Week 2 Pictures: Pendo means Love

What do you see?

Trees as green as wild grass on a spring morning; earth as raw and red as if it was the lifeblood of the earth itself; people as passionate and personable as if they were your own brothers and sisters; metal roofs and sun-scorched bricks weathered and worn by years of use-- forget the big five and all those roadside souvenirs - this is Africa. This boundless nature is what makes Africa so special, and was in this world of vibrant life and color that I began my second week of work in Tanzania (check out some pictures below).

The week kicked off, as a week often does, at a local church on a Sunday morning.  As Jennifer and I were waiting for the service to begin she and I became the center of attention for a large group of local children. Before any songs had been sung or testimonies had been tested, the two of us came to attention for the rest of the congregation as the children called out “muzungu! muzungu!

Fortunately this was not the first time I had heard this term used, and as my handy-dandy Swahili-to-English dictionary describes, “muzungu” literally means people who walk in circles, referring to the way in which non-Africans appear to struggle in circles as they drive aimlessly through Africa.

a herd of real-life muzungus in their natural habitat

Although we were not doing any driving in the church that day, by the time the congregation rose to sing a half-dozen Swahili songs, I certainly found myself struggling with a few new extra friends attached to my arms and legs – the little kids were clinging to my clothes like muzungu magnets!

As the service proceeded, the children hardly abated – in fact, after the preacher had summed up his stirring Swahili sermon on Paul’s chiding the Corinthians toward righteousness (Romans 3), Jennifer and I were both overwhelmed with this mass of small children, most of whom were visibly parent-less, and many of whom wanted to learn our names (and wanted us to learn their names as well). This game of name-learning and name-sharing broke out in full force once the service was dismissed, and my conversation with this score of Tanzanian kids turned into a full-blown cultural exchange of words and phrases when I busted out my trusty sketchbook and pens.

handy dandy Swahili-to-English dictionary and trusty
sketchbook. I wouldn't have gotten far without the dictionary
and I wouldn't have remembered much without the sketchbook.
both were great assets. pens not included.

Unlike Jennifer I am a visual, not an auditory learner. While she assimilated easily with the spoken Luo and Swahili, I was confronted with so much input that I turned to my good old sketchbook and handy dandy dictionary to learn the children’s names and phrases by drawing them out in my book and letting the kids write their own stories to go along with the sketches. What follows are the results of several hours of intense cross-cultural sketchbooking:

musilaba means cross

dogi means lips

rangi means red, blue, orange, and yellow?

oh wait... rangi means paint

and of course "ninja" is the same in all languages

The only thing more inspiring than the fact these kids were sketching and visualizing their culture in my sketchbook was that they were sketching and visualizing their culture in my sketchbook in a church – and in Tanzania of all places. It was an unbelievable experience to witness this after also witnessing God’s cross-cultural presence in the same building just a few hours earlier.

Back during the service as I sat listening to the head pastor's sermon, I felt God’s love in the words he was speaking… even though I couldn’t understand a single one of them! Simply listening to the passion of the testimonies, the joy of the singers, and the shouts of the performers brought me close to tears at one point. I felt God saying, “Look at all this love. How can you possibly doubt my presence in your own life when I am clearly present in the lives of these people a world away from Cincinnati.” What a revelation – and what love that God pours out on people to bring them into such a state of joy. I was blown away by this togetherness.  By seeing these Tanzanians growing together and striving to be more like Christ. Even as I write this I’m still trying to process the whole experience and come to grips with how an experience like this can be so simultaneously foreign, and yet also so incredibly relatable!

Needless to say, this church experience was the high-point of my week - maybe even the entire trip. The rest of our second week was spent much the same as the first; while working with other University of Cincinnati students, I continued taking measurements and sketches of the Roche Health Center.  I love sketching and mapping, and being able to draw and measure on site and away from the confines of studio was a nice break from typical desk-based architecture work.

hard at work at the RHC...
...Stanley Black and Decker style

the not-so-glamorous side of architecture:
as-built drawings!

Later in the week the men from our UC team got to play futbol with some of the locals (sorry, no girls allowed!) It was one of the special instances during the trip when, paradoxically, while we were fiercely competing in sports we muzungu foreigners felt more like we were on the same team with the native Tanzanians while competing together with them than if we were simply there.  Outright competition seemed more relevant and relateable than simply being there and culturally competing against them through inaction.

