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.