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.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Grow where you are planted

One of my all-time favorite movies is Out of Africa.  We recently watched it again.  At the beginning of the movie, just before the music crescendos, Meryl Streep, as Karen Blixen, aka Isack Dinnesen, says, “I had a farm in Africa”.  These words came to me as Tom and I were busily digging the soil next to our house.
Mama Mdemu, the Director of the home, graciously offered us the use of the land for a shamba, a farm. Two weeks ago, we started the work.  First, we stopped by the Home and borrowed two hoes from the students.  By the time we got changed into work clothes and went outside, two of the girls, Paulina and Asha, were there to help us get started.  They wanted to be sure Bibi and Babu were not working too hard.  
We measured out a good sized plot to start with.  Paulina and Asha started digging up the ground, which is a deep orangish brown.  The area had been planted last season with potatoes, beans and corn.  The crops are intermingled in order to get as much as possible out of each square foot.  As we dug, we found potatoes that were left from the previous harvest.  Paulina told us to set these aside and they would be used as “seeds” for the next crop.  After finishing a few rows, we thanked Asha and Paulina and manned the hoes.  The work was hard, but very rewarding.  The soil here is unlike any we have dug before.  The clay content is very high and the ground is hard.  Digging turns over large clumps that almost look like broken bricks.  These need to be broken up with the hoe.  Also, we have only seen two earthworms after digging an area of about 60 by 100 feet.
Once the ground is completely turned, the area is mounded into “terraces” with a trench between each one.  Paulina instructed us on how to form the terrace and then showed that we would then dig holes in the terraces, put in some manure, cover this lightly and then put in a handful of potato “seeds” in each hole.  The work is very strenuous.  
In Tanzania, most people have at least a small shamba either at their home, or on land some distance away.  The students here and also our neighbors find it incredible that this is our first attempt at growing vegetables.  We showed them a postcard we received of the Philadelphia skyline and explained that there are very few farms in the city.  Even at our home in New Jersey, we always planted flowers.  With produce being so available, there is no need to grow anything.  
In America we have the blessing of fresh or frozen food at any season.  Here, they have the advantage of having weather that makes it possible to grow things year-round.  Anything that is not used by the family can be sold in order to buy the items they cannot grow.  Most of the corn grown at the Home is taken to Lushoto to be ground into corn meal.  String beans are left on the vine until the beans inside are very large and the plants are dried.  They are taken into a small area and beaten with large sticks.  The beans fall to the bottom and are dried.  The remains of the plants are used for compost.
We are blessed to be here and to be experiencing the life of the people around us.  Like our neighbors, we will be growing carrots, onions, peppers, potatoes, sweet potatoes and beans.  Unlike them, we have also planted zucchini and cauliflower.  
As the saying goes, “Grow where you are planted”.