Saturday, December 30, 2006

Leper Colony

Leper Colony

Today I made a trip with Missionaries June and Evelyn to the leper colony. They help out with the distribution of food. It is here where I can see that a ministry of presence can make a big difference. Here at the colony, each individual shares a room with one other person. It is practically its own village with it’s own farms, water system and organization. Evelyn told me before hand that many of the children like to hold hands because they so often are deprived of being touched. Many of their parents and grandparents have leprosy. When we arrived, the food distribution was already in process of being distributed. The project was being conducted by an OLA sister (Our Lady of Apostles, sister organization to the SMA Fathers, Society de missionaire d’afrique) and some Franciscan sisters. They were distributing fruits and vegetables. Sister Anne buys these vegetables from the leprosy camp and then gives it back to them for free as she distributes them across the camp. This way the farmers in the camp can make some small money. Many of the wazee (elderly) who we saw there were in fact blind from the disease and missing fingers and toes. They took care of themselves, however, cleaning themselves and cooking their own food. Most wonderful was that their interactions with us were that of equals. They were happy to see us and speak with us.

Walking around, I was in perfect form. It was almost like being back on the reservation in burns again. Many of the kids wanted to hold my hand, so of course, allowed them to. Walking along I taught them the handclapping of down by the banks. I am a pretty silly guy, so many of the kids surrounded me as I taught them the robot, made fish faces at them, blowed up my cheeks like a blow fish and gave them the lion face from yoga class (which consists of sticking out your tongue as far as you can and rolling up your eyes while breathing. They asked me if I had a camera so I could take their pictures and I obliged them. It is so much fun being able to share this small present with them.

Many of the kids had some sort of skin disease on their heads. You wonder if this close contact with their family increases the likely hood that they will get leprosy themselves….

Going home I couldn’t help but to scrub down everything. I guess some fears are not so easily dispelled.

More to come later…. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Christmas Letter

Christmas Letter

Dear Family and Friends,
Merry Christmas! Happy Belated Hanukkah to all of my Jewish friends (observing and non) out there! With this advent of Christmas it is hard to believe that I am now nearing the halfway point of my journey throughout Africa. It has been quite a journey that has taken me from bustling cities to the quite, calm, and often uncertainty of rural life. It is hard for me to believe that Christmas is only 3 days away. Our experiences are all formed and shaped by the culture, context, and environment (pretty much everything fits into that, eh?) surrounding us. Without the promise of snow, the family and friends returning from all corners of the US, the carols, the coco, and yes the hustle and bustle of last minute Christmas shopping, it is hard for me to get the feel for this coming Christmas day. Attending mass and following along with the daily readings at home over these past three weeks, I understand that Christmas is more than all of this. Liturgically we are celebrating what G.K. Chesterton calls the “staggering mystery of the Incarnation.” Many of these cultural events serve to awaken in us the childlike anticipation that made Christmas mornings somewhat magical growing up. Just as Catholics believe that Christ came into the world and took on the “flesh of man”, with all of our eccentricities of language, culture and relationships, so has growing up in the US wrapped Christmas in the neat package of all the experiences that help to make up what we somewhat mythically call the “Christmas spirit.” Rather than considering these to be distractions, as a Good traditional catholic, I prefer to say “the more the merrier.” Heaven knows I could use a good showing of “It’s a wonderful life” to set me in such a mood right now. Fortunately, I think an electronic copy of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol will do just the trick.
This year is becoming more like a pilgrimage than merely a research project. One recent Christmas letter from a priest friend of mine has reminded me of the challenge that Christmas poses to us. As we celebrate within the Catholic church the incarnation, he reminded in his email that this child who is born is seen in the poor, the lonely, the sick, the stranger, the young children abandoned. As the letter poignantly impressed on me however, we may always see Him, but how often do we recognize him. I have now spent five months living within the developing world. I have come face to face with social ills that no person should ever suffer. I have seen abject poverty, malnutrition, overcrowded classrooms with underpaid teachers, abandoned elderly, lepers, and the wasting effects of AIDS. In the face of so much suffering, I worry at times how normal such situations seem as I go through my erratic daily routine. I fear that too often I see, but I do not recognize. As another friend has recently reminded me however, we cannot deny the hope present in the eyes of these, no matter how uncomfortable this hope may make us. This hope does not allow us to dismiss. This hope inevitably draws into the lives of the suffering. Throughout my experiences here I have at times kept the suffering at a safe distance from myself out of a lack of courage or a lack of wisdom and at other times immersing myself into the lives of those I have interact, giving my heart to them. Below is a little recap of the time since my last email.
Prior to arriving in Tanzania I spent a few days at the IDP camps in Northern Uganda. These camps are a result of the military interactions between the rebel group the Lord’s Resistance Army and the Government. I, of course, was quite shy about taking photos my first day in the camp. I was sensitive to the fact that so many visitors here act as if they were in a zoo, taking pictures indiscriminately so they could capture moments of misery. Encouraged by Caritas workers from Uganda, I asked a woman if I could take her photo. Showing it to her, she thanked me and told me that this was the first time she had ever seen a photo of herself. She was over 70 yrs old and she was taking care of 7 grandchildren whose parents had been killed during the war. I realized then that even photography can be a form of ministry. I continued to take photos throughout the day of the families we worked with. Seeing the expressions on children’s faces as I showed them the images was worthy of a photo itself.
I was also amazed by the vision of church I was seeing within these camps. The role that the catechist is playing is quite amazing. During the past 20 yrs, many of the priests in the north have fled the situation because of the constant threat of danger. These catechist who did not have the same fiscal resources, stayed to minister to their communities. Often they would walk some 40 km to get communion for their communities. Over 40 catechists have been killed during the past 20 years. One priest recounted to me how a man who had come to his training center had found out that his family had died by rebel attacks. Asking what he would do after the burial, the man said that he would return to the center and finish his catechetical training, for he was called to be a minister to his people. Within the camps, the catechists have been trained by caritas to be on the ground resource people. They help to assess who are those most vulnerable and needy. Of late, both the World Food Program and UNHRC have depended on them for accurate on the ground info. These catechist not only show that we as a church are concerned about the spiritual needs of people, but through their work, right there on the ground in these refugee camps, the church penetrates even the most dark situations.
Returning from the north, it was time for me to prepare for my next journey onward. I still had a feeling that there was more to see, but I knew that I would encounter the same feeling of incompleteness in every country I went to. I finished my time in Uganda with a five-day retreat. This time set aside to re-center my journey and myself. Five days of prayer, reflection and breathing time did wonders for the body and soul.
I have now been in Tanzania a little over a month. It is hard to believe how quickly time flew by. I traveled across the great lake Victoria (17hrs, 365km) in a cargo ship with my good friend martin. Martin and I split ways after a few days and I began my new life here in TZ. A new language and a whole new set of people seemed to be daunting circumstances, but I was blessed to have met by the second day a lay Mary knoll missionary who has been my housemate for this past month. Garret is from Illinois. Him and his girlfriend Meghan (from Minnesota, another lay maryknoller) have both become a great source of life here in TZ as we share meals, stories and bad bootlegged copies of movies (needless to say, there are no blockbusters here). Garret and I (the only young lay foreign Catholics here) seem to have our own two person lay male community here as we enjoy good beers and recount stories and make jokes about the 80’s (he lived through it, I watched the reruns).
The research has moved on steadily, but always on African time, which is pole pole (slowly). As one African proverb says, however “haraka haraka haina baraka”, which loosely translates to “Hurry hurry gets no blessing.” While I have continued on my work of interviewing people in the field of religion (including the all star theologian Laurenti Magesa), my week in Ndololeji with Mary knoll missionaries Don Sybertz and Dan Ohhman were most exciting for me. There I had the chance to do real on the ground theology as I worked with Don on his proverb project. Don, who has been in TZ since 1955 (longer than most Tanzanians have been alive), has always had a passion for traditional wisdom (as spoken and sung through proverbs, stories and songs) loves to find correlations and relationships to our own tradition in the bible and in theology. We worked with his research team and two separate groups of wazee (elders) from the village to discuss the meaning of a certain Sukuma song. One mzee danced for us. I will be returning down there next week to live with Dan Ohhman amongst the nomadic tribe the Wataturu.
My program quotidian seems to changes daily. With a bit of an erratic travel schedule (lame excuse), I haven’t jumped into service, as I would have liked. I think I am a little bit intimidated by the Swahili (somewhat better excuse). The language progresses, however, and I try to spend a bit of time each day at the Maasai market practicing with my friend Bahati who originally made for me my tire sandals (literally made from old tires). One of the Maasai kids has learned the somewhat contradictory phrase here “mzungu maskini” as I tried to explain the nature of students debt in the US in Swahili (no easy venture). I have also taken advantage of having a private space here, where I can make coffee (instant sadly) and sit with my laptop to consolidate some of my research. That process in itself can be quite slow going at times. I have recently come down with malaria and worms (which I understand are almost indigenous to humans here anyways) but there was no serious damage, just a little slower than normal. The medicine did wonders and I am top shape now. It is, in fact, kind of cool to be able to tell people I had such an exotic disease as malaria. I guess I have become a little more enculturated to this African environment now.
Christmas will be quite quiet for me this year. My roommate has left for Kenya with his girlfriend and while I was tempted to just grab another cargo ship to UG to see my friends there, I will just make the best of a Tanzanian Christmas. I will be attending some five total masses in a period of two days, which just might give me all the church I need until next year. I will also be visiting a Tanzanian friend at his home for a Christmas meal.
As I reach this midway point during my fellowship, my mind begins to wonder also, what next. I try to live in the present, but it is hard not to plan for the future. While further study is definitely in my future, a lack of GRE scores impedes a direct route to school (which I find unwise anyways). I have toyed with the idea of teaching in France but also relish the idea of a full year in Portland, city of my birth, city of excellent beers. While my inner nature likes to stay 2 steps ahead of life, all of Tanzania sets me on the slow road to discernment: pole pole ndyio mueno… (In effect, the slow road is a good road).
Well, it seems that I have once again allowed myself to get carried away with my letter home. I hope that you see it is an expression of how I care for you all. I would like to hear what’s going on in your life, even if it is just the ordinary things that happen every day (for, as G.K Chesterton says, “Ordinary things are more valuable than extraordinary things; nay, they are more extraordinary.” (Orthodoxy). Thank you for reading. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I look forward to hearing from you.


