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

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Gory and Gruesome: Reality not Make-Believe

With black capes and pointed hats in fun displays next to sweeties and fancy dress costumes, it is easy to think of witches and witchcraft as some harmless make-believe. But it is not so easy in Tanzania. Far from harmless, it has led to the murders of hundreds of people, and many even just this month.

For Josephat John, on Monday, October 6th in Murufiti, Kigoma Region, witchcraft was far from harmless make-believe. "When I returned home in the evening, I found the body of my mother lying 10 meters away from our house, while the body of my father was burnt inside the house,"  (Mwananchi newspaper, October 13th). Seven people accused of being "witches" were brutally murdered that day; bodies hacked with machetes and people burned to death. Men, women and children of the village fled. Later, 23 people were arrested for the rampage attack, including local leaders and witchdoctors.
In Shinyanga on the following Tuesday, two more women were brutally murdered. Three men slit their throats and chopped their bodies into pieces with machetes. They accused the women of casting spells that made them sexually impotent. While children in other countries this week play at gory and gruesome, this is tragically real.
For the three men in Shinyanga, their belief in witchcraft explained their impotence. For many in Tanzania, witchcraft is used to explain why bad things happen, why someone dies, gets sick, has a bad crop or loses livestock.  People believe that magic users (witches) have the power to cause disease, death, crop failure, impotence or bad luck of any kind. Diviners (or witch doctors) are consulted to determine what and more importantly, who is to blame. Those blamed tend to be those least defensible, often elderly women. These women are blamed because of their red eyes which are quite simply a result from cooking over a very smoky three-stone fire (often burning dung) in unventilated huts.
According to a Religion and Public Life study, Tanzania has the highest population of people who believe that sacrifices to ancestors or spirits can protect them from harm or bring them good luck. Over 60% of Tanzanians (which includes Christians and Muslims) practice or incorporate elements of witchcraft into their daily lives. Fishermen on Lake Victoria believe that a successful catch depends on a sacrifice from human organs (particularly from people with albinism). Gold miners in Geita believe their good luck will come from human body parts. African dance groups, political leaders, football players … so many people believe that a visit to the witchdoctor and magical potion will bring them success. Even at the extreme cost of another’s life.
The Legal and Human Rights Center recently reported that in Tanzania, in the first six months of this year, there have been 320 reported killings (actual numbers are assumed higher as many cases are unreported) related to witchcraft . These figures have gone up significantly since last year. In 2013, the total deaths reported were 303; in 2012 there were a total of 336. And the region with the highest percentages of witchcraft practices (and killings) is the Mwanza and Shinyanga regions of Sukumaland. The Sukuma people are widely known for their strong magic powers and ancestral "living dead" beliefs.
We are becoming increasingly aware of the evils of witchcraft here. We have already shared much on this blog about the plight of people with albinism due to witchcraft. In addition to this, recently a secondary school on one of the islands on Lake Victoria completely closed down due to witchcraft. Socerers are known to go around from school to school with a drum, literally "drumming" demons into students. This is particularly prevalent amongst teenage girls (for sexual reasons and due to their vulnerability). The consequences are many. This is no light-hearted trick-or-treat round.

This is a sombre post and with witchcraft a bit of a "taboo" topic (even here), I hesitated to share it. I know many of you may have the funky witch costumes ready. But whatever you are doing this Halloween, do remember that witchcraft is not make-believe and it can have tragically real gory and gruesome consequences. Tomorrow many children will be actually trying to look like murderers or butchered, scarred victims. Why do we make-believe gory and gruesome, pretending that killings, blood and scars are funny and witches are imaginary?

But although witchcraft is a powerful force of evil, it is not something we need to fear. Jesus did not hide from it. It was at Golgotha, the gruesome Place of the Skull, that Jesus defeated the powers of evil. Jesus did real gory with real blood that dripped out of real love. But although stripped of ultimate power, the power of evil is still roaming everywhere, (maybe just a little more vividly and tragically here right now in Tanzania), so don't turn out the lights; shine the light into the darkness. Our Father in Heaven, HALLOWED be Your Name ... 

