27 December 2011

Innocent, Christmas, Baby and Me

A recap and update on our family:
Innocent – The house is so quiet!  Innocent returned to spend Christmas with his great-grandmother (Fred’s grandmother, called “Dani”), and on the way back, Fred took him for an admissions interview for the boarding school we are planning to send him to.  We didn’t realize how competitive the admissions process is, but Innocent impressed the school officials and they offered him a place!  Although I’m sure it seems strange to Americans to send a six-year-old to boarding school, it’s really the best educational option here, and Innocent is so excited.  He was also really excited to go home and tell all his stories about life in our house, but he made sure that Fred knew that he was planning on coming back to our house before he reports to school on 4th January.  We now have the list of school supplies he needs, so I’ve been embroidering his name on his sheets and underwear while Fred collects pencils, notebooks and soap.  It’s kind of fun being the “parents” for back-to-school time!  We’re both planning to go on the 4th to deliver Innocent to school and make sure he’s settled in.
Christmas – I got some really kind comments and emails after my last blog post about celebrating Christmas, including an especially helpful and encouraging email from a friend who is a retired missionary to Southern Sudan and Uganda.  I made peanut butter fudge for Fred’s family’s Christmas celebration and lemon hand scrub for Dani.  With Innocent’s “help” I made homemade lemonade-flavored pixie stix (including sealing plastic straws closed over a candle…no joke) for the boy to give to his family.  All things considered, I think I went through an entire kilo of sugar (roughly 2 pounds), but everything turned out quite well.  I spent several days leading up to Christmas alone as Fred traveled with Innocent, so I made myself some Christmas decorations using scissors, crayons and recycled paper from the office.  I don’t have enough internet credit to post photos, but I made a little red-and-green paper chain, some snowflakes, a Merry Christmas banner and…drum roll please…a Christmas tree!  It’s my pride and joy, consuming 11 pieces of paper, complete with a star, ornaments and garlands.  Fred made it home Christmas morning, and we spent the day resting and listening to Christmas music, then I got a fantastic Christmas gift…a restaurant opened in Shirati!  I’m not joking that there were NO restaurants in this town, only a couple of bars that served nasty chips and meat.  We had chicken masala and pilau, and Fred shared a bottle of champagne with some friends while I drank non-alcoholic cider.  It was nothing glamorous, but a really nice way to spend Christmas.
Baby – I’m getting more and more inquiries about baby names, but it’s still not settled.  I read somewhere that the Luo tribe (Fred’s tribe) tends to believe that the name just comes with the baby.  This goes totally against my hyper-planner nature, so I have spent considerable time thinking about names, but we’re not locked in to anything except a first name for a boy, which I’ve wanted for years.  No spoilers here, but if you’re really interested, just email me.  Today marks week 34 of the pregnancy, about six weeks to go.  I’m not too uncomfortable, except always hot, and not growing as noticeably rounder.  The baby is still very active, but I can tell it’s getting a little tighter in there.  I’m really not very nervous about the birth, but I really am getting nervous about being prepared for the baby.  We got our crib, which is beautiful, and while Fred was traveling I finished the crib sheets (white, blue, green, orange and pink stripes).  Now I’m working on the matching bumpers, all by hand.  My mom and grandma are sending me some supplies to help with all these sewing projects, as well as a few essentials, and hopefully the boxes will arrive soon to ease my mind that the baby won’t be wearing a tea towel for a diaper.
Me myself – This Christmas season reinforced my sense of isolation here in Shirati, but along with that sense of isolation came a lot of peace.  I have come to be grateful for this season, which has pushed me toward greater reliance on God for my strength and growth.  I’ve also had a great opportunity to learn about being a wife, and, although there have been a few ugly, emotional episodes which I wish I could blame entirely on pregnancy hormones, I have learned so much about praying for, loving and submitting to my husband.  I know I’ll look back on this time as a gift given to Fred and me to enjoy settling into married life with very minimal distraction from outside.  I’ve also been given the opportunity to really dream about the life God has for us, and my role in that as a mother.  I’m reading a couple of parenting books, including The Mission of Motherhood by Sally Clarkson, which is challenging me to invest myself wholly in the children God gives us.  Everything I’m learning in that area is a whole blog post in and of itself, so I’ll save it for the future.  All this to say that isolation is not always a curse, and although I’ve been tempted to view it as such from time to time, today I’m reminding myself of all I have to be grateful for.

14 December 2011

To Christmas or not to Christmas

I have such fond memories of the holidays growing up.  Most of those memories are set at my grandparents' houses, mostly sitting around the dining room table eating great food.  Christmas Eve at Grandma Jones' house was a little less traditional and a little more chaotic. We ate something different each year, from tacos to sandwiches to ham roast, with the standard eight to ten different kinds of homemade pie. The tree was always real, because my grandpa worked the Christmas season at his friend's Christmas tree farm (it's an Oregon thing), and usually at least one of the gifts under the tree was wrapped in garbage bags or the comics.  Christmas at Grandma Adams' house was traditional and beautiful.  I remember the glittery antique ornaments on the tree, and perfectly wrapped gifts underneath.  We usually ate turkey and stuffing and mashed potatoes and gravy and all that great traditional food. 

I have especially fond memories of one Christmas Eve when we packed into the car for the drive from Grandma Jones in Newberg to Grandma Adams in Astoria (about 2 hours' drive) in the middle of the night.  My brother, sister and I fell asleep, of course, but I remember waking up to the sounds of Amy Grant's Christmas album as we pulled onto Grandma's street.  I loved that "Tennessee Christmas" tape.

As my siblings and cousins and I got older, there were more adaptations to the Christmas traditions.  We got older, presents became less important and we were more distracted by plans with friends.  The "Tennessee Christmas" tape got lost, and I personally became less interested in "non-Jesus" Christmas traditions like gift giving and Christmas music (aside from those amazing Christmas hymns).  Now I'm in a position to re-evaluate Christmas traditions, and I'm not sure what to do.  Christmas in Africa is quite different from the States, since the Christians here haven't really picked up the "extra" stuff that clutters our American Christmases.  Plus there's no snow here (obviously), no Christmas trees or ornaments, and very few of the traditional Christmas foods I remember from Grandma Adams' dinner table.  No Christmas cookies or stockings, very little gift-giving.  There's a whole lot of church associated with celebrating Christmas, but not so much the Christmas carols and nativity plays, more like the usual service, just three times longer.

Being a new wife, I feel like this is the year to start Christmas traditions for our family, but I simply don't know what to do.  Things like an Advent countdown and paper chains seem like kid things that are impossible to explain to Innocent.  Snowflakes and Christmas trees and stockings mean nothing to anyone but me, and seem kind of silly to explain to Fred.  Christmas cookies and other special food is pretty impossible to deliver on.  The thought of trying to come up with a special Christmas tradition and pull it off somehow seems...daunting.  All that combined with financial strain and baby preparation makes me want to opt out of Christmas this year, but the idea of sitting around watching movies and eating rice and beans on 25 December doesn't appeal either. 

How does one truly honor the beautiful miracle of Jesus' birth?  What's left after the sentiment and cultural traditions are stripped away?  Or, maybe, is there room for some nostalgia and warm fuzzies mixed in with Jesus?  Help me out, people!  How do you honor Jesus' birth in your family?

30 November 2011

Now I know the Luo word for "MINE!"

Innocent, our seven-year-old nephew has come to stay with us for a few weeks.  It's been a very even mix of delightful and mundane, with a sprinkling of unaccountable tears (and not just on the little boy's part, if you know what I'm saying).  I’m going to brag on the boy a little bit, and explain one or two things I’ve been learning from the experience.

I really enjoy the energy and interests of boys.  (I very carefully crafted that sentence...I don't want any weird traffic on my blog from pedophiles!)  Ever since the age of twelve, when I first started doing child care in my church's 2-year-olds room, I've always had success connecting with boys.  My younger brother and I used to spend hours and hours tromping around in the woods around our house playing "Army," a game mostly composed of dressing up in fatigues and occasionally diving behind logs or pretending to shoot at “enemies.”  As a youth pastor, I had a posse of teenage boys regularly haunting my house and car.  The clutch in my car was never quite the same after teaching several of them how to drive.  From age three through college, my best friend was always a boy.  Somehow God wired me to “get” boys, and I really hope that God gives me sons so that I can put that to work raising little men.

