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

Monday, 26 September 2016

One Fine Week

Sitting here in the dark during a power cut, Tim and I are sort of laughing. Trying to figure how things went so drastically from bad to worse. Tim is lying out flat with an elevated ice-packed ankle, unable to walk after getting bees in his boots. I am ringed with stings on my arms, but not as puffed up as Tim. It's been quite a day. It's actually been quite a week or two.

Today was the day that I hoped things would finally "work out." Tim and I were going to Kisesa, hoping to harvest some honey. We were up high on the roof of the container when it all started to go pear-shaped. There was some honey for the taking, but we got just a little overwhelmed by the situation. Bees were agitated. Bees were everywhere. We were seriously outnumbered. And way out of our comfort zone on the roof with them all trying to sting us. We escaped down the ladder without getting things closed up. We walked through bushes and trees, smoking ourselves, desperately trying to lose the bees. Finally things calmed down and we came back and climbed back on the container to get things sorted out up there.

Wham! Attack of the Bees! It was insane. Bees stinging us through our suits, going down Tim's boots. We did the best we could in the circumstances and escaped again down the ladder, but half the colony chased us out. We ran. We walked. We ploughed through trees and bushes. We went round in circles. And more circles. It was so very hot. Tripping in circles over steep cassava mounds of hard dirt. Sweat pouring off me. I lost my hair elastic and wet hair was clinging to my face, and my nose was streaming from the smoke. But with the bee veil over my face, I couldn't do anything but stagger onwards! It's a times like this I wonder what on earth I am doing. WHY? I even started singing in a rather desperate kind of gentle way to the bees in hopes that I could calm them all down. But I didn't lose them. I lost Tim. I lost the hive tool. Tim lost the car keys. That could have been serious. We had been walking for over an hour through every tree and bush in the vicinity trying to lose the bees. But amazingly, Tim found the car keys!

Finally, with me way up the road, Tim hopped in the drivers seat and with windows open drove to pick me up. I climbed in and tried to lose more bees. It wasn't working with lots of bees in the back of the land cruiser. So I sat on the back with my legs holding both doors wide open as we bounced along the dirt road trying again to lose the bees. Finally we had the car to ourselves and were able to strip off our sweaty bee suits and gulp some much needed water.

This is the only photo from this bee adventure. It was that stressful.
This is me holding the two doors open with my feet as we try to lose the bees out the back.
Epic bee adventure yet again. And we didn't even get the honey. Someone reminded me of Winnie the Pooh devoting his life to getting honey... and getting stung. And I feel much sympathy for that honey-lovin' bear. And rather like that Bear of very little brain, I will keep on trying for that honey!

We arrived home, hot, tired and gutted. Only to find Louisa's rabbit dead from her injuries after a dog attack. And after burying her, we are now all out to try and save her 10-day old bunnies.

Amisadai feeding the little kits.
Bees and bunnies aside, it's been a busy full-on time for the Mamas. Wednesday's and Saturday's have been a hive of activity in our new "workspace" as we have worked on finishing products to sell in Canada at an UTSS Albinism fundraising Gala next month. It's been a challenge. Our last job was to make candles and we set aside a whole day on our last Saturday to get them all done. To make it through the day, we would all bring food to cook for lunch. I brought a gas burner to cook it on and to melt the candle wax. Unfortunately halfway through our candle-making, the gas ran out. With the torrential rainstorm, we couldn't even light a fire outside. None of the candles worked. And none of us got any lunch.
Working on the candles
We did manage to finish lots of cards
On Thursday, I left early at 6:30am to pick up Peter and head off to Malya for the Bee Group meetings. We were sorting out getting catcher boxes made to catch any swarming bees for our hives. And sorting out who would make them and for how much. Always a little complicated. I was meeting with the mamas and that was a bit of another classic mamas muddle. Mixed up times, mixed up recipes, one mama coming without any of the supplies and heading off on a borrowed bike for an hour to fetch things while the fire went out and the wax went cold.

We were trying to do in one day what we normally do in two days and it didn't altogether work. Never try be over-ambitious with time in Tanzania. I actually really know this. But I thought this time it would be fine. It wasn't fine. I wasn't fine. I recalled Julie and Julia's definition of FINE that day. "Freaked-out, insecure, neurotic and emotional." It seemed rather apt! As the time approached for us to leave at 3pm, I tried to quickly wrap things up and clean things up with the mamas. Then the bee group was so keen that we ate some lunch they so kindly provided for us, and then there were kind gifts of aubergine and spinach to be picked straight from the fields for us. ... And then we hit the bumpy road for the long 3 hour journey back, arriving exhausted and "fine", but to my relief, just before it got dark!

