I got an email this morning. It was from someone I’ve never met in person — but we read one another’s blogs. I hadn’t posted in a while, and he was just sending a quick email to check and see that all was okay with our family. This email was the seventh of that type in the last week. Which means two things:
- I have neglected my blog for far too long.
- My readers are incredibly thoughtful and encouraging people.
I’ll address the second idea first. I just want to say thank you to all of you who are actively praying for my wife and I in our work here in Tanzania. And I am flattered to death that some of you actually miss my blog posts when they’re not around. You guys are great.
And now on to an explanation of my recent internet absence. I didn’t intend to go radio silent when we first left our home in Geita; it was merely bad luck and busy scheduling that kept me from having part of my mornings to write. Then it was a teething baby waking at 4:00 am. And then it was a hotel without working internet. And then it was — well, let’s make this a game. I’ll post a list of things which I’ve experienced in the last few weeks, and you try and pick out the four happenings that are false. Ready, go:
- Christie, Baylor, and I drove to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and back to meet for a few days with our missionary mentors for marriage, family, and missionary counseling. We respect and appreciate Fielden and Janet Allison a great deal, and are thankful for their willingness to spend time with us.
- Because we were already in Dar, we spent three nights at the beach in Zanzibar, a short boat trip away. A boat ticket that costs Tanzanian residents (that’s us) $16 will cost visiting tourists $70 — just one of the many perks of living in Tanzania. Other perks include having a great deal of patience and paying $4.50+ for every gallon of diesel pumped.
- I ordered some calamari one day while at the beach. The guys went out and speared a squid while I was waiting, and then showed it to me for my approval. But, while cooking it, a big crow swooped down and flew away with the whole thing. I ate fish for lunch that day.
- I dropped our computer on the floor and the glass display screen broke, but the computer still seems to work fine. We spent one morning trying to find out where and how we could get the computer fixed. It, however, has not yet been repaired.
- We went to Spur, an over-rated South African restaurant chain, and Baylor was given her first restaurant balloon ever. Then we realized it was actually the first time she’d ever seen a balloon. We need to get this girl out of the house more often. Baylor also was able to play on a couple of different playgrounds; she prefers slides, but enjoys climbing up them more than sliding down.
- Our brakes went out while we were driving in a parking lot, yet we drove another 30-40 miles that day to accomplish that which was on our list. [A clutch works fine to stop a truck, by the way, provided you know far enough ahead of time that you'll need to stop.]
- We spent three different mornings getting our truck worked on. And Dar is still Africa. While I was able to have my alignment done with a 3D computer system at one shop, another guy repaired our rear axle with a gasket made out of a piece of paper and some silicone. He used to live and work in Geita.
- We did a lot of shopping while in Dar, picking up some items we can’t get in Geita, Mwanza, or even Kigali — or that are much cheaper on the coast. Examples: garden sprayers, a drill, spices, and oatmeal.
- We watched a few movies in a theater, finding that once Baylor goes to sleep at 8 pm, she does just fine in a noisy and crowded public area.
- We went bowling, and I beat Christie by double her score. Poor Baylor never even had a chance. The girl’s a miserable bowler. Too weak an arm.
- At one restaurant on the beach, I ate a 64-ounce steak, 12 jumbo shrimp, and two sides to receive my entire dinner free of charge and get my picture on the wall. And you know what? By far the most difficult thing to finish was the baked potato. I hate baked potatoes.
- I was pulled over by a female police officer. She was supposed to accompany me to the police station in order to actually give me a ticket, and so, she kept mentioning how far away the station was and how long it would take to process a ticket. She simply wanted to forgive me, she said. Then she asked for half the amount of the ticket. I told her I really appreciated her forgiveness, but that I couldn’t pay any money out without an official receipt — that my organization frowns on that, as it might be seen as offering a bribe to a police officer. She let me go without any ticket or money paid.
- Christie got a staph infection that actually probably started more than a month before. So we ended up staying an extra six days and seeing two doctors in four visits before that was resolved enough to return home.
- Christie had to take a pretty strong antibiotic which required that Baylor stop nursing. So Baylor is now officially and completely weaned — and did so cold turkey. The girl now eats like a daughter of Groen.*
- I slew four giant, fire-breathing dragons with only one ninja star and my bare hands.
