December 2, 2010

thanksgiving in the 'gid

Hope everyone had a wonderful Turkey Day in the States. Here's a little slice of our time in Singida region. Enjoy!

November 26, 2010

next year's challenge: mwezi wa maskini

I've been mulling it over the past few weeks, and I think I'm going to give this a try. For one month, I will attempt to live on $2 per day. I won't be able to do it until March, though. I'm coming back to the States for Christmas and New Years (won't be back at site until mid-January), and we fill out our annual living allowance survey in February. March is the earliest I'll be able to do it.

Why do it? Because you'd be surprised how easy it is to distance yourself from poverty, even when you're technically steeped in it yourself. Compared to my community, I live in a huge, secure house, I've managed to keep myself on a fairly balanced diet (at least since I started cooking last month), and even with my humble earnings, I find myself not wanting for anything. To be honest, I've grown a bit tired of being comfortable. Of knowing how my next meal is going to come, knowing that I can afford it, and knowing what's in my pocket can easily take care of my needs.

So, when the end of February rolls around, I will take a trip east to deposit a healthy chunk of my living allowance into my "savings" account, leaving a measly 93,000 =/ to keep me alive for a month.

The Month of the Destitute.

I encourage others to join me if they wish, even you all in the States! You don't have to actually live on $2.50 a day; try living on a healthy subset of what you're currently living on. If you want to use me as a guideline, I'll be living on approximately 40% of my current salary. That might change in 4 month's time, of course. I plan to use the current value of the US dollar to make the conversion into my local currency. As long as its value doesn't spike in the coming quarter, things will remain relatively the same.

Who's game?

November 15, 2010

reclaiming joy

For Amy's momDespite not receiving any of my own shadowers from the new intake of education volunteers, I took it upon myself to host all of the shadows that came out to the Singida region at the end of last week. So, on Friday afternoon, 7 people de-boarded in my town and took their places in my house. I have a fairly large house by Peace Corps standards, but 7 extra people will almost always require some amount of adjustment.

While they were here, I was lucky enough to introduce them to some of my best friends; one being the guy who runs the pork shop near my house (Wilbroad), and the other being my friend in town who owns one of the local bus lines (Slim). We had a huge pork dinner with Wilbroad on Friday night, and then walked into town to have lunch with Slim on Saturday. We also had the opportunity to climb up on the rocks every evening to watch the sunset, something I hadn't done in nearly a month.
Family photo
One of the things I truly appreciate about spending time with newbies and visitors is that they make it easy to fall in love all over again with the place you call home. Sometimes it takes an outside perspective to help you reclaim that gratitude you felt at the beginning of your service.

November 9, 2010

gearing up and winding down

My first year of teaching has unofficially come to a close. The Form IVs finished their NECTAs back in mid-October and the Form IIs have now started their national exams. Over the next few weeks, perhaps I'll reflect. Right now, I'm getting ready to host 8 visitors on Friday. While I didn't receive any shadowers personally (for reasons unknown to me), I invited everyone in the Singida region to my site for a huge party. I think we're celebrating 3 birthdays, Halloween, Election Day...maybe we'll throw pre-Thanksgiving into the mix.

The other big headline is my trip back to America for Christmas and New Years. I'm waiting to get the extra vacation days approved by the office, otherwise I have my flight picked out and ready to book. It's a strange feeling pondering all the things that have happened since I left home, the anticipation of being overwhelmed by my own culture (my own family, even), and predicting the lack of gracefulness that will be on full display throughout my visit. But more than anything I think this trip will confirm deep in my being that I've managed to unboring my life, and I think there will be an unspeakable joy found within that realization.

T-minus 41 days...

October 31, 2010


I officially started my twenty-fifth year of living on this Earth just this past Wednesday. It marked the end of 11 months of service overseas, the beginning of the next 13, and also the end of a rather troubling string of days and events.

The week before, I traveled to Singida town to say goodbye to a volunteer who had reached her COS date. All of us in the Singida region made the trip. We shared laughs and stories over beer and street food, we danced together and cried together. And when the time came, we hugged and said our parting words. Goodbyes are never easy in the Peace Corps; you hate to see any fellow American leave because you become that much more outnumbered, and it doesn't matter who it is, you've shared something special with them.

Then, when I arrived back in my village, I received some troubling news about one of my best Tanzanian friends. The man who ran the pork shop near my house was in the hospital. I soon learned the circumstances around his condition, that his nephew had burdened him with a large debt before leaving abruptly, that his sister-in-law refused to help him, and that his wife left him equally alone in the matter. He became irritated and threatened to beat his wife, but she escaped to the police station for help. By the time the police had arrived, he had returned to his shop and became intoxicated. When the police tried to arrest him, he resisted, insisting he had not done anything wrong. When he resisted, they beat him. This is why he was in the hospital; the police had broken his left leg, gashed his forehead, knocked out a tooth, and left him with bruises all over his chest. I went to visit with my second master as soon as I heard, but couldn't stay in the room longer than 5 minutes. Who do you blame in this situation? So many poor decisions made. All you can really do is grieve with the people who are hurting.

The next day, another close PCV friend from the neighboring village came to town for the last time; he, too, had reached his Close of Service date, and was picking up gifts for some of his students. We didn't have a lot of time together, but we shared some stories and thoughts about the future over a beer at 10am that morning. After he left, I found my village babu and tried to be optimistic about tomorrow. It was going to be my birthday, after all.

Mama Tina and Tina
Mama Tina and Tina
I woke up on the 27th refreshed, having slept through my alarm by an hour and a half. I had to get my house in shape for the weekend because all of the volunteers in the Singida region were planning to visit for a Birthday/Halloween party. I went to a graduation ceremony for a local day care center in the early afternoon, but I spent most of my day making contact with carpenters and electricians, and by the time the evening rolled around, I had someone fixing my front and back doors while another installed new electrical sockets. In the meantime, the neighborhood kids paid me a visit on my front porch. We celebrated, but not because it was my birthday. It was simply a reflex of youth, being young and enjoying the company of others. We danced to music, we had a tickle fight, and we imitated all the animals we could think of. In twenty minutes, my age dropped twenty years.

It's been a week of heartache and singing, of suffering and waiting and joy. It's been hard, it's been fun. Most of all, I think it's been life the way God intended it to be lived.

Project OASIS
Project OASIS update
And now it's Sunday, Halloween. And Election Day here in Tanzania. The party we planned to have didn't happen because our cell phones have been on the fritz, but my house is looking fantastic. I suppose it's just as well; I am planning to host some trainees for their shadow assignments, and that starts next week. And now that our friend in Singida town has finished her service (and she isn't being replaced), I'm the closest thing to an urban setting in our region. There's a good chance my house will be hosting visitors more often in the coming months. Let's just hope I can keep it this way.

