Saturday, December 26, 2009

This collage includes our driveway and street view, our baobab tree out back, our home (we live on the left side of the building where the confetti-like windows are - right next door to the kindergarten!), our church (you can see our confetti windows in the foreground), the "Welcome to Mtwara, Have a Comfortable Stay" sign, and the sun setting in the back (this photo was taken on our 15th Anniversary in September!). Diane.

On Christmas Eve we attended the 8pm Mass at our parish church next door. We strolled over to the church under a moonlit sky. By 8pm the church the bells were ringing and the church was singing – standing room only! Many Muslims also attend the liturgy because they enjoy the annual Christmas pageant that is enacted by young adults & children. The pageant begins in front of the altar with a Father encircled by his children. The children are quizzing their Father about the Old Testament stories. Abraham hobbles by as the Father explains the story about God’s Covenant & the Promised Land. Later on, Moses appears when the Father is talking about the Exodus & the Ten Commandments. We hear about the prophets foretelling the birth of the Messiah. Soon an Angel appears and sings to Mary in the Annunciation scene. Afterwards, we see Mary accompanied by friends singing and dancing on her way to visit Elizabeth who is pregnant with John (the Baptist). Later Joseph is instructed by an Angel to marry Mary even though she is with child. Then we see a pregnant Mary with Joseph looking for a place to stay. They knock at many doors and sing pleadingly for a room, but there is no room at the inn. Finally, they find a stable and Mary gives birth to the Christ Child – a cause for much celebration and many ooolalations in the church! Angels suddenly appear to shepherds and the shepherds search for the star that leads them to the Christ Child. We see the Three Kings also following the shining star to Bethlehem. There was much JOY in the Church and HAPPINESS was found on many faces. The pageant closed with “Angels We Have Heard on High” in Swahili, but we were able to at least sing the refrain: Gloria in Excelsis Deo! What I found so striking was that this pageant was spoken & sung entirely in Swahili. We did not understand a word of it. Yet the entire performance was deeply moving – even in a foreign language, even in a strange and faraway land. I daresay, that the Christmas story is a story that is beyond words and beyond boundaries. It touches hearts and stirs souls.

After the pageant there was 25+ Baptisms! Imagine all those precious little ones being anointed with the graces of God!

Children from the village often play in our driveway and we love to hear them singing and laughing and playing on the see-saw. Barack, a small boy who is mentally challenged and walks with a limp often plays alone under our front window. I thought he was 5 or 6. Later on, I learned he is 14-15 years old! He has a brilliant smile! During Advent we were serenaded by the church choir practicing Kiswahili Christmas carols right outside our church. Although our home is set in from the main road, we can see and hear all the rumblings of the traffic: large trucks loaded with cashews barreling by, bajajis (3-wheeled taxis) zipping around, bicyclists carting long pieces of lumber, huge baskets of smelly fish, live goats or chickens on the back wheel of their bike. During late spring & early summer bicyclists hauling big bushels of mangos rest under our baobab tree. Our neighborhood is full of life! Oftentimes I thought I heard a baby crying outside, but it was not a baby. It was a herd of goats scurrying by our kitchen window!
And then there is the foot traffic. Women wrapped in their colorful kangas stroll down the road gracefully balancing baskets of rice, basins of salted fish, or ten-gallon buckets of water on their heads. I am always amazed by what people carry on the back of their bikes or on top of their heads! Men strolling down the road clutching live chickens by their feet or women squatting in the dirt behind a small table with pyramids of tomatoes or bunches of bananas for sale. Then there are the young boys selling handfuls of peanuts alongside the road. And the street food – yum! Mhoga, a fried cassava root, is similar to giant French fries but tastier! You might see a vendor heating up a huge pan of oil to fry some fresh octopus. And the maandazi! Much like our donut, but not as sweet. You can also find roasted corn on the cob, hot off the fire. And if you are looking for chickens, there are always hard-boiled eggs for sale – with a dash of salt! Diane.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas to one and all! Far from those we love and miss, we celebrated Christmas in a strange and faraway land. Yes, this was a very different Christmas for us this year. There were no signs of Christmas - anywhere! No Christmas tree. No Christmas lights. No tinsel.No candy canes. No snow angels. No Christmas carols. No Santa Claus. No cards. No gifts.

Finding no signs of Christmas around us, we discovered Christmas in our hearts!

And we celebrated the giftedness of our lives. And the holiest of gifts - the Christ Child. We can't think of a Merrier Christmas! And we hope and pray that all of you, especially our dear family and friends, will have a very Blessed Christmas and a New Year abundant with God's graces. May your lives be filled with much love, an abiding peace, an everlasting hope, and abundant joy. Although you are ever in our hearts, you are greatly missed and deeply loved...Diane

This statue of the Madonna and Child is from our parish church, Kanisa ya Yesu Kristu Mkombozi (Church of Jesus Christ the Redeemer).

Monday, December 21, 2009

"Mama Mzungu! Mama Mzungu!" hollers a street vendor in the midst of the noisey open-air market. Squeezing my way through the dark-skinned crowds and the mounds of rice and miniature pyramids of tomatoes, I realize that I am the only "mzungu" (white person) around. He must be talking to me, I thought. I yell back, "Hujambo!" "Salama!" the friendly street vendor cries. Welcoming me to his tomato stand with "Karibu, Mama!", he hopes that I will buy a mini pyramid of tomatoes for 200 Tanzanian shillings. My hand-woven basket is already chuck full of fresh tomatoes, purple eggplants, red onions, garlic bulbs, giant cucumbers, "Chinese" greens, sweet-smelling papayas, and golden yellow passionfruit. "Pole! Hapana leo. Nimenunua nyanya." (Sorry! Not today. I bought tomatoes already.) I clutch my basket and inch my way through the maze of skinny alleyways in search of a parachichi (avocado). I hear "Karibu, Mama!" not once but many, many times. Tanzanians are noted for their gracious hospitality and I, obviously not of African heritage, am a stranger to be welcomed. But I do not feel strange here at all. For it all seems strangely familiar!

The Tanzanians have the sunniest of smiles! Merely greeting a local in their native tongue will yield not only a mile-wide smile, but a triple handshake (palms, then locked thumbs, and palms again) and inquiries about your day, your family at home, and your work. Every morning we attend the 6:30am Mass at our parish church. Afterwards, we practice our Kiswahili with fellow parishioners. They have been very patient with our beginner's Kiswahili and some of them are very good teachers! Tanzanians love to meet and greet because it is an integral part of their culture. In a flash, strangers become family and one feels very much at home.

Our new home is in the small town of Mtwara which is located on the coast of south-eastern Tanzania, along the rugged patch of coastline that leads to the country's border with Mozambique. Elevated slightly along the Makonde Plateau, the area is one of the more remote locations in Tanzania. We are working with the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing, Germany who run the St. Thomas Aquinas Secondary School. Because the school was relocated on a hill in the village of Ufukoni, the Sisters along with our pastor, Father Patrick, converted the former headmaster's office into our loft-like living quarters. We are steps away from our church and a few kilometers from the school's new location. Soon after sunrise, we make our way through the thatched mud-hut village of Magomeni. As we greet everyone along the way, the littlest of children in the field will yell out to us in their pip-squeak voices, "How are YOU?" Or they'll pop up out of nowhere like Munchkins and wave frantically as we walk by. Sometimes they call "Mzungu!" Then at the end of the day as we make our way home, the little children will be calling to us again and waving with their big smiles. They totally make our day! We feel so blessed to be here! And as we say in Kiswahili, "Tumshukuru Mungu! (We give thanks to God!)" Diane.