Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Colleagues in Mwanza

One of the joys of working overseas is making new friends, both among faculty members of the university where we are working, and in the local expatriate community. In the various overseas contexts in which we have worked over the last decades we have found it useful to make acquaintance with our immediate colleagues, who have worked in our specific environment much longer already, but also with other expats who have lived in the specific context cross-culturally, for they have already faced and dealt with the challenges which one faces inevitably in a new environment - questions like: Where can one find reliable medicines? potato peelers? baking soda? or language books? The significance of such questions might not make sense to our new colleagues who have not themselves come from overseas, while other expats will understand quickly what we really need to know to make the necessary adjustments . Before we traveled to Tanzania we had already corresponded and even spoken on Skype  with Steve and Jan, who have worked in the Mwanza region on numerous agricultural and poverty alleviation projects.

Steve and Jan, with their three boys, at the Good Friday potluck 

And on arrival in Dar es Salaam in early February, we appreciated getting hints on how to work effectively in the Tanzanian context with Margaret Ngujuna, country representative for Christian Reformed World Relief Commitee (CRWRC) in Tanzania. 

Adrian with Margaret in her office in Dar es Salaam

Upon arrival in Mwanza, aside from meetings with the SAUT administration, one of our first contacts at the university was the Nigerian colleague from Unijos, Timothy, a historian, who was happy to know that we had just come from Jos, and was anxious to get the latest news from us about the situation in Jos, where his wife, still  living in Unijos campus housing, had come through the November riots with some minor unpleasantness and inconvenience.

Timothy and Adrian

We were glad that we could set his heart at ease regarding general conditions in Jos, and the relative peace experienced at the time we were there. Since then we have enjoyed numerous opportunities to converse with him about the situation in Jos and Nigeria.  We also met Peter, a bright young lecturer in the social sciences from southern Nigeria, also teaching at SAUT on his sabbatical. And we have met a number of expat faculty who have come from Europe, from Germany and Austria, as well as  American Jesuit priests who have been teaching here for many years, from the time when SAUT was still the Nyegezi Social Training  Institute. 

But before leaving Toronto we had heard of Erin Carter, a nurse and member of our supporting church, the Willowdale Christian Reformed Church (of northern Toronto), who had come to Mwanza through CRWRC, to volunteer for a number of months at a clinic/hospital run by the Africa Inland Church (AIC), the biggest evangelical denomination here in East Africa. But even before we actually were able to meet Erin, we made contact with another couple  also working with CRCWRC in Mwanza, and like Erin involved  with the AIC clinic.  Gordon and Peggy Tans had come from Alaska in November of last year; as a nurse Peggy was to work with the same clinic, a welcome support for Erin in that work, while Gordon (a retired lawyer) would volunteer his services at the headquarters of AIC, helping in whatever way he could in financial and legal matters. 

One of the highlights of our initial months in Mwanza was the visit of  Erin's Mom, Betty Carter, who came to Mwanza early in April to help her daughter say goodbye to the work here, and accompany her on the long flight back home to Toronto. 

Erin with her mother, Betty

Betty's visit was special for us, not only because of the mutual connection with our supporting church community, the Willowdale CRC, but particularly because she was able to bring a much needed replacement computer battery for Wendy's Mac (as well as some decaffeinated instant coffee which we could not find here). We especially enjoyed  socializing with them and other colleagues on Good Friday, when the Tans invited us over for a potluck lunch in the afternoon, followed by a time of devotions and farewells. 

This was the Good Friday gathering. In front: Gordon, Wendy and Jan (Steve took the photo) and around the circle:  Inge-Marie, Erin, Naomi, Betty Carter, Peggy, Leif and Adrian

Erin was not the only one leaving. The Michmerhuizens were also winding up their six years of work in Mwanza and region, planning to leave by the second week of May. The Tans themselves would leave a week later, though they do plan to return in September to resume their work with AIC. 

Through our attendance at the English language service of the local Anglican church, and through  the Michmerhuizens we have been introduced to other members of the expat community in Mwanza, those working in business, in charitable organizations, or as missionaries. 

Although the missionary community in Mwanza is not small, it is certainly not as large as its counterpart  in Jos, where we would not have expected to meet all, or even the majority of missionaries gathered in one location, as in Mwanza, where many missionaries meet for  a potluck dinner and devotions on the first Friday evening of each month. So far we have managed to join them twice, and have found it interesting to discover the variety of the work done, not only in church planting, but in various supportive tasks, like the work of the Danish couple, Leif and Inge-Marie with "Isoma Biblia (Read the Bible)", who focus on distribution of Bibles and related literature.  We also met Naomi, who grew up in Tanzania as a child of missionary parents who worked with the AIC; she has now come back after many years in work with Wycliffe in other countries; at present she is helping members of the large local tribe, the Sukuma, facilitating literature development in their own language,  helping them write down the stories of the tribe before they are forgotten, since Swahili is the common language and public use of tribal languages has been receding. Other missionaries work with children and development of Sunday School literature, in   medical and dental clinics, or as teachers at an large local international school. 

Naomi (in foreground)

Although the rate of infection with AIDS is not much worse than in Nigeria, one of the major problems it has brought with it is the many children who are left without parents or near relatives who can support and raise them. These children are sometimes left in hospitals, or abandoned. Tanzanians themselves are largely reluctant to adopt these children when there is no clear  family or tribal connection. Thus orphanages have become a sad necessity throughout Africa, and also here in Tanzania. It is a need to which numerous missionaries are addressing their efforts. A few weeks after we arrived in Mwanza we received an email from Hanneke Cost Budde, working in Shinyanga, a few hours south of Mwanza, as the HIV/AIDS coordinator for the Africa Inland Church, Shinyanga diocese. There she works mostly with people living with HIV/AIDS, orphans and widows.

Hanneke with a mother who helps with foster care, and the five children she has rescued and is raising

It had been years since we met Hanneke in Toronto, where she worked with  Knox Presbyterian Church (when our daughter Sharon was attending there); her work is now supported by that church. We met her just after Easter, when she came to Mwanza to take Grace, a Canadian co-worker, to the airport, and give her a lovely farewell lunch at Tunza, a local lakeside restaurant. 

Wendy, with Hanneke, her youngest charge, and Grace 

As a social worker Hanneke is in a position to help many needy people, especially the women, but she has also become involved with abandoned children. Hanneke has taken under her care and adopted a number of children who would probably not have made it without her timely intervention.

Hanneke and her youngest at Tunza

No comments: