Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Easter in Greece

Parthenon and Acropolis
With the approach of the rainy season, we decided to try to avoid some of the weather by going away.   Greece was a place that we thought we would like to see and Qatar Airlines had a great sale, so we booked it.  At the same time, our daughter Maureen would be bringing a group of high school students there.  Our plan was to spend the first two days with them in Athens and then go our separate ways.  To quote Robert Burns, “The best laid schemes o mice and men gang aft agley”.  Maureen’s flight had
a cracked windshield on arrival in Philly, and they were delayed two days.  So instead of touring Athens with the group, we met her in the lobby of her hotel at about 4 am.  It was very disappointing, but we enjoyed even an hour with her, another teacher, and some of her students.

Palm Sunday service was at a neighborhood Orthodox Church.  Until this trip, we had never been in one.  The church was decorated ornately with many icons throughout.  Instead of palms as we have at home, they distribute small olive branches.
At Porto Mykonos Hotel 

After Athens, we visited the island of Mykonos, which was very beautiful.  Our hotel was great and we enjoyed the view of the Aegean Sea from our balcony.  Mykonos was an island of white-washed houses and shops, windmills, and expensive yachts.

Tom on rented ATV
Tom at Paradise Beach

Scenes from Mykonos 
Notice the "Eye of God" below the crucifix

Kamari, Santorini


We arrived in Santorini on Holy Thursday evening.  Our hotel was in Kamari, a beach town, with black volcanic sand.  Since it was still off-season, it was quiet and uncrowded.   Good Friday morning we awoke to the tolling of a deep church bell.  It rang every 30 seconds for the whole day.  Also, boys were setting off firecrackers most of the day.

Santorini from the sea
We took the local bus to Fira, the capital of the island.  Fira is the stereotypical Greek town, with white houses and shops hugging the mountainside.  Santorini is a volcano caldera and from Fira you can see the cone, which looks like a blasted island off shore.  This was the location where part of the movie “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” was filmed.  If you have ever seen this movie, it shows one of the girls riding a donkey up to her grandparent’s house.  We finally found the donkeys on our last day there (and felt very sorry for them).
The New Port at Santorini
Notice the volcanic rocks

We attended the Good Friday service at the Orthodox Cathedral in Fira.  This church was beautiful, with wonderful icons everywhere.  As the priests stripped the altar, many people wept.  It was very moving.

Easter service in Kamari began at 12:01 am!  The desk clerk at our hotel had said it would be at 7 in the morning, so we missed it.  The tradition is that after midnight, the priest says, “Jesus Christ is risen” and the people respond, “He is risen indeed” (in Greek, of course).  Then people take the colored egg they have brought with them, and knock it into someone else’s egg.  Whoever’s egg   Most of the Easter eggs were a very dark red.  We were disappointed to have missed this.  Also, many firecrackers and fireworks were set off at church.  (we slept through it all)
doesn’t crack will get their wish.

Inside St John the Baptist
Cathedral before Mass
In the morning, we took the bus to Fira and went to Mass at the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist.  Officiating were three priests, one of whom was from West Africa.  They use a book called Christians without Frontiers, which has responses in eight languages.  Before Mass, the priest asked everyone to respond in the language we were most comfortable with.  Many of the people in the congregation were obviously tourists like us, so the responses sounded a bit like the Tower of Babel. 

After Mass the priest invited the congregation to visit with the nuns at the Dominican Monastery nearby.  Almost everyone processed over to the chapel to sing and pray with the sisters, who were behind a grill at the front of the church.  Again, we thought of Maria’s wedding in “The Sound of Music”.  It was a wonderful experience for us.

Back in Kamari, the rest of the day was filled with the sound of firecrackers, music with traditional Greek dancing, and lambs cooking on spits over charcoal fires on the sidewalks.  

We were happy to have the opportunity to visit Greece, but were glad to return to Tanzania.  Unfortunately, our plan to avoid rainy season did not work.  It has rained for the last eight days with only one hour of sunshine.  Our house is filled with wet and damp laundry.  We know, though, that sooner or later it will stop.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Our trip to Germany - Christmas 2013

Last year, we had the pleasure of a visit from our son Chris and his wife Abigail over the Christmas holidays.  This year, they invited us to spend the holidays with them in their new home in Stuttgart, Germany.  After two Christmases away from home, we felt it would be great to experience a cold Christmas.  As some of you may know, Christmas with palm trees and hot weather is hard to understand when you are from the Philadelphia area.

