In Tanzania, visitors are often welcomed with music. Since you are visiting my blog here's some welcoming music.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Getting used to.....

It's been nice to be home after almost a year away.  But I've also had to get used to a few things.

The first day back from Africa,  I went to the cabinet to get a glass for some Texas Sweet Tea, which I had missed a whole lot.  My parents have had the same drinking glasses for about twenty years.  As I picked up a glass; I screamed in surprise at how my parents' drinking glasses were so huge.  The glasses (they are called French Jelly glasses) are heavy, about 16 ounces, with a 3  inch circumference.  My parents reacted: "WHAT? What happened?"  I yelled, "Your glasses are HUGE!"

And, African standards, those glasses are huge. Most of the drinking glasses I've used in Tanzania have a 6 oz capacity.  And not only are the glasses smaller, but the majority of Tanzanians prefer their drinks to be room temperature or hot--even in the heat of the afternoon. For example, back in February, when I was visiting different homes around the village of Kasikizi, I was offered chai tea. Of course, the word chai just means tea.  But this tea was served scorching hot.  I had to blow on my cup for at least ten minutes before I felt that I wouldn't burn my mouth  I later asked some Tanzanian friends, "Why do you like warm or hot drinks?"  "Because it is hot outside", they said.  I told them it doesn't make sense; "why wouldn't you want to cool down from the heat?" I asked.  But they just looked at me puzzled. They do that a lot.

Another big difference: I'm from Texas, and we use our air conditioner constantly because our summer temperatures range from 90-110 F.  In Bukoba, where I live, the temperatures range from high 70's to 90's. And much like the northern part of the United States, there is no central air conditioning.  We do sweat, and sometimes the temperature gets very uncomfortable.  But I must be getting used to it, because, since I've been back home, I have to carry a coat around because the air conditioning just gets way too cold.

Be Free,


Monday, May 23, 2011

Thursday, May 19, 2011

What the past few weeks have brought

The past few weeks have been filled with doctors visits and tests.  But this past weekend was special because Fr. David Rucker, associate executive director of the OCMC, came to spend time with me.  I hadn't seen Fr. David in a long while, and it was a great blessing to welcome him back to Texas. What made his visit even more special was that a year ago he had come to Texas for my  missionary commissioning service.  So much has happened since a years ago.  It was a huge blessing to spend this special anniversary with Fr. David!
I've also discovered that there is an Anglican congregation in Austin that has services in Kiswahili. I've spoken with the pastor, and he says that they would love to help me practice my language skills. I'll be checking out that community this coming Sunday afternoon.

Be Free,


George and Push

In Bukoba we don't have the big five safari animals (African elephant, rhinoceros, Cape buffalo, lion, and leopard), but we do have George and Push.  George and Push are my dogs, and I love them.  My sixteen year old dog, Shelly, passed away a few years ago, and I decided not to find another dog because I knew I would be leaving for the mission field soon.  And, what do you know? When we arrived in Bukoba, Tanzania, we were welcomed by two dogs. They  had been hanging around Fr. Spyridon's family and the church property. So I decided to adopt them.
One dog has black hair; his name is Push.  As you 
might guess by his name, he likes to run into people 
and "push" them.  I think that is how he shows his 
love--either that, or he has a really bad balancing
problem.  I would like to think it is because of the 
first reason.  

Then there is a multicolored dog named George.  (Shikido is the name he had when I arrived, but he looks like a 'George' to me).  I am so happy to have dogs around, and I try to care for them.  But, apparently there is no such thing as dog food in Bukoba.  I get puzzled looks even from other foreigners when I ask store owners if they carry dog food.  So, I have to feed 'the boys' white bread. (We eat brown bread).  Who could have guessed that I would have two vegetarian Tanzanian dogs. 

Of course, Tanzanian dogs are not like American dogs. My mom recently sent me a photo of my brother's dog laying comfortably on my parents' couch.  I showed this picture to my friends in the village of Kasikizi last month.  They looked at it and spoke to each other in Kihaya (their tribal language). Then Richard, who spoke English, said: "We just have one question. What is the purpose of this animal?"
I didn't know how to answer the question.(And I thought that telling them that, in America, dogs are often dressed like humans would push them over the edge.)

Be Free,


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Love, Laughter, and Family

I had mentioned in a previous update that one of my favorite phrases in any language is 'I love you'. Fr. Spyridon, our parish priest in Bukoba, has a daughter named Sofia. She is four years old. When we first met Sofia, she did not talk to us at all. Even if we spoke to her in Kiswahili she would only nod her head for yes or no. At that time, my Kiswahili was limited, but that doesn't matter; I knew the most important phrase. So everyday when I saw Sofia, I would whisper into her ear, "Ninapenda Sofia." Just those words. At first she didn't respond--probably because she didn't know what to do with this white person speaking to her in Kiswahili. But it only took a day or so, and then, when I whispered in her ear, she responded, "Ninapenda Katrina." 
Ever since then Sofia and I exchange this greeting every day when we first meet each other. It has been said over and over, but the best way to learn a language is to become as a child--and, you can ask anyone, I usually don't have a problem with throwing myself into this role. Whenever Sofia sees me coming her way she runs to me and stops just short of me, and I spread my arms way out, and she does the same, and we embrace. I have also taught Sofia how to blow kisses, and that's what we do when we say goodbye. 

Sofia always attends the daily services.

Speaking of kisses and saying goodbye, when I learned that I would have to travel home for a while, James Hargrave escorted me to the Nairobi Giraffe Park. The big attraction at the park is that you can feed and pet the giraffes--but, the best part of all is that, if you put the maize pellets in your mouth (that's what they give you to feed the giraffes) and pucker up, you have the once in a lifetime experience of getting a (very wet and sandpaper feeling) giraffe kiss. I can't think of a better way of leaving the continent of Africa than to be kissed goodbye by a giraffe.
James also arranged another blessing for me. The day before I was scheduled to leave for the States, I found myself in the Nairobi Hospital as a patient. I was diagnosed with a kidney infection, and I wasn't able to leave the hospital until three days later, on the Tuesday of Holy week. James had been attending the daily services, and he spoke with Metropolitan Makarios of Kenya. When James mentioned that I was still in Nairobi Hospital, His Eminence offered to come to my room to anoint me with Holy Unction oil. That afternoon His Eminence came by, and he even brought his own photographer! So I can't wait to see my picture in the Newsletter for the Nairobi Diocese.

Differences in Babies

While I have been in Tanzania, many of my friends from home have had babies. As you can imagine, there are quite a few differences in American babies and Tanzanian babies. In Tanzania for example, it is very rare to see a child younger than two to be carried on their mother's hip. These children are always transported on their mother's back. Usually two pieces of cloth called kanga are used to support the child. The mother leans over, keeping her back straight, and places the child on her back. As this is done, the child actually balances itself on the flattened back as the mother ties the child in a sling with the two kanga (it's pretty amazing to watch). 

Once a child grows out of being carried on their mother's back, they are expected to walk everywhere. One last difference is that my friends have lots and lots of gadgets and toys for their child and themselves. One gadget has a timer to tell you when to feed your baby, which side you breast fed on the hour before, and how many diapers were changed. It is very uncommon for a woman to have a baby in Tanzania without a whole lot of support. Even if the woman doesn't have family, her neighbors, the neighbor's family, and the neighbor's friends help the woman especially if she is a first time mother. Community, relationships, and families are not just an idea - it is a lifestyle.
It is hard to not feel like part of some sort of family in Tanzania, which is really great when you miss your biological family. 

There is no shortage of love, laughter and the feeling of belonging to a family in Tanzania.

Be Free, 


Looking back on Christmas in Kasikizi

Most of Holy Week, I was either in the hospital or on an airplane. But one of the things that sustained me during all that was the memory I have of celebrating Nativity in Tanzania.

On the Eve of Nativity, we had Liturgy in the morning in Bukoba. I wanted to visit Kasikazi during the feast, but I am not able to travel long distances by myself—it’s just not safe. But, Tambua, one of our friends there, was going to be traveling at that time, so I was able to ride with him on the dala dala (which is what public transportation is called here). It took a while to find the "right" dala dala when we arrived at the bus station. The bus station is a carnival size area of land with buses scattered everywhere. People approach you trying to sell what they have in hand, maji (water), perfumes (manukato) and of course senene (grasshoppers, which are very popular here). We found the right bus that would let us 1) sit together and 2) sit in the front seat. I had mentioned in a previous blog that sitting in the front seat on the bus comes with responsibilities. This trip was no different. I actually enjoy the responsibilities. The front seat is the most comfortable seat, and, basically what this means is that you don't have to have someone's back in your face. 

This trip I had the responsibility of holding 3 loaves of bread and a two year old girl. The trip to Kasikazi took us about two hours.

Tambua and I had a warm welcome from Fr. Geronimos and two of his seminarians, John and Thomas. There was then a little catching up in Kiswahili between the men. I like to listen to people speaking Kiswahili to see if I can recognize any words I have learned in class. I knew only a few, but I also know it will get easier to understand. I was shown my room after the catching-up-conversation finished. I put my bags down and decided to take a walk around the seminary I hadn't seen for eight years. 

Not a lot had changed, but I was finally able to see, in person, the finished church my short-term mission teammates and I helped build. 

My team was assigned to dig the narthex of the church. When I saw the area we had dug, I was surprised to see a beautiful courtyard. I later learned that here the Narthex is made into a courtyard with beautiful landscape. It was a special moment which brought me to tears. 

After my visit to the church, I went down the hill and ran into some men. I worked on my Kiswahili and told them who I was, where I live, where I was from, and why I was here in Tanzania. There were a lot of laughs, but I am used to that. I found out that these men were some of the seminarians I had seen and took pictures of when I visited Rubale village with His Eminence. I told them about my video and the photos I had of them, and they became excited and asked to see them. I came back with my laptop, and they all crowded around looking at the pictures. Not long afterward we had dinner. After dinner, Fr. Geronimos gave a very welcoming speech to me. The seminarians then sang a welcome song in Kiswahili. As I headed outside to make my way to my bed, I was delighted to see "lights" outside. I have only lived in cities so I had heard and seen pictures of lightning bugs, but I had never seen them in person.

The Liturgy at All Saints in Kasikazi was beautiful! The church was very crowded. The children packed themselves into benches that would usually seat four people, but there were ten of them to a bench. One of the older women (Mama Mzee) would go around unpacking the benches and then return to her bench. 

Since All Saints is on the grounds of the seminary, the seminarians are always in attendance. They serve as the altar boys, chanters, readers, and choir. Another of the seminarians’ duties is to direct the controlled chaos during communion. 
By now I was used to being "stared at", but being in a village takes staring to a whole new level. In a village, the people would be more likely to see a space alien than to see a westerner (mzungu) or someone with orange colored hair for that matter. After Liturgy, I handed out some gum (juju) and pencils to the children. I had never spent Nativity away from my family. Even though a big part of the holidays for me is being with my family, surprisingly I didn't feel sad or lonely. I felt I was given a gift of another family. My mom sent me an email saying ‘Your mom and dad miss you, but our best Christmas is knowing our children are happy’. And that is all that matters. That afternoon we had goat, rice, and beans for lunch. Some of the seminarians and I walked through the village, and I was honored to meet the All Saint's church chairman. 

Chai tea was served along with coffee beans. I ate right into the bean and then found out I was supposed to take the bean out of its shell first. It was much more enjoyable to eat them without the shell. The seminarians had many questions for me about America. They were surprised to know that we have some of the same plant life as they do. Also they were surprised to hear that there were dark skinned people in America just like them.

Fr. Geronimos is the rector of four different parishes. Since Nativity was celebrated at All Saints, Fr. Geronimos celebrated Liturgy in the village of Kikagate on Sunday. I was told I needed to ride a motorcycle (pikipiki) to the church. There are no roads or smooth ground in the villages. The service was much like the day before. There were more children (watoto) in attendance at St. Anastasios. 
The stares continued,but I figured out a counter measure--smiling back at them. After Liturgy, traditionally the priest gives a homily (mahubiri) and then, the person we would call the church president, gives a short talk. Kihaya, the local dialect, was being spoken, so I was only able to use the men's body language to follow what was being said. Quickly I noticed people turning around and looking at me. The council president was also talking excitedly and pointing his finger in my direction. Fr. Geronimos would cut in on the president's talk and give a comment or two. At one point, I thought maybe there was a fight going on about my being in the village because of the way the two men's voices were getting louder and louder. I later found out that the president was telling the people what a blessing it was to celebrate the Divine Liturgy with a mzungu (westerner) at St. Anastasios because everyone can now see that there are Orthodox Christians in the western world. The president said that many people in villages like Kikagate will live until they are seventy years old before they ever see a westerner. I was just hoping that I made a good impression for all of the western world.

Father Geronimos, John, Thomas, Anastasios, and I all decided to walk home. We got caught in the rain, and so we took pikipiki back to the seminary. Dinner would be the last meal I would share with the seminarians, so we all said our official goodbyes. Father Geronimos talked about how happy he was to have me back in Kasikizi and hoped I would return again. Then each seminarian was asked to say something and there were tears (from me mostly) but a good bit of laughter as well. That evening the seminarians heard for the first time that I was a nurse. After dinner there were many questions about each man’s health concerns. I did my best to answer them (there was a huge need for dental care). The next morning we took the early bus (daladala). All of the seminarians had gotten up to see me off. I came home exhausted but renewed finally being able to visit my Kasikizi again.

Be Free,