Tanzania 2016

We are suffering from our long gruelling flight on our journey into Africa. Matt's fiancée, Hayley, Mom and sister said goodbye at Toronto Pearson. As we were jostled through security screening, I left my laptop in my backpack for inspection. So I was ushered back through the whole process. This time all went well. I quickly grabbed my stuff and hustled on. Five minutes passed when I realized I was about to lose my pants: “My belt,” I mused, "my wallet and phone!" I returned a third time and everything was sitting in the open, waiting for anyone to pick them up.

Our Boeing 747, KLM 692 seat configuration feels like stretchy Levis and making any move greater than a yawn is sure to bother someone behind, ahead or beside us. We arrive in Amsterdam after six long hours. While we were going through Amsterdam Airport Schiphol security, Matt's shaving cream was confiscated; it was 50 ml over size. Right now we are somewhere over Egyptian airspace, cruising at 950 kilometres with the pyramids 10,000 metres below. It has been 28 hours since any distant memory of sleep. We crash into a bargain hotel, steps away from the airport in Dar es Salaam.

Ring, ring! The phone, inches from my ear, jangled at 6:00 a.m. I think we were just starting to doze. It was Mahona, waiting for us at the hotel lobby, an hour early. His greeting was sincere and bone crushing, as he lifted both of us off the ground.

 

Hanneke organized a visit to the Serengeti to introduce Matt to Tanzania's amazing animal heritage. Last night we woke at 2:00 a.m. when an elephant tried to get into the fenced kitchen enclosure of our campsite. Our cook finally persuaded him to pack his trunk and return to grazing by manoeuvring him with the lights of our safari van. Now we're just finishing our second day in the park. We will spend tonight in the Ngorongoro Wildlife Lodge, strategically perched on the rim of a crater 600 metres deep with the world's densest collection of wildlife sprawled below our window. These are amazing days with the lions, wildebeest, flamingos, gazelles, giraffes, monkeys, ostriches, zebras and a newborn hartebeest.

 

A lazy morning

It's Sunday morning. A lazy, hazy sun bathes the Ngoro Crater. From our perch, everything looks so peaceful, so amazingly perfect. However, below, we remain oblivious to the intrigue and danger that await the playful young wildebeest or gazelle. While we head for our toast and cereal, some animals below will become the day's breakfast for a predator. So serene, so comforting—but in this fallen world, we're so far from the reality obscured below.

The Serengeti plains are vibrant green from the torrential rains. We met up with lions almost close enough to lick our noses. We had to move our Land Cruiser out of the way of the rushing herd of elephants or they would have forced us away without altering their stride—the way they knock over trees that happen to grow in their path.

We left Mwanza early in the morning to pick up Mfaume at his school. He has finished school. His marks are good, but he will have to wait three months for his final results to know where he can apply next.

The drive to Tabora took about six hours, where we were warmly greeted by Naomi, Hanneke's friend and homemaker.

The project site is ready but today the roads are too muddy to get out there, so it is a great time to shed our jet lag and chat.

Last night I enjoyed a wonderful rest, but woke early this morning, riddled with mosquito wounds! Sure hope I don't over-stress any effectiveness of my medications. Not sure where the little critters got in as our net is brand new.

Torrential downpours have transformed mud roads into slithery ruts, some barely passable. Still, sodden oxcart drivers and bikers, burdened with charcoal and a myriad of goods, slither along without pausing.

Yesterday we stood beside a critically ill man at the government hospital. The ward was sweaty hot and the air felt thick with the stench of death. His eyes were open but we were unsure how much he saw. He responded with a weak smile through his parched lips when I touched his sun-blackened hand—skin barely camouflaging bones. Hopefully he will improve but his diagnosis is complicated. Hanneke prayed with him.

A poor family welcomed us into their humble home. We brought food from the church. The small children dragged out their few dirty pages of school books—smudged and ragged. These children remain far behind in their work and the oldest teenage son is unable to control his bladder. These are hard times.

Hanneke's nine children fare much better but not without the usual family challenges. Yesterday Mahona's ears were painful and he could not hear in class. He relocated to the front, but he uses binoculars to see the board and then he was too close.

We visited the building project site yesterday and it looked amazing. A huge tract of land was purchased at a very reasonable price. When completed, it should soon serve the needs of many people who otherwise would have to walk up to eight hours for help. Soon we will begin our serious construction work under the baking sun.

