Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Seven Years

So, today is the seven year anniversary of my father's death from cancer. That's really hard to wrap my head around; sometimes it seems that it was just the blink of an eye, but today it's the opposite. I can't believe it's ONLY been seven years. I've done a lot of livin' in these last few years, and that time- the stress, the sadness, the laughter, and tears- it just seems like a lifetime ago.

For several days now, I've been mulling over what I was going to write on this anniversary. This is THE day. It's a day to remember a life-changing event in the life of the Reid family. I tried to think of something profound to say.

But I got nuthin.' No profound wisdom to impart or wise words to share. But you know what I DO have?

A ton of dirty dishes to wash.

Mundane? Yep. Boring? Yes, indeed. Necessary? Sadly, yes. I must do the dishes. Life goes on. As it should. As it must.

Sometimes life is amazing, like when I visited with Watatulu people up in the rock hills around Lake Eyasi in Tanzania. Sometime life is miserable, like when I struggled with anger and depression last year. It's fun when I watch Guardians of the Galaxy with friends. And it's plain old boring when I have to do the dishes.

I miss my dad. I would love to talk to him about all of the above (though maybe not the dishes). I think of him every single day. And I hope I always will. I wish he were here with us, yet he is not; but his example still lives on with me, guiding me.

Life goes on, and I think he'd be very happy to hear it.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Small Talk, Tanzania Style

So I have written in the past about language issues here in Tanzania. Indeed, the struggle to communicate is one of the most salient issue here for an ex-pat. Deeper issues of cultural understanding manifest themselves in conversations, but you can’t even approach that level of communication if you’re standing there looking like an idiot trying to remember the word for “pineapple.” Katie can actually have conversations in Swahili. I can sound like a relatively functional 4-year-old.

Beyond simply learning, remembering, and using new vocabulary and then understanding the nuance that may be underneath the words themselves, you also must deal with the fact that people talk differently, and I don't mean accents or simple grammar. I mean the way they think and form sentences is different. In your own culture, you have a basic assumption of how people will speak to you. But here, someone may say something to you that makes sense to them and everyone around you but makes no sense at all to you. What I mean is, beyond idioms, beyond new words, the things that people choose to say and choose NOT to say are often just as baffling, if not moreso.

Let’s take simple small talk, for example.

Small talk here often makes no sense to an American ear. It’s confusing. Even after almost 3 years here, its confusing. But maybe "confusing" isn't the right word...maybe "pointless" is better. It circles around and around and makes no sense. Now, I know there’s very little depth to “Hot today, huh?” or “How ‘bout them Mets?” but you at least know you’re talking about the weather of a football team. (Ha HA just kidding, people).

Small talk here- at least small talk with a Westerner- tends to consist of just stating some random comment about something remotely related to you, but with the crucial point of not clearly stating what that thing may be. Here’s a typical example. Keep in mind that this is often in a mix of English and Swahili.

Me: Habari za leo? (How are you?)

Them: Nzuri. Habari za kwako? (How’s your home?)

Me: Good.

Them: AMERICA.

Me: …What?

Them: How is it?

Me: How is what? America?

Them: YES...UGALI. (a local food staple)

Me: …What?

Them: UGALI. Have you tried it?

Me: …Yes. Why?

Them: Sema? (Verb for “say”)

Me: Say what?

Them: MABATINI. (Our neighborhood)

Me:…What about Mabatini?

Them: How is it?

Me: Mabatini? It’s good.

Them: HA HA HA. Yes. AMERICA.

This can pretty much go on ad infinitum until I just smile and walk away (or look very confused and walk away). There will often be thumbs up, high fives, and laughter on their part.

So there’s no real moral to this story. It’s just fascinating (and honestly, often annoying) to see this happen. I feel that a certain amount of their local interaction is on this surface level with minimal information. But I also think this is particular relevant to when locals interact with Westerners. I know that most people here know a little bit of English- often just a few random words they’ve picked up- but in the same way that I felt good when I had my first simple exchanges in Swahili, they are likely proud of themselves for engaging the mzungu in English. Even if it made no sense to the English-speaker. And I can’t really judge them on that, because I see that same confused look staring at me when I open my mouth and use Swahili.

AMERICA. YES. HA HA HA!


Monday, August 18, 2014

Am I Missing Something?...

 ...or is the massage therapist missing something in this picture?

Recently, several of us here were going through books to donate, and I flipped open a book on massage and found the following pictures.

  


There were many more like these two.

Look, I've had some really strange massages before, but only ONE of us stripped down for the session.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Kids Draw the Darndest Things

...and that "Darndest Thing" is ME.

This last Saturday, the kids of our Chanua group met for their regular Saturday morning meeting. We vary on what we do at these meetings. Sometimes we teach them lessons to help with their school work, sometimes we sing and/or draw pictures, and sometimes we just have game days. This last Saturday, because we were also handing out items of clothing for the kids, we decided it was a good day to draw.

