Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Class Trip to the Serengeti

If you have ever been a chaperone on a youth trip, you know that youth trips, even to tourist destinations, are not the same thing as vacation. This weekend was evidence that this truth is universal ;-) That being said, we were delighted to have some time with Form 4 (senior class) students outside the bounds of the school. Here’s a little peak out the Senior trip to the Serengeti:

Day 1
The original time of departure on Saturday was 5:45am. Thankfully we got the message the night before that the bus wasn’t going to be able to get there that early—new departure time: 8am. Like good mzungu (white people) who are still figuring out when time is fluid and when time is strict, we arrived at 8am. The bus however didn’t arrive until 10am, because they had wanted to wait for a full bus of passengers to take to Shinyanga before starting their next job. Time isn’t money here. Money is money.

By 10:30am we were loaded up and on our way with five other teachers and the fifty Form 4 students that could afford the trip— the students were expected to pay the equivalent of $30 US dollars. The bus is not like buses in the U.S. with an aisle. Each aisle has a seat that folds up and down, so that five people can fit across comfortably. We fit six on each row. Everyone had packed lightly, but even still the bus was packed to the max. (Side note: we thought we had packed lightly, and we had for us, but Tanzanians take it to a whole other level, washing clothes to be re-worn again another day).

We were expecting the trip to take about 7 hours (2.5. to Mwanza, 3 to the Serengeti entrance, and maybe another 1.5 into the park). We made it to Mwanza in good time, but since we had left late and the Serengeti park gate closes at 4pm, we were still in a rush. Lunch consisted of a box of cookies per person, a soda, and a water bottle, because that is what Philemon (the Assistant Headmaster) could buy quickly from street vendors while the bus filled up on gas. Then we were on our way again. By God’s grace, we arrived at the gate at 3:58pm. Whew! Praise the Lord! It was only once we entered the gate that we began to realize our time estimation was way off. We were in a bus, not a Land Cruiser, which meant we were practically crawling over the bumpy roads of the Serengeti. Plus the Youth Hostel was in the center of the Serengeti, which by crawling bus was 7 hours away from the entrance.

Let me paint the picture for you: For those of you who are international travelers, imagine a 12.5 hour flight. Now, take away the leg room and imagine that you are sitting on a wheel, so your feet rest a foot off the floor and your thighs are at a 45 degree incline (this was Linda’s situation). For entertainment, you have Tanzanian music videos and a Tanzanian soap opera on one central TV, but only for the first 5.5 hours because for the next 7 hours it is too bumpy for technology. You get one bathroom break the entire time, which consists of doing your business in the middle of nowhere with a dozen others of your gender around you. There is no privacy in a time crunch. At one point during the trip, your group is attacked by a band of tsetse flies—the really bad ones that can cause Trypanosomiasis, aka sleeping sickness. Thus all the windows are closed, and you get to enjoy your own personal unventilated sauna with fifty teenagers. Getting (smelling) the picture? Good times ;-)

Yet, with all of those challenges, the students behaved beautifully! We didn’t hear any complaining. In fact, one of the students asked Linda if she was tired. She confessed yes and that her body was aching from hours of sitting in one position. The student then encouraged her, “You have to be strong.” We were amazed at the strength of the students and the teachers. During the travels there were some really special moments, such as the students breaking into an impromptu hymn-sing, seeing a band of lions sleeping on the road, and being led down the road for many kilometers by one particular zebra who liked running in the light of the bus. It wasn’t until we stopped the bus and turned off the lights for several minutes that the zebra went on his way.

We arrived at the youth hostel at 11:30pm. Given that it was so late, the students were sent to bed with some bread and butter for dinner. Accommodations included a large room with bunk beds for the boys and one for the girls, with boys’ and girls’ cement outhouses nearby.

Day 2
The next morning everyone was up by 6:30am bathing, cleaning, and preparing meals. The youth hostel provided a place for coal fires and some large pots, but we had brought everything else with us. Since everyone had had very little food in the last day and a half, we made the first meal the main meal. The girls worked very hard preparing the cow meat and fish cooked in a tomato sauce, as well as a giant pot of rice. By noon, everyone had eaten, all the dishes were clean, and we were on our way to tour the Serengeti.

For many of the students, this trip was their first time to see any of these animals. There are no zoos in Tanzania. They were mesmerized! I think we enjoyed watching the students as much as we enjoyed watching the animals. Since most of them did not have cameras, Eric became the class photographer and students will be able to pay to have pictures printed. This opportunity got a little out-of-hand at some points, as we were mobbed by students wanting us to take their picture ;-) We did love their enthusiasm though.

We also stopped by the Serengeti tourism center. The students and teachers were placed into three groups as tour guides led them through the complex, teaching them about the animals and the environment. The center had bones of various kinds of animals, emblems of their footprints in cement, and descriptions of various animals and land conservation efforts. The guides were very knowledgeable, and the students asked them lots of questions. The center even had its own wildlife as dozens of hyraxes and mongooses scampered about. They were obviously very accustomed to visitors.

That evening we had some of the drama that one might expect out of a trip like this—items going missing, issues of appropriate boy/girl relations, trouble settling down after a big day, safety issues, etc. I see all you youth ministers out there nodding your heads in empathy. We got very little sleep that night. However, that night also held one of our most special memories as well. After dinner, Eric got out his guitar, and we led the group in song and devotions. We loved singing with the students, and we pray that throughout the trip they heard grace from us.

