Saturday, September 28, 2013

God Moments

This week, I have been a part of a few conversations that relate to why are we here, in Dodoma, teaching.  Other conversations have been around what I like to call “God Moments.”  These are the moments when we know God is talking to us or sending us a sign of some sort.  I would like to share one of my God Moments that let me know that I am doing what I am meant to be doing.

In an earlier post, I wrote about knowing that YASC and my placement in Tanzania was right.  I spoke about filling a void that I had been feeling for a while.  I knew in April that I was doing the right thing, and in fact even earlier than that.  I would not have continued after discernment weekend in February if I didn’t know that this was right for me, right now.  In June, however any shadow of a doubt was erased.
If you remember, at the beginning of June, I spent a week in the community at Taize, France.  I spent the week on quiet retreat, sharing a bible study with others from around the world, and taking time to slow down and think about life and what my year to come would mean.  This trip is one that would be meaningful, especially to anyone from the US as it’s such a long trip, but I remember leaving and thinking that it was the kind of thing I never expected to do.  I had such a powerful experience there!  I left with a new appreciation of the closeness I can have with God and a spirit that comes from quiet spaces. 


The symbol of the Taize community is a cross in the shape of a dove.  It combines the dove (Holy Spirit and Peace) with the Christian cross.  While I was there, I bought a necklace with a charm of the Taize Cross.  I wanted to be able to have something to bring home with me to remind me of what I learned while I was there.  I have worn my cross every day since returning and even sleep with it on.  Sometimes I hold the cross when I need to remember to slow down and find a quiet space, no matter where I am.

When I returned to the States, I was home for less than a week before taking off for New York City for orientation.  These two weeks were amazing as well!  I was able to reconnect with friends I had met a few months earlier, and connect with some that I met for the first time.  My fellow YASCers embraced each other like old friends as we began preparing for our individual journeys. 

One day that I was most looking forward to was the day we spent at the Holy Cross Monastery in New York.  After just having spent a week with the brothers at Taize, I was interested to see how this experience would be different.  I really enjoyed my day there, although the experience was quite different than Taize.  At one point during the day, we had a little free time, so I decided to go with a small group of fellow YASCers to find and walk the labyrinth on the monastery grounds.  I have always had an interest in labyrinths and get a different experience with each one I visit.  This particular visit wasn’t about the journey through the twists and turns, or the journey back as most visits to a labyrinth are for me.  This one was about what I found in the middle.

Many labyrinths have a stone or altar of some sort in the very center.  The one at Holy Cross was a large rock.  This rock was covered with things people had left.  It reminded me of when I was younger and visited Sacagawea’s gravesite on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming.  We were told then that people bring things that are meaningful to them as gifts or offerings.  In the labyrinth, there were similar gifts.  Many people had left coins, but there were other things as well.  I remember looking down and seeing a Harley Davidson keychain and rings among the coins.  I had my camera with me and decided to take a few pictures of what I was seeing.

I stood up so that my shadow wasn’t crossing the stone and focused my camera.  I noticed something bright red on my camera screen and decided that the contrast would make a good focal point for a picture.  As the lens adjusted to the zoom, I discovered that the thing I was seeing was a bright red Taize cross, a slightly larger version of the one around my neck.

At first, I thought it was a neat coincidence.  I thought of the person who must have left it here.  Had he recently returned from a trip such as mine?  The cord was a bit more weathered than mine, so it had been here a while.  Where was this person now?  Then I zoomed in to get a closer look.

I discovered that the coin that was so close that it was nearly touching was one of the US state quarters, but not just any quarter.  It was a Wyoming quarter.  That in itself would have been amazing, but I have a connection with this quarter that goes beyond being a Wyomingite.  I was actually a part of the commissioning ceremony for the quarter when it was first minted in 2007. The University of Wyoming Western Thunder Marching Band was invited to play for the ceremony, and I had a front row seat. 

