09 November 2016

what tanzanian culture can offer americans following the election.

One of the most frightening moments in the life of a human being is pouring milk into your cereal bowl only to realize it is the day after the expiration date. 

Well today is that day, for today is the day after the U.S. general election, and that means the results are out. So how do you feel? Are you celebrating, confident that America will be made great again? Or are you planning to flee to Canada, only to find that the immigration site has crashed?

17 October 2016

culture, tradition and knockin' boots.

When you are committed to long-term work in a developing country, the reality of affecting change in the lives of those with whom you live and serve can be daunting. Sometimes, I jealously look in the direction of folks who arrive for a short stay of one or two months in Tanzania, to do their work and then, jet back out. I envy how easy it can be to jump in and out of different worlds. At the same time, I think it's an approach that can lack the depth and nuance necessary to be a part of something that brings about real and lasting differences.

I sound pretty serious, huh?

In all honesty, these thoughts were inspired by a humorous but very honest conversation I had with the young women in my program, the LULU Project, within the last week. It reminded me of the difficulties surrounding long-term mission, the strength of culture and tradition, and the importance to try again and again to understand another people.

26 September 2016

darling i don't know why i go to extremes.

A perennial thought in my head goes like this: is it good or bad to be an extreme person? 

Many would contend the word "extremist" has a negative connotation. You know, someone who goes too far in his or her beliefs, usually political or religious in nature. Like in a scary, they-are-totally-crazy kind of way. Growing up, however, I listened to a lot of Billy Joel and I long regarded the song "I Go to Extremes" as sort of a personal anthem. My parents would joke that I was a rather extreme person. And now here I am writing a blog post about it. I guess this proves them right.

As a Maryknoll Lay Missioner in Tanzania, I feel especially attracted to the extreme - to the edge - a real hallmark of the Maryknoll charism. Of course, I also see great wisdom in the principle of "all things in moderation." This is especially true in situations of conflict when some element of compromise is needed or the very fact that the real truth often lies somewhere in between.

But I am not really comfortable with moderation. Nope, not at all. Moderation itself is a comfortable word and I don't really like comfortable. Like Billy Joel sang, "If I stumble or fall, it's all or nothing at all." I have to be all in on something - go all the way - or it feels uninteresting, disingenuous, or without effect. This is more or less where I stand.

05 September 2016

guests are always a blessing in tanzania.

Let's just get this out of the way: I am a lousy host. Sure I work hard to prepare for visitors and am constantly trying to be mindful of their needs, but I'm also a bit like, "Did you seriously just drop that crumb on the floor and not pick it up? Uh, yeah, it's time for you to go." 

Maybe that's why God had this crazy idea of sending us to Tanzania: to immerse me in a place that is utterly all about guests, a culture that thinks it's totally amazing and wonderful to host visitors. In other words, the past two and a half plus years have given me plenty of opportunity to exercise my hosting skills (AKA hosting attitude). 

In the United States, we joke that only two things are certain: death and taxes. In Tanzania, I'd say it's probably death and visitors, with the latter being planned or unannounced. Most recently, and for the third year in a row, we welcomed visitors from Friends Across Borders (FAB), a mission outreach program run by Maryknoll Lay Missioners. Did I survive? Not only that, but also I was reminded of the joy that comes from a local culture that is all about hospitality. 

22 August 2016

the fruit of my work at the LULU project.

Every year in early August, a group of American visitors comes to Tanzania for about two weeks to learn about the work that we do as Maryknoll Lay Missioners and to discern what role they could play in our mission, whether that be becoming a missioner themselves or donating to the cause.

I always find the visits to be refreshing and invigorating, mostly because visitors see all experiences in Tanzania with such fresh eyes. For us, after almost three years, so much of life here has become mundane and routine. Even thinking of something to write up on this blog has become a struggle, evidenced by the downtick in blog postings!

Yet this year, in addition to being inspired by the observations of our Friends Across Borders (FAB) visitors, I was equally inspired by my own LULU young women.

08 August 2016

wait, what are those crazy leen's up to now?

There is never a dull moment in Tanzania. Every day in East Africa is an adventure and the adventures are about to continue - we've got a bunch of news to share with you so get stoked!

27 July 2016

an american safari in tanzania.

What do you get when you take seven Americans and toss them into a crazy mix of local and touristy Tanzania? Well, it's a pretty funny sight, let me tell you. But also beautiful!

The moment we've all been waiting for finally came: the McLaughlin clan made the trek over to the African continent! Of course, time flies when you're having fun but we managed to fit in a lot of fun during their two week stay. From walking through our daily life and ministries in Mwanza to adventuring through the Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater to relaxing on the white sand beaches of Zanzibar, the McLaughlin's demonstrated they were pretty ready for whatever we threw at them. Without a doubt, it was the trip of a lifetime.

27 June 2016

the time i bonked my head and lived to tell about it.

Everyone poops. Everyone gets sick. Tanzania has really emphasized both of those points for me, to an extreme and frightening degree.

But this is not a blog post about pooping (thank God), and it’s not a rant about my latest tropical disease. Instead it’s a little reflection on three things I learned during my most recent and longest illness, one that cannot even be blamed on Tanzania.

This is the story of me hitting my head and learning something valuable along the way and writing it down here.

