Malolo, Tanzania: Thursday May 19, 2006: Following a “seminary student breakfast” at the vacant Carmel College, we performed a little Catholic politics. Father Shabas felt that it would be very important for us to visit the diocesan center and do a little “show and tell.”
We made an official call to the office of the Rev. Father Mafuataa, the African vicar who was the chairman of the health care committee for the diocese. The vicar was so very happy to see us and followed us clear out to our car expressing his gratitude for our coming. Now he would be able to make a good report about his activities to the area bishop.
After Father Shabas finished running some of his errands and arranging for me to go to an Internet cafe to send an e-mail to Anna Marie and let her know that I was still alive and surviving in Africa, we were ready to move on.
We headed Father Shabas’ old tired Land Cruiser toward another needy Catholic dispensary located at Malolo. Sister Mary Jo of the Kihondo facility would accompany us, as would the head of the Carmel College Seminary. The old vehicle did not have even a hint of air-conditioning, and the Tanzanian sun was direct and very hot as we were quite close to the Equator. But, Father Shabas said he would drive very fast to make up for the inconveniences. I didn’t necessarily need to hear that.
It took us almost four hours of very hard driving to reach Malolo. The route took us for about five of those miles through the Mikumi National Game Park.
As we were driving through the game park we were able to spot four elephants, about 50 giraffes, gazelles, a water buck, and lots of ugly baboons. Certainly no one would argue the fact that Tanzania is one of the most beautiful countries in Africa. And I have motored across a lot of the continent!
I mused at the way the Catholic fathers handled the sisters when they got a little pushy or overbearing in their suggestions. They would simply answer, “Look, if I would have wanted a woman to tell me what to do I would have married one.” That usually would put the conversation back on track.
We had come to a village just before we had crossed a large bridge over a river. When Father Shabas turned off the roadway and started “four-wheeling,” I thought for sure that he had gotten lost. After 45 minutes of dodging around huge boa trees and down into dry creek beds through narrow passageways through the giant thorn bush trees, I could conclude nothing less than the fact that truly he was lost.
But, out in the middle of “nowhere at all,” we came to a large village of brown mud-brick houses. Just dirt trails connected the hundreds of mud dwellings. Meals were being cooked over open fires built on the dirt just outside the doorways into the shanties.
At the end of one of the trails toward the outer limits of the village the missionaries from India had cleared a large plot of ground. The plot had been covered with heavy bush undergrowth of thorn bushes and savanna grass. The largest forest of “candelabra trees” I had ever seen grew on the perimeter of the cleared plot. I was told that they had to clear and burn thousands of the trees.
But, on that large cleared plot of land the Holy Cross Sisters and the Carmelite Friars had built an impressive campus of buildings that presently formed a Christian boarding school. The first year of existence was just coming to a close. But I was privileged to see the school in full action under the intense management of the sisters from India. The first year had opened with 66 students from across Tanzania. There were classroom buildings, administration buildings, water wells, and storage tanks.
As we drove up to the school the girls were playing a game resembling soccer but allowing the use of the hands. All the boys were burning up their energies with shovels, rakes, and hoes, and planting trees and bougainvillea plants and hedge rows for the beautification of their new school. The next day the boys would be spending that block of time playing sports while the girls did the watering and planting.
The sisters had every minute of every day planned out in curriculum and activities. I was there talking to a group of students about their most recent debate competition when the big bell began to ring and immediately the students ran to take their baths and prepare themselves for the dinner meal.
I needed to hurry to the Holy Cross Malolo Medical Dispensary to get some pictures while there was still some African daylight.
At the dispensary, I was met again by an Indian sister and three African sisters who were in charge there. The nearest hospital to that Malolo village was over 100 kilometers away. If there were ever any serious trauma or accident that required the transporting of the patients, it was just understood that more than likely that patient would die en route to the nearest help.
