Thursday, March 20, 2014

A New Beginning

This will be our last post, as Jason and I have ended our Peace Corps service after seven months of living and working in Tanzania.  Tanzania presented many challenges for us, all of which we gladly faced, eager to nurture young minds and enact changes at our university.  There was one challenge that proved too difficult to face in country.  In February I (Heather) suffered from a severe panic attack while riding home from an excursion to a local coffee lodge.  We were determined to seek counseling in Tanzania for my increasing anxiety after we visited the USA and returned back home to Mbeya.  This was not meant to be, as I suffered from another panic attack while boarding our flight home to Tanzania.

While our Peace Corps service has ended, our passion for development and helping the least of these has not.  We learned much about ourselves and a different culture-we gained a new perspective and widened our world view.  We are not the same people who left the USA seven months ago.  While we went to Tanzania to create positive change, we find ourselves to be the most changed from our experiences.  Coming back to the USA is not an ending; it is a new beginning.

Heather and Jason

Friday, February 14, 2014


Lately I have been missing what I left behind in America…family, friends, my cat, hot showers, hockey, ice cream, rock climbing, and backpacking just to name a few. Whenever I find myself missing home, I try to remind myself of all the things I am grateful for here in Tanzania.

My Students

Awesome thunderstorms

The view from our balcony in the evening

Time for baking

Time for self-reflection

Monday, January 6, 2014

Mwaka Mpya

Mwaka Pya.  A New Year. New Beginnings.  We have now been in Tanzania for 6 months.  We have survived the holidays away from our families.  For Christmas we visited our friend Beth in Tukuyu once more.  We only had Christmas Day and Boxing Day off, so it was a short visit.  We made chili, Jason bought a little Christmas Tree in a stationary store in Mbeya, we watched Beth open her Christmas box, and we read the story of Jesus' birth.  It was a merry little Christmas.

When I asked my fellow Tanzanians how they celebrated Christmas they responded that they travel home to visit their family and eat pilau (spiced rice-the traditional Tanzanian celebration food).  Turns out here in the opposite hemisphere people spend Christmas with their loved ones too!
A belated Merry Christmas from the Lavalleurs

For New Years we invited Beth to visit us in Mbeya.  We made pizza, played games, and watched a movie.  One of the benefits of working at a Tanzanian university is that our departments have projectors.  Jason asked his department if he could bring a projector home and they said yes!  So we watched movies in style (instead of on our little netbook screen).  Who needs a movie theater when you have a projector?

When the clock struck midnight, ushering in the new year, we learned that Tanzanians like to honk horns.  They just hold down the horn and let the trumpet sound for a good long while.
Beth and Jason enjoying their pizza-maybe I should go into business

Jason and Beth marveling at the size of our movie screen!

See you in 2015 America!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Madam Heather

When Jason and I were placed at Mbeya University of  Science and Technology I was thrilled to learn that I would be teaching microbiology and genetics to the laboratory science students.  I still am very happy to be teaching my favorite subject, but the challenges I have faced so far have been many-and I know that there are more ahead.

My first challenge was to design my course-both the theory portion and the laboratory portion.  The class had been taught before, but the previous teacher did not leave any material behind.  I spent my first weeks crafting my syllabus and designing (what I thought to be) appropriate labs using limited materials.  As the semester drew nearer, I began to panic.  A laboratory technician had not arrived at work yet to show me what materials we had available.  Armed with a pre-test and my first lecture, I was ready to start teaching at the appointed time.  The indicated start date for the semester came and went, with no students showing up to my classes.  My fellow teachers told me to wait until the following week to teach, as students did not show up until the second week of class.  The first week of class is actually devoted to registration and the taking of supplementary exams (an exam that students take if they fail their final exam from the previous semester’s class).

I have now been teaching for five weeks.  My students are very excited, exceptionally smart, and dedicated.  I am a proud teacher.  Many students ask questions during my lectures that show me they are thinking critically.  I have students swarm around me after lab asking questions like “Madam, can you name all the of the normal flora found in the human body?” (Just in case you were wondering, no-no I can’t.  I can, however, launch into a discussion about the human microbiome in general).  Students email me telling me that they enjoy my lectures and they understand what I am saying very well.  I think I prefer Tanzanian students to American students despite the hardships of teaching in a different culture.  My Tanzanian students are so hungry for knowledge.

My teaching load is light (I only teach one class) but I am keep very busy.  I lecture once per week, during which my students take a quiz covering the previous week’s material.  I have lab three times per week, as I split my 120 students into three groups.  Lectures can leave me very frustrated at times, as I can observe some of my students cheating on their quizzes.  But I am also very happy, as students stop me to ask questions.  In lab so far students have learned how to stain cells and use a compound microscope, perform simple calculations and dilutions, and extract DNA.  I have to be creative when designing labs as resources are scarce.  For example, the university owns three compound microscopes.  40 students crowding around 3 microscopes to view their stained cheek cells is fairly chaotic to say the least.

Another challenge I am facing is the fact that the university has no stock cultures of bacteria (no available microorganisms to grow).  I am attempting to isolate microorganisms from the environment, but have encountered difficulties in growing them.  I collected a soil sample in an attempt to culture the common soil microbe Bacillus, a goat fecal sample in an attempt to culture the common fecal coliform Escherichia, and my fellow teachers and I donated a sample from our skin in order to grow Staphylococcus.  Just as my first round of isolation was complete, Tanzania went into a period of lengthy power outages.  This meant that I could not use the incubator to grow my bacteria or the autoclave to sterilize my materials.  Praise the Lord that power is now restored and I can continue isolating bacteria for my students to use in lab.

