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.