Sunday, December 24, 2006


Friday, December 22, 2006

Blog Update-

Hi everyone.
I’ve typed three of these by now, but I keep getting power cuts. So here is the news:
I just came back from Musoma, which is about 3 hrs from Mwanza. I met more maryknollers: a sister and a laywoman, who invited me to stay at there place. Our first night we broke open the bourbon, NY Catholics are Great.

I’ve also found out on monday that I have both malaria and worms… don’t worry though. I am on meds and I am back to taking my prophalactis {sp?} regularly.
I didn’t feel sick till they told me I was sick.

More to come later

I have photos up on my facebook site.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Can my friends and family out there emailme their addresses to

Ways you can help here: A Christmas List


Ways you can help here: A Christmas List

So I put down some suggestions as a way people can give me a “gift” this Christmas season. I know that with some of the small organizations it is difficult to donate, as they won’t have access to US bank accounts. Here are some ways you can help though.

If you donate to catholic Relief services, with the specific intention of money going to Gulu, Uganda or Tanzania, I am sure that the money gets sent their quite easily without any costs.

Also, I just came back from Ndololeji, where two semi-retired Mary knoll priests, Don Sybertz and Dan Ohhman, are working. Don is working with a research team, collecting sukuma proverbs, songs and stories, while Dan is doing a lot of projects to improve conditions in the local community.

If you donate to Mary knoll, stating whom money will go to and what you want it spent on, then the money will be received directly, as Mary knoll takes care of any expenses in transit.

So here is how you can help

Food bins- $110. TZ is a farming country. With farming there is a lot of uncertainty. Too much or too little rain can send the region into Famine. When food is in shortage, the price skyrockets. Dan has local guys who are building storage silos for food where food for a whole year can be stored. You can donate $110 and this would be enough to provide one family with a silo, which would add a little more stability and security to their lives.

Boarding Fees- $135 - There is a local boarding school for girls. Often it is girls who don’t get the opportunity for school. A boarding school ensures that students get the environment that they need in order to succeed in school. Many families are unable to afford the boarding however. For $135, one can provide a year worth of room and board to a girl.

Windmills- Water is another difficulty in TZ. Often people have to walk down to the river to collect their water. When there is no water in the river they have to dig down until they find some. This is one of the more expensive ventures that Dan is involved with. With a few thousand dollars, Dan buys windmills in South Africa that, through wind power, pump clean water to the village center. He installs it for free and then the men who manage the water provide clean water for very little costs. (About 5 cents for 5 gallons of water). You can make a contribution of your choice to help towards building these windmills.

I am sure that all of these options are tax deductible.

Food Discoveries


Food discoveries

I meant to turn this into a weekly, but I forgot to. Here is, however, some the food wisdom I have gained over the past month.

- Matoke (vegetable bananas) is one of the best travelers foods. Full of fiber and potassium, it counteracts some of terrible agents working against your peace of mind through your stomach.

- Mashed potatoes pancakes. A great way to do a lot of cooking at one time and very little work afterwards is to take all your potatoes, boil them and make mashed potatoes. Then, the next few weeks just fry it in butter in a frying pan. Makes a great addition to every meal.

- Sauteed mango. Missing home? Cooked mango taste just like cooked peaches. Great over ice cream, great in chapattis (the African crepe), great in a cobbler.

- Honey on scrambled eggs. I just had the best honey ever. It is produced by African killer bees, collected by a nomadic tribe called the wataturu and manufactured, produced and marketed by sukuma under the direction of a Mary knoll missionary priest who has been here since the sixties. Honey on eggs is an amazing combo. Honey is also very good for the health.

- Chips mayai. (egg/fries scramble). As the name implies, this greasy dish is an amazing combo of French fries and eggs.

- Fried Cassava and ketchup. Watch out though, if cassava isn’t prepared right it can cause cyanide poisoning.

- Chapati Elephant ears. Just warm up some chaps on the stove, throw on some butter, sugar and cinnamon and you have a county fair wonder right in your kitchen. NB Chapatis also go great with peanut butter and jelly.

That’s all for now. Feel free to share your own food wisdom!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

living African narrative theology

Memos while in Shinyanga

Here are some scattered notes from my past week in the bush.

More coming soon


Sitting here in Ndololeji, enjoying a beer and coffee as the sun sets around me, it is hard to imagine life getting any better. Reflecting back on the day, I realize how fortunate and happy I am to be out here. I am currently visiting 2 Mary knoll priests in the middle of nowhere Tanzania. It is amazing to see how history shapes our present story. That seems like a trite cliché, but we often ignore this small maxim. Tanzania has been greatly influenced by its first president (who is being currently being considered for canonization by the bishops of TZ). So while my dramatic side claims that Ndololeji is in the middle of nowhere, the people here certainly know where they are. This is a real community. Heck, it’s even a planned community, one of the early Ujamaa villages. These were initiated by Nyere's Governement as part of his African socialism.

