Monday, January 30, 2012

African Jog

I'm pretty proud of myself because this morning I got up early and did a run for about 1/2 hour. It's the first time since we've been in Africa that I've jogged, although I have been doing some other exercises sporadically. I was reluctant to start jogging because I wasn't sure how it would go over in this culture where seeing a white woman run down the road in shorts is quite an unusual site for the locals. But I conferred with the director of the language school and he assured me that it would be no problem to do it, especially if I go early in the AM.

So, this morning I found myself running down the dirt driveway and up the road, over to the seminary next door, and around their soccer field a few times. It felt great to stretch my legs a bit. It was also wonderful to be able to take in the sights and sounds of my neighborhood as people were waking up. Sometimes I have these perfect moments when I'm suddenly hit over the head by the fact that I'm in Africa. I can't tell you the number of times while living in the US that I would ride my bike down a street or go for a walk and think "Some day I may do this in Africa." So, this morning as I was running around the dirt field, avoiding the cow crap on the ground, yelling "Shikamoo, Bibi*" to a worker in our school as he rode his bike up the driveway to work, I couldn't help but be grateful and think "Yup, here I am."

*Shikamoo is a term of greeting to someone who is older or should receive respect.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Why I Talk About Rape

Why I Talk About Rape

Because of my previous job, I tend to talk pretty openly about rape. It’s definitely a conversation-stopper and sometimes I feel like a “downer.” But this article makes some excellent points about why people need to talk openly and honestly about the issue. She puts it better than I could've.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

I'm Published!

The Sexual Assault Report published an article that I wrote right before leaving my previous employment. They don't have the article online, so here's a screen shot of it. If anyone is interested in reading it, let me know and I can email you the scanned copy of it.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Makoko Language School

The tree we sit under in the afternoons

I thought I’d share a bit about what it’s like at language school, so y’all have an idea of what life is like for us these days. Makoko Language School was started in the 1960’s by the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers and for the years has trained missionaries and other westerners in Kiswahili, as well as local languages from this region. The school has since been taken over by the local Catholic Diocese but it continues to teach in much the same manner.

We have 5 classes a day, each 40 minutes long with a 5-minute break in between. Classes run until 12:30, followed by ½ hour lunch and an hour rest. After the rest hour we have 45 minutes in the language lab when we listen to tapes (YES, tapes!) of the stories (hadithi) and dialogues (masungumzo) from the morning classes and practice exercises (mazoezi) from the lessons of the day. After language lab we can be free for the rest of the day, spend more time in the lab, or get help from the teachers who hang out at the school until 3:30.

At first onset it may seem really slack that we are finished our day at 3:30 (or possibly even 2:45 depending on whether I quit after language lab). But after doing this for 2 weeks I’ve quickly learned that my brain can only take so many hours of language acquisition before I’m totally fried. Usually by the time classes are finished and it’s lunchtime I’m so mentally exhausted that I can’t comprehend anymore. The hour nap after lunch has become a necessity for me to get through the day!

Despite my mental exhaustion, after language lab I have been spending time with the teachers hanging out under the tree in the yard. This is good because it allows me to practice some Swahili mixed in with English and I also get an opportunity to ask them questions about Tanzanian culture and customs. The teachers are native Tanzanians from various tribes and different parts of the country. They represent a diversity of ages and they are all really fantastic people! In fact, this weekend a few of us visited the home of one of our teachers to meet his wife and 3-week-old daughter.

I feel like I’ve been handling the challenge of language school very well up until this point. It’s a lot of memorization, but I’ve been able to do whatever was thrown my way with ease. Up until today, that is. Today I feel like I hit a wall. Hard. I can’t really say why, but today I just couldn’t remember anything that we’d learned last week and I was totally overwhelmed with all of the rules and agreements in the language. I was mixing up my “hiki’s” with “hili’s” and my “wa’s” with “ya’s”. Sheesh! We have a dialogue to memorize tonight and I’ve just barely gotten a grasp of it. I know that these feelings and frustrations are not unusual to learning any new language and I know that I will climb this wall and keep going. But man, it’s hard. I just have to keep telling myself that I’m not the first person, nor the last, to learn this language. I WILL do it!

