May 29, 2009

America

I really don't know how to answer the following questions "Is it weird to be back?"; "Are you having culture shock?" and the like. The truth is far too complex to put into words right now. On the one hand, no, it's not weird- I got to hang out with friends in the midwest for the first week and a half, SO good to see you all. And home is home, and I love the food and long evenings before the sun sets, and going running, and laughing harder than I've laughed in a long time with people like Angela and Danielle. And no I'm not having culture shock. I've lived in this country for 20 years of my life, and I knew what I was coming back to, and I've done the Africa-to-America transition before, and it also takes a few months for the real subtle differences to sink in and you start crying. So I'm not sad, I'm not crying, I'm moving forward and excited for what's ahead. But on the other hand- yeah. I'm trying to learn to "be a servant, not a prophet," wise words that Doug Smethurst said years ago that have stuck with me. I mean the grocery store is so FULL of stuff, and so is my room- why do I have so many clothes and just other random THINGS? And the amount of water and electricity I can consume in a day here, and the amount of money I can spend-- it baffles me. More stuff in life complicates life, and I don't just mean it increases my consumption. I mean, it distracts me from the simple things that filled my life in Tanzania and made it so full: prayer, people, food, reading, outdoors, sleep. Those things are enough. But I'm easily distracted here in Laurel, by computers, organizing the too many things I own, random magazines to look at...so it's weird. That's all to be expected, I'm not asking for sympathy. I think it's important to try to understand and reflect on my feelings now. I guess my biggest fear is that all these things that are weird to me now will become normal. I don't want that. For Esther, for Neema, for Antoh and Virginia and the kids in Mathare, for all my Maasai girls, for Mama Rita and Monika and Pauline and Zach and Simon Peter, for Christ, I don't want that.

May 10, 2009

this is what it means to say goodbye

been in Tanzania for a week since returning from kenya. seeing all my wonderful people, added an extra trip to iringa to visit liv hoversten and see a new place and the life of a peace corps volunteer- it's been wonderful.

thoughts on leaving, which is thursday: my inability to detach heart and mind and voice from this place. from the people. i wake up at 4 am with impossible yet probable dreams of a future life's work here. i'm so looking forward to beautiful faces and salads awaiting me in the U.S., but nothing else. especially not looking forward to driving in a car, using a computer every day, neat schedules, sleeping in a bed on my own, using lamplight instead of moonlight to brush my teeth. mostly, just thinking myself the luckiest girl in the world for the small surprises God has given me here each day- and for the frustrations and tears too. feeling i've accomplished nothing externally, everything internally, and that is all that matters. tumaini langu ni kurudi huku Tanzania na kukaa muda mrefu.

April 24, 2009

Mathare Valley, Kenya

The desperation of Mathare Valley, a 600,000 person slum, creeps on you slowly. I've been in Nairobi for 2 weeks now, but the first few times I visited the slum I wasn't utterly shocked by it's horrors the way I expected to be. Part of that is that I'm staying out in the burbs of Nairobi with Pastor and MRs. Karau who do work there in Mathare Valley. They live out here because they're raising 21 kids in 2 small foster homes- kids who are orphans and vulnerable children from Mathare. They want these kids, who are ages 3-9, to have love and community and security, so they brought them out here to 2 really nice homes full of comfort and love. It's amazing to see how well they're doing. And then slowly, for the reality of what they're coming from to become real. Like I said, the first day I visited the Mathare church all I could see from the roof of the church was an endless sea of rusted tin, and that's where the people live, that's mathare. And the first day I walked through Mathare I visited the house of a guy who has electricity and a decent house, and I noticed that there's clean water and toilets available these days, so that's good. But then slowly, the deeper brokenness creeps on me by knowing and talking to people here. The fact that yeah, a lot of people these days have food to eat and clean water...but there is no sense of opportunity/ So many of the youth fail to go on to secondary school and there's not a lot of employment here unless you're into selling spinach and making a dollar a day, so a ton of the youth turn to prostitution, theft, making ilegal liquor, gangs, drugs. And then I started to meet all the women living with HIV, and hear about kids who start having sex at age 8 or 10 because they live in only one room with their parents, one bed even, so they see that happening and just are curious...And then I become good friends with Anthony and Virginia, and hear about Anthony losing his parents at age 12 and somehow, only by the grace of God he tells me, continuing on to this day, where he volunteers at the church and studies to become a pastor, living somehow miraculously on no income...And Virginia has such a heart for this slum where she was raised, looking at those street kids and wanting to give them hope and opportunity. So I'm overwhelmed by the lack of hope and opportunity here. Overwhelmed by the orphans left by the river and the women beaten by their husbands and the crime that's so prevalent. And I've only seen a little. But more than that I'm overwhelmed by the love of the people here at Mathare Worship Center. It's not just a church, Pastor KArau and his wife and many others have started a clinic, a daycare, and a primary school, all of which are provided at minimal to no cost to community members. There are support groups for HIV AIDS women, and youth support group, and the Karaus' son and friends have started a small organization to help girls continue in school, and to bring together youth for solidarity and to make music and dance. There's a Saturday club for kids to be encouraged in life lessons and to get food. And most of the people who work in all the different ministries of the church are volunteers or paid a t\iny amount. Ever since I was in Tanzania I was secretly sad at the hearts of so many of my friends, feeling that their goals were to get out of poverty, to get rich, to get to America, to leave behind the simple or insecure lives they had. I was sad that they didn't want to stay and help. And now, here, these people in the poorest place of all that I've been, and not only poorest but most desperate--these Kenyans are awing me with their willingness to love, to live by faith, to serve their community, their desires to stay here and make it a better place. And I'm really humbled by all that they're doing.

