Project trip to Mwanza, Tanzania - Part I


Sunday May 17th:
The trip to Tanzania got off to an early start – up at 3:30am and on the road by 4:00am. We’d packed the van the night before and parked it at the office so we could get right on the road.
The 220km (137 mi) to the border was pretty uneventful. At the immigration office, we almost got stuck as one of the interns was about a month past due on his visa. The immigration officer was threatening to send him back to Kampala, but after about 15 minutes of apologizing and asking what we could do, he finally stamped it and allowed him to continue (free of charge, surprisingly). The Tanzanian side was a breeze, and we were on our way in Tanzania!

This is how we sat for 14 hours before finally arriving at the ferry.

The first 150km was amazing – the road was better than anything I’ve seen in Uganda so far, and the surrounding terrain we were bisecting was so beautiful. The terrain is hilly, but with large, circular valleys between the hills covered in green grass with clusters of trees, including the occasional palm and banana trees that give it a distinctly African look. Light grey rock outcropping speckled the landscape as well, helping to make it one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen. But from there, it got interesting.
Like it had been cut with a saw and taken away, all of a sudden the pavement just ended, giving way to a wider than normal dirt clearing. It was clear that they were rebuilding the road at first glance, and this was confirmed after 500 meters when we saw the first of what would be over a hundred new concrete culverts crossing the road. For the next 100 kilometers, the path we took was dictated by the tire tracks from vehicles that had traveled before us. But it varied from the dirt surface of the main (future) roadway, to a makeshift frontage road on one side, to a drainage ditch slash road that was chosen because it was the best option at that point. The weather also made things interesting as small thunderstorms were blowing through every couple hours, so the roadway was at times engulfed by seasonal streams.
One of the many flowing streams we crossed on the way. This one was nearly 3 feet deep up ahead where the truck had just passed.
At one point, the roadway was almost completely underwater for a couple kilometers.
A few spots were particularly hair-raising: one spot, the depth of the water was close to 2 ½ feet and it was flowing at a good pace; another spot was deep and rocky, so a small throng of local kids walked us through the best path to take. Our driver, Alex, clearly not trusting the kids, charted his own course and nearly got us stuck as we hit a number of large rocks! (He should have trusted the kids!); another spot, we came across a truck stuck in the middle of the road, so we had to take a narrow path around it to the left which was very steep – everyone in the car leaned hard to the right fearing we’d tip; in another spot, the road was narrow and very slick with ‘gushy’ mud as it winded down a slope on a hairpin curve to the left. Coming around the corner, we came upon two trucks who were stuck – one going uphill and the other downhill. We took a narrow, gooey path around to the right but we were sliding just like we were on ice as we just made it around the trucks. A group of about 15 Tanzanian young men were out trying to dig and reinforce the road in front of the trucks to allow them to proceed (hopefully they’ll be successful sometime in the next week before we have come back through!).
But just like it had ended, the tarmac reappeared and we were back in business, soon forgetting the adventure of the dirt road behind and marveling at how good the road now was. However, our luck would soon end and we were faced with another 50 kilometer stretch of the same situation.
The last 100 kilometers (the trip was 100 kilometers longer than we’d thought) was hard dirt with potholes, so while it wasn’t nearly as harrowing, it was definitely the least comfortable to drive on. At 5:20pm, I got a text from Pastor Richard with the ministry in Mwanza that we had to be at the ferry by 6:00pm, otherwise it would close and we’d be stuck on a different ferry that would add an hour to our trip! So Alex started driving like a maniac to make the ferry, which was 65 kilometers out at that point. Since it was a terrible surface, this made for a very bumpy ride – a couple times we landed so hard I thought sure our tires would burst or the axle would break! But at 5:56pm, we rolled into the waiting line for the ferry – we made it!
The line waiting to get on the ferry
Standing room only on this ferry (there were two that alternated, and the other one had benches inside to sit down on)
Our safari van (off center, to the left) coming off the ferry
After an hour long process of ferrying across Mwanza bay (Lake Victoria), we were greeted by a friendly Pastor Richard who led us to our hotel just 3 or 4 kilometers away, arriving at 8:00pm – 16 hours after we left Kampala. After a quick greeting to the ministry people (who had flown in earlier that day), we ordered dinner and ate, and then made our way to our rooms to clean up and go to bed. Me and one other team member, long-term volunteer and civil engineer Denis, each have our own rooms – the rest of the team paired off into two’s.
Not everyone in East Africa is poor! I have no idea how these homes are accessed as they are located on a very narrow and almost solid rock strip of land that juts out into Mwanza Bay. The lower house has a staircase down to the water that was chiseled out of the rock!
Monday May 18th:
I haven’t had as solid of a night of sleep in a long time! When the alarm went off at 6:30am, I opened my eyes and thought, “Where am I?!”
The team ate breakfast and then met upstairs in the 4th floor conference room for a short devotion and worship time. After that, the 4 ministry people came up and met with us to give us the background on their ministry. There are four ministry people here: Debra – the director, her husband Wayne, and then Shannon & Christine Wentzel – the couple who plan to move to the site with four of their five children. All four ministry members are from Minnesota.
Hearing about the ministry is always a crucial time for the team as it allows us a chance to connect with what they are doing. This ministry, called End-Time Glory Ministries, is focused on bible training and evangelism in nearly 20 countries around the globe. This trip is Debra’s 90th trip out of the U.S. They have bible training schools in Kenya, Uganda, Guyana, Burundi, the Philippines, and the U.S. This project is their first orphanage project of what they hope to be many more in the future in many different countries. They’re vision is big – but they are trusting in God to develop what they feel He’s put on their hearts.
After the introductory meeting, we headed to the ferry to visit the site. The whole ferry process takes about an hour and a half, since you have to arrive early, load, and then wait for the ferry to begin the 30 minute trip. Once on the other side, we all piled in the van and drove towards the site. After just a few hundred meters, we turned off onto something that looked more like a seasonal stream coming down the mountain than it did a road. It took our van two tries just to get over the hump on the side of the main road. After that, it was probably the worst excuse for a road I’ve seen in Africa yet (which is really saying something!).
One stretch of the terrible access road to the site. This picture doesn't do it justice, nor is it the worst part of the road, but it was solid rocks up near the top of this picture.
There were large rocks, 4 foot deep trenches down the middle, holes and deep ruts, and at times it was only a few feet wide with 3 foot deep ruts on each side! With 15 people in the 8 passenger van, there were a few times where it looked and felt like we were going to tip. Before we’d even reached the site, we had already decided to walk back to the main road on the return trip!
The team walking back to the ferry

