Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Over the past several days I have been getting increasingly sentimental about my time here in Tanzania.  After all, a mere six weeks separates me from my flight out of Dar-es-Salaam.  Maybe it's a little premature to be talking this way but I'm truly grateful for this experience.

So here’s a list, in no particular order, of things that I am thankful for from these past months in Tanzania.  It’s off the cuff and certainly not exhaustive (no snubs intended!), but I hope it gives you a sense of how Tanzania and its people (Tanzanians and expats alike) have affected me since I arrived late last August.

I’m thankful for...
  • Tanzania kids yelling 'good morning!' to me no matter the time of day
  • living in a compound with great friends
  • the rapport I have developed with one of the women who works at a shop where I stop for tea every weekend
  • a dumb phone (versus a smartphone) that has helped me to stay more present  rather than distracted by bajillions of things on the internet
  • welcoming people, co-workers and compound-mates alike, who helped me to transition into my first experience living abroad
  • chips mayai, because it just tastes so good (you can refer to my previous blog post)
  • the Dodoma weather which, while not great for growing crops, I find extremely pleasant
  • the privilege I have that allows me to visit a good chunk of this country
  • friends who come from different places (literally in the sense of location but also in terms of experiences lived) who provide different perspectives to so many things
  • Swahili, a really fun language that is my top pick for international lingua franca (move over English and Chinese!)
  • the Bible, for not just being long but for having so much good stuff in it
  • hot water heaters because when it comes to cold showers I'm a complete wuss
  • young men blasting music from enormous speakers in the back of pick up trucks because pulsing ear drums and a vibrating rib cage wakes you up like nothing else
  • patient people who tolerate my attempts at speaking in Swahili
  • the tendency for people here (Tanzanian and otherwise) to take the time to at least greet and sometimes chat about how you are doing
  • friends back home and abroad who have made an effort to keep in touch with me despite the distance between us
  • the internet for making such interactions with friends and family possible on a fairly regular basis
  • meeting people from all over the world and the pieces of culture they bring with them
  • Norway especially for producing top shelf individuals
  • Dodoma for being a safe and chill place to live
  • the abounding thoughtfulness and patience of the people with whom I work
  • learning more about God through the people I have met and the experiences I have accrued
  • a greater appreciation for what the phrase 'Jesus is Lord' means in my life
  • people who, often times without even realizing it, force me to confront the assumptions and stereotypes I hold (consciously and otherwise)
  • people who are excited to create relationships in development work rather than simply interested in executing transactions
  • the Episcopal Church that has created the amazing opportunity that is YASC
  • markets where you know exactly what you're buying (read: going grocery shopping and not buying things that are laden with extra sugar or fat)
  • Canon Andrea Mwaka School (CAMS) for allowing me to volunteer and be a part of the lives of the students and staff there
  • the CAMS students for the energy with which they live life (and *usually* bring with them into the classroom)
  • Tanzanians singing gospel or otherwise spiritual songs in Swahili, it sounds so so good
  • village parishioners who take the time and effort to welcome and feed us when we go out to their village
  • the remarkably good health that I have maintained throughout most of my time here
  • a God who knows our hearts

Monday, April 25, 2016

Time for a Food Post

One of the things that I have enjoyed the most about Tanzania is the food.  It's not that I'm some sort of culinary expert who can analyze and dissect the African and Indian influences that make of Tanzanian food.  It's just that the food tastes good, plain and simple!

Here are my first attempts at cooking three classic Tanzanian/East African dishes: ugali, chapati, and chips mayai.  I have included the online recipe I used at the end of each separate food section.  Karibu chakula!


Ugali is the staple food for many Tanzanians (and many East Africans more generally).  It is a firm, thick substance made of corn flour and cooked in boiling water (I think the English word to describe ugali is 'polenta').  Ugali is not eaten alone; it is typically paired with some sort of stew into which you dip the ugali.  And yes you use your hands!

Unfortunately my idea for this food post came right as I finished making my first ugali, so I didn't think to take pictures of the process.  But at the very least you can check out the end result.

