Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Mission is...


That's what they said in orientation. And close to two years in, I've found that to be totally true. If I had to summarize into one word my experience thus far, "waiting" would be it.

All that to say that we're still waiting to finalize things at the university where we hope to teach this fall. Classes started this week, but the university seems to be in no rush to get things settled. Apparently it takes about 3 weeks for the students to actually show up to class anyway. We've been out there every day so far this week and it's one tiny step closer each day. Whenever we do get our assignments, let's pray that they don't say "Can you start teaching tomorrow?" and that my class size will be smaller than 300 student (I'm not kidding!).

Saturday, September 21, 2013

International Day of Peace

Today, September 21 is the UN's International Day of Peace. I've been thinking all day about how I should write something about it and I've sort of been organizing thoughts in my head about what I wanted to say.

Then, Chris came in and told me about this: Gunmen have taken hostages in a Nairobi shopping mall. Details are still coming out as the scene unfolds but CNN is reporting that as many as 20 have been killed and 50 injured. This on the heals of the still-fresh killings in Washington, DC's Navy Yard by a lone shooter not even a week ago. I mean, really, world? What're you doing here?

I mean, of course there's violence every day, so maybe these things aren't that unusual. But it's hard not to get upset about this stuff. Both of these incidents are especially egregious and they're both close to home for me, so to speak. Things like this can just leave me feeling overwhelmed and helpless. And I know pretty much anything I say can and will sound trite and simplistic.

But what I was going to say. Before all this happened today. Or, what I was thinking of saying is that when I feel overwhelmed with the violence in the world, I try to remind myself that despite all the other reasons why violence happens (too many guns in our world, lack of support and resources for the mentally ill, lack of systems in place to recognize and stop violence before it happens, etc., etc., etc., which I'm not going to talk about now), is that all I can really control 100% of the time is myself. And on many days even that is questionable.

But really, I have to ask myself, "how hard is my heart?" "How much respect do I have for the other humans around me?" I mean, it's people who are doing this after all. Individuals. One by one. Who choose to take life. Who walk into a shopping mall and kill another person. I blush to admit that the other day I got so angry at a group of kids at our gate yelling at me and being completely disrespectful that I threatened to hit them with a shovel. Now, before you think I'm a complete monster, I would never do this. Somehow at that moment in my overly-angry mind, I got so flustrated at not being able to communicate and at the kids' blatant disregard of my telling them to go away, it crossed my mind that kids here are beaten so often at home that I wondered if I threatened to beat them, maybe they'd listen and run away. I'm the first to admit, TOTALLY WRONG APPROACH! But it just shows how quickly someone (even someone whose career is violence prevention!) when he/she feels powerless can resort to violence to get their way. It ALMOST made sense. Except that it totally made no sense at all. (And luckily I realized that fact immediately!)

So I'm left reminding myself that peace starts within me. I have an obligation to be respectful to people. To value them, no matter how awful a person I might think they are. Or no matter how angry I might be at them at the moment. Or how powerless I am in a situation. Respect for a person can't be something that waxes and wanes at my own whim.* It's a slippery slope and it's my responsibility to stay on the up side. That's really what I can do to keep peace. What about you? What do you to keep peace in our world?

In the meantime, I continue to pray for the victims of violence, for those who have resorted to the extremes of violence to get their way and for movements in our world to create just and peaceful nations for everyone.

*Of course, that doesn't mean being a punching bag either and taking people's abuse!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Mabatini's New Church

The parish that Chris and I attend is one that was started 10 years ago by a Maryknoll Father, Fr. Jim Eble*. For the past year or more the parish has been constructing a larger church on the spot where the old church was. It's been a several-phased process, while they built 1/2 of the new church next to the old church, which we continued to use. Then, we switched to the new half while they tore down the old church and built the second half of the new in it's place. Then both sides were brought together and we were using it while they continued the finishing touches (floors, walls, ceiling, alter, etc.). That's not an unusual thing here-to live, work, pray, shop, etc in a construction zone, while things are being built or until the money can be raised for things to be built.

I wish I'd taken some before pictures of the church, but stupidly, I didn't. But check out the new, beautiful building!

The outside. The parish is called Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Here's the outside. "Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ," it's says at the top, the name of our church. I'm sure we'll do some gardens or something around the stairs. Also, you can't really see it in this shot, but there's a huge wheelchair ramp up the side. This concept is totally foreign here, where there are no sidewalks and everything is dirt and gravel. Too bad we can't extend the ramp across the whole city so people could get around easier!

The doors are very big and carved with scenes of the transfiguration of Christ.
The doors were carved by a local artist. They depict scenes of the transfiguration.

The alter. The cross was just purchased in Kenya.
The alter. There's also a huge (for a Catholic church) baptismal font made out of the same stone to the right of the alter.

A view of the inside. Hopefully in the future we will get new pews.
A view of the whole church. We have since put up pictures around the walls for Stations of the Cross. The pictures were bought in Ethiopia and they're beautiful.

