31 December 2013

My Theme for 2014: Connect

I've been thinking a lot about this last post for 2013, wondering how to summarize the year behind and how to plan for the year ahead.  I'm not really a resolutions person, but I've been reading a lot by the author Gretchen Rubin, including the second time through her exceptional book Happier at Home.  Every year she chooses a word to be her theme for the coming year.  For example, one year she chose the word "Bigger" and focused on trying new things, living a more generous life, etc.

Last year I had three things: No excuses.  Work hard.  Energy.  (My original post about those themes is here.)  I did all right with that theme, but this year, with the toddler running around and the new baby almost here, I'm choosing just one word: Connect.  Here are a few of the things that I want to incorporate into this theme for the year:

Connect with God
This, or some version thereof, should probably be on my list every single year.  I've always been wretched at having a daily "quiet time" with God, and having kids has not made this any easier or more convenient.  I've toyed with various formats in the past trying to make myself tick off a box of Bible reading.  Realistically, this has never been successful (or fruitful) for me.  The core of this Connection is having some purposeful moment of prayer, of Word or of meditation each day.  I want each day to turn my thoughts and orient myself toward God for significant interaction.  I'm ashamed (and probably not alone) to say that many days pass with only fleeting remembrance of my Source, and I need more than that.

Connect with my husband
All the experts say that the best way to be a good parent is to be a good spouse, but it is so easy to let kids take the best of my time, attention and energy that there's nothing left for my husband when he gets home.  The worst part is when the boys take the best of my goodwill and positivity, so that I can't even offer Fred a smile, attention or affection because I've allowed frustration and weariness to overwhelm me.  As I remember the season of life when Wesley was a newborn, I was pretty absorbed in the world of Wesley and me.  I feel strongly that if I don't make a purposeful resolution to connect with Fred each day, the little extra of me will be absorbed by the new baby and my husband, myself and my kids will suffer.

Connect with my passions
I've worked to cut a lot of negativity and complaining out of my life in the past year, which has been very rewarding, but I want to focus my time and energy this year on the things that are important and rewarding. Although I'm inspired and passionate about my work with Lahash, I have a lot of options for other ways to engage with the needs I see in my community.  One is a maternal mortality project that some friends are starting here in Shirati, which I feel really strongly about, and want to do my little bit to help them with.  If I'm going to make this Connection, though, I need to put these projects which energize my heart and my mind and my investment in my community as a priority over things that are not life-giving or energizing.

Connect with our supporters
This Connection is about maintaining good communication with the people who support us through prayer and financially, which is one of those ministry and personal needs.  We are dependent on those who respond to our requests for financial support, and we haven't been excellent at communicating gratitude and personal attention to those people. There are also times that feel very lonely for us here in Shirati, where we work and have our home, but are still really lacking community and making that Connection with people around the world who care about us will be important for our health  and our ministry in the coming year.

*sigh*  I reach this point and think "Can I really do this?"  It's not even midnight yet, the words are still warm on the screen and I'm already doubting the scope of my ideals for 2014.  I will certainly need some accountability, which is why I post this on the blog and not just in my journal.  If you think of it at any point in the coming months, would you just send me a little reminder or some suggestions on how to better "Connect" in 2014?  If you had a theme for 2014, what would it be?  Leave some comments!

20 December 2013

'Tis the Season

I haven't had a good Christmas in Africa yet.  The first Christmas I was here (2009), my Tanzanian roommates and I went to church in new dresses, ate a nice dinner, and I gave them each a CD, which I hadn't even wrapped.  It was weird, though.  We had invited our watchman and his kids, and randomly one of the pastors showed up, without his wife and daughter.  It didn't "feel" particularly Christmas-y, probably in part because it was at least 90 degrees outside.

My second African Christmas was 2011.  It was my first Christmas as a married woman, in my own home, but my husband was traveling for a week leading up to Christmas and I was eight months' pregnant.  I watched every movie I owned with any Christmas theme to it at all, from "The Family Stone" to "See You in St. Louis," felt despair at my undecorated walls, my lack of present for my husband, my lack of plan for Christmas dinner.  I finally created a Christmas tree and a paper chain ring out of recycled office paper and colored pencils.  Those pitiful little decorations made me feel a little better, but when Fred got home on Christmas morning and I still hadn't resolved the gift or dinner problem, I'm pretty sure I lapsed into tears.  (See the "eight months' pregnant" part.)  When Fred arrived home on Christmas morning, I was on the edge of a nervous breakdown.  I cared about that Christmas so much: our first Christmas as a family.  Fred saved us from eating our standard rice and beans for Christmas dinner by announcing that there was a big, new hotel open in our tiny, little town, so we could go there for dinner.  Our big Christmas celebration was sharing drinks (juice and water for me) with a few of Fred's co-workers.  Hardly the cozy, sentimental, special memory I had imagined.  There's a picture of us that night, and my smile is not exactly beaming.

Last year we were in the States, which came with its own difficulties, but this year feels very important.  Innocent is eight years old now, the perfect age for getting wrapped up in the special season, and it is also kind of his first Christmas.  Christmas in East Africa is not like Christmas in America.  Perhaps this doesn't need to be said, but you'd be amazed how many people never think about the very specific cultural aspects of the American Christmas celebration.  For example, here there is no Santa, no elves (especially no Elf on the Shelf), no snowflakes, no stockings, no reindeer, no caroling, no lights, no trees.  There are very few decorations, very few Christmas songs at all (only hymns sung at the Christmas service only), very few gifts, and the whole shebang doesn't even get any attention until about a week before.  So here, the Christmas season kind of started yesterday.  Most families will celebrate Christmas with a nice meal, and what "nice" means depends on their income.  A middle to high income family will eat a large meal with lots of special treats (goats are crazy in demand in Kenya and Uganda right now for Christmas meals).  A poor family might eat seasoned rice (pilau) instead of ugali, or add meat or soda as something special.  Families who can afford it will buy nice, new clothes for each person to wear to church on Christmas day.  And that's about it...

