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

Saturday, 24 August 2013

A STEP in the Right Direction

Let me tell you about a project that I, Tim, have been helping with over that past number of months called Scripture Tools for Every Person (STEP). This project was recently launched at the end of July.
There is still a long way to go with the project but you can at least see some of the work that’s been going on over the last months. Take a look here at the website www.stepbible.org If you click on the view tab, then go down to language and select Swahili you’ll be able to see my efforts on the user interface for Swahili.
When we were back in UK last year, we were spending some time with our friend, Ruth Norris, who is studying for a PhD in biblical studies at Cambridge University. In the course of the conversation, Ruth asked me if I’d be willing to help with a project Tyndale House, Cambridge were embarking on. It is a free bible software program, particularly aimed for developing countries, useful for village Christians on the one hand and even for those with theological education on the other. The goal really is Scripture Tools FOR EVERY PERSON. David Instone-Brewer, one of the scholars at Tyndale House, is the brains behind this initiative.
You may be surprised, but increasing numbers of people in the villages now access the internet (mainly Sky Sports and Facebook!) on their phone. So with the development in mobile phone technology, the time is ripe for a program like STEP which can give village Christians and pastors access to good bible resources and for free. Most people in the village we know do not have any books at all in their homes. The majority of school education is done with blackboard and chalk. So people (including village pastors) may not have books, but they are increasingly getting phones!
So even though I was initially unsure as to whether my Swahili would be up for this, it’s been a privilege to be involved in such a project that could make a real difference in the lives of rural people. Nothing can bring transformation like God through his Word!
I haven’t been doing this all myself. Another person, Anna, has done a huge amount of translation and last month I was able to sit down with Pastor Benson Nyalusi (of the Pentecostal Bible College in Mafinga where I have taught). He was able to check all the translations and get rid of all the Mzungu Swahili and ensure things were written in good Tanzanian Swahili! Thanks so much, Benson, for the invaluable five hours you spent with me!
At the moment, my work on the user interface is essentially done, although as the software developers continue their progress there may be a bit more. Our next task is to see what Swahili resources there are (commentaries, dictionaries etc.) and see if they can be included in STEP.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Tim's Trousers

"Tim's Trousers" sounds like something for Wallace and Grommit, but that's as far as it goes! Someone recently commented on the blog that Tim's trousers were remarkably clean in the video. Well, the video was taken on our first day arriving in the village. You should see the state of Tim's trousers or to be honest, any of our clothes or bodies, later! In Louisa's words, the water after washing our clothes looks like hot chocolate!

Tim's other trousers were in a far worse state. Tattered, faded and stained, they had really reached their end! Most of you reading this would never see the likes of them worn in public, but in the village no one bats an eyelid! Then one day the market came to Kimande and Tim went shopping! There were piles of old clothes in all sizes and conditions laid out on sacks on the dusty ground. I didn't hold out a whole lot of hope! But Tim found some trousers. A bargain at $4 (£2.50)! Pretty much his size, in pretty good condition, and guess what? They came all the way from Mark's Work Wearhouse in Canada. Good old Denver Hayes! An unexpected piece of home found in a village in the middle of Tanzania!

Tim's Trousers
Now moving on from Tim's trousers... Also during this past week in Kimande (it's been a busy week, thus three blogs in about as many days!), the long-awaited English classes began! We have been very surprised by the number of people who have come to us asking for English classes. But we thought it was something we could do. So we announced to the stoves group that people were welcome to come to our home on Monday afternoon, and if they wanted to bring friends that was fine. So I prepared some material to cover (getting advice from Angela, who teaches English at the Bible College in town) and made some flashcards. And it was good fun and a great way to get know people. I had a group of 10-11 people and we started with our English greetings and lots of laughs! We are all looking forward to the next class when we get back.