Day 3

The next morning we were once again up with the sun, preparing some left over rice and tea for breakfast, and dealing with some remaining drama. By 10am we were packed up and on the road. We found a better road coming back which cut an hour and a half off our trip. Because the road was less known, the driver did have to stop and ask for directions once from a very accommodating “rastaman,” as the students termed him. Our new friend enjoyed the attention as the students with cameras took pictures of his dreadlocks. When we arrived at the Serengeti gate, we ran into a bit of trouble, because apparently they were supposed to charge extra for ex-patriots, even working ones. However, since the entrance gate hadn’t caught it, they let us go this once. Good to know for future reference.

We were so encouraged by what good time we were making that Philemon decided to stop and get a hot meal for everyone for lunch. It took over an hour to get chipsi mayai (fried eggs and potatoes) for everyone on the bus, but it was a nice treat. We ran into our biggest travel problems in Mwanza, where we got stuck in traffic that resembled a parking lot. Thus, the trip back actually took longer than the trip there. Thirteen hours later, at 11pm we finally arrived back at the school. We never ceased to be amazed by the energy of the students. While we looked and felt like something the cat dragged in, the students were as jubilant as ever. They cheered as we drove into the school and were already exchanging stories with their classmates as we headed home. We are thankful for their joy. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

What God Is Teaching Me: How To Live Simply

This post is a tough one for me to write, because I’m still not very good at this lesson—at all. However, this topic has been rolling around in my head since we moved to Mwadui, so I figured it was time to put a few of my thoughts down in print. It’s a struggle for every missionary: “How ‘Western’ do I live?” There are large variations in the answers, and there is no “right” answer.

·   Some are naturally adaptable and live exactly as the people in their community. I admire these folks, and there are significant advantages to this lifestyle as it allows them to better see through the eyes of the people and understand the needs. However, these people are rare, and there are unique challenges to this lifestyle. For example, what do you do when your health or the health of your children is in jeopardy? How do you maintain financial support without modern conveniences?  How do you successfully adapt to the culture shock, which is extreme in general, but even more extreme when giving up all familiar experiences and technologies that keep you in touch with family and friends in other parts of the world? If you plan to return to a Western environment, how do you readjust?

·   Some recognize how difficult living in extreme circumstances can be, and they try to make their home a refreshing haven for themselves and their families. This allows them the emotional health to continually reengage in a draining ministry. For example, a family we came to know and love in Nigeria bought a standing pool for their children. They lived in a city where bombs went off regularly, and sometimes their children had to stay home from school for days due to various real threats. The pool gave their children a sense of normalcy and fun in the midst of trying circumstances. Even in less extreme circumstances, some missionaries recognize that certain Western conveniences and hobbies help stabilize their emotional health and make them better people and servants.

·   Some buy Western conveniences so that their time is more efficient and they can give more time to their ministries.

·   Some buy Western conveniences to be shared and used by the local community who would not otherwise have access to such things.

·   Some utilize Western conveniences because they know their children will someday live in/receive education from Western countries, and they want to familiarize their children with this other world.

·   Some use their resources to become a retreat center for those who are live more simply. 
·   And for many, their decisions are a mixture of these principles.

I have found that each situation, culture, and missionary is unique, so to place judgment on others without having walked in their shoes is both hurtful and unjust. However, on a personal level, this topic has been both challenging and convicting for me. “How ‘Western’ will I live?”  

I recently read a book called “Missions and Money,” talking about the complexities of wealth among missionaries. I’m not recommending the book, because it is intensely law-oriented and put me into depressive tailspin of “I’m a terrible missionary, and I should just give up on being here, because I might be doing more harm than good.” Thankfully, a good infusion of gospel brought me out of that, and though I don’t agree with everything in the book, there were many passages that provided food for thought. This passage gave a label to some of my tendencies:

“The word that perhaps best sums up the plethora of secular values which influence all North Americans – including missionaries – from infancy throughout life is consumerism, the way of life established upon the principle that the great goal of human life and activity is more things, better things, and new things; in short, that life does consist in the abundance of possessions.”[1]

Consumerism. Our entire economy in the U.S. is built around it. If everyone in our country was content with what they had, I fear that our economy would crash. Can you imagine a Christmas where everyone decided the gifts were not necessary to celebrate our Savior’s birth? I did not realize until I moved here how much a part of my psyche this is.
I understand that sometimes buying something new can be better than something used. We have been in a three-month battle with our used refrigerator that sometimes refuses to cool. And sometimes, we all buy things for the same reasons as mentioned above—to be used so that we have more time for ministry, to be used in our work and ministry, to be loaned to others, to give us a space to emotionally, spiritually, and physically recharge, to create a retreat and safe space for other people… Yet in Tanzania, I am learning the value of living simply. And though I don’t always succeed, the quest to live more simply is one worthy of undertaking.

In the Bible, Jesus gives just warning to the rich that we can put our trust in things instead of God. Physical wealth can lead to spiritual poverty. In 1 Timothy, we are warned that the love of money (and not just money but the things which it can buy) is the root of all kinds of evil. And yet, in the Bible we also see some examples of the “righteous rich.” In the story of Abraham, God told Abraham that he was blessed to be a blessing for others. The primary meaning of blessing in this context is spiritual blessing, but at the same time Abraham was by no means poor. His resources could be used to help others. The resources in and of themselves were not evil.[2] So how do we keep greed at bay and use our blessings to be a blessing to others? It’s not easy, especially for those of us who have grown up in a materialistic culture. For me, one helpful tool has been when I buy something to ask myself, “What need am I trying to meet in buying this?” “Can I meet that need with something simpler or with something I already have?” “What impact will this purchase have on others in my life and on my ministry?”

