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And he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9a, ESV)

Kiswahili: Kigumu na Rahisi (Kiswahili: Difficult and Easy)

July 19, 2016


I have spent the past six weeks living in Usa River, a town outside of the city of Arusha in northern Tanzania, studying Kiswahili with the State Department-sponsored Critical Language Scholarship Program.  [Let me reiterate here that all views presented on this blog are my own, and that no other individual or entity, including but certainly not limited to the U.S. government, should ever be held responsible for my meandering musings and half-formed posts, nor for the numerous misspellings and grammatically errors contained therein.]  I have intended to get blog posts up for weeks but have been busy here, writing a lot but mostly Kiswahili essays for class.  This post is a quick overview of my experience studying here so far.

Ever since I landed at Kilimanjaro International Airport in December 2010 to begin two years of teaching English as a Jesuit Volunteer at a Catholic secondary school in Moshi, Tanzania, I have spent a large amount of time trying to learn the Kiswahili language.  Even after two of the most intense years of my life as a JV in Tanzania and my continued formal and self-study of this language in the subsequent three and a half years, there is still so much about Kiswahili that I don’t know or only understand incompletely.  Some days here I can actively participate and understand hours of class  discussions on technical grammar questions or Tanzanian society and then still miss a simple joke in casual conversation during tea time (yes, I drink tea during tea time every school day and enjoy it) or at home.  Among many other mistakes, I still routinely confuse the adjectives for black (-eusi) and white (-eupe), a particularly unhelpful tendency when trying to discuss race in U.S. society and politics; mispronounce words; change tense far too often, especially in writing; and retreat to my dictionary on a regular basis in class.

Although I tried hard to learn as much Kiswahili as possible during my time in Moshi, this summer is my most intense experience of Kiswahili immersion yet.  When I was in JVC, I always had the escape valve of returning home to our small community of English-speaking Americans each evening as well as opportunities to speak English with my fellow teachers at school.  In accordance with the CLS language policy and my own desire to deepen my knowledge of the language, Kiswahili is the language I use all day long–in the classroom, with my host family, with my fellow CLS participants, and when I am out and about in Usa River or Arusha.  Twice a week I meet with my language partner, a Kiswahili and computer teacher at a local secondary school, for two hours to discuss various topics at length or visit different areas of Usa River.  I have also continued my former habits of trying to primarily access news from Kiswahili sources (especially radio and newspapers) and attending Kiswahili church services, both Pentecostal and Roman Catholic.  A few weeks ago I both understood and was personally challenged by a sermon by a visiting Kenyan Pentecostal evangelist.  She spoke at length (and with a rapid rate of speech) about God’s work of adoption and salvation by grace alone.  My religious vocabulary game has been strong since fairly early in my JVC time, but I am now able to connect with Christian worship in Kiswahili more deeply than ever before.

As during my previous stays in this country, I am so grateful to all the Tanzanians who have welcomed me into their lives.  I’ve been able to travel back to Moshi and to visit friends from my JVC time who now live in Arusha and Babati, a large town several hours south of Arusha.  Even as I contemplate potential dissertation research in East Africa, I am daily reminded of what a gift my Tanzanian coworkers, students, and friends have given me by befriending and helping me and sharing their lives with me.  (I also have a hunch that I am an even more annoying person in Kiswahili than I am in English.)  I hope to put a few blog posts up in my final two weeks here, though I probably won’t get pictures up until I get back to the States.  And, to answer everyone’s most important question, Shania Twain is still a force to be reckoned with in Tanzanian radio’s post-10 p.m. programming.

Best wishes and blessings to you all!


Thesis Online

June 7, 2016

My previous post was more than 20 months ago, which means that today is as good as any to starting updating the blog again.  In the interim, I have managed to submit my master’s thesis, graduate from American University, move into DC, start my PhD studies at Georgetown, and travel to Tanzania again for a summer of Kiswahili language study.  I am writing this blog post from Usa River, a village outside of Arusha in northern Tanzania and will soon post a more comprehensive post on how I came to be here with the Critical Language Scholarship Program and updates about my progress.

