In Their Words Wednesday – Serengeti, Zanzibar and Tarangire

I have adapted In Their Words Wednesday to literally be their words.  The kids are going to share this experience from their perspective.

Today’s installment comes from Xaden.


The Serengeti

We went to the Serengeti during the October break. The Serengeti is a National Park. We saw tons of animals like wildebeest, African buffalos, lions, hyenas, zebras, giraffes, jackals, elephants maybe more. It is a great place to be! We camped at a place in it called nyani nyani. If you’re going from Moshi to The SNP(Serengeti National Park) you should stop at a lodge in Karatu Simba Lodge. It is a very nice place. It will take 4 hours to get KSL(Karatu Simba Lodge)and another 4 hours to get to the SNP so 8 hours. you go through Ngorongoro which is 4 hours. The SNP is AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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NOTE: More pictures from The Serengeti can be seen here.

zanzibar and tarangire

We flew to zanzibar on precision airs. When we got to the airport in zanzibar we had to go on a really long drive to get to a house called the villa biba. all around the villa biba was sand. IMG_2397 In the backyard there is a gate that leads right to the ocean. Two times the tide has gotten all the way to the house. The food is really good. When we went snorkeling all together we saw clams, clown fish, sea urchins. No jellyfish but aselya got stung by one. The second time when I went with three other people: Adiana, Dad, and our friend Dr. Mac. Dr. Mac saw an eel, I saw a puffer fish. We also went to stone town. I got a hat. When we got back to kilimanjaro airport a safari guide named Halfan who brought us to haven nature lodge. We slept there for the night. In the morning we had breakfast and then left for tarangire. We saw a leopard (IMG_2679our first one), lions, impala, gazelles, dik diks, jackals, elephant, ogger buzzards, a martial eagle, banded mongooses, dwarf mongoose, ostriches, lilac breasted rollers, red billed oxpecker, red billed hornbills, crested hornbills, lovebirds, water bucks, baboons, zebra, guineafowl, helmeted guineafowl, vulture, vervets, secretary bird. We did all this with the schaefers.

NOTE: More pictures from Zanzibar can be seen here.

NOTE: More pictures from Tarangire can be seen here.

That Cheeky Monkey

Living in Tanzania means that we have gotten to see lots of different types of monkeys and baboons.  You may have seen some photos on social media of some of them. The most common type in Moshi is the vervet monkey. This type of monkey can be a real pest. They are so cute (and still exotic to me) that I cannot help but to admire them and get excited when one is nearby.

Luckily, the kids feel the same.

There was this one time at Tarangire (Did you think I was going to say Band Camp?) where we were eating lunch and, despite our best intentions for protection, a vervet monkey stole Xaden’s biscuits.  One second the biscuits were on the table and the next, the little monkey grabbed them and ran into a nearby tree.  He just sat there eating the biscuits as if they were always his to begin.


At first, Xaden wasn’t quite as amused.  His siblings and friends all graciously shared their biscuits (Oh my… I just realized, I said biscuits. Twice. Biscuits are cookies. We have started to use many British forms of words simply to be best understood.) with him and life was fine again.

Recently, the kids got all excited in the yard (the Brits say ‘garden’ for yard, but I just can’t) because “MONKEY!” “THERE’S A MONKEY!”

See?  A monkey in the yard is STILL exciting even after a year’s time. This little fella (and, I am SURE he’s a fella… I will keep any and all comments to myself about this even though I REALLY want to make some jokes. IMG_4005 I will leave that up to you to make the jokes.) went over to this mango tree.

He saw a plethora of mango.  He knocked one down.  Jumped down to get it and just sat in the tree eating it as we watched.  He threw the peels to the ground, and when he was finished he threw the pit onto the ground as well.



And we were all mesmerized.  Because? A MONKEY!

IMG_3991Well, that cheeky monkey has crossed a line. He walked right into this here kibanda kwa kuku (chicken house), stole one of our highly coveted and delicious FRESH eggs and ate it.

It’s fine.  It’s fine.  If he wants to eat our eggs, he will just need to contribute the care taking and contribute some shillings to the chicken feed.

Somehow, I doubt he is planning to do either of those things. So he may just need to be introduced to a slingshot.

In Their Words Wednesday – Arusha National Park

Remember when I used to share kid quotes on Wednesdays?

Well, allow me to *try* to share life in Tanzania from the kids’ perspectives. Remember they are kid edits, so adorableness should ensue. Back in January (I know! So long ago.), we visited Arusha National Park.  Below is Aselya’s version of the trip.


This break we went to Arusha National Park because we wanted to do something before school started.

We drove to a shopping mall in Arusha and went to the cinema Dad, Adiana, and Xaden went to Into The Woods while Mom, Finn, and I went to Annie.

