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

Monday, 7 December 2015

Waiting: Present to the Moment

Waiting. Tanzanians are brilliant at waiting. I am terrible. And so recent busy weeks have been a struggle and a challenge for me! For months we have waited for workmen to build a culvert and bridge at our gate and fix the serious flooding issues on our property. They finally started digging a ditch around our house on Monday last week. They returned on Tuesday but because our neighbours needed a new toilet hole, they started digging a toilet hole instead. And so a week later, the mud from weeks of rains and the Monday moat remains (yes, it's a feat to get in and out of our house!) and we have more water than ever filling up 'round the clock downstairs. And as for the toilet hole... I didn't understand that at the time, but maybe now can accept they had a point of priority?
Our front steps disappear into The Moat

The Mud
Getting out the front gate to go to school!
Waiting. On Monday morning we waited 3 hours in Kisesa for a meeting to start. On both Tuesday and Saturday afternoon I sat for over an hour or two on a brick, in the muddy ground, waiting for women to arrive for our Upendo wa Mama group meetings. On Wednesday we waited over 2 hours for someone to arrive at another meeting and on Thursday Tim waited 3 hours in town for new tires. I wish I could say I have now mastered the art of waiting. But I haven't and I still get frustrated, especially when things are so busy. In my head I really do understand how things work here and have grasped the concept of cultural contexts etc. In my head I can see how I can make the most of every opportunity... but somehow my emotions have yet to catch up (which is usually the case. But even more so at the moment!).

But amidst the waiting this week, we bumped along the rough, muddy track to the Church Planting school in Kisesa. And we saw seeds we planted in October now flourishing! It is so good and encouraging to see the fruit of some waiting! We are once again amazed at the difference in colour and size of the seeds planted with compost and mulch compared with those without. Even after just a few weeks above ground, the seeds planted with the new methods are a healthy green colour, tall and strong.

Mulched maize in the foreground.
Notice the pale colour and small size of the maize behind.
And something else much waited for ... I was so excited to discover that sometime in between our Monday and Friday visits, bees took up residence in the Kisesa hive! I had placed our worst hive in Kisesa, figuring we probably wouldn't get bees there as the forage for bees seemed so limited. The hive had already crashed to the ground in the winds and was precariously balanced at an angle unrecommended by the experts. But those bees must have loved all that canavalia we planted, because they were happily buzzing in and out of that rather inferior, unbalanced hive! 
Bees in the Hive!
We thought out our plans for the future of this shamba. We plotted spaces for tree varieties, crop varieties, a vegetable garden and medicinal garden. And with Joseph we planted another 40 trees (we have planted well over 150 now), starting a moringa tree section. And as I get excited about this, I realize that I can handle the fact that we will be waiting YEARS before most of this becomes fruitful and I think hidden in this fact is how I can make sense of waiting.
Planting trees
Ready to plant!

Moringa trees and aloe vera

Beans fertilizing the future medicinal garden area

Henri Nouwen makes very good sense of waiting. "The secret of waiting is the faith that the seed has been planted, that something has begun. Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment, in the conviction that something is happening where you are and that you want to be present to it." I think my emotions when waiting often tell me to give up. But actually here, I am encouraged not to give up, but be actively (not passively) waiting, being present to the moment. This means I need to play my part (baiting the hives, planting the seed and tending the soil, doing my best to serve the mamas), but at the end of the day, the rest is out of my control and I can wait, trusting that God has it all in hand. And so I do feel fully present with those hives baited, waiting for bees and with these very small tree seedlings with nothing close to a mango or an avocado on them.

"We can only really wait if what we are waiting for has already begun for us... it is never a movement from nothing to something. It is always a movement from something to something more." We only wait because we know we are waiting for something. Whether I wait for the mamas or a daladala or a tree to grow, I do have confidence that something is happening, something is growing, and therefore I wait. It is part of actively being present to the moment! And that is what advent is all about. Waiting. Being present to the moment. Holding on to faith that something is growing. Whether that be a baby in Mary's womb, a kingdom without tears, or on a very practical level, a hive full of honey or a bridge through muddy waters.

I am not waiting here for a perfectly decorated Christmas tree or a perfect roast dinner and trimmings or beautifully wrapped gifts! But I am waiting in confidence that something is happening where I am, and even if I emotionally feel tired and frustrated, I want to be present to it!

And coming up in the next post... interesting things learned about medicinal plants and also more on our drive to church on Sunday which made all our previous drives seem rather tame ... and we've  had our fair share of  freaky journeys the past few weeks! And I haven't even started on the active waiting that's been going with my bees here at home!

