Monday, 1 December 2008

Just off to visit a friend…

…a simple thing by car, a direct half-hour ride to out of town. But when you have to rely on public transport and it’s the rainy season it’s a different story. The main form of public transport is something like a VW van, called a daladala, that may have seats for 15 people, but takes up to 25 if you cram together like sardines, which is the norm.

So, on Saturday my friend and I head to town to catch a daladala. We’re not sure we’ve got the right one as the conductor says one thing and the sign on the front says something else, but he assures us he’ll take us to our destination so we climb aboard. Half-way there we reach a bus-stop where everyone gets off. OK, so it’s not going where we wanted! However, the conductor refunds half our fare and tells us to get on the next daladala. A few minutes later we find what we need and climb aboard. Just as rain begins to fall, we reach the next place where we knew we would have to change daladala again. Fortunately we don’t have to wait long and we are off again. We are assured by a sticker on the panelling that…

Finally, arriving at our destination, we hop out into a deluge of rain. Though the friends we have come to visit are only a two minute walk away, we are soaked through by the time we get there – our little umbrellas are no protection against the torrential rain as we try to skirt the flooded footpath!
So, ‘just’ off to visit a friend? It took us approximately one hour to get there and we arrived looking like drowned rats! Nothing goes quite as you expect it to in Africa! (Oh, and by the way, we had a lovely time with our friends – we were soon into dry clothes and sitting down to a dish of something hot and steaming that I can’t quite describe but was apparently Paraguayan!)

Hamna umeme!

No electricity! That’s been the cry for the past week, it was off from Sunday afternoon until the following Saturday afternoon. Each day rumours abounded that maybe it would come back on that day or the next, and now the rumours are that the electricity will be rationed. We were lucky, our landlord has a generator which is hooked up to our home too. It was put on for a few hours a day, just long enough to keep most of the freezer food frozen, as well as enabling us to use the cooker, kettle and lights in the evenings. Others were not so fortunate – we stored some friends’ food in our freezer, but others had to give away pounds of meat that they had in stock.
Now I am appreciating the peace and quiet of having lights without the throbbing of a generator (mind you, it does mean that music is once again blaring out from bars, and churches’ sounds systems are at full volume in the services!) The main sound I can hear right now is rain pounding on the tin roof, as the rainy season is once again upon us.

Friday, 17 October 2008

Jars of clay

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Cor. 4:7)

I’m weak, easily broken, not very capable… but God can redeem my weak human efforts, and turn them to His glory. That’s what He’s been teaching me. I’ve got a lot to learn about trusting Him, recognising my own weakness, and letting Him be glorified through me.
Here’s a recent example… You may remember that I’ve been working on designing calendars with Bible verses on them in the different languages. We even went down to the printers to check on their progress (see blog below). Everything was looking good, but when the final calendars were sent to us from the printing press, the results were disappointing – font and colour issues. I’m a jar of clay, the works of my hands and those of others are going to be imperfect; things can go wrong.

But, that’s when God’s power is shown…
…There was nothing for it but to carry on with our plans to distribute the calendars, despite their quality. So off we set on a four day trip to start distribution. People loved them! No-one seemed to notice the mistakes! God can redeem our weak human efforts. I’m a jar of clay, but God can use even my broken, cracked jar to His glory.

Here’s some pictures from those travels (reading the calendar, holding a captive audience at a market, travelling around through beautiful countryside on dusty roads)…

Monday, 15 September 2008


Imagine being on the London underground for 8 hours straight, in rush hour. That’s about as close as I can get to describing the bus journey to Songea – an 8 hour trip from where I live in Mbeya. I travelled this journey with three work friends, all having the fortunate privilege of seats because we booked our tickets in advance. However, there were bums in our faces and an old lady being sick on the floor as the aisle was crowded with over twenty standing passengers, for the whole trip.

Travelling in Tanzania is a whole new experience compared to any kind of travelling at home. Can you imagine having a loo stop on a coach trip where your toilet is the side of the road – women round the back of the bus, men round the front? Or what about having a live chicken under your seat? Or maybe you have the luxury of your own car… don’t forget that if someone indicates left, this doesn’t mean they’re necessarily turning left but are just letting you know it is safe for you to pass them, and if they indicate right, it means there’s another vehicle coming.

And that’s just on the tarmac roads. The fun really begins when you get onto dirt roads (which constitutes most travelling that doesn’t connect main towns). This time of year is terrible for dust – clouds of it billowing up around your vehicle (and inside if your ventilation consists of windows that don’t shut and doors that don’t seal)! When the rains begin, you won’t even want to be travelling those roads, the risk of getting stuck are too great in some areas.

But think of it like this… Here you get to have the adventures for free (how much would you pay for an off-road experience at Land Rover in the UK?), you get to travel through some beautiful countryside, you get to experience the richness of another culture from your seat and you can do shopping through the window as people rush to sell you things at bus stops!

And travels always have a destination – the anticipation of the destination makes you willing to bear the discomforts time and time again. This time our destination was near the border of Mozambique, where we were heading to a printing press! Out there, in the middle of nowhere, is an incredible German built settlement, replete with monastery, convent, hospital, nurses’ school, girls’ secondary school, farm (with sausage and cheese making), bakery, printing press and a beautiful church. Now there are only a few Germans there, volunteering in the hospital; the place is entirely run by Tanzanians. We spent a couple of days there, seeing around and checking on the progress of the calendars we are having printed there.

The printing press Eating out

Then it was back on the bus…
Nearly 8 hours later, we were back in Mbeya, where we climbed into the car (Toyota Land Cruiser, to be precise) of more work friends, and headed to the shores of Lake Nyasa (Malawi) for a couple of days break. This was another 3-4 hour trip, but entirely worth it as it was a beautiful spot to relax in. Swimming in the lake beats a swimming pool or the sea anytime… warm, free of salt or chlorine or seaweed and surrounded by mountains. What more could one ask for than to take a rest in a place like that, in the company of good friends?!

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

“The Lord is my Shepherd...

...I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters.”

The words of Psalm 23 have been playing through my mind a lot of late, since the death of my nan. I’m not sure why this Psalm is so often sung at funerals, but whatever the reason, it is full of wonderful truths. And as I took a trip out on Saturday to a beautiful riverside spot, those first few verses played over and over in my mind like a record that’s got stuck (that makes me sound old – who listens to records these days?!). Not that I was really beside still waters…

We (the Wisbeys, Karin, three other colleagues and I) headed out into the middle of nowhere, along a bumpy dirt road, surrounded by dry grass and leafless trees until suddenly, over two hours later, you’re there… ahead of you in the near distance is a beautiful waterfall, and coming from it a lovely river, winding it’s way round into places just perfect for swimming (except for its temperature which was positively chilly).

We also enjoyed walking to another waterfall, snoozing on great slabs of rock heated by the sun, reading good books (I’m into John Grisham’s ‘The Testament’ at the moment) and having good food. And we never saw another soul the whole time we were there. Perfect!

Such days are wonderful escapes from the usual run of things. Work has been rather dry for me lately, I need some of those refreshing waters to flow through my attitudes, my days at the office and my relationship with God, to bring them new life and purpose and to make them fruitful.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

A crazy July

July was a very full month. There was our annual conference – a wonderful time on the coast of Kenya, with some great times of Bible teaching and singing, together with good friends, good food and moonlit strolls on the beach with the sound of the surf pounding in your ears. Then it was back to Mbeya, where we took in a couple of friends to stay for a week until their new house was ready. I can’t begin to tell you the nightmare it is trying to get good housing here and getting it all in shape for habitation – handymen are the same all over the world it seems, not turning up when the say they will, and here the quality of work is not quite what you’d hope for either. Who ever heard of having things straight? If a window frame can be crooked, let’s do it!!
Anyhow (put that in just for you, Matt!), Matt & Liz Wisbey are great friends, so I loved having them to stay, and though they’re now ensconced in their new home they still aren’t far away – just a couple of minutes up the road. (If you want to meet them too, check out their blog, which includes a cool link to a Google Earth map of where we live and our trip to work each day:

Out for a picnic with the Wisbeys

So, conference, friends and, of course, work. Most of my working life is spent in the office, but that doesn’t make very exciting writing. However, last week I headed out to one of the language areas that we work in, together with some colleagues, to hold a seminar. God really helped me out in making the seminar go really well, to His glory. So here I am holding forth in Swahili (spot the glasses).

And yes, it is as cold as it looks! But the views round about were beautiful.
The two hour journey there is not quite so pleasant, the roads are thick with dust as it’s the dry season, dust that gets in every crook and cranny of your car and body. When we arrived, they didn’t quite follow the Biblical tradition of washing our feet, but they did heat up water for us to wash our hands and faces and refresh ourselves after the dirty journey!

The new look KJ

Yes, I have glasses! After a month or more of headaches just on one side of the head, I eventually took the wise advice of friends and got my eyes tested and finally landed up at this opticians shop to get fitted out with my new specs for a mere £14 – and they’re ones that react to sunlight!

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

Workshops in Winter

Fleeces out... (a walk to the waterfall)
...June and July are the coldest months here, so as we set off to hold a workshop in a town three hours away, that’s even higher than Mbeya, we packed all our warmest clothes. It was the first time I have worn tights since being in Tanzania! I was lucky though – my bedroom backed onto the kitchen so the warmth of the stoves made their way through to my room and kept it cosy.
Trainers and participants...
...The workshop was a tad disappointing as far as turn out was concerned, but those that came joined in well. Now there’s just the question of follow-up, and what next?!!!

Monday, 19 May 2008

Celebrities at last!

On Sunday, Beth and I went to speak at a church an hour’s drive from Mbeya. We received a very warm welcome, but felt more like celebrities than a couple of young people coming to offer a little teaching! We headed up a procession from the pastor’s house to the church, and a photographer was invited to take photos of us with the many people who requested them! The whole day was certainly an experience, but we were encouraged that people listenned well and appreciated the resources we had produced. Their choirs were fantastic, and we had a great time dancing along with them.

Mbeya Peak

We made it! All the way to the top of Mbeya Peak’s 2834 metres (9297 feet). Actually we only had about 1200 metres of ascent to do, as we are already living pretty high up here in Mbeya! It was a great walk (despite having to get up before 6am to get an early start). The views were awesome and the flowers were beautiful. Unfortunately the top was in cloud (and very cold), but it cleared long enough for us take in the landscape spread out below us.
My legs didn’t enjoy coming down so much, but all ten of us (mostly work friends) made it safely back to our starting point, and very ready to get home and put our feet up (though, in my usual way I didn’t bother doing that, but started on the housework as soon as I got home instead!)

Views out over the surrounding landscape as we climbed

Mbeya Peak

The intrepid walkers... and some beautiful flowers!

Monday, 12 May 2008

Umoja wa Wakristo

‘Unity of Christians’ – that’s how I spent my afternoon on Pentecost Sunday, at a meeting for Christians of all denominations, held in the stadium in Mbeya.

It wouldn’t be my preferred way to spend a Sunday afternoon considering the fact that it started an hour late, it was cold, it rained and I didn’t understand half of what was said.

However, on the bright side, it was great to see Christians of so many denominations gathered together (maybe around 600 people in all), praising God together through song and dance…

…and to see the leaders of these different denominations co-operating together to lead the meeting. Also, if I hadn’t been too cold too concentrate by that point, I’m sure they were great prayers that were said by various people on behalf of the nation and issues that it faces. Finally, just before the end, we got our chance…

…we (several of us from our project) were namely attending as we had been given a chance to say a few words about our work. At long last we headed home, about 6pm (having been there since 2pm), whence I hurriedly put on warm clothes, heated up a hot dinner, wrapped myself in a blanket and endeavoured to get warm again!

Monday, 5 May 2008

A walk in Mshewe

Mshewe is a village about an hour out of town, where some friends from work live. Several of us headed on over in the faithful project Land Rover for an afternoon walk, with beautiful views out to the hills and across the Rift Valley, with fields full of beans just beginning to grow, sunflowers standing tall and coffee plants with the beans just beginning to turn red, ready for picking.

At the market

Here are some photos a friend took of a typical market scene in the small town of Njombe. They give a lovely flavour of the colour and life of African markets. Can you work out what everything is on the market stall? The things in the lilac bowl are tiny little fish called dagaa – they stink! People eat them, but more commonly they seem to be used for dog food!

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Made it!

I actually made it to the top this time! Went up Loleza Peak (8714 feet high) with another couple of friends on Monday (a public holiday here) and had quite a time of it. We made really good time to the top (about 3130 feet of climbing in just over 2½ hours), stopping every now and then to exclaim over the clouds forming below and wafting up the side of the mountain.

At the top there are several telephone towers and a radio mast. We got chatting to one of the engineers who lives up there, and he let us into the compound and even allowed us to climb the mast! We didn’t dare go far, but we took it in turns to climb the ladder to the first platform; fun!

Unfortunately our return didn’t go quite so smoothly, after lunch we rocketed down until suddenly one of my friends realised she hadn’t got her camera. Last seen – lunchtime, nearly an hour ago. So, back we went, an exhausting return, only to find it wasn’t there. Coming back again, we found ourselves in the clouds, and then it started to rain. Fortunately it was a clear track so we didn’t get lost, but we slipped and slid on the mud and arrived back exhausted and soaked through, and very ready for a hot shower!