Day 7 – Fr. John’s Tanzania Mission Trip

Monday, Jan. 23


This morning Anthony and Fr. John left early to go back to Mwanza yet again for the auto parts that they weren’t able to buy on Saturday.  They were supposed at leave at 5:00 a.m. but they ended up not leaving until b 6:15 a.m. 


The schedule for the rest of us was:  (1) for us all to be available at 7:00 a.m. at the hotel for a seamstress to come measure us, apparently for her then to tailor something, possibly shirts, to be given us as gifts; (2) for the ladies to return to the sewing shop for more teaching and sewing; (3) for Jay and Scott to go help out/supervise at the garage while the vo-tech students would dismantle one of the unusable vehicles in order to learn about how it’s made; and (4) for me to go to the Geita Secondary School and do some teaching of the students there.


We were all up at the hotel restaurant for the 7:00 a.m. measuring, but no one appeared in the lobby or the restaurant at 7:00 a.m., and by 7:30 a.m. I was ready to go back to my room and get some work done.  Just then the desk clerk came into the restaurant and told us that there was someone looking for us just outside the lobby inn back.  She escorted me outside to a booth where a very nicely dressed and coiffed lady was waiting for me with a tape measure.  She apparently didn’t speak much English, if any, so we communicated primarily by hand signals and looks.  She measured my torso and arms, and the process took about three minutes, after which I went back to my room and worked on my journal until it was time for me to go back to the diocese at about 8:30 a.m.  Fr. Mathew and another driver arrived, and they transported us back to the diocese, where Jill, Eleanor and Christine headed over to the sewing shop, Jay and Scott headed over to the vo-tech center, and I went into Fr. Matthew’s office intending to stay there just long enough for me to send the latest journal by e-mail and then go to the secondary school.  I understood that another priest, Fr. Christopher, who is responsible for the secondary school, would pick me up about 8:45 a.m. and take me to the school.  So I took out my laptop only, with none of the charging devices or the mouse, and started logging on to Fr. Matthew’s Wi-Fi network. About five minutes later Fr. Matthew came into his office with Fr. Christopher, and the two told me that, unfortunately, the students at the school were going to be in exams all day every day this week, and that it wasn’t going to be possible for me to meet with them except for an hour or so at 5:00 p.m. this afternoon and again on Wednesday afternoon.  Just “another part of the journey.”


I resigned myself to occupying myself otherwise than going to the school this morning, and I told Fr. Matthew that I’d just stay in his office and work on my journals.  He said that would be fine and left.  I got out all my laptop and iPhone chargers, plugged into Fr. Matthew’s electricity and sent off by e-mail my journal for Day 4 of our trip, Friday, January 20.  Then I finished the latest journal I needed to finish, which was for Day 5, Saturday, January 21.  Shortly thereafter Scott came into the office and told me that things were very slow at the vo-tech center, and without Anthony there with the parts they needed to restore to service one of the vehicles, he wasn’t able to accomplish much.  I told him to join me in the air-conditioned office and relax, and he got on his iPhone and did some stuff for a while but then left to go back to the vo-tech center and check on what was happening there.  At 10:30 a.m. Scott told me that he had gotten a communication from Anthony at 10:00 a.m. to the effect that they were about finished in Mwanza and would be leaving there within a half-hour.  A few minutes later, at about 10:45 a.m., Fr. Matthew came in and told me we were going to get coffee at the bishop’s house, and off we went to have coffee.


