Monday, December 10, 2012

On our way

Dec 7th, 2012

“We’re on our way home” as the Beatles sang so long ago.

We have had a great visit to PA, NJ, MD, DC and HI!  By the time we get back to our little home in Tanzania, we will have flown over thirty thousand miles and driven about 2,500 miles.  We are ready to store the suitcases until the next visit.

We thank everyone we have visited with for your love, support and friendship.  We could not enjoy our time here without you.

To those we did not get to see, our sincere apologies.  Next trip we will try to do better.  It has been a whirlwind time.   Some mornings we woke up wondering where we were and where we were going that day. 

We are at the airport now waiting for our flight to London, then Dar es Salaam, then Kilimanjaro Airport near Arusha.  We will arrive there Sunday afternoon.  After a day of shopping in Arusha, we will return to Irente and Lushoto.  We will write again after we get settled in at home.

Love to all,
Susan and Tom

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Listen to the students of Irente Children's Home sing during their evening devotions.

We are visiting home at the present time, but miss the children, students and staff of the home very much.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Year End (almost) Report

Greetings from Susan and Thomas MacPherson
Irente Children’s Home

   As our first year here at the home is coming to an end we wanted to share some of our experiences and plans for the year to come. The time here has sped by so fast.  In many ways we are still getting accustomed to the area and the culture.  We are blessed to have so many brothers and sisters helping us each and every day.

  At the present time we have 30 children at the home.  Some are orphans some are abandoned, and some are waiting till their families are capable to bring them home.  It’s a wonderful feeling to walk up to the home and have so many of them calling “Bibi, Babu”.  (Grandmother, Grandfather).  Nothing could ever feel so good. 

   September 28th was graduation for the second year students.  These women were here for two years leaning health care, midwifery, hospitality, horticultural, nursing, cooking, and many other skills to help them in their lives.  Many of the students will continue with their studies.  Past students have become teachers, nurses and even a doctor.  When we began here we didn’t realize our mission here was not only taking care of the children, but these young women also.  They are the most incredible, hard working and most respectful students you would ever meet.

    Our jobs here continue to bring us joy and happiness.  Susan is teaching English, computers skills, and bookkeeping.  I try to repair anything that is broken, cut fire wood, and provide transportation for the children to and from the hospital.  We both play with the children everyday.  Together we have a class teaching Conversational English to the girls. This is so much fun.  In January a class will begin with the employees to help them improve their English.

   We have said from the beginning that this is a joint mission with the ELCA, NED, SEPA, many friends and family.  Without all of you this companionship would not be taking place.  The relationship is growing each and every day. Your financial gifts and prayers have made this mission possible.  The ELCA’s support through our health insurance and transportation has been a wonderful gift.  Without the truck many things would not be accomplished. Here is a list of what the truck has been used for so far:

  1. Taking the children to the hospital
  2. Bringing firewood to the home
  3. Transportation for the students
  4. Carrying manure
  5. Taking maize to market to be ground
  6. Picking up supplies for home
  7. Carrying cow grasses for feed
  8. Transporting the brass band for a “Send Off” party

I am sorry to add that it was also used to carry the coffin of a child who died after only being here for one day.  I know we will never forget driving the truck with Hussein’s little coffin and many of the students in the back, singing hymns on the way to the gravesite.

    The North East Diocese has been gracious to provide us with our home.  All of you are always welcome here.  Their support has been amazing.  The staff at the diocese helps us in many ways.  We thank God each and every day for their gift.

     What can we say about SEPA?  We could go on forever saying all the things they have done for us. Bishop Burkat, Joanne Carlson, and the Tanzania Partnership team consisting of David Neal, Alice BellSon, Sharon Smith, Joanne Carlson, and Nancy Shaw have guided us from the beginning. This group was formed when the thought of having mission personnel was in the infant stages.  Their time and effort is Immeasurable.  We thank you all so much for your support, your vision, and most of all your love. 

   To our friends and family, we thank you for all your support, words of encouragement,  your gifts and your love.  We know its been hard on you not having us with you in your time of need.  You are always in our thought and prayers.

   One of the most fantastic experiences we have had is meeting people from around the world.  I bet we have met well over a hundred visitors.  Here are some of the countries they have come from:  England, Scotland, France, Italy, Iran, Israel, Poland, Spain, Japan, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Czech Republic, India, New Zealand, Austria, Australia, Norway, Sri Lanka, Canada, the United States, and many more.  When we meet them we talk about the mission of our church here in Tanzania and at home.  We have shared our experiences and also our slide presentations with them.   SEPA’s mission is now being shown all around the world, in universities, schools, churches, organizations and in homes.  You have planted the seed and now we all are watching it grow.  How marvelous is that?  Thanks be to God!

