Wednesday, October 14, 2015


I know I've been quiet. It was deliberate.
I wrote this in my journal back in July, and I still am working on living this out in my life:

"I'm not sure I want to write anymore.

I certainly admire writers, and respect the platform and avenue to reach audiences and impact across years.

But this world doesn't need any more voices. Everyone is talking, giving advice, telling people news, screaming their opinions.
We don't need anymore voices - we need more hands.

We need open arms to extend hugs. We need hands folded in fervent prayer. We need fingers to give Band-Aids, to serve food, to wash dirty floors.

We need servants, not speakers.
This world needs people to practice love in action - not another writer with a nice idea."

If you want to know what's going on in my life - the art gallery, my travels, my love life and how my faith is growing, please lets get personal and talk by phone, over coffee or Skype.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Return to Canada

It's almost the end of July. In Toronto, it is summer in full-swing. Blissfully warm days, full of sun, with glorious sunsets stretching to 9 pm.
In Tanzania, it is winter - drizzly and rainy. I imagine that everything is very, very green, but also chilly.

I'm glad to be 'home', to take a warm bath, use an oven (I currently have a raspberry peach crisp baking!) and ride my bike alone, even at night without fear. But I don't feel torn between missing Tanzania (yet) and being comfortable in Canada, maybe because I believe that I will go back soon, so it wasn't a permanent goodbye to such a beautiful country.

I came home to so many blessings.
I anticipated that it would be much harder, returning from being away. I thought emotionally it would be more draining, that there would be culture shock, that I would scramble to find a job and things would be tight. But God blessed me so abundantly, it is a miracle!

First of all, a friend of my roommates needed a place to stay, but the only bedroom big enough to accommodate another bed luggage was mine. As the first month I would be away 3 out of 4 weeks, I offered my room. However, the one month has turned into the whole summer - a whole summer of me paying HALF the rent I would normally pay, all because this beautiful Brazilian lady, who I barely see because she's always working, has a bed beside mine! I didn't even ask God for this financial savings, He just offered it to me!

I remember feeling nervous for what I would do about a job when I came back to Canada - but I came home with 3 employment opportunities! Even more miraculous is that 2 of them sought me out, I did not even apply!
The first job was a temporary seasonal position working at a camp; it began the DAY AFTER I returned from Tanzania. This was the only job which I applied for. However, after 6 weeks I quit; it was too much work and the commute was more rigorous than I expected. I wouldn't have been healthily able to maintain for another week, let alone begin regular employment somewhere else in August.
In August, I am returning again as a nanny - the family I used to work for has had another baby! I am so excited to be a nanny again, and I met the little boy this weekend; he is very different from his older brother, but still a sweet baby.
The other position, which also begins in August is working at a halfway house for adults, in my career field and amazing that they asked me to interview based on the recommendation of a former co-worker - another job I didn't even apply for!

It reminds me of when I first came to Toronto; nervous, without a job or a lead, and only housing for 3 weeks. In the span of a week God blessed me with a full-time job, an interview for a part-time position in my career field and a home - the place where I still live today. And he did it again - blessed my home, blessed my work, in ways I never expected.

There is so much more to say - about what I've learned, what I'm doing next. But let me start with this; that God has been so good to me.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

28 Years Old: The Birthday Blog

My annual birthday blog, where I look back on the year and think over all I've done, the small goals I've accomplished and all I still dream of doing!

This year was a surprise for me. All my intentions were aimed at staying at my same job, getting grounded in Toronto and studying art therapy in Barcelona, Spain.
And all my little plans were upheaved in the best of ways. I never made it to Spain (or Catalonia, depending on your view of Barcelona's history). As readers already know; I've been living in Tanzania for the past 5 months. What readers may not know is that instead of studying art therapy, God surprised me by giving me the opportunity to open an art gallery in Zanzibar- my favorite place on earth.
Not what I expected, but so, so much better. So here is to my year of 27, I'll start with Tanzania:
27 Things from last year

1. Started a business in Zanzibar. Yes. I know it sounds crazy. I felt like God told me to do it, so I did. I have a business partner, and together we own an art gallery. Guess that means I'll be coming back soon!
I guess I can say I crossed 'visit Zanzibar again' off my list.*

2. Am doing an internship with an NGO for children's rights in Arusha. I have learned so much about NGOs, about work in developing countries, monitoring and evaluation.

3. Visited Ngorngoro Crater; rhinos, elephants, zebras, wildebeests, lions and hippos.

4. Got another tattoo*
This tattoo had the least amount of thought put into it than all my other tattoos. It is a beam of light, because “Ellen” means light. I often pray that God will make me a light in dark places (especially prisons or the inner-city), and then one day I learned that my name actually MEANS light, which was so encouraging. Now I have a permanent reminder to be a light everywhere.