The congregation blessing Father Jim, the Parish Father and founder of the church. Jim has gone to the US for a few years for rest and study.
A view of the inside of the church when everyone was blessing Fr. Jim at his goodbye Mass. They extended their hands and sang the National Anthem for TZ. It was really touching.

It's really interesting and amazing that we now have such a beautiful church for the community. They raised the money for it themselves and they take a lot of pride and ownership in it (as they should!). This is a really poor area of Mwanza and people barely have a roof over their head, let alone electricity or bathroom facilities. This church rivals the beauty and size of the one that is in the wealthiest section of Mwanza; it has a sound system, lights, and there are flush toilets out back. They totally deserve this! I hope that when they come to the parish they will feel a semblance of peace and tranquility while they are praying and that they will understand that they deserve comfort and safety just like everyone else.

*Fr. Jim, actually just resigned as the Parish Father and returned to the states on Sunday. It'll be a great loss, but change is necessary and I'm sure that good growth will come out of it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Maybe It's Enough

You might have noticed my kind of down-in-the-dumps post from the other day. Well, today I was reading a post of a Christian blogger who I recently stumbled upon and I found it kinda helpful in my question to "find the perfect job here in TZ" (or anywhere, for that matter).

Let's Be Ordinary. Let's Be Extravagant. By Moma Monk, Micha Boyett 

You can click on the link if you want to read her whole post, but my favorite part is when she says:
I’m convinced that when we carry guilt for the great things we are not doing, we miss out on the Ordinary and Beautiful Things God already has for us to do. If we are only following Christ when we do Big Things, we have set our ambitions too small. Because it’s all big. It’s all radical.

It is radical to do the small, daily work of keeping the suffering of others before my eyes. And it is also radical to remember that the pain of malnutrition and disease is real and tangible for so many people in this beautiful and terrifying world. It is ordinary but profound to remember that I am among the privileged. (Emphasis original)
Maybe this gives me a little hope that just being here is enough. And by "here," I don't mean TZ per se. I just mean here here, where ever that may be. Maybe I don't need to (and shouldn't expect to) do amazing, big things where ever I am. Maybe I am doing something great in the small things. Which actually is a good thing for me to keep in mind when the next person says to me, "WOW! You live in Africa. You're so amazing." Because when people say that (and they say it more often than I'd like to admit) I feel like the biggest fraud in the world. In my mind everyone else is doing much more amazing-er things than I am or ever will. So maybe it's good advice for all of us to keep in mind.

"It's all a big deal. It's all radical." We are doing the small work of God in our daily lives and we are doing amazing things. All of us.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Congrats, Iron Man!

Fuzzy competed in Iron Man yesterday in Wisconsin and we couldn't be more proud of him. And it's not only us either.

Go, Fuzzy, Go!
I mean, we're family, of course we'd support and cheer on our brother-in-law.

The neighborhood kids.
But who knew that the neighborhood kids would be so supportive of him too? Thanks guys, that's so sweet.

And our Maryknoll community! Of course, they're all runners, so they understand.

But again, I was surprised that the little girls from church, when they came over they were so supportive!

Okay, in all seriousness, the Tanzanians had no idea what I was talking about when I explained it, but they were very excited to have their picture taken and sent to America. So, that counts.

Congrats Iron Man!
We're all still so proud of you, Fuz- I mean, Iron Man. Great job!

Natafuta Kazi

I've been reluctant to post about this I guess because I didn't want people to think I'm out here doing absolutely nothing, having a 3 1/2 year vacation. Also because we're currently fundraising for our new projects and honestly, folks, the money is going to be used for projects! But once I post this you might question why you should help us (me) out.

But if I'm to be perfectly honest, I'm quite bored. And disappointed. And not really sure why I'm here. We're still waiting to settle things at the university where we hope to teach this fall and the little voice in the back of my head has started to ask, "What happens if that doesn't work out?" When I left Kivulini* I thought things with other ministries would fall into place a lot quicker, but the reality is that I've basically been doing very little work for the past month. I mean, I always have things to do--boil drinking water, cook everything from scratch, go to the market. You know, the normal, time-consuming things that I've gotten used to fitting into a full-time work schedule. I've been trying to make an effort to be with Tanzanians more, visiting people or having them over. And I do have a bit of work work, what with planning and developing the girls' program I'll be running in the parish, as well as Maryknoll office work. But still, I've got a lot of downtime.

I'm usually pretty good at filling downtime but when it gets to be too much I start to feel depressed and a bit rudderless. I keep reminding myself that once everything I've been planning comes through I'll have a very full plate. But still, it's hard to feel fulfilled NOW, when everyone I talk to at home is actually doing something fun/challenging/interesting.

