Saturday, August 31, 2013

The last 2 weeks...

It's a lovely Saturday morning. I just made cappuchino muffins from scratch. I'm sitting down for a cup of instant coffee (meh) and thought I'd update you all on life the last few weeks.

* Geneva started standing on her own - about 5-10 seconds at a time. She's starting to seem more like a toddler and less like a baby. She'll be 10 months on 9/4!

*  Marc and I were able to take 3 - 3 hour long Swahili lessons. We learned so much in a short time, and now have some great resources to do some study on our own. We both have a desire to learn the language to help us as we attempt to engage our neighbors, people at the market and the duka's (shops), and our community in general.

* Marc and Isaac started school this past week! On our way to school Wednesday, Marc mentioned feeling a kidney stone coming on. So, his first 3 days of teaching were spent on pain meds and not feeling 100% at all. We're not sure it's passed yet, but he's doing better.

* Isaac is loving Kindergarten so far! He is 1 of 3 Americans in his class- how cool is that? Marc was able to look up where all his classmates are from - Canada, Tanzania, UK, Zimbabwe, India, Korea, South Africa, Denmark, and Austria. He loves the playground at HOPAC and so far that's his favorite part of school. :)

* Our new daily routine is Marc and I getting up between 5:45am - 6am. We get the kids up at 6am to dress, eat and pack the backpack. They certainly take after me in the morning...SLOW. We're out the door about 6:50am to get to school. Marc heads up to his classroom and I've been waiting with the girls for Isaac to go to class at 7:20am. I'm still learning what to fill my days with and where to volunteer, but I come back to school by 2:15pm to pick them up. We're trying to eat dinner around 5pm, have some family time, baths, Bible story & prayer time and bed around 7:30pm for Isaac and Hope. Geneva is usually in bed at 6:30pm.

* We went to a church, God's Tribe, this past Sunday. It was our 6th Sunday here, and the 3rd church we've visited. We felt home. We both had tears in our eyes at various points of the service as we listened to a Biblical, gospel centered sermon and really caught the vision of the church. It's a church plant, and actually launching on September 8th, so we're really 'getting in' at the beginning of things. Take a moment & check it out! Here is the link:

* We've had power outages, which is expected. They haven't been bad - a few hours at a time. I'm thankful for a gas stove, so I can still cook when the power goes out. New friends of ours had power out for almost 4 days and actually came to stay with us. The kids LOVED having 3 other kids staying with us - they were a bit disappointed when the family left!

* We hosted dinner for 21 people last night at our house - 4 other new teachers from HOPAC, their spouses and children. We had a great night of fellowship and have really enjoyed how quickly community and friendships are forming here.

* I (Gretchen) am co-coaching the primary school swim team. It will be 2nd - 5th grade and we will practice on Monday & Friday afternoons from 2:30pm - 4:00pm. We have 2-3 galas each term. While I prefer working/ministering with middle/high school students, at least I'll be a step or two ahead of the primary students when it comes to swimming! I fear the older kids would know more than me! :)

* Overall, we are truly adjusting really well. We are joyful, sleeping well (finally), remaining flexible, and learning the ropes of life here. The peace we had leading up to the move has continued. I've maybe mentioned it before, but we are truly thankful that Marc was able to come here in April for a week and get his bearings. Now that we're here, we see the many ways in which that was hugely beneficial to our whole family feeling settled. Thank you, Plymouth Heights GET team for your support of that trip!

Thank you all for your support, your prayers, your emails/comments and love! We miss you all & the calendar is WIDE OPEN for visitors. We've got a guest room...just sayin'.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Young Life orientation

This past week, we were blessed to be a part of a few days of a free orientation with the Young Life staff here in Dar. We are partner missionaries with Christian Reformed World Missions.  We have a wonderful Regional director who is stationed in Kenya who we may see 1-2 times a year, but there are no CRWM people in Tanzania to welcome us, train us, etc, like there are with many other organizations that HOPAC teachers come through. It was so nice to be invited to join one other new family who will also be working at HOPAC, the school chaplain and his family and YL staff who are ministering at HOPAC.
Young Life has a strong presence in Africa. We have learned bits and pieces about  the ministry happening here through YL, and both of us are anxious to see if being involved in YL is part of the Lord's plan for us while we are here. There are so many opportunities for ministry, outside of teaching at HOPAC, and we are prayerfully seeking where we should serve, trying not to jump into anything to quickly, but waiting on the Lord's leading.  Please join us in praying for wisdom in that regard.

