Saturday, 29 December 2007

Christmas in Africa

Different but great. When did it start? Maybe, making the Christmas cards was first – had to make sure I got all of those ready in time to send out! Then there was the Christmas music which a friend sent me to get me in the mood, and Christmas cards and parcels arriving through the post – the latter making an exciting pile filling me with anticipation for Christmas day.

There was the Christmas BBQ at a colleague’s home, where we all gathered for some delicious food (including antelope), while watching the black skies, lightning and rain.

Christmas Eve I went to Beth’s home (close colleague and friend), where we started off the Christmas celebrations by watching a classic Christmas film – ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’. Then I was transported home as I watched a DVD my brother had put together for me, with greetings from friends and family at church – I was laughing (and nearly crying) as I watched, it was so wonderful to see everyone’s faces and hear everyone’s voices.

Christmas Day, after opening stockings we had made each other, Beth and I joined a Tanzanian colleague and his wife for the day – going to church with them and then dining on traditional Tanzanian celebration food: pilau. Pilau is a spiced rice and meat dish (the closest I could compare it too would be risotto). This was accompanied by beef stew, a leafy green vegetable dish and beans, followed by fruit (and the inevitable soda). We had a lovely afternoon chatting together (with the rain pouring down outside) before heading on home before it got dark. The rest of the evening, back at Beth’s, we opened our presents and watched ‘The Snowman’.

Boxing Day, we went with some colleagues to a hotel to indulge in a swim and some good food, including Christmas pudding (a wonderful taste of home).

Thursday I joined other colleagues (colleagues being my main group of friends) on a trip to Matema, on the banks of Lake Nyasa (also known as Lake Malawi). Despite being cloudy, I really enjoyed the beauty of the place, swimming in the lake, snorkelling (getting sunburnt in the process) and the drive home through spectacular scenery, as the sun came out and everywhere shone fresh and green after the rains.

Friday I went on a trip down memory lane as I headed back to Iringa for the day (where I did language school). Went shopping, had a huge slab of hot chocolate fudge cake at our favourite café (Neema Crafts) and picked up Karin, who has finally finished language school and has at last moved into our home. It’s lovely not to be living alone any more J

Hope all who read this little Christmas account also enjoyed a wonderful Christmas, and I wish you all a HAPPY NEW YEAR.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Adventures on (and off) the road!

Another two day trip – at least, that’s what we planned (Thursday – Friday last week). First stop Matamba. We reached this little town safely, met with the relevant people and dropped some things off for them, had lunch (in the VIP lounge resplendent with comfy chairs, posters and even a radio which we immediately turned down) and continued on our way. We knew the trip to the second town, Makete, might not be so easy, but the scenery was spectacular as we passed through Kitulo National Park (about 2600 metres above sea level, 8530 feet) – an area preserved particularly for its flowers which were evident all around as the rainy season has begun and turned everything a beautiful fresh green.

However, in the midst of these awesome surroundings we hit a terrible patch of road where we got stuck – grounded. We eventually got ourselves out (digging, jacking, stones etc.) but by then it was too late to continue so we decided to turn round and come back by a track running alongside that bad stretch of road. This went fine until we hit a patch of soft sandy soil where we just kept getting wheel spin and slipping. We tried everything that we could, but failed to proceed, so while waiting for help we kept ourselves warm in the car and watched an episode of ‘The Good Life’ on my laptop (which I had anticipated watching in a comfy guest house in Makete)! Eventually reinforcements arrived in the shape of 3 colleagues, by which time it was dark and cold. They had a go too but also failed and got it stuck even worse than we had! In the end we called it quits and abandoned the vehicle, getting home about 1am. Friday I then returned to the scene with folk from a garage who (after first getting their own car stuck) eventually managed to tow our Land Rover out. Our journey home took us down a road with 60 hairy hairpin bends, but we reached the main tarmac road safely. Surely nothing else could go wrong? Well, just a little hitch – we got a puncture. The garage guys whipped the wheel off and replaced it in no time and we finally reached the office in one piece, to my intense relief!