So I've wrestled with how to balance the fond, sentimental memories of the Christmases of my childhood, the local customs, and the important, spiritual meaning of the celebration.  Here's how we're doing that this year:
          - We've listened to the four Christmas CDs we own repeatedly.  The Tennessee Ernie Ford Christmas hymns seems to hit closest to the mark for all three of our categories.  Gladdening Light by my home church hits me in a sentimental place, though it's not a favorite of the rest of the family.
          - We "decorated."  A traditional part of Christmas growing up for me was my personalized Christmas stockings at home and at Grandma's house, stockings that they had made for me long before I could remember.  This year my mom sent me the kits to make personalized stockings for the boys, so we hung those, along with some strings of ornaments, a few bows stuck randomly around, and a "wreath" made from a twisted green piece of fabric.  At Inno's request (learned from a show on Disney Junior) I made a handful of snowflakes for their toy room door.  It's not much, but it makes Inno and I happy, and drives Wesley crazy with how many things up out of his reach are so shiny and breakable.
          - We made Christmas cookies for Fred's co-workers.  Russian teacakes are a Christmas tradition in our family, and a gift of a half cup of molasses allowed us to make molasses cookies also.  Mom also sent us two gingerbread cookie kits and some cookie cutters (a man and a lion), which we'll make on Sunday.
          - The most important thing we have been doing is reading The Jesus Storybook each night according to an Advent reading plan.  Wesley is in and out of this nightly ritual, but it's become very important to Innocent.
          - Christmas presents abound this year, due to the timely visit from the Lahash travelers.  Grandparents and great-grandparents sent many gifts for Inno and Wesley.  Innocent has only seen his stocking gifts and his eyes are already like saucers in anticipation.  He's been really cute about trying to plan gifts for his favorite people: Wesley, Uncle (Fred), Auntie (me), his sister Mercy and cousin Dady back in the village, and his grandmother (Dani).  I had to tell him it was too late to send gifts to the family in America, which disappointed him, but he rallied.  I was able to buy Fred at least one gift that will be a surprise for him, and at Inno's request I made him some pajama pants as a gift from the boys.  We supplemented the bounty from America with a few small food treats for Inno and Wesley, and I also made Wesley some "bean bag" chickens that are ideal for throwing and smashing and all that.
           - The big thing we're doing new this year, which might become a tradition, is going to stay in a hotel in Mwanza for Christmas day.  We'll be away from our "decorated" house, but the kids will get to play at the beach and we'll eat in a nice restaurant on Christmas day.  We'll take the stockings and the gingerbread men with us, but the best part of being away from Shirati for the Christmas holiday is that no one can call Fred into work!

Overall, I feel pretty good about the balance we've struck.  This was probably waaay too much detail for you all, but even just writing it has taken me out of the mild envy of Zoolights and snow and Advent services.  Merry Christmas to all of you, and may this season be a good mix of nostalgia, new things and the Prince of Peace, whose coming we celebrate!

26 November 2013

Getting Ready for the Holidays!

How to celebrate this time of year has been a struggle for me, especially since I moved to Africa, but this year I'm optimistic that we'll have a really special time.  First of all, Innocent is home with us until after the New Year, and he's at the perfect age for getting excited about celebrations and such.  Second, I have a lot more resources for getting and cooking special food and having presents and such.  Third, we got a bounty of goodness in the trunks from the States, including Christmas stockings and ornaments and gingerbread cookie mixes.

One of the best things, though, is a bunch of friends to celebrate with.  This week being Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday of all), we have planned a big party at our house.  Eric and Liz are coming with their two boys and her pregnant stomach.  Bill and Ledeen are coming with their two kids and her pregnant stomach.  Brandon and his wife (whose name I simply never remember) are coming with their son.  The Dutch doctors, Pim and Yvonne, are coming with their daughter...all very excited to experience their first American Thanksgiving.  It's going to be really fun and we've even been promised a pumpkin pie (although none of us felt up to finding, prepping and cooking a whole turkey), and the only downside is that Fred is on the road.

In preparation for Thanksgiving, I've been making menus and delegating various cooking.  I practiced roasting a chicken, my first, and learned a valuable lesson about how the different anatomy of an "athletic" African chicken makes for a little different cooking experience than an obese, double D American chicken.  Trying to explain to Adera, our house help, about the concept of "potluck" seemed to take some of the fear out of her eyes after I told her that four other families were coming for a party on Thursday.  The timing of the holiday has also been auspicious, since Innocent and I have had to have a couple of conversations about being thankful for what we have and what people do for us.

I'll try to remember to take some photos on Thursday so that you all can see how we do Thanksgiving in Tanzania.  Should be quite a spread and I know that there are three pregnant ladies very excited to tuck into it!

(As soon as Thanksgiving is over I'm going to finalize the Advent calendar I've been working on for Innocent.  I'll post about that next week.)

Happy Thanksgiving (and Hanukah!) to all our friends!

14 November 2013

Back at Home, Safe and Sound!

Unfortunately for many of you who count on our blog for updates and information, I find it difficult to sit down and write updates while we're in the midst of busy seasons, hence the lack of updates since I announced the Lahash trip.  I left home on 14 October and arrived back home on 13 November, making it just about one month that I was on the road.  I met the Lahash team in Kampala, Uganda, leaving Wesley and Fred home alone for the first time!  They met us in Mwanza when we came down from Uganda two weeks ago, and Wesley traveled with me to Shinyanga and Dodoma.

Here are some links to photos and blog posts from the trip:

Lahash 2013 Travel Photo Album 

18th October blog post - We've Arrived (photo of me unpacking some of the many goodies you people sent us!)

22nd October blog post - Answered Prayers (photo of me sitting in a meeting with our partners taking notes)

30th October blog post - An Inside Look (written by me!!)
Video Post of the trip - (funny moments and outtakes that show what life on the road is like!)

Aaaand, just in case you missed it...
We made our big announcement a few weeks ago on Facebook...we're expecting another baby in February!  We had been keeping it a secret for the Lahash team (who were rather disappointingly polite when I saw them, fearing to mention the giant bulge around my midsection, just in case...), but it's all official and out in the open now, both in terms of the news and the bump!

19 September 2013

He's nearly clothes-less! Can you help?! (Just kidding...mostly)

This morning Wesley wanted to wear my "running shorts"--really one of two pairs of athletic shorts I've had, literally, since high school volleyball more than ten years ago, which are never ever worn for running anymore.  Yes, he's bare under there, but I'm trying to avoid using the "n" word in a post about my son.

This is my cute/clever? introduction to an appeal!  There's a group coming from Portland to visit us in good ol' East Africa next month, and I'm hoping to get some great hand-me-downs for this little guy.  Ideally, hand-me-downs in an 18-month to 2T range rather than the Adidas women's L he's wearing here.

Actually there are a few items we would really appreciate, if people reading this blog felt inclined toward sending us a little something, especially if you have a garbage bag of little boy clothes sitting in your garage waiting to go to the thrift or resale store.

For Wesley:
- Boys' clothes, especially shirts and shorts, in sizes 18m or 2T
- Shoes, size 7 or 8
For Innocent:
- Shoes, especially athletic shoes, size 14
- Activity books for 2nd grade, especially handwriting and/or math

If you have anything like this, and can get it to the Lahash office by 7 October, that would be fantastic.  You can mail or drop off at 4850 N Vancouver Ave, Portland, OR 97217 or you drop things off at my parents' house: 705 W 1st St, Newberg, OR 97132.

If you do have some things for us, please drop me an email, comment or Facebook post to let me know, because if we aren't able to get donations, we'll have to arrange to purchase some of these items.

Any other nice notes, old DVDs, recommended books, or bags of chocolate chips are, as always, also welcome.  Thank you!

28 August 2013

Nyumba Ntobu - explain that one more time?

I've been helping Fred with the introductory aspects of the Gender Based Violence (GBV) program for our community.  They've done a ten page survey related to public awareness and acceptance of GBV, and I have been entering the surveys into a database.  It's really glamorous work. *cough*

The survey was conducted in Swahili, so I've been expanding my vocabulary while entering these surveys.  One of the phrases I was at a loss to translate, though, was "Nyumba ntobu."  It was sometimes paired with a mentioned of women marrying women, which confused me even more, because homosexuality is beyond taboo in Tanzania.  So I asked Fred, and this is what he explained.

