Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Day At The Park

Friday morning we packed overnight cases and headed down the road to Ruaha.  Ruaha is the second largest National Park in Africa.  It has a wide variety of animals that live there as well as some beautiful scenery.  We decided that we better go Friday afternoon and Saturday morning – or we wouldn’t make it at all.  After all, we are leaving for Dar Es Salaam and home on Wednesday morning – so there is not much time left!

We headed out of town on the “Ruaha Road.”  We have been down this road twice before on this trip – both times to visit a parish that is starting a SACCOS.  This time however we will go the full 130 kilometers to the park! 

There are two branches to the Ruaha Road – the Tungamalenga turn-off and the “never ending road.”  We decided that we would take the Tunagmalinga branch on the way out and the never ending road on the way back.

Heading down the Tungamalinga branch things seemed familiar – as well they should.  We have been this way twice on this trip – and we have been over this road in other years as well.  The road itself is like most of the roads we have traveled – a washboard here, potholes there, a disappearing bridge or two, and lots of natives carrying wood, baskets, and misc. here and there.  With the roughness of the road it took us about 3 hours to get to the park.

Arriving at the Ruaha gateway, we stopped to talk to the Rangers.  This is the slow time of the year here – it is often raining, the vegetation is lush making the animals hard to spot, and vacation time is over for most.  According to the Rangers, there is only one other guest in the whole park today!
Entering the park we stopped at the bridge over the Ruaha River.  Often you can see hippos and crocs from the bridge.  We were not disappointed today as we spied five hippos feeding and playing around in the water.  Driving on we stopped for giraffes, antelope, zebras, and baboons.  We got to the River Lodge (it is the only one that’s open now – normally there are 3 others) and checked in to find that we are the only two guests expected today!

Ruaha is much lower than Iringa.  While Iringa is about 1 mile above sea level, Ruaha is only about 1,000 feet.  This means that it is much hotter here than back at the house.  As a result nothing much moves (including the guides and the tourists) between the hours of noon and 4:30.  Since we got in about 1:30 or so we had lunch and then went for a rest in our “primitive banyan.” 
Emerging about 4 we had tea and then were off to see some animals.  First we ran into a small herd of elephants playing along the river.  After watching them for awhile we took off for the far side of the park where our guides had heard a lion pride had been spotted.  Along the way we passed giraffes, zebras, jackals, bat-eared fox, antelope, baboons, kudus, and lots of different types of birds – some of which are found only in this park. 

Finally we arrived at the lion pride we were looking for.  This pride consists of ten animals.  They had apparently eaten not too long ago since they were just lazing around.  Two of them kept watch on the river bank, looking over a herd of elephants and antelope on the other bank.  We watched them for awhile (you can drive quite close – we were no more than ten feet away at one point) – they largely ignored us – except for one female who kept eyeing Tom, we decided he must look juicer than the rest of us.

On the way back we stopped to look at the vista.  Ruaha is really beautiful this time of the year.  It is full of wild flowers, flowering vines, and lush vegetation.  Arriving back about 7 we were escorted to our banda – you can’t walk around unescorted after dusk here – there are too many hippos, elephants, and giraffes wandering around the camp. 

A Masai warrior came and got us for supper.  Our camp host was a refugee from Zimbabwe.  Since we were the only people in the dining room, we invited him to join us for supper.   His family had lived there for several generations before being evicted by the current government.  We had a good dinner, a pleasant conversation, and then were escorted back to our banda to fall asleep to the grunts of the hippos in the river.

Saturday started early – up and out at 6:30 for an early morning drive.  We were all surprised that there was not much moving this morning.  Still, after driving around awhile, we started to see some of the morning wanderers.  Finally we stopped for lunch at a spot overlooking the river and the mountains.  A beautiful place for a morning breakfast.

As we drove towards the back side of the park we came across a cheetah and her three cubs.   An adult cheetah is not too common to see, and finding one with three cubs is extremely rare.   They walked across the road just 10-15 meters in front of us.  Mom and cubs seemed to be interested in us as well, but they kept watch from the shade of a large shrub, where they would be extremely difficult for the next group of tourists to see.   

