Day 5 – Fr. John’s Tanzania Mission Trip

Saturday, Jan. 21

Day 5 started for me around 6:00 a.m., a couple hours earlier than breakfast was scheduled at Bishop Flavian’s house, because I wanted to try to work on my journal before breakfast, which was scheduled for 8:00 or 8:30 a.m. I worked on it for a short while after saying some prayers and then got dressed and went to the bishop’s house. Breakfast was very pleasant but relatively short, because we had a lot to do to get started on our projects. For me the main thing was to have coffee. (It’s hard for me to start any morning without coffee first thing, and bottled water doesn’t do it for me.)


After breakfast, our entire group walked over to a large building on the diocese’s campus where we were to meet the women who wanted to learn to sew. As we passed an intermediate building housing the offices of the diocese’s Development Department, of which Fr. Matthew is in charge, a group of some 40 plus women singing joyful songs of welcome met us and accompanied us to the sewing shop singing and dancing along the way. It was a wonderful greeting. We got to shop to find some 40 plus sewing machines set up on work tables and more than 40 women eager to start learning what Jill, Christine and Eleanor could teach them about sewing.


Fr. Mathew and Fr. John made initial introductions. Fr. Matthew announced to us what the women were expecting to learn, which included embroidery, something none of the women in our group was prepared to teach them, but Jill calmly said they’d give it a shot. Fr. Matthew then pointed out some of the new sewing machines that the donations from the folks in Colorado had funded. Fr. John gave the women an overview of our mission and then had each of us introduce ourselves to the group. The women got a kick out of our efforts to do so in Swahili, especially when I spoke my version of Swahili’s nice-to-meet-you greeting. Fr. Matthew introduced a woman who would serve as interpreter for our ladies, and then that lady told us that 46 women from various communities in the diocese had signed up for the sewing classes. She then had the women from each community stand up as she announced their communities. (A few of the women weren’t present yet due to the long distance they were willing to travel to get there.) Then it was time for us men to take our leave and allow our ladies to get started on their teaching.

Skipping ahead in this chronology, I advise that Jill told us at the end of the day that, while dealing with some technical difficulties with the older machines that were apparently missing bobbins, the ladies made great progress. Our three ladies were very pleased and excited with the eagerness and abilities of the local women, especially a woman named Beatrice, whom Jill said the diocese should hire as the supervisor of the sewing project.

When we men left the sewing shop, we went in vehicles to the diocese’s vocational training center, where a vehicle maintenance garage, a welding shop, and a vo-tech school are located. We were somewhat surprised and dismayed to find that of the three vehicles that Anthony, Fr. Matthew and Fr. John were hoping to restore to functionality, two were so old and so dilapidated as to be unsuitable for repair and restoration, which would have been so extensive that the cost would have exceeded the cost of buying replacement vehicles. Nevertheless, the thought seemed to be that the men at the vo-tech school could learn something about mechanical repair by dismantling those vehicles. Many of the students of the vo-tech school were summoned and we spent some time talking to them about their experience as mechanics. About three of the men professed to be mechanics or to have some experience in mechanical work, and Anthony spent some time talking to them.

At this point I have to say that I was present that morning at the vo-tech school only because it was Saturday, and so there were no classes at the school at which I would be teaching the high-school girls. But I felt pretty useless in assisting with either the automobile mechanical work and instruction or the welding instruction. My knowledge of automobile mechanics ended in the early 70s, after I had spent some time working at a gasoline service station and had done some mechanical work on a couple of ’57 Chevy Bel-Aires I owned at the time. Also, I have no experience whatsoever in welding. As I told Anthony, my attempting to assist in either automobile mechanical work or welding would have been as useful as a goat looking at a watch. (That was an expression I had learned more than 30 years ago when a crusty old attorney had said it to me.) At first Anthony replied that I could at least be useful in handing tools to mechanics, but that was before the futility of undertaking the repair of the vehicles in question became apparent. Once Anthony realized that only one of the three vehicles in question could be restored to service and that he needed to go back to Mwanza for more auto parts and some welding helmets and other materials, he told me that I could stay at the diocese and work on my journal, since I hadn’t had much waking time to do so. So Anthony and Fr. John decided to go back to Mwanza not only to buy auto parts and welding helmets but also to check at the Mwanza airport and the Malaika Beach Resort for the three missing bags (Jill’s garment bag, the “stars bag” and the bag containing the religious articles that didn’t show up at the airport in Dar es Salaam when we arrived there on Wednesday afternoon). Scott elected to go with Fr. John and Anthony on the long round trip to Mwanza and back, and Jay decided to stay at the diocese and be of whatever service he could be to the ladies working on the sewing project.

