Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Living in Solidarity

If you've been following my African adventures over the past 2 years, you may have noticed that I tend to get sick a lot. Even when I was in the US, I was trying to get rid of amoeba and a urinary track infection, which followed me from TZ. I get so sick of being sick. It's one of the biggest "burdens" that I feel I face living here. I get tired of not knowing what's wrong, tired of being medicated, tired of going to the doctor's offices, tired of just feeling yucky.

I bring all of this up just to say that I'm not alone in this. Being constantly sick, constantly medicated, and constantly in the dark about why you're sick is very common for the people of Tanzania. I cannot know what it is to be Tanzania, nor can I know what it is like to live how they live, even as I live here alongside them. But from my experience of being constantly sick, I get a small glimps into the hardships that they face and I can sympathize all the more about their struggles.

Take for example Kulwa. Remember when I visited Kulwa,* the young woman who had just given birth in late November? My Lulu facilitator and I visited her again today in her family home. We had plans to visit another Lulu participant, but that didn't work out.** So, since we were in Kulwa's neighborhood, we decided to follow up with her. We have only seen her one time since our last visit because we've heard that there's been illness in the family.

When we entered the family courtyard today, we first notice an elderly bibi (grandmom) sitting on the stoop. We assume she is the grandmom who we heard had been sick, so we greet her and ask about her health. She answers that it's been "so-so," or it is as it is. As we were chatting, another woman, still a bibi but a bit younger than the first, comes out of the house. She looks in good health and has a broad smile on her face, but as she warmly greets us I realize that her stomach is swollen and distended, almost like she's pregnant although she's too old to be. She tells us she's the grandmom and the women we were just talking with is her mother (the great-grandmom of Kulwa and great-great-grandmom and Kulwa's daughter). This woman is the one who has been sick, as her swollen stomach can attest.

We enter the house and I am quickly handed Kulwa's baby girl, who is now about 3 months old. I am super happy to see that the little baby girl looks strong, is holding her head up and seems perfectly happy and healthy. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the rest of the family. In addition to Kulwa's grandmom, Kulwa herself has been sick, on and off again since giving birth. She says she's been constantly taking malaria medications, which can be detrimental to her health if she takes long-term. She's been to the clinic and they sometimes say it's malaria and other times they say it's something along the lines of "maternal fever," a sickness they believe mothers get after giving birth. We talked a while with the family, inquiring about the medications they both have been taking, what the doctors have said and their overall feeling as of late. Both patients seem resigned and don't have much faith that the doctors or the medications were helping. Instead, they say they are relying on God's intercession to heal them and have been going to church every day.

From my experience of being sick in TZ I can understand Kulwa and her grandmom's frustration with and lack of faith in the doctors here. Many of the medical professionals are under-trained, hospitals are understaffed and have outdated equipment, and the medicines can be counterfeit or expired. The system here doesn't inspire trust, nor should it. But what I am ill equipped to understand is this family's resignation that there is no solution to their problem. As an American, my culture tells me that there is an answer to any question, that if we work hard enough, we can overcome any hardship. Here in TZ, unfortunately, questions that could be answered often are not, systems that could be fixed are left to rot and ruin, and sick people like Kulwa and her grandmother who have illnesses that might be simply treated and cured are often misdiagnosed and they are left to whatever fate befalls them. And they are told that that's life, that there is nothing different or better out there, which is why they pray daily for intercession from God, because it's the only hope they know of.

I pray daily, but I don't just pray that people like me and Kulwa and her grandmom are healed. I pray and I work toward fixing a broken system, toward bringing up the people's education so that they can demand for better systems, so that they themselves can raise kids who will also be educated, more educated, and that they will be able to contribute toward fixing the broken system. It's a lot to pray for, a lot to work towards, but I know that it's possible, even if Kulwa and her family don't know it's possible. That's why I stay here, through the sickness and the medicine and the yucky feelings. I stay and I fight for Kulwa and her grandmom, who don't know what they're fighting for.

*I've changed this young lady's name.

**Things rarely work out on the first try so we've always got to be flexible and have backup plans.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Spring Ministry Newsletter

Chris and I are back in Tanzania and trying to surface from our jet lag-induced fog. In the following days I hope to put up pictures and stories and maybe even a thought or two about our trip. In the meantime, click here to download and read our latest quarterly newsletter for MKLM.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

The Best Reward After Living in Tanzania After 2 Years

We've been in the US for 2 1/2 weeks so far, which means that we're at the halfway mark. It's been a wonderful vacation and every day is like a blessing and a dream. It's hard to believe that we've been gone 2 years and it's almost even harder to believe that we still have another life in Tanzania. My mind just can't seem to grasp two such separate realities and every night I've been dreaming both in Swahili and English and they're taking place in locations that are weird combinations of America and Africa.

So far we have spent at least 2 nights each in NY, NJ, NC, GA and MS. And we are still looking forward to visits in SC, VA, NJ (again) and PA. What a great life we have!

Some constants from our visit so far:
  • Snow! It's followed us from NY to NJ and down south as well. Who decided to make our visit here in the winter!? Never again!

In Jersey City, leaving for our drive to south Jersey. Someone isn't pleased.*

The frozen bay in Cape May. Beautiful but unbearably cold!

Snowing in Charlotte.
  • Babies! Everyone's had a kid over the past 2 years. Love 'em!

Wiley chowing down on some African handicrafts. What a cute little sausage!

Lillie warming up to Unkie. Or maybe it's Unkie who's doing the warming up.

Tristan is being schooled early.
  • Amoeba! I've been sick since I left Africa and today is the very first day since getting here that I've not been medicated. Let's hope it stays that way.

In a mega-show of irony, Adam and Sarah gave us a stuffed amoeba, which they'd bought a while ago before they knew I'd have amoeba during my visit with them.
  • Friends! If I ever doubted it before (I didn't), we have the best friends in the world. Our friends are the most supportive and have been some of our biggest cheerleaders from the very beginning. And now on this trip they've gone above and beyond to welcome us back and ensure we have the best trip ever. Our friends have come from states away to see us; they've cooked us meals, payed for outings, driven us through snowstorms, listened to countless Tanzania stories. We are so fortunate to have such amazing people in our lives.

Wonderful gathering with friends from my time in the Newman Club at NYU. Some folks came from as far as Rhode Island and New Hampshire. What great friends!

We don't see much of these friends in TZ either.

Chris visiting his long-time friend Erica and her newly extended family.

Chris and Andy with fruit.

Chris's grade school friend, Billy, and his wife.
  • Family! Everything that I said about our friends can be said, and more, about our family. Our family is amazing. They put up with us moving to the other side of the world, and all the pain that goes along with that, and then when we come home they put us up for days at a time, give us their car to joy-ride around the country, give us money and gift cards so we don't get stranded 1/2-way on our trip, take us out to meals, and any umpteen other things. I can't say enough about how wonderful our families are and how much we owe them for all the support.

We got to meet my sister's new beau.

Me and mom on a trip to a small NJ seaside town. Cold, but beautiful.

Me with my nieces. When did they get so big!?

Typical "Bo" face.

I love this photobomb by Maddie.

Just after I served up some serious butt-whipping in Scrabble. Maybe I shouldn't be boasting about beating my 96 year-old grandfather and 87 year-old grandmother in a board game.

Hanging out with Chris's mom on her 60th birthday.

Expect many more pictures and stories of wonderful things because the trip is only 1/2 over, folks. WHAT!?

*This other picture was taken before the snow started.

Someone was happy to be reunited with his winter wear. That is, until the snow started.