The ‘Black Box’

Pray for missionary children. It’s not always easy being a missionary kid: so much movement between places; so many different churches; different villages; and different expectations. We use the idea of the ‘black box’ with our kids. They don’t ask when we’re leaving, when food will be or whether we’ll be having food before we go. They know the answer is ‘it’s in the black box’ of not knowing. Eventually we’ll know, but right now we’re at the mercy of whoever is hosting us.

Last Sunday we were visiting a church we haven’t visited in a good while. I could see the children mentally prepare themselves for long hours with no food and being touched and stared at by unfamiliar little faces. Some people find new experiences easier than other people do, no matter how often they have to face them.

When we arrived at the church we were greeted by the familiar face of our pastor friend, who immediately took us for lovely warm soft chapatis and sweet spiced tea. I could see joy spread across the children’s faces. Church provided Reuben with an opportunity for a much needed long nap and after some time I took Tabitha out thinking the service was just finishing up. We ended up staying out in the ‘hoteli’ (food shack) talking with another Tabitha for at least an hour while the service continued. I figured that at least this was a good opportunity for me to practice my swahili, which still needs all the practice it can get.

During our time in the holeli a number of the congregation joined us. Although we had arrived at church at 10.30am, many had been there from the first service, around 8am, through the intensive teaching between the services, known as Sunday school, and onto the second service. By now it was probably about 3pm and others in the holeli were enjoying a plate of beans and rice. Tabitha and I considered ‘the black box’. ‘There may be a lunch coming for us later’. ‘But the pastor’s house is far away and he usually doesn’t leave until the evening’. ‘If there is food for us it will probably be here anyway since we had chapati here’. ‘Will he be upset if we eat?’ ‘He’ll probably just be happy we’ve eaten’. We considered the matter for a while before going ahead and deciding to share a plate of beans and rice. And then another. By the time Simon came to find us to tell us there was a meal for us, we were pretty stuffed.

Tabitha happily receiving any food coming her way:

We were taken to a room round the back of church, where there seemed to be the most enormous spread of food. I was beginning to feel a little disappointed with the fullness of my belly; remembering how delicious other feasts at this church had been. I was also a little perplexed at the size of the spread. Surely they hadn’t put this on for us? A number of church leaders and a few others joined us and Tabitha and I managed to stuff in a bit more food and I was grateful I wasn’t going to have to produce any more food for the family that day. Simon and Reuben also appeared to enjoy themselves.

During the meal various people stood up to talk. I was tired by then, I’d had my swahili practice for the day and since church was over I figured I could rest my brain and ignore what was going on. After a number of people had spoken, I was asked to speak. I had no idea why we were eating and speaking together and absolutely no idea what they wanted me to talk about. I thought perhaps people had been giving testimonies, so I said a few words about things I was grateful to God for. The Master of Ceremonies tried to guide me on to a somewhat different topic but after I’d finished Simon leant over to tell me that we were at a graduation meal for a recently qualified doctor and we were all supposed to be giving her a few words of encouragement or advice. Oh well. How was I supposed to guess that was in today’s ‘black box’?!

All the coming and going and different experiences in life will I’m sure develop great characters in our children. Sometimes though, when life has so many different components it can be difficult to know where you fit. Last academic year swim club became the thing that needed to give.

This September we made a rule that both children needed to join the swim club because no one was getting enough exercise and we needed to fulfill the PE component of the curriculum somehow. It was one of those poker face moments when you’re not sure how hard you’re willing to push, but you don’t want anyone to pick up on your lack of commitment to follow it through. I’m not going to pretend this has been a tearless experience, but what I can say is that there have been a lot of fears faced and a lot of overwhelming situations managed. I’m sure it will all add to that character that’s being developed over the long term.

It was the Mwanza mini-meet (11s and under) gala yesterday. All four clubs from the lake zone region were represented. There was a buzz of activity with kids spilling in from the other clubs and 42 races with up to six heats for each. It was incredibly well organised and executed and a great day was had by all. But if you’re that way inclined, it’s easy to see the confused children, not sure whether they are in the right place and the animated teachers and coaches telling them that they most definitely are not.

