Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Note: I’m almost 24 hours getting this one up. Wifi problem. Solved now. Apologies.

I sleep in until 6.30, get up with the birds.

We’ve had no power at the guys’ house since Sunday night. That’s not really a big problem: we can charge our devices at the girls’ house; because of the windows there’s plenty of light during the day (and we’re not there all that much during the day anyway); and at night the guys have a couple of solar-powered lamps that work really well if they remember to set them out to charge in the morning, and I have a little battery-powered LED lantern that keeps me from stubbing my toe in the night.

By 6.30 there’s enough light to take a bucket shower. My laptop has run down overnight—forgot to “Sleep” it before turning in—but again, there’s charging capability at the girl’s house. At 8 the crew is assembled there, eating pancakes. Last night they had said they needed some groceries; I noted that the regular market run takes place on Wednesday—could they wait until then? They could use bread, milk, and coffee immediately. I’m tempted to resist on the coffee—seriously? Absolute necessity? Can’t go 24 hours without it? what are you a bunch of dope fiends? I’m caffeine free, but I also don’t think I ought to make that a religious cause. Coffee’s light enough to carry. OK, I’ll do a quick run tomorrow.

So this morning I ask for a list. Anything besides break, milk, and coffee? I’ll pick up as much as I can find, fit in my backpack, and carry without collapsing like a mule under burden. They give me a list. Besides the Big Three, it’s a fairly entertaining list. They need an onion for guacamole, because the avocados probably won’t last another day. OK, fair enough. Four essentials. Then other stuff, not essential, but if you have room: Nutella™; Hershey™ syrup; pancake syrup; butter or margarine; baking powder (for pancakes); and “whatever else you think of—evening snacky stuff.” By that last one they’re probably referring to cookies, which I got a few days ago, or more likely chocolate. Just chocolate. We need it. Bad.

OK, four of the six “non-essentials” are just sugar. When I note that, they smile.

Kids these days.

They go off to tutor, and I empty my backpack to give me maximum room for groceries and get ready to go. Katie makes a phone call to call a pikipiki. He’ll be here in 20 minutes. To my surprise, he’s here in 17. Jump on the back, and down the dusty road we go. Just 15 minutes or so to the The Pavement, where a daladala is just leaving. Quick 2000 shillings ($1) to the pikipiki driver. Jump on board the daladala. No place to sit, which is normal if you’re the last one one—they don’t typically leave without a full load. Another 20 minutes or so to the daladala terminal in town; along the way the conductor shakes a fistful of coins in your face to tell you he’s collecting fares. 400 shillings (20 cents). Off the daladala in the chaotic, dusty parking lot; avoid get running over and make it to the sidewalk. Walk a couple of blocks to the ATM. There are lots of them along the way, but we like the one at EcoBank because it doesn’t charge the usual $3 transaction fee. There’s an armed guard standing outside the little booth that encloses the ATM, as there is at pretty much all of them. Do the greetings; keep the relationship friendly. Transaction limit is 400,000 shillings ($200), even though my bank allows more than that per day. I’ll pull that much now and do it again on the way out of town. I stuff the 40 crisp new bills into a front pocket before stepping out onto the sidewalk and thanking the guard. The guy has the most boring job in the world; might as well make his day marginally more pleasant.

It’s several blocks up Nkrumah street to U-Turn. Could take a pikipiki—they’re all over the place, and they never let a mzungu (white person) walk by without an offer—but I decide to walk. I know from my time in Ghana that Kwame Nkrumah was the George Washington of that country. (Yeah, he was a communist, but you don’t criticize a country’s George Washington, especially when you’re in it.) The fact that there’s a main street named for him all the way across the continent is a small indication of how much Africa loves its decolonializers, the men who led these countries to independence (in the cases of Ghana and Tanzania, from Britain). Another way we’re all alike.

The sidewalk’s crowded with pedestrians in both directions, and it’s lined with dukas (shops) selling everything from tires (tyres here, following British spelling) to clothing to appliances. U-Turn is down at the end of the road, just before the wooded hill that blocks the road from going further.

