Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Back in Mshewe

Yesterday I arrived back in Mshewe and I confess I wasn’t looking forward to returning to the village, even though it’s only for a couple of weeks. I had started to settle into town life and was enjoying some measure of routine, which comes with more office-based work, as well as the delights of electricity (most of the time anyhow), easy access to shops and the companionship of a housemate and other English speaking friends. However, I reassured myself with memories of the beauty of the Mshewe countryside and the fun I have with some of my village friends, and so drove back to the village with at least some sense of anticipation. My pleasure grew as I bought myself some grilled corn-on-the-cob and left the noise of the town behind, driving past buckets full of mangoes being sold at the side of the road before turning up the dirt track to where I live.

Arriving, I opened the kitchen door. My friends had kindly left me a bunch of bananas, but some other very unwelcome ‘friends’ had also been at work. The kitchen was a mess. Someone had left a bag of peanuts on the worktop – a fatal mistake. Mice love peanuts and the result was that not only were peanut shells scattered across the counter but they had also sampled the label on the bottle of oil, a pen lid and a box of matches, among other things! Entering the main house to check the situation out there I found the usual pile of bat droppings behind the sofa and had an unpleasant surprise in the bathroom – a filthy mess around the bath. When I turned on the tap to clean up the dirt, the water that came out was black and took about half-an-hour of running to become just about clean enough to shower in.
A couple of hours of cleaning and unpacking later, I finally took a shower in the almost-clean water and felt refreshed and ready to face living here once again. The sunset was stunning. My friend popped over to say hi. I cooked some food. I lit my new scented candle. I sat down to write this blog post to the music of the cicadas outside. It’s not so bad being here after all!
Waking early this morning to the dawn chorus and someone calling “Hodi!” at my gate, wanting to speak to me, I wasn’t so sure again. He wanted money for a sound system at his church! Did he have to come and knock before 6am in the morning for such a request?! I feel weary. But it’s a beautiful morning, I am working with my faithful colleagues today, with the chance to read the Bible together, and so there is much to be thankful for.

I know that I need to trust God to strengthen me for whatever lies ahead. The line of a familiar song comes to mind once again, “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” Amen to that!

Saturday, 31 October 2015

All in a day

The alarm goes off at 6.45am, time to get up and get going. I put my solar lights outside to recharge then head to the kitchen to cook my porridge. As I eat I continue to read Genesis and ponder the life of Joseph. I turn on the tap to wash up but there isn’t any water, and there hasn’t been any since yesterday afternoon. Hopefully someone will fix that problem today. I get in my Toyota Prado ready to head to the village to pick up my colleague, Amani. As I’m about to turn on the engine I find a text message from Amani telling me he isn’t able to come to town today, he’s elsewhere. Frustrated with the constant change in plans I decide to head to town anyhow, to meet with my other colleague, John.

As I head along the dirt road, I pass through a check-point and a lady asks for a lift. She gets in the car and I show her how to fasten her seatbelt. She is a Safwa lady, so I play the book of Ruth in the Safwa language for her to listen to, which she obviously enjoys by the various affirmative sounds she makes! I negotiate my way through the morning bustle around the cattle market, where men in blood-stained white coats are milling around to buy and butcher animals, and up the pot-holed street past vendors selling potatoes and other vegetables on their road-side stands.

I arrive at our Safwa office, on the grounds of a garage run by a Swiss mission, where people are trained to fix cars. John has already arrived and we greet each other, “Mwagona!” We report back on the activities of the previous week and discuss plans for the coming months and a question that John had from his reading of Genesis (we are all working our way through this book). My morning drinks have gone through me so I head to the toilet, a nice hole in the ground. The bucket of water for flushing is empty, so I find a nearby tap and fill it up.
John heads off to visit some people and sell Safwa books. I remain behind to continue with computer work, taking advantage of having electricity and a fairly good internet connection while in town. The room gets warmer and warmer as the day heats up. 

At lunchtime I lock the office padlock and head out to find some food. I stroll up the dusty road and down a passageway littered with plastic bags. A vendor selling oranges tries to persuade me to buy some, a child calls out “mzungu” (referring to me, a white foreigner) and I squeeze past a mother carrying her baby on her back. I walk through the market where all kinds of wares are available, from kitchen equipment to shoes to food, and before I get totally lost in the maze I ask a lady where I can find somewhere to eat. She shows me to a room, with a grubby lace curtain for a door. On entering I recognised the table, I’ve eaten here before with my colleagues. The owner brings me a plate piled high with rice and with small portions of greens, meat and beans on the side. I get talking with the other people at the table, sharing about our work. I turn on my phone for them to listen to the Bible in their language and get into conversation about churches in Tanzania and the lack of faith in England.

It’s time to head back to the office, so I pay up (about 50p) and take a cocktail stick to get the bits of meat out from between my teeth that are the inevitable result of eating tough (but flavoursome) beef. On the way back I buy a five litre container so I can get some more petrol for my generator, which seems to guzzle fuel. I don’t know what the container used to hold, maybe soap or cooking oil. Someone has washed it out thoroughly and now it’s available to buy for a mere 50p. I also pick up some tomatoes, buying four for 10p. Back in the office I settle back down in front of my laptop to continue with emails, finance issues and other administrative things that have built up while I have been busy teaching over the past couple of weeks. A man knocks on the door and enters. He is looking for my colleague. We get into conversation and I show him the Safwa books and explain to him why the translation process is so long and thorough. He is a pastor. He takes my colleague’s phone number – maybe he will get in touch to invite us to speak at his church.

The office is hot, it’s hard to focus, but it’s not long until hometime. John has returned and we finish the day by praying together. I drive to the petrol station to get fuel for the generator before heading home, driving past the school children returning from a day of studies, slowing down to skirt round a herd of cows being driven down the road, and overtaking motorbikes, which are the most common form of public transport off the main roads.

On arriving home I unload the car and get changed ready for a walk in the slightly cooler evening air. I decide to head to the river for a paddle in the cold mountain water. It’s a beautiful spot and I watch the butterflies fluttering around. I spy a rock and some plants that look black, but on closer inspection discover they are simply alive with flying ants. As I return from my walk the sky is painted in the gentle pastel colours that come after the sun has set. I head to my carrot patch to pull up a few carrots for tea and I also pick a few strawberries as I pass through my friend’s strawberry patch, before returning home to wash my hair (having earlier boiled the kettle on the gas stove to give me some water to do so). 

My friend, Mama Pendo, arrives to make a cake. Armed with bananas from their own plot of land we set to making banana bread for some guests she is receiving tomorrow. A little later her husband arrives and we enjoy a good natter while we wait for the cake to bake, discussing everything from schooling to what grains we grow in England. At 9pm they leave and I accompany them the short way to their house, as it is polite to walk a little way with your guests rather than just wave them goodbye from the door. Now it is time to throw together a light tea with home made bread followed by a fruit salad of fresh pineapple, passion and banana. I sit in the lounge to eat while WhatsApping my parents and watching an episode of ‘To a Manor Born’, which is refreshingly British and light hearted after a day of speaking Swahili and dealing with life in Tanzania, while the generator drones noisily in the garage.

It’s after 10pm and time I was in bed. I head to the kitchen, wash up, turn off the generator and get ready for bed by the light of my solar lantern. Teeth brushed, I let down the mosquito net and settle down for what I hope will be a good night’s sleep, to the sound of the cicadas and the occasional hoot of an owl. Outside the heavens declare the glory of God as the stars shine out brightly in all their vast array, with the milky way marking a clear pathway across the sky. Sleep.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

The little things

It is often the little things in life that can prove intensely frustrating or stressful or that can bring unexpected moments of pure joy. Here’s some ‘little things’ that I have experienced recently that have done just that.

The little things that frustrate:
  • Going to the one bank that I can withdraw cash from without a fee, only to be told my card issuer is unavailable. I try again another day. It still doesn’t work. I end up going to another bank and paying the withdrawal fee and now I have cash. Why was my card issuer unavailable at the one bank and not the other?!
  • Breakfast time and I go to get a banana for my porridge only to discover that fruit flies have been busy and eaten large chunks out of my bananas!
  • My generator has stopped working. As this is my only source of electricity in Mshewe, this has made charging electrical appliances stressful and makes evenings tiring as I do things in much dimmer light than electricity would supply.
  • Wanting to have people round for a meal but not having access (here in Mshewe) to the food I would normally use when cooking for guests.
  • Time to wash the dishes, but when I turn on the tap there is no water. I can get some from the garden tap, but it’s just another of those ‘little things’.
  • Finding bat droppings all over the sofa and floor every morning. (I am kept company in the evenings by the squeaking of bats in the attic! Their droppings fall down the gaps round the edge of the ceiling boards).
All these little things have solutions, but one after another can be tiring and stressful. Thankfully there are also the little things that bring a smile to the face:

  • Stepping out my door at night and being wowed by the stars.
  • Getting three letters from my parents all at once (one of them was posted over two months ago) and getting a surprise parcel of dark chocolate from a friend.
  • When staying at my Mbeya home for a couple of nights, I found I had chocolate cake in the freezer. I’d forgotten about that. Mmmmm.
  • Chatting with a guard from the coffee plantation one evening, I discovered he couldn’t read. I whipped out my phone and a stool and he sat and listened to Mark’s gospel, chapter one, in his mother tongue (Safwa). The next evening I found him by his fire and he listened to chapter two. Another evening, he was ready waiting at my house, eager to hear more, together with another guard. It made me smile to hear them laughing with pleasure as they listened to God’s Word in their heart language.
  • Watching a stereotypically big red ball of African sun sinking in the sky at sunset.
  • Holding someone’s baby at church, smiling up at me. (Some children here are afraid of white people as they are not used to seeing them, so it is a particular joy to hold a baby that shows no fear).