Monday, October 01, 2012


Juliana Maximillian Lyimo 1946-2012
Rejoice in the things that are present; all else is beyond thee ~ Montaigne

Again, it's been a while since my last post. A long while...Not sure where the time goes, and then before too long, it's a real strain to convey an experience, observation, goal or idea. And that may not be such a bad thing. Eight months in Tanzania, and everything is still so inspiring and open to exploration, it still very much feels like each day is brand new. And decidedly, I'm making a fresh start in October.

I can't pinpoint exactly what has triggered the shift in my thinking. In part, it was the sudden loss of my landlady and Tanzanian Bibi, Mama Lyimo, a week ago. She was such a sweet woman, someone I was looking forward to introducing more of my friends to. It has been an incredibly cathartic week, the compound flooded with people until all hours coming for the layout and visitation in the main house, tents and chairs set up to accommodate the hundreds of family and friends filtering through, prayers, singing, wailing filling the air each night and the house dadas (domestic help) setting up camp outside my bedroom window, cooking over the fire and essentially feeding what seems like the entire town. The funeral was Thursday. It was long and all in Kiswahili, but the language barrier didn't dilute the impact it had for me. In a way, I was quite grateful to have been a part of it all. Death and watching the grieving process of the family helped to rearrange my priorities. Out of death comes life...

I'm missing milestones for friends and family back home, and being there for the people I love. In return though, I'm living this amazing existence and following my intention for the future. There is so much yet to happen in my life, there are so many things I will accomplish. I started this blog as a way to gain some perspective and more clearly carve out my path in life, and I thought the natural evolution of it at this point would lead to sharing my experiences with everyone back home, but there isn't so much of that drive, or the time, to put everything out there now. It also suddenly feels self-indulgent. To boot, Skype has changed my communications game, becoming my saving grace to stay connected, and really reinforcing some of my key relationships. I'm living in the moment and enjoying every step along the way, but at the same time, cultivating my experiences here and expounding on what may be next - in a much more private way.

It feels as though I'm teetering between two spheres, an obligation of sorts to the people I love and a life that is entirely my own. So, as I strike a balance and even out the hemispheres of my world, it seems like a good time to lay low and redirect my energies. Writing, at least the expectation to write, will take the back burner, even if the act itself will be in full swing. I love writing, and this definitely won't be the last post. Even though life is short, I think I can afford to slow down and be much more deliberate for the time being. xoxo

Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

jumapili kwa mama alice

Mama Alice at age 25

I spent Sunday cooking with my Swahili teacher, Mama Alice, who taught me how to make her version of makande. There is a hint of Indian flavor in hers, and I think that made it the best beans and maize stew that I've had here. We did some mean cooking and some serious eating. I've gotten to know Mama Alice pretty well over the past several months and now she's my Tanzanian Mama. She asked me to share her story, and I will, as I think it is important to know this woman and the uncertainty so many other Tanzanian and African mamas face in the absence of rights for women.

Lemongrass tea to start
Let's make makande: coriander, garlic, onion

Adding tomato and carrot before mixing in boiled beans and maize

Time for coconut milk and a bit of water

Doesn't look amazing, but it is! It's all about the coconut and coriander

Lunch with Dada Anastasia and Mama Alice!

Mama Alice has a sizable gash in her forehead. She and her husband Peter were burgled and attacked with a machete in their sleep five years ago. You hear about stories like that, but it actually happened to Mama. That incident left a physical and emotional mark on her, but her general, outward demeanor is light. She is a funny lady and we have some good laughs, but I've also seen her break down and even cry (and crying is not a part of the culture here). Her story is not uncommon, unfortunately, but it is her story and it is unique in that regard. 

