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!

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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

South Africa

We’ve now been in South Africa for two weeks and although we don’t have an exact departure date, it will probably be by the end of this week, or early next week. I’m pleased to say there has been a lot of progress with my knee, which is well on its way to recovery. At one point I was worried I’d be going back to Tanzania with my knee much as it was when we left, but thankfully that is not the case!

After weeks of not really being able to walk on, bend or straighten my leg properly, I was definitely ready to get it sorted, and wasn’t keen on the idea of returning to Tanzania until it was something like sorted. But there are mixed feelings too. While it was frustrating not being able to get stuck into doing anything much on the islands because of the challenge of getting there with my knee how it was, it’s been just as frustrating to be even further away in order to get it sorted. We do feel sure it was the right decision though and are encouraged now that it looks like our return date will be soon. And despite the frustrations it’s been lovely to enjoy a holiday in South Africa! I’m sure we’ve picked up a few pounds of extra weight from all the good food. We’ve especially been enjoying the variety of food. In the last week my knee has been that much better and we’ve been able to a couple of holiday-style days out. On the down side, I guess we partly don’t feel like we’ve been in the thick of life in Tanzania long enough to deserve the indulgence or time away. We’re also aware that the break away at this point is less than ideal for our language acquisition. It’s challenging for the children too. We’ve spent a few months in each of two different houses many miles apart from one another in Tanzania, and now all our things are packed in one room, ready to be moved to the new house on our return. At one point we had to clarify that when we leave South Africa we’ll be going back to Tanzania, not the UK. It has been great to be able to stock up on some essentials, like sun cream and life jackets, but I think we’re all ready to get back to the simple life of Tanzania. I think the children miss playing in the dirt outside!

One of the biggest hurdles for the health project now is getting funding. We’ve been putting in various funding applications, so prayers appreciated that one of them will be successful!

Coming or going?

We’re preparing to move to our final Mwanza house. The house is available, but we just want to get rid of the squatters (bats) and get the painting and plumbing sorted before we move in. This is being slightly complicated by the fact that we’re planning to go to South Africa on Monday to get my knee sorted.

I’ve now been on crutches for almost six weeks and my knee is still painful, a little swollen and stiff. Usually medical evacuations from here are to Nairobi, Kenya, but an orthopaedic surgeon friend of mine recommended I go to South Africa. I wasn’t sure how the health insurance would respond. I was also told by the doctor here that it was unlikely the insurance company would pay for the whole family to go. When I spoke to the insurance company they said they would normally send me to Nairobi, but it was up to me if I was up for the longer journey. I was pretty surprised how accommodating they were, so I quickly took the opportunity to try my luck and ask whether it would be possible for Simon to accompany me. I explained it could be pretty tricky with crutches, in an unfamiliar city with no one around to help. They said that sounded like a reasonable request. Since they seemed so accommodating I thought I better mention that I also have two young children and asked whether they had any suggestions of what I can do with them. They said I obviously couldn’t leave them behind, so they’d pay to take them with me. So the insurance company is now holding no less than six seats on the flight to South Africa for Monday. Apparently I need three seats, as this is the only way I can travel there with my leg up!

The only potentially delaying issue at the moment is that I need a doctor’s letter stating that I’m fit to fly on a commercial flight. Now the summer is in full force, most of the doctors we know have left for holidays, so I’m hoping to get someone who can produce a letter sooner rather than later.

Between packing to move house, and packing bags to travel to South Africa, poor Tabitha is once again not sure whether she’s coming or going. I took a few moments to sit her down and make it clear about which bags are going where and what our plan is. We are guilty of often discussing things when she’s not around, or not listening, and not taking the time to explain things to her. I knew she had understood though, when at bedtime today she asked whether there would be nice food in South Africa, and specifically whether they’d be croissants, and whether we’d be in a hotel, and whether that would mean croissants for breakfast. She is definitely my girl.

