Monday, March 26, 2012

Charity Home in Kigera

Yesterday we had the opportunity to visit a village called Kigera where a Maryknoll priest, Mike Bassano, works. Fr. Mike assists at the House of Compassion, which is a home for people with physical and mental disabilities as well as orphaned children. This home only serves those people who are destitute or otherwise abandoned by all family. It's quite a unique type of place in this country, as families are the main caregivers of the sick. People come from all over Tanzania to live here.

The charity home from afar

Words cannot describe the experience of visiting this place. For sure, it's a really tough place to live. Mike offhandedly mentioned that the water pipes had been broken and they'd been without water all week*. There is little privacy because all 70+ people (plus chickens, ducks, cats) share a compound. It's dusty and hot and the accommodations are spartan, at best. And the stories of how people ended up here are heart-wrenching.

Fr. Mike gives us a tour of the dispensary onsite
Fr. Mike gives a tour of the compound and the dispensary, which is open to residents of the home as well as people from the surrounding remote village.

But at the same time, it's a beautiful place with smiling faces and a lively spirit. There are few places I've been where I can say I actually "felt" the presence of God, but this was surely one of them. Fr. Mike exudes such a lively spirit, flitting around, picking up kids, kissing them on the cheeks, making rapid-fire jokes in Swahili. The residents play music all day so the courtyard is filled with the sounds of song. And people sit or mill about the courtyard, sometimes singing, sometimes dancing, sometimes chatting with friends. The kids are passed around from resident to resident, everyone taking a hand at helping one another.

It was such an amazing experience!

This was a common scene. Many of the kids here are abandoned, so they don't get a lot of affection or attention. They immediately came running to hold hands/be picked up.
The kids don't get much affection because many of them are without parents, so we took turns carrying or holding hands with the kids.

Chris holding a 12 year old (!) boy.
They think this boy is 12 or 13 years old. He doesn't speak.

The windmill that pumps water from Lake Victoria to the home
A windmill pumps water from Lake Victoria to the compound.

David shows a resident his camer. This guy LOVED to take pictures.
David shows a man, named "Baba Yo" (because those are the only words he can say), how to work his camera. Baba Yo LOVED taking pictures and took any opportunity to do so. He wasn't too bad either! In the background Caitlin and I tickle a little girl.

A FAB member talks to a woman who is crippled and blind.
One of our guests from America talks to a resident. This woman is blind and crippled. She crawls on the floor to get anywhere.

The people were trilled that we had come out to visit them. Visitors in Tanzania are considered a blessing, and certainly there are few visitors that come out to the Charity Home. But, honestly, I feel like I was the one who received the blessings yesterday. Any difficulties that I may encounter in life vastly pales in comparison to anything these folks have experienced. And yet, they see the blessings in their life and are grateful.

It was truly an amazing day.

Our fellow MKLMers wrote a blog post about the day too and posted some pictures. Feel free to visit their site to read about their thoughts on the visit.

*It's quite common for people to cut pipes to either steal water or the pipe itself.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


Folks may be happy to know that Chris and I got out this weekend to belatedly celebrate our dating anniversary. We had a great time just sitting and relaxing at a cafe. And we ate a cupcake. So. Good. If we had more money on us I'd have gotten a *real* coffee too. I've really got to get better about dealing with an all-cash economy.

(I'm going to post this picture, even though I look like a wobbly-eyed freak show.)

In person does my one eye look that much bigger than the other!??

We took several pictures like this and I looked wobbly-eyed in all of them. So then we took another where I could hide my deformity.

Hiding one eye behind Chris because my eyes looked lop-sided in the first picture.

Saturday afternoon we went to Lisa's Pride for the last time before we're finished with language school. It was a fairly hot day, so we treated the kids to water balloons. Man! It's amazing what a fun time you can have with toys that cost less than $1.

The Lisa's Pride kids playing with water balloons

Thursday, March 22, 2012

What we *thought* was for lunch today

One traditional Tanzanian dish, daga, consists of small fish stewed together and then eaten with rice or ugali. When we saw these drying out back today we thought that was for lunch today. Thursday lunches are usually traditional Tanzanian fare here at language school. So why not?

What we thought was for lunch today, but ended up not

What we thought was for lunch today, but ended up not

But that's not what was served today. I won't completely miss out on this meal, though, because I hear that the employees at my office in Mwanza cook and eat daga together quite often.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Pictures of language school

I decided today that I'd not taken enough pictures lately, so today I carried my camera around at school and grabed a few shots of teachers. I uploaded them on my Flickr account, but here are a few:

Chris says "Welcome to classroom G"
Chris says "Welcome to Darasa (Classroom) G!"

