Friday, November 29, 2013

Devotion Day 5 - Post-Meal Slump

After the turkey has been deboned, the pies have been eaten, games have been played, and pants have been let out, there is only one thing left to do.  Relax.

My mom used to say that when we were younger, the Thanksgiving meal was always a bit of a letdown.  Anyone who has watched Standard 1’s and 2’s eat lunch can imagine why.  My mom had spent hours preparing turkey, all the sides, dressing, and usually a couple of pie options for later.  She would direct traffic to make sure the table was cleaned off, set, and ready to go.  We would gather around, pray, share our meal, and us kids would be off playing 20 minutes later, if we lasted that long.  Then, when we were still too young to help, she would be left to clean up while my dad watched football.

I like to think, whether it’s true or not, that the letdown eased over time.  As we grew older and took more of the responsibilities on and began to share in the meal preparation, the time we spent together took on a larger importance and was more spread out over the day.  Then, when the meal was over and we took over clean-up duties, she could relax.  When everything was cleaned up, we could all relax.

As a matter of fact, the day after Thanksgiving is the only day, aside from Christmas day, that I think we spend most of in our pajamas.  Sleeping in in the morning and hanging out at home are the only priorities of the day.  We usually break out the Christmas music and start our decorating for the season.  Very rarely do we actually leave the house, and only if there is something of highest importance that we need to get.  After the whirlwind of activity the previous days have given us, it is nice to take a bit of a break. 

Indeed, the day after Thanksgiving becomes a sort of Sabbath for us.  I’m not talking the “do no work” sort of Sabbath that is observed in the Old Testament, although there is one Sabbath observance in the Old Testament that mirrors Thanksgiving well, actually.  In Exodus 16, Moses is in the desert with his people.  There is a verse that says “He said to them, “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’”  

With all the baking and boiling that goes on at Thanksgiving, there are always leftovers for the next day, which only helps make the Sabbath easier to keep.  Our Sabbath is not about doing no work as the Old Testament demands, but is more about spending time to slow down and simply be with God.  The day after Thanksgiving is a day as much about togetherness as Thanksgiving Day itself.  It is a day to slow down and remember the family God has given us and to begin to prepare for the Advent season.

Let’s pray.

Father, You command us to observe the day of rest, by keeping it holy. You made this commandment for our benefit that we might be renewed spiritually and physically. Help us to be careful to set this day apart as we honor You in, as we spend quality time with our family members, and as we take time to rest from our labor. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Devotion Day 4 - Giving Thanks

Well, the day has come!  Welcome to Thanksgiving Day.

I have already shared what takes place at my home during Thanksgiving, but none of what I’ve shared is the most important.  Each year before we eat, we take some time to reflect on what we are thankful for.  Family, friends, food on the table, and God above all are generally the top of the list.  This year, I would add some things.  I am thankful for YASC (my sending organization) for finding me the perfect placement.  I am thankful for the new friends I have made through YASC.  I am thankful for the family I have come to know at CAMS.  I am thankful for the opportunity to teach.  I am thankful for the work everyone at CAMS does. 

Take a minute to think about what you are thankful for.  Who wants to share?  Leave a comment below!

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 says “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

We are reminded to “give thanks in all circumstances.”  It may be easy to give thanks on a day set aside for just doing that, but it is not always easy.  It’s not easy to be thankful when you are frustrated with someone, suffer a disappointment, or are surrounded by tragedy.  It’s not easy to be thankful when someone has wronged you.  How can we possibly be thankful then?

I am not going to try to pretend to be an expert on this subject.  I can only tell you what I know as a person who always tries to see the bright side of things.  I know that even when you are having your worst day, you are still having a day.  I know that for everything someone does that frustrates you, there is at least one thing someone else does to make you happy.  God asks us to be thankful always.  It may seem like an impossible task, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. 

Let’s pray.

