Taken with the Tides – 9 September 2017

Tides flow in, pull out
People come and people go
Still, the sun will rise


Time again to say farewell… In Peace Corps people really do come and go. There is the opportunity to make so many connections, some deeper than you’ve ever experienced before, but so often the people you connect with are gone before you know it. Those in your training class, those in your region, those in your village are often gone just when you feel you’ve at last caught your breath, have at last found someone else who is grounded in the same soil, who looks in the same direction for the same reasons. They are off to different places. Some you’ve planned to see, others you know your paths will cross, for many it’s more uncertain, and some are lost for eternity, gone where you can’t reach…

The people in my life are my tides: they pull me; they flow me to feelings of flying free; they ground me. They can also leave me feeling my most alone (at no fault of theirs). That is just a fact of life: one we all must deal with, one that has pivotal power over who we become. I am thankful for that influence. Another fact of life, one that is even more crucial to comprehend, is that the sun will always rise tomorrow. No matter who has gone – those you know you will see again, or those you know you will not – another day will always come, and with it the ever-changing tides. For that, I am also thankful.


Tides flow in, pull out
People come and people go
Still, the sun will rise


We are all only people… 27 August 2017

Sitting in the early morning on my friend’s balcony, looking up at the glowing yellow clouds: illuminated from the side by the soft light of the rising sun, surrounded by the subdued splendor of a sleepy sky adjusting to wakefulness – like me. Sipping coffee, appreciative that the hour of my awakening coincides with the natural rhythm of the earth in its slow spin. I belong here, in the place, at this time, and the birds tell me so, and the breeze tells me so, and the faraway view of the sea tells me.


I think of the beauty in all this, the relaxed feeling it gives me. My mind wanders to recent conversations with people, conversations during which deeper feelings were revealed, shared experiences realized, support given. People are only people through other people. We lift each other up. We would be nothing without each other. There is a certain beauty within humanity. This thought makes me happy, but also…

I ask myself: why does the beauty within humanity have the seemingly contradictory effect of bringing feelings of sadness? I ask the question to my friend, also sipping coffee, staring out towards the sea. It’s sad because that beauty is so fleeting, so infrequent.

It’s true. And that can also make it extraordinary, which is powerful. But it still leaves us with the fact that humanity is lacking. While we experience small kindnesses, levels of connection, solace and support, from our family and friends and even some strangers on the street, there is still a disturbing lack of appreciation within humanity – of care for our fellow human beings.

People forget that they are only people through other people; people forget what it means to be human; people forget that we all need love and a helping hand, are therefore the same, equal in that basic fact; people forget to forgive. The world out there, the world right here, suffers from a lack of appreciation. Humanity suffers from it.

We all need to take a step back, understand how we coincide with the natural rhythm of the earth, see the beauty of the rising sun, see how it illuminates the rest of the world and brings a sense of belonging to everything it touches. We all need to be touched by that light, be beautiful ourselves, and radiate it out to others. We all need solace and support; we all need love and understanding; we are all only human; we are all only people made people by other people.


It has been well over a month since my last entry, and a lot has happened both here and everywhere else it seems. As people have been killing each other, and hating each other, and living in fear and anger, I’ve been connecting to some of my friends here in those deeper ways that let a person feel the beauty that can exist within humanity. And it’s there, that beauty, but it can be so fleeting, so ephemeral, one can easily lose sight of its importance. I feel lucky to have seen it, felt it, and realized it as the world seemingly struggles to remember…

We all know what has been happening everywhere else, so here is a little bit about what has been happening here, in my life. I spent three long weeks in Morogoro, a lovely town beneath a majestic mountain. They were long weeks, and quite a journey, but they were filled with both formal and informal interactions with other volunteers, which is what I love most about this job.

The first two weeks were spent organizing, managing, facilitating, and leading parts of the early service training for the health/agriculture 2017 volunteers. Our team worked together to provide a meaningful experience of capacity and relationship building for volunteers and their counterparts. Some of my favorite sessions throughout the two weeks: permagardening, making tree nurseries, and budding and grafting, all with our master agriculture trainer…

Following the early service training are various optional in-service trainings. Together with the gender PCVL and the Ag training team, I stayed to help manage and facilitate the food security-focused training on gender and agribusiness, bees and chickens. Not only did volunteers and their counterparts receive training on beekeeping and chicken-raising, they also focused on how to get women involved in the business of bees and chickens, and why it is important to do so.

We taught about gender in agriculture in the context of Tanzania, best business practices including budgeting/record keeping/marketing, and also facilitation skills to give the participants the ability to return to their communities and teach others.

