Thursday, November 24, 2011

Giving Thanks

On this fourth Thursday of November (an ordinary workday in Tanzania) I jotted down a quick, random list of things for which I am thankful. -Earl

“We the People ...”
the sound of rain
showers (the kind you take)
quality time together
public schools and colleges
memories of backpacking trips
leafy shade trees
J.R.R. Tolkien
the Indian Ocean
fresh mangoes
Imago Dei
the Hippocrene Swahili-English Dictionary
the Golden Gate Bridge
friends who send dark chocolate
fish tacos
cool East African mornings
the color purple
chipsi mayai
Chinese calligraphy
being literate in English
affectionate sarcasm
Ada Lovelace (the first computer programmer)
an article on gratitude in the New York Times

Saturday, November 19, 2011

One Cookie Now, or Two Cookies Later?

Yesterday afternoon all the employees of our school met to hear a presentation by someone from the National Social Security Fund, a program of the Tanzanian government. The fund is like social security in the U.S. together with medical insurance. Participation is voluntary, which is why we got a lengthy description and pitch for joining.

Aside from the fact that the speaker spoke in Swahili (but all of his slides were in English — go figure), the talk was just like something you might attend in the U.S. The concepts were all very familiar.

What was remarkable — and why I'm writing about this — is that the speaker made a lot of effort to persuade us of the prudence of making contributions into the system now so that they can enjoy good benefits later when they reach retirement age. This is a difficult sell in a society where it seems that just about everyone lives hand to mouth, even those who have some disposable income. I don't see much in the way of deferred gratification.

Why does this matter? Instead of investing their personal and collective resources into improving their future lives Tanzanians seem intent on present day consumption. I recently overheard a teacher say that people here are consuming more than they are producing and that's why their currency has been weakening so much. In any case, this is an ingredient for on-going dependence on outsiders to fund their development, who may or may not continue to do so.

Some of our educated colleagues have some awareness of this. But the attitude of spending what you've got is widespread. So I found this talk about the NSSF program, given by a Tanzanian government employee who seems to really believe in it, to be very heartening. -Earl

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Writing This Blog

Diane is the one who was keen on creating a blog when we landed in Tanzania two years ago. I was not interested in starting something that felt like yet another on-going commitment. So it's been a bit of a twist that while Diane has concentrated her energies on her plethora of responsibilities at our school I've turned out to be the main contributor.

It's a lot of work. Writing does not come easily to me. However, I like to imagine that my high school English teachers would be pleased that I can stay focused on a single theme, struggle to construct coherent paragraphs, effect transitions between them, and strive to create something that flows for the reader, with a beginning and an end.

The challenge is much intensified by the goal that I set early on of posting something two or three times a month. I had my doubts that I could come up with enough topics and ideas to keep up that pace, in effect, to produce a kind of periodical on a regular basis. So far, I've managed.

Again, it's a significant amount of work. Even to put up a few photos takes more than a few minutes. It involves simple editing such as cropping and increasing contrast; reducing the resolution since the pictures are only intended to be viewed on computer screens; and checking the resulting layout so that the size and placement of photos fit with the words.

So why do this? First, it's for the staff of our organization, Lay Mission-Helpers, who naturally have a constant and immediate interest in our experience of living and working in Tanzania. They would worry about us if we were silent for long periods of time, wouldn't you, Janice?

Secondly, our family and friends. It's difficult to describe for them being in a place that is so alien. But we try to give some idea of the differences, both at the most practical level as well as socially and culturally. And directly and indirectly it lets them know how we're doing.

Then, there may be people we don't know who may have an interest in East Africa because they have lived here or are thinking about doing so. They may find these posts enjoyable or enlightening.

Finally, we are writing this for ourselves as a personal journal. Diane and I debrief with each other almost every day over dinner. This blog provides another means to reflect on what's going on for us. Also, after we have left Tanzania it will serve as a record of our life here. We will really appreciate having it as the memories blur.

- Earl

[ As a rule we have been very hesitant about taking pictures of people. Some of them don't want you to. Some of them will want to be paid. That's unfortunate because there are all kinds of interesting sights that we would otherwise post.

Lately, though, I've finally become comfortable at least with posting photos of our students and other people who know us, who don't seem to mind.

We send multitudinous thanks to our friends Joe and Sharman who gave us the very nice point-and-shoot camera we've been using along with two high-capacity storage cards. ]