I was reconverted to working out after seeing my 80 yr old peers here putting me to shame with their dedication to staying fit. Two days ago I went for a run that took me through the village and into the African shamba (farms). Given that this is the first time I’ve been running in nearly five months, my 30-minute run with some walking was a pretty good start. More than sweat and heavy breathing, I am just thankful for the vast stretches of shamba spotted savanna, which in their complete otherness convince me that I am indeed in Africa.

Today I went for a bicycle ride on over to the next village. Echoing the previous paragraph, this is only the second time I have been on a bike in the past 5 months. What a wonderful invention! Fr. Don told me that when bicycles first came here to TZ people were afraid of them because they didn't know what they were. On the way to our research site this morning to meet with the Wazee, I saw a man riding a bike with one of the typical wattle or Maasai blankets wrapped around him. I wish I could get such an image captured in a batik (wax painting on canvas). Riding the bike through two villages, waving at people as I go (who always wave back both with their hands, but also with a big smile), huffing and puffing as I pushed up hills and stopping in amazement to take a picture at a piece of turd (dung) that two dung-beetle had made into a ball and were unsycretically trying to push across the road, I thought to myself that these are the unplanned fringe benefits that make being a Watson fellow so great! What a tourist of course! How many Tanzanians get off their bikes in the middle of the road to look at dung?!?

PS- I just got freaked out by a giant spider like thing that is about 3-4 inches long. Still have no idea what it really is, but I jumped out of my seat cause I though it was a scorpion. I decided to spare its life, but it has now climbed into the log rafters- Kind of unsettling situation

PPS- I just saw a gecko eat a moth. Nature is pretty cool huh.

PPPS- so the spider beast wins this time. After it fell from the rafters right next to me I decided to quickly down my coffee and get out of there. Who knew I was so intimidated by bugs. It is not so comforting thinking that it is also probably afraid of me, since it scatters and sometimes that is in my direction.

PPPPS- OK! Enough already! I should have killed it when I had the chance. After retreating to my room, nature called me to the pisser. From behind me runs this giant antenna laden spider beast. Why can't you just leave me alone you beast! It seems to be following me. I have retreated back to the room and shoved a towel under the door so he can't get in. Crazy tactics of a scared man, or life saving measures of a former boy scout with good intuition.... the world may never know.

PPPPPS- I washed my face and lifted up the towel to dry it. The bug came through the barricade breach. Not a lucky day for you. I chased it around the room and finally got it with a sandal.


Morning Mass

Met with Fr. Don in the morning to work on song

Met with the research team to test out some of these questions. Giving birth to theology is not easy


Today at 9:30 I went out with Don to the research groups. First we picked up his research team of five people. On the way there the lady began to sing a song which was followed by the rosary. I later came to find out that the song meant "I won't go to the witch doctor."

We met with around 18 wazee. First they sang the song for us. One of the mzee actually danced to the music as well as he led everyone in song.

Following this we spoke about the meaning of the song. The conversation was in Swahili, so I was unable to follow it, but Fr. Don was able to key me in at various different points to what was being discussed.

Don's method is to first have them sing the song. Then to read it out loud without singing. Then to ask them what the song means in itself. He then asks them how it may relate to dini (religion).

In this first portion they described how the impossible state of Samike is like a piece of meat that has to be cut a certain way otherwise it spoils. I think it is like the spoiled meat that was impossible to fix.

They also discussed for a long time this aspect of birth. According to them, when one is healed from a traditional healer, it is like being born again. This rang in my mind parallels to Nicodemus, and Don also had similar thoughts. We read that text aloud to the people. When asking about the religious meaning, asking who the healer is for us as Christians, everyone answered Jesus.

I myself would have liked to parse out what this healing means for Samike (in regards to what sickness is too) and then what this healing means for Christians. Also what is the medicine?

It seems pretty evident to me that the particular truth that Christianity has to offer to the world is this sense of Emmanuel, god is with us, that extends so deep that it touches the whole of our being (incarnation).

In my mind this means that God is both the healer, and the medicine. Indeed, God's very nature is one of self-giving. God heals us through the extension of his presence and grace into our lives. God's incarnation through Jesus means that the whole of our lives becomes sacred. I later read Barron on the priest as healer and he also touches this aspect of Incarnation being medicine.

This is pretty evident in the sacraments of the church. The sacraments are promises of God's presence in our lives. God penetrates through the important moments of our lives with the sacraments: Baptism (birth) Eucharist (meal), Confirmation (rites of passage/coming of age) Anointing of the sick (sickness), Marriage, Holy Orders, and Reconciliation (sin).

Don emphasized to the wazee the need for a savior/redeemer. He explained this using a proverb which translates to mean we can't heal ourselves.

This evening we had another discussion concerning the incarnation and what is the whole Christian project all about. It is about becoming more human, which is about becoming like the perfect expression of humanity, JC.

I said that I am more concerned about the particular truths of Christianity that bring meaning to our lives than the universal truths that seem to stomp on others.

I also mentioned how unfortunately people view doctrine as something imposed by the Vatican, when really they came from the community of believers throughout history.

Read parts of Faith, sex Mystery by Richard Gilman- real interesting memoir of a jewish atheist, who joined the catholic church and gradually faded away from it.

So I just got back from a week in Nodlolegi visiting two maryknoller fathers out there. Here are some sketchy notes/memos that I typed in a hurry as I tried to conserve battery power there.


I had been talking with Fr. Dan yesterday about inculturation. He had mentioned that one of the difficulties here in TZ is that none of the TZ priests want to do it with regards to the liturgy. They see that somehow an inculturated liturgy destroys the unity of the people. It is one of the real difficulties here. Uniformity is viewed as unity. Tanzania does have a particular background of Ujumaa guiding it however. people were forced to resettle into villages under Nyere. They all learned the language of Swahili. TZ is known for having no tribalism and no real problems between Christians and Muslims. One would think there would be greater difficulty between Arabs and Africans because of the slave trade, but for the most part they get along. The Arabs even intermarry (often a 2nd or 3rd wife) with Africans. This has been a move for unity. There is a much greater separation between Africans and Indians. The Indians often don't integrate at all and you won't find intermarriage between Africans and Indians.

We both agreed that the enviroment where inculturation can most successfully be born is in the context of Small Christian communities.

We also discussed the need to address the social situation. He mentioned the dilemma in celebrating the Eucharist when your stomach is full from your own lunch, but people are starving

Before dinner we had gotten in a discussion with Dan about the meaning of the song. I had talked about my desire to discuss the meaning of sickness here. Dan said rather indignantly that they probably experienced illness the same way we do in the US. I myself became rather indignant, saying that in the US it is treated and claimed to just be a physical thing, but that there is really a lot more to it, including stigma, social aspects and fear. Here in TZ there is a lot of fear concerning the question of Why me, because inevitably the answer leads to a discussion of witches. At the end of the day though, we agreed that what really needs to be addressed is fear. I would really like to explore this question of fears relation to illness and to see if that same fear is to be present in healing.

Don brought up the fact that there is nothing in the catechism to deal with Witches.

Dan mentioned that they had helped write the Swahili script for Cecil burgons the life of Christ. In this version of the silent film they had shown Mary Magdalene getting love potions from the witch doctor, but Christ later drives the 7 demons out of her.


Today I arrived in Shinyanga and traveled with Fr. Don Sybertz to Ndololeji. I am ever more convinced that I am in the right place here with these two men. Living here is Fr. Don Sybertz and Fr. Dan Ohhman. Both of these men are retired Mary knoll missionaries nearing their 80's who have been priest here for about 52 yrs. Fr. Don has been here in Africa for about 52 yrs now.

