27 October 2011

The day we chewed 1,000 times.


Poor Julia.

She runs off to school while I get up slowly each morning.  Today I showered (I don’t shower every day here because of all the trouble it takes, but I get quite a bit dirtier here than I do America).  One of the busses broke down, so we were short about 30 kids and 3 teachers.

Good thing she’s got a roommate who’s looking for a new way to put off working on her project for school!

I got super excited because Julia promised me I could read the kids this super cool counting book that Ryan’s mom found.  It counts in Swahili and talks about all the animals in Tanzania and calls them by their Swahili names.  It’s probably the coolest thing I brought on my trip! 

I also got pretty excited about teaching the kids science, since it’s my favorite subject and the kids all think I’m a doctor (they know I’m not, but again, there’s no word for PA in their language). 

I was flipping through the 3rd grade science book the other day and I learned so much: methods of HIV/AIDS transmission (they conveniently left out the big one),  that you should let your underwear soak for 20 minutes in wash water before rinsing it out, then you should iron everything.

Guess I’m not smarter than a Tanzanian 3rd grader.

And I’m walking around wearing dirty underwear since I only let mine soak for 5 minutes before rinsing them…

Just as I’m walking to school with my book, belly full of oatmeal from the guest house and chi from the kitchen, the lost bus pulls up.  It’s supposed to hold about 15 people, but it’s carrying about 30 kids and our missing 3 teachers.

And a few loaves of bread, which the children chase down the bus for.

Guess I’m going to work on my project today after all.

But first, I walked with a sweet girl named Veneranda who walks with the assistance of a cane.  All the other kids ran after the bread and she looked unsure if she should go after some too.  After confirming that she did want bread, I asked if I could walk with her.  She smiled and said yes.  Awesome!

I learned that she wants to be a “sister” when she grows up, but I’m not really sure what that means in this context.  She’s in grade 3 and she likes art class.

Although, all the kids leave art class covered in glitter, so I’m pretty sure they all like art class.

After walking with her to get bread and back to her classroom, I returned to work on my project.  I got about 30 minutes in when I got bored and remembered I promised Julia I would do laundry today.  I’m out of clean shirts and skirts, so I really actually needed to do laundry. 

It looked like rain, so I wasn’t sure about washing, but I figured if it did rain I my clothes would just get rinsed by rain water, which I guessed is just as clean as what comes out of the tap here (that smells like the lake).

And I’d be sure to soak my underwear for 20 minutes this time…

After finishing, I went back and successfully worked on my project for the rest of the morning, and got partly done with my second paper analysis.  Thank you Jesus!!


So, this weekend Julia, Stephanie and I are planning a girls weekend in Mwanza.  Chris, the guy who owns the Children’s home, has a friend Jan who jointly owns the farm in B?? that we stayed at last weekend.  Jan also owns a hotel in Mwanza called Tunza.  They’re having a Halloween party this weekend and we’re going to stay the night in a beach-front bungalow on Lake Victoria. 

So, it’s always a challenge to find a Halloween costume in America that’s creative and fun but not really expensive or really skimpy.  But at least in America you have endless supplies at your fingertips.

We don’t have that here.

Stephanie, being the creative Art teacher she is, decided we should be butterflies.  We all, coincidentally, have black leggings and black tank tops.  We were going to fashion some wings out of Konga (basically 2 yards of bright fabric) stretched between thick, shaped wire. 

Which sounds like fun, but the wire we have is actually extra barbed wire from a fence project and I wasn’t too excited about Julia’s idea to just cut off all the barbs.

So we nixed the butterfly idea.

We floated through a series of costume ideas and decided on Greek goddesses.  We all have white bed sheets that we can make into togas.  Stephanie had the kids make hair wreath things a week or two ago, and we can use that for our hair.  We rummaged through things until we found rope to tie around our waists! And Stephanie has face paint that she’s determined to use!

[kids with head wreaths that look slightly Greek goddess ish]

Perfect, we thought.

Then we noticed how many people here walk around in similar outfits (long cloth wrapped around them).  We thought that maybe since the Masai walk around in basically cloth attached to them with a belt, we might appear to be making fun of them if all we wore was a bed sheet wrapped around us attached by a belt for Haloween.

So, the toga idea was also nixed.

Because no one is brave enough to mess with the Masai.

Stephanie has a wide array of tie-died clothing with her.  She’s got a long story behind it, basically ending in that’s what she could find when she went shopping.  She was running in a tie-died Konga one day (because you have to always wear a skirt here, even when running) and it ripped.  So now we have 2 yards of tie die material at our fingertips.  She thought it would be fabulous to be hippies from the 70s.  I’m not sure if the 70s hit East Africa like they did in America, but at the very least, we’ll be bright, colorful, and matching, which should be fun.

Assuming this idea sticks.


I’ve acquired a new skill.

I’ve learned to speak Swahili.  Fluently.

Only, I can’t do it when I’m awake.  According to Julia, she heard me say “Karibu! (Welcome)” last night in the middle of the night.

Now if I could just channel those thoughts in the daytime, I’ll be set!


Jonas is Chris’s 2nd oldest adopted son.  His oldest, Seleh, is in America ringing the Liberty Bell and raising money to keep the Children’s home and school running. 

Jonas recently read “Where the Red Fern Grows.”  Classic young adult book.  But a difficult one for a kid who’s 3rd language is English.

Being the good student he is, he kept a journal with all the new words he came across and he gets visitors to translate them periodically. 

While I was pulling my laundry off the line to fold it, I helped him translate some words to Swahili.  I would compare it to playing the game Taboo.

I’m decently stellar at the game Taboo.  Ryan can vouch for me.  I was really excited to play this new, Swahili version with Jonas.

