Thursday, May 22, 2008


Have you ever been really really sick at the same time your husband is really really sick? Me neither, until now. Actually, Mark is the really really sick one. I'm just pretty sick. He has some terrible horrible no-good very bad something-or-other. Possibly giardia, which he claims he got from a salad last week. I ate the same salad, but I complained because I had a big piece of dirt in mine. Maybe that was the better deal--his got washed and now he's sick. Who's to say? Including the doctor. We even went to the American doctor (he's from Minnesota, don'tcha know). Not having been this sick before (ever) it's hard to know if we are sicker here because there aren't as many tests for as many things, or if it's that we're exposed to different things here (although giardia is not uncommon in the US) or what. What we do get are a lot of drugs that don't cost much!

On on hand, if there is anything to be had, Mark will get it. His stress tends to show up in physical ailments anway and he's had some lovely bugs here, so Sunday when he started complaining we all just pretty much up and left--I mean, same song, next verse. On the other hand, he's past complaining--he's kind of past actual speech. It's mostly a lot of moaning and very alarming stomach sounds I can hear across the room. Poor guy. He did go to the doctor today and (compared to yesterday) I thought he looked perky-ish. The doctor's first words were "Wow, you are sick" so my perky assessment may have been off a bit. That wild adventure wiped him out and he's back to bed. He is supposed to head on Saturday to climb Kilimanjaro and is avoiding the reality that he's probably not going to be able to do it, which is so disappointing.

Me? Oh, don't mind me. Just allergies plus some wicked cold that makes my chest ache when I breathe (and funny how often I seem to need to do that) and a cough that I can't stop once I start.

Oh, and Noah tonight said he was cold and had a headache. He's NEVER cold. He's going down, too. I just know it.

How are things on YOUR end?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Things I Will Miss.

"You know how it is when you’re doing something you think is important, and you miss the thing that really is important. "
It's hard to believe that we are living our last month here in Arusha. There are days when it feels like we've just arrived; on other days, it seems as if we've lived here forever. Our lives in Minnesota often feel like distant memories. There is something to be said for keeping busy until the last minute...that maybe it keeps you from being sad. But we've been trying to savor the things we love most about Arusha. Painful though it is at times, I know that in the months to come we'll be glad we took the time now to reflect on our time here. Some of the things are simple and small. Others are more difficult to articulate now.

I will miss perma-summer. All my life I've lived a 4 season life and was sure that I'd prefer something different. I was right. The heat of the day (minus the humidity), the cool nights, the dry was perfect. There's something about it that makes life feel slower, more relaxed, happier. The traditions of long "sundowners" before later dinners, grilling and eating outdoors, hot tea or coffee in the cool mornings, all make sense here.

I will miss the land. For all of Kilimanjaro's fame, I will keep Mt. Meru in my mind's eye forever, I think. It looms over the town--and the spetacular view almost every late afternoon is something I look forward to every day. I will miss the savannahs that stretch on as far as you can see...with the ancient volcanos watching like sentinels. There is less a sense of history here than there is sheer timelessness--the feeling that something has just simply been, not created by man, not a product of progress or development, but something that is much larger and older than I can possibly imagine.

I will miss the sound of my gardener singing as he works. He is Maasai and the other afternoon when I was laying in bed with allergies he was working below my window, humming a tune that sounded both foreign and familiar. I love the sight of a group of Maasai men standing a talking. More often than not, they will have their arms around each other's necks. A show of solidarity, a connection to a life that is fast changing. I love to see the women with their beaded ears and necks, and wrists. I used to think that they were dressing up for a trip to town until I visited a village and realized that it was just every day for them. Herds of goats and cattle, with a young boy or old man at the side, a skinny dog or two at the rear, donkeys carrying water containers driven by women. All are common sights, even within Arusha town, and I never get tired of seeing them. There's an element of life here that reminds me of what Montana was like. Wild, rugged, harsh, yet people here have a strength to survive, to endure.

