Tag Archives: Tanzania

Friday, June 21, 2013

First day of winter. Last day at Tumaini. There’s gonna be a lot of cryin’ today.

Our last class of the session starts the morning. I decide to have an ICT session, not because they need one, but because they really want to do stuff on the computer. I decide to be a bum by doing serious stuff; I show them Word and Excel, and we make a little budget. Then I show them my iPod (thanks to my Sunday school class!) and we look at a bunch of the apps. Their favorite is the drum set inside Appzilla, and they play all kinds of disjointed rhythms on it. I also briefly introduce them to a game, but before we play very long, it’s time for chai—chapati and chai this time. Everything we do today, someone says, “Well, last time we do this.”

We have a special game time after chai instead of the usual second class. It’s Tic-Tac-Challenge, and for a few minutes it looks as though it’s going to be absolute chaos. But before long they get the hang of it, and there’s a spirited competition. To no one’s surprise, however, Blue wins the game, making the whole week of competition pretty much a rout.

Lunch is ugali and a few chunks of beef. “Last time we have ugali ….”

Free time in the afternoon; some of the team is worn out from the game and take naps. I’m one of them. As a consequence, I have no idea what the others do.

We gather at 4 for a hike to the top of the hill on the next property, where there’s a beautiful view of the lake. There’s also a sort of an outdoor bar / nightclub up there, which keeps us awake most nights. We stop in to the cabana, sit in the shade drinking soda, and treasure the beauty of the lake and the land surrounding Tumaini. It’s nice to get a better idea of how it’s all laid out. We take a lot of photos, including the ritual jumps, and then walk back to the home for the official goodbye ceremony.

We gather in the kibanda with the children, and Ferdinand says the official goodbyes. Several of the kids cry through his whole speech, their faces buried in their hands. He gives us each a packet of thank-you notes written by the students in our respective classes, and a gift from Maiwe and Jenny, his wife, neither of whom could be there. It’s a length of cloth, ready to be a conga for the girls or the makings of a shirt for the guys. This is a sacrificial gift, and we’re all aware that we owe him, as our Swahili teacher, a lot more than he owes us—if anything. We line up for the handshaking, as they do after church. Even more of the kids are crying. This stinks. :-) It’s the little boys who will break your heart.

Laura fixes supper for us—drip beef (that’s pulled pot roast au jus, served on fresh baked rolls), potatoes au gratin, candied carrots, watermelon, and some gorgeous brownies for dessert. To paraphrase Robert from earlier on the trip, “When you’re leaving in a few days, your mother makes really good stuff.”

House devotions run a little longer than usual; we’re not in a hurry to leave, and there’s a lot of picture-taking and wrestling with the boys.

Back at the girls’ house, we eventually gather for devotions. Beth is hanging out with us tonight. Good. We sing, share testimonies, and pray together. We know we’ve learned a lot, but from experience I know that we’ll realize even more things that we’ve learned as we have time to process it all.

After devos we have a frenzy of cleaning, organizing, and packing to see through to the end. I tell the team there will be room inspection at 6 am. You’re in the army now …

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Last full day of class. Many of the teachers have their students write thank-you notes (not to their own teachers, of course)nd we get some keepers. Chai time is uji (gruel) and mandazi (donut dough in a rectangular prism), for the last time; we’re a little sentimental about that. One of the things about regional foods is that you associate them with the place and your memories of the place. I first noticed that with rooibos tea, when my family went to Cape Town. Somehow your taste buds and your memory cells are closely connected. Speaking of which, it’s our last lunch of rice and beans, with just the right amount of gravel thrown in. For some reason, Will thinks it’s really funny when he hears me hit a “crackly,” as we call the little pieces of dirt and who knows what.

Sort of a lazy afternoon—hang with the kids, take a nap, start the Great Cleanup. Beth wants to get a photos of the team and the Tumaini kids and staff, so she gets the kids lined up on the steps of the kitchen and then calls for us. We climb into the formation, add the staff, and take several shots. They turn out great, even though a couple of the kids don’t cooperate: one covers her face for most of the shots, and one turns his back toward the camera.

We have games at 4, as usual; we’re planning to do spoke tag, but Jon doesn’t want to teach a new game, so we replace it with Tagalot and Steal the bacon, which the kids already know. The games have been really lopsided; Blue has one literally every game and every scavenger hunt. This last day of competition, Red finally wins a game when the younger group wins Steal the Bacon. The odd thing is, both team captains (Jon and Will) agree that the teams are evenly matched. The only hope for Red is that they memorize a lot more verses. Winner will be announced tomorrow.

I’m trying to doublecheck our itineraries to CPT through the only mechanism available, a link to a web page. I hit the link; 3 hours and 25 MB later, the page is still loading, with nothing yet visible, when the computer accidentally shuts itself off. Barring a trip to town tomorrow, I guess I’ll have to trust the itinerary I have. Note to web page developers: if you’re designing a travel-related site, maybe some of the people who use it will be, uh, traveling, and they might not have 20MB of bandwidth. Just a thought.

Supper by Beth; haystacks, one of our favorites. The conversation is lively.

I ask Beth to drop by the house for team devos, and at the end we do a little appreciation ceremony, and I thank her for all she’s done to make this visit successful. What constitutes success? Well, she says she’d do it again, and I guess that means that she views the visit as a net benefit to the ministry here. That’s my criterion for success. I’d hate to bring kids all this way and have the missionaries be glad to see us go. We give her a CD, and it turns out she already has it—the artist is an old friend of hers. Can I pick ‘em, or what? Fortunately, we have a selection, and she can pick one she doesn’t have.