So, as I stood there, at a monastery in New York during YASC orientation, I was able to witness my past, present, and future meeting.  I was reminded that you can find a piece of home no matter where you are.  I was reminded that at even the busiest of times, you can find a spot of peace.  I was reminded that God really knows what He’s doing, and that I am on exactly the path which I am meant to be.

Sunday, September 22, 2013


Ninyi mliopo hapa mbele ya Mungu na mkutano huu, mko tayari kuthibitisha ninyi wenyewe ile ahadi na nadhiri iliyofanywa wakati wa ubatizo wenu?
You who are standing here in front of God and this congregation, are you ready to prove you own the promises and vows made at your baptism?
Tuko tayari.
We're ready.
This morning, I had the wonderful opportunity to witness Confirmation at the Anglican Cathedral in Dodoma.  More than 100 (by my best estimate) young Tanzanians were confirmed.  The cathedral was packed with families and friends all there to witness.  It was an experience unlike any I have had so far! (I apologize for the fuzzy pictures.  I was sitting in the back and my camera was confused.)
 This is the cathedral.  You can see the group of people outside the door.  They are standing there because there are no more seats inside the cathedral.  Every pew was packed and all the spare chairs they could find were occupied.  I was glad we went to the earlier English service so we could be sure to have a spot.  Don't worry about them being able to hear.  The speaker system inside the cathedral works very well and even those in the street opposite the parking lot can hear what is happening inside!  Wouldn't want ANYONE to miss anything!
Outside the Cathedral is this tower.  It is really neat with a giraffe pattern decorating the outside.  Apparently, it was un-patterned until a few months ago, when the Archbishop of Canterbury made a visit to Dodoma.  This is how Tanzania puts their best foot forward!  The main building is just to the left. 

Here is a picture (below) of the inside the church in the brief 30 seconds before it filled with Tanzanians.  We had a shorter morning prayer service for the English speakers this morning (about 45 minutes) to make sure there would be plenty of time for confirmation.  It was a nice and simple service and we even sang some songs I remember from church back home.  Don't ask me which ones now, because I couldn't tell you, but it was nice to not need to look at the words for a chance.
Confirmation was presided over by the bishop of Central Tanganyika, The Rt. Revd. Godfrey Mdimi Mhogolo.  The entire service was in Swahili, but even so, I didn't feel completely lost.  I may not have understood his 45 minute sermon or knew what I was actually saying, but I knew he was giving a sermon and could tell when I was praying.  I even picked up a couple of words.  I'm pretty sure that at some point, he was telling a story about a table that had cake and chapatti, and even picked up on some numbers on occasion. 

During the part of the service when the actual confirmation was taking place, I tried to keep track of the number of people who were confirmed.  I'm not exactly sure, but I have a general idea.  After the part of the service when they are asked about their faith and affirm their beliefs, they were called up, 3 rows at a time, to line up at the kneeler at the front where Bishop Mdimi would lay hands on them. They did this 4 times.  I estimated that about 10 young people could fit on a pew, which means... 120? 

I couldn't help but remember my own confirmation and note the differences.  First of all, I was in high school and most of these were younger.  I had a small service at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Meeteetse, Wyoming.  You could easily count those of us who were confirmed, though don't ask me how many there were.  Maybe 10?  I remember being excited and nervous at the same time.  I hated having attention focused on me and had to try  not to cringe every time someone wanted to take my picture.

And speaking of pictures, can you see all the people standing up in this one?  Parents and family members came equipped with cameras, tripods, and video cameras.  It reminded me of reporters covering a press conference, all vying for the best spot.  This picture was taken before the service, before they asked them to be sure to stand to the side and not across the front, which resulted in a group of tripods set up facing the pulpit and several men with cameras standing to the side at the front.  There are also a lot of places to sit in this picture.  I couldn't see any pew once it started.  People were sitting shoulder-to-shoulder, overlapping at times, and always with younger children on laps.
After each one had been blessed by the bishop, the choir sang one more song, and those of us who only understand English snuck out the back at the advice of the priest sitting next to us.  Apparently all that was left was listening to any visiting bishops speak, in Swahili, and we weren't ready to try to understand what they were saying.  We didn't feel too bad about it though.  We had already been there for almost 3 hours between the two services! 
This little guy likes to join us for Sunday services.  I've noticed him the last few weeks.  Here, he is sitting in front of one of the windows in the roof.  He makes me smile every Sunday!


