Archives for posts with tag: partnerships

“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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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.

Today we begin to see and meet with the education secretary,  Mr. Tareto Nasari.  We will visit two Diocese Secondary Schools and lunch at Kikatiti to go over discussion paper.  Yesterday we met with 5 partnership parish committees at the District Office and discussed support, communication, exchange of visits and general partnership issues.  We are honored that so many took time to talk with us from U’loonga, Singisi, Ndoombo, Akeri, and Sela.  The visitors to Akeri, David and Andy, left last evening. Their visit assisted an important plan between partners.  We also met with the ELCA representative to EAst Africa, Barbara Hinderlie.  Yesterday, the Member of Parliament who represents Meru died.  He is an important member of Akeri parish and the funeral will be a state event as well as a very big clan and Meru event.  Bishop Akyoo will preside and many from the Diocese will be involved.  We will learn more about how that effects our visit as the plans are announced today.  This is a quick more factual update as the Internet has been very erratic,  Please keep us in your prayers as we keep you in ours,  Aleta and Walt