02 May 2016

i am a missioner so i can judge you.

Ashley and I are Maryknoll Lay Missioners living and working in Tanzania. If you have followed this blog for more than a couple weeks, that much should be obvious (I hope). Over the past two and half years, we have waxed philosophic about what it means to be a missioner.

We said Hallmark card-worthy things like, a missioner is "one who deliberately chooses to enter into the reality of life of another person, a reality that is quite foreign to the missioner, be it culturally, economically, etc., in order to mutually learn from one another and strive towards a more just and compassionate world." And we also questioned ourselves, wondering if we are even legit missioners, asking things like, "Are you a missioner if you don't like going to church?" (Clearly we are not the ones constructing church buildings, distributing bibles or “saving” people.)

But the thing is, there is another side to the life of a missioner. A dark side. No, not like Star Wars. (Okay now I’m kind of wishing mission life was like Star Wars.) The dark side I’m talking about is this: feeling a sense of superiority and license to judge others.

18 April 2016

strangers in a strange land.

Last week, I had the privilege of socializing one-on-one with one of my LULU facilitators in our home.  The 25 LULU facilitators and I see each other a few times every month, but there's rarely time for a lot of chitchat, as we're focused on teaching our new members lessons on financial literacy, health, relationships, handcrafts and all other sorts of good things.

So it was a special treat when last week, a LULU facilitator named Teddy stopped by. I hadn't seen her for awhile because she had taken time off for maternity leave. I was happy to catch up with her a bit and see her adorable new baby (and even a bit proud when she told me I was meeting the baby before people in her own family!). But it turned out, for me, to be more than a simple social gathering.

04 April 2016

what i learned living in a slum.

If the statistics on our blog traffic tell me anything, it's that this is going to be one of those posts that maybe four people read. Oh well, I'll write it anyway. 

We live in a slum. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that simple fact by just repeating it aloud, especially on the most challenging days.

Our neighborhood of Mabatini in Mwanza, Tanzania can be described as a heavily populated informal arrangement of substandard housing lacking reliable sanitation, water or electricity services. Some of the homes are built from plywood, corrugated metal and sheets of plastic. Others were more professionally built but have deteriorated quite a bit. When it rains, the narrow streets of dirt quickly flood making the way not only impassable, but also littered with refuse. Mabatini is an area unknown by most expatriates and deemed a den of thieves by locals.

And it is here - in a community of the oppressed - that I have found Jesus the human person.

(Wait, what did he say?)

photo credit: mwanza tourism

21 March 2016

our namibian adventure.

When normal people think about where they want to go for vacation, they probably think about finding a nice spot on a beach where they can laze around and do nothing for a few weeks. But if you're reading this blog, you've probably already realized that we're not super normal. (No additional commentary needed, thank you very much!)

When we thought about where we wanted to go for our big vacation this year, we thought about scorching hot temperatures, the potential for scorpions and snakes, and sleeping in a tiny, tiny tent for two weeks. Sounds like fun, no?

We found all of these things, and so much more, during our 11-day road trip across Namibia, in southwestern Africa, racking up 2,361 miles (3,800 kilometers) and seeing a lot more of the continent in the process.

07 March 2016

why did the goats cross the road?

After over two years of living in Tanzania, life has really normalized for Michael and me. Things or circumstances that once inspired shock, surprise, or even fear are now completely commonplace.

I was reminded of this at the beginning of January, when we hosted a new missioner for his first week in Tanzania. After going on a walk through our neighborhood, he remarked, "That walk would be overwhelming to anyone visiting here for the first time!" Our response was, "Seriously? What's so weird about it?"

Just like everything in life, eventually, it becomes routine. Every once in a while, however, I still have experiences or conversations that shock me back into mission life. In those moments, I'm reminded, "Oh yeah… we're not in Kansas anymore."

how you build a house in mwanza, tanzania.

22 February 2016

the heartbreaks continue.

One of the unintended consequences of living among extreme poverty is its tendency to produce a numbness to the plight of those around you, and the danger of no longer sympathizing with the reality of their life. But thankfully, our hearts continue to break.

Our neighbors in Mabatini live in very simple homes, most characterized by four concrete walls, a concrete floor and a tin roof. Still others live in mud-brick homes. Virtually all of them live day-to-day, doing whatever small work they can to earn - quite literally - their daily bread.

08 February 2016

home visits of young mothers in mahina and bugarika.

Sometimes it takes a face. 

When you see another person you can feel their humanness. If you meet them, you experience them in some way. Tanzanians know very well the importance of relationships: visiting and spending time with family, friends, neighbors and even complete strangers. It is a beautiful gift that Tanzania has given us.

young mother named happiness with her daughter and two parents.

11 January 2016

how to climb mount kilimanjaro.

From our Remembering Our Year (ROY) post, you know that one of the last things we did in 2015 was tackle the Tanzanian beast that is Mount Kilimanjaro - “the Roof of Africa.” After we climbed Mount Meru last October, we were told by our Tanzanian guides that climbing Mount Kilimanjaro would be easy, comparatively.

Well, not exactly.

Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro is an awesome, beautiful and ultimately, humbling experience. Read on for a run-down of our eight-day adventure on the mountain.