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