Saturday, January 28, 2012

Separated by Miles - The Gift of Technology

Last Sunday we had the amazing experience of attending St John’s annual meeting by Skype.  It was wonderful to see all of the smiling faces that we miss so much.
The week before, we had asked Mama Mdemu if it would be possible for some of the child care workers sing a song at the beginning of the meeting.  Mama Mdemu is the director of the home.  She is an amazing 70 year old woman. She retired several years ago after serving many years as head nurse at a local hospital.  When the position of director was open, the Diocese recruited her to help for a while.  She has been here seven years now.
Mama Mdemu is very experienced working with girls in their late teens to early twenties.  She announced at devotions one morning that she was looking for girls who would be willing to help with a “special project”.  She told us that when she asks for such things there are the usual girls who will help and the others who will not.  She did not tell them what the special project would be.  When the girls who did not volunteer found out the five who did would be singing “live” in America, they were very disappointed.
Mama asked what we would like the girls to sing and we said any song in Kiswahili would be great.  They practiced several times in the entry way of the class room building, which has great acoustics.  She reported to us that they were ready and that her only advice to them was to smile more.  
So, last Sunday we walked up to the home at about 8:45 pm to set up for the 9 pm start (our time) of the meeting.  The girls who were to sing were busy getting ready.  We set the computer up in the reception room which contains many sofas and chairs and seats about 20 people.  When we connected with St John’s and told the girls to come out, we were so surprised.  They had dressed in their fanciest dresses.  They “danced” into the room, in front of the computer singing.  They looked so beautiful.  Singing here is not merely getting the notes and the words right.  There is also movement, gestures, and dancing that fit the message of the song.  
Many of the other girls who had not volunteered came to watch them and to see the members of St John’s.  Also, three of the “mamas” came to watch too.  Two of them were off duty.  One was dressed in a fleece jacket with a kanga over her pajamas.
After singing three songs, we started to talk with our friends at St John’s.  It was such an incredible experience.  We thank God for the forms of communication that are available.  Computers and the internet have made God’s world so much smaller in our lifetime.  And isn’t that a wonderful thing?  
Unfortunately, the connection went bad after just a few minutes and our visit was cut short.  We were disappointed, but our singers were much more disappointed than us.  After the connection ended, they came back into the room.  They had changed into their uniforms and ready to sing some more.  We thank God for Rehema, Sarah, Judith, Farida, and Elizabeth who shared their talents with our friends at home. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Day in the Life

