Sunday = Church

18 12 2010

So yes, it’s Sunday and I just returned from church, which lasted 4 whole hours.  It’s not a bad thing, but it’s definitely a new church going record for me.  Normally church only lasts about an hour, so I thinking this means I’m all square with the G-man for the rest of the month? (Just kidding Pastor Kriess if you’re reading; there is a Lutheran Church in my area that I plan on attending later this monthJ)  Let me start from Saturday night, and I can explain how this occurred…

So Saturday night I’m finishing up cooking my dinner of rice, stir-fried veggies, peanuts, and soy sauce (which is a rare commodity here as well) and I get a knock on my door.  It’s my neighbor, Stanton.  He wants to know if I want to go up to the road in the main part of the village and watch TV later, since it is a Saturday night and all.  I agree because I’ve been in my house all day washing clothes by hand and sweeping until I’ve got a healthy dose of back-sweat going on.  Any worries I had about staying in shape are no longer worries.  Typical chores here in Tanzania are enough to keep someone in shape.  Anyway, I finish eating, put on my Saturday night best, and head off to the village with Stanton and Charles.  I’m actually really glad I got such awesome neighbors.  Both are in their mid-late 20’s, both are teachers at the same school, and both have girlfriends in other parts of Tanzania, so our interests are aligned.  Funny how things work out.  But both guys have the prototypical bachelor pads.  Charles for example has only a TV, a couch, a chair, a generator, and a huge poster of his favorite soccer team, Manchester United on his wall.  That’s it.  I dig it.  We go to one of the 3 local watering holes that serve beer in a bottle.  All the other places are basically various sized mud-brick building which serve the locally brewed beer.  I mean, what else do you do during the dry season if you’re a farmer?  For many people here the answer is going to these buildings and social clubs to just shoot the breeze and drink beer until the rains start again.  A large number of people operate this way, since just about everyone I know in town has at least a small shamba (farm).  The major crops here are sunflower (for the oil; it’s what I use to cook with) and maize.  The area I live in, as some of the local elders told me, used to feed the whole of Tanzania.  Their harvests of corn were the stuff of legend.  However, when you cut down all the forests to make room for the maize, they suddenly realized that the temperature started rising, the rain became less, and the rainy season became shorter.  So what to do to feed your family if you can’t grow as much corn on the same piece of land?  Cut down more trees to make room for more corn.  So you can see how this region has been in steep decline for the past few decades, as people struggle to get by.  I half-jokingly call it “The Detroit of Tanzania”.  At one time, it was THE place, but for the various reasons I mentioned above, it’s becoming poorer and poorer.  I don’t say this as an insult to the region, but everyone here tells me the same thing; that this region used to be extremely prosperous and life used to be easier for the people who live here.  Children and adults beg me daily in Swahili for money or candy if you’re kids. Kids who can barely utter a word know how to beg by the time they are one.  It really is heartbreaking, but I have to politely refuse each day, because I don’t have enough money to feed the whole town, and if I give one person or kid money or other items, other people will want it to.  In actuality, I don’t really have that much to give since I am living on a typical teacher’s salary here.  It’s not just me they beg from either; it’s the other teachers at the school and anyone who they suspect may have extra money.  But anyway, back to my story.  Like usual, I get stopped by most everyone on the way to the main part of town.  They want to know what the new mzungu is doing in their village.  When I tell everyone I’m teaching at the local secondary school, they thank me profusely.  Most everyone is extremely welcoming and grateful for me being there and are really quite friendly.  One guy even went as far as to say I was “a gift from God”.  Maybe a little overboard, but the point is people appreciate what I’m here to do.  When I told one man I was going to be here for two years, he stopped and said “wow, two years here; that’s no joke”.  So finally we arrive at the restaurant.  We watch the news (all in Swahili of course) and chat about the Tusker Challenge Cup Tournament that is currently being played.  Tusker is a brand of beer that is brewed here in East Africa, and the tournament is comprised of teams from mostly East Africa and a few other West African countries.  Everyone is completely engrossed in it and when Tanzania plays, all the bars with TV’s fire up their generators and let people in to watch.  Just like America though, they were charging cover for people who wanted to watch; go figure.  I’ve been keeping up with what is happening during the tournament and with Tanzania especially.  It’s a great ice breaker when I meet people around here.  So during conversation, my one neighbor Stanton asks me if I go to church.  I say that I do, and he asked what denomination.  I say “well, I was raised Lutheran, my dad was Catholic, but when I lived in Atlanta, I went to a Methodist Church.”  This blows a lot of their minds, but I follow that up with saying “kwa mimi, Mungu ni Mungu” which means “for me, God is God.”  He is interested and invite me to go to the local Lutheran Church.  Of course I can’t refuse, so I agree to go the next morning at 10:00am.  He says we’ll leave our houses at 10:00am to walk there.  I think, “perfect, I can sleep in and still get my worship on.” 

