Tribute to my Parents

•February 25, 2015 • 1 Comment

This afternoon, during staff meeting, we watched a video comparing Intelligent Design with evolution. This video was similar to the hundreds of others I watched throughout my teen years, and with it came the realization of how incredible my parents are, as well as the true quality of the education I received.

I’d like to give a tribute to my Mom and Dad

for not giving me the boot, even though I was bad.

You enforced discipline and made me set my alarm,

taught me to work, and let me help on the farm.

You made me responsible for my own education,

making dreams possible, not just a vocation.

You showed me your love and passion for learning,

sharing good books and teaching critical thinking.

When I got to college, I wasn’t taken aback

You prepared me well for every attack.

Being a Christian wasn’t just church and religion,

You lived out your love for God and His Son.

But feelings alone didn’t make a foundation,

You gave me reasons to believe in salvation.

TV and movies didn’t fill up our time,

You took me outside and watched me climb.

You spent time with us kids, not in a gym,

Your family came first, you taught me to swim.

Its your fault, you see, I am all confused,

I like riding bikes, and don’t mind getting bruised.

But I love teaching too, and even deep thoughts,

Along with adventure, I like reading lots,

Because you taught me to learn,

and didn’t care what I earned.

Thanks Mom and Dad for being the best,

I love you so much; I’ve been incredibly blessed.

Guest Post: Street Art Tour on Uncustomary Art

•February 2, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Today, head over to Uncustomary Art and check out the guest post I wrote on street art in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. There are plenty of photos and a few short descriptions to lead you around on a virtual tour of the street art in this city that I’ve grown to love.

Check out the entire post at: Street Art Tour: Tanzania

Life in Tanzania: An Everyday Adventure

•January 23, 2015 • 1 Comment

Life in a developing country is full of adventure. At the end of the day, I can’t help but laugh at the crazy stories that are just “everyday life” here.

For example, today I experienced “This Isn’t Starbucks:”

It was Friday: the end of a long week at work, and one of those days where one cup of coffee with breakfast just isn’t enough. Because I had a long break between classes, I decided to take a quick run to the local cafe for a pick-me-up. Deducing that attempting to carry a hot cup of coffee on my bicycle was going to be an epic failure, I opted to spend $3.00 for a bajaji to drive me to the coffee shop and back. The bajaji dropped me at the door (no drive-through here!) and I went inside to order a large house brew and a large cappuccino to go. The woman at the counter informed me that I would have to get only a single unless I wanted each coffee in two cups, as they only carried one size of disposable cups for carryout. I acquiesced and shortly had two small steaming cups. Neither cup was made of an insulating material, nor were the lids a good fit. The lids merely sat on top of the cups, being far too large for the cup. I carefully carried the coffees out to the bajaji, where I set them on the floor to shake the burning sensation from my hands. No wonder Starbucks has those cool little cardboard insulators for their cups! Immediately, while attempting to hold the cups upright without burning myself, the bajaji hit the first of many bumps in the rough dirt road, and coffee splashed across the floor. Deciding that the coffee-on-the-floor method was not going to work, I tenderly picked up each cup with my very practiced egg-and-spoon method from equine gymkhana games, and tried not to yelp as we proceeded back to school, the scalding coffee melding the cups to my hands. By time I arrived back to school, one of the lids had blown off, there was coffee spilled across the floor of the bajaji, and my fingers were irrecoverably burnt, but I had coffee. So much for a “quick coffee run.” That is a thing for more developed countries and Starbucks!

Stay tuned for more installments of “Life in Tanzania: An Everyday Adventure!”

Home

•January 9, 2015 • 1 Comment

After spending Christmas and New Year’s in Indiana with my family, I posted this on Facebook:

FBpost

In many ways, it does feel like I have two homes – one in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and one in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I have friends in both places. I have a house in both places. I have a bicycle in both places. I even have a dog in both places. Its the oft-noted challenge of being an expat, or in the case of my students, a third-culture-kid (TCK). Its not the first time I have felt this way, either. As a teen, working at Miracle Mountain Ranch in western Pennsylvania each year, the Ranch became my home each summer. But Indiana was still home too.

I suppose in some ways, this is how we are supposed to feel, as Christians. There is a praise chorus proclaiming, “This is world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through, my treasures are laid up, somewhere beyond the blue.” Rather than having two homes in different states or countries or continents, Christians have a celestial home and are just “expats” here on earth.

I forget that most days.

