Summer 2016: Road Trip!

•July 20, 2016 • Leave a Comment

The Plan

At Christmas, my brother Josh and I started planning our “epic summer vacation,” which included camping on the Outer Banks in North Carolina and mountain biking, rock climbing, and other general adventuring along the way. I informed my manager at the bike store that I needed a week off in July, and considered everything settled. Around mid-May, Josh accepted a new job, and with it, lost his vacation time. But all was not lost. I still had a week off of work, even if Josh couldn’t go along. My parents offered to let me accompany them on a cycling trip in Idaho, but after breaking my leg in April, I wasn’t sure if I was up for the challenge of riding a bicycle up mountains, so I declined and began planning my own trip. In what became the Great Summer Road Trip of 2016, I made plans to visit some friends in Florida during my week’s vacation. About a week later, a friend contacted me and asked me to stop in North Carolina and visit sometime this summer if I had a chance. I told her that I could probably make a stop on my “Florida Trip.” As I continued to plan, about a week prior to my trip, I realized that, though I have driven the 20-ish hours to Florida through the night before, I preferred not to. So I contacted some friends living in Nashville and asked if I could crash on their couch for a night. I also decided, at about the same time, that I should spend a bit of time with my other brother and sister in Pennsylvania this summer–and that this week would be my only chance. The plan was to leave Fort Wayne around noon on Saturday, July 9, and to return around 8 p.m. on Sunday, July 17.

Northeast Indiana

Northeast Indiana

The Reality

About three days before departing for Florida, as I was collecting the addresses of the places I would be staying along my journey, my friend in North Carolina mentioned that there was some sweet mountain biking near her house. At that point, I decided to spend a full day in North Carolina mountain biking on my journey back north to Pennsylvania–and to make room in the car for two bicycles: one mountain bike to use in North Carolina, and a cyclocross bike to use on the bike paths and roads in Florida. As such, the bikes were a last-minute addition–which meant that I did not necessarily think through what taking bicycles along on the trip might also entail: like bike pumps. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In typical fashion, I signed up to play in a beach volleyball tournament on July 9, thinking that with a 10 a.m. start, it would finish early–by 2 p.m. at the latest. We did not even make it all the way through the tournament (we lost in the second round), and it was still 4 p.m. by time we left the beach courts. I drove home, showered, threw some snacks in the car, and set out on my adventure.

By around 10:30 p.m., I made it to Nashville, Tennessee: my first stop. There, I stayed with a couple who taught at HOPAC during my first year in Tanzania. We spent several hours eating ice cream and reminiscing about people and places in Tanzania. Though I feel like I adapt well to life in the U.S., it was so, so nice to be able to talk with others who know and understand my other life in Tanzania.

I woke up early the next morning for the next segment of driving: 10.5 hours to central Florida. This was my originally intended destination and the home of the HOPAC middle school principal’s parents, who have in some ways “adopted” me, since visiting Tanzania last year and going stand up paddleboarding together. Here, I was able to visit with my middle school principal and her parents, spend time cycling around central Florida, and go surfing at Cocoa Beach. On my first evening there, my hosts took me on a cycling tour of their little town, and the next morning, I had plans of riding 50+ miles on a nearby bike path. It was as I set off on the second, longer ride, that I discovered that I had neglected to bring either a bike pump or an adaptor for my tire valve to be able to use a standard air pump. I also learned that the clipless pedals on my “new” cyclocross bike were not compatible with the cleats on my mountain bike shoes. So instead of riding to the nearby bike path, I rode to the nearest bike shop, about fifteen miles away. There, I chatted a bit with the sales people who wondered why I was in Florida instead of riding RAIN in Indiana, and purchased an adaptor for my tire valve as well as some cleats to change out the ones on my shoes before riding back to the house. I also took use of the few days there to do some reading and catch up on sleep. One of the things that I find myself valuing more and more over the years is the input and advice of those older and more experienced than myself–and I enjoyed the many conversations covering topics of everything from education to current events and travel destinations. They encouraged me to stop at St. Augustine, Florida on my drive north, so I left mid-afternoon on Wednesday to do just that.