Fears were faced and overwhelming situations were managed. And after all of that, awards were won. Tabitha took part in five races and won 3rd place in the 7-8 age category for 25m freestyle and 2nd place for 7-8s 25m butterfly. We couldn’t be any prouder.

Tabitha is the one in the near lane. I’m the scary Mummy yelling ‘kick Tabitha kick’!

 


Pray for your missionaries’ kids, it’s not always easy for them to know their place in the world. But it’s great when they can win some awards along the way!

African economics

When we were back in the UK last year we met with various groups to explain a bit about life on Kome. I used an example of one of our neighbours. This dear gentleman is extremely old and is barely able to walk with a stick, almost doubled over. We always make an effort to visit him when we’re on the island. Inevitably he is perched on a tiny simple wooden stool outside his simple house, where he can see many of his children, who are involved in the local fish trade – fixing fishing nets or racking the endless layer of white bait, drying across the beach shore. Many of his grandchildren run around on the beach or around the communal lounge, kitchen and dining area, which is the entire village. While he no doubt has a peaceful life, him and his wife often complain about their failing health and I’d look at him on his tiny wooden stool and remember my grandma siting in her fully automated reclining and raising chair and think about his (lack of) comfort. Like many rural Africans of his generation, one or two of his children have made it successfully through the education system and now have reasonably well paying jobs in the city. This month we’ve been surprised to see that one of this children has paid for a new house for him. Now in the spot where he sat on his small wooden stool outside his simple traditional house he now sits on a plastic chair, on a veranda of a well built, large house. In place of the traditional drop pit toilet he now has a modern tank toilet with walls, roof and door. Somehow, while sitting outside of his house the world moved on, he has suddenly skipped several generations of development and now finds himself living in one of the best houses in the village. Just like that.

It seems to be the way that development happens around here – suddenly. You just wake up and something has changed – everywhere. One day a couple of months ago we woke up and every road in the town had a street sign. Instantly. The impact on the quality of my life in almost indescribable. Where once giving directions would entail describing the location of various mango trees, dirt roads and maasai hang-outs, now I can simply use road names. We conducted interviews this month and all of the candidates turned up in the correct location, without calling me and without me needing to send someone to go out and track down which mango tree my candidate was standing under! I love that the community leaders had to sit down and think of names for all the roads in such a short period of time, and that as a result the road around the corner from our house is named after a friend of ours’ dog. Why not?!

This month all the fishing businesses in our village on Kome upgraded to solar lamps. The lamps are put on small rafts and strung across the lake. The lights attract the small fish the makes the staple of almost everybody’s diet here, and they are captured into nets. Up until now all of the lamps have all run on paraffin but just like that, this has all changed, seemingly overnight.

I remain fascinated by African development and African economics. There are so many books written on these topics but I don’t think it’s something that can ever be fully grasped. Money just works differently in Africa than in does in the UK at least. We have been paying some millions of shillings for the house that we rent on Kome. It’s easy to wonder where all the money goes if there is so much being moved around for things like rent. This month we took on a new team member and went on the hunt for a house for her to live in, when we enquired about rent for a properly we found, it was TSH20,000 (£6) a month for the two roomed property. This would go no way towards the building and maintenance of a property. It’s impossible to understand how one landlord can charge so much more than another, and how the one with the lower rent could be making any money back on his property. The first landlord understands that he is renting to wazungu (foreigners), the second to a Tanzanian, and the rent reflects this difference. It seems that the price you get for everything depends on who you are; your location; and what you’re perceived to be able to afford or be willing to pay.

There is plenty of development in Tanzania. Here in Mwanza there are many people with cars, smart phones and computers. We have restaurants and a mall with a cinema. I’d hate anyone to believe that there’s been no development in Tanzania. But there is something different about the way money works here. There is a much greater expectation that those with more give to those with less. An individual with a job in the city may be expected to pay for houses for family in the village. Those with food may be expected to provide for the hungry in a way that often causes real personal sacrifice. I have no doubt that whilst the rent received by the person renting to the wazungu may be great, there are many people who have a stake in receiving from that pot of money.