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Though there be no toilet paper on the roll ...

I love our work here in Tanzania. Really I do. I often say "life is never dull" and like to treat life as an adventure, with every obstacle a challenge ready to be overcome, with every idea bursting to spring into action. But sometimes  I really have had enough of adventures and challenges and even new ideas. That was the case after last week.

After rather a stretching week, sitting on a very crowded, hot bus, with no AC and an extra seat crammed in each row thanks to the elimination of non-essentials like armrests and personal seat width, I had over 17 hours to reflect on this. I wondered why on earth I was travelling alone across Tanzania, (nothing goes well when I decide to travel) squatting without toilet paper, eating a daily diet of ugali and uji, watching black mambas begin killed outside my dormitory. Is this really what almost 40-year old middle-aged mums do?
The black mamba
Don't middle age mums drive minivans around town on paved roads with traffic lights, drink lattes and think that a trip away should involve some kind of luxury like a spa involving massages and pretty feet or a hotel with white bath towels? As my ears screamed for silence after 17 hours of inappropriate Tanzanian music videos blaring, I was imagining ethereal strains of "Silent Night" in a cozy, Christmassy living room. On a cushiony, comfy couch.

I don't believe one blog post can do justice to all that is going on right now. But here's a bit ...

I won't even begin to go into how my journey began ... needless to say it involved high emotion and stress in an airport ... again. But I arrived safely in Dar es Salaam and made it promptly to the Albinism Conference where I met Mama Saidati and Mama Wilson who were looking amazing with their new hair-do's and glasses! They sold almost all their crafts and made a good profit! They were able to meet with so many other people with albinism and spend time with another Mamas Group from Dar es Salaam. There were cancer and eye clinics and lots of seminar sessions and good food! It was great to be there for the day, just to be able to sit and sell at their table while babysitting Mama Saidati's baby, which meant they could both catch the seminars! A wonderful experience for both of them!

Displaying their necklaces, cards and soap for sale
Posing by the Under the Same Sun display
After a night with the Nkone family I was on a 5 hour bus to Morogoro on Saturday, where I had a lovely time with the Dixon family! And then on Sunday afternoon I was off with 7 other people on a daladala out on a terribly bumpy road to a place in the middle of nowhere, to a Sustainable Agriculture training centre.
I immediately realised I should have brought more toilet paper. Rationing my half a roll became one of the challenges for the week. I then quickly realised that the week long course that I had been lead to believe would be offered in English was actually in Swahili. I should have brought a dictionary. And then I realised that I was in the middle of nowhere with no phone signal. I couldn't even tell Tim I had arrived! But life can go on without toilet paper and dictionaries and phone signals. It's just more challenging. Filling my bucket with water before squatting or washing, trying to close the gaps in my mozzie net every hot, stuffy night from the invading cockroaches and who knows what else, .... this was all just part of my week.

We began each day with uji (runny maize "porridge" in a mug) at 7am. Classes followed immediately with a short break for chai (lemongrass tea and maandazi) at half past ten. Then more classes until lunch at 2pm when we tucked in (with no cutlery) to our ugali (I think you know about this already). We usually finished classes between 5-6pm and by the time dinner had finished (a time which varied depending on what time dinner started!), my brain was fizzled. Too fizzled.

Time for chai
I was, I confess, relieved when it was time to get back on our daladala on Friday afternoon. It had been a full week, and I found it pretty intense with only 7 other students and all in Swahili. Also, the teacher seemed to pick on me an awful lot and I felt rather like a school kid who keeps getting it wrong and wants to just crawl under the floorboards. I tried to keep my head down, but it doesn't seem to work. Suddenly the teacher would be asking me in Swahili, "Lecho (Rachel)! Explain to us genital herpes" or "what is diarrhoea?" I'm not actually really sure that a dictionary would have helped that much. A hole in the floor would have been much better.  I wish I could say my Swahili improved because of it all, but I'm not sure it did.
But I learned a lot about medicinal plants. I learned how to make soap. I learned how to make ointments for different purposes using, of course, beeswax! I was inspired to plant gardens that really do give life. Gardens benefitting health, through preventative and curative means. Trees and plants that benefit also the soil, replacing nutrients lost. And I will tell more of this in the next blog ...
Pounding leaves
Practical session on the last day
Starting a fire to boil water for our ointment making (it had rained in the night!)
Getting home really requires another whole blog post ... Think of it like a long-haul flight of 17.5 hours but then take out the reclining seats, armrests, personal in-flight theatre, continual food and drink served by pretty, smiling women who are there to help you. And of course take out the aisles (the narrow excuse of an aisle was often full of extra temporary passengers on the floor) and take out controlled air temperature and toilets (we had one 10 min pit stop which finally happened after 9 and a half hours). Add in many hot sweaty bodies whose bottoms do not fit in the seat, a box of tree seedlings on my lap and fast overtaking with a loud horn and you pretty much have it! Needless to say I was extremely relieved to be home ... well, for a while. But again, it's another blog to write about all that Tim was dealing with on the home front!

