Last Day in Tanzania

I’m writing this at the Passionist Fathers’ Guesthouse in Dar es Salaam on the last morning of my tenure Tanzania. As promised, I did visit the Nala library one last time, and though it was not yet as complete as I had hoped it would be, you can see photos of the furniture in what is to become the reading room and some of the windows below. (You’ll notice that the windows are not all in place, as they should be by now, but I’m expecting more pictures from the Brians that will show ALL the windows.)

(From left to right) Brian Atkins, Ibihwa Vocational Training Center Principal Rev. Bethuel, a graduate of Ibihwa, Brian Orlay, Nala parish priest Pastor Jahimba, Ibihwa carpentry instructor Edward, our driver Joshua, Ibihwa instructor Benjamin, and two other Ibihwa graduates

(From left to right) Brian Atkins, Ibihwa Vocational Training Center Principal Rev. Bethuel, a graduate of Ibihwa, Brian Orlay, Nala parish priest Pastor Jahimba, Ibihwa carpentry instructor Edward, our driver Joshua, Ibihwa instructor Benjamin, and two other Ibihwa graduates

A view of the backside of Nala's library

A view of the backside of Nala’s library

A window photographed from inside

A window photographed from inside

A photo of the front of Nala's library, in which you can see we are still waiting on the final windows

A photo of the front of Nala’s library, in which you can see we are still waiting on the final windows

I came down to Dar on Sunday night with Brian O. and Pastor Noah. On Monday morning we met with Room to Read and picked up over 5,000 books for Carpenter’s Kids, a portion of which will go to the library in Nala. Everything went wonderfully with Room to Read, and we’re hoping that Carpenter’s Kids and Room to Read’s partnership will continue in Tanzania. After meeting Room to Read, Brian and Pastor Noah returned to Dodoma, leaving me in Dar for a couple days. While I was nervous three days alone in a new city, this time of peace and quiet has proven to be exactly what I need before returning to the States. I’m feeling well rested and invigorated, which is a great way to start anew in New York.

But, before signing off of this blog, I want to include a piece I originally wrote for the Carpenter’s Kids newsletter. Ultimately, I found it to be far too personal for that context. Here it is, in a more appropriate setting:

One year ago, I was working as a Financial Specialist at Fitzsimons Credit Union in Aurora, Colorado. It was a reasonably cushy customer service position at a desk pushing paperwork. I was earning respectable money for someone in his first year out of college, I had fantastic management, and I was where I thought I wanted to be. But, ultimately, I was never quite happy with that job. I kept telling myself that I’d get more comfortable next month and that I’d finally feel settled in, but it never happened.

So I made a decision. At the end of May 2012, I quit my job in Denver with no idea where life would take me next. Less than a month later I found myself behind the piano at the annual Summer Fair and Chicken Barbeque at St. John’s in Kingston, NY, an event that Bishop Mdimi Mhogolo was also attending. It was great to see Bishop Mhogolo again, whom I had first met in July 2006 when the St. John’s Youth Group and I visited Dodoma at the beginning of the Carpenter’s Kids Program. Our brief conversation touched on my desire to someday return to Tanzania and perhaps even offer my talents to Carpenter’s Kids. After a couple emails over a few pensive weeks, we determined that Carpenter’s Kids had a space for me in Dodoma, and four short months later, I found myself in the Delta terminal of JFK International Airport in New York, wondering, “Do you have any idea what you’re getting yourself into, Chris?”

And, no, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was scared. I felt like a fraud trying to pass off a façade of serenity about to be discovered as the nervous wreck I really was. I thought everyone else knew what was going on, and I didn’t. But in reality, I had no idea what I was getting myself into because Dodoma was better than any ideas I had. I know that I had specific worries and fears at that point, but after about a week in Dodoma, I couldn’t even recall what they were. That’s how inconsequential all my concerns were.

Before I arriving I had no conception for the degree of hospitality I would be greeted with in Tanzania. I don’t need to tell all of you what great people make up the entire Carpenter’s Kids team. In addition to their complete commitment to the success of the children, each person involved in Carpenter’s Kids is a really warm, wonderful soul; they all made me feel at home in Dodoma. There’s a good reason “karibu” (which means “you are welcome”) is one of the first words anyone learns in Swahili: you hear it a lot in Tanzania.

I’d like to think I’ve made a positive impact on the Carpenter’s Kids Program in my brief six months here, but what I know is that I’ve learned a tremendous amount and gained invaluable experience during my time here. I’ve learned that reliable internet connections are highly overrated, that salads are vastly underrated, that unlimited potable water straight from the tap is a luxury, that things don’t work unless you ask for help, and that patience is not just a virtue, but maybe the only virtue. Maybe most importantly, I’ve learned that one’s monetary net worth has very little to do with one’s happiness.

