Monday, March 24, 2014

Expanding Lulu Groups

Over the past few weeks I've made a slight but important shift in my ministry work. Where I once was really only working with one of our Lulu groups, the one in Mabatini that I helped to open up, I'm now taking on a bit more responsibility with some of the other groups around town. Our Mabatini group is doing really well; the facilitators are planning well and handling the group; the girls are gaining more and more skills each day; and soon they'll be learning some hand crafts so they can make a little more money for themselves and their families.

 The girls have gotten really good at doing skits/role plays. Here they're talking about saving money by shopping around for the best price of vegetables.

Natalie, an adult facilitator, teaches about managing money and creating a budget based on income and expenditures.

Now is a good time for me to take a step back (while still supporting them, of course) and help Corine, the SMA missioner who created the program and is the person responsible for Lulu in her goal to open up 2 more Lulu groups in 2 different areas of the city. Last week we went out for some visits to those locations.

In an area called Nyakato, we had a meeting for interested girls and their parents. We have a lot of great support in this area from the local leaders, one of whom offered up their house for us to have this meeting.

Corine talking about Lulu and how the girls can join

On Wednesday of this week I will go out for our first meeting in Nyakato exclusively for the girls (without parents). It's always a good feeling to start a fresh new group. At this point, there's nothing going wrong, they're all clean slates toward the program and we can start at square one. Soon things take on a life of their own and become more complicated, so it's always a nice, fresh feeling at the start! Despite the challenges that may come, though, I'm very excited to see what happens here!

After we get Nyakato group off the ground, we plan to work with a local computer school to start another group, in an area called Mecco (not too far from Nyakato). The computer school has a special program for young girls who are pregnant or parenting, to teach them computer skills and try to help them get a job. We're going to open a Lulu group here to help give the girls even more skills.

Me and Corine meeting with Rose, one of the office staff at EBLI (Education for Better Living).

Monday, March 17, 2014

Answers to Life's Most Pressing Questions

When we were in the US, we were fielding a lot of great questions from family and friends. After a while we started noticing some of the same questions popping up over and over, so I thought I’d devote a blog or two to answering some of the more popular questions. If you’ve got a question about our life here in TZ, about the local’s way of life, about our work, our observations, etc., feel free to write it in the comments section and I’ll try to get to it in a future post.

What kinds of food do you eat?
In our home we eat Western food similar to what we ate in America. Since coming here, Chris and I are no longer vegetarians so we eat meat, but I don’t cook it a lot. We can get a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables, pastas, rice, and dried beans.

Here are some of the veggies I bought today. It's very rare for me to get zucchini or lettuce so today is a good day! Can you tell there are lemons and oranges in there? They are both green!

Most of the food is locally grown, with the small exception of things coming in from Nairobi or South Africa. So that means there’s limited diversity and if it’s not made/grown in Tanzania, it’s going to be much more expensive. For example, cheese. You can buy cheese here, but there are only a few kinds and they are usually a mild cheddar-type variety and it’s very expensive. We splurge on buying cheese and tend to eat a fair amount of it but we use that same cheese for everything--on pizza, in “Mexican” dishes, in risotto, on grilled cheese sandwiches. You get my point.

Nom nom nom. I sure would love some of this liquid goodness.

When we visit Tanzanians in their homes, they either serve rice with meat/fish, vegetables, and/or beans or the same accompaniments with ugali.
Meals usually look a little like this.

Ugali, a staple in many parts of Africa, is basically boiled flour that forms a more paste-like polenta. This type of food is almost exclusively what Tanzanians eat in this area of the country. I really like some local foods, while others are just so-so to me. The beans are awesome. Smashed greens with peanut sauce? Yum, my mouth is watering just typing about it. Their hot sauce is probably one of my favorite things too. I actually don’t even mind the ugali, though I wouldn’t want to eat it every day like they do.

What’s your house like? (Do you have power, running water, electricity?)
We live in a very adequate, safe house with finished concrete walls, a metal roof, running water and electricity. It’s 3-bedroom (we use 1 as an office) with 2 bathrooms. While certainly not luxurious in American standards, considering that most Americans assume we live in a mud-block and thatched roof house, it’s quite nice. And, compared to the vast majority of Tanzanians, who do live in mud-block, thatched-roof houses, or with 10 people in one room, we’re living the highlife.