- We ordered the construction of some canvas folding chairs, but they weren’t ready on the day upon which we’d agreed — or the next day, which was the day we actually needed them. When they finally did come, they weren’t built nearly as well as the display model, and three of them broke while in the selling area. I refused to take them and it took me six hours and a wealthy Tanzanian family buying an entire living room suite to get my deposit back.
- I stepped on three sea urchins the day I was learning to windsurf. I rubbed an unripe papaya on them. It didn’t seem to help at all.
- I ran my second barefoot / minimalist shoe race. It was a half-marathon (again called a marathon), and I finished in 1:53, a time with which I was quite disappointed. But the sun in Dar es Salaam is just sooo hot; I was completely zapped by mile 10. And my foot was still a little sore from the whole sea urchin experience….
- I saw former Tanzanian president, Ali Hassan Mwinyi, in person. At 85 years old he walked the 9k race and finished ahead of a whole lot of middle and high school students.
- A friend of ours ran the 9k race and was the first female finisher and third overall. She got a 100,000 shilling gift certificate to a nice restaurant. She didn’t take us out to dinner, though.
- Another friend of ours (who grew up with Christie in Richmond) broke six Tanzanian national swimming records while we were staying with he and his wife — and he is now quite officially and appropriately dubbed “The Fastest Swimmer in Tanzania.”
- During the 15 1/2 hour return drive to Geita, Baylor sat quietly in her car seat, never letting out even a single, short whimper.
* Our teammates in Geita, the Groens, have three daughters with whom I am very, very proud to share a table. They can’t out-eat me, but they eat Carson under the table at every meal. Of course Carson does lots of things like a little girl.
I’ve been away from the computer for some time now. My parents- and sister-in-law flew in a week ago Saturday to visit us in Tanzania for a short time — well, let’s just be honest and say it… they came to meet the new granddaughter (and niece). It was only a bonus to see Brett and Christie (and Brett and Christie not even in that order). Christie’s sister returned to the states Saturday, and her parents are leaving on Wednesday. These have been short trips, but they will be memorable… oh, how they will be memorable.
I’m a little bit torn about what to desire for visitors when they come to Tanzania. On one hand I’d like them to have a good experience and get to do and see some enjoyable things. I’d hate for someone to take a week or two off work, come to Africa for vacation, everything go wrong, and them return to the states more stressed out and tired than when they left. Also (but to a slightly lesser extent than Christie), I want our families and friends to see while they’re here that we are happy and safe, and that Geita is a place where we can raise our kids in relative comfort.
On the other hand, though, this is not always reality. More often than not, things here don’t go as planned. There are a lot of problems and difficulties to go with the many rewards of being a missionary in Geita. We trust God to keep us safe, and to give us the comfort we need. But we’re not living in suburban America. We have a house that is comfortable — when the electricity is working and when we have water. We are safe here and not in any great danger — though we’re not able to drive in rural areas at night because of bandits, and our home is a target for robbers. Africa is a great place, but it’s not all coffee and safaris.
So I struggle. Do I want my family to have a stress-free vacation in which they leave knowing everything is comfortable and fine? Or do I want them to experience Africa in its fullest sense? I guess I don’t really have a great deal of choice in the matter. Christie’s family, for instance, got the full Africa experience. Not that we planned it that way. It just happened. Africa happens like that. I wish I was able to tell you from their viewpoint what they’ve seen and been a part of, and what it must be like for them. But I can’t. Instead, I’ll just tell you a little about my last week — the good, the bad, and the ugly. In the past week, I…
- preached my first “sermon” in Swahili.
- preached my first “sermon” in a village church.
- had to use quotation marks to describe my preaching as a sermon, because it really doesn’t deserve to be referred to as a sermon. I’ll keep working on the new language thing…
- enjoyed a rural Tanzanian meal of rice and dagaa (sun-dried little fish) with the family and several Christians from the village.
- laughed as I overheard another missionary describe the dirt road on which we were traveling as a good one. [It would have been the worst of roads in the states.]
- was blessed to be able to host Christie’s family in a comfortable guesthouse for the Mwanza portion of their stay. It belongs to a missionary family here who graciously let many use it.
- even in that nice guesthouse, welcomed our guests to Africa by asking them to inform me when they’d like to take showers, so I could turn the water on from outside.