The bishop and the president

At the office this morning, the bishop of the Africa Inland Church of Tanzania greeted us. He supports Hanneke and her work. He's a passionate spiritual leader, yet a very humble man. He was in Dodoma the previous week at a meeting with the churches serving with compassion. (Over 200 orphaned and needy kids are fed, taught and cared for by Hanneke's church in Tabora. It is a Christian group that cares for orphans and undernourished children in cooperation with local churches). Tanzania's new president, John Magufuli, attended the meeting. He wanted to meet with this group that was helping the people in his country. They shook hands and sat together in a circle of leaders from several organizations. When the meeting was over, his bodyguards escorted him away from the building. It's a major statement for the bishop to mention the humility of the president. The bishop asked us to pray for this man, that being elevated to power as the leader of the Republic of Tanzania, does not change him and that he will be able to carry out many of the new visions he has for the people of this wonderful country. He has already made many bold steps to route out corruption and waste.

Those African Rains

A heavy, soiled blanket of blue advances across the sky. Crackling lightning and deep-throated thunder shake the earth. The rain pounds violently, creating instant rivers and lakes. The lush mango branches twist cooperatively in the bruising winds. Then as suddenly as it began, a beautiful, freshly laundered blue sky replaces the torrents and the sandy red soil drinks her refreshing abundance. This rainy season has blessed the fertile land. Now the rice, maize, beans and cassava plants can thrive to feed the nation. Ongoing rains are a necessary blessing from God.

Driving

Yesterday we drove to meet Ngassa in Mwanza—a two-day high adventure. Many roads are paved. And that is good but also dangerous. Paving is poor, rather like making lasagna—a layer of crushed stone followed by a thin layer of tar, then another layer of gravel, etc., packed by rubber-tired vehicles before being baked by the sun. Monstrous trucks pummel the fragile surface. Overloaded donkey carts meander along the shoulder and part of the road. Bicycles carrying passengers, chickens and rolled steel vie to use the pavement until a vehicle honks. A steady stream of pedestrians of all ages is everywhere, as the traffic roars by at 100 kilometres per hour. Washouts are marked by tree branches and redundant speed bumps appear like mirages. We passed a fatal accident, caused when a vehicle passed on a blind curve and hit a woman walking along the side of the road. We paused to be sure help was on the way and then proceeded in prayerful silence. Someone's mother and wife will not return home tonight carrying cassava roots on her head. Roundabouts produce their own challenges! You are never sure that the other road-user has any inkling of obeying the suggestions of the road. The vehicular choreographed staccato minuet is orchestrated by the honks and roars of the traffic.

Later we visited several sick folk in the rural area of Manoleo. Despite their obvious discomfort, they encouraged us. One 85-year-old gentleman was tilling his field with his three children, aged 13, 11 and 8. He is a wise, well-educated teacher who never took time to get married until he was 72. He has the vigour and enthusiasm of someone half his age. He is so grateful to Hanneke for the help of her friend, a German doctor, who operated on him and saved his life.

 

   

Over 200 orphaned and needy kids are fed, taught and cared for by the church under Compassion.

Malumba Clinic Construction

The trench for the security wall of the new medical centre has been partially dug but all work has come to a standstill. Our next step is to deepen the trenches and then drag very large, heavy boulders for the foundation. Rains and negotiating the cost of labour have crippled any progress—but then there is always Mañana. After all, THIS IS AFRICA!

The church service

We pulled up to the simple concrete block church at 9:45 a.m., just a few minutes late. The sun glared off the newly installed glass windows. The sound of the choir hammered the air and caused the glass to vibrate.

Inside, there were over 400 bodies of every age and size crammed ample hip to ample hip in the wooden pews.

Several churches in the Tabora area have joined together to celebrate Women's Day. Each congregation came with at least one choir. Choir members left their seats and headed to the front, singing as they swayed. The singers' swinging bodies transferred energy throughout the congregation. Women ululated, men whistled and many danced to the beat, joining the choir at the front.

The merciless high-noon sun beating down on the corrugated steel roof, plus the near- frenzied singing, clapping and hip swinging raised the temperature to about 40 °C. Bothersome flies were enjoying the collection of sweaty worshippers. Few paid the flies any heed, other than occasionally shooing a fly from a youngster's eye. The dark, wide-eyed babies held in their mothers' arms and occasionally nursed, took in everything, especially the pale faces of us visitors. Heat caused trickles of sweat on the beautiful black skin of the women crammed in front of us. Flies feasted on all of us with no prejudice.

Sincere prayers punctuated the singing for the sick, the prisoners and Tanzania's new president. A video located beside the platform introduced the choirs.

After two and a half hours of intense music, it was time for the offering. We waltzed to the front to drop our shillings into wooden boxes. Then it was time for the preaching, followed by other choirs.

A gentle breeze filled our lungs as we exited—the singing and worship still coursing through our ears some four short hours after we had arrived.

