Saturday, May 12, 2012

Inspiration from All Night Prayer

One Friday every month, something happens in the compound where I’m staying that humbles me and shows me how far I have yet to go in my Christian walk.  The first Friday of every month the ladies at the church that meets here in our compound get together for an all night prayer meeting.  This is something that I would have never tried at home.  I might get a good number to come for the first metting, but slowly they would start coming up with excuses of why they can’t make it – kids, work, exhaustion, etc.  That’s what is so great about this meeting.  It includes women of all ages.  They’ve been doing it all year and I think the size of the group has grown rather than get smaller.  They spend the first few hours cooking and eating a meal together in quality Christian fellowship, sharing their struggles and successes.  Then they start praying around 10pm.  They always have a plan when the night starts out, but they’re not afraid to let the Spirit lead them as well.  They spend time in worship and prayer until the next morning aroun 6am when they head back to their homes to get their families ready for the upcoming Saturday.

There are a lot of take-aways for me as I observe this group.  The first is that one Friday a month is not that big of a commitment.  It’s only 12 Fridays a year.  Doesn’t sound that big right?  So why do we have such a hard time attending things like this consistently?  This is something that I think God has put on my heart for a reason.  This is something I’m going to pursue and try to implement once I return home and get settled into life in the States again.  This has the potential to be a truly powerful endeavor!  Just think if we could get a group of women coming together regularly to pray for their families, their church, their city, their world.  Things would start changing, that’s for sure.  And I know we would all leave the event glad we made the sacrifice because our own lives would each be changed for the better.

Another take-away is the idea of gathering women from all walks of life.  I’ve worked with the youth for quite a number of years and the girls in the group would greatly benefit from getting together with women who are older than them and have experiences and stories to back up the advice they have to share.  The older women would also benefit from being able to look back and realize they’ve accomplished things and experienced things that are useful and they have knowledge that others would benefit from.  It would make them feel needed and important, which we all need to be reminded of.  It could also be an opportunity for all women to bring their problems and have sympathetic but honest ears and mouths to listen and give advice.  No matter the age, we are all struggling with one problem or another.  And we need to come to the realization that it is not a unique problem.  Somebody out there somewhere has already gone through a situation similar to yours and survived it.  As a result, that person can help you out and give advice that comes from past experiences.  I don’t see much downfall in getting women together and sharing life together.  I’m not sure what this looks like practically yet or how to get women to take time away from their busy lives and families, but I think once something gets started and they see how much they walk away with, there will be plenty of returning women at the next event.

Let me know your thoughts about these ideas.  Sorry it was mostly focused on women, but if you men out there have any ideas or inspirations from this post, let me know in the comment section!

Monday, April 30, 2012

Getting My License

Well, it’s official.  I am a licensed driver in two countries.  How many people can say that? :) 

To get that license was quite an adventure and I thought I would share that adventure with all my blog members…if anyone still takes the time to read it.

The first thing we had to do was go to one office to see if my international license was enough.  The woman at that office didn’t know the answer so we had to go to a different place in the same strip mall.  The guy there said that I could get a license if I wanted to, but the international license was good enough.  We decided since we had driven 2 hours and rented a guesthouse for 2 nights just so I could get my license, that we would go ahead and get it.  So we went back to the first office to get me a TIN (Tanzanian Identification Number) which identifies me, but could also mean they would require I pay taxes which would be a very big pain.  Well, the woman in this office once again sent us back to the TRA (Tanzanian Revenue Authority) that was the building she had sent us to the first time so I could fill out a required form.  The TRA is the Tanzanian equivalent to the BMV (as far as I could tell).  We turned this form in to one of the guys working in the office.  He told us he would waive the need for a TIN so we didn’t have to go back to the lady we started with.  This was a good thing because now I don’t need to worry about paying taxes years from now when I’m not even in Tanzania.  Then I gave my fingerprints (to make sure I’m not a wanted criminal) and they took my picture and put my information in the computer.  For those of us familiar with the licensing process in the US, you would think the process would be finishing up, but we’re not even close.  At this point I have to go to the traffic police so they can sign a form saying I am capable of driving.  We needed to get the signatures of 2 different men.  By the time we got there, they were both gone for the day so we would have to return the next day.  We were told they would get in around 9am the next day.

