31 December 2015

remembering our year 2015.

Whoa! It's the end of our second year in Tanzania! We've had some great times and some not-so-great times in 2015. We've laughed, we've cried... Most importantly, we've retained our sanity. Thanks for sticking with us on the journey.

So yet again, it's time to say "Kwaheri!" to 2015 and see what 2016 has in store for us. First, check out the second annual ROY (Remembering Our Year) below. Then, let's guess: how many snakes will we find in our house next year? Plus you can take a trip down memory lane and look back at ROY 2014.

23 November 2015

giving made easy.

Our ministry as Maryknoll Lay Missioners living and working with the poor and marginalized in Tanzania is made possible by the generosity of friends, family and even complete strangers. These really amazing people pray for us, send us chocolate, mail us letters, and contribute financially to ensure we are able to remain in mission, doing the work that we do.

To those who have already given, who to continue to give, and who will give in the future - thank you!

We believe that giving should be straight forward and transparent. To better help our generous donors understand how their gifts to our Ministry Account with Maryknoll Lay Missioners are being used, we have updated the Support page on our blog. Now, you and other donors can see the costs required to carry out our work, including our recently introduced scholarship program for young Tanzanian women and their children. This way, you can cater the size of your monetary gift to a specific element of our work that most interests you.

09 November 2015

why are we still here?

As Maryknoll Lay Missioners, we get some perks that, in our former life, we didn't see much of. True, our life is busier but we have a lot more autonomy and flexibility over our schedules than we did at our old jobs. There's greater respect for work-life balance. And what we've been soaking up lately has been our vacation days solely dedicated to retreats.

Um, what?

palm tree on the beach of lake victoria at papa's mwanza.

26 October 2015

there's no place like home.

Often times, when I reveal that I am an American, Tanzanians will immediately sing praises of the United States and ask how I can help them get there. 

“Will you take me with you next time you go home?”

“How much would it cost to get to the United States?”

“If only I could get a sponsor to educate me in America…”

"Here, at least take my child with you."

The desire to get to the United States is endless, especially among young people. But for those Tanzanians and East Africans I’ve met who have been to Europe or the United States, they always move back here. Why?

19 October 2015

it ain't over 'til the tanzanian ladies sing.

Life and work have been very busy for the past couple of months, both for things expected and unexpected. In particular, I recently completed another month of business training for young mothers, teaching them entrepreneurship and how to choose, start and run a business. Following this, I was asked by another organization to plan and facilitate three weeks of business training for women in vulnerable living situations, often with children who have run away and are living on the streets.

young mother, felister, smiles during a recent training on entrepreneurship and group enterprise.

Facilitating seminars and leading trainings on business is the most wonderful and most challenging aspect of my ministry here in Tanzania. It is an activity fraught with language, cultural and learning barriers, but also filled with tremendous hope and possibility.

12 October 2015

building self-confidence through handcrafts.

What do you get when you mix 100 Tanzanian young women, 1 American, 120 spools of yarn, and many, many yards of fabric together? A week-long LULU handcrafts workshop!

If you are a reader of this blog, you know that I work with young Tanzanian women but you may have a hard time understanding what it is that we actually do. Here's what a week in the life of yours truly looks like!

05 October 2015

a thief in the night.

It was two o’clock in the morning. The electricity was out. Everything was completely dark. Six men approached our office with guns. One threw a rock atop the tin roof, intentionally wanting to stir the night guard to see where he was positioned. As the watchman appeared in the darkness, the six thieves began to climb and jump the fence. Immediately the guard grabbed his whistle to sound a call for help, but was promptly deterred by one of the thieves with a gun. “If you blow that whistle we’ll shoot you!”

28 September 2015

sharing is caring, right?

I was recently walking down the hill to our house, from buying groceries. I hadn’t brought quite enough plastic bags with me to hold all of the produce I wanted so I ended up carrying a bunch of bananas in my hand.

