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This is a photo of Pendo, the tortoise.  As we were leaving the “church” we heard so many people saying:  “pendo, pendo”  and chuckling.  One of the men that brought us said this will be something they say for years – a tortoise named Pendo (love).

Given that tortoises live to be two hundred years old,  I can hear it now, some old person 100 years from now will be saying:  “See that tortoise?  A long, long time ago, two Muzungus were here, and were given that tortoise as a gift, but they couldn’t take him from our country, so they named him for the love that went behind the offering of the gift, “Pendo,” meaning love.”

mlowa village trip 132

Today will be a day requiring both Tally and me to write about. It was a crammed full day of hospitality. This word refers to the RELATIONSHIP between guest and host. And relationship is the operant word here. We Americans are some of the most hospitable people I know, we are kind, welcoming, giving, and caring. But, today, Tally and I are reeling from a day of outreach towards us that will take a long time to digest and process.

We went with two of Tally’s former students, whom she will talk about as soon as she had caught her breath. (I am writing now because am afraid it will escape my mind if I wait). We went to the Diocese of the Rift Valley, leaving Msalato at 7:00 a.m. and returning at 9:00 this evening. The drive was on paved roadway for a good part of the journey. Our driver, Musa, was happy. Anyway, it was two and one half hours to the first stop, Manyoni, (this was too big a day, I cannot write about it now as I don’t know where to begin other than to give a chronological account, and that would not convey anything about the experience). Let me just say that the outpouring and effort that went into the expression of welcome was almost overwhelming for both of us. I still do not understand totally why – okay, no tourists ever come to this area, so Muzungus (whites) are a bit unusual. I think, though, it probably was mostly due to the two men that brought us there. Both are loved and respected by their villages, diocese, and so we rode in on their wonderful coat-tails. We were greeting by singing people, fed food at three different stops, prayed over, (and I had to say prayers more today than I have ever had to do out loud in front of people in my life). We were given gifts. Clothes, which the women gave us by putting them on over the clothes we were wearing right there in the church with no roof. Over our heads came the tops, and then we were wrapped like parcels with the skirts to match. We were given spoons, songs, and at the end, startlingly, a man brought us a baby tortoise! We did not understand this gift at all, and knew we could not accept it as we couldn’t travel out of Tanzania and into the US with a Tortoise. So we explained we could not keep this gift, but I asked if we could name it. They said yes, so I said “pendo” which is love in Kiswahili. Later, we asked the significance of tortoises, and learned that they are very special animals, highly revered, and wise omens of good things. So much thought and care went into this day from our hosts. They did not have much advance notice either, just a few days. Women of the villages cooked wonderful meals, choirs sang and men, especially the village elders made Tally and me feel like royal personages and a bit uncomfortable because we don’t fit that description in the least.

I want to think long about how they made me feel, what is it that so touched my heart. I think some of it is the unguarded, unselfconscious expression of welcome. Perhaps there is the hope that we, as Americans can help them in a tangible way, but I don’t think that prevailed with all the people who held our hands, looked into our eyes, gave us food, smiled and sang songs of welcome. I don’t know what I think right now except to say that I felt touched by God today.

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*click the photo to see a slideshow of the trip to Mlowa Village

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