Friday, May 28, 2010

Update from James Hargrave in Tanzania

Dear friends,

Siku kuu njema! Blessed feast!

And greetings once again from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. I have been here for a month now, and am beginning to settle into life and language. I am living at a hostel in Kurasini, the southernmost of this city's three regions. It's an ideal place for language learning-- secure and comfortable, but not many English-speakers. Every morning I have class for four hours, and the afternoon is spent practicing what I've learned that day. Sometimes I feel like I'm not doing enough, not yet involved in "ministry," but at the end of every day I find myself quite worn out. If you've ever learned language in an immersion environment this may sound familiar: just to function minute-to-minute, the brain is constantly working in overdrive.

Thank God, my comprehension seems to be improving. Every day, the conversation of others sounds a little more like language and a little less like meaningless babble. I'm often able to get the gist of what folks are talking about, if not the particulars. At this point, my emphasis is NOT on "speaking like a native" or producing grammatically sophisticated sentences. My goal for the time being is to learn how to listen to people and identify with them. As this becomes possible, speaking ability will follow. But if I could somehow force my mouth to speak perfectly without first learning to hear others, that would be of no use. Perhaps I'd be able to show off and impress people, but I wouldn't be able to love anybody. So... slowly and slowly.

If you've ever moved to a foreign country (or even a new city) you may remember the phases of culture shock. There are a lot of extremes-- at some moments, the new land seems practically perfect in every way. And then moments later, you might feel like every person in the land has it in for you. It takes time for life to just become life, neither ecstatic nor despondent. So, cultural adjustment has had some very high ups and some very low downs. I thank God for your prayers and encouragement, as the joys of Tanzanian life greatly outweigh the difficulties. I'd like to tell you about some of those joys.

The hostel is on the same compound as my language school and a nursery school as well as the headquarters and seminary of a Protestant denomination. Almost everyone except me is a local Tanzanian, and they're eager to help me with language. One of the guards at the gate has particularly become a friend. He invited me to his home last week, where I visited with his wife, his brother, and his brother's family. My Swahili was taxed to its limits, but it was a real delight to spend time with locals and see what ordinary city life is like.

Very few people in the hilly suburbs of Dar es Salaam own cars, which means that many homes are accessible only by narrow footpaths winding between gardens, fruit trees and buildings. Living quarters are VERY cramped. In fact, many families occupy just a single room. Cooking and washing are done outdoors using charcoal stoves and water spigots. People spend almost all their time out of doors. Children play together in the gardens, and adults relax on sisal mats or play board games under mango trees. Inside a family's tiny quarters, you might pity them for how little they have. But in their real home-- the open air-- you would surely envy them for the paradise they inhabit.

While living in Dar es Salaam I attend St. Paraskevi Cathedral, which is the seat of the Archdiocese of Irinoupolis (my long-term assignment will be farther northwest, in the Archdiocese of Mwanza). The local bishop, Metropolitan Dimitrios, has welcomed me warmly. This Pentecost Sunday we had two ordinations and a tonsuring. Deacon Joseph was ordained to the priesthood to serve congregations of his own Hehe tribe in southwest Tanzania. And Reader Simon Peter was ordained to the diaconate, to serve here at the cathedral as well as at his home in London. With the blessing of my own bishop Metropolitan Jeronymos, His Eminence Dimitrios also tonsured me as a reader. So as befits Pentecost, three continents were represented in the day's events. It was a delight to be part of this, and I'm especially encouraged by the warm cooperation between Tanzania's two Orthodox Christian bishops.

Thank you for your financial support, your encouragement, and especially your holy prayers. It's been a joy to hear from many of you. Knowing that my study and work here are on behalf of so many people back in North America is a real encouragement that helps ease the tougher parts of life, and makes the best times shine brighter still. Please stay in touch!

By your prayers,

James Hargrave

PS This small story may give you a different window into Tanzanian life and culture. Enjoy!

On Thursday afternoon, my friend C invited me to his home. Our second “bus” was a minivan outfitted to climb the steep and narrow dirt roads of Dar es Salaam’s hilly suburbs. C and I sat up front, beside the driver who was eager to chat. He had visited the United States once, and had much to say. I think that his observations about American life may give you a glimpse of what things are like here.

“America has such good roads,” said the driver as we eased up a hill. “In some places, there are seven roads together, all going the same direction. And on the other side, seven roads for the other direction!” He pulled over to let a car going downhill get around him.

“And in America, there are big sidewalks on the side of the road. On both sides of the road, there are big beautiful sidewalks. But nobody is walking on them! Here,” he leaned on the horn, “you see we have many people walking. But they are walking on the road, because there are no sidewalks.

“My favorite thing in America,” the driver continued, “was Wal-Mart. Anything you want, you just walk, and you take it. Everything is there! It is all there for you to take.” We passed a small boy selling oranges from a basin balanced on his head. “I was very surprised, because nobody was watching to catch me if I was stealing. But then my friend he told me, people they are watching. They are watching on their computers, and if I steal they will catch me.”

As she boarded the bus, a woman passed her small child up front to sit on C’s lap. The little girl bounced happily on his knee. The driver continued his observations. “People in America, they don’t trust anybody. I saw a baby, and I said to it, ‘Hi baby! How are you, baby!’ and the mother she was angry. She said to me, ‘Who are you? What are you doing to my child?’ Then she took the baby and went away. I was very surprised. Here in Tanzania, we all take care of everybody’s children. We do not fear each other. In America, people they fear. Oh, they fear very much.”

We reached our stop, passed the baby back to her mother, and said farewell to the driver. We climbed a dirt lane past gardens and houses towards C’s home as the city bus continued on its way, bumping along the narrow and dusty road.


Anonymous said...

Dear James, Reading your letter brought back rich memories of the beginning of my own adventure in mission 23 years ago next month.(I was not Orthodox then.) "Keep your eyes open and observe and your mouth shut for at least six months" was the advice of my mission teacher. Twenty three years later I am still practicing these instructions. They were a great gift. May God richly fill you with His Spirit so that you may accomplish that which He wills for you in that place. And be open to His will. Sometimes He calls us to a place for one reason and upon arrival He has another reason.

rjhargrav said...

Good advice indeed! Thank you for your kind words and for your prayers.

Anonymous said...

Hi. I am trying to figure out a way to keep in touch, if you would like. Don't know the best way to do this. There is other stuff that I learned as a missionary that I could pass on. Meanwhile I will keep praying.