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)