Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Nature at Home

This morning I got a little visitor in the kitchen.

He was about the size of the nail on my pinky finger. Still scared the heck out of me at first because I didn't know what it was.

Praying mantus the size of my pinky fingernail
He was just hanging out on our grocery totebag.

Also, for the first time our little alien-looking orchids are blooming. They're just about to bust it out with some flowers. So excited!

Weird, alien orchids blooming in yard
It was kinda hard to capture the spidery offshoots for the flowers. But if you look close, you'll see the buds there.

Orchid blooming in yard
I don't know what these are called, but maybe it's tiger something.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Lunches with Friends

For the past two Sundays I've been fortunate to be invited into the homes of two different families for lunch. Hospitality plays an important role in Tanzanian culture and I think us Americans could learn a lot from their generosity and willingness to open their doors. Well, at least I can, because on the weekends I have the tendency to want to shut out the world and hide out in my home to rest for the upcoming week!

Last week Chris and I went to the house of a fellow parishioner in our church. Her name is also Katie; she's a petite, quiet, pretty woman with 3 cute little girls. Two of the girls are twins*, both about 6 years old, and the littlest is almost 3. We have seen them at church every week and the girls have become quite fans of ours, coming up after each Mass to greet us and hold our hands. Their mom has been asking us for weeks to come to their home, so we were glad to finally be able to accept the invitation. No visit to someone's home is complete without food, so on the way to the family's home from church we stopped for the mom picked up the staples. Up, up, up we climbed the hills and rocks to their 2-room house. When we arrived we met Katie's husband, who chatted with us while the mom cooked the meal outside on the porch. At one point I went outside to use the outhouse and on the way back I found the twins beckoning me to sit with them in a cool spot under a tree at the corner of the house. They truly knew the best place to sit! Not only was it much cooler there, but it also had a great view of the surrounding hills and the main road down the hill. We had such a lovely lunch of fish, ugali** and veggies. I look forward to the girls coming to the house sometime so we can teach them some of our American boardgames.

Yesterday I went to the house of a coworker who has been promising me for weeks to teach me how to make a traditional Tanzanian dish of spinach and ground peanuts. Mama Hamisi*** is the office assistant at my work, which means that she cooks lunches and chai, cleans the office, makes photocopies and does other office-related tasks. She makes some of the best spinach of anyone I've tasted and I always make a big fuss about it to her. For months she's been telling me she'll teach me to cook it if I want to come to her house one weekend. Because I'm such a homebody I've been kind of reluctant to trudge out to her house on a Saturday or Sunday. Last week she asked me again, shewing away my assertions that she might not want me over to cook during Ramadan since she's Muslim and is fasting during the month. She assured me it'd be no problem and she'd be happy to show me. So after church yesterday I drove over to her house. After introducing me to her 3 teenage daughters and 1 adult daughter (She has 8 children total and at least these 5 all live together. Again 2 of these daughters were twins), we walked down the street to the sokoni (market) to buy the necessary ingredients. Then for the next hour or so we sat in her 2-room house while she patiently taught this American girl to prepare 2 different greens dishes and ugali. Tanzanians cook on the floor and on 1-burner stoves, which are usually powered by charcoal, though Mama Hamisi's was gas-powered. I'm proud to say that I survived the experience with no cuts or burns, despite not using a cutting board or hot pads! When the food was ready I sat and ate the meal together with her daughters. It was such a wonderful experience and I felt so welcome. When we were done Mama Hamisi even sent home a little "doggy bag" for Chris to taste my culinary success.

I'm so appreciative of the people here who are so generous of what they have to give. They teach me valuable lessons about generosity of spirit and I hope I can truly embrace this openness.

*In Tanzania twins are called "Doto" and "Kulwa," regardless of whether they are boys are girls. They will have their birth names, but the oldest will be called Kulwa and the youngest Doto.

**Ugali is a staple food here and most people eat only this each day. It is a thick, stiff paste made of a corn flower and water.

***Women in Tanzania go by their kids or grand kid's name.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Court Case Resolved?

Well, that's an optimistic title for this blog post because our court case isn't quite resolved yet. But we were able to close a major chapter yesterday, just 1 day after our 1 year anniversary of the robbery. We gave our sworn testimony to the court! The short story is that it went well, they were respectful to us, we didn't have to surrender our returned items to the court and WE'RE DONE with our part!

