The Mongers in Tanzania!

We live in Mwanza, Tanzania, serving with Emmanuel International and local churches on physical and spiritual development. Find out what's cookin' ... particularly on the fuel-efficient clay stoves Tim works on and Rachel cooks on!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

A Squeeze on Ukewere Island

The long Coca-Cola truck, the cow, the goat, the chickens... we arrived at 6:30am after them all, as well as a number of trucks and loads of foot passengers. We were trying to leave Ukerewe Island on Saturday morning, and it was looking sadly rather unlikely that we would get on the ferry leaving at 7:30am. But it had been a good visit ...

It was our first time to Ukerewe Island, the largest island in Lake Victoria (530 km²), a 3.5hr ferry journey from Mwanza, and a remarkable island. The four of us went with Phil Norris and Bishop Charles to meet a number of church leaders on the island and talk about how we might work with them. So on our arrival, we joined about 20 pastors for a great lunch of rice, goat, fish and fresh fruit. This was followed by a meeting in the church building in which Tim was able to share about our role in empowering churches to serve the needs of the poor and how we might be able to work together. We looked at some of their assets and opportunities as churches and talked about future possibilities.
Getting on the ferry in Mwanza, Phil directs Tim's reversing

Starting the meeting in the large church building at Ukerewe

Mingling after the meeting
At 4pm we filled our car with as many people as we could and drove off to see some of the island and what the churches are doing. First up was the fish farm, a church-led income-generating initiative for the community called the Neema (Grace) Project. The idea did occur to me that we could start a fish farm in our basement, but seriously, there is lot of potential for fish farming projects on the islands.

We drove out to some land that the church owns and would like to see used for something "good." One interesting possibility is a tree farm and nursery, particularly for Moringa trees. We visited the home of one of the pastors interested in a stoves project. He has already built his own more efficient stove out of mud and he and his wife were very interested to hear about the work we have done with stove projects. By this time it was getting late and was now dark (not a good time to be driving on the rough roads across the island!) and we were all getting rather hungry again. So we had to stop the tour and head back to our guesthouse where after a rather long wait (Louisa asleep at the table!), we had tilapia and chips on the beach.

The Fish Farm (Neema "Grace" Project)

Walking to the church land on the lake
Visiting church land, thinking about potential projects
After that rather late night, we were up at the crack of dawn to try and catch that ferry ...

The ferry looked pretty full even before the trucks got on... Bishop Charles and the Ukerewe pastors were doing their best to pull strings, and we were given a 50/50 chance of getting on. It was a good time to do a bit of shopping there at the lakeside; a few mamas were there in the early light selling piles of fruit. Bishop Charles bought us a huge bag of oranges for 3000Tsh (£1.30) and I bought some lovely big mangos!

After a sleepy wait, we were given the thumbs up! But it looked completely impossible. The Coca-Cola truck was off to the side now ... we were glad it was so big that it clearly couldn't get on. Tim turned to reverse the vehicle onto the boat, but then as he went for it, was told to go back and get out of the way. To our chagrin, the smaller vehicle behind us was waved on instead. But it was ok ... they had realised it would fill a little hole before us. Tim got back in position and as Phil, the girls and I watched, he rather skillfully managed to manauever into an impossibly tight spot!
Tim reverses on as we say our goodbyes
Then there was a loud honk and we turned and were amazed to see that the large Coca-Cola truck was actually driving on! We then realised that while we had been watching rather incredulously, we hadn't thought about how we would then embark with all the cracks filled. We had a very tight squeeze to pass with our backpacks between the vehicles to get out of the way of the oncoming truck! We clamoured over the frozen fish sacks and baskets of oranges to a wobbly ladder and all climbed up to the deck above. Then looking down, we realised that Tim was stuck. He had no room to open any door! He climbed into the back to try and get out the rear doors, but with the fish and oranges there was no way of opening that door either. Phil climbed back down to rescue him. With the help of another guy they budged the huge sacks just enough for Tim to squeeze out!
We realise Tim cannot get out!

Phil to the rescue

Nowhere to move!!

Result! Tim squeezes out!
The whole journey was a squeeze. Squeezing through a tight stairwell to find a way to stand. Squeezing between so many people to find a place to stand at the railing on deck. There were no seats left. There was no room to move! While happily relieved to be on the ferry, the thought did cross our minds that this ferry was seriously overloaded and it was no idle check to see where the lifejackets were stored! But we survived, and we even managed maandazis and chai in our squeezed vertical positions.
Three and half hours is long time to stand up ..
the girls get the books out on the ground!
Phil squeezes through the stairwell
Hot on deck ... but see the Coca-Cola truck?
Three and half hours later, we squeezed our way through the scrum, managed to get Louisa down the ladder with us amidst the pushing throngs of passengers! And we came off with the cow.