Big mistake. 

The five-minute walk back to the house seemed a lot longer, as strangers and neighbors alike shouted out to me, “Hey, you have a lot of bananas! Can I have one?” “Give me a banana!” “How come she has so many bananas?”

“Leave me alone!” I silently screamed. “These are my bananas!”

I can’t tell you how many times this has happened.

21 September 2015

when adventure loses its appeal.

Contrary to what we believed before we arrived in Tanzania, life here is really busy. Our work is not just a day job. It seeps outside of the normal 8-5 work schedule and occupies our thoughts and conversations on nights and weekends. Outside of that, we have commitments to our Maryknoll community, our neighborhood, and our friends, not to mention the labor that goes into taking care of a house and a dog in a developing country. 

we're just too dang busy.

You get the gist, so I don't need to say more.

With all of the work involved in day-to-day living, we try to stay true to serious relaxation time on a weekly basis. But what about when even that goes awry? When it seems really obvious that Tanzania/Africa/God/The Universe is telling you that your best laid plans shouldn't come to fruition?

14 September 2015

(tanzanian) kids say the darndest things.

When you were a kid, what were some of the pretend things you did with your friends? Or if you have children, how do they play with others and entertain themselves?

The other day Ashley and I had the neighborhood kids over to play in our yard. We brought out the usual fun things for them: Matchbox cars, coloring materials and some candy.

But this time something caught our attention: when it comes to play time, the imaginations of Tanzanian children go in a remarkably different direction than, say, American children. How so?

08 September 2015

life lessons on a bus in tanzania.

A white girl walked onto a bus in Tanzania and…

No, this isn't the opening line of a joke. This is yet another story from my life. Why do I always seems to have the best conversations on moving vehicles here in Mwanza?

In all seriousness, it's a great story and yet again, made me think about culture, specifically how we show warmth and friendliness to our fellow human beings.

24 August 2015

the grass is green in tanzania.

Sometimes I lose proper perspective on life. Things become boring, routine, mundane. What was once exciting and new is the same old and irritating. Nothing has changed except my attitude. And that's in my control. The grass is always greener, right?

We recently welcomed a number of guests who visited Tanzania to see the work and life of Maryknoll Lay Missioners, and to get a firsthand encounter with another culture and way of life. Their childlike awe at all of the little things reminded me of when Ashley and I first arrived and how new and exciting everything was, and made me realize how I lost some of that fresh perspective. So it became an opportunity for me to step back and look at our life in Tanzania with fresh eyes, and I have to say, it was honestly pretty good.

17 August 2015

mo' money mo' education.

Many times on our blog and in our newsletters, you'll see a link, asking you to click and donate to support our work in Tanzania. We've explained before where some of this money will end up. "But is there anything new and cool you guys are doing?" you ask yourself.

Yes, there is!

Recently, over the last few months, we've started using these dollah dollah bills for a brand-spankin' new and really exciting program for both the Lulu Project - my ministry - and Education for Better Living Organization (EBLI) - Michael's ministry.

Want to see where your money could go? Read on for more pretty awesome stuff…

10 August 2015

why i cried while trying to buy almonds.

Ashley and I just returned to Mwanza after visiting the United States for the first time since we moved to Tanzania more than one and a half years ago. It was a wonderful trip seeing family and experiencing a taste of home sweet home once again.

But it was also pretty weird to be back.

Life in Tanzania is a 180 degree turn from life in the U.S. and we found our senses overwhelmed.

Living in Tanzania has afforded us new perspective on many things. As a result, we went back to the United States with different eyes compared to when we had left.

20 July 2015

games, cake and a whole lotta dancing.

Before Michael and I took off to Europe, we at the LULU Project were running around like crazy people, putting on three days’ worth of our LULU Graduation. It’s an incredibly fun and exciting time yet the work is daunting, so I’m thankful we only put it on twice a year.