However, there's a longer story here somewhere in this mess and I'm not even sure what that story is. As we sat at the courthouse for hours again yesterday, our 12th appearance as my husband kept reminding me, my mind couldn't help going over and over the details and our experiences from the past year. I wouldn't say we're intricately familiar with the Tanzanian court system, but by gum we're definitely more experienced and aware than we were 1 year ago.  I've got nothing to compare it to, really, because I've never been personally involved in a court case in the states. But I've helped victims of crime both in the US and in Tanzania and all throughout this process I kept thinking about them, about the girl who is being raised to believe that her opinion and voice don't count, about the woman who has been beaten and raped and humiliated for months and years on end, about the widow whose in-laws have taken her rightful property and inheritance leaving her penniless and alone. As a person with (real or perceived) money, education, power and prestige, how much better equipped am I to navigate this crazy system? And how much less able are they? In America we are led to believe that victims will be protected and that justice will be done but I know from these women's experiences and from the stories of countless others that that's not always the case. In Tanzania they don't even make that promise. It's openly acknowledged that the system is corrupt and broken. I know how frustrated and dis-empowered I have felt every time I had to take off work, drag myself down to the courthouse, wait to be acknowledged, and told to come back another day.

However, despite all of my frustrations with the court system over the past year, I will say that when we finally testified yesterday I felt respected, I felt like the accused was respected and I felt like the courts wanted to get a conviction. (The kid who is accused of committing our robbery has been sitting in prison for a year. I'd feel bad about this wondering if they got the wrong guy, except for the fact that he admitted doing it, he gave details of the inside of our house and of how he asked neighborhood kids where the white people lived. When (if?) he is finally sentenced, his served time will be subtracted from the total sentence and I think that's fair.) I was not expecting to feel so satisfied with our court experience and I certainly didn't really expect to get a conviction because I know for a fact that petty thieves in our town are working in collaboration with the police and military, that they pay off the police and judges to avoid prosecution and that they usually see very little, if any, jail time*. Yet, throughout our case I've seen a number of times when the court and the police have clearly been wanting to move forward with the case so they can get a conviction and get this kid off the street. A few months ago after appearing at the courthouse so many times, Chris and I asked the investigator if the police would drop the case so we could just move on and not worry about coming back again. He was very upset that we would want to do this and pleaded with us to continue in our efforts. He wanted a conviction, he said. And when the accused tried to ask me triangulating questions during the proceedings** or when he got saucy, the judge put him in his place, saying they'd seen him many times in the court, he knows how court proceedings are handled and his efforts to get his own way were thwarted.

It's made me wonder why they were so bent on justice this time***. The cynic in me wonders if this kid got too big for his britches. Maybe he wasn't collaborating with police or maybe he was giving them a hard time, maybe he crossed another criminal who is more snugly in the polices' pockets and they want him off the streets. Or maybe he'd been caught for another more serious crime in the past and the court didn't have enough evidence to convict him then, but now there's a stronger claim. Certainly there has to be a rational explanation!, I think, and it's scary how my mind can't be content with just having faith in the system and the desires of those in it to seek and carry out justice.

I guess I'll never know the real reason why things unfolded the way that have. And maybe I don't want or need to know. So what I can say is this, there is a system of justice here and in our case (depending on the final outcome, of course) we've seen justice done and its been relatively fair to the accused and the accusing. It make me happy. But on the other hand, it took a lot of help from friends, time, patience, education, flexibility and advocacy. So I still can't help but feel bad for those people people going through a similar process who don't have these "luxuries" in order to see their case through. How can we as a community help them to see justice done?

*I have a friend who is also going through the court system and she has seen first-hand how they work in collaboration. She, a victim, was treated like the accused when she was given the opportunity to testify before court.

**Apparently in Tanzanian courts the accused has a right to question the witnesses. Weird and frustrating when this punk a$$ kid looks you in the eyes and tries to say that we lied in our statements to the police!

***Also, this is a clear reversal of how the case started. When the kid took the stand in a preliminary hearing he completely denied all allegations and the judge (a different one) tried to say that the police coerced a statement out of the kid.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Kenya Pictures

Even though Chris and I are back to work this week, I'm still catching up on our pictures from our trip. Maybe being delayed in posting is helping me stay connected to vacation and making me feel like I'm still there? Yeah, maybe not.

As usual, I've posted my pictures on Flickr, but for now here's a sampling.

We had such a great time in Paris that we were so sad to leave. Chris decided to take one last taste of real French chocolate before we were back in Africa.

Enjoying one last bite of delicious French chocolate.
What a maroon.

The primary reason we went to Nairobi was for our doctor's checkups. The medical care in Kenya is worlds above Tanzania and we were really happy with the services we got.

Chris in Nairobi hospital
In typical Chris-Reid-fashion, he had to make the doctor's visits really count. Don't worry, he was just in for a medical test and everything checked out okay.

Despite all the medical tests, we did get in some fun stuff.

3D movie in Nairobi
Most importantly, we got to see a 3D movie! Our first movie theater experience since coming here*.

