Today was emotionally exhausting. We visited Mikocheni village, a rural village of 4,000 people about an hour away from Moshi. We thought we had already experienced and adjusted to the culture shock here, but it was nothing compared to the experience of Mikocheni.
Our day began a little bit later than normal, with brunch at 9. We all enjoyed the extra 2 hours of sleep. We left for the village around 10…African time…so actually more like 10:30. The two of us and Mr. McMorrow met Father Reginald, who was our connection to Mikocheni. He was very welcoming and excited to meet us. The four of us drove in his car, followed by a bus and dala-dala with everyone else. We passed through a giant sugar cane plantation, which contained a school, markets, and houses in it. Father Reginald was very willing to give us a background on both the plantation and the surrounding villages.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by the village elders on the outskirts of town. We were able to see both the old and new church. The old church was made of tin and wood, falling apart, and scarcely had room for 50 people. The new church was unseen by any previous group and near completion, needing only doors and windows to be installed. It was much larger than the older one, but was still a very basic concrete building. The elders were very eager and proud to show us their new church, which had been built through funding by the diocese. After a short prayer service (in mostly Swahili) and an explanation of the current needs of the village, we went to go see past projects of the Tanzanian Village Fund. The Tanzanian Village Fund is an organization founded by previous students who also went on this trip and felt inspired to help. They had recently finished a project that provided free clean water to the village, eliminating a daily 6 km walk. This project consisted of a water well, a holding tank with a solar powered pump, and access to running water at the school, which is where we went next.
At the primary school, we were pleased to see that even though it’s a holiday, there were still students there preparing for national exams. When they saw us in the distance, they all ran into the classrooms, shouting “Wazungu!” which means white people. They sang us a song about how Mikocheni is their home and how they will always return to it. Unfortunately, we learned later that many kids there our age have to leave Mikocheni in search of a job and other opportunities. The teacher greeted us at the door and began to give us a tour of the 8 classrooms that they have. He explained that even though their capacity is about 360 students, they have over 800. They manage to cram up to 100 people in classrooms smaller than the ones at Cathedral. They are very happy to have concrete floors in a few of their classrooms (also provided by the TVF), but they’re in dire need of floors for the other four. The only thing intact in the last classroom are the walls, and it is unable to be used until a renovation can happen. Even the best of their classrooms would not even get close to the expectations of a classroom in Minnesota. The ceilings are sinking in, there are cracks on the wall, and the rooms without concrete are uneven causing the desks and chairs to keep breaking. Even in these horrible conditions, the kids are still so excited and willing to learn. We left after giving all the students suckers, and then we were on our way to the village.
The moment we started walking through, all eyes were on us. Everybody was staring as our group of 33 wazungu were walking through this remote village. Our group slowly increased in size as we walked through because all the kids saw the candy and were following us to get more. Many of the kids who had already gotten a sucker would hide it in their pockets, and they would fool us into giving them more. While the kids were cute, the village was almost a different world, compared to our previous experiences in Africa. The majority of houses were made out of sticks, mud, and leaves. They were about the size of a typical garden shed, often with only one room and one or two windows. There was the occasional brick or concrete building, which were almost non-existent a few years ago. This was encouraging proof that the TVF is really making a difference. Most of us on the trip who had never seen the village before thought that it was in terrible repair, but everyone who had seen it was overjoyed at the progress that has been made over the last few years. This really spoke volumes about how bad it was before and how much regular people like us can make a huge difference.
The people in this village were so welcoming, friendly, and joyful. Even though that’s been a common trait of most people we’ve encountered here so far, the situation in Mikocheni is much different. These people are living off of almost nothing, and they are very appreciative of the simplest things. It’s inspiring to see them not complaining about anything. In our culture, it’s almost expected to hear complaining about petty things. Seeing people so happy over something as simple as a bracelet or sucker really put things into perspective. This emphasizes how blessed we are, but this isn’t supposed to be about guilt. The true importance of this experience is to inspire and encourage us to want to serve the world.
We concluded our journey by walking to the lake that they fish at. The scenery was absolutely beautiful. The lake was right in the middle of a very flat savannah surrounded by three groups of mountains in the distance. It looked like what we all thought Africa was going to look like. “It looked like it came straight out of Animal Planet.” ~Beau. Besides the beautiful view, it was quite sad to see how much the lake had shrunk. It took us 15 minutes of driving to find the lake that was once directly next to the village. This has increasingly become a problem for the fisherman. After our long ride home over bumpy gravel roads, sharp turns, and lazy cattle that would not move, we had a great group discussion about our day. Overall, this experience has impacted all of us and could be described as a turning point in the trip.
Mom, Dad, Rachel, David: I miss you all but just know that I’m having an incredible time. I hope you’re having a good time back at home, but I bet I’m having more fun ;) Give Elena a big hug for me!! (If she’s still there, sorry I don’t know your schedule) Love you all <3 -Steph
Hi family and friends! It’s great here and I can’t wait to share more stories with you. -Mike