The Weaver birds hang upside down while they weave their intricate nests, singing beautifully all the time.

Today is a bit less hectic. No trench digging or massive boulder moving. More relaxing time, even time to catch up on overdue devotions and some reading.

Hanneke and Matt bounced off after lunch, heading upcountry—a four-hour challenge-ridden journey to pick up Jackie (14), Kiri (13) and Faraja (8), from Rocken Hill Academy. Rocken Hill inherits its name from its rock-strewn surroundings. It is renowned in East Africa for its excellent education and life skills. They should arrive home later tomorrow. Then Hanneke's home will have five full time kids plus Matt and me. On the 23rd, Mahona should arrive from Dar on the bus—a fifteen-hour journey. That just leaves a couple more to show up closer to Christmas.

The huge 3,000-litre rain-water tank needed to be cleaned. It is a bit of an awkward brute with any water inside. Four of us manhandled it until it had enough tilt to drain. Every drop of water was caught in a bucket or tub. Although this has been an abundant rainy season so far—raining almost daily—one can never waste a drop of this life-sustaining liquid. Finally the stream from the tap became a trickle. Then we wrestled the big hulk to the ground and onto its side. Mfaume squeezed himself inside through the round opening in the top, bidding us JAMBO (Welcome inside). For the next thirty minutes, he sweltered in the heat with the sun beating down on the black tank, until it was perfectly clean to his exacting standards. When he re-emerged, he hurried into the house to peel off his clothes and take a cold shower.

Mid-afternoon, Mfaume and I walked around his community. We strolled, often hand-in-hand (so common here), and he pointed to a house where he had once lived—where he could count the stars at night through the roof over his bed. We stopped often to just sit and chat with his friends. He took me into a home of an ex-army friend. This is where he often comes to watch soccer because they have cable TV. His friend recently suffered a stroke and we found him flat on his back on the cool tile floor. Clothed only in a loincloth, he squirmed closer to shake my hand. His wife and young daughter smiled weakly as they looked on. He is slowly regaining mobility. Their home is pleasant and modestly decorated. We were assured of a warm welcome when we returned. As we meandered home, several young kids wanted to hold my hands and hear a few words in English. Many would fire off: “Hello, how are you? I am fine thank you," before you could even respond. Maybe they would count to ten for me. Swahili is the national language but English is taught in schools—depending on the quality of the school and the teacher's commitment. Mfaume's school teaches all classes in English except for his Swahili class. He's hoping to be approved for higher education and possibly become a doctor—a common dream—to help his people. He has a loving, servant attitude.

Naomi, Hanneke's homemaker, will spend the night here. She cooked rice, beans, spinach and strips of beef, which we polished off with sodas.

A small electric fan in Hanneke's guest room masks the myriad of sounds of the African night: the train with its extended forlorn horn and clattering rails (the tracks are only half a kilometre from Hanneke's home); the rooster with his faulty time-keeping mechanism; and the dog chorus that can start with the smallest yelp and carry on for an extended time. Several church choirs frequently practise late into the night or a wedding celebration might have no end. The amplifier is the modern curse on the peace of Tabora. Other night sounds jar you awake and then cause you to toss and turn wondering about the source. But our fan, that dear little gently purring air-moving gem, is our good rafiki (friend) during the nights when we have electricity.

        

Construction progress

As we left Hanneke's driveway, the crazy chicken was again pacing in front of her safe, spacious sheltered hennery that she shared with a dozen fellow bird-brained friends. Their free-range eggs taste great, with yolks the colour of a setting African sun. The crazy chicken pecks at the others until they gang up and chase her through her small escape hatch. Outside she struts triumphantly back and forth in a 1.5 metre circuit. She glares sideways at her penned colleagues—clucking about her freedom—her freedom to march in her self-imposed circuit.

It's a twenty-minute drive through Tabora, over countless, redundant speed bumps and then past the Irish-operated orphanage to the Manoleo clinic. At Manoleo, Dr. Thomas counsels and treats a variety of health concerns: aids, malnutrition, snake bites, machete cuts, numbness, blood pressure, typhoid, etc. Today the busy clinical staff is stitching a young boy. He suffered a blow to the head from a heavy, sharp hoe. He pleaded for them to stop but that was not an option. He needed twenty stitches and an examination. Each puncture of the stitching needle was followed by heart-wrenching screams from the child. No one uses pain killers here and his essential treatment is more than the other waiting patients can expect.