Today I got to thinking about the people who are always approaching me looking for work. "Natafuta kazi," they say. (I'm looking for work.) EVERYONE in TZ is looking for work. Even if someone has a job they're constantly looking for something that'll pay more, that'll have better working hours, that'll be closer to their house. And for others who are completely without paying work, I sometimes see them sitting outside a storefront chatting with neighbors or just hanging around. And I'm ashamed to admit that on occasion I've thought, "Why don't they DO something? Anything. They could find work if they looked."

But what a hypocrite I am to think that! First, TZ has a serious problem with a lack of jobs, Mwanza in particular. Plus, most ordinary people aren't educated, have few skills and little resources to even seek out work. And here I am, educated, with some skills, tons of resources and advantages, and I can't even find work. Granted, I'm looking for very specific work and something that will be meaningful to me. (That concept is almost completely foreign here and that's a separate blog post for another day.) But still, I have a sneaking suspicion we're in the same boat, y'all.

So maybe, if anything, by having this waiting period, by experiencing these feelings of self worthlessness (is that even a thing?) and recognizing how much not working does to my sense of lacking personal and societal accomplishment, maybe I'm one step closer to understanding just a little bit more about how an average Tanzanian feels in their struggles to find work. And maybe I  understand even more the need to build people's skills, their self esteem and to raise their level of education so that they are more marketable and better able to find those things in life that will make them understand how valuable they are.

*OH! Did I mention in this space that I left Kivulini? I've talked about it in newsletters and other places but now that I've just gone back and reread my posts for the past month, I guess I never clearly stated it here. I think I was waiting for everything to fall into place. Haha, how silly that thought seems now. Anyhoo, yeah, I left Kivulini. I'm starting the girls group mentioned above. Chris and I are hoping to start teaching at a local university and we also will most likely be helping said university to develop and start a social work degree program. There's also a little something else I might be doing to help with another program but I'm not talking about that yet because it's way less formal and I don't want to count my chickens before they hatch (which I'm afraid I maybe did already what with leaving my job for all this stuff that's still in the air. Sigh).

Monday, September 02, 2013

2nd Annual Lake Eyasi Camping Trip

Some might remember that last year we took a community trip out to visit a Maryknoll parish in the village of Ndoleleji and then out further into the bush into an area with the nomadic Watatulu people, with whom Fr. Dan Ohman has worked for many decades. We were fortunate that Dan's health held out and he agreed to take a group of us out there again for a week. I suspect that this might be the last time we're able to do it with Dan, as he's slowing down a bit and getting a little shaky. But we might've said that last year too, so we will see what the future holds.

The trip was pretty much a repeat of last year-1 day drive to Ndoleleji and spend the night at the parish, 1 day drive to Lake Eyasi and camp out there 2 nights, 1 day drive to Magalata to visit a small Christian community and camp out there, 1 day drive back. It's a lot of driving and even more dust, but as always, it's a wonderful experience and well worth the effort. This year the group consisted of 1 MK father, 1 MK sister and 7 MK lay missioners and 1 guest.

I put a bunch of pictures up on Flickr, which you can check out here. Below are some of the highlights. Also, here's last year's pictures, in case you're interested in comparing.

The group outside Dan's place in Ndoleleji.
Group shot (plus Fr. Hung and Fr. Mike, who weren't able to go out into the bush with us) enjoying sundowners at Ndoleleji.

Beautiful sunet while we enjoyed our sundowner.
Sunset at Ndoleleji. This is what Africa's supposed to look like, right?

We stopped to ask direction and these two Watatulu folks decided to hang on for a ride.
When we stop to ask directions we always get some tag-alongs.

Our campsite near Lake Eyasi along the rift valley.
Our campsite had a great view of the escarpment.

Our campsite was never without visitors. We are like a traveling circus to them.
Just like last year, everyone in the "neighborhood" comes out to our campsite to get a glimpse of our traveling circus.

The hike into the dry river bed.
We hiked to what people affectionately call "the baboon pools." Last year we hiked hours to get there. This year, we camped closer, so the hike way much more manageable!

Putting my dirty feet into the "baboon pools."
No one would swim with me this year, so I just settled for soaking my feet.

Chris teaching kids to throw a frisbee. It was a favorite last year.
In Magalata, Chris played with the kids to teach them frisbee. They remembered this from last year and asked for him to do it again.

Liz with Stephano and Christina.
Liz with Christina and Stephano, 2 of the Catechist's children.

Me with Lucia and Paulo's family
Me with Paolo and Lucia and their other 2 children.

Eatting dinner-a shared bowl of rice and beans. So good!
The community in Magalata are always so generous to feed us dinner and breakfast when we visit. Our dinner was a community meal of rice and beans, the rice was grown by one of the Catechists in the rainy season.

Sr. Genie watches the sun rise in Magalata.
Sr. Genie watching the sun come up in Magalata.

Dan, our fearless leader, has been working in Africa for over 50 years
Once again, thanks goes out to Dan, our fearless leader, and big ups to him for all the amazing work he's been doing in Tanzania for over 50 years!