Trying to Walk the Kiswahili Walk…

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One thing you just can’t get enough of is… walking. Whether I’m “Walking on Sunshine!” or deciding to “Walk this Way” or simply just trying to “Walk it Out,” walking is something that is a significant part of my life here. One thing is for sure… I’m definitely NOT “Walking in a Winter Wonderland…”

For the average Tanzanian there are two main modes of transportation: mini-bus (aka Daladala or Hice) or your own two feet. I am getting the privilege to experience both of these firsthand. I walk to school, I walk to church, I walk about a mile to the closest bus stop and walk through town before walking the mile from the bus stop back to my home. I spend my weekends hiking and walking around town. I walk a lot. Most days I enjoy it unless it’s very dry and I’m engulfed in a cloud of dust or it’s raining heavily and I delicately dodging puddles or patches of mud.

If you read through the Gospels, Jesus spends a lot of time walking as well. You’ll see that he went to Jerusalem and walked through towns and villages… he visited friends and strangers, rich and poor, healthy and sick how…? By walking! Many times he walked by the Sea of Galilee (and ON it too!) To think of other significant moments of walking, Jesus also approached Jerusalem partially on foot and he knowingly walked towards pain and a most certain death on the cross. Even the Old Testament is filled with walking stories. Think about the Great Exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land… I don’t think they reserved charter buses or had a red eye direct flight…they walked! God commands us to walk in God’s ways and that God’s word lights our path [that we walk each and every day.]

I believe that walking is very healthy, and not just for the body but the soul too! When I’m upset or need to think, I put on my tennis shoes and just start walking.

But as I mentioned earlier, walking here in Tanzania is different. It isn’t exercise. It isn’t recreation. It isn’t something that is complained over. You just do it. Walking is simply a part of life and everyone does so willingly (as far as I can see.) When I went to get my resident permit placed in my passport I walked with another teacher for 45 minutes about two miles just to get the stamp and then walk back. She didn’t complain or point me in the right direction and say “Good luck!” She walked and enjoyed the chance to get out and greet those she knew along the way. Walking enhances their relationships as they make frequent stops along their walks to greet their neighbors and sometimes even talk with strangers. When we shut the car door, we shutting a lot more than we think. This has been a challenge to me…the whole stopping and talking to EVERYONE thing… but I do see the value in it. It shows everyone you pass that they are worth talking to. It shows that the emphasis here is on community and not accomplishment.

Walking here is just walking. But it’s more than walking. I never thought I’d learn so much from simply walking. But I guess that’s what I get when I take the time to walk in a Tanzanian’s shoes…

“For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.” –Deuteronomy 30:16

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” –Psalm 119:105

“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.” –Matthew 4: 18-20

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Trying to Talk the Kiswahili Talk…

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Today, when I was walking back from playing football, I realized an important truth about here… and I learned it quick. Today was the day that I learned there are times when I just need to keep my mouth shut! It was just after dusk which means it’s difficult to see others around unless their white like me. Therefore everyone sees me coming and I don’t see them until they are next to me. We just had some rain here which means the frogs are going to town with their amphibious orchestras (with the occasional cricket chirping in too!) I didn’t think anyone was around… then IT happened! What was IT? Well, while walking with my mouth open, a cricket decided to make a nice, cozy home… in my mouth! Fortunately, I spat him out before he unpacked his bags and got settled in but in that split second I had learned my lesson…of when to keep my mouth shut.

Oh, did you think I meant I said something bad? Well, at least I got your attention… and TRUST ME…with how many bugs are out right now this is still a VERY important lesson to learn.

But speaking of saying something… check out this text one of the teachers at school received from their niece (she’s a teacher too):

 

[If ur dead rest in peace

If ur sick get well soon

If ur in prison tell them dat you have a right to communicate

If ur okay you should be ashamed of your silence, gr8t aunt.]

 

When she first showed me this message I was a bit shocked that something would send such a terse text to someone…especially family! I mean who would send THAT to family? Why? Then I began to think about how big of a deal communication and family are to people in Tanzania. Here, if it’s been a while since you talked to a relative or friend, they will be sure to remind you!

