Tuesday, June 18, 2019

This will be a relatively brief post. As I’ve noted earlier, the tutoring days begin to assume a uniformity. The crew notes that today the children seemed to be less cooperative, a little more hostile—“weird,” as one team member put it.

There could be multiple causes. The children are getting tired of doing tutoring sessions 3 times a day during their break from school. That’s understandable. They also usually start to resist as they see the separation and departure coming; that’s common in most cultures.

At any rate, we’re getting more resistance in the tutoring sessions, and more misbehavior during the other times—some of the boys were throwing rocks at some of our girls today, until Peter put the fear of God into them.

At the same time, there are encouraging things. Several of the team have had substantive conversations with some of the children, and three boys have said they want to talk to Blake tomorrow to continue earlier conversations. The greatest need here—as anywhere—is for a divine work in hearts of sinful people—and that’s all of us. God has been working through much more difficult situations than this to bring glory to his name, and I have no doubt that he has plans for these children, for the staff, and for the team in the days ahead.

After house devotions we meet to share our experiences, both positive and negative, from the day, and I ask the team to consider what they need to do to finish well. Their answers are rapid and thoughtful—perseverance; consistency; patience; energy; a long-range goal of the glory of God.

Three workdays left. As always, prayers much appreciated.

Monday, June 17, 2019

First day of the last week of tutoring.

Cheyenne’s day starts off with a bang. Out at the lake end of the guys’ house is a nice big rock with a great view of the lake, where some of the crew likes to go for devotions in the morning. Cheyenne, Abbie, Rebekah, and Blake are out there this morning, along with Dog Samuel and Clifford. Well, Clifford—how shall I say this—decides to mark Cheyenne as his special territory to start the day off right. All over her back.

The upside of this is that the day can only get better from here.

The morning sessions, which are the only ones today, go well, as does chai in between. The dogs hang around for chai, because they know the children—and sometimes the team members too—will drop them little scraps of chapati.

Speaking of dogs, I should mention that one of the dogs, Jeddah, had puppies a few days ago—6 girls, 1 boy. All have survived. They’re in a shed behind the guys’ house. We keep the door closed to protect them, and we check on them often. The other night Abbie opened the door and Jeddah took off like a shot. New moms will know exactly how she felt. But eventually they got her to go back. 🙂

Foe Bible time today, Peter speaks from Matt 6.16-34 on riches and anxiety. After he is done, we split the children up into groups with a leader from the team, and they go over the material with comprehension questions and discussion. Nice change of pace.

For some reason, several of us forget that today is Monday, when we do leftovers for lunch. We show up at Beth’s and start setting up tables on her porch. She smiles broadly and says, “You’re welcome to sit here, but we don’t have any food for you.”

Oh, yeah.

We have plenty of leftovers—cabbage, chili, cold-cut sandwiches, other odds and ends. Nobody goes hungry.

We call a dozen pikipikis for 2 pm. We’re having supper in town tonight, and we all want to go in early and do some shopping. Katie tells me how to tell the pikipiki driver “I’m last”—“Mimi kwa mpisho.” Finally, I can ride behind everybody else like I want to.

We all regather at the daladala stand, where I want us all to ride together for ease of payment, so we grab an empty one. Well, here’s the thing. When anybody else gets on, and they see all wazungu, it’s an unexpected sight. We get some hilarious reactions. One lady is carrying a baby, who finds Kat quite entertaining, smiling and cooing for most of her ride.

Off at the station, then to the ATM. Everybody gets the cash he needs except for one of the guys, who claims he’s changing banks when he gets home, after his card is rejected at ATMs at 4 different banks. But there’s no problem, I can advance him what cash he needs, and he can pay me when we get back to the States. I mention casually that I have a concealed-carry permit. And a SC SLED card. I don’t think he’ll be delinquent in repaying.

Then a block further, past the iconic fish fountain, to Gold Crest Hotel and a little visit to the coffee shop. Everybody gets a drink or a pastry. I’ve really brought them here to take them up on the roof for a panoramic view of the town, but I just feel like we should patronize the coffee shop if we’re going to do that.

The roof is 9 stories up and gives a nice view of the town. Lots of pictures.

Katie takes most of the crew to a couple of nearby shops and then down the road toward the Tilapia Hotel, where we’re eating tonight. The road is lined with souvenir shops, and they can take as much time as they want shopping and browsing.

I take two who want to get some more specialized things; we catch a taxi to the mall for those. The transactions go fairly quickly, and we catch a different taxi back. I say “Tilapia,” but about half a kilometer before we get there, we see the rest of the team walking and join them. Some of the shop owners remember me from previous years; here, if a short guy in a floppy hat shows up repeatedly with a bunch of white college students who buy lots of stuff, they tend to remember you.

