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.

Yes, as Maryknoll Lay Missioners, we are given five days per year, outside of our normal vacation allotment, to be used as days solely for retreats, rest, and spiritual renewal.

Oh no, you might be thinking to yourself. Is she gonna get all religious on me?

"Kind of, but not uncomfortably so," says I. Read on.

All religious traditions and spiritual persuasions stress the need to take a step back from the world on a regular basis. No matter what kind of work you do or what beliefs you ascribe to (or don't ascribe to), life can get monotonous, tiring, frustrating, overwhelming or boring. Days dedicated to getting out of the noise of your usual life and focusing on you - your spirit, your health, your wellbeing, whatever you want to call it - are incredibly needed, whether you live in Tanzania or the United States.

Recently, Michael and I took the opportunity to take a couple days off in order to pray and think about what the heezy we're really doing here in Mwanza.

michael relaxing on the back of our bungalow at papa's mwanza.

That's literally all, folks. No chanting or lighting candles or fasting. (Of course, you can do those things on retreat, if you'd like to.) Point being, even if you're not religious, taking a day or two off to simply sit and be and think is really awesome and life-giving. I digress.

Michael and I had just passed the halfway point in our three and a half year contract with MKLM. Yikerz. And we were feeling a bit burned out.

Why are we still here? we asked each other. Definitely not for all the same reasons we came here!

So why stay?

Over the course of our retreat, Michael and I talked about this. A lot. We realized we had to let go of those original reasons for coming. They had served their purpose but were no longer relevant. We had to create new reasons, new missions, if you will, to keep us dedicated and positive instead of bitter and angry, which we've seen in others who've been here a long time and even, at times, in ourselves.

We're here because we're committed to living in solidarity with those on the margins. We often talked about our values before moving to Tanzania but honestly, our previous life was pretty easy, comfortable, and uninterrupted. I can say with confidence that we decidedly do not live that life anymore. We live a life that is hard, uncomfortable and constantly interrupted… but yet, reflects a world we want to believe in and heck, who knows, maybe we can have a small hand in forming.

We're here because we still have a lot left to learn. We've realized that understanding is more important than change. (Read that again, Westerners: Understanding is more important than change.) I came to Tanzania with a goal of creating change. This, in itself, is not a bad intention yet it can sometimes disregard understanding the situation in the first place.

papa's mwanza was the perfect setting for our two day one night retreat.

Now that I've been here for almost two years, I see how little I understand and how much more I could learn from this culture, this language, and this people. Of course, I'll never be able to fully understand it but when I leave this country, I want to do so knowing I learned all I could, lived like the locals, spoke their language and immersed myself in their reality all in an effort to understand them, not in an effort to change them.

Lastly, we're here because by learning about another culture, you learn loads about yourself, sometimes loads more than you ever wanted to know. It may have been painful at times, but I don't think I could have gotten this kind of growth in any other way. We've started and developed spiritual practices that we want to keep with us, no matter where we go.

So we're looking at the rest of our contract as preparation for the next leg of our journey, no matter where it takes us. After our three and a half years here, can we see humanity through our new Tanzanian eyes and as a result, see ourselves in a kinder way?

even the lizards recognize it's time for a little r&r at papa's mwanza.

We hope so. And we hope to continue to revisit these reasons, checking ourselves when we get grumpy and cynical, taking another step back when we need to remind ourselves of where we are and where we're headed.

See? Retreats aren't that scary. They're simply about the present moment - recognizing that nothing is static, seeing that everything will one day change, and saying thank you for all that was and all that is to come.

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