Why don’t we talk as much as Tanzanians? Are we not ashamed of our silence? Or do we rather desire to do “our own thing” because it’s easier? Have we learned the lesson of keeping our mouths shut too well? One thing I’ve challenged myself to do here…and consequently… challenging you to do at home, work, school (anywhere really) is this: talk.

Try saying more than 7 words to your co-worker who you normally pass with a simple “hey” or “how’s it going?” Go a bit further and call a grandparent or a grandchild or your brother or your sister or even an old friend from college and simply: talk.

I believe, as I am learning here, they will appreciate the effort and the conversation/call more than you can imagine. Just TALK! Sit down with your kid, your spouse or your friend at the end of the day and just talk. Don’t have an agenda… don’t set a time limit… just offer your undivided attention to them and then see what happens! A lot of Scripture I’ve read recently focuses on relationships. Relationships with God such as:

“Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” –Deuteronomy 6:4-5

and relationships with other Scriptures such as:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.” –Acts 2:42-47

These Scriptures (as well as many more) all emphasize relationships via communication and that… is a TWO-WAY street! So I challenge you (and me!) with simply four letters:

 

T

A

L

K.

 

I pray you don’t master the lesson of keeping your mouth shut but rather be ashamed of the conversational silence and do something about it. Talk. Listen. Learn.

 

And to quote one of my favorite movies…

“That’s what I’m talking about!!!”

-Jerry Stiller from Zoolander

 

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” –Psalm 19:14

 

What’s this…Rain?!?

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[written some time during the week of February 13-19, 2011]

Oh I love God’s sense of humor. So last Friday, I mentioned to some friends that the “Rain Season” isn’t that rainy here… but I was mistaken not even a few hours after sending the message. The itsy bitsy white guy went to the roundabout, down came the rain and washed the white guy out (if you’re in a good mood, try singing the line above to a familiar child’s tune!) But the sun did not come back out all weekend and so I was fully reminded why this time of the year is the Rain Season.

But this didn’t stop us from our Saturday adventure to the village of Tangeni, which is located on the side of the Uluguru Mountain range. We met with several other teachers at about 8:00am at the city bus stand and boarded the Daladala heading Southwest. The first half of the road was paved decently but the second half of the road was quite rough and untamed. I learned that this road used to be Tanzania’s main road South towards Iringa years ago and we were riding on the remains of an old, rarely used road. Also, the rain I mentioned above was coming down like paka na mbwa (cats and dogs). So we were left with 2 choices: keep the windows closed and be dry but incredibly stuffy and eventually sweaty (so not really that dry) or open the windows, get wet but enjoy the coolness of the rain. It was a wet but refreshing ride. After a 30-45 minute ride out of town packed in the bus like sardines, we arrived as the base of the town. I say “base” because the city is built along a big mountain side so to enter the town means you either take a motorcycle or be ready to hike up. And since I forgotten my 11 motorcycles back at the house, off we walked! We soon discovered that the waterfall we were planning to visit was on protected property and we were supposed to have permission to enter the land. But after some talking… they let us enter. So we began our 2-hour hike along a bumpy and high terrain road. We were happy to see the occasional flat areas on the road to give our hamstrings and calf muscles a break. We were extremely fortunate that it was a very overcast day with only light periods of rain as this would have been an unbearable walk in the usual blazing heat. Now that I think about it, that was probably one of the coolest days we’ve had here since I arrived a month ago.

Finally, the falls were in sight as we approached someone’s farm. They graciously showed us the quickest path (although very muddy and steep at times) to get there and within 20 minutes we had arrived at the 40-ish foot (I’ve never good at estimating…that’s why I prefer to measure in “ish”) waterfall. The water was quite frigid but it didn’t stop some of the other teachers from dipping their heads in the water or even plunging themselves under part of the falls. I took this golden opportunity and made my way directly underneath the falls and had my FIRST cold experience since I’ve been here. We took pictures and laughed a lot as we enjoyed the short escape from the heat. Some even drank the water claiming it to be fresher than any bottled water, but I opted to stick with my own water. Then, after some rest, we began the 2-hour journey back down to the village of Tangeni. Hours later I arrived back in town welcomed by a torrential downpour that continued even at our house for the rest of the day. Roads became rivers and plots of land became ponds and lakes. All with a distinct reddish-brown mud color I’ve come to know all too well. I made it inside only slightly soaked and, after cleaning up, enjoyed the rest of my day relaxing and reflecting on the experiences we had today with the waterfall and the ever-present Rain Season.