The next day, we got there just a little before 9 and were waiting around for a little bit.  When they didn’t show up by 9:30, we asked one of the guys in the office what time we should expect them and we were told 10 this time.  So we went and ran other errands.  By the time we got back, the men had gone for their tea break.  So we waited some more.  Finally, both men were in their office.  We had to wait some more for the people who were there before us to meet with him.  He easily signed my form and was incredibly nice and helpful.  He enjoyed trying out his English speaking abilities with me and showed us where we needed to go after talking to the second traffic police guy.  The second guy put my information in a big book and then sent us back to the first building we had been in the day before.  So we returned there but this time went up to the very top floor to an air-conditioned office where the guy working there added the traffic police approval into the computer under my file that had been started the previous day.  Then we went back to the TRA where I stood in a line and told them I had finished with the police.  They gave me a note to take to the bank to give them my money for the license.  I took it to the bank next door because I read on the form that it was one of the approved banks.  This ended up shaving several hours off my adventure because there was no wait at this bank whereas the bank the missionaries were used to using with licensing had a queue that was about 30 people long and across town.  Then I went back to the TRA, we showed them all my paperwork and expected them to tell us to come back tomorrow to get my finished license.  Instead they said… “One week”

That’s right.  I spent all that time and didn’t even walk away from our 2-day adventure with the actual license.  Thankfully, Mavuto had to return to Mtwara for other reasons, so he picked it up while he was there.  So now, I have two forms of identification that are driver’s licenses. 

Now that you’ve read through the entire description of the process, I come to the point of telling you all about it.  The next time you visit a US BMV and start complaining about the wait or the hoops you have to jump through, just think of how much more difficult it could be. :)

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Going to Church

Well, I’ve been here in Masasi for both of the major Christian holidays (Christmas and Easter) so I thought it was a good time to talk about the difference between my home church in Ohio and the churches I’ve visited here.  I am here through an organization called Team Expansion.  The missionaries I’m working with are focused on developing the leaders of the churches that have been planted by previous missionaries.  There are seven churches that have been planted by Team Expansion missionaries that are still meeting.  I’ve visited all seven of them at least once.  While they are each different and special in their own unique way, they are also similar to each other in ways that are different from what I’m used to.  It’s these similarities that I will use to compare them with my home church and my United States church experience.

The first thing you notice when you get to church here is that there are no pews or chairs.  They have homemade benches with no backs to them.  Also, women sit on one side and men on the other. 

Another unique thing is that there are no instruments other than a small drum. There are 2 churches that have raised money and bought a keyboard and one speaker, but these churches are definitely the minority because they also have to buy a generator and the gas to power it since the villages do not have electricity. 

When we start to sing, there’s a person leading the song, but he or she doesn’t stand up front to lead.  Usually they just stay in the congregation.  We also don’t have any fancy power point or any other way to read the words for the song.  To make up for this, the song leader sings the chorus and then the congregation repeats it.  The leader might sing the chorus one more time and then the congregation repeats.  Then the leader will sing a verse and then the congregation sings the chorus again.  This is how the congregation knows what the words are for the song, if they don’t already know it from singing it before.  They also have Swahili hymn books that they sing a few songs from. 

Anther big difference in worship is that they are more active in their worship.  They aren’t afraid of dancing while they are praising the Lord.  It’s very refreshing and nice not to worry about other people giving me weird looks because I’m swaying a lot to the music.  For one, I already get a lot of weird looks – mostly from the children who have never seen a white person before… but also because everyone else is doing way more than just swaying to the music.  They are full out dancing for the Lord!  I must warn anyone who stands next to me during worship when I return home that I will be moving a lot more than I ever did before.  They are rubbing off on me here. :)

Just like at home, they have an offering time and communion every week.  Offering is a little different though because you go up and put your money in a container at the front of the church instead of in a basket as it’s passed down your row in the congregation.

