Monday, 30 March 2015

Mshewe

A typical day for an Mshewe villager in March is likely to involve getting up with the sun, heading out to the shamba (a plot of farmland) to work hard all morning cultivating the soil and planting beans. The afternoon heat (and hopefully rain) is a time to return home, eat, go to the market, visit friends and do other work. Early evening may involve a second period of labour on the farm, before returning to household chores. The curses of Genesis 3:17-19 became very real to me one morning when I went with someone to learn how to plant beans and yield a small hoe: “Cursed is the ground because of you, through painful toil you will eat of it”. Life is hard – during a year there are very few periods of rest from toiling on the farm if you want to have enough to feed your family, and children start learning at a young age how to help on the farm and in the house. I still have blisters on my hand as a reminder of the work that goes into producing the food I eat so unthinkingly. While I already had some idea of village life before going to spend two weeks in Mshewe, actually being there and interacting with it brought the reality home to me with more clarity and greater detail.


For me, however, there was no such thing as a ‘typical day’ in Mshewe! Some of the experiences I had included visiting a couple of local schools (simple buildings with as many as 60 children in a class), attending a village meeting (a fascinating insight into local issues), watching a choir sing traditional Safwa songs (and later discovering they normally sing them in the bars, well-laced with locally brewed beer), visiting homes, learning some Safwa greetings, teaching in a local church and chatting with the pastor about training for Sunday school teachers.



My aim at present is just to watch and learn (as I shadow our two Safwa Literacy & Scripture Use workers) and see where the needs are and where and how I might be able to use my own gifts and training to serve the local church and help people engage with God’s Word. I currently feel a bit like a plane circling around and not knowing where to land! I don’t want to try and land too soon, because I think the watching and learning process is vital, but at the same time there is much to be done. I am desperately praying that God will show me when and how He wants me to be at work in the Safwa area.

As well as the interesting and varied experiences I had, some of the things I really enjoyed about living in Mshewe were the lovely views and walks, the butterflies, some of the people I got to meet and their kind hospitality and help. On the downside, there were the nasty gnats that ate me alive (I am still itching), the very poor internet, limited electricity and a lack of English social interaction! However, on balance, it was a good two weeks and I have left with a desire to return soon and find out what God has in store, though each time I go it will be hard to leave behind the friendships and comforts of Mbeya. As we step out into Holy Week, though, I am reminded of how the Son of God left behind so much more than that, in order to identify with us and serve us – may this thought strengthen our resolve to also step out of our comfort zones to serve Him.


Sunday, 8 February 2015

Where is home?

I’m sitting in my ‘home’ in Mbeya – a colleague’s house that I am using for several months while she is back in her ‘home’ country. In many ways it already feels like home, with some of my pictures on the walls, my piano by the window and the lovely view of the mountains. But I know it’s only temporary.

I’ve been twice to the house in Mshewe, where I hope to live when focusing more on working with people in the Safwa language area. I’ve taken photos and tried to think through what I might need to take, but right now I have no idea how long I will spend there and how it will work out and whether it will ever feel like ‘home’. I hope to have my first stay there from mid-March, perhaps for an initial period of two to three weeks, but we’ll see – things have a habit of changing here from week to week! Mshewe is in a beautiful area, though it could feel rather lonely living alone in a big house. If you’d like to come for a virtual visit, click here to see a few pictures and hear some traditional Safwa music.

Mbeya does feel like ‘home’ again in many ways, but at the same time I feel like I am in a permanent state of transition, between one house and another and between England (which is also very much ‘home’ to me, both Lapworth and Gloucester) and Tanzania. I find I don’t buy books or too many ‘things’ because I never know when I will pack up and move again, and the more stuff you have the harder that becomes. It’s always a challenge making a place feel like home in such a way that it is also easy to up and go!
All these changes keep life interesting but also make it a bit unsettling. Maybe this is one of the reasons I look forward to the future. I recently read again these verses from John 14, where Jesus said:

“In my Father’s house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you. And…I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

What’s new?



I’m back in Mbeya, the town where I lived for nearly five years but thought I might never see again. It’s a strange feeling, as if I’m in a dream that I might wake up from only to find myself back in my bed at Redcliffe. But the longer I am here, the more reality sinks in. It’s been over a week now. As soon as I stepped off the plane in Dar es Salaam my nostrils were assaulted with the warm, humid atmosphere of the coastal city, and I felt strangely like I had come home. So much was the same, but not everything!

In the short time I had in Dar I was struck by how technology has moved on, everyone I saw in the airport seemed to be using a smart phone! After a couple of days in Dar I flew to Mbeya – no longer does one have to sit on a bus for 13 hours, as a plane ticket to the new ‘international’ airport can be almost as cheap as the bus. I was lucky to arrive on a dry morning, seeing Mbeya at its best – lush and green from the recent rains, with the mountains rising up all around. One thing that hasn’t changed is the beauty of this place, in fact it’s even more beautiful than I remembered it!

Loleza Peak, rising above Mbeya town
I have enjoyed pacing round the streets of Mbeya and reorienting myself – surprisingly little has changed but a few things stand out. Even more shops are painted with mobile phone network logos and advertising the fact that you can use M-Pesa or equivalent there – M-Pesa almost acts as a little bank account on your phone, from which you can send money to people or pay for things; it’s very useful, particularly in a place where shops don’t take Visa and internet banking isn’t used. A number of new shops have cropped up, but they all seem to be selling the same old things – I’ve just spotted one or two changes, like a new brand of margarine (so now there are two options instead of just one!) or that Ribena is now in glass bottles and has gone up in price. I was excited to discover I could buy rice flour, and by mixing this with maize flour have made my first wheat-free cake here. 

The change that most surprised me was the roads. The first day that I walked to the office I thought I was lost when I reached a tarmac road that I expected to be dirt, only to discover that I was exactly where I thought I was and this road, along with one or two others, has been surfaced with impressive ditches and footpaths to go with it.

Arriving at the office, it was lovely to see many familiar faces, but there were also many new faces, particularly among the missionaries. I am enjoying being reunited with old friends, though very much missing close friends from England and that ease of companionship that comes from knowing one another well. Psalm 18 is a comfort at this time, for God is that rock that never changes, the One who is always there.