As I alluded to in a previous post, being mzungu (white) in Tanzania comes with some challenges.

The assumption is that we have money. And, compared to what locals earn, most often it is true. Relative to many Tanzanian wages, we make more. Relative to wages in the states, we make very little. There is this unwritten, yet followed by many locals, norm that mzungu can and should pay more for the same goods.

This is a difficult tension for many of us. We want to support people. We want to bolster success, but we don’t want to be taken advantage of. If a price is reasonable yet we know we are given a higher price, most often we accept it, pay it and move on.

There are occasions where some locals are just downright rude and ridiculous about it. One day, I wanted to buy a squeegee. The cost I was told was 30,000 Tsh (about $15). I walked away as I knew that was more than over-inflated.

A few weeks later, Grace and I went shopping. We were able to buy a squeegee for 4,000 Tsh (about $2). That’s when it feels ridiculous.

This idea that we have money also shows up at our front gate. Random people come around asking for money for school fees, begging or selling goods. If they just come begging, we usually send them away. IF not, they’ll keep turning up. I made a donation to school fees once. I was asked to sign my name. I used a fake name. There is a mama who comes every Saturday morning with bananas on her head. Sometimes she has avocado or papaya, as well. Even if we don’t need bananas, I buy from this mama. She is kind and sweet. She brings her child with her sometimes, and her bananas are always delicious. I probably get overcharged, and I am okay with it. She delivers to my door. I know she needs the money, and I am happy to support her in this small way.

All of this makes what happened today interesting.

A woman came to our gate. She seemed frail and weak. She told us her story. It was full of pain. She’d had cancer. She’d been beaten and gotten robbed. She’d been born again and spreads the love and good news of Jesus. She’d been lead to our home via the Holy Spirit.

Joel and I listened to her story. And instead of just listening to her and knowing God sent her, we allowed ourselves to question. We didn’t question the authority of God and His divine intervention. No. We questioned human error and greed. Due to our experiences, both in the US and here in Tanzania, we can’t help but start by being skeptical.

This woman was educated. She spoke English articulately.   She’d clearly experienced trauma and grace in her life. We helped her.

We gave her some money for bus fare, medicine and food. We prayed together and off she went.

I want to believe that God did send her to us in her desperate time of need. And even if He didn’t, she has witnessed and experienced love from Him through us.

There is no skepticism in that. To God be the glory.

Elena Belinda Contreras

As you probably know, I had a very difficult last week. My Grandma Contreras passed away. She was 91 and she was ready for her eternity in heaven. I got to say goodbye to her before I moved to Tanzania, and I feel at peace that she knew my love and adoration for her. I, however, didn’t realize how much missing out on the family bonding would hurt.FB_IMG_1438375075066

I have been in and out of tears for the past week. Things just make me cry. (I know you’re all well aware of this.)

I have so many fond memories of my grandma, some of which I have already shared, but it is impossible to capture her sweet spirit into words. She was such a presence and light in my life. Her name actually means ‘light.’ I know because she and I share our name.

I used to love when my mom would tell me the story of how I was named. I was born a few weeks early. I was a tiny little thing – just over 5 pounds. My dad called my grandma on the phone from the hospital and said, “Mom, what’s your name?” It seems odd that he would have to ask such a question, but everyone called my grandma ‘Helen.’ You’ll see why below.

She told him her name is ‘Elena’ and I was named. I have always loved my name. (i didn’t get her middle name because my dad didn’t think to ask her that, and he didn’t know it.  I am Elena Ann.  My other grandma’s middle name is Ann.  I always tell myself that I was named after *both* of my grandmas.) I love that I am named after such an amazing woman. I love that all through my childhood – it was unique. It has grown in popularity since then and I still love it.

Grandma ContrerasMy grandma made me feel like the most special person in the world. She did this for everyone, but you would never know it because you were just too busy feeling like you were the most special. I learned a lot from my grandma, and I hope to continue making her proud and living up to her beautiful name.

I was honored to get to write a remembrance to be read at her funeral. I couldn’t get home to MN as the school year was beginning. I wish I had just done the irresponsible thing and gone home, but at least a part of me was there.

Here is the remembrance that my brother read at her funeral. He did a fantastic job.


Good morning. Many of you know who I am, but for those of you who don’t, I’m Frank Jr. I am one of 18 grandchildren. Thank you for being here today to help us celebrate the life of our grandma.

Elena Belinda Pacheco was grandma’s birth name. Over time, she acquired other names and titles.

Most people called her Helen. Helen is the English version of Elena. When asked, “Grandma, why do you get called Helen and not Elena?” She told us that when she went to school one of her teachers didn’t like the Spanish pronunciation, started calling her Helen and it stayed with her.

In August 1963, she married Joseph Socorro Contreras and she became Helen Contreras.

In March 1946, she gave birth to my Aunt Teddy and she became ‘mom.’ She then gave birth to 7 more children.

In March 1967, my cousin, Jimmy Shields, was born and she became ‘grandma.’ After that, 17 more grandchildren were born.

In December 1991, Christopher Miller was born and she became ‘great-grandma.’

In May 2012, Kaden Miller was born and she became ‘great-great-grandma.’

In addition to all of these names, she was tia, friend, and abuelita. I am sure that each of you has loved her as one -or several- of these names.

She also liked to give people names, nicknames, if you will. Kimbie. Lola. Queen Elizabeth. Angel. The Professor. Little Lamb. Cunta.

Oh, wait.

Grandma wasn’t the one to give my sister that name. Grandma was the one to tell my sister not to allow anyone to call her out of her name. This is one of many examples of how grandma taught each of us to be proud of who we are and where we come from. Sometimes this was done explicitly, and other times she did it just by being exactly who she was.

Every single one of the grandchildren spent extraordinary amounts of time at Grandpa and Grandma’s home. Some of us lived with them, they took care of many of us while our parents worked, we celebrated holidays and birthdays with them, and countless Saturday nights were giant cousin sleepovers at their home. And we loved it!

Not only did we develop lasting relationships with our grandparents and one another, we learned about our Mexican heritage- especially the food.

Grandma was an amazing cook. There was nothing like walking into her kitchen knowing a hot, fresh tortilla was waiting for you. As my cousin Angie says, “whether there were 2 or 10 of us, you’d never leave her house hungry.” Spending time with her in the kitchen was priceless. We learned how to cook foods, and some of the best conversations and laughter happened around that table. Favorites that many of us cook for our families now are tortillas, enchiladas, sopa, chicken molé, chilé, chorizo and eggs, refried beans, sopapillas and rice pudding. Sorry to make you all hungry. There’ll be food available after the service.

Some of our most vivid memories are the years when every Saturday night our grandparents would head to Las Palmas. Las Palmas was located in West St. Paul – it was a Mexican dance ballroom. Grandma would get all dressed up in her sparkly shirt and red lipstick. And Grandpa would take her out for an evening of dancing. Many of us would be at their house for our weekly sleepover just waiting for them to return with White Castles.

We were always busy at grandma’s house. Whether we were out exploring the neighborhood, playing kickball in the yard or watching Mexican soapies; there was always something to do. And sometimes this meant cleaning. Grandma taught us all how to sweep the floor. You may think this is a small feat, but anybody can sweep tile, wood or linoleum. We can sweep carpet. As my cousin Becky says, “better than any vacuum can do.” We can also turn any set of chairs or stairs into a city bus.

We also created a lot of mischief. My cousin Becky cracked her head open on a lawn chair in the front yard. My cousin Roxanne got her finger chopped off in the back door. My cousin Robbie and my sister Maria broke a porch window (though they both continue to deny their part). My cousin Kim used to sneak out of bed at night to continue playing with Becky and Tony. And Grandma was always there to catch us in the act, bring our finger to the hospital, help us to confess, or comfort us in our time of need.

That’s just who she was.

No matter what the circumstances, she always had her door open to her children and grandchildren. She played games with Aunt Teddy. She cooked favorite foods for her kids on their birthdays. She would calm her kids down after getting their butts whooped by grandpa when they messed up. She always made sure we were warm and cozy. She would fall asleep with you on the couch while patting your hair. She would hold your hand all the way to the store. She would help get us to get ready and out the door for school. She was always there when you needed somebody to talk to or a shoulder to cry on. As my cousin Belinda says, “she’s who held our familia together.”