So typically when ugali is served, it's a lot prettier looking.  It is usually shaped into a sort of loaf.  The stew you see prepared next to the ugali is composed of onions, tomatoes, and fish (I used sangala, a local-ish fish that I think is often caught in Lake Victoria)
To eat ugali, simply take a piece into your hand, sort of roll it up to make it firm, and then scoop into the stew, capturing the food between the ugali and your thumb.  It's definitely not a natural motion for me but hopefully the more ugali I make the better I'll get
Nothing fills you up like ugali, believe me!


I love chapati.  It's so good.  Chapati is similar to naan (if you're familiar with the Indian dish) only for chapati the flattened dough is lightly fried.  Chapati often goes along with tea.  In fact, chai ('tea' in Swahili), usually denotes eating something with your tea.  Chai essentially serves as breakfast/a late morning snack.

A chapati getting fried.  It doesn't take long to fry, but it took a long time for me to make the dough and try to roll it out to get a thin consistency
Speaking of thinness, I didn't quite have the patience to make my chapatis as thin as they are actually supposed to be.  I'll need to work on my rolling pin technique to get the chapatis down correctly
A couple of chapati and a cup of tea!  Folding the chapati up as pictured is a pretty common way to consume it. (NOTE: Tanzanians generally tend to put a lot of sugar into their tea; as someone who didn't drink tea until I got here, I have been thoroughly indoctrinated into the use of a copious amount of sugar.  If anyone back in the US ever has tea with me please don't be repulsed)

Chips Mayai

Chips mayai is exactly what's in the name: chips (french fries to some) and mayai ('eggs' in Swahili) together in a sort of large omelette.  It's a really popular street food here; many street spots across Dodoma will make you chips mayai in 10 minutes or less (though one time friends and I waited for over two hours for chips mayai, we're not going to talk about that...).

Making chips myself for the first time has really made me appreciate the absurd amount of oil you have to use to properly fry them.  Chips mayai is not health food, that's for sure
After frying the chips, getting some mayai action in.  It's a little tricky to turn over; typically a plate is used to help flip it
Chips mayai was definitely the easiest of the three Tanzanian foods to cook.  To eat chips mayai properly, street food style, either use your hands or a couple of toothpicks to tear the omelette apart and then spear into your mouth.  Looks good, huh? ;)

So there you have it!  I'm excited to return back to the US to share these dishes.  They've been an indispensable part of my time in Tanzania and I want to spread the goodness.  If you have it in you I would definitely suggest trying the recipes for yourself.  After all, I'm not much of a cook and everything turned out edible.

Hope you all enjoyed!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Moses and Mission

In addition to all that I have learned from living and working in Tanzania, I have enjoyed reading Scripture on a more regular basis.  I have been most recently struck by the life of Moses and what he can teach us about mission.

To start, Moses trusted God and followed His word.  Initially, he was terrified by God’s call to serve (Exodus 3-4).  But once Moses accepted God’s call he followed God’s commandments thoroughly.  I think this point is both basic and essential to Christian mission; all too often I fall out of trusting God for strength and wisdom, trying to succeed all on my own rather than leaning on God.

During our YASC training, it was emphasized that truly effective mission work cannot occur without right relationship with those around us (e.g. “it is more important to be in right relationship than it is to be right”).  Moses thoroughly practiced this.  He constantly focused on both facilitating and being in relationships: his relationship with God, Israel’s relationship with God, and relationships among the Israelites themselves.  Moses was the only Israelite able to speak with God directly while also serving as God’s vehicle for miracles.  He represented and advocated on Israel’s behalf in times of trouble.  He passed God’s commandments and laws onto the Israelites, further establishing and reminding the Israelites of their covenant with God.  At one point Moses even actively settled disputes between the Israelites according to God’s statutes (Exodus 18:13-16).

In fact, in a lot of ways disputes characterized Moses' mission.  The Israelites whined, broke God’s covenant, and disputed Moses’ authority constantly.  Moses may have been exasperated on occasion (Numbers 11:10-15) but he never gave up on the Israelites, both as their teacher and advocate.  Someone who leads thousands of complaining people around the wilderness for 40 years while simultaneously trying to convince God that making a covenant with the nation of Israel was not a mistake (despite bountiful evidence to the contrary) surely exemplifies perseverance.

