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

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) 


  1. Oh wow Rachel. What a time! I have such a sense of how everything you went through is going to mean a whole lot of blessings and life to others and that will keep on giving and giving to so many other people.

    If you could see into the future you would be rejoicing and thanking God that He used you to bless all those people.

    So I will give thanks and rejoice in your sacrifice of praise and your offering - your heart and willingness to go where He calls even in the most abominable transport.

    May God give you rest, rest, rest and a nice latte and pedicure sometime, somehow this Christmas season.

    With huge love from the BraIthwaites xxxx

  2. I love your writing!!! Sorry you had to go through all that, but it does make for a good story!!


Please leave us message! We love to hear your news and thoughts too!