Some Thoughts- Maybe Final Thoughts, Maybe Not

Hello Friends! I was asked to preach at my church, St. Luke’s Simeon, here in Charlottesville about my time in Tanzania. I am posting the sermon here as some final thoughts, knowing that I may have more to say at some point. It’s a bit long for a blog- read it if you feel it!

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday after Pentacost

“The needy shall not always be forgotten And the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.” Psalm 9:18

We are all missionaries.

Bwana asifiwe! Bless the Lord!

Neema na amani view nawe. Grace and peace be upon you.

It makes great good sense to me that my first Sunday back at St. Luke’s we renewed our Baptismal Covenant.

“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, respecting the dignity of every human being? I will, with God’s help.”

That’s one of the lines that most resonates with me. Justice and peace are not two words we typically connect with what we hear about Africa. We hear about injustice, war, poverty.

Here’s part of what the musician, Bono, had to say at a prayer breakfast in 2006:

“It’s not a coincidence that in the scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. It’s not an accident. That’s a lot of air time. You know, the only time Jesus Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor. ‘As you have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, you have done it unto me.’

But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties; it doubts our concern, and it questions our commitment. Six and a half thousand Africans are still dying every day of preventable, treatable diseases, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity: this is about justice.”

I have had a heart for sub-Saharan Africa for as long as I can remember. So when I was fortunate to travel to Tanzania in 2012, I knew I would be back. I started trying to figure out how about two years ago. In one of those moments that could have been a coincidence or could have been the Holy Spirit, I happened to see a Carpenter’s Kids newsletter saying their missionary there had come home. So, in February of last year, I headed to New York to talk about the position with the folks at the Mission Office, afraid, by the way, to drive into New York City by myself, but oddly, unafraid to go to Africa by myself.

As J.R.R. Tolkien so wisely says in The Hobbit,

“It’s a dangerous business stepping out your door. You never know where you’ll be swept off to.”

Indeed. So, in August, I found myself in Dodoma, Tanzania.

Tanzania, like too many of Africa’s 54 countries, is poor. There are many wise books that explain why and I am happy to share titles with you, if you are interested. George Alegiah, the BBC’s Africa correspondent, born in Africa himself says,

“No continent on Earth has been interfered with as much as Africa.”

And in regard to how Western cultures, generous as we are, often respond, he says,

“There is always emergency money for Africa. Cash to fly in tents and bags of food. Plenty of aid-workers to cradle the runt-like children of murdered parents. This is foreign policy of the sticking-plaster variety. It’s dishonorable. And what’s more, it doesn’t work.”

I didn’t go to interfere. I didn’t go to give money. I went to walk in love with my Brothers and Sisters in Christ. As Lila Watson, an indigenous Australian, says,

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting our time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, let’s us work together.”

As to my work, I didn’t actually do much. I went to the office at Mackay House each day. I answered emails from donors in the US, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. I wrote some blogs and a couple of newsletters. I went on Saturdays with the CK staff to give the Carpenter’s Kids their uniforms, shoes, socks, soap, school supplies, malaria nets, and sometimes, solar lamps. I spent time- with my co-workers, with kids who came to the office with their guardians, with the people in the villages, with my neighbors from around the world, with whom I lived in the compound for the Canon Andrea Mwaka School.

What I received and learned was, as predicted, far greater than anything I gave. I know, of course, that you can’t make generalizations about an entire people, but there are four main concepts I witnessed consistently that I’d like to share with you.

  • Karibu. Welcome in Kiswahili. Tanzanians use the word the same way we do, to say “Welcome” and as in “Thank you.” “You’re welcome.” But there, it is used much more as, You are welcome! The welcome I received at DCT- the Diocese of Central Tanganyika- and at the CK office was extraordinary and continued to be throughout my time there, regardless of how many silly things I said or thought or how many times I didn’t understand something. You are welcome. And Tanzanians say Karibu every time you walk into a store, a restaurant, a village, someone’s home, and they really mean it. And they don’t just say it to visitors, they say it to each other. You are welcome
  • Generous hospitality. Tanzanians are, in fact, widely known for their warm, genuine hospitality. In the villages and churches and people’s homes, there was always a special meal, song, and often a gift. You may recall my ill-fated chicken, Kuku? I was given another chicken, and beans, and peanuts, and fabric and many other gifts by people who certainly didn’t seem like they had much to spare.

