Wednesday, October 29, 2014

After This, American Bridal Showers Will Always Be Boring

It all started when Alyssa and I asked Lucy (our language helper) to teach us about ndoa—marriage—in Tanzania. 

And out of that discussion, we learned about The Kitchen Party. 

The Kitchen Party is called Kitchen Party in Kiswahili.  Yeah—not so hard to translate that one.  Except you say it with an accent—Keechin Pahty.  It's sort of like a Bridal Shower and sort of like a Bachelorette Party--sort of.  

As she was telling us about this, suddenly she brightened.  “My neighbor is having a Kitchen Party next month.  Do you want to come?” 

Umm….but we don’t know her.

“That’s okay!  She will want you to come anyway!” 


So we got our Required Clothes.  Friends are to dress alike.  So Lucy bought us our dresses, so that we would all match. 

And last Wednesday, we were off. 

We decided to take a taxi.  Neither of us like to drive at night here, and neither of us knew where we were going.  So we found a taxi, and handed the driver my phone with Lucy on the other end, who told him where to go.

We ended up at a little hall in a neighborhood that is mostly poor, completely full of life, and definitely not a place you see many white people.  We were, to put it bluntly, the talk of the neighborhood.  

The invitation said the party would start at 6; we arrived at 6:30.  We poked our head into the hall.  Large piles of trash were being swept up and decorations were being hung.  Not a single other guest was there.

 We teased Lucy about this, since she is the one who told us to arrive on time.  "This is Tanzania!" we told her.  "Why did you think it would start on time?"

So we found a bench and waited for an hour or so.  We took selfies and told ourselves that we would only speak in Kiswahili that night (which was mildly successful).  After a while, we attracted all the neighborhood children, who stared at us and pointed and practiced their English.  "Good morning. What is my name?" they would ask us.  And then giggle until they fell down.

At about 7:30, we wandered back over to the hall.  The decorations were up, some guests had arrived, and the DJ had his music going at one level:  LOUD.  However, the Bibi Harusi--the bride--had yet to arrive.  

But everyone was dancing.  So we did too, trying to be inconspicuous.  

We realized very quickly that being inconspicuous wasn't going to happen.  Perhaps we were clued in when at least half dozen of the guests asked to get their picture taken with us.  

Then, the MC approached Alyssa on the dance floor.  "I like you," she told her.  "I am looking for someone to open the champagne.  I want you to do it."

First of all, you should know Lucy told us that everyone thought we were sisters, and that Alyssa was the dada (older sister) and I was the mdogo (younger sister).  

I was perfectly okay with this.  It allowed me to hide behind my older sister while people asked her to do things like open the champagne.  

Alyssa, however, was horrified at the idea of opening the champagne, considering that it was a ritual we knew nothing about, and because the one and only champagne bottle was perched in front of the Bibi Harusi's throne.  Oh yes, it was indeed a throne.

Alyssa begged Lucy, "Please don't let them make me open the champagne!"  

Lucy ran off to take care of it and came back satisfied.  "Don't worry.  I told her you are mshamba and you don't know how."  Mshamba--literally means 'farmer;' colloquially means 'backward.'   Um, okay.  If being mshamba means getting out of opening the champagne, go for it.

Finally, at 8:00 (two hours after the scheduled start time), the bride arrived in all her splendor.

And she was indeed beautiful.  By this time, I think there were about 80 women in the hall.  

After the MC introduced everyone, she said, "And now I want to call up Mama Alyssa."

Alyssa and I looked at each other in absolute horror.  Alyssa turned white as a sheet.  Lucy whispered, "Oh yeah, when I told her you couldn't open the champagne, I suggested she ask you to pray.  That's what she wants you to do."

Zombie-like, Alyssa got up from her seat.  Lucy added, "Just pray in English."  

But that amazing friend of mine got up there, took the microphone and Kiswahili.  She had no warning, yet she totally rocked it.  Oh yes---I will gladly call her my sister.  

The next part of the evening was the "advice giving."  Various women got up and advised the bride on all sorts of matters pertaining to marriage, including the X-rated parts.  Which could be considered a little amusing in this circumstance, considering the bride already has two children and is pregnant with a third.  

After each woman gave her advice, everyone came up and danced.  There was a lot of dancing.

Which brings to me to my favorite part of the evening:  the presentation of the gifts.  Seriously, American women, we've got something to learn from these ladies.

