Saturday, June 8, 2019

Today we’ve been here a week. We’ve accomplished a lot—immersion into the culture, and handling it reasonably well (that is to say, our hosts haven’t noticed us being radically and thoughtlessly offensive); learned some Swahili and have used it as we’re able; put together and executed a 2-day camp program almost on the spur of the moment. Not to mention purchasing things in the market using Swahili and getting back and forth on local public transport.

As I noted last night, the crew is tired from all that, though in good spirits, and today’s a day to sleep in and lower the energy output just a bit. (I sleep in till 7, and it feels great!) But it’s worth noting that we haven’t accomplished anything toward our primary mission, which is tutoring the children who aren’t in their school’s prep program for upcoming standardized tests, which they call “Crush.” (Somebody in the nomenclature department has a wicked sense of humor.)

Well, we have accomplished something; we’ve decided who’s teaching which children, with the proviso that none of it is in stone; if things aren’t working optimally and we want to make some changes—maybe a couple of our folks switch sections, or alternate sections—we’re happy to experiment to find the best fit.

But the sessions start Monday morning, and we need to get ready for that at some point over the weekend. We’ll probably start with the children’s latest exams; Monday or even longer may be devoted simply to having them redo the questions they missed, under our guidance and tutelage. But we obviously won’t be spending two whole weeks on that.

Of course, we don’t want these sessions to be “crush”; we’re not feeling pressure to achieve great things academically. We want them to learn some things, to enjoy learning them, and to see that we care about them. Those are reasonable goals, I think, for the next two weeks.

Prayers appreciated.

Speaking of being here a week, we’re buying internet service at the best rate from the one of the local cell services (and there are several services here; cell phones are the way everybody does business, and prices are low and coverage good). Halotel has a “weekly” plan with 13.5 GB of data at a very good rate. Our crew of 11 managed to make the 13.5 gig last 6 days, which is really quite good. I commend them on that; many young people would blow through that in a few hours, with streaming and sharing videos and massive photo uploads and who knows whatever else. Since the Tumaini children don’t have cell phones, we encourage the team to keep their devices out of sight when out of the house and to focus on personal interaction. They’ve done well with that, and they’ve generally kept their wifi use to evenings after the children are in bed—or are supposed to be. 🙂

So about 9 this morning I take the mobile router up to HQ and drop it off so the girls can have some wifi time. When I show up they’re making french toast with the groceries from the other day, including a whole new can of cinnamon and a large bottle of syrup. The cinnamon smells delicious.

Blake and Silas are playing football with a half-dozen Tumaini kids over on the pitch, and Abbie’s out in the kibanda talking to a girl or two. Some of the children are sweeping the dirt pathways—that’s a regular morning chore—and Ferdinand is the staff member on duty this morning. Greetings all around. “Shikamoo, Dr. Dan.” “Malahaba! Hujambo?” “Sijambo!” “Habari za asubuhi?” “Salamah!”

It’s a nice, low-key, quiet, almost pastoral morning on the compound. There will be time for high-energy stuff later.

Chai is at 10, of course. Chapati and tea. The girls who had french toast won’t be eating much.

At 10.30 am we have several local artisans bring their wares to the compound for a “craft fair” just for us, an opportunity for the crew to pick up some high-quality souvenirs at a reasonable price. These are artisans the Tumaini staff knows well; they create excellent products and sell them at good prices. I’ve had several teams go through this process with them. I’ve told the team that usually I’m their advocate in interactions with the locals; if some vendor in town is getting pushy with them, I’ll tell him to lighten up, or even get lost. (With some of these people you have to be quite firm, and some members of previous teams have thought I was being rude, when I really wasn’t; sometimes it simply takes energetic interaction to get the street vendors to back off. They’ll follow you down the sidewalk for 100 meters, haranguing and harassing you to buy their stuff.) But, I tell the crew, at this craft fair, I change sides. I’m going to encourage them to buy as much as they can reasonably afford, and to give these artisans a really good day. We don’t have an ATM here, but I’ve got a stock of local currency and can act as a living, breathing ATM if they need some. (Obviously, I don’t want them to spend money they don’t have, but if the absence of an ATM is preventing them from getting to funds they do have, I’m will to act as an interest-free short-term lender.) So let’s turn ‘em loose and see what happens.

The vendors have lots of good stuff—baskets, carvings, paintings, jewelry, cosmetics, purses—and the crew spends a good hour there, moving from table to table and buying what they can afford. They exhaust my ATM cash, and they borrow from Beth as well. I figure the vendors’ total revenue for the day exceeds 1 million shillings (about $500), which is a very good day for them, worth the trouble of bringing all that inventory out. So good.

