Monday, 7 November 2011

Impressions from a trip to the Ndali language area

Banana trees, mountains, red soil, rice and beans, ‘Mwagona’, rough roads, sacrifice and hardship. These were the impressions left on my mind by a trip to Isoko last week, a village in the Ndali language area (a five hour drive from Mbeya). Although it is just a village, it is a hive of activity as the district hospital is located there, powered by hydro electricity. The purpose of my visit was to train Sunday School teachers (assisted by two colleagues from Mbeya). Twenty attended the workshop, some having travelled some distance from neighbouring villages, who then stayed overnight in Isoko for the duration of the workshop. Our Literacy / Scripture Use Coordinator for the Ndali language area, has a bike ride of 11km over rough roads to get to Isoko, which he does every day that he needs to be in the language office. This is just one example of the hardships to be faced living in a such a remote area. As I talked to him further I learned more of his life and how he came to be a pastor – it was amazing to see how God has led him since his childhood, and I found it personally very challenging to hear of the sacrifices he made in the process. His parents couldn’t afford to put him through secondary school so, encouraged by the church where he was already taking leadership responsibilities while still in his early teens, he headed to Bible college. Although he got some help with the funds he needed for this, he also wove baskets well into the night in order to sell them to help pay his fees. This makes me think, how much do we value the education that we have received? How much would I be willing to sacrifice to gain further education to help me in my job?

The workshop itself went well, with the participants actively engaging in what we taught, but as usual they really struggled to find the main teaching point of a Bible passage and to think how to teach that to children. Once again, I found myself asking God, “What can we do? How can we help people to grow in a knowledge of God’s Word? How can these teachers teach children the Bible effectively, if they themselves do not know your Word and don’t receive good teaching in the church?” Some of the teachers didn’t even have a Bible, yet alone any other resources! (We took books to sell, including Bibles, as they have no other way of accessing these resources other than to take the bus-converted-from-a-lorry public transport to nearby towns over four hours away). Despite this, I hope and pray that they will all have learned a few new skills that will help them in their role as Sunday school teachers, and if nothing more, they will have been encouraged that what they are doing is important and will have gained a new vision for their work.

Isoko itself is a beautiful place, and our Coordinator there took us for walks to show us more of the area – hence my impressions of mountains, red soil and banana trees! I loved the community village feel – the Coordinator seemed to know everyone and had a word to say to just about everyone we met! (‘Mwagona’ is the first greeting you make in the Ndali language).

And finally you might be wondering what the ‘rice and beans’ is about. For six out of the seven meals that we ate on the trip, we had rice and beans! I confess to taking my own little supply of food for breakfast – snack bars, bananas and Ribena! While I would choose beans over greasy meat stew any day, by the sixth time I had definitely lost my appetite for them!

Wednesday, 19 October 2011


Have you ever borrowed somebody else’s sunglasses and been surprised at how yellow (or pink, or red, or blue…) the world looks, when you had always thought that the world had a definite brownish hint? We all look at the world around us through different coloured glasses. The different colours are our different worldviews. Have you ever thought about how your upbringing in a particular culture that is underlined by a particular worldview affects how you see everything? It affects how you view society, how you view relationships, how you view time, the cosmos, the mind, morality etc.

I work in an office where Tanzanians, Europeans and Americans work closely side by side. This week and next we are holding a workshop at our office to help our Tanzanian colleagues understand the way we (Europeans and Americans) think, as well as various other things (such as helping them understand Wycliffe better, team building etc). As part of that, we have been thinking about the differing worldviews that we come from, and today I had the dubious privilege of being the teacher and talking about secularism and God’s Word. As I prepared for this, I was struck again by just how much our understanding of our faith is actually affected by the worldview of the society in which we grew up. When I read the Bible, I read it through my secularism spectacles, whether I mean to or not, as they are impossible to take off completely. Equally, my African colleagues read the Bible and act out their faith through the worldview of their environment, which is primarily animistic. It is impossible to acquire a purely Christian/Bible based worldview, because we don’t ‘acquire’ a worldview, we grow up in a worldview and imbibe it subconsciously. Most of my colleagues have grown up in Christian families, but despite that, we can all see how our secularist worldview has affected our faith, from making us sceptical of supernatural healing to being afraid to speak the truth of the Bible into a Christian friend’s life when they need to hear it because we mustn’t be ‘intolerant’. While for my African friends, their worldview may lead them to believe without measuring the truth of what they hear to blaming everything on the spirit world rather than acknowledging personal sin or nature’s input.

