October 8, 2012
Ruminations from Tanzania
Well, I made it! I am writing this note from the home of Michael and Beverly Harrar outside of the city of Dar el Salaam in Tanzania Africa. The Harrars are missionaries serving with SIL better known by many as Wycliffe Bible Translators. They served for years in New Guinea and are now practicing their many skills in this African city and across the continent. Several years ago I had a conversation with Michael and asked him what Mt Vernon Church could do for them that we were not doing. He said “we have been on the mission field for 15 years and no one from our supporting churches has ever come to see us.” The next year we sent two men from our church to spend 3 weeks with the Harrars in New Guinea, but I have always desired to come and visit them myself. I finally have that opportunity and I feel deeply privileged.
I would be remiss if I did not say something about my trip over here. Ellen and I left our house at 3:20 Saturday morning for the airport. My flight to JFK left at 6:00 am and we arrived 90 minutes later without incident. Did I say I don’t like to fly?? After a 5 hour layover in New York I boarded an Emirates Boeing 777 destined for Dubai Saudi Arabia. Keep in mind that this is a 12 ½ hour flight. Sooooo… inside these planes in the “normal person section”, otherwise known as “Economy” there are 10 seats from one window across to the other. 3 seats an aisle, 4 seats an aisle, then 3 more. If you can visualize that then you understand there are 2 “middle seats” in the center section. Not where you want to be crammed for ½ a day at 35,000 feet. So, when I took my seat in the cramped center… why should I have been surprised that the other center seat was occupied by the only person on the plane bigger than me… much bigger than me. Did I mention that I don’t like flying?? It didn’t take us long to realize that this was going to be the longest and maybe most intimate 12 hours with another man of our lives! My very large new friend told the flight attendant that this was going to be a problem and if they found any other seats it might be best for him to move. After takeoff she came back and said they had one additional seat in first class and they would move him there. HEY, WAIT A MINUTE… I’M JAMMED IN HERE TOO!!! AND I’M OLDER THAN HIM!!! Didn’t work… over 12 hours later I was able to get my legs to work well enough that I didn’t have to be carried off of the plane. By the way, if you ever have the opportunity to fly Emirates… do it… they feed you constantly!
Dubai airport looks like any western airport I have ever been in… well ok, except for the Arabic. It’s filled with shops, stores, restaurants… and hordes of people waiting for planes. I guess the other difference is that you see folks from every corner of the globe and hear languages that you can only guess at. Oh yeah, and $24.00 McDonalds hamburgers! After 4 hours I boarded a plane for Dar el Salaam and another 5 ½ hours… it was a breeze compared to the flight from JFK. After the flight my legs worked and everything…. Which was really a blessing since I stood for 2 hours in a line to get my visa. Well ok, there wasn’t really a line… it was a mass of people, amoeba like, trying to figure out what we were supposed to do while the “officials” offered little help. There were no intelligible signs or directions… But the good news is… after 2 hours I finally got my passport back with the visa.
Michael and a couple friends had been waiting outside the airport for 2 hours having no idea where I was… they were not permitted to go in and I was not permitted to go out. Thankfully he waited patiently and we made the connection. Then we drove for an hour through Dar el Salaam to the Harrars home. I don’t know how to explain that drive without possibly being disrespectful but please know that is not my intention.
They drive on the opposite side of the road here from us in the U.S. which takes a little getting used to… but the type of driving… well I’m not sure I could ever get used to. There are almost no stop lights or road signs to speak of. There are no lines on the roads. Each street was lined with humanity and little shops or “shanties” made from old wood and corrugated metal roofs. The drivers seem to take an “every man for himself” attitude so driving safely or patiently is not a quality that seems to be admired. Almost every time we stopped for traffic (and there was a lot!!) we would be surrounded by young men selling peanuts and other wares. I was told to keep my phone out of sight lest it be snatched from outside.
Well, the short if it is… we made it to Harrars safe and sound. After an evening of catching up a bit and dinner with the neighbors we hit the hay… I’ll fill you in later on the events of today.
Once again I need to thank the good people of Mt Vernon Church for providing me this opportunity. I have been in need of an adventure and now I have one!