Am reposting this blog of a writer friend who expresses so well the only response I can think of in the face of the ongoing horror of violence, move towards “the light that the darkness cannot overcome.” In St. Paul, in Dallas, in Baton Rouge, in Nice and Paris, in Istanbul, in Charleston S.C., in Orlando, FL, in our hearts.

In Search of Joie de Vivre

Chagall Yellow painting (Nice)

Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

         ~ From “September 1, 1939” by W.H. Auden

Berries at Nice Market Sept 2015I will always remember Nice for its explosion of colors that celebrate life. A Chagall masterpiece shimmering with saffron, emerald, and ruby.  Strawberries and blueberries bursting with ripeness at the daily market.  Pastel gems of macarons glittering in the gold display case at Maison Auer.  Matisse’s giant cutout blooming with orange and fuchsia flowers. The boy playing with the red ball on the beach.  The azure Mediterranean.

I wish I could forget the white truck. The image of the woman with the blood-soaked top. The green metallic body bag covering a child. The pink doll in…

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Important perspective from a writer friend.

In Search of Joie de Vivre

“In July 1932 the Nazi Party wins 230 seats in German parliamentary elections, becoming the largest party represented. Modern propaganda techniques—including strong images and simple messages—helped propel Austrian-born Hitler from a little known extremist to a leading candidate in Germany’s 1932 elections.”

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Like many others who care deeply about the ideals of American democracy, I have been riveted by the presidential election coverage of recent months. I devour almost every election analysis or commentary in the New York Times and Washington Post. Each evening my husband ­­­Rich and I tune into the day’s news coverage and analysis, trying to make sense of the presidential campaigns and in particular, the unfathomable rise and candidacy of Donald Trump.

This recently reached a crescendo with the reports that former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard and avowed anti-Semite David Duke expressed his support for Trump’s candidacy and encouraged…

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Alice leads us into the simple classroom and forty, six- year olds jump to attention at the side of their simple wooden desks.

“Good morning, honored vee-see-tors,”, they chorus at a signal from Alice.

A slight young woman, Alice is the lead teacher for the brand new Makumira-Kilala English Medium Primary School.  Built by the Diocese with funds from a congregation in California, this is phase one of the development.  Three classes, pre-school, kindergarten and standard one,  have been recruited to inaugurate the school.  Each year at least one more standard will be added as the children progress.

Alice introduces us as visitors from America.  The children continue their greeting in perfect unison singing/shouting songs and verses in English. “For God so Loved the World……”,”you are very welcome visitors…”

Delighted, we clap, say asante sana, thank you, thank you and marvel at their energetic performance in English, a third language for them after their local dialect and Swahili.  They are given permission to sit down.

Now it is our turn, we say our names and where we are from.  They are polite but do not register much until we ask if we can teach a song?

Lined up along the front of the room, ten Americans begin to sing, “Head, shoulders, knees and toes.”, touching our heads shoulders, knees and toes and “eyes and ears and mouth and nose.”  The students look first at their teacher before grinning broadly. Then they are on their feet, singing along as we go through the song, one time, two times…until the children collapse in giggles and the Americans catch their breath.

We have connected across age, culture and language dividing us.

As first time visitors to this culture, we sometimes feel like intruders, sometimes like voyeurs to their struggles, all the time as separate from a way of life we do not understand. We try not to bring too many judgments to a context so different from our own. In observing, we are aware of how much divides us, how much we do not know. Yet, this simple encounter reminds us that children everywhere like to move, to sing, to see adults being foolish. They have learned the English for head and shoulders, we have learned what we have in common. It is a joy.

“Wow, did you see that?” Julie is looking at a blue farm truck piled high against the slat sides with corn stalks. The pile extends about ten feet above the slats.
“How do they get them up that high?” We ask our driver, Stephen.
“Oh, the dried stalks, they don’t weigh much,” he says.
Our group of fifteen people from Wisconsin has been in the Diocese of Meru, Tanzania on a mission trip for over a week. We are doing some useful things in health care, in education, with mothers and infants but those short term efforts are incidental to the people we meet and what we are learning in a place so different in sights, sounds and way of life. The Diocese of Meru consists of parishes which extend from the Masai tribes near the Kenyan border to the Meserani Tanzanite mines in the southern plateau of land near Mt Kilimanjaro.
We are being taken to visit a vocational school run by the Diocese. At the time we see the farm truck we are on the paved main road between Arusha, departure city for the famous wildlife parks of Tanzania and Moshi jumping off place for climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro. After twenty minutes on this road passing through bustling villages filled with market stalls, people carrying produce, “piki-pikis”, the motor bikes that dart through the traffic, we turn onto a well-traveled dirt road. The ruts on this road are deep but Stephen promises us soft bumps. We are now in the more arid part of the Diocese so each time a vehicle passes us we roll up the windows to avoid eating their dust.
Off the paved tarmac road the buildings are a bit further apart but still clustered in small villages. Huts to live in and secure animals line the road but most of life in Tanzania is lived outside. We pass dry weather crops in the fields, beans, corn, and something we are told are pigeon peas. They fetch a good price in India. Children walking to school in their colorful uniforms, white shirts, green, blue or red sweaters and skirts and pants wave excitedly to see a land cruiser filled with ‘wazungu”, white people. Women walking to the nearest water spigot or stream with buckets balanced on their heads, pull their brightly patterned katanga’s across their faces to minimize the dust. We slow for a herd of goats crossing the road.
Driving is on the left in Tanzania but on the secondary roads driving is on any side of the road that has the smaller ruts. Colonized by the Germans in the late 19th century, Tanzania was a British protectorate from 1918 until 1961. Everything from the side of the road they drive on to their educational system shows evidence of the lasting effects of the British Empire.
Stephen maneuvers from left to right, the bumps are soft, as we bounce in what he calls the African dance. Mt. Kilimanjaro peeks through the clouds to our right. After another twenty minutes we pull up to the gates of the Leguruki KIngori Technical Education Center. The gates look freshly whitewashed.and stenciled in black with the name and logo of the school. The logo indicates that Diocese of Meru, ELCT sponsors this school.