These past few years Fr. Dan has been involved in evangelization with the Watulu people, a nomadic tribe living in the Serengeti. He has also been doing a lot of work to improve the quality of life here by introducing a windmill powered irrigation system that also provides drinking water, a community tractor garage for farmers and is currently working to help some of the poor inhabitants get a large plot of land that they can work on.

Fr. Don since his retirement has become real interested in issues of culture. With a research team he visits Wazee and interviews them concerning proverbs, stories and songs. His team records these songs into writing and even learns the music for them so as to be able to perform them. His interest is in then finding ways that these proverbs and songs, which already have deep meanings and themes to them, could help to better convey the Christian theological method to people.

His current project is a song concerning gratitude from healing. The background to the song is that a dance leader was cursed and thus got sick. He visited many healers, but none could heal him. The dance leader finally finds a healer who is able to heal him and he writes this song in gratitude. As he explained it to me, the song goes

"To be sick is to not be dead. I was sick but you healed me...."

There is much more to it. On our return to Ndololeji, we stopped off with his cultural team, and they sang for me and him this song. It was quite moving and I hope to record it at some point

I will be joining him this week to meet with the wazee concerning this story.

We will also be meeting to share theological insights regarding this song. I am excited to be engaging in this act of on the ground inculturation and I hope to perhaps return to visit the Wataturu with Dan.

Our conversation in the car was touching quite a bit on the topic of incarnation. This was not directed by me, but was just brought up by him. We weren't talking about inculturation directly, but we were still touching on it through this guiding principle. He has been reading "the everlasting man" by Chesterton, which touches on the topic of the mystery of incarnation. The mystery of the incarnation is a powerful idea that touches on every aspect of our life. Our whole human life has the potential to become sacred: all human culture and all human life.

In the evening I later met with both of them for dinner

I got into a wonderful conversation with Dan concerning inculturation. He mentioned one of the difficulties in inculturating the mass itself is that it can be divisive. In an area where there are many different cultures coming together, it is hard to convince people that an inculturated liturgy would be a good thing for the community.

We touched on topics of witchcraft, illness and in the end the social teachings of the church.

He recounted to me how when he first was working with the wataturu one of the mzee invited him to have some of the young people live with him to learn more about their culture and the culture of the church. One man, after living with him for 3 years, working on translating the Sunday readings and the gospel of mark, said that he no longer lived in fear and he wanted to be a Christian. Dan asked him what he meant. The man explained that his whole world is based on fear of witchcraft, fear of God and that the bible showed him that with Christ there is no reason to fear. Dan also recounted how he said it would be difficult for this man, because he was a dance leader and in the dances they are engaged in immoral activities, but he eventually went ahead with it.

Friday, December 08, 2006

I got skills: an annotated list

I got skills: an annotated list

Skills I am proud to have- developed, ameliorated and made useful in Africa

Washing my clothes while I take a shower. – sounds weird, but it keeps me from allowing a big pile to develop.

High Five skills – Also sounds odd and very American, but these high five skills (standard for me is the top slap, bottom slap, pound and thumb snap) provide instant ice breakers with children and security guards.

Patience- certainly need it here in Africa since there is a completely different conception of time.

Missionary stomach- able to happily eat anything (except hardboiled eggs. Yuck!) that is placed in front of me. Doesn’t mean my stomach is always happy with me though.

Good sense of bargaining- Only been cheated here in TZ once.

Creative imagination- last night for desert we had rum soaked, sautéed mangos on chapatti (best description is an African tortilla) with hazelnut ice cream.

No Shame concerning language skills- Probably my time in France has helped me overcome any shame and thus any shyness with faulty language skills. I just try try try and as one priest told me yesterday, Pole pole ndyo…. I would write the rest, but I wrote it down and of course, left it at home and have no swahili memory.

Paper plane folding and origami skills- been making one of the masaai kids very happy with this skill

Easy ability to make friends- My whole fellowship work seems to rest on this ability

Networking skills- same as above

Good walking feet- I use them everywhere

Wake up with the sun- I am early to rise and typically happy when I do so. Only wish the sun woke me up 15 minutes earlier so I could make the mass.

Skills I wish I had in Africa

Better cooking skills- “How do you get to Carnegie hall? Practice, Practice, Practice”

Better memory- would make learning Swahili a lot easier

Anthropology observation skills- (work in Progress)I do my best, but I am not trained as an anthropologist. It would certainly ameliorate my field notes

Handwriting- would make writing post cards easier

Swahili- (work in progress would make interviewing lay Tanzanians easier

Mobility- I tend to get comfortable in a place for a week or two and maybe I could do better living out of a rucksack

Simplicity- (work in progress) I just have too much! Fortunatley, my new found shower clothes washing skills has helped me to say I don’t need to a lot of the clothes I already have.

Faster typing skills- Useful anywhere in life

Website designing skills- So many ways I could help with just this knowledge alone.

Ability to live on little sleep- I love dreaming, but this would be an awesome skill to have.

That’s it for now. Excuse the bad grammar… it’s a list and it’s fun.

Monday, December 04, 2006

oh my, How the Swahili progresses...

How the Swahili progresses

In the longer gaps between formalized research, I am spending many hours trying to improve my Swahili. My American roommate Garret has a wonderful book called Simplified Swahili by a chap named Peter Wilson (ISBN 0-582-62358-8 for you ambitious Swahili learners out there). I spend a few hours plodding through a number of pages that are reminiscent of my early days of French. In my minutes of despair (particularly when I remember my first visit to France after only a year of French) I remind myself that a.) My French eventually did improve to the point of actually getting a major in it, and b.) For only of having had a month of Swahili back in P-town I am not doing half bad. People are pretty forgiving of this Mgeni (guest) who is fanya bidii (making an effort). I in fact learned those most important phrases first. Mimi ni mgeni hapa mwezi moja. (I am a guest here for one month.) Kiswahili changu ni kibaya, lakini ninafanya bidii. (My Swahili is bad, but I am making an effort). I love how my effort to explain what I am researching, since many people have not even heard of the Swahili phrase describing it, is to say I am studying religion and culture, or more specifically how African culture and Christianity can become one. I then pull out my rosary and point to my bracelet that is part of the Masaai tradition of honoring the ancestors and I say “hapa ninaomba mhenga wa ukristo, Mary, hapa ninaomba wahenga wa undugu. Mary si mungu, wahenga si mungu, lakini wasaidia.” Which is probably terrible Swahili, but it means that here I pray to the ancestor of Christianity, Mary and here I prayer to the ancestors of the family. Mary isn’t god and the ancestors aren’t god, but they help.

The other day I also explained to my masaai friend Bahati (which means luck in Swahili) how I am in a lot of debt (nina deni) because of school and how we make big salaries in the us (msharara mkubwa) but that life is really expensive (maisha ni ghali!). Well, it turns out that for him to rent his room here, he pays 5000 shillings a month, which is about 5 dollars. Crazy, huh? Now, where we are staying it is some 150,000 a month, so maybe it is just a shack with 15 other masaai guys, but who knows.

Today I also sported my kata mbuga, which literally means cut through the bush. These are the masaai sandals made out of tires. I had to duct tape some of the straps so they wouldn’t tear up my feet, and at the end of the day, they really do the trick.

