science fiction

I recently watched a bootleg copy of Avatar, a few months after you all I’m sure. I’ve always been a fan of sci-fi fantasy, uncomfortable questions and morals set within a larger scene. We sit entertained by these new worlds and their dilemmas only to realize they’re our own. Watching Avatar felt particularly poignant from Moshi.

In this movie, humans participate in the society of another world, but not fully as themselves. They create hybrid creatures – physically like the other mentally as themselves. They spend their days amongst the indigenous until night when their minds return to their human bodies. I wonder if this absurd idea is my daily life. By day, I wear kitenge and kanga, eat ugali and mchicha, sloppily attempt to speak Kiswahili. By night, I sit in the comfort of my very nice home spinning in my reflections until I sleep cloaked in the inevitable securities of financial stability, health insurance, and a college education. In the film, the hero’s success at cultural immersion leads to his full acceptance and eventual transformation to be fully one of the others. I wonder if this is possible outside of this scrip. I wonder if that is what I truly desire.

Living within another culture for this long has become a bit of a balancing act. On the one hand, I deeply desire to sink in here, to know and embrace the style of life that Tanzania offers. On the other hand, two years makes me more than a mere visitor. As a participant rather than an observer, I bring myself – my personality, my background, my needs. I therefore bring my culture. Not having spent much time out of the melting pot of America, I never quite realized that I possess culture. Although I still can’t outline its tenants, I feel my culture. I feel that part of me that is different, that part of me that is so grounded elsewhere that no sci-fi transformation could allow me to be here fully.

These thoughts originally carried guilt. Am I so single-minded, so culturally inept that I fail at immersing fully into Tanzania? I’ve come to view this less as failure and simply a realization - a realization that I carry my past with me, a past that is American. I am more than a guest here, but I will never be Tanzanian – and that middle ground is difficult to navigate. While I’d like to maintain my cosmopolitan views as naïve as they may be, I now acknowledge how real culture is; I believe the injustice that borders cause is brutal and unnecessary, but I’m beginning to understand how and why borders are formed.

This movie also presents the age old tale of the outsider protecting the local population, the conquistador saving the indigenous, the educated enlightening the inferior. While it highlights that the society possesses an immense knowledge of the land superior to the oppressors, their survival ultimately depends upon a good-hearted oppressor. I find this epic story increasingly uncomfortable. It lacks such trust. But to deny it wholly is to be hypocritical, to philosophize myself out of a career path. I am passionate about international justice, but does respecting the people’s abilities call me to be a passive supporter of their struggle so as to prevent my becoming a modern conquistador? Somehow these questions hurt less during my other times abroad in Latin America. Perhaps that is because those times were so limited, the people less known, myself more naïve. Or perhaps it is because Mexico and Ecuador are at different places in their historical evolution. Tanzania, Africa at large, maintains independence as a fresh memory. The country is developing rather than seeking change (what I used to perceive as synonyms). In Mexico, I felt invited to spur social change beside the people. Here, however, I understand people’s discontent with foreign assistance – of all types. When America was born, England didn’t hold her hand and give her a patronizing slap on the back. Granted the founders were of British descent, but the evolution of the state post-independence was internal (history majors feel free to correct me). I can only imagine I, with my strong personal sense of independence, would desire the same if I were to be among the people developing a new nation. So, I feel for Africa. I feel for these newly emerging countries chalk full of good-hearted conquistadors from abroad, myself included. I will forever question my role in this grey haze of development – to simultaneously deny both my apathy and my impatient yearning to enforce change.

Nothing like a little sci-fi to stir the mind.



dear loyal viewers,
sorry for skipping the month of march.
may these pictures be my apology...
headmistress sister njau and st mary goretti students

easter egg hunt, african style

marangu falls

scary storks

our garden; the basil is really coming

jesuit volunteers with sister njau on easter

makeshift bowling with coconuts at home

dancing with the jesuits

dancing with the sisters on easter

the mount kilimanjaro marathon

mount kilimanjaro and kenya

my students performing ballet at graduation



I began college as an education and dance major, but I graduated with a degree in political science thinking I had bid my final farewell to those past passions. Somehow in this cyclical thing we call life, I find myself now in Tanzania a teacher by day dance instructor by night.

