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.

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.

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.



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


Father Damian

Newsletter from Africa – May 2015

Dear Friends of Africa,

May, 2015

Throughout my years in Africa beginning with teaching in boys’ schools and various pastoral assignments there was also a lot of building going on. This was always a hands on program: hauling sand out of nearby rivers and breaking stone by hand with hammers to make gravel were givens. In most of our building projects our most sophisticated construction machine was a wheel barrow. Mixing concrete was all done by hand and carried in metal pans usually on the head often up two and three stories on rickety scaffolding. I have seen women climb a wooden ladder up two stories with a pan of concrete on their heads without touching the pan or the ladder. Today with the onslaught of the mobile phone we can find our women carrying the same loads all the while chatting away merrily on their cell phones.

All of our building activities are based heavily on human endeavor as I have already indicated. Excavation on the hillsides to prepare the building site is all done with pick and shovel. When wheel barrows fall apart we could still move if not mountains certainly parts of them by piling earth on cow skins and dragging them to the dumping site.


Building materials could be varied from burnt bricks made from the excavated clay, compacted earth blocks and when a storied building was needed, handmade cement blocks. All the timber and wood work of windows and door frames, roofing trusses and furniture come from our own forest plantations. Each year at the beginning of the rainy season we plant hundreds of trees so we are self providers of our lumber needs.

I still depend on my two men pit sawyers to cut our logs into the boards the size we need. People tell me to get modern and get the job done by machine in half the time. But chain saws are noisy, expensive and wasteful. Besides, every two man saw we have in operation means with our three 8 foot saws that we have 6 men employed, supporting their families with a weekly wage. These men have been on our building team for many years and are now harvesting trees they helped plant 25 and 30 years ago.

On using our home sawn timber my dear friend, Brother Fortunatus of whom I’ve already written,  used to warn me of the failure of using uncured timber and said that the rule was for every inch of thickness it requires one year of air drying time. I’d sometimes shorten the time and learned to my dismay to find doors warping and table tops splitting. In time we learned to shorten curing time for timber to 10 days by drying the lumber in a homemade kiln, heated with scrap wood from our lumbering activities.

Years ago during my first appointment while building a three story building in Southern Tanzania, we came to an impasse. We had added a third story in the form of a little observatory tower for astronomy classes. During the final plastering and rendering of the overhang on the roof of this observatory our head mason complained and said he could not do the job. I was called to mediate and he reiterated his refusal and said he would not be able to do that upside down kind of a job. Granted our scaffolding was rather skimpy, but not really extraordinarily so. I even demonstrated by lying down on the platform myself and learning over the open space. I showed that with someone to hold my legs I could do the job myself. Then came the real crux of the issue, “Yes” he declared, “You are a priest and the Lord takes care of your kind of people. But look at me, a simple catholic and I haven’t been to confession in over a year. I can’t take this kind of a chance”. So we resolved the issue and got a mason who had been to confession the Saturday before and the plastering job was done post haste.

I also recall during those early days after the Declaration of Independence on December 9th , 1961. There was a lot of hope and yearning for a better life. It took the new leader Julius Nyerere and his compatriots time to find their feet and plot the way forward into the future with many ups and downs.  We are now there after 54 years of Independence. We have had four peaceful elections with Presidents serving each two consecutive five year terms, stepping down and passing on the baton to the new comer at the end of their mandate. There was never a qualm or a quibble over extending beyond the constitutional limit of two five year terms. Tanzania has been a haven throughout its history as a land of refuge for the oppressed of every country on our borders. There was and still is civil war in Mozambique and there was unrest in Malawi for years. The Congo is still up in flames. Children are born, live and die in a constant fear and flight for refuge and safety without respite, Rwanda and its killing fields where 800.000 men, women and children lost their lives. Burundi is again a country in discord where the incumbent president intends to extend his time in office to another full five year term contrary to the constitution and to the dismay and anger of much of the populace. Refugees from Burundi are pouring across the border into Tanzania at this moment with scores of people dying of cholera in makeshift camps. Dar es Salaam means “The haven of peace”, in Arabic and Tanzania has heroically fulfilled this task for the survival of thousands of desperate people fleeing for their lives.

