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

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Return from Handeni

Our trip to Handeni this past weekend was wonderful.  (see The Trip to Handeni)
I thought because of the length of the story, it would be better to break it into two parts.

We said good-bye to the members of Sindeni sub-parish and promised to try to visit again.  Pastor Shemkala’s responsibilities at Handeni include 38 sub-parishes.  These are smaller groups of Lutherans who gather together under the guidance of a pastor, a deacon, and several evangelists.  Each evangelist is responsible for an area of the parish.  More than one of the evangelists are fluent in Kimaasai and one is a Maasai himself.  (About 80% of the members of the parish are Maasai). The evangelists attend Bible College for training and can be male or female.  They lead worship, but cannot preside at a service of Holy Communion.  With 38 sub-parishes and having been at Handeni a little over one year, Pastor has visited each place at least once.  It means a lot of time on the road for him.  Sometimes, members of the sub-parishes will travel to Handeni Church for worship.

William found the way back through the bush to the main road.  We then traveled on until we reached Korogwe.  We stopped at the White Parrot Hotel to use the facilities and have a soda.  Then we continued on.

There is a junction in Korogwe where a dirt road heads up into the mountains.  This road ends at Lutindi Mental Hospital, another Lutheran institution, located at one of the highest altitudes in the diocese.  We turned onto this road in order to stop and visit the home of Pastor Shemkala’s brother.  The scenery was beautiful as we traveled up into the mountains.  We passed some very small villages and could hear music in each as we drove by.  When we reached his brother’s village, several houses were decorated and people were having parties.  Sunday the 20th was the celebration of confirmation in this parish. 

William parked the car and we walked the rest of the way up to the house, which had a large canopy outside and music playing.  Pastor’s niece was one of those confirmed.  There were many guests and an MC for announcements and music. 

 Confirmation is a very big here.  The students go to class several times per week for two years.  It is a coming of age and therefore the cause for a big celebration. 

Pastor's niece on left
Grandparents of the confirmand

We had the opportunity to meet Pastor’s parents and many of his brothers and sisters.  Pastor Shemkala has seven brothers and two sisters.  His parents are in their 80’s and still work their own shamba (vegetable garden) using jembes (hoes) to dig.  One of Pastor’s sisters told us that she was on the staff of Irente Children’s Home from 1969 until 1972.  She is next to Tom in this picture.  Pastor’s mother is in the front in yellow and his father is the third from the left. 

Some of the Shemkala Family

We enjoyed a wonderful buffet lunch with beef, chicken, rice, vegetables and salad.  After our meal, we needed to start for Lushoto.  If at all possible, it is better to be at your destination before dark.  Many of the roads here are rough and there are no streetlights or guard rails.  We were sorry that we were not able to stay longer at the party.

As we walked down to the car, we saw a boy walking with a goat dressed in a kanga.  Tom asked if he could take a photo and the boy said yes.  After the picture was taken, the boy asked for money.  Apparently this young entrepreneur was visiting the homes with parties in order to earn some money. 

We drove back to Irente in plenty of time for Pastor, William, and Isaya to reach Mlalo before dark.  We had a wonderful time and hope to return again.

On the road toward Lutindi

Trip to Handeni

We were invited to visit Handeni this past weekend by our friend, Pastor Lewis Shemkala. We met Pastor Shemkala on our first visit to Tanzania in 2008.  At that time he was pastor of our partner congregation in Tanga. In 2010 he stayed in our home in Cinnaminson while visiting the US with a delegation from the ELCT to our synod, Southeastern Pennsylvania.  A little more than a year ago, he was transferred to Handeni Lutheran Parish.

On Friday morning, William, the evangelist and driver for Handeni, came to pick us up for the trip.  Pastor had offered to provide our transportation since we had never gone there before.

We started our trip at Lushoto Hospital.  Pastor’s grandmother was being discharged with stage 4 cancer.  His wife and other family members were accompanying her home to Mlalo, further up in the mountains.  Former Bishop Jali offered prayer before they left on their journey.  He began with the first verse of “Shall We Gather at the River” in Kiswahili and continued with prayer.  It was very moving for all present.  We offered to postpone our visit, but Pastor had obligations in Handeni that required his presence there.  He would go to Mlalo on our return.

The drive was about four hours.  The first two hours were familiar to us…down the mountain to Mombo and then east to Korogwe (where we go for an ATM machine).  At Korogwe, we went south on a newly rebuilt highway. 

