Mamajojo's Muse

"Is this not the kind of fasting I have chosen: To loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and He will say; here am I.
If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.
Isaiah 58: 6-11

Monday, December 20, 2010

U.A. Fanthorpe

This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future's
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect.
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.

Merriest of Christmases from all the Swansons!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

I have two sons, and one of my sons has four brothers.
A riddle?
No, just a family blended by the great adventure of ten years in Africa, the tragedy of AIDS, and the joy of adoption. Matthew was born in the US, but grew up in Tanzania, inseparable from his best friend, Will. When Will’s mom lost her battle with AIDS, we adopted him as a young teen and brought him with us when we moved back to Pennsylvania. He now makes us proud as an engineering student at Pitt.

For a few years, we lost track of Will’s youngest brother, Rama, who spent time in a village with relatives. Then, in 2007, my daughter and I visited Mtwara, our old home in Tanzania, and found him, back with his grandmother and the other grandchildren she cared for so well. Sadly, we discovered that Rama, the little boy Will had watched out for as a young boy, had contracted HIV from his mom at birth. But at 13, Rama was still attending school, playing soccer, and growing into a teenager himself.

We had left Tanzania in 2000, when anyone who contracted HIV could expect to live only a few years. But Rama seemed to be doing amazingly well! His brothers and grandmother had been caring for him, faithfully taking him for retroviral medications that PEPFAR had provided to so many in Africa. We were anxious to see him, but the day we visited he was at school, with the same teacher that Will had known years before.

Just before we saw Rama at school, he had been diagnosed with TB, in addition to AIDS. At the time, I was afraid that that would be too much for any boy to bear, but Rama has even beaten TB, and is still thriving! This is more than I had ever hoped for, after having lost my own cousin to AIDS in 1991, and then living in East Africa in the earlier years, when HIV was a hopeless diagnosis.

I am so proud to be part of a nation that extends the miracle of life to kids like Rama, not a stranger or a statistic, but my son’s little brother.

Joanna, Rama, older brother, Jackson

Friday, December 3, 2010

Emmanuel's Return to Life

Special Opportunity: Emmanuel’s Return

When Emmanuel Mbonihankuye and his wife, Angelique, ran from the sudden onslaught of genocide that had arrived at their college, they had no idea what they were facing. Crossing the river into Congo, they found a family in the forest who was willing to take them in, and there they hid, helping with farm chores, fetching water, and waiting out the horrors that overtook Rwanda as one tribe sought to wipe out another.

They thought that the forest would provide protection, and their little daughter was born there, but soon after, rebel soldiers raged through that part of the forest, taking Emmanuel, their host family, and the baby. Only Angelique was spared, unnoticed on the path to fetch drinking water at the river.

First, she waited by herself at the deserted cottage. Weeks passed, and eventually a few of the Congolese family straggled home, breaking the heartbreaking news that the baby had died on the trail. Still she waited, hoping that Emmanuel would appear, and they could return to the school in Rwanda, or their home in neighboring Burundi. The genocide was over, Angelique’s Tutsi tribe had taken over peaceful leadership of Rwanda, and after months of waiting, Angelique went home alone.

Daily she prayed and waited for news, but none came. She finished her school program in Rwanda, and next went to Kenya for training in ministry and social work. Her prayers never wavered, but no news ever arrived… until eight years later, when a message reached her that Emmanuel had escaped his slavery to the rebel group, and had made his way back to Burundi. He was waiting for her there, hoping that she was well, and had not given up and married another. He had only recently learned of the death of their little girl.

It was truly a miraculous reunion, astonishing that both had survived, had not married again, and were spared permanent injury or the ravages of AIDS. Angelique was hired by ALARM, (African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries) to head their women’s work in peace-making and income generation for the poor. Emmanuel had to regain his strength and pick up the life he had lost eight years before. At 35, he humbly put on the khaki shorts of a secondary student and finished that diploma, which equals junior college here. He was in the midst of exams when I met him on a trip to Burundi, and visited the work that ALARM does there.

Angelique is a quiet, gentle soul, who gives no hint of the suffering she has gone through, and puts her energy into helping others in poverty and conflict. She didn’t tell me her story until I asked her what her forgiveness story was. Everyone in Rwanda and Burundi had one, but I never expected to hear a tale of slavery and loss from a peaceful woman like Angelique. I rejoiced to see that she held her 18-month-old son in her arms as she told me her story, which seemed to be a miracle of “happily ever after.”

I went home and set about to raise scholarship money for Emmanuel to attend college. He is studying social work, so that he can minister to others who go through similar trauma. When a donor finally agreed to fund his first year, I got on my computer to email Angelique the good news, but she had just written to me: her sister had died in Rwanda, leaving five children, and she was taking in four of them, aged 19 through 18 months. They all live in a tiny Habitat for Humanity home, and the older children help care for the younger. Angelique was pregnant at that time, and her twin boys are doing well, adding to the family to make nine.

