Newletter from Africa – August 2020

Dear friends of Africa,                                                                                   August 2020

            We have started a new school term and having said goodbye to the form VI students all 220 of them and have welcomed the 180 new form V scholars. Today is also the funeral of Benjamin Mkapa who was the third president of Tanzania. He was ever a devout Catholic and did his secondary schooling at our Benedictine Abbey of Ndanda. In his autobiography he had glowing praise for the fine education he received under the tutelage from the monks there at Ndanda, mentioning many of them by name. One teacher whose name he could not remember but described only as a tall American who taught science was our own Father Kevin Barron from St. Paul’s Abbey in Newton, New Jersey. For sure they will meet there in Paradise and share fond memories of Ndanda. Of President Mkapa’s  greatest accomplishments perhaps one of the greatest, was the abandonment  of the straight jacket socialism bequeathed  from the first president Julius Nyerere’s  Ujamaa  (African socialism) policy. The economy surged in the  newly liberated atmosphere and new energy and enthusiasm replaced the drab climate of constant shortages and suspicion of non believers in the official party line. Harassment was rampant and even ourselves as missionaries were suspect of spying in the pay of foreign countries. Once I was stopped in the middle of Masailand, by militiamen miles from nowhere. I was going to an out station for Sunday services. I was told to get out of my land rover and was body searched for contraband. Finding nothing suspicious they searched the car and in the tool box they found a brand new oil filter. They removed it from its container and they found it very suspicious. They came the conclusion that it was a short wave radio that I was using to communicate with the CIA.   I had then opened   the bonnet of the car to show them the function of the oil filter. However the bar of soap in my personal travel kit was highly suspect of black market activity since I could not produce a receipt for the purchase of the item. And so the circus carried on nationwide and the time was overripe for a savior of sanity in the person of Benjamin Mkapa.

            He paid a visit to our school after his retirement and delighted staff and students with his wisdom and wit sprinkling his talk with quotes from Plato to St. Thomas Aquinas.  On arrival he first asked to visit the Chapel for a brief prayer before the Blessed Sacrament.  While the Sisters gave him the guided tour of the school, Sister Evetha  the Headmistress, asked me to prepare a suitable gift to present to Mr and Mrs Mkapa on their departure. Had we had advance notice of their visit we could have made something in our shops. But time was of the essence so I removed a beautiful wooden crucifix from the fourth year classroom and polished it until it glowed. The Mkapas’ gratitude was heartfelt and each both Benjamin and his wife Anna embraced the crucifix with sincere devotion. I was delighted to have saved the day with the crucifix. However the removal of the cross did not sit well with the Form four girls. They held a sit down protest outside their classroom. The whole class, Christians, Muslims and other denominations together demanded the return of their crucifix and were highly indignant that their study place had been invaded and defiled. I pleaded with them to enter in and promised to replace the cross but they said it would not be the same since they   had been studying   and learning for four years with their own cross and this new one would not be the same. They half heartedly agreed when I explained our need to give our honored guests a fitting sign of our gratitude for their coming all the way   to our remote school deep in the Usambara mountains. Within a week I had a replacement cross and was forgiven for my rude removal of their own inspirational icon.

Our teachers are working full time and flat out to prepare their students for the upcoming final examinations. When I leave school to go to my own house for the night at about 10 PM the lights are still on in the staff room with a clutch of students at each desk getting special help and advice from their class teacher. On days when it is not too cold the students sit in small groups with their teachers out in the warm sunshine. Since all of our teachers have free housing on the school property it makes it easier for them to devote more of their time and even free time for the benefit of the students. The fine overall academic performance of our school in the National Examinations attest to the efficacy of these teaching encounters. Again I want to thank you all for your participation in this worthy endeavor in enhancing the lives of these young African women and the future of Africa itself.

Sincerely,

Father Damian

Special study groups

Newsletter from Africa – July 2020

July 2020 Dear Friends of Africa                                                                                                              The Tanzanian government declared a back to school order for the end of June and we received our final batch of students today. This has been a trying time for all of us, teachers, parents and students together. Our Headmistress Sister Evetha told me this morning that seven […]

Newsletter from Africa – June 2019

Newsletter from Africa – May 2019

Newsletter from Africa – April 2019

Newsletter from Africa – Aug, 2017

September 2017

Dear Friends of Africa,

As of the end of June I have been in the United States on home leave. I have been meeting with friends and benefactors and spending very special time with family and both close and distant relatives. This is I must say the most agreeable part of my visit. We had a family reunion in the State of Maine in the far northeast and all the immediate survivors of the 14 in our family made it by car or plane to the event with the exception of one sister who was ailing at the time.

Some family members have visited me in Africa at one time or other. One of my sisters, Rose spent two years at Lupaso, a mission in the far south, working as a nurse in a small leprosy hospital. Some of these memories of Rosie in Africa go back to 1966. Most memorable is going with her on her hospital rounds as she gave out the nighttime medicines to her leper patients. The hospital was a mud wattle building with a thatch roof. Rosie had two little girls as her assistants, both little 10 year old girls, one who carried the medicine tray on her head, the other with a kerosene lantern on hers as the only illumination for the night time medications. Another memory is of Rosie amid a flood of tears telling of treating a little boy who had been trapped in a wild bush fire. He was only about 5 or 6 years old and found himself trapped one day in a grass wild-fire. Totally bewildered by smoke and the roar of the fire and losing all sense of a way to safety he climbed a tree. The poor little boy’s fate was sealed on that tree as the fire in the tall grass engulfed him. His cries of terror and pain quickly brought the villagers to his rescue and they brought him straightaway to the mission hospital.  But it was the sorry task of the hospital staff to watch with the little boy without a patch of skin left on his seared body until he drew his tiny last tortured breath.

