When we came to the first bridge I knew we were in trouble. The river was a torrent and water had already risen right up to the bottom of the bridge. I could see that on the other side of the bridge part of the road had already been washed away. My heart sank.
The last official moments of our leadership conference were over by 9 pm, but the distribution of everything from textbooks to soccer jerseys, receipt books to report cards went on until way past midnight. And then at 2:30 in the morning, the first bus pulled away from our college campus where we had held the conference to take people to town so they could start catching buses and trucks that would take everyone back to our schools scattered over the eight regions of this country. All day I've been receiving SMS messages on my phone, and tonight the first of those are actually getting home.
Sometimes I just can’t help but marvel at how people who are dying or losing loved ones have time to remember to make sure you are comfortable in their homes when you go to visit them. How many times have I visited someone near death who quickly comes to life barking orders to “get the chairs for the visitors!” I marvel at it all. In addition to their hospitality, their generosity is simply humbling. As soon as they have something to share, they share it. I might be coming to bring them a blanket, some fruit, a mattress, but in return there is always a gift.
We had walked down the hill around the corner and we were standing in the middle of a meadow on the college campus, surrounded by these beautiful towering pines, on the place where we’re going to build the chapel one day.
Three weeks ago, a note folded many times over and squeezed in a sweaty hand was passed along to me sometime during a long, hectic day at our HIV/AIDS clinic. It was only in the evening that I had time to carefully unfold it and give it some thought. It started out with the usual, ever so polite Tanzanian greetings that are such a part of life here. First of all, I begin with greeting you – Shikamoo!
A totally great day! With my boot cast finally off and my broken ankle clearly on the mend, this is the second day that Susan and I have been able to take an early evening walk out to the forest together. And Jonathan, after ripping apart a lot of dead computers with his students out at the college, performed “brain surgery” on my laptop -- and although I was sweating bullets during the whole delicate half-hour operation, eventually he pressed the button and I held my breath and my laptop came back to life again.
Every time I have heard people talk about celebrities from America coming to Africa, I have found myself strangely relieved that we live in such a remote village. I figured it would mean I would never have to worry about any celebrities choosing to come here.
By Friday night I had pretty much made up my mind, enough at least, to ask Susan on Saturday if she could send someone to find her friend Bahati and ask him to come see me. He had been the butcher in the village for years and years until he got very sick with AIDS. It was nearly nine years ago when Susan helped out their family, and everyone got tested and she got him started on the ARVs. That was when he “came back to life” – and he started butchering meat again for the whole village!
As the years have gone by and our lives have changed and everything here has grown, Susan and I have acquired a lot of names. I remember the years when I was known as Mkongo (“the man from Congo”), Fundula Mtonto (“the one who reveals all that was hidden”) and then Mr Vinton morphed into Mzee Vinton and then just simply Mzee (“the old man”) or Msee by those of the Hehe people who can’t pronounce z’s. Susan went from being Mrs Vinton to Mama Joshua and Mama Yona and then Mama Vinton, Mama wa Wingi (“the mother of many”) and then just Mama to everyone.
If I could have favorites in this world, one of my favorites would be Godi. He’s one of the miracles around here – one of the very first of the children in this whole region to be enrolled in the HIV/AIDS children’s AIDS program 10 years ago when the whole program was just in its infancy stages. I didn’t know Godi way back then when he first started on the medications, as he lived far away from me, but very close to one of the first AIDS clinics in our region of Iringa.