In the mean time, you might possibly (but probably are not) be wondering about how you can go about reading my entire MA thesis, which I uncreatively titled “Kiswahili and Decolonization: The Inter-Territorial Language Committee and Successor Organizations, 1930-1970” and which incorporates some of my June 2014 archival research in Dar es Salaam.  The thesis follows the development of British colonial language policy in East Africa and how the committee set up by the British to promote the Kiswahili language continued to do so, and even work with Tanganyikan nationalists, long after the British government had abandoned its official promotion of Kiswahili. Governments have often used language as a way to control their people, but, as the British reversal demonstrates, they cannot always foresee the consequences of their linguistic policies.  So, in the rare chance that interests you in the least, I have good news for you.  Because I published my thesis in open access format, anyone can legally download it in its entirety without charge from either American University’s Digital Research Archive or ProQuest’s PQDT Open database.  (Niram’s Read-o-meter estimates that the main text will only take you 171 minutes to read!)

I will endeavor to update the blog with details of my Swahili studies within the next few days.

Blogging about two of my favorite things . . .

October 24, 2014


It’s been a long time without any action here at the Free Spirit Runner blog (and unfortunately, my schedule hasn’t allowed for much free spirit running either).  I will hopefully write something soon with more details about my research this past summer in Tanzania as well as what else I’ve been up to, but today I am cheating again by linking to a blog post of mine from another website.

I recently joined the Student Center for African Research and Resolutions, a student think tank of DC-area undergraduate and graduate students passionate about African affairs and US-Africa relations.  For my first blog post with this organization, I wrote about Facebook and Kiswahili, specifically how Facebook is empowering speakers of Kiswahili and other African languages.



Blessed to be Back!

June 4, 2014

Well, I’m finally back here blogging, at least for long enough to give you all an update on my meanderings. As I should have expected, my second semester of graduate school proceeded to run me over. Arguably, I was more prepared this time, and I started out in with a better state of mind following my rejuvenating trip to visit my brother Will and his fellow Jesuit Volunteers in Micronesia. Adding an internship to my part-time research assistant job and full-time course load proved more difficult than I expected, but I can’t complain because I have the opportunity to study what I want at a great university, a privilege that very few have.

With the end of the spring semester, I have taken advantage of summer to return to South Africa and Tanzania. I just completed an excellent 17-day graduate seminar in Cape Town through my graduate school, American University’s School of International Service (SIS). It was beautiful how quickly the nine of us graduate students and our AU professor bonded, and the outstanding lectures and site visits helped me consider different perspectives on South Africa’s democracy and development, the theme of our course. It was also a blessing to meet up with a number of friends from my semester there, including several who were unavailable when I passed through in 2012. Other highlights include finally get into a daily rhythm of running (on trails along the base of Table Mountain!) and attending a multiracial, reformed church. I know it may sound strange, but worshiping in new churches is one of my favorite parts of crossing cultures. The Body of Christ is far more diverse and beautiful than many Westerners, both Christians and non-Christians, realize. I have already posted twice about my experiences in Cape Town on the SIS study abroad program’s blog, first reflecting on my experience in light of my 2008 study experience (the original impetus for this blog) and then considering South Africa’s constitutional protections for multilingualism.  I’ve included a completely unrepresentative sample of my Cape Town photos below.

Although Cape Town is hard to beat, I’m even more excited about the next chapter of my summer. On Monday, I flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg and then to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. This is my first time back since leaving in December of 2012. I hope to be here in Dar doing research for three weeks for my prospective master’s thesis examining how the British colonial institution responsible for promoting the KiSwahili language transformed itself to eventually become part of the Tanzanian government’s flagship university. (It’s fascinating to me at least, and I’m working on ways to make this story more accessible to non-specialist readers.) Lord willing, I will then head north to Moshi, where I lived during my time as a Jesuit Volunteer, and reconnect with many friends for a week or so before heading back to the States. I’ve been doing my best to use and improve my KiSwahili, which continues to open so many doors for me here. I know I always end my blog posts with unfulfilled promises of writing more soon, but I hope to provide more updates on life in Dar and confront stereotypes about what doing archival research in Tanzania is like.  I’ll also try to post a few more South Africa pictures.