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The guard opens the gate and ten of us pile out of two vehicles.
“Karibuni, karibuni, you are most warmly welcome,” the slender, middle aged headmaster greets each of us with a handshake. There is a ritual to these visits from Americans. First the greetings, then introductions in the headmaster’s office; each person must sign the official visitors book and tell his or her name, where she is from and whether it is a first time visit to the Diocese and Tanzania. Three secondary school teachers crowd into the small office to be introduced. We learn that this school is different from the other schools that we have visited in that it includes a secondary school and a technical –vocational school. When the students finish Form 4, they can either go to another school for college prep in Form 5 and 6 or join the technical school. Others who fail to qualify for A levels on Form 4 exams can stay at the school and learn a trade. Our co-host is the instructor for building skills, masonry and carpentry. There is an electricity shop, a mechanical skills shop and related support courses.
Next we cross the hall for “chai”. In the manner of the British, this is a morning tea. The tables are covered with white tablecloths and battered ceramic plates and dishes. There are fresh bouquets of Bougainvillea on each table. We are served savory samosas, small sweet bananas and roasted peanuts along with bottled water and tea mixed with boiled milk. Despite the fact that we are now 2 hours behind schedule there is no rushing this social time of hospitality.
The tour follows, we go to bare classrooms where students are being taught in rote English, history, geography, and English literature. Lacking any teaching resources including textbooks, they write whatever the instructor puts on the blackboard, which is an actual blackboard. Next the technical shops. The technical vocational teachers in the group, laugh at the similarity of young men clustered around a car engine, while another sands the inside of a tire. Boys and their toys.
The tour is complete and we climb in the land cruisers for our next stop an hour or so away.
What did we see? I saw lack of resources, ancient equipment, poorly furnished classrooms, anxious looking teachers and administrators, tremendous needs. I also saw dedicated people using the few resources that they have, natural beauty, unfailing hospitality and hope in the faces of the students and the young teachers and students. Did you see that fellow travelers? How do they do that?

P1060670“Meru changes you and calls you back”. An acquaintance in Seattle made this observation after a repeat visit to volunteer at Ailanga Junior Seminary in Meru, Tanzania. As we prepare for another visit, I have been thinking about how has it changed me? What is calling me back?

The people are calling me back. Last night an e-mail came welcoming our group from the Women’s minister of the Diocese, Mrs. Ndefisio Pallangyo. The first time I met Ndefisio, she was a guest in our home, on her very first visit to America. Her smile and her openness to all that was different from home crossed the bridges of time and place. When,a few years later, we made our first visit to Meru, she was there to greet us.  She has prepared a visit to a women’s group while we are there.  She has expanded the circle of her hospitality.

Tomorrow, a group of us from the Waukesha and Milwaukee area will travel to Meru. For many of us it will be our first experience in Meru. For others, it is a repeat visit. We will each have our own unique experience but we will all be changed. We will come back knowing much more about life in a developing country. We will have met new people and done some good work. We will experience radical hospitality. We will see a part of God’s creation with animals and vegetation so different from ours. Some will climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, a wonder of nature. These experiences cannot help but change us.

As I think about how my repeated visits have changed me, the most important changes have come through people. Our official Diocese hosts have worked with me to plan a full itinerary but the people who effect us most will not be just those who plan to be with us. We may find that the driver for safari connects with us in a special way. We may be moved by a child who sidles up to us when something else is going on. It may be a fellow traveler. It may be our own reaction to what we are seeing and doing.

My first trip, I thought I knew something about poverty and Tanzania is one of the world’s poorest countries. I learned that I didn’t know much about how to live daily in the richness of their culture while dealing with a material poverty that makes children malnourished and subsitence a day to day question of survival. I learned about generosity and hospitality, I learned that as a privileged American, I need the bottled water that they make sure we get. I need a driver and an interpreter. I am dependent, not my usual self-image.