5. Drank hibiscus juice, I love it!

6. Hiked to the Arusha waterfall.

7. Learned how to make pilauw (a rice dish flavored with cinnamon, cardamon, cumin and garlic)

8. Learned how to make grate a coconut, it's quite a workout, even with a special razor attached to a stool so you can sit while you grate.

9. Improved my knowledge of the Swahili language immensely.

Back in Toronto

10. Started volunteering at my church in Canada, helping watch kids while their parents sit in the service. I love children, and I really respect my church in Toronto because of the practical programs they have for the community, and the church community. And to think, the first time I went I thought it was too big and didn't want to continue attending!

11. Around May I started biking. I finally got over my hesitation and went for it. Guess what? I LOVE biking as transportation! A great way to get exercise, too.*

12. Visited Niagra Falls/Horseshoe Falls. Did you know there are like 3 different waterfalls in that area? I always thought it was just one because Horseshoe Falls are the most photographed. I went, I saw, I took pictures. Then I had pizza and went back to Toronto.*

13. Quit my only job. It didn't make sense to quit, I had only one job, part-time, with flexible hours and the freedom to take weeks off at a time and it was in my professional field. There was no 'sensible' reason to quit. But I felt like I was supposed to, so I did.

14. Got a job in Restorative Justice. Just after I quit my other job, God opened an awesome (even if incredibly short) opportunity to work out of a court house doing restorative justice and direct accountability. I really enjoyed this experience, the only draw back was that it was too short! I got to work out of two different court houses and learn Canadian court proceedings, even figured out how to address a Justice of the Peace (while you're supposed to say 'your worship', I did not feel comfortable staying that, so I said “your war ship”).

And I also went to Uganda

15. The shortness of that job opened the opportunity for me to go to Uganda. The second time this year. I got to see my favorite small person, spend lots of time reading and giggling and cuddling with him.

16. While in Uganda I also had the opportunity to volunteer with YWAM Arua. I helped with the kids program, did a little administrative work to help them with raising support and hospital visitation. If you've followed my blog, you already know that the hospital visitation was the most impacting for me. I saw what hospice ministry is, and that the greatest gift you can offer another person is your presence.

17. Saw the inside of a Ugandan prison. On the one hand, there was electricity and a television set. On the other hand, inmates were served only beans and porridge for all meals unless they could somehow buy fruits and vegetables. Stealing a cell phone could land you in prison for two years or more, but assaulting someone in your family wasn't something to even bother the police about.

18. Got typhoid. Twice. Avoid it, it is not fun. Especially in rural Uganda. I've seen hospitals in Tanzania, Thailand, and Ethiopia and I would prefer anywhere but Uganda.

19. With the help of friends we raised over $2000 for Charity Water. After I got typhoid I started to learn about water-related diseases. I learned that dirty water causes more deaths than all forms of violence, more than HIV and more than malnutrition. Doing a fundraiser made my birthday so special, and people from all over sent me their love in a tangible way, along with encouraging messages. I felt so blessed.

Other accomplishments:

20. I was much better this year about not wasting food.*

21. Thankful *
This wasn't so much about effort, but about being aware. To take a moment and consider the good, to include thanks in all of my prayers and to make sure I stated what I was thankful for each night before I slept. Being thankful is part of being happy. And the opposite of thankful is envious, greedy and coveting – so be thankful!

22. I DID apply for Canadian Citizenship. There was an error with one document, so I must reapply. Do I get a star for this? No. I will wait.

23. Visited my family in Pennsylvania. I didn't go for the most pleasant of reasons; my grandfather was very sick. But being with family at that time, getting to know my cousins who I had never met before was wonderful.
It seems this year has a reoccurring theme of good does not mean easy or fun. I had the blessing of being with my grandfather when he died, such a hard and painful moment; but so good. Because I saw with my own eyes the peace that enveloped him as he crossed into eternity. I don't actively doubt, but I have never been so sure of the hope of Jesus as in that hospital room. It is what life is all about. Good is so much better and deeper than momentary pleasure.

24. Became an aunt again! I have another niece and nephew; Zoe and Tyler.

25. Started to "do" something with my writing. I submitted a devotion which was accepted and will be shared tomorrow. Not paid, but there are other contests and ways I've been actively submitting my writing, so this is encouraging. It's after my birthday, but I submitted it before, so I count this one as done.*

26. I danced. A lot. With the girls I volunteer with in Arusha, or Thursday nights at a club where I know people every time I turn around, with my old roommate in the kitchen, on the weekends in Toronto with friends. I attended a salsa social, went to dance-themed parties, or crashed Brazilian world cup celebrations. This year was full of wiggling and shaking to beats. I don't now about singing in heaven, but I know there will be dancing.