Once those 40 years of wandering ended, Moses didn’t even get to set foot into the Promised Land: “'I am no longer able to get about, and the LORD has told me, ‘You shall not cross the river Jordan.’’” (Deuteronomy 31:2).  Moses did not complain or argue against God indignantly.  Instead, he endorsed his successor, Joshua, in front of all of Israel (Numbers 27:18-22).  Then, after reminding the Israelites of their covenant and viewing Canaan from afar, he simply “...died there in the land of Moab, at the LORD’s command” (Deuteronomy 34:5).  I think there is an element of selflessness through obedience to Moses’ life that is startling beautiful.  Though likely humbling to be told that you are no longer a part of God’s plan on earth, perhaps Moses could take refuge in knowing that God’s work would continue through Joshua.  To his final breath Moses followed God’s command, for it was never about him but always about Him.

I have personally drawn great encouragement from Moses’ life and mission: he always trusted and obeyed God, his work was intimately tied to relationship, he persevered through it all, and he served utterly selflessly.  Now one could argue that these things could easily apply to a Christian life alone, not to mission.  But if you accept that mission is simply doing God’s work in the world and that life should be spent living to the glory of God then I’d like to think that there is little distinction between mission and life.  Moses seemed to live without distinguishing the two much.

Monday, February 15, 2016


Here in the Dodoma region of Tanzania we are well into our rainy season.  And that really means something in Dodoma.  When I arrived in late August, you would be hard pressed to find much of any green.  Dry dry dry.  I didn't even see my first cloud here in Dodoma until late October!


But now the rain has definitely arrived.  And from what I’ve been told, it’s been more plentiful this year than usual.  This is very good news: many villages are being affected (in some cases severely) because of a poor harvest due to a drought last year.  The fact that villagers could not effectively practice agriculture last year really puts a strain on households in villages across Dodoma region.  Although crops benefiting from this most recent rain will not be harvested for several months (meaning that the food shortage is still a serious issue) there at least seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel.


And you can tell people are happy.  Maybe it is a universal thing to talk about the weather, but I have noticed that many Tanzanians remark upon the rain with a glad heart.  You can be sure that we will be giving thanks at church if we receive rain a day or two prior to Sunday.

But for all of the benefits that rain provides to peoples’ livelihood, some serious issues arise when the torrential rains come to Dodoma.

For Tanzanians who live in mud brick houses, the imminent danger is collapse.  Whether a single wall or a majority of the house, such an incident can really put people in a tough spot.  They often have to temporarily abandon their house and live elsewhere and it is not always clear how quickly they will be able to build their house back up once more.

A house with a collapsed wall

The other danger is the burgeoning rivers that easily flow over the low concrete bridges across the region.  A few weeks ago, in a town several hours away, some 200 people died when a ferry sank in such a river.  Instances of vehicles and people getting swept away are not uncommon as well.

For me it can be difficult to understand why anyone would take the risk trying to take on such a force of nature.  But it should not be forgotten that many of these people simply do not have resources to cope with such conditions whenever they arise.  As my co-worker Rev’d Emmanuel put it to me, contending with flooded rivers is just a part of life for many Tanzanians here.

Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of such double-edged things, the hope and the havoc that rain can bring.  I guess really life seems to be like that a lot of times.  Either way, the next time I am in church and we give our thanks to God for the rain that is helping people in Dodoma to prosper once more, I will be sure to also say a prayer for those who have tragedy befall them due to the rains as well.

Thursday, January 14, 2016


The past month and a half has been a blast, full of travel and friends, both old and new.  I spent the majority of December at a Swahili school in Iringa, a town that is a three hour bus ride south of Dodoma.  While at language school I met two lovely Norwegian families also taking Swahili courses before starting their mission stints in Tanzania.  It was great to settle down but still experience a different part of Tanzania.

I stayed in the banda (room) on the right
After spending a nice Christmas in Dodoma with a couple of friends I flew off to Cape Town, South Africa to meet up with some friends from YASC for the New Year.  Seeing everyone again, the triumphant reunion of TEAM AFRICA, really lifted my spirits.  We climbed Table Mountain, saw Star Wars VII, toured a vineyard, went to a New Year’s Eve concert, joined thousands of our closest friends at the beach on New Year’s Day...  I had an awesome time.