Here's a quick tour of what our (messy) house looks like today:

Here is the road as you approach our house behind the gate on the right.

Our cute little yard and house. The vehicle belongs to MKLM and we are fortunate to get to use it right now.

Our washer and dryer in the side yard. Haha.

As you walk into our house, our bedroom is on the right.

A few steps from our bedroom is our dining room, living room and kitchen, which are all one big room.

Everything's a bit messy right now but it's an accurate representation of the normal basis.

Our master bathroom is across the hall from the living/dining room/kitchen. There is a sit-down toilet in our bathroom off the bedroom. This bathroom is where we take showers. Cold water goes through the heater on the shower head and it has an electrical unit to heat it up. We call that "the widow-maker."

In the back of the house on the right is our office and across the hall is a guest bedroom. I didn't take a picture of that today.

What do you “do”?
As Americans we tend to define ourselves in terms of what we do, whereas Tanzanians want to know who a person’s family is and where they come from. They usually “do” whatever they can to get by. I find that now that we’ve lived here for 2 years, it’s easier for me to think in these terms, partly because it’s hard to describe what I “do” and how I describe what I do might depend on who I’m talking to.

When I say I’m a missionary or with a Catholic Lay Mission organization Tanzanians tend to know that this means that I’ve been inspired by my faith to move to another country to work in some sort of aid capacity. For those from a more Western perspective who want to know more or who might have a different impression when they hear the word “missionary,” I’m working on a girls’ projects called Lulu that helps young women roughly between the ages of 15-20 years old who are out of school, have children or live in at-risk environments. The girls meet two-times or more a week to learn about life skills, communication/cooperation, handcrafts and small business skills. I am working with another Lay Missioner (an SMA Lay Missioner from the Netherlands), who wrote the program and piloted it in several locations. Istarted my first group in my own neighborhood of Mabatini, an incredibly overpopulated and poor urban neighborhood in Mwanza city. We are now in the process of opening 2 more groups, which we expect to have off the ground in the next month to two months. I tend to take more of a behind-the-scenes roll in my work. We use Tanzanian facilitators, usually girls themselves, and I support them to make sure they’re successful.

What do you do in your spare time? (Hobbies/ways to get away)
To be honest, there’s not much to do here in Mwanza. No movie theaters, few museums and not many places to “get away” from the hustle and bustle of city life. I like to go out to eat at the numerous restaurants or “hotelis” in town. Sometimes we drive to the top of a large rock outcropping overlooking Lake Victoria and have a picnic dinner. I like to swim at a pool at the international school and sometimes I go along with some of our neighborhood kids. I like to run/jog in the early mornings. I like to find creative ways to cook with the limited ingredients we have here (see the question above about food). Chris and I have had a great time traveling to other countries around the region, but that is expensive and takes time so we can’t do that more than 1x/year if we’re lucky. Mostly if the power is on and the work is done, I watch movies or TV shows at night on the computer. We rely pretty solely on things that people send on external drives, so if you’re ever thinking of something to mail us, that’s a pretty good bet!

Picnic dinner with fellow MKLMers on the rock outcroppings.

What’s the weather like? (AKA It’s hot there, right?)

A snapshot of this month's weather from Not much variety.

The weather maintains a fairly constant temperature all year round in Mwanza. We’re on the lake, so we get some cooling effect due to that. The temperature usually remains in the 80’s (Fahrenheit) and only varies about 7 degrees, depending on whether it’s the wet or dry season. We have 2 rainy seasons, the long rainy and short rainy season. The weather tends to get more hot right before the rains come and then it cools off a bit when it starts to rain. 

What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?
Clearly it’d be an African so you can easily do the math there. You have to know these things when you're a king you know.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

International Women's Day 2014

As I mentioned yesterday, today, March 8, is International Women's Day, a global awareness campaign to celebrate successes in the journey toward equality and rights for women and children and to bring to light challenges as we make plans to move forward.