After Anthony, Fr. John and Scott left, Fr. Matthew took Jay and me to his office in the Development Department’s building, where he has the only Internet connection on the campus. Jay immediately connected to the Internet with his iPhone and began doing his thing with it. I walked back to the guest house to get my laptop and its appurtenances, my electrical outlet plugs and converter, and my chargers for my electronic devices. When I got back to Fr. Matthew’s office neither Fr. Mathew nor Jay was there. (I learned later that Jay had gone back to the sewing shop to assist the ladies there as he could.) I was delighted to find an unused outlet close to a work table in the office, and I plugged in everything to provide electrical power to my laptop, my portable iPhone charger, and my iPhone. I then began working on my journal. By this time it was well after 11:00 a.m., as everything that morning had happened on “Africa time,” meaning that nothing happened in a hurry. My first act was to forward to my e-mail distribution list my journal for Day 3 of the trip. Then I began trying to complete my journal for Day 4, which I hadn’t had an opportunity to work on previously. Shortly after I began working on the journal for Day 4, Fr. Matthew returned to his office and kindly asked what I might need to be fully functional. I assured him that I was all set and told him about my journaling efforts. I asked him if he’d like to get the entries, and he said he would and gave me his business card, which had two e-mail addresses, to both of which he asked me to send the journals. I added those addresses to my bcc distribution list and then forwarded to Fr. Matthew all the prior journals.

Shortly after I resumed work on my latest journal, Eleanor came into the office, apparently just before or after the women at the sewing shop had taken their lunch break. She asked me if I could help her get in touch with her son Jason, as she was concerned that he might be worried about her, since he hadn’t heard from her since we had left Denver. Bless her heart, Eleanor, who is a bit older than I, still uses a flip-phone from the pre-smart-phone era and an ancient computer, and she’s not very conversant with the current electronic communications devices or methods. (She insists that she prefers not to become more modern in those regards.) I had let her use my iPhone to call her son’s phone number the night before, and she seemed incredulous that we could do that. She had gotten his voice-mail when she called him, so she didn’t have a chance to speak to him, and he hadn’t called back on my iPhone since then. So she wanted to try to reach her son Jason to let him know that she was fine. She wanted to know if I could e-mail him, but as I explained to her, that was impossible for me to do without his e-mail address, which she didn’t have. She did have his phone number, however, and once I confirmed with her that he could receive text messages, I told her that we could text him and ask him to send me his e-mail address, after which I could send him my journals by e-mail. Setting up a text message to Jason’s number took a while as I explained to Eleanor what we were going to do, and once I had the message addressed, I gave my iPhone to Eleanor to allow her to compose an e-mail message but had to show her how to use the phone’s touchpad to do so. As she worked on composing her message, I assisted her with using the touchpad and reviewed and edited her message for her, and I saw in it that she wanted Jason to forward my “e-mail” (text message) to “Aunt Esther.” I asked her if she had Aunt Esther’s phone number and whether Aunt Esther could also receive text messages, and when she confirmed both those things to me, I told her that we could send one text message to both Jason and Aunt Esther, who was Eleanor’s sister and not her aunt. So I added Esther’s phone number to Jason’s, revised the text message to address both Jason and Esther and finally sent it off. I confirmed to Eleanor that the message had been delivered and she thanked me. I also added to my e-mail distribution list the e-mail address of one of her friends, Tom McLauglin, which Eleanor (surprisingly and somewhat inconsistently to my OCD way of thinking) had on her sheet of paper with her son’s and sister’s phone numbers (but not their e-mail addresses). I forwarded my prior messages to Tom and confirmed to Eleanor, to her delight, that those messages had been sent successfully. Eleanor then left, I assumed to go back to the sewing shop. The whole process with Eleanor had taken about a half hour or so, and shortly after she left Fr. Matthew returned and told me that it was time for lunch. I looked at my watch and realized that it was after 1:00 p.m. At that point I had been able to work on my journal for only about 45 minutes and would have liked to keep working, but we were having lunch with Bishop Flavian, so I left and accompanied Fr. Matthew to the bishop’s house.

Lunch with Bishop Flavian, Fr. Matthew, Jay, Jill, Christine and Eleanor was very nice, but in what appears to me to be typical African fashion it was prolonged, and it was 3:00 p.m. before we finished. Jill, Eleanor and Christine had great reports on the progress they had made with the sewing project, and the bishop was pleased. However, Jill pointed out that they had used much or most of the fabric they had left of what we had brought to Tanzania without the missing two bags of additional fabric. There was more discussion of the possible whereabouts of the “stars bag” but no conclusion was determined.