I check my backpack into a locker—required in most stores—and grab a shopping cart. I just follow the aisles, looking for stuff on the list. Milk is the shelf-stable kind, pasteurized and in a cardboard box that doesn’t require refrigeration until opened. That technological development has made safe milk a lot more widely available in the developing world. They have both butter and margarine; thinking about the long walk / ride back, I decide to go for the margarine, which also doesn’t require refrigeration. I find everything else they’ve asked for, though I’m not sure whether the onion is an onion are a very large shallot. Close enough. There’s a whole aisle of whiskey; won’t need any of that, although some days … (that was a joke, friends). I see a package of popcorn; in past years that’s been a pretty reliable evening snack. And into the refrigerated room where they keep some of the produce, battery-operated toys, and … chocolate. Another 2 half-kilo packages of dark. Oh, yeah, baby. That’ll do.

Everything they’ve asked for, for under 100,000 shillings ($50). I wave off the bag—they’ve just this month followed Kenya’s lead in banning plastic grocery bags, which used to litter everything, and are using this sort of strong biodegradable paper sort of stuff, which has the added advantage of coming in bright colors—and walk over to the lockers to retrieve my backpack. Everything fits nicely, Heavy stuff on the bottom, and the loaf a bread fits perfectly across the top, where I should be able to keep it from getting crushed. I heft the pack, and it’s heavy, but not unreasonably so.

On the way out I run into one of the artisans—primarily a painter and carver—who came out to the craft fair on Saturday. He hangs out outside U-Turn because of all the expats (read “relatively rich people”) who frequent the place. We exchange a few words of greeting. He asks if we’re confirmed for the Serengeti this coming Saturday, and I say yes. He’s pleased; the Serengeti is a mark of national pride here.

Oh, I didn’t tell you about that?

Every team I’ve brought here has taken a day trip to Serengeti National Park, one of the top 3 wild animal parks in Africa, and I would say the world. (The other two are Kruger in South Africa and Amboseli in Kenya. Kenya’s Maasai Mara is simply the Serengeti on the Kenya side of the border, so I don’t count that as separate, though of course politically it is.) We’re within a 3-hour drive of it, and it’s just crazy to be this close and not go there. I never tell the teams about that beforehand, because I don’t want kids coming on the Africa Team just to go to the Serengeti. But so far, we’ve always managed to make it happen.

Back several blocks to Town Centre, with the added but manageable weight of the backpack. I stop into the Gold Crest Hotel, where there’s a nice coffee shop in the lobby. They have a security screening to enter the lobby. I hand them my backpack, which they don’t open, and place the contents of my pockets into the tray, including my pocketknife, but not the wad of cash. They motion me through the scanner, and it beeps. They take no notice and return my backpack.

Kinda makes you wonder why they’re there at all. Optics has some effect, I suppose. This time the coffee shop doesn’t have any decaf espresso—I mentioned that I’m a caffeine-free zone—so I get a club soda and sit for a few minutes. Air conditioning. Though to be fair, it really doesn’t usually get all that hot here—the 80s are about it.

Now to get back home; plenty of time to make it in time for lunch. It’s at this moment I have a moment of absent-minded professoritude; I walk the 3 or 4 blocks to the daladala terminal, but to the northbound one, where I arrived inbound. I ask if this one is going to Sweya, and the man replies with a name that sounds a little like the name of the other town right next to Sweya, which I always have trouble remembering. So I board, soon to realize that like every daladala departing this terminal, we’re headed north, toward the airport, and directly away from where I want to go.

Oops. I get off at the mall, walk through the center of it to the taxi stand on the other side, and grab a ride back into town. 5,000 shillings—the most expensive way to get around, but still only 2 and a half bucks, so a relatively cheap penalty for a bone-headed mistake. He drops me off at the southbound terminal, where again there’s a vehicle just leaving for Sweya. I jump on. There are about 20 people aboard behind the driver—this is the size of a 15-passenger van, or perhaps a little smaller—and I find a place in the center aisle where I won’t be offensively crowding anyone—at least as much as possible. I’m acutely aware—unlike a great many American college students :-)—that my full backpack is protruding out behind me, and I try to stand in a way that doesn’t put it in somebody’s face. In a vehicle that crowded, your options are severely limited.

