Pamoja Week: Year #3

•November 4, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Its difficult for me to believe that this is my third year at HOPAC, but, as this is my third week participating in the legendary “Pamoja Week,” it must be true. Pamoja Week is our celebration of unity at HOPAC. In many ways, it mirrors the American “Spirit Week.” Pamoja Week is the highlight of the year at HOPAC, and concludes with International Day, where students dress in their nation’s traditional dress and/or colors, wave their nation’s flag, and share bits of their culture with the rest of the school. Living in Dar es Salaam, I regularly experience a plethora of different cultures, from the variety of languages that pervade every conversation (I really need to learn French), to food choices, and even the strange ideas of “normal” in varying cultures. It is near the top in my list of favorite things about life in Dar, and so when the opportunity comes to celebrate the nearly 40 different nationalities of students at HOPAC, I am all in!

Here are a few photos of Pamoja Week so far… and stay tuned for an International Day post later this week!

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A Series of Odd Events While Traveling…

•October 25, 2015 • Leave a Comment

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Sometimes it feels like I’m living a part of Lemony Snicket’s series of unfortunate events. Traveling from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to Colombo, Sri Lanka last week was one of those times. Though I’ve had a number of traveling adventures, including traveling cross-country to Victoria Falls bootstrap-style, this latest trip was, well, odd.

Perhaps the inciting event really happened nearly two weeks ago, when I developed a UTI and started a brutal round of antibiotics. The antibiotics killed the UTI, but also knocked me out. By time I finished them out, I was exhausted and fighting a sinus infection. Thus began my travels. In case you’ve never flown internationally with a sinus infection, just don’t. Breathing isn’t any easier at 40,000 feet. And the sinus headaches are on a whole new level.

My flight was scheduled to leave Dar at 5:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, which required me to leave my house at 2:30 a.m. Instead of taking a bajaji, two of my friends offered to drive me to the airport–but wanted to hang out at my house beforehand. Odd event #1. Being ill, the intelligent thing to do before traveling is sleep. Instead, I stayed up the entire night prior to arriving at the airport.

As I boarded the first of the three flights that day, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that the flight was unusually empty and that I, along with most of the other passengers, had a full row of seats to myself. Alas, it was not to be. Enter odd event #2. Just as I was preparing to spread out into the neighboring seat, two punk dudes moved from the very front of the plane to the back where I was seated and sat down in the seats next to me. Before ever boarding the plane, I had identified these guys as punks–if the sagging trousers, flat-brimmed ball caps, and too-big t-shirts wasn’t enough–they had been trying to get my attention by winking, whistling, and nodding for the last 45 minutes. For the entire flight to Nairobi, I contemplated the peacemaking strategy of a well-aimed punch: my new seat-mate would.not.shut.up. Apparently, the fact that I was turned away from him, hidden entirely beneath a blanket, and not responding didn’t actually communicate to him that I, like most of the passengers on the plane, was trying to sleep.

Arriving in Nairobi, I compared my boarding pass for the next flight with my watch and realized that somewhere inside the airport, the P.A. system was garbling through the standard “….BOARDING NOW” for my connecting flight. Fifteen minutes later, I finally managed to enter the airport after waiting seeming hours for the transfer bus to leave the tarmac. Airport staff dragged me to the front of the priority security line and I ran to my next gate only to wait twenty minutes for the flight to board. I suppose I shouldn’t think this an odd event…it is Africa after all! Regardless, odd event #3. And #4.

Whilst waiting for my flight in Nairobi, yet another punk dude took it upon himself to fill the empty seat next to me. He then proceeded to take a selfie at a ridiculous angle just so that I, the lone mzungu (white person), would be in the background. I glared at him and turned away, pretending to ignore the multiple photos that he was taking of my turned head. If I ever forget, remind me that I never EVER want to be famous.

The flight to Mumbai was relatively uneventful, but I was quite surprised to see my name on a placard when I disembarked the plane. Along with one other passenger, they hurried me to the transfer desk. Travel experience tells me that typically, in such an event, the transfer counter needs to inform the passenger of a flight change, scheduling change, or possibly reprint a boarding pass. However, in Mumbai, they did none of these things. They made several phone calls, wrote down various information from my boarding pass and passport, stared at me in disbelief when I insisted that I didn’t have any checked baggage, and then sent me to stand in the back of the normal line for security. Well that was dumb. And odd.

