29 December 2014

remembering our year 2014.

One year ago today, we were saying goodbye to dear family and friends, knowing very little about the adventure that would soon begin. We're happy to say that after one year in Tanzania, we've survived! We've made it! We've had our share of ups and downs along the way but here we are.

So it's time to bid a fond farewell to 2014 and to welcome in 2015! But first, let's take a look at the ROY 2014 (Remembering Our Year) - a really awesome summary of what we've been up to since we took off on a jet plane and landed in Mwanza, Tanzania. Enjoy!

22 December 2014

poverty of things versus poverty of ignorance.

There was a time when I warmly greeted the notion of living more closely with the poor. Having less. Living simply. Surrounded by those consumed only with meeting their basic human needs. And I was going to use my skills to help them achieve their goals and reduce the amount of poverty in their life.

How romantic it all sounded. Or how foolish.

Eleven months in Tanzania has taught me a whole freakin' lot. One thing I have come to discover is that there are (at least) two distinct forms of poverty. I will call these (1) poverty of things and (2) poverty of ignorance. The experience with each has been so different.

15 December 2014

five ways i have… and haven’t adapted to tanzania.

Wow, friends, it’s officially December. Or Desemba, as Tanzanians say. Maybe where you’re sitting, the snow is falling, you’re cozied up by a fire with hot cocoa, listening to your first Christmas song.

For us, the holiday season looks a little different. The weather is still… hot, with some long, tropical rainstorms interspersed. Mangoes are being sold everywhere, piled up in huge mounds at the marketplace, sorted by size.

december in tanzania.

And we've almost been in Tanzania for a whole year! So instead of posting about a weighty cultural issue, I thought I’d share with you five ways I have and haven’t adapted to Tanzania since we moved to Africa.

08 December 2014

tanzanian weddings: hot dogs but no cake.

Ashley and I recently attended our first Tanzanian wedding. I would sum-up the experience as life-changing. Okay, maybe not that. But it was a ton of fun.

Who was getting married? The brother of one of my Tanzanian co-workers.

How well did I know the groom? Didn't know the man existed.

Why were we even invited? This is Tanzania. Don't ask questions. Just live.

Much like how I broke down the marvel that is a Tanzanian graduation, I'll take you step-by-step through the experience of an urban Tanzanian wedding.

01 December 2014

the dream: an aids-free generation.

At Shalom Care House last week, a young girl walked into the classroom where I often work. Her name is Mary* and she's about twelve years old. I smiled when I saw her, because I always enjoy having her around. Mary is smart but more than that, she's very persistent. She rarely complains.

I hadn't seen her in awhile, so I started teasing her. "Where have you been?" I asked her. "Did you get lost?"

"No, I've been really sick," Mary told me.

And then, I remembered that she's HIV positive.

24 November 2014

striving for justice in our own home.

We have already written a bit about our home security in Tanzania. As outsiders living in Mwanza, we are more likely to be targeted by those up to no good. Recognizing this situation, our organization requires that we live in a home surrounded by a wall or fence and that a security guard watches over the home at night.

Our home is no exception: the yard is fully enclosed by a wall and gate, and we hired a security company to provide a guard for twelve hours per night, seven days per week.

To us, this level of security felt like a bit much. I mean...are we prisoners in our own home?

17 November 2014

when are you going to have kids?

Okay ladies, by the title of this blog post, you can probably tell this one is for you. But gentlemen, I'd love for you to weigh in on this as well, as this issue - the issue of bringing little human beings into the world - is an issue that affects all of us.

After we got married, Michael and I would often get asked if we were going to have children, when we were going to have children, and how many children we hoped for. Well, at least, it felt like it was often. We would vent about these conversations in the privacy of our own home, as we didn't appreciate such intimate questions coming from anyone and everyone.

I would like to go back and tell that Ashley that those questions were nothing compared to what she would experience in Tanzania.

10 November 2014

graduation in tanzania is a nonstop dance party.

I teach entrepreneurship and the process of establishing and managing a group enterprise in Mwanza, Tanzania. Primarily I work with young mothers who dropped out of school due to pregnancy. Before they come to me for business training, they are sponsored by the NGO I work with (Education for Better Living Organization…or EBLI) to complete a four-month computer literacy program. At the end of the computer curriculum, a graduation ceremony is held at our office to celebrate their achievement.

What does this ceremony look like? Oh, it's a wild scene.

03 November 2014

coping with chaos.

Of course becoming a missioner and moving to a developing world country would be difficult. I expected that. Widespread poverty. Lack of infrastructure. Corruption. Good and decent people struggling to meet their basic needs. It comes with the job description…literally.