But there is a hospitality of spirit as well. Regularly, walking to or from work, a Tanzanian would join me, often taking me by the hand, and walk me home. Just because. Once when I was walking home, an elderly woman walked with me and began to talk. I told her, as I so often did, in Swahili, “I don’t speak Swahili,” (at least I think that’s what I was saying). She fussed at me gently, and fair enough, for not learning the language. Then, she invited me to come to her house for dinner any time. And she walked me to show me where her house is, before walking me back home. This is hospitality.

  • Tanzanians are a very spiritual people and in fact, find it very hard to believe that other people don’t believe in God. As I told you before, everything begins with Bwana Asifiwe and a prayer. Everything ends with a prayer. The population of Dodoma is majority Christian, but everyone it seems is very religious and faithful. Tanzanian church services last for hours because they make a joyful noise! Even small churches have several choirs. Prayer is constant. Spirituality is real.
  • Love, of course, is the force that drives the CK program- love of the staff and donors for the Kids and their communities. But there is also a love seen in the people through their greetings and welcomes, for each other and for strangers. And love is what took me there and kept me there, even when I wanted very much to come home. After I had been there a short time, I heard Canon Noah, our beloved Director, obviously talking about me, in Swahili. Finally I asked Rev. Emmanuel, another dear, wonderful co-worker, what he was saying about me. He said, he is saying “She loves everybody.” Probably the nicest things anyone has ever said about me. And not true of course. There were a couple of ex-pats there I didn’t love and there’s that guy I know… But no one comes to Tanzania and doesn’t love the people.

One of the most moving moments I experienced was the evening I introduced a friend to Mr. Donald, the lovely guard you may remember I thought was called Donut. I introduced him as “rafiki yangu,” proud that I had learned to say, “my friend” in Swahili. Later that evening he admonished me, kindly, saying, “I am not your friend. You are my family.” Love.

Welcome. Hospitality. Spirituality. Love.

Let’s go back to the Hobbit for a moment.

“There is nothing like looking if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look. But it is not always the something you were after.”

The epiphany came to me last week when I was talking on the phone with another Episcopal missionary who had been in another part of Tanzania while I was there. We talked about coming home so, of course, I talked about St. Luke’s. That’s when it hit me: the four things- welcome, hospitality, spirituality, and love- that are so special and important and rare about Tanzania are the exact same four things that are so special and important and rare about St. Luke’s.

We are all missionaries. I was just lucky enough to go. Do we all strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being? We do, with God’s help.

On a final note, I became obsessed with the Southern Cross while I was there, the constellation and the song by Crosby, Stills, and Nash. So much in that song has always struck a chord with me. I won’t sing; trust me, you don’t want me too. But, I do think about how many times I have fallen. The Spirit was using me. A larger voice was calling. And there is something about seeing the Southern Cross in the heavens, the first or second or twentieth time. It could be called the Southern Kite, because it has an extra star off the tip. Or it could be called the Southern Diamond. But it’s not. It’s called the Southern Cross. I like to think of it now as looking over Tanzania and all the beautiful friends there. I don’t know when I’ll see them again. But love can endure. And you know it will. You know it will.

Neema ya Bwana wetu, Yeto Kristo, na pendo la mungu, na Ushirika wa Roho Mtakatifu ukae nasi sote sasa na hata milele.

The grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all.

Amen

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Why Carpenter’s Kids?

Sunday was an amazing day in Mwitikira, but that will have to wait. For now, I want to tell a  short story.

