Please listen as you read:
I have been thinking recently about the struggles of life here in Tanzania for women and children. It is hard for me to wrap my mind around. For example, my children could eat all day. In fact, there have been times when I feel like I am feeding baby elephants, non-stop from morning until night. They are not picky, and I am very thankful for that. In a recent conversation with Maria, she was trying to explain to me the situation of mothers in Tanzania. She said, with passion and experience, you (meaning me) just do not know what it feels like to have your children wake up and be hungry for breakfast and have no breakfast to offer. To look into the faces that you love more than life as they tell you they are hungry for lunch and have no lunch to feed them. To tuck them into bed, sing them a song goodnight, but feed them no dinner. To hear them cry in the night for food, and know that in the morning, they will wake to no more food than they had the day before. “Life is hard here,” Maria Said. Let me tell you, I do NOT know suffering. I do NOT know desperation. I do NOT know struggle. I do NOT know hopelessness. This conversation left us both in tears. Her in grief over the situation of her sisters and their babies, and me in grief over the fact that I know how so much of the world, myself included, lives in ignorance.
The day after we had this conversation Maria came to work and told me that a woman, single mother of three, had hung herself from a tree with her own kanga, in the neighborhood right behind our house. She told me, as she had the day before, that life here is so hard here. But what she meant, was life for these women is hopeless. Completely and totally devoid of any hope of a future, of safety, and food and shelter and well-being. A kanga is a beautiful piece of cloth that women wear as an apron. They wrap it around their waist when they start to work and they almost never take it off, because they almost never cease to work. This has haunted me. The women, in hopelessness, hung herself with the symbol of her effort to provide for her family. Hopeless.
The suicide rate is very high here in Arusha. Most of the time it is single mothers who kill their children and then themselves. When the woman hung herself with her kanga, the other women stood around the tree and understood why she had given up the fight. It is the same with every abandoned baby. It is deep, dark hopelessness and desperation, that maybe the child could be raised in an orphanage and have at least one meal a day and possibly go to school. That is the only hope, that maybe, that by placing their fragile child in a well populated place, the child will be found and cared for. The other hope, is that maybe the child will die. I have been haunted by the story of Dorothy, one of our newest Neema daughters, who was left in an abandoned building site with her umbilical cord still attached. Why there with no traffic, no pedestrians, no lights, in a pile of rocks, just hours old? There is no answer, only that Dorothy was found and is healthy, and will be loved, and whatever her mother or whoever placed her on a rock pile, meant for her, God had a different plan.
And God does have a different plan. Whenever I saw my sweet Grandmother lose her precious mind to Alzheimer’s, everything in me screamed, this is not, not, NOT God’s intention. We certainly know that in our theology, but we make for ourselves beautiful houses and healthy bodies, and we fool ourselves into thinking that this is a pretty nice place to linger, before we move into God’s Kingdom. But here, in the face of women hanging from trees and babies in rock piles, every cell of my body screams, THIS IS NOT IT. I just do not know what to do. I love Neema House. I love what we do and our dream and our mission and our 31 precious bundles of hope. But I look out and I see that we could do so much more. We all could do so much more, and I just do not know where to start. How do you offer hope and a future to a nation of women who know generation after generation after generation of suffering and despair. Maria says there is no solution. I refuse to believe that. I can see that God’s plan for us, for my family, here in Tanzania is so much bigger than I may have even thought when I stepped onto that Boeing jet with my ‘meager possessions’ and heart turned toward doing faithfulness.
I have never known true hopelessness, but I do know Him, Yahweh, as the God of hope, and a plan, and a bright future. Even as I write that I worry that I am so naive in my privilege to say that my God and also their God, is the giver of hope, but I know that it is true. I want everyone I come into contact with here to know that also. I want to seep hope from my pores, have joy in my speech, gentleness, love, and encouragement as we look to the Father. I do not even know where to start in reaching out to the women, other than I know that my heart is turned to them and my desire is that Neema House can soon be an orphanage for babies and a place of hope for mommas. We are here to do even more than love babies, we are here to empower mothers to raise their own children with a bright future. I see that the dream is big, my Yahweh is bigger, because He is the God of Hope.