. I miss some of the opportunities (theater, museums, etc.) that we had and now don't. I miss my church with its great music and great people.

People and things move so fast! Everything--stores, ads, products--are designed to get something done quicker so you can get on to the next thing, whatever that may be. I barely had time to get my coat off before I had to order a meal and barely finished before the check came. Everyone talks fast, moves fast, drives fast.

*What do you like about Tanzania?

I like the rural small-town feel. I like not having to hover over my kids and feel like I have to protect them every second from some kind of horror on the playground or at the park. I like not feeling like I'm competing in life with other people. I like that faith is a much more integrated aspect of life here. I like the slow pace of looooong lunches and socializing. I like not having every minute sucked up with planned activities. I like not being bombarded with ads that say I don't have enough, I'm not thin enough, or I'm somehow missing out on something. I like not having dramatic seasons and mostly warm days every day. I like the ability to look at myself, my family, my faith, and my country from different perspectives. I like the school our kids attend, where they can learn by doing and exploring and actively participating in their learning.

Funny. If you look at what I miss and what I like, they are often two sides of the same issue. Yes, I miss efficiency and speed, but the lack of efficiency here means I have the time to live life a little slower and enjoy other things more. I miss organized activities, but not the feeling of competition. Spending a week in Bloomington was a great appreciation of what a great life we had when we lived there, but it was also a reminder that it wasn't perfect and I can't idealize it the way I want to do when things are rough here. At the same time, I realized what I will really miss about Arusha when it comes time to leave. Life is what you make of it wherever you're at, isn't it?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Great Minnesota Food Tour.

No, there's nothing specifically Minnesotan about the list, other than I ate it all while I was in Minnesota. No walleye, or lefse, or anything on a stick. No wait, I ate chicken satays at Big Bowl. But that's Asian-esque. And I ate it sitting down, not wandering through the Miracle of Life barn at the State Fair. But it was in Minnesota.

Anyway, we don't spend a lot of time dwelling on food we used to eat when we lived here. We always ask for some things we can't get and enjoy them when visitors come, but I think we've adjusted quite well, gastronomically speaking. But since I've spent the week meeting friends for lunch and visiting some old favorites, and everyone always asks what I've missed most or how I like the food here, I'll review a few favorites.

*Diet Coke. Absolutely wonderful. Exactly as I remembered. I'm drinking it by the gallon. Seriously.

*McDonald's fries. See previous post. I am not going to apologize for how much I love these things. And they were good every time I ate them.
*Anything else by McDonald's. I don't know that I liked it so much as it was always there when I was driving somewhere. I had a stomachche for an hour after a cheeseburger. One's plenty.

*Chipotle. Specifically, chicken soft tacos. It's not really Mexican food, but if you like cilantro (and apparently there are some misguided people out there who don't and therefore don't know what they're missing) it's wonderful. I made Mark take me there for our anniversary once because the kids hate it so I never get to go.
*Bruegger's Bagels with honey walnut cream cheese. Heavenly. I can get a bagel in TZ, I can get cream cheese in TZ, but these guys know their bagels.

*Einstein's lox and bagels. See above. No disapointment here.

*Chicken soup (canned but dressed up with extra veggies) and biscuits (refrigerator). OK, I can make (and have made myself) homemade chicken soup with all natural ingredients and I can make (meaning I can tell the housekeeper to make) biscuits from scratch and probably 90% of the people reading this would rather do the scratch thing, but it was really good eating biscuits from a tube. Sorry, but sometimes the processed thing works better for me.
*Fondue. Yeah, I know I could make this back in TZ, but actually Lisa made this and having someone else make food for you is always cool, not to mention she completely rocks at hosting anything and whenever you go to her house you always feel so relaxed and comfortable AND she has an amazing new kitchen, AND we were a little on the obsessed side with fondue in our past so all of that made it really great.

*Hot Tamales. Dang, these things are good! They were always a favorite, even when I was a kid.

*White Cheddar Rice Cakes. Go figure. I was in Lund's, there they were.

*Movie popcorn. "Bee Movie" is not all that reviews are making it out to be. Seinfeld humor but not all that interesting, I thought. And I've learned that the Arusha Cinema's popcorn is pretty darn good because my movie popcorn at MOA was not a big thrill. Plus the Arusha Cinema has caramel popcorn. Bring your own extra bag and mix the two together for a great sweet/salty taste.

*Big Bowl, Shrimp Pad Thai. One of the bigger disappointments. I LOVED this once upon a time. Now, "eh." And their DC was on the flat side. Very ho-hum, surprisingly.

