Photos, videos, and stories don’t ever fully prepare a person to step foot on foreign soil. Though one might be used to a similar climate, the air always feels a little different and the birds and insects sing songs your ears have never heard. What always strikes me first about landing in a new country is the way it smells. Tanzania certainly has its unique flavor that leaves my senses marveling at the sights, sounds, smells, taste and touch that one can only breathe in to really understand.
Once on the road, the foot traffic is captivating. Men, women and children walk – often without shoes – carrying buckets of water, babies, bananas or great bushels of other crops atop their heads. Some are empty handed, and the foreign traveler is left wondering where they are going or who might be waiting for them at home. I’ve questioned countless narratives in my head about those I see walking along the Tanzanian roads. I wonder where a torn shirt came from, or when the last time it was washed. I wonder how long it takes that group of kids to go get water and if they boil it before drinking. I wonder how much they get to drink each day. I wonder how long ago that small child started walking on the long, dusty roads alone.
The one thing I never question about the Tanzanians is their effortless and unabashed expression of joy. In passing, the typical Tanzanian stares in earnest at the light-skinned woman staring back. But, when I smile at them, their faces light up and they are quick to smile in return. When I get out of the car to meet them, they touch me and laugh with me and expose me to pure, unadulterated love. Christ’s love. Of course, I have arrived with the mzungus (Caucasians) who bring the promise of safe water to their village. But even on my last trip in 2010, when I visited the villages with a medical team to provide care for the sick, their unceasing joy was also present. I am amazed at how these people can have so little: one shirt, maybe a pair of shoes, very little money, no safe water; yet they carry with them so much joy.
The answers I sought on this trip lay in the 35 villages where our teams have dug wells. The answers were with the women and children who now have two to four extra hours every day, because they no longer have to walk long distances to collect their daily water. They now use the time to do things like tend their crops, sew garments to make some money and take care of their families. The children likewise have stories to tell about the lessons they’ve learned in school, because now that they don’t need to travel long distances to fetch water they can attend more often and aren’t too tired from their morning journey to pay attention in class. Their daily lives are very simple. But a safe water source close to home makes an incredible impact in each and every one of those days.
There are stories I didn’t get to hear on this trip. I didn’t hear stories about the village where everyone was infected with intestinal worms, or about the young girl that was abused coming home late from fetching water, or about the young boy that died the previous week from malaria. Every sixty seconds, a child dies from preventable water borne illness. Yet, the Tanzanians continue to carry dirty water atop their heads and boundless joy in their hearts. Maybe that’s something you have to see and feel to really understand.
My prayer is that you hear their stories and look at the work our teams are doing to change their lives. My prayer is that there is change in your heart, like there has been in mine. I pray you choose to share more joy, share more love, and share more life. Water is life.
“With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” – Isaiah 12:3
If you’re interested in learning more about this project, visit Mission Is Possible, or email me. I’d love to tell you more about it. I’d also love for you to join us on May 11 at our Wine for Water event in Irvine, California.