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Bohling’s African Adventure

By Staff | Dec 22, 2008

‘Are we there yet?’ is a familiar question parents often hear while traveling with children.

This question probably entered the minds of Pastor Stephen and Nancy Bohling more than once during their 8,400 mile trip to Tanzania Africa.

The Bohlings’ trip was approved through the Blue Earth Trinity Lutheran Church council and congregation as a ‘thank you’ for the pastor’s 20 plus years of serving the church community.

“Pastors are encouraged by the Southeast Minnesota Synod to take a sabbatical leave such as this,” explains Pastor. “It provides a time for spiritual refreshment for the pastor and for the good of the congregation,” he says.

“The synod has had a relationship with the Lutheran Institute of Kiomboi for decades,” says Bohling. “Even though the program doesn’t have an actual name, pastors have volunteered to serve there now and then over the years,” he explains. It had been almost two years since the synod had sent anyone to the region where the Bohlings were assigned.

The ‘unsavvy travelers,’ as they describe themselves, left Minnesota on September 9th. After a brief stop at Amsterdam, they continued the 20 hours of travel time it takes to reach Africa.

“We landed at the Kilimanjaro Airport in Arusha Tanzania,” says Pastor. Arusha is a city with a population of approximately 900,000 people. The tallest building the couple saw there was just three stories high.

“The first night we stayed at a hostel in Arusha. We saw lots of street people there selling wares,” he recalls.

The Bohlings soon realized they had traveled to Africa knowing very little Swahili. Thankfully, they generally had interpreters working with them. Many of the Africans they met and worked with spoke some English, since they are required to study the language in school.

The next two days were spent by the Bohlings on safari in Manyara and Ngorongoro National Park.

“We saw lions, zebras, hippopotamus, giraffes, rhinoceros, impalas” says Pastor “and lots of birds,” adds Nancy.

“The wildlife was fun to see. We were within only about 20 yards of some lions” he says. “They were just lying there sleeping. In fact,” Pastor adds, “one was only about one car length away from our Land Rover.”

The couple quickly discovered one goes no where in Tanzania without a four wheel drive vehicle.

“The roads were like a washboard,” says Pastor, “so the people generally drive in the ditches.”

When vehicles break down or stall in the States, drivers put out reflective signs or put on their hazard lights.

“In Tanzania, when trucks broke down,” says Pastor, “the people just push them out of the way.”

“They have a good bus system,” says Pastor, “but the drivers go ‘full throttle’ and are a hazard,” he says of their public transportation. Bicycles and a few cars are also used for travel. The tops of cars are often piled with many different items, which is very hard on the vehicle. For many of the people, they simply must walk everywhere.

After traveling many hours, the couple got their first glimpse of what was to be their home for the next 10 weeks.

“Everything was dark from a distance,” says Pastor. “Once we got closer, we could see mud huts.”

It was at about this time, the thought crossed his mind, ‘what have I gotten us into?’

With daylight, things looked much better in the small village of Kiomboi to the Bohlings.

“It is a gated village,” says Pastor, “because over the years the land has been over grazed,” he explains.

The Bohlings lived in a nice furnished apartment, just a block and a half away from the campus where he taught philosophy, pastoral theology and English. His work day generally began at 7:30 a.m. with chapel, followed by classes, a tea break then another class. His work days varied.

Nancy filled her hours by teaching the women English and how to knit. One of her teaching techniques involved finding a story book and explaining it to the people.

“I had originally planned to do some nursing while there,” says Nancy. “But a special visa was required, so I decided against it. Once I saw the medical facilities, I was glad I didn’t get the visa. I would have felt very uncomfortable working there,” she says.

“Besides teaching English, I wanted them to learn how to knit,” says Nancy. “I went around picking up sticks, whittled on them until they had pointed ends then used them as knitting needles. Later I had 10 sets of needles turned on a lathe at a furniture store,” she adds.

Finding a solution for knitting needles was easy, but locating yarn was a bit more challenging, especially in a country where the average temperature is 85 degrees.

“Houses in our community were missionary homes,” explains Pastor of the wooden structures, “but up on the hill homes were just mud huts.”

Pastor Steve and Nancy’s apartment included typical furniture, but the couches were more like futons.

“We had to sleep under mosquito netting every night,” says Nancy. “In fact, you had to be in by dark as the mosquitoes were so bad,” she says.

As for other creatures, they saw lots of chameleons and spiders with full big bodies, but they did not see any snakes.

One thing the Bohlings will never forget about their adventure is the dust.

“It was always dusty,” says Pastor. “We had two and one -half gallons of water to bathe with and this made you feel clean for only about two hours. Then you were soon covered with dust and felt dirty again,” he says.

Water is rationed by the amount the people are able to carry. This usually is about four to five gallons. They then heat the water, put it in a pail and either bathe with this or wash their clothing. The people then hang their hand-washed clothes out to dry, but they soon are covered with a film of dust. Keeping things clean is a vicious cycle.

Pastor Bohling is amazed by the stateliness of the African women.

“They carry everything on their head, this is why they stand so erect,” he explains.

“The women carry five gallons of water on their head. This is equal to about 45 pounds. “We saw one lady carrying a pile of firewood on her head. The stack was probably one and one-half foot high and stuck out in length maybe five or six feet,” Pastor says.

