Friday, 11 December 2015

A trip to train Sunday school teachers

Location: Magamba, Chunya District (1.5 hour drive from Mshewe, my village home). Most people there speak the Nyiha language and some speak the Safwa language or other languages such as Sukuma. Nearly everyone is also able to speak Swahili.

I picked up Amani (my Safwa colleague who lives in Mshewe) at 8am, or at least, I arrived at his house at 8am and he wasn’t quite ready, and our Nyiha colleague, who was supposed to be coming with us, hadn’t arrived either and wasn’t responding to phonecalls or text messages. We decided to leave without him. I played with Amani’s little girl while I waited for him to get ready and we set off quarter of an hour later. The road is a graded dirt road, and for the most part is rough but in reasonable condition, but some bits were very bumpy and made worse by recent rain.

As we drove, Amani told me he’d had a phonecall from the pastor who was arranging things for us in Magamba, to say that there was a funeral. This may not sound so significant to you, but I know what that means. It means that many people who I would have expected to see at the seminar will instead be at the funeral, which typically lasts three days. At some point on the journey we picked up three people to give them a lift to Magamba, as they were going to attend the funeral. When we arrived, we found out the person who died was a fairly close relative of the pastor who was hosting us, and so any hope of starting the workshop that day was lost. No-one would have turned up anyhow. Instead, we went to the funeral. There were crowds of people, women sitting in one area and preparing food and men sitting in another area. It was very much an open-air event, though thankfully we got ushered into a house away from the loud speakers and out of the hot sun. You wouldn’t have known that it was a funeral from the music being played, it just sounded like a typical gospel event.

We were joined by a group of pastors (as usual, though being a lady I wasn’t expected to be with the ladies) for chai and mandazi. For us the funeral involved a lot of sitting or standing around and waiting. I got a chance to chat with some people and show them local language Scriptures and later we got a chance to chat with the pastors who had come (it seems that pastors from all the local churches will come to a funeral to pay their respects and to preach) about our work. Can you imagine using a funeral in England as a platform for advertising what you do?! But here it was fine, and indeed a good opportunity, because at no expense to us, we were able to meet with pastors from various places that we might otherwise never meet.

The funeral in general seemed to start with lots of church choirs and music, followed by some preaching and then the burial, which took place in the back yard of the person’s home. Before covering the body, people were able to pass by and say their final goodbye. After covering, as we do in England, people could throw dirt in the grave and finally place flowers etc on it. I just observed all of this from a distance – I couldn’t really see anything, but asked Amani for explanations. After the burial, people gave their condolences in the form of money and they added it all up and announced the total sum. This may seem very mercenary to us, but I think we have to remember that a funeral is an expensive event – the family have to feed everyone that comes, and that could literally be hundreds of people (I don’t know how many people were at this one, but it looked like well over a hundred), so people’s condolences help cover the costs. (We got fed there too, even though we didn’t know the deceased. I got a plate of rice with a bit of cow that I tried not to look at or smell but just eat, it was offal of some kind – it tasted okay but the texture was far from pleasant).

We returned to the pastor’s house after food and sat and chatted about the Bible with some people that were visiting him, before returning to the funeral for a while to see the pastor. Now they were preaching. And when we visited the funeral again the next day, there was someone else preaching, so I get the impression that after the main event, the rest of the three days is taken with preaching and music and just being there with the bereaved people.

That night it poured with rain, a real thunderstorm. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep particularly well! Despite the rain it was still pretty hot, though by morning the rain had cooled things off. I was worried it might affect the roads, but thankfully it didn’t. So on day two we were able to hold the workshop, although the pastor was still at the funeral, and I think a number of others must have been too. Instead of the twenty plus participants we had at the first one, we had just six, and they were late. I tried not to be discouraged, and actually taught the children for a bit while I waited for the teachers to turn up – there were a lot more children there than teachers! They came and sat through most of the workshop, just for something to do. Sometimes I was able to involve them in games and songs, but mostly they just sat and watched.