In the meantime, I just finished a book that touches on vocation called Let your life Speak by Phillip Palmer. It is an excellent book that would make a good Christmas present to anyone. I think my favorite section was when he deals with metaphors of life. We have a tendency to treat life in metaphor through the lens of industry and mechanism. Life is a battle; life is a game of chance. He however reworks the metaphor of life through the seasons. Rather than a Pollyannaish spirituality, his focuses on recognizing both the shadows and light in our life. Being fully aware of our strengths and weaknesses. Easy to say, harder to do. His emphasis is also that while this journey of discovering our inner vocation or what Thomas Merton calls the true self is a personal one, it is not necessarily a private one. As we share our dark and light, our joy and loneliness with others in community we in fact have greater opportunities for growth and discover.

The one line I really loved though was a saying that came from the Midwest that says: the winters here will drive you crazy, until you learn to get out into them.

Winter is a time where we confront our fears and our disappointments, but becoming familiar with them, braving the frostbite, we gain a better appreciation for ourselves. We come to realize the gifts around us and we learn from our very fears. Our departure point, however, isn’t our fear, but the hope for the future. What I thought would be some cheesy pop-theology turned out to be a wonderful blessing. Gets the mike le chevallier two thumbs up.

This past week has been leading up to the Jubilee celebration at St. Francis Xavier church here in Nyakahoja. The priest got special dispensation from the bishop to reopen the cases for marriage and baptisms. Often people do not get married in the church because of some irregularity, real or perceived. This is also the case for baptisms. Because baptism is perceived to be a commitment on behalf of parents to raise children in the catholic faith, if there are irregularities in the marriage (i.e. people were never married in the church, as in with the sacrament) then the kids are not allowed to be baptized. Well, this past week over 260 kids were baptized in one mass and over 40 couples were married. I wish I had my camera, but I thought I was just going to a normal daily mass. Can you imagine at the end though when 40 brides and grooms came walking down the aisle!! It was something else.

Well, time to fry up some mashed potatoes!!

Kwaheri friends

photos from TZ

on our luxury cruise to TZ
can't you just see the excitement oozing out of us- this is at the beginning of our 17 hr voyage

The captain and I
Cargo ship
On the way to TZ

Old UG photos

on the river nile

Impatient me- hanging out with gerald and charles from undugu
Very sticky
Martin and I on the nile.
in the back of the truck on the way to beer after the car broke down- 3 wks back
With Michael and Timmy at Rainbow house of hope
hot and tired at murchison falls
me and the maribou sork in beautiful kampala

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Christmas list

Once again it is Christmas time. I am not asking for presents thisyear. I don't have a wish list. Really, by comparison, I have all thatI need here. I have shelter, I have food and I have health. I havestrong communities at home loving and supporting me. This is not true,however, for many people around me.Fortunately, I have come across some wonderful organizations whiletraveling here that are doing wonderful work in the community. So ifyou would like to give me a Christmas present this year, you arewelcome to make a contribution to any one of these organizations.Please contact me if you are interested. I will provide more detailsat a later time.

Undugu- Community building organzation that engages in manyactivities to promote peace and love. This includes a school forrefugee children that I taught at, a tailoring shop to generate incomefor women in the community, a builders association, and many differentlocal dancing troupes
Rubanda Solidarity- Organization in southern Uganda. They areproviding income generating activities like tailoring or mushroomgrowing to teen drop outs. They also built and staff the only nurseryschool in the village. They are now trying to add one grade a yearuntil they can create a full primary school. Currently trying to raise funds to purchase a solar energy system so they can have lights in thedormitory at night.

Rainbow House of Hope Uganda- Youth Center in Kampala. They provide aplace where children and youth can play sports, learn music, engage intutoring and have a greater fullness of life.

Caritas Gulu- Provides resources to the most vulnerable in the IDPcamps in and around Gulu.Youth in Action- provides sponsorships to orphaned children in the Ft.Portal region.

More organizations and info to come….ps- if you do want to send any cards or anything though, my address here is
Michael Le Chevallier C/O St. Francis Xavier Jesuit Community
Po Box 266 Mwanza
Here is the rest of the contact info.

Advent in Africa

Advent in Africa

The Christmas season is coming. Unlike in the US, we don’t have all the normal markers of Christmas here. There are no lights strung up on the trees. Some areas near the city are lucky enough to get power at night. There are few Christmas carols being played in shopping malls…. We don’t even have shopping malls. In fact, the only thing that seems to signal a coming change is that we have moved from the dry season to the wet season.

Typically in the US, Christmas is a time to celebrate a coming together of families. We glaze the ham, make the scalped potatoes, roast the turkeys, and find our favorite Christmas sweater to wear. Without these normal cultural markers leading up to Christmas, it is difficult to get a sense for the coming holiday. Without the Christmas parties, or the TV specials like miracle on 34th street or frosty the snowman or the slight promise of snow it is hard to feel a sense of that Christmas spirit.

Yet, with this past Sunday of Christ the king, the old liturgical year is coming to an end. Going to church from Sunday to Sunday, it is hard sometimes to make the connection. It is hard to realize that there is indeed a movement of the church. This past Sunday we were to be celebrating the triumph of our church, the eschatological hope on which our faith is founded.

Perhaps we celebrate Christmas a little too early in the US. Everyone knows that thanksgiving signals Christmas. Our anticipation is built up in part by our cultural tradition and also in part by consumer tendencies in our culture.

This separation from home has been sparking a lot of thoughts in my mind lately. This coming Sunday marks the begin of the new liturgical year. It is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent, as the Latin name implies, is a building of anticipation towards to coming of Christ, the incarnation, the penetration of God into his human creation in a new way. The real markings of the coming of Christmas here are in fact those of the church.

With Christmas, we are celebrating a special event, where Christ became present amongst us. Incarnation is in fact what I am studying this year. When God became manifest in one human family, in one culture, in one religion, god made possible the penetration into every culture, every human family. The fullest expression of the Christian faith is not European or middle eastern or any one culture, but rather an indwelling of Christ in any culture. Christ came to bring us a fullness of life. As we discover how we can live fully and authentically as humans within our own cultures and contexts we, and our cultures, become drawn up or lifted up to Christ. I hope that my celebration of Advent and Christmas this year, can be filled with anticipation for the way that the Christ is being born here in Tanzanian culture. I hope that I can apply the same hope and confidence in this birth as we do in the birth of Christ. It’s an amazing thing really, that this birth which occurred as a moment in history 2000 years ago, is celebrated, enacted and truly taking place again and again. Let us be mindful then, with this coming of advent, of the emerging of Christ in our life every day. Let us also protect and nuture this coming of Christ, this rebirth in every culture throughout the world.

Christ was born as a refugee. Christ was born “on the way”. In the US, let us be mindful in particular during this Christmas season of those political and economic refugees within our midst.

Let us also be aware that in order to nurture this faith across the world, we have to be aware of the economic shackles that the world system places on the developing world. This is a bondage that we participate in as a nation. Africa is a continent that is rich but rendered poor. As I asked what the biggest obstacles to having a fully authentic African faith were to one missionary, he mentioned poverty.

There is a true economic poverty, where people are in a situation where they can’t make the morally “right” choice. Indeed, we do not find the thief who steals bread culpable, for, as Thomas Aquinas stated, the bread was already his to begin with. When the prime concern for a person is surival, they do not have the luxury of adequate time for reflection and creativity (not to say that it can’t and won’t happen though). We have a debt of responsibility to question the international structures that place these countries in debt to us. Within Africa, there is a belief that any evil in life can find its source in the immoral action and behavior of others. This dangerously plays itself out in the notion of cursing. Behind this though, is the idea that there are no accidents in life. People understand that a person gets sick from a mosquito bite. They then, however, ask the question, why was I bit by the mosquito? Now this form of causality may sound silly to us, but when we do realize in fact, that the situation here in Africa, whether be it drought and deforestation caused by corporate farming, or the illness present here that could have long ago been eradicated with enough resources adequately focused on it, or famine when there are enough resources in the world to deal with this food situation, then it is not so irrational to ask the question, “why Africa?”

