Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Home Sweet African Home

It was great to be able to experience first hand what day to day home life is for Julia, Viggo, and Daniel. The house they live in was shipped to Tanzania as a kit and assembled some time back by Baptist Missionaries. They are renting it. In the photo above they are standing in front of the entry. There is a covered porch, which will be especially important as the rainy season kicks in and the plentiful dust is turned into mud. There is an even larger covered back porch that also provides a place to cook outdoors when necessary and a place to dry some clothes.

The grounds are spacious (an acre?) and nicely landscaped. There are three "guards" who divide up the 24 x 7 week so that one of them is always on duty. In addition to discouraging burglars, they work on the landscaping and vegetable garden. The yard is surrounded by a fence and there is a large iron gate where the driveway enters.

Water is pumped from a well into a holding tank above the house. However, it has to be filtered before drinking: so no drinking from the tap! Julia and Viggo are on the Babati electric grid. The power went out about once a day at various times for reasons unknown. Usually it was back on within an hour or less. Cooking is done indoors now on a gas range and oven, in their spacious kitchen.

Grocery shopping is simple for some things and complicated for others. Grains (they eat a lot of rice),beans, and flour (they bake their own bread), plus fresh vegetables and fruit are easy to get in the local markets. Meat in the local markets is general of hacked from a carcass that is hanging at room temperature with flies crawling on it. It is an option, but Julia and Viggo choose to eat less meat than ever before. They buy some meat when they are in Arusha which is about a three hour drive from Babati. There is at least one big supermarket there. It is also a place to buy things like powdered milk, coffee, ready to eat cereal, etc. Speaking of milk, most of theirs is purchased fresh from their next door neighbor. A little too fresh, it has to be boiled and then refrigerated to prepare it for drinking.

Julia and Viggo have hired a local Mbugwe woman, Mama Elia, to help with the cooking, cleaning, and child care. That will free up more of their time to work as translators. Housekeeping and cooking are especially time consuming since there are very few "convenience foods" such as baked bread or canned beans. Another plus is that Mama Elia is helping Julia and Viggo with some rudimentary Mbugwe language lessons. She is a pastor's wife and has helped them involve some other Mbugwe people as well.

Foreigners are pretty much expected to hire some local help. Americans and Europeans are universally regarded as being very wealthy. With a minimum wage of about $2.50 per day, it would be seen as a bit rude and wrongheaded to refrain from putting anyone on the household payroll.

Shoes and clothes are readily available, and can even be custom tailored inexpensively in local shops.

Julia and Viggo have gradually added furniture. So far they have beds (with handsome mosquito net holders), a dining room table and chairs, and a sofa, love seat and armchair. There is also a small desk in a nook where they do their computer work.

The living room furniture was actually in progress while we visited. A couple of pictures above show the unfinished furniture in the carpenter's shop (he and his assistant are posed with Viggo).

The carpenter's shop is just as small as it probably seems in these pictures. The wood leaning against the wall is pretty typical. It is not in finished sizes. The carpenter uses no power tools at all. All the joints are crafted without the use of any hardware, not even screws or nails.

I wish I had gotten a photo of the finished living room furniture, but the cushion covers weren't quite completed. It is a very handsome mission style set. If someone was in a hurry and just wanted to buy finished furniture off a show room floor, there is nowhere within hours of driving that would provide much of a selection.

One last note about day to day stuff: heating and cooling. It is pretty much just a matter of opening or closing the windows and running fans or not. I was very pleased to find that the altitude in Babati causes the hot parts of the day to be quite tolerable and the evenings are cool.
The humidity is low. The rainy season will bring days that never really get very warm. Sweaters and jackets will be useful.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Shock and Awe

Day one in Africa. I awaken at the guest house in Arusha remarkably refreshed. Outside there is a cool breeze and beautiful landscaping and vistas of the surrounding hills. After a simple breakfast of bread and cheese, we pack up Julia and Viggo's Land Rover and drive out of the guest house compound (most nice places in Tanzania have a tall fence around the perimeter and big iron gates with a staffed guardhouse at the only entrance/exit.

The narrow lane that led to the main highway was incredibly rough with big rocks and ruts that could swallow the average sedan. The Land Rover does fine, but it is a hint of roads to come.

As we drove out from among a set of walled compounds, we skirted a large open spot with a deep hole in its center. It is a quarry pit, 30 or 40 feet deep. Women walk up fromt he interior carrying baskets of foot sized rocks on their heads. There is no blasting. It appears that the rocks are sledge hammered from a vein of bedrock. Around the perimeter of the pit, about a dozen women sit. Each is located between a pile of the foot sized rocks and a small pile of gravel, maybe a wheelbarrow load. They sit with their legs straight out along the ground, often swaddled in old sack cloth. Using a one handed hammer, they chip away at the big rocks, converting them to gravel. No gloves. No seat other than the ground. No safety glasses. Children play nearby. Apparently day care consists of the kids watching mom break rocks all day. I didn't feel right about taking photos of the women in the midst of their drudgery. A few days later in Babati, Barbara, Samuel, and I discovered a smaller quarry near Julia's house. In the photo below Samuel is sitting on the big source rock. Around the perimeter are piles of gravel in process.

We saw lot of these gravel making operations. I suppose the gravel is used for building foundations for some of the better buildings. It seemed to be used sparingly on the mostly dirt roads that we drove on.