You might already have a decent idea of what LULU is all about, but I’d like to highlight our graduation, accompanied by some photography!

13 July 2015

all poverty is not created equal.

When Ashley and I told people nearly two years ago back in the United States that we were moving to Tanzania, a common response was, "There are plenty of poor people in the U.S. Why do you have to move halfway across the world to help people when there are so many in need right here?"

And of course it is true - there are far too many people living in poverty in the United States - more than 45 million people, in fact. We were called to East Africa for a variety of reasons, but an article I recently read reiterated that which I already felt: poverty in the U.S. is not the same as poverty elsewhere. Did you know that if you live at the poverty line in the United States of America then you are among the top 16% of income earners in the world? Yet in the U.S., you are poor.

That's why, when Tanzanians ask about life back in America, they cannot believe that there are any poor people. How can someone own a car, have running water, eat food everyday...and still be considered poor?

06 July 2015

something short and sweet.

As some of you may have seen on Facebook, we recently returned from Europe, our first trip out of Tanzania since we arrived and the reason our blog has been so quiet as of late. We were hit by a lot of what we expected - culture and homesickness, yes - but I was also surprised by what I missed about Tanzania while we were away.

In light of this and since it’s Fourth of July weekend (happy 239th to our home country!), it seems a good time to post some of the reflections we had about the U.S. and Tanzania while we were away. 

01 June 2015

what to expect when you're expecting.

Living in Tanzania for one and a half years has taught me to expect the unexpected, or better yet, to do away with expectations all together. We are taught that "expectation is the mother of all disappointment" and that is just as true in Tanzania as it is in the United States.

I just finished up three consecutive weeks of business skills training, teaching a group of 50 young Tanzanian mothers who dropped out of secondary school due to pregnancy the basics of entrepreneurship and the process of starting and running their own small group enterprises. (A general apology to all of them for putting up with my Kiswahili every single day.)

Peer facilitator (greenish-blue), Zabibu, fields a question from one of the young mothers.

Going into the training, I was filled with expectations about their level of motivation and ability to grasp the material, bond with their peers, and hit the ground running with their future businesses. As life goes, some of that played out to my expectations, some of that did not.

18 May 2015

mtv cribz: the (second) tanzanian house tour.

Is anyone else out there experiencing deja vu upon seeing that title? I sure am! How fast a year flies by… 

Earlier this year, we began to discern moving to a new area of Mwanza. Through the course of a few months, we felt solid in our decision: we wanted to move to our first actual “home” in Mwanza, a neighborhood called Mabatini or “The Place of the Tin Roofs.” Catchy, no?

11 May 2015

i think it's time for a party.

Lots o' things have been happening in the life of Ashley and Michael these days, as we've taken on the move to a new house. Painting, fumigating, electric work - you name it, we've been busy making it happen. Last weekend, though, we took a day to say good-bye to the kids in our first neighborhood who were a big part of our lives.

We're pretty sure they enjoyed it, too.

04 May 2015

poverty can really mess you up.

"What are you doing? Stop that! Leave me alone! You don't understand at all, do you? What's wrong with you? GO AWAY!"

This is me, yelling on the street at Tanzanians. Way. Too. Often.

These are not my finest moments. So what gives?

27 April 2015

how do you get full without ugali? and other interesting questions.

The best stories come out of my rides on the daladala

The daladala is truly a microcosm of urban life in Mwanza, which is why I both love and hate it. I love marveling at the social intelligence of Tanzanians. The conductor is able to remember where everyone is going on his route, who paid and who hasn’t, who needs change… the list goes on. On the flip side, the catcalls and attention directed at me get old, especially when it’s 8am and I’m not really interested in talking to anyone.

But I have a pretty good story this time.

20 April 2015

i guess it's time we got a website.

Last week I wrote about how I helped start a saving and loaning group to help young mothers raise some cash money in Mwanza, Tanzania.

