Thursday, 6/5/14

Well, let’s see how energetic our tutoring staff is this morning. They seem a little subdued as we gather between 8:30 and 9, but I’ll confess to not having a clear sense yet of who wakes up well and who doesn’t.

One of the team members has a fairly uncooperative group at 9—not so much active misbehaving as lethargy, “I’m too tired.” I suggest that she watch to see if the same kids are actively running around during chai—is this a ruse, an excuse not to do a task they view as unpleasant, or are the little cherubs really tired? We shall see.

By the second session of the day at 10:30, things seem considerably more upbeat, and by the end of that session at 11:30, the tutors are swapping stories, giving advice, comparing notes. On just the 3rd full day of tutoring, they’re seeing each of the children as individuals, referring to them by name and conferring with one another about each child’s strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies. They’ve connected well with their students.

This is another advantage of rotating the tutors. I had mentioned that it helps to prevent burnout, but it also gives each tutor exposure to 2 or 3 groups of students, and each student exposure to 2 or 3 tutors. This allows different tutors to compare their experiences with a particular child, giving them better perspective as they teach. That helps them a lot, and it provides a source of encouragement as well; one tutor can say, “Yes, Susie sometimes gives that impression, but I’ve found that she responds very well to such-and-such.” It leverages our effort.

Lunch on Dan & Jana’s porch is sloppy joes, and that announcement brings a chorus of approval from the team. We all dig in, and the conversation is lively. All 3 dogs are hanging around today, most obviously because there’s food, and they’re hoping for a scrap or two, but also because their favorite person, Mama Nestori, is on holiday with her husband Ferdinand and family (remember?), so they have no one else to hang around with. Lois, Kaleigh, and I are on cleanup, and as we’re finishing the dishes, Karen and Rachelle drop by, and they’re once again discussing individual students and ways of being effective with them. I’m really impressed with how seriously each team member has taken his job of learning and teaching his students.

The afternoon session goes fine, and for the game time we’re doing a couple of games the kids already know—“What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?” and “Duck, Duck, Goose”—so there’s less time needed to get started and more time for play. A few of the kids seem to want to hang back by the kibanda, and after encouraging them to play, we usually let them sit out and watch if they want to. There’s reading time at 5, and supper—rice and beans—at 6.

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We’re hanging around in the kibanda—several of the kids like to thumb-wrestle me, and since it’s only the thumb, I seem to be able to hold my own with them—when the “Maji Safi” (clean water) truck drives up. We’ve ordered enough city water to just about fill our 12,000 liters of storage. The truck’s a bright orange, and immediately it’s the most interesting thing in all of northwest Tanzania. We all go over to the tanks to watch. Abeli climbs on top of the storage tanks to feed the hose into each one in turn, and Asher receives the hose from the water crew through the fence and hands it up to him. I’m standing nearby, and we both notice trails of ants. “Do they bite?” he asks me. “Assume they do,” I say.

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As each 3,000-liter tank fills, its overflow pipe starts spouting, and the children run for buckets to hold under the stream so we don’t lose any of the water we’ve paid for. It’s chaos, with children running around screaming, buckets flying, water spraying, and mud quickly forming where we’re all standing. At one point there’s an explosion of water out of the top of one of the tanks, and several of us get our first shower in 2 weeks. It’s actually quite refreshing.

Soon the last tank is filled, and the last bucket is under its spouting overflow pipe, and we’re all standing around savoring a job well done. Then I suddenly start slapping my pants and dancing like Mr. Bojangles, and it all comes flashing back. Ah, that fire-ant invasion in Zambia by the lake. I remember it well. The little critters show up in the most unlikely places—and I do mean the very most unlikely—and bite like fire. (Hence the name.) Well, I know the only solution. I run to the girls’ house, which is empty, grab a couple of lanterns, and head for the last toilet, down at the end. Lock the door, and off go all the clothes. Carefully survey the topography of the Land of Dan (isn’t that way up north, beyond Galilee?) and crush any violent beasts trying to claim my territory. There are several. Then to the pile of clothes, now on the floor. Examine each one under the light, inside and outside, square inch by square inch, and commit genocide if at all possible. I find about 6 or 8, including 2 that are much larger than the others. Are they queens? Would there be 2 of them, and would they be out on patrol with the workers? I don’t know, but I don’t take prisoners, and I don’t waste time with interrogation. It’s the Crusher for all of them.

Exhausted from the battle, and once again fully clothed, and as to the “right mind” part, psychologically flinching at every little itch, I see that it’s time for house devotions and head for the front door. It’s locked. From the outside. We do that when we all go to devotions.

Well. Looks like I’m not going anywhere for a half hour or so. It was a cloudy day all day today—overcast—so the solar panels on the roof haven’t had much to work with, and I don’t want to drain the batteries unnecessarily by turning on the lights, so I sit in the corner of the darkened front room, hunkered over the eerie glow of my laptop, writing this very blog post. Once again I have abandoned my team in the heart of darkest Africa, though this time not by my own choice. I hope they’re OK. And if they’re not, I hope at least one of them survives to come back here—with the key—and let me out of this house.

Soon the first group returns. I consider sitting quietly in the corner, behind the front door, until they enter, and then screaming, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?!?!?!?” But I figure that would scar some of them for life, so I opt for a quiet voice out of the dark while they’re still outside, “Does any of you have the key?” There’s a moment of silence and then an explosion of laughter, and the story gets told and then retold as each of the groups arrives. This is the stuff mission trips are made of.

If you’re wondering who the enlightened team member was who locked me in the house, without so much as a “Is anybody here?” I’ll tell you her name. It’s Sarah. The one with the Nutella. Which, unfortunately, I’m not even that interested in blackmailing her for.

Singing is pretty good at team devotions, and I talk a little bit about forgiveness from Ephesians 1. (That was not intended to be funny.) Afterwards we just sit and talk for a while, and then some play games; at one point there’s Bananagrams going on the coffee table and Go Fish going on the kitchen island simultaneously. The team’s energy level is high, right up to 10 pm, when the guys head to their rooms. I’m glad to see this; while I expect they’ll eventually get tired, I’m pleased that nearing the end of the first week I don’t sense any serious degree of frustration or exhaustion.

There’s talk of a party this weekend; we’ll see just how much energy they really have.

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Dan Olinger

Chair, Division of Bible in the BJU School of Religion.

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