    One of our biggest support systems here has been the United States Peace Corps. We have developed close friendships and supported each others mission here. The Corps has eight volunteers doing projects around our location.  They have come to the Children's Home to work on projects and we have gone with them to work on theirs.  We support each other by listening and encouraging each other when times are difficult.  Did you know the idea for the Peace Corps was based on a church mission suggested to John Kennedy by Hubert Humphrey?

    So here we are about to start our second year. Where will we as a mission of the church and the people go from here? There are many projects here at the home and  surrounding areas in which we as a church can get involved. We will be meeting with the Tanzania Team when we visit Philadelphia in November to discuss what programs or projects that are of interest.  We will keep you updated.

    In closing we want to thank veryone for giving us the opportunity to represent the ELCA, SEPA, family and friends by serving here at Irente Children’s Home.  Our thanks go out to our home congregation, Pastor Lee Miller and Pastor Patricia Neale for their guidance and support.  We have faced  many challenges  and we couldn’t have gotten through them without the help from God and the people we represent.  We thank you for your support and prayers.

 With God’s peace and love,
Susan and Thomas MacPherson

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Paulina's Send Off

On Saturday, September 22nd we were very happy to be a part of the Send Off for Paulina, the daughter of Bwana Stephen from Irente Church.  We have written before about the custom of a “Send Off” party for girls who will soon be married.  This is an old Tanzanian custom, which has grown over the years.  In the past, we were told, the custom was to bring together all of the bride’s family to bid her farewell and offer her advice of how to behave in her upcoming marriage.  The family would also present her with some gifts to start her married life.

Now, send off’s rival wedding receptions.  Where money permits, they are held in beautifully decorated halls with an MC and DJ.  The bride-to-be and her maid of honor are dressed in very fancy prom-style gowns with elaborate hair styles.  The community of the bride’s parents contribute to the cost of the party, which can be very expensive.  

Part of the celebration includes having a band escort the bride-to-be as she travels to the party.  Tom was asked if he would help with this part.  So, on Saturday morning we traveled with our friend Eric to Bwana Stephen’s house to be part of the procession.  

When we arrived at the house, many people were there, along with a six piece band.  Many women were dancing and singing along with the music.  Some were dressed in their colorful kangas and others in gowns. 

First, we were invited to have something to eat at Bwana Alfred’s home next door.  The sitting room was filled with many male guests (the women were eating together outside).  After the meal, we went back to join the rest of the guests.  When the call came that Paulina was ready at the beauty parlor, we got into our pick-up with Alfred, Eric and Mr Jackson.  The band got into the back of the truck and started to play.  There were two trumpets, a trombone, a baritone horn, a snare and a bass drum.  We drove down to the center of Lushoto with the band playing all the way.  As we passed, people came from their houses or fields to wave and dance.  

In Lushoto, we waited outside the beauty parlor with the car that would carry Paulina and her maid of honor.  The beauty parlor is right next to the bus station.  Many busses arrived and left as we waited.  When everyone was ready we left, escorting the car which was decorated with purple and gold ribbons.  We drove back to Stephen’s house with the band playing many hymns that we could recognize.  We heard “It Is Well With My Soul” and “When the Saints Go Marching In” along with others.

When back at Stephen’s house Bishop Munga arrived.  Stephen’s family including Paulina’s grandparents all joined the bishop on the sofas and chairs that had been brought out into the front yard.  The bishop offered prayer and blessed Paulina and her family.  Then it was back into the cars and truck to travel to the hall for the party.  First in the procession were two motorcycles (called piki piki’s here), then our truck with the band, followed by Paulina and then the rest of the family and guests.  

The hall was decorated beautifully and the music was wonderful.  Paulina received many gifts to start her married life.  A difference at this send off was the amount of gifts given to Paulina’s parents.  Gift giving here is done by dancing your present, unwrapped, to the front in a conga line.  We were told that the parents of the bride receive many gifts if they have done a good job raising their daughter.  Paulina must be a remarkable young woman, judging by the gifts given to her parents and grandparents.

We felt so blessed to be included in this celebration.  We have been welcomed and accepted as a part of this congregation and community.  

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Irente Update 9/20/12

Everyone at Irente Children’s Home is very busy getting ready for graduation of the second year students, which will take place next Friday, September 28th.  The program for the day includes a tour of the facility and refreshments in the morning, followed by the graduation ceremony.  Afterward, lunch will be served.  The invitations say that the celebration will begin at 9:30 am and continue until 2:00 pm.

The second year students are so excited to complete their studies here.  They have already finished their written and practical exams.  These include working in the farm.  Each student had to demonstrate their knowledge of proper farming techniques.  Along with these, written exams were taken in First Aid, Childcare, Midwifery, Pharmacology, and English.  I was happy that all of the students passed the English exam.  The high score for the second year students was 97.  One of the first year students scored 100 in the exam.  For us, this was personally rewarding.

The last two weeks have seen some painting being done.  Several places in the stone walkways have been repaired.  Today several second year students were scrubbing all of the walkways.  Even the flower beds seem to know that next week they will need to look their best.  Many roses, calla lilies and some beautiful blue flowers that remind be of allium are blooming.  

The students have been busy practicing the songs they will sing.  One song is in English with words of farewell to guardians, teachers, and “our sisters” (the first year students).  Some of the girls have already started crying.  It will be bittersweet.  

We are at 30 children now.  A new baby arrived named Falista. (Fa-lee-sta)  She is in the nursery with twin boys Issa and Hashimu.  One of our favorite little girls from Room 3, Amina, went home with her grandparents.  We miss her very much.  She is a very social little girl who loved when we got visitors. 

With anything in life, you have to take the good with the bad.  Lately, our connectivity has been a challenge.  It is one of the frustrations we are getting used to.  Our apologies for slow emails.  The electric also has been intermittent recently.  Fortunately the outages seem to run through the night when we are asleep.  We have gotten used to cooking and eating our dinner before dark, though, just in case the lights go out.  

Our biggest challenge lately was a problem with the car.  While driving to town on  Sunday the 9th, there was a loud sound near the front right tire.  Fortunately, we were able to continue to town, but Tom drove very slowly.  When we parked the car at Tumaini Hostel (owned by the ELCT) we could see that the front right side of the car was sitting lower than the left.  We went to do our shopping.  On the way back from the bakery, a driver pulled his car over to say hello.  He was a member of Irente Church who we see each week.  We never knew that he is a taxi driver.  Tom asked where we could find him when we finished so we could have him drive us back up the mountain.  We are so blessed to be well cared for here.

The next day Tom and Christian, the driver for the Home, went to town to take the pick up truck to the repair shop.  Now, we use the term “shop” very loosely.  Julius repairs cars and large trucks in a field just outside the center of town.  His only building is a storage area for tools.  Instead of a lift, he drives the vehicle up onto stones in order to work underneath.  Julius looked at the truck and diagnosed a broken tension rod, shocks, brackets and belts.  Tom, Christian, and Julius then went to several automotive parts stores in Lushoto.  The parts needed for the repair were not available in town.  Here the car owner must purchase the repair parts and take them to the shop.  Also, there is no such thing as calling for delivery of the parts.  It must all be done in person.  

So.....the next day, Christian and Julius took the bus to Tanga (3 hours away by car, up to 5 hours by bus) to buy the parts needed.  Tom gave Christian the money for the parts, the bus fare and their lunch.  They had to go to four shops to get all of the parts needed, then they returned to Lushoto by bus.  It was a full day’s journey.  The following day, Julius installed the new parts.  We got the car back on Thursday.  

This is just a small example of how complicated things are here that we take for granted at home.  We thank God that the car was drivable, since we were on a narrow road down the mountain.  With the condition of the roads here it was bound to happen somewhere.  We were very fortunate that it happened close to home.  

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Road to Tanga

About every six to eight weeks we make a trip to Tanga.  Our primary reason for this is to visit an ATM machine to stock up on shillings for the next month or two.  The closest ATM we can access is in the town of Korogwe two hours away.  Tanga, only one more hour of driving is also the closest place with a “supermarket”, about the size of a large Wawa.  So, at the end of July, we found ourselves in need of money and headed down the mountain from Lushoto to Mombo.

Mombo is a small town on the highway which connects Tanga in the east with Moshi and Arusha to the west.  The road is one lane each way, tarmac, and in some places so loaded with potholes that you can’t avoid them.  The speed limit is 80 kpm outside of towns and reduces to 50 or 30 kpm depending on the size of town or village you are going through.  One of the most noticeable things when entering a town or nearing a railroad crossing are the speed bumps.  First you bounce over two sets of three raised lines in the tarmac, maybe four or five inches high.  Then you come to the big speed bump, maybe a foot high.  So, if you are not paying attention all of the time, these can really rattle your teeth.

As the road continues to the east, the altitude gets lower and the temperature gets higher.  Leaving home we are usually in sweaters or jackets. We begin peeling off layers the further east we go.  Along the way, we pass through large sisal plantations.  Sisal used to be the main export of Tanzania.  It is used primarily in rope making.  With the advent of plastic ropes, sales dropped.  Now, with the emphasis on reducing petroleum based products, the exports are rising again.  

As we get closer to the coast, the road winds through miles and miles of orange and coconut groves.  In the wetter areas, there are rice paddies.  This trip we saw women working shoulder-high in the rice. 

