Category Archives: updates from geita

amaranth to zai holes: my time thus far in the u.s.

Greetings.  Yeah, it’s been a while.  I’ve definitely broken at least three records since August 6th of this year: Continue reading


Filed under just thinking, updates from geita


“She’s throwing up!  She’s throwing up!”

Those were the first words spoken to me in the United States in 2 1/2 years.  And they were offered by a stranger describing Baylor’s first ever action on U.S. soil.  An action I didn’t so much need described, however, as the girl was in my arms and her vomitus was enveloping my clothing and bags. Continue reading


Filed under family, updates from geita

10 things this missionary MUST do on furlough

When people find out we’ve been in Tanzania 2 1/2 years without visiting the U.S. — and that we plan on living here a total of at least 10 years — the first thing they say is this:

Wow!  That must be hard.
What do you miss the most?

What do I miss the most?  That’s an extremely difficult question to answer.  It’s like asking a father which of his kids he loves the most.  The answer is all of them.

But the two questions are not exactly the same, mind you, because I’ve not sired much of anything you’ll see in this list.  Nor do I miss everything about the states.  But I do miss a lot.  That’s why I’ve made this top ten list.  

Continue reading


Filed under family, top ten lists, updates from geita

coming to america: missionaries on furlough

We’re coming back to the states for a visit!  And we’re really excited about it.

Here are just a few of the things we’re most looking forward to: Continue reading


Filed under updates from geita

work report: march-june 2011

baylor and jude playing in the pool

Enjoy this little update on our family’s life and work in Geita. Continue reading


Filed under updates from geita

my recent absence and permaculture

The last week has been crazy busy.  I slept in six different beds in six nights.  Only one was missing a mosquito net, only one was missing a pillow, and only one was missing a sheet for cover.  Five of the six, however, were missing my wife.  [Guess which bed I liked the most?]

I was in Musoma studying an approach to agriculture and living called permaculture.  I’m sure I’ll be writing a few posts about permaculture later, but for now I’ll point you to some reading material that might be useful or interesting:

Because of my travels, aliens and strangers was a little different this past week — though I did manage to get a few posts scheduled to publish before I left town.  I’m not sure next week is gonna’ be a great deal better, but I’ll try.  We’re leaving Saturday for Rwanda, where Christie will be attending a women’s retreat, and I’ll be preparing a few team documents and doing some sermon writing while keeping Baylor in a house that belongs to some missionary friends of ours.

So I may be scarce over the next ten days, especially in the comments section (not sure if we’ll have internet at all while in Rwanda).  Bare with me, though, and your life will be filled with rainbows and kittens.  Promise.


Filed under agriculture, farming, updates from geita

culture stress (or i don’t want to be a missionary anymore)

Lest you believe I’m some sort of missionary superhero (not that there’s really any danger of this), I’d like to share with you confess to you that I have my bad days.  Days when I don’t want to be a missionary anymore. Days when I want to fly back to the United States, enjoy air conditioning, wait at traffic lights, and eat at McDonald’s.  Days like Friday.

I was just sitting down to the computer when the electricity went out.*  I started the generator for the first time since Sunday — the most recent of its breakdowns (I’d only got it running again Thursday) — and returned to the computer.  15 minutes later the generator was wheezing and coughing.  Another couple of minutes passed, and she quit.  And she wasn’t planning to start again.

That’s when, like a no-name Chinese generator, I broke down. Not in tears, mind you.  But still, I was broken down.  Angry, frustrated, and tired — and I wanted to shut my eyes and wake up in Dothan, Alabama… at the National Peanut Festival.  [There's no place like home.  (Repeat x 3)]

Great!  Just what I needed… my generator to break.  Again.  One more thing to go on my list. [If you don't like to hear venting, complaining, and whining, you probably should skip to the bottom; I feel that I rarely complain, but today there will be whining.]