Of course, the question then is, how do we determine truth? Well we certainly have to come back to the Bible and test our thoughts and actions against it, but even as we do that, we are always going to be reading it through our worldview specs. I think those of us who work in a cross-cultural setting are in a privileged position to start seeing God’s Word from different perspectives, and hopefully to find our understanding of God deepened as a result. I am looking forward to more conversations with my colleagues so that we can come to understand each other and our differences better and so I can see ways of interpreting and applying the Bible that I just haven’t noticed before. May the Spirit of truth guide us into us all truth (John 16:13)!

Monday, 22 August 2011


In my last blog I talked about how unsettled life can feel here, particularly due to the comings and goings of people. While it is hard to go through these constant changes, I also think it’s a great privilege to meet so many different kinds of people and get to know them to a greater or lesser degree. I just wish I could remember everyone’s names – I have an incredibly bad memory for names, which is very embarrassing in this relational culture. I find comfort in the fact that Tanzanians also mix up non-Africans, even those they have know for a long time, confusing our names and faces.

One thing I love about Tanzanian culture is how easy it is to talk to people (at least, on the surface it is, but getting to know people deeper isn’t so easy). Here’s some recent random encounters:

- Down at the market I popped into one little shop to buy some eggs and ended up in conversation with the shop owner, discussing deep questions like, “How do you see Tanzania versus England? What advice do you have for us? Why don’t we make progress?” These questions aren’t uncommon. I always start my reply with what I value about Tanzanian culture – people’s hospitality and focus on relationships.

- On the way home from church I stopped to buy some samosas from two ladies on the street corner. We got chatting about religion, and I shared the reason for my faith – that through Jesus Christ alone can we have a certain hope for the future.

- As I left church a couple of weeks ago, a voice called out, “Subiri” (“wait”) – it was a lady from church heading the same way. She knew my name (as most people do at church) but I didn’t know hers (as is usually the case!) and I learned about her family and I visited her market stall (where she sells tomatoes and lemons) and her home.

Of course, there are also the less pleasant encounters, such as people calling out ‘mzungu’ as I pass by and staring at me, and there are the encounters that you just have to laugh at, such as children saying, “Tell me my name” – they obviously haven’t quite grasped how English possessive pronouns work!

God certainly made each person unique, and He also made us to be relational beings. I find myself more and more seeing the value and importance of relationships and friendships and spending time with people. And if we are made in God’s image, doesn’t this need for relationship also reflect something of how God wants to be in relationship with us? Does it also teach us something about how God is more interested in us spending time with Him than He is in all the things that we might seek to do for Him (just like with Mary & Martha)?

I am looking forward to all the chances I will get to spend with people over the next few weeks – chances to see old friends and deepen new friendships, and most excitingly, the chance to welcome my parents to Mbeya! Karibuni sana!

Photo: Some of the people I have recently had the privilege to encounter - Sunday school teachers at a workshop in one of the language areas where we work.

Monday, 27 June 2011


Since the beginning of June there have been an amazing number of comings and goings in our project in Mbeya…
  • Two ladies leave for furlough
  • Two new ladies arrive to serve as linguists
  • Another lady arrives to work with me for two months in SU, and is staying in my home
  • A couple get married and leave on honeymoon and won’t be returning to our project
  • Seven or eight Tanzanians leave for two months for studies in Kenya
  • Two couples return from furlough

Each going is much more than just an item on the team meeting minutes, it’s goodbyes to friends and colleagues (some whom I have know for many years), whether for a short while or permanently, and it’s a change in work responsibilities and team dynamics. Each coming is more than just another name on the pigeon holes, it’s people to be welcomed to a new place and trained and potential for new friendships to be built.

Add to all of this the fact that the market from the centre of town has been demolished and shifted so that I don’t know where to find anything, and I am left feeling as if I have moved house without having packed a single suitcase!

With so many things changing around me, it is hard not to feel a bit unsettled, to feel a little unsure of where I fit in. How do you feel when you move house? Can you imagine how it might feel to stay in the same place, but have everything else around you moving, and on a fairly regular basis? What things give you a sense of stability in the midst of it all? I’d like to hear your thoughts!