We’ve been praying about the solution to our need for life jackets for the children. I’m not sure a destroyed knee and evacuation of the whole family to South Africa for possible surgery is the most convenient way of obtaining life jackets, but it might just be a solution to that problem too 🙂

Progress, pests and the knee

Time in our current house is drawing to a close and I think we’re ready for our next move. We’ve enjoyed staying in this house and Tabitha has especially enjoyed having the many books that are here read to her. It will be nice though to move in the next few weeks and have space to unpack our own books and set up our own home!

Simon made a trip to Kome last week with the intention of pushing along the repair works on our house there. They had been making good progress in our absence though, and he was encouraged. The main things we wanted done was for the house to have window bars and mosquito netting. There had been some empty holes in the walls when we went last time, leaving the house quite insecure. We’re looking forward to spending some proper time on the island, and doing what we really came here to do.

Over the past four weeks we’ve been having some ‘top-up’ Swahili lessons. It’s been useful to revise the things that we did in Iringa. Due to timings, we’d ended up with a shorted course than usual, and it’s usually a pretty tight course. I think the extra lessons have helped, although there’s a long way to go. I think being on the Island will really help us get to grips with the language. This set of lessons has focused much more on learning the language through learning about the culture here in Tanzania. Many of the issues raised are not too different from those in Malawi. But it’s given us another opportunity to think about how things work (or don’t work) here, how we can engage with the culture and how we can be useful within the culture here. Life also just continues with us getting used to how things work here. Simon was wondering the other day why time seems to disappear here, and was realising how much more time things take when every stage of the process needs doing. If you want to eat peanuts, they will first need sorting to pull out the bad ones, and then cooking; if you want to use dates, you need to stone them first; rice needs sorting for stones and dirt. It seems like no labour saving stages are done for you. You really take for granted how much stuff you buy from the supermarket in the UK, which doesn’t need any preparation. I think we’re still feeling the lack of all that ‘stuff’!

It’s also amazing how many pests become part of everyday life here! Mwanza is more tropical than the area of Malawi where we spent most of the time, and we definitely notice the difference with things like pests. Armies of ants try to march through the garden or property. Today I took out a bag of coriander seeds that was held closed with a food clip and placed a plastic container, and almost every seed has been hollowed out by an enormous hoard of some tiny inset or other. They’d also started munching through my bay leaves! Nothing is sacred! Thankfully none of us are very squeamish and we secretly enjoy the challenge 🙂

The torn meniscus in my knee might make it hard for me to go to Kome in the next couple of weeks. It’s finally settling down, but car journeys are tough on it. I managed to get hold of a knee brace the other week and I think that’s really helped. It’s still quite swollen, but the swelling is beginning to go down. It’s not particularly painful unless I move it in the wrong way. I’m also finally able to bend and straighten it a bit more, which is a good sign! I’m going to review it with the doctor in another week; we’re working on the basis that while it continues to improve it’s OK to leave it be. I had previously been told there was 80% chance it would need surgery. But I’m continuing to hope and pray I’m in the 20%!

Bees and knees!

Life continues to be an adventure!

With Rachel away I was nominated to support her second in command (her husband Tim), in working on some of the Bee projects. These projects were set up to help local communities establish a source of income for themselves, through selling the wax and honey they collect. The projects are at fairly early stages, so while Rachel has been trained and is competent to run the projects, no one else really has much training. And I for one have none. I have to admit this hasn’t gone particularly well. The idea was to make sure the projects were in a good condition before Tim leaves to join Rachel for their Canada and UK visits over the next few months. We planned to check on some hives and to collect honey from one hive in particular, which was very full. Unfortunately all we have to show for ourselves is a bunch of stings and some upset community members, who also received a few stings (including some people that were not supposed to be involved in the projects!). I have to admit to being quite happy to be leaving this project aside, at least for a while, and that this is not my reason for being here in Tanzania!