Another big difference is that the service usually lasts for 2-2.5 hours.  At home, the longest sercive goes is an hour and twenty minutes and even then people are shifting in their seats and ready to leave after an hour.  After service, they leaders of the church usually have prepared a meal for the missionary family so we eat and visit with the members of the church.

It’s been a really good experience.  I’ve gotten video and pictures of what worship looks like here so I can show the people at home and we can come to the realization that we have all the technology in the world in the States, but it’s the heart that is needed most in worship.  The people here have none of the fancy things or effects that we have yet I’ve never seen people worship more completely and all out than I have here.  They don’t need a lot of people or microphones and instruments to fill their building with sounds of people praising the Lord.  It is truly amazing and humbling, becase it’s shown me how lacking we are at times in the States in completely worshipping God with all of our mind, heart, soul, and strength.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Maswali? (Questions? in Swahili)

So I want to make sure I have plenty of things to write about in the future and want your input!  What questions do you have about Africa that I can try to answer?  Let me know and I'll try to answer them in a future blog post!

Teaching One vs. Many

The schools here, and in Zimbabwe which is the curriculum I’m using, start their school year in January.  In Zimbabwe, first term goes for 12 weeks and then they get the month of April off.  Then second term goes from May to July and they get August off.  Then the third and final term goes from September to November with the month of December off and it is the end of the school year.

In Tanzania, they go from January to May for first term and get June off.  Then they go from July to November for second term and get December off which is the end of the school year.

I have officially finished teaching the first term with my student this week.  As a result, I find myself looking back and thinking about how different it is to teach one student after spending the last five years teaching from 20-120 students. 

One thing is, I have the time and availability to make sure he has mastered a concept before we move on.  For example, he was struggling to understand rounding, so we spent an extra day on it than what I had planned and he is now able to round like a pro :)  With my classes back in the state, I am more likely just to expose the students to the concepts than actually aim for mastery.  We would spend too much time on each subject and I would have some students who mastered the information quickly and would be bored if we spent too long on the topic.  For most cases, I try to get close to mastery for most of them and then we have to move on.

Another thing is the parent support is fantastic when you only have one student.  It also helps, I suppose, that the parents are missionaries.  But even if they weren’t, it’s much easier to discuss problems as they occur with a student rather than having to schedule a conference when we’re all available and then sit down and discuss it and have them support their child’s behavior instead of my opinions about his behavior.  I still find myself a little nervous when I give out a consequence to my student that he’ll go home and tell his parents about it and I’ll get a call or we’ll sit and discuss it and what they think I should have done instead.  That has yet to happen here and I don’t think it actually will, but that’s what I’m used to with my classes in the States.  It also helps that I spend a lot of time with the family as a whole so I can see how they discipline my student when he’s not behaving and I can follow their example in my classroom.  When I babysit, I would much rather watch kids when I’ve spent a lot of time with the entire family and know what is already expected of the child and how consequences are given.

A final thing I’ll point out about how teaching one is very different from teaching many (I could go on, but don’t want this post to be too long…) is that I put a lot more effort and time into preparing my lessons than I used to in the states.  Part of that might be because Internet availability isn’t the same as it is in the States.  Another is it’s more motivating to make worksheets from scratch when I know the student will do them.  In the States, a lot of kids don’t do the homework assigned to them and it feels like a waste of time to make fantastic worksheets that prove they’ve mastered the skill when the worksheet won’t get done.  But I hope my efforts while I’m here are making a new habit for me that will carry over in the states.  I’ve seen how important a well-thought-out worksheet or lesson can be.  I may still beg, borrow, and steal from the Internet, but perhaps I’ll put more effort into putting together the perfect lessons instead of just stealing and using one lesson without really looking at it to make sure it’s what I want my students to complete.