Mwalimu Sylvester
Mwalimu Sylvester teaches us "hadithi" (or stories). He is what the Tanzanians call "Mzee" (older person) and they mean that with a high level of respect.

Mwalimu Stephano
Mwalimu Stephano teaches us "sarufi" (or grammar). He is recently engaged and will be married in August.

Mwalimu Joseph
Mwalimu Joseph is one of 2 "mazoezi" (exercise) teachers. He also works with me 2 afternoons a week on one-on-one dialogue. He always has lots of questions about America and American culture.

Mwalimu Daniel
Mwalimu Daniel is our 2nd "mazoezi" teacher. He often likes to ask us pronunciation questions about American English.

Monday, March 19, 2012

What's life like at language school?

Stacks of vocab flash cards

The first stack are the vocab words that I know backwards and forwards; the second stack are the words I know but not all-too-well; and the third stack are the words I don't know at all. I'm glad that the first stack has consistently remained bigger than the other two. Of course, that third stack gets bigger every day as we are constantly starting new chapters with tons of new vocab words.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Sorry, Dear. Happy Anniversary Anyway.

Today, St. Patty's Day, is the hubby and my 11 year dating anniversary. We had sweet plans to steal away for the afternoon and have some alone time out on the town. But, alas, my body had other plans, namely for me to be sick and lay like a slug for 2 days on our bed. I can't even rotate from bed to couch like I would have in our house in SC because all we have here is the bed. So I'm hogging it all for my sick self, vegging out to episodes of LA Ink*, wasting time on the internet, and sleeping. I've never been known for my romantic side, but I seriously blew it this time.

And, don't worry, folks, it's not malaria. Just a head cold and I seem to be on the mend. I should be up and mobile again by tomorrow.

*Thanks again, Erica and Fuzzy, for sending the DVDs!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

What’s in an Identity?

Let me start out this blog post by saying that I am in no way claiming to be the slightest bit cool or hip. I am quite aware of the fact that I’m a pretty big dork and on a good day I can barely get myself dressed. I’m okay with that. But I think most of us can agree that in order to survive and be happy with who we are as people, everyone has to have some illusion that they think themselves interesting or cool. We all shape our identities in different ways, whether it’s comprised by the way we dress, who our friends are, what we do for a living, where we live, hobbies, etc, or all of the above. Or, maybe it’s a sense of what we want and strive to be. Whatever, you get my drift.

At 33 (almost 34!) years old I feel like I’ve gained a pretty good sense of my own identity. Or, at least I thought I did. But recently since I’ve given up most every possession I owned, moved away from all my friends and family, quit my job, etc., I find myself sort of in a new identity crisis. I mean, what makes me me? And, this hit me in the oddest of ways. I find myself watching burned copies of TV shows and I do what many people probably do, I pick out the things I see that I like and could see myself doing, wearing, buying, etc. Even if in reality I’ll never own any of the things I see, I always enjoy looking at stuff and picking out what I like. “Oh, I like that shirt,” I think. Or “that’s a cute haircut.” So I’m doing this the other night while watching a show and then I remember that I’m living in Tanzania and I don’t have access to pretty much any of those things. I can’t just go to Target and pick up a new outfit or go online and find a great sale to update my wardrobe. And not only that, even if I had access to these things I like, I might not even be able to wear that shirt or have that certain style because it’s too low-cut for this culture or it would be seen as totally inappropriate here. And it all just kind of makes me sad, like I can’t be who I want to be. But then I think, well that’s really stupid and superficial. The way I dress or my style (more accurately, my lack of style) doesn’t make me me. So, what gives?

I have given up so many little and big things to do this one gigantic thing that is living and working in Tanzania. And yes, I’m sure my “Tanzania experience” will certainly add to my sense of self and identity. But because of all the things I’ve given up to be here, to have this one big identity marker, I find myself rattling around in the emptiness. I feel a little anchor-less.

I’m sure that in time, as I get used to my new life, I’ll solidify my “Tanzanian identity” and I’ll move right along as if nothing ever changed. But for now I’m trying to embrace the emptiness, as difficult as that is, and listen to its messages for me.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Nine to Five (part 2)

Yesterday was technically my second day visiting my work site this week, but it was actually my first day literally in the office, since I spent the previous day out in the rural areas.

I pretty much worked from 9:00-3:30 and a large majority of my day was done in Swahili. Sheesh! What a tough day! I spent a lot of the day with a woman who works in the Women's Desk, Hilda. She is the first staff in my department that I've met. (The woman I mentioned meeting on my first day at the job site, Emelia, is a college intern and she has only worked in the office for 1 month, so I'm not really counting her.) Hilda speaks almost no English, so our conversations were mostly done in Swahili. I managed to meet with her for a good hour before we reached a point where I felt concerned I might be either missing parts of what she was saying or misunderstanding some of the finer details. Once we reached that point we called in Emilia to help translate whenever I felt I needed it.

