Saturday, February 04, 2012

February 2012 Newsletter

In November we went to Dodoma for planning meetings with our supervisor and colleagues. The meetings went well, and we feel like we have a good solid plan for the coming year. We are not yet ready to begin translation, but will begin publishing some books in Mbugwe and holding literacy classes this year.

Health Problems and the Holiday Season

The holiday season was a bit rough for us, but mostly for Julia; we ended up making several trips up to Arusha for medical care. About a week before Thanksgiving, Julia fell and got a bad cut that needed stitches. We made an emergency trip up to Arusha for that (a 2 hour drive), and then went up again a week later to get them taken out. It turned out that the cut wasn’t healing well, and Julia had to have a small surgery to fix it and new stitches. Eventually it healed up just fine.

In the second week of December, we had a visit from a colleague, Alison Compton, who gave Julia a lot of valuable teaching about how to test out the Mbugwe writing system and how to organize and run literacy classes.

We planned to have Christmas at home in Magugu, but a few days before Christmas Julia got sick. By the night before Christmas Eve, Julia had all the symptoms of appendicitis, including intense pain in the lower right abdomen. So, we ended up making another emergency trip up to Arusha (this time in the middle of the night). Julia stayed in the hospital for a couple of days, waiting for test results and trying to get better. The test results were inconclusive, but the symptoms were probably caused by some sort of bacterial infection, and a course of strong antibiotics eventually took care of it. Viggo and the kids were well taken care of by our friends in Arusha. They were fed a traditional Norwegian Christmas meal on Christmas Eve, and there were even presents for the kids. We were able to go back home to Magugu by the afternoon on Boxing Day, and we were able to open presents together and have a nice quiet meal together at home. It took Julia a week after that to recover fully, but by New Year’s she was pretty much back to normal.

A Good Start to 2012

The New Year started off great and all three of us (Viggo, Julia, and Shishe) have been making good progress with our work. The kids had a lot of fun playing with the neighbor kids every day, since they were all on a long school break. Julia is working on a Writer’s Guide for Mbugwe, including explanations and examples of all of the writing and spelling rules. She is also doing some testing of some rules that we’re still not quite sure about. Viggo is focusing on a thorough phonological analysis of the language.

Among other tasks, Shishe has been working on a history of the Mbugwe people. A while ago we were given a copy of the history of the Mbugwe, which was written in Swahili by an Mbugwe historian. Shishe has been translating it into Mbugwe. We hope that it will be ready for publishing within the next couple of months; it will be the first publication to come out of our project, and the second published book ever in Mbugwe. This has been a great project for Shishe to start with. He has been able to get practice translating and editing, which will prepare him well for translating the Bible. We also expect that this book will be quite popular with Mbugwe speakers.
Shishe has also been doing research on his own culture. This is an important foundation for future translation work, as it helps him to gather vocabulary items which will be needed for the Bible translation and helps him think through the meaning and usage of different terms. Most recently, he has been researching Mbugwe traditional religion. There are not many young Mbugwe who still openly practice the traditional religion, but it still has a significant influence in the community.


Rain Water Collection

We (and by that I mean Viggo) have finally set up a rainwater collection system. It has been great to have a water supply at the house, even though we don’t really have enough to install running water inside the house yet. Basically, Viggo put up gutters, and when it rains the water goes into the gutters and flows into a 2000 liter tank next to the house. It has only been raining about once a week since we got the tank, but that has been more than enough. The tank actually overflows every time we have heavy rain. We will still have to get wate from other sources during the dry season when it doesn’t rain at all (May-October), but this is a great solution for the wet season.

Future Plans

We have decided not to hire any more full-time employees this year, as we have not found the right candidate yet. However, we plan to hire Patrick and Sebastian part-time to assist in some literacy projects, in order to assess their potential as future literacy workers. Naomi will be helping us with editing Mbugwe texts as we begin to produce some Mbugwe literature this year. All of those mentioned above plus some others will assist Julia with testing out our Mbugwe writing and spelling rules to see if any changes are necessary. It is great to have a good group of Mbugwe speakers who are excited about helping with the project. Shishe and Julia had a productive meeting with the chairman and secretary of the Mbugwe Language Committee this week, where we came up with a list of Mbugwe who may be qualified for translation work.