I recently read a book written by a South African whose Mum uses the phrase ‘Black tax’. He describes this as being a situation in which a black African who obtains money for whatever reason, loses that money by being put in a situation where they are obliged or expected to share the money with friends and family in order to make up for the losses and hardships those others have suffered. This has the overall effect of bringing everyone up to zero. For example at one point in the story he fears he is going to end up with such a large bill for a family member’s healthcare, that it will impact on the entire rest of his life.

I believe that we in the UK have a lot to learn from the way economics and community work here. We find it easy to ignore the needs of others, to think about providing for ourselves and taking care of our immediate family. We can be guilty of clinging to things more than people. In Tanzania failing to greet your neighbour, not sharing with those in need and not providing for your extended family members is unthinkable. I’m challenged daily to think about how those in the early church shared with all their fellow believers. It’s almost impossible to go outside here as a mzungu without a request for something from somebody and it would be easy to give until you had nothing left, without really benefiting anyone. It’s often hard to have the discernment to know when and how to help. What we’ve seen is that when something is desirable, whether it’s solar lamps, metal roofs or street signs, where there’s a will, there’s a way. As we move the sanitation project forward, we want to create a desire for and therefore the will, for clean and safe toilets in the communities on Kome.

We run women’s health education groups on the island. As part of the groups we give the women an opportunity to save money every week in a community savings bank and we give them entrepreneurial training to help them make the best use of the money they have. By locking money up in a community box and by raising capital that can be invested in business, we assist these women in avoiding some of the daily demands on their money that may prevent them from being able to meet their and their families longer-term needs.

Frustrations, permits and parcels

We haven’t been able to say too much about it, but since the beginning of December we have been in the process of renewing our work and residence permits. For various reasons it has been a slow and frustrating process and has seriously limited how much we’ve been able to do here. We’ve managed to do a fair bit of planning for the upcoming ‘Clean Latrine’ project and Simon has done various bits and pieces to support other EI projects closer to home, especially in terms of providing technical support to some of the agricultural projects. Victoria has been taking Swahili lessons again to review some of the things that she didn’t quite get the first time around. We’ve also been working towards catching up on some of the school work we missed during out trip to the UK at the beginning of the academic year. But we haven’t been able to travel to our project sites.

My ever patient Swahili teacher, Mai, below…

We still have an outstanding issue with the residence permits because, due to the mixture of changes in the process and the fact we’re working through a third party, our kids did not get included on the application and therefore remain without permits.

This is made slightly more complicated by the fact that they are home-educated and that there is no provision in the law for home-education here in Tanzania. Children’s student permits require admission letters from the institution alongside various other documents. We have written letters to support their applications and are praying that an understanding individual will review the documents in Dar es Salaam.

The kids have been aware of some of the frustrations, and as a family we have been generally feeling we needed a bit of a break during the Easter holiday. We had hoped to go camping as a family but with travel being off the cards we decided to book into a local hotel for a night. We visited this hotel last year for our tenth wedding anniversary. In many ways it feels a million miles away from home, even though it’s only ten minutes away. The kids very much enjoyed the buffet lunch and breakfast; swimming pool; oversized bath; large shower; and Disney Kids channel on TV while lying on a big bed! We were of course willing to suffer these luxuries for the benefit of the kids! Thankfully with all the heat and excitement our kids are totally incapable of staying up late, so we also got some time to relax too! It really did feel like the break that we needed!

The kids enjoying some hotel time!

From time to time we receive parcels from the UK. These are always times of excitement and no one can wait to see what lies inside! In the past two weeks we’ve received four parcels, which considering that it hasn’t been one of the kids’ birthdays is pretty amazing! One had a load of cards and things sent out from the kids’ Sunday school back in the UK. While looking through all the things they had received Tabitha remarked ‘They love us and they miss us and now I KNOW they miss us, because they’ve sent us all these cards’! It really means a lot to the kids to have received all those letters and they spent a long time going through everything!