In the villages of a certain tribal community in northwestern Tanzania, marriage is still a very transactional thing.  Early marriage is common, pulling girls as young as 13-years-old out of middle school to be married, usually to a much older man who has sufficient resources to pay a dowry.  The dowry is traditionally paid in cattle, and this transaction arranged between the girl's father and future husband is arranged without any input from the bride-to-be.

Sometimes, however, this transaction is arranged between the father of the adolescent woman and another, older woman.  This older woman is often a widow, and usually barren.  Similar to other ancient tribal cultures, a woman's retirement plan, social security, pension and retirement home is her children, but even beyond the considerations of financial security, there is a social consideration.  Barren women are not well respected in this society, so some women who have sufficient resources pay the dowry price for a young woman.  This young "wife" becomes a kind of surrogate, who is required to sleep with any men chosen by the older woman until the young girl becomes pregnant.  The younger woman may be forced to repeat this process of non-consensual sex with any number of men to produce more children who serve as grandchildren for the older woman.  There is no security, as the young woman may be sent away at any time without her children.

It's really difficult to explain all the implications of this tradition, but it definitely victimizes the young "wife" and even her children.  There are no men in the household, and it may become difficult for the two women to provide financially for the family.  One could even describe it as a kind of legalized sexual slavery, but the cultural traditions and values contributing to this practice are so deeply interwoven in the tribe that fighting against the practice seems almost hopeless.  We are discussing ways of empowering and protecting young women through the GBV program so that practices like Nyumba Ntobu may finally be stopped.

13 August 2013

So BUSY!!!

July was the beginning of an extremely busy season for our household, and that season looks to be stretching on through August, September, October and into November!  Most of the busy-ness has come from Fred’s work, which has just roughly doubled with the addition of a new program.  If you received (and read) our latest partnership letter, you already know about the Gender Based Violence program that we wrote a grant for a few months ago.  That program, which aims to reduce the attitudes of acceptance of domestic physical and sexual violence in our area, is funded (in part) by the American government.  So if you’ve ever complained about your tax dollars disappearing into some fat cats’ pockets overseas, know that we’re personally responsible for $95,000 of that money, and it’s not lining anyone’s pockets…fat or otherwise.  

Here’s a little update on each of our family members:
Fred - I was just reviewing our family calendar and realized that literally every single day for the past six weeks Fred has been working or traveling.  He is currently the lead person for this new Gender Based Violence program, as well as an extensive program which equips village leaders to assist families with vulnerable children, and a somewhat unconventional and successful palliative care program.  He is frequently called for trainings, planning meetings and seminars for these programs, which takes him away from his other responsibilities around the office.  All this work is invigorating, as he feels a lot of satisfaction in helping the vulnerable people in our community, but he needs ongoing strength, both physical and emotional, to continue leading and planning well.

Leisha – Last week Fred was called to Shinyanga for training, so I went along and spent a few days working with Lahash’s partner Path of Hope.  One afternoon was spent visiting several families in their program with the Director, Asst. Director and Social Worker of Path of Hope.  Altogether we visited five families, and, as always, the visits reemphasized to me the importance of the Lahash sponsorship program.  It was encouraging to see our partners’ staff members at work, a great boost for me to reapply myself to the paperwork-heavy work load I have these days.  (It’s not always so glamorous working overseas…the next time you find yourself groaning over a spreadsheet or budget, I’m right there with you!)  In other news, a friend cut my hair for me, and it’s shorter than it’s been in years, but I’m enjoying the difference.

Innocent – After his unexpected vacation due to teachers striking in Kenya, Innocent reapplied himself to school.  When Fred took him back to school a few weeks back, he made sure his backpack had the essential items in it: his toothbrush and a packet of lemon bars.  He almost left without his soccer cleats in his concern over the lemon bars!  It’s not clear if we’ll have him again this month; the traditional August holiday has been disrupted as schools scramble to make up lost time.  He’s at the top of his class!  He was really missing his new American friend, Finlay, who was here for a while.  Inno taught Finlay the best trees to climb, and Finlay taught Innocent about playing with Legos and hunting orcs.

Our gardener, Masanja, gives Wesley a ride on the back of his bike.
Wesley – At 17 months old (already!), Wesley has officially entered into the Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde of toddlerhood.  He’s physically precocious, climbing on everything, and solving problems such as “I want Mama’s attention, and she’s working on the computer, but if I pull the dining room chair away from the table and climb onto it, I can climb from there onto the table and close her computer.  If I’m fast and quiet enough, she’ll barely know I’m there until the lid comes down on her fingers!”  He’s also learning language at a fast clip.  His currently vocabulary includes the following words and phrases:  power, water, bath time, milk, banana, door, cup, down, up, no, nose, Inno (context is important for those last three), Mama, and Dad.  Of course, he also understands so much more than he can say, and it’s almost a party trick to tell Wesley to bring his shoes or to dance and he does it!  (Unfortunately, his main model for dancing is his mother, which may explain the arm movements….*grimace*)  He only has his front two teeth, top and bottom, and now also four molars, which, considering the gap between his front teeth, reminds one vaguely of a hippopotamus.  Overall, he’s our delightful distraction—right now he’s standing behind me on my chair, dancing to some 1950’s rock ‘n’ roll and demonstrating some of the key pre-nap “put me to sleep or I’ll throw a fit” behaviors, so I’ll wrap up.

Missing you all, and eager for news from home!

15 July 2013

God Answers (Katie's) Prayers

Most of you know that much of the past two years we've been living in Shirati have been difficult for me on a personal level.  I've spent large amounts of time feeling lonely with a husband who travels frequently for work, and our older son, Innocent, at boarding school most of the year.  Wesley was an unplanned (by us) partial solution to that isolation I felt, but one still can't have deep conversation with a baby.  I felt a deep need for friends, and it didn't seem to be happening, making me rather discontent and unhappy in Shirati.  I even started pushing Fred that we should move away from Shirati, and we started to put tentative plans in place for a move in June or July, but we saw God put that plan on hold and tell us to just stay put for the time being.  God has given me a lot of peace about staying put, and one of the biggest reasons is a direct answer to prayer that my co-worker, Katie, has been faithfully praying on my behalf: good friends.

Wesley and Kaleb playing with water,
wearing matching diapers and farmer's tans.
About 10 months ago we met Eric and Liz, church planters with the United Methodist Church, who are living in Tarime.  They have a son, Kaleb, who is just a few months younger than Wesley, and are adopting a Tanzanian boy named Derek, who is just a few months younger than Innocent.  Liz and I have experienced a lot in common living in Tanzania the past few years, and Kaleb and Wesley love playing together.  Unfortunately, they live about 90 minutes away, so we don't get to see them as much as we'd like, but it is always delightful to go over and eat hamburgers or other fun food at their house.

Around the time we were leaving for our four months in America, a new American family moved to Shirati.  Bill and Ladene are missionaries with Church of God in Christ, and they moved here with their 5-year-old daughter and 3-year-old son.  Just when we got back from America and I was looking forward to spending more time with Ladene, they moved out to a village to plant a church, so we only get to see them now when they come into Shirati.  Still, I find myself very drawn to Ladene, who evidences a peaceful contentment with the (not always pleasant) circumstances of life here.  Fred and Bill have great fun discussing manual-operated water pumps and solar panels and such.  Wish we got to see them more also!