Here is a picture which only captured a mere glimpse of a stunning lightening storm that visited us this past week. I was completely “shocked” to see that much lightening without a drop of rain…

So I guess I’m a 7…

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[written Tuesday, February 1, 2011]

After a eventful and exhausting football match today, my team triumphed 3-1. But wait, there’s better news… I had 2 assists and 2 more shots on goal. (I’m always in need of a good dose of humility. Today, February 3rd, I did not play quite as well as the other day. I made 1 assist…but for the other team! I was clearing a corner kick and ended up passing it to the opposite team who took a shot and quickly scored thanks to my inconvenient pass.) But it was a great day of football and after a few weeks of playing here I think I have found my position on the field at Right Wing. Actually, they use numbers here to designate positions so I’ve had to adjust to referring to positions by numbers instead of places. So with that… I guess I’m a 7.

It’s very rewarding to spend an evening after teaching all day exercising my body through a sport that I love. (You see, football is kind of a BIG DEAL here…) But my efforts on the Uwanje (field) had an interesting rendezvous with some Scripture I read the other day.

Okay, open up a new webpage or browser and Google-Search (yes… I just used “Google-search” as a verb…forgive me!) this Scripture: Isaiah 58:1-11 (NIV). The main verse I want you to check out is verse 10 but go ahead and read all of it so you can understand where I’m coming from. Alright, I’ll wait here until you’ve spent some time reading it…

Okay! Everyday, we spend something. I think it’s fairly safe to say that most of us (if not all of us) like to spend money. Throughout our day, we spend our time doing things (though sometimes we also spend it doing nothing, don’t we?) Like my football match earlier, we can spend our energy physically trying to maintain these rental suits aka the human body we’ve been offered. All day, every day…we spend A LOT!

Isaiah talks about spending too. He sheds some new light on this notion of “spending.” Isaiah calls us to “spend ourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed.” (vs 10) Have you spent any of your time doing this lately? I’m not trying to guilt trip anyone (okay, maybe just a little bit.) Instead, I want to call your attention to another idea of spending worth considering. Spending is something (for better or worse) that is central to our lives. It drives the economy… it fills our day with meetings, fun outings with friends and family and time to be still for reflection… and this impacts what we do and why we do it. What if we spent as much time serving others as we spend serving ourselves? It seems to me as if we stopped by a gas station, saw the SELF-SERVE sign and took it to use as a Life Motto. Isaiah, as most prophets do, calls us to change! He reminds us that spending is as old as time (because…what else would you do with time but spend it?) and it is happening all the time so why not choose the type of spending that reflects your faith and even your very soul? I read these words from Isaiah and began to reflect over my day’s actions as the sun was setting on the day. I bought myself a coke and some snacks but did I share them? Nope. Did I spend the extra couple of minutes to see how my co-workers were doing? Nope, I raced home to eat some food and get on with my day. Did I wake up grateful that day to have a job (although I don’t get paid…ha) and food to eat and friends and family that care for me? (Not as grateful as I should be!)

Isaiah was talking to people who had lost sigh of our purpose in life. The Israelites were fasting for their own sake (they were proud of their humility!) and were holding on to their SELF-SERVE signs a little too tightly. He told them to go and do some good, honest spending today. Then what happens? Isaiah says that your light will rise in the darkness and your night will be like the noon day. It might just be that the cheering up you need or the peace that someone around you is searching for could come from a change in your spending habits. And I’m not talking about money here…

Maybe you’re busy this week… Perhaps you’re tired after school or work… Or MAYBE what you need is to reach out to another and fulfill that inward desire to care for another. Have you ever met someone that helped someone else and it made them sad or upset? Can you hear the laugh of a child or see the smile of one of our elders and not feel joy inside?

Let’s listen to Isaiah and spend ourselves on behalf of the hungry and…actually… let’s spend ourselves with everyone around us. It’ll do both them AND us some good. My prayer for each of you is that you find something worth spending yourself…then go!

That’ll be a day well spent…

 

(Speaking of a day spent… this is a picture of me at my home after spending all day walking around and teaching! It’s quite exhausting!)

