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

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Sweet Crisis of Sugar

My sugar search started. I scanned shelves. I asked shop assistants. But there was no sugar to be seen. Last week I tried several small shops before finding someone selling sugar. But this time, success was just around the corner, at the second shop I tried!
Sugar success!
Sugar used to be bought for 1800 shillings/kilogram (56p/kg or Cdn $1.10/kg). But with the current Tanzanian sugar shortage (which started last month), the price has risen at times to as much as 5000 shillings (£1.56 or $3)! I was pleased to get mine for 3000 Tsh this time.

Tanzanian friends of ours joked with us that Tanzanians put all their sugar in their tea (they love very sweet tea) while we put our sugar quota in our cakes and cookies! And so we see it now. The Tanzanians are struggling to sweeten their tea and we are missing a cookie after school or our standard banana muffins for breakfast or school snack! Rationing and substituting.

This sweet disaster is no laughing matter. The availability and affordability of sugar has degenerated into a crisis. And the sugar politics is proving bitter and rather hard to follow. Government and business are accusing each other of creating the crisis, but many believe it started in February when President Magufuli announced the sugar import ban, saying he would be the only person to issue permits as the whole sugar import process was steeped in corruption. And so prices have soared. Accusations have been made about sugar hoarding to creating an artificial shortage to justify price hikes. And meanwhile Magufuli's impossible attempts to fix the price at 1800 Tsh fail. And yes, the temptation once sugar is found, to buy up all the sugar in the shop is real and sweet. Sinful selfishness stirred up by sweet sugar.

It used to cost 200 shillings to get a cup of chai; now it will cost 300 shillings, so many opt out. So going without chai, I continued with my shopping. Pretty much everything we need can be bought at the local market. Shopping is a cheerful, friendly wander through the stalls jam-packed of people (much easier in the dry season without the rivers running underfoot). Someone selling tomatoes, another mama selling green lemons, men selling onions and potatoes. Most of the fruit is outside. As my woven basket was close to filling up, I spotted the most enormous avacados! They were the size of melons. But then chatting to the seller, I was reminded of the sugar crisis ... these giant avacodos were imported! But imported from Burundi, a country entrenched in a far more bitter crisis.

Avacados in the market

Someone transporting sugarcane on the road from the market
Back at home, with the shopping and precious sugar unpacked and put away, lunch preparations were underway and we enjoyed a visit from Pastor Amon who had just returned with Tim from Kayenze. Amon and Tim had been meeting with village leaders and trying to meet with the agricultural officer, discussing the next phase of the agricultural project working with more farmers and in a new sub-village. After our lunch of rice, chickpeas and cabbage and peanut butter cookies made with honey, we gave Amon a "tour" of the progress in our demonstration plot.

Tim and Amon in our shamba
Finally after all the floods, we are beginning to work our way out of the soggy mess down there! Young banana trees are doing well. Tim's cover crops of jackbeans, lablab and pigeon peas are prolific. Tomatoes are fruiting. Sunflowers are coming up and squashes too. And my precious artemisia has survived against the odds and is growing well. Pausing at the huge mass of sugar cane (planted by our neighbours on site) next to the banana tree, I contemplated how we could home-process some benefit from it. But without a cane press, I think it will remain to be hacked off and chewed by the kids on their way to school ... while we consider the benefits of a sugar-free diet.

Sugarcane and bananas with a covercrop of jackbeans

Lemongrass and tomatoes

Our first attempt to grow parsnips

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Here Comes the Bride(s)

One of the fun things about living in a country not your own, is discovering how other people celebrate the same event (in this case weddings), in very different yet at the same time similar ways!

We have recently been to two weddings here in Mwanza, both very different to our previous experiences of Tanzanian weddings which took place in villages. And nearly two months ago we celebrated the wedding of a special friend, Ruth, in England, which was very different again. Yet in enjoying the differences, we see so much is the same! And there is much we can learn about cross-cultural living from this fact!

Soon after returning to Tanzania, we went to Esther's wedding. Esther, a lovely girl who works with us on agricultural training, married Baraka ("Blessing") from Dar es Salaam. Word of mouth and mobile texts gave us the details of the wedding; the invitation, which included details on the "mchango" (the money to be contributed in order to attend) the planned times and locations and also sample wedding colours, was always "on the way." We eventually received it at the reception - a good thing to get, as we needed it to pay our contribution to get in at the party and it was a bit awkward there for a while! We had heard the wedding would start at 1:00pm. So we sensibly decided to arrive at the church at 2:00pm. It finally started at 3:00pm. The bride had arrived.

