It’s 2 and a half hours of southbound flying. Since we’re landing from the east, the last bit of the flight is out over the Indian Ocean, and we turn west to come in over the harbor and the city. It’s 1:30 am, but the lights of the city are bright; there’s a lot of life down there at this late hour.
As we get off the bus and enter the terminal at Dar, I see the large welcome sign (“Karibu!”) over the door and smile to myself. First Swahili of the trip. Nice to be back.
We fill out the immigration form (“What’s the address in Tanzania?” everybody asks. “Tumaini Children’s Home, Shadi, Luchulele, Mwanza.” “How do you spell that?” they all ask. “Make your best guess.”) We stop at an agent who checks our yellow vaccination cards. We’re arriving from Ghana, a yellow-fever hot spot, and they want to make sure we’re not bringing it here. Then down the hall to the immigration booths, where an agent directs us to the next open booth for passport check. The lady checking mine yawns visibly. I don’t blame her.
Then to the baggage claim so we can get through customs. All of our bags are here. That’s a minor miracle. In my experience, customs in Dar is a bit of a joke; they usually just wave everybody through, especially at 2 am. This time they run all of our bags through a scanner—I suppose to ensure that we’re not arms smugglers; it’s not like they’re going to spot an orange or a contraband necklace.
At this point you have 2 choices. You can exit directly out onto the plaza, where there are shops, forex booths, a bank machine, and a taxi stand. Last year, when we had a little more time, we had some hotel rooms reserved a couple of blocks away and got a shower and some shuteye. But since our layover here is just 4 hours, we’ll stay here.
I know what you’re thinking. No sense to leave the secure zone, right? Stay inside, go down a narrow hallway that keeps you in the secure zone, and turn a corner to … the very security check that all the people coming in from outside have to go through. Yep. You have to do the partial disrobing and scanner dance for every. single. flight.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Through security, you’re in the departure lounge, with the check-in counters for all the outbound flights, domestic and international. So there’s a large open hall, with toilets at one end and a few metal benches off to the side. And the counters. And nothing else. No place to get bottled water. You just sit.
You can check in for your next flight, of course, and once you have your boarding pass, you can go upstairs to the gate, where there are shops and a little café. But you can’t check in until 2 hours before your flight, so we have a 90-minute wait.
In 2013, we had a considerably longer wait, and the situation nearly got dangerous because of the lack of water. You can’t bring water in, because security won’t let more than 3 ounces of liquid in, and you can’t get water once you’re in. System design, people.
At any rate, we have just 90 minutes here, which is endurable. I want to get local currency as soon as possible, so I tell everybody I’m running outside to the plaza to hit the bank machine. That means another trip through security, but you can prepare for that by taking unnecessary things out of your pockets and leaving them inside. Still have to take off the belt and shoes, but it’s worth it.
If this were daytime, all the stuff on the plaza would be open, and we’d merrily while away the 90 minutes shopping. But at 3 am it’s just the bank machine and the taxi stand (and it’s open only because they know an international flight just came in). Gershon comes along—he’s always up for an adventure—and checks for free wi-fi. There’s none downstairs—that would be convenient for those waiting in the Torture Room, you know—but there is free wi-fi up in the departure gate area on the 2nd floor, and Gershon finds that if you climb the staircase outside that goes up to the Flamingo Restaurant (which is delicious when it’s open, by the way), you can get the router. He runs inside—through security again—to tell the others, and Charity and Michaela come back out with him to get some online time. I pick up 200,000 shillings at the bank machine (don’t get excited; that’s only a hundred bucks) and go back through security to join the rest of the crew. (Interesting side note: the largest bill in TZ is a 10,000 shilling note, which is only 5 bucks. Makes for some large wads of cash in people’s pockets.)
