21 December 2010

I Don't Know What I'm Doing Here

In true American fashion, I have found myself too busy of late to sit down and write a blog update.  Usually when it happens in Dodoma that I go a few weeks between blog posts, I just run down major events that have happened with the kids or my roommates.  When I look at the events of the past few weeks, it is a series of coffees, lunches, and dinners with friends and supporters.  Not exactly blog-worthy, although significant for me.

I hadn't put a lot of thought into how I would spend my work time while I was here, and have had a number of people ask me if I am doing any speaking events.  I am doing a few small-ish speaking events for groups like my mom's high-school students, my grandmother's social club, and my Home Community.  Instead of large speaking events, I've been focusing on spending time investing deeper in relationship with the people who are invested in me and the work God has called me to, mostly in one-on-one or one-on-few kind of environments.

I've had a fair number of highs and lows in terms of enjoying my time back in the States.  Overall, I've loved hanging out with my friends and family, but the pressure of being back is, at times, both overwhelming and depressing.  I know it will be hard for some to hear, but, to be honest, I've been reduced to tears a time or two, wishing I had the extra $250 to change my ticket so that I can "go home".  When I shared this with my Home Community last week, I explained it like this: "Being back here is like putting on a pair of shoes that don't fit anymore, then running a marathon."  *sigh*  It's difficult to hold on to "Tanzanian Leisha" and her values and priorities while being in "American Leisha's" environment.

On a lighter note, here are a few things that have startled me about how things/I have changed in the time that I've been gone:

1. Women Without Much Left On
I'm sure there was a progression from jeans to skinny jeans to leggings with dresses to leggings with tunics to leggings without much else, but I think I left somewhere during the beginning of leggings with dresses and have returned at the height of leggings without much else.  It's startling to see friends who I know are modest, fashionable women publicly wearing clothes that African women would barely consider reasonable undergarments.  I've done double-takes more times than I can count, startled at the obvious display of certain parts of female anatomy.  (And let's remember that I'm coming from a culture where public breast-feeding doesn't even merit note.)

2. "Let Me Check My Brain"
I knew a handful of tech-saavy people with iPhones before I left, but I am astounded at how many people now have an iPhone or Android or iPad or whatever other device.  I got my first glimpse of the prevalence of this technological dependence in the airports on my way back, where a gate full of people waiting for planes stared into their hand-held brains.  A friend who has lived in Portland for several years now just admitted that he still doesn't really know his way around because he relies on his phone to get him from point A to point B without him having to remember the route.  I'm sure there are long-term implications for our memory capacity, but I have to admit that I marvel at the ability of my borrowed Android to bounce a signal off of a satellite in space and tell me my location within a few feet.  Scary and awesome at the same time...

3. Trust Me, It's Best For Everyone
My driving instincts are in the toilet.  Even after a whole month back, I still don't trust myself to get behind the wheel of a car.  Even though I had driven for ten years in America, after one year of driving in Tanzania, where we drive on the opposite side of the road, sit on the opposite side of the car, and obey only minimal road rules,  I don't trust myself to drive here yet.  Maybe I'll start driving again when I can go a week without walking to the wrong side of the car or looking the wrong direction before crossing a street or wondering why someone comes to a complete stop at an intersection.  In the meantime, I'm rather enjoying riding the bus and walking, although my parents and friends are probably over having to pick me up or drop me off in random places.

So hopefully I've redeemed the bummer start to this post with a little witty cultural reflection, but if not, go easy on me.  I'm a fish out of water.

26 November 2010

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

How does a month go by without a blog post?  I was trying to surprise my family...trying being the operative word.  As I've mentioned previously, I made plans to visit the States in order to be around for my best friend's wedding (which will be nothing like that movie).  I thought I would work with my mom to surprise everyone else in our family by coming back for Thanksgiving instead of Christmas as I had told them.  That surprise didn't work out, and then they tried to reverse-surprise me at the airport, but that also didn't work.  Turns out none of us are very good at secrets.

It took me five and a half days to get from Dodoma to Portland, a grueling solo journey which included three international cities, six American cities, taxis, buses, big international planes, little local planes, Amtrak trains, metro trains, and walking...all with about 75 pounds of luggage carried on my person.

Here's the rundown:
Tuesday the 16th, 11am - Left Dodoma on a bus for Dar es Salaam
Travel = 282 miles, 7 hours
        I had an uneventful trip on an air-conditioned bus (what comfort!) and upon reaching Dar I got to hang out with my friend Majula a bit.  I stayed in a hotel, reaching there via taxi from the bus stand which I shared with two men and a little boy with a broken, casted leg. 

Wednesday the 17th - Dar es Salaam to Entebbe, Uganda to Istanbul, Turkey
Travel = 667 miles + 2,827 miles, 8 hours
        While in Dar es Salaam on the Muslim holiday of Eid, I was like 3 hours early for check-in for my flight because I had nothing else to do, and wanted to beat the afternoon Dar traffic.  I was flying on Turkish Airlines, which turned out to be awesome...once all the checking in was done.  That checking in process was totally disorganized and took about 90 minutes in the broken-air-conditioning, 100+ degrees heat of the Dar es Salaam airport.  I don't sweat a lot (because, as Leah likes to remind me, I don't drink enough water), but even I was sweating in that heat and chaos.  Once on the flights, though, I got the best airline food I've ever had.  We stopped briefly in Entebbe to add some passengers, then proceeded on to Istanbul.

Thursday the 18th - Istanbul, Turkey to Dulles Airport to Arlington, VA
Travel = 5,230 miles + 24 miles + 1 mile, 12 hours
        With all the talk about increased security and TSA and whatnot, one expects a fair bit of security on a flight from Turkey to Washington, DC.  Accordingly, after getting off the plane from Dar, those transferring to flights to the U.S. or U.K. went through a security interview, just the same one I've done in Amsterdam a number of times.  They were slightly suspicious when I didn't have proof of my flight 15 months ago out of the States, because it's unusual to be staying a short time in the States and returning to Africa, I guess, but I'm cute and charming, so they let me go.  After going through the regular security in the Istanbul airport, when I reached my gate, I went through an additional security check where they emptied my carryons and patted me down in a very matter-of-fact way.  Then I was "randomly selected" for an additional check of my checked bag.  Once on the plane, I was treated to more good food, a litany of movies I've missed in the past year, and many glasses of water, since the ratio of flight attendants to passengers was like 1 to 5 and most of the passengers were sleeping.  (The flight was only about 20% full.)  I arrived in Dulles, and, just as my copious internet-based research had told me, I was able to get a bus to a Metro station, and take the Metro to a stop within about a mile of my hotel.  Just a mile?  No problem.  Oh wait, except for walking a mile with 75 pounds of luggage on my back.  I felt like the Little Engine that Could stumbling up to the front desk and heaving my bags down on the floor.  Fortunately, Priceline did not disappoint, and my $80 hotel room was super luxurious, even by my lowered standards.  (Toilet=check, bed=check...and oh look! hot water for a shower, complimentary toiletries, and a hundred TV channels on a gigantic TV!  What luxury!)

Friday the 19th - Arlington, VA to Washington, DC to Fayetteville, NC
Travel = 1 mile + 5 miles + 262 miles + 63 miles, 7 hours
        I got to catch the hotel shuttle for the return trip to the Metro, which I then took to Union Station in downtown Washington, DC.  My train to Raleigh, NC was delayed about an hour, in spite of Amtrak's purported timeliness, and my seatmate for the trip to Raleigh was an elderly man who was extremely kind and interested in my life and work.  I try to be nice to fellow travelers interested in my work, but I also prefer to read and keep to myself when I'm traveling, so it is a delicate balance.  Upon arriving in Raleigh, my brother was waiting for me.  He's in the Army, and is being deployed to Afghanistan this coming Saturday, so it was really great to get to spend time with him.  He drove me to base, Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, to stay with him in the barracks.  I met his girlfriend, Lindsey (shout out!), and his roommate and some other fine young men and women in America's military.  I knew I'd have some culture shock readjusting, but I had not prepared for re-entry into American military culture.  There were some difficult things, and I laid awake for about three hours that night in prayer for the brokenness in the lives of the young men and women on that base.

Saturday the 20th - Fayetteville, NC
Travel = NONE!
        Roy and Lindsey took me around to some of the holy places of American culture in Fayetteville, namely Walmart, Best Buy, and Starbucks.  We went to the "black Walmart" so that I could feel more "at home", and I walked around like an idiot smiling at black people and wanting to pick up every baby I saw. (I miss my kids.)  I'm sure more than one person steered their child a little further away from the manic-looking, gawking white girl apparently wearing every article of clothing she owned.  (I pretty much was.  It's been a hard weather transition, dropping over 70 degrees over the course of my travels.)