In January, Emmanuel will start his last year of college. He needs $1500 for tuition and fees. God has always surprised me with a donor, and I am hoping that this year some of you might like to be a part of this story. The donation will be passed through ALARM ( and so will be tax deductable, but I promise you, that will not be your greatest reward!

For eight Christmases, Angelique hoped for the return of her Emmanuel, and our God answered her prayer. What a marvelous God we have, and what an honor to be able to hear stories like this one, to have a small part in their lives, and to link in friendship with such courageous brothers and sisters!

Kristen Swanson

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Malaria: Time for Change

Our ten years in Tanzania provided many adventures and joys, but almost no one, national or expatriate, can live in East Africa that long and avoid contracting malaria. We averaged about three rounds of malaria each year. The very worst was watching our kids deal with the characteristic fever, vomiting, diarrhea, aching joints, and headaches. The first experience with malaria often brings the fiercest symptoms, and our kids had very high fevers and lost weight rapidly when they were young children. Matthew was only 5 years old when he was first hit with malaria, and hallucinated in both English and the Swahili he was learning while playing with his friends. Matthew recovered, but his friend in the red shirt was not so lucky, and later lost his life to malaria.

Several birthdays were ruined by malaria, and Matthew recalls being a skinny, listless kid trying to celebrate. Joanna was about 4 when she missed the fun of a vacation on Zanzibar and had to lie in the shade on the beach, trying to keep down her malaria pills. We eventually adopted Will, Matthew’s best friend, when they were both young teens, but he almost lost his life to malaria before that, when the rest of us were in the States. Will survived because the local church people looked after him so carefully.

Malaria was a part of normal life in Tanzania, and we accepted it as we did colds and flu, except for times when we suddenly lost friends and our illusion of safety melted away. Now in college, Matthew spent spring semester “back home” in Tanzania, and once again had malaria during a stay in a remote village. Malaria is not yet defeated! But this time, much quicker testing was available, and he received a new medication that is in wide use. Zanzibar, our favorite vacation site, once was a place where we expected to pick up malaria. Now there are very few cases on that island, thanks to a concerted use of nets, spraying, and quick treatment. Our whole family is looking forward to the day when malaria is eradicated. In the mean time, I am delighted to report that Matthew was healthy and strong by June, when all three kids were together to celebrate Joanna’s wedding.

The statistics are coming down, but close to a million people still die from malaria each year, mostly children under 5 and pregnant women. If you would like to join me in the fight to wipe out the parasite that has probably killed half the people who ever lived on earth, visit

(This blog was submitted to Malaria No More on July 20, 2010)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


Thanks to Allison Rahs for passing this on!


Something To Think About....*

In Washington , DC , at a Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007,
this man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During
that time, approximately 2,000 people went through the station, most of
them on their way to work. After about 3 minutes, a middle-aged man noticed
that there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few
seconds, and then he hurried on to meet his schedule.
About 4 minutes later: *
The violinist received his first dollar. A woman threw money in the hat and,
without stopping, continued to walk.
At 6 minutes:*
A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his
watch and started to walk again.
At 10 minutes:*
A 3-year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid
stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the
child continued to walk, turning his head the whole time. This action was
repeated by several other children, but every parent - without exception -
forced their children to move on quickly.
At 45 minutes:*
The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a
short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace.
The man collected a total of $32.*

After 1 hour:*

He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed and no one
applauded. There was no recognition at all.
No one knew this, but the violinist was *Joshua Bell*, one of the greatest
musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever
written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua
Bell sold-out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each to sit
and listen to him play the same music.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the D.C. Metro
Station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment
about *perception, taste and people's priorities*.
This experiment raised several questions:*
In a common-place environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive

If so, do we stop to appreciate it?

Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?*
One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians
in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the
most beautiful instruments ever made...* *

How many other things are we missing as we rush through life?*

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Come for Dinner! ( malaria op-ed)

“Come for dinner!”

With a table that seated twenty, my house in Mtwara, Tanzania was often filled with visitors from around the world. Attached to our home, the mission guesthouse on Shangani beach welcomed German and Dutch missionaries, English and American volunteer builders, Australian and Korean travelers, and a wealth of Tanzanian church elders, youth workers, and guest preachers.

Stories and laughter floated above the hand-planed wood and out the screened windows, lifted by the Indian Ocean breezes up to the waiting stars. Our table heard songs of thanks in a chorus of languages, and offered up steaming rice and beans, tiny finger bananas, long canoe-shaped papaya strips and golden mangoes, cross-hatched and flipped inside out, a sweet libation to drip down our chins.

