Monday, January 30, 2012


Daniel LOVES Tanzania. We’d been prepping him for weeks about how we were going to go on an airplane to Tanzania and he was so excited. The morning we left, he woke up and asked to go to the zoo (like he does almost every day) and I told him that we couldn’t go to the zoo, but that it was the day to go to the airport and go to Tanzania. His eyes got wide and he said, “Go on an airplane to Tanzania!!”

The weather in Tanzania this time of year is hot and sunny. Daniel loves being able to play outside and would really appreciate living in a place where he could easily play outside all year. This is a dry season and he found lots of dirt to play in – in the yard around the house where we were staying, at the market and any time we walked down the road. We had to enforce “walking time” when we were in a hurry to get somewhere and he really couldn’t stop and play in the dirt every five feet. He was pretty intrigued by all the noises too – “woosters” crowing, cows mooing, lorries bumping up and down the road, pikipikis (motorbikes), music playing, the metal cutting shop nearby.

Playing in the dirt

Exploring Outside

Helping water the garden

Daniel has adjusted so well to everything – and he’s usually a kid who takes a while to warm up and be comfortable with new things. When we first arrived, I was asking God to give Daniel a real love for Tanzania too if this is the place for us. Several times I asked him if he liked Tanzania and if he thought it would be a fun place to live and he replied with a very enthusiastic, “Yeah!!” He did really well greeting people and responding when people greeted him, though he usually needed a prompt and for a while he was using a very funny voice any time he was speaking Swahili. In Tanzania it is important to greet people and be respectful towards elders, so I really wanted him to be friendly and polite.

We had the opportunity to take a day trip to a nearby national park and Daniel had a wonderful time driving around and seeing lots of animals, especially twigas (giraffes) – his favorite. He associated the tarmac road with going to see animals and any time we were on a tarmac road after that he asked if we could go to “the zoo” to see the animals again.

We also met up with several other families with small children so Daniel was able to play with some new friends. At one point, we had three boys three and under rolling around on the ground at a playground – completely covered with dirt. We found out about a lot of fun things to do with kids around Arusha as well as various school options.

Another thing I really appreciated about having a small child in Tanzania is that people nurse freely – there’s no shame about it and no one is offended like in the U.S. I wasn’t sure how it would be nursing an older toddler, since, I’ve mostly seen young babies nursing, but every time I did, the women around were so supportive – “Just like an African!” they would say. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

First Couple Days in Tanzania

We’ve been in Tanzania for a week now. We’re feeling pretty comfortable. Fortunately, we have enough experience in Africa that it isn’t all new and overwhelming and we can focus our attention on whether Arusha and the two hospitals are a good fit for us more than on whether we could live in Africa.

We finally have semi-reliable internet access, so we’re starting to catch up a little on sharing about our experiences.

Our trip here was pretty smooth, except for Daniel vomiting an hour into the trip and having a stinky car seat the rest of the way! He fell asleep shortly after, but only slept for about 30 minutes before waking up again. After that he was wide awake until we were just about to land in Amsterdam. At least he was happy. I don’t mind wide awake as long as he’s not cranky or crying. He slept for a few hours in Amsterdam and a few hours on the flight to Tanzania. The Amsterdam airport, by the way, is fantastic, especially for traveling with children. They have a baby care lounge that’s dark and quiet, and there would have been room to get him a bath if he hadn’t been sound asleep. They also have a playground where kids can run around and climb. We’re hoping to take advantage of that on the way back.

Daniel was so excited to arrive in Tanzania, and we were too! As soon as they opened the plane door, we could feel the warm air! We got our visas and bags with no trouble and then met the director of the hospital who had come to get us. He gave us a bit of geographic orientation and told us about the things we were passing in the dark along the way. I showed Dave where I studied Swahili back in 2006. Daniel fell asleep right away in the car and we were hoping that would transfer into bed when we got to the guesthouse in town, but according to his body it was just an afternoon nap. Dave stayed up with him for a while to read and play while I went to bed. Apparently Dave fell asleep on the couch and the next thing I knew, Daniel had climbed up into bed with me.

