May 1966

Newsletter from Arusha, Tanzania

Here is the first of the newsletters I promised to send keeping you informed of what has been happening to me.

I am stationed about five miles outside the town of Arusha, among the Wa-Arusha people. In physical appearance, language, dress and folkways, they are Massai. These people have settled down to farm small plots of land, growing corn and beans and raising small herds of cattle, sheep and goats. Temperament-wise, most are open and friendly. Father Simon, a native Wa-Arusha priest, and I are opening up the work among these people. The concentrations of effort in the diocese have been among the Massai, leaving the Wa-Arusha virtually untouched up to now. Hence, we are in the initial stages of establishing the Church in this area. The main mission, Bourko, is central to the area inhabited by this tribe, and so far, Father Simon has established four outstations, each with its own primary school of three grades. We also have two dispensaries operating. Two weeks after my arrival, I began what will be my basic mode of activity for the foreseeable future. I live in each of the areas for four or five days at a time, getting around more and more each time in each locality, walking, visiting the people’s huts, talking and getting to know the people.

A Wa-Arusha hut is built of long poles bent at the upper ends to form sort of an igloo. This frame is covered with mud and then grass. In the center is a fire for cooking and warmth. This house, which is quite large, constitutes not only a home for the family (except for the man, who has his own sleeping hut) but also a storehouse for corn and beans and a shelter for the cows, goats and sheep. Although we are now in the rainy season, the house is always warm and comfortable because of the fire and the many occupants.

At each place I stop, the Mama offers me a little stool to sit on by the fire, then some milk to drink or sometimes an ear of roasted corn. Then we sit and talk for a while until my still meager vocabulary runs out. I play with the children and give them candy. Some of you are probably familiar with a toy called “the magic slate”. I bought one of these. The writing disappears when the plastic cover is lifted. It amazes the children and has helped to make them more comfortable with me. When we’ve had our visit, we say, “Serena Vikidua” (goodbye ‘til we meet again), then I’m off to the next little place along the path.

We have not been able to add on a place to stay in at any of the schools, so I stay with the people most of the time. This turns out to be much better for many reasons. The walking was very difficult at first, but I’m getting used to it, and it’s doing me a lot of good.

Not long ago, I tried to get to one of the outstations by car on a “road” which was little more than a cattle path. After getting stuck and digging myself out six times with plenty of help and advice from many people who gathered each time I sank down in the mud, a man stopped whose shamba (farm plot) was nearby. He told me to wait where I was, and in a little while, he returned with six cows, hitched them to the car and pulled me all the way back to the main road – about a mile and a half. It was quite a sight. I wish I had a picture to send to all of you.

Before coming to Africa, I was frightened of being a foreigner here, perhaps for the rest of my life. But although I’ve been here only a short time, I feel very much at home and a part of these people already. It’s a beautiful country, filled with very warm and friendly people, and I am very happy here.

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