The bridesmaids, who had been singing to the gathering wedding guests for a long time, quickly slipped off the stage and ran to the back into order to process to the front, bringing the groom with them amidst much cheering and photo-taking. They then dashed back to the back again to receive the bride, and cheering loudly, the seated crowd thronged into the aisle with much vigelegele-ing (high pitched trilling), much dancing and more photo-taking! The groom came to the back again to meet his bride. Esther's parents presented her to him, giving their permission to marry and once the veil was removed, the couple slowly made their way through the cheering crowd and took their positions at the front.

People were introduced, songs were sung, the pastor preached, vows were declared, rings were given, prayers were said, the registry book was signed. It all took about two hours. And then the crowd, with more vigelegele-ing, followed the newly married couple outside. Snapping photos. Hugs and laughter. Such familiar joy!

Tim prays for the couple

Giving of rings (notice the hands held high!)
Guests (including Louisa!) rush to the front to get a good look ... and a photo!
It was now 5:00pm and the reception was due to start at another location at 6:00pm. We decided to arrive at 7:30pm. We arrived to find a beautifully decorated hall! Incredible fairy lights and sashes of wedding colour material draped extravagantly on the walls. But we were one of the first there! We were served sodas and juice as we waited (that was similar to what we were used to). Then we were served what we later learned was cow intestine soup (not so used to that). And then sometime after 9:00pm the wedding party arrived! Amisadai was feeling particularly hungry at this point (she had passed on the soup)!

Arriving at the reception
The bride and groom entered through an arch, ceremoniously cutting the ribbon as they came in. Then the party could begin! The MC, with the aid of a microphone and very loud speakers, kept a running commentary going in tandem with the DJ and drum rolls, through everything from the cutting of the cake to the giving of gifts! After cutting the cake, the bride and groom fed one another pieces of cake and then proceeded to give small cakes to their parents and other important people who had been involved in the wedding. There were speeches and many introductions! And then the gift-giving... such a fun-filled noisy affair! Everyone danced up to the bride and groom to present their gifts, in groups (of colour-co-ordinated outfits), as individuals, in groups again, with lots of vigelegele-ing, hugs and dancing! How the couple managed to keep standing through this whole thing is beyond me! I did notice though, that Esther, who has the most stunning selection of very high heels of any agricultural worker I know, was barefoot under the hem of her dress now!
Giving the gifts, wrapped in a khanga!
And finally, three hours later, just past midnight, dinner was served! You can imagine how tired and hungry Amisadai and Louisa were by then!! But we all joined the cheerful line-up and their plates were soon loaded with rice pilau, chicken and sausages, cabbage, and quite to their delight, an apple!

With Baraka and Esther at 1am!
I think one of the things I love most about weddings here is the noisy, informal chaos (in the program) that surrounds the day in boundless joy! People don't stay in their seats here. People wave things about and make a lot of noise! And what I find so funny is that in the midst of all the joyful chaos, the new couple is supposed to keep as straight-faced as possible! According to custom, they should not show that they yet know the joy of marriage and should show respect to their families by not looking happy to be leaving! (Having said that, both Esther and Baraka cracked some smiles!)Another custom I love is that of choosing a married couple as the best man and matron of honour, a couple who together have set an example of marriage to the new couple and can mentor them in their own marriage.

And this past weekend, it was fun to see how a couple blended the wedding customs of Tanzania and America into a fantastically happy day! We were delighted to celebrate the wedding of our friend Joel, an American, to his beautiful bride, Samantha, a Tanzanian. This time we received the invitation before the event (three days prior!) and it was more punctual (yet without being on American time!). There was unity sand and foot washing and then there was also noisy vigelegele-ing! We, as British/Canadians, were far outnumbered by Tanzanians and Americans, and it was fun to celebrate together! The same joy of marriage celebrated in diversity!

Foot-washing at Joel and Samantha's wedding
Living in Tanzania has meant we have missed many special weddings of friends and family over the past years (and we are sad to be missing two more in the next few months!) But we were unexpectedly able to be with our lovely friend, Ruth as she married Jim just after Easter! What a joy and privilege! It was so special for Amisadai (who was born on Ruth's 16th birthday) to be able to pray for the couple in the ceremony! And it was fun to add something different from Tanzania, as we wrapped them (rather noisily with our own poor imitation of vigelegele-ing) in the traditional khanga, decorated with a wedding blessing in Swahili!
Giving the happy couple a Tanzanian khanga



Friday, 20 May 2016

Losing ... or not!

As is true for many things, the longer you go without doing something, the harder it is to get back to doing it. Writing this blog seems no exception now! But more than that, it’s hard to pick up posts in the middle of such vastly different activity here after such a deeply emotional time gone unmentioned. To sort out my thoughts and process recent events to get words on a screen seems almost impossible! 

The Place that is Home

We are back in the place we call home again. Welcomed home by so many who came round with meals, fruits, bread and eggs and their love and condolences. Often when leaving one “home,” I find it feels like I am leaving or losing everything, saying goodbye to everyone. But as kind friends appeared on our Tanzanian doorstep, we were soon reminded on arriving “home” that we have so much here. And we are so thankful!
Back with good friends! Ester and Vicky from UTSS
Again I was reminded that in the midst of a hard time, it is easy to think of what is lost and forget all that has been given.  And so as we have bumped along a rather rough landing home, I am trying to intentionally (eventually continually) give thanks. I am far from always succeeding. But now taking a day out each week, I am endeavouring!

Singing with the Cockroaches

So when giant cockroaches popped out of every corner and drawer as I attacked the six-week settling of African dust on every surface, I sang joyfully with thanksgiving. Well, I confess, not really! But I was thankful it wasn’t mould! After the car puncture, and as the power cut and the shower broke again, I sang happily with my bucket of cold water. Again, sadly not. But I was thankful for the electrician who came … after his days of prayer (but that’s a good thing – right?) 

The Cow Dung Vandals

And now, albeit a little late, I can honestly give thanks for the bees, this after one of those sagas of epic disasters that I seem to attract like a magnet.  Yes, we lost the bees and the first honey harvest from the hive that crashed out of the tree the other week in Kayenze. And yes, we lost the bees from another hive in Kayenze a week later as a result of cow dung vandalism. Yes, really. Cow dung. Someone actually broke into the hive (occupied by bees) and dumped and smeared cow poo in there. I don’t blame the bees for moving out.
The fallen hive in Kayenze

The Night of the Stinging Bees

And then one terribly memorable evening, as well as losing our second honey harvest at home (which was a particularly great loss given the current national shortage of sugar which is another story), I also lost all my confidence and optimism. As I watched in agonised sympathy Joseph jumping erratically across the property before tearing like a madman out the gate and up the road with stings on his mouth, nose and head, I thought we had lost an entire colony of bees. His face swelled up like a balloon. As that night, our neighbours angrily protested the presence of the hives, I thought we were losing the whole bee project. As the following day they demanded I cook for their child because Mama was now unable to due to sickness they claimed was caused by a bee sting, we knew the real reason was her lack of food and I felt so terribly lost. Indeed, as I handed out anti-histamine, benadryl and ice packs, all I could think about was losing and what was lost.


But really, all was not lost! Yes, there were hurdles to overcome. Yes, we did lose that which we didn’t want to lose. Yes, it did feel like a losing battle. When I lost my optimism that awful night, I wailed that I was not a pessimist but a realist. It was just that things were realistically pessimistic at that moment.  But however I felt at the time, there was reason to be thankful. We still have bees. We will yet get a honey harvest. And after together visiting the demonstration farm at Kisesa and the Kayenze beekeepers and then Tim having a couple of days with the groups in Malya, we tallied up how all the project hives are doing and realised just how much we have to give thanks for. As well as our two colonised hives, all three hives are colonised in Kisesa. Two out of three hives are colonised in Malya. And five hives are colonised in Kayenze. And we have two great groups of beekeepers... and some pretty cool flour-sack bee-suits!
Practicing thankfulness. We all at times face loss or feel we are losing.  We watched in the space of a few short weeks as people lost homes to the huge Fort McMurray fire...  a young child’s life was lost to cancer ... we lost our house tenants in the UK... friends lost a wife and mother to cancer... my Grandad ended up in hospital from a fall, losing so much more of his independence. Another friend in Canada lost so much to a stroke. But as I pray for that friend who has lost things like mobility, communication and the ability to eat, I see the futility of focussing on what is lost. She is determined to find things again and we are celebrating the things she has and is finding. And as we talk through with the girls about “losing” Grandad, we know that Dad is not “lost” (he's in a great place where there is no more loss and no more losing!) and we see all that we have been given through his life. Thankful.