Emily, Sarah, and Jessica are already asleep on metal benches; Jess and Amber are sitting up, and I join them. But I’m restless. Use the toilet; western seats—the girls will appreciate that. Check the flight board; our 6 am flight is still on time. (We had a several-hour delay in 2013, which contributed to the serious inconvenience of the situation, so I’m sensitive to that.) See if anybody is at the FastJet check-in booth, so I can ask about the excess baggage fees that I’m anticipating. They open at 4, and the booth is empty. Check the flight board again. Recall how the security crew confiscated 6 1-liter bottles of rubbing alcohol from me last year—flammable, you know—and how when we left the country 5 weeks later, it was still sitting under a desk in the security area; so I check under the desk, and it’s gone now.
Still an hour to go. Go outside to see how the wi-fi 3 are doing; they’re perched on the steps, scrolling away. I join them long enough to check my email on my iPod. Emails from my wife and both daughters. Jackpot. And an email from Beth, now 2 days old, confirming arrival plans.
Back inside—through security again, and they recognize me now—and sit for the remaining time. A few minutes to 4, the FastJet luggage booth lights up, and I run over to ask about the luggage fee. The initial estimate is just $60, and I’m overjoyed. He says to bring the luggage over and we’ll get it all taken care of. So we line up and, one by one, place our bags and boxes on the scale. He totals it all up and tells me that’ll be 2 million shillings, Quick mental math. A thousand bucks. Eh? That’s not what you said before. I misunderstood what you told me you had. I said each person had 2 bags of 22 kilos each. What’s hard to understand about that? Well, you owe 2 million shillings.
Look. These are clothes going to an orphanage. Clothes. For orphans. In Tanzania. Which, you might recall, is YOUR COUNTRY. Can you give me some help?
He calls his boss. I figure that’s promising, but most bosses aren’t too happy about getting a call at 4 am, so we’ll see.
The boss gives us a substantial, substantial, really substantial discount, and we’re back in business. We get the all-important “excess baggage fee paid” receipt and get in line for our check-in and boarding passes. That goes relatively smoothly, and soon we’re relieved of our checked baggage and free to head upstairs to the gate.
At the top of the stairs there’s another security check. Yep, ridiculous, I know. But we do the disrobe and dance and—finally—get to the gate seating area. The little snack bar is open, and we all get pastries and drinks and feel a LOT better.
Soon enough they call for Mwanza. We go to our gate and show our passes. Nope. This is a PrecisionAir flight. I look at the info board at the gate. There are 2 flights going to Mwanza, at the same time, on 2 different airlines. At the same gate.
After a while you just accept anything that happens.
An agent comes over from another gate to ask why we aren’t boarding. I ask when she’s going to call the FastJet flight to Mwanza that leaves from this gate. I point to the sign. No, we’re boarding that flight at Gate 5. Follow me. She takes us to Gate 5, where the sign says nothing about Mwanza, and rebukes us for not coming here sooner. Through the gate we go. An agent redirects us down another walkway, which we follow to Gate 2, which is really where they’re boarding the plane.
Did you follow that?
And we board.
Mwanza is the second largest city in Tanzania, larger even than the capital, Dodoma, so air traffic between Dar and Mwanza is brisk. There are several flights a day, no puddle-jumpers here, and the planes are usually full. This one, surprisingly, is only about 2/3 full, and all the exit row seats are open, so with the flight attendant’s permission several of us jump in there. (You know how you appreciate the extra leg room when you’re 5’4”.) The flight to Mwanza is only an hour and a half, and like most of the rest of team, I sleep for pretty much the whole thing. The combination of an overnight of relatively chaotic travel, the bus ride overnight the previous night, and the 3-hour time change has pretty well wiped us out.
I wake up as the wheels come down on final approach from the north into MWZ. The familiar sight of the Lake Victoria inlet is to my right, with the hilly, rocky landscape below. This place is rockier than anyplace I’ve been before.