This is Manero, before he had surgery, arranged by the staff and paid for by the generous donors of Carpenter’s Kids.1-Maneno pre-surgery

This is Manero after surgery.Maneno.Dabalo.1 He had tubes in his nose for a time, as he does here, but now he is like any other kid.

We have files of pictures of kids- with malformed feet, with eyes that won’t open, with Hansen’s Disease(leprosy) – who thanks to CK, are not only alive but living healthy lives, going to school, learning and playing like other children. I hesitate to put too many before/after pictures, for obvious reasons.

There is a lot of talk these days about moving beyond the sponsorship of individual children to working with systems.  I understand these conversations, and long-term solutions will require this shift to a degree. But for Manero, and Neema, and Winifrida, and Kedimon, and Festo and so many others, it would be many years and far too late before the “system” would give them what they want and need- a chance to be, in the words of one of our kids, “A real person, just like everybody else.”

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Goats, Kalamatas, and Greetings- Ten Reflection on a Year

As my time here in Tanzania winds down, I have ten thoughts to share, things I’ve learned from this wonderful almost-year.

  • Goat: I don’t know if it’s red meat or the other other other white meat, but boy, it’s tasty.
  • There are two things you can say to others and never go wrong: their names and welcome!
  • I do actually have time to greet and be greeted by others. I have time to answer questions about my night of sleep, my health, my family. And I have time to ask those questions, and listen to and care about the answers.
  • Things aren’t always what they seem. Sure we learned that when we were young but it seems like I learn it often here. The easiest and most recent examples are shallow and involve food, but I’ll share anyway. Oranges aren’t always orange. Here they are green. And just yesterday, I was delighted to walk out of our office building to find a produce vendor with a giant bucket full of kalamata olives! Who doesn’t love a kalamata olive? How do I know if they grow olives here? So I bought a good measure, and last night happily popped one in my mouth. Oh. My. Heavens. WHAT IS THIS? This is NOT a kalamata olive! This is AWFUL. Then I realized that this bag of things smelled so bad too that I couldn’t even have it in my house overnight. So I tromped to our trashpit on the other side of the property, where I bumped into Mr. Donald. (Faithful readers may remember Mr. Donald, a beloved guard, from my first posts.) He explained that my “olives” are in fact some kind of wild fruit and he was quite happy to have them. Pastor Emmanuel confirmed this for me this morning and in the Gogo language they are called fulu. Apparently they can also be called Mountain Ash Fruits. fulu Call them what you want. Awful, I tell you. Just awful.
  • A lack of money causes problems that the appearance of money doesn’t always solve.
  • People should complain about big things- corruption, human rights, fake olives. Little things- let ‘em go.
  • I’m tougher than I thought. You probably are too.
  • As hard as it was to come here, it will be harder to leave.
  • Naiveté isn’t efficient but cynicism doesn’t work either. Better to lean toward the former but keep your eyes open.
  • Is there corruption here? Of course. There’s corruption everywhere. Is it worse here? Sure. And Christians are no more immune to it than anyone else. But to focus on that is to miss the point: flawed people (like all of us) can work in flawed systems and still do some pretty great things. For example, this is Festo. festoHe is very sick. He was a Carpenter’s Kid, but he graduated. We see him about once a week because Carpenter’s Kids pays for the medicine that keeps him alive. And that, my friends, is the point, I think.
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One Tomb; Two Teens; the Lottery of Location; and the Rest of Us

A blog entitled “We Are All Carpenter’s Kids” should surely have an Easter post, and I am sorry it didn’t. Wherever you woke up Easter morning, the tomb was empty. Whether you celebrated in one of the world’s richer countries or one of the world’s poorer countries, the tomb was empty.

Last week Brigid, the 15 year old daughter of my best friend Maggie, was in a car hit by a drunk driver. She sustained some fairly serious injuries and was taken immediately to a nearby hospital in Portland, Oregon. She received excellent medical care, has had successful surgery, and though her recovery will be long and painful, she should be heading home today.