*Woody's. My big ol' salad that I've been craving forever, I thought. It was good, but HUGE. Turns out the Greek salad at Stiggbuck's in town is perfectly great.
*Yum. At the former the Lincoln Del spot on Excelsior and Minnetonka Blvd. Think D'Amico atmosphere but with American food. And being someone who loves dips, what's not to love about fries that automatically come with 3 dips?! And they have excellent soups, toasted cheese, and desserts!
*Edina Grill. My first time but fish and chips with malt vinegar and tartar sauce is one of my absolute favorites. I'm not sure I needed an entire sturgeon on my plate though! And for that matter, portions are just waaaaay too big. There was nothing that I could completely finish. Including salads. They also have tempura battered green beans with plum sauce. Definitely delicious.
*Biaggi's. I'm the kind of person that always orders the same thing at restaurants. So when I'm in the mood for linguine and clams, I'm off to Biaggi's. Sadly, they don't have 1/2 portions so I couldn't do that and appetizers. The best part of the meal were the friends, though!

The only thing really missing from the list is pizza. We eat pretty decent pizza here--it's good but it's not the same. Sigh.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Some Observations

Through a series of unfortunate events, I'm writing from good ol' Bloomington, MN where I'll be for a week. I'm starting to wake up from the long trip and am having a great time seeing what has changed and what hasn't.

*Anyone who said that McDonald's fries wouldn't be tasting as good as I remembered them were dead wrong. They are terrific! I suspect the people who said this are related to the people who said I wouldn't still be reading People magazine online after almost 2 years.

*Americans are not the wealthiest people in the world. The Dutch are. Otherwise, how to explain a $10 "value" meal at McDonald's? (to their credit, they don't call them value meals--they're "McMenu options")

*Americans may be among the most generous people in the world, but the fact that an airport trolley costs $3 is a joke, because it forces me to stagger down the halls dangerously listing to the left as I lug my huge duffel bag to the car (well, that and my stinginess over paying for said trolley). Even in TZ, where everything goes missing the second you turn your back on it, you can get a trolley for free.

*Apparently leggings are back in style. DON'T BE FOOLED. They won't look good on you. I know you think they will and the siren song of comfort and non-binding waist bands, particularly as the holiday season approaches, is seductive. But you'll be wrong. And then you might think that you'll be OK if you wear them under a dress or tunic-y kind of thing. Wrong again. We were all wrong the last time they were in style and if we check our photo albums, we'll have the pictures to prove it. It's time we learned from the past.

*We move at the speed of light here. I am flabbergasted at how fast the waiter can take my order and deliver my food! I can eat a whole meal in like 25 minutes. In Tanzania, I can get a waiter's attention and a drink in 25 minutes.

*Stop thinking we aren't polite here or that manners are disappearing. Please. I've stood in orderly lines, had a door held for me, been told "excuse me" when someone's in the way, been allowed to have the right of way when driving, and generally have good smiley feelings about all of this. There are a LOT of great polite things that happen in Tanzania, too, don't get me wrong, but I LOVE the things that run so smoothly here!

*Hey, I pay almost $5 per gallon for gas. When I go to a grocery store, there's no guarantee they'll actually have the foods I'm looking for that day. Or that it's not a bit stale (or sometimes a lot stale). Or that they'll actually have change for me when I've paid for my things. Just keep that in mind the next time you wander through Cub or Rainbow or Lunds. ONE STOP SHOPPING. I rest my case.

*Peace Lutheran Church is the best church in the world. I love you guys! It's one thing to get emails from people, but so much better to be able to tell people in person how much we appreciate the prayers and support that are sent our way.

On the whole, I'm having a great time. I miss my family, but I'm enjoying the efficiency and orderliness of life this week and seeing friends. I'm appreciating the best of both worlds!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Karibu, Rais Kikwete

Yesterday was a siku kubwa (big day) for Peace House School. President Kikwete visited and toured the school and met the students. It's a huge honor, of course to be visited by a President. We (Mark and I) were introduced and had the opportunity to chat with him for a couple minutes. Scott Augustine also had the chance to talk to him personally about PHF. But the true honors, I think, go to Theo, our headmistress. She gave a speech about the mission and work of Peace House Secondary with our students and was the one who took him through the administration building and the classrooms to meet the students. No matter what my political views are, let's face it--it'd be completely cool to be touring your president around!

It was a tremendous honor for the students, too. Imagine, the most margainalized group of people having the opportunity to greet the President, sing for him, and stand up to represent their new school. They lined the road in, presented flowers and gifts, sang, and answered questions in class when he talked to them. Several were very disappointed because they had worked on a play that they weren't able to present because of the time constraints.

