Monday, June 3, 2019

[Happy 71st birthday to my sister!]

This is the day when we’ve had time to recover from the trip, and now we need to get to work.

To begin with, I finally get the wifi router to work and am (finally!) able to post the first few days of blog entries. I’m hoping that the problem is solved and we can do daily updates now.

We’re on our own for breakfast; we have bread and eggs and fruit and coffee at HQ, and last night Michaela offered to scramble eggs for everybody, and the guys promised we wouldn’t show up until 8.30. Win/win.

I drop by a little after 8.30, and everybody’s eating, and they’ve even saved some eggs for me. Everybody’s chatting animatedly—well, except for one, whom I won’t name, but she says she’s not a morning person.

We have a meeting with Beth at 9 to talk about the children here, as preparation for our teaching. Their stories are difficult; there’s nothing romantic about an African orphanage (or any orphanage, for that matter). These children bear the scars of difficult lives, and though each one is unique, and some are more positive personalities than others, they all carry the effects of the sins of others, and of their own as well. Beth tells us some stories to give us a sense of the community mind here—how the children are thinking, what they’re worried about. This will be helpful.

Chai is late today—a scheduling mix-up—but I assure Ferdinand, the manager (and a man I esteem highly for his works’ sake), that these kids haven’t been here long enough to get used to chai, and they won’t mind it being late. We have chapati and lemongrass tea, and several team members express shock at how sweet the tea is.


At 11 we have our first Swahili lesson; Katie’s longtime Swahili tutor, an animated and gifted teacher named Faith, starts getting us ready for a trip to the market tomorrow by teaching us pronouns, verbs, and numbers. The crew has different skill levels with language, but they’re all doing well.

Weekdays we’ll be eating lunch with the missionaries and supper with the children. Today’s lunch, which we take care of ourselves at HQ, is leftovers. We’ll do that on Mondays and Fridays.

We have another meeting after lunch to get down to the nuts and bolts of the teaching schedule. First we have to make a significant decision. Because the Muslim holiday of Eid, the end of Ramadan, falls this week, the schools will be closed, and all the children will be here all day Wednesday through Friday. It occurs to me that we can hold day camp, which we usually plan for the end of our stay, on these three days. But that means we have to have it ready to roll by noon Wednesday. I ask the team, “What do you think? Can you put together an entire day camp program by then? Teams, cheers, point system, competitions, games, skits?”

Sure! They both unhesitating and eager.

OK then. We’ll have camp this week and start tutoring a week from today.

With that decision made, Beth lays out the class schedule and the characteristics of each student, and each team member signs up for a section. Most sections have two team members assigned; 4 sections have just one student (all of whom have special needs of various kinds), and the largest section (roughly 9th grade), has 7. We’ll teach at 9, 11, and 3, and run a chapel time at noon. Chai at 10, lunch at 1, free time at 2 while the children do chores. Games at 4, reading time at 5, supper at 6, house devotions at 7.30, after which the children go to bed. That schedule seems reasonable and workable. As I noted before, we’ll start that next Monday.

After the meeting we gather at HQ to set all this in motion. I ask for someone to volunteer to put schedules together for several sets of responsibilities, and the hands are quickly raised. Cheyenne will coordinate the schedule for the noon chapel; Blake and Rebekah for house devotions in the boys’ and girls’ houses, respectively; Cathryn, for food prep for the meals with the missionaries (they do most of the work; we just bring some sliced fruit and pitchers of water); Abbie, for post-meal cleanup crews.

More logistics. Tomorrow we’re going into town to the market, first to practice our Swahili, and second to buy fabric for those who want to get some souvenir clothing made. Who needs to hit a Forex to turn US dollars into TZ Shillings? Who needs to hit an ATM to withdraw shillings directly from their bank account? Who wants to ride in on a pikipiki (motorbike) driven by a handsome, well-muscled African man? Who wants to ride in the air-conditioned van with Beth and the old man? We have to plan all this stuff.

But we put it all together in short order, and by suppertime the volunteers have gotten me the schedules they promised.

This team—so far—gives every indication of being one of the really good ones.

Then I take some time to explain the water system, which I described here in an earlier post. Since this is an area where one person’s inattention can make literally everyone, including the missionaries, sick to the point of incapacitation, everybody needs to understand the protocol and the reasons for all of it. When we’re done, the guys use 5-gallon buckets to refill the girls’ reserve tubs.

Remember how I said the city promised the water system would be back up today? Nope.

Aaaaand just now, as I’m writing, the power has gone out.

Guess I’ll go outside.

The power is off for only 10 or 15 minutes. There’s nothing like the relief in everybody when the lights come back on.

Supper tonight is with the children in the Big House, where the kitchen is. They serve daga, which is a tiny fish, about an inch long, fried in oil. It’s very fishy, and of course you’re eating the head and eyes and everything. Some people are put off for that reason, and others because of the intensity of the fishiness. But I like it a lot and have a couple of big spoonsful, and several others like it as well. It’s served with the classic African staple ugali, which is corn-meal paste—basically grits or polenta, but with the consistency of Play-Doh™. You pick up some in your hands and make a ball a little smaller than a golf ball, poke it with your thumb to make a cup, and use it to scoop up whatever else you’re eating—in this case, daga and cooked cabbage. Very tasty. The crew does pretty well eating with their hands.

After dinner we hang out with the children in the kibanda until 7.30, when we head to their houses for devotions. This trip the 7 girls will share duties in the girls’ house, and the 3 guys will do the same in the boys’ house. Tonight Blake MC’s and all 3 share their testimonies. We sing and pray together, and I talk briefly to the boys about George, one of the youngest and happiest of the Tumaini children, who died unexpectedly Easter night. They’re all feeling the loss, and I shared with them that when Christ rose from the grave, he defeated death and left it like a scorpion without a stinger—that one day George will live again, and forever, and so will they, if they know Christ.

After devotions, the children bathe and go to bed under the direction of their house parents. We walk back to HQ for team devotions. There’s some singing, and then I ask them what they’ve learned today. Some things are obvious—they’ve learned some Swahili, and they’ve learned about the children at Tumaini as Beth has shared their stories. What have they learned about themselves? One of the girls speaks up: “I’ve learned that I, like, freak out when we have to plan things.” I told her that I’d include that in the blog, but I also assured her that I wouldn’t include her name.

We’re using one of Tumaini’s portable cellular routers for wifi access (and, of course, paying for the data charges), so I bring it to HQ and let the crew text and email and chat and generally stay in touch with the important people in their lives. We don’t walk around here with our faces in our phones—we hardly ever even have them out when the children are around—but this generation does like to stay connected, and the fact that we can do so in real time and across an ocean is still a marvel to this old coot. Within reasonable limits, let ‘em connect.

Well, this has been a very profitable first workday. Lots of planning in place, and a clear vision for what else needs to be done before everything starts on Wednesday.

That’s going to require some sleep. See you tomorrow.

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Dan Olinger

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

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