We were sad to leave the children, staff and students at Irente Children’s Home.  Since the second year students would be on holiday at the same time, we did not need to worry about missing classes.  With half of the students away, the remaining ones would be busy caring for the children.

Sunrise over Stuttgart at 8:05 AM!

We flew to Frankfurt, Germany by way of Doha on Qatar Airlines.  Both of our flights were great.  Chris met us at the airport early on the morning of the 18th of December and drove us to Stuttgart. We were so glad to be with him and Abigail.  They moved to Germany last summer when Chris had an opportunity to work there.  They live in a residential area of South Stuttgart in a beautiful apartment.  Other than the six flights of steps (120 to be exact), it is perfect.  They have the top two floors in an old apartment building, along with a rooftop terrace.  The apartment is completely renovated and looks like it is brand new.

Stuttgart is a city meant for walking or public transportation.  There are buses, trains and an underground to get you all around the area.  Tom walked every day and went in a new direction each time.  He must have walked 50 miles while there.  When we arrived the Christmas market was in full swing, with small shops selling everything imaginable.  The big thing to drink was Gluhwein, a hot spiced wine, with many kinds of wurst to eat. 

Medieval Ferris wheel, Esslingen

We also visited a Christmas market in the town of Esslingen, which has a medieval theme complete with a hand turned, wooden Ferris wheel.  We spent a morning and lunch at Hohenzollern Castle.  It was reconstructed in the mid-1800’s on the site of the original, which was home to King Frederick the Great.  Some parts of the castle are from the previous castle.  It is situated on top of a high hill and the view is spectacular. 

Christmas dinner
On Christmas Eve, we went to an English speaking Anglican church.  The children were dressed in beautiful costumes for the Nativity pageant, but their joy was no greater than the children at Irente Church in their simple ones.  Tom and I cooked roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding (to Grandmom Mac’s recipe).  Using an
oven was different enough, but they have a convection oven, which took some figuring out.

On Christmas Day, Abigail and Chris did the cooking.  They had several families from the base join them and one couple brought two deep-fried turkeys!  There was so much food it was hard to know what to choose.

Chris, Abigail & Tom on Alpspitz
overlooking Garmisch
The weekend after Christmas, we stayed at Edelweiss Resort in Garmisch, in the Bavarian Alps.  This is a resort for military families on a base named for General George C Marshall (of the Marshall Plan, for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize).  From the window of our room, we could see the majestic mountains covered in snow.  On Saturday, we traveled by gondola up the Alpspitz to 2050 meters, where we watched skiers and drank hot chocolate in a small restaurant.  It was incredible and incredibly cold!  I spent that afternoon shoulder deep in an outdoor hot tub at the resort and read.  Chris, Abigail and Tom all went to do their own things.  We also walked through the town, which is mostly known for the Winter Olympics back in the 30’s with Hitler presiding.  Looking out our window and watching a train pass across the fields and hearing the high whistle, Tom said it was like spending a weekend on a train platform.  So true!
Ulm Minster Lutheran Church

On our way back to Stuttgart we visited the town of Ulm and saw Ulm Minster Lutheran Church.  It is the tallest church in the world.  

 On New Year’s Eve day, our assignment was to go to a store nearby the apartment to buy fireworks.  They are sold everywhere.  We picked up some bottle rockets, sparklers and some other types we did not know.  One package had 30 tubes, and the other 86.   Before we left for some friends’ apartments, Chris set off some of the bottle rockets from their rooftop.  We were well prepared with buckets of water in case of an accident. set off some more of the fireworks from a sand box on her complex’s roof. 

After visiting some of Chris and Abigail’s friends, we walked down the pedestrian area in the center of Stuttgart.  In the square near the palace, there was the most tremendous display of fireworks we have ever scene.  The remarkable thing about it was that ordinary people set them off.  This was no roped-off, safety-hazard concerned display.  No, it was just thousands of fireworks, which shot into the air and occasionally bounced off buildings.  We have never seen anything like it.  They were still going off after we were in bed at 1:30 am.

Prague from the Moldau River
Our visit to Prague, Czech Republic was wonderful.  It is a place that we would highly recommend to anyone with a desire for travel.  Most of the buildings in the Old Town are original and very ornate.  There are churches everywhere and palaces.  We even saw a hall in one palace where indoor jousting took place.  They had a special stairway to accommodate the horses.  The Czech people were very friendly and the food was good.  Chris, Abigail, and I went to the National Theater and saw the opera Carmen one night.  Tom decided to pass on that. 