They have been pestering for uniforms from the very first day--even though they have PHS t-shirts, they have felt very shabby in their old skirts and pants and having the uniforms is very important to them in terms of feeling proud and belonging. Our friend Margaret set her tailors into overtime work to finish skirts and trousers so that the students could put their uniforms on for the first time for the special day.

Watching everyone I was reminded yet again how much credit should go to the people of Tanzania that are working so hard to make Peace House Secondary School a great place. Yes, it does take a tremendous amount of money that needs to come from generous donors outside of Tanzania. Yes, there is a place for us to facilitate and guide the integration of Western ideas into Tanzanian culture and practice. We all get plenty of positive feedback about the work we're doing. But today we were honored to see Tanzanian citizens being proud of their work, their school, and themselves. They met their president and shook his hand. They talked to the First Lady. How many of us can say we've had that honor? Our staff and students did a tremendous job representing PHS on a very special day. I always think Tanzanians have a great sense of respect and dignity for serious occasions. We were so proud to have President Kikwete come and see the students and their teachers!

You can see from their faces how great the day was. Mama Kikwete does a lot of work and visits to schools and both of them spoke personally to several students in each of the classrooms. They both have a very friendly and easygoing manner and the students responded to that. The students and teachers are anxiously waiting to have their own copies of the pics with them and the President/First Lady!

President Kikwete has a reputation for being very "hands-on" when he meets people. He has a great smile and is very easy to talk to. He ran very late in arriving (we lucky we were first on his list--the next group waited over 4 1/2 hours) and we were told that he would listen to a speech and have a very quick tour, possibly in his car. Once he arrived, however, he stayed for the whole program, including classroom visits and making a speech to everyone.

It was a great day!

Monday, October 08, 2007

This is a RANT, so BEWARE.

This is not the place to read about the wonders of Tanzania today, so consider yourself warned. If you want to read about that sort of stuff, I'm sure there's some website somewhere that'll have it. Maybe a travel guide or something.

This is about how INSANE things can be here. Particularly Precision Air. Because they are COMPLETELY INSANE.

I booked 7 tickets to Egypt back in March. Precision Air does not take credit cards and won't accept shillings for international flights, only US dollars. That in and of itself is annoying...a Tanzanian company refusing to take its own currency. Getting access to that much money at one time is almost impossible for us, so dear friend Karen brought $6,000 in June to pay for the tickets and trip costs. At the time I made the reservation I asked about the costs, double-checked to make sure it was the TOTAL cost (taxes, etc.) and then waited for the money.

Today, the day in HELL, I got up and toted all my money down to the office to finally pay for the ticket. Except that I can't. Why? No reason that I can understand, but after an hour, they said I needed to come back. So I did. At 11:00. And 12:00. And 1:00. And 2:00. Because in that true Tanzanian fashion, no one else but that one person could possibly help me and of course she's gone to lunch and will be back soon. When? Soon. In 30 minutes? Soon. In one hour? Soon. This is a seriously true conversation.

At 3:00 I turned all ugly American and demanded that one of the 6 other people in the office let me pay for the ticket. Turns out the price went up almost $1000. Now I don't have enough cash to pay for the tickets and I'll have to go buy a bunch of USD. Wait, wait, let us see if we can help. At 4:00 the price is down $800. Now I have enough money. I cheerfully hand over $5,000 perfectly beautiful crispy American dollars, Ben Franklin smiling up from each and every one.

And then they give $3000 back. They won't take them. Because they were printed in 1996 and they are too old. They're not usable. They question whether businesses in America would take them. They certainly can't be taking such old money. And could I just go and get some different ones and bring them back? I said, who do you think I am? I live here, I have no US dollars, do you think I have money just laying around? I won't even go into the fact that you won't accept YOUR OWN CURRENCY. I pointed out that the bills aren't even creased. The manager assures me that they can get the old money exchanged for new money tomorrow and then everything will be fine and I can just leave all my money with him. I said, fine--just issue me the tickets and keep the money and change it tomorrow.

"No, that we cannot do."
"Because we can't accept this money."
"But you'll change it for me tomorrow."
"And you're absolutely sure that it will get changed."
"And you won't cancel the ticket."
"But you won't issue me the ticket and change the money for yourself."
"Because we can't take the money. You come tomorrow at 10:00."
"I can't come tomorrow at 10:00."
"Yes, this is important."
"No, I am meeting the President tomorrow and that is very important."
"No, you're not. Why are you saying this?"
"Because it's true and I want to meet the President."
"If you come afternoon, the money will be gone from the forex the tickets will be cancelled."
"So give me the tickets today and change the money yourself tomorrow."
"No, we can't do this thing."
"Because we cannot take this money."