In 2006 I spent two weeks in Dodoma and left saying I would return. It took me six years, but I did come back. And, now I’m saying goodbye to Dodoma again, but again maybe it’s just goodbye for now. I just want to leave you by thanking everyone around the world who has facilitated my being here and made my adjustment to live in Tanzania so smooth. I couldn’t be where I am, doing what I’m doing right now, without the incredible support system I have. Asanteni sana kwa wote.


Down to the Wire

With only just over three days on the shot clock left in Dodoma (one which is a holiday, another of which is a Saturday), I think it’s time for another update on the Nala Library. As many of you know, one of my primary goals was to see the library open by the end of my six months in Dodoma. As optimistic as I was upon my arrival – and despite the repeated assurances I received – I do not think I will see the library open before leaving Dodoma on Sunday.

But don’t despair. Brians Atkins and Orlay are here currently, and both know how dear the library in Nala is to not only me but to everyone in Kingston, NY, too. Right now, as it stands, the building is finished, furnished, and partially windowed. I’m told the remaining windows will be complete by Friday. We have $800 worth of Swahili children’s books and English reference books purchased with a Miles of Pennies Grant in the Carpenter’s Kids storeroom. We also have about $250, which will be used to acquire books that are already in Dodoma from an NGO called Books for Africa. And on Monday Pastor Noah and I are picking up about 100 books for the Library from an American NGO called Room to Read.[1] All of these books will be kept in the Carpenter’s Kids storeroom until we have a building that can protect them from the elements. I know that with all these cogs already in motion and under the guidance of Team Brian the library will be open very soon. We’ve already told our summer visitors that it’ll be done in time for their visit, so that can serve s additional incentive.

While I probably won’t be able to say I saw the library opened and in action during my time here, I am fully confident it will be up and running by the time any of this summer trip come through. And Friday, when I go out to verify the status of the windows, I’ll take a fresh batch of photos, which I will share with everyone.

[1] Room to Read is generously providing books not only for the Nala library but for all villages in the Carpenter’s Kids Program.

A Short Promotional Carpenter’s Kids Film


If anyone reading this is curious to learn more about the Carpenter’s Kids Program or actually see some of the kids I’m working with here and finds the five-and-a-half minute video format appealing, then this is for you.

Please pardon the camera work, as this was the first video I’ve made and it was shot entirely with a Samsung digital camera and my Macbook’s iSight Camera.

Check it out!

How Did it Get So Late So Soon?

Click here for the Dr. Seuss poem from which the title of this post comes.

I know I began my last entry lamenting the hasty passage of time, but I can’t help myself from once again observing this remarkable property that time continues to display: the days pass increasingly quickly inversely proportionate to the number of days one has left in a given place.[1] Entering into my last three weeks in Dodoma (for now, at least), I’m worried I haven’t enough time to complete everything I’ve taken on in my time here, but I have full confidence that the excellent Carpenter’s Kids staff will continue to see that anything I started is completed.

I’ve been quite busy since my last entry, so instead of speculating about what I can or can’t do in the remainder of April, I’d rather bring you all up to speed on my last few weeks. I last left you with the news that Brian, our friend Stuart, and I had purchased a goat with the intention of eating her for on St. Patrick’s Day. Our Ides of March/St. Patrick’s Day/Pope Francis I Party grew to be an event of about 40 people, and it was a great success. We’re lucky to be living in the only house in the area large enough for that many people. With such a big crowd we ate two goats, and while it wasn’t an experience I enjoyed, I’m glad to have killed one. I’m not a vegetarian now, but I do consciously think of eating less meat. Each time I purchase or order meat, I have a greater appreciation for the fact that an animal had to die for my meal.[2]

The following weeks were rather busy with a couple of special Carpenter’s Kids projects, including an initiative to help our graduating vocational students establish businesses, the completion of furnishing for the Nala library, pursuing an avenue for book acquisition for that library, and editing a promotional Carpenter’s Kids video, which you should get to see very soon. Those projects, as well as maintaining my normal communications responsibilities, and what seemed to be a nationwide weeklong internet blackout kept me a little swamped for those two weeks. Easter came at just the right time to bring me a short day or two of respite.

To preserve my sanity and recompose myself, I vowed not to check work email from 5pm on Maundy Thursday until Tuesday morning, and I kept myself to it. The nature of the work I’ve been doing for Carpenter’s Kids is such that it is very easy to work what seem like short days in the office with some regularity but continue to work all night from home. Even during the two weeks I spent in Zanzibar back in January I was on call, diligently checking the Carpenter’s Kids email and taking Carpenter’s Kids phone calls. It felt liberating to actually take a few days fully off, and it made for one of the best Easters I’ve had in years. I attended the Catholic Cathedral in Dodoma on Maundy Thursday, which proved to be more similar to the Episcopal services I’m accustomed to than the Anglican services around the corner. I observed Holy Saturday with homemade sushi with a few friends from the Anglican school. On Easter I was strumming away on my mandolin and banging the cajón in the Anglican Cathedral in the morning, and I spent the evening celebrating the 70th birthday of a friend from church.