Now back in the United States, we seldom entertain unexpected visitors. Our children, who absorbed fluent Swahili, a smattering of German, a collection of hilarious British idioms, and an eclectic wisdom from our guests, have taken off on their own adventures. Our memories of conversational “iron sharpening iron” grow wistful, as my husband and I now exchange hectic schedules via email and squeeze in “date night,” trying to stay awake over burgers long enough for genuine dialogue. Tanzania is poor in cash, but taught us to value the wealth of human contact.

I still have physical memories of salt-scented air, a golden halo of lantern light, and sudden silence when the generator was stilled. My ankles remember the itch.

As we shared meal after meal with friends, anopheles mosquitoes discreetly met under our welcoming table for a feast of their own. Guests were cautioned to wear long clothing and socks, to spray any vulnerable exposed skin before dusk, and to join the ritual of swallowing bitter anti-malaria tablets, but as we lived and worked in Tanzania for ten years, we found it hard to follow our own advice.

Bwana Samaki, the fishmonger, waited at the door, four feet of swordfish ready to be negotiated by the kilo. His friend, Ali the woodcarver, was already setting up his ebony figures for our guests on the porch, and needed translation of his wheeling and dealing. Our lives couldn’t stop at dusk, and we certainly never climbed under a mosquito net in time to escape the cloud of insects that rose to meet us as the reflected sun blinked out of the puddles in which they bred.

Malaria is endemic in southern Tanzania, and thrives in the tropical heat and rain. We fought off attacks by the parasite with high fevers, chills, aches, squinty-eyed headaches, diarrhea and vomiting, all of which struck suddenly and violently. Swallowing the pills that could kill the parasite as it performed its multiplication in our red blood cells and liver became a cruel race: twenty minutes in the stomach meant the medication would be absorbed enough to do its job, but if we couldn’t hold it down that long, we had to try

again. Chloroquine, fansidar, halfan: in ten years we used several generations of drugs until the parasite developed resistance to each one. If they all failed, we might try that nasty old stand-by, quinine, which occasionally caused temporary blindness or deafness, or both.

Our kids could diagnose their own malaria before they were six, and performed finger-stick blood test to proved their claim. They impressed their friends by comparing “parasites per 200 red blood cells” on the slip the local clinic sent back to us by bicycle. Malaria became a frequent visitor to our home, and we created peace of mind by viewing it as a part of life, knowing that in our American wealth we could afford multiple tests and a wide menu of treatment drugs. Too often, that fragile sense of safety was shattered by the death of African neighbors and friends, and even Americans and Europeans who used the same preventive strategies as we did. Malaria kills a million people a year, most of them in Africa, and no ethnic or even socio-economic group is exempt.

But things are changing; a new movement to eradicate this disease is growing. Nets treated with insect repellant have been distributed in record numbers, lowering deaths and illness from malaria. Researchers are continuing the search for an effective vaccine, while testing and treatment have been improved, made less expensive, and provided more quickly. Campaigns to simply eliminate standing water in overgrown fields, ditches, and open water containers have reduced the breeding grounds for mosquitoes that carry malaria. To finally clear dwellings of resident mosquitoes, one old tactic could make all the difference: the weapon that ended the reign of malaria in European and western nations.

Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, DDT, has never been surpassed in its effective elimination of mosquitoes, although researchers are trying to find a match that would cause no harm in any circumstances. But the truth is, no study linking DDT to premature births, low birth weights, inhibited lactation, or other health problems has been successfully replicated or favorably confirmed by similar research. The harmful and fatal effects of malaria, especially on small children and pregnant women are, however, undisputed.

Well-intentioned environmental bans on DDT make dinner safe for the cloud of nibbling mosquitoes , but the proper use of DDT on the walls of my home could make life measurably and dramatically safer for my family and guests. Until an alternative is found that can just as effectively prevent malaria and contribute to its permanent eradication, DDT should be invited to the table.

(I submitted this for my Malaria Griot on-line course that I take from and Malaria No More)


Friday, March 12, 2010

"Still, I wonder if we shall ever be put into songs or tales. We're in one, of course; but I mean: put into words, you know, told by the fireside, or read out loud of a great big book with red and black letters, years and years afterwards. And people will say: 'Let's hear about Frodo and the Ring' and they'll say 'Oh yes, that's one of my favorite stories." — J.R.R. Tolkien, Lord of the RIngs

Let's hear about Carl Moyer and his adventures.

