Saturday, January 30, 2010

Salma has a great smile – don’t you think? I took snapshots of all my students on the first day of classes. These are Form IV students and they will be graduating next October. Most of them wanted to appear serious & studious for the photo – as if they were actually reading or writing. But once someone started clowning around & laughing – that was the end of all seriousness! I love laughter in the classroom – it is one of the joys of teaching... Diane.

Habari za leo?

Our town of Mtwara is well off the popular tourist paths. There's a bit of ocean snorkeling but that's about it. So there are few foreigners around.

Since Diane and I are on foot all the time and we regularly ride the daladalas (minivan buses) we get stared at a lot by young and old alike. It's not hostility. I think it's the sheer novelty of two-legged creatures who do not look at all like black Africans. I imagine that Tanzanians are gazing at me and trying to decide whether I am actually human or not. 8-D

But by extending a few customary greetings in Swahili, the common language, almost invariably we get back welcoming smiles and courteous replies. We tap into the fact that Tanzanians are, by reflex, polite and friendly. I am perceived as a human being, no longer completely beyond the pale.

It's an amazing transformation that illustrates the importance of good manners and how far a bit of language skill goes. -Earl

Saturday, January 23, 2010

It's a very different continent

"For until you actually saw it and traveled across it on foot or on horseback or in a wagon, you could not possibly grasp the enormous vastness of Africa. It seemed to go on and on forever." -Elspeth Huxley, The Flame Trees of Thika.

Although I have only been to a very, very small part of the African continent and even much less of that on foot or horseback, I sense what the author wrote about. It's the immensity of the landscape magnified by its differentness. Here in the environs of southern coastal Tanzania there are grey baobabs, with trunks as large as a California sequoia. Flame trees ablaze with brilliant red-orange blossoms. Termite mounds taller than a person. Thorn bushes prickly with two-inch long spikes. Huge millipedes as big as snakes. Swarms of ants that come right into the house. And the constant, intense heat. The heat flows out of the ground, envelops your body, and leaves you shiny with sweat. It doesn't feel like North America anymore, Toto. -Earl

Sunday, January 17, 2010

It’s back to school tomorrow! Yes, our lovely holiday break is over. We’ll start with Orientation on Monday and then classes formally begin on Tuesday. In addition to running the computer lab and doing computer maintenance for all the computers on our campus, Earl is teaching introductory computer classes to all the students (Form I – Form IV). I will be teaching English Language & English Literature to Form III & IV students. As well as running the library, I have also been asked to serve as Academic Mistress, Communication Arts Department Coordinator, Club Moderator AND Staff Secretary. I think I need a new hat rack or another head!

Actually, what I really need is old calendars! Our cement classroom walls are totally bare and I would love to be able to decorate them with great photos or artwork from old calendars. Or even old National Geographics and other educational magazines. Any photos with a decorative and/or educational touch would be great! If you have some that you would like to send, here’s our address c/o Diane:

Aquinas Secondary School
P.O. Box 515

Thank you all so much! We need all the help we can get. We really cannot do this alone. And when people share & care, our mission impossible becomes mission possible.

With grateful hearts, we thank you and the students thank you. And we all thank God! Tumshukuru Mungu!

Friday, January 15, 2010

“Is that water?” yelled Earl from the bedroom one morning. Yes, it was water. We had been without running water for a couple of days and it was great to hear it running again. We never know when we will be without running water. The water is on for a few days and then it’s off again—for a day or two or three. One really hot afternoon, Earl took a cold shower. When I went in to take my shower, there was no water. Life is not fair! And it is really not fair to our neighbors who -never- have running water. So I no longer complain. I simply appreciate that we have water at all.
Awhile back, we went a full week without running water. Fortunately, we live on the parish property which has a large underground cistern for collecting rainwater that runs off the church’s corrugated tin roof. At 5:00am in the morning, our neighbors, mostly women with 5 gallon buckets, started queuing up right in front of our home to haul up hefty buckets of rainwater from the deep underground cistern. Then the women walk off with that bucket of rainwater on their head. Hundreds of people came for days – until the cistern ran dry. Shortly after, the water started running again. Thank God…
Earl & I are totally amazed at how very little water we can live on! Have you ever taken a bucket bath? Yes, we use a small plastic bucket (formerly our 1000 gram peanut butter container) to shower ourselves when we can’t take a real shower. Earl says he can take a shower using about 2 quarts of water. Imagine that! We are so accustomed to wasting water because we take this precious commodity for granted.