All in all, it’s been a good learning experience for me and there are a lot of aspects of teaching one that I’ll be able to transfer into teaching many.  Also, there are some activities that I used to do with my students but didn’t understand why I did them that I’ve done while I’m here.  Doing them with one student has let me see what the advantages are of these activities. For example, I always read a book out loud to my students but never really thought about why.  I’ve done the same thing with my student here and it has sparked a strong interest and desire in reading with him that was not present before I came.  It helped me see that by reading aloud an interesting and attention-grabbing story, I can spark interest in my students for reading other things on their own.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Sunday School Seminar

I should have written sooner, but I got busy and the memory got put on the back burner. But now that I’m trying  to be more consistent in writing blog posts, I’m revisiting the memory for my readers. :)

Back at the beginning of February I held a seminar for the Sunday School teachers for the seven churches that have been started by Team Expansion.  I had brought flannel graph stories for each church to use when teaching on Sundays.  The youth in my church had also packaged and sent supplies like crayons and pens for them to use with the kids.  We also decided to the teachers the school supplies the youth had sent over and they could distribute the supplies to their students on Sundays. 

As a part of this seminar, I tried to give an encouraging and motivating talk.  I spent about two weeks writing the talk, and then trying my best to translate it into Swahili.  Then I had Mavuto check over my translation and he fixed all my mistakes.

When Saturday came, I gave my talk and actually spoke too fast.  They are the type of people who take notes as they listen, but their notes were more copying every word I said so I spoke too fast for them to write everything down.  We solved that problem by printing copies of my speech for all of them.  Then we handed out the supplies which they were all very thankful for.  We followed that with some practice with the flannel graph stories.  Several of the teachers got up and told a Bible story using the pieces.  It was good for all of them to see what’s an interesting way to use the pieces and ways that are not as attention-grabbing.  Then we had lunch which was a big hit because I sprung for meat AND sodas.  For most of them, that was their favorite part.

Since the seminar, I’ve had a chance to visit many of the churches and been able to witness the teachers handing out the supplies.  Most of them decided to hand out the supplies piece by piece rather than as a whole pack like we had put them together.  They gave out the supplies as the students answered questions about the Bible story correctly, which I thought was a great idea.  I’ve also been able to watch them teach using the flannel graphs and witnessed the children paying attention really well since they have visuals to look at.

Overall, it was a good experience.  Joyce and I were talking recently that if I had given my seminar later, it might have been even better because my Swahili has improved as has my confidence to try to speak it.   But we did it early because we wanted the kids and teachers to get the supplies I had brought so they could start using them effectively and so they would be encouraged to prepare interesting and fun lessons for the kids.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

English Lessons

Don't worry...I'm not getting English lessons...I'm giving them :)

I’ve always had a little problem.  Even when I was in the States, I had a hard time saying no.  That has  never been more apparent than with my English class here in Masasi.  Almost as soon as I got here, several (four at this point) girls mentioned their desire to learn English.  Since I have to happy combination of being an English speaker and a teacher, I said I would start having 2 lessons a week starting in February.  That way I had time to settle in with my lessons with Nathanael and get used to day-to-day life in Masasi.  We started lessons on the first Thursday of February and things were going well.  They made me feel like a very good teacher and even asked if we could increase to 3 lessons a week.  I agreed (remember I have a hard time saying no?) and I aslo made each lesson longer.  Soon word got to a few other people and I gained a few more students.  Now I have the potential of having 9 students.  Thankfully, so far they haven’t all come at the same time.  I don’t have enough chairs for all of them for one thing. 

We now meet every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday and I try to do a little bit of vocabulary and some verb constuction with them during each lesson.  They say I’m a great teacher, but I often feel like I’m not knowledgeable enough about the best way to teach them what they need to know in order to start speaking and understanding my natural language.  I’ve been using my Swahili lessons to help figure out an order for my teaching but I still do not have confidence.  I’ve never taught English as a foreign language and I still don’t know that I’m doing a good enough job at it.  If anyone has resources or a suggested scope and sequence, it would be appreciated!