Like I said, I’m a work in progress. There have been many times that Eric and I have purposely bought the simpler item or not bought something because we decided that the alternative, while nice, was not necessary. And yet, we also recognize that we still have a lot of things that our Tanzanian friends don’t. We pray that through the financial blessings we have received, we can be a blessing to others.

[1] Jonathan J. Bonk, Missions and Money, (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books), 34-35.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

What God is Teaching Me: How To Let People In

One of the first pieces of advice we received from staff at Global Lutheran Outreach was “try not to be as independent as you are used to.” That advice has been repeated many times since then.

It’s true that independence is greatly valued in the United States. Our infrastructure illustrates this value.  I recently came across this quote from the book In Pursuit of Loneliness as I was reading Jonathan Bonk’s Missions and Money:

“We seek a private house, a private means of transportation, a private garden, a private laundry, self-service stores, and do-it-yourself skills of every kind. An enormous technology seems to have set itself the task of making it unnecessary for one human being ever to ask anything of another in the course of going about his daily business. Even with the family, Americans are unique in their feeling that each member should have a separate room, and even a separate telephone, television, and car, when economically possible. We seek more and more privacy, and feel more and more alienated and lonely when we get it. What accidental contacts we do have, furthermore, seem more intrusive, not only because they are unsought but because they are unconnected with a family pattern of interdependence” Slater, In Pursuit of Loneliness, 7.

I’ve always been an extrovert who enjoys getting to know people, but lately I have realized that this quote bears some truth in my life. I am accustomed to a lot of privacy and doing things for myself. Thus you can imagine what it was like when we first moved here and we had to ask for help with everything-- transportation, meals, medical care, washing clothes, shopping, and language. Moving to a new culture in some sense requires becoming a child again. Suddenly you are not the independent adult you thought you were. You are the dependent little kid who has to ask someone how to do… well, everything. As we learn and begin to figure out how to do these things for ourselves, it is tempting to say, “No thank you. I don’t need your help,” but we’ve realized that when we do, we deny ourselves the opportunity to build a relationship.

Hiring someone to help with time-intensive chores has also proven to be a significant shift in our lives and perspective. Over time, Omary has become like a member of our family, and yet having someone consistently in the house was and continues to be an adjustment. When someone is in your house for many hours a day and shares every meal with you, a great deal of vulnerability is required. It’s hard.

When Omary first started working for us, every time I would leave the house, I would lock the door to our bedroom. Somehow having someone in our private room seemed too personal. However, one day I asked him to wash all the windows. When I returned, I realized I had forgotten to lock the bedroom door, and there he was washing the windows. The boundary had been crossed. I don’t regret it. Omary has proven himself trustworthy on many, many occasions. However, letting a person who is very different from me into my life and personal spaces feels risky. What will he think of me? Of my various habits? Of the messy parts of my life?  I want to only show the good sides of myself to Tanzanians, but by letting someone into my home, I have removed the possibility of hiding my darker moods. Omary, more than any other Tanzanian, has seen both Eric and me at our best and at our worst. He can tell when I am angry or sad, when I am obsessing about something I shouldn’t be obsessing about, when I am sloppy, when my perfectionism takes over, when I am being a control-freak… He sees it. And he takes it in stride.

In the U.S., we also seemed to have more control over our social sphere. If I wanted to visit with someone, generally we would set up a get-together in a restaurant, coffee shop, or sometimes my home. If someone was invited into my home, it was generally at a prearranged time. I also generally knew how long the visit would last and could graciously excuse myself if I needed to continue on with my other activities of the day.  People didn’t tend to just stop in, and no one, outside of our immediate family, had daily access to our house, our own private sanctuary.

And yet, with a change in culture, we too must adapt. I wish I could say that I’m comfortable with friends just stopping in to say hello, but it still remains difficult for me to lose that sense of control, to shift gears from what I was doing to the relationship at hand. Tanzanians are known for their sense of hospitality. As a cultural norm, guests are considered a blessing—no matter whether they were expected or not. My parents got to see it first hand as twice during their visit, we stopped by a friend’s house to introduce them-- with no prior warning-- and our Tanzanian friends welcomed them warmly, with juice or soda and even a snack. Tanzanians also have the custom of accompanying the guest part of the way toward their home, as a sign of wanting to spend as much time with them as possible. We try, but I think many Tanzanians have realized that we are not as skilled at hospitality as they are. Yet they treat us with grace, knowing that we are learning and growing in this area. We continue to learn from the people who have let us into their homes and lives.

Monday, April 22, 2013

What God is Teaching Me: How To Go With The Flow and Love In The Moment

Very often here the days don’t go as planned. Today was case-in-point.

My plans for today included:

o   hymnal translation
o   errands around Mwadui
o   take our night guard, Peter, to pick up his wife and new baby at Kolandoto Hospital
o   get the car to the shop to have our wheel repaired after it was punctured yesterday
o   make some calls regarding an entrepreneurship seminar for villages around Maganzo
o   prepare for the class I am teaching on Friday
o   go to choir

My plans changed when:

Omary was sick, so we went to the doctor and waited 2.5 hours.

