" Tanzania "

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Travel day. Start in summer (or what feels like it), end in winter. Start in a small village, end in a large, modern city. A lot can happen in a few hours.

I wake up a little after 6, with my mosquito netting hanging down the side of my bed and a couple of large bites, one on my leg, one on my arm. Well, might as well end with a bang. I’ve gotten bitten here before, and no malaria yet, so cross your fingers.

The house opens for us guys at 8. Beth and Rachelle have made a pan of cinnamon rolls, which we heat up and have for breakfast. We’ve gotten used to chai at 10, and since we leave for the airport at 9, our eating patterns are going to be a little different today.

Gershon and I strip down our little dorm room, leaving just the furniture and taking all the bed linens over to the house to throw in with the other laundry. Two of the boys come by to help carry the laundry. They’re always eager to help.

We all finish packing in plenty of time, and we make sure the house is cleaned up. No sense leaving a bunch of dishes or whatever for the mamas to do. We write our good-byes in the guest book, and several more of the children bring us notes to take with us.

I spend some time talking with Ferdinand. It’s hard to put into words the depth of my estimation for this man. Managing 55 children, whose behavior is, well, energetic, keeping the details in order, and always with a smile and a cheerful attitude, this is an example of Christian manhood unlike any I’ve ever met before. May God raise up more like him.

And we wait for the taxi, which arrives at 9. Drag all the luggage down the dirt path to the parking space, accompanied by a lot of children. Now comes the time I’ve warned the team about. The children cry, and hug us, and won’t let go. But we have to go. So we hug them back, and cry some, and gently push them away and get into the cars. The luggage and 4 team members in the taxi, and the 5 others with Beth and Rachelle in Beth’s vehicle.

Out the curved drive, with the children running alongside. Out the gate, and down the long, punishing dirt road to The Pavement at Sweya. Through town—traffic is busy this morning—around the traffic circle with the big fish fountain standing on its tail, and out the north end to the airport.

Now traffic isonsurprisingly light. We say our good-byes to Beth and Rachelle—boy I hope we’ve been less trouble than we’re worth—and into the departures door. Must have timed it just right; we’re the only ones in line, so we buzz through the first security check and the baggage weigh-in, where we get the receipt that lets us check in and get our boarding passes. Not one tiny shilling’s worth of excess baggage fees. That’s really nice.

Through the second security check, and we’re in the waiting lounge, more than an hour before boarding. Why is the system always efficient when you have time, but never when you don’t? How do it know?

We hit the little snack bar for something to tide us over for the next couple of hours—I have unexpected shillings to spend, what with the pass on the baggage fees—and then we enjoy the free wi-fi (!) in the waiting area.

Flight’s on time. We take off toward the north, with the Lake to our left, but with haze heavy enough to keep us from really enjoying the view. We’re all seated together toward the front, and in what seems like no time we’re landing at Dar.

There are 2 domestic airlines in Tanzania, which are just, well, awful. You’d think the competition would improve service, but there’s no sign that it ever will. If you’re flying inside TZ, you’re flying on either Precision Air or FastJet, and nobody likes either one of them. (We’re on FastJet, as if that makes any difference.)

One of the things they do badly is refuse to recognize any other carriers—I mean the international ones. We’re on what looks to us like an international flight, but they won’t check our luggage through past Dar. So when we land we have to go stand at the baggage claim, get our luggage, go down a little hallway and through security (for no reason at all), then check in again for the international flight. Then fill out the emigration paperwork, go through the passport check, head upstairs, and go through security yet another time (that’s 4 times—twice in Mwanza and twice in Dar—without ever leaving the secure zone). That’s a lot of times to have to hold your trousers up.

But now we’re at the gate complex for our Joburg flight, and we have maybe 30 minutes to grab a bite. Drop into the Flamingo Restaurant—it has several locations all around the airport—and grab a pastry and a drink before boarding. Get rid of some more shillings, and keep the electorate from deciding to overthrow the emperor.

Up, up, and away on South African. It’s nice to hear the distinctive accent again. I have to remember not to say “Asante” all the time—no more Swahili on this trip. When the beverage cart comes around, I ask for Appletiser (carbonated apple juice), and they have it. Yep. This is South African Airways.

Gershon, across the aisle, sees the Appletiser and is curious about it. I let him and the other 2 on the back row with me—Kyla and Emily—have a taste. A few minutes later Gershon looks over his shoulder (we’re right in front of the galley) and asks the flight attendant for Appletisers for the whole row. I say, “They have Grapetiser too, you know.” He changes his order to that. Then I say, “Ask them about Duriantiser.” If you don’t get the joke, Google “durian.”

As the sun goes down in the west, we have a spectacular view out the right-side windows—a blazing orange sky across the entire horizon. I can see at least 120 degrees of it from my window. If you think about it, sunsets last forever; there’s always one going on somewhere. As a matter of fact, there’s just one sunset, racing around the planet from east to west, at about 1000 mph at the equator. A constant silent but eloquent testimony to the love of God for beauty. There are sunsets where there are no people to see them. What an artist.

We land a few minutes early at Joburg, and as the last 2 rows we’re the last people off the plane. So we’re at the end of the line for everything, but that’s actually good; it means the crush has passed by the time we get there. We fill out an Ebola questionnaire (no problem there) and get through immigration in a few minutes. (No visa is required for US passports in South Africa). We work through the huuuuuuge baggage area—10 carousels, and we’re the last folks to get there, and our baggage comes along in a few minutes. Except for Jess’s. Uh-oh. We go to the baggage desk, and they tell us they accidentally sent her luggage on to the Cape Town flight; she won’t have to take it through customs. Cool.

Through the “nothing to declare” hall and out to re-check the bags, then upstairs to the gate. We have half an hour, so the team points me to a coffee shop (Vida e Caffe), and we all get the first high-end coffee we’ve had in a long time. Sarah looks around for a souvenir shop with something that says “Johannesburg” on it—her last name is Johannes—and can’t find anything. Looks like she’s going to have to deal with Amazon.

The gate’s just around the corner. On we go, and on to Cape Town. We are not marching to Pretoria.

We approach Cape Town from the south, with the Atlantic on the left. The lights show an orderly harbor city, modern and bright. It’s good to be back.

We head for the luggage carousel, and I decide to leave the crew waiting and go get the rental van. I tell them to “meet me at the curb out front.” I walk across the plaza and through the tunnel to the car rental agencies and find the guy at the Hertz counter. Check-in is routine. We have a Toyota Quantum, a 10-seat van with plenty of headroom and aisle/floor space. He kindly offers to drive with me around to the curb; “it’s a little tricky to get there.” And it is; I’d have had trouble finding it. It’s upstairs, at Departures.

Then it occurs to me that I’ve forgotten something. They’ll come out downstairs, at Arrivals, and there’s no “curb” there.

Who designed this airport?

So he stays with the van while I go looking for The Crew. I eventually find them with all the luggage, including Jess’s, wandering the plaza downstairs, trying desperately to make sense of what I told them to do. I apologize and take them up the escalator to the Departures curb.

We squeeze all the luggage into the van and head off into the night, with me sitting on the right side, shifting the manual transmission with my left hand, and driving on the left side of the road. At night. Oh, this will be fun.

One problem with this driving setup is that every time you turn, you accidentally turn on the windshield wipers. Think about it.

I have a little trouble finding the guest house—turns out there’s no exit at a key intersection—but Gershon’s manning the GPS and we finally pull up to the De Keurboom Guest Houses in Kuilsrivier around midnight. Linda Otto, the proprietor, has waited up for us, and she gets us settled. Jessica, Jess, and Sarah stay in 2 bedrooms (with 2 baths) in the main office house, and the rest of us are in the first house across the street.

I’ve used Keurboom with every team I’ve had in Cape Town. I highly recommend both Linda and the facility. It’s perfect, comfortable, inexpensive, and convenient in location. If you’re ever in Cape Town, please, please give her your business.

We’re pretty tired. Find your bed, cover up with the puffy blankets—they don’t heat the houses in winter here, and it’s cold—and go to sleep. Church is at 9 am.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Last full day at Tumaini, and last day of camp. We start with God and I Time, for which the children have established a pretty good pattern. Again, mostly memorization rather than meditation and prayer, but there are worse things they could be doing with their time.

To make room for Fun Time tomorrow afternoon, and because we have only 2 hikes for the 3 days of camp, we move the game time to after chai and before lunch. We play “Cat in the Hat,” with 2 games going at the same time (older and younger kids), and Jess doing the reading. We break only one wooden chair, which we view as something of an accomplishment, and there are no significant injuries, so that’s a success.