This brings me to a central point of my blog, which I haven’t spoken about enough, but which is crucial to life here in Africa. I haven't found a good word for the quality I'm trying to describe here, but something about the people in Tanzania (and in South Africa too, to a degree) speaks to an uncanny sense of optimism, positivity, and full-blooded life. I don’t know if there’s a word for it other than the African “CAN-do” spirit that I’ve named this blog after. Playing soccer with the local kids and experiencing the love of the local church church community brought on this feeling of hope more than just about anything I’ve experienced here so far – although in our soccer game we competed against each others, we competed together by working in teams to accomplish a goal.

futbol in Shirati

I guess I’m just a sucker for that team spirit, and I’m sure that I will revisit this un-named theme plenty more as the summer progresses.  But for now, let me leave you with one last image.

It may be idealistic, as it is something I've been thinking and dreaming about for quite some time, but I'm dreaming big for Africa.  I'm dreaming of an Africa in which every person has hope for life, a means to live their life fully, and a physical place to call home. Is that too much to hope for?  Like Abram believed God's covenant in Genesis, I want to believe that God has a great legacy in store for the people here, and great plans for all of Africa. It's a big world but it is full of hope.

And that is what I see.

-quote of the day-
"'Do not be afraid Abram.
I am your shield, your very great reward...
...Look up at the heavens and count the stars - if indeed you can count them... so shall your offspring be.'
...Abram believed the Lord and it was credited to him as righteousness"
Genesis 15: 1, 5-6


Greetings from Cape Town!

Groete uit Kaapstad! (Afrikaans)

Today instead of an update from Tanzania and Kenya I'm jumping ahead to give some perspective on life in South Africa.  Over the past ten days a lot has happened, and although there's no way I will be able to fit it all into one post I hope you get a sense of how exciting things have been here lately.

Taking a step back, let me first of all set the stage for how I even got to South Africa.  It all starts back in Cincinnati, Ohio.... *cue sepia colors and midwestern musical montage* As an architecture student at the University of Cincinnati I am required to complete four practical "co-op" work experiences before I graduate.  One of my spring-quarter classes was set to culminate in a travel experience to Tanzania and Kenya, and so I thought to myself "why not stay in Africa for co-op?!"  As I am in fact familiar with South Africa, growing up in the Indian Ocean port city of Durban before moving to the United States in 2000, I have always dreamed of returning back to the country I once called home to try my hand at architecture in Africa (let me know if you want to hear the full story some time).

Hard at work in Tanzania

Fast forward to summer of 2011.  Following two weeks of humanitarian design work with other University of Cincinnati students in East Africa (Tanzania and Kenya-- both which I will continue to blog about... eventually), I spent an full week in Johannesburg meeting up with friends and visiting a wide range of architecture firms in South Africa's largest city.

At the end of that week, however, after all my portfolios been submitted to SA architecture firms, I found myself in need of transportation to Cape Town (where I am co-oping this summer).  Johannesburg and Cape Town may just be names to anyone unfamiliar with South Africa, but they are in fact two of the most culturally relevant and economically active cities in Southern Africa.  Traveling from one city to the other is relatively common, but the distance is significant.

Johannesburg to Cape Town by bus... 17 hours

That doesn't look so bad, does it? Only from one city to the next... right?

Well my friend, consider this trip in terms of the Eastern United States.

St. Louis to New York by bus... 17 hours

St. Louis to New York.  Different continent. Same travel time.  Needless to say, I felt like quite the African voortrekker (South African equivalent of Oregon Trailblazer) heading west across the deserts and savannas in a Greyhound bus packed to the gills with South Africans of all shapes and sizes.  It's an experience I won't soon forget.

Seeing the Cape Town skyline following this trek was something I had much anticipated.  After being crammed in a bus for the better part of a day, I was more anxious to get out and run than a raccoon trapped in a house full of college students.  After dumping my belongings at an apartment in the Bo-Kaap I made a bee-line for the door to take a run. My goal: Kloofneck, a scenic overlook a few km from my apartment from which the Atlantic and Indian Oceans are simultaneously visible.

