Monday, June 4, 2018

Like Luther at the Wartburg, I awake in my first day of confinement. Except that I’m not like Luther, and my apartment is not like the Wartburg. But other than that, it’s a perfectly good metaphor.

The crew has a culture meeting at 9; Rachelle talks a bit about the difficulties of working cross-culturally, which are abundant. As just one example, Americans typically want to help people they see as poor—even when those people are not in fact poor; they have enough to eat, a place to live, clothes to wear. Americans often come in and start throwing money around. They leave feeling good about themselves, but they’ve left behind all sorts of problems. That’s a complex topic, but if you’re interested in reading further, try When Helping Hurts or Toxic Charity. At the end of the session Rachelle shows them some books about different ways to wear kangas, or wraparound skirts. It’s a common fashion here; I suspect many of the girls will buy one before they leave.

Olivia and Annalee surprise me by bringing chai by—lemongrass tea and chapati. The latter is one of my favorites here; you should try it.

Then they have their first Swahili lesson at 11. Our usual Swahili teacher, Maiwe, has gone to Nairobi with Ferdinand, the Tanzanian manager of the orphanage, for a conference, so we’ll have a new teacher this trip. The goal is to teach them enough Swahili that they can go to the market and buy some food. Each will be assigned a particular food to buy; she’ll need to be able to say, “I would like to buy some _____ “ and then bargain on the price. So learning the numbers will be important. Their teacher will accompany them to the market, so it’s not like we’ll starve if they forget the vocabulary. Half the group will go tomorrow, and half on Wednesday.

They feel like they’re drinking out of a firehose, and they are. Their teacher has just 3 days, so he’s going to pile it on, and they’ll assimilate it over the next days as they interact with Tanzanians. The children are excited that the crew is learning their language, and they quiz them and correct them and teach them additional words. They’ll pick up a lot while they’re here, but they feel pretty much overwhelmed right now.

Annalee brings lunch by—leftover enchiladas from last night’s supper. She says a hawk swooped down as she was bringing it up, and she did the best she could to throw the affected pieces away. Life in the bush. 🙂 The plate also contains fresh pineapple chunks. I’ve told the crew that once you’ve had African fruit, you’ll never be satisfied with American fruit again. The reason is very simple: tree ripening. American fruit is picked green and shipped hard, for commercial reasons; most African fruit is picked when ripe and sold, usually, the same day. It’s fabulous.

In the afternoon the girls are preparing for their classes. They’ve decided who’s teaching which slots; the 2 special ed majors are going to work with 2 groups of students who have special difficulties, swapping between the 2 sections during the day, and the others will teach either elementary or secondary. We have a lot of teaching resources, and the crew is selecting resources to use for each of the 12 days of tutoring. They also have time to spend with the children; some read books together—there’s a good library room here—and some get together with some of the girls and paint each other’s nails. I’m told the children do a pretty good job on the team members. The children typically like the softness of western hair, and several like to braid our girls’ hair. The braiding is of mixed evenness, but everybody has a good time. Some of the kids play volleyball—there’s a net up this year, for the first time—and the team sport will help build relationships. At one point a boy places a dead bird in Katlyn’s hand, something she wasn’t, um, expecting. Got quite a reaction, I understand. Soap, water, and sanitizer will fix that.

Olivia brings supper by. It’s 2 kinds of fish. First is a large whitefish, maybe 2 inches thick, chopped into steaks across the spine and boiled in a broth. It’s all there—skin, bones, tail, head—though my serving contains just center sections. You pick the meat off and watch out for the bones. Jess later tells me she got a head, and the first thing she saw was that big ol’ eyeball, and she just couldn’t eat any more. I told her that many cultures consider the eye the best part, but she didn’t seem ready for that culture yet. I will say, though, that the most flavorful meat is that little tiny piece in the cheek. Seriously.

After supper Paige drops by the kitchen to see if they need any help cleaning up. They take her out back where they do the washing in large metal bowls sitting on the ground. It’s a big job, and an inglorious one, matter-of-fact and efficient.

I’m handling house devotions for the older boys while I’m here—the girls are in 3 groups of 3 and rotating through the other 3 houses 1 week each—and I decide I can do it today since Rachelle has brought by a pair of crutches, and I can stay off the foot. I bandage it and hobble over. It’s good to see the boys again. They sing their Swahili songs, bringing back memories of previous visits. I’m doing the same series from Ephesians 1 that I’m doing with the team, about the multiple gifts that constitute the larger gift of salvation. They listen and seem to understand. I close by talking about the team—and the fact that this time they’re all girls. I note that these boys are becoming men, and there are 2 kinds of men in the world: men who love God, and men who don’t. Men who love God treat women with respect, and I expect them to do the same. Some of these boys are as old as some of the girls on the team, and I think I need to speak to them directly. They pay attention. We’ll see if they take it to heart.

After house devos, since I’m out, I decide to hobble over to the girls’ house for team devos. I go over with 1 group of 3, who are the first done with house devos: Katlyn, Gabby, and Jess. As we approach HQ, 3 dogs come bounding out of the darkness. The girls all scream, and that makes me holler, and we’re pretty much a mess. Life is full of surprises.

The group gathers as each house finishes their devotions, and while we’re waiting Katlyn and Gabby are looking through the photo album. Each photo is accompanied by a brief description of each child, written by the child himself. Those 2 girls cry on every page. “Oh, look, she wants to be a gardener when she grows up!” [Sob] I tease them about it, but I’m glad that they have a heart for these children. There will be challenging days ahead, and they’ll need to love the little images of God that they’re working with. Good for them.

When all arrive, I grill them on the events of the day. These are the moments this absentee “leader” gets the material for the blog post. Boy, have they been busy. I ask about house devos, and they tell me about how the children sing, and how they listen to the stories, and how they pray. One thing surprises me. I know they always pray for Baba (Rob Howell, Tumaini’s founder) and Shangazi (“Auntie” Beth, the director) and Njombe (“Uncle” Ferdinand, the manager). But the girls tell me that they asked prayer for “Babu” (grandfather), and when the girls asked who that was, they said, “Dr. Dan.” Now I’m gonna cry.

Let me close with a word about health. Unless something spectacular happens, I’m not going to say anything about it, because I consider team members’ health matters private. Most of the crew have telephones and can contact their families directly. If parents want to contact me privately for more information, I’ll be happy to explain what I know. A little nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea is fairly routine here, typically due to insufficient handwashing. It’s not something to worry about; it passes, and we all get more careful. We’ve had an episode or two, and things are fine.

One other note. I overlooked and thus left out a couple of fairly interesting events in yesterday’s post, one involving Paige and the other involving Jessica. I’ve added those. You might want to go back and read them.

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Dan Olinger

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

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