You have a word that you have to describe to your teammate, only there’s a bunch of words you can’t use (only the words I can’t use aren’t written out for me, they’re just words Jonas also doesn’t know).

For instance, translate the word eerie:  I tried to use spooky. 


Then creepy.  Also Buzz.

How about scary.  Yes! We have a winner!  We can move on to a new card.

Some of the words were kinda hard, in the way that they could mean two different things.  Like the word “winged.”  It could be used to describe a bird or an aircraft, as a winged object.  Or it could be used to talk about how we had no idea what to make for dinner, but we walked into the kitchen, grabbed some supplies, and winged it, or came up with something on the spot.

I gave him both translations.  I didn’t have the word in context. 

Other words on the list: Kernels, superstition, screech, apron, liquor, and my personal favorite “snort.”

I asked Jonas what sound chickens made in Swahili.  Because I remember from Spanish class some animals make different noises in Spanish than in English.  But chickens make the same noise in English and in Swahili.  So I figured pigs probably do too.  I told him sometimes in America pigs make the noise “oink” and sometimes they snort.

It’s like when you pull air through your nose and make a noise.  That’s a snort.  I didn’t tell him about the translation for snort that people do with drugs.  I figured that wasn’t what they meant when they used the word snort in “Where the Red Fern Grows.”

Last night, when Julia woke up in the middle of the night to charge her computer.  I really still don’t know why, but apparently it worked.

I got up to go potty, like a normal person might do in the middle of the night.

The lights were on when I walked through our living room to the community bathroom.  I flipped the switch to turn on the single light in the entire bathroom, and instantly all the lights in the house turned off.

Nice move.

We flipped a series of light switches, and it seems I turned out all the lights in the house, permanently.  No problem, we’ll just go to bed and fix our power issues tomorrow.

Now, switch the scene to tonight.  Julia and I both remember back to last night when we flipped I flipped all the lights off unintentionally.  Julia gets the bright idea to reset the breaker box.

And suddenly we have lights again, but no main bathroom light, which is a problem because Julia wants to take a shower.  She flips on the bathroom light, which throws all the lights off.

We go back to the breaker box to reset it again, but it won’t reset.  Julia (who is the only one that can reach the breaker box, they practically put it on the ceiling here) can’t flip the switch up. 

I looked and Julia had the bathroom light switch in the on position.  She thought that if she left it on, she could trick the lights into all being on when she reset the breaker box.  But I explained that the breaker box wouldn’t reset with that light on because that’s what is throwing off all the lights in the first place.

Not that I know much about electricity, but I’ve had to flip a few breaker box switches back in the day when I lifeguarded so I figured that’s how they worked in Africa.

Turns out, when we flipped the bathroom light switch down, we had no problem turning on all the other lights in the house.  We tried unsuccessfully to get some of the lights in the bathroom stalls and showers to work, but we could only get the lights to work in the showers that didn’t drain or didn’t have cold water.  So Julia opted for a warm shower in the dark stall that has no door.

It’s funny though, this shower feels ten times more refreshing than the showers I take in America.  Probably, I figure, since I get ten times dirtier here.


We ate dinner with the kids tonight.  We heard that it was probably not rice and beans, that it might be potatoes and bananas and that sounded fabulous to me.

It turned out to be Ugale (cornmeal mush), beans, and meat.  Ok, not Ugale/rice and beans, but close.  Still, the meat added a new flavor and I was pretty thankful for that.

Until I bit into the meat. 

Whoever came up with the saying “chew your food 28 times before swallowing,” has never had African meat.  Across the board, I’ve not had meat here that you can swallow without chewing at least 100 times.

I chewed so long that the meat lost most of its flavor, which was only decent to begin with.  I looked around.

I wasn’t the only American sitting in the room that was chewing over and over again seemingly unsuccessfully.  I was thankful I had only put a small chunk of meat on my plate.

I’m grateful the kids get meat sometimes, and in the future I’ll be happy to let them have it all.  When I first got here, I thought I had to finish all the food on my plate whether I liked it or not.  After all, these kids once were the “starving children in Africa” our mothers always told us about.

But Julia and Stephanie let me in on a great way to ensure there are less hungry kids in the world.  You tell the children “karibu (welcome)” and hand them your plate.  They dive at it and finish it off, then they fight over who gets to take it to the sink for you.


Except that my mouth felt all waxy when we finished dinner.  That’s funny.  I asked Julia, who again, is like my personal guide to all things Tanzanian, and she told me it was fat.

From the meat.

Wince.  Eeew.

Needless to say, I finished off the last of the bag of Chocolate Covered Sunshine (Raisinettes) I brought with me to get the taste out of my mouth.

But realistically, I had to finish them before the mouse got to them, so it worked out wonderfully!


So, headlamps are generally great.  I was kinda bummed that I left mine in Zambia, but I guess God knows better than I do.  While walking home from dinner, I used Julia’s headlamp, and just for a good time, I put it on my head.

And then ate a bug.

Bad idea.  The headlamp was promptly removed from my head and the swarm of bugs followed suit.  Thankfully.


While we charged our computers and worked that evening, Chris’s sons watched The Polar Express.

It’s officially October 26th and I foolishly thought I might make it all the way to mid-November this year without hearing Christmas music.  Usually, my friend Diana is the first one to get me to listen to Christmas music, either with a mixed CD or in her car.  But someone beat her to it this year. 

I think it was worth it, just to see Chris’s youngest son, Danny (who doesn’t know his real age because he was found with no parents or birth certificate or anything), but we guess he’s around 8, sit straight up the entire time, eyes wide, staring at the movie.  Everything he does is “the best thing ever.”

Seriously, this kid couldn’t stop saying “Asante Sana (thank you so much)” when we let him grate our cheese the other day.  Like grating cheese for someone is something special.

I found myself thanking God that he made each child to be something special.


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