Archive for February, 2009

Said’s Thanks

February 19, 2009

Thank you for your continued interest and support of our efforts.

As we continue to branch out here in Tanzania and God expands our influence through the number of lives we get to be involved in, it is no longer only our family that is encouraged and motivated by your support; it becomes everyone our family has an opportunity to work with here in Dar.

The look on Said’s face was quite memorable when I told him that I am not a wealthy man, but that God has placed me here in Tanzania and I am able to help him with school fees because of the effort, love and support of over one- hundred people.  He is tangibly experiencing God’s love through our effort.  He literally told me so through this story.  

Said’s father died a while ago and last year after his mother was crippled in an accident, he prayed to Jesus that somone would help him with school fees when he returned to Tanzania.  Said is a bright young man who was quite aware that without support he would quickly get  overtaken by the struggling education system in Tanzania that provides little to no opportunity for  advancement if you cannot afford a secondary education.  Primary education (through the equivalent of 7th grade) is free, but the economic dividing line in the country is secondary education, which requires money.  It is humbling, inspiring, and gives me goosebumps to know that God used all of us to answer a 14-year-old boy’s prayer.

Enjoy Said’s Thanks!

February 3, 2009

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Some may wonder what a day looks like for Lyndi and me.  That idea came to my mind on this day, January 27, 2009 at about 5:30 in the evening. I had finished the work segment of my day and was sitting down to read the Tanzanian daily news in my favorite English medium Tanzanian newspaper, which is very appropriately titled This Day. 

 

Mundane and the Magnificent

Musing in my mind, enjoying a good moment before I read, as the kids were playing outside and Lyndi was preparing dinner, I realized that this day was the perfect combination of the mundane, amazing, and frustrating that it is a fairly representative snap shot of what our lives are like now.  Of course there are days that demand a headline because of some exciting cultural moment or some type of adrenaline pumping drama that causes us to pause and remember that we are actually living on another continent over 8, 000 miles away from home.  But other days can be so routine: drop the kids off at school, study Swahili, fix Elliott lunch, pick up the kids from school, make dinner, bathe the kids, put them to bed, do Swahili homework, go to bed.

 

However, today was a good day.  Now, don’t get me wrong; it was not that good, but it was a day caught between routine and amazing.  A day that opened exciting future possibilities, while also illustrating the frustrations of cross-cultural communication.  For this reason, I have decided to write about this day, to capture a bit of its extraordinary mixed with its mediocrity to recreate a bit of what our lives are like.

 

I purchased the newspaper, the one that I was preparing to read when I got the idea to write this, at about 5:00 in the afternoon as I drove home from a revealing yet mildly disappointing three-hour journey.

 

Traffic Lessons

Before going further, I must say that I am quite thankful to have a car as I navigate the city of Dar es Salaam.  Even while blessed with a car, it is very easy to become unthankful because Dar traffic can be frustrating enough to make a grown man whine like a spoiled child three-year old child who wants the candy now but has been forced to wait. Whenever the sharp reality of a public transport bus (or daladala) squeals to a halt beside me, I am always quickly shaken from this fantasy of frustration. Suddenly, from the comfortable view of my music filled, air conditioned car, I see thirty people squeezed tight in a vehicle designed to seat ten and I am quickly reminded that it is not me who should think of crying.

 

Buying and Selling

As I mentioned, making it through traffic on my way home is when I bought the newspaper, which was purchased while I had stopped to buy fresh fruit and vegetables for dinner.  I decided to stop in a small area located just outside of my immediate neighborhood.  Stopping at this location was not the most convenient option, but today I decided that I wanted to continue to challenge myself by doing new things.  Of course buying vegetables was not new, but buying them away from of my neighborhood markets, where people don’t know me, meant that I had to stand on my Swahili alone to get through the transactions.  It also meant that I needed to be convincing enough or else I would receive inflated prices that are often dolled out to tourists.  Pulling up in my 1997 four-door Toyota SUV also would not incline strangers to give me a good price, so I ditched the car in a relatively safe lot (that means there is a security guard visible) and walked into the neighborhood. 

Vendor one—tikiti maji, he was a young teenager and gave me a good price, so I scored the watermelon.  Next vendor, maembe, he quoted the best price I had heard this season, so I purchased two large juicy mangos.  The glory faded a bit at the final stop.  I was losing from the beginning from a lack of confidence because I forgot the Swahili word for green pepper—pilipili hoho! Did this lead to a mzungu (foreigner or white person) price for produce?  I think so, but it was not too bad.  Then on my way out of the market I saw one more challenge—the fish stand.