Munchies. Popcorn and leftover butterscotch pudding from yesterday’s Fun Time skit. I hate to see perfectly good pudding smeared all over somebody’s face.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Frankly, the days are all starting to run together and sound alike now. Half the time I can’t remember which day I’m remembering. So y’all forgive me if I repeat myself.

We’re very much aware that our days are winding down here, and we feel the passing of each one. It’s an odd feeling, because we find ourselves growing sentimental about even the students who give us trouble. So I guess we love those who persecute us. :-)

Classes in the morning, as usual. I use a reading comprehension lesson on the chambered nautilus to talk about the Golden Ratio and logarithmic spirals, and the kids actually seem to get it. Maybe it helps when I tell them that the elephant’s tusk and the lion’s claw have the same shape. That’s something they know about.

We have lunch with Beth and the Gasses on the Gasses’ porch. It’s tortillas and fixin’s. The tortillas look a lot like chapati, except they’re a little thinner, with no sugar, and not cooked in oil. By the way, we’ve learned not to call them tacos; the Swahili word “taco” means “buttock,” and so saying you had 3 “tacos” at lunch usually elicits a puzzled look. :-)

We spend some time in the afternoon getting ready for the Big Event at 4—our knockoff of a WILDS “Fun Night.” We’ve decided to have it in the daylight for a number of logistical considerations. Several musical numbers to rehearse, and 4 skits, one of which we’ve decided to present in Swahili (not that big a deal; it’s slapstick, and there are only 6 spoken lines). So we rehearse, work out some kinks, and get a brief nap or two.

Show time. The kids sit on the wall around the kibanda, and we do the program in the middle. Everybody has a front-row seat, and we’re all in the shade. Perfect. The musical team consists of Jon on harmonica, Catherine on fiddle, Will on an absurdly tiny souvenir drum with a couple of Sharpie pens for drumsticks, and Katie doing a little Carmen Miranda thing with a maraca. (That’s a bit of an inside joke; somebody in Ghana thought she was from Brazil.) They sing “Old McDonald” and play “Turkey in the Straw,” and the kids don’t seem to have the foggiest idea what that’s all about. The musical numbers punctuate the skits: the doctor’s office, with Will being the patient who catches everything that everybody else has; Boot to the Head, with me as the martial arts master who decks his students with merely a word; The King and I, starring Jon and Will as, well, everybody; and Royal Altercation, with Matt Gass and me as the kings, speaking Swahili, and Jon and Will as our servants who fight in our places. The butterscotch pudding and the banana are the kids’ favorite weapons. All of the comedy is slapstick, and here doesn’t seem to be any cultural barrier to it. The kids, the house mothers, the kitchen staff, the missionaries all love it. We close with a warning not to try any of this at home. :-)

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We’ve decided to have our own supper in the guest house tonight. Will cooks pancakes, we scrounge up a bottle of syrup from somewhere, along with PBJ, and it’s a meal. Then Jon bakes sugar cookies with colored sprinkles, and it’s a party. After house and team devotions, we finish off the night with an intense round of the OATG (Official Africa Team Game), Signs.

One more full day of classes, a day to say goodbye, clean, and pack, and then a day to change cultures completely. How time flies.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Going to bed early last night seems to have helped; I wake up feeling pretty good. The laptop, however, has a dead battery, and since I have my morning devotions in Logos, I’m out of luck (if I can put it that way). Did I mention that I left my hard-copy Bible on the floor of our van when my wife dropped me off back in May? So I’ve been borrowing a Bible to preach from, or using my iPod as necessary. Upshot is, dead battery, devotions are postponed pending either a recharge or an outlet.

I get to the house just before 8, because it’s a laundry day (TThSa), and the lady picks up the clothes at 8. When I walk into the house, whom should I see but the one who was sick yesterday, looking his/her chipper self. How you feeling? Great! Well, that’s good.

Joslyn announces that she thinks Simba is dying. He’s lying beside a path outside, only minimally responsive, with a wide swath of fur missing from his hindquarters. My first thought is that the boys have done this, and I’m tempted to do something similar to them. But one should really investigate before doling out justice, or it’s not justice at all. Since where he’s lying is right along the path from the house to my 9 am class, I stop by and check him out. He’s a mess, all right. I think he might be dead, but when I pet his head, his eyes flicker briefly. So I stroke him a bit and try to be encouraging. Along come my boys, and I ask them what happened. They don’t know; maybe he’s sick. No, I say, he’s been hurt; I motion to show where he’s injured, and they laugh. Now I’m really itching for justice, especially since I know that one of my boys is in fact a bully to the younger kids. Then it occurs to me that they may be laughing because I pointed to my own hindquarters; still more research to do.

I see Beth as class is getting started, and I mention Simba. She says that has happened before; she doesn’t know why. Hmmm. Could have been in a (dog)fight, I suppose. Well, I have a class to conduct.

As the boys and I are walking up to the house for chai after class, I stop again to check on Simba. He seems more responsive, even half sits up. I gather the boys around by placing my arms around them, and we have a little talk.

