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

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

When 20% isn't Failure

It was Friday last week and Tim had planned to go to Nyamililo, the new village near Sengerema where Esther has been working hard to start the new agricultural group. He was going with Baraka and Peter but as is often the way, things didn't go exactly to plan as Peter missed the boat! There was confusion at the ferry as Baraka and Tim looked for Peter. After some searching, they made phone contact and knew he was around somewhere. As the boat was bellowing its final call to board, assuming that Peter must have boarded the boat, they hopped on and sailed away. But he wasn't. Peter was caught up helping someone and as Tim later found out, he had ended up going to the police station with the person he was helping. Never a dull moment!

Talk of the Drought

Talking to people as the drought continues, many can't remember a year worse than this one. They have never known the price of maize (used to make ugali, the staple food here) to be as high as it is now. The people we are working with are all subsistence farmers; they eat what they grow, surviving from their own shamba (piece of land).

The maize crops, ideally planted early in October are harvested in January. This season is now over and there is very little, if anything in places, to show for it. But as we said in a recent post, it is wonderful to see the positive difference for farmers who have adopted the practices we are teaching! And even more to see the interest of other farmers in the community who see that difference in this drought and are keen to join in!

When 20% isn't Failure!

Tim and Baraka met on Friday with seven of the fifteen farmers who formed the first Conservation Agriculture (CA) group with us in this area. Only three of these fifteen farmers have been successful ... which in percentage terms may sound like failure! But as we know from experience, the first year teaching something new and different is always tough. People are wary and not keen to commit their efforts. Most didn't give the CA techniques a fair test as they did things the way they were used to or first planted their regular crops in the usual way and delayed working on the CA section. One lady in the group, had prepared really well but then travelled and asked her relatives to finish the planting. All that hard work was wasted as the relatives planted in the usual way!

Baraka (L) with five farmers from the group
But when people see and experience something firsthand ... then things can start to change! And so having these three farmers is reason enough to be thankful! And we now have some good community trainers who will be far better teachers than us!
Pastor Tito of Nyamililo welcomed the group members and after reading and discussing together Psalm 67, they began to talk about how things were going. The first two farmers (whose maize had died out), were unhappy and didn't see the project working. Three others farmers joined the conversation. They had also lost their crops, but they realised that they had made mistakes and were keen to try again and follow through on what they had learned. They were grateful. Lastly, the two farmers who had been successful (the other, Anna, was unable to be at the meeting) shared. Pastor Tito and Shadrach expressed their great gratitude, particularly for all Esther's work. Pastor Tito who has used the church land as a demonstration plot shared how people were coming to see the field, just amazed at its success in this season of drought. Many were coming to the church asking questions. This is amazing progress before a year is done!


The group went outside to look at the work Pastor Tito had done at the church shamba. The maize planted early on intercropped with beans was doing really well! It was clearly better than the area planted later which missed that essential early rain.

Pastor Tito with his maize

These jack beans were planted too late to do their job.

Poor Pigeon Peas Prove Popular

The pigeon peas are now a big hit with these farmers! We laugh about the pigeon peas. No one ever wants to plant them; everyone says they don't like to eat them. The fact is, they are just "different" and no one wants to try. Even Joseph, our guard, for the longest time said he couldn't eat pigeon peas for his lunch; he didn't like them at all. Finally one day, I just gave him some and said it was that or nothing ... much like I can say to our girls! Well, he ate them and really enjoyed them and later admitted he had never actually tried them. And we find it is similar for the farmers who are not keen to plant them at all! But pigeon peas are so easy to grow and good for the soil. They are drought-resistant, providing a nutritious and extremely long-lasting plentiful harvest! Now having tried them, the farmers are already planning their plots for more pigeon peas!
Pigeon peas doing well at the church shamba!