Thank You, God, for little things
that often come our way--
The things we take for granted
but don't mention when we pray--
The unexpected courtesy,
the thoughtful, kindly deed--
A hand reached out to help us
in the time of sudden need--
Oh, make us more aware, dear God,
of little daily graces
That come to us with "sweet surprise"
from never-dreamed-of places.

Helen Steiner Rice

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Devotion Day 3 - Preparing a meal

Cooking and baking are probably two of my favorite things to do, and I know that my love of this came from my mother.  I love when you take several ingredients that are totally unlike each other and combine them to make something totally new.  Flour, sugar, and butter could not be three more different ingredients.  Flour comes from a plant, grown in the ground, gone to seed, harvested, and ground to a powder.  Butter comes from the milk of an animal after the cream has been skimmed and shaken.  Sugar also comes from plants, but is a chemical that is processed out and left to crystallize in a process too complicated to describe here.  When you combine them, you get something delicious!  These three things, when mixed together in the correct proportions and heated at the right temperature for the right amount of time, create a delicious treat!  Shortbread!

At Thanksgiving, there is more cooking and baking than at any other time of the year around my house, except for maybe Christmas.  With a turkey to roast, potatoes to mash, pumpkin to turn into pie, among other treats, the oven is a busy thing, and so is the kitchen!  With the main part of the Thanksgiving celebration centered around a meal, everything has to be done right!  My mom always oversaw the Thanksgiving preparations, and I was always fascinated with what she did!  She has a knack for opening the cupboard, smelling a few spices to sprinkle on a turkey, popping it in the oven, and making it the most delicious thing ever!  There is nothing better than walking into the house on Thanksgiving and smelling the Turkey she has been roasting!

Along with the usual goodies, my mom almost always makes fresh bread.  This practice began when she and my Dad were first married.  They were very poor and living off the small salary my dad was earning while my mom finished her degree and often had to search the couch cushions for change to buy their next meal.  She learned early on in this time of their life that bread was something she could make for a very little amount of money.  Recently, my mom wrote an article for my home church newsletter about just this thing.  In it, she talks about how the process of making bread helped her as a working mother of 3.  She says:

When my children were young, I often baked my own bread.  I loved the aroma, the feel, the waiting, and everything about the process of baking bread.  It started with nothing but an empty bowl, and it became something amazing by adding a living culture (yeast), warmth (water/milk), and food (flour/honey).  Often, as a busy working mother of three active children, I felt like an empty bowl.  Here was a chance to make something out of my emptiness.

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me shall not hunger.”  We, too, can be transformed from an empty bowl by the living culture of Christ himself who lives within each of us, the warmth of God’s love and the relationships we build with others, and food from God’s holy word.

Let’s Pray.

O God, you offer us a living culture, warmth for our bodies and souls, and food to fuel us when we are physically and spiritually hungry.  You have given us the recipe to lead a happy and fulfilling life.  When we feel our bowls are empty, help us to remember the way to fill them up again.  When we are fulfilled we are more ready to serve you and are more able to fill up the bowls of others.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Devotion Day 2


One of the things many Americans think of when they think of Thanksgiving Day is football.  I’m not talking the kind with a round ball and colored cards, I’m talking about the American version.  My dad is a HUGE football fan.  He can’t think of anything better than watching the big game after our thanksgiving meal.  In fact, my mom usually has to plan the timing of the meal around the game.  For several hours we aren’t allowed to walk past the TV or interrupt the game in any way.  We would be allowed to watch if we cheered for the “right” team and didn’t ask him too many questions about what was going on.  My friends who had larger families would stage their own backyard football games. 

After we shared our Thanksgiving meal, we would often break out the board and card games.  One of our favorite ones to play is a card game called “Hand and Foot” that involves a HUGE pile of cards (one deck for every player, plus one more.)  We also have other family favorites.  The “Racecar Game” is a game my mom played with some of her friends, then created her own.  Commercial board games fill our living room closet so that you have to very carefully remove the ones you want or suffer an avalanche of game boards and game pieces.  It is inevitable that the one you want is perched somewhere precariously or supporting another yet precarious box. 