The workshop went okay, but I had to squeeze 1.5 days of teaching into one day because of the funeral, so I had to do some rethinking! It felt a bit like they hadn’t learned anything, as the way that they did the exercises didn’t seem to show any improvement form the first workshop, and two of the teachers hadn’t done any teaching since the first workshop. But I just hope and pray that it has had some small impact. I was encouraged by one of the pastors at the funeral who said that he had noticed a difference since their Sunday school teacher had attended the first workshop. The six participants I had were an enthusiastic bunch and we had some lively conversation over lunch, so the day passed quickly and I enjoyed it despite having a headache and despite the heat (it got pretty sticky in the afternoon). And we had two little visitors – hedgehogs! First there was one, which I took outside, but it came back. So I took it out again, further away, and it came back. In the end we gave up, and it found a dark, dry corner of the church to hide in, behind the electric guitars, and later it was joined by its friend.

Before leaving we called by the funeral again to say goodbye to our host-pastor. The preaching was still going on. He took us to the market as he wanted to buy as a gift of fish, which are plentiful there as it is about an hour away from Lake Rukwa. I really enjoy the fish, despite the bones. They fry them so that they will keep for a while, without refrigeration. We gave three people a lift back to Mshewe, arriving back in the village around 7pm, and the evening sky was just stunning. As I drove the last little bit back to my house alone, I just stopped the car in the middle of the field I was driving through (on a dirt track) and watched the glorious sky that no photo could do justice to. Breathtaking.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Back in Mshewe

Yesterday I arrived back in Mshewe and I confess I wasn’t looking forward to returning to the village, even though it’s only for a couple of weeks. I had started to settle into town life and was enjoying some measure of routine, which comes with more office-based work, as well as the delights of electricity (most of the time anyhow), easy access to shops and the companionship of a housemate and other English speaking friends. However, I reassured myself with memories of the beauty of the Mshewe countryside and the fun I have with some of my village friends, and so drove back to the village with at least some sense of anticipation. My pleasure grew as I bought myself some grilled corn-on-the-cob and left the noise of the town behind, driving past buckets full of mangoes being sold at the side of the road before turning up the dirt track to where I live.

Arriving, I opened the kitchen door. My friends had kindly left me a bunch of bananas, but some other very unwelcome ‘friends’ had also been at work. The kitchen was a mess. Someone had left a bag of peanuts on the worktop – a fatal mistake. Mice love peanuts and the result was that not only were peanut shells scattered across the counter but they had also sampled the label on the bottle of oil, a pen lid and a box of matches, among other things! Entering the main house to check the situation out there I found the usual pile of bat droppings behind the sofa and had an unpleasant surprise in the bathroom – a filthy mess around the bath. When I turned on the tap to clean up the dirt, the water that came out was black and took about half-an-hour of running to become just about clean enough to shower in.
A couple of hours of cleaning and unpacking later, I finally took a shower in the almost-clean water and felt refreshed and ready to face living here once again. The sunset was stunning. My friend popped over to say hi. I cooked some food. I lit my new scented candle. I sat down to write this blog post to the music of the cicadas outside. It’s not so bad being here after all!
Waking early this morning to the dawn chorus and someone calling “Hodi!” at my gate, wanting to speak to me, I wasn’t so sure again. He wanted money for a sound system at his church! Did he have to come and knock before 6am in the morning for such a request?! I feel weary. But it’s a beautiful morning, I am working with my faithful colleagues today, with the chance to read the Bible together, and so there is much to be thankful for.

I know that I need to trust God to strengthen me for whatever lies ahead. The line of a familiar song comes to mind once again, “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.” Amen to that!

Saturday, 31 October 2015

All in a day

The alarm goes off at 6.45am, time to get up and get going. I put my solar lights outside to recharge then head to the kitchen to cook my porridge. As I eat I continue to read Genesis and ponder the life of Joseph. I turn on the tap to wash up but there isn’t any water, and there hasn’t been any since yesterday afternoon. Hopefully someone will fix that problem today. I get in my Toyota Prado ready to head to the village to pick up my colleague, Amani. As I’m about to turn on the engine I find a text message from Amani telling me he isn’t able to come to town today, he’s elsewhere. Frustrated with the constant change in plans I decide to head to town anyhow, to meet with my other colleague, John.