Sunday the 21st - Fayetteville, NC to Raleigh, NC to Charlotte, NC to Atlanta, GA to Seattle, WA to Portland, OR to Newberg, OR
Travel = 63 miles + 130 miles + 226 miles + 2,182 miles + 145 miles + 24 miles, 9 hours
        I'll tell you right now that 9 hours of travel time is deceitful.  In reality, we left Fort Bragg at 7am and I arrived in Newberg at 1am, which, accounting for the time change, is 21 hours.  I had some travel vouchers which required me to change planes in Charlotte, Atlanta, and Seattle, and I was standby for the Atlanta and Seattle flights.  I was the last person on the plane for the Atlanta leg, and I missed my first Seattle flight, and had to wait another 90 minutes for the next flight, which I got on, thank the Lord.  I had to go through security only twice, also thank the Lord, and I never got looked at twice or asked to go into any allegedly cancer-causing screening booth or patted down.  My parents and grandparents and Annie, Shannon, and Katie were waiting for me in Portland when I touched down at midnight, and it was great to see them, although my energy level was pretty low at that point so enthusiasm was at a minimum.

So let's do the math.  12,132 miles (roughly) and 43 hours of active travel, not including the hours and hours of sitting in airports and train terminals.  For 6 days and 10 time zones, I'm just glad to have made it to a place where I can sit on my butt for hours without strangers trying to talk to me and I can stretch my legs without having to worry about leaving luggage "unattended".  It's important to be grateful for the little things.

26 October 2010

Now I Know Why We Don't Pray

In the past few months I've been learning more and more about prayer, and I've been trying to put into practice what I've been learning.

It's tempting to skate over passages like Luke 11, in which Jesus tells his disciples several different ways that God wants to answer their prayers.  Jesus straight up says "Ask and you will receive", although we have all had times of asking and not receiving, so I think I've tended to write that off as a euphemism or hyperbole. 

Then I was challenged to take it seriously, to actually voice my specific requests to God and believe that He will answer.  I did, in two large situations that were outside of my control - one was the house, and the other was a situation I can't go into in such a public format as this - and got what I asked for in 0 for 2 of those situations.

Cynicism knocked at the door.  "Remember me?  Remember how comfortable and non-faith-stretching it was when you didn't bother God with what you wanted?"  Then I slammed the door in Cynicism's face.

Yes, it sucks to ask for something and not get it.  It is easy for the Enemy to step in and say that God is not really a good Father, that He doesn't really give good gifts.  It is difficult to have to face reality, that sometimes I don't really know what is best for me.  Y'know what is encouraging, though?

"Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he?  Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he?"

I have a great earthly father.  I never feared to ask him for anything.  The thing is that I'm sure that at some point in the past 28 years he did not give me something I asked for because it was not in my best interest.  I cannot remember a single one of those times, but I remember loads of great things that my dad gave me, like when my sister and I were young and he used to bring us presents on Valentine's Day, or when he would spot me $5 to buy lunch if I was short.  If he chose not to give me something because it wasn't good for me, I know that it wouldn't stop me from asking him again in the future, but I really don't have memories of him denying me things.  Probably because those things were so fleeting, unimportant, or bad for me that I swiftly forgot them after the initial disappointment.

What about when my Father in heaven denies me something?  Why so quick to listen to the Enemy accuse my Father of not being good?  I honestly can't list out a long string of unanswered prayers on my other Father's account either.  I know they're there, but when I think of things that disappointed me, they're always overshadowed by the better thing that came instead.  The fish or egg, if you will.

Even more so, I can pray for specific things without being disappointed if they don't come about when that thing is for someone else.  Healing for this mama doesn't happen?  God is still good.  That brother is still blind?  God works in mysterious ways.  I have to live in someone's spare room instead of my own huge house?  Why does God hate me?!

In the end, I think it comes down to this: I don't want to know how often the things I want are snakes and scorpions, because if I knew that, I would know how far I have to move toward operating in the power of the Holy Spirit.  The best gift God can (and has) given to me is the Holy Spirit, but when I find out how many scorpions I ask for, it is a humbling reminder of how far I have to go in taking advantage of the best gift He has given.

So here goes...goodbye Cynicism.  I'm embracing Humility and Disappointment, because at least they're pointing me in the right direction...greater maturity, less self-love and self-will, and more and more Holy Spirit.

19 October 2010

Things that Don't Have Answers...yet...

#1 - Marriage is Tough
A few weeks ago I went to the wedding of the daughter of on of our church elders.  I'd never met the bride or the groom before, but in order to honor the mother of the bride, Leah and I went.  I was really unhappy to be there for a number of reasons: late notice of the event, feeling unwell, and a bunch of drunk female relatives.  Unfortunately my discomfort at the reception was nothing compared to the discomfort of the bride.  Within one week we received word that she had returned to her mother's house because her husband had beaten her quite badly for questioning him on a food-related matter, and the poor girl was so humiliated about being chased from her husband's home only a few days into the marriage that she attempted suicide.  Praise God she was not successful.  She is now living with her mother again, and at age 19, she is looking at her future, as she will probably never remarry (at least not officially).

A little over one week ago I was invited to a "kitchen party", kind of like a Tanzanian bridal shower, where married women come together to give practical advice to the bride to be.  I was honored to be invited and asked to speak, even though I am unmarried.  I stuck to what I knew, and advised the bride-to-be to remember that even though she is becoming Mama Charles (wife to Charles) and will one day be Mama Mtoto (mother of her child), that to God she is herself alone.  I reminded her that she alone is responsible for seeking God and following Jesus, setting that example in the life of her husband and children, and as she seeks the Holy Spirit to be her Source of every good thing, she will be strengthened in her relationship with her husband and, one day, with her children.  I was the first woman to speak, and as I sat back to desperately try to understand the advice of the other women in the room, I was struck by something: there were seven women, all leaders in the church, all respected and wise, but many of them had really suffered in their marriages.  One mama, widowed before age 40, is raising four children alone.  Another mama, the mother of the bride mentioned before, was also widowed by age 50, and is caring for both children and grandchildren.  An evangelist is raising her teenage daughter alone because her husband left her when she didn't have a son after their daughter was born.  The wife of a pastor is recently separated from her husband after he was caught in an affair, and is caring for their 2-year-old daughter while she works and goes to school.  Two of the three women still living with their husbands have been married for less than five years. 

These experiences back-to-back were a sobering reminder that we live in a world where marriage is difficult and often under attack, especially the marriages of our Christian leaders.
#2 - Prayer is Powerful
I mentioned the book Something More on my blog a while back, and because I love Catherine Marshall so much, my grandma sent me a couple more of her books.  I've been reading her booklet "Adventures in Prayer", and it's been a gentle but insistent challenge to my perceptions of communication with God.  At the same time I've been studying some things about the Lord's Prayer, and searching for answers to my own questions about prayer. 

A few months back the church started a prayer service on Monday evenings designed to minister to the many, many people desiring prayer for healing and deliverance.  The prayer team here is incredible, and they see God move in ways that many Americans would scoff at.  I hadn't been to a service yet, because it happens on my Sabbath day, but I was intrigued at their reports.
Six months ago two women prophesied over me that "rivers of healing" would flow from my hands.  I have been ruminating on what that means ever since.  Yesterday I went to the prayer service to do some video work for Pastor Manase, but as soon as people started arriving, I knew that I was not at that service just to observe.  Several times when I have seen people suffering from physical disability, I've had a serious pull on my heart, like the Holy Spirit whispering in my ear "That is not God's intention for that person."  Last night I had that so strongly that tears sprang to my eyes.  As we were singing "How Great Thou Art" a woman came in leaning on her niece.  A stroke had virtually paralyzed her left side, and I felt overwhelmed by God's compassion for that woman.  I got a chance to pray with her and pray for many other people (approximately 40 people present), and Pastor Manase encouraged me that when she first started coming she had to be carried everywhere, but now she is able to walk a bit unassisted and is getting stronger each week. 

I was recently reading a novel that talked about how understanding and skills that come immediately and easily are not filled with the same grace as skills that come with work.  I suspect that healing, like Swahili, might be a gift that needs investment and work from me before I see a lot of fruit, but it fills me with righteous anger to see people suffering and if God would grant me the ability to be a vessel of healing, there's not much I wouldn't do to reach "fluency" in that language.

#3 - I Miss My House
So Leah and I decided to delay the house search until we return from the States, especially since there are some people coming to Dodoma next year from Lahash and MCC who may go in with us on housing.  So I have settled into Baba and Mama's house for the time being, and, overall, it's wonderful...but...