My work at St. Mary Goretti Secondary School has taken wind in the last few weeks. I’m teaching General Studies to Form Five students. General Studies: a mandatory class covering topics such as Environmentalism, HIV/AIDS, International Politics, Philosophy, Morality, Development, etc. Form Five: the fifth of six years offered in secondary school which acts a bit like the first year of community college after high school. I’m lucky to be teaching a subject which somehow summarizes my college education to an age group in which we can share honest conversations. Unfortunately, the school year for Form Five runs from April to February, so I’m just coming in during the tail end of things here. For now, I’m assisting the other General Studies teacher by teaching certain subjects some weeks and being patient during the others. In early April, I’ll teach the new class of Form Fives and he’ll teach the Form Sixes. While this is written in English, I feel like discussing the school system here might sound like Swahili back home!

Last week I started teaching my first topic – the Environment! I was thrilled as one of my college classes I cherished most was Environmental Ethics and my brother is studying climate change. But how to begin? a) The syllabus is a mere skeleton in terms of creating a two hour lesson; b) I teach 125 students at one time; c) resources aren’t readily available like I’m accustomed to; and d) online resources scream at me: You’re An American! Until now, I never realized how utterly geared the Internet and academic sources are to the West. Each environmental movie I could find spoke in the We/Americans; each environmental justice article delineated us, the rich, and them, the poor. While in college I spoke freely and passionately about global issues, I’m realizing the difficult delicacy needed to speak about them outside of my narrow context. I stand before the students, the only Caucasian in a small classroom filled with forming minds, and tell them that industrialized nations are emitting gross amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere and they will face the effects. How do I convey a necessary message without transforming generalizations into facts; how do I teach them about the world when I don’t yet know theirs; how do I hold their hands in asking questions when education is established for me to hand down answers? In two weeks I am responsible for covering the topic of HIV/AIDS – the issue I left college most passionate about, having the most experience with, and possessing the most knowledge of. Here, what does my knowledge of AIDS – that of books and limited moments – mean to young people entrenched in the reality? I feel so fortunate for this challenge, this invitation to rehash my college education in a far more raw and honest setting, learning beside Tanzanian teenagers.

While the seemingly simple task of teaching a two hour lesson increasingly challenges me and warrants days of preparation, I find calm in my other task of being a classroom teacher. The boarding school is divided in classes of about fifty students with a teacher assigned to give them announcements, share their comments with the headmistress, etc. Excited to build community with these girls, I’ve expanded these duties to include hang out time and valentine decorating! It has been such a joy simply being with them and watching their individual personalities come to life in front of me. I look forward to this being an important space during my years - a space where we can learn from each other and start to live with each other. Formal academics are heavily emphasized at the school, so I'm excited to bring light to their life outside the classroom in the many ways that can evolve. It looks/feels/sounds so much like my time last year with the young women of Dolores Mission, Los Angeles where my best friend and I entered with lofty goals and left with beautiful friendships.

About two weeks ago, I started after-school dance classes for the girls... what a riot! It astounded me how quickly I channelled my inner Ms. Bettie (my dance teacher for twelve years). I adored how attentive they were to each part of the class. When we stretched, they squealed when their muscles moved in new ways; when we danced to their beloved Rihanna, they turned on their sassiness; and when we breathed at the end, they stood before me with excitement twinkling out of their eyes. Somehow (a term used often here to express the many random moments that occur), I became in charge of the entertainment for the graduation occurring this week. So, this dance was elongated, a ballet one created, and they will both be performed on Wednesday!! I thought I had finished this childhood hobby, but apparently it's back in full force. I've been asked to tutor a hopeful male-female ballroom couple, teach salsa lessons, and show them my pop & lock skills. Little do they know I don't have any, but teaching what I do know is a real joy in the mean time.

