|View into the rift|
Far too much time has passed between blog entries, purely because it has been a very eventful time. And at present, I am writing from our highly atmospheric, candle-lit living room in Addis Ababa, enjoying a long power outage and the novelty of my first night of solitude in a very long time. Paul is back in Arusha with the boys. So, as the parent without kids to put to bed, let me see if I can catch up on 3 busy weeks.
On March 17, Tanzania experienced the death of a sitting president for the first time in its history, with quite a sudden announcement of his illness and passing. Ironically, this happened exactly one year after the first case of coronavirus was identified in Tanzania. Many people were taken completely by surprise, and the country rightfully went into a two-week period of mourning.
personal level, Paul was finally able to return from Ethiopia a few days later.
As we worked and had meetings at Gymkhana, our favorite home office away from
home, we were able to watch many of the somber proceedings on national TV. The
body of the late president was escorted through many regions of the country
over the course of a week. All along the way, the roads were lined with people
waving branches to greet his entourage. Many ran out into the road ahead of the
hearse to lay down a piece of cloth for the vehicle to drive over (as a
souvenir?) – much the way that people greeted Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on
Bible study in the tropics
Some of them, in their fervor to see the president pass, seemed to put their own lives at risk, and sadly 50 people were killed in Dar in a stampede to watch the procession pass by. The funeral was held on a Friday afternoon. Masses of people government officials and foreign dignitaries crowded into tents to honor Magufuli, mostly unmasked. It was an eerie sight, as people maintained complete silence in his honor for at least an hour.
The new president (the former vice president officially takes office within 24 hours) is breaking new ground as the first woman president in East Africa, and she will serve out the remainder of Magufuli’s term – four and a half years. President Samia Suluhu Hassan is a Zanzibari Muslim Tanzanian, with long experience in the government, and she is proceeding humbly but decisively as a new leader. It’s been a traumatic change for the nation, but overall, people are hopeful about their new leader and her direction for the country. And there is no way a woman would have been elected anytime soon – and yet she seems really good for Tanzania. Many people are saying, “kazi ya Mungu: the work of God,” with bewilderment and wonder.
The confirmation class I have been teaching
On the personal level, the official mourning and burial days fell on the Monday and Friday of the final week of our kids’ school term. David was scheduled to perform in the school musical “Matilda” that week, but a light-hearted bit of theatre was not in keeping with the mood of the country. The play is postponed until mid-April, along with quite a few other end-of-term events. On a more mundane level, Paul and I also had much less child-less time for MCC work that week, so we had to squeeze in working around engaging our kids. Paul especially has been under a lot of pressure for work in this period at the end of one fiscal year and the beginning of another.
On the good side, our kids got a three-day sleepover with their best friends here: their parents needed childcare assistance for a special 40th birthday safari, and we were very happy to oblige. And so, we enjoyed all kinds of fun activities at home with four boys: A few board games, swimming, movie night, forcing each set of boys to cook dinner 😉 for the rest of us. And then there was the gingerbread house adventure. We have a family tradition of creating a gingerbread structure every Christmas. But this past December, the kids and I were quite sick right before Christmas, along with finally closing our office on Dec 22, and then right after Christmas we traveled for work, came home and were going non-stop with the handover of the TZ program. We were hoping for a gingerbread white house on January 21, but still ran out of time to do it. Then Paul left for Ethiopia and we needed to wait for him to come back.
So, we ended up creating a Holy Week gingerbread house. Paul is very good at creating gingerbread constructions and gluing them with molten sugar. And then we let the kids loose with a bunch of fun candy. I think it must have been the most intricately decorated ginger creation ever! We also tried to host ultimate frisbee that Saturday, but sadly got rained out after a half-hour. On Sunday, after church, we took all the boys for grilled meat at a local outdoor restaurant and also had a chance to catch up with our friend Vance. It was a very full weekend, and though the boys had a lot of time together, no one seemed to get tired of each other!
The following day, we headed out for our own family “safari.” After a couple of
hours of crucial work, we drove our own car a couple of hours west to Karatu,
the town just outside of the Ngorongoro crater. It’s so fascinating to approach
the abrupt ascent into the crater highlands, formed by a wall of the great rift
valley. And suddenly the weather is much cooler up in the rolling green hills
of rich farmland.
We stayed at a fantastic property that was offering a very low rate to encourage local tourism, as the lodge tries to stay afloat without hardly any foreign tourists. Ngorongoro Farm House Lodge actually includes a large working vegetable and fruit farm, well-arranged and edged with beautiful flowers. All that fresh produce lands on your plate at every meal in the form of fresh salads, make-your-own veg stirfry, and well-stewed eggplant dishes.
