23 December 2009

How to open a soda bottle...without an opener

We drink a lot of soda here, and nearly all soda comes in the old-fashioned, reusable glass bottles. A problem that one frequently runs into is how to access said soda from said bottle without an opener.

Method 1: Teeth
In this extremely popular method, one hooks a bottom eye tooth (the pointy ones) under the ridge of the soda bottle and pulls away from the bottle creating a gap. One then readjusts same tooth into the wider gap and pulls up this time, releasing the seal and opening the bottle.
Pros: Your teeth are always available, and this method is nearly 100% effective.
Cons: Almost certain damage to your teeth over time, and if someone else is opening your soda for you, it's a little bit gross that your bottle top has been in his or her mouth.

Method 2: Another soda bottle
In this method, one uses another sealed soda to open the first by using the cap as a lever against the one being opened. This method is usually employed when opening an entire crate of sodas for a party.
Pros: Extremely quick and efficient
Cons: Takes some skill, and there is not always another soda available. Also, it shakes up the opener soda, and then how do you open the opener soda when you get to the end?

Method 3: Water bottle
This method is similar to the soda bottle method, except that one uses an empty water bottle. I have only ever seen one person pull this off with consistency, my co-worker Edwin.
Pros: Makes a loud popping sound and shoots the bottle cap into the air (I've been hit by these projectiles on several occasions.)
Cons: Specialized skill, there is not always an appropriate water bottle available

Method 4: Karate chop
I am fairly certain I learned this method from some former fraternity members, and I've never seen it done in Tanzania. In this method, one rests the edge of the bottle cap on the edge of a desk, window sill, coffee table, etc. (must be wood surface). One brings one's hand down on the top of the soda in a karate chop motion, and the force seperates the bottle from the cap.
Pros: Appropriate wood edges are commonly available, almost everyone has hands, makes you look tough
Cons: If you wuss out and don't hit the bottle with enough force, you'll just end up hurting yourself. I don't think this method is advisable for as often as Leah and I employ it, seeing as she recently gave herself a nasty bruise from hitting the bottle with the wrong part of her hand. I advised her to play through the pain, but she's still on the disabled list, so I'm opening both of our sodas these days.

Do you have an additional method for our consideration? Preferably one that does not involve permanent harm to teeth or bones?

Also, speaking of the disabled list, Leah and I were in a dala dala (minivan bus) on Monday, and I saw a man who looked a heck of a lot like someone famous. I pointed him out to Leah, and said "Is it just me, or does that look like Emmett Smith?" To my delight, Leah not only knew who Emmett Smith was, she also knew enough of what he looked like to agree with me. When the look-alike got off at a stop where there's a large guest house, we decided that we were right, although, of course, it's extremely unlikely that anyone famous in the States would ever vacation in Dodoma. Still, we can dream.

18 December 2009

"Are you ready to go home, my husband?"

Imagine my surprise yesterday when I was thinking of what to blog about this week, and I realized that, aside from a few brief mentions, I’ve not described my roommates to you! I have two roommates, Jacky Stephen and Beatrice Kateti.

Jacky is 24 years old, and the accountant for one of the projects at the church. She recently graduated from college with a degree in accounting, and speaks English very well. She is from a town up in the north, near Lake Victoria, and is engaged to a man who lives in Dar es Salaam. A few weeks ago her mother and one of her brothers came to stay with us to celebrate her graduation and birthday.

Beatrice is about 25 years old, and she volunteers at the church right now. Her father is a very dear friend to Bishop Amos, so he asked to send Beatrice to work with the Muhagachis. She and I became friends when we were both living at the Muhagachi house. She doesn’t speak very much English, and I still don’t speak very much Kiswahili, but, surprisingly, we are able to understand each other very well, although Jacky helps a lot. This is Beatrice and I at Jacky's graduation party.

When we first moved in together, we were joking one day that I am like the father, because I am responsible for paying the bills, fixing things that break (to the best of my limited ability), and breaking down bedroom doors whose locks fail to unlock (no joke, that really happened). I am rather inept at cooking over charcoal, washing clothes properly and efficiently, and recognizing when the floors need to be mopped, but fortunately, Jacky is excellent at all of those things, as well as budgeting for food for the month, and cooking creatively with what food we do have, so she is the mother. Beatrice spends a lot of time talking on her phone in her room, and tends to help Jacky only when Jacky asks for help, so we call her our daughter.

The dynamic in our house started as a joke, but we’ve settled into our roles quite nicely. When we have guests over, I sit in the living room and entertain them while Jacky and Beatrice cook in the kitchen, just like a real African husband/father. When Beatrice needs a couple of hundred shillings for a soda or for phone credit, she borrows from me. We’ve started calling each other by our titles. Jacky calls me “my husband”, and Beatrice often calls me "Baba" (father). I make sure to tell Jacky every few days what a good wife she is to me, and pat Beatrice on the head and call her “mtoto wangu” (my daughter). The staff of the church hear us talking to each other this way, and just laugh, as do our friends who come over to visit and see this dynamic at work.

Seriously, though, we complement each other very well in taking care of each other, but also as peers and friends. I trust them both implicitly with the struggles I have in daily life, and we pray for each other and each others’ families every night. It is a joy to come home to such wonderful sisters in Christ, and I’m so grateful for them! (Here is Jacky and I arm wrestling with Beatrice looking on and laughing.)

11 December 2009

Today Christmas begins...

I know that for most of you who read my blog, Christmas started weeks ago, but in Tanzania, far removed from the manic commercialism of American Christmas, it begins today.

Actually, it is only starting today because the Lahash kids are writing Christmas letters to their sponsors, and Leah and I will be teaching them a few Christmas songs. We are all really excited about Christmas with these kids for two reasons:

First, Christmas is on a Friday this year, the same day as the Lahash kids program. In the States that would mean that the program is canceled to celebrate Christmas, but here it means that we get to spend Christmas Day with the kids! Because of extremely generous donations from a local bank, we'll be able to have a fantastic Christmas feast with the kids, complete with sodas for all!

The second reason we're all excited is the Lahash sponsorship Christmas program. We developed a program which allows sponsors to give toward a personalized Christmas gift for their sponsored child. As I get updates about sponsors giving to this program, we get to imagine Joseph riding his new bike, Jennifer and Noel looking so smart in their new clothes, or Zuhura learning to use her new sewing machine. So much better than getting any of those things myself, because I know how much these Christmas gifts will mean to the kids. (If you would like to give for one of these children who doesn't have a sponsor or whose sponsor cannot afford a gift, please contact me or my assistant at kpotter@lahash.net.)

Personal reasons I'm more excited for this Christmas than I have been about any Christmas in a long time:

- I was thinking that I would be going out of town with the Muhagachi family, but they've changed their plans, so I get to be here with my darling kids and beautiful roommates and wonderful friends.

- NO FLEEPING CHRISTMAS MUSIC! (fleeping is a word I made up to replace certain inappropriate cusswords in my vocabulary, feel free to use it) Although I did run into my roommate's bedroom to listen to someone on TBN singing Ave Maria, and I'm teaching the kids my favorite Christmas carol (Oh Holy Night) today, I could go the rest of my life without hearing Feliz Navidad, Santa Baby, or Rudolph. I know this all sounds like rank heresy to some of you, but I have loved knowing that for roughly the past month you all have been hearing Christmas music piped in everywhere, but I can observe my personal policy of no playing Christmas music until mid-December. It actually makes me excited for the two Christmas CDs on my computer.

- People here don't give a lot of presents for Christmas, and I already arranged my family's Christmas presents (months ago). Leah and I are thinking of buying chips for all of the staff for lunch one day as our Christmas gift to them, and I'll buy the Christmas gifts for my three sponsored kids (I'm thinking a bicycle for Kibiro, since he already does so many errands for me, it will make him even happier to do my errands! Potina and Anjela will probably get new clothes, but don't tell them!). I might buy something small for my roommates, and I'll be done! We're all allowed to be excited about Jesus, not presents. It's really nice.

Time to get my Oh Holy Night on! (that sounds oddly inappropriate somehow...)

03 December 2009

You know you live somewhere odd when...

…you decide against your nightly bathing because you can’t get a lizard out of your bathtub.

…the man next to you in the internet café peers over your shoulder to read your blog, even though he probably cannot understand the English.

…you are grateful that your Swahili tutor smokes, because the bitter smell of stale tobacco just covers the odor wafting off of his feet.

…you listen to a young woman tell a story of flying on a basket with a witchdoctor and it doesn’t rouse an ounce of skepticism.

…you know how to say “I peed my pants” in Swahili, but will probably never have occasion to use it because you don’t wear trousers except to bed, and if you peed during the night, you’d say I peed the bed, regardless of what you were wearing while you did it. (you also know how to say that, although so far, you’ve never had to say either one.)