Life is good. While my pent up energy is sometimes frustrated by my quiet schedule, I know this time to learn how to teach is invaluable. In April, I will start anew with the incoming Form Fives and veer away from the mistaken avenues I'm currently taking in the classroom. Right now I'm in dress rehearsal, and in April I'll be on stage. Teaching is such an intriguing art... I've never had a responsibility that felt so organic (I am sharing what I know with younger peers); I've never had a responsibility that felt so epic (I am taking part in the formation of minds and no matter how long I take to nurture that process, it inevitably has my imperfect mark on it). To anyone who has ever intentionally taught me, thank you.



After two weeks of settling into life in Moshi, our community hit the road. Destination: Tanga, beach city five hours east of Moshi. After quite happily jumping off my first long-distance African bus ride, we were greeted at a retreat center in which the rooms were fashioned in circular bungalows mere yards from the Indian Ocean. As someone who finds the ocean to be quite sacred, I ecstatically jumped in immediately. I’ve never before witnessed such an intense low tide in which small, wooden fishing boats which once swayed sat still on the sand beside bushes turned trees. Soon thereafter, we were joined by the four Jesuit Volunteers from Dar and tasted the excitement of eight person retreats we’ll experience a few times a year. It was nice to be removed from our new home and share some honest conversations on what brought us to this point and explore our expectations for the coming years. Initially feeling a bit shocked by the niceness of Moshi and my future workplace, it was good to view it all from new light. I will not spend the next two years dwelling in overt injustice (which was slightly romantically expected). I am privileged to spend the next two years entrenched in the response; I will learn from local leaders who have been fighting for female empowerment through education for the last decade and will do my part to contribute.

Dar es Salaam
After waiting in a small village for our broken bus to be replaced, the eight of us eventually made our way to Dar es Salaam on Christmas Eve. The JV presence has been well established in this community, Mabibo, where neighbors greet the volunteers as family. A part of my heart sank sitting in their romantically dark and lived in home and hearing their door knock with greetings. My preconceived image of JV life in Africa suddenly came to life in a setting which more strongly resembled my Latin American travels. A larger part of me was thrilled by this challenge, however, as I realized what an opportunity we have to forge ahead in building relationships in Moshi. On Christmas Day, we watched a fellow volunteer joyously sing and dance in the choir at mass, spent the afternoon visiting neighbors, exchanged our secret santa riddles with one another, and enjoyed long conversations with family back home. Two bus rides, a short ferry trip, and a quick stroll on a daladala later, we found ourselves on the Indian Ocean, yet again!, which pleasantly reminded me of Los Angeles. We were also able to visit the Dar volunteers’ workplaces – a primary and secondary school - which will be a fun source of contrast to bounce ideas off of in the future.

Stolen recipes in hand, we planted ourselves on another bus for an eight hour trip back to Moshi. Although this journey is not the most comfortable setting I’ve found myself in, I so enjoy the silence of public transportation – the ability to zone out while taking in a stretch of land, in this case the beautiful countryside of Tanzania. When we arrived, I was surprised by how comforting it felt to return home – home as I can now call it. While there are aspects to life in Mabibo I yearn for, I adore Moshi: my morning walk on a street in which the trees reach over and touch in the middle, the ability to buy both garlic and popcorn, the sight of Mount Kili piercing the clouds above my roof as I walk home. On New Year’s Eve, we were joined by fellow Dar volunteer Christen and her father to celebrate at the Jesuits’ home. I like placing the first few weeks of transition here back in year 2009 and starting an entirely new decade with an eager spirit to conquer Kiswahili and become a good teacher.

