It is almost one month since I left Zambia. It was quite busy time for me. First to rest a bit after very busy program in Zambia before my departure, then a long travel for 3 days, probably the longest in my life, and some tiredness to adjust to a new time with 7 hours difference to Zambian time. Slowly, slowly everything settled. I had a nice welcome in an SVD community in Toronto, where I spent Christmas. It was a very mix community: Portuguese, Italian, English and some others. Two days after my arrival I had already a funeral for the Italian family in Italian and English. Then I could observe a different way of organizing Christmas. Christmas was quite nice and colorful. Just before Christmas we had a trip to Negara, it is a beautiful falls, but very different from Victoria Falls. Also before New Year we went to Montreal to an another SVD community. There we really experienced winter, very heavy snow (50cm in 24 hours) and -15 temperature. New Year again in Toronto within nice international community party up to 2am. There was very good Portuguese food. After New Year I went to visit my friend from the seminary after 25 years. Now he is with wife and 5 children, very happy. From him I went to London (not London in England)but Canadian London. I stay in the lecturer house, although I am half way student, half way lecturer. I got here a complementary stay and study for my work here as an assistant chaplain in the University. So far I am quite happy with such arrangements. I have also an easy contact to the seminary and the library there. It is a great time for me to stand a bit aside from my mission to have some reflections, study a bit, review my Spirit and come to encounter different pastoral approaches. Then I could go back to the Mission with a new Spirit and a new energy. Also I review a bit of Spanish here as well, not forgetting my African languages. This is all now in brief. Now more often something would go to my blog in polish and later translated in English. You are welcome.
Three days ago I arrived in Canada according to my sabbatical program. It means I will spend Christmas and New Year here in Toronto in my SVD community, exactly I stay in the Parish run by our SVD confreres. This Parish is very colorful, there quiet many different nationalities, the biggest number are Italians and Portugal’s. for last two days I served the Italians community. I had already for them a funeral and Masses. Definitely my Italian is not very good, I need to be undusted, and also I must learn again and again. Definitely comparing to Africa here is a different climate of Christmas. Two weeks ago the people already decorated their houses outside and inside, it looks like Christmas Vigil in some countries. Of course the shops are more than decorated. Slowly, slowly is getting cold, for Christmas there could be a snow. For me it is quite nice to have a white Christmas after many years. After New Year I would travel to London – a town in Canada to do my courses. I will stay there up to the end of April, then a short holiday, about two weeks and back to Zambia. This is my - the nearest program. My courses look to be interesting I need it after so many years in Africa. I hope we would be in contact.
Newly dug graves in Zambia
Today is All Saints' day and tomorrow is the day dedicated to remembering all who have passed away - our family members, friends and those for whom no one prays. In Poland, these are very important days. People travel to the graves of their loved ones often to remote parts of the country. Graves are beautifully decorated with cemeteries looking especially beautiful in the evening. For many years I have missed this atmosphere and the special spirit of these days.
I think this way of remembering the deceased is typical to Poland. Of course, in some parts of the former Soviet Union and some parts of South America solemn ceremonies are held to honor the dead but they are different. I've had the opportunity to be in those days in Ireland, England and Italy. There was no difference between All Saints' day and any other day.
Here in Zambia the time between someone's death and their funeral is very important. Funerals are celebrated according to many local customs. Everyone shows great respect for the deceased and their family. The funeral is a big event and all the friends and neighbours of the deceased need to be there if they don't want to be suspected of causing his death. After a very solemn funeral and all the hustle and bustle people return to their homes and basically never return to the grave. I've noticed a few concrete burial vaults in cities in recent years, but in villages no one cares about graves. After a year it is virtually impossible to find a particular grave. All the tombs are similar, there is no inscription nor a cross. With time, the tomb vanishes. Our people don't have the need to visit the cemetery or take care of the graves. We are slowly trying to encourage them to do so, but it is not easy. In some cities I managed to persuade a group of people to clean the local cemetery during Lent. But they didn't know to whom those graves belonged.
A few years ago I went to a cemetery on All Saints' day. People walking nearby took me for a ghost. Some of them started running in the opposite direction. Since then I have not visited a cemetery because I could be taken for a sorcerer.