So, yes, I do sometimes long to be a "normal" middle-aged mum with things like lattes and white towels in my life (I do honestly know and appreciate all middle-age mums have loads of other challenges and I am merely thinking the grass is always greener on the other side!), and I do often struggle to consider it all pure joy! But a bit of time to reflect (which is what I enjoy about writing this blog!) puts things into perspective. What is truly important?

Though the phone signal does not work and there be no toilet paper on the roll... yet I will rejoice ... Habakkuk 3:17-19 (own translation) 

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Through Hives and High Water

Here are just a few photos of recent days to tell with a few quick words some of what's been cookin' here! While Tim has been in Dar es Salaam, the girls have been busy with extra things like a Swim Club BBQ, a School Fair, school production rehearsals, parent interviews... so keeping up with the changing car pool schedule for thirteen kids deserves a gold star here!

Back into beekeeping ... in Kayenze before Tim left, we were able to work on the beehive that never made it into a tree! We coated the top bars and hive with beeswax and honey and into the tree it went. I wasn't completely happy with how things ended up, as things (i.e. the hive and Samson) moved rather quickly and dramatically HIGH into the tree. The idea was to have low hives that were easily accessible to monitor and manage... even for women in skirts. But this hive is now pretty much out of reach for the season! But it is in the tree and the bees will love it up there! Come on, bees!

See Samson in the tree!
Oops! A bit too high!
We stopped off at a friend of Amon's before leaving Kayenze. His freshly caught fish were still squirming and twitching! Took a big 'un home for tea!
Miss Tilapia
The heavy rains here have created all kinds of trouble on the roads, all around our house, inside the downstairs of our house and even closing the airport runway when Tim was trying to fly home from Dar es Salaam!
Our "road" now after the rain. It becomes a real river when it rains!
Roads are disappearing! Louisa took this photo on our way home from our market.

We are on mopping duty throughout the day, every few hours every day!
Mama Penina is absolutely thrilled with some reading glasses! As we were talking about eye care for the children, I realised when Penina tried to read her Bible aloud, she really couldn't do it! Thanks to some reading glasses left here by Greg Whittick, she can now read (and manage her job as a teacher) much more easily! Little Maria was amazed when she snuck a pair of the glasses on! These were simple adult reading glasses and not suitable for her more complex needs, but she loved trying them on! I am so looking forward to the day she can see a specialist and get some prescribed glasses!

Meanwhile, Mama Saidati and Mama Wilson have arrived safely in Dar es Salaam after their long bus journey and are enjoying the Albinism Conference!
Penina with her beautiful girls, Dora and Maria
And I am off to meet them! I fly to Dar es Salaam early in the morning and have a day at the Albinism Conference. Then I am off on a bus to Morogoro on Saturday and looking forward to seeing the Dixon family before my seminar begins. From Monday to Friday I will be learning about the cultivation and usage of medicinal plants. Learning how to extract natural oils and make high-quality soap! And then it's a long 12 hour ride on a squishy, hot bus to get home again next Saturday. Prayers for no rain on the roads would be much appreciated! And prayers also for Tim holding the home fort and viewing all the aforementioned productions and performances!

So until then, through "hives" and high water, we persevere...!

Monday, 16 November 2015

Strength and Joy in the Turbulent Times

Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Saviour.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    he enables me to tread on the heights.
Habakkuk 3:17-19

So much turbulence is shaking the world right now. Paris. Beirut. Syria. Burundi.... The atmosphere seems so sombre, although our world has long been broken and hurting. And in the midst of the vast turbulence, all of us face our own small or huge personal turbulent situations. I am just thankful that my strength is not in the governments of this world, not in the success of a crop, nor the rain or the sun. And pertinently for me, especially not in a house in the floods. All these will fail. I will fail. My strength and my joy are in the Lord ... no matter what.