Facing the Fish

For the past six months I have watched the same men set up their fish stand every evening on the main road that leads to our house.  I have always wanted to buy some fish, but I was always intimidated.  I don’t know the names of the fish and asking too many questions quickly reveals the complete novice level of my Swahili.  But today, for some reason, I decided it must be done and I approached the table. 

Men with large knives were filleting whole fish right on the side of the road.  The man I approached seemed excited for a customer and pointed me toward the large whole fish.  “Elfu kumi na tano” he said holding up a nice size fish that I learned was a red snapper.  This means 15,000 shillings or about $12 for the whole fish, which is much more than I wanted to spend on my first attempt.  I moved to where a man was cutting thick red snapper steaks with quick chops of a large but dull machete.  I asked, “Bei gani?” or how much?  The price for one thick steak—“elfu nne” or just under three US dollars.  I decided to go for it. Although I did not get the best price, I walked back to my car with a small black plastic bag full of fresh Indian Ocean snapper, feeling that another area I once feared had now been conquered.

I guess conquered is a strong word, experienced might be more appropriate; yes, another unknown part of Tanzanian culture I have experienced, and, in addition, we can now have fresh fish for dinner whenever we want. It was during this semi-victorious walk back to the car that I bought the newspaper that I was reading when I got inspired to write about this day.

Back to the Start

Now I rewind back to the beginning to the morning of this day. Before heading out on this three- hour journey that culminated with the previously described culinary acquisitions, I was entangled in cross-cultural miscommunication. 

The Cell Phone—Tanzania’s Drug of Choice

The cell phone has certainly had positive effects on industry and communication in Africa.  But the system, devised to make cell phones affordable to the very poor, while also allowing the phone companies to earn obnoxious profit, also exacerbates the difficulties of cross-cultural communication.  A good question after reading that sentence might be, “How so?” 

Well, here is the heart of the problem.  Airtime is purchased on mini scratch off cards that reveal a secret code users punch into the phone.  These cards can be purchased in ridiculously small denominations, as small as 1000 shillings (about 80 cents) so that people from all walks of life can afford to buy them; however, using the airtime is the problem; one minute of airtime can cost up to 700 shillings a minute. 

A drug dealing metaphor comes to mind every time I think of this system that preys upon the poor.  Through mass advertizing companies get people hooked on the drug of instant communication, then the product is “cut” into doses small enough that all can afford a small communication fix, but no one ever gets enough.  The craving keeps calling people back for more.

Outrageous phone charges affected my communication on this morning similarly to how phone calls are often disrupted in Dar; it is the awkwardly abrupt cut off without warning. As a result, I often receive twenty-second calls from Swahili speakers and I have to try to discern what they are communicating before the call cuts off and I am left wondering, what in the heck just happened!   

Mapping the Quest of Cross-Cultural Communication

Now back to this day. While talking with a Tanzanian about the directions I needed for my journey, his phone ran out of credit and sharply our conversation ended. When I called him back, is when my phone ran out of credit.  So, I called him again from our landline, which is less expensive, and we were finally able to communicate.  Unfortunately our communication difficulties did not end here; phone communication is simply an added layer on the already complex realities of cross-cultural communication.

It was to my advantage that the man I was communicating with was a Tanzanian who speaks English quite well, so language was not the issue.  The communication hurdle at hand was getting directions in a culture that has very few road signs.  I needed to remember markers such as “the place where they make furniture,” “the petrol station,” and the best one “turn right at the sign that reads ‘equal opportunity for all’. ”  Once I had at least a little confidence that I might be able to find him, we said goodbye and I prayed for God’s directional blessings as I got in the car.  The previously described victorious purchase of the produce, fish, and newspaper was the culmination of heading off on this journey that I knew might get me lost.

Goal 1: Meet Coach A

As I got in my car on that morning, I set out with three goals.  The first was to meet up with my acquaintance, Coach Aluko, who is the coach and founder of the Dar es Salaam Youth Olympic Center.  The name of the center conjures up freshly groomed football (US soccer) fields and elaborate training facilities.  The reality is that the 120 some kids who compose this program are looking to football as a means of advancement or at least discipline and direction in their lives.  Because of some outside Danish support, several of these children are now attending school. In addition to the schooling and the discipline of soccer training, at least thirty of these boys now have a home because of DYOC.  The DYOC hostel is very humble; it does not have running water, but it provides a roof and a sense of community for these adolescent boys who are either orphans or their families are not able to support them.  Coach Aluko founded and oversees this whole operation.