As I head along the dirt road, I pass through a check-point and a lady asks for a lift. She gets in the car and I show her how to fasten her seatbelt. She is a Safwa lady, so I play the book of Ruth in the Safwa language for her to listen to, which she obviously enjoys by the various affirmative sounds she makes! I negotiate my way through the morning bustle around the cattle market, where men in blood-stained white coats are milling around to buy and butcher animals, and up the pot-holed street past vendors selling potatoes and other vegetables on their road-side stands.

I arrive at our Safwa office, on the grounds of a garage run by a Swiss mission, where people are trained to fix cars. John has already arrived and we greet each other, “Mwagona!” We report back on the activities of the previous week and discuss plans for the coming months and a question that John had from his reading of Genesis (we are all working our way through this book). My morning drinks have gone through me so I head to the toilet, a nice hole in the ground. The bucket of water for flushing is empty, so I find a nearby tap and fill it up.
John heads off to visit some people and sell Safwa books. I remain behind to continue with computer work, taking advantage of having electricity and a fairly good internet connection while in town. The room gets warmer and warmer as the day heats up. 

At lunchtime I lock the office padlock and head out to find some food. I stroll up the dusty road and down a passageway littered with plastic bags. A vendor selling oranges tries to persuade me to buy some, a child calls out “mzungu” (referring to me, a white foreigner) and I squeeze past a mother carrying her baby on her back. I walk through the market where all kinds of wares are available, from kitchen equipment to shoes to food, and before I get totally lost in the maze I ask a lady where I can find somewhere to eat. She shows me to a room, with a grubby lace curtain for a door. On entering I recognised the table, I’ve eaten here before with my colleagues. The owner brings me a plate piled high with rice and with small portions of greens, meat and beans on the side. I get talking with the other people at the table, sharing about our work. I turn on my phone for them to listen to the Bible in their language and get into conversation about churches in Tanzania and the lack of faith in England.

It’s time to head back to the office, so I pay up (about 50p) and take a cocktail stick to get the bits of meat out from between my teeth that are the inevitable result of eating tough (but flavoursome) beef. On the way back I buy a five litre container so I can get some more petrol for my generator, which seems to guzzle fuel. I don’t know what the container used to hold, maybe soap or cooking oil. Someone has washed it out thoroughly and now it’s available to buy for a mere 50p. I also pick up some tomatoes, buying four for 10p. Back in the office I settle back down in front of my laptop to continue with emails, finance issues and other administrative things that have built up while I have been busy teaching over the past couple of weeks. A man knocks on the door and enters. He is looking for my colleague. We get into conversation and I show him the Safwa books and explain to him why the translation process is so long and thorough. He is a pastor. He takes my colleague’s phone number – maybe he will get in touch to invite us to speak at his church.

The office is hot, it’s hard to focus, but it’s not long until hometime. John has returned and we finish the day by praying together. I drive to the petrol station to get fuel for the generator before heading home, driving past the school children returning from a day of studies, slowing down to skirt round a herd of cows being driven down the road, and overtaking motorbikes, which are the most common form of public transport off the main roads.

On arriving home I unload the car and get changed ready for a walk in the slightly cooler evening air. I decide to head to the river for a paddle in the cold mountain water. It’s a beautiful spot and I watch the butterflies fluttering around. I spy a rock and some plants that look black, but on closer inspection discover they are simply alive with flying ants. As I return from my walk the sky is painted in the gentle pastel colours that come after the sun has set. I head to my carrot patch to pull up a few carrots for tea and I also pick a few strawberries as I pass through my friend’s strawberry patch, before returning home to wash my hair (having earlier boiled the kettle on the gas stove to give me some water to do so). 

My friend, Mama Pendo, arrives to make a cake. Armed with bananas from their own plot of land we set to making banana bread for some guests she is receiving tomorrow. A little later her husband arrives and we enjoy a good natter while we wait for the cake to bake, discussing everything from schooling to what grains we grow in England. At 9pm they leave and I accompany them the short way to their house, as it is polite to walk a little way with your guests rather than just wave them goodbye from the door. Now it is time to throw together a light tea with home made bread followed by a fruit salad of fresh pineapple, passion and banana. I sit in the lounge to eat while WhatsApping my parents and watching an episode of ‘To a Manor Born’, which is refreshingly British and light hearted after a day of speaking Swahili and dealing with life in Tanzania, while the generator drones noisily in the garage.