Table Mountain overlooking Cape Town
Now that I am back home in Dodoma and have had some time to reflect on the two trips, I feel like a very lucky guy.  In fact, if I’m being completely honest it’s not just about luck, it’s about privilege.  And while the word “privilege” has become politically charged and is sometimes used as a tool for shaming people, I have found it increasingly important to acknowledge my privilege this year.
The fact that I can spend a year in Tanzania doing YASC is the first thing.  I am a part of communities that could financially and spiritually support me, I have loving and supportive friends, and I come from a country where such a program even exists.  But in some ways my time in Tanzania has widened the scope of what my privilege really looks like.

Vineyard in the foreground, Table Mountain in the background
Many Tanzanians seem to show undue deference to me because I am an American.  Where many Tanzanians live without electricity or running water neither are issues at the compound where I stay.  Where many Tanzanians eat one meal a day, I continue to take three meals a day.  Where some young Tanzanians have college or university-level education but no employment opportunities, I suspect that once I am back in the US I will be able to find work for a decent salary.  Where some Tanzanians never travel outside of their region, let alone the country, I had the opportunity to jump on a plane from Dar-es-Salaam to Cape Town and will likely see more of Tanzania as well.  Where many Tanzanians cannot afford to take public holidays off, I just spent what amounts to a month’s time studying Swahili and enjoying a vacation with friends.

Jeremy Loops (a South African musician and Cape Town native)
New Year's Eve concert
I don’t make these comparisons to elevate or diminish anyone, but rather simply to share what I personally have seen here in Tanzania.  And I think there are some hard questions that follow: how do you make sense of someone being born into circumstances beyond their control?  What is God’s purpose behind this wide variation in peoples’ lives, variation that seems to result in privilege?  What do we do when this variation in privilege causes others to suffer?  What should we do when this variation in privilege causes others to suffer?

"Therefore from one person [Abraham]... descendants were born, 'as many as the stars
of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore'" (Hebrews 11:12)
yep, pretty much
Scripture has a lot to say about what we should do about this variation, namely that we are called to support those who are less privileged.  I’m not saying anything revolutionary here.  One does not need to go to another country to have such realizations; you can read the Bible anywhere and you can see variations in privilege anywhere.  From Deuteronomy 15:11 (“Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land’”) to James 2:15-17 (“If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead”), the Bible seems to be quite clear.

Acknowledging one’s privilege is an honest start.  But during my time here in Tanzania the idea that God requires more of us than simply acknowledging our respective privileges is increasingly being reinforced.  As we continue further into this New Year, I can’t help but wonder how moving further from simple acknowledgment towards more thoughtful action will look like in my own life.  I generally know what I should do, but what will I do?

Opening myself up to God’s influence and praying for His guidance has always seemed like a good place to start.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Day in the Life (of Distributions)

I have been here in Dodoma for nearly three months now but I have yet to give you all a glimpse into one of the most meaningful parts of working with The Carpenter's Kids: the village distributions.  These distributions involve visit several villages on a Saturday in order to deliver school supplies and uniforms to the orphaned and at-risk children enrolled in the CK program.  As you will see, this past weekend John Mattaya, former CK deputy director who has been helping us with distributions, Joshua, our driver, and I experienced quite the distribution at a village called Chololo.

Backseat view as we travel through the bush

I will never get tired of looking out at the Dodoma region landscape

It's quite common to come across herds of cattle and goats being
shepherded down the dirt road.  With a little help from the
shepherd the animals usually catch the drift: in this moment,
the side of the road is the safest!

Thanks for sliding over boys and girls

The church at Chololo.  CKs on the right,
guardians of the CKs on the left

MC preparing for introductions with a couple of the
CK parish committee members looking on.  Each parish has a
committee that, in conjunction with the head office, works to
communicate with and organize the CKs in the village

One of the two choirs performing for us.  The performances
typically include both song and dance, the words being sung in either
Kiswahili or Kigogo, the language of the Gogo tribe
that lives in Dodoma region

The actual distribution itself, where the CKs receive their uniform,
school supplies, and a long bar of soap (the orange thing)

Office work is important but it's something else entirely to see
what these supplies often mean to these otherwise disenfranchised children

Spontaneous dancing while we wait for the remaining CKs
to finish changing into their uniforms

The CK students and more CK committee members to the right

And now for the shoes and socks.  One of my co-workers, Daudi,
goes out to the villages a week before the distribution in order
to get the children's measurements for their shoes and uniforms.