October 20, 2010

africa hates my clothes

Battle Scars!
Now that about 13 months have passed since I arrived in Tanzania, some of my clothes are starting to get a little worn out. They've made a valiant effort to stay intact for so long in such a harsh environment; not that the environment here is that much harsher per say, but the fact that I wear these clothes a LOT compared to my habits of switching clothes every day (sometimes more) back in the States. Not to mention the hand-washing.

I just tore the pants today; I was only lightly tugging them down while sitting, but that particular spot on the knee was already looking a little ragged. It happened while I was tutoring some students in math in the computer lab, but I guess they didn't hear the rip, so it wasn't horribly awkward. The walk home was, however.

The shorts...I'm not totally sure what happened there. I've chalked it up to either bugs eating the cloth, or chemical burns while I was helping some teachers set up the NECTA chemistry practical. I prefer the chemical burns theory.

In other news, the clouds are starting to roll in! I don't think I've ever been this excited for rain before. All I know is that when it finally does come, it will be magical. There will be dancing in the streets, with buckets poised to capture it in all its glory. Even just the thought of smelling it for the first time in 8 months is enough to make my knees buckle. Seriously, this rain can't get here soon enough.

October 19, 2010

blue or red?

I've been contemplating my future in recent days. The reasons behind this vary, from the book I've been absorbed in since last week (see lower left), to the incomprehensible groanings and mumblings within my heart.

President Obama's vision for a revolution in the way we think about government in the 21st century has my head spinning (it's quite detailed and technical), but it also has me wondering where I fit into his picture. He talks constantly about training and raising a new generation of engineers and scientists which, if you look at my college degree, I am a part of. Unfortunately, I get the sense that, perhaps not my opportunity for a engineering-based career, but rather my desire for one is beginning to slip. The plight of Africa is hard to ignore, especially when you're steeped right smack in the middle of it, and its gravity is starting to tug and pull. Just last Saturday, on my way home from a short visit with a nearby friend, crazy thoughts about spending the rest of my life here were cascading through me, the sheer implications of them weighing heavy within me. "It doesn't matter what you do, really, just being here and suffering alongside is the important part." I've been praying about these groanings, especially now that I'm distanced from them by a few days, because I'm not entirely sure where they originated.

At times, I find it a bit alarming how swiftly and gracefully I made the transition from science-centric college grad to impoverished social worker. I know the vast majority of fresh, young, undergraduate degree holders don't necessarily go into the fields they majored in, at least not right away, but in something as specialized as aerospace engineering (with an emphasis on the "space"), I feel like there's generally an expiration date on how long you can hold out on your future, and the longer you wait, the more your prospective employers will wonder where your allegiance, or your heart, truly aligns.

One thing I'm sure of is that this tension which has surfaced has far-reaching consequences. It could determine how and where I spend the prime years of my life. And something I'm beginning to ponder is whether or not I'm currently receiving what Oswald Chambers dubs the irresistible and "baffling call of God." When I read that phrase, I used to think of God simply directing my career path.  Now I can see it's a little more involved than that.

October 13, 2010

the dance

The first bit of footage from our girl's conference in Singida has officially landed on Youtube!  It was choreographed by a subset of our brilliant Singida/Manyara talent pool.  It might be a hard life out here in the desert, but we certainly know how to put on a show.

Thanks go to Lauren for filming for us!  If you're looking for an extra dose of Peace Corps/Tanzania Volunteers doing dance routines at girl's conferences, check out the folks from Mbeya here.  We've got some natural-born booty shakers out west!

October 11, 2010

it's that time of year

Yep. The seasons are changing. Leaves are shifting their color, the air is crisp and cool, and trees are stripping down to their bare branches.

If you're in the northern part of the northern hemisphere, that is. If you're in my neck of the woods, the temperature is going from sauna hot to broiler hot, the sun is attempting to push the UV index beyond its current limit, and everything is just as dusty as it always was, perhaps a bit more so. And I guess technically, this is like springtime for the local vegetation.

And yet, we have this picture. How is it even remotely possible that my body knows it's that time of year? When I look around, everything is still dead! It makes me wonder if the passage of time is some kind of placebo effect that my allergies fall for; "well, it's been about 5 months, guess it's time to get started." I mean, of all places to have allergy issues...the desert? Really??

I suppose it's only fitting that in the time it took me to write this entry, I went through the rest of that toilet paper roll. Looks like I have an errand to run...

October 3, 2010


I've decided to take a personal day today here in Singida before I head back to site, this post being one of the reasons for hanging back. That being said, don't expect much; I've probably slept a total of 15 hours in the past week (just woke up from a three-hour nap).

October 2, 2010


Cessie led our condom demonstration
Don't be afraid. This is the theme for our girls conference. After 2 full days of sessions, the girls have learned quite a bit; I lead off with Facts and Myths about HIV/AIDS, followed by HIV/AIDS education and prevention...we've had sessions on goal setting, communication skills, and of course, a condom demonstration.
Madata, my counterpart
The past week has gone quickly; I've essentially been surgically attached at the hip to my counterpart since last Sunday, filming for a video that hasn't been finished, getting our presentation ready, and finally getting the girls here to the conference venue. So far the hard work has paid off, and while not everything has been perfect (our schedules haven't even been close to a reality), we've been rolling with the punches and our girls have been enjoying their time with us.

Sewing menstrual pads!
Hopefully there will be more pictures for you all tomorrow; I'm doing what I can with a 3 kb/sec internet connection (I'm tethering my phone to my laptop).

September 1, 2010

large tweet #2

There's been a flurry of activity upstairs the past few days.

About things past, things happening now, upcoming things, things to plan, and things that could be. Certainly a lot of "things" going on. Most of my attention has been drawn to an upcoming collaborative project, a girl's conference with a few other volunteers. I'm co-hosting a 4-day fun-festival for girls in Singida town in a few weeks, but I think I'll hold off on the details for now, as I'd like to devote an entry to it later when all these "things" are a little more fleshed out.

In recreational news, I just returned from a trip to Dodoma. A large gathering of volunteers occurred on Saturday, and given I'm only a 2-hour dala ride on a tarmac road, I was more than happy to make an appearance. Hot showers, authentic Italian cuisine, and good American company are always a welcome distraction from the usual drone of rice'n'beans, dust-ridden computers, and a constant battle within my house and within myself to stay clean. Some days you win, some days you lose :)

And in health news, I was sick for about 4 days last week. Not a huge concern, though it was a bacterial digestive issue like the one that was indirectly responsible for sending me to South Africa. Strangely, things cleared up by Saturday for my Dodoma trip (note a hint of sarcasm, I still had a minor stomach ache Saturday morning).

What's been happening in America? I've been on Facebook this past week, but my friends were unusually soft-spoken about current events. I did hear about Glenn Becke's "non-political" stunt in D.C. You'll have to pardon my French, but what a douche. Way to douche up a sacred day of America's treasured past. Man, I need some Bri-Wi in my life...

August 15, 2010

waiting or procrastinating?