27. I really was so happy this year. Not because I skipped winter, not because I was in Tanzania. I was just happy. I think making a point to be thankful, shifting my focus off of my job and career and instead towards faithfulness and obedience to God. I have never been so blissfully content.*

28 Things for next year

1. Go hiking in Banff +++

2. Surf +++

3. Read more everyday.

4. Climb the roof at my climbing gym. ++

5. See my newest nephew, Tyler.

6. Go sky diving +++

7. Make my own clothing. I have a sewing machine, it's time to get a move on! +

8. Obtain Canadian citizenship +

9. Speak Amharic fluently +++

10. Lead a program for groups of teens +++

11. Be more conscious of helping, including and taking time for other people.
12. Learn how to make yogurt +++

13. Go to Spain +++

14. Be more conversant in Spanish +++

15. Complete the quilts I've started for my growing brood of nieces and nephews, before there are just too many of them!

16. Drive a standard/stick-shift vehicle ++++

17. Return to Phi Phi Island +++ I really thought I was going this year. But I guess not yet. Someday!!!

18. Take a pottery class. ++

19. Climb Mount Kilimanjaro.+++ Lol! Two times in Tanzania, and I still haven't even attempted. Some day. Some day.

20. See the Grand Canyon. +++

21. Go to New Zealand. +++

22. Visit Madagascar. 

23. Get laser eye surgery. ++

24. Visit Algonquin Park, for hiking and kayaking. ++

25. Take a painting class. (Hahaha, I own an art gallery, how easy would this be to actually

just do! And then sell what I painted.. That would be awesome!)

26. Oh goodness, I feel so unprepared for running a business. Especially across the ocean 

and me, of all people to be in charge of accounting? Here is hoping I don't mess it up. 

Hopefully this will have a better outcome than my first business.

27. I guess I need a job when I go back to Canada. Yes. I definitely need to get a job.

28. BE HAPPY! 

* On my list from last year that I completed
+ On last year's list that has yet to be completed
++ On the list for two years running, hopefully I will accomplish.
+++ On the list for a few years now. Maybe I will never get around to it!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Another post that is not about water.

It's no surprise that there is a problem of HIV/AIDS throughout the continent of Africa, and Tanzania is no exception.

Between 5 and 6 percent of the population of Tanzania is infected.

 An estimated 150,000 Tanzanians were newly infected with HIV in 2011, which is over 400 new infections every day. In the same year, 83,528 Tanzanians died from AIDS.

Women in Tanzania are particularly affected by HIV and AIDS. In 2011, women comprised nearly 60 percent of people living with HIV.

This blog post is not about HIV/AIDS. This post is not about safe sex. Those are important topics, but that is not what I am going to talk about. I'm going to talk about using gloves. Yes, gloves.

An estimated 1.5 million people die every year from HIV/AIDS.
One of the individuals who died today was a former employee of the office where I am completing my internship.
Quiet, hardworking, but we didn't talk much. Twice we ordered lunch together, but N was much more patient than I and liked to eat at 2 or 3 pm; I can't hold out on food for that long.
N was let go a week an a half ago because of some job-related mistakes.

Immediately, N's health deteriorated and N was hospitalized. While the family named various illnesses, because of the stigma and denial that shrouds HIV and AIDS, it was obvious what the real killer was.

As I was contemplating the reason for such a heavy stigma, I listened to the conversations of the people around me.
"If only we had known..."
"I would have..."
"Maybe I could have..."
"I never even..."

Kinder words would have been used.
Patience would have prevailed.
Invitations to dinner would have been offered.
N would not have been let go. There would have been understanding, more time, flexibility.

If we knew N was sick.... but, with numbers like 6%, there is a good chance that people we meet every day are infected with HIV/AIDS.
The guys I play soccer with. The person at the store. My motorcycle drivers. The girls I volunteer with. The waiter who serves my coffee. Someone squished beside me on public transportation.

In First Aid training, they teach you to treat everyone as if they are infected, because you never know. From children to grandmas and everyone in between, if you respond to a bleeding victim or consider doing CPR, protect yourself first with proper precautions; gloves, mouth shields, etc.

The same with working with people in the justice system; there is a higher concentration of people infected with HIV and AIDS who are in conflict with the law because of risky behaviors. We are trained to treat everyone as if they have an infectious disease.
You use latex gloves with everyone, you don't take any chances.

But instead of latex, I'm suggesting that we use kid gloves with everyone.

Kid as in the soft, expensive leather for fancy gloves. What you touch with kid gloves you treat carefully. You recognize as precious, valuable.

Shouldn't each and every person I interact with be treated with the same kindness regardless of if they are dying or healthy? Isn't that what dignity means? That your worth is not in any status of skin, gender, age or health?
Your worth is in your humanity.

