Who Am I?
Who am I and why do I care about a school in Tanzania? I am a former English teacher who retired from the Virginia Community College system in 2007. The year before my retirement, I developed a medical problem which persisted. When I finally went to my doctor, he discovered a lump where there should not have been one and scheduled a biopsy. I went to the procedure with confidence that I would be all right, and so I was shocked when the test results came back positive.Only someone who has faced a life threatening condition can appreciate the feelings that come with such news. I was filled with fear and anxiety and immediately looked for a doctor who would operate. Within three weeks, I had had surgery, and I then spent the summer in a slow and painful recovery. Sometime after I had gotten over my surgery and had retired from my teaching job, my Pastor came to see me. He is a Korean man who had previously worked at a Methodist Church from Northern Virginia. "How are you feeling?" he asked. "Is your health good?" "Yes," I replied. "I am feeling great and am enjoying my retirement. I am very thankful, and pray daily that I will not waste the time God has given me." My Pastor smiled when I said this because the reason for his visit was to ask me to teach English at Tanga Christian Bible College in Tanzania. However, when he asked me to undertake this mission, I did not know how to react. I was not even sure where Tanzania is on the map of Africa. But I discovered that Tanzania is a beautiful county with friendly people and a history of political progress. But I also learned that it is a very poor country, and the State Department's advisories warned travelers of crime and violence. And so I hesitated because of my age (I was then 66), and also because of the normal difficulties of travel, as well as the particular dangers posed by this trip. But I kept thinking of what I had told my Pastor; I was feeling well, and I had the energy to do the things that I liked from day to day, so what real excuse did I have for not answering this call to serve God? Wikipedia told me that Tanzania is located on the east coast of Africa on the Indian Ocean. The largest city and main port is Dar es Salaam. Tanga, the country's second port, is to the north near the border with Kenya. Tanga Christian Bible College is in Kanga, a suburb about ten miles south Tanga. TCBC is sponsored by the East African Mission Fellowship based in Fairfax County Virginia and headed by Dr. Wesley Hong, a veterinarian. The EAMF receives financial support from Christian churches in both the United States and Korea. The chief administrators at TCBC are Andrew and Esther Park, both Koreans by birth but now American citizens. Andrew had promised that he would have someone meet me at the airport in Dar es Salaam, and so when I had cleared customs and left the airport, I was happy to see a young Korean man holding a sign with my name on it. This was Jin who is a missionary and teacher at TCBC. I was to share the guest house with him and his wife, Kim, and their baby daughter, Lee. It is unsafe to travel at night in Tanzania because of the hazardous driving conditions and the possibility of crime, so we stayed in a hostel run by one of the Christian missionary organizations working there. The accommodations were modest but clean, and the hostel was protected by a high wall and a security gate. In the morning when I stepped out of my room onto the second floor balcony, I could immediately see how poor the country is. In the yard of the house below, children were sitting in the dirt using sticks and stones as playthings. After my missionary hosts and I had eaten a quick breakfast of packaged food and bottled water, we loaded our diesel powered Toyota SUV for the drive north to Tanga. As we packed, the car, several men were pushing a passenger van across the parking lot to get it started. When the driver popped the clutch, the van jolted, belched black smoke, and came to life. The pushers then quickly jumped in, and the overloaded vehicle lurched through the open gate and wallowed down the washed out road. So, in my first hours, I had sampled the conditions in Tanzania: it was a poor county where you could not drink the water and had to be cautious about what you ate; extra precautions against crime were taken for granted, and the country limped along on an inadequate infrastructure. I was to learn later about the pervasive corruption that stifled commerce and development. The drive from Dar es Salaam to Tanga took about five hours along a two lane asphalt road not unlike the secondary roads in this country. However, as was the case everywhere in Tanzania, in both city and country, any detour from a main road lead to rutted, washed out, ravine-like trails that sometime had swales large enough to swallow a Volkswagen, and were impassable in the wet season except with four wheel drive vehicles. Along this main road the motor traffic was relatively light, the most common vehicles being heavy trucks, always overloaded and belching clouds of diesel exhaust, and passenger vans of the sort first seen at the hostel, also overloaded and often weighted down with the added cargo of bicycles lashed to the bumper and baskets and bundles tied onto the top. A curiosity, frequently observed but never explained, was that the occupant of the front passenger seat usually leaned out of the window, extending himself to the waist, while holding up one arm as if hailing the oncoming traffic. But altogether the most common mode of transport was bicycles. They were ridden solo, but just as often with a woman or child seated on a narrow luggage rack mounted above the rear fender. Bicycles were also used to carry any item that could be piled on or lashed to them. I saw bicycles piled high with mounds of freshly cut grass, bundles of firewood, and huge bags of charcoal. Water was carried in five gallon containers with as many as six of these lashed to a bicycle using long