Tabora Travelogue

The 2012 annual synod of the diocese voted to established a companion relationship with the Diocese of Tabora in the Anglican Church of Tanzania. Father Dave Halt (St Matthew’s, Bloomington), Brenda, and I spent most of the first half of November this year making an initial visit to Tabora. It was an amazing experience, and I hope to give you a little flavor of it in the narrative and pictures that follow.


Brenda and I left our Springfield home around 4pm on Saturday, November 2. We stopped in Bloomington to pick up Fr Halt and continue northward. We arrived at O’Hare in plenty of time for our 11pm scheduled departure on Turkish Airlines. Chicago to Istanbul, Istanbul to Dar es Salaam, where we landed about 20 hours later, which was 3:30am Monday local time. After obtaining entrance visas (which went smoothly, though it was time-consuming), the next order of business was to convert some US cash into Tanzanian shillings so we could pay for our flight to Tabora. There were a number of currency exchange storefronts just outside the entrance to the terminal, but all declined to change the amount of cash that I needed. It took some assistance from the staff of Air Tanzania to get this done, but all ended well, and we boarded our 6:30am flight. Air Tanzania is the only airline that flies to Tabora, about 500 miles west northwest of the capital, and there are only three flights per week, so one does not want to miss it.

Our ride was in a twin-engine propeller-driven aircraft with a seating capacity of around 60, I would estimate–not a jet, so the trip took all of two hours, and we landed on schedule at 8:30am. Security being a few degrees more lax than in the U.S., Bishop Elias Chakupewa and his wife Lucy were able to greet us right on the tarmac as we deplaned. They escorted us to the “VIP Lounge,” where we sat and visited as our luggage was retrieved for us. Then, as we emerged into the parking lot, we were met by around 20 clergy and lay leaders of the diocese, who all broke out into song, i full harmony. It was an amazing welcome.

Next we were driven the five miles or so to St Stephen’s Cathedral, where there was an even larger group of parishioners and clergy, probably 50 or so. We were offered a light meal, and given the opportunity to introduce ourselves and offer words of greeting. We were also serenaded again, this time by the choir of the Mother’s Union group from the cathedral. (The Mother’s Union originated in the Church of England but is now ubiquitous across African Anglicanism. It seems to function in a way that is sort of a hybrid between the ECW and the Daughters of the King.) Still feeling disoriented and dislocated from our long hours of travel, we were grateful that our lodging at the Orion Tabora Hotel was less than a mile from the cathedral. We got checked in, showered, and rested. At 1pm we were picked up and driven to the cathedral/diocesan office complex for lunch, served in the room designated as the Mother’s Union hall, and taken on a brief tour of the facilities. Back at the hotel, we had the rest of the afternoon to reconnect with ourselves–and, yes, get a bit of sleep as we began the process of adjusting to the time zone change (nine hours ahead of central standard time). At 7 we were picked up by Bishop Elias (in his 20-year old Toyota Land Cruiser) and driven to his home for dinner with his family and several of the rural deans of the diocese. Afterward, Brenda and I and Fr Halt had a drink in the hotel bar before retiring for the night.

Tuesday, 5 November
This was intended to be mostly a day of rest and reorientation, which is a good things because Brenda and I slept in until 10, missing breakfast. We met Dave and enjoyed a cup of tea on the hotel veranda. Tanzania was once part of German East Africa, and the Hotel Orion Tabora dates from that pre-World War I era. IMG_0980It’s all on one story, and, appropriately for an equatorial climate, all the corridors are outdoors. While significantly past its prime, it retains an air of elegance. One can imagine John Gielgud and Alec Guinness, dressed in safari suits, sipping G&Ts while discussing military strategy. We grew quite fond of it as a place to which we could retreat after our encounters with the less elegant aspects of Tanzanian life.