Withalacoochee State Trail, Florida

Withalacoochee State Trail, Florida

When I arrived in St. Augustine, Florida, my first stop was a small cycling and surf shop about two miles from the beach. I had seen online that they rented surfboards, and after a successful day surfing on Monday at Cocoa Beach, was hoping to get a bit more time on the waves. As I walked in, I was greeted by what seemed to be a sales person, and the owner or manager of the store. Within five minutes, they had collectively offered me a job–either now, or if I ever came back in the future (after I explained that I actually live in East Africa at the moment). We chatted bikes for a bit, and then they helped me get a surfboard for the afternoon. I also got some rock climbing destination tips from the sales person who happened to be a climber originally from Louisville, Kentucky. The waves at St. Augustine weren’t great–small and mostly windblown–but I had a few good rides, and enjoyed being in salt water again. After returning the board, I spent about a half hour riding my cyclocross bike around town and taking photos before climbing back into the car for the next stretch of driving.

St. Augustine Beach, Florida

St. Augustine Beach, Florida

Early Wednesday morning, before leaving for St. Augustine, my former roommate, Abbi, contacted me asking if I would be passing through South Carolina, and if we might be able to hang out. Because I have visited Abbi three other times since being students together at the Miracle Mountain Ranch School of Discipleship, and because Abbi and I get along so well, I said that I would stop at her place instead of going directly to North Carolina to mountain bike. Thus, Spartanburg, South Carolina was my next stop, which was about 6.5 hours from St. Augustine, Florida. I arrived in the wee hours of the morning and made myself at home on the futon Abbi had prepared for me. The next morning, I briefly met Abbi’s husband for the first time, then went with Abbi for coffee at a local coffee shop in downtown Spartanburg, before setting out on our traditional cliff-jumping adventure at Turtleback Falls in North Carolina, something we’ve done on nearly all of my visits to South Carolina. We got back from Turtleback and Rainbow Falls around 3 p.m., and I set off for Tsali Recreation Area for some mountain biking.

Tsali Recreation Area, North Carolina

Tsali Recreation Area, North Carolina

My host for Thursday night was also a past student at the Miracle Mountain Ranch School of Discipleship, and is currently staff at a high-adventure camp in North Carolina. During each week of camp, they do a massive drama production that she invited me to watch. This put a bit of a time constraint on the time available for mountain biking, so once I arrived at Tsali, I calculated that I had just about an hour to ride. As it turns out, a thunderstorm chased me out right as the hour was coming to a close–so I wouldn’t have been able to ride any longer anyway. Regardless, Tsali was by far the best and most fun mountain biking I have ever done–super fast and flowy trails–and I will go back sometime in the future. I took enough time to take a few quick photos of the incoming storm over the mountains as I was leaving, and then drove the next hour and a half to the camp where my friend and host was working. The drama production was incredible, and I really enjoyed the message preceding it as well. Afterwards, we went back to the house, where my host made chapati and chai (a Tanzanian / East African staple) and we talked adventure sports, international life, and the camp world for several hours before heading to bed.

New River Gorge Bridge, West Virginia

New River Gorge Bridge, West Virginia

On Friday, my goal was to make it to Miracle Mountain Ranch in Pennsylvania by 3 p.m. in order to see my younger sister’s drill team presentation at the evening rodeo. That meant getting up at 3:45 a.m. Friday morning and driving 11 hours from North Carolina with as few stops as possible. I made it, but I did stop on the way at the New River Gorge bridge to take some photos. At the Ranch, I caught up with old friends, hung out with my brother and sister, and even rode a horse for a few minutes. Sunday morning, I was back on the road in order to get back to Indiana for a sand volleyball game. Funny how my trip began and ended with sand volleyball.

Hannah in the 2016 Miracle Mountain Ranch Drill Team

Hannah in the 2016 Miracle Mountain Ranch Drill Team

In the end, I drove somewhere over 2,850 miles, spent well over 45 hours in a car, and visited 11 states–all in one week! It was an awesome trip and I am so glad that I took the time to go, to visit friends, and to enjoy the beautiful country I call home (at least for two months out of the year!).

(mis)Placed

•July 3, 2016 • Leave a Comment

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One of the phrases frequently used to describe the missionary’s homecoming experience is “between two worlds.” It is very true that I often feel the tension that comes from being home, but not home, regardless of which city I’m in–Fort Wayne or Dar es Salaam. In both places, there are things that are familiar. In both places, there are “my people.” In both places, there are things that make me miss the other. And in both places, I feel out of place or misplaced.