When Carl set off from the safe world of Sel-Perk High, no sage in all the world could have prophesied where his adventuring spirit would take him. Most graduates stayed close to the village of Perkasie, as the world continued to heal from World War II, and new conflicts developed in Europe, Africa, and Asia. But Carl strode across North America to Texas, then the Prairies of Alberta, and on to Nebraska and Missouri, where he learned a practical trade for his missionary future: he became a printer. This was probably not the first of a wide collection of useful tools that Carl loaded into his pack, but it was soon joined by lessons in pulling teeth from a dentist friend, eye surgery techniques collected from a doctor, skills in delivering difficult babies and packing them, sometimes three at a time, in the side-car of an old motorcycle to transport to the hospital a few hours away. Carl could fix a car with dental floss and duct tape, slide a plane onto rutted bush landing strips, and of course, build, plumb, wire, photograph, repair or re-invent any equipment needed in East Africa. I recall a Land-Rover trying to scale a steep escarpment when the front-wheel drive went out. He made use of his human cargo, Patty and me, as hood ornaments, and our combined weight on the front axle coaxed the car up the hill.

Carl succeeded in printing Words of truth in many languages, but he could spin stories by the fire and generate laughter from even the most solemn of visitors. His grin must have charmed Joanne when he first told her of his capture and rescue from Congolese rebels in the early 60's. They met in a language training school, and I heard the story of their romance, both versions, around the dining table at Tatanda mission station, in the golden lantern light after the generator was extinguished for the night. His slant on the story brought shrieks of "Carlo!" from Joanne, but the laughter and affection between them never seemed to grow old. At twenty, observing their marriage as I stayed in their home for months at a time, I resolved not to marry until I found a partnership like theirs. Carl and Joanne make it easy to believe that God fashions one man for one particular woman, and brings them together to create families that just have to be. And, with all the sad and broken relationships in this world, they make it easy to believe in marriage as high adventure, and not the end of the story, but only the beginning.

Growing up in Pennsylvania, every few years the Moyers appeared with snake skins and exotic carvings and stories that I wished would never end. I was only about ten when I decided I wanted the most exciting life possible, and work that brought unexpected wonders and challenges at every turn, so I resolved to be a missionary. Even if the guidance counselor raised an eyebrow at my plans, how could I settle for less? Carl was involved in the ceremony when I married Darrell, whom he soon initiated into African life on a short trip to Tanzania. When we named our first son Matthew Karl, it was in honor of two fathers: my own, Karl Thomson, who we lost when I was just thirteen, and Carl Moyer, who filled in as a spiritual model in so many ways. Our daughter was born two years later, and she is Joanna. We are delighted that some of the magic of Carl and Joanne has become their legacy, too, as they find their own ways to love Africa and the world with their talents and willingness to be a citizen of heaven anywhere on earth.

I am sure that I am only one of hundreds of people all over the world, who feel a pang of loss and disbelief at the thought of Carl, not among us. If I look at the places I have gone and the things I have done in my life, most of what has made me who I am can trace back through branch, trunk and root to seeds that were planted by Carl and Joanne. I hope that one of the joys of heaven, that makes Carl shout with laughter and joy, is a full understanding of how many of our stories were shaped by his. And may we all be given the chance to pass along those tales of courage and heroism by our home fires, to warm and light the planet.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Longing for a Sun-scorched Land

The snow is finally melting, and Haley was able to run across the top of the grimy crust this morning when I walked her. The light arrives earlier every morning, and the official start of spring is in 17 days, but the grim cold of winter still seems like it could never leave us. A few days ago there were morning streaks of salmon and orange between the skeletal black tree trunks, and that taste of color reminded me of the flaming sunsets that hovered over Mtwara almost every night that we lived there.

I insist, I didn't pray for three feet of snow this year, but I did enjoy every snow storm, and turned on the porch light to check on each accumulating, sparkling inch. After ten years in a hot country, the magic of pure white snow is not lost on me, even at 54. In the days when, by 9 am, my hair already stuck to my neck in the humid air 10 degrees south of the equator, my fantasy was a cool spring breeze lifting a lace curtain over a feather quilt. Here in America, I catch a whiff of wood smoke and breathe deeply, letting it it transport me back to Africa. Ten years in Tanzania... Ten back in Pennsylvania... It is clear now that my heart will be forever divided, always wistful for my other home. But in an odd twist of my life story, last week I found myself building a snowman in Pennsylvania with two little girls from Kenya who live in our garage apartment. One of many circles I can see in my life!

Back when my mother was still living and holding down 426 Crown Street as the center of our family universe, walking into the center hall of that little house in Morrisville and smelling roasting turkey was the absolute meaning of home.

I guess I won't stand in that center again. In Tanzania, part of me is drawn to Pennsylvania, but here my heart turns daily to the warmth of Africa like a morning glory turning to the sun. After years of wandering, we have our own piece of land and tall trees that spring back to the heights after bowing to the snow. Now the branches of our family are scattered to four continents and four points of the compass: Tanzania, Pittsburgh, Savannah, Chiang Mai, Costa Rica, Germany, Florida, England, Idaho, New York. I'm starting to "get" why older people long for heaven, but right now it is my turn to be home for the travelers. My first deep breath of that perfect air will be scented with turkey, curry, wood smoke, frangipani, pine needles... One breath, and I will know I am finally home.