“Boys, if I knew that one of you did this to the dog, I would be very tempted to do the same thing to you—to hurt you badly. But I won’t do that, because Jesus tells us to be kind and not to seek revenge. But you should know that God is just, and if you have done this, you will not get away with it. And if you are a bully, someday you will regret it.”

How much of that do they understand? Were they even involved? Who knows? You do what you can.

Matt’s going in to town today, and he asks if I’d like to come along. Sure; let’s square this backlog on the safari and settle the books. I think the ATM will let me get enough cash today to do that.

Over the river and through the woods—well, actually, neither of those, but it’s a pretty cool ride over dirt roads and through herds of cattle and alongside motorcycles. We park near Matt’s destination, which is where I want to be as well. ATM first. Transaction refused. Well, that’s weird. Try the bank across the street. Same thing. Try the bank across the next street. Works fine. I pull enough 6 dollar bills to settle the books for Tanzania, and life is good.

Over to the coffee shop, there are two booths open. So I grab one, order a black currant Fanta, and sit down to catch up on the blog and old email. As that’s about done, Matt arrives and gets a little web work done himself. Then it’s time for a late lunch. He takes me down the street to a joint up a flight of stairs, where we get a table on the balcony overlooking the street. How very French-Quarterish. Since it’s late, they’re out of most of the stuff on the menu, but they have a nice poached fish and rice, which is very tasty, if you don’t mind sorting out the really big bones. We eat our fill, enjoying the view; the meal for 2 is 5 bucks, no tip expected.

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Back to the compound, read with one of my students, dinner with Beth and the Gasses (Mac and cheese! Cheese! Two days in row!).

For team devotions we decide to just sing, and we go for 45 minutes. Some nights we really feel like singing; some we don’t. This is one we do.

Done with the day’s responsibilities by 9, so we hang around for a bit. Jon points out that Imodium smells really good; if you smell an orange peel at the same time, it smells like a Creamsicle. Then Jon remembers that we need to make the pudding for tomorrow night’s skit. The recipe calls for fat-free milk; we don’t have any, so we use what we have. The pudding is a brick. But if you keep adding milk and water and mashing the dickens out of it, eventually it loosens up to just a lumpy mush. And it’s butterscotch, so how bad can it be? We all have some. And Keri makes popcorn. Instant party.

And we talk. Lots. My habit on these occasions is to contribute occasionally but mostly to just sit back and listen. These kids are young, and there’s a price to pay for that, but they’re full of energy, enthusiasm, and optimism, and they have good insights and wisdom considering that they’re not as old as I am. :-) If the Lord tarries, the future will be OK.

Monday, June 17, 2013

First day of the last week of teaching here at Tumaini. We feel as though we’re sort of on vacation, with only the two hours in the morning and “God and I Time” to cover.

One of our group is a little under the weather—nothing serious—but we split his/her class between a couple of other teachers, and we’re ready for the day. My fifth-graders seem a little bored, but otherwise the day is routine for me. Some of the others are having much more difficult behavioral problems, though, and they have to remind themselves of the basic rule of teaching: you take the student from where he is, as far as you can toward where he ought to be. If he starts out with all kinds of behavioral issues, then perhaps all you can accomplish is to keep him from dismembering himself before your very eyes; you set reasonable goals and avoid the urge to be Superteacher.

Something common to our kids really puzzles us. They eat everything. I don’t mean at meals, or even just food. They eat everything. OK, I understand chewing on pens; the whole world does that. But sticks, rocks, bottle caps lying discarded on the ground, pieces of metal. Catherine’s students begin dismembering the table they’re sitting at and eating it. It’s a major deal to keep these kids from hurting themselves with the stuff they put in their mouths. They must have immune systems made of titanium.

And this eating thing is not because they’re hungry; they get monstrous portions at every meal, probably 3 or 4 times what I could eat, and often they throw away a considerable chunk of it.

And that’s just one behavioral issue. There are a couple of bullies in the student body, and lots of other issues to deal with. Our kids are being stretched, and they’re getting an important lesson in human nature as they prepare for teaching careers.

Beth has prepared enchiladas for lunch. They’re really remarkable, most noticeably because they’re smothered in melted cheese. Dairy is expensive here and thus a real treat. To see this much cheese is a rare thing, and to be served more than we can eat is just stupendous. That’ll last 2 meals, I think.

With the afternoon off, we have some time to hold a skit practice for Wednesday’s “fun night,” catch up on personal study, and maybe even catch a nap. Which I do.

Wake up just before game time. This will be tricky; we’re doing “The Cat in the Hat,” where I read the book, and the kids play musical chairs every time I say the words “mother,” “fish,” “Sally,” or “the Cat in the Hat.” Just explaining the game to 50 small kids is tricky enough; when they’ve had only 2 years of English, it’s chaotic. It looks for all the world like it’s not going to work, but the team pulls it off with patience and poise, demonstrating, having the kids demonstrate, coaching, correcting, cheering, congratulating.

Jon asks me to announce the winner. I remind the kids that the low score wins. Then I read the scores: Blue 20, Red 28. The red team bursts into cheers. Oh, well, Jon says. Doesn’t matter; we’ll just keep track of it all and announce the final winner at the end of the week. They’re having a good time, so it doesn’t really matter who won. So, I say to Beth, we’re going all existentialist, post-modern on them. As long as they’re happy, that’s all that matters. :-)

At 5, as usual, we all read individually with students. My Standard 5 boy is reading from a BJU Press 1st grade reader, which is well below his level, or so I think, but he’s clearly having trouble with comprehension. So we take our time, I explain words as necessary, and he does OK. I note with some surprise that he confuses his L’s and R’s, as some Asians do. Swahili has both letters, with the same sounds as in English, so it puzzles me that he has the problem. You learn all kinds of things teaching overseas.

