Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Real Meaning of Christmas (Prepared Dec 27th for Dodoma Mission Blog)

I am a little late getting this in this blog but got busy and unfortunately had another death in the family, this one my oldest brother.  It came as a shock as my nephew, his son, just died only three weeks ago.  I am still reeling from these events, but here goes the original blog I had already drafted:

Charlotte has written her impressions about Christmas this year on the Dodoma Mission Blog.  She is in Colorado visiting our son and completing a number of important tasks that will help St John's University, our living conditions in the concrete bunker, and raise funds to suppliment our projects in the villages near campus.  I stayed in Tanzania because of the cost and someone had to teach her classes while she is gone.  Almost all of the support groups here are funded by an external agency. We are here on our own dime, so to speak, with no help period.  She hopes to obtain fundng for both our basic needs and for St John's as well as our school projects.

My impression of Christmas this year involved traveling to Bayamoyo on the eastern coast of Tanzania near Dar es Salaam.  I was excited about the trip for many reasons.  Dar es Salaam actually has a relatively new shopping center similiar to those in most U.S. cities.  It was good to be able to see modern stores with lots of merchandise. My big find was a business level black and white laser printer that is also a scanner, and photocopier.  It was on sale and actually cost about what it would when not on sale in the U.S.  Dodoma businesses are often dominated by foreigners who work together to keep prices high and keep out competition.  The same printer if available in Dodoma, would cost 30% more. Other purchases were for the trip up the coast to Bayamoyo including a gift for a name exchange between those traveling together to Bayamoyo.

Bayamoyo is a small sleepy town that reminds me of Myrtle and Virginia Beach where we went in the late 1950s and early 60s in the summers.  We stayed right on the beach (No high risers to block the view.)  Cost was only 50.00 per night which included breakfast. Down the road is the oldest Anglican Church in Tanzania. It has the distinct honor of housing the mummified body of David Livingston while waiting to be taken to Zanzibar for burial in 1876.  We enjoyed several meals in the open outdoor restaurants and local historical tours including the slave market, talk about man's inhumanity to man!

On Christmas Day, Dr. Carr, the Dean of Humanities and Education at St John's University had been invited by a former theology student to present the sermon at the little Anglican Church I previously mentioned.  Paul (Another faculty member St. John's) and I walked down the road from our place of lodging to the church.  As we were walking along, a tall slender man passed us and I realized he was a Maasai.  It seemed odd to see everyone else dressed more western style and this individual looked like the pictures in a travel brochure from the Serengeti.  Paul spoke to him in Swahili, greeting him as he traveled on.  Once at the church I observed that men sit on one side and the women on the other.  Lots of children dressed in whatever they had that was Sunday best.  The church was small, maybe holding about 100 people.

Dr. Carr gave an important message.  He mentioned around the world in many countries children were opening lots of presents, but may be missing the real meaning of Christmas.  Having a lot of material things and not acknowledging the spiritual side will leave you unsatisfied.  His message was right on for this congregation. I doubt many, if any presents were opened on Christmas morning at this beach church because just behind the beach facade is the extreme poverty that exists in Africa.  They sang many classic Christmas songs, reminded me of my own church on Christmas eve.  When it became time to give an offering everyone filed to the front to give their donation.  Paul and I gave 20,000 Shillings (about 15.00 USD) each and the group seemed to gasp at the amount.  Think of the irony of that.  We never gave it a second thought that the amount was more than many made for two weeks work.  After church I felt like I had gotten a sore hand from shaking everyone's hand including the children who seemed honored that this old white man smiled at them and bent down to their level.  The whole experience had a reminding effect on what is important about Christmas.

Enough of the serious side.  We had several humorious events occur.  First, while eating at the open air restaurant on the beach the second night, two large gray furry things fell from the thatched roof directly onto the floor.  Rats!  The one who had a soft landng ran under a table of six people who demonstrated their athletic skills by fleeing.  I turned to the bartender near by and and said what are you going to do about it?  He leisurely got a broom and swept the fatally wounded one outside and checked under the table of six, then went back to bartending.  Hmmm..,does this happen often?

Other incidents include going to a posh restaurant 18,000 Tsh (13.00 USD) for Christmas dinner.  That was the easy part.  At the gate the guard tried to charge us 7,000 Tsh each to enter, or 35,000 Tsh total.  After an intense discussion between Christine and the guard in Swahili,  he let us in free.  What I noticed was the age that started for adults, five years old.  I don't care how much growth hormone is put in American cattle feed, no child even in America looks like an adult at five years, maybe a rip off?

The next day when I paid up, the clerk took out a receipt book, put in a carbon paper and wrote me out a receipt, vintage 1950s.  Not a computer in sight.  On the way back we took a 75 mile short cut on dirt roads to save some mileage and time. Christine is an excellent dirt driver.  She averaged 55-60 miles an hour on the dirt roads.  We would come up on a small village and people would scramble up the banks to get out of the road.  Later, literally in the middle of nowhere, we came upon several men putting interlocking bricks on the short street (using the term loosely)  in the middle of the village. The had the road blocked off.  Christine and two of the guys had another of those pay us to enter talks like the guard at the posh restaurant.  This was in Swahili, but I could tell Christine was not winning.  They wanted 5,000Tsh to cross their toll or troll road.  Christine backs up and puts it in four wheel drive and goes up the bank onto the path in front of the huts and dukas and drove through their "front yards" and back down the bank past where the brick were being laid.  The look on the two guys faces was shock.

The rest of the trip was uneventful to Dodoma.  As I think back, Paul and Christine balanced the importance of Christmas and yet gave their children presents.  The two children know what was important about Christmas because they would tell you when asked.  Enough for this time.

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