Handeni is a town in Handeni District.  This area is known as the Lowlands.  The scenery is so different from where we usually travel.  The roads going east and west follow the Usambara and Pare Mountain ranges.  Out one window, you see tall rugged mountains.  Out the other side is the Maasai Steppe, mostly flat, dry land.  In some areas the tallest things are trees and termite mounds.  Going toward Handeni, the land was rolling with some higher hills in the distance.  It was much greener than we thought it would be because of recent rains. 

We passed through several villages and noticed an increasing number of houses with thatched roofs. We also saw more and more mud construction houses and fewer brick ones.  Because of the colder temperatures here, most homes are brick with tin roofs. 

We reached Handeni and were greeted by Pastor Shemkala’s two youngest children and some members of his congregation.  His home is on the grounds of the church.  The parish is in the midst of completing their new church.  It is quite big and has beautiful tile work and details.  They expect to complete the work by 2015.  We enjoyed chai and spent until dinner talking outside in the shade. 

After dinner, William took us to our hotel which will open at the end of this month.  It will be called the Handeni Hilton, believe it or not.  The hotel has twenty-two ensuite rooms and a restaurant out closer to the road.  Our accommodations were very good and it was cool enough that we did not need to turn on the air conditioning.

In the morning after breakfast, William picked us up and we all went with Pastor and his son Isaya, age 8, to the Maasai livestock market.  Pastor’s daughter Erica, age 11, decided to stay at home.  The market is just outside town and was crowded with many Massai people.  In one area there were cattle, in another were goats and a few sheep.  In a third area, some verdors were selling items like rope, tarps, and sandals.  William told us that the Maasai sell their cattle for various reasons.  Sometimes when there are not enough grasses in their area, they reduce their herd accordingly.  Also, they will sell some cattle and buy others in order to strengthen the health of the herd.  The cows were what we would call Brahma type, with the hump on their back.  Up in the mountains, our cows look like those at home, but this kind does well in the lower, warmer climate.  There are also people who come to buy cattle to resell or to sell for meat.
Pen of sold cattle

Maasai cattle market
cooling down with coconut milk 
After the market, we drove through Handeni to see the shops, churches, and other sights.  Then we returned for lunch.  (It actually felt to me like we did a lot of eating…breakfast, lunch, chai, and then dinner).  We went back to the hotel to rest for the afternoon, since Pastor had some meetings scheduled.  We returned in the evening in time for dinner. 

with Erica and Pastor Shemkala
Handeni parish seems much more relaxed than Kana’s in Tanga.  It is out in the country and people just stop by throughout the day.  In the evening, we sat outside the house and enjoyed a beautiful red sunset and then watched as the sky darkened and the stars came out one by one.  It was also a full moon.  We enjoyed a delicious dinner of fresh fish, chicken, ugali, potatoes, mchicha (spinach) and a salad of cucumbers, carrots and tomatoes. 

Handeni Lutheran Church 

In the morning, we were back at church for the 7:30 service.  The attendance is usually around 300 people at the early service and less than a hundred at the late service, which begins at 10.  A retired doctor named Henry sat with us to translate for us.  There was a younger women’s choir, a senior choir, and a brass group.  The music was wonderful.  We introduced ourselves and Tom spoke about the Lutheran Church’s partnership program, which brought us here to Tanzania. 

Isaya Shemkala
After the first service and another light breakfast & chai, we traveled about a half hour to Sindeni.  Before reaching Sindeni, we were met along the road by a piki piki (motorcycle) driver who led us to our next stop.  We turned off the road onto a dirt track and were led through the bush to the Maasai sub parish.  As we approached we could see and then hear the singing by the members waiting for us.  The young women’s choir were singing a song of greeting.  When we got out of the car and came to them, they formed into a line and danced past us, lowering their head in front of each of us.  This is the custom of asking for a blessing.  So as each girl paused before us and bowed her head, we put our hand on their head and offered a blessing.  There were about 20 members of the choir, all dressed in their traditional robes.  One girl was playing a drum and two had wooden pipes they blew which made a horn sound. 

In front of Sindeni Maasai sub-parish
We were greeted by some women and escorted into a small area off the sanctuary.  They had prepared chicken and rice for us and also gave us each bottled water and soda.  After we finished eating, Tom and I were led into the church, while Pastor and William stayed behind to discuss the service with the Maasai-speaking evangelist there.  The leader of the tribe was named Simon.  He introduced us to the congregation.  He also spoke perfect English, so he translated for us and explained different aspects of the service.  The girls sang several songs.  Pastor led the service in Kiswahili and the evangelist translated into Kimaasai.  The sound of the Maasai language is like music itself.

Because we needed to get back before dark, we had to leave the service before it ended.  Outside Simon and a group of members presented us each with a blanket and a beaded Maasai cross.  We will treasure these and our memories of this weekend forever. 
Maasai beaded crosses