Christmas 2019 update

It’s amazing that another year in Tanzania has flown by and this will be our third Christmas spent here. We inherited a number of children’s Christmas picture books from the previous residents of the house we live in and Reuben keeps asking how it can be Christmas if there is no snow! Tabitha laughs and adds ‘do they know it’s Christmas time at all?’!

When we left for Tanzania we had a rough idea that it would take about three years for everyone to feel settled here and five years for us to feel like we’d really achieved something. Our previous experience of living in Africa gave us a sort of guide. Now we’re getting close to the three year mark I think it’s fair to say that everyone is pretty settled and life has found its new normal. Tanzania is definitely more normal for the children than the UK is and I’m sure, like last year, on our visit to the UK this coming year there will be lots of surprises and learning for the kids as they experience what life is like in the UK.

This year we have established ourselves more as home-educators. I don’t think we did much serious work in Tabitha’s first year of home-education and the steps to year one and two were quite gradual. This year she’s in year three and we’ve pushed ourselves to take the work a bit more seriously. This year, with Reuben starting Reception class, we decided to add a new, fun curriculum designed for his age. This serves as a sort of mid-morning break for Tabitha and both children have been really enjoying the rhymes, poems, singing and general creativity that the new curriculum has added. That said, I think she’s very happy to have a couple of weeks break over Christmas, and I think has earned it!

Some pictures of home school bliss, so that you can imagine it’s always like this…!

Examining dot artwork with magnifying glasses. Complete with face paint:

During this year our neighbours, who had spent many years in Tanzania, decided it was time for them to move on. This was a sad shift for us because we had become secure in the knowledge that people with so much local experience were no longer going to be right next door, they had also home educated their seven children! They had baled us out a number of times, like on one occasion when a truck had driven into our garden wall, knocking a big chunk of it down while we were on Kome. Our neighbours made sure our dogs were secure and that the wall was patched. They then liaised with the right people and the wall had been re-built by the time we arrived back in Mwanza! They also ran a weekly Bible study for young girls, which was the highlight of the week for Tabitha. And were generally awesome in every way.

It is well known in missionary circles, that while your friends leaving is often tragic, it also brings with it one blessing – you have the opportunity to buy their stuff from them! This is usually especially exciting if your friends are from North America – in general they have more and better stuff for you to buy than you can get anywhere else! It’s that awkward moment where they announce that they’re leaving and you cry and then through your tears claim whatever item of theirs you most covet! These particular friends owned a very nice, if very expensive piano.
For Christmas last year the children received a mini keyboard, which Tabitha showed an interest in playing and had began making a bit of progress on. We were blessed by receiving some money this year, especially from one family, specifically to enable us to buy the piano. This has been such a blessing over the past few months and the piano has been well used by a number of members of the family, who have begun making a bit of progress, from zero talent, to slightly above zero talent! This Christmas we hosted a Christmas ‘sing and play’ at our house for the missionary community in the general Mwanza region to come and share their musical talents and to sing some Christmas carols together. About 50 people came and it was such a blessing and nice to see the piano getting a work out!

This year our projects on Kome Island have begun taking different shapes. Our Community Health Educator, Gertrude, was working with us on Kome until the end of August. Gertrude really helped us during the early stages of our project mm in Dar es Salaam, and the time felt right for her to move to be with her sister there. We were visited by the Emmanuel International Canada and the International Directors at the end of August, this was also when Gertrude finished working with us. It was so lovely to see the way the community sent her off. She was given buckets of gifts of their farming produce and the women gathered round her to pray with her and send her off. Gertrude may, for many of the women, have been the first person who was able to talk openly with them about issues that were very personal to them and to help them make decisions that will enable to live healthier lives.