  • We haven’t had water from the city since July. For a week’s worth of water, I have to borrow Carson’s truck and tank, fill the tank in town, and pump the water up to our holding tank… twice (about 4ish hours of work, depending on the line at the well and whether there’s electricity or not).  Or I can pay 20 times what we’ve got in our budget for water and have it delivered by a truck from town.
  • The water we do have is frustratingly difficult to use because our taps and faucets are full of red dirt and sand and don’t allow water to pass.  Seriously, we have three sinks in our house in which we can’t wash our hands.  I can fix them, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.  There are also leaks in the pipes in two of our walls.  Concrete walls.  Behind tiles.
  • Our electric oven doesn’t work. Not because it’s broken but because there’s something wrong with the wiring that causes the breaker to trip every time we turn it on.
  • We’re $20,800 in debt and struggling to pay for our furlough plane tickets. This isn’t quite as bad as it sounds in that $17,500  of this money came in the form of a bridge loan.  A very kind and anonymous donor loaned us the cash so we could buy a new truck.  We’re to return the money when we sell our old truck, which hasn’t happened yet and is proving somewhat difficult because of the rising dollar (or the falling shilling).  The other $3,300 is extra port fees charged us by the government of Tanzania.  If you’re thinking this means the government makes us pay for “storing” our truck in their port while we waited for them to allow us to have it, you’re right.  The slower they do their jobs, the more cash they get. We paid $3000 already, but were informed of this other $3,300 the day we picked the truck up.
  • Speaking of the truck, our brand new Toyota LandCruiser doesn’t have 4WD high. This is because the 4WD toggle switch was stolen at Toyota of Tanzania before I’d ever even seen the car.  Those buttons resale at well over $100 USD, but I can’t find one anywhere — and Toyota won’t take responsibility for what one of their employees did.  When I picked the truck up from them, they told me the empty space was there for a placeholder button, and that it did nothing.  My 4WD low works fine, but it’s not suitable for getting to some of the villages we visit.  So we haven’t been to a single village since we got the new truck.
  • We’ve been in Tanzania two years now — and we’re technically on-schedule.  But I can’t help but feel like we never get any work done, because we’re always fetching water, repairing plumbing, sitting in the dark, or just trying to live.  It just takes so much time to live here.
  • I didn’t tell you what happened just before the electricity went out on Friday.  Christie called from outside, and I opened the backdoor to find the puppies playing tug-of-war with our bed sheets, which they’d pulled from the clothesline. Our high-thread-count, nicer-than-we-can-afford, we-received-them-as-a-wedding-gift and only-have-two-sets bed sheets.  My wife was slightly troubled.  [It didn't help that when the generator quit working an hour later, all the clothes in the washing machine were trapped inside, obviously wet.  Aah... the joys of an electric washing machine in a land of electricity rationing.]

When the generator quit — and I wanted to lie face down in the red dirt (where we’ve not yet planted grass) and beat my feet and fists in the mud while sobbing something about “my mommy”….  When the generator quit, these were all the things going through my mind.  I didn’t understand my feelings; I wasn’t sure if I was angry or sad, frustrated or afraid.

I called Carson and asked if I could charge my computer on his battery back-up system so I could do a little work.  Mostly I wanted to be able to say I accomplished at least one thing on Friday.  I packed the computer up and started walking to Carson’s house.  On the way I passed a young boy who asked if I would give him a ball.  I wanted to scream, “Does it look like I have a ball, you begging idiot?!”

Instead I told him politely that I didn’t have a ball.  He then pointed at the bottle of Coke Light in my bag and countered, “Well, then can I have a soda?  I see you have one of those.”

I told him I only had the one — and that it was for me to drink while I did some work on my computer.

As I walked away I realized it.  That I was experiencing culture stress.**  Under other circumstances I would have taken the bottle out of my bag, opened it for the boy, and given it to him.  But I was angry; the last thing I wanted was for one more person to ask me for a soccer ball or a soda, or for money or a job.  I wanted to leave Geita. Or at least lock myself in the (dark) house and refuse to answer the gate.

But I didn’t leave Geita.  And I didn’t lock myself in the house.  I went on to Carson’s house and told him I was having my first (and only, that I remember) culture stress event since moving to Tanzania.  Then I sat down at my computer (plugged in and charging) and got some work done.  I prayed while I worked, naming each and every one of these stresses and handing them over to God.***

After only a couple of hours, I felt fine.  And you’ll be happy to know I went on to accomplish as much on Friday afternoon as on any of my most productive days in Geita.

* Common occurrence as of late.  Electricity is being rationed.  For a couple of months it was as bad as 72 hours of electricity a week.  But lately it’s been much better — we’ve probably had closer to 100 hours per week, maybe more.  [To keep you from having to do the math yourself, there are 168 hours in a week.]

** Lots of people and books speak of culture shock — with no mention of culture stress.  I’m firmly in the camp, though, that we ought to see the pressures of living in another culture (and the effects of those pressures), as being on a continuum.  And so, we all experience culture stress.  But we reserve the term ‘culture shock’ for more extreme cases, and not these singular and shorter-term bouts with second cultures.
I suppose I am blessed to not have too many of these culture stress days.  In fact I don’t remember feeling quite like this any other time in my life except the one day in China when I punched a bus that had brushed my shoulder in an attempt to convince me to cross the street faster.  The echo of my fist against the hollow metal of the bus was deafening.  And it caused a horrible scene, as the bus driver stopped in the middle of a very busy road and got off the bus in order to yell at me for hitting his bus with my hand.  I was the only white person around, two heads taller than anyone else.  And they were all staring at me.  I swore I’d never act out in anger at a cultural situation again.

