Friday, December 27, 2013

"I spent Christmas down in Africa..."

Merry Christmas from Tanzania! 

After school was out last week, Maria and I set off to Arusha to spend some time with her father.  We were joined on our trip by Rebecca and Nils, the brother and friend of Anja, another CAMS teacher.  They were planning on doing a safari out of Arusha so we decided to travel together.  Our trip turned into somewhat of an adventure.

Before we even started, Maria's bag broke.  This is Tanzania, though, so it wasn't a problem at all!
 
The bus tickets we had purchased a couple of days prior were for a seat on a bus that was supposed to leave Dodoma at 6:30 Sunday morning.  We arrived at the bus office at 6:00 and were informed that the bus was getting some work done and would be leaving at 8:00 instead.  After waiting around for what seemed like forever, we were informed that we needed to move to where the bus was going to pick us up.  We followed the group of passengers and the employees to a dirt lot a few yards from the office, and watched as the group gathered around the bus company employees, then as a couple of policemen in white uniforms arrived, finally followed by one policeman in a tan uniform, who walked a short distance away with the people from the bus company. 

Rebecca and Nils waiting with some of our luggage in the Bus Office.
 
Maria, who has better Swahili than any of the rest of us, asked what was going on and was told that the bus was arriving at 8:15.  When people were still concerned, she asked another of the passengers, who turned into our best friend for the day.  He told us that the bus company sold all of us tickets before they had a bus to take us to Arusha, and they were trying to find one.  We decided, going along with this man’s suggestion, to ask for our money back and to take a different bus to Singida, a small town on the road from Dodoma to Arusha.  From Singida, we could take another one into Arusha.  The man from the bus company returned our money without any trouble and we used that money to buy the other ticket.  I felt bad for him.  He was most likely doing what he was instructed and probably had no idea that there was no bus when the tickets were sold. 

The man we met in Dodoma helped us find a bus and purchase seats.  This bus was scheduled to leave at 9:00.  Yup! Two and a half hours after we were supposed to leave the first time.  We boarded the bus about a half hour early and watched as others who had been standing around with us that morning began to join us, followed by the man from the bus company.  Apparently no bus ever appeared.

Our seats were in the front of the bus, which meant we got a fantastic view of the other packages piled in front of us, as well as the conductors of the bus who hang out around the door and jump out at every police blockade.
 
A typical view out the window.
 
A partially finished house.  In Tanzania, it is common for families to build houses a few bricks at a time until they are finished.  This is safer than having the money, but it takes a long time and partially completed houses can be spotted all over.
 
When you can't find foot room, you make it!
 
Other than being a little bit tight, this ride was the most comfortable.  When we arrived in Singida at around 1:00, we collected our bags from under the bus.  Immediately after stepping off the bus, we were greeted by a man saying “Arusha, Arusha?” over and over.  He led us to a small bus that was filling up with passengers.  It was the sort of bus that people in Tanzania know only leaves for its destination once it’s full.  Well, it was full before we got on, so it left without us.  The man who met us off the bus showed us the bus office and asked us to wait.  Another one would be arriving at some point and we could get on then. 

 
Loading baggage on one of the smaller busses.  It's just about full, but wasn't heading to Arusha, so still we waited.
 
Our friend from the bus set off to find out if there were any other busses heading to Arusha and we waited, trying to figure out what was going on.  This would be a good time to give some advice to any single American women who just want to find a husband.  Go visit Tanzania.  I’m not even kidding.  While waiting around for news on busses, a man who was at the same office introduced himself.  The conversation went something like this.

Him:       Hello
Me:        Hello
Him:       Where are you from?
Me:        I’m staying in Dodoma.
Him:       Oh.  What country are you from?
Me:        The USA.
Him:       Why aren’t you married?
Me:        I don’t want to be married yet.
Him:       Would you like to marry me?
Me:        No.
Him:       Why don’t you want to marry me?
Me:        I don’t want a husband yet.
Him:       Can I have your number?
Me:        No.
Him:       Can I give you my number?
Me:        (Ignores him and walks away.)

Yes, it’s that easy to find a husband in Tanzania.

Anyway, we found a bus that was supposed to leave at 4:00pm.  By the time we decided what we were going to do and got the tickets, it was about 2:45.  We decided to sit down at one of the little grills they had at the bus station and eat lunch.  We had ordered and our food had just arrived when one of the men from the bus company came running up to us and told us the bus was there.  We quickly shoved our food into small plastic bags, paid for it, and went to collect our luggage and load the bus.  It was now 3:00.

What followed was the most uncomfortable and most Tanzanian bus ride I have ever experienced.  We were crammed onto a bus that had too many passengers for seats, and included at least a couple of live chickens in cardboard boxes.  My “seat” was anything but comfortable, but my legs only fell asleep 4 times and at least I wasn’t the one sitting on the bag of what was most likely rice in the front of the bus or one of the four people “sitting” on the bus steps.  This bus ride also made me wish I had more Swahili, as I was offered husbands two more times on the ride.  Luckily, there was a woman sitting in the seat next to mine who spoke English and could translate the requests for the two men.  The requests may have been more flattering if they hadn’t been followed by “He also wants to know if you can help him get into the USA.”

After what seemed like the longest bus ride I have ever been on, we pulled into Arusha at around 10:00pm.  Maria’s dad met us at the bus stand.  Our original tickets, for the bus that never existed, said we should have arrived at 2:00pm.  Gotta love Tanzanian travel!

The view from Maria's Dad's house. 
 
On Monday, Maria and I slept in until late, then took a dala dala (a small bus with about 20 seats that’s slightly bigger than a VW Bus) into town to eat lunch and do a little shopping.  The entire trip was worth it because as we walked to a bookstore where Maria had ordered a book, we spotted a Mexican restaurant!  I have been missing tacos, burritos, tortilla chips, salsa, and all sorts of other delicious Mexican foods for the past 5 months!  While this version surely wasn’t authentic, I got to eat some delicious salsa, Pico, refried beans, and had a taco plate!  Yummy!!
When you think of an African Village in the "jungle," this is probably what you think of.

Tuesday was much the same as Monday, but Anja came into town to meet with her Nils and Rebecca, who were finishing their safari and we met her for a late lunch.  I also had a quick plan change on this day.  Maria had to travel to Kenya to take care of some family things, and I decided to travel with Anja, Nils, and Rebecca to Moshi to spend a couple of days while Maria was away.  I went home to spend Christmas Eve with Maria and her father and to pack a few things to bring with me.

One of the locals stopping for a little break.
 
Christmas morning was beautiful.  Maria’s dad’s house is situated on a hill, with a game preserve behind it, and the most amazing view from the front porch.  I woke up to a sunrise on Christmas morning with a fantastic view of Mt. Meru with Mt. Kilimanjaro’s peak in the distance.  There was a very low fog surrounding the trees and the nearer hills.  Pictures can’t accurately capture the beauty!

Yup, it's purdy.
 
Maria left at around 8:00 and I took a car to the place Anja, Nils, and Rebecca were staying.  We spent the day visiting the Maasai market and walking around Arusha again.  In the evening, I was able to Skype with my family back home as they opened presents on Christmas morning.  My grandparents and my uncle were visiting and both my brothers were home.  It was fun to see what they all received and to get to be a part of their Christmas celebration. 
 
Christmas morning sunrise.  Stunningly breathtaking!!
 
Well, this post is getting a bit long now, so I’ll stop for now.  I look forward to telling you more about my trip to the Northern part of Tanzania in the future.  For now, I wish you all a Very Merry Christmas (again) and a Happy New Year!!

 
Mt. Kilimanjaro
 
 
 
 

Monday, December 23, 2013

End of Term 2


The last week or so has been a whirlwind of activity in and around CAMS.  Thursday was the last day of the tem before Christmas for the students.  Friday was the last day for teachers.  The last days of school are always busy for teachers, but with a long holiday break coming up, this one was even busier.

 


At home, in the weeks before Christmas are always a crazy time at school.  It seems like from Thanksgiving to Christmas, the kids are too excited to function normally, and as the holiday comes closer, it gets harder and harder to focus them.  Here, it seemed like the students were very focused the whole time, until this past week.  That’s when the excitement really started to take over.

 
 
 


The past few weeks have been spent with end of term activities.  The seniors spent two weeks doing exams.  The examination system is very different from what I experienced in high school, where our end of semester tests took place over 2 days.  We tried very hard to keep all the primary school children quieter than normal for the 2 weeks, which was not always easy.  In the end, I think they all made it through alright and we managed to get some teaching done in the primarys.

 

The form two class has been working all term on the Christmas Production.  On Wednesday, they had their dress rehearsal and all of primary was invited to attend.  The show was fantastic!  Parents and the secondary students were invited to watch on Thursday.  I got to see the Christmas story in a new, fun way!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Friday was a little bitter sweet.  It was a day for staff to wrap up the term and get ready for break.  It was also the last chance we had to say goodbye to some of the staff who, for whatever reason, won’t be back next term.  Even though I have known them only a short time, they have become like family.  It was hard to say goodbye to such great people.  We had a short staff Christmas party which included lunch and a little devotion time, complete with some traditional Christmas carols.  At 1:00, we were free to start our break.  Some teachers had to catch an earlier bus in order to make it to Dar es Salaam to catch their plane, but the rest of us set about our packing, buying bus tickets, and generally preparing for a well-deserved break.  I didn’t leave Dodoma until Sunday, so I had an extra day to relax, which was nice. 


More about Arusha later.  I wish everyone a VERY Merry Christmas!!

 
 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Preparing for Christmas


We are about to enter the 3rd week of Advent.  Advent is one of my favorite seasons in the church.  It always has been.  I love the preparation for Christmas and the traditions surrounding the season.  I love that it is something I can celebrate from Tanzania in much the same way as I do at home.  It seems like there are very few things for which I can say this. 
 
This is not to say that my Advent celebration this year mirrors the ones I have experienced in the past.  This is not a bad thing, though.  In fact my Christmas preparations have changed countless times in my life, as most things have.  As with all good traditions, a few things have remained constant throughout the years.
 
I remember as a child the anticipation of Christmas.  I was always so excited to pick out gifts for my family members.  I remember family shopping trips where we would pile our coats into the shopping cart so we could cover the gifts inside and keep them secret from those we bought them for.  Then, with a cart full of gifts and winter coats, my mom would head to the register while we occupied ourselves somewhere else.  This was only part of the fun of the season.
 
Shortly after Thanksgiving, often the next day, we would begin decorating the house.  First would come the Christmas tree.  We always had a fresh tree growing up.  We bought one from Noel, the tree guy, or bundled up, loaded up the sled, and drove into the mountains to cut one ourselves.  It was always fun to try to find the perfect tree, no matter where it came from.  There was one nursery-grown tree we found that was the perfect shape and height, so we had to get it.  It looked REALLY silly once it was strapped onto our 1986 Toyota Tercel, though.  We had gotten so caught up in its beauty that we forgot to think about its size.  We had to crawl inside the car while my dad and the man at the nursery tied it to the car, so they could lift the branches up for us.  It must have looked ridiculous as the car drove home with branches that fell inches from the ground!  I wish I could have seen it from the outside!
 
It probably looked a bit like this one!

Another oversized tree came from one we had cut down ourselves.  It is always fun to go out and cut our own.  We stomp around through the snow for a couple of hours looking at every tree we see.  When they grow wild, it is much harder to find the “perfect” tree, but we always try!  It can’t be too short, too tall, or have a bald spot.  Often the ones we saw from a distance with the perfect shape were two trees growing close together.  On this occasion, we found the perfect tree.  Its shape was very much like the ones we could find from Noel.  There weren’t any bald places.  It only had one trunk.  The problem was that the tree was probably a Lodgepole Pine, with the branches at the top of what looks like a telephone pole.  This meant cutting down the tree, then cutting off the almost 5 feet of bare log before it could fit on top of the minivan we had at this point.  It’s a good thing we had such a large vehicle.  When we got home, Dad posed in front of the house with the tree, holding the stump in one hand and the tree in the other.  Partly because of the height of the tree and partly because of the angle of the picture it appears as though the top of the tree is higher than the house!  He had to remove about another 3 feet of trunk before it would fit in the house.  I wish I had this picture here so you could all see it!
 
Once the tree was up, it was time to decorate.  Dad would get out the ladder and climb up to the loft in the garage.  We would help him get down the boxes containing decorations.  This was as much like opening presents as Christmas morning.  Getting out the crèche and nativity scene, Mom’s Santa and snowman collections, and the collections of ornaments that always cover our tree was like remembering Christmases past.  Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton would serenade us as we began decorating the tree, beginning with Dad putting on the lights before being his fight with the lights on the outside of the house. 
 
 
Part of our decorating efforts always included the creation of our family Advent Wreath.  Branches cut from our tree would be added to the wreath, which most often took the shape of a barbed wire wreath affixed to a board created by my dad and reused every year.  Candles were added and the wreath took its place on our table, where it would stay until Christmas morning.  Each Sunday at dinner, we would fight to be the one to light one of the candles.  We would talk about why we were lighting the candle that week and enjoy a candle-lit meal. 
 
As I got older and moved out of the house, I had to find my own way to keep these traditions.  I opted for a plastic tree the first year in my own house.  I didn’t want the hassle of cleaning up the needles that always fall.  Not having a plethora of decorations from many years of tree decorating, I opted for a theme the first year.  That year, I decided to fold paper cranes which were not only cheap, but also full of symbolism that I love!  I also began to grow my own collection of decorations.  In the years since, I have gotten a fantastic nativity scene, a few lighted outdoor decorations, and a couple of things to make the inside of my house feel like Christmas.  Now, I not only got to help decorate my parent’s house, but they would often come help me decorate my own. 
 
Mom's tree in her classroom this year looks a lot like mine did the first year, but is a bit bigger.
 
 
 
I also created my own Advent Wreath, but without others in the house to fight for the right to light each week’s candle, I was forced to come up with another way to make the candle lighting meaningful.  I turned to the internet.  I found a wonderful website that I have used every year since.  Creighton University’s “Praying Advent” page has a prayer you can say every day during Advent and is adapted for each year.   
 
I still was excited to find the “perfect” gift for everyone on my list, but was able to spend more time deciding what that perfect gift was.  I often started looking much before Thanksgiving and spent the time during Advent wrapping and delivering. 
 
The Flame Tree at CAMS is looking Christmassy, but not in a snow-covered tree sort of way.

This year, I am finding my preparations during Advent to be very different, but with striking similarities.  First of all, it’s not cold!  I’m used to walking outside and having my nose hairs freeze together while I’m bundled in the coat I affectionately refer to as my “Nanook of the North” coat, Kermit the Frog hat with the ear flaps, scarf, mittens, and fake fur lined snow boots.  It’s always comforting in December to sit and watch Christmas movies under a quilt with a mug of hot chocolate while the snow falls outside.  Not this year!  This is one of the most prominent differences.  Instead of Nanook, I’m wearing sleeveless shirts outside, in my sandals and sunscreen.  It’s not snowing, but we have started getting the occasional hard rain!  The quilt on my bed acts more like a pillow than a covering, and I haven’t been sleeping with even a sheet over me. 
 
 

I decided that I really did need an advent wreath this year.  If nothing else, it would help it feel more like Christmas was coming.  I had to become creative this year without Walmart here to help me get all the supplies I needed.  It was time to be creative!  Luckily, I had a box large enough to make a good sized wreath.  After tracing around a couple of plates to give me the wrath shape and cutting out four of these, I used a glue stick to make two 2-layer pieces, and cut holes for candles in one of the pieces.  Then I cut several layers of small cardboard pieces and stacked them on top of each other with glue between each layer.  After this, I glued the whole thing together.  Then, I cut strips of fabric and wrapped the wreath to make the body.  With 4 candles attached in the pre-cut holes, I have a wreath I would have been proud of even at home. 
 
 
 

 
My friend Maria helped me cut my tree this year.  It’s not the perfect tree shape, and there was no danger of its branches dragging the ground as I carried it home.  It’s not plastic, but there is no danger of needles making a mess on my floor.  It is covered with decorations I have purchased here in Tanzania, and even includes a snowman sent from home.  True, it is a branch cut from a plant outside which has been stuck into a can of sand for support, but Charlie Brown would be proud! 
 

I have also slowly been gathering gifts for friends and family back home.  Shopping in Dodoma is fun and it makes my mom laugh every time I tell her about something I bought from “some guy on the side of the road.”  I’ve found some pretty great treasures and I’m excited to gift them. 
 
Even though I know Christmas is less than 2 weeks away, it still doesn’t feel like it.  Stores aren’t full of decorations that have been gathering dust since October.  The only Christmas music I hear comes from my computer.  It is hard for me to imagine a Christmas without it being cold outside, but Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere is an experience I am looking forward to nonetheless.   

Friday, December 6, 2013

FAQ #2


Happy Saturday morning!!

My brain tells me I should still be in bed, but the insects outside and the large group of people who came singing down the street tell me differently.  Oh well, it gives me an excuse to nap today.

I have to start off with a moment of remembrance for an amazing person the world lost this week. Nelson Mandela was an inspiration to people all over the world, and his passing can be felt all the way up in Tanzania.  Many of the students at CAMS have studied Mandela during their “People of Faith” unit in Standard 3 and 4 and were at the very least interested in the news of his passing.  He will be missed by many, but he leaves behind a great legacy of the kind of peaceful change one person can influence.

Well, as promised a couple of months ago, here is the rest of the list of questions I collected from friends and supporters.  These questions were harder to answer in some ways, so I needed more time.  I hope you enjoy!  Feel free to leave a comment with any other questions you have or send me an email!

·         What have I seen or done that has surprised me?

o   I don’t know if I came really well prepared or if I’m just the kind of person who isn’t surprised by much, but I’m having a hard time coming up with an answer for this one.  It could also be that I have been her for almost 3 months now, so things are starting to feel normal.  I guess if I had to pick one thing, it would have to be all the people who sell things.  I remember riding on the bus on the way to Dodoma the first time and being amazed at the variety of things that were being sold through the bus window.  Men would walk up next to the bus with a make shift display rack featuring everything from watches to shoes, socks, headphones, and jewelry.  Teenagers would stand at places where the busses were known to stop selling giant bags of oranges, bread, or bottled drinks.  In town, it is uncommon not to see someone with a blanket spread out, or a plastic container on their head trying to sell their goods.  I even had a woman try to sell me tomatoes at school when I had my class outside for PE.  That’s just the way things are done here.  Tiny shops are everywhere, and when you can’t afford a shop, you sell from what you have.

·         What about Cody will I never see as the same again?

o   There are SO many things that will never be the same for me.  When I was in Arusha, we stopped at a large supermarket (for Tanzania) to pick up the bottles of water we took with us on our safari.  The supermarket would have been a very small one back home.  It was the first supermarket I had seen with carts since I left home in July.  Our guide asked if we wanted to stop in to pick up any snacks, and I had no desire to.  It seemed so big! 

I also had a conversation with a fellow teacher about the concept of “walking distance.”  At home, if I want to go to the post office (about a 15 minute walk,) I’d take my car.  I would never think about walking to my parent’s house (which would take me 30 minutes) without hoping for a ride back home.  In Dodoma, anything in the center of town is “walking distance.”  It takes anywhere from 20-30 minutes to get there.  I would easily walk into town, go to one of the two “supermarkets” we frequent, and walk back, maybe stopping at the coffee shop down the street, without thinking twice about it.  I may, however, do it in the morning when the sun isn’t so hot.

These are just examples.  I’m sure there are many more things that I could think of right now.  The list will only grow as my year continues.

·         What are the kids like?

o   What are the kids at home like?  There aren’t really many differences.  They love to play outside, but some of them would rather read a book than kick around a soccer ball.  If they could, many of them would like to spend the whole day with no shoes of their feet.  They have fantastic smiles!  They get upset, but hate to see their friends upset.  One of the biggest differences is that they all really appreciate being at school.  It isn’t unusual to hear an upset “ohhh” when you talk about how the weekend is coming or there is a 2-week break from school.  They are eager to learn and most of them put a great effort into anything academic.

·         What are some things we can learn from the people there?

o   I can’t speak for the whole world, but I can tell you some things I have learned from them.  I have learned gratitude.  Many people here (most?) have very little compared to the abundance in the US, but they appreciate what they have.  I have learned (though it really didn’t take much) an intense respect for those who are older than you.  Older people are even greeted in a different, respectful, manner.  They don’t have to be “old” to receive this greeting.  Sometimes it is only a few years that separate you.

I have also learned how to celebrate!  The wedding I went to and the confirmation are two great examples of how much fun Tanzanians like to have.  They make a big deal about these kinds of things and know how to throw a party!

·         What do they know about us?

o   My perceptions of this may be skewed a little since I spend most of my time surrounded by other expats.  The interactions I have had with Tanzanians unrelated to CAMS have been minimal, but this is generally how they start:

§  Them:   “Hello”

§  Me:        “Hi”

§  Them:   “Where are you from?”

§  Me:        “The USA.”

§  Them:   “America?”

§  Me:        “Yeah.”

§  Them:   “Oh, Obamaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!”

 
·         Are perceptions of each other accurate or based on media?

o   How would our perceptions be based on anything but media?  Very few Tanzanians can afford to visit the USA and very few American's spend more than a few weeks in Tanzania.  Even when they do visit, American's generally spend time either on a short-term mission trip or travelling around to all the “must see” spots.  Part of the reason that I saved this question for my second Q&A was because the first one was too early in my experiences.  Even a month or so into my time in Tanzania, many of my perceptions were based on media. 

Before I left home, I was often asked if I was going to stay in a mud hut and cautioned against contracting AIDS.  While I’m not going to say that many people in Tanzania don’t live in houses made of mud bricks and that AIDS is not a problem here, these are examples of the vision the media has given us about Africa as a continent in general. That there is no alternative while being in Tanzania is a perspective we have been shown time and time again.

 
·         What do they do for fun?

o   Again, this is a question that I think stems from the media’s portrayal of East Africa.  People here like to do the same things people at home like to do.  Football (what American's would call soccer) is big! I have seen adults and children taking part in games and it is often on the television when I see one.  Women like to get their hair done in really fancy ways and enjoy getting their nails done.  Nails are extremely inexpensive to have done!  A group of us went to get our finger and toe nails painted for the wedding.  Getting both painted only cost 4,000 TSH (roughly $2.50 at home!)
 
Kids are often seen in groups outside.  Anything here can be a toy.  I even saw a couple of kids walking down the street one day with old power bars (the kind you can plug multiple things into) dragging the ground behind them like dogs on a leash.  The fallen tree at the school draws children in who are just passing by, who climb it like monkeys or explore the ground underneath it for any fallen treasure they can find.

·         What can people back home do to make things better?

o   To be honest, at first I was a little bit offended by this question.  It assumes that things here are bad and that people back home need to fix it.  I would like to thank the media for this! I now realize that the overwhelming urge people have to help from afar can be channeled in the right direction. The things I have seen in Dodoma that need improvement aren’t things you can really do from afar, or even when you’re here for a short time.  The problems are deeper than that.  The best thing to do is to think of what “problem” you would like to help with and find an organization that is already here to support.  Do some research and get in contact with them to see what they need.  Don’t make assumptions that there is something in particular that they “need.”  Ask them!

 
 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving

Advent Wreaths have been a part of my family's Advent tradition for as long as I can remember.  I knew I needed to make one this year.  I used the box from a care package I received and some pieces of fabric I have to make the wreath.  I think it turned out well!
 To start things off, Happy First Sunday of Advent!
It’s not easy to be away from home for holidays, especially the ones centered around family.  There are certain things you miss doing and people you miss seeing.  Being in another country all together can make it even more difficult. 
I like to dwell, not on the things I miss, but the new opportunities I get to have!  I saw Thanksgiving not as a chance to look at the things I miss, but as a chance to make some really cool memories!  So, how do you celebrate Thanksgiving, a truly American holiday, when you are half-way around the world?
I have to start out by saying that I was not alone in my Thanksgiving planning this year. Rob, another teacher at CAMS, who is actually NOT American, helped a lot!  
 
 
We started by making a list of all the traditional “Thanksgiving-y” foods.  Certain things (turkey) are hard to find here for a good price and others (cranberries and pumpkin) either are never found or are out of season, so are impossible to get.  We began to look for alternatives.  We then put our list up on the staff notice board at school and asked people to sign up if they were coming and to let us know what they were bringing. 
 
We ended up with about 22 people.  The family on my compound who live in the big house offered their home for the festivities, which was really generous of them.  There is no way that many people would have ever fit in my house!!  Many of them had never experienced a Thanksgiving before, so they were excited to learn more about it.  Others had shared a Thanksgiving meal with other Americans before, and were excited to do it again. 
 
Since Thanksgiving is not a holiday here, we had to do it after school, which meant a late dinner.  After school, I rushed home after school so I could finish my contributions and have a couple of Skype calls to family and friends in their early morning hours.  I made a gluten-free apple crisp sort of thing (it’s hard to really make it without flour and oats, but it turned out tasting good anyway) and some bread to share.  I baked the bread the night before, but needed to peel and slice a dozen apples and bake the crisp so it would be warm when I brought it.  Because I knew we wouldn’t be able to have turkey for dinner, I made my bread into the next best thing.

 
 
Not all the food is here yet!

At around 7:30, I headed over to the house with my food and some extra plates and silverware.  I was glad it was so close because it took me a couple of trips.  Others began arriving with their contributions and soon the table was full!  We had a few people bring chicken (the best alternative to turkey, better than bread, I have to admit) and even a beef stew.  There were also several vegetable dishes, mashed and roasted potatoes, and a plethora of drinks.  A few people brought desserts to share after the meal, including candy corn!  (It’s the little things!)
 
Waiting to experience Thanksgiving in Tanzania!

As people arrived, we gathered on the sofas just to begin talking.  It’s always nice as a staff to have a chance to meet as a group outside the school setting.  Conversations can lead to places other than work.  It’s great to get to catch up in a non-work environment.
 
After everyone arrived, Rob welcomed everyone to Thanksgiving, but then handed it over to me, “Someone who is actually American,” to pray.  I started us off then asked everyone to add their own Thanksgivings as we worked our way around the circle.  There is something about remembering what you are thankful for and saying it out loud that feels good, no matter how serious or silly the thanksgivings are. 
 
After the “Amen,” we began to fill our plates!  I realized that the food isn’t what the Thanksgiving meal is about.  The mashed potatoes were about the only thing on the table that was “traditional” in any sense.  Even without turkey, stuffing, cranberries, and pumpkin pie, it was still Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is about giving thanks for what you have and sharing a meal with family and friends.  I have just as much to be thankful for this year as ever, but have a new appreciation of what really matters. 
 
Sitting down to enjoy the meal!
 
Eleanor, in the white shirt, is explaining how they do Thanksgiving in the South.  She's one of the other two Americans at CAMS.

There was more conversation during the meal and dessert and someone broke out a guitar.  It was entertaining to listen to people from other countries break out randomly into the Star Spangled Banner, despite our telling them that Thanksgiving isn’t about patriotism and that song usually is reserved for the 4th of July instead of Thanksgiving.  It was a great gesture, though.  They were trying to think of things that are “American” to help celebrate. 
 
Here is Sarah, the other American, listening to the Star Spangled Banner.

I decided that we need more Thanksgiving songs.  There is something about singing “Dashing through the snow in a one horse open sleigh…” while sitting in a tank top and it’s 85 degrees outside at 9pm that just feels wrong.  We couldn’t think of any others! 
 
After the crowd started to leave, all was good!
 
We cleaned our plates!!

Overall, this Thanksgiving was fantastic.  I would like to share a few of the things I’m thankful for this year.  I’m thankful for my friends and family back home who continue to support me and my decision to join YASC and move away.  I know it’s not always easy on them.  I am thankful for YASC for finding me the perfect placement and giving me the opportunity to have a fantastic experience.  I am thankful for the people I have met in Dodoma and have become my family and friends.  I am thankful for the opportunity I had to grow up in a place where we always had enough, and more than enough.  I am thankful for the following people for showing me support during the month of November:
Pat and Connie Keller, Jim and Jerry Hager, David and Lynn Fox, Kate and Warren Murphy, David Galagan, and Bishop John Smylie.  Without them, I would never be here.