Sunday, February 28, 2010

Community Building On Safari

Day 20: It's mid-term break and Marie and I are taking a break from Dar heat to go on safari [journey in Kiswahili] in Mikumi National Park. We took a local dalla-dalla bus to Ubongo, Dar's central bus terminal. We were promptly verbally and physically harrassed by pushy men-one wouldn't stop grabbing my arm so I turned, looked him in the eys, and slapped him hard. No reaction. This annoyance of a human being continued harrasing me till I entered my bus terminal. Side note: on our trip bac to Dar one of these men pickpocketed by wallet and Marie's borrowed camera. Zilch community building.


Upon arrival at our motel, I found the Tanzanian staff accomodating. How easy it is to be a part of a friendly community! After a tour of their snake park-cobras, green and black mombas, boom slangs, and more- with their fearless guide we ate a leisurely four course dinner (I had grilled goat) with excellent service. The manager was especially pleasant. But...what merit is there in being a part of an already well built community?

Day 21: Left our hotel at 6:30am for a game viewing safari. Little social interaction beyond Marie and I peacefully enjoying each other's company while gazing at herds of elephants, wildebeest, giraffes, and gazelle. Oh, I should probably mention the many jackals, hippos, baboons, antelope, and zebra we met along the way! Let's say today I watched animal communities at work and observed how quiet a content herd is. Better peaceful quiet then noisy discord.

Prov. 21:23 "The one who guards his mouth and tongue keeps himself out of trouble."
Prov. 19:13 "A wife's nagging is an endless dripping."
Prov. 21:9-10 "Better to live on the corner of the rood than to share a house with a nagging wife."

Day 22: I'm pooped. Considering I spent my day hiking up mountains in the Udzungwa range to a spectacular waterfall, it's understandable. The climb through the rainforest was strenous as the first two hours were steep, to distract Marie and I from our aching legs our guide pointed out red colubus monkeys, blue monkeys, elephant shrews, and other rainforest wildlife. Particularly distracting were his stories about the problems the villagers face with pythons. At one point I shrieked and yelled, "snake!" as I gestured towards a puff adder curled up under a baobab.

"What?" my guide inquired, looked at the spot.

"That!" I squealed again. After five minutes of me pointing he finally spotted the snake. Looking at it with interest, he proceeded to tell us the effects of its venom when a human is bitten.

"You must cut off your hand. Venom spreads up your arm and decays your flesh." When he whistled experimentally at the puff adder I bolted up the trail.

"Where are you going?" he called, "Why are you afraid?"

But wait, our Tanzanian guide continues in my story. Once we arriced at the falls a spiritual conversation ensued. Our Tanzanian rafiki [friend] was curious about more than snakes, he was curious about our faith; so we happily shared the gospel message to him, explaining what it means to be truly, "born again." He thoughtfully asked us to pray for him.

Today my community building was entirely with our inquisitive, but slightly foolish guide.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Righted Failure

Day 19: A sticky, sweaty day. This afternoon after work I laid down to nap when my neighbor came by to borrow an egg. I chatted with her for twenty minutes as she seemed in a chatty mood, but the selfish part of me wanted to get back to my nap. After she left I felt guilty for encouraging her to leave when she obviously wanted another human being to talk to. It can be lonely on the mission field, so why wasn't I willing to give her more of my time?

Later. Redemption in another opportunity to let her talk when I was more awake after a swim in the Indian Ocean. Goal: to be a more willing listening ear.

Warm Memories

Day 18: Often people say, “don’t live in the past, seize the day.” While I’m all for carpe diem, memories are equally important to me as they kindle the spark I need to frequently need to keep my flame burning, particularly when it comes to community building. Memories I have of friends building those walls of community with me through warm gestures motivate me to pass on the torch.

Today I passed that torch by score keeping in the teachers versus all star students basketball game. Time: lunch break. Place: Haven of Peace Academy basketball court. Who: All of the secondary school. While it was intense and competitive, the competition was healthy and at the end the students good-naturedly admitted defeat-especially to their superstar Principal, Mr. Martin. All in all, it was a unifying match that will stick in students’ memories.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Community Needed: Middle School Girls.