Reading the Bible and praying is a source of peace for me in these days. One phrase keeps cropping up as I read through the Psalms which is ‘steadfast love’. ‘Steadfast’ to me means constant, unchanging, faithful… all the things that life here is unable to offer! But that’s what God has for us, a constant, unchanging and faithful love, that will endure through all the changes in life, through all the ups and downs we face, through all the questions and insecurities as well as the joys and happiness.

“Great is your steadfast love towards me” Psalm 86:13

Thursday, 26 May 2011

From plane to daladala

For the first two weeks of this month I was excited to welcome guests to Tanzania – my first guests from home in four years! My aim was to give them as real a picture of life here as is possible in such a short time. So these two weeks saw them experiencing various extremes – from planes to daladalas (local overcrowded, uncomfortable and poorly maintained public transport), from luxury lodges to a Tanzanian friend’s home, from exquisite Zanzibarian cuisine to rice and stew (which also tastes good!).

Ever since returning to Tanzania in January I had been looking forward to their visit and had fun making the guest room nice and making plans. It’s hard to explain just how or why having guests is so significant. Have you ever found yourself retelling a funny incident to someone, but the other person just doesn’t laugh because you just had to be there?! Well, multiply that feeling a million times over. Guests are so significant because “you just had to be there” to have realised what life is like for us here.

As well as living in my home for a few days (meeting my friends and colleagues, visiting my work place, climbing the mountain behind my house, attending a dedication ceremony for some books that have been translated in one of the language areas and going to the church I attend) we also enjoyed some of the tourist delights of Tanzania – a safari in Ruaha National Park and several days on the island of spices (with lots of rain and sun and great food). To see some pictures click here.

Now they have gone, and it has taken me a while to adjust to my empty house. I find myself very much missing friends and family back home. However, at the same time, I am very aware that God is with me and I find comfort and strength from His Word. (I’m trying to read the Bible in a year and though there’s lots I don’t understand there’s also lots to challenge and encourage me. Reading Joshua now). Sometimes day to day life here can be emotionally tiring just because of how much we stand out – as we walk down the street, as we sit in meetings (and find it hard to follow the quick Swahili discussions), as we work with people whose cultures and attitudes are often very different from our own. But the Lord is our Shepherd, and He will lead us and bring us to find rest in Him, if we will give Him space in our lives to do so!

Friday, 22 April 2011

A new place

This week I visited a new place - Isoko. This small town (which is really no more than a village, but has a hospital and electricity) is in the Ndali language area - Ndali is one of the nine languages with which we work. I went there together with three Tanzanian colleagues representing the Literacy, Partnership and Scripture Use Departments of our project. It was a long drive to get there, most of it over dirt roads that were a bit slippery and rough after all the rains, though thankfully we only got stuck once. The highlights of the trip for me were the beautiful surroundings, standing on Malawian soil (as we were just across the border and found a rickety bridge to cross over the boundary river) and meeting with church leaders and representatives from at least ten denominations all together in one room (this is an unusual and therefore special display of unity). The lowlights were the food, dirt, tiredness and rain.
To see some pictures of the trip click here.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

One body, many parts

I’ve been thinking a bit recently about my strengths and weaknesses and how they fit the kind of work that I am doing. Do you ever feel like you are in over your head because you are having to take responsibility for something that doesn’t come to you naturally? Or do you ever find yourself getting bored, not because there isn’t enough to do, but because the things you are doing just don’t stimulate you? I know we all have to do things we don’t like, but we also all need things that energise us and keep us going.

This was brought home to me the other week when I spent several days in a row checking books, which involves sitting in front of a computer carefully reading through lots of text. I enjoy this for a limited period, but after three days of it I was welcoming every possible distraction and finding it very hard to focus. When a friend popped into the office, whose sole job it is to analyse text for Biblical accuracy and help her colleagues do a faithful translation, I told her, “I could never do your job!” She laughed, and as we talked I was very aware of how God gives us all different personalities and gifts. I couldn’t do her job and she couldn’t do mine. That’s why God describes us a body, and He has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wants them to be (1 Corinthians 12:18). Sometimes it’s hard to appreciate that when we are doing things we don’t feel qualified to do, or when we compare ourselves to others and think they would do a much better job or when we are just tired and feel somewhat disconnected from the body!