Monday, 10 December 2007

The travels continue

I spent the first week of December in another of the language areas, travelling around every day to visit different parts. Another beautiful region, very green, farms everywhere growing maize, potatoes, beans, bananas, avocadoes, tea… I drank gallons of tea (which was a challenge as I don’t like it) and soda and ate lots of good Tanzanian food (chapatti, rice or ugali, with beans, green leafy veg, cabbage and occasionally beef or goat meat) – people’s welcome was wonderful to behold. I also had a wonderful taste of home when, much to my surprise, we came across some blackberry brambles!
When using public transport it was scary to watch the conductors running alongside the minibus and jumping onboard, and jumping off again while it was still moving ready to persuade people to use their bus, to take their luggage and help them aboard.

During our travels, we were recording people telling stories in their mother tongue. Despite not being able to understand a word (except for the odd Swahili one that slipped in) it was fascinating to be involved in this and to meet with people of all ages, especially wazee (older people).

Off road

The last two days of November I went on a two day trip to one of the language areas that we work in. It was a beautiful region, very green from the frequent fogs, which also enables the people to farm all year round. I had great fun driving our project’s Land Rover over all kinds of terrain – dirt roads, paths barely wide enough for the vehicle to pass, fields and even a market with sellers hurriedly moving their merchandise out of the way.

Monday, 26 November 2007

What's a 'kitchen party'?

Sunday afternoon I was invited to a ‘kitchen party’. This turned out to be something like a cross between a hen party and a wedding reception. I didn’t know anyone there (except my neighbours who invited me), but that didn’t seem to be a problem. It takes place a day or so before the wedding and it's just for women. Various people offer advice to the bride-to-be on different topics such as cooking, accounts, raising children etc. and the bride receives loads of gifts for the house - everything she could possibly need in the kitchen and a few other bits besides. This is all woven together by an MC and lots of dancing - gifts are brought in by procession, being held up as you dance down the hall to the bride-to-be, who stands there with her maid-of-honour. You might also notice from the photos the distinct white and pink theme – everyone was wearig these colours, or at least a pink shawl! And the hall was decorated with food – okra, peppers and onions hung from the ceiling, and baskets of vegetables decorated the stage!

Up the mountain again

Yet another trip up Loleza Peak, with two other colleague friends. Very nearly made it to the top. Loleza Peak is 2656 metres high (8714 feet), and as Mbeya is about 1700m (5577ft) high, that’s about a 3150ft climb. You make a lot of height in a short space of time, and on reaching the big white cross you seem to be deceptively near to the peak. The next section was a steep scramble (though we came down a slightly more sensible path on the return) only to find the ‘peak’ was the first of three. Possibly suffering a bit from the altitude, one of my friends decided this was far enough, but I continued with my other friend to what looked like the peak, only to find this was the second peak. The third one didn’t look too much further or higher, but we thought we should get back; beyond it the hillside was adorned with phone towers! We weren’t the only ones climbing that day, and I’m not just referring to other hikers, there were also some boys out with their cows a good half-way up, and even higher there were some goats. We were happy to get back, ease hot feet out of boots, take cold showers and have a drink!

Monday, 12 November 2007

Another walk up Loleza Peak

On Saturday afternoon, Beth and I set off for a trek up Loleza Peak - the mountain rising up behind my home (see photographs from before). We had no intention of making it to the top, but we got a good way up and could see for miles. We could even make out our respective homes, our office, my cycle route to work etc! I've tried to mark them in red - the top right oval is the office, and the big oval is the town centre, and the cross is where my house is (hidden by trees).

It was hot work and a steep climb - coming back down made our legs feel all shaky. Some beautiful flowers also dotted the hillside - possibly orchids? We could see the rain coming in from the hills on the other side of town, but somehow it never reached us, and had passed on by the time we descended. At the peak of our climbing we stopped for a rest to admire the view and to enjoy our banana chips snack!

Fellowship Group

Every Thursday evening I meet together with friends and colleagues for a Bible Study. This week it was at my home - it was so great to have people round - helps to make it really feel like my home! Everyone brings a dish - you never know what will turn up but the spread is always fantastic.

