Sunday, August 22, 2010

25 Things

I have been home for almost a month now, and haven't blogged at all since I was in Tanzania. My transition back into America has actually been very smooth. I was a little overwhelmed at first by everything, but all the excitement of returning has helped ease the reverse culture shock. There are little things that I miss a lot about living in Dodoma (like Leah and Leisha and HUGE avocados) but it also is really good to be back in Washington, being close to my friends and family and within easy access of the mountains. I just climbed Eldorado with my brother and boyfriend on Saturday, the picture below is my brother climbing to the summit:

I'm trying to figure out what comes next for me... My dear friend Blaze, who is an amazingly creative artist and has an awesome blog, recently posted about the 25 things she wants to do before she turns 25, and challenged me and her other closest friends to do the same. I have only about 10 months until I turn 25, which is kind of crazy, but I love making lists and maybe thinking of 25 things to do within the next 10 months will help me to think about what I want to do...

In no particular order:

1. Find a place to live in Seattle

2. Buy a bike

3. Take the GRE

4. Find a grad school program that I fancy and apply to it

5. Find an internship that is relevant to my career interests

6.Climb Mt. Baker, Mt. St. Helens, and Glacier (I hope at the least)

7. Acquire my own ice axe and crampons

8. Run the Seattle Half Marathon in November with Chris, Jamie, Christye, Brooke, and anyone else I forgot

9. Get within 5 feet of a mountain goat

10. Subscribe to a scholarly magazine, such as The Economist

11. Go to Bend (I hear it’s pretty cool…)

12. Learn how to bake a good pie

13. Learn how to drive a manual

14. Learn how to cook my mom’s most delicious Indian foods

15. Take the train to Portland to see Danny and Alison

16. Play the Bean Game (aka Bonanza) with Ben and Sarah, maybe even with the extended version

17. Compete in Fall, Winter, and Spring ultimate Frisbee leagues

18. Send a package to Leah and Leisha in Dodoma (hopefully SOON)

19. Make a picture album of my year in Tanzania

20. Share with my congregation about volunteering with Mennonite Central Committee

21. Join a small group/ get more involved at Seattle Mennonite

22. Get in contact with a few special friends from high school (it’s LONG over due…)

23. Visit Sarah and Blaze in Colorado and hike some 14ers with my best hiking buddy

24. Plan a trip to go to Cambodia to see Auntie Dora

25. Have a Thanksgiving meal in the U.S. of A. with my family for the first time in 2 years

Friday, July 16, 2010

Goodbye, Dodoma

A few months ago before I moved assignments from Dar es Salaam to Dodoma, I never thought that I would be sad when it came time for me to leave Tanzania. But now that the time has come to say goodbye to Dodoma, I am starting to realize how much of an impact my time here has had on me.

Today after our daily morning devotions, everyone decided to thank me and say nice things about me and how much they are going to miss me... I was really touched, and may or may not have started to cry (I was not expecting this, and once Leah started crying she made me cry). I know that I am going to miss Dodoma a lot, and I am very thankful for each and every person that I have grown close with. These past few months have taught me a lot and I feel very blessed for this amazing opportunity not only to serve others, but more importantly for all that I have learned from others.

Friday is the day that the income generation group meets at the church, and this afternoon they had a surprise for me: they sang me a song and presented me with a khanga (traditional african fabric) which they wrapped around me, and then they each said goodbye and hugged me. It was very special.

With all that said, I am also unbelievably excited about returning home to Seattle. I fly out from Kenya on Wednesday and then will be in Akron, PA for a few days of debriefing with the other SALTers. I will be arriving in Seattle on the 27th... and I am so excited to see everyone it's not even funny!

How is it possible that I can feel so sad about leaving one place, but at the same time feel ready and excited to be in another place?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


I’ve never considered myself a teacher, and I definitely do not enjoy speaking in front of people, so when I was asked to teach a business seminar at the church I was a little nervous. But I knew that I it would be a good opportunity to teach others and a good learning experience for me as well, so I agreed.

On Thursday last week 70 people came to the church to learn more about small business and entrepreneurship. I prepared a lesson for everyone based on what I learned from interviewing them over the past few months. After opening with a Bible study about counting the costs and making good plans, I taught about various aspects of marketing and business. I’m definitely no expert on these topics, but with my background in economics, the microcredit summit I attended in Nairobi, and personal experiences I was able to pull together a few things to talk about. I also invited a few other staff members to help me teach about accounting and creative business practices.