Two other nieces worked as teachers at Mazinde Juu for extended periods of time and have left fine legacies both in their teaching in the Mazinde Juu classrooms as well as lasting bonds of friendship among the people in the surrounding villages.  I recall an incident when a young German couple came to Mazinde Juu for their wedding ceremony. They wanted a very simple wedding with no frills or fanfare. The young couple had inquired at one of our German Abbeys when searching for an understanding missionary to perform their wedding, and they were given my name. And so it happened on a Friday afternoon in early September 1995 the villagers brought our visitors to my door with their request for a simple wedding in an African surrounding. I was a bit baffled about the whole affair since our Benedictine brothers in Germany had neglected to inform me about the arrangement. However the common African approach to the unexpected is expressed as “Hakuna matata” that is “No Problem.” The ceremony was scheduled for the following day. Word spread rapidly throughout the villages of the impending wedding the next morning. Funerals are the only celebrations that can out-do a wedding for community participation. The groom who stayed with me for the night appeared dressed for the wedding in the newly washed jeans and a tourist token tee shirt emblazoned appropriately with “Hakuna matata” “No Problem” on the front and “No hurry in Africa” with a leisurely lumbering elephant on the back. I had no objections to his wedding apparel but my niece Kathy Esposito was disturbed since the bride to be had nothing of real show for a bridal gown. She did have a simple summer dress as I recall and the bridesmaid, Kathie, took a strip of an imitation lace tablecloth for a veil and a little flat-bottomed basket for a hat to hold the veil in place to complete the bride’s attire. So much for the simplicity of our bride and groom. When we reached our assembly hall which served as our house of prayer as well, the entire student body of the 400 students at that time and all the Sisters from the convent and every other spare space was filled to overflowing with the curious and devout villagers.

The Mass and Wedding ceremony proceeded with the usual decorum but as the couple left our hall the assembled students and villagers exploded with thunderous drumming and ululations. The young German couple, Mathias and his wife were given chairs in the shade to enjoy the jubilations. They were plied with African beer and roasted meats on bamboo sticks to give them strength for the day’s festivities. They were then escorted to the villages where food had been prepared and where they were fed and entertained for the rest of the day. I had excused myself from the day’s revelry but was on hand when the newlyweds were returned to the mission escorted by scores of men, women, and children of the village all the while singing, dancing and drumming with undiminished vigor. So much for the simple quiet private wedding they had envisioned in Africa. My niece Kathie stayed with us for three years and set high standards in our school performance in English and delighted the school with her well-chosen drama in English as well.

There was another one of the Milliken clan who came out to Tanzania and who also worked as a teacher at Mazinde Juu.  She was my sister Jean’s daughter, Therese. Therese also taught English which is an essential subject since the medium of instruction in the Tanzania schools was and is till today in English. Therese was a dynamic teacher always devising new methods to get the message across. Therese was also an avid basketball player as well and spurred our girls on to a love of the game. The novices of the nearby Holy Ghost Novitiate would vie to recruit Therese for their matches knowing thereby that the team that Therese played on would be the winning one.

On one occasion, we both attended an English teachers seminar in Tanga the Regional capital some 75 miles from Lushoto. It was a two day affair. During the afternoon lectures on the second day there was a horrendous downpour with deafening thunder and blinding lightening. All the seminar participants sat transfixed waiting for the proverbial roof to fall in. After a couple of hours, the storm passed and a brilliant sun blessed the landscape. However, the roads leading home were mostly running deep with rain water and I shifted into four-wheel drive on our heavy school Nissan to negotiate the flooded lowland roads. After 2 hours drive we began to leave the plains and ascend the foothills of the Usambara Mountains.  By then the rains were tapering off but we still drove cautiously on the twisting darkened mountain roads. The school was silent and dark when we arrived but soon lights appeared one by one in the Sisters convent. We were greeted with total surprise when the sisters received us. “How did you get here?” was their astonished greeting. The radio declared that the Lushoto road had been washed away two hours ago. But I assured the Sisters that we came home by that very road. Out of curiosity I drove down the following day to see the ‘wash out’. By daylight it was truly an awesome sight. The narrow strip of tarmac still clinging to the mountain side did not exceed by one inch the width of a normal vehicle.  However last night I had never seen the empty gap in the road nor had Therese and we certainly never would have attempted such a crossing had we seen the road that daylight revealed.

Today all of our former Mazinde Juu teachers are back in the States, steady on the march into aging  years for all, but  certainly carrying many memories of their days in Tanzania. I can also add that they have left a legacy there and are not forgotten by the many students and parents who were touched by their lives here in Africa.

God bless you all for your steadfast and generous support.

Fr. Damian Milliken

Newsletter from Africa – Mar, 2017

Dear Friends of Africa,                                                                                                March 2017

 

In any society including our African villages there are those people who stand out, the ne-er-do-wells by the score, that is the do nothings, the mafia type who thrive on the fear they instil to achieve their nefarious ends, then the common folk who make up the majority and get on with living. Those who have had the good fortune of schooling live afar at their jobs; teachers, doctors, nurses, engineers and other professionals. But the ones who top the list as doers at least in keeping families together in our community are the mothers and especially the single mothers. In some instances, they are the widows. In many cases the mothers are single when the father has bailed out of the partnership leaving the care of the children to their mother. Time and time again I have found these single mothers indomitable. A recent case is an example but it is not at all unique.

Her name is Salome. She has 8 children, three of children are still schooling the other five have jobs and do what they can to help out at home.  I never hear mention of the father. Throughout my years in the Magamba area Salome and her children have always been intermittent partners in any building and other school endeavours that have engaged me. Hand crushed gravel was one of Salome’s specialties. On Saturdays from dawn to dusk the tap, tap, tap of rock on stone resonated from Salome’s compound. There would be Salome with an infant on her back and every older child sitting amidst a growing heap of gravel. I was appalled seeing the brothers and sisters banging rocks on stones making crushed stone for my building projects. I asked Salome about using hammers but she replied that they were too expensive. So I took the boys to my tool shed and issued them with enough hammers to keep the family profitably pounding. Salome would borrow but never beg and always cleared her debt before the pay by date.