May the Truth always set us free,

In which I travel to Micronesia in search of my brother . . .

January 21, 2014

So more than a week after I wanted to publish a post about my recent trip to Chuuk, Micronesia, I am finally doing so.  I would be remiss if I didn’t first give a shout-out to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., as yesterday was the federal holiday in his honor.  I  encourage everyone, but especially Christians who were the letter’s intended audience, to take a few minutes this week to read (or re-read) King’s 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and reflect upon his words.  Beautiful yet challenging words.  (I could have written an entire post on that alone, but I unfortunately didn’t.)

After finishing up what became a rather stressful semester, primarily because of my own procrastination, and then blowing my chance for a quality internship due to my singularly terrible performance in the interview, I road tripped back to Phillips.  I was in Phillips for only about a week, although a joy-filled week it was, so that I could visit my brother Will in Micronesia and get back to DC in time for the spring semester which started last week.

As some loyal Free Spirit Runner readers know, Will graduated from Marquette University two years after I did and also joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC).  He accepted a two-year placement as the first Jesuit Volunteer (JV) ever to teach at Akoyikoyi School on the island of Weno, in Chuuk State, part of the Federated States of Micronesia.  The last time I saw him was in early July 2012 when he and the rest of the family visited me in Tanzania during my own JV service (see my 8/19/12 blog post for the mug shot of us subsequently published in the JVC newsletter per our suggestion under the caption “The Bro’s of Kilimanjaro”).  Thereafter, he immediately flew to Boston College for JVC orientation and then off to Chuuk.  JVC rules prohibit U.S. visitors within the first year.  When the rest of our family visited him this past summer, I was deep into my Swahili studies at the University of Illinois and unable to go, but I knew I wanted to visit him in Micronesia on my own if at all possible.

I found myself driving south from Phillips on December 30, on a morning when the temperature was -28 degrees Fahrenheit without the wind chill factor.  I was wearing dark glasses because I had a morning eye doctor appointment at which my pupils were fully dilated.  Both of the factors suggested that I had chosen a good time to get out of the blessedly frozen promised land and visit a tropical island (and Will, of course.)

My plane left Milwaukee early on New Year’s Eve and after flying to Houston and then from Houston to Honolulu, I was able to rest in Hawaii during a lengthy layover.

Part of Honolulu's skyline as viewed from Waikiki beach

Part of Honolulu’s skyline as viewed from Waikiki beach

New Year's Eve sunset at Waikiki beach

New Year’s Eve sunset at Waikiki beach

On January 1, in the Year of our Lord 2014, I boarded the United Airlines plane bound for Chuuk (and several other island stops as well).  The flight was long but generally uneventful.  I took the opportunity to get off at those airports where it was permitted, which included my first ever arrival at the only sovereign state with which I share my name.  Yes, the Marshall Islands.

Airport sign at Majuro

Airport sign at Majuro

At long last, I arrived at Chuuk International Airport (TRK) and thanks to the International Dateline, it was January 2.  Fortunately, Will was there with some of the other JVs.  For the Will truthers out there, I attest that I did see him, and he is real, and not merely a disembodied Skype user.  (For the Will birthers, I have not yet verified his birth certificate.)

I won’t bore you with all the details of my time in Chuuk, but I’ll give you the Sparknotes version accompanied by many pictures.  I hope to write a more reflective post soon with some impressions from the trip and how I feel that experience helped me to reflect and let God re-center me, but that won’t happen tonight.

Will’s island of Weno is the most populous island of Chuuk State, the most populous and poorest of the five states which make up the Federated States of Micronesia.  He lives with five other JVs and a number of independent volunteers at Xavier High School, an elite Jesuit-run boarding school whose main building is the World War II-era communications headquarters used by the island’s Japanese rulers.

