Tales from Tanzania - O'Neil Family Blog

Though we have already been in Tanzania for one year, this is a journal of our time at Haven of Peace Academy in Dar es Salaam. Karibu sana.

July 01, 2008

What I Will Miss

There are many things I will miss about Tanzania, but these are the things that stick out in my mind:

I will miss the physical beauty - the palm trees, the banana trees, the jungliness of it all juxtaposed against the red soil ( I never thought I would say I would miss the African dirt!). The sky was generally always blue and you could count on knowing the weather every day - hot and humid. There is nothing quite as beautiful as the Indian Ocean. The white sand against the turquoise with the always present dhow boat fishing off shore, is a sight like no other. I can almost smell it still.

I will miss the African women. They, to me, sum up beauty. They are like queens and even the lowliest of African women seems to be able to walk like royalty. They hold their backs straight and heads held high and poised often balancing the most remarkable loads on their heads (I once saw a woman bend over to pick up laundry drying on the grass, fold it, and place it on the stack of already folded clothes on her head, and return for another piece). It never ceases to amaze me how carefully and beautifully they dress - even a cleaning lady will wear a matching skirt and top to work and change when she arrives. They walk gracefully through the dust and often mud in tiny high heels or dressy sandals. They spend hours on their hair and meticulously braid it into every imaginable pattern and design - works of art! In the West we seem to relish plain and even dull colors but the women in Africa wear only bright, beautiful colors with wild patterns and designs - I will greatly miss all this color! Tanzanian women are not thin or dainty, they are generally more large and strong looking, but they carry themselves with a grace and comfort that was infectious. I found myself more comfortable with my own looks (even though I really generally looked like a scraggly, sweaty mess) while around them. They will always be for me, the epitomy of beauty.

I will greatly miss HOPAC. I loved being at an international school - it was one of the greatest privileges of my life and my children’s life also. I loved that my children had teachers from Australia, Germany, and England. I loved that my kids friends had names like Aiden McFarlane, Gwamaka Mwamasika, and Mustafa along with the Davids, Micheals, and Matts. I loved watching the kids go into school in the morning. It was like a gathering of the nations and you could sit back in the parking lot and watch skin and hair of every imaginable color all joining together - arms flung around each other, holding hands, generally touching each other more often than we do here. It always brought tears to my eyes to see kids from all 32 nations dressed in their national dress on International Day - gathered under the roof of the gym. It was really a little like heaven. Mostly I will miss teaching these students from so many nations and cultures and even religions. It was an honor to know them, learn form them, and serve them. I will continue to pray and be in touch with these remarkable young men and women.

I will miss the Islamic call to prayer every morning. Although at first it is a little disconcerting to have a loudspeaker wake you up every morning with strange melodic tones in Arabic at 5:00am (for the first year we lived next to an Islamic boys school and they would let the boys do the call - believe me, it was anything but pretty. I would often hear my children out in the yard singing that call - they could imitate it perfectly!), but though I couldn’t understand what they were singing, I am missing that call each morning. It was a good reminder that God sustained us through the night. It was a reminder to thank God for the new morning and it reminded me how desperately we all need God and we need to pray - first thing in the day. I will miss that haunting melody and that loan voice calling out reminding me each morning of my great need for God’s sustenance.

In Tanzania we slept with every possible window open to get air circulation. It was similar to sleeping in a tent - where you could hear all movement and the sound of the breeze - and the dogs, and people, and insects, etc.. Our house was surrounded by puddles and they were full of frogs. These frogs would commence to serenading us at the top of their little croakers all night long - kind of like one of those white noise machines. These frogs were interesting little creatures. They were solid black with a bright orange stripe running down their sides. They looked and felt slimy and squishy. They could squish under the door jam and loved to come into our house during the night. They loved to get under my dishrag or in my sink (one lived in Anna’s bathroom sink in the overflow drain) and I would find them on the counter or in the kitchen sink early in the morning. They climbed with little suction cup feet and they didn’t hop but got up on all fours and walked. I am not too squeamish but I did watch where I was walking at night for fear of stepping on one and having it squish between my toes. And though I never thought I would say this, I am going to miss the sound of those frogs. They made for a serene way to sleep and wake up each morning - ok - so in reality the barking dogs usually woke me up in the morning but the background noise was still pleasant.

I’m going to miss bargaining for my food. As nice as it is to go into a store, see the price, and buy it - in and out - I am going to miss the walking down the street to the mama sitting on the side of the road with a pile of tomatoes and a few onions and carrots. It was nice to know the name of the person I was buying from and know that my business meant something to their family. And although it is a tedious process to bargain for every little carrot and tomato, (the longer you can stand their arguing, the better price you get), I secretly enjoyed the challenge of bargaining. I’m going to miss is.

I will miss the Tanzanian character. I will miss their music and their culture - their beautiful smiles and their expressive faces. I will miss how when the music started up, they simply could not keep still. I often would see very old ladies who could barely walk, dance and move when the music started. They seemed to be able to choreograph on the spot, without practice. I loved watching them dance. I am going to miss the joy that Tanzanians carry with them wherever they go. Benjamin, when asked what he thought of Tanzanians, said, “They are always smiling - even when they have nothing - they always seem happy.” Now I don’t think this is always true. Many Tanzanians have very hard lives and they do not always smile about their situations. But they are more joyful than we are in the West and I will miss living under the umbrella of their joy. It is a gift from God. Despite their plight with poverty, they are a blessed people. I will greatly miss friends that were made and families that influenced me.

Lastly, I will miss the many missionaries that we met being at HOPAC. I will miss the missionaries that lived in the city - remarkable people - who were so devoted to praying for and ministering to Tanzania. I will miss the bush missionaries that we met - many living with their families without electricity or access to food or medical supplies - often in malaria prone areas. They often stayed with us when they needed to come to town for food or supplies, shots after being bit by rabid dogs, a bed after their house was attacked by safari ants, or just for a rest and a swim in a pool. I will miss these brothers and sisters in Christ, all fairly regular people when you get to know them with the same issues that we all have, but remarkable people simply willing to listen to God. I have been honored to know them and spend even three years with them and their children!
I could probably write an equally long list of the things I will not miss in Tanzania but these things will quickly fade from my memory. Whereas these memories listed above will forever impact and remain with me. It has been a great privilege and an honor to live and work in Tanzania for the last three year. I am sad to say goodbye and the people we know we always hold a special place in the hearts of our family.