Week 4 – Part 1

I can’t believe I’ve been here for almost 4 weeks already!

At the beginning of this week, one of the sisters randomly asked me if I know how to play the piano. Not knowing her motives for asking, I told her that I have a basic knowledge, enough to play the melodies of songs at least. This was good enough for her and she asked if I would be willing to share my knowledge with her. I almost laughed at the thought of little old me teaching an African about music, but agreed to help her of course. When we finally got a chance to sit down and begin lessons I found that although this Sister has a beautiful voice and an innate sense of rhythm, she has no technical knowledge of music, so it turned out that I could actually teach her a lot. We’ve been working a little each day and while sometimes I need to pray for patience, I’m really enjoying teaching her. I absolutely love music and being able to share my gifts with someone else has been truly rewarding.

I am discovering that many of my skills that I wouldn’t normally think of as gifts are being used by God to help the people here. Music, typing, a little knowledge of Spanish – are things I have been able to share and teach. I have a suspicion that I will discover more hidden gifts once the students return.

The Priest who usually says Mass here was gone for a week. After getting used to going to Mass everyday, I was starting to feel the effects of missing it for a while. On Tuesday another Priest who was visiting agreed to celebrate an impromtu Mass for the Sisters. Luckily, I was around when this was decided and got to join them. This was a real blessing and…it was in English!! I was all prepared with my Swahili book and then he started with, “In the name of the Father…” I was so happy!

Everyone here is very enthusiastic about soccer (football as they call it here) and have been following the World Cup closely, especially since it is being held in South Africa. Later on Tuesday I joined a bunch of people down at the canteen, which is a kind of restaurant and gathering place, to watch the match between South Africa and France. South Africa won and there was rejoicing all around. I don’t normally watch sports but the Sisters make it enjoyable because they get so into the game. Watching the Finals with them should be very exciting. I can’t wait!

Week 3: Meeting the Piglets and a New Friend

I continued to help register patients in the dispensary this past week. Monday was rather uneventful but Tuesday made up for that. The Sister in charge of the dispensary had found out that government inspectors were coming at some point during the week. Apparently they can show up whenever they want, without warning. We didn’t have to wait too long though because they came on Tuesday morning. I was surprised to see someone from the United States with them and he was just as surprised to see me. I didn’t get to ask him why he was there but did find out that he’s from North Carolina. It was strange hearing someone talk without an accent but very nice to hear a familiar voice. The clinic apparently passed the test, barring the laboratory. There was a ceiling fan in there that they said we should remove because it stirs up the bacteria too much. I was given the task of supervising it’s removal the next day.

After leaving the dispensary, my day was just getting started. After inquiring about my sewing skills and finding them adequate, one of the Sisters enlisted my help with hemming some curtains. She of course combined this with a Swahili lesson. After this I was ready to take a nap but was intersected by another sister wanting help with something on the computer. Unable to say no, as many of you know is my tragic flaw, I agreed to assist her. That night I passed out as soon as my head hit the pillow, after a satisfying day.

When first getting oriented with the mission, I was told that our trash gets burned in an incinerator. Upon hearing this, I pictured some large furnace sort of device. Well on Thursday I found out what the “incinerator” actually is. Essentially its a tall, stone fireplace which you throw your trash in, light a match and burn it. Very high-tech. I was very skeptical and little fearful but I just went for it and within minutes my garbage was a pile of ashes.

On Friday I was offered a chance to see the farm for the compound and made the mistake of accepting the invitation. The main animal they raise is pigs and people can come to buy the meat. Now I have tried being a vegetarian before, as some of you know and this trip to the farm may cause me to revert back to that lifestyle. I am way too empathetic of a person to ever see my food while it’s still alive. There were little piglets who were born just days ago and they were the cutest things. All I could think was: I eat these! Having seen those, there is no way I would be able to keep the image out of my head every time I eat pork. I left the farm, dazed and a little sick to my stomach(although that may have been the smell of manure). Thankfully there was no meat served at dinner that night or I would have politely refused it. On Saturday at lunch however, a big pot of pork was waiting for me. I tried to eat some, telling myself that it’s normal to eat animals, but I just felt nauseous. The idea that what I’m eating used to be a living, breathing, moving thing, just makes me feel sick for some reason. I thought it would be nice knowing where my food comes from, but now I think blissful ignorance is much, much better.

