Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Doing What They Do Best.

Two boys. Two very different boys. Different personalities, temperments, interests, and talents. Last week we got to see the best of what they do and it was great.
Cameron's final project for phy ed., French, and DT (design technology) was a fashion show. They had to design an outfit for either a specific purpose or a specific time period and then take the design to a fundi and have it sewn. Then, they had to model it while someone read a description of their outfit in French. THEN, they had to perform an original dance. It was absolutely fantastic! Cameron made a shirt that had padded shoulders to help cushion a backpack. He also designed pants with zip-off legs. He really wanted camoflauge, but it's not legal to sell that material (something about impersonating military personnel). Undeterred, he made his own!

Benj (Mr. Disco), Jack (the black/white zoot suit) and Cameron choreographed and performed their original dance to Herb Alpert's "A Taste of Honey." If you know that song, you're dating yourself! I have no idea where they got it but they were great! All the kids were really creative and brave. It was a great end to the year.

Noah loves football (he doesn't want to call it "soccer" because that's not the "real" name). He plays every day at lunch and played in a club this year. The parents organized a tournament between the 3 international schools. Although Noah played a great game, their team lost, but he loved every minute. He has really enjoyed playing but did want a more competitive angle. Parents here were clearly not used to something like a kid tournament, something that was pretty routine for us. He's really quite talented!

We were so proud of both of them. They have had lots of opportunities to shine in so many areas and we've had such a good time watching them perform.

(I should note that this all happened 2 weeks ago. Which, coincidentally, is the amount of time it's taken me to get Blogger to let me post these pics. Sheesh.)

Saturday, May 26, 2007


We love Arusha. We love living completely out of our culture, often out of our comfort zone, and definitely out of our "convenience" zone. Living here has taught us to appreciate the blessings we have in our lives, virtually all of which have been freely given rather than earned. We have continued to learn to keep our problems in perspective, given what we see around us every day. Many of the things that had caused us to be stressed in the past are things that we can laugh at today.

BUT...I just want to make one thing clear. Life here is challenging. And it has been made all the more challenging because we don't have a movie theatre. Before I left, someone told that within 6 months, all that kind of stuff would be completely off my radar. Obviously that person did not know me. I love movies. I find bootleg copies perfectly adequate. Not the kind where they film them with a camcorder right in the theatre and the filmer has to drop the camera or cover it with a coat when an usher walks by and you can't really see or hear much. I'm talking about the bootleg copies. They're adequate-mostly clear, most of the time audio and video are in sync. No subtitles that are readable--they appear to be translated with some kind of computer program or by definitely unskilled English speakers. Ok, sometimes they freeze up and sometimes they stop working with only 15 minutes left, but hey. What can you do? At least you can get something eventually!

All that has changed. Mjiji Arusha is getting its very own CINEMA! A real movie theatre. With popcorn. And a big screen. And movies that aren't too old. The man who owns the Cultural Heritage center has been promising for almost a year that is was coming. AND IT'S HERE! I am very seriously thinking of becoming a very indiscriminate movie-goer...if it's there, I'm there (with the exception of those Bollywood things--I just can't into them). Case in point--Spiderman III. The first one bit, the second one bit x 2. But its goin to be playing and you can darn well better know MOI will be there. I may even throw parental guidance out the window if I can't get a sitter!

Ok, just kidding on that last bit.

But...dare I hope to hope that we will be able to see Harry Potter without having to wait for knockoff DVDs or for someone to bring us a copy? Be still my heart!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Here They Are...

Apparently some people have been wondering what we're up to here. Well, wrestling with Blogger for one (and it's not just an Africa thing--it's tricky loading pics for other friends. For another...right now life is not very dramatic...just the way we like it!
We had a great friend and former colleague of Mark's here for a month. Brad was absolutely terrific working with our teachers, giving them a great start on their work with curriculum planning. The curriculum is nationally standardized, without a thought, really, to what might really happen in the classroom. We want the teachers to rethink the curriculum in terms of how they might cover the subject matter differently. Brad has done work in Mexico, Romania, among other places and we enjoyed every day he was here!

We are continuing work on student selection. I described the process in a previous post, and things continue much the same way. It takes an unbelievable amount of time! On the first couple days we started in town and ran into several cheaters, so we decided to head out to the villages. Away from town, where people are more isolated, we had much more luck. Last week and this, we've been back in town again and once again we've faced more cheaters. Yesterday we saw seven students and accepted one. Today, seven students and accepted two.