Uru Village
The first morning of 2010 Paul and I journeyed to the foothills of Kili for a homestay at my headmistress’ childhood home. We were accompanied by her sister, Pulcheria, and co-teacher, Mary, to be greeted by her mother, Mama Njau, and some of her many grandchildren. An hour drive up a slight incline and the temperature dropped drastically while the earth became greener. Upon arrival in the afternoon, I helped the women begin cooking for the feast we would share that evening. They were right to assume that we are far removed from our food in the US – we do not pick our ingredients off the trees hanging in front of our windows and develop meals out of them – but they sure got a kick out of my ability to peel potatoes and stir them in a pot over fire. Cell phones in hand, countless pictures of me were taken while we all giggled ferociously. Going to bed that night (happily wrapped in a comforter and free from the necessity of a mosquito net), I thanked my stomach for accepting a brief hiatus from its vegetarian ways and my mind for attempting to disregard the clucking I heard outside while eating chicken inside. The next morning, Paul and I entered a fairytale as our new friends took us on a hike into the forest. We followed a thin path wrapping around the mountain cradled between a clear stream and a steep drop. If there is a seniors most section of a yearbook devoted to trees, then each winner was in this forest – the most tall, the most green, the most unusual leaves, the most epic, the most gentle. In one of these beasts, we spotted a monkey! S/he was unfortunately quite speedy and failed to greet us as we spent the next twenty-four hours devoted to the search. At the end of our hike, we reached large boulders inside a river and our inner children woke up as we climbed. Despite sporting fancy hiker sandals from REI while our friends wore flipflops, I definitely won the slipping contest throughout the hike, so our guides found our excursion quite entertaining as well. Returning home, I sat on the porch with the three granddaughters and we began a language course. The two girls from the village shared words in Kiswahili, the granddaughter from Moshi told me in English, and I gave the Spanish translation. It was marvelous! The two mothers caught wind of this, invited me inside for tea, and began giving the Kichaga (the language of the village) equivalents which I was directed to say to the grandmother. Roaring laughter, roaring roaring laughter! It was such a joy to feel the beginning of a friendship developing. Having only a few years on my students and knowing the twentysomethings population may be hard to tap into, I’ve realized that middle-aged women may become my best friends here, or at this point I hope so. Leaving the village the next morning left a tinge of sadness. I felt the most alive I’ve felt here in that setting and very much look forward to finding excuses to return. After spending time in Moshi and particularly in Uru, it intrigues me what role nature plays in my perception of poverty. The physical poverty I’ve witnessed before was in hot, dusty settings. The homes here match the lack of amenities, yet wrapped in lush goodness they don’t scream of injustice as loudly. Granted a benevolent climate does yield food, but still the image begs the question of comparing my lifestyle with that in the village. How can the goods of both worlds be meshed – health care and education with silence and appreciation? A question to ponder further, if not forever.

After resting a bit at home, the four of us set out to Arusha to visit a friend from work. Pelo took us to his childhood home and introduced us to the woman who raised him. Naïve or assumptive as I am, I was preparing myself for an afternoon of Maasai eating, meat. Instead, we were given a more comfortable meal and showered with gifts. Showered. On the bus ride home, each of us sat decked out in necklaces, earrings, bracelets, Maasai fabrics and Paul wearing a belt of Tanzanian flags. We were asked to return in a month to receive the traditional Maasai gowns being made to our measurements. Initially, I was giddy from the innate excitement of receiving presents, then I was floored by the profound graciousness. I hope we can in some way express similar sentiment back to the Tanzanian community.

After one month chalk full of transition and travel, we are settling into our home in Moshi. Tomorrow I’ll attend my first staff meeting, next week I will assist in the orientation for new students, and the following week I will become a teacher! Though tomorrow will make it concrete, it is almost certain I will be teaching General Studies… a course somehow devised of everything topic I am passionate about in life! More on this soon to come. I hope, wherever you are, you are happy after the holidays and excited for the new decade. Thanks for being with me.


first impressions

the house.
The Jesuit Volunteers house in Moshi, Tanzania shall now be referred to as the estate. A porch wraps around half our home overlooking a gigantic backyard complete with mango trees. We have a guard named Exaudi who watches the property during the dark hours with his newly purchased bow and arrow. I feel paralyzed when I simply wave to this Maasai man each morning and so look forward to using Swahili to hear his story. Each afternoon heavy rain pours down with no warning, clears within ten minutes, and, if possible, the town shines even more green afterwards.

