Thursday, June 10, 2010

Traveling to Tanzania

Trains and planes and busses wait for no one, I found out when I missed my flight from Johannesburg to Dar es Salaam. I, on the other hand, endured a cancelled flight from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg and a late flight that caused me to miss my connection to Tanzania. South African Airways recognized the missed flight was due to their scheduling problems and booked me overnight in a hotel near the airport. It was a restful night but a frustrating day of travel since I spent my day trying to re-claim my luggage, while my sister-hosts (Benedictines) waited for me at the Dar es Salaam airport for two nights instead of one. After a day of rest there, my sister companions and I boarded a bus at 5:45 a.m. to travel 15 hours to the Monastery of Benedictines in Chipole: St. Agnes Convent.

Riding a public bus is a kind of endurance test because it is hot, crowded, and stops at every small village along the way so vendors have a chance to sell their products to the bus passengers. Roasted corn, sugar cane, potatoes, oranges, pineapples and bananas are all available as are woven baskets, juice, SIM cards, and various sundry items that can pass through the open windows with money passing hands as quickly as the driver’s patience runs out. Bathroom breaks are frequently stops on the side of the road, the lunch break is over in 10 minutes, and everyone scrambles to re-board the bus because it waits for no one.

The pitted and rutted road caused slow going. No doubt avalanches and rains washed out whole sides of the roadway and heavy transport trucks and busses add finishing touches to huge potholes. But the main roadway was tame compared to the secondary road from Songea to Chipole. Passing from pavement to gravel is readily apparent as we bounced from one to the other. The bumpy, ruffled road was only 30 km’s but took more than one hour to traverse. So, after 16 and ½ hours of non-stop traveling, we arrived in the dark of night at Chipole and St. Agnes Convent. It was a long journey from South Africa on Wednesday to Tanzania at the end of the day on Saturday.

Thank God for my traveling companions—Sisters Gotharda and Alberta---who helped me find my luggage once we stopped and disembarked. Late at night and with hundreds of people arriving at the same time in Songea feels as though one is moving in a sea of humanity. In this sea, however, no one waits for anyone and no one helps anyone. Each person fends for him or herself and fights to make way through the crowd of passengers desperately looking for their bags and at the same time getting past the persistent offers for taxi rides. With this sea of humanity crushing in on me, Sister Alberta told me to hang on to my purse and all my bags. Indeed! I was holding on with all my might!

My mission to Chipole: to ask the sisters to partner with St. Benedict’s Monastery in St. Joseph, Minnesota, in hosting young women graduating from the College of St. Benedict, as volunteers in their Monastery. Our graduates want to give a year of their lives to serve others. In the true spirit of an education based on Benedictine and Gospel values, CSB graduates long to give back. What will they do? The sisters at Chipole run an orphanage for abandoned children, educate children through secondary school, staff a dispensary, sustain themselves with farm and gardens, and are trying to educate many of their own sisters. The Benedictine Sisters are as eager to partner with us as we are grateful to have accomplished this mission.

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