Some of the traffic we see on the road can make the trip amusing.  Here there are very large busses, which is the main means of travel for people.  A bus from Lushoto to Tanga can take about six hours instead of three hours by car.  Another form of travel is the dala dala.  These are vans outfitted with seats for sixteen people.  Often, they carry twenty or more, along with the occasional chicken.  Our friend Ezra came to visit us in a dala dala and held someone’s baby for the trip.  

Dala dalas are usually brightly painted and have slogans painted on them.  Some of the ones we have seen are:  In God We Trust, 007 - The Man with the Golden Gun,  Bob Marley’s name and picture,  Rayban, and my all time favorite “Home Sweat Home”, no, this is not a typo.  Many have Bible quotes like “Whatever is excellent” or or express love and thanks to Mungu (God) and Allah.  

Some of the other things we have seen are:

A flock of small yellow birds flying along side us for about a half a mile.
Three baboons on the side of the road before Mombo.
Children playing soccer with a ball made of many tightly wound plastic bags.
A cart full of coconuts pulled by three donkeys.
A woman driving a motorcycle just outside Tanga, with her skirt flying around her.
A beautiful bird called a Black-winged Red Bishop (look it up on is amazing)
Women washing laundry in a small stream by the road.
Women collecting water at the town pump and carrying 5 gallon buckets home on their heads.

Every trip is an adventure.

Friday, August 3, 2012

To Have and To Have Not

     A few months ago I woke up on a Sunday morning not feeling well.  My discomfort had been going on for a few days, but Sundays was more uncomfortable. I said to Susan I think I need to see a doctor. I called our friend in Arusha, Dr. Mark Jacobson head of Arusha Lutheran Medical Center who has here for 27 years as a missionary with the ELCA.  I said we would drive there to see him, but he said with my symptoms we should go directly to Aga Khan Hospital in Nairobi, Kenya.
      Dr. Jacobson said to give him 15 minutes and he would make all the arrangements. He told us to arrange for a driver to take us down the mountain and meet the plane at the Mombo air strip. We called Pastor Kibonga, our boss here and asked if we could have someone drive us to meet the plane. Within 30 minutes Godfrey came to take us down the mountain. 
       We arrived at the airstrip which was just a field of tall grass. In about 30 minutes the plane circled and landed to pick us up. On board was a doctor and equipment in case of an emergency. The flight lasted about 2 hours. When we arrived in Nairobi, there was an ambulance waiting to take us to the hospital.  After 4 days of testing as an outpatient my problem was diagnosed and treated.
       As we traveled back to are home in Lushoto, I started thinking how fortunate we are. Here we are eight thousand miles from our home and can still receive amazing healthcare. Because we have. Our journey home consisted of a plane ride for forty minutes and a 5 hour bus trip. 

      We passed many villages as we traveled giving us the opportunity to see first hand the lifestyle of the people. There before us was the true picture of the way it would be for them if they had a medical need or emergency. When our bus stopped in a village  to pick up more passengers, I saw a person laying by the side of the road needing medical attention. I know for a fact they would not receive any care. Miles from any hospital or clinic most people have no where to go. They may suffer in pain and go on about their life as best they can. Until they meet their fate. If you look around your neighborhoods and cities the picture of the need for medical care is also reflected.

        We as Americans are very fortunate having the best medical care available in the world, but just like in the poverty stricken third world countries, it is not available to every person in the United States.
        Why is that? I’ve been trying to think about this ever since we got back home here. So many thoughts have crossed my mind and I would like to share them with you.
         As Americans we elect our leaders and give them the best medical care available, but do we insist on receiving the same? 
         We allow lobbyist to promote an idea or product to our elected officials  that will have some benefit for them or their party. In turn the lobbyist and the company they represent end up with more power than the politician. We have laws that prisoners in our jails are entitled to health care. Why haven’t we created laws requiring everyone to receive proper health care?  
     We are also responsible for the cost of our health care. We are encouraged by our legal system and our own personal greed to sue everyone involved when things may go wrong.
     Every night in America millions of children go to bed sick or in pain because no medical treatment was available to them.
     Every night millions of seniors suffer in pain doing without their proper medicine because they had to make a choice of which bill to pay, their electric bill or medicine. 
     Everyday many families face being denied health care due to a catastrophic medical condition.
     Everyday the men and women who served our country to protect our freedom are left on our streets forgotten and alone facing physical and mental sickness.
     This is just not right.
     We can afford to give all Americans health care in spite of what you hear. Our government spends billions of dollars in wasteful projects each and every year. Every time a bill is passed in Congress there are many, many extras added on to it. The general public has no idea of what was added. Wouldn't it be great if bills were published prior to passage so we could see all that is included?
      Its time for us to make a change that would be beneficial to all Americans.  Create a health care program that includes all Americans. I ask you to please pray for whoever is leading our country in the years to come, that they may have the wisdom, strength and courage to do what is right for all Americans.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