English class
On Monday, I finished the English class at about 4:30pm after an hour and half of teaching, and started to prepare food for the evening meal. Then from down the road, a crowd of school children appeared. They had walked with their pencils and exercise books all the way from the next village, hearing that there were English classes here! I couldn't possibly turn them away, so we sat under the tree with my flipchart and as we started our lesson, the crowd of children grew! It is hard for these kids. Most will not go beyond primary school. Those that can afford to go to secondary school, suddenly have to start learning everything in English. But from what I hear there are no English teachers in Kimande, so as you can imagine, learning in an unfamiliar language makes it a real challenge to excel. If we can give these kids a head start in English, it's a good thing! But needless to say, dinner was cooked in the dark and eaten rather late that night!

There seems so much more to say about all that is going on, and I never seem to get very far in these blogs! Jesca has completed surveys of families in the two villages, finding out about the use of firewood and health matters. The group had a long meeting on Saturday to draw up their own Constitution for the Stoves Group. They were deciding on things like appropriate fines for tardiness and group responsibilities.

Ezekiel's morning seminar on making good stove handles
(the group had been struggling!)

And I'll finish with one last story ... "Jesca and the Trees."  As you know, Jesca is on a steep learning curve, learning how to make jikos, how to manage a project, improving her English and also, as part of her training she must learn to drive the land cruiser. She had mentioned that she had already had some lessons, so we thought it would be a good opportunity to get in some driving practice on the road between the two villages. So after working in Itunundu one day, Tim talked her through things and Jesca practiced. We didn't get out of second gear, but all was going well. But then steering became a little eratic and we were going from one side of the road to the other. A sharp turn of the wheel sent us straight over to a large trunky bush on the left of the road, but Jesca, in her panic with the steering wheel, forgot about the brake and we plowed straight over the bush and carried on. As Jesca over-compensated with the steering wheel, we turned sharply to the right, straight across the road to the other side. By now we were all shouting "Brake!" but all she found was the accelerator and before we knew it, we were in a tree. All fine and amazingly the only reminder of the incident is a misshapen front bumper! But now, we can all laugh about it. Ezekiel and Mendriad had a good laugh with Jesca; she came to Kimande to help the tree situation, but instead she is wiping out the few trees left with a land crusier!

Thursday, 22 August 2013

The Desest and the Parched Land will be Glad

Yes, this week we felt like we were in a parched land! The water point by our house which has been working only at night, this week stopped altogether for a few days. At first this just meant that we drove to the new water system down the road with all our buckets. It was tedious, but possible. We then use and reuse every drop so carefully! But then one day, the new system virtually dribbled dry. We managed that day with the dribble we were able to get and the next day there was more water. But many were struggling. It is a long walk to the river. People are worried. Our concern is that the grab for water will ruin the new system that until now has been an adequate supply. With desperation and greed, things can easily go wrong. A parched land.
Walking from the village to the river
But before I go further with my thoughts here... I must answer a question! How many papayas can I carry on my head? No one hazarded a guess on the last blog, but it was a whopping ten! And also three green peppers and heaps and heaps of spinach. And yes, I thought my head would get squashed down my neck.  I was coming back from the river with Jesca and the girls, with the fruit from Mama Christina’s garden, much of which was actually gifts for us!  Halfway home, Jesca, who had been carrying the load on her head, was dripping with sweat and I thought I really should offer to help, while hoping my help wouldn’t actually be necessary! But Jesca was glad for the offer and while outwardly I was confidently accepting the load, I was inwardly horrified at the weight of the bucket and apprehensively calculating the distance yet to go! But even despite getting a bit tangled up in the branches of a thorn tree, I made it!