On another note, as a result of the English lessons, my ability to speak Swahili is increasing.  Because I can’t explain the English language in English, I’m forced to try to find ways of explaining it in Swahili.  Also, because we are all learning a new language, I find myself with more courage to try to speak the language even if I get it wrong.  They’re in the same boat, so they won’t laugh or make fun of me if I get things wrong.  That helps me feel open to trying my best and accepting their help when I fail.  Also, I’ve always found that when I teach something to someone, I have a better understanding of the content as well.  By teaching English, I’m having to look at the Swahili lessons I’ve already completed again and use them to teach the English.  This refreshes my memory of the Swahili so I can use it more and more in my every day conversations.

All in all, even though I struggle to say no when people ask me to do things, or ask to be included in English lessons, the experience has been a good one for all involved…I hope. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My first present! And some other thoughts about the African culture

I promised all of you a post about culture differences, and now a month later, I’m back to try to explain some of the differences I’ve noticed.  The first thing is that most of the women, especially in the villages and more remote areas, wear skirts or dresses rather than pants.  Another thing is that no one knocks when they are visitng a house.  They yell out, “Hodi!”  and to welcome them, you say, “Karibu.”  I’m sure when I get back to the states, I will have to remind myself to ring the doorbell instead of just shouting out.  Another thing I’ve noticed as I’ve gone and visited different families and had meals at their houses, is that they’ve asked to share a meal with you, but they usually leave you to eat it without them.  I have not actually eaten with a family I’m visiting.  They serve us the food and then they either watch us eat or spend the time in the kitchen cleaning up.  Also, when you shake someone’s hand or give them something, you always do it with the right hand and grab your elbow with your left hand.

Another thing that would be unusual in the States is that cars are not normal transportation.  Most people either walk or ride their bicycles.  This makes sense because most of them can’t afford a car.  But the unusual thing is that they are willing to walk long distances to get where they want to go. If we couldn’t afford cars in the states, we would stay very close to home.  The people here are willing to walk a few hours to reach their destination.

As far as the food goes, there’s less variety than in the states.  I usually eat rice for at least one meal sometimes with beans and a vegetable similar to collard greens.  Most of the time we have meat (chicken is the most often meat served) when we’re at home and sometimes when we’re out visitng people.  Meat is not a normal part of most villagers’ meals. 

I’ve gotten a few gifts from families that I have visited.  The first gift was several eggs.  The next was a live chicken.  As you can tell, the gifts are more practical but also more valuable.  The chicken that I took home might have fed the family a special meal or provided numerous eggs for breakfasts.  Instead, I will enjoy eating the chicken with the missionary family here for one meal.  Of course, I didn’t kill or prepare the chicken.  We had the guard of the compound take care of that for me.  I carried the chicken home and that was as far as I was willing to go with handling my present :)

The final thing I’ll mention about culture involves the culture of the churches I’ve visited here.  The first thing you notice is that women sit on one side and men on the other.  They also don’t usually have a worship leader standing up front  as we sing worship songs.  They are standing in the audience with the other church members.  More than just the person who chose songs for the week can start songs too.  They just start singing and sing the chorus and then everybody repeats the chorus.   Then the person who started the song sings a verse or the chorus again depending on the song and we repeat the chorus.  There’s not very many instruments unless the church has raised money to buy a generator and keyboard (which only 3 churches have done).  They have a drum and perhaps some homemade percussion instruments.  Also, during worship songs, almost everybody is moving an dancing at least a little bit.  Some churches have more people dancing and are more energetic in their dancing.   

All in all, I’ve had a very good learning experience of  some typical African culture.  I don’t think I’ve offended anyone and I pray I continue that trend.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

A little bit of culture shock!