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Settling in to Mwanza

New Address
Michael Le Chevallier
c/o St Francis Xavier Jesuits
Po Box 266

Here is my new cell number.

Settling in to Mwanza

I have been in TZ for about a week now. It has been quite suprising already. In my mind, TZ was a hot dry place. While that must be true for many parts of the country, Mwanza, which is situated right on Lake Victoria, is almost as green as Uganda. It is a strange and interesting place. The city is clean and the main roads in the city have no potholes in them.
I feel like I have been transported to a modern day flinstones. Throughout the area there are these gigantic stones that cover the land. Many houses are of a similar huegh and they blend right on into the stones.

I have moved in with a maryknoll missionary named Garret. I think the situation will work out pretty well. Already it is nice to have someone around who might understand my references to pop culture. We live right next to the Jesuits. So if I ever get enough sleep to wake up by 6 am I might make it to morining mass. We are in the rainy season now though, so there is not the light that I typically depend on to wake me up early in the morning.

Our security guard, Thomas, dressed in a red uniform, protects our neighborhood with a bow and arrow.
Throughout the town there are also very tall men with large holes in their ears, who wear blankets on their body and a smile on their face, while carrying sticks with which they seem to be easily able to kill you. These are the masaai guards. I went just the other day to the masaai market to purchase myself some kata mbuga, which means cut across the bush. These are sandals made from old tires. Cool huh? Almost a pair of African burkinstocks. I wore them all day today and they tore up my feet pretty well. While waiting to get them readjusted by bahati (which means luck) I was teaching a young masaai boy to read. Today I made my way out to Mabatini to interview a maryknoll missionary priest named Jim Ebel, who has been living in TZ for the past 17 years.

Already there are some striking differences between here and Uganda. I think the emphasis on Swahili has played a large role in forming the country. The snubbing of TZ by many Anglo countries because of its African socialism probably has led to a delay of the neo-colonialism that has penetrated Uganda so deeply.

Also, witchcraft plays a much more prominent role here in TZ. Often negative fortune causes one to seek a diviner out. In some Ugandan cultures, the misfortune might be blamed on a disharmonious relationship with the ancestors. Here in the sukuma region, often this misfortune is attributed to the curse of a witch. Well, those are often innocent old women who get blamed.

I spent thanksgiving with the maryknoll folks from town. We were in charge of making the mashed potatoes. We made 8 kilos of potatoes and now we will be eating fried mashed potatoes for the whole rest of the week. Yummy! I met a really neat Oregonian too who is working as a volunteer doctore here. He grew up in salem, spent his summers in black butte and his favorite beer is also black butte porte. What a small world! We held a mass before dinner. It was really quite neat, for most of the msic was reminiscent of the old folk masses I used to go to as a kid.
Well… falling asleep at thecomputer. Time to check out!
ps- will eventually get photos up.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Alive in TZ

Well, I made it to Mwanza, TZ. I will be here now for about 2 months. I haven't figured out a mailing address yet, but my new cell # is +255787282555.

I had a pretty exciting trip across Lake Victoria (17 hrs) as a rat had tried to steal my sleeping bag case. After a few hrs of thinking I had gone crazy, i was able to recall a slight pattering of feet during the night and tracked down his nest. Either fear or generosity kept me from ending this rats life, but at the end of the day, I still won the battle against the rat. It seems I have secured myself housing for the next month. I will be living, hopefully, with a lay maryknoll missionary from Chicago.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Where ya been mike???

Well, i've been somewhat silent of late. that is because i decided to finish off my time in UG with a retreat with a jesuit who just flew in from the states. Well, i am not a jesuit, so my retreat was a little less silent than might be expected, but i tell you, it was good to get just a few days of real rest, relaxation and retreating (RRR?), or to get some TLC from God. hmmm perhaps i should stop there. anyways, to update you, i am leaving tomorrow by cargo ship for Mwanza. Cool huh? right between matoke and gnuts, there you will find me reading as i cross lake victoria. I will be traveling with my good german drinking/traveling buddy martin, who is taking 10 days to visit TZ. I don't know how far I will travel with him, but it should prove to be a fun way to begin my research in this new country. Perhaps at some later point i will post all the spiritual insights i gained this past week, but not likely. Some things are just too personal for the world wide web... besides i have a whole other adventure ahead of me to document and post. Thank you Watson foundation! Well gonna go grab a beer to restore some empty calories to my body (been sick lately.. knew it was time to take medicine after my gut started hurting after drinking communion wine....)
Salama lako! (peace to you?? i think... clearly my swahili needs some major improvement. )

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Photos from Gulu and Palenga IDP camp

Hanging around
Caritas at the end of the day
After our trip in the camps
Paul- project manager
family in the camps. this man lost his leg from a land mine.
Justus. this man was responsible for 10 dependents by himself

Caritas and mzee
enjoying the shade
Family photo
martha and her grandson. Martha is responsible alone for 10 children.
Woman and her traditional local brewing
through the door
Caritas hard at work
at Palenga IDP camps

Trip to GULU

You ever get the feeling when you’ve been somewhere so meaningful and touching that you realize that you’ve just been in the wrong place for the past month, two months etc? I just returned the other day from Gulu where I have had a similar experience. Gulu is one of the main cities up in the north. It was most frequently featured in the film “the Invisible children” which is about the night commuters, or the children who flee the rural areas to flee the LRA (rebel army who abducts children to be soldiers or sex slave) or sent by their parents because of the poverty situation. I was staying in the catechetical center run by a Fr. Joseph Okumu (brilliant man) with the double purpose of visiting him regarding Inculturation and visiting the IDP camps with Caritas to witness the consequences of this war and the work being done by the church.

There have been so many meaningful experiences just over a period of three days that it is hard for me to sort them out in this short email, but bear with me as I myself am still responding and reflecting on these experiences.

Situation in Uganda
In the northern part of Uganda, there has been a war that has been going on for the past 20 years (a full 21 in January). Rebel leader, Joseph Kony, went into the bush in 1986 and began his attack on the Museveni Regime. Museveni himself came to power through a gorilla war against the dictator Obote. Uganda itself has been in a constant state of war since Idi Amin’s time in the 60’s. The LRA (and the government’s military the UPDF) have terrorized the Acholi people in the north over the past 20 years. The LRA has been known to murder, rape, torture and mutilate the population here. They also abduct children who they then force to commit atrocities and join the ranks of their soldiers.

IDP camps
In the face of abject poverty, it is sometimes hard to react at all. This may sound odd to many of your ears, but I would almost compare it to a sensory overload. Entering into the camps, I was all the sudden surrounded by huts, built right next to each other, in camps filled with what might be described as human misery. Gift and burden, I tend towards the brighter side of things (an attitude founded on a profound respect for human dignity even in a state of misery. I reject any judgement, as I have even heard before here in Uganda from my ex-pat. Friends that this person would be better off never alive). In the face of such misery, does one’s pity add anything to it? I don’t know, but I made the choice to provide only my support and encouragement, rather than despair. I was visiting the camps with Caritas, the social support, development and relief arm of the church. Caritas is a Latin word which means Charity. Caritas Gulu works to help the most vulnerable and needy in the camps. They try to reach out to those people who aren’t supported by those around them and who would not be reached by the other NGO’s. My second day in the camps we visited a list of people who were identified by the catechist (will explain below) as the most vulnerable and most needy. Amongst these people are child led households, abandoned elderly (often supporting grandchildren), single parent households (could even have 10 dependents) and victims of the physical effects of war (landmines, mutilation). These people met with us and were divided amongst the caritas workers to register them at their huts. As I stood on the side, as those originally identified were roll called, I couldn’t help but see the dignity that these people possessed. I don’t mean this as some abstract ideal that guides our social actions, but a true sense of resilience in the face of the suffering around them and on their person. One mzee (old man) missing a foot and crippled in the other, forced to move around on his knees, held all the respect of an elder.

