The “G” Word

I want to have a really cool life.  You know those people who are introducedas having spent three years in the bush of the

I want to be her!

Congo, working for the UN and starting their own organization?  I want to be one of those people when I’m older.  As my last year of college flies by and the “G” word approaches, I can’t wait to start building up that list of experiences.  I know that in my last post (I apologize for the severe lack of posting) I was all set to begin applying for the Peace Corps.  However, anyone who knows me knows I change my mind about my life plans every week.  Now don’t get me wrong, I am 99% sure that I am going to do some kind of service overseas after I graduate, but there are just so many options!

I have kept diaries pretty faithfully since middle school and I like to go back and look at them once in a while.  While doing this recently, I was reminded of my deep rooted desire to be a missionary.  I have felt a tug from God towards missions work for many years now and am finally realizing that I could be doing it in a year from now.  The fact that in a year I will probably be leaving the country and my family for at least two years is a terrifying and exhilarating thought.

As you know my faith is the most important thing in my life.  Part of the reason I am no longer interested in joining Peace Corps is because I would like to work with a religious organization which will support me in my faith.  The other reason is that Peace Corps volunteers are very independent and often isolated, whereas I would prefer to live in community with other volunteers and work as part of a team.  I am also thinking and praying about what exactly it means to be a missionary and how this would be different than doing a service program.

Here are some of the different organizations that I am looking at applying to:

Maryknoll Lay Missioners

Society of African Missions

Franciscan Mission Service

While the “G” word is somewhat scary, I am excited to see what God has in store for me!

Gaining Perspective

The single most important thing I gained in Africa was perspective.  Perspective on life in general, on what it means to be rich and what it means to be poor.  I mean I had a vague idea of how blessed I am but now I really know, with certainty.  A few things became very clear while I was living in Zanzibar.  As Christians, we are constantly warned against becoming attached to worldly riches because they tear us away from God.  Now I know how true that is.  Living simply for two months gave me a whole world of clarity.  Not only was I not surrounded by possessions, but the schedule of my days was simple too.  Boiled down, my days consisted of praying, eating and working.  I didn’t have time to be lazy and didn’t have things like tv and the computer to take me away from God’s will.  I was rich spiritually, while I was poor materially; like the people I was serving.  Except for the fact that my poverty couldn’t hold a candle to theirs and I can only hope to gain half of the joy they possess.

Americans are stereotypically thought of as rich and while us middle class folk laugh at that idea, guess what?  It’s true. You’re rich.  You have things most people in the world couldn’t even imagine.  Even the poor of this country are better off than the poor of Africa because they have access to social services and government help.

Yet I look around, at my friends and family and see that the majority of United States Citizens are not happy with their lives.  We always want more; to be more successful, more beautiful, richer, smarter.  Statistically we have high depression and suicide rates.  I don’t understand why this is.  We can’t blame money or success because these things are not inherently evil.  The problem starts when we let the desire for more control us, consume us until we lose sight of what is really important.  It comes down to one question: why are we so unhappy?

There is one clearly dividing factor between our culture and that of other countries, especially African and Hispanic nations:  family.  In African and Hispanic cultures, the family is the core unit of society.  I think we have lost sight of the importance of family in the U.S. and that has made a world of difference.  If someone has a strong family support system he or she is better equipped to handle crises and tragedies.  Someone without that support seems more likely to cave under stress.  I have been blessed with a big, loving family and I know for a fact that has made all the difference.  We just spent a week together celebrating my Grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary and I was reminded once again how incredibly lucky I was to be born into the family that I was.  So many people do not have that though.  Mother Teresa said: “Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.”  According to the World Health Organization, the Suicide rate for the U.S. in 2005 for males was 17.6 per 100,000.  Honduras and Haiti had zero recorded suicides in 2003.  I realize that poverty and happiness are complicated ideas, but family does seem to be a key factor in the equation.  If we follow the logic of Mother Teresa, those who are rich and lonely are actually poorer than those who have nothing but a loving family.