…you are invited to serve on the Board of Directors for a nursery school, but need the assistance of a nursery school student to read the letter of invitation. (Not really, you had a pastor read it to me.)

...you ask for instant oatmeal in care packages, and astound friends by sharing chocolate chips because they’ve never seen a chocolate chip before.

…you understand when you’re being told to stand up, but then can’t really figure out why you’re the only one standing.

…you notice the moon because if it weren’t for the moon, there would be no light for your mile-long trek to a friend’s house.

…you find teeth marks on your calculator case because Charles Chatanda believes that everything might be food, regardless of initial appearances.

…you have a pep talk for the “what if…” moment of your quarterly HIV test.
…you forget the name of the bus to your neighborhood, and choose the wrong bus, but decide to ride the wrong one across town just to see if you can get yourself home walking. (you do, but you’re really sweaty and tired by the time you arrive)

(After such a sad update yesterday, I thought I'd give you all a little upper post. Truth is I've had a really tough two days, and it encouraged me to laugh at myself while putting this together.)

02 December 2009

The ugliness of myself revealed

My cohort Leah has blogged about a woman called Cristina, an HIV+ client in the Home Based Care program at the church here. Leah was with the social worker, Mama Bette, on a routine visit to Cristina’s house where they found Cristina essentially starving to death. She was living with her parents and brother, but they were either refusing or just failing to take care of her.

It was really difficult for Leah to witness, though, I think, good in a way. This is a tragically common scenario for people living with advanced HIV in East Africa. We knew a woman in Kenya whose son had built a room onto the side of their house for his mother to, basically, die in. They refused to care for her, and were just waiting for her to die. It puts a hard knot in my stomach to think of what goes on in the minds of these families.

The result of Leah and Mama Bette’s visit to Cristina’s home was that Cristina was admitted to the hospital. About two or so weeks ago I mentioned that we visited her there. You can see from the photo how frail she was, but she was much improved from when they first found her. To be admitted in this kind of situation, the patient needs a family member to stay also to provide food, water, clothing, clean linens, and to advocate with the doctors and nurses. Cristina’s mother, having been severely reprimanded by Mama Bette, was there at the hospital. This was my first hospital visit to a client, but even I could tell that the mother was still not taking very good care of Cristina. We had brought clothes for her, which was good because the mother had only a few fabric wraps (khangas), and Cristina appeared to be cold lying on the plastic hospital mattress. Her skin was so dry it was cracking in spots, and until Mama Bette arrived, the mother had made no effort to change the wrapped diaper.

Poor Cristina suffered through nakedness and having herself cleaned by other people with as much dignity as can be mustered in those situations. Her eyes, huge in her head, were still pleading, and it was clear that she was extremely hungry. The staff of the HBC program had brought prepared food every day, although they suspected that the mother was eating it. Eventually, over the course of about a week, Cristina became strong enough to be sent home. We rejoiced, and hoped for the best.

Last Tuesday evening her mother came to the church with another woman. The woman told Mama Askofu (Esther Muhagachi) that Cristina was very, very ill, as bad as she had been before the hospital. The mother sat in dumb, resentful silence, as this woman, a caregiver to someone with HIV herself, volunteered to take Cristina in her own home. I listened to this conversation, parts of which were translated for Leah and I, and the anger I felt after hearing about that first home visit revived in my heart as I watched the mother, inertia and apathy etched on every feature. As Mama Askofu berated Cristina’s mother, vehemently enough that the Swahili speakers found reasons to turn away into other conversations, I reveled in the mother’s discomfort, indulging my pettiest self.

There was talk of doing a home visit immediately, but Cristina’s house was too far to walk so late in the day, and the church’s two vehicles were both in use. There was another HBC client, a woman called Grace, in the hospital, and the hospital’s limited visiting hours were fast passing. Leah was leaving in the morning for a little trip with the Muhagachis, and needed to go home to pack. I told them to fetch me if they went to Cristina’s, but the trip never happened.

The next morning word reached us that Cristina died during the night. She is neither the first, nor the last client who has been lost in the program. Hers is not the first death of a client that I have suffered through, but the battle of “right” emotions never becomes simple. In my spirit there is holy rebellion, rebellion that dates back to the Garden of Eden where sin and death entered the world for the first time. Death was never God’s intention, it was a necessary and merciful adaptation to save us from having to live eternally in a corrupt world where disease and neglect exist, but it was not part of God’s original plan, so the part of my spirit that is living for the renewal of God’s original design hates her death in the same way that I hated her illness and poverty.

Also in the mix is that anger toward her family. A desire for some kind of justice or retribution, abated by the pragmatism that there are no realistic legal consequences for this family who essentially starved their daughter to death, but unabated by any kind of mercy. There is honestly a part of me that wants them to suffer, not to the extreme of Cristina’s suffering, but enough to jolt them out of their indifference. Obviously it is impossible to impart compassion through those means, but an ugly part of me would really like to try it.

Finally, part of me is relieved for Cristina’s sake. From what I understand she loved Jesus, so release from her frail, sick body is release into a perfect peace and rest that would have always been impossible in this broken and ugly world.

So, rest in the arms of the Lover of your soul, Cristina. Rest in peace.

18 November 2009

Sights and smells of Dodoma

Kate asked for more pictures, but I'm that girl who carries around a camera and never ever takes photos with it unless they're specifically required for work. I think part of it is an inferiority complex brought on by working with media geniuses (geniusi?) like Dan and Casey, but here are a few of the sights and smells (can't wait for smell technology on the internet!) of my week:

Smell: Pilau
Pilau is this awesome rice stuff with spices in it. Often it also has big chunks of irish potato and bits of meat. It's like the original, first and best Rice-A-Roni. My roommates made pilau on Monday, and at one point it actually kind of smelled like Cup-a-Noodle, which made me all nostalgic.

Sight: Pomegranates
The pomegranates at my house are beginning to be ripe, so Jackie and I sat outside Monday evening and ate a pomegranate each, fresh from the tree. We also stole one off of our neighbors' tree because it was hanging on our side.

Smell: Goat fart
There are goats that graze in a field that I walk through every day on the way to work. Yesterday as I was passing by them, one farted. Sick.

Sight: Dead rat
'nuff said. It was laying dead on a cinder block in one of the yards I cut through on the way to work.

Smell: Marijuana?
It's not really marijuana, but when people burn trash around here, it often smells like the first floor of Hewitt Hall in Fall 2001, if you Linfielders know what I mean.

Sight: Rosey and her mama
My friend Chitema's daughter Rose is always around, ready to play. In fact, because of her I've had lots of practice saying "Sichezi!" (I'm not playing!) Her mother, Chitema's wife, is probably seven months pregnant and the most beautiful and graceful woman I have ever seen. Yesterday she was fetching water, wearing a muumuu and plastic shoes, but looking for all the world like she could be posing for the cover of Vanity Fair. She had Rosey along to "help".

Smell: Smoke
Because the rainy season has started, lots of people can't cook outside anymore for lack of cover. Many of the families of the kids in our program here have only one room that functions as sleeping and living quarters, and, when it's raining, cooking quarters also. Lately whenever I've picked up a Lahash kid to sit on my lap I've been breathing deep the smell of charcoal or wood smoke in their clothes. It reminds me of camping and my friends who used to smoke pipes.

Sight: A small yellow ball whizzing at my head
Jackie has a game she likes to play that is basically like two person dodgeball. One person stands against the wall trying to dodge the high velocity pitches of the other player. You score goals by catching the ball, then throwing it back at the thrower. If you hit the thrower, it's a point. Jackie and I played for about 20 action-packed minutes on Sunday, then we did some stretches and the only yoga poses I could remember. We had some little competitions for stair-stepping (I lost because I fell off the stair) and wall-sitting (I lost, but I think she was cheating). I can kick her butt at arm-wrestling, though.

Final sight: The watchman's bemused face
Jackie and I did our stair-stepping competition outside, and our brand-new watchman, Maduka, just watched us like we were crazy. I suppose we are a bit. He's cool, though, and still likes us and we like him.

12 November 2009

Highlights of the past week...

It's been a crazy busy week, so I'm going to limit myself to one highlight from each of the past seven days.

Friday the 6th - HUGE thunderstorm to kick off the rainy season. I sat out on my little verandah to watch and listen to the spectacle. One thunderclap sounded right over the house (I've never heard one closer), scaring me badly enough to duck and cover my head, and making Jackie scream and fall down inside the house.

