Ushetu, Tanzania, 4 September 2015
Today I will try to interweave some less important thoughts (like talking about the weather) with others of greater bearing (like some reflections on my day).
You have heard me repeat several times lately that we are in the dry season. Here, the year is divided into two seasons: dry season and rainy season (in Swahili, kiangazi and mazika, respectively). You may also come to understand that the weather is a recurring topic of conversation here, since we are among “country people” who live by the weather.
The dry season can last almost six months… and the remaining months are the rainy season, when it really rains a lot. The dry season means it is very hot, and there´s a lot of dust, which, with the help of the blowing wind, fills everything with dirt. It is a time when all the grass turns yellow, the leaves fall from the trees, and the trees that don’t lose their leaves are very noticeable, especially the mango trees. It is a time when the ground becomes as hard as stone, and walking outside at midday feels like you´re burning.
But I will tell you that although it is a painful reality, on the other hand it brings with it a very positive aspect, above all in the missionary field. Actually, during this time there is not much work in the fields, and the people come to church a lot more. It is the time to organize children´s camps, youth retreats, formational courses for the catechists, and anything else that comes to mind and is within the range of possibilities. Days and schedules are no problem. The people request many sacraments during this time, especially marriages, because they can organize the festivities without any fear of rain, so there is no shortage of gathering spaces or anything like that, they just pitch their canopies and they’re set. Not to mention that they often put to use the money they have made from selling the harvest, and they enjoy organizing parties to which everyone is invited. And everyone likes to go to parties during this time. I could say the same about baptisms and their respective festivities. In short, let’s say that it is a very valuable time for apostolate.
All of this does not fail to take a toll on our sensible nature though, I mean that after a few months of drought, speaking at least for myself, one becomes a little hardened… the oppressive heat, the hot ground, the hot dust-filled air… and those months that lie ahead. But at last, it becomes normal and you get used to it.
Today a cool breeze stirred and the scent of wet ground, the smell of rain, soon followed… and then the raindrops fell like a blessing on the metal roof of the church. All of this happened during adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the first moments of the day. It brought feelings of joy and thanksgiving all at the same time. This usually happens at this time, I mean that after the worst of the heat has passed, the wind dies down and the rain comes to refresh both the air and the soul. We have to wait a little more, but we’re hopeful that the drought will be over by November, or God-willing, the end of October if the rains come early.
Today was a blessing in all regards, because I had to go to two villages. We went by motorcycle because there is no road for cars to get to at least one of the two villages, and to get to the other by car requires taking a long detour. So on a day of such heavy work, being able to make the most of a day like this was really a gift from God. I went to the villages of Mliza and Kalmebela. The trip to Mliza is 15 kilometers over very diverse roads; even the color of the ground keeps changing – at times it is colorful, then brown, and at times gray, almost white. The way was quite enjoyable, above all because Filipo was driving so I was in the back and could think about other things. These thoughts were sometimes interrupted by a jolt, a branch to be avoided, and things like that… but the cool breeze, the path through woods, plantations, and hills covered with plants and rocks, and being far away from all civilization was all conducive to my reflection.
For a time I seemed to have strayed into a movie, I never could have dreamed of places like this. I observed the houses, the countryside, and above all the people. And as we traveled on the motorcycle we kept watching the lives of these people like a movie: the children going to fetch water with their buckets on their heads, other boys herding animals, the adults working in their homes, tending to their houses and tobacco ovens. It was like a postcard of their domestic lives: patios with children, many children, playing with whatever they had… Some of the kids greeted us when they saw the motorcycle pass; others couldn’t manage to do anything, especially when they saw me. We greet everyone who crosses our path, because we are in the country – unlike in the city, you have to greet everyone, even if you don’t know them. We passed through Chang’ombe, behind Jose Mataba’s house, then through Kalmebela, where we would return in the afternoon, and finally we arrived at Mliza.