Jay and Scott joined us for coffee at the bishop’s house, and a short time later Jill joined us also.  She showed us a wallet that one of the ladies at the sewing center had helped her design for fabrication by the ladies, and I had to admit that it was pretty cool and colorful.   We had coffee and some snacks in the bishop’s dining room, and at about 11:45 a.m. we decided to go on about our business.  I came back to Fr. Matthew’s office, sent off by e-mail my journal for Day 5, and started working on my journal for Day 6.  I hadn’t gotten very far when Fr. Matthew came in and told me were going to run errands.  I had told him earlier that I needed to have some laundry done, and he told me to give it to the hotel staff.  I had also told him that I needed to get some more Tanzanian cash, as I had pretty much given all I had left to the collection baskets on Sunday.  I had also expressed to Fr. Matthew my interest in getting a sim card for data and phone service in Tanzania.  So Fr. Matthew was going to take me to run those errands.  When I went to his car, I met a woman named Maria Mapunda, who was sitting in the front passenger seat.  Maria and I introduced ourselves to each other, and I learned that she’s an engineer who owns her own engineering firm and is working with the diocese in designing construction of new facilities.  I told her I was impressed and was sure that she was much smarter than I.  She laughed.


Our first stop after leaving the diocese was our hotel, where I gather about four days’ worth of my underwear and socks, filled out a laundry check list of my items, and gave them to a hotel staff person who was waiting outside my door for me.  Apparently Fr. Mathew, in his usual efficient fashion, had alerted the hotel staff that I needed to have some laundry done while I was in my room gathering it.


After I gave my laundry to the hotel staff person, Maria and I had a few minutes to chat while Fr. Matthew was on the phone with someone.  (Fr. Matthew obviously has a lot of responsibilities to discharge as the head of the diocese’s Development Department, and he’s constantly making or receiving phone calls on one or the other of the two cellular phones that he has with him at all times.)  Because Maria is an engineer involved in construction, I told Maria about my trip-and-fall accident the night we first checked into the hotel.  I showed her the lip at the top of the stairs to my room, pointing out how, because it’s painted black, I didn’t see it in the dark and tripped on it.  I suggested to her that it needed to be painted a light color, like white, to make it more visible.  She agreed and then pointed out the issue to Fr. Matthew, who is a friend of the hotel’s owner.  Fr. Matthew apologized to me for my accident, and I assured him that it was no big deal to me and that I was fine, but that I was concerned that someone else using that room in the future might have a similar accident.


Then we went to a bank with an ATM that Fr. Matthew recommended, and he and I both got cash from the ATM.  The maximum amount I was allowed to take was 400,000 Tanzanian shillings, which is equivalent to about $180 U.S.


Fr. Matthew then went to the cellular phone store.  I had already told him that I had decided not to get a local sim card after all, because I understood that it would take about an hour to have it set up and installed, and because I was able to get along okay with the occasional connection to the Internet at Fr. Matthew’s office and the sporadic service I had with the hotel’s Wi-Fi network.  Fr. Matthew spent some time conversing with the clerk at the cell-phone store and asked me again if I was sure I didn’t want a sim card.  I told him I was sure, and then we left.  At that point it was about 12:55 p.m., and my understanding was that we were scheduled to have lunch with the bishop at 1:00 p.m.


Rather than heading to the diocese when we left the cellular phone store, Fr. Matthew drove to a business area of Geita and parked in front of a dressmaker’s shop.  We all went in and then spent about 25 minutes there while Fr. Matthew, Maria and the seamstress discussed various fabrics and styles of shirts.  Not being able to understand the conversation, I deduced that perhaps Fr. Matthew was discussing with the seamstress the shirts she might be making as gifts for us.  In the meantime, all the while we were at the shop a TV there was showing African music videos, and I was swaying and tapping to the rhythm of the music.  Maria eventually asked me if I liked to dance, and I assured her that I did and showed her a few dance moves, which caused Maria and the seamstress to laugh.  At one point, Fr. Matthew showed me a patterned but solid black shirt and asked me if I liked it.  I told him I didn’t like black in clothes, because it’s too hot.  He laughed and said, “But you live in Colorado.”  Maria asked me what color I liked, and I told her that blue, any shade of blue, was my favorite color.  Fr. Matthew then indicated a purple shirt and asked me if I liked that color.  I told him I did, but then I pointed out a beautiful blue shirt with butterflies on it.  Fr. Matthew asked me to try it on, and I did and looked at myself in a mirror.  I liked the way the shirt looked on me, and Maria seemed to like it also.  I’m not sure if any decision was made before we left at about 1:25 p.m.