This weekend I experienced what truly makes me buzz – spending time with colleagues, training them and discussing the Bible together, and teaching in workshops. Despite being in a very hot place, and having had to take an uncomfortable four hour bus journey to get there, I really enjoyed my trip to the Nyakyusa language area to visit our Literacy / Scripture Use Coordinator there and to teach a workshop with him for Sunday School teachers. The turnout at the workshop was disappointing, but those who were there interacted well. I have many doubts and questions about my job, whether I am the right person for it or whether we are doing things in the most effective way, but I thank God for the gifts He has given me and the opportunities and strength He gives me to use them, even when I’m tired and feeling challenged about the role I am playing.

“For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.” Romans 12:4-6a

A few funny things…

- Sitting next to a rather large man on the bus so that I nearly fell off my seat every time we went round a bend.

- Children greeting me “Good morning” at 7pm (this is a common mistake)

- People talking about me in Swahili, thinking I can’t understand

- Showing a colleague photos of snow, who responded with something like “I would die if I lived in a place that cold! People want to go to England because they think it’s a better place, but look at it, it’s not!!”

- The look on a colleague’s face when he realised I don’t have a clue how to farm and wouldn’t know how to hold a hoe!

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Saturday in pictures

Today has been an unpredictable and fun Saturday. Unfortunately I woke early, but that meant I had time to mend my oven gloves and clean most of the house before I was due to meet up with a friend to go shopping for curtain material at a big market. Our shopping trip was somewhat cut short by torrential rain. Despite umbrellas and trying to find shelter, we both got soaked from feet to knees as the rain hit the ground and splashed back up. My friend’s husband kindly rescued us and gave me a lift home, so they came in for coffee (we left wet footprints all over the house, and my sandals are still drying out) and a good natter.

After lunch, I finished mopping the house and sat out on the veranda to read my Bible while the floors dried. The garden is very green and the nanny goat and her kid are enjoying the grass!

Then I got a phone call from some other friends, asking if I was home, as they were heading to town. So, unexpectedly I got to spend a fun afternoon with a family (with their three little kids) and a meal out together at a new hotel. Proved to be a really nice place with good food (though the menu is limited) at good prices and a badly translated English menu! Will definitely go there again. The most remarkable thing was that the bill came on a computerised receipt!

On the way home, I stopped to greet a Tanzanian acquaintance and chatted for a while. And now I'm sitting on the sofa, it’s dark outside and an annoying fly is buzzing around. Time for emails and an episode of ER.

(Apologies for poor quality pictures – most of them were taken on my phone).

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Sunday stroll

To be honest, I never stroll! However, I thought I'd take you with me on a short walk I took this morning before lunch. The thunder was rumbling overhead and the air was heavy and oppressive, but though the sky was black over the mountains it was blue and sunny over town. I walked up the hill, through the woods to a point where I get a nice view of the mountain. Being the rainy season, everywhere is fresh and green and the scent of the eucalyptus trees fill the air. I didn't have my camera with me, but I captured a few snapshots on my phone of things I saw - the flowers and views were lovely, I saw beautiful butterflies too and also women returning from a busy morning of gathering wood jogging quickly down the path with huge bundles on their head that are probably heavier than their own body weight.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Back home

Settling back into life in Mbeya has been a rather bumpy ride, but now the way is smoothing out and life has fallen into some kind of pattern. This pattern involves a brisk and hilly walk to work from 7.45am – 8.15am (a good way to exercise and pray), a day in the office, a hot walk home and then a long evening that always seems to pass surprisingly quickly! If I’m home alone there’s food to be cooked, washing up to be done, correspondence to keep up with and people to Skype as well as ER to watch, music to write and listen to and books to read. Sometimes I have friends round – this week my landlady popped in for a bit, three Tanzanian colleagues came for a drink and cake one evening after work and another two a different evening. Today a Tanzanian friend is coming for lunch and tomorrow I’m going out for dinner with three missionary friends, so the weekend shouldn’t feel too lonely!

