Saturday is not a tutoring day, so we have some options. Shangazi has asked that we take some photos of all the children; Matt and Sarah S, having some photographic experience, volunteer to help. We decide to do half the children each on 2 Saturdays, to lower the psychological pressure to get everyone done. This week it’s the girls, who are all dressed up in their Sunday best, with hair neatly braided (for those whose hair is long enough to braid). They decide to shoot behind Shangazi’s house, where there’s a newly installed stone walkway by a flowering hedge, with good sun. They’ll make very nice photos.
We’re also doing home visits today. Tanzanians love to have visitors in their homes, and several folks here on the staff or at church have volunteered to have a group of us in. We’ll get to see how they live and to practice a little Swahili. One thing about these visits that Americans find odd is that in this culture, the key requirement is that the guest be physically comfortable—a place to sit, and maybe something to drink. Conversation is all right, but not necessary. So while Americans feel the need to keep the conversation going—which is a little difficult, given the state of our Swahili—the Tanzanians are fine with just sitting quietly together. Should be an interesting experience. One group of 3—Caitlin, Josalyn, and Sarah M—is going out this morning; 3 other groups are going this afternoon.
Some of those 3 other groups, having the morning free, decide on a trip into town, mostly to use the bandwidth at the hotel coffee shop. We call a taxi, and at 10 am Asher, Hannah, Kaleigh, Nathanael, Sarah B, and I set off on a little adventure. At the last minute Matt and Sarah S, who have finished the photography job unexpectedly early, join us. The taxi is a new Toyota minivan with plush seats; I tell the driver that this is undoubtedly the nicest taxi I have ever ridden in, anywhere in the world.
He drops us at the bank, where most of us hit the ATM. He’ll return to pick us up at the hotel a little after 12. I walk the crew over to the hotel and set them up with Wi-Fi in the coffee shop. Then it’s off to get some work done. One of Tumaini’s night watchmen’s rechargeable flashlights has died, and Shangazi has asked if I can find another one. They want the rechargeable kind, either plug-in or solar, to avoid the high cost of batteries. On the way to the bank I noticed a shop that advertises all kinds of electrical stuff, so I walk over there and show them the old flashlight. “No, we don’t have anything like that.” “Do you know anyone who might?” “Lasoakncl.” “Could you say that again?” “ALWEJFBLHR.” “Can you tell me how to get there?” “Down the road toward the market. You can’t miss it.” Well. That’s not going to work. I do a couple of other tasks while I’m out and then report back to the coffee shop, where the 7 kids have 2 booths and are absolutely massacring (is that a word? now it is) the bandwidth with downloads. I figure I have 30 minutes, maybe an hour before the driver comes back. Upload all the journal articles in just few minutes, then start working on the backlog of photos. I’m within 4 days of being caught up when the taxi arrives and we all jump in. I tell him what the guy said at the electrical shop, and that the name of the place sounded like “Majesty” to me. Off to U-Turn, every westerner’s favorite grocery store. The kids all load up on snack food, and then back to the waiting taxi. The driver goes a different way, and within minutes we’re parked in front of Manjis Key. He says, “This is the place.” Wow. Top-notch service.
I walk into the place, where there’s a small lobby facing a large grilled-off area with two windows, a bit like the old-fashioned banks. A woman motions me up to her window, and I show her the old flashlight. “Do you have torches like this, rechargeable?” It sounds like she says, “Come on back,” but that can’t be right. I watch her carefully, and then a buzzer rings at the door to my left. Well, maybe she really did say what I thought I heard. So I push the door open, tentatively; she expresses no consternation, so I walk into the back, behind where she’s standing. There’s a large desk there, in front of the largest wall display of Makita power tools I’ve ever seen, at which (desk) is seated an Indian man about my age. He is talking non-stop to employees, pointing one in this direction and another in that. He is clearly the Madman at the Middle of the Mayhem. The lady points me to a chair in front of his desk, where he gives no notice of me and keeps giving orders. A woman appears outside the grill, apparently wanting to sell him some yams. My friend passes a yam back to him; he examines its cut end closely. “No. I want fresh,” he says, handing it back.
Eventually he turns to me, and I hand him the old flashlight. He nods, then barks at an employee. I sit quietly, highly amused at all the activity swirling around me. In a few minutes the employee is back with 3 different models that would all make good replacements. I examine them and choose the one with the most LEDs. “Bei gani? [How much?]” I ask her. She points to MMM, who is in the middle of an animated conversation (that’s apparently the only kind he has) with a muscular young African. After a few minutes he concludes and turns to me. “9, 6 [9,600 shillings]. But for you, 8, 5.” “Asante sana [thank you very much]!” I drop a piece of the old flashlight on the floor, and as I bend over to pick it up, everything falls out of my shirt pocket. I pick everything up, and he notices my pen. “Here, let me give you another pen.” It’s inscribed “Manjis Key Specialist” with a mailing address, phone numbers, and email address. I highly recommend them to all my friends whenever they happen to be in Mwanza.
