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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Crossing to TZ

We left Rwanda behind, a place of surprising sophistication, as the sun set Sunday, crossing a narrow bridge over chocolate-frothing water at Rusuumo Falls.  Tanzania, with its fluttering trash and frustratingly unavailable border agents, felt a bit more like home.  First shock:  the visa fees for Americans doubled.  Painful.  Second:  the man with the key for the stamp for the paper which allows us to bring in a vehicle, had gone home for the evening.  We were told to just sleep at the border and wait for him the next day.  Not a very appealing prospect.  By this time we had incongruously struck up a rapport with the immigration agents who were charging the exorbitant visa fees, and gradually they took pity on us, and one went to fetch the man with the key.  Only a half-hour of receding dusk was left by the time we cleared all the bureaucracy, and drove eastward.  Our map showed a wildlife reserve . . . but in reality the reserve could only be entered through the official gate 150 km (several hours) away. As the sky faded to pink we came to a small cross-road, the first settlement we had seen since the border.  By this time we were ready to stop almost anywhere.  We turned left.  

Within a kilometer we saw a sign for a Free Pentecostal church, several homes and sheds and lots of grassy space, fenced by rusting barbed wire.  We pulled into the gate, seeing no one.  Scott and Luke (who at least has a year of school Swahili and can ask if we can sleep here .. .) walked around until a handful of people emerged.  Being true hospitable Africans, they were quite willing to give us their house, but we merely asked for permission to set up our tents out by the animal sheds, where there was plenty of space and a cushion of grass.  Curious kids watched as we briskly unfolded our three little tents and blew up mats and spread out sleeping bags.  It was completely dark by the time we lit charcoal and made a dinner of pasta and sausages, the moonless sky full of stars, the audience faded back to their own homes.

Though we live in Africa, and encounter ordinary people all the time, this evening was special.  This pastor and his family had no agenda for us.  They refused our offer to pay for the night.  We were the ones in need, and we took the risk to ask for their help. After haggling with the immigration officials and being parted from a large sum of our cash, it was a refreshing contrast to be simply human beings sleeping unexpectedly at someone's home.  We awoke with the daylight and packed up, shaking hands and offering thanks.

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