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.

I’m a Stayer

•March 19, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I just realized that this year, I’m a “stayer.” (For reference, check out this post from The Culture Blend that explains what it is to be a stayer, a goer, or a newbie in the constant transition of expat life). And the “friends leaving” phase has already started. Life here tends to be very transitory, so I am used to people coming and going. But this year seems somehow overwhelming. Claire left earlier this week. I said goodbye last night to another friend, Jeremy, who is leaving the beginning of next week. Over the next few months I will say goodbye to so many more: Zoe, Caleb, Hannah, Angela, Sophia, Mike, Veronika, Joelliane, Rose, Christine, Imani, Ellen, Marie-Helene, Abby, Mark, Stephanie, Danah, Emma, Steve, and probably lots of others.

I suppose that this is another way in which being summer camp staff every summer for ten years prepared me for my current lifestyle:

Summer camp gets you used to meeting new people every. single. summer.

And to saying goodbye every. single. summer.

But that doesn’t always make it any easier.

I’ve written before about how I hate saying goodbye. I much prefer “see you later,” but deep down, I know that is often a lie–those “see you laters” don’t often actually happen. And people only “keep in touch” for so long before friendships drift apart, long spaces of silence interrupted only by the occasionally “like” of a photo on Facebook. Of course there are exceptions, like my ongoing friendship with Nik, who I met when I was just fourteen and a camper at Miracle Mountain Ranch, and she was a member of the idolized barn staff (a position I learned later wasn’t really that worthy of worship!). Nik and I have met in various states–Texas, Indiana, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida, and at completely random points over the years–including a visit to her now-Indiana home last summer. And there are others from those years of hello and goodbye at summer camp who I still see occasionally. But the probability of that being true of any one friendship is very, very low.

Though tonight I am a bit teary-eyed thinking about all of the goodbyes (see-you-laters), a smile still plays at the corner of my mouth as I consider the few friendships that may last a lifetime, and the potential new friendships that will spring up in the place of the ones that fade. (Oh, and by the way, HOPAC is recruiting…come teach with me for a few years and be one of my new friends here next year! Check out the current needs list here!). I know that life may seem a bit lonely for awhile, but that it is a season, and seasons pass. And perhaps most of all, in the words of the song by Chris Tomlin that has been playing on my heart strings since returning to Tanzania after Christmas break, I know that I have a good, good Father, and that I am loved by Him.

LATER EDIT/NOTE: About a week after writing this post (after saying yet another goodbye) I realized that part of the reason I hate goodbyes is one of the many tendencies of third-culture-kids that I happen to exhibit (most likely as a result of being a “summer camp kid”): It is very easy for me to “go deep” and get emotionally invested in relationships in short amounts of time. This isn’t an altogether bad thing. The more negative flip side of it is that I “go deep”–but only to a certain level, because I instinctively know that the goodbye is coming.

SEW Week 2016 – Team DAIL

•March 17, 2016 • Leave a Comment

HOPAC’s 10th Annual Service Emphasis Week (SEW) – Team DAIL!

DAIL is a Korean NGO that works in an impoverished community near HOPAC in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. They run a foundational school for a number of the students in the community, where several of the twelfth grade HOPAC students volunteer throughout the year. For SEW, a team of HOPAC students organized a “summer camp” of sorts, with games, singing, crafts, dancing, and other fun activities for the students at the DAIL Hope community school. HOPAC’s second grade class came for an hour each day to assist with crafts and join in our daily dance parties. The entire week was Easter-themed, so on Monday, students painted a cross, then on Tuesday, created a resurrection scene, and on Wednesday, traced their hands, then wrote “Jesus died for me because He loves me” on the hands. The culmination of the week was Thursday’s party. The party was packed with games like Limbo, the Hokey Pokey, a dance battle, tug-of-war, football, Simba Simba Chui (aka. Duck Duck Goose), and more!

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To see about 150 more photos from our incredible week with the kids from the DAIL Hope school, click here!

Photo Blast!

•March 17, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Just a small sample of the photography I’ve been doing this month…

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