We live in Mwanza, Tanzania, serving with Emmanuel International helping local churches in physical and spiritual ministry.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

From Knees to COVID-19 in Mwanza

Since, our last blog post, the entire world has been taken over by events out of all human control with the coronavirus. So much information, fact and fiction as well as emotions ranging from panic and fear to selfless kindness, has been flying across social media. I feel crazy even trying to add to the insane overload of coronavirus "news." It is honestly all too much for anyone to naturally cope with.

But given the almost frantic need for communication in this time of isolation, I felt I should update on what's happening with us here in Tanzania!

First of all, we as a family are just very grateful to all be back together again after all that had been happening pre-corona! On arriving in Nairobi a couple of weeks ago, Amisadai discovered she had actually ruptured her ACL and so needed replacement surgery. And so, just a few days later, (after making the most of ice cream, coffee and croissants!) her brilliant doctor constructed a new ligament, taken from her hamstring, to her knee. Some days later when she was fit to travel, coronavirus hit Kenya and then we were concerned not only about Tim getting a visa to get into Tanzania but also both of them being allowed in with the new buzz about travel restrictions. Thankfully there were no problems getting home and Tim is now a tourist visiting his own home and family for a few months! And so there you have some good news in the midst of so much bad news!

Making the most of Nairobi! Milkshakes and ice creams...

Recovering at home!
So where are things now? Much as things have been for you all, wherever you are in the world, everything has changed so very quickly. Last Sunday, Louisa and I were waiting at the airport for Tim and Amisadai to appear out of Immigration. We were closely watching all that was happening with COVID-19 across the world, but there was nothing happening in Tanzania. And then on Monday the first case of coronavirus arrived in Tanzania. On Tuesday late afternoon, all schools were closed. And so on Wednesday, school at home began and our mamas group met to close up the workshop.

School at home is actually better for Amisadai as she is still in such a lot of pain (despite all the drugs she is on!) and has to lie keeping her leg elevated. Louisa is managing just fine, cracking on with all her schoolwork. But we have done this school at home business before… so this really isn't so strange or panicky for us!

But it has still been a strange week. On one hand, the coronavirus has actually been very far away (Dar, Zanzibar and Arusha) and we haven't personally known a single person with it anywhere in the world. But at the same time it felt so close and threatening. Life in many ways was so much the same ... like a school holiday but with extra homework, with the same little frustrations like flooding downstairs and constant power-cuts, but eating slightly better meals as I was home with extra time to plan and cook! But life in many ways was also so different, the uncertainty of what would happen here if the virus spreads, the questions about whether Amisadai would now write GCSEs, quick decisions being made by friends about whether to stay or go, and friends leaving Mwanza without time to say goodbye. Some people have asked if we would leave Tanzania … personally, we are absolutely fine. It is so much easier for us than so many Tanzanians. We are not at risk healthwise, we have a comfortable home in which we can self-isolate, we have bought a sack of flour, rice and beans and have chickens in the garden and are well used to being flexible in adverse situations! We know that Tanzania is where we should be .. and realise that may be for longer than we had planned, depending on how country isolation goes.

Now as the number of cases has just shot up to 12 in Tanzania, we pray earnestly for this country with all the others. Tanzania reportedly has one of the poorest healthcare systems. Social distancing for people that live in such close proximity, sharing bedmats, toilet holes and water supply, is almost impossible. Most people here do not have hand sanitizer and even handwashing with clean water and soap can be difficult for many. In all towns and cities, daladalas (local busses) are overcrowded with people travelling in every direction. So many live hand-to-mouth and cannot afford to stock up on supplies or avoid crowded markets. In large towns and cities they cannot afford not to work. And all worry about the price of staples going up.

As I met with the mamas group, we were all sad to see our work stop. The plans for a shop and honey centre have been frustrated, the upcoming craft fairs cancelled and the shops across the country who sell our products are all closed. As their sales and income stop, the mamas also see prices rising and all are worried. We all went to the bank together and each woman was able to withdraw some money and then I dropped them all off at the market and they bought what food supplies they could before we parted ways.

We must all do our best now to prevent the worst. While handwashing stations have gone up in Mwanza and handshaking has been discouraged, it is troubling to see people continuing as normal without any social distancing.
A hand-washing station outside the Rock City Mall
Today Emmanuel, our health and sanitation worker on Kome Island, gave teaching to the church on hand-washing and coronavirus prevention. We pray for wisdom for our team to know what to do for the best for the people and communities we work with as this week progresses. 

And you all, our friends around the world, all struggling with coronavirus in slightly different ways, are in our thoughts and prayers.

And just so you all know … in case you were a little bit worried about us here … there is plenty of toilet paper here in Mwanza!