Walking the site was beautiful. It’s mainly covered in tall grass (4-5 feet) with some bushes and a few large trees. It’s gently sloped, but with a pretty large hill in the middle the ministry has dubbed ‘Glory Mountain’. The ministry has planted various crops on about 25% of the land while they wait to develop. We walked the entire perimeter and much of the middle as well, including a quick hike up the 100 foot-tall Glory Mountain. Pastor Richard saw a small, black Cobra, but he didn’t tell us until later for fear we would have been scared so sorry, no pictures.
After about 2 hours on site, with off and on light rain mixed with piercing sunshine and sticky humidity, we walked back to the ferry (the walk was much more pleasant than the drive had been, and probably only took 10 minutes longer).
'Glory Mountain', with team architect Megan and Pastor Richard's nephew Dominic helping read the survey map in the foreground

After ferrying back, we ordered lunch around 3:30pm with a plan to do the big programming meeting afterwards. Well, the food didn’t come until 5:00pm, so lunch turned into dinner.
The programming meeting finally happened around 6pm, and went very well. This is the meeting where we ask tons of questions of the ministry to get details like how many people in each function on site, what kind of toilets they want (flush, latrine, squatty’s, etc.), how they want the different functions on site to interact with each other, etc. It also was a chance for us to talk about how to phase in the project, and what the priorities are.
The site viewed from atop 'Glory Mountain', with Lake Victoria off in the Distance

Overall, the meeting went very well. I think we all realized that the land, at 22 acres, is a little small for their vision which includes: an orphanage for up to 64, guest housing for up to 24 short term missionaries, a radio station, a medical clinic, a primary school and secondary school for up to 300, a bible training school for up to 100, local staff housing and long term missionary housing! Plus, they would like to farm as much of the land as possible in hopes of being self sustaining. Fortunately, the ministry was realistic and realized that they will have to purchase more land before some of their future phases can be built.
All in all, it was a good first day, though things like the ferry and the late lunch made it a bit unorthodox timing-wise. Tomorrow will finally be a full work day, so we should be well on our way to having a good first draft of the master plan by the end of the day.
This rock outcropping is called 'Bismarck's Rock' and greets you as the ferry brings you to Mwanza - the balancing rock is actually only resting on two small places. You can see air under the rock between the two places where it rests.
Bismarck Rock - it's amazing to think that centuries of people have looked at this rock and no one has tried to tip it over!


Anonymous said…

Your descriptions and photos are wonderful as is the program you are part of. As a CAL CE I'm fascinated by what you are doing.

Re the roads that "start and stop" I once worked on a 12 mile segment of I5 in California between Lost Hills and Buttonwillow (yes, those are cities in CA assuming you don't have a map handy). We were still working in the dirt while building the subgrade and there was nothing on either end of that segment but desert for miles. Only in degree is it different from the road you were on.

It seems to me every step in developing countries deserves to be the very best or at least fully modern - i.e. the best computers, water systems, waste disposal systems, or whatever.

You reflect a hope for the future that is not just wishful thinking, it is very, very real.

Because I'm very cautious with everything online and already receive far too much spam, I'll be "anonymous" for now, but the last time I saw Alicia there was dog named Stanley - i.e. a very long time ago indeed.

It is wonderful to have discovered you online.

Brad,cheers and prayers for all you do.
Patrick said…
I would have tried Brad

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