Thursday, June 13, 2019

Well, the tap water was great while it lasted, but it’s out at the guys’ house again. Back to the buckets; normal life resumes.

We’re fine.

At the house at 8.30, the crew is waking up. Peter’s cooking breakfast, as usual, and some are eating. Some are sipping their coffee. Some are just sitting, staring straight ahead. Some are cleaning up the morning dishes. (We can’t leave dirty dishes lying around for long; they’ll attract pests of various kinds.)

Those of us who are morning people are trying not to be That Guy who rises with a loud voice early in the morning (Prov 27.14).

Out the door they go for their 9 am sessions.

In moments Abbie is back. Her student is off getting some medical tests done. But 5 of the Form 1 kids tell her their hired tutor didn’t show up, so can she play Uno with them, please? While she’s looking for the cards, the teacher arrives, and of course the students are devastated. Cathryn is tutoring her two students by herself so that Cheyenne can prepare for the noon Bible story time. But Cheyenne sees a baby praying mantis in the house and is determined to transfer it outside without any injury or death. Creation care.

The place is hoppin’ this morning.

About 10 minutes into the session I make my rounds. Feel free to come along. From HQ down the path—new dirt!—to the office building, where Sam and Michaela are working on 2-digit multiplication on their chalkboard with their two Standard 3 boys. Head north along the path, past the laundry building, where 3 of the staff ladies are doing the daily load, scrubbing the children’s clothes by hand on concrete counters next to the sinks. Greeted them earlier, as you always do here on your first meeting of the day.

Further north to the children’s houses, where we’re using 3 of the 4 porches for classrooms. Here’s Shelbie doing division by fractions with her Standard 6 girl. She’s sharp, and getting the answers right. Next is Peter and his Standard 6 boy, working on the multiplication tables. This student is easily discouraged, and Peter’s teaching with grace and encouragement. The boy smiles as he remembers the right answers. Clifford the dog is lying peacefully in the dirt at their feet. At the last porch Blake and Rebecca are doing more maths (that’s what the Brits call it, and it makes sense, since “mathematics” is plural in form) with a Standard 6 boy with some pretty significant behavioral problems. He’s on task, concentrating, getting right answers. Back down the central path to the kibanda, where Cathryn is doing addition on a portable chalkboard with two active Standard 3 boys. They’re on task as well. And the porch on the Big House is uncharacteristically empty, with Abbie’s student absent today.

Well. That’s pretty good. Work getting done, students and tutors evidently happy, even the ones who often aren’t.

Back at the house, Abbie takes the compostable trash behind the big house to the compost pile by the kitchen. Following the protocols, keeping things running smoothly. Kat is grading papers from yesterday and doing some planning for this afternoon’s session with her Form 1 students.

Life on the compound. No complaints.

But here’s how it works. When the crew comes in from the session, one of them tells me that her student was thoroughly uncooperative but straightened up when I came by. Hmmm. Gonna have to sneak up on her next time.

One of the girls sees a spider in the house and sets out to mash it into oblivion. But spiders are good; they kill mosquitos. So I tell her to just capture it and put it outside. Nope. Not gonna happen. OK, I’ll do it. Get me a container of some sort. Back him into a corner, get him on a piece of paper, drop him into a bowl, out the door and into the bushes.

Several minutes later: “Cheyenne, you can get down off the stool now.”

Chai is mandazi and uji. Blake skips the uji and puts peanut butter and Nutella™ on his mandazi. Peter skips the uji and drinks apple juice from the solar-powered fridge instead. Kat skips the uji. Rebekah and Michaela get both, and they follow Blake’s example on the PB and Nutella. Shelbie’s going for water with a Propel™ packet. Abbie and Cheyenne are making chocolate peanut butter cookies in a frying pan on the stove, without oil. Sam wanders in from the kibanda and admires their work, then joins in to help, mostly in an advisory role. There’s an animated discussion about why the Nutella is going so fast. Cathryn’s using the time to write out a math worksheet. Blake heads out to interact with the boys. The rest comment on interactions with their students this morning. The smell of baking cookies fills the kitchen. Cheyenne samples one and says, “It doesn’t taste that bad!” and then mumbles something about “setting the whole place on fire.” Shelbie tastes one. “These are good!” with a note of surprise in her voice. Cheyenne responds, “You like it?” with a similar note of surprise. Rebekah’s wiping the dishes. Peter’s absorbed in his phone. Michaela’s sitting in a corner and watching, like me. Cathryn peers out the window and is surprised that she can’t see any children out there. Sam’s sweeping the floor. Two of the team compare notes on one of their BJU classes, taught by a faculty member in my division. I can learn a lot by just sitting and listening.

The conversation is constant. Laughter is frequent.

Life in the house. No complaints.

Off to the 11.00. Most tutors go a little lighter and more casual in the second hour, given that several of the children are less cooperative.

Lunch at 2 is drip beef sandwiches, coleslaw, and Laura’s rainbow salad platter. Katie baked the rolls for the sandwiches in my oven, and the place smells like a bakery, because, well, it is.

Confession time. Yesterday at U-Turn, I forgot to get bread, and that’s a particular problem because we plan to make PBJ sandwiches for the Serengeti trip, and we’ll have cold-cut sandwiches when we get back. That’s a mess of sandwiches. Gotta do something about that.

Hire a pikipiki to take me out to the main road (Highway B6), where Beth says there’s a Royal Oven bakery. Sure ‘nuff. Shelves of bread, 3,000 shillings a loaf. I get 10 loaves. My plan is to fit most of them into my backpack and maybe carry 1 bag on the pikipiki on the way back, but these are big loaves. The girl at the counter is amused by my trying to fit several into the backpack without crushing them. I end up with 3 in the backpack and 4 bags.

