It’s hard to describe all the emotions I’ve been through today. It will take a long time to process all we’ve been through today.
We started with breakfast in the restaurant downstairs. I just had fruit and tea since the only bread they had was white (why does EVERYBODY serve white bread around here?). After breakfast, we drove to the AICT (African Inland Church of Tanzania) office and met with the staff, including the Bishop.
On the way to the food distribution site we were visiting today, I rode in the care along with Bishop John K. Nkole. He’s a fascinating man. Though he clearly has passion and compassion for his land and his people, it also seems somewhat evident that he enjoys the status he has achieved. We rode in his comfortable, air conditioned SUV with leather seats and good shock absorbers to cushion us against the rough roads. He talked with wisdom and insight about the problems in his country. He said some of the problems were as a result of a former communist requiem that caused people to get lazy and not have enough pride in their country, their government, or their work.
It just occurred to me, as I sit here and process this day, in the context of the last few days, that whenever asked about the problems in their countries, the leaders I have spoken with never blame the west (ie. richer nations) for unfair trade, etc. They always look for internal problems and internal solutions. It would be so easy to blame us.
The bishop also shared some of his views of the church. Most of them were wise. He said, for example, that he didn’t believe in big evangelistic meetings because there was no follow up. “A fire cannot sustain itself without firewood.” He also said that doctrine was not the most important thing – that the thief on the cross got into heaven even without baptism. Another thing he said was that a man had to be willing to change, or else he would end up alone on an island.
What I found interesting about him was that, despite his open-mindedness on many things, he was quite closed-minded on other things. Rock music, for example, should not be allowed into the church.
Our first destination today was a village in the Kishapu district where a food distribution was taking place. This was the last of 3 distributions, as a result of drought in the last harvest year (by the time this food is consumed, they hope the next harvest will be ready).
I have no words to adequately describe the experience of that visit. The people were all waiting for us to arrive. There were hundreds of them. When I stepped out of the bishop’s vehicle, there were hundreds of eager faces looking at me. A couple of women tentatively reached for my hand. When I smiled back at them and shook their hands, the others took that as a signal to approach. Suddenly there were hands reaching from everywhere. Each hand wanted to touch mine. Each face looked for my smile.
It was completely overwhelming. I know now what the queen must feel like when hundreds of people swarm around her in the hopes that they might get a brief moment to clutch her hand.
The tears welled up in my eyes and my throat felt tight. I wanted to tell the “I am not the messiah. Don’t thank me – I have done so little to help you in your plight.” I wanted to run away and cry with the injustice of it all. How could I be worthy of this? Why would I be worthy of their honour when I get to live in luxury and privilege? I should be shamed by them – not honoured. They should hate me for having so much and not being willing to share more. They shouldn’t be worshipping me like this! I don’t deserve this any more than they deserve the lot that they’ve been given.
The emotions didn’t stop there. We briefly helped them fill some bags with maize, and then it was time for the official speeches. I was nearly moved to tears as I spoke of how we were there to support them, just as we knew they would support us if we were in need. I said I knew what it was like to live on a farm and wait for it to rain so that we could have a good harvest.
I thought that we would stay longer at the distribution site, but they whisked us away to our next stop. We visited a few of the fields which CFGB has provided seeds for. The farmers were in the field waiting for us. The woman showed us how she plowed the field by hand held hoe. She showed no expression on her face as we all took pictures of her. It was hard to know if she was feeling pride or shame.
After visiting a few fields, we went to a school where they were preparing lunch for us. We dropped in on a few classes and said hello to the children. The classrooms were stark and bare – most of the children sat on the floor with no desks and only a small notebook to do their lessons in. There were no teaching tools in the rooms.
They took us to our seats in the shade of a big tree and they performed for us. It was marvellous. They had 3 different choirs who’d all prepared songs for us. All of the words to the songs were written especially for our visit. They sang of their gratitude for our visit and support. They also sang of their need for clean water and greater food security.
Lunch was served in one of the classrooms. We were told to eat “halfly” as there was another lunch waiting for us in another village. We ate rice and goat meat and chicken. The jolly bishop encouraged us to eat more. “Food is hospitality,” he said.
Soon, we were back on the road again. We thought we were going to the place where our next meal would be served, but instead they took us to another school. This time it was a secondary school, with both boys and girls for a change. After we signed the guest book (it seems EVERYBODY’S got guest books!), we were taken to an open-air auditorium where the students performed for us – standing in a circle all around the edges of the auditorium. First they sang their national anthem, then a few students performed a poem for us. It was a poem about the dream they have for their school. They dream about more buildings to house more classrooms, a library, and even a computer room.
Ever since those students performed their poem, I’ve been trying to process how I feel about it. For awhile I felt good because they showed initiative and hope for the future. But there was a niggling feeling that that wasn’t really how I felt about it. After talking with Brenda about it, it occurred to me that part of me was frustrated that these children were being socialized to believe that perhaps if you appeal to the rich white Canadians, they will deign to be your benefactors and your problems will be solved. How is that helping the children by making them believe that?
Since then, I’ve had other thoughts about it. If I look at it from a cultural perspective, it makes more sense. Because they have a stronger sense of community, and belief that relationships are the highest priority, they believe that brothers and sisters should support each other. Therefore, because they are not as intent on being independent and don’t have the same issues with pride, they see nothing wrong with asking their “brothers ans sisters” for help. Instead of looking at is as their inferior appeal for our charity, we should look at it as an honour that they recognize us as an extension of their community and that they feel comfortable asking for help.
After the school visit, we travelled to another town where yet another welcoming party had gathered to greet us. This community will be receiving the food distribution tomorrow. Once again, we were swarmed. We were lead to a row of chairs under a tree. The people circled around us (Tim said it felt like a giant hug), and again we had speeches and music. Their music is so refreshing. It is so clearly part of their culture. It flows out of them as a natural, organic extension of who they are.
From my place at the head table (beside the bishop), I took a lot of pictures. I am so taken with their beautiful faces. They all seemed to glow with such expectation and gratitude.
It was difficult to file through the crowd, because they moved in so close to us and wanted to shake our hands.
Another lunch was served at another school. We ate fairly quickly this time as we had to be on the road. Most of the food was typical (rice, goat, chicken) but this was the first time we had sorghum ugali. It had a rough texture – like there was sand in it. Once again, we were served luke-warm pop (I think that was the third or fourth bottle today).
The ride back to Shinyanga was long and rough. I gave up my seat in the Bishop’s car (for Micheline) and rode in the bus. After such a long day, I was exhausted, but I couldn’t sleep because of the rough roads.
When we got back to Shinyanga, we were hosted for supper at the home of Hannukah, a local missionary who works in HIV/AIDS programming. She put out an amazing spread of food. Her home was large and very comfortable. She has adopted a little Swahili girl named Christina. She is gorgeous! Seeing her made me miss my own children.
Finally, after a very long day, I’m back in my comfortably equipped hotel room, ready to sleep.