strips of rubber inner tube. Pedestrians were also more common than cars, and these too were frequently laden with bundles or baskets which they balanced on their heads. Anything that one had the strength to lift might be carried in this manner, including the detached roof of an automobile, as I once saw in the mountains of Loshoto. Those Tanzanians who were a little better off rode 125cc motorcycles imported from China or India. Transporting the essentials of everyday life, food, fuel, and water, was a laborious and time consuming job in the rural areas. Often, water was simply scooped out of muddy pools beside the road, or in some towns it was dispensed from a central source through hoses. Sanitation was always questionable and water borne illnesses common. The loaded bicycles were then pushed home, often for long distances over the hilly roadway. The poverty of Tanzania that I first saw in Dar es Salaam was commonplace in the rural areas. At the small towns along the way, the traffic was slowed by speed bumps large enough to force any vehicle to a crawl. Police officers were often posted at these points and would arbitrarily signal one vehicle or another to the side where the officer would question the occupants and sometimes try to extort money. Small houses lined the road. They had rusted tin roofs and what appeared to be plaster or cement walls, sometimes painted in bright colors, but always stained with the red mud that splashed against them in the rainy season. Large trees with spreading crowns shaded children selling mangos, oranges, or bananas. Vendors of other items such as rubber shoes, bottled water, or colorful clothing worked from stalls enclosed by plastic tarps or rusty tin and roofed with native vegetation. There is no provision for trash removal in the parts of Tanzania that I saw, and so people would simply pile refuse along the edge of the roads and burn it. Consequently the air was often filled with the acrid smoke. When Jin, Kim and I arrived at TCBC in Kanga, we turned off of the main road and negotiated the deeply eroded “city street” that led to the college campus. The campus occupies three adjacent blocks, and the compound on each block is enclosed by a high barbed wire fence along which a thorny shrub has been planted to provide a secure barrier against intruders. Each fence has a security gate that is closed at night when a watchman patrols the grounds. Andrew also had four dogs that roamed the compound for faculty housing. Although the dogs gave a sense of security, they also made it hard to sleep since they would howl whenever another dog in the area gave an alert, and then as many as twenty or more neighborhood dogs would join in. The grounds of Tanga Christian Bible College were a dramatic contrast to the poor villages seen along the road from Dar es Salaam. The black metal gate to the faculty housing opened onto a drive and parking area paved with gravel and outlined by a low stone wall along which there was a border of shrubs and flowers. All of the buildings were of similar design; Andrew, in addition to his other talents, had drawn the plans. They were rectangular buildings with concrete post and beam construction enclosed with concrete blocks and covered with stucco painted white or a yellow pastel. The roofs were corrugated metal painted red. The buildings formed a rectangle, all facing onto a central yard with grass and trees, and although the grass was somewhat sparse and brown in dry season of my visit, the overall impression was of neatness and order. And as I was to learn in my three months of residence, this was indeed the character of the place. The order of TCBC was evident first of all in the daily schedule. For the students, it began before dawn when they gathered in the library for morning prayers and singing. This was followed by breakfast and time for cleaning the dorm rooms. Then at eight o'clock, the start of chapel was announced by the tuning of the electric guitars and the sounding of the electronic synthesizer. At nine, morning classes convened and lasted until noon with a short break at ten o'clock called “tea time.” After lunch and afternoon classes, which lasted until four o'clock, there was a break before supper, and following that, study time in the library or more classes. A prayer meeting was held every Wednesday night and church services on Sunday. Saturday was cleaning day when the lawns were swept and every leaf and twig picked up, while the buildings were also dusted, swept, and mopped. Andrew and Esther Park followed an equally rigorous schedule. I am an early riser, and in this hot and humid climate, I awoke damp with sweat before dawn when the night watchmen made his last round to turn off the security lights, but I seldom got up earlier than Andrew and Esther whose lights I could see from my window. I ate breakfast as the sun colored the clouds in the east. The first sounds of the morning were the roosters crowing, the calls of the tropical birds, and the voices of the students at the adjacent teacher's college singing at their early morning worship. When I had finished my breakfast of tea and tasteless white bread eaten with sharp cheddar cheese from South Africa or fruit preserves sold by the Catholic sisters of Tanga, I joined Andrew and Esther on the way to chapel. The dedication of Andrew and Esther was apparent in their participation in all the religious observances at TCBC. Certainly, they might have frequently found a legitimate excuse to skip chapel or Wednesday night prayer meeting, but in my time there, they never did. Their motivation was not just to set an example for the students, but also to use every occasion to worship God and to thank him for sustaining them. Andrew, Esther, Jin, and Kim also met weekly for Bible study. In addition, Andrew was often called on to preach at area churches, and he took his turn in delivering sermons in chapel, while Esther periodically met with the wives of area ministers and accompanied Andrew when he visited other churches. Often these visits were made to support the graduates of TCBC and to celebrate important occasions. I accompanied them to a church service where a young minister was to be ordained. The ride itself was interesting. The road from the college passed through what the Parks called a middle class subdivision, and there were substantial houses, some complete and others seemingly abandoned in various stages of construction. Esther explained that people would begin a house with only a little money, and when it was spent, they would stop work and wait until they had the means to continue. The roads through this neighborhood as elsewhere were rutted, undulating, and dusty with no pavement or solid surface of any kind, becoming a series of rivers and ponds in the rainy season.