The security wall at the new Malumba health, education and evangelism centre will enclose 20 x 25 metres. The main building, in the western end of the enclosure will be 5  x 10 metres with two rooms and a covered verandah which will serve as a classroom and waiting area. Two bathrooms will be built at the opposite end of the enclosure. Moringa trees will be planted inside the walls. Moringa is recognized for its health benefits: from the dried leaves to the seeds contained in longish bean pods dangling from their branches.

Our workers arrive at the site on bicycles or on foot—many barefoot, others wearing sandals.

The donkey cart clatters up, weighted down by huge boulders and sand for the foundation. Four donkeys are yoked together, two by two. The driver's wooden cart is old and heavy, even without the boulders. The driver rides in the cart as well and reminds the donkeys of his dominance with his all-too-frequent stinging whips.

Water arrives by bicycle from a spring more than two kilometres away. Four three-gallon yellow plastic containers are balanced on the bike. Each cost 200 Tanzanian shillings (80 cents) delivered. The bike has only one speed and dubious brakes.

A Mediterranean blue sky with pristine white clouds and the sweltering sun beat down on the plot of land. The trenches have been prepared. So let the construction begin! Some sparse clouds offer fleeting relief.

We brought water bottles and a couple of sandwiches which we store in the shade of a small tree (our onsite fridge). The local workers drink water from a huge bucket, which looks milky brown but is wet. They must have some inherited immunity to the variety of critters that the liquid must harbour.

Fifty-kilogram bags of concrete, completely dusty and grimy, arrive from Tabora on a three-wheeled motorcycle-lorry combination. We push the overloaded bajaji up the final slope. Young men carry the cement bags effortlessly on their shoulders.

The large boulders are manhandled into the trench and then smaller ones fitted into the gaps. We mix the concrete with shovels, turning the sand and concrete mixture over and over before gradually adding the water. Buckets of mixed concrete are carried to the fundi (head mason) who organizes everything with a trowel, guided by tightly stretched strings. Concrete is interspersed with the stones. Work continues steadily and the finished surface is remarkably smooth.

Nearing the end of the building project, there will be a need for a system to collect rain water for the clinic.

Although our work day was not long, we arrived home, tired and very dirty. The familiar clucking of the crazy chicken welcomed us as she gave us her sideways smirk.

A different day

Well the rains, impassable roads and the funeral for a nephew of our supervisor have stalled progress on the site. We chose to adapt to this culture of the people we have grown to love more and more day by day. Outside, Hanneke's guard is busy hacking the lawn with a machete, often hitting stones, Dressed in a blue jacket, light green pants and bright green boots, he blends gradually into the lawn. So with no progress to report, I'll just recount a few thoughts of urban Tabora.

The electricity has been off for over thirty hours. The temperature in our room is escalating in sync with the humidity. My feet have dragged enough sand into my bed to give me dermal abrasion. After crawling into my bunk, I quickly realize that I am far from being alone. Mosquitoes hover like buzzards. These tiny demons with their potentially lethal cargo are so small that you don't feel them land until it's too late. Sweltering and swatting in total darkness accomplishes nothing. I discovered near morning, that the mosquito net was snagged on the ladder and draped open as a warm welcome to my enemies.

The neighbours have two hound dogs. Although I have yet to see a moon here, they must sense one. One begins to yowl and then is joined by his colleague—that mournful eerie wailing of desertion. Many other, far less melodious canine creatures join the chorus with superior volume. This continues for five minutes, then after a brief intermission, begins again with renewed vigour.

Tabora's downtown market is a jumble of shops and stalls. The stench of dagaa penetrates every nose first. Dagaa is a small sardine-like fish from Lake Victoria where they are sun dried and shipped throughout Tanzania. They are a very good source of protein and omega-3. I wonder how there can be any space for water in the lake with the quantities of dagaa that exist. Huge stacks dominate most food stalls. When they are dried and transported, their tiny scales become airborne dust that coats the lining of the nose.

Then there are the meat mongers. Carcasses hang in their open shops, festering with flies. Hunks are hacked off and plopped onto a balance-scale and it quickly becomes impossible to identify the animal sacrificed. Chickens squawk to avoid being chosen for some mama's family dinner. Non-continuous tarps droop between the stalls to keep out some sun and some rain. In pleasant contrast, fruits and vegetables offer a beautiful tapestry of colour and fragrances. Competing merchants share tables or stalls. Sputtering generators mix their fumes into the overall ambiance. Shoppers jostle through the maze of maize and rice. Merchants grab your arm to encourage you to visit their shop. Clothing shops are interspersed throughout the market. They are usually deep and narrow with little light. Shoes and clothing hanging from the ceiling make them feel like a bat cave. We squeeze, all eight of us, into an area snug for one person half our size. Ten shops later and we have two fine dresses and two handsome shirts for the kids' Christmas. Wriggling our retreat through bikes, carts, rows of parked pikipikis (motorcycles), bike taxis and boys carrying loaded soda cases, we breathe fresh air again, still clutching our purchases. We arrive home as exhausted as we would have been after a heavy day's labour—just three hours later.

