On the road

The Diocese of Newala. We are en route from Dar es Salaam to Mtawara, a drive of close to 600 km. We set out a bit before eight this morning, making our way out of Dar and heading south. We’ve passed through several different districts, and many different landscapes – high up on ridges, down in valleys; forested areas with many trees, orange trees, palms, the massive dense round foliage of mango trees; lowlands where people are growing rice; roughly-defined fields of cassava, peas, corn, sorghum, always with a few banana trees near a home or settlement. Oswald explains that the land has always belonged to the nation, to nobody and everybody, though private land ownership is beginning now. So people just build a little home and plant a plot, wherever there is space and water, wherever looks like home.

We’ve passed through many small villages, the main road lined with small shops and stalls and people selling goods off trucks and bicycles: clothing and cloth, eggs, fruit, furniture, pots and pans, hardware and building equipment, root vegetables, sugar cane, SIM cards, trinkets. We stopped to use the bathroom (choo) at a cafe, and were surrounded by young men trying to sell us tangerines, bananas, and wood carvings. We bought the first two, not the third – I was taken with a balancing bird toy, but doubted its delicate parts would arrive home intact. The tangerines were sweet, the bananas firm and tart, delicious. It isn’t the right season for mangoes or pineapples, though we’ve seen a few of each, but orange trees are heavy with bright fruit, and we’ve seen piles of shiny pale yellow passionfruits for sale – I am eager to taste those again!

This far from Dar, the road is much more heavily used by pedestrians and bicyclists than by cars. Bishop Oscar toots the horn whenever we’re coming up on someone, to warn them to stay clear and safe on the side of the road.

We just stopped to take photos of several baobabs near the road – massive and noble, gray and shapely, like elephants. So beautiful, and bigger than the photos will show.

A long stretch of this road, the  main national highway that runs north/south near the coast, is under construction. Tree trunks across the road tell you you can’t drive here. Instead: a sandy (or muddy) unpaved temporary roadway running parallel to the main road for kilometers at a time. It was a very bumpy ride! Along that stretch we saw several monkeys, on the side of the road  – scurrying away, keeping well clear of people and cars. One a mother, with a juvenile sitting nearby. We’ve shared the road with several herds of cattle – beautiful colors, big heavy horns – and one of goats. Tending the flocks: Maasai, in their wraps, leaning on thin walking sticks; boys not much older than my eight-year-old son; or in one case, nobody at all that we could see.

Buildings we have passed… Wattle and daub, a basketwork house daubed with mud to fill it in, with palm thatch roof. Cinderblocks, with corrugated tin roofs. Cinderblocks plastered, stuccoed and painted, peeling and untidy or neat and bright. Some of the nicer buildings are churches (kanisa Katolika, mostly), medical clinics, and mosques – usually white and minty green, with a small tower for the PA system they use for the call to prayer, topped by the familiar crescent moon and star.

Most of the vehicles we pass going the other way are long-distance buses, ferrying passengers from Mtawa or Lindi up to Dar. They are brightly painted, drive too fast, and sometimes lean alarmingly. One has the words “WiFi Classic” painted in big letters high on the windshield. We discuss this seeming contradiction in terms. Oswald says, “Wifi classic… so that would be… just talking!”

Paula asks Oswald about village life, life for the people who live in these tiny settlements. The men may travel for work, or commute in to the nearest town, for a day or week or month at a time. Women stay home in the villages, tending children and chickens and gardens and small fields, making charcoal to use and sell, going to kanisa or msikiti, selling and buying a little at the local market. The children go to school – there is universal primary education through 7th grade here, and most kids seem to attend to their studies. If a child does well enough in school to go on to college, or if a member of the extended family does well in business or politics, then people from the village might journey to the big city for a visit with relatives. Otherwise, they may spend their whole lives in the village, never going far. No discretionary income to spend on tourism, no real reason to travel.

It’s hard for us to imagine that life, but it’s been the way of life for most of humanity, throughout our time on this planet. I catch a glimpse of an older woman, sitting in the front door of her home, head in her hand, appearing pensive. What does she think about? Does she pass her time in prayer? Reflecting on the day’s news? Planning how to stretch the food available across the week? Does she meet up with friends for energetic conversations about politics, cooking, her children’s and grandchildren’s accomplishments or failings?