When we hear of the abductions and massacre of school children in Nigeria and recently in Eastern Kenya, we ask ourselves how girls’ schools have become the battlefields, the front lines and the trenches against fanaticism. And this gives us all the more reason and determination to increase and better our schools to make sure that we are up to the task of confronting the ideologies which would deny them their God given birthright to learning.

I always remind our students when they come to Mazinde Juu that the first rule in our school is to be happy, meant in a kind of lighthearted way but I mean it. It seems almost ludicrous to have such a rule now seeing what is happening all around us. But now it is like a clarion call when so much today would wipe out happiness and security altogether.


Some time ago I wrote of the horror taking place in our own country of Tanzania with the killing and maiming of Albinos, especially children. Their body parts were being used by witchdoctors as charms to achieve wealth or success for their petitioners.  There was a public outcry and the advocates for the safety and welfare of Albinos from Canada came to Tanzania to show the International concern for this human outrage and support for the families of the victims. Yesterday I read an article in our leading English newspaper. I want to quote a paragraph from this article which reveals another facet to this abominable practice. From The Guardian  May 27, 2015. “The police must work to arrest “buyers” of body parts of persons with Albinism and not only the suppliers, the Tanzanian Albino Society has urged. We have witnessed the arrest of Witchdoctors and the killers. The society now also wants to see the agents and the buyers of the Albino organs being arrested. The Society decried the fact that the killings of albinos have increased this year and noted that the increase is associated with the upcoming General Elections slated for October of this year.”

What a sad commentary this is on the corruption of a laudable democratic process. Our thanks to all of you who help us to keep our girls smiling and safe.

Our day in Mazinde Juu begins at 6 AM sharp with the entire school body assembled in the school hall for Holy Mass. In our joining instructions for entrance to the school it is indicated that every student is expected to attend this function. It is never intended that we would proselytize or persuade a student to become a Catholic and even if a child asked to change her religion, we tell her wait until she gets home and confers there with her parents on this issue. I once had to terminate a teacher who was taking students for what he called were private lessons in Physics and when I went one day to check on the progress of the science study I found him preaching heatedly, shaking the Holy Bible held aloft. He had told the students that if they accepted his brand of Christianity they would surely get the highest grades and there were some who in desperation fell for his line. He left the next day. But for good order we want the whole school body together as a school family, to thank God for the gift of life and ask for the blessings and grace to make the most of the coming day. The students bring their Bibles and Korans and lesson notes to the hall and when I arrive to have 730 of them in silence with a dozen Sisters in attendance I feel a special presence and it is a joy to be a part of it all. Since our hall was only designed accommodate 600 students the double class of first year girls sit on benches on stage. I feel like a hen with 6 dozen chicks, surrounded by all those vibrant children. It is also quite special to be there when these very young people come into the pulpit at 12 and 13 years of age and do a reading to the assembled 750 in English or Swahili. I also have my evening duties checking the study halls at night. If the girls suspect my coming they will be extra quiet. But when I come and catch them unawares and they are in an uproar, we have words. I then remind them of their first lesson from me when they came to Mazinde Juu when they were all told to write, Rule Number ONE of Mazinde Juu .”Father is always right” and rule number TWO, “If Father is wrong, go back to number ONE”. I go from desk to desk to check on their performance and progress. There is always the unpredictable and the unexpected. Last week for example, I came into the first year study hall and surveyed the orderliness of the study room. I casually sat on a desk and checked visually attendance and class concentration. As I glanced about the room a girl came up to me and told me, “I need my books” and I replied somewhat sternly “Why are you looking for your books and study time is already ten minutes underway”? She replied “I can’t get my books” and when I saw that she was about to cry I  softened my tone and said, “Now tell me dear why can’t you get your books?” and she replied, “Because you are sitting on them”. That same night I came into the 3rd year high study hall. I went from desk to desk. The girls always turn their heads so I can put a hand on them to give a blessing. I noticed that one girl had a little teddy bear on her desk and there I paused. As I stood there next to her I thought that I would be a little smart and said quietly.”Look at that bear, he’s got no claws and he’s got no teeth, what good is he?” And she looked up at me beatifically and said “He smiles.” I had no further comment.