[I just heard the groans of a goatherd passing by while our 6:00pm church bells started ringing! ]

Living here in Tanzania surrounded by poverty, hunger, and disease, we take nothing for granted. Earl & I try to be intentional about our way of life. Ironically, I find a joy here, because we deeply appreciate the ‘giftedness’ of our lives. In the words of St. Therese of Lisieux, “Everything is a grace, because everything is God’s gift. Whatever be the character of life or its unexpected events – to the heart that loves, all is well.”

Here you’ll see Earl taking a bucket bath! Notice the two buckets. That’s our water reserve when the water is not running. Obviously, the water quality is poor and unpotable, but it is better than no water at all.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Before dawn this morning we were awakened by a tumultuous rainstorm beating down on our roof. It sounded like the heavens were turned inside out! And it’s been raining on and off all day. In fact, it just started raining again as I write. Along the coast where we are, the weather tends to be hot and humid, with temperatures averaging between 25 & 29 degrees Celsius. Throughout East Africa, the coolest months are from June to September, and the warmest from December to March. We also have two rainy seasons. There are the ‘long’ rains that fall from mid-March through May when it rains nearly every day, but supposedly not all day. And the ‘short’ rains which fall between October and January. The last few months of ‘short’ rains have been unusually dry – with only a couple of rainstorms. So the wet rain is a welcome and refreshing relief from the hot blazing sun!

This fabulous photo from our school campus was taken a few days ago by Roger, a Swiss volunteer at our school. In the distance on the right you can see the bell tower and the cross of our parish church where we live. You should have been there when the rains came down! Diane.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Did you notice my new hairdo? I went to the salon for a haircut on Halloween. One should never go to the salon on Halloween—especially when you do not speak the native language.

And I want you to know that I did not ask for this hairdo. I just wanted a haircut. But this is what happens when you don't speak Kiswahili. In fact, I never would have consented to having it done knowing that it would take 2 women and 7, and I mean 7 hours non-stop! I sat on a rickety ol' front porch of a container shop from 10am until 5pm with two young Tanzanian women, Priska and Julie, hovering over me and braiding my hair with black yarn. There was no mirror and I had no idea what they were doing. I got really nervous wondering what I was going to look like when they were done. Passersby would exclaim, “Umependeza!” (You are attractive!) And I thought they have got to be kidding!

Then around 4:30pm Priska and Julie took me into this teeny, and I mean teeny dark room with a large mirror and using a large candle they proceeded to set fire to all the ends of the braids to cinch them! Does this sound like the makings of a Halloween movie? The hairdressers' friends would stop by and crowd into the teeny room to watch in the candlelight and ooooo and ahhhhhh. It cost me 15,000 Tanzanian shillings. And then I had to go back every two weeks for a wash and "repair.”

When I got home, Earl did not know what to make of it. After a few moments, he decided he liked it! And the first time I walked into the teaching staff room at school ALL the women squealed "Mama Mwafrica!" And the men liked it too. The students, especially the girls, were delighted. Wherever I went I received compliments from colleagues and strangers alike. I must say my new doo did an awful lot for international relations.

Every morning I would look in the mirror and wonder who is that woman? I am not the same. Of course, one is never the same when one tries to live the Gospel. Mama Mwafrica.