The friendships we will make, with our partners in Tanzania and with each other will be powerful. Shane Claiborne put it this way, “We will not ‘Make Poverty History’ until we make poverty personal.” The problem with the divide between America and the developing world is not that we don’t care about each other, it is that we do not know each other. We don’t know the people who make our clothes or pick our coffee. On this trip we will get a glimpse of that and of our assumptions.

In a couple days, we will be met with warm smiles and cries of Karibuni, welcome. From time to time I will post something about those experiences so that you too can accompany us. God be praised for this opportunity to have our hearts and minds open.

From the front Passenger Seat

In the villages of Northern Tanzania, there is a certain Victorian courtliness that is very gradually changing regarding women and their place in the order of things.  I have tried to be respectful of that even as I chafe a little over it.  This order to protocol means that I am served with the men even as other women who have labored over wood fires to prepare meals serve us but do not sit with us for meals.  Another way this gets lived out is that when we are being driven somewhere and I am the only woman in a group,  I get the front seat!!  Since the roads were established for vehicles by the British, driving is more or less on the left hand side of the road and the front passenger seat is on the left side.

Riding in the front passenger seat is an adventure, not for the faint-hearted or anyone who suffers from the slightest motion sickness.  The day a bus was passing a bus and heading straight towards our Land Rover, seeming to accelerate, was the day I broke my habit of shrieking and or gasping when I feel in imminent danger.   I am mesmerized as this game of chicken is played out among 3 big vehicles, two buses and a Land Rover.  In addition, the motor-bikes with the colorful name of piki-piki, weave in and out and around both sides.  Ultimately, Amon our driver brakes, swerves and grunts,  the east-bound bus slows and the passing bus accelerates.  Over our frequent trips on the only tarmac road, I learn this happens at least two or three times each trip to the nearest city and it is why we have a driver.

The Moshi-Arusha road links with the paved road which connects major cities in Tanzania.  These roads are part of the infra-structure deficits that Tanzania struggles with.  The road was paved in the 1950’s and the number of vehicles has escalated dramatically in recent years.  Cars, buses, 4-wheel drive vehicles of all sizes, tractor trailer trucks(lorries-as they are known here), piki-piki and mini-vans which serve as the local transport all crowd the narrow two lane paved road.  The railroads are non-functional and air transport is extremely limited so commerce is severely restricted by this inadequate network of getting goods to market.  I have admired the avocados we are served regularly.  It is a treat for this Mid-westerner to eat avocado straight from the tree.  It is a fruit that grows well in the region.  When  I ask if they are exported to Europe or Northern European markets,  I am told that it is too expensive, difficult, and time-consuming to get the crop to the nearest port.  Once there,  refrigerated container ships are also in short  supply.  So, the short answer is, no not yet,  are they able to sell their abundant produce to more lucrative markets.  The same is true for the mangos, papaya and passion fruit that flourish here.  It is a great irony when we are served expensive boxed fruit juice packaged in South Africa while we sit in the shade of the mango tree.

Another view from the front seat is when we are not on the tarmac road, none the less harrowing, but a whole new set of hazards.  Vehicles are less common except for the local van/taxis,  dala-dalas, and the motor-bike piki-pikis.  Also, on the unpaved side roads are hand pushed wooden carts,  goats, cattle,  women carrying forage and water,  donkeys bearing water cans, children in uniforms going to and from schools.  From the front seat you can also see all the ruts, rock and hazards as the driver winds his way around obstacles, constantly changing direction based on the depth of the ruts or holes or size of rocks.   A major hazard on the dirt roads that form the majority of roads in the country are the village markets  as people carrying produce, charcoal, firewood, chickens, used clothing on their backs, their heads or on overloaded bicycles must also be negotiated.  Add to this lively mixture the incline of the mountain or the dried up stream beds of the south,  mix in clouds of dust and temperatures in the mid-90’s and you’ve got the picture!!  In our vehicle there is a handle on the dashboard for staying in your seat as you bounce along.  Sometimes the dust is so thick that the driver must slow down to see at all.  The driver is very skillful as he calculates the best route around all the hazards.

Most roads started out as either footpaths between farms or animal paths as they were driven to market.  Over time, as the communities have grown there have been attempts to widen and grade the roads  but the shape of the mountains, the path of the mountain streams and the long standing shambas make for a narrow meandering journey.  When your destination is announced it is always  stated in the amount of time it takes to make the trip, never the distance.  A journey of only 20 kilometers can take well over an hour if it is up the mountain or in a remote place on the plains.