As we followed these people to their homes I was followed by children yelling out Muno no, which means white person in Acholi. It was actually refreshing not to be called Mzungu for once. Acholi is not a Bantu language, but actually a Nilotic language. Many of them asked me to take their picture. With my previous day in the camp I was very sensitive to the issue of photos. Unfortunately, I think it is easy for us to live behind the camera. Perhaps I am too sensitive to the subtleties, but it is easy to dehumanize a person with a camera as they are somehow treated like they are in a zoo, people to be watched in their misery.
Following these children asking me to take their photos, I began to see how my own camera could be a way of breaking the ice. The first women who we visited allowed me to take her photo and afterwards she thanked me very much, for it was the first time she had seen a photo of herself. I then proceeded to be the (sensitive) photographer, using my camera to help break the ice with the children around there. Unfortunately, I didn’t see much difference between the IDP camps and the slums of Kampala.


I was struck by the role that the catechists are playing in the history of Uganda and in particular in these past 20 years. There have been over 40 catechists who were martyred here in Uganda. While many priests left the area because of the security situation, these catechist stayed on, many times traveling long distances to get communion from a priest for their community. These catechists are the church. They are really a new vision of what it means to be a part of the church here. In Uganda’s history, the catechists were often in a place before the missionaries ever reached there. Now, the catechists are playing a vital role in the camps. Many of them have been trained by Caritas to be their community resource person. They identify the local needs of the people and bring these to caritas. They are the people who are on the ground, living in the camps. I wish I could communicate better their role, for it is truly something special. For about 5 years UNICEF and World food didn’t want to work with the catechist because of their connection to the church, but they have now realized that these are the people with the most integrity on the ground.

The saddest thing is that the catechists themselves, who often have families of their own, do all this work as volunteers and get a pittance stipend of only about a dollar a month.

There will be more to come later as I reflect. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006



So I made my last excursion for fun here in Uganda. After the slight disaster that was my bwindi journey, I was quite excited for what this trip may have to offer. 11 of us all squeezed into the 8 passenger van in good African fashion and we headed north. As we moved further from the lake, the land became much more dry and sparse. I realized that I was entering savanna land.

On the side of the road was a number of closely pared huts. This looked suprising since most villages typically are arranged quite separate from each other. It turns out that these were some IDP (internally displaced people) camps of people who have fled from the north.

Upon arriving at the park, we already began to see elephants and giraffes in the distance. The weekend could not have begun more perfectly as we arrived on the shores of the nile just in time for the sun to set over roaring hippos and grooming baboons. It was a truly stunning sunset.

Better than the sunset, however, was the moonlit boat ride across the nile. I felt like I was in harry potter taking the boats to Hogwarts (not poetic, I know I am a nerd).

The following day we made a game drive through the park and I saw giraffes! The silent pacifist.

More to come later.

Forgive but not forget?

Forgive but not forget?

What does reconciliation mean? I have been thinking and talking to people lately about the issue of the Rwandan genocide and the subsequent actions taken in regards to it. What do I mean? We have a phrase in the states of Forgive and Forget. I can remember on various occasions saying how it is necessary to forgive, but never forget. This little idiom is currently the guiding principle behind the “never again” memorial in Rwanda. Talking to my friends here, I have become aware of a stinging controversy around this memorial site. Indeed, what is the purpose and what is the consequence of this genocide museum. One priest told me that you will never find a maHutu in that museum. I was told that in fact the only people who do attend such a museum are foreign tourists and tutsi’s coming from outside the country. What is the real meaning of reconciliation. Are there times when we need to always remember?? Are there times when, in order to have a true reconciliation, it is necessary that we forget.

Take the case of slave trade in the US. I do not believe that any American feels truly responsible for the slave trade. Yet there are still strong structural injustices present in the US. We have no one to forgive, but we cannot forget. We cannot forget this injustice, because it’s effects still carry into the present. It’s idealologies still breathe in our society.

With the case of Rwanda, can there be true reconciliation, if Mahutus continue to feel demonized. How will they react to such a depiction of them? What happens when these are your neighbors?

So what does reconcilation mean?

Monday, November 06, 2006

Photos of days yore

Sunset on the Nile

Foam of the nileMurchison Falls

Martin, francisca and I at Murchison falls NP. M and F are both from Germany. Martin is my good bud out here. We bond over our shared appreciation of Ugandan beer

beared up and hanging out of the top of the car, ready to safari
Baboons at murchison falls NP

Taxi park in Kampala- one of the ugliest places in kampala, but with the sun shining just right, quite beautiful.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The web of life

The web of life
I am ever convinced that the African ethic of the wholeness of life is true. Because it is true, this is why we already find it in so many other traditions, even our own western Christianity, i.e. St. Francis of Assisi, Ignatian traditions, Pierre Tielhard de Chardin, Kant, etc.. (Due to his individualized ethic, it would be easy to manipulate Kant into a consumer ethic, but ultimately, when we realize the implications of the point that for Kant it is in the judging of nature as beautiful that we become aware of what it means to be fully human, we cannot follow abuse Kant in such a way.) I believe that we are all a part of a web of life. When a company has no regard for the enviroment, it is already on a road to the destruction of humanity. Any devaluing of creation, ultimately devalues humanity, either literally, as it places profit over people, or indirectly as it turns the person into a consumer devoid of relationship with God’s creation outside. Within the African worldview, we are intimately connected with all of those who came before us (the ancestors) and all those who will precede after us. We have a debt of responsibility to both.

What are the theological implications of that? Within Christianity, it means that we must be a church of remembering, so as to be aware of the injustices of the past, and we must have a profound sense of community, that goes beyond the consumers in the present. Let my theology move beyond the theoretical and speculative. I hope and pray I have more opportunites to see it first hand.

Letter Home

My life in Uganda- letter to friends and family.