When I decided to move to Africa, my first step was to leave my lovely studio apartment in NW Portland to move back in with my parents.  This current living situation feels similar.  I love living in an environment which allows the maximum amount of independence (very American of me), and living with a family in their home does not equal independence.  Even though I am discovering all that I have missed in children's television, like iCarly, Drake and Josh, and Go Diego Go, (the Askofus have some American cable channels), I miss the peace of no television in the house.  I miss experimenting in the kitchen and making the awesome beans that Leah and I were becoming renowned for.  I miss the daily battle with the water supply.  I definitely miss living with Leah, who is a perfectly complementary roommate to me because she actually gets up when her alarm goes off in the morning to boil water for coffee and she enjoys washing dishes.  ("Enjoy" might be too strong a word.)  I was really missing living next door to the church last night when I had to wait 40 minutes for a taxi after the prayer service.

There are payoffs.  As aforementioned, there is a TV with many channels, not all of which are in Swahili, and I'm fast learning to appreciate Bollywood (Indian cinema).  I had a really great night on Saturday when Grace, Jastine, and Peace all borrowed books from me, and we sat on the front porch drinking hot chocolate and reading.  I was pretty frustrated with God when we first entered into this desperate housing situation, but then I accepted that this might be His way of pushing toward a reminder that I am not independent, and never will be.  I will always need others, and it's good to be in a position of embracing that rather than fighting against it.  At least, that's what I keep telling myself.

05 October 2010

See You Soon, Beautiful Friends!

As those of you who are my friends on Facebook already know, I am planning to come back to Portland for a few months.  This is unexpected, about a year earlier than I had anticipated being back in the States, but there are many good reasons for this timing.

First and foremost, my bestest friend, Annie, is getting married!
Annie and I have been kindred spirits since an infamous Last Thursday event where we sat waiting for Thai food for ages, and speculated about the "Garnish Boy" who was probably gumming up the works in the back.  That first dinner was followed by several planned and unplanned road trips, lots of dinners (many involving chicken), more coffee than I can easily remember, curling, Buffy, hotels, family reunions, rodeos, LOTR, house boats, Bernie's, all-night Harry Potter vigils, neck ties, airports, kick ball, vampire teeth, fro yo, and various other things I cannot mention due to the public nature of this blog.  In fact, she's been such an important part of my life that I cannot believe I've never done a tribute to our friendship here.

I even had the incredible privilege of baptizing her a couple of years ago.
We have spent lots and lots and lots of random time together, doing things that probably no one else would think at all interesting, except maybe one person...

Karyn has been a great friend for not so long as Annie, but if God sometimes got bored and doubled up on certain aspects of people's personalities, I'd believe that Karyn and I are essentially spiritual doppelgangers.  From the beginning when Karyn first came to our home community, she and I hit it off.  She and I share a compulsion to tell utter strangers extremely intimate details of our lives, so we had shortly shared pretty much everything that no one would ever want to know about us.  I slept on her couch many times during my last year in Portland, and took some hefty walks with her at weird hours of day and night.

During this past 13 months that I've been in Tanzania both of these amazing friends met awesome guys, fell in love, and got engaged.  I've mourned the fact that I missed getting to see two of my dearest friends falling head over heels, got the news of their engagements over Facebook, and have never ever met either of their fiances at the same time that I completely rejoice that two of my favorite people are so happy.  I have decided that it is essential that I be present at their weddings, so I will be coming back to Oregon to be a witness at each of their happy days.  I love these girls, and I'm so excited to be present for the first step of their lives as married women.

Annie and Karyn, I love you and wish you so many good things.  You are wonderful, and I can't wait to see you in just two months.

28 September 2010

What We Need Versus What We Want

I made a mistake.  I was counting the days of my lease from the day I received the keys, but my landlord was counting the days of my lease from the day we signed the contract.  She showed up on Friday while we were at an awesome graduation party for our friend Bette.  Casey and Abbe were home, and she explained she was the owner of the house and promptly deposited 15 gigantic boxes and bags in the middle of the living room.  She explained that she would be doing some renovations to the house, and that she would come to see me the next day.

We waited, but she didn't come that day, or the next day, or the day after that.  This morning she came to my office and asked when we would be ready to leave, since she was going to come on Saturday.  Saturday?  As in the end of this week, Saturday?  Yes, Saturday.  Leah and I are expected to vacate the premises on Saturday because that's when my lease is up.  Casey and Abbe will leave Dodoma on a bus that morning, and the landlord will arrive at 9am the same morning to take possession.

Leah and I had already determined that we were ready to move somewhere smaller and cheaper, and had one friend start looking for a place for us, but we thought we had three more weeks.  Turns out with have three days to find a new home.

The situation is not desperate.  We don't have too much to pack, since the house was furnished, and several of our friends are looking for possible houses for us to move into.  If nothing works out by Saturday, we have many homes we can crash at for a few days or weeks.  It's good to have community to be a safety net.

Yesterday Leah and I had discussed our needs versus our wants in a new place.  There are the mostly non-negotiables (water on site, power, two bedrooms, secure) and then there are the things we're asking God to bless us with.  Will you pray with us that the perfect house will be found and available by Saturday? 

This is the specific dream we have:
- Indoor plumbing that works
- Working electricity in all rooms
- Easy walking distance from the church and our friends (within 2 miles)
- Quiet, private, secure neighborhood
- 2-3 bedrooms, living room, and kitchen
- Cheaper rent than we have been paying (less than $100 per month)
- A walled compound with some vegetation of some kind
- A nice landlord who will work with us

We're confident that God will provide our needs, and that we will not be homeless.  Please pray that we will have peace of mind and heart, and that we will release all control and worry to God. 

Now we are going home to start packing...

17 September 2010

They're enrolled!

A few months ago I wrote in one of my support letters about my dreams for building an education fund that would enable our kids to go to university. As part of that dream, we want to prepare kids academically to be eligible for university. To that end, when we received a $100 investment from a friend of Leah's, we used the money to enroll five of our kids in a Pre-Form 1 tutorial program. Essentially, it's a three month tutorial program where the kids are getting prepared for secondary school (like high school) by being coached in English, computer usage, mathematics, and sciences. Our five kids, Sauda, Veronica, Michael, Judi, and Emmanuel, started on Monday, and will report to Leah and I each week what they're learning. The idea is that by getting a head start on secondary school, they'll be able to succeed from the start, and by the time they graduate in six years, they'll be ready to not only attend, but excel in university.

Best of luck to these five test cases! Make us proud!
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11 September 2010

In a difficult moment...

Usually my Facebook status is something cheery and upbeat, an update from the program, repeating something that struck me as funny, or informing the world of something odd that happened.  Sometimes, though, something deeper slips out.

A few minutes ago, on my way out the door for lunch, I updated my Facebook status to say "Leisha Adams is weary in body, mind, and spirit."  I don't think I'd even realized how true that is until I had already written it.

Since the end of June I have been traveling or had guests from America here in Dodoma.  The guests have all been great, and most of them were either dear friends or have become close friends during their time here, but the continuous grind of arrangements, assistance, and rearrangements has taken its toll.  In addition, I am far away from my family as they are dealing with several unexpected developments, and a couple of friendships, here and in the States, have had conflict.

I have an Enemy, just as you do.  His desire is to wear me down however possible, drawing me away from the Source of my life and strength.  To that end, on top of the large complications of my personal life, there are innumerable small difficulties arising, like our new neighbors, who literally scream at each other throughout each evening, and the kitchen tap choosing this moment to start leaking a steady stream of water whenever there is water in our neighborhood, regardless of which way we twist the handle.

Nothing that has come my way is insurmountable, but all of these things together is...well, daunting.  Continuing in humility, patience, and grace is taking every ounce of my attention and daily allocation of strength, and, returning from lunch to continue on with my work, I had trouble refocusing on the five hundred word Swahili essay I have to translate today.  I decided to read some friends' blogs while I ate, and my friend (and recent traveler) Will Campbell had posted this photo of me with one of the kids here.

I can't say why exactly, but this photo really ministered to me.  Something in the beauty and peace of the photo refreshed my heart a bit.  I needed that small boost, that reminder of why I am here.

I really covet your prayers right now.  There's plenty of work to do for the rest of this month, and the last of our visitors for the time being are leaving the first bit of October, then I'll probably take some time for vacation and integrate back into the parts of life here that I've put to the side during this busy season.  Please pray for balance and rest, and that the Holy Spirit would be the Source of my "endelea", the Swahili word for continuing on.  I need some of that supernatural continuing on right now.

