Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Rainy Day Pilgrimage


A while ago, Fr. Damas offered to take us (Ashley, myself and fellow
American volunteer Alicia) to visit his home parish and village of
Mpitimbi. Ventures with Fr. Damas never disappoint, so we jumped at
the chance. We eat all of our meals with Fr. Damas, and for a while
now there hasn’t been other volunteers so it’s just the four of us.
Fr. Damas is humble, faithful and shy at times. More than anything, he
loves to answer any questions we have which means that mealtimes
usually consist of his amazing life stories and a crash-course in
Tanzanian culture. We feel incredibly lucky to have such a wonderful
priest in residence and were rightfully anticipating this particular
outing with much excitement because it was so personal to him.

We planned the trip for Thursday, since it is our day off teaching.
Wednesday, however, unexpectedly brought the first rain we have seen
since we arrived and it continued into Thursday. Getting rain here is
more than an inconvenience. We’ve been told that during the rainy
season we will most likely be completely unable to leave and after
yesterday, I finally understand this.

In spite of the rain, we continued with the trip as planned. The drive
to Mpitimbi was about an hour and a half. This proved to be, by far,
the easiest leg of the journey. One of the stories Fr. Damas likes to
tell us is about how he used to walk to school until he was in
Standard 6 (6th grade-ish). From the home where he grew up to the
school is a two hour walk one way, about 6 miles. He did this everyday
as a kid, rain or shine, and always without shoes. When planning our
trip, he asked us if we would like to do the walk and visit his
childhood home and of course, we said yes. And walk, we did.  About 12
miles total, the whole time in pouring rain.  Though we opted for
umbrellas and rain-coats rather than the banana leaves Fr. Damas used
as a kid to keep his head dry, we were still soaked from head to toe
for most of the walk.

The spirit of the pilgrimage, however, refused to be dampened. It was
so special meeting his brother, sisters, and nieces and nephews, a few
of them even made the walk out with us. The man who now lives on the
land that once was Fr. Damas’ childhood home is his “elder brother,”
or the oldest living member of Fr. Damas’ family. This man lives truly
lives alone. There are no roads leading to his house that cars are
able to take, just the long, narrow trail we walked on. When we
arrived there we took shelter from the rain under one of his grass
huts and ate bread and fried bananas. He showed us coins he had dug up
from the ruins of his great-grandfathers house. They were old
shillings, from colonial times and probably saved for a dowry.
Needless to say, it was a pretty cool moment. The rain still coming
down, sitting in the company of people who lead lives so drastically
from our own, hearing about their ancestors- all the while physically
standing on the very ground that generations of this family has lived,
played, worked and died on. Later, Fr. Damas told us we were probably
the first white people to set foot on that ground.

The adventures of the day did not end there. After the 6 miles back
(still raining) we shared a meal prepared by Fr. Damas’ sister in her
home and visited the parish church. We were officially initiated into
rainy season on the ride home. The hour and a half drive we had taken
that morning ended up being four hours long on the way back because
the rain makes the dirt roads so slick. It was a little rough sitting
cold, wet and exhausted for that amount of time, and were happy when
we arrived back home in Chipole from our pilgrimage safe and sound.
100% worth it, but clean, dry socks have never felt so good.

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