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Meeting Christ in Tanzania

Meeting Christ in Tanzania

By Emma Harter

This formative experience would not have been possible without the generosity of the Episcopal Church of Vermont and the support of kind neighbors and friends. I am eternally grateful.

Celebrant: Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
People: I will, with God’s help.

– Excerpt from the Episcopal Baptismal Covenant

A year ago, almost to the day, I was boarding a plane in Tanzania, Africa. I had bundled all of my dirty clothes and gear into a large hiking backpack that rested unsteadily on my hips. Yet, my discomfort was more emotional than physical. Saying farewell to my host families was difficult. Likewise, I found it difficult to bid farewell to a country that had welcomed me so joyfully.

There are many memories of Tanzania from which I gather hope and faith. Few are so persistent in my mind and in my heart as the memory of my host-grandmother in the Maasai village. Nalamala was the oldest woman in the village to host a child, and in my mind the most enthusiastic. I called her “koko” meaning grandmother, or “yoyo” meaning mother. I was always impressed at just how far she would walk to meet me, crossing a drained river and a steep hill. We would hold hands as we walked (as is normal in Tanzania) and she would occasionally swing her hand and sing:

Thank you so much for life,
Thank you so much for this,
Thank you so much.
[Roughly translated from Kimaasai]

The life that my koko led was physically rigorous, requiring impressive strength. Fetching water and firewood were among the most tiring chores, as the volcanic black sand would sink with every footstep.

Still, I could see that Nalamala was undeterred by this overwhelming sand, or any other aspect of her beautiful life. It was as if pure vitality blossomed in her wake, and gratitude led her to a sense of utter appreciation for everything around her. It was an absolutely contagious feeling. Everyone around her knew; Christ was truly in her.

On the last day of my homestay, I wrote a small message of admiration in my journal to read to my grandmother,

“Koko, thank you so much for sharing your love and your life with me. In these past few days I have learned so much from you. Thank you for everything, I will always value this experience, and I will miss you (and my new family) very much. Love, Emma” [translated from Kiswahili]. She responded by taking a necklace off of her neck and placing it around mine. Her graciousness is infinite.

Thank you, Koko, for showing me the true power of gratitude.

(Click thumbnails to enlarge photos.)

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