That’ll never work on a pikipiki. Fortunately, at the daladala stop there’s a bajaj waiting for a rider. That’s an enclosed 3-wheeled scooter with a bench seat for 3 in the back. Plenty of room for me, my backpack, and all four bags, with nothing getting squished. I tell the driver I want to go to Shadi. He eyes that quantity of bread I’m carrying and says something in Swahili that includes the word watoto—“children”—and I say “Ndio”—“Yes.” Elfu tano—5,000 shillings. Excellent. In we go.

I’ll note that there’s not much of a suspension on this bajaj—though the ones on the daladalas and pikipikis aren’t all that hot either—and this driver believes in powering through the bumps, of which there are billions. You know those videos of skiers falling halfway down a ridiculously steep mountain and then tumbling end over end for miles? Yeah, that was me in the back seat of that bajaj. With Tanzanian pop music blaring all the way. Some people would pay outrageous sums of money for the same experience at an amusement park.

Back at TCH, he honks impatiently at the drive-in gate for the attendant to come open it. I tap him on the shoulder and point to the walk-in gate, unlocked, a few yards further down. He drops me there, and I walk over and apologize to the gate attendant. “Pole, rafiki”—“Sorry, friend.” He smiles. Impatience isn’t all that uncommon here (said the Type A American blogger).

I tell the crew the bread is for Saturday, so they won’t make it all into some breakfast French toast marathon or something. We don’t have enough Nutella for that.

While the afternoon tutoring session is going on, I discover that the tap water is back on, so I take the opportunity to do some laundry. We pay a woman here to do our laundry—she’s happy to make the money—but in this culture it’s inappropriate to wash somebody else’s underwear, even for hire, so we all do our own. Ah, the flexibility of those 5-gallon buckets.

It’s a sunny, fairly hot afternoon. One of the dogs is howling for some reason. No idea why. About 5, Katie agrees to take the crew over to a duka (shop) just south of the compound, to get sodas. I catch the tail end just as they’re leaving, and join the group. These kids really, really want soda. They feel like they’re just not Americans without colored, flavored soda water. The duka is near a shade tree with several villagers sitting under it. Everybody gets a soda—Fanta orange, Fanta pineapple, and Coke are the most popular. 5900 shillings—just under 3 bucks—for 10 sodas. Not bad.

We take a few minutes to greet all the villagers in the usual way. I joke with them that we’re “wazungu mia”—100 white people! We do attract a lot of attention ambling down the dirt road; several children accompany us as we follow the road past a few houses to the point where it ends at the lake in sort of a boat ramp. There are several fishing boats lying there, some looking as though they haven’t been used in some time. They’re painted bright colors, in the African tradition.

Nearby is a pasture where 40 or 50 beef are grazing and some teen boys are playing football. Blake and Sam walk over and join them. At one point a calf gets into the middle of the game and then gets out with some consternation.

At 6 we know we have to get back for supper. We drop by the duka to return the glass bottles—that’s expected here—and re-enter the compound for rice, beans, cabbage, watermelon. You know the drill.

After supper, as usual, we sit around the kibanda watching the boys play football and several children inside the kibanda play gagaball. They’d play all night if we’d let them.

At house devotions Peter speaks about God’s call of Moses. The boys seem to listen well. When he calls for a song afterwards, one boy asks for “My God Is So Big,” which is perfect for what Peter’s been talking about. How about that.

Back at HQ we take some prayer requests—health is generally good, but there are friends back home in need of prayer—and pray for ourselves and others. Then some talk of prep for Serengeti. We’ll need to make 60 peanut butter sandwiches at some point tomorrow. More people going than usual, since we’re bringing along 15 of the Tumaini children and 2 staff members. Every year we’ve been able to take a few; Beth has sent children starting with the oldest. I firmly believe that Tanzanians should be able to see their own greatest national treasure. The cost for us to include them is negligible—less than $30 for this year’s group, plus the cost of a vehicle and driver.

Some wifi time after the meeting, and then to bed.

By the way—the blog is now at 40 pages and 25,000 words for this trip.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Note: I’m almost 24 hours getting this one up. Wifi problem. Solved now. Apologies.

I sleep in until 6.30, get up with the birds.

We’ve had no power at the guys’ house since Sunday night. That’s not really a big problem: we can charge our devices at the girls’ house; because of the windows there’s plenty of light during the day (and we’re not there all that much during the day anyway); and at night the guys have a couple of solar-powered lamps that work really well if they remember to set them out to charge in the morning, and I have a little battery-powered LED lantern that keeps me from stubbing my toe in the night.

By 6.30 there’s enough light to take a bucket shower. My laptop has run down overnight—forgot to “Sleep” it before turning in—but again, there’s charging capability at the girl’s house. At 8 the crew is assembled there, eating pancakes. Last night they had said they needed some groceries; I noted that the regular market run takes place on Wednesday—could they wait until then? They could use bread, milk, and coffee immediately. I’m tempted to resist on the coffee—seriously? Absolute necessity? Can’t go 24 hours without it? what are you a bunch of dope fiends? I’m caffeine free, but I also don’t think I ought to make that a religious cause. Coffee’s light enough to carry. OK, I’ll do a quick run tomorrow.