Lucy had instructed us not to wrap our gift.  "If you wrap it, they'll just think you have a tiny present in a large box," she told us.

Oh wrapping allowed.  Because when you present a gift in Tanzania,  you show it off.  Just like this:

I even took a video:

And what had Alyssa brought as our gift?  Knives.  Oh yes, my friends.  She knew we would have to dance with our gift, so she bought knives.  That's why I like her so much.  

So there we were, two white women and one Tanzanian woman, all wearing matching dresses, dancing with knives above our heads.  I'm so sorry you weren't there to take pictures of us.

Since there were quite a lot of women present, and each gift was presented with quite a bit of fanfare, this went on for a while.  

At 10:30 pm, dinner was served.  Lucy whispered, "They don't serve the food until the end so that everyone has to present a gift before they can eat."

The professional photographer, who had taken our picture with all those strangers earlier in the evening, had run out, printed them, and was now selling them to the ladies for 60 cents each.  We tried to buy one of the pictures with us in it, but they had already all been sold.  Our picture is now on unknown ladies' walls all over Dar es Salaam.

We left for home at 11:00.  Our taxi driver was asleep in his car while he waited for us.  

It was a completely fascinating and fun experience.  Lucy was incredible to take us, and she took such good care of us.  And Alyssa--well, there's no one I would rather do life with here than her.  

The next day, Lucy came for my Kiswahili lesson and we talked all about the evening.  I told her about American bridal showers.  I didn't bother telling her about the game where you win safety pins by catching people with their legs crossed, because she already looked a little bored.  I don't blame her.  

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Where's the Logic in Helping Ebola Victims? And What Brittany Has to Do With It.

I'm not really sure why people are making such a big deal about Ebola.

Why should we even care what happens to Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea?  Do these countries have anything to offer the rest of the world?

They are bottom-of-the-world poor.  They are war-torn.  Their natural resources have already been pillaged.

Even without Ebola, how long would these people even live?  Like 50 years?  Would they even have any quality of living anyway?  No electricity, no running water, very little education.  Who would even want to live in those circumstances?

Couldn't this just be nature's way of natural selection?  Don't we already have a problem with overpopulation in this world?

Why not just seal up the borders and let nature take its course?  Why should we give our hard-earned money, or our government's money, to this cause?  We've got our own problems in our own country. We've got our own poor, our own sick.  Why should we sacrifice our best doctors?

They seem to have a death wish anyway.  They already have murdered health workers and ravaged Ebola clinics.

What about just shipping over lethal drugs that would allow these people to put an end to their misery?  Most of them are going to die soon anyway, so this would allow them to die peacefully, on their own terms, instead of dying a horrific death.

Wouldn't that be a logical conclusion?

Really, it would just be like Brittany Maynard.  I mean, she's a hero, isn't she?  She is so brave to choose to end her life instead of living through suffering.

We are a schizophrenic society, my friends.  Americans would tar and feather me for the notion of "peacefully exterminating" west Africans, and yet the media darling right now is a woman who is choosing "peaceful extermination."

Do we not realize that the line between the two is paper thin?

How did we get here?  And is it really possible we could get there?  Of course we could.

Listen, I can understand why non-Christians are frustrated with Christians who declare that Brittany should not end her life because God says so.  That would be like my neighbor telling me that the fairy in her backyard told her I shouldn't go to the store today.

Uhhh.....thanks for nothing, crazy person.

If you don't believe God exists, then you could care less what He thinks.  Point taken.

So instead, let's try this:

Brittany should not end her life because the people in Liberia deserve to live.  And this is why those two statements cannot be separated.

Secular worldview wants us to believe that we are nothing but evolved chemicals.  Human life is an accident.  There is no purpose to it other than what we pretend is purpose.  There is nothing that makes humans more inherently valuable than any other type of life.  There are no moral absolutes. Morality is created by the needs of society and is constantly fluctuating.

"Morality is a collective illusion of humankind put in place by our genes in order to make us good cooperators."  (Evolutionary psychologist Michael Ruse)

Morality--good, evil, love, hatred--is an illusion.  Human life really means nothing.

In this worldview, assisted suicide makes absolute sense.  We put our dogs down when they are sick, don't we?  So if Brittany is just an evolved animal, why can't she be put down?  If there is no transcendent purpose to her life, if she does not have a soul, and if life is just about eking out as much pleasure and happiness as possible, then there would be absolutely no reason for her to choose to live a life of extreme suffering.