Last week, Carpenter’s Kid Aidan Chitawo, also 15, sought treatment for an intestinal blockage that has plagued him for at least a year. I can’t describe the tremendous efforts of his caretakers, including my ever-pastoral, tireless colleagues at the CK office, to obtain care for him. I can’t describe it because I only know the fraction of it- transportation, money, medicines, facilities, accommodations. Aidan died on Thursday, at the third facility to which he was taken, far from his home in the village of Makanda.

The empty tomb promises the ‘resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.’ It does not promise justice for the bodies and lives we have now. That’s up to us. And not just the Us in the world’s richer countries. And not just the Us in the world’s poorer countries. All of Us. All of Us.

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Bucket List Part Two

I gave you all a few extra days so someone could get the trivia question and be in the running for the fabulous prize. But nobody played. Nobody.

I’ll give you the answers anyway because, obviously, I find them interesting. Tanzanite is technically “blue zoisite” which is pronounced close to “blue suicide” which doesn’t sound so great so Tiffany and Co. renamed it. Tiffany was the first company to bring Tanzanite to the attention of the world; “There are now two places you can get Tanzanite- Tanzania and Tiffany.”  I would like the one in the middle, please.

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Tanzanite is a particularly beautiful and extremely rare gem. It is at least 1,000 times rarer than diamonds. It is only found in the Mererani Hills of Tanzania. It is trichromatic- dark red, violet, and sapphire in color, depending on treatment and light. Since 2002, it has been the birthstone for December, representing the first time the birthstone list had been changed since 1912.

tanzanite

Now back to Tanzania and today’s main topic: the people. As of 2013, Tanzania had a population of just over 49 million people, comprised of about 125 distinct tribal groups, according to the Tanzania Tourism Board.  The Sukama and Swahili people are the largest groups, representing about 40% of the population together.  Tanzanians have avoided any significant friction between different groups. About 40% of the population is Christian and about 40% Muslim, and while there have been some small conflicts, for the most part, people live together in harmony.

That harmony, as well as an unparalleled kindness and generosity of spirit are what first and most impressed me about Tanzania when I first visited here in the summer of 2012. I came as a tourist with an American travel company called Overseas Adventure Travel. (Unsolicited plug- they were a great group to travel with!) I traveled with a fabulous collection of 11 other Americans, and I think we were all moved in our way by the people of Tanzania. (One couple, in fact, supports a child in school to this day.) I was immediately struck by the warmth, kindness, and patience evidenced by nearly everyone we met. People at home suggested part of that may be the fact that we were tourists. I thought about that, but something felt so genuine. Turns out, for the most part, Tanzanians in general are as warm and caring as the group who serves the travel industry.

I was walking home from the market down the road yesterday when I came alongside an elderly woman. We chatted as much as we could, with my limited Swahili. She gently, and fairly enough, scolded me for not knowing how to speak much Swahili. Then she invited me to come to her house any time and pointed where it is. This is not unusual. And she means it.

The program with whom I work here has close ties to its partners from other countries, many of whom I’ve met. I haven’t met one person who has been to Tanzania and doesn’t say the same thing: the people are truly lovely. Come for a visit and you’ll see too!

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Today’s Trivia Question: (and I thought everyone liked trivia so you get another chance)

When did the island of Zanzibar join Tanganyika, to form the country called Tanzania?

Posted in Bucket List, Tiffany, Travel | Tagged , , | 16 Comments

Tanzania Should be on Your Bucket List

And today, I am going to tell you some of the reasons why. I have a feeling this is a two-part post, so fascinating is this country and her people. In fact, a friend of mine told me recently that she read somewhere that Tanzania made the list for the 21 things you should do in 2015. It would surely help if I could remember the particular list, where it was published, and even which friend it was, but I can’t. So you’ll have to take my word for it.

