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.
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.