I am thankful to report this pic is NOT from the road to the school! That road has been greatly improved this season and everyone is quite pleased. No, this is student selection in action! The helpful man shoveling in the rolled-up pants is Charles, one of our teachers. He's a man of many talents! Mud is not the only obstacle on the roads--and I use that term loosely as many "roads" were really not designed for cars. Big holes, huge rocks, and washouts are also part of the adventure!

After all of this, though, we have selected 40 students. Some of them have been able to scrape enough money up to start secondary school, and others have not. Some come from families who love them very much, but have nothing else to give. Others are cared for unwillingly and grudgingly by extended family members. Still others are little more than indentured servants.
These are faces of hope. This is what happens when you support Peace House Foundation. Within this country of tremendous need, there is a light of possibility. These are lives are forever changed. These are children who have been given a chance--for some of them, the first break they've ever had. I know if they could meet you, they'd say "thank you." They may give you a gift--a stick of sugar cane, maybe, or a couple avocados or mangos. They would ask if they could take a moment and pray with you. They would thank God for you and your generosity. They would thank God for the blessings they have received.

Every letter we can hand to a student reminds us of why we are here. When things are slow, or frustrating, or heading off-track, I remind myself of these faces. I remember that whatever I've had to manage since I've lived here (or at any other time, for that matter) is nothing compared to daily life for so many families here. These children are what matter.
Whatever delays or setbacks we've faced have not deterred us from finding and meeting these students. We feel a huge sense of responsibility toward them, to create a community that will support them and continue to open doors to new ideas, new ways of looking at the world, new lives of peace and promise. You have helped. Every dollar donated, every hour volunteered has made a difference. Never doubt that. As we "keep on keeping on" we remain grateful for your support and commitment tnat allow us to continue our work here.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Blood Diamond

We finally got a chance to see "Blood Diamond", a movie I strongly recommend. The title, as most of you know, refers to the selling of diamonds that are mined in war zones and exported/sold to finance conflicts. It is extremely difficult to determine after a point in the chain if a diamond is "conflict-free" so the burden rests on the consumer to ask the questions. Of course, the diamond industry has techniques that keep the flow of diamonds restricted, which keeps the price and demand high, which keeps the market open for the dimonds to be sold/exported to finace wars.

The movie is very violent and I've heard several people say they were put off by that. They were right--it is. But I can't help but think that the actual events were even more horrific than what gets portrayed on film. I don't believe that Hollywood movies should be where people get their history or politics. But the movie industry does have the ability to give us really the only glimpse into certain events that we can probably ever have, and when they do it well, I think it can be a powerful lesson. It's beyond my ability to understand how it could be to live under oppressive violence and fear every minute of every day, knowing what would happen to you or your family. The violence is so terrible to watch, but I found the brainwashing of the children into soldiers even more painful, actually--the process of destroying the human-ness of a child in such a calculating manner...
There have been several movies recently that portray these kinds of things in Africa. In all of these movies, the people, the houses, the markets, the villages, all look just like my neighborhood and the places I shop. It has affected me more because I can see what those kinds of events would do to people's lives here.
I asked the teachers at tea yesterday how it was that Tanzania is surrounded by Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Mozambique--all countries who have experienced civil wars, coups, or ongoing violence--yet Tanzania has had nothing remotely like that. Their only experience, really, was the war against Uganda, and the hosting of enormous refugee camps on the Rwandan border. They gave credit to Nyrere, the first president, who they said led them so strongly and so peacefully and who worked to keep one tribe from becoming more powerful or important. They also said that the colonial period here did not involve England or Germany playing one tribe off against another for their own gain, which happened in other countries. They believe that Tanzanians are generally inclined to avoid conflicts, personal and otherwise, making them less likely to be caught up in something.
I don't know--I do know that Tanzania, although poor and struggling in so many ways, is blessed beyond measure by having avoided what has happened to its neighbors. The devastation of war and hate can't be measured. Tanzania is an island of peace in East Africa.
At one point in the movie, Leo DiCaprio wonders if God will ever forgive them for what they've done to each other in Africa. Then he says, "God left Africa long ago." It's a bleak contrast to Solomon Vandy, whose son has been taken by the army, whose family is in refugee camp, and who says, "my son is good, my son will be a doctor." It's obvious throughout most of the film that DiCaprio thinks the guy is a fool for believing. But that faith is evident here every day in every aspect of life. People here who have so little, who have so little control over what happens to them, have tremendous faith that God will provide, will care for them, will deliver them--if not in this life, then in the next. They are a humbling example for those of us who have so much and who have lived in safety all our lives.
If you want to learn more about blood diamonds and their effects on African countries you can read more here.