When she and Peter married, her friends were jealous and her family marveled, how did she find such a good man that treated her so well? Women she knew ended up with abusive men, cold men, men who valued women less than their cattle. Most women were, and in many places still are, merely a piece of property, lumped together with livestock. But not Mama; Peter would barely let her lift a finger. And so they had a family and had a good life. Then Peter starting drinking. And he hasn't stopped drinking since. He is dying, slowly and painfully and drinking away his retirement, their income and their children's college funding. Mama Alice is a primary school teacher and makes just enough to keep the house in order. She teaches Swahili solely for the purpose of earning money to put her children through college and to compensate for Peter's choice of lifestyle, which mainly consists of buying friends with money and booze. As a western woman, I take for granted the freedom that I have to make choices - to be able to walk away from a marriage if I so choose, knowing that I could get a divorce and wouldn't be left without any options, or even custodial rights to children. Divorce is a patriarchal business here, and one that strictly favors men. At least living with an alcoholic puts a roof over her head and those of her children. But it leaves her in a terrible state, stressed and worried and sad. Her only option at this point is to wait for Peter to die, and even then, there is no guarantee that she is entitled to any inheritance if there are other men in the family. It's pretty appalling. There is some great information on the key issues surrounding the rights of women and children from the Tanzania Women Lawyers Association.

I've sometimes thought that Mama Alice plays the victim, because from my privileged perspective, it's all too easy to overlook her struggle, having never experienced the oppression that she has faced as a woman in Tanzania. So, I'm doing research for Mama Alice to see if there are alternative funding sources to help her reach the seemingly impossible goal of $5,000 to send her daughter Anastasia to medical school. All this research is starting to frustrate me as the layer upon layer of barriers to education here become exposed. It's another aspect of our lives that we take for granted and it's troubling to think of all the potential inherent in young Tanzanians that may never be realized. And what is truly disturbing is that Mama Alice and her family are middle class by standards here, whereas the majority of people are living in abject poverty...

If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin. ~ Charles Darwin

Monday, May 14, 2012

the simple life

Undine, behind you!


Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. ~Leonardo DaVinci

I cannot believe it's been almost seven weeks since my last post. What's even harder to believe is that I have been here for over 13 weeks now. Time is moving quickly and I stay busy. So busy in fact, that I rarely get my thoughts written down, let alone posted on this blog. Facebook sits silent and when I do get time for Skype, messaging and emailing people, they say that I'm not missing anything, nothing is new back home, same old same old, but I don't believe it. Of course things are happening, I'm missing things, people, events like my sister graduating high school, and I can't help but wish I could just pop back and forth from the States to Tanzania!

But I have managed to fall in to my groove here, letting the photo taking and blog entries take a back seat to living life. I spend a lot of time in the kitchen after eventful market outings, I'm still sticking with the Swahili lessons, meeting people and exploring new places, reading a lot more (and getting excited by Kentucky and Cincinnati references in the Toni Morrison and Norman Mailer books), and I have even started painting again. I showed a piece last week at a sculpture garden in town, so the creative juices are definitely flowing. It's hard not to be inspired here.

Adding some local art...

and my own art...

and plugging my friend Jared's amazing art!

As far as culinary pursuits go, I happen to think it's pretty top notch. Some people complain about the food and missing this or that, but I am in heaven here with the produce. As it turns out, there are just other forms of fruits and veggies that I wish were more readily available here, but all in all, how can I complain with an abundance of food that I can only get fresh and local a few months out of the year back home? I've gotten a lot more back to the basics in the kitchen. I've come to prefer doing things from scratch and doing more baking and pickling. It's all about the process rather than the convenience here, whereas at home you just buy whatever you want or need. Here, no soymilk, no problem. I have soybeans, so there had to be a way to do it, thanks to Google. And it's my ultimate favorite principle of waste not, want not, so from the left over okara (soy bean pulp) there have been veggie burgers and falafel. Next up, making some vanilla extract and tackling my traditional Tanzanian coconut grater to make coconut milk.

Love, love, love!

Building up my pantry

Pretty proud of my soy milk!

And when I'm not in the kitchen, there are things like Sunday hikes with the monkeys and baobab trees to keep me occupied...but hopefully I won't be so long in posting again. I'm missing everyone back home and hope to stay connected! xoxo

 Spotted a mama monkey and her baby on Mother's Day :)

I always see so many rainbows here!

Monday, March 19, 2012

photos: amani shamba + lake chala

 When tillage begins, other arts follow. The farmers, therefore, are the founders of human civilization. ~Daniel Webster

Photos from a day at the Amani shamba (farm) with the kids for maize planting, (now all we need is for the rains to come!) followed by a Sunday excursion to Lake Chala on the Kenyan border for a nice hike, perfect swim, delicious grill out and beautiful day.