The kids' room!
The rooms are spacious and beautiful, and we shared a bungalow with 2 interconnecting rooms and big veranda. The property is enormous, big enough that a walk around the perimeter took more than an hour, in the quiet fresh air. And David especially enjoyed having time in the pool, playing with us, as well as a couple of schoolmates who turned up as well. (It’s a popular place in Arusha!) Oren was reluctant to go on this getaway, concerned that he wouldn’t have enough time to focus on his exam preparation. In between fun activities, he also took time to work on practice tests and revision.
Our big adventure was to finally spend the money and take a day trip into the Ngorongoro Crater—we had been delaying because it costs so much in park fees, as part of the preservation of the area. But we needed to go before we leave Tanzania. We had a really amicable and knowledgeable driver/guide who picked us up at our hotel, dealt with the formalities and helped us enjoy spotting so many animals. It’s definitely rainy season and we were nervous about getting stuck in the mud, but the gravel roads are well maintained.
No seatbelts on safari!
The weather cleared a bit and we had gorgeous views of the landscape going down into the crater. At the same time, the low clouds and passing showers also kept things cool, which meant the animals stayed out in the open in the middle of the day, and photos were better. I hadn’t realized that there is a soda lake down in the crater (makes sense!) with so many different kinds of wading birds, and so I learned about a few new ones. We spotted huge numbers of herd animals, with a pair of rhino’s way out in the distance. The highlight for me was coming upon a serval cat on the edge of the road. She was crouched, tensing, and then leaped high into the grass, hovering and pouncing down upon her prey. She bounced up and down quite a few times before she emerged victorious from the grass with a very fat bush rat in her mouth. She even let us watch her play with the rodent for a while, lose it and catch it again, before she headed down the road to enjoy her meal. Paul has all the best photos with his great camera and maybe he will add some...
We were on our way to the lunch spot and saw a few lions hidden in the tall grass, sleeping. One lioness was almost invisible, except that a pair of golden jackals were pacing around near her, yipping, trying to get her to wake up and hunt so they could enjoy the leftovers! Our guide suggested that we have our own lunch and then return. And sure enough, four lionesses emerged right on time, lying in plain sight just a few meters from us. And then three large cubs tumbled out of the grass behind them, playing, nursing, getting groomed. It was delightful to watch all the interactions of that group for quite some time. We had great views of hippos basking, flamingos flocking, Kori bustards hunting crickets, and a pair of crowned cranes shepherding their babies away from our vehicle. At our lunch site, we needed to defend our sandwiches from a black kite who had learned how to swoop down and steal food from your hand. It was quite a fascinating day of being with wildlife. One of my favorite moments was five minutes of watching a herd of zebras and just enjoying the complete silence except for the sound of their grass-munching. We saw very few other vehicles down in the crater – one benefit of tourism in the time of very low tourism.
Lunch in the garden
We stayed an extra day at the Farmhouse so that we could actually walk around, enjoy the grounds and pool and just experience the ambiance throughout a whole day. Paul had lots of emails to attend to and Oren was studying, but David and I made the most of the time we had!
We returned home on Thursday of Holy Week, in time to have a family supper and remember Jesus’ last supper and foot washing. Although our church has been meeting for worship, we are avoiding sacraments which require a lot of close contact. A large gathering for all the touching of foot washing and communion is out of the question. But our church has been encouraging people to celebrate these occasions with worship at home.
The next morning, I helped lead music for our church Good Friday service. I’m so glad that I can still be part of facilitating worship in this season—it makes it even much more meaningful for me. Yes, we wear masks the entire time we lead singing, and expect the congregation to also sing with masks, and it’s a little harder to breathe, but still very much worth it.
We have some new neighbors on our compound – a family from North Carolina with 3 kids. David has really been enjoying playing with their two boys, who are younger than him, but appreciate all his crazy outdoor antics. Good Friday evening we gathered with them and the founders of our compound to christen a new firepit in the guest campsite. It was very well designed with bench seats built in around it and we enjoyed roasting our sausages, sharing salads and having good conversation while the kids messed around with the dogs in the dark.
Other Saturday activities included making and delivering a birthday cake for our housekeepers’ daughter, and coloring eggs. That was particularly interesting this year as we tried out a new technique batik eggs, using wax to set one color before dipping the eggs in another color.
included an actual egg hunt for the kids (indoor since it was pouring rain!),
before I left to go help another lady with Easter music. And actually we had
lots and lots of people coming to the church – attendance has been more sparse
lately as lots of local people prefer not to wear masks in church and can go
elsewhere, while older foreigners are staying away. It was very joyful to end
the service with self-serve communion outdoors in a big circle and sing the
promise that He will raise us up.