I am comfortable living here. Being an earthling is fun,exciting, adventurous, and…. comfortable.

Over Christmas break, I was incredibly blessed to spend a bit of time with some dear friends who challenged me. These friends pushed and prodded, asking me to be honest with myself (and them) about how I was doing. As uncomfortable as such conversations can be, they also made me feel exceptionally loved.

What is my purpose in life?

Have I become too comfortable?

Why am I here?

What am I living for?

If I dared enough to be honest with myself, I knew months ago that I was making choices that didn’t align with what I claimed to believe. Even if the choices themselves weren’t always wrong, my reasons for making them often were.

Tattooed on my wrist are the words “Love God; Love People.”

I wasn’t going out on the weekends because of my love for God or people. I wasn’t living a ridiculously busy, sleep-deprived life because of my love for God or people. I wasn’t filling my life with adrenaline and caffeine because of my love for God or people.

Somewhere along the line, I got comfortable.

I have a very unique opportunity. I was raised in a Christian home, homeschooled, and surrounded by people who didn’t drink, didn’t smoke, didn’t dance, didn’t have tattoos, didn’t swear, and didn’t do drugs. In almost complete contrast to that, I hang out with cyclists and volleyball players, people who are for the most part (and this is a very BROAD generalization) opposites in nearly every way to those I grew up around. Now, in my mid-twenties, I have friends on both ends of a wide spectrum.

Perhaps, like Esther, I am here “for such a time as this.”

When I started playing volleyball more competitively in my early twenties, I remember realizing that I had a grand opportunity as a Christian in the world of sports to somehow share the love of Christ with my teammates and friends. I hate the “Christanese” of “being a good example,” however, because I know so many men and women who are not Christians – men and women who are Muslims, athiests, Bhuddist, whatever – who are far better examples than many Christians I know. And, lets be honest, I’m no specimen of flawless morals myself – I get angry with myself and others, I swear, and speed like Roadrunner with Wile E. Coyote on his tail. Not that those things are always wrong. But they certainly aren’t always prime examples of loving people. At any rate, that realization was at least five years ago. Now, I have a lot of wonderful “volleyball friends,” many of which I have managed to stay in contact with even while living overseas. But I make no claim of in any way intentionally bringing Christ up in conversation with these friends. My excuse? Well, its awkward.

Lame. I know.

Here in Dar es Salaam, I don’t even know how many of my friends from hockey, volleyball, netball, etc. even know that I am a Christian. I play sports with them, party on the weekends with them, travel with them…and yet remain entirely silent on the one thing that I claim is central to my existence: Jesus Christ.

Hypocrite? I think yes.

If I really believe what I say I believe, and if I really care about these people I call friends, I can not continue to stay silent. I cannot continue making choices based only on what I want to do, on what is exciting and fun, or what the “cool kids do.” Somehow, I need to get back to the place where I can honestly answer the question, “Why do you play volleyball?” with, “I play volleyball because I love the sport, but also because it is a place where I have the opportunity to love others as Christ first loved me, and to give Him glory.” Or fill in the blank. Why do I cycle? Why do I go out on Friday night? Why do I play hockey? Why do I teach English? Whatever.

On Christmas Eve, my family and I went to Wallen Baptist Church, where I attend when I am in Fort Wayne, for the Christmas Eve Service. Towards the end of the service, Pastor Suciu stood up and spoke for less than fifteen minutes. He gave everyone a small white candle to remind us that we are to be lights in the world, just as Jesus was/is the Light of the world. At that point, I was finally able to be honest enough to admit that I have been failing as a missionary, as a Christian, as a light. Fortunately, God’s grace is more than sufficient for my failures, and perhaps He has managed to use me despite my bullheadedness, crashing through life in determined ignorance of the consequences of my decisions.

Through this entire process, which at timed seemed a bit like an open heart surgery, with my chest being cut open to reveal the selfishness within, I also realized that for right now, I need the accountability of these dear friends in Indiana. Friends who know and love me well enough to call me out for my errors, and who sacrificially give of their time and energy to put me back on track. Thus, the decision has been made. At the end of the school year in June, I will be moving back to Fort Wayne for awhile. The adventure and opportunities of teaching internationally still appeal to me, so I can’t promise I’ll stay forever, but for now, I’m moving back to the one home where I have some roots and accountability.

Perhaps this post should also be an apology. An apology to those who have generously supported my time here in Tanzania as a “missionary,” and an apology to the friends that I have failed to share Christ’s love with. I really am sorry. But also grateful that I took the opportunity to go back to Indiana for the holidays, and through that, was able to get refocused for this last semester in Dar es Salaam. And…being able to chill (literally) with my family for a few days was awesome as well!

Skiing and snowboarding at Boyne Highlands in Michigan with the family

Victoria Falls Adventure, days 6-7

•December 18, 2014 • Leave a Comment

After a breakfast of bread, peanut butter, and coffee, I met “John,” one of the staff at Adventure Lodge for a trip to the bank to reverse the accidental duplicate charge on my credit card. While waiting, I began reading Zambezi: the first solo journey across Africa’s mighty river, by Mike Boon on my phone’s Kindle app. Being familiar with some of the areas described in the book, it was fascinating and enlightening. The book helped to fill out some of the histories of Southern Africa that I had previously gleaned from friends and acquaintances who lived through the horrors of apartheid and Mugabe’s early rule.

From the bank, I ventured downriver along the brink of the Batoka Gorge. There are cables stretched across the gorge, high above the rushing Zambezi river, and I step into a full body harness, and then a second climbing harness that serves as a backup in case the first harness fails. I clip my GoPro camera to my harness with a climbing carabiner brought from home, while the staff attach multiple other carabiners to my harness and then to the giant cables that span the gorge. I’m directed to walk to the edge of the platform and step off. Despite my protestations to the driver, I screamed as my body flailed uselessly through free fall. When the cables finally became taunt, I relaxed and enjoyed the ride as the swing carried me back and forth across the gorge. After a couple of minutes, they reeled me back to the top of the gorge, and I returned to the Victoria Falls bridge, adrenaline coursing through my veins.

At the bridge, I prepared for my second leap into free fall: the famed Victoria Falls Bungee–110 meters of “Big African Air.” Here, I once again step into a full harness, then one of the staff carefully wraps my legs with towels, and all the attachments are checked and double-checked before I am instructed to hop to the edge of the platform. I am nearly paralyzed with fear, knowing that I will be leaping head-first towards the river, and that, despite the life jacket I’ve been given “in case the rope breaks,” impact with the water from this height will mean certain injury and probably death. Nevertheless, on the count of 5…4…3…2…1, I dive forward, screaming once again. As I reach the end of my fall, the bungee attached to my ankles rebounds, throwing me high into the air time and time again. When the bouncing slows and I am left spinning upside down, yet another member of the Bungee Crew rappels down to meet me, clips a carabiner and rope to my harness, and I am righted as they lift me back towards the bridge. A quick look at my GoPro reveals that the entire experience lasted less than 1:30.

I return to my room to continue reading about Mike Boon’s adventures on the Zambezi, and for a lunch of more bread and peanut butter. Buying my meals in bulk via a container of peanut butter and a loaf of bread is certainly cheaper than eating out for a week, but it does get monotonous to eat three times a day,

There’s a violent thunderstorm, something I’m no longer accustomed to, as Dar es Salaam, for all its rain, seldom delivers thunder or lightening. Just as the rain is slowing, the bus arrives to take me to the “sunset cruise” on the Zambezi, a fitting conclusion to my time in beautiful Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. The sunset is muted by the retreating storm, but the cruise along the deceptively quiet river above the falls is relaxing and enjoyable. I meet a Canadian couple who are currently living in Munich, Germany, and am regaled by their tales of working in Nigeria as volunteer teachers long ago, and of trips to Kruger National Park complete with birthing impalas, stalking cheetahs, and unexpected leopards.

After returning to my lodge, I am lured to the restaurant/bar area by some live folk music, which is unexpectedly interrupted by a bachelor party and their excessive drinking. In the corner, waiting for the music to resume, I trade stories with the owner of the lodge and a visiting friend from Johannesburg, watching the wasted bachelor party continue on in a strange coexistence with the brilliant music being performed.

In the morning, I pack my backpack, pay my bar tab of $5 for the week, and check out. On my walk towards the bridge and the border crossing, I am hailed by a number of the raft guides from Wild Horizons wishing me safe travels and welcoming me back anytime. Part of me would like to return. It is an interesting little town, and the river is strangely addicting. Maybe once I fulfill my dream of learning to whitewater kayak, I will return to the mighty Zambezi. I cross first the Zimbabwe border, and then into Zambia, walking to the Zambian side of the Falls to take a parting view of the majestic Victoria Falls before returning to Dar es Salaam.