I can't really get my head around my thoughts of the greater turbulence right now. My brain is tired from the lesser turbulence around me. As I write, Tim is stuck in Dar es Salaam, unable to fly in on time because of the turbulent waters in Mwanza. It has been a busy week. I can easily and quickly focus on the frustrations and all that has gone wrong. But while the turbulent waters swirl about, my desire is to keep them off-board. Being in a place of strength and joy rather than sinking with the waters. Treading the heights with the feet of a deer. Looking for the sparks of hope, the glimmers of beauty.

I am rejoicing for the opportunity that Mama Saidati and Mama Wilson have to go to an International Albinism Conference in Dar es Salaam this week! They are excited about representing the Upendo wa Mama Group, taking some of their handmade goods to sell. Some of my recent "turbulence" has come about from the busy preparations for this event. The mamas are enthusiastic to meet and make things to sell, but gathering the group together at one time for a profitable time has been a challenge and involved a lot of "waiting." And trying to keep quality a priority over quantity has also been a challenge!
A busy morning!
After various meetings and plannings during the week, which included ordering, waiting for and picking up our very own "Upendo wa Mama" rubber stamp, we met at the school to do final work on Saturday. As the dark skies thundered ominously, we realised the man with the key was gone! We couldn't get into a classroom to work. We found a spot out of the deep, squelchy mud of the compound, someone ran to borrow a mat, and we got busy on the ground. Again today, heavy rains thwarted plans. Missing all the mamas but one, I ended up driving boxes of soap with Mama Wilson through driving rain to a red container at a bus stand. I can't say I've felt much like we've had the feet of deer treading in the heights, but we do have reason to be joyful!

Now the bus tickets are bought, the soap, Christmas cards and necklaces are boxed up and ready to go. The two mamas leave early in the morning. We have prayed together as a group for their safety as they go. I can't even imagine how it must feel as a woman with albinism, who can neither read or write, who has never travelled to Dar before, to be embarking on this trip! I pray it will be an encouraging and life-changing time for both of them. They have been through terribly turbulent times and my prayer is that they could find real strength and true joy. I can't wait to see them in Dar when I arrive at the conference on Friday!
Bottling the homemade soap
And finally, to finish with some more strength and joy in turbulent waters... water is such an appropriately apt analogy for me at the moment as we vigorously fight the rising floods downstairs every few hours! But while I still struggle to find joy in the basement, this church in Kisesa quickly found joy in the remains of their ruined building. They have been building a church, and had just put the roof on. But the high winds of the other week tore off the roof and the flooding torrents tore through the foundations. And yet the people sang.
The temporary building

The now-roofless frame. The rebuilding begins.
They know where there strength and joy is found. Yes, they see the problems, and I'm not talking about just their own building problems, but also those of their community, faced with harsh weather conditions, poor soil, and a lot of witchcraft. They see misplaced strength and a lack of joy. We are looking forward to working with them in Kisesa, reaching out from where we have been working at the demonstration farm at the School, to the rest of the village.

So yes, these times are turbulent. The history of our world has always been turbulent. But yet we can rejoice and have strength. In God, when all else is failing around us, we can rise above and tread the heights with our feet like the feet of a deer. And this is my prayer for friends, and also suffering strangers, in turbulent times now.

Singing in Kisesa Church from Rachel Monger on Vimeo.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Celebrating Guy Fawkes Demise and Magufuli's Inauguration

We hit the road at 6:45am on November 5th. This felt decidedly wrong when it had been announced the previous afternoon that it was to be a national holiday in honour of the new President's inauguration. So with school suddenly cancelled and the rain coming down, it felt like I should still be in bed. But to the village of Malya we all went ... along with Peter. No fireworks here, but time to plan for a Beekeeping Project!

It was a long and bumpy 3 hour drive (although the rain stopped and the roads were slightly better than the ones to Kayenze the day before) but at the end, we were warmly rewarded with lovely hot, sweet milk and chapatis from Mama Gloria. We were ushered to the church building and proceeded to be amazed at the excellent planning of Pastor Kayuli and this group in Malya. Often it can be a challenge getting people together and even more of a challenge to get people together on time! But here, a well-prepared group of people were sitting waiting for us!
Tim shows the Top-Bar Beehive as he explains about the project.
We had the village leaders, we had existing beekeepers, we had interested beekeepers and we had a womens group. Except for the carpenter, who was travelling and entered the meeting briefly by mobile phone, it was exactly the people we had wanted to meet with, all in the same room at the same time!