Saturday, September 14, 2013

FAQ part 1

A couple of weeks ago, I asked some Facebook friends to make a list of questions they had for me.  I made a list of those questions, along with others I have been asked since I've made it to Tanzania.  Here are the first few questions from the list.  Stay tuned for the other question to appear sometime in the future.

·         How far to the nearest McDonalds?

There aren’t any fast food places in Dodoma, at least not like we’re used to in the US.  There are also no McDonald’s restaurants in all of Tanzania.  I would have to travel to South Africa for that.

·         Can you buy hamburgers?  Ketchup?

There are a few places where you can get hamburgers.  One little cafĂ© that we often visit after church on Sunday sells hamburgers, and most places have ketchup.  I can also buy prepackaged frozen patties at one of the supermarkets we visit every week.

·         What is shopping like?

Once a week, I catch a ride with a group of teachers who head to the market.  We get to use a school vehicle, which is really nice because a week’s worth of food is heavy to carry!  We start in the veggie market where I often buy bell peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, carrots, peas, garlic, and citrus fruits.  You can also get other things here, like pumpkins, eggplant, hot peppers, rice, flour, eggs, spices, papaya, cucumbers, etc.  There are also a few butcher shops where you can get fresh meat.

Once we are all finished at the market, we head to two “supermarkets” that are near each other.  They are not much like the supermarkets at home.  For the most part, stores here bring the term “small business” to a whole new meaning.  Both of the supermarkets we visit are smaller than my house in Cody and are each run by a family.  Here, we can get things that are pre-packaged such as cereal, cleaning supplies, peanut butter, margarine, etc.  This is also where I get my eggs and occasional cheese.

 We also visit our friends at the fruit stall here.  There is a group of men who speak pretty good English and aren’t afraid to tell us when our Swahili isn’t good.  They are also willing to barter with the group of wazungu that visit them and we know we are getting a fairer price here than we may get at other places.

·         Who else lives where you do?
I live on a compound with other teachers from the school.  There are 10 people on my compound, all associated with the school.  8 of us are teachers, one is a student, and one volunteers to help support reading. 

·         Is it really winter there?  How hot will it get?

Yes, it is winter here.  It’s been in the 80’s during the day here since I arrived.  From what I’ve heard and read myself, it will stay pretty much this warm all year.  It will get a little warmer (low 90’s at most) by December and will get rainy in the next couple of months.  I can’t wait to see things green up.  There is amazing color here already!

·         What has been the best thing so far?

Honestly, the best thing so far has been reading the messages from people on my blog and on Facebook.  It’s great to know that the things that I’m doing mean something to people all over the world.  Without you guys, I wouldn’t be here.

I also really enjoyed the visit we made a couple of weeks ago to the Children’s home.  The amount of love and energy those kids had!  I was glad that I got to be a part of it, even if it was only for that one night.

·         What has been the worst thing so far?

This is a hard question because nothing really stands out as being worthy of this title.  I guess it could possibly be the power outages that happen at random.  With the sun going down so early (we’re lucky if we have light at 7:15) it makes it REALLY dark in my house when the power goes.  It’s on those nights that I go to bed early!

·         What do you notice that are differences between Tanzania and home?

There are SO many!  I don’t even know where I would begin, and I could fill a page with all of them.  Everything from the money to the language to the season is different.

·         Are you feeling more settled into the rhythm of life?