During the course of my time in Chuuk, I spent a weekend with Will and many other JVs and Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) on a small island called Pisar.  This island is one of the outer islands in the Chuuk lagoon and was very near to the expanse of the Pacific Ocean beyond the Chuuk islands.  We snorkeled around some beautiful coral.  Despite my weak sauce life skills, I survived both an unusually strong current on our first time snorkeling as well a coconut which fell on my back.  It was a great place to hang out with Will and the other volunteers.

After our weekend on Pisar, we came back (by motorboat, just as we arrived) to Weno and headed up to Xavier, which is at higher elevation away from the island’s main town and most of its villages.  I enjoyed walking around Xavier with Will and also getting to know his fellow JVs a bit more and meet some of the school’s independent volunteer teachers.

On Monday, I went with Will to Akoyikoyi School, located in the village of Penia.  After teaching 1st grade last year, Will has transitioned into administration and teacher training.  However, I had the privilege of watching him in action as teacher because he filled in for another teacher who was getting back from Christmas break that day.  Will has worked very hard to master the methods of the structured English, reading, and math curricula used in the school, and it was wonderful to see him put that expertise into action.  (I doubt that I ever taught that effectively at Majengo, and I know that none of my classes were ever that disciplined!)  In almost every Skype call and email from Will, his passion for the school and its students has been evident.  However, seeing the school in person, meeting its staff, and observing its students learn (as well as later getting a handmade drawing of myself falling out of an airplane clad in scuba gear from one student) shed new light on everything Will had been telling me about his work.  Even though one morning of school obviously couldn’t show me more than a sliver of his daily experience, it was a sliver I feel very blessed to see.  After school, we walked a short distance from school to greet Will’s host family, who have played a huge role during his time in Chuuk.

After returning from Penia, we had community dinner with the other JVs and spent another night at Xavier.  The next day, we went into town and briefly saw the JVs from the second community on Weno, located near the harbor at Saramen Chuuk Academy.  In town, we picked up some fabric for what I hope will be an awesome shirt one day, and I got to eat some taro, a local root vegetable that was rather good and reminded me of a blander sweet potato.  We eventually made our way to the Blue Lagoon, a diving-oriented tourist resort.  Although we didn’t dive, we did relax, have a great supper, and enjoy the last night of my visit (or at least I enjoyed it–Will have been secretly waiting for his crazy brother to get back to the States).  The next morning, we had breakfast and then headed back to the airport.  After checking my bag, we went across the street and chowed down on a pretty amazing pizza.  And then, we said our goodbyes, and I went through the security checkpoint.  Before long, I was on the plane and on my way back east, with lots of hours to reflect on the past week and attempt to read my economics textbook for this semester’s course on international finance.

Yes, it was an amazing trip, one that I feel so blessed to have had the privilege to take.  Let me leave you with this shot of the bro and I sporting our Lawrence University cross-country team t-shirts from our sister Maureen.  (Sorry to Marquette for missing out on a great propaganda opportunity.)

We are . . . Lawrence?

We are . . . Lawrence?

From a secure, undisclosed location outside our nation’s capital

November 3, 2013


I have again been negligent in getting my blogging on, but I am once again back with hopes that I can post more regularly as a way to keep people updated about my life and improve my writing.  Writing is something I have always enjoyed doing but rarely practiced except for academic assignments and applications.  After reading far too many pages of scholarly books and articles in my first two months of graduate school, I am finding that the papers I write for class are beginning to mirror the less engaging articles I have read instead of the ones which truly gripped and informed me.  As a full-time graduate student with a flexible, part-time research assistant job, I have no excuse for any descent into academic mediocrity.  I will also try harder to avoid the minor but often ubiquitous grammatical errors which have long plagued my writing in all its forms.