My head is spinning from all of this and I am left with the question: who is really poor?

Did It Really Happen?

I’m sitting at home wondering:  Did the past two months really happen?  If it weren’t for the over three hundred pictures proving that I went to Africa, I would be convinced that the past two months have been a dream.  I’m sure that just yesterday I was sitting in bed dreaming about the day I would go to Africa.  It was supposed to be someday in the future when I would have an incredible experience that would change my life.  But that someday already happened.  It’s done; I’m back – my life is changed, I am changed and I’m wondering, what now?

That’s the only problem when you’re dreams come true; what happens after?  I mean going to Africa has been number one of my list of things to do and it’s checked off.  And I still have my whole life ahead of me so how do I top that?  Well the answer is obvious: go back, go for longer and see more of Africa.  I only got a small taste of a small part of the continent and am hungry for more.

I read something in a book recently that had a profound effect on me.  It said we should beware of using the word “someday”.  This ambiguous word can cause us to continuously put off our dreams until they never come true.  One elderly person I talked to about my trip said, “I had always dreamed about going to Africa ‘someday'” and guess what? she never did.  Since reading this, I’ve become very conscious of using the word and try to avoid it.  I didn’t save Africa for “someday” and I’m so glad I didn’t.

Now jet lag is setting in so I’m going to say goodnight before this turns into incoherent babbling…

Not Goodbye, But See You Later

I leave here tomorrow but I’m actually not too broken up about that fact, because I know I’ll come back to Africa as soon as possible.  I’m also excited to tell everyone about my experience.  Sharing all that God has done in these past two months is definitely a way of evangelizing.  I even have an interview with my local newspaper(thanks Dad), which I’m very excited about!!  I’m finding that Africans don’t like saying goodbye and usually part by reassuring each other that they will meet again.  I have a feeling I’ll be back in Machui before long.  The people here have definitely worked their way into my heart and I wish I had longer to get to know them (and to learn Swahili!).

My last week in Machui has been busy, busy, busy and I apologize for the lack of blogging.  When I get home and have a chance to process the experience, I know that I will be doing a lot of writing.  Now I’m off to pack!

Finally Teaching!!

I’ve been trying to pack as much as possible into my last week here so I’ve been really busy!!

The students started classes again on Wednesday and I jumped right into teaching them.  Normally on Wednesdays they are taught lifeskills all day but the teacher for that couldn’t make it.  So, a few minutes before classes started, they informed me that I would be teaching Spanish(yes you read that right).  I’m finding that this sort of thing happens a lot.  There is a schedule, but it doesn’t mean much.  Since most of the students will be working in the tourist business and will meet people from all over the world, it is adventageous to learn a little of many languages.  Therefore, I am sharing my small knowledge of Spanish with them, in addition to working on their English skills.

I realized right away that teaching Spanish would be much easier than teaching English.  This sounds strange at first, because English is my first language.  The students have almost no knowledge of Spanish though, so I can just cover the basics.  Also, because I don’t have much time with them, I am just teaching them phrases and words, not grammar.  English, on the other hand, is a whole other story.  I’m starting to appreciate how competely obnoxious and complex the English language is.  I know there are grammar rules, but sometimes I seriously doubt their existance…

Anyone who knows me, knows I love grammar, but I had a very difficult time explaining why we use certain words, forms, etc.  My limited knowledge of Swahili isn’t helping either.  Needless to say, I am very confident in my decision to switch from an education major to a social work.

Week 7!! 12 Days and Counting…

I’m sitting here astounded at the fact that I’ve been here for 7 weeks already.  My time here in Machui has gone by in the blink of an eye and I’m trying to savor my last days here.  After a quiet few weeks, things are starting to pick up around here.  The children in the kindergarten started school yesterday and the college students came back today to prepare for classes tomorrow.  I’m still not quite sure what I’m doing with them but we’ll see what happens!

Looking back on the last week, a lot has happened since my last post about the Spice Farm.

