One of the more interesting aspects of life here is the meeting people from multinational backgrounds and hearing extra ordinary stories of their relocation to Africa.
A number of them emit from a Fellowship gathering which we attend twice a month. It is composed mostly of families who have come to do Evangelistic work combined with implementation of projects designed to advance the living convenience of local people. This Sunday was no exception. I met and spoke with a woman from North Carolina who looked every bit, the Southern Belle. She and her husband and their four children, ages 2 to 13, had moved to Iringa five months ago and will be here another month learning Swahili. They will then move on to Mombasa where her husband will consult with small businesses to get them up and running, and in her words, “will stay until the Good Lord directs them otherwise.” Warm and friendly in her demeanor, her sense of well being radiated. When I asked her how the children were adjusting, she said that they had some problem with their thirteen year old daughter, (can you imagine?), but that had passed and that the three boys were fine with it from the beginning.
Another couple haled from Oregon. They too were in Iringa to learn the language. The wife, 68, told me that from age ten, she has wanted to be a missionary. Her first husband died young, and her second husband said he had no interest. When she was in her early sixties, she was working to put her desire away when her husband announced that in fact, he wanted to do something significant with this part of his life. For the past five years, through their church, they have been working with two other couples, one via internet connection, to design a water project to bring and install in a remote village here. These six will live together there for three years. She talked about how difficult it was to raise the money which they had to do on their own. She spoke of deprivation of leaving eight grand children for that extended period. She confided that the greatest hardship so far was that her mother passed away this week, and she could not go back for the funeral. (Our Oregon connection and Stan’s mother’s death in the same timeframe seemed a little unreal, and I must say that I felt my credibility might have come under suspicion as I moved from pointing out how much we had in common from a geographical standpoint to our similarity of circumstance in parental loss). Facing these obstacles apparently did nothing to dampen the joy and satisfaction that she and her husband were exuding as they explained their mission and their thrill in being on their way to accomplishing it.
Over the weekend, I went to the home of another member family of the Fellowship for a toy sale put on by two little girls preparing to move with their parents to the shores of Lake Victoria to work with the local population. The mother, who with her husband, is from Canada, presented their plans, to evangelize and promote the implementation of wood stoves to replace the prevalent use of open fires which have been causing debilitating accidents. She was most positive and cheerful in tone, and the girls were obviously having a great time conducting the sale and looking forward to the move.
I could go on at great length with many more of these stories, like the Danish couple who have come with two young children, he to lead a team of Nationals into the Bush to work with Nomad tribes, she to teach in a local school; or the English couple with three children under six, all born in this country, here to evangelize and do social work; and many more, but I think you get the idea without my belaboring with detail. What does stand out is that these people feel “called’ and are finding their work fulfilling. They exude competence, confidence, contentment, courage and look like aware, caring parents as evinced by their happy, energetic children. The men appear robust, the women, pretty, and all are easy to talk with; they are committed, but not preachy. If there are others, like those portrayed frequently in fiction and popular stereotype, who have come preaching the same message but with a more self serving agendas, I can first hand observe, that these do not count amongst their ranks. I am mesmerized by these people, especially the younger ones, because they are choosing to live a life so different from the one we chose at their age, with so much less infrastructure and creature comforts, but apparently, with no less joy or satisfaction.
While two of the encounters I describe are with people from North America, the greater majority seem to be from Scandinavia and The UK; I deduce that their home country culture and/or proximity to this continent have something to do with that, or it may be that it is people from those countries who attend the Fellowship; I will share on that score as our future experiences reveal.
Of course, not all the ExPats are here to evangelize. Other circumstances of the how, when and why some of them immigrated can be fascinating and point to a different, but no less impressive call. Take for instance, Elizabeth Phillips. She came, without relatives , at age 13,in 1940, on a ship populated by children being sent out of London in order to avoid the WWII bombings wracking the city at that time. The ship
took unusually long time, six weeks to make the voyage because of frequent re routings needed to avoid German warships. Her destination was determined by the presence of a grandfather and uncles in Africa. She bravely adapted to her new environment developing a love of the terrain with its wide open spaces and proliferation of vegetation, flora and animal life. That love motivated her at 17, to pursue a degree in the study agriculture. Because the public schools would not accept girls, she sought out and found a private school that would. Her initiative and success in the effort might give an indication of the character traits that eventually determined her life achievement.
She graduated, found work in the field, and married. Her husband died after six years of marriage leaving her with two young children to support. Subsequently, she remarried; the couple settled in Iringa because of the availability of reasonably priced land. Purchasing several hundred acres to endeavor to develop a dairy farm, they started with a few Ayershire bovines, a breed which will eat leaves off trees if grass is in short supply, a necessary precaution due to the area’s not uncommon droughts. Through hard work and knowledge of inbreeding, they grew exponentially the number of their stock.
Today, Kibebe, its known name, has several hundred cows, as well as herds of sheep and a
corral of horses. Its complexity makes a Ranch with a working dairy farm and slaughter house seem a more appropriate descriptor. Fortunately, they offer a tender option to local beef which often chews literally like a rubber ball and lamb which , for the most part, is otherwise unavailable.
The employed staff is sizeable. Many live proximate to the grounds, their numerous homes visible as you drive up the approach road. Work opportunities like these are a
welcome circumstance for the local population.
The building in which the family first made its home was a tobacco curing facility, modified into a residence by the previous owner. Two houses have been added since. One is for the family of son and daughter in law, Richard and Victoria, who now manage all operations, and the other, for guests.
Elizabeth’s children whom we know have apparently inherited her initiative. Besides managing Kibebe, her son, Richard started The International School which just celebrated its twentieth anniversary of serving families of both Western and African roots. Additionally, he has established a language/safari camp giving opportunity for a six week, live in, immersion course in Swahili designed for people who are coming to the Country for an extended period of time and need facility in the language to be effective. Her daughter in Law, Victoria provides for therapeutic horseback
riding for children with developmental disabilities and is involved in a myriad of other community building activities. .
Together, they open their grounds every week offering a volleyball game for participating, spectating or just socializing. They also organize and host dinners on special occasions,
like the one we attended on Boxing Day, a traditional British holiday celebrated the day after Christmas. The use of their spectacular setting, for which I will attempt description below to bring people together is an uncontested boon for area residents.
About six years ago, Elizabeth’s husband died; two years ago she lost a son to cancer. She has suffered with their loss as you might envision, but the determination in her gait and the joie le vie in her eye evince that she is not defeated. Her pioneer spirit brings to mind this Edward Lee Master verse:
What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness,
Anger, discontent and drooping hopes?
Life is too strong for you—
It takes life to love Life.
Kibebe is scenically nestled in hills surrounded by mountains and is rife with interesting trees and flowering bushes displaying blossoms of vibrant global travel experience to see it, he termed “it world class property”, a description that has resonated with us on every subsequent visit. If the pictures below do not capture that level of beauty, rest assured that the fault lies with the photography.
PS Please do not conclude from this post that we have been involved with the western population. Next blog will be about our Tanzanian connections. Amongst other scenarios, I hope by then to be able to tell you about Winnie’s placement for next year. If you remember, we think it is imperative for her to be located in Iringa so that she can get services for her two year old daughter with CP.