Saturday the 7th - We visited a woman who is living with HIV and had been so neglected by her family that she was found essentially starving to death. Leah had been to visit her several times, and was present the day she was found, but it was my first visit to her in the hospital. I'll spare you all the details, but they let me be a tiny bit helpful in getting her dressed and fed, but I wasn't the one who had to clean her up, if you know what I mean. She was so sweet, and so grateful to be alive, and she gave us a thumbs up as we left. (Second runner up for best highlight was a call from my parents.)

Sunday the 8th - I got my second roommate, another Tanzanian woman named Beatrice, and we had some Leah and two of our friends, Mseti and Paulo, over for lunch. It was the first time I felt like I fit in with these young people as one of their peers, in a similar, but different, way to my friends back home. We had a fantastic conversation, and had some meat for lunch that Jackie had cooked in the taco spices I brought from home, which turned out to be a hit.

Monday the 9th - Leah and I attempted our first public cooking spectacle: French Toast. It was the 14th birthday of my Tanzanian little brother, Victor, so we made some French Toast for the whole family, sweetening it by making a kind of sugar syrup and pouring it into the egg/milk mix. People enjoyed it so much I attempted it later in the week for another crowd, and got similar enthusiasm.

Tuesday the 10th - Small triumphs: I finished The State of Africa, which I had been reading for work, and The Man in the Brown Suit I re-read in almost one sitting out on the verandah.

Wednesday the 11th - So many great things happened this day. First Jackie, Beatrice, and I hosted the church staff meeting at our house in the morning, where I asked them to go around and affirm the person on their right. They'd never done anything like that before, and it was lovely to see them encouraging them one another. Mama Neema, the accountant, said such beautiful things about me that I nearly cried. Later at a planning meeting for the HIV Community Event, (remember how I was learning to dance for this event?), someone said "Why do we need to change the ngoma (dancing)? If Leisha can dance with her hips, surely the rest of us can." I'll take that as a compliment. Best of all, we finally got to the post office, and I had a book from my Grandma Adams and a stack of photos of my family from my Grandma Jones. Grandmas are the best!

Thursday the 12th - Does it sound callous to say that the highlight of today was firing my house help? She'd been making me dread the days she came to clean because she didn't clean well, didn't cook well, was rude to my roommates, always demanded breakfast that I didn't even have for myself, and might have been stealing sugar and oil. She's gone now, although she made it clear that I can call her if I want to hire her to do my laundry, which she's actually decent at. The lowlight of today is that I haven't had a soda. First day in probably two weeks that I haven't had at least one soda, although the day isn't over yet!

06 November 2009

Things I love about my house...

I love that the front gate sticks, so you have to either finesse it open or use brute force. It's a good mark of my attitude which one I resort to.

I love the flowering shrubs and trees and bushes all over my compound. It's really peaceful, and it cuts down on the dust that blows everywhere else in town.

I love that the kitchen is big and has a table in it, so when my roommate, Jackie, or I are cooking (aka Jackie cooking and me cutting veggies or watching), we have plenty of room to move and hang out together. More about Jackie to come in the future.

I love, love, love my bedroom. It's large and still lacking in important furniture, but it gets lots of natural light during the day, and is just peaceful.

I love this spot. This is my favorite part of the whole house. It's my verandah, overlooking the fruit trees along the side of the house. Nearly every day after work I come here and relax, read, text with people in the States, or just sit and think. It's amazing how much free time there is with no internet access at home, no television, no taking work home with me (which I have promised myself that I will absoutely not do). This is where I relax and take introverted time for myself. Sometimes Jackie or Leah join me here, but we just have quiet conversation or read. It's really nice.

So now that you've seen my house, come join me! I have lots of room for guests, and you can even partake from the oranges and pomegranates growing in the compound. There might even be water, if you come at the right time of year, which is not right now.

Best to all of you!

27 October 2009

Various snippets of my life here

Leah and I got a special treat yesterday: apples. That's right, they sell apples here, although at an exorbitant price. A single smallish apple costs 500 shillings, or about 40 cents. Compare that to a huge mango at 300 shillings, or 22 cents. Nonetheless, in celebration of October and the autumn happening in the Pacific Northwest and the five minutes of rain we had on Friday, Leah and I treated ourselves to two apples each. Such luxury!I went to a birthday party on Saturday for the one-year-old son of my good friends Manase and Neema Mhana. The first time I came to Dodoma they were recently engaged. The second time I came they were recently married. The third time I came they were recently pregnant. Now little Yohana (John) is a year old already! Like all parties here it was long...we came two hours late and were there for three hours. There is a program that reads very much like a church service, complete with multiple sermons and the same music we hear on Sunday mornings. These parties are a bit grueling, being entirely in Kiswahili, so my understanding is limited, and there is always a ton of great food at the end of the program, although I never can eat as much as is expected of me. Still, there is something charming and fun about these parties, which happen regularly for a huge variety of reasons.

I moved into my house yesterday! I realized this morning that I still don't have any pictures of my house, but those will be coming soon. The whole house came furnished, which is good because a) I don't have much stuff, and b) I hate shopping, so I probably would have gone ages with one bowl, one cup, and a box to sit on. I'll do a dedicated blog post with photos, etc. soon.

What I'm reading, watching, and listening to:
Reading: The State of Africa by Martin Meredith, "The Case for Early Marriage" in Christianity Today, and the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde

Watching: Season One of Friday Night Lights and Lars and the Real Girl (which is so excellent!)

Listening to: Mars Hill Bible Church's series on the Sermon on the Mount, Imago Dei's sermon series on Living in the Story of God, N.T. Wright's speech titled "Living the Language of Life: New Creation and Christian Virtue" for the 12th or so time, and a free playlist of folk music that's really good.

Final note: If you read my previous blog post, you'd have appreciated that yesterday that gentleman had a solo, and he absolutely rocked it. It was beautiful. Also, one of our sponsored kids, Charles, is standing at my elbow watching me type, chewing on a piece of plastic that he found on the floor of my office. Guess I need to sweep this place!

22 October 2009

Is there room for excellence in the church?

I've been doing a lot of reading and listening to sermons and the like of late. I've also been reflecting a lot on the body of Christ, the church.

When in Kampala, I attended a huge church that does really wonderful work for vulnerable women and children. I was struck by the professionality of everything presented, from the stage dressing to the music to the alternate video shots broadcast onto the large screen over the stage. There were professional quality video announcements, and the 70 or so person choir wore perfectly matching outfits. On huge banners on either side of the stage were listed the core values of the church, including Excellence. I suppose one could understand that to mean any number of things. From what I was presented as a guest, I would assume that they mean excellence in their presentation and professionality, although I could be wrong.

I got to thinking about that, however, and it's stuck with me. I heard a talk from a pastor called Jimmy Dorrell in Texas whose church meets under a bridge. Their worship team stands on the back of a flatbed trailer, and when a mentally ill man named Patick asked to join the worship team, they bent over backward to accomodate him. He gets easily distracted and tended to interfere with the other musicians, so they built him his own kind of box stage to stand on, gave him an electric guitar with two strings, and let him go. He sometimes jumps down to greet visitors, have a cigarette, or get some coffee, but they really emphasis the value of each member of the church serving as their member of the body.

There is a man in the choir at my church in Dodoma who reminds me of the diverse members of the body of Christ. The choir is really good, they have choreographed dances for each of their songs, and they usually mostly match their clothing, but not always. This new man in the choir, though, doesn't have the matching outfits, he's still learning the songs, and he simply cannot do the choreography, but he sings with such joy and dedication it brings tears to my eyes. As much as I love listening to the choir, I have never been pointed to God so poignantly as by this wonderful young blind man. To me, his participation in the body of Christ is so much more reminiscent of the values of the kingdom of Heaven than any definition of excellence which might keep him humming in the back row.

15 October 2009

Wait, is this a bus or a trampoline?

Well I made it home, at long last, on Saturday night. I was intended, as I wrote last week, to leave Kampala at 4pm on a bus. That didn’t really happen. There was a traffic jam in Kampala so bad that we didn’t leave until 6pm. I had purchased my ticket late in the week, a week including Ugandan Independence Day, so there weren’t many options for a seat. I chose number 40, which looked to be in the second to last row on the diagram, and I was okay with that, because, although you never want to sit in the very back row, but the second to back row is usually okay. The back row is bad because it is a bench across the entire back of the bus, seating five people, and all of the cold air coming in from any window is immediately sucked into the back of the bus and sits there. Also, most bus drivers, being more concerned with the point A to point B than the comfort of the passengers, will ease the front of the bus over speed bumps and potholes, then gun it, so that the back of the bus hits that same pothole pretty hard.

