New Kids on the Block

Surrounded on all sides by dark faces and flashing white teeth, my eyes wandered from Mama Elizabeth to her youngest boy, clinging to her knee. He was the reason her seven-year-old daughter was so late in starting school; as soon as she walked from his sight he’d wail unceasingly until she returned. The plastic chairs she pulled out for us didn’t provide much cushion and as I shifted myself to the left I mistook a pig for one of the feral dogs that run about, as it was so thin from running through the village all day. The children made no effort to hide their chatter about us, pointing and commenting amongst themselves and smoke from the fire cooking dinner burned my eyes. I strained my ears and focused all my energies to pick out some of the words I could understand, when the realization hit me that I was hearing something else—faint and familiar.

“Baby, baby, baby ooooh, like baby, baby, baby ohhhhh…” 

I can’t tell you how funny and out of place it all was as I realized that, in the middle of nowhere-ville, Africa, with little education and no electricity, I could hear the pubescent chirp of Justin Bieber in the distance.

 I have nothing to say for the world today.

——

We arrived in Kansansa very early Tuesday morning, after a few unanticipated hindrances from the police (they didn’t like how full we’d packed the trailer) and unforgiving muddy road. Our two houses that we’ll be living in for the year (one for they boys and one for the girls) are stationed at the foot of the mountains overlooking the Rukwa Valley, and accompanied by the clinic we hope to get up and running within the year.

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Each house has four rooms and a common area, and we’re currently building a storehouse and a choo area behind the house. We have a plot of land in front of our house for farming tomatoes, corn, onions, beans, etc., which I’m obviously really excited for, and I talked Tori into buying a huge bag of seeds of my favorites: alizeti.

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I’m going to make our houses so pretty with these.

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Getting everything done is no joke, and we don’t even work as hard as the men Tori hired. All day Wednesday, we hauled 10 – 20 lbs bricks down the hill into the trailer and transported them across the property to help build our storehouse. We had a lot of help from the children, who never cease to amaze me with their strength. I had learned how to say, “boss” in Swahili, which is mku and so I ambled down the hill and handed my brick to little Kiza in the back of the truck and to thank him said, “Asante mke!” Big smiles and laughs from the children as I realized I had confused mku (boss) with mke (wife).

Later that day we went exploring around our property in hopes of finding the river. We pushed our way through tons of cornfields, but with no success we made our way down to the village and immediately encountered families eager to talk to an mzungu for the first time. One particularly spirited girl, Rose, who we found out was 19 and pregnant with her first, asked such honest, simple questions it amazed me. Things like, “Why are you different colors?” “Why don’t you cut your hair short like us?” and “What does Pamela have on her face?” revealed just how little knowledge of the outside world most of the people have here. They didn’t know where Asia was, what glasses were and had never talked to a white person before. They laughed and laughed at the way I tied my conga and asked why I did it like that. The women here wear theirs high on their waists and over their skirts to keep them clean; I wore mine knee length over shorts and on my hips since it was so hot while moving bricks. As we walked around the village to visit Mama Elizabeth (one of the good ladies helping cook for us as we’re working this week), I genuinely just enjoyed getting out and meeting our neighbors. I still can’t say much, but I think it means a lot to them to see that we’re trying to be a part of our community.

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The following day we swept and squeegeed all the water used to set the floors in our house out, multiple times, filling it back up with buckets of water to get it as clean as possible and hauled more bricks. The children made the time pass quickly with their cheerful smiles and help. Friday we swept even more out of our houses, hung our curtains and mosquito nets and moved all of our belongings from the clinic beginning the first of many nights in our new homes.