In mid-February, Julia’s parents are coming to visit for three weeks. We are looking forward to their visit and to seeing them interact with Daniel and Rebekka. We’ll spend the first week of their visit on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, before we head back home to Magugu. We’re very excited about going to Zanzibar for the very first time.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Rebekka Juanita Larsen

Rebekka Juanita Larsen was born March 25 11pm. She weighed 2910 grams (6lb 6 ounces), was 45 cm long (17.7 inches) and incredibly beautiful. Rebekka's parents and big brother are all very happy and proud.

Julia had premature labor almost  two months before the birth, and this continued to a varying degree all the way up until the birth. Julia had contractions when we went to the hospital on the 25th, but not long after we arrived there, the contractions stopped. With Julia having been on bed rest for several months with pregnancy related back problems, we were very anxious for the birth to happen. We were therefore relieved when the doctor and the midwife decided to break Julia's water, so that we wouldn't run the risk of having a home birth. After the midwife broke Julia's water, it took less than 20 minutes before Rebekka was born.
The photo above was taken 10 minutes after Rebekka was born. You can see more photos in our online photo album (Click here to see the album).

Rebekka has gotten her middle name, Juanita, from her American great grandmother, who passed away three weeks before she was born. It's sad that we won't be able to be together with Juanita when we travel to the States in August, but we're happy that Rebekka can serve as a memory of her.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Snowplows and Security

Early this morning I was awoken by the sound of a snow plow plowing the road just outside our house. Even half asleep I was quite sure that was what it was. It snowed all day yesterday, a layer of new snow on top of the foot or two which has been accumulating and settling since Christmas. In Norway things do not grind to a halt when there is snow. There are systems in place to deal with it, and everyone knows what to do. The snowplows come early in the morning before anyone is up. People get up extra early to shovel their driveways and clear off their cars, and morning traffic flows as usual over the snowy streets.

When I was awoken by the sound of the snowplow this morning, I thought of Tanzania. Not of the climate difference, although that is huge. What struck me was how comforting it is to be able to take something like a snowplow for granted. To know that there are systems in place to take care of the problems of my daily life. Ever since being back here, I get a little bit of the same feeling every time I hear the garbage truck go by. How nice!, I think, that all I have to do is put my garbage outside in the bins provided for that purpose, and I can know that it will be collected weekly with no more fuss. In Tanzania, there are no good options when it comes to trash. I know it sounds awful, but due to a lack of options, here’s what we do: there is a big hole in the ground in our yard, and we dump our trash into it and burn it on a regular basis. Glass bottles and tin cans are tricky. Some people just stick them in the hole along with the other trash, while others ‘dig them down’ in a separate hole in the yard. We do try to reduce our household waste by reusing plastic bags, and we have a compost pile to deal with food waste. Daniel’s nanny started a little side business, selling my glass jars and bottles to a lady she knows who sells sunflower oil.

I could give a lot of examples of things we take for granted in the western world that don’t exist in Tanzania if I let myself keep going. A few of those I appreciate most; paved roads, stocked grocery stores, reliable electricity, good healthcare, and a trustworthy police force. When we encounter exceptions to the rule in these areas like potholes, power outages, medical malpractice, or a store being sold out of our favorite brand of cereal (not to mention something basic, like milk) we feel we have every right to complain. How would it feel to no longer have that right? To know that an extraordinarily bumpy dirt road full of deep mudholes is simply the norm? That there is no number to call in an emergency. That if you need to go to the hospital, no matter how sick you are, you’re going to have to walk there yourself? Like I said, the list of examples is long. And I find myself feeling very blessed and thankful for the garbage truck and the snow plow.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Time to celebrate

Three weeks ago, we finished our third of three week-long orthography workshops. The last week of March, we looked at the vowel sounds of Mbugwe, in August, we looked at consonant sounds, and in September, we looked at tone. After three weeks of sorting through hundreds of cards over and over, reading and comparing the words on the each of the cards, checking if the
translations of these words were correct, and not the least learning a lot about the sound system of Mbugwe, it was time for celebration.