When I was a Young Warthog!

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Many of you jokingly expressed a connection with my present geographical location and a certain favored movie called, “The Lion King.” To answer a few of your lingering questions…

No, they don’t sing the “Circle of Life” song here. Then again, I have not witnessed the birth of a baby lion soon to rule over the Prideland. Plus, I don’t think the song is in the language of Kiswahili. But still, it’s a great song…

Yes, “Hakuna Matata” is Kiswahili. However, to doesn’t simply mean “No worries, for the rest of your days.” It literally translates to “There are no tangles/complications.” Although it isn’t used much here except in touristy areas when they’re trying to get your attention (and/or money for souvenirs!)

No, I have not visited the Prideland yet. My teaching responsibilities are keeping me quite close to home base right now. But I do hope to get out and adventure sometime soon. I’ve hiked some places near the city of Morogoro (see pictures from the Hike Blog) and learned my way around town. A few cities on my list to check out: Arusha (and Mt. Kilimanjaro), Mwanza (and Lake Victoria, the water source for the Nile), Bagamoyo (and the BEACH) and Mbeya (cold temperatures!) Also, there are a plethora of incredible National Parks to visit like: Serengeti, Mikumi and NgoroNgoro Crater! Needlesstosay, when I get the chance to explore I’ll be ready!

And yes, some of the names from “The Lion King” are Kiswahili. “Simba” means “lion” (how convenient!)… “Rafiki” (the baboon) means “friend” which makes sense since he was a good friend to Simba. Sadly, I’ve checked several times and Mufasa and Nala are not Kiswahili. Nor does Timone but Pumbaa is! And the name of good ole Pumbaa is just who I want to talk more about now…

Pumbaa is one of my favorite characters from the movie. He’s laid back. He keeps things simple. He enjoys each moment of life and doesn’t waste time today worrying about tomorrow or next week or next year. Some say talk like this is foolish (yes, sometimes we must think about the future to responsibly plan for then) but I think it’s good to have a Pumbaa-perspective every now and then.

In Kiswahili, “pumbaa” actually has 2 meanings:

1)      to be foolish, silly or weak-minded

2)      to be speechless with astonishment, to be dumbfounded.

So my question for you (and for me) is what kind of “pumbaa” are you? Do you treat your faith in God as something silly, foolish or something not worth your full attention, time and potential? Or do your experiences with God and the daily sacred encounters of the Divine leave you completely dumbfounded and speechless with astonishment? It seems to me that these are two quite different reactions and interactions with God.

I learned a lot from that smelly warthog. I’ve learned the beauty and value and POTENTIAL in each day. And I’ve learned that if we believe God is able to astonish us and worth the awe…then we need to make the time to give God that window of opportunity in our days. Moses encountered such an opportunity one day…

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

-Exodus 3:1-6

Moses could have just thought the burning bush was foolish and continued with his job. After all, he had responsibilities to keep. But the pumbaa-perspective in him caused him to check this bush out more carefully which led to the holy happening on some sacred sand leaving him literally floored with awe and wonder.

Each day is full of surprises. I believe we all have burning bushes around us. Will you count them off as happenstance or luck or will you embrace the beauty that is Today and the incredible ways in which God is and will work around you. The book of Amos reminds us to “seek [God] and Live.” (Amos 5:6) It’s that simple. No complications or questions to ponder if this is foolishness or not. Simply seek God and live.

“Hakuna matata” indeed…

Some people that never cease to astonish and amaze me are my pupils (aka students to those from the States)… here’s a picture of some of my students!

 

(Oh and in case you were wondering… “Scar” is English for “scar…” I know, I know…that was a tough one!)

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough!

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As promised, I will recap on some of my small weekend adventures since I’ve arrived in Tanzania. Three weekends ago (has it really been THAT long) I made the arduous climb up some of the Uluguru Mountains supporting the backside of Morogoro city. I hiked with one of my fellow teachers, Julius Dionis, and around 8:30am we began our 8+ hour adventure. The first hour of the “hike” was actually just walking down a realllllly long road but at least we had some shade from trees on this road! I brought a little bit of water with plans on purchasing more water on the hike so it’d be cool. Dionis said that there would be a place in a village further up the mountain to get water but when we arrived they were not open yet (The only certainty about a business here is that the hours of operation are optional…) But it was too late to turn back to get water from town so onward we went. Eventually we passed through someone’s farm and then another farm which made me wonder if there was ever an actual trail we were supposed to take or if we were literally just hiking UP the mountain.