Well, now this super awesome blog is not the only place to advertise the work being done at the local NGO where I work as a Maryknoll Lay Missioner.

Education for Better Living Organization (EBLI) finally has a modern website with current and accurate content that will be updated on a regular basis. You can view the homepage below or just visit the EBLI website for yourself.


13 April 2015

how to raise some cash money.

The core focus of my ministry here in Tanzania is helping young mothers attain economic empowerment by starting and running their own businesses. One of the great and obvious challenges in this line of work is acquiring the capital necessary to finance the start-up (AKA lack of money).

For example, the current batch of young mothers entering my business curriculum earns, on average, USD 2.65 per month (USD 0.09 per day) with many lacking any income whatsoever. In a way, this makes sense: these are young women who dropped out of secondary school due to pregnancy. But the reality is that they need to find a way to generate an income if they are to live a life of dignity, self-confidence and respect, and to provide for their basic needs and those of their child.

So amidst such a backdrop, how does one possibly accumulate the financial resources needed to start a business?

06 April 2015

who's the missioner here?

A few mornings ago, I woke up to my alarm at 6:10AM. I stumbled to the dresser to wrap a kanga around my waist and tripped putting on my shoes to get out the door. Every morning around 6:15AM, either Michael or myself goes outside to say good-bye to our guard, Faraja. 

faraja's domain.

As soon as I walked out the door that morning, I saw Faraja. “How was the night?” I asked him. “It’s a blessing!” he said in reply. I thought to myself, “What the heck is he talking about?”

30 March 2015

this is now.

If you're like me, too often you place the keys to your happiness in some future event or circumstance.

"When this project at work is over, then I'll be happy."

"When I finish final exams, then I can be at peace again."

"When we go on vacation next month, then everything will be okay."

If you're living that way, you're a prisoner of time. And probably super frustrated a lot. And maybe your face looks like this:

16 March 2015

we are edge people.

What would you say if asked, "What defines you? What are you about?"

Would you have your answer ready?

Recently we were invited to a dinner with our local Maryknoll community (lay missioners, sisters, priests, brothers) and some guests visiting from the United States. In about the first 18 seconds of the meal, one of the guests asked us, "What defines Maryknoll? What is Maryknoll about?" (I thought, "Whoa, take it easy buddy. Barely sat down and you're already dishing out the big questions.")

09 March 2015

getting down with the sabbath.

Back in the day, God said that we should keep the Sabbath. Every seventh day, we should take a break from the hustle and bustle of life to slow down and relax before the start of another week.

But somewhere along the way, we lost that. Growing up in American culture, I can’t recall anyone really observing it. In my family, Sunday meant that we went to Mass. But other than that, there weren’t any rules. One of my siblings would have a soccer game. Mom would do laundry and Dad would mow the lawn.

Well, Michael and I are getting serious about the Sabbath.

02 March 2015

let's talk about my bladder.

It's cropped up a few times on our blog, but let's just say it: health has been an issue since setting foot in Mwanza, Tanzania. The scorecard is not pretty. Mwanza is dominating.

we are not proud of this.

But this is not a pity post. This can hardly even be called a blog post. It's just a direct reproduction of an actual conversation I recently had with a Tanzanian in a hospital (in English, mind you). And it was very confusing.

23 February 2015

the story of a friendship: me and tanzania.

Let's just come out and say it: I don't love Tanzanian culture.

When you move abroad as a new expat, you can't help but speculate about what life will be like in your new country of residence. I, for one, wanted to love Tanzanian culture. I wanted to actually want to become Tanzanian.

And lo and behold, I don't love it. Now what?

16 February 2015

the trouble with time.

In the immortal words of Hootie & The Blowfish, "Time, why [do] you punish me?" Seriously though, the more I think about it, the more I realize that time is nothing but trouble.

I recently read the book The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and it resonated with many thoughts that I've been having lately. In fact, the concept of living in the present moment has been frequently on my mind since moving to Tanzania. Why is that?