Then, a few months ago, a Dutch couple moved to Shirati with their daughter, Daphne.  Pim and Yvonne are doctors at the Shirati Hospital, and Daphne is almost 4 months younger than Wesley.  Although busy work routines for us and for them don't always permit a lot of time together, we're working on scheduling a weekly time for Yvonne, Daphne, Wesley and I to get together.  Although hanging out with English speakers isn't the highest form of relaxation for them, since English isn't their first language, we find we have a lot in common, including two high-energy, aggressive little ones!

Finlay and Innocent play with Legos.  (Photo credit: Ada)
During the summer (in America) we always get a lot of medical students and medical professionals coming through Shirati to volunteer at the hospital or at the local heath NGO.  Many times we don't really connect with these people because it's a lot of work to get to know them, and they pass out of our lives very quickly.  (Plus, frankly, a lot of them are just not so interested in hanging out with an American work-from-home mom and her one-year-old.  After all, they're in AFRICA!)  An exception happened this past week, when I finally ran out to the road to stop a white woman with two young blond children.  I'd seen the kids pass by numerous times in the week prior, either with the woman or with a man, and I'd been wanting to meet them, so I finally got out there to introduce myself.  That afternoon, Innocent and Finlay, their 7-year-old boy, and Ada, their 5-year-old girl, played together for hours while I chatted with Jeff and Reta about their life and work and passion and our life and work and passion.  The next day we did again, for longer, and it's now a daily plan until they leave later this week.  Jeff and Reta are doctors, and their vision for reducing maternal mortality in the villages around Shirati is so inspiring to both Fred and me.  Beyond that shared passion, we just really, really like them and have a lot in common!  We can already tell that this is a family we will be staying in touch with for many years as they come back to visit TZ and we go to the States.  Their friendship, although brief in terms of time, is already very precious to me and to us.

All these people becoming a bigger part of our life here have made a big difference in my own contentment to be in Shirati, and just in my happiness.  Plus, it's so satisfying, as a mother, to see the boys playing with kids their own ages, whether that play be climbing trees or throwing plastic bins across the room.  So thank you, Katie, for praying, and thank you, God, for answering!

08 July 2013

Trip to Kenya

This past weekend we went up to Kenya to see some friends and family.  We stopped to pick up Innocent along the way, since all primary schools in Kenya are closed due to the government primary school teachers being on strike.  When the government teachers go on strike, they make it impossible for private schools to continue teaching by protesting and even having violent demonstrations outside the private schools.  So all the schools close when the government teachers strike, which has happened twice in the past year, and they're actually violating a court order by staying on strike right now, but it's not stopping them, so the students of Kenya are on an unplanned break from school!

Anyway, we stopped in Rongo to pick up Innocent and went up to Mbita, Kenya for the post-wedding celebration for our friends Joe and Daneen Peterson.  Mbita is right on Lake Victoria, and the dinner we went to was held at a place called Suba Environmental Education of Kenya (S.E.E.K.) and we stayed in one of their cabins Friday night.

On Saturday morning we spent some time down at the lake, which the boys loved, then we went on to Fred's village, Sindo, to see his family and friends.  Fred's grandmother had only seen Wesley once since he was born, and that was back in October.  She was amazed at how much he's grown since then!  Innocent had a great time playing with his cousins, and Fred got to catch up with some old friends.

We left Sindo on Sunday morning to come back home to Shirati.  All told, about 450 kilometers round trip (280 miles) in 12 different cars!  It was fast, but we had a good time traveling together as a family and getting to see family!

26 June 2013

The month of May in pictures of Wesley

For some reason my blog hasn't been allowing me to post for almost two months, so thanks for your patience.  It's been a major two months, with lots of travel and fun stuff.  I'm writing our May support letter now, so if you're on our mailing list, watch out for that in about two weeks.  In the meantime, here's a recap focusing on what Wesley's been doing:

I made Innocent some pajamas for school, because he's been "sleeping cold" and he's never had pajamas before.  He insisted Wesley needed some pajama pants also.  They're pretty cute brothers!

 Wesley and I met up with Edwin Angote in Kenya and together we all went up to Amazing Grace in northern Uganda.  I haven't been able to get up to Amazing Grace since 2010, so it was great to see those kids, and if you look closely you can see the farmer's tan Wesley got in the hot sun that close to the equator.
 Wesley became best friends with Sarah Blakeman on that trip.  We really enjoyed the hospitality of the Lahash Servant Team - Clark, Cathy and Sarah Blakeman and Rick and Haley Baker.
 After returning from Uganda, we were home for about a week, and Wesley demonstrated his new love of dirt.  Such a boy!

Fred had a seminar in Mwanza, Tanzania, so Wesley and I went along to have some family time in nice hotels and restaurants.  Wesley enjoyed playing in the empty dressers.
 Our friends Amani and Shannon took us to a great swimming pool in Mwanza, and another family let Wesley use their floaty toy.  He looooved it!
 Then Wesley and I went on to Shinyanga for the Pastoral Leadership Seminar that I had mentioned on this blog before.  Thanks to a handful of supporters we were able to raise enough to get 13 pastors together for three days and it was great.  Wesley did not much enjoy the long days of meetings, but he suffered through!

 Fred was unexpectedly called back to Mwanza just after our pastors seminar ended, so Wesley and I met him back in Mwanza, where we went to great hotel for dinner one night.  Wesley made friends with another little boy, but Fred had to keep an eye out.  Wesley apparently likes pushing other kids.

Finally we got back home on June 6th and just parked for a while.  We've been relaxing and recovering from all that travel.  As you can see, Wesley enjoys a little (almost) naked lounging in his favorite chair.

So that was most of the past month for us!  Hopefully we'll be able to get back onto a more consistent posting schedule soon, but thanks for sticking with us.

02 May 2013

Hooray! A Personal Project Now Online!

None of us are identified solely by our job, and living in Tanzania provides me with countless opportunities to start or promote or help out a project that is completely unrelated to work, but is a passion, nonetheless.  This is one of those projects.  I do want you all to know that this is all on me...there are no supporting organizations, no donors already committed, and it simply won't happen without your help.

The Leadership Seminar is something I am so passionate about offering for the village pastors I've encountered over the past several years, including the recently deceased Pastor Masatu.  A number of factors, including the time works in Africa, have made the window for fundraising for this event very tight, so if you can help at all, I would greatly appreciate it!

Raising $5,000 should get all 24 pastors to the conference, but if we can get to the threshold of $3,000, it can go forward, although with half the number of pastors.

1.  Click on the photo or go to the FaithFunder website
        2.  Give to the seminar.
               3.  Share this information with others.
                      4. Pray for the event!

Thank you so much, friends and family and strangers.  I greatly appreciate your support!

25 April 2013

In Memoriam - Stacey Hartfeld

For the past ten days or so, I've had a distraction.  In the back of my mind as I go about taking care of Innocent and Wesley, cleaning house, checking Facebook, and sending a Mother's Day present to my mom, in my mind is the thought that Stacey can't do these things any longer.

