This past weekend we had the luxurious opportunity to spend some time at St. Philip’s Theological College in Kongwa. Set in hills that lie about 90km from Dodoma, it was our first getaway and it was beautiful. There was a hot shower, corn flakes for breakfast, and a peaceful natural playground of mud, walking sticks cut from the bushes, and rocks that glittered like ‘silver and gold’ to our bright-eyed children. The college there is intended to serve all Anglicans in Tanzania seeking to train for ordination, yet because several dioceses have their own training centers St. Philip’s is struggling to survive. The guesthouse where we stayed remains a good revenue stream, however, perched as it is overlooking a beautiful African vista of hills and plains with the unmistakable Baobab tree dotting the landscape. It was what our second child calls a ‘peaceful place’, a place where it is easy, I found, to be reminded of what it is I am hungry for.
Reminders of hunger are all around us in Dodoma. It is not that people look malnourished, because they don’t. There is none of the vast sprawl of poverty that I remember encountering in India when I lived there in my twenties. It is another hunger that we meet here, most prominently expressed recently by our Muslim brothers and sisters. Over these past few weeks, Muslims in Dodoma – as they have around the world – have been fasting for the holy month of Ramadan. The day-long observance of devotion and abstinence from food and water is punctuated by the morning and evening call to prayer. It is loud, but it is not alone. For this is a land of prayer. Every night from our university residence we can hear choirs practising with vast speaker systems that ensure the singing and distinctive Tanzanian beat can be heard a good distance away. And situated as we are between other university housing and the local village we can often hear several different choirs at once, surrounded by a sea of song drifting heavenward, an ever-flowing reminder of people’s hunger for God.
Episcopalians back at home in the U.S. don’t find that talk about hungering for God comes all that easily. It is not language that we are accustomed to. Yet to hunger and to yearn for, to desire the divine is a tradition of the mystics and of the Bible, and here it is simply how people seem to go about their daily lives. To think of marketing the church or the mosque would be an odd and alien concept in this setting. People do not need to be persuaded to ponder the things of God, to seek grace and beauty in their lives in the company of others, they do it as naturally as they eat and they seem to wish to satisfy a hunger for such things continually.
It was on our way back from a church gathering in Kongwa that one of our boys discovered to his great delight a piece of honeycomb in the ditch. He held it close to him, as the photo shows, inspecting its tiny crevices for any speck of honey that his tongue may chance upon. He did not find any, but I am pretty sure it will not stop him looking. Imagine such a hunger. Imagine looking over each hole in the honeycomb of your life. What is it that tastes sweet? What is it that has run dry? What has become broken, cut-off from the rest? These are the questions that come easily here. I hope to remember them.