Now, these kids tend to draw the same things over and over, which is fine. It goes like this:

Girls: flowers, princesses, houses, their school teachers

Boys: soccer players, airplanes, cars, the Tanzanian flag

In light of the repetitive nature of their pictures, we often give them a topic to draw to inspire them to think outside the box a little more. And this week I told them that they should draw either ME or my coworker Mary.

My friends, you are in for a treat. Before we delve into these drawings, I want to say one thing: I LOVE these drawings. I love the way kids draw. I love everything about these drawings and I am super proud of them.

Now, with that said, I'm gonna kinda make fun of these drawings because they are of ME and I look INSANE in all of them. They are wonderful.


I think I look pretty burly here. Like a lumberjack or someone who's ready for
some blue collar work. I'll see you mofos down at the DOCKS.

Looks like I'm wearing clown shoes. Symbolism, perhaps? 
Trying to make a statement about my soul. I like the artistic license.

In this one, I'm clearly angry about my botched plastic surgery. Which is TRUE.
I'm STILL pissed about it. Also, I'm angry about my clubfeet.

This one just works. I think I have a grill in this one.

The slightly stunned, vacant look? LIKE A PHOTOGRAPH, this one.

This one clearly got the proportions correct. Also, I need some red pants.

This was a child's take on me if I were a serial killing version of Ed Grimley.

I do wear a lot of greens and blues.

Katie and I laughed really hard at the red shoes. Then I remembered I own a pair of red shoes.

BOW BEFORE ZOD!

I did not realize my arms were that hairy. YOU LEARN SOMETHING NEW EVERY DAY.

Excuse me, sir. Have you seen my feet? And the other half of right arm?
Otherwise, this one is pretty accurate.

"Vacant Eyes and Tiny Slippers: The Story of Chris Reid." Monday, 11pm, Lifetime Network.

I like the sass in this one. I feel a little like Beyonce.

OK, I look like an angry monkey in this one. Which is cool.

I need to take a minute to talk about spelling. The Sukuma people do not
differentiate between R's and L's, so they spell my name is many creative
ways based on how they hear my name. So "Chris" becomes some variant of "Kilis."
Based on the above drawing, I'm obviously battling for the Iron Throne of Westeros.

I WISH I LOOKED THIS COOL IN REAL LIFE. Seriously. I look like a member of The Clash.

I look kinda like Ice Cube here. VALID.
Also, I'm handing out clothing here, hence the shirt in my hand. Or I'm Edward Wardrobehands.

This one makes me giggle to no end. I adore it. Also, Bruce Willis kills me in Sin City.

I shore am glad Aunt Mommy and Uncle Cousin picked me up after I got my lobotomy.

I think I need to consider going sleeveless more.

WHERE'S MY DRAGONS??!!!

I'm not sure if you have ever seen Eraserhead, but THIS kid certainly has.



I'm kinda like Cthulhu, but with beard tentacles.

NAILED IT.

Bonus Drawing: Here's one of Mary, my Coworker.




Thursday, June 19, 2014

In Memory of Thomas

Earlier today, I received a phone call with some bad news. Thomas, a boy I knew up in Musoma, had succumbed to illness and died earlier this morning.

I met Thomas in early 2012, shortly after we arrived in Tanzania. The town of Musoma is where we went to language school, and it’s also the town where fellow missioner Liz Mach and Maryknoll Sister Marion Hughes live. Every two weeks, a group of HIV+ children (called Lisa’s Pride) gather at Sr. Marion’s house to play games, to do a weigh-in, and to receive basic food stuffs that helps keep their immune systems strong. While we lived in Musoma, we would try to make it out to as many sessions as we could, and that’s where we met Thomas.

First of all, Thomas was charming. He had a great smile. He was smart and quick to laugh. And he was a little dude. I thought he was 9 or 10 at first, but when you spoke with him, he seemed older. That’s because he was; his health issues had stunted his growth and kept him at a size very small relative to his age. He was a teenager and must have been 15 or 16 by now.

As should be obvious by his membership in Lisa’s Pride, Thomas was HIV+. I don’t know the story of how he was infected. He was also deaf, but he wasn’t born that way. When he was younger, he got malaria and received an overdose of his medication and lost his hearing as a result. Yet, he could still hear a little so he could hold a conversation with you- in Swahili or in English. And he could read lips- in Swahili or in English. I told you, he was smart.

After 3 months, we moved down to Mwanza, but for our first Christmas in Tanzania, we went back up to Musoma to spend a few days with Liz and Sr. Marion. We also went to assist with a big shopping trip where the kids from Lisa’s Pride got to pick out clothes for themselves. It was a lot of fun, and Thomas was around, of course. The day of the shopping trip was also my 36th birthday, so Katie baked me a cake. Thomas helped her light the candles, and then he brought the cake out to me as everyone sang “Happy Birthday.”