Fast forward to the next morning at 9:30am.  I’m finishing up my breakfast and still lounging around in my mesh shorts when I get a knock at my door.  It is Stanton.  He says “Are you ready to go?”  I look at my watch and sure enough he’s a half hour EARLY.  Normally this wouldn’t be unusual, but here in Tanzania, NO ONE is every early.  Time is always plentiful, and time will always be there, so why worry about the time?  Life moves at a slower pace here and meeting times are usually just suggestions.  Sometimes people show up 10, 15, 20, 60, or never for a meeting.  It’s more important to stop and say Hi to a neighbor or friend that it is to be on time.  Thus my reason for being shocked that my neighbor is early.  I woof down my breakfast and throw on some church clothes.  About halfway there, I realize that I think we are going the wrong way.  The night before, Stanton told me approximately where the church was, but hey, I’m new here and I may have the world’s worst sense of direction so I don’t say anything and chalk it up to me not knowing where the heck I am.  Next, Stanton tells me that since I’m a visitor and new to the area, the preacher will probably have me stand up and introduce myself.  I’m initially shocked, but say sure, ‘hamna shida’ (no problem; some of you may know “hakuna matata”, but that isn’t used here… only in Kenya where they speak ‘dirty’ Swahili will you hear that.  A saying here goes that “Swahili was born in Tanzania, got sick in Kenya, and died in Tanzania.”)  He also mentions that the preacher may ask me to “receive Jesus into my life”.  At that point I stop, look at Stanton and say “Are we going to the Lutheran church?”  He gives me a puzzled look and proceeds to tell me that no, we are going to the local Pentecostal church (also known as the ‘born again Christians’.  My heart skips a beat as I think to myself “oh wow”.  It’s not that I have anything against the Pentecostal church, but if the preacher starts talking in tongues and tries to get me to convert, I wouldn’t know what the hell to do.  I tell Stanton it’s no problem as God is God and the church doesn’t matter to me.  In reality, I’m pretty damn scared.  Obviously joining the Peace Corps I was signing up for some new and unique experiences, but I didn’t know if I was ready for this one.  We get there and the service has just started.  The church is a one room concrete structure with a tin roof, really pretty nice compared to the houses nearby which are all made of mud bricks.  Half the inside has concrete flooring and the other half is still dirt.  There are bags of concrete in the corner, apparently ready to be used to complete the flooring.  There is only a hand full of wooden benches with no backs, two chairs at the front, a table, a small pulpit, and pink and purple cloth interwoven covering the front wall.  People who can’t sit on the makeshift benches have grass mats on the floor (all women and children).  There are about 40-50 people there, all of them standing, dancing, and singing.  The site is pretty awesome; all the ladies are dressed in their kangas (super colorful print cloth) and one child is playing the drum.  I then realize two things.  First, all the people are dancing and I have ZERO rhythm (Audrey can verify this, as she is the dance expert).  Second, I can’t really sing either, and it sounded like every other person in the room could do these things with no problem.  So Stanton and I find two seats just as the opening song is finishing.  The first part of the service consisted of some announcements (again, everything is in Swahili).  Next, about 6 separate choirs all did a song and dance.  First up were the smallest watoto (children) and each group of people getting increasingly older until what seemed like the young adult choir finished things up.  All the routines were similar.  The group would start from the back of the church, do a modified African line dance to the front of the church, stop, and do another song and dance, then d a line dance back to their seats.  It definitely was pretty cool. Then after the choir performances came offering #1.  Everyone, including me, sang and danced up to the front of the church to drop some money in the offering box.  The preacher then came back up and started talking rapidly in Swahili.  I understood enough to know that now was the time he wanted all guests to stand up and introduce themselves.  