Today’s journey is to a parish in the far eastern district of the Diocese.  It is drought stricken, de-foliated,  and very poor.  An off-shoot of the Maasai tribe has become agricultural, tending it’s animals while trying to eke out a living from the land.  The drive begins on the tarmac road which early on a Sunday morning is relatively hazard free.  We are driving East and Mt. Kilimanjaro is clearly visible from the front seat.  After 15 km or so,  we turn left and head up the mountain on the unpaved road.  I have been here a while since I don’t think too much about it as we bounce along,  weaving from one side of
the road to the other to find the best ruts to follow.  Five or six km up the mountain we turn east again onto a cow path strewn with rocks.  This actually is not too bad since there is little traffic, except for the occasional piki-piki or wooden push-cart.  As we approach the church,  we find more people walking along the path.  If there had been any doubt about our presence it vanishes when Amon downshifts and we climb the hill to the church yard.  There is a great deal of maneuvering of people and vehicle to park in the shade.  Aside from the Land Rover the only other vehicles are a piki-piki and one pick-up truck.  98% of the parishoners walk to church.

After church, it’s back to the front seat for me.  The ride is down- hill now but there are a few added stops so it is not a reverse journey.    Amon,  leaves the track and suddenly, I am thrown forward as we dip into a deep shale sided ravine.  I hang on and shortly we are climbing the other side of the ravine.  Once we level out and I loosen my grip on the handle,  we are still bouncing through rocks and brush.  Our translator and escort observes from the back seat, “ I think Amon just took a short cut.”  Back on the wider, unpaved road,  we pass a bus going the other direction.  The dust blinds us for a minute but Amon is near home, he does not even slow down.  Further down the road a car is coming straight towards us with no attempt to move to the side.  Amon slows to a crawl,  he knows this car is driven by an alcoholic.  Eventually,  we arrive at our next stop.

Some time later we make one more stop on the unpaved road.  By this time my hair is thick with dust,  and I am on the sun side of the vehicle.  The alternative to dust is to roll up the window and there is no air conditioning.  So,  after some more swerves and bumps,  we return to the tarmac road.  Now,  there is much more traffic.

Amon pulls out to overtake a slow moving car and decides to take on the truck that is ahead of that.  Over the rise comes an oncoming dala-dala,  the local van/bus,  overloaded with people, the roof piled high with baskets,  bed-rolls,  bananas and bags of maize.  Who will give way?  Despite having some experience with this,  my stomach knots,  my grip tightens.  The dala-dala slows,  Amon speeds up and we pull into the left lane where we belong.

When we return to Usa River the unpaved road in this growing community is as bad as any we have been on.  A large truck is stopped on one side of the road.  A crowd of men are on the opposite side  pushing a car out of the ditch as we thread our way through to lurch up the road to the guest house.

Riding in the front seat is symbolic of life here in Tanzania.  It is thrilling, exhausting,  beautiful, dangerous,  physically hard,  sometimes fast, more often slow, bumpy, and sometimes difficult.  But with the help of others we reach our goal safely and together.  I pray that it might be so for these people who have become friends.

Wanted:  A Miracle

Today we stop at the District office to see the bags of maize that have been purchased with money donated from concerned people in the Greater Milwaukee synod.  We meet the pastor who will be with us when we distribute sixty 100 kg bags of maize to people who are trying to subsist in an area that has received almost no rain for nearly 3 years.  The pastor,  Zakiya from Patanumbe tells us that 400 people have signed up for food and that there will not be enough.  My heart breaks a little but I have been here long enough that I am not shocked only discouraged.  Zakiya tells me that these bags of maize are very important, that even though they are not enough, it gives people hope.  He is a kind and gracious man.

The economics of this drought and resulting famine are that donated dollars do not go as far as they once did.  When maize was purchased early last fall, it cost 45,000 TSh, $30 approx., per 100kg bag.  These bags cost 60,000 Tsh per bag.  Our donations do not buy as much even as the need deepens.  Tanzania is experiencing 17% inflation.

Our day continues to visit the Eastern District of the Diocese.  We do not have many partners there.  It is a beautiful place with bougainvillea, hibiscus and yellow flowering trees punctuating the dry mountainside.  We see wilted coffee bushes with small green beans on them,  more bone thin cattle and some goats along the way.  We are greeted by a dozen or so people representing the three partner parishes in the Eastern District.  Our agenda is to talk about partners,  what is going well, how the partners support one another and what could improve.  We get into a long discussion about communication.  Eventually this brings us back to the economics of drought.  Since this area is comprised almost totally of subsistence farmers,  there has been diminishing money to pay school fees as season after season crops fail.  Because  there  are few people with English skills to communicate with partners.  In addition, where there is no water there is also no electricity to charge cell phones and computers.  It becomes expensive for the few English speakers to walk or pay for a ride to a place where there is an internet café or to even charge the cell phone.  In addition there is a shortage of pastors who may have some English skills to serve these remote and struggling parishes.  From the meeting we visit a sub-parish  where we come face to face with the problems we have been discussing.  As is their custom in hospitality,  we start with sharing bottled water and/or soda in the stick and mud church that they started their parish in and now  use for kindergarten.  The elders and evangelist who are there to greet us know that they would like an American partner but they have no concept of what our lives are like.