I'm sitting here in the school computer lab on a Sunday morning trying to update the operating systems on the school computers and things aren't going well already. It's only been about 20 minutes since I got here, but I've spent those 20 minutes waiting for one computer to boot the new Ubuntu Live CD. Eight months ago I would've told you that I wasn't considering getting new computers for the school, that they should concentrate on utilizing the computers they have, that they should focus on the here and now. I'm beginning to think this might change over the course of today.

This also has me thinking about taking another progressive step here in the lab; setting up a Local Area Network, something I talked a lot about when I first got here. Well, I haven't done anything about it yet. I don't really know why, other than the fact that the only way to get the equipment for it is probably a trip to Dar, and that it'd be smart to find a place that sells it and arrange something before actually going. It would also require me putting in a Leave Request Form, even though I personally feel requesting leave to travel to Dar is a little silly, since that's where the Peace Corps Office is. It all comes down to a lack of motivation, which has been spreading like the plague within me recently (though it seems to be affecting just my school activities). I could let myself feel guilty about it, but where would that get me? I think the first step in the right direction is a small one, something like taking some measurements of the room, or figuring out the table arrangement (or both). At least then I'll know approximately how much cable I'll need to get everything connected.

I just spent another 15 minutes typing the above paragraphs, and the computer still hasn't booted into anything useful.

*sigh* It's going to be a long day.

August 9, 2010

our first ET

I'm saddened to announce that last Friday, our September 2009 intake suffered its first ET after swear-in.  A good friend of mine and most everyone else in our group, Zach from the Manyara region decided to call it quits to pursue an opportunity back in America.

Good luck to you, friend, if you're reading this!  His blogged was linked below, but I've already replaced it with another, a Health volunteer from our very own Sin City (nickname for Singida region)!  Her name is Cessie, and I just happened to spend a weekend in Dodoma with her (it was a holiday this past Sunday).  Check out her blog below and be sure to comment on how adorable her dog Nyika is.

You can also check out some vids I took at the holiday celebration in Dodoma.  It's called "nanenane," "nane" being the Kiswahili word for the number eight.  Thus, it means "eight-eight," or August 8th.  July 7th is also a holiday here, "sabasaba."  Just like Cinco de Mayo in Mexico :)

August 5, 2010


About 30 minutes ago, I was eating lunch in town. While I was eating, a kid approached the glass door near my table and stood there, just watching me. I wasn't staring at him, but I could feel his eyes. When I glanced over, he mimed his desire for food. I was in a crappy mood, so all I did was shrug my shoulders and continued with my meal. It sounds so cold, but there's something about handouts that make me cringe. That also sounds cold, doesn't it...

July 25, 2010

allow me to introduce you...

This is my friend Sam.  He's been my wake-up call this weekend.  Yesterday and today, I heard a knock on the door that shook me from slumber.  8:38am, both days.  Like clockwork.  The reason he's been knocking on my door is a bit heart-breaking.  For the past few days, he's been coming over to retrieve bandages from my med kit because he has a gaping hole where his ankle used to be.  It was a farm accident, from what I can understand of the conversations that occur between the children when they come over.  Sam is one of the kids who has been transforming my heart over the past 8 months.  I remember having a bad first impression of him because of how recklessly he rooted through my property, but now he's one of my guardian angels here.  He will keep the other kids in check if they do something I don't like.  He also likes to help me with house chores, sometimes without any kind of provocation from me.  Like today, as I was washing some of my clothes, he picked up the mop and bucket and started mopping the living room.  Then he said the cutest thing after he started: "Wait,  the floor hasn't been swept first..."  So he picked up the broom :)

This is my friend Elise.  She is usually knocking on the door shortly after Sam comes over (I think they're siblings, but I'm not positive).  She wins the superlative of Child I Always Want To Pick Up And Hold The Most.  I don't know why.  She's just so adorable!  I can't even remember how it all started.  I think I just started tickling her one day and fell in love with her.  Maybe it's because she likes hugs as much as I do.  Whenever my little friends are over playing with all my stuff and I'm getting ready to leave, Elise always wants me to carry her outside (a total of about 7 feet).  How cute is that??

I don't know what it is about African kids, they're just so full of personality, even at such tender ages.  Without a doubt, the children of Africa have been the biggest blessing and the biggest challenge to my heart in the past 10 months.

Jesus called them to Him and said, "Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God.  Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it."
- Luke 18:16-17

July 21, 2010

new kicks

Whoa, new layout!  My apologies if you liked the previous setup for some reason.  I like wide open spaces, especially when it comes to prose.  You can find a hodge-podge of stuff--which used to be in the sidebar--down at the bottom of the page.  Scroll down and check out the new video I uploaded today (!!), How to Wash Dishes in Zambia (it's from my trip to Zambia, in case you didn't catch it in the title).

July 18, 2010

let there be light!

...among other things.

It hasn't been very long since I created my Twitter account, but I already feel like I'm getting Twitter Brain. This is my name for the condition where you find yourself wanting to share every mundane detail of your life with the world, but can't for the life of you generate an interesting thought of any substance worthy of a blog entry. So I apologize for the following paragraphs, because they're basically just a collection of tweets.

The title of this post is an allusion to the electricity which is now flowing through the power lines in my house. Perhaps now I'll start cooking again, or better yet, heat some water and take a bath!

School's back in session, but I spent most of this past week in Dodoma with a focus group reviewing the education program here in TZ. I'm so unbelievably far behind I've resolved to simply teach whatever I can before November rolls around. There's no use in stressing myself out teaching a billion hours a week to catch up, since that wouldn't be fun for anyone, I doubt my students would benefit from it.

And today, I almost witnessed a pig slaughter! Just a few minutes late, the head had already been removed. They were taking out the innards, however, which was interesting to watch. I took video on my phone! If you'd like to see it, leave a comment and I'll put it on Youtube. I suppose I don't have to give you the warning about it being graphic, but it certainly isn't for the faint of heart (although you could probably handle it, dad).

Again, I apologize for the quality of this entry. If you want a good read, check out Caty's latest post in the sidebar below. It's heart-breaking, but a good commentary on Tanzanian culture regarding an all-too-familiar issue that many teenagers face worldwide.

Happy reading!

July 9, 2010

8 days in zambia

As promised, here is a synopsis of my trip to Zambia in greater detail.

My journey started when I flew to Lusaka on June 28th.  I got to the airport way too early (around 12:30 for a 4:30 departure), and in the Dar airport, check-in doesn't even start until 2 hours before international flights.  The flight was uneventful, especially when we started flying over Zambia.  As a matter of fact, while I was waiting for the flight, I read on Wikipedia that Zambia is one of the most urbanized African countries, not that it has a large population, but they're all concentrated along the roads and a few big towns (namely Lusaka).  Everywhere else is the accurately-named BUSH.  So when we were over Zambia, it was pretty obvious.  There is an incredible lack of civilization in Zambia which is unlike anything I've experienced in Tanzania (so far).  I remember thinking "oh look, there's a house" when the plane was landing.

