“Would he be considered a martyr if it was day one and he died from stupidity?”
I watched the blonde bouncy curls of our three little girls decrease into frizzy, limp balls of matted disorder the moment we stepped off the plane. It was as if those curls were depictions of what our lives had been up to this point…excitement, anticipation, hope, dreams, expectations…and then Dar es Salaam airport—dreams and curls deflate. The humidity pulverized us from the very moment the doors opened. It was raining. While we stood in line waiting to get our visas, I looked back watching our three babies playing on the airport steps and looked up realizing that water had been dripping on my head from holes in the airport ceiling. I was tired and terrified. We were here. All the waiting, planning, praying, and support raising had brought us to this point. It felt less romantic and fulfilling and more like “ok, this has been fun…let’s all go back now”. We loaded up all of our luggage and were split into separate vehicles. Aaron went into one and the girls and I into another. I remember asking how to buckle in Elliot’s (our 1-year old at the time) car seat…only to be laughed at. We weaved in and out of traffic, soaking in a million new sights and scents. We spent one day in the big city before taking a bus to our new home, 4 hours inland. I don’t remember much about that day other than being greeted at the “mall” by a security officer holding an AK-47 and wanting to play peek-a-boo with my baby. We packed our luggage onto the bus and waved goodbye to the missionaries who had welcomed us. I remember the look on their faces as they waved. I’ve never been sent off to my death, but if I had…I think this is what it would have looked like. Plastered smiles and robotic waves with eyes seeming to scream out to me “run while you still have a chance…” Should I answer the screams or just keep waving? I waved. Rather than running home, which is what responsible parents do, we took our family on a bus to a new town, in a new culture, with a new language, and into a rented home that we didn’t even know how to get to. I can’t even bring myself to spiritualize it by claiming it was “stepping out on faith” no, it is just being regular old idiots.
We made it to Morogoro, where we started heading towards town. The driver throws his hands up and stammers something in Swahili that I pretend to understand. In these situations, I am always the one to just give-it-a-go. It’s one of the things I hate most about myself. I crouch towards the front of the bus, vaguely remembering directions to the house. (I tend to have two things going for me, the first is confidence of steel and the second is that I am completely self-aware). So I was fully aware that I knew only ONE word in Swahili, but darn-it I was going to make it work (confidence of steel). You see, before we moved to Tanzania, a very kind Kenyan man, Ben, wasted donated his Thursday evenings to help our team learn Swahili. It was such a kind and generous waste use of his time. However, the one thing I gleaned from his countless hours was that his last name was Mbele…and that meant “in front of”. So, in the most obnoxious and loud American voice I yelled in the drivers ear “mbele…mbele…mbele” until we arrived at our location.
Like idiots, we unloaded the bus with actual excitement. We brought all of our luggage in the small house that we are sharing with our teammate Shan, who happened to be, like an idiot, making this cross-continental move with us. We looked around and chose bedrooms, there were three, so that fun lasted about 2 minutes. We then decided we should probably make a plan for things like…oh you know, food and water. I went to grab my Swahili/English dictionary which I thought to be deep in my luggage-because somehow mascara and a gallon-sized bags of sanitary wipes were more important things to place in my carry-on. As I searched through my luggage, I got a very fresh image in my mind of my parent’s couch where I had neatly set the Swahili/English dictionary, intending to pack. Yep, there it was…in Mason, stinking Ohio. We needed that book! I broke the news of our loss to Aaron and Shan. We didn’t have internet, so there was only one thing to do. Just try something…anything…*which is basically what we have been doing over here ever since. We decided to walk outside the front door to see how far our English could get us. We asked the landlord’s gardener where to find a store. He took us by the hand and led us back into the house pointing to the pantry (which we would later find out was “stoo” in Swahili). That didn’t work, so we decided to pray. Unfortunately, that was typically an afterthought in the early days. We thought we were clever enough to figure most things out on our own back then. We prayed and then decided that Aaron would bravely venture out of the gate…into the untamed and dangerous African soil for the first time on his own. The kids and I hugged him and we sent him on his way. I was sure it was going to be the last time I saw him. Would he be considered a martyr if it was day one and he died from stupidity? Thankfully, he returned with water and some kind of biscuits to hold us over for the night. We laid awake in bed that night, checking on the kids across the hall at least a dozen times and believing we were being robbed about every hour on the hour. That cycle continued for days weeks months.