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.


Quite a lot has happened since our last blog. We’ve been in Mwanza for about a week and I think we’re settling quite well into life here.  I think it’s a good fit for us. It definitely has a very different feel to Iringa – a much more tropical environment. It’s quite a lot warmer, there are lots of coconut trees, and with the lake it has potential to look like a holiday destination! The lake is not really used for swimming, at least not around here. There is the risk of bilharzia, which you can get from swimming in fresh water lakes, but there also just doesn’t seem to be much of a tourist industry around here. The lake offers the more important commercial purpose of fishing. The local delicacy – a fresh water fish called Tilapia, is delicious. We previously lived in Malawi, which also has a large fresh water lake, so eating Tilapia brings back fond memories, and we’ve been looking forward to indulging!

The children seem to have adapted well to the new setting. I think it helps, that for now at least, they’ve had us around a lot. They’ve enjoyed being shipped off to various people while we study Swahili, but it’s nice for them to have a bit more time with us too. They’ve tolerated the various meetings this week, mostly because our fellow EI missionaries in Mwanza have an 11 year old daughter called Louisa, who has taken them very much under her wing. They’ve loved playing with her lots throughout the week.

This week we’ve spent quite a bit of time with Tim Monger, learning about how EI operates here in Mwanza. We’ve also met with various other members of the Mwanza team. We were able to attend the annual Tanzania Assemblies of God (TAG) Conference. EI works with the Anglican Church in Iringa, but with TAG up here, so that’s quite different too. We were able to introduce ourselves (briefly in Swahili and then some more details with the help of a translator) to the TAG pastors who attended the conference and also had a brief meeting with the local Bishop and the deputy Archbishop of TAG. They were very supportive and it was great to have been able to introduce ourselves. We also met a couple of the local pastors who work on Kome Island. I think they were excited about having us come and support them and we were really pleased to meet them too. Especially as one of them spoke good English!

We are well and truly house-hoppers at the moment. We are staying in a house that belongs to some missionaries who are on home assignment. We’ll be here for around two months, and then we’ll be moving into the house of some missionaries who will be leaving. We’ve been able to see the new house and have a think about some of the things that we’d like to have done to it before we move in.

This week we’ve also met with Doctor Bernard Makori and Doctor Isaac. Bernard is the man who has set up the Rural Island health project and Isaac mans the mobile clinic on Kome. It was brilliant to finally meet them both and have them over for lunch. Isaac has managed to secure a rented house for us on Kome, so we used the opportunity to see some photos and sign the contract. Very exciting. We plan to base ourselves in Mwanza, but need a house there for use during our time on the Island. We needed somewhere away from the hubbub and a safe, child friendly environment. There are definitely a few things needing doing to the property. We are going to start with the most important things. We plan to put glass in the windows – as you can get a lot of dust, noise etc without. This definitely sounds like a good plan to me. Ceiling boards beneath the corrugated iron roof. This apparently helps avoid dealing with bats in the night. Mosquito nets on the windows and door and new locks. For the future we’ll think about perhaps putting something around the perimeter of the property. We’ll judge this closer to the time. We also need to have some furniture made eg beds. If we get some furniture in Mwanza, apparently we can send things across on the passenger ferry, and Isaac will receive them the other end. It would be good to support the local handymen though if there’s anything that can be made on Kome. The house has electricity, which is nice. Who knows how reliable it will be though! It doesn’t have water, so we’ll have to come up with an arrangement to collect lake water. The village have suggested a local lady to help with these sorts of tasks.

We’re planning our first visit to Kome at the end of the month, when we’ll stay for a few days. We’ll arrange a later visit after that. Tim has also managed to arrange some more Swahili lessons, to make up for the hours we weren’t able to complete in Iringa. We’ll do a day each a week for a month, starting the end of the month.

It’s all getting exciting. Prayers appreciated for us to continue settling in well. That our Swahili would improve at a miraculous rate! And that those in Kome would be ready to receive us and that we’d have wisdom in how we move forward.

Transition phase 2

Well we’ve sort of settled into life in Iringa just in time for us to depart! We’re planning to move to Mwanza next weekend. It’s a two day journey, which we’re planning to do over the Sunday-Monday. We’ve had a great time in Iringa and made good friends. We’ve found people in Iringa to be incredibly patient with language learners – they make a real effort to understand what you’re trying to say, and guess if necessary!

I have seen a decline in Tabitha’s focus and attention and also my patience over the past week or so, and now I realise we’re all beginning to feel the strain of the upcoming move. I guess it’s sadness at leaving, combined with fear of the unknown ahead. Due to working out timings at the Mwanza end we’ve had to expedite our language training a bit, which has been a bit stressful. We’re both aware of how much more we need to learn, but also that learning a language is an ongoing process that never really ends.

We still don’t have a car, so Simon is making the trip to Dar by bus first thing tomorrow where he’s hoping to purchase one. He’s hoping to drive himself back early next week. Tabitha is unusually sad about saying goodbye to Daddy, but I think it’s in the context of the upcoming move. It’s about a 10 hour drive to Dar, and possibly longer by bus, so prayers appreciated for a smooth and safe journey.

We’d also appreciate prayers for those of us left staying this end, especially that we’d have a peaceful time together without Simon. I’m not sure how the Swahili lessons will work exactly without Simon to share the childcare, but it may have to be a flexible approach that involves the children. We do not indulge a great deal in freezer based treats here, but in anticipation of how the next few days may feel, Simon has ensured we are equipped with supplies of ice cream. It’s always best to be prepared!

Even though it’s a bit stressful, we are excited that the move will bring us closer to the work we plan to do. We’re excited that we’re getting closer to visiting and staying at the field site on Kome Island. Even though it’s a little scary. I’m also a little bit too excited in general that the recent team visiting from the UK brought out my pressure cooker. It saves so much cooking time and fuel, and also means it’s not a disaster if I fail to remember to soak beans. It’s the small things in life after all…!