After watching the cheetahs, it was time to head back to camp to check out.  Our entrance fee was good for only 24 hours, after which we would need to pay another $50.  We packed, paid our bill, and headed for home.  

We are greeted as we enter the park

Sandy smiled back

We were greeted again outside our banda

Our digs

The sign next to our cabin

Elephants cooling off in the Ruaha River at dusk

This little lady crossed the road in front of us.  Our guide identified her gender as female.

A jackal looked our way
This lioness licked her chops as she looked at Tom

This is mating season for the kudu, so we saw a lot of them.

Now we know that a zebra is black with white stripes

Sunset outside our banda

Picking through elephant dung for beetles
A bat-eared fox found us curious

So did these giraffes

15 yards in front of us this cheetah took her time crossing

She was accompanied by three cubs

Back at our cabin this fellow looks like he wants us to leave.

The never ending road

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Funeral, Dinner, A Long Drive, And Some Recordings!

We are beginning to wind down from a hectic schedule of village visits and training sessions.  However, we have a few things we need to complete before heading home.  Tom will be recording some additional training lectures by Enock and Itiweni that he will put on DVDs which will be left here to be used in the villages.  We also planned a dinner to acknowledge and thank everyone who has contributed to the development of SACCOS in the Iringa Diocese.   Before either of these things happened however we attended the funeral for Itiweni’s brother-in-law, which was held on Sunday afternoon.

The deceased was a local businessman, only 41 years old, and very well respected in the community, so his funeral was attended by several hundred people.  As far as we could see we were the only wuzungus (white folks) in the assembly, so we didn’t feel like we were blending in with the other mourners.  One of the mourners was the man we buy our groceries from.  He was a very close friend of the deceased and served as the MC at the funeral.  He and many of the close friends and family wore T-shirts with a photo of the deceased on the front and Philippians 4:13 on the back (“I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” – in Swahili, of course.) Since he knew us he ushered us up to the front of the church, where we definitely felt out of place. 

At the end of the church service the assembly all filed past the casket and when we fell into place and reached the bier, Itiweni leaned up from her spot on the floor next to the casket and we hugged – at that point we felt less out of place and more like we were in the right place. 

We joined the funeral procession to the cemetery, driving most of the way, then parking and walking the final distance.  The crowd was so large that the pastors used a bull horn when they were speaking.  The sun was beating down on us, but everyone stayed for several numbers by the choir, followed by a 40 minute sermon, the burial rites, the filling of the grave during several hymns by the choir, and finally a few eulogies.  After the burial, the group went to the home of the widow for a meal, which we didn’t attend.   The meal was catered, and Itiweni told us that they served over a thousand people. 

We went back to our house to get ready for the recognition dinner at the Lutheran Center.  Guests included representatives from Tumaini, Bega Kwa Bega, and the Iringa Diocese.  Many people have helped us in our work to establish these SACCOS, so we wanted to say thanks.  We also wanted to bring them up to date on what we’ve been doing these last six weeks.  After dinner Sandy and Brown welcomed the group with an example of how we handle our language translations during our village visits – with one small difference – this evening Sandy spoke Swahili and Brown was her translator for the wuzungs  in the group.  Not her most eloquent moment, but a fun attempt at Swahili.

Tom, always the professor, had prepared a power point presentation reviewing the history of our involvement in SACCOS in Iringa, and our progress to date.  It included statistics of how the SACCOS are doing so far and video footage of interviews with SACCOS members telling how their lives have been changed by the loans they have received.   

Tom spent Monday at the University recording lectures and getting things organized.  He worked until 6 or so and then picked up a University vehicle for the trip to Nyanzwa (ours is being fixed).  He had to immediately fill it up (it was of course empty) for the trip to Nyanzwa.

On Tuesday we made our 3rd visit to the troubled SACCOS at Nyanzwa.  The Kilolo District Coop Officer and a District Official rode with us.  Leaving at 8 we got there about 10:30.