During the kids’ regular Bible lesson with Ferdinand at noon, Rob invites us down to the house where they’re staying to hang out. Over water and dates (the fruit kind) from 2 continents, and a little fresh coconut, we impose on them to watch us rehearse one of the skits for this afternoon, and we spend some time talking about what he—and we—have been up to.

Soon it’s time for lunch, and all the wazungu—the team, the Howells, the Eadses, Beth, and Rachelle—eat together, adding an extra table to the Eadses’ porch. Drip beef sandwiches, moist and delicious. The conversation runs for quite a while, but at 2 the team has to tear itself away to make final preparation for Fun Time at 3.

We’ve gotten 3 skits together, which we think will be funny and, with a lot of laughter, could run for most of an hour. We make sure we have props and other essentials together, and before we know it, it’s show time.

We start with an old favorite, the doctor skit, where Gershon sits in a doctor’s waiting room and picks up every symptom displayed by everyone else who comes in, until a pregnant lady shows up, at which time he runs out screaming. All of the “patients” bring a lot of laughter, but I suppose the favorites are Jess’s spasms—she really gets into it—and Charity’s nausea, which, well, I won’t describe in detail.

Next is Gershon and me doing “The King and I,” which the kids still remember from 2 years ago, when Jon Reid and Will Armstrong made something of a classic of it. We do our best, and the kids laugh heartily, especially at the female roles.

We save the best for last—Charity and Michaela doing the arms-as-legs shtick, with Sarah acting as Charity’s arms and Emily as Michaela’s. They work through getting up in the morning, washing their faces, brushing their teeth, doing their exercises, eating a banana for breakfast, and putting on their makeup. By the end of the skit people are rolling on the ground laughing and crying at the same time. The cast is really funny.

The whole thing runs 45 minutes, so we feel like they got their money’s worth. And with that, camp is over.

Time to shut it all down. It takes some time, because these kids are pretty tender about good-byes, so we have a procedure planned out.

We begin by taking the team—and Dog Samuel—up the hill to Faulu Beach Resort for a soda and a little relaxing celebration with a view. We do that every year as kind of a formal recognition that we’ve finished the job. The children holler and wave at us from down below.

Then back down for supper—ugali and beef—and the really hard part, an official good-bye ceremony. We all sit around the kibanda; Ferdinand and Beth say a few words of thanks, and Ferdinand prays in Swahili for a safe remainder of the journey. The kids sing in Swahili, expressing the same sentiments. Then the team lines up along the path in front of the Big House, and the children come by to shake our hands and say good-bye. The girls, especially the older girls, cry and hug the team girls. They always take these endings very hard. I think that’s a good sign; the tutors and the students have connected and formed actual relationships over just 3 weeks.

Then it’s time for house devotions. We decide at the last minute to pull all the kids together into the Big House instead of meeting in the individual houses. And then we decide that after we sing some, I’ll bring a devotional. Impromptu.

OK.

I talk about the fact that God is gathering for the glory of his name a people from every nation, and we are some of those people. God has done this. I invite those who are not yet believers to join us. And I end, as I love to do, with the Aaronic blessing. And then we all hug and cry some more, and after longer than usual, the children head to their houses and to bed.

We spend our team devotional time in prayers of thanksgiving, and then we go over the issues involved in getting from Mwanza to Cape Town. It should be fine, but there are some things to be aware of and to plan for.

And we pack. 44 pounds in a single checked bag, to avoid excess baggage fees (maybe, depending on how the folks at FastJet feel). The website says only one carry-on, but inbound they allowed two, so I don’t know what to think. I’ll just need to be ready to pony up some cash if somebody official presents me with a bill.

Around 11 we all head off to bed. Leaving here tomorrow at 9 am.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Brief entry today. Second day of camp, which goes well. God and I Time is quiet and cooperative, and the kids are memorizing their verses. A few are memorizing so aggressively that we say they can work on Psalms 46 and 47 as well, and they can memorize them in Swahili if they wish.

This morning’s hike is to the other prominent hill near the compound. It’s quite a bit longer, but not as steep. It’s pretty much impossible to manage a hike with these kids; they take off running, and you can’t keep up with them, and they scatter to the winds. You just hope they all come back. And they do.

Lunch is chili and cole slaw, and both are unusually good. And I realize that it takes something to make cole slaw special.