Postscript: I had the new doo till Christmas. Then with summer upon us, it was just too hot! So I went to the barber shop and got a real haircut in 10 minutes!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Some of you have been wondering about our diet. Well, feast your eyes on this: eggplants, opo squash, tomatoes, red onions, garlic, green peppers (pilipili hoho in Kiswahili!), cucumbers, potatoes, pineapple, passionfruit, mangos, papayas, bananas, rice & beans! A kilo of this and a kilo of that. We eat mostly fruits and vegetables, cashews (this is cashew country!), peanut butter, eggs, and occasionally fish and chicken. Both of us have lost some weight, but we are not going hungry. Many of our neighbors are.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

We live in the head master’s office which is right next door to the kindergarten! Well, it was the headmaster’s office. Now it is our home. But the kindergarteners are still our neighbors! Originally, the headmaster’s office was one very large room with a smaller adjoining room. Because the main room was so large, Father Witmar had a dividing wall put up in the middle. So when you enter, you walk into an empty loft-like space with pale blue concrete walls and concrete floor (16x20). The ‘new’ second room (16x30) where we spend most of our time is pale green. Both rooms have large open air screened windows (16x8) with northern exposure and a view of the school courtyard-driveway. Our furnishings include a small wooden table with four chairs, a wood & glass china cabinet, a desk and chair, and a small refrigerator. Our furniture fills one-third of the room! We also have a small pale yellow kitchen (12x7) with a sink and two electric burners. Our bedroom (15x20) & bathroom (10x7) also have pale yellow concrete walls and floors. Sr. Consolata had a double bed especially-made-for-us in addition to a wooden wardrobe with a full-length mirror. Our ceilings are about 12 feet high. There are smaller windows with southern exposure in the kitchen, bath & bedroom. [In the collage you’ll see the kitchen, wardrobe, our home (we live on the left in the confetti-windows), our bed, our main room, entryway, and Earl napping. Although we have a comfortable bed, Earl prefers the coolness of our concrete floor!]

Obviously, we have lots of space and very little furniture. That means we have lots of room for company! Karibu!

Most of our neighbors live in thatched or corrugated tin roof mud-huts with dirt for floors and mud for walls. They do not have running water. They do not have potable water. They do not have electricity. They cook over open fires to prepare food. If they have food. The children have second hand clothes from Europe and rocks & sticks for toys. Compared to our neighbors, we live in a palace. How sad is that. Diane.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Heri kwa Mwaka Mpya! Happy New Year! We pray 2010 will be a grace-filled year not just for some, but for all…

“By the sea, by the sea, by the beautiful sea…” I am sitting near the water’s edge, relaxing near the Indian Ocean! Earl & I are spending three days at the Benedictine Fathers’ beach house before we report back to school on January 4th. We do not live far from the ocean – it is only about 1 ½ hour walk from our home to the northern side of town. But keep in mind that that is a mostly un-shaded walk in the hot sun! So we do not visit the ocean very much. But here we are and it is unbelievably beautiful. Our room overlooks the ocean and we are steps away from a dip in the sea! In fact, it is high tide now and we are going to dive in! I’ll be back after our dip…
That was sooooo refreshing! Although the sun is sizzling hot, the sea green water is delightful – clean & clear & just the right temperature! Everyone waits for the high tide because at low tide the water is very very far from shore! How relaxing it is to sit here near the water’s edge with the waves lapping the shoreline, the seabirds breezing by, hermit crabs scurrying along in their over-sized shells, hummingbirds bopping around, delicate butterflys flitting here & there, a lone boatsman poling his way across the horizon, a red hibiscus bobbing in the breeze, palms waving in the wind…this has been a very restful, peaceful, soulful time…
I love getting up before sunrise to walk along the shore and to welcome the dawn. The tide is still low at that hour and one can see stately cranes standing knee-deep in the water…waiting and watching…waiting and watching…for that one tasty morsel to swim by. Usually there is not a soul on the beach – just me, the sea, and God…
In the evening I love to watch the moon rise over the ocean. During the night Earl & I can hear the waves breaking on the shore as the tide comes in and then the waves rock us back to sleep. The night before New Year’s Eve the blue moon was almost full, glistening on the deep dark deep.
Our beach house is called “Eden 2” and if it weren’t for the mosquitoes it could be “Eden!” Yes, we can taste a little bit of heaven on earth, but earth is not heaven when we are surrounded by poverty, hunger, and disease. We pray this little getaway by the sea will help us help others taste a little bit of heaven too…Diane.