My hope is to be able to travel out in the coming months to visit the sites of volunteers who attended the training. I’ll be doing follow-ups and check-ins while also collecting pictures and video clips for a media project. This will be a short movie showcasing the PCTZ agriculture sector, revealing the lives of volunteers, and the process of going from a training back into the community with their counterparts to plan and implement projects.

By displaying the different stages of project implementation following a training, and by interviewing both volunteers and counterparts, I hope to paint a picture of what life is like for volunteers here in Tanzania, and to showcase how and in what ways the Peace Corps process of small-scale development is so impactful.

Being a Peace Corps Volunteer is a long-term commitment, one that takes you up and down and all around. But it’s worth it. I would love to help others who have never personally experienced it to see, and try to understand, why we decide to make such a commitment and why it matters.


Understanding is the first step to peace, after all: an understanding of ourselves; an understanding of how we each fit into the world; an understanding that we are all only human; an understanding that we are all only people made people by other people…

Full circle, moving on – 16 July 2017

I had the pleasure of leading some of the new education class around the city yesterday (Dar) to see the sights, learn the essentials, tell some stories, share some (what may seem like) wisdom. It brought me back to the very beginning of my service – week zero as it’s known, the week of arrival, the week prior to joining home stay families, the week before it really all begins. It feels so very long ago, and I suppose two and a half years is a chunk of time.

I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on my service lately, thinking back to the beginning, and to all the in-between. Going back to the States for home leave sparked the reflection. Returning to the house, the room, in which I spent the days leading up to my departure for service, coming full circle in a way, inspired some looking inward. A lot can happen in two point five years. And sometimes you need to be uprooted from the place where everything has happened in order to realize the roller coaster you’ve been riding.

On home leave – out of the context of Peace Corps, of Tanzania, of village life, of crazy motor vehicle-filled streets in a dirty, smelly, multi-faceted, conglomerate rock of a city – I could look back at my two years in the village more holistically. Yes, I am still serving my third year, but I am living a different life in Dar, with a very different role as a volunteer leader, so I look back at my two years as a regular agriculture volunteer and see it as a separate experience that is now finished. And I’m okay with seeing it that way. It’s almost a relief to see it that way. I finished. I did it.

Being in the position to train new volunteers, being asked the great array of questions trainees bring to the table, is always a welcome forced-reflection on various parts and aspects of service, and it feels good to be able to share my experiences as things of the past, hurtles I have leapt, ranges upon ranges of mountains I have climbed, descended, climbed again… And now I look back upon them from some distant plain, as the sun rises and sets and rises and sets, and I see all the glorious hill tops and peaks shining in the varying glory of the sun, and I see the ridgelines and the ravines, the chasms and the cliffs cloaked in all their shadow…

But it is far away now, a land I intimately knew, a land I will always remember. Like a carpenter who spends years sanding the top of a single table, deeply absorbed in the study of the waves of grain, so I too know the ranges in which I walked, see them from afar, still know them, understand them, love them – but love them all the more because they are now behind me, in the distance, light and shadow made sublime when seen all together as one, the yin and yang repeated again and again, overlapping, intertwining, twisted in such complicated confusion until the sight becomes… simply and wholly beautiful.

I have no words nor will at the moment to delve into the details of those light and dark places and moments during my service in the village. I am just happy to be in a place both physically and mentally where I can glance behind me on my current path, and see those mountains in the distance. Navigating those undulating hills was a challenge the likes of which I’d never experienced before. And now I feel a certain strength, and a certain calmness, looking back at my accomplishment.

But enough on that! How about a few words and pictures from my visit back home? I packed so much into my four weeks… it was an exhausting but extremely fun, relaxing, and (most importantly) rejuvenating month of home leave.


The first week I mostly spent hanging out with some of my best friends from growing up. We went to some of our favorite haunts, some new favorite places, and just spent quality time catching up as the weirdoes we’ve always been.


I then went to the Adirondacks for the weekend with a few college and a few Peace Corps friends. That trip was exactly what I needed – staying with friends at a cabin on a loon-filled lake with canoeing and hiking adventures, skinny dippin in the moonlight, bon fires and some delicious food…. now that’s the freedom of my America.

When I returned from the Adirondacks, I had a lovely visitor for a few days: a friend from my summer working up in Homer, Alaska. We had a fabulous time (as usual) exploring some of the Finger Lakes and the glens in between, with the valued assistance of my best buddies from childhood.