So I had been planning to write a blog post about all the cultural differences I’ve noticed between the States and Tanzania, but something happened this week that was much more interesting, terrifying, exciting, and all kinds of other words that I can’t even begin to form.

Before I got to Tanzania, Mavuto pushed me to get my International Drivers’ License and bring it with me.  Of course, since I wanted to fulfill all requests he made to me, I went ahead and got it, not really thinking about how I would feel about driving in another country.

The first thing I noticed when I got here is that they drive on the wrong side of the road…and by that I of course mean the left side.  I also noticed that the traffic in the city of Dar es Salaam is extremely crazy!  Bumper to bumper traffic; motorcycles weaving in and out of cars, and bicyclists that don’t pay attention to most normal traffic laws. 

It didn’t really hit me while we were in the city that I would be expected to drive in this country.  But, on our trip in late December from Mtwara to Masasi (my final destination for the next 7 months) that Mavuto brought up the fact that it would be nice to have somebody else able to drive places other than just him.  That’s when I sat up  and started to really pay attention to the roads. 

Thankfully, the roads in Masasi are not nearly as crowded as those in the city.  They are, however, mostly unpaved and VERY uneven.  They also have the addition of motorcyclists and bicyclists who do not think much about common driving courtesies like getting out of the way of a big truck that has the right of way, looking before crossing an intersection, stopping before pulling out from a shop into the road.  Most drivers of two-wheeled vehicles follow none of these.

In the last week, I have driven the streets of Masasi twice.  The first thing I had to quickly learn was how to use my left hand to shift gears.  I also had to remember to use the turn signals on the right side of the steering wheel instead of on the left.  This is on top of trying to remind myself of the basics of a manual transmission vehicle.  Thankfully, the one new thing I did pretty good at following was the idea of driving on the left side instead of the right.  I give credit to Mavuto for this because he’s been doing most of the driving and I’ve been giving careful study of his driving and have actually gotten slowly used to this idea of driving on the wrong side of the road.  The trouble will be when I have to go back to driving on the right side of the street.  When I have to do that, there won’t be anyone driving me around for 2 weeks before letting me try for myself.  I will almost right away be expected to readjust and successfully drive as I was originally taught.  That will be reverse culture shock I’m sure.

I also managed to drive to one of the local villages for a bible study meeting.  This is an adventure simply because the roads are not paved and, with the rainy season just starting, very uneven and bumpy (these are understatements for sure).  Most of the drive was spent apologizing to my passenger, Joyce for all the bumps I managed to hit.  She did a very good job of trying to point out the biggest potholes, but there’s no way of avoiding all of them and it was a very interesting adventure.  At several different places, I was afraid we would get stuck in very slippery and wet soil.  At other points I was sure our truck was about to bounce right off the wheels, so jarring was the bump I had just hit (even though I’m pretty sure that’s physically impossible.  By the time we made it home, I shakily handed the keys back to Mavuto.  But I had a new confidence.  I had successfully driven on the roads of another country and brought the car back in one piece, just a little muddier than when I had started the journey!  How many of my friends and family can say that?  Plus, I know that being able to drive the missionary wives to different functions in the different villages will help the missionaries a lot because they won’t have to take the time out of their day to drive us, wait for us to finish, and drive us home.  They can work on other things back at the main compound.  This helps me feel that I’m accomplishing one of my goals in coming here: to make life a little easier for the people who are doing God’s work here full time.

Well, I feel I must thank you for reading this very long post.  I hope you enjoyed reading it … would say as much as I enjoyed the experience…but I’m not sure enjoyment of driving in Tanzania will ever truly be attained in the next 7 months.  Look for another post about the cultural differences that I had in mind previously.  It will be written, but I felt this story needed to be shared while the experience was still fresh in my mind.

I would love to hear your reactions to the story, or perhaps even your own crazy driving story – whether in another country or the United States.  Tell me about it in the comments section below!  I’d love to hear from anyone who reads these posts!