And that took until 5:00. And, for the record, I really am going to have a chance to meet the President of Tanzania tomorrow. It's not like I was throwing that around trying to impress anyone. I was merely trying to show that the reason I wasn't going to be in their office tomorrow was a little more important than just not wanting to.

So...a Tanzanian business won't accept their own currency. And won't accept a currency that (correct me if I'm wrong) is quite popular and generally preferred in much of the world. I won't even mention that the forex that will potentially be giving me newer $100 bills for my current ones is going to charge 2 cents on the dollar. And as much as I'm working not to lose my temper, I wanted to SMACK the guy for his general assumption that I just have lots of more of these laying around and have easy access to this amount of American cash. Or for his insistence that Precision Air prides itself on its customer service and that they really really want to help and how much they value my business. See if they get my 3 tickets to Dar es Salaam I need to buy next week.

AND I didn't get my water bill paid. Or get any grocery shopping done. Or get any other errands done. It's so TYPICAL of how easy things get completely SCREWED UP with some sort of inefficiency and rules that don't make sense.

AND, lest I heap it all on this one company, let me just say that when I went to Tanesco to pay my electric bill (you bring in the old bill and they use the numbers to print the new one) they refused because it was wrinkled on the numbers and they couldn't be sure. When I suggested they have a go at it because the name of the house owner is clearly readable and can be verified that way, they said, "no." So I had to go home and rummage around for a less wrinkled bill. This was over an hour of standing in line, not including the trip back to the house.

DHL refused to take a package consisting of two photocopies and two passport photos because I didn't have the specific number for the person at the Embassy. I tried to make one up, not having one (and getting one would require me to email the Embassy and wait for a response). She caught that one. Finally, SHE thought to pull out the good ol' PHONE BOOK and look it up. OK, I didn't even know they had a phone book here, but I do have serious doubts as to how accurate it is. But even that simple act took over 30 minutes.

What a rotten day.

Rant update: Spent another hour at 3 high-end hotels trying to convince their forex booths to switch me some dollars. No go. Why? No reason, just no. 8:00 am found me at our bank (we have a PHF account, but not a personal one and it's shillings only). They have a machine that runs the bills to see if they are conterfeit. I begged and pleaded with them to run them through the machine. No go. I need to deposit the money (thereby switching to shillings), then write a check and withdraw it, and THEN convert it back to dollars. The double exchange, of course, would lose me money. FINALLY, I found a forex bureau that would do it...for $30 per $1,000. So I did get it done, and the cost wasn't astronomical. It's the principal of the whole thing. Funny that it's the first time I've felt offended as an American that they considered my money unusable!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

P640 Rides Again!

What can I say about Project 640? They have been some of our biggest supporters and they turned out last week to kick off PHS with a bang. The group first came in February, 2006, just at the time we showed up, so admittedly, my mind is a bit fuzzy from that time! When they showed up Tanzania was at the end of a long drought--the site was nothing but a bare patch of dirt. No buildings, nothing but sun and dust! Thanks to them, we have a great banda to keep us cool when we take a break from work.

They showed up again February, 2007. This time there were buildings started and trees planted. The sun was still hot and the dust still flew, but when they left we had a beautiful herb garden and firepit.

Well, they keep coming back! And for some strange reason, they just didn't seem to be so interested in building. Maybe that's because they were just having too much fun meeting the students! The volunteers got their first taste of what PHS will have to offer the students. The students (and staff) got their very first glimpse of some of what Americans do best--give, love, and have a great time! They came toting ENORMOUS bags full of art supplies, games, and sports equipment. They came to experience what we've all waited for for so long--to meet the 120 reasons Peace House Foundation exists!
On the way, they managed to have some fun hiking and dancing. They played competetive Uno. They dug into glitter and stickers and markers and beads and showed off their artistic sides. They played frisbee in the wind. They played that great game, baseball. And all the way, the expectation that the students would join in and have fun was exceeded a hundredfold. The students have had almost a month of visitors doing things they've never had a chance to do. I think school will be seem a little dull this week when they finally settle into a "normal" routine.

Learning to work with volunteers and interacting with Americans will be a very new experience for students and staff. Most of them have never really had any contact with "us" and most of their experiences have been watching tourists roll through town in their safari wagons. I would imagine they have formed a whole host of impressions and ideas based on what they see and hear. Now they have the same opportunities (and, I suppose, challenges) in learning about us in a direct and personal way. I can speak from experience saying that learning about a new culture isn't always easy. It challenges your assumptions about what's "right" or "polite" or "acceptable". It forces to examine your own beliefs and attitudes about life and decide how these new ways and ideas fit in. For us, the end result has been overwhelmingly positive. Life is much richer interacting with people that experience life differently. The blessing of PHS is that we are brought together as a family for a united cause.