July 8, 2010

how time flies...

...when you're doing a new thing.  Like jumping 20-foot waterfalls or biking 80km of the Zambian countryside.

I'm back from my Zambia excursion already (was that seriously 8 days???) and I just posted some pics on Flickr.  I did a pretty horrendous job of documenting my trip, so I apologize for the shortage of media.  Expect a couple of short videos to surface here soon, though.  I got some good footage of Ashley's favorite kid in her village, and your heart will melt when you see her!

I'll try to post a more elaborate synopsis of the trip in the near future.  There's a funny ending that is worthy of being dubbed a "wtf moment."

June 20, 2010

almost ready for take-off

Life has been pretty unexciting here the past few weeks, besides all the World Cup hysteria.  Hence the mixed-bag nature of my recent posts (including this one).

Despite the unexcitement, I'm growing quite eager for my Zambia trip next week.  I leave my site on Thursday for Dar to spend a few days getting some admin stuff taken care of, and then I fly out on Monday!

June 11, 2010

in other news...

Don't have any profound thoughts to share, but I thought I'd share some of the recent goings on of the week.

June 7, 2010

for our future friends

For those of you that are staging in approximately 7 days (and for any other Future PCV who wants to look at a packing list), I thought I'd post the packing list I used when I left country.

May 24, 2010

wtf moments

It's been a while since I've had one of these, or at least had one and then had the good sense to write an entry for you guys.

Last night was just too weird NOT to type something up about it. As I was walking home from town in the evening yesterday, I happened to walk by the social centre (just a big hall for hosting weddings and other events), and there just happened to be a bunch of white people walking in at the time.

May 16, 2010

record time

I just got back from a small weekend trip up to Singida town, and I think I've suffered whiplash.

The road between my site and Singida is partially dirt road, and in normal driving conditions, you can make the drive in about 2 and a half or 3 hours in a large bus, as was the case on the way up yesterday. Today, I left Singida town at about 3:30pm, and arrived at my site 4 minutes before 5. I'm convinced the driver of the Bunda Express (which certainly deserves its name) was a rally cross driver in a previous life, because I'm fairly certain we were doing 80 km/hr around the turns on this dirt road. I sat in the back, so part of this is my fault, but there weren't many other seats open. In any case, at one point during the bus ride, I went airborne and landed in the seat next to me, about 3 feet to the left. I tried to retain good humor about the whole experience, thinking eventually he would have a heart for the poor folks in the back of the bus, but I think he actually increased speed intentionally over some of the bumpier parts, maybe having the logic that he was lessening the impact on everyone.

If this was America, this guy would get sued 6 ways to Sunday and have his license revoked forever, and probably get thrown in jail. But in Africa, all I can say is we made good time...and maybe the guy's an idiot.

And thank God I survived.

May 9, 2010

small thoughts

While I was walking back from the market today after a long morning stroll, a rickety old motorcycle (which I will henceforth refer to as a pikipiki in my blog, because I like to say it that way) passed by and I caught a good whiff of exhaust fumes. Strangely, it smelled like a golf cart, and I was immediately longing for rolling fairways and manicured greens. I suppose it doesn't help that I've been watching Caddyshack and Happy Gilmore non-stop this past week. nnnnnnnNOONAN!

Mom and Dad, make sure you put in some tee times at St. James for me the next time I come home, whenever that may be.

May 3, 2010

project oasis: day 2

Things have been going well on the OASIS front. I've cooked more in the last week than I have in the past few months! I consider that in itself a major victory. I'm still not very good at lighting fires though; I nearly run through an entire box of matches each time I attempt to start up the charcoal jiko.

Also, one of the walls in my house has seen a paint job, and a rather unorthodox one at that. It was inspired by one of the volunteers I shadowed during training; one of her walls was painted like this. If you can figure out why I painted the wall the way I did, leave your best guess in a comment. I'll reveal the answer next week, hopefully with another video.

May 2, 2010

project oasis: day 1

I have declared war on my house.

Last Sunday night was the first time I slept in my house in about 23 days. Granted, about 16 of those days were because of IST. It's hard to pinpoint the reason why I don't want to sleep in it, but generally it has to do with how dirty it is. It isn't clean by any sense of the word, and I had become a bit pessimistic about the process of cleaning it. Because I have a colony of bats taking refuge in my ceiling (they've been here longer than I have), the house doesn't stay clean very long after it's been swept and mopped. After a few months, I had essentially decided to give up. Instead of fighting back, I simply avoided the problem; for a month, I literally did nothing in my house besides sleep. Then, about a week before IST, I didn't even do that. I took shelter in my second master's room until I had to leave for Dodoma.

But now, after IST, I've realized the importance of having my own space and keeping it clean. I'm fairly certain that having a home I feel comfortable in will go a long way in helping me do my job better, and that the length of my stay here is almost entirely dependent on my house at this point. While I had found a way to survive without it for some time, I don't think that life was in any way sustainable for 2 years.
It's now time for me to fight, and take back what's mine!

And for those of you who are artists in the audience, I invite you to help me pimp my house! When I do get things back to an inhabitable state, I'm looking to start decorating the walls, preferably with African-inspired art. If any of you have ideas, leave a comment or send me an email. If you can upload drawings or sketches of layouts or designs, even better!  In return, I will brew you some wine when I get home; I just started my first batch of Orange-Pineapple last Tuesday and I'm very excited to see how it turns out!

April 23, 2010

ist: part 2

We just finished the PEPFAR sessions about 3 hours ago, and everybody is exhausted and happy it's over.  I'll let the comic tell the story of the past few days, since Monday kind of set the tone for the week.

Note: this is not what was literally said, but it does capture the spirit with which some of us spoke to our guest speaker Monday morning. It was a very uncomfortable 90 minutes for many of us, to say the least.

Most of us are ready to go back to site, either because we've gotten tired of sitting in the same room for 8 hours a day, or because we're excited to use some of the things we've learned about here.  I'm a little bit of both.

When IST is a little bit farther away (time-wise), I'll come back and give some deeper thoughts.  You'll have to excuse me since my brain is fried at the moment.  Must've been the 2.5 Guinesses I had last night at our informal dinner with the Country Director; those things are 7.5% alcohol here in TZ!

April 18, 2010

ist: part 1

Like I mentioned in my last post, I'm writing this to keep you up on all of the fun and excitement happening here at IST. It's actually really not that exciting, but it's been an absolute joy getting to see a bunch of my PST friends again and having the chance to catch up on what they've been up to. I'm very proud that, after nearly 4 months at site, we haven't had any ETs yet! Everyone seems to be in good spirits and, while I've heard some pretty awful stories about a few of the schools and some interesting cultural experiences, everybody appears to love their placements.