Supper with the kids is rice and beans. It’s our favorite meal at Tumaini. There is the occasional problem of gravel, but you get used to it. :-) After supper, as usual, it’s devotions with the kids in their dorms / houses and then team devotions back at the guest house. We have a couple of encouraging emails to read, one from Rob Howell, a former (very former) Africa Team member who got this whole Tumaini thing started, and one from the Loeschers, detailing what’s been happening there and the important part the Cameroon contingent has played, by God’s grace. More on that in a few days.

There’s a fair amount of planning to do for the games and related activities for tomorrow, so the team gets to work on that. More or less in the middle of it, I realize how tired I am, and I head for bed. Wise choice.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Our last Sunday in Tanzania. We begin with church at 8, as usual. The folks here dress up for church; that may mean the cleanest T-shirt, or the one without the rip in it, but they try to wear the best they have. So I tuck in my shirt and wear socks. I have a suit and tie, but I’d be the only person wearing one, so try to accommodate the culture.

Our own friend Ferdinand is the preacher of the morning, and he’s kind enough to announce the text (Phil 4) in English for us. That helps. The boys I’m sitting with are fidgety, but not absurdly so. I notice that we’ve grown accustomed to the level of disturbance that is normal here, and we’re inclined not to tell the kids to cool it unless they exceed it. Cultural contextualization. :-)

At chai after church, I notice a man on the street outside, talking to a few of the kids through the fence. They tell me that he’s a regular around here; he often shows up drunk and seems to think he belongs inside. Ferdinand keeps an eye on him. The kids tell me his name is Gaga. I tell them I think his wife lives in America.

We have lunch with the Tumaini kids, rice and beans. Today will be special—a Sunday that is actually a day of rest. Nothing much scheduled after church. We’re planning sort of a week of camp this week, with teams, cheers, games, contests. Jon asks for a 4 pm meeting with the kids to fill them in on what’s planned, and he wants to do a skit practice before then, but otherwise it’s a quiet day. Most of us take naps, and several plan to call their fathers this Father’s Day, though they’ll have to wait until late in the evening to do so, with the 7-hour time difference.

Beth comes by to ask for our pizza order. She’s planning custom-made pizzas for supper; we can all choose as much as we want from a list of toppings. Now, that’s service. We gather at 6, and sure enough, half a pizza apiece, made to order.  We eat on the Eadses’ porch with Beth and the Gasses. (The Eadses, you’ll recall, are in Nairobi.) We all seem pretty well recovered from yesternight’s exhaustion, and several of us satisfy the Gasses’ request for a full account. Beth tells us that there actually are rhinos in Serengeti, but they’re in a protected place at a crater up near Arusha, which really requires several days to get to, see, and get back. So for our purposes, there are no rhinos in Serengeti. But everyone agrees that we had a spectacular day.

We’re done with supper just about in time to take house devotions with the kids, then have team devotions at the girls’ house. We have a good report from the Cameroon side, a definite answer  to prayer. And Tom Lamb has sent out the first report from the China team, which I read to the crew. They appreciate his description of the team members getting ready to teach in a strange culture.

Afterwards the team surprises me with a hand-made Father’s Day card and a bowl of mango chunks. They’re a good bunch, even if most of ‘em are too tall to be my kids.

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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Safari!

Today is a day to make memories. We’ve scheduled a trip to the Serengeti National Park, and as you know, the service provider has graciously volunteered to send larger vehicles than we need, so that there are 6 extra seats, which they’ve said we can fill with children from Tumaini. We’ve chosen the 5 oldest children and Ferdinand, the home’s manager, who has never had an opportunity to see his own country’s greatest treasure and likely never will unless someone buys him a ticket. The safari company will also pay the park admission fee for the Tumaini Six. (It’s a lower rate for citizens, but still high enough to be out of reach for this group.)

Profit-making that gives back. Good for them. The company is Serengeti Passage and Safaris Ltd., and if you’re in a position to give them some business or know someone who is, you should. Contact them at tours@sengetiservices.com. Ask for Ben Mongitta.

When I wake up around 5, the boys in the house are already active. And not just the 3 who are going with us—pretty much everyone is awake and chattering, excited for the unprecedented opportunity made available to their housemates. When I walk across the campus to the guest house in the dark at 5:50, I see the headlights of the two vehicles at the front gate; they’re half an hour early. This is one well-run company.

One final run through the extensive checklist—does everyone have sunscreen, bug spray, hand sanitizer, sunglasses, a camera, and optional money for souvenirs at the gift shop? Do the girls have congas? (That’s a wraparound skirt, which can be opened out and used for a privacy shield if we need to use it and the back of the vehicle as an emergency loo out in the field. It sounds like we’re placing the responsibility on the girls, but truth is, they’re the only ones with wraparound skirts, so they’re supplying the whole crew.) Do we have plastic bags for trash, toilet paper, food, binoculars, field guides? Ferdinand has money for bottled water, which we’ll pick up along the way.