It didn’t take me long to settle into the rhythm.  I started school a week after I arrived in Dodoma, so the rhythm stated almost right away. 

·         Will you have the chance to see some sights while you are there?

Yes!  As a matter of fact, one of the other teachers and I have begun planning to go on a safari during our first break in October.  There are a couple of options we like and are looking into what we can get for the best price.  I’m excited to get to see some animals!

I am also planning on traveling to South Africa over Christmas.  The plan is to meet with Keri, Emily, Maurice, and Paul, who are all serving YASC in the country.  Hopefully everything works out for all of us and we can reconnect in person for the holidays!

·         How many students do you have?

I am currently working with two classes, Standard 4 and Standard 6.  There are a total of 41 kids in the combined classes.  There may be changes in the future, so keep checking in over the next couple of months.  I don’t want to let on too much until I know for sure.

·         Where are you?

I am in Dodoma, Tanzania.  I work at Canon Andrea Mwaka School.  All of this is on the continent of Africa, in the Southern Hemisphere, on planet Earth. (I think)

·         What do I eat?

For breakfast today, I had a mixture of fried potatoes, eggs, and peppers.  It was yummy!  I actually had a PB$J for lunch (I know… exciting) and am having hamburgers with a few friends tonight.  Sounds a bit like home, huh?

Since I make some of my own food, I eat things that are similar to what I would eat at home.  I have made spaghetti, fajitas (complete with homemade tortillas,) and baked a chicken.  Once a week, I have a wonderful lady who comes to help with household things, and she cooks me a meal that I can eat on all week.  She has made me shepherd’s pie, chicken, and beef pastries.  She comes on Tuesdays, which quickly became my favorite day of the week!

I eat my breakfast (which usually consists of a scone) and lunch (soup and/or a main dish) at school.  There is a lady who sells us lunch for a small price.  She makes fantastic mince pies, Cornish pastries, chicken pies, pizza and quiche. 

When we’ve eaten out, I’ve had beef roasted over a bbq pit, chicken grilled whole, samosas, chips (what we would call French fries,) egg chop (basically a hard-boiled egg covered in meat and fried,) and real Italian pizza cooked in a wood-fire oven.  Now I’m getting hungry!

·         Do I feel welcomed?

Absolutely!  The community here has been amazing.  Even those who are not a part of the CAMS community have been welcoming.  One older lady at church has made a point to come up to shake my hand every Sunday, even though we go to a different service.  Strangers on the road often offer a “hujambo” or a “habari” as we pass.  Both are ways of saying “hello.”  Shop keepers often offer a “karibu” as we pass, thought that is more likely “please come shop here.”
·         How bad are the mosquitoes?

I have several bites on my legs, but it’s winter now so they aren’t as bad as they could be.  I sleep at night under a mosquito net and everyone carries around bug spray.  Right now, there are probably only about 5 mosquitoes in my house (that aren’t hiding) but more will show up as the sun goes down.  I can’t be out at night without protecting myself or I will be eaten alive!
Here are some picture.  Not all are new, but they should be ones that you haven't seen here!

Dinner I made one night.  YUMMY!!


The cats wanted to join me for dinner on Fajita night!

NOTHING is wasted here.  One of the teachers showed me how to make a coin purse out of an old Milk box.  This may be my new favorite thing to make!



Some staff members during our outings. 

Principal WJ..  I had to get a picture of him in this shirt!

Part of the compound I live on.  The top one is between a couple of the buildings and the bottom one is on the other side, on the way to the chickens and the clothes line.


Sunday, September 8, 2013

Is it really worth it?

Life is full of many ups and downs.   This week, I was reminded of several things that my fellow YASCers and I will learn to deal with in a new way during our year abroad.  It’s hard to be away from home when these things happen.  It can be even harder when you know that you can’t be there for quite a while afterwards.  Life seems to go on DESPITE the fact that we are away.  You could look at the things you miss and ask yourself “Is it really even worth it? 

