Saturday, November 19, 2011

On Work


While the content of my previous blogs may be misleading on this
subject, we do, in fact work here. Though the Tanzanian and monastic
balance of work, prayer and leisure make it more of a challenge, we
make a point to work as much as we can. Not only is that a part of our
commitment to this community, but we’ve also found it’s necessary to
satisfy our productivity-loving Yankee blood and, if nothing else,
keeping our hands busy is a wonderful distraction from feelings of
homesickness that have begun to set in.  So here’s a summary:

St. Agnes Secondary School for Girls
This has been our main assignment. Ash and I team-teach English and
computer classes to the girls in form 1 (about freshman in high school
age). Term has just ended and the girls are currently in exams. Our
success as teachers is not so easily assessed. I have no idea if I
helped them learn English and a few weeks ago a rain storm cut the
power indefinitely in the computer room making it difficult to teach.
Needless to say, the challenges have been constant. Our success here,
I think, is in the time we spend with the girls and our conversations
with them outside of class. We play games, sing songs, go to the field
and play sports with them (well, ash does anyway).  My favorite part
is probably the endless and hilarious notes we often receive from them
full of broken English and pretty inappropriate expressions of
adoration. One of my favs: “Sash and Margreth- I need the friendly
with you becouse I love u. – Jesscar.”

The Bakery
Next to school, this is probably the place where I spend the most
time. I just never get sick of baking. I love that now we know how to
do just about everything by ourselves, and they trust us to do it. We
make Maandazi (doughnuts), Chipsi (crackers), Keksi (cookies), Keki
(cake) and my favorite to make, Mikate (bread). As we bake we sing,
dance, daydream and snack on treats. Overall, a great place to be.

The Sewing Room
There are multiple sewing rooms here, as there are endless uniforms
and habits to make and mend. The one we work in makes priest’s
vestments- quite the addition to my resume. Ash and I began
cross-stitching stoles when work in the bakery became less pleasant
with the heat. I love going mostly because of the sisters who work
there- Sr. Jenista and Sr. Angelina. Both are incredibly sweet and
good to us, though Sr. Angelina speaks only a few words of English.
While sewing one day, I was surprised to hear not only an English
voice come through the tape player, but one with an Irish accent. I
have since learned that Sr. Jenista spent one year very near to where
I lived while studying in Ireland! It’s been fun having something so
important to me in common with her. What a small world it is.

The Orphanage
Though we play with the toddlers from time to time, just this week I
started going to orphanage on a daily basis, and spending time in the
baby room. It’s very difficult being there, and even more difficult to
describe. After just a week, though, I get the feeling that it will be
an important part my remaining time here.

That is our work, at least my attempted categorization of it. In
reality, it is much more sporadic and often unseen. It is helping to
peel potatoes or cassava, setting up Sister Rustica’s first email
account, teaching the novices a song to sing for English mass, or
setting the table for dinner. Really, most of what we do is not that
important or life changing. But the mere gift your hands can be
powerful, I think. And perhaps that is the best way to explain how we
spend our time here: just being our hands.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Give to the Max to BWSC!!

Just a note that today is “Give to the Max” day and my program, the BWSC is one of the organizations that is benefiting from funds raised today. This is a great way to support my work and the people in this community. Money raised will go toward making our work here sustainable, meaning that it continues after our year here with new volunteers. Since the BWSC is a new program within the last few years, we are especially in need of support ensure longevity in our relationships with the communities we serve in Puerto Rico and Tanzania. Thank you so much for anything you are able to give!

here's the link to follow:

Thursday, November 3, 2011


October brought our first real experience with the African sun. It has
been unbearably hot, at least for us wimpy wazungu (Europeans). In
spite of this, or perhaps because of it, we have been persisting in
some of our usual fall traditions and in doing so, sharing a bit of
our culture with some of our new friends here.

So, on Saturday, we made apple pie. Though there are many delicious
fruits here, papaya, bananas, tangerines, and mangoes- apples are
difficult to find in Tanzania, since they must be brought in from
Zimbabwe. This means that the process of making the pie began with
tracking down ingredients in Songea, forced practice in Swahili, and
eventually finding a new friend who was able to speak English when our
Swahili proved inadequate- all an adventure in and of itself. But find
the apples, we did and with pride and excitement brought them to the
bakery to attempt our pie.

To say it was a success would be a gross understatement. Perhaps the
lack of variety in food here has left us with less refined palates, or
perhaps the flavor was made sweeter by nostalgia and memories of home.
In any case, Ash and I vainly agreed that it was the best apple pie we
had ever tasted. We shared with our friends at the bakery- Sr.
Jackline, Sr. Diana, and Emman all of whom gave rave reviews and
excitedly attempted to translate the recipe into Swahili. Sr. Diana,
in particular, laughed the entire time she was eating it, which we
think is just what she does when she is really happy? We also shared
with Sr. Thawabu and Sr. Mgaga who are the sisters currently working
in the guesthouse. When she finished her piece Sr. Mgaga said, “When
you make pie again don’t forget me.” Needless to say, it was fun to be
able to share something so familiar to us that they had never
experienced before.

After finishing our pie, we were talking to Sr. Thawabu about our
plans for the following day. We were getting up early to go to the
parish in the village of Mkongo, which was celebrating its 50th
Jubilee. Sr. Thawabu said, (I think jokingly?) “Bring me back a
chicken!” We laughed- good one Thawabu! As a general rule, I am
learning that the second you laugh and say or even just think to
yourself they aren’t serious, right? That can’t be for real- I am
quickly proven wrong. One example: During the mass at Mkongo, when a
woman with a large basket on her head wrapped in cloth was processing
through the crowd we assumed that in the basket was the Bible. Sr
Gotharda whispered, “It is a child.” Whaaaat? She’s not serious,
right? I must have heard her wrong. Sure enough, the cloth was untied
and a child, a large child of probably 6 or 7 years old, popped out
holding the Bible. The crowd went wild.

Similarly, Thawabu’s request acted as a prophecy. On our ride home,
when we offered to take the far back seat of the land rover, we didn’t
know that we would be sharing our seat with a third passenger: a live
chicken. Now, out of necessity people bring chickens everywhere here,
in plastic bags, in purses, with squawking heads popping out, in
baskets bigger than laundry baskets- full of chickens. They carry them
on buses, around town, and don’t blink at picking one up by the neck
and handing it over to a guest as a welcome gift. We’ve grown
accustomed to this, or so I thought. As it turns out, sharing the
backseat of a land rover on a 3+ hour drive is a very different thing
altogether. For most of the ride, it sat quiet and motionless. No big
deal, I thought, remembering the chickens we had when I was a kid,
internally exaggerating my farm girl roots. I’m just sittin next to a
chicken. Then, out of nowhere the bird began to squawk and flap its
wings. Naturally, and like perfect idiots, Ash and I began to squeal
ourselves, laughing intermittently and practically putting on a
contortionist show to avoid the flapping feathers- all of this only
seemed to provoke it. Finally Ash, regaining her senses, threw her
sweatshirt on top of the chicken. The effect was immediate; the calm
and quiet of the evening trip home was restored. The next night at
dinner, however, the chicken was permanently silenced. Thawabu got her
chicken, after all.