The “G” Word

I want to have a really cool life.  You know those people who are introducedas having spent three years in the bush of the

I want to be her!

Congo, working for the UN and starting their own organization?  I want to be one of those people when I’m older.  As my last year of college flies by and the “G” word approaches, I can’t wait to start building up that list of experiences.  I know that in my last post (I apologize for the severe lack of posting) I was all set to begin applying for the Peace Corps.  However, anyone who knows me knows I change my mind about my life plans every week.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am 99% sure that I am going to do some kind of service overseas after I graduate, but there are just so many options!

I have kept diaries pretty faithfully since middle school and I like to go back and look at them once in a while.  While doing this recently, I was reminded of my deep rooted desire to be a missionary.  I have felt a tug from God towards missions work for many years now and am finally realizing that I could be doing it in a year from now.  The fact that in a year I will probably be leaving the country and my family for at least two years is a terrifying and exhilarating thought.

As you know my faith is the most important thing in my life.  Part of the reason I am no longer interested in joining Peace Corps is because I would like to work with a religious organization which will support me in my faith.  The other reason is that Peace Corps volunteers are very independent and often isolated, whereas I would prefer to live in community with other volunteers and work as part of a team.  I am also thinking and praying about what exactly it means to be a missionary and how this would be different than doing a service program.

Here are some of the different organizations that I am looking at applying to:

Maryknoll Lay Missioners

Society of African Missions

Franciscan Mission Service

While the “G” word is somewhat scary, I am excited to see what God has in store for me!

Gaining Perspective

The single most important thing I gained in Africa was perspective.  Perspective on life in general, on what it means to be rich and what it means to be poor.  I mean I had a vague idea of how blessed I am but now I really know, with certainty.  A few things became very clear while I was living in Zanzibar.  As Christians, we are constantly warned against becoming attached to worldly riches because they tear us away from God.  Now I know how true that is.  Living simply for two months gave me a whole world of clarity.  Not only was I not surrounded by possessions, but the schedule of my days was simple too.  Boiled down, my days consisted of praying, eating and working.  I didn’t have time to be lazy and didn’t have things like tv and the computer to take me away from God’s will.  I was rich spiritually, while I was poor materially; like the people I was serving.  Except for the fact that my poverty couldn’t hold a candle to theirs and I can only hope to gain half of the joy they possess.

Americans are stereotypically thought of as rich and while us middle class folk laugh at that idea, guess what?  It’s true. You’re rich.  You have things most people in the world couldn’t even imagine.  Even the poor of this country are better off than the poor of Africa because they have access to social services and government help.

Yet I look around, at my friends and family and see that the majority of United States Citizens are not happy with their lives.  We always want more; to be more successful, more beautiful, richer, smarter.  Statistically we have high depression and suicide rates.  I don’t understand why this is.  We can’t blame money or success because these things are not inherently evil.  The problem starts when we let the desire for more control us, consume us until we lose sight of what is really important.  It comes down to one question: why are we so unhappy?

There is one clearly dividing factor between our culture and that of other countries, especially African and Hispanic nations:  family.  In African and Hispanic cultures, the family is the core unit of society.  I think we have lost sight of the importance of family in the U.S. and that has made a world of difference.  If someone has a strong family support system he or she is better equipped to handle crises and tragedies.  Someone without that support seems more likely to cave under stress.  I have been blessed with a big, loving family and I know for a fact that has made all the difference.  We just spent a week together celebrating my Grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary and I was reminded once again how incredibly lucky I was to be born into the family that I was.  So many people do not have that though.  Mother Teresa said: “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.”  According to the World Health Organization, the Suicide rate for the U.S. in 2005 for males was 17.6 per 100,000.  Honduras and Haiti had zero recorded suicides in 2003.  I realize that poverty and happiness are complicated ideas, but family does seem to be a key factor in the equation.  If we follow the logic of Mother Teresa, those who are rich and lonely are actually poorer than those who have nothing but a loving family.

My head is spinning from all of this and I am left with the question: who is really poor?