This was the word that came to mind this morning: misplaced. Yet even as I considered the implications, I realized the truth: I am not misplaced, I am placed. God has me here in Indiana at this time for a purpose. He has established my life in Tanzania for a purpose. Neither is any less a part of His will than the other. The truth is that I am His. I am chosen. I am redeemed. I have been made holy. I am adopted. I am a child of God.

Knowing the truth about my identity in Christ settles my soul, but it doesn’t make the tension of being between worlds any less. Here in Indiana, I listen to a bit of Bongo Flava to ease the longing, and in Tanzania, I break out the country music. There, I long for the open spaces of midwest farmland, and here, I miss the beaches and city life. I can’t imagine one life without the other, and both are a part of me. And maybe that is part of the beauty of where I’ve been placed…between in two worlds.

Things. And Stuff.

•May 13, 2016 • Leave a Comment

No matter how many times I tell my students to use better word choice in their writing, I still find myself using the very words I tell them not to use in my own speaking (and writing). Like “things” and “stuff.” But sometimes, there really aren’t any better words to describe a blog post that is full of random ideas bouncing around an overactive mind.

Finishing Well
June 17 is the end of the year for me, as, like all other teachers, my “year” is not measured from January to December, but by the school year. With just over a month of school left, my schedule has shifted slightly. I’m teaching a few less classes, and monitoring study halls and invigilating exams instead. Instead of teaching English Literature for grade 10, 11, and 12, I am starting English Literature with grade 9. Fortunately, I still have my middle school P.E. classes, and my primary swimming classes, which keep me sane in the midst of the exam season.

In some ways, this particular year seems more significant than others. The graduating class is the class that I joined as their homeroom teacher when I came to HOPAC in 2013, and I know most of the students in that class extremely well. I have climbed Kilimanjaro with some of them, traveled to three Moshi Sports’ Weekends with others, gone to Young Life camp with a number of them, and was on their Grade 11 Bonding Trip. I have seen them morph and transition and mature over the last three years. I consider a number of them friends. And now they are graduating and moving on to universities around the world, and I’m so, so excited for them. But I also realize, that in many ways, this is the “end” of my opportunity to share life and joy and Jesus with them. So more than ever, this year I feel the need to finish well. Not just in the normal way, of teaching well to the very last days, of preparing for next year, and of not getting lazy, but in the relationships I’ve developed with these students.

Spiritual Warfare
There is something about the end of the year that seems to invite spiritual warfare. Last year, it was the challenge of moving, the death of my dog, and numerous hold-ups in the arrival of my parents. This year, my laptop and phone are dead and dying, I’ve been in a boot for six weeks, my motorcycle has suddenly had random minor issues, and I’ve found myself in a battle to believe the truth. In all of that, God is still faithful. After an especially hard week, I started this week rejoicing to have re-discovered some old notes in my Bible surrounding Psalm 77, where David starts out the Psalm explaining how he has been praying and seeking God, but nothing seems to change. This is exactly where I was last week–questioning whether God does answer prayer, or even care. Then, in verse 7, David is desperate. He asks, “Will God hate us forever? Has he stopped loving? Are His promises forgotten?” Oh, how familiar these questions are! As I read, I can feel the breaking and hopelessness. But just at that point where David feels completely alone, when he can only conclude that God is far away, and not answering his prayers, in verse 11, it says: “I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds.” Can I just stop and stand up and celebrate right here? Seriously guys, there is a little note that I penned in the margin of Bible years ago, reading, “When we feel like God is not there, we need to stop and remember, that we can again praise.” How I needed to read that this week, and what a change it has made in my outlook! The rest of the chapter is David praising God for who He is and what He has done, and it is such a powerful testimony to the value of remembrance in defeating those persistent lies of the Devil and being able to stand in victory and thanksgiving!

GRE Math
More than a year ago, I started dreaming of eventually pursuing a Ph.D. in International Education & Culture. I researched programs and schools and admission requirements. I even settled on one particular school as my “dream school” and downloaded the application form and everything. But before I can apply, I need to take the GRE, and because I haven’t studied math since my 11th-grade year of high school, ten years ago, that is going to be a major challenge. I started trying to re-teach myself math last year about this time, then gave up. Then, at Christmas, I bought two books for GRE math prep, and did a few lessons each day, before giving it up again when I returned to HOPAC. Now, I’ve pulled the books out again, but haven’t managed to find time to open them. I’ve come to the conclusion that I cannot work full-time and re-learn math–there just isn’t time to commit to both fully. But still the dream that requires this math exam burns inside me. I can’t shake it. Does someone in Fort Wayne want to tutor me this summer, or at least hold me accountable?