However, during his whole speech, he was pretty much looking directly at me, as was just about every other face in the place.  It’s kinda obvious I’m not from around there, being the lone white person and all.  So I stand up and introduce myself using my best Swahili.  I say my name, my home is America, I’ve been in Tanzania for two months, but will be living here to teach math at the secondary school.  Everyone’s faces light up, as they are surprised that the mzungu knows how to speak Swahili so well (I don’t say this because I’m an ego-maniac; I don’t think my Swahili is that great but rather the previous volunteer here didn’t speak Swahili that well apparently, so I think they appreciate the effort).  Anyway, the preacher proceeded to preach.  I understood about 10% of everything he said, but Stanton was able to fill me in on the rest.  Next, we took offering #2 using the same process as offering #1.  At the point we had been in church for 3 hours.  I thought we must be close to being done, but apparently today was a special ‘Pastor Appreciation Day’.  I was actually enjoying the cultural experience so I didn’t mind, but I hadn’t planned for such a marathon service.  My back was killing me from sitting on the tiny wooden benches and my stomach kept growling.  Next, people started processing in from outside, singing and dancing and carrying bundles of wood, clothes, money, charcoal, and various other gifts to put at the front of the church as gifts for the pastor.  After all the gifts had been placed, the pastor and his family knelt at the front of the church on a grass mat and about 65% of the church started walking towards the pastor, all talking loudly and apparently saying their own individual prayers.  A few of the women started weeping uncontrollably.  This continued for about 15 minutes; best as I could tell they were praying for the health and well-being of the family, but I wouldn’t figure out why some people were crying… maybe when my Swahili gets better I’ll have an answer for you.  After the prayer for the pastor was finished, a couple of the items were auctioned off and the proceeds given to the church.  My neighbor successfully won a bidding war with another lady for a kanga, which he then gave to the lady.  He also won two plastic bags, which he again gave to the lady so she could carry her kanga home.  Finally, we all processed out of the church while singing a Swahili version of amazing grace.  Even if you’re not a religious person, the experience would have been surreal.  We processed out of the one room church and stood in a circle; the African savannah stretched out behind the church, with storm clouds rolling in over the foothills in the background of the church. Before I knew it, 4 hours had flown by and it was 2:00pm.  The only thing that could complete this Sunday was a gourmet breakfast, so I decided to make French toast with fresh mango.  As the winds picked up and the storms eventually rolled in, I cooked my breakfast on my little charcoal ‘jiko’ with my front door open, a breeze with the scent of rain gently blowing through my house, and watched the rain start to fall.

Even though I enjoyed the experience, I’m not sure if I can do 4 hours again next week, so I’m planning on checking out the Lutheran church and the Catholic church sometime soon.  If nothing else, it’s a good way for me to get to know my community, which is essential if I want to have any type of impact here.  That’s all I’ve got for now, but next time I post I’ll try to get pictures of my house up on facebook.  Tutaonana!

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2 responses

21 12 2010
Don Kreiss

Hey Glen!

I am reading your posts and love hearing what life is like for you while in Africa. Re: church attendance: I’m afraid your suspicion was correct; historically, the Church has frowned on the idea of banking hours on one Sunday for the rest of the month :). That being said, know that you are in my prayers here. I hope your Christmas there is filled with joy and peace. Pastor Don

20 12 2010
Dan Carlson

Glenn, please don’t be bashful of your dance moves. Many of us know your great dance moves from Rick’s.

Glad to see everything is going well. I am very impressed you can speak Swahili. Sue would be proud.

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