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

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%!