 Be blessed, family and friends.

02 September 2010

His Words

There are two things that I use to energize my passion for God's words when reading the Bible starts to feel a little stale.  One is The Message, a modern language paraphrase of the Bible.  I find that familiar verses grab my attention because they're stated differently than in the translation I'd been reading since childhood.  The rephrased words take me back to the actual meaning of the verses, rather than just skimming over easy-to-ignore, half-memorized sentiments for the umpteenth time.

The second thing I do is take a Psalm and try to get at the images of the words.  Scripture, and the Psalms in particular, are so full of imagery, so I start making little sketches to bring a new dimension to the verses.  When I'm ambitious, I'll even get out the box of colored pencils that Donovan and Jenice Baker sent me.

The picture below is scanned from my journal.  Every morning of the work week we gather as a staff to worship, pray, and study the Bible together.  We rotate through being responsible for the devotion, and a few weeks ago my co-worker Tiffanee led us in a time of meditation on Psalm 89.  These were my notes:

25 August 2010

If you're interested in my life and live in Portland...

...attend this event.  Katie Potter, Will Campbell, and Erin Weiss, the visitors we've had here in Dodoma recently will be presenting their photos and stories.  It will be a great opportunity to eat ice cream, hear a little more about what we're doing in Tanzania, and even invite and introduce friends to the work of Lahash International, Grace and Healing Ministry of Dodoma, not to mention yours truly.

A Glimpse of Tanzania

Be sure to ask lots of questions about me and applaud every time you see a picture of me.  *wink*

18 August 2010

Something More...

When I was in college, I went through a very difficult time in my third year. For no apparent reason, I became depressed, laid around on the couch continuously between classes, and avoided my friends. During that time I read a popular modern Christian book. In that unremembered book, the unremembered author had a quote that struck me particularly, so I looked up the footnotes to see who had written it. The author of that quote was Catherine Marshall (author of the novel Christy) and was from her book Beyond Our Selves, written in 1961. I noted it, having read Christy as a young woman, and carried on with my miserable life.

A few weeks later I had to get my driver's license replaced, which involved waiting 30 minutes for them to print it. During that 30 minutes I perused the book section at the Goodwill next door. As I scanned the books for something I wanted that cost less than $2 (all that I had in my pocket), my eyes landed on Beyond Our Selves by Catherine Marshall, hardback edition, for $1.99. Of course I bought it. Its forty-year-old wisdom impacted my life in a way that the popular, modern, utterly forgettable book hadn't. I read the book again in 2004 when I broke my leg and spent weeks on the couch recuperating. My hospital bracelet is still in that book, marking the spot I left off. The hardback book got tossed out of my luggage in the final morning purge when I discovered my trunk to be 2 pounds too heavy, and I've been missing it.

When I was on my way to Uganda last month, I stopped in Arusha (in northern Tanzania) and had to get some paperwork for my cell phone. While I was waiting for that, I walked to the nearby supermarket, and on the way I spotted one of the tents that are the used book stores in East Africa. I scanned the piles of English, French, Russian, and Swedish titles, looking for anything worth reading for any price, when my eyes landed on Something More by Catherine Marshall. After reading Beyond Our Selves, it never occurred to me to see if she had written anything else, so to see another book by her in a pile of French language romance novels was a surprise, to say the least. I snatched it up, and paid roughly $2 for it.

Just as her earlier book had impacted an earlier time in my life, Something More, written in 1974, has been such a challenge and encouragement to me. Each chapter is about another topic related to following Jesus in a practical and common-sense way. Her tone is always humble, so that although her words on each page are cutting to the center of my increasingly cynical heart, it is in such a tender way that I cannot resist the call to greater faith and discipleship. Here's something I underlined yesterday that speaks very much to my current state of mind:
"Criticalness leads to discontent. Discontent expels appreciation and gratitude. Self-pity moves in and turns the attention inward; surely self deserves something better, we tell ourselves, such as happiness, prosperity, that its ideas and demands be heard and implemented. If what self wants will hurt others-spouse, children, parents, store proprietors, educational institutions, bystanders-well, they asked for it in one way or another. Anyhow, the end justifies the means." -"The Dilemma of Our Rebellion", Something More, p. 196

Too often as young people, we appreciate only modern perspectives, foolishly thinking that only the most recent, up-to-date writers and philosophers can understand and speak into this world we live in. As I have learned, twice now, and as the Seeker said in Ecclesiastes "There is nothing new under the sun."

So I challenge you to read something old. Not just "classic" and old, like C.S. Lewis or Henri Nouwen, but something a little off the beaten path. You know my recommendations.
I always have to read this book with a pen to underline with and my journal to take notes in.

21 July 2010

I'm not allowed to take care of white people anymore.

Photo taken the first week I came to Dodoma with Peace and Grace Muhagachi, taken by Leah Burkholder

Now that I am back in Dodoma with our new visitors, Katie, Will, and Erin, Leah and I are realizing how far we've really come from our first days in Dodoma. Here are a few of the things that have changed for me:

1. I have developed an African stomach. When I first arrived in Dodoma, I ate like an American girl: small portions at meals and frequent snacking. Now realizing how often we have to think about feeding our visitors, I'm realizing that I never eat between meals anymore, and comparing my portions of meals, I eat huge plates of food. (Of course this is why I don't snack, because my stomach is always full of delicious rice and beans.) My stomach and appetite have adapted to accomodate the giant dinners and infrequent lunches and complete lack of snack food. That doesn't mean I'm not grateful for the Chex Mix and Gardettos and peanut M&Ms everyone sent me, it just means that they're lasting me much, much longer than they would have 10 months ago.

2. I can tolerate much more heat. While our guests blow on their tea before they drink it, Leah and I swig it down, and my fingers and hands are much more capable of handling the hot metal pots and lids we use for cooking. I almost never feel hot from the sun, although that has meant that I feel cold much faster than I used to. In fact, right now is like our winter in Dodoma, and the visitors are going around in their t-shirts perfectly comfortable while I shiver in my sweater.

3. I go off-roading in strappy sandals. After my TOMS shoes finally bit the dust, my first impulse was to order another pair, but then I decided that "when in Rome..." and bought a pair of black flat dress sandals to wear for everyday shoes. I hadn't really considered the conditions I walk in those sandals until Sunday when I led Erin into crossing a drainage ditch by jumping down into it and scrambling up the other side, and when she jumped in she broke a bone in her foot on a stray rock.

4. My Swahili is better than I've been giving myself credit for. Now, it is definitely true that my Swahili needs immense work, but, hearing the guests valiantly stumble over pronunciations and try to remember the few phrases we've required them to learn, I remember how much I struggled initially. Now I remember to thank God when Swahili flows off of my tongue, or when I understand something without translating it in my head.

5. On some level I get Tanzanians. First I should say that I was reprimanded only yesterday for an inadvertant lapse in respectful behavior toward an older man we work with, but for the most part, I find myself anticipating what will be expected of me, both socially and professionally. I am understanding non-verbal behavior and unspoken requests much more readily, and I see my relationships deepening as a result.

6. My hearing just might be permanently damaged. I've always marveled at Tanzanians ability to hear quiet conversations in crowded rooms, especially considering that music is blared at maximum volume for every event. As I was writing this, a flat-bed truck drove by with the back full of speakers blasting music, and it didn't even interrupt my conversation with Leah, where 10 months ago we probably would have been covering our ears to block the noise.

7. I love rice and beans. After a few weeks of traveling in which I treated myself to Chinese food, pizza, salads, coffee, and other luxuries, I can't tell you how happy I am to be back at home eating rice and beans. I've lost about 50 pounds in the rice and beans (and walking) lifestyle, but that's seriously just an unanticipated additional benefit. Eating such simple meals of rice, beans, and fresh local produce has made me feel so much more healthy and energetic, and I don't even enjoy eating frequent meals of Western (or Eastern) food without having a few days of good ol' rice and beans mixed in.

The time here has been flying by, and apparently I am keeping up. It astonished me to realize that in 6 weeks I will have been here for the whole of my first year. I cannot believe where the time has gone.

Thank you for following my adventures on this blog for the past 10-1/2 months. I'm blessed to have such a committed "fan base" back in the States watching my progression from needy, picky American girl to confident, capable pseudo-African. Photo of me preparing to preach at an evangelism event a few months ago, taken by Rachel Warren

11 July 2010

Missing home, but not the home you think

Right now I am on the road with my assistant Katie Potter. I've been traveling for about two weeks, with very limited access to the internet, hence my silence since the Father's Day tribute.

