Tales from Tanzania #7

tales7-1Everybody over two years old shares the work, here at the Center. Tasks are done very, very carefully. While watching Habi fold clothes, I realize how sloppy I am, … Each fold has to be perfect. Sister Helena is demonstrating and teaching the children perfection, speed, and endurance. Survival is not assured here in the bush, and Sister wants these children to succeed! If someone over two years old falls asleep, they are advised to stand, and jump up and down. The children will help each other to stay awake. Their day starts before dawn, and ends at 10 p.m…

tales7-melba-violetIn our western paradigm this sounds harsh, I know. But these kids are vibrant, happy and full of life. If an infant can’t circumambulate for the 70-minute evening prayer procession …., an older child will volunteer to carry them..

Here, Mleba is strapping Violet onto her back in the traditional style.

tales7-melba-violet2Habi, on the left, is carrying baby Marcelina, and helping Maria (our newest arrival).

Habi had never been to school before this month, is nearly blind, and has a deformity in her left wrist.

Sister Helena has decided that Habi WILL succeed, however.


tales7-habi-babiesHabi is reciting the alphabet and counting from one to hundred, day and night. As I mentioned in my last Tales, Habi was required to complete her school assignment perfectly, before eating supper. And yesterday, Habi was teaching Behleve how to count.

She was quite proud to be doing that.

Now Behleve is on the hot seat. The other children told Sister Helena that he “ran away” twice yesterday, to avoid doing his schoolwork.

tales7-behleveThe group consensus was that he should skip dinner and instead stand in front of the number chart and recite numbers, with Habi’s help. He seemed agreeable to his fate.

Perhaps Behleve is relieved to feel so much group energy and concern about his academic performance.

He will succeed, too and he will be teaching soon!

Sister assured me. At this point, I can only be sure of one thing: I don’t know much.

I dropped into the local primary school yesterday, on my way to the bus stop, at Sister’s request…

tales7-drawing-tenHere, the children are “drawing” the number ten in the air…one of Mrs.
Angel’s techniques that I somehow thought was unique…

Mungu a kubariki

“God bless you”, I said to this teacher, as I was leaving. Let’s bless all the teachers who work so hard, in very difficult conditions.

tales7-teacherI didn’t see Habi using her new magnifier equipment ….either she doesn’t know how, or is too embarrassed to look even more different than the other kids. Sister Helena is not very impressed with specialized tools, and believes that Habi will succeed by sheer grit; I’m beginning to believe her.

tales7-zachariahShe explained to me that Zachariah used to be one of her worst behavioral problems, because of his difficult origins. When he first came to the Center, he would

stomp on his dinner plate, and break it,

Three years later, I see Zachariah spelling long words from memory, and doing difficult math problems. He is leading the group prayers and teaching dances, at four years old. He is nearly always an enthusiastic student, except when I am teaching. I am watching him shift from concrete learning (counting on his fingers and toes) to the more abstract concepts.

Speaking of miracles, I need to show you some photos of dear Agatha, also age four.

tales7-agatha At left, she is on the left, in the black dress, a lovely, happy little girl.

tales7-agatha-3yrsagoSister Helena showed me a photo of Agatha, taken on the day she arrived, three years ago.

Her feet were also suffering third degree burns, from the sun.

Because of the efforts of international organizations (especially Bas Kreukniet, from Holland, in our case), and Sister’s intense devotion, I haven’t seen this kind of nightmare since I’ve been here.

tales7-toddler-classFriends, I was hoping to report a spectacular improvement in my ability to hold the attention of the toddler class, while I’m teaching in the morning. But alas, these Tales are nonfictional, and I’ve hardly done any better at all.

Within fifteen minutes, they are tickling each other, dozing off, wandering away, eating the plaster on the wall, crying, or daydreaming …. Sister Helena makes it look so easy.

Sometimes, she’ll stay in the room with me, to stave off mayhem. When she left for a minute last week….even though they didn’t see her leave…. they got restless IMMEDIATELY.

Perhaps I imagined that…

tales7-faustineThis is a young man, thirteen years old, named Faustine. I met him in his home, when Sister and I were visiting various people in the village.

His mother used to work at the Center, but she contracted some illness while visiting relatives, and can’t do much anymore. I noticed that the son and the mother were quite thin, even by local standards, and naively reported the problem to Masange, our social worker, who had told me he was “in charge of” such affairs. Masange actually has no power at all, I’ve since discovered, and doesn’t have a job with the state.

Upon investigation (by Sister Helena), we discovered that Faustine had stopped eating and even tried to hang himself with a belt last month, because he had no money to go to Seminary. He was the top student in primary school. As a therapist, I’m suspecting there is some other kind of abuse involved here.

A couple weeks ago, I gave Faustine a lecture that

We don’t order God around and threaten Him, because we can’t get our own way. You’ve been given intelligence. Why don’t you listen carefully, and learn to serve God, however you can? There are poor, elderly, disabled people everywhere who need your help! There are people in the seminary who are not serving God, and many people who are not in the seminary who are serving God. We don’t know what your role is supposed to be.

Faustine just nodded and kept a very masked countenance, hoping that I’d come up with some finances if he sat and listened long enough. And I did give him money to go buy food (ugalli and oats) for a month or two.

But my “surcharge” is: bi-weekly classes with me, ostensibly in English.
We are studying gratitude, and do writing assignments like:

When I wake up I notice that I am still alive. How many people died last night?
Thank you, God!
Oh, I am breathing, easily…. How many people have difficulty breathing?
Thank you, God!
Oh, I can see well….How many people can not see, like the children here at the Center?
Thank you, God!

On and on… for about an hour. One of Faustine’s assignments is to read this long list, when he wakes up every morning….and contemplate his many blessings.

He did seem to smile with a tad more light, last time we met. Our last class involved writing an autobiography, which he finished at home…

After every line, he is supposed to think of a reason to give thanks. For instance, the last line we did together was:

Now my mother is sick, and we don’t have any money.

We concluded that:

Thank you, God, for helping me to know what poverty is. When I grown up, perhaps I will want to help other children in poverty.

And for my part of the bargain, I’ve found a textbook store here in Mwanza and bought Faustine some Form II textbooks. We’ll meet again tomorrow. Somehow, God has brought Buddhist training into Faustine’s life. I can’t pretend to understand any of it.

tales7-blessingsAnd teaching Faustine about gratitude has the added advantage of helping me remember the bizarre volume of blessings that flood into
my life every day….

The light of the full moon sunset, for instance, over the children in prayer…and the tropical breezes that accompanied me in the moonlight, as I walked to my tent. I’m aware that the next full moon will occur tales7-fullmoonin a “distant world,” for me.

Blessings to you, friends. May we always remember.