April 5, 2009

thoughts

Just thinking about missionary life. Because there are a lot of missionaries and volunteers here in Arusha, and I've gotten to know and love quite a few, through a church we go to. I guess it just makes me think about what it means to leave your home and go serve in another country. I think it used to mean a lot of sacrifice in terms of communication with home, living conditions, etc. Today there is internet and really nice houses in third world cities and global trade that brings even Kellog's corn flakes to Tanzania. Also, American dollars go a long way in Tanzania, so if you're being supported from the U.S., you can get some pretty nice houses and cars here. I don't know how I feel about that. I certainly am not trying to criticize people, just thinking. Is it OK to have 2 SUVs and a huge house with a guard and a big screen TV and 2 computers, and eat American food all the time and take hot showers every day? Is sacrifice implicit in missions and service, or did it just used to be there by default? Does it separate the missionaries from the people they're living with and trying to serve? I've also been thinking about myself and how I'd want to live if I were here for a long time. Right now I'm living extremely simply, but if I were long term I'd want at least a modern kitchen so I didn't have to eat ugali every day. And probably electricity and running water just because it seems more sanitary and healthy than kerosene lamps and washing your dishes in standing water. And if I lived here a long time and had a family and kids then wouldn't I want them to be safe? So I might need a gate or a guard. And I don't really want a computer, but then it might be nice to keep in better contact with people I know and love, especially if I'd be here many years. So, I see the slippery slope that leads into having lots of THINGS and I'm scared of it. I think there's a huge value to living simply, and especially to have some kind of connection and solidarity- at least the public bus!- with Tanzanians, if I'm really here to meet and serve and love and receive from them. But I don't know where the line is between health and security and comfort and simplicity.

March 27, 2009

pray for rain

the clouds are beautiful at night, glorious these days- gold and pink on the edges when the sun is setting, then parting for some of the most spectacular views of the milky way and the stars once it's dark. but it doesn't rain. and we've heard from friends/relatives in villages that the corn has dried up and the goats are hungry and there's not much food. so please, pray for rain.

March 22, 2009

makes me sad

i've said it before, but it makes me sad, how Tanzanians don't believe in themselves. how the life of "Kule kwako" -- "Way over there where you're from" is the good life. and and theirs is the difficult life. i mean, maybe it's true. i hate the inequality, for sure, and if i didn't i wouldn't be here. but most of the people who are telling me this have enough to eat, and what's more they've got a lot of the joy of singing, and laughing late at night with their relatives and friends, and faith in a God who cares about them. i've certainly got way more opportunities and development. more variety and mobility. and i can eat fruit any time i want. but i've felt the joy of living without electicity and water, without lots of things and things and things. and it can be beautiful- not only short term, but i believe long term as well. so i continue to be convinced that it is the curse of being human to want what we don't have. and as long as we are always desiring development, an easier life, etc- we will never find joy. the people who can't find it here maybe couldn't find it in the U.S. with lots of money, either. i don't know. maybe my opinion will change when i spend 3 weeks in one of the worst slums in Nairobi (starting April 11). or maybe everyone in the world thinks their life is lacking, physically, emotionally, whatever. and the only source of worth and joy is in the kingdom of God and knowing Christ. that's what i believe. call me an evangelical, a fundamentalist, whatever. but it rings true. and i feel like crying when we are all 6 of us eating dinner together off the same plate and esther says: "this is bad behavior" and i say "Why!?" loving the community of all eating together, sharing. and she says: "white people don't do this, do they?"

March 18, 2009

the way we look at money

I don't know if American culture is known for being thrifty. i mean these days, I sort of think it's probably not because of all the credit crises and whatnot. But I know that most Americans at least understand the concept of saving-when you get a job, you put money in the bank and maybe work towards a car or something. Here, although people don't have much money and don't spend much comparatively, it's been easy to get frustrated with the way they sometimes seem to be irresponsible with their money. I mean, a constant phrase is, "If I get money I will..." Not, if I save it, or after a few years once it's built up a little. "If I get money." And when people have money, they seem to spend all they have. For example, you go to the shop and there's 200 shillings left in change, so you buy some biscuits and candy to bring home to the kids. Or if you have 5000 shillings you go eat roasted meat with your friends even if it's your last money until next month's pay. In a way, it's the same pressure to consme conspicuously that we have- you want to be able to play pool, to wear nice clothes, to be modern. But I think there's also more to it. I was talking to my host mom about saving habits, and she talked about how she used to have a bank account but relatives were always asking her for money. And I realized that giving to relatives and friends is in a way the way of saving here- Tanzania's certainly transitioning to capitalist economy but it's still got a bit of gift economy. You invest by helping out relatives today, maybe they'll help you tomorrow. Or, if you want to save, you don't save cash, you buy some livestock or build your house a little nicer. You start little business. Maybe these are wiser and more productive ways of saving than we have in the U.S.- I don't understand money sitting in a bank, in other people's macro loans and businesses. But I understand buying a couple goats or bailing out your sister on school fees for her kids. I still think Tanzanians spend unnecessarily and sometimes I want to scream at my host family, "WHY DID YOU BUY THAT!?" And I defintiely don't want to feed their habits. But for the most part it's on a much smaller scale that they consume, and I buy a lot more things I don't really need. And they help each other out a lot. So that's cool.