In some ways, Innocent reminds me of myself as a child, in that he is extremely sensitive and wears his emotions on his sleeve.  Heaven forbid that he should receive the smallest injury or frustration while he’s tired, because a meltdown is coming.  He’s getting used to sharing his uncle with me, but I’ve definitely received some scowls when he thinks Uncle is paying too much attention to Auntie.  He becomes devastated if he has misbehaved or even just thinks he misbehaved.  A few days ago he sent himself to bed because Uncle corrected him for doing something he knew he wasn’t supposed to.  He wasn’t punishing himself; he was just too upset to stay in the room with us.  The photo above was taken when he was upset with me for some reason I can't remember and fell asleep on the doorstep watching for Fred to come home from work.  The times of tears are very few compared to his laughter and smiles, though.  Innocent has a great smile, with two missing teeth in front, and laughs quickly.  I’m learning to pay attention to his energy, his diet and meal times to help him maintain a positive attitude.  I’m also very aware that my own attitude coming into the day makes a difference, since he is so sensitive to the emotional tenor of the people around him.  It’s a new level of responsibility for my impact on the atmosphere of our home, not always easy with pregnancy hormones raging.  I am learning that I have to take care of my own sleep and food patterns so that I have the resources to maintain a stable, peaceful atmosphere for Innocent.

Innocent is really smart and very quick to learn, which is so helpful since our communication is limited to the little English he has learned or picks up from Fred and I.  He’s going off to a boarding school in January that requires English, so part of the strategy for bringing him to stay with us now was for him to get used to hearing and speaking English.  My mom had sent a kindergarten activity book that teaches numbers, letters, colors, shapes, etc, and Innocent spends about an hour each day writing and coloring in the book.  Last night he wrote his own simple addition problems and solved them while we watched the news.  He’s almost learned to tie his own shoes.  Although it’s a challenge to continue to find ways of engaging his intellect, he is good at entertaining himself, playing with his Lego creations and animals or singing himself songs or just talking, talking, talking to himself.

Football (soccer) is a major connection point, and some of our most delightful times have been outside kicking the football around.  Fred likes Arsenal (an English Premier League team), so Innocent has learned the names of the major players on the Arsenal squad, especially when he’s scoring goals.  Here they are watching a match together while I work at the dining room table.  Watching Fred play with and take care of Innocent has given me a whole new reason to love my husband, and as we work together to meet the boy’s needs, it is connecting us in a new way.  In spite of difficult moments and distractions from work, I am really valuing the time with Innocent and learning a lot about preparing myself for full-time motherhood!

23 November 2011

Sewing Projects

Hand-sewing projects I've been working on lately
As I mentioned on Facebook, I've been in "nesting" mode lately, including the two sewing projects above.  First I made a Christmas stocking for our nephew Innocent.  It took a little trial-and-error, since I didn't have a pattern, but I'm pleased with the final result.  I'm even more pleased with the towel.  I saw a template online for changing a regular towel into a hooded baby towel.  The first "hood" was the yellow one, which then seemed a little small, so I made another, larger "hood" in the opposite corner.  I did it all by hand, including making my own binding.  Although Fred was mildly amused by the "cloth sock" until I explained the Christmas tradition to him, our housegirl, Stella, was fascinated watching me sew.  It's one of those domestic things that most Africans (including my husband) assume are beyond us pampered Americans.  I owe thanks to my mom for teaching me to sew and letting me raid her sewing room for a number of hare-brained projects over the years. 

Today I realized that there's a sewing shop in our little village (really?  no restaurants, but a sewing shop?) and that sewing shop sells binding.  If this nesting stage continues, I'm sure I'll be making friends with that lady.  As soon as our crib is finished, I'll be making rubber sheets, crib sheets, crib bumpers and possibly a quilt also.  I've even considered making cloth diapers, diaper covers and onesies, although all that sounds rather daunting with only my ten little fingers to sew with.  Perhaps now that I've shown my sewing prowess with a few little projects, I can justify buying a manual sewing machine soon! 

Between this and the cows (see last week's post), I'm starting to feel kind of "Little House on the Prarie"!

17 November 2011

Dodoma and the Grass Cutters

I was in Dodoma last week for a series of meetings with Grace and Healing Ministry and Lahash personnel.  Getting to Dodoma is two days of buses.  For those of you with a map following along at home, there's a two-hour car ride from Shirati to Tarime on a rutted dirt road.  From the bus stage in Tarime, one catches a bus from Tarime to Mwanza, which takes about four hours.  After an overnight stay in Mwanza, it's an eight or nine hour bus ride from Mwanza to Dodoma.  In theory one could do it all in one day, if you started early enough, but I've never wanted to do that.   Fred accompanied me to Mwanza, then I went on from there alone.
The trip to Dodoma was...adventurous.  Fred rented our own private taxi (for $12) to take us to Tarime in lieu of squeezing in with six to twelve other people (for $5).  In the Tarime bus stage, always a crazy place, a young man followed me to and from the toilets yelling "mzungu na mimba!" (white person with pregnancy) over and over again, while making wide gestures exaggerating my size.  It makes for a funny story, but I did not have much of a sense of humor about it at the time.  He wasn't the only man to give me some unwanted attention.  In our hotel, two men ogled me in the lobby, then two others watched me for a whole flight of stairs, and while waiting for my bus in Mwanza, a guy almost walked into a cart on the street because of staring at me.  Just when I thought I was used to being stared at for my skin color, there's a whole new reason to stare bulging out the front of my dress.  I had a panicked moment on the very bumpy ride to Mwanza when I suddenly felt something wet between my legs.  Several not-good possibilities ran through my head before I realized that it was water spraying up from the road through cracks in the floor.  Alarms went off again when we reached Mwanza and I went to the bathroom to discover dry red smears on my legs.  I quickly realized it was clay from the road water, but that was a scary moment.
I reached Dodoma safely, had a small adventure wandering around my friend Tiffanee's neighborhood on foot after dark trying to find her house, then a great week of food and meetings.  Note that food was mentioned first, because I ate so much great stuff.  Pizza, tuna fish sandwiches, homemade juice, samosas from Rose's Cafe, a chocolate bar and a Mounds bar, ice cream, and earning the "most craving inducing" award goes to the food at right: Zanzibari Mix from Rose's.  They make only for Saturday breakfast, and it was one of Tiffanee, Leah and my favorite things in all of Dodoma.  It will sound awful, probably, but it's a coconut broth with boiled potatoes, roasted chickpeas, homemade tortilla chips, broken up bits of baghia (a kind of maize dumpling), and coconut chutney on top.  It's slightly spicy and slightly sweet and plenty salty.  It's like a kind of "refrigerator casserole" but soup.  Oh my word, it's delicious and I want it every day for the rest of my life...even more than pizza or chocolate or ice cream. 

Oh, and the meetings were good too.

Lahash International just finished a strategic plan for the next five years, so we were presenting that to our partner, making plans for the conference next March and discussing various other things that would be neither interesting nor appropriate to share here.  Suffice it to say, the discussions were great, but it was a lot of loooong days, especially for the six-month-pregnant lady who couldn't sleep because of her giant belly and indigestion from all that good food mentioned above!

I went to this great medical clinic on my last day in Dodoma for a full pre-natal checkup.  As I mentioned on my Facebook status, I got a consultation with a doctor, a consultation with the midwife, had my blood pressure and weight measured, got blood tests for HIV, malaria, STIs and RH factor, an ultrasound, a prescription for an anti-malarial drug and filled the prescription all for 33,000 Tanzanian shillings, or approximately $20.  What?!  Everything went really well, and they were all delighted that I had married an African and kept calling me "Otieno."  Although we still don't know the gender of the baby, I got to see how the baby is developing, and the ultrasound tech mentioned how active the baby is.  (Believe me, I know.)