I knew all of this, so I was pretty pleased with myself for choosing the last seat in the second to last row, until I got on the bus and realized that the diagram did not match the actual layout of the bus, and seat number 40 was the first seat in the back row. The bus, being an overnighter, had reclining seats (think airplane seats) in every row except the back row. The back row had only me and one other mama in it, so she stretched out completely prostrate across four of the five seats, such that I could hardly move without bumping her feet. The wind starting blowing into the back of the bus, sweeping under my skirt, and through the four layers I was wearing on top. As it got a bit darker, we picked up two more passengers who joined us in the back row. The woman who sat next to me asked if it was okay with me if she took her hair out, meaning removing her extensions. (I am still finding small tufts of her artificial hair in my bag.) The girl sitting in front of me kicked her seat all the way back to sleep, leaving me about three inches between my chest and her seat. For the next eight hours I tried to sleep without resting my head on the freezing cold window pane. Sleep never really came, needless to say. We arrived in Nairobi around 6am the next morning where the girl in front of me woke up and realized my tight quarters, shook her finger at me for not waking her up and telling her to move her seat up. The hair lady and her friend got off, giving us a bit more space, and the bus company stopped to serve us breakfast, which was really nice.

We went on toward Arusha, Tanzania. The road from Nairobi to Arusha is being improved, which means that they create a kind of off-road dirt track parallel to the road for vehicles to drive on. I’ll leave the state of that dirt road to your imagination. At the Tanzanian border we picked up a mama and her 2-year-old daughter. They were sitting in the space of the back bench that opened onto the aisle, so as we went over these huge bumps, big enough to unseat everyone on the bus, the mama would fly up in the air, holding onto the baby, with nothing to hang onto. I was pretty well wedged in, so I took the baby, and held onto her with both hands and braced with my legs against the seat in front of me as we flew over the bumps. My long unused volleyball thigh muscles got a little work out trying to keep us elevated a bit above the seat so that I wouldn’t jar the baby too much on the way down.

Upon arriving in Arusha, I was met by some friends of Mama Esther’s who had arranged a guest house and pre-purchased my bus ticket from Arusha to Dodoma the next morning. I got to the house around 2pm, and promptly fell asleep until around 10pm, when I got up to pee, then went back to sleep until 4:30am, when I had to get up to get to my next bus.

If you drive straight from Arusha to Dodoma in a private car, it would take about 5-6 hours, but the buses leave at 6am because they take such a circuitous route that it requires 12 hours to get to Dodoma. The seats on this bus didn’t recline, but were so close together that my knees were constantly pressed into the seat ahead. I’d forgotten to take my car sickness medicine, so I couldn’t read, I just listened to nearly anything on my mp3 player (thank you, Grandma!). There was a pastor sitting next to me who really wanted to chat with me, but I was simply not in the mood. The poor man tried valiantly, then gave me all his contact information anyway, in case I ever found myself in the tiny village where he lives.

I finally arrived in Dodoma at 6pm, filthy and tired after 48 hours of travel, to be warmly greeted by Mama Esther, Leah, and Shomari. (My co-workers returning to the States arrived home in about half the time it took me to get home!) I had really missed Dodoma, and it was really good to be back at one of the many places I call home.

08 October 2009

Somebody's feet stink...oh, that's me

The past six weeks or so have been an absolute whirlwind of activity for me. I am now sitting in a bus stage in Kampala, Uganda, waiting to board the bus home. I can hear the torrential rain pouring down outside, I can feel my shoulders cramping at the very thought of 18 more hours on a bus this week (already had six hours), I can smell my wet shoes and stinky feet, but I found free wireless internet, so all is good.

I've had so many things demanding my attention lately that I've neglected updating this blog, but here's the skinny:

**Lahash conference was fantastic. Such a blessing to have all of our partners in one room with 4/5 of our Lahash staff! Who'd have thought it possible?

**Nsambya Children's Home is as fun and goofy as it ever was. The kids average around six years of age, and they're really fun to play with. I didn't get much play in, though, as I was assisting with some video work, sitting in meetings, and trying to facilitate the sponsor letters. I did have some play time with my little friend Nancy, though.

**Amazing Grace was wonderful. I got to distribute a number of sponsor gifts here, which is like being Santa, and got to spend a few days of quality time with the children there, who I love like crazy. I was asked today if I have a favorite child, and I replied that it's a bit like having a favorite body part: There are some I think about more often than others, but I'd miss each one if it wasn't there.

**We made a super quick, 24-hour trip up to St. Bartholomew's in Kajo Keji, Sudan. Lahash doesn't have a sponsorship program here, but I have some great friends up there, not least of which is Heather Sumner with Seed Effect. She's overseeing a cyber cafe and vocational school, and doing a great job. We had a few brief, but sweet hours together, and shared a bit of dark chocolate.

**We visited the secondary school students who board at Metu Senior Secondary School, including my good buddy, Piting. She greeted me with our customary sing-song greeting of "Leisha Leisha" to which I replied "Piting Piting". We're getting ready for our first secondary school graduate, Akon Emmanuel, who will be taking his final exams soon, and craves your prayers.

**I spent one day alone at Amazing Grace to finish up some projects, and they really spoiled me. All day long they were bringing me treats, like a not hot Coke, half of a fresh papaya from their own trees, roasted maize, and freshly roasted groundnuts. I then spent about an hour with the girls discussing, to the best of my ability, all those pressing questions of adolescent females regarding the opposite sex.

**I came down to Kampala on Tuesday, where we commenced two days of meetings, very difficult meetings. I am now preparing to head home to Dodoma, much to my delight and relief. I'll be so happy to get back there and relax, even if I'll be giving up my special treatment of private rooms and not sharing a bed. That's right, I'll even be glad to be back to sharing a bed with Leah! (It's not for much longer, though, since I'll get to move into my house soon.)

Send me some good comment love!

26 September 2009

A few disconnected thoughts from a few exhausting days

Last Saturday morning at 6:00am I wedged into the back seat of Grace & Healing Ministry’s truck between Mama Esther and Pastor Musa, and we set off for the 2009 Lahash International East Africa Conference in Kampala, Uganda. The day ended at a Lutheran guest house in Bukoba in western Tanzania, just across the border from Uganda at just past 9:00pm. That’s right, 15 hours of driving. Oh, the bone weariness, and it wasn’t over yet. We left around 9:30am the next morning to cross over into Uganda. It was fascinating driving over the 10 miles or so that Uganda and Tanzania fought over during the rule of Idi Amin. I saw a Tanzanian church that had been bombed by Amin’s forces, and has been left as a landmark. It stands near the site of a girls’ secondary school (like a boarding high school) where Amin’s forces raped over 100 teenage girls. Even now that puts a knot of nausea in the pit of my stomach. We arrived safely in Kampala around 3pm on Sunday, and I cannot describe the delight of seeing so many of my dear Lahash friends from Kenya, Uganda, Sudan, and the States.

We have spent the week going over the application of the Lahash values in our partnerships in East Africa. Most of it is probably not that interesting to the majority, so I’ll spare you the details. My day for speaking was yesterday, as I presented about five hours of material on Holistic Care and the sponsorship program. Again, not that interesting for most of you, but if you are a sponsor, you should be getting really excited for the direction our programs are going. Prepare to be impressed by the child you sponsor (Inshallah, aka God willing). One thing I’ve been thinking a lot about is the value of each individual child and each individual sponsor, and our partners really responded to that principle, and we had a great time discussing how that affects our programs.

One evening this week we watched the documentary “War Child” on the life of Emmanuel Jal, a Southern Sudanese musician. He’s just two or three years older than I am, but the absolute terror of his life was really heart-wrenching. I’d heard of Jal in a fantastic book called Emma’s War, recommended to me by my friend Frank So, and I’ve heard some of his music in different Lahash videos. (You can purchase his music on ITunes, I highly recommend the songs “Emma” and “Gua”.) Please try to get a copy of the film “War Child” if you’re at all interested in the civil war in Sudan, Darfur, the Lost Boys, child soldiers, or the Sudanese children we work with. As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, in just over a year Southern Sudan could be erupting into civil war again, and if that happens, it will be children just like those in our Sudanese sponsorship program who are picking up guns to fight.

On a purely selfish level, I received a great blessing this week. Since I arrived in Tanzania I’ve been sharing a room and a bed with Leah, and this week I am the only unmarried woman at the conference, so I got my own room! It’s not just a single, either, because they ran out of singles, and they charge by the person, I got a huge triple all to myself. My introverted self is eating this up, and it’s lovely to be surrounded by so many people I love, but still get time to just be alone. Mama Esther is so jealous of my room that she comes in sometimes in the evening to lay on the bed next to me and stroke my head while we watch a movie. (She really misses her kids, and I’m the next best thing. I’m not complaining!)