Day 17: Led assembly this morning for 6-8 Grade girls at school. My topic was “challenging wrong culture” and I discussed women in Bangladesh stepping outside acceptable Muslim conventions to take a job with the NGO Symbiosis, which includes all kinds of cultural “no, no’s,” including riding bikes. Also I talked about the Biblical model of a woman stepping out to protect her people in Queen Esther. Next I filtered it down to their level, asking them to think about ungodly culture around them. Should they be challenging gossiping or cliques at school? We watched a clip from Mean Girls and did some role playing of scenarios facing teen girls, then had a productive discussion. From the expression on some of their faces I could tell the idea of challenging wrong culture gave them something to think about and, Lord willing, to act on.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Building Goes On

Day 15: Invited our next door neighbor girl, who also happens to be in one of my Literature classes, to join my housemate and I on our mid-term break safari this week. Still awaiting a yes or no. Am praying for a "yes" since the girl could use some quality woman-to-woman time away from Dar.

Day 16: Attended church and worshiped God with other believers. Praying together, singing praises together, searching the Word together. That was a living, thriving community experience.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Cookie Baking Tanzanian Style

Day 14: Today was distribution of cookie day. Last night I made a Tanzanian version of sugar cookies for folks at school who've been hospitable to me in the past few months. It was fun being the cookie lady bringing goodies to my many kind-hearted co-workers.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

All Highs

Day 12: “For as the body is one and has many parts, and all the parts of that body, though many are one body-so also is Christ…so the body is not one part, but many.” 1 Cor. 12:12, 14

It’s nice to have those reminders that I am a part of a community of believers forming the body of Christ. Today I was reminded anew that I am not isolated, but one of many, when I had dessert with my neighbors, a fellow teacher, plus her veteran missionary father visiting from Kenya. The laid back atmosphere was mellow, almost family-like in its comfortableness. The dessert was delicious. After Mrs. Taylor let me lick the serving spoon in the chocolate pudding I was happy I’d ventured out of my quiet home to share some of my evening with believers.

Afterwards I arrived at this community building moral: Community is built through sharing life together, not apart. This means less evenings alone in my bedroom.

Day 13: Mission of the day, striking up genuine conversations with national staff and teachers. Just on my walk to and from the staff room for a cup of strong joe I managed 4 conversations. While this cut into my plan time, it was worth it. One was serious a conversation about the sketchy situational ethics of my Homeroom students, another about a bad/emotional day the teacher I was talking to was having, and the last two mainly joking around with national staff. As I was scooping powdered milk into my coffee Victor encouraged me to stir in more. More milk, more fish, he said. I was then informed that African men like their fishes [women] big. Apparently I am too small for this country. In America, I returned, men like their women small. Laughter followed.

4 Conversations, four comradeship experiences.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ups and Downs

Day 9: “But I will sing of your strength and joyfully proclaim your faithful love in the morning.” Ps. 59:16

Valentines Day. The day of love. Today community seemed to be flourishing wherever I looked. It began with a delicious Greek breakfast of dates, sausage, homemade bread and cake, cheese, and rich Kenyan coffee at a neighbor’s home. The food was not only delicious, but the company, too. The rest of the day passed with good tempered people at Church, friends giving a group of us teachers a lift to the grocery store in town, an invitation to the beach with other friends in the late afternoon, then a rotic dinner (a romantic dinner without the “man”) cooked by my housemate, Marie. Even at my local gas station the attendants were giving out roses to people who filled up their gas tanks.

Yet, shouldn’t this type of day be the rule, not the exception? We should be loving each other through sharing our lives with each other every day. So many days are spent in isolation, where we work side-by-side in our separate spheres. Very little of our social contact is meaningful; taking Valentine’s Day to remind us of each others’ existence.

Day 10:

“If I had been aware of malice in my heart, the Lord would not have listened, however, God has listened.” Ps. 66:18

Today I felt like a community breaker. As this is the antithesis of my goal to build community wherever I am, it was disheartening until I read the above Bible verse.

This is one thing that happened: A gang of teen boys harassed me when I was walking through the market after work. Even though they were verbally yelling at me, calling me a mzungo [foreigner], grabbing my arm and yanking my backpack, no one stopped to help me. I didn’t get so much as a sympathy glance. I did not feel a part of a supportive community.

Second incident: I walked a student down to the Principal’s office for disrespectful behavior towards me and at first felt hard and unforgiving. I felt like I was tearing down the walls of love between this 15 year-old girl and I until I realized I was disciplining her out of love. My prayer is that God will listen and soften her heart, changing her behavior. If my heart is filled with concern rather than malice, God will listen.