You can just Phil making his way down the ladder

Louisa walks warily past the cow!
It was a really productive and encouraging trip albeit rather a squeezed and busy time!

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The "Very Bad Week"

We are now on Day 15 of "The Flooded Basement." With our squeegee mop and old towels, it has been a case of as fast as we mop, water rises again. It all started on November 26, the day that Mendriad and Hosea left. That was the beginning of a Very Bad Week. The heavy rains created havoc for us not only inside the house, but also getting out of our house with our driveway washed away one day, a tree down outside our house another day, and a power line hanging across the road (duck or buzz). Power was out for three days and nights (not a good thing for our freezer), and with the constant rain, the sun was not charging our solar lights, so when our candles ran out one evening, (and all lights, computers, phones and kindles etc. were dead) we felt rather like we were giving up, but unable to do anything we were supposed to be doing, in the end just went to bed at half past eight! We were so delighted when it finally came back on, but the delight was short-lived as after a few hours it was gone again. Mopping water in the dark isn't particularly fun. Mopping every few hours isn't particularly fun and the repetitive squeezing of sodden towels makes ones hands and thumb muscles rather sore. But one good thing about the flooding was the water drowned the snake we found one morning (I wasn't sure that snakes could drown?)
Then Louisa was pretty sick with a high fever and aches and pains, and when she wasn't improving, I took her to the clinic and she was told it was malaria. Despondent to get more tablets (after the recent amoeba sickness and vile tablets) Louisa then rallied herself with the hopeful thought that it would great in heaven as she will never be sick! But then the next night I stumbled out of bed in the dark (why can you never find a torch in these situations?) when Louisa was panicking with a bout of croup out of the blue. It was all rather worrying especially for Louisa and also Amisadai watching, but a steam bucket and a towel saved the day (yes - we managed to find them, despite the overuse of buckets and towels at the time). But I felt sick and by breakfast was throwing up and lying down in between moppings while Tim invigilated his end of term exam at the Bible College.

I got better, Louisa improved and after four days went back to school.  But then at some point in this crazy saga of a week, my computer came to a very sad end. With a smashed screen, it proved to be unusable which was very gutting and added to other rather expensive problems (which has led to the unhappy end of hot showers). But as I was wiping away my frustrated tears, a man arrived to "sort out" our flooding problems downstairs. But any hope that that help was at hand was quickly dashed. After surveying the damage and the lay of the land, he asked me (Tim was out) for Tim's hammer. I gave it to him (I've no idea why I did ... it was not a wise move). I followed him into Tim's flooded study and watched as he bent down and then raised the hammer to the tiles. I shrieked loudly. I belted out in Swahili to STOP! Rather taken aback, he stopped. When I asked him what he was doing, he replied that he thought he would bash a hole in the wall near the floor and drain the water out (well, words to that effect!). I struggled to explain why I didn't think this wasn't a good idea. But he was trying to explain to me why it was. In the end I convinced him to wait until Tim got home. I can laugh about this now, but at the time I felt like crying! I was never so glad to hear Tim come home! I ran outside and frantically and rather madly told him to hurry as a man was trying to knock a hole in the wall. He hurried.
Trying an alternative solution - digging outside rather than bashing inside
Into the chaos, Phil Norris arrived. He brought Christmas pudding and couscous and chocolate and various other things which cheered us all up immensely! I was making every effort to be positive and with electricity actually on that morning on, I planned a stuffed baked Tilapia (fish) with roast potatoes for his welcome meal. But it was not to be. I unstuffed the poor fish and chopped it into pieces and fried it on the gas ring. The "roasties" were likewise chopped up and fried. And eventually we had a candlelit meal. I think it was three evenings before Phil went to bed without a candle. And then it was on and off which made for some interesting half-baked breads and cakes.
Phil pitches in with the mopping
On Phil's first day with us we went to visit the stoves group and were horrified to see that the deluge of rains had resulted in a river which, carrying the debris and rubbish, had run smack-bang straight through the middle of our new kiln built just the week before. Needless to say, it was destroyed. Gutting.
Surveying the damage
The path of the floods
On Phil's second day with us, we went to Gold Crest Hotel to have a nice coffee and charge everything up and take a short break from the routine mopping. We also met with Assistant Bishop Mbuke and was great to chat to him about the work going on in Mwanza and hopes for the future.