But I didn't know it would be like this.

There is a Swahili phrase for it: "shaghala baghala." It means chaos. Utter chaos. Without benefit. Chaos for the sake of chaos. And the shaghala baghala monster is sucking me in.

27 October 2014

visiting local food markets in tanzania.

Whenever I read about traveling to some faraway, exotic land, travel writers always underscore the importance and fun of checking out the local food markets. Funny that I've been reading about this for awhile, until it suddenly dawned on me... "Hey, that's what we do almost every day!"

Now that we've been in Mwanza for almost ten months, visiting the local markets has gone from fun!-exciting!-let's go use our new language skills! back to "Um, is it my turn to go get groceries or yours?" Living is different than traveling, right?

But really, going to a local market is a great way to get a feel for the local culture. Here's what you can expect to experience in the market ten steps away from our door.

20 October 2014

how to climb mount meru.

Check out this picture. 

Yes, that’s Mount Kilimanjaro in the distance! Last week, Michael and I climbed to the top of Mount Meru, the fifth highest mountain in Africa and the tenth highest in the world! As we would later find, this was no small feat. Although it was incredibly difficult to get to the top, it was a lovely vacation, full of nature, meeting both Tanzanians and ex-pats, and gaining some more perspective on this country we now call home.

13 October 2014

measuring our environmental impact - electricity.

In late September, more than 300,000 people marched the streets of New York City in what organizers called the largest climate-change demonstration in history. Many folks from Maryknoll were present to showcase their support. This event coincided with the United Nations Climate Summit 2014, attended by 125 world leaders to discuss climate change.

Ashley and I have been talking for the past year about how the decisions we make should reflect our values. Well, we decided to not only talk about it amongst ourselves, but also to do something about it and share with others in the event that it may incite a similar response, or at least a critical reflection.

It is highly difficult to improve without defining what progress looks like and then measuring the impact. So in this post, I'll be looking at our environmental impact as it relates to electricity usage.

06 October 2014

one doxycycline pill a day still does not keep the doctor away.

We’ve been sharing a lot of contemplative posts lately: how we feel about our faithsome of the awesome work Michael's doing, and what it feels like to not fit in, even in the expat community. But for today, I thought I’d take you through a “Day in the Life” post again, like I did when we were in language school.

Instead of going through one of our normal days, I’d like to take you through a “Sick Day.” These are the not-so-fun days.

Let the games begin!

29 September 2014

soda follows me wherever i go.

My father worked for Pepsi in the United States for nearly 30 years. I worked for Dr Pepper Snapple Group (DPS) in Plano, Texas for 5 years. Then I moved to Tanzania in East Africa, expecting to leave the bubbly world of soda behind me.

But I was wrong. Soda followed me 8,568 miles across the Atlantic Ocean, from one continent to another.

22 September 2014

are you a missioner if you don't like going to church?

It’s Saturday night. Maybe we’re having a quiet night at home, just the two of us. We might be out with friends, enjoying dinner and meeting new people. No matter what we’re up to, the inevitable question always comes up…

“So, are we going to Mass tomorrow?”

our church: the church of the uganda martyrs in kiseke.

15 September 2014

on the street, in the village, and back again.

The core work I do is teach entrepreneurship and the process of starting and running a group business, and then help Tanzanians establish and implement their business ideas. Primarily I do this work with young mothers - girls who dropped out of secondary school due to pregnancy - struggling to provide for their child and stuck in the vicious cycle of poverty. But from time to time other organizations ask me to impart this same learning and methodology on their beneficiaries, or to consult on business management.

Most recently I have kicked-off the group enterprise process with a new batch of young mothers, led business skills training for young men living on the street, and facilitated a five-year strategic plan for a local nonprofit organization. The past month has been quite busy, so I thought I'd share an update.

michael introducing a topic on the reasons that many small businesses fail.

08 September 2014

one of these things is not like the other.

In an attempt to make some friends, Michael and I have been stretching ourselves to get out of our comfort zone and meet new people. Although we live in a neighborhood that is overwhelmingly Tanzanian, we’re finding more ex-pats like ourselves each time we step out of our small bubble. 

On one hand, it’s a great opportunity to mix and mingle with Americans and Westerners. We get the chance to speak our own language and relax in a multi-cultural setting where we largely share the same values, norms, and even, traditions.

At the same time, we’ve struggled with these get-togethers. It seems that the more we explore, the less we fit in.

01 September 2014

the real cost of giving.

We are often asked for money by complete strangers. Everyday, actually. It may be a child yelling, "Give me my money!" Or it may be our neighbor sending their child over to collect money for sugar. And plenty more.

