I Will Give You the Treasures of Darkness (Tanzania Part VIII)

Posted on January 19, 2012

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My Street Snowed Over

As I reflect back upon my travel to Tanzania today, I am snowbound in my house. It has been snowing for the last four days and the snow on the ground continues to accumulate. Each day the weather forecasters tell me that the rains will come, but as of 2pm on Thursday, it’s still snowing strongly. I am reminded of Tanzania. I am at the mercy of forces outside of my control. In Africa I was completely dependent upon the schedule of others and was required to be ready to move at a moment’s notice. Here, buried in snow, I was similarly prevented from driving off on my own at my own whim, by the forces of nature. I am finding that it’s not a bad thing at all.

My family and I have spent some good quality time together this week. We pulled out some board games and had the opportunity to play and laugh together; we baked bread, watched some TV as a family, had a good family meeting and even got to do some sledding. Perhaps life’s inconveniences are really blessings in disguise? I was discovering this in my trip to Africa. I talked about how spoiled we can become in the west to the luxuries which we experience daily with barely a thought; from daily warm showers, running water, having a mirror to shave and get ready in the mornings, clean drinking water piped into our house, hot running water and a plethora of entertainment options to help us anesthetized ourselves to the suffering of others.

As I enjoyed a quick breakfast at our hotel before going back to the Nairobi Airport, I did not know it at the time, but it would be the last time for the next 7 days where I would get to experience many of these luxuries which I had completely taken for granted. I was going to go the next week without a shower, a mirror to get ready each morning, running water and yes, a western style toilet, but the trade-off was that in the absence of these familiar conveniences, I was going to suddenly feel very much alive again and learn a crucial life lesson that would have been impossible to learn at home. When God is trying to get our attention and teach us something, it comes at us from every direction. In case, my numbed mind did not catch it from one experience or situation, I was going to be re-taught it over and over again from all directions.

Morning in Nairobi, Kenya

Morning in Nairobi, Kenya

We finished our breakfast and loaded our bags into van for our ride back to the airport. It was morning and the trip from our hotel to the airport was stunning. We arrived at night so much of the daily life of Nairobi was hidden by the evening darkness. Here in the full light of day, though diffused through a layer of smog, I saw sights which make you take pause. Part of me desperately wanted to photograph these images, so that I would never be able to write them off or forget about them; images which I could share with others so that they might get a glimpse into the poverty and human suffering of our fellow humanity in the slums of inner city Nairobi, but I found that I lacked the strength to take them. I felt embarrassed for the people who lived on mounds in the local garbage dump. Who was I to be so brash and insensitive to take photographs of their suffering? So I watched out of the corners of my eyes, to avoid making eye contact with them. At the time, I thought it was to protect their dignity, but I wonder now, if it was more about protecting me from having to look into the eyes of true suffering.

It’s a strange but sobering thing to find oneself one day complaining about having to wait two minutes for the coffee machines at work to grind and brew a cup of coffee for you, complaining about a manager who has it in for you or having to pay $60 to fill up the gas tank of my car and the next day witnessing true suffering, as children dressed in filthy rags which barely stayed on their emaciated frames, scavenged for food and other potentially useful items in the piles of garbage and debris and stem off the pangs of hunger. They were not alone as there were many makeshift huts erected around the decomposing mounds of trash at that dump. It’s a sobering image, which already is starting to fade from my memory, but my hope is that by recording it here, I will never fully forget it. I encourage you to Bing or Google “slums of Nairobi”, to get a sense of the disease, filth and life experienced by children, women and the truly poor in Nairobi.

The images played continually through my mind, as my travel companion Chris and I walked through the Nairobi Airport, checked in our bags and waited at the departure gate for our puddle jumper to Mwanza to arrive. When the plane did arrive, we walked out onto the tarmac and boarded our plane. It was small, but not nearly as small as I had envisioned in my head, though, it had been a while since I was on a plane with actual propellers. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that we were going to have a one hour delay at Mount Kilimanjaro – the highest mountain in Africa. I pulled myself from my thoughts long enough to take a few pictures and videos of the mountain, but as it normally is, the peak was covered in a thick layer of clouds. The thought that I was at the site of the 1952 movie, ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’ starring Gregory Peck, Susan Hayward and Ava Gardner was magical enough.

I spent the couple of hours sitting on the plane trying to express the depth of feelings I experienced in Nairobi, but falling short. I am no poet, but I understand the struggle to use the blunt instrument of words to try and paint a description of one’s feeling invoked by such an experience. I could only muster words and sentence fragments. Perhaps, I will share it in a future blog.

Kilimanjaro Airport

When we arrived at the airport in Mwanza, it was raining gently, no doubt the end of one of the short intense rain storms experienced this time year. To call it an airport, might give you the false image of arrival and departure gates, rows of security check stations, gift shops and other such amenities. The reality was that it was a few small buildings built alongside a flattened stretch of blacktop. We traveled by a small bus across the airfield from the plane to the cluster of small buildings.

As I departed the van, I was diverted into one of the small crowded buildings by a security person. Navigating through a small office and down a tight narrow hallway, I was found myself in front of a teller. I smiled and handed them my passport, as I was instructed. I paid for my travel visa and was directed to another room, where they began to ask me what was in my checked in bag. I was starting to tell them, when I was told to pick up my bag and follow another person. Confused, I grabbed my bag and followed them, with an airport security lady following closely behind me.

I wasn’t sure what was happening, but I had been cooped up long enough and was happy to just be on the move again. I found myself outside, the rain had stopped and the sun was out. I was being led up to a group of men, whom upon seeing Chris and I, smiled broadly and pushed past the security escort. They took turns introducing themselves to me, shaking my hand and hugging me twice, once on each side of my head. Again, I was flooded with a sense of relief and joy just in being greeted by people who knew my name and were expecting me.

I had arrived in Mwanza, cleared customs (if one could call it that) and was amongst new friends.

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