Local people don't have the custom of requesting mass intentions for their dead family members. We slowly introduce reading out names of those who have passed away before the Holy Mass and we combine that with praying the Rosary. In the meantime I try to recreate the atmosphere of All Saints' for myself .
Some of my friends listening to my missionary adventures suggest that I write them down a book. That happened especially after my Easter and Christmas letters in which I describe different missionary events. My humorous response to that is that I'm too young to write a book and apart from that it would take ages because I'm not a good writer. One day I noticed however, that there actually are a number of joyful stories that happened in my missionary life worthy to be written down, which would otherwise vanish forever. Perhaps my blog is a good start towards a book. In this blog I try to more or less on a regular basis publish short stories or happenings I find interesting. They are usually accompanied with a thematic photo. Hopefully one day they could be put together to form a testimony of my missionary life. When I look back at the years I spent in Africa in this jubilee year I realise how much I was privileged to experience.
A few days ago one of the boys from my vocations group said to me: "Father, let us write a book together." When I asked what kind of book we should write he said that I was a good Samaritan and he was the one who got help from me and would therefore provide me with topics I could write about. He was convinced there would be people willing to read that. He is a nice chap from our group of about thirty men. I helped him with his tuition fee and he gratefully helped us with occasional work at our house.
I'm sure I'm writing a book, if not necessarily in ink, I write it with my life. Some read it willingly, because they are my friends, for others it is less interesting because they don't pay much attention to the importance of missionary work. After all, everyone is writing their own book.
In our life we do meet different people, some people we know better others less. Some people after a short time we may say we know them, others even after a long time still may surprise us by the way they act or react. Quite often we would like to have our opinion about everyone. Unfortunately our opinion not always is a correct one. One person may surprise us positively, another one very negatively, we may ask why did he do it, we could never expect him to do so. Many people have their opinion about vultures, including myself. Until my last trip to Chobe Park in Botswana I thought, that vultures are very dirty birds, because they eat rotten meat. What we saw last time in the park was very shocking. There was a big group of vultures enjoying dead impala. Beside that place was a stream of water. All vultures after eating that rotten meat went for bathing. Really deepening inside the water and washing themselves, and later got sun bath. It was amazing. As vultures surprised us with our little knowledge about them, much more human beings may surprise us. We are never able to know someone very well.
Our Mission House in Livingstone in which I live now is situated beside the main road on which we have so many cars and the people moving everyday. Also at night the number of people passing is quite big. Everything would be okay if they were just walking and talking. Naturally the Zambian people are very friendly and social, so they cannot just walk beside one another without narrating many stories, at times heard already many times before. Sometimes I wonder if they need so many listeners to listen to their stories. Why? They cannot talk normally, they shout, as they were talking through microphone, that all the people around may hear their stories and admire them. They do not need microphone. I am a forced listener. During the day time there is not so much problem, but at night these stories quite often wake me up. And when I am almost sleep after that story, the next story comes.. Cell phones are here very popular, when someone starts talking on the street then there is lots of fun, especially when he talks with his girlfriend, and forgets that others may listen to him. So here they do not need microphones.
Some years back when I was still in the seminary one day at the beginning of Mass Father Provincial said “I am going fishing”. All students were surprised, but he repeated again “I am going fishing”. Then my friend in the bench whispered to me – are you not joining him. Well that day was the Gospel from St. John 21:3-4. As Peter informed other disciples about his going for fishing they responded that they would join him. I think Peter was tired of all what was happening around and needed a break. I also follow an example of Peter and regularly take a day off for resting. Normally I go for fishing but there is more than fishing – there is a beautiful nature, which one can admire with plenty different spices of birds and animals, including my friends crocodiles. There are very quiet and peaceful places, very good for refreshing and relaxing. It is just fantastic. I am sure you too must be tired and deserve a break from time to time. Are you ready to join me? I am going fishing……………..
Father Romek Janowski SVD is a Polish missionary in Africa. He has worked on the continent since 1988 and currently resides in Zambia's former capital Livingstone. Father Janowski serves as a chaplain in two Zambian prisons providing pastoral and emotional support for inmates, works in Livingstone Cathedral and is immersed in work with young people towards vocations.