On Easter Monday, Brian and I ventured out to the home of fellow YASC volunteers Ben and Elizabeth Locher at Msalato Theological Seminary, where Elizabeth treated us to her delicious pork Marsala. We, along with an American volunteer for World Vision who joined us, spent our afternoon with an Easter egg hunt. The winner of the Easter egg hunt was to be whoever gathered the most eggs. I, however, refuse to count my chickens until they’re hatched, so it seems we’ll never know the winner.[3] After dinner, we screened Disney’s The Lion King in the Lochers’ living room, which basks in the view of Dodoma’s Lion Rock (which you can see in the banner on the top of this page).

[1] I think that’s the theory of relativity, right? I’ll wait for confirmation from a physicist….

[2] I originally typed the end of that sentence as “someone had to kill an animal for my meal,” which is a different sentiment, but might reflect my subconscious feelings more accurately.

[3] (Because the eggs were hard-boiled.)

I Live on a Farm

It feels like February just began, but we’re already almost one week into March. Time has truly flown. Last week was incredibly busy for me, and one of my best weeks in Dodoma. Those two facts are related. I’m much happier when I feel busy and productive. (That’s something I knew about myself before, but has been confirmed in Tanzania.)

Since Carpenter’s Kids makes distributions on Saturdays, we traditionally have Mondays off. Not really knowing what to do on a spare day off, I’ve begun volunteering at the local Anglican school just a few blocks up the road from my house. I spent the first part of my morning last Monday with the 3-and-4-year-olds, singing songs and teaching them simple rhythm activities. My previous guest teaching at this school has been with older students. To be honest, I understand kids around the age of 12 much better than the really young ones, but I’m still having fun with the toddlers.[1] The rest of my day on Monday was filled with various administrative tasks, which were enjoyable enough and kept me busy. I spent an hour or so typing up children’s songs, and there was something wonderful about that. The repetition of the same words and words with similar sounds combined with the pure nonsense syllables was really interesting. I felt like I was typing something like Finnegans Wake at times. I also spent a little while cataloging library books, which was great. I like kids’ books a lot; they’re beautiful. After a weekly trip down to the market for vegetables, I spent Monday evening practicing Swahili with a friend who teaches at the same school.

The middle days of the week are running together, but I spent Tuesday through Friday at the Carpenter’s Kids office. One big project I had was preparing the director of DCT’s deaf ministry for a presentation he will be giving in the States. He flew to Washington, DC Sunday, and since I haven’t heard anything yet, I’m sure everything is going wonderfully for him. I also completed and published the Carpenter’s Kids newsletter for January and February, in addition to maintaining regular email correspondence etc. The evenings were really full this past week, too. We had a guest from Mvumi secondary school one night (I can’t remember which), and Bible study and dinner at the Bishop’s house one night. A friend’s birthday and visit from a YASCer (Young Adult Service Corp, the program that traditionally sends Carpenter’s Kids volunteers, including my housemate Brian) in Kenya to Dodoma made for an active weekend as well. And we bought a goat!

The goat Stuart, Brian, and I bought

The goat Brian, our friend Stuart, and I bought

We named her Ravi Coltrane. I’ve been warned against naming my food, but I still intend to kill her and eat her.[2] I’ve decided that since I’ve been eating meat, I need to be able to actually kill an animal myself. It seems like the right thing to do. If I find I can’t do it, I’ll just go back to vegetarianism. She’s young still, so we need to wait a few weeks for her to grow big enough to eat. Having a goat has made me realize that I’m sort of living on a farm. I knew our guards had planted some crops, but recently, as the harvest is approaching, our backyard has become a full-blown cornfield. Now that we have some livestock, too, I feel like a real farm owner.

A view of the cornfield that my backyard has become

A view of the cornfield that my backyard has become

Finally, I’ve also spent a lot of time this past week growing a beard. It may not look like much yet, but I probably spend a good 30-40 minutes a day doing nothing else but working on growing hair out of my face. I’m still on the fence about whether it’s worth all the effort. Or maybe I just need to be working harder at it!

This picture illustrates both how bad I am at beard-growing and self-photography!

This picture illustrates how bad I am at both beard-growing and self-photography!

[1] Are 3/4-year-olds toddlers? I don’t even know.

[2] Don’t tell her, though; she thinks she’s a pet.