An Irente Update

It has been a few weeks since our last blog post.  Things have been very busy at the Children’s Home and there have been some comings and goings.
During the month of June, we had the pleasure of getting to know Taylor Phillipi, a student from Kansas State University.  Taylor is a Pre-Occupational Therapy major in his Junior year.  He spent his mornings volunteering at the Rainbow School for autistic and mentally & physically challenged children.  In the afternoon, he played with the children at the home.  Many of the children and the child care workers became attached to Taylor in a very short time.  His stay went by very quickly and we were all sorry to see him leave.  
A second parting came four days later with the departure of Claudia Wallis, a German volunteer.  Claudia came last year, volunteering through a German organization for about six weeks at that time.  She felt drawn to return and came back on her own in February.  Her six week stay this year was flying by and so she contacted her family in Germany to see if she could stay longer.  She was able to postpone a semester of college and stayed on for five months!  Friday morning, July 6th, we drove her down to Lushoto to catch a bus to Dar es Salaam.  Many tears were shed by the students at the home.  Claudia had become an important member of the home.  She stayed at the hostel and ate her meals with the students.  She joined with them in evening devotions and sang with them in the choir at church.  Beside working with the children in the afternoons, Claudia taught math at the Irente School for the Blind every morning.  And she could bake wonderful cakes.  She taught the girls how to bake a cake on a charcoal fire.  She will be greatly missed.
This past week, two new babies arrived.  The first was Violet, a two month old who weighed in at 2.5 kilos (about 5 pounds).  Violet was born in her village and her mother died.  Her grandmother and some others in the village tried their best to feed her.  Since they had no formula, they were feeding her ugi porridge.  When they saw that she was not putting on any weight, her auntie brought her to the home.  She is beautiful, with huge dark eyes.
On Thursday, a second baby came to the home.  Her name is Marion and she was two days old when she arrived.  She and Violet share the nursery.  Marion is bigger and stronger than Violet, but both are eating well and already thriving.  
We have also been busy working on a project with our Peace Corps friends.  Last weekend, we traveled to Mambo View Point Eco-Lodge with four Peace Corps volunteers and a Tanzanian teacher named Frank.  Mambo is a village at a very high altitude on the western edge of the Usambara Mountains.  On a clear day, you can see Mt Kilimanjaro.  Unfortunately, it was too cloudy for us to see “Kili”, but the view was still spectacular.  The owners of the Eco-Lodge work with their local neighbors in many projects.  Glen, from Texas, had visited the lodge and arranged a return visit to teach perma-gardening with his counterpart Frank.  Brittany from Ohio, taught a group of local women how to make their own peanut butter.  Sarah from upstate New York, taught some people how to make a “light bulb” out of a 1.5 liter water bottle, water and bleach.  Many of the homes here have no windows.  Using a roof sealant, a plastic bottle filled with water and two capfuls of bleach is inserted half way into the corrugated metal roof.  
The sunlight illuminates the bottle providing light in a once dark room.  
This past weekend Glen, Frank, Brittany and another Peace Corps volunteer named Ezra came to Irente Children’s Home.  They brought fifteen of their students with them.  These kids ranging from 10 to 15 years old, along with students from the home, dug eight new terrace beds using the perma-garden method.  They also learned how to make peanut butter and played some HIV-Aids awareness games.  They also played soccer and Tom brought out his “American” football, which the kids enjoyed.
After the hard work of digging, we walked with the students to Irente View Point.  None of them had ever been there and were really amazed by the view of the Masai Plain from so high up.  They were very kind with us, worrying about how Bibi and Babu were doing, whether we were very tired.  Climbing up, two girls held my hands to be sure I was okay.  On the way down, one of the boys held my hand to help me.  It was quite touching to be cared for in such a way by teenagers we had only met the day before.
We enjoy our time with the Peace Corps volunteers, a touch of home.  They will return in September with a new group of students to dig more beds for the home.  We are greatly impressed with the work of the Peace Corps and ask you to keep them in your prayers.  

