13 January 2014

the leen's are in tanzania!

It's been almost two weeks since our last post, but that's because we've been busy traversing the planet (and lacking internet) - Ashley and I finally arrived in Tanzania!

What was that travel experience like? Well, it was kind of like forced sleep depravation and deliberate malnourishment, but more to come on that in a later post (UPDATE: read about our 7,910 miles of travel here).

sleep deprivation is no funny business.

For the time being, I wanted to provide some updates on what life has been like with a little photo tour (lots of photos below). Come along!

Ashley and I arrived in the city of Mwanza located in the country of Tanzania situated on the Eastern side of the African continent on the morning of Monday, January 6th (we were supposed to arrive 24 hours earlier, but that will be explained in a later post on our travel extravaganza).

The city of Mwanza is located on Lake Victoria, which is the second largest freshwater lake in the world, so we've got that going for us. Oh, but you can't swim in it otherwise a parasitic worm would enter your body through your skin and cause schistosomiasis, so we've got that going for us too.

notice that i have circled the city of mwanza in red to make it easier to spot. the blue above it is lake victoria.

While Mwanza is the city in which we will be living and working, we only spent five days in town prior to beginning Swahili language learning in another city (see more below).

For those five days, Ashley and I stayed with fellow Maryknoll Lay Missioners Chris and Katie who have spent the past two years in Mwanza. They live in what would most likely be considered a middle-class home for the area.
looking at the front of chris and katie's house - thanks for being such awesome hosts!

Since this is Africa and prevalence of malaria is high, people sleep under mosquito nets. Of course by people, I mean those who are well-off and most likely non-native. It's a luxury to be able to sleep under one. Basically you unfold the net and it drapes entirely around the bed. Better picture of this further down in the post, so keep reading!

this is the bed we slept in at chris and katie's house - notice the mosquito net hanging above the bed.

Aside from mosquito nets, living in Africa also means hand washing and line drying your clothing. No one has a washing machine or dryer. The process of hand washing your clothes can be quite time consuming, and it tends to wear down your clothes much faster than machine washing.

our clothes line drying after a good hand washing - note the fans on the left to speed-up the drying process. concrete floors are also a staple of a nice home in Tanzania, which is good for dripping, soaking wet clothes.
Okay so that gives you a sense of the interior, now let's look outside!

looking out one of the windows at chris and katie's home.

Standing outside their home, you get a sense of how some other Tanzanians live. Notice the rocks in the picture below. Mwanza is often called "Rock City" because of the numerous and interesting rock formations. Homes are built all up and down these rock formations throughout the city.

view of some of the neighbors.

The below photo shows the street in front of the home we stayed in. This neighborhood is called Mabatini. Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers founded a Catholic church in this area many moons ago.

Again, much like mosquito nets and hand washing your clothes, living in Africa means getting accustomed to bumpy (and sometimes flooded) dirt roads.

michael and ashley standing on a street in mabatini. 

There are ten of us Maryknoll Lay Missioners in Tanzania. Everyone was very welcoming and hospitable our first week, and we feel blessed to join their community in East Africa. While the entire group meets roughly once per week for dinner and reflection (AKA venting), everyone lives in their own home and works different jobs with different local organizations.

top: kristle, joanne, rich, dave, caitlin
bottom: michael, ashley, katie, chris, liz

During our first week in Mwanza, we had the chance to visit our future work sites. In case you missed it, I will be working with an organization called the African Probiotic Yoghurt Network (APYN). The people I met seem really great and I feel very encouraged about working with them. 

While my work has a pseudo-office of sorts, I will also travel in and around the city of Mwanza visiting the various yogurt kitchens. We stopped at one kitchen to meet the women and youth working there and taste a sample of the yogurt - it was deliciously probiotic.

michael and ashley with fellow new maryknoll lay missioner kristle visiting an apyn yogurt kitchen.

After our five days in Mwanza were up, we hopped in a car and made the three hour drive north to the city of Musoma where our Swahili language learning will take place.

On the way, we drove directly along the edge of the Serengeti National Park. And it rocked our socks off.

check out this baboon walking alongside the road!

check out the baboon's butt!

check out the zebra's!

Okay that's enough animals for the time being (more below).