We are a very mixed group of people here at Mazinde Juu, from the point of view of tribe and religion. There are more than 120 tribes living in Tanzania, although today the tribal affiliation is gradually morphing into a national affiliation. In a way it is sad to see even in my life span in Tanzania children who cannot speak their tribal language and it also happens that there are children coming to school with English as their first language and learning Swahili here with us. When I first came to Tanganyika in 1960 as the country was called before Independence, we used to have Tribal Day, a great festival where the students would fashion tribal dress and perform songs and dances accompanied with drums and the traditional instruments. It is now sad to see a parting from ancestral ways which cannot now be recovered. It is plainly the environmental decay of a culture, similar to the way we are wiping out so many living species and other vital elements of our land and waters.

We  thank you for your generosity to Mazinde Juu where books will always be available and bears will always smile, helping us to prepare these young women mentally and morally  for the arduous tasks that life will put to them.

God bless you all,

Fr. Damian

Letters from Africa – March 2015

Dear Friends of Africa,                                                      March, 2015

Last month the Headmistress of Mazinde Juu had the sad duty of attending the funeral of the father of one of our third year students, Elizabeth by name. During a private moment in the evening of the burial, Elizabeth pointed out to Sister Evetha the high wall around the courtyard of the house, topped with shards of broken glass. She then said “See how much our father loved us, me and my two sisters? Who will protect us now that he is gone?” She was referring to the fact that she and her two sisters are all albinos and savage attacks upon on sufferers of albinism in Tanzania today continues unabated. Outright kidnapping and maiming especially of children for arms or legs as well as other body parts are common gruesome newspaper stories. Some very thought provoking editorials delve deeply into the barbaric practice and seriously probe the deplorable superstition founded on gross ignorance. Superstition is still doing well and thriving at all levels of our society. And now with the national elections approaching, there are open allusions that the political hopefuls are leaving no stone unturned to secure a successful election. The belief is widespread that witch crafting using  the skin or body parts of albinos is one of the most powerful and efficacious  means of securing a successful outcome of any grand human illusion whether it be finding gold, winning an election, or landing a big job. The sky is the limit.

The President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, recently met with the leaders of the International Association of people with albinism and pledged full support in eradicating the evil practice which is rife in our country and during the very last days of the meetings a 6 year old boy had his arm severed by the devilish dealers in body parts. The dichotomy between public policy and actual practice could not have been more dramatically brought out. Cries of the national shame and the blemished image of our country also fill lengthy columns in the national daily news reportage. However the common belief that politicians will exploit every avenue to secure elections tarnishes every campaign speech and promise.

During the last Presidential election which coincides with the parliamentary election as well, I was approached by one of the hopefuls for a post in parliament. He had a promotional T-shirt with his image and logo colorfully portrayed on the front and asked me confidentially whether I would wear it during the 12 hours of Election Day. I thought at first that he meant it as a joke but he was serious.

 With regard to the baleful record of human suffering brought about by such superstitious practices, I recall a long conversation I had with a well educated and highly regarded Tanzanian on this very topic. He was a devout Catholic and spent many years with the International Refugee Services as an administrator. At the time I was the priest appointed to a Refugee Camp in the South of Tanzania during the war for Independence in Mozambique. My friend, Cassian by name, had invited me to his home for supper and we continued our discussion after our meal. This was some 45 years ago and even then secondary education was a very special prize to have achieved. Cassian‘s book shelf was well stocked with Swahili and English titles. On my departure he handed me a rather thick green bound volume entitled in gold lettering “750 Irish Superstitions”. He told me to be sure to return the book as soon as I finished with it.