It’s after 10pm and time I was in bed. I head to the kitchen, wash up, turn off the generator and get ready for bed by the light of my solar lantern. Teeth brushed, I let down the mosquito net and settle down for what I hope will be a good night’s sleep, to the sound of the cicadas and the occasional hoot of an owl. Outside the heavens declare the glory of God as the stars shine out brightly in all their vast array, with the milky way marking a clear pathway across the sky. Sleep.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

The little things

It is often the little things in life that can prove intensely frustrating or stressful or that can bring unexpected moments of pure joy. Here’s some ‘little things’ that I have experienced recently that have done just that.

The little things that frustrate:
  • Going to the one bank that I can withdraw cash from without a fee, only to be told my card issuer is unavailable. I try again another day. It still doesn’t work. I end up going to another bank and paying the withdrawal fee and now I have cash. Why was my card issuer unavailable at the one bank and not the other?!
  • Breakfast time and I go to get a banana for my porridge only to discover that fruit flies have been busy and eaten large chunks out of my bananas!
  • My generator has stopped working. As this is my only source of electricity in Mshewe, this has made charging electrical appliances stressful and makes evenings tiring as I do things in much dimmer light than electricity would supply.
  • Wanting to have people round for a meal but not having access (here in Mshewe) to the food I would normally use when cooking for guests.
  • Time to wash the dishes, but when I turn on the tap there is no water. I can get some from the garden tap, but it’s just another of those ‘little things’.
  • Finding bat droppings all over the sofa and floor every morning. (I am kept company in the evenings by the squeaking of bats in the attic! Their droppings fall down the gaps round the edge of the ceiling boards).
All these little things have solutions, but one after another can be tiring and stressful. Thankfully there are also the little things that bring a smile to the face:

  • Stepping out my door at night and being wowed by the stars.
  • Getting three letters from my parents all at once (one of them was posted over two months ago) and getting a surprise parcel of dark chocolate from a friend.
  • When staying at my Mbeya home for a couple of nights, I found I had chocolate cake in the freezer. I’d forgotten about that. Mmmmm.
  • Chatting with a guard from the coffee plantation one evening, I discovered he couldn’t read. I whipped out my phone and a stool and he sat and listened to Mark’s gospel, chapter one, in his mother tongue (Safwa). The next evening I found him by his fire and he listened to chapter two. Another evening, he was ready waiting at my house, eager to hear more, together with another guard. It made me smile to hear them laughing with pleasure as they listened to God’s Word in their heart language.
  • Watching a stereotypically big red ball of African sun sinking in the sky at sunset.
  • Holding someone’s baby at church, smiling up at me. (Some children here are afraid of white people as they are not used to seeing them, so it is a particular joy to hold a baby that shows no fear).

Monday, 24 August 2015


I feel like I spend a lot of my life in Tanzania waiting.

Teaching pastors to read their Safwa language,
while we wait for others to arrive for a meeting.
On Saturday I was invited to a meeting of local church leaders in order to share about our work. I turned up on time with my colleague, Nsolelo, at 10am. There was no sign of anyone at the Moravian church where the meeting was to be held so we went to the pastor’s house where one other person was waiting. We were given something to eat (dry bread and cooking bananas) and drink (black tea) and we continued to wait and chat. Others then began to arrive, so we migrated to the meeting room and over an hour after we were supposed to start the meeting finally kicked off. After I had spoken I sat through the rest of the meeting, which proved to be totally irrelevant, until it ended well after my usual lunch time. On this occasion, as on many others, I just had to hope and pray that it wasn’t a waste of time and that God could somehow use the small contribution I made for His purposes. I had to remind myself that relationships are important and you never know what may come of a meeting like that.