Stacey was my friend since we were three years old.  We went to school and church together until we graduated from high school and went off to different colleges.  When I think back over those 14-15 years and remember Stacey, I'm brought smack up against some of the ugliest things in my own character.  I have memories from as young as six of getting in trouble at recess for not letting Stacey play with me.  I remember in middle school teasing Stacey mercilessly to impress older, "cool" kids, and in high school I resented her for calmly accepting the poor performance of our volleyball team while I rode emotional highs and lows along with our wins and losses.  Essentially, from the time we were in first grade, Stacey was a kind, gentle, sweet girl, and I was bossy and controlling.  Yet, we were friends.  Actually, aside from the low moments that stick in my mind because of my own bad behavior, we had a fantastic friendship.  We sang in ensemble and in a duet together, we played PACEbowl together, we played volleyball together and co-captained the volleyball team our senior year.  We were the only two 8th graders on the girls' high school basketball team.

I remember Stacey for her gentle and quiet spirit, her love for other people, regardless of their "cool" factor, her hard work--I think she was the first in our class to buy her own car--and her faithfulness.  She was so faithful to be at youth group, at ensemble practice, at volleyball practice, and work, but I remember her the most for smiling.  As I've been looking through the few photos I have with me in Africa of our childhood, she's smiling in every single one...a giant, ear-to-ear, full face smile.

I remember the time Stacey came to Physical Education without any shorts on, because the way she was wired, it was worse to be late or skip a class than to show up half-dressed.  I remember a slumber party at Stacey's house and the crazy pictures that resulted.  I remember the time Stacey and I shared a dorm room at George Fox University, as middle-schoolers, and made friends with various Mennonites and home schoolers from around the state at the very first Convention that our school participated in.  I remember Stacey, a careful and cautious driver, never, ever winning the inevitable race from off-campus lunch back to chapel on Wednesdays our senior year.  I remember how proud Stacey was of getting to go deer hunting with her dad.  I remember when Stacey started dating Jacob, so quietly at first, and I remember their wedding day and how beautiful she was that day.  I remember how diligently she kept in touch with me as travel and moving and life created separation, and how excited she was for our first, informal class reunion.  I remember how she rejoiced over the birth of each of her five children.  

Vividly I remember how bravely Stacey announced that doctors had found cancer and that the prospects were grim.  I remember how bravely she wrote updates about treatment after treatment, travel after travel, tumor after tumor.  I remember seeing her when I first got back to the States last October, and I wouldn't have recognized her, except for that gorgeous smile.  I remember how the only shadow that crossed her face  during that lunch was when she told us that she'd not be able to have any more children.  I remember the last time I saw Stacey, in January, after a brain tumor had caused some paralysis in her face, and how she loved looking at the photos of our childhood.  I remember how she cried when Angie announced that her daughter, born last week, would have "Stacey" as her middle name in honor of our friend.  I remember hugging her goodbye, thinking that this might possibly be the last time I would see her.

It was, indeed, the last time I saw her.  Stacey's aggressive brain tumors finally took her life on 14 April while she was home with her husband and children.  She was in so much pain at the end, and was not herself.  Her memorial service is tomorrow at Athey Creek Church, and I'm sorry not to be able to attend and pay tribute to a wonderful woman, a great friend, and a loving, faithful daughter of our Heavenly Father.
Photo taken from Facebook, credit to Debi Criss

06 April 2013

Visit to Shinyanga and Mwamalili

Last Friday Wesley and I went down to Shinyanga last Friday to work with Path of Hope again and to see the Blakeman family, some American friends who are working with Lahash in Uganda and were visiting Tanzania. Edwin also came over to Shinyanga so that we could meet about a few projects. We got to celebrate Easter with the church at Nguzo Nane in Shinyanga. This church is the location of our first group of Lahash-sponsored kids. I really enjoy this church, because, although it is small, it is young and vibrant. (Children were nearly half of those present on Sunday.)

As always, we loved staying with the Nyakyemas. Wesley got lots of time playing with his buddy, Christopher, and I benefitted from the wisdom and cooking of Jeanette. The first morning we were in their home, Wesley sat on the Bishop’s lap all through breakfast eating his pancakes and sipping tea, like such a big boy!

One of the real highlights, though, was a visit to Mwamalili village to register 25 new kids for the Lahash program. You will remember, Mwamalili is the church that just lost their pastor, Msiba Masatu, whom I wrote a tribute about last week (find it by clicking here). We drove out to the village for a 4pm meeting. We had to leave at 3pm, because the “short cut” road has a lot of holes from recent rains. To get to Mwamalili, one drives to Old Shinyanga (where the town used to be before they moved it closer to the highway). Just past town, one turns off the road onto a dirt track (I won’t even call it a road). From that point on, if I were told to find my way to the church, I couldn’t even remotely tell you. There isn’t much of a road, or trail, even, and to the unfamiliar eye (like mine!), it appears that we’re just driving off into the middle of nowhere bush. The directions are along the lines of “continue along the dry river bed, look for the row of shrubs, just past the cattle path, with the new rice field on your left, but be careful of the ditch they have dug to drain water into the rice field.”

When we arrived at Mwamalili church, I was reminded of the other hardship this church has faced: on Christmas Eve, some wind or some hands pushed in one wall of the building. The believers have been experiencing a lot of opposition from the local witch doctors and their followers, so, although no one can say for certain, it is strongly suspected that theirs are the hands responsible for the damage. It is impossible for them to meet in their building now, so they meet under the tree outside, right next to the damaged church they had built with their own hands and the pile of rocks they have been collecting for a foundation for a permanent building. To repair the existing mud brick structure would be approximately $300, and to build the permanent church would cost an estimated $2,500 to $3,000, but both of these figures are far beyond the capacity of this small, poor congregation.

The congregation had been told that some guests from Lahash were coming on Tuesday afternoon to meet with the children and their parents. Actually, they were reminded of the “American lady with the little baby who came here before” and when they heard that I, or more probably, that Wesley was coming back, they cheered. One of the biggest needs in this village is for the parents to prioritize their children’s education. In an agricultural and livestock community like this one, school-aged children are very valuable shepherds, cattle herds, diggers, planters and babysitters while the parents work. It is completely logical, in the short-term, to keep their children home to support the family, but we are trying to give them a larger vision for their children, who could come back to be doctors, entrepreneurs, politicians and pastors and build the community.

Edwin and I are the only Lahash representatives who have been able to visit Shinyanga so far, but we are so grateful to have another great partner. The team at Path of Hope is facing so many obstacles, but they are united in caring for the kids and looking for ways to serve them and their families. We’re really excited to see the children in these two chapters, urban Nguzo Nane and rural Mwamalili, grow and mature!

25 March 2013

In Memoriam - Pastor Musiba Masatu

"Mch masatu wa mwamalili amefariki leo jioni."

The above message arrived in my phone inbox last Wednesday night.  During the moment or two that it took my Swahili to kick in and decipher this message, my stomach was dropping.  "Pastor Masatu of Mwamalili has died this evening."  Tears sprang to my eyes.

I've had several acquaintances, clients and children in our program die over the past several years, but this was a death that really hit me hard.  A little context: Mwamalili is a village near Shinyanga, and is a chapter of the newest Lahash sponsorship project, Path of Hope.  When the Lahash East Africa staff members spoke at a seminar for Path of Hope last July, we met Pastor Masatu and he brought us out to his tiny church to meet the children in his program.  Many of you heard me mention this church during our recent visit to the States, because they had really inspired me.