So this morning I ask for a list. Anything besides break, milk, and coffee? I’ll pick up as much as I can find, fit in my backpack, and carry without collapsing like a mule under burden. They give me a list. Besides the Big Three, it’s a fairly entertaining list. They need an onion for guacamole, because the avocados probably won’t last another day. OK, fair enough. Four essentials. Then other stuff, not essential, but if you have room: Nutella™; Hershey™ syrup; pancake syrup; butter or margarine; baking powder (for pancakes); and “whatever else you think of—evening snacky stuff.” By that last one they’re probably referring to cookies, which I got a few days ago, or more likely chocolate. Just chocolate. We need it. Bad.

OK, four of the six “non-essentials” are just sugar. When I note that, they smile.

Kids these days.

They go off to tutor, and I empty my backpack to give me maximum room for groceries and get ready to go. Katie makes a phone call to call a pikipiki. He’ll be here in 20 minutes. To my surprise, he’s here in 17. Jump on the back, and down the dusty road we go. Just 15 minutes or so to the The Pavement, where a daladala is just leaving. Quick 2000 shillings ($1) to the pikipiki driver. Jump on board the daladala. No place to sit, which is normal if you’re the last one one—they don’t typically leave without a full load. Another 20 minutes or so to the daladala terminal in town; along the way the conductor shakes a fistful of coins in your face to tell you he’s collecting fares. 400 shillings (20 cents). Off the daladala in the chaotic, dusty parking lot; avoid get running over and make it to the sidewalk. Walk a couple of blocks to the ATM. There are lots of them along the way, but we like the one at EcoBank because it doesn’t charge the usual $3 transaction fee. There’s an armed guard standing outside the little booth that encloses the ATM, as there is at pretty much all of them. Do the greetings; keep the relationship friendly. Transaction limit is 400,000 shillings ($200), even though my bank allows more than that per day. I’ll pull that much now and do it again on the way out of town. I stuff the 40 crisp new bills into a front pocket before stepping out onto the sidewalk and thanking the guard. The guy has the most boring job in the world; might as well make his day marginally more pleasant.

It’s several blocks up Nkrumah street to U-Turn. Could take a pikipiki—they’re all over the place, and they never let a mzungu (white person) walk by without an offer—but I decide to walk. I know from my time in Ghana that Kwame Nkrumah was the George Washington of that country. (Yeah, he was a communist, but you don’t criticize a country’s George Washington, especially when you’re in it.) The fact that there’s a main street named for him all the way across the continent is a small indication of how much Africa loves its decolonializers, the men who led these countries to independence (in the cases of Ghana and Tanzania, from Britain). Another way we’re all alike.

The sidewalk’s crowded with pedestrians in both directions, and it’s lined with dukas (shops) selling everything from tires (tyres here, following British spelling) to clothing to appliances. U-Turn is down at the end of the road, just before the wooded hill that blocks the road from going further.

I check my backpack into a locker—required in most stores—and grab a shopping cart. I just follow the aisles, looking for stuff on the list. Milk is the shelf-stable kind, pasteurized and in a cardboard box that doesn’t require refrigeration until opened. That technological development has made safe milk a lot more widely available in the developing world. They have both butter and margarine; thinking about the long walk / ride back, I decide to go for the margarine, which also doesn’t require refrigeration. I find everything else they’ve asked for, though I’m not sure whether the onion is an onion are a very large shallot. Close enough. There’s a whole aisle of whiskey; won’t need any of that, although some days … (that was a joke, friends). I see a package of popcorn; in past years that’s been a pretty reliable evening snack. And into the refrigerated room where they keep some of the produce, battery-operated toys, and … chocolate. Another 2 half-kilo packages of dark. Oh, yeah, baby. That’ll do.

Everything they’ve asked for, for under 100,000 shillings ($50). I wave off the bag—they’ve just this month followed Kenya’s lead in banning plastic grocery bags, which used to litter everything, and are using this sort of strong biodegradable paper sort of stuff, which has the added advantage of coming in bright colors—and walk over to the lockers to retrieve my backpack. Everything fits nicely, Heavy stuff on the bottom, and the loaf a bread fits perfectly across the top, where I should be able to keep it from getting crushed. I heft the pack, and it’s heavy, but not unreasonably so.

On the way out I run into one of the artisans—primarily a painter and carver—who came out to the craft fair on Saturday. He hangs out outside U-Turn because of all the expats (read “relatively rich people”) who frequent the place. We exchange a few words of greeting. He asks if we’re confirmed for the Serengeti this coming Saturday, and I say yes. He’s pleased; the Serengeti is a mark of national pride here.

Oh, I didn’t tell you about that?

Every team I’ve brought here has taken a day trip to Serengeti National Park, one of the top 3 wild animal parks in Africa, and I would say the world. (The other two are Kruger in South Africa and Amboseli in Kenya. Kenya’s Maasai Mara is simply the Serengeti on the Kenya side of the border, so I don’t count that as separate, though of course politically it is.) We’re within a 3-hour drive of it, and it’s just crazy to be this close and not go there. I never tell the teams about that beforehand, because I don’t want kids coming on the Africa Team just to go to the Serengeti. But so far, we’ve always managed to make it happen.

Back several blocks to Town Centre, with the added but manageable weight of the backpack. I stop into the Gold Crest Hotel, where there’s a nice coffee shop in the lobby. They have a security screening to enter the lobby. I hand them my backpack, which they don’t open, and place the contents of my pockets into the tray, including my pocketknife, but not the wad of cash. They motion me through the scanner, and it beeps. They take no notice and return my backpack.