I knew that even a decent paying job in Tanzania might be a couple of dollars per day. I imagine gravel makers get less than that. It was still difficult for me to imagine that labor and life could be valued so low that gravel production could be done this way. It was one of those up close and personal encounters that helped me better understand the poverty in Tanzania.

We traveled on that morning to the main highway and a three hour drive from Arusha to Babati. The first two thirds of the distance was a reasonably well paved narrow asphalt covered road with drainage ditches on either side. No traffic signs, no burger joints, very few intersections, and a sparse collection of cars, trucks, and buses once we drove out of the city limits.

The biggest danger on the paved road seemed to be really fast buses and really slow trucks. Every few minutes we would overtake a slow moving vehicle and have to pass. Curves and hills meant that ocassionally we passed blind, hoping that nothing was hurtling toward us just around the bend or over the hill. We saw numerous breakdowns, especially of the huge trucks that run this road. The road from Arusha to Babati is part of the "great northern highway" and is a section of a large loop of highway that connects Tanzania's major cities. Primitive but servicable.

The driving was a bit scary, but it did not prepare us for the unpaved road ahead.

This photo was shot out of a side window of the Landrover. The Bao Bob tree is enormous and not uncommon. The photo doesn't reveal the scale of the ruts, the side of the bumps, and the thick layer of dust that was raised by each passing vehicle. The dry dirt and rock surface had formed up into a continuous washboard. Apparently the best approach is to drive quickly (50 miles per hour or more) so that the wheels and axles bounce violently, but the cab of the Land Rover simply vibrates and bucks a bit. Of course an unforseen large pothole can cause a violent lurch that sends everyones heads into the roof line of the Land Rover. That was especially true for whichever lucky two family members had to sit on the small sideways jump seats at the rear of the vehicle.

I was shocked that this was a main artery of commerce within Tanzania. There are a few dilapicated rail lines. There are bush planes. But most freight and passengers bounce along these rough roads through a sparsely populated, very dry and desolate expanse of savannah.

Periodically, along the side of the road people walked, often with large loads balance on their heads. There were quite a few bicycles as well. They were often loaded with water containers or carried a passenger on a little shelf mounted over the back wheel. Heavily laden bikes and even bikes without cargo generally had to be pushed up long stretches of hill. The ongoing mystery was where these folks came from and where they were going. There were miles long empty stretches between even small villages. Below is a pretty typical roadside scene when we came to a small village along the road.

Well, we haven't even made it to Babati yet, but I will have to break here and post more later.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Africa Pictures

Sam posted some of the Africa pictures on his blog:

I hope to do more on my blog soon.

Africa: Introduction

I hope to write a few posts about our recent trip to Africa (me, my wife Barbara, and my son Samuel). I will start with this introductory question: Why go?

Of course the easy answer is that we wanted to spend time with our daughter Julia, her husband Viggo, and of course our gandson Daniel. Here is a photo of the boy who could launch a thousand airliners with his face:

Easy answers are generally imcomplete, so here are few more thoughts:

1. We wanted to see first hand what conditions are like in Tanzania, specifically the conditions that Julia, Viggo, and Daniel will live and work in.

2. I've never particularly wanted to visit Africa, but now that there were family reasons, other reasons such as curiousity and a desire to learn began to surface.

3. I have traveled quite a bit, but very little in poor countries. Tanzania is among the poorest. Just as it is limiting to only see pictures and read e-mails about my daughter and her family, it is also difficult to understand this level of material poverty without a face to face look. Of course a single two week trip is the merest of beginnings. But it is a beginning.

So from October 6 through October 20 we were either in Tanzania or in transit. Just the plane tickets cost a couple of grand per person. The travel time was something like 55 hours door to door. Twenty four hours of that were spent inside airplanes traveling at about 500 miles per hour. Most of the rest was spent sitting or slumping in airport terminals and auto seats. I had some success in alleviating my dislike of that much time trapped in an aluminum tube by reminding myself often what a privilege it was to travel half way round the world so quickly and in relative comfort (dry, warm, soft seats, usually well fed).

More to follow.

Friday, October 17, 2008


The irony is that the when I have the most things to post about, I have the least time and ability to post. In late September I traveled to Orlando as part of my work with Wycliffe Associates. A few days after returning from there, Barbara, Samuel, and I flew to Tanzania to visit Julia and Viggo and of course, our grandson Daniel. Now we are close to ending our two week stay here. I could write pages and pages about things I have seen and done here. I can't do that right now, but I think I will make a list of topics that I may right about later:

1. Luxury vs Misery
2. Making gravel, by hand.
3. The importance of roads
4. The impact of Christianity vs. the impact of Christ
5. The giving dilemna
6. Going native: does it make any sense
7. How many people fit in a minivan.
8. Employees or Servants
9. What happens when there are no power tools.
10. Water
11. Appetite, Variety, Satiety, Obesity
12. Real Life Spiritual Warfare
13. Giving your life
14. Why not English?
15. Bureaucracy, how much can you take?
16. On being the only float in a long parade.
17. What I am afraid of, depending on where I am
18. Dubai - crossroads of globalization
19. Weaponry: Peace through superior firepower?
20. Motivation: Where does it come from?
21. Working versus watching versus resting.
22. Muscle, Machine, Mind