Sunday, March 29, 2015

Term 2: Book Week Mice, Farms, and Medieval Princesses

Another peek into the lives of our crazy kids at their amazing school.

Book Week
You can't tell parents, "Take pictures of your kids reading in unusual places," and not expect Gil to go all out.  


Yes, we really do have a glow-in-the-dark bathroom....and they are reading in it.

 Book Character Day:  We've got Despereaux, King Peter, and Angelina Ballerina.  We tried hard for Josiah to be Reepicheep, so that they would all be mice, but he wouldn't hear of it.

Masai Day in First Grade

Kindergarten's Trip to the Farm

Learning to milk a cow

Poetry Recital in Third Grade

Medieval Day in Third Grade


Gil coached after-school primary football this term, and Grace and Josiah both participated.  He organized an intramural tournament at the culmination, and Grace's team ended up defeating Josiah's team.  Oh, the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat!


Celebrating their victory!

Service Emphasis Week

SEW is one of the best things about HOPAC!   This is Grace's class (and some Big Kids) off to visit a local orphanage.  

Sporting their SEW Week shirts

Enchanted?  This incredible school still has staff openings for the next school year!  

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Witchdoctors, Football, and Understanding Africa

Recently an electrician (who is also our good friend) was working on our fuse box.

I was in the next room, and suddenly I heard him cry out in pain.  Thinking he had shocked himself, I quickly asked him what was wrong.

He chuckled a bit.  He held out both his hands for me to see.  One was dramatically more swollen than the other.

Our friend is a leader in his church.  He's in his late 30's, and he's a strong guy.  "Well, in church on Sunday, there was this woman with a lot of problems," he explained.  "She had a demon.  Before I knew it, she pushed back my hand so hard that it swelled up like this."  He casually added, "It took 5 men to hold her down."  Three days later, his hand was still swollen.

Just an ordinary Sunday in a Tanzanian church.  Our friend isn't even Pentecostal.

A couple of weeks ago, Gil went to a football game at the national stadium with one of our former students.  The game was between two rival club teams, and almost all of the 60,000 seats were filled.  Tension was high.  This game was a very big deal.

The buzz was that a lot of witchcraft had been performed before this game.  And, apparently, during the game.  This is not a team mascot or an over-zealous fan.  This is a witchdoctor.

The teams took this very seriously.  One team was so nervous about this that they made a large banner for protection--their own talisman.  The goal keeper tried to hang it in his goal until the officials made him take it down.

So what do we do with this notion that there are supernatural spirits out there who can influence a person's health, a person's safety, or even the outcome of a football game?  That these spirits can inhabit a person's body and make her stronger than 5 grown men?  

For those of us from the western world, fully indoctrinated in empiricism and rationalism, we simply don't know what to make of this.  I'm from the "non-charismatic" side of Christianity.  I also am, by nature, an extremely skeptical person. So....are we going to claim that it's all in their heads?  That this is all a joke?  That they just need to be educated?  

Spend a few years in Africa, and even the most rational among you may be convinced otherwise.  

Meet our friends Mark and Alyssa, who had 17 snakes appear in their house, out of nowhere.  Or spend some time at an African mission hospital, where they have "prayer doctors" for those patients who are ill with sicknesses that defy modern medicine.  Or talk to our friend "Mary," who lost two sons at exactly 9 months old for unknown reasons, until she renounced her witchdoctor mother and turned to Jesus.  Or meet a Tanzanian albino, who daily fears for his life because (wealthy, educated) people are willing to pay thousands of dollars for his body parts.  

You cannot understand Africa until you understand this worldview.  You cannot understand African politics, African poverty, African culture, and even the African Church until you understand animism.  

In the same way, you can't understand American culture until you understand that we are equally locked in empiricism and rationalism.  Seeing is believing.  Nothing is fact unless it can be proved by "science."  Anything else is shoved up in the category of "values" and is therefore personal, irrational, and undependable.  This is the very philosophy that seeks to destroy Christianity in America.  But haven't we, as Christians, even allowed it to seep into our own thinking?  Sure, Satan is real.  Demons are real.  But they aren't actually going to manifest themselves, right?  

I understand that there needs to be balance.  I'm not saying that everyone with problems needs to be exorcised, or that there's a demon in the sound system when it doesn't work.  The African Church needs to root out the superstition and Prosperity Gospel that seeks to permeate it; the American Church needs to root out it's unequivocal trust in science and medicine. 