Let me take you to a another event – this time a Sunday school teacher training workshop. I knew we wouldn’t start on time the first day, so I wasn’t too worried that even I, as the teacher, turned up a little late. The invitation letter stated that the workshop would begin at 9am, but it was around 10.30am by the time we got going, and still not everyone had arrived. I hoped that on the second day the participants might not be so late, but the pattern repeated itself until the end of the workshop and I just tried to keep the one or two who were on time (meaning only half-an-hour late) entertained with crafts and games until we could start properly! (All good training for teaching children, who are also usually late for Sunday school).

Or there is the seminar we were teaching at on Friday, which of course started late, but that was to be expected. The real waiting began after the meeting was over, when we were asked to stay for food (which takes a long time to cook when you are using wood as your fuel) and then, just as I hoped we could leave, I found out we had to wait for the host-pastor to come (who hadn’t attended the morning’s meeting) so that we could greet him before we left.

And right now I am waiting – waiting for plans to fall into place that depend on other people meeting and making plans, which they are in no hurry to do, as for them it is just something to get round to when they have time, while for me my very work depends on it.

I feel like I have learned more about living life day by day and being patient through these experiences, but at times it is just incredibly frustrating and l feel like I am wasting my time. Also there is something strangely tiring about waiting – I am much more tired after a day of sitting in pastors’ houses or in meetings, not doing or saying much, than I am after a day of energetic teaching. So, if you need a break from the hustle and bustle of life in the ‘West’, come and visit me and we can sit and wait together :-)

“But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31 (KJV)

This is the kind of waiting I would rather experience in my life, of eternal benefit. May God help me to wait upon Him, and to learn to wait patiently here!

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Why Tanzania?

Matema, Lake Nyasa (aka Lake Malawi) on a recent break
To a passing observer it may look like an exciting adventure to work in ‘exotic’ Africa, but while Tanzania is indeed a beautiful place, with delicious tropical fruits, exotic birds and lots of sunshine, the reality of living and working here is often challenging. Leaving behind family and friends that I love and living in a culture that is so different from my own can be very hard. So why do I do it?

Though the sun is shining and the birds are singing as I write, I know that out there the world is a mess. Just over the wall are people living in poverty, sometimes wondering where their next meal will come from or how they will pay their children’s school fees. Read the news and there are people living in fear of their lives, thousands trying to escape their homes and others suffering from natural disasters. And in my own family loved ones are suffering, I myself often have health issues and I know that happiness is fragile.

I can’t make sense of all this. Sometimes I find the hopelessness of life overwhelming, except that I believe that there is hope. This world has a lot of beauty, ingenuity and love in it, enough to point me to the fact that there must be a master designer behind it – I cannot conceive that it just came to be. But if all that there is to life now is what I see around me and on the news, then I am not sure what the point of living is. My own life might be pretty comfortable and nice, but what about all those others who are suffering? Is it fair?

When I wonder about all this (which I do frequently), again and again I am pointed towards the only thing, or One, that I believe makes sense of it. This world is messed up, mostly by humanity’s own actions, but there is hope. God made this world to be a beautiful place where we can live in love and harmony with Him and one another. But people have chosen to ignore God and follow their own ideas and the world we now live in is the result of that. But the reason I have hope to carry on and the reason I live in Tanzania, is because I believe God hasn’t abandoned us. I believe that if we choose to acknowledge God to be God and to love and follow Him, we can look forward to a day when this world will be totally restored, the mess done away with, and we will live in peace with man and God. This hope for the future gives me the strength to live for today. It gives me the motivation to live in Tanzania, to work with the church here to help people to know God better, through the Bible, that they might share in that hope that I have. I have been privileged with good education and Bible teaching, unlike so many of my Christian family in Tanzania, so this is why I have come to teach in Bible colleges and churches here that they also might understand the Bible and know God better and the hope He offers. It is why I am part of an organisation trying to make the Bible available in every language of the world that needs one.
Students at a Bible college that I teach at occasionally

If you have questions about anything I have written, if you disagree or want to know more, please write and tell me!

"The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living." The Bible (Hebrews 11:1, The Message translation)

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

The same God?

On Sunday I visited a church in the village of Iziwa, a beautiful spot on the slopes of Mbeya Peak. I was there with my colleagues from the Safwa language area to share about the work of Bible translation, to discuss the possibility of returning to teach people to read and write their language and to talk about Scripture Engagement training we can provide.