The first part of our In-Service Training consisted of an Education training session that lasted 4 days. We spent some time reflecting on our time at site, and then had lectures on various topics, from project design and management to ways to make wine and beef jerky with local materials.  Overall, the education sessions were very helpful and motivating; many of us are eager to get back to site to implement some of the things we've learned!

We just started the PEPFAR sessions two days ago.  Now that we've already completed our day on Permagardening (yesterday), I get the feeling it's all downhill from here.  Downhill in the sense that things are going to start sucking pretty hard, especially if the first day was any indication.  On the first day of PEPFAR, it was like PST deja vu; we took a pre-test and sat through three of the same slideshows we saw 6 months ago.  What made it even worse was the fact that it was the hottest day in Dodoma since we'd gotten to VETA, and some of us didn't get much sleep the night before.

We had a very good reason for not getting sleep though.  When some of us went out to dinner the night before, we met two members of Parliament (since it's currently in session in Dodoma), who took us out to a club to "celebrate" our completion of the Education IST.  Much dancing and loud (LOUD) music ensued, as well as drinking and encounters with prostitutes.  Some people (the smart ones) left around 12:30am, while the rest of us stayed out until 2:00 or 2:30.  I should've left at 12:30.  Not that I didn't have a wonderful time, because I did.  It's just that the wonderful time was out the door after 12:30.  After that, the music seemed to be rattling my brain and people were no longer the fun kind of drunk.  Plus, the dance floor was jam packed by that time, so I had no room to bust out my dance moves.  And perhaps if I had left earlier, my temporary hearing loss would be gone by now.

So while I'm a bit discouraged about the next week of PEPFAR, I feel pretty good about going back to site.  I have a renewed sense of urgency to get my house back to an inhabitable state, and perhaps even start cooking stuff again!  Or at least make some wine.  I also have plans to finally get a garden going, either in my backyard, in my second master's shamba (farm), or near the Form V dorm as a side project for them to maintain.

I'll see what I can do about getting another update in before I step foot in my village again, but when sessions don't end until 5 or 5:30 in the evening every day and it's nearly a 20-minute walk into town, it's hard to fit things in.  I'm also still working on getting the comic up, and I'm considering putting up a video about IST, though it will depend on how much video I get in the next few days.  Until next time!

April 8, 2010

short hiatus

My apologies for not posting an update last week when I had ample opportunity; I was in Dar for a few days with 24-hour wi-fi access.  I did find time to upload the video I mentioned a few entries back, however.  So check that out below (First Three Months).  The comic will be forthcoming; unfortunately, the program I use to draw my comics broke when I ran a software update in Dar, so that set me a back a bit.  Hopefully I'll have it up next week sometime (while I'm at IST, no less).

I will try to write up a few entries during my time at IST, perhaps a commentary on the events of the next two weeks.  In the meantime, enjoy the video, leave some comments on it, and eat a block of cheese in my honor!

March 21, 2010

have you SUFFERED lately?

Given that nearly a quarter of 2010 has already gone by (yes, it really has been almost three months), I figure this is a good time to reflect on what myoneword has taught me so far. My apologies to the uninformed and the unreligious in the audience; you can check out to find out what I'm talking about here.

Those of you that are in close contact with my parents may already be aware of how true of a myoneword SUFFER has been for me. Even if you aren't, you can probably sense it in most of the blog posts since the new year began. Yes, there has been plenty of physical suffering for me in the past three months. In recent weeks, I've been experiencing a trend of having stomach troubles once or twice every 7 days. Usually not on the same days, but perhaps in the next few months I'll be able to predict when the distress will occur; at least then I could prepare notes for my poor students.  I also had my house broken into a few weeks ago, leading to some slight mental turmoil (nothing important was stolen).

While I could just focus on the fact that I have indeed been SUFFERING this year, it would be silly of me if I didn't examine what God is trying to teach me and tell me through the suffering. I think one of the more profound things I've been hearing - not just during sickness but also during quiet times - is to simply be silent. One of my natural reactions to GI pains is to pray for mercy, which sounds hilarious when considered outside the situation. But I'm sure many of us have that one kind of sickness that cripples us into a beggar's stance: "God, take this from me," or "let it be quick, Lord" are fairly common prayers when I'm in this position. Over the past three months, the prayers have begun to evolve. "I don't want this anymore" has started to turn into "please give me peace." "Father, I'm hurting" is turning into "Father, I'm listening." Sometimes I think God allows us to be afflicted in our least favorite ways to get us to shut up. Wouldn't it be fair to say that the vast majority of the time we spend praying, we're the ones doing all the talking?

I believe one of the misconceptions among Christians when it comes to SUFFERING is that it's simply God's way of punishing us, or as Hebrews puts it, "chastening" us, when we're doing something wrong. Of course there's some truth to that, but that's a very shallow perspective if that's all you think suffering is; a tool used for behavior change. What I'm beginning to find is that when I begin to SUFFER, I begin to get closer to God. And I've found this to be the true purpose behind SUFFERING; it's not to correct behavior, it's to bring unity. I think the scriptures back this up as well. Just consider the passion of Jesus for a second. Some of the most intense SUFFERING any human being has endured, and it served to bridge the gap between God and man, bringing what? Unity.

Perhaps if we can have this perspective during our times of SUFFERING, we can delight in those tribulations the way Paul did...

March 7, 2010

this ain't what i signed up for...

People have many reasons for joining the Peace Corps; the international experience, the adventure, maybe to learn some skills they'd like to transfer to their lives back in the US. Along with these, there are things that PCVs learn and experience that they didn't anticipate before they swore in. This entry is about precisely those things that I've learned and experienced that, before coming here, I did not expect or even really have a desire to learn.

Let's start with the big one. The first thing I've learned, or at least I've been trying to learn, is to be okay with not doing my job well. In many cases, it's hard to even define what your job is or is supposed to be (especially for non-Ed Volunteers). And many times when you do have a clear-cut obligation, there's plenty to distract you, whether it's your host country friends, being perplexed by your new surroundings, or being infirmed by said surroundings. All three of these happened to me this past week, and it's because of them that I didn't teach a single period those 5 days. I would say "I wasn't able," but to be perfectly honest I probably could have pushed some things aside to teach at least one or two classes. The problem for me is an underlying tension between being an advocate for change and letting the culture teach me some things. And in that sense, I suppose doing your job "well" is a somewhat relative concept. Yeah, Peace Corps Volunteers in general are supposed to be catalysts for growth and change, but I'm having trouble seeing myself as the voice for that change when most of these teachers have been teaching longer than I have, and from my observation, seem to be doing a much better job than I am. I guess the real challenge is picking the right battles so that you enable yourself to transfer as much knowledge and understanding as possible. I've found thus far that it's pretty easy to focus on the stuff that isn't really important in the grand scheme of things.