Ironically, the further we went into the country, the better the road became, probably for the simple reason that the people did not have cars, but at the same time the poverty and subsistence level of existence became more obvious. Mud and wattle huts with roofs of natural vegetation were common. Outbuildings were made from thin poles stuck in the ground and enclosed with plastic cement bags scrounged from construction sites. The roofs were blue plastic tarps or bent and rusty metal. an “A” frame. The roof was only partially covered with “shingles” made by folding banana leaves around a stick and tying them with a sisal cord. For this special occasion, the sides of the church were partially covered with blue and white bed sheets. Blue and pink balloons emblazoned with “Happy Birthday” were tied to the posts. During the church service, these would periodically burst like firecrackers.The congregation numbered twenty-five or so. The women wore dresses of bright colors in bold patterns and the men white shirts open at the collier and long pants. The young minister's jacket and his wife's dress were each cut from the same material of brown and yellow. Her hair was fixed in fine “corn rows.” The church we visited was itself a pole structure with a few rafters and ceiling joists to make The singing was strong and rhythmic and accompanied by the minister on a guitar. The best performance was by the children who had their own choir and modeled their elders in the side-stepping dance and clapping hands that were a part of every song. The service was highlighted by a long sermon given by a church official and additional “mini sermons” delivered by others, interspersed with prayers and more prayers, the laying on of hands when the minister was ordained, singing between prayers and sermons, hysterical outbursts in response to the sermons, and finally after three and a half hours, a final AMEN. , Then we had lunch – steamed rice, a dish of rice mixed with chunks of beef called pali that is served on special occasions, and a green salad of cabbage, tomatoes, onions and other vegetables. The beef was quite tender and tasty, better than what I had eaten in our dining hall, but taking the advice of my Indian friend, Gadi, who advised me to eat only cooked food when it was hot, I declined the salad. Being with these people made me feel sad. They are so poor and try hard to live decently with very little. “Happy Birthday” balloons decorating a church without a roof is symbolic of the conditions in most of the country. Attending chapel services daily, Wednesday night prayer meetings, and Sunday church services at TCBC or elsewhere make up only one part of the duties performed by Andrew and Esther. In addition to teaching classes in English, Esther is the financial officer who keeps all of the books and makes reports to the East African Mission Fellowship. She is also the chief purchasing agent and goes to Tanga each week to buy food for the student cafeteria. This usually consists of rice, corn meal which is boiled to make ugali, the staple of the Tanzanian diet, and meat, fish, and vegetables. There are no supermarkets as we know them in Tanga, only one small store that sells cheese, butter, orange juice, and canned goods, mostly imported from South Africa. However, across from this small store, there is a produce market housed under a large open shed where individual venders cater to the foreign population, and then a much larger local market in another section of the city composed of a maze of stalls where venders sell to the local people. This is where Esther goes each week with her driver in the college truck to buy provisions. Esther is a small woman, and as Andrew says, not physically strong, but strong in spirit, and so she is not intimidated when a situation calls for assertiveness. Always conscious of her budget, she shops carefully and bargains hard for the best price on each item. In addition to grocery shopping, she also buys paper and ink for the copy machine, paper and pens for the office, prizes to be awarded to the students for their academic achievements and for their successes on the college's Sports Day. She also determines how to expend her meager scholarship money among the many needy students, some of whom ask for help in buying such essential things as shirts and shoes. But Esther's work does not stop there. As the wife of the head of the college, she also performs the role of hostess and prepares meals for friends and officials who come to visit. Although she has a helper, the responsibility, and frequently the bulk of the preparation, still falls on her. While I was there, Esther also had me for dinner one night a week and for breakfast on the weekend. I give this recitation of her duties to make it clear that Esther's work is full time, and that she is largely responsible for the successful operation of TCBC. The East African Mission Fellowship could not find a more diligent worker. Andrew's title is Principle of Tanga Christian Bible College, and as the chief administrator he performs the duties attendant to that office, but he also teaches classes, delivers Sunday sermons, is