I should treat everyone with kid gloves.
I should treat everyone with kindness.

Monday, March 23, 2015

March 22 World Water Day 2015

Yesterday was World Water Day, sponsored by the UN to raise awareness about the issues concerning water for our world today. See their webpage HERE to learn more. It's chock-full of facts, figures and information. Don't just skip it, actually check it out!

Water is the very essence of life and yet three-quarters of a billion people
 – mostly the poor and the marginalized – 
still today are deprived of this most basic human right,”
 -- Sanjay Wijesekera, head of the UN Children Fund

National Geographic made a fun QUIZ about water (it takes 2 minutes). I only scored 50%!
Hope you do better!

And the Guardian also did a QUIZ for World Water Day. I only scored 40% on this one!!! I obviously don't know my rivers.

World Water day is only once a year, but we need water every day.

I'm closing in on $2000 towards my fundraiser for clean water! If you haven't donated yet, please join!

Truthfully, this fundraiser has made me excited about my birthday! Last year I didn't even mention my birthday to anyone, but this year I'm telling lots of people because I want them to donate. I can't wait until the final day to see how much money we raised!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Fitting In

I am diverting from my focus on clean water for just this one post, I hope you'll forgive me.

Yesterday I told my parents about the Tanzanian man I've begun dating – it's just dating, not engagement, just getting to know him – but my father gave me a word of caution, reminding me that cultural differences present challenges in relationships.
I immediately thought 2 things:
  1. I've never dated an American man, and I don't want to (well, not a typical picket-fence, 1.5 kids and a dog kinda American man, that is).
  2. What IS my culture?

Am I American? Am I a mixture of American/Canadian?
What about how being part of an Ethiopian family has shaped me?
And my best friends, from El Salvador and Sudan, and all I've learned from them?

Is there ANYONE on this planet with a culture similar to mine?

Then, this afternoon I found this electronic journal entry, written in October 2014 on my first evening in Arua, Uganda. I found it very fitting:

I started reading 'Kisses from Katie' by Katie Davis; a young woman who's original plan of spending a year before college teaching kindergarten in Uganda transitioned into living here permanently and seeking to adopt 13 orphaned girls.

What resonated most with me in this book is not her love of children, her passion for adoption or her interest in Uganda, although I have underlined many of those passages so far.
No, what I feel agreement with the most is her change of perspective and priorities and how that affected her life and relationships.
For the first time, I could understand my frustration with going from serving as a missionary and transitioning to college life in small town Michigan. I transferred schools after a semester, but still had a hard-time at my new school.
It wasn't about having an 'international experience'; I had been working in the inner-city of Winnipeg, still in North America.
It was that my outlook on life had changed, the drive and purpose of my life had taken a different shape; a shape that did not fit in any cookie-cutters.

This happened for Katie Davis because she saw the desperate needs of people in rural Uganda; having ice cream with girlfriends and shopping at the mall suddenly lost its flavor. I felt that, too. I had loved my first school in Michigan: the inspiring profs, my new friends, the independence, staying up late, jogging at one am, soccer on Sundays and volunteering at a soup kitchen on Thursdays.
I remember that I was sad to go to Winnipeg and serve with YWAM and leave that school.

And Winnipeg was hard. My first three months were the most lonely I have ever experienced in my life. I slept nearly 10 hours a day because it was easier to continue sleeping than to be awake and have nothing to do and no one to talk to... and you know, hibernation. For an extreme extrovert, moving to Winnipeg in January was a terrible decision; because of the extreme cold, people don't go out of their houses. There were no new friends because everyone was indoors. But when spring finally arrived and people strolled down the street and neighbors worked in their gardens, things got better and I made friends.

Ministry changed, too; suddenly, my days were packed-full with kids and youth. I was leading Bible studies for teens in jail, meeting mentees and helping youth write resumes. Weekly I volunteered with an outreach program for women involved in the sex trade.

I was praying daily for guidance, because I felt so inadequate to minister to the teens in gangs, to pray with the sister who's brother had run away from home, to say anything relevant or encouraging to a prostitute, to support the first grader who had to testify in court against her abusive father.
My relationship with God grew because I did not have the skills, the resources to help; and so I prayed A LOT.