Exquisite little flower

As the rains begin, more and more flowers begin to appear. I came across this exquisite little flower by the side of the road one day, and now I am seeing them everywhere.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Mbozi Meteorite

On Saturday I joined some friends on a trip to Mbozi Meteorite. This meteorite is supposed to be the 8th biggest in the world (or the 4th – depending on which guidebook you read), but despite that it was disappointingly small. We had travelled for a couple of hours, overshooting the turnoff by about 20km (as the signpost was barely discernable as such), before finally arriving – so that it’s diminutive stature felt like something of a joke, especially when we were charged for the privilege of looking at it. However, we still had fun eating our picnic there, by the 12 ton stone (about 98% iron), and there were some lovely views to be seen through the trees and on the journey.
Unfortunately, as the day passed I started to feel a bit rough, my whole body began to ache and when I got home I felt so cold and headachy. Malaria? Not sure, but took the medicine on the advice of my neighbours, who then took good care of me all Sunday – providing me with meals. So I enjoyed a quiet Sunday at home, listening to a sermon on my computer on the book of Ruth, and then reading the whole book of Ruth in my Swahili Bible for a bit of practice, writing e-mails, watching Jane Eyre, reading and dozing. Today I’m back in the office, and work continues as usual.

Monday, 22 October 2007

A Sunday afternoon stroll

Monica, Tina (landlady and daughter) and I decided to go for a walk, after returning from attending the early service at church (8-10am) and then going to a café for ‘supu’ together. ‘Supu’ is a stew/watery soup with either goat meat (including offal) or chicken in it, accompanied by chapatti or grilled plantain. Not quite what I’m used to for breakfast, but tasty all the same!

A mountain rises up behind our neighbourhood (as you can see in the picture on the right, my house is the one on the right), so off we set. Not sure if you can call climbing a hill a stroll, but we took our time as we made our way up through the wooded hillside. There was a lovely scent in the air from the eucalyptus trees, birds were singing and at one point a stream trickled down the hill.

We didn’t make it all the way to the top, but we got some fantastic views over the city of Mbeya.

You could just about make out where our houses were (as I’ve tried to show by the red ring on the picture, and the arrow is the drive down to our houses). While the others took a rest, I pressed on and found the main path heading up the mountain – there was still a long way to go, but even after a few minutes more of climbing I could see for miles in all directions. One day I’ll get to the top!!

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Chai time at the office

Every morning we have a chai break (chai is tea), sometimes accompanied by fresh fruit from someone’s garden, and always accompanied by mandazi (doughnut like cake things). As you can see, there’s quite a crowd of us working in the office when we’re all there (and not out running workshops or visiting different project locations to gather language data or meet with the translation teams or church leaders…)

Monday, 15 October 2007

Off to work

Work is a 15 minute cycle ride away (not the easiest of rides with steep hills in both directions). Biking the journey is working well at the moment, but how it will be in the rainy season I don’t know!

Here’s the office (we rent rooms from the college there), and our very own Scripture Use office - needs a bit of furnishing, but the space is great for creative thought and when you need a stretch after sitting in front of the computer for too long!
The view from the balcony is pretty good too!

Meet the Minja family

Monica (left) is my landlady, and then there’s her husband, their daughter (who is my age) and their daughter-in-law who was visiting for a while. They are the most welcoming people I have ever met. I’m always popping round there for one reason or another, and more often than not end up staying to chat for a good while and eat with them. If it wasn’t for them I think I would find this place rather quiet and lonely, but as we live in the same enclosure I can always have company :-)

Karibu nymbani

Welcome to my lovely new home! Here's some more photos of the house - now looking a little more lived in!What’s different about this house to an English home? Let’s see… the floors aren’t carpeted, there’s a lizard to keep me company in the lounge, there’s no washing machine and the electricity likes to go off occasionally (like every other day for half an hour or so)! What you might not have expected was the fireplace – the weather can get pretty chilly here in season so a cosy fire is welcomed. And what about the garden? A profusion of the most beautiful flowers, sweetly scented, and then there’s the banana trees, the pigs and the dogs. The dogs are just for security, and only let out at night, when they set up a harmonious howling together with all the other dogs in the neighbourhood. It settles down after a while though so I can sleep peacefully (so long as the frog isn’t croaking right outside my window)! I’m really enjoying living here, with the mountains around that I am just aching to climb, town centre a convenient 10 minute walk away and my lovely neighbours - the Minga family.