Saturday, June 30, 2012

A trip to school

Today we drove Mama Rehema, little Nema and four of our students to “visiting day” at two of the local schools.  We stopped at the Montessori School first, just outside Lushoto on the way down toward Mombo.  There we dropped off Julitha and Rafikiel, who were going to visit Zawadi and Asha, students who were previously at Irente Children’s Home.  
We drove on to Usambara Primary School, a boarding school several miles below Lushoto.  At Usambara we visited Joseph, Rehema, and Anna, also former children from Irente Home.  With Tom and I were Mama Rehema and Neema, our next door neighbors, along with students Asha and Fadhila.  We started out in the headmaster’s office where each child’s grades were shown to us.  Asha carefully noted each subject, grade and any comments in order to report back to Mama Mdemu.  Someone went to find the students we were visiting.  By mistake, they brought in Zulfa Juma, not Rehema Juma.  (Juma is the last name usually given to abandoned children)  Zulfa continued with us on our visit and shared the food we brought with us.
When Anna and Joseph had joined us, we went for a tour of the campus.  The dormitories for the girls were close by.  The rooms were neat and clean, with each girl responsible for making her bed and maintaining her area.  Outside the door was a line two rows deep of flip flops which are worn inside the dorm and to the showers.  We asked Rehema how she would know which were hers and she showed them to us easily.  
The boys dormitories were a bit of a climb up a steep hill.  These again were neat and clean.  Joseph showed us where he slept.  We met the house mother as well as two other women who were washing the boys clothes.  
After seeing the dorms, we walked to the classroom buildings and talked with one of the teachers.  School here is held Monday through Saturday, with tests given every Saturday.  The class rooms we saw were a good size with many desks and chairs.  Boarding schools are preferred over the public schools, if possible, due to class size.  Many families send their children to boarding school if they can afford the fees.
This visit was special for us since we are Anna’s sponsors for school.  Anna is a beautiful little six year old.  Her parents are dead and she stays during school breaks with her grandmother out in the villages somewhere.  She spent her early years at Irente Children’s Home.  Her grandmother expressed her thanks and God’s blessings on us when she found out that we would pay Anna’s tuition.  Of course, this is a long term commitment.  Anna is only in first grade and has, we hope, many years of school ahead of her.  It is a commitment we are happy to make.
The fee for a child for a full year of school, including room and board is about $700 US.  This is an amount that we could spend at home without even knowing where it went... a weekend away, some meals out with friends, or purchasing this or that which we really don’t need.  Mama Mdemu is always looking for sponsors to help former ICH children have the opportunity for an education and a better future.  ( If anyone is interested, just contact us and we can furnish the details of how to sponsor a child).
After Usambara School, we returned to the Montessori School to pick up Julitha and Rafikiel.  They had also received reports on Zawadi and Asha.  Montessori is a Catholic school for girls.  It was easy to see the difference between the schools.  Montessori looks very expensive.  The grounds of the school were crowded with families picnicing on the lawns with their students.  The nuns made their rounds through the families, speaking with mothers and fathers about their children.  We said good-bye to Zawadi and Asha and walked back to the pick-up truck for our ride back to Irente.
We thank God for these institutions and the education that is available to those who can afford it.    

Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Joyous Announcement

On Monday, June 18th, our housekeeper Veronica came to work as usual.  She did our laundry, swept out the house and cooked dinner.  Between 1:30 and 2 pm, she came to me to say, "Tutaonana kesho", "See you tomorrow".  Then she walked 30 minutes up the mountain to her small house which she and her husband made from sticks and mud.

Her friend Margaret met her there and Veronica said she thought they should go to the hospital.  Margaret checked and told her that the baby was coming now!  Veronica's new baby boy was born at home.  Then she and Margaret walked further up the mountain to the nearest road and got a ride to the hospital.  At around 6 pm, she call us on the phone and said, "Bibi, we have a baby boy!"

The next morning, Tom and I drove to the hospital to see her and the baby.  We arrived at around 10:30 am, but Veronica had already been discharged.  After some errands in Lushoto, we drove home and walked up to her house to visit.

Veronica was at home in bed with her little son surrounded by many caring women including her mother and her friend Margaret.  She introduced us to her son who is named Fadhili, but she told us, "Ataitwa Thomas", "He will be called Thomas".  What a great honor.  He is a beautiful boy and weighed 4 kilo at birth, which is around 8 pounds.

Please keep Veronica, her husband and sons Ismaili and Fadhili "Thomas" in your prayers.  We thank God for the safe delivery of this beautiful new baby.