Fred met me in Mwanza on Sunday, and we reached Shirati on Monday evening, packed in the back seat of a super full taxi.  The next day, I had to laugh at my life.  The photos at right were taken at the same time from my front doorstep.  The irony is that one we pay and one we should be paid for!  We've asked time and time and time again for the owners of the various cows around to not tether them in our yard to graze because they leave huge piles of manure around and trample the trees Fred just planted.  The calves are free-range, though, so I don't even know who they belong to.  There are some "free-range" chickens and guinea hens who like to arrive at our house at about 6am and announce their presence under our bedroom window.  Everyone sing with me now: "Greeeeen Acres is the place to be!  Faaaarm livin' is the life for me!"...or perhaps not.

09 November 2011

Amazing what can happen in a year!

A timeline of a year ago:
31 October 2010 - I preached the Sunday morning service on the topic of Biblical Marriage (part one). At the last minute I was also asked to talk about voting, because it was election day. It was also the engagement dedication ceremony for a Tanzanian friend, followed by an engagement party. About forty people asked me why I'm not married yet. I just laughed.

1 - 6 November 2010 - People kept stopping me to tell me that they were praying for me to get a husband. One of the prayer ministry people in the church stopped me in the hall, told me to put my hands in the air and prophesied over me that my husband was coming soon. I just smiled, and she commanded "Say Amen!" "Amen!" I stammered. In Shirati, Fred was trying to talk his way out of being sent to Dodoma for the Central Diocese Strategic Planning seminar the following week. It didn't work.

7 November 2010 - I preached Part Two of my marriage sermon series at the church. After the second service, the senior pastor and one of the wazee (elders) laid hands on me and prayed that God would send my husband soon, and that he would be a man of Godly character. I laughed a lot (in my mind), because I was really not that pressed to get a husband. After the service I felt convicted about my response (like Sarah when she was told she'd have a child in her old age), and decided to take the advice of a good friend to have some standards. I started a list of the things that I really hoped God would give me in a husband. Fred traveled from Shirati to catch a bus to Dodoma, which he missed.

8 November 2010 - The Central Diocese Strategic Planning seminar began. I finished my list of husband characteristics under the edge of the table, and had another private laugh. I didn't know and had never met a man who came even close to the list in my journal. I figured that God would really have to be the one to bring my husband if I were every to marry. Fred arrived in Dodoma that evening after I'd gone home.

9 November 2010 - I entered the room for the second day of strategic planning meetings and noticed the tall, handsome African man sitting in the corner, but, having just given all my "guy stuff" over to God, I didn't pay close attention to him. Fred noticed me immediately (given that I was the only white woman in the room), and for him, something clicked. It had been years since he'd been interested in any woman, and he'd never been interested in marrying a "mzungu" but for some reason he was drawn to the white woman running the projector. After the meeting, I invited Fred to hang out with us for my host family's son's birthday party. He agreed readily, but then left early from the party. I wrote him off as anti-social.

10-11 November 2010 - No developments, except that each of us was becoming more and more impressed with the other for his/her participation in the meetings. The night of the 11th, Fred and some other guests came to the house of the bishop (where I was staying). I had the first intimation that Fred liked me when he crossed the room to talk to me about watermelons. Such a ladies' man! In spite of that, I took him with me to hang out with my friend, Martin. Along the way Fred broached the subject of marriage, and I immediately changed the subject.

12 November 2010 - After the final meeting, I took Fred to dinner with my two best friends in Dodoma, Martin and Paul. They had already decided that I should marry Fred, making that 3 out of 4 people at that dinner table who had decided views on my marital future.

13 November 2010 - Fred left Dodoma first thing in the morning, and I went back in for another day of meetings, during which we texted each other. Via SMS I agreed to be his girlfriend, about one hour before another friend asked me to be his girlfriend. (I turned him down.)

14 November 2010 and following - Electronic courtship over hundreds (while I was in Tanzania), then over thousands of miles (when I went back to the States) until February 2011, at which point I finally came around to what Fred, Martin and Paul had already seen: Fred was the man God wanted me to marry. We got married in April 2011, meaning that, by the time we celebrated the one year anniversary of the day we met, we'd been married for over half of the time we'd known each other (and I'd also been pregnant for roughly half the time as well!).

Really, I'm so grateful that God's hand was so evident in bringing Fred and I together. We freely give God all the credit and all the glory for the blessing that our marriage is. If I'd ever had any idea how much I would love being married to Fred, it would have been so much harder to wait. I'm so glad that God brought us together at the right time.

03 November 2011

Let you mind dwell on these things...(and photos!)

A few thoughts from the recent past:

First, if you missed one or both parts of my double blog post last week, check out Overcoming Fear (about some lessons I've been learning about fear) and Opportunities to Help (some great young people we know in need of very small financial assistance with schooling).

Second, our house has been painted...pink.  Of course I don't have a before picture, but it had been a number of years since the last paint job, which was white.  Now it's pink with grey trim and black foundation (they're only halfway done with the foundation).  They want to paint the roof red, but Fred put his foot down and said we'll buy our own roof paint.

Third, pregnancy update: I'm getting rounder, but not heavier.  I have to walk over to the hospital to use their scale to weigh myself, and I don't do it very often because the nursing students who work at the desk next to the scale always jump up to look at how much I weigh and make comments...usually along the lines of "wow, you weigh a lot".  I weighed myself the day I took the pregnancy test in July (176 lbs), one day in September (172 lbs) and last week (back to 176 lbs).  So in spite of the fact that I have 43 inches of belly, that hasn't translated into weight because I had at least 20+ lbs of American weight to lose.  I feel healthy, but I'm beginning to have trouble sleeping because of the hugeness of my stomach.  Next week I'm planning to get my first general checkup with an OB/GYN in Dodoma just to confirm that everything is going on well, and hopefully to find out the gender of the baby.

Fourth, the title of this blog: "Let your mind dwell on these things..."  I've been thinking about the verse Philippians 4:8: "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (ESV)  I've also been thinking about the kinds of input I want my baby to have, and creating a home environment and thought patterns for children that will help to draw them close to God even from infancy.  I've begun to realize that some of the things I allow to influence my own environment and thought life are dark, unpleasant or even just frivolous.  If I allow my mind to dwell on these things, I realize that it has an effect on my mood, my attention, my energy, and most of all, my joy and peace.  In fact this verse about the things we should meditate on is sandwiched between two verses about having peace and the God of peace being with us.  That's the kind of home environment I want for my family, one of peace, so what influences will I allow in my home?  Are the things I allow in my mind and in my home those of truth, honor, justice, purity, beauty and excellence?  Is there any room for Spanish soap operas on that list?

28 October 2011

Opportunities to help

I'm starting to see a pattern to the opportunities and needs that are around me.  For the past several years I've been advocating for the sponsorship program of Lahash, which focuses on holistic care and education for children through high school equivalent.  During this time I've realized the need for a fund available to help our kids apply to university and specialty colleges, like teaching, accounting or nursing school.  It looks like I'll have the opportunity to begin designing and fundraising for that scholarship program in the next year, which excites me immensely.  In many cases, these vulnerable, but brilliant and hard-working kids only need a little assistance to get the applications, birth certificates, death certificates for parents (to prove vulnerability for government grants), etc.  In other cases, for vocational schools especially, the fees for a year of school may be only a few hundred dollars, but even the low cost for school can derail a potential student's future.  A young man or woman faced with the opportunity to become a teacher, accountant, mechanic or nurse with a salary to support a family, may instead end up working in a restaurant or doing piece work in the market.

Right now Fred and I have several students we are trying to help, but with planning for the baby, the requests for assistance have overwhelmed us.  I hope that, in sharing their stories, God might move on a reader's heart to help these students.  (Disclaimer: these students are not part of any Lahash International program, but are personal "projects" that Fred and I are facilitating.  Any funds would not go through Lahash, and would not be tax-deductible.)  Here are their stories:

Habiba is the one who got me started feeling so passionate about these students.  She is an ambitious young woman who finished secondary school (high school) in the Lahash program, and was accepted to St. Augustine University to get a bachelor's degree in education.  She has a government loan and grant which covers her tuition, but is herself responsible for her registration fees.  I've helped her out a couple of times in the past, but recently her family's financial situation degraded even more, and now, for lack of 188,000 TZS, or about $120, she might not be able to return for her second year of school.  She needs these funds as soon as possible to finish her registration.  Without the funds, she might never get a chance to return to university.
If you would like to help Habiba, she needs a one-time gift of $120 as soon as possible.