- had a flat tire the day we were planning to go to Geita from Mwanza — but was able to repair it and still get on the road that afternoon.
- had the same tire explode on us at nearly 70 miles/hour on what has got to be the best tarmac road in Tanzania right now.
- had a really really heavy Toyota Landcruiser roll sideways and fall off a high-lift jack, but not before I could hold it up long enough for my father-in-law to put the lug nuts back on the wheel.
- arrived just in time to catch the ferry across a portion of Lake Victoria (in order to get to Geita), only to be told they decided to wash the ferry instead of running it that trip.
- arrived in Geita to a house with no electricity or water. [For those of you who don't know, living without electricity is not that difficult. But water is really important.]
- got water and electricity back in the house. Though there’s still a leak somewhere, so I’m turning the water off every night when we go to bed and back on again in the mornings.
- showed the family around Geita town, introduced them to some of our Tanzanian friends, ate lunch at a little Swahili cafe (think beans and rice), and helped them buy some souvenirs.
- drove the family up to the top of a nearby mountain for a view of Geita from above.
- ran out of fuel on the way down the mountain, but was able to coast and ride fumes to a petrol station.
- took my wife’s family on a nice, relaxing trip to an island in Lake Victoria — that went all wrong…
- rode for the first time a “speed” boat on Lake Victoria.
- rode for the first time a boat on Lake Victoria during a rainstorm.
- held Baylor in a carseat covered with a rain poncho as our boat maneuvered through five and six foot swells in search of a relaxing couple of nights next to a pool — the whole time thinking about that lifeguard test in which I had to tread water for two minutes holding a concrete block above my head.
- ran out of fuel somewhere in the middle of nowhere on Lake Victoria.
- in the end, had a 30-minute boat ride to the island turn into a 4-hour, 15-minute trip — the only time in my life I actually wanted to kiss the ground like in the movies.
- enjoyed one wonderful day on the island — great weather, beautiful scenery, incredible food. It was like paradise, only without the ice cream and singing animals.
- took Baylor for her first swim in Lake Victoria.
- went hiking for a few hours and saw crocodiles, hippos, monitor lizards, bushbucks, and a whole lot of birds.
- woke up to rain on the day we were planning to leave the island. Tried to wait it out, but eventually left in just a drizzle with choppy water and no waves. 1-hour, 45-minutes on that trip. Didn’t run out of fuel either.
- needing to make it to Mwanza that night (for Amy’s flight out the next day), traveled toward the Kamanga Ferry on a road I’d never before been on. It was dirt (of course — as are all but one road anywhere near Geita) and quite scenic. The last part, though, was harsh.
- had the muffler and exhaust system come unattached from the truck as we hurriedly tried to make the last ferry across the lake. We made it, but not without some serious concerns being raised about my driving.
- waved goodbye to my sister-in-law at the airport on Saturday.
- took the car to Fortes’ garage yet again: got the muffler welded back where it belongs, repaired the back door so that it now opens, and spent $1700 on four new tires (that would’ve been $600-700 in the states).
- woke up Sunday to a truck that wouldn’t start. tried for 2 1/2 hours to get it to start and couldn’t. Christie’s parents’ luggages were still in Geita, though, so we took the McNeal’s truck to Geita and left the Landcruiser in the Guild’s yard — where a few of the Mwanza guys will tow it in to Fortes’ today.
- saw a group of people pulling a dead person out of the lake and wrapping his body in papyrus leaves to cover him until they could prepare him for burial.
- shared a meal, worshiped, and had communion with the Groens and Christie’s parents.
- praised God for good news concerning our teammates Daniel and Kasey George and their coming to Tanzania — and prayed for them.
- woke up this morning to no electricity… which means no coffee.
- saw and heard Baylor giggle for the first time. She’s been able to smile for a long time, but this is the first laugh that’s actually sounded like a laugh. It was one of my favorite moments in life so far.
- just got a call about an airplane that slipped off the runway in Mwanza, closing the airport. We don’t know yet if that will affect the Wade’s flight out on Wednesday or not.
So that’s my past week. Christie joked that her parents were experiencing a month of Africa in only a week. I’d say that’s about right. I wonder what my mom will get when she arrives this weekend…. My feelings are quite mixed. I want her to experience Africa, but I myself would like a break.