A festive day in Mugina

Trip Start Mar 14, 2013
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Trip End Apr 05, 2013


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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Last night, I was by myself. The way things were organized in Mugina, there wasn't really a way for me to celebrate the evening with a family, and Mo´se was still up there will funeral arrangements. So I went out for dinner to a place not far from my hotel called the Cercle nautique. Built right on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, it has some rather rickety platforms on posts right on or over the water where people sit for a beer or a meal. It wasn’t nearly as clean as it could have been, but it did have a magnificent view of the lake and mountains of the Congo beyond. I arrived at 5:30 so I could watch the sunset and contemplate the moment. The sun was heading down toward the mountains when I arrived. The light dimmed as the orb dropped lower, and became a fiery orange-red.

I glanced to my right and noticed a hippo about a hundred yards off, coming in from the lake, to an area near the shore full of water plants. Another hippo followed the first. The two of them grazed happily in the fading light; I could see the white splash of their gaping mouths as they cavorted and grunted at each other. This was happening less than 50 yards from traffic whizzing by - ignorant of the playful wildlife so near. I watched entranced them until I lost them in the gathering gloom.

The sun disappeared a little before 6:00, and it was dark only 15 minutes later. This is always the way sunset happens around the equator (Bujumbura is about 3 degrees south). The sun seems to plummet at the last moment and it goes dark very quickly.

I ordered mukeke (in English "sleek lates") fish in a peppercorn sauce. The mukeke is only found in Lake Tanganyika, no other place in the world. It is not endangered, other than only being found in one lake, and is very much prized for its mild taste. I had to wait an hour to be served; this is most often the case in this part of the world. It was worth the wait thought and I thoroughly enjoyed the meal.

I caught a taxi back to the hotel and headed early to bed.

This morning, I had an omelet at 6:30 and was ready to leave at 7:00. Prosper was a few minutes late and we headed our right away on his arrival. He had asked for the rental money in advance the day before so he could have the ventilation fan fixed. It had broken apparently on one of the occasions when we had bottomed out hard. I paid in advance, but the fan was not fixed. He child had gotten sick during the night, he said so he spent the money on medication. I hoped we wouldn't hit a hard rain, because that completely fogs the windshield and with no fan we wouldn't be able to un-fog it other than manually with a cloth. One thing at a time….

I took in the usual scenes on the way north. The sky grew continually darker the farther north we drove. Just before Cibitoke, we passed through a strong rainstorm with high winds. I hoped we wouldn't have to navigate that on the dirt roads we had ahead.

We pulled into Mugina just a few minutes past 09:00, the official starting time for services. I don’t like to be late, but I wasn’t too worried: the official starting time hardly ever coincides with the actually starting time. It’s not that people don’t know the time; they almost all have either a cell phone or access to one. But these people live in time with the seasons. They don’t work by the clock, and don’t schedule things very tightly. They have time, so there’s no rush; they start when most everyone gets there.

I do gently and continually encourage timeliness among our brethren here, but one can’t change an ancient culture very quickly or dramatically.

We walked down the hill to the tarps under which they meet for services. On the left we passed the foundation of the permanent building which is under construction and for which the wall bricks have been purchased. We need to buy the corrugated tin for the roof and prepare money to pay the laborers. I hope we’ll be able to get it finished for them in time for the fall festivals.

Looking at the “Tabernacle” I again hoped we would not have heavy rain, and said a brief prayer once again to that effect. These tarps are of very little use against a heavy rain; been there and done that: no one can stay dry.

The musicians were warming up and the members present were already singing songs together, which they really enjoy. It is quite rhythmic and engrossing. It’s hard not to tap your foot or drum your fingers or move some part of your body when listing. Some of the children were “letting it all hang out” and they were hilarious. While waiting, I also stepped out behind the buildings and found some women preparing lunch. They found it amusing that I would photograph anything as mundane as cooking rice.

More and more people arrived until, by the official count, 117 were present. We started the service at 9:20 (I do live by the clock so I’m always checking my watch, and I never have enough time!). We sang 3 hymns and had an opening prayer. Gave a sermonette about the offering and there  was lots of special music. Since three congregations had combined for the day, each chorale had prepared at least one piece of music. The songs tend to be longer too, these were not 3-4 minute pieces, the music took nearly an hour - I made a note to discuss this and go over our church guidelines again. There were a few announcements and we gave an offering.

Then I spoke. First I talked briefly about why we observe the Holy Days, like the one we were there to celebrate. I briefly went over the New Testament meanings of the days. Then I talked about the importance of overcoming sin, and underlined some things the Bible specifically says we need to watch. Because of the special music (almost an hour’s worth), we went over time by half an hour, but since they weren't watching the time, they didn't seem to notice.

I was asked to give the closing prayer which I did and then we had time to fellowship, as the sky began darkening.  I took a group photo which has become a tradition to which they look forward. The shipment of our French church calendars has not yet arrived, but I carried a few with me so that members could at least have a look while waiting for their personal copy to arrive. One was handed around and scrutinized carefully. They hooted with laughter when they found the large group photo taken during Jim Franks’ visit to them last year. They smiled broadly at the full page photo of Mr. Mrs. Mokeshimana taken after his ordination last fall.

The ladies began bringing in plates of beef, rice and beans and handed them around. The members ate as they usually do with their fingers; they have quite an efficient technique where very little gets dropped. It’s pretty tricky to eat rice with your fingers. I learned this in Burma years ago where everyone (except in restaurants for tourists), at the time, ate with their hands. I haven’t been back since my visit in 1982, so I don’t know if that has changed). My first attempt included me trying to get all my finger-tips and some rice into my mouth. The Burmese near me politely looked away as I scattered rice all sauce over me and the floor. I needed some education so I watched how the locals did it. They lightly compacted some rice and sauce into a little lump and held in on the tips of their three longest fingers, then used their thumb as a piston to slide the food into their mouth. No muss no fuss. The technique here in Burundi is very much the same. Same biology; same solution.

They ate fairly quickly because they only had about 20 rented plates to share among 117 people; they had to eat in shifts. Many of these people don’t have much in the way of plates and tableware – they represent luxuries they can’t easily afford; they may eat out of pots directly or out of plastic basins, and the like. I made a mental note of the needs here, and we’ll have as many as we can filled by the next time they meet all together in the autumn.

I took a few photos and shot some video and chatted with those around me. I stepped into the little building where we held Passover and took a photo of the ladies serving the food. Then the sky became very dark, and the sky opened in a terrific downpour. I've been stuck and nearly stuck up in this region several times, and the tiny Toyota we were using wasn't well-suited to the kind of back road driving we had to do. So I decided we would leave while we were sure to be able to. I said goodbye to everyone, told Mo´se and Nathan to look in on my whenever they made it back to Bujumbura and walked as quickly as I could in dress shoes, on slick African mud, in a heavy rainstorm.

We tried to get through the muddy and slick parts as soon as we could in the driving rain. I was relieved when we hit black top and even more relieved when we drove out of the rain a few minutes later. There was not more than occasional drizzle as we drove back to the capital.

On arrival I said goodbye to Prosper and had a snack, since it was late-afternoon and I hadn’t eaten since 6:30.

Just before dinner time, shortly after sunset Mo´se and Nathan arrived at the hotel. We concluded our discussions and planning for the future, and I invited them for dinner. Mo´se had sangala fish (another kind of lates), Nathan had roast chicken and I had spaghetti.  We were all tired after a full day and Mo´se even more so with the past days filled with funeral and family arrangements. He’ll be the new recognized head of the family which brings with it certain responsibilities.  I asked Mo´se if he’d be able to take me to the airport and he said he would. So I shook hands with the two men and they left, while I went to settle my bill with the hotel.

I will have a fairly early start tomorrow, but it should not be a heavy day. The only foreseeable difficulty might be an immigration official who would want to hassle me about my visa.
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Comments

Tommie Briley on

What a wonderful service you provide to us with your carefully detailed accounts - it is continually appreciated by those of us who greatly desire to know of the needs and concerns our brethren have in places we may never have the opportunity to visit in this lifetime. I want to thank you and your family again for your continued sacrifices for our brethren who often have to go without the fellowship of like-minded people. Many of us long to know them better and be able to spend time with them too....

Margaret Villaescusa on

It is so good to see the smiling faces of the brethren enjoying the 1st Day of Unleavened Bread. They seem to be rejoicing despite the inconveniences they deal with on a daily basis. It helps to be reminded of our daily blessings and to strive to be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thess 5:18). May God continue to bless your trip.

Mary Hendren on

Hi Joel,

Thanks for the commentary on the Night to be Observed at Lake Tanganyika. What a beautiful view and how enjoyable it must have been to watch the hippos--just a little sorry that you were alone. But what a nice crowd at services, with 117 present, and an hour of music! You really had special music. I loved seeing the response to the calendar and all the smiles. Also, the stack of bricks looks promising. We hope and pray that you can arrange for the work to be done in time for the fall festivals.

Mary

TESS WASHINGTON on

Mr. Meeker, thank you for the photos which give us a more graphic pictures of a place called Mugina and the people of God that are present in the area as well as from other places close to it! Good to know that we are building a hall for their use. We'll pray that God will provide everything that's needed if not more to finish it before the Fall Festivals! It is delightful to see their smiling faces just enjoying life and even as simple as a calendar...inspite of what they are going through in this life! And hopefully, by next year, if you visit them again during the Spring Holydays and if it happens that you will be celebrating the NTBMO in the area, that there will be an organization of the event where you can share the night with some of them! Take care...you are in our thoughts!

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