The work here is challenging, but I enjoy what I do immensely.  The smiles and laughter from my students keep me working hard to provide the best microbiology course I can offer them with the resources I have available.  Who knows?  Maybe one day the kid who wishes to become a genetic engineer will make an important discovery.


I have 10 textbooks total for my class and 1 lab manual
When you have no electricity you set your students math problems
And to my utter surprise, they love to do math!
Their favorite lab so far has been extracting DNA from bananas

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Pony Express

We thought that we would include a post about how to mail us goodies, if you are so inclined ;)

First, the logistics.  Letters are sent to the university and are given directly to Jason in his department.  Padded envelopes are cheaper than boxes to send and get mailed directly to us at the university as well.  Letters and padded envelopes seem to reach us in about 10 days time.  Boxes are sent to the post office in Mbeya.  We have to make a trip into town on Saturday to pick up boxes so they may sit for awhile until we can get into town.  Currently we are having difficulties with boxes as the notification slip is not being sent to us at the university.  If you send us a box, please email us at and let us know the tracking number.  That way we can see when the box clears Tanzanian customs and estimate when the box will arrive at the posta (local post office).

Many people have asked me what would we like to receive in packages.  Jason and I put our heads together and came up with the following items to choose from:

  • Granola bars (Cliff, Nature Valley, Quaker Chewy)
  • Goldfish crackers
  • Starburst
  • Pretzels
  • Good-smelling candles in glass jars-make sure to pack in a ziplock as they can melt on their long journey across the sea
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Reese's Pieces
  • Trail mix
  • Salmon packets
  • Beef jerky
  • All beef summer sausage
  • 3 x 5 white index cards
  • Pictures of you!
  • Pictures or postcards of California and Nebraska
  • 40 compound microscopes (just kidding!)

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Give Thanks

Tanzania does not celebrate Thanksgiving-it is just another day.  Jason and I both teach on Thursdays, so we will be spending the day in class.  Many Peace Corps volunteers get together on American holidays, but Jason and I will have to miss our region’s get-together so this past weekend we headed down to Tukuyu to visit our friend Beth and celebrate Thanksgiving together.  What does a Tanzanian Thanksgiving look like, you ask?  I will show you.

We planned on having chicken, mashed potatoes, rolls, peas, and an apple cobbler.  Miraculously, everything came together and our Thanksgiving dinner was a success!  First off, all of us were too, well, chicken to go through the whole process of killing a chicken.  We had a mama do the killing and the cooking for us.  A mama also helped us start our peas, as the electricity was out and we only had Beth’s charcoal jiko to cook on.  Eventually we ended up with two jikos and we were really cooking!  Once dinner was all cooked we sat down and ate ourselves into food comas.  We enjoyed the fellowship with Beth-we played games and tossed a Frisbee around with some of the kids who live at Beth’s school.  It was a wonderful Thanksgiving day.


Me cooking over the charcoal jikos-we had to have help to get them started as they are hard to light


Our Thanksgiving table-Beth set the table so pretty!


Jason is very excited to dig in to the good food


Looking at the picture makes me hungry all over again!  Such good food!


Jason playing Frisbee with the neighborhood kids


Being in Tanzania these past few months has helped me to appreciate the simple and small things in life.  We don’t have much, but what we have is enough and I am truly thankful.  I thought I would share some of the things I am thankful for this year:

  • The view of the mountains I have while hand-washing my laundry
  • Water-and not even clean water, as we cannot drink what comes out of the tap until we boil it, but I am so thankful for water when it is around
  • Family and good friends both near and far, far away
  • My students, who make every day worth the struggle of living in a culture different from my own
  • Spices-they make beans and rice so much more interesting
  • Our gas stove-so useful when the power goes out
  • My husband-for following God’s call and leading us to Tanzania
  • For the opportunity to live a life full of adventure and service!



Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Chef Jason

I am a very blessed woman-my husband loves to cook.  And he is a very good cook.  Here in Tanzania we have to be creative when it comes to dinner time.  At our local market we can find tomatoes, onions, garlic, carrots, bell pepper, cucumbers, avocados, bananas, fruit that is in season (right now it is mango season!), corn, potatoes, wheat, rice, and every type of bean that you could ever imagine.  There are also all types of leaves that Tanzanians like to cook in oil, as well as peanuts that you roast yourself.  And spaghetti noodles (where would we be without pasta?).  So behold the creations of Chef Jason-made from scratch and mostly local.

Banana bread with black tea is our staple breakfast.  We used to have wonderful loose leaf tea from Irente Biodiversity Reserve in Lushoto, but we enjoyed it too much and it is now gone.  Now we enjoy a cup of Chai Bora with our freshly made banana bread.

One of the first meals Jason perfected was spaghetti with tomato sauce.  Good old comfort food sometimes served with a side of parachichi for me.

Jason tried another variation on pasta-peanut noodles!  We can buy peanut butter at the store on campus and it has saved our lives (not really, but we are thankful for peanut butter).  We serve our peanut noodles with grated carrots and cucumber.  So refreshing and tasty!

This meal is one of my creations.  Chef Heather serves up roasted potatoes with local vegetables and rosemary.  I plan on growing a little rosemary bush on our back balcony to have fresh rosemary available.

One day Chef Jason marched to the local butcher in search of meat.  Our butcher shop consists of a little room that is tiled with identifiable and unidentifiable parts of cows and goats and mystery meat hanging from the ceiling.  Jason brought back some mystery meat for this delightful stir fry made with tomatoes, onions, bell pepper, and soy sauce.

Tonight's meal was homemade pizza.  We made the dough and sauce and a fancy store in Mbeya provided the cheese.  Served with an ice-cold Tangawizi (a type of ginger ale soda made by Coca Cola) a bad evening can turn into a good evening.

And now I am off to go grade quizzes.  Enough procrastinating for me.  Until next time,