Mchungaji

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Footsteps, yarns and little fibs

How two years became seven and why.

Mchungaji is Swahili for shepherd, as well it means pastor because of the biblical reference, the M makes the word a noun to denote a person. The word comes from the verb chunga, meaning to shepherd. Surprisingly, (at least for me) from time to time, people who didn’t know me well often called me ‘Mchungaji’, which I accepted respectfully, didn’t really reflect me and made me feel awkward! But it was easier to accept than to explain. But that’s what I’ll do here.

I had been working for an outfit I call Hifadhi, on a two year contract that was nearly up. I was working under the auspices of The Agency, and they planned to hold their annual conference in a flash tented lodge, high up the escarpment of the Great Rift overlooking Lake Manyara National Park. For this conference, a representative from The Agency’s partner organisations were invited to attend to provide feedback, but Hifadhi weren’t invited because I’d exposed some major discrepancies in their accounting, so they were no longer flavour of the month. But I was asked to give a lift the General Secretary of DME, a Lutheran diocese who had a volunteer working who left some two months previously.

I knew the General Secretary quite well, and had the habit of calling him, ‘Mister’ as a respectful joke, because he’s a nice fellow. We picked him up at his office and headed out towards the Makuyuni turn-off. I had with me a ten litre mixture I had prepared to deter termites from eating trees I supplied to the schools. The mix, for anyone interested is 1kg of ripe chillies steeped in two gallons of water for a couple of days, a squirt or two of dishwasher liquid, or just some soap. If you happen to have it a litre of neem oil, it could be added too. The mixture is watered over the seedlings. I had arranged to drop the mix off at Mti Mmoja primary school on our way. Mti Mmoja is a primary school that struggled majorly with a lack of water, drought and teaching resources. With me, I also had two twenty litre containers of clean, fresh water for the teachers, a habit I started after seeing the need, so dropped it off whenever I was passing – it cost me nothing and was appreciated.

Mister was impressed with the termite mix and interested in the work I was doing with the primary school. I noticed that while I was talking to the kids, he had a long conversation with the head teacher. Anyway, I kept my eye on the time because we still had over an hour to travel, but before we could take our leave, the kids wanted to sing our environmental song, which had Mister rocking to the beat, clapping and with a wide smile on his face.

We had yet to travel on the dusty part of the trip and it didn’t disappoint with its fine, brown dust seeping throughout the vehicle and over us, and we were grateful the climb up the rift wasn’t so bad because the road was more stoney. The tented lodge was pretty posh, which Mister was going to enjoy! He had more enthusiasm about the conference than I could muster, but then I was about to finish up my assignment, which was like a black cloud hanging over me because I’d enjoyed my time in Tanzania.

It was part way through the conference that Mister paid a visit to our tent and asked me if I would consider working for DME doing the same sort of thing he saw Mti Mmoja. I didn’t need much convincing, so after a brief chat, we went together to meet with our Field Rep. There were protocols to follow, but all that was made easier because the visas and work permits had already been gone through and as well, the Agency was actively looking for assignments. Mister was open and frank and we were getting along like long lost friends. I still count him among my friends. The diocese is Lutheran, and although I’d attended Lutheran churches over the previous couple of years for everything from christenings to funerals, even Mister’s daughter’s wedding, but I didn’t know much about what Lutherans stood for.

Just three years previously DME was at war, actual war. The Northern part had grown so much, it was decided to split it in two, creating a new Diocese, and the war was of the naming of it! There were other minor issues, but suffice to say that was it. Property was burnt and people died and the army was sent in to quell things. So by the time I arrived there, the diocese was in financial strife, even writing paper, pens and envelopes were carefully distributed and all staff had to wait long periods of time for their wages. Nevertheless, the Bishop and his General Secretary ran a good ship. I decided early on in the piece, that although I’d had nothing to do with the Lutheran church, if I was working with them, I would stick as much as I could to their values and participated in their events. The Bishop’s holistic approach meant that I was working with all the village peoples no matter what religious persuasion they belonged to, except that is,  with the people the war was fought against, they had set up their own churches and memory was still fresh all their minds.

That first year flew by and we achieved what we had set out to do. Towards the end of that year, Mister asked me if we would be prepared to extend for yet another year. I was keen enough because there was an obvious need, on the other hand, we had to consider things at home. I agreed, and as part of our conditions The Agency sent us home for a month to sort things out. Again it wasn’t long before we were nearing the end of the assignment and Mister had a further request for me. A Danish church organisation was providing funds for environmental work to appropriate organisations and he asked me if I could work out a programme and calculate a budget for Loti, my co-worker, to carry on our work for the next five years. I set to and worked out what I thought was an appropriate project and costed it.

The Danish organisation came back prepared to fund the project but not interested in carrying it on for five years. They would provide the funds, but it had to be spent in one year! By this time Loti and I had experience in emergency food aid, and now half his time was supervising the response to a widespread food shortage. The Bishop and Mister called me into the Bishop’s office to ask if I would manage the project on their behalf because they didn’t have the capacity or people to do it. Five years’ work in one year? The project included six water projects, which would involve the application of water rights and most of the time I’d be without a co-worker? I accepted the challenge, but assured them we needed to go home afterwards.

It was indeed a busy year, made busier because the water projects involved purchasing a lot of materials but I’d become good at negotiating better prices, which meant I was saving money hand over fist, yet all funds needed to be spent and spent appropriately by the end of the year. Anyway, somehow we managed to complete the targeted plus additional work to use the saved funds. All funds spent appropriately and accounted for, thanks to my wife’s attention to detail. We worked through to the very last day, but didn’t need to pack much because we gave most of our stuff away. The hardest times were the emotional farewells, all twenty four schools and their parishes wanted to give us a good send-off.

Settled at home for two years and happy to be there, I began to receive requests from the Bishop to return for further projects. We were pretty settled and I’d had an issue with a liver abscess to contend with, but somehow we found the Bishop difficult to turn down. A good Tanzanian friend, a solo mother had died suddenly so there was some sorting out to do on behalf of her kids. So thus incentivised, we returned for a further two year assignment. A fixed two year assignment.

So because I was heavily involved with a church organisation, many of the locals and the people I dealt with in town assumed that I was a fully-fledged Mchungaji!  


Submitted: March 25, 2019

© Copyright 2021 moa rider. All rights reserved.

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Comments

hullabaloo22

An interesting read, Moa.

Mon, March 25th, 2019 9:19pm

Author
Reply

Thank you Mama Hullabaloo and thanks for reading. Usianguke

Mon, March 25th, 2019 8:32pm

jaylisbeth

Excellent story, Moa!

Sat, March 30th, 2019 3:33am

Author
Reply

Well thank you Jay. Sometime you just can't predict how things will turn out. Its a long time to be a volunteer, but I regret none of it. Usianguke

Fri, March 29th, 2019 8:37pm

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