In honor of this day, I wanted to bring attention to just one of the many struggles around the world. This one illustrates real burdens and dangers women face and it also points out the need for more work to protect and promote all people's rights.

This morning I read this article from Inter Press Service News Agency about women who are being assaulted, harassed, raped and murdered on Indian transportation systems. "Nearly 25,000 rapes took place in India in 2012, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. About half of these sexual assaults took place in buses, taxis and three-wheeler autorickshaws." As a response, an Indian Judicial Committee was assigned to make recommendations about what to do to curb the violence. Over 13 months later, in January of this year the Indian government put an initial fund of 15 million dollars to install GPS trackers, closed circuit TV cameras and emergency phone call facilities in public transport vehicles in 32 cities.

First of all, I want to be honest and upfront that I really don't know much about India other than what I've read in the news and a few books about the inequalities of women in that country. India has been in the media a lot of the past few years because of the numerous and very brutal sexual assaults against women there. This violence has definitely has gotten a lot of global attention, which I'm glad about (the media attention, not the assaults obviously). What I do know about, though, is prevention of sexual violence and because of this I have a lot of thoughts on this IPS article.

Although the proposed plan to install trackers, cameras, etc. on public transport is a okay idea in terms of catching criminals now, it's a far cry from a holistic approach toward eradication of violence and it's has a lot of loopholes. I suspect that India has some similarities to Tanzania in terms of disjointed political and justice systems, spotty infrastructure and a system of bribery that goes from the bottom all the way to the top of the criminal justice system. Those cameras and GPS devises could easily be tampered with and when they break, I am sure they will not be fixed in a timely fashion. Also, what's the response time if a woman is on a rural dirt road in a crowded bus is assaulted and hits the emergency call button? I'm sure the assault or maybe even murder will be already finished with and the perpetrator(s) already long gone by the time the police arrive, if they arrive at all.

Secondly, this approach won't stop violence from happening. It will only change the location where the violence occurs. It is just a band-aid approach and won't curb the larger problem of inequality of women and the sense of entitlement that the abusers feel that causes these behaviors to continue. As A.L. Sharada, program director at Population First says in the article, "'Road safety is not about making a few vehicles smart,' Sharada tells IPS. 'It’s about making roads safe for women to go out at any time of day or night with confidence. To do that we need better governance, better policing and also a good community-based support system for women. Without these, you can’t change the scenario.'”

So these are certainly challenges that need to be highlighted, discussed and overcome but at the same time, I'm really glad that at least some of the stories are being highlighted in the media, that discussions are happening and that governments are at least recognizing (albeit it's often just lip-service) human injustice as an issue. Let's keep these discussions going after March 8 and every day of the year.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Why Do We Need an International Women's Day?

Tomorrow, March 8, marks International Women's Day, a yearly campaign started in 1911. This day gives voice to the social, political and economic advancements that women have made over the years and is an opportunity to challenge people all over the world to advocate and work toward the rights and dignity of women. Remember last year when I kinda, sorta, almost met the First Lady of Tanzania?

This morning I ran across this piece over at The Guardian, where several gender-equality campaigners (dare I say, feminists*) voice their opinion about why we need such a once-a-year campaign. I thought I'd take this opportunity to voice my own opinion on the matter.

Being the skeptic that I am, in my own mind I often find myself beginning to question the logic and the usefulness of one-day campaigns like International Women's Day. Don't get me wrong, this "skepticism," as I'll call it, definitely does not derive from me questioning the fact that women still haven't achieved equal status or whether there needs to be campaigns championing the cause of human rights. I have been working in the human rights field for almost 15 years and have countless examples of why humans are not yet equal in our world. No, instead I sometimes question whether a one-day campaign makes any difference when I know that in order for us to have a more just, equitable world for all the issue of human rights has to be an everyday thing. These issues have to be at the forefront of our daily lives until the issue isn't an issue anymore because it's just become a new normal way of life.