Let us learn from one another.  And remember that our struggle is not against flesh and blood.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

When You Became Mine

On the day you were born, your cord was not cut, nor were you washed with water to make you clean, nor were you wrapped in cloths.  No one looked on you with pity or had compassion enough to do any of these things for you.  Rather, you were thrown out into the open field, for on the day you were born you were despised.  (Ezekiel 16:4-5)

I find it interesting that so many people are shocked that some African women would dump their newborns into a pit latrine.

My last post quickly shot up into my #1 most-read post, with over 7000 hits.  (I realize that's small potatoes in the blog world, but it's a lot for my tiny corner of the internet.)

It certainly was not my most inspired piece of writing.  So all I can figure is that it was sensational enough to shock people into reading and sharing.

But why?

Why is it so shocking that women in Africa leave their newborns to die?

Is dumping a baby into a toilet more barbaric than jabbing a scalpel into a baby's neck, suctioning out her brains, and crushing her skull?  Or simply vacuuming her life away, piece by piece, as she struggles to get away?

After all, that's what happened to over a million babies in America last year.  Legally.

At least Tanzania has the sense to make child murder illegal.

In Tanzania, there's not a lot of hope for unwanted babies, when adoption is so culturally unacceptable.  But in America, there's tens of thousands of couples who wait months....years....for the phone call that there's a baby waiting for them.  Yet still, we throw away a million babies a year.

Listen.  My heart breaks for these mamas.  I can't imagine the despair, the hopelessness, the fear, that compels a mama to dump her newborn into a toilet pit.  Or to pay money for someone to suck out her baby's brains.  I think of the 17-year-old who is terrified she'll be kicked out of school.  Or the prostitute who doesn't see a way out.  Or the desperate mama who just doesn't know how she'll feed one more child.

It goes against a woman's deepest instinct to turn her back on her child.  The heartache that leads her to that point must be unfathomable.  Yes, Christians, let's be known for advocating for the babies.  But let's be known for advocating for the mamas too.

But don't just weep for the African babies who are thrown away.  Weep for the American ones too--and those all over the world, for that matter.  (Ironically, one of the few (only?) similarities between the United States and North Korea is that they both permit abortions past 20 weeks--two of only seven countries in the entire world that allow them.)

There is redemption for a baby lifted out of a toilet pit and given life and love.
There is redemption for the adoptive mother when that child fills empty spaces in her heart.
There is redemption for the birth mother who sacrificially gives her child a chance at life.  And there's even redemption available for the one who doesn't.

Because in that picture, there is the reminder that we all are in the toilet pit, until the Day when we are lifted out and made Sons or Daughters.

Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your blood, and as you lay there in your blood I said to you, "Live!"  I made you grow like a plant of the field....I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine. (Ezekiel 16:6, 8)

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Grim Reality of Bathroom Door Locks

Last week, Alyssa and I visited Lucy's home, where we were treated like royalty.  Lucy continues to impress me with her love for Jesus and people, which was even more evident in her home and neighborhood.  And her incredible sense of humor makes her a fantastic Kiswahili teacher.  

But it was no laughing matter when she explained to us why there's a lock on the outside of her bathroom door.  It seemed strange--after all, there's nothing worth stealing inside.  

Most people in Tanzania have pit toilets, and Lucy's house is no exception.  She explained that the government tells people to lock their bathrooms, so that women will not abandon their newborn babies to the depths of the pit.  

What a horrifying reality.  In fact, I know two such children--now adopted (but not by us)--who were rescued on their birth days from such a nightmare.

Whenever I talk about adoption with my Tanzanian friends, every single one can tell me of an instance when they came across an abandoned baby.  Though not always alive.

For most, they are found too late to rescue.  And those that are, live their entire lives on the streets or in an orphanage.  There are over 2 million orphans in Tanzania, and maybe only a couple dozen get adopted every year.

Which is why it makes me mad when UNICEF and other such organizations are so anti-international adoption, and anti-orphanage, and are heavily influencing developing countries (including Tanzania) to be the same way.  YES, let's work at family reunification whenever possible.  YES, let's work at getting corruption out of the adoption process.  And by all means, tell people to put a lock on their bathroom doors.

For many children, there is no family to be reunified with.  Let's at least redeem their stories by helping them find a new one.

March 19:  Follow-up to this post here:  When You Became Mine.   Why is it so shocking that women in Africa leave their newborns to die?  Is dumping a baby into a toilet more barbaric than jabbing a scalpel into a baby's neck, suctioning out her brains, and crushing her skull?  Or simply vacuuming her life away, piece by piece, as she struggles to get away?

