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The Tamaqua-Tanzania connection

  • Tamaqua native Rebecca McHale Ndikwiki is surrounded by children of the African orphanage where she worked.
    Tamaqua native Rebecca McHale Ndikwiki is surrounded by children of the African orphanage where she worked.
Published March 12. 2010 05:00PM

The great adventures of Rebecca McHale are interesting enough to be made into a feature length movie.

Rebecca, a Tamaqua native, left the mountains of Pennsylvania in 2007 to explore the richness of humanity. She ended up tending to an orphanage in a far away land. In the process, she traded one small town for another, but discovered lifestyles worlds apart and cultures as diverse as the life forms on the planet. She also found love.

Rebecca traveled across the globe from her Schuylkill County hometown to a neighborhood in the town of Moshi in the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania, Africa.

For Rebecca a student of cultural anthropology it was a dream come true. She always enjoyed studying other cultures and lifestyles and hoped someday to experience that richness firsthand.

Rebecca is the daughter of George and Patricia Boyle McHale of Hometown. She is accustomed to life in a small town as her father is a Tamaqua native and her mother from the Seek section of Coaldale. Rebecca grew up as a 'people person,' acquiring a sense of appreciation for the value of interpersonal relationships and with strong admiration for those who struggle to overcome life's challenges.

"I had graduated from Bloomsburg University in 2006. I did my senior year project about orphans of AIDS patients," she says.

Rebecca decided to take part in a program of the Cross Cultural Foundation to expand her horizons, but was unsure about her destination as she hadn't made up her mind on which country to visit.

"I was up in the air whether I wanted to go to Tanzania or Kenya."

She eventually chose Tanzania, where she opted to work at an orphanage. Her life changed the minute she stepped foot in the country. There, on her very first day, she was introduced to a man who was to become her husband.

"It was on St. Patrick's Day," she recalls.

Rebecca was introduced to a John Ndikwiki, a young tour guide. He took her on a safari and the two seemed to bond.

"I was working as a safari guide for four or five years," says John, 28, who had recently broken up with a girlfriend who'd moved away to Wales.

Then, a few days later, Rebecca ran into John again at a nearby grocery store that also functions as a tavern. She was somehow drawn to him, but wasn't sure if he felt the same.

"He was stand-offish and I didn't think he liked me," says Rebecca, 29.

Turns out, John was simply shy.

The two went out to dinner at an Indian/Italian restaurant and love soon blossomed.

Learning about John and his background helped Rebecca become acclimated to her new surroundings.

John grew up in western Tanzania and is member of the Muha tribe. He speaks fluent English. He says there are 125 tribes and each speaks its own language. However, Swahili is the national language of the nation.

His family originated from the mountain village of Mugombe, an underdeveloped town coping with insufficient infrastructure. For instance, running water is an issue. The town's 10,000 residents share only 25 water taps.

The situation is a far cry from Rebecca's hometown of Tamaqua, where over 7,000 residents have multiple water taps in each house and more water per capita than any other municipality in the U. S.

Rebecca was expecting to stay in Tanzania for four weeks. But decided to extend her stay.

"Four weeks became three months," she says.

The relationship between Rebecca and John grew. The two eventually married in a modest ceremony in Tanzania. (They later exchanged vows a second time in the U. S. for the benefit of Rebecca's family and friends.) On June 25, 2008, Rebecca gave birth to daughter Skorastica, now 18 months.

The couple moved to Tamaqua and took up residence on the 400 block of West Broad Street. Rebecca enjoyed a warm feeling returning home to all things familiar. For John, it was the adventure of a lifetime.

The trip to the U. S. via Ethiopian Airlines was John's first experience in traveling by jet and his first taste of America.

So, what does John think of the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave?

"When I first got here, everything was different... big homes, new cars... and the food is different," he says.

He's still adjusting to American fare. In his native land, he had been accustomed to a diet of rice, beans, beef and spinach.

Rebecca points out that life in Tanzania is far different from her homeland. For instance, a popular snack food in Tanzania likely would make most Americans queasy.

"My brother-in-law introduced me to fried termites," she says. "The termites in Africa are humongous. You tear the wings off and put them in a pan with oil. They become crunchy like popcorn," she says. According to John, those delightful termites are a common native dish.

"In my village, people spend all day long trying to catch them," he says.

Another favorite dish Rebecca discovered in Africa is wildebeest. "It's very good, like filet mignon," she says.

In America's northeast, John is also adjusting to a new climate, one he finds severe.

"It's too cold in the wintertime," he says.

And the American pace of life is far different from that of Tanzania, he says.

"It's too busy here. People have no time to waste. There is no hurry in Africa. People in Africa are never on time." John says it's typical for Africans to be late for appointments. It's an accepted practice. "You can wait two hours," he says.

John is impressed by some sights he's seen, including in Washington, D. C. and Philadelphia. But he was not enamored of New York City, finding it way too hectic.

Now living in Rebecca's hometown, the pair found employment. John works at Transwestern Polymers and Rebecca is employed in therapy staff support with Access Services.

The two also work on a tour business they've started Open Africa Tours & Safaris Ltd. Twenty percent of the profits are earmarked for the Mugombe Water Project in the town of John's parents.

More information about Africa and the tours is available at (570) 814-5418 and (570) 527-0639, or at

Rebecca highly recommends Tanzania as a travel destination because there are many fascinating sites to see, including places such as the Ngorongoro Crater, the world's largest unbroken, unflooded volcanic caldera.

The Crater was formed when a giant volcano exploded and collapsed on itself two to three million years ago. It is 2,001 feet deep and its floor covers 102 square miles. The area is believed to be the site of the first footsteps of man.

Rebecca and John both say that common images of Tanzania often portray the struggles of the poor villages. The country, however, does offer conveniences and amenities for the traveler, including availability of up-to-date hotels and Western food.

It's an extremely friendly, hospitable place to visit, says Rebecca, and one that will cater to your desires. The people are accommodating and willing to share. But don't worry, if someone offers you a crunchy fried termite, you can simply say "no, thank you."

But don't pass up a safari. Rebecca is living proof that an African safari can change your life forever.

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