My African adventure: Preparation and departure – Feb. 22

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It was in Herrnhut, Germany in 2015 that the Rev. Peter Kawageme of the Mlimani Theological College in Rukwa Province, Tanzania invited me to come to his school to give lectures on Moravian history. I have wanted to go to Tanzania since the mid-1980s when I was a student at Moravian Seminary. One of my classmates, Edward Mmanywa, was from that country, and I admired him greatly. Since then I’ve had many friends in the Moravian Church visit Tanzania and tell me how wonderful their visit was. There are now seven provinces in Tanzania with nearly one million members. That is ten times the number as in the rest of the world combined. I teach about this a little in my Moravian history classes, but I really wanted to see and experience it for myself. So I told Peter that I would come, but then other obligations and trips put his invitation out of my mind.

At the beginning of the fall term, he contacted me to see if I could come this academic year. The only time that worked for me and for his school was during MTS’s spring break. I figured out a way that I could be gone from school and home for two weeks. It would take two days of travel each way and I would have eleven days in the country. One week would be in Sumbawanga where Peter lives and works. I also felt I should visit the TEKU university in Mbeya, which is on the way. So, we made plans and he consulted with the officers of his school and the province. In October I received a formal letter of invitation, with a tentative itinerary, and I purchased tickets from Delta. Allentown to Detroit to Amsterdam (change plans with a long layover) to Kilimanjaro. Overnight in Kilimanjaro and then a late night flight on FastJet to Dar Es Salaam. Overnight there. Another flight to Mbeya and then a long car ride to Sumbawanga. What could be easier?

And then other obligations and travels (Morocco, Jamaica, North Carolina) occupied my mind. Finally in January I realized I needed to get serious about this trip. It would be my first trip south of the Equator, and my first trip in 20 years to a malaria zone. I had to get inoculations against typhoid, hepatitis, tetanus, and other diseases. I purchased something that would sterilize water just in case there was not ample bottled water. The doctor gave me stern warnings about all the ways I could get sick and die in Africa. Don’t eat fresh fruits and vegetables unless they have a rind that you can peel. Brush your teeth with bottled water. Don’t swim anywhere, but especially not in places where there are crocodiles. Be wary of dogs because they may have rabies. Never go barefoot. Use Deet spray three times a day. Keep hydrated. Wear a hat. Don’t flash large sums of money. Only eat food if you see the steam rising. Buy insurance so they can evaculate you to Nairobi or home. By the end of the visit I was reconsidering my trip!thumb_img_0480_1024

And some of friends who had been so encouraging about going to Africa suddenly began telling me of the horrible things that had happened there and the various ways I could get sick, die, or offend someone. And then Peter wrote to say that the rains had come and the weather was cool and wet, and the mosquitoes were bad. I made a rush order on Amazon to get Permethrin to spray on all my clothing to kill mosquitoes, which took a long time to do because I was packing for both hot and cool weather. And somehow in the midst of all that I prepared my lectures.

Africa! By the time I left I was worried and over-prepared (I thought), but I was also excited. I was going to the birthplace of the human race, to the continent that Europeans knew almost nothing about 200 years ago. I was going to a place like no place I had ever been. So many of my images of Africa came from movies like the African Queen and documentaries about wild animals and exotic tribal peoples. I knew in my mind that Africa is a modern continent and not Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”. But still, there was a tingle in my heart as I packed my bags. One bag of clothes. One bag of all the stuff for the plane and my computer. And one full bag of books and other gifts. I took my first anti-malaria pill, kissed the womenfolk good-bye, and started on my long trek to the land that was like no other I had seen.

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