When we left the dressmaker’s shop, Fr. Matthew headed back to the diocese, using unpaved and extremely rutted and pitted back roads through a neighborhood adjacent to the diocese’s property.  I took several videos of the area as we passed through it to memorialize it.


When we drove into the diocese, Fr. Matthew headed for the vo-tech center, thinking that he needed to pick up Scott and Jay for lunch.  We started to pass two vehicles coming from the direction of the vo-tech center, and when Fr. Matthew stopped alongside the lead vehicle, we saw that the bishop was in the front seat.  That alleviated my concern about possibly being late to lunch with the bishop, and after we left him, we went on to the vo-tech center and learned that Scott and Jay had just left there.  We turned around and headed to the bishop’s house.  When we got to the house, Maria took her leave of us, and Fr. Matthew told me that she was supervising construction on a building immediately next to the bishop’s house.  We went into the house and found Bishop Flavian already in the dining room with the rest of our group, except for Fr. John and Anthony.  I then learned that Anthony had communicated that the pick-up truck they had driven to Mwanza, the same one that had quit on them just outside Geita on Saturday evening, had once again broken down, this time before they even left Mwanza.


We had a delightful lunch with the bishop, with one minor mishap, when a coke in a glass bottle was accidentally knocked over and spilled onto Christine’s lap.  Christine was wearing light cream-colored pants, so I felt bad for her, but she seemed to take it in stride in her usual stoic manner.  Having glasses and other drink containers knocked over at the two dining room tables in the bishop’s dining room has not been an infrequent occurrence during our stay here.  Each of the large round tables, both of which accommodate eight persons, has a large round Lazy-Susan in the center whose circumference is not greatly less than the circumference of the table itself, leaving just enough room outside the Lazy Susan for dinner plates.  When meals are served by Jenny and Suzie of the bishop’s staff, many large containers of food, pitchers and condiments crowd the Lazy-Susans.  When people serve themselves with the serving utensils, they sometimes aren’t careful to replace the utensils with their handles pointing inward.  Then when someone turns one of the Lazy-Susans, the handle of a serving utensil will catch a tall drink container or bottle and knock it over.  That’s what happened at our lunch today to cause the coke bottle to fall over and spill its contents onto Christine’s lap.


Moving past the spill incident, we had some excellent final discussions with Bishop Flavian about our experiences with our trip so far, and the bishop expressed his sincere appreciation for what we are doing and warmly invited us to return again and continue to expand the relationship between the Tanzanian people and the American people.  The bishop was scheduled to leave that afternoon to go to Israel for two weeks to study irrigation methods used by the Israelis, which are considered by many experts to be the best in the world.  (Jay mentioned that Colorado has had Israeli irrigation experts come to Colorado to teach Colorado how to irrigate.)  The bishop and we exchanged some very fond farewells to each other, and I gave the bishop a thank-you card I had written to him this morning, thanking him again for his generous hospitality and asking him please to let us know if he gets back to Colorado (he’s been there before), and allow us to return the favors he’s shown us.  Bishop Flavian then said a beautiful and comprehensive closing prayer and dismissed us.


After lunch the ladies went back to the sewing shop, Jay and Scott went back to the vo-tech center, and I went back to Fr. Mathew’s office to continue my journaling.  By that time, it was shortly after 3:00 p.m., and I was able to work for about another hour and a half before Fr. Christopher came to take me to the secondary school, and I just about finished my journal for Sunday.  Fr. Matthew told me that Fr. Christopher would take me to the school, and that a taxi would later take me back to my hotel.  He apparently confirmed that with Fr. Christopher and then gave Fr. Christopher a Tanzanian money bill, which I guessed was to pay my taxi fare.  