Booting It
It has been almost seven weeks now since I broke my leg, and a bit over five weeks of wearing the boot. I am sick of it. I hate running, but something about not being able to run makes me want to do it. I miss playing volleyball. I miss MMA training and hockey. I miss being able to ride my bicycle. On Tuesday, I went to get an x-ray to confirm that my leg was indeed healing, and it came back completely clear. So I took my boot off, thinking that I didn’t need to finish wearing it for the final week after all. But that wasn’t the case, and I soon heard from the doctor who has been advising me from the U.S., and the boot was back on. The unexpected hope and excitement of taking it off early, and then the all-too-palpable disappointment of needing to put it back on… I almost cried. But even in wearing the boot for six weeks, I’ve seen God’s goodness and faithfulness. I’ve been able to do things I would otherwise have neglected. I’ve been lifting weights and swimming and am probably stronger than I would have been if I didn’t have the boot and was just playing sports and normal. I’ve taken countless long walks with my dog, and done more photo shoots than I ever expected. I’ve learned more Swahili and gotten really good at saying, “Nilivunjika mguu” (I broke my leg), because everyone wants to know what happened (and everyone thinks I did it in a motorcycle accident). But come Tuesday and the end of six weeks, I will be very glad to give the boot a good wash and return it to its owner. I’m so done!

Prayer Experiments
For nearly six months, prayer has been the focus at The Ocean International Church. I am co-leading a Connect Group, and early in the year, we decided to go through the book, The Circle Maker, together. At first, I was a bit skeptical, because I felt the author was taking things out of context and not supporting his ideas with Scripture, but as we’ve neared the end of the book, I like it more and more. Needless to say, I’ve been challenged in prayer this year. One of the things the author mentions in chapter 13 is a “prayer experiment.” The example he gives is of a group of people who committed to pray for one thing together for 40 days. Something about this idea excited me–perhaps just the accountability of praying together with others for one specific thing for a set period of time–so I asked the other girls at Connect Group this week if they wanted to join me in some kind of prayer experiment of our own. The consensus was to pray for one specific request for each other in two areas – careers and relationships – for the next thirty days. Already, I am so excited by this, and feel it has helped me find purpose and direction with which to start my prayer time each morning.

See? Things and stuff. Its a good description for all this randomness. God is good, isn’t He?

 

The Adventures of the Boot

•April 22, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Once upon a time there was a boot.

Legend has it that this boot first came into existence in the southern United States sometime in the early 90’s, but since that time, it has traveled far and wide, eventually finding its place in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Just one year ago, the boot protected the injured foot of a middle school principal, before being handed off to a Zimbabwean teacher, and then a grade 7 girl with a broken toe, an ever-active YoungLife staff member with a crushed foot, and even a high school basketball star with a sprained ankle.

Each time, the boot faithfully performed its duty–protecting the wearer’s leg, ankle, foot, or toe with pride. But as it did so, especially in the tropical climate of coastal Tanzania, it became old and dirty, worn down by dirt and sweat. Occasionally, the boot got a bath, whether by drenchings in puddles and rainshowers, or by soaking in Dettol and antibacterial soap. And then, after a drying, it went back to work, always protecting, always staying strong, and constantly getting passed around to a new foot. Eventually, the boot found itself on the leg of one English and Physical Education teacher at HOPAC. And thus began in earnest the “adventures of the boot.”

This boot had walked on dirt and gravel and pavement, it had ridden in cars and busses and bajajis. But never in a million years did the boot expect to be riding a motorcycle, much less, being the one in charge of using the rear brake. Yet that is exactly where the boot found itself every morning, every afternoon, and most evenings: careening through traffic on the right side of a Honda 250 XLR, doing its very best to bring the bike to a halt when needed, and not cause too much skidding. Riding the motorcycle was exciting, and dangerous, and mostly fun. Except when it rained.