Finally, last night we went to Mama Susan’s home for the amazing feast she always puts on and a little worship service. Any of you who have eaten Esther Basa’s food or heard the Nsambya kids praise Jesus will know the pure magic of that night. I spent the two hours of the worship service listening to testimonies and prayers and Scripture with little Nancy sleeping in my lap. Nancy was burned in a fire when she was a baby, and my friend Jose took responsibility for getting the facial reconstruction surgeries that she needed. She looks marvelously better, and I think it is a tremendous privilege to get to snuggle a toddler who has already been through so much pain.

Thanks, friends, for caring about me, and putting me in the position to love these kids, learn from our partners, and sleep each night under the blanket of East African humidity. I love you, and all of the friends here love you, too, although they’ve never met you. They love that you love me, and yet still sent me to live with them.

Let us strive to be grateful and gracious followers of Jesus. Amen.

11 September 2009

Letter dated 10 Sept 2009

(So each day of the Peer Education Seminar we are to write our secret friend a letter, then on the last day, which is next Tuesday, we give a gift and reveal who we are. I've been trying very hard to write letters that no one will be able to tell are from a mzungu, but the first day I had no idea of what other people would write, so I just wrote what the pastor I asked for help told me to. It was a very nice, very formal letter with Scripture in it. I had a little better reference for the letter yesterday, and made it more funny and complimentary. My friend's name is Remmy, and he's probably about 19 years old, dresses very nicely, and is very shy.)

Rafiki Mpendwa Remmy,
My dear friend Remmy,

Napenda kukusalima katika jina la Bwana Yesu.
I would like to greet you in the name of Lord Jesus.

Kila mtu anajua hilo unapendeza na una akili.
Everyone knows that you look smart and are smart.

Nafikiria una jambo la kusema kwenye semina.
I think you have fine things to say at the seminar.

Nataka kusikia unapoongea!
I want to hear you speak!

Usikate tumaa.
Never give up.


So at the beginning of each day, they read the letters out loud to everyone before it is delivered to you. When this letter was read out, everyone laughed and thought it was funny and Remmy smiled and kissed the letter when he took it. A kind of laughing gesture of appreciation. Success! Too bad it took me like four hours to write five lines!

09 September 2009

"White People Are Weird!"

* I've been attending the Peer Education Seminar at the church this week, learning about HIV/AIDS education. It's all in Swahili, but our friend Philipo is translating in whispers in the back of the room. We'll be doing a community-wide event for education about HIV in November, including songs, poems, skits, and, get this...traditional drums and dancing. And guess who's group got assigned "ngoma" (the drums and dancing)...that's right, it's mine. Sure to be lots of funny stories and great pictures over the next two months as I learn this traditional art form. Leah's group got singing. Piece of cake. : )

* As of today, I have a house! It's a fantastic, slightly beat-up, four bedroom house only 5-6 minutes walking from the church, and the rent is about $150! I'll move in in a few weeks, but the owner, a widow, is moving to Dar es Salaam to live with her children, and is letting me keep all the furniture I want! I'm super, super excited, although the house will need some TLC, for only $150 a month, I'll have some extra money to spend on those repairs and repainting.

* The title comes from Baba na Mama Muhagachi's 7-year-old daughter Peace. She and Grace, who is about 11, have become my good friends over the years, and she frequently grabs my face to whisper "I love you" in my ear. Thanks to Annie, we've working our way through the first season of Psych, and thanks to the Espinozas, we've also been watching some episodes of season one of Lost with their older brother Victor. Makes me happy.

Love you all!

06 September 2009

We made it, all in one piece!

So this is my version of a mass email. Leah and I arrived in Dar es Salaam at 9:45pm on Thursday, met with Mama Esther Butendeli, and traveled to Dodoma by bus on Friday afternoon. That was an adventure in itself, as the bus broke down multiple times, and it seems that the driver may not have even had a driving license.

Yesterday (Saturday) we intended to write, but were at a primary school graduation for my little dada (sister) Neema Khatiba later than expected. I've seen many of my friends, and have had many warm hugs and greetings. We just finished church, and this afternoon we may take a tour of Dodoma and view some houses that Mama and Baba have located as possible homes for me to rent.

I am missing you all very much, at the same time that I am very happy to be here with my other family and friends. Thank you for the warm send-off parties and to the group who came to the airport. I had a very emotional plane ride from Portland to Amsterdam as the reality of leaving you behind set in, but I am so happy to have arrived here, and my spirits are lifting. I can feel your prayers, and crave that they will continue.

I hope to update with some photos or video later on. Best to all.

01 September 2009

All kinds of final...

Today is my last day in the States.

The problem with my situation is that no matter where I live, I'm not entirely home. No matter where I live, I am missing people. I can't be fully comfortable in either place because part of my heart is not at home.

Tonight I say goodbye to my Home Community, a group of people who have been such an important part of my life. This is as hard as saying goodbye to 30 brothers and sisters, because that is how important they are to me.

I feel very prayed for and pretty strong overall, but the next 24 hours will be absolutely brutal emotionally, so please continue to pray for me!

27 August 2009

Nearly a month later...

I've been sitting at my computer ready to update my blog a half dozen times in the past three weeks and almost immediately abort. I have no thoughts. I have no depth. I have no profundity. (I love the word profundity. I don't even know if it's a real word, but I use it a lot.)

Here are the three most frequently asked questions (and answers) in no particular order:
1. Are you packed yet? I have everything assembled, but it's not actually in the suitcases yet. That's tonight/tomorrow's project.

2. Are you stressed out? No. I have a lot on my plate, but it's not all that much more than my regular life. (I think that either says a lot for the prep work I did in advance or the intense stress level of my regular life.)

3. Are you ready to go? I never know how to answer this question because there is so much to it, so the answer is yes, no, ages ago, and I might never be.

I am now one week away from leaving, and this is how my week looks:
Wednesday: lunch with Grandma, work, packing
Thursday: last counseling session, meetings all day, final purchases, packing
Friday: insurance office work, finalizing financial paperwork, hanging out with Annie
Saturday: breakfast with Anna, any final insurance work, prep for party, coffee with Leah
Sunday: sending services at Imago Dei, Going Away Party #2
Monday: mostly empty, coffee with the Armours
Tuesday: final Lahash business and meetings, final meeting with Erin, my accountability partner, sending off at Home Community, slumber party with my HC sisters
Wednesday: airport prayer and final farewell at 9am, board plane at noon, leave

If I'm a good sister, I'll clean the bathroom somewhere in there also.

If you want to jump in on some of my free time, especially on Monday, let me know.

30 July 2009

How does one juggle money and people?

Well, it's crunch time, folks. I fly out in just under five weeks.

I've taken a serious look at my financial situation, and I have some work to do. Lahash would like me to be funded at 80% before I leave. At this stage of the game, if all of my pledges come through, I need to raise $510 per month in additional support before I leave. That works out to about $100 per week between now and departure. Currently my average recurring donation is around $45. If twelve people see their way clear to make that donation, I'll be more than set! Now how, in a recession, do I go about finding these twelve people?

I have had a chance to meet with a number of people about the work that I am privileged to do, but I recently realized that most of the time I get too caught up in the stories of our clients and partners. I go on and on about their lives and how wonderful they are, and get to the end of the meeting, then feel unwilling to make those stories perverse with discussions of money, so I never ask. I never let people know that I need their help, and thus never give them the chance to participate in the work with me.

At the same time of needing to raise money, I'm saying goodbye to many great friends. How does one go about communicating that a friend is valuable, that one is grateful for his or her friendship, and oh, by the way, would said friend be willing to give me some money every month? In addition, to that awkwardness is the matter of only having limited time (four weeks, six days) before leaving. Do I make a list of people who I want to say goodbye to and start scheduling them in? Do I wait to hear from the people who want to see me? Maybe I shouldn't worry at all (in which case, I'm sure I'd receive an array of text messages the night before I leave bemoaning the fact that we didn't get together ever).

If you are able and willing to help me with the money debacle, I'm very grateful. If you want to hang out with me before I leave, please take the initiative to plan something with me. Thanks for reading this, and thanks for being my friends.

24 July 2009

Parties upcoming

It's time to plan the official exit! There will be two going away parties to be attended. There were two Facebook invites sent, but if you're reading this and want to come, you're welcome. There are still details being nailed down, but mark your calendars.

Portland-area Party
Saturday, August 22nd, 7pm to 11pm
Location to be determined, either NE or NW
Watch for more formalized details.

Newberg-area Party
Sunday, August 30th, 5pm to 8pm
Windrose Conference Center, 809 W 1st St
BBQ and African food

Hope to see you at one (or both)!

15 July 2009

Might be actually going crazy

I've done a couple of stupid things in the past week or so. I've also had moments when I absolutely forgot basic information like the address I've had for the past four years and which speed dial is my brother (7, just like it has always been).