In it all we knew that despite all that was happening to mess up, slow down, de-motivate and discourage us, we are here with work to do! And we so appreciated all the kind words and prayers that encouraged us and kept us going! Thank you!

Small things seem like big things when everything hits at the same time, but really, all these things were small problems. And they seem even smaller when we look around. The rains that came were devastating to many others. Children (and some adults) lost their lives in the gushing waters and many people (including Mama Minja) had far worse problems in their homes. So we know we have much to be thankful for ... including the opportunity we have to live and work here!

We try to give you a taste of life here, so I figured you should really get a taste of this week! But it isn't all bad (today we noticed a significant reduction in water levels downstairs and the electricity is significantly better now) and in the next blog I'll let you know about some of the good things going, as we persevere!

Sunday, 30 November 2014

The Rains Came Down and the Floods Came Up

“The rains came down and the floods came up.” As we continue to bail out Tim’s study downstairs, I wonder if we should start building an Ark. The heavy rains that are continually destroying the road outside our house despite our attempts to keep building it back up, have also caused havoc downstairs. Getting out of our house has been obstacle course recently with a huge tree down one day, a power line looped down dangerously across the road another day (I should have taken a photo … talk about health and safety!). The driveway eroded away and was completely impassable one morning (we had to call a friend to get the girls to school!), the thick mud made it impossible to get home one day, which meant abandoning the vehicle round the corner to walk in on foot.

And inside isn’t much better as we are valiantly battling the rising water in Tim’s study every few hours with towels and buckets. It has been a constant job for five days now keeping the level of water manageable. As I was restoring the mess of the partially defrosted freezer to rights this morning, after the three day/night power cut, we then discovered that the water problems were spreading and the store room floor was covered in water. So we continue to mop the rising floods, attempting various solutions outside with channels and morum, but are losing the battle and exhausted! Other things are piling up and going wrong and in the midst of it all, Louisa came down sick on Thursday night which turned out to be her first case of malaria. Poor Louisa has been through it a bit with sickness and made the comment today that at least when she gets to heaven, she won’t be sick! But we said we like to keep her with us for a while yet! 
Mopping up Operation
But although everything seems to be against us getting on with things here, we do have lots to be thankful for! And on a positive note, I wanted to explain a bit about what we are doing with the fuel efficient stoves project. As you have probably picked up, we are back in the clay again, but we are doing things rather differently to before. This time we have trained (with Mendriad and Hosea’s help) a small group of seven people from an area on the outskirts of the city very close to a brilliant clay source. Two other women, Mama Abigail and Mama Meshak, from the other side of the city joined as well and will form their own group, training others with them. The plan is that this small group will make quality stoves to sell in the city area, building up a business and gaining experience. And then our hope is that some of them will be able to work with us in rural village projects (similar to what we did in Iringa), assisting us and training others. We are really trying to build up quality teams and individuals that will work the different projects that we are doing.

The Mwanza Stoves Group
(Mama Georgina second from right in front)

Tim handing over the "Exercise Book" to elected Chairman Wilson

The newly elected chairman, treasurer and secretary (Mama Georgina)
Daudi (right) the new kiln builder trained by Hosea (left)
Chatting to Mama Georgina during the stoves training, I was actually surprised at how great the need and desire for these stoves in the city! The monetary benefit of the stove is far greater here than in the villages we have worked in, as the cost of firewood is so great. In Tambukareli, where we ran the training, Mama Georgina uses firewood every day to cook. She pays 1000 Tsh for five sticks which will cook one meal for her family. I asked about cooking beans; she said “Oh no! We can’t cook beans. That would cost 5000 Tsh!” By reducing the amount of wood used by 50%, the fuel-efficient stove will make huge savings for her. And the word is spreading very quickly! Even by the third day of training, many people had come to see what was going on and were very interested. Some have already put in their order for a stove!
So, in that we will be encouraged! And one other reason to be encouraged is our rice sack. We had a big sack of rice on the floor in the store room and that was the first thing I thought of when I heard the floor had flooded. I was so gutted as I so didn't want to lose all that rice and knew I should have moved it earlier. But do you know, there was water all over the floor, over a centimetre in places, with bags and boxes completely soggy. But there was a small circle of dry floor - just surrounding that sack of rice! I couldn't believe it! The rice is fine! And now that dry patch is gone. It was a reminder that in the midst of the storms, we can find that dry place of shelter or calm or safety and, as the old Sunday School song finishes, “give God the glory!”