In the meantime, in addition to studying I’m trying to keep my body active by exercising and playing Frisbee, reading a ton of books and watching DVDs. Yesterday I started watching the TV series Glee. I’ve only watched 2 episodes so far, but I have the distinct feeling that this show may just be the thing that gets me through language school.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Lisa’s Pride

This past weekend we went to the house of a fellow MKLMer and a Maryknoll Sister to help them with a program for children with HIV. The program is called Lisa’s Pride and is named after Sister Marion’s family member who died in the states of complications from gallbladder surgery in 2005. We had a great time on Saturday playing games, putting together puzzles and jumping rope with the kids. The program keeps track of the medical needs of the children, gives referrals to the family and provides nutritious foods for them to take home each month. Us students practiced our limited Kiswahili, but I still felt like it was not enough to actually communicate. I look forward to being able to speak a bit more with the kids and their adult caregivers in our future visits to the program.

Me & Caitlin turning rope

Chris playing TZ checkers

Chris playing checkers w/ a child who is deaf

After the program was over, Liz and Marion thanked us for our help by serving us the best lasagna dinner ever! They even gave us dessert! What a treat!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Rest in Peace, Juanita

Chris's Grandmom died last night. She's been ill and on hospice, so it was not unexpected. Chris wrote a very nice blog post and tribute to her over at his blog.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

My First Weird Food Experience

Soursop. We had this fruit for lunch the other day. It was cut in circular segments, like you’d slice a loaf of bread. It’s got a tough green skin with spikes on it. And the fruit inside is slimy and sort of stringy. The flavor is really, really sweet and very floral, with a hint of sour as well. It sort of tasted like I was eating perfume. I’m not a huge fan of it on its own, but when I ate it with watermelon it was much better. The other fruit sort of cut the sweet fragrance of the soursop. I definitely think it’d be good with yogurt and other fruit in a shake, so once we’re on our own I may try it that way.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


I have been reading daily reflections by Henri Nouwen and I ran across the following passage about making choices. It reminded me of a conversation between me and a fellow missioner back in New York. We were talking about the concept of things happening for a reason. I’ve never been one to subscribe to the line of reasoning that “everything happens for a reason” because there are just too many senseless, awful things in the world. Poverty, untimely death, suffering, injustice.

I would much rather subscribe to the following thought. It allows me to remember that I can’t control everything in life, but I always have a choice in how I handle the good and the bad that comes my way.

Choices. Choices make the difference. Two people are in the same accident and severely wounded. They did not choose to be in the accident. It happened to them. But one of them chose to live the experience in bitterness, the other in gratitude. These choices radically influenced their lives and the lives of their families and friends. We have very little control over what happens in our lives, but we have a lot of control over how we integrate and remember what happens. It is precisely these spiritual choices that determine whether we live our lives with dignity.
-Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Things That I’m Excited About Right Now-all having to do with windows

We’ve swapped our bedroom with our study room at Makoko, so our bedroom is now the corner room with double the windows, double the breeze and double the sunlight. Brilliant.

The birds are happily chirp chirp chirping outside the window.

The smell of dinner is wafting through the windows and it smells like fresh baked bread. And although the bread here leaves a lot to be desired (it’s your standard, cardboard-ish American homemade white bread, which I guess is better than store-bought white bread, but miles away from the crusty Italian loaf I’d give my right arm for), when I start to smell dinner and homemade bread, my salivary glands start working overtime and I get really excited at the possibility of dinner. The food here is tasty, but simple. I’ve yet to get bored with the lack of spices, olive oil or pasta. So my mind starts to wander at what could be on the table tonight.*

*I’ve just returned from dinner and it was pizza! And, it was not half bad. I thought that’s what I smelled earlier, but I talked myself out of it because I didn’t want to get my hopes up.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Arrived at Language School

Today we traveled by car to Musoma (about 200 km from Mwanza) to the Makoko Language School, where we’ll be living for the next 3 months. It was an easy ride up along a main paved thoroughfare and the scenery was so beautiful through the entire ride! We went along the edge of the Serengeti and saw some zebra, wildebeests, gazelles, and baboons just chilling and doing their thing along the side of the road. So cool!

The drive along the Serengeti

Zebras rolling in the dirt

This week we got to visit all of the placement sites for the new missioners, as well as have individual meetings with our future supervisors.

Me and my future supervisor outside the Caritas offices

Chris and his supervisor upon meeting the first time

It’s really exciting to hear about the cool work I’ll be able to do after language school is finished. Though I have to say, I can get easily overwhelmed when I think about the fact that I can’t speak the language, know very little about the culture, have little to no information as yet about the current gender issues in the region, and am quite scared to drive on the roads. Yikes!