present at all chapel services, makes trips into the country side to aid graduate ministers, oversees the construction of Living Stone Seminary, and deals with the government bureaucracy in the construction process. One would never guess it from his vocation and demeanor, but Andrew was a member of the Korean Army's special forces and made thirty-four parachute jumps. He was well aware of my timidness in coming to Tanzania, and so watched over me like a mother hen. I was discouraged from leaving the college environs alone, and so he accompanied when I walked outside for exercise. When he stopped to attend to business in Tanga and left me in the car, he reminded me to lock the doors. On leaving the county, we flew from Tanga to Dar es Salaam by way of Zanzibar where we stayed overnight. Walking in the beach-front park in the evening among the food and souvenir venders, I was accosted by an aggressive young man wanting to sell me a CD. Before I had time to say "No," Andrew shoved him away, and pointing his finger in the man's face, gave him a firm warning to beat it. I always felt safe with Andrew as my bodyguard. Andrew told me that he enjoyed all aspects of his work except dealing with the government officials. In order to get things done in Tanzania, it was usually necessary to pay a bribe, and Andrew and Esther resisted this on principle. Consequently, the conduct of official business was often protracted and frustrating. The inspectors who visited the building site of Living Stone Seminary expected payment for giving an OK to each stage of construction, and when the college truck was sent to another town to bring back building materials, the police would often stop it and demand money, but the most serious and costly example related to the port authority in Tanga. It was common practice for the officials to delay processing the paper work for shipping containers in order to run up the daily storage fees. Then when the container was finally released, the officials would pocket the overcharges. Tanga Christian Bible College had fallen victim to this more than once. While I was there in January of 2009, TCBC received a container from Korea with ten-year old office furniture that had been donated by a school. And as usual, the port authority held the container while the storage charges mounted. In March, after Andrew had made numerous visits to their office, the officials promised to release the container by the end of the week, but when the day came, he did not get the container. He was then assured that it would be released on the following Monday. It was finally given to him on Tuesday. After suffering the extended delay in delivery, not only did Andrew have to pay the port storage charges but other fees as well, and when he was handed the final bill, it was over a million shillings more than he had been told it would be. He challenged this, and it was finally discovered that the woman who worked in the office had "accidently" misplaced a document that authorized a rebate on some of the charges. After this was settled, the driver of the delivery truck would not move the container until he had been given 5000 shillings, and the port guard would not open the gate until he had gotten 2000. Of course, my presence at TCBC added another responsibility to the ordinary work of Andrew and Esther. They took personal responsibility for me and did all they could to make my stay safe and enjoyable. I especially remember the delicious dinners that were so elegantly served. Because I had been closely confined while in Tanga, before I left, they took me to a tourist area in the mountains called Lashoto, and as I have mentioned we spent a day in Zanzibar on our way to Dar es Salaam and the flights that would carry me back to Virginia and them to Washington for a six week fund raising tour. I was called to Tanzania to teach English to the students of TCBC, and I did my best. One useful technique that I picked up from my student assistant was to write short dialogues that pairs of students would read before the class. I would note the pronunciation errors in each recitation and follow up with a short drill on the problem words. I also used reading selections from modern translations of the Bible to model common sentence patterns and to build vocabulary. However, I left with the feeling that I had not been very effective. To teach English to speakers of a foreign language, one should be able to speak the native tongue, and I knew only a few words in Swahili. When I got home and thought about my experience, I decided that perhaps the teaching mission was not all that God intended for me. Perhaps the purpose of the trip was primarily to introduce me to Andrew and Esther and TCBC so that I might help by advertising the good work that they are doing and by raising money to support their efforts. And so that is what I am doing. There are a large number of missionaries in Tanzania representing different nationalities and denominations. Andrew told me that being a missionary could be a cushy job. Often missionaries have no immediate supervision and are in effect their own bosses, able to decide what to do and when to do it, and human nature being what it is, some take advantage of this freedom and do little. But Andrew and Esther do not fall into this category. To impress a visitor over a short period of time, anyone might present the appearance of working hard, but this charade could not be maintained over a period of three months. What I saw was real. Culture, character, and faith have combined to make Andrew and Esther true servants of God. The Korean people are clean, orderly and disciplined, and this cultural background has fostered a strong work ethic in Esther and Andrew that has been reinforced by their Christian faith. This faith has directed them to educate ministers who can bring Christian values to their congregations in order to combat the immorality that retards the economic and social progress of Tanzinia.