On most counts, the perks of episcopal office line up in my favor when compared to my colleague Bishop Elias. In one area, however, he has me beat: He has a driver. So … the driver picked up at 1 for lunch at same place as yesterday. It was a routine to which we became well-accustomed over the next several days, beginning with the solemn washing of hands. A staff member presents herself, holding a large plastic bowl and a pitcher of warm water and a plastic bottle of laundry soap. We all lined up, washed and rinsed, then dried our hands on paper napkins before heading to the buffet line. After the meal, the same ritual pertains, and it makes perfect sense because the locals tend to eat everything with their hands. Evidently, public health professionals were quite effective in getting their message across sometime in the last few decades, to everyone’s credit, I would say. The fare laid out before us tended not to vary much: rice (both plain and in a spiced and colored variety that I would be hard put to describe), bananas (either cooked or fresh), boiled potatoes, a spinach-like vegetable identified as “Chinese greens,” and usually two kinds of meat: chicken and beef. To developed-world mouths, the meat is exceedingly tough, as the chickens are in every respect “free range” and organic, and the only cattle we saw were of a distinctive longhorn and rather scrawny variety. At times there was also fresh mango (mango trees are ubiquitous across the landscape, an artifact, we were told, of the presence of Arab slave traders several centuries ago) and fresh watermelon. Those who eat fruit (I do not) were quite delighted with the flavor of these locally-sourced foods. And everyone drinks bottled water, even the locals.

After lunch, we were taken on a tour of two diocesan ministries: a medical clinic and a secondary school. Both are urgently necessary institutions, both have the potential to do a great deal more than they’re doing, hindered only by lack of funds. That, of course, is a refrain that could be applied to most everything we saw and did while in the Diocese of Tabora.

We were delivered back to the hotel a little before 4pm. Brenda was retrieved shortly thereafter to sit in on the rehearsal of the cathedral’s Mothers Union choir, which she greatly enjoyed. The three of us had the evening to ourselves, and enjoyed a very slow-paced dinner from the hotel restaurant under a large tent/awning.

Wednesday, 6 November


Another lazy morning around the hotel. We enjoyed a Spanish omelet and English-style bacon and sausage for breakfast. Bishop Elias picked up at 1 and took us to the cathedral complex for lunch (same room and same food as before). We spent some time walking around the grounds talking pictures and asking questions.The cathedral was completed only about four years ago, with the assistance of a Church of England parish with which the diocese had partnered. Now they are in the midst of building an addition that will house a parish hall, offices, and a sacristy. The norm in Tanzania seems to be a rather less formal and more piecemeal approach to construction and fund-raising. They simply build in phases as funds become available, and begin to use a structure pretty much as soon as there’s a roof over it, when there is still a great deal of work yet to be done.

At 3pm we got back in the aged Land Rovers and headed to St John’s in the Isevya neighborhood of Tabora. I preached (through an interpreter), confirmed half the 17 candidates, con-celebrated the Eucharist, offered greetings, and received over-the-top generosity in the midst of energetic and inspiring worship.  All this in a physical environment that would be considered unthinkably crude at home. We were quite amazed, on a number of levels. It seems part of the genetic makeup of Tanzanians (and, I suspect, of Africans generally) not to be able to sing without dancing. So there is a lot of movement, a great deal of physicality in their worship. On many occasions while a choir was performing, a member of the congregation might feel inspired and come forward and wave a cloth in front of them while ululating; this was a sign of approbation. They sing spontaneously in four-part harmony, and while the Anglican Church of Tanzania does have a hymnal, many times they will sing multiple verses of a hymn from memory as soon as they hear the Bishop begin it. Interestingly, they have blended their indigenous musical tradition with certain aspects of western pop culture in ways I would not have anticipated. Every church, even the smallest and most remote, has an electronic keyboard that supplies a beat and chord pattern, to which the choir (in matching outfits and synchronized dancing) performs, with ample microphones, yielding a very “plugged in” sound. This musical idiom extends across Christian denominational lines–even to the Roman Catholics–but is probably inspired by the Pentecostals, who are quite numerous. After the liturgy in Isevya we were fed dinner, the church having been turned into a parish hall while we were outside shaking hands and posing for pictures.