But on a serious note, this garden, now that is truly amazing. Kimande is such a hot, dry and dusty place. The brown ground is hard and thorns abound. Yet walking down to the river, suddenly out of the flat barren landscape, a lush green line ahead is a beautiful surprise! And in that lush, green line by the river, Mama Christina has planted the most incredible garden.  We call her Mama Sungura (Mama Rabbit!) because that is how Mendriad (her brother-in-law) referred to her and it is how we got to know her… the lady who keeps rabbits, which is rather unusual there! She has planted fruit trees, spinach, tomatoes, peppers and other vegetables on a grand scale and uses a generator and pump to water the garden from the river. Really, my mouth dropped open in amazement the first time I stepped in this oasis of green with moist, cooler air. It is like the Garden of Eden, a paradise in the desert.  We are thrilled to have this hard-working, entrepreneurial woman in our stoves group.  She is an exemplary woman who we believe has much to offer and teach others in this community. We are hoping to work with her, with more seeds and trying new things that would benefit the community as a whole.

Mama Christina with her baby, harvesting vegetables

Mama Christina's garden
As we talk with the Stoves Group about God’s Story, and our part in His Story we have talked about gardens. The story starts in a garden. But Adam and Eve, in their sin, left that garden for a desert. God’s people, Israel, were later led (by Moses) through the desert to a new garden; a land flowing with milk and honey, the “Promised Land.” But still thorns abound.  It’s a world where sin has touched and tainted everything. But then God sent his Son, Jesus, to lead us, from the desert we find ourselves in, to a garden city. Jesus started his work in the desert. In the place where humanity first fell, where Israel fell, he defied Satan. And then as his hour of death approached, he accepted will of the Father in a garden.  And then... new life! A new creation was begun. In a garden. And Jesus himself was taken for the gardener.

How much hope we find wrapped up in this picture of being led from a parched, dry desert to a lush and fruitful land where rivers flow.  And in Kimande, we can all grasp a piece of this picture of hope in Mama Christina’s garden. Yes, there are still weeds and thorns in her garden. And yes, the monkeys create havoc in her fruit trees. But through working in the garden, she can help to meet the needs of today while being a signpost to hope, to God’s future.

Pastor Castory and Mendriad in the garden

Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.
Isaiah 35
... Now later, as I was thinking about the middle bit in this Isaiah chapter "Strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, 'Be strong, do not fear.'" I just listened to this song by Kari Jobe called "Steady My Heart." Are you in a "parched desert?" Or if not you, where are the "desert" areas near you? Let's go with the Gardener and plant some seeds in the desert!

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Rats Eat Stoves!

We arrived back in town this afternoon, and while it is wonderful to enjoy the simple luxury of water, particularly in the form of a shower and a good cup of tea, it is always a little overwhelming changing gears. And now trying to post our latest news to you friends in faraway places, it's hard to know where to start!

I'll start with the rats eating stoves! We were surprised to find one morning that our freshly made clay stoves were nibbled extensively by visiting rats. The second morning we were less surprised and more annoyed. It then dawned on us why these rats were so fond of our pots; we had mixed the clay with ground rice husks to prevent future cracking! Delicious! Tim and I spent over an hour canvasing the village in the hot sun for rat poison. It worked ... for a while. Then last week we tried mixing crushed bricks in with the clay. The rats weren't so interested! Obviously they preferred the rice husk stove diet.

And while on the subject of healthy diets, last week I taught on Nutrition. As part of the stoves group training we include teaching on cooking efficiently and also cooking for good health. We visited the hospital in Kimande and talked with the head doctor about some of the issues involving health, particularly as affected by local diet and water problems. (The day we visited the hospital, eight babies had just been born! One, sadly was premature and didn't survive. But the number of patients going through that little hospital is astounding.) Our hope is to train the Stoves Group and then see some of them teach their community, maybe in the hospital itself. It was a fun session last Wednesday morning, learning about the different food groups and the benefits of each. The girls were a fantastic help as they did a mimed drama explaining by analogy the roles of the different foods and why we need them!

