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 cafĂ© 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.