Saturday was an interesting day at the dispensary. The doctor and the nurse I help with registration were gone for the day. The sisters had trouble finding someone to help me at first, but God always provides. A girl who stays at the convent during her school vacations just happens to be here this week, so they enlisted her help. She is in form 4, which is the US equivalent of a senior in high school. She speaks excellent English and we really hit it off. As we talked, I found out that she aspires to be a lawyer and help women and children of Africa especially. Listening to her discuss the problems of her people and the ways in which she wants to help, I thought; young people like this girl are the ones who are going to save the African people. Like the students I talked to on my first day here, she recognizes that education is the ticket to a more prosperous, just Africa. Now I am finding myself asking: What can I do? How can I help more people receive an education, so that they, not me, can make the changes their countries need? Change needs to come from within. Outside countries can empower the African people to make a change but in the end they need to pull themselves out of poverty.

Week 2 in Machui

We just got internet back after being without it for a while so I’m going to try to catch up on the last week and a half in the next couple of posts.

After a relaxing day at the beach, the rest of this past week was very busy. On Wednesday I was back in the dispensary. This time though, I helped at the registration desk and actually interacted with people, which was great. I picked up some more Swahili phrases and got to test my growing knowledge of the language. The people really appreciate the effort I am making to use their language and are happy to add to my vocabulary. Most of them would like to learn more English too, so we have a nice give and take relationship.

Anyway, back to the health clinic. Their patient records are archaic, to say the least. They consist of pieces of paper, essentially and each is assigned a number. They are filed based on when the patient first came to the clinic, in cubbies. The system was somewhat confusing at first, but I’m starting to pick it up. The patients have a card they are supposed to bring to each visit that has their number. The major flaw in this system is that if the patient forgets the card, we have to search through piles of paper to find their file. It is time consuming and frustrating, to say the least. The wheels in my head have been turning, trying to dream up a better way to organize the files.

One of the things we record is age. It was interesting to see how young some of the mothers were and to realize that they had their children when they were my age, or even younger. My instincts are not to pity them though, but to simply realize that that is the way of life here. I’m coming to have that attitude about a lot of things here. Sure the people might not have as much material goods or money as we do in America, but most them have a house, food and a family to love. They seem so happy, so why would I be sad for them?

For the first time, I am experiencing standing out because of my skin color and for a person who doesn’t like to be the center of attention, it can be nerve racking. The children especially stare, because they don’t know that it’s rude. I want to tell them: I’m just a person like you! The sisters told me a joke they have in Africa about why people have different skin colors. When God was making people, he “cooked” them. He left the African people in the oven too long, but took white people out in a hurry. We all laughed for a long time about this.

On Thursday, I went into town with some of the sisters again. Three of them were leaving for a retreat at their motherhouse in mainland Tanzania, so we brought them to the ferry to see them off. After this we did some shopping and I bought my first khanga. A khanga is a colorful piece of cloth, usually with a Swahili phrase on it, which is used for many purposes. One of the sisters might show me how to make a dress out of mine.

We visited St. Joseph’s Cathedral while in town, which was the first Catholic Church in East Africa. It was locked when

St. Joseph's Cathedral

we arrived, but they made a special exception for the Sisters and let us in. The Cathedral was beautiful but kind of a wreck because it is undergoing renovations. We met another order of Sisters who lives near the Cathedral and help with its upkeep. Just when I thought I knew them all, I learned another greeting used in Zanzibar. This one is “Tumsifu Yesu Christu”(Praise be Jesus Christ), and the response is “Milele Amina”(Forever Amen). These people sure do like saying hello.