Again, the plan was to enlist the help of Project C.U.R.E. to help furnish the Malolo facility with necessary pieces of medical equipment and supplies that would allow the dispensary to become a completely recognized hospital way out in the bush. Surprisingly, there were over 15,000 people in the catchment area.
As I toured the facility with Father Shabas and the sisters I often caught myself cringing when I saw something shocking me. In their lab they had a hand-crank centrifuge and a beat-up, old microscope. They were trying to do blood and urine tests for diagnosis with almost nothing but courage and creativity. They simply needed to go back to the beginning and count on starting fresh with everything.
But I could see in my mind’s eye what two container loads of donated medical goods could do if shipped from one of Project C.U.R.E.’s many warehouses in the US. It could miraculously transform their ambitious dream into a life-giving and life-saving station.
When we finished, we all met in the building where the priests lived. It was just across the dusty trail from the lovely little parish church.
The sisters prepared dinner for us, and then I was shown to my sleeping cot. That night things were really hot and very sparse/missionary.
Saturday, May 30
When my alarm went off I was greeted by the delivery of a five-gallon bucket of water and a dipper. I tried to do a diligent job of washing the shampoo out of my hair with one hand while pouring with the other. Somehow it all worked out okay.
It was necessary for us to not delay our return trip because of the length of journey we had set for ourselves. We would drive back through the Mikumi game park as we made our way from Malolo to Morogoro. There we would eat a late lunch and drop off Sister Mary Jo from the Kihondo Dispensary and our Indian priest who headed up the seminary.
But it would be necessary for Father Shabas and me to continue our long journey all the way back to Dar es Salaam. My flight back to London was early enough on Sunday morning that I would need to already be in Dar es Salaam to safely catch it.
So it was back over the busy and dangerous highway to the port city. There was no room for me at the parish house where the Indian priests resided so once we arrived late Saturday night I was taken to another Holy Cross convent and school where they had a spare room. But that time I was not fortunate enough to have a mosquito net. I had to simply pray that the mosquitoes eating my blood didn’t have malaria and weren’t giving it to me in the exchange. And I would simply have to trust in the effectiveness of the malaria medicine that I had taken as a prophylactic.
Sunday, May 21
I was up dressing and packing by 4:15 a.m. The kind sisters took me to the parish hall where I was passed off again to Father Shabas, who successfully transported me to the Dar es Salaam airport to catch my British Airways flight back to London.
It is difficult for me to relate how very much I was looking forward to leaving Africa and going to London. My first trip to Africa had been nearly 25 years earlier, and there had been so very many trips between. I sometimes wondered if there was a threshold extending out on a cumulative fashion.
But I was looking forward to landing in London where I could experience orderliness, neatness; utility of capital assets; value of law, civility, planning, respect; repaired streets; the idea of maintaining and fixing something that might break; people actually obeying the law; advancement based on achievement and not on favor or someone you knew; and a dose of good old civil and personal respect.
And about the time I thought I was dangerously reaching that supposed threshold that would be the time that God unexpectedly let me experience a direct blessing from Him. It was in Kinshasa, Congo, that God had come to me and had helped me work through my future relationship with Project C.U.R.E. It had been in the Stanley Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya, that God had personally come to visit and comfort me. And now, it had been in a Catholic enclave in Tanzania where he had poured out His love and blessing on me through a group of dedicated and holy sisters.
Africa had played a huge part in my personal spiritual maturation. But there were so many aspects of Africa that could “simply wear you slick.”
I was so glad to be going home!
While I was in London, God directed me to a verse in the book of Psalms. The verse helped put all things back into perspective. It was as if London would be a point of re-entry adjustment before I made it back to Evergreen:
“Thou wilt show me the path of life:
In thy presence is fullness of joy;
At thy right hand there are pleasures
For evermore.” Psalm 16:11
God had revealed to me over the past 30 years the path of the good life. He had allowed me to experience fullness of joy, and I was now looking forward to unspeakable eternal pleasures. I had become the “happiest man in the world.”