Two weeks ago, a tragedy befell the family. It was a Sunday afternoon when Salome had returned home after Mass. She decided to pick the avocados from her little orchard and she engaged an agile little boy to climb the trees to harvest the fruit. She was delighted with the quality of the harvest and paid off her helper with a full basket of fruit from the bounty of the picking that afternoon. But on surveying the trees later in the day she spied a branch that was laden with fruit but obviously overlooked by herself and her little helper. Salome is a tiny woman but with a tractor size determination in caring for her family. So she went up the tree herself to gather the fruit from the final branch. But the avocado tree is a jealous one and not forgiving of intruders on her claims. The limb Salome seized to reach for the ripened fruit snapped and Salome went down with an added weight of the avocadoes in her overfilled shawl. As she crashed earthward through the branches she fractured multiple ribs and her spine as well. She was rushed to our local district government hospital where the initial care was given mostly regarding the alleviating of pain inflicted by the fall but nothing further. She was then sent to the government referral hospital in Dar es Salaam, a full day’s journey from Lushoto. Lying on her back, over a period of a month Salome was repeatedly scheduled for an operation but each time the appointed day arrived the procedure would be cancelled. Salome did not have enough blood. The children had all donated but the doctors were still not satisfied. Finally, the last Thursday of February Salome was taken to the operating theatre. After a long delay the patient was returned. The report this time was the surgery could not take place. The reason given was the operating table was broken and not functioning. So the daily and nightly vigils go on. I have visited the stalwart mother twice since her hospitalization in Dar es Salaam, both for her sake and to bolster the spirits of the children who surround her bedside like guardian angels. Her radiant smile belies the pain that must come with all the broken bone wreckage in her tiny body. On my first trip after our prayers Salome gestured to me to bend closer; she wanted to whisper something to me confidentially.  It was a business deal.  She told me that she had delivered two trucks loaded with fire wood for our parochial school, St. Benedict’s. One truck I should pay $50 for both the wood and the transport. The second was for the school but for me not to let her children know that it was a donation.

The last time I visited Salome was the day before the last scheduled and aborted surgery and she was alone. I had the sacraments with me and we prayed together the anointing and the Holy Communion. Just as we were concluding our prayer a nurse came and asked me to give the sacraments to a woman who had been injured in a motorcycle accident. These machines by the way account for three quarters of all the hospital casualties today. So after taking this added call I made my way down the corridor. Passing Salome’s ward she beckoned me to come in again. This I did straight away and she then whispered softly. “You left something out of the anointing.” Then she went on “Father you anointed me, my head, my eyes my ears and mouth and my hands too but you forgot my feet.” So I fumbled among the bundled sheets and covers finally locating a foot which I anointed. “That does the trick,” I assured her, at which juncture she took my hand with oil still shining on my fingers, kissed them and then let me go my way. But Salome is the constant intruder on my thoughts and prayers where ever I am these days. She has no feeling below the waist and the nurses tell me that she will never walk again. But I have no doubt that somehow or other our Salome will get around. She has three children still in school and a determination that can grow legs or possibly wings if she has to. Her youngest daughter, Felista, is with me in Mazinde Juu in her second year of Secondary school. She comes nightly to my office after night study to say good night on her way to her dorm. She is the latest version of Salome, vibrant, cheerful and a delight to be near.  She is a perfect replica of her mother in body and soul.

Another quaint story comes from our Congregation Superior from Germany, Archabbot Jeremias Schroder. He had come to our mission at Sakarani here in the Usambara mountains and was meeting with the missionaries stationed here myself included. He was accompanied by an African priest from West Africa and the discussion one evening was quite lively. The topic was about witchcraft and superstition, mixing the beliefs from East Africa and West Africa. I was able to add some notes about my own observations here and added some Irish traditions as well. I had some authority on this topic for I had a similar discussion with friends years back when I lived in the south of Tanzania. I believe I must have shown a bit of distain in some of my remarks about the local superstitions at that time. Later when making a visit to the home of one of the fellows who was also at that discussion he let me borrow a book from his home library. He was by the way a very well educated African government official at the time. The book he let me borrow was entitled “700 Irish Superstitions” He, in a very gentlemanly manner wanted to let me know that we all need to call a spade a spade when it is called for. Getting back to our recent meeting at Sakarani in an all embracing discussion on witchcraft and sorcery Father Archabbot Jeremias related an encounter he had years back on a visit with a former classmate in Vienna. His friend was now a practicing Psychiatrist in the former hometown of the famous doctor Freud. As he went into his friend’s practice he noticed a gilded gold horseshoe hanging over the doctor’s front door. Being rather curious seeing that symbol of good luck over the door of a psychiatric clinic he asked his friend in jest, of course, if the noted psychiatrist actually believed in this good luck charm. The doctor replied good naturedly “Of course not” and when Jeremais asked further why he ever bothered having it over the door. And the charming retort came, “Because it works.”

To conclude I would like to quote from the local newspaper “The Citizen” of March 22 from an article about a recent altercation between the Regional Commissioner of Dar es Salaam and a local News Agency. The statement relates to the Commissioner’s storming the offices of the news Agency with armed police for the Agency’s failing to report some personal accusations that the RC wanted to put on the air about one of his vocal critics. The quotation is now a response made by Ms. Hellen Kijo-Bisimba the National Director of the Legal and Human Rights Centre of Tanzania because of the public support the President gave for the Commissioner’s high handed action. The daughter of Ms. Kijo-Bisimba was a student some years ago at Mazinde Juu and we are happy to hear solid comments coming from the women of Tanzania who have been silent for so long on abusive behaviour going unaddressed. (Quote from the Citizen) “Dr. Kijo-Kisimba said Mr. Mokonda’s actions were a blatant violation of freedom of the press (Storming the Agency’ offices). What Mr.Makonda did was an act of hooliganism. He also abused his position by attempting to force an independent media organization to air content that was purely of his personal interest. “He made a mockery of the rule of law.” she said. Dr. Kijo-Bisimba urged the public to step up pressure on the President Magufuli to sack Mr. Makonda before the controversial RC did further damage. She also criticised Dr. Magufuli’s assertion that he collected candidacy forms of his own volition ahead of the 2015 Presidential elections, and that nobody could tell him what to do to appoint or to sack. “It is not the candidacy forms that gave him the presidency, wrote Hellen, but the Tanzanians who voted for him. He’s obliged to listen to those who put him in power and put their interests first.”