Christmas tree in Old Town Square, Prague

Our time came to an end too quickly.  We were sorry to leave, but also looking forward to our return to Tanzania and the home.  We landed at Kilimanjaro Airport to warm weather and bright sunshine.  We were thankful for our safe return.  We thank God for the ability to travel and see new places and people.  We are truly blessed. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas from Germany

Nativity play at St Catherine's Stuttgart
We are enjoying our visit to Chris and Abigail in Stuttgart, Germany.  Christmas in Germany is almost polar opposite from Tanzania.  Here there are wonderful Christmas markets all over, with things to buy, beautiful decorations, and a spirit of joy for the upcoming season.  In Tanzania it is all about the birth of Jesus and celebrating his coming in church.  There are no gifts to buy, no cards to send, and warm weather instead of cold.  At Irente Children's Home, the main event of Christmas is the arrival of the bishop and his staff for lunch.  There are no gifts for the children or students, just blessings and good wishes.

Christmas Eve service in Tanzanian Lutheran churches is the Christmas pageant, but starting with the angel's visit to Zachariah and ending with the slaughter of the children in Bethlehem.  Totally different from the Nativity scene that we saw at St Catherine's Anglican Church in Stuttgart.  St Catherine's is an English speaking Anglican parish which used St Catherine's Catholic Church facility.  The scene began, as it does in America, with the arrival of Mary & Joseph at the stable, followed by shepherds, sheep, and Kings.  
The Angel Gabriel visits Mary

King Herod and his soldiers
Tonight we will attend the 8 pm candle light service after a delicious (hopefully) dinner of Roast Tenderloin and Yorkshire Pudding, using Grandmom Mac's recipe (thanks to Maureen, who sent a photo of my hand written copy).  I have not made this in over two years and the oven here is convection…..so I am keeping my fingers crossed.

We wish you all a wonderful, blessed Christmas and Happy New Year.  

Some Christmas angels at Irente Lutheran Church, 2012


One morning I was having a class with the young students.   Rehema, Anna, and Neema all live at the home and go to day school.  Joseph and Asha are both in boarding school, but were home for the holidays.  They range in age from 7 to 11 years old.  Class with this group is a bit like "Little House on the Prairie".  

There was a bit of commotion outside, but I did not pay attention to it until Tom came and called us to come and see a visitor.  There on the ground in front of one of the student dorms was a green mamba snake….between three and four feet long.  Christian was standing over it with a heavy, long stick, which he had used to kill the snake.  Green mambas are on the list of 10 most poisonous snakes in Africa.  They are a beautiful shade of green, with bright red inside the mouth.

Mama Mdemu had been walking to the door of the building when she spotted the snake on the windowsill.  Here when you cry out, “Nyoka, nyoka” (snake, snake) people come running with whatever weapon they can grab.  Christian had the long stick, Mr Emmanuel, the farmer, came with a hoe and Mr Matheya, the cowboy (really!) came with his machete. 

We were under the mistaken impression that we were in too cool of an area for any dangerous snakes.  We were wrong.  In language school, one of the things we learned was that if you yelled “mwizi” (thief) people would come to your aid.  Apparently “nyoka” draws quick attention too.

Mama Mdemu taught us that one of the best ways to discourage green mambas from your area is to plant cherry tomatoes near your doorway.  So, guess what Veronica bought in town for us the next market day?  Yep…some cherry tomato plants.  Hopefully this will be the last snake we see.

(Hatari means danger)

Mama Mdemu, Mama Mrisho and Christian
saying, "Hatari, Hatari!!"

Wednesday, October 30, 2013


        Have you ever seen a young child’s face when they see something very special for the first time?  Maybe it’s Christmas morning and they just are wide-eyed and speechless.  They stand there for a moment not knowing what to do first.  Maybe it was your first time seeing the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center or when you see your child walk for the first time.

        In September, we had the pleasure of accompanying the second year students on a study trip to Bagamoyo and Dar es Salaam. We left at 6 am on a Friday, the 8th and returned on Sunday evening.  We boarded the bus as planned.  Everyone was very excited.  Most of the students had dressed very smartly in slacks or jeans.  This is one of the few times during their time at Irente that they can wear make-up and are permitted to dress in casual clothes.

On our way
     The bus was loaded and we were set to start our journey, but first a word of prayer was offered for a safe journey.  We have experienced this in all of our travels here.  Taking a moment asking God to protect us and keep us safe.  We started down the mountain with the students singing hymns. The singing continued for over an hour.  How beautiful the spirit was on the bus.  We were experiencing their joy of the trip and their love for God.  As we traveled we started to see different reactions from each student.  For some, nervous chatter continued as we drove; for others their faces were plastered to the windows taking in all the sights.

