Tuesday, February 22, 2011

St. Joseph Hostel Songea, Tanzania


It was hard to leave Manyoni. The sisters, students and teachers made me feel like I was part of their family. But leave, I must on Thursday, Feb. 10th early in the morning for a car drive to Dodomo about 1 ½ hours on a good paved highway. I will take a bus to another town named Morogro about 5 hour bus ride and stay overnight in Morogro at the Adorers retreat/conference center. Sr. Rosemary picked me up by cab, it was about a 15 minute ride. We had a little lunch together than I took a short nap before we walked to a near by Carmelite priests’ chapel for holy hour. Some sisters who I had met in Merlini Center in Dar also arrived in the afternoon. It was good to see familiar faces and meet more wonderful Adorers.

I spied a small hot water heater in the bathroom in my room. I thought wow what a treat, a hot shower tonight. Well, not to be so…after dinner the electricity and water went out. Sr. Rosemary left a pail of water at my door so at least I could wash up a little. That is the way it is in Africa…so you just accept and go on. Morogro has a beautiful mountain range in the distance and tends to be cooler than Dar es Salaam or Manyoni. Sr. Rosemary told me we should leave by 6:30 am for the bus station. The bus started in Dar es Salaam at 6:00 am and the first stop would be Morogro. The bus ride would be about 10 hours long. The Sisters purchased a bus ticket for me in Dar to make sure I would have a seat. Sometimes the bus is completely filled when it arrives in Morogro. I got a ticket with a seat assignment.
When I boarded the bus another lady had my seat and would not give it up. A lady in a full burka, you could only see her eyes invited me to sit next to her, which I did. She spoke some English so we had a nice visit on our journey to Songea. She told me about some of the Islam customs and she read for a while out of her Koran. Friday is the Islam’s day of observance.

The bus was very old and looked liked something from the 50’s, no air conditioning and dirty, but the scenery was wonderful. It was mountainous as we rode through a national park. I saw a mother elephant with her baby taking shade under a tree. The terrain was a combination of Tennessee, Kentucky, parts of Florida and the mountains in Pennsylvania. Most of the area is all small plots of farms, with lots of pineapple, pears, mangos, tobacco, rice, corn, and other vegetables. I saw 3 tractors on the entire journey. All the fields are cultivated by a hand hoe. Water is very scarce. I keep looking for water pumps as we go through small farm villages, but I don’t see any. Just women and children carrying pails of water from dirty rivers. The roads on this journey are in need of repair. It is a two lane road with lots of hills, winding roads and very narrow. Buses and trucks know no speed restrictions…they go as fast as they can. The only thing that slows them down are very big speed bumps in the small villages. It is like riding a roller coaster at 6 Flags park, but much more dangerous.

Tanzania appears to have a wealth of farm land to be cultivated. I don’t understand the ownership system with land and why more of it isn’t cultivated. Of course you need machinery to cultivate large plots of land. The farmer just gets enough from his land to feed his family and purchase a little extra food. There is no way to get ahead the way the farming is done now. I did see a few large plots of land, one was with pineapple but I did not see a sign indicating Dole, like you see in Costa Rica. I could never get an answer from anyone about the farming system.

The farm houses along the bus ride are typical of what I have seen before. Mud brick homes, very small, cut out holes for windows, no electricity, no running water, and dirt all around. No lawns or flowers around the homes, a very dismal sight. I saw children of all ages in uniforms going to school, both private and public, so maybe this is where the hope lies for Tanzania. I have been told that the public education system for primary and secondary is really pretty poor.  For days some teachers don’t show up for classes and the headmaster does little.

I arrived in Songea at 8pm on Friday.  Sr. Jackie was at the bus stop to meet me with a cab. Songea is like the old wild west, fairly wide downtown streets mostly dirt with little shops along the way, no sidewalks. Everyone is selling a little bit of everything from food to pots and pans, to auto parts, and of course all the fresh foods, including meat hanging with flies around it.  For the next week my home is with Sr. Jackie, (American, Ohio) Sr. Malathi (India) and Sr. Nilza (Brazil) all of the St. Joseph Congregation.

The St. Joseph Hostel is for girls mostly high school age. They live at the hostel and walk to school in Songea. Some go to private and some go to public school. Most of the girls are from the surrounding Songea area. At the present there are 46 girls. The hostel is built to accommodate up to 60.  Twenty six of the girls have sponsorship from some friends of the St. Joseph sisters in Italy. These are girls who have done well in primary school but don’t have the fees for school, parents are very poor. Some live in houses with dirt floors. The hostel is God sent. The girls get 3 meals a day, a very nice new building, with bedrooms (4 to a bedroom) modern toilets, and showers. Plus classrooms to do home work and also for remedial classes. Most of the girls had to be taught how to use the bathroom fixtures. Flushing a toilet was new to them.