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Saturday I awoke to find a centipede on my wall, Tori knocking at our door to get beans from our supply room and the promise of rain lingering in the air. The fresh smell in the air didn’t disappoint and the heavens opened up on us, watering the beautiful green valley that is our front yard. Of course, we’d forgotten that we don’t have shutters yet and so Pam, Hillary and I, in desperation, ran about dragging mattresses and belongings away from the windows and pushing plastic up against them to keep everything dry. I had to laugh at us: Hillary gallantly enduring the unforgiving downpour as she hammered nails into the plastic over our windows outside and Pamela’s matter-of-fact precision as she used the squeegee I ran barefoot through the mud to procure from the boys house. With the hope of shutters and a modest pride at surviving our mini crisis, I just smile to myself knowing that this is just one of the many adjustments in the months to come. Flexibility and a good sense of humor can take you farther than any strength or natural abilities can, and I’m thankful for that.

Up at the clinic, Yoketon, his wife and four children live as missionaries to the WaRungwa. They’re Waha themselves, and good-natured, hard workers. Between them, the ten plus workers here each day and the scores of curious children from village, it always feels like a party or some sort of odd family reunion. I love the hustle and bustle of it all and the children make using my elementary Swahili enjoyable.

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It’s the smallest things that have touched my heart this. One of Yoketon’s little girls, May Sue (I have no idea how it’s spelled, but they call her My Sue) has developed a soft spot for me and helped me gather our laundry from the lawn and fold it on my bed. She found my hairbrush out and tried brushing her nearly shaved head with it, and intensely studied the pictures of my family and friends I showed her. I looked up to find that I was surrounded by more children who immediately busied themselves in passing all the pictures around, commenting to one another as they sprawled all over my bed. I know we’re supposed to have boundaries and keep the children out of our house (for our sanity and personal boundaries sake), but when a little boy of about three reached out and gently grabbed two handfuls of my hair, and smiled at me and the funny, long hair in his hands he’d never seen before, I melted. Thankfully Hillary is a better enforcer than me and managed to clear out our house so we could finish unpacking.

Later that same evening as we waited for the mamas to finish preparing the goat they’d killed hours before (I tried to watch, but I saw it just laying there calmly, looking with trust into it’s masters eyes as it’s legs were tied and I couldn’t do it), another one of Yoketon’s girls, Kelly, nuzzled up to my side and played with my torchi (flashlight). She shined it all over and then on my hands. “Kama za Tori,” she remarked thoughtfully. Just like Tori. I thought it was so cute to watch this little five year old put together her thoughts and share them with me.

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The last noteworthy goings-on this week was on Sunday afternoon when I gave the village kids haircuts. I’ve never shaved someone’s head before, but I’m turning into quite a pro with the electric clippers now. I did about 7 or 8 children before more rain rolled in, and I had to dash inside to keep my camera dry, coming back out 30 seconds later to realize that all the children had run home, including the little girl whose head I was halfway through shaving. Poor little one, I hope she isn’t teased to badly until tomorrow when I can finish her off.

When the rain clears up, we’re to finish clearing our plot with machetes and then use hoes to till the ground. We have time, since we’ll still be moving in and completing tasks until the end of next week. I think again of my sunflowers and where would be best to plant them and how I hope the children will like them and I’m incredibly content.

And yet, I’m anticipating the message I’m to bring to the WaRungwa and my contentment has been tempered with conviction as I read this from John Piper:

Could there be any holy motivation to believe in Christ where there is no taste for the beauty of Christ?

How does is honor the light if the only reason we come to the light is to find these things that we loved in the dark? Is this saving faith?

Saving faith is the confidence that if you sell all you have and forsake all sinful pleasures, the hidden treasure of holy joy will satisfy your deepest desires.

We’re not striving to have more of what we already have, nor to create a group of people who repeated the same paragraph prayer we call “the sinners prayer”. We want to cultivate people hungry for Christ, coming to Him to be satisfied by Him, which is a work only accomplished by his Spirit.

Pray with me that not only the Tanzanians be given an appetite for the beauty of who Christ is, but that it would be restored to us as a team as well, especially me. It is more necessary than we’ve ever been lead to believe.

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