On one hand the preponderance of such requests can become overwhelming, if not downright annoying. But on the other, each request offers us a chance to be charitable. 

25 August 2014

can we be more than money?

I was running an errand in town this week and as I hopped off the daladala, a young street boy came up to me and started tapping me on the arm. “Dada, dada! Sister, sister!” he called, trying to get my attention.

I knew what would follow would be a plea for money. And yes, he definitely needed money. But I couldn’t even look him in the eye, let alone talk to him. I turned away quickly, down a side street and ignored his continuous shouts in my direction. 

Within minutes, I felt horrible. “Why didn’t I just respond to him?” I thought. “I didn’t need to give him money. I could have just spoken to him.” But even speaking to him, in that moment, seemed impossible. Why? Why did I completely ignore a perfectly polite street boy?

18 August 2014

how to lose 90% of your income and be happy.

Last fall, as part of our orientation program, we watched a documentary called "I AM" by Tom Shadyac about the world's growing addiction to materialism. The key moment comes when Tom moves into a much larger house, the movers leave, and he realizes something profound...he is no happier. Despite being in a beautifully large home, his measure of happiness had not changed one bit. So he made a film about it.

Recently, I had a similar revelation during a conversation with Ashley. We both left behind good jobs in the United States, moved to Tanzania in East Africa, and watched our household income decline by 90%. Yet, despite the precipitous drop off in our income, we are no less happy. But if we are earning way less money, shouldn't life be far less enjoyable?


11 August 2014

highlights: dar es salaam, tanzania.

Hey there! We’re sorry! We left without telling you where we were going. We’ve missed out on a few blog posts because we were here.

If you’re heading to Dar es Salaam, here are some recommendations to get you started. If you’re not heading to Dar es Salaam, read on anyway! You know there are always Leen Adventures in store.

24 July 2014

can i have your number?

This is a true account of a conversation I recently had on the street.

Young Tanzanian Man (YTM): Hello, how are you?

Me: I’m fine.

YTM: Can I ask you a question?

Me: Okay.

YTM: I’ve seen you on this road a couple of times now.

Me: …

YTM: So maybe you should give me your number, so sometimes, we can talk and get to know each other.

Me: Um, no.

YTM: What?

Me: No. Have a good day!

21 July 2014

the things we compare.

Part of my Americanness is to compare one thing to another thing, or myself to another person, leading me into a realm I like to call the psychedelic vortex of comparison.

What goes on this realm, you ask?

17 July 2014

help ashley enrich the lives of vulnerable kids in tanzania.

Now, it's my turn, folks! Michael wrote on Monday about all of the great work he's doing right now and how you can have a hand in the creation of small businesses where we live.

I need some moola, too!

As Michael mentioned, we are both Maryknoll Lay Missioners living and working with the poor in Tanzania. Financial gifts from family, friends and really cool total strangers allow us to be here doing what we do.

This is what I do, and here is how you can help.

14 July 2014

help michael continue small business development in tanzania.

Ashley and I need your help. We seldom if ever talk about funding on our blog, but the reality cannot be ignored.

Our work in Tanzania is impossible without your financial support. 

We are both Maryknoll Lay Missioners living and working with the poor in Tanzania. Financial gifts from family, friends and really cool total strangers allow us to be here doing what we do.

This is what I do, and here is how you can help.

03 July 2014

won't you be my neighbor?

Since we live near a market, we often see the same folks every single day - the employees in the three dukas in front of our house, the woman who sells mandazi, Tanzanian doughnuts, our neighbors, the older woman selling charcoal. The list goes on. 

And as is custom, we have to greet every single one of them, every time we walk by. To be honest, it was starting to grate on my Americanness.

30 June 2014

things i never thought i would say.

Moving to Tanzania has taught me a lot about the kind of person I am. It has pushed and stretched me, revealing the good, the bad and the ugly.

And it has caused me to say things I never thought I would say.

Here is a look at some of the verbatim surprising and humorous words that have come out of my mouth these past few months.

26 June 2014

getting our groove back.

So far, life has been difficult for us in Mwanza. We haven't minced words about that, from discussing the separation of our electricity meter from our neighbors to dealing with issues with our night guard. (Update: We're on to Guard #4. But that's a story for another day.)

Recently, we've been able to catch up with friends and family back in the United States and they expressed serious concern for us.

"Are you guys… okay?" they asked.

"Yeah, we're okay," we responded.

"No, but really. I'm worried about you. Your blog makes it sound like things are bad."

Sorry, guys! We're here to tell you: we're okay.

23 June 2014

the power rangers.