After choosing the game we want to play, we gather around the kitchen table, pulling chairs and foot stools from around the house.  The games are a fantastic way to end a day, and we usually play until it is way past dark outside.  The laughter and conversations that surround game times make some of my favorite holiday memories.  I remember one thanksgiving in particular when the laughter got so rambunctious that my grandma lost her teeth in her drink!  We were sitting around the table laughing and suddenly my grandmother had her hand over her mouth and was rushing off to the bathroom with her teeth in her water glass.  This, of course lead to more laughter… and we will never let her forget it. 

There is, of course, another side to game playing.  Some games in our house just aren’t played anymore, or can’t be played with certain people.  The competitive edge that leads to deep disappointment for the loser of a game prevents it.  We always try to remain upbeat and positive, but sometimes it can’t be helped.  1 Peter 3:10-11 tells us “If you want to enjoy life and see many happy days, keep your tongue from speaking evil and your lips from telling lies.  Turn away from evil and do good.  Search for peace, and work to maintain it…”

It’s not easy, when you’re caught up in the heat of the moment, to remember to “search for peace,” but failing to do so can have serious consequences.  It is much easier to say what’s on your mind, and think about it later.  This is especially true with my Dad and many others who are watching their football games or playing in the backyard.  It is easy to get caught up in friendly banter, but without “searching for peace,” friendly banter can turn into something else entirely. 

Let’s pray.

O God, in the course of this busy life, give us times of refreshment and peace; and grant that we may so use our leisure to rebuild our bodies and renew our minds, that our spirits may be opened to the goodness of your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday, November 25, 2013

My turn for devotions... Day 1

Every morning, the CAMS staff gathers for a devotion before the school day starts.  Each week, one of the staff members signs up to lead.  Last term, I decided to sit and watch to see what it was all about.  This term, I decided to sign up for a week.  At the beginning of the term, I didn't realize that the week I signed up for was the week of Thanksgiving at home.  When I realized this, I decided that my devotion in the morning would center around the good things that the holiday brings.  Then, I decided to share them with all of you! 

So, here's today's devotion...

Right now all over the USA, people are travelling, or planning on travelling.  They are preparing themselves to visit with families and friends.  Those who aren’t travelling are preparing their homes for company.  In my house growing up, this meant a thorough cleaning of every room in the house, even the ones my grandparents wouldn’t see.  I always thought it was silly to do extra cleaning just because our family was coming.  I mean, aren’t they family.  Are they really coming to see how well we keep our house?  Who were we trying to impress? 
On top of cleaning the entire house, we would often have to move out of our bedrooms, the kids at least.  I remember many times when I would have to move downstairs onto a cot in my brother’s room so my grandpa could sleep in my bed.  My mom always tried to make it fun for me.  I remember several visits where I would open the “Heidi Hotel” and leave mints on the pillow of the freshly made bed.  Even with every room full of my immediate family, there was always enough room for more, until it seemed like we would have to sit on top of each other in my parent’s small house or spill outside onto the front lawn, which didn’t seem as small a few days earlier.
My mom also has a tradition of going shopping for all the food we could possibly need while our visitors are home, before they get there.  This is a part of preparing for their arrival.  Being a good host means having everything you need to make their stay enjoyable, including providing their meals.  It would be horrible if someone went hungry on your watch!
In thinking about preparing our homes for family at thanksgiving, I can’t help but remember a song we used to sing on youth retreats.  It was one of my favorites and I still occasionally find it stuck in my head.  The song came from a passage in the book of John.  In it, we find that just like in my parent’s house, there is always enough room and always enough food.  In The Message, a modern adaptation of the bible, this passage reads “There is plenty of room for you in my Father’s home.  If that weren’t so, would I have told you that I’m on my way to get a room ready for you?”
Now, I’m not a singer, but I will be happy to read the song to you:
Verse 1:

I don't know where you lay your head

Or where you call your home

I don't know where you eat your meals

Or where you talk on the phone

I don't know if you got a cook

A butler or a maid

I don't know if you got a yard

With a hammock in the shade

Verse 2:

I don't know if you've got some shelter

Say a place to hide

I don't know if you live with friends

In whom you can confide

I don't know if you've got a family

Say a mom and dad

I don't know if you've loved at all

But I bet you wish you had. 


