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!