This was a refreshing comment on the events of the day especially coming from an intelligent committed woman. Let us hope she keeps her job and stays around for a long time in her critical position. Our girls at Mazinde Juu have every reason to look up to her a former school Mom and follow her courageous example. In that same edition of the Citizen by the way there was another article which claimed that Africa was not moving forward because the voices of the women were not heard nor heeded. Let us hope that Mazinde Juu fulfils the role to correct that anomaly. Thanking you for your faithful support and belief in our cause for women’s education.

 

Happy Easter it is Life we celebrate.

 

Father Damian

Newsletter from Africa – Dec. 2016

                                                                                     December, 2016

Dear Friends of Africa,

I think back now to July of 1945 when Father Michael Heinlein, a Benedictine Missionary Priest, came to our Parochial school of St. Patrick’s in Elmira New York. He showed us movies of life in Africa and invited boys to join him in the work of the East African missions in Tanganyika. He passed out cards to interested boys and promised to come and visit us and talk to our parents. I was rather disheartened when I learned that many of my school friends had a personal visit from Father Michael but not at my home at 1002 Hoffman St. Little did I know then that my intriguing mother was putting him off day by day not giving Fr. Michael the opportunity to meet me saying that I often had to stay after school for extra learning. Father Michael was not to be put off however and eventually we did meet together with him, my father and mother and myself. That meeting culminated with my joining the Benedictine Mission Seminary in Newton, New Jersey in September 1946 for my freshman year of High School. I was a homebody if there ever was one and to this day I ask myself how I ever chose to go away to a seminary and I was only 13 years old. My mother and father were totally against the whole idea but the aura of the paternity and sanctity of Father Michael seemed to tip the scales to the option that I go to the seminary that September 1946.

Now to fast forward to November 1960, I was sent to Tanganyika. I arrived there in November 1960, 14 years after Father Michael’s visit in Elmira, New York. I would like to allude to the direction of my life without this Father Michael encounter but that remains in the realm of speculation and the eternal mind of God. What I can truly say is that much has transpired in my life that for good or for ill has been to keep me close to an African trajectory. My first day in Tanganyika getting off the DC 3 on a dirt runway in Lindi seeing naked children running beside our gleaming blue US made Jeep was like a replay of some other life experience that I had. In a former lifetime I could almost suggest.

My first five years were filled with intense school work teaching English and Latin to little boys beginning with grade five of primary school, daily supervision of construction of storied school classrooms and dormitories, safaris to the bush searching suitable trees for felling and turning them into roof rafters, trusses, windows, doors, school desks and furniture. I learned Swahili and bits of the tribal language of Namupa “Kimwera”  which still rings hauntingly in my ears,  and the fires in the evenings with children roasting cashews over open fires, the drums throughout the nights celebrating a birth, a wedding or a happy event of one sort or another or the calling of the spirits to take care of the imponderables of living. The nights were unbearably hot and the Aladdin lamps fed by kerosene gave off a bright white light but also a white hot heat. We wrote many letters in those days still with pens with ink and a towel on the page to take up the sweat from our arms.

Village problems were our problems, births, deaths, medical emergencies all were part of the unprogrammed day and night hours. I remember an emergency hospital call when I was called to pick up an ancient Mama with serious abdominal pains.  I was driving a VW Kombi and it was just getting dark when we left the mission. The woman had never ridden in a car before and began shrieking saying that the trees were all running behind us. She began gagging and put her head out the window for some air coughing and sighing the whole while. The anxiety and excessive activity of the poor woman caused her lip plug to get dislodged and fell out on the roadside. Now the whole trip had to be aborted for she could not be seen in public without that symbol of her dignified womanly decorum. So we stopped the car and went on the search for the lip plug which was about the size of a small saucer. Fortunately, it was of white wood and quickly found and the stomach pains were almost forgotten with the incident of the lost facial ornament.

I was just going into class one Monday morning and a young man approached me as I was about to give my Latin and English lessons. He grabbed me by the arm and said it was urgent. I told him my classes were very urgent too. He protested and claimed the whole life of their village was at a standstill. When I asked for an explanation he said, “There is a lion in our village”. It was a rather stark rejoinder and I asked what I could do about their lion. Without waiting an answer I ran to my room and took down my well used 30.06 (pre-WWI military) rifle and went with a young Swiss volunteer on his motorcycle to meet the lion. The scene at the village was so pathetic. The lion had been snared in a wire trap. The snare was drawn tight around its hindquarters and was attached to a heavy log about five feet long. The poor beast had dragged the log goodness knows how long, such a cruel agony for such a magnificent beast. I truly felt it had come to the village of its fellow creatures for relief in its pain and torment. Without doubt or hesitation my friend walked up to the lion in the village square and eye to eye put the barrel of the 30.06 on its forehead and said “Goodbye King.” No doubt that 20 year old Swiss boy recalls that moment to this day.