I will miss ISM. It has been a gift to our children beyond words. Kristine, Lloyd, Diana, Kara, Samantha, Annette, Steve, and Madeleine have challenged, inspired, and loved our kids in ways that have allowed them to shine. They are the best that the teaching profession has to offer--they love learning, they love teaching, they love their students, and it shows in everything they do. Our children have met people who have lived everywhere and done everything imaginable. They know about careers that are definitely not on the lists of most career counselors at universities. They have watched people come and go and listened to adventures and stories from all over the world. They may decide at the end of the day that they want a house and a job and a family in a suburb somewhere. To that I would say, "God bless you." They may decide to choose a path that takes them on a journey similar to that of many of their friends' families. To that I would say the same. They have been given an amazing gift of exposure to lives and choices and events they couldn't imagine in their wildest dreams. Whatever they choose in life, they'll do so with the knowledge of so many things they could do. They can make choices knowing what the world can hold for them.

I will miss the flowers. On one side of town the dry landscape is a perfect backdrop for the violent pinks and purples and reds that bloom so effortlessly here. On the other side of town the vegetation seems almost claustrophobic, jungle-like, with the banana, palms, and vines. In both places, monkeys are still a curiosity and a joy to watch. I'm not a gardener, but here even I could have success with growing something!

The people that first came to Africa had to have been unbelievably strong and courageous. They came to a part of the world that was largely uknown and faced animals, diseases, and unfriendly locals. They brought with them a sense of comfort, however, in a rough land...that sense of tranquility and comfort that exists in the lodges and tented camps used by safaris. TGT offers a sense of that comfort, an oasis from the frustrations of life here and a chance to spend time with friends. We learned to love rugby here. We wiled away hot Saturday afternoons with gin and tonics and a plate of samosas. We played baseball and attracted spectators who didn't understand our funny bats and balls. It was one place where people from all walks of life--Tanzanians, Indians, safari owners, missionaries, you name it--would gather for a game of rugby and a barbecue. Life is good here.

I will miss Pangani. Leaving the hot dry dust of Arusha and heading to the coast is like entering a different world. We know when we're getting close--the air inside the car suddenly become heavy with humidity. The kids roll down the windows and hang out the last miles, waving as we pass through villages nestled in tall palm trees. Everything changes. The smells, the sounds, the rhythm of the days. We've come to love spending time without a computer, a phone, a television, even a radio. There's nothing but the sun, a book, and the day. I refuse to eat chicken or beef when I'm at the coast, ordinary foods that I can get any time. Even potatoes are a no-no. Instead, it's crab sandwiches, garlic prawns, grilled fish (whatever they caught that day), accompanied by coconut rice, and a glass of wine. The humidity sits over everything, making afternoon naps completely logical, even if you end up on a lounge in the shade instead of a bed. Heaven.

"We all lose friends.. we lose them in death, to distance and over time. But even though they may be lost, hope is not. The key is to keep them in your heart, and when the time is right, you can pick up the friendship right where you left off."
I don't have pictures of every friend I've made here. They are Tanzanian, Dutch, German, Australian, New Zealanders, British, Swedish, Canadian, and Congolese. They are missionaries, development workers, doctors, farmers, teachers, and business owners. They have just arrived, they have lived here for years, they were born here. Without question they embraced us, made us feel welcome, included us, and supported us. Without the accoutrements of modern living, they became the people we turned to in times of stress and danger. Of all the aspects of living in Arusha that I had imagined, I was never prepared for the community. We had friends who were in their 60s, and in their 20s. Friends who never stepped foot in a church, friends who had just discovered Christ, and friends who have a sense of faith and contentment that I can only hope to aspire to. Amongst the universal furstrations of life in general, we lived with people who were dramatically passionate and committed--about their faith, about Tanzania, about their families, about living here--in a way that is not as evident in our lives in the States. We will leave knowing it is unlikely that we will ever see these friends again. We will return for a short time to dear dear friends in the States and then venture on to a new place where I know wonderful people are waiting. But the leaving is hard.

And finally, we will miss PHS. From 100 acres of nothing, we watched trees grow. Buildings rose slowly but surely. In only 18 months, a school was ready (enough) to receive its first class of students. It's an amazing bit of work. And while the buildings generated interest and enthusiasm, they're nothing unless they are filled with students. PHF's mission, after all, isn't to build pretty buildings. It exists to provide what should be a fundamental right for everyone to children who have no hope of attending school.