I left on Tuesday, 29 June, and have not been in the same bed for more than five consecutive nights since then. I spent one night in Arusha, one night in Nairobi, one night on a bus, two nights in a guest house in Kampala, two nights at Mama Susan's house in a suburb of Kampala, then five nights at Amazing Grace Orphanage in Adjumani. We left Adjumani at about 8am this morning, arrived in Kampala around 3:30pm, and we're now killing time until we leave for Nairobi on an overnight bus at 10pm. We should arrive in Nairobi around 11am tomorrow morning, and spend three nights at Edwin's house before leaving on the all day bus to Dar es Salaam. There we will pick up friends Will and Erin W, and go to Dodoma the next day.

I can't tell you how much I'm missing Dodoma. This is a weird experience for me, because always before I felt so grateful to be in Africa it didn't matter which country I was in. Now I'm missing my own bed, my roommates, my friends, my kids, my church, and I just keep telling myself "a few more days, a few more days"...

Good thing I love all the people I'm with along the way home, or I'd be miserable!

24 June 2010

Things You Should Know About Me and My Dad

Because I have not updated this recently, and because I was a crappy daughter and missed Father's Day (and Mother's Day, but let's not dwell on that just now), this will be a "mash-ups" post where I will try to give you items of interest about my life here in Dodoma and then somehow link them to how cool my dad is. Let's see how many I can do!

1. As every person on this continent and in the city of Portland know, the World Cup is on right now. For my friends in less enlightened parts of America, this is a very big deal. It's been difficult to establish any kind of loyalty so far since no East African teams made it through, but America did, but I feel somewhat obligated to cheer for African teams like Nigeria and Ghana. We did cheer loud enough to disturb our friend's neighbors when USA scored that brilliant goal last night. All these matches I've been watching remind me of my dad because pretty much any football-related comment I make to impress my male African friends is pure regurgitation of things I heard from my dad during years of watching my brother and sister play football/soccer and the brief time I played under him on my high school's co-ed team. (The team needed girls, he was the coach, ergo, I played.) When I criticized Honduras for standing around watching while their shots bounced out, I remember my dad's mantra to always follow your shot (also basketball advice). When I screamed at the forwards from Australia for always scooting around to shoot with their right foot, I remember my dad's pride the one time I accidentally scored a goal because the ball just basically ricocheted off of my left foot into the goal (but it still counts, even if it's an accident). The guys have been very impressed with my understanding of the game, entirely thanks to my dad.

2. We have a volunteer from Mennonite Central Committee staying with us. Her name is Rachel, and we have been enlightening her in the awesomeness that is the first season of Friday Night Lights, a television show about a high school (American)football team in Dillon, Texas. (If anyone wants to send me additional seasons of FNL, I'd be grateful.) The other day we were watching this episode where a guy gets in the coach's daughter's face and is telling her that they should start packing because her dad wasn't going to make it in that town. Coach Taylor goes over and leans real close to the guy and gives a little speech about how ridiculous the guy is because he's picking a fight with a 15-year-old girl, etc. Something about what he said and how he said it totally reminded me of how my dad talks to men who use their strength to try to intimidate women. I told my roommates that if anyone ever make a movie about my life, I want that actor to play my dad. Also, my dad loves and coaches American football, and he instilled that love in me, so much so that I was the only girl in my college's "Football Coaching Theory" class. My dad was so proud he even drove to Linfield to help me draft plays for my final presentation. I got one of the top grades in the class, shaming many guys who'd been playing football all their lives. Also, because of his training, I was able to explain to Leah what the ref meant when he told the boys to "only hit what they see".

3. We sing a lot here. A lot. Nearly every meeting starts with at least one song from the songbook (a little orange book called the Tenzi Za Rohoni). Many of the songs we sing are English hymns that have been translated to Swahili. Every morning before work we have devotions and we sing three songs from the Tenzi, often the same songs over and over and over, but then, miracle of miracles, two days ago we sang a new song: number 82, "Sioni Haya Kwa Bwana", a rough translation of my dad's favorite hymn, "At the Cross". The chorus, in English, says "At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light, and the burden of my sins rolled away. It was there by faith I received my sight, and now I am happy all the day." When I was little, I remember singing that with my dad in the car, and having a mental image of being at a stoplight and having a big backpack of sins roll away down the hill.

4. Related to music, I have joined New Life Choir, the young people's choir at the church. I was in choir with my mom when I was in high school, and I always sang in my high school's vocal ensembles, but this is a whole new ball game. In addition to singing in public, in Swahili, we dance. This is not American dancing either, where a choir might sway back and forth, but hard-core, sweaty, choreographed dancing. I've been thinking of how glad my dad would be to see me doing this because he was always concerned about the fact that I haven't really rebuilt the strength in my right leg since I broke it six years ago. Being in choir is probably the best physical therapy I could be doing, since we jump up and down, we jump side to side, we shift our weight from one leg to the other while doing stuff with our hands, and there's even one dance where we spend half of the song sliding our right legs backward and forward. It's exhausting, and I have had a fair number of mornings spent rubbing IcyHot into my back, shoulders, and hips, especially after our twice monthly all night practices. That's right. All night, as in starts at 9pm and ends at 4am. Anyway, I'm sure my dad would be thrilled at the range of movement I'm forcing my leg through, and when we reach the fifth consecutive hour of dancing and I just want to fall down, I hear him telling me "Don't let anyone know you're hurt!" and I keep pushing, because my daddy didn't raise no quitter.

5. When Rachel came to stay with us, she was given a bicycle that had been used by a prior MCC volunteer. Unfortunately for her, that volunteer was a 6-foot-tall guy who liked to go off-roading, and the men's bike is way too big for her 5'2" frame, especially when wearing a skirt. Thus the bike has been relegated to our locked front porch for the past few weeks. Last Saturday, however, we discovered a couple of young teenage boys trying to sneak into our compound through the back fence to take the bike off of the porch while Rachel sat in the living room. She chased them off, repeatedly, but then Leah came home on Tuesday to find that someone, probably the same boys, had tried to wrench the lock off of our porch gate with a piece of welded rebar (I know what rebar looks like because of my grandpa), damaging the gate a bit. Leah's impulse through this whole ordeal has been to fix any vulnerable points in the house and double check the locks. Rachel's inherent optimism believes that now that we've moved the bike inside, the boys will leave us alone. I am my father's daughter, however, and got myself a weapon (a big stick). I find myself secretly hoping that they'll come back while I'm there so that I can show them that we aren't some helpless white girls that they can mess with. In fact, yesterday morning I was brushing my teeth and I glanced out the window to see a leg coming through the hole in our fence. I immediately ran to the front door, wrenched open the deadbolt and ran (forgetting the stick) toward the hole yelling "Wewe!" (You!), only to come face-to-grinning-face with our watchman who was trying to figure out how to fix the hole. He's done a bang up job at reinforcing the compound (it sounds so cool to talk about my house like it's a besieged castle), and he's hanging around during the day as well as all night to make sure no one comes back. I think I'll have to give him a bonus.

6. My dad's name came up last night. We were at our friend Martin's house, and started talking about names. In Tanzania a child is given a baptized name, then they take the first name of his or her father as their second name. The third name is the name of the child's paternal grandfather. We were explaining about the concept of a family name, and that when a woman marries she takes her husband's family name. Even for a culture that has, on the whole, a rather lower view of women, this seems completely odd to many Tanzanians. My name is pretty simple for Tanzanians to pronounce and remember, especially since Adams is so close to Adam, which is a common name here, and Leisha is easily pronounced in Kiswahili (although I'm called "leh-sha" rather than "lee-sha"). It was entertaining, though, to think that my name could be Leisha Samuel Mark, or, in Kiswahili, Leisha Samweli Marco. At the very least, I rather like the idea that if I ever marry a Tanzanian, I could keep my family name and be Leisha Adams for the rest of my life.

7. I actually just avoided getting married off to the younger brother of one of my co-workers recently. She's been pushing me and pushing me to consider marrying her brother, who looks like he's about 18 years old (although I'm assured he's actually 30), he doesn't speak any English, and can hardly drag his eyes off of his shoes when he's around me. When I first came, and she asked me to marry her brother, I laughed and she didn't, then she asked what dowry my father wants. I happened to have already had the dowry discussion with my dad another time, so I could say with confidence that he wants "two camels shipped to America". Well, the camels have not materialized, but the brother kept coming around. Trying to be kind, I made the point that I couldn't marry anyone without my father's consent, and she replied that Baba Askofu is my Tanzanian father, and he approved the marriage, so that's not an obstacle at all. (I'm pretty sure that Baba Askofu did not actually approve the marriage, except as a joke.) When the brother started showing up at my house, I asked for some intervention, and Mama Askofu made it clear to everyone that I would not be marrying the brother, much to my relief.

