Saturday, 6/28/14

On rising, Asher comments, “Given the nearness of the end of the trip, I suppose my desire for my own bed is not so much a matter of discontent as of foresight.” Nicely put, my friend.

The first thing on the schedule is our final brunch, prepared by the ladies. At 9:30 we gather on Dan & Jana’s porch for pancakes with syrup, hash browns, pineapple, and coffee and tea. There are even hash browns without onions and others with. I advise the team to take the ones without if they plan on doing any kissing later today. Nobody even chuckles.

Since there’s no work to do today, we’ve planned mostly free time; we’ll have a nice dinner in town tonight, but nothing official until then. However, most of the team (all but 2, in fact) want to go into town early, get some Wi-Fi, and do some last-minute shopping at the market. We hatch a plan to go fully independent: hire some piki-pikis to pick us up here at Tumaini, ride them to the pavement, and take a dala-dala the rest of the way in. Then we can just meet the others for dinner at the specified time and place.

I ask Abeli to round up some piki-pikis, he sends some texts, and in a few minutes 11 motorcycles roar up to the gate. It’s a little bizarre; here’s a bunch of bikers revving their engines, and 11 wazungu, most of them girls, pick a bike, hop on, and roar off down the dirt road. I suspect that’s a first for any BJU mission team, anywhere in the world. I get on the last one, on purpose, so I’ll know everyone is in front of me, and away we go. I look down the road through clouds of dust at the stream of bikes noisily passing by astonished pedestrians, and I laugh most of the way to Sweya.

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Right where the pavement begins there’s a staging area, sort of a parking lot, where the piki-piki drivers disgorge their passengers and the dala-dala drivers take them on. Since this is the end of this particular dala-dala route, we have no trouble finding one empty enough for all 11 of us to get on the same one.

And so 11 team members, 9 other passengers, a conductor, and the driver cram themselves into a 14-passenger van. There are 4 relatively narrow seats across the back; 3 of our girls take the outside 3 seats, an African woman gets the 4th, and Nathanael plants his considerable heft directly in front of her, in what passes for the aisle. I’m just in front of him, with my head tucked somewhere between Lois’s left shoulder and Sarah M’s left knee. Eventually one of the 3 girls slides over onto the lap of the 2nd one, and Nathanael drops into the open space, which is, how shall we say it, narrower than Nathanael by precisely the same ratio as the girl who moved is. The African lady is now considerably more cramped. I look at her, smile broadly, and say, “Pole” (Sorry), and she smiles back. Everybody complains about the dala-dala conditions, but everybody still rides them—which, come to think of it, is why they’re so crowded. 🙂 For 400 shillings—about 25 cents—you ride from Sweya all the way into town; who’s going to turn that down?

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Finally—finally!—we arrive at the downtown parking lot that functions as the main dala-dala terminal for Mwanza, and everybody explodes out the door onto the pavement. We’re all here—I’m counting again—and begin the 10-minute walk to the Gold Crest and the Land of Wi-Fi. There are no available booths, and thus no available AC outlets, but we take a couple of tables and several of the leather recliners in the lobby, order something to drink, log on, and wait for a booth to open up. It doesn’t take long, and soon we’re plugged in and feeling free.

After just a few minutes most of the 11 have gotten the Wi-Fi they needed and are ready for the real reason they came to town, which is to hit the market and buy everything they see. I write down the names of everyone who’s going—to notify the next of kin, I tell them—and away they go, while just a couple of us stay in the coffee shop. I get a lot done, including uploading all the blog material through last night, and catching up on correspondence.

Dinner is at 4. Shangazi has asked us to be at the hotel by 3:15, because a couple of souvenir vendors are coming just for us, and we want the kids to have a chance to buy any last-minute things from these guys, with whom we’ve done business for some time. I’m pretty sure I know how to get from Gold Crest to the Hotel Tilapia, where Matt Gass and I ate lunch (by the pool, remember?) the other day, but just in case, we set off a few minutes early so I have time to recover from getting lost briefly.

Lessee. Down the road to the fish roundabout (there’s a big sculpture of a fish standing on its tail in the center), and then right, past the Gapco petrol station and into the upper-class section of town. We’re there in about 20 minutes, which is early. Good. Better than late.

There are 3 of our people already there, so we relax in the front courtyard and wait for the others. Group by group they arrive, carrying bags and eager to show their purchases. I find the Gasses in the coffee shop; they’ve come a little early to get some time in the swimming pool, and I’m immediately envious. After a few minutes we spot Shangazi down at the dinner location and head down to join her. On the way, we hear “Leedia!” and it’s Lydia’s 2 vendors from the yacht club, who tried so hard to sell her stuff. They remember her, and we remember them. 🙂

The hotel is very much upscale, with a high-end jewelry shop in the front courtyard, a Rolls-Royce on display, sculptures around the grounds, and a lovely lawn leading down to the water. There’s a dining room upstairs, a few steps up from the pool, where Matt and I ate before, but also a number of sheltered dining areas down by the water, and one in particular on a platform out over the lake, surrounded by lily pads that rise and fall with the wave action on the shore. It has a sign that says “Teppanyaki Grill,” and that’s where we’re headed.

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It’s a Japanese steak house, similar to Kanpai or Benihana, with two grill / tables, enough to see all of our group—the 11 who came in this morning, the 2 team members who didn’t, Shangazi, Karen, Rachelle, Bethany, and the 3 Gasses. Wow. That’s 20 of us.

We start at 4, and the pace is unhurried. Two waitresses begin with the drink orders, and I’m flattered to see that several of the team members follow my example and order bitter lemon, despite the off-putting name. We sit and converse at our tables, enjoying the breeze off the lake and the open-air view of the inlet, punctuated by boats, speed- and not-so-speed-, and any number of birds, marine- and not-so-marine-. Tell me again about how much we’ve suffered for Jesus?

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Then the waitresses fill our little sauce dishes with a sweet red onion salsa, about the consistency of applesauce; a peanut-butter sauce; and soy sauce. I’ve noticed that every time I’ve had soy sauce in East Africa, it doesn’t taste like the stuff back home; it’s much more molasses-y in taste, and occasionally almost as syrupy as well. This one is runny, but the distinct flavor of molasses is there.

Eventually the chef appears. Angel is going to cook for both tables, but at ours. I feel bad for the other table, who won’t be able to see the food prep as easily, but hey, I’m not gonna argue with providence. She starts with potato pancakes, and after what seems like several days of smelling them on the grill, we each get one. Use the onion sauce, she says. Good call.

Then the dishes come, one by one. Shrimp, tilapia, calamari, chicken, beef, fried rice with aromatic vegetables. Lots of ginger on pretty much everything. It’s very good.

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We’re done. And to my surprise, it’s been 2½ hours. It’s getting dark as we walk to the cars and load up for the ride back to Tumaini. Shangazi needs to drop by the tailor to pick up the last of the clothes we’ve ordered, those of us in the Gasses’ car just head straight back. We’re too late for house devotions; we’ll make them up tomorrow night, our last night with the children. That’ll probably work better anyway.

Everybody who just picked up clothes tries them on, and we have an impromptu fashion show before team devotions. The singing is good tonight; we’ll save the final testimony time for tomorrow night.

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Dan Olinger

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

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