Let’s not forget, however, that she was a character. She told great stories. As my cousin Robbie says, “It wasn’t just the story. It was the way she told the story.” Her face told it all. She gave you her look when you were in trouble. She scolded you when you needed it. When grandpa brought home a stray dog, Rags, that she didn’t want – grandma gave it away to a boy down the street. She could aim a shoe at you like no other. She was so feisty! There’s the infamous cop car story. There are various versions of this story and if you want to hear it, I recommend you speak to my Uncle Fred.

We will always remember the big things she taught us and we’ll pass them on to our children. But it’ll be the simple things we miss most. Weekend walks. Her advice. Her smile. The way she sparkled when we walked into her room. Her gratitude. Her laughter. Her silliness. Those looks she gave us. The stories she’d tell. We will really miss her.

Thank you so much grandma! Thanks for the legacy you left behind. We know that you’re no longer “just resting [your] eyes.” You are such a part of each one of us. You are so loved. As Psalm 30: 11a says, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing.” Now, put on those dancing shoes and shine your light down for us.

So, What *Was* Wrong With the Car?

When we arrived here, we bought a car. It’s a 1995 Toyota Prado. It is a left hand drive (cause we drive on the left side of the street here – which surprisingly doesn’t seem so wrong anymore) imported from Japan after there was no longer a use for it there. Owning this car is much like riding a roller coaster. Sometimes you brag about how you could be in a Prado commercial and other times you just want to throw a rock through its window.


(That is literal. One time, we managed to get locked OUT of the car. Oh, we didn’t leave the keys in the car. The battery died and the key fob then wouldn’t unlock the car door. The actual key doesn’t work to unlock car doors. I mean, why would that be a thing? Reading on the web, some advice given was to throw a rock through the windshield to get in. We didn’t have to resort that low – even if we wanted to – and a fundi (Remember? That is the Swahili word for: expert.) had a trick to get us back in.)

One of the reasons we think we can be in a Prado commercial is because our car has been invaluable in the game parks. We have gone into 4 game parks with it – Serengeti, Arusha, Tarangire, and Lake Manyara.

Let me tell you about the time we took it to Lake Manyara.

It was last week.

As you’ll recall from my last post, we had some car trouble not too long ago. We didn’t quite know exactly what was wrong with the car. We were just told it was an electrical issue. $45 later we had our car back and we could use it to collect Brian and Gina from the airport and go on our adventures together. That was really our biggest concern.

The car seemed completely fine.

We drove it through Tarangire and getting to Lake Manyara was no minor feat. We had to go through at least two shallow rivers and unpaved rocky roads. We then spent hours stopping and watching the wildlife around the lake and in the park. (Sounds terrible, doesn’t it?)

And then we stopped for lunch.

We explored the picnic area as there were many birds, buffalo, hippo, and hot springs to see. After about an hour we all got back into the car ready to head out on the rest of our adventure.

The car wouldn’t start.

stewingIt was doing exactly what it had done when we got stuck in town. We were definitely not out of diesel. I held my head in shame and went to sit at a picnic table to sit, stew and dread how difficult it was going to be get out of the middle of a game park. We’d need a tow. We’d miss anniversary dinner. (It was Brian and Gina’s 12th anniversary and Tarangire Simba Lodge was planning a nice meal for us.) It would get dark. All kinds of things were going through my head.

One thing that was not going through my head was that we had just seen a hungry lioness about a kilometer away. We didn’t just see a lioness. We saw her hunting baboon. I never thought to be fearful of this. I think only Brian thought to worry about that. The rest of us just wondered how we were going to make our way out of the park and back to the lodge.

When you’re in Tanzania, and you experience a problem you also experience the kindness of the people. Everyone wants to help. Four men gathered around Joel and the car offering help and suggestions for getting the car to start.narrativeinformation

We knew it had to be an “electrical issue.” (Again, see previous post.)

Joel called Fundi Gabriel to ask him specifically what he had done so that we could find the problem. He described where the problem had been. Joel and the other men were looking for some sort of electrical short as that seemed to be the problem. They were ready to take the whole car apart if they had to.