Nostalgia

Today, it started raining with the rooster's crowing. Now it is noon and the heavy clouds are beginning to meander off. African rains pound in torrents, then lessen to a heavy downpour—so wonderful for the crops. Usually they last about twenty minutes, but today was an exception. We celebrate a rain day with Hanneke and the kids—doing laundry, emails, shopping and helping the kids prepare school supplies for boarding school.

Inside one of Tabora's three prison compounds, the army has opened a store—operated like a mini warehouse. They import an array of merchandise: fruit juices from Egypt; canned goods from Europe; cereals from Dar es Salaam; small and large appliances from China; mattresses from Kenya; furniture from China; soap; snacks and electronics from Korea and Vietnam. When shipments sell out though, you can never be sure of a re-supply. There are several security checks on every purchase. There are no credit cards and likely no change in the till, so shoppers have to pick out some item equivalent to their change. Many items are not available anywhere else in Tabora and prices are lower than elsewhere so the store is popular even with the street vendors.

At the Malumba site, we await the donkey cart with more big boulders to complete the foundation for the wall. We purchased more concrete which needs to be stored in a secure location or it might just get borrowed. The bags were moved on bicycles.

On our return from the site we passed a young mother walking with her infant daughter, struggling through the noon-day heat on her way to the Manoleo clinic. Her child, strapped to her back, had diarrhea and a fever and was already showing signs of dehydration—all familiar symptoms of malaria. The unfortunate down side of this great rainy season means increased mosquitoes and, consequently, malaria. The young mother had been walking for over one hour and faced another two hours to the dispensary. Hanneke offered her a ride in our van. The tiny mama was not familiar with riding in such a vehicle and with the first lurch in the road, she was tossed into the air and came to rest next to me, with her hand clutching my leg. She was mortified when she looked—but when I laughed, she laughed too and the little baby showed her two bottom teeth in a giggle. We dropped them off at the clinic to get her sweet daughter the much- needed help.

Back home, two bicycles needed repair. Neither had brakes and both had flat tires. Matt and I wrestled them the two kilometres into town. Squatting along the road with a metal tool box, a fundi (bike repair expert) offered his service. He knew how to fix bikes with a minimum overhead. After over an hour of work and chatting, he had replaced the brake cables, put three patches on one tire and supplied new brake pads. He adjusted and oiled the chains and finished by wiping every inch of the bike frames clean. The cost was $3. He wished us karibu as we rode our remanufactured bikes onto the sandy road.

We heard sounds at the Tabora railway station so we rode by to check out the local commotion. It was just another day at the station. One hundred or so people milled around and a freight engine shunted box cars, belching sooty black smoke. One woman purchased a ticket, which took about ten minutes. We searched for a passenger schedule but to no avail. We would like to take the train when we leave Tabora, but lack of reliability would likely mean missing our flight. Inside the waiting area, thunder cracked out of the blackening sky and we jumped as the noise shook the metal roof. Many standing outside raced for cover as rain cascaded. Numerous gaps in the roof meant you had to choose your spot wisely. As we waited out the storm, the station manager, in a spotless white shirt and tie, came to chat. He had been in Toronto and loved the underground train system there. He was proud of the improvements in the Tanzanian rail system, despite the need for a massive investment in infrastructure. Tabora station is tired and shows her age and years of neglect. There are several new Chinese-made passenger carriages. The rusted ribbon of steel stretches across Tanzania, twisting like a cobra, linking original urban areas together, so journey times are excessive, Nevertheless, the journey is without equal.

Jackie's prayer

Jackie is a very sensitive and attractive young woman. Jackie is one of Hanneke's ten children. Hanneke prefers to be called Bibi (grandmother) although some kids insist on calling her Mom. Jackie has experienced more than her share of difficulties in her fifteen years. She is aware that she was abandoned by her birth family and that a possible adoptive family has just withdrawn their application. She has tearful moments but displays amazing resilience. She has become close enough to Matt and me to tease us, calling us bad gringos. This morning she asked if I ever went to the gym. I said maybe a long time ago. “Well,” she said, “you don't look like a gym person to me. You have too much meat!”

