Day 7- March 14
We just got back from 229. We have several free hours this afternoon, and my VBS ministry team met last night, so I have lots of time before dinner. I am going to write down everything I remember about the day.
When we met for devotions this morning, our trip leader told us that the project director at the center one group would be visiting today was murdered a few weeks ago. Some people went to his house and beat him to death. There are a couple of rumors as to why it happened, but it doesn't really matter. The fact is, he was murdered. Recently. And this project is currently without a director. We were feeling pretty somber as we drove to the center (my bus was the one going to 229- the one with the murdered director.) We arrived to the biggest church we have seen. It wasn't complete, but it was a tall structure, the closest to a (small) American church I have seen. Except it was made of the same tan African bricks we have seen everywhere else. The kids sang some songs for us. When it was time to sing, they all went out of the church, then filed back in led by a little girl with a big voice singing a hallelujah song. I later found out her name was Jacqueline. She was so talented! The pastor for the church also led us in a moment of prayer for the family of the project director who was killed. He said the director was attacked on the 13th of February, then died in the hospital a day or two later. They just buried him on the 20th. It was really sad.
After the music, we toured the project. There wasn't much to see yet. They are still building classrooms and offices, and a library. They also need to build a "dining hall" and a new kitchen, because the kitchen they recently constructed is too close to the road, according to the government. Everything was very hilly- like, to see the classroom they're building, we had to walk to the top of the hill, and then basically peer down into a pit thing. Most of us didn't see it up close. We visited a classroom that was full of little kids, and we sang for them, like "head, shoulders, knees and toes." We were cracking up, but they just stared at us! And we toured the craft room, where the sewing and knitting takes place. I was accompanied by Witness and Faustina, who grabbed my hands as soon as we got off the bus, and stayed with me the entire day. Faustina speaks very good English (she said her sponsor lives in Korea) and Witness knew a few words and phrases. They were both 15 years old, and seemed to be the best of friends. Faustina helped a lot with translation for Witness and I. Faustina also insisted on carrying my backpack, and had a lot of fun using my camera!
The girls with their friend Sarah
Knitting machine demonstration
On the way back from the walk around the compound, we played "simba and swala", or "lion and gazelle." Sean taught it to everyone to show how important community is. Basically, everyone stood in a big circle, and one person was the simba, and one was the swala. The simba's job was to chase the swala. The swala could run out of the circle, and our job as the community was to protect him and block the simba from running through. It was a good game to play in a group, and it taught an important lesson, too! After that, we all split up for individual free time. We could play outside or do things inside the church. Witness, Faustina, and I went inside the church to draw and color. We also distributed stickers and looked through the photos on my phone. After a little while, I got my notebook out and started doodling in it. I drew mountains, and asked Faustina what the Swahili word was. We just kept going and going, making page after page of pictures. More kids gathered around, guessing my drawings as I went, and then I'd tell them the English word. Even some of the church elders came over and took an interest in it! One in particular hung around for a long time, guessing what I was drawing as I went along. Faustina helped me write the words if I was struggling to understand them, but after a while I got pretty good at guessing the spelling. Fortunately in Swahili, the letters make the same sounds every time. So I got pretty good at it! I ended up with a small crowd of kids, some project staff, and Robert (from my family group) who was taking pictures. He got a kick out of it! We also learned that apparently no one in Tanzania knows what a bear is. I drew a bear, and they all guessed "simba." I tried explaining bears to them. I talked about panda bears, thinking maybe one of the adults had read or heard about them, since sometimes they make international news. Grace even dug around in her bag and found a little eraser that looks like a teddy bear, and they still didn't have any idea! Later I asked Philbert, who is educated and speaks amazing English, if he knew. Nope. So I will have to tell my sponsor friends back home that they should write letters to their kids explaining what bears are!
Part of the picture dictionary
The beginnings of a meeting of the nations, regarding bears
After quite a bit of play time together, we gathered at the front of the church to hear the presentation about the project. It was interesting to hear some of the statistics and things about the projects, like 90 of the kids come from Muslim families. They also told us that they divide the kids into four age groups, like Sunday school classes. Kids aged 2-5 are the "love" class, 6-8 are the "trust" class, 9-11 are the "peace" class, and 12 and up are the "gift" class. They also told us that the church started in 1999 with about a hundred people, and now they have over a thousand members! Some other statistics: there are 5 children without sponsors at 229. Seventy six of the kids live with both parents, 124 live with single parents, and 31 live with guardians. They teach tailoring, cooking, singing, and playing musical instruments to the kids who are interested, and currently they have one cooking student.