Afterwards I realized that I had nothing to worry about—everything went smoothly and all the participants seemed very appreciative. The participants were clients from the home based care program, parents of the orphans and vulnerable children program, and parents of the child survivor program, all of which are programs run out of KMT (the Mennonite church) Dodoma.

Form my interviews with the clients, I have learned that the majority of the people who have taken a loan from the church have failed to pay it back. This is a common problem when a faith based institution hands out money—people assume that it is charity and don’t need to pay anything back. Many of the loan clients didn’t realize that they were actually expected to pay back the money that was given to them. Another problem was that many people ended up not even using the loan for their business, but used it for immediate needs instead, such as food or medicine.

It is a challenge, especially for a church, to just give out loans and expect everyone to be successful in using their loan and be able to pay it back. Instead, I think it works better when people work through community groups. In Tanzania, there are VICOBAs, village community banks, where groups meet weekly to save together and take individual loans from each other. This method is simple and has proven to work well worldwide.

The Mennonite church here in Dodoma has tried to start a VICOBA group, but it has faced a lot of challenges. So the director of Grace and Healing Ministries of KMT thought it would be a good idea if we took a few members of our VICOBA group on a little ‘field trip’ to go and learn from a successful VICOBA just outside of Dodoma. I thought this sounded like a great idea, and I thought it would be interesting to see how this sort of group works here in Tanzania. So I made a budget for out trip, calculating the mileage at 150km round trip—not too far.

…Only, we didn’t realize that we’d have to travel 150km and three hours one way! Five of us, plus the driver crammed into a little pick up truck and drove 77km east of Dodoma on a nice, paved road and then another 70-some km North on a very bumpy gravel road. Before we left, I was told that it would take 2 hours to get there, we’d have 2 hours to meet and share ideas, and then another 2 hours to get back by 6pm. Well, T.I.A.: we didn’t leave until noon, it took at least three hours to get there, and we had to leave after only meeting for 45 minutes so that we didn’t get back super late! It was actually pretty funny—we weren’t sure exactly how far we had to travel on the gravel road, so whenever we would pull over and ask someone how much further we had to go they kept saying ‘mbali sana’ (a long ways) or ‘badaa ya kupanda mlima’ (after you climb up the mountain). That happened about four times before we finally reached our destination. But, like many things here, it ended up being fun just because it was so ridiculous. And even though we were there for a short time, the members of our VICOBA group said they learned a lot to share with their other members and maybe even try to start another group.

This weekend all the other MCC volunteers are coming to Dodoma for team meetings. (I helped convince everyone to come to Dodoma instead of going to Arusha…) And on the 4th we are going to celebrate America’s independence with a BBQ! I’m planning on making guacamole and mango salsa…

I only have two and a half more weeks here in Dodoma!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

I think I have finally been able to post a few pictures! It’s taken over an hour to load them, but I wanted to be able to at least share a few visuals to go along with some of my stories. Time is flying by—I can hardly believe that I only have a little over a month left!

This is what a lot of Dodoma looks like

This past week one of our friends, Martin, had a birthday but no one has ever thrown him a birthday party. Leah, Leisha and I decided to show him what an American birthday party is like. (We were also celebrating my birthday which is next week, but since I have had a memorable party practically every 23 years of my life, I decided that it was more important to make sure it was his party, not mine). We made tons of delicious food, including guacamole and mango salsa, eggplant stir-fry, and even Thai coconut curry! Since we don’t have an oven, we had our friend Tiffanee (the other MCC volunteer) make a cake. It was a lot of fun, especially since our friend was so appreciative. I think he’ll be demanding a birthday party from here on out!

Mango salsa, homemade chips, and guacamole. We went with a Mexican team to honor the first World Cup game...

My main task here at work has been interviewing people who have taken out loans to gather information about their current situation. It has involved lots of walking around to nearby villages, home visiting, and meeting with groups of people. The other day my translator, another service worker from the church and I ventured out to find a client near the church. But, when we got to her house, no one was home. We did find lots of pigs though—about 50, including dozens of piglets! I enjoyed taking pictures of them, but one of the big mama pigs kept sticking her snout at my camera…

The pigs, my new friends. Not quite as cute as goats, though!

