Wednesday, August 10, 2011

#1 - "Karibu"

#1 - Karibu

I used to love hearing the word "Caribou" because it reminded me of my favorite coffee shop.  Now, after these weeks in Tanzania I love this word  "karibu" (spelled a bit differently) because it reminds me of the deeply welcoming nature of my family here.

"Karibu" means welcome.  You hear it often. "Welcome to Tanzania."  "Welcome to our home."  "You are welcome for dinner."  But its more than welcome (and this isn't official, but it is my official observation) it is something like "you are not just a guest here, this home, this country, the meal - I fully share what I have with you."

During our house to house visits I never got tired of hearing the words "hodi hodi," followed quickly by "karibu."  In lieu of a doorbell, "hodi hodi" is the sound you make to let someone know you've arrived.  You always say "hodi" in a pitch an octave higher than your normal voice. If the person is home, they don't have to check to see who it is first to make sure its an acceptable visitor.  No, they respond "karibu" because everyone is welcome.

This is the "take away" of this entire trip for me.  You are welcome.  Here I am, a stranger from an altogether different culture and language, and these people have welcomed me in a way that is beyond necessary.  When I enter someone's home, they take my bag, so I don't have to carry it.  They send me home with beautiful produce from their gardens that they could have sold at the market or used to feed their families.  They call me their pastor and they name their children after me.

Sometimes I try to imagine how we would welcome visitors from Tanzania to our church.  Would we pull out the proverbial red carpet and do our level best to make sure that they felt truly at home?  Would we send an entourage to the airport to greet them with bundles of flowers?  Would we invite them into our homes and consider it a blessing just that they passed through our doorway? I hope so, but I'm not altogether certain.

I am in love with this Swahili word "karibu," but more importantly I am in love with the people who use it so frequently and who so genuinely mean it.

This word, more importantly the sentiment behind the word is how I know that today is not really goodbye, but "I will see you again."  I also know that whenever it is that I return there will be a warm welcome from these brothers and sisters awaiting me.

Until then ....

#2 - Pastor Mmanga

#2 - Pastor Mmanga

Where to begin?  Over the course of the last 12 weeks I have probably spent the most time with Pastor Mmanga.  He has been my host, my college, my entertainment, and my friend.  I can't tell you how hard I've laughed during some of our conversations, or how inspired I've been at his dedication to and vision for the church.

One day, just before John was to begin teaching at Uroki, I was wondering how long it takes to drive from church down to school.  So as we were passing Uroki, I checked to see what time it was.  It was 2:00.  We drove 3 kilometers and got home at 3:00.  This is because Pastor Mmanga likes to stop to roll down his window and greet each and every person he sees.  He is really a very busy person, but he always takes the time to stop and give the members of the church his full attention.

He knows everybody.  Pastor Mmanga has been at Uswaa for less than a year and he really knows everybody in the village.  He knows his way around the place, he knows who is related to who, and he knows who is attending church regularly and who is not.  He knows people (because he's willing to take the time to stop and talk to them) and the people trust him.

I love Pastor Mmanga's vision for the church.  He really wants to empower the church to to sustain itself.  He wants Uswaa to grow and bring change to the village and to the individuals who live there.  Daily, he stops down at the church's small business (a rock crushing machine) to make sure things are working and moving along.  He checks in on the church shambas frequently too, to see how things are growing and to encourage the people out working in them.  He's got dreams for the church, the church needs more pastors with big dreams.

On top of all this, he's just a fun person.  We have laughed so much.  For instance, recently we've been laughing about how John had his hand in his pocket when he was giving greetings in worship on Sunday.  Pastor Mmanga kept taking John's hand out of John's pocket.  In the course of this conversation we learned that when you put your hands in your pockets when you are talking in front of a group it is like telling the people that you're better than them.  This, he said, is almost as bad as giving someone a gift that is not wrapped or in a bag.  That (no gift wrapping) is just not human.

When driving Pastor Mmanga likes to take different routes whenever possible, we never know where we are and then suddenly we arrive at our destination.  He loves watching or reading the news and giving us updates on what's happening in America.  He loves tennis, particularly Serena Williams.  He usually yawns during prayer.  He makes this sound like a rabbit when he's thinking.  He loves his wife and his family.

As we were driving to his home on Sunday night, he said "you're leaving tomorrow, I wonder if we shall see each other again."  I told him that even if he's not at Uswaa (and I hope hope hope he is) on my next visit I will hunt him down!  That's a promise.