    Most of these students have never been on a trip like this. Many have never been anywhere outside their villages or towns except for coming to school at Irente Children’s Home.  We passed many villages; large and small in the six hours it took to reach our first destination.  We also experienced the difference in the climate on our journey.  In Irente , we are fortunate for the lush environment., very green with many plants and flowers.  Bagamoyo was dry, hot and very humid.

     Bagamoyo’s history goes back many years.  It is considered to be Tanzania’s oldest town.  We started our tour at the Kaole Ruins just south of town on the Indian Ocean.   The ruins include two mosques and about 30 tombs set among palm trees.  According to our Tanzania guidebook, the oldest of the mosques dates from sometime between the third and fourth century AD.  The other mosque and the tombs date from the 13th century.    The tombs are stone pillars, some up to 5 meters high, which were inlaid with Chinese bowls of celadon.  (The bowls have been removed and are now in a museum in Dar).  A guide took us around and explained the history.  Also on the site we saw a museum of local artifacts and a baobab tree, which is believed to be over 500 years old.  Touring the area were also several groups of school children.  The students were very interested to hear their history of their country.

A well at Kaole that promises long life
A possibly 500 year old baobab tree

Students at Kaole Ruins
Tomb dating from the 13th century

   After Kaole, we drove back to Bagamoyo to a crocodile farm and then to the Old Fort, which is fully restored and dates to around 1860.  It was started by Abdallah Marhabi and expanded by Sultan Baghash around 1870.  It was built as a place to hold slaves until they could be shipped to Zanzibar.  The name Bagamoyo means “lay down my heart”.  It was a busy port and origin of many caravans into the interior.  The fort then came under German control with the start of German East Africa in 1891.  After World War I, it became British.  Bagamoyo has a sad history of mistreatment of the local people by people from far away.

At the fort in Bagamoyo
Ancient doorway in Bagamoyo

The beach at Bagamoyo
     We walked a few hundred feet from the fort, and there it was…. The Indian Ocean.   I wish I could have taken individual photos of each girl’s face. There was amazement, wonder, excitement, and fear.   Susan took her shoes off and started wading in the warm water and many of the girls yelled for her to get out.  She assured them she was fine. We all walked up the beach some dipping their toes in the water, others looking for that perfect shell to take back as a souvenir.

Fish market in Bagamoyo
Fishing Dhows
     There were many fishing dhow’s of different sizes and a large fish market where some of the students bought freshly cooked fish and shrimp.  We also enjoyed drinking coconut milk right from the shell.  It was very cool and refreshing.


     We walked back to our bus to continue our journey to Dar es Salaam.  While it is no longer the capital of Tanzania, it is the largest city and home to an estimated 4 million people.  Dar es Salaam means “haven of peace”, which is a great contrast to the reality today of people, traffic, and high-rise buildings.  In fact, it took us more than two hours to reach our hotel once we were in the city. 

     Because of the size of our group, we stayed in two different guesthouses, which were located close to each other.  Our room had a queen-sized bed, air conditioning, and an en suite bathroom.  We were all tired and ready to go to bed by the time we settled in.

     In the morning after breakfast, we boarded the bus to visit several sites in the city.  This day the students were dressed as if going to a prom.  This was a very special occasion for them.  Although two of the students are from Dar, most of them had never been there before.  Again, it was fun watching them as they looked at the sites out the bus windows. 

     We took a ride on a ferry, which carries people and vehicles across the port.  This was the first boating experience for many of the students.  We also visited the airport and a street market called Kariakoo.  We visited an orphanage run by the Catholic Church.  This was a chance for the students to compare another institution and see how it is run.  The children at this orphanage range in age from newborn up to 5 years old.  It was a very long and hot day and we were glad when we returned to our hotel.

     The next morning, we boarded the bus for our ride home.  As always, our journey began with a time of prayer.  Even on an early Sunday morning, the traffic was unbelievable.  It took us more than an hour to leave the city limits.  On our return trip we stopped for lunch and also to buy many bushel bags of oranges for the children at the home. 

The fish was very tasty.  Tom with student Monica
     When we arrived at Irente, we offered a prayer of thanksgiving for a safe trip and were greeted by the first year students and staff who had not come with us.  It was a great experience for us all.  Our thanks to German volunteer, Claudia Wallis, for her photos.

some of the Dar skyline
Students of Irente Children's Home on the beach in Bagamoyo, September 2013