The majority of the funding for the Health Project, up until now has come from Team Hope, an Irish charity. The main part of this project is expected to finish in January 2020. With Gertrude leaving we were able to take on a couple of new members of staff to help get the project finished up. We have been so blessed to be joined by Emmanuel (who has the right name to be working with EI!) and Vicky. Each of them has been focusing on different parts of the project and each has complemented the other. Team Hope have made a strategic decision to not continue funding projects in Tanzania, this is because they want to focus their work in areas where they deliver Christmas Shoe Boxes and this is not currently planned for Tanzania. We have been spending quite a bit of time recently planning the next stage of the project and seeking funding in order to be able to continue the work on Kome Island.

Picture taken outside Mchangani Church showing a couple of the Kome TAG pastors; some of the elders; members of one of our women’s groups; one of our international directors, Paul Jones, centre; and our new EI staff – Emmanuel, who is with Reuben and Vicky wearing the red wrap around her skirt:

This year we also received funding from Hockliffe Street Baptist Church, for a toilet improvement project. We were able to use this money to build a sanitary, safe latrine block for each of the four TAG churches on the island. We are currently using the remaining money from this donation to support community members to improve their home toilets. We have seen that sanitation is a major issue on Kome Island, so we are excited to take the project forward in this direction in the coming year.

As this year draws to an end we want to take the opportunity to thank those of you who have supported us this year. We appreciate the comments, likes, messages and parcels that we’ve received! We know many of you pray for us regularly and we appreciate that so much. We are also so thankful for those of you that have given financially either as one-offs or regularly. We do not receive a regular salary for working here in Tanzania and couldn’t do it without the donations given for our personal support. Many of you will know that we initially signed up to live here for three years and many of you agreed to support us for that amount of time. That first three year stint will be completed early in 2020 and we would like to continue working here for another two years and in order to do that we’re asking those of you that already support us financially to continue and for those of you that don’t yet give to consider doing so. We are currently falling a little short of the amount of money needed to keep us here, so if you are interested in giving please consider doing so. Please visit our giving page for details of how to give.

Merry Christmas from the Ewing family!

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!

Home from home

The journey to Kome was quite a bit tougher this time. We were delayed on the first ferry for two hours and when we got to the other side it was obvious they’d had quite a bit of rain. Mostly there isn’t quite space for two lanes of traffic to fit easily on the road, because the road slopes down at the sides so much. To add to which the buses deal with their loss of steering ability by travelling down the middle of the road (at high speed), with no intention of moving for anyone or anything. We made the decision when coming out to Africa this time to not take any unnecessary risks, and that means avoiding rushing when driving. Thankfully, despite our decision to take it easy on this journey, we had no problem getting the next ferry.

It was so nice to be able to actually stay in our own house on Kome. It really helped the children feel settled. There’s just enough space in their room for both their beds and they were very excited declaring their own sides of the room! The house is almost finished and looks pretty good, apart from the absolutely filthy walls. There were some sketches on the walls and the children added a fair few of their own during the week! The walls will be cleaned and painted next time, so hopefully they won’t be too disappointed to find their drawings gone!

The main purpose of the next few trips to Kome is to just get used to how life works on the Island, to get to know people and to work on our Swahili. There are some interventions that we’re hoping to promote on the island and the plan is to use them ourselves and model their use to encourage uptake. One is a tippy-tap (http://www.tippytap.org/). This is a simple tap that works by hanging a bottle on a rope, there is a hole in the body of the bottle for water to come from and a string tied to stick at the bottom. By standing on the stick the bottle is tilted and you have a basic hands free tap. A bar of soap is also tied to the bottle or nearby branch. The second intervention we plan to use is SODIS (http://www.sodis.ch/index_EN), this is a way of purifying water using UV by placing clear plastic bottles of water on the roof of the house and leaving the sun to do its thing. The bottles rest between the corrugations of tin roofs (which the vast majority of houses have here). Third, is a fuel efficient cook-stove. These stoves use less fire-wood and produce less smoke. In order for these interventions to be attractive they have to work for us, and that is where I think we need a bit of practice!fuel efficient stove