One of the members of the CK committee expressing her thanks to
the CK head office and their supporters abroad for helping
to make obtaining an education possible

The CKs themselves putting on a little performance as a
way of saying thanks.  See the orange bars of soap?
I still cannot get over how huge they are

A goat and charcoal; surprise gifts from the parish!  The generosity
that we come across during these distributions is really quite moving.  And
most of the time it does not involve gifts: taking tea with the
priest and other CK committee members or getting a little snack
for the road means a lot, especially when food and other
resources are often scarce in the villages

If Joshua (far left) and John (far right) received the charcoal.
I wonder what is in store for me...

The second choir giving us one last performance before
the distribution comes to an end

The CKs of Chololo, a good looking lot!

Some of the CK committee members, the gifted goat, and me

After Chololo we had one other village distribution.
Here's a shot of Dodoma Town as we head on home

Zawadi (which means "gift" in Swahili) getting
settled in at the compound

Distribution days are nearly always long, filled with bumpy roads, and do not usually feature choir performances.  But they are far from tedious.  Instead, I have found the time in the villages, however brief, to be a potent reminder of God's love: that it is everywhere (no matter the village), that it has no one form (no matter the size or resources of the village parish), that it runs through each and every one of us if we open ourselves up to His Grace (no matter our circumstances).

As Tanzanians are wont to say, Bwana asifiwe!  Praise the Lord!

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Present is a Gift, That's Why They Call it the Present!

Well folks it’s a little hard to believe but I, Andy Russell, am no longer really a stranger to this place called Dodoma.  To be sure, I don’t know everything about Dodoma, not even close.  But I know the compound where I live, my walk to work, the CK office, Rose’s (where I get lunch most days, as well as a good number of the other store fronts and spots around Dodoma.  This familiarity has brought something else along with it: routine.

The word “routine” strikes fear into the hearts of many people.  I am no exception.  The banal, the repetition of less than stimulating activities over and over again, it can make us fear that somehow we’re not living life to the fullest.  Just look at TV shows, commercials, movies, newsstands, YouTube videos: clearly we aren’t being spontaneous or adventurous or glamorous enough.  WHY AREN’T WE HAVING FUN ALL THE TIME???

For me, routine has especially settled in at work.  Emails are checked, spreadsheets are updated, CK students or their parents stop by with healthcare or tuition needs, distribution schedules are discussed, and the world gently turns.  To be sure, all of this work is important to the mission of the Carpenter’s Kids.  But sometimes, in the slower moments, it certainly doesn’t feel that way.  And during those moments it can be terribly easy to drift off into fantasy, a world that replaces spreadsheets with NFL stardom and meetings with red carpets (who day dreams about those things anyhow?  Not me that’s for sure...).

I know this desk well
At YASC mission training, we touched on the idea of “being present” several times throughout.  It was not the first time that I had heard the call to “be present,” but I did take it more seriously than times past (I think being at a monastery helped).  The Daily Offices, the Great Silence, eating breakfast, trading experiences with other YASCers: I was there.   I still had a little feeling of “great, us Christians and our vague, spiritual-sounding jargon.”  But “being present” did begin to mean something to me.

And boy does it mean something to me now.  If God is everywhere all the time, then I am finding it increasingly important to take that seriously.  To know that no matter the moment—a miraculous triumph, a crushing defeat, a day spent hunched over a desktop computer screen, whatever—God is present.  And that is a powerful thing.  God, our Creator, who lovingly sent His Son down to die for our sins in order to save us all, is there.  We just have to be there with Him.  Cut out the day dreams, the fantasy, the speculation about the future, and just be with God.

Being present is something that I lose touch of constantly, but it’s also something to which I have become determined to return.  Routines can seem like a real downer, but I’ve come to realize more and more that there is so much more to the everyday we experience.  Paul urges the Philippians to “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (Philippians 4:4 NRSV). Because He is right there with us.  Always.