Friday, September 29, 2017

East Africa


Sunset in Tanzania

Every 6 years, SMA has its General Assembly (GA), which is when the goals and direction for the next 6 years are established and elections take place for the top four leaders (the General Council) for the Society.  The GA is attended by the Superiors and a few representatives from each unit.  In the subsequent years, a smaller meeting takes place, which is attended only by the Superior from each of the SMA Units, the General Council and a handful of other representatives who review the progress on the goals and make adjustments as needed. This smaller meeting is called a Plenary Council (PC).  Last year, the PC took place in Ghana and this year it was in Kenya.  The Secretaries for the General Council (I am one of the two Secretaries – there is always an English speaker and a French speaker as Secretaries, and they can usually speak at least a bit of both languages) go to the PCs and the GAs.   

For a few months prior to the PC, the Secretaries are busy gathering reports from all the SMA units, interpreting the reports that didn’t come in both languages, organizing and preparing whatever else is needed, etc.  During the meetings, one of us is on top of taking the minutes, and the other one facilitates all the other stuff going on – communication between the small groups when they break into discussions and all the small and big other issues that come up. (I also sent periodic updates to the guys who were updating the website. This link takes you to the first update, and you can see the others from there.) It’s an interesting time to hear how people are thinking, what is going on in the various units, the priorities, etc.  It’s also an important time for camaraderie and strengthening the SMA Family spirit while we share meals, take coffee breaks and relax in the evening.

Dympna, me, Mara and Faith - Dympna and Mara represented the SMA laity at the PC
our paparazzi

June, when we had the PC, was my first time to ever go to East Africa, so of course I was excited the meeting was going to take place there, since I’d always heard stories about the people and the countryside.  It’s also the place that most people have in mind when they hear of Africa – there are giraffes, zebras, lions, etc. . . . all the wildlife that people picture and have asked me about when, over the years, I came back from West Africa where the wildlife isn’t quite the way it is in East Africa. 

I checked with one of my friends who had also worked in Ghana while I was there and who is now the head of the Philippines SMA unit.  I knew he would be at the meeting, so I wanted to see if he had any travel plans afterwards.  Who knows if/when I’ll get back to Africa; and who knows, if I ever get back, whether or not I will have the SMA connection, that feeling of “family”. Whenever I come to an SMA community, there’s immediately a feeling of being at home, of being with family – people to welcome us, give advice and often a place to stay.  

Alan, my friend, had plans to travel to Tanzania with Faith, a lay person from the Philippines who I had met back in December/January when she came to a meeting of lay people in SMA, and they invited me to join. Alan agreed with me – we needed to take advantage of being there, because who knows….? So, after the meeting ended, we took about a week to visit Tanzania, where we were welcomed by the SMA community.  There are a couple of Dutch lay women there doing some wonderful work with the youth, especially with young women and street children. There are also SMA Fathers in a several locations.

taking a picture of Kilimanjaro (the beer) while on the Serengeti
(there was also Serengeti beer and Tusker beer, but not with us)

We took a day safari into the Serengeti and saw almost all the animals that people always ask me about.  There is also an SMA community that works with one of the Masai communities. The Masai have always intrigued me.  I always imagined them having a similar lifestyle (or that there would be a similar “feeling” to their lifestyle) to the Fulani and the Wodaabi in West Africa (I was with the Fulani while in Peace Corps, and the Wodaabi is a sub-group of the Fulani) – traditionally nomadic (although, there are also some settled communities now), herders, distinct traditions that they have held onto, a bit “exotic” in their uniqueness, a sense of separateness from the rest of society, etc. I was happy we got some time with the Masai – even to visit one of the settlements, where one of the senior women walked us around to several of the huts, and our group gradually grew as more of the women joined the tour, until eventually, in the last hut, the women sang a song while dancing, and, as they danced up to us, placed a beaded rosary they had made around each of our necks.

We spent the final 3 days back in Nairobi, where we were able to visit the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which takes care of orphaned baby elephants, eventually reintroducing them to an elephant herd.  While there, I finally knew what wedding gift would be a good fit for my niece and her husband who were to marry in July – a baby elephant.  Malima was fostered in their name.  They now have a watercolor picture of Malima and will receive monthly updates until she is reintroduced to a herd.



At 2:20 PM, Blogger R said...

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At 5:02 PM, Blogger MJ said...

It's good to see another post from you--and an interesting one about your time in East Africa. It's nice how you are able to combine those meetings with being able to go to some of the places that you've never been able to get to before. It's too bad you weren't able to put a picture of the faces of your niece and her husband on here when they saw the gift of the baby elephant they are now fostering. It may sound crazy to some people but I think it was probably their favorite wedding present of all.

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