Day 11: My prayer was answered! Today my student came to me a sincere verbal apology and this note in part saying, “I am so sorry that you felt disrespected by me.” Having resolved the issue we parted on a friendly note.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Can He Do It? Yes, He Can!

Day 8:
“Can you fasten the chains of the Pleiades or loosen the belt of Orion? Can you bring out the constellation in their season and lead the Bear and her Cubs?” (Job 28:11-12)

God can do all this; in fact He has done more for me, He’s built me a community right here in Dar es Salaam.

Rather than building community today, my experience was unexpectedly, yet pleasantly, the opposite. I was a part of a community. Sick with the flu I, ached all over in the heat of the East African summer. My housemate, Crystal, gave me a big hug and ordered me to relax in her room with Numbers Season One episodes. Soon Crystal with her cold, Marie with her migraine, and I were all curled up, commiserating with each other and enjoying an escape from the heat. Beyond sickness we each had other personal issues we were struggling with, so our threesome commiserating with each other was just the community we needed.

Isn’t that the way community should be? Today we were a solid front sharing each others downs. Tomorrow, Lord willing, we can share each others’ ups.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Community Building Continues

Day 6:
Today was my turn to lead our weekly staff prayer meeting, so I gave a short devotional on God’s eternal encouragement to us and our encouragement to each other. As a part of it we wrote little notes of encouragement to hearten other staff members and teachers, and then finished with a time of lifting up our school in prayer. At the end I sensed our staff room was filled with a sense of caring for each other, precisely the atmosphere I would love to see extend to every room and every corner of the Haven of Peace Academy!

Day 7: Today was the last day of school before the upcoming day of love. That’s right, the famous-or possibly infamous-Valentines Day. Now I absolutely adore everything to do with Valentines Day, consequently my community building project was to give chocolates to several dear girl students struggling with personal issues; and of course, chocolates and fudge for two of my sweet fellow teachers. My Grade 12 Literature class loved on me with a surprise of scarlet roses. Pretty much love pervaded the halls of our school. That is until my homeroom students ruined it by accusing each other of sending themselves chocolates. Perfect love is still a work in progress for my students, but by God’s grace we will get there!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Days 3-5

Day 3:

My community building today was giving a thank you note and loaf of fresh sun dried tomato Italian bread to our neighbors. They’re an energetic couple on our compound proudly from Tucson, Arizona but serving with Young Life Africa. Last week they had my housemates and me over for ratatouille; it was our first sampling of the dish and our curiosity had been piqued after the famous Rat movie. Surprisingly it was yummy, minus the rodent after taste.

Day 4:

As Valentines Day, the day of love sharing is fast approaching I planned multiple valentine making parties. I gathered supplies for my homeroom, the small group Bible study I lead for teen girls, and our weekly teacher prayer meeting to design cards. Love notes will be flying around our campus this week!

Day 5: As we munched cookies and crafted valentines, I told my small group girls I love them. This launched a discussion on love in friendship.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Day 2 Community Challenge: Listening

Colossians 3:14
"Put on love, which binds..together in perfect unity."

Today my community building was listening. I listened to two friends, one venting about a terrible "Jonah" day where everything seemed to go wrong, another share about what's on her heart and what God has been teaching her.

Another seemingly small sacrifice for me to make, but to those two it meant someone cared enough to take time to listen to them.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


So, yesterday began a challenge the Lord has lain on my heart. The 60 day community building challenge. In my search for community I’ve decided to ignore the advice in John Mayer’s lyrics to be merely “waiting on the world to change,” but to actively foster change. Rather than to go in search of the ideal community I will grow the one I am already in right here in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Or at least my little bit o’ Dar here on the outskirts of the city center. If I want to live in a group of people dedicated to growing and nurturing each other then I need to take responsibility.

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves had been born of God and knows God...because God is love.” 1 John 4:7, 8

Day 1: Today I am sick with swine flu and I feel my contributions were minimal. Smiled at and chatted in limited Swahili with the mango lady at the bus corner as I bought mini mangos. Offered a mango to the snaggle-toothed 7 year old next door to me. Drank a mug of steamy hot chocolate-on an already steamy afternoon- with a student after school. Gave my housemate a big hug.

Little things, I know, but isn't it the many little interactions that make up a community?