The other thing I've learned to live with is emotional instability. I know I've talked about it before, but it's hard to ignore. Feelings come and go like the rains seem to be doing here where I am; one minute you're under a deep blue sky, the next you're seeking shelter from the waterfall that's suddenly begun to drop from above. Yesterday, after a week of being sick with stomach troubles and feeling guilty about not teaching, I woke up feeling awesome. I'm still trying to figure this one out, I'll let you know if I do. To illustrate how I've learned this, it's now become a regular thing for me to think to myself during the times I feel bad, "you know, I'll probably be happy tomorrow (or sooner)," and when I feel good, "I shouldn't get my hopes too high, this probably won't last too long." I think it's just a natural involuntary reaction from within, like a part of me that wants to be in equilibrium again. Kind of like the "neutral or slightly better" I felt a lot of the time back in America.

Mom, Dad, you might want to start looking for psychiatrists.

February 21, 2010

things to come

I think this may be the longest interval between entries since I've gotten here. My apologies to those of you in America that have been on house arrest the past few weeks because of Snowmageddon, you've probably been bored out of your mind and looking to me for something to read. If things still haven't thawed yet, then grab a blanket and some Swiss Miss while you read on. I was actually planning to make this entry a short one, just to tell you about the exciting things I have planned to put up here on the blog, and I will still do that. But given your situation of being perpetually snowed-in, I'll include a story to help you pass the time.

I have some exciting things planned for this blog in the coming weeks! Hopefully I've uploaded some more pictures, and you're looking at those now, but I've been continuing to take lots of film with my camera, so another video is in the works. I also have a comic planned. I'm not sure if I ever told you all about the comics I drew during PST, but I was notorious for them at our CCT days. Most Fridays we would have to break into groups at least twice to prepare some kind of presentation, usually on a subtopic of the lesson we were discussing. By the third week we became very accustomed to using flip chart paper to list bullet points, so most of us have now mastered the art of organizing and condensing our thoughts onto large sheets of paper. If you know any employers looking for this skill, tell them to search the network of RPCVs. Why the PST staff used this learning technique so much, we're still a bit baffled, but we definitely grew tired of it after we reached the halfway mark of training. The comics, however, softened the blow of these sessions for many people, so by the end I was usually handed the marker and flip chart paper no matter what group I was split into, based on the assumption I had another genius idea ready to be illustrated with stick figures within poorly drawn panels. Near the end of PST, I was even approached about putting some of the comics in future editions of the PST literature. I'm still working on that, though. Anyway, I have a comic set to hit the blog soon, along with a third video. Both will likely be about my first three months of service.

Now that I think about it, not only was I notorious for comics at our CCT days, I was also notorious for taking pointlessly long videos with my camera, many of them on the order of 15 minutes or more. Yes, they certainly do seem pointless and long at the time, but the shadow montage is an example of what you can do with pointlessly long videos when you pick out the good parts.

I guess I've rambled aimlessly enough now, maybe you'd like a story? Well, if you remember the story about Moshi (it's two posts back, I believe), I've actually been escorting him home at regular intervals since. It's usually a welcome good deed after I've majorly blown it in the classroom or I feel like I've done nothing all day. So far, the count is at 4 (counting last night, which was a special case that I will get to later), and I remember each occasion by what our topic of conversation was. I've already talked about the first. During our second walk we talked about his history in Tanzania, and how he has lived here in this town since before I was born (1985), and during the third we discussed what we think heaven will be like. He told me it's going to be one "sherehe kubwa," to which I responded with laughter, "sherehe kubwa" meaning a huge party. Certainly doesn't sound far from the truth to me.

This past occasion was special because I had a few of my fellow teachers with me. If it weren't for the fact that they too were intoxicated, it might've been another pleasant walk to Moshi's house. But most of the time I was inundated with drunken candor, be it numerous inquiries of whether I was attending church the following day or not, or explanations (coming from someone inebriated) of why Africans show respect to their elders even when they're inebriated. I was tempted to feel overwhelmed at many junctures, but I think I managed to keep a fairly good perspective on things until I reached my house, nearly an hour after we started on our stroll. While I won't remember any of the talking points from last night, I will remember it as the walk in which, out of a group of 5 people, I was the only one that didn't relieve himself in public.

I would say "only in Africa," but I'm pretty sure things like this happen in America, too.

February 7, 2010

energy with no outlet

I was planning to write this entry on the fly the other day in the Internet Cafe, but when I got to town there was no electricity. All the better, I suppose, as I can organize my thoughts a little better now.

On Friday morning, I was visited by one of the PC/Tanzania staff in the education sector. It was not a big meeting in any sense, just a friendly site visit to see how I'm doing at the school. We talked for a little bit in my house about various things, mostly semantics concerning any issues I've experienced or cultural problems I've witnessed in my first three months. Then we walked back to the school grounds where I introduced him to the headmaster and academic master. He gave me a packet at the end of our meeting, which I opened after he left to find it contained various Peace Corps newsletters and brochures. I'm not sure why, but I spent most of the next hour or two reading through most of it. I guess it was the inspirational stories contained within that got to me because after I finished, I was a ball of energy, brimming with desire to start a million different secondary projects that afternoon. I probably would have done just that if it weren't for divine intervention.

Because I recognized that my motivation and drive had no real focus or clear intentions, I decided it might be a good time to write a blog entry to organize my thoughts. Whether or not I was in control of my own actions at this point is still somewhat unclear, because I ended up on the rocks near the cell phone towers behind the school. A great idea, given the path is nearly straight uphill, and it was the middle of the afternoon. But I had come up here the previous Sunday to write a few notes in my e-journal about my pre-week prep for classes (I will address this at the end), so I figured a little peace and the view might do me some good.

Once I reached the boulder that overlooks the town, I left my bag and everything in my pockets under some tall bushes at the bottom, symbolizing, I thought, my desire to bring only myself before God for a little quiet time. I found that it was anything but quiet inside my head when I finally climbed up the rock. I tried to sit down near the front to survey the land below, but I couldn't sit still. I was still buzzing with ideas and thoughts in disarray, so tense that they literally made me pace back and forth. It was the strangest feeling being so wound up like this, maybe I was on the verge of a panic attack? But that doesn't seem like the right spirit. It felt more like things were going to burst out of me uncontrollably, and now that I was on top of a rock that had been baking in the African sun all morning, I also felt like I was going to burst into flames. After having to unbutton my shirt because I was overheating from the pacing, I decided it was better to dismount and sit on the slab of rock that was below me. At least there I would be shielded from the sun.

I should devote a little bit of time to telling you all about this slab of rock I've found near the cell towers. Last Sunday, I walked up the hill to have some quiet time and think about the coming week, and after I spent a few minutes overlooking the town, I descended to the slab below. I'm not sure how to describe it, other than it's just perfect. It sits at the bottom of this boulder that I've climbed on top of a few times (see most recent panorama), and it's sort of wedged underneath another boulder, effectively creating an overhang that graciously blocks the sun until about 2 in the afternoon. Did I mention you can lay on it like a bed? It functions equally as well as a seat, allowing your legs to hang freely in the glorious breezes that frequently pass over the rocks. Perhaps I will post pictures of it sometime. I have a feeling this rock is going to be very important to me during my service here in Manyoni.