Come and go with me to my Father's house

Come and go with me to my Father's house

It's a big big house with lots and lots of rooms

A big big table with lots and lots of food

It's a big big yard where we can play football

A big big house, it's my Father's house.

Verse 3:

All I know is a big ol' house

With rooms for everyone

All I know is a-lots of land

Where we can play and run

All I know is that you need love

And I've got a family

All I know is you're all alone

So why not come with me?

For those of you who want to hear a version of this song, here is a YouTube video.  Enjoy!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Tanzanian Wedding

Well, it’s Saturday and it was REALLY nice to sleep in this morning!  I had two late nights and a busy week!  Want to know why?  Ok!  I’ll tell you!

A few months ago, shortly after I made it to Tanzania, I got a wedding invitation from Christina, one of the women who teaches at CAMS.  At the time, I barely knew her but was excited to get to experience a Tanzanian wedding.  In order to help pay for the wedding, guests are asked to make a contribution.  Maria, another teacher, and I went in together and we paid our way.  Then, the preparations began. 

In the beginning, Christina wasn’t planning on having all the parts of a Tanzanian wedding.  Generally, there are four parts to a wedding celebration.  There is a kitchen party, a send-off, the wedding, and a reception.  Christina began planning for only the wedding and reception, but ended up having a kitchen party as well.  This happened last weekend.

Christina and her family.

The closest thing to a kitchen party in the US is a bridal shower, and it is really similar with a couple of differences.  The party was planned by another teacher at the school who is really close to Christina. The guests contributed toward food and a gift.  We also had the option to buy a kanga Christina picked out.  Several people had dresses made from it, wore pieces of it, or dressed in colors to match. 


We gathered for the kitchen party at the other compound.  The entire compound emptied their houses of chairs and added to the tables.  They also helped out with food storage until things were served.  There was quite the spread of food!  We had a chapatti bar.  A chapatti is flat bread that is cooked in oil, kind of like a thick tortilla.  There were several toppings, including beans, rice, and ground beef.  There were vegetable and fruit salads as sides.  The spread included a beautifully decorated cake, wrapped in tulle and ribbons in true Tanzanian fashion. 
The tulle cracks me up.  It's how you wrap a cake!  It's great for keeping bugs off, that's for sure!

After enjoying the meal, there were speeches given by elders who know the bride.  They gave marriage advice on everything from compromising with her new husband, buying soap, keeping a clean house, personal hygiene, and being each other’s best friend.  Some of the advice was VERY personal and was verging on the side of uncomfortable, but it never crossed that line.  I was told later that at some non-Christian kitchen parties, the advice can get MUCH more personal.


After they were done, it was time for cake and gifts.  Christina received several things that will be helpful in a new home.  We all had a great time and left feeling very full and excited for the wedding on Friday.


As friends and family spent the week preparing for the wedding, I spent the week with yet another classroom change.  I said goodbye to my Standard 1’s and began with Standard 2.  Other CAMS teachers continued with testing and preparing to write end of term reports, which are due in a couple of weeks.  They also dropped fabric off at the fundi so that they could have a new dress for the wedding.  In a style that would make any procrastinator proud, I waited WAY too long to get my fabric in, so I ended up making my dress myself, staying up WAY past my bedtime to get it done the night before.   It wasn’t anything fancy, but it wasn’t bad considering I was using a borrowed machine, did not measure with anything that could have seen as conventional, and had absolutely no pattern to follow. 

The wedding was beautiful!  Being in the Anglican Cathedral, it was a familiar service.  It was done both in English and Swahili so that everyone there could understand, which was very nice.  The only part of the service that was new to me was that toward the beginning, they washed each other’s hands.  This was to symbolize that they were washing away the single lives they had been living so that they could make a stronger bond as a couple.  I really liked this symbolism!