Parcels!

We also received a parcel from someone close to us. As we looked through and tried to guess who had sent it we had both worked it is was someone who knew us really well because it had our favourite things inside! Then, if that wasn’t enough, we received two huge parcels today. We’ve called these parcels the answer to Reuben’s prayer.

The other night, while lying on the bedroom floor too tired to move himself to bed, Reuben asked whether someone would please pray for his chocolate. When I asked what he meant he explained that he really missed his chocolate. He had received chocolate for his birthday and now it was finished and he really missed having his chocolate. Reuben is a great prayer. Sometimes I’m not sure whether he loves praying so much because he loves talking to God, or whether it’s because it’s the one time that everyone is forced to be quiet and listen to him and he’s determined to make full use of the opportunity! Sometimes I worry the food will be totally cold by the time he’s finished saying grace! But he thinks a lot about what he prays about and shows gratitude for a lot of things!

The two parcels that arrived today were from the same family and consisted of the most enormous supply of chocolate. The parcels of someone who had just decided that they were going to send a massive amount of treats at whatever the cost of posting would be! I cried as I unpacked the parcels. Meanwhile Reuben started running up and down the house yelling ‘It worked! God sent us chocolate!’ I’m not going to pretend we go without any treats here. We do a good bit of baking and enjoy cake and cookies as much as the next person, but there’s something about the smell of those goodies from your home country. A very happy smell!

Re-entry – Transition

We had a lovely time in the UK, mostly rushing from place to place! We managed to catch up with a lot of our friends and family and were really encouraged to be reminded of the number of people who take an interest in us back in the UK! We managed to visit a number of churches around the country. One church decided to bless the kids with a kindle each, which definitely made the journey back here easier!

We ended up with a few extra appointments, which resulted in more rushing around the length and breath of the country that we planned! We discovered Tabitha had a lazy eye and we received some glasses for her that ended up being the totally wrong prescription! We wanted to be sure to get things right, knowing how hard it is to get things like that sorted here, so we ended up driving across the country to see a good friend to get her some correct prescription glasses and then across the country a couple of times to see an eye specialist to get her started on eye patching. The kindles have also come in handy for playing eye strengthening games!

It was definitely worth all the travel during our time in the UK and we were blessed with some wonderful hosts and some great memories for the kids.

Some people have asked us how ‘re-entry’ was, you learn all this new lingo when you enter the missionary word! Re-entry was good, but challenging in some ways. The main challenge for the children has been missing family. Reuben still keeps thinking he can might meet his cousins at various places here. I also lost my grandma since being back in Tanzania, so that took a bit of processing. Although I’m very grateful we got to see her a few times when we were in the UK and I know the timing was perfect.

Gertrude did great job of keeping the health project ticking over on the Island while we were away and there didn’t seem to be any major problems. In fact the project received some guests and various donations during the time we were away, which has helped us get started on some additional projects. For one thing we’ve managed to help one of the pastors buy land to build a church, which has been exciting to be part of. Pastor Margaret below on the new church ground.

It’s been great working with Margaret on the health project. She’s really strived to welcome a broad range of community members in the project and the groups run through her church attract people both from within and outside the church. She has a contagious enthusiasm, so it was great to see her excitement when we finally concluded negotiating the terms of the purchase!

We’ve done two trips to Kome since returning to Tanzania and it felt like we’d been away a long time. Our journey to Kome involves two ferries and a stretch of very poor road between the two. Many of you will know that one of the ferries, which wasn’t far from where we travel, recently sank. We’ve done a bit of thinking about how to make ourselves safer on the journey and have come up with a few plans for us. I was surprised to see some of the ‘rules’ that have been put in place from the ferry side.