Let me give you some advice. Don't share electricity with your neighbors. We found ourselves in this situation. And it is no fun. Here is the story.

During our initial house hunting visit of our current home, we asked our landlady, 

"Hey, does this home share electricity with these three stores right in front of the house?" 

"No," she replied without hesitation. 

"Perfect," we said.

Fast forward one month and we are living in our home.

There is a knock on our front gate. Looking through the gate, I see a young man and I ask, 

"Can I help you?" 

"Yeah, I work in one of the stores right here in front of your house and I have come to check the electricity meter," he tells me.


"To see if we need to buy more kilowatts." 

"Wait, are you telling me that your business shares the same electricity meter as our home?" 

"Of course." 

19 June 2014


Since I studied abroad in Italy seven (eek!) years ago, I’ve prided myself on my ability to “adapt” to different cultures. Sure, I’m American. And in some ways, yes, I’m proud. But in other ways, I’m definitely not. Upon coming here, I was looking forward to shedding the American baggage that I don’t love and taking on aspects of Tanzanian culture that I would.

I’ve been shocked to realize, though, just how American I really am. It’s not easy to shed that cultural baggage, not in the least.

16 June 2014

the empty promise of a carefree life.

Let me tell you a story. It goes like this.

Once upon a time there was a land of enchantment called "Africa." People the world over were drawn to its natural beauty, exotic animals, and the promise of a more laid back, carefree lifestyle. Still others were lured by the ambition of working alongside locals to combat unjust structures and help alleviate poverty. Even the latter took comfort in knowing that the pace of life was more forgiving, providing ample time for rest and relaxation in order to appreciate the beauty of life around them.

I'll be honest. Before Ashley and I moved to Tanzania, I was enchanted by the notion of a more laid back, carefree lifestyle. After all, this is Africa, right? People are supposed to be chill. Life is supposed to move slowly. Animals are supposed to sing "hakuna matata"…or something.

I. Was. Wrong. That story bears nothing more than the empty promise of a carefree life.

Somehow as we reminisce about our life in the U.S. it sounds so much more laid back. So much more carefree. How is that possible?

We both had demanding jobs and worked a ton and overall maintained a very busy schedule. Yet, as I recall, I had so much more free time to do as I pleased. What gives, Tanzania?!

13 June 2014

reading rainbow - 13 june 2014.

After a few-week hiatus, Reading Rainbow is back making this Friday the 13th a good one. Check out the latest five weekend reads below!

12 June 2014

moral dilemmas and night guards.

Living in our own home has brought with it a whole set of new challenges that we didn't foresee. From sharing electricity with our neighbors to taking care of a dog, we are definitely faced with something new every day. Recently, it got a little tough with another one of those new relationships: the one with our night guard.

the guard's domain.
Not only have we learned a lot about employing a night guard in the last couple of weeks, we were also hit with a bit of a moral dilemma.

09 June 2014

i believe in you.

Last week I wrote about the work I am doing teaching entrepreneurship in Tanzania, helping young mothers to plan, start, and successfully run group enterprises. Just this past Friday, I facilitated an initial workshop with several of these young women.

Our three hours together left me with a lot of questions.
  • What do these young, Tanzanian mothers think of this entrepreneurship training?
  • Can they understand my broken Kiswahili?
  • How am I perceived as an outsider?
  • Or even as a married American man leading a group of young, single Tanzanian women?
  • Do they even want me here?
  • Am I adding any value at all, or am I just wasting their time?
  • Will I in any way contribute to a more full and dignified life for these young, Tanzanian mothers?
So much to think about.

Ashley and I came to Tanzania with grand ideas. We wrote about our vision here. People told us that we were naive - that we dreamed too big. And they were right…well, sort of.

05 June 2014

the not so fun reality of culture shock.

We remember a time when we loved life in Tanzania. We would happily greet everyone we came across. We tried new, local foods with gusto. We frolicked through fields of dagaa.

Yeah, those days are long gone. And what has taken their place is the hard reality of culture shock. What does this mean? Well, for starters, we're definitely not in Kansas anymore.

02 June 2014

teaching entrepreneurship in tanzania.

Let me begin by saying that Ashley and I are a bit behind on our blogging. Turns out our new home is in a mobile network dead zone, so we have had little to no internet access for the past three weeks. Thanks be to God, I think we finally found a solution to our internet woes!

 I digress.

Anyway, some of you may be wondering, "Michael, what the heck are you doing in Tanzania? I don't mean why you moved there. I just assume you are crazy. But tangibly, what are you doing with your time?"

20 May 2014

i am an outsider.

I'll admit it. Ashley and I thought that moving to Tanzania was going to be this great big adventure.