In a conversation with Ashley over dinner, we both realized something. Before Tanzania (or B.T. as I'll call it), we almost always lived in the future. Of course we didn't actually live in the future, but our minds dwelled on it. But now that we are in Tanzania, that tendency towards the future is fading. What gives?

09 February 2015

ashley's got a new gig.

Before the last year was out, I mentioned briefly that I started a new job in Mwanza, called Lulu Project. I promised more to come in the new year and I’m fulfilling my end of the bargain.

Well, here it is! The three pillars of Lulu are cooperation (ushirikiano), self-confidence (uthubutu) and creativity (ubunifu). But what is it really about? And what is that hand holding? Keep reading to find out.

02 February 2015

how michael got his groove back.

I am not as strong as I thought I was.

Sure, I expected moving to a foreign country in the developing world, encountering an entirely different culture, and being surrounded by widespread abject poverty to be difficult, but I figured, "Hey, I got this. No problem."

Little did I know that doing so would stretch and push me to my limits, challenging not only how I see the world around me, but also how I see myself. And it has not been pretty.

At some point, probably in a moment of desperation while curled up in the fetal position on the floor in the corner of a dark room listening to Joni Mitchell, I said, "God, need a little help here."

26 January 2015

how giving are we?

Michael recently asked me, "What's the difference between tithing and almsgiving?" I figured by the look in his eye that he knew the answer. Being Jesuit-educated, I was a bit embarrassed to not know the answer. "Um, it's kind of the same thing? Where we're supposed to give 10% of what we earn to charity?" He replied, "Well, that's not entirely correct."

And by answering incorrectly, I had proven the author of "The Limits of Philanthropy," an article we recently highlighted in our Reading Rainbow post, right. So what is the difference? And should you care? And why am I talking about this when we live in Tanzania?

Let me give this a shot.

19 January 2015

i am a missioner.

Yesterday, I turned 29 years old, so naturally I feel like this is my last good year of life before my youth leaves me behind forever. Ashley and I prefer to think of the entity of us as "young love" and to live out the words of Death Cab for Cutie, "stay young, go dancing." We'll see how that goes a year from now.

But as I age like a bottle of not-so-fine wine, I am spending more time reflecting on who I am and how I see the world around me. Living in Tanzania has given me lots to reflect on. With our first year in Tanzania behind us, I began to reflect on the very title that defines who I am: missioner.

channeling jean valjean.

16 January 2015

reading rainbow - 16 january 2015.

It has been forever since we last did an edition of Reading Rainbow, but several interesting articles have cropped up lately that we felt were worth sharing. Click and read below.

12 January 2015

how to hike the usambara mountains.

To end our adventure-filled first year in Tanzania, Michael and I had the opportunity to go on one last trip, so we went to Lushoto, a small town located in northeastern Tanzania. We had heard it was one of the most beautiful areas of Tanzania in which we could do some serious hiking, so we jumped at the chance.

Most tourists to this country only have time for the Serengeti and Kilimanjaro, but if you have some time to tread on the less chosen path, look no further than the Usambara Mountains.

05 January 2015

why we became vegetarian.

No, this is not a New Year's resolution. I don't do those.

For those who know me and my meat-loving past, prepare to have your freakin' mind blown: I am now a vegetarian*. And Ashley too.

I know what you're thinking: the world must be ending and we're all about to die at the hands of the Cylons. Similar thoughts ran through my mind. At the very least this blog post will send a shockwave of destruction through our prior home state of Texas - the land of the never-ending meat fest at Salt Lick BBQ outside Austin, dinosaur-size meat bones at Smoke in Dallas, and room after room of barbecue sauce at Rustlin' Rob's in Fredericksburg.

But bear with me and we just might get out of this mess alive, in one piece and heck maybe even craving cottage cheese mixed with spinach in an Indian curry.