The music team were all CAMS teachers!

After the wedding, guests left the church and greeted the bride and groom, along with the maid of honor and best man outside the church.  This began the first step on the wedding party’s photo tour of Dodoma.  Traditionally, newlyweds travel around Dodoma stopping in various locations for photo opportunities.  We chose not to follow them entirely, but instead stopped with them at the New Dodoma Hotel for a quick dinner, and happened to be there when they arrived!  We snapped a few pictures between ordering our meal and its arrival!





After we finished dinner, we went to the “African Dreams” hotel where the reception was planned.  It was great!  Our invitation said that it would start at 12:30, which is Tanzanian time for 6:30.  Tanzanian time starts when the sun rises, so it is 6 hours behind regular time.  We didn’t leave the Dodoma Hotel until after 7:30 and were still there about a half an hour before the bride, groom, wedding parties, and their families.  Gotta love Tanzania!! 

Extravagance fit for a wedding!

Dancing in...

...the electric slide is a global dance it turns out!

Christina and her family.  Her mom is the cute short woman with the great hat!  Both her and Alex's parents are there!

The reception was completely in Swahili, but I was able to at least follow what was happening, even if I didn’t understand what was being said.  There were speeches by family members and friends.  Each of the two families had a chance to dance to the music of their tribe, which was great fun.  My favorite part was when people presented their gifts. 


The weddings I’ve been to in the states generally have a table set up for people to place their wrapped gifts on display.  Sometimes they open them at the wedding, but not always.  This is not the case in Tanzania!  The Groom’s family gave their gifts from their table and presented each of them in a sort of formal way.  Everyone else presented their gifts to the bride and groom, beginning with family.  Pots, pans, plates, bed sheets, fabric, cards, and money danced around the room and to a table in the front, where two of the younger bride’s maids collected them and put them out of sight.  Then, each person shook hands with the maid of honor, best man, bride, and groom.  After friends and family presented general gifts, groups of people were invited up one at a time to present their’s.  I was confused when two men went to the front and untangled a length of rope.  The MC asked them, in Swahili, what they had given and they let the crowd know that they would be giving a goat, which could be tied up with the rope. 

The staff at CAMS presented our gifts as a group as well.  We stood out as the only non-swahili speakers in the room mixed with a few Tanzanians.  We each danced our gifts around the room and up to the front in a line, and were asked to stand behind the bride and groom for a photo op. 

The cake reminded me of Hogwarts.  Each cake was presented to a different group.  There was one for each family and one was given to the teachers and staff at CAMS.  The main cake was given to the people serving food to cut up and serve.  We each got one bite.
Yup, they even feed each other cake here, though this seems to be a tradition with any celebratory cake.  Remember my post about the birthday cake at the CAMS movie night?
Even the maid of honor and best man feed each other cake!

After gifts, there was cake, more people talking in Swahili, food, and dancing.  It was a LONG night.  I didn’t get home until after midnight!  I am glad that I got to witness the wedding.  As I found out quickly after receiving the invitation, Christina is a great person and I couldn’t be happier for her and Alex.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Standard 1

I realized today that it’s been a few weeks since I mentioned school.  I would hate to have you think that I’m not there much, as that is my real reason for moving to Tanzania for a year!  Never fear, I am still working at CAMS!

Standard 2 during an exciting popsicle-making lesson!
In fact, I haven’t mentioned the other change that has gone on.  In my last post about school, I talked about the first week in the second term, in which I was beginning a smooth transition into the Standard 2 classroom.  Well, little did I know, but that transition was not going to be so smooth.  Sarah Robrecht, who is the regular Standard 1 teacher, had to fly home expectantly as her mother was having some health problems.  So, what do you do when one class has 2 teachers and another one has none?  You send one of those teachers into the other class!

I was more than happy to help out and moved myself into the Standard 1 class.  For those of you who don’t speak the British education system lingo, this is Kindergarten.  Man, those kids are CUTE!!  My first couple of days were spent figuring out their schedule and where things were.  Sarah was fantastic at organizing things, and even planned reading groups for a month!  It was really easy for me to step in and take over while she has been away.   