The secondary school is located in Geita proper, not far by car from the campus of the diocese, located behind high walls with an attended solid iron gate.  When we arrived there, Fr. Christopher took me into the office of the headmistress, a nun named Sr. Abel (AH-bel).  She welcomed me warmly and then offered me a chair in her office, as we waited for the students to finish with their exams and gather in one classroom for me to meet with them.  While we were waiting, Fr. Christopher asked me several questions about my serving as a catechist in the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) process, whereby people considering entering the Catholic church spend nine months studying the Catholic faith.  He was clearly interested in how the RCIA process works and what it teaches regarding some of the tenets of the Catholic Church.  Fr. Christopher confirmed to me that a taxi would take me back to my hotel when I was finished at the school, and he apparently told Sr. Abel the same thing and gave her the money Fr. Matthew had given him.  I insisted to Fr. Matthew and Sr. Abel that Sr. Abel keep that for the school, and that I would pay my own taxi fare to go back to the hotel.  Fr. Christopher protested but I insisted, and he finally acquiesced and explained it to Sr. Abel, who seemed not to speak much English.


Sr. Abel and a teacher then showed me the way to a classroom where a number of students was gathering.  Sr. Abel gave the students a brief introduction to who I was, and then left me to talk to the class.  I spent the next 45 minutes or so talking to them about the Gospel, the Catholic faith, how the Church is the vehicle for their salvation, how we Americans visiting their country and many other American Catholics are overjoyed to see how fast the Church is growing in Africa, and how we pray for and love the children and adults of Tanzania and all of Africa.  I also told them the story of my initiation into the Church, which got lots of laughter, as they pictured me in my hospital bed with my “false front” white dress shirt split up the back to allow me to have it on with a tie.  Finally, I produced the last of my soccer balls, inflated it with one of my inflators and then gave the soccer ball and the inflator to them.  Saying goodbye to them, I walked through the rows of chairs and shook hands with each one of the 40-plus students.  Their warmth in greeting me individually as we shook hands was very touching to me, as it had been with all of the other groups of Tanzanian children and students we had previously met.


After I left the classroom, one of the teachers led me to what was apparently a teachers’ lounge, and I met all the teachers.  I had some conversation with a few of them who seemed really interested in what I had to say about my impressions of the school and the students.  Then my taxi arrived for the short ride to my hotel, and one of the teachers insisted on accompanying me in the taxi to translate for me what the taxi driver would charge for the fare.  The taxi ride was no more than a mile or so, and when we got to the hotel, I was told that the fare was only 5,000 shillings, about $2.30 U.S. I didn’t have a 5,000-shilling bill, so I gave the driver a 10,000-shilling bill and said and gestured to him to keep the change.  He seemed to be very appreciative, and that fact reminded me of something with which I and, I think, the rest of our group have been continually impressed and had reinforced throughout our trip.  That is that we who live in the U.S. so much take for granted all the prosperity we have and are often not very happy with what we have and frequently discontented, whereas the people in Tanzania have so much less than we do, and yet they all seem to be very happy and contented with their lives and even joyful most of the time.  It makes me wish that all Americans could see the lives of the people of Tanzania and take a lesson from those and learn to appreciate what we have.  For a few small examples, I can assure you that after I return home I will (at least for a while) appreciate the facts:  (1) that I can turn any one of a dozen faucet handles in my house and get all the potable water I need; (2) that I can always take as hot a shower as I’d like; and (3) that air-conditioning in hot weather is a given anywhere I am or go at home.


By the time I got back to my hotel from the school at about 6:30 p.m., I was pretty hot, sweaty and tired.  It had been the hottest day we’d had so far in Tanzania, and the secondary school is un-air-conditioned, as are all the schools we’ve visited.  We were scheduled to leave the hotel at 8:00 p.m. with Fr. Matthew and go to dinner at a private residence in Geita, so I needed to shower.  When I walked into my hotel room, I was favorably impressed to see that my laundry had already been washed, dried, neatly folded and left on the sofa in the room.  However, apparently the housekeeper had turned off the air-conditioner, and the room was very hot.  I knew that if I showered then, I’d still be sweating after showering.  So I turned on the air-conditioner and decided to wait for a while before showering to let the room cool down.  I unpacked and set up my computer, worked some more on my journal, and took my shower.


