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 stoves Tim works on and Rachel cooks on!

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Back-to-front Thanksgiving

Usually Canadian Thanksgiving weekend is associated with harvest. But we are back-to-front here now! In Tanzania, the week was all about planting. But whichever way round it is, it is still all about thanksgiving!

I am just so thankful that we are finally getting our hands (and a lot else besides!) dirty in these Tanzanian shambas (farms). For several years now, we have felt so strongly that if we are to work alongside people in rural Tanzania, we must understand their life and livelihood. Over 80% of Tanzanians farm and depend on their crops to live. Many people over the years have asked us if we have a shamba and what we grow. We were always the wazungu (white people) without a shamba. Now finally, (to a small degree) we can relate ... as of last Wednesday, we have a shamba here at home and we are growing maize, beans and (from Thursday) pigeon peas! And during this past week, it has been wonderful to be working alongside farmers in their fields; proudly keeping up with the physical labour in the hot sun! And despite hardly being able to move the day after the first planting, I am so thankful for the opportunity to work again in the villages, this time with Robert, Baraka and Amon and their families.
Our shamba: A measured line for planting the maize in holes at each cloth marker

Joseph helping us plant the beans in the furrow

Bean rows looking good!
For Amon Suge, last year there was no harvest. Amon and his wife and two children live in Kayenze, a village 35km from Mwanza on Lake Victoria, where he pastors a church. Last year he planted maize and beans on his one acre plot. A usual yield for an acre of maize we think should be over 150kg but the family only got 10kg. And only 5kg of beans. This is supposed to feed the family for the whole year. So this year they must buy all the food they need with the small money they get from the church offering and whatever they can raise. With the abundant variety of food our family eats in a year, it is humbling to see how thankful this family is. And as thankful people they are eager to generously bless others. They served us tea and chapatis and later in the day they shared with us their rice and few beans and incredibly, also some goat meat. Humbled and thankful. We planted maize and beans in Amon's field on Thursday; with the new conservation agriculture farming techniques we are working on with them (a new page will soon be up on the blog explaining more of what we are doing using the Foundations for Farming method), we hope to vastly increase the usual yield.
Amon and Esther's house
Getting started with Amon ... the first hole for the first seed!
Starting with the maize seeds ... and a big bucket of manure!

Holes looking good! Planting maize seeds.

Time for chai ... hot sweet tea and chapatis!
But decided to give a toilet break a miss! The advantage of physical work in the hot sun!
Getting rather dirty and itchy!
Covering the planted seeds with a blanket of dried grasses

On Friday, Tim went to Kisesa with Peter and Esther (our trainee trainers). The field had not been so well prepared there, and they were all delayed in starting due to the traffic havoc created by the President's visit to Mwanza, but after a hard, hot day of digging, they had a field of maize and beans planted with Robert, one of our four Kisesa farmers.
Robert adding compost to the furrow for his beans
On Monday, we were all back near Kisesa at the Church Planting School, planting more maize and beans with Baraka ("blessing") and his wife, Esther and youngest daughter, Anna. This lovely family who currently live in the classrooms of what will be the school, are going to care for the demonstration farm we are hoping to establish there. The students are expected to arrive in January, by which time a house should be finished for Baraka's family! Our hope is that many trainee pastors from across the region will be able to observe and learn about the farming techniques while they complete their four month intensive studies and then take it all back and put it into practice in their villages as their also train and help their neighbours.
The church planting school
 ... also a home (centre) for Baraka's family and a meeting hall (right) for the church
Mama Esther prepares tea on an open fire in the classroom!
(don't worry, the fuel efficient stove project gets going next month!)

Planting with Baraka and Esther. Baraka is digging evenly spaced holes (using the marked blue strip of mosquito net as a guide). Baraka's wife, Esther is filling each hole with compost, our trainer, Esther is following with seeds and then I am covering over with soil and mulch. A good assembly line!
Planting beans in furrows

Baraka and 4 year old Anna

Little Anna was a great helper!
Tim and Anna planting beans
We are excited to have started this agricultural work and now praying for the rains and for a good harvest in January! We are looking forward to working alongside these eight or so farmers, over the next months, training them as community trainers, that they can then be the ones helping to transform their communities in all kinds of ways! We are hoping to later include tree-planting and bee-keeping as part of this and also working with the women with cooking and health-related issues.

And still on the subject of planting ... there is a church being planted in a village called Kisamba. And it was here on Sunday that Tim preached to, without a doubt, the smallest congregation he ever has! We had been invited (many times over the past few months!) to visit a church in a village beyond Magu (about 75km from Mwanza). So we arranged to go and were delighted to have Monica (a lovely woman from Bishop Charles' church) and Matilda (a young woman training to be a doctor who also happens to be Bishop Charles' niece) with us to direct us. We had no idea what to expect, but we arrived to find a very small enclosure of sticks holding sheets of cloth around the sides, with a small section of sacking overhead at one end. We were ushered under the sheets and found the six of us sharing the space with the pastor and one woman and six children (not, as I falsely first assumed, a family!)

