November 26th found us in another world. We had made all of our connecting flights with no hassle and everything was on time. As our plane turned its nose toward Dar es Salaam in preparation for landing we peered out the window. The city was larger than we had expected, the lights seemed to stretch on and on. In that instant I was reminded how the Lord sits above the circle of the earth watching mankind, not wishing that any of them should perish but that all should come to repentance. I looked out on each twinkling light and wondered how many of those dwellings held people who know the Savior.
We spent our first week in Tanzania just getting adjusted to the local time and traffic. We spent a bit of time riding around the city in bijajes. Traffic always seemed to be backed up but that usually didn’t stop the bijajes, they just created more lanes and kept going. As we watched the traffic I was amazed by how it ebbed and flowed. It certainly didn’t look very orderly, but everyone seemed to get where they were trying to go. It was common to see vehicles passing each other with just enough time to get by, squeezing in just in front of oncoming traffic. The main intersections were especially chaotic, and at times the electricity would be out and so would the traffic lights. I still have no idea how we made it through each time but we always did. I realized that having a nice, loud horn on your car is a necessity. If you’re willing to use it you’ll probably be okay. I was surprised by how courteous and helpful most drivers were. They didn’t mind waiting to let another driver merge in, even if he had just bypassed a line of cars by creating a new lane.
We spent our second week in Tanzania with an old friend. Over a decade ago, he attended a school in the States and had spent a good amount of time with Neil’s family. Since then, he had returned home to Tanzania, where his family helps with an orphanage, school and clinic. We were excited to meet up with him again, and he showed us around and told us a great deal about life in Tanzania. We also were able to meet his family, and we enjoyed spending time with their six year old daughter, as well as their one month old baby girl! While we were staying with them, they took us on safari up to Arusha. It was a beautiful drive, and we were taken in by the green hills and mountains that made up the countryside.
While we were in Arusha, we were impressed with Tanzanian hospitality. They made us feel incredibly welcome, as if we were just part of their family. They answered our many questions, were gracious with us when we said the wrong thing in Swahili, and laughed with us over their many jokes. The food was delicious. They served us ugali , which was similar to a thick porridge, and chapati , which was almost like a thick tortilla. We dipped these in various sauces, accompanied by chicken, rice, and beans. We enjoyed chai tea with hot milk and sugar along with each meal. We ate fresh fruit daily, and it tasted as if it had just been on the tree. Before we ate, a friend would come with a bowl, a pitcher of warm water, and soap. They would then hold the bowl for us and poor water over our hands so we could wash up. Cleanliness was very important!
After eating all of that amazing food, I was hoping to get a chance to spend some time in the kitchen and learn a little bit about Tanzanian cooking. I got just the opportunity; in fact, I got to spend almost a whole day with our hostess in the kitchen. She taught me how to cook ugali to the right consistency, and she taught me how to form the dough for, roll out, and fry chapatti until it is golden brown. I also learned how to make lemongrass tea, banana fingers, and several other dishes, including some Maasai foods like ngidere. Our hostess made a great teacher, she was very patient with me and, when I burned a chapatti, we would laugh about it and move on to the next one.
Needless to say, we did not go hungry. The family we stayed with while we were in Arusha came from the Maasai tribe, and they liked their meat. Their tribe has a tradition of slaughtering and barbequing a goat when a new grandchild visits her grandfather. Our friends had recently had a baby girl and were visiting the family so, the goat was prepared, and we were able to partake in the feast! We watched them slaughter the goat, carve it up, start a fire, place the slabs of meat on sharp stakes, and proceed with the barbeque. During the last hour of daylight, the brothers and father cooked the goat over the simple fire on the ground. They brought out some lawn chairs and set them around so we could watch the meat cook. Neil and I, along with a friend, sat in separate group, while the brothers, father and an elder sat in another group. Once the meat was cooked, they hacked a banana leaf off with a machete and set it at our feet. Then they gave us a good portion of the meat to enjoy. We think some of it may have been spleen or liver and the rest of it ribs and leg. After we finished chewing the next course was ready, soup. They had taken the innards from the goat and had placed them in a pot with water and made broth. Thankfully, by the time it reached us, just the broth remained. We swallowed it, thinking about other things. We were able to enjoy more of the soup the following day, this time with various chunks floating in it. Later, we learned that certain parts of the goat are for the women, while other parts of the goat are for the men. We felt honored to take part in their feast, especially after we learned that we were the first Mzungus (white people) to take part in this feast with their family.
The night before we left Arusha we exchanged gifts. We gave them some trinkets and then they told us they wanted us to dress up as Maasai. We obliged, and they put this beautiful dress on me, along with beaded necklaces, armbands, and bracelets. Then they tied a traditional Maasai robe called a shirka on Neil, along with a beaded belt and an authentic Maasai sword. Once we were fully dressed, they stood back, and looked us up and down, and, amidst nods of satisfaction and big smiles they told us that they were giving us these things to show to our churches in the States! We were shocked, neither of us was expecting that! Somehow we managed to thank them, but we couldn’t get over the hospitality and generosity this family had shown us by welcoming us in, making us a part of their family, and then giving us such an extravagant gift! After we had exchanged gifts, we all formed a circle and held hands while they prayed for us. Tears coursed down my cheeks as we felt we had a new family now, brought together by the bond of Christ Jesus. We made memories that we will not soon forget.
Early the next morning we packed into the van in preparation for the long safari back to Dar es Salaam. We had been on the road for several hours when we came upon a terrible bus accident. A bus jammed with people had overturned, collapsing the roof and trapping people inside. We stopped alongside the road next to several other buses and vehicles. The scene of the accident was chaotic- broken glass, blood, women wailing, a line of people attempting to push the bus back over- neither of us has ever felt so helpless. We gathered all the first aid supplies we had, some Band-aids and Neosporin, and walked toward the bus. I found two women in visible distress sitting on the ground, bleeding from multiple areas on their face, neck and arms. I used up what bandages we had, but it seemed so little. We got back in the van and prayed, then drove to the next village to ensure that the police were coming.
Being this close to people who were in pain and suffering reminded us that we are living in a fallen world, still under the curse of sin and death. May we never get to comfortable here and forget that other people are suffering! We know that God has sent a Savior and that though sin and death remain, their fate is sealed. Let us live for that day! And let us live to spread this news to all people!
Isaiah 25: 7-9