Monday, April 29

Out for Chinese

On Saturday night we went out with some friends to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. It doesn't sound all that unusual does it? Or does it?

Living here in Dodoma, almost everything about life is different and often to the extreme. So, it was almost surreal to do something that in the 'real world' would have felt completely normal! I even wore trousers when out in a public place for the first time since we arrived, which felt a little strange too!

Last time I lived here, there was no Chinese restaurant and now there is one (pictured above, arty photo taken by Abigail!) that serves delicious food, so it is definitely one of the bonuses since we returned. I have to pinch myself that it's actually there as I still can't quite believe it exists ... but it does!

The prices are expensive by Dodoma standards but cheap by western ones. It's only the second time we've eaten there but I can see it being something that we treat ourselves to from time-to-time ... and both the munchkins are hooked on their noodles!

It was like stepping into another world for an hour or two. Don't get me wrong, all of the family love living here and don't need a means of escape. It was just ssssoooooo lovely to do something that was familiar to us but also 'out of the ordinary', for round here anyway!

We have always budgeted for a weekly meal out as a family, as a treat and a chance to hang out together somewhere different and try new things. It may not be something you would consider a priority but for us, it has been something fun that we look forward to and have often taken turns in choosing where we should go. Here in Dodoma, there are actually only a couple of options ... but I know what is currently top of the list!

Friday, April 26

No Longer the Newbies

The missionary community is one that is constantly changing. 

One of the great things about our lifestyle is the opportunity to meet so many people from different walks of life and learn from them. One of the sacrifices of our lifestyle is not the constant round of hello's ... but all the goodbye's that are inevitable too.

This week as a family, we lost our status as the 'newbies' in Dodoma after only two months, even though we're still in the transition and settling-in stage ourselves! We had the new family round to our house for dinner this evening ... our first official MAF hospitality duty. (Our home is roughly in the centre of this photo, four silver roofs, ours is second from the top)

Transition affects people in different ways. I've sat through many classes, learning about what to expect and how to cope with it. I know that taking in all the new stuff, culture, language, food, daily rhythm is a lot to get to grips with. I know that it can take months to fully adjust. I know that some people can be extra clumsy, some people over commit themselves and then crash ... and others like me and my hubby, and the family that arrived last week, just feel constantly tired as the brain tries to assimilate everything into the new normal!

Transition is not a bad thing, it's just a reality for us for the time being. No longer being the newbies is not a bad thing either. It means that as a family we're progressing and getting one step closer to the 'new normal'. It means that sometime in the next few months it'll all feel so much like home that everything that went before will be a distant but happy memory!

Wednesday, April 24


Today I became the proud owner of a third