Unfortunately, I've run out of news and stories that I can tangentially link to my dad, although I do have to say one more thing. If it were not for my dad, I would not be in Tanzania today. When I came back from my very first trip to Africa, the first person I thought of taking back with me was my dad. He's always been up for adventures, and he came with me on my second trip. He was a trooper, in spite of my poor planning and several unexpected expenses, and it really blessed the people here to have him come with me. He has always supported my work with Lahash, contributing money, helping me raise money from his contacts, talking to anyone who might be interested about Lahash's work, and even coming to help us with construction projects on our various offices. When I decided to move here, he was very supportive (and cautionary) and, although sad to have me moving so far away, he was happy for me to be continuing down such an exciting life path.

There is no way I would be able to hack life here without the training I received as his daughter. People tell me all the time how strong I am, and how much they admire my courage. They say things about how confident I am, especially for a single woman. For all of those things, and many more, I am grateful to my dad. I know that I have him to thank for teaching me character and strength of will and general toughness. From him I learned about justice and compassion, and that I have purpose and value. It is because of the example and leadership of my dad that I have learned to love and follow my Father in Heaven. I see so many young women hurting because their fathers were abusive or absent or weak, and I really thank God for a father who was always present and always loving and who had a big part in shaping me into the woman I am today.

Thank you, Dad, for being a part of my entire life. I would not have had the courage for so many of the things I've experienced if it weren't for you. I don't say it enough, but I love you and there is no man I respect more than you.

01 June 2010

Maduka and the Mouse

No, I am not writing a children's book, although that would make a good title. The story would be a realistic, if not particularly child-friendly, tale of dealing with rodents.

I do not fear many things. I don't fear heights or snakes or spiders. I slightly fear tightly enclosed spaces. I have an overwhelming, undignified fear of rodents, especially rats and mice. I know this is irrational, and I have had loads of people tell me how rodents are more afraid of me than I am of them (I'm skeptical). Regardless, I've been thanking God that I haven't seen any mice around my house, probably because there are about eight cats that patrol the grounds.

Edit: I HADN'T seen any mice, until two weeks ago.

It was a Sunday night, and I was asleep. I woke up to hear the small bag of garbage on the floor in my room rustling. Since this post is obviously about a mouse, I'm sure you've guessed what was in the bag, but I was thinking it might be a cockroach, since we do have plenty of those around, some the size of Matchbox cars. I turned on my flashlight and pointed it at the rustling bag, which immediately stopped moving. Suspicion started to burgeon in the back of my mind, so I got a long nail file from my bedside table and poked the bag gently. I might have screamed a bit when a grey tail flicked into sight then disappeared again.

The distance between my bed and the door had never seemed so long, and before visions of the mouse running out of the bag over or, worse, under my feet could become too real, I jumped for the door. I had one thought in my head: "Maduka".

Maduka is our watchman. He's a member of our church, and has been really faithful and helpful at the house. He not only keeps watch, but also burns our garbage for us, sweeps the compound daily, and trims the bushes when needed. He has helped us with countless small tasks, and I knew he was my only hope of dealing with that mouse. I ran down the hallway, turning on lights as I went with complete disregard for my sleeping roommates. I paused in the living room to look up the word "mouse" in our English-Swahili dictionary, then ran out to the front porch where Maduka sits. He looked up in alarm at my abrupt appearance, and I gasped out "Naona panya! Ninaogopa sana!" (I see a mouse! I am fearing much!)

He followed me into my bedroom, where I stayed in the doorway and pointed to the corner where I had seen the mouse. He started moving the furniture looking for the mouse, which failed to appear. He probably was starting to think I had been dreaming when I saw the mouse run from under my bed. I yelled and pointed to the corner where it had run, and he moved the trunk it was hiding behind. It started running around the room, so I leaped onto my bed pointing and making girly noises of fear. Maduka had taken off his shoe, and was chasing behind the mouse trying to whack it with his shoe. We must have made quite a picture.

Finally the mouse ran out the door of my bedroom with Maduka right behind him. There were two doors the mouse might have disappeared through: the empty bedroom we use as a storeroom for the program and Leah's bedroom. Maduka thought the mouse had gone into the storeroom behind a bunch of mattresses, but there's no electricity in that room, so we couldn't check. I decided to use the power of elimination and check out Leah's bedroom. By this time our temporary roommate Rachel was out of her bed and watching as I opened the door of Leah's room. She looked up at me in sleepy confusion while I explained that there might be a mouse in her room. I explained it twice, from the doorway, then asked her to move her curtains to make sure the mouse wasn't hiding behind them. (I was NOT going in that room until I knew for sure the mouse wasn't there. It wasn't.) I told her I would put something across the bottom of her door so the mouse couldn't get in, and she went back to sleep. Maduka moved all my furniture back, and Rachel and I both laid clothes across the cracks at the bottom of our doors and went to sleep.

The next day, Monday, was our Sabbath. We ran some errands in town, then came back to the house and played cards, but the whole time my mind was on that mouse in the storeroom. Finally, I devised a plan, and Rachel and Leah bravely helped me put it into effect. We moved all of the mattresses into the hallway, then I blocked the doorway with a mat so that the mouse couldn't run out. Leah had the broom and Rachel had a plastic basin we use for washing clothes. Methodically they worked their way through the hospital kits on the floor of that room, expecting at any moment for the mouse to run out. Finally it did, and hid under a stacked bed frame in the corner. After we all screamed and danced around a bit, Leah started try to scare the mouse to run out in a certain direction, which it did, and Rachel was ready to trap it with the basin. We jumped up and down screaming, from triumph and delight instead of surprise and/or terror this time, then put a box of paper on top of the basin, just in case.

When Maduka arrived that evening, I triumphantly led him to the storeroom and pointed at the basin, announcing "Panya!" (Mouse!) He looked astonished that we had caught the mouse, then we told him we wanted him to kill it. He took the box of paper off, and started scooting the basin toward the living room, planning to kill it on the front porch. He ran into a problem when he couldn't move the basin over the lip of the front door lintel without losing the mouse, so he slid the basin back and forth several times, hoping to daze the mouse. I realized what he was going to do, and jumped onto the couch, just in case. He lifted the edge of the basin, and when the mouse started to make a break for freedom, he brought the basin down on its back, killing it instantly. He flicked the dead mouse outside while we thanked him profusely.

As I said, not exactly a child-friendly tale, but we have proudly repeated it to almost everyone we know because we caught a mouse, and that makes us feel pretty bad-ass (even though I mostly just stood around squealing while other people did the work).

12 May 2010

Unga and Maharage

Because so many lovely people participated in Rice and Beans month, we received an installment of funds for the purchase of food for families in our program. We decided to spend it as quickly as possible. What good is money for food when people are hungry?

Leah and I sat down to sketch out a budget for the food money, and were quite impressed with ourselves at our ability to discuss the market price of salt and plastic bags and debate the practicalities of buying rice versus maize versus ground maize flour. We decided to take the simplest, most nutrion-packed course we could, buying maize flour (unga) and beans (maharage).

Just like with the Christmas money, we saw God miraculously expand our resources. We had an unprecedentedly high exchange rate, and the pastor made a connection with a new grinding mill who agreed to sell us the maize flour at distributor price, which saved us 450,000 shillings ($345 or so) which we used to buy more unga. Our regular beans supplier gave us a great price and even threw in some extra beans and arranged for delivery. They delivered the 1,875 kilos of flour and the 525+ kilos of beans, and Leah and I wrote each child's name on a bag of flour, then, while we conducted a parents' meeting, Leah and Jeff meticulously measured and weighed 75 bags of beans with 7 kilos in each.

Aside from three parents who were sick and two kids who came without their parents, there were representatives from all of the families, and they were so happy to receive the food. Some of the families have multiple children in the program, so they took their first share of unga and beans, and will get to return when they've used it in order to take their second, or in one case third, share. We have several families on our waiting list, so each of the families donated a bit of their unga to give to the waiting list families and we also gave them some of the extra beans.

After everyone received, we still have about 20 kilos of beans and about 20 kilos of unga left for emergencies in the coming months. We really thank God for this blessing. I could tell you so many stories, 75 in fact, of the difference this will make in these families, but the only words we, the staff, volunteers, kids and parents, have right now are "Asante, Mungu awabariki sana!" Thank you, God bless you all very much.

06 May 2010

Craziness, chaos, and confusion (and crying)...otherwise known as Tuesday

I made a deal with myself that I would update my blog every week, regardless of whether I could think of something to post or not, but I have not posted in three weeks, now, and that last post was a little...boring.