The same day she departed, I left with my parents to head to Portland, Oregon to visit my brother and his wife. Downtown exploration, yummy foods and wines, barefooted frisbee in the park, dog walking, Father’s Day brunch, bocce by a bon fire, bookstore wanderings, etc…. the perfect trip.


Next up, my Mom and I went to Niagara-on-the-Lake for the Shaw Festival, wine tasting, and low-key shopping. It was so good to get back to our tradition of this trip! I’ve missed it these past few years.


Then after that, I went to three nights of the Rochester International Jazz Festival with my Dad – so nice to be able to tap into some of the music scene I know and love. (And since I have no picture from the jazz fest, here’s a pic from one of our hikes while I was home…)


After a few final meet ups with friends/family for breakfast or lunch here, a day in the park or dinner there, and a few precious moments to myself, I then got back on the plane and hopped across the world back to Dar es Salaam. Quite the trip!

And of course I gave myself no real time to recuperate and absorb it all. Instead I climbed onto a bus after a day of fitful, jet-lagged rest to head North to coastal Tanga, and then up into the Usambara Mountains to Lushoto and Mtae. The highlights: visiting my home stay family again at long last, visiting fellow volunteers and doing the village thing in someone else’s village, and seeing some majestic views from those mountains…

And now I am back in Dar, preparing myself for assisting with the upcoming three weeks of training (two weeks of the Health/Ag Early Service Training, and one week of the optional Gender and Agriculture Training). I’m looking forward to it – being on my toes for a bit, organizing, facilitating, leading… It’s what I signed up for after all, time to get back to it and have some fun.

I’m comin’ home – 29 May 2017

I am sitting here on the water at a lovely little ocean-side restaurant drinking a vanilla milkshake. Taking a dive into the safi life of Dar (the fancy life), and it is lovely to indulge every so often.

Thinking of indulging, I will be doing more of that starting in just a few short days (which will probably seem like a lifetime each). I will be returning home for the first time in about 2 years and 4 months – a trip long overdue.

Things have been going well here in Dar. I’ve really settled in, have been focusing my energy in the office on some fun projects, have run a successful regional conference, and have had some fun times with friends finishing their time here in TZ (both volunteers and some expat friends). I’ve also been meeting some cool people who are new to the area as well, and deepening friendships with others. I am definitely not missing the solo life of the village. Not yet at least…

Up on the agenda for my month of leave:
-Some solid family time
-Runnin around my home town with best friends since elementary school
-One of my best buddies from Alaska visiting for some hiking and exploration
-A camping trip in the Adirondacks with a best friend from Peace Corps and a best friend from college
-Trippin out to Portland, Oregon to see my bro and his wife at long last
-Visiting Niagara on the Lake with my mama for the arts and theater scene
-Other best friends from college visiting for a day or two
-A few nights of the Rochester International Jazz Festival with my Dad
-Some lake time with old family friends
-And in general, quality time with my parents, and the most loving fat cat there is, in the environment that shaped who I am today

Can’t wait for the adventures to come in the next month, some freeing of the spirit… And then back to it in TZ.

These Worlds are Calling – 22 April 2017

Well it’s Earth Day, and I am inside staring at a computer screen rather than out enjoying the natural beauty of our world – but it’s for a good reason: the rainy season has truly come to Dar. It’s been raining all day, pretty much non-stop, so I’ve resigned my self to an indoor baking/chores/computer/TV sort-of day. I have to admit, I am not too bummed about it. I have been going going going since the start of March – the beginning of my extension – and it is good to at long last have a truly quiet day to myself. The rain pattering outside the windows (yes, I have real glass windows in my new house, and, yes, the rain just patters rather than pounds because I have a real roof and not the noisy tin of the village houses) is very peaceful and soothing, and I am relaxed and quite content. I only wish I had a cat to offer me its simple companionship.


After my time spent at the pre-service training in Dodoma, and after a week of busy meetings and preparations for the Peace Corps Global Food Security Summit, I departed Dar to head to DC – my first time back to the states (and traveling anywhere out of East Africa) in over 2 years! It was a really great trip. The summit was very productive, and it was interesting to see some behind the scenes happenings at Peace Corps headquarters. I also had ample time to roam around the streets of an American city and wow my senses again and again.

Sidewalks as wide as some of the streets here in TZ, crosswalks, plenty of trees and green spaces, beautiful memorials on the mall, museums that could take a lifetime to see fully, delicious and diversified salad and food truck options, a peaceful sort of hustle and bustle (may seem contradictory, but it makes sense to me!), coffee shops, gluten free awareness, Trader Joe’s, super nice hotels with full kitchens and great beds and bathrooms, other Peace Corps people from all over the world who are friends after a simple introduction, and lastly: obtainable anonymity! It was a great week.