*** In light of recent discussions on prayer, I’ll be posting a very useful and practical prayer exercise a little later in the week.  For those of you who carry a great deal of stress with you, I think it will prove very helpful.


Filed under culture, living in africa, updates from geita

rave run: the mountains of geita, tanzania

A thriving metropolis, Geita, Tanzania is not.*  Though opportunities for running do abound.  We’ve got a single paved road and lots of dirt roads, bicycle paths, and goat trails.  They pass from town to country, over mountains and through forests.

One day a week I run the mountains behind our house.  And because of Janie’s incessant whining I thought it might be interesting to some of you, I’m posting photos from this morning’s run.

starting the journey up the mountain -- the road in front of our house

It takes five minutes or so of running to get to the trailhead.  So my “warmup” is past my neighbors’ houses and gardens, waving hellos and shouting greetings to those I see.

mining for gravel and a city water reservoir

Any run in Geita is going to teach you at least a little about the culture and lives of many Tanzanians.  Above is a photo of a family mining for gravel.  It sells for $35-40 per small dump truck load… if you’ve got your own dump truck.  Also in the photo is a large water reservoir which is meant to supply a third of Geita with its water.  [Did I tell you guys we haven't received city water since July of last year?]

the beginning of the trail up the mountain

It takes me 15-17 minutes to climb the roughly 1000 feet from my house to the top of the mountain.

loose rocks make for slow going during much of the climb

My GPS watch measures the distance to be almost exactly a mile from my house to the top of the mountain.  And the peak — more like a ridge — sits at nearly 5300 feet above sea level (just about a mile).

on top of the mountain

These mountains are technically part of a Tanzanian national forest.  For that reason, there are some wild animals around.  On this particular run I saw two olive baboons and a vervet monkey.  I wasn’t fast enough, though, to get photos of any of them.  Sorry, guys.  I let you down.

the mountain opposite ours -- damage from deforestation, mining, and the accompanying erosion

Although the area is a national forest, it isn’t exactly treated as such.  Trees are being cut down for firewood and charcoal.  Gravel is being mined.  Pits are being dug in order to harvest mud for brick-making (and that too requires firewood).  All of these activities are illegal inside the national forest, but a few small bribes in the right pockets go a long way in turning the heads of those with power.

the view from the top -- geita's "lake"

the other view from the top -- geita town proper (you can see our huge catholic cathedral off in the distance)

There’s not a whole lot to the town of Geita.  We’re told we have a population of anywhere from 50,000 to 200,000.  It’s hard to tell which is the more accurate number; neither figure seems correct when looking at the town’s infrastructure.

cattle cooling off in the near-permanent mudhole on top of the mountain

The Sukuma people are famous for their cows.  And the above cows are some of the finest in Geita.  Not many farmers take their cattle to the mountaintop — I can imagine it’s tough to get them up there — so the grazing seems to be particularly good.  There’s also plenty of water for them to drink except during the driest of seasons.

residue of the booming (and illegal) charcoal industry

There are a lot of trails up and down the mountain, and nearly just as many on top.  I get lost during about half my runs.  But remembering which side of the mountain I’m supposed to go down is all that’s really important.  Down is always down — one side goes home, and the other not so much.

the terrain changes constantly throughout my runs — from smooth dirt trails… gravel and rocks... high grass, thick brush, and snakes?

Admittedly, this last photo wasn’t taken on a well-traveled trail.  But it is how I get to a particular rock I like to climb above the main spring on this side of the mountain.

the view coming down

The views are pretty spectacular considering that during this run I was never more than about 2 miles from our house.

from the thick canopy of trees nearest the main spring in the mountain

It’s also nice that there still remains a few areas with large trees and a canopy providing good shade.  This is also where the vervet monkeys hang out.

illegal brick-making: this is where they dig, form, bake, and sell -- the entire process

The photo above was taken on future Neema House property.  For those of you who don’t know, Neema House is our team’s planned care center for orphaned children and broken families.  The property sits about a mile up the hill from our house, just before the mountain turns steep.

looking back on the mountain -- the spring is in that darkest green section

If any of you are ever in the neighborhood, and want to go for a run… let me know.  You’re more than welcome.  Really.  And I’ll make you some great coffee and better-than-average pancakes.


* Although technically Geita is a metropolis: the capital or chief city of a country or region.


Filed under running, tanzania, updates from geita

leaving and a link

Still not home yet.  We’re leaving Dar es Salaam in a couple of hours for the two-day drive to Mwanza, where we’ll stay for another night or two before finally going back home to Geita.  While we’re in Mwanza, we’ve got to:

  • take care of some money, tax, and finance issues.
  • see about having some work done to get our new truck ready for the roads and drivers of Tanzania.
  • put up some new “truck for sale” signs in hopes of off-loading our older vehicle.  [So I'll also be washing, waxing, and "armor-all"ing the old truck.]
  • begin checking on flights for our furlough later this year.