I remember one Christmas 2 of my siblings gave me red sweaters; a color I could not wear on the street lest someone shoot me from afar for wearing a rival gang color. Hearing sirens all throughout the night became normal, as well as the weekly phone call to police for a domestic dispute I could hear down the street, or paramedics for a homeless person passed out on the street who I wasn't sure was dead or alive. I observed the 'projects' first hand and saw for myself the poverty mixed with community that develops in government housing. I saw drug deals and dirty cops. I served food at my church and learned not to let people take leftovers home, because they would sell it to buy drugs. I got over the smell of fumes and excessive mouth wash, body odor and marijuana. I cried when one of the homeless women I knew froze to death one February when she couldn't make it to a shelter in time. And again when I gave a birthday cake mix and canned icing to a little girl in my Bible Study, and later learned she and her mother ate the icing for dinner because their electricity had been cut-off and they couldn't bake the cake. I prayed with a youth for protection and safety to leave the gang and not be gunned down in his new, “safer” neighborhood, or beat up when traveling through downtown by bus. I wrote letters to a young man who had taken revenge against man who had killed his best friend in a drive-by; words I would remind myself later in life about forgiveness.

And then, I said goodbye and returned to small-town USA to study social work.
It sounded good; get my education, learn about something I was passionate about so that I would have the skills to make a more lasting influence. But college-life had lost its flavor.
Going bowling was fun, eating pizza at 3 a.m. was fine, it just didn't fulfill me as it had two years before. My roommates couldn't understand the messages left for me on the answering machine, and stared at me in alarm when I accepted phone calls from jail. The messages at chapel services felt shallow and self-centered: I didn't want my religion to be about how I could succeed, do my best get good grades, find a spouse or an entry-level position. I wanted to practically love and serve people who were hurting.

I loved the new school I transferred to, but things were not all hunky-dory there, either. I still felt like a miss-fit. I was a 21 year old who had been a full-time missionary, complete with raising her own support, couch-surfed for 6 months, had lice three times from hugging kids, screamed at drug dealers who stop selling, argued with johns wanting to pick up a prostitute and cried beside a teenager in the psychiatric ward. Not to mention, did tsunami relief, helped protect children from abduction, traveled through Uganda alone and interviewed former child soldiers, and held malnourished babies in displacement camps.
Sitting in a classroom, taking a mandatory Art History class so that my education would be 'well-rounded ' seemed pretty ridiculous.

I didn't laugh at jokes that included 'whores' nor did I joke about crack cocaine or call my female friends 'bitches'. I argued in the middle of class with a professor who flippantly talked about 'gangbangers' or youth in gangs. I disagreed with my Old Testament Biblical Studies professor so much he finally asked me privately to stop raising my hand in his class; our perspectives on the message of the Old Testament were very, very different (and I didn't stop raising my hand and sharing my opinion).

Now, more than 6 years later and I am finally starting to see what I had so blatantly missed: I'm ruined for normal North American life. Be that Canadian or American.

Just like the author Katie explained, when her daughter asked her if she would explode if she accepted Jesus into her heart: “yes, you will explode. You will never be the same again.” She met Jesus in a new way in Uganda, and it exploded her life. I met Jesus in teenage boys in gangs on the streets of Winnipeg and it disrupted me forever.

When I signed up for YWAM the program promised to 'ruin me for ordinary'. God really did use that experience to ruin me for society's 'norm' forever. I couldn't just go back to college after that, or date a regular Joe who could provide well for me and talk about our favorite movies.
Even today, I am dissatisfied with a mediocre life. It is not at all that I need extreme adventure, that I need to be doing something big or dangerous or fulfilling. Or that I need to be out of North America, It IS that serving God to the best of my ability is consuming me, and nothing else; no other relationship, recreational activity, career or role in life can come close.

So, maybe it doesn't matter at all if someone is American or Canadian or Tanzanian; because culture is a flexible, moving thing. What matters is if they are consumed with a passion to serve God and are not content with anything less.

Because I don't fit in American or Canadian culture, anyway. And I'm completely okay with that.

Friday, February 20, 2015


Today I'm going to talk about diarrhea.

I know it's gross, but it needs to be talked about.

You see, diarrhea is a major killer. (click here to read more)

We've all had the shits at some point. We ate something, we had the flu or had the "travelers trots" and made a dash for the toilet.
Inconvenient, embarrassing, sure. But I never associated it with fatality before.
I never thought you could DIE from diarrhea.

Until I started this fundraiser for clean water I didn't even know how to spell diarrhea! (there are several accepted spellings, by the way).

It's not bloody, it's not violent, and it doesn't discriminate based on gender or ethnicity. But it is deadly, because it causes dehydration. If you don't have access to clean, safe water, diarrhea can actually kill you.

But maybe it won't kill you. Maybe the concept of 'deadly diarrhea' is almost humorous to you. But if you've ever been responsible for a small child or infant who had diarrhea, it's no joke.
Diarrhea is the second leading cause of death in children under 5 years old.
And is the leading cause of malnutrition in children (which they can also die from).

Diarrhea leads to dehydration.
And what is essential for re-hydration?
See the endless cycle here?