After sharing a meal together on the last day of the workshop, each participant got the opportunity to share how they had experienced the orthography workshops. All the participants were excited about what they had been a part of. Even though it'll still be a while before we can start translating, they expressed joy because together we had laid the foundation for the work of Bible translation. Week after week they had discovered how Mbugwe actually is different from Swahili and therefore needs a different writing system than Swahili. They had discovered that Mbugwe has two more vowel sounds than Swahili, that Mbugwe has short and long vowels (unlike Swahili), and that we need to use some special diacritics to mark tone in Mbugwe (also unlike Swahili). Julia and I both shared some words about how excited we were to have participated in the workshops together with the 13 participants and for all the things we had achieved during the three weeks of workshops. After everybody had gotten to say something about their experience, all the participants received a certificate as a proof of their participation in developing a writing system for Mbugwe and a copy of the alphabet chart that we had made together. The alphabet chart has a word and a picture to illustrate each of the vowels and consonants in the Mbugwe alphabet.

Even though we achieved a lot during our three weeks of workshops, there is still a lot more work to be done on the Mbugwe writing system. We'll have to do testing, further analysis, and do another three workshops on other aspects of orthography. Those workshops, however will have to wait till we return from furlough in Norway...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Bishop and the Cobras

Viggo drove out to Mbulu to visit the Catholic bishop for the area today. It's a couple of hours of driving on roads that are rougher than most anything we've encountered so far. Part of the drive involves driving up 2,300 ft. cliff (the Rift Valley escarpment), partly on bare rock.

The majority of Mbugwe identify themselves as Catholic, although only a small minority of those are active church-goers. It's very important that we develop a good relationship with the Catholic church, if we want Catholics to actually use the Mbugwe Bible when it's finished. Viggo's not back yet, but I talked to him breifly on the phone, and it seems the meeting went well. We have already gotten to know most of the priests in the Mbugwe area, and they have been very positive so far, but meeting the Bishop is rather critical, as he is a very important figure in the church.

It's starting to get colder here, and the snakes are coming out of the forest above our house to sunbathe, or so I'm told. Our guard killed two cobras out in back of the house the other day. Snakes are one of the main reasons why we have the neigbors cows come and graze in our yard on a regualar basis. The cows keep the grass short so we can see the snakes. Snakes were also my main motivation for wanting a dog, because I was told they're really good about barking and letting you know if they see one, which apparently Simba did do with the cobras the other day. Sorry I don't have any pictures, but I'm glad I didn't have to see them.

And then yesterday our friends' dog was spit at by a spitting cobra. They are American missionaries who are gone on furlough, so when the guard at their house saw that the dog was going blind, he came up here to ask for help. Viggo went down and helped to rinse the dog's eyes with milk, which is supposed to help. I am reminded that we really need to keep a close eye on
Daniel when he's playing in the yard. It's not quite as bad as I make it sound though; we've only had 3 snakes in our yard that I know of since we moved here.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Our Spring...

Ok, so it's been a really long time since my last post. I do apologize to those of you who are still checking the blog. We have had a pretty busy and eventful couple of months. After Daniel's birthday, we had a week-long project planning meeting in Arusha together with our supervisors and colleagues from two other projects. After that, we headed back to Babati and started preparing for our 'Vowels Workshop' at the end of March. We found and invited participants, bought and planned food for the week, arranged for a 'conference room' in Magugu, and edited, sorted, etc. over 1,500 Mbugwe words, printing them onto index cards for use in the workshop meetings, among other things.

