Archives for posts with tag: Famine

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!

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!