As we talk about what they would like an American partner to know, we hit on some ideas.  Since they are all peasant farmers, we wonder if dairy goats would be a good thing for them to consider.  A pastor who is with us, becomes quite animated about the idea as dairy goats reproduce quickly and their milk is very nutritious.  Some goat milk in porridge is enough to sustain a child for the day.  Survival is the most basic issue of the people and those who are trying to minister.  It is a Gordian knot of need.

On Thursday, we leave as promptly as anything ever leaves to head south, an area so dry that even the acacia trees are uprooted by the wind because their long taproots have given way under years of little rain and searing heat.  This is the area near KIA airport where wind shears due to extreme heat and resulting dust storms make landing and taking off an adventure.  We bump along the rutted dirt road with the lorrie carrying the 100kg bags of food following.  In the car is the general secretary and relief coordinator, a pastor who is on the Diocese relief committee, Walt and I.  We stop at Canaan parish to pick up the pastor who is a cheerful man, welcoming us many times.  From there we head further south to the sub-parish which serves a clan of the Maasai who moved south many years ago and became more pastoral. We are led by the Assistant District Pastor in his pick-up truck.

When we enter the church yard, it is filled with people dressed in the bright Maasai traditional dress of purple and red.  As we descend from the Land Rover, first the children crowd around,  Muzungu, wazungu , the buzz rises.  All are finely boned, shaved heads and scrawny with the potbellies that mark mal-nutrition.  The girls are dressed mostly in dusty skirts and dresses, those with skirts wear the ragged second hand t-shirts that the US floods the clothing markets with.  There are little boys too, one with a  toy,  the round ends of something make the wheels and sticks hold together his makeshift car. The children part as women surround me,  they want to shake my hand and say karibu,  welcome, or asante, thank you.  As woman after woman grabs my hand,  all my detachment about failed economic systems,  the inadequacy of our relief efforts and post-colonial injustice dissolves,  the tears flow down my face.  The graciousness of these desparate people,  the light of interest and hope shining from their eyes connect with my soul, woman to woman, mother to mother.  God help us all.

When the ritual greetings are over, the truck arrives to a round of applause and people gather round as the sacks of maize are offloaded onto big tarps spread on the ground.  Two tall, slender, fierce looking Maasai men in traditional garb,  red print robes tied at one shoulder, deeply pierced ears and beaded neck and head jewelry signifying their status, have taken command of the on-the-ground organization.  Meanwhile, Walt has taken the opportunity to take some pictures of the kids and the Mazungu  grandmother who has appeared.  One little girl, maybe 2 or 3 years old,  is in a dusty floral print dress that reminds me of Emilia, our grand-daughter.  While the others gather in groups to have their picture taken and marvel at the miracle of seeing themselves instantly in the digital camera, this one stands to the side quietly,  watching and solemn.  This child and our privileged grandchildren should all be able to grow up in a world where there is enough food, a decent school to go to and health care when they need it.  The differences between the life circumstances of these children and our grandchildren is so vast that I am sure many will say,  you can’t compare,  and yet, the commonality of the hope and joy that shines in these young lives cannot be denied.  

The men who rode on the truck are continuing to heave the 100kg bags off the truck.  Nearly all the labor here is manual, only a tiny percentage is mechanized, not including relief operations.  Our hosts lead me to the benches and plastic lawn chairs that have been placed under one of the few trees for resting and watching.  There is a party atmosphere as clusters of women from different  shambas catch up on gossip, keep up on the proceedings and watch the children.  At some point it is time to go into the small mud church.  It is the evangelist who serves this church under the supervision of a pastor who has organized the day.  Everyone files into the church except those who are working to organize the maize.  The prayers are said, we are assured that all have been welcome whether or not they are members of the church.  We are introduced and applauded,  Walt must talk because I am once again crying, overcome with the color, the hope in the face of futility,  the humanity of it all.  A hymn in full harmony is sung and everyone moves back out into the church yard for the distribution to begin.

The two Masai men now stand atop the pile of maize with all the authority of some ancient chiefs.  All they lack is their spears which I am sure are around somewhere.  I ask one of our translator hosts who these young men are and he says that they are “elders” of the church, men who have been given leadership roles because they have brought their whole shamba into the church.  I note that is a difference from years ago when this was a mostly a female event.  The pastor replies that it is a mark of their evangelizing efforts but also of the desperate times.  It has been 5 years since this area has had a harvest.  Only 4 of the 5 hand-dug wells,  also financed by American church donations, are producing water. Some of their cattle, their only assets,  are dying of starvation and lack of water.  If they can get the cattle to market they can buy at most a bag of maize per cow.  I ask why the people stay here under such impossible circumstances.  My host laughs, almost a bark of frustration,  where would they go?  What would they do?