Kinda makes you wonder why they’re there at all. Optics has some effect, I suppose. This time the coffee shop doesn’t have any decaf espresso—I mentioned that I’m a caffeine-free zone—so I get a club soda and sit for a few minutes. Air conditioning. Though to be fair, it really doesn’t usually get all that hot here—the 80s are about it.

Now to get back home; plenty of time to make it in time for lunch. It’s at this moment I have a moment of absent-minded professoritude; I walk the 3 or 4 blocks to the daladala terminal, but to the northbound one, where I arrived inbound. I ask if this one is going to Sweya, and the man replies with a name that sounds a little like the name of the other town right next to Sweya, which I always have trouble remembering. So I board, soon to realize that like every daladala departing this terminal, we’re headed north, toward the airport, and directly away from where I want to go.

Oops. I get off at the mall, walk through the center of it to the taxi stand on the other side, and grab a ride back into town. 5,000 shillings—the most expensive way to get around, but still only 2 and a half bucks, so a relatively cheap penalty for a bone-headed mistake. He drops me off at the southbound terminal, where again there’s a vehicle just leaving for Sweya. I jump on. There are about 20 people aboard behind the driver—this is the size of a 15-passenger van, or perhaps a little smaller—and I find a place in the center aisle where I won’t be offensively crowding anyone—at least as much as possible. I’m acutely aware—unlike a great many American college students :-)—that my full backpack is protruding out behind me, and I try to stand in a way that doesn’t put it in somebody’s face. In a vehicle that crowded, your options are severely limited.

We drop people along the way, to the point that eventually I get a place to sit. All good.

At Sweya, there are 30 or so pikipiki drivers poised to assault everyone getting off the daladala. I see one close by who smiles, and I pick him. Take off the backpack, set it on the rear rack, and then slip into the straps so it’s stable but there’s room for me behind the driver. Off we go.

Getting off at Tumaini, I jokingly ask if the fare is 100,000 shillings. Then I give him 2,000, the standard rate. The 12 pm Bible Story Hour is just wrapping up. I’m looking forward to showing the crew what I got. I had emphasized that I’d get only what I could carry, and I think they’re expecting a pretty minimal load. The fact that I got them everything they asked for, plus a couple of other things (a box of teabags and the popcorn) should be encouraging. And of course, there’s nothing like pulling a kilo of dark chocolate out of the stash.

Yeah, they’re encouraged.

And speaking of encouraged, I drop by my place to find that not only do we have power again, but we have running water! First time since we arrived 10 days ago. Boy, is that great. If it holds, we might get actual showers tonight.

Lunch is a Beth’s. Katie has made burrito bowls—without the tortillas. Pick a base—two kinds of rice or lettuce—and heap it up with fixin’s—tomatoes, fresh salsa, guacamole, avocados, cilantro, sour cream—and top it off with a dressing (I get homemade avocado cilantro lime). Plus there’s a fruit salad and watermelon. That’s a lot of work, since, as I’ve noted before, all uncooked foods require special washing. These folks are taking very good care of us.

Speaking of which, today is Rebekah’s birthday. Katie has made chocolate passion fruit cake pops. We sing “Happy Birthday,” and everybody enjoys the cake.

Some of us are having a little light-headedness—it hit me when I was in town this morning, and again here at lunchtime, and another episode mid-afternoon. That’s a pretty reliable sign of dehydration, which can sneak up on you pretty easily. Simply drinking water and slowing down or resting for a few minutes generally solves the problem, as it does for us.

This is the place to note that for weekdays, we’re into a regular schedule that will be uniform throughout, unless something unexpected happens. That means that our days will be largely the same, and thus the blog posts will probably get shorter. I’ll report on unusual or interesting stuff, but the daily schedule will probably be routine. Like this afternoon, which follows the usual schedule.

Pretty much all afternoon there’s gagaball going on in the kibanda. These kids have gone crazy over it.

About suppertime Beth comes by with an interesting development. A girl at the school where many of the Tumaini children attend makes carpets; she’s sent over a handmade carpet the size of a welcome mat that says “BJU 2019.” Enterprising little entrepreneur. She’s asking 40,000; we’ll counteroffer 25,000 and see how it goes.

You might wondering about trying to lower the price a schoolgirl is asking. I’m happy to pay $20 for the mat; why try to push her down to $12.50? Does it really matter? We have more money than she does; why be chintzy? Well, it’s that “rich white people” issue again. Throwing money around doesn’t always help. The culture here includes dickering on price, and we’re not doing anybody any favors if we give her what she’s asking, which she knows to be unreasonably high. I suspect we’ll end up somewhere around 30 to 35 thousand, and she’ll be very happy with that.

Supper is rice, beans, cabbage, watermelon. At suppertime our guys have opportunity to have some good, substantial conversations with the older boys about spiritual matters. That’s very encouraging.

After house devotions the Tumaini girls give Rebekah a couple of nicely wrapped gifts—a package of cookies, a bottle of soda, along with some letters. Then they march her back to HQ, singing “Happy Birthday” all the way, like some sort of triumphal procession. We don’t know how they knew it was her birthday.

We’re all feeling tired tonight. I keep the evening meeting brief—just a few testimonies and prayer. The testimonies are encouraging. It seems as though several of the children are wanting to talk about serious issues—lying, cheating, that sort of thing—and several of our crew tell stories of interesting conversations. This is a good thing. 🙂

This is the time in the trip where we start to get tired, and the adrenaline wears off. Pray for strength for each day, for patience with the children and one another. The next few days will be important to the overall success of the team, and we need to work a little harder to face these various challenges.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Up with the birds. It’s bright and sunny—yesterday was cloudy—so it feels like a good day to start the tutoring sessions.

