Thursday, June 29, 2006

Mailing address and new blog

Hi everybody. If you've gotten to here, you've obviously figured out that I have a new blog (and please feel free to pass on that information!) I was having major problems with the website - I couldn't upload anything. I kept writing updates, though, waiting for the problem to be resolved, but it hasn't been after a week and a half, so I gave up. I copied over the updates I've written in the last couple weeks and will not continue here.

As requested, here is my mailing address in Tanzania
(June 17 - August 4):
Sarah Halter
P.O. Box 254
Arusha, Tanzania

NOTE: mail takes about 10 days to reach Tanzania from the U.S. and requires $.84 postage.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Hurray for Sunday!

Today has been a fun day. I kept up my usual custom of taking Sunday as a day off. I went to the Lutheran church this morning with a few other girls and one of our Swahili teachers. It was interesting, but not exactly the kind of church I would prefer. Next time, I think I’d like to go to a Pentecostal church. They are more lively - lots of singing, dancing and intense worship, plus they are a bit more indigenous and are more African. Many of the big denomination churches are still a lot like their European or American counterparts. That’s not necessarily bad, but I really like to see churches that have emerged from the local context.

After lunch, several of us walked to a nearby town to the market. Sunday is market day there. It was really a lot of fun to be at the market along with everybody else. I bought a few nice cloths. They can be used as skirts or made into something else. The last one I didn’t think I was buying (they wanted a little more for it than I had), but all of a sudden I had already bought it. I also bought soap for washing clothes. I bought a little plastic bag full of blue powder soap and a bar of yellow soap too. The yellow soap is what I used in Kenya and it’s nice for rubbing directly onto spots. The yellow soap comes in a long bar (the equivalent of about 5 bars of soap) and they cut it into pieces as needed. I paid about 8 cents for each of them.

Last night I washed a few things and realized that I definitely don’t have my “washing hands” yet. I have a few raw spots on my knuckles as a result. After a while you get used to it though. I can also take my clothes to the laundry on campus, where they are washed and ironed for about 20 cents per item, so I think I’ll do that instead. It adds up after a while, but I’d rather contribute to someone else having a job and spend my time studying Swahili instead. Especially since I know I’ll get plenty of opportunity to wash my clothes by hand in Kenya.

On the way home from the market, I had an interesting conversation with another girl about the difference between different kinds of churches and the purpose of church. I was talking about the importance of coming together and worshiping together, learning from the Bible so that we are changed and become better people. It’s no good going to church if you don’t grow from being there. If you keep going week after week but just stay the same, what’s the point? I was describing my church in Detroit, where people come and they leave differently. We continue to grow and become the people we were created to be. When I got back to the center, afternoon chai was still out and I ended up having the same conversation again with a friend, although this time in Swahili. We talked about how God is strong and able to change us.

I ended up sitting and talking with him and some other friends who are here for the development course for an hour and half talking about development ALL IN SWAHILI!! At one point, I asked if I could say something in English instead and one of the guys told me no. I had to try in Swahili because he knew I could. Well, I was able to figure out how to say what I wanted in a different way and continue in Swahili. It was a really good conversation about what good development is and some of the roots of inequality, both in specific places (like Detroit) and globally (like between Europe/America and Africa). It felt so good to be able to express my beliefs about it and to learn from others. At one point, I was trying to explain how I have a hard time saying that someday I might come back to do development work here in East Africa because it implies that there are problems here that I can help with. Although I definitely don’t mean it this way, it can sound like saying that the people who are here already aren’t able to do it themselves and that there is work here for me to do. So I asked how it sounds to them when I say that I would want to come here to do development work. Knowing me, they know that I wouldn’t come thinking that I have all the answers, but instead would come wanting to learn together and walk together. For me, this is just a place that I love and a place where I can help. No matter where I go, I will do the same things. Whether I am in Detroit, Kenya or Tanzania, my desire is to give of myself so that others may live and to work for justice.