My Mom was able to join me for the weekend following the summit, and we spent full days roaming museums and the zoo, driving to visit a relative for brunch, shopping in outlet malls, perusing bookstores, and eating yummy food together. Such a wonderful mini-vacation!

I have to admit, while it was an overwhelming trip back to fast-paced, big, merchandise-filled America, I was sad to leave. It was such a refreshing break from living in Tanzania, and I wanted it to continue. It was so nice walking the streets of DC, not having to worry about getting hit by a car or motorcycle or bicycle, or falling into some random hole or tripping on excessively uneven “sidewalks”, or being overwhelmed by the amount of people brushing past me, all looking at me, maybe some watching to see if they could pick my pocket… And the amenities of America! Drinking fountains, recycling, reliable electricity and running water, and automatic flushing toilets that I forgot existed and made me jump the first, second, and third time I used them… Alas, I’ll just have to wait for my full month of home leave in June to return to that world!

However nice those amenities and worry-free aspects of America may be, though, I am pretty sure at the end of my home leave I’ll be very much ready to return to Tanzania. The culture of time and hospitality, the friendships and relationships with Peace Corps people and others, and the work I do here will be calling to me. This world will be calling again, and I’ll answer it.


In other news, in the past two weeks I assisted (maybe more than assisted) with the week-long mid-service training of last year’s Health and Ag class, and the completion of the pre-service training of this year’s class. Lots of work! But worth it. And now I will let the sounds of that warm tropical rain seep into me as I watch it land out on the patio (yup, I’ve got a patio too!!), bubbling up, rippling out to shake the surface of the puddle that could be considered some microcosm of some reality. But let’s not get too ridiculously metaphorical here… Happy Earth Day, happy Saturday, happy weekend, and cheers to rainy days.


Mvumilivu hula mbivu (20 March 2017)

This Swahili proverb basically translates to: patient eats ripe, implying a patient person eats ripe fruits, or, patience pays. Our all-knowing agriculture guru in Peace Corps (pictured below) introduced me to this saying two weeks ago, during my first day with the new PCTZ Health/Ag class. We were speaking of the pre-service training (PST), and of the current staff turnover at the office.


Our Ag guru is one of the coolest, funniest, wisest men I have ever had the fortune of knowing. It is inspiring to see him working with Tanzanians, and to see the point when they realize he is an encyclopedia of knowledge. Wanatoa heshima kila mara – they give him the utmost respect every time. Needless to say, I enjoy having conversations with him on any topic because I always come away from it as a more understanding person.

During this particular conversation mentioned above, we were discussing how the differences in culture are evident and obvious in the PST and in the current staff turnover process. Here in TZ, two things are very much ingrained in the culture: 1) the sense of time: things will take as much time as they need, they’ll get done in the end, hamna shida, labda kesho, and 2) respect for those with more experience than you (often elders, shikamoo).

In other words: here in Tanzania it is necessary to have patience for things that take longer than you personally may think is necessary, and patience to allow the knowledge of those with greater experience to be shared. That means patience for the process, and appreciation that while it may be different from what you are used to, that makes it no less valuable.

During this turnover process in the office, many of the higher up staff have left the post for other positions, and new higher ups (Americans) are filling those vacancies. We’ve run into a few misunderstandings and miscommunication as new staff members enter their positions immediately trying to change things. Many Tanzanian staff (and PCVs as well) view it as disrespectful, even if that is not at all the intention. And the changes are seen as unnecessary, hurting more than helping.

In Peace Corps, we are taught as volunteers the value of a slow but sure integration process. We stay for two years in the village to build relationships, to gain cultural understanding, so that we have the amazing and rare ability to see the full picture, even as members of an entirely different nation and culture. Patience pays.

We are respectful, and therefore gain respect. We become a community member, and can therefore understand the community. We work with others, and therefore know what work needs doing – what does or doesn’t need change. Luckily it seems new staff members are starting to understand this process is ingrained in the Peace Corps. They are gaining both patience for the process, and respect for those who have long been working with PC, and who know the difference between necessary and unnecessary change.

At the PST, the story is similar, though in a different context. The PCTs (Peace Corps Trainees) this year are an amazing and intelligent bunch, with great enthusiasm and excitement for their work-to-come and their new lives. It is inspirational. However, because they are such intelligent, experienced, enthusiastic, and independent Americans, they are also at times overly critical of PST – of the sessions, of the facilitators, of the training schedule as a whole.