We drop people along the way, to the point that eventually I get a place to sit. All good.

At Sweya, there are 30 or so pikipiki drivers poised to assault everyone getting off the daladala. I see one close by who smiles, and I pick him. Take off the backpack, set it on the rear rack, and then slip into the straps so it’s stable but there’s room for me behind the driver. Off we go.

Getting off at Tumaini, I jokingly ask if the fare is 100,000 shillings. Then I give him 2,000, the standard rate. The 12 pm Bible Story Hour is just wrapping up. I’m looking forward to showing the crew what I got. I had emphasized that I’d get only what I could carry, and I think they’re expecting a pretty minimal load. The fact that I got them everything they asked for, plus a couple of other things (a box of teabags and the popcorn) should be encouraging. And of course, there’s nothing like pulling a kilo of dark chocolate out of the stash.

Yeah, they’re encouraged.

And speaking of encouraged, I drop by my place to find that not only do we have power again, but we have running water! First time since we arrived 10 days ago. Boy, is that great. If it holds, we might get actual showers tonight.

Lunch is a Beth’s. Katie has made burrito bowls—without the tortillas. Pick a base—two kinds of rice or lettuce—and heap it up with fixin’s—tomatoes, fresh salsa, guacamole, avocados, cilantro, sour cream—and top it off with a dressing (I get homemade avocado cilantro lime). Plus there’s a fruit salad and watermelon. That’s a lot of work, since, as I’ve noted before, all uncooked foods require special washing. These folks are taking very good care of us.

Speaking of which, today is Rebekah’s birthday. Katie has made chocolate passion fruit cake pops. We sing “Happy Birthday,” and everybody enjoys the cake.

Some of us are having a little light-headedness—it hit me when I was in town this morning, and again here at lunchtime, and another episode mid-afternoon. That’s a pretty reliable sign of dehydration, which can sneak up on you pretty easily. Simply drinking water and slowing down or resting for a few minutes generally solves the problem, as it does for us.

This is the place to note that for weekdays, we’re into a regular schedule that will be uniform throughout, unless something unexpected happens. That means that our days will be largely the same, and thus the blog posts will probably get shorter. I’ll report on unusual or interesting stuff, but the daily schedule will probably be routine. Like this afternoon, which follows the usual schedule.

Pretty much all afternoon there’s gagaball going on in the kibanda. These kids have gone crazy over it.

About suppertime Beth comes by with an interesting development. A girl at the school where many of the Tumaini children attend makes carpets; she’s sent over a handmade carpet the size of a welcome mat that says “BJU 2019.” Enterprising little entrepreneur. She’s asking 40,000; we’ll counteroffer 25,000 and see how it goes.

You might wondering about trying to lower the price a schoolgirl is asking. I’m happy to pay $20 for the mat; why try to push her down to $12.50? Does it really matter? We have more money than she does; why be chintzy? Well, it’s that “rich white people” issue again. Throwing money around doesn’t always help. The culture here includes dickering on price, and we’re not doing anybody any favors if we give her what she’s asking, which she knows to be unreasonably high. I suspect we’ll end up somewhere around 30 to 35 thousand, and she’ll be very happy with that.

Supper is rice, beans, cabbage, watermelon. At suppertime our guys have opportunity to have some good, substantial conversations with the older boys about spiritual matters. That’s very encouraging.

After house devotions the Tumaini girls give Rebekah a couple of nicely wrapped gifts—a package of cookies, a bottle of soda, along with some letters. Then they march her back to HQ, singing “Happy Birthday” all the way, like some sort of triumphal procession. We don’t know how they knew it was her birthday.

We’re all feeling tired tonight. I keep the evening meeting brief—just a few testimonies and prayer. The testimonies are encouraging. It seems as though several of the children are wanting to talk about serious issues—lying, cheating, that sort of thing—and several of our crew tell stories of interesting conversations. This is a good thing. 🙂

This is the time in the trip where we start to get tired, and the adrenaline wears off. Pray for strength for each day, for patience with the children and one another. The next few days will be important to the overall success of the team, and we need to work a little harder to face these various challenges.

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Dan Olinger

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

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