Bishop Oscar tells us a little of the origin story of the Diocese of Newala. It was formed only a few years ago, in 2009, by splitting the Diocese of Masasi. The diocese was just too big; it was too hard for a bishop to get around and visit everywhere. (Of course, right now Bishop Oscar is interim Bishop of Masasi as well as Bishop of Newala, and before that he was interim Bishop of Arusha for a while, so he has been driving A LOT the past couple of years!) The Diocese of Newala, says Bishop Oscar, began with $100, a (working) tractor, and a (non-working) Land Rover. That was what the Diocese of Masasi was able to bequeath to the newly-formed diocese. Bishop Oscar sold the Land Rover, used the money to buy motor-bikes for as many of his priests as possible, and was able to get a new car as a gift from a friend. And so the Diocese of Newala began. It had 39,000 Christians to begin with, and is up to 43,000 now, in 224 churches. The diocese is roughly shaped like a bow tie, with a narrow waist. Mtwara is at the tip (the coast) of the eastern lobe, but there are only a few parishes and churches on this side of the diocese. Bishop Oscar says that the missionaries were based in Newala, so there is a much higher concentration of churches and parishes on that side, and that is why the diocese is named for Newala even though Mtwara is the biggest city. Also, the population on the eastern end, near the coast, is much more Muslim. (Bishop Oscar explains that a church may just have an evangelist, a lay leader; to become a parish and get a priest, it has to have at least 200 people.)

We talked a little about clergy compensation. Clergy are supported by the parishes, not the diocese; the weekly offering is what they have to live on, in addition to whatever other money-making schemes or work they can do. Some parishes can pay reasonably well, some – in poorer areas – might bring in only Tsh2000 a week (a little over a dollar). People sometimes offer in-kind gifts too – fruit, corn, charcoal. But it’s a thin living for clergy in poor parishes. At one point Bishop Oscar gestured to some of the wattle-and-daub houses we were driving past and said, “People who live in such houses cannot give any offering at all.”

We stopped in Lindi to see the church there (and use the choo – the bathroom!). Lindi is just beautiful, a city spread along a big ocean bay, with turquoise water and stretches of dazzling white beach. We saw a few small hotels clearly reaching for a mzungu market, so there must be some tourism there, but it seems fairly undiscovered – and worth discovering. We met an evangelist (who will be ordained priest next year) at the parish, and Bishop Oscar introduced us all – Bishop Steven, Padre David, Padre Oswald, and (a slight pause) Padre Paula and Padre Miranda. Paula and I discussed and giggled about it later, and decided we were just fine with that. Bishop Oscar wants one (or possibly both) of us to celebrate the Eucharist at the cathedral this Sunday. Apparently there is a pretty strong division between High Church and Low Church diocese in the Church of Tanzania, and Newala (and presumably Masasi)  are High Church. There are already women priests in some of the Low Church dioceses, but it’s new for the High Church dioceses. And this is important to Bishop Oscar because there is a young woman he wants to ordain. She is the fiancee of Father Jackan, the assistant priest at the big church in Mtwara, who has been helping us by email and making our arrangements. She is studying at St. Mark’s, getting a theology degree. She is actually Moravian, but Bishop Oscar plans to ordain her as an Anglican priest in his diocese. Paula and I are, of course, tickled pink and joking about sending her a pair of bright red patent leather heels, like the ones we spotted at a recent ordination service in our area!

Half an hour outside Mtwara, near the end of our journey, one of the car’s rear tires suddenly burst. We thought we’d hit a pothole, but couldn’t see one when we looked back, and the tire was really shredded, so we wonder now if it was a flaw in the tire – the kind where if you were in America, you could sue for a lot of money! Bishop Oscar pulled us off to the edge of the road very calmly, there was no panic, and we all climbed out and unloaded the luggage to lighten the load. The four gentlemen of our party got to work, assisted by (eventually) three passers-by who’d been nearby on bikes and decided to chip in.  I wondered briefly how safe it was to be here with all our luggage on the side of the road, nowhere in particular, as the sunset fell, but nobody seemed concerned and there was little traffic. I wandered around taking photos of the sunset, of the team working on the car, on one of our helpers’ Phoenix bicycle lying cast-off in the grass. Bishop Steven and Bishop Oscar working together to take off the spare tire made a great example of inter-diocesan cooperation! Finally the job was done, just as the sky to the west went flaming orange and pink, and we piled into the car to finish our journey, thanking our helpers very much.