It was the first time in Tanzania that as invited guests we sat at the very back! We were actually given the best place to sit because the back was the only place which had a small strip of shade from the hot sun. Tim unfortunately didn't have his hat, but smothered on the suncream before standing to preach at the front in the full sun! Three more children arrived as he preached which brought the total number up to eleven. He started with Matthew 13:31 with the parable of the mustard seed which starts small and grows to become the biggest tree of the garden! Our family and Monica and Matilda also turned about to be the choir, so we spontaneously sang Michael W. Smith's song "Alleluia" which we had heard Matilda sing beautifully at her home church a few months ago and so knew it was one we all knew! Amisadai found it amusing that the whole church including all the children and all the guests individually introduced themselves and she tried to imagine how long that would take in our church in Tadley! So thankful for small seeds, praying for a big harvest!

Tim preaches under a hot midday sun!
The Kisamba Congregation with our family and Monica
At time of writing on Monday, we have just had a call from Amon who tells us
the plants are sprouting! Bwana Yesu Asifiwe!

Praise the Lord for his great love... 
For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.
-- Psalm 107.8-9 --

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The Riverbed Road and Bee Invitation

Fond memories of Woodlands Road in England! That smooth, wide road seems a world away as we turn out of our eroded driveway onto the road outside our house here! The road now resembles a riverbed, littered with the rubbish and debris carried in the floods of rain last week. The pictures below don't do justice to the huge potholes, squelching mud and jagged rocks. And with only two big rains, this is only the beginning of the rainy season! We are very thankful for our vehicle (all fixed!) and 4-wheel drive.

Also with the start of the rainy season, it seems the snakes are coming out. After my brave kill in the bedroom, Tim killed one in the bathroom and just now as I was writing, there were screams from Lucy as one slithered out from behind a box. Joseph attacked that one for us and tells us he had killed another one outside as well! 
Our eroded driveway going onto our road (remembering Woodlands Road!)

Down the road from our house, looking like a littered riverbed!
Preparations have been underway for quite some time now for the grand arrival of some bees! Thaddeus, our night guard, has been working on our top bar design for two hives. Once completed, Tim's dad was a great help with the painting and leg assembly and then Tim did the finishing touches and set a hive in place. Now efforts are focussed on enticing bees to their new home! At the weekend, Louisa and I painted the top bars with melted beeswax (leaving some unpainted as a bit of a test). We made lemongrass oil (from our now-flourishing herbal kitchen garden!) and smeared that, along with more melted beeswax, around the hive. We set a jar of sugar water upside down beside the entrance. We set up a small pool of water with landing pads for the bees. We set beautiful flowers around the hive and really can't think of a nicer welcome we could give to our local bees. One little bee flew right up to us as we were painting and hoping she was a scout, we enthusiastically told her to go and get her friends, but she unfortunately hasn't yet returned.

Touch-up painting on the Top-Bar Beehive 
According to my recent research, a scout will look for a suitable place and then on returning to the other bees, she uses a "waggle dance" to indicate the direction and distance to the new location. The more excited she is, the more excitedly she dances. So we are hoping our little scout went back with one impressive dance and the other scouts soon come to check it out. Apparently several sites can be proposed by the scouts and the decision-making period can last a few days as 80% of the scouts must agree. Once agreed, the whole cluster swarms to the new place. So that is what we are waiting for! I've got a ridiculously eager eye from the living room window looking all the time! I've got the cool beekeeper white net hat at the ready...
Painting beeswax on the top-bars

A little sugar water to tempt the bees

Some beeswax and lemongrass oil to attract our busy friends
More about top-bar hives ...
A top-bar hive is simply a box with sloped sides (angled to match the natural angles of the hexagonal comb) with removable bars on the top, from which the combs will hang down. My research tells me that it is a very "natural" hive type, good for places with little access to materials and machinery! Our first two hives are made of wood, which is what we will aim for in projects, but I am looking forward to experimenting with other materials like woven baskets, half-drums, clay pots and crates. We want to make good and productive hives, but we need to be able to work with very little!

The Prime Minister of Tanzania (himself a keen beekeeper, apparently!) is currently encouraging the nation to get busy with bees. New initiatives encouraging beekeeping are springing up. A bee project is ideal for us as it will link in perfectly with the tree planting and agriculture projects. We hope to see the farmers incorporating bees into their farms, then able to reap the benefits of the cross pollination, while the bees benefit from the improved environment with new areas of trees and various plants. We hope to set up cooperatives for bee projects with gardens as income generating projects for vulnerable women. Bring on the bee products ... a great source of food (honey) and also medicine, as well as things like candles, lubricants and other cosmetic products. This is another great way to help fight against poverty; the benefits are widespread and in addition, there is so much we can learn from the bees!

So that is the plan ... but first we need to learn all we can ourselves! I am going to Tanzania's first national bee conference in Arusha next month (yes, I'll admit to bee-ing just a little excited!) to get some head knowledge and meet others in the apiary world; meanwhile we endeavour to get all the hands-on experience we can here at home! Any advice from you experienced bee-keepers out there is welcome! And prayers for some bees to arrive are also welcome!