The Path of Hope and Lahash East Africa teams in July 2012
Photo by Will Campbell
"This is the pastor of Mwamalili.  His name is Musiba, which, in his language means 'lion' like the Lion of Judah!"  I was introduced to Pastor Masatu at the seminar last July, and while I smiled at the "Lion of Judah" comment, I was struck by the quiet intensity of the man.  Over the next several days, Masatu's smile, his attention to the complex issues we were addressing in the seminar, and his obvious pride in his church came to compose my strong positive response to the man.

I don't know a lot of his history before the past two years, except that he married a lovely nurse and they have several beautiful daughters.  His eldest daughter is the secretary for the diocese and has her own beautiful daughter.  So I do know that Pastor Masatu was a husband, father and grandfather, and I know that he was an evangelist when he first went out to the small village of Mwamalili.  The village had no church, and  they appreciated his ministry so much that they invited him to come and start a church.  A couple donated land, and Pastor Masatu rallied the other members to build a small, mud-brick church with very simple seats.  Every week the members bring large rocks, which sit in a large pile near the church building.  These stones will one day be the foundation for a permanent church building.  That is the faith he was teaching and modeling for his congregants.

In Tanzania, as in many other places, the smaller and more remote the church, the less the pastor gets paid.  It's not uncommon for a pastor to receive 10,000 TSH as his monthly salary, which is approximately $7.  At the same time, these pastors are exposed to the intense challenges and needs of very poor communities.  Pastor Masatu was no exception.  He was so moved by the needs of the orphans, widows and very poor church members that he contributed the idea for fundraising for a grain mill that would be income-generating for the church and a much-needed service for the village.  He also assisted in identifying 25 vulnerable children in the community who are pending acceptance into the Lahash sponsorship program.  Although those children have no sponsorship yet, he was bringing them together each week to learn Bible lessons and be prayed with.

About one month ago, Pastor Masatu became sick.  The illness was hard to identify, but involved difficulty breathing and then fluid in his lungs.  When Wesley and I were in Shinyanga a few weeks ago, we went to visit him at his home.  (It's very common to visit sick people at home.)  We were with the Bishop and his wife, and we found another pastor there.  Soon after we arrived, four more well-wishers from the church arrived, and we crowded into his living room, telling stories, encouraging him and enjoying sodas together.  He seemed a bit tired, but still strong.  We prayed for him before leaving...the impassioned, confident prayer of servants of the living God, asking for healing for another servant of God.  Before we left, he said he was feeling better.  Yet, less than three weeks later, he has died.

Sometimes I feel like I understand a bit of why people die, especially when that person has been chronically ill for a long time.  Often, though, there is a corner of my mind that yells at God "WHY?! We prayed for this man!  He was serving you so faithfully, being Your witness in a needy place, caring for his family.  He was strong and brave and he put it all on the line for You, and yet You let him die."  I despair a bit, and I wonder if healing prayer really has any power at all.

In the midst of my own grief, I remember one of my first friends who died, back in 2004.  Karissa drowned in the Pacific Ocean while on a college retreat, and I was devastated.  She was another person who was so dedicated to living out a remarkable submission to God, and two weeks before her death, I heard her prophesied over that the impact she would have on the world was different than anyone would expect.  Her memorial service packed out George Fox University's auditorium, and after the open mic testimonies, several people came to know Jesus for the first time and many, many others rededicated their lives to continuing a lifestyle of on-the-edge faith.

In the midst of my grief for Karissa, I began to understand a bit of what happens when a child of God dies.  I remember the very spot I was sitting (on a sofa on the ground floor of Underground Coffeehouse) when I realized that at the same time that God was with me in my grief, sad with me, He was rejoicing to have Karissa at home with Him.  That picture of God rejoicing with His "lion" has comforted me in the past few days.  I hope that his death, as tragic and confusing and difficult as it is for all of us left behind, is also inspiring.  I pray that for me, for you, for his friends and family and the members of his church, this is a moment of vision and hope, and maybe, just maybe, Masatu's legacy of faith and love for the people of Mwamalili will materialize in the projects he cared so much about.

Pastor Msiba Masatu - September 2012
Photo by Will Campbell
Thank you, Lord, for sharing your "lion" with us.

18 March 2013

What I'm Working On

I have a Word document on my desktop called "Current Projects" which is 3+ pages long.  Some are personal, some are for Lahash, and some of them are extra work--helping Fred or other people on projects I'm excited about.  Here's a random sampling of the list, interspersed with some photos of my distractions:

I finally found a pizza recipe that works for me!  I used the
last of my pepperoni stash on this baby.  It was worth it!
 Update Wesley's baby book. (update=start)

We had a delicious dinner and birthday cake with
the Soards, UMC missionaries in nearby Tarime.
Write children's spiritual development outline for Lahash partners.

Finish partnership team letter. (Are you on our mailing list?  Email me your address ASAP to get the big news being revealed in this month's letter!)

Meet the Blakemans in Shinyanga after Easter.

Clean out email inboxes.

Write grant proposals for "Tea Service" (nutritional tea for HIV+ clients of Shirati Hospital), Mwamalili church reconstruction (a village church which was severely damaged in wind), and Shinyanga Training and Outreach Program (SHINTOP - an evangelism and discipleship school).

Innocent showing me how he is a soldier.

Clean up computer for our electrician.  (Random, I know.)

Write Hope is Alive article for May edition.

Fill out Round Two of Rapid Funding Envelope grant for "Combating Gender Based Violence in Mara Region".  (During Round One application, I learned that 58% of women in our region have suffered some form of physical or sexual abuse.)

Write blog post.  (Check!)

We had breakfast at the Nyakyemas' Shirati home.
Photo by Innocent.
Type field work reports for nursing school students.  (I make about $5 per 20 page report, and the nursing school student who works as my go-between makes about $5 each as well.  Works out okay for both of us.)

Continue working on Innocent's formal adoption.  (Could be he's calling me "Mama" instead of "Auntie" by May, if we're lucky!)

08 March 2013

How Wesley Spent His First Birthday

Wesley started the morning with diarrhea, which promptly leaked onto his last clean pajamas.  (Note: first article of clothing changed)  This diarrhea would continue through the day, although it's over now.

Then a tumble down the front steps resulted in a nice face scrape.
It didn't seem to bother him too much once the shock was over, and, strangely, the scrape on his nose was the only mark on him.

Then, at lunch, he poured an entire bowl of water on himself.  I wish I could say this was a unique experience, but the boy is fascinated with water, and we have to lock the kitchen to keep him from drinking dirty dish water (which leads to diarrhea).  His shirt came off at that point to dry. (Note: second article of clothing changed)

After lunch Innocent and Wesley played together in my bedroom while I mixed up a birthday cake, or as Innocent calls it: Wesley's Happy Birthday.  First I made six cupcakes, and while they were baking, I filled a small glass baking pan with the rest of the batter to make the cake.  Then I made my major error: I turned my back to start washing dishes.  Like a ninja, Wesley came from the bedroom, went straight to the table where the cake pan was waiting, and pulled it down on top on himself.  He was not harmed at all...very much the opposite, in fact:
I had to fight my initial urge to shout and yank him out of the mess and cry a little bit.  Instead I thought "I should take a picture."  The benefit of this camera-crazy age is that things are much funnier when you've taken the moment to get out your phone (or grapefruit...Mike Birbiglia fans?) and take a picture.  Please note the batter all over his feet.  He was dipping his hands in the batter and using it to give himself a foot rub.  Innocent helped me remove his shorts with minimal transfer of mess (Third article of clothing changed), and while I bathed Wesley, Innocent mopped the floor like the very good little helper he is.  Fortunately all that excitement plum wore out the birthday boy, so he went down for a nap.  Innocent watched him sleep for a moment and said "Wesley's not a baby anymore, he's a monkey!"  I couldn't have said it better myself.