Eventually I made it through security (for the third time in twelve hours) and boarded my final flight. Less than an hour later, I was taken aback by the flight attendant’s question: “Beer or whiskey?” Yes, that’s right. When flying on this particular airline between Mumbai and Colombo, apparently the options are not soda, juice, and water, but beer or whiskey. Very, very odd. Number six, if you’re still counting. Once again, I was seated next to an over-talkative passenger, but this time, instead of a punk kid, it was a friendly gentleman who insisted that I have a glass of whiskey and tried to share his portion of chocolate mousse that came as dessert.

I landed in Colombo, Sri Lanka at a little after 8:30 p.m. Until this trip, I had no idea that there was a part of the world that was in a “point five” time zone. Mumbai and Colombo are both exactly 2.5 hours ahead of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Odd, but this wasn’t especially particular to me, so I don’t think it counts. Its more like learning something new. Getting a visa on arrival was simple, though immigration did manage to mix up my passport (and payment) with the girl in front of me–who was not American. Or white. She was completely confused as to why they were charging her more than the rate for Indian citizens, and I a bit befuddled when they tried to hand me a non-American passport. Odd event #7. But we had a good laugh over it.

Eventually I got the correct passport and visa, along with a free sim card for my phone, arranged a taxi, exchanged money, loaded my phone with credit, and headed for the hotel. This very odd sequence of events was finally over. I had an incredible stay in Colombo, complete with a very educational and informative conference on teaching Literature and introductions to a group of Sri Lankans who were exceedingly kind and generous to me, making me feel totally welcome in their home country. Now, two days later, I’m back in Dar attempting to sleep off the six flights, eight airport stays, and nearly 8500 miles that I traveled in the four short days between Wednesday morning and Saturday evening.

Joy & Orthodoxy

•October 17, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Thoughts on joy from G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy:

“Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial. Melancholy should be an innocent interlude, a tender and fugitive frame of mind; praise should be the permanent pulsation of the soul. Pessimism is at best an emotional half-holiday; joy is the uproarious labour by which all things live.”

And again:

“Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian….The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual….He never concealed his tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight…Yet He concealed something….He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.”



•October 15, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Instead of traveling this midterm break, I opted to stay in Dar for the week. When the opportunity arose to learn to kitesurf, I jumped on it. Living on the coast for the past two and a half years, I’ve seen plenty of people kitesurfing, and so assumed it wasn’t terribly difficult. In some ways, I was right. Kitesurfing, at least at a beginner level, is not physically demanding. However, I found it to be a challenging reflection of the state of my heart/self.

The first day, I started with a practice kite, crashed it only a few times, gained confidence, then moved to a full-size kite. Immediately, I crashed. When the kite started to drift to the right instead of staying at “12:00,” my corrections were never soft enough and I crashed every time. Controlling the kite is harder than it looks. When I watched from the shore and saw people zipping past, I didn’t realize the subtlety of their control of the kites. When I turn my arms incorrectly and “drive” the kite instead of turning it, the kite inevitably crashes. When I get distracted for even a second and take my eyes off the kite, it invariably swoops down towards the sea, throwing me into the ocean, and often crashing. When I overcorrect or tense my shoulders or make too harsh a movement, the kite crashes again. And again. And again. The lesson was fun, but it was incredibly frustrating.

Reviewing the basics of kite control during the second and third lessons came surprisingly easy. Even with the larger kite, the frustrations of the first day melted away, and I crashed only a few times in comparison. Still, as I was put in the position of student (a place I don’t often find myself these days), I realized how difficult it can be to understand instructions and correctly apply them to my actions. Time and time again I had to consciously control my natural urge to react rather than respond. Kitesurfing only exaggerated my typical inclinations towards reaction and tension under stress. But still, I felt successful. I was learning to stay relaxed, and even made a few “saves” by managing to keep the kite in the air when I thought surely it was going to crash. By the end of the third lesson, I was able to direct the kite well enough to get up on the board, ride a few meters, then sit back down. I had high hopes for being able to actually “ride” by the end of the week.

