Orthodox Christian Mission Center’s Blog

June 9, 2011

Love, Laughter, and Family: An Update from Missionary Katherine Wilcoxson

I had mentioned in a previous update that one of my favorite phrases in any language is ‘I love you’. Fr. Spyridon, our parish priest in Bukoba, has a daughter named Sofia. She is four years old. When we first met Sofia, she did not talk to us at all. Even if we spoke to her in Kiswahili she would only nod her head for yes or no. At that time, my Kiswahili was limited, but that doesn’t matter; I knew the most important phrase. So everyday when I saw Sofia, I would whisper into her ear, “Ninapenda Sofia.” Just those words. At first she didn’t respond–probably because she didn’t know what to do with this white person speaking to her in Kiswahili. But it only took a day or so, and then, when I whispered in her ear, she responded, “Ninapenda Katrina.” Ever since then Sofia and I exchange this greeting every day when we first meet each other. It has been said over and over, but the best way to learn a language is to become as a child–and, you can ask anyone, I usually don’t have a problem with throwing myself into this role. Whenever Sofia sees me coming her way she runs to me and stops just short of me, and I spread my arms way out, and she does the same, and we embrace. I have also taught Sofia how to blow kisses, and that’s what we do when we say goodbye.

Speaking of kisses and saying goodbye, when I learned that I would have to travel home for awhile, James Hargrave escorted me to the Nairobi Giraffe Park. The big attraction at the park is that you can feed and pet the giraffes–but, the best part of all is that, if you put the maize pellets in your mouth (that’s what they give you to feed the giraffes) and pucker up, you have the once in a lifetime experience of getting a (very wet and sandpaper feeling) giraffe kiss. I can’t think of a better way of leaving the continent of Africa than to be kissed goodbye by a giraffe.

James also arranged another blessing for me. The day before I was scheduled to leave for the States, I found myself in the Nairobi Hospital as a patient. I was diagnosed with a kidney infection, and I wasn’t able to leave the hospital until three days later, on the Tuesday of Holy week. James had been attending the daily services, and he spoke with Metropolitan Makarios of Kenya. When James mentioned that I was still in Nairobi Hospital, His Eminence offered to come to my room to anoint me with Holy Unction oil. That afternoon His Eminence came by, and he even brought his own photographer! So I can’t wait to see my picture in the Newsletter for the Nairobi Diocese.

Differences in Babies

While I have been in Tanzania, many of my friends from home have had babies. As you can imagine, there are quite a few differences in American babies and Tanzanian babies. In Tanzania for example, it is very rare to see a child younger than two to be carried on their mother’s hip. These children are always transported on their mother’s back. Usually two pieces of cloth called kanga are used to support the child. The mother leans over, keeping her back straight, and places the child on her back. As this is done, the child actually balances itself on the flattened back as the mother ties the child in a sling with the two kanga (it’s pretty amazing to watch). Once a child grows out of being carried on their mother’s back, they are expected to walk everywhere. One last difference is that my friends have lots and lots of gadgets and toys for their child and themselves. One gadget has a timer to tell you when to feed your baby, which side you breast fed on the hour before, and how many diapers were changed. It is very uncommon for a woman to have a baby in Tanzania without a whole lot of support. Even if the woman doesn’t have family, her neighbors, the neighbor’s family, and the neighbor’s friends help the woman especially if she is a first time mother. Community, relationships, and families are not just an idea – it is a lifestyle.

It is hard to not feel like part of some sort of family in Tanzania, which is really great when you miss your biological family. There is no shortage of love, laughter and the feeling of belonging to a family in Tanzania.

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