I won’t write for long tonight because it’s late and I’m tired, but I don’t want to fall behind in my record.
More about the natural gas exploration here in Mtwara – Bishop Oscar gives us a list of possible players: BP, Norway, Finland, Australia. Maybe Halliburton. Paula says she definitely heard Americans talking gas at the bar last night.
We visit two parishes, very different, in the Mtwara area. One is a new parish, St Bartholomew’s, Lilonde. They have a generous plot of land on a beautiful hillside, in a poor neighborhood of mud huts and simple concrete structures. They are currently worshipping in a church made from several containers with a roof, while they build a concrete-block building. The shell is there; it needs a floor and paint. There are piles of rocks and gravel and dirt outside. Oswald says that sometimes church members bring the rocks with them to worship, so they’re contributing to theproject and really feel that it’s there. We didn’t meet anybody there, just looked around a bit and heart about it. They’ve been working on this church for seven years now. One of their UK partner parishes sends $4000/year to support the new parish. They have about 70 worshippers now. The area is poor but it’s near a road that’s being resurfaced, with drainage ditches and sidewalks!!! on either side – as part of the redevelopment of the port, apparently; more of the rapid and well-funded development that’s happening here because of the mineral wealth in the region. We wonder what will happen to the people in the poorer houses along the road as the development continues.
After that stop, the bishop showed us Mitengo Hotel – a brand-spanking-new, very very fancy hotel nearby. VERY clearly aiming at a wealthy mzungu market – TVs, real showers instead of shower rooms, and hair dryers!! It is beautiful and the staff is very cordial as they show us around but it leaves us all a bit chilled, I think. It is so out of scale to the rest of Mtwara or the people’s ordinary lives. And we’ve heard enough from the Bishop and others about what’s going on in this region.
We also visited St. Nicholas, Mikindani, built in 1932. They have an absolutely stunning, large tract of land, on top of a hill overlooking the bay. It’s beautiful. There’s an abandoned school there. The many church schools in Tanzania were nationalized in 1967. But over the past few decades, the government hasn’t been able to run them all. Many have been shut down. In some cases, churches have asked for the schools back, and are running them again. In other cases, the government has tried to give them back, but the school facilities are in such bad condition that the churches refuse.
This school was closed down some years back. The Bishop thinks it wuld be nice to get it back and re-open it (though I get the sense it’s not a high priority – it would take a lot of money!…)
Fr John Luongo, an elderly priest near retirement, serves that parish (and also, I believe, St. Bartholomew’s). He and his wife served us coconuts, sitting on benches looking out over the bay. St Nicholas is a beautiful old building, very sad and empty now – only 16 worshippers. There used to be a sisal plant nearby , & the commercial port used to be here at Mikindani… so the parish lost people when the plant closed and the port moved to Mtwara. It’s hard to see the parish coming back, but the land is beautiful and surely could be used for someting. We imagine a nice mzungu tourist resort!
Fr John shows us his prowess on his treadle sewing machine – he does some tailoring to help make ends meet. We talk about coconut palms, the way every part is useful – the coconut water and meat, the husks for making crafts and for firewood once dry, the palm branches for thatch and crafts, palm oil for skin and hair and engine lubricants and cooking…! We are high on a hill but the ground is covered with shells, and eventually I realize that they are fossils – white shell fossils washing out of the soft dark red rock. I collect some for my kids.
We visit the slave cells down by the harbor, mostly ruins. Someone wonders why they’re not kept up, preserved for tourism. I think, why would people want to put energy into caring for a relic of something terrible? The walls are made of rocks and chunks of coral. I take a photo of a boat across the street named God Zilla.
We eat lunch at the Old Boma, which is fabulous. Delicious vegetable curry, chapatis, and wifi!!! I take photos of monkeys and a short video, and get to post some pictures and notes to Facebook. We were there a long time & it was lovely. It’s really a neat place, actually – here’s its website. Your next tropical vacation!
This AM before we set out, we met the nursery school teachers and kids here… we handed out lollipops and took their picture (they were very excited to see the pictures!), and the teachers led them in some songs for us. I got one very cute video of a song about a butterfly, a mango tree, and a motorcar. It made me think of the 4K classroom that shares our space. One little girl wearing pink hightops, named Martina, is a real ringleader; she is awesome and we predict great things for her!
After the boma we came home to rest for a little while, then met with the St. Michael’s youth organization for over an hour – great conversation – and with the parish council for about half an hour. We had dinner here at the hostel, fish and rice and greens and fruit, and then the Bishop Oscar took us back to the Hotel Msembo for evening drinks. While we were there, he got a phone call from his sister Mary, who works in the government, to say that they are planning to arrest the Bishop and two other bishops, Lutheran bishops who have been speaking out about the uranium situation and that issue more generally. Bishop Oscar said he told her, Okay, they should come, I am at the Msembo! Goodness me, the evening got intense. We agreed we are glad we’re here to be friends and witnesses, and assured him that we’ll be OK no matter what happens. He says he thinks it probably won’t really happen, it’s just an effort to intimidate him. Still, we are worried for him. I texted Phil an impossibly long message asking him to ask for prayers on Facebook. The more eyes on this, the better, whether anything happens to the Bishop or not – the issue is perennial and real and very, very wrong. A deal happens between a government and a big international corporation; the corporation makes lots of money on the resource it’s extracting, selling it at a healthy markup; the government gets its money and doesn’t bother itself with environmental regulation or re-investing any of the proceeds in the region that the resources came from. It is unfair and sad and angry-making, and we are so proud to be friends and allies of Bishop Oscar, who has absolutely no intention to stand down or change his message. He says, “You have heard of Janani Luwum? I am ready.”
Right now we’re all sitting around in the sitting room of Bishop Steven’s suite, wide awake at 11:30 local time. Bishop Steven is working on an email to Presiding Bishop Katherine and the ELCA Lutheran head bishop to alert them to the situation and ask for them to keep an eye out and be ready to offer support.
I need to try to get some sleep… somehow. God bless Bishop Oscar and his colleagues in their courageous stand.