After that we hopped back into the car and drove to Usa River and stopped at a bakery called Tanz Hands. Pretty much all of the stuff was gone so Adiana got a pretzel while the rest of us had this nut filled chocolate cake thing.

Then we drove to a Lodge called Maru Mbega Lodge. We stayed in a family sweet. The meals were great! The next day we ate breakfast and then went into Arusha National Park.

The first thing we saw was a pack of Zebra and another type of animal that I couldn’t see to well. They were in the distance. For a while we kept seeing Baboons. Then for a while we didn’t see any animals.  We stopped at a waterfall and I played in it for a while then we went to find a place to eat lunch we stopped at cool places to take pictures like amazing views of mountains or the awesome fig tree.

We found a place to eat our lunch and we just happen to meet our friends there. We usually meet them accidently so it was expected. At lunch we looked around the lake and saw some animals that aren’t as cool as zebras, giraffes, and elephants.

Well all the animals we saw were… zebra, monkeys, baboons, giraffes, flamingoes, deer type animals that have antlers on it, and other animals that I have no idea what they are called.

Arusha National park is very pretty with mountains and greenery all around. The animals are sometimes hard to spot but when you do it’s worth it.

That is what Arusha National Park was like!


P.S. I would tell you about animal tokens but Xaden will get mad.

P.S.S. Dad was giving himself the most tokens anyway!


Photos from the trip can be seen here.

The Laundry Fairy

As is well documented on this blog, laundry and I do not get along.

So… how do I deal with laundry for 6 in Moshi?

The quick answer is: I don’t.

My friend, Mary Beth, and I like to joke that I have a laundry fairy. We put our clothes in the hamper and a few days later they are back in our closet clean and nicely pressed.

Our laundry fairy is also a cooking fairy and house-cleaning fairy. Her name is Anna and we are incredibly blessed and grateful for all she does for us.


Luckily, we have a washing machine so Anna’s load (haha punny!) is lightened by that. She hangs the wet clothes outside to dry, and then she irons every piece of clothing. You see, there is the threat of mango flies. These are a species of blow fly who like to lay their eggs on wet clothing.  If the egg remains on your clothing, you run the risk of it burrowing into your skin and presenting itself as a maggot.

To end the life cycle, if you will, you simply apply heat.  This is done in the form of ironing.  Everything must be ironed.  As you can imagine, laundry for 6 is already overwhelming. Ironing for 6 makes it even more challenging. Sharon accepted the challenge when she visited (we are so grateful!).  During school holidays or when we have traveled, I try to help out because the amount of laundry (and ironing) can be daunting. IMG_3999

I just had a scintillating Sunday evening ironing piles of clothes. Including the unmentionables.  I will definitely miss my Laundry Fairy. But not just for her fairy abilities – for her smile, cooking and heart for the kiddos.

I can always dream for a MN Laundry Fairy.

One Year Later

We recently finished our first school year at International School Moshi. We’ve grown so much since our arrival last July. We were bright-eyed with so many new things to learn; not the least of which was how to live life in a new place.

In many ways, I am sad that I didn’t chronicle all of those “firsts” before they became comfortable and normal. At the same time, it was really great to just experience each day.

So, what is it like to live here? That is a loaded question, but I will try to answer it.

Home: If you have followed along on Facebook, then you have probably seen photos of our home. We had no idea what to expect upon arrival, but the expectation we did have was blown away. We live in a great house. It has four nice-size bedrooms. The kitchen was remodeled in the year before we moved in so it has a quality stove and refrigerator. The cupboards are nice. Aside from the sink height being too low, the kitchen is probably nicer than the one we have in MN.

As many of you know, I like to have a perch. In MN, my perch was an Adirondack chair on the deck. Here, it is the veranda. I love to drink coffee, read, grade papers, admire birds, have a glass of wine, entertain guests, and just generally hang out on the veranda. It is my perch. You are welcome to join me on my perch. Anytime.

We have lots of unexpected “guests” who live with us. Living in a tropical climate invites certain living creatures. In MN, if I saw something scurry across the floor, I would probably yelp and jump due to a mouse. Here, the scurry is usually a gecko. They’re cute. They’re harmless. They eat mosquitos. I welcome them. Before arriving here, I probably couldn’t have actually identified a cockroach. Now, I have seen more than my fair share – in the house. I am good with a can of Doom and can spray them to their death, but I cannot bring myself to pick them up. I am not usually very squeamish, but there is something about the size of these guys that just gets to me. Xaden is brave and will usually handle them for me.