I am beyond grateful for having this particular pastor and friend during my sabbatical.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Mama and Harieth

Mama Mmanga

On Monday I spent the day in Mama Mmanga's kitchen. 

It was such a fun day.  Mama doesn't speak any more English than I do Swahili.  So sweet 10 year old Harieth stood by us all day long translating cooking instructions and conversation between teacher and student.  Pastor bopped in and out telling us how easy this all was, then he tried to roll out a skin for a samosa and his completely fell apart so he left again.

Everything was from scratch.  We took fresh coconuts, chopped them in half and ground out the white stuff.  We took a big hunk of beef, cut it up into smaller chunks and then ran it through a meet grinder.  We peeled garlic, chopped onions, and sliced green peppers.  We mixed flour and water with our bare hands and used an old Heineken bottle for a rolling pin.

We made samosas, chipati, and coconut beans and rice.  Tonight and dinner I declared this to be the best meal of my trip and I really really mean that.  Seriously, I really hope I can recreate the coconut beans and rice when I return home or else its going to be a very long wait until I can come back here again.


This is 10 Year old Harieth.  She is really an amazing kid.  She goes to an English medium school and her English is impeccable.  She told me today that her favorite subject is English.

Here are three of my favorite parts of the day with Harieth.  While we were peeling garlic, she kept sneaking cloves and sucking on them.  All day she had a clove under her tongue and she would say to me "this garlic is so nice."

We were sitting together at the table reading a book when the rooster wandered into the living room.  When she saw it, she got down on the tile floor on her hands and knees and crept over to the couch and then jumped up on it to scare the bird.  It worked.  The bird lost its footing, stumbled about three times and the high tailed it out the door.  I really wish I had caught that on video!

Finally, she really wanted to use my computer all day.  So I set her up with Microsoft Word and let her go.  She wrote me the following story. 

Once there was an old woman. And there was a girl known as Ruth with her brother called Michal. So one day they went to the forest to take the fruit. Then Ruth saw the snake. then Ruth start to say Ma…Mai….Michal. He looked down and said then let us go in. Michal said what are you say? And if you see a snake agen who is going to help you agen? But Ruth didn’t care what Michal was talking. Then she went in the house .Oh she saw an old woman.The old woman uasked what is your name young girl? Then Ruth said my name is……is Ruth.Then Michal was asked the same question but he was so afraid and he said that his name was Michal. Then the old woman gave them a ring.Then she said any thing you want ask the ring.The old woman disappeared.And Ruth and her brother were happy.FINISH.


She even changed the font color herself to red.  I love this girl.

I loved this day. 

#3 – Fabric

#3 – Fabric

It’s okay for me to have one really superficial item in my top ten right?

Few people besides my mom and my aunts will be able to fully understand my reason for picking fabric as
one of my favorite things. The fabric choices here mesmerize me. I love “people watching” anyway, but here the women adorn themselves with these beautiful fabrics that just have me staring. The colors are bright and the patterns are bold, naturally these are my two favorite things when it comes to fabric and clothing.

The other day I wrote about how Pastor Mmanga helped me search for a very specific piece of fabric that I had spotted at a funeral. We didn’t find it that day, but we tried again on Saturday. I dragged Pastor Mmanga and John along to countless fabric shops looking for it with no success. I do have 4 other really nice pieces of fabric as a consolation prize!

My mom emailed recently and said “I suppose you’re bringing home a whole stack of fabric.” Oh yes I am, and like any fabric lover, I have no specific plans for any of it.

Here's just a small sampling of some of my favorites.


Monday, August 8, 2011

#4 – The Women’s Group

#4 – The Women’s Group

For most of the first half of my trip here I got the chance to teach a weekly seminar to the women of Uswaa. Usually we would be about 40 in our Thursday afternoon gatherings. This will be one of my fondest memories of Uswaa. On that first day I had given them an assignment to get into groups and talk about something. Then I sat down in my chair and I just looked at those women and I scribbled the following down in my notebook:

To the women of Uswaa, I love that you work with such courage, laugh with such abandon, grieve with such intensity, gather with such purpose, sing with such energy, live with such strength, and love with so much of your heart.

This has not ceased to be true. I look at these women who have so much heavy, manual work to do, and yet they join together in laughter and sharing, with wisdom and song.

When the women gather, they have a lesson first. This lesson is usually a Bible Study or some sort of educational thing related to cooking, health, parenting, or gardening. Then they spend the bulk of their time working on craft projects. I love sitting and watching them work. I’m useful in helping to thread needles or the sewing machine, but I relish listening to them laugh and talk with each other. They really enjoy the company of one another.