At 3:00 p.m. the ladies returned to the sewing shop, and I headed back to Fr. Matthew’s office, unaccompanied by Fr. Matthew, who was engaged in a conversation with the bishop and some other gentlemen in the bishop’s dining room when I left. (I’m not sure where Jay went at that time.) I assumed that I could get back into Fr. Matthew’s office, but when I go there the door was locked. So I returned to the bishop’s house, but when I got there, Fr. Matthew had just left but, according to the bishop, should have been in the lounge. I looked in the lounge, but no Fr. Matthew. I looked around the outside premises of the house, but no Fr. Matthew there, either. So I headed back to his office, hoping I would run into him there. He wasn’t there, but one of his assistants who saw me from an office on the other side of the courtyard, came over and let me into his office. At this point it was about 3:30 p.m. Fr. Matthew arrived at his office shortly after and asked me if I was ready to go get a sim card for my iPhone that would allow me to have excellent phone, data and e-mail connections in Tanzania for a very low price. I said yes, and then Fr. Matthew got on the phone to see if the business was open, it being now close to 4:00 p.m. on Saturday. He apparently didn’t get an answer, but we decided to go anyway. I told him I’d need a few minutes to pack up my stuff, and then he told me that he had to go check on the “shop,” since it would be closing shortly. (I assumed that he was referring to the vo-tech shop.) I told him I’d be ready and waiting for him outside when he returned. I packed up my stuff, and when I went outside, I didn’t see Fr. Matthew, so I sat down on a low stone wall next to the driveway where his Ford Explorer (which he had shipped to Africa from the U.S.) and waited for him. After a few minutes, I got hot and moved back to the courtyard to sit on another stone wall in the shade. Then I saw Jay returning from the direction of the sewing shop. He told me that Fr. Matthew was at the sewing shop talking to some people there. Jay sat down with me to wait for the ladies, who were wrapping up the day’s activities at the sewing shop.

Finally Fr. Matthew returned, and he and I went off in his vehicle to the sim-card store, just a few minutes’ drive from the diocese’s campus, only to find that it was closed. We returned to the diocese by a different route, so that I could see some more of Geita, which was incredibly busy and crowded on the streets. Fr. Mathew pointed out that it was a mistake for the city to build the sidewalks with no ramps to them from the street. The curbs are relatively high and sharp, and cyclists, of which there are hundreds, if not thousands, on the streets, have no way to get on the sidewalks, if necessary. The streets are too narrow for two cars going in opposite directions to pass each other with bicycles on both sides of the streets also going in opposite directions, and there are many, many near-misses as cars dodge bicycles they’re passing and approach other cars coming from the opposite direction. However, from my observation, the sidewalks are so crowded with pedestrians that having bicycles riding on the sidewalks would just create a different sort of hazard, although not as critical a one.

When we got back to the diocese, it was 5:00 p.m., and it was clear that I wasn’t going to be able to work in Fr. Matthew’s office any longer that day. So I went to my room in the guest house, hoping to do some more journaling there. However, my room has no desk or table on which I could work with my laptop, and the only chair there is a plastic chair with a deep seat and arms that make it difficult to use my laptop on my lap, as the original planned use of such a computer had led to its nickname, “laptop.” I discovered that now my bathroom, in addition to having no running water in the sink lines, had no water in either the shower lines or the toilet, and that made it clear to me why there was a large 5-gallon bucket full of water with a large scoop hanging on it by its handle sitting in my bathroom, which was apparently to be used for flushing the toilet. (I had noticed a similar bucket and handle siting outside the door of Christine’s room up the hall from my room.)

At that point I sat on my bed and tried to compose more of my journal on my iPhone but was too tired to keep up that clumsy and frustrating chore. So I just lay down and closed my eyes. The next thing I knew, it was 6:30 p.m., and my room was dark. I went to the light switch and pressed it, only to find that now my room also had no electricity. I walked to the lobby and saw several of our groups’ packed bags sitting there but no one there. I brilliantly deduced that we were going to be leaving the guest house for other accommodations, but I didn’t know what the plan was. I left the guest house intending to walk to the bishop’s house and saw Jay and Jill returning from that direction. They confirmed to me that we were being taken to a hotel “shortly,” so I hurried back to my room and threw into my two bags everything I had previously neatly put away and organized on the shelves in my closet, without sorting the stuff or organizing it in any fashion in the bags, telling my OCD brain just to roll with the punches and chalk it up to “another part of the journey.” I then went back to the lobby with my two bags, found Jay and Jill sitting there, and joined them sitting. Eleanor and Christine weren’t there at the moment, and Anthony, Fr. John and Jay had not yet returned from Mwanza. Eleanor finally came out into the lobby with her bags, and Christine joined us shortly thereafter, advising that she had “showered,” using the water in the bucket that had been left outside her room. “Oooohhh, gross!” was my reaction, but Christine was unfazed.

