My husband, Kevin, and I met as young Peace Corps volunteers teaching math and science in remote villages in the Gambia, West Africa, from 1973 to 1975. We married shortly after returning from the Peace Corps and eventually settled in California’s Silicon Valley. While working in technology (Kevin) and the health sector (myself) and raising our family, we continued to hold onto the call to someday return to Africa to share our life experiences and work skills.
After retiring, and with our children grown and having kids of their own, the time was right, and we signed up with Maryknoll Lay Missioners in 2018. Before going into the Peace Corps, I had to convince my parents of the decision. Now the tables were turned, and we had to convince our own children to “let us go to Africa.” We moved to Musoma, Tanzania, in January 2019.
It certainly wasn’t as easy to learn a new language as when I was in my 20s, but by the end of four months of Swahili school I could at least manage to buy things in the market and get around town on the bajajis (three-wheeled motorized rickshaws) that are common here.
After finishing language school, I soon had a full schedule between working at the sisters’ infirmary, organizing a wellness center and library and working with the staff and children living with disabilities at St. Justin’s Centre. My ministries were with the Immaculate Heart Sisters of Africa (IHSA), an order that Maryknoll Priests and Brothers helped start 65 years ago. With the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers that were working in the area all retired now, the sisters have been really happy to have me helping out and continuing to represent the Maryknoll spirit. They made me feel completely accepted and I was learning new things from them every day.
The Diocese of Musoma was excited to put Kevin’s skills in business management to work. He was charged with revitalizing an old diocesan bookshop that had fallen into neglect, despite being in a prime location. The shop’s trickle of customers spent enough on rosaries and Bibles for the shop to barely cover expenses. After Kevin’s patient work with the staff there for about eight months, they had completely refurbished the facility, put in place an electronic inventory and sales system and were turning a steady profit from a revived clientele base.
The diocese quickly found more projects for Kevin to help out with — including assisting a diocesan shopping and conference center with marketing and business planning. He also implemented an electronic financial management system to support the many self-sustaining institutions in the diocese — such as schools and medical facilities — and helped with accounting and computer projects for the IHSA Sisters at their schools.
Then in March COVID-19 hit Tanzania — and much of the rest of the world. Worried about our health with the impending pandemic, our children urged and convinced us to return to California to be closer to them and to reliable medical care.
After being cooped up, though safe, for five months, flights started to become available and borders to open again. We were anxious to get back to our communities in Tanzania. We found and booked flights, arriving in Tanzania in September. This time our sons didn’t try as hard to talk us out of returning, as we had been talking about coming back to Tanzania since we had arrived in California!
When we returned to Musoma we were, of course, met with open arms and many karibu’s (welcome in Swahili) — a sign of the hospitality that is so essential to Tanzanian culture.
Schools had reopened at the end of June, and most of the students at St. Justin’s had come back from their home villages to continue school. I feel like this is where we’re meant to be and I feel very much at home with the IHSA sisters here.
Kevin summed up everything when he said, “The unplanned time away from Tanzania has given us renewed appreciation for how great it is to be here and re-engaged with Tanzanian life. Often something has to be taken away before you realize how important it is. We are back where we are supposed to be now and we have a lot to do. We now have a purpose again. Maisha (life) in Tanzania goes on, … and we are again immersed in it.”