Tino is a young man who is a student at the Shirati Nursing School, which is part of the Mennonite diocese that Fred works for.  Although Tino is an orphan, his grandmother and uncles have really sacrificed to help him with the first year of his school fees.  He worked a low-level job in a hospital to save up the funds for the first term of his second year, which just started.  Fred and Tino have become friends, playing volleyball together most afternoons, and Fred has a lot of respect for Tino's work ethic and dedication to school, as well as his leadership on campus.  In March his funds will run out, and he won't be able to finish his nursing degree for the lack of only a small amount of money.
If you would like to help Tino, he needs a one-time gift of $300 by the end of February 2012.

Steve is another student at Shirati Nursing School whom we have tried to help from time to time.  Like Tino, Steve is a young man on his own in the world.  Steve is another volleyball friend of Fred's, and he attended my birthday party with Tino and a few others.  He's a really joyful, funny young man, and super friendly.  He is in his final year of school and has been assured of a job at the local hospital after his graduation, at which point he plans to begin repaying any funds provided to him.  We would reapply these fees to assist additional students in similar circumstances.
If you would like to help Steve, he needs a one-time gift of $300 by the end of February 2012.

**EDIT**I had a story here about a girl I hadn't actually met named Leticia Namirembe.  Turns out that the whole thing was an extremely elaborate scam, perpetrated by someone who had stolen Mama Susan's email password and sent me emails purporting to be Susan, Leticia, and the registrar of the nursing school.  Lesson learned that no matter how much research I think I've done, there's nothing like a personal relationship!

Please contact me if you have been touched by any of these stories and would like to help out.  You can send an email to my personal account: leishlin@gmail.com.  Thank you and God bless.

Overcoming Fear

I would imagine that most people who know me or read this blog would say that I am not a fearful person, that fear isn’t something I struggle with (except for fear of rodents).  In fact, I hope that is the perception most of you have, because for the past ten years or so I’ve made a concerted effort to conquer fear in my life.
I believe that fear has no place in the life of a Christ-follower, because fear is not of God.  For me, this principle is true from the very small fears to the very large fears.  I believe this so strongly that I have confessed my fear of mice as sin and asked God to forgive me as I try to conquer that irrational aversion.  (Still plenty of work to do on that front, unfortunately.)
Throughout the Bible, God’s message about fear has two themes: Fear God and Fear Not.  Fearing God comes from having a true understanding of who God is and as our understanding of God increases, our reverence (or fear) for God increases, which Proverbs 1:7 says is the beginning of wisdom.  The other command, to “fear not” seems to always be followed with a “because of God” statement.  For example, as Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt and they are trapped at the banks of the Red Sea, Moses exhorts the people “Fear not; stand still and see the salvation of the Lord which He will work for you today.”  (Exodus 14:13, Amplified)  It seems to me that the more we fear God, the less we fear other things because our understanding of God allows us to overcome the fear.
Here’s a little anecdote about how this “Fear God/Fear Not” principle worked out for me recently.  Fred travels a fair bit, a few days at a time for seminars, meetings, trainings, and I’m becoming used to that, but one recent night when he was away, I had a moment of overwhelming fear.  My usual approach to fear is to ask myself “What’s the worst that can happen if this fear is realized?” but when that fear has to do with losing my husband, imagining the worst case scenario sent me spiraling deeper into fear.  I simply couldn’t imagine living with the pain of losing Fred.  I began praying against the spirit of fear, confessing that the fear doesn’t come from God and asking for peace “beyond understanding.”  That peace came, and I fell asleep, but I hadn’t really overcome that fear.  The next morning, I was thinking about God’s heart for widows and orphans, when I realized that my fear was of that very thing…being a young widow…and the more I remembered God’s character and promises to support and care for the widow, the more I felt fear fading.  Obviously I don’t want to lose my husband and I pray regularly to have a long life with Fred, but a fear of God, respecting that God can take care of me and bring me through anything, allows me to fear not what tomorrow may bring, even if it’s that worst thing I can imagine.
I might have another post on fear coming soon, but to close out this post, here’s a photo of my recent birthday party.  We had a couple of nursing students over for dinner, which was prepared by not me.  The students surprised us by bringing me birthday presents, even though they’re all very broke.  We had a great time, and enjoyed some non-alcoholic wine spritzers with caramel corn for dessert.

10 October 2011

Sonogram and Spinach Potato Cakes

First of all, here's the long-awaited sonogram photo.  I'm afraid it's a little blurry, but I promise, even if it wasn't, there's not much to see.  We can distinguish the head and the heart, which is good enough for us.  The slightly grumpy tech, who thought I was odd for wanting my husband in the room, said everything looks good to him and confirmed my estimate for the due date: Valentine's Day.  My belly is still growing, rather quickly, actually, but I feel good.

In exchange for such a valuable item as a sonogram photo, I am going to now subject you to a cooking lesson.  Probably boring, but it was a rather monumental achievement for me, and I feel the need to brag on myself.

I tend to be content to eat the same thing, with slight variations, every day for weeks, but my husband is more inspired by variety.  He doesn't ask for much (since there isn't much to be had), but I try to show some creativity in the kitchen from time to time, rather than just the rice and beans every night that Leah and I used to eat.  Yesterday I had fresh greens, tomatoes and potatoes that I needed to use, and it was Sabbath, so I had all the time in the world to cook.  I did a little web browsing looking for something new to cook, and stumbled across a recipe for "Spinach Potato Cakes with Roasted Tomato Sauce" on the Epicurious website (click here for link).  I just so happened to have all the ingredients, except for the optional cheeses, so I went for it.  I love food blogs, so I should have carefully photographed each step of the process, but I didn't think that far ahead, sadly. 

It sounds so simple in the recipe: four easy (long) steps.  In reality it took me most of about five hours, although I was watching Season 1 of LOST at the same time, so I wasn't in any hurry.

Here are my step-by-step directions for making this recipe in Africa.

- First I washed thoroughly and peeled six or seven potatoes, then chopped them in half and put on to boil.  I washed approximately one pound of greens thoroughly and remove from the stems.  We don't have spinach here, so I used something called "pea greens" which are kind of like ramp, I think.  Also, I didn't have any way to weigh one pound, so I took a half-kilo bag of pasta in one hand (1.1 pounds) and the greens in the other hand.  Close enough.  I washed very, very thoroughly the ripest six or seven tomatoes and cut in half.  I made four pieces of toast in the sandwich maker, then crushed them with the handle of the knife to get one cup of bread crumbs.

- No oven, so I had to "pan roast" the tomatoes with a conservative amount of my very expensive and precious olive oil and salt and pepper.  Meanwhile, I melted two spoonfuls of Blue Band (a kind of margarine that serves for butter here) in a pot and wilted the greens.  When the potatoes, tomatoes and greens had all cooked, I set them all aside to cool.

- I mashed the potatoes with a fork, then, lacking a blender to puree the tomatoes, I mashed those with a fork too.  I chopped up the greens, nearly removing my thumb nail in the process.  Everything was then ready to rock and roll.

- I mixed the greens, an egg, the potatoes, salt and lemon pepper (in lieu of lemon zest and pepper).  It really didn't appear to need bread crumbs, since it was sticking together well, but I was darned if I was going to waste the effort of smashing all that toast.  I used about half, just out of principle, and preserved the rest in an old coffee jar.  Here I ran into my biggest dilemma thus far: what would I use to hold the flour for dredging?  Being Sunday, our housegirl wasn't around to wash dishes for me, and I had, in true Leisha form, used nearly every dish in the kitchen.  I hate washing dishes, so I used the lid for a water pitcher instead of washing a plate or bowl.  Just call me MacGyver. 

- I formed the cakes and began dredging them in flour.  At this point, Fred came home from playing volleyball at the nursing school and eyed with mild alarm the chaos of the kitchen.  He diplomatically inquired how many dishes I had used, and I diverted the question by heating oil and beginning to fry the cakes.  The smell of cooking food had its desired effect of inspiring him to walk to the shop and buy me a soda to drink with dinner.  (This is a very important part of the recipe.)  The first cakes cooked a little faster than I anticipated, and I felt compelled to taste test one (or two) to make sure they weren't spoiled.  They weren't.