The daily commentary today of the devastation of the African wild life – flora & fauna leaves us dismayed. I recall in the 1960’s waiting on my silent motorcycle of an early Sunday morning going for Sunday Masses while a herd of elephants took their time to cross my trail. Leopard and hyenas were nightly visitors during the dark hours and we did not have to worry about the boys sneaking off to the villages for unlawful visits.

dec1
Former student’s son Damian with Damian elder

I thought at the time that the damage done to Catholic principles and education with the nationalization of our schools was irreparable. However, the opposite is true now with catholic schools both secondary and colleges blossoming throughout the country and with stellar academic performance. I also would like to add that Mazinde Juu can be found among the top on this list of these high performers thanks now to all you faithful supporters. In the early 1970’s the government nationalized all mission schools in an effort to bring all educational institutions into conformity with an ideology of African socialism. The socialist experiment was well intentioned and widely preached and praised but in the long run the program went the way of so many other good intentions. I recall attending a political rally setting forth the ideals of communal ownership. The speaker started his speech declaring that from now on if anyone in the village had a tractor or a pick-up it would now be the village tractor and pick up. The shouts of approval were deafening. He went on saying if there were cows or goats owned by individuals they would now be the cows and goats of the village. More shouts and cries of approval. The speaker was now all pumped up and went on to declare that all the ducks, chickens and pigeons would now be village ducks and chickens and pigeons. This statement fell on dumbfounded ears and a dead silent audience. The speaker looked out over the gathered villagers appealing, “How come” he said, “tractors, trucks, cows and goats are all now common property. Now chickens, ducks and pigeons, No Go, how come?” he shouted appealing. “Because we each have our own chickens, ducks and pigeons,” came the reply from one intrepid farmer.

Our great problem today I see is apathy. A recent example of this was a plea by the former Prime Minister Mr. Pinda. He had attended a prestigious catholic boys’ school run by the Irish Holy Ghost Fathers in the pre-independence days. The school fell into decrepitude after being nationalized and Mr. Pinda made a public plea to all the former students called “Pugu Boys” after the place name of the school, to rally round and start a drive to raise funds to restore the school to its former glory. On the designated day for the meeting Mr. Pinda was the sole attendee out of hundreds of Pugu boys who had passed through the school. He was seen standing alone paradoxically in front of the dilapidated school chapel dedicated appropriately to St. Francis of Assisi.

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New Science Laboratories

I had envisioned Mazinde Juu as a four-year Secondary school with an enrollment of 500 students. It has now grown into an Advanced level Secondary school with a six year curriculum and an enrollment of over seven hundred. It behooves me now to enlarge the kitchen and the dining room. Christmas is a wonderful time for making room in our hearts for those seeking shelter. We would invite your generosity in helping us making our rooms more welcoming too.

May the peace of our divine Saviour be with you all now and in the New Year and our deepest gratitude for all that you have done for us and are still doing side by side with us.

 

Sincerely,

Father Damian

Newsletter from Africa – January 2016

 Dear Friends of Africa,                                                                                            January, 2016

Our students have a penchant and an ability to go with it, to draft little memoranda and they leave them on my desk for my edification. When I find them particularly good I’ll read them during the meditation time at morning mass. A recent one goes like this. “The miracles of Jesus were unique. In biology he was born without a biological father. In chemistry he changed water into the sweetest of wines. In physics he walked on water. In medicine he cured without medications and in economics he fed 5000 people on just five loaves and two fish.” The author of this little prayer parodied the major science subjects we stress in the advanced level secondary school. i.e. junior college.

Yesterday I went to the Lushoto market to do a bit of shopping for my meager grocery needs at home. I was looking for some honey and brown bread. I was directed to a tiny shop and there found the desired items. The young sales girl was a tall attractive woman with an equally attractive manner. She provided me with my desired items and mentioned numerous things to boost the sales. To be honest it was not just the natural beauty of this lady that was attracting but it was the human nicety she had to point out other things that might fit my needs. Did she want to talk or was she that good of a sales person I don’t know but it was rather delightful being in her company and I was in no great a hurry to leave. As we all know there are people just like that nice to be with. At the close of our transaction I noticed reddish white scars on her hands. When I expressed concern about the scars she told me they were from being scalded with boiling water. There are also cases in my parish with similar signs and I gently asked. ”Was it from “falling down?” This is the expression for the condition of epilepsy.  And she replied with a side long look and lifted the  long garment generally worn here by women and revealed scared  tissue from her foot to above the knee like ropes of darkened contorted skin and knowing that I knew what it was all about she said ‘yes I fell down’. There are many cases of epilepsy here and most suffer scars of burns mostly from seizures in the African open fire kitchens. A young member of our church choir was missing for a couple of Sundays. Then during my visit to the village bringing Holy Communion I met the missing singer Christina. She came into the home where I was already engaged with some elderly people wanting the sacraments. She was limping with a homemade crutch.  Again a falling down case and her leg was charred black from foot to knee. I could tell from the looks and the odor that here there had been little or no treatment. My mind flashed back some 25 years ago when I had been doctoring for large wounds on my back due to melanoma surgery. The gifted surgeon Dr. Marshall of Elmira New York told me that the best treatment was water therapy just stand in the shower and let the tap water flow over the sores . It worked beautifully and we have introduced the procedure here in our villages especially for the frequent burn cases among epilepsy sufferers. It is now two weeks since our recent burnt leg started on the water cure, twice a day tepid water dripped from a tea kettle and in days new fresh skin seems to come alive. Christina, by name, now walks without a crutch and can even wear a slipper on her damaged foot. Long suffering is a unique African virtue. Even common place conversational expressions tie God to everyday life. Take a simple farewell like ‘See you soon”, would merit the reply, ‘If God wills it’. And meeting someone enduring a painful bereavement the expression, ‘With God there are no mistakes its’ all in His plan’, people will find it comforting. The following story I may have already written about but in the present context it can bear repeating.  It is about an elderly man named Alois who also has epilepsy. He had fallen into the kitchen fire and was left with a badly burned foot. He was totally neglected at the local public hospital so we brought him home for our own water therapy. After three months time he could limp around with a cane and an over sized soft leather shoe. Some years later as I returned from home leave l was informed that my friend Alois had fallen into the fire again. However the good news was that it was the bad foot again not the good foot that suffered the fire. The bad news however was that both hands were burned, the left one badly the right one less so. I had been gone for about three months so there was a big backlog of work to catch up on. I would daily promise myself that I would go to see my ailing friend. His patience shamed my procrastination and then he appeared in my doorway one mid morning. A bale of rags were bound around the damaged foot. His left hand was a charcoal black vestige of a human hand. His right hand was spotted with seeping sores. My first impulse was to rush him to the village dispensary. But he deterred me and said he wanted to go to confession first and to receive Holy Communion. He then made the painful climb up the stairway to the convent chapel and composed himself to receive the Sacraments.  It must have been weeks since he had a decent wash and was in a sorry state altogether. One of our Sisters belonging to his tribe later snapped off all the charred fingers like five burnt twigs leaving a paw like palm at the end of his fore arm. But in spite of his wretched physical state his devotion was impeccable. I wondered at the magnitude of the faith that found space to reside in the wreckage of that human body. The odor of festering and decay was so overpowering I was forced to open the chapel windows. He sat in the pew in a reverie of grace assured, his eyes closed and his shattered arms in his lap. As he opened his eyes he said softly. “I’m so very sorry to have troubled you so much but I really haven’t told about my real problem.”  As he said this he fumbled to open his shirt front with his few remaining fingers. This I did for him and he then pulled out a grimy plastic rosary. He held up the broken plastic cross of the rosary and said, ”Now this is my real problem and can you please help me with a new rosary?”