I drop by HQ a little after 8, and everyone’s there, doing the usual morning routine of coffee and scrambled eggs. Blake’s washing dishes.

We head out for the first session at 9. As yesterday’s roster noted, we’re tutoring just elementary students in the mornings, and we have just 8 students total for those morning sessions. I told the crew that their first objective is pretty simple: find your student(s) and get them to the class location. Sometimes they’ll hide to avoid coming to class. But by 10 minutes into the hour, everybody’s in place and at work. Off to a great start! I suggested that the major other objective for the first session is just to make some kind of connection with the student(s). I expect that will go fairly smoothly, since we’ve been playing games together for several days; but as I’ve noted before, sometimes the change of attitude when tutoring sessions start is pretty stark. So we take our time, ask questions, get a conversation going, learn about likes and dislikes, just enjoy each other’s company. Play some games—Bananagrams™, Hangman, something with a little academic content but non-threatening and even enjoyable. We’ll be able to compare notes at chai and see if we’ve done that.

As I wander by each section throughout the hour, the children are engaged and seem to be having a good time. I call that objectives achieved, right out of the gate. Great start. I love having 10 team members to tutor 8 students. That’ll change in the afternoon, of course, but in the mornings we can really focus in on individual students and make some progress. As we informally debrief during chai (chapati and tea), the team has already identified the children’s key individual learning characteristics and is talking about ways to adjust their instruction do be more effective. Continuous improvement education going on right there. ISO 9000. 🙂

Second session goes well, as the team members pick up where they left off. As I’m making my rounds, I hear Cheyenne say to her two students, “I want 9 – 7 red flowers.” The boys take off toward the hedge and each comes back with two flowers. Now there’s a creative method. The others are doing just as well. Obviously, the children are all different, and some are considerably more of a challenge than others—and a good start doesn’t guarantee long-term success—but so far the signs are all good. I’ll need to talk to the crew about the likelihood of the students getting tired and uncooperative in a few days, something that, with the team’s growing weariness, will present an increasing challenge.

At 12 we all gather in the kibanda for Bible story time. When the team’s not here, the Tumaini staff does this; we’re giving them a 2.5-week vacation. (We started last Wednesday.) Today Abbie leads in some opening songs, which the children select. As usual, they start off pretty slowly, but a couple of songs in, they get involved, with a couple of the older girls acting the part of the cantors, and the spirit of the group rises substantially. After the songs Cheyenne presents the memory verse, which today is Ps 90.1-2, since Blake will be speaking on God’s eternality. She breaks the children up into groups to work on memorizing the verse, in either English or Swahili. About 12.40 Blake presents the devotional, talking about why it’s important that God is eternal.

Lunch at 1 is leftovers. We’re heating up the shepherd’s pie, and there’s some pasta salad and potato salad left, and some spaghetti and sauce. We have plenty.

Third session of the day is at 3. You’ll recall that we add 18 more students (Forms 1 & 3) to our little student body of 8, and every tutor has his own class. All 4 of our tutors spend the time in English, from vocabulary to sentence structure to reading comprehension. So the first day of tutoring seems to go quite well; the students are cooperative, and they stay on task reasonably well, though of course we’ve made this first day relatively light. In years past the cooperation level has dropped as the days proceed; we’ll see how it goes this year.

We’re scheduled for games at 4 and reading time at 5—for that, each tutor gets together with one of his students and reads aloud to him. This first day we take a very informal approach; some of the boys play football, but not very many; a staff member puts on a Disney video in the Big House, and as you might expect, most of the children want to do that.

Supper is beef cubes, spinach, and ugali. Actually the children are having daga,  but the cooks know that many Americans don’t find that very appetizing (though I do), so they’ve fixed us something different. We appreciate their kindness.

At suppertime we get a little schedule reconfiguration. Beth got a notice from the school that the Form 4 “crush” kids need to be taking a major test every night this week and next week. Apparently they would do that if they were boarding at crush—which most kids do—but Beth doesn’t want the Tumaini children staying overnight there. So the school says we need to administer these tests for 2.5 hours every night. Shelbie volunteers to proctor tonight, and Cheyenne will set up a schedule for the rest of the time we’re here. It’s just one person every night, so we’ll be fine. My greatest sympathies are with the students: they’re in review sessions all day, and then they take a test every evening for more than 2 hours? I don’t know that I’d call that child abuse, but the educator in me thinks that tests given under those conditions would have pretty much zero reliability. Yikes.

Blake leads devotions in the boys’ house, speaking from Ecclesiastes. They boys sing well.

We have a lot to talk about tonight after team devotions, with the debrief for the first day of tutoring and some lifestyle clarifications we need on things like trash disposal and food management. About the time we wrap up, Shelbie comes in from proctoring; the kids finished about half an hour early, and I’m glad for them.

So we’ve gotten through day 1 of the main mission, and signs are good so far. We know there are challenges ahead, and we would appreciate your prayers to that end.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

The Alarm Rooster doesn’t seem very active this morning, but some dogs are whining pretty loudly and constantly behind the guys’ house, so getting up is easier than it might be.

With church at 8, Sunday is our earliest morning. I drop by the girls’ house at 7.45, and everybody’s up, looking pretty glum. Apparently some of the girls were up until 1 am talking—you couldn’t get me to do that—because they didn’t feel tired at the time. Peter’s scrambling some eggs, and 3 or 4 of the crew is actually going to get them eaten before we head out in, oh, 8 minutes or so now. I distribute the 1,000 shillings each for offering money, and as we hear the canned music come up on the loudspeakers, we head across the compound. Children join us along the way.