To finish the week, I had the chance to attend a local wedding on Saturday and it was a beautiful ceremony. I think I need to find a synonym for that word, because I keep using it to describe everything here. The marriage ceremony seems to match up with ours fairly well, but I’m sure that’s because it was a Catholic

The couple coming out of the Church.

ceremony. One of the reasons I love the Catholic Church is because of it’s universality. Here I am in the woods of an island off of Africa and the Mass is still the same. It may be in Swahili, but I know exactly what’s happening throughout. The Mass for the marriage lasted at least 3 hours, but it was definitely worth it. I was informed that the celebration would probably last two days.

Sunday happened to be yet another Feast Day but the Sisters also had what they call a day of recollection. This means that they try to be silent for most of the day and reflect on all that God has been doing during the past week. It was strange, not talking at meals, but I’ve always heard that God is found in silence.

The feast day that accompanied this silence was that of St. Anthony of Padua. The Indian Catholic population here in Zanzibar randomly has a special devotion to this saint and completely overran our church. I could tell the locals were not thrilled about this. After Mass, they handed out sweets and bread to the children. There were special performers who sang and danced and they were wonderful. The Indians all go to the beach after Mass to celebrate and invited us, but the sisters decided they were all partied out. I still have yet to experience a “normal” weekend here in Machui.

Going to the Beach and Discovering Another Side of Missions Work

Finally someplace familiar: the beach! I absolutely love the ocean, so I was glad to have gotten to visit one here in Zanzibar. Of course, being an island there is no shortage of beautiful beaches. We went to one that also offered boat rides to see dolphins. I was apprehensive about this at first because I have had some unpleasant experiences with boats. We also went immediately after lunch, which I knew right away was a bad idea. My stomach dropped when I saw the small motor boat we were to go in but I steeled myself and thought, hey this trip is about taking risks, right? I hung onto the wooden bench for dear life but the ride didn’t turn out to be quite as horrible as I expected. There was only one or two times that I thought I was going to fall into the water…

After riding out into the Indian Ocean for a while, we finally caught a glimpse of some dolphins. They are absolutely majestic creatures. Sometimes people try to swim with them, but these dolphins weren’t feeling friendly. Everytime we got close, they swam away in a hurry. It would have been amazing to be able to swim with them, but maybe I’ll get another chance.

After returning to shore, I got to swim for a while. I can officially say I swam with nuns, which I’m sure not many people can. Strangely, they actually didn’t know how to swim and it was hilarious to watch them maneuver among the waves so they didn’t get knocked down.

I just realized that some of my readers are probably asking themselves: Isn’t she supposed to be doing missions work? Going to the beach, shopping – this doesn’t sound like helping people. I almost fell into this trap too, until I remembered something a very wise person once told me: A large part of a missionary’s work is learning about the culture in which you are serving. I see this trip as mainly consisting of this type of missions work. I am getting to know the people of Machui and their language. I am here to receive and to learn, rather than to help and teach(although I’m still doing those things too). With this preparation, I hope to return to Africa some day and be better equipped to help its people. I will also be doing more direct work once the students return and am preparing for my work with them. So blogwatchers, don’t fear! I haven’t forgotten that I am here to do God’s work and am experiencing His presence fully in the people of Machui.

Not a Typical Weekend in Machui

Last weekend was my first in Machui and it turned out to be a special one.  Saturday is a normal working day here though and people really only take Sunday off.  I helped in the dispensary, which is the health clinic for the village.  The room where the medicine is kept needed to be cleaned, so I took charge of that.  As I was cleaning, I also weeded out the expired medicine.  This obviously hadn’t been done in a while because I found some from 2004.  It was interesting to see that most of their medicine comes from Germany, so I wasn’t learning any Swahili from this task.  I did learn the german word for expires though, so maybe that counts for something.