Thursday, 7 November
8am departure for the village of Goweko (est. pop. 1000), about 30 miles east of Tabora, though it took us an hour and a quarter to get there on a dirt road that was a challenge to automotive suspensions, spines, and kidneys alike. This village has no running water, sanitation, or electricity, save for a few homes and businesses that have a private solar apparatus, one of which is the home of the local pastor and his wife. All cooking is done outdoors on charcoal fires (this actually applies to 98% of Tanzania; even where electricity is available, it is too expensive to use for cooking). Chickens wander in and out of the house. We were welcomed graciously in the rectory (a rented building) for breakfast, the highlight of which for me was an encounter a freshly-made local variant on the tortilla called chapati–thicker, more like a huaracha, and very tasty. The church is relatively new plant and is not yet named. The building is only about two-thirds finished; the west end of the roof infrastructure doesn’t exist yet, and the floor is bare dirt, with a plastic tarp in the altar area. Yet, the very “plugged in” sound ideal that is regnant here as well,  facilitated by battery-powered keyboard and amp. Fr Halt preached and I helped with another fifteen confirmations. We were presented with five pounds of honey (locally produced in hives that hang from trees) and, from the Mother’s Union for Brenda, a live chicken–very costly on both counts. Back in Tabora around 3:00, where we had the remainder of the day to ourselves.

The song in this video is sung in English and was written especially for the occasion. The voice in the “call” part of the call and response is that of the priest, who is also at the keyboard.

Friday, 8 November
Back on the road at 7:30, this time westbound about 60 miles. The journey took about two hours, over alternating good (graded and graveled) and bad (dirt and rutted) roads). The Chinese have a high profile in Tanzania, and are supervising and financing road construction in return for mineral rights. Even though they are technically not supposed to, people will drive on portions of the road that are improved, and return to the parallel dirt road only when they see a tree branch across the way, a less expensive surrogate for orange cones. Our interim destination was Urambo, a community of several tens of thousands of people, then south about 30 minutes to the village of Nsenda, another place without electrical or aquatic amenities. We were greeted, as always, in the very small house of the priest (whose wife hospitalized in Dodoma with malaria), for breakfast (hard-boiled eggs and chapati). Another dozen or so were confirmed at St Peter’s Church. I preached. Lunch followed the liturgy, which, like all the others, consumed the better part of three hours. Choir performances are both numerous and long, and after the “final” blessing, there are greetings

IMG_1170from the Bishop (Baba Askofu), the Bishop’s wife (Mama Askofu), various other clerical dignitaries (rural deans and the like), visiting VIPs (like the Bishop of Springfield and his retinue), and a report to the Bishop from the parish wardens (a most salutary practice, in my opinion). More of the same over-the-top hospitality and vitality. We then headed back to Urambo for dinner at the rectory of St Martin’s Church there. We stayed in a small but nice (by local standards; might not rate one star in the developed world; see the picture of the bathroom) hotel in the city. It dawned on us as we were there that Bishop Elias had engaged extra security for our visit. Two gentlemen with AK-47s kept watch on the patio and in the lobby. It was explained to us that while relations between Christians and Muslims are quite good throughout most of the country, there is not an inordinate degree of trust, and a visiting American bishop might prove a tempting target for Muslims of an extremist bent. Christians and Muslims are present in roughly equal numbers in the country, and together account for about 95% of the population, the remainder practicing traditional tribal religions. Roman Catholics comprise a plurality of the Christians, followed by Anglicans, Moravians, Lutherans, and Pentecostals, and trace elements of Methodists, Baptists, and other groups.

Saturday, 9 November
Back to the Urambo rectory for breakfast. Liturgy in St Martin’s Church for about 250, with 30 confirmations, along with the installation of the rector as new rural dean). Fr Halt preached. The usual receiving line, posing for pictures, and gracious lunch followed the liturgy (with tasty pork this time). More generous gifts (I am now thoroughly outfitted in African shirts). We hit the dusty trail back to Tabora at 1:30, arriving two hours later. Down time until 7, when the Chakupewas were our guests for dinner at the hotel restaurant.

Sunday, 10 November
Picked up at 7:45 for the very short (about two minutes) drive to the cathedral. I would estimate the attendance at around 700, with 42 confirmations and 12 receptions. The service lasted 3.5 hours, but my sermon contributed relatively little to that length. After a hiatus of conversation in chairs under a shade tree, lunch was served at 1 back in the church. Then back to the hotel for down time until we were picked up for dinner at 7–the usual fare back in the Mothers Union hall in the diocesan center.

Monday, 11 November
Picked up at 9:30 ahead of a 10am ceremonial opening of a new church in Mirambo Parish, northeast Tabora. I was humbled when asked to do the honors myself, and humbled further when I unveiled the plaque and saw my name and that of my diocese inscribed on it. There were about 45 in attendance (filling the back pews first, just like Episcopalians!), with six confirmands–four youth and two adults. After the usual greetings, reports, and gifts (ours was more honey this time), there was a hiatus, then lunch back in the (dirt floor) church. Back at the hotel in the vicinity of 2:30. Dinner in the hotel restaurant–quite leisurely; no other kind is possible given the pace of service–while the wind picked up markedly, but the skies produced nothing. The people are anxious for the arrival of the rainy season, scheduled about now, as there have been some recent drought years.

Tuesday, 12 November
Same routine as yesterday, only at Mbugani Parish (Trinity Church), and instead of opening a church, we opened a rectory. It’s the nicest and largest of those we’ve seen, though the funds are still lacking for electricity and plumbing. Fr Halt preached. For a time, there was a “battle of the sound systems” between our service and Muslim wedding taking place at a home about 150 yards away. During lunch, the rainy season may have arrived, as there was a serious downpour. I hope for their sake that it has. Mbugani means “ever wet,” which, we were told, describes the neighborhood when rain is plentiful. Down time at the hotel until we were picked up at 7 for dinner at the diocesan center (broiled tilapia, a welcome bit of variety).

Wednesday, 13 November
10am meeting with bishop and diocesan staff and leaders. We discussed some possible shapes for our companion relationship going forward. Then a trip to the bank for Fr Halt to convert some more dollars into shillings, and a visit to the open-air market and the Roman Catholic bookstore for some gift shopping. Lunch back at the diocesan center. Afternoon free. Picked up a little past six for a farewell dinner in the usual location. More gifts. It was kind of an emotional time.

Thursday, 14 November
IMG_1397Departure day. Leisurely morning–breakfast, then packing. Bishop Elias came by around 10 for a short visit and to drop off a gift of some African tea. While he was there, Fr Dave and I settled the hotel bill in cash, like shelling out around $950 using nothing but $7 bills.–i.e. a major undertaking. At a little past one, we were picked up , bags in tow, for a final lunch in the now familiar Mother’s Union hall. In order to kill time before heading to the airport, we were taken by a residential facility for young women 17-22. This is a ministry of the diocese that allows women from the villages to seek education and employment in Tabora with a very small cost for housing. Then we went by the construction site of St Philip’s Church. The congregation still meets in a school, but the walls of their new building are up, awaiting now a roof and floor. As you can see from the photo, it will be a good-sized facility. Then it was off to the airport, where we arrived about 2:30 for our 4:30 flight. After getting us into the VIP lounge, our hosts took their leave about an hour later.

We breathed a sigh of relief when our ride arrived, right on schedule. We landed in Dar es Salaam right around dusk, and then had to figure out how to wile away the next ten hours until our 4:35am scheduled departure on Turkish Airlines. Somehow we did it, and the rest of the way home, while long, was smooth. I will say that we all headed eagerly to the Burger King in the Istanbul airport as soon as we deplaned. Comfort food was irresistible.