Since the Eadses are arriving home from vacation late this afternoon, and they’ve been the source of our wi-fi, we grab some online time in the afternoon before they get home. We figure they won’t want us crawling all over their house just to use the wi-fi. I manage to get a few pictures posted from the last few days, particularly Serengeti, so you might want to check back some.

We finish up the day’s camp activities with game time, which includes a large-scale 3-legged race (5 or 6 people to a unit), and which everybody enjoys. Following that comes Tube Tug, but since we don’t have any inner tubes, we use various objects at hand, with varying point values. An empty 5-gallon water bottle, a soccer ball, a length of rope, a sneaker—you get the idea. Competition is heated, and Ferdinand has to remind the opponents that they’re not enemies.

As we’re announcing the point totals at the end of day 2, Rob Howell’s family shows up. Perfect timing. When the kids see his car, they take off running, as we knew they would, and whatever we were doing is over.

Rob founded Tumaini about 10 years ago. He’s been gone for 4 years, but he visits occasionally, and the kids still remember and revere him; they call him “Baba” (father) and mention him every night.

After a round of introductions and greetings and stories, the Howells head to their house for the night, and we head to dinner with the children—rice pilau, which is a real treat. The house devos, team devos, and some more planning for tomorrow’s Fun Time. We feel like our skits are a little on the light side; we’ll have to see how it goes.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

[Admin note: web access from now until we get set up in Cape Town Sunday will be unpredictable. I’m posting what I have and will take whatever opportunities I have to get you further info. Expect something late Sunday or early Monday our time at the latest. (Cape Town is 6 hours later than EDT.)]

Camp!

And it begins with a Great Experiment: God & I Time, or personal devotions. We’re going to ask 55 children to sit quietly by themselves, read and meditate on the Scripture, and pray.

And it works. We lay out the expectations—there’s a sheet of paper with Psalm 42, and another sheet with some study questions for verses 1-3—and especially the need for quiet so everyone can think without distraction. We send the older children out onto the lawn, one team on one side, and the other on the other, and the leaders walking around to be available to answer questions. Amber takes the little ones out a distance away for a brief devotional and then play time. Jessica takes the 3 Standard 3 girls, and I take the 3 boys, inside the Big House for a time of directed work on the study questions. When I finish with them, I send them out to join the others on the lawn to pray and to work on their memory verses.

So all of the children are here, and quiet reigns over the campus. I’m amazed and overjoyed at how well it’s working.

There are issues, of course. Most of the kids are focusing more on memorizing Psalm 42 to get points for their team, and there are some who are sitting glumly and doing nothing. But they’re not being distractions. And perhaps a few are meditating on the material and actually pursuing a relationship with God. At least we’ve pointed them in that direction.

After chai at 10, it’s time for the first hike. We’ll do the faster climb today, the east ridge. I tell the kids to stay with the group—a greater waste of time was never perpetrated on humankind—and out the walk-in gate we go. By the time I get through the gate and look up, half a dozen of the children are halfway up the ridge. They’re climbing in sandals, flip-flops, some of them barefoot, and this is a rocky ridge covered with grass and desert brush and cactus. These kids are just mountain goats.

01 hike 127 (6) 01 hike 127 (5) 01 hike 127 (4)

We crest the ridge in just 10 or 15 minutes and then work north toward some large rocks that give a good view of the landscape in all directions. After clambering around there and taking photos, we work our way down the far side of the ridge toward a second, smaller ridge just to the east. I’m halfway down when I hear a child crying behind me. I turn to see Anthony, one of the 5-year-olds, standing at a 10-foot drop and crying.

Yikes. We left one of the little ones behind. We’re gonna have to change that part of the system. I run back up, working my way toward him from the left while one of the older boys, Kazungu, works around to the right. Anthony has the good sense to stay put. I get there first, and he runs to me and hangs on tight, crying. As I begin to work my way awkwardly back down over the rocks and brush, Kazungu arrives, takes Anthony on his back, and scampers down the hill. I make a mental note to take him aside later for a word of appreciation and commendation.

Between the two ridges, Charity, Kyla, Emily, and Jess decide to head back with the little ones, who are getting tired. They skirt the south end of the ridge to avoid more climbing. We learn later that along the way they pass the home of the aunt of one of the Tumaini house mamas, who invites them in for a visit. As a result, they get back after the rest of us, which makes us briefly uncomfortable.