Now we are in Musoma, also situated along Lake Victoria.

notice that i have circled the city of musoma in red to make it easier to spot. the blue above it is lake victoria.

Musoma is a lot smaller than Mwanza. I have heard a bunch of different statistics, but the most common population figures seem to be about 100,000 people living in Musoma vs. 1,000,000 people living in Mwanza.

Before pulling into our language school, we pulled up to the Epheta Retreat Centre which is located directly on Lake Victoria. The view is gorgeous and the breeze beyond refreshing.

view of lake victoria from the epheta retreat centre. yes please. 

proof that we were actually at lake victoria.

check out the monitor lizard!

check out these chickens! okay admittedly not that thrilling.

check out this cow! the cows in tanzania (and there are many of them) are substantially skinnier than u.s.a. cows.

After enjoying the stunning vista, we drove a short distance further to our language school. Dirt roads are pretty much the only way to travel in Musoma, but the road below was largely smooth-ish.

the road to makoko language school.

Finally, we arrived at the Makoko Language School. This will be our home for the next three months as we scream and shout at our brains to learn Swahili (KiSwahili to be exact).

This language school, originally called the Maryknoll Language School, was founded by the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers in 1964. Thousands of missioners have learned KiSwahili here. Today, the school is run by the Catholic Diocese of Musoma and a Santa Claus-like man named Fr. Ed from Poland who chuckles at his own jokes that only he seems to understand.

the sign at the entrance of the makoko language school in musoma, tanzania. 

the main building of the makoko language school.

check out this turtle! this little guy moved pretty fast when he wasn't hiding from me in his shell.

our bedroom for the next three months at makoko language school.

here you can see the mosquito net in action draped around our bed. sleeping in a net makes a hot room feel extra hot so we bought a fan to help cool us off, and it's helped a ton.

the sign to the shared hallway restroom at the makoko language school. see if you can translate the KiSwahili.

Today was our first day of language school classes, which last from 8:30 AM - 4:00 PM and then personal studying in the evening, Monday - Friday. It really felt like drinking from a fire hose today - it was amazing how much they cram into one day of learning, but it probably helps that each class size is so small (each class has only two to three students).

Speaking of students, there are six other folks enrolled. One is Kristle, our fellow Maryknoll Lay Missioner from the United States. The other five students are from Germany, Netherlands, Lebanon, Burkina Faso and Poland, so it's a fairly eclectic group.

In honor of our beloved mothers, Ashley and I decided it would be a great idea to take first day of school pictures. Check us out!

ashley's first day of school pic. notice the culturally appropriate fashion.

michael's first day of school pic. notice the absence of fashion.

our classroom at the makoko language school. it's very small, and there are several others just like this one.

Okay, I think that's enough photos for now. To be honest, most of the time I want to take a photo I do not because it is either (1) not culturally appropriate or (2) posting such a photo online would, in my opinion, border on exploitation of poverty which isn't cool. Point is the above photos give but a slim glimpse into the realities of Tanzanian life that we have seen thus far, but hopefully it helps for now.

Tutaonana! (See you later!)


  1. I love reading your blog! I forgot how motivating other people's life and faith journeys can be. You are both very brave for making such a big life change. It is inspiring me to think about what I can do in my everyday life to be a bit more bold when it comes to life & faith. I look forward to reading more about your time in Africa. Thank you for sharing. -Kristen

    1. Thanks for the kind words Kristen! It's definitely a leap into the unknown but thankful for the opportunity to do this with Ashley. Great to hear from you as always and hope all is well on your end.

  2. YAHOOOOOOOO!!!! Did you name the baboon Rafiki? Thanks for sharing and hope drinking out of the fire hose is going well!

  3. Great photos. Good luck with washing your clothes by hand, I did this some in Hungary when the washing machine wasn't working and aside from the labor of squeezing everything out one at a time, my clothes slowly developed a musty smell due to the slow drying in winter, and once the washing machine worked again I could NOT get it out no matter how many times I washed some of them. Was finally successful with a few garments but had to throw several away, and then there were the borderline garments where you would convince yourself the smell is gone and then at some point during the day sitting in class you notice it and a voice says, "No, no it isn't." But it looks like weather in Tanzania is a bit warmer so you should have better luck! :)


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