I talked to Dave for about an hour and half yesterday. It was really nice to be able to talk to him and to hear his voice. There’s probably not that much that we said that couldn’t be said in an email, but it was just nice to have a conversation back and forth rather than one way paragraphs back and forth. It seems a little funny that we’re both doing pretty well. I missed him a lot on the way here, but I’ve really been okay since then. Talking last night, though, we realized that this is what we (and lots of other people) have been praying for - for strength through the time that we are apart. I know it’s only been 10 days so far, but God has been very faithful through those 10 days! Keep praying for us please as we have a long time yet to go!

Please pray too for the family of Doris Topping. I worked with her at the Garden Project last year in Lansing. She found out about 6 weeks ago that she had advanced cancer and I just found out that she died early Friday morning.

I love you all and hope you are well.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Monkeys, Mountains and Markets

On Wednesday we learned about going to the market in class and then we went to a nearby market to practice buying things and to try bargaining. They gave us each 500/= (Tanzanian shillings), which was about 40 cents to buy as much as we could. With my 500/= I ended up with 4 green peppers (which were pretty big), 6 oranges, 2 small bunches of greens, 2 avocados and a blue plastic bag to carry it in. Not bad, huh? The market was pretty big and had all sorts of fruits and vegetables. I had a lot of fun talking to people selling different things about what I was doing in Tanzania, what I wanted to buy and the names and uses of various vegetables. I think at one point, someone said something to me that I didn’t hear, because I heard a man walking by say “She doesn’t understand Swahili” to which I quickly turned and announced to everyone around me that I did speak Swahili and had a nice conversation afterwards with the women selling bananas.

On Wednesday afternoon, we had a chance to go back into Arusha to buy some things and to change money. It was a pretty clear day, so on the way into town we were able to see Mt. Kilimanjaro in the distance. It’s not usually visible. So, the bus driver pulled over to the side of the road so we could all get out to see and take pictures. As we were taking pictures, I realized that there was a farmer there hoeing his field right next to the road who just watched us, bemused, so I explained to him in Swahili that we were looking at the mountain and that we were a little crazy.

When we got off the bus in Arusha, we were absolutely swarmed by young men selling batiks. I have never ever experienced anything like it in any other place I’ve been. They would each pick one of us and “take” u s to the store, then wait outside and walk with us to the next store, pressuring us to at least look at their batiks. It was crazy how they followed us from store to store and would not leave us alone. There was nothing we could say that would make them go away. When we got back on the bus, they were still there swarming the bus, trying to open the windows to get us to buy things. For me it wasn’t too bad because I wasn’t with the big group the whole time, but it was still pretty intense - not like anything else I’ve seen in Africa. I doesn’t sound so bad now in writing, but it was pretty crazy.

On Thursday afternoon as I was walking back to my room, the monkeys were everywhere - running around in the tree s, digging in the garbage basket looking for food. One was eating an orange. I managed to take a few pictures. Today they were running around at chai time and one got up on the chai table and was trying to get into the sugar bowl. They’re really cute and fun to watch, but I’m starting to see why people who live here think they’re obnoxious.

Also on Thursday, I was walking across campus and was able to see the top of Mt. Meru, which is a lot closer than Kilimanjaro. We drive right by it on the way into Arusha, but the top is usually covered by clouds. We saw it again tonight on the way to dinner. This is definitely a beautiful place to live.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Visit from a President

Today has been interesting. The president of Ireland came to visit the center and met with the students studying in the development course here (mostly from Tanzania and Kenya, but also from other parts of Africa). There was a group of singers and dancers here to welcome her - it was quite an event. She was accompanied by quite an entourage and lots of Tanzanian police officers (who are a bit scary, I must say).

Today was also our first full day of class. We have class from 8:30 to 10:00 am, a break for tea, then class again from 10:30 to 12:30. From 12:30 to 2:00 we have a lunch break. We have had lots of yummy East African food mixed with a little European (this is a Danish training center). Then we have class again from 2:00 to 4:00 pm. After that, we have time to do homework, play games, read and/or talk before dinner at 7:00 pm.