Goal 2: Investing in the Future

With this backdrop the broad scope of my second goal and why I was very excited for this safari (by using this word I simply mean trip) can now be understood.  After meeting Aluko, we were to travel to Ebenezer Secondary School to discuss the details of school fees for a young man currently living in the DYOC hostel who has no means to attend school. 

Without school fees it is impossible to advance your station in life through the education system in Tanzania.  Primary school, equivalent to up to grade eight, is provided through government-funded public schools.  But to advance to Secondary, two barriers must be crossed—a test and school fees.  Lyndi and I decided that investing money that has been entrusted to us by our supporters to pay school fees for a bright, young fourteen-year-old Tanzanian boy named Said, was money well spent.  Arranging the details for this to occur was my second goal for this day.

You can read endless books that debate the ideology surrounding money from the west and African development, but I believe God’s love is not boxed in by these ideologies and investing in young people’s education is always sustainable development. So many possibilities emerge from one life becoming educated combined with God’s limitless potential to use that growth and development in one life, for His purposes in the lives of other Tanzanians.  The impact is not sudden; jubilant headlines won’t be written about it, but the impact cannot be denied by anyone with faith that God is at work through the lives of humanity.

Goal 3: Getting There Alone!

Therefore the opportunity to travel to the other side of Dar and make arrangements for two young men to be educated is quite exciting.  The location of my destination and the length of the journey bring me to my third goal for this trip. 

When living in a new country, especially a developing country, there is a slow but continual process of becoming more and more independent in living life in what often feels like a new world, not just another country.  For example, when we first arrived in Dar we were not even able to brush our teeth or sleep independently because we had to learn a new process for both without risking illness.  Over the past six months we have continued to reach new milestones similar to the story of the fish purchase.

My third goal for this safari involved achieving another first.  I wanted to be able to drive to Chang’ombe alone.  This is the neighborhood of the DYOC hostel.  Driving to another neighborhood may seem insignificant, but getting to Chang’ombe requires passing through at least three major intersections and each intersection could cause traffic to be backed up for at least 15 minutes at a time. Additionally, just remembering directions in a country where everything you see all day long is new, makes finding new locations quite difficult.

Thankfully, this goal was achieved.  I made it to the hostel with only minimal directional assistance from Coach Aluko. Then we were off to Ebenezer Secondary School to help put a young man named Said in school.

What the Journey Means

Much more could be written about the details of our trip to the school, but there have been many details and my mind is tired of writing.  The bottom line is that this day, just like many since I have been living in Tanzania, came to an end with only the two more secondary goals being completed.  That is why I felt like this day was representative of our lives here.  It is not a “share the glory” story.  It is a reality story. I did meet Coach Aluko and I did learn how to drive independently to Chang’ombe, but the head of school was not present at Ebenezer. It was very easy to begin to feel that the whole trip was pointless.  For without him, no school fees could be paid and no progress could be made. But feeling this way about the trip is only one way of thinking, which I am slowly learning to understand since living here for almost seven months. 

I am learning to focus more on the fact that the secondary goals were achieved and feeling thankful that through the process of this journey I discovered something important that, before the experience of this trip, I would not have even thought to set as a goal. Although I did not plan or anticipate the importance of it, I realized during and after this trip that I got to know Coach Aluko.  Only by going on this possibly deemed “unsuccessful trip” did I realize that I really needed to know Aluko better so that our dealings could be more comfortable.

To get frustrated about not achieving goals that I established in advance, not knowing the details of the reality I was entering, is not time well spent. Even the most well crafted goals are a bit arbitrary by nature because goals always involve aspects of life that cannot be controlled, and I am beginning to realize that more parts of life fall under this category than I ever thought before.  

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The entrance to Ebenezer.

 

Though no school fees were paid, this day was progress; it was a step forward. 

Fruit from the Journey

On a new day, February 2nd to be exact, I arrived much more confidently in Chang’ombe; I felt much more comfortable with Coach Aluko and this time the head of school was there.  And not only that, the head of school generously granted a discount rate to students from DYOC because they all come from very difficult circumstances. So, because of the funds so many supporters have provided, we were able to pay school fees for two fourteen-year-old boys, not just one.  

 As we continue to live in Tanzania we have faith that each day will build on the next and that we will learn and grow from our experiences and that our efforts will combine to create impact as God leads and blesses our work.

 

 

Said, a Ebenezer School Representative, and Coach A. (in the hat) as the fees were paid.

Said, a Ebenezer School Representative, and Coach A. (in the hat) as the fees were paid.