Masasi to Dar

Friday, July 19… en route from Masasi back to Dar.
One more observation about Bishop Oscar that Paula and I were discussing yesterday. When he’s driving and sees someone near the road who looks like they might step into the road (mostly on foot, but sometimes on a bike or other vehicle), he honks his horn to make sure they know he’s coming and don’t step out into danger. He’s especially careful, and will sometimes slow down almost to a stop, if it’s a young child. Way back, ten days ago, I observed this and thought, Oh, that’s what people do here. But I don’t think it is. I haven’t noticed anybody else doing it. I think it’s just Bishop Oscar. Another manifestation of his carefulness and compassion.

Yesterday evening was full and interesting. The Bishop picked us up around 5pm and drove us back to the cathedral, so we could see inside it (it had been locked earlier). It was built in the 1890s, very clearly with the intent of replicating an English cathedral on Tanzanian soil. It’s huge and dark and quasi-Gothic. It even has stained glass in some of the high windows – amazing when very few churches here even have glass windows at all. (Why would you? – the houses don’t.) The high altar and episcopal throne are particularly impressive. We walk around and take pictures and ooh and aah politely for the cathedral canon who is showing us around. Then, in the car, I tell Bishop Oscar that I like his cathedral better, and the others all agree. Paula says it has more spirit. Oswald says it’s more authentic. Those are both good words for the difference. The canon at Masasi says they have 250 – 300 on a Sunday – not so many for that huge space. I don’t know an official count, but I think there were over 200 at Newala Cathedral the Sunday we were there. Paula wonders if the Masasi cathedral’s location, up high on the hillside, is a barrier for potential worshippers? Possibly.

I question Bishop Oscar a bit in the car about the obvious differences between Newala and Masasi. He says Newala is one of the poorest dioceses in the country, in terms of the poverty level of the populace and all that means for standard of living and opportunities. Is the comparative wealth of Masasi Diocese, one reason the episcopal election has gotten so messy? It’s also a large diocese, lots of territory and churches to influence. Bishop Oscar is tactful but I have the impression that both money and power are factors.

We visit the retired Bishop of Masasi, Bishop Patrick, at his farm outside of town. He has 6 acres around his house,  plus another 20 down the hill. He is sitting in a folding chair under a big mango tree, with his prayer book and Bible on a bench in front of him. It is a lovely and peaceful spot in the evening light. Nearby is a large selection of baby trees in temporary pots, part of his farming project, and a patch of sunflowers. He is lovely, a thoughtful and gentle presence. He asks each of us in turn how we are. We chat for a while, he shows us his new home, we admire the view, and go on to visit the mother house of the Sisters of St. Mary.

Driving up to their compound in near-darkness now, we are met by perhaps ten of the younger sisters and novices, singing and dancing with great joy, and waving flowers and leafy boughs! What a welcome – it brings my heart up into my throat. They give us each bouquets of bright flowers. We have tea with three elders of the community, including the retired Mother Superior, Sister Rehema (Mercy). They feed us cake, tea, peanuts, and bananas, then show us around the compound and the church. We learn the Newala house was the mother house, but they didn’t have enough space there, so they expanded here and made this the new mother house sometime in the early 1990s. The church is beautiful, and the atmosphere of the place is so peaceful and orderly and productive. I would love to come on retreat here with them. They send us away with half the cake, a bunch of bananas, and two big bags of oranges from their trees.

Visiting both SSM houses, we had such an experience of these communities – warmth, kindness, generosity, joy, hope, order, sweetness, good humor, practicality.  They don’t showcase their piety but you can feel it, the bedrock under eveyrthing else. I am in love with the SSM.

Then we meet up with Oswald’s childhood friend Bosco and his brother at the nightclub they own and run, BR Night Park. We discover that one of the Tanzanian breweries makes a decent stout. David and I buy ballpoint pens from a shop nearby – they say “Obama Smoothline” on the shaft.

A thought for when we are able to welcome Tanzanian guests to the Diocese of Milwaukee: we need to make sure they feel as warmly welcomed as we have. When they visit a parish, arrange for people to meet them at the door, singing, celebrating! And make sure they are given gifts, everywhere they go.

This morning we set out from Masasi for the long, long, long drive back to Dar. We broke our journey at Ndanda, a BIG Benedictine monastery and complex, founded by German monks in a little patch of surprisingly European landscape. Beauty, order and productivity, writ very large indeed. Truly amazing. We buy sausage, but though bread and cheese are also produced here, none are available today, alas. We also marvel at their woodworking, furniture, and marble-working workshops. In the church there are painted Stations of the Cross that blow us away. I make a note to think more on the  SSM houses and Ndanda as visions of the kingdom of God. Ordered, joyful, shared, sustainably productive, self-contained yet hospitable and open to all. Ndanda provides livelihood for many in the wider community, too.

A few notes from the road.
At a choo break at the church in Lindi, Oswald gets an email from Sister Helena on his phone: some people have come looking for Bishop Oscar and wanted to know where his house is. They would not tell her who they were or state their business, so she declined to give them any information. They were not happy with that answer. (I can’t elaborate on that; that’s all Oswald or +Oscar will say, it’s probably all Sister Helena said.) +Oscar admitted that Helena had called him earlier and told him the same information. He just smiles at the new threat. I’m relieved that nobody’s caught up with him yet, but he is not going to be safe anytime soon, maybe never. Because he is not going to stand down.

On the road near Lindi, we see several big shiny red trucks carrying giant segments of the gas pipeline, ready to be unloaded and installed. A couple of hours farther north, we see a huge number of them stacked in a lot just off the road. The bishop questions a local, but he has no idea what they are or what they’re for – thinks they’re something to do with gypsum mining. But it’s clear enough: the new gas pipeline is in the works. And what’s also clear, with very little thought, is how off it all is. The gas is for export, and Mtwara is a port; so why on earth are they laying a pipeline to Dar? And even if there’s a reason for the pipeline, why did the pipe itself come in to Dar?  Wonder who’s making money off the contract for all those shiny red trucks to carry the pipeline down to Mtwara? ….

We passed a road-killed leopard on the unfinished section of the road. That’s a first for me.

Strange to drive this road again remembering when it was our first look at Tanzania. Seems like much longer ago than, wow, eight days. It has been a very, very full week. Exploring Dar a bit will be fun, but the heart of this trip, in every possible way, is behind us. Newala….

[And that’s just about it. We spent Saturday and Sunday in Dar es Salaam, staying at the delightful White Fathers’ guesthouse. We visited Bishop Oscar’s Dar es Salaam home and some of Oswald’s family, we shopped for souvenirs and lots of fabric, we rested, we enjoyed wifi!!!, we packed and repacked our bags, we worshipped together in the White Fathers’ chapel on Sunday morning and reflected together on how our journey had touched us and where to go from here. And Sunday evening, Bishop Oscar ferried us to the airport, and after a couple of quick embraces, we and our extensive luggage were hustled off to begin our long long journey home…

Thanks for reading, everyone. And watch this space! This journey was a wonderful beginning. There will be more to come, as we grow this “diosisi rafiki” relationship together.]

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