Teaching Nutrition

Nutrition Drama by Amisadai and Louisa
And the following day, we were invited out for a meal with Mama Natasha, the group secretary. She had prepared an amazing meal, by far the most elaborate we have eaten here with beans, spinach, fish, rice, ugali, chapatis, bananas ... I wondered if she thought we had to eat every type of protein or carbohydrate at every meal! We thoroughly enjoyed it though!

Lunch with Mama Natasha
And on the subject of health, Sunday was not such a great day for the girls. Louisa was quite sick during Saturday night... not fun with mosquito nets, no bathroom, very little water and no light! And Amisadai was feeling rough with stomach aches and diarrhoea. So the girls and I stayed home while Jesca and Tim went preaching ... at the Anglican Church in Itunundu in the morning and the Kimande AoG Church in the afternoon.  But as the girls flopped in the heat and I kept force-feeding them liquids, feeling rather low, we had the most amazing outpouring of love! Pastors of three different churches in Kimande and Itunundu (a 2km walk) came to our house to pray for Louisa. She was visited with a gift of mango juice. Word spread and people came to ask after her. And she got better! But do continue to pray for health, for although Louisa is better, Amisadai was throwing up this afternoon!

And so we are slowly starting to feel more part of the community. It is very different to Magozi which was very close-knit and friendly. With a population of 3000, Kimande is far too big for everyone to know everyone, and particularly as the church we are primarily working with only has about 25 people, it has not been easy to get to know many people. There seems to be more distrust, more theft and mild violence here. We even have a jail here... another odd thing for us. The prisoners are visible so that people in the village can go to look them over. Tim was taken to look... it is deemed good to know who they are. But for some, the crimes are such incredibly minor thefts, and the shame and branding along with more hardened criminals is hard for us to understand. Talking to the doctor at the hospital, we also learned that a major problem of the village is alcoholism. This problem is not only for individual health affected by the local brew, but also accidents and many cases of women beaten by drunken husbands.

With a greater number of people, there are also more tribes living here; most common are the Wahehe tribe (as in Magozi), then also Wagogo, Masai, Mang'ati and Wasukuma. The nomadic Wasukuma herders have tensions with the farming Gogo. And it seems the nomadic Masai have tensions with the Mang'ati. I was rather wary of the rather fierce-looking Wasukuma whom I recognised only by their usual attire of welly boots and a woolly hat and the fact that they carry a stick. But I have since learned that the leader of the stoves group, who leads the Anglican Church in Itunundu is Wasukuma (he doesn't wear welly boots) and it is interesting to talk to him and hear the difference for him as a Christian. He loves the fact that in Christ, we are all brothers and sisters, our tribe and colour is far less significant and certainly not a cause for conflict! Our prayer is to see this truth be known!

As time goes on, we are becoming more known and accepted and liked! This time we have received huge gifts of rice, of papayas, spinach, peanuts and a HUGE strange root vegetable that took ages to cook! Their generosity is humbling and so kind!

People coming together. We are joining together with the people of these two villages. People from many religions and tribes are coming together in our stoves group. As people come together, tribes come together, as churches come together, unity replaces division. We believe that this is what the Kingdom of God is all about! Our prayer for the stoves group is that many of them could demonstrate, indeed live out what it means to be part of the Kingdom of God. One People. One Family. Can the common hospital records of respiratory illnesses, dysentery from bad water, poor nutritional health and physical abuse change? Can prisons be shut down? Can homes be safe from theft? Can tensions between herders and farmers be resolved? Our prayer is for transformation!

As this blog is running rather long, I will stop my ramblings here and carry on with some more news soon! So until next time, guess how many papayas I can carry on my head?

The Lows ... the cake that really burnt.

The Highs ... 64 stoves made so far!

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Baobab Smoothies

Have any of you been to the Eden Project in Cornwall and had one of their Baobab Smoothies? Tim and I did while we were back in the UK last year and ever since I have been keen to make one of those "superfruit smoothies" here in Tanzania. I have been checking every baobab tree we pass for fruit. But either there is no fruit or it is far to high to attempt to pick! But last week in Kimande, we got ourselves some baobab fruits and got excited about smoothies!