Although the people are the reason I came back, we’ll start with the basic country info first. Tanzania has the tallest mountain in Africa, Kilimanjaro; the second largest lake in the world, Victoria; the second deepest lake in the world, Tanganyika; the Serengeti, the Ngorogoro Crater (caldera, really), and some of the Rift Valley. An astonishing 25% of its total land is allotted to wildlife conservation and you can find not only the “Big Five” but also the “Magnificent Seven,” which includes the five- lion, leopard, cheetah, rhino and elephant- and adds the endangered wild dog and chimpanzee. Of course you’ll also find zebra, giraffe, several types of gazelles and antelopes, crocodiles and countless other animal species, including an incredible selection of amazing birds. Tanzania also has a 500 mile coastline, so there are whales, dolphins, turtles, sharks, and an amazing assortment of tropical fish.

Although Ethiopia currently claims the title of Cradle of Mankind, you can go to Oldupai Gorge and see the Leakey’s work. (Yes, when we were growing up and until recently, it was Olduvai Gorge. That has been revealed to be a misspelling on the part of colonial translators.) It was in this area that Mary Leakey discovered the remains of pre-homo-sapien peoples who walked upright and lived here 3.7 million years ago. The Ngorogoro Crater gave us remains of the hominids Australopithcus boisei, also known as Nutcracker Man, and Homo Habilis, Handy Man, who lived almost 2 million years ago.

Arab traders arrived 2,000 years ago; the Portuguese, 1,500 years later, and the British one hundred years after the Portuguese. There are fascinating explorers, Burton, Speke, Livingstone, and Stanley, whose time in Tanzania, for better or worse, provides for some amazing stories. They came for a variety of reasons: mission work and finding the source of the Nile among the two most prevalent. (I’ve recently read terrific biographies of Livingstone, Speke, and Burton. Maybe in the next post, I’ll remember the names to recommend.) Many of their travels began and ended in Tanzania.

More tomorrow. (I hope)

Trivia Quiz- The Tanzanite, which you will surely hear more about, the beautiful stone found only in Tanzania, was first named Tanzanite by what American Company? Bonus question what was it called before that?

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Common House Snake?

Sounds stupid because it is.  Two of my co-workers whom I adore, and I adore them all, how often to you get to say that?- happened to walk by when the photo of the “Common House Snake; the one in the tub,  was on my computer. They looked alarmed- as alarmed as Tanzanians do which isn’t much, and saw the picture I was posting on my blog. They asked why so I gave them the brief version of the snakes at my house, leaving out the SPF part.  The both immediately told me- those are very, very dangerous snakes. Then they repeated that a couple of times. In the future, if I am to see a snake like that, I am to get out and find a guard immediately. Don’t finish your shower.  And don’t touch them! Apparently they are black mamba babies.

The next day I received an email from a dear, dear friend in Virginia, Dr. Joe Gieck, from St. Luke’s, whom I am now convinced, more than ever, knows everything, that in his opinion that was a couple of dangerous snakes. Apparently he is a herpetologist among other things.

It’s a short one today. We’ll get to the fruit and magic potion next week. I just wanted you to know how brave I am when I have no idea what I’m doing.

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Fun with Snakes

So today’s post is  going to be a slice of Tanzania for you. I have so much to share including a magic potion and some thoughts on fruit. But today let’s start with snakes. I’m not super-scared of snakes. I know that snakes are our friends and we shouldn’t typically kill them. And I am not typically a killer. I don’t like to kill animals, except mosquitoes of course. A long time ago, I even gave money to PETA, before they started throwing paint on people, which wasn’t nice. So please don’t judge me too harshly. But several days ago, while I was showering, I happened to notice half way through bathing that there was a small snake moving in and out of my drain.