On top of getting a temporary new teacher, the Standard 1 class also began swimming on my second day in their classroom.  Every student in the primary level at CAMS starts swimming during the second term, and most of them look forward to it.  For Standard 1, it was even more exciting because it is their first year doing so.  In fact, one of them was so excited that she rang the recess bell 7 minutes before second break ended, knowing that when break was over we would load the bus and head to the hotel down the street to the pool.  We had to have a discussion later about who is not supposed to ring the bell. (This is any of them!)

Can't wait to jump in!

Swim, little fishies, swim!

Listening to directions, and freezing on the poolside!

Swimming at the pool has been great fun!  They are so excited to get in the water!  It is well planned that the swimming takes place at this time of year because it’s really hot outside.  Every day the past week has gotten into the upper 80’s or low 90’s, and no one wants to be at school when it’s that warm.  At home, the schools are all air conditioned, but that is not the case here!  Windows are open in the morning and, with the exception of fans that barely move the air, that is all the cooling we have for the entire day. 


Other than swimming, we have been learning about Jonah and the Whale, fairy tales, friendship stories, subtracting up to 10, and sorting objects in more than one way.  Life in Standard 1 is busy!  To add to the craziness, we began testing for the mid-year reports this week.  It is a LOT of work, mostly for the teachers, but also for the kids.  In Standard 1, they are tested on 2 sets of sight words (some of them, anyway) as well as given a reading test to find their level.  They have to spell and read both lists by the time they exit Standard 2, so they are checked to begin with at Standard 1.  Students are also tested on their math abilities, written work, and handwriting.  Some of them are also assessed on their letter names and sounds, but only for those who need that level. It’s a lot for such little guys, but is important for us to be able to see where they are.  This information helps teachers to plan and more effectively teach.


On top of the mountains of testing this week, Standard was also in charge of today’s primary assembly.  Assembly is done each week, with each class taking one week of each term.  Sarah had signed up for this week before she knew she was going to be out of town, so I got to take it for her.  Weekly assemblies are something I had not been a part of until I came to Tanzania.  In my schools growing up, assemblies were occasional things, for only special occasions.  I had no idea at first what would be involved if there was one EVERY week. 


I soon found out that assemblies are a time for House Points (Yes, I think of Harry Potter every time I hear it.  Harry Potter has helped me a lot in my time at CAMS, what with House Points, Preficts, Head Boy and Girl, and exams for the senior students.  Thank you, Mrs. Rowling for this!) to be awarded and individual students to be called out for outstanding work during the week.  They are also a chance for the students to show off a little of what they had been doing during the week.  For the kids, it’s exciting, but it can be a lot of work for the teachers.

The principal and head of primary hand out award certificates.

There is a little more pressure for the teachers of the youngest grades because these are the ones with the highest parent attendance.  Parents are invited to any assembly, but as you find with kindergarten parents in the states, parents tend to come to school things for their smaller and younger children far more often than for the older ones.  Today was no exception.  There was almost standing room only for the parents in the back of the library, where the assemblies are held.

Singing "Where is Jonah"

The 3 bears discovered Goldilocks sleeping in Baby Bear's bed!

Our assembly included a few songs the entire student body joined us on, as it usual, as well as the awarding of House Points and individual acknowledgements.  We also performed a little skit about Goldilocks and the 3 Bears and sang a song about Jonah.  Toward the end, we included the entire room in the singing and dancing to a version of “Singing in the Rain” that leaves the singers looking quite silly at the end!  I used it earlier in the week as a “wake up your brain” song, and they loved it so much we traded one of our other songs for it instead.  Overall, I was very pleased with their performances!  They spoke really loudly (louder than some of my Standard 4’s last term) and clearly.  They knew their parts and I only had to help 2 of them remember their lines during the whole thing! 