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Cross-Cultural Lenses: Through Someone Else's Eyes

At the moment, things are a bit of struggle ... nothing major, just the cumulative stack of lots of small things. And this blog, which I wrote some days ago but couldn't post with internet and power problems, is now a good reminder for me! How easily I forgot.
Do you ever look at the world through someone else's eyes? For over a week, I have enjoyed again just looking at the ordinary which makes up everyday life through someone else's eyes. It made me appreciate things I take for granted or fail to observe. It caused me to think about and question my own priorities. It challenged the way I look at things. It's enlightening! 

We have had Mendriad and Hosea staying with us since last Monday. Over the years, we have spent many hours in their homes in Magozi (the village where we started the first fuel-efficient stoves project) and they in ours there. (The other evening I enjoyed a read from those days when we moved into the village ... those initial thoughts as we entered a different world!) And then, Mendriad was always staying with us in our village house in Kimande, and Hosea also stayed while building the kiln. But it is very different when living together in the village, as we are adapting to their life. Staying here in the city, Mendriad and Hosea were adapting to ours! Sure we ate Tanzanian food and supplied plenty of sugary tea, but we had light switches and showers and toilets to explain. I never really thought before about how complicated we make even making a bed! They had no idea what all the bedding was for (bottom sheet, top sheet, duvet, duvet cover, pillow, pillowcase and all on a mattress on a frame...) and I realised after they left, it was all untouched! In the village a foam mattress is a luxury and then all that is needed is a khanga. But they entered our world and tried coffee and hot chocolate and developed a taste for zucchini muffins and spaghetti as well!

It was incredibly exciting to see Mwanza with them! To peer up at such tall buildings! The sight and sounds of so many vehicles driving on so many tarmac roads! To satisfy their interest in the reason for green and red lights; waiting for the green light to go, while incredulous that if the light was red and there were no cars waiting, we would still have to wait (mind you, I think there are plenty of drivers in Mwanza who don't get that!) Seeing the long straight tracks for trains, with the thought of where and how far they stretch ... and the thrill of a train thundering past! That caught all of us, as well as all the people selling their goods on the tracks by surprise! Scary!

But most exciting of all was, by far, Lake Victoria. They couldn't take their eyes off the vast expanse of water. Magozi is usually such a dry and dusty place; the most water they have is the small brown river nearby (except for the puddles in the rainy season!). But it wasn't just the water. There were boats on the Lake; small boats floating, boats with engines chugging out, large ferries carrying cars, even busses and trucks and lots of people! The thought of being "in" the water was terrifying; the sight of the small waves on the lake gave rise to nervous laughter!
On the shores of Lake Victoria

As we sat on Saturday and drank sodas right beside the Lake, talking about boats, Tim and I looked at each other and thought "why not?"  We headed over on foot through the fish market at the lakeside to the ferry. We waited over an hour for the next ferry to Kamanga and hopped on. We made the 45 minutes crossing (all for a grand total of $3 for the six of us!) and came straight back! Conversation throughout the rest of the day between all of us, and the many friends and family they phoned in Magozi, often reverted back to who of the two was more scared! But they loved the adventure and how amazing and fantastic it was to appreciate the beauty of the area, the vastness of the Lake and the distant views, the feel of the wind and the waves below, with them. Wondering how it felt to be landless for the first time?   

Mendriad boards the ferry

On the ferry!

Getting off and getting on (all at the same time!) 
They came to train a group here in Mwanza how to make the fuel-efficient stoves out of clay. They did a great job and I'll tell you more about that later! We also took them to see the agricultural work going on in Kayenze and Kisesa ... and there is more about that later too! But going to Kayenze with them on Sunday was great. We were glad that Hosea was able to preach. And after the service we walked down to the lake shore, just 100m from the church building. They saw the fishing boats, the fishing nets and the vast expanse of water before them and were keen for lots of photos! But unfortunately they didn't seem to care about what I was seeing ... lots of naked men washing in the Lake! I turned away from the sudsy bodies, protesting ... but I wondered if they even noticed! They kept asking to come back with the camera! So averting my eyes, I did my best to get a photo avoiding any naked men in the lens!
Carefully Cropped Photo: Posing in a Fisherman's Boat

It has been a very full week with all the outings, training days, and lots of extra cooking! At times it seemed so easy to look at it all through the wrong lenses. But when the power keeps cutting out, I remember that no electricity is everyday normal in Magozi (and you can still play crazy card games by candlelight!) When I completely burn the beans on the gas and the rice is uncooked, why am I worried? They are so grateful and appreciative for everything! Putting on the appreciative lenses makes the view so much brighter and exciting! I am so thankful for these guys! Living with them both in the village and here in the city has taught us all so much! We are so much richer for entering their world and experiencing them enter ours; we can appreciate that there is so much more out there for all of us than our own comfortable "normal."