Rainy season provided a whole host of adventures for the boot. On the motorcycle, it was inevitable that the boot would get wet, muddy, and entirely covered with the filth flying up from the road. When trudging along, there was always the risk of stepping in a puddle or sliding in a patch of slimy mud. Perhaps the dirtiest day of all was the day that Dar flooded. Yes, in some ways, that happens every time it rains, but on this particular day, schools let out an hour early to give the busses a chance at getting students home before dark. True to form, the boot readied for the after-school journey home by taking its position on the right side of the motorcycle. Usually, the 6km trip took no more than ten minutes, but on this particular day, traffic was jam-packed into a standstill. Mud, water, and terrible driving combined to create a “fuleni” (traffic jam) that even motorcycles had difficulty navigating. After spending nearly 40 minutes creeping through and around the edges of traffic to go only 1km, the boot, the motorcycle, and the tired and ill wearer of the boot, chose the off-road route: up and over the curb onto the grass (mud) median, where motorcycles and 4x4s carved a muddy off-road path through the grass and past the stopped traffic in the street. The boot had to strain and push to get the bike over the large curbs, and then cringed in disgust as clumps of mud covered it from head to toe. Gross. A shower with Dettol was definitely in order after that ride.

On another rainy day, the boot found itself once again drenched after yet another rainy motorcycle ride, but this time, the drenching had just begun. After a short trek through the sand, the boot was awkwardly perched on a large Stand-up-Paddleboard (SUP), then paddled out into the Indian Ocean. There, two girls and the boot attempted to fish despite rain that blurred the shore from sight, the occasional tangle in fishing lines, and even one paddle-bludgeoning. Surprisingly, the boot was only hooked once or twice, and despite its awkward and uncomfortable position on the board, enjoyed the paddling and even some swimming. That was not to be the last time the boot found itself in the sand and water of the Indian Ocean.

Perhaps the greatest threat to the existence of the boot was a giant dog named Kweli who found special delight in nipping at the loose velcro on the boot when walking, just as she nipped at the crutches used as an alternative to the boot. Because of the boundless energy of said dog, eventually, the boot found itself on a marathon-walk to the beach that included splashing through plenty of puddles, trudging up and down a steep hill, and moving awkwardly through the deep sand. It wasn’t that the walk was that long, but the boot returned to the house sweaty and exhausted from the effort of walking and balancing and controlling the excited dog on the end of the leash.

After only two of the six week indenture to the HOPAC English and P.E. teacher, the boot’s lifetime of adventure stories had increased exponentially. Who knew what the other four weeks would hold?

A Good Gift

•April 8, 2016 • Leave a Comment

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Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17 ESV)

Traveling to London for the second part of spring break was a gift trip from God in every way. I only made plans to travel out of Tanzania at all because, two weeks prior to spring break, I was still waiting on my residence permit, and needed to leave the country to get my tourist visa re-stamped. When I started looking at flights to Mozambique, a nearby, somewhat “normal” destination, I realized that between the busses and flights necessary to get to Tofu, Mozambique (where I intended to go diving), it would take less time and cost the same amount to fly to London. So I did.

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Once I started making plans, I found a good ticket for Les Miserables at a reasonable price, and a friend I had met here in Dar, Florian, started arranging beach volleyball during my stay. After my original housing arrangements didn’t work out, a friend of a friend, Marc-Andre, graciously offered to host me. Then, just a week before the trip, after everything had already been purchased, my residence permit came through. Finally, just days before I left for London, I received my tax return–a surprisingly large amount that more than covered the cost of the entire trip, including transportation and food while I was there. I absolutely LOVED London, and still cannot believe that God gave me such a wonderful gift!

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I arrived in London at 5:30 a.m. on Thursday morning, and shortly afterwards met my host, Marc-Andre, who gave me keys to his flat and an Oyster Card to use for the week. From there, I was off to the Shoreditch Street Art Tour, and then wandered through London on foot and by bicycle (yes, even in the cold and rain) for several hours. The architecture and international flavor of London instantly appealed to me. I also found myself loving the crazy number of bicyclists and motorcyclists out in the rain–a funny thing to notice, about London, I know! I walked past St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, the Globe Theatre, the London Eye, Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and eventually back to the flat. Later that evening, I went to Les Miserables at Queen’s Theatre, and having never seen a professional production like Les Miserables before, I found it incredible. I was fascinated by the turntable on stage, as well as the intricacy of the staging. Seeing Les Mis was another check off the bucket list–and a worthy one at that!