In Mliza they were awaiting me for everything that was possible… which means that I heard confessions for a while then celebrated the Holy Mass, and finally there were some baptisms. Nineteen people were baptized there: two grandmothers, three adults, and the rest were children. Last year we had the Corpus Christi procession in this village, perhaps you remember the chronicle and pictures. The people remembered this, since that was the last time that I had visited this village. Everything was very beautiful, and above all, it was cool… although around noon the clouds gave way to sun, and you could feel the heat a bit, as if not to spoil us too much.
After eating in the village leader’s house, we got back on the motorcycle and headed to Kalmebela. I have already told you about this village also, in a chronicle from this past year. It is a small village, a very small village. For a while they were without a catechist, and the faith was abandoned. Many Christians there live like pagans. There are few that come to pray. The church is really poor. Still it was a joy to arrive there, maybe because of the place’s simplicity or because this is a group of people who are starting fresh, and every little gain is a great victory. Since last year the catechist has been trying to build up this village again. Several times he has come to me a little discouraged that there are so few people, and I try to encourage him to keep going, telling him that God will bless his efforts, but that we must have patience and perseverance. For the boys’ and girls’ camps, he could only bring one little girl. But today this girl, who is about ten years old, was baptized, and her joy and the way she participated in the Mass were striking. There were other girls with her about the same age who told me that next year they will not miss the catechism camps. Today the little chapel was full of people… about fifteen adults and several children. When there heard the motorcycle, they came outside to receive us with songs. Then they called the people of the village by beating a great drum, like they used to do in these parts, but now almost all of the villages have opted to ring some other metal object.
Here everything was proportionally smaller to the events in Mliza, that is, confessions ended quickly, because many of the people who go to Church are still catechumens. I baptized two adults and five children. In the Mass, they sang with Filipo’s help and were very happy. Their voices really did sound good; they like to sing and they have talent. When I was here at the beginning of the year nobody sang… this is a step forward, they have already started to be more enthusiastic to participate in the liturgy. At the end of Mass I saw three women stop outside of the church and look in one of the windows, but without getting too close. When Mass was over, they danced in celebration in the doorway of the church, and we invited them to come to the church on Sundays. We asked the catechist Moses about them, and he told us that he definitely doesn’t know them. They came attracted by the people, the singing, and above all, I would image, by the desire for God and the desire to pray, which is in every man.
It began to rain again, not very much, but persistently, and it was quite pleasant. The air was fresh and the people said that we had brought the blessing of rain. After Mass there were festivities, we ate again, and we set out on the return journey.
During the trip, among the things I asked myself was the question, “how long does it take us to “feel at home” in a place? It depends on how long it takes to make friends, and this could take quite a while. It depends on getting to know the customs and culture of the people, and a great part of this is being able to speak the language, to communicate, to talk and to listen to others’ problems, to give advice, and be able to laugh together. It depends on a lot of things… and gradually I could sense that I am “feeling at home”… getting to know the people, learning their names and their stories, establishing relationships. On the other hand, there will always remain for us missionaries the toll of “foreignness,” of not being able to speak well, of being from another culture… and of just being different, whether we like it or not, because our skin doesn’t change colors, although it may get slightly tanner over time. I am reminded of this every time I provoke shocked looks on the faces of so many children, which I try to mitigate with a little gift or friendly expression, but don’t always succeed. And this is also something proper to our condition as missionaries.
But more than all of this, I was able to reflect today… what does all of this amount to? Whether or not we learn a language better or worse, whether we feel at home or not, whether the day is really hot or cool and pleasant… more than all of these things I think about the three Masses that I celebrated; the people I confessed; the twenty six baptisms I was able to perform for the elderly, adults, and children; the people to whom I gave Communion; the two villages I visited; the people who rejoiced in all these supernatural gifts… what is most important is that we are missionaries. We represent Christ, and we bring Christ to souls. What else do I need? But because God is good, he wants to give us these things too, things that aren’t strictly necessary… but he gives them to us as well, like a cool day, a pleasant rain, a beautiful countryside, happy parishioners, and a peaceful return.
For all these reasons, we must stay firm in the breach! ¡Viva la misión!
Fr. Diego Cano, IVE