We have watched 120 students begin a journey to a new life, thanks to donations and volunteers and countless hours of work. We have watched teachers work to understand a new culture of thinking and acting in education. We have watched them proudly show their talents in art, music, sports, and academics. They are so much more than they realize, but they are starting to understand that, to believe that there is something they can achieve. We are leaving a solid foundation in good hands. To think that only we could do this work would be foolish. PHS will continue to grow and thrive in ways that we can't imagine. We are simply one small piece of the puzzle.

Many people would ask, "Why leave?" Since we've lived here, I've watched people leave, and wondered how they knew it was time. What was it that tipped the balance and made them say, "it's time for someplace else"? Perhaps naively we imagined that we would put down the same kind of roots here that we had in Minnesota, yet when it was time, we knew. Despite what we love, we are convinced that we are being called away. We know that we can face the unknown challenges because we know there are untold blessings ahead. We're just not allowed to see either at this time. We have received far more than we've given, and whatever we have endured has been minimal in comparison to the lives of the people here.

But it is time. It doesn't relieve the sadness and the loss to know that. We are free to choose because we don't know what's ahead. Because we are certain that God is leading, whatever comes.

Isak Dineson ("Out of Africa") wrote, "God made the world round so we would never be able to see too far down the road." Strangely, amazingly, I've come to agree with her. And that may be the biggest blessing of all.

A First Safari

Last weekend, thanks to a very generous gift from a friend in Minneapolis, 120 students plus the staff and teachers spent a weekend at Ngorongoro Crater. It is truly one of the most magnificent sites you will ever see. The wildlife aside, the crater itself is breathtaking in its size and beauty. The Crater, which formed when a giant volcano exploded and collapsed on itself some two to three million years ago, is 2,001 feet deep and its floor covers 102 square miles.

Thousands of people visit every year--virtually no Tanzanians visit this or any game park. Although it costs $50 per person to enter the Crater for tourists, it only costs about $2 for a Tanzanian. The issue, of course, is with transportation. Visiting a game park requires a car for a day--and the Crater charges a hefty $200 car fee to enter. It's such a shame that such a treasure exists and is inaccessible to the citizens--so this trip was a huge opportunity for students and staff to see something spectacular!

Students went in groups of 40--accompanied by staff, cooks, drivers, and teachers. They camped on the rim and spent the day watching lions just finishing a kill, a family of cheetahs, black rhinos, and the everpresent wildebeest and zebras. Most had never seen an elephant or giraffe!

One of the highlights was hearing the compliments about our students. The people at the campground were surprised at how well-behaved our students were--how they worked together and pitched in to set up and clean up for meals, how they shared and waited politely for sodas and food, etc. As a veteran chaperone of countless field trips, I can affirm that there isn't much that surpasses compliments like that about your group!

Another great highlight--hearing from our cooks and cleaners how honored they were to be allowed to be a part of the trip. Particularly in Tanzania, where status is so important (real or perceived), there is a definite hierarchy between teachers and staff, a situation that can lead to negative feelings and difficulty in the workplace. At PHS we have worked hard to develop an ethos of equality--that EVERY employee is important, that the work they do is valued and necessary, and that they are contributing to the mission of PHS. We require students to give the same level of respect to a cleaner as they do to their headmistress. Even though the cooks and cleaners were responsible for working, they were so thrilled to be allowed to participate! There have been a few other things where we've scheduled to make sure we include everyone at PHS and gotten the same feedback. Clearly we're doing something very different from other schools, and it's working!
I wish I could show you pictures of the students enjoying themselves. We did send a camera with instructions to take pics of the people, not the animals; however, it was clear upon return that remembering to take pictures was a problem, followed closely by the ability to take pictures! Unfortunately we got very few usable shots. I'll add a few in this week if I can, but you'll have to use your imaginations to see the faces of PHS having a wonderful time!

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Last Lecture

What would you say if you knew you were dying? What message would you want to communicate? What could encapsulate a life that has been lived well and that will possibly end too soon? How do you take the ordinary-ness of life and make meaning out of it for someone else?