Shadrach's 'Spot the Difference' Shamba

The group moved on to look at Shadrach's shamba. It is not as strong as Pastor Tito's (or his own other shamba farther away) but he will be able to harvest. The group was able to clearly see and discuss the comparison between the section on the left farmed normally and the area on the right farmed at the same time with the same seeds using the CA method.
Shadrach's shamba. Healthy green maize on the CA right side!
So while a 20% success rate may at first seem more like failure, we are all encouraged! Pastor Tito is a good teacher! It is fantastic to see people coming to the church with questions and to see the church reaching out to their community with help and answers in this time of need. Tito is now preparing his next sermon for the church on Psalm 67. As they experience God's gracious blessing, their prayer is that He may be known in their community, that people would thank and enjoy Him!

God, mark us with grace and blessing! Smile!
The whole country will see how you work.
Psalm 67 (MSG)

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Beauty Emerging in Colour. Pattern of Creative Design

It was Mother's Love in colour today! The Mamas Group met with Rose, a friend of mine, to learn how to make batiks. Well, I thought we were meeting to learn how to make beeswax batiks, but actually we did African Tie-Dye! But it was colourful and fun and beautiful just the same!

Fantastic patterns and colours!

A morning in colour and pattern. We watched fascinated, to see the colours and patterns that emerged in all their beauty on the once-plain sheets of material.

Something plain and void of design was twisted and squeezed, bound and wrapped. Each one bound differently, but tightly.


And then out from the water coloured, is drawn something new! Something designed, something planned. Bold and beautiful, its colours and pattern showcasing the creativity of an artist.

As each work of art was gently unbound and unwrapped, slowly, its beauty emerged. And then seen whole, it was held up in delight. The smiles said it all. Each one unique. Made with design, made for purpose. Beautiful.

It spoke more of simply fabrics and dye.

It speaks of these women. It speaks of people everywhere.

Folding the fabrics

Tied and bound

Cut free!

Emerging beauty!

In designed wholeness and colourful beauty! Joy!

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

The Difference in Drought

Spot the Difference!
Dry. Hot. As I sit here in the relative cool of the house, the sun is burning down on the ground outside. Flies are buzzing and the stench of an unfortunate dead dog rotting somewhere on the road outside is wafting in on a breeze. 

As I mentioned in the last post (When you're Down in a Ditch), people are saying that this is the worst year for rain in over fifteen years and everyone is talking about it. Indeed, the situation isn't good but if you look at the photo above, you can see it's not all bad! What's the difference? Read on!

As Tim drove out to Kayenze with Peter last week, they drove by field after field of dead and dying crops. Each field represents a farmer and a family. A year's worth of food for a family now gone. It is a terrible and depressing sight.

They went first to meet Shija in Kagee (this new village joined the project in July). Despite, the difficulties, it is amazing and encouraging to see the difference made through the project. Shija followed the basic conservation agriculture (CA) principles of sowing early, using compost and plenty of mulch and the difference is staggering. Last week he harvested his maize and beans! He did this this without any watering whatsoever ... just making the most of every drop of rain by timing and conserving moisture in the soil through mulch. 

Jeneroza (who is also our beekeeper group secretary) also joined the agriculture group this year. She has worked hard, using the principles taught and even carried water from the lake 3-4 times a week to water her field by hand. And she is seeing the difference; she has already been able to harvest maize and beans!
Jeneroza and Peter
Tim and Peter went on to Lutale (you may remember our Lutale farming mamas) Even without watering, these women have been able to get a harvest. The jack beans did really well despite the conditions and through intercropping with the maize, they have provided an amazing cover crop or blanket to hold in the moisture and keep off the sun (as well as replenish the soil).
Mama Aneth's is being harvested. You can see the mulch and the cover crop
of jack beans helping this maize survive just long enough in order to harvest!
Tim and Peter shared chai with Mama Naomi (one of the Lutale farming mamas) and were pleased to see how well her jack beans had done and that she also had been able to harvest something. It wasn't much, but a great deal more than everyone else who lost entire crops.
Mama Naomi's jack beans (see the difference from November here!)
It isn't all bright stories. Samson (who is also one of our beekeepers) has lost everything. He was too late. He did get mulch down, but he was far too late to plant and he has learnt his lesson the hard way. Missing those early rains, has made all the difference. His maize is tasselling early and none of it will now survive. But he knows now. And he is already encouraged and excited to make the changes and do better next year!
Samson's maize farmed his usual way
Samson's CA section of field, planted far too late.
It's not good, but you can still the difference the mulch made!
It is also sad to see our Demonstration Farm at Kisesa struggling. Even doing everything we could, it has been drier there than anywhere and there is a very small harvest. The pigeon peas seem invincible like ours at home (our girls are really tired of eating pigeon peas!) and the canavalia beans doing well, but the mukuna beans are drying out and the jack beans not spreading the cover we need. But despite it all, Joseph has been faithfully putting out water for the bees, and they are all still there!