Additional note added in 2016:  Since I wrote this post, I now have many more mixed feelings on the issue of international adoption.  Please read this series I wrote:  I Wish It Wasn't True:  The Dark Side of International Adoption.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Monster that Waits in My Bathroom Every Morning

The alarm wakes me up.  I huddle in my friendly cocoon of fake air-conditioned air, not wanting to leave.  I breathe well.

I take one last breath, wince, and push open the bathroom door.  There it is, as it is every morning these days.  The Heat.  Waiting for me.

I always hope it may have gone away during the night, but in February and never does.  The sun isn't up yet, so it starts its attack rather gently.  It just lies there, breathing, in my bathroom, waiting to envelop me as soon as I enter.

I look longingly at the bathtub.  Really, I just want to fill it up with cold water and sit in it all day.  But I shower at night, since there's no way I could sleep with The Heat still attached to me.  And in the morning, it doesn't take long for its sticky fingers to wind their way around my arms, my legs, my neck.  After five minutes in the bathroom, I can feel the first drops of sweat for the day.

I don't bother with much would run off in half an hour.  Unfortunately, it's not culturally appropriate to wear shorts.  But every day, I choose my clothes based on what looks coolest.  I could care less about how I actually look.  After all, in a few hours, The Heat will have stolen all my dignity.

My next stop for the morning is the kids' bedroom, to wake them up for school.  It's more like a wind tunnel than a bedroom.  Not only is the ceiling fan on at full-blast, but each child has a fan attached to the end of their bed.  A foghorn could go off in there, and you wouldn't be able to hear it over the noise of the fans.  Still, my children sleep mostly naked with no covers.

I enter the rest of the house, and this is where The Heat really begins its attack.  The tiled floors are warm under my bare feet, not having cooled off during the night.  I breathe as one would with a wet blanket on her head.  I turn on ceiling fans as I walk to the kitchen, pushing, shoving The Heat aside.  But it never really leaves, it just sort of swirls around.

Some mornings, dark clouds gather overhead.  We all stare at the sky, hopeful.  But the clouds mock us.  They push The Heat further down to earth, but give us no rain.  The air is full of so much moisture that it feels like something's got to burst.  Maybe tomorrow, we think.  Maybe the rain will come tomorrow.

If I happen to walk to the nearby market for some eggs, that's when The Heat brings out all its guns.  It attacks me with full force, filling my pores and my bones and my hair follicles.  My skirt sticks to my legs.  My legs stick together.  My arms stick to anything they touch.  I have to be careful I don't accidentally shoplift.

It's difficult to be affectionate with The Heat making its attack.  Don't touch me; you're sticky!  You're smelly!  You're sweaty!  Most of the time, The Heat wins.  It's a good thing we don't have leather couches.  We would sit down and never be able to get up again.

By afternoon, The Heat is conquering me.  My dog lays on the tiled floor, unmoving except for the pink tongue sticking out of her mouth.  I am tempted to join her. I walk slower; I move slower.  I gulp down liters of water.

If I dare turn on my oven, The Heat cackles with glee.  Now I've got you completely in my clutches, I can hear it saying.  The temperature in the kitchen rises by at least 10 degrees.  If I open my deep freezer, it takes every ounce of will power to not jump in head first.  By the time I'm done cooking, I look like I have run a marathon.  But I've only got chicken to show for it.

If the power goes off, we hold up the white flag in surrender.  The Heat has won.  There's nothing left to do but cry.

The sky is a brilliant blue, the Indian Ocean sparkles in the distance, the palm trees wave peacefully....and we don't care.  All we can think about is The Heat, surrounding us, inside of us, overtaking us.

Cold showers are the best thing in the world.  Here, take all my money.  Take my car.  Take my Firstborn.  But please, don't take away my shower.

And we wait for tomorrow, and hope for the rain to come.

Are you anxiously waiting for a change of seasons too, in your part of the world?

Monday, March 9, 2015

Excuses, Excuses

We were supposed to have a team meeting that day, but we couldn't start on time.

The vet was at our house, and he was using our coffee table to put a cast on the broken leg of our dog.

Alyssa said, "You better take a picture and put it on your blog."

Oh really?  You mean it's not normal for people to start meetings late because dogs' legs are getting casted in their living rooms?


P.S.  Yes, we've been having "dog issues."  A few months ago, we had to put one dog down due to some sort of tumor growing on her head.  Then, that dog's brother ran away shortly after--probably from distress over losing his sister.

