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.