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.