There are probably a number of reasons for this, especially the fact that I've been saying yes to pretty much everything. I want to take advantage of all the fun opportunities available to me before I leave, thus last week was:

Monday - Dinner with Dana, dessert with Sara and Shannon, stuck in traffic on the home, arrived home around 10:30pm
Tuesday - Home Community, late night walk with Karyn and Aaron (making three blogs in a row where Karyn was mentioned), home around 1:30am
Wednesday - worked late, until about 10pm, then headed home, arriving around 10:30pm
Thursday - went line dancing with a group of people, got to sleep on Karyn's couch around 1am
Friday - had a presentation at the Reeser's house, stayed to chat with them, got home around 1am

With seven weeks to go, this frantic pace makes some kind of sense, right? No regrets, right? Unfortunately, I'm a pretty introverted person, so I need time by myself to re-energize and refresh.

At Lahash, we're going through the traditional Christian disciplines, and this week was my turn to prepare a discussion on the discipline of solitude. I learned so much, and when we practiced the discipline for twenty minutes yesterday morning, it was insanely refreshing. I could have lain there for an hour staring at the ceiling, concentrating on releasing every thought on the exhale, and basking in the love of God.

If you're interested in this discipline, Mars Hill Bible Church is also doing a series on the Christian disciplines, and they also did solitude this week. Check it out: http://www.marshill.org/teaching/pcast.php

02 July 2009

63 Days and Counting...

It's only 63 days until I am on a plane to Dar es Salaam! Shortly after, I'll be on a bus to Dodoma, my other home, for at least the next five or six years.

A good friend asked me yesterday: What are you looking forward to? Most people ask what I will miss, so I was thrilled at her question, and as I thought through my answer, I grew more and more anxious to be on that plane leaving!

I am excited for the chance to be a real big sister to my sponsored girls and boy, Potina, Anjela, and Kibiro. I am excited to sit outside the converted brothel that is Iringa Road Mennonite Church and have the children in our sponsorship program talk to me about school and life and the English words they're learning and the games they want to play. I am excited to sit with HIV+ people in their homes, share a cup of tea, and hear their stories. I am excited to work hard at my Swahili and see the faces of my friends light up as my vocabulary expands and communication flows freely for the first time. I am excited to visit families and deliver mattresses, blankets, clothing, food, and other gifts from friends in the West. I am excited to have photos and stories to share with my community in Portland, and to hear their encouragement as they pray for me over many miles.

I am excited to have the opportunity to be a vehicle of love, dignity, grace, and respect in the lives of the poor, ill, and vulnerable of East Africa. I am excited to share their lives, to live simply, to be challenged by their challenges, to rejoice in their joys, and to mourn with their losses.

*sigh* Still 63 days to go?

16 June 2009

Horribly neglectful lately

Here are 10 random things that have made me happy lately, in no particular order:

1. Friends helping paint at the Lahash house

2. Kombucha (took some getting used to)

3. Praying for strangers on the Max (don't be deceived into thinking I'm super spiritual...I'm definitely don't pray as much as I should)

4. A mix CD titled "the one in which leisha keeps on keeping on." brought to me "by Karyn, the People Who Support Leisha Adams, and the number 8"

5. Grilled Chicago dog with dijon mustard and relish and a cold Coke in a can

7. Sorting through the awesome ties that belonged to one Mr. Tom Skroski

8. My friend Aaron drawing something in Paint and sending it to me

9. Por Que No fish tacos with good friends (Mandi first, then Nate, Erin, and Dan)

10. Reflecting on the call to worship at Imago Dei from three Sundays ago: "Let the sweet smell of justice linger like a garden-picked bouquet."

03 June 2009

Please help me!

Lahash International is having an epic cleaning event this weekend to begin to prepare a house that has been offered for our use as an office and hospitality house. It's in wretched shape, and needs a lot of help, so we're calling on all of our friends to come help us "muck it out" and clean.

I'm in charge of this specatular event, which means that my entire weekend will consist of wearing a surgical mask and rubber gloves. Won't you come be so stylish alongside me?

The house is at 4850 N Vancouver Ave, Portland, and we'll be starting at 9am on Saturday. Another shift starts at 1pm, or we'll be working again Sunday afternoon starting around 2pm.

Thanks, friends.

16 May 2009

Evaluation of season finales I've been watching - no spoilers

I love watching television online, as Annie recently pointed out, this is my last round of season finales. From now on I'll have to refine my television viewing into shows I'm prepared to pay for the season on DVD, as online viewing is not currently available outside the U.S. Alas, I'll have to be doing meaningful things with my time.

In tribute to my favorite thing to do while I'm working, here are my responses to the shows I watch (some of which I love) that ended their season in the past week or two.

Lost - As always, they do an excellent job of giving us the satisfaction of some consolidation of story lines and answers to plaguing questions, but also gave us some great twists. In classic Lost fashion, the final moment gave us no clue of what next season might bring. I would say this is a must-see, but if you watch Lost, you've seen the finale. If you don't watch Lost, it wouldn't make any sense to you anyway.

CSI - There's overlap between the Lost and CSI finales, because the character of Jacob in the Lost season finale is in this finale, oddly enough. Pretty standard episode overall.

CSI:NY - The CSI franchise seems to have a tradition of one series killing off a main or main-ish character every season. This was CSI:NY's year. They've had a pretty great season, and a pretty great finale. I highly recommend it.

The Office - Such a phenomenal finale. In a season that seemed a bit erratic and more plot driven than character driven, the finale was really satisfying. Lots of great character stuff, lots of laughs, and a great Jim&Pam moment for the close of the season, as per usual.

30 Rock - Good, regular episode, only way you'd know it was a finale was that there were a kajillion celebrities in it.

Parks and Recreation - I feel like episode six was better than episode one, but because it was basically a teaser season, this barely counts as a finale. The season is getting better as it goes, so if it gets more episodes next year, I'm confident it will be even better.

Hell's Kitchen - It's no secret that I'm a sucker for reality TV, so I'm not even going to apologize. This finale was entirely non-dramatic, which speaks to the quality of the two final contestants as chefs. The only suspense was which of them would be chosen as the winner of Hell's Kitchen. My front runner wasn't chosen. The end.

Fringe - This is another J.J. Abrams show that I've been watching all season. The finale was decent, although not much better than a regular episode. Interesting to see Abrams' take on a show that is more about the episode, like traditional television series, than the season, which has been more the trend in recent years with reality television and shows like Lost and 24. Finale was pretty standard to the series.

Dollhouse - I've really enjoyed this show from Joss Whedon, which does an excellent job of bridging the episode vs. season trend. The season finale gave some very satisfying conclusions and confrontations, but left only minor intrigue to carry over to next season.

Bones - Extremely disappointing. Last week's episode was so good that I was excited for the finale. This season has been extremely erratic, with some phenomenal episodes sandwiching horrible "shark-jumping" episodes. If they had just added the final forty-five seconds of this weeks episode onto the end of last week's episode, I'd have been thrilled.

House - As is standard for the House finale, the medicine was secondary to House's character development. It was pretty reminiscent of last season's finale, actually. It was good, not great, all leading up to the final moment of pandering to the viewers by dissipating some sexual tension.

Heroes - Oh, so good. Last season was both abbreviated and disappointing, so it was nice to have a good season and a good finale. Every finale of Heroes is a conclusion to not only a season, but an entire chapter of the show. It also concludes an entire time period in the chronology of the show, so there's generally a ton of closure, with a teaser for the next season. Both the closure and the teaser were excellent. If you bailed on Heroes last season, watch this season. It's worth it.

Friday Night Lights - So flipping good. This is the only show I watch that is purely sentimental drama, and the reason I watch it is for the character development (and the football). I was really curious how they would be able to carry through to next season with so many of the important characters graduating from high school. (Please no Boy Meets World college edition!) They had one or two nice twists to keep me interested for next year, as well as maintaining the lovely, touching relational devlopments that the show is known for.

Lie to Me - This is hands down my favorite new show this season. I secretly wanted to be an FBI profiler for a while when I was in college, and this show totally gratifies that part of me. I love the science of it, and I love the varied crime applications, and I love the characters. I additionally loved the season finale for tackling a pretty inflammatory issue with nuance and creativity.

Medium - They really accelerated into the season finale, so I to see what they did with it. It was kind of like the added one more episode onto the end of a great season. I wish they had ended it with the second to last episode, although it was a totally quality finale. Bonus of a guest appearance by Jeffrey Tambor.

Celebrity Apprentice - I actually didn't care for this season. The celebrities I enjoyed watching got booted, like Herschel Walker and Bryan McKnight, and the two most abrasive people, Joan Rivers and Annie Duke, became the finalists. I think I'm done with this show, because I'm tired of reality TV shows that reward the most self-serving contestants. The end of the finale was a bit of a surprise to me, I have to say.