Friday, 21 November 2014

To Do or not to Do? Is that the Question?

I love that life here is never dull. But every now and then, I just get a little overwhelmed and crave a little bit of a "normal" ... although, what really is that anyway?  I'm not sure there is such a thing, but it exists in my head as all the "good" bits of the life that once was normal (for the majority of my existence thus far), and I think that I want it. I'm sorry to say it often revolves around incredibly selfish and unimportant things ... things like relaxing in the evening watching TV and eating chocolate or going shopping for quick and ready food in a big supermarket or shopping for new clothes (which I never used to like doing anyway!!) and doing it all without power cuts.

The reality is I'm far happier here doing what we are meant to be doing, or I should say being who we are meant to be here. I naturally gravitate to (and thrive on) doing and constantly need to be reminded just to "be." Sometimes it is easy to get carried away by the doing, and forget to just be. I think this is when getting overwhelmed comes into play! Sometimes the frustration of trying to "do" just gets too hard. Especially when the power is out, when the bricks don't arrive again and again, when there are no bees in the hive, when I just don't have enough Swahili or there is no money for the "good" things I want to do! Then I have to remember to be. Be who I am. Be a wife and mother. Be a good host. Be a servant and friend ... being these things not based on what I do but who I am!

Sometimes I struggle with the tension as I write this blog! The purpose in writing is to let you know what we are doing ... particularly for you friends and family that we are far away from, those of you who are supporting us, encouraging us and praying for us! We want you to feel involved in what we are doing as you are such a big part of it. But at the same time, sometimes I feel I am just writing a long report of things we are doing which doesn't really relate to anything in your life (and doesn't seem particularly "normal"). It really isn't all about doing here, but that is what often seems to come across!

That said I am now going to tell you more about what we have been doing ... oh dear!

Everything (in terms of projects etc.) we are doing here suddenly seemed to all happen at once this week (which probably explains my inner turmoil and overwhelmed reaction!). On Friday night I arrived back from the Bee symposium, my head full of all things bees and all the things possible to do. Saturday morning was a quick change of gear as after getting the girls off to early morning football, I was with the Upendo wa Mama group. We chatted and made beads. We continued with our reading through Genesis, finishing chapter one while talking about how we are all made in God's image, whatever colour, tribe, size, background ... It was lovely to welcome a new mama, Fatuma (who has albinism herself) to the group. Then another gear shift. Later in the day (after the school fair) we had a very good meeting with Dr Makori and it was exciting to talk about the potential health projects on the islands.

After meeting with a great church group on Sunday, on Monday, our good friends Hosea and Mendriad arrived from Magozi, the village where we first started the fuel-efficient stoves project. On Tuesday we took them to Kisesa to see Pastor Baraka's family and see how the agriculture project is doing (see the good progress with the new methods, particularly in comparison with the old method maize in the photos below). And on Wednesday with Mendriad and Hosea, we started the training for the new fuel-efficient stoves group in Tambukareli. See the great stoves they are making in the photos below! (I will explain more about what we are doing here later when things are a little quieter!) Everything is very interesting and exciting, and after each day I was left wanting to focus all my thoughts and energy on that one thing ... but in the end with time so short, found I had to focus any spare thoughts on just having rooms and meals prepared for guests and clean school uniforms and packed book bags with completed homework. What to do?

At the end of the day, I can rest in the fact that what I do comes out of who I am in Christ. Doing is still important. But I know that who I am does not depend on what I do. In fact, not a lot depends on what I do! Even being a mother! And there is rest in that. There is no need to be overwhelmed and no need to crave anything else.

Farming Photo Update

With Mendriad and Hosea sorting out the trees to plant with Pastor Amon
It is easy to see the difference that the new techniques make when you compare the maize
in the background with the foreground maize which was planted at the same time!

Training for the Fuel-Efficient Stoves Group

Day One: prepare the clay, make the body of stove and turn out

Mendriad teaches our Mwanza trainees come trainers!
The clay is the best we have ever worked with!
Click here to see the source in the Toilet Seat Tale!

Tim recaps after Day One
Day Two: Cut handles and pot rests


Finishing touches after Day Two
Day Three: Cut the door and finish with smoothing and decorating

Beautifully decorated!

Making the kiln (yes, the bricks finally arrived!)