Two weeks ago, we brought home a new dog, a seven-month-old German Shepherd mix.  He annoys the heck out of Minnie, our Jack Russell.  About a week ago, as Gil was driving in, the new dog was nipping at Minnie's heels, pushing her under the car, and Gil promptly (accidentally, of course) ran over her leg.  Hence the need for a cast.

Today we found out that Minnie is also experiencing a "psuedo-pregnancy," which means she is lactating all over the place.  I didn't even know that was a thing.

We're not even dog people.  Somebody help us.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Whole Foods Movement and the Developing World: Follow-Up Thoughts

"Are your potatoes the frozen imported ones, or do you cut and fry your potatoes?"

The waiter looked offended.  "It is the imported frozen ones."

As the waiter walked away, Ifemelu said, "Those frozen things taste horrible."

"He can't believe you're actually asking for real potatoes," Obinze said dryly.  "Real potatoes are backward for him.  Remember this is our newly middle-class world.  We haven't completed the first cycle of prosperity, before going back to the beginning again, to drink milk from the cow's udder."  

This scene takes place in Nigeria.  I read it last week, in the excellent novel Americanah, while reading the comments on my last post about Whole Foods and the Developing World.

That post was one of my most read and shared ever, much to my surprise.  And a bit intimidating to me, since I really am not an expert on this subject....I just have questions.  I was glad to see that other people do too.

After thinking this through some more this week, I came to a few conclusions:

1.  Pesticides, food processing, GMO's, pasteurization, growth hormones, etc. just may be a necessary (hopefully temporary?) evil--to greater or lesser degrees.  Like my love affair with Permethrin.  Sometimes I feel like the whole foods movement wants us to believe that people had it right hundreds of years ago, and we've just screwed it up with our food processing and chemicals.  In reality, people in developed countries have far greater life spans than in developing countries.  (In Tanzania, it's 60; in the United States, it's 78).  I realize that sometimes we are exchanging some bad things for other bad things.  What's the greater good?  What's the lesser evil?  I don't know.  I'm glad there are experts grappling with these questions.  We live in a fallen world where there will never be perfect solutions, but God has also granted us tremendous creativity.  Examples at the end.  

2.  I'm going to do my best to feed my family healthy food, but trust God with the rest.  In Tanzania, and in the ministry God has called us to, we can't eat organic food and clean meat.  The only way that would happen is if we grew everything ourselves, and I'm not willing take away our business from all the farmers and shopkeepers we support, when there's 40% unemployment here.  (Even when our gardener does grow food, it's for the purpose of supporting himself.)  There's also plenty of times when we need to be willing to eat what they eat--which means meals that are mostly starch.  But I must balance being as healthy as I can, with the life God has called me to.  I think that philosophy can apply to every Christian, everywhere.

3.  Just like so many issues in the Christian life, this is going to look different for everyone--and that is okay.  I have a few friends whose health improved dramatically when switching to whole/clean foods.  I completely understand why it's worth the added expense to them.  The same questions apply to everyone:  Am I being a wise steward of the resources God is giving me?  Am I really thinking through the issues or just following a fad?  Are my choices affecting the ministry to which God has called me?  There are different kinds of right answers.  Am I making an idol out of being healthy....or an idol out of junk food....or simply being judgmental on those who come to a different conclusion?

4.  Remember Africa.  Remember the developing world.  Whatever issue you are passionate about, don't come to conclusions until you've thought about the implications for everyone--not just Americans.

Finally....know that there are many people out there who are breaking new ground in this area....and it's really exciting!  I've previously mentioned our good friends, the Tanners, who are starting an exciting new sustainable agriculture project in south Tanzania, where they will not only be farming but also training Tanzanians to do it themselves.  Just this week, my other friend Victor told me about a new integrated farm he is starting in Tanzania, where he will be raising fish, chicken, and crops which will co-exist in a symbiotic relationship, each providing what the other part needs.  This kind of creativity excites me!

Thanks again for all of you who weighed in.  I loved reading your comments.  Keep up the great thinking!

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Whole Foods Movement and the Developing World

All it took was a trip to the farm to put me off of raw milk forever.

I was a chaperone for Lily's kindergarten field trip.  We were visiting the farm of a good friend, who I know personally.  One of his farm hands was showing the kids how to milk a cow.

He washed his hands meticulously.  He washed the cow's udders meticulously.  The kids all gathered around and watched in awe as the milk streamed into the bucket.

All was well and good and happy until the cow began to pee.  This wasn't a little pleasant was a waterfall of pee.

The children shrieked.  I shrieked.  The farm hand, experienced in these things, instantaneously yanked the bucket of milk away.  Even still, when they poured the milk into a pot and boiled it, I found myself thanking God for Louis Pasteur.