Our yard (aka garden) has many different flowers, trees (banana, mango, papaya, orange, avocado, sour sop, pomegranate, frangipani), and plants. We acquired some hens and roosters to liven up the place (and provide us with delicious eggs for eating). Overall, it is a gorgeous place, and we really enjoy the space.

Work/School: We came here to teach. And, that we do. The name of the school is International School Moshi (ISM). It has close to 300 students from EC (PreK) to D2 (Grade 12). It is an International Baccalaureate (IB) School and has all three programmes: PYP, MYP and DP. (If this sounds like gibberish to you, just gloss over it.)

Joel and I both have DP experience, and we are both teaching MYP for the first time. We have learned a lot about how MYP works and have gained some insight into a different approach to the DP. Our kids were all in PYP last year, and thrived using an inquiry based approach to learning.

The students at ISM come from all over the place – many from different parts of Africa (mostly Tanzania), Europe, and the Americas. The school has a boarding component so many students are boarders. The students at ISM are lovely creatures. They are respectful and full of life. I adore them. It seems that students develop relationships with teachers differently here; it is likely due to boarding, but also just the size of the school.

One of my favorite things about the school is the internationalism. We had an assembly where students dressed in the clothing from their countries (USA is boring on days like that – red, white and blue, anyone?). We had an international festival where families made food items from their countries – talk about delicious! We had a few Open Mic/Talent celebrations. Students completely thrive at these. They are great performers and often incorporate dance, music and song from their home countries. All of these students from all of the different places all-together at one school makes for an amazing place to be!

Shopping: This gets its own heading because shopping here is, well, interesting. The first price you’re given is rarely the actual price of the item(s). You must bargain. In order to bargain, you must know a bit of Swahili – this is still a challenge for us. At this point, I could go on a diatribe about the prices we are given for items solely based on the color of our skin. At the same time, I could go on a diatribe about the huge gap between what Tanzanians earn and what I am privileged to earn. I will spare you from that (at least for now), and just tell you that shopping feels difficult when you have to haggle and you feel like you’re being taken advantage of.

Local fruits, veggies, rice and beans can be found in the market. The most common veggies are tomatoes, avocados, red onions, carrots, cucumbers, eggplant, potatoes, garlic, ginger, butternut squash and greens. Apart from those, you have to do a bit of searching to finding “treats.” The day I found Vidalia onions in the market I almost hit the roof because I was so excited. Now, I know where to get them so my excitement is held at bay. Cauliflower and broccoli are rare and small. We find asparagus every now and again. There is lots of corn, but it is maize versus sweet corn.

The fruits that we feast upon are banana, mango, pineapple, coconut, papaya, passion, watermelon, oranges and lemons. Often, we can get limes (tiny little spheres of absolute deliciousness) but sometimes they are difficult to find. I heart lime anything and absolutely love the potency of the baby limes. March/April is blood fruit season. Blood fruit is another name for plums. They were everywhere and they were delicious!

Meat. We typically purchase meat from a butcher shop in town. But, you can walk down an aisle at the market and buy meat there. We aren’t quite that adventurous. Seeing the dead animals hanging from some rafters can be just too much. Though, there is a place outside of town (Kiboroloni) where we like to buy fresh “kiti moto.” This is another name for pork. There are many Muslims who live here, and they are not allowed to eat pork. Some eat it anyway, but they don’t want to be caught. They sit down quickly and eat it up – hence the name “kiti moto” – hot seat.

Mzungu stuff. Mzungu means lost person. We are called ‘mzungu’ due to the color of our skin. There are several places in town that have dry goods that are muzngu type goods – baking supplies, olive oil, condiments and the like. It seems that each duka (store) has different items and we have to do to different places depending upon what we want that time.

Artisans. There are curio shops everywhere. Souvenirs, coffee, tea, clothing, art, shoes… it’s all here. Bargaining is important in these shops because the shopkeepers or corner sales people will do their best to charge you double what the item should cost.

For now, this is your introduction to life in Tanzania. I hope to share more experiences with you in the days to come. In the meantime, what questions do you have? I would love to help you to see Moshi through our eyes.

Querida mi abuelita

Querida mi abuelita,

confirmation with grandparentsToday is your 90th birthday!  There is so much to celebrate!  There are really no words to describe what an amazing life you’ve had and the memories you have shared and given to your family and friends.

It is an honor to be your granddaughter and I want to take a moment to stop, remember and thank you for the love, memories and all that you’ve taught me over the years.

First, thank you grandma, for opening your home to us – all the time!  I think of countElenandgrandmaless hours spent with my cousins at your house.  We played.  We laughed.  We fought.  We broke windows.  We went to the park.  We explored.  We made friends.  We learned to stand up for one another.  We learned what being together as family means.