Another safari vehicle pulled up. While the tourists from that car went off to explore the hot springs, birds, buffalo and hippo their tour guide, Rasta man*, came over to offer his help. When I say people are helpful, I mean it. There was no chance we would be stranded in that park. They were going to find a way to get us out of that situation.

(We also weren’t going to be eaten by the lioness. The baboons were there to be sure of that.)

Rasta man observed for a bit and then offered his thoughts. To him, it seemed that the alarm system was engaged. He thought we should find the “secret switch” to disengage the alarm. Or, you know, we could use the key fob to unlock the car door.

Joel did exactly that, put the key in the ignition, and the car started right up. It was as simple as that. It turns out hat when we got stuck in town a couple of weeks earlier the exact same thing had occurred. When we came out of TTCL, the car was unlocked so we just got in and tried to start it up. That time, Rasta man wasn’t there to point out our ignorance.

There was never a thing wrong with our car. It was operator error. That’s the worst kind.

I cupped my face in my hands when I realized the problem.

I cupped my face in my hands when I realized the problem.

* I did not give him this nickname. He is Rastafarian and friends with one of the other tour guides. His friend affectionately calls him Rasta man. And, now, we do too.

Always Be Prepared?

One thing I will say about life in Moshi is that it is unpredictable.

There is rarely such a thing as “a quick errand.” You can go out full of good intentions to get a lot accomplished and come back having accomplished only one or two items.

This is exactly what happened to us yesterday. We had a great list of items.

  • Go to TTCL and inquire about DSL
  • Get cash
  • Go to NMB to make a school fees payment
  • Go to school
    • guitar
    • water
    • crates
    • DHL
    • purchase request
  • Shop for
    • bread
    • shower curtain
    • slingshot
    • fruit
    • rice
    • beans
    • dish drainer
    • water pitcher

It doesn’t actually seem like a huge to-do list, but there isn’t a Target around here. We can’t just stop at one place for all of our needs. We have to run around, bargain, and find suitable items.

Our day started out fine. We checked off getting cash and bread. Then we headed to TTCL. It only took a few minutes to make our inquiry. They’ll come survey our house in the next 8 days. (Take that, Comcast! There is a company that is even more vague than you.)

We left the building. We went back out to the car and the car would not start. It looked that we had ¼ tank of diesel, but it also seemed to be a problem with the gas. IMG_20150720_110004We patiently tried to start the car for about a half hour before giving in and calling a fundi (expert at a particular job – in this case, cars!). Our fundi, Babu Gabriel, diagnosed the problem to be: no diesel. That gauge was a liar. (Or so we thought.) Conveniently, we parked right next to a petrol/diesel station. We got 10 liters of diesel and put it in the tank.


Unlike a vehicle that takes gasoline, a diesel requires some extra care when you run it out of diesel. I can’t give you all the details (that’s why I have my brother), but it has something to do with pumping it through the lines to make sure everything has some diesel before trying to start the car. Fundi Gabriel did what needed to be done to prep the car, and told Joel to start ‘er up.

No go.

We would need a tow.

Our fundi created his own towing system. It is two metal poles that attach to the undersides of the two vehicles and get bolted together. Worked fabulously.


Here is the part of the story where Moshi is like Northfield, MN. We are at the fundi shop and a friend (Rafael) drives by. He notices us and decides to stop to say hello.

Remember the errands we were to run? Our broken down car was full – crates, a bucket, and bread. Rafael then became our hero. We unloaded our car and loaded up his car. He drove us home where we served him up some Moshi Wheat Ale (courtesy of Joel’s brewing skills) and chips (French fries for you non-British speakers). Along with that we served him up a nice dose of Minnesota Nice. We talked about everything you can imagine – Jesse Ventura, cooking, working at ISM, traveling, etc. His “stop to say hello” turned into a two hour encounter and a dinner invite for that night.

That’s how life is in Moshi.

You just never know what is going to happen. You just never know who you’ll see and what you’ll do.

You just take it all as it is handed to you. And life is good. Very, very good.

(There is an addendum to the car story that I hope to tell you soon!)

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.


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