Monday, December 10, 2012

The Chicken Story

  I'm posting this from our hotel in Kasese where there is excellent internet--yay, family skype time!--so I'll link to a map before getting on with everything else from today.,+uganda&daddr=kasese,+uganda&hl=en&geocode=FTDOAAAdaGDvASmzCsJTt4Z9FzEULMx1w1ClpA%3BFSXMAgAdBQnLASnbueoKLfJhFzFw_syXXXBZJA&gl=ug&doflg=ptk&mra=ls&t=m&z=8

In the air, on the way to Uganda.  We land at 1:00 and then have some time to rest before we get up for the 250 mile drive to Kasese tomorrow.
I’d planned to sleep but between the turbulence and wanting to look out the window that’s not going to happen. We’re all eating the ginger cookies Amy bought on the way to settle our stomachs.

Leaving Tanzania.  I’ve felt uneasy, somewhat, about sending these words out into the ether; these pages have been so unfiltered and unprocessed and I know I still have a lot of that work to do. But I also want to share what’s happening here and in some way capture the torrent of everythingness,  so here we go.

Yesterday’s most notable event was, clearly, the live chicken.  I’ll back up for a little more context first.

There are two priests on the trip—Tom Mousin from Charlestown, and me—and we and Bishop Tom were all assigned to go to different parishes on Sunday morning to preach.  We arrived in Tanzania late Monday night, so we’ve been here about a week. Bishop Tom was also set to do confirmation; 70 confirmands from two parishes in one monster service. We left our hotel at 7:30 am in two cars. 

I’ve probably not specified that we’ve spent from 2 to 7 hours in the car every day. The diocesan offices and Cathedral are in Korogwe, where we were based, but everything else was down dirt roads and up mountains. Sunday we were all going to parishes in Tanga, on the coast, so we had to get up early for a 7:30 departure.  First we dropped Bp Tom off at his parish, right in the city, where the service was already in full swing at 9:15. Then we went to the parish in Amboni, where I was sent. Amboni is also the site of prehistoric limestone caves, which we visited—more on those later.

Colin and Heidi came with me, as well as Canon Peter, to translate. I had some notes for my sermon but had no idea what to expect—they use a lectionary here, but I don’t know if it’s the same. We got a little turned around on the way, so I think we arrived at about 10:00, and the service had already started. They were in the middle of doing a collection so some of the women would be able to attend a Mother’s Union meeting in another town. To up the ante they had a competition between the men and the women (who sit on separate sides of the church)  for who could give more—I think the women won.  Also, highlight of yesterday—girl altar servers! At my church there was a girl thurifer (incense swinger) and at the other church one was carrying a candle. They both had these very tidy little white head coverings—a little bigger than a bandana but not a veil, either. I asked Peter if girls always covered their heads at the altar and he said no.

So that went on for a while—collecting, announcing, etc.
Then I got up to preach! I had made a few notes about Advent; it’s a very different energy to preach when someone is translating so I wanted to be simple.  Peter kept up very well and the whole thing ended up at about 6 minutes; typically sermons are closer to 30 minutes here! But since we missed the part where they do the readings, I had no idea what I was supposed to even be talking about, so it seemed better to keep it short.  And as my friends at Christ Church know, I find brevity to be a virtue.

After the sermon we did our presentation of gifts—we had a set of vestments and paraments (colored robes for the priest and hangings for the lectern and chalice)—and they gave us our gifts, and wrapped Heidi and Colin and me up in fabric.  They did the general collection and people brought money up to several boxes at the front of the church. Others brought bags of things—fruit and vegetables—and one plastic bag that I noticed the woman tuck the head of a chicken into.  So the chickens and the food and everything were just on the floor in front of the altar. I was a little worried about them having enough air, but forgot about it and they stayed pretty quiet.

Joseph, the priest of the parish, invited me up to the altar at the prayers for Communion, which was so, so lovely. As I’ve mentioned before the liturgy here is very “smells and bells,” so it was chanted and I followed along as best I could. Dominique, the area dean, was also there so we were 3. We had communion ourselves and Joseph gave me the bread to give out—again, wow (as Shadrach teased us, yes, Americans are “wow people.”  Anyway, after having been on sabbatical for three months I’ve really missed being at the altar, so I was kind of ecstatic about that.

