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.