Then day four (today) happened. I crashed the kite before I even finished reviewing the previous lesson. And then I crashed it again. And again. And again. Over and over I found myself being dragged through the water, completely incapable of doing anything correctly. The salt water flowing from my eyes was not entirely from the ocean as even my best attempts to cope with the frustration failed miserably. Halfway through the lesson, we moved to the beach to practice simple landing and launching, as even walking with the kite was proving to be too much. My shoulders hurt, not from exertion, but from being clenched so tightly. The repeated gentle reminders to relax were fruitless as my best attempts to drop my shoulders lasted only a few seconds (until the kite wrenched itself from my control yet again). We ended the lesson thirty minutes early, considering a few consecutive successful landings to be enough for the day.

When I got home after running a few errands, several hours later, I was still trapped in the frustration and failure, to the point where even my puppy’s attempts to play were pushed away in anger. Normally, I would blame a lack of sleep, but I had slept close to thirty of the past 48 hours, so the only remaining culprits could be the antibiotic I’m taking for a bacterial infection, or my own inability to cope with pressure/failure. This may well be the sport that keeps me mindful of the value of struggling. If everything comes easy, then I won’t appreciate it, won’t grow, and won’t push myself to be excellent. Its not that other sports have necessarily come easy to me, but usually, there is room for solo practice where I can work out the rough spots without being under the eye of a coach. Its also not that I haven’t let other sports get to me–volleyball, my very favorite sport, is one that can still push me to tears on an especially difficult day. But maybe, just maybe, this will be the sport that teaches me to deal with pressure in a mature way. One can hope, anyway.

I have one more lesson later this weekend. My hopes are not terribly optimistic for being able to ride solo, but I’m not giving up on kitesurfing yet. How can I? Its essentially the perfect combination of water, sun, and flying.


•October 7, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Margins bring order and cleanliness

But I’d prefer to run insane, my life all a mess

The white space on the page brings focus to the text

The notes and scribbles scrawled filling space, erasing rest 

Jambo moja’s the theme: only one thing

But I’ve misplaced the bold in all my running

When the page is all filled, eyes wander and are lost

And when time runs out, it’s always at a cost

That first draft’s a mess and needs some white out

I’m torn–what good thing must I cut out?

Filled space is worthless when nothing’s said

And so’s my effort if it leaves me dead

So on this page, I’ll make some space

And on this weekend, I’ll slow my pace.

Spend a day on the beach just watching waves

Thanking God for his precedent that rest is ok. 

Psalm 16:8-9

•October 3, 2015 • Leave a Comment

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The Struggle is Real

•October 2, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Yesterday morning, I impulsively typed up a Facebook status update as a means of venting my frustrations about my struggle to choose joy. Twelve hours later, the status had over 100 likes, fifteen comments, and had been shared multiple times. Apparently, I’m not the only one struggling to choose joy.

I woke up angry this morning.
Angry at my alarm for going off (at the usual time).
Angry at my dog for digging up the herbs I just planted.
Angry at my gardener for flooding the same herbs.
Angry at myself for being tired (normal).
Angry at the daladala for smelling (nothing abnormal there).
Angry at my feet for hurting (like always).
Angry at my coffee mug for being dented (because I dropped it).

Yo, choosing joy was a STRUGGLE this morning.
But I fought for it today on my walk to work in some kind of verbal battle with my own soul. And so I’m thanking God for today and putting gratefulness on the frontlines to wage war against my anger and self-focus.

Thanking Him for the clouds and rain.
Thanking Him for the chance to teach middle school history today (maybe this should be my next subject area? Its kind of fun!).
Thanking Him for coffee.
Thanking Him for working internet and power.
Thanking Him for the opportunity to teach P.E. (and wear basketball shorts every day) this year.
Thanking Him for headbands (because this hair is INSANE).
Thanking Him for Pilot G-2 pens and Expo markers and Sharpies.
Thanking Him that tomorrow is Friday.
Thanking Him for the struggle of choosing joy.

‪#‎gratefulness‬ ‪#‎choosejoy‬ ‪#‎notalwayseasy‬


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