Sunday was Corpus Christi Sunday, or the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ.  The Sisters here love to celebrate feast days and make them very special.  When I went to breakfast, the room was decorated and our places at the table had all kinds of goodies.  The verse John 10:10; “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”, was sitting on the table.  How could anyone help but feel joy at seeing that? One of the first things I observed about the Sisters is their continual and abounding joy. Their zeal for life is completely contagious and I can’t help but laugh and smile when I am around them.

Then came Mass and I’m still struggling to find the words to describe that experience.  The beauty of the way the people here celebrate the Mass left me speechless.  I could sense immediately the difference in the attitude of the congregation from a typical American Catholic Liturgy.  The people really participated and were fully present.  All too often we simply go through the motions but there was none of that happening here.  I could tell the people really believed and found myself wishing that I had a tenth of their faith. I wonder what the world would be like if all Christians had such strong faith.

One of the Sisters had found a booklet with the liturgy in Swahili so I was finally able to follow along and say the responses to some extent.  Of course I was totally lost during the homily but I’m learning more and more of the language every day.  After Mass, to celebrate the special day, we moved right into a period of adoration.  We processed outside to an altar set up and knelt on the ground. We sang the Pange Lingua, but in Swahili. I was frustrated because I knew it in Latin and was so close to actually understanding something.

During the Eucharistic Procession children threw flower petals towards the monstrance, which is apparently a tradition here. We stopped at another outdoor altar and finally processed back inside. After having been swept up in their reverence of the Eucharist, I am thankful to the people of Machui for making the Mass more powerful and special to me than ever.

On Sundays there is a “choir” but this simply means that there is a group of people with voices more beautiful than the average Tanzanian. I still swear that music is in their genes. Throughout the Eucharistic Procession the choir sang continuously and I don’t think I’m ever going to get used to the haunting beauty of their voices.

Leading up to Sunday, the Sister that cooks kept referring to the “feast” we were going to have. Well she was not exaggerating. There was an abundance of food at lunch, including french fries!! I was overjoyed to see them and took plenty. We had something called Sombosas, which I was happy to find I really liked. They’re basically closed bread pockets filled with meat and vegetables. There was also a cake that said, “Enjoy Life!”, ice cream and even soda. The sisters offered me some wine and assuming that there’s not really a drinking age in the sticks of Tanzania, I decided to try some. Unfortunately, I didn’t like it at all so you can relax mom and dad.

After a day of feasting and partying, I joined the sisters for evening prayer for the first time. This is something I plan on doing every day for my time here, as I am coming to realize how important prayer is in missions work especially.


Finally got a camera so this post will consist solely of pictures.

Home Sweet Home! Guesthouse where I am staying in Machui.
The Convent
Farm for the convent. Finally, I know exactly where my food is coming from!
My humble abode. Yes that is all of it. It's amazing how when you're forced to live with only a little, how little you realize you need.
Gifts made from Palm Branches by some of the College Studens. There is a ring and a necklace. The bracelet is called a spice watch. Usually you have to take the spice tours to get these, but obviously I have special connections 🙂

Day 2: Stonetown

After a rough start due to not being able to sleep last night, I woke up late to find the compound awake and bustling. Machui Community College is closing for a month’s holiday today so the students are finishing their mid terms and cleaning the grounds before heading home. I watched the goings on, feeling a little useless because there wasn’t really anything for me to do. This only lasted a little while though because in the afternoon the other volunteer here and I went into town. She has been here for nine months already and is fluent in Swahili, so I am learning a lot from her. She took me into Stonetown, which is the oldest part of Zanzibar. On the way there I got to experience the crazy driving here again. The driver wove in and out of traffic, narrowly missing people, bikes and motorcycles. How they manage to avoid accidents, I will never know.