All was well – and we only learned later that Bishop Oscar had been on edge, keeping an eye out, wondering if this could possibly be entrapment for him. He fears that he has become a target for kidnapping or worse, because he, along with some other Christian leaders, has been speaking out against uranium mining in the southeastern part of the country, inland north of Lindi. He says the mining is a recent thing and it’s being done in very unsafe ways; the waste is just dumped in the river, and that pollution is having terrible health consequences, like children born with birth defects. We are already thinking of ways we may be able to help with this and cover his back, as much as possible, like by bringing the situation to the attention of some national politicians and public figures in America. Such international attention might help protect Bishop Oscar and support his advocacy. I know people at St. Dunstan’s and doubtless elsewhere in the diocese would be eager to help out with this matter of environmental injustice and irresponsibility, and to support Bishop Oscar in his courageous stand.

Another discussion from the car: I asked Oswald about the word mzungu, “white people,” which we learned in Uganda. My friend Mugagga in Uganda had told us it meant something like “wanderers,” which always struck me funny (imagining East Africans encountering their first wave of white folks and wondering, “Don’t you people have homes to go to?!?”). Oswald said he had never thought about it,  but that there is a verb in Swahili, mzunguko, that means “to go around and around.” So apparently it is true: mzungu means wanderers, and not just in the sense of travelers, but in the sense of people with a tendency to wander around aimlessly. We are very tickled by this etymology.

We arrived at the church compound in Mtawara and met some of our hosts here: Father Jackan, Greta who prepared us a wonderful meal, and Chimko, a kind young man with a lovely smile who later helped me when toilet in my room broke and the water wouldn’t stop running into the tank! After dinner Bishop Oscar wanted to take us to a bar on the beach (we are also on the coast here). The first one – owned by one of the President’s sons! – was closed, but he took us to another, and I enjoyed my first Konyagi (local gin) and tonic in the cool darkness, with the sound and smell of the ocean at my back, as we chatted. That’s when we learned more about Bishop Oscar’s plans to ordain Father Jackan’s fiancee, and about the danger he feels he is in, over the uranium situation. Apparently a Tanzanian journalist was recently kidnapped and tortured for speaking out against the party line. Bishop Oscar says, there is so much that’s good in Tanzania, peace, national unity, many resources, but there are big challenges too and the advantages aren’t always shared fairly. The country should be able to feed its people and more, with its rich resources of land, minerals, and natural beauty, but the country is still in poverty and it’s not always safe to speak out.

There have been tensions and even riots in Mtwara recently because of the natural gas exploration going on here. Last night the Bishop drove us past the big complex where those workers are housed – very new and nice, by local standards. He said people here feel that their natural resources are being sold away in secret; they don’t know who is selling or who is buying, or what the consequences will be, and they fear that there won’t be any benefit to Mtwara and its people for using this resource, so people are angry (quite rightly!). The Wikipedia entry on Tanzania that I read before coming here said that Tanzania has much mineral wealth, but that it has not been much tapped as yet and has not been a significant source of wealth for the nation. Now it seems like that simple observation is one of the flash points in the country today – how will that wealth be tapped, and by whom, and to whose benefit? – and one of the preoccupations of our friend, Bishop Oscar.

The day ended with mosquito repellent (they are bad here; they weren’t in Dar, and we are told they won’t be in Newala!…) and bed. We will spend Friday in Mtwara, seeing a few parishes and other sights here.

Changing the tire!
Changing the tire!
Sunset on the road to Mtwara.
Sunset on the road to Mtwara.
Konyagi and tonic!
Konyagi and tonic!
Paula distributes candy to the nursery school kids at the school at St. Michael's, Mtwara.
Paula distributes candy to the nursery school kids at the school at St. Michael’s, Mtwara.

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