At one point the Diocese relief coordinator,  Mr. Nnko, steps to the front of the crowd surrounding the tarps of maize and says,  “see me?  Line up here.” And they all line up.  Two very old, stooped women are pushed aside as the line forms.  Mr. Nnko brings them to the front of the line.  The bucket that contains approx. 10 kg of maize is filled and poured into the bags that the mamas have brought.  The distribution has begun.  We watch and Walt takes pictures for a while and then it is time to visit another sub-parish a few miles away.  We will return after that short side trip.

We are part of a ritual that has grown out of too many times that such a distribution was required,  everyone seems to know their role except the visiting Americans who follow where led,  speak when asked to and are humbled by the honor given to us on behalf of the many donors from southeastern Wisconsin.  We walk through structures that now have roofs by the grace of God,  peer down wells, and encourage the evangelists and pastor who care for this flock.

When we return to the distribution,  most of the maize has been distributed.  Here and there we see women,  heaving bags and baskets tied with colorful but faded Katanga cloth onto their heads to begin the 3 or 4 kilometer walk back to their huts.  The procedure is that everyone who showed up will be given the first portion for as long as it lasts.  If there is enough,  a second round of 10 kg portions is given.  That is underway.  The loaves and fishes have multiplied.  “Extra” baskets have been set aside for the workers and the choir waiting to honor us at yet another outpost.  For today, the miracle has been given.  Thanks be to God!

David, the Wildlife Management Authority guide assigned to take today’s eight permit holders to the Rushegara family of Gorillas looked over the sweating panting group of humans and calmly said, “ I am happy to announce that we are very near the gorillas.” Two hours of steep hiking had brought us to the top of a thickly forested mountain, about 7000 ft., in the Ugandan national park, Bwindi National Forest.  If anyone had any breath left, there would have been a cheer. “Please have any water you need now,  put down your walking sticks and backpacks, the porters will bring them later.”  David goes on to remind us that there was to be no loud talking, no quick movements, no flash photography. “ If you must cough or sneeze, do so into your sleeve.  If an animal charges, look down, be meek and do not run.  Stay in a tight group,  do not approach the gorillas,  the closest you are to come to them is 21 feet.  You will have exactly one hour to observe the gorillas,  after that time you will follow me out of the area.”  No nonsense here.    We gather together and follow David closely.  Behind us is a tracker with an AK47.  The forest is filled with green, it is as if the whole world is green, in every shade and hue of the spectrum.  There are vines and low plants underfoot, bushes growing from there left. A juvenile male gorilla has been munching leaves 8 feet from our group, assessing today’s group of people as he enjoyed his morning feeding.  Cameras are raised, David is stopped and the viewing begins.  Soon, the juvenile gets up and ambles with-in two feet of my legs and walking casually on all fours into the brush to the sliverback leader of the family of twenty. There is no doubt that this is the family leader.  He is big, majestic and the others come to him with respect.   Suddenly, the forest floor is alive with gorillas, babies, mothers, juveniles, both male and female, a black back male.  David is trying to keep the tourist group together for taking photos and observing this family as they move through the forest in search of food.  Each day the gorillas will consume tens of kilos of leaves, stems and roots to maintain their body weight and health.  They pick through an area and then move on to another area, always looking for the best supply, young and tender leaves and branches.  We watch as another juvenile rapidly picks and chews through the vegetation within his reach while the silverback is more discerning, picking and eating with some care.  A young gorilla is wandering from plant to plant, jumping and playing, eating a little here and there.  A female grooms the young one and hands some leaves to him.  He lopes off towards the silverback who watches him for a bit and then the silverback gets up and begins to move.  As he passes the young one in the grass he reaches out and the youngster is riding his back.  David says this is a good father!! Cameras are clicking away.  As the gorillas make their way through their eating they are moving from the crest of the mountain down the otherside from where we ascended.  Little by little we follow them down,  watching with fascination as they interact, care for one another in a way that is known to them but not the new observer.  They are unfazed by us.  As long as we keep our distance and are quiet,  they accept us.  We are the visitors, coming into their home and daily routine.  The black back sits up and looks at us pensively, Buddha like.  He finds us fairly uninteresting so he ambles off.  Walking on all fours is oddly graceful on this steep slope. It makes me think I should try it when we go down to the valley.  We move from one small group interaction to another.  It seems like moments before David announces that we have only 5 minutes until our observation time is finished.

The fascination is that we see much of our basic selves mirrored in these animals.  David tells us that we have seen the entire Rushegara group.  We are fortunate not only to have seen them all but to have seen them active,  eating, moving, playing.  Later in the day they rest and are more difficult to see.  On a scale of 1-10,  this has been a 10!  The Mountain Gorillas must live in the mountains,  they are very susceptible to stress. Because of their need for particular vegetation and space to roam, they have not survived in captivity.  Their biggest threats are loss of habitat and human disease.  In this preserve they are increasing in number and yet, the entire known count of this species of mountain gorillas is less than 800.  Our money for permits and controlled viewing have allowed for their protection and given relative economic vitality to the people of the area.   As difficult as it has been to get here, we marvel at the amazing affinity we feel.  We observe care for the young,  respect for elders, the easy relationship of extended family groupings, the need for daily bread and habitat.  Just as we are only getting a brief look, it is too easy to anthropomorphize the experience.  Yet, somehow, the experience is powerful and elemental.  We leave with regret, yet knowing that we have been privileged to observe something amazing.

