Living and loving
FOR many days - "Thou art a God that hidest thyself" - the
summit has been lost in cloud. Today, at last, the clouds part, the
roof of Africa is revealed, and my spirit soars. Although the snows
have receded since last I saw them 25 years ago, my exaltation is
undiminished. One of the less familiar of the numerous heresies I
espouse is the belief that the melting of the snows of Kilimanjaro
is a sign that the end is near.
The hands press heavily on her head. But this woman is not being
confirmed or ordained. These are not the hands of a bishop, but
hands of bananas, many kilos of them. The woman has been carrying
them since she set out, long before dawn, from her village high
beneath the snows. She hopes to sell them in the market. At the end
of the day she will retrace the many miles to her home.
We pass this woman, Pat and I, as we climb the road to the house
of the Sisters of the Assumption. I used to visit the Sisters when
I, too, lived beneath the mountain, teaching religious studies at
the International School Moshi, in Tanzania. (I taught there what I
learned there, that while the lamps are different the Light is the
We are greeted by the sisters with grievous news. Sister
Marisina died just ten days ago. Later, we pray where she rests.
Sister Marisina used to drive down to our campus once a week to
sell us fresh vegetables.
The Assumptionists grow glorious vegetables, but theirs is
primarily a teaching order. Over lunch, they share their vision
with us. It is "to liberate the child's spirit" and "to
Christianise the child's intelligence". I sense, too, what these
radiant women do not voice: their conviction that living things
flourish if they are loved. That would certainly account for their
WHILE I was teaching in Moshi, Pat was working in primary
health-care in Mbeya, 300 miles to the south. We are back in
Tanzania to show each other the places where we lived all those
years ago. We are based with another remarkable community, the
Grail Sisters. (The mission of the Sisters is "to empower women to
transform the world".)
We arrive at their house on the Saturday evening. After supper,
Dan, from Texas, gets out his clarinet. His plaintive rendering of
"Will the circle be unbroken" has all of us, Sisters and guests,
dancing round the parlour.
At six o'clock next morning, we are at the cathedral for mass.
We are there with 1500 others. I am struck by the intense
attentiveness of the worshippers. This is not a C of E service. No
one fidgets. No one natters to his or her neighbour. No one
rummages in a bag. Here are people who know how to wait on God.
THE Grail community in Tanzania was begun by Sister Imelda. Half
a century ago, she took her final vows. She tells us how she
ponders ceaselessly what it means to take up the cross. "I am not
sure I can do so," she says, sadly, unaware that this is exactly
what she has been doing these 50 years.
I am moved by the towering strength of these women. So far as I
can tell, Sister Aloysia, who made our trip possible and who is
looking after us so assiduously, neither slumbers nor sleeps. What
wimps we men are.
THE car we hired would have been ideal for the school run, or a
quick trip to Sainsbury's. It was less suited for our 2000-mile
safari, mostly along corrugated dirt-roads. All we could do was to
entrust our carcasses and back axle to our maker.
Under the Mercy we reached Mbeya and its hospital, the base for
Pat's work in the villages. Our visit to the hospital left me with
a slide-show of sharp images. On a bed in the paediatric ward a
mother is prostrate in prayer beside her desperately sick child. An
albino woman - many of her neighbours will believe she is a ghost -
is on her mobile phone.
The male psychiatric patients, clothed - those who are clothed -
in filthy brown shifts, are caged beneath a burning sun in a bare
concrete yard. One of them, seeing us, howls the Gloria.
We return to Moshi along a cart-track, albeit a length of the
Cape-to-Cairo road, through the wastelands of central Tanzania. A
day or two later we say goodbye to the Grail Sisters. They gather
round our car, raise their hands in benediction, and sing: "The
peace of the Lord be upon you. We bless you in the name of the
Lord." We are enfolded in their love, and the Love whence it
I LEARNED only a few words of Swahili in my time in Tanzania,
but there is one I shall always savour. "Pole" is
pronounced as two syllables: "po-lé".
Fr Christopher, a Roman Catholic priest who became my good
friend, would invariably greet me with this one word.
"Pole, John, pole," he would say tenderly as he
approached my open door. Roughly translated, pole means
"You and I, dear brother, know that ours may be a vale of tears,
but, until the day dawns, we shall bear its burdens and embrace its
tasks with peaceful hearts."
The Revd Dr John Pridmore, a former Rector of Hackney, has
retired to Brighton.