Standing under a baobab tree in Kimande

The African Baobab's fruit is incredibly good for you with twice as much calcium as milk, 6 times the vitamin C of an orange, high in potassium and with one of the highest antioxidant capacities of any fruit in the world. It has fourteen essential vitamins and minerals and is almost fifty per cent fibre... get the idea? This is one good fruit to eat!

So what to do with the fruit? In the UK the super-powder of the Baobab fruit comes in a tidy little (expensive) package, neatly labelled with all those health benefits and probably with an attached leaflet of what do with it. But we just had the tree. And a very hard fruit.

So we bashed and banged and whacked the fruit to crack it open ... no easy task. And this is what we found.

Inside there are large, oil-rich seeds surrounded by powder and fibres. I knew I wanted the powder, but how to get it? I asked around in the village. Following the advice from a neighbour, I soaked the seeds in a bowl of water with some sugar for half an hour and then was able to remove the seeds, leaving the powder in the water.

We then strained the messy gloop into a jug and juiced some oranges which we added to it. The end result was delicious! And oh so healthy!

Now there's more things on my list of things to try... Baobab porridge, Baobab energy bars, Baobab Chicken and Groundnut Stew and of course a Baobab Victoria Sponge.

On another note, here is a short video clip showing a bit of the activity from the new stoves group in Kimande! We have a good team! They are working hard and learning well. Please pray for this group as they learn and work together and as they make and sell these stoves to help their community!

Fuel-Efficient Stoves Project in Kimande, Tanzania from Rachel Monger on Vimeo.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Clay Moulded and How NOT to Wear a Head Scarf

Stove Project Kimande has officially begun! It's been an utterly exhausting few weeks but the group is off to a good start. We arrived on Friday two weeks ago to find the pits had been dug, but not filled with clay, so that was our first priority... and finally in the dark at 8pm that first night, the pits were full and it was time for tea.

Off to get the clay!

Pits are ready!
Loading the clay into the pits

The next day our priority was finding water. There had been no water all day on Friday and there was still none on Saturday, so Tim went with Ezekiel and Mendriad in the car with buckets to get some. It is an ongoing difficulty and a constant eye is on the bucket levels!

At the end of the second day, I crawled under my dusty mosquito net with blisters on my hand from working in the garden, a burnt thumb from the fire, a splinter in my hand from splitting the firewood, nicks in my fingers from slicing tomatoes and onions sitting on my little stool and a hole in my pink flip-flops from stepping on a piece of charcoal from the jiko which sizzled through the bottom of it. Tired.

On the third day (with no water again and Tim off again with the buckets) we still hadn't even started the training week and I was wondering how we were going to carry on. With temperatures up at 36 degrees C in the shade, the heat was hard to work in. (Although having said that, it cooled down the second week; one day it got as low as 29 and people in the village were wrapping up in thick coats and blankets hoping for their winter to end!) We found two scorpions in Louisa's bed and one in our net and a snake had shed its skin in the main room. Food is hard to come by and cooking for all of us was proving tough work. I prayed for help. Particularly with providing food. The answer was not quite what I had in mind... I was given a chicken! Alive and clucking. Where to put him?

On the fourth day we officially began the Kimande-Itunundu Stoves Project. We had no idea who or how many would turn up and for a long time after our arrival at the church at 7:45am, nobody did! But people trickled in and we got up to 14 people that first day. Tim did a great job giving an overview of the project and starting our week-long journey through the story of the Bible.

