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.