The hike down is challenging as well, but our guides and porters are relaxed and share some of their life stories.  The village has also become accustomed to these trekkers each day.  We are greeted by women in colorful katanga’s  with mats spread on the ground,  multi-color baskets and carved gorillas are for sale.  We can visit the local banana brewing site,  the primary or secondary schools,  the local herbalist, medicine man,  the Batwa pygmy village and more.  But first’,we go back to the WMA headquarters where we all receive certificates of having visited the Rushegara.  We are urged to post these in our homes and offices so others will make this journey and the protection can continue.  It has truly been a once in a life time experience.

We have been having meetings with all the partner parish committees district by district.  This means driving to all the district offices.  Today we traveled to Ngarenanyuki again,  this time to visit parishes.  We go the long way to avoid the $50 per person fee for the non-residents.  Tareto Nasari is our guide and he greets most people along the road.  It is well over an hour from the tarmac road to this Masai outpost.  As we travel Tareto reflects on the drought and famine.  As headmaster of a church sponsored secondary school,  it is a double whammy for him.  Since most children rely on the sale of a few cash crops for school fees and the crops have failed yet again,  enrollment is down.  With the opening of the term he has a parade of people telling him the story of why they cannot pay fees.  It is always some version of the same story,  no crops, no money.  For those who have managed to get their fees together,  they will be fed at school.  Kikatiti has both boarding and day students.  Tareto knows that for some day students,  the porridge they receive at school is the only food they get.  He tells of kids coming to school on Monday, very weak.  They tell him they have not eaten since the last meal at school,  so now they have porridge on Sat. even for day students.

Kikatiti uses 6 bags of ground maize a day to feed students.  In 2 years, the cost of maize has more than doubled.  School fees do not cover the increased cost.  The revenues will not meet the expenses.  When I ask what he will do,  he points to a stick thin woman walking along the road with her donkeys.  The donkeys have 5 gallon plastic buckets tied to their sides.  “Do you see that skinny woman?”  he asks. ” She has walked 6 kmto and will walk 6 km fro.  to get some water for her family.  These skinny people,  they have maybe 1000TSH, about 70 cents, to buy food, buy medicine or pay school fees”, he continues.  The answer to what will he do at the school is that there is no good answer.  The big picture is that there needs to be some infrastructure built and some development that makes this rural place less dependent on subsistence farming but as we bump along the road,  these skinny people have no good options.

I do not know what it is to live with daily  threats to survival.  These skinny people do.  There is no wisdom here only pondering, what are we doing here?

As I type this,  the power is going in and out so I am signing off for now,  pray for rain for Meru.  Watch for a new posting in a week!

 

There was a doctor volunteering at Nkoaranga hospital who developed a problem and needed surgery.  He arranged to travel to the States to get treated.  Within two days he was home and the surgery was scheduled.  A woman in Ngarenanyuki delivers a child and develops profuse bleeding, a serious but treatable complication in most places. This woman is taken to the Dispensary which cannot treat her. The untrained nurse attendant on duty assesses that patient must be taken to Nkoaranga Hospital. This new, bleeding mother waits for transport to the Hospital. The clinical officer on duty locates a vehicle, then a driver and sends it the rutted rock strewn roads to the dispensary.  Several hours pass and the patient is growing weaker.  Nkoaranga does not have an ambulance and the only vehicle that can safely travel the rocky dirt roads to this outpost of the Masai is a Land Rover.  Finally, the woman arrives at the hospital.  She is assessed and they are not able to treat her. She needs a transfusion and perhaps a D and C.  Nkoaranga can hydrate her but she must now be transferred to KCMC the nearest hospital that can do these procedures. She dies on her way to KCMC.  Dr. Mollel who is telling this story, shakes his head and asks,  how can this be that my colleague whose condition is serious and cannot be treated in Tanzania receives treatment while the woman who is treatable but poor and living remotely dies?  What good does training do if it is undeliverable?

We are on a crash course of the issues of delivering health care in the harsh and unforgiving environment.  In three days we visit the far Northern dispensary at Ngarenanyuki,  the far Southern dispensary at Velasko,and those at Leguruki, and Kikatiti.  We also visit Maangashiny Dispensary which is closed.  Each dispensary is located some distance from the hospital in underserved areas.  They are intended to provide first line treatment of malaria, typhoid and diarrheal disease ,first aid for injuries.  They also have limited nurse midwife capabilities and provide mother child clinics. HIV testing, diabetes and hypertension screenings are also available.  Each dispensary has some major issue in fulfilling these fairly simple functions.  Chief among these issues is qualified staff.  Because these areas are remote and the salaries are low, not many people are eager to serve.  In addition, only a few have any staff housing which is essential to recruiting qualified staff. Competition for trained staff is high in more desirable locations.  Much like rural U.S.  but more so.  In addition, the government has begun to inspect the facilities, particularly the laboratory test areas that test for HIV, typhoid and malaria.  Not one of the Diocese supported dispensary laboratories meets standards.  To the dismay of the people, some have been closed and others are operating without meeting standards.

