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.

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