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Friday morning, I drifted through Brick Lane, before any of the markets I had been told to visit even opened (I’m not really that into markets), taking photographs of more incredible street art, before meeting Florian to play doubles beach volleyball with two Lithuanian guys. I was the only one on the court under 6’5″, and it was absolutely brilliant volleyball. We played for about four hours, and then grabbed some pizza as a late lunch. By time we finished lunch, it was about 3 p.m., so I walked from Shoreditch towards central London, past St. Paul’s Cathedral, and then to the Tate Modern museum, where I spent the rest of the afternoon. After reading Saving Leonardo by Nancy Pearcey earlier in the month, I was eagerly anticipating visiting the Tate Modern, but once I was there, I found myself feeling increasingly unintellectual. I really don’t understand what separates the art found in prominent galleries such as those at the Tate Modern with the art created by the average human–especially when an entire gallery is made up of burlap sacks arranged in a seemingly random order. Yet I feel like I should understand it, or at least be able to make some sense of what it is saying about the world. At any rate, it was an interesting experience. After finishing at Tate Modern, when walking along the Thames River towards the Westminster Underground station, the sun was just setting, and I found myself seeing so much more beauty in the light and the city and the people along the river walk that evening than I did in the museum. By time I made it back to the flat that evening, I was completely exhausted, and just barely managed to stay awake to watch a French movie about the Rwandan Genocide with Marc-Andre before collapsing into bed.

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Saturday morning, I got up early to take photos of the outside of 221 B Baker St, the legendary home of Sherlock Holmes and go to Daunt Books at Marylebone, which was fantastic–I could have spent days (and lots of money!) in that bookstore! Unfortunately, I had to content myself with purchasing just three books before going back to Shoreditch to play more beach volleyball. We had a training session with a professional beach coach for two hours, and then Marc picked me up and we went over to Leyton to participate in an open beach session at Side Out, where we played for another four-ish hours. By the end of the day, I was in enough pain (both ankles, and my right knee and elbow), presumably from the cold, that I could hardly move, and actually bowed out of the last game. Only a week later, did I realize that it was at some point on Saturday that I broke my right leg and sprained both ankles. I fully anticipated, at the time, that once I got home and took a hot shower, that I would be completely fine. We went back to the flat, and I took my shower, only to realize that I was still in a lot of pain, and could hardly walk, as hilariously evidenced when attempting to descend the stairs at the Spanish Tapas restaurant where we went for dinner.

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The next day was Easter, so despite being hardly able to walk after two days of intense beach volleyball (and breaking my leg), I got my morning coffee and yogurt, then went to Westminster Chapel for the Easter service. The Westminster Chapel building is gorgeous on the inside, and they have a beautiful pipe organ, that, regretfully, they didn’t use during the service. That afternoon, I joined Marc and Wies, a Dutch guy who used to live and work in Tanzania, for the famous Oxford-Cambridge Boat Race, an Easter dinner of lamb roast and a trip to an English pub with the post-boat-race craziness happening.

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Monday, being my last day, I was originally planning on yet another volleyball session (despite being in some serious pain), but a storm interfered, so instead I visited the British Museum, and had yet another coffee (I drank a ridiculous amount of amazing coffee while in London!), before heading off to the airport to return to Dar. It was my intention to get some fish and chips in the airport, but both airport pubs were sold out, so I’ve resolved to return to London in the future for fish and chips–and just because I really loved London!

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Compassion Visit: Singida

•March 23, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Early Sunday morning, I embarked on yet another adventure. This adventure wasn’t taken for adrenaline-related reasons, nor even for the desire to travel and explore new places. Instead, I planned a weekend trip to central Tanzania to visit two boys that I sponsor through Compassion International.

[As a side note: I worked with Compassion International to prearrange the visit, which included a background check and other pre-approval steps. Though it might seem a bit of a process, I personally appreciate the steps that Compassion takes to ensure the safety of the children in their care through the sponsorship program.]

Sunday morning, I got up before dawn to make my way to Ubungo Bus Station, the primary hub for cross-country busses in Dar es Salaam. While walking to the corner to get a boda boda to take me to Ubungo, I got called “the most racist white person,” which occupied most of my thoughts for the bus trip there (Read all about that conversation here!). At Ubungo, I made my way through the massive crowds of people, and boarded my bus that would take me to Singida. Thirteen hours later, I arrived in Singida and met my host, Salome, one of the area project directors with Compassion International. She helped me find a place to stay for the night, and we arranged to meet the next morning to travel to the village where Shabani lived.