The Coop Officer went off to talk with village officials – so we waited.  The meeting with the SACCOS members who have paid their loans was called to order at 1:45.  There were 48 members there (there are over 200 SACCOS members – but most of them have outstanding loans and so were not allowed at the meeting) plus 9 SACCOS “officials.”  The Coop Officer read them the audit report, informed them that the SACCOS was not now operating, informed them that the officials had all been dismissed and were being fined and were in danger of being arrested.  Itiweni gave a talk scolding the members and the officials for their mismanagement.  Sandy gave a talk shaming them for taking a community resource and making it into a problem.  Tom decided not to say anything since it was clear the members were finally getting mad and did not need any more prodding.

When the meeting was opened to the members, people started to speak.  One after another they got up to denounce their leaders and vent their anger.  They went on with person after person telling how angry they were and the many problems they had seen.  Finally I told Itiweni it was getting dark and we would need to leave soon.  She talked to the Coop Officer and he stopped the comments and proceeded to have 5 members chosen to collect debts.  These five will go with the village police to collect on the loans over the next few weeks.  If this does not work the law provides for them to be arrested and held until they pay their loans.  We hope that this process will result in the restoration of this SACCOS – but only time will tell.

We left Nyanzwa at 5 and headed home.  As we were driving up the escarpment it was getting dark. Tom really does not like to drive here at night – too many cars drive without their headlights on (some people think that they save money by not using their lights!) and there are many people walking (and some lying) in the road with dark clothes on.  When we got back to our house it was 8:00 and had been dark for an hour!

Today was another day of meetings and taping sessions.  We had meetings with the diocese, with Bega Kwa Bega folks, and then over to the University to tape some more lectures!  Tomorrow looks like more of the same.

The funeral was videotaped.  People feel free to get up and walk around during the ceremony.

The coffin was taken to the cemetery in the back of a decorated pickup truck.

The cemetery is on the side of a hill overlooking the town.  Unlike our cemeteries no one keeps these grounds up.

There were about 400 or so people at the cemetery.

The pastor had to use a bullhorn to be heard by the large crowd.

The man we buy our groceries from was a good friend of the deceased and was MC of the funeral.

People feel free to stand on graves, headstones, etc.  Looking at the
markers we noticed that so many died in their 30's and 40's.

After the grave was filled in it was covered with ribbons
and lighted candles were placed by family members. 

We gave a dinner at the Lutheran center to thank those who helped us and told them what we have been doing.

We had a captive audience for Tom's power point presentation.

Sandy gave a talk in Swahili while Brown translated it into English.

On Tuesday we drove back down to Nyanzwa with Itiweni, the Kilolo Coop Officer, and the District Officer.  We had chai with the pastor's wife while waiting for the meeting to begin.

Then we took a walk to look at the onion fields and the CVP plot.

We stopped by the new school for instruction in one of their school-yard games."

The meeting finally gets underway.

The "members in good standing" chose these five to go with the village police to collect the debts.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Training Sessions Have Finished!

The SACCOS training sessions continue with good attendance, avid listeners, lots of questions, and astute observations.  Our role is mostly recording the lectures, taking pictures and providing child care as needed.  Friday’s lectures covered “Developing a Financial Proposal” and “Managing a SACCOS office.”

Tom was on Radio Furaha again on Thursday evening where the topic was the importance of saving.  He got a lot of questions from listeners.  Unfortunately, the station was having problems with a lot of dropped calls. Tom was able to answer most of the questions, but there was a caller who asked what to do about children who would rather steal than work, and Tom had to tell him he wasn’t qualified to answer that question because he had never had the experience.

We are appreciating the good things about living in Iringa.  The vegetables we get from a local grower are like what we get in Minnesota in July and August.  We’ve been eating fresh sweet corn and green beans several times a week; and beets, tomatoes, peppers, onions and lettuce are delivered to us every Wednesday.  The market offers freshly picked papaya, pineapples, avocados, mangoes, and of course bananas.  In this mile-high city we can enjoy the intense sunshine and when we get too hot, a step into the shade offers a substantial cool-down.  The climate produces geraniums as large as bushes and poinsettia trees.   At night the sky is so full of stars it reminds Sandy of her years growing up on the prairie, only here we see the southern cross instead of the big dipper.