At 8:00 p.m., I went outside and found Scott, Jay and Christine sitting on chairs on the porch outside Scott’s room.  The temperature was fairly pleasant by then, and as I joined the trio on the porch, I learned the unfortunate news that Jill wasn’t feeling well and was going to stay in for the evening in the hope of feeling better after getting a good night’s rest.  Fr. Matthew showed up with two other priests from his parish, Fr. Deusdedit and Fr. Godfried, who had a second vehicle.  Eleanor joined us, and Christine, Eleanor, Scott, Jay and I went with the three priests in two vehicles to a private residence a couple blocks off the main street in Geita, around the corner from the bank where Fr. Matthew and I had gotten our cash at the ATM earlier that day.  Fr. Matthew told us that Fr. John and Anthony wouldn’t be joining us but would be staying overnight in Mwanza due to their pick-up truck’s breaking down earlier in the day.


As we arrived at the house, a couple young men greeted us, and we introduced ourselves to each other.  They led us into the courtyard of the house, where a large table was set up with eight chairs around it and many bottles of refreshments on top of it.  There were other chairs arranged in the courtyard around a low coffee-table sort of table.  Our hosts showed us to the large table, and all of us in our reduced group took chairs there, along with Fr. Matthew, Fr. Godfried and Fr. Deusdedit.  The information was slow in coming, but it turned out that the house belonged to Fr. Mathew’s very large family, including his cousin Ernest, the head of the family, and Ernest’s wife Rachel, and their young adult children.  Shortly after we arrived, many other people started arriving, including Fr. Angelo from the diocese, who’s the bishop’s secretary.  Additionally, Fr. John and Anthony suddenly showed up after having left their pick-up truck in Mwanza and taken a taxi from Mwanza to Geita, a distance of approximately 150 kilometers (just under 100 miles) at a cost of only about $50 U.S.  (Try getting that kind of taxi rate in New York!)  Later Jenny and Suzie, the two ladies from the bishop’s house who prepare and serve all the meals, also showed up.  All the women were dressed, made up and coiffed beautifully, as if they were attending a cocktail party, and indeed it was for the first couple hours, with much drinking of beer, wine, whiskey and soft drinks, and much joking in Swahili and raucous laughter by the men, occasionally translated for us, and some joking by us, primarily by Scott, who, always cracks up the local men with his wacky humor.  Fr. Matthew told us that we’d eat first and then have introductions afterwards.  The cocktail hour lasted a good hour and a half or so, and eventually we were told that dinner was ready about 10:00 p.m.  Our group was asked to serve itself first, and then everyone else joined in.


After another hour or so of eating, introductions were begun.  Our group was asked to introduce itself first, and so we did.  Fr. Angelo was asked to serve as an interpreter for all the introductions.  After we had all introduced ourselves, then Ernest asked all of the family members to introduce themselves and talk a bit about themselves to us.  It’s quite a disparate group with many interests and varied backgrounds, but it’s clearly a close-knit family.  We were warmly welcomed and invited to come back any time.  (I asked about breakfast in the morning, and Scott asked about lunch the next day.)


Finally, at about 11:45 p.m., it was time for us to take our leave.  All of us were exhausted from the long day of activities, and Fr. Mathew and Fr. Deusdedit drove us all back to the hotel, with Fr. John accompanying us.  (Without enough seats in both vehicles for all of us since Anthony and Fr. John had made it back, Jay jumped into the bed of Fr. Deusdedit and Fr. Godfried’s pick-up truck.  When we said goodnight to Fr. John at the hotel, we agreed that we would meet at 8:45 in the morning to be taken back to the diocese.


I went into my hotel room and was delighted to see that my Internet connection via the hotel’s Wi-Fi was now working, so I sent off my journal for Day 5, worked until about 1:35 a.m. to finish my journal for Day 6, and then sent it off as well.  Then I crawled into bed, said a quick prayer of thanks to God for the wonderful day, and promptly fell fast asleep.   


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