The most recent Time Magazine's 100 Influential People issue profiled Carnegie-Mellon's computer science genius Randy Pausch. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer with a relatively dim diagnosis. Randy Pausch is more than a visionary in the field of virtual reality. He delivered "The Last Lecture" in September of 2007 and the 70 minute lecture can be seen on YouTube (if the link doesn't work, go to and search for "Randy Pausch" and click on the video that's called "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams--it's listed as 1:16 in length). It is funny and pointed and warm and thoughtful and amazing. What it isn't is self-pitying. He talks about his childhood dreams (playing in the NFL, being Captain Kirk on Star Trek, working for Disney), about his current projects and meaning (if any) of leaving a legacy, and about enabling the dreams of others. It's that last bit that I found so profound. For all his amazing work in virtual reality, the projects that he's developed, the influence he's had, he is at the core a teacher. He is impossibly enthusiastic and infinitely passionate about what he does and it never shows more than when he's talking about his students and what he's doing with them and what they're accomplishing. He talks about a "head fake"--when you are ostensibly working on one thing, but learning another, something I completely believe in. So many times you're supposed to be teaching social studies or coaching soccer, but those things are just the vehicles for must more profound lessons of friendship, discipline, responsibility, perseverence, etc. He firmly believes that fun is an absolutely necessary part of life and learning.

He is also a devoted husband and father, who delivers a great "head fake" at the end of the lecture. When I think about what I would want to say about my life and life in general, I feel that nothing would be profound enough. Randy Pausch spends a little over an hour essentially talking about very simple things. Loving life. Loving what you do. Enabling the dreams of others. How you can get the first 2 by doing the 3rd. He is at his most inspirational when he talks about what others, often his students, are accomplishing. Wow. You don't need to be a virtual reality genius, or be dying to accomplish this. It's the idea that by looking outward, by not searching for fulfillment or happiness that you find exactly that, that is the most profound.
The Last Lecture is also available in book form, which I suppose would be good, but the YouTube video, in my opinion, delivers a bigger bang just because you get to see him in action. He is still doing well, according to internet information. For the sake of his children, his wife, and the hundreds of students whose lives he will touch, I truly hope he beats this.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Mountains of Tanzania

Cameron spent 4 days climbing up a good chunk of Mount Kilimanjaro, getting some new and different shots of a famous mountain. The school's Outdoor Pursuits program has a graduated climbing program that allows kids to climb Mt. Meru in 8th grade and Kilimanjaro in 10th grade. One of his disappointments is that he won't be able to participate all the way to the top of Kili.

But he got a good taste of carrying a 25 pound pack at 15,000 feet over the weekend. We were proud of him when he said it was hard but he had a great time. The Horombo Hut at 12,000 feet was where they spent the night before going up another 3,000 (actually higher than Mt. Meru).

Funny how 2 days after getting back he was less than enthusiastic about seeing this view of Mt. Meru from the top of another mountain, Mt. Longido. We were able to hold Mark off until Saturday, when we all took off with Max and Gina for a family hike. A 10 hour family hike. A 10 hour vertical hike. Vertical down, too. Which is not easy. I could say how cool it was that Ava and Noah hiked the WHOLE way on their own. I could say that it was great to spend the day all together. I could say it was great to hang out with Max and Gina. Thos things would be true.

I could say that the view at the top was worth the burn. I could say that we'll remember the hike as something we accomplished and survived. I could say that it feels great to take on a challenge.
I could say that.
But then I'd be so lying.

Monday, May 05, 2008

One Great Movie!

This is a great family movie (although there are a few "bullspits" in one scene for sensitive ears). When Apollo 11 was heading for the moon in 1969, the little Australian town of Peakes, which had an enormous satellite dish, was tapped to provide the audio and television feeds during the lunar landing and moonwalk. A team of 3 Australian scientists, another one from NASA, and a small town of wonderful people become big (and largely unknown) players in one of the greatest events in history.
I was 5 years old when Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon so I don't remember it. I do remember a guy I knew, who was about 10 years older than I was, talking about how those days completely gripped the country, that astronauts were heroes beyone belief at that time. Those minutes of the landing and the walk in this movie really bring that sense of immense wonder and pride and amazement home.
There is also the general group of colorful small-town citizens, all excited about the events. Sam Neill (Jurassic Park) is a favorite actor of mine and has the lead as the head scientist.
Aside from the one scene of some swearing, the movie is really great. Both Noah and Cameron loved it and even they felt the tension and excitement during the moon walk!