We had some Tanzanian friends of the children to play one day soon after returning to Tanzania. The children decided play ‘shops’ and every time Tabitha went to ‘buy’ something from the shop keeper one of the friends would join the queue – in front of Tabitha rather than behind her. I told Tabitha she was having a lesson in Tanzanian queueing. Tabitha was somewhat perturbed by the situation and wanted to discuss it further the next day. We were going to be getting the ferry to Kome the following day, so I thought I’d use the opportunity to prepare her for the journey. One of our new family rules for getting the ferry is that the children will come with me to buy the tickets and walk onto the ferry, rather than stay in the car with Simon. Buying the tickets generally involves a lot of being shoved around, as people push to be served first. I decided to discuss the queueing arrangement with Tabitha. She asked whether I push as well and I explained that I try and push my feet into the ground so that I will hold my place and people won’t be able to push past. I also have the rule that if someone plonks a heavy arm on my shoulder to reach past and buy a ticket I shove it off!

On our first trip back to Kome I braced myself for the ‘queueing’ experience and I have to be honest I walked past a bunch of people to reach the usual version of the ‘front’, only to realise that everyone was in an orderly queue. I had to stop for a minute to check whether I was still sane before walking to join the back of the queue. I have never seen such an orderly queue, at least not in Tanzania. I’ll admit it was being supervised by armed police, but I was still impressed! After buying the tickets we had to give our names and ages to be logged in a book, no doubt to help the identification job if things take a turn for the worst again. The ferry was a little overcrowded but nothing like it had been and apparently they’ve been making people wait for the next ferry and for the most part keeping to the ferry’s limit of one row of vehicles instead of forcing three lanes. I have to say that on the second trip the police were absent, the queues were slightly less orderly and the ferries slightly more overcrowded, we’ll see how long the changes last.

One of our children was a little bit concerned about going back to Kome the first time and given the chance probably wouldn’t have gone. I think sometimes fear can build up about anything you haven’t done for a while and it can be harder to go back and do something you haven’t done for a while than try something new. It’s been great to see how both the kids adapted, even during the first few hours there.

On our first day back on Kome we walked into town and attracted quite a crowd of kids on the way. The local children were obviously also feeling that we’d been gone for a long time. Our children did amazingly well walking the 45 minute round trip to town in the sand, surrounded by goats and motorbikes and kids wanting to hold their hands and touch them, without complaint or problem. I’m reminded how far we have come from the early trips to Kome and the childrens’ struggles. When we got back home about ten children sat down in our doorway to watch our general comings and goings. It’s one of those cultural things that makes me laugh, one Tanzanian friend of mine describes staring as ‘the national sport’! Reuben and are below surrounded by a small crowd of children…

We have all increased in our confidence to manage the situation here and keep things relatively under control. Despite that, in all honesty I’m always torn – on one hand I’m so happy to be on Kome, right on the edge of the lake, surrounded by friendly neighbours in such an open environment where we can walk freely, talking to everyone along the way. On the other hand it’s pretty exhausting even getting there, let alone being there and getting school work and meetings done. Life can feel like almost constant transition between one place and the other and I often feel overwhelmed by efforts to maintain any sort of sanitation and keep the kids healthy. It’s always hard to know where to start on the journey towards effective sanitation. As we take the project forward we’re going to try and think of new ways to push the sanitation side of the project forward. We know that if it’s difficult for us, it’s almost impossible for them!

We have some things to get sorted in Mwanza at the moment, so are spending most of the month here. It’s hard to believe this is our second Christmas in Mwanza and we’re looking forward to a few events with friends over the next week.

Thank you to everyone for your support over the past year – we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing here without the prayerful and financial support of many of you. Thank you also to those of you who help us in making decisions about the work we do and those that help us keep up-to-date with life in the UK!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year fom the Ewings!

Filth, fish and the future of our planet

It really is difficult to explain how filthy life can be here on Kome. The ground is made of black dust-sand that quickly turns to tarry mud once it gets wet. With no taps or sinks, it’s easy for water to land on the floor and with children in and out all day it’s easy for the floor to be covered in the black dust-sand, as a result, mopping alone can feel like a full time. There is a constant breeze coming off the lake, which continuously blows dust in, covering tables, shelves, pots and pans etc. The bricks are poor quality and between their natural nightly crumbling and the work of ants, bits of the house must be swept out each morning. And that’s all the baseline. Most people here do not have a concept of germ theory.