My life, however, is far from boring. Well, that's not entirely true. I was mentioning to Leah (my roommate) the other day that people often say to us "You live in Africa! That's so cool!", but our perspective is more "We live in Africa. Yup." We don't wake up every morning thinking "I am so blessed to have this opportunity", we think "crap, it's my turn to lead devotions". There is a lot of tedium in our lives, but we thank God for the tedium because when chaos strikes here, it's not usually a good thing. It isn't about getting reports in by deadlines, it is more about people dying. Chaos is not pleasant, and we have had a fair share of late.

Last week we took one of our girls, Victoria, to the HIV clinic because for about six months she has been wasting away before our very eyes. Victoria is an orphan living with her middle-class aunt, but the aunt puts no effort into caring for the girl. Victoria had tuberculosis back in March, and every time she has been offered food, she refuses it. Two weeks ago she contracted oral thrush, which is a fungus in the mouth. It covered her teeth, tongue, and down into her throat. We got her the medicine to treat that, and took her for a blood test to check her immunity levels. For a healthy person living with HIV, the count of white blood cells should be upwards of 400, below that you start on hard-core medicines to boost immunity. Victoria's blood tests came back on Tuesday at 10. In two months, her counts had plummeted over two hundred points. The doctor said to admit her right away to their HIV children's ward, but to expect that she might die any day. We spent Tuesday running all over town getting the things she would need in the hospital and finding a caregiver (the HIV+ mother of another girl in our program) to stay at the hospital with Victoria.

When we got to admitting at the Catholic hospital, they had to take Victoria's blood count again, which involves drawing blood, obviously. She cries at the sight of a needle, since she has to have blood drawn every few months to monitor her HIV, so I sat with her on my lap and covered her eyes which she screamed the entire time the needle was in her arm. I had to bite back my own tears. After the blood was drawn, she curled up in my lap and fell asleep. We carried her to her bed, prayed with the sisters who will be caring for her, and left. (Update: our last update is that she's asking for food and smiling!)

We returned to the church, and Mama Askofu immediately asked me to drive her to the house of one of the palliative care clients. Palliative care is for people who are in the last stages of a terminal illness, usually cancer, and is meant to help monitor pain and make the last months as easy as possible. Unfortunately GHMD has the only palliative care program in Dodoma, and it has an extremely small budget, mostly designed to pay a doctor who makes sure that the clients get the appropriate pain management drugs, although there's not much available more intense than Tylenol. We went to the home of a woman named Salome. She lives with her three daughters, aged 18, 11, and 5. She was lying on a bag, the kind that 25 kilos of flour come in, because cervical cancer has made her too weak to sit up for long periods of time. They share that same bag to sleep on each night, with a dirty khanga (cloth) for a bedsheet, on the mud floor of their single room. They'd eaten some porridge earlier in the day, and were not expecting to eat again.

I've seen a lot of desperate situations, but rarely have I seen so little hope in a woman's eyes. None of her girls have every gone to school, meaning that the oldest daughter's $17 per month salary for house cleaning is all she can ever expect to make to care for their family. When Salome dies, probably soon, that daughter will be the primary caregiver for the younger girls. I rarely cry during home visits, even the difficult ones like this one, but I couldn't help myself. I was so close to sobbing as the despair poured out of Salome's mouth, that I had to excuse myself to go lie down in the backseat of the truck. There was so little hope to offer her, and after spending the day mentally preparing for Victoria to die, I had no more strength in reserve.

I had about four more errands to run Tuesday evening after leaving that house, and I had barely enough energy to get through them all. The next day, Wednesday, we were able to take Salome to the hospital for a checkup, we got a mattress donated by Mennonite Central Committee, and used some food money sent by the Main family to buy them a couple of weeks worth of groceries. Hardly a long-term solution, but in such a desperate situation, even short-term solutions help.

I have decided I love monotony. I wish that every week was like last week, when the worst things I faced were a budget meeting and convincing a boy to go back to school. Chaos sucks.

14 April 2010

Ubatizo, watoto wapya, na mapulizo!

On Easter we got the treat of seeing another brother baptized. Our friend Mohammed is part of the "village bank" program here, a group of clients from the Home Based Care program who work together in a small business. Their business is dying batik fabrics, and they're getting really good. (I love my red and brown with hints of green batik skirt.) Mohammed was Muslim when he joined the group, but over the course of the past few months, he's come to a faith in Jesus. There are many Muslims here who are sympathetic to Christianity, and some are even secret believers, but fear to publicly confess their love of Jesus because of the probable repercussions from their family and friends. Mohammed decided to become an open disciple, and was baptized on Easter. He's one of my favorite people to see around the church because he is so friendly and kind. One day I met him at the house of one of the other clients. He had walked into town to get her prescription filled for her because she was too sick to go herself. When a Muslim is baptized here, they choose a "Christian" name to replace their Muslim name, so our friend Mohammed is now called Japhet.

We have been gaining more and more sponsors for our Tanzania program, and we got permission to add an additional five kids to the program. The first official day of program was last week for the new kids (watoto wapya), and we are so excited to have them around! Already they are jumping into the games and choir, and they wrote their first ever letter to a sponsor. Many of them are still needing sponsors, including two sets of identical twins. Aleni and Alecksi Mathias are the four year old sons of an HIV+ father, and are just starting nursery school. They do everything, including go to the bathroom, together and are adorable! Kulwa and Dotto Mombo are about age 10, and are true orphans, meaning that they've lost both parents. They've never attended school, and are not very good yet at socializing with the other kids. We are really excited to have all these new kids in our program!

Last Friday we had a special Easter program for the kids here, and wow, what a crazy day. We didn't meet the Friday before, because it was Good Friday, a holiday, so we had a double food budget to spend for special food and soda for the kids. We did a teaching on Easter, then gave prizes for the children who could answer questions. After the teaching, the kids wrote Easter greetings to their sponsors. Their reward for finishing the letter was a soda, then they got to eat special pilau rice and meat. Then we used the many balloons (mapulizo) sent by Leah's Aunt Linda (hi, Aunt Linda!) to play games with the children who are not in the choir. First we did a back-to-back relay, then a waddling relay, then you had to run down and pop the balloon by sitting on it. The small children aren't quite heavy enough, and they kept bouncing back up off the balloon, so I would reach under them and pop the balloon with my fingernails, which made for some odd looking photos! They had a fantastic time, as did Leah and Mama and I!

08 April 2010

"Photocopy Mzungu" (epically long blog post)

I have allowed a shocking amount of time to pass between blog posts, for which I apologize profusely to my faithful readers, especially Grandma Adams, whom I email infrequently, and thus depends on my blog to make sure that I continue to live and breathe. I have many excuses for my lack of posting, some of them are quite valid, but my dad always said that “Excuses are like armpits - everybody’s got two of them, and they both stink.”

When last I posted, I had just returned from traveling to Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. Here’s what has happened in the meantime:

New office - Right after I returned from that trip, office renovations began around the church. My office, which was initially a “guest room” back when the church building was a disco/brothel, had a non-working bathroom in it, severely impinging on working space. Due to an unexpectedly favorable exchange rate, GHMD was given a year-end bonus of approximately $6,000 to spend within one month on whatever would benefit the program. As a result of this bonus, my office got renovated to remove the bathroom, now making it large enough for Leah and me to share. Leah has a desk for the first time since she’s been here, and we have a ceiling fan for the hot days we are now experiencing. Several offices are still in the process of renovation, so there is a fine dust of concrete and dirt and probably asbestos covering everything.

Mail - I had a big envelope from my Grandma Adams with books and oatmeal in it waiting for me upon my return, then the next week I got a big envelope from Grandma Jones with my requested Italian seasoning, powdered cheese, and lots of varieties of tea. At the same time I got a letter from my cousin, Kyle, and on Monday I got letters from my brother, who is in military EMT training in Texas, and my friend Rachelle. I have been taking advantage of the many long church services of late to reply to Kyle’s letter, and replies to Roy and Rachelle are coming forthwith. (My grandma says I write “a real good letter”, so if you want some international mail, write me a letter – KMT Iringa Road, Leisha Adams, PO Box 3230, Dodoma, Tanzania.)