Last Sunday we celebrated The Feast of the Precious Blood properly.  There is another community of Precious Blood serving in a village a few minutes away from Machui, called Welezo.  We joined the Sisters there for the Feast.  Their main ministry is running an old age home and we took a tour of it while we were there.  One man, who had fallen out of a tree and broken his leg, wanted me to take a picture:

Mzee(Elderly Person) at Welezo.Strangely, I think this is the place where I have been most exposed to the poverty of the people.  Some of the Wazee(Elderly people in Swahili) couldn’t get out of bed and were riddled with disease.  It’s important in situations like that to look the person in the eye and treat him or her normally, to preserve that person’s human dignity.  The respectful greetings for your elders in Swahili is “Shikamo”, to which they respond, “Marahaba”.  We went around to the rooms greeting people in this way and they were delighted to find that I can speak a little Swahili.  Knowing that I brought a little joy to their day was wonderful.

On Tuesday, yet another visitor arrived in Machui but this time it was a familiar face for most of the people here.  The visitor was a Sister from Austria who lived in Machui for nineteen years.  She was here from the beginning, when everything was just starting to be built.  As I’m sure you can imagine, talking with her was very interesting.  She is a nurse and worked in the dispensary while she was here.  Since I’m helping there now took a special interest in me.  In the afternoon, after I was done working, she invited me to take a walk around the compound with her.  As we ran into people she knew, watching her interact with them was delightful.

The German benefactor of the Sisters that I mentioned in my posts is still here and planning many things for Machui. He wants to build another water tank, new classrooms and add rooms to the dispensary. He even put together a 35 ton container of supplies from Germany to be sent here! After a week of stress because they were having trouble collecting the container after it arrived, a truck finally pulled in on Saturday carrying it. The huge container was full of tiles, pipes, bags of cement and building materials. I was amazed at the generosity of this man. This isn’t the first time he has done this either. For at least fifty years, he has been assisting the Sisters and practically built the entire compound here in Machui. He is truly an inspiration and I only wish that more people were as generous.

Here are some pictures of us unloading the supplies:

Me carrying some tiles.
Unloading the truck.
Does this count as child labor?
Cans of Paint.

The Spice Farm

Zanzibar is known as the Spice Island because of the many varieties of spices that grow here. Most of the world used to get its spices here, in fact. One of the things that you have to do when you come here is tour a spice farm. There is one main one owned by the government, but also many private farms. All of the farms are still in use today.

Yesterday two girls who are volunteering in Dar es Salaam came to visit Machui and of course had to tour the Spice Farm. Since I hadn’t gone yet, I decided to join them and was glad I did. I also took lots of pictures so this definitely deserves its own post.

The Spice Farm was the original Spice plantation started by the first Sultan of Zanzibar in 1860 and is still in use today. Many of the students from Machui actually work there, so we were able to get one of them to give us a tour. After giving us a brief history, our guide led us to the first spice. He had us guess what it was and while it was familiar, none of could place it. He revealed that what we were smelling was ginger and broke off a piece of the root for us to eat. The taste was subtle at first but then exploded with spiciness. I was surprised by the taste and it lingered in my mouth for a long time.

Mr. Butterfly climbing the Palm Tree.

Although it is called The Spice Farm, many kinds of fruits also grow there. During the tour, we saw a man harvesting coconuts. The man we saw is called Mr. Butterfly and is famous all over Zanzibar. To get the coconuts he tied a rope around his ankles and shimmied up the tall palm tree. As he climbed he

A Palm Tree Flower

sang and even did some tricks. Along with the coconuts, he cut down a flower which actually doesn’t look like a flower at all(see picture). Our guide told us that most toothbrushes in Zanzibar are made from this flower. After climbing down, he cut open the coconuts and we were able to drink the “milk”, which was more like water and eat the fleshy insides. It was delicious!

Drinking from the coconuts

Throughout the rest of the tour we saw and smelled many other spices, some of which I had never heard of before. There was cinnamon, pepper, lemongrass, cardamon and vanilla to name a few.

I bought some lemongrass tea and checked one thing off of the must see list for Zanzibar.