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