I remember some frustration in my own training class in regards to learning speed, the way sessions are presented, and each and every slight imperfection. The fact is, though, PC staff members are working their butts off to manipulate the training, the sessions, the presenting styles, etc. to fit the audience – custom-made for the PCTs. But each presenter is different, sometimes answering important questions takes time and sessions run long, sometimes break time needs to be cut short to return to the classroom to cover the huge bounty of knowledge that needs to be taught in just two and a half months…

Patience pays. A trainee will get so much more out of training if they can sit back, observe, take it all in, and let the facilitators and the organizers do their jobs. No, it won’t be perfect, sessions won’t run flawlessly, but in this Peace Corps world it is more important to be understanding than overly critical.

I learned during my own PST how valuable it is to be patient when things take longer than the time listed in the schedule, to fully understand that I was being given knowledge from some of the most qualified and experienced people in Tanzania, and that they deserved my attentive appreciation. Even if I had a different opinion about how things were organized or facilitated, I sat back, took it all in, went along for the ride, because you never know what you may learn from the unscripted, or from observing the overall process. Then, later on, I gave my feedback. This lesson is something that followed me through my entire service and cultural integration, and is critical for village life.


Anyone new to Tanzania, or to any country/culture, should first take a step back, patiently observe, take the time to listen to those with more experience, and try to wrap their head around the complete picture, rather than thinking they understand it all after a few days/a few weeks in country. This is what Peace Corps taught me, is still teaching me, and I know it will apply to every new situation in my life. Mvumilivu hula mbivu. I will always try to choose the slower, more observant path, will always try to wait for the ripest of fruits, and will then hopefully be able to understand how sweet life can be.


5 March 2017

“In literature and in life we ultimately pursue, not conclusions, but beginnings.”
― Sam Tanenhaus, Literature Unbound

Some people are only good at beginnings, others endings, but most are only good at the balance that comes between the two once they find it. Those people live their lives with only a few beginnings, and therefore only a few endings, focused on the one or two long in-betweens. But others choose a life with more transitions. The reasoning for that decision is often too buried within the different aspects of what makes up who they are, they perhaps can’t quite understand it. Or maybe the reason is blatantly obvious to them – depends on the person.

Personally, I discover so much more substance and worth and beauty in the many in-betweens, and while I do sometimes long for the stability and comfort that is found there, I can never linger too long. I always want more; I always want different experiences; I always need some new beginning. It can be difficult to shift, to seemingly cut yourself off from the friends and the life you’ve made, but it’s just a part of the path I’ve taken in my life. For me, right now, it’s time – time for the next adventure, the next cycle.

The question I always have is: will I ever feel it’s time to linger rather than time to move on; will I ever tire of those transitions and new beginnings; will I ever linger in that ending and transform it into my forever? Or will I never settle for the life of one long in-between? It is so interesting to see the different paths people choose to take in life, the different comfort zones that exist, the different hoops we sometimes force ourselves to jump through… All I can say is: so long as a person chooses happiness, no matter the path, their life will be a beautiful thing. And that is beautiful in and of itself.

Now, once again, is my time for a new beginning. It’s a different sort of new beginning from what I am used to, however, because I’ll see many familiar faces, and I’ll be living and working in places I’ve been before. Perhaps that’s why I’m so excited – some things will be the same, and other things fantastically different.

It has been about one week since I left my village, Isitu, in the Southern Highlands region of Njombe. My friends organized a small sherehe (party), and I was able to spend some quality time with those friends and others during my final week there, in between the packing.


It seemed so surreal putting my bags in the truck and taking one last look at my humble abode. I felt almost detached from the experience, unemotional while at the same time understanding how much I will miss that place, that life, those people… But I knew how ready I was for the next thing. I knew the end was at hand, and I prepared myself mentally, seeing those I knew I needed to see, saying every goodbye. I feel good about my departure, and am excited to start my new life in Dar es Salaam.

I have already moved into my new house, have set up my desk at the office, and will be heading to Dodoma tomorrow to truly get started with my work. First project: I will be working for a week or more to help organize and facilitate the Pre-Service Training (PST) of the new Health/Agriculture class of Peace Corps Tanzania. I know I’ll have a great time. Things are happenin’, I’m keepin’ busy, off to a sprinting start, exciting times, these… I am happy.

At times of transitions, I like to look back on this classic quote from Rumi:

“Although the road is never ending
take a step and keep walking,
do not look fearfully into the distance.
On this path let the heart be your guide…”

The road winds on, listen to your heart, choose joy, choose happiness, because no matter how you seem to struggle, happiness is not a destination, it is a choice, and we can all live it if we choose it… (thanks, Kelly)..