Our morning begins very here, with the first rooster crowing before 5am.  As the daylight increases, more roosters join in the chorus, followed by the cows and one pig.  We are usually out of bed before 7, get dressed and ready to start the day.
Tom begins his day by setting up the gas cooker and straining tap water into a pot to boil for our tea.  He then sets the little coffee table in the living room with cups and utensils.  The sugar is in a tightly sealing tupperware container.  He also gets out juice and usually a container of fruit left from the previous night’s dinner; pineapple, mango or oranges.
I cook breakfast.  Usually it is eggs, french toast or cereal.  Anything that is not in our little refrigerator must be kept in sealed plastic containers.  We use the parmalat type milk, which I actually like.  It tastes like evaporated milk.  
By the time we are finishing our breakfast our housekeeper Veronica arrives.  We head up the road to the home, where we will work until noon.
Veronica starts out by washing up the breakfast dishes.  The washes whatever laundry is in the basket.  This is done at a large outdoor sink area in our back yard.  She sweeps through the whole house, cleans and then cooks our food for the day.  Since she is young and has a five year old, we have her cook enough for lunch that we can eat the leftovers for our dinner.  She usually leaves between two and three in the afternoon.
When Tom and I get to the home, we go our separate ways.  If there are no other jobs needed or classes being held (like now while half of the girls are away on break) we head to different groups of children.  At the home the children are divided into four rooms.  The nursery right now has a three week old baby and one that is about two months old.  They are both boys.  A child care worker is assigned to each baby, so with one on one care, we only stop to visit there.
Room One has the eight babies ranging from two or three months old to about one year old.  Room Two has seven toddlers.  Since we have been here, three of them have started walking.  It has been a fun process to watch.  Room Three has the older children in it, with the oldest being three years old.  He is Husseini, who recently started nursery school at the Rainbow School.  Whatever room we work with, the day consists of playing with the children, feeding them, taking walks with them, and doing a lot of singing.  We work from 9 until noon and then from 2 until 5.  
If English classes are being held, we have a morning and an afternoon class.  Each one lasts about an hour.  Sometimes the driver for the home, a very nice man named Christian, sits in on our class too.  Every day is different.  The girls are always switching their duties and their schedules.  The majority of the girls are on day work, but there is always a night crew as well.  There are 32 girls altogether, but the classes range in size from 8 to 18 (the number of desks in the classroom).  I try to cover the same ground in each class, so that it doesn’t matter if the girls switch from morning to afternoon.  The children are the main concern here, so the classes come second, understandably.
Tom has had a variety of jobs so far.  He has repaired a clothes dryer, a chain saw, some plumbing, and is now working on repairing many broken or missing window panes.  The chain saw has made him the star of the neighborhood.  A couple of years ago, a chain saw was donated to the home, but without directions.  The Dar es Salaam baggage tag was still attached to it, but it was full of old gunky fuel.  Tom was able to get it working.  This is a very big deal since the home uses an amazing amount of fire wood each day for cooking and for heating water for bathing and loads of laundry.  When the kids hear the chain saw they start chanting Ba-bu, Ba-bu, which means “grandfather”.  Previously, the wood was split by axe and then cut to length either by hired men or by the girls using machetes.
We have a two hour break at noon, which sometimes I must admit turns into nap time for us.  At two o’clock we head back and either have our work, or go to a different room for variety of the kids.
At 5 pm, we return home.  I heat up dinner and Tom washes the dishes.  Right now sunset comes between 6:30 and 7:00 pm.  Tom always takes a walk after dinner and I often join him, but not always.  After watching the sun go behind the mountain, we walk past the home and visit the girls who are cooking that day.  Sometimes, we sing with them.  It could be Jingle Bells, Jesus Loves Me, If You’re Happy and You Know It, or just last night it was The Hokey Pokey.  
We return home before dark.  By 7 pm almost everyone is at their home for the night.  We usually check for email, Facebook, or read.  Some nights we play Scrabble or 500 Rummey.  By 9 o’clock we get our showers.  This is done standing in a large plastic pan and pouring water over ourselves from a pitcher. Veronica boils the water for us in the afternoon and it is kept in two ten liter paint buckets with lids to keep it warm.
When it is time to go to bed, we drop the mosquito net over our bed and tuck it all in between the mattress and the bed frame.  We get into bed and thank God for having been blessed with another beautiful day. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