Did It Really Happen?

I’m sitting at home wondering:  Did the past two months really happen?  If it weren’t for the over three hundred pictures proving that I went to Africa, I would be convinced that the past two months have been a dream.  I’m sure that just yesterday I was sitting in bed dreaming about the day I would go to Africa.  It was supposed to be someday in the future when I would have an incredible experience that would change my life.  But that someday already happened.  It’s done; I’m back – my life is changed, I am changed and I’m wondering, what now?

That’s the only problem when you’re dreams come true; what happens after?  I mean going to Africa has been number one of my list of things to do and it’s checked off.  And I still have my whole life ahead of me so how do I top that?  Well the answer is obvious: go back, go for longer and see more of Africa.  I only got a small taste of a small part of the continent and am hungry for more.

I read something in a book recently that had a profound effect on me.  It said we should beware of using the word “someday”.  This ambiguous word can cause us to continuously put off our dreams until they never come true.  One elderly person I talked to about my trip said, “I had always dreamed about going to Africa ‘someday'” and guess what? she never did.  Since reading this, I’ve become very conscious of using the word and try to avoid it.  I didn’t save Africa for “someday” and I’m so glad I didn’t.

Now jet lag is setting in so I’m going to say goodnight before this turns into incoherent babbling…

Not Goodbye, But See You Later

I leave here tomorrow but I’m actually not too broken up about that fact, because I know I’ll come back to Africa as soon as possible.  I’m also excited to tell everyone about my experience.  Sharing all that God has done in these past two months is definitely a way of evangelizing.  I even have an interview with my local newspaper(thanks Dad), which I’m very excited about!!  I’m finding that Africans don’t like saying goodbye and usually part by reassuring each other that they will meet again.  I have a feeling I’ll be back in Machui before long.  The people here have definitely worked their way into my heart and I wish I had longer to get to know them (and to learn Swahili!).

My last week in Machui has been busy, busy, busy and I apologize for the lack of blogging.  When I get home and have a chance to process the experience, I know that I will be doing a lot of writing.  Now I’m off to pack!

Finally Teaching!!

I’ve been trying to pack as much as possible into my last week here so I’ve been really busy!!

The students started classes again on Wednesday and I jumped right into teaching them.  Normally on Wednesdays they are taught lifeskills all day but the teacher for that couldn’t make it.  So, a few minutes before classes started, they informed me that I would be teaching Spanish(yes you read that right).  I’m finding that this sort of thing happens a lot.  There is a schedule, but it doesn’t mean much.  Since most of the students will be working in the tourist business and will meet people from all over the world, it is adventageous to learn a little of many languages.  Therefore, I am sharing my small knowledge of Spanish with them, in addition to working on their English skills.

I realized right away that teaching Spanish would be much easier than teaching English.  This sounds strange at first, because English is my first language.  The students have almost no knowledge of Spanish though, so I can just cover the basics.  Also, because I don’t have much time with them, I am just teaching them phrases and words, not grammar.  English, on the other hand, is a whole other story.  I’m starting to appreciate how competely obnoxious and complex the English language is.  I know there are grammar rules, but sometimes I seriously doubt their existance…

Anyone who knows me, knows I love grammar, but I had a very difficult time explaining why we use certain words, forms, etc.  My limited knowledge of Swahili isn’t helping either.  Needless to say, I am very confident in my decision to switch from an education major to a social work.

Week 7!! 12 Days and Counting…

I’m sitting here astounded at the fact that I’ve been here for 7 weeks already.  My time here in Machui has gone by in the blink of an eye and I’m trying to savor my last days here.  After a quiet few weeks, things are starting to pick up around here.  The children in the kindergarten started school yesterday and the college students came back today to prepare for classes tomorrow.  I’m still not quite sure what I’m doing with them but we’ll see what happens!

Looking back on the last week, a lot has happened since my last post about the Spice Farm.