The area the Bohlings lived in was agricultural, but there was a large flour mill and furniture factory nearby. Even professional people such as the carpenters, tailors, welders, bankers, merchants, teachers, pastors and doctors have farms in Tanzania. Cattle and chickens are often raised on these farms.

Some of the shops they saw while in Tanzania sold cloth, food, electrical wiring supplies, liquor and groceries.

“The open market was pretty disgusting,” says Nancy. “Flies were swarming over the carcass, but the sellers would assure us the meat was from a fresh kill that day. They simply would cut a slab off from the outer edges where the bugs were and sell us the amount we wanted,” she says.

“The goat meat was the best because it was tender,” says Nancy. “Otherwise, it seemed like we only had ‘tough’ chicken and beef served to us.

“We did have some fish, ate a lot of one pot dishes, rice, potatoes and goat,” adds Nancy.

“Their staple food is ugali. This is a white corn which is ground up and looks like mashed potatoes. They then roll the ugali in a ball and dip it in a sauce,” she explains.

“Their food is quite bland,” adds Pastor. “It is not spicy at all.

He then adds, “they had a wonderful pineapple grown there.

Bohlings did most of their shopping in Singida, about a one and one half hour drive from their apartment.

“We found a very American grocery store,” says Pastor. “We bought bottled water and radiated milk there.

The thought of drinking non-refrigerated milk with a shelf life of a couple months did not appeal to the Bohlings, but they were assured the product was safe to drink.

Pastor says he was surprised to learn a living room size building there was called a supermarket.

The couple also kept in contact stateside by traveling to the Internet Cafe which was only 12 miles away from the campus. The cost for one hour of internet usage was one dollar.

As for telecommunications, they said their cell phone could reach Portland, Oregon and they saw many students in Tanzania using cell phones as well. The couple also saw satellite dishes for Swahili television.

Since the couple was in Tanzania when Obama was elected president, they viewed firsthand the excitement of the people there.

“Kenya had a holiday when Obama was elected,” says Pastor. “There were even people selling Obama items including cloth fabric with his picture on it.” Nancy was able to purchase one of these and will share it at a powerpoint presentation after the holidays, along with other souvenirs they acquired while in Africa on Pastor’s sabbatical.

“The people wear a lot of bright, colorful clothing,” says Pastor, “but they are becoming more Americanized in their dress.

The American and missionary influence on the people is also evident in the village church where Pastor Bohling worked.

“I visited five different congregations while in Tanzania,” says Pastor. As a result of this, he baptized and confirmed 31 children in just one day.

“Every church had outstanding choirs,” he says. “The hymns, sung in the Swahili language, had tunes we recognized because they were introduced over the years to the people by the missionaries,” he adds.

The keyboard, African rhythms and electric guitars are used at the services to accompany the choirs. But the Bohlings noted the need in the schools and in the churches for pianos.

“All of the churches were made from homemade brick,” says Pastor. “Our church could seat 500 people. They don’t have pews, but instead sit on narrow bench seats measuring about six to eight inches. The benches are about six to eight feet long and are backless,” he says.

“The services were quite joyous,” states Pastor. “The shortest service we attended was about one and one-half hours long and the lengthiest was six hours.

“People eat a hearty meal before the service and sometimes have to walk two hours to reach the church,” says Pastor.

“Most services people brought offerings in kind, such as chicken, millet, eggs and goat,” explains Pastor. “The elders would then have an auction for these items with the monies going to the church.

“During processional offerings it was customary to see money on the top of the table and possibly a chicken beneath it,” comments Pastor.

“They also had 4×6 purple reusable envelopes for offerings,” he says. “The envelopes had a family’s name on them and were put in the back of the church to be used again.

One service Pastor Bohling says he probably will never forget is the 50th Anniversary service honoring the charter members of the church, as well as celebrating the young, married couples and older people. Leis were presented to the charter members. The prayers would last one and one-half hours for each group, so the total service lasted five hours.

Pastor Bohling began the process with the Southeast Synod for this sabbatical two years ago. Having a companion church, Iguguno Lutheran in Tanzania, may have been part of what motivated him to make the journey.

With the backing of the Blue Earth Trinity congregation, local church women shared their quilting talents and support by sending a banner along with the Bohlings to be personally presented to the companion church.

The last two weeks of Pastor’s sabbatical found them entering the rainy season.

“I learned more about the workings of the Tanzanian church and the work of the pastors,” summarizes Pastor of his sabbatical experience.

As their journey ended, the Bohlings were able to go on one last safari at Tarangirre National Park where they saw mainly elephants and giraffes. While viewing these magnificent animals from their Land Rover, the Bohlings thought of the many wonderful people they had met who have never had the means to travel far enough to see the animals associated with their native land.

In reflection, Steve and Nancy Bohling said they would take more gifts if they were ever to return to Tanzania, since the people there had given them so much.

“Even though we left a lot of clothing and shoes for them, we just want to give back,” says Nancy.

Faced with the return journey of 8400 miles and a vision of hamburgers, pizza, ice cream and tender beef, Pastor Steve and Nancy Bohling again probably had the phrase ‘are we there yet?’ enter their minds in anticipation of their arrival in the States. At the same time, however, they were saddened as they realized they had left many newfound friends behind.