Oh, and here’s a link to Carson and Holly’s blog, where Holly highlighted Baylor’s relationship with their son Jude: BFF Baylor.  Just because I’m not blogging regularly these days… that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get to see pics of my sweet daughter.


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Filed under family, living in africa, updates from geita

assessment of our work in geita

My two most recent posts have been a summary of our time in Tanzania and the timeline for our mission here in Geita.  Today, I’m posting an assessment (of sorts) of where we are currently in our mission.  But first, a preface:

Our goal was to have accomplished, before April 1, 2011, each item under “Years 1 and 2” in our timeline.  We believe we have for the most part already been successful in doing so.  However, we are not completely happy with where we are currently.  During our furlough later this year we intend to provide you with a full assessment and accounting of our first 2 1/2 years in Tanzania.  In this report, though, we’d like to briefly cover those areas in which we are dissatisfied.

[Please do keep in mind that, overall, we are pleased with where we are and what we’ve accomplished this far in our work and preparations.  We’re not listing our “shortcomings” because we fear we’ve failed.  Rather we are merely focusing our attention on what we ought to be working to accomplish between now and our furlough in August.]


Establish a permanent residence.

We do reside in a rental home for which we have a 5-year contract.  We have also been accepted as participants and contributors in our neighborhood and community of Geita.  Our house, though, still lacks much in being finished.  Time, money, and satisfactory/trustworthy workers have been the limiting factors in this.

Acquire a reliable vehicle.

We were blessed to have raised the funds to order a new truck which will serve us well for our remaining years in Tanzania.  The truck we are currently driving has been a real time- and money-suck.  Our new truck is currently in port at Dar es Salaam, and we are waiting for the government to clear it for importation registration.  We don’t expect to have said truck until at least late February.  We took a bridge loan from an anonymous donor, whom we will repay after selling the truck we have now.  All of this truck business will likely take 2-3 full weeks of Brett’s time in February or March.

Become proficient in Swahili language.

We do consider ourselves to be proficient in Swahili.  Brett can preach, Christie can teach English, and both of us can carry out all of our daily activities in our new language.  However, neither of us are completely happy with our current Swahili usage.  We would like to have been completely fluent by now and instead find ourselves at highly functional.  We may have had unrealistic goals to begin with — and continued study and practice should get us where we want to be — but all the same, we’re not yet quite satisfied.

This could affect our ability to learn our second African language, Sukuma.  We originally intended to begin Sukuma language study at the two-year mark, but it now looks like Brett will be a month or two behind, and Christie will be waiting until after furlough to begin.

Possibly begin a Discovery Bible Study (or more than one).

This has been a subject of great struggle for us in our time here.  There have been many individuals to show interest in studying the Bible with us, and Brett has a very good relationship with a few of these men.  But the one Bible Study we did begin is no longer meeting.  We have wondered at times if it was too soon for us to attempt training facilitators for these studies, yet we don’t blame this one study’s failure on our timing alone.  At this point, we plan to wait at least a few months more before beginning another study.

Brett wants to be in a better position to devote more time to mentoring future leaders and preparing the Bible studies themselves.  He intends to write (in Swahili) a basic curriculum on discipleship to be used in these mentoring relationships.  This curriculum is as much to encourage Brett’s comfort in Swahili as it is for practical use.

Begin planning and preparing strategies for development.

When we first arrived in Tanzania, we felt we knew what it was we’d be doing as far as development and service to the community went.  We’ve found, though, that it’s not so simple now that we’re here and a part of this community.  Christie has already begun teaching one English class, and will likely open another class in the next two months — although teaching English was not part of our original plan.

Brett wanted to devote the bulk of his time to evangelism, discipleship, and church planting, and then to assist other teammates in their development work in the areas of agriculture and appropriate technology.  Since that time, though, one of those teammates and his wife have decided to remain in the states at least for a time, leaving much work to be done in the area of agriculture, if it is to be done.

Also, we’ve found that we don’t feel qualified to assist in/with some of the most pressing of Geita’s needs.  One of the greatest problems, for instance, is a general lack of water.  Christie and I have a city water line to our house, yet have not received water from the city since July of last year.  And it’s worse for many others.  Another area in which we feel underprepared is health; several times per month I have people coming to me with serious medical conditions and asking for help.  Their assumption is two-fold: because I’m white, 1) I have money for their medical costs, and 2) I have some expertise in medicine.

We would like to be better suited for physically helping the people of Geita, and intend (on furlough) to gain at least some education that will help in these areas.  Also, we’d love to recruit other teammates to help us in the work.



Filed under updates from geita