Yes, at times we feel depleted. But by responding with thankfulness it is possible to be depleted but not defeated! For sure, all is not lost!
The peaceful apiary in Malya. Three hives nestled in the trees.

Thankful for the lovely group in Malya
 ... the mamas went ahead and made these awesome full beesuits out of flour sacks!

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Bye for now, Dad/Grandad

We do apologise that we have been silent on the blog for a couple of months. We have taken this time away from the Tanzania blog as we walked a different journey through my (Tim’s) Dad’s illness and subsequent death on 2 April 2016 in the UK.

He had been diagnosed in January 2015 with a brain tumour and underwent surgery to remove the tumour in March. He made an excellent recovery and returned to a full life including resuming his work and other activities. However, the surgeon did say the tumour would come back and this was confirmed with new lesions in the brain being shown up on his scan this January.
So, we landed in the UK on 19 March and were able to spend time with Dad each day, along with other family members, first in the hospital and then later in the hospice. Those 2 weeks I will treasure.

Each of those days with Dad was a gift in which we sought to enjoy him and encourage him. I was impressed by how our girls, Amisadai and Louisa, quickly adjusted from expecting to receive from Grandad (he had always given them so much) to what they could give to him, even as his faculties were shutting down. It was obvious that his time with them and his other grandchildren was a highlight of his final days and brought him and them real joy.
So in fact we consider our time there was rich and precious. Even with the tears and sadness, we are filled with gratitude and joy. So many friends reached out to us with generosity and kindness and we were blessed with special time with family. And Mum went out of her way after Dad’s funeral to make that last week in England as happy and fun as possible for Amisadai and Louisa with days out, delicious treats and many hot chocolates in Costa Coffee!

Over the past month, I have been reflecting on what a gift my Dad has been to me. To me he was a splendid Dad. I couldn’t have asked for any more. I’ve enjoyed reading and finding comfort in the cards and messages so many people have sent. And I can even say I enjoyed his funeral, learning many things about him. In this time of loss, I am aware there is much to gain. As I remember who he was, already there are things in my life I wish to adjust. These are some of his qualities I appreciate:
First, his cheerfulness. All the way through, right up to the end, he maintained this posture of cheerfulness. As a Christian there is no point talking about God giving you joy if it’s not evident in your life. Joy is what gives you strength to keep going and the foundation of joy is gratitude.
Second, was his love for all people. This was especially so for both those who had experienced extremely hard times and those from other countries. He reached out to help them and they in turn blessed him greatly. He was kind and generous –with his words, his time and his money.

Third, awareness of his weaknesses. He was a humble man who often referred to the points in his life which needed work and he did just that… he worked at those points. His character got better with time and reached its fullness in the last few years of his life.
Fourth, was his desire to seek/grant forgiveness and find reconciliation. Being reconciled mattered more to Dad than feeling he was right. And having the courage to seek reconciliation meant being willing to discover that he, as well as the other, may have been part of the problem. In a broken world this is a much-needed quality.

Fifth, his willingness to reconsider his views and beliefs and see them reworked and expressed differently. He understood that we all see through a glass darkly. In a rapidly changing world this is essential to being effective.
Sixth, he gave himself to what was life-giving and fruitful and leaving other things. He believed he had a contribution to make to the lives of others. He long continued working part time because he valued the company which did business the right way with good objectives.

And seventh, servant leadership. In his leadership in both church and business, power for him was to be used for the benefit of others, to see them developed and take their place.
To me, all these qualities were some of the gifts that Dad gave… his legacy.

As my Mum and I left the hospice for the last time, she said, “You know what Dad would say? Get on with your life!” In this period of coming to terms with his death, by God’s grace I hope to do this, adding these qualities of his, and so living more fruitfully back here in Tanzania.