We load the two cars—Toyota Land Cruisers with 6 and 8 seats respectively, really solid, 4-wheel-drive safari vehicles with pop-up tops for easy viewing. Trucks, really. One has a built-in electric cooler in the back, and they both have inverters for 220V household current. Nice touches. The driver of the vehicle I’m in introduces himself as Vincent. I’m overjoyed to hear that; Ben, at the office, said he’d try to schedule Vincent for this trip, and Beth says he’s very good. The driver, of course, functions not only as a driver but a guide; he’s the guy who finds the animals, and a qualified one is worth the whole price of the trip.

The children chase the cars as we leave the compound, cheering and wishing us—but especially their 5 colleagues—well. It’s still dark, but we don’t doze on the way through Mwanza; we’re all too excited.

It’s more than 2 hours to Serengeti, with a brief stop in the last large town before the park to get some boxes of bottled water. Finally we see the entrance, announced by a large billboard with the name of the park. Since two of our group—Jon and Abbie—have Bruins t-shirts, we stop to get a “Bruins sighting” photo in front of the sign, being sure to include the very manly vehicle and Vincent. Then up to the gate itself, where we get out for a last shot at the choo until the end of the day, and for Vincent to pay the entrance fees.

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In we go. Almost immediately Vincent begins spotting and pointing out game. Baboons, wildebeest (these will turn out to be the most common game of the day; we decide to start calling Will “Will da Beast”), zebras (these British-influenced speakers of English use a short “e”), impala (we see one who’s lost one of his horns; we call him “Corkscrew.” Oddly enough we see him again on the way out of the park at the end of the day), gazelles (both Thompson’s and Grant’s), water buck, a herd of about 40 ostrich (Vincent tells us it’s unusual to see such a large herd at this time of year), cranes, herons, beautiful iridescent blue birds with orange bellies, who briefly fly alongside the vehicle. Animals are everywhere as we bounce over the grassy plain. It’s migration season, and we see large herds of zebra stretched out for miles on both sides of the uneven dirt road. After lots of looking, standing on the seats, craning our necks, we see giraffe feeding in the tall trees, and near the river—and in the river—we see hippos, mostly just their nostrils hovering at the top of the water.

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I’m not expecting to see lions. They’re here, but they’re not people people, so to speak, and seeing one or two is relatively rare; you might see just a couple of ears, or a tail sticking up out of the grass. Well, the highlight of the day happens just before noon, when Vincent is maneuvering the vehicle over some pretty rough ground—4 x 4 territory—and says quietly but excitedly, “Lion! Under the tree!” We see a large male sitting serenely in the shade. When you have no predators, serenity rules. :-) Soon we see the female sitting nearby, and both our vehicles pull up and stop, shutting off the engines, incredibly close to the two, easily within 50 feet. We’re joined by 3 or 4 vehicles from other groups. We all sit silently, watching, not believing what we’re seeing. As the female slowly gets up and walks toward the male, Vincent whispers, “They’re going to mate.”

Well, apparently Vincent really knows his lions, because that’s exactly what they do. So, folks, your sons and daughters have now seen lions mating in the wild. From 50 feet away. This trip is turning out be a lot more educational than any of us planned.

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We see the male chase away another male, and Vincent says he thinks the male we’re seeing is the new one, who has just expelled the former king. I have no idea how he knows.

Stunned, we drive a short distance to a little picnic area, where we eat the sandwiches and other things we brought along. We can’t believe what we’ve just witnessed. And the day’s only half over.

Just the other side of where we’re eating is a herd of zebra. It occurs to some of us that the lions might have some interest in that, but they don’t seem to.

After lunch we travel widely through the park, finding a large group of hippos in the river, just lying in the slow current or basking on the bank. A couple of the little ones seem to have difficulty getting along, but their combats are short lived.

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We stop by a hanging bridge (“Warning: Max 4 Pax”) and all cross 20 or 30 feet above the river to the other side. There’s not much there, except a nice swinging vine that we all try; then back across. I try to cross without ever touching the handrails; Vincent, 30 feet behind me, bounces up and down to try to get me to grab for them. Nope, Vincent. You’ll have to do better than that.

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But Vincent has a single goal in mind; he’s looking for elephant. We seem to have a lot of trouble finding any. He takes us through fairly thick underbrush, back and forth alongside the slowly winding river. We see lots of trampled places, and a whole lot of elephant scat. Something’s got to be generating all of that. :-) But no luck.

Then he whispers, “There he is!” We look to the right and see an old bull lumbering along. Vincent maneuvers the vehicle around clumps of tall grass so we can get a better view. The bull eventually wanders into a place Vincent doesn’t want to go, and we watch him go out of sight. One of us comments that it’s odd that he’s all by himself.

Well, at least we’ve seen one. We head back through the undergrowth, winding to avoid obstacles. I ask Vincent if we’ve seen everything the park has to offer in the line of good-sized land animals. Rhino? None in Serengeti, he replies. There are cheetah and leopard, but they stay pretty low during the day. Then, again the whisper: “There! On the right!” I count one, two, three, four, five, six elephants, four quite large and two smaller, one apparently an adolescent. Both vehicles stop, and we turn off the engines and sit in the silence, watching. They’re grazing, apparently ignoring us. Then the adolescent, as though he knows what the odd creatures in the funny cars want, eats his way in the direction of the second car, stopping maybe 10 feet off to one side, giving them full side and front views, munching contentedly. Even the cameras, busily taking pictures, are silent. We sit in silence for several minutes, taking in the beauty and grandeur of the moment.

