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Returning to Tanzania

By David Close.

In June this year a celebration was held in Tanzania to commemorate the inauguration of the Diocese of Western Tanganyika 50 years ago. David Close taught at a school in the region from 1965 - 1971 and had the privilege of attending this Jubilee celebration. Below is his account of this recent visit to Tanzania.

Saturday, 9 July 2016. I was the only former CMS person attending the Jubilee, but I was not the only New Zealander. Robert Kereopa (Exec Officer, Anglican Board of Missions) and his wife Rachel were here too, and the trio of us were always introduced together.  Robert and Rachel have been here before and fit into the culture very well. I gave official greetings from Bishop Victoria, explaining that she had a prior commitment in England.

My colleague in the teaching of English is a man called Lamech Bandiye, whom I taught in 1967-70.  He is now retired, but taught English for many years, mainly in secondary schools.  He has been teaching at the Bible College since February, but was unaware of the course that I had produced during my time here in 2012.   Enlightening him about the course was not difficult as I had brought it on a memory stick.  Printing copies was no problem because a helpful young man programmed my laptop to use the photocopier, which still works perfectly.  I am really pleased that I put the work into producing the course because the preparation does not have to be repeated and the materials are far more suited to our task – teaching an intensive course to men – than any of the primary or secondary school textbooks I have seen.  And the course is quite fun to teach, because I find I wrote a lot of humour, and a lot of relevant local content, into the grammatical exercises.  More important, the students are enjoying it.  Thursday was a public holiday.  When I asked on Wednesday if they were willing to come to class on Saba Saba (seventh day of the seventh month), they chorused, “We are willing.”

Lamech has been with me most of the week.  I have to use Swahili a lot for explanations and instructions, and it is very helpful to have him at hand when, literally, words fail me.  He is becoming familiar with the teaching style of the course, and I hope that he will be comfortable using it.  The real plus is that he sees the reading of lots of simple English books as essential to developing fluency.

Momentous changes are taking place in this country.  The economy has been growing at about 7% a year, the most obvious evidence being the huge increase in trucks and other vehicles on the road, the building boom, and the proliferation of small motorbikes.    However, the improvements in roads, schools and health services have been very slow coming.   People suspected that one of the reasons was extensive corruption among government officials and in the business community, but despite much anti-corruption talk, there was little effective action.

That has now changed.  A new president, elected last October, is cracking down on tax evasion. Two weeks ago four companies were charged with evading 29 billion shillings (2 million NZD) in VAT (GST); last week two small businessmen were fined 1.5m shillings (about $1000 NZD) for failing to issue VAT receipts.  A Cabinet Minister was dismissed for not declaring a conflict of interest, and, when the performance of 140 government officers in the regions was carried out, only 39 were reappointed.  The tough action is having an effect on behaviour; revenue from taxation has consistently run behind target but yesterday it was announced that tax revenue was running 7% ahead of budget. The president is very popular because of the tough measures he is taking against tax evasion and corruption.  However, he is also taking a tough line against political parties, including his own, criticising their negativity and restricting their activities.  For this he, in turn, is attracting criticism in the newspapers, especially the Swahili newspapers, which are very forthright.  He has shown no sign of restricting the press, which is remarkably free.

July 19.  A lot has happened since I wrote the above. Last Friday I went to Matiazo, high in the hills close to the Burundi border, and the site of a small local hospital, and an ‘orphanage.’  ‘Orphanage’ gives a wrong impression because it is more like a neo-natal unit.  It takes babies whose mothers have died in childbirth and who would be unlikely to survive without special care. Often the babies are premature, or severely ill from whatever has caused the mother’s death, or malnourished because of inadequate care between the time of birth and their arrival at Matiazo.  Effective treatments have been developed that are not dependent on expensive equipment such as incubators.  At the time of my visit there were 64 babies being cared for – and an abundance of baby washing drying in the sun.  Most of the babies stay for 18 months, at which time their fathers or other relatives are expected to resume care of them.  A few (some who were found abandoned at birth or were born to mothers with severe mental illness) stay on while adoptive parents are sought.

The amazing thing about Matiazo is the staffing.  A German woman is the only fully qualified doctor on site and an African woman is matron of the orphanage. There are trained nurses, of course, but most of the care of the babies is carried out by girls from local villages, each of whom has special oversight of about four babies.  The girls have only primary school education, but are trained on the job, spending part of the day in the classroom and the rest of the time caring for the children – and doing the washing!  They pay a nominal sum for board and have only one day a week free; their reward is that after two years they gain a certificate, which, while not a nursing qualification, is often sufficient for them to secure work at a local dispensary or health clinic, or to gain admission to a nursing course.

These cost-effective measures notwithstanding, Matiazo struggles financially, most of the support coming from the Neukirchen Mission in Germany. Matiazo is part of the Anglican Diocese of Western Tanganyika.  The church is not in a position to provide a lot of financial support but each of the 130 parishes is being asked to organise a special collection on a coming Sunday.  On my visit I was able to hand over $1.8m Tanzanian shillings (about $1200 NZD).  It will probably be used to pay for infant formula, which is a major expense.  It was very gratefully received.  Many thanks to those who contributed (church friends, LP friends, family).

Immediately after going to Matiazo, I went to Nguruka.  The place was well known to me because the train always stopped there in the middle of the night, but I had never seen it till last weekend.  In appearance it is not different from many similar African towns or villages. What makes it special is its history.  The visit was special too, because Bishop Sadock had decided to ordain three priests, not in the cathedral at Kasulu but at little, remote, out-of-the-way Nguruka.  We were welcomed in the open air in a very public space outside the church and the pastor’s house.  People, especially children, swarmed around us as we arrived, after which we sat under a large mango tree while three choirs sang specially composed songs of welcome, followed by more general Christian songs. (I should explain that, here, choirs always dance as they sing, sometimes gently, but on this occasion with great exuberance.)  There were perhaps 300-400 church people sitting or standing, and on the fringes a lot of townspeople, including Muslims, attracted by the music.  I found the occasion incredibly moving, because I knew that, on the very spot, only a few years ago, on a Sunday morning, a group of Muslims had attacked the church, pelting the building with rocks.  The Christians did not retaliate, showed no ill will to their Muslim neighbours and made a conscious effort to reach out in friendship.  Love worked.  Harmony was restored.  A good many Muslims have come to faith. The church is far stronger than it was.

On Sunday morning the ordination service was held in the ‘new church’.  It had no roof and a dirt floor, but, as I said to people in Kasulu the next day, the atmosphere made the venue more beautiful than the temple of Solomon.  I gave greetings from you people in New Zealand, and promised to tell you about ‘their way of sharing love all round’, an inspiration to us all.

On our way back, a petrol tanker which broke down in a steep, narrow part of the road held us up for three hours. It was a small price to pay for a memorable weekend.

May God bless you all.


One thought on “Returning to Tanzania

  1. Amost interesting articile to read I .have friends in Kondoa who work in the Bible college so my one and to date experience of Tanzania was two years ago.I was most impressed with your comments of the corruption level in the country.Nowonder the Church is blessed as above this level that the government give vehicle to the church tax free.

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