Today at the Manoleo clinic, while we worked on the entrance door, the silhouette of a gaunt young boy appeared in the open doorway. He had walked five miles carrying his ten-year-old son, Maige, on his back. (Maige and his family live in Malumba, the village where we have started the new medical outreach building). His brother, slight for his years, was feverish and had a large boil on his foot. The boy needed hospitalization. He was malnourished and likely had malaria. The government medic gave him an aspirin, lanced his foot and wrapped it in a few layers of gauze but he had no malaria medication in stock. The boy lay on the cool clinic floor in agony, his sunken chest heaving with every breath and blood oozing through his bandage. The white of his beautiful eyes were taking on a greyish hue. Hanneke provided medication for his malaria and an antibiotic against infection. She gave the father careful instructions for their use.

While his father was with Hanneke, Jackie tried to comfort the boy in so much pain. She asked if she could pray for him. Her gentle Swahili voice prayed for her new friend curled up at her knees. Her gentle crescendos betrayed her emotions . The stale smell of his feverish body became almost pleasant.

We drove the five miles to their home. The boy sprawled across the seat. His father carried him up the path to their home. Their humble dwelling was a red mud brick construction with an aging thatched roof, so many miles from the closest help. As they faded in the distance, obscured now by a mango tree, any confidence that the young boy would recover was based solely on overhearing Jackie's appeal to her Father for little Maige.

David Livingstone

The historic tembe (home) of David Livingstone stands on a gentle rise of ground just ten kilometres outside Tabora city. Tabora region sprawls below with an occasional new steel roof shimmering in the sub-Saharan sun. Our trip is a pleasant twenty-minute pikipiki (motorcycle) ride. Livingstone, born in Scotland in 1813 and buried in Zambia in1873, was a committed missionary, explorer and anti-slave advocate.

Arriving at the Livingstone tembe, Mahona, Matt and I were welcomed by a Tanzanian tourist guide. He spoke excellent English, sharing his knowledge of Livingstone and his tembe with enthusiasm.

This rambling mud brick structure was constructed by an Arab slave trader. The owner offered accommodation to Livingstone, hoping he would help secure a better route for his diabolic business. Livingstone refused. The home served as a holding tank for slaves taken from Uganda and western Tanzania. Tabora is located on the critical east-west route. Today huge mango trees populate the area, often a result of seeds dropped by slaves on their endless march. The facility can hold a maximum of two hundred slaves. The slaves were then driven to the Indian Ocean, over 900 kilometres away (two or three months) and barged to Zanzibar Island, to be displayed in slave markets like livestock.

Livingstone attempted to persuade his Arab host to give up his slave trade but he refused, abandoning his tembe to Livingstone instead. Livingstone didn't live in this home for long. He remains a world-celebrated medic, devout missionary and an explorer who charted large areas of east Africa, while seeking the source of the Nile River.

Display cases contain articles, including a copy of the New York Herald—the newspaper that funded Lord Stanley to travel to Tanzania to discover if Livingstone were still alive. Rumours of his death had spread. Stanley is credited with his famous quote on meeting Livingstone: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume!” Livingstone died in Zambia shortly thereafter of malaria, typhoid and internal bleeding.

Rusted shackles and yokes, clanking around our necks, helped us understand firsthand the oppressiveness the slaves were subjected to. Slaves were chained in pairs at all times. Any slave who became ill or feigned illness would be hacked down in front of the others as a grim example. Christian missionaries who began the early Christian church in Tanzania often purchased the slaves in the Zanzibar markets to offer them freedom.

The final holding room close to the market above, with only air slots high in the walls, would have been unbearably crowded and sweltering. The final test of stamina. A well-furnished kitchen with a very competent resident cook ensured that the slaves were well fed so that they would bring in extremely high bids.

After experiencing the oppressive chains and heavy yokes around our necks, we rode back to town on the back of our pikipikis, owned by totally free black Tanzanians. The fresh air blew in our faces as we relived these dark years of African history, while we thanked God for men like David Livingstone who gave their lives that others might live free spiritually and physically.

Mama Tatu's Chapati

 

Today we feasted on the most delicious chapati imaginable. The ambiance did enhance the taste. A small, mud brick hut is situated across the road from the Manoleo clinic. Inside Mama Tatu's one-room restaurant, a charcoal fire glows in her cooking stove. Mama and her two daughters are delighted to have customers from the other-side-of-beyond location. They quickly begin mixing corn flour with water,—first with a wooden spoon, then by hand, forming the dough into smooth balls. A round stick is used to roll the ball flat. Mama Tatu lightly oils her flat frying pan and places the dough on top. Soon big bubbles form and she flips it over a couple of times, applies a little oil on the outer edge and rubs inward with a spoon. She serves her flatbread with salt and hot, sugary tea. Simple maybe, but Mama Tatu's chapati definitely is amazing. We teeter on two benches propped against the wall as we appreciate our meal. The charcoal smoke tinges the room. The interior is only illuminated by the open door and small window. We bend low to exit Mama Tatu's with her invitation to return. Our bill, a meal for four with beverages, comes to approximately one dollar and no tip is expected.