Tim teaching on Day One

We then moved outside to the clay pits and Ezekiel and Mendriad taught the first stage of the stove-making process. Meanwhile I prepared for a cooking demonstration which I did at the end of the morning, teaching about efficient cooking on the stove. Hot and exhausted we headed back to the house at 1pm. I looked at all the dishes from the night before, our breakfast and the cooking demo. They had to be done before starting to cook the same food (rice and tomatoes) all over again. And we had a crowd of five guys sitting outside our house, so I figured I had better make lots. By the time I had prepared lunch and cleared up, it was 4:30 and time to start thinking about the next meal. The chicken. I was a physical and emotional wreck by this point, and the thought of dealing with this chicken was enough to finish me off. Yes, I escaped for some tears in the bedroom! And this was the point at which my prayer was fully answered. Ezekiel offered to slaughter the chicken. And then he came to me with the headless bird and said he would gut and cook it for me! Thank you, God!

Ezekiel with our chicken

And so we did make it through that first week of training! The days began when I got up at 6:45am to get the fire going to make that very important cup of tea. We had bread and butter for breakfast. I prepared the bread dough in the afternoons and then cooked it after the evening meal ready for the following morning. The group started at 8am. We started in the church building, working our way through the story of the Bible and focusing each day on a topic related to the project like teamwork, or business. At the end of the week, the group elected their own chairman, secretary and treasurer and they became their own group, taking responsibility and ownership of the stoves work. We have an Anglican chairman, Muslim secretary and Roman Catholic treasurer! And we closed the group off at the end of the week with 25 people which is great.

Reading the story of the Bible in pictures

Making clay stoves

Baby sleeps while Mama works
After our meetings in the church building, the group all went out to the stove house/clay pits to do the practical training. Ezekiel and Mendriad have been a fantastic help here and the group is learning quickly how to make good stoves! We already have 27 stoves made and drying. The group finished each day around 1pm and it was time for me to prepare lunch. Usually this was rice or ugali with tomatoes or mchicha (like spinach). By the time all the dishes, sweeping, bread-making, clothes-washing and food sourcing was done it was often time to prepare the evening meal. Again ... usually rice with more tomatoes or spinach. Or beans which were a treat! The beans I would soak in the morning and then boil up in some water at lunchtime and put in the haybasket for the afternoon. I could then cook them with some tomatoes and onions in the evening. This is great way of saving firewood. Women here do not like to cook beans simply because they take so long to cook, using too much wood. The firewood situation is worse here than in Magozi. Women or girls must walk for 6 hours, carrying back enough wood on their head to last 4-5 days. We get ours in the Landcruiser.

Evenings start early as it gets dark at 7pm. I became proficient at cooking with a torch (flashlight) in my mouth (yes, I need to find my head-torch!) as I usually finished cooking the meal in the dark outside. Then we would find the girls (much harder to do in this big village!) and get them washed - the amount of dirt is really unbelievable (not just on the girls)! We eat together by candlelight and our solar light, which may sound romantic but isn't! You just can't see what you are eating, but maybe that is a good thing! The evenings are then spent playing cards with lots of laughs and a time of Bible study and prayer together. This has been such a rich and special time with Ezekiel and Mendriad and they really are family now.

Our "family" got bigger on Sunday. Jesca, a Tanzanian who has recently completed studies on community development and is now working with us, arrived to take on the task of learning the ropes in order to train for the position of stoves project manger. She fit in really well and with seven of us together, we were a full house! And seven (or more!) mouths to feed three times a day. I always worried that we would not have enough and was always relieved when there was. Yes, I know... I shouldn't have worried.

There is so much more to say, but I think I will add more over the next few days while we are back in town. Tim is much more even-keeled me than me and would say overall it's been a really good few weeks. And it has; I just feel more like there have been great highs and seriously hard lows! But however you look at it, God is good and faithful. He takes us as lumps of clay and forms something good. It has been a real time of realizing God uses us in weakness. Of realizing that serving requires an effort that doesn't necessarily come naturally and also a grace that only comes from God! Knowing we are not able, but God always is.

And just in case you ever need to know... don't wear a head scarf like this...

You may be taken for a witch doctor! So I was told anyway when someone in the village was brave enough to tell me!

Instead, you should wear it like this...