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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

In Mwanza

Yesterday we drove, and drove some more.  From the border we crossed NW Tanzania on dirt (mostly) roads, rough as washboards, choking with dust.  It took us about seven hours to reach the western shores of a bay of Lake Victoria, looking over to Mwanza.  It was 3:15, and the ferry was loading for the 3:30 crossing.  Perfect.  But no, the ferry was full.  Not perfect.  We had pushed through the day but then ended up standing around our car, in line behind two buses and a truck over-stuffed with bales of cotton, waiting.  For three hours.  It was painful timing, to be sure.  The usual truck-stop border-crossing atmosphere surrounded us:  women selling sodas and water, foot passengers congregating by the gates, idling men eating meat kebobs or laughing over beers, truck drivers lying under their engines with greasy hands pulling out wires, tinny music, curious kids, and of course one crazy man who flailed his arms and asked us repeatedly for money.  3:30, 4:30, 5:30 . . .finally the gathered vehicles began to rev their engines and edge up towards the gate, vying for a place in line.  The kids and I had to join the foot-passengers in a separate queue, where a man seemed to be preaching in Swahili then lifted his shirt and gingerly removed a towel to reveal a huge externalized pink loop of intestines pushing out of his skin.  Waiting passengers started handing him money.  Our kids tried not to look.  
Finally the ferry returned to our side, and the vehicles were loaded on, like cattle, inches apart.  Then the gates opened and the foot-passengers flooded on, with much pushing and cramming, until they could not squeeze one more.  People stood wearily along the sides, between the vehicles, on top of the vehicles, everywhere.  And we pushed off from land, to cross about 5 miles of lake water, shore to shore.  Being a mom, I annoyed our kids by pointing out that the ferry holding a dozen or more vehicles and hundreds of people had not one visible life jacket or raft, so if it went down, they should kick off their shoes an swim AWAY from people as fast as possible, then tread water and wait.  But all went well, kingfishers dove for fish, and the town of Mwanza emerged from the far shore, outlined by improbable volcanic boulders jutting out of the water.  
We are here to visit our friends Rob and Liz, a young doctor/nurse practitioner couple, who were college student interns in Uganda 12 years ago.  Rob was the cross-country runner God provided to help us carry our children to safety when we were attacked by the ADF.  Now they are academic missionaries, teaching and managing an ICU and doing research in collaboration with a US University and a Tanzanian medical school, raising their own young family with two kids the ages our were back in 1997.  They enfolded our dusty travel-weary smelly selves into their hospitable care, and we were so grateful we decided to stay two nights instead of one.
Mwanza is a Jinja-like town, the pastel lake-side Swahili feel, the bustle of commerce, the peace of an unbroken water view.  Rob works in a huge referral hospital providing an impressive level of health care, better than the best in Uganda.  He's brilliant, and dedicated, and it was inspiring to round the wards with him as he taught medical students and interns and residents.  Liz has a heart for orphans so we followed her mid-morning out to an orphanage where she volunteers, a cheerily efficient and homey place run by a British couple and a large Tanzanian staff, home to about 40 kids. Some were premature and needed special care, others handicapped, others just growing enough to be returned to fathers or grandparents after the death of their mothers.
This day has been one of respite, thankful for the diversity of the Kingdom, the great things that others are doing for the poor and needy.  Thankful for the cobbling of TZ government, Catholic Church, American University, NGO, and various other partnerships that allows the people of western TZ to access good medical care.  Thankful for the bonds of friendship across many years.  Thankful for a VERY COMFORTABLE apartment made available to us for hot showers and beds and time to wash out our dirty clothes and stock food for the next camping phase.  Oh, did I mention the hot showers again?  
Tomorrow, on to the Serengeti!


Rebecca said...

You guys are crazy and I LOVE it! :) Your blog has been my favorite to read (of all blogs on the interweb - can you believe it?! ;)) for the last two+ years.

My husband and I finally got to watch "Beyond The Gates" last night. Your recommendation. It is a fantastically done film. Heart wrenching to say the least. The only time we had to watch it was right before we went to bed. No, definitely not the best time to watch it! I lay wide awake in bed for two hours afterward, praying.

Love & prayers,
Rebecca xo

Rebecca said...

P.S. I'm not even a mom yet, but I can completely relate to giving instructions in case the ferry went down! ;)