This week, one of my YASC friends lost his grandfather.  It wasn’t a really unexpected loss, but that doesn’t make it any easier to be in a foreign country, away from family and friends, when this sort of thing happens.  Another YASCer was able to virtually witness her sister’s ultrasound which showed the new member of her family that will arrive in the near future.  Though she can be connected through the wonders of the internet, there is nothing quite like welcoming a new family member in person.

And speaking of new family members, my cousin got married this week!  I wish them both the best! I have not met his new wife (my cousin-in-law?) or even seen him for several years, but I was reminded that weddings were some of the things that other YASCers mentioned when we talked about what we would miss during a conversation at orientation in New York.  While weddings of friends and distant relatives may not be as hard to miss, weddings of close friends and relatives would be.

As humans, we long to relate to one another and this is especially the case on important days.  Births, weddings, and deaths are moments in life when we wish to share each other’s joys, sorrows, and memories.  When we miss out on these moments, it is easy to become discouraged.  We may say things like “I wish I had been there when my niece was born,” or “I can’t believe I missed their wedding.  It’s the most important day of their lives!”

There are little things we will miss out this year as well.  We have been talking about the holidays a lot lately around the school.  We are making our Christmas plans and the other Americans and I have been dreaming of Thanksgiving dinner, complete with turkey and mashed potatoes.  It will be hard to be away from family at that time of year.  For the first year that I can remember, I wasn’t around to help my mom set up her classroom for the new school year.  That is the thing that always made me feel like summer was really over.  My baby brother is using my car for the year.  I got my car used 8 years ago, and it has taken me on many adventures.  He gets to be the one to see it hit 100,000 miles, a momentous occasion for any car owner.  This year, I will miss snow, trick-or-treating, Easter egg hunts, the Super Bowl, fast food, the Winter Olympics, my dog, Black Friday sales, new movies, and all of my favorite television shows.  The list goes on and on.

But you know what?  I don’t care.

I could spend a year dwelling on the things I’m missing, but it wouldn’t do me any good.  It wouldn’t do anyone any good. 

Instead, I think about all the things that get to happen BECAUSE I am here.  Personally, I get the opportunity to live in another country and to experience life half-way around the world.  I get the chance to learn and use a second language, even if it isn’t exactly fluently, to communicate with others who don’t speak English.  I have met and get to work with fantastic people who come from all over the world: Tanzania, the US, Northern Ireland, Australia, Germany, New Zealand, and the UK.  I get to learn first-hand about a new culture.  I also get to experience a different type of worship on Sunday mornings and am surrounded by fellow Christians who freely share their spirit and enthusiasm.

I also get to share my experiences with the world.  One of my favorite features of Blogger is the map I can see that shows me where people have checked in from.  It is fun to see what new countries have joined me each week.  Some of the countries are expected.  The US, Canada, Tanzania, and the countries where other YASCers are seem to come up a lot.  Other places such as Indonesia, Russia, Pakistan, and Poland surprise me.  I am so grateful to each one of you for sharing with me.

I am also able to connect my kids with parts of the world they know little about.  My students in Tanzania have become pen pals with the students in Wyoming I have worked with for the past few years.  Together, they will learn about each other while practicing writing skills and correct English grammar. 

So, is it worth it?

Glad I don't get to miss this!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Bible Study and Street Kids

What a week!
I almost don’t know where to begin. 

First of all, I would like to thank the people who have made my first 5 weeks possible!  Without Betsy Sell, the Call family, The bishop John Smylie, Carrie LaFollette, Rich and Bobbie Hostetler, Zara Logan, Pat and Connie Keller, Julie King, Lolley Jolley, Ann Wafer, Casey Horton, Jack Fowler, Mary McFarlane, Sara Nyquest, and Shannon Tippit, my first month would not have happened!