I walk out, still chuckling, and tell the group in the taxi, “That was the most fun I’ve had on this trip!” And I tip the driver extra for getting us there.
Back at the orphanage in time to catch just a bite of lunch before the 3 groups of 3 go out on their home visits. The morning group tells me that Maiwe was their guide, and as I would imagine, he was magnificent, filling them in on all kinds of cultural things as they walk, and explaining lots of things as they’re visiting Mama Margaret’s home. She was preparing rice to the day’s lunch, and they got to see both threshing and winnowing in action.
As it happens, Mama Margaret’s is where I went for my home visit last year. Homes here seem quite small, but they are comfortably sufficient for the families. They’re typically of mud brick, with thatched roof (a good one, made of grass that is abundantly available, will last 20 years or more). There’s usually a sitting room, big enough for 3 to 5 small chairs, and a bedroom or two, as the size of the family dictates. The kitchen is usually a small outbuilding, because of the wood or charcoal fire and the smoke it generates. There are usually chickens in the yard, with perhaps a goat or even a cow. And a garden, with maize (corn), squash, perhaps some other vegetables, and perhaps some fruit trees. (Here in the tropics, fruit is a staple.) And there is a choo (pronounced “cho”), or outhouse.
Americans reflexively think of these people as poor. And while it’s true that their net worth is significantly lower than the average American’s (or maybe not, given the level of consumer debt in the USA), they have what they need—enough to eat, clothes to wear, shelter from the storm, sanitary facilities. They do not think of themselves as poor, and in fact an infusion of well-intentioned cash would be not at all helpful. It’s a lesson in contentment and in the pathologically acquisitive heartbeat of our own culture. Their situation calls to mind Paul’s wise words to his protégé: “And having food and raiment let us be therewith content” (1Tim 6.8). And it seems to me that Paul was probably thinking of His Master’s words as he wrote his: “Take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?” (Mat 6.28). “Enough” is a happy state.
The afternoon visits are equally informative. Asher, Kaleigh, and Sarah B visit a lady in the church who lives down by the lake. She is one of two wives of an unsaved fisherman; everyone there is very kind to them. Nathanael, Lois, Hannah have a different sort of visit; they’re welcomed in, and everyone is watching a TV program in Swahili, so they all watch together for a while, and after some other guests arrive, it seems like the right time to excuse themselves, thank everyone, and leave. Cultural education at its best. After these 2 visits, all of these 2 groups join Matt, Sarah S, and Lydia to visit Joseph, an 84-year-old man from the church whose wife died recently. He is a font of wisdom, and they spend quite a long time asking him questions and hearing his stories. He speaks no English, but Maiwe is along to translate, so it’s very profitable.
We decide to have supper down at Dan & Jana’s house after house devotions, since we’re planning the aforementioned Wii night there anyway. We close out the week in our respective houses; the girls, where my group has been all week, seem resistant; it’s more than just apathy, but not quite hostility. I give a brief presentation of the gospel and then close in prayer. There are so many possible reasons for this sort of situation in a cross-cultural ministry, and it’s unnerving that I can’t rely on my intuition to diagnose it. It’s remarkable how much of our thinking and decision-making are culturally driven; in a different culture you feel almost unarmed.
Supper, prepared by Rachelle and Karen, is vegetable lasagna, supplemented by home-made caramel popcorn, chocolate chip cookies, and peanut butter cookies. All good, and very American. Then we turn our attention to the Wii. I have no real exposure to such things, but several of the kids appear to have invested much more of their time here than is justifiable by any reasonable standard, and they serve as our instructors. We beginning by creating what I would call avatars—is Mii the term?—and believe it or not, that may be the highlight of the whole experience. Everybody gives everybody else advice on which hairstyle, eyes, nose, etc. to choose, and I realize that this would make a pretty good party game by itself. Yeah, I end up as a short, bald guy with glasses. Surprise, surprise.
Then we play a few games—table tennis, tennis, and some driving thing, maybe Mario Kart? Matt is easily the most entertaining driver, doing everything wrong and keeping everybody glued to his quadrant of the screen.
We stay up a little later than usual—10:30 or so—and head back to our respective quarters.