If I could wish for one thing during the time with these women it would be that I could speak Swahili. There is so much that I think we would like to say to each other that just doesn’t translate.

Today after our farewell worship service so many of these familiar faces, Mama Ray, Mama Anko, Mama Ufoo, Mama Manda, Mama Neema, Mama Agape, Mama Sion … I could go on … came up to me and we couldn’t say much to each other, but our eyes spoke words of love and gratefulness.

I am in awe of these women and so thankful to have been accepted as one of them for these few weeks.

Farewell Sunday

Today was farewell Sunday. 

It was a big one. We had two services, two sacraments, and two crying Americans, and a congregation full of people gathered together for the glory of God. Amen.

Today it was so much fun to be a pastor at Uswaa. I got to preach, baptize, and share bread and wine with this amazing community. I got to listen to this congregation sing and laugh and praise God. I suppose because I’m leaving in three days it all seemed so much bigger and more sacred. I just wanted to push pause and stay in that moment a little bit longer.

I really sort of thought I was ready to go home, ready to see my family, my church, and sleep in my own bed again. Today during worship I just started to think that in so many ways these people are my family too, this is my church too, and this bed I’ve been sleeping in for the last 12 weeks is really quite comfortable. All of these thoughts were followed by more tears.

Earlier in the summer Evi wrote me this note that said “may this time be worth of your heart.” Today in that worship service I just kept playing those words back over and over in my mind.

It is.

It has been.

It will continue to be.

My heart is just all soaked up in the love and hospitality of this place.

So get ready, I’m coming back to share it with you!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

#5 – Prayer

#5 – Prayer

A couple of weeks ago we had dinner with this group from the Nebraska synod. There were only two Tanzanians there, otherwise all Americans. Before we ate, they looked at me and said that I should pray, being a pastor and all.

It felt a bit odd at the time, and later it occurred to me that this was the first time I had been asked to pray before a meal, other than the meals at our home.

Everyone here knows how to pray.

That shouldn’t be a strange statement, but in the U.S. it is my experience that most people are fairly uncomfortable praying out loud in front of a group. The pastors are always called upon to pray. Here the pastors really only pray in worship or when they visit a person’s home.

The kitchen people pray, the children pray, the Secondary School students pray, and the mamas and the babas pray.

I don’t speak Swahili, but I imagine that they are praying these deeply spiritual and eloquent prayers. They never say “um” and they never pause to think about what’s next. They just pour their hearts out to God. I always hear the words for “thank you” used over and over again during prayer. I’ve learned I don’t need to know this language to pray, the melodic voices just ooze with connection to our Creator.

I will miss these quiet and grateful prayers.

To Town We Go

On Thursday Pastor Mmanga and I took a trip to town, it was just this random day of running errands, but it was a joy for me to just spend time with my colleague and do some “people watching.”

We started at the bank. In order to complete the roof at Nkiraawanga they have to bring electricity to the area. The power company is corrupt here and they can’t begin the work because they have no money. So we have to buy telephone poles and 1200 meters of electrical wire and have the supplies there before they will start. At the bank we had to transfer the money into the account of a man who is securing the supplies.
Chairman Fredrick Urassa

Then we had a small meeting with our favorite chairman Fredrick Urassa, always a good time.

Then to the Diocese bookstore so I could buy some exercise books for Irene, some pens for me, and an African novel I’ve been hearing about called “Weep Not, Child.” Reading material for the plane ride home I guess.

Now lunch, I had a hamburger and chips (French fries), two samosas, and a passion fruit soda. Um, yes, I ended the meal uncomfortably full.

Then, Pastor had another meeting about building supplies. I sat in the car reading Wuthering Heights, which is one dark novel.

Next we stopped at a little shop with some random assortment of supplies. I sat in the car, but soon was beckoned in and asked to pick out a pair of shoes. Pastor Mmanga doesn’t even know how much I love my shoes and here he was determined to send me back home with a pair of African sandals. I love them.

After this we took a trip around an assortment of fabric shops looking for a particular Kanga that I saw some wearing at a funeral, we never did find it so I guess I’m giving up that dream. But it was incredibly nice for Pastor to make such a valiant effort to find it.

I was getting tired and we were getting back into the car to go again. I stood by the door waiting for him to unlock it for me. He looked at me and said “Sara, you’re in Africa.” I said “I know, I should be soaking up every last moment but I’m tired.” “No,” he said “you’re trying to get into the wrong side of the car.” And so I was.