A few minutes later we arrive at the Tilapia, a luxury hotel on the waterfront (suites $150 a night). There are two restaurants there; we’re going to the Teppanyaki place in a little hut hanging out over the water, with a beautiful view of the gulf.

Officially the reservation is for 5.30, but it’s designed to be a leisurely affair, besides which all the missionaries are joining us as our guests, so there are 25 of us including the little ones. So we find seats around the grills (think Japanese steak house, like Kanpai of Tokyo, but outside with a roof). Waiters take the drink orders; I’ve introduced Blake to Stoney Ginger Beer, and he gets his second (and third) of the day. A few get a lime and mint drink that looks delicious; I settle in with my usual club soda.

Then the cooks fire up the flat-top grills and go to work. A small potato cake; then, in rapid succession, shrimp, tilapia, calamari, vegetable fried rice, chicken, and finally beef. Sauces include soy, a pink pickled onion sauce, and ground nut (peanut) sauce. Use them as you wish. Then top it off with ice cream.

By now it’s dark, and while a lakeside venue is delightful in the daylight, it’s a different place at night when the lake flies come out and conveniently cluster around the lights. Time to shut this party down.

We hire a taxi for half of us, while the other half ride with Beth, and the other missionaries have their own vehicles. Battle the oncoming high beams all the way south out of town, and then battle the darkness out to Shadi, right smack in the middle of Nowhere.

We’re tired. A few cursory remarks as follow-up and an encouragement to get some sleep.

And to bed. Back to a full class schedule tomorrow.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Last Sunday at Tumaini. Last time at church. The service follows the usual pattern—which is not to imply that it’s just going through the motions. There’s a liveliness in the opening singing, in the testimonies, in the prayers, in the choir numbers, in the pre-service prayer song, in the sermon. Pastor Samson doesn’t preach today; it’s a younger man, who preaches from Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill in Acts 17.

We’re taking today as a true day of rest. Nothing’s scheduled, though of course there’s chai available after church, lunch with the children at 1 (officially, though it’s often late on Sunday), and supper at Beth’s at 6. Come if you like, but get whatever rest you need.

The team members are all different, and they get their rest in different ways. Some hang out with the children, free from the pressure of schedules. Some hang out together. Some go off somewhere and read (that’s me). Some sleep. Some really sleep. Like a rock. Which is what his name means, come to think of it.

News circulates that there’s a football game over in Luchulele at 4 pm. A couple of town teams from the area will be playing each other. A few of us plan to go. It’s a little over a mile away, and some of us walk with some of the older boys—and two of the dogs, who have no idea what the trip is about but just want to hang with us. Beth drives over later with some of the smaller children.

The field is surrounded by people standing 3 or 4 deep. (There are no bleachers.) Others are taking advantage of higher ground a few meters back. There are some particularly dedicated fan sections for each team, waving flags and blowing something close to vuvuzelas and generally making nuisances of themselves. We’re standing in a group on one sideline.

I’ve noticed that when white people show up at a public event like this, they are immediately surrounded by little African children, who want to touch them or just stare studiously. During the game Abbie becomes the center of a significant crowd of children, who all want to play that hand-slapping game.

There are what you might call concessions; a few women have peanuts for sale, and there’s some sugar cane, and a guy is walking around carrying a box of booze. A few of the spectators have apparently given him a little too much business; one of them is attracted by our beautiful wazungu maidens, and the older Tumaini boys immediately step between him and the girls and redirect him expertly every time he comes by. Good for them. The team guys and I are ready to help as well, but the truth is that in a cross-cultural situation like this, you don’t know how best to handle the situation—how to de-escalate, what onlooker reactions would be to various actions, and so forth. I have some security experience in the US, but it’s wiser here to let the locals judge how best to deal with a touchy situation.

Anyway, it’s all fine, the orange team wins (Clemson football!), and we all get safely back to Tumaini. Supper shortly afterward—chili with all the fixin’s, including sour cream and cheese, and good discussion afterwards.

This is the time in the trip when team members normally start to get on each other’s nerves, so I talk a little bit about diversity as reflected in the Great Commission and in the church (1Co 12), and how the fact that we’re different makes us a better team. We’ll see how the week goes.

Well, today’s post is a quick one. Big activity planned for tomorrow evening; be sure to tune in.

Saturday, June 15, 2019


Technically, that’s just the Swahili word for “trip,” and a related agent word just means “traveler,” but in the west we always associate it with shooting wild game in Africa, with guns or cameras.

Today it’s cameras.

Up at 4. Brush, shower, shave, pack. Taking the passport just to ensure that we don’t need it. Taking some extra food in case the box lunch is something I shouldn’t eat. Taking electronics, including an external battery for the phone and the mobile router Just In Case.

