If we knew everywhere our life journeys would take us, we might freeze in fear or disbelief. Sometimes I still pinch myself that I am living and traveling all over the Middle East, but Africa was recently added into the mix. How can this be?
Well, it somehow made sense. Even though I didn’t really want it to. Simply, because I knew it would be a long trip and many days away from Darron. A group of students were brought from various African countries to a farm in Tanzania. The goal is that one day they will come to the Middle East. We were asked to come and train them. I, specifically, was to teach them about forgiveness. Originally, there were 6 from our team who were to go. In the end, it was only 2 of us who went from the team. I kept asking to be left off this “African bus ride”, but my teammate had great tenacity in insisting that I remain on the bus.
Delightfully, my team-mates wife and son came along. They adopted me into their family for 2+ weeks as we trekked from Dar es Salaam to the Iringa region of Tanzania. Once we arrived in Tanzania, it was an 11-hour journey that was not for the faint of heart as we were on a 2-lane highway, with endless passing of big trucks and buses. Meanwhile, the oncoming traffic was veering ever so close. Passing through a national wildlife reserve had us all on the edge of our seats. Amazingly, we saw the African dream of giraffes, baboons, antelopes, zebras, and more grazing in the tall grass. The odd thing was our driver kept telling us we were not allowed to take pictures of the animals??? We did, anyhow. A little expatriate will, grabbing the opportunities.
We had no idea what awaited us at our destination in terms of facilities, food, students, needs, expectations and more. The farm we stayed at was vast. Close to 5,000 acres. Currently, there are 76,000 avocado trees thriving in the poor soil. This has turned into a profitable business which funds multiple schools (elementary, troubled teens, evangelism, and agriculture). In addition, a lifestyle center and a printing press are being run. The land was so gorgeous to wander and enjoy. The African grasses, birds, marshes, brilliant stars at night and more. So much reminded me of Indonesia. Repeatedly, it was like stepping back into my former life, with a little unique African flavor added. Quite surreal.
The facilities were pleasant, but simple and basic. At times this pushed us as we had no internet in our home. So often at night or early morning, we would sit outside and try to catch Wifi hotspots. Despite it being May, the winter season was starting, so this made communicating with the outside world even more challenging as we had to bundle in coats to chat with family or other pressing work needs. The food was simple but tasty. Chapattis soon became my favorite. No cooking for 17 days is always a treat. There was only one bathroom in our home, and I was tucked away upstairs. There was no escaping the stairs that creaked loudly from the first step down. Creatively, our neighbors lent me a 5-gallon bucket with a toilet seat that fit perfectly on top. No longer did I need to wake my adopted family at night!
The team that works there is precious. Bonds are quickly formed amongst expatriates. We understand, in part, the sacrifice, the challenges, the joys, and the depth of grit it takes to live out this calling. So, now I have new friends. The director’s family was endearing and have been there 20+ years. One couple taught me some new massage techniques that I am very excited to try on Darron and they challenged me to start birding with Darron. Let’s see! Cory at the lifestyle center was just a dear, growing much of her own herbs and allowing live-in patients in her home. Melissa with the 200 cows was inspiring as they are trying new techniques of having the cows graze down the rows of avocado trees. Not only does this “cut” the grass, but it also aerates the ground, and adds fertilizer to the inadequate soil. The cow bells in the cool morning air were delightful.
Often when I go into a teaching session with other people, the topics and course outlines are highly defined. However, this time we went with open hearts to their needs. It was amazing to get to know these 13 individuals and pray and watch the curriculum unfold. Their earnest desire to learn was refreshing. Their life stories were beyond inspiring. Their commitment was beautiful. Their music was a song worth hearing. Often with power outages our teaching demanded no power points but chalkboards and whiteboards. We enjoyed watching our lectures come to life with this old school method.
Teaching the forgiveness program to them, that I have been working on for the last 1.5 years, was incredibly humbling. Contrastingly, my journey with forgiveness compared to theirs does not even come close to the things they have to let go of. One man shared how at the age of 14 years old how he was forced to watch his Auntie be hanged to death, just because they went to a village where the people were prejudice. For years he carried the desire to seek revenge. Eventually his parents challenged him to forgive and go back and serve that village in some way. He was able to accept that challenge. Who was I to teach them anything? Yet they accepted the information with grace and open hearts. I am praying that the forgiveness message will seep far and wide into the hearts of the Middle East and North African region and beyond.
By day 16 of being gone from my husband, I was quite restless to return home and be present with him. It was decided that I would fly from Iringa to Dar es Salaam. Goodbyes were said to my adopted family, the staff, and the dear students. A very bumpy 3rd world 2-hour journey dropped me at this tiny little airport in the heart of Tanzania. Soon I was airborne and flying away from yet another rich and stretching experience. Yet the journey was not over, for the lady I sat by on that Cessna was like a long-lost friend. We chatted the entire way and promised to keep in touch.
Day 17 equaled a long day of traveling “home” to Lebanon. Where for now, I belong. Oh, the stories I can tell. Who would have imagined the pages of my book would be so colorful and vivid. So strong and stretching. So rich with other people’s lives and stories. How blessed I am. But for now, I must curl up with a nice cup of herbal tea and some comfort scones and just be still and process all I have seen, heard, and felt in the past 2.5 weeks. And then, I better get busy and make up for time that was lost somewhere in Africa on a vast avocado farm where time seemed to stand still. And the birds sang so beautifully. And I learned so much.
Thank you, Tanzania, and friends.
4 thoughts on “Africa? More Stories to Tell”
Sounds like quite an adventure Ruth! Once again your brand of “I will go Ruth” comes into play! I love how you are available to God-even when you’d rather not go. I miss you! Hope you are well, my friend. May the Lord bless you!
Hi Linda. I still pray for you and share your testimony with others. Miss you too. I see that CJ just graduated from Uni!!! YAY. Rejoicing with you. Much love.
Your account could be an adaptation of “Out of Africa”. “Out of Tanzania” begins with “I served the peoples of an avocado farm” instead of Karen Blixen’s “I had a coffee plantation” from “Out of Africa”. Not many other parallels hold true but the opening sequence of a white female’s perspective of her orientation and responsibilities to her farm/plantation family in an underserved part of the world rings with familiarity. I love your accounts, Ruth!
Awe. I love the parallel connection. Why not? The truth is, there are many lessons where ever we are. “Out of Travelers Rest”….could be a sequel. ; ). Thanks for your encouragement