 

The Orphanage

There are sixteen orphans under ten years of age at the newly opened Catholic orphanage. Plans are in order to increase the number of children in the orphanage as soon as the new on-site school facility is completed. Three sisters, all from Ethiopia, look after the kids with love and understanding. Pictures of Jesus hang on the walls, a reminder that Jesus is the source of their love for these young lives.

We took balloons, Canadian flags, bracelets, pens and a soccer ball from Canada.

The facilities are among the nicest we have seen in all Tanzania—well set up and extremely clean with private showers, spacious bedrooms and more than enough play areas. The majority of the children suffer from albinism. Because of that they aren't allowed to leave the compound without adult accompaniment. Attacks on young children with albinism are a constant threat. Extremely young children are the target of witch doctors for their clients. Both boys and girls love kicking the ball around, squealing with delight at every imaginary goal. Some boys were recovering from minor surgery and confined to the infirmary. Matt enjoyed helping assemble some of their gifts. Even after our short time with the kids, it was not easy to leave. We walk out through the heavy iron gate. The children cannot be allowed such freedom. They are captives because of the unique color of their skin. Too much evil intent lurks in the minds of so many people in this land which still remembers the scars of the slave trade.

The weather is heating up—no rain for the past three days. We hope that this is not the end of the rainy season. The corn is as high as the Serengeti elephant's eye, tassels reaching right up to the cloudless blue sky. If the rains stop, the corn will wither and die. Roads turn from muddy mires to mirages of dust clouds with red dust blanketing everything—the type of dust that covers you and then gets into your bed, under the covers and into your nose, dehydrating your whole system.

 

Farewell Tabora

 

Tabora was refreshing, with daily rains drenching the region. However, here in Dar es Salaam, the Casablanca fan churning above provides feeble relief from the oppressive noon-time heat. (The electricity cut out two hours ago, and I feel ready to be flipped like Mama Tatu's bubbling chapati). Waves of humidity blanket Tanzania's largest city, located on the coast of the Indian Ocean. I pause in my self-pity and remember the inhuman two-to-three month slave march through Tabora to this very area and then on to the weekly market in Zanzibar.

Recalling our months in Tabora conjures a touch of homesickness. We remember Mfaume guiding us to the right bus at 5:30 a.m. through inky blackness and drizzling rain. Hugging this wonderful man made the ache of leaving more tangible. Somehow it just didn't seem right. Hadn't we just arrived yesterday? We sped through the darkness blurring the familiar landmarks we knew so well.

Our last view of the Malumba project was through cascading torrents from inside the car. The security wall and clinic foundations are complete. Although the amount of work we were physically able to complete seemed meagre, we were able to encourage the crew. The local experts continue with construction. Now they can envision their clinic offering a better life and purpose for their families in the often-forgotten Malumba district, a much more manageable walk for those in the district.

One haunting image returns of a young mother with her handicapped four-year-old son strapped to her back. They were on their daily, three-kilometre trek to work in her rice field. He was born with a genetic defect and although his muscles will never fully develop, he is gaining weight. Her husband blamed her for her son's defect and kicked her out of their home. She refuses to remarry because she fears no one could value her child, so she has given her life to care for her son. His life expectancy is not long. Hardship is a part of everyday life here in Tanzania. We watched her fade along the red-earth path, their daily food supply balanced on her head, hoe in hand and her helpless baby slung on her back. This emphasized the urgency for the health project in this area.

We will miss Christopher, the owner of the local soda shop. He had become our hot-day friend. He kept his Coke and Pepsi varieties deliciously cold in glass bottles and offered us seating on his concrete front counter or in the VIP lounge out back on wobbly plastic chairs under his laundry and the coconut tree. We wondered if we would be there long enough to experience a coconut fall from one hundred feet. Although Matt was not a soda fanatic, the ritual and friendship became as refreshing as the cheap pop.

Ironically, we will not miss the church services! Beautiful African voices are amplified into distortion. The ear-splitting volume is so foreign to us mzungus (white foreigners). On the frequent occasions that the electricity cuts out, then we actually enjoy the harmony. But all too soon the generator is fired up and the monster speakers swallow the beautiful voices. Often the preacher will be of equal volume. This phenomenon causes us  pain as we slip each other ear plugs. Sister Magdalena has an amazing resonant voice and we long to hear her, but alas she is swallowed in distortion. The invasion of the mega amps has become an issue here. We are donating our earplugs to Hanneke for future guests.