I drop by the house, and everyone’s up and pretty much ready to go. The 4 safari vehicles show up at 4.45, a full 15 minutes early. I meet the lead driver, Lukas, and drop my backpack in his shotgun seat. I’ve told the team to spread out across the 4 vehicles so each of the children has some oversight. This is the most children we’ve ever taken—15, plus 2 staff members. When everyone has a seat, I note how the crew has distributed themselves—

  • Peter and Sam in a vehicle with a bunch of boys. That’s a really good idea.
  • Abbie, Cheyenne, and Cathryn
  • Rebekah, Shelbie, and Michaela
  • Blake and Kat are with me, with 3 more boys

This’ll work fine.

We realize later that in the rush to get away, we overlook one thing—we forget to distribute the mandazi among the vehicles, leaving them all in one vehicle. The folks in that vehicle, unaware that they have the whole lot, enjoy them immensely during the drive. No mandazi for the rest of us.

Simple oversight. Doesn’t compromise the mission. Inconvenience, not disaster. But I think we’ll need to eat lunch earlier than we might have.

Out to the main drag and north through Mwanza. Traffic is heavier than I would have expected at 5.15 am. Lots of people getting ready for Saturday business.

By 7 am the sun is a bright orange ball on the horizon directly in front of us. I tell the children that when we get to it, we’ll be there.

I know. Dad joke.

It’s 2 and a half hours north and east to the park. Once we’re out of Greater Mwanza, it’s essentially bush, with the occasional village, a dozen or so buildings made of mud brick or concrete block, thatched or metal roofs, often high-pitched. Lots of pedestrians and bicyclists, carrying water jugs or fuel. The names flow by—Nyanguge, Magu, Nyahanga—until we reach Lamadi, seemingly the largest of the towns and the last before the park entrance. I’ve told Lukas I’d like to stop there to pick up a couple dozen more water bottles, just for backup. We’ve each brought our own bottle—well, the team has, anyway—and the company has provided a couple of cases, and there will be water in the boxed lunches, but still …

That done, we drive just a bit further to the Serengeti Stopover Lodge, an inn and restaurant, where the company has ordered the lunches. They place a large, heavy, stapled brown paper bag at each seat.

Then into the park, just a few hundred meters down the road. Turn right under the arch, then down the drive to the Ndabaka gate itself, where we need to stop to register. I show the crew where the toilets are—western or African, to suit your preference—and then show them the gift shop and encourage them to buy now what they’re going to buy. While they’re doing that, a local monkey pops in, knocks over a display, and takes off. The proprietor does a brisk business in all kinds of souvenirs, and also in cans of Pringles™ (of which Africa has many flavors we don’t in the States) and plastic bottles of soda.

Kids these days.

Then open the gate, and in we go. By 8 am. Awesome.

It’s fairly common not to see much out by the gate, but we do see wildebeest first (there are lots of them here). I always think they look like they were designed by a committee—ungainly, looking oddly disproportional.


Then some ostriches, a few zebra, impala, monkeys. Lots of birds, especially an iridescent blue variety that’s all over the place.

(By the way, zebras are white with black stripes, not vice versa. You can tell that by their solid white hind ends. I know that little bit of information has made your day.)

Lukas wants to know when we’ll eat lunch. He needs to plan the route to be at the airstrip, the lunch location, at the desired time. What with the mandazi incident, I suggest noon. The children will be hungry then.

On the way, we see a sizeable herd of zebra and wildebeest—they seem to like to hang out together—and some Thompson’s gazelle, with their distinctive racing stripes. Then some elephants, at a distance, and back to. A jackal or two, and a group of hyenas. Then over by the river a whole lot of hippopotamus, whose life seems to consist of “I think I’ll get in the river.” “I think I’ll get out of the river.” Over and over again. Nearby one location is a very large croc, sunning. We decide to leave him alone.


The big prize of the morning is a pride of lions, 10 females and one male, lounging in the shade near the river. We pull up right next to them and sit quickly, taking pictures. They show no interest, yawning and scratching and completely ignoring us. When you have no predators, you have nothing to be afraid of.


On the way to lunch, we see a bald eagle fly overhead. Boy, he’s a long way from home. 🙂

A few minutes after noon we arrive at the Kirawira Airstrip B, our traditional lunch location. We take up 4 picnic tables and open our lunches: a piece of chicken, a pressed sandwich, a banana, an orange, a bottle of water, a bottle of orange juice, and a napkin, neatly pierced with a toothpick. Plenty to eat. I do notice that the chicken breast has considerably less meat on it than we’re used to in the States. Hormone-free, I guess.

A private plane takes off while we’re eating, and another one lands just as we’re leaving. The little dirt strip is busy today.

It’s been a productive morning. There are really only two animals we have yet to see—giraffe, and an elephant herd up close. Well, there are rhino in the park, but more than a day’s drive away, in the Crater. And cheetah and leopard, but we’ve seen only one cheetah in 6 visits, and no leopards, since the latter specialize in not being seen.