If you look at any calendar, each year is littered with awareness days and special months-Martin Luther Kind Day, Veteran's Day, Earth Day, Women's History Month-even religious holidays and Holy Days-Lent, Hanukkah, Eid al Adha-which serve as a reminder of something and/or remembrance of special events or people of the past. We humans like to band together for community, for unifying purposes, for remembrances and celebrations. We seem to inherently recognize the importance of these days and they do, indeed, make a difference in our lives. Same is true, then, for International Women's Day.  It's a day when people who believe in global equality for women and girls can stand together, remember how far we have come, challenge our present barriers, and plan a map toward further future change. And, so in this way, I can see the need to have a day such as International Women's Day.

International Women's Day coincides each year with the UN's Commission on the Status of Women. This commission examines those everyday things I mentioned above as being important that are being done to help bring about a more just world. You can look here to see what improvements have been made toward meeting Millennium Development Goals. Even though we are way behind in achieving the MDGs and I know a lot of countries are just giving lip service to them, I also know from my experience here in TZ that improvements have been made and that it wouldn't have been done without the UN or various commissions such as the one that convenes this month. International Women's Day is a great opportunity for voices around the world to unite and influence discussions during the UN's Commission. It can be sort of like a litmus test for what is happening around the world, both in terms of progress as well as needs going forward.

I noticed on CNN that they will be having a live Tweetchat today on how to bring about gender equality and build a better future for all women. It's in like an hour from when I'm typing this, so I guess I should hit publish soon. If it weren't so late here in TZ I'd really like to join in to hear (read) what people are saying. I think it's kinda cool that there are forums like these to discuss this issue. If International Women's Day is the instigator for such discussions, okay then. Let's just continue it all throughout the year.

*I hate that the word feminism has become such a taboo word, like with its mere mention, people conjure up an image of a man-hating radical who wants to live in a society where women dominate. Rather, a feminist is someone who advocates for the social, political, economic and legal rights of women so that men and women can BOTH be respected for their differences, while at the same time being treated as equals. The mere fact that people shy away from using this term (how many times have you heard someone say something along the lines of, "I mean...I'm not a feminist, but I believe women and men should be treated equally"?) shows how far we have to go in this campaign to change social views of women. As Pope Francis says in his book, The Joy of the Gospel: "Diversity must always be reconciled by the help of the Holy Spirit; he alone can raise up diversity, plurality and multiplicity while at the same time bringing about unity."

Saturday, March 01, 2014

The Best Reward After Living in Tanzania After Two Years Part 2

As we knew it would, time flew by on our vacation in the US and now we're back home in Tanzania again and everything from a week ago onward seems like a dream. But a dream it was not and here are some pictures and a few stories from the second half of our trip to prove it. (Details from the first half of our trip are here.)


Welcome home, son of the south.

The best part of being MS, of course, was catching up with family. We had a lot of good quality time with Chris's mom, who we'd not seen in over two years, and his sister and brother-in-law made the long trek down from Chicago, which was so amazing even if they were only there for a few short days. We managed to have a bunch of family gatherings and even celebrate Tricia's 60th birthday.

The family with a huge horse and some random dude.

Feeling nifty at sixty. (I know, that doesn't really rhyme.)

The Reid clan gave the casino the what-for. (Not really. I think Chris and I lost about $10 and called it a night. And I saw Clint nursing $20 on the roulette table while some fellow player blew $100 in one bet. HELLO, big spenders!)

We had the pleasure of doing several "church talks" during our visit to the states. This was a great opportunity to speak with people during and after Church Masses to tell them about life in other countries, to inform them about the work of MKLM and ask them to join in our journey through prayer, donations, receiving our newsletter, or visiting us in the field. If you've not already, think about joining us in our work in any of these ways.

Chris after a church talk. We really enjoyed meeting people and sharing our stories. Side note-that sweater has been in the family for at least 20 years, no lie!

Speaking of sharing our stories, did we tell you we made the front page of the Vicksburg Post? Must've been a slow news day.


South Carolina

I think if we made one mistake on this trip, it was not scheduling enough time in South Carolina, our adopted home state. I kind of knew this going into it, but it was kind of unavoidable. I mean, we have no blood family in SC and we had limited time to spend in each place. So unfortunately, our friends and adopted family in SC kinda got the short shrift this go-round. Sorry guys! Maybe next time we'll just stay in SC and make everyone come to us.