01 hike 127 (7) 01 hike 127 (3) 01 hike 127 (2)

We head up the second ridge, which is lower than the first. I stop about halfway up to rest for a bit, and as a result I lose the rest of the group. I finish the climb by myself, and find myself at the top in a clearing with a pile of rocks. But no one anywhere. I can hear some kids but can’t get a sense of which direction the sound is coming from. After a bit I see a lone Shadi village woman carrying a load of firewood on her head. She doesn’t see me, and I watch in wonder at the places people will go to do their daily chores.

I hear Abeli’s air horn summoning everyone back for Bible time, and I figure the rest of the group must have headed back down already, so I work my way down, skirting the south end of the first ridge as the earlier group did. A few hundred yards from Tumaini I hear footsteps behind me, and 3 of the boys coming running up. Turns out I’m ahead of the main group—I have no idea how that happened—and we’re the first ones back. The rest follow in short order, with the little ones and their escorts bringing up the rear several minutes later.

All back, all safe, despite everything. That event would have given coordinators of American elementary school field trips nightmares, but this isn’t America, and everything comes out fine.

We rehydrate while the children are having their Bible lesson from Abeli. Lunch is couscous with a Mediterranean vegetable mixture that all of us but Gershon love. Gershon has an issue with vegetables.

The activity competition time starts at 3. It’s a series of relays, first just running, then walking with a cup of water on your head. Boys, then girls, then younger, then older. We’re thrilled to see that the kids are into the competition; they’re cheering their teammates on, making a lot of noise, and competing actively.

So the first day of camp is successful far beyond our expectations. The children have really cooperated with the program, participating in everything from God and I Time to competitive games. I’m particularly impressed with the team kids; they’ve planned and executed well, each carrying out his role effectively and with high spirits. I’m impressed.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Hmmm. I’m on page 104 of the Word file where I keep the blog. Over a hundred pages, and we’re not even in South Africa yet. Either we’re accomplishing and experiencing a lot, or I talk too much. As they say in Swahili, pole (sorry).

The hike happened this morning. Gershon left our room a little before 6, carrying plenty of light, and I reminded him that there are cacti on the ridge, which can ruin your whole day. It occurred to me after he left that the walk-in gate that’s the most convenient passage to the ridge is probably locked at this time of day, but they can probably walk down to the main gate. (He tells me later that Ferdinand happened by and unlocked the walk-in gate for them.) They spent about an hour up on the ridge, enjoying the view and especially the sunrise.

02 sunrise (1)  02 sunrise (3)  02 sunrise (5)

At 8:30 I drop by the house and find everyone there. Well, it certainly simplifies things not to have to send out a search party half an hour before tutoring sessions start.

The first session goes routinely. Abeli is pacing the grounds with his clipboard, taking attendance at each site and chasing down truants. He’s mastered a glowering expression that commands instant obedience from the miscreants.

Both sessions go relatively smoothly, with the occasional felonious intent. Gershon and Michaela combine their classes and do a planet walk out on the dirt road in front of the compound, starting with a coconut as the sun and measuring by scale out to each of the planets. Almost as good as a hike.

Over tortillas for lunch, we get some final questions answered for our camp plans. Beth will have the team rosters to us this afternoon, and we’ll be ready to announce the camp details to the kids after supper.

And so comes our last tutoring session. Which goes just fine.

And we’re done. We clean up the guest house headquarters, which has been littered with stacks of teaching materials. They all go back in the storage room down the path, and the place looks brand new.

Now to the final phase: camp. Beth gets us a list of teams that’s balanced among the children’s abilities, and we finalize the plans for this afternoon’s Big Announcement. Ferdinand blows the air horn that brings all the children running to the kibanda, and I formally announce the Third Annual BJU Team Camp. Gershon lays out the daily schedule for the next 3 days, and Jess explains the point system that will drive the competition. Then I introduce the team leaders and assistant leaders, to rousing cheers from all the team members. The children catch the spirit and begin to make a lot of noise as well. Then I call the names of the children on each team, and the teams assemble in different areas of the yard.

A key part of our effort is to get the older children, especially the boys, to buy in to the concept and generate some excitement among the younger kids. We’ll see how that goes.

Typical End of Day rituals. Rice and beans for supper, house devos with the children, an hour of web access, team devos, a little final detail planning for tomorrow, and then Gershon and I get out of the house so the girls can get ready for bed. All done by a whisker after 10. Not bad.