Praying at the end of Assembly

I was so proud of them and the work they have been putting in to their testing and the assembly that I decided to give them a break in their lessons later and we watched a movie in the staff lounge.  Don’t worry… it went along with our academics as well.   We watched “The Fox and the Hound,” which went perfectly with our friendship unit (we had talked about animals that can and can’t be friends.)  It was a great ending to a great week!
They were REALLY into this movie! 

Next week, I’m moving back into Standard 2.  I’ll stay with my Standard 1 kids for Monday and Tuesday, and will take over Standard 2 on Wednesday.  I’ll miss these guys, but they’ll only be next door.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Celebrating a big day with "family"

A funny thing happens when you move by yourself far away from the only life you’ve ever known.  You immediately feel something different.  I remember sitting by myself on a bed surrounded by pale yellow mosquito netting in the semi-darkness of the hotel room my first night in Tanzania.  If I had looked out the 4th floor window into the darkness, I would have seen people below, spending time together at the end of a day.  I could hear voices from below, but their world was not yet mine.  No, I was alone.
Dar es Salaam through the humidity on my first night in Tanzania 

With feelings that I’m positive were magnified by extreme fatigue and nerves, I felt the most alone I have ever felt.  Here I was, in a new country, surrounded by people I couldn’t understand and who couldn’t understand me.  At this point, I had only met two people who could speak English: my taxi driver and the man at immigration, who asked me with a tired and stern look on my face what I was planning on doing in Tanzania, took my money and pointed me on.  It was hard that first night to not think about the people I was going to be without for the next 12 months.  For the first time in my life, I knew what true loneliness felt like.

As is usually the case in times like this, things looked much better with a couple of hours of sleep.  As soon as I stepped off the bus in Dodoma, all feelings of solitude left.  Now, 3 ½ months later, it’s hard to remember what it felt like that night.  The strange feeling I felt that first night has been replaced by an equally strange one: the people who were strangers even 4 months ago have now become family.

Nothing can ever replace the friends and family I have at home, who have been my family for years.  My mom will always be my mom and my dad will always be my dad.  Rather than replacing my family at home, it has grown.  Nothing could possibly show this as much as the surprise we planned for one of the CAMS teachers for his 60th birthday.

When the staff at CAMS found out that Peter Swaffild would be celebrating his 60th birthday in Tanzania without his family around, we decided to do something about it, without his knowing.  Fueled mostly by Sarah Vaughan, another teacher, we threw him a surprise party.  Sarah collected video clips of staff members wishing Peter a happy birthday, and sent away to his children, who are living as far from each other as they can, to add their messages.  She edited together a video of all of us and planned a part to show it.

On Friday night, some of the men from school went out for drinks after school, then stopped by a friend’s house to “pick something up.”  What Peter didn’t know was that we were sitting around back with meat on the grill, music playing, and salads made waiting for him to walk around the corner.  The look on his face was priceless!

You see, we all have felt, at some time, a little alone.  We all miss someone and it is especially hard to be away from them on important days.  We were more than happy to celebrate with Peter as a family.  Not as a replacement for his family, but as an extension… and it was great to have his kids there as well, at least as a projection on a wall.  I am forever blessed to be a part of this family.
No, the balloons weren't directly over the flames, but it's cool that they look that way!
Yup, I think he was surprised!
Party planner and guest of honor share a hug!
Blurred by the dark and a slow shutter speed, but you can tell he's happy!
Opening gifts with friends.
A toast!
Enjoy your meal!
I think he looks happy!  On the left side of the picture is Brian Orlay.  He's a YASCer from last year's class who got a late start in coming to Tanzania and is going home this week.  You can check out his blog here.
One of Peter's daughters.  He was really surprised to see her and...
...more so to see his son.  It was really great to have their videos to add to ours!
The cake!
Yup, still happy!
What's a party without a few songs?
How do you open glass pop bottles without an opener?  Use another bottle (with multiple levels of success.) :)
It was so great to share such an awesome day this this man.  He is really a fantastic person and I was so happy to be able to share his 60th with him.