Monday, June 8, 2015

Boy, what a night’s sleep will do. I wake up around 6:30 and do the morning hygiene and devotions. It’s still too early to go to the guest house, and Gershon’s still asleep, so I catch another 30 minutes or so. Then some blogging until it’s time for our first session at 9 am.

I drop by the guest house to see how everyone’s doing. Turns out Charity’s bunk collapsed last night—she was on the top, and fortunately nobody was underneath her. One side rail rotated enough that the slats no longer reached on the side, and she went to a 45-degree tilt instantly. Woke her up, of course, so she threw her mattress on the floor and returned to her dreams. Looking at the mattress wildly angled makes me laugh out loud. Kinda wish I’d been there to see it all happen.

We’re used to Africa now.

We all head over to Beth’s porch for our first Swahili lesson. Our teacher is Maiwe, who taught Swahili to the previous 2 teams. He’s educated, articulate, and a good and patient teacher. This first day we cover greetings, pronouns, verb tenses, and enough verbs and nouns to start constructing sentences. Swahili verbs are quite simple; they don’t change their form when the person or tense changes. So we make good progress. That’s an excellent first day.

At 10 is our first chai, or tea time. Each day we’ll have some kind of pastry or cereal and a beverage. Today it’s chapati, an Indian flatbread made with just flour, water, and salt, and pan fried and served hot. It’s one of my favorite foods in Africa; I tell people I would come here just for the chapati. And we have very sweet tea, which is the only way the Tanzanians take it.

After chai it’s back to Beth’s porch for a session with Dan. He talks first about the history of the work here, and the local culture, and then challenges us not to let this experience be a self-centered one—to think of ways to make this profitable for others, including, obviously, those who are supporting us either financially or by prayer. He urges us to think of ways to make the effects of this trip last for a lifetime and not just for 8 weeks. Wise words from an experienced missionary.

Dan’s all excited when he learns that we have an MK on the team—2, technically, since Gershon’s parents are Singaporean missionaries to Hong Kong. He likes for his kids to get all the time they with older MKs. Since they’re leaving tomorrow, that will require immediate attention.

From Beth’s porch around to Dan & Jana’s for lunch. Samosas—that’s a triangular meat or vegetable fried pie, also an Indian dish. There’s a lot of Indian influence here in East Africa. Oh, and coleslaw, with cilantro garnish. Yep. Really suffering here in darkest Africa.

After lunch we return to the guest house to get started on our primary purpose for being here: tutoring the orphans. Beth talks about the educational needs here, and the cultural issues that affect educational practice. Then Rachelle passes around the schedule. Each person will teach 3 classes per day (2 in the morning, 1 in the afternoon), to 2 or sometimes 3 difference class sections. We found last year that it works better for both the tutors and the students if we rotate the classes; that way the tutors have different kids throughout the day, and the kids have different tutors. We choose which slots we want—some prefer younger kids, some older. Some class sections have just 1 student; others have as many as 5.

We use the British educational system here, so we don’t have “grades.” Primary school consists of Standards 1 through7, roughly equivalent to grades 1 through 6. Each year during this winter break the children’s school sends Standards 4 and 7 to an intensive review program, called Crush (yeah, that’s attractive, isn’t it?), to get them ready for the standardized tests given in that year. So we’re missing something like 21 of our 55 kids for the first 2 weeks of the 3 we’re here. That makes our class sizes smaller.

Each tutor gets access to each student’s grades and test results to figure out what needs more work and then plans the class schedule for the first 2 weeks. We’ll have to recalibrate when the Crush students return the 3rd week. The rest of the afternoon flies by as they plan topics and then select teaching resources to meet those needs. Everybody seems positive about the challenge, even those who aren’t education majors—and that’s all but 1.

Before we know it, it’s supper time. The meal is a favorite of mine, though I expect it to be challenging for the team. It’s ugali and daga. Ugali is corn meal mush, like Ghana’s banku but not fermented. Think boiled polenta. You pick a piece up in your right hand, form it into a 1/2-inch ball, poke it with your thumb to make a scoop, and then scoop up whatever else you’re eating and put it all into your mouth. It’s a little messy for Western sensibilities; you’re going to have a very messy right hand when you’re done.

