I sometimes try to imagine how I would react if I were to embark on a life-long mission experience. Saying goodbye to the life that I know and giving myself up to something bigger than myself. When that seems too daunting, I turn to the Maryknoll Lay Missioners where one can join the organization for a three-year commitment (though many missioners continue to re-new and continue to serve longer than those initial three years). What must those first few months feel like? When you are so far from family and friends, from the familiar comforts of home? Luckily, the Archives has a large collection of personal newsletters written by the Maryknoll Lay Missioners that give readers a first-hand look into how the missioners were feeling and what they were experiencing while starting their mission journey.
Today, I’ve pulled a newsletter from Sacha Bermudez-Goldman, who in 1991 joined the Lay Missioners in Tanzania. Below enjoy excerpts from one of his earlier newsletters where he writes to his family and friends back home about his “different life under the sun.”
Time is simply flying by. I’ve been in Africa close to two months already and by the time you receive this letter it’ll probably be over three months. Most of the time I have spent at language school…
From the States I flew to London where I spent a week visiting friends and resting up – the last few weeks in the States were very hectic! From London I flew to Nairobi. After an eight hour trip I finally arrived in Africa! The four of us lay associates met in Nairobi and spent there two days before setting out for Tanzania. Nairobi is a large city and it actually looks a lot more like a big town. There are a few middle size buildings, lots of traffic and quite a bit of dust! It reminded me of some of the cities in Central America.
Our trip from Nairobi to Musoma, Tanzania took 12 hours by car. The Kenyan portion of the trip was on asphalt (8 hours) while the last four hours were on Tanzanian dust roads. “Dust” road is in this case a much better term than “dirt” road. My friends, I had never seen so much dust in my life; actually, I didn’t think there could be so much dust on this earth! Ok, I’m exaggerating but I think you get the picture! But to tell you the truth I really didn’t mind the dust that much, especially since after a couple of hours we figured out that closing the windows would be very helpful! But really, I was so excited about finally being here that I didn’t mind being dusty and warm. I’m sure most of you, at one time or another in your life have experienced that wonderful “a dream come true” kind of feeling. That’s how I felt!
…At Burundi I attended my first Tanzanian wedding. It was a Christian wedding performed by a Catholic priest, so the ceremony itself was not much different from our typical weddings. A few things were different though, and I thought they were very interesting. Everybody gathered outside the church and surrounded the wedding party. They started to process very slowly from about 50 feet outside the church to the beat of drums and singing, and they did it really very slowly – it took them almost 20 minutes, going two steps forward and one step back. The church was packed with Christians and non-Christians. This was the big celebration of the day and everybody in the village was invited!
…Disease is unfortunately a daily part of life everywhere in Tanzania. Progress has been made in the areas of disease control and prevention but there is still a long way to go! Medicines are many times hard to come by and the number of doctors is extremely low. Measles, hepatitis and malaria cause thousands of people to die every year and the number of AIDS cases continues to increase at an extremely fast rate.
Somehow though, people remain hopeful and continue to struggle against these diseases. Malaria, for example, is a very treatable disease when medicine is available. As you probably know, it is transmitted by mosquito; usually where there is water there are mosquitos and this holds very true for this area surrounding Lake Victoria. A few of our teachers and five of the students at the language school have already come down with malaria. I was one of the five students! Luckily it didn’t affect me much at all; it is really like a bad case of the flu and after three days of rest and taking medicine I was fully recovered. Being sick wasn’t much fun but I learned that trying to keep your sense of humor whenever possible can be of great curative value…
…Well, this letter is already a couple of pages too long. So I will stop here for now.
Love, peace and many blessings,