Diarrhea should be embarrassing. It should NOT be deadly.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Sobering Reality















15.  A child just died from lack of access to clean water.

Every 15 seconds a child dies of lack of access to clean water. Either from thirst, dehydration due to diarrhea or diseases caused by lack of access to water. Further, lack of access to water affects nutrition and food because most food in developing countries is cooked with water (such as rice). This statistic does not bring into account children who are murdered, used as human sacrifices, or die during childbirth due to early pregnancy as a result of rape when kidnapped or attacked during the trip to collect water.

This is not to be confused with 1 in 5 children...that statistic is 1 in 5 children under the age of 5 years old dies.

If 4 children per minute seems extreme, here are the sources that confirm it:

"Safe water and sanitation are critical for survival.
A child dies every 15 seconds from disease attributable to unsafe drinking water,
deplorable sanitation and poor hygiene."

Sunday, February 15, 2015

A Little Thing that is a Big Thing

I don't usually think about water.
Like toilet paper or soap, you take it for granted unless it's not there when you need it.
Even in Tanzania, I have running water in my house and a water filter conveniently on top of the fridge; getting clean drinking water is easy. Getting water for washing my clothes, mopping the floor, bathing and cooking is easy.

But this small thing I take for granted is essential to life. And because some people in the world - some people not too far away from where I live, actually - don't have access to clean water, their lives are completely disrupted.

Here is a list of things that are affected by lack of access to water:

Family Income.
Sexual Assault.
Early Pregnancy.
Staying Alive.

See this little thing affects so many things.

I will be posting on each specific topic in the future, but a short run-down of each item goes like this:

The major cause of disease in the ENTIRE WORLD is due to lack of access to clean water and/or poor sanitation. If there was sufficient water, people would wash their hands more regularly, diminishing disease. If there was a source of clean water, people wouldn't drink from creeks; some of which get run-off from pit-latrines which leak human waste into water systems (both are possibly how I originally got Typhoid).

Obviously, this affects a family's finances, if they need to pay for medical attention. But beyond medicines and doctor's visits, the time spent collecting water is estimated to be 140 hours daily by women all over the world. If put together, that would be 20 Empire State Buildings being constructed each day! For some women, its a twenty minute walk; for others, its 4 hours ONE WAY.
Time that could have been spent on other projects, ones which could bring in additional income is sucked up by walking to get water.

This is where education comes in, too. Children are usually given the task of getting water. And if it takes a few hours to get water and bring it back home, that's time that students are not in school. Children's education is directly affected by having lack of access to clean water.

If someone has to get water in the dark, there are a whole other host of concerns. He or she could be raped and possibly consequently impregnated. This alone has a domino affect for emotional and physical health, but also if a girl is pregnant the likelihood of her finishing school diminishes and even future prospects for marriage are affected.
But that's only if they make it back home.
Too many are kidnapped during this attack; abduction could mean they are forced to become child soldiers, child brides or slaves.
But that's only if they are left alive.
It's a prime location; attackers can depend that there will probably be someone walking in the dark, carrying a heavy jug of water and not be able to run. And they can probably bet on it being a child, more than likely a girl.

Finally, dirty water contaminated by industrial run-off, human waste, parasites or diseases affects everyone, but not equally. Anyone can die from contaminated water, but not having the finances to pay for medication makes you more likely to die. Also, being a young child means your body is not strong enough to fight off sickness. That is why 1 in 5 children around the world die before reaching their 5th birthday. Children die from water-related diseases at a rate of 4 children per minute.

Clean water matters because it's the difference
between life and death.

* While I certainly looked up this information, and it can be confirmed with UNICEF and the World Health Organization, as well as; I also was aware of it because of my time spent in Uganda. For example, young men of one of the tribes in the far north of Uganda would kidnap a girl, rape her and then send cows back to the girl's father- she was now his 'wife'; even if she was only 15. When I asked why families didn't better protect their daughters, the answer was the girl was usually collecting water when it happened. Water is a basic necessity; you can't just not have water, even if the risk means rape and abduction.

Monday, February 02, 2015


This isn't my first time in a developing country, or in a location without running water. It's not the first time I ever carried jerrycans of water from a water-source. And it's not the first time I have had to boil my water to drink it.

But it is the first time I ever got sick from contaminated water.
It's the first time I sat in a medical clinic in room full of people sick with the same water-borne disease:

  • Toddlers screaming, tears streaming down their cheeks while nurses connected them to IVs.
  • Children in school uniforms getting their treatment before going to class.
  • Mothers working with only one hand because the other had a needle for receiving medicine through infusion.
  • Old men, wrapped in blankets against the chill of the fever as they waited their turn.

The doctors, nurses, nearly every person in town shrugged about typhoid; "its one of the most common diseases here."

But it doesn't have to be.