Daga will be even more challenging. It’s little fish, minnows, dried and then braised in a savory liquid. They’re fishy and salty, and you eat ‘em whole, head, bones, and all—though they’re so small you can’t tell there are any bones there at all. Not everybody likes fish, and even fewer like fishy fish, and fewer yet like eating the whole thing, or several whole things, in one gulp.

Bath has told the cooks to serve daga tonight, because she wants us to have the experience. The cooks protested, because they knew that last year’s team didn’t like it very well; after the first time, the cooks never served it again, but served large whitefish instead. But Beth insists, so it’s on the menu tonight.

Everybody tries it, and most even go back for seconds. At the end of the meal, the daga bowl is empty. Good for them.

Tonight’s the first night we’ll be in charge of house devotions. The children meet in 3 groups—boys, girls, and the 5 K-5 kids. We separate the last group because their Bible knowledge is much lower. We’ll send 3 team members to each group and rotate the teams each week. This week my group—Michaela and Jess and I—have the boys. I’ll take the challenge tonight, and we’ll alternate roles during the week.

We walk the children back to the houses about 7:15, enjoying the typical gorgeous sunset out over the lake. In house devotions, the boys are surprisingly reticent tonight; it takes a while to get them to sing. I finally get them to sing a Swahili song that I remember some of from last year, and by the time they get going, they sing well. My devotional is from John 10, on Jesus as the Good Shepherd, who feeds, leads, and protects us. I ask them to come up with the points, and they do, on their own. Then we pray together. As they always do, they ask for prayer for Baba (Rob Howell, the founder of Tumaini), for Shangazi (“Auntie” Beth) and for Mjombe (“Uncle” Ferdinand). I close in prayer tonight; we’ll have some of them pray aloud in the days ahead.

On the way back to the house, we enjoy the stars, which are much brighter here than back in Greenville—in fact, in most places in the US. Scorpio is pretty obvious, as is the Southern Cross, with Proxima Centauri, the closest star to earth, just to the left. And in the opposite direction, the Big Dipper, always upside down, because the cup points to the North Star, which is just below the horizon here a few degrees south of the equator. The heavens declare.

Back at the house for team devotions. We’re more awake tonight than last night, certainly, and we have more to comment on about what we’re learning here. And after this afternoon, we’re more aware of the challenges that lie ahead of us. Only one of these team members is majoring in education, and they’re going to be analyzing their students’ test performance, assessing areas of weakness, and tutoring to those weaknesses, all across a cultural and language boundary. (The children speak English, and understand more than they let on, but it’s still a second language to them, and we speak fast and with a funny accent.) So they know they need divine help to meet this challenge. There are other prayer requests, for friends back home facing spiritual struggles of various kinds, for Gabriel and Janet, for Enoch and Cynthia and other new African friends. Their focus is outside themselves, and that’s healthy.

After devotions we have some free time. Michaela slices a pineapple, and she, Emily, Charity, and Gershon sit around the kitchen table munching and chattering animatedly. Amber is going over her students’ test results as part of her tutoring preparation; Jess is writing thoughtfully in her journal; and Jessica and Sarah are doing some mutual discipleship in the living room.

I’m blessed with a good, talented, well-balanced, energetic team. They’re headed in the right direction, and I do believe they’re going to do fine. These are the times that I really love this job.

A word about contact from the new location. In a major development at Tumaini, Dan has installed satellite-based web access at his house. We will have access to that. But we also have jobs to do, and my experience with contemporary college kids is that they’ll use the access all they can. Since we will be teaching during the day, I’m going to restrict access to an hour a day, from 8 to 9 pm local time (1 to 2 pm EDT). That should allow uploading of emails and other essential communication. We’re still determining whether broader bandwidth usage, such as video (Skype, FaceTime), is too much for the capacity. If we decide we can do it, I realize that some might want access at more convenient times for the US end. We can work that out. My concern is that our folks not lose their focus on the work to be done here and spend their time surfing. Adjustments to come, I’m sure.

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Dan Olinger

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

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