We’re the first people in the church building except for the boys who are playing the music. For several years, they routinely started 20 minutes late; if you left the house at 5 after, you’d still be the first ones there. But last year I did that on the first Sunday, and they’d apparently started at the stroke of 8, and I was late. So now I’m a little gun-shy and feel compelled to be there at 8. Yeah, I’m one of those people.

Soon enough we start singing. As usual, all of the songs (and everything else) are in Swahili. Some of the tunes we recognize (“Are You Washed in the Blood?”) and some we don’t. When I know the tune, my practice is to sing the English words, since I figure it’s better to be singing something than to appear to be refusing to participate. Fortunately, they give visitors a lot of grace because they know we don’t know what’s going on, and our ignorance isn’t limited to the language.

The church service is similar from week to week. The moderator announces a welcome to the visitors—I hear “wageni” (visitors) and “karibu” (welcome)—but nobody stands, so I suppose there aren’t any today. (They had well above their quota last week, of course.) Then there are testimonies, with several men and women, including our own Ferdinand, sharing things.

Then several choir numbers. I haven’t told you about the choir, have I? Essentially it’s a dance troupe; one man and woman do most of the singing with microphones (and they believe that if you have a PA system, you ought to use all of it; none of the people who use microphones needs one, but they crank it all the way up), while the choir, consisting of both men and women with a strong contingent of young people, dances along with choreographed moves. The dancing is not offensive or sensual as much of the dancing in the US is; it’s mostly shifting weight from one foot to another and doing things with the arms, and some bending over and straightening up again. A couple of years ago 3 or 4 of our team participated, and the locals enjoyed that immensely. It’s viewed as evidence of cultural respect. I mentioned that Abbie and Cheyenne went to rehearsal yesterday, but they kinda chickened out when the time came. This week the choir has matching shirts and dresses, and they look really good.

Before the sermon we sing a couple of prayer songs, slower and more meditative, asking for the Lord to open our hearts to the Word—similar to what many American churches do with “Speak, O Lord.”

Then Pastor Samson preaches. This sermon seems to be a continuation of last week’s sermon on the church covenant. He begins with the Abrahamic Covenant in Genesis 15 and then compares that to the covenant that binds this church together. He has a church member stand and read the covenant, interrupting to comment along the way.

He doesn’t need a microphone either, but he uses one, and it’s all the way up. 🙂

After the sermon is more music to accompany the offering, at which we go forward and deposit our thousand shillings.

Then a prayer, and we’re dismissed. We all shake hands and greet one another on the way out. I get lots of “Shikamoo”s and give out several too. It’s interesting to me that age is very much respected here—so if you’re not sure whether or not a lady is older than you, go ahead and “Shikamoo” her, and if she’s younger than you, she’ll still take it as a compliment. That sure wouldn’t work in the States. 🙂

After church we gather at HQ for chai—remember, we get a boiled egg on Sundays, in addition to the mandazi and uji. Since we’re getting pretty low on water, the guys lug buckets from the kitchen cisterns to fill the tubs at HQ, the guy’s house, and mine, while the girls clean up HQ—dishes, sweeping, etc. Good use of time while we’re waiting for lunch.

It’s served at 1.45. While we’re waiting, the older boys are playing football, as usual, with Blake in goal, as usual. Everybody else is in the kibanda in a wicked gagaball tournament. A few of the children are extremely competitive and are inclined to fudge the rules, but the other children become our best enforcers. The children especially like it when a team member goes out, and most especially when it’s one of the boys. Wild cheering all around. And when one of the little boys hits one of the team guys in the feet … oh, man. End-of-the-world joy.

Lunch is rice and beans and watermelon. You may feel like you’re seeing a trend. 🙂

We’ve set aside a couple hours after lunch to do some tutoring prep. You may recall that most of the children are in “crush” at their school during the day. Beth has divided the rest into 10 groups. Of those, the 4 secondary school groups spend the morning with hired tutors, and we’ll be tutoring them only for 1 hour in the afternoon (3pm). Those 4 tutors will join a teammate in an elementary group for the 2 morning sessions (9 and 11 am). Some of the elementary groups have only 1 student, whose needs are special. (I’m not using that term in technical sense; I haven’t diagnosed anybody. 🙂 )

By the way, they follow the British system here; elementary is Standards 1-7, and secondary is Forms 1-4. They don’t quite align with our grades, but they’re close enough to get the general idea.

Here’s the current lineup (the number in parentheses is the number of students):

Std 3-1 (2) Cheyenne (Cathryn)
Std 3-2 (2) Sam (Michaela)
Std 5 (1) Abbie (Kathryn)
Std 6-1 (1) Peter
Std 6-2 (1) Shelbie
Std 6-3 (1) Blake (Rebekah)
Form 1-1 (5) Cathryn
Form 1-2 (4) Kathryn
Form 1-3 (5) Rebekah
Form 3 (4) Michaela

At the office building, Beth spends time with each set of tutors, explaining the needs of their child(ren), turning over some academic records (grades and standardized tests), pointing out resources that are available in the educational resources room, and so on. Then the crew retires to HQ to make some plans. We’re flexible; they don’t need to have a formal lesson plan for 3 hours for each of the next 10 days, but we’ll need a general idea of what we’d like to accomplish and knowledge of what resources are available to pull into our planning. We fire up the wifi so the crew will have access to whatever they need for planning.