Eric called me to let me know he had misunderstood the time for picking up Peter, and we discussed a new timeline for the day.

The pharmacist was at tea, so we had to come back for the medicine.

I had to make an unexpected stop by the school, because at the hospital, the accountant asked me to drop off the bill for some other students.

I returned home with two kids because their parents, staff members at the school, wanted me to drop the kids off at home (very near ours).

The phone calls were impossible because Airtel, our phone network, was down.

When I took Peter to pick up his wife and baby, I discovered that they don’t live in Mwadui, but rather in a nearby village. Instead of the careful, tarmac-driving I was expecting to do with our spare tire, I ended up driving cross-country. I am not talking about “the roads were so bad, that it felt like no road.” I’m talking about literally driving over grass and avoiding rocks. Those who know me well know that I was not blessed with a natural propensity towards driving. This excursion was WAY out of my comfort zone.

About the time that I felt like I should let Eric know what was going on (if Airtel was working again), I discovered that I had accidentally left my phone at home. I had no way to communicate with my partner in life.

After making a pit-stop to pick up a friend of Peter’s family, we finally made it to Peter’s house. Knowing that I needed to get back, Peter decided to take a “short cut” to Mwadui’s back gate. I, however, was completely unaware of this plan. Peter speaks no English, and somehow the information got lost in the language barrier.

After more off-roading and minimal-roading, we arrived at the back gate. Even after we found the guy with the keys, we discovered that one of the locks was broken. The gate could not be opened.

We started driving the road around Mwadui, which was a treacherous, mud-covered mess. We got stuck, twice. The first time we managed to get out with just a little maneuvering, but the second time we were really and truly stuck. Naturally, it was the last big mud puddle before the front gate.

I found out that Peter had the number to Gasper, the school’s driver, so we asked him to come out and help. Twenty-five minutes later the car was out, but not without added damage. Something had been knocked loose and was dragging on the ground. Gasper fixed it enough to be able to drive it to the shop.

I would like to say that I was gracious and loving throughout this whole ordeal, but by the end of it, I struggled to keep back the frustrated tears. It was all I could do not to take my frustration out on those around me, and accept Peter’s thanks for my help.

I did get the final thing on my list accomplished, but only because Eric was able to borrow the school’s truck to drive me to choir. Our vehicle was still with Gasper at the shop. Some good news out of all this was that our tire repair and whatever other repair they made only cost us $6. Sometimes Tanzanian prices are a beautiful thing.


This is an extreme example, but the changing of plans is a common occurrence here in Tanzania. Changing of plans is also common in the U.S. I think the difference is that Tanzanians expect it and handle it beautifully. I do not. According the Myers-Briggs personality test, I am a J, which means that I like to have order and structure in life. I can handle a lot if I know what to expect, if I am “emotionally prepared” for it. However, there are times when you can’t prepare in advance. I continue to pray that as I acculturate, my “P side” (flexibility) will flourish, and I will be able to be more like my Tanzanian friends. I want to be emotionally present and loving at times when things simply don’t go as planned.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What God Is Teaching Me: Giving Thanks On The Hard Days As Well As The Good Days

You may have noticed on our Facebook posts that we will often share what we are thankful for that day. We do this for good reason. Before we left for Tanzanian, my mom handed me (Linda) a book that she had been reading with her small group called A Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are written by Ann Voskamp. I read it over the course of my first month. While I don’t think the book fully addressed the problem of pain or the process of grief, it did provide some deep beautiful insights. The premise of the book is that a friend challenged the author, Ann Voskamp, to write down 1000 of the gifts in her life. As she began to take note of and thank God for the little things, she experienced a remarkable change in her perception of the world and her perception of God. She chronicled her journey and revelations about God in this book.

In the book, Ann encourages the readers to recognize the gifts that God has put in our lives as exactly that, gifts. She observes that in many of Jesus’ miracles, before the miracle occurred, Jesus gave thanks. She believes that the “Eucharisto” (thanksgiving) is directly linked to the miraculous ways God works in the world. Alternatively, she observes that “non-eucharisto, ingratitude, was the fall— humanity’s discontent with all that God freely gives.” (p. 35). We can find great joy if we take the time to notice and give thanks for all the little things in life:  the color of the bubble floating up from the dishes, the full round moon, the freckles on a child’s cheeks, jam on toast, mail in the mailbox…

She also discovered in her journey that when giving thanks becomes a daily practice, we are more prepared for the hard times— the times when we wonder if we have made a terrible mistake, the times when it is difficult to believe that God could possibly use this for good, the times when God seems silent, and the times when it’s hard to believe that God loves us. The lists of ways God has visibly made His presence known can remind us of His presence when ugliness and pain invade our lives. We can come to God, not as a being who is required to give us all that we want, but as the Giver of all good gifts. God knows the whole picture, and we know only a part. This is not to say that we should never feel hurt, sadness, or anger at injustice in this world. Ann Voskamp encourages that we come to God with our raw emotions, honest and vulnerable. She makes this helpful distinction: “Lament is a cry of belief in a good God, a God who has His ear to our hearts, a God who transfigures the ugly into beauty. Complaint is the bitter howl of unbelief in any benevolent God in this moment, a distrust in the love-beat of the Father's heart” (p. 175).