Although we live in the city, our neighbors have livestock, so we hear the familiar sounds of roosters crowing and cows mooing.  Add to that the cacophony of bird songs and dogs barking, it calls to mind the old Vacation Bible School song, “All God’s creatures have a place in the choir, some sing low, some sing higher.  Some sing out loud on the telephone wire, and some just clap their hands, or paws, or anything they’ve got now.”

Before anyone decides to move here, you should know that the power goes out regularly, our water pressure is a strong trickle, our internet is sporadic, and the roads, if you can call some of them roads, well……..we refer you to our blog entries for Kivalamo and Ugesa.

The training sessions concluded this morning, sadly without Itiweni.  Her brother-in-law died very suddenly yesterday while attending a funeral, so Itiweni is with her sister and the rest of her family.
We were back at our house by 2:30 with a whole afternoon ahead of us.  

It's too bad we can't grow trees like this in Minnesota!

At our training session we gave the SACCOS officers all of the forms they will need to run their offices.

Christopher Ugulumu explained how to use the record pads.

He went through all of the forms and had each of the officers fill in examples.
This little attendee needed a nap with Grandma.

It's lunch time!

From his reaction this little guy has probably never seen a picture book!  (He was afraid of the picture of the elephants.)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

SACCOS Training Session At Kihesa

Today we started the training sessions at Kihesa.  All 20 of the new, existing, or emerging SACCOS were represented at our session.  Overall we had 48 elected officials there with another 12 expected to arrive sometime tomorrow.  We are off to a good start!

The day started with devotions by the Kihesa pastor and greetings from Chavalla, the general secretary at DIRA.  Chavalla talked about how important the SACCOS are to the poor in the Diocese and how valuable the program is to all of the villages in the Diocese.   We each extended our greetings to the group.  Tom told them that we had traveled about 3,000 kilometers visiting 22 parishes, and that the assembled group represented (almost) 1,000 members with about 120,000,000 schillings in assets.  He also told them a few stories we had heard from villagers during our visits about what the SACCOS are accomplishing in their lives.

Following introductions and greetings, the training sessions began.  The emphasis on Day 1 was understanding the constitution of the SACCOS.   Each attendee was given a bound, printed copy of the constitution we are asking them to use.   The differences in the constitution for each SACCOS will be the amount of the entrance fees, the share prices, and the minimum purchases – and even those we expect to be very close.

Christopher Ugulumu, the Iringa Coop Officer presented the first class in understanding the constitution.  It soon became clear that even those leaders who have had constitutions given to them before have never really read them (no surprise).  Christopher talked for about an hour and a half before the group broke for lunch.  After the lunch break, the Coop Officer from Kilolo District gave the second class on the constitution.  The constitution and the legal operation of a SACCOS were explained page by page.  During the next two hours there were many questions.  Finally, about 4:30, the discussion ended for the day.

Our last task of the day was to take photos of the attendees. We want to take pictures of each group of SACCOS officers, so every group that had all officers in attendance lined up to have their group photo taken.  (So far there are 12 with all of their officers here – the other 8 should finish arriving by tomorrow).  We made sure we had their names correct, along with the office they are holding, and wished them a good night!  (It was good to note that we remembered almost all of them from our recent visits.  Sandy even remembered which village most of them were from – Tom of course did not!)  It was good to meet the new officers from Itungi.  (You may recall that when we were last there they were holding elections.) 

We chatted awhile with the Kilolo SACCOS officer.  He had been planning on going down to Nyanzwa to supervise the election of new officials yesterday.  Unfortunately he was called to a meeting so he will not make it until next week.  He did tell us however that all of the loans, interest, and fines had been collected.  This means that with the election of new officials Nyanzwa will be back in business and all of our SACCOS will be running well.

There were 48 SACCOS officials in attendance.

Christopher Ugulumu explained the constitution in the morning.

After lunch the Kilolo Coop Officer took over.