Sadly, that was the last time I saw him. We haven’t been up to Musoma in a year and a half. But I always asked about him, and I hear that he would still ask about me from time to time. I know Thomas liked me a lot, but I won’t say I had a particularly special relationship with him, because he liked everybody. But clearly, Thomas had a special place in my heart.

I’m not sure what happened, but he had evidently been sick for a while and had been in and out of the hospital. He was recently released because he was doing really well…and then he died. That’s what HIV/AIDS does: weakens your immune system until some secondary infection gets you.

I feel like I should take this opportunity to rally support for AIDS research and funding for ARVs, but I’m not sure what to say at this moment. We should take a “big picture” approach to tackling the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but today I’m taking the “small view.” I’m just mourning the death of a child…my friend, Thomas. 




Monday, June 16, 2014

The Day of the African Child

Every year, on June 16th, the world celebrates the Day of the African Child.


Today, I had a sobering experience to mark the day. I visited the office of Friends of Children with Cancer (FOCC) at Bugando Medical Centre here in Mwanza, Tanzania. The director, Walter Miya, is a friend of mine. At the end of our two hour meeting, he gave me a tour of the oncology ward. He took me to the bedside of each of the little kids there receiving treatment for cancer. It was a sad experience to be sure, but it's also a blessing that these children are getting treatment and assistance.

Let's be real: a lot of these kids won't make it. But at least they have the chance to try. And a lot of these kids WILL make it, and that's a reason to celebrate right there.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Shout Out to a Friend

I want to brag for a minute, but not about myself. I want to take a moment and talk about Aden Mabruk, my Somali Bantu friend from Columbia. I’ve written about him numerous times over the years, as he was a big part of my years living in Columbia, SC.

I first met him back in 2005 when I volunteered to tutor him once a week while he was a student at Dent Middle School. He was a quiet, intense, kinda surly 14-year-old refugee kid who was so focused on his school work that he would hardly look me in the eye or make any semblance of small talk. Over time, that facade slowly but surely dropped and we began to spend hours together each week discussing school work and any other questions he had on his mind. Eventually, due to numerous factors, my involvement within the Columbia Somali Bantu community expanded to include some degree of connection to almost every Somali Bantu family in the city. But Aden always remained my core connection, along with his friends Hassan, Abdi, Mohammed, and Omar (AKA “Motormouth, who's done quite well for himself, as well!)


Eventually, once Aden and his crew made it to high school, our time spent with each other dwindled. Aden got involved with sports, made a bunch of friends (and got very popular), and got involved with extracurricular activities. By his junior year, he was super busy, and he eventually ended our tutoring sessions. It was bittersweet to me; I was super proud of how far he and his friends had come, but I felt a real loss. He didn’t need me anymore! 
 
But once he graduated high school, he got a car and come over to just hang out at my house, and that was a fun new aspect to our friendship. He and his crew spent many nights sitting around a fire in my backyard chatting up my friends and neighbors (and trying to teach them the most bullshit card game I’ve ever witnessed, a game that I thought was totally made up by the Somalis solely to mess with Americans until my friend Fiona managed to actually sorta learn it one night and I had to concede there may actually be rules). He also took some ESL classes at USC in the building where I worked and he joined the PANASA group I helped start, so I would see him around campus.

Anyway, the kid meant a lot to me, and still does, though since we moved to Tanzania our communication has really dropped off. Despite our best efforts, I didn’t even manage to see him when I was in the States this February. I wasn’t really sure what he was up to these days. And then THIS showed up on his facebook wall the other day:


“To friends in the U.S and outside of U.S I'm really sorry that i have been difficult to reach these few months. I and my brother Tariq Sabreer have been working big project starting our own business. Allhumalallah finally we did it. I'm honored to be a partner with such talent person. We are the owners of the new restaurant in town and its name is Feel Goods Restaurant & Grill, previously know as Nick and Gyro. Yesterday was our first day and we started great. This year has been very successful year indeed. I have been accepted USC Engineering school, its education school and start my our business. I’m happy. I would like Thank my Mother Hawa Haji Mohamed, My bother Hussein Mabruk and my American family (Vickie Westbrook and Spears Westbrook) for their support. So friends come out support us.”
 
Wha??! He's starting a restaurant while simultaneously starting Engineering school?!! I’ll be honest, I have a hard time wrapping my head around this! I’m not SURPRISED, because he’s one of the most driven, motivated people I’ve ever met. But where did that surly little kid who only wanted to do math problems and would never smile go? Where’d this twenty-something entrepreneur come from? And where'd that beard come from?!

Needless to say that I am super proud of this guy, and I’m proud of the role I’ve had in his life. I’m certainly not the only person that played a role in his time in the States; he’s had tremendous support over the years from a variety of people that could all see his potential. I think we can all pat ourselves on the back for what we’ve done for him, but the true accolades go to Aden himself for all his hard work that’s gotten him to where he is today. I wish him the best of luck and look forward to seeing where he’ll end up next.