As sad as the funeral was there was a time of mirth when the body was to be laid to rest. It was not just an ordinary dug grave but an actual vault with bricked up walls and a laid floor. It is only the second time in my life when I have seen such an arrangement.  With all due ceremony, the coffin was taken from the home and carried to the burial place with hymns and lamentations. But when it came time to place the coffin into the vault it was discovered that the discrepancy between the width of the vault and the width of the coffin was about six inches. There were some heated recriminations between the pallbearers and the masons who built the vault and at one point it became rather unseemly considering the mother and the wife of the deceased and the other mourners standing helplessly by. Many of these then departed in a reverent silence, while the arguments continued over the coffin on how to rectify the impasse.I recently attended a funeral in Moshi some four hours drive from our home here in Lushoto. The people from the Moshi area are quite affluent compared with our people here in the Usambara Mountains. When I enquired from one of the local clergy who was also going to the funeral whether we would wear Roman collars, he replied,  ”Oh heavens never, they’ll take us all for Lutheran pastors.” And truly they were there in force all impeccably done up in smart black suits and Roman collars.

Later that afternoon one of our parents from the Moshi area came to greet me and lamented the row at the burial ceremony. She also related to me the recent burial of her own grandfather also of the Chagga tribe of the Moshi people. The grandfather was a rather wealthy man with a fine herd of cattle. On his deathbed he insisted that the relatives pick out the finest of all his cows and at his death that cow should be slaughtered and prepared for the funeral feast. To this they are readily agreed. But then he stipulated that his body should then be wrapped up in that same skin and that would be his burial shroud. He was delighted with this idea wrapped up in one of his own cows and being an unforgettable part of the feast on the day of the burial. As the days past, his departure became imminent and the cow was selected, one to his satisfaction. However with the old man now gone the offspring began debating the propriety of wrapping grandfather up in the cow skin. The real issue being, what would the neighbors say. So they got the fancy coffin and all of the frills and flowers that go with it. On the day of the burial as they were carrying the coffin to the family plot and lowered grandfather into the grave the heavens opened with a cloudburst orchestrated with thunder and lightning that dispersed everybody and the coffin left alone in the newly dug grave. On their return to the site the coffin was gently floating above ground in the grave full of water. The brother of the grandfather reproached the family for disregarding the expressed wishes of the deceased and told them all to go and find rocks which he piled on top of the coffin and to the horror of the family members he poked a hole in the side of the coffin with pickax and down it went with copious gurgling and bubbling. His final word to the family was that this is what they deserved for disregarding the expressed wishes of the deceased. The grand old man had never worn a suit or a tie in his life and instead of being wrapped up in the watertight skin of one of his beloved animals which sustained him and his clan for generations, his final resting was in a soggy black suit and tie which he had never worn in his lifetime. But for sure that funeral was never forgotten in that community and they now listen very carefully to their elders.

Last week was truly one of mourning for many in our diocesan communities. Our own Sisters lost one of their Community very unexpectedly. The last foreign missionary of the Rossminian Congregation, and a not so old one at that, lost their Father Tony Mitchel an ever cheerful Irishman who was only found because he did not show up for Mass in the morning and there he was asleep in the Lord in his favorite chair in the mission sitting room.

Our new President of Tanzania, Mr. John Mugufuli is making a lot of waves very early in his administration. On his first day in office he walked down from the State House to the Ministry of Finance and found just six higher officials at their desks. There was a lot of scurrying around after that visit. The following day he visited the Main City Hospital and found dozens of patients lying on the floors, many of them having been there for weeks without medical attention of any kind. The top hospital officials were banished on the spot. Today the heads of the Internal Revenue got the ax for allowing tax evaders to get off scot free with hundreds of cargo containers getting into the country without any Duty being paid. The saga carries on with daily revelations in the news. The most recent is the cancelation of the usual gala Garden Party for the official opening of Parliament costing millions of shillings being replaced with a tea and cookie party in the afternoon and the money saved being diverted to buy 300 beds and bedding to go with them for the Dar es Salaam city hospital. For the men and woman Tanzanian in the streets these are dramatic changes. The cartoon artists for the daily papers are having a heyday.  One delightful one was the depiction of a computer screen with a note stuck to it declaring. ”Your Honor President  Mr. Magufuli, I’ve just made a quick dash to the toilet, but I’ll be right back, I promise”. His latest as of today is the cancelation for all public celebrations for the National holiday for Independence on Dec.9th and for the local communities to spend the day in cleaning up their town and city streets. Foreign travel and junkets for Government officials are also out. The curtailment of the opulent lifestyle of the government officials is certainly justified when we consider the abject living conditions of so many Tanzanians, scratching away on tiny plots to eke out the basics for survival. All of these presidential efforts sound good to these people who live in the countryside in dire poverty for generations not knowing literally where the next meal is coming from. No doubt Mr. John Magufuli will incur the ire of the former elite and that will make his life difficult. But that is the lot of Prophets and Reformers and let us hope he is a man up to his job, better styled, his “Mission”.