The soil at the Amani shamba ready for maize planting

But you gotta have the right outfit for shamba day!

My buddies!

The unfinished lodge overlooking Lake Chala

Monkeys springing from tree to tree

Monday, March 12, 2012

why i LOVE my job

A life without cause is a life without effect. ~Barbarella

My two week orientation at Amani Children's Home introduced me to the amazing staff who put so much of their time, energy and care in to the kids, gave me the rundown of the great programs Amani offers and allowed me some time to interact with the children before I get too anchored to my desk. I also got to work with the street educators in Arusha, getting a sense of where the Amani kids were before they came to the center.

I've read about the realities of life on the street as a child, but it wasn't until I was there, looking in to these kids' eyes that I understood more of what they endure. I watched this boy, maybe 15 but looks 11 due to malnourishment, inhale glue until he slumped on the ground. It dulled his hunger and helped him to escape and make it another night on the street. As we moved on down the road, and he came down a bit, he took my hand, glad for the attention, and proceeded to read off the signs and billboards we passed. I kept thinking, wow, this kid is smart. Not only can he read, but he is reading and pronouncing the signs in perfect English. How tragic that this bright boy is out here on his own, facing beatings, hunger, rape, and general cruelty. Leaving family and friends was difficult, but this is why I am here and committed to doing the best job that I possibly can. We ended the night leaving 5 boys at the bus stand with chai and a snack, and then it was up to them to keep safe for the night and find a decent spot to rest in the chilly Arusha air.

Two boys, the youngest of the group, were at the bus stand bright and early the next morning, waiting to go back to Amani with us. The staff on the bus yelled and harassed them, doubting they were with us or that they had the money to pay the fare. From there, the next stop was the top of the road to Amani, where one of the boy's eyes lit up as we approached the building. Then, to walk in and see smiles, hear laughter and know the severity of where these kids were before truly confirmed why I'm here and prompted me to say, that for once, I truly love my job!

Jump rope with back flips

And back bends

And then there is the fact that I also love where I'm living. It's taking me a while longer than I had hoped to get the interior set up, getting the fabric I purchased sewn in to bed covers (and a skirt!), my dining room table fixed and getting the hardware to hang the final pair of curtains, but bit by bit, it's coming together and feels like home. Here's a preview of the grounds and exterior:

The compound where I live...
So lush, and check out that huge fanning palm to the left of the gate!

My house!

My garden

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

tell it on the mountain

I believe in God, only I spell it Nature. ~Frank Lloyd Wright

That epic mountain, and the backdrop for my new home, Mt. Kilimanjaro never ceases to amaze me. I didn't see Kili my first few days here, mainly because of overcast weather, but partly because I wasn't sure which direction to look. People buzz around oblivious to it in the morning, and I stand at the roadside waiting to catch the dala dala (mini bus) to work and gaze in awe of Kili each morning. I'm set to read the Snows of Kilimanjaro next. It was really comforting to find a Hemingway collection in my Dad's things as I packed up to move here...

I feel at home. I moved in to my new place, so fortunate to have found a house that is so "me". Aside from the fact I snagged the perfect size home with a great location for a great price, there is an avocado and lime tree on the property. Bliss! (Photos to come in the next post once I get a chance to decorate.)

The weekend saw the official start of the rainy season with a long thunderstorm. Good thing I can view Kili now, as she'll surely disappear in the clouds for the next few months. The weekend also saw the Kilimanjaro International Marathon. Impressive, inspiring and exhausting just to watch, the pros, the Amani kids, the disabled and the tourists all took to the streets, which oddly enough, weren't closed to traffic or pedestrians. Talk about a free for all. I'm not a runner, but I'm definitely in for the 5k next year!

I'm feeling positive and light. I love my job and the kids there, love my new house and love getting to know the town and people in Moshi. I don't love the insects here, but I can appreciate how bizarre and beautiful some of them look. I just prefer to see them outside...

View while waiting for the dala dala

Walking in to work!

Kili Intl Marathon

Some cute observers watching the finish at the stadium