The tippy-tap worked OK, but wasn’t the most convenient – we probably should have checked the instructions online first because I don’t think the holes were in quite the right place and at one point I got an unexpected shower when the string broke! The water is a definitely a challenge. Due to a miscommunication, water hadn’t been collected for us when we got there, which was quite late in the day because of the various delays. Lake water needs to be stored for at least 24 hours for the schistosomiases to die, so that was already a lost cause. Sitting for that time also helps the dirt to sink to the bottom. The water was also pretty dirty and it was only when we asked someone to re-stock the following evening that we were told that the lake water is much dirtier in the evenings. Being there helped me realise how much life revolves around water. You don’t notice how much you use when you run a tap and how much you appreciate that the water coming out of it is at least relatively clean. Collecting lake water is a major part of daily life on the island. After letting our water sit for a while we decided the untreated water wasn’t clean enough really for washing our dishes (after using it a few times), so tried adding water treatment to it. Unfortunately the treatment sank straight to the bottom and needed stirring, thus mixing all the sediment back in. It’s such a lesson of trial and error. We now know to remove the clean water from the top and treat that! Water collecting and cleaning is definitely time consuming, and takes a fair bit of thought.

It’s also the top level water that needs to be used for SODIS, because UV can’t effectively kill germs if there are lots of particles in the water blocking it. This means that water needs to sit for about 24 hours and then be SODISed in full sunlight for about 8 hours (two days if half the sky is covered in clouds) before we can use it. So for this to work for us for the first few days of our trips the process would have to be started before we get there, so realistically we’ll only be able to partially use this method. We already know we can get along with SODIS from our timie in Iringa where we treated rainwater collected from the roof, so we plan to model something similar on kome- using plastic tanks and gutters to store rain (which will still need to be treated because of e.g. bird poo on the roof).

We have a camp shower, which really made a difference. It’s effectively a big black bag that you fill with water and leave in the sun to warm up. It was nice to have a warm, if brief, shower in the evenings! On our first day I walked into the toilet/washroom and was immediately greeted by several faces in the window that had climbed up to watch the ‘white woman uses a pit latrine’ show. Thankfully the house we moved into in Mwanza had double curtains on several windows (four instead of two), so we’d brought a bunch with us. This made a huge difference to the quality of my life at that moment!

The final challenge was the fuel efficient stove. Simon is pretty handy, being a Queen Scout and all, so this was a job with his name all over (despite it being a bit countercultural for men to be involved in cooking). We didn’t have great success. Simon did make some bread using a fire-top oven, and boil some water, but we found it quite smoky – not a great example for a reduced smoke cook stove. Perhaps the wood was a bit wet, but whatever the cause someone actually came to try and sell as charcoal telling us they’d seen all our smoke, and that coal would be much cleaner. This kind of goes against the point of the stove, so again we need to do a bit of problem solving! We cheated a bit and took a small one ring gas stove. I’ve felt a bit torn about this because the advice is to use the intervention you are promoting. But equally there’s no point trying to pretend the fuel efficient stove is ever going to be easier than a gas stove and honestly the need for sanity will always win the argument in my mind!

Some of the successes of the trip included getting to know our neighbours a bit – we shared food with our immediate neighbours a couple of times. I had been sort of dreading having to eat ‘dagaa’, the local very small fish that are dried across the whole coastline of Kome and then boiled and served in the very fishy smelling sauce. It turns out though, that when you’re staying there and everything is fish, from the air you breath to the lake water you boil and filter, that actually there’s not much contrast between the general environment and the fish itself and it actually tasted pretty good. Tabitha was a big fan. It’s cooked with plenty of salt too, which your body craves in the heat.