And it is...

…but it is not an adventure in the "Wow! Isn't hang gliding over the mountains of New Zealand amazing?" kind of way.

Nope, not that.

Rather, it has been an adventure in the, "Wow, life here is really crazy." kind of way.

And it has not been easy.

As another put it, traveling to the third world is great and also it sucks. Seriously.

Like Ashley commented in her post on living among suffering, we received some good preparation on cross-cultural transition during our ten-week Orientation Program in New York last Fall.

But how prepared can you be for life in another world? 

Because that is how it feels right now - like we are living in another world.

16 May 2014

reading rainbow - 16 may 2014.

T.G.I.F. Celebrate with some interesting weekend reads. The latest edition of Reading Rainbow is below.

15 May 2014

mtv cribz: the tanzanian house tour.

You've been with us through House Hunter's International, parts I and II. So tell me, were you right about your guess of which house we would choose? To be honest, we would have guessed wrong ourselves. For a good month, we had our hearts set on House #2 and changed our minds at the last minute. It wouldn't be an adventure otherwise, would it?

So let's peel back the curtain a bit and let you step into our new digs. And because we're awesome, there's a surprise announcement at the end of the post as well. Excited? You should be.

12 May 2014

how to rent a home in tanzania.

For those following along, Ashley and I recently signed a one-year rental agreement for a home in Mwanza, Tanzania…finally! We have been homeless and living out of a suitcase since we moved out of our apartment in Dallas, Texas back in September 2013.

Let me tell you: 7.5 months without your own home as a married couple is no fun. It is so nice to have our own space again and do crazy things like cook our own meals and wake-up when we want to in the morning.

So what's it been like to rent a home in East Africa? Bonkers. Allow me to give you the highlights.

09 May 2014

reading rainbow - 9 may 2014.

Well, dear friends, only six and a half months of being homeless for us! We have officially signed on our new house! Which one? Well, for those of you who guessed House #3, you were right!

We'll be back next week to give you a run-down on the rental negotiation process and a full tour of our new digs. But for now, enjoy the weekend with these interesting reads!

08 May 2014

living among suffering.

What does it mean to live among those who suffer? No, I'm not talking about that Starbucks order that went awry this morning. Or even the annoying event of locking your keys in your car while it's running. (Guilty.) While I don't enjoy these situations either, they're what the World Wide Web likes to dub First World Problems, problems that the privileged few of the world enjoy.

Since moving to Tanzania, our perspective on suffering has shifted tremendously, especially since we've witnessed so much loss in such a short period of time.

05 May 2014

let's talk tanzanian culture - education.

Time for another session on Let's Talk Tanzanian Culture.

Today's topic? The Tanzanian education system.

Before getting into the details, I will give you the headline now: the education system in Tanzania is a broken mess. I have yet to speak with a local that feels differently. Fixing the educational structure will take a lot of work. The country is currently in the process of updating its constitution, so here's to hoping they overhaul the Ministry of Education (but I'm not holding my breath).

02 May 2014

reading rainbow - 2 may 2014.

What are you doing this weekend? Looking for some interesting reads to power you through your Friday? Then keep reading below!

01 May 2014

house hunter's international: tanzania, part ii.

You've never seen a sequel you didn't like, right?

Don't answer that.

About a month ago, we informed you of the first ten houses we saw in the Mwanza area, hoping that one would become our home for the next three years. Unfortunately, the House Gods had other plans. Although we were enticed by certain elements of some of the homes, none fit the bill of what we were looking for. But have no fear! As soon as we returned to Mwanza after language school, we got back on the house hunting bandwagon.

28 April 2014

traveling to the middle of nowhere.

Have you ever been to the middle of nowhere? What does that even mean? Where is nowhere?

I don't know, but I bet it looks and feels a lot like Magalata located in the Shinyanga region of Tanzania.

a 360 degree view from this point would reveal little more than this solitary outdoor toilet.

25 April 2014

reading rainbow - 25 april 2014.

I'm sorry. I must have missed a step. How is it already Friday?!?

We're officially settling into our new life in Mwanza and it is no simple transition. Bear with us. We're putting together some great posts on house hunting and our trip out to the the boondocks for Easter. In the meantime, why don't you check out these great articles, hand-picked just for you? Cheers!

24 April 2014

world malaria day - 2014.

Did you know that tomorrow is World Malaria Day? Well, it is. In fact, it is commemorated each year on 25 April.

Ashley and I live in a part of the world that is deeply effected by malaria, so in recognition of the day, I would like to help spread awareness about malaria: what it is, why it matters, and what you can do about it.

Photo Credit: UN