One of many cobblestone streets in the Bo-Kaap

Jogging to Kloofneck brought me, unexpectedly, past an architecture firm that I had researched but never  visited in person.  For a nerdy architecture student like me to wander past the office of this well-renowned business by chance would be comparable to, say, a devout Christian meeting Desmond Tutu in a local cafe.  Needless to say, I took the firm's proximity to my own apartment as a sign from God to knock on the door and inquire about a visit.  Not only was the firm gracious enough to provide me with an extended tour the following day, but I was able to meet all their employees and develop some great relationships with several intern-level workers. God provides!

Hot on the heels of this adventure, I took to walking throughout the city over the next few days.  The urban core of Cape Town is beautiful for its compact arrangement of residential and commercial areas, each of which is interspersed with many entertainment venues and tourist attractions, and all of which are set against the stunning backdrop of Table Mountain.  Imagine, if you would, an African city as a medly of San Francisco and New Orleans.  I was hooked.

Walking through Cape Town. Nate is already hooked on this town.

Over the next few days I was able to surf with my roommates in the Indian Ocean at Muizenberg, explore the Atlantic coast along Green Point, and gather together with other Christians at a local church near my apartment.  Cape Town is wonderfully welcoming (and walkable too), and although it's technically winter here, the weather is not much more adverse than a cool Autumn evening in the States.  Capetownians bundle up with scarves and gloves as they weather the coldest days of their year, but in my opinion the weather here has actually been quite favorable.

After staying a few days at the landlord's surgeon house, I moved up the hill to another apartment in which several other international interns live - the nationalities in the house are very diverse, bringing students together from as far apart as France, Zambia, England, and the Netherlands. It has been a great blessing to join in meals and conversations together with these students, as well as their visiting friends and relatives.  In any given hour I hear three or four languages spoken, but it's certainly a beautiful cacophony!

Looking up from my desk

In addition to my apartment-mates, I've also been blessed with a beautiful view out of my window. Glancing up from my desk I see the backdrop of Table Mountain spread out in all its splendor.  I love experiencing new places, and I don't believe there is any other place quite like Cape Town.

The high point of my week came just a few days ago when I tagged along with my friend for breakfast at St. George's Cathedral, the largest (and arguably oldest) Anglican church in Cape Town.  I'm never one to turn down a good breakfast - especially at a church - and so I willingly woke a few hours earlier than usual to join in the festivities.

We had arrived and settled down for a meal by 8am, at which time my friend (who works as a research assistant at the church) whispered to me - "Don't look now, but Desmond Tutu just walked into the cafe." Believing that my friend was having research-induced delusions, I doubted this was true.  But, sure enough, glancing up from my boerewors and eggs I saw that yes, in fact it was Desmond Tutu walking into the cafe, chatting with the kitchen staff and sampling some of their baked pastries.  Who would have guessed!

Archperspective meets Archbishop
Simply serendipitous!

It would be hard to imagine ten better days in Cape Town.  I'm thankful for the experiences, friendships, and communities that I've been exposed to in just over a week, and I'm praying that God will keep providing me with opportunities to interact with locals, as well as architects and designers here in Cape Town who can give me a better professional perspective for my work.  One particular opportunity I want to make the most of is in meeting and getting to know homeless people in Cape Town.  South Africa has a monstrous unemployment rate, and I want to hear what this is like first-hand from Capetownians who either do not have a job or cannot find work.

As my second week begins, please be praying for my relationships with roommates and work colleagues - God is doing great things through the people I work with and it is a blessing to be living here with such a diverse set of friends.

I have dropped the second-person blog concept.  It was fun, but it was also strange to be so removed for all you lovely readers.  To be honest, I am hoping for a little feedback... comments, ya know?!  I'm here in South Africa to work and learn, but I'm also here to provide some perspective.  That's perspective not just for me, but for you too!  So if there's something you'd like to vicariously explore in Cape Town or anything you'd like to hear more about, just let me know (that way I won't have to bring back the creepy second-person blog-review man - see posts below if you're confused).  Comments from you guys = no creepy blog posts.


-quote of the day-
"That the urban future should be at once repellent and seductive is hardly surprising, since actual cities have always cast their own double spell. Their crowded streets and cramped habitations induce claustrophobia but also promise new forms of intimacy. The alienation and loneliness that blossom in the midst of crowds are romantic and agonizing in equal measure. City life is subject to all kinds of planning, scheduling, surveillance and regulation, which makes it both efficient and dehumanizing. Its buzzing disorder holds the threat of violence and the promise of vitality."
-A. O. Scott