When we work with farmers on this project, we ask them to practice these principles of conservation agriculture on a section of their land. Many are naturally wary and do not want to risk their whole shamba (field) and so will continue to farm as they usually do on the rest of their land. This year, our farmers got nothing at all from the rest of their land. The difference is dramatic.

And that is the difference you see in the photo of Jeneroza's field at the top of this post. The section of land on the right was farmed with CA methods. The plants are tall, green and strong with a harvest of maize. The section on the left was farmed at the same time in the same field, but it's all now dead. The difference is also starkly evident at Mama Aneth's farm.

Peter stands where Mama Aneth harvested her crops farmed with mulch and intercropping
Immediately adjacent is the maize she lost at the same time from farming conventionally
This last picture is true for most people in this area. A bleak picture with nothing to harvest this year. But looking at the CA group farms, the people in the community can see the difference. Many people are now very keen and excited about joining the conservation agriculture project!

So, while the drought across Tanzania this year is still a terrible thing, in these little fields in these small village communities, there is hope making a difference!

Incredible maize for this year!
May God be gracious to us and bless us
    and make his face shine on us
so that your ways may be known on earth,
    your salvation among all nations.
May the peoples praise you, God;
    may all the peoples praise you.
May the nations be glad and sing for joy,
    for you rule the peoples with equity
    and guide the nations of the earth.
May the peoples praise you, God;
    may all the peoples praise you.

The land yields its harvest;
    God, our God, blesses us.
May God bless us still,
    so that all the ends of the earth will fear him

(Psalm 67)

Monday, 23 January 2017

When You're Down in a Ditch...

I leaned against the concrete wall at the bottom of the deep ditch at the side of the road. Breathe in. And out. Slowly my head caught up with my body as I watched people scrambling about in the ditch picking up the contents of my shopping basket and purse. "Ehhh! Pole! Pole sana!" people cried in sympathy as a small crowd had assembled after my rather dramatic fall into a ditch. A kind young guy then helped me out of the ditch and I assured everyone I was fine and gratefully accepted my bags and sympathetic assistance. People are so overwhelmingly kind! Slowly I limped to the car where I thankfully climbed in with tears stinging my eyes and mopped up the bleeding bits. A silly stumble. Scratches, bumps and bruises but nothing broken! It has been that kind of time recently. Hard pressed on every side but not crushed!

Soon after our last blog post, Tim had a good week away in Dodoma attending TAG meetings and then in Iringa, visiting our colleagues in Iringa. It was at this time that Amisadai started going downhill healthwise again. It started getting worse when she came off the medication she started back in November in Nairobi. She has been up and down with nausea, dizziness and abdominal pain for two weeks now and we have been contacting doctors and insurance all over again, trying to figure out what to do with her.


The situation continues to be serious here in Tanzania this year due to the very poor rains. We met with Peter and Esther for breakfast this past week to talk about the Conservation Agriculture Project, and Tim has been out with the farmers in Kayenze today. From what people say, this has been the driest rainy season in over 15 years and we are yet to see the full effects of the drought. But it has been really amazing to see the difference that Conservation Agriculture has made in such dire conditions. But I will talk more about this with some photos in the next post. While Tim was away, our kitchen tap stopped working. I caught myself on how annoyed I was at fetching jugs of water from the bathroom to do things like wash dishes and make a cup of tea. Women in villages are carrying much more than jugs far greater distances than that ... and for more important things than a cup of tea. Perspective.