I also made some scrambled eggs to add a little protein to our dinner.  At its core, this was a meal comprised of exactly the same ingredients we always eat--eggs, tomatoes, greens, potatoes--but it tasted fantastic.  Between the two of us we ate "4 to 6 servings" of potato cakes.  They were delicious, but it's going to take another Sunday to repeat the experiment because of all that prep work and dishes, which I dutifully left for my housegirl to wash this morning.  (It's how she earns her salary, since the rest of the day she gets to spend on the sofa watching Nigerian movies.  I used to feel guilty, but then I decided not to, since I hate washing dishes and that dislike outweighs guilt every time.)

I also made caramel corn this weekend, which was another big success with my husband and the nursing school students we shared it with.  I feel like I'm finally getting the hang of cooking without a fridge or oven.  Next time I jerry rig a recipe for my kitchen, I'll take some photos.  Promise.

Oh!  In closing, here's another photo for you.  This was the view from our hotel room in Mwanza last week.  One would think I'd have taken a photo of the fabulous view of Lake Victoria from the open rooftop bar, but I never took the camera up to the bar.  I don't like looking like a tourist, taking photos of scenery or, Heaven forbid, animals.  It would take a lot of begging from you all to get me to take a those kind of pictures.  In fact, why don't you just come visit, and you can take the photos yourself?  Then I'll steal them and post them on my blog for everyone else's enjoyment.  We have a spare room (or six), and one of them actually has a bed in it.  Karibu Tanzania!

29 September 2011

TV can teach you something...sometimes

Fred and I share a mild obsession with politics.  Fred being Kenyan means that he’s basically culturally obligated to be aware of current Kenyan politics and be able to discuss these issues and people with anyone, anywhere.  I’ve always found politics interesting, and I’m getting quite a (slightly biased) education on the intricacies of Kenyan political dynamics from my husband.  All this political interest on both our parts means that we were feeling the lack of news when all we had to rely on was intermittent internet and the radio.  That wasn’t so bad for Fred because the news headlines were on every hour, but they were always in Luo or Swahili, meaning that I could maybe pick out two or three words if I really paid attention, but usually I’d have to ask “What’s going on?” once it was all over.  Anyway, so a few weeks ago we borrowed a satellite dish from a friend, and Fred and two other guys spent two days setting it up in the backyard and calibrating signals for approximately 50 channels.  Here are the two most important lessons I’ve learned in the past few weeks of watching Tanzanian cable TV:

1. There aren’t many differences between witchcraft and the prosperity gospel
Of our 50 channels, about 30 of them are religious channels.  I rarely watch any of them, but the little bit of preaching I’ve watched convinces me ever more of the danger of the prosperity gospel, which basically believes that God wants to bless us with material wealth if we have sufficient faith.  I’ll describe a common scenario, and you tell me if I’m describing witchcraft or the prosperity gospel: A person has problem, usually motivated by envy and discontentment.  That person goes to a powerful spiritual leader who assures the person that his/her deity has the power to solve the person’s problem if certain conditions (*coughcough*money) are met.  The person is led through a ritual, in which the spiritual leader is very prominent, of asking said deity for a specific solution to the aforementioned problem.  Often the specific solution does not come about, which is usually blamed on the person asking for not meeting the certain conditions (*coughcough*money).  Now, you tell me which deity is being appealed to.  This mindset is presented most persistently by preachers from Nigeria (renowned for its witchcraft) and America (renowned for worshipping wealth).  Sometimes it seems like the Muslim clerics on TV are presenting more godly principles for living than many of the “Christian” pastors.
                Yesterday, though, my attention was caught by an American black woman named Prophetess Juanita something.  She was talking about the importance of faith, which is usually a lead-in to having faith that God will give you want you want.  This woman paced the stage, sweating and shouting about how the church has corrupted faith to only be for our own wants.  She said “If the church is over here, dancing about all our nice stuff, there is no room for faith for healing of the woman with cancer or AIDS.  Where are the soup kitchens and rehab programs and prostitute outreach programs that used to characterize the church?  Instead we all want big houses and Mercedes.  Someone needs to desire the kind of faith where God doesn’t need to give me anything, because the things I’m praying for are for my neighbor and the prostitute and the child dying on the streets.”  I can’t tell you how refreshed and encouraged I was by these words.  The prosperity gospel is so corruptive and so prevalent in the church throughout the world, and it was fantastic to hear her defending the simple life of faith on behalf of others.  Can anyone argue that is true gospel?

2. Often the hardest things to hear are the most important
At the end of 2007 and beginning of 2008 violence broke out in Kenya following heavily contested presidential elections.  I won’t go into detail about who did what to whom, but the politics of ethnicity mixed with poverty and inflammatory speeches led to a wave of violence that was devastating for the country.  After the dust settled, cries for justice echoed throughout the world.  The wananchi, or common citizenry of Kenya, called for justice, not just for the perpetrators of rape, arson and murder, but for the instigators.  Common knowledge held that those instigators were the top politicians in the country.  After the Kenyan justice system failed to indict the top level planners, even after reports by a special commission and the Kenyan National Human Rights Committee, the International Criminal Court began investigating.  They named six very prominent names, three on each side of the conflict, and are currently presenting the charges against them before a three-judge panel in The Hague.  K24, the best Kenyan news station, airs the hearings live every afternoon, and if we have power, we are always parked in front of the television, fascinated.  The worst part is hearing the prosecutors describe the violence which qualified these charges as crimes against humanity.  There were men of Fred’s tribe who were forcibly circumcised with broken bottles before being beheaded and even boys as young as age 5 were castrated with dull blades.  Many, many women on both sides of the conflict were raped, some contracting HIV as a result of gang rape in the streets of western Kenya, others becoming pregnant, and still others burned alive in their homes with their children.  It’s terrible, and easy to say “I don’t want to hear this”, but I think it’s so important to hear the stories of these people.  It’s important for us to bear witness and stand against this horrendous violence, especially in the context of a place like Kenya where the most powerful are rarely held accountable for their actions.  Fred wishes he’d studied law so that he could be the kind of lawyer who represents victims against the entitled power mongers who do whatever they want with impunity in Kenya.  Injustice infuriates us both, and we’re really hoping for truth and justice to come out of these pre-trial hearings at the ICC.

Mixed in with these important lessons are so many smaller things, like “there is such a thing as too much news” and “the perspective of Iranian news channels is very different than CNN and BBC”.  I’ve seen some fantastic things, like a documentary about a poor family in South America which could have been filmed in our village for all the similarities.  Also, did you know that “Touched by an Angel” is still airing in some places?  It’s true.  I’ve watched it.  My life was not changed.
And finally, as promised, a photo.  It seems that our baby knew that I was going to take a picture of him/her this week and has been growing like crazy.  This week marks week 20, so we’re over halfway, and the rate at which the baby has been growing has been exhausting me the past few days.  I weighed myself last week, and I’ve actually lost two kilos (about 4.5 pounds) since I first found out I was pregnant, although the picture doesn't really show that.  Fred’s been pushing me to eat more, even when I’m not hungry, to make sure I maintain a healthy weight, and I’ve been trying to get plenty of rest.  Thank goodness for the remote control!
That’s all for this week.  All the best to all of you.  Comments welcome!

21 September 2011

Love your Reader

I recently read a blog post by author Donald Miller who said that the best writing advice he could give is to "love your reader" whether you're writing a book or a blog.  That phrase has been haunting me of late, since this blog, which I try to update weekly, has suffered a shameful lapse, though not for lack of blog-worthy events.  Here's a run-down of the past few weeks:

- Fred or I traveled every week in August, which taught us two things: 1. I don't like having house guests when Fred's not here (if you missed the story, you can read it here), and 2. Fred does not function well without his wife.  While Fred travels, I just hide in the house and work or read or watch movies.  While I travel, Fred stops eating and sleeps like a teenager.  If it weren't for the bishop's wife, he probably would have missed a lot more meals.  He even stopped shaving.  I don't think I've seen him happier than when I got back home.  We've both been thankful to have a few weeks of reprieve where we're both home before traveling starts again.

- We hired a house girl, which I talked about in this post, and she's still doing really well.  An unexpected bonus is being forced to speak Swahili with her, which highlights how much Swahili I've forgotten from going back to the States for six months and only speaking English with my husband.  It also reminds me of my old roommate, Leah, since my vocabulary for household tasks is shamefully deficient.  I can fluently access the Swahili words for sponsorship, planning, development, poverty, flourishing, and a host of words related to spiritual development, but I cannot ever remember the verb for washing clothes.  I'm going to have to go back to studying Swahili, but be far more practical this time!

- I went to Dodoma for a week for some meetings and training with GHMD.  It was fabulous to see the kids and the staff.  I was so touched when several girls came one day after school specially because they'd heard that I was at the office.  They just wanted to see me and give me a hug!  For the most part I was so encouraged by the health and development of all the children, but there were a few notable exceptions, all on the theme of housing problems.  I'll be writing about that in my next support letter, which will be mailing at the beginning of October.  If you're not receiving my snail mail support letter and would like to, send me an email with your address and we'll get that out to you.

- Speaking of email, I have a new work email address, leishao@lahash.org (let the spam begin).  Note especially that last part: lahash.org instead of lahash.net.  We have a new website for Lahash, and it's spectacular.  You should definitely check it out.  Please note that this new address is only for work related stuff, so please don't add it to personal updates, which I love, or random email forwards.  For that use my old leishlin(at)gmail.

 - I'm supposed to be taking more photos, but I am just not in the habit, so I forget that I even have a camera.  Two note-worthy things I saw on my bus ride back from Dodoma which I would have taken photos of if they weren't flying by in the window:  an old man building a boat in front of his house using only handtools (that's how we know we live by the lake!  well, that and the thunderstorms) and a commercial gravel pit.  I know that sounds insane, there's nothing interesting about a gravel pit, except that most of the gravel in East Africa seems to be made by hand, by people with small hammers sitting next to a pile of rock.  Seeing a huge gravel pit with machinery surprised me a lot, until I saw what was built next door: a very impressive compound of houses, each with an individual air conditioner, with a Chinese flag flying over the whole thing.  It seems there is a road construction project going on nearby, hence the Chinese expat engineers with the AC and the commercial grade gravel.

- Finally, a pregnancy update.  I'm in week 19, so about halfway through.  I'm starting to show a bit, and all the nasty first trimester symptoms are long gone.  The only major symptom I'm struggling with is hormone swings...I think Fred preferred the nausea.  I'm trying to be very conscientious about my moods and conduct, but sometimes I strike up a "conversation," thinking I'm completely balanced emotionally, only to burst into tears halfway through, making Fred extremely nervous.  In saner moments we're having more conversations about cross-cultural parenting, and the aspects of each of our cultures that we want to instill in our children, regardless of where we live.  It's complicated, but one of the most valuable parts of our marriage carries over into parenting: nothing is assumed.  We can't assume that we will agree on anything, so we have to think about everything, from the languages we'll speak to our kids to the attitude toward leadership we want them to develop.  (Fred and I are both over-thinkers...can you tell?)  In a few weeks we'll go up to Nairobi to check out a few hospitals and make a birth plan.  Right before we came back to Tanzania, we were introduced to an American family who were on their way to Nairobi to work at an international school.  The wife is training as a midwife, and she's helping me do research and think through all the plans for the birth.  While in Nairobi we're hoping to get an ultrasound and buy some baby clothes.

Well, after all those snippets, I hope you feel loved!  I'll try to be more consistent in these updates, and my goal, which I'll publicly state here for accountability, is to have at least one or two photos for you next time!  If you have any requests for something you want to see, whether it's our new dining room table or my increasing midsection, leave it in the comments and I'll do my best.

20 August 2011

My Housegirl

I finally got a housegirl!  We've been kind of half looking for someone to help me with housework.  It's very commonly done here when the woman of the house has a job, like me.  I've been functioning okay...not great...at multi-tasking, but my housekeeping would not be up to typical standards of most African mamas.

I might tempted to feel badly about this.  After all, the banner example for a Godly wife is the Proverbs 31 woman, who took care of her home and her family, did business and made fancy clothes for her kids.  Her husband and kids respected her.  I heard a sermon from Pastor Mark Driscoll on this topic one time in which he pointed out that she had a lot of help to achieve all this.  He was talking to American women, so he pointed out the dishwasher, oven, washing machine, etc. that help them take care of all this business.  He wasn't saying that it's cake for American women, just that the Proverbs 31 woman wasn't perfect and didn't do it all on her own.

I have a slightly less help from appliances than my working-wife American counterparts.  I've been asked to take more photos, and I have my camera, the cable for it, power and a fair internet connection, so here are photos of (in clockwise order):  my pantry, my dishwasher, my garbage can, my dish cupboard and my stove.  It's super glamorous, so don't be too blown away.  The garbage can is the size of the kind someone might keep under their office desk.  It serves the entire house, but we only have to empty it every four or five days.  That's good, since all garbage here is burned in a pit behind the house.  Most of ours is organic, aside from the occasional bleach bottle.
Of course, clothes are also a big thing.  We had been having a teenage boy who lives with our bishop wash our clothes every Saturday for about $2.  Then Fred's favorite t-shirt went missing, only to be found a few weeks later being used a mop at the bishop's house because no one knew whose it was.  Fred saved it in time, and it's still in good condition, but that was the last straw.  I was about to have to take over all the clothes washing, where previously I had only been doing our underwear and some emergency items that couldn't wait for Saturday.  This is my washing machine and you can kind of see the dryer in the background by the goat.

Now, as of Friday morning, I have a new dishwasher, washing machine and general cleaning agent.  Her name is Stella.  Her first day she got right to work, doing all the things I hate: washing the floors and the pots and the rugs and the curtains.  This all took her about four hours, with a tea break.  It would have taken me at least a day, maybe two.  Today she came back for her regular shift of 8am to 1pm, but there's no water today, and hasn't been all week.  Nearly all our buckets are empty, so she folded the clothes she washed yesterday, swept and mopped the kitchen and living room again, did the dishes, then I put a movie on for her while I work, and she promptly fell asleep.
Actually, she's great.  She speaks Swahili, and is really patient communicating with me.  If she gets that I'm not understanding her question, she's show me what she wants by miming.  She works hard (when there's work to do), and is quiet and stays out of my way.  Really, I could ask for nothing better.  Right now she lives with a family nearby, but eventually she might come live with us, especially when it gets closer to the baby coming.  She's excited about the baby, and totally okay with washing dirty nappies (diapers).  All this for $25 per month!  We'll start paying her more as time goes by and she sticks with us.  We might also start giving her a chance to learn tailoring or some other trade, so that if/when she leaves us one day, she'll be better educated and trained than when she joined us.

Anyway, that's where we're at now.  I'm excited to not have to wash dishes and she's happy to have an easy job where she can take naps and watch movies.  Plus, you got the emotional rollercoaster of feeling sorry for me when you saw pictures of my kitchen, then of feeling jealous of me because I have an awesome house-girl.  It's a win-win-win!

15 August 2011

Sleepover Week!

Last week Fred had to travel to Nairobi for a few days.  It was a quick trip and we didn’t want to pay $50 for a Kenyan entrance visa for me, so I stayed home…alone…or not really.  Fred was a little nervous about leaving me home alone, so we invited our bishop’s two granddaughters to come stay with me.  Eva is 13 and Felista is about 9, and they love washing dishes.  Win!

Fred left on Sunday afternoon and the girls arrived shortly thereafter.  We had a good time, cooking special food and watching Toy Story 3 three times in three days.  Really, they were excellent house guests, and the only inconvenience of having them around was getting up at 5:45am to wake them up for school.  One evening when we didn’t have power, they used the dominoes to create a little home with designated dominoes representing people.  Eva told Felista a story using the dominoes, which seemed to be about the girls living with Fred and me permanently.  They love Fred, who lived in their home for several months, and, according to the many drawings they gave me signifying such, they love me too, probably because I made them hot chocolate and rice pudding.

Fred arrived home on Wednesday morning, and we expected the girls to go home after they returned from school…except they didn’t.  In fact, they brought their brother, Johnson, over to spend the afternoon.  As the afternoon passed to evening and they still made no signs of leaving, I scrambled to figure out what to feed them, since I had planned a meal for two.  That night, for the first time, Felista wet the bed, and shamefacedly confessed to Fred the next morning.  They packed their things and went home after school.  A few hours later, they were back, with their brother.  The next day was a big graduation ceremony at the nursing school (which is part of the diocese), and so many relatives and guests had come that the kids’ beds were occupied by visitors, so they came back to us. 