So how does all of this intersect with my life? Life has not been easy since we arrived in Tanzania. If you have not heard the term “culture shock” before, it is defined as “the psychological disorientation that most people experience when living in a culture markedly different from one’s own.”[1] Another definition of culture shock is “the anxiety that results from losing all the familiar signs and symbols that help us understand a situation.”[2]  Some of the potential symptoms of culture shock are homesickness, loneliness, depression, anxiety, irritability, excessive sleeping, lethargy, withdrawal, compulsive eating or loss of appetite, and stereotyping of or hostility towards host nationals. Symptoms typically peak around the third or fourth month of being in a new culture, though they can reappear at any time. Since our first three months in Tanzania were spent in language school surrounded mostly by expatriates, our timeline was slightly altered. Around the time we left language school, we were starting to feel the effects of culture shock, and it has been a gradual incline since then.

Thankfully, Eric and I have not experienced all of these symptoms as we step away from the familiar, and like children, learn how to speak, live, and interact with people. Yet, culture shock is a present reality. As my body adjusts to a new setting, sometimes I am sick of being sick, whether from mouth sores, malaria, intestinal parasites, chest cold, or some other unknown malady. Sometimes I’ve wondered what else could possibly go wrong with or further delay fixing our house and making it our home. Sometimes I get weary of not being able to understand what people are saying to or about me and weary of not being able to get across what I want to say. Sometimes I feel very lonely when a room full of people laughs, and I don’t understand the joke. Sometime my plans go out the window due to unforeseen complications, and I feel like I am simply treading water. Sometimes I crave the familiar foods of home and the ability to cook dinner in less than an hour. Sometimes I desperately miss family and friends back in the United States and grieve that I am not there to share in their big life moments.

To be perfectly honest, there are days when if I didn’t know that culture shock is completely normal…if I didn’t know that there are people both locally and internationally that love us, care about us, and are rooting for us…if I didn’t know that this is where God wants us right now… then I would toss in the towel and book a flight back to the US. BUT, I do know all these things, and as we look back on our day each evening, even on the toughest days, we can see how God has blessed us. We are grateful for the people He has placed in our lives, for the beauty around us in both the simple and grand, for progress in our journey, for the opportunities God gives us to minister to others. We have found that giving thanks to God— on the days when we feel like it and on the days when we don’t—is one of our best weapons against the advances of culture shock. I recommend the book A Thousand Gifts, but more than that I recommend the act of writing down thanksgivings. It can reframe a whole day—perhaps even a whole life. 

[2] Kalvero Oberg, “Culture Shock: Adjustment to New Cultural Environments,” Practical Anthropology 7, no. 4  (1967): 177.

Monday, March 18, 2013

An American Educator in Tanzania

It’s about time that I (Eric) spend some time writing my own reflections of what has happened here in Tanzania. I’ve realized that I have not let myself think much about what has been happening, because I have been just focusing on moving forward. Life has been very busy here. It seems that every moment that we can, we catch our breath, only to dive back in. It has certainly been that way with my teaching so far. However, reflecting is something that all people should do on a regular basis, and I need to do it also.

The Students
Teaching here in Tanzania has many similarities to teaching in the United States. The students are the same age. They struggle with mathematics. There are strong students and weak students. Some students like to talk with me a lot, while others don’t say a word. Some students fall asleep in class. In other words, teenagers are teenagers no matter where you are on the globe.

One difference is that here the students don’t speak unless I prompt them for an answer. This has caused me to change my teaching style a little. I am used to having students state short answers or complete my sentences for me in class, and I balanced this with raising hands. However in Tanzania that generally does not happen. Typically, it is very clear who should be talking in class, because when they want to ask a question or state any answer any question that requires more than a single value, they are expected raise their hand, wait for the teacher to acknowledge them (similar to the US), and then stand up to ask or answer (which was the new for me). However, the students are started to adapt to my style and speak more in class, and I am adapting to theirs. Thus far, there has been almost no unruly behavior in class. :-)

I’ve noticed that the students in Tanzania also love being able to use technology. They will gladly forego their other school work to sit on the computer and learn how it works, play a game, click some buttons, etc. Some of my students are learning how computers function very quickly. Unfortunately, their curiosity has also led some of them to accidentally change key system files. This meant I had to spend a few hours re-installing the computer operating system and programs on a couple of the computers. However, I am thankful for their curiosity, because curiosity causes students to enjoy learning.

The Staff
I have found that the Tanzanian teachers are especially committed to educating their students.  Most are willing to come to school in the evenings or Saturdays to teach and tutor the students. At some schools Tanzanian teachers just use teaching as a stepping stone to get a government position. However, the teachers at our school see teaching as more than just a job. They know that educating children is extremely important to the improvement of this country, and they want their students to know this as well. Several of the teachers have also been extremely supportive of us personally, even spending their weekends helping us shop in Shinyanga. I am grateful that my work colleagues are also my friends.

I also have a lot of respect for Reverend Nzelu, my principal and next door neighbor. When a student is sick, he will take them to the hospital, night or day. He’s always on call and genuinely cares about his students. He recently withdrew his name from an election to be assistant bishop, because he felt that God has called him to this school. When a former student was struggling to find work to care for his ailing mother, Rev. Nzelu hired him to do work at their house. He is always willing to sit and talk with the teachers about what is going on and the problems they are facing. I have made the most of his wisdom on several occasions.