Once again, when I arrive at the bus stop, I am encouraged to climb aboard the bus leaving “right now,” instead of waiting for my originally scheduled bus. Doing so means giving up my preferred seat 3 and being shuffled to the back of the bus, where I meet “Martha,” a woman from Botswana who shortly proceeds to lie down and fall asleep on my lap. Her intrusion is unintentional, and certainly not intended to be rude. When we stop to let on more passengers later on our journey, she kindly offers me some of the unidentifiable fruit she is eating. I politely decline, insisting that I have just eaten, which is true. As the bus fills, a small boy is wedged between me and my Botswanan friend. My guess is that he is probably 10 or 11, and his big eyes are fascinated by my iPad as I type this blog post. I certainly got lucky in last week’s bus, as this one does not have A/C, and for some strange and unknown reason, people are not opening their windows (and mine is the one window in the entire bus that doesn’t open). Combine fifty plus sweaty bodies and five songs on repeat for ten hours…this is going to be a long ride.

Most likely, we have about three more hours on the road before reaching Lusaka. There, I will attempt to find a hostel or hotel with airport transfers to spend the night in before my flight back to Dar es Salaam tomorrow morning. Preferably, my lodgings will have wifi access so that I can upload this post, confirm my flight details, and chat with family and friends back home. We shall see. Once again, this part of my journey is going to be mostly “winging it,” though I did do a bit of research on Lusaka hotels on TripAdvisor before leaving Victoria Falls.

Victoria Falls Adventure – day 5

•December 16, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Over a year ago, before I moved to Tanzania, my brother and I were browsing YouTube and came across some “Zambezi Rafting Fails” highlight videos. After watching them, we decided that if I only did one thing during my stay in Africa, I needed to raft the Zambezi River.

Today, I rafted the Zambezi River.

It was epic.

I love whitewater rafting, but this was beyond words. Some of the drops were absolutely enormous, with waves 10+ feet one after another.

We flipped three times. I loved every minute.

I tried to get a GoPro video, but since we left at 7 a.m., and didn’t return until after 2:30 p.m., my battery died before we finished the 19 rapids for the day. Thus, I decided to spend the money to buy the DVD of photos and video…because that was an experience worth having legit video of to show family and friends. 😃

And I have to say, if you are only in Africa once… Raft the Zambezi. It is worth it!

Victoria Falls Adventure – day 4

•December 15, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Just after breakfast, I set off for the fourth country in four days: Botswana. The Day Trip to Chobe National Park started with a bus ride to the Botswana border, where we split into two safari vehicles after getting our passports stamped. From the border, we drove to Chobe Safari Lodge, piled onto a large pontoon boat of sorts, and set out on a river safari.

The Chobe River separates Botswana and Namibia, and so Chobe National Park, Botswana was on one side of the river and Namibia was on the other. If it wasn’t for all the crocodiles and hippos, I could have swam to country number five! Oddly enough, after living on the ocean for several years, it was strange to be on water where I couldn’t see the bottom. However, the smell of the river reminded me of the lakes back in Indiana for some reason.

While on the river, we saw hippos, crocodiles, various birds, elephants, Cape buffalo, and water buck. At one point, we even saw several large crocodiles feeding on a dead Cape buffalo…until a hippo absconded with the carcass and proceeded to lick and bite at the dead buffalo. Hippos are supposedly vegetarians, and no one had ever seen that before!

After several hours on the river, we returned to the lodge for a nice lunch and conversation before going out on a game drive for the afternoon. On the game drive, we saw more hippos, elephants, water buck, birds, Cape buffalo, giraffe, crocodiles, sable antelope, impala, a tortoise, and several fish eagles. The fish eagles are beautiful and strongly resemble the American bald eagle–so much so that I wonder if they are really the same species, just living on different continents. I’ll have to check that out on Google one of these days. One elephant was so close to our parked vehicle, I could have reached out and touched it! I didn’t, but I did get a picture of her eyelashes. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any predators / large cats. The guide was quite informative, and I learned still more about Africa’s wildlife.

This was my first safari in a “real safari vehicle,” and it was quite nice to not have to sit on an uncomfortable roof rack or crawl out the window to be able to take photos. At the same time, having a guide and a group also meant that the drive was not self-paced, which was a bit annoying. Given the choice, I’d still go on safari with Derek and Marianne in their Land Rover over a “real safari” any day!

From the game drive, we drove back to the Zimbabwe border, switched to the bus, and returned to Victoria Falls, quite exhausted.

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