Thursday, December 6, 2012

Candy and churches

Day 3...This is just what happened.
Hopefully I'll have time and space to be a bit more reflective later... Today we visited a leper community which I'll have a lot to say about when I have time to write, but here is what we did yesterday: (Wednesday. Now it's Thursday and 10pm and I haven't written yet)

Today was our first full day out doing visits and meeting people. Our Tanzania itinerary is hosted by Bishop Maimbo and the Anglican Diocese of Tanga, one of 22 dioceses in Tanzania, which has 67 parishes. Today we started with a meeting with some diocesan folks, then moved on to the Cathedral to meet the Council and some tree planting, then on to lunch in another building. The Cathedral and diocesan grounds are huge, with health center and many homes of all sizes and building materials (think: straw and mud up to cinderblock), including the bishop’s and several clergy and a small community of nuns.

First, we met with Christopher, the Vicar General, Peter the secretary of the Diocese (both priests), and a constellation of other diocesan folks. We talked with Angelina, the information officer, and she ended up spending the whole day with us. The diocese has BIG plans for the next 13 years, which we’ll hear more about later—the Plan for 2025. John, the coordinator for parish and institutional partnerships, talked a lot about changes being made to leadership structures and accountability in diocesan institutions (dispensaries, hosptials, schools, etc), “so the bishop isn’t in the middle of everything.” The last bishop, who was ousted after a lot of fraud came to light, “wanted to be both a referee and a player...” Well said, John.  Thus independent boards.

In all this expansion—starting a junior theological school (sort of like a pre-seminary for 17-19 year olds) as well as opening a nursing school, the aim is for things to become more self-sufficient and grounded in “both mind and heart.”  One challenge the diocese faces is geography—it’s very mountainous, and it’s hard for people to travel. But about 80% of households have a radio, so why not start a radio station? Someone in our group asked, “Why not TV?” and he responded that only about 30% could be reached that way. I did, however, take a picture this afternoon of a cow standing behind a house’s large satellite dish, so you never know how long it will take for that to change.

I asked about what interfaith ventures the diocese was engaged in, and was told that with so much work they were doing in the world, they were able to serve all people in their schools, hospitals, etc.  We did see a few girls wearing veils as we walked by the Cathedral school, and Tanzania is about 35% Muslim.

After our meeting with the diocese, we walked down the hill past several houses and the school. We looked around the Cathedral and sat to listen to introductions from the leaders there, and then went outside for some tree planting to celebrate the relationships being formed “and to allow friendship to grow.”  Given that the rainy season has seriously let down the people of Tanzania, I’m more optimistic about the friendship than the trees. But it was delightful.  When they clap the older ladies kind of make this “AY AY AY AY AY” guttural sound that is fantastic.

After the tree planting some of the school kids showed up and the candy and bubbles came out, which was super fun.  There were also a few toddlers around who didn’t know what the bubbles were, and they were very impressed. I have a little video of it I can post when I have better internet.

Then we went to lunch—rice, fish, goat, chicken, rice, plantains, pineapple, ugalu (a corn-based kind of solidified porridge), vegetables—so much food!  We said our goodbyes, and we drove further up the mountain to St Alban’s parish. Let me point out that today I got to ride in the nice van, with individual seats, unlike spending four hours sandwiched in the back of a smaller jeep with Tom Shaw and his sister Penny as I did yesterday…

At St Alban’s we had the most amazing welcome—the car couldn’t make it over a ditch in the road that lead up to the church, so as we walked up the women of the parish (and a few men) walked out toward us singing and brought us into the church. We then each introduced ourselves and heard from Richard, the priest, and sang together. Then we each were called up and received a traditional cloth wrap—some of the women had their heads and bodies wrapped, while it was put on me like a skirt. The men got them over their shoulders and around their bodies, and Bp Tom’s outfit was completed with a straw hat…pictures to follow. There is a great one of Tom Mousin (the rector of St John’s in Charlestown) and me posed together looking quite regal. At least he does, because he’s about 18 inches taller than I am.

At St Alban’s more candy and bubbles—yay—and Heidi Marcotte, the youth director from the parish in Duxbury had soccer balls signed by kids at her parish. St Alban’s has a Sunday School building and a playground funded by All Saints Brookline, complete with a ping pong table that reads, “God love children.”  
I am feeling less lame about the worthlessness of candy and bubbles. More theology later.

THEN back to the hotel, quick rest, back out for dinner hosted by St Andrew’s parish with some of the other clergy from the deanery. More of the same plentiful food— we in the Northeast really do know what a pineapple is supposed to taste like.  Unfortunately okra is kind of yucky even in Tanzania, as I’ve also found it to be gross in Indian as well as Southern cooking.  Nowhere is perfect.

Back to the White Parrot for drinks and bedtime…tomorrow will be even longer, so I am going to bed!

ps: insane inequality moment of the day: opening my copy of Sunday’s Boston Globe Magazine. It’s hard to read about someone’s “traditional English club” style bathroom renovation. Because the school we visited literally had a hole dug in the ground with a shed built around it.

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