Dear Friends and Family,

Happy Halloween! Oli otya? (Luganda greeting) How are you all? Thank you to all of you who have sent me little electronic notes over the past few months. My love of relationships has only grown since coming to Africa. Perhaps it is because, as a Rwandan man told me the other day, Africa is the birthplace of solidarity. Even with an ever-busy life, I cherish every piece of news sent from friends home and friends here in Africa. After all, at the end of the day, I know that my friends and family are my greatest treasures. I
I have been traveling now for three months! Where has the time gone? I have had a marvelous adventure and I am glad now for the opportunity to share some of my reflections with you. My trip was so far been laden with difficulties and triumphs. My first five weeks were spent in South Africa divided between Johannesburg and Cape Town. At first, I had a small amount of adjustment as I prepared myself for this whole year ahead of me. Living in what is said to be one of the most developed country in Africa, I encountered face to face to the history of colonialism and racial oppression. While in South Africa, I hiked mountains, attended museums, researched missiology in the church, and had the chance to witness my friends Bruce Botha SJ and Shaun Carls SJ be ordained to the priesthood.
Since arriving in Uganda, I have had a voracious appetite for my research here. Moving out of South Africa into a truly developing country, I have had to deal with a whole different set of adjustments. It certainly has been interesting dealing with this combination of rural and urban life. Who knew that living in the capital city, I would be waking up to roosters every morning. I have also had to confront/adjust to new culture of waste here. With no alternative, garbage is littered and strewn about. Roads are also in such conditions that Ministers of Parliament are demanding 4WD just to drive in the city. Corruption in all levels of the government taints such requests however. Reflections on those issues would take many more pages however.
When I am in Kampala, I am living at a guesthouse run by nuns, hanging out with Jesuits and meeting with other priests and religious on a daily basis. It seems I have had my fill of religious here. I am living on catholic hill, so abundant resources surround me for my research. My initial Jesuit contacts have proved to be quite useful in dealing with practical questions of living in Uganda. Regarding my research, I was quite fortunate in my first week to meet with a priest named Fr. Waliggo who has written extensively on the topic of Inculturation as liberation. After my initial frustrations in South Africa, my first meeting with him was exactly what I needed. Indeed, this man articulated exactly the sentiments that I was feeling towards the process of inculturating the faith. This man helped me to develop a broader understanding for the necessity of this process of developing Christianity in Uganda. He also made me realize the imperative of Inculturation as he related to me the dilemma of identity for the African Christian, living with a foot in both the traditional world and the Christian world. He helped me to see the necessity of inculturation in enabling Christians to use their own traditional resources to deal with conflict, poverty, corruption and all other anti-life forces. The driving force behind my passion for inculturation was renewed and emboldened. He also gave me the contacts for quite a few other theologians here in Uganda who I have visited and interviewed.
Through my conversations with this compassionate people working on the ground for the betterment of people lives here, my awareness of the meeting of culture and faith have grown far beyond my original interest in liturgy. I have seen how the church has a necessity to address other issues outside of what might traditional be considered as a part of church culture. I have had a chance to explore issues of healing and the church as well as traditional means of dealing with conflict and resolution. I have seen how this issue of making an authentic faith touches on issues that we have long ago compartmentalized outside of religion. I have also seen how the church has the opportunity to be the locus for true healthy meeting between cultures. If religion won’t uphold people’s inherent dignity and identity, what use is it to anyone but the oppressor? Indeed, I have also seen how the churches of history and of present have been tools of cultural oppression. In many respects, the work that needs to be done now is backtracking the work of the early missionaries, who came with all of the assumptions of superiority of Western Europe as well as working against the current surges of consumer Christianity coming from the states.
Somehow the problems of the past find resurrection in the present as well. Living in Uganda, I have had to confront many issues of injustice that are the products of neocolonialism. I don’t want to get into to many details, as I can see that I am already writing beyond the prescribed limit, but I have faced with disgust the damage that a consumer Christianity being exported from the states is doing here in Africa. A profit driven hypocritical Christian has come to Uganda and spread like bush fire. Offering desperate people the promise of material acquisition and prosperity, it feeds them lies as it steals their assets. I have seen how the erosion of traditional values and their replacement with the values of materialism and individualism have plagued society here. It is difficult for someone from the states to live here and not think critically about their own culture. I have also had to confront the terrible identity issues left over from colonialism, where many young east Africans hold the belief that anything that is Mzungu (white) is somehow better. These experiences have only further increased my commitment to inculturation as liberation, enabling people through an affirmation of their dignity as an African. Indeed, I have been helped to see that the Christian tradition as a church of remembering, must include into this a remembrance of all the atrocities afflicted against the dignity of the human person here in Africa. Using this act of remembering as a departing point, a true theology that has meaning to a people in their culture and their context can be realized.
I have learned a new way of being a theologian. If theology is going to have meaning here in Africa, it has to take into account not only the culture of people, but also their very situation of suffering and poverty. The cries of the poor become a new form of theology so to speak. Even as I write this, however, I become ever more convinced that this context is where my research needs to take me next. I have spent too long now in the company of priests, nuns and theologians. I need to more fully immerse myself in the lives of those most vulnerable around me. I have already begun in some respects to become more intimate with these voices as I have begun volunteering as a teacher for refugee children and as I have exposed myself various different service organizations in the area, but it is clear to me that I have a longer journey ahead of me.
As to a typical day, it seems that in Uganda the only regularity I have had are the meals. Even these vary from the relative luxury of 3 square meals of matoke (a type of banana) and rice a day with the nuns at the guesthouse to boiled beef in some small run down shack next to a taxi park. A priest in Ft. Portal has told me that I have a missionary stomach. I seem to like almost everything that is put in front of me. I draw the line at hard-boiled eggs though. I feel like I have become a part of the family, living here at the Moroto diocese guesthouse and with four nuns looking after me I sometimes feel as if I have four moms here in Uganda.
I’ve been fortunate to have a number of experiences that have pushed the envelope for me. I spent one full day visiting three different prisons. I did not come here as a missionary and I try to explain that on a regular basis to those Christians in Uganda who I meet. I was, however, asked to give a few words of encouragement to the prisoners who we visited. What I thought would be a small greeting turned into a 25 minute sermon to over 50 prisoners on human dignity, Social justice, Christ’s presence amongst them in prisons, their ability to be agents of peace and to be witnesses against the oppression they have lived around both outside and in prison and of course, the beauty and value of African culture. The officers at one prison were so happy to hear my message that they actually invited me to go to 7 other prisons in the Jinja area. I tell you, this wasn’t my intention, but after having the effects of neo-colonialism and poverty in my face for the past two months, I had a bone to pick and I used this “sermon” as the means of communicating it. I was happy to see that my words had some meaning to the prisons I was speaking to as they nodded their heads or approached me afterwards.
I have really found some iron in my system that I didn’t know was there. I have always been a little squeamish on money issues. Here one has to be bold and frank, if they aren’t going to be cheated. I have done a good job of knowing what a fair (not cheap) price is and being sure to negotiate until I can get. Everything is of course marked up because of the color of my skin. What becomes more difficult is when one is confronted with this perception of whiteness and vast wealth outside the confines of the marketplace and in the area of relationships. It was difficult for me at first knowing how to gracefully deal with these issues since indeed so many organizations did need help, but I have since become quite skilled at discerning when and where I can do the most good with my skills and money
I have made sure these past two weeks to see more of Uganda than that of Kampala. Traveling by bus to visit priests across the country I have come to see why Uganda is called the Pearl of Africa. The beauty that I have seen ranging from the terraced hills of Rubanda to the matoke and tea fields of Ft. Portal has struck me. I went to Queen Elizabeth national park where I saw my first elephant in African, to the Kibale forest where I communed with chimpanzees and to the Bwindi impenetrable forest where I trekked the growing ever more rare mountain gorilla. Participating in liturgies across the country, I have seen the external expression of the African sense of life put into dance. Traveling to Rwanda I have been confronted by the horrors of the genocide and seen the remarkable transformation and reconciliation that has happened since. I have engaged my Rastafarian friends in conversation about what it means to be fully alive and I have talked with priests about what it means to have personhood. I have struggled teaching long division to refugee children who don’t speak English and I have rejoiced at hearing some of my students on the street yell out, “Hi teacher”, rather than, “Hi Mzungu.”
My life in Africa has touched me deeply. I am sure that it will take some time for me to fully reflect and realize the impact that my experience is having on me here. I only hope that I can more fully immerse myself in the culture and the context surrounding me over these next few months so that I may have a more attuned ear to the experiences of the people here. Thank you for reading this. Please keep me in your thoughts and prayers. Please also send me news of what you are up to in life. I cherish all that I hear from my friends throughout the world.
Mike Le Chevallier