Saturday, June 2, 2012


On Monday morning, May 21st, Mama Mdemu traveled down to the shamba near Mombo to work there and see how the crops were doing.  While there, she received a phone call letting her know that her youngest child had died very suddenly in Dodoma.  Her daughter, Rehema was 33 years old and four months pregnant.  She had prepared breakfast for her three year old son and her niece who attends college there.  While dressing to go to her office, she dropped to the floor.  The cause of death at this point is still unknown and may never be known.
Mama Mdemu and her daughter spoke to each other almost daily.  The night before her death,they talked about Rehema going back to school for her Master’s degree after the new baby got a bit older.  How quickly our lives can change.  In the blink of an eye, everything is different.  Our hearts are broken for Mama Mdemu and her family.  We cannot imagine the loss of a child.
The change in atmosphere at the home was palpable.  Everyone continued their job, but voices were hushed and the mood was somber.  The grief was felt and shared.
In the afternoon, Tom drove Mama Mrishu, two of the students, and I to Mama Mdemu’s house in Lushoto.  Many cars were parked along the road near her house, several from the diocese.  Folding chairs were set up in a small grove of trees inside the gate.  These were occupied by many men.  A woman escorted us to the house.  We left our shoes outside with so many other pairs and went inside.  
The furniture of Mama Mdemu’s living room were moved along the walls of the room.  On the floor on the far side of the room, two mattresses were on the floor.  The sofas and chairs were filled with women, some young, but mostly older.  They were dressed in kangas and their heads were covered.  Mama Mdemu sat on one of the mattresses with several women consoling her.  It was a moving scene of love and compassion.  
We shook hands with each of the women around the room as we worked our way to Mama Mdemu.  When we reached her, people moved aside so we could kneel by next to her and offer our condolences.  I was then directed to a seat in the room and Tom was ushered outside with the men.  
In the living room, the number of women varied from 15 to 26.  Occasionally, someone began to sing and the others joined in.  It was peaceful and comforting to hear these beautiful women sing the hymns they all know by heart, melody and harmony blending together.  When some women left, I went and sat with Mama, holding her hand as we spoke quietly.  She asked if I had talked to our daughter Maureen recently.  I explained that we Skype with her every Sunday night, but because of her job and the time difference we cannot speak daily.  
On Tuesday evening, we traveled to Mama Mdemu’s home again, this time with more of the students and workers at the home.  The scene there was about the same.  The students from the home each paid their respects to Mama and then sang some hymns.  
Outside, several women were preparing food to feed the guests.  Again, the men were gathered outside and the women inside.  This watch would be kept until the time of the burial.  
Rehema’s body would be transported from Dodoma, but the burial was to be north of Moshi, not in Lushoto.  Transportation was arranged for Mama Mdemu and her family by the diocese.  
The amazing thing was that when I said “pole sana” (I am so sorry) to many of the women there, the response of several of them was, “All we can say is Thank God”.  What a faith-full response to give in such a time of tragedy.
Please keep Mama Mdemu and her family in your prayers. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

What's Your Tribe?

During our Friday night movie Julitha, one of our students, asked us, “Bibi, Babu, what is your tribe”?  When Tom went to the hospital in Lushoto and again in Arusha for his knee, this was one of the questions on the registration form.  Friday night was the first time we were asked the question in person.  It gave us pause to think of what our answer should be.  We explained that the United States is a country of people of many nationalities, but that only Native Americans referred to their heritage a “tribes”.  Julitha persisted and asked again, so I answered Irish and Tom said Scottish.  
Going back into history, Tanzania has been made up of many different tribes or ethnic groups.  The first president of Tanzania, Julius Nyrere, established Kiswahili as the official national language in order to unite all of these groups as one people.  Today most Tanzanians speak Kiswahili, their tribal language, and also some English.
The Lushoto area is primarily make up of the Sambaa people.  Among those here at Irente Children’s Home, many are Sambaa, but also there are students from the Masai, Pare, and Chagaa tribes.  
When we returned home from the movie, I picked up a Newsweek magazine sent to us by our friend Kathy from Iowa.  I had been reading an article on the Titanic centennial.  When I turned the page, the next article was entitled “What’s Your Tribe?” by E.O. Wilson.  Mr. Wilson is a “renowned Harvard biologist” according to Newsweek.  The blurb after the title explains that Wilson “says our drive to join a group - and fight for it-  is what makes us human”.  Wilson says that “everyone, no exception, must have a tribe, an alliance with which to jockey for power and territory, to demonize the enemy, to organize rallies and raise flags.  And so it has ever been”.
This made me re-think my answer to Julitha’s question.  What is my tribe?  Looking at the question in relation to the Newsweek article, I am unsure.  The answer for Americans is more complicated than it would be for a Tanzanian.  I guess I would have to say that I am an American, a Christian, a Lutheran.  Politically, I am not a party-line person.  My sports affiliations are non-existant when it comes to professional sports of any kind, though I will root for the Phillies and “Go Navy, beat Army”.  (with apologies to our nephew Michael)
So, what’s your tribe?  Where is your allegiance?  Unlike me, have you ever given this any thought?  What does your answer say about you?  