Now we took a trip through two different markets. We bought 6 mangos, some citrus fruits that are something like tangerines, and some other vegetables too.

Finally, we stopped at Old Moshi Secondary School to visit Pastor’s son Kripton. It was nice to visit with him a bit, Pastor Mmanga has the nicest kids in the country!

Then back to Uswaa. Just bouncing along in his little Suzuki talking about the church, the country, and a million other things that matter to no one but us.

When we arrived back at Uswaa, the power was out and the village was dark. It was time for supper and bed. Pastor came in and joined us for supper and we laughed and laughed as we recounted the day to John.

I love when ordinary days turn out to be extraordinary. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

#6 – Walking Through the Village

#6 – Walking Through the Village

I think my favorite activity is just taking a walk out into the village. On these walks we go off the main road onto the back roads and trails. Here we see all of the people out working in their yards or small farms, we follow the water rushing down this elaborate system of irrigation channels, and we see the various stages of bananas, beans, coffee, and peas growing. Here is where I’ve seen, on four different occasions, bush babies.

Here we get to see what no tourist sees. The real life and homes of the people of Tanzania are right there under the cover of the bush live 15,000 people with families, farms, and homes, their schools and churches. Along these paths is where we get to see and greet the people and it is where I found out that if you don’t have a piece of scratch paper and a pen, you can take a bit of banana leaf and a twig and write out a phone number. Here is where I get to practice my chagga greetings and hear people laugh out loud with joy that I care a little bit about their language. I will never grow tired of that laugh.

Last week we were walking in the village and I stopped to take a picture of some bananas. The woman laughed and laughed and asked why in the world I would want a picture of her bananas and not her. So I turned to take a picture of her and she ran away. When I had put the camera away she came back, she told me about her 10 children, and she asked me to buy her a kichagga hymn book. The book is purchased and on Tuesday I will deliver it.

On these walks we get to hear the primary school children following behind us and laughing to be so near to these strange visitors. We also get to hear the Secondary School students practicing their English. I can tell how advanced they are by the chosen greeting. They all know “good morning,” but not all of them know what time of day to use it. Sometimes John will hear a student say “good morning Madame” in the evening hours.

Last Monday we walked across 80% of the entire parish. We were on a sort of House to House mission.

When I got back I asked Pastor Shao if he could draw out a simple map for me so that I could see the layout of the village. I’m a visual learner. He said that he would ask one of the elder members of the congregation to make me a map.

Today he showed up with that map.

It is awesome.

It’s going right home to hang on the wall in my house alongside my maps from the boundary waters to remind me of one of my favorite places in the whole wide world to hike and experience the amazing beauty of God’s creation. 

Burial Humor

Two Random Bits of Burial Humor

Today Pastor Shao and I were trying to figure out which day we had done a certain thing. That certain thing doesn’t matter at all, but as we were discussing dates on the calendar he remembered that this certain thing had happened on the same day as a particular funeral.

It was a funeral I couldn’t remember. He said “yes, you remember we had it in the morning.”
I said “no, funerals are always in the afternoon, 1:00 right.”

“No,” he said “not that one, we had it in the morning because there was such a bad smell.”

I definitely had not been at that funeral, so Pastor Shao continued to describe the day to me. The man had died 12 days earlier in Dar Es Salaam, it took them so long to get the body to Uswaa that when the casket arrived at the family home in the morning, the brother decided they must move up the burial.

Pastor said that all of the people stood back as far as possible, but the pastor and evangelist leading the service were in pain from a smell so bad it made their eyes water. He said that they were so greatly relieved when the dirt was back in the ground.

We laughed so hard, we forgot all about what we had been talking about in the first place.

Pastor Mmanga is constantly trying to get me to eat more. He says that I need to go back to Nebraska a “huge mama.” We joke about this all the time. So far I think I’m the same size as when I started. Whew. He says that mamas need to be huge because they do all of the work. It’s true, women here do most of the hard labor. 

Today during tea, I was putting just a small amount of sugar in my tea and telling him that at home I never put sugar in my tea. He responded that he shouldn’t be using sugar either. I asked him if that was because he didn’t want to become fat. Then he went into this long explanation about how glucose works (which of course I already knew) where if you take in more glucose than you burn up you will get fat. Yes, I told him I agreed with his reasoning.

Then he said “I should stop eating sugar so I don’t become fat because I don’t want those ants snacking on my body when I’m dead and buried.”