Not far from the strip we see some giraffe, at a distance. Then a lot of driving, and dozing, without seeing much. Then a surprise–9 lions in a tree, and 2 more on the ground below. (Can you see them all in the picture?) Around 3 we head for the exit, and along the way we spot several giraffe on the left, at some distance, and then suddenly there’s one on our right, close to the road. He’s darker than what I’m used to; Lukas says he’s a Maasai giraffe. I ask if that means he can jump really high.


Another Dad joke.

Well, that’s a good day in anybody’s book. I suppose the lions are the highlight, but there’s been plenty more to see and enjoy. Well worth the trip.

We’re out of the park at 4, stopping to use the toilets again and to take the requisite photo by the sign. Then the long drive home. Lukas goes a slightly different way—I assume to avoid the traffic in Mwanza—so that we come into our usual connecting road from the south. Takes about the same amount of time as this morning’s drive up did, and traffic was undoubtedly heavier in the area we avoided.

The children welcome their “siblings” back like conquering heroes. Beth has some bread and cold cuts ready for us. We’re tired and dirty and a little cranky. I suggest we all clean up and go to bed, and after finishing this post, I intend to set a good example.

Friday, June 14, 2019

I arrive at HQ to find that we’re going to have to make another trip to the chemist. We quickly arrange the morning sessions—which are overstaffed, you’ll recall—so that everything is covered. Then the person in question, a friend of her choosing, and I set out on 3 pikipikis for The Pavement right around 9 am. I tell the driver I want to stay behind the other 2. He says, “OK,” and we take off like a shot. Apparently he doesn’t speak English, and the culture demands that he not disappoint me, so he says the one word he knows and then tries to get me to my destination as quickly as possible.

It’s my own fault for not knowing enough of the language to say what I need to say. That’s how cross-cultural ministry works.

We reassemble at The Pavement and squeeze into a daladala for the ride into town. On arriving, I ask if they’d like to hit an ATM while we’re here. I know they would—the tailor is supposed to come with their custom clothing today, and they’ll want to be ready for souvenirs at the Serengeti tomorrow.

That business done, we hit the chemist just nearby and get what The Subject needs. At that point The Friend produces a list of other medications; apparently some other team members wanted some meds as well, and she’s effectively a drug runner. Glad that worked out.

In just a few minutes we’re done and ready to head back. On the way there’s a little grocery store, Sitta, and it occurs to me that it would be helpful to get some more jam and peanut butter for the Mass Sandwich Construction Project this afternoon. Didn’t bring my backpack—that was dumb—but both the girls have bags, and a few little jars shouldn’t be a problem, right?

Then they want to get some other things—flour, sugar, oh, and a couple of sodas. Their bags are full, and I’m carrying a grocery bag full of jam and peanut butter. Hmmm. That’ll be tricky on the pikipiki. (Come to think of it, that line would make an excellent title for this entire blog series.)

Back to the terminal, grab a Sweya daladala, and off we go. We max out at over 20 passengers this time. At the Big Turn I think about hopping off and catching a bajaj the rest of the way—it would actually be cheaper—but the driver doesn’t stop long enough for me to make up my mind.

Sweya. 3 pikipikis. I hold the bag on my lap and tell the driver I want to stay behind the other two. He understands and lets them go first. Then, 100 meters or so down the road, he decides he doesn’t want to go out to Shadi and flags down another driver. I change bikes, and we’re off again.

Even a quick, successful trip is an adventure.

Back at TCH just as the 11.00 session is starting. We offload the groceries into HQ.

As we gather for lunch (leftovers, because it’s Friday, and guacamole and homemade chapati chips, because we like them) at 1, Michaela informs me that all the sandwiches are made. All 60 of ‘em. These kids are very, very good.

I do laundry and some bookwork in the afternoon. Around suppertime the tailor arrives with the dresses, skirts, and shirts the crew has ordered. They all fit pretty well, and the bright colors will fit right in at church Sunday morning.

Supper is samaki (fish)—not daga this time, but big fish, cut into steaks crosswise, unbreaded and fried in oil. Delicious.

Sam has the devotional at the boys’ house tonight. He speaks about mercy, from the Christological hymn in Phil 2, concluding with the observation that serving Christ with our lives is the only appropriate response. Which is right in line, of course, with what Paul himself concludes in Rom 12.2. One of the boys suggests that we sing “Across the Lands,” which lines up perfectly—

Yet you left the gaze of angels,
Came to seek and save the lost,
And exchanged the joy of heaven
For the anguish of the cross.

Because we’re leaving for the Serengeti at 5 am tomorrow—the earliest we’ve ever left—we’ve opted not to have the usual team meeting after house devotions. That means I don’t have my key conduit for information about the day. And that in turn means that today’s journal entry is a little bit lighter than normal. I ask your indulgence.

See you on safari tomorrow.