For most people soap seems useful to get the food off your hands after you eat, while washing with water alone seems suitable before eating. I never see soap in or near toilets and water is used alone for cleaning when in the toilet. We forget that using toilet paper is not a global norm. Babies wear small sections of regular cotton cloth tied round for a nappy (no disposables here!). They may have a plastic cover, but I’ve never seen one that fully covered the ‘nappy’. Once the baby is sitting and beginning to move around this is abandoned and an effort is made to start trying to predict when they need to go and squatting them outside. When this goes wrong the child is taken outside and washed and life carries on – again no effort is made to find soap and there are no lovely baby wipes or nappy bags. If it’s wee it’s left in the sun to dry for a bit, if it’s the other then it’s washed onto the floor. In one of the sanitation seminars we asked what should be done with dog poo (dogs are left to roam free, like all the other animals here) – no one could answer the question and it was clear that the answer was that nothing is done with dog poo, except perhaps toss it in a bush if it’s directly outside your front door.

It would be easy to judge this approach, lack of knowledge or consideration for hygiene. That is, if you forget that the great sewers of London were only put in because London stank so much Parliament could no longer meet, and that it was only after they were put in that they realised the affect they had on reducing disease!

Anyway, the point of this ramble isn’t to complain about how difficult the environment is here (although you may guess we’re beginning to look forward to our forthcoming UK trip), but just to put context to the challenge of keeping everything clean when a new baby arrives. It takes so much water to keep cleaning that black dust of everything, to wash and to scrub. Mobile children need a full scrub down every day, none of this sitting in a warm bath and a little bit of a wash down that is common in the UK. Although it’s harder to see on the Tanzanian children, I know from how black our children look at the end of the day, that full on scrubbing is definitely needed! All baby maintenance and clothes washing is done by hand. And all that water has to come from somewhere, and it’s not a case of turning the tap on!

When we were on Kome last week I had the privilege of joining the women from one of our health groups as they visited one of their members, who had given birth the previous night. Of course the biggest way the women could help was to carry water. I don’t know how long the women will continue to carry water for the new Mum, but I’m not sure how soon I’d feel ready to go fetch my own after giving birth! In the local custom the mother is allowed to go outside whenever she likes after giving birth, but the baby will stay inside the house for a month.

When we arrived at the ferry port ready to cross over to Kome this week there were a lot of fairly heavily armed police representing the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. We quickly realised that the were looking for fish – people exporting fish from Kome illegally, either because they hadn’t paid the proper duties for commercial fishing, or because they were catching fish which are prohibited. We weren’t surprised to notice a few large fish lorries on the other side of the crossing, who had perhaps decided against taking the ferry at that time! On a previous visit to Kome we were met by low spirits as apparently the Ministry had visited and burned all the illegal fishing nets. I’m not totally sure on the rules, but I think that on the ones they use the holes are too small, thus they catch young fish, which is contributing to the depletion of fish stocks in the lake.

On the day of our arrival this week we noticed some awkward behaviour from the neighbours and by the evening they were beginning to act a bit strangely. They finally got up the courage and suddenly a group of men carrying a couple of logs walked through our gate and up behind our house, with no explanation. They reappeared a few minutes later with the logs balanced across their shoulders, like pall bearers carrying their huge illegal fishing net, which had obviously been hidden in case the Ministry made the crossing once again. Apparently it’s not the first time the property of the unlikely whites had been used as a illegal fishing net stashing zone. For these people, who can sparsely afford the basics needed to stay alive, it’s pretty hard to explain that they need to protect the lake for their future, they just know that small holed nets will bring more fish and more money now. Ironically when there are fewer fish, the price goes up, but somehow the changes will need to be made on a community wide basis, because no one is going to be the one to choose to catch fewer fish.