Last Sunday we celebrated The Feast of the Precious Blood properly.  There is another community of Precious Blood serving in a village a few minutes away from Machui, called Welezo.  We joined the Sisters there for the Feast.  Their main ministry is running an old age home and we took a tour of it while we were there.  One man, who had fallen out of a tree and broken his leg, wanted me to take a picture:

Mzee(Elderly Person) at Welezo.Strangely, I think this is the place where I have been most exposed to the poverty of the people.  Some of the Wazee(Elderly people in Swahili) couldn’t get out of bed and were riddled with disease.  It’s important in situations like that to look the person in the eye and treat him or her normally, to preserve that person’s human dignity.  The respectful greetings for your elders in Swahili is “Shikamo”, to which they respond, “Marahaba”.  We went around to the rooms greeting people in this way and they were delighted to find that I can speak a little Swahili.  Knowing that I brought a little joy to their day was wonderful.

On Tuesday, yet another visitor arrived in Machui but this time it was a familiar face for most of the people here.  The visitor was a Sister from Austria who lived in Machui for nineteen years.  She was here from the beginning, when everything was just starting to be built.  As I’m sure you can imagine, talking with her was very interesting.  She is a nurse and worked in the dispensary while she was here.  Since I’m helping there now took a special interest in me.  In the afternoon, after I was done working, she invited me to take a walk around the compound with her.  As we ran into people she knew, watching her interact with them was delightful.

The German benefactor of the Sisters that I mentioned in my posts is still here and planning many things for Machui. He wants to build another water tank, new classrooms and add rooms to the dispensary. He even put together a 35 ton container of supplies from Germany to be sent here! After a week of stress because they were having trouble collecting the container after it arrived, a truck finally pulled in on Saturday carrying it. The huge container was full of tiles, pipes, bags of cement and building materials. I was amazed at the generosity of this man. This isn’t the first time he has done this either. For at least fifty years, he has been assisting the Sisters and practically built the entire compound here in Machui. He is truly an inspiration and I only wish that more people were as generous.

Here are some pictures of us unloading the supplies:

Me carrying some tiles.
Unloading the truck.
Does this count as child labor?
Cans of Paint.

The Spice Farm

Zanzibar is known as the Spice Island because of the many varieties of spices that grow here. Most of the world used to get its spices here, in fact. One of the things that you have to do when you come here is tour a spice farm. There is one main one owned by the government, but also many private farms. All of the farms are still in use today.

Yesterday two girls who are volunteering in Dar es Salaam came to visit Machui and of course had to tour the Spice Farm. Since I hadn’t gone yet, I decided to join them and was glad I did. I also took lots of pictures so this definitely deserves its own post.

The Spice Farm was the original Spice plantation started by the first Sultan of Zanzibar in 1860 and is still in use today. Many of the students from Machui actually work there, so we were able to get one of them to give us a tour. After giving us a brief history, our guide led us to the first spice. He had us guess what it was and while it was familiar, none of could place it. He revealed that what we were smelling was ginger and broke off a piece of the root for us to eat. The taste was subtle at first but then exploded with spiciness. I was surprised by the taste and it lingered in my mouth for a long time.

Mr. Butterfly climbing the Palm Tree.

Although it is called The Spice Farm, many kinds of fruits also grow there. During the tour, we saw a man harvesting coconuts. The man we saw is called Mr. Butterfly and is famous all over Zanzibar. To get the coconuts he tied a rope around his ankles and shimmied up the tall palm tree. As he climbed he

A Palm Tree Flower

sang and even did some tricks. Along with the coconuts, he cut down a flower which actually doesn’t look like a flower at all(see picture). Our guide told us that most toothbrushes in Zanzibar are made from this flower. After climbing down, he cut open the coconuts and we were able to drink the “milk”, which was more like water and eat the fleshy insides. It was delicious!

Drinking from the coconuts

Throughout the rest of the tour we saw and smelled many other spices, some of which I had never heard of before. There was cinnamon, pepper, lemongrass, cardamon and vanilla to name a few.

I bought some lemongrass tea and checked one thing off of the must see list for Zanzibar.

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.