It has been over a year since we visited the church in Malya, and it was then that they asked us about the possibility of a beekeeping project, an undeveloped concept in our thinking at the time! So it was wonderful to be back, to see their excitement and enthusiasm, and see a plan develop! They will gather 15-18 people to form a community beekeeping group who will train, work and meet regularly together as we establish the project with the help of Julian Wilford from the UK. While we work with the Malya group, we will also help them to establish their own tree planting project which will work well with the bees.

It was great to see Lucas as part of the group. This young man has just graduated from the Church Planting School in Kisesa and so was part of the missional and agricultural training Tim gave there last month. It was also lovely to meet some of the women from the Upendo Group set up by the church for very young women as well as older mamas and widows from the village. I think we were all rather excited about making things out of beeswax together in February!

After a quick tour to see the bees in the tree project plot, we were all ready for bowls of rice and ginger beans. We left at 2pm for the long drive home, and arrived back in Mwanza rather tired, but just in time to get to a Bonfire Night party with British friends in the evening. Brilliant fun, complete with hot dogs and potatoes cooked in the fire, eaten with hot chili and guacamole and cheese! Finished off with toasted marshmallows and hot chocolate. We didn't have fireworks, but we did have four rationed mini cake sparklers from Wilkinson's (thanks to a surprise parcel quite some time ago). A wonderful end to a fruitful day!
Mama Gloria and Lucas take us to the bees in the tree
(this after avoiding the snake in the tree opposite, but I didn't get a photo of that!)

We finished off our busy and bumpy 485km week in the landcruiser by going with Joseph to the church planting school in Kisesa early the following day. There we planted more trees and encouraged Joseph who is single-handedly taking on the planting for us there and facing his own frustrations!
Planting an avocado tree
Our third snake of the week!
(He didn't really eat it and it was really dead!)
If you regularly read this blog, you probably know much of the ups and downs of our Beekeeping Endeavours! But if you want a synopsis of the happenings and want to know a bit more about the plan, check out the "Down to Earth" article we wrote for the latest EIUK monthly news.

Click Here to go to the article

And now for another exciting update! As I post this blog, we have just picked up 90 honey jars ready for the harvest! Now for some snazzy labels...

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Down the Road the Road is Down

You saw our massive rains on Monday. But you also saw our awesome land cruiser! Well, since we picked it up on Sunday, it has done a tough and rough 485km with us! It's been a busy week! On Wednesday, we ventured to Kayenze and we saw what was left of the roads. We knew our usual route would be pretty impassable. We found out late the night before that bridges were washed away on our Plan B route. So we went with the Plan C route.

Plan C Route
We left early with friends visiting from England, Cameron and Cath Spence, to Kayenze for a whizzing visit to various farmers in our agricultural group to check on progress with planting. It was great to have Cameron and Cath along and they patiently bore the bumping about on the road and trekking about on foot in the fields! We were all incredulous at some places where the road had simply eroded away, leaving up to 4ft drops and holes.

Thankful that the rain, which we had left home in, had stopped, we could see just how dangerous it would be with rain on the road, unable to see the crevices and holes. We saw a school bus which on Monday had been swept off the road and 150m down flooded fields where now people gathered with spades to try and dig it out. And we could also see the flood damage to homes beside the road. Sobering. Cameron was kindly hopping out from time to time to help navigate the tricky bits when turning around on rocky tracks, and although the journey took longer than usual, we made it safely back in time for school pick-up at 4:30pm!

The school bus stuck in the mud
Here are a few shots from the day, with some captions introducing you to some of the great people we are working with in Kayenze. They are putting into practice what they are learning, and together we are praying for a fruitful, improved harvest with more seeds to sow into the future of this community!

We first met with Amos. He has persevered through hardship,
re-planting where a herd of cows had trampled his seeds and gobbled his mulch.

We then met with Mama Meriziana. I think we will have to call her Mama Jackbean,
as due to her success, she is now the jackbean supplier! 
Cameron and Pastor Amon checking out the jackbeans! Meriziana is one of the few who
appreciate the benefit of the inedible jackbean which replenishes the soil with all kinds of goodness!
We travelled on to see Samson (right) and his family.
Samson has done a fantastic job, continuing to plant rows and rows of the different bean varieties.
Rows of beans intercropped with maize.
Sorting out the top-bar hive to put up in the mango tree.

A couple of guys whacking to death a boomslang snake in the field!