Somehow, we arrived in Stonetown alive and began to explore. Our first stop was an atm to get some Tanzanian shillings. One US dollar is worth about 1,300 shillings. Everything costs hundreds or thousands of shillings so it sounds like a lot more than it really is. We set out for the narrow streets of Stonetown and were immediately bombarded by shopkeepers yelling Karibu! and Jambo!, wanting us to come look in their stores. Some persistent people will follow you down the street, trying to convince you to come buy something. Most of the stores sell the same items; scarves, kangas and jewelry. They try to charge white people more but luckily the girl I was with knew how much things should cost. She was able to haggle in Swahili for me and I only got ripped off on one bracelet.

One thing I noticed is that you can never be a hurry in Zanzibar. Everyone you meet wants to strike up a conversation and get to know you. There’s no such thing as speed shopping here and you definitely have to have a lot of patience. After wandering around Stonetown for a while, we decided to stop at a Cafe and get a drink. I opened the menu, expecting some exotic African foods with Swahili names. Instead I found American food like hamburgers and smoothies. I was slightly dissapointed, but my stomach was happy to have some normal food. I settled on a banana and strawberry smoothie and it was delicious.

Next we went to a fruit and spice market. The smell was intoxicating and all the strange fruit looked enticing. We were able to get spices for free from one man who knew the girl I was with.

Soon after this it began pouring and we sat under an awning to wait the rain out. We happened to be next to a man selling Mohaja chips, made from Cassava plants and covered in Chili powder. I decided to try some and they were excellent. The young man selling them talked to my friend in Swahili as we waited for the rain to stop. Later she told me that he said he asked if I have a boyfriend. She warned me that the men here like women with white skin and that I should say I have am married or engaged when they ask this.

To get back to Machui, we used the local transport, called the Daladala. It is a minibus or a trolley that is packed with as many people as possible. This is definitely one way to get close to the locals – I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have gotten any closer to them. After a harrowing ride during which I held on for dear life, we finally returned to Machui. I think riding in cars around here will probably cure my car sickness. Today I definitely dived in the culture of Zanzibar and am overwhelmed by everything I experienced today.

Day 1: Meeting the Students and Learning Swahili

For my first day in Machui, I jumped right into life here. The sisters start their day with mass at 6:30 every morning and I decided to join them. The church is right in the middle of the village so I got to see some of it. If you imagine a stereotypical African village, that is really what it looks like. There are stone and mud huts with thatched roofs. It is normal to see chickens, goats, cats and even cows wandering the dirt paths. Banana and coconut trees can be found in abundance here and all the plants are supersized.

Mass was all in Swahili of course, but I tried to think of all the parts in English. I swear the African people are naturally musically talented. The congregation automatically breaks into parts whenever they sing. Sometimes the sisters even pull instruments out of nowhere. I was in awe at the beauty of their voices.

After Mass, I joined the sisters for breakfast and again my stomach had no problem telling me it wasn’t used to the food yet. On my way back to my room, a few of the college students tried to strike up a conversation with me. An hour later, I had two friends. They wanted to know where I was from, why I had come to Machui and of course, all about America. I was surprised to find out that they knew the names of rappers and pop stars. Unfortunately, they get their ideas about us from this music and from movies. They asked me if everyone talks in slang and I told them that no, most people don’t.

The other assumption they have about America is that the people have the power and that our government listens to us. I was tempted to tell them that this isn’t completely true but then realized that we still have infinitely more freedom and voice than they do. One boy said something that illustrates this perfectly: “If the government tells us to go to sleep at 7, we go to sleep at 7.” Think about that the next time you complain that the government is trying to run our lives.

The boys I was talking to are very smart and recognize that Africa has a huge corruption problem. They also recognize that learning English is their ticket to a better life and are very grateful to me for coming to teach them. Hearing them say that reaffirmed why I am here and made me feel wonderful.