We ask Dr. Mollel why we are going to Maangashiny if the dispensary is closed?  He laughs and says we will understand the challenges better if we go there.  It is around 8 kilometers from the tarmac road on a rutted path to the dispensary, shorter if you walk cross country.  We bounce along raising clouds of dust. You can count the ribs of the cattle that we see, goats are not quite so scrawny.  We pass only one green patch the entire way.  We drive past the partner parish of First United Sheboygan,  up a hill to a relatively solid looking building of painted brick and mortar, unlike the mud and stick huts that serve as homes in this area. When we park outside the clinic, a group of children magically appear.  Dr Mollel has a cheerful conversation.  He is clearly a compassionate caregiver who clearly enjoys people.  Then we turn to the hard realities of running a dispensary here.  The minimum requirements are a water supply, electricity, food for staff and housing for staff.  The nearest water is several miles away and must be hauled by buckets on donkeys.  The nearest fresh vegetable market is equally as far away.  Electricity would be possible only with a generator, (very expensive to maintain) or solar power(expensive to install), as Tanesco does not reach this far. Since schools are few and far between and fees have become almost impossible to pay due to the drought and famine, qualified staff must be recruited to live and work here from somewhere else.  This makes staff housing essential. It has become clear to us that these are interrelated issues that are not easily resolved.  Yet, there are people here who need health care.  No easy answers here.  Dr. Julius clearly is troubled by this dilemma.

The afternoon is spent at the hospital which has its own set of complexities.  We meet the management team,  the Hospital Secretary who serves as the chief administrative worker, the Treasurer (who must track expenses but also revenues from the patients, the government, from NGO’s and from church related partners such as us), and the Director of Nursing.  Patient revenue is its own story, as there seems to be very little that is charged for and no health insurance system to provide payment. To be seen by a doctor in the Outpatient clinic is 2000 TSh for the first visit and 500 for subsequent visits.  There is a one- time charge of 5000 TSH for linens if you are admitted.  Many procedures are free by government or sponsor mandate. The more questions we ask the more overwhelming it becomes.  Yet, these are dedicated people, they persevere even as they know that they are not meeting any kind of business plan or many basic standards.  On our tour, we see renovated and new facilities, an important component in recruiting and retaining qualified staff.  Dr. Mollel is Chief Medical Officer, the chief clinician,  the only MD to supervise clinical officers( a kind of physicians assistant), and runs both inpatient and outpatient medical care. He is the only MD on staff and has new contracted MD for back-up.  Because he is required to go to Dodoma for some meetings, he has been living at the hospital and on-call for 4 days.

As we tour, I ask Neema, the director of nursing what the most common reasons for admission are.  She responds that by far, malaria is the most common.  An average stay of 3-4 days is the normal stay for treatment to work. Others are typhus and minor injuries.  Pregnant mothers can deliver at the hospital without charge so for those who live near the hospital it is sometimes a good option. The government supports this option with the hope that some basic neo-natal care can be given and that the mothers receive some recommendations for nutrition and infant care at home.  All children under 5 are also to be treated without charge.  What the government pays the hospital for these services does not cover the costs but they are provided as best they can.  In talking with a nurse-midwife,  I learn that a big issue related to the drought are the number of malnourished children who are underweight at birth and fail to thrive due to the malnutrition of the mother.

There is a family atmosphere at the hospital. Patients must bring their own clothing and food.  Family members accompany them to provide this so in one room there is a small group having afternoon tea.  Outside the new pediatric unit, there is a laundry area where women are vigorously doing laundry.  When I ask about the posted visiting hours, I am told that they are only enforced for local people as some people have come some distance to be treated and it is not practical for them to leave and come back.

The tour is completed and our heads are about to explode with all the sights and sounds and information we have experienced in 3 days.  We agree to return for a follow-up visit and to tour the orphanage which is also administered by the Hospital.  After saying her farewells to us,  Neema sprints over to the orphanage to check on something.  The treasurer retreats to his office where he keeps manual records because his computer is so old it cannot take the programs needed.  The hospital secretary Jeremiah makes an impassioned plea that we tell their story well in Milwaukee and Dr. Mollel escorts us back to the Guest House before buying his bus ticket for the 12 hour trip to Dodoma.

The spirit of these workers is humbling.  They keep on going even though they know it could be so much better trusting that little by little they will be able to fulfill their calling.  The gap is wide between what could be and what is,  but the spirit is strong.  Mind the Gap!