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Finally they wander back out of camera range in the undergrowth, and we fire up the engines and continue retracing our steps. We stop for a few minutes at a bend in the river, again watching the hippos bask in the sun. There are 6 or 7 vehicles lined up enjoying the view.

The mention of cheetahs has constituted a challenge in Vincent’s mind. He converses with another driver, who has heard about one along a river not far away, so the three vehicles head over there and slowly move along, searching through the brush for a lounging cheetah. After working up the stream and back down again, we just can’t find one.

It’s about time to start the 1-hour drive back out of the park. As we work in that direction, Vincent sees another herd of elephant—40 visible, with evidence that there are more behind them. He maneuvers to the best viewing spot, and we watch from 40 or 50 feet away while the column moves stately, grandly, in a straight line toward some certain destination. There are several juveniles in the group, one of them very young and very tiny, next to his Mom. Another several minutes of watching and savoring every sense and every second. Then, as the herd is leaving, Vincent starts the car, guns the engine, spins the tires, and heads aggressively for the last cow, the rear guard. She spins around, faces us directly, and the ears come out perpendicular to the head, in a sign of hostility. I’m standing next to Vincent, my head out the top of the cab, and I’m suddenly face to face with an angry mother elephant.

“Vincent! What are you doing?”

“Take a picture!” he laughs.

His job is to get us photo ops. He sure got us one.

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Mom and I look each other over for a minute; she decides I’m no threat and heads away. I’m relieved. So to speak.

So now it’s time to go. We whiz by with a called greeting to Corkscrew, the one-horned (antlered?) impala and arrive at the gate around 5. Down the road just a way is a restaurant, gift shop, and toilet, which we stop to use. Several of us buy cold soda, and then of course we have to stay to drink it, because you can’t leave with the bottle.

As I expected, everybody’s bushed. (Pun completely intended.) All of us—except Vincent, thanks to a can of Red Bull—sleep for most of the way. When I wake up, it’s dark, and we’re on the outskirts of Mwanza. Through town, out the other side, down the bumpy dirt road, and home. When the gate attendant opens to let us in, it’s after 8, and all the kids are supposed to be getting ready for bed. But here they come, in their pj’s, running across the campus to greet their older colleagues who have just seen their first safari. They’ve been asking “When will they be home?!” for 3 hours or more.

We thank our drivers, say goodnight to the kids, and head for the house. Boy, are we tired. A nice shower would be nice about now. Ooops. Water’s out. Well, that’s a bummer. Beth sends kids to bring buckets of water, and we get enough to wash the dishes and provide a few bucket showers to the girls.

Mostly we just want to go to bed. So we do.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Today is the day we tell the kids that they’re going to just half a day of classes for the next week.

They’re disappointed.

We’re not. :-)

We’ll evaluate each of our students and give them the curricular emphases that they need. That means that we won’t be spending time reviewing stuff they already know pretty well. I think that’s a good thing.

While the rest of the team is enjoying their afternoon off, I catch a ride with Matt, who’s going into town. I want try the ATM card again, now that the bank has assured me that it will work. And Beth has given me a small shopping list. And when the team hears that I’m going in, 5 of them want me to pick up phone vouchers for them. And there’s also the tantalizing possibility of actual web access.

I go by Matt’s house after my morning teaching is done. We jump in his Land Cruiser and head into town. The Cruiser is a good choice; as he puts it, you have to shoot it to kill it. We also note that Toyota apparently put more mental effort into protecting the car than protecting its passengers; it’s got quite an entertaining suspension system, and since you can’t hurt the thing, we, um, enjoy the ride.

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Matt’s got a dental appointment, and he needs to go to the ATM too, so we both go to his bank. I insert my card, press a few buttons, and … a glorious avalanche of pink 6-dollar bills cascades into my hand. (Actually they’re 10,000 Tanzanian shilling notes, the standard note here, but they’re worth about 6 bucks each, so I call ‘em 6-dollar bills.) I get a bunch, to pay back half of the safari cost. I’ll get the other half next week.

Literally while I’m getting the cash, my phone rings. You know, the one that won’t send or receive calls? Well, apparently it will receive. It’s Dr. Loescher, the host of the Cameroon team, to talk over some business. Joy had texted me during class this morning and asked me to call him. I had tried at the break, and of course the call would cancel itself immediately. But he can call me, and we get some business taken care of. I feel almost human.

Matt drops me off downtown and goes to the dentist. I walk over to the pizza restaurant, where we get our bread. The order is waiting for me. 10 loaves. “Say, could I come back about 3 and pick this up then?” I don’t want to have to carry a large box of bread around town until Matt gets out of the chair. “No problem,” they say. I love Africa.

Over to the phone store, where I get the vouchers for the kids in less than 10 minutes. I’ve made all the arrangements I need to, and in less the 20 minutes. Something seriously spooky is going on here. This is not how Africa works.

Over to the hotel lobby, where the coffee shop gets 3G cellular speed. There are no open booths—that’s where the electrical outlets are—but I have an hour of battery left, so I get a table with a nice view of all the booths and set up there, prepared to pounce when somebody leaves. I order a bitter lemon soda.

A word about that. In every former British colony I’ve visited (except the good old US of A), you can get bitter lemon soda. South Africa, Kenya, Zambia, St. Vincent, Tanzania. This stuff is seriously good. Strong lemon, less sugar. You need to try it.