That being said, the rest of this post is just another long-overdue life update.  Since my last post back in June, I completed the equivalent of a third- and fourth-semester course in KiSwahili, the official language of Tanzania, at the University of Illinois’s Summer Institute for the Languages of the Muslim World.  It was refreshing to re-immerse myself in this wonderful language, and I also appreciated the opportunity to learn more about Islam through the program’s extracurricular programs.  Regardless of one’s theological disagreements with Islam as a whole or with particular strands within Islam, and as an evangelical-ish Christian I have many, criticism of Islam and Muslims that comes from a place of ignorance helps no one.  I become frustrated when individuals pull facts out of context to trash or “disprove” Christianity; in following Jesus’s Golden Rule, I hold myself to a higher standard, albeit one which I have often failed to measure up to.  My search to understand other people, cultures and faiths, or to at least realize how much I don’t understand, is a major part of what has drawn me to international affairs.

I also found time for some free spirited running.  In the aftermath of my marathon meltdown at Green Bay in May, I returned to running without much enthusiasm.  Yet somewhere within, I knew (and I still know) that running is so important to my physical health and my sense of holistic well-being.  I’m not very coordinated or athletic and never have been (if you watched any of my 8th grade basketball games, you know what I’m talking about), but through running I encounter myself, nature, and God in ways I’ve never been able to with any other activity.  This summer it took everything I had to get out there and run.  My planned weekend long runs on the farm roads south of Champaign-Urbana frequently turned into hope-crushing run-walks past endless cornfields without shade, and all the progress I had made in the run-up to Green Bay seemed lost.  I was back home over the Fourth of July for the annual Phillips Spirit of America 5k, and although I finished more than three minutes away from my goal of winning the race (seriously, winning the Spirit of America is probably most my most concrete life goal at this point), my top-10 finish was nearly two minutes faster than my 2010 attempt.  Somehow everything came together for me at the Paavo Nurmi Marathon in Hurley on August 10, when I ran 3:23:26, more than half an hour faster than Green Bay and 9 minutes faster than my previous personal best in the 2012 Kilimanjaro Marathon.  Obviously, I don’t believe times are everything, and if I did, I probably would’ve given up long ago, but my Paavo performance helped reaffirm the joy I find in not only running but in trying to run fast.

I was blessed to spend a few weeks in Ptown in August before heading out to DC for graduate school.  It was only fitting that, on the same weekend I ventured forth from the promised land of the Northwoods, my sister Maureen started her freshman cross-country season at Lawrence University, and my friend/life guru/co-conspirator/running partner/truth-seeker Jordan officially began his life with the Norbertine order of Catholic priests.  It was amazing to spend so much time with both of them this winter and spring after being gone, and it’s hard to imagine Phillips without them.

After spending time with Grandma and a number of friends on my way out east, I arrived in DC just in time for orientation at American University’s School of International Service.  It’s not exactly news, but as an introvert, I am not a big orientation fan, but once that was over and classes got rolling, I began to enjoy my return to the formal study of international affairs.  There is a lot of reading, but the subject matter is genuinely interesting to me, and it’s great being with professors and fellow students who get as excited about the world as I do.  (Note: Just because I don’t always outwardly express my enthusiasm for things doesn’t mean I’m not excited.)  Officially, I am in a two-year master’s degree program in international affairs focusing on sub-Saharan Africa and political economy within the Comparative and Regional Affairs sub-program. My four housemates are great, and I bike from our house to campus.  I also study German on Saturday mornings at the Goethe Institut, which is particularly satisfying because I spent the last two years in Moshi receiving email updates from the Goethe Institut in Dar-es-Salaam without being able to attend any of their events.  Despite my affinity for limited government, I did not cause the government shutdown, although I did fight the power last weekend at the anti-NSA rally.  Dad and Grandma took the train out here to visit me this past week, which was so much fun, and DC didn’t sustain too much lasting damage from our meanderings.

There’s so much more I could write about grad school, but I need to wrap up so I can get back on the study train.  I know I’ve been even worse at staying in contact with people than I have at keeping this blog updated, but I wish truly wish everyone reading this (particularly if you made it to the end of this nonsense) a grace-filled November.

May the Truth always set us free,


P.S. Today (Sunday) is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.  Please hold our brothers and sisters in prayer.  I dream of a day when all people everywhere are free to practice their faith as they please, free from government interference so long as they harm no one else.

Taking Over the World from Illinois

June 16, 2013

More than two and half months after my last post, I’m back. A lot of has happened in the interim, not the least of which is the fact that I am writing this from Champaign, Illinois.

