The Smith family is “all quite terrified,” mom Sheila Doran-Smith says.
Sheila, husband Raymond Smith, and kids Dylan and Bethany were frantic on Monday doing last-minute preparations in their endeavour to leave their life behind and start a new one not far from where Henry Morton Stanley once uttered those famous words: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”
The family is to start anew — for a year or two — on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, in the western wilds of Tanzania.
“I’m going through my suitcases, trying to eliminate another 20 pounds,” Sheila said, trying to pack up her life into two pieces of luggage and a carry-on bag.
The Smiths flew out of Calgary on Monday night.
Their big adventure all came about because Raymond was laid off around Christmas. A master electrician with experience in facilities management, he spent January and February firing out resumés but “had no bites.” Then, their Seventh-day Adventist pastor, originally from South Africa, mentioned in passing that some church hospitals in Africa were seeking administrative help.
“We, being people of faith, told God that if he opened a door, we’d go through it,” said Sheila. “It’s a volunteer position, and we get a house and a car and enough money, presumably, for groceries. That seemed to be the only door open at that point, so we agreed to go through it.”
Sheila is wary but thinks it will be an interesting experience for her family.
“Africa is not on my list of places to go,” she admitted, adding that while some parts of Africa are home to “scary and violent” realities, Tanzania is not so rife with such problems.
She will spend most of her time continuing the home-schooled education of 12-year-old Dylan and 14-year-old Bethany. They hope to volunteer at the hospital and Sheila says her kids ought to have no problem making friends with locals their age.
Raymond, meanwhile, has a world of work ahead of him at the 97-bed Heri Adventist Hospital. The hospital has only one doctor and he has been wasting much of his time on administrative matters. Raymond is set to relieve that load and let the physician get back to caring for his patients.
“I think I’ll be doing pretty near everything, right from the vehicles to the grounds to the maintenance on the buildings,” said Raymond, adding he hopes to work on getting more juice out of the hospital’s electrical generator to help the community.
Sheila and Raymond are leaving a lot behind. Their mothers, both 90, are in Ponoka, and Sheila says they don’t feel good about taking off on them. The same goes for Raymond and Sheila’s grown children living in Edmonton.
But they also see certain advantages to the trip.
“We’re trying to teach our kids there’s more to life than video games and TV. That may sound cliché but they seem to be wrapped up in them,” said Raymond. “I think they’ll appreciate what they got.”