Seriously.

Right now.

Go get some.

After half an hour, a booth opens up. I pounce, plug in, crank up the screen brightness, and prepare to get careless about my electricity consumption. Get all my email caught up, all the blog up to date (though I note that Joy hasn’t sent me anything to post in a few days), and even get to chat with my daughter Jennifer on Facebook for a few minutes. Man, I miss those girls.

Soon Matt shows up, numb mouth and all. I buy him a bitter lemon; nothing is more appropriate after a visit to the dentist than filling your mouth with flavored sugar water. Back to the car; pick up the bread, and then one last stop at U-Turn, the western-style grocery store, to get Beth’s list. I’ve taken to calling it U-Haul. I don’t know why, but that just strikes me funny.

Back at Tumaini in time to do the 5 pm private reading tutoring with a student. So that was a pretty efficient trip. You know all that stuff I said the other day about inefficiency? Well, it’s still true, but some days everything just clicks.

We have supper with the Eadses and the Gasses. The Eadses are going to Nairobi tomorrow for a doctor’s visit, and on to Mombasa for a week’s vacation, so we’ll be gone when they get back. We tell them goodbye and give them a card saying thanks. They’ve been good hosts, though they’d be quick to say that Beth has done the yeoman’s share of the work that hosting a team always involves.

After house and team devotions, we spend some time getting organized for tomorrow’s early departure for the Serengeti. The children who are coming along have been told, of course, and they’re nearly as excited as we are. Tomorrow will be tiring but memorable.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Will sleeps through the running this morning. As it happens, today the girls see a man walking down the road carrying a machete in one hand and a sledge hammer in the other. Of all the days for Will not to be there …

Regular slate of classes today, so we gather for a few minutes at the girls’ house and then head out to meet our students. In one of my morning classes we have a pretty significant discipline problem. Cross-cultural discipline is really difficult. For example, here young people will not look an older person in the eyes; they look down, and their tendency is to shut down completely, not answering any questions. It’s difficult in that situation to tell whether the child is refusing to obey, or doing his best to obey. Fortunately, since my class meets on Beth’s porch, she overhears the whole thing and is able to help steer us to a reasonably informed conclusion. It’s good to have backup. :-)

In the teachers’ lounge (the girls’ house) after lunch, Jon delivers the line of the day. He walks in, sets his materials down dejectedly, and says, “I had this great idea to stamp the back of their hands. Then I realized, they’re black.”

By the end of the day, the kids are feeling pretty tired; so tired, in fact, that they ask if maybe we can cancel classes for the afternoon Friday and next Wednesday, in the middle of the week, to get a mid-week break. Since they ask, I know they mean it. During game time Beth actually asks how they’re holding up, and I tell her about their request and suggest we give them some help. She quickly agrees; she had told me at the beginning of the week that we could scale back the schedule if it was too rigorous. So at supper at the Eadses’ house later that afternoon, I pass the word along. The kids are overjoyed. Then  Beth says, “Just Wednesday afternoon? I thought you meant every afternoon next week.” In other words, morning classes only for the rest of our time here. Did I say overjoyed?

Supper is great, and for more than just that reason. Chili, cole slaw, pineapple, corn muffins. We’re feeling pretty good.

Singing in team devotions tonight is unusually fervent. We let it run on for a while. Prayer time is powerful as well, as we pray for our students and the spiritual battles they’re facing.

 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Third day of tutoring sessions. Our crew gets to work on schedule, but Beth and I need to run into town to try to take care of this ATM card situation. Mrs. Eads (Jana) and Mrs. Gass (Laura) come along too, and Laura brings Ian, the baby. With some trepidation I climb into the estrogenmobile, and we head into town.

Jana is having trouble with her ATM card too, so our first stop is at a bank. Neither of our cards works. Now this is odd; I sent my bank a secure email through their website, and they responded asking for specific dates and places where I’d like the card to work. I replied with the info they wanted, and they sent me an email explaining that the cash I get will be in the local currency, not US dollars. Sounds like the card is all set, right? But it doesn’t work.

Great. I’ve brought the laptop just in case there’s a problem and I need to go to the bank’s website. Beth drops me off at the coffee shop in the hotel lobby where I got that really good bandwidth the other day. The last two days I’ve been getting nothing. Literally. So I set myself down in a large, leather recliner, kick up the footrest, and prepare to see the web.

But nothing happens. Five bars on the cell line. Zero download bandwidth.

Well, fortunately, the phone place is right next door, so I go over, stand in line, and finally get to talk to a company rep. She pulls the SIM card from the modem and checks it. “There’s no money on this account.” “But I paid $20 last Thursday for a month of unlimited access. And I had access until Monday, but now I have nothing.” “Well, there’s no money on the account.” At least, I think that’s what she said; the rock music on the PA system, my bad ear, and her Swahili accent all conspire to render me effectively deaf. Well, I clearly don’t know what to do. I can give them more money, but if the last money I gave them didn’t work, what assurance do I have that more will?

So I head back to the hotel lobby, and fortunately, Beth has arrived and is sitting with some wazungu friends, waiting for me. I tell her what I think the lady said, and she looks puzzled. After brief introductions, we leave her friends and walk back next door. On the way, she tells me that the water company, from whom we were planning to pick up 7 5-gallon jugs, has just told her that there won’t be any water for an hour and a half. So we have lots of time.