the creatures.
Four Jesuit Volunteers, Paul, Talia, Mary Beth and I, live inside the home while the walls are scaled by countless geckos and rainbow beasts (unbelievably colored thick lizards). Far more exciting, or frightening, are the storks. Moving to Africa, I was often asked about the lions and zebras. Never were the human sized storks brought up. On my way to work I pass by a field of burning trash stalked by these large pelicans on stilts. I have to remind myself I’m simply in another country, not a sci fi movie.

the school.
Luckily within my first few days here, I was able to visit my future work place, Mary Goretti Secondary School - a boarding school for nearly 1,000 young women from across East Africa. At first I was hesitant about the idea of teaching, let alone teaching at a school for the relatively wealthy. Then, Paul and I received a history lesson. At the end of the presentation our new friend spoke about the current state of Tanzania including gender inequality and violence. He then highlighted the fact that Mary Goretti is a profound and leading example of the changing face of this nation. Here, young women are given preference and expected to become the future leaders. In a nation in which independence is still a fresh reality, this overt movement towards female empowerment is beautifully responsive. I am feeling so invigorated and thankful that my placement is already fueling my passion. I’ve also learned of an organization which uses dance to promote HIV prevention amongst women. I’m eager to spend time learning about their work and the many other unknown gems that are within Moshi.

the wedding.
Our first night in Moshi, Paul and I attended a wedding with our new community mates. A Tanzania wedding on our first day! To kick the party off, a decorated goat was danced up to the happy couple who then served cubes of it to loved ones. Waiting for our group to be called, I sat in anticipation for my vegetarianism to be victoriously concluded; however, my herbivore stomach was spared that evening. After eating, different collections of people slowly and joyfully danced their group gift up to the couple which was usually a very, very large greeting card. Since the groom was one of my future co-workers, I was able to meet many a new friend and colleague. It is a wonderful feeling to fly to the other side of the planet and be greeted with such warmth. Paul and I were continuously told “you are welcome” – not in response to thanks, but quite literally that we are welcome here.

the history lesson.
Beautiful moment of awe number one. When learning about the history of East Africa, our co-worker discussed the belief that humanity’s origin lies in Tanzania. So, when people come to Tanzania, we are seen as coming home rather than visiting. Karibu sista – welcome home sister. This is not only a neat idea, but it pervades the Tanzanian perspective on humanity. A global people, an international sense of unity, is not aimed for; instead, it is an inherent belief.

the future.
What has only been a few days feels like weeks. We have already experienced so much, it is hard to believe I still have one year, 11 months, and 3 weeks of learning ahead of me. In the coming weeks, Paul and I will be fortunate to receive Swahili lessons (which is good because I said “hola” to a woman the other day!). Before we start work in January, we will go on a retreat with the four other JVs who live on the coast, we’ll spend Christmas with them in Dar, and then we’ll spend time living with families outside of Moshi! As I continue to honeymoon with my new love, the country of Tanzania, it will be interesting to consider the simple living tenant of this program. Our house is divine, the diet a dream, and the lack of American stimulation so refreshing. When the much larger reality that surrounds me begins to settle in my mind, this euphoric feeling will surely subside. For now, I’m basking in the joy of living in Moshi.


the birth of a blog

Hello friends and family,
In a few short days, I will be taking flight and landing in Moshi, Tanzania where the next chapter of life awaits me. Filled with gratitude for this wild opportunity, I'm excited to share the experience with those eager to accompany me. While I much prefer personal letter writing and plan to put many an hour into that task, I have come around to this idea of a blog. Here I can share the trials and triumphs of being a rookie high school teacher, here I can post pictures of a new land, and here I can stay connected with you. I'm also embracing the invitation to write. Committing to a blog takes me out of my journal (consisting of taped in trinkets and drawn memories) and forces me to put punctuation to my thoughts. Paulo Freire writes "to exist, humanly, is to name the world, to change it. Once named, the world in its turn reappears to the namers as a problem and requires of them a new naming." I hope this blog might act as my first attempt to name our world - to put words to my experience and therefore live it deeply. At the least, perhaps I can provide some laughs back home about the blunders I'm sure to perform in a new profession, in a new country, in a new language. Thank you for coming along the journey with me!