And so, I descended to my home away from home and sat for a few minutes. It is here that I finally started to calm down. Slowly but surely, an unmistakeable Peace began to overtake my anxious thoughts, and before I knew it, I was nearly unconscious. For fear of injuring myself if I collapsed in my leaning seated position, I reclined on the rock and allowed God to continue speaking His Peace.

I tell you what, there's no quieter moment than when God speaks Peace into your heart.

And this was with huge generators running not 100 feet from where I lay, as there were electricians working on the cell towers up there (the power had gone out in the afternoon, and I can only assume they were making sure the towers were functioning properly). After about 15 minutes, I arose and considered getting out my laptop to start an entry, but decided to go ahead and walk into town and maybe write one at the cafe.

I had gone up the hill hoping to organize my thoughts and make sense of the tension I felt inside. When I came down, nothing had really been resolved. I never could make anything of what I was feeling, but I had peace. If God was telling me anything, it was to be patient and wait.

Now, about the e-journal I mentioned earlier. Since I started teaching classes, I have been keeping little notes on what I've taught to keep tabs on progress through the syllabus and to write impressions on how the students responded during that particular class. I've also been writing entries detailing reasons why I haven't been able to teach certain classes, whether it's because the students are cleaning the school grounds for the umpteenth time, or it's because they're being punished to clean the school grounds for the umpteenth + 1 time. As I mentioned above, I also write on Sundays about some of my aspirations for the coming school days as a "Pre-Week Prep", as well as reflections on how the week went on Fridays as an "End of Week Wrap-up." I'm considering ways I might make this available to you all so you can get an insider perspective on what I'm actually doing here (given the blog entries I publish seem to be about everything BUT my job), though it needs a bit more thought at the moment. I want to make sure I don't create any issues for Peace Corps before I do anything.

January 24, 2010

god - 1 me - 0

Yesterday was a rough day.

I spent the majority of it in my house, washing clothes and attempting to work on my lesson plans, but yesterday was the day the neighborhood kids discovered I had returned. In the late morning, a couple of them showed up on my doorstep. I made the mistake of letting them in when there were three huge open boxes on the floor, filled with American foodstuffs and candy. I already knew what they wanted, but they acted coy, roaming around the boxes and stealing glances at the things inside. Eventually, one of them started picking through them, just one thing at a time, and asking "hii ni nini?" ("what is this?"). Depending on my response, he'd either look at it some more and put it back, or take some of it and put it in his pockets. He ended up with quite a bit of chocolate, maybe 3 lollipops, and a pen before I ushered them out of the house.

Don't get me wrong, I want to give these kids candy, but to me, this felt more like looting. After hanging out with them outside for a bit, I returned to my house to work on my lesson plans. Within two hours, the kids returned to my door. I told them I had to work, but they continued to knock. After a while, I started to ignore their knocking until they left. That didn't feel very good, but I wanted to get some of my lesson plans done. About 45 minutes later, they showed up again with other kids, again knocking on my door incessantly, this time attempting to open the door themselves. I knew what they wanted, and now it was clear to me that I wasn't going to give it to them. I ignored the knocking again for the first few minutes until I finally lost my patience and walked to the window near the door.

"Unaweza kupata pipi kesho, sasa nahitaji kufanya kazi." ("You can get candy tomorrow, right now I need to do some work.")

"Fungua mlango!" ("Open the door!")

"Nahitaji kufanya kazi sasa!" ("I need to do work right now!")

At one point, one of the children held up a 50 schilling piece, saying "ninanunua pipi," which you can guess meant he was willing to buy candy from me. It was at this point I knew I had to get out of the house. By this time it was nearly 5 in the evening, but I couldn't stand the torture of denying kids candy and having them continuously knocking on my door. It felt like I was running from the problem, but I just didn't want to deal with it anymore.

I walked down to my favorite duka for no other purpose but to get away from my house. I felt a little better after I arrived when I found out there was a Manchester United game on (English football, as you might imagine, is quite popular here). One by one, familiar faces started to show up, the first being Moshi, an old stroke victim I met in the first weeks at site, and then Luka, the second master at my school. I had nearly forgotten about everything else when Moshi invited me to his house for dinner. "Here," I thought, "is a sign of God's providence." I hadn't eaten dinner yet, so I gladly accepted, not even remotely concerned about how intoxicated he was at the moment.

When he finished his drink, we left the duka and I immediately realized what was happening. If you think walking after a stroke is hard, imagine doing it while drunk on the worst roads in the world. I held his hand while he attempted to walk, though most of the time he was bent over at the waist, stumbling to keep his balance. All the while I was thinking, "why does he live so far away?", and "he's been drunk like this a lot, how in the world does he get home if he's alone?" A 5 or 6 minute walk at my normal pace turned into close to 40 minutes. By this time I was thinking "well, at least I did something good today." It was at about that moment that Moshi, among his slurred words of Swahinglish, told me in clear English "you are doing a good thing for me." Normally, a comment like this would make a person feel good. But it wounded me. It hurt.

Earlier that day, I had read Psalm 139, one in which David talks about the far-reaching hand of God. "If I ascend into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your Hand shall lead me, and Your Right Hand shall hold me." He also talks about His far-reaching knowledge: "You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways." And in verse 16, it says "Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, the days fashioned for me, when as yet there were none of them."

God knew.

He knew this was going to happen. He knew what I was thinking, where I was going, what I was doing. He knew everything. Worst of all, He knew my failures. He knew I was going to fail before I did. He knew I was going to lose my temper with those kids. He knew I was going to try to escape. That's what wounded me most of all. Tears are falling as I type this because it still hurts. I guess it was something that I hadn't really thought about before, that God knows my failures as well as He knows my victories, or at least it hadn't hit home until now. It was ordained before I was born. The other thing that hurts is that He knows me better than I know myself. It's so hard to understand how deeply personal that is until moments like these. It's logical to think that you are the self-taught expert on your own life, but all you have to go on is your past, your thoughts, and your feelings (which, in many cases, distorts your perspective). But God sees everything; the past, the present, the future. The thoughts you deny you ever thought, the feelings you suppress and ignore, the actions you try to forget. This is one of those suffering moments I talked about, when reality hits. I had one idea, and God had another. Guess who came out the victor.

Back to the dusty road I was on with Moshi, lit only with a first quarter moon shrouded by clouds, we had reached a point where it appeared that he could no longer lift his right leg enough to continue. As luck would have it, a few neighbors were out walking and saw us. One of them fetched a wheel cart (normally used for carrying large jugs of water) and we lifted him into it. Here I was met with one of the disparities between our cultures. Even drunk and being wheeled around in a cart like a victim of the plague, he was still receiving "shikamoo"s (greeting of respect shown to someone who is your elder) from passerbys. We arrived at Moshi's house after about 2 more minutes of walking and wheeling, and I respectfully turned down the offer for dinner, seeing the family had their hands full with their babu.