Long story short, VodaCom has changed the procedure for putting the money on your account. The old way, the way she used, gives you a different system, which effectively made all my money disappear at a more expensive rate. We need to buy another month, and submit it the new way. We do. Got access. I go to the bank website and send another, slightly more irritated, message. I’d like my money, please.

That’s not going to happen today—it’s 4 am back at bank headquarters—so we go to a backup plan, get the money temporarily from another source (I actually have several possibilities to choose from), and take the cash over to the safari place to sign on the dotted line. Ben, the agent that this mission crew regularly uses, tells us that he has 6 extra seats in the cars, that he’d like to donate to the children from Tumaini. Wow. We arrange to have the Tanzanian supervisor of the home, Ferdinand, take a seat—he’s never been—and choose the 5 oldest children to go as well. This is going to be a remarkable opportunity for them. Cash paid, receipt in hand.

Back to the water company. Sorry, it’ll be another half hour—1 pm. We sit on their front step, watching the traffic go by and waiting for Jana and Laura, who are off on some sort of excursion. 1 pm comes and goes. Several minutes later, Jana and Laura show up. Beth is ready to tell the water company to deliver the water this afternoon—we need it today—and they’re saying, “It’s almost here, it’s almost here.” Suddenly the truck drives up, and we load 7 jugs into the back of the van.

So where are we? The safari is paid for, but I still don’t have reliable access to the team funds. I’ll need to call back to the States and try to figure out what’s wrong. We’ve solved the internet access problem. We have water. And a few groceries. Three-fourths of a day.

Why all these details, when none of your kids’ names are even involved? Simple. This is what life is like in a developing country. This is what many missionaries, and lots of other expats, put up with every day. Nothing works the first time, nothing is on time, much of your day is spent waiting around for people to keep promises they’ve made without intending to keep them. Oh, and that phone nonsense? The basic reason is that you can’t get service on credit here; if the phone company extends service and bills later, they won’t get paid. So everything has to be prepaid. And that means that every cell phone customer—every single one—has to go down to the phone company every month and stand in line to get more time on his phone. The system is broken.

Now, I don’t mean for this to be a jingoist rant. Plenty of things in my beloved country don’t work right either. But it’s also true that Americans can take certain daily things pretty much for granted, and much of the world simply doesn’t live that way.

We had hoped to be back early enough in the day that I could teach my afternoon classes. That was pretty naïve. My Standard 5 kids get the whole day off. The rest of the crew says the day was mixed; a few are pretty frustrated with a general lack of interest, cooperation, and respect from their students, while others say today went a little better than yesterday. The kids seem to think we’re celebrities when we play with them, but we turn into the bad guys when we expect them to work. We all talk about the real purpose of our being here—to represent Christ to the kids, and only secondarily to achieve a given curricular goal. We can’t do that without divine help. That will be a key emphasis of our prayer time tonight.

I fire up the laptop to update the blog with my newfound internet access. Three bars. Zero download speed. OK, maybe later; maybe it’s a sunspot or a cold front or something. (Work with me here, I’m desperate.) I’ll call the US number of the bank and try to get the card working. I call. The call immediately cancels itself. This international phone I got has been sending and receiving texts, but I haven’t used it to call, because the rates are pretty high. So I call customer support (it’s an internal system number, so it works even when real calls don’t). I don’t get my second cousin’s ex-wife, as I did in Ghana, but I get a nice guy named Charles. He gives me several things to try. None of them work. I call back, and get Phil. He gives me several things to try. None of them work.

I assess the situation. None of my ATM cards work. My interaction with the bank’s website has been ineffectual, and in any case my web access is down, though it worked fine a few minutes ago downtown, and though I have a clear signal at the cellular modem. I can’t call the bank, ‘cause the stupid phone doesn’t work. And I have no way to text the bank, my only operating method of communication.

I think I’m going to move to a mud hut in the middle of Chad. Technology is evil. I’m an eremite.

I wander up to the girls’ house, and Beth is sitting on the couch. I mutter something about stupid technology, stupid, stupid, and after I essentially recite the previous paragraph to her, she insists that I use her phone to call the bank. I hate borrowing from missionaries, of all people. But with options pretty well gone, I take her up on it. Five minutes on the phone, and the agent tells me the card will work now. Apparently it was attached to another account in my name at the same bank, which had been closed for years. (Why did the bank think I emailed from Africa to access an account that doesn’t even exist? Does anybody think anymore?) Now, she says, it will work. We’ll see, on our next trip into town, scheduled for Friday.

But I still don’t have a working phone or working internet. I think God’s trying to rid me of the baggage of this world. It seems to be working.

Supper is mashed white sweet potatoes, in portions roughly 4 times as much as we can eat. Well, they have a pig here, and he gets the leftovers, so nothing goes to waste.

After house devotions with the kids, I tell the team that I bought a 4-liter tub of ice cream in town today. They rise from the seventh level of Dante’s inferno, arms outstretched, singing the praises of my name. It’s in Beth’s freezer, so we all go down there, in the dark, gather silently outside her kitchen window, and break into a rousing rendition of “You Are My Sunshine.” It works; we get the tub, and, after leaving her a bowlful, head back to the house. It’s really good.

Team devotions, with prayer being a highlight again, and some games with a bowl of popcorn, and the day is done.