Thursday, Jan. 19
So Day 3 started leisurely. I awoke about 6:45 a.m. hoping to make some instant coffee with the coffee pot on a heating pad in my room, only to find that I couldn’t get it to work. I later learned that none of the rest of crew could get them to work. Not a big problem, however, b/c there was plenty of coffee available at the hotel restaurant, along with a full buffet breakfast with eggs both hard-boiled and cooked to order, breads, fruits, cereals, sausages of various types, etc. So after completing my morning ablutions and repacking my bags, I headed down for my first daylight views of the environs of the resort, which are stunning. The hotel is built on a terraced hillside, with spectacular landscaping, a sand beach and a very large and spacious restaurant with three levels beside the gorgeous waters of Lake Victoria.
As Deacon Denny had cautioned me ahead of time, based on his prior experience of making a similar trip w/ Fr. John this time last year, our “schedule” was very fluid and flexible. We had agreed the night before to be prepared to depart the hotel at 8:30 a.m., but by the time we finally got off after breakfast and checking out, it was closer to 10:00 a.m.
With the size of our group and the quantity of our luggage, Fr. Matthew and two other drivers from the Diocese of Geita had picked us up at the airport in three vehicles the night before, and when we got to the hotel, we took from those vehicles only the bags we needed for our personal use, leaving the bags with all gifts and cloth for the sewing project in the vehicles overnight. (BTW, the Tanzanians pronounce “sewing” as “suing,” and being a lawyer, I pointed out to Fr. Matthew that the word pronounced as “suing” had a significance to me that was quite different from the significance of the word pronounced as “sewing.” Fr. Matthew and Fr. John got a kick out if that.)
After having breakfast and checking out of the hotel this morning, we repacked our luggage in the three vehicles, sorting those bags we would need for today and tomorrow from those we wouldn’t need until after we got to the Diocese of Geita on Friday night.
One of the three vehicles went off to Geita with the latter group of bags, leaving took us an SUV and a pick-up truck. We took a group picture at the front entrance of the hotel with about 10 cameras/iPhones and then headed into Mwanza proper, with Fr. Matthew driving the SUV. Augustine, one of the three drivers employed by the Diocese of Geita, drove the pick-up truck.
Mwanza, the second largest city in Tanzania, is a huge and crowded city of approximately two million people. (Dar es Salaam is the largest, with about six million people.) The traffic in Mwanza is hectic and crazy, with the streets being used by pedestrians, cars, SUVs, vans, buses, motorcycles, bicycles and homemade vehicles utilizing converted small trucks and motorcycles to create vehicles with cargo containers like the beds of pick-up trucks. The streets are narrow and winding and lined with sidewalk merchants arraying and selling goods and products of all kinds. Unemployment in the cities in Africa is reportedly between 25 and 30 percent, and there were many people on the sidewalks and streets who appeared to have nothing to do.
In Mwanza our first task was to get local currency, which we did at a currency exchange in downtown Mwanza that Fr. Matthew and Fr. John knew. They negotiated a very favorable rate for conversion of American dollars to Tanzanian shillings (2,234 shillings/$1 American), and several of us exchanged some of our American currency for Tanzanian currency. Then a few of us also went with Fr. Matthew to an ATM across the street, which was guarded by an armed guard, in order to get additional local currency. Our limit for withdrawal on one account was a one-time withdrawal of a maximum of 400,000 Tanzanian shillings (about $180 U.S.).
While some of us were getting local currency, Anthony and Fr. John went to buy sim cards to use in their smart phones for calls in country, so as to save on data charges.
After we got our cash, Father Matthew escorted a couple of us a few blocks to the office of the travel agency that had supplied our airline tickets for our round-trip flights between Dar es Salaam and Mwanza. The agents, a husband and wife, provided us hard copies of the itineraries/tickets for the entire group (we had all used electronic versions to get our boarding passes for the flight from Dar to Mwanza), and I paid them for a ticket in my given name that replaced one that Fr. Matthew had originally bought for me in the name of “Salty Galvis,” which was not only unusable but, unfortunately, also not refundable. (This was just part of the “journey.”)
Everything was happening at a very slow and deliberate pace, and about an hour and a half passed while we waited for everyone to finish their errands, alternately going and coming and sitting in the lobby of the hotel building in which the currency exchange was located.
Once we all reunited at the hotel, we went to the office of the Masumin (which means “innocent”) Tours and Safaris, Ltd., the outfitter for the safari we’ll take in Serengeti Nat’l Park at the end of our trip. Along the way we saw every sign of the abject poverty in which many people in Mwanza live. (For example, we saw people bathing in Lake Victoria.) We paid Mehboob, one of the owners of Masumin, in advance for our safari, while Anthony and Fr. Matthew went to buy automobile parts. Much more time than we needed to pay for our safari passed before Anthony and Fr. Matthew returned from their parts shopping.
Then off we went to travel for a couple hours to Isole, Fr. John’s home village. On the way we had to take a ferry across a finger of Lake Victoria, which is simply beautiful.