The Curriculum
Tanzania has its own national curriculum that I must follow when I teach. However, the Tanzanian curriculum is easy to understand and apply (from my perspective even easier than the U.S. curriculum). It follows a logical pattern stating exactly what the students should know, how the teachers can teach the material, and how much time for each topic to complete the curriculum in one year. I have truly liked the way the curriculum is organized and used.

Students take many different subjects every year – 11 different classes. This includes taking Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Mathematics each year while they are in Forms 1 and 2 (Freshmen and Sophomore years). These classes give the students a basic knowledge of all core subjects in the sciences, which I believe is extremely important. During their Form 3 and 4 years (Junior and Senior years) they are able to choose between the science classes and other classes such as Commercial Sciences. However, their choice depends on their grade from their national exams at the end of their Form 2 year. If they do not get high enough scores in mathematics and physics, they are not allowed to take physics as Form 3 students. I have only 24 students in Form 3 physics, compared to 80+ in Form 3 mathematics.

The Computers
The school computers are both a joy and a challenge. This school is one of the few in the country that has a computer lab. What a blessing it is for the students and faculty! However, the computers I am using are OLD. I have six computers from 1997 with 32 MB of RAM, 166 MHz Intel processors (the original Intel, and yes, that is megahertz, not gigahertz), 3 GB hard drives, and can only run Windows 98 operating system. I have five computers (I had dropped down to four since one computer’s power supply seemed to have failed two weeks ago, but now I’m back at 5 since that computer decided to start working again) that are from 2005 with 120 MB of RAM, Intel Celeron processors, 20 GB hard drives, and do manage to run Windows XP.

It took hours and hours of work to get them to function and to find programs that would work on those computers (and I am still trying!). We considered finding donors for new computers, but we wanted to see the level of interest in a computer class and make sure that it is sustainable beyond our time here. We would hate to buy new computers only to have them sit in a corner for 5+ years until someone with computer knowledge pulled them out again. This was the situation before we came.

In the meantime, the students and I have managed. Yet, even the kids who never had seen a computer before know that these computers are SLOW. I’ve decided that I don’t even want internet access at the school, until I can find an anti-virus program that will not slow the computers down even more. The students are learning how to type and use programs similar to Microsoft Office (we are using OpenOffice.org software, which is a free alternative to Microsoft Office, though not without its own problems). Linda reminds me constantly that even with the frustrations, my students are getting more computer time than almost all of the other students in Tanzania.

The grading scale is much different than what I am used to. Whereas students must get a 60% to pass in the U.S., here 21% is a passing grade. The Tanzanian grading scale (which I do not like, but I’m sure many of my former students would!) is 0-20% F, 21-40% D, 41-60% C, 61-80% B, and 81-100% A. As a result, students are not expected to know as much. Therefore, it’s difficult to encourage all of the students to learn more than 21% of the information.

Teaching Style
Mathematics is feared here among the students, and their national exams demonstrate this. The class that I am teaching had a class average of 16% on their national examination in mathematics last year. That’s right— 16%. So my challenge is that I am supposed to teach the national curriculum, but I also have to teach the foundational concepts that many students have not previously learned. It is quite a daunting task, but I keep reminding myself that any improvement is good. I cannot teach them everything, even if I want them to know it all. I can only pray that I reach more students than have been reached before.

Most teachers here use lecture and notes as the primary, if not only, teaching style. Most of them learned through lectures and notes during their education as well. Therefore, other methodologies, such as the use of group work, projects, hands-on laboratory activities, and research are unfamiliar concepts. Generally, the students are given the material and told to copy and memorize it. These notes are often extremely organized! But many are not learning the material, nor can they use it to problem-solve in math and science. I am beginning to use laboratory exercises in Physics, and have been giving group-work in mathematics. However, being able to understand a concept and apply it can only happen if you have a good foundation.

Language Barriers
Language barriers cause a problem here.  Secondary school teachers are required to teach in mostly English, which isn’t a problem for me, since my Kiswahili is quite limited. As expected, some students are better at English than others.  However, many students are not fluent enough in English, and I know at times some information is lost. If they are struggling with English, it makes it even harder for them to learn math and physics. Recently, I asked my students to write what they wanted me to do differently in my teaching. Several said, “Teach in Kiswahili.” Even if I could do this, I’m really not supposed to.  I do look up words in my Kiswahili dictionary occasionally and incorporate them into the lesson. The students get a big kick out of it when I try to speak in Kiswahili.

When the language barrier is combined with their fear of mathematics, it is easy for students to become overwhelmed and give up. I can understand this, because there are times when I really try to understand what people are saying in Kiswahili, and then there are times when my brain is tired, and I zone out. Because of the language struggles, many students do not do their homework or take notes consistently. Sometimes students cannot follow what I thought would be simple directions. Again, I can empathize, because sometimes I cannot follow what Tanzanians think are simple Kiswahili instructions. To make sure that the students are trying to keep up, I am now beginning a weekly check of their notes and homework every Friday morning.  

Class Size
So, one of the big questions I get often is, “How many students do you have in your class?” Well, the answer is… 80. Yes, my math class has 80 students. My computer classes also had about 80, but I had to split them into two classes. Thus, they only get half the time on the computers, but at least they can see a computer. Of course the numbers vary if students are sick, working with another teacher, skipping class, etc. The classes are so large that I have had an extremely difficult time learning their names, and still don’t know them as well as I would like to. I do not have the opportunity to spend one-on-one time with them, which is how I learned names in the US. Amazingly, even though the rooms are crowded, the students generally are very focused on what I am doing.