But the drought affects so much. Yes, rivers are dry and water is scarcer. Livestock are struggling and dying. Crops are drying out without a harvest. Food prices are soaring. Also for our beekeeping projects... the lack of rain means a lack of flowers which means a lack of honey in the hives, which also means a lack of wax. So the effects of the drought carry right down to the Mamas making beeswax products to sell. I met with Innocent, our beekeeper friend last week and he is struggling with no honey to sell. We were able to buy just 3/4 kg of wax from him; so with such a small supply of wax, we are not making candles at the moment.

Upendo wa Mama

I love shopping for materials here!
Vibrant and beautiful!
Now look at this bright side though! Last week, with huge metal cooking pots and plastic basins on our heads, a lady and I were seen traipsing around town (exploring parts I had never seen before), buying metres of fabric and packets of dyes. Rose is a friend who used to be our landlady. She makes beautiful batiks and has agreed to teach the mamas group how! We picked up all the materials we will need and lessons begin this coming Saturday!

This week Tim and I went to a small industries development centre which is home to the Mwanza Sewing Training Centre. Thanks to the generosity of some kind people, we are planning to buy two machines and send two mamas for a week of intensive basic training in March! Exciting steps forward!

At the sewing training centre

Rural Island Health

There has been so much going on the past two weeks for this project! Simon and Victoria Ewing are soon on their way to Tanzania to take on this work and preparations are underway! The big job here has been to get funding! Andy Sharpe has been fantastic heading up this huge proposal-writing challenge, along with lots of help from Dr Makori! But I think more on this will have to wait for another blog post!

Under the Same Sun

This week, in the midst of all this, we have been attending a 4-day seminar hosted by Under the Same Sun on Trauma Counselling with Dr. George Rhodes. It was aimed at teachers, social workers, church leaders and boarding matrons to equip them for working with people (especially children) with albinism who have been traumatised. It has been great to see the guys from UTSS in Dar es Salaam and Canada again and we do hope that attendees in Mwanza will put things they have learned into practice to make a difference in the lives of so many traumatised people.

Home Front

On the house front, we are in a minor state of chaos. A painter arrived while Tim was away in Dodoma to work on the study and bathroom and outside verandah but last week he stopped before finishing as he ran out of paint! We will try and get it finished off this week as I rather desperately want to get everything back to its place and more particularly, have a washing machine and a shower again.

Last night, the kitchen was invaded by large biting ants. The ants won. I padded barefoot into the dark kitchen to make an early morning cup of tea, only to cry out when my toes were bitten. I turned on the light and was horrified at the sight of thousands of ants everywhere in the kitchen! Huge, thick lines of them marching from outside across the tiled floor, through drawers, across counters, piled up in the sink - even in the empty lunch boxes. We had to be out early for the church service, so admitted defeat.

... God will Provide

Last week at the Mamas Group, as we had finished our work for the day, we read the story of Elijah and the widow at Zarapheth.  A story about a widow and her son in a famine as there had been no rain in the land (yes, that bit sounded a little familiar). But dying of starvation, this woman was preparing the last meal for herself and her son from the last of her flour and oil. Then Elijah showed up. Then again later, her son dies. Again, Elijah shows up. And this story is all about what God says (through Elijah). Every word from God in this story is about provision for life. Even when it looked completely like it was too late. The food had run out. Her son had died. But the Word of the Lord came and with it came provision and life. I think sometimes we can all feel at some level like we're at the end (or in something of a ditch), but then God has a way of showing up and His Word is Life!

A harvest of peanuts this week.
This provision of beautiful peanuts is hidden underground before the time comes!

Friday, 6 January 2017

Happy New Year from the Mongers!

Yes! We are still here! It has been a ridiculously long time since we posted anything. Our apologies for this and we hope regular service will resume now for 2017!

I write this now on the eve of entering my forties. With this coinciding with the start of 2017 and all those "new season" thoughts, I thought I should write something on reflections or resolutions. But although 2016 has been a difficult year in which we have also seen many good things happen, at the moment I don't feel particularly reflective or specifically resolute. I see all those posts on "Things To Do Before You Are 40" but don't have any regrets on what I might have missed! So I will just contentedly enter my next decade and have more adventures! I also see all the posts on what to do when you turn 40. I won't be having a weekend getaway to New York, an over-the-hill bash, a West-End show or a cruise somewhere exotic. But I will take a cake to the Mamas Group and come home to a wonderful roast chicken lunch cooked by my wonderful husband and lovely daughters. And there is great contentment in celebrating life meaningfully with love! (that isn't to say I would not still enjoy the above, but I am nonetheless content!)