We’ve started Swahili lessons again, we’ll be having two lessons a week for four weeks. It’s been useful to review some of the things we’ve previously learnt, and from next week we’ll be focusing specifically on vocal relevant to our work. I’ve got some nice Swahili health materials from USAID and UNICEF, so I’ll be working with the teacher to learn some of the vocab and to try and understand what’s written on them!

We’re enjoying being in Mwanza, and feel like we’re settling well. We’ll be moving house in another month or so but the new house is virtually next door, so we’re hoping it won’t be too hard a transition. Although I have to say this is a very nice house so we may miss it a bit!

Unfortunately to add to the chaos of life, I’ve managed to tear the meniscus in my knee. Definitely not ideal and means I’ll be on crutches for the next little while. I didn’t actually do much to damage it, but I think injured it a little bit a while back and instead of resting it did things like traipsing through fields of sugar cane in an attempt to escape from 100,000 angry African bees! Ho hum… I’m really hoping that rest and anti-inflammatories will be enough to heal it over the next 6 weeks or so. If not I’ll have to consider a trip to Kenya for an MRI. I have to say that after resting it for almost a week it doesn’t really seem to have improved, but I’m still hoping for the best.

Kome Island

We made our first to Kome island last weekend almost two years after our first thoughts about  working there. It was great to see some of the communities we’ll be working in. It was also great to see the clinic and pharmacy that have been set up on the island and think a bit more about the work we’ll be doing there. We went to a local church on the Sunday and got to experience some of the local hospitality. It’s a good thing we’re a fish loving family!

Kome is lovely and peaceful. In Mwanza, between the night-time parties, dogs barking all night and the calls from the surrounding mosques, I feel like I never actually sleep! I’m not sure I really slept anymore on the island, but it was lovely to wake during the night and hear nothing but insects, until the birds and other animals began to wake. It’s a bit of a shock getting back just in time for Ramadan, as there are more calls and for a lot longer. The mosques project some of their sermons through loud speakers. It continues till late and starts at 4am.

We are renting a house on Kome. We visited the property on Saturday with the intention of using the house as a base for our 4 day trip to the island. Unfortunately on arrival it was obvious that although a lot of work had been done to make the place habitable it was very much still a building site. We were able to find a guest house for £2 a night instead!

The location of the house is pretty idyllic, overlooking a sandy beach on the southern shores of Lake Victoria. You quickly get used to the smell of drying fish which the local women spread out to dry in their thousands on the sand, raking them constantly. Having a house in the heart of a fishing community will give us a real insight into how the community works and we should get to know many of the people being served by the projects in the village just by living alongside them.

We drew a fair amount of attention on the island! During the few days we were there, we had a pretty much constant audience. The local children were very happy to hang in through the windows of every building we entered in order to maintain a constant watch on what we were doing, even if that was sitting still and resting for an hour. We can live with that while out in public, but thinking about setting up a life for ourselves on the island, we’d appreciate a space where we can sit and eat without having an audience. Therefore we have decided to have a simple fence around our property.

Some aspects of setting up a house within the community make us a little uncomfortable, especially considering some of the modifications being done to the house. Although not something we asked for, those modifying the house have taken it upon themselves to install electricity. They obviously felt that was something we needed. It looks like none of the neighbours have electricity, so we are already standing out as ‘rich’, but that will be more obvious when we park our shiny prado on the driveway. We would be happy with a basic but secure house, but we probably need to accept we won’t exactly fit in no matter what we do. No-one has running water and that will include us. It is expected for us to have someone to help within the house and one of their jobs will be to collect water from the nearby lake. We are fortunate to have the knowledge and facilities to clean our water, but Its shocking how many people in Tanzania drink from unclean water sources. Today we saw countless people collect their water from small pools or the lake, sharing their water source with many animals. From a Public health (and engineering) perspective there is much to be involved with so i’m sure we’ll be very busy over the coming months.