Man-Eating Spiders, Immense Crowds, and Indescribable Blessings
My title for this blog may sound daunting, but for many people, especially in the States, so does the word “Africa”. This experience was so dear to me, and I wanted the title to be something that conveys both the stereotypes and my excitement at being able to travel there.
To begin, I have to start with the fact that I have wanted to be “A missionary in Africa” since I was 12. So, when asked if I wanted to join the translation consultant as he traveled from Romania to Tanzania for a couple weeks, my answer was undoubtedly YES! As this whole trip unfolded, I just felt God’s leading through every step. During the fundraising, there were a few moments when others doubted that I would receive enough to go to Africa in addition to Romania. But somehow I knew that was where God wanted me to go. I prayed about it, but honestly I didn’t have any doubt that God would provide the funding. So, once it was officially approved that I was able to go, I started preparing. I did all my research about food safety, native animals, climate and weather so I could pack appropriately, mentally prepare, and get needed vaccinations.
Finding a place to get a Yellow Fever shot was tricky, but I had some help and finally got an appointment set up. The morning after I got my vaccination, I returned to work. My coworkers asked how the appointment went and I said, “Great, I got my Yellow Fever shot and a prescription for my Malaria pills. So now there are only 498 ways I can die in Africa.” I thought my joke was pretty hilarious, but no one else laughed. They all just stared at me with big eyes. That was the first time I saw some trepidation concerning my trip; they all loved me and I don’t blame them at all! But they weren’t the only ones; my family was also concerned about my safety now that I was going to Africa and not just Romania. (I’ll admit, they have a good reason… I’m kind of a magnet for disasters. I’ve gotten injured on the last three family trips, not to mention an almost concussion on Christmas because of an incident with a hover board, and my many allergies. But in my rationale, I almost died that many times in the States, so I might as well have those near death experiences while seeing a new country! Call me crazy… my family already does!)
Taking my first step onto African soil was a pretty surreal moment, and it was 4am (pretty much my least favorite time to be awake and doing things.). I was actually going to record it, but because I had to go through customs and then wait outside of the airport for an hour, it would have been a pretty boring video.
The team went straight to bed and met for lunch the next day, where I tried my first African meal: Ugali! Now that I have tried most of the main dishes in Tanzania, I can say that they have cooking perfected! Most of the dishes include rice, curry and beef or chicken. They cook rice several different ways, and every day that we sat down to eat, one of the guys on our translation team would teach me the signs for our lunch. He kept making a different sign when he pointed to the rice and I was getting so frustrated, thinking why are there so many signs for rice?! So, one day as I was learning the 4thsign in Tanzanian Sign Language for rice, I threw my hands up and signed all the previous signs I had learned for rice. My friend just laughed and explained that they have a different sign for the different ways that rice is cooked and served. (Cultural clue: rice is an important part of their diet to have four different signs!)
Because I spent the two weeks in Tanzania with the deaf team, I learned a lot of Tanzanian Sign Language and only 2 words in Swahili. That made for an interesting cultural experience, but thankfully most of the hearing people in Dar es Salaam that we encountered spoke English, so communication wasn’t a problem.
One day after work, the team from Romania and the Tanzanian team were all leaving the office together. Pointing to this tree in the yard, on the guys told me to come see if the spider was back on its web. In my head I was thinking I don't really know if I want to see this spider, but I was so tired that my legs just walked me right over to him and the "spider". Well, the spider was definetly out on his wed, I don't think you could have missed him if you had tried. No joke, this is one of the two biggest spiders I have ever seen. The other was a tarantula so large, that I was on a tour bus in Zion National Park and the driver said, "Now, if you look out your right window, you'll see a tarantula making his way down the road." However, this spider wasn't fat and hairy like a tarantula, instead it had slender, black legs with a green and yellow striped body (So all kinds of poisonous right!?) and was easily the size of my hand. Even in my worn out state, I saw it and had an incredulous expression. Well, that was all that my teammates needed; they made all kinds of jokes, threw a leaf at me pretending it was a spider. "Allison, reach your hand up there so I have something for scale in my picture!" Yeah... no. I wasn't ammused, and may have had a few nightmares about giant spiders on me. Yet, even as I'm writing this, I'm smiling about it... maybe if the spider had been found in my room there would be no, "We'll laugh about this one day!"
A week into our trip, a missionary that has lived in Tanzania for 12 years offered to take the girls on the team to a local market. I've never had a shopping exerience like that one. Imagine Black Friday, outside the African setting sun, with salesmen tapping you and showing you their goods right into your hands, and precious little girls playing with your hair while you shop. For this introvert, it was a little overstimulating. At one point my teammate tapped me on the arm and said, "Did you se that little baby?!" I was about at max-stimulation-capacity and replaied, "Do you mean to ask that in all of this" I motioned to the expansive market around us, "Did I notice a baby?" She immediately understood my over stimulation and laughed. I joined her, because despite my overwhelming surroundings there wasn't anywhere else I would rather be. Right in the middle of every-day life in this beautiful country was exactly where I wanted to be.
During the shopping trip, I was looking at some dresses and turned around to see a little girl smiling at me. I couldn't help but smile back and she came up to me and took both of my hands in hers. She just gazed up at me like I was a celebrity she had dreamed of meeting. Then she turned and said something to her mother in Swahili, and looked back at me. Her mother started laughing and told us in English that the little girl had asked if they could take me home with them. HAHA, I was like a cute puppy that she wanted to take home from the market! I'll try, but I don't think I'll ever live up to puppy status.
I can't help but notice how similar that moment was to our every day lives. We get busy and there are so many things fighting for our attention that we can't help by miss some things, like the cute baby! But sometimes, the sweet moments are placed right in front of us, so that we couldn't possibly miss them. Yes, focusing our attention is important, but I also love those moments that are undeniably meant for you. It's a reminder that God knows your heart, knows when you are tired and on the verge of giving up, so He sends encouragement. Even in the midst of hectic like, or scary crazy-huge spiders, He is still working and His presence is always among us.
One of the highlights of my trip, which is hard to even choose when you love everything about a place. However, I got the chance to teach the team how to play my favorite card game, Dutch Blitz. On the first day, all of the translators left, so I had to teach them the game using my very limited sign language. Bless them, for even sticking around to play! It's a game of speed, that often gets really competitive and requires no talking (exactly why it's my favorite: No Socializing Required). Not only is it a great game for the deaf, but they learned it and played faster than my hearing friends, which kept me on top of my game! I was so thankful that they shared my love of the game and we played almost every lunch break.
To Sum it up in a sentence, my visit to Tanzania was filled with Bible Translation, conversations about Jonah (one of the stories they were working on), curry, precious hospitality, learning a ridiculous amount of Tanzanian Sign Language, cards, and smiles. I feel like I smiled and laughed with the most beautiful smiles and laughs for two weeks straight! The deaf team there was so full of joy, even when they shared with us the struggles of balancing translation work and evangelism. I haven't seen pure joy like that in way too long, their smiles will forever come to mind when I think of Tanzania. Can I go back yet?!
"All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ." - Ephesians 1:3
Cherish every smile,