On Tuesday, I had the wonderful experience of a shared meal and bible study at the bishop’s home.  Bishop G. Mdimi Mhogolo has been the bishop of the Diocese of Central Tanganyika since I was 3 years old, and plans to continue for about 2 more years.  He welcomed all of the missionaries into his home to update us on what has been going on around the diocese and for a bible study.  Afterwards, we shared a meal done true “pot luck” style. 

We took the school bus from the school as all of the staff could be considered missionaries and even those who don’t consider themselves a missionary are employed by the diocese.   The bus is a nice ride.  It’s smaller than any of the busses back home, but easily held the staff from the school.  Once the bus is filled, you would think that the only way anyone could get into the back of the bus was to crawl over the seats, but really there is an aisle that can be cleverly hidden by fold down seats to create more room. 

The ride to his house took around a half an hour.  Driving around Tanzania is an adventure in itself.  We went from the beautifully paved road that took us around and out of town, passed a weigh station, then over several groups of speed bumps.  The speed bumps come in groups of 3 and are quite fun when you are sitting in the back of the bus!  A short way down the road, we turned onto a dirt road that leads to the bishop’s house.  Road probably isn’t the correct word to use here.  The “road” was typical of most of the roads you find out of town (and even in town in the right places.”  It was a cleared strip of land that was barely wide enough for the bus in some spots.  We had to make sure the windows were closed to not only cut down on the dust coming in, but to avoid stray tree branches whipping our faces.  There were deep holes and dips that made it feel as though we were riding waves. 

The bishop’s house on a beautiful piece of land with an amazing view.  I didn’t bring my camera this time, but I promise that next time I will.  We witnessed an amazing purple-y sunset just out his front door, complete with a bright evening star shining over a baobab tree.  I look forward to going again in a couple of months.

Yesterday, a bunch of us from the school went to Shukurani Children’s Center to watch a performance by some of the children.  The children’s center is operated by an NGO called Kisidet (Kigwe Social Economic Development and Training) that works with poor families, orphans, and street children in Dodoma and the surrounding areas.  They focus on education and improving the lives of the children and their families.  The children we watched live at Shukurani and attend school nearby.  It was amazing!

The group was made up of children and youth and their teachers.  They did some amazing traditional dances, complete with singing, put on a couple of skits they designed to teach morals, and performed some AMAZING acrobatics!  There were about 20 people involved in the performances between the drummers, dances, acrobats, and actors.   The pictures below are from their performance.  They are some really talented kids!!
A couple of CAMS teachers pose with one of the younger boys while we wait for the performance to begin.  The children at Shukurani range in age from 3 years old to a girl who is moving on to a secondary school to study performing arts.
One of the instructors at the drums.
Their skills are amazing!  The window made it difficult to get a really good picture.
The rock this boy is sitting on is literally built into the wall and the floor.  It is amazing.  The rock was too big to dig up, so they built the room around it, and incorporated it into the design.  I would want a boulder in my home this way.  It was a great place to sit!
One of the acrobats.  Even in sports mode on my camera, it was hard to get a good shot.  They were moving SO fast!
Do you see that blur by the big brown door?  Yes, he is upside down.  Yes it is a concrete floor under him.  No, they did not use mats.  Yes, I'm pretty sure my heart stopped several times. 
One of those heart-stopping moments.
They really could go on the road and make a TON of money.  The amount of strength these boys have is amazing.  And they seem to be afraid of nothing!
Yes, there are 6 heads, but only 2 feet touching the ground.
Some of the actors. 
I love this picture!  One of the students drumming during one of the dances.  He was really talented as well!  He even played laying on the ground with the drum between his legs.  Can you see how fast his hands are moving here?
The children at Shukurani.
My camera was fascinating!  These two little girls posed for this picture, then spend several minutes enthralled by the pictures of their friends I showed them on my camera.  They were the first of a group that gathered outside my car door hoping for a glimpse.  I wanted to take them all home with me.
As always, I welcome questions.  I am also planning on creating a FAQ blog in the next week.  If there are things you have questions about, let me know and I'll include them!