Monday morning, Salome and I took a smaller, local bus to a small village about sixty kilometers outside of Singida. Alexi, the project director for Shabani’s village, met us there, and explained that Shabani and his grandfather were waiting, as well as Emanuel and his project director, who had traveled from their village, about thirty-five kilometers further.

To be honest, meeting Emanuel and Shabani was different than what I expected. And I don’t even know what it was that I did expect! The boys were terribly shy, though no different that I would have been in the same situation. They nodded when asked questions, and barely smiled or talked for the majority of the day, though I did convince them to play a bit of football with me. On my part, it also felt a bit weird to be told, “These are your children.” The idea of, “you can ask them anything because they are yours,” though culturally normal, is still strange to me. Just because I am helping these kids doesn’t mean I own them–my goal is to empower and enable, not control. Even Shabani’s grandparents, who are his guardians and caretakers (well, kind of–his grandfather is 95, and not strong) told me, “We cannot take care of him. We are old. He is your son now.” There is some weight to that, even if I know it is not entirely true, and just his Bibi’s (grandmother’s) way of expressing her gratitude.

I have enormous amounts of respect for the Compassion project directors (and their staff), who are the ever-present hands and feet of Compassion International in the villages, partnering with local churches and individual families to best aid these children and their families. I heard recently, that at one point Compassion International had tried to switch from a child-based donor system to a family-based system, to better support the entire family, but had so many difficulties finding donors, that they discontinued the program. I don’t know if that is true, or just a rumor that I heard somewhere, but after talking with the project directors in Singida, it was evident that they are doing their best to support the families of these children as well as the children themselves, both through personal support (guidance, physical assistance, etc.) and by raising support from the local church (financial and physical assistance).

When you read stories of visits by international sponsors, it seems that it is always the poverty of the children that most shocks the visitors, and maybe I should have been surprised by the poverty, but I wasn’t. There is no question that these children and their families are living in poverty, but it is no worse than what I have seen in Sala Sala and other communities in Dar es Salaam, and in some ways, in the village, at least there are the fields and rivers and trees and open spaces that provide a distinct contrast to the trash-covered, dirty, and crowded streets of Dar.

In the weeks leading up to my visit, I spent considerable time considering whether to get the boys a gift, and if so, what it should be. The need is so great, that anything, from rice and beans, to school supplies, to clothes, would be appreciated and needed, but I wanted to get something special. Something that the sponsorship wouldn’t necessarily provide or allow for, so I settled on footballs. I brought bright, new footballs for each of the boys from Dar, and realized, as they carried them around in their hands, that those footballs might be the only thing they have that they can call their own, and the only thing in their lives that is not entirely practical. Was it a wise gift? I don’t know. What I do know, is that in almost every letter I receive from them, the boys always mention how they enjoy playing football with their friends…and what kid who likes playing a sport doesn’t want a ball of their own?

Was it worth thirteen hours each way in a bus? Definitely.

Note: I didn’t take tons and tons of photos because I didn’t want the experience to seem like I was a tourist coming in, taking pictures, and then just leaving again. One of the things I appreciate about Compassion International is how they encourage building relationships between sponsors and the kids through writing letters and sending photos (and visits, when possible). I didn’t feel like being a camera-happy tourist would promote that relationship, so I didn’t get my camera out except when encouraged to do so by the Compassion Project Directors. But here are just a few photos that were taken that day of me, the boys, and of Shabani with his grandparents.

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“You’re the Most Racist White Person I’ve Ever Met”

•March 23, 2016 • 1 Comment

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Never before have I been called racist. But at 5 a.m. on Sunday morning, I was told that I was “the most racist white person” the speaker had ever met. I’ll explain the context of the statement in a bit, but regardless of how irrelevant the comment actually was, it hurt like a knife between my ribs. I spent much of the thirteen hour bus trip that followed questioning myself and whether it was possible that I was actually racist.