Thought I’d share a big cultural difference with you, one you may already be aware of but was brought home to me in a funny way this week. I was in the car with three Tanzanian colleagues (two men and a lady) and another missionary. The man in the middle put on his seat belt, which was rather loose on him, and said (loosely translated), “This belt is for Mama!” Mama is sitting in the front, and is somewhat on the large side. Can you imagine making a comment like that in England? What would the lady’s reaction be?!! However, they all considered it a perfectly acceptable joke, and if anything Mama took it as a complement. Here, when you describe people, you describe them by their size (the fat one, the tall one etc.) and to describe them as thin is something of an insult. My colleagues told me that if a lady is well rounded, people may even joke that she shouldn’t do hard work so that she doesn’t lose weight! As a nutritionist, I can’t say that fat is good, though it is better to be a bit overweight and fit than thin and unfit, however I wonder if our society can learn something from this attitude by becoming a little less obsessed with what we conceive as the perfect figure.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Back in my house

On Monday I was in my parents’ home in little Lapworth, in the heart of England, and by Wednesday evening I was in my house in the city of Mbeya, in the southern highlands of Tanzania. Quite a transition! And as always happens in these situations, England now feels like a dream that I’ve just woken up from, and I’m not sure whether it was real or not. However, emails, texts and Skype connects me in a way that makes it very real, though sometimes I feel like I am reading about something that is happening in a book, rather than real life, as I am not there to feel it, touch it and smell it! To be honest, this transition is a very difficult one for me for many reasons, so I am trying to focus on the things that make me smile about being back here. I thought I’d share a few of those with you…

- Being greeted by all kinds of people, whether I know them or not, as I walk along the street

- The smell of the rain, trees and flowers (I can smell them even now, in my living room, wafting in through the open window, as the rain patters on the roof and the thunder rumbles)

- The way people help you – at the market today, my ‘friend’ who sells bananas just abandoned her stall to show me where to buy something else that I wanted, and helped me make my purchase! (Of course, I then went and bought some bananas off her, even though I didn’t need any more, so it was also a pretty good business move!)

- Being able to walk everywhere to do what I need to do (rather than drive)

- Chatting with the ‘milk lady’ – I buy fresh milk from a lady down the road, and when I went to get it on Friday the cow hadn’t yet been milked, so I was invited in and we sat and chatted for nearly an hour! She sent off her child to buy me a soda (such hospitality is so important to them, though I was just shamefully aware of how the soda had cost almost as much as I was about to pay them for the milk*). Relationships are so much more important here than your ‘to do’ list!

- Mangos (big fat juicy ones – four for about 70p) and chapattis

- Being able to wear light clothes and sandals again

- Sitting in my rocking chair on the veranda in the sunshine

*In case you are wondering whether this means milk is very expensive or soda is very cheap – it’s the latter. A 350ml bottle of Coca Cola costs about 25p, and 1 litre of milk about 30p

From Lapworth to Mbeya

My trip from start to finish went something like this…

On Monday I left my parents’ home at 2.15pm, arriving at Heathrow Terminal 5 at 4pm (thanks, dad & mum!) Flight departed at 6.45pm and, with hardly any sleep, I arrived at 7.15am at Dar International Airport (which is smaller than the smallest airport you have probably ever flown from in England!) Despite the early hour, it was already hot, and my taxi driver soon arrived to take me to our head office in Dar. After over an hour stuck in the usual Dar traffic jams, I arrived. Exhausted, I cat-napped on a couch, occasionally stirring to slap a mosquito, until it was time for lunch with a colleague followed by a restful afternoon ready for the gruelling day that would follow.

Wednesday morning came and unfortunately I had set my alarm wrongly, so I didn’t wake up until the taxi beeped its horn on arrival at 5am. I managed to get out the B&B in record time and we sped to the bus station, still in plenty of time for my 6am bus. I felt sick from tiredness but fortunately I am a bit better at sleeping on buses than on planes, so I had a reasonable doze before eating my peanut butter & jam sandwiches for breakfast. Most of the ride was hot and the seating was a bit cramped. Mid-morning we stopped for a quick loo break, and around noon a 10min lunch break at a service station (don’t think Costa Coffee and rows of clean toilets, instead think quick fried food and sodas and a row of not-so-clean-and-locks-don’t-work long drops!) We made good time, despite being held up in one place due to road works and another due to a truck having gone over the cliff and a crane was getting into place to haul it back up. However, there were no more loo stops, until there was an outcry on the bus and the driver found a convenient spot to pull over and there were no bushes to hide behind – it was just men round the front of the bus and women round the back, in full view of the open road!

The approach to Mbeya was beautiful as everywhere was fresh and green from the rains and the air felt cool. It was a relief to arrive at the bus station in the daylight at 6.30pm, to see a familiar face waiting to pick me up (thanks, Jo) and then to be welcomed into my own home with a meal waiting for me (thanks, Karin).

Not a trip to be repeated too often, but I thank God that everything went smoothly and I arrived safely and even, miracle of miracles, on time!