On Monday, we did another frantic morning of work before heading off on another adventure: three days of camping with good friends. We retraced our steps back to the edge of the Crater highlands, to a gorgeous campsite perched halfway up the steep hill. We have camped at Migombani before in the rainy season and really enjoyed it, but we learned from experience how important it is to rent one of their sturdy, furnished safari tents, so that cloths and books and stuff don’t get wet! This turned out to be excellent foresight…
The kids had time for a good long swim together with their friends, and we created a great dinner together with our friends. The stars were shining clear and bright as we sat around a firepit for several hours, talking. It was such a good time for adult conversation since all our kids mix and play well together and took themselves off to different spots to play games.
What a pool!
And finally, we all dispersed to our various tents for the night, with Paul and I in the pukka, high-class tent with an actual bed in it. But when a huge storm rolled in at about 2 am, there was no sleeping through it, no matter how comfy the bed! The thunder was tremendous, rolling off of the rocky hillside above us and the winds were incredible. The older boys next to us got some water in their tent but seemed to be dealing with it. The younger boys never made a peep, so we assumed they were ok…until David showed up at our tent door at 5 am, shivering and completely soaked! I guess it wasn’t that cold, and the 12-year-olds just kept trying to roll over and ignore the fact that their sleeping bags were soaked. But at a certain point, it was too much. Ah well, there was room in our bed for David to warm up.
And soon after dawn, the clouds lifted, and the sun came out hot and intense. Which was good, because actually everyone but us was dealing with wet bedding by morning, but it was all dry again by lunchtime. There’s nothing like a little adversity to make a camping trip extra memorable.
clean up crew
Back in Arusha, we had tons of work to do to catch up on being away for so many days of the kids’ school holidays. It’s really great to enjoy some of our last excursions in Tanzania, but there is definitely a price to pay with the full inbox. Up until now, most of that burden has been on Paul, as the one more familiar with our Ethiopia program and partners. Hopefully, I will be more up to speed on those questions soon.
Meanwhile, there were many home-focused tasks to do before I left for Ethiopia. One of the most strenuous ones involved taking our cat to the vet for de-worming and getting a microchip inserted into his shoulder in case we need to have him travel. The violence and anger the cat expressed was epic on this particular occasion, including the sight of him dangling by his claws from one hand of the vet assistant, while his other hand was valiantly trying to plunge the syringe with the microchip. I told them to use a towel and gloves. Really, I warned them! But instead, we had deep scratches and flying fur, and a long 40 minutes of trying to coax a very stressed and traumatized Tramp out from under the hideout to which he had fled after the successful microchip insertion. Other errands were not so worthy of stories. But the fate of our cat remains undecided at this point. I really love him and love his company, but I don’t think he will be happy in Addis, in a household with dogs that come into the house and sleep on the couch.
A big crew turned out for frisbee on Saturday
And on Sunday, right after church, I left the rest of my family behind to come spend two and a half weeks in Addis for work. Flying alone is pretty easy. But ironically, no one at the airport could believe that my final destination was Addis. Apparently only tourists are flying these days, in and out of western countries. People kept asking, no, where are you flying to after Addis? It seems that very few people are doing routine work travel between African countries. I’ve never had that experience before. I brought along our djembe drum as a carry on, just to get it to our new home. That was a bit of an issue as well. Guitars are fine as carry ons. Not drums. People kept inspecting it, trying to play it and test it through the basket cover we’d put on to protect the drumhead, and it took an extra visit from a security supervisor to affirm I could take it. And then it wouldn’t even fit anywhere in the cabin, so I need to check the thing anyhow at the end of the day. Well, it survived the trip, and so did I. Our very gracious and resourceful logistics officer Wondwesen met me at the airport at 8 pm and drove me to our new home (I was suggesting that I could get a taxi on a Sunday night, but then Paul pointed out that I don’t even know where I live, and I can’t speak Amharic to give anyone directions, even if I knew!)
So, here I am and there will be lots and lots of work to do in these few short days. But I’m glad to be here and to really push forward to get my head in the game and my heart in a forward-looking direction as well.
|Paul on vacation (with computer)|
|no good at selfies. Oh well. we were sweaty from hiking anyway!|
|David the fish|
|many card games in the bar while camping|