While we’re at the office building, several of the dogs are hanging around, looking for attention. I haven’t really talked about the dogs; I suppose I should mention them. The oldest is Dog Samuel; he’s been around every time I’ve brought a team here, and now’s he’s slowing down. When the children named him, they knew that they had given him a human name, so they put the word “Dog” in to make it clear that he was dog. Really. Then there’s Clifford and Tiger. They’re younger and considerably more energetic; they don’t hang around with us much, since they’re usually out around the compound. The youngest adult is Bunny, who has a problem with her hind legs and hops rather than the usual dog walk—hence the name. Bunny is just a year old, but she’s already had a litter, and one of the puppies, Kiara, is often hanging around with us. As I was walking up the path to HQ this afternoon, Kiara did her best to straddle the path and growl at me. It was pretty funny. She’s a tiny little thing.

There are other dogs around as well, who accompany the night watchman on his rounds. Let’s just say you don’t want to break in here. Success = failure. 🙂

Supper is on Beth’s porch. Katie has made a LOT of shepherd’s pie, with green beans as a side. We’ve contributed watermelon and mango. It’s delicious. Sam and Shelbie are on cleanup; we enjoy the sunset while they’re working, and when they’re done, we head over to Dan and Jana’s house for our traditional Sunday night sing. We wear out two different songbooks, or feel as though we did.

Along about 8.30, we decide Dan & Jana’s younger children ought to be getting to bed, so we head up to HQ for a quick survey of plans for the first tutoring day tomorrow, and a time of prayer for the effort. We’ll need energy, creativity, patience, wisdom. We’d appreciate your prayer support.

It’s been interesting this trip to have the camp before the tutoring; first time we’ve done that. The result is that we’re fully a third of the way through the time here, and so far it’s been all fun and games. The children love us when we play with them—but when the tutoring starts, for many of the children the attitude changes dramatically. It will be interesting to see how the team handles that.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Today we’ve been here a week. We’ve accomplished a lot—immersion into the culture, and handling it reasonably well (that is to say, our hosts haven’t noticed us being radically and thoughtlessly offensive); learned some Swahili and have used it as we’re able; put together and executed a 2-day camp program almost on the spur of the moment. Not to mention purchasing things in the market using Swahili and getting back and forth on local public transport.

As I noted last night, the crew is tired from all that, though in good spirits, and today’s a day to sleep in and lower the energy output just a bit. (I sleep in till 7, and it feels great!) But it’s worth noting that we haven’t accomplished anything toward our primary mission, which is tutoring the children who aren’t in their school’s prep program for upcoming standardized tests, which they call “Crush.” (Somebody in the nomenclature department has a wicked sense of humor.)

Well, we have accomplished something; we’ve decided who’s teaching which children, with the proviso that none of it is in stone; if things aren’t working optimally and we want to make some changes—maybe a couple of our folks switch sections, or alternate sections—we’re happy to experiment to find the best fit.

But the sessions start Monday morning, and we need to get ready for that at some point over the weekend. We’ll probably start with the children’s latest exams; Monday or even longer may be devoted simply to having them redo the questions they missed, under our guidance and tutelage. But we obviously won’t be spending two whole weeks on that.

Of course, we don’t want these sessions to be “crush”; we’re not feeling pressure to achieve great things academically. We want them to learn some things, to enjoy learning them, and to see that we care about them. Those are reasonable goals, I think, for the next two weeks.

Prayers appreciated.

Speaking of being here a week, we’re buying internet service at the best rate from the one of the local cell services (and there are several services here; cell phones are the way everybody does business, and prices are low and coverage good). Halotel has a “weekly” plan with 13.5 GB of data at a very good rate. Our crew of 11 managed to make the 13.5 gig last 6 days, which is really quite good. I commend them on that; many young people would blow through that in a few hours, with streaming and sharing videos and massive photo uploads and who knows whatever else. Since the Tumaini children don’t have cell phones, we encourage the team to keep their devices out of sight when out of the house and to focus on personal interaction. They’ve done well with that, and they’ve generally kept their wifi use to evenings after the children are in bed—or are supposed to be. 🙂

So about 9 this morning I take the mobile router up to HQ and drop it off so the girls can have some wifi time. When I show up they’re making french toast with the groceries from the other day, including a whole new can of cinnamon and a large bottle of syrup. The cinnamon smells delicious.

Blake and Silas are playing football with a half-dozen Tumaini kids over on the pitch, and Abbie’s out in the kibanda talking to a girl or two. Some of the children are sweeping the dirt pathways—that’s a regular morning chore—and Ferdinand is the staff member on duty this morning. Greetings all around. “Shikamoo, Dr. Dan.” “Malahaba! Hujambo?” “Sijambo!” “Habari za asubuhi?” “Salamah!”

It’s a nice, low-key, quiet, almost pastoral morning on the compound. There will be time for high-energy stuff later.

Chai is at 10, of course. Chapati and tea. The girls who had french toast won’t be eating much.

At 10.30 am we have several local artisans bring their wares to the compound for a “craft fair” just for us, an opportunity for the crew to pick up some high-quality souvenirs at a reasonable price. These are artisans the Tumaini staff knows well; they create excellent products and sell them at good prices. I’ve had several teams go through this process with them. I’ve told the team that usually I’m their advocate in interactions with the locals; if some vendor in town is getting pushy with them, I’ll tell him to lighten up, or even get lost. (With some of these people you have to be quite firm, and some members of previous teams have thought I was being rude, when I really wasn’t; sometimes it simply takes energetic interaction to get the street vendors to back off. They’ll follow you down the sidewalk for 100 meters, haranguing and harassing you to buy their stuff.) But, I tell the crew, at this craft fair, I change sides. I’m going to encourage them to buy as much as they can reasonably afford, and to give these artisans a really good day. We don’t have an ATM here, but I’ve got a stock of local currency and can act as a living, breathing ATM if they need some. (Obviously, I don’t want them to spend money they don’t have, but if the absence of an ATM is preventing them from getting to funds they do have, I’m will to act as an interest-free short-term lender.) So let’s turn ‘em loose and see what happens.