The local children enjoyed spending time with our children and by the end of the trip instead of calling out ‘Mzungu’ (foreigner) they were calling out ‘rafiki’ (friend), which was really nice for Tabitha especially. It would be lovely if she could make a couple of friends who can enjoy her friendship without having to constantly touch her to see what she feels like. I think there is potential with some of the girls who are a couple of years older than her. Reuben may have a harder time as it’s harder to reason with children of his age!20170928_121008

We had one of the pastors over for dinner one evening and managed pretty much the whole time in Swahili, so that was encouraging, although there’s still a lot of work to be done on language acquisition! We’ve had meetings with the heads of the surrounding villages and people seem fairly well informed about why we’re there. We had several people come to ask when the health project will be starting. My background is public health and I do believe that’s the best way I can be most useful on Kome, but it is challenging that inevitably people have come knocking with immediate medical needs. I’m grateful to be working with the RICHI clinical officer, who I can refer people onto. I suspect though that they’d love to see a fully qualified doctor, but unfortunately most of the time that isn’t possible.20170929_183436

We’ve budgeted to go to travel to Kome twice a month and we just need to work out the logistics of it. To be honest the five day trip took its toll a little. With washing dishes in a bowl on the floor, cooking down low and handwashing some clothing, my back was pretty achy. We definitely need to get a couple of low stools to sit on! Equally the journey there and back is pretty spine jarring. There’s quite a lot to pack as we don’t have enough duplicates to stock both houses so the packing and unpacking is a bit of a mission, not to mention having to leave at the crack of dawn both ways. Simon easily did most of the workload and had all the signs of being exhausted when we got back and spiked a fever the next day. As for me, I used my forward facing phone camera as a mirror while we were there. It has an automatic setting to detect your age. It’s usually pretty much spot on for me, but when I looked in it after one particularly bad night on Kome it suggested I was 51! We’ll need to work out a pattern of travel that works for us. Hopefully we’ll be heading back next week, but it may be towards the end of the week, rather than at the beginning.

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Kome

We have really enjoyed our last couple of trips to Kome Island and are looking forward to heading back this week. We’re really hoping that the house will be ready when we get there and that we’ll actually be able to stay in it! I’ve heard so many stories, from pretty much all the missionaries here, about it taking so long to get projects started and the challenges in the beginning. I know it’s not only mission. The clinical trial I worked on in Malawi was delayed by about two years because of challenges getting ready in the first place, buildings that needed building and permissions that needed granting etc, so I don’t think anyone is immune.

We now have funding to set up a Community Health Education project on Kome Island. This is a really new venture for Emmanuel International (EI). Usually EI works directly with churches but on this occasion will be working in a three-way relationship between Tanzania Assemblies of God (TAG) and a local charity called Rural Islands Community Health Initiative (RICHI). There are always a lot of details to iron out in any new collaboration, and this is no different. All the right people need to be involved from TAG and in the right order and we have to work out how to engage with and get the local churches involved. RICHI also has its own structure, and up until now have been one of only a very small number of organisations doing any kind of healthcare related work on the islands. As with anywhere else in Africa there are local systems of village, regional and district leaders, all of whom need to be involved and give their support. It’s really important not to step on anyone’s toes. All of this means a lot of meetings, conversations and time, before you even get started. With our western mind set we just want to crack on with the work! But here relationships and proper process are the higher concern and it’s impossible to progress effectively without the support of those on the ground.

There is plenty to be getting on with in Mwanza: I’ve started working on some training materials for the health project; there are contacts to be made and CVs to start looking through in our search to find a Community Health Educator; and as EI representatives we look for opportunities to support local projects being run by and through the TAG churches. This week Tabitha and I went to visit a girls’ shelter being run by a friend, who is the wife of one of the local church leaders. The shelter opened a couple of months ago and is being run as a rehabilitation centre for girls who have been living on the streets. There are 19 girls from age 12, three of whom are staying at the shelter with their babies. It is not without its challenges, but it’s lovely to see and support a project run by Tanzanians for Tanzanians. I believe they will always be the best people to find solutions to local problems. The girls are learning a wide range of handicrafts, which may provide them with a source of income in the future. There is a local volunteer who looks after the babies while the girls do their training. And efforts are being made to place the two youngest girls into a local school. I plan to return to the shelter to do some health education training in the near future. My friend really wanted someone who would be able to provide some baking tuition, but anyone who knows me will know that is not exactly a skills set I possess…