I could understand the predicament, and they would surely be better off sleeping in our spare beds than on the floor at their house.  Another morning up at 5:45am to wake them for school, then Fred and I spent most of the day at the graduation ceremony, which is a lot of speeches and choirs and really, really slow processionals.  We had decided to treat ourselves to a nice (for Shirati) dinner out that night, and I was looking forward to an actual date and some quiet time alone with my husband.  Alas, the kids showed up again right before we left for dinner, expecting to be fed and housed yet again.  We told them to go home for dinner, then return for sleep, and we went out.  (By the way, I should mention that their home is about 100 yards away from ours.)  We got home rather late, and found the kids all in bed, but Felista wasn’t sleeping because Eva was sick and Johnson had refused to take Felista home for dinner so she hadn’t eaten.  We scraped some food together for her, but eating and drinking right before bed was not her friend…again…and there was another nighttime accident which she didn’t admit to this time.

On Saturday Fred had to travel to a nearby town for about eight hours, and he assured me that the kids would head home as soon as they woke up.  They didn’t.  We fed them breakfast, then Fred left, and the kids spent the entire day just hanging around.  It was raining and no power, so I read a book and they took naps and otherwise amused themselves.  Their uncle, a university student, even braved the rain to come over to see what was going on, and ended up napping on our couch as well!  Eventually the rain stopped and the power came back on, so Johnson popped in a movie and they settled in for the duration.

Now, by this time, you may be wondering why I didn’t just send them home.  The main reason is that it is just not done in Africa.  Hospitality is so important that you never send a guest away, even if that guest is eating you out of house and home.  A good guest will finish their visit and leave at the appropriate time…these kids didn’t have a sense of that appropriate time.

Their uncle returned for them (“praise God!” thought I), and as they went the uncle was sure to say “They’ll be back in a little while.  Their grandfather just wants to see them for a bit.”  “Oh no, no, no, no…that’s not necessary,” protested I.  “Oh no, it’s okay.  They like it here,” returned the uncle.  “No, really, they should just stay home.  I need to…do…some…stuff,” I lamely finished.  The uncle just returned a confused, slightly offended look (maybe he’d been planning to come back and finish the movie with the kids) and left.  I breathed a sigh of relief, put in my own movie to watch, and waited for Fred...who returned with bad news.  He had to go back to Nairobi.

Yesterday, Sunday, he left for Nairobi again.  He asked if I wanted the kids, to which I replied an adamant “NO”, then tried to backpedal to legitimate reasons of establishing independence, getting ready for Innocent to come, etc, then I finally just confessed that I was tired of them!  He laughed and agreed, and explained to the bishop that he was traveling again, but that I would be fine without any house guests.  At least that’s what he said he told the bishop.  I don’t know what got lost in translation or where, but about three hours after Fred left, I went to the door to find all three kids with their backpacks on, ready to stay another week!  In desperation, I forgot all polite Swahili and just bluntly told them that I was staying alone and they should go home.  Looking confused and slightly offended, they turned and went home.

The argument could be made that I should have the kids around as much as possible to prepare for impending motherhood, but I would argue that there is a huge difference between having one’s own baby who grows into childhood with the boundaries and systems (and language) of his or her mother and having three visitors who are difficult to dislodge once established.  Plus, can’t I have these last few months to indulge the selfish whims, like sleeping in past 5:45am and watching whatever movie I want to, that will soon be a distant memory?  That's what I've been telling myself, anyway. 

03 August 2011


Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the way we experience good news in our digital culture.  The fact that I live so far from so many of my friends and family means that I experience the vast majority of news, both good and bad, online while I’m sitting at my computer alone.  I imagine most of you reading this blog have similar experiences. 

Several weeks ago my sister had a baby, and my mom sent me an email to let me know.  It was exciting, of course, but I had no outlet for my excitement until Fred came home from work.  In contrast, when I randomly called my parents last week, I got to hear on the phone from both my parents that my sister-in-law had had an emergency C-section three weeks early because of her high blood pressure.  It was much more fun to share that moment with my parents on the phone and with Fred in the room, then a few minutes later talking to Lyndsey on the phone.
Now Fred and I have our own news to celebrate, and want to do it right.  I’ve thought long and hard about how to tell people back in the States our news, and I’ve sent emails to family members and a couple of groups of friends, asking them to tell others so that no one is alone to celebrate our good news.  However, that doesn’t cover many, many people who love Fred and I and would like to celebrate our joy, hence this blog post.  God has blessed Fred and me with a baby due in February! 
If time and distance were no object, I’d love to have dinners and coffees herbal teas with all of you to rejoice together.  Since that’s not possible, I’m asking you to celebrate with one another!  Please call someone, someone who knows me or even who doesn’t, and have a little celebration on my behalf.  Invite someone over for dinner, pop open a bottle of wine, and thank God for his blessing in our lives.  I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” (because I’m that cool), and I love the part of the song “L’Chaim” where they sing “God would like us to be joyful even when our hearts lie panting on the floor.  How much more should we be joyful when there’s really something to be joyful for?”

So be joyful with us and for us.  Celebrate in some small or large way the blessings God heaps upon each of us every day!

P.S.  I have my own small, personal celebration: I got a toaster!  Actually, it’s not a toaster in the traditional sense, it’s a small appliance called a “sandwich maker.”  Fred’s aunt has one (the aunt who lives in an apartment in Nairobi with outlets and frequent electricity, not the aunt who lives in the village without outlets or electricity), and Fred bought me one as a surprise.  I don’t know how to describe it, except that I butter the outside of two pieces of bread and put something in the middle, like fried egg or peanut butter, then close the lid, and it makes a toast sandwich, a delicious toast sandwich…when the power happens to be on during meal or snack time.  I’m not sending out personalized notifications of this, because it’s just a toaster, and I’m perfectly capable of celebrating toast by myself, unless you want to make yourself some toast to celebrate this blessing with me as well.

31 July 2011

My Nemeses (written a few weeks ago)

At various points in days gone by, I have talked about how this person or that person was my “nemesis”, usually a person who I’d met recently and opposed me in some area of work or ministry.  Actually, as it turns out, I’ve been abusing the word for years.  I just looked it up in Oxford English Dictionary:
nemesis /’nεmisis/
n. (pl. nemeses /-si:z/) the inescapable agent of someone’s or something’s downfall, especially when this is deserved
So first let me offer an apology to both the English and Greek languages for my persistent misuse of this word (although it’s such a nice word – fun to say and more fun to pluralize).  I also owe an apology to those I labeled as a nemesis inappropriately.  In God’s funny way, though, I think every single one of those “nemeses” eventually became good friends!
Now let me introduce you to my actual nemeses, those things (not people) which are inescapably contributing to my downfall, whether such downfall is deserved or not.
1) A certain rat
I hate rodents, even guinea pigs and hamsters, but I especially hate rats.  The family who used to live in half of the large house that Fred and I live in were not particularly tidy or careful about storing food, hence attracting a whole troop of rats.  When they moved out, taking that messy food source with them, the rats began touring the house looking for my carefully stored and sealed food stuffs.  Fred won’t tell me how many he’s killed so far, but there is (at least) one intrepid creature which likes to climb up our stove at night looking for bits of something.  I not only hate, but fear rats, and on a recent late evening I sat in the kitchen reading by candlelight, the rat took advantage of the dark and quiet to pay a visit.  I began hurling empty water bottles in the general direction of the noises, hoping to frighten it away.  This rat has escaped Fred on a few occasions, and I am no help in the catching or killing, so the rat continues to imperil both my dignity and sanity as I sit with my feet tucked up in a chair praying for vengeance!
TANESCO is the nationalized power company in Tanzania, and I already hated them from my time in Dodoma, because a) the political science student in me recoils at the inefficiency and waste of a national utility company without private sector competition, and b) they tried to make me pay a gigantic power bill because they couldn’t check my meter (long story).  Anyway, it seems that since late last year Tanzania has been experiencing almost daily blackouts without explanation or warning.  This is particularly inconvenient for me because it brings into conflict my two main responsibilities.  I am most productive as an employee of Lahash if I have power for my computer, but I am most productive at home if there is no power to distract me (with, y’know, work).  I’m the kind of person who likes to have a plan and a routine for my day, but when I’m at the erratic mercies of TANESCO, I often end the day without feeling much sense of accomplishment.  (Plus, no electricity at night encourages the rat.)
Still, in spite of the worst these nemeses are throwing at me (the other night Fred killed a rat IN OUR BEDROOM), and the other difficult things of my current life, like being far from family and friends, I have a lot of peace now.  Although this isn’t a busy time of life for me, I’m learning to be content with that.  I think God might be teaching me that the “downfall” of my preferences and comforts and fears even, are for my good, and that there’s a lot to be said for the seed which falls into the ground and dies to produce new life.  It remains to be seen what that new life might look like, but it’ll be good…even if there are rats.