On weekends, we would lay our sleeping bags on the floor while you and grandpa went to Las Palmas to dance.  We would watch grandpa light up when his music would start to play.  We learned so much about what it means to be Mexican and to love our background simply from walking into your home.

grandmawithkidsWalking into your house, we were sure to find you in the kitchen.  Grandma, you are an amazing cook!  That time in your life is now passed but we will never forget the thousands of tortillas you prepared for us – each perfectly rolled first into a ball and then flattened and fried on the stovetop.  Being with you in the kitchen was filled with conversation and laughter.  And we learned to enjoy great tasting food!

Some of my personal favorite foods you prepared are sopa, rice pudding, sopapillas, and enchiladas.  Watching you use the pestle and mortar to make chilé is a beautiful movie that plays in my head.  Fighting over who was going to get the white bowl with the little handle that you used to prepare the egg to top off the rice pudding remains with me.  We all wanted to be the special one to receive the bowl and the rice pudding always tasted that much better when served in that bowl. You made sure we each got a turn.

Grandma, you have always been such a hard worker!  I loved going down to the laundry room with you while you worked the washing machine.  I would just talk and talk to you as you put each piece of laundry through the wringer.  You could make a stained up coat look brand new.  You taught me how to dust and sweep.  I loved getting to stand at your side to do dishes.  You would wash and I would dry.  But more than that, we could just listen to one another talk about the mundane details of our days.

You sewed for us.  You would sit in the living room at your sewing machine and with precision you’d mend garments. You’d make garments.  You always make it look so easy.  You are such a gift.

You always have a smile and story to share.  There are way too many to share in one place, but I will share a couple of my favorites.  There was the time that we cousins were not responding to you when you called us in from outside.  You marched to Webster playground and brought us all home.  And then there was the time when you were put into a squad car and you just jumped right out the other side.  Nobody was going to stop you!  That’s you grandma: full of life!  Full of fun!  Full of vigor!IMG_20130412_135255

I thank you, grandma, for all of these memories and more.  Through your life and by spending time with me, you taught me to love, to be honest, to be genuine, and to appreciate all things.  Those are definitely big things to learn.  With 8 kids and 18 grandkids you have taught us more than we could have imagined.  And we are so grateful.

One of the biggest and best things you taught me is to be proud.  As you know, and I am sure that all my uncles, aunts and cousins remember all to well, I had a nickname as a young girl.  You were the one who told me, “You don’t have to let them call you that.  Your name is Elena.  They should call you by your name.”  And from that day on, I released by nickname and took even more pride in our name.  It belongs to both of us: Elena.  And I couldn’t be prouder to share a name with someone as dynamic and amazing as you.IMG_20130412_153015

Feliz Cumpleaños, abuelita.  !Noventa nunca he parecido tan buena!

Con todo mi amor,


Lenten Devotional 26

Last night a friend of ours at church gave a testimony about facades.  He talked about how we struggle to allow ourselves to be vulnerable around others so we put up these facades.  He gave several examples of this from his life.  As I sat there, I knew that I do this too.  And I would suspect that we al do.

Insecure Elena puts up the facade of confidence.

Unhappy Elena puts up the facade of having it all together.

Struggling Elena puts up the facade of control.

You get it.

One of his points was that we can pretend to be the facades we present to those around us.  But God knows.  We can’t fool Him.  The challenge is to come out from behind those facades in other relationships as well.

Interestingly, this morning, the devotion I submitted for our 40 day Lenten Devotional showed up in the inboxes of those who receive the electronic updates from our church.

Here is what I wrote:

saltBeing in a graduate program at the University of Minnesota brings with it many challenges. There is the obvious academic challenge, but a greater challenge can exist in declaring Christ as savior. In academic settings, it seems so easy for people to speak about tolerance to social issues and world religions while simultaneously admonishing the Christian faith. In Mark 9:50 we read, “Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will YOU make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

While we may get a few glares and scoffs, it seems a small price to pay to declare faith in Christ; especially if in doing so, even one heart changes for Jesus. Consider the sacrifice He paid for us in much more difficult circumstances. We are blessed to be able to openly share our faith. That is a gift worth any hardship we experience in our vulnerability to Him. While we may experience some moments of discomfort on this earth, the bible teaches us in Matthew 5:16 to continue to demonstrate our Father’s goodness, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” What better response to ridicule and admonishment than to further show love and grace in the name of our savior, Jesus Christ?


I know that my greatest facade exists in academia.  I acknowledge to myself that tension that can exist in that setting and I need to do more than acknowledge it.  I have to allow vulnerability.


I started this post before we headed out of town.  I lost my point.  If you get something out of this post, great.  If not, pretend you didn’t read it. Haha.  :-)


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