I’ve been feeling kind of sick and yucky on and off throughout the week and I’m still not sleeping totally well through the night. But I think I’ll start to even out a bit now that we’re at language school and I will be able to establish more of a routine. And, one of my major accomplishments for the week is learning how to pee in a squat toilet without it splashing all over my feet. Baby steps, people, baby steps.

We haven’t had a chance to take any picture of the school, but we’ll be sure to do that in the coming weeks. Also, click on any any of the pictures in this post to see the rest of the pictures I've uploaded onto Flickr (that is, if Flickr would speed up and load my pictures!)

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Newspaper Articles

Not to toot our own horns, but I thought I’d mention that Chris and I have had some press lately about our move to Tanzania. Right before we left the US, 3 newspapers interviewed us. So far 2 of them have gone to press.

The Columbia Star*
The Vicksburg Post (You have to have an account to view the V’burg Post so I’ll cut and paste the full text of the article below.)

*There are several mistakes in the Columbia Star article. Oh well!

On a mission: City native, wife follow ‘calling’ to Tanzania
by Pamela Hitchins
Jan 02, 2012.
The year 2012 is not just a new year for Vicksburg native Christopher Reid. It’s a time of many “news” — new job, new home, new language, new country, new continent.

Reid, 35, a 1995 graduate of Warren Central High School, and his wife Katie, 33, a native of Philadelphia, have signed on with Maryknoll Lay Missioners, a Roman Catholic organization dedicated to living and working in poor communities in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

The Reids arrived Friday in Tanzania, on the east coast of Africa, where for the next 3 1/2 years they will bring their backgrounds in social work and community involvement to work primarily with women in the country’s second largest city, Mwanza, located on Lake Victoria.

“It is a leap of faith, with some pretty big unknowns,” Chris Reid said in an interview at the Highway 61 Cafe. “Will I be able to learn the language? Will they even want to talk with me? Will I be able to make a connection with them?”

On the whole, though, the Reids are excited and happy to be on their way to do the work they’ve trained, prayed and hoped to do.

“Even on a bad day it will still be interesting,” Chris Reid said.

Family members say he’s right for the challenge.

“I don’t really want him to go, because he’ll be away for so long, but they have to go,” said his mother, Patricia Reid. “It’s their calling.”

“My brother’s my best friend,” said Erica Reid Gerdes. “I’ve learned so much from him throughout my life. It’s difficult knowing I won’t be able to see him and talk to him as often as I might like, but I’m still learning from him — to not hold back, to take risks, to follow the passions I have, as well.”

At Warren Central, Chris Reid played trumpet in the Big Blue Band and was president of the art club before going on to Hinds Community College and earning a degree in graphic arts. Katie, raised in Philadelphia, got a bachelor’s degree from New York University.

Both Chris and Katie have a record of community and social service. They met in 2001 when they were members of AmeriCorps NCCC in Denver. For Chris, raised a Baptist, it was also a time of spiritual seeking and discovering the Catholic church, he said.

At the same time, some pivotal reading, like Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible,” got him interested in Africa, and Bible studies and Catholic instructional classes he attended sparked his desire to work for social causes.

“I was really struck by the stories of the people that were down in the dirt and working to help others,” Chris Reid said. “Yes, the history of the church, the hierarchy, these things were interesting, too, but it was the social justice that I found inspiring. It struck a nerve with me, and here we are six or seven years later actually going to do the same thing.”

Katie Reid’s path was a bit more direct.

“I remember from an early age wanting to do social justice work,” she said. “I also remember from an early age wanting to move to Africa. That’s how I ended up with a major in social work.”

Following their Americorps service, they were married in Cape May, N.J., and then moved to South Carolina where each earned master’s degrees at the University of South Carolina, Columbia, and compiled extensive resumes of social work, including homelessness councils, sexual trauma victims, mental health agencies and juvenile justice programs.

Chris converted to Catholicism as he and Katie married — not because he had to, the couple said, but because of an authentic, from-the-heart response. They began looking for ways to serve overseas, though the illness and death of Chris’ father, David Reid, such a mainstay at the 61 Cafe that his hat still hangs over the door, intervened. The couple finally was able to sign on with Maryknoll this year.

“We told them, ‘We want Africa, but we are so committed to this work, you can put us anywhere,” Chris Reid said. “That’s how called we are. Maryknoll also sends missioners to Asia and South America, and they could have sent us somewhere else. But when I interviewed, it worked out to be Africa. We got all of it. We got exactly what we wanted.”

Maryknoll calls its workers “missioners,” not “missionaries,” and their focus is not overtly evangelistic, Chris Reid said. They respect the culture of the people and do not try to change them or effect a religious conversion. Missioners simply live among them, helping where they can.

His Maryknoll trainers told Chris that when he and Katie are able to let go of the idea of “I’m going to change the world,” that’s when they will actually start being effective, he said.

“Lower your expectations,” he said they were told. “You are an accompanist, accompanying people in their stories.”

Their first task will be attending an intensive residential language school for three months where they will learn Swahili, and then they will have a two- to three-month initiation period at their jobs, mostly honing their language skills.

The Reids will not know exactly what their duties will be until they are knee-deep into them, but Maryknoll had to provide a general job description in order for them to get visas.

Katie will be working with the Catholic Diocese of Mwanza in programming, focusing on gender-based projects like support for single mothers, gender and HIV/AIDS, and women and agriculture. Chris will work with the Buswelu Women’s Cooperative, where groups of 10 women to 15 women work on income-generating projects, he said.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Introduction to TZ and Mwanza

We’re coming to the end of our 3rd day in Mwanza and I’m just now feeling like I have the brainpower and energy to write a real blog post. It’s been a terrific few days, but the jet-lag really got me, plus we’ve been pretty much on the go the whole time.

Now that I’m sitting down to write this I feel like I’m at a loss as to say what exactly we’ve been doing. I think everyone probably expects these amazing stories and moving pictures that describe our experience. But the first few days have mostly been filled with getting settled in and acquainted with the area.

We’ve taken walks around the surrounding neighborhoods, gone into downtown, done a little shopping.

Getting veggies
Here’s David standing to the side as our host (not pictured) buys some fruit at the closest market.

For those who don’t know, Tanzania has amazing fresh fruit and vegetables. Tomatoes, mangoes, avocados, cucumbers, pineapple, papayas. All for really cheap. So, needless to say, the food is amazing. Each night our hosts have been making a salad of sorts out of finely chopped cabbage, carrots, tomatoes and cucumber with a dressing that is to die for. It’s almost like a smoothie with purred avocado and dill. My favorite food so far, so yummy!

M&G's house
G&M's house
Here are some shots of the house we’re staying in. It’s a pretty typical moderate income house.

The neighborhood is in a “suburb” of sorts in the outskirts of downtown Mwanza. Mwanza is the second largest city in TZ, so the population is pretty high where we are. We’re surrounded by shops and houses, just like any suburban/urban area you’d have in the US. However, you can’t fairly compare this neighborhood to one in the states. It’s the developing world, so the infrastructure is just not there. The “roads” off the main thoroughfare are all dirt and rutted. There aren’t sidewalks, just paths through the dirt or grass. Cows, chickens, birds, and goats roam around or are tied to the side of the roads. And it’s the rainy season so there’s a lot of water flowing down culverts or sitting in large, muddy puddles on the roads.

Walking in the neighborhood
Here’s a pretty good shot of us walking down a street near the house with shops in the background.

Down the road from M&G's house
And here’s the road that leads to the house, you can actually see the house in the background.

Last night we had a great time with some of the larger MK society (2 sisters, 2 priests and a brother), as well as all the current missioners in Mwanza. We all got together for dinner and drinks and then played games and put together puzzles. To be honest, I was so tired I could barely make conversation. So when our hosts said they wanted us to put together puzzles and play games I was a little less than thrilled. But it actually helped me to focus and I ended up having a really good time.

The New Years party
The party is raging!

The New Years party
Chris engaged in conversation, what a champ!

Joanne playing the game on New Years
Playing games.

I would’ve put down bets that we all would have been passed out well before midnight. But after our guests left around 10:00 we got on the Internet and then right before midnight we started hearing quite a clamoring outside. There were kids running up and down the streets singing, hooting, and banging on pots and plastic drums. So we headed out to the yard to join them. It was so cute, all these giggling kids yelling and singing. I wish I had a picture of them, but it was so dark it wouldn’t have come out anyway.

Tomorrow we start our official orientation schedule of full days getting acquainted with the region and our sites. As a group we will all go to each person’s work site, so I’m looking forward to seeing where we’ll be working (at least for the first little bit of our time here).

Happy New Year to everyone!