Tuesday morning we went to the town hospital (Arusha Lutheran Medical Center or ALMC) where had some orientation to the hospital and it’s history, mission and vision. Then we met with most of the surgeons (with chai and mandazi – yum!) and heard a little of their stories and how they got to this hospital. We were really impressed with the surgeons. They all seem very competent, kind and wise. They have a lot of experience and would be a great team to work with. As we heard more about the hospital, it seems like we share a lot of common vision and ideals. We’re finding out that some of the things that drew us to the hospital on the surface are reflections of a deeper philosophy that certainly resonates with us. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Africa Update Part 4: Next Steps

This is part 4 in a series about our journey towards working long-term in Africa. Part 1 described our decision to go back to Africa long-term, Part 2 describes Dave’s desire to train residents. Part 3 talks about a particular hospital in Tanzania that we are considering.

I’m writing this from the airport. We are on our way to Tanzania to visit the hospitals, meet the team of people Dave would be working with, see around town and generally get a feel for it all. This should give us a sense of whether this would be a good fit for us. It is also their chance to get to know us. We will be in Arusha for two weeks. (And yes, there is someone staying at our house while we’re gone.)

During the time we’re gone, we will be sharing some of our thoughts and experiences here.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Africa Update Part 3: Tanzania

Part 1: Going Back to Africa is here
Part 2: Working with Residents is here

This was definitely the hardest part to write, partly because we've been so busy the last couple months and partly because this is so much harder to describe in a succinct way.

I've been interested in Tanzania for a long time. When I was in Kenya in 2002, I went on a retreat with the other students in East Africa and we traveled around Tanzania for a week. I spent a summer in Tanzania studying Swahili and really grew to love so m any things about the people, places, culture and history of Tanzania.  

Once we knew that we needed to go back to Africa (see Part 1), we hoped that we would end up in Kenya or Tanzania. We have experience in East Africa. I have a lot of time and energy invested in learning Swahili. Most of our relationships in Africa are in Kenya. At the same time, though, we were trying very hard to be open to whatever God had for us.

Once we were sure we wanted to pursue residency training through the Pan-African Academy of Christian Surgeons or PAACS (see Part 2), the options of where to go narrowed to the places that either have a PAACS program or that are waiting for surgical faculty to be able to open a program. We had several conversations with PAACS administrators about the different places they needed people and God worked with us to get to the point that we would be willing to go to any of them, even the one that was the-place-I'd-always-said-I'd-NEVER-go. Still, we were most seriously considering existing programs at two hospitals in Kenya and a program in Tanzania that is in the planning stages. Over the course of several months, we felt like the two programs in Kenya weren't the best fit for us long-term, for a number of reasons. At the same time, we felt increasingly drawn to the hospital in Tanzania.

ArushaLutheran Medical Center (ALMC) and Selian Lutheran Hospital are sister hospitals in northern Tanzania that are preparing to open a general surgery residency program. Selian is located on the outskirts of Arusha and serves as a referral center for the district while ALMC is a new hospital in the center of town. Together, the two hospitals would serve as the training site for residents.

Here are just a few highlights of the journey and a smattering of things that draw us to this hospital:

- In our first conversation with one of the PAACS leaders at the conference last year, he mentioned that they were considering a program at a hospital in Tanzania. I think he said that he wasn’t actually supposed to share about it yet, but knew we would be interested. Dave and I both felt our hearts stir as he mentioned that possibility and we were definitely interested.

- To make a long story short, we were fasting with our church during lent last year and asking God for direction about our future work. Two days before we finished, Dave got an email from the CEO of PAACS asking if he would be interested in talking further about the possibilities for working there. We thought that the timing was somewhat of a coincidence, but when Dave talked to him more about it all, he said that he felt like God was telling him to contact Dave about it just then.

- The hospital has several surgeons, three of whom are Tanzanian. This means that Dave would be working alongside Tanzanian surgeons to train residents and not just a team of westerners teaching Tanzanians. This is HUGE for us.

- Dave’s current residency program operates across two sister hospitals. There are unique opportunities and challenges to administering a program like this. As a chief resident this year, Dave is getting a lot of experience with the ins and outs of this type of program. This seems like good preparation for developing a residency program in Arusha.

- Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world. There are currently about 150 surgeons (of any kind) for 41 million people. That’s like 35 surgeons for the whole state of Michigan or just three surgeons for the City of Detroit. Our calling has always been to the poor and we feel a special burden for people and places that have been “left behind.”

- To work effectively in Tanzania you really must learn Swahili. Hmm, sounds great to us!

- We really like Tanzania and are very excited about the possibility of living there. 

Next up will be Part 4: Next Steps, the highlight of which is that we're heading to Tanzania in a week to visit the hospitals, meet the team, see the town, evaluate whether this would be a good fit for us and see whether this is really where God is leading us.