Apparently the adjective “shortly”as used regarding how soon we were being transported to a hotel was based on African time, because we all sat in the lobby for another good half-hour before Fr. Matthew came to fetch us and transport us to the hotel. He was a bit dismayed when he saw the amount of luggage we had, as we weren’t all going to fit with our luggage in his Explorer. He asked if it was possible for us to take just what we needed for a couple days and to leave the rest at the guest house. I told him I hadn’t sorted my stuff when I was told that I needed to pack it up quickly, and that it wasn’t going to be possible for me to re-pack easily or quickly. So Fr. Mathew called for a second vehicle to transport us, and then we removed some stuff from the back of his Explorer to make room for our bags. When someone else asked Fr. Matthew how long it was going to take us to get to the hotel, he jokingly said it would take an hour. That didn’t amuse anyone at first, as we assumed he was being serious. But then he told us that it was only going to take five minutes, and he got a big laugh out of his own joke. Once the other vehicle arrived we went off to the “Lenny Hotel” five minutes away in downtown Geita.

During the short drive to the hotel, Fr. Matthew informed us that the vehicle that Fr. John, Anthony and Jay had taken to Mwanza, which was the same pick-up truck we had used for the prior three days, going from the Mwanza airport to the Malaika Beach Resort on Wednesday night and then everywhere we went on Thursday and Friday, had broken down on the return trip from Mwanza 15 minutes from the diocese. Anthony later told me that he discovered that apparently the oil had not been changed in a long time, and possibly never, which caused the filter to clog up and the pressure in the oil system to build up and the engine to overheat. Anthony was able to relieve the pressure, and once the engine cooled down, he was able to get it running again. However, it taught Anthony that vehicle maintenance at the diocese’s shop was rather lacking, something he intended to fix by writing, with my assistance (only as a scrivener and editor, and not as a mechanic), a maintenance manual for the garage to follow in maintaining the diocese’s vehicles.

When we arrived at the Lenny Hotel, we checked in and took our bags to our rooms with the help of hotel staff members, while Fr. Matthew and the other driver waited for us, in order to take us back to the bishop’s house for dinner. The entrance to my room was up a short flight of two stairs from the driveway to a porch, but there was also a low, two-inch lip on the floor of my hotel room, which was painted black, and in the dark I didn’t notice it, didn’t step high enough from the porch, tripped on the lip and took a complete header into the side of the bed. I wasn’t seriously hurt but I’m sporting a nice abrasion on my forehead now.

We didn’t take time to shower at the hotel before we returned to the bishop’s house, and we again had a pleasant dinner with the bishop and a Fr. Thomas, a tall lanky 69-year-old priest of the diocese, who had a great and humorous disposition, a ready and easy laugh and lots of advice about how to stay healthy by not spending too much time sitting and more time walking. It turned out that he had an acronym for his lifestyle, which had a combination of letters including “B”, “C,” and a couple “Ws.” I didn’t record it and don’t remember it now, but it had to do with doing more walking and less sitting during the day after getting up from bed in the morning.

After another lengthy dinner for which Anthony, Jay and Fr. John didn’t get back from Mwanza in time to join us, we left and went back to the hotel. I went to shower in my room and discovered that there was no hot water in the plumbing in my bathroom. I concluded, trying to be stoic about it, that it was just “another part of the journey” and braced myself for another cold shower. Then I put on my pajamas and set up my computer at the desk and attempted to do some more journaling, only to start falling asleep at the keyboard, as it was then after 1:00 a.m. I crawled into my bed, set the alarm on my iPhone for 6:00 a.m. and immediately fell asleep. However, at 4:45 a.m. I was awakened by what I thought was my alarm, only to discover that it was my room air conditioner roaring as if it were about to explode. I turned it off and then on again, but it continued roaring as a locomotive does. Realizing that I couldn’t sleep with that noise, and that I couldn’t function during the day if I stayed up after only three and a half hours’ sleep, I turned off the a/c and crawled back into my bed. That I needed more sleep was evident by the fact that the next thing I knew, my alarm was going off at 6:00 a.m.

I later learned from Anthony and Scott that among their adventures on the drive back to Geita from Mwanza that day, as they took the ferry across a portion of Lake Victoria, they were bombarded by a thick swarm of insects, not mosquitoes, to the point where Scott got back into the truck for the rest of the ferry ride. Also, after not getting back to Geita until too late to join us for dinner, they had a meal and “some beers” at the hotel restaurant, where Fr. Matthew had arranged for all of us to have some drinks for free

2 responses to Day 5 – Fr. John’s Tanzania Mission Trip

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