This afternoon, I came to the library to work, where I saw a Tanzania friend that I had met earlier and another Tanzanian. I was really embarrassed to get out my computer knowing that it epitomizes my American privilege relative to my African colleagues. We talked for a while about why exactly that is so and then I just started to cry. But they were both totally understanding and were able to see my heart for justice and my desire to work for change. They both saw compassion in my tears rather than weakness, for which I am grateful. Then we talked about development and about the kind of research I will be doing in Kenya (mostly in Swahili with some English). It was very encouraging and affirming to share together with them and to be understood.

Outside the window here in the library, I can hear birds chirping and an occasionally interesting animal sounds. I see acacia trees (the ones that are wide and flat on top) and baby banana trees. East Africa really is beautiful. It’s nice too to be out of the city a little and to be around a little more nature.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Greetings From Tanzania

I think I’m long overdue for an update. We arrived in Arusha, Tanzania Saturday night (June 17) after two LONG flights. It was worth it, though - it feels so good to be back in East Africa.

There are 15 students in our group and they all seem very nice, although it’s a little weird being with a big group of Americans. We had an orientation yesterday and part of today, that included all the essentials we need to know about the training center where we are staying and an overview of the Swahili course. This afternoon we had Swahili interviews with the instructors so they can divide us into groups of similar level for classes.

Yesterday we went into Arusha town. It’s actually a lot farther away than I thought it would be. We’re about 18 km (11 miles) from town. I thought we were within walking distance or a short bus ride, but we’re not exactly. That means we won’t be able to get into town as much as I expected. We’re a little secluded at the training center. There are a lot of Kenyans and Tanzanians here too, though, who are taking development courses. That makes it a little more fun and interesting. This afternoon a couple other girls and I left the center and went for a walk down the road a bit. It was really nice to greet lots of people in the road and to just be out in normal life. We spent a little while talking to a few school children who were on their way home.

The training center is really nice (see picture right). Beautiful trees and nice people. We even have electricity and hot showers. There are little monkeys that run around in the trees - kind of like squirrels in the U.S. When I see one with my camera, I’ll be sure to post a picture.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

I’m leaving in 5 days!

The LORD is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.
My heart leaps for joy
and I will give thanks to him in song.
- Psalm 28:7

I rejoice in the Lord because he has been good to me. I am in such a different place than I was the last time I was preparing to leave for Africa. I was filled with fear and uncertainty, battered about by the enemy in a spiritual battle. Now, I am filled with strength and excitement, anticipation and joy. God is really working in my, strengthening me and growing me. He is releasing me from my fears - fears of uncertainty, fears of not being good enough - and giving me new confidence and power.

It’s been an interesting couple weeks. We had a wonderful time with family and friends at our farewell party. Thank you to all those who were able to come. And we missed the rest of you. Here are some pictures.

Also in the last two weeks, my brother enlisted in the army, a friend’s dad passed away and we found out that a family friend we thought was dead is actually alive. (You may have seen that one in the news. The original blog had links to two articles and to the family's blog, but I don't know how to do that here.)

I’ve definitely hit crunch time in my preparations to leave. I’m almost finished with my spring semester research project. I’m getting closer to getting the details together for my research in Kenya and I have a VERY long packing list going on the computer. My brain and typing fingers have kicked into high gear. Keep praying, though, that I’ll be able to get it all done and still make it onto the plane in one piece and with everything I need!

I realized last week that a lot of the preparations and details I was stressing about related to my research in Kenya. When I leave on Friday, I get to go to Tanzania and just learn. All I have to do is go to class, study and do whatever they have planned. I don’t have to make any decisions. I don’t have to plan anything. What a relief. And, we’re going to visit some really cool places! I haven’t been a tourist much in East Africa so it should be fun.

During the swahili program in Tanzania, we’ll be spending the weekends with a host family. I found out a little more about my family last week. They are a Muslim family with three kids - ages 12, 8 and 7. I was really hoping for a family with kids to play with, so this is great.