I dosed him with shampoo so I could rinse. I finished up rather quickly and then tried to figure out what to do about the snake. He can’t stay clearly. But since he was in and out of the drain, I couldn’t grab him. Let’s be honest; I wasn’t going to grab him regardless. So, I guessed I had to kill him. So I soaked him with the closest thing, SPF 45 sunscreen. This did not faze him, so I grabbed the second closest thing, SPF 70 sunscreen. Also no real effect, which just proves what they say: there is no difference between SPF’s once you got to a certain point. Next I poured some powdered laundry soap containing a bleach-like substance on him. That seemed to slow him down and brought him out of the drain all the way. Off I go to make my coffee, thinking I’d come back and get him out, poor dead snake.

He wasn’t in the shower upon my return. In fact he was making his way down the hall to my bedroom. That’s one tough snake. So- and here’s where you’ll have to forgive me- I picked him up with a few napkins, broke him in half, put him in an empty water bottle, and put him in the trash. What kind of life would he have had with all those chemicals on him anyway? A few days later, his brother or sister was walking around my living room. I picked it up gently with a napkin, without any aerosols, and took him outside. But then I got to thinking, two snakes in my house? Is there a mama snake somewhere looking for her boys? I read Riki Tiki Tavi!

I thought I better get some information. There are two dangerous black snakes in Tanzania- the cobra and the black mamba. Now of course even if it had been one of those, these two were too small to do much damage, I figured. I googled black snakes in Tanzania and found lots of big mambas and cobras. Oddly, I also found a picture that looked exactly like what I dealt with in the shower.

snake in shower

It’s called a “Common House Snake.” Common House snake. I can deal with common snakes. I can deal with common houses. Common House Snake? Should there be such a thing? And what if it looks like a common house snake but it grows up to be a mamba, Africa’s longest and fastest snake, and among its most venomous. ?

grown manma

Do they look that different as babies? How long does it take them to grow up? Is there a herpetologist in the group?

Posted in Black Mambas, Stupid City Girl | Tagged , | 11 Comments

50/50

Is all I’m copping to. 50% my fault, 50% technology’s fault. But as soon as I pressed send on the last post, I figured out a way to send the pictures. So here they are.

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GE DIGITAL CAMERA This is Canon Noah, telling the children how proud we all are,and encouraging them to do their best.

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Seconday and Vocational School

If you have been reading my blogs from the beginning (and that’s what all the cool kids are doing) then you know that Carpenter’s Kids is a program started to get vulnerable kids through Primary School.  The 50 most vulnerable kids each from over 100 villages were chosen by a committee in their villages to receive the supplies they need to go to Primary School. Although the schooling is free, the uniforms and supplies and shoes and breakfast are not.

So last week was The Week for the Distribution to the hundreds of students who are now able to continue their education. It was the busiest week I’ve seen anywhere in a while. Each student received all their necessary supplies; the usual things and also blankets and other things they may need if they live in a residential program due to distance from their homes.

Primary School here is similar to kindergarten through sixth grade in the US- 7 years of schooling. Then there is a National Exam students must take and pass to go on to Secondary School; students with A’s, B’s, and C’s can go, based on the Government Policy, to Secondary School. If  they get a D as their average score, they can go to Vocational School. Carpenter’s Kids’ policy is A’s and B’s can to go on to Secondary school with the monetary help provided. Most of the money for this is provided by a single generous donor, with the rest coming from links in the US, UK New Zealand, etc who have chosen to help their students continue with their education. The generous donor has also promised to pay for University for the students who continue to do well, and in fact there are three CK’s in University and a fourth student, from Mwitikira,  who did well through Vocational School, is now working for the government teaching art!

I do have some great pictures but they are on a memory card from a camera, a new idea I had for making pictures easier. I have been trying to download one picture for one hour and 24 minutes. I will put them on Facebook and when Daudi, our Computer god returns, maybe they can even get on here.

The point, which I think can be made without photos is this: When Tanzania achieved independence in 1963, I read they had 11 people with PhD’s.  Those days are changing and it’s great to feel that Carpenter’s Kids will be part of it.  A small part, of course, because the kids, their guardians and supporters, and their teachers are doing the heavy lifting. But it’s nice to see the realization of the dream of an education alive on so many faces.

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