But this is the problem:

Once we give one human the authority to choose the death of a human (even oneself), then we are opening the door for anyone to choose the death of anyone for any multitude of reasons.

If you don't think that is possible, then just think about what is happening in women's wombs all over the world.  And why then would philosophers say things like this:

"Pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty has seriously suggested that rich nations may end up engaging in 'economic triage' against poor nations...The idea that human rights are universal, Rorty notes, was a completely novel concept ushered in by Christianity...Because of Darwin, Rorty notes, we no longer accept creation.  And therefore we no longer need to maintain that everyone who is biologically human has equal dignity.  We are free to revert to the pre-Christian attitude that only certain groups qualify for human rights."  (Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo)

And that, my friends, is how choosing euthanasia for our society would eventually lead to government-sponsored genocide.

Let me assure you of this:  I have the utmost compassion for Brittany.  Her story brings me to tears. Why God would allow such a thing is a discussion for another day.  But I cannot, and will not, concede that it is morally acceptable for her to take her own life.

The Christian worldview tells me that God is the ultimate authority over His creation.  Man was created by God in God's image.  This means that we have a soul (an immaterial and unseen aspect to our existence that goes beyond our physical bodies); we have ability to reason, think, create, and imagine.

Human life is inherently valuable, in whatever form, whether unborn, suffering, orphaned, handicapped, Muslim, Hindu, poor, rich, homosexual, American, or African.
It is morally unacceptable for anyone other than God to take a life in any form for any reason.

This is why I am staunchly pro-life.  This is why I am anti-euthanasia.  This is why I am anti-slavery. This is why I am living in Africa.  This is why I believe we need to be doing everything and anything we can to help our fellow humans in Liberia.

But isn't Brittany's decision a personal choice?  Why should it affect me?  Why should I care?

This is why I care.  This quote is about abortion, but euthanasia can easily be substituted:

"Liberals sometimes say, 'If you're against abortion, don't have one.  But don't impose your views on others.'  At first, that might sound fair.  But what liberals fail to understand is that every social practice rests on certain assumptions of what the world is like--on a worldview.  When a society accepts the practice, it absorbs the worldview that justifies it.  That's why abortion is not merely a matter of private individuals making private choices.  It is about deciding which worldview will shape our communal life together." (Nancy Pearcey)

If you don't believe in God, and you believe that Brittany should be allowed to end her life, I won't throw God into the discussion.  But be consistent in your worldview.  If Brittany has the right to choose her death, then we don't have any moral obligation to help Ebola victims.

Worldviews have consequences.  Know why you believe what you believe.  And be consistent about it.

So if you accuse me of being cold-hearted, or uncompassionate, or cruel when I say that Brittany should die naturally, just know that it's because I believe in the God-given, sacred value of life.  And that's why I care about Ebola victims.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Bet I Know Something About Our Pastor That You Didn't Know

This is Gil's newest invention for Josiah:  Bottlecap Hockey

Faith Community Church, I'm sure you would be very interested to know that your pastor is the reigning champion in the Medina house in Bottlecap Hockey.  
Bet you didn't know that he is a man of so many talents.

Seriously, though, thank you for sending Pastor Steve to Tanzania.  Not only did he do a fantastic job training a group of pastors, but we got three days with him all to ourselves.  And when your senior pastor is kind and wise and encouraging, it doesn't get much better than that.  

Churches, send your pastors to visit your missionaries.  Very little is more encouraging.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Just In Case You Feel Sorry For Me

Don't.  Feel sorry for me, that is.

Last week was our kids' mid-term break, so we headed off to the beach for three days--at a house on our favorite beach, for less than the cost of what we would pay for dinner and a movie in the States.

Yeah.  There are perks to this life.

We brought our new friends along--Marc and Gretchen--who not only took over the Bible teacher position at HOPAC, but they also lived in our house last year.  Pretty cool that they are also now our friends and we like them a whole lot.  

Snorkeling with Daddy

And....just in case these pictures look a little too idyllic, you also should know that over the course of the three days, three out of the six children were throwing up.  We offered $5 to whoever actually made it into the bucket.

That's how we roll.  Just keepin' it real.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Just In Case You Think I Have It All Together

I am terrible at this.

By 'this' I mean Everything.

Okay, so I make a mean chocolate cake.  But that's about it.

It probably doesn't help that learning Kiswahili has cut off my legs at the knees.  Trying to learn how to impact this culture has me feeling helpless.  I know nothing.  I am not cut out for this.  I am not good at this.

It probably doesn't help that I just had the worst evening ever with one of my children.  The last words this child said to me as I left their room tonight were, "FINE!  I DON'T NEED YOUR HELP!"  and I didn't even go back in and deal with it because the entirety of the last two hours had been filled with a screaming, ranting, hard-hearted child, various forms of discipline and one-way conversations which accomplished nothing, and a knot in my stomach that got worse with every passing minute.  (Gil is not home tonight!)

It probably doesn't help that today one of my best friends has been undergoing brain surgery in the States.  Also today, a distraught Tanzanian friend told me about her sister who suddenly died.  Also today, another distraught Tanzanian friend told me about the serious health problems of his grandmother, who raised him.  He has no mother, no father, and she is all he has.

You know, one of those days.

Should I even be here?  Should I even be doing this?  And why on earth am I trying to adopt another child when I can't even control the ones I have?


I told this child tonight, God's grace is there. It is so big and wide and deep.  But you must accept it.

Your great grace.  Oh, such grace!

The grace for the child is the same grace for me.  Your grace finds me.

Grace in a sleeping child.
In a new day tomorrow.
In the beauty of this place.
In the hope of the cross.

And maybe even chocolate cake.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

24 Hours

Monday, 6:00 pm:  Literally minutes from putting dinner on the table, I turn on the faucet and nothing comes out.  I run to another faucet; still nothing.  I go out the back door and check our tanks.  Nothing.  No water.  Not a drop.

Gil and I examine the situation.  We figure out why the city water has not been coming in and fix the problem.  Water starts coming into the tanks, but it needs to be pumped into the house.  Unfortunately, since the pump had been running with no water, now there is air in the pipes.  Thus, still no water in the house.

We eat dinner.  I grab a couple of our (filtered) water bottles and run them over our sweaty kids' feet before they go to bed.  That will have to do.  The toilets fill up and we can't flush them.  Ugh.

I put the dirty dishes on the floor and allow our Jack Russell to clean them for me.  Hopefully that will keep the cockroaches away from the dishes.

7:30 pm:  Our small group comes over. One of the electrical phases in our house goes out, which means that 1/3 of our outlets/power sources don't work.  I have never understood how this works, but I just go with it.  I take an assessment of the various lights/fans/outlets that are not working, get out the 25 foot extension cord, and use it to plug the fridge into an outlet that actually is working.  We go on with our small group.

10:00 pm:  I use two more water bottles to attempt to wash myself.  One electrical phase is still out, but thankfully not the one for our room air conditioner.  We'll be able to sleep.

Tuesday, 6:00 am:  I wake up;  I wake the kids up.  They complain that the toilets aren't flushing.  Josiah refuses to use the toilet and I ask him what he would like me to do about it.  We use drinking water to wash hands and faces.

Make breakfast; make lunches.  I take the kids to school at 7.

8:30 am:  I call Everest.  Everest is the best electrician/plumber/painter/fix-it guy in the ENTIRE WORLD.  We would be lost without him.  I ask him to come and get the air out of our pipes so that we can have water again.

9:00 am:  I have cancelled my Swahili lesson for today.  Instead, my midwife friend, Lyndi, and I are going to visit Esta.  Esta has worked for me for 7 years, but now she is on bedrest in her 5th month of pregnancy.  The doctor had barely told her anything except to go on bedrest, so Lyndi agreed to go with me to check out the situation.

Esta had gone to a government hospital, but all the doctor's notes were in English, which she can't read.  Lyndi looked over the paperwork; she examined Esta, and determined that she is fine, the baby is healthy, but she just needs to take things easy.  That was happy news.

But the best part was when Lyndi brought out her little machine that allowed all of us to hear the baby's heartbeat.  Esta cried.  I cried.  She had never heard her baby's heartbeat before, even though this is her third child.  Lyndi explained that often the nurses will even turn the ultrasound screen away from the mamas, so they can't see.  In a culture where knowledge is power, the patient isn't told much.

