On our second day here in Dodoma, in the back yard of one of the missionary families who have so warmly welcomed us into this community, one of the moms asked me what sort of sabbatical this would be for me with our three kids in tow. ‘Perhaps less sabbath and more a change of scenary’, was more or less my answer. Having time together as a family was actually one of my hopes for these two and half months. Hope for it or not, it is what Monica and I got! And there have been some trying times for us as parents as our kids have negotiated all of the newness that has been thrust upon them: new food, a new living space, new insects, new language, and customs and a life that is lived largely without the comforts of home. People have been very generous in sharing toys and books and most of all their time with us. The kids have become fast friends with several of the children here. Sweaty football (soccer) games, rope swings, ant hill explorations with sticks, even a zip-line in one back yard have all made the transition to African time and place easier. Besides the odd cut knee and a few moments of meltdown on all sides of the parental-child equation, we have managed well and for the next two weeks we have all three kids enrolled in a local diocesan school (Canon Andrea Mwaka School: http://www.cams.ac.tz) where they can play with western kids and Tanzanians, which is a great opportunity.
For Monica and I, that same opportunity to come alongside those around us has been harder with Tanzanians than it has been with the missionary community. Part of it is just the sheer challenge of the language barrier. With those who speak English, which includes the theology faculty, the Vice Chancellor of the University (who is pictured here looking very dapper as we celebrated his birthday in our place this week) and some other faculty members, we have been able to develop a friendship. And with our students, who are the Tanzanians with whom we get to spend the most sustained time, we are able to learn more about how they see the world and their faith within it, which is a real gift. Yet for the majority of students and staff, our inabilty to speak nothing more than a few words in Kiswahili, the language of the people here in Tanzania, has limited our interactions significantly.
On a regular basis, the closest I get to coming alongside the student body at large is my daily pilgrimage to ‘the tree’, pictured here. It has the marvelous distinction of being the best place on campus to pick up the wi-fi and so doubles as a study center and a prime location for socializing. My personal social breakthrough at the tree came this morning as I tried and failed to access the wi-fi connection – which makes a U.S. dial-up connection look lightening fast – and three of my students called out to me, ‘Hey Pastor Simon’. I had arrived, at last, as a true tree dweller, a man among men. I have called you by name…and all that.
The other person that I have been trying to get to know some more these first couple of weeks of leisurely stretches of African time, is myself. In honesty, much that I am coming to see is painful to look at, like the selfie you never thought that you would take. There is nothing like time and a completely different place to be to begin to see the cracks in the veneer of the person I had supposed that I was. Yet there is also the great gift of memory and for me conversation and time with Monica to help recall the longings and values of the past that now have a sharper focus. I doubt that I will be renouncing my holy orders any time soon, or taking a year off work to ‘find myself’, but I do hope that this can be a time for an authentic re-discovery and renewal. As they say here in greeting one another, ‘karibu’ which means, ‘you are welcome’. It is the gift of now: welcome to be as I am, as we are, living into the promise that he makes all things new.