Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Roho ya Kristu

Right after the daily morning Mass at our church we chant this before leaving. I love the poetic cadence of it, both in English and in Swahili. -Earl
Roho ya Kristu, initakase
Mwili wa Kristu, uniokoe
Damu ya Kristu, ininyweshe
Maji ya ubavu wa Kristu, yanioshe
Mateso ya Kristu, yanitie nguvu
Yesu mwema, unisikilize
Ndani ya majeraha yako, unifiche
Nitengwe nawe, usikubali
Na adui mwovu, unikinge
Saa ya kufa kwangu, uniite
Uniamuru nifike kwako
Nikutukuze pamoja na watakatifu wako
Milele na milele. Amina.
Spirit of Christ, cleanse me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, give me drink
Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Suffering of Christ, strengthen me
Good Jesus, listen to me
Inside your wounds, hide me
Do not allow me to be separated from you
Protect me from the evil enemy
At the hour of my death, call me
Command me to come to you
Let me exalt you together with your saints
Forever and ever. Amen.

Friday, June 15, 2012


There are difficulties of various kinds in coming to live and work here. Emotionally, for me one of the hardest things is the occasional begging.

Luckily, Diane and I live in a part of Tanzania that does not see a lot of wazungu, and those who are around are, for the most part, residents like us.

My impression is that places that get a lot of foreign tourists have a lot more begging than our sleepy town. When you are a visitor, it's easier to just give a little money when asked, whether out of compassion or guilt or the desire to get rid of the person. You are merely passing through and you don't have to face the consequences of how you respond, at least not in a direct personal way. Out of sight, out of mind.

For those of us who live in places like this, it's different. The local people are never out of mind. They are our neighbors, students, colleagues, fellow parishioners, shopkeepers, etc. I have least a general concern for their well-being as well as a specific concern for particular individuals. I also have a concern for my own well-being, namely, I don't want to be constantly approached for a hand-out or a "loan", nor do I want to set up such expectations for other wazungu who live here or who are going to.

The upshot is that I grapple with how to respond appropriately in a way that is respectful and caring of everyone involved. Early on, Diane and I took the approach of never giving money to Tanzanians who beg or "ask for help". We did not want to set a precedent, nor did we want to encourage a culture of dependency. We have been very good about sticking to this, which also applies to gifts other than money. In Swahili there is a way to refuse that is polite; that response is almost always enough, with nothing further said.

So why does it feel like an on-going struggle? I began this post by writing that begging is a emotionally difficult thing to deal with. As soon as we arrived in Mtwara an expat who has been here for years told us, "there's no shame in begging". That comment has really stuck with me.

A couple of years ago in the New York Times there was an article about the increased use of food stamps during this recession in the U.S. A single mother was profiled who said that she had to "swallow her pride" to apply for aid. In our individualistic American culture the ideal is that of self-sufficiency: adults work and support themselves and their families. If you're not doing this, what's wrong with you? It feels like a personal failure. So help is asked for reluctantly and then at a very high psychological cost because it is an admission of failing to measure up.

But that's also why it is so hard for us to refuse when asked. The requester has put their self-image on the line — to say no is to dish out yet another blow. Do I like to be so hardhearted?

My conclusion is that among Tanzanians there is an entirely different social and psychological landscape around begging. A complete stranger may approach and ask me to "help him". People we barely know may do likewise. Kids may ask for candy, a ball, or small amounts of money. It all feels rather offhand and casual. It's as though there's not much psychological cost expended, so it's no big deal to ask. And it's no big deal to be refused.

I would not go so far as to say that they have no shame, but rather that shame results from other kinds of circumstances. Being materially lacking so as to need help is not one of them. That's perhaps consistent with African societies being traditionally much more collectively structured and less individualistic. It is just a different kind of survival strategy for a community to have a high degree of mutual dependence and to have a lot of sharing of resources. (By contrast, I'm recalling the line by Robert Frost, "good fences make good neighbors".)

And in Swahili there are proverbs that say that wealth and good things only come from God. They imply that if your situation is good, you can't take much credit for it. Furthermore, if you have been graced by God, then you should share the bounty because it is a gift anyway. There's wisdom in such a perspective.

I do embrace that perspective, but there are other attitudes that also inform my deeply ingrained emotional responses. -Earl

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Community for LMH Missioners While Abroad?

I was recently contacted by someone who is looking into Lay Mission-Helpers and who asked the question "what is the community life like with LMH?" Below was my response, slightly changed. -Earl


I think the kind of community you end up with is completely idiosyncratic and the situations vary all over the map. It depends on a lot of different factors.

No one else has been in Tanzania from LMH or MDA, so there has been no possibility of community of that kind for us. On the other hand, that's about to change because LMH is sending a couple to replace us, and around the same time MDA will be sending two couples to a location a few hours drive away. Those six adult missioners will be able to connect with each other and have some built-in community, something we did not have.

Diane and I live in our own home on the grounds of our parish church. The house is physically separated from the other residences of the church and from the homes and businesses in our neighborhood, which means we get very little in the way of casual chance encounters with our neighbors.

Language is a big problem. Tanzania is a Swahili-speaking country. I have made some good progress in learning Swahili, but my listening comprehension sucks. That limits my ability to sustain a conversation and therefore to be able to talk in a meaningful way.

We both like to work a lot. The needs of a secondary school are endless, and there's always something else that could be done. So our day to day life is very much dominated by school. Even on the weekends we often do things work-related at home, especially using our own computers.

Outside of work we don't have much left over for other things and for other people. Certainly for me, dealing with the energy of well over two hundred adolescents is more than enough. 8-D

So where has that left us? Luckily, Diane and I have a close, supportive relationship, and we talk easily with each other. We are constantly debriefing over dinner, sharing our experiences, speculating about what is going on and what the meaning of something is, laughing over funny incidents. For us, it's been a community of two, and that's been enough to sustain us.

And where does that leave you? Well, if you and your wife have a solid relationship, that will be the single biggest asset you bring in terms of community. If you don't, you probably should not consider doing this. It's way too stressful. (No offense intended — I know nothing at all about you two.)

If you're slow with foreign languages like me, then get a jump start on learning the main language of where you're going. I started on Rosetta Stone for Swahili while still in L.A. That helped me to keep up with my classmates when I attended language training in-country soon after arriving. Keep steadily plugging away at it. Every bit of progress helps you to better connect with the local people.

Maybe the most important thing is to know your personality type and what your emotional and psychological needs are. I'm a pretty strong introvert. After a day at school with adolescents acting out and sitting at my desk in a large open room shared with a dozen other teachers, when I come home I crave quiet time with Diane and to be alone. That spills over into the weekends too.

Some factors are in your control, some are not. Your mileage will vary.