Our supervisor came out to help us with this first workshop. Good thing she did, because Viggo ended up getting a majorly infected, swollen arm on the first day of the workshop and was basically unable to participate for the rest of the week, having to make trips up to Arusha to get antibiotic injections in his arm and whatnot. So Susi (our supervisor) and I kind of ran the whole show. I did a lecture on some basic linguistic terms in Swahili the first day and was pretty proud of myself for being able to make myself understood. The workshop went amazingly well, all things considered, though I was completely exhausted by the end. We had very heavy rains the first night, and had to drive through a fast-flowing river, with water up to the hood of our big SUV, on the way to the workshop the next morning. But we made it. That's why we have a Land Cruiser. We made good progress with the Mbugwe vowel system. We discovered that there are 7 vowels in Mbugwe, meaning that we will need to use two special vowel symbols in addition to a,e,i,o,and u. The Mbugwe were excited to do the research together with us and had a chance to learn some new things in the process. We will hopefully have another workshop on consonants at the end of this month.

As soon as we were done with the vowels workshop, we had to start preparing for a 'discourse workshop' starting in mid-April. Meanwhile Daniel had a week of high fevers, and I had a mild bout of malaria. It's difficult to explain the point of the disourse workshop, but suffice to say we've now been in Nairobi for three weeks and Viggo has learned a lot about 'discourse analysis' and the 'discourse features' of the Mbugwe language. This will be very helpful for making a fluent translation in the long run. The day after we arrived in Nairobi, I got really sick, and I ended up in the hospital with pretty severe pneumonia. It was really hard to breathe. I was in the hospital for five days, and slept most of the day for a couple of days after that, but after lots of antibiotics and rest I'm all better now. We have stayed with German colleagues for these three weeks, and they were extremely helpful while I was sick. We're very thankful that if I had to get so sick, at least we were in Nairobi, where there is a very good hospital.

So tomorrow we drive back to Tanzania. We'll be glad to get home. There will be a pretty intense couple of weeks of preparation for the consonants workshop, and after that, we'll be getting ready to leave for the US for Pamela's wedding and a much needed vacation.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


When the banana tree starts to fall over from the weight of the banana bunch, you cut off the banana bunch and put it inside to ripen. We have several banana trees in our yard. A banana tree bears bananas after six months of life, then begets a baby banana tree which will bear bananas again in another six months. When we get bananas, we get so many we get to give
them away to everybody we know. And I make banana bread.

On another note, Daniel went bananas over his birthday presents. We had a party today (Friday) and he got more than enough. His grandparents managed to spoil him even from the distance of a whole continent away. His favorite present, a little plastic trike, was belatedly bought with grandparent Christmas-gift money, plus he got two packages from them in the mail. I think his least favorite present was the homemade bubbles he got from one of our friends. You're supposed to blow the bubbles using a straw. He liked the bubbles, but he wanted to do it himself, and of course ended up drinking the dish-soap solution instead.

We had no wrapping paper and I didn't know where to buy it in town, but now we have a whole collection of gift bags and tissue paper that I can re-use the next time we have to wrap a gift.

You can sometimes get Betty Crocker cake mixes here (well, in Arusha) now, so naturally that's what we had. White chocolate swirl. Daniel actually managed to blow his candles out himself (or some of them. I went a little overboard 'decorating' the cake with candles. But I think he blew out at least two himself).

On a more work-related note, we had a nice first meeting with an Mbugwe catholic priest last week. He spoke perfect English and has lived in Rome and Ireland for several years. His Mbugwe is not so good anymore, though, apparently. He was pretty eager to be helpful to us, which is great because we need more Catholic contacts. A high percentage of Mbugwe are members of the Roman Catholic church, so it is important to have a good relationship with the Catholics. In the long run, if they feel involved in the translation process, Mbugwe Catholics are more likely to actually use the translated Mbugwe Bible. Anyway, we have an appointment to go visit the priest's family members in one of the Mbugwe villages in a couple weeks. We should be able to gain some good contacts that way. We're finding that often the most efficient way of getting to know more Mbugwe people is to get ourselves introduced to the extended families of those we already know.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Our new lawnmower(s)