Kings - New show based extremely loosely on the life of David in the Bible. I'm ambivalent after initially really enjoying it. I appreciated the fantasy aspects and hoped for good things, but I'm not really that excited anymore.

The Chopping Block - New reality TV show along the lines of Top Chef and Hell's Kitchen, but it's a team competition with chef and a front-of-house person. I like Marco Pierre White, the chef and star, but the show is a gratuituous knock-off of all the other reality TV shows, and it doesn't do enough to set itself apart. The finale was a bit surprising, but only because the front-runner totally blew the last challenge.

Still to come on Hulu/Netflix: The Biggest Loser, 24, Numbers

06 May 2009

No photos, please

So I didn't bring a camera on this trip. Most of the time I forget to carry it or the battery is dead or the memory card is full or whatever else is wrong, but on this trip I purposely forgot.

Over the past few years I've become better at journaling about the small things in my life. Initially the journals were sent to my boyfriend in Kenya so that he could have a window into my daily life. I would paste coasters from pubs and movie stubs and postcards and things into the journals as a pictorial and tactile connection. In February I finished the last journal I'd started for him, but finished for me. The relationship ended, but that practice didn't.

So I'm in the habit now of saving maps and brochures and church bulletins and free postcards from businesses and I cannibalize them to represent my experiences. Usually they accompany a note, small or large, in my own handwriting about my response to the experience. I write down sermon notes and phone messages and driving directions and deep thoughts and quotes, and lately, I've begun sketching.

On NPR yesterday there was a man talking about how drawing is one of the only things we stop doing when we realize we're not professional-level good at it. We still play sports just for fun, we still pull out the guitar, we still do lots of things we're not great at just to enjoy them, but we rarely draw. I loved hearing that message because I've been drawing more and more lately, from sketches of tattoos I'd like to get to people I remember from Africa to making my co-workers at Lahash draw our images of the Kingdom of God.

All this to say that yesterday, instead of taking photos in the Everglades, I drew. They're not beautiful or clever, but they're not terrible either, and I realized something. As I stood in one place sketching a bend in a canal or an alligator four feet away, others came along and snapped a shot and went on. I realized the gift I was receiving of being present, of seeing the details in how the grasses bend away from the bank, how the cypress leaves point straight up, how the egret's neck bends at a funny angle to help him fish. It was lovely, and more valuable to me than the postcards I inevitably purchased to add some color to those blue ball-point pen on paper sketches.

Do it, people! I challenge you all to draw something, anything, big or small! Draw with your kids or your spouse or your friends in pen or pencil or crayon. I want you to send me your drawings. If you email me at leishlin [at] gmail [dot] com, I will ooh and aah, and as added incentive, I will send a bag of Storyville coffee to my top two. (For the month of May Storyville coffee is donating all proceeds to International Justice Mission, one of my favorite causes.)

29 April 2009

Regarding packing

A few weeks ago I watched the movie "Australia" with my Aussie friend, Janette. It was a lovely movie, and I have a newfound appreciation for the song "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", the concept of the "walkabout", and the attraction of Hugh Jackman.

Beyond those, there was a quote in the movie that really resonated with me. Hugh Jackman's character "The Rounder" is with the prissy city woman (Nicole Kidman) who came looking for her husband in the Australian Outback, and he tells her what he's about:

"Most people like to own - y'know, land, luggage...people - makes them feel secure, but all that can be taken away. In the end, the only thing you really own is your story...[I'm] just trying to make it a good one."

I'm at the point of starting to consider my life as represented by my material possessions. Trying to condense your life into two 50-lb trunks will do that to you! Currently I have about 40-50 lbs of books alone, leave aside clothes and shoes and taco spices.

Basically I'm having to make some calls about how I identify myself through my stuff. Even my books are a judgement call, because I can't bring even half of the books I want to have with me, so which books do I really need? (Need? I don't need books to live, although sometimes it feels that way...)

Indeed, it is nice to have stuff. It's nice to feel ownership, but the truth is that stuff slows you down. That's why it's taking me months to trim down my collection of books and other things to a still generous amount of stuff that the airlines will let me carry over to Tanzania for free. It's both a privilege and a burden to own things. Am I secure enough to let go?

27 April 2009

"Leisha Flies Away"

My friends Bryan and Leah Rupp did a photo shoot for me a few days ago, and they've posted a few of the preliminary photos on their website.

Bryan and Leah have been such wonderful friends, from back in our days at the Ben Jaquith Agency of American Family Insurance. They're a wonderful couple, and Bryan's eye behind the camera has continuously astounded me. I feel really privileged to have my photos taken by a such a talented photography team.

22 April 2009

I'm really really blessed

This is an old photo, but I just want to give props to my home group for Imago Dei Community. I've been blessed to be part of the Northwest Home Community for a couple of years now, and they have exhibited true love and authenticity to me in so many ways. I really believe that God has created in us a desire to be known, to be part of community, but in all my years in the church, I've never been part of a group who love one another in such a real and committed way as those in my Home Community.

Thank you, friends, for being real people with problems and worries, and loving me, another person with problems and worries, who loves all of you.

17 April 2009

I know I'm not the first, but...

I have to talk about it. I've tried to resist, but I can't.


Susan freaking Boyle.

I admit that I'm a reality TV junkie. It's my guilty pleasure, although I've never really gotten into the American Idol, etc. genre. The main reason is that my heart hurts for those people in the first few weeks who are trying to pursue their dream and are put on television to be mocked and laughed at, ala William Hung.

For this woman to get up on stage, singing Les Miserables of all things, and not just live her dream, but blow it out of the water...just beautiful. It's one of those moments that makes me a bit more optimistic about the state of the world.

There is beauty in this world...
A beautiful voice singing a beautiful song...
A beautiful, brave spirit in a normal, average woman...
And there is redemption and grace even in reality television! Who knew?

14 April 2009

Thank God for Resurrection

So the past three months have been particularly difficult for me. I can't go into the reasons right at this moment, but my relationship with Jesus has been critical to my emotional health. He has been extremely close, in a more intimate way than I've ever experienced.

Because of that renewed closeness, Good Friday was different this year than it has ever been before. Somehow I knew that I wouldn't have the same closeness of Christ between Good Friday and Easter morning. I attended the Good Friday service at Imago Dei, and felt the violence and despair of the Crucifixion in a way I had never felt it before.

I began to realize in a new way the gift of the resurrection. The disciples and the women in Jesus' "posse" didn't understand His promise of resurrection, and I felt a tiny piece of that despair they must have felt.

Can we imagine, though, if Jesus hadn't risen from the dead? I cannot imagine the burden of being responsible for Jesus death through my sin, but also being responsible for the absence of His presence in my life and in the world. Talk about despair!

I realize this year, more than any other year, what a gift the resurrection is. What love and mercy our Father has given us, to give us the gift of salvation and redemption as well as then giving us the gift of Jesus' resurrection. The resurrection wasn't for Jesus, although nothing could have power over him, the resurrection was for me.

Thank God for Resurrection

11 April 2009

We're rich.

I just finished reading Rob Bell's first two books, and I've been listening to his sermons from Mars Hill Bible Church in Michigan on Itunes. Kate Cremisino, is a great writer and blogger and all around cool person who sponsors a great girl named Zuhura in Tanzania through our programs. She had this Nooma video from Rob Bell on her site. I am shamelessly stealing it. It's great. Please watch.

Nooma 13 - Rich from P-M Nordkvist on Vimeo.

03 April 2009

Words often in the media these days

I listen to a moderate amount of news on the radio, especially in the mornings. There are two names that have been very present in the media lately of which the pronunciation by members of said media is driving me crazy.

The country bordering Afghanistan which is being used as a "partner" and launching ground for much of the United States' operations in Afghanistan, and has recently been attacked several times by militants recently is called "pah-kee-stahn", not "pack-ih-stan".

The slightly homely Chancellor of Germany who is apparently rather suspicious of our President's fiscal policies and charming charisma is called "Ahn-guh-lah" Merkel, not "Ayn-jeh-lah" Merkel.

Rant concluded.

25 March 2009

It's official!

"I'm leaving on a jet plane, don't know when I'll be back again." -- John Denver

The date is set. I'm leaving Portland on September 2nd at 12:05pm for my new adventure in Tanzania. I bought the ticket yesterday, so the official countdown can begin.

As of today, I have 161 days before I leave. Now I have to really kick into overdrive to get all of the visa, medical, legal, financial, and relational details worked out! I appreciate your prayers and advice as I get moving on all this stuff.

13 March 2009

Where I work

This was my first week of three days in the Lahash office. (I had been working two days per week up to this point, but two days wasn't enough time to do all my work and raise support.)