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Back in Bunda

It has been over 6 months since that night we spent in Bunda after the car accident. ("Even When I Walk ...") But this weekend we were back. Back with the wonderful Archer family who took us in and helped us so much when we found ourselves in that dark valley. We are so grateful to this lovely family for all they have done for us; with their kind hospitality and loans of large sums of money (twice) as well as their prayer, help and support, they have been such a blessing to us! It was strange how much we felt we knew them going to visit this weekend, considering the incredibly short time we had with them months ago. And it was great to be together in happy and relaxed circumstances! This week is Sam's birthday and we were so glad to be able to let her and Matt escape for an overnight treat away by themselves for the first time in years! The kids had so much fun playing together over the weekend; we had seven children between the ages of 2-11! So rather more noise and food consumption than we're used to, but good fun!
Up Bunda Mountain with 5/7
(no, we didn't lose two ... this was before Matt and Sam left and so 2 stayed at the bottom with Sam!

Bunda Mountain from below

Out for a walk
And the really great news is that after all this time, finally we have Tim's driving license back! As time went on after the accident, we exchanged the occasional text with one of the friendly police officers. In a recent phone call with the police officer, Tim requested if it were possible for the license to be returned. Kind Sam Archer went to fetch it from the police station for us before we arrived! This is such a great answer to prayer. And it is amazing that Tim has not even been asked once by the police to see his license since April! We still wait to hear when the case will go to court and continue to pray that this would be cleared and closed soon.
Tim gets his license back!
While we were with the Archers, we were thrilled to see the work they are doing with young boys in Bunda, through the Boys Brigade. They gave us a tour of the vocational school they are working to establish. Matt is doing an amazing job training them in carpentry skills; their workshop was so inspiring! They pour so much into these boys, who all come from village backgrounds and have not been able to go to secondary school. Seeing these boys so proud of their uniforms, their English skills and especially their carpentry work is wonderful!

The carpentry workshop
Matt's class

The  classroom and dormitory, made to a high standard
The picture above shows the beautiful woodwork coming from the rough timber with the shavings fallen to the ground. The boys are learning the skills of the Carpenter. And they start with a cross. They learn to plane and joint.  They see something beautiful appear as parts are joined and bits are stripped away.

"Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me." We remembered again this Psalm and the word of encouragement it was for us those months ago as a young man lost his life. We are not in that shadow now, but we remember and pray for the family of that young man who must stay in a far deeper valley for much longer. And we are so aware of others who are also in the valley of the shadow of death. A classmate of mine recently died. Other friends last week lost their son, Steve, a young husband and father, after his brave battle with leukemia. And tragically and sadly last night, the seven year old son of Robert (one of the farmers whose field we planted a few weeks ago) died. The young boy, Joseph, suddenly became ill just yesterday afternoon around 2pm, complaining of a very bad headache. His little life was over that same night. Late this afternoon, we went to grieve with the many family and friends at his house. Robert’s wife, Elizabeti, was so gracious and hospitable to us in her grief. Her courageous smile for us was beautiful despite so much stripped away and no answers as to why.

Truly we know His comfort is there to reach those walking through the valleys. And truly we can say the Lord is our Shepherd. And we are thankful.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Boomslang or Bush Snake?

So what do you think? A harmless spotted bush snake or an extremely venomous Boomslang?
The snake that got comfortable in our chair!
The harmless spotted bush snake

The venomous Boomslang Snake
Louisa saw the snake first, thankfully before she sat down! It was lounging in the chair on our verandah. It slithered swiftly off and into a bush beside. We managed to get a photo of it … and kill it, along with the help of Jackson (Lucy’s son who lives here) and a trusty broom handle. We thought it was the harmless bush snake, but it does look suspiciously similar to the Boomslanger! We posted on Facebook and enjoyed the feedback "... the big eye, stumpy nose, and markings on its back like the boomslang"  "...but the small turquoise dots on the scales that are visible when in inhales, and the pattern, of dark and green make it a harmless Spotted Bush Snake..." What do you think?
So our list of snake kills is growing rather dramatically in Mwanza as our first rainy season starts! But at least this snake was outside, far less unnerving than finding one by the bed or beside the toilet!