I stumbled back to the duka, holding back tears like a kid who didn't get his way. There, I humbly ate with my second master, who gladly paid for dinner while I told him about the 45 minute pilgrimage to Moshi's house. And there, with corrected perspective, God revealed His providence.

No one likes to suffer, but as long as God is winning in the tally...

small thoughts: "grory to god"

Any volunteer here in Tanzania will tell you one of the more amusing parts of living here is seeing the multitude of slogans plastered across seemingly every commercial bus and transport truck on the road. Surprisingly, many of them are in English. I'm not sure if this is because Tanzanians are looking for a reason to practice their English, but the majority of these English slogans have spelling and grammatical errors. I wouldn't be shocked if I was one of the only volunteers who dies of laughter every time I spot one of these, I can barely understand why myself. One of the slogans I saw on the way to the YMCA from the airport I have put in the post title. I had to contain my laughter somewhat since I was in the car with someone I didn't know, but I definitely let out a chuckle.

It's good to be back in Tanzania.

a week down south

Many of you already know I went down to South Africa on medevac. Some of you may not know, however, that I flew back to Dar on the 16th. Yes, the medevac is over, and I clocked in at just over a week (10 days if you count the travel days).

I won't lie; in all actuality it was a vacation. While I do understand the serious nature of foot drop (nerve damage can have pretty awful consequences), I couldn't help but feel like I was flown down to Pretoria for a week in a shopping mall, with the occasional appointment with a specialist or a physician, which it basically was. I spent a lot of time in that Brooklyn Mall. I didn't buy much, given that my per diem was the equivalent of $17/day in South African Rand. I could spend $17 worth of Rand on one meal pretty easily down there, and I did on occasion (I just about ate my weight in cheese during my stay). Another easy way to spend money was to go to the cinema in the mall, which I did three times (Invictus, Sherlock Holmes, and Old Dogs). Unfortunately, tickets are just as expensive there as they are in America (R48, which at ~R7 per $1 USD means a ticket costs ~$7). What was cool about the cinema experience was the assigned seating. I had heard about this before, and that America is practically the only country that doesn't do this in their movie theaters. I enjoyed it tremendously, especially because there really wasn't a bad seat in any of those theaters.

The guest house I stayed at throughout the week wasn't really a house, but more of a compound. Like all of the houses in the neighborhood that surrounded it, the compound was guarded with a gate, but unlike the others, it did not have an electric fence to stave off intruders. Yes, the surrounding neighborhood was a ritzy one, consisting of endless rows of walls and metal gates...and big homes, of course. But most of what you saw from the outside were the walls. The gate at the guest house is controlled with an RF remote, which each guest receives on their keyring at check-in. It made me feel cool to hide the remote in my pocket and make it look like the gate was magically opening and closing for me.

Overall, the only unpleasant part of the trip was the Nerve Conduction Study that was performed the day after I arrived. The NCS consisted of attaching electrodes to certain parts of my left foot, sending pulses through the nerves in my leg, and then measuring the response at the nodes. Imagine static shock, only multiplied a couple hundred times. After about 15 minutes of electricuting the nerves in my leg, we moved on to what looked like acupuncture needles. The doctor measured my foot strength by inserting the needle into my calf muscle, and then having me resist him either pushing up or down on my foot (yes, resisting was painful). The needle was connected to a computer, which took readings on the calf muscle. It also made staticy noises, indicating how much muscle was being used. Pretty fascinating, but not something I'd like to repeat if possible. I wouldn't mind watching the procedure performed on someone else, though. Especially the first part (I made a lot of weird faces).

So, after 14 days, 10 spent in another country and 3 in a posh room at the Holiday Inn in Dar es Salaam (I'm considering the rewards membership), I am making my return to life in Tanzania. Namely, a return to poverty after being pampered by doctors and hotel staff. A return to the bats in my ceiling after sleeping in practically sound-proof rooms. But most important, it's a return to what I actually came here to do.


January 5, 2010


Written on January 1, 2010
This is the word I got from God this morning. It is myoneword for 2010.

(edit Jan 9: I think I may have left some people in the dark on this myoneword thing...check out, it's a New Years resolution-type deal started by the pastor at my church in North Carolina.)

I've been mulling over it since I woke up, thinking anxious thoughts of "what a great oneword!" and "this can't possibly be what God wants for me." But after seeing it in scripture this morning (Philippians 1:29), and realizing I've had 1 Corinthians 13:4 in the back of my mind for nearly a month, I can't get away from it. This is it. SUFFER.

On the surface, it's fairly unsurprising that this will be the theme of 2010 for me. The suffering has already started.

I am still looking back on the past three months, contemplating what God is trying to tell me through my physical health. I spent my first two months in Tanzania marveling and thanking God for keeping me healthy in times that, typically, travellers experience their worst sickness. I'd even hazard to say I was healthier those first two months in Africa than I was in a long time back in the US. Now, one month post-training, my defenses seemed to have been stripped from me. Granted, I could probably barely survive living alone in America, let alone a third-world country, but this has become my reality. In the five short weeks I've been at site, I've been physically healthy for maybe two, in total. And now I am facing a trip to South Africa for further medical treatment, and quite possibly a premature end to my Peace Corps service.

This has been a recent struggle. Not ten minutes ago, as I was walking back to my house, tired from the sun and spending time in town, I had conflicting thoughts. As my house came into view, I had a feeling of relief that my journey was coming to an end. But then I approached the front door and caught the smell of bat droppings pouring through the air. My mind immediately ran to Matthew 8:20, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head." God was giving me a taste of that feeling. This doesn't feel like home at all. It is only serving as a reminder of my suffering.

I have no doubt that the spiritual realm is at war within me. That's something that hasn't changed since leaving the US. It only seems logical that as we suffer physically and mentally, spiritually we do the same. I see this in questions like "why is God letting this happen to me?" When our own expectations of what God wants and the reality of His own will come crashing together, we suffer spiritually. It is our shattered assumptions that produce doubt in our own abilities, and even in God's. While my physical health has been a cause for concern, I remain vigilant that God is the LORD of my days, every single one of them. There is purpose in my affliction, there is purpose in my trip to South Africa, and in the end if I am medically separated from the Peace Corps, there will be purpose in that as well.

My overall sense from getting this word this morning is that God wants to reduce me to nothing. He wants to take away all the things I'm still clinging to, the things I take foregranted, the things I think I need, until I become nothing. There is no room for "me" in this life. And as He does this, I will suffer. I will suffer physically, mentally, and spiritually. What it all comes down to is this: I must look to Jesus. He is the example. Without suffering, there is no redemption and no salvation.

I don't want to look too far ahead, but I think I might know what next year's oneword will be, because a beautiful thing happens after we suffer:
"But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and SETTLE you."
~ 1 Peter 5:10