I am really proud of the fact that I survived a day like this. Not that the women weren't totally helpful and really understanding. I mean, I keep imagining what it would be like if the roles were reversed and a foreigner came into my office at my previous employment in the States saying she didn't speak the language but she wanted to help. We would've said "Thanks, but no thanks" and that would be that. Instead of kicking me out or making me feel like an idiot for not speaking the language, these ladies welcomed me with open arms and really helped me out. They spoke slowly and simply so that I could understand what they were saying. They patiently waited while I pulled my new vocabulary words out of the recesses of my brain. And, when we had nothing else to talk about, we sat down to tea! I would've had lunch with them as well, but my boss, Paul, wanted to take me out to lunch, which was also really sweet.

All things considered, I think the day was a success. I learned a little about the office and the work they do. I got to know the staff a bit. And I confirmed my belief that I have a long way to go in my Swahili before I can really do much more than "survive" a day in the office!

P.S. Here are some pictures from my trip out to the village on Tuesday.

A damn built by the Food for Work Program in rural Lake Zone
Here is a dam that was built by the Caritas Office using Food for Work Funds

George x2 in front of a Damn
Here are two of my colleges, both named George, standing in front of the dam. This area was so beautiful, but there's just no way to capture the beauty on camera.*

*Have you noticed that black spot in the bottom left side of all our pictures for the past little while? Yeah, what a pain! A piece of sediment or something has gotten into our camera lens and is showing up in all our pictures. Luckily, some family of our fellow MKLMer are coming to TZ in April. So, we've ordered a new camera and had it shipped to them in the US so they can bring it to us when they come. Not really what I thought would happen 2 months into our journey. But we're rolling with it.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Nine to Five (part 1)

Okay, so I'm not quite working a nine to five job yet*, but this week I've had the opportunity to spend 2 days in my future work site. We're on midterm break from language school and we're back in Mwanza to take care of some biashara (that is, business), including not just visiting our work sites, but also house hunting, learning to drive a manual car on the left-hand side of the road**, and getting our drivers license. Needless to say, it's been a jam-packed week!

Yesterday I joined forces with George O. (a fellow MKLMer/civil engineer who works in my office), Tanzanian George (our coworker), and a colleague from the women's desk (my future office). George-squared had to go out into the rural area to check on some dams that they were having constructed/maintained with help from the Food for Work Program. While out there, they also wanted to visit a priest who has opened a boarding school for unwed teen mothers. The school has no water, so the priest wanted a consult from the Georges on how he could engineer a water system for the school and dorms. George O. thought it would be interesting if my colleague and I tagged along to see the school and talk with the girls. Plus, I could see some of the rural area, as well as get a glimpse of the work they do in the other divisions of my office.

The ride out into the rural area was so beautiful! Words cannot capture the beauty. Nor could my camera. It's the rainy season, so everything is green and lush. There are beautiful rocks and boulders littering the landscape. Kids walk cows, goats, and sheep down the road and through the fields. Women in brightly colored cloths work in the fields along the horizon.

I posted some pictures over at Flickr of the scenery and the dams we visited, but the website's being weird and I can't grab them to paste on the blog. So I'll have to do do that later.

The school we visited yesterday was really interesting. The priest who started it is young, having been ordained in 2009. He's in charge of 2 rural parishes, each with over a dozen outstations. Yet he's managed to open this school for 48 teen girls. He's partway through the process of expanding the school and constructing new buildings. His vision is for the school to house several hundred students. This is quite a unique concept in this country. Unwed teens often are forced to drop out of school either because of the shame or because they don't have the time to go to school anymore. School is only required*** up to grade 7 here, so kids often drop out after that anyway. And girls are expected to do a large brunt of the housework. So having a child on top of that is usually a guarantee that it's the end of schooling for a teen mom.

My colleague and I visited a classroom and briefly met the girls. They were all about 17-20 years old. They were very interested in having us come out and speak to them in the future and do programming on gender equality for women. I'm not sure if I will end up doing any projects out there in the future, but it certainly was an educational experience just to go out and see what's being done.

Okay, I'm super exhausted and this is a long enough post as it is. More on day 2 at the job site later!

*Other than learning the language, which in and of itself is a 24 hour job!

**...while navigating in traffic with tons of pedestrians in/around the road, bikes, pikipiki (motorcycles) w/ passengers riding on the back, dalla dalla (buses) with people hanging out the window yelling, etc...

***I say "required" but there's no enforcement, so it is quite common for kids, especially in rural areas and on farms, to not be enrolled in school.