After the information about the project, a few kids came up to give their testimonies. One little boy was too nervous to finish his. Another was given by the little lead singer of the choir. The third was from a girl of about 12. Her name was Innocent*, and her testimony was the hardest thing I think I have ever listened to. I know that Margaret filmed all the testimonies, and part of me wants to hear it again, or play it for other people, but a bigger part of me is afraid to.
We had another half hour or so of free time after that, so we drew some more pictures for our dictionary, and then we joined with a group of girls and my fellow travelers playing the hokey pokey and "red light, green light." It was a lot of fun. It started sprinkling right around time to head to lunch. We served the kids, and Faustina and Witness saved me a seat. Sarah, their friend who spent a large part of the day with us, sat on the other side of Witness. I just picked at my food. I felt guilty about it, but when I put some of it in my mouth, I just couldn't get it down. I might have been able to eat some watermelon, but by the time we got our food, they were out. And that's ok. The kids need it more than I do. As we ate, Faustina kept offering her food to Witness and Sarah. She ate some of her rice, then offered her watermelon slice to Sarah. She did it in Swahili, but I was able to figure out what she was saying. Then she ate a few more bites of rice, and offered her comically large chicken leg to "Witty." Then the beef pieces, a few at a time, and the chicken pieces, a few at a time. Sometimes they hesitated, but they accepted it all. In my stupidity I thought to myself "hey, maybe Faustina doesn't like the food either." Sarah and Witness kept packing away the food. Finally, Witness just had her chicken wing left. Witness had been carrying around this old purse all day long- she never set it down. It was holding up pretty well, but it was definitely secondhand, or third or fourth. So Witness picks up her purse, pops open the front pocket, and plops the chicken wing right inside. I had to look away and put all my focus on not crying. I was just stunned. Witness isn't a skinny as some of the kids we have seen, but that doesn't mean she's not hungry. Or that she doesn't have siblings at home who are hungry. Faustina knew this. I did not. And I spent all day with the two of them, thinking everything was fine.
They made us a welcome banner!
We all ate in the classroom on the hill, since they don't have a dining hall yet. It was jam packed! And a project staff member had taken videos the entire day, so they projected those onto the curtains at the back of the room!
We finished with a Bible story and prayers, and headed to the bus. We took some group photos before we left, and I hugged Witness and Faustina. Faustina kissed me and said "I love you" and off we went. I was very quiet on the bus ride home. I will never, ever forget those girls.
Faustina is holding the picture we colored together, my good purple pen, and some note cards we wrote on during the day
One neat thing about the day was that Jeanie found a little girl to sponsor. If a neighborhood child is hanging around the center and you make a connection with them, they will register the child on the spot if you want to sponsor them. So now Jeanie has Nasma. And it was really awesome that Jeanie had an extra gift for a home visit, which we didn't do today. So she was able to send home a pretty, wrapped gift to Nasma's family. I bet they were really happy when she got home that afternoon. We're hoping that Nasma can join in our fun day next Monday, along with her other sponsor child!
Fau tried to get some pictures of Jeanie and Nasma, who were invited to present our gift to the project
Cell phone service was out last night and this morning up until time to get on the bus. I was able to send texts (it said they went through) but I never heard anything back. I knew something was wrong because I wasn't getting any responses, like when I texted my mom to tell me that the project director had been murdered. Shortly after I started writing this journal entry, I texted her again, but then I just had to call. I had to know that she was getting the texts, and I was just feeling really broken after leaving the center today. I held my breath as the phone rang, and she picked up and said "oh my gosh!" I started talking really fast, apologizing at first because I hadn't wanted to use the 15 minutes of international calling time unless there was a real emergency. But I just broke down. I told her about the project director, and Witness being hungry, and Innocent's testimony. And I cried. We talked for 6 minutes and 21 seconds. I'm so glad I called. Now I am tired and sad. I would like to cry and take a nap. I think that in some ways, I was pretty well prepared for this tour. I have poured so much time and energy learning about poverty, and the situations in which sponsored children live, that I wasn't as shocked about some of the stuff. I mean, it's like finding the final piece to a puzzle for me, and seeing the entire picture with my own eyes. Or the difference between a teacher who has thoroughly researched a time period in history, and one who actually witnessed it. I also know, based on the stories I've heard from my fellow travelers, that some of them have seen or heard more difficult things. There was one night that several people broke down crying just remembering a testimony they had heard at another project. Or maybe they visited some homes that had particularly sad stories attached to them. But this is the day that's finally broken me, I guess. I felt it coming when we got on the bus. And now I don't really know what to do with it.