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!