Hopefully, you're not like me. Hopefully, you don't need to actually be sick from contaminated water in order to want to do something to help others who don't have access to clean water.

You can donate at: Charity Water Birthdays

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Birthday Theme

It's the most abundant source on the planet.
It's the most renewable resource.
It's an essential element of life.
It's used by all living things.
It makes up 50-60% of our bodies.

And yet, for too many people in the developing world, lack of access to clean water results in death. 

Sometimes before age 5.

It's completely preventable, and you and I can do something about it.

This year I'm turning 28.
That's over 5 times longer the 30,000 children  who 
die every WEEK 
from illness associated with dirty water
before they get the chance to reach their 5th birthday.

How about you - how  many 'lifetimes' have you lived?

This year, I'm devoting my birthday to Charity:Water , an organization that uses 100% of donations to helping communities in the developing world have access to clean water.

The next two months leading up to my birthday I am devoting to talking about water. It's what my blog and Facebook posts will focus on. Please share it, donate and encourage others to do the same.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015


Bahari is 'sea' or 'ocean' in Swahili.
This means seafood!
Lobster, shrimp, large prawns, calamari, and fish galore!
I tasted “shelly-shelly” for the first time last week (the gentleman who shared with me refused to let me purchase the entire piece, stating it was his lunch and he intended to eat it). From what I've understood, this is fried conch meat, and it was good.

On the south coast, we saw fisherman every day. I swam past one while I was snorkeling one afternoon. He was swimming, wearing a mask and snorkel, trailing a line 15 feet behind him, strung with small octopus and fish he had lanced with his harpoon. I've never witnessed fishing like that before, but I was impressed. He swam for hours a day, face in the water, spearing the sea life.
When he had finished, he would swim to a small, uninhabited island and flag down a passing boat and hitch a ride back to his part of the big island.
What a life!

Back on shore, many small boys walked along the beach with knifes standing up in their back pockets. They would carry dead fish into the ocean and clean them, then cut them on the beach, seagulls arriving to readily to gobble up the guts scattered on the sand. Others sat with an octopus between their legs, 'massaging it' in the sand; when I asked about this, I was informed that it was the method for removing the poison so they would be edible.

In every sea-side city and tiny village there are fish markets. Fishermen bring their catches; from sting rays and tuna fish as long as my leg, to tiny shrimp. Clown fish and angel fish are eaten as readily as lobster or crab; some items sold by the kilo, others auctioned off to the highest bidder.

Fishermen know the tides; the consistency of when the ocean comes close to the houses and the beach is reduced to a few feet of sand, to when the water disappears and you wonder “where did the ocean go?” especially in such a short amount of time as you walk nearly half a mile to reach a boat bobbing in three feet of water.
Fishermen rise early in the mornings to fish with the high tide, waking when it is still dark to complete their work. The afternoons they lay their nets across the sand and spot for holes that fish might swim through. The nets are enormous, some a quarter of a mile long. Just one net!

Fishermen smell like their catches. Their clothes are faded from sun and salt, from waves splashing up over the boat, or from swimming with their clothes on.
While they are hard workers, I wouldn't say that the life of a fisherman is something to aspire to. They aren't looked upon as highly educated (many of the boys on the beach may not be attending school, but can gut a fish, which brings in a little income) and no father would dream for his daughter to marry a fishermen; they won't be wealthy men.

Education is good, but the fact is, it is not universally available. Only the wealthy can afford it. In Tanzania, primary education is “free” or so the government says. Despite the lack of school fees, children are required to 'contribute' to the school building and materials – which parents say equates to the same amount of money they used to have to pay in school fees. Only know their taxes are higher because school is “provided by the government”.
Secondary school, what North America considers high school, is not mandatory and has significant school feels (no pretending the government is providing). But on top of this, students must pass exams with high enough grades to be accepted into secondary school.
Between children of poor families; ones lacking electricity in their homes and where all the children have many chores or extra jobs (like helping with catching or cleaning fish) to help contribute to the family income, and children born into rich families; where electricity is readily available to nightly reading, as well as servants to complete chores and allow free time for studying – which do you think has a better chance of getting higher grades to be accepted into secondary school?
And then, even if the children were to be accepted into secondary school, they would have to come up with the money to pay for school fees, sometimes move far from their family to attend a boarding school and pay extra for their room and food in that situation.

Education is a privilege, one that far too many Tanzanian fishermen didn't have access to.

Matthew 4 / Mark 1
“As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea – for they were fishermen. And he said to them, 'Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.' Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As they went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.”

Luke 5

“He saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. There he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, 'Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.' Simon answered, 'Master we had worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.' When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them. They came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus knees, saying 'Go away from me Lord for I am a sinful man!' for he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish they had taken. And so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee who were partners with Simon. Then Jesus said to Simon. “Do not be afraid, from now on you will be catching people. Then they brought their boats to shore and left everything and followed him.”