With such crowded rooms, cheating is especially problematic. I have made multiple versions of exams to avoid this, but it still happens. It is pretty easy to spot though. A couple of students have managed to have the right answers…for the wrong version. Of course, that means they generally don’t get many (if any) questions right, and we have a talk about it later. On their midterm tests, I made 5 different versions of the test to completely eliminate cheating. The ones I suspected of cheating previously did worse, but many of the students did better. Even though the class average remained the same, I consider this progress.

My biggest struggle at school is with the widespread use of corporal punishment. It has been discussed many times in staff meetings and in my own conversations with teachers. We have talked about the need to counsel the students and to find other means of discipline. However, as one teacher told me, it is just easier to use a stick to punish the students than to discipline them in other ways. Again, for most teachers, this is how they were taught, and they have had little to no experience with alternative forms of discipline.

One teacher even suggested that I would not be able to teach my students without using a stick in class. My response: “I take that as a challenge. If my students have learned by the end of the term, I win.”  I hope that the teachers will be able to see through my example that it is possible to teach students without using corporal punishment. One of the fall-outs of using corporal punishments, especially when it is for a genuine mistake, is that students are afraid to try. It also can damage the relationship between a student and teacher if it is overly used. If students are hit every time they make a mistake, you can imagine how many times they will be hit in a math class. Instead, I have modeled more positive discipline, such as encouragement through rewards, and have used other forms of punishment, such as standing up if they are sleeping in class, writing sentences when homework and notes are incomplete, and not being allowed to use the computers (which is a big one, since the students really love to use them).This is one of my biggest prayer requests – that God will use me as a light for change at the school.

Whew! This grew very long very fast. I suppose I have had a lot of things on my mind. I don’t know yet how the school year will continue and how it will change. Yet, I do know that God has put me here for a reason – to be humbled, to learn to be grateful and thankful in all circumstances, and to be His servant for His plan, not mine. 

Saturday, February 23, 2013

What God is Teaching Me: Trusting God With A Smaller Safety Net

We have now been in Tanzania for almost 6 months. One of the joys and challenges of living overseas is that it enables us to examine our character and culture through a new lens. Aspects of who we are, which may escape notice in our home setting, become very apparent in this new setting. For example, a fish may not realize that its environment consists of water, until it is no longer in water. God is definitely using this time to teach me valuable lessons. In my deaconess community, we use the term “growing edges,” places in our lives where there is room for growth. I might have discovered these growing edges even if I hadn’t left the U.S., but for me they have taken on a new intensity here in Tanzania. This post is only part one…more reflections to come:-)

“The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1. This is both my and Eric’s confirmation verse. It was sung at my deaconess consecration and at our wedding. These words are far easier said than lived out. In some ways, it was easier for me to say them in the United States, because I had a huge safety net.

In the United States, if I got sick, I went to a doctor I knew I could trust. I knew that doctor would have access to the latest advances in medical equipment. If something went wrong with my teeth, I had a dentist I could trust. If I had financial problems or computer problems, my family was right there with assistance. At the pharmacy, I knew I would get what was described on the label. For my car, I had a trusted mechanic and AAA. If I went to a restaurant, I could be reasonably sure that it had met certain health/sanitation standards. If there was a fire, the fire department was right around the corner. If I was in a car accident or was the victim of a crime, the police were a phone call away. Things are very different now.

Having lived in Papua New Guinea, I am somewhat accustomed to a reduced safety net. However, I have noticed one significant difference this time around: In Papua New Guinea, I lived with an American missionary family who had lived and thrived there for over 25 years and my father-figure in that family was a surgeon. While we didn’t have all modern medical equipment at our disposal, I knew I could ask him any question and he would find me an answer. He was personally invested in insuring that I would return to the U.S. in one piece. This gave me a measure of comfort.

In Tanzania, I find that whenever I get sick, I am terribly afraid. Since there is a lack of diagnostic tools, a lot of medical practice here seems to be throwing several different medicines at the problem and hoping that something works. Additionally, each medicine has its own side effects, so it then becomes a question of “What is symptom and what is side effect?” This is not a criticism of the Tanzanian doctors or nurses, because they are doing the best they can with the tools and information available. It is, however, an adjustment for me. I am learning to trust that while I may not have the safety net to which I am accustomed, my God has not changed. I am never outside of God’s reach.

I also realize that I am not devoid of a safety net. I have access to a significant amount of financial resources. I have cataclysmic insurance. There is a network of Lutherans across Tanzanian that would immediately come to our aid if ever we should need it. We have Tanzanian and ex-patriot friends who offer wonderful advice and encouragement. The fact is that most Tanzanians have a vastly smaller safety net than I do, and yet they are not paralyzed by fear. They live and trust God, perhaps with an even greater intensity thanks to their lack of safety nets.