Throughout our three days together, we got to know one another and heard how God brought us all to HOPAC, learned some about the culture in Tanzania, studied a bit of Swahili (and had to practice it with local Tanzanians- yikes!), ate fantastic meals, toured around Dar to learn where some important places are and enjoyed fellowship together. To have such a strong sense of community already three weeks into our time here is an incredible blessing.
Yesterday, we were able to all take a boat to the island of Mbudya and spend some time relaxing, flying kites, snorkeling and resting. It was a bit overcast and started to sprinkle a few times, but it was a great day together experiencing the local culture, beauty and food. When you get on the island, you can order a limited variety of food, but most people go with fish & chips (french fries). You place your order, the men go out into the ocean and catch your fish, come back to cook it and voila, lunch is served! And for those of you wondering, I just got chips, no fish. :)

One of the young girls in our group had an unfortunate encounter with a sea urchin. We learned that squeezing lime juice on the sting sites will help the spines dissinigrate, and soaking in warm water helps ease the pain. Rubbing Papaya on the site is also supposed to be helpful! Marc and Isaac both had run ins with little bitty jelly fish - they both got a sting on the  knee that bled a bit, but neither of them noticed the sting until they saw them bleeding.

Overall, we had a great day and were able to take a few pictures of the island. Before we left, Marc and I were graciously given a very nice camera - a DSLR - which we had been wanting for our travels, but was certainly not in the budget. Yesterday we took this new-to-us camera to experiment a bit. Enjoy a few pictures of the island!

Mbudya Island

Thanks for the kite, Grandpa!!

She looks happy here, but she did NOT want to get in the ocean!

Finally cashed out after a long walk on the beach!

He also found a dead octopus!

I met a local man, Samuel, on the beach who tried to sell these to me.
 I didn't buy them, but I did practice a little Swahili! :)

Can you see the hermit crab back there? He was HUGE!
Compare it's size to the bottle next to it & you'll see what I mean.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Wait...We Live in AFRICA?!?!

It’s still sinking in that we do, indeed live on the continent of AFRICA, in the country of TANZANIA, just outside the city of DAR ES SALAAM.  To be honest, it really doesn’t feel like I would have imagined living in Africa would feel like.  I believe there are a few reasons for this odd disconnect between perception and reality.

The Internet.  We’ve had pretty regular connection with folks back home thanks to the worldwide web.  I’ve iMessaged and Tweeted at my brother-in-law just about as much as I did back in the States.  It leaves me to wonder how folks did this sort of thing back 10, 20, or 50 years ago.  Having no, very little, or “snail-mail” contact with friends and family would have made this transition much, much more difficult.

The Community.  Depending on which reputable journal you Google, Dar es Salaam is regularly on the Top 10 Lists of “Fastest Growing Global Cities.” We live in the suburbs and while there are obvious, real differences to our suburban life in the States, it’s not desolate, it’s not remote, creature comforts can be found and had.  As well, the city is really a global city.  There are places I’ve gone and been the only Caucasian; there are other places where you can hear most of the world’s largest languages in one sitting; still other places look, feel, and sound just like back home.  We’ve gotten to know several other Americans that are at or around HOPAC.  The real danger is, in our opinion, living in Africa without actually living in Africa.  We could live here and never really experience or be apart of the real life that happens around us.  It is very possible and very easy to miss a huge cultural experience.  But being and feeling like you're part of a larger group of expatriates and not the only one brings a certain comfort.  And it also makes me wonder how all these other people ended up here! 

The Distance.  It is just absolutely impossible to wrap your mind around just how far away we are from where we used to be.  Look at a world map. Find Dar es Salaam.  Yeah, that’s a looooong ways from home!  But that spatial distance is just impossible to compute mentally.  And couple this with a reasonably developed city and the Internet, and at times, it feels like another state, not another continent.

The Trip.  My trip here over Spring Break, I believe, paid HUGE dividends as far as getting adjusted and feeling comfortable quickly.  I already had most of the quirks of the house down pat (a MAJOR THANK-YOU to Gil and Amy!), several significant landmarks (grocery stores, gas station, etc.), and just on-the-ground knowledge of the area.  It made everything just so much less stressful.  It greatly lessened fears, stresses, and that initial culture shock.  