In my previous post, I argued in favor of the referendum by the School District of Phillips to raise property taxes by $650,000 annually for five years. The election clearly mobilized a lot of voters, and the referendum ultimately failed to pass by just six (6!) votes. Although I was disappointed by the result, I know the school board and new superintendent will continue to do the best they can to provide quality education to the district’s students with the resources available to them. Maybe the next referendum, and there will almost certainly be another one within the next few years unless the state government gets its act together, will be the one that finally passes. As an aside, my support for this referendum has shown me that I am perhaps less of a libertarian purist that I had previously thought, although my views still appear extremist to non-libertarians. As much as I may support a decentralized, parent-driven education system in theory, I don’t think that the current students should have to suffer while the unions and Governor Walker shoot it out, especially as the quality of these students’ education will greatly affect their future opportunities and ability to take advantage of their God-given freedoms.

I have finished up my online work with Ballotpedia, a project of the Madison-based Lucy Burns Institute. The first of our three-part “Who Runs the States?” research project, on which I spent most of my work time during the past few months, was released last month and analyzes the extent to which each of the 50 state governments have been under Democratic or Republican sway since 1992. If you’re a political junkie like me, you can read the whole report here. Others may want to start with our nifty infographic. All in all, I am very blessed to have had the chance to work with the amazing staff of LBI to help educate the public about our political system and to do this all over the Internet while living at home.

I also further cheapened the Free Spirit Runner brand with yet another subpar race. After running a great three-quarter marathon in Medford in April as my longest pre-marathon run, I got a bit overoptimistic about my level of fitness. During the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon on May 19, I thus fell back into my usual pattern of going out at a fast pace and watching things fall apart partway into the race. I was reduced to an absolute shuffle jog for most of the second half of the race but did win a small moral victory by not stopping and walking. Also, my bad races are getting faster. This 3:54:23 was the second fastest of my five marathons and more than 40 minutes faster than my fiasco of a marathon on the same course in 2010. I don’t care how many tries it takes me, I will pull together some fast marathon finishes.

For six weeks or so, I also had the privilege of coaching the Phillips Middle School boys and girls track and field teams. I enjoyed this so much more than I had expected. I am so proud of each and every student athlete who came out and competed with us. They are such a great group of kids and have so much potential in the sport! For more information and team pictures, see my summary of the season, which ran in last week’s issue of THE-BEE.

Someone else I am very proud of is my sister Maureen, who just graduated from Phillips High School with honors. She will be going to Lawrence University this fall. The school district is safe again now that all three Marshall kids are out. Of course, now we just wreak havoc in the wider world.

While coaching, I couldn’t help but remember my students back in Moshi, Tanzania. I left Moshi on December 17, nearly six months ago, and after immersing myself in Ballotpedia and Phillips, I find myself reflecting more and more about my time there. As I have told a number of people, I will never know how much “good” I accomplished, if such a thing could even be quantified, and I know I made more than my share of mistakes while there. However, I am continuing to see the ways that God used my experiences, both good and bad, during those two years to mold me and help me become who I am meant to be. I pray that I continue to be ever more open to God’s call in my life as my journey continues.

And speaking of my journey, I have made some decisions about where, Lord willing, to continue my studies. A week ago, I arrived in Champaign, Illinois, and on Monday, I started eight weeks of Swahili language training here through the Summer Institute for the Languages of the Muslim World at the University of Illinois. It’s been great to get back into the language which transformed nearly every aspect of my life in Tanzania, a language which connects me back to the previous two years and which is useful for research and perhaps professional purposes in the future. In mid-August, I will begin the two-year Master of International Affairs in Comparative and Regional Studies program at American University’s School of International Service in Washington, DC. I will be among the students in the African regional concentration. I will also be working with a professor as a graduate research assistant. I am very excited about this next step and grateful for everyone who has helped me reach this point in my life.

That’s probably enough random updates for this post. Hopefully, I will actually write a few more reflective posts during my time here in Champaign.


May the Truth always set us free,