Miscellaneous Observations
  • Tabora is a major city–about the size of any of the three largest urban areas in the Diocese of Springfield. But it has a rural feel because of what Americans would call substandard roads and low density of construction.
  • Generally speaking, the resources for maintenance seem to be in short supply. Many times I have been certain that a building is derelict, only to learn that it’s a school or a government office or a military compound. Virtually every structure is a case study in what we would call “deferred maintenance.” (The one exception was the bank that we visited twice to change money–clean and sleek, air-conditioned executive offices.).
  • No cultivated lawns, although there are very isolated small patches of what appears to be grass. The dominant color in the natural landscape is brown. Of course, we were there at the tail end of the dry season, and I suspect it greens up a bit when the rains come. In addition, there is an abundance of unfinished construction, contributing to the general “developing world look and feel.”
  • In the villages outside the city, there is neither public electricity nor running water and sanitation. Some wealthier residents have solar panels to power their home. Even so, cell phones are ubiquitous. All this applies even in villages like Goweko, which probably has close to 1000 residents.
  • Swahili is easier for English speakers to learn than English is for Swahili speakers. It is a hybrid between Arabic and the dominant native of the island of Zanzibar about 500 years ago. Swahili’s most famous export to the rest of the world is probably the word safari, which denotes any sort of trip or journey, whether it’s to track wild elephants or buy a gallon of milk at the neighborhood grocery.
  • The Anglican Church of Tanzania has its own liturgy, and while I did not pick up much of the language, I was able to discern the basic structure of the rite for Confirmation and the Eucharist. It was a very familiar pattern.
  • Parts of Tanzania were evangelized by Catholic Anglicans and some by Evangelical Anglicans. The various dioceses today reflect that diversity. Tabora’s background is Evangelical.
  • The strategy for church planting and ministry development is simple: Once a target community is identified, send in a trained evangelist/catechist, on a full-time basis with a very modest stipend. Once a worshiping community is established, it meets in temporary quarters, like a school. When numbers reach a certain point, the Bishop sends in a priest. Land is acquired and construction begins on a church. With the lack of zoning laws and burdensome construction codes, this is much less expensive and complicated than it would be in the U.S. Priests are drawn from the ranks of evangelists/catechists. The more capable and successful among the priests are then sent to seminary to complete their theological education. We would do well to ponder, I think, this model of doing discernment for ordination in the context of solid “field” experience. We tend to ordain lots of people “on spec.” Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. In the Tanzanian system, there’s a track record to go on.
  • I was concerned, at times, by what appeared to be a “confirmation mill” mentality that was characteristic of the Episcopal Church in the 1950s and 60s. Look where that got us. I would hate to see our Tanzanian friends emulate us in those respects. But what gives me hope that they will not is the seriousness with which they approach catechesis. The confirmands are actually examined by the Bishop, publicly as part of the service. On one occasion, he clearly wasn’t getting the caliber of response he was looking for, and I was afraid he wasn’t going to continue. Exercising pastoral good sense, he elected to proceed, but apparently with conditions. Before we left the site, I noticed the parish catechist huddled with a couple of confirmands, all with open Bibles. And in every service, all the confirmands recited the Apostles’ Creed, from memory and without stumbling. I have hope.
  • Development issues abound. The most urgent is probably the digging of deep wells that won’t run dry after the rains cease, and then the wherewithal to maintain them so they remain functional. Many deep wells go out of service because there aren’t the resources to maintain them.
  • The prevailing post-liturgical hand-shaking routine is quite endearing: the clergy line up outside the church in a fashion that would be familiar to western churchgoers, and the people file by and shake their hands. But they, when they reach the end of the receiving line, they just join themselves to the end of it, and begin to shake the hands of the others that follow them. So everyone pretty much shakes the hand of everyone else who was there.
  • Ago distribution is reversed from our experience in America. Whereas here we see mostly adults of grandparent age and beyond when we step into a church, with a smattering up younger adults and children, there we saw an abundance of children and young adults, with a smatter of grandparent-age adults.
  • Advocates of mothers being able to breastfeed their babies in public places without social opprobrium, in which company I number myself, will be encouraged by what they see in Tanzania.

There really are no words to explain how all three of us arrived in Tabora with a mental conception of a companion relationship with a diocese, but left knowing that we have real companions, real partners in the ministry of the gospel, people whom we now love, and in whose work we are invested. I feel like I returned having received more than I gave. I am excited to see what God has in store for this relationship.

Sundry Pictures

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • Sheila Huxted November 28, 2013, 9:49 am

    Thank you so much for sharing! I well Pray for these people everyday. I bet you had tears in your eyes as you flew away? I did just feeling the joy you and Brenda must have felt. What a wonderful life we could have and do not know it? From the bottom of my heart . Thanks Again,Sheila Huxted The Church Of The Holy Trinity Danville Il LOL

  • Leslie Murphy December 1, 2013, 9:37 pm

    I love reading your observations. Mine are that the Tanzanians are warm and gracious people. They appreciate who we are and what we bring them; as we appreciate what they offer to us.
    I work in the village of Maruvango, about 45 minutes from Arusha. I am so sorry you could not meet these village people. They also need water, electricity. Barry’s Fund is working hard to bring in clean water to the two schools in the village via rain catchment units. Any ground water brought up by wells runs the risk of having too much fluoride. This is natural in the ground water and of too high a percentage to be safe for consumption. Therefore, we must help the villagers build the catchment units. Good luck! Leslie Murphy (Michael’s sister-in-law)

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