Travel – The last weekend of March I was invited by the leadership of the church women to come with them to conduct a seminar in the town of Mbeya, in the southwest part of the country. The Mennonite church in Mbeya is quite small, and the women of the church here in Dodoma are very well organized, so they wanted to go do a one day seminar for the women in Mbeya. They invited me to come along and speak about caring for the vulnerable. The eight of us (and a baby) went by car, in the Nissan Patrol which fits seven comfortably, on the 14 hour trip. Apparently if you drive fast straight through it’s an 8-ish hour trip, but we had a puncture and had to change the tire, then we stopped to take tea while the puncture was being repaired, then we stopped to greet and encourage the Mennonite pastor in Iringa and have lunch with them, then there was road construction leaving Iringa, so it took us 14 hours to finally arrive. The next day we did the seminar, at which we did teaching on small business, the role of women in the church, prayer, and organizing a women’s ministry. My teaching was on generosity toward the poor, how generosity is one of the marks of a Christ-follower, and how caring for the poor is only religious activity unless we are connected to the love of Jesus for the people we are serving. The leaders of the church asked us to preach, and the ladies in our group nominated me to preach both services. I spoke in the morning on marriage (I know I’m not married, but it went well), and in the afternoon about being a man or woman with excellence of character. We were all staying in the home of one of the deacons of the church, seven of us (and a baby) sharing four single mattresses on the floor. I was sharing my mattress with Mama Askofu, and I can say with certainty that she hogs the bed, but she shared her blanket with me, so I can’t complain. The night before we left I got the best compliment I’ve ever received. The ladies of the Mbeya church told one of my co-travelers that I am not really a mzungu (white person), I’m just a “photocopy mzungu”. Because I was sleeping down on the floor, bathing from a bucket and using a squat toilet, eating the same food as them, and wearing modest, traditional dresses, they had decided that my skin looks like a white person’s, but I’m not like any white person they’d ever met. That made me feel absolutely fantastic. We returned to Dodoma the next day, another 14 hour trip because it had been raining, so we had many delays. At one point two semis had gotten stuck halfway up a hill, and another two semis had tried to pass them and started to fall off the road. Our master driver, Shomary, took us off-road around the right side of the trucks, so that was only a short delay, but we spent an hour at a bridge that had a pretty decent flood pouring over the top of it. After a while the water subsided enough for us to power across. I thought it was kind of fun, but the ladies in the back had their eyes closed and were desperately pleading the blood of Jesus over us. We arrived back safely, with baskets full of pears, avocados, and guavas from the much cheaper produce markets in Mbeya (5 huge avocados, and about 10 huge Asian pears for $3.50, and the guava for free from a friend).

Party – Using some of that $6,000 bonus, we threw a party for the staff and volunteers of GHMD last week. The party was on Thursday, and we got to distribute gifts to each of the staff members and volunteers that we work with. Tiffannee, the local MCC worker from Cleveland, Leah, and I wrote small words of encouragement and appreciation about each of the workers, which really touched them. Then we got to eat really good fried bananas, fried potatoes, fried chicken, fried meat, and cabbage cooked in oil. My stomach is still happy from that horrible meal.

Proposal – When we were in Dar es Salaam we stayed with a friend of the Muhagachis who is extremely wealthy, and often has many guests who are passing through the city on their way somewhere. When we were there one of those guests was a young man named Emanuel, who tried very hard to talk to Leah and me the one night when we got to watch American television shows. Needless to say, our attention was not on him, and I responded to his frequent interruptions with not-too-thinly-veiled impatience. The next night the power was out, so Leah and I retired to our room early to bathe and sleep, but heard a greeting at the window from Emanuel, who was insisting on getting our phone numbers. We usually have a policy against sharing our phone numbers with people we don’t know, but were both mostly naked, and he wouldn’t leave the thinly-curtained window until we gave him our numbers, so we judged that the quickest and easiest route out of the awkward situation was to be sharing our contact information. Emanuel immediately texted us, and continued sending messages including several terms of endearment, in the following weeks. We never replied. Last Friday night, Leah received a message from Emanuel saying “Please I want to marry you”. She freaked out, especially since he then immediately tried to call. She rejected the call as I laughed heartily, but then he sent a follow-up text saying “Sorry that message was meant for Leisha”. The shoe was on the other foot, as Leah laughed, and I stared blankly at the message he sent to my phone saying “Please I love you and want to marry you”. I tried in vain to explain that he couldn’t possibly love me because he doesn’t know me, and when that didn’t work, I tried the no-fail “I’m in a relationship” bit, but that didn’t work either. He kept insisting that he loves me and wants to marry me. Finally I said I didn’t want to hear any more about this nonsense, and stopped texting with him. I had tried to be nice, but he simply wouldn’t take no for an answer! Who knew I am such a hot commodity?

Pasaka – Pasaka is the Swahili word for Passover, which is what they call Easter. We got an unprecedented six day holiday, starting on Good Friday and finishing yesterday on what happened to be the holiday for the anniversary of the death of the first president of Zanzibar. Friday we had a long church service, Saturday we did a massive spring cleaning that made us both sore and tired, then went to an evangelism service in one of the poor neighborhoods where some of our clients live. On Sunday we had another long church service and went to another evangelism service. Monday we dealt with the chicken for most of the day (see Leah’s blog for details), and on Tuesday we walked to the post office and got our favorite chips from our friend Rasta Chitema. Yesterday we rested for most of the day, then went to church in the afternoon, and today, at long last, we are back to work!

17 March 2010

Alas and alack, this is Africa after all

I'm back in Dodoma. "Wait", you might be thinking, "her last blog post said she should be in Nairobi right now!" Well, in Africa, very little works out quite the way you think it will.

The Morogoro leg went exactly as predicted. We did meetings with the key staff of the Mennonite church there about starting up a program. They're at the very beginning baby stages of starting, so we encouraged them in their work and gave them advice for raising money locally and building sustainably. It was actually really refreshing to see them so passionate about meeting the needs of the people in their community. It reminded me that as we develop programs, we lose that attitude of being willing to do literally anything to get help for these needy people. As time goes by, volunteers need to be paid and staff need larger offices, and we forget the desperation of not having anything to give to the poor except our sweat and prayers. Our host family was very very kind, but Katie ended up sleeping in the bed of the baby, and found out halfway through the night that the baby pees the bed. No rubber sheets here!

When we got to Dar es Salaam, we learned that a) the fundraising we had been told was scheduled was indeed not scheduled, b) the church we thought we were speaking at was not aware of the fact, and c) our work visas were indeed still missing that elusive last signature, so no fundraising, no Nairobi. We took Katie to the airport, watched some cable television (which was like crack to me...we got to see CURRENT episodes of Project Runway, House, Fringe, and Lie to Me...all favorite shows of mine back in the States), watched a bunch of Tanzanian movies, met a Tanzanian movie star, enjoyed air conditioning, WAIT, WHAT?! That's right we met a Tanzanian movie star. We had been watching these seriously mediocre Tanzanian films with improbable plots, when one night the star of two of the very movies we had been watching walked into the house where we were staying! At risk of embarrassing her, Mama Askofu was a little star struck and tended to babble. We were invited to come to watch him film one day next week, but we will no longer be in Dar. Too bad.

In the middle of all that Dar stuff, we got to go to Zanzibar to see my friends Nashon and Kessy, whom I had met at that conference I spoke at in January. We didn't have much time there, but we saw a lot of cool stuff, toured the old slave market, and bought spices for CHEAP. Turmeric powder, about 5 oz, was 1000/=, or about 80 cents. Be jealous! (If you're not jealous, next time you're at the grocery store cruise the spice aisle and check out what you'd have to pay for the stuff.) Leah bought them out as gifts for home. I bought star anise, for no other reason than that it smells good like licorice, and some Zanzibar coffee powder, which also smells good, but we can't figure out how to drink because it doesn't appear to be instant coffee like everything else we drink here. I bought a huge bunch of lichi, which I haven't had since I was in Cambodia, but tastes so good. We bought a bracelet for our friend Clyde from some Maasai men who were friends of my friends, and we chatted with them for long enough that they let us take a picture with them. Then one of them very, very seriously began negotiating with Kessy for Leah's hand in marriage. He kept insisting that the number of cows needed was no problem, but he wanted her. She started to laughingly suggest an outrageous-to-her number, 500, but I warned her that we would shortly see a herd of 500 cows cresting the horizon in Dodoma, and Leah would have be expected to marry this short, squat, ugly, earnest Maasai man. Still, the pictures were great. Watch for my soon-to-be-changing Facebook profile photo. On the two hour ferry ride home, we got to watch Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade...with no sound. I've seen that movie roughly 25 times, so I narrated the whole movie to Leah, which I'm sure she was delighted with. Who wouldn't be?

Now we are home, and, although we regret that we have to put Nairobi off for another month, we are happy to be home, sleeping in our own beds. Dodoma feels very cool compared to the 100 degree plus temperatures in Dar and Zanzibar, and we were missing our co-workers and friends and kids after only one week. Apparently we really are settling in here!