We have a little more down time before lunch, which is rice and beans.

About lunchtime the tailor arrives to take measurements for the clothing he is going to make from the fabric many of the team bought in the market the other day. Everybody who has fabric goes down to the office building porch, where he’s set up. As he’s measuring, I hear Beth use the word inchi, and I ask if they’re working in imperial rather than metric. Beth inquires of the tailor, who says in Swahili that fabric is sold by the meter, but tailors work in inches. That certainly seems odd.

We’ve arranged for some home visits this afternoon. We’ll split the team into groups of 2 or 3, and each group, accompanied by an older Tumaini child, will walk to the home of someone in the church. Typically the hosts speak little to no English; the team has a chance to practice their greetings and what little other Swahili they know, and then the child can interpret for any other conversation. We like to give the team this opportunity to see typical home life in the village. The houses are small and spare, but I emphasize to the students that these people are generally not “poor”; the family has a place to live, enough to eat, and clothes to wear. Because their lives are much simpler, their income needs are much lower. But they get along fine, and they certainly don’t need some well-intentioned American dumping a lot of money on them. One odd thing about home visits here is that the local society doesn’t feel the need to sit and entertain the guests. There will be some greeting, and probably a soft drink and maybe chapati, but the host might have other things to do and will set about doing them. The guests may find themselves sitting quietly on the couch for a while, and that’s considered just fine.

While the team’s out, I decide to get my online course ready for its launch right after the team returns on 6/23. I’ve forgotten to get the key to HQ, where the wifi is at the moment, before the crew left, but I can pick up a perfectly good signal from the front steps, so I settle in there and get to work. Within minutes I’m joined by Anthony, one of the youngest boys. He sees the laptop and is of course immediately interested. I’m pretty sure the work I’m doing won’t incite any covetousness is his heart, so I keep working. I make a show of explaining what I’m doing—“I need to make sure the assignment due dates here in the syllabus match the ones over here in the course schedule”—at which he looks blankly at the screen and then just sits beside me, content just to be there. A few minutes later I notice that he’s sound asleep. All you parents of young children who won’t take naps, send them to me.

I’m most of the way done when an older boy comes by and squeezes in between me and the sleeping Anthony, holding a puppy, who immediately begins licking my hand. Fortunately, as I said, I’m about done. As I’m wrapping it up a few minutes later, Abbie and Cheyenne are the first to return from home visits. They had a delightful time visiting one of the mamas in the church. They finish that visit fairly quickly, and the two Tumaini boys with them suggest they go to another house. They end up at the bar up on the hill next to Tumaini, Faulu Beach Resort. No houses up there. We’ll have to deal with that. The children enjoy manipulating new visitors into doing things they’re not allowed to do.

Abbie has the key to let me in to HQ—but then, I’m done with what I had to do.

Timing is everything.

Abbie and Cheyenne head off to join choir practice for church tomorrow, while I hold down the fort at HQ waiting for the others to return. Shelbie, Sam, and Michaela are next. They visited the “chair” of the village, who wanted to know all about Trump and Hillary and Obama and American education and all sorts of things. They talked for about 2 hours in a far-ranging conversation. He was surprised that in America we don’t beat children in school. Peter and Cathryn and Blake return with a report that some folks caught a thief near the house they were visiting and began beating him. It’s not unusual for a crowd to beat a thief to death when they catch him; in this case, though, they stopped before that and are planning to expel him from the village. But they were kind enough to offer Blake an opportunity to join in beating him. He declined. The third group is Kathryn and Rebekah. They have a nice visit too, but no outlandish stories to tell. 🙂

Supper is at Dan & Jana’s house tonight. Jana has served beef tenderloin (!) and green peppers on rice, with peanuts and watermelon (that we brought). It’s extraordinary.

Sam’s scheduled to bring the devotional at the boys’ house tonight, but he’s pretty tired from the day’s activities, so I cover it at the last minute. I decide to do a simple gospel presentation from Titus 3. These kids, in effect, have grown up in a Christian home, and many of them show evidence of simply sliding along without any serious profession of faith. I make the gospel as plain as I can and encourage the boys with questions to talk to us.

Back at HQ, I find that Shelbie did a gospel presentation at the girls’ house as well—except that she had planned to. We all talk a little bit about how God often moves in us to make us agents in a story that he is writing, without our even realizing it. Apparently the kids needed a gospel presentation tonight.

We talk through tomorrow’s activities and close the evening with prayer. After their adventures of the day, and the down time, they’re feeling pretty energetic, so I leave them to their fun and head home. I do remind them that church is at 8. 🙂

Oh, and the water is out at the girls’ house again. Never did come on at the guys’ place.

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Dan Olinger

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

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