We had a bunch of gatherings with friend friends, coworker friends, church friends, feline friends, baby friends, etc. etc., until we were run out of town by the snow. Seriously folks, it followed us everywhere and prevented us from adding an extra day to our visit there. But! each gathering was wonderful and made me feel so special and loved. We are so lucky to have these people in our lives and I am constantly humbled (and sometimes a bit baffled) by the extent of their support and friendship.

Sean and Cheryl trying to entertain some of the horde of kids during the Sunday lunch.

Chris and I are so grateful to the Myers for hosting and for those who came from near and far to hang out.

Bonfire, s'mores and wine-just like old times.

STSM crew still doing amazing work in the Midlands!

Let's not forget our former babies!

We like to think they remembered us, although I think they'd cuddle with just about anyone.


We escaped the snow by going north into the mountains, which doesn't quite make sense, but it worked. Along the way to Virginia for an overnight with my uncle and aunt we did what Chris and I pretty much never do, we took a spur-of-the-moment stopover for sight-seeing! Maybe Africa has taught us to be spontaneous. We've taken a million and one road trips in our time, and we always say, "oh, sometime we should stop there to see blah blah blah." But we never do. Except this time. We took the chance to explore the majestic Dixie Caverns in Salem VA. It was actually pretty neat and our tour guide was hilarious, one-in-a-million. I wish we had a picture of him, but instead...

We have the majestic turkey wing.

The visit with Aunt Cathie and Uncle Timmy was awesome. They were so great to invite their neighbors over to hear our stories and peruse the African handicrafts we were selling.

Small gathering of Waldies.

We were so fortunate to be able to spend 4 whole days hanging out at my brother's family's house. In the past 2 years, they have added a new member to the family and the other two are getting so grown. Like truly, they're almost grown adults by now. Chris and I really treasured this time together catching up, eating lots of good food and rocking out on the Wii. What made it even cooler is that my dad and step-mom flew in from California for a few days to hang out as well (Imagine, giving up that warmer weather for the polar vortex on the East Coast! Oh wait, we did that too.) and we had a big larger family gathering on one of those days.

It was fun to see that Maddie was still into doing things like this-tattooing Unkie's head.

When did this one get so big!

This one heads to college next year. She's as cool as ever but also I'm happy to see she hasn't yet outgrown her aunt and Unkie.

This new one, well, what can I say. She's sweet and smart and funny. Love her.

What's the name of this game, which they play on Ellen? Whatever it is, yeah, everyone in the family was playing that. It was funny except that I was sick and trying to sleep on the floor but everyone was yelling and laughing so loudly that they woke me up. How rude of them to have so much fun.

The mothers celebrate their birthdays.

Playing the Wii was so much fun that they even got me and my brother to play when we usually sit those things out.**

Our final visit was to Sister Thomasmari, my former campus minister from NYU. She is the first one to mention MKLM to me, so I blame her for all this. It was super great that my friends from NYU, Anthony and Paul, could also come down to join us.

New Jersey

We spent our in-between times in New Jersey with my mom and step-dad, which was great as always. That's the place in the states that's most like home for us right now and it's a great place to relax, enjoy good food/bevs and be taken care of. Plus, they lent us their car, paid for a lot of our gas and let us steal things from their house. I mean, what more could we ask for?

Mom all dolled up for something or other, probably the opening of the artist co-op's new location.

Bo likes to pretend he doesn't care, but we know otherwise.

Again and again, we can't say how much we enjoyed our trip and what it means to us to have so many amazing people in our lives. I equate it to a video game, where you have to do something or other to gain more power and continue the game. That's how our visit home was for us- with each group of friends we saw, each amazing meal, each laugh and hug, we were gaining more and more "power" to take back with us to TZ to continue the work that we're doing here. Asanteni sana wote. Thank you all.

*To be accurate, it was outside of Philly, but you get the idea.

**Bonus video of the Wii awesomeness: