Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Expect the unexpected

No trip in Tanzania ever goes quite as planned. Things were relatively predictable in England… I knew that if I ordered food it would be ready in half an hour, if a seminar was scheduled to start at 9am it would start at 9am and everyone would be there, if I wanted the toilet there would be toilet paper in the cubicle, if I wanted a shower the shower would work, if I turned on the tap I’d get water, if I needed light it would come at the flick of a switch, if I had a problem with my car the AA were always on call and if I needed to explain anything to someone, they would be able to understand.
It doesn’t quite work like that here. This weekend Liz, Matt and I took another trip. On Thursday we headed out to one of the language areas where we work, firstly to meet with some Literacy Teachers to see how things were going for them. This involved a pleasant ride along both tarmac and good dirt roads, through some beautiful countryside. We enjoyed a glimpse of a crater lake on the way, where we approached by a lady trying to sell us old German coins that had been found in the lake!

After being well fed, and loaded with gifts of bananas, mangoes and avocadoes, we continued on our way to a very hot town called Kyela. Our first challenge was to find somewhere to stay. In order to find a quiet place that had mosquito nets on the beds we ended up in a nice hotel on the edge of town. The only downside was that the air-conditioning in my room didn’t work!
On Friday and Saturday, Liz and I were teaching another workshop for Sunday School Teachers (our third this year). We planned to start at 9am but as usual we began over an hour late and people continue to drift in over the next hour. Tea break was supposed to be 11.30am, but when the caterers never turned up I found out that they were expecting us to come and get the food. Miscommunication. We finally got it at 12.30pm, and lunch was a mere 2 hours late (though I have to say the food was particularly tasty, even though it was the usual rice, beef stew and spinach).
The Sunday school teachers were fun to work with, but the environment was hot and we were tired and dehydrated by the end of the first day. The whole 8 hours I never needed the toilet, but the second day I was more careful about drinking water and had no choice but to check out the facilities. And, of course, no toilet paper, just a rather unusual hole in the ground that I won’t go into detail about, and the usual smell.
The second day of training came to a classic end, as we encouraged the teachers to choose someone to facilitate another meeting for them to get together and encourage and help one another. They held a meeting after the workshop to choose this person, and it turned into a big voting affair, with the choice of a chair-person and a secretary for their ‘committee’! A classic Tanzanian procedure – every church, organisation and event has its committee!
By four o’clock we were ready to roll, and very happy to be heading home. However… within half an hour the Land Rover over heated and steam was coming out the engine. We could hear the water boiling away in the radiator etc. We rolled the car into the shade and waited for it to cool off.

Not sure what to do, as there was obviously a leak somewhere, we made frantic phone-calls to various people. Finally we flagged down a passing vehicle, which turned out to be full of police, one of whom had a bit of know-how and was able to fix the pipe where we had seen a leak. Back on the road, we’d driven for just five minutes when it overheated again. Amazingly, we saw the police vehicle heading back towards us and next thing we knew they had contacted the mechanic they use down the road and we were able to coast all the way there. When John, the mechanic, had looked at the engine, the doom settled as we realised we would need to spend the night somewhere. It was too late to get the parts and fix it now. John lives at a coal mine, in a concrete village built by the Chinese in the 80s. We were able to stay at a house there for guests, which had seen better days. The bathroom had a shower, but there was no running water as the pipe outside was bust, which meant I slept to the constant sound of a waterfall from this broken pipe. However, more disturbing to one’s sleep was the sound of the frogs – incredibly loud! On the bright side, literally, we saw loads of fireflies – specks of light buzzing around, flashing on and off.
The next day John got to work on our car, in the baking sun, while we wilted inside the house, except for a trip to find food for us all. Finally, with great relief, we heard him start up the engine about 4pm, and so off we set, but no sooner had we reached his house than we began to hear the water boiling once again. Another look at the engine, and he realised that replacing the gasket (don’t ask me which one!) wasn’t enough, some plate or other needed grinding down, and he didn’t have the machine for this.

He was very hospitable – we sat in his house watching TV, reading, and eating grilled meat that he prepared, while we waited for colleagues from Mbeya to come and pick us up (a 1½ hour journey). Abandoning the car for a garage to come and pick up (we didn’t fancy towing it ourselves in the dark and rain and on steep hilly roads), we were picked up and headed home, finally arriving around 9pm.
At last, we thought, a hot shower and bed! But the next thing I know, I get a phone call from the Wisbeys telling me they have no power at their house. It had been off since 4am. Food had gone off in the fridge, and the freezer was defrosting. What an awful end to an exhausting trip!
Trips like this really try our patience and wear down our energy levels. It seems that even the most simple things can become stressful, the most carefully laid plans can go wrong and the only thing you can be certain of is uncertainty. Please pray for us, that we would be strengthened, that we would not get discouraged and that God would reveal what He is trying to teach us through these trials.

Snapshots of my life in Mbeya

At the market... this is where I go to buy all my fresh fruit and vegetables and many other things!

My good friends Matt & Liz, who I mention so often, and Liz and I in our locally made outfits.

The view I enjoy on the way to work every day.