I had a nice flight to the Songwe International Airport in Mbeya early in the morning, and I was happy to see that Peter Kawageme was there to welcome me. I have learned very little Swahili, but Karibu is an important word. It means “welcome,” but I think Tanzanians invest more in welcome than we do. I heard Karibu many times on my travels. Peter was there with a Toyota Land Cruiser owned by the Moravian Church and with the vehicle there was a driver who spoke a little more English than I could speak in Swahili. The weather was cool and damp in Mbeya, which is about 6000 ft above sea level.
The drive to Sumbawanga was so different from the congestion in Dar Es Salaam. At times we were the only vehicle on the road. I had not realized just how agricultural Tanzania is. We passed miles and miles of corn. It was almost like Wisconsin, but the plots of land are small farms. The farmers walk a considerable distance to tend their crops. Every time we came within a few miles of a village or town we see many people walking or riding bicycles beside the highway. Most of them are carrying something either to the market to sale or something they have bought from the market. The women carry things on their heads. I knew they did this and have seen it on television, but it is an amazing thing to witness in real life. I do not know how they balance the things they carry while they walk. Large bags of charcoal or huge bundles of firewood. I saw one little girl, about eight years old, balancing a round-handled hoe on her head. Wherever I have been in the rural areas, this is what you see. Men often had even larger loads that they put on their bicycles, which they pushed up the highway. The towns and villages are bustling places with small shops that sell a surprising variety of goods. If you want to see entrepreneurship in action, go to Africa!
The landscape changed as we drove across the country. At times it reminded me of western North Dakota with horizon all around. Other places were more of Piedmont. But the most striking thing was how brilliantly green and lush the landscape is. The highway we drove on (a two-lane road in America) was built by the American People. I know this because there signs every 50 miles or so announcing that it was built by the American People! Only one of the signs was in Swahili, so I assume that the American People really wanted people like me to know that we had built the road. I suspect that our new President will not be investing in places like rural Tanzania, though, unless it is to build a golf course. I would love for him to experience what I have experience and see just how hard people here work and how well that work with what they have.
We stopped to buy four enormous bags of charcoal from several men who were standing at the edge of a field. They make the charcoal themselves. Peter kept asking me if Americans cook with charcoal and I tried to explain that we only do that in the summer when we grill outside. The idea that we have sufficient electricity or natural gas to have stoves and ovens was almost unimaginable to him.
We finally arrived at our destination. I am staying at the Moravian Conference Center, which is owned by the church but which is a profit-making enterprise. It is quite lovely, although not luxurious by any means. They are providing me with a large room with a bed complete with mosquito nets. And I have a bathroom. Sometimes there is sufficient water pressure to shower; sometimes not. But it is so nice to have a private place to relax. And the best surprise of all is that the internet works some of the time. My first night the power went out and I cursed the fact that I forgot to bring the solar-powered light that was invented specifically for Africa! But it was peaceful to sit in the dark and rest from the long journey. Already my mind is filled with images and conversations with Peter. Tomorrow will be a long day, though. The church’s leaders are taking me deep into the country to preach at a village.