Everything is so raw in these communities – they are surrounded by animals and dirt, while they carry about their works of fishing and farming. They know how to scrub better than any white foreigner I’ve ever met, but there are big concepts of unseen germs that they don’t yet get. They need to fill their bellies now, while they need to learn to plan for the future. It’s such a privilege to get to work with these people, after all fishers and farmers were the people Jesus spent so much time with. But about the dirt… I’m glad to be back in Mwanza for a week, then one more Kome trip before we’ll be in the UK. We’re already planning our ‘must eats’!

Kome life

It felt familiar to be travelling back to Kome the other week. Things are generally less exhausting when they are more familiar, because your brain is having to do less work. Even the odd disaster here and there seemed familiar – this is the moment that the push start was enough to get our front wheels off the ferry, but not enough to get the battery started, leaving us in limbo for a few minutes until someone ran off and got a car battery and a couple of wires to get it going!

Our children were also more settled with the familiarity. On the way there Tabitha asked me whether the local children would call out ‘friend’ or ‘foreigner’ when we got there. We arrived to calls of ‘Tabitha’! She’s not the only one being called though… both our children have adopted this very distinctive way of calling me ‘Mummy’, and they do it quite a lot, often many times in a row until they feel they have my attention. There are now about 20 other children on Kome Island who imitate this, so for me there is no escape!

So much of our life on Kome for the time being is about language learning and engaging the community. It was evening when we arrived and as soon as we had unloaded the car we wandered around to all of our immediate neighbours’ homes. It is challenging being limited by language, but they all greeted us warmly and it is something we’ll strive to do on all our visits. Our children have really taken on board the local culture of greeting people and they always run out to give their greetings to whoever arrives. They spend about 20 minutes greeting our night watchman most evenings in Mwanza! I was very proud of them so confidently greeting all the locals on Kome. Greetings are generally done on a person by person basis the children dutifully greeted everyone with ‘shikamoo’, which means ‘I respect you’. It was a bit of an adjusted to get them used to using this particular greeting when we first arrived in Tanzania, but they’ve taken on board the importance of respecting older people, whether you know them or not.

Simon spent much of the trip sorting our practical things for the house. This included cutting up sheets of corrugated iron and turning them into a guttering system to collect rain water, and putting up lots of shelves in the house. Both of these things should improve the quality of our lives while we are there. Our house on Kome is pretty basic – this is our kitchen:

We bought a stack of Swahili-English children’s Bible story books before our trip and a local ball (plastic bags stuffed into a woven exterior). For a period each day we let the local children in to our garden to play with ball and then have stories. The children just loved the books; they probably don’t get many opportunities to see nice big colourful pictures and hear stories being read. Each time it was them that put the ball aside and asked me to bring out a book (or two, or three). I didn’t want to make any assumptions so asked whether any of the older ones wanted to have a go at reading the Swahili, but they preferred me to. I don’t want our children to learn Swahili from me, but as it happened the local children started repeating every line of the story after I read it. So I would read in Swahili, the children would repeat in Swahili and then I’d read the page in English for our two. This felt like a good learning opportunity for everyone! (I should add that Swahili is totally phonetic so actually pretty easy to read, even if you don’t fully understand what you’re reading.)

I also spent some time at the RICHI clinic while we were there. We’ve had some challenges working through the practicalities of running the health education project, but it was good to have another opportunity to work through the issues further. I think we’re making good progress now, which is encouraging.

