Footpaths

At the time of writing this, I have been in Mwanza, Tanzania for nine whole days. Goodness has a lot and nothing happened. I am getting used to not understanding the people that walk by me. I am getting used to being stared at. I am getting used to being far from my wonderful family and support system. I am getting used to being a foreigner. It seems like I have been here forever, and hardly a day. Mwanza is not my final destination; I am taking a month’s stop here for some language lessons from the knowledgeable and terrifying Mama Salala, a robust German woman who has been here some thirty years.

 

I have a lesson for an hour a day and then I study and do the little work that I can still being away from my placement site. One of the things I have been forced to quickly adapt to in Mwanza is the transportation. When I must travel on my own there are three options: walking, piki piki, or dala dala. Dala dalas are vans that take you to various stops in the city. Fare is always Tsh 400 (Tanzanian Shillings) about 18 cents- that is also about what it costs for two bananas. Piki pikis are motorbikes, you sit behind the driver and it is like a cheaper taxi, they will take you as far as your Swahili will allow you to explain. I received many warnings against using them in the US, but here the motto is “check the tires, check the helmets.” However, walking is the mode of transport I have used most so far. I don’t have to pay for my legs.

 

As I am learning my way around Mwanza, I encounter many roads that do not seem to really be fit for driving or walking. However I must change my judgments there because I have seen some masterful feats of driving. I have also encountered some masterful feats of walking. Mwanza is a city that is expanding, and with that comes lots of roadwork. Fine, except there is just as much foot traffic as there is car traffic, and many a time I have come across some large pile of construction rubbish and thought, “now how will I get over this?” Well, each time I just have to take a minute and let my eyes adjust, and each time I find a worn footpath amidst the construction piles. Someone has always traveled through it before I have, and judging by how worn down the paths are, many have traveled before me.

 

As I endeavor to “start” my journey here in Tanzania I think I will do well to remember that while I sometimes feel singular in the things I do, there are always people who walk before me. Even if the path is obscure, I know that God is also walking beside me.

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David and John F.

Sitting in the eye doctor’s office earlier this week, I was doing the things that you do when in a quiet waiting room, playing a game on my phone and hoping the advertisements that popped up were muted and would not start blaring the sounds of the Halloween themed movie preview. My vision fuzzy from already having removed my contacts in preparation for the eye exam, I was not feeling particularly observant. I suppose this is why I was startled when an elderly gentleman sat down next to me and struck up a conversation. “You remind me a lot of one of my granddaughters,” he said. “Are you in school?” I replied that I had just graduated from LSU and inquired about his grandchildren, not really prepared to launch into the long conversation about what I am doing now that I am out of school, I had a gut feeling that David (that was his name) was a talker.  The granddaughter that I reminded him of was still in school and his grandson was taking a year off before looking for a job. “He’s taking some time to travel the world,” he said, “have you ever been out of the country?” And it was with these gently sneaky questions that David coaxed me into talking about my upcoming plans to work in Tanzania.

He wanted to know about the United Methodist Church, were the Methodist Churches in Africa? How were my parents handling this transition? Did I speak another language? I did my best to answer all of his questions. Soon the nurse came into the waiting room to collect me. I shook David’s hand and felt something warm and metallic in his grip. I withdrew to find a large goldish coin with John Kennedy’s face, looking rather contemplative, weighing heavily in my palm. “That’s called a Pop Pop coin,” he said. “Oh,” I replied a little confused trying to recall a currency that used “Pop Pops.” “I’m Pop Pop to my grandkids, and I give them these coins, so they are called Pop Pop coins. I also give them out at my church. I’m Baptist, not Methodist, but every time I give out a coin this week I will tell the person about you and ask them to pray for you.”

The nurse was shifting politely but impatiently, so I made a quick reply of thanks and then hurriedly followed her into the next room. As I was walking away, David called out, “I gave you one with Kennedy on it cause most young people like Kennedy!”

Who would have thought a former president would be accompanying me on my international mission of peace and learning, and that there would be a Baptist praying for me! I wonder if I could enlist the crew of the Enterprise on this mission as well?

 

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