Then, communion—continuing in the sky high piety trend, everyone opens their mouths to receive the host, so the trick is to kind of shoot the wafers in without touching their lips. Which mostly I was OK with.  Then after that, the priests wash their fingers with water over the chalice and drink it in case any stray bits of the bread are stuck to your fingers. I clearly showed my, ahem, informal habits when I had no idea of what Joseph was trying to get me to do. So now I know for next time. Mea culpa to all the Jesus bits that get vacuumed up at Christ Church! Yes, of course, I do believe that it’s really the Body of Christ, but, but, but. That conversation is for another day. Then the sky opened and it rained and rained, and seeing the girl with the incense on the other side with the open windows (the church is unfinished, with a dirt floor) was heavenly. I didn’t need to think to hard about how God was there, just that God was.

Back to the chickens.

After communion, we said some more prayers and went back to sit down.  The priest started talking and Peter translated for me—“Every two weeks, the parish brings things to support the priest—they bring some food and things that the family needs. And today, they have some thing for you.” So—MONSTER grin on his face—Joseph came over with the bag. “We would like to give you some things.” Out comes one chicken for me, and then one for Peter. Pictures were taken, and they went back into the bag and back to the altar.   They also gave some vegetables to Heidi, which were less photogenic.

After the service, we had more introductions, a history of the parish, a list of things they hoped to do.  The diocese of Tanga has a very impressive “Vision 2025” plan, which lists all their mission goals and how to accomplish them. So, complete with price list and all specifics, we heard about concrete and floors, and buying the space next door to expand, and the women’s saving and lending co op they wanted to re-start, etc. etc.

I said it after our first meeting at the diocese and I’ll say it again—this place is wicked organized. They know where they’re going and how they’re going to get there and the help they need, which is so exciting because there’s a deep sense of building relationship in going somewhere together. This is not just asking for stuff. I was struck by our parish visit on Sunday as compared to the one the day before; we were there on their terms, their regular service, rather than a special meeting in the middle of the day.  They asked about how much it would cost to travel to us, and Heidi talked about how youth could be involved together.  It feels like this trip is witnessing the beginning of something, though of course Colin and the Friends of Tanzania 3 parish group has been working on this for a while, as well as the Diocese of Ohio and an English group from Hereford.

Shadrach, ever the man in charge, told us it was time to move along, so we obediently got in the car to go meet everyone for lunch. “Aren’t you taking your chickens?” Haha, we laughed. But then we were actually in the car, and someone handed the bag through the window to Peter. Chickens it is.  So there they were, sadly staying in the car (in a bag, feet tied), through lunch, through our tourist visit to Amboni caves, and back to home.

Lunch was great. More gifts. More delightful people.
The caves, on the other hand, were both impressive and terrifying.

Let me now say a word about Bishop Maimbo, who is, no exaggeration, a rock star. When we went to Kizara he kept jumping out of the jeep he was riding in to go on top the road and direct the traffic and hold branches back as we rambled through the rain forest. In his purple cassock (ankle length robe worn OVER pants and clerical shirt—did I mention it was 85 degrees? No? Surprise. Africa is hot). In the caves, he bounded forward (again, cassock), climbing up and down and back and forth. The tour included one passageway that was so tight that Bishop Tom broke his glasses, I started to get a little woozy, and we all worried that 6’4” Tom wouldn’t even fit though.  There were also a lot of bats.  Apparently snakes, too, but we didn’t see any and that may have been Shadrach teasing us.  Unperturbed, the man Amy dubbed “Bishop Macgyver” lead us forward.  He kept asking us if we were tired and then making us do more things. Did I mention the diocese is ALSO wicked organized?

Back to Korogwe, another 2 ½ hour drive, to shower before dinner and a meeting. 

It feels like I should offer some profound summing up about our dear friends in Tanzania, or some grand gesture about  leaving there, but since I know the story has not ended and we’ll hear more from them, I’m just going to leave it there.

And the chickens? Last night Shadrach assured us he’d taken care of them.

What I didn’t expect was that that meant he’d fed them and put them in a ventilated carboard box and tied it to the top of the Jeep. Seamus, pray for us.

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