The situation:

I left my house on foot at 5:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, walking to the corner to get a boda boda to take me to the Ubungo Bus Terminal. As I passed one of the local bars, I noticed that a group of guys were engaged in conversation around a bajaji. One of them made some comment about the “mzungu” (me), and then proceeded to leave the conversation and follow me at a distance. Eventually, he realized that I was aware of his presence, and came closer, but remained about a meter’s distance from me as he began attempting to make conversation. “Hi beautiful.” “How are you?” “Are you going to climb a mountain?” “My name is James.” “Are you fine?” And on and on. He spoke a mixture of Swahili and surprisingly good English, but didn’t seem to get the hint from my silence and occasional one-word answers (in Swahili) that I wasn’t interested in engaging him in conversation (and, really, at 5 a.m., who is?). At one point he even said, “I hope you don’t know karate,” to which my mental response was, “No, but I do take MMA and if you get much closer and don’t shut up, I’m going to punch your face” (so maybe I was a bit annoyed by this point). Finally, we split ways, as I headed towards the boda boda stand and he went towards the bus stop. But as he did so, once we were a good distance apart, he stopped and turned towards me, and yelled, “You are the most racist white person I have ever met!” Um, ok.

My assessment:

I really don’t think that my words or actions in the situation were at all related to race. It doesn’t matter what race some one is (especially if they are male), if they are following me in the dark and making odd statements, I am going to tell them I don’t want to talk and to leave me alone. Oh, and by the way, that’s creepy. For someone to assume by those requests, said in however irritated a manner, that I am racist, seems a bit harsh. But, like I said, however irrelevant the statement, it still bothered me enough that I thought about it for the entire thirteen-hour bus journey to Singida.

I suppose that I do tend to believe that people fall into certain categories, some of which may be partially based on race, or at least nationality. For example, Canadians are generally less publicly annoying than Americans. Finns can typically drink voluminous amounts of alcohol. Americans tend to be entitled and believe that the rest of the world should concede to their demands, language, and culture. Most Tanzanians hate (are terrified of) dogs. But these are ridiculously wide brush strokes with which to paint the world, and even as I write them, I am mentally listing off the exceptions. And never ever would I base an individual relationship with a person with any of these categorizations–though I might bring them up in an multi-cultural conversation as a point of humor, because making fun of each other and our countries is a part of life in a mixed-culture environment like Dar.

And perhaps I am a bit wary (and weary) of Tanzanian men cat-calling me and following me and trying to get my attention. But it has nothing to do with them being Tanzanian (or black) that I am bothered by it–it is the actions themselves that irritate me. I have scores of Tanzanian guy friends who I respect very highly–and who don’t treat women as objects. I also know European and North American males who I’ve gotten snappy with because of their actions towards me as a female. Maybe its more about gender harassment than it is about race. Or even his ignorance of social norms. But not race.

In fact, several days later, I had a related conversation with an African American friend regarding interracial relationships, constructive dialoguing about race, and lasting perceptions about colonialism and slavery. Much of our conversation centered around his experience of conflict between Africans and African Americans in U.S. university settings, specifically his statement that, “They feel like [African Americans] complain too much about racism, and being poor, etc.” My response, admittedly, comes from living here in Tanzania and working at an international school, but not from personal experience as either an African or an African American (obviously): “Well, I can’t say that I disagree entirely. Especially considering that poverty [in Africa] tends to be so much more drastic than poverty in the U.S., and I also question sometimes whether Kendrick Lamar has a point when he says that people have to act how they want to be perceived…and that African Americans in general don’t do a great job of that…. I think that grace needs to be given both ways. Culturally, the differences are huge. Where [Africans] are coming from is entirely unlike anything [African Americans] have experienced. The life of an African American is entirely outside the [African] realm of experience. Yet both groups claim ‘African’ as a part of their identity (and rightly so, I think), so it makes sense that disagreements and misunderstandings would arise from that.” We moved on to discuss colonialism, slavery, and the history of the white oppression of blacks, something that I readily condemn as horrific and terrible and wrong, but what I found most valuable about the conversation was the fact that we were even having it–to be able to openly discuss race and racism with someone from a different race is in itself a denial of racism, because in essence, by having the conversation, both parties had to say, “I see you as an individual, and as human. While we may be different in race/culture/socioeconomic class/etc., that doesn’t change the fact that we are both people with equal worth before God.” Its not a denial of race (or that racism exists, for that matter), or of our differences, but an acknowledgement that our race does not define us.

*Note: I realize that this post is a bit scatterbrained, and doesn’t even come to a cohesive conclusion. Please give grace–it is merely a compilation of my thoughts over the past few days as I’ve pondered the statement made by “James” on Sunday morning.

 
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