Coming and Going

On Tuesday morning at 6:15, I was picked up by Christian and Mama Maria to accompany them on a “home visit”.  The details of the trip were very vague, my understanding was that we were visiting the home of a girl formerly in the care of ICH.  (Tom was on a separate trip, taking two of the children to the hospital for check-ups, along with Mama Mdemu and two of the child care workers.)
We drove all the way down the mountain and headed east at Mombo.  After another half hour on the highway we turned right onto a dirt road and continued about twenty more minutes.  When we came over the crest of a hill we could see the plain before us.  Ahead was the Morogoro River, which had flooded its banks.  Mama said, “This is very bad”.  The road was impassable by car.  Christian parked the vehicle before the bridge and we all got out.  Mama said, “Pole sana (very sorry).  We will walk from here”.  So we took off our shoes and socks, hitched up our skirts, and two very nice young men (with machetes) took our hands and escorted Mama and I through the water, which was over my knees, and about thirty yards wide.  There were fish swimming in the water.  I thought of my training, which advised never to go swimming here.  Well, one rule broken!  Christian had to wait with the vehicle.
After the water, we started walking up hill on a long winding road.  I asked if it was far, and Mama said, “Yes, very far”.  We climbed for about 25 minutes and came to a small cluster of mud houses, really a “sub-village” with perhaps a dozen or two houses.  Mama walked toward one house and called, “Hodi, hodi” which translates something like a verbal “Knock, knock”.  In front of the house were four young women, eleven children and one older woman.  We were here to visit with her, the grandmother of Zawadi.  Greetings were exchanged and then Zawadi appeared.  Mama gave her a big hug, told her she loved her, and said how glad she was to see her.  
First, we sat on small stools in front of the house, but a large crowd of women and children began to gather.  So we moved our stools inside the small stick and mud house where Zawadi and her grandparents lived.  The house had three very small rooms; a kitchen area, a sitting room and the third was no doubt the bedroom.  The whole house was no more than 10 x 12 feet.  It had a corrugated roof with many holes in it.  
A long conversation in Kiswahili began between Mama and the grandmother.  Many sounds of sympathy were made by Mama as the grandmother spoke.  At first, Zawadi was in the room with us, but then one of the young women came and took her outside.  With my limited Kiswahili, I could not follow, but Mama gave me some details.  Zawadi’s mother had died and her father left.  She was being cared for by her grandparents.  Her grandmother spoke and Mama translated, “We have no money, we have little food”.  I said to her in Kiswahili, “You love Zawadi.  Thank God for grandparents”.  
After more discussion, we left the house and sat out front.  The young woman had finished washing Zawadi, who was standing there in her underpants.  She then got a small bottle of baby oil and tenderly rubbed it all over her head, face and body.  It reminded me of an anointing.  Everyone was silent.  She put a long dark dress over Zawadi’s  head and helped her into her sandals.  Then the women and all of the children said good bye and we left with Zawadi and her grandmother.  Zawadi was coming with us.  She is being adopted by a couple, former missionaries somewhere in the Lushoto area.  
We walked back to the river and Grandmother carried Zawadi on her back through the water.  After a brief good bye, we got into the vehicle and left.  I asked Mama and was told that Zawadi is about 5 or 6 years old.  I thought of our grandaughter Avery, who is about that age and how it would be for her or for us if we were in a position to have to give her away.  I thought of the tragic circumstances, but also of the faith that allows someone to make the decision and sacrifice to give their child a better chance in life.  I also thought of the couple who are adopting Zawadi, the third child they will bring into their family.  In my head I hummed the hymn “God Will Take Care of You”.  It is not one that is sung at our church, but has a wonderful carousel tune and is so upbeat with the promise of God’s love in the midst of sorrow.
When we returned to the Home, I stopped in to see the two newborn babies, and found out that one of the two year olds was leaving that day to go with her grandparents.  Asma (which is pronounced like Ahz-ma) is a very lovely, active and determined girl.  She is smart and also clever.  I looked at her grandparents, who appeared to be about our age and prayed for them.
In Room 2, where Asma has lived for most of her life, the room was filled with joy and excitement.  A one point, five of the child care workers were busy picking out clothes to send with her.  She was washed and dressed, then changed into a different outfit, then back into the first one.  Like Zawadi, she seemed not to understand what was going on.  They packed a bag with clothes, shoes, and even a few things to grow into.  Asma was sent on her way with many kisses and hugs.
Please pray for these two girls and their families, new and old.  Thanks be to God for the opportunities that came their way for a better life.  Pray also for those left behind who struggle day to day to provide food for their families.  We are so blessed.  We should thank God everyday and look for ways to share His blessings.
Susan and Tom

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

You are My Sunday Friends!

     His name was Joseph. He was part of our Sunday school class. Susan and I taught students from age 10 and up. It was not your normal Sunday school class. In our class we not only discussed the Bible but life skills. Many Sundays our Bible lesson would turn into a completely different subject. The kids would ask us how they should deal with a problem they were facing.
      On special occasions we would take the students on an outing. We would go to the movies, the park, to historical sites and even out for dinner. They seemed to appreciate the time we spent together.
      We thought it was just as important to give them lessons in life as lessons in faith. Susan and I thought we were doing the right thing. We thought the time we spent together would have an impact on them and us. We still talk about times we had with them. 
It made us realize how blessed we were in being in their lives at that time.
      Then one Sunday, Joseph said to us “You are my Sunday friends”. He was in a bad mood that day a put up a wall around himself and wouldn’t let us in. Little by little he started talking to us telling we didn’t understand. He repeated the line that is still with me today, “You are my Sunday friends! He told us we had no idea what he was up against everyday. He lived with his grandparents and was on the street most of time. After that things were never the same.
     The question I’ve always had since our time with our class is what impact did we really have on them?
      Here we are years later serving in Tanzania at Irente Children’s Home. We came here to serve and in the beginning I wondered what impact we would have on the children here.
     We have been here for more than a month and have had the pleasure of meeting many people who come to the home and visit with the children. Some were here for three months others just for a day. Would they just be “ My Sunday Friend” to the children? Would their visit have any impact on the child’s life? In that moment when the child is with a visitor their life is changed. We see it everyday, with every visitor.
      All of us can change the moment for someone. We could call them, write them, and do a chore for them. We could pray with them or for them. We could listen to them, or just sit with them.
      When Joseph said we were “His Sunday Friends’ it bothered me tremendously. I thought I failed him. Being here at the home has showed me that every moment spent with someone will have an impact on his or her life. No matter how long or short.