It turned out to be a very big church as it is the headquarters of the Pentecostal Holiness Mission (PHM) for this area. Due to having guests (us), several of the nearby PHM churches had come for a joint service, so there were about 500 people. We joined the service at about 10.30am (things had already begun while we were in the pastor’s office), and proceeded to sit through nine choirs presenting their songs. As guests, we were seated on the stage in plush arm chairs, looking through the glass pulpit to the choirs dancing in front. To my right two humongous speakers perched on the edge of the stage and my armchair vibrated to the beat. After an hour and half of listening to loud songs that were hard to understand and watching the choirs throwing themselves into elaborate dance moves, we moved into the offering time, after which we were introduced and my colleague preached (using a mixture of Swahili and Safwa). After a long (but pretty good) sermon on Job, there was a time of prayer in which everyone prayed out loud at the same time. And when I say out ‘loud’, I mean LOUD!! The service lasted over four hours, though thankfully we were invited to leave the service to ‘rest’ before it was over.

So, there I was, in a church with brothers and sisters in Christ, but everything about the service felt so far removed from what I am used to in England that I was almost led to wonder if we worship the same God. Does my God accept carefully rehearsed dancing as worship, does He like it when people shout their prayers and does an exceedingly long, loud service please Him? These things might not be pleasing to me, but that doesn’t mean we are worshipping a different God. Rather, we are different people worshipping the same God. When I stop and think about it, it’s incredible just how much diversity God created and loves. The fact that He can find pleasure in Iziwa villagers worshipping Him one way and Lapworth villagers worshipping Him in a totally different way speaks to the very bigness of our God. He isn’t confined to one culture or one way of doing things, His heart is so much bigger than my blinkered, judgmental one!

I hope that the longer I live here the more God will help me to see this culture through His eyes and the more I will glimpse the bigness of our God.

“As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways and thoughts above yours.” Isaiah 55:9 (Today’s English Version)

Monday, 30 March 2015


A typical day for an Mshewe villager in March is likely to involve getting up with the sun, heading out to the shamba (a plot of farmland) to work hard all morning cultivating the soil and planting beans. The afternoon heat (and hopefully rain) is a time to return home, eat, go to the market, visit friends and do other work. Early evening may involve a second period of labour on the farm, before returning to household chores. The curses of Genesis 3:17-19 became very real to me one morning when I went with someone to learn how to plant beans and yield a small hoe: “Cursed is the ground because of you, through painful toil you will eat of it”. Life is hard – during a year there are very few periods of rest from toiling on the farm if you want to have enough to feed your family, and children start learning at a young age how to help on the farm and in the house. I still have blisters on my hand as a reminder of the work that goes into producing the food I eat so unthinkingly. While I already had some idea of village life before going to spend two weeks in Mshewe, actually being there and interacting with it brought the reality home to me with more clarity and greater detail.

For me, however, there was no such thing as a ‘typical day’ in Mshewe! Some of the experiences I had included visiting a couple of local schools (simple buildings with as many as 60 children in a class), attending a village meeting (a fascinating insight into local issues), watching a choir sing traditional Safwa songs (and later discovering they normally sing them in the bars, well-laced with locally brewed beer), visiting homes, learning some Safwa greetings, teaching in a local church and chatting with the pastor about training for Sunday school teachers.

My aim at present is just to watch and learn (as I shadow our two Safwa Literacy & Scripture Use workers) and see where the needs are and where and how I might be able to use my own gifts and training to serve the local church and help people engage with God’s Word. I currently feel a bit like a plane circling around and not knowing where to land! I don’t want to try and land too soon, because I think the watching and learning process is vital, but at the same time there is much to be done. I am desperately praying that God will show me when and how He wants me to be at work in the Safwa area.