When he woke up, things were pretty calm for a while, aside from a small incident in which he screamed bloody murder because I took dirt out of his mouth.  Then we had another blowout diarrhea diaper, leading to a change of trousers (fourth article changed) and the combination of smeared dinner and sweat led Daddy to take his shirt off (fifth article of clothing changed).  Thus, when the time came for Wesley's "Happy Birthday", he was sleepy and shirtless.

By the time he was bathed and put to sleep, he was wearing only a onesie, having somehow made filthy the last pair of trousers (sixth article of clothing changed).  They couldn't have gotten that dirty in two hours because my house is dirty, right?  That couldn't possibly be it.

So, all in all, Wesley celebrated his birthday by proving to us that a) he is a boy with all the dirt and bugs and mischief that entails, b) he shouldn't drink dish water, c) he is active and strong and ready to take on the world, and d) almost every surface in our house is within his reach now.  Happy 1st Birthday, little man!
Wesley on the banks of Lake Victoria with the ferry in the background

05 March 2013

There and back again

I didn't have a chance to update last week because of my crazy life, but here's what's going on in the Otieno household!
Wesley and Fred on the bus
Last week Wesley and I went to visit our Tanzanian partners, so we were traveling from Sunday until yesterday.  Although Wesley is still a trooper on the long bus rides and sleeping in strange beds and missing Daddy, it has become much harder to travel with him now that he's walking.  He really wants to get down and run around, and when we're on the bus for the eighth consecutive hour, he reaches the end of his long-suffering patience.  Even so, we had a good time seeing a bunch of friends and making some new ones.

"Babu" Bishop teaching Wesley to drive

The first place we went was Shinyanga, the home of Path of Hope, Lahash's newest partner.  Path of Hope is the ministry of the Shinyanga Diocese of the Tanzania Mennonite Church, and is headed by Bishop Joseph and Jeanette Nyakyema.  I think I've talked about them before, but our family feels a particular connection to the Nyakyemas because the Bishop is a Luo (like Fred) and Jeanette is an American (like me).  They married a bit later in life and don't have children of their own, although they care for several of their many nieces and nephews, including Christopher, who is 10 years old.  Wesley has a great time at their home, because they are like grandparents to him and Christopher makes a great playmate.  I also have a great time at their home because I really like the Bishop and Jeanette, and we have very encouraging and enlightening conversations together.  Although they've been serving in the church for several decades, they are still very humble and want more than anything to see the Gospel preached and the church strengthened.  I love our times together.

Wesley looking out the bus window near Dodoma
The next place we went was Dodoma to visit friends at Grace and Healing Ministry, as well as the Angotes.  The time in Dodoma was so brief, but we got to visit the children at the main campus (100 kids) and the children (25 kids) at the expanded chapter out in Ipagala, one of the suburbs of Dodoma.  I met with Edwin a few times, saw his family and their new home, and had a fabulous dinner at Mariam's home.  I tried to encourage Mariam and Olipa, the social workers, and Mama Neema, the accountant, and Pastor Mwita of Ipagala, who volunteers to teach Bible classes for the kids.  Although the time was short, and this was the hardest part of the trip for Wesley, we enjoyed seeing everyone and hearing their comments about Wesley: "Amekuwa!" and "Yeye ni mjaLuo kweli!" and "Anafanana baba yake." and "Mtoto mzuri! Hongera!"  (He has grown!  He is really a Luo! He looks just like his father. and What a nice child! Congratulations!)

Sleeping on the ferry while "Bibi" Jeanette rubs his feet
We left Dodoma early Saturday morning and stopped in Shinyanga again, and even before the bus had stopped, Wesley spotted Bishop and Jeanette and started getting excited.  With them were a missionary couple, the Bontragers, who had spent ten years in Kenya and Tanzania way back, and now they have returned to do Theological Education by Extension (like seminary in a seminar).  They reach out to pastors who are serving their churches although they've never had the benefit of formal training.  To Wesley's delight, Joe looks a bit like my dad, so Wesley got to pretend to have two grandpas (Bishop and Joe) to hang out with.  We got to ride with the Nyakyemas and Bontragers up to Musoma on Sunday, and spend the night at Joe and Gloria's home there.  Then Monday morning the Nyakyemas and I took the ferry across Lake Victoria to a town called Kisesi, where Fred picked us up.

It was a good, but long and hard trip, and this was my main takeaway from it:

Path of Hope Ministry is just starting up their children's programs with very few resources.  Lahash came in to start sponsorship, and we could really use additional donors to support this great organization.  The first group of children we're sponsoring is at a small church in the urban center of Shinyanga called Nguzo Nane.  I got to worship with them on Sunday, and I believe the church is supporting more children than there are members in the church!  Please go to http://lahash.org/work/care/sponsor/ and choose Path of Hope Tanzania as your desired location.  It's only $25 per month, and will really encourage them in their ministry!

22 February 2013

And we're walking...and making tea

This has been an exciting week in the Otieno household, because Wesley has started walking!  He's been getting closer and closer for weeks, taking one or two faltering steps between pieces of furniture, but this week he just took off!  We'll be celebrating his first birthday in two weeks, so it's fun that he's conquered this development milestone ahead of his birthday.

We have a group of Canadians in Shirati right now, being led by a couple who have come to Shirati every year for several years.  The husband has a background in hospital administration in Africa, so he helps out at Shirati Hospital and his wife teaches English classes to the nursing school students and hospital staff.  This year they brought a small team with them, and Wednesday night Fred gave a presentation about a pet project: a technical high school.  The Bishop and Fred have been working on this for ages, and they've received pledges of support from the Dutch and German Mennonite Churches.  They're hoping these Canadians will also pledge some support.  It will be a school that teaches mechanical and technological skills in addition to the core subject curriculum, so that students leave with marketable skills.

I've been a bit under the weather this week with especially bad allergies, but I had a visitor on Monday who got me excited about an idea.  Our friend Ben and his wife are both living with HIV, and the wife came to greet me and see Wesley while she was picking her medication for the treatment of HIV from the hospital.  I was just making Fred's tea when she came, and I noticed her glances at the food on the table, but she left for the hospital before I could offer her anything.  Unless one gets there pretty early, the queue gets really long.  After leaving home without tea in the morning, walking several miles, waiting in a long line, then returning home to prepare food, anyone would be exhausted and hungry.

The head of the HIV Care and Treatment Center, a man named Peter, has been trying to think of a way to provide some kind of refreshment for the clients when they visit.  He's a very busy man, however, and he hasn't been able to coordinate it.  These people living with HIV are too poor to afford taking tea, let alone lunch, in a cafe in town.  There are several funders interested in Shirati HIV care who would likely be favorable toward this proposal if someone is willing to write it and follow up.  I think I might be the person to do that.