The vendors have lots of good stuff—baskets, carvings, paintings, jewelry, cosmetics, purses—and the crew spends a good hour there, moving from table to table and buying what they can afford. They exhaust my ATM cash, and they borrow from Beth as well. I figure the vendors’ total revenue for the day exceeds 1 million shillings (about $500), which is a very good day for them, worth the trouble of bringing all that inventory out. So good.

We have a little more down time before lunch, which is rice and beans.

About lunchtime the tailor arrives to take measurements for the clothing he is going to make from the fabric many of the team bought in the market the other day. Everybody who has fabric goes down to the office building porch, where he’s set up. As he’s measuring, I hear Beth use the word inchi, and I ask if they’re working in imperial rather than metric. Beth inquires of the tailor, who says in Swahili that fabric is sold by the meter, but tailors work in inches. That certainly seems odd.

We’ve arranged for some home visits this afternoon. We’ll split the team into groups of 2 or 3, and each group, accompanied by an older Tumaini child, will walk to the home of someone in the church. Typically the hosts speak little to no English; the team has a chance to practice their greetings and what little other Swahili they know, and then the child can interpret for any other conversation. We like to give the team this opportunity to see typical home life in the village. The houses are small and spare, but I emphasize to the students that these people are generally not “poor”; the family has a place to live, enough to eat, and clothes to wear. Because their lives are much simpler, their income needs are much lower. But they get along fine, and they certainly don’t need some well-intentioned American dumping a lot of money on them. One odd thing about home visits here is that the local society doesn’t feel the need to sit and entertain the guests. There will be some greeting, and probably a soft drink and maybe chapati, but the host might have other things to do and will set about doing them. The guests may find themselves sitting quietly on the couch for a while, and that’s considered just fine.

While the team’s out, I decide to get my online course ready for its launch right after the team returns on 6/23. I’ve forgotten to get the key to HQ, where the wifi is at the moment, before the crew left, but I can pick up a perfectly good signal from the front steps, so I settle in there and get to work. Within minutes I’m joined by Anthony, one of the youngest boys. He sees the laptop and is of course immediately interested. I’m pretty sure the work I’m doing won’t incite any covetousness is his heart, so I keep working. I make a show of explaining what I’m doing—“I need to make sure the assignment due dates here in the syllabus match the ones over here in the course schedule”—at which he looks blankly at the screen and then just sits beside me, content just to be there. A few minutes later I notice that he’s sound asleep. All you parents of young children who won’t take naps, send them to me.

I’m most of the way done when an older boy comes by and squeezes in between me and the sleeping Anthony, holding a puppy, who immediately begins licking my hand. Fortunately, as I said, I’m about done. As I’m wrapping it up a few minutes later, Abbie and Cheyenne are the first to return from home visits. They had a delightful time visiting one of the mamas in the church. They finish that visit fairly quickly, and the two Tumaini boys with them suggest they go to another house. They end up at the bar up on the hill next to Tumaini, Faulu Beach Resort. No houses up there. We’ll have to deal with that. The children enjoy manipulating new visitors into doing things they’re not allowed to do.

Abbie has the key to let me in to HQ—but then, I’m done with what I had to do.

Timing is everything.

Abbie and Cheyenne head off to join choir practice for church tomorrow, while I hold down the fort at HQ waiting for the others to return. Shelbie, Sam, and Michaela are next. They visited the “chair” of the village, who wanted to know all about Trump and Hillary and Obama and American education and all sorts of things. They talked for about 2 hours in a far-ranging conversation. He was surprised that in America we don’t beat children in school. Peter and Cathryn and Blake return with a report that some folks caught a thief near the house they were visiting and began beating him. It’s not unusual for a crowd to beat a thief to death when they catch him; in this case, though, they stopped before that and are planning to expel him from the village. But they were kind enough to offer Blake an opportunity to join in beating him. He declined. The third group is Kathryn and Rebekah. They have a nice visit too, but no outlandish stories to tell. 🙂

Supper is at Dan & Jana’s house tonight. Jana has served beef tenderloin (!) and green peppers on rice, with peanuts and watermelon (that we brought). It’s extraordinary.

Sam’s scheduled to bring the devotional at the boys’ house tonight, but he’s pretty tired from the day’s activities, so I cover it at the last minute. I decide to do a simple gospel presentation from Titus 3. These kids, in effect, have grown up in a Christian home, and many of them show evidence of simply sliding along without any serious profession of faith. I make the gospel as plain as I can and encourage the boys with questions to talk to us.

Back at HQ, I find that Shelbie did a gospel presentation at the girls’ house as well—except that she had planned to. We all talk a little bit about how God often moves in us to make us agents in a story that he is writing, without our even realizing it. Apparently the kids needed a gospel presentation tonight.

We talk through tomorrow’s activities and close the evening with prayer. After their adventures of the day, and the down time, they’re feeling pretty energetic, so I leave them to their fun and head home. I do remind them that church is at 8. 🙂

Oh, and the water is out at the girls’ house again. Never did come on at the guys’ place.