Sr. Jackie and Sr. Nilza have most of the daily responsibility of the girls. Sr. Malathi teaches in a local primary school. It is called the St. Jospeh Primary School but does not have any connections to the St. Joseph Hostel. Sr. Jackie and Sr. Nilza teach English and other courses to the girls in the evening and on weekends. They want the girls to get the best grades possible so they can continue with their education. They also bring in part time teachers for math and science. On my last night at the hostel, I went to say goodbye to the girls. In the dining room a girl who is doing very well in chemistry and would be equivalent to a junior in high school was teaching a class for the younger students. The students had their hands up asking questions and very attentive. It brought tears to my eyes, to see such dedication in a dimly lighted room, with only a black board and chalk and notebooks to copy the information, no text books, no audio visuals. The hostel uses solar, but on rainy days no sun, so very dim at night.

The sisters live across the street from the hostel, a matron comes about 6 pm each night and stays to about 6:30 am. The girls leave for school starting at 6:30 am. They walk from 30 minutes to an hour to school. At night the matron is not there, Sr. Jackie or Sr. Nilza stays at the hostel. The Sisters house is an older building with few modern conveniences to speak of …they have no running hot water. If you want hot water, you heat it. Cool showers are the name of the day. All wash is done by hand and hung on the clothes lines.

The sisters are wonderful!!!! They are really missionaries in the true sense of the word. I know the girls are too young to appreciate the sacrifices that the sisters make for them…but when they are adults they will look back to this experience and I’m sure will be grateful. My two aunts, Sr. Emma and Sr. Lillian who were St. Joseph Sisters would be so proud of the Sisters and what they are doing for these girls and parents.
I spent some time with the girls just visiting and also studying with them. I taught a geography lesson by explaining where I came from in the USA and my route to Africa and where I was going after I left Tanzania. Sr. Jackie had just purchased a world atlas.  I had them find all the places I have traveled. They thought that was quite fun. They were anxious to point out different countries and cities on the map.

On Saturday evening they did a special dance and music for me, with drums. It was really fun.
I asked Sr. Jackie what I could do for a special treat for the girls. We decided on buying sodas and popcorn in a big bag that is popped fresh in town. The girls were so happy and very thankful of my little gift to them.
I went with Sr. Malathi to the grade school on Monday and visited her classes and taught a little geography too. We went by "picky picky", that is a motorcycle. I rode on one and Sr. Malathi rode with another driver. The roads are treacherous and no stop lights in Songea. But we made it safe and sound. Thanks to St. Joseph.

The girls are given a variety of responsibilities including, doing their own laundry by hand, ironing, cleaning rooms, bathrooms, classrooms, gardening, and grounds keeping. Plus dining room responsibilities. It is great training for them to become ladies who can manage a household of their own.

I made dinner for the sisters one evening and invited two priests near by and another Brazilian businessman who sponsors one of the girls and is always ready to lend a helping hand to the sisters. We had a nice evening together. I learned how to saute chicken with a wood fire in the stove.

The sisters are up early and don’t usually retire until about 11 pm. They know the girls well and really act as their parents. Can you imagine having 46 girls in your house?

The hostel is in need of some things to help the girls learn English better and other subjects. As well as recreational equipment such as maybe a bad minton set etc.  I will make a list of needs with Sr. Jackie’s help and share it when I get back home.

My stay at the St. Joseph Hostel was wonderful. I gained a better perspective of what special people there are in the world like Sr. Jackie, Sr. Malathi and Sr. Nilza. God Bless them and the work they do daily for the girls and their parents.

I left Songea at 6 am on Friday for the 14 hour journey back to Dar Es Salaam. It was a more modern bus but a very wild ride. A man even had a box of live chickens on the bus. We only made one restroom stop and that was for 10 minutes. The other break was on the side of the road, but I declined to get off. I didn’t drink much water. The sisters sent me with hard boiled egg. homemade bread and cake that Sr. Nilza made, yummy.

After I arrived at the big bus station in Dar Es Salaam, I noticed 6 goats being taken off another bus from the storage area beneath the bus. How did those goats survive in heat and diesel fuel?  The Adorers sisters from the Merlini Center picked me up and I stayed with them Friday and Saturday night.
They brought me to the airport this morning (Sunday) for a flight to Nairobi at 11 am but the flight had problems so my flight is now going tonight about 8:30 pm. I will be joining the other people from the USA in Nairobi for a mission awareness week with the Christian Foundation of Children and Aging.

I will download pictures of the Mission of St. Joseph Hostel in Songea later when I can use the computer for a longer period of time.

My experience so far has been so educational and I am so grateful for the fact that I was born in America. The people of Tanzania have been wonderful to me. I now leave Tanzania for Kenya.

Blessings to all of you,