I'll leave it there, but as I try to sum up a week of  "failures" (I have a lot to learn) and tired frustrations, I know I am looking forward to a time of quiet reflection in the midst of the storm tomorrow! Soaps that have over-reacted. Me who has over-reacted. Candles that have holes in. Milk boiled over. Food run out. A rather dirty, messy house (We are missing Angel who helps in our house and is currently at her sisters wedding for two weeks ...which is seeming like an eternity!) Difficulties and problems. Questions and doubts.

How to best serve? How to learn from our failures? How to persevere and when to wisely let go? 

Monday, 12 September 2016

Seasons. Preparing and Growing


A new school year begins. A new "season." We missed joining the FB crowd last week with those "back-to-school-by-the-front-door" photos, but both girls are excited to be a year up with new teachers! Growing up.

Routine resumes. Or so they say. To be honest I'm not sure I really know what routine is... I think it is possibly over-rated. Our first week back to school, which was a quite a busy week, was thrown out of routine on the very first day when school was cancelled due to nationally planned political protests and rioting. Which didn't happen. We enjoyed the day off anyway. Planned schedules (not such a great idea here) were thrown with changing meetings and Bible college timetables. And a planned meal failed to materialise, so fried eggs for dinner it was. Then there was an unexpected earthquake; that didn't actually throw our routine here, but it did make one pause for sober thought and prayer. You can't actually prepare for everything.

It is the end of "summer" (yes, for lack of knowing what else to say, we still call it summer) and a new season begins. We miss the summer-autumn seasons in Tanzania, but there is definitely a dry season desperately waiting to turn into a rainy season here at the moment. It is consistently hot in the low to mid 30's here and evenings are still and humid. The ground is hard and dry and brown; the dust is constantly sweeping and covering while the cracked earth cries for rain. But in this harsh hot, dry season we are eagerly anticipating and planning for the rains. And this is the exciting part of our work here in agriculture!

It is always exciting getting ready to plant! Planning the crops and preparing the fields. The anticipation of the rains, of new growth, of seeds sprouting and fruit appearing. Tim has completed writing and translating our own manual for teaching groups of farmers the basics of Conservation Agriculture from a Christian perspective! Now printed (and widely available on Amazon for a grand sum - just kidding!), these manuals have been copied and given to all the new farmers training in this next phase of the project.

The new manual in English and Swahili
It is particularly exciting this year to see Peter and Esther taking increased responsibility for the whole agricultural project. Tim has taken a step back as Peter and Esther, together with help from Pastor Amon and Amos (a keen participant from last year's group in Kayenze), are doing all the teaching. Peter and Esther have been teaching the two-day seminar each week in a different village for the past three weeks - and done a fantastic job!

It is also exciting to see the project growing and spreading out. We have started working in a new village, Nyamililo, and are training fifteen farmers there. A third season of training is being held this week in Kayenze for a group of about 20 new farmers. And with the help of the village agricultural officer, we have extended the project to sub-villages of Kayenze; a new group of 21 farmers was trained last week in Lutale.

Also exciting for us this year, is to see local church members in Kayenze taking the work on in their community. They are inspiring others to try the new methods and now, after our two years of rather hard slogging, it seems to be catching on! People in the village are noticing and trying things in their own fields, even without the training! Peter, Esther and Tim can only teach in Swahili, but the church is now teaching in Kisukuma (the local language of the tribe), and next year we plan for them to do the whole training by themselves.

And now with classroom training coming to an end, the hard work begins. All the participants now need to prepare their fields; gathering composting and mulch material and laying down the mulch to capture and hold any early rain to soften the ground for planting. And then we wait for the rains...and new growth.

Amos teaching in Lutale
Meanwhile on our practice farming plot at home, we were delighted to eat our first home-grown bananas! We planted a little seedling banana tree a year ago and last week chopped off our first "bunch" of bananas. The whole hanging cluster (or bunch) is known as a banana stem and made up of tiers which are called hands. We had three hands on our stem, each with numerous fingers, or bananas as we tend to call them! And another banana stem is already ripening...

