The Five Stages of Banking

Daily Dose of Banking - Aug 2014

The sickly glow of fluorescent tubes reflects off the scuffed tiles of the floor. Kwaya music blasts at full volume from a television in the corner, its screen filled with animated gestures and exaggerated vocals. The line inches forward and an older lady saunters over from the seat she's been occupying to reclaim her place in the line that she had somehow staked out earlier. Everyone somehow knows this and so we shuffle appropriately. One step forward, two steps back. 

Neither 'exotic' nor 'breathtaking,' this is the daily grind . . . the mundane and the real. This is the Tanzania I'm growing to know and, somehow, to love. 

This is the bank line and, leaning heavily on K├╝bler-Ross, this is how I move through it — sometimes in order and sometimes all at once:

  • STAGE 1 [Denial] You wake up early or choose an odd hour on an idle Tuesday to head to the bank. You are savvy enough to know that the lunch hour and end of the month are all "no-go" zones. You approach the bank. The line isn't out the door! "I'll get to go straight to the front and be out of here lickety-split!" you think. Oh how wrong you are. . .
  • STAGE 2 [Anger] "For the love of all that is holy and good how can a line double back on itself this many times?" The inner rant runs wild. "How few staff can they have? Did anybody else notice how that guy cut the line? Why can't they fill out their forms before getting in line and blocking a teller? Can s/he count money any slower? Of course the internet is down! Of course! Where's a manager? Who can I tell off? I have places to go and things to do! I'm NEVER coming here again." 
  • STAGE 3 [Bargaining] Eyes scan the room looking for options, different doors to try or strategies to pursue. The inner monologue switches its tone. "If I'm polite perhaps they'll give me a front of the line pass next time. If I smile or am courteous they'll look upon me with favor. If I play dumb and 'accidentally' stand in the fast lane they won't turn me away, will they?"
  • STAGE 4 [Depression] With a thousand yard stare you resign to spend the rest of the day, if not eternity, in that line. Plans for the rest of the day/week/month/year are all dashed. The man in the threadbare suit ahead of you and the woman with the extravagantly sculpted hair behind you are the last people who will ever see you alive. You always knew bureaucracy would get you in the end.
  • STAGE 5 [Acceptance] From suffering to enlightenment, the churning of the mind comes to an end as the daily dose of banking becomes a daily moment of zen. You are who you are where you are with the people you are with in line at the bank. Nothing more and nothing less. Yes, you have things to tend to but so does the farmer in front of you and the business woman behind you. And that guy who cut the line? Maybe he came into town by bus and is pulling money out of his account to pay for a wedding, a funeral, or to buy seeds to plant maize. In time, its own time, the bank line will move. You will reach the teller and complete your transaction. All in good time. . . All in good time.


Walking Mindfully

Morning Walk in Gangilonga, Iringa - Feb 2015

I like to walk alone on country paths, rice plants and wild grasses on both sides, putting each foot down on the earth in mindfulness, knowing that I walk on the wondrous earth. In such moments, existence is a miraculous and mysterious reality. People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle.

-Thich Nhat Hahn,  The Miracle of Mindfulness


Mwaka wa Kwanza

Originally Posted on Kusema: To Speak, To Talk, To Tell

Msigwa & Me - Aug 2014

Today marks my one year anniversary as Kiongozi wa Bega Kwa Bega (Director of Bega Kwa Bega). No longer mpya (new), I cross the threshold into my second year of service grateful for all that the last twelve months have contained and optimistic about what lies ahead.

If there was a theme to 'Year 1' it would be listening. Through feedback sessions with BKB cluster groups and affiliated organizations, back-to-back-to-back committee meetings, and quiet conversations over cups of chai, I've been able to catch glimpses of the heart and soul of this relationship and witnessed the unmistakable presence of the Spirit that animates it all.

It has also been a year of navigating the complex network of relationships that characterizes this cross-cultural and cross-continental partnership, learning about our shared history, and beginning to discern where we may be headed in the future.

. . . For now I want to end a word of thanks. To all who have patiently and faithfully accompanied me during this year of introduction - Bishops’ offices, committee members, cluster leaders, coordinators, and the hundreds of individuals I've met - please accept my heartfelt gratitude.

Asante sana na Mungu awabariki. . .


Unknowing Aliveness

Originally Posted on Kusema: To Speak, To Talk, To Tell

Flying Over Iringa - April 2014
Later this week I leave for two months in Iringa. While there are certain set pieces already in place (things like travel schedules, a wish list of tasks to accomplish, and a handful of big events to attend), what I find most striking is how much I don't know about what is ahead of me.

I don't know who will come knocking on the door of our apartment on any given day or who I will bump into on the path behind the park on my way to the main market. I don't know where I'll be called to preach or the kinds of insight I'll be asked to share with our guests from Saint Paul as they make sense of what they are seeing and hearing. I don't know what lessons our companions have to teach me this time around - be it from my colleague, Pastor Msigwa, or the students we will meet while visiting secondary schools in February.

In short, the more I travel. . . The more I go. . . The more I realize I don't know.

And in that state of admitted unknowing, I'm finding there is a certain degree of aliveness. A poem by Anne Hillman that I recently came across conveys this sentiment far more succinctly than I. It is offered here for your consideration:

We look with uncertainty
by Anne Hillman

We look with uncertainty
beyond the old choices for
clear-cut answers
to a softer, more permeable aliveness
which is every moment
at the brink of death;
for something new is being born in us
if we but let it.
We stand at a new doorway,
awaiting that which comes...
daring to be human creatures,
vulnerable to the beauty of existence.
Learning to love.



A Late Summer Eve, Midtfyn - Sept 2014

The Danish notion of hygge has gotten a lot of press this Fall/Winter — at least in the social network circles that I run in. Pronounced something like ‘HYU-gah’  it translates roughly into a feeling of warmth/coziness/togetherness/contentment. 

Considering myself half-a-step ahead of the pop-culture curve on this one, I’m glad to report that it was hygge was something I ran into time and time again during my visit to Denmark:

  • It was a garden party with neighbors, barbecue, laughter, fresh vegetables, blooming flowers, and hot air balloons floating overhead.
  • It was after-dinner coffee, fresh-baked desserts, and stories about those who came before us.
  • It was lunch in a greenhouse with a beekeeper overlooking farm fields.
  • It was a cafe in a busy public square and a candlelit apartment that evening, welcomed by strangers turned friends.

It was, and is, a way of life and a state of being — the closest comparison I’ve experienced is the starehe vibe of the Swahili coast and the the quasi-taoist sensibilities I’ve acquired along the way in Asia.

It was, and is, something that I aspire to find in my day to day life - another piece of my heritage to reclaim.