We deliberately went across for a weekend this time, because we wanted to start getting connected to some of the local churches. Due to a bit of a miscommunication we ended up going to two different churches and having food with two different pastors. It was lovely to do it, especially since it was one of the pastors’ last Sundays on the Island as they are being transferred, and we’d built up a good rapport with him over the past few visits. But it also meant that the children had to sit for quite a number of hours in Church, followed by trying to sit nicely in important peoples’ houses after having sat for so long already and not having eaten any food for very many hours. It was actually over eight hours from breakfast to lunch in the middle of the afternoon and Reuben didn’t get a nap until the evening. Our children are used to eating about every two hours in the morning! We will work on planning things a bit better to avoid that happening again! The good thing about Tanzania is that children are such a big part of the culture and mamas are generally experienced in managing children and can often see very quickly what the problem is. When a child is chewing eagerly on a straw and scoffs a handful of raw rice when they see it, you don’t need to make excuses about unsettled behaviour, the locals can see that the child is hungry! We’re also fortunate to be a fish, beans and rice loving family as that’s what we get served everywhere we go! I think the locals are too afraid to serve us the local dish, ugali, and I’ve hardly eaten any since we arrived in Tanzania!

Daily life on the island continues to be quite a bit of work and it often feels like a lot of effort just to stay clean and fed. This trip had the added joy of a visit from a plague of flies. For the first time I really understood what it must have been like for the Egyptions! Apparently it’s quite common during the rainy season, so we won’t look forward to more of the same! I also feel the need to add that we will always be happy to receive visitors, but appreciate that not all our visits would necessarily want to travel with us! So don’t be put off, if you would like to visit us, but would like to enjoy all the luxuries of modern life, these things are available in Mwanza!

A typical Sunday and more

Our days are quite varied here, but things tend to start on the early side, especially if you are travelling anywhere. When we go to church on a Sunday, we usually need to leave by around 7.30am and the services are usually around two hours long. A lot of the churches have several two hour services on a Sunday which run one after the other! Some of the churches have chai in between the two main services. This includes extremely sweet tea and possibly chapattis, mandasis or bread.

We don’t have a specific church we go to on a Sunday, but instead we try to visit a variety of the local churches. Visitors are very important in the culture here and repeat visits are a sign of acceptance, support and appreciation. There are a number of good, hardworking and gospel focused pastors working in the area and it’s a privilege to be able to support them by visiting them from time to time. There is also a small expat house church that meets from time to time on a Sunday evening, where we can share and spend time with people of a similar background.

EI (our mission sending organisation) work with the Tanzanian Assemblies of God (TAG) churches here in Mwanza, so while we have been here it has been the TAG churches we have been visiting. They vary from church to church, but generally the services are enthusiastic and worship is LOUD! There is usually a worship group that leads the singing and there is often a choir, local or visiting. Matching outfits are a regular feature – local tailoring is big here! You can see a clip of part of the service we visited this week…(sorry the sound is dreadful, that is my phone rather than a reflection of the actual music there!)

Since Tim and Rachel Monger got back from the visit to Canada and the UK we have tried to make some visits to churches as an EI Mwanza team, with all three missionary families. This week we all travelled to a church that us Ewings hadn’t been to before and we decided to all go out for lunch together afterwards. There’s a nice place that’s near the church we visited, but a bit of a trek to go to just for food. They have a fairly large, if slightly rickety boot, and this week we all went out on a ride on it together. It was quite windy and choppy and the girls enjoyed being splashed with the water which came over the sides! At various points we wondered whether the engine was going to keep going and get us back for our food! Food takes a long time to prepare here so we put our order in before going out of the boat for an hour. As it was we didn’t have to wait that much longer once we got back before the food arrived. It was a fun day and we enjoyed spending the time together as a team!


This coming Sunday we plan to go to church on Kome island. That will be our second weekend on the island, and we hope to spend more of our weekends there over the coming months so we can develop relationships with the churches and leaders.

We still have things to smooth out in the partnership we are setting up for the community health education project. I (Victoria) had a long meeting yesterday and there will be more in the coming weeks. We hope to have some agreements in place before the 23rd August when we’ll be meeting with the District Commissioner to ask for final approval of the project. Pray that we manage to work out all the details. Pray also for safe travels and a good visit when we head back to Kome at the end of this week.

Tabitha is taking part in a Swahili challenge, where she’s competing with other missionary children to learn the most Swahili words in a set time. She has a notebook to write down new words and she’s very enthusiastic about it at the moment. Hopefully this will also encourage her in her interactions during our time on Kome!