As well as the interesting and varied experiences I had, some of the things I really enjoyed about living in Mshewe were the lovely views and walks, the butterflies, some of the people I got to meet and their kind hospitality and help. On the downside, there were the nasty gnats that ate me alive (I am still itching), the very poor internet, limited electricity and a lack of English social interaction! However, on balance, it was a good two weeks and I have left with a desire to return soon and find out what God has in store, though each time I go it will be hard to leave behind the friendships and comforts of Mbeya. As we step out into Holy Week, though, I am reminded of how the Son of God left behind so much more than that, in order to identify with us and serve us – may this thought strengthen our resolve to also step out of our comfort zones to serve Him.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Where is home?

I’m sitting in my ‘home’ in Mbeya – a colleague’s house that I am using for several months while she is back in her ‘home’ country. In many ways it already feels like home, with some of my pictures on the walls, my piano by the window and the lovely view of the mountains. But I know it’s only temporary.

I’ve been twice to the house in Mshewe, where I hope to live when focusing more on working with people in the Safwa language area. I’ve taken photos and tried to think through what I might need to take, but right now I have no idea how long I will spend there and how it will work out and whether it will ever feel like ‘home’. I hope to have my first stay there from mid-March, perhaps for an initial period of two to three weeks, but we’ll see – things have a habit of changing here from week to week! Mshewe is in a beautiful area, though it could feel rather lonely living alone in a big house. If you’d like to come for a virtual visit, click here to see a few pictures and hear some traditional Safwa music.

Mbeya does feel like ‘home’ again in many ways, but at the same time I feel like I am in a permanent state of transition, between one house and another and between England (which is also very much ‘home’ to me, both Lapworth and Gloucester) and Tanzania. I find I don’t buy books or too many ‘things’ because I never know when I will pack up and move again, and the more stuff you have the harder that becomes. It’s always a challenge making a place feel like home in such a way that it is also easy to up and go!
All these changes keep life interesting but also make it a bit unsettling. Maybe this is one of the reasons I look forward to the future. I recently read again these verses from John 14, where Jesus said:

“In my Father’s house are many rooms…I am going there to prepare a place for you. And…I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

What’s new?

I’m back in Mbeya, the town where I lived for nearly five years but thought I might never see again. It’s a strange feeling, as if I’m in a dream that I might wake up from only to find myself back in my bed at Redcliffe. But the longer I am here, the more reality sinks in. It’s been over a week now. As soon as I stepped off the plane in Dar es Salaam my nostrils were assaulted with the warm, humid atmosphere of the coastal city, and I felt strangely like I had come home. So much was the same, but not everything!

In the short time I had in Dar I was struck by how technology has moved on, everyone I saw in the airport seemed to be using a smart phone! After a couple of days in Dar I flew to Mbeya – no longer does one have to sit on a bus for 13 hours, as a plane ticket to the new ‘international’ airport can be almost as cheap as the bus. I was lucky to arrive on a dry morning, seeing Mbeya at its best – lush and green from the recent rains, with the mountains rising up all around. One thing that hasn’t changed is the beauty of this place, in fact it’s even more beautiful than I remembered it!

Loleza Peak, rising above Mbeya town
I have enjoyed pacing round the streets of Mbeya and reorienting myself – surprisingly little has changed but a few things stand out. Even more shops are painted with mobile phone network logos and advertising the fact that you can use M-Pesa or equivalent there – M-Pesa almost acts as a little bank account on your phone, from which you can send money to people or pay for things; it’s very useful, particularly in a place where shops don’t take Visa and internet banking isn’t used. A number of new shops have cropped up, but they all seem to be selling the same old things – I’ve just spotted one or two changes, like a new brand of margarine (so now there are two options instead of just one!) or that Ribena is now in glass bottles and has gone up in price. I was excited to discover I could buy rice flour, and by mixing this with maize flour have made my first wheat-free cake here. 

The change that most surprised me was the roads. The first day that I walked to the office I thought I was lost when I reached a tarmac road that I expected to be dirt, only to discover that I was exactly where I thought I was and this road, along with one or two others, has been surfaced with impressive ditches and footpaths to go with it.

Arriving at the office, it was lovely to see many familiar faces, but there were also many new faces, particularly among the missionaries. I am enjoying being reunited with old friends, though very much missing close friends from England and that ease of companionship that comes from knowing one another well. Psalm 18 is a comfort at this time, for God is that rock that never changes, the One who is always there.