The old Orion Railway Hotel lives in an era when throngs of elegant passengers were greeted in its lobby. They arrived from distant ports and then traveled across the country to Tabora. The now faded facade and drizzling fountain welcomed visitors to the Tabora region for years. We took Baraka for “chips mayday” (a French-fry omelette). He felt like a special gentleman—although I am not sure that delicacy was on the original menu in the Orion's heyday. Most of the sounds from the railway are now the shunting of cargo cars, although the government has promised significant spending on the rail infrastructure. So possibly travellers may once again make the incredible journey in comfort, crossing the Rift Valley through wildlife reserves and past villages made alive by the vendors selling fresh mangoes, honey and papayas. Maybe the Orion may once again offer exotic local specialties.

Hanneke, Naomi (Hanneke's house helper of fifteen years), Mahona, Mfaume, Jackie, Kiri, Baraka and Faraja were quieter as we left. Like the early guests at the Orion, we leave feeling spoiled and spiritually refreshed. A taste of heaven under the shade of the mango trees close to the railway tracks and always near the heart of God's special people.

Uganda

Our single-engine Cessna sputtered to life. Soon we are above the Ugandan expanse in our Mission Aviation Fellowship flight out of suburban Entebbe. Red-brown arteries—dirt roads and paths—intersect the green tapestry sprawls below. Villages remain hidden from our altitude.

 

One and a half hours later we descend toward a narrow mud strip. After touchdown we see Leah and several friends sheltered from the heat. She is excited to see friend­s from Canada.

 

The Karimojong people are attempting to put some distance from their violent past. Arguments over cows, land or wives were resolved with smoking guns. The Ugandan government has successfully reduced the gun obsession in most of the Karamoja region and its people are beginning to feel safer. (Prisoners were sent to the Karamoja area on work projects because the gun-toting men of this region were so feared that the prisoners never attempted to escape.) They live in spread outmostly in Bandas (mud huts with a thatched grass roof. Small villages are often one extended family—a husband. his wives and their children.

Leah's home is her Banda, a round brick hut with a thatched roof as well as a separate kitchen Banda. Leah enjoys her life here and does not feel any real hardship.

Her day begins with Bible study and a briefing at the clinic. An aged man, wrapped in a typical red and blue checkered Masai tribal blanket, uses his stick to make his way over the treacherous landscape each day. His sightless gaze is fixed straight ahead, but there is an expression of joy on his face as he sits bolt upright in the middle of the group.

We struggle to keep up with Leah and her two health care workers, Naduk and Lomuria, on our forty-five minute trek to Kopetatum. The village is surrounded by a lethal hedge of thorn bushes to keep intruders out. (At night another thorny clump is pulled into the opening from inside to complete the security barrier). The women gather when we arrive. We are invited to sit on the only smooth area available (packed cow dung and mud) with the others. We are introduced to Lucia, a blind grandmother, who stretches out her weathered hand and we exchange blessings. She smiles a toothy smile and announces that I am welcome and that my Karimojong name would be “Lokut,” since I came to visit them on a breezy day. (Matt receives the name “Loyep” for one who cuts small branches). The health care workers teach their basic sanitation and disease control lessons. Then they answer questions and offer advice on conditions that need improvement. Greetings and goodbyes to the Karimojong are long and sincere, but we finally leave. Knowing that we will never pass this way again, we savour the smells, sounds and voices. On to the next thorn bush-surrounded village.

We joined Leah's evangelist, Simeon Peter, on his long walk in the scorching sun, with only a gentle breeze. Trails crisscross, leading in many directions. We wade barefoot through a muddy stream. Finally we spot a few men under a tree and greet them. Soon, other men and boys appear, as if by magic. Simeon begins with singing. The Karimojong men spend much of their lives, just debating and sitting under trees while the women do the hard work. This pattern has changed little over the ages. The outdoor Bible class with the men is stimulating and many interact with keen interest.

Leah's home base is close to the mountain range—an ancient volcano. We went for a long walk—made longer by the number of people we had to stop and greet along the way. The people love Leah and appreciate that she has invested much of her life to be with them.

Back in Leah's Banda she shows us where the Black Mamba snake slithered in for a visit one day. She talks about her hopes of seeing health and education become more vital and more churches planted. She only mentions the two-inch thorn that penetrated her sandal last week—part of the territory she has chosen. This is Leah's home and these are her people—young and old. When the Karimojong greet her by name, they do so with a discernible tone of love and gratitude.