08 July 2011

Living Room!

We have the beginnings of a living room! Many thanks to Imago Dei’s Global Mission fund for some extra money this month, enabling us to make the trip to Uganda we’d hoped to take in June and buy some living room furniture and a bed for Innocent, who’s coming to visit next month.  

(I had a photo of our furniture to put here, but I can't find the cord that connects the camera to the computer. Too bad...it was going to be a rare photographic insight into our life here!)

It may not seem like living room furniture is particularly missional, but I’ll tell you, in Africa, it is. Hospitality is such an important part of life here, and until now, we simply couldn’t have anyone to the house, even for a chat, because there was nowhere but the kitchen or bedroom to invite them into. Both these locations are problematic culturally. In Luo culture, it’s very much not done to invite a visitor to hang out in your kitchen, so my only visitor thus far has been a young co-worker of Fred’s named Goodluck. He’s from a different tribe which doesn’t have such stipulations against sitting in kitchens. Actually, his being from a different tribe and excellent English are two factors that have made us friend-ish. I think he often feels as much an outsider in Shirati as I do, since neither of us speaks the Luo language.

Our plans for the coming weeks are such:
21st July – Travel to Nairobi
22nd – 23rd July – Nairobi, visiting with some of Fred’s family and Edwin’s family
24th July – Travel to Kampala
25th – 26th July – Kampala, meeting up with Mama Susan, Tim Bata, and Jaclyn Konczal
27th July – Travel to Kisumu and Sindo
28th – 29th July – Sindo, picking up Innocent and Dadi (Inno’s cousin)
30th July – Return to Shirati with the two boys
Inno and Dadi are going to stay with us for several weeks in August, after we return them to Sindo, we’ll travel to Dodoma for a week or so.

23 June 2011

The In-Laws!!

(First and foremost, thanks to many of you who commented or wrote me notes of encouragement after my last bummer of a blog post. Now back to your regularly scheduled slightly self-mocking observations on life in East Africa!)

We had been planning our visit to “Dani” (grandmother in Luo language) and Innocent, Fred’s nephew who is like his own son, ever since we returned to Africa, and as the time drew closer for the trip to Kenya, I began to get really nervous. I knew language would be a barrier, since Dani and Innocent only speak Luo, but I also had a sense of the weight of the occasion. Fred’s extended family, aunts, uncles, cousins and all, had been waiting for Fred to get married for a long, long time. Most of them had not even seen a photo of me, but they knew I was a white American, and I put a lot of pressure on myself to make a good impression.

As an example, trying to dress for the day we went to their home almost drove Fred crazy. I wanted to wear comfortable clothes for the long trip, but I also wanted to look nice to see them, and I definitely didn’t want to look too American. Trying to find the perfect traveling outfit that would also be the perfect “meet the in-laws” outfit, pairing practicality with themes of cultural integration…my appeals to Fred for feedback or guidance were useless, as I imagine the importance of a wardrobe decision of this magnitude is beyond most men. They could probably identify “wrong” if they saw it on your body, but otherwise, you’re on your own, lady! I finally landed on something that didn’t appall me, and we hit the road for the big event.

Remember the car ride I described where the driver shared a seat with the eighth passenger? Well, I have now realized that this is an extremely common scenario. I have amended my award of “Maximum Vehicular Capacity” so many times in the past few weeks that I have determined that it is only my naivety that would even consider that award worth thinking of. (Eight in the seats, with three to four children in laps, and three to four riding in the “boot” seems to be the absolute capacity for these vehicles, but I’m still expecting to be proved wrong on that front.) The trip to Sindo, Dani’s village, took us about 11 hours, in which we rode in three packed cars, two packed mini-buses, and another packed car. This final car was the one that took us from the tiny town of Homa Bay to the village of Sindo, and the two voluptuous mamas who shared the back seat with Fred and I had us wedged in so tightly that even the bumps of the “detours” off of the “currently being improved” road didn’t budge us.

When we finally arrived at the bottom of the path to Dani’s house, I was so beat I almost (almost) didn’t even care what I was wearing. Fred’s cousin, Beatrice, a lovely 30-something-year-old married mother of five, came running full-speed down the hill from the house. She basically fell on me, hugging me and welcoming me, and she took the bags from my hands, threw her arm around my shoulders and started up the hill. We had to stop and rearrange luggage when Fred’s aunt came from the road where she’d seen us pass, and insisted on also carrying something after her hugs and welcome. Then we stopped again (it’s not a very long path!) when Innocent came tearing down the hill yelling “Uncle! Uncle!” Eventually, we made it to where Dani was waiting for us, and she started crying when she saw us. Half a second of “is that good crying or bad crying?” crossed my mind before she started hugging me and wouldn’t let go!

Suffice it to say that I was very welcome, and as I got to know them better over the weekend, I was let in on the secret: they had been dreading our marriage, although they hadn’t told Fred. Their few observations of marriage between Luo men and white women were not encouraging, and I will summarize their fears in this list. They thought I would be old, wear only tight trousers, refuse to have children (or be too old to have children), take Fred to America forever, and/or dislike them and their home. The stories I heard behind those fears totally legitimize the worst opinion they might have had of me, but by the end of the first day, Fred assured me that they love me and only regretted the language barrier. (Big sigh of relief!)

Their home is on a remote little bay of Lake Victoria. The village is ringed by huge hills (like Chehalem Mountain), and Fred’s family homestead is part-way up one hill, about a 45-minute walk from the village. The lake is nearly empty during the day, since it’s been over-fished for tilapia and Nile perch, but the dagaa (small fish like sardines) are still plentiful. Dagaa have to be fished for at night, so around dusk about a hundred boats set out from the shore with lanterns in them. The dagaa come to the lights and are caught with nets, so it’s like a whole city on the bay each night. There is no electricity or running water up at the house, so they have donkeys that carry full jerrycans of lake water up the hill each morning and evening. Dani has a couple of small gardens close to her three-room house with a separate kitchen, and each garden has a high fence of poles around it to protect from the baboons. They live so remotely that there are a large number of wild animals that come out from the hills at night, including baboons and even the occasional leopard!

Fred has spent the past several years sending Dani part of his salary each month to make improvements on the house, including constructing the kitchen and a toilet, but they hadn’t quite gotten around to a bathroom yet. Our first night Fred told me, a bit shame-facedly, that we would have to bathe outside. I thought, “no problem! I’ve bathed in the outdoor bathrooms at the orphanages, and I enjoy it!” Then he corrected me by showing me the rock he’d found that would be our shower stall. I love being married, because it was not only appropriate, but necessary for him to stay there while I stripped naked on a random rock in the middle of the great-baboon-ridden-outdoors and splashed water on myself. The next day, the first thing he did in the morning was go out and hire two neighbors to help him construct a bathroom from sheets of tin roofing and poles and rocks for the floor. By afternoon he had built me a bathroom, so that I wouldn’t have to worry about glowing-in-the-dark for any passersby to see.

There were loads of other wonderful and funny moments throughout the weekend, like giving Dani the gifts we’d brought her, Innocent praying at meals, Dani dancing with joy when she saw our wedding photos, Innocent hanging from a tree screaming “Auntie, Auntie, look at me!”, Dani and Fred’s aunt laughing at my attempts at Luo/Swahili/English mix, and the look on Dani’s face when she saw me brushing my hair one morning: “Well, you won’t have to spend a fortune at the salon with hair like that!” It was a huge blessing, and they made me very welcome, no matter what I was wearing!