And very close to home here at Mazinde Juu we lost one of our top teachers, Joseph Macha at the age of 42, succumbing to liver cancer after four months of great pain and discomfort. His devotion to his vocation as a teacher left all of us in awe and admiration. Time after time I would see him trudging up to school with his corrected home works under his arm. He was preparing the fourth year students for their big national exam last month. I’d tell him  ”Joseph, take it easy we have lots of help for the students and you don’t need to be doing all of this.” To which he always replied, ”These are my students from their first year and I am going to see them through to the last and I’ll finish the syllabus with them even if it kills me” And it did, but he died on the job doing it. God love him. Joseph’s wife Catherine kept us in touch with his progress till the last day and in fact the last hour. In his last message to Sister Evetha the Headmistress of our school here at Mazinde Juu, he asked Sister to forgive him for not having collected all the Mathematics books from the students before he left. To me his message was to forgive him if he had not really done his best in giving them what he should have as a teacher. His life example was a lifetime lesson for each and every one of us I can tell you. My gratitude to all of you who are so generous and selfless in reaching across the continents to make sure that our children have the classrooms to go into and the dedicated teachers like Joseph to inspire them. The Peace and Joy of Christmas be with you.

cozy house

Fr. Damian

Newsletter from Africa – April 2016

Dear Friends of Africa,                                                                                                  April 2016

The events I would like to relate now came from an encounter I had 55 years ago and the descriptions of events related to me at that time took place some 55 years previous to that. In other words, what I’m now describing are the observations of a young man who saw firsthand the havoc and the destruction of missions and villages during the Maji Maji rebellion of 1905 in Tanganyika. Very briefly the Maji Maji rebellion was the uprising of the people of Tanganyika against the German Colonial rule which extended from 1895 to 1916 when German occupation in East Africa came to an end with the defeat of the German forces by combined British forces from Europe, India and South Africa. The causes of the uprising were the usual complaints of any subjected people; forced labor, taxes and in general, unwelcome foreigners ruling over them.

The MajiMaji, came from the Swahili word “maji” meaning water. The medicine men who were key figures in recruiting fighters for the cause would sprinkle the fighters with “maji” water, which they were told would turn German bullets into harmless water.  Needless to say it did not work as prescribed by the medicine men and hundreds died in the conflict. The Maji Maji were strong in Central Tanganyika and spread south to Lake Nyasa and then East to the coast along the Mozambique border. It was the arrival of the Maji Maji at the mission of Nyangao where my story begins. Nyangao was a mission just 5 miles from where I was stationed at Namupa, my first appointment in Africa. That was in 1960.

It was a quiet Sunday afternoon and the boys at the seminary where I was stationed were busily occupied with sports and games during their Sunday free day. An elderly man came to my office where I was dutifully correcting English and Latin homework. This man was accompanied by an elderly woman seemingly of about the same age as her husband which I was later informed was in the mid-seventies. They were not at all enfeebled but quite vigorous, having walked the five miles from Nyangao to Namupa in little over an hour.

After the usual formalities of greeting the gentleman as I truly recall him from the impression he made on me at the time, made me a proposal. He needed money to buy a piece of property and needed 100 shillings to meet the price that was being asked. At that time 1 US dollar was worth 7 East African shillings.  He said that he had no collateral but would leave his wife with me until he returned the loan which he promised to do within ten days. I told him that I trusted him and after giving him the 100 shillings I said farewell and told him his wife would be better off with him than with us at the Mission. On the 10th calendar day he appeared again and with the wife as well. He thanked me profusely for the loan and brought a big bunch of bananas as a token of thanks and the 100 shillings wrapped into a dried banana leaf. I offered them tea and cashew nuts and we talked at length about local affairs, the coming of Independence in December of that year 1961, the rains and the nuisance of wildlife in our area, namely elephants who found the village cornfields handier for good lunches than foraging for hours in the forest for grass and tree bark. And the lions, leopards as well as hyenas thought the mission cows, goats, sheep as well as chickens were better for nighttime snacks than chasing wild pigs and fleet footed bush bucks through the woods.

I asked about his background and here came a story one of the most compelling I have ever heard and I believe this is the first time I have ever put this story on paper. He was born and raised a Muslem and was given the name Ramadhani. At the age of twelve he was given the job at the Nyangao mission as a cook’s helper, keeping the wood fire stoked and the pots and kettles scoured and gleaming.

It was the time of the Maji Maji and missions were vulnerable being the centers unfairly associated with the German government authority, but the most visible manifestation of foreign rule, big buildings, schools, hospitals all quite un-African in spite of being primarily for the benefit of the Africans. Even baptized Christians were targeted by the Maji Maji perhaps being seen as collaborators with the foreign rule.