Now having come this far in my revelations about witchcraft and superstition I must make a confession of having indulged in it myself. The occasion was a robbery at our school, a minor seminary for boys in the South of Tanganyika as it was known then. During a Sunday night movie entertainment for the boys, my room was broken into and my clothes closet forced open. Oddly enough the only item taken was a steel ammunition box containing cartridges for my 30.06 rifle. The rifle came in handy to frighten off the stray lions and hyenas which frequented our school compound at night and also more to the delight of the boys to fetch an antelope or wild pig from time to time adding a bit of bush soup for the table. I was relieved that the rifle had been left for had it been taken I would have been in serious trouble with the police who were very strict on the regulations concerning the safe keeping of firearms. I suspected that the thieves were only interested in money and mistook the heavy steel box for a small safe.

However this was still a loss for us and furthermore the fatal shooting of a local shopkeeper added to my uneasiness. The police were making a village by village search of every dwelling and persons owning firearms were to make a full accounting of weapons and ammunition in their possession. Here I am now the owner of a rifle without a bullet to go with it. Records were also kept of the purchase and use of ammunition and these were also scrutinized by the police during the yearly inspection and licensing of guns and ammunition.

I had a bit of authority as prefect of the school at the time and told the boys that instead of sports that afternoon they should all make a search in and about the property and a reward of 50 cents would be given for every bullet recovered. Monday and Tuesday passed without the recovery of a single bullet. The police were approaching our village and would be demanding an accounting from me within the next 24 hours.

That Tuesday night at supper over my tea I had a brainstorm. I took my used tea bag in a bit of newspaper and back in my room I arranged a little framework of bamboo around the broken window and then suspended the tea bag in the center of my construction. The pathway behind our building was a thoroughfare to and from all our local villages. The next morning one of the students came to my office and told me that he had seen the metal box. He took me to the back of our building and there neatly covered with fresh grass was the green US army ammunition box with every bullet, 52 of them, accounted for. But not only was the use of black magic effective in recovering the lost items but the security of our school boundaries was now assured. The trespassing on the school property as a shortcut stopped abruptly as of that day.

To tell the truth I felt guilty in pandering to the local fears of witchcraft. I confided in a fellow priest, an African father, and he told me the end in this case justified the means. He also told me that the general belief of all the local people was that we whites had just as many spells and antidotes to them as the Africans. The problem for them he said that the Africans could not really tell what antidotes an African could use against white witchcraft.

While on the subject of white witchcraft, I recall a lion hunting expedition I was called to join to drive out a pride of four lions who had taken over the village springs. It was a first encounter with lions for me and one which I only reluctantly participated in. Frankly I was a bit scared and being the only participant with a gun, my position in the drive was to be point man backed up by villagers with spearmen and others with bows and arrows. Even the primary schoolboys absconded from school to take part in the hunt. We did manage to kill two of the lions. Two ancient tribesmen put one lion out of the game with their homemade bows and arrows and I managed to dispatch a second. The two remaining lions seemed to have disappeared or so we believed. But the point of this narration is the witchcraft element. After I had gone back to the mission the men who had taken part in the lion episode all came to the mission. To tell the truth I was calming my shattered nerves with a double shot of Gorden’s Gin when they arrived. I could not believe that I had just been a matter of three feet from an enraged lion bent on my demise and my defense was not at all great hunter’s skill or cunning but just putting my rifle in the lion’s mouth and letting go. When I answered the knock on my door, it was a rag tag assortment of warriors of sorts with a varied collection of knives, spears and clubs. When I asked what I could do for them they said they wanted ‘’dada’ from me, meaning medicine. The medicine needed was to ward off any evil that the dead lions might wreak upon us. It was their firm belief that being the cause of death, even an accidental one, to any of five animals namely, a lion, a leopard, a hyena, a kudu, (a very regal antelope) or a human being, required a very special ‘dawa’ to neutralize the evil spell attached to the death of any of the above. I looked back at the half empty glass of Gorden’s and knew that it would hardly suffice for that crowd. But it dawned upon me that it being Ash Wednesday and “Remember man that thou art dust”, that surely the holy ashes could also suffice for warding off the deadly curses. So I led the whole troop into our makeshift chapel where all dipped their fingers into the bowl of ashes, swallowed some and rubbed the ashes on their faces and then took big swigs of holy water which was always on hand in a great earthen pot in the sanctuary. We all rested peaceful that night. However it was well that the villagers all stayed securely inside that night for the two remaining lions who escaped the daytime drive paid a visit to every house where there was a bush knife or spear that had been bloodied in the killing of the two lions that day. Fortunately there were only claw marks on the earthen walls and veranda floors and sometime a bit of damage to the bamboo doors to let the occupants of that house know that they were on a watch list. You can take it or leave it, but I was there and am happy to be still around to tell the tale.