P.S. I had to really control myself here to keep the "bee" plays on words at bay! But no doubt my Dad and a few others will fling some un-BEE-table jokes back!

And then I was remembering all our bee-fun we had last July ...

Friday, 3 October 2014

On the Rocks

As promised here are a few fun photos taken while Sue Fallon (EI) was with us last week! Fun on the rocks at Malaika Beach and more fun on the Dancing Rocks, just a short walk up from our house in Bwiru.

On Sunday, Tim and Amisadai went with Sue and also Esther and Peter (Agricultural Awareness Group) to the Church in Kayenze (35km from Mwanza and where we held the Sodis Shake). After the service, in which Tim preached, they all headed outside to the Lake where there was a baptism for four members of the church!
Lake Victoria, Kayenze
Kayenze TAG Church
Lake Baptism
Then our little group toured the shambas where Tim was pleased to see the progress made even since the training seminar the week before last. The farmers have started mulching and covering the ground and impressively have started a compost! So we are eagerly awaiting planting the crops with them next week! As you know from the last blog post, the rains have definitely started; we awoke to the same dark and wet scenario this morning, but thankfully made it to the bottom of the road without incident!
With Pastor Amon and Peter and Esther
Amisadai loves goats!

Amisadai before she crashed into the tree.
Just kidding - it was stationary!
I was delighted to be invited to speak last week at the weekly women's service at BMCC in Nyegezi. We have formed some great relationships with various people at this church (most of whom are called Esther!) and I am excited about doing more with the women here. Mama Esther (the pastor's wife) is a lovely lady, with a great big heart for people which is demonstrated in the way that she serves others and seeks transformation!  

Women's Bible Study at BMCC
And telling more in pictures ...

Sue talks about EI to Tim's Bible College students

Dinner with Dr Makori

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Car Breaks Down in Torrential Storm

Sometimes the not-so-simple act of living here causes just a slight adrenalin rush that makes me realise how much I enjoy living with the exciting unpredictability of life here! The birth of the baby on the roadside the other day was one such moment. And this morning was yet another of those moments when I felt that living anywhere else must surely be boring!

We woke early this morning to a huge rainstorm. The rain pelted down as lightning flashed wildly and the thunder cracked in deafening bursts. The power went out ... thankfully just after the kettle boiled. So we fumbled a little in the darkness getting ready for school, but that's not so unusual. We fed Louisa anti-sickness drugs in the dark and forced down her amoeba medication. She felt lousy and went back to bed. With the road outside fast becoming a river and almost no visibility in the grey light and horizontal lashings of rain, we realised we had better wait a while before venturing out. By the time the storm had calmed down a bit, Louisa's sickness had subsided and she quickly threw on her uniform and they all headed out in 4-wheel drive as I held open the gate, my feet submerged.

After waving them off, I ran back inside and changed out of my wet clothes. Five minutes later I had a phone call. "We have broken down at the end of the road." The road was in a terrible state, flooded and potholed. Tim had sunk in an unseen crevice; there was an ominous clunk as the tie rod broke and the steering was gone. While they waited for a friend to rescue the girls (and the two boys in our car pool) to take them to school, I realised Louisa had left a bag behind in the rush. So I heroically set out in the torrential rain, down the road that was now a river. It was over my ankles and then over my knees, it was rushing and gushing in torrents carrying rubbish and debris, and the mud underneath was sucking off my sandals as I sank down! As I passed under the power lines, there was an almighty CRACK-bzzzzzz as blue sparks, fire and smoke erupted when a branch fell on the line. I almost jumped out of my skin and hurriedly waded away! I wish I had a photo of this bit!

The "river" outside our house

This was taken after the worst... but you can see the crevice that caused the problem!
Tim waited with the car for a mechanic to arrive. I headed back up the "river" and stripped off my second soaked outfit in an hour. Poor Tim was waiting for ages in the rain at the bottom of our road, but then was joined by a friend who kept him company. They watched as the electricians arrived to fix the line ... and then got stuck in the potholes and mud. After a failed attempt at towing themselves out with electrical wire, Eric was able to lend them his tow rope which worked fine; they got on with the job. Back at the house, the power came on! Kettle back on. Feeling sorry for Tim after two and half hours at the bottom of the road, I took a thermos with tea and coffee and cakes down, which we had with the two mechanics. And then with the car fixed, having said our farewells, Tim and I drove carefully back up the road and I changed out of my third soaked outfit. Not sure why I bothered.

The electricians get stuck

Nothing a good cup of tea can't sort out! Thanks, Eric and our men in blue!

I was supposed to be updating on what happened last week ... but am carried away with current events at the moment! I am currently drying out my fourth outfit in Gold Crest making the most of their power (ours is out again ... it didn't last long!) and internet with some large files that needed working on and sending out.

I think the rains may have started.