Delbarton in Tanzania
Posted July 18, 2012
In June eleven Delbarton students and three faculty members traveled to Tanzania on a BEADS (Benedictines of East Africa and Delbarton Students) mission. This was the School's sixth summer service mission in Africa. Click here for an album of photos, taken by BEADS moderator Brian Theroux and School technology assistant Christian Zollers, documenting the experience.
Read on for Theroux's trip summary...
The first night, as all nights in Dar es Salaam, we slept in the abbey’s guest house. We were completely shocked by the first day of travel, even though we knew to expect it. But then, we had no idea what lie ahead…
We went to a place up the coast a ways called Bagamoyo. First stop was the ruins of a 13th century Arabic mosque. The mosque was the site where Arabs came to retrieve slaves. Some of us had no idea that Arabs traded slaves, and being there was emotional. The structures were made entirely from coral. Just a short distance from the ruins was a 16th century European fort and slave trading center. In far better condition than the Arabic ruins were, the fort was really interesting, and visually spectacular. While it was run down now, it was easy to see that it was impenetrable at one time. Heading back to the monastery we got stuck in horrendous traffic for three hours before getting back. We had a delicious, traditional meal of ugali and went to bed.
The goal for the day was to get to Iringa, a town at the midway point of our trip to the village of Chipole in the Songea region. The drive was long, starting with the predictable hour long traffic jam getting out of Dar. During the ride we entertained ourselves with jokes, books, singing.... Some wanted to see all they could as we drove along, so were content to watch the land go by out the window. We saw a lot of very foreign-looking activities. We finally got to Iringa for badly needed rest. We fell asleep to the sounds of dogs and crickets, and woke to the sound of roosters.
We were excited to get to our destination because… well, because Chipole and the following destination Hanga were the real point of the whole trip. Another reason we were excited is that previous visits to Chipole told us we could expect them to be very excited to have us there, and that the girls- students- would most definitely dance and sing and expect us to do so with them.
Other places/things of interest that we passed on our second day on the road:
Once we got into the higher elevations, the temperature dropped to about 70 degrees. Our drivers were from Dar, and complained that it was too cold outside. They turned on the heat in the bus! We offered to loan them jackets if they would turn it off, and they kindly agreed.
Cassian, our host, recommended a restaurant, and we pulled off into a small town to have lunch. They saw us coming, and began making preparations to accommodate a group of our size, and as we went inside, we saw a man ride up on a bike with a cage full of chickens on the back of it. We subsequently heard the chickens being slaughtered, and later they were served to us. It was the sweetest, freshest chicken we have ever had!
I brought some articles written over the years about Tanzania for us to read. One was on the rinderpest plague, which most had never heard of. If you never heard of it either, so click on the link to learn more.
On one very sharp curve, the guardrail was totally missing. As we rounded the bend, we looked across the valley and saw the oil tanker that had fallen through. An oil tanker! Amazingly, a group of guys had arrived with 5 gallon buckets, and they were looting the oil to take home.
The bus ride was somewhat long and uncomfortable, but it was a great opportunity to catch up on summer reading and sleep. We finally arrived in Songea town at 6:00. We were exhausted and cramped, but we weren’t done yet. We had another few hours to go before we got to our destination. Half that time was spent on the paved road, and then we turned onto a dirt road. …no, not that. Forget the mental image that just popped into your mind when you read “dirt road.” That’s not what it was. This was more (no,less actually) than that. It was ridiculous. Rain grooves, rocks, you name it made it more of a runoff or a drainage ditch than a road. The idea of driving a bus on that “road” was preposterous. Yet our driver turned to drive on it.
When we came to a stop in Chipole, the girls crowded against the door of the bus waiting for it to open.
The hospitality was staggering. We felt totally undeserving of it. They were really excited to be good hosts, and it was our responsibility to let them, difficult as it was.
More roosters. They do have their charm.
The school was very simple and absolutely crumbling and filthy by American standards. But this is a private school; among the best in the region. Outside the school we toured the farming plots where vegetables are grown, and the grid where they dried maize and sunflowers. Then we saw the posho-mill (posho is maize flour, often cooked with water to a porridge). The mill was delivered by last year's the BEADS group from Delbarton and has been in constant use. Nuns use it to grind maize into flour, and the mill saves them many hours of tedious work each week.
After lunch was a tour of the dam. The dam is hydroelectric, and powers the whole Priory compound. We met Sister Hildegard, a trained engineer, one of the Sisters who run the dam. She was exceptionally kind and shy, but knew what she was doing. It was unusual to see a nun, in the middle of 200 miles of nothing but dirt, running a high- powered hydroelectric dam. Odd, but awesome. We loved Hildegard.
After supper we broke out the s’mores to share with the girls. They enjoyed them, calling them “very sweet”, and we all spent the remainder of the night talking and teaching one another as well as dancing and singing of course. Jeez, those girls love to dance.
By this time, we were accustomed to our environment. In the morning we took a ride to the Orphanage run by the Sisters of St. Agnus. The sisters run an orphanage, a primary school, a secondary school, a trade school (did you know that Benedictines are really into education?), plus a culinary and nutrition school, a butchery, a commercial bakery, a medical clinic (they call it a dispensary), and the hydroelectric dam. They also produce far more agriculture and livestock than they need to self-sustain.
The orphanage was sad in the way you’d expect, but the kids were in good health, and seemed happy as kids go. The Sisters told stories about many of the 72 orphans, and how their parents were dead, or ill, or mentally ill, and about how some kids that were left for them in awful health, and they hadn’t expected them to survive. They didn’t say it, but we assume there are some who don’t. We did see a graveyard on the premises. We were also made very aware of how well we are able to care for our kids in America. Although it was sad and difficult to see, it helped to share some cheer with toys and candy.
The only thing we did in the afternoon was play soccer. In the end, Delbarton actually won 4-2, but it’s worth noting that half of the Tanzanian team was wearing either no shoes at all, fancy Italian dress shoes, or flip-flops.
The Sisters of St. Agnes is a religious order, that is attempting to canonize a former member, Sister Bernadette, who died in the sixties, and did a lot of good while she was at the convent. Locals still come to the Sisters to tell them stories about how St. Bernadette had helped them, so the Sisters scraped together enough money to begin the beatification process. In the meantime, they are asking for widespread prayer and awareness of their efforts.
We took a walking tour with Br. Cassian in Songea, and saw a normal day in the market place. The market was fascinating. As we walked into the centerpiece of the market – a large covered area where people had shops selling grain and vegetables, the mood changed. People still stared, but there were many people in tight quarters staring, and here, they broke into smiles first. And then they started yelling to us. They shouted words in English, excited for a chance to test their English on American customers. It was heart-warming and encouraging. We tried to respond as best we could to as many as we could in both English and our slightly improved (but still primitive) Swahili. It must have been good enough because they were absolutely delighted with our efforts. Everyone wanted to touch us or shake our hands, or high-five. You would think that at least for a moment it would be uncomfortable, but it wasn’t. This was truly one of our favorite moments so far.
Another hour-long bus ride to Hanga Abbey, and our traveling was done for the day by about 3:30. By this point, an hour was a joke. We could have done it on our heads.
Ah, but Hanga Abbey was a site for sore eyes. A big, clean building with hot water, lots of food and friendly monks, and most importantly western toilets! We almost cried. They also had electricity, although they turned the juice on only between dusk and 10:00pm. We settled in happily, and had a brief tour, where we met Fr. Angelo, the principal of the secondary school.
It was an awesome experience walking through Hanga interacting with people and just getting a feel for what living in that town was like. During our scavenger hunt we were also able to check out the primary school, run by the Abbey, called Saint Laurent one of the top schools in Tanzania, ranking as high as 17th in the country.
Later in the afternoon, we had a soccer match with the students from the secondary school. We were still feeling pretty proud until our competition walked on to the field wearing bright jerseys. They looked very good and we later found out they were really good.
Funny thing about the African sunset; it doesn’t really slip below the horizon as it does at home. Instead, the sun seems to lower, hover over the horizon for a bit, and then just disappear just above the horizon! How can that be?
We had our breakfast and began our day with a ride in Fr. Angelo’s Land Rover to see their water storage and formation house. The water storage was a giant tank drawing water from a natural spring atop the highest nearby hills. The water works looked like and insignificant mound of concrete, but its effects on the thousands of people living in the Hanga area are profound.
The formation house was something different. When the students graduate from secondary school, if they want to pursue a religious career, they may attend the formation house to prepare them for application to the monastery.
At 4:30 we went to visit the secondary school for a registration event they were having, and to mingle with the students. They loved the chance to practice their English, and the girls were smitten with our strapping Delbarton boys. It helped that we gave out candy. The schools here are difficult to conceive. They are small, crammed with kids, dirty, ill-equipped, and with marginal electricity. Most of them have a room piled high with donated used books, but the topics don’t fit with the curriculum used in Tanzania.
We stayed till dark, and then rushed back to the guesthouse for dinner. That night after they turned off the power at 10:00 some of us went out to see the night sky. We spent a half hour out there staring at it. People talk about the incredible stars that can be seen in the absence of light pollution, and the Tanzanian night sky more than lives up to the hype. In fact, none of the descriptions do it justice; I recommend you go see it for yourself someday.
Dinner was in a different room which they had decked out for us in balloons and streamers. A fancy dinner was served, followed by some lovely appreciative speeches and another cake ceremony. I gave a speech which I'm told was pretty good.
We got up early on Sunday to go to mass. It begins at 7:00 in Swahili, but otherwise beautiful.
The total travel time for the day ended up being an hour less than expected, and we stayed the night in a lodge just outside Mikumi National Park. We were leaving the following morning to be in the park just after dawn.
We took the bus directly into the park. Sounds odd, but the park roads were by far not the worst we’d already seen this bus handle. The tour lasted several hours, and then we got back on the road for Dar Es Salaam. We found The Spur, an American West themed steak and ribs place. Yes, we were still in Tanzania. We promptly ordered steaks, our mouths watering for some tender meat. After dinner and a short half hour ride, we were back at the guesthouse we had originally stayed in upon our arrival in country. We would stay the night, and then head to the airport the next day to come home. We did some very creative re-packing of our bags to prepare the trip home.
The following rising juniors and seniors joined our BEADS mission this year: August Atencio '14, Peter Badenhausen '14, Justin Barnish '13, Matthew Caldwell '14, James Downey '13, James Guider '14, Michael Karrs '14, Jack Murray '14, Patrick Newell '13, Coles Romaine '14 and Brian Walsh '13. If you want to learn more about the trip, ask them to fill you in.
If you are interested in participating on an upcoming Delbarton BEADS mission in Africa contact me here.