Last week I interviewed several people during a monthly food distribution at one of the smaller Mennonite churches on the outskirts of town. It’s nice having a translator because he can do most of the talking while I get to do other things, like take pictures and hold cute babies. This baby below that I am holding is named Thomas. At the time he was not only sick with malaria, but also had just fallen off a table a few days earlier… I almost took him home with me, but decided that his mom might not be willing to answer my questions about her loan if I did that.

Me and Thomas

Hopefully by the end of next week I will have most of my research done and then will be able to compile some reports for the church. I just learned that they also want me to conduct a seminar about making business plans and bookkeeping... two things I am not qualified to teach about, but we'll see how that goes!

Although I am really loving living here in Dodoma, I am starting to really get excited about coming back to Seattle. But I have no idea what I will do when I get back. Any suggestions?

Oh, and congratulations to all of you who are graduating--to all my cousins and Chris! Hongera sana :)

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

Last week I left the simple Tanzanian life that I am familiar with, of rice and beans and cold bucket showers, to get a glimpse of the opposite—the side that the extravagant tourist experiences when embarking on a game viewing safari. My aunt Dora from Cambodia had to come to Arusha for meetings, and decided to treat me and my cousin Stephen (volunteering in Uganda came) to a 6-day safari. We spent the first night in Lake Manyara, the next two nights in Ngorongoro Crater, and the last two nights in the Serengeti. Over the course of our journey, we saw not only the Big Five, but many, many more animals. Thousands of zebras and wildebeests, hundreds of antelope, and dozens of lions crossed our path. We were even lucky enough to spot two leopards and four cheetahs.

Seeing all these different animals was amazing, especially with the scenic surroundings, however just as equally we enjoyed people watching. We saw the old retired groups, equipped in safari suits complete with matching khaki pants and shirt, with too many pockets (and yes, there is such a thing as a ‘safari suit’—I saw it listed as a potential item on the laundry list!). Often times instead of looking for animals, we would look for clusters of Land Cruisers stopped because it meant that the other tourists were looking at something good. Sometimes when we were stopped looking at animals, we would take pictures of the other tourists, just for fun. My favorite group was an older man and women whose skin was burnt red from the African sun, the man wasn’t wearing a shirt and the women was hardly wearing a shirt. They both had mangled hair, and truly looked as if they were ‘living life in the African bush’ (or at least that’s the look they were trying to portray). People are just as interesting as wild animals sometimes!

Having daily hot showers and three big meals a day was just as exciting as watching for wild animals. I’m pretty sure we stayed in some of the nicest hotels and resorts that Tanzania has to offer—some of the hotels were even nicer than places in the States. It was a bit of a shock for my cousin and I transitioning to the tourist life, but we enjoyed every minute and my aunt made sure to spoil us!

Now I am back in Dodoma and back to work. I was actually really excited to come back to Dodoma, which I think is a sign that I am in the right place here (I sort of used to dread having to come back to Dar after being away). I am currently in the process of conducting a survey for the people who have taken loans from the church. I have already talked to about 20 people, and plan to talk to around 50 total. I am hoping that after getting a general idea about the situation of the clients who have been lent money, I will be able to help the church to realize a more efficient and sustainable program. I only have 7 more weeks here (!) but I think in this short amount of time I’ll be able to help improve their lending program.

I can’t believe it’s already June… Leah and Leisha, my housemates, are planning a birthday party for me and one of our Tanzanian friends for next weekend. And, in the beginning of July we're having a MCC team meeting here in Dodoma and are going to have a 4th of July party, so I have a feeling these last few weeks are going to fly by!

Friday, May 14, 2010


I have been in Dodoma now for over a week, and I have decided that this is a much nicer place to live and work than in Dar es Salaam. The climate here is actually pleasant—it is cool at night and in the mornings, and even during the day when it is sunny it is not too hot. It also helps that it is not humid at all. I no longer have to commute 2 hours on daladala to get to work, instead I only have a five minutes walk. (This also means that I can sleep in a bit and take time to enjoy my mornings). Since I live so close to the church, I also don’t have to worry about leaving work before 4pm to get home before dark because it is safe here, especially since I have people to walk home with. I also am really enjoying living with Leah and Leisha, two Americans who are also volunteering here at the church. I like living with them not only because we play games and watch movies together, but also because we can relate with each others’ situations. I forgot how beneficial it is to be able to debrief and reflect on a day verbally with someone else. At the church here in Dodoma, there is a real sense of community and everyone is very dedicated to their work. I’ve only been here a little over a week, but I already feel like a part of this community. I think the hardest thing for me living in Dar was not the hot climate or the daily 4 hour commute, but rather the fact that I was often on my own and had one to really talk with or just hang out with. I’ve really appreciated how welcoming everyone here in Dar has been to me. (And I guess it’s cool that my new housemates like guacamole and playing Dutch Blitz!)