So with reflections and resolutions to rest, here are some photos with some brief updates to give you a picture of life over the December we've been blogless.

Andy and Angela and Kome Island

It was wonderful to have our good friends, Andy and Angela visiting at the end of November! Tim and Andy went to Kome Island with Dr Makori, where they were making preparations for fundraising for the Rural Island Health project. We are really excited about this project moving forward! Tim and Andy were able to visit the new site for the clinic as well as the existing clinic which was getting a paint job!

Coffee time with Andy and Angela! We miss living by this couple!
Kome Island
Tim with Pastor Peter outside the Anglican Church on Kome Is.

With Dr. Makori and Dr Isaac outside the freshly painted clinic
Meeting with village leaders discussing the health situation on the island

Meeting with pastors about their involvement in the health project

Tree planting at the new site for the clinic!

Farming News ...  Drought

The following photos were taken in early December; the situation has changed since then. Tim and I went to check on the beehives at the Demonstration Farm in Kisesa. All was well, although not enough honey to harvest. The farm was doing well; so much improved since we started! With so little rain, there was huge uncertainty about when to plant this year. We did plant and were encouraged to see the mulch doing its job to conserve as much of the limited moisture as possible in the soil.

Beekeeper Tim

The pigeon peas and beans (and beehive) at the Kisesa Farm in December
However the situation here in Mwanza now is not good. With the unusually high temperatures and serious lack of rain, farmers everywhere are really struggling. With the drought, the price of food is soaring. For example, a bucket of maize (used to make the staple food, ugali) which used to cost 8000 TSh now costs 20,000 TSh. People are obviously very concerned and we will need to think how we approach this issue with the church through the agricultural project. We personally feel the pinch, (added on to the Brexit pound drop which has rather drastically reduced our monthly allowance); this just makes us more acutely aware of the situation that people living so dependently on the land are in. It is really tough, yet leaves a place for trust and perseverance that I might never understand.
May I introduce you to "Calgary," our new goat.
Mr Calgary is now good friends with our other goat "Miss Vancouver"
and we are looking forward to some baby goats in the near future!

Happy with a good bunch of bananas from the trees we planted!
And happy with these awesome cobs of sweetcorn from our garden!
(we were able to water our plants)

Upendo wa Mama

Before Christmas, with hopes of rains coming, the Mamas group got busy planting beans and mchicha (like spinach). Joseph came to help us and teach a little on how to make the most of mulch and compost. We hope to be able to harvest food to eat while we work and to help supplement meals at home. We also planted lemongrass and rosella plants to use in some of the products for income-generating. Sadly with the lack of rain, we have lost most of our beans. But in time we hope to be working more and benefiting more from this garden project!

Hot, hard work!

Hibiscus (Rosella)


Christmas Fun!

We enjoyed some fun times over Christmas! It was good to spend time with other friends here we don't often get to see! It was great to have Katrina and Chris Williams (from Tadley) with us for some fun over Christmas! We had a sunset lake boat excursion, carol singing, games nights, and even a trip to the cinema! Yes, on Christmas Eve, the first-ever movie theatre opened in Mwanza!

A great laugh when the waves crashed over!

Christmas preparations with Katrina and Chris
Christmas Day Breakfast

Amisadai Becomes a Teenager!

On December 30th, we celebrated Amisadai's 13th birthday! It is hard to believe we actually have a teenager now! We decided to go to a new ice cream parlour for ice cream. But when we arrived we were told they were all out of ice cream, but we could have some juice instead! She also had a fun party with the Youth Group she is now a part of!

And if you made it all the way to the end of this rather long post... thanks for following along! Thank you so much to those who sent Christmas cards and greetings - it is always exciting to hear from you! We thank you for your support throughout 2016 and look forward to sharing more with you in 2017!

Happy New Year!