It's really big! See me at the bottom?
One day Chris and I went to the Botanical Gardens and we saw this big tree.

Love us some Ethiopian Food! (And a beer)
Even though we live only a few borders away, Mwanza has no Ethiopian food. We got our eat on, man!

Continuing our tour of old bones in every country on this vacation. In Nairobi National Museum
Continuing our experience of seeing skulls in all of the countries we visited.

More snakes. Snake Park in Nairobi National Museum
SNAKES! At Nairobi National Museum.

He doesn't care. In Nairobi National Museum
This guy didn't care...

Chris reached his limit of snakes. Snake Park in Nairobi National Museum
...but this guy sure did!

Funny side note about Kenya:

No Hooting
Good to know.

*Nairobi traffic is so bad that on the way home from the movie we sat in 2 hours of traffic. It took longer to get home than the actual run time of the movie we saw!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Paris Pictures

Our much anticipated trip to Paris has come and gone in a flash. It was such a wonderful week and there is so much to talk about. But as I already said, Erica did a really nice recap so I think I'll spare a lot of the details here.

This was both my and Chris's first trip to France, Chris's first real substantial time in Europe even. I wouldn't have put France on the top of my list for "must-see places." No offense, it's just that I guess I'm more drawn to "exotic*" and France never seemed that way to me. So I was pleasantly surprised 100-fold! Both Chris and I absolutely fell in love with Paris and we kept repeating over and over again to each other, "I could live here." "We could live here." I guess anything would feel luxurious and special after spending 18 months in a developing country, but really, y'all. Paris is amazing. You should check it out. And if you can, try to see it with amazing friends and family. That totally made the trip extra, extra fun and special.

Le meow.
Henri`, the neighborhood kitty says, "Le meow."

Gardens at Versailles
The gardens at Versailles were a beautiful place to sit and rest.

Couple of dorks.
Dorks in a park.

Arc de Triomphe
The Arc de Triomphe

The family together
Family times.

They got hitched!

Skulls, Catacombs of Paris

Lost it.
We got giddy.

Resting under the Tower.
Just another day in Paris. Ho hum.

I put up a selection of our shots of Flickr. But really, if you want to see good pictures, just skip right over to Erica's blog.

*HELLO! I live in Africa. That's an understatement.

Cat Advice?

Are you watching me?

So, I think we broke our kitten. I'm not exactly sure what's wrong with him, but it seems to be neurological. About a week ago in the middle of the night he knocked over a whole jar of sunflower oil that spilled all over the floor. That may be purely circumstantial. Chris cleaned it up, bathed the cat a few times, we moved on. But ever since then he's had trouble walking, jumping and holding his head up. It was really bad at first, he couldn't even jump up to or down from a chair without falling, literally, on his head, which only made things worse. We made sure he got lots of sleep and we kept him locked up so he couldn't jump onto anything and after a few days he seemed to get better. I mean, not better-better, but improved better. For the better part of the week he's been able to jump up and down without falling over and he's not been as wobbly as before. He eats and goes to the bathroom in the litter box, but his personality is still not quite there. He doesn't play or do kitten-like things, nor does he respond to stimuli. For example if you wave your hand in front of his face or snap, he doesn't move. But he can see because he'll follow you around the room. He's sleeping a lot and when he does, he always buries his head. He is singly focused on being in someone's lap and will meow if you don't sit down.

I called our local vet but he's out of town until Wednesday. Though honestly, I doubt he'll have any idea what's wrong and will probably just give him shots of antibiotics. Any ideas from people out there? Has anyone ever seen anything like this?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Sad Goodbye

We were sad to say goodbye to these to knuckleheads today. It's been a great visit and we miss you already! Safari njema.

Monday, July 15, 2013

France Trip

I'm so behind on blogging and probably won't catch up in the next few days. So, in the meantime hop over to Erica's blog because she's got some great pictures and a pretty all-inclusive synopsis of our trip since we spent most of the time there with them. Heck, she's done such a good job of it I might not even write my own post.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Master chef

Helping my dad in he kitchen works just like this. I just stand around and watch as he does all the work. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Vacation Continues

We're back in Mwanza. My parents met us in Rwanda last week for sight seeing and animal trekking. We got to see a bunch of gorillas and chimps, which was awesome. Our guests are in town until next week so I'll do a longer blog post then, but for now I've posted a few pictures in a set on Flickr.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Rwandan Liberation Day/US Independence Day

Today we commemorated Rwandan Liberation Day (which so happens to be the same day as the US's Independence Day) by paying a visit to another Genocide memorial. Words can't describe the sadness and horror that took place in these locations. Another reminder of the importance of dialogue, respect and tolerance. Here's to a long history of continued peace in America and Rwanda and all the countries in between. Happy 4th, y'all!