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Tanzanian Wedding

We were very happy to be invited to attend the celebration of the wedding of Frida Guga and Alois Magambo.  Frida is the daughter of Bwana Emmanuel, who is in charge of the farm at Irente Children’s Home.  Alois’ mother is a Director at the Irente Blind School.  
Here in Tanzania there are several customs that are different from at home.  Before a wedding, the family of the bride hosts a “Send Off” for their daughter.  While it is a fun celebration, it is also the time that the family says good bye to their daughter.  When a woman marries here, she leaves her family and becomes a part of her husband’s family.
The send off is similar to a bridal shower.  Guests bring gifts to help the bride with her new home.  The is music, singing, and great food.  
At the send off on Friday, the 20th of April, the bride to be arrived with her maid of honor, both dressed in beautiful gold gowns.  They entered the hall, walking in that solemn step-pause that you see in very formal weddings and graduations.  The front of the hall was decorated beautifully.  Many speaches were made by the bride, her father and mother, the maid of honor and several members of the family.  The bride and the maid of honor also paid their respects to the family of the groom.  Then they cut the cake and served each other as the bride and groom would.
Later, the bride walked down the aisle of the hall, very slowly.  She looked to her left and right as she walked.  Mama Mdemu explained that she was searching for her groom.  Finally, she found him hiding near the back of the hall.  She presented him with a red rose and he escorted her back to the front of the room.  They sat together at the front of the room, but then he and his best man returned to their seats at the back.  The guests came forward to present their gifts.  
After that it was time to eat.  The bride’s family went to the groom’s family and escorted them to the serving line.  The send off is hosted by the bride’s family.  The room was packed with guests who lined up for the food.  Later there was more music and singing by the church choir.
On Saturday, the reception was also held in Irente Chapel next to our home.  Again, the room was beautifully decorated.  The wedding and reception are both hosted by the groom’s family.  There was a DJ who played music and also a woman who who served as “Master of Ceremony”.  The reception was very much like any we have attended at home.  The bride was dressed in a beautiful white gown and veil.  The maid of honor was all in pink.  The groom and best man were dressed in black tuxes with pink shirts and white satin ties.  
At the reception, only people with invitations were at first allowed into the hall.  Once all of the invited guests were seated, others were allowed in as standing room only permitted.  Many more people crowded at the windows of the hall to watch.  At the send off, the food was prepared at the Children’s Home.  The reception was catered and the buffet was presided over by a chef in full white uniform and chef’s hat.  When it was time for the food, the people standing in the aisle and in the back were directed to leave the hall.  Once the invited guests had gone to fill their plates, all of the others were invited in to eat too.  Everyone was served, even stray children from the next village who walked over to see the celebration.
We enjoyed being part of both occasions.  At one point at the wedding, the MC called Tom up to the front.  At first we thought they were going to ask him to speak, but she wanted him to dance with some of the women from the family.  After a short time, I went up to join them.  Later, she invited different couples to come up to dance, the bride and grooms parents, aunts and uncles, and then she called on Tom and I.  We did our best with an American style slow dance, which they all seemed to enjoy.  
We were very privileged to be included among the guests at these celebrations.   

Synod Assembly Meeting

What a joy it was for us to attend this year’s Synod Assembly.  We can’t help but thank God for the wonderful technology that made it possible.  
We traveled to Tanga on Friday the 4th and stayed at a hotel which includes high-speed internet connection with the room.  We checked in and immediately went to Noor Optics to order new glasses.  It is amazing what children can do to a pair of glasses in six months.  We had lunch and returned to the hotel to watch the Synod Assembly on U-stream.  We “arrived” just before the distribution of communion.  It was wonderful to hear the music and singing, and to feel like part of the gathering.
Since we had such a late lunch, we stayed in our hotel room and watched the assembly until it was very late.  During the assembly’s lunch break, we did a test run of Skype with Bob Fisher.  The connection was great and we also had the pleasure of seeing some members of St John’s and Pastor Lee Miller.  We are seven hours ahead of Pennsylvania, so we went to bed before any election results.  
On Saturday morning, we visited a “supermarket” in Tanga.  It is about twice the size of the standard Wawa, but with four actual shopping carts.  We loaded up a cart with items that are not available in Lushoto.  We found Ragu sauce, pickles, Kellog’s cereal, and cans of Velveta-type cheese.  We also stocked up on some canned goods in case we are unable to get to town with the rains.  This store even sells yogurt, ice cream, and frozen meat.  Unfortunately, we are not be able to transport these items back home and cannot depend on our electricity to keep them cold or frozen.
Saturday evening, we Skyped into the assembly.  It was amazing to see the people there and to know that they could see and hear us as well.  Even from thousands of miles away, we could feel the Spirit there.  It is so hard for us to believe that a whole year has passed since we stood before the assembly for our commissioning.  We are so blessed to have been given the gift of representing SEPA here in Tanzania.  
We are humbled at being called “missionaries”.     The following is a  quote from Buguruni - Volunteers in Mission by David Dunnill, an Anglican missionary who served in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania:   “Working at soup kitchens and food banks in mission work.  All volunteer work in the community is mission work.  Knowing and accepting our responsibilities as good citizens, including our political responsibilities, is mission work.  All Christians are missionaries when they allow their professed beliefs to govern their daily living.  Mission is bringing into life Jesus’ command to Peter, “Feed my lambs..Tend my sheep...Feed my sheep”.  All of you who follow this command are missionaries with us, but just didn’t need a passport to reach your place of service.
God bless you in your service.