10:30 am:  I am back at home, and Everest has arrived.  Unfortunately, while I was gone, all of the power went off.  He can't fix the water problem without electricity.  He tried to get our generator going, but found a problem with it.  Now we have no water and no power.  Thankfully, now the outside tank has enough water in it that we can draw some out with a bucket.  We lug in enough water for my house helper to wash the dishes and clean the floors.

I take Everest to the hardware store to start hunting down the part for the generator.

12:00 pm:  I meet Aishi for lunch, one of our former students.  She tells me about how college changed her and her dreams for Tanzania. It made my day.  I love her.

2:30 pm:  I bring the kids home from school.  Still no water, still no power.  Everest was not able to find the part for the generator.  But he shows Gil how to get the air out of the pipes once the power comes back on.

4:00 pm:  Power comes back on!  Well, most of it.  We're still out a phase, but who's complaining?  Gil manages to get the water flowing back in our pipes.  Well, except that the pressure pump is connected to the phase that is out.  He climbs up the ladder to that pump and rearranges the electrical sockets, and finally, we have water!

6:00 pm:  Gil feeds the kids dinner; I go out to pick up a baby-sitter.  When I get back, power is off again.  It's getting dark now, so we start to set up the baby-sitter with candles and head lamps.  But wonder of wonders, right before we leave, the power comes back, and this time, all the phases are on.

Gil and I leave for dinner to celebrate our 14th anniversary.

Thankful for this guy who has spent 10 out of 14 years with me in Africa doing this crazy life.  Here's to the next adventure of the day!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Places This Amazing Really Do Exist

Gil is home from a month of language school on  Zanzibar island.  Hooray!

In between filling his brain with Kiswahili, he took pictures.  Zanzibar is right off the coast of Dar es Salaam, and is an inhabited island of 1 million people.  It is technically part of Tanzania, but very Arab-influenced, very Muslim, and full of history.

It also happens to be one of the most beautiful, intriguing places on earth.

Enjoy his pictures with me....I had a hard time narrowing them down!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

That Boy and His Girl

Kyungho was 11 years old when he first came into my life.  He was in fifth grade, and it was my first year teaching at HOPAC.  Then I went on to be his sixth grade teacher too.

He was the class clown, and really only interested in soccer and making people laugh.  But that smile was infectious and he wormed his way into my heart.

Kyungho is Korean in ethnicity and culture and passport, but born and raised in Tanzania.  He attended HOPAC for all thirteen years of his education, which gave him an American accent.  Truly a Third-Culture-Kid, if there ever was one.

Throughout all of high school, Gil was his Bible teacher.  And basketball and soccer coach.  And youth group leader and mentor.

Gil and Kyungho shared a love for Manchester United and photography.  They spent a lot of time together.  And sometime around 10th grade, Kyungho got serious about life.  And God.  And loving people.  And he got really good at all of those things, including his school work.

We had the joy of seeing him graduate in 2009, and Gil had the joy of presenting him with the Christian Character award that day.

Then he went off to Wheaton College in Illinois and studied business.  Most people were probably convinced that he was American, except for the couple of times he instinctively used his Tae Kwon Do and accidentally landed a couple of big football players on the ground.

Kyungho would always come and visit us in the summers.  I can remember the time he sat in our living room a year or so ago and told us about this girl he liked named Shelby.  We cautioned him, Make sure she's internationally-minded.  Make sure she is not set on living her whole life in the States.  Make sure she understands that you are part Korean and part African and all TCK.

Then he married that girl just a few weeks ago in Michigan.  And just a few days after, she picked up her life and moved with him back to Tanzania.  And she's learning Korean and wants to attend an African church and she loves that he is international.  She is perfect.

Last weekend, we got to celebrate with them at a reception here in Dar.

Such an amazing, incredible joy, to see this young man loving God and loving people, serving Tanzania and now starting a new life with a girl who loves all of that about him.

HOPAC is a young school--only 20 years old--and it has only graduated 5 classes.  So it's only now that we are starting to see our alumni, now college graduates, find their way in the world.  How it satisfies our hearts to see so many find their way back here, to the country that raised them, with the goal of making it a better place!

Because there were others there that night too.  One who wants to start a business to help other businesses learn customer service.  One who is working for a TV station here in Dar.  One who still has the goal of becoming Tanzania's president someday.

And there's this one who was there that night, but I've already told you her story.

I think of all the years we spent investing in these students, and now we have the pleasure of standing back and seeing the fruit.  How great is our God.