Like many American moms, up until this point, I was enamored by the idea of raw milk.  I had read numerous articles expounding it's merits.  Great for your teeth!  Great for your digestive system!  Practically a miracle food!

I knew, that if I wanted to, I could find raw milk in Tanzania.  People own cows everywhere.  But I was reluctant, not knowing how sanitary it would be.  My trip to the farm proved to me that even in cases where meticulous precautions were taken, it would be practically impossible to keep the milk totally clean.  Since I don't know of any small-time farmer who uses a milking machine, there is now no way I will drink raw milk in Tanzania.  I don't care how nutritious it is.

I love cooking.  I love learning.  I have jumped on the bandwagon with millions of American moms who are changing the way that we look at nutrition.   I purchased, and often consult, Nourishing Traditions.  When we were in the States, I shopped at Trader Joe's and looked for organic products.  I make kefir everyday.  I ferment my own pickles.

And yet, I find myself unable to resolve the dichotomy between the two lives I live.

I remember when our gardener first told me that he wanted to grow tomatoes.  I gave him my full blessing.  He put in about 25 plants, and after a few weeks, pulled off buckets of gleaming fruit.  I was excited!  That is, until I cut into one.  Full of worms.  Next one?  Full of worms.

Every single tomato was full of worms.  The entire crop had to be thrown out.  He tried again.  This time, he came back with a sprayer full of pesticide.  The tomatoes turned out beautiful.

Up until that point, I had naively thought that food in Tanzania was grown organically.  I knew that most fruit and vegetables sold on the side of the road came from small, home-grown farms, so I figured that it was all natural.  After all, it has got to be only the Developed World that is ruining everything with their chemicals, right?

Now, I have a pretty good way to figure out if something in Tanzania is organic.  If its got bugs in it, it's probably organic.  If it doesn't, pesticides were probably involved.  When I bring home dried beans or rice, I automatically put them in the freezer for 24 hours.  If I don't, within a week, things will be hatching.  If there's a worm in my broccoli, there's a good chance it's organic.

So that's my choice:  Pesticides?  Or bugs?

This is my struggle.

Since I belong to the Developed World, I like the idea of organic food, raw milk, and clean meat.  I can see why GMO food is not great for our society.  I get why small, local farms are healthier.

But I live in the Developing World.  Over here, pesticides keep people from starving.  Pasteurization saves lives.  And honestly, I wouldn't be too sad if Tanzania had more mega-farms that could feed more people more cheaply.

Sometimes, I wonder if Americans forget that we used to be a Developing Country.  I wonder how many Americans realize that DDT is what eliminated malaria from the United States.  Yet then the Developed World banned its use, and now millions of Africans still die from malaria every year.  I think of the story in On the Banks of Plum Creek, when swarms of grasshoppers regularly decimated thousands of acres of American crops.  Yet that doesn't happen any more.  Why?  Pesticides.

I can't seem to resolve this tension.  I want to be into organic food, but I wonder if it's realistic.  Can we really feed the world on organic food?  On grass-fed, free-range meat?  I read once that part of the reason organic food is so expensive is because so much of it has to be thrown away.  Should we be okay with that?

I am not asking these questions rhetorically.  I really want to know.  I have friends who know a whole lot more about this stuff than me.  I would love a sane, rational discussion, and I would invite you to weigh in.

Let's assume, in this discussion, that organic, grass-fed, free-range, antibiotic-free, non-pasteurized, non-homogenized, non-GMO food really is healthier.  My question is:  Is it realistic?
In this fallen world where perfect health is an illusion, can we feed 7 billion people this way?  Or do we just have to admit that healthy food is only for the wealthy, elite, upper class of the world, and everybody else has to deal with GMO's?

I want there to be a solution.  I want to be able to say that I am pro-organic, and not just for my own (wealthy) family, but for every family.

So tell me.  What do you think?

March 8:  Thanks for all the great responses!  Read my follow-up post here.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Nothing's Inconceivable for HOPAC!

Sometimes we get to do the coolest things.

Yesterday morning, HOPAC hosted the one and only Jane Goodall, which was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  At 80 years old, she is utterly fascinating, and still full of so much passion and vigor.

In the afternoon, we watched HOPAC's very own production of "The Princess Bride."  It was just so much fun, and my kids now have a new obsession.

This is true love.  You think this happens every day?

Anybody got a peanut?

killing each other sportsmanlike

twue wuv

We sure had fun stormin' the castle!

(Photo credits:  Rebecca Laarmen)