During afternoon coffee Tom starting giving candy to the kids.  Soon there was a crowd and Sandy took over.

Itiweni had a few closing remarks.

Sandy not only remembered the officers we had met, she remember which village they were from - Tom did not!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Worship At Ihemi

We went back out to Ihemi for worship this morning.  Our first visit here was in 2001-2 when we were part of the first group from Chrisitania to visit our partner parish.  We have been here numerous times in 2005, 2008, and now!  We have visited all of their preaching points on at least 3 occasions – and maybe more!  Tom has even celebrated two of his birthdays here!  Today we were accompanied by Itiweni and a visiting professor from Tumaini.

When we went to Ihemi today it was a little like visiting distant relatives!  We were greeted by the Sunday School children singing and dancing.  They hadn’t forgotten that Tom likes to visit the Sunday School when he comes.  It was an honor to be greeted by all their smiling faces and enthusiastic songs. 

On the way to coffee with the pastor we saw many old friends.  There was Mama Mchungaji (the district pastor’s wife), Mama Mbembe (widow of the former pastor), Aloyce and his wife, Pastor Kadege, who is the new Ihemi pastor, the chairman of the partnership committee, and many others!  Mama got Tom in a hug and would not let go!  We hugged Aloyce and his wife, Mama Mchungaji, and many more.  It took a long time to settle down to tea!

Pastor Benito Mdembo, who has visited Christiania, was there.  We keep talking about going over to his house to see Mama and the children – but we both have been so busy going places that it has not yet happened.  Benito had been giving a seminar at Ihemi the past few days and left shortly after church for a meeting to plan his oldest daughter’s wedding.

Everyone waited for church to begin until we were finished with tea.  The word was out that this was our last visit this year so the church was packed.  After the service started the pastor called on Tom to give a short talk.  The clapping, ululating, and applause made it hard to hear – we hope it does not go to his head. 

Benito gave the sermon.  He is a fiery speaker and he kept everyone on edge – for the full 50 minutes he used.  The service lasted about 2 ½ hours – what do you expect???

After the service Tom set up his projector to show a couple of videos he made.  The first was the stewardship video from Christiana, the second was the DVD we made after our 2008 Tanzania, which mostly was about Ihemi.  The room was packed for the first video.  Everyone seemed fascinated to see what things were like at our congregation.  When Tom started the video of our last trip to Ihemi there was a great deal of laughter.  People seemed really interested in seeing themselves and found some of the things we had recorded hilarious. 

The rains started as we were having lunch at the pastor’s house.  When we left for home we almost had an extra passenger along to Iringa.  An old man walked back to the truck with Tom (in the rain) and kept saying “Iringa”, which Tom took to mean that he wanted to go to Iringa.  He invited him into the truck and the two of them drove back to the pastor’s house to pick us up.  When Aloyce got into the truck to ride back to his farm with us, he told Tom that this old man lives in Ihemi, he’s senile and goes around asking everyone for money, and he shouldn’t go to Iringa .  Guess Tom needs to brush up on his Swahili!!

After lunch we drove over to Aloyce’s home to buy some eggs.  Among his many businesses Aloyce raises chickens and sells eggs.  We bought 60 eggs from him (30 for us and 30 for Itiweni) and we were given a large sack of potatoes that his wife had prepared for us.  A truly gracious gift and a warm gesture indeed, when we can’t use words to communicate our thoughts and feelings. 

Sometimes words are superfluous. 

The Sunday School children had come out to welcome us!

On the walk to the pastor's house we met many, many friends.

Sandy and Mama Mbembe hugged for awhile and then did a little dance.

Mama Mchungaji had had a dress made for Sandy that matched hers.  We had a hard time telling them apart!

Benito gave a fiery sermon (he is the one standing).

At one point in the service the Ihemi congregation wrapped us in a konga - it was a gift.

The chairman of the partnership committee had had a bad accident last fall.  He has had surgery on his arm so he is not working right now (he is a teacher).

We stopped by Aloyce's house to buy eggs.  He has a lovely family.