Throughout the first day, I also tried to start picking up some Swahili. It turns out that the most confusing part of the language is the greetings. There are so many different ones and each has a unique response. The most common is “Jambo” which you can answer with “Jambo”. Then there is “Mambo” which is answered with “Poa”. Another greeting is “Habari” which essentially means hello and how are you? and is generally answered with nzuri, which means good. Another word I’ve been hearing a lot is “Karibu”, which means welcome. This is answered with “Asante”, which means thank you. I’m hoping that being surrounded by the language and hearing it spoken constantly will help me learn it very quickly.

Kwa heri (Goodbye)!!

I’m Finally Here!!!

Hello everyone!!  Sorry it took so long to get this post up.  I’ve been here for three days already but everytime I try to post the internet stops working.  I also apologize in advance for the lack of pictures.  I somehow lost my camera in transit but am working on getting a new one, so just bear with me.

I finally made it to Africa and I can’t believe it.  I’m sure any second I’m going to open my eyes and find that this is all a dream.  Except for the fact that if this was a dream, it would have taken a lot less time effort to get here.  Just getting to Zanzibar was a journey and a half in itself.

I left from JFK airport yesterday morning for Dubai without a problem.  I talked to some nice people going to Dubai(where my connection was) while waiting for the plane.  The butterflies in my stomach were having a real party as I waited in nervous anticipation. Finally, I boarded the plane for a twelve hour flight.  I don’t know how many of you have been on a plane ride that long but it’s painful to say the least.  I think I watched at least four movies and slept a lot.  The airline, Emirates, was pretty pinkies up, as one of my friends would say.  As far as airplane food goes, theirs was excellent and the crew was helpful and friendly.

I had heard the airport in Dubai was amazing but I was still surprised by it.  There was basically a mall in my terminal, which gave me something to do while waiting for my flight.  There was also an inside garden near my gate.  I had to laugh when I noticed there was a McDonald’s, Starbucks and Haagan-Daas.  If it weren’t for the Arabic signs and prayer rooms, Dubai could have been mistaken for an American airport.  The flight from Dubai to Dar es Salaam was much shorter and relatively smooth.  This was my first time leaving the time zone and found the experience interesting.  It was mind boggling to think that it was Tuesday morning in Dubai, but still Monday back home!  The first thing I saw upon opening my window was a breathtaking mountain range and all I could think was that I am already seeing wonderful and new things and I haven’t even landed yet.

When I landed in Dar es Salaam things began to get hairy.  I was also exhausted and in desperate need of a shower at this point.  Needless to say, my patience was wearing thin.  Upon entering the airport I immediately encountered a lobby packed with people filling out little blue entry forms.  I grabbed one for myself and hunkered down in a corner to fill it out.  After that it was time to go through customs, which went smoothly luckily.

Unfortunately, the last leg of my journey was still to come; flying to Zanzibar.  The airport in Dar es Salaam was not as organized as the others I had been through but it turns out that standing around looking confused actually works sometimes.  Someone took pity on me and directed me to where I needed to be.  The plane to Zanzibar was about the size of one of the wings on the other planes I had taken and probably fit about 50 people.  The ride was only fifteen minutes and landing was actually much smoother than in a larger plane.  I have discovered that landing my least favorite part of a plane ride, so I was very grateful for this.

Entering what passes as an airport in Zanzibar (it was small, to say the least) I was about ready to collapse and was overjoyed when someone came up to me and asked, “are you Victoria?”  I had finally arrived.

After a bumpy car ride on the wrong side of the road, we arrived in the village of Machui.  It turns out that I was just in time for dinner with the sisters so I dropped my luggage off in my room and headed over to the convent.  All the sisters welcomed me graciously and made me feel right at home.  Right off the bat I started trying new food- a fruit called burundi, which is sort of like grapefruit but sweeter.  I also had fresh milk for the first time from cows right here in the village.  I don’t think my stomach appreciated that very much and it had no problem letting me know.  Finally, after dinner, I had my first freezing cold shower of many and collapsed into bed under a mosquito net.