A total failure

A total failure

The trip to the big city of Dodoma was a total failure, to the point where it was almost comical.

We had been on the road since early morning, only to find out when we made it, just in the nick of time for our 3pm appointment, that everyone – absolutely everyone in the entire office – had left and gone to some meeting in the neighboring country of Rwanda. The guard told us that it would be useless staying the night and coming back tomorrow, because they wouldn’t be back for a week. So much for finalizing things with the Bible Society (we are looking to doing something spectacular in our schools next year). Rushing from there over to Ministry of Education was similarly fruitless – every single one of the people we needed weren’t in their offices and weren’t even answering their phones! And then to top it off we got a phone call to tell us that there was some big dispute going on in the village where we were supposed to spend the night (so we could have an early morning meeting the next day) and then even though the dispute had nothing to do with us, it was pointless to come and talk with people about our plans to build a school given the mood that everyone was in. All those hours of driving!

We called Godfrey to tell him that we had accomplished nothing by coming, that we now had no place to spend the night, and that we had just realized that we hadn’t eaten anything all day and we were in a city where we were clueless as to where to find a good meal. Because they moved the capital from Dar to Dodoma a couple of years ago, Godfrey, however, had made numerous trips on government business and he would know the perfect place! He guided us past the parliament building, past this landmark and that landmark. I had him on the speaker phone while Justin drove as he told us that it might not look like anything from the outside, but the food was really cheap and the grilled chicken was delicious and a full plate and we would like the chips and everything else that came with it. Plus, they had good fresh juice! When we pulled up and found out that it had been torn down – everything except for the big welcome sign – it was at the point that truly we didn’t know if it was better to laugh or to cry – and so we just laughed and laughed and couldn’t stop. Justin and I in the car, and Godfrey and Emmanueli half a country away on speaker phone – the four of us just couldn’t stop laughing. Godfrey told us he was resigning as our tour guide.

Justin either pulled out in front of that truck to purposefully scare the daylights out of me, or else he hadn’t seen it. We drove around a bit aimlessly until Justin finally saw someone walking by the side of the road who looked like he’d be willing to tell us where, as Justin cheerfully said, we could find the perfect Village Schools restaurant – decidedly cheap, quite delicious food, clean and very quiet so we could talk – our four important qualities. Much to our shock, the place the guy sent us to was exactly that, and we enjoyed a great meal together and regrouped.

Back in the car and on the road again, Justin decided it would be good to call the leader of a village where Justin said, even though everything else had failed, we might go there and something might pan out for the good. So we pulled over to the side of the road so Justin could make the call – it rang and rang with no answer and we started laughing again – and then, I couldn’t believe it, the car wouldn’t start. Here we are in the middle of no where, the sun was going down, and Justin was off hitchhiking trying to get to a place where he might find the fuse or the battery or the "something" that was his solution, born of his hope, that it was something really simple and easily fixable. It was harder to laugh when I was sitting in the car alone, especially when it got really dark outside. My computer soon ran out of battery and my phone was almost dead as well – it’s at times like this that you wonder why you hadn’t fully charged everything at the last place we were at that had electricity!

My phone rang and I almost didn’t answer because I didn’t want to use up the battery, but it rang and rang and so I finally answered it. It was the headmaster from Kising’a and he was excited as he talked about how he had gone to the graduation ceremony at a primary school where he had taken 29 of his students who have been studying our Intensive English program and razzle dazzled the parents with the amazing amount of Enlgish the kids had already learned after only 3 weeks. And much to his shock, one of the parents stood up and said any parent who has the means and doesn’t take their kid to school Monday is simply crazy, but that there were certainly some kids at the school who didn’t have parents who could do that and so he wanted right here and now for them all to chip in. And he said, Mzee you won’t believe it but they collected money right there, handed it to the primary school director and told him to choose four of the neediest kids in the class and to pay the fees for them. The parents who were there would take care of the rest of the kids on Monday.