Maybe this is what Jesus is addressing when he talks about the difficulty of the rich to put their faith in God. I find it ironic that we Americans put “In God We Trust” on our money. Is it God we trust, or our resources? I’m not saying we should abandon our safety nets as a society, and I think we should try to improve the quality of life for others. I agree with Bono that “where you live should not determine whether you live.” I am just wondering where we ultimately put our trust. How much is our worldview shaken when the safety nets disappear? I can only speak for myself, and these last few months have left me with the disconcerting realization that I am not as brave as I once thought I was. My confidence in God’s benevolent love is weak, but this reality was previously veiled by my habitual reliance on my safety net. Praise the Lord that He can still do mighty things with faith as small as a mustard seed. I am praying for growth.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Malaria 101

Ever since my battle with malaria, we’ve been getting many great questions from friends in the U.S.
For those who are curious, here is a brief introduction to malariaJ

Prevalence: Unfortunately, malaria is very prevalent here in Tanzania, which is why the Lutheran Malaria Initiative is very active here. Malaria is most dangerous for pregnant women, children under the age of 5, elderly and those with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV. Malaria causes about 60,000 deaths in Tanzania each year. About 80 percent of these deaths are children under five years old. When I got malaria, I joined the 14-18 million clinical malaria cases reported by Tanzanian public health services each year.[1]

Prevention: We sleep under a bed net every night and try to avoid mosquitoes by using bug spray and spraying our room periodically. Yet, despite our best efforts, sometimes they still get us. The malaria parasite is carried by the female anopheles mosquito, which is not longer found in the U.S. This type of mosquito was eradicated in the U.S. in 1949-1951, mainly through the use of DDT. It was only later that people began to realize the negative effect that DDT has on the environment, and its use is no longer recommended.  

Prophylaxis: Many people have asked “How did you get malaria if you were on prophylaxis?”

1)  Prophylaxis is not the same thing as a vaccine. Prophylaxis is basically putting a little bit of the treatment medicine in your system over time so that if you do get the parasite, your body is better able to fight it. It is not a guarantee that you will not get malaria. Prophylaxis can help a person avoid the most dangerous form of malaria called cerebral malaria, and it greatly reduces the chance of getting malaria. For example, the prophylaxis I was on, Malarone (atovaquone-proguanil hydrochloride), is typically 95-100% successful at keeping the malaria parasite from running rampant. In spite of my getting malaria while on prophylaxis, I would still highly recommend prophylaxis for those taking short-term trips. It’s not a guarantee, but it does help. Just remember to also take steps to avoid being bitten in the first place.

2)  There is a possibility that the prophylaxis I bought here in Tanzania might have been a different concentration than what I purchased in the U.S. There are three standard options for prophylaxis: atovaquone-proguanil hydrochloride (a.k.a. Malarone), doxycycline, and mefloquine (a.k.a. Larium). Eric is currently taking the Doxy, but it isn’t an option for me because it interferes with my other medications. I tried mefloquine when we went to Nigeria, but I had too many negative side effects.  That left me with Malarone. Unfortunately Malarone is terribly expensive in the United States. Because of the expense of Malarone, we only bought 3 months worth of it in the U.S., and then bought another month here in Tanzania. It is impossible for us to tell whether what we bought here was the same as what we bought in the U.S. 

Regardless, prophylaxis is not a long-term solution. We won't be able to stay on it forever, because it isn't good for the body in the long term. Our initial thought was to stay on it for our first 6 months, so that it could help our bodies start fighting the malaria as we are building up antibodies. Then we will determine how best to proceed.

Types of Malaria: There are five different kinds of malaria parasites-- P. falciparum, P. vivax, P. ovale, P. malariae, and P. knowlesi. Of those, the most common in Africa and unfortunately the most dangerous is the P. falciparum. Of all the African malaria, about 80% are P. falciparum, 10% are P. vivax, 8% are P. ovale, and 2% are P. malariase.

We aren't sure what type of malaria parasite I got. The good news is that if it was P. faciparum, then it probably isn't still living in my liver. However, if it was the P. vivax or P. ovale, it can live in the liver and pop out again at any time (i.e. I could have a malaria relapse). If it does seem that I have recurrent malaria, there is a medicine called primaquine that can be used to clear the malaria out of the liver. It's not something one wants to do unless necessary, because it is hard on the liver and has unpleasant side effects. However, it is effective at eliminating the malaria parasite from the liver.

Treatment: The symptoms of malaria are very similar to the flu—fever, headache, vomiting, diarrhea, aches, etc. The fever was our first sign that this was, in fact, malaria and not just some stomach bug. A classic feature of malaria is that the fevers and symptoms will often cycle. Therefore, someone with malaria may feel significantly better one day and then feel wretched again 24-48 hours later.

After I was diagnosed through a blood test, I began a three-day combination treatment of artemesinin and mefloquine. Unfortunately, I had some of the same negative side effects to the mefloquine treatment that I had when I was using mefloquine as a prophylaxis in Nigeria—anxiety, insomnia, depression, heart palpitations, etc. Next time (if there is a next time), we will try to get a combination treatment that does not use mefloquine.

After the three-day treatment, I was still becoming severely dehydrated, so we made a trip to the hospital for IV fluids and an antibiotic called ciprofloxicin (often used to treat traveler’s diarrhea). Since this was my first time to have malaria and I had no natural immunity, I required a second treatment course. Therefore, I followed up my first round with another five-day artemesinin treatment. It seems to have finally kicked the malariaJ

For more information about malaria, Wikipedia has a pretty extensive page on the subject (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malaria )

If you want to help keep the malaria death-toll down, especially among children, please go to the Lutheran Malaria Initiative website (www.lutheranmalaria.org). LMI is doing great work here in Tanzania and in other parts of Africa! For just $10, you can buy a bed net that will protect a family and reduce their chances for getting this terrible disease.

[1] http://pmi.gov/countries/profiles/tanzania.html