MCC decided to move my assignment to Dodoma because although there was lots of potential to be involved in Dar, I wasn’t actually doing as much as I had hoped. Now that I am here in Dodoma, I have a specific assignment that hopefully can be accomplished in the remainder of my time. Throughout the past few years, the church has loaned small amounts of money to about 60 people. However, after loaning out the money, no one has really done a follow up on what has been done with the loans, and most people haven’t bothered to pay back their loans. In January earlier this year, the church hosted a training session about how to start a microenterprise with the hopes that the people who have taken loans would benefit from the extra training. Once again, not much analysis has been done to see if this training session was beneficial. So, my task is to find out what all these people who have taken a loan and received training have been up to, to see if they used the loan for income generating activities, and if further training is needed or wanted. I have already made a survey and had it translated into Swahili, so my next step is to go out and visit with the borrowers. I will be working with a volunteer from Kenya who will help me translate, and sometimes various social workers from the church who know where everyone lives. I am hoping that after I do this analysis, someone else from the church here will be able to continue evaluating this program so that it won’t just be a one time thing.

So far, I have been very impressed with the church’s outreach programs. They are partnered with Compassion International, which sponsors 350 kids (soon to be more) and Lahash, which sponsors 75 kids (soon to be 100). MCC has funded various projects in the past, and continues to partner with the church. Besides me, there is another family here who is doing a three year term with MCC. The church also has an extensive home based care program that offers palliative care services to people suffering from HIV/AIDS and other chronic diseases. There are a few social workers and counselors that regularly meet with desperate people and check up on the sponsored children. It has been very encouraging to witness the extent of this church’s outreach to the local community.

(I haven't had the chance to take many photos, but I will upload some soon!)

Friday, April 30, 2010

I May Be An Elitist

I’ve always seen myself as an adventurer, as someone who thrives on new and exciting experiences. Traveling to foreign countries and living in unfamiliar places engenders a certain enthusiasm within me that only bolsters my curiosity about the world. This interest undeniably comes from my family’s history and my upbringing. However, it seems that the farther I travel, the more sure I become that I truly belong in the Pacific NW. I am sure that this too has to do with the fact that I was raised to love and appreciate all the wonders that the NW has to offer.

Living here in Tanzania certainly has been anything but dull, but I don’t feel at home here. Mostly, I miss the mountains—being able to wake up before sunrise to quickly hike on the slopes of the I-90 corridor and make it back in time for class. I miss the crisp, cool morning air and running up Queen Anne on the Crown to behold Mt. Rainier towering in the distance behind the cityscape. I miss going to Discovery Park and to watch the sunset over the Sound behind the Olympics. I miss spending whole weekends backpacking, completely isolated from other people and being surrounded only by nature. I even miss the mundane, like driving down I-5 and viewing the Olympics off to the west and the Cascades to the East. Seattle really is an incomparable city, and I feel lucky enough to be able to call this Emerald City my home.

So what spurred all this nostalgia? It’s partly due to the fact that my dad, brothers and boyfriend are always recalling to me their recent outings in the mountains. But this time, my inspiration comes from the Dirtbag Diaries. Being trapped in Dar es Salaam with absolutely no mountains in sight and practically no outdoor activities, this podcast has been a comfort for me—listening to stories of other people who have a passion for the great outdoors. The most recent podcast was about an Orgoneon who moved to D.C. for an amazing job opportunity at National Geographic. But after a few months of living away from the PacNW, she got homesick for the mountains and moved back to Bend. Upon leaving, her boss professed, “People who found their footing in the Pacific NW are elitists, they are forever ruined for all other places; no where else can satisfy them; they have a surreal vision of what home is and what home means.” This rings true for me: no other place, no matter how exotic, will be able to measure up to the NW on my ruler. My infatuation for visiting new countries and my love for the NW will forever hold a dissonance. However, my fervidness to be within easy access of the mountains corroborates the fact that the Pacific NW is indeed my home.