Anyway to get on with the story, my friend Ramadhani told of the terror and fear of the approaching Maji Maji fighters. The Priests, Brothers and Sisters made preparations to flee to the nearest military outpost in Lindi some 65 miles away. The small mission band had weapons and as events unraveled according to Ramadhani they knew how to use them. As he was later to relate in his story that Sister Walburga was a crackshot and the best in the party. He himself was risking his life by fleeing with the missionaries but he was true and loyal throughout and never left his devotion to his benefactors in those hard and desperate times. He could have easily stayed at home in safety and let the Maji Maji ransack and burn the mission but he never left his Fathers, Brothers and Sisters in their desperation. I watched Ramadhani closely as he narrated his story of the flight to Lindi as he relived the harrowing events of that fateful night some fifty-five years ago. They left the mission in flames but were now bent on making it to safety in Lindi. However, the Maji Maji were also determined to obliterate the white faces that represented the colonial oppression and quickly began tracking the small band of fugitives. The details were not many but my narrator, Ramadhani, had the gift of the real story teller. The Maji Maji were hot on the trail of the fleeing missionaries about 4 or 5 in all. After a few hours of a mad dash through dense forest in the dead of night they felt that they had put a safe distance between themselves and the pursuing Maji Maji. They felt a bit relieved having escaped with their lives the destruction and the plundering of their mission and paused for a brief halt to regain their breath. Unwisely they made a small fire to boil some tea, a signal the Maji Maji picked up straight away. The missionaries were huddled in a small depression with a false sense of protection but totally exposed on all sides by the determined Maji Maji. The fighters had wiped out the mission but were determined also to finish the foreigners, the perpetrators of the foreign rule regardless of the peaceful services the mission gave, particularly the hospital and the schools that the missionaries ran. The little fire and the smell of smoke alerted the Maji Maji fighters and they began a bitter assault with spears and arrows on the missionaries. The arrows and spears were not very effective especially in the dark but the ferocious gun fire from the missionaries put the Maji maji on a more cautious footing. Any moving shadow on the rim of the enclosure called for gunfire and the initial results of the missionary weaponry made the Maji Maji very wary. During a lull in the battle Ramadhani bought the hot tea for the missionaries to drink. As Sister Walburga laid aside her rifle aside and turned to take her cup she was fatally struck with a spear in her side still reaching for that hot cup of tea.  Now I don’t know if there is an official account of this incident but these are the recollections of a man who claims to have been there. Those who survived the attack eventually reached Lindi mission and relative safety. Sister Walburga is now highly revered to this day and processions in her honor go to her grave every year on the anniversary of her death.

I never looked deeper into the history of the Maji Maji uprising and took as bare fact the unsolicited account Ramadhani gave me. It would be interesting if there is an official account of the destruction and flight from the Nyangao mission. If I find an approved authorized version of the death of Sister Walburga I will share it with you. For now, we have Ramadhani’s account of the recollections of a little 12 year old boy which I feel are quite authentic. At that time of this narration there were still many survivors who could have corroborated his story if I felt he was he was fabricating but the circumstances were such that I had no reason to doubt the veracity of this man’s reminiscing.   And for the processions to the grave of Sister Walburga on the anniversary of her death we may just as well be honoring a hero trying to save her fellows as others want to honor her as a martyr dying for the faith. That for me is all for the dear Lord to sort out.

But in our Benedictine congregation of St. Ottilien, death has certainly stalked our predecessors. In the late 18 hundreds and early 19 hundreds scores of missionaries, Priests Brothers and Sisters died before completing a brief one or two years of mission service, succumbing to malaria or some other tropical disease which were rampant and fatal at that time. A walk through the mission cemeteries is a revelation. Scores of mission personnel dying before even getting into their third year of service many never completing a single calendar year.  For our Congregation the death knell continued during the First and Second World Wars when all able bodied men were called up for military service from our German monasteries and 143 Priests and Brothers lost their lives. Daily as we call to mind our deceased for-runners in our congregation who have passed on, the KIA {Killed in Action} after the names of all those young men, is a grim reminder on not just being unknowing of the day or the hour of death but the how and why that they gave their lives is just as imponderable.

When the Communists took over in North Korea many of our mission personnel were captured and imprisoned. Thirty four missionaries died due to starvation or brought to their deaths by brutal beatings or frozen to death. St. Ottilien has published a book illustrating their heroic lives. It is mentioned there that many of those who were killed were specifically made to suffer for their Christian faith. Our very first mission in Tanganyika opened at Pugu near Dar es Salaam in 1889 and was overrun during the Bushiri revolt against the colonial government. It was burned to the ground and a brother and two sisters lost their lives and others were captured and held for ransom.

In the early days of the congregation many of the young confreres were inspired by the ideal of martyrdom for the Kingdom of God. But of course our goal was never to come out to die for the Lord but to live for Him and build up the Kingdom by fighting the big enemies that our first President Julius Nyerere so constantly identified as Poverty, Ignorance, and Disease. With our focus on Education we hope to provide the people with the knowledge to identify and find the means and have the will to eliminate the Poverty and Disease themselves.

Last month our Form VI students sat for their final National Examinations. The results of these exams will determine who will go on for further study at University level. As part of our preparations for the exams every Sunday night prior to the examinations we had a vigil for the Holy Spirit to enlighten their minds for the task ahead. It is a moving experience with just the Pascal Candle in the Chapel lit and letting the singing and the silence fill our hearts and souls. I never miss being there with the students and lend an encouraging word from time to time as well with a little ferverino to keep our sprirts high. I give them credit for their seriousness and devotion. Nobody walks out during the Holy hour which invariably goes on for two hours. And it is all voluntary. Now the exams are over and the students have gone home. Those who have been with us for the full six years of Secondary school have become like our children and leave a mark on the school as well as on us and leave a void as well. We are with these children day and night and hour after hour so in all likelihood we will have been with them longer than their own parents. However, the first year students fill the place with their youth and exuberance and help us to get over the loss of the ones who have gone on with their lives and we hope for bigger things. Our prayer for them is also that they will also be better beings.

Our new Library functions as a key center for them now and they put it to day and night use in honing their study skills. It completes the triangle of classroom and chapel in enabling the students to gain the moral and the mental habits that will fit them for their lives in the big outside world. That is what I like to think is happening.

Our sincere thanks to all of you who have enabled us to make a difference here in Africa in the lives of these children with the sincere hope that they too will also go on to continue to make a difference in the world in which they live.

Examination timeMazinde Juu Carpentry

Sincerely,

Father Damian