Hamjambo? Habari gani? After months of preparation I finally started my journey to Nyaigando on the 6th of December. Having spent the previous week in Kampala, enjoying the opportunity to see a little of Uganda, I met Sister Redempta, Irene and our driver Edmond close to the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Rubaga to begin our 7 hour drive south across the border, towards Bukoba. The contrast between the bustling, chaotic city of Kampala and the tranquil, beautiful countryside, which surrounds it, was quite startling. Before reaching the border crossing, where we had the pleasure of meeting a border official who immediately recognized us as friends of Max, we stopped at the small Ugandan village which lies directly on the equator. It seemed appropriate to take several photographs next to the sign, which marks this split between north and south. As we approached Bukoba and eventually made our way along the bumpy, dark-red road to Nyaigando, the landscapes around us became increasingly inspiring. It was a privilege to finally arrive at such a paradise.
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Immediately upon arrival at Nyaigando we were warmly received by Sister Gaudentia, Sister Monica and many others who kindly helped carry our luggage to our rooms. The visitors’ rooms here are quite fantastic and together they form a charming, green quadrangle which is set back slightly from the main road running through the village. A few metres below us, down a shallow slope is the river and further on up the rise lies the main compound of Nyaigando, the Sisters’ rooms, the chapel, many offices, the soap production centre, a sizeable shamba (orchard) for maize and banana and a small barn for some livestock. Our first few days have involved exploration of this whole area, which has also given us the opportunity for innumerable introductions. The friendly welcome of the Sisters and other residents here has been extraordinary. For each conversation we speak only in Swahili, which I have been studying for the last couple of months. It’s difficult at times, yet always enjoyable and quickly one learns that there are three words which are acceptable responses to any question, at any event or time of day, “Karibu… Asante… Nzuri”. In any moment of confusion, I blurt out some combination of these and it’s always well received.
The timing of our arrival was especially fortunate given that Monday 9th December was Tanzanian Independence Day and a great feast day of celebration. More than 2,000 visitors travelled to Nyaigando from as far away as Burundi and Arusha. The day began with a five hour-long Swahili mass, which also celebrated the anniversary of several Sisters’ lives in the Nyaigando community. Indeed, one Sister was celebrating 60 years since completion of her final vows. Following the mass we proceeded en masse, singing and dancing while following a group of musicians to some canopies, which had been erected towards the rear of the compound. For the rest of the afternoon we feasted on a Tanzanian buffet including the classic savoury ndizi (banana) dishes, which I have already become accustomed to, since they are served thrice daily. Accompanying this fine meal was a display of traditional dancing from two local schools and a troupe of travelling acrobatic dancers who put on an impressive display. At one point Irene, who dances with a hip-hop group regularly in Paris joined the traditional display, to the delight of all the Tanzanians. Such a feast day celebration also affords the opportunity to both residents and visitors to offer gifts to various members of the Nyaigando community, marking their various efforts and commitments over many years. Concluding the day was a second feast featuring many more ndizi dishes, served this time in the main hall. Again dancing was an essential component, although this time there was much broader participation, with many Sisters, Priests and visitors displaying some remarkable dancing abilities!
Tuesday was a lazy morning, with many, including myself recovering from the previous day’s party. By the afternoon Irene and I decided it was time to make the 13km journey down to Bukoba with Sister Redempta where we would also meet the third volunteer, Lily, who was arriving on coach from Kampala. Needing to change money from US $ to TZ Shilling we also had our first experience of the chaotic but terrifically entertaining Tanzanian banking industry!
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This is now my fifth day in Nyaigando. Despite the torrential, unrelenting rain which has been falling (rainy season should end mid-Dec) I am filled with great excitement about the adventures and experiences, which await me in the coming three and a half months.