Also in this, our first start of a rainy season, we are experiencing a significant lack of power. It is always so true that you appreciate all the more what you have when you go without. There are many lessons to learn here , I find! And it all leads to a more thankful heart! Well, I have a renewed appreciation for electricity! Today has been our first day in well over a week in which we have had power all day (I hope I don’t speak too soon!) Our single gas ring has been saving the day, boiling kettles for tea and heating up random food rescued from a defrosting freezer. The other day it even managed a meal of fishcakes, mashed potatoes, cabbage and treat of all treats, baked beans! It took ages but we were all in need of something to beat stale bread and scrambled eggs! This sounds terrible… we did actually have stale bread and scrambled eggs one day, but it’s not all so bad, really! Also, with the fridge defrosting in the kitchen, it leaks water which is a problem with our woven rush-reed mat, dyed red. The kitchen floor then resembles the River Nile after Moses raised his staff for the plague of blood. And with early morning bread dough rising all day in the heat, the kitchen also smells fermentingly like a brewery!
Made-in-the-dark Pesto (there should be a name for this!)
From our fresh basil supply!
As for other activities this week, Amisadai has almost finished a post on their half term, which we are all currently enjoying (even with Louisa's ongoing parasitic problems!) and you will soon be able to read about! Yesterday we were at Baraka’s shamba planting trees following all our crop planting of recent days (and previous blogs). I will just mention a funny comment we heard from bystanders watching us digging and planting, with our Landcruiser, the only vehicle around,  parked close by. “These wazungu (white folks) are planting cars!”
Well, we do need a project vehicle...! 

Monday, 20 October 2014

Woman Reversing but Mamas Moving Forward

The road was getting increasingly worse. I was getting increasingly nervous. The road was getting narrower, bumpier, full of holes and boulders and then it was getting steeper. It was Tuesday last week and less than an hour earlier, I had picked up our good friend, Ester and we were looking for Mama Penina who was supposed to be near the Anglican church. But after waiting for 20 minutes and failed attempts at phoning her, there was still no sign of her. Ester hopped out of the vehicle to ask around in the small duka (shops) if anyone knew Mama Penina and where she lived. A man did. He hopped in the back to direct us. This is when things started getting interesting! He kept assuring me that yes, it was a road and Penina's house was "very close." I doubted both. When we rounded a tight corner with a steep bank up on one side and an eroded drop-off on the other, to see a hill of boulders going up in front of us, I stopped the car. "We will walk from here." Our guide had certainly never driven a car and seemed to think a Land Cruiser could climb anything his feet could. I just left the vehicle, forcing out all thought of how I was going to reverse out of the mess we were in later on!

Things went increasingly better then. Ester and I thanked our guide and  continued up the steep rocks on foot, passed through a narrow alley between some houses built into the rock, crossed gingerly over a makeshift "bridge" of two logs and arrived at Mama Penina's house. She warmly welcomed us in and we met two of her lovely daughters. The youngest, Maria, the lively and hilariously funny six-year old pictured below, has albinism, and this is the reason Ester and I were visiting. 

Maria with Mama Penina
Maria poses for the camera!
Penina is a lovely Christian lady, a local primary school teacher and a mother of a child with albinism. She knows all too well the pain that such a mama carries. The pain of seeing your own child rejected by family and local villagers. Attacked and in some cases, killed. The pain of being considered a curse and a "problem" simply for giving birth to such a child. The pain of rejection and abuse by husband, family and village. The pain of seeing your husband killed as he tries to defend your child. The pain of being unable to provide enough to survive. The pain of the fear of being hunted down and found. Penina and five other mamas who in different ways bear this pain started meeting together, trying to support themselves and each other. But it was difficult and Ester, who knows these women through the work she has done with Under the Same Sun, to help their children by placing them in safety with grants for an education, asked if I could help. I know I can't help, but I do know Someone who can!

So Ester, Penina and I talked about meeting together, all the mamas and I. Every other Saturday. Reading the Bible together; finding the One who knows, understands and cares. And doing a project together; making something beautiful together, and hopefully eventually making a profit!

At the end of our planning and praying (encouraged and excited), Ester and I made our way back down to the Land Cruiser. Then it all came flooding back ... we somehow had to get out of here! I walked beyond the vehicle to check the holes and bends and in particular the drop by the eroded side of the road. A crowd gathered and with many adults and children watching or attempting to guide me, I managed to reverse back the way we had come. I scraped through the bush at one point in my nervous attempt to avoid falling over the edge where the road was eroded. All pretty sweaty stuff! But then, with what must have been 20-point turn in 4-wheel drive, I got us turned back around and we were on our way!

Now it's getting late, so more on the Mamas group (we all met together for the first time on Saturday) will have to wait for another post!

One of the mamas in the group is Jane ... you may remember her story told a few months ago here.

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