 

Finally after 3.5 hours we ascended to the peak at which we were aiming for and the view was spectacular (see other blog for the photos!) After catching our breath and laughing at how red my skin was getting we decided to start hiking back down. We went about a 100 yards DOWN the mountain when we met a group of children returning from the market in town. They invited us back to their village up the mountain so we went with them…back UP the mountain. We arrived and purchased a soda from their store/home. They told us about their village (with all of 40 or so people living up on the mountain) and how each day they hike down the mountain for school and/or the market. Now, these were children… ages 7 to 15 hiking about 2 miles up and down a mountain to go to primary school or to sell fruit at the market. I was humbled and embarrassed about my grumbling about how exhausting the hike was for us this ONE time.

 

After we enjoyed our stay and felt rested we began the Great Descent. Since we didn’t take a specific trail up the way down was of course going to be different. From the top we saw a big-ish road that should lead us back to town so we worked our way towards it. While descending we passed through Cassava patches and Banana tree groves and then… I saw it… my first NATURAL pineapple sighting. It was just sticking out of the ground as if someone had placed it there on a pole. There we stopped at the house and bought some mangoes (delicious!) and a NEW fruit called Fanesi.

 

Fanesi is a large (2-3 times the size of a football) fruit that has a rigid, green skin but contains some of the SWEETEST fruit I have ever tasted. I couldn’t finish it…that’s how sweet it was. And for those of you that know of my sweet tooth, it takes a lot to cut me off… But this fruit (go ahead and search for it on Google!) has small white pouches inside that contain large seeds. If you separate the white pouch from the fruit and eject the seed then you get the reward of eating the pouch and watching your taste buds go crazy! Oh yeah, there’s one more catch too. The seeds and pouches are extremely sticky for some reason so usually you eat this fruit with oil on your hands so you can eat it easily without everything sticking to your hands. It’s a lot of work but well worth it. I don’t think I have a picture of it but when I see another I’ll be sure to get a picture and post it!

 

This was a delightful break from the hike but soon we had to press on so we could beat the sun home. Finally we reached that road (oh yeah, it took 2 hours to get down to it) then we had the pleasure of following this road for at least an hour or so before we saw some buildings that looked familiar! Hooray that we were going in the right direction! Pretty soon we arrived back at the bus stand and Matt the Lobster was tired, thirsty and smiling from a good DAY’s hike. The crazy thing about this whole story is that Dionis said that this (you know the 8 hour hike) was supposed to be a 45 minute hike up. It made me nervous when he then began to share with me that he had heard about a 3 hour hike! Haha…

 

But sitting up on top of that mountain top overlooking the city that has become my new home was quite surreal. Am I really on a mountain? Am I really in Tanzania? Have I really followed God all the way to hear? Am I crazy or what? From looking at the city and pointing out buildings that I recognized, I thought about God and how God overlooks our lives and the plans and potentials out there for us. Each day brings a new adventure and praise God that wherever I am, celebrating on the mountain top or stuck in the mud next to the bus stand, God is with me.

 

“Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from you presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there;

If I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn,

If I settle on the far side of the sea,

Even there your hand will guide me,

Your right hand will hold me fast.”

-Psalm 139:7-10

 

(This past weekend I went to visit a dam and a pond and that’s just what it was… a dam…and a pond. Another teacher, Salvator Kyakwe was very excited about going (for some reason I don’t know) so we went. We stood there for over an hour and watching guys bring in their fishing boats and haggle prices with locals. Salvator bought some fish and I practiced my Kiswahili some more and watched people look at me shocked that I spoke some Kiswahili. Then we returned to town to walk through the Saba Saba Sokoni (big weekend market) as I bought some shirts to wear for school. These have been my adventures thus far but I know that more is to come. I think next Saturday, Pastor Umba has invited ALL the teachers and staff to go visit some waterfalls… this should be interesting…)

Peace,

Mathayo