We land and taxi to the ramp, where a bus takes us to the terminal. I believe Mwanza is the tiniest and most primitive airport I’ve ever seen for a city of its size. The arrivals building is about half the size of my house, with most of the space taken up by a single small luggage carousel. Maybe 20 passengers can stand next to it at any one time, so the room is packed with people waiting for their luggage. Compounding the situation are 8 or 12 men in gray shirts marked “Porter,” who are freelancers like the ones who mobbed us on arrival in Accra 3 weeks ago. They have carts and are ready for any positive sign that they can interpret as a contract for hire. I tell each one “No” firmly in turn, and they look for another victim.
Eventually we get all of our luggage, including the Seven U-Haul Boxes, onto carts and out into the small parking lot, which is about the size of the other half of my house. Walking toward us I see Beth, Rachelle, and Ferdinand, 3 familiar faces. We greet and take care of introductions.
Beth Roark is the director of Tumaini children’s Home; she’s been our primary contact for all 3 team visits since 2013. She’s returned from furlough just a couple of weeks ago. Rachelle is an American, a BJU alumna who’s been working as Beth’s assistant for a couple of years now. Coincidentally, her father and I worked as English GAs together at BJU back in the late 70s and early 80s. Ferdinand is Tanzanian and the manager of the home, taking care of the day-to-day operations with the children. He’s calm, jovial, friendly, a real pleasure to be around. He loves to talk to us in Swahili and see that we’re learning the language as we should. But that comes later. For now his job is to get all the luggage into a taxi van and back to the compound. Beth has decided to take us to town for a while. We would be arriving at the compound during church, which starts at 8 am here, and the children would see us driving in and bolt for the doors to greet us, and she doesn’t want a scene in the middle of church.
So we head downtown to the hotel, the Gold Crest, where in the past we’ve made regular visits to the coffee shop in the lobby to use their wi-fi. We’ll cool our jets here until we can choreograph a more dignified entrance.
My main concern is sleep; as I’ve noted, we’re all zombies. I inquire at the desk about getting a room for a couple of hours, where a few people could crash for maybe a half-hour nap, 2 at a time. But they want $85 per person for the 2 hours, which seems excessive to me, so I tell them no thanks. As it happens, most of the kids seem to prefer wi-fi access over sleep, in spite of their deeply sleeply deprived state. So after they order their drink of choice at the coffee counter, they settle into leather recliners in the lobby and log in. I note that most of them get iced mocha cappuccinos, while Jessica and Sarah get shakes. I get a bitter lemon soda, which is something of a tradition for me. You can’t seem to get it outside the old British Commonwealth; it’s like a much less sweet Sprite or 7-Up.
Beth and Rachelle and I get a booth and talk shop for a while, as well as getting some online time. I catch up on email and get the last 2 and a half days of blog entries posted. Feels good to break the silence finally.
As lunchtime approaches, we pack up and head for the compound. It’s in Shadi, a small village about 6 miles south of Mwanza, right on the shore of the lake. Given road conditions, the last half of which are, well, primitive, it takes about an hour to get there. As we drive down the familiar curved driveway to the center of the compound, I hear several children shouting “Dr. Dan!” and see them running toward the van. It’s a pleasant sound, he wrote humbly.
We’re surrounded by children as soon as we park, and they busily start wheeling our luggage up to the guest house or, in the case of the guys, over to the Bible institute dorm. Since it’s lunchtime, we go straight to the meal in the dining area, which is in the same main building as the guest house. It’s the daily developing-world standard, rice and beans. And, as Lucille Ball once said, “Tasty too!” We eat our fill, with relish, even though there’s no relish on the table.
I’ve decided that we’re not going to be able to keep my primary rule of time-zone change adjustment: stay up until bedtime the day you arrive. (That keeps you from lying in bed awake all that night.) We’re simply too sleepy to stay awake through the afternoon and early evening. So I give the group the option of taking a 1-hour nap after lunch. Which I do myself, on the couch in the front room of the guest house. I recall waking up, looking at my watch, saying to the couple of kids sitting there, “I have to stop sleeping,” and dropping back to the couch for some more.
We have a property tour scheduled for 3, to enforce the limitation on the naps. Beth comes by, and we groggily follow her out the door.