Nowadays, pastors graduate high school, attend seminary and then maybe even go on for their masters degree. They study the scriptures and receive degrees and honors to show how prepared they are to lead a Church.
There were religious leaders in Jesus' day; he just didn't call them to be his disciples. He called fishermen.

Jesus wasn't interested in the high and mighty, in the highly educated. He wasn't swayed by money or influence. He picked the least educated people; men who had no connections, no financial savings to invest in his ministry. He didn't pick well-known, popular men who would attract more crowds.
He didn't pay mind to the scholars of the day, the ones who had studied the scriptures and knew all the laws. He looked at the faith of Peter, who recognized him as God from the first interaction with him.
And on Peter - not on Nicodemus - Jesus built the Church.

A few nights ago my host and I were chatting. He told me how a team of local pastors from one large church had invited him for coffee and formally asked him to begin attending their church.
"Why?" I asked. "Why does it matter which church you attend? We are all in the family of God."
"Because I am well known in this town. If I start attending their church, other people will follow me and their church will grow."

There was no compassion for people, no love for the lost. It was blatant; they just wanted large numbers of people and the money to follow.

I mentioned what God had been teaching me about the poor; how he preferred the lowly, the outcast. He spent time with prostitutes and tax collectors, lepers and fishermen. I thought about the fishermen I saw working at the beach earlier today.
Jesus didn't go after the popular people, he didn't pursue the well-educated speakers, the ones who knew the scriptures and were excellent teachers. He chose fishermen.

Sitting in Zanzibar we laughed together. Jesus came to this earth; God himself in the flesh and he pursued fishermen for his kingdom.

That turns my world upside down, it disrupts my life: Fishermen, not Pharisees.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

An Announcement in the Night

Christmas has passed, but the characters of Christmas are among us daily:

Young mothers, unmarried, likely unprepared for raising a child.
Fathers who started the journey of fatherhood before they were officially married, sometimes committing to raise children not related to them by blood.
People too poor to afford a hotel room; who must sleep outside with animals to brave the cold.
Refugees who flee the threat of powerful, murderous groups.
Shepherds; professions who stay up all night taking care of animals.

This last one stood out starkly to me in Arusha, Tanzania, where many of the local tribes are sheep or cattle herders. It's not strange to see people moving flocks or groups of cows around the hillsides. I love to see the Maasai in their traditional dress, walking with staffs, pushing the animals this way, that way.
While these scenes get fantastic photos for tourists, and their villages are places again for villagers to tour, I haven't seen the tribes get a great deal of respect or money.

I asked a friend of mine, who is Maasai, what he thought about this. He refuses to wear traditional Maasai dress in the town of Arusha because of the reaction he gets from locals and tourists. He feels that the Maasai tribe is the butt of jokes, while upheld for tourists to photograph, but not to really understand. His people are viewed as uneducated, simpletons who are only good to hire as nightwatchmen (truly most of the guards are Maasai).
If I'm ever stranded in the mountains in Tanzania, I don't want a highly-educated physician, chemist or astronaut: I want a Maasai warrior, hands down.

Shepherds look good in the nativity scene; this odd accumulation of a newborn baby and a barn; throw in some sheep and shepherds and just make it a circus!
But the shepherds of the day were not well-to-do, respectable men. They were a type of outcast. Staying up until all hours of the night, watching sheep; smelling like sheep.
The people here in Arusha who take care of animals inevitably smell like those animals, they would have back in 1 A.D., also.

God only gave one invitation to the birth of his Son (*the Magi came uninvited). When a new king, or prince, was born in other kingdoms, fireworks exploded, heralds called out: the announcement was made the the world.
For Jesus, only one group of people were told: shepherds.
Not the religious leaders, not the government, not the wealthy who could afford to come with gifts, who could bless this newlywed couple.
Only the men who stayed up all night protecting sheep.

When Jesus grows up, he refers to himself as the Good Shepherd.
I've heard this so many times, it has lost its stigma, the negative connotation that it had back then.
He could have referred to himself as the "Good King" or "Benevolent President", maybe "Holy Priest", but he didn't.
Could you imagine being a wealthy business owner, an entrepreneur who had worked hard to own a lot of sheep; to put them in the care of some poor villagers and their sons. And hear God say he himself is a shepherd?
Could you imagine being a shepherd, and hearing God say that he, too, takes care of sheep?
And who would you aspire to be like, knowing that God calls himself a Good Shepherd?

Who are shepherds like in North America? Who could I equate them to?
Here in Arusha, we have present-day examples of people who care for sheep; tribal villagers likely to be poor, uneducated, and not respected.
And it is this group of people that Jesus aligns himself with, from birth.