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!

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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.