Pray for us as we head to Kome this week, while we love our trips there, they are also challenging times. The local children are not used to seeing white children, I suspect for many of them Tabitha and Reuben are the first they have ever seen. Just walking from one place to another can attract a crowd of more than 30 children who just want to watch everything our children do, or who want to touch them and see what they feel like! You can imagine this is a little overwhelming! Especially when it’s hot and everything seems to happen a little differently including when and what we end up eating. I don’t even want to think about what it’s going to be like this time when we have to cook for ourselves! My brain keeps exploding when trying to think about all the stuff we need to take and prepare. Simon’s been running around all week getting guttering and rainwater collection tanks, cooking equipment etc. I know some people like to travel with nothing but a credit card, but I wonder what proportion of people on the Island know what one is!

There’s no piped water on the island and we’re all still getting used to how the ‘bathrooms’ work. But I think it will be much easier when we can stay in our own house, with our own toilet (pit latrine style). We have also had a fence built around our property, which may have a gate on it this time. This will hopefully provide somewhere the children can play in relative privacy, at least some of the time (the local children just climb a nearby rock to watch from a distance, but at least there is some distance). Last time we went we visited some village leaders away from the main town area and it was lovely to see how nicely our children played with the local children when it was just a few of them and they had a chance to interact. I’m sure they will develop good relationships with the local children in time, especially as they gain more Swahili.

 

 

 

All singing and dancing

I can’t believe how fast time goes in Tanzania, this is our third Sunday since we got back from South Africa and we’ve been trying to visit a different church each week to catch up with the different churches that Emmanuel International supports here in Mwanza. This morning we visited Bishop Charles’ church. He’s such a lovely man and it was such a blessing to visit him and his enthusiastic church this morning. They had a visiting choir from Singida, and there’s nothing I can say that can do justice to the service! But there was A LOT of singing and dancing! Everyone in the local congregation thoroughly enjoyed it, and even we felt that the three hour service passed quickly! I think the volume, bright outfits and enthusiastic dancing was possibly a bit overstimulating for Reuben, who opted to sleep through most of it. I hope that my children grow up with some of the freedom that Tanzanian’s have when it comes to singing and dancing with so much enthusiasm and that they won’t suffer excessive self-consciousness and reservedness of the British! Reuben has fully grasped the idea that nothing works when there’s no power and that turning on the tap doesn’t always result in water coming out. During one particular song this morning a fuse blew three times. It was very unfortunate because everyone was enjoying it so much, and because the lead singer was miming to the dramatic voice that was on the recording, so it was difficult to continue without it. They were unperturbed however and restarted the performance each time and each time Reuben gave a commentary along the lines of ‘[Sing] another one! Oh, no power. Power back on! [Sing] again!’. This was all followed by a fantastic buffet lunch, which included pilau rice and delicious fish which we all enjoyed very much.

We’re gearing up to start the new academic year. To be totally honest we were very relaxed last year and didn’t follow much in the way of structure. I’m a bit apprehensive about this year as I think year 1 is a bit of a step up, especially from not really doing much in the way of structured work. Tabitha is really into reading at the moment and is constantly asking me to come listen to her. She’s also enjoying reading a range of different types of books, which is nice and makes it more interesting to listen to her. Last year she read the Beginner’s Bible as one of her main texts and she finished it some months ago. Reuben is just getting to the stage where he’s able to sit and listen to a story and has started taking books to Tabitha for her to read to him. She decided this week that she’s going to read the Beginner’s Bible through again for Reuben as his evening Bible story. This seems to be working well.