The Peace.  Things in Africa certainly are different!  There is adjustment, there is uncomfortableness, there is still anxiety.  But there is also peace, a comfort, a relaxation in knowing we’re doing God’s will.  We’re just where we’re supposed to be. And it is a mind-boggling distance from where we were. So far away, yet so close.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Karia Koo

Yesterday I spent the day in the Dar es Salaam city center, the “downtown,” near an area known Karia Koo.  This part of the city is set up like a giant shopping mall where, instead of stores of individual genres of goods, there are streets and blocks with all sorts of little shops all selling the same exact stuff.  For example, there are a couple of parallel streets that are half a dozen blocks long that all sell housewares. The next few streets over all sell clothing, material, and the like.  In the States, we go to specific stores for specific goods; we go to Lowes for DIY supplies, The Gap for clothing, and so on. Or we might go to a mall that has one of each kind of shop in one easy location. Or, if you live in Michigan, you just go to Meijer. In Karia Koo, you go to a specific block of stores, all selling the exact same goods.

Yesterday I made my way to Lumumba Street where most of the stores sold any variety of automotive parts, accessories, and services.  It was packed with every inch of space monopolized. Cars on top of cars. Cars where there shouldn’t be cars. Cars pulling out in front of cars.  Cars honking in anger, cars honking in permission. I was there to get my car detailed and some safety features added.

The first place I pulled into was a no-go.  I drove down the street anxiously searching for an open spot in front of an auto store.  There was one, sort of, next to a small store properly named “Auto Palace.” Well, it wasn’t very palatial, but the store manager, Hussein, spoke passable English. He sold high-end rims...and very little else.  I immediately regretted my decision and thought I’d have to move on to the next.

I told him that I wanted tinting and etching and asked if he (or his shop) provide these services.  “Of course! Of course!” Shame on me for doubting. He gave me my tinting options; I chose the cheapest one: dark black.  We haggled a bit on the price and the installation fee by the time we were done, we agreed on the price: about $30 USD for two rolls of tinting and labor or about 1/10 of the price in the States for a small car tint job.  I asked again about etchings.  He didn’t do that so he called someone he knew.  I asked about rivets. Rivets are used to bolt things to your vehicle so they can’t be...removed. That piece of foam around the windows? Riveted. Rear brake light spoiler? Riveted. Trim around the base of the van? Riveted.  It was “riveting” to watch...hey-oh, bad joke!  Then I asked about alarms. He had a “very nice option” from China.  I asked (thanks to Gil) for the South African one.  That one came from the back room, a plastic sleeve containing individual pockets of parts. “This, this I give you good price on.” He ran through the abilities of the alarm: touch the van, alarm goes off; don’t hit the secret button hidden in a location of my choosing, van shuts off completely.  Yep, that’s the one I wanted.  Could he install it? Yeah, he had a guy who could do that.

I surrendered my keys to four guys who came from out of nowhere and descended upon my vehicle.  The etching guy worked his magic etching the vehicle identification number on all the windows, the side mirrors, the tail lights, and the head lights.  The rivet guy started hand drilling holes all around the vehicle and installing metal clips on the side mirrors to prevent them from being popped off. The tint guy made himself at home in my van, crawling all over the seats installing the tinting.  The alarm guy started tearing apart the console around the steering wheel. Me? I just stood there, watching it all happen, nervously pacing back and forth in the street feeling entirely out of place. In the three and half hours I was down there, I stood outside the whole time and saw one other Caucasian and didn’t here fluent English for the entire time.  Fair to say I was out of my comfort zone. I probably patted my front and back pockets 100 times to make sure I had all my valuables.  This was unreasonable to do it so frequently as I never had a reason to be fearful of being mugged.  I didn’t even get a sideways glance from anyone.  I suppose it was the nerves of the situation.

The tint guy finished first, followed a while later by the etching and riveting guys.  The alarm took quite a while to put it. After it was in, I got a quick overview on the alarm function including several repeated instructions on the beeps and being sure I understood to push the secret button (otherwise, the van shuts off completely.  This is to prevent our van from being hijacked).  I got into my van, which was very dark, and felt a bit claustrophobic.  The locks now automatically lock when the van starts.  And I got it all for a very small fraction of what it would have cost my in the States.  

The one caveat? In the States, this all would have been a luxury (tinting) or an exercise in paranoia (etchings, rivets).  Here? It is a slight bit of overkill.  But only a small bit.  Not theft-proof, but certainly much more theft-deterrent. I did this as a significant safety precaution.  In the States, your biggest threat is being in a vehicle and crashing; here, vehicles present a whole different set of dangers. The fastest you drive is maybe 45 mph. Maybe.  There are enough speed bumps and potholes to prevent high speeds, let alone continual traffic congestion.  Here the biggest fear is being stopped at red light and someone reaching into your vehicle and grabbing anything they can get.  Here these things are just another layer of protection, of safety.  It certainly wasn’t done for aesthetic purposes. While the tinting might look “cool,” 50+ rivets doesn’t really add to the visual appeal of a minivan. :)