My idea is that with the clients' help we could provide tea and bread with peanut butter (a little protein boost) once a week initially, then expanding to offer it every day, possibly even adding fresh fruit and hard-boiled eggs, as funding permits.

There's loads of potential, even to expand to income-generating activities like catering and baking.  I really believe that the clients themselves can run the program, so it's just a matter of writing the proposal, getting funding, then doing the reporting as things go on!

Anyway, that's what we're excited about right now.  On Sunday, Wesley and I will travel to Shinyanga and Dodoma for a week to visit our Tanzanian partners, while Fred goes up to Kenya to see his grandmother and Innocent, so my next post will likely be from Dodoma!

11 February 2013

Themes for 2013 and Our Home According to Innocent

This past week of settling back into life in Shirati has been wonderful.  Coming home has encouraged me to use the fresh start of a new season to work on some bad habits that have developed in my life.  I have three themes (not really resolutions, more like slogans) for 2013: No excuses.  Work hard.  Energy.  I am essentially trying to get rid of the weed of laziness in my life by tackling three different "roots" at once.  Here's what these themes mean to me:

No Excuses:  My dad used to say "Excuses are like armpits: everybody has two of them and they both stink."  A major obstacle in my life is trying to live up to others' expectations, or perceived expectations, of me.  When I fall short of what others expect from me, I am very quick to come up with a reason I have failed or disappointed.  These excuses have heavily tinged my professional, personal and family life, and they're just plain ugly.  Enough of them!  Either I live up to standards (mine and/or others') or I don't and I live with that without blaming other people or circumstances.

Work Hard:  This one is a little obvious, perhaps, but I keep reminding myself to apply myself to the tasks that need to be done, rather than Pinterest or television.  I treat myself to a nap or an hour of reading or 15 minutes of online browsing, but those are exceptions.  I'm trying to cut back on multi-tasking, aside from the essential multi-tasking of keeping an eye on my kids while working, so that I can dedicate as much as possible of my time and attention to getting things done.

Energy:  One of the best books I've read in several years is Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin.  One of the things she talks about in her book is how acting in an energetic way (jumping up and down or other activity) makes one feel more energetic.  I'm trying to incorporate this into my life, not through jumping, per se, but by choosing to be active even when I feel tired.  I engage in a task that I enjoy, like organizing photos, when I find my energy flagging, rather than giving up because I don't feel like working anymore.

I'm interested in feedback you might have on these themes.  Also, what themes do you have for 2013?

We had picked Innocent up from school on our way through Kenya, so he was with us all week, and has mastered the use of our new camera, a gift from a family on our support team.  Here are a few of the pictures he took around our house:
Front Door

Living Room

Front Yard

Fred and Wesley on Back Porch

Back Yard

Side of the House


Wesley *almost* Walking

05 February 2013

Peace at Last! ...almost

Well, we're back to normal life again!  After four months in America, our family reached our home in Shirati on Saturday afternoon, and we were pretty much asleep on our feet!  It's become a little tradition for me to write a recap of our travel adventures, and they are some of people's favorite posts, apparently, so here's the story of this most recent journey.

Wednesday, 30 January
I am big on making plans, but regardless of my best-laid plans, I always seem to spend the last hours of my time in America rushing around trying to get things done.  This time was no exception.  Tuesday night our whole family helped with last minute packing (extra thanks to Bryan and Nancy for coming through with a vacuum sealer and an extra carry-on suitcase!), so Wednesday morning was just me trying to organize our left-behind items and do a little cleaning.  Around 11am we left my parents house to pick up my mom at work in Woodburn and meet my dad at the airport.  We had four checked bags weighing 200 lbs total, two carry-on suitcases weighing about 35 lbs each, our "personal items" each weighed a bunch also, plus the diaper bag.  Checking in, security and goodbyes all went smoothly, and we shuffled ourselves and our things aboard a two hour flight to Long Beach.  A five-hour layover (and $9 burrito!) later, we boarded a five-hour overnight flight to Washington, DC.

Thursday, 1 February
We arrived at Dulles in a rather poor state of mind.  Fred and I hadn't slept much, even though Wesley was doing well on the flights.  We had to pick up our luggage, wait for the Emirates counter to open, then check in all over again.  This time we ran into difficulties because a.) one of our trunks had been broken between Portland and DC, and b.) Emirates has begun enforcing a weight limit on carry-on luggage and was weighing each piece!  We were far, far beyond the weight capacity on three of our pieces, and there was obviously no weight to spare in our checked bags.  I was despairing what to do, because we certainly hadn't planned on paying $50 each for three additional bags!  This is where your prayers for travel mercies were answered in ways we wouldn't have known to ask for.  The trunk with a broken latch was easily repaired with a roll of heavy tape that happened to be on the very top in that trunk.  The check-in attendant reminded me that we had an additional free piece of checked luggage for Wesley, and then she waived the fees for two other bags to be checked in!  Relieved of an immense burden, both psychological and physical, we breezed through further security and parked at the gate.  Thanks to Dan for a $15 Starbucks card, on which we feasted while waiting for our plane.

I have already raved about the way Emirates treats families, and our 12-hour flight to Dubai just confirmed that.  They like to put all the families together in the bulkhead row, if possible, so that we can benefit from the increased leg room--a huge asset in navigating on board child care.  Wesley continued his pattern of being relaxed and charming everyone around us, but I still didn't get much sleep, sadly.

Friday, 2 February
We arrived in the Dubai Airport, which has one of the greatest things ever: complimentary strollers for use in the airport!  We took full advantage of that, since we had to go through transfer security and cross the whole airport.  So grateful that we didn't have our three heavy carry-on bags!  Our last American dollars bought some drinks while we waited to board our flight to Nairobi.  That flight went smoothly, and, to our surprise and delight, Kenyan immigration and customs were a breeze!  Fred's cousin, Francis, was waiting to help us transfer ten bags and a baby to a taxi.  Fred, Francis and our other friend Francis arranged the bags and bus tickets and some grocery shopping while Wesley and I visited some friends in Nairobi.  Then, after a two hour delay, our overnight bus to the Tanzanian border departed.  Wesley and I got some good sleep on the bus, and as the sun rose, Fred got off the bus near Innocent's school and we rode all the way to the border with the bags.  While Fred picked up Innocent from school, our friends Eric and Liz Soard picked the baby and me up at the border.  Liz and I got to have some great conversation while our babies played together on the floor.  Finally, Fred and Innocent arrived, we got a public car, loaded our luggage and left for our last leg of the trip home.  By early afternoon Saturday (around 2am PST), we had reached home.  After a bit of unpacking and dinner, we all collapsed into bed.

Whew!  Not our most adventurous trip, to be sure, but thank the Lord for that!  We found our home in great condition, thanks to our friend Rebecca who stayed here while we were gone, and Rick will be glad to hear that our fence did come under attack while we were gone, but the man who does our yard work kept it in good repair.  Wesley, after winning the traveler-of-the-year award, is now suffering jet lag which makes him cranky.  We found Innocent in poor health, because he was apparently not eating well at school.  Fred and I have allergies, and we're looking for a new school for Innocent, so we've had to hit the ground running, but it's good.  Life is good.