We started Tabitha’s maths syllabus this week as it seems a bit more than last year, which made me anxious about getting it all done within the year. She’s doing the US Singapore maths, which I like, because it really gets them to understand the mathematical concepts and is very logical in the way it develops and works through these concepts. But it’s very book based, so I’m trying to find other, more playful ways to help her understand the concepts as well. We’ll be using Jolly Grammar, which we did some of last year, but will be doing it a bit more seriously this year. We have been just dipping in and out and using different books, but this year we need to follow the structure, with things like spellings for each week. Mostly they are just phonetic words, with just a couple of tricky words for each week, but I’m still a bit apprehensive about being organised and keeping up with what she needs to learn. We’re using Sonlight, a Christian US based syllabus for her Bible, literature and history and this year’s topic is ‘Introduction to the World: Cultures’. The syllabus for this year is designed to give an overview of a variety of different cultures and civilisations, to prepare for deeper study in future years. She’s been having a sneak preview of some of the books and I think it’s good timing for her, as she’s developing her understanding of how people live differently in different places, and also beginning to understand about history and how things have changed over time. We’ll update you to let you know how it goes.

We’re finally heading back to Kome for a few days this week. We wanted to go last week, but Dr Makori, who founded the Rural Island Health Initiative, asked us to wait for this week so we could go together. We’re looking forward to seeing the house, and to getting it set up ready for future stays!

Home sweet home

We’re very excited, to not only be back in Tanzania (finally), but also to have moved into our new house! We plan to be in this house for a good while, as our Mwanza base. We’re happy with the house and the children in particular have taken the move really well. I was kind of dreading it for the children, but I think it helped that the previous owners left quite a few books and toys in the house that they couldn’t take back to the UK with them when they left. These include a little train track for Reuben. I had felt a bit sad about getting rid of ours before we came, so that was really nice. The house has 4 bedrooms so there is plenty of space for visitors! In the meantime we’ve turned one room into a school room/office and the other into a reading room. Tabitha spends quite a bit of time in the reading room and is a pretty good reader these days. One of the first things we did in the new house was to create a digging area for the children outside and this has also been extremely popular!

On the downside we have been without water and electricity most of the time we’ve been in the new house and have had no running water for the past few days. This is apparently due to some work they’re doing on a nearby road. The most annoying thing has been not having water in the right place to rinse my hands every time I touch something a bit yuk, and with two small children that’s about every few minutes. We have now bought a bucket with an outlet at the bottom to put over the sink. You wouldn’t believe how life changing these things can be!

There have been quite a few practical things to sort out this past week or so, mainly buying things to get the new house up and running. And Simon has been fixing the car with all the parts he picked up in South Africa. Other than that we’ve felt a tad useless, so are keen to make a trip over to Kome Island, hopefully this coming week. There are some longer-term changes we’d like to make to the house, mainly to the ‘bathrooms’. These seem to have been designed as some sort of joke. Each of these narrow rooms has a sunk into the ground shower placed immediately in front of a raised toilet. This means that for the three shorter members of the family it’s all but impossible to get from standing in the shower to sitting on the toilet, and for the tallest member of the family it’s impossible to make this transition without whacking your head on the fixed position shower head. We’re still trying to work out how to make these functional areas.

My knee has continued to improve this week, I had it aspirated just before we left South Africa and I think that has really helped it settle down. I’ve been careful not to overdo it since we’ve been back, but I think I’m ready now for an Island trip.

The really good news is we’ve managed to secure funding to run a health education project on the island. The money will cover the cost of us travelling to the Island – it’s quite a long trip so works out pretty expensive. It will also cover the cost of employing someone with local knowledge and language skills to be able to help set up the peer-educator project. I’m really excited about this. We appreciate prayers that we’ll be able to find the right person. One of the main areas for the project will be breastfeeding peer support and so it’s really important to find the right person with a good mix of experience and approachability.digging area tz_2017