The wait for the ferry was about a quarter of an hour, and the ferry ride took about half an hour. Then it was a long drive over primarily dirt roads to Isole, a primitive village in the north part of Tanzania. Along the road we passed innumerable residents of the villages and clans through which we passed, men, women and children, as they were herding their African cattle to or from watering holes and/ or fields where they could graze the cattle, going to and from the watering holes with containers of various sizes to get or take to their homes water (there are no waterworks or municipal or public sources of water anywhere in these areas, which are very dry, and watering holes fed by sparse rain water are the only sources for the people and their herds. We also passed men and women carrying wood and other building supplies and other goods and children coming from their schools. Walking, bicycles and motorcycles are the primary sources of transportation in this and all other areas of rural Tanzania, and we passed relatively few other vehicles, those being an occasional truck or bus carrying people or goods. All traffic in Tanzania travels on the left sides of the roads and the cars and trucks are left-hand drive vehicles.
At about 3:15 p.m. we finally arrived at Fr. John’s home to a raucous and warm welcome by many, many members of Fr. John’s very large family.
Handshakes, hugs, and joyful laughter with the many greetings took many minutes, and then we were ushered into the house to wash our hands and sit down for lunch. We were given beers and water to drink. Fr. John’s parents, Celestin and Coleta, sat at one end of the dining-room table, with the eight of us sitting around the table as well. All if the other family members sat in the living room or outside in the front of the house. Ladies brought in many and copious bowls of fried chicken, fried tilapia, rice vegetables and other dishes. Then, to our amazement, they brought us ice cream, which was a special occurrence for a special occasion. Since Fr. John’s family has no way to refrigerate anything the ice cream had to be purchased that day and kept cold until our arrival by keeping it in a closed container until it could be served and eaten.
After lunch, we all went outside for introductions and fellowship, and then our group began distributing our gifts of candy, a couple soccer balls and an inflator, rosaries and other items to all the members of Fr. John’s family. The numerous children were delighted thrilled with the candy especially, but the young men as well as the kids were delighted with the soccer balls. I had been practicing and coaching others in our group in speaking a few words and expressions of Swahili that Fr. John had provided us at one of our planning meetings before our trip began, and Fr. John’s family members got a kick out of our frequently clumsy efforts to speak those words and expressions to them.
At about 6:15 p.m., we finally took our leave from Fr. John’s family for the drive to Christ the King Parish, a sister parish to Christine and Eleanor’s home parish, Immaculate Heart of Mary in Northglenn, CO. Fr. George, the pastor of Christ the King Parish and the headmaster of the girls’ high school there, has been to Colorado and knew Eleanor and Christine, and they were excited to see Fr. George and their sister parish. Christ the King is located in Nyantakubwa, about a half-hour’s drive over very rough roads from Isole. As we left Fr. John’s home we saw many kids and young men playing soccer in a couple nearby soccer fields, using one of the soccer balls we had provided in one of the fields.
The drive to Christ the King was interesting as night fell, and the various pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists appeared on the road suddenly in the beam if our headlights and we dodged them and the deep ruts and holes in the road. We went through Sengerema, where a hospital and many roadside markets are located. The road was clogged with people shopping at the markets, and we had to dodge them also. Along the way, Anthony, Fr. Matthew, Jay and Jill separated from Christine, Eleanor, Fr. John and I, who were riding in the pick-up truck driven by Augustine, as Fr. Matthew and Anthony needed to book hotel rooms to spend the night in Nyantakubwa proper, while The rest of us were going to stay with Fr. George at his rectory. Fr. Matthew, Anthony, Jill, Jay and Scott would rejoin us at Christ the King after Fr. Matthew and Anthony secured their rooms in the hotel in Nyantakubwa.
We weren’t quite prepared for the amazing welcome we received as we drove into the long driveway at Christ the King. All 300 of the schoolgirls were out lining both sides of the driveway and joyously singing a song of welcome for us. As we entered the driveway they all pressed close to the pick-up, so I rolled down my window and stuck out my hand to shake hands with the girls. About two-thirds up the long driveway one of the girls grabbed my hand and wouldn’t let go, walking the rest of the way up the driveway to the rectory alongside the pick-up. We got out of the truck and walked up onto the porch as the girls continued singing to us for another five minutes before Fr. George asked them to stop so we could be introduced to the girls. As each one of us introduced himself or herself the girls cheered loudly, and when I spoke a couple phrases of thanks for their welcome, they roared in laughter. Finally, Fr. George dismissed the girls to their dorms and welcomed us into his spacious and nicely appointed home. We had introductions to Fr. George, Fr. Salvatore (newly ordained), the assistant priest and assistant headmaster if the school, Savorina, the matroness of the school, and another very nice young lady on whose name I’m currently having a senior moment of forgetfulness.
We had beers and soft drinks and chatted while we waited for the rest of our crew to rejoin us. In the meantime we were shown to our rooms for the night. They all had their own bathrooms with showers or tubs. The rest of the group showed up about an hour after us, and then we had dinner and exchanged gifts. Christine and Eleanor presented Fr. Matthew with a 32-inch 2017 Paschal candle. Fr. George presented each one of us with a large plaque of wood on which was painted a picture to remind us of Africa. I got one with an elephant. Finally, at about 12:30 a.m. we headed off to bed for the night. What an amazing, fulfilling and joyful first full day in Tanzania.