Since I'm now here Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, I thought I'd give you an idea of what my work space looks like.

The shelf above my desk holds all my records, thank you notes, my sponsorship binders, and all that good stuff. I covered cardboard magazine holders with collaged magazine cutouts to give some color and help me remember what is in each container. My real inspiration is the corkboard backdrop of my desk.

1. Amazing Grace kids getting "Back to Business" which reminds me to do the same!
2. Baby Sarah, my favorite little baby from Charlotte Babies' Home
3. Note card I received this week from my friend Jaclyn with some encouraging words
4. My To-Do List for February and March (notice not many check marks?)
5. Thank you note from one of my sponsors for sending a photo of her sponsored girl, Amina
6. My assistant's To-Do List for February and March
7. Hope is Alive insert picture of my friend José
8. One of my sponsor families who are amazing and supportive and send me photos
9. Adorable note from little Juan at Nsambya (she had help, she's only three years old)
10. Haribi Joseph, who reminds me to pray for peace in Southern Sudan
11. Drawing of me by Bansuk Victoria
12. The Amazing Grace ladies and Cristine and Lexie and myself
13. St. Andrew's Sewanee Middle School
14. Amazing Grace kids again
15. The future's so bright...
16. Sponsor kids who love their little brother in Uganda so much!
17. Baby Sarah's sister Buba, my little darling

06 March 2009

Made it home...

I thought I should let you all know that, after initally getting worse when I dropped my phone into a cup of water and the keypad began to malfunction, my "luck" turned around.

Heather's parents came up to Atlanta to see her off, and they took pity on me. They got a hotel room for Heather and I to share and bought me dinner. When we went to Walmart for Heather's last minute items, they bought me some food for my expected long wait in the airport. They insisted that my parents would do the same for Heather if she were in my position, so they should be looking out for me.

Monday morning Heather and I went to the airport, and I checked with the counter. They couldn't put me on standby until the same day as my flight, and I couldn't go through security until 6 hours prior to my flight. Things were looking bleak, until the lady took pity on me, changed my flight to one that was only five hours away and gave me $20 in airport food vouchers! When I checked my phone to try calling my parents a moment later, it worked! And it's been working perfectly ever since.

I got home to Portland Monday night, and all I can say is that I'm really grateful for the friends who took care of me in my moment of need and to a wonderful God who went before me and arranged things in His own way.

02 March 2009

Sewanee, TN = Stellar!

I had a phenomenal time in Sewanee Thursday and Friday. Cindy Potter was a fantastic host, and showed me all the sights to see in Sewanee. I got to have coffee with friends Stephen and April Alvarez, who have been faithful sponsors and supporters, I spoke to a Third World History class, gave a presentation to the whole middle school, met with a Korean exchange student who raised $400 for the Christmas giving initiative by selling her pottery, and I got to see the middle schoolers demonstrate the skills they've learning in their workshops for "Winterim" week. It was really encouraging for me to be with this community who have been so supportive of Lahash and IWASSRU for several years. I got to say thank you and talk to them about the impact they've made in the children's lives. They really blessed me, and I hope I got to bless them.

I love speaking to middle schoolers, and these middle schoolers are amazing. Each class at the middle school sponsors a child at Amazing Grace Orphanage. The 8th graders sponsor Taban Moris, the 7th graders sponsor Poni Evaline, and the 6th graders sponsor Waran Robert. St. Andrew's-Sewanee is like a college prep middle school, so the kids are taught some amazing and profound things, and I could definitely tell how advanced they are when it came time for the Q&A period of my presentation. They asked extremely intelligent questions about the culture and history of Uganda and Southern Sudan. They got really excited about some suggestions I made for ways they can engage with the kids at Amazing Grace. One of the girls asked if she could send some songs that she's written. Of course I said "Of course!"

I spent one night in Chattanooga, TN on my way back down to Atlanta, which was fun, but I'm learning about the importance of community and the very addiction to money I was blogging about recently. I was pick-pocketed yesterday, and lost my cash for food and my debit card. After the initial frustration and mild despair, I sat in the public library getting some perspective on the situation. I met up with Heather Sumner, a friend from Georgia who I met in Uganda, and she and her friends have been taking care of me well, buying me food and beverages.

My ticket home is for Tuesday, but I think I'm going to go to the airport and ask them to put me on standby for every flight between now and then, hopefully I can get home shortly. According to Murphy's Law, though, it started snowing this morning, and a ton of flights got canceled today, which will probably mean a backlog for the next few days. Please pray that I can get home shortly. I've had a great trip, but I'm ready to be back in friendly Portland.

27 February 2009

Visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site

I was pretty proud of myself yesterday for getting myself to downtown Atlanta (I got offered the opportunity to buy pot twice) and got to the Sweet Auburn district to visit the MLK National Historic Site. I took a little longer to get down there than I thought, so I only had a little time. I did get to visit the birthplace and childhood home of MLK.

One thing that the tour guide pointed out that was fascinating to me was the composition of the block. He mentioned that one of the block was filled with families from lower income and the other end of the block was occupied by higher income families. The tour guide mentioned how much we are shaped by our by our childhood experiences, and his theory that the economic diversity that MLK encountered during that time was important to his later emphasis on poverty and breaking down prejudices.

The other experience that was formative for little "M.L." happened when he was six years old and the white son of the family who owned a local shop, three year friend of ML, told him that they could no longer be friends. His father had told him that they could not be friends because of ML's skin color. ML ran home to his parents and grandparents, who explained the implications of race, the Jim Crow laws, and racism. Apparently ML wrote in his autobiography that that night he determined to hate white people and never have another white friend again. Just speaking personally, I'm really glad for the power of redemption and forgiveness in his life. Our world would not be the place it is today without him.
On my way back to the metro rail station I was joined by a homeless man named Kenny. He walked along with me and told me about the neighborhood. I thoroughly enjoyed my tour through an extremely important neighborhood in black American history. If you can find a knowledgeable homeless friend to give you a tour when you're traveling, I highly recommend it.

23 February 2009


I'm in Houston right now, and Saturday night I got to speak to the young adults' small group for my friend Jenice's church. Since it was a Bible study format, I shared a bit about Lahash and my travels, then we went through Luke 18:18-30, the story commonly called The Rich Young Ruler.

This story has been a major source of conviction in my life in recent years, especially as I am convicted about my own addiction to consumerism and materialism. At the end of my third trip to Africa I was sitting in the Nairobi airport by myself. I'd been dropped off early because the traffic that time of day was hellish, so I was there for about three hours before my flight left, and I was going crazy. The problem was that I didn't have any money. I wasn't thirsty or hungry or bored, but I needed my consumer fix and I couldn't get a hit because I literally had no money. I seriously contemplated finding another American and hitting them up for the equivalent of a dollar to buy a bottle of water or a pack of M&Ms or a crappy postcard, anything, just so I was spending money! (Fortunately, by the grace of God, I suppressed the urge to make an utter fool of myself by asking a stranger for money I didn't need.)

This current economic crisis has highlighted to me how much I and my generation have this mentality of "I want it, I deserve to have it". Many of us have obscene consumer debt because of this mindset, and are still unsatisfied. The witty, clever folks over at Burnside Writer's Collective blog have been chatting about this a bit, and one of them posted the following video which I found both hilarious and damning.

Actually I can't figure out how to post the video here, so you'll have to link over to their site to watch it, but please do. You'll laugh out loud.


19 February 2009

Series of quotes - Which is your favorite?

I've been compiling a bunch of quotes from old journals. Here are a few of my favorites:

"Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else." - Judy Garland

"It is no special blessing to come to the end of life with love unshared, selves ungiven, activities unactivated, deeds undone, emotions unextended." - Reuben Welch

"We want to save ourselves and keep ourselves and hold ourselves back as though the highest goal in life would be to look good in our caskets." - Reuben Welch

"Honesty makes us real in a world of pretend." - Anonymous

"What is life? It is a flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is as the little shadow that runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset." - Chief Crowfoot

"We cannot do everything at once, but we can do something at once." - Calvin Coolidge

"Joy is the heart's harmonius response to the Lord's song of love." - AW Tozer

"Faith makes all things possible. Hope makes all things bright. Love makes all things easy." - Anonymous

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anais Nin

"One may walk over the highest mountain one step at a time." - John Wanamaker

"Never fear shadows. They simply mean there's a light shining somewhere." - Ruth Renkel

"Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul.
And sings the tune
Without the words,
and never stops at all. " - Dickinson

"Be not the slave of your own past. Plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep and swim far, so you shall come back with self-respect, with new power, with an advanced experience that shall explain and overlook the old." - Ralph Waldo Emerson (this one has been very important lately)

Leave me a comment explaining which one you like best (and why, if applicable).