Ripening on the tree
Small but sweet!
After three attempts at growing sunflowers, this year we managed to get some huge sunflowers! They were enormous, up to 15 feet high! As you can imagine, our bees just loved them! Unfortunately so did the birds. We lost lots of seeds, but with the thrill of success, we will try again!

Bees enjoying the sunflowers
We are finally doing well with our roselle plants now and have harvested
 and dried some calyces for juice or jam!

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Hope of Mother's Love

Things have really been moving with the mamas! In these past eight days, we have met three days as a group and then also been part of a two-day women's seminar on "Understanding Albinism." It's been a pretty busy week for the Mongers, also with guests for meals, agricultural training days, other project meetings and of course, that "back-to-school" rush (I think both girls managed to pack themselves a lunch every day!)

Upendo wa Mama Group


First of all, the best thing for me about this week, was moving with the Mamas Group into their new working space! It is fantastic! For so long, we have prayed and hoped for this day! We are incredibly grateful to Standing Voice for their help and support! We have a beautiful room with a large table to work at with chairs to sit on. We have a sink with running water and an electric kettle and can share chai together! We have a shaded outdoor space to work in and a beautiful garden to look at!
Outside "our office"
(I love that this property was recently loved and lived on by good friends of ours!)

So with orders mounting, the mamas are now increasing their working hours! Meeting every Saturday and Wednesday, they are busy making cards, soaps, jewellery and beeswax products. We are currently looking into the possibility of getting an oven and sewing machines now that we have a place for them! With that, we are excited about starting more training (and therefore hopefully more products) in tailoring and baking. It all sounds exciting and wonderful (and it is, really) but it is also rather overwhelming! Trying to maintain quality control in the chaos is exhausting! Trying to maintain a focus on the One who holds all things together and a priority on relationship when surrounded by the distractions of money-making projects is not always easy. But evident this week was the gratitude of each one of us to God, for this place, and for what, through Him, we can do together. There is so much hope for the future!

I love this photo! It sums it all up ... the Word of God surrounded by cups of chai
and a colourful mess of creativity working around it!


We were all involved in a seminar on Monday and Tuesday on "Understanding Albinism." This was organized by Under the Same Sun for thirty women who either have albinism or have children with albinism. It was an excellent time for the women to learn about the genetics of the condition they face, the scientific truth which combats the lies and curses they have heard. It was a wonderful opportunity for them to share with one another; sharing their stories, their fears, their troubles and their hopes. It was well attended by social welfare and community development officers and also lawyers who deal with the terrible cases of attacks and murders of people with albinism. The women were given contact numbers of people who can help; they were taught about human rights and social justice; they were encouraged to start groups and it was encouraging for the other women to see what the Upendo as Mama group has been able to do. It is such a wonderful thing to see hope and excitement in women who have faced so much stigma and pain!
Group discussions

Members of the Upendo wa Mama group sharing

Esther gives out valuable suncream for the mamas and children 
The Upendo wa Mama Group with a number of our children!
This photo was taken by UTSS at the Summer Camp!

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Rural Island Health Teammates!

So after a rather "bee-intensive" month, and before you think beekeeping is all we do now, here's a bit of what's cookin' outside the hives. The good news is....

Our team is growing! Our family of four arrived in Mwanza in 2014 and we quickly realised we would need help with the agricultural project. We are so pleased that Peter and Esther were able to join our team and make six (yes, we definitely count the children!), and are thrilled with how they have grown increasingly into their roles. This year (our third in agriculture), Peter and Esther are doing all the agricultural training for new groups in respective villages and taking on increased management of the project. We are also joined by Joseph, who started as our night guard and has grown increasingly into new roles and is now managing the demonstration farm at Kisesa! 

We also soon realised that we needed some specialized help with health-related projects. We are so aware of the huge potential for transformation on the islands and are keenly interested in helping the church develop a rural island health project. We are thrilled that the Ewing family in the UK has responded to our plea! Simon (who will apply his skills and knowledge particularly in renewable energy to the stoves project) and Victoria (who will focus on the health project) and their two children, Tabitha and Reuben, will make us a team of eleven! They are currently preparing to move (hopefully in January) and are raising the necessary funding.
Kome Island
Read on in the recent Down to Earth Magazine to meet them and read about the work they are going to be doing! And you can also meet them here on their blog! It is exciting to see how God is drawing people together and growing the work here in Tanzania!

The Ewing Family