Viggo thought he was very clever today. He found a way to get our lawn mowed and get free fertilizer without doing any work. We had eight cows inside our fence all day. Both of our closest neighbors have cows, and they were ecstatic when we offered to have the cows come eat our grass. Our guard, who otherwise would have spent much of his day cutting our lawn with a scythe, instead spent much of his day keeping the cows from eating our flowers. Daniel was thoroughly entertained both by the cows and by the neighbor kids who came to help ‘watch’ the cows (the guard had to keep telling them to get the cows away from the flowers because they were too busy playing on our swings…).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Rains

The rains are finally here. I awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of heavy rain on our tin roof. I love the smell and the feel of the air after it rains here. In the morning the air was cool and moist, and the sun stayed behind the clouds most of the day. Here it rains in short, intense bursts. We had another cloudburst around lunchtime, which Daniel stared at in awe. He has probably forgotten about rain, not having seen any at all since last spring. The landscape has been quite dry since we came to Babati, but within the next few days the ground will be bursting with new green growth everywhere. It will be especially neat to see the change in the eastern part of the Mbugwe area, which has been essentially gray and sand colored up to now. We will also be starting to get some more experience using our 4-wheel-drive in sticky situations, starting as soon as we drive out of our gate. Some of the Mbugwe villages will be almost entirely out of reach for us for the next couple of months, on account of multiple rivers across the already rough dirt roads. A lot of the hard-core vehicles here actually have “snorkels”, so the car can “breathe” while going through rivers. You can still get stuck, but if you get stuck in a river it is less of a crisis. We don’t have a snorkel, so if we get stuck in water above our exhaust pipe we would be in real trouble.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mbalimbali (a variety)

We’ve had a rather stressful last couple of weeks. Our car was in the shop in Arusha for two weeks, and while Viggo was in Arusha his stuff was stolen out of a friend’s car. That included one of our laptops, but fortunately it was the old one.  Not having a car meant that we were limited in the amount of language work we could get done, especially since Viggo was in Arusha much of the time ‘babysitting’ the car. Now, having only one computer to work on is also limiting, because while we are at home most of our work is on the computer, and now we can only work one at a time. But, we have all been healthy, Daniel has been sleeping through the night, and we are really looking forward to my parent’s (and Sam’s) visit. They’re coming Oct. 6th, and they’ll be bringing our new laptop with them. We finally have a table and chairs now, which was the big excitement for the week. Daniel’s nanny, Mama Elia (who also helps with chores) is taking very good care of him, which makes it possible for me to do a bit of work. She comes to the house and watches him for a few hours in the morning and puts him down for his nap while I work.


We made a trip out to a village last week and recorded some Mbugwe stories, riddles, and songs, which we can now enter into the computer and use for language analysis. Between the sun and speaking Swahili all day, going out to the village is really exhausting. We always have mixed feelings after a village visit. We would love to live in the village in order to be closer to the Mbugwe people and fully experience their language and culture. However, we’re not sure how much of that experience we could really cope with on an every-day basis, and still get any work done. At least for now we are very glad to live in a comfortable home and have some privacy.


This Friday we have a “mini word-gathering workshop”, where we will meet with a group of Mbugwe  to gather a long list of Mbugwe words. Then we will have lots of work to putting them into the computer and analyzing the individual sounds. The mother of Mama Elia (Daniel’s nanny) has helped us to organize this meeting. She has some clout in the village because she was the wife of the last chief of the Mbugwe. However, she is apparently also well-known as a radical Christian. She said that when she went around the first time to ask people to come to the word-gathering workshop, many said no because they were afraid she was just trying to trick them into getting saved by some missionaries.


Next week we will be meeting with a Catholic priest to discuss how the Catholic church can help partner with us in the language project. We try to work together with all of the churches in the area, and there are many Mbugwe Catholics. If we neglect relationships with the churches, then they may not support our work, and the Mbugwe Bible produced could end up being very unpopular among Catholics, for example. If we cultivate relationships with church leaders, then they may be willing to help us in a variety of ways throughout the course of the project. Relationships are very important here, as is flexibility.