The phone cut out and it was then that it came back to me one of the really important things that my grandfather taught me back in Congo. Most of his great lessons had deep Biblical roots that seemed so clear when he explained them, but some of the things that he taught me were simply pragmatic and logical, learned by trial and error through the experience of having lived in Africa for so many decades. It was early on, when I was only 17, that he impressed upon me that you needed to make sure that you always had a half dozen projects or programs going on at any one given time. That way you never get slowed down by the curve balls that come your way and you’re able to take all that comes your way in stride. If, I remember him telling me, you’re only building one building and you’re totally focused on that, well then you are doomed if it rains or if the builder has to go to funeral or if you run out of nails or if anything goes wrong, then you’re stuck with nothing to do and you just have to wait. But, if you have five building programs going on in five different places, then even if it rains all day in one village, and the builder in a second village has to go to a funeral, the work in the other three places will just keep moving forward. I could hear again in my brain Susan saying that if she were ever going to write a book she would entitle it “Baba Was Right”. And I saw once again that indeed Baba was right. If all of my eggs were in this basket, wrapped up solely in my trip, and focused only on what I myself had set out to accomplish, then today would be a bad, bad, very bad day. But in the village of Kising’a something wonderful had happened with that headmaster and those parents. And from way across the country in the village of Fingwa, Joster had sent me earlier that afternoon beautiful pictures of the bricks he had organized his students to make. Austine had filled my phone that morning with pictures of the new school being built at Mwanambuyu and of our students in our schools in Zambia using the new lab equipment that had just been purchased. The computer class my Dad was teaching at the college was going well and I could now say that my students now know how to do things I don’t. Evodia was off with her students watching them student teach and had sent word that at the end of the school day she had gone out with them and they went as a team door to door and got two more new students who will come to school Monday. If you have a myriad of things going on, which we truly do in Village Schools, there’s really no way that you can’t fail to find that every day is a successful day.

And so it was when Justin finally came back, I had a smile on my face, and it wasn’t just because he was back and I wasn’t alone anymore! And it wasn’t just because it’s hard to be grumpy when Justin is cheerful. The fact was that he had found a friend who knew someone and they should be here in another hour or so to help us. I started to tell him about the great news from Kising’a and the lesson I had remembered from a long time ago from my grandfather, and while I was doing that Justin was fiddling with the clicker and much to our amazement the lights on the dashboard came on. We were so surprised we just stared at each other and then I scrambled to say to start the car. And it started! And off we were, as he called back to his friend to tell him the car was running and so were we.

We didn’t make it to the town of Iringa until after midnight and the hotel that we had always stayed in years ago had its vacancy sign out. We used to stay there every time we passed through Iringa because it was cheap, clean and quiet (we have 4 qualifications for restaurants but only 3 for hotels)! Everyone was friendly as ever, and it was still cheap and clean and quiet. But the plumbing no longer worked so there was no bath water. The electricity worked so we had lights but the outlet was broken and I couldn’t charge my computer. I was beginning again to feel like Ziggy. But it didn’t matter if I personally was having one of those days. The thing I had to get my brain to focus on was that the work God is doing in villages all across this country is a lot bigger (quite obviously!) than the small part in the puzzle that He has asked me to play.

So I could crawl into bed that night that Msafiri and Susan had sent little Juma to the Peremeo Hospital for his operation, and that the two ladies from our village were on their way to get new artificial legs. I could get up in the morning knowing that Godfrey and Emmanueli were really impressed with what they saw in the new school buildings going up in the village of Ichesa. And as if all that wasn’t enough, as we got near home our paths crossed with Masudi driving one of our trucks loaded with desks for the school at Bukimau because they’ve enrolled so many kids and it’s “standing room only”.

While I failed to have my, what seemed to me, all-important meeting at the Bible Society, the guys were putting finishing touches on those desks for the school at Bukimau. And while everyone at the Ministry of Education was putting us on ignore, the builders were building classrooms in Ichesa. And while our meeting in the village of Chitemo had fallen apart because everyone was arguing, all the pieces were coming together for two very patient ladies to have miracles done so that with their artificial legs they’d be able to get around and Juma, the little boy who had suffered for so long, was finally having his operation. With 48 schools in 3 countries, another 11 under construction, some 600 teachers, there’s room enough for every single one of us to give it our all, and room enough for every one of us to remember that we’re but a small piece in the vast mosaic that God is orchestrating here in these villages. Our smile can be genuine.