“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?

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