This is a well-planned and well-built operation, following a long-term master plan and designed to be low maintenance. In this culture, as in many developing-world cultures, maintenance is not given high priority, and often after the indigenization of a work you see the capital assets fall apart over time. It makes sense to use construction techniques that are designed to last as long as possible with little to no regular maintenance.
We start at the Big House, which used to be the only dormitory and dining area. They eventually built 4 separate dorms and converted one end of the Big House (the west end) to a guest house, where the girls are staying, and the other end to classrooms, which will play a role in our tutoring plan. The kitchen is in the center of the building, and 3 meals a day (chai, or tea, at mid-morning; lunch; and supper) come out of the kitchen for 55 children and the attending staff (and any team members who happen to be in town at the time) every day.
From the Big House we follow the central path to the northeast corner of the compound to see the church, the parsonage just north of it, and the Bible institute quadrangle just to the west. The Bible institute and its consequent church-planting program were the original purposes of this work and remain its primary mission. Tanzanian law requires that a work of that sort be engaged in “charitable work” and gave them the option of a hospital, a school, or a clinic. The missionary team decided that the one most consistent with the Great Commission was an orphanage, and so began Tumaini.
They receive their children from the state child welfare services; some are actually orphans, but most are abandoned by their parents, typically due to inability of care, often financially driven. The parent takes the child to a busy place in the nearest city, walks too fast for the child to keep up, and lets him get lost. The child is turned over to the state, which finds a place for him. Early on, Tumaini accepted 50 children and planned on keeping that same 50 through school graduation / employment, then adding K-5 children every year to replace those graduating from secondary school that year. Recently a nearby baby nursery asked them to accept 5 4-year-olds who were about to outgrow that facility, and they accepted them. So now there are 55, and the plan is for that to stay stable for the next 5 years or so until the oldest start to graduate.
There are now 4 identical dormitories in the center of the compound: older girls, younger girls, younger boys, older boys. Each has a bunk area, a closet area, and a bath area with toilets, sinks, and showers, as well as an enclosed room for the house parent. The facilities are clean and ample.
From the dorms we move toward the lake and into the area of the missionaries’ houses. At the north is the home of Matt and Laura Gass, who are home on furlough right now. We worked with them last summer, and they’ve added a baby girl since then. Just to the south is the home of Dan and Jana and their 4 children, 3 girls and a boy. They’re here, but just barely; Tuesday they’ll leave for a 2-week holiday in Kenya with their friends the Huffstutlers, who work with the theological school in Nairobi founded by Joel Weaver, someone we’ve worked with for a couple of teams. Great folks. They’ll spending the time in Mombasa, at the beach. A good break. Just south of Dan & Jana’s house is Beth’s place; then just up the hill is Ferdinand’s house, next to the Bible institute’s dorm, where Gershon and I share a room. There’s a bunk, a table, and a bookcase which serves pretty well as a dresser. No electricity, but since we’re there only when sleeping, that isn’t an issue at all. The girls’ guest house is headquarters.
Southwest of that dorm is a little spot where they keep pigs, who dispose of the garbage. The plan is to sell the pigs at appropriate times, fattening them up on things that would normally be thrown away.
Tour completed, we report to Dan & Jana’s porch, where we’ll be eating supper on weekends and lunch on weekdays, prepared by our fellow wazungu (white folks; singular is mzungu). Rachelle has prepared a bunch of really tasty enchiladas, with real cheese, and a gluten-free version for GF. We’ll bring a side dish for every meal; tonight it’s a chopped pineapple. The naps have helped, but we’re still pretty groggy. We’re going to need a night’s sleep to be worth anything.
After supper we drop in to Dan & Jana’s house for devotions. Again, it’s relatively quiet, though we try gamely to sing, and several have good thoughts to share by way of testimony. About 8 we head back to the house, and by 8:30 Gershon and I are headed to bed. We’ve agreed to not show up back at the house until 8:30 am, so the girls can have some time to get themselves together. Our first scheduled activity tomorrow is at 9.
Sleep. Never been more appreciated.