I am writing this letter tonight on the 26th of March, bathed in the comforting glow of our energy saver bulbs powered by 4 hundred watt solar panels on the roof of the building. It has been my dream of using as much of the friendly African sun to help us illuminate our school in the night time hours. This was part of our appeal last year and we are now on the way to the reality of the dream. We have always had solar of a very minor sort to light stairways and critical areas during black outs on the national grid. These are becoming more and more frequent and fueling a generator is almost as expensive as the national electric power supply. So in January we started in earnest in implementing the solar electrification of our major buildings. The present classroom building contains four large study halls with 65 students in each hall. Along with labor this investment comes to about four thousand dollars.  If this trial period is successful then I’ll continue to solar power all our study halls and eventually the entire school complex. With our electricity bill running to three thousand dollars a month our investment should be repaid easily in a year or two.

Along with the sun powered lighting we are also going to fully supply our kitchen with biogas. Our pilot project has functioned beyond our expectation for over a year so the time is right for us to gas power all seven of our 40 gallon kettle stoves. We are talking of keeping seven hundred and thirty teenagers from the brink of hunger. Our consumption of firewood keeps 3 men fully employed to keep these fires burning. Although wood is a renewable energy source, I’d rather see our forests return to their original species which blanketed our hills for eons. This year we have planted 1400 indigenous species of trees and some wag commented that who would be around in 150 years when they matured. I replied that we all could look down from heaven to see the Usambara Mountains again adorned in their original arboreal splendors.

I so well recall my first association with the scattered Christian communities here, especially the sick calls, bringing the sacraments to the sick and the elderly. One venerable old woman would delight me with her stories of escapades herding her father’s two cows and six goats. She had vivid stories of driving off elephants and buffalo, pelting them with stones when they got curiously close to her precious live stock. What a sight that would have been with an eight year old girl driving off five ton elephants and two ton buffalo with shouts and pebbles. Now, the only wild animals to be seen are the occasional Blue or Colubus monkeys who help themselves in the patches of sweet corn which is equally desirable to the rapid expanding human population.

In my former letter I described the ordeal of a new mother called Ester, who had worked for us in the Kindergarten of our parochial school for a number of years before getting married and moving off to Arusha with her new husband. Ester had skirted death by just a matter of hours, snatched as it were from eternity by the gifted healing hands of our devoted Sister Avelina who does part time duty in the government hospital in the town of Korogwe about a two hour drive from here. Sister Avelina also by the way had spent a couple of years with us as a student teacher when we first opened Mazinde Juu back in 1989. As I was giving the anointing of the sick to poor Ester, she uttered a lament from a breaking heart saying “Why O Lord did you give me my son Michael and then taking me away from him? Who will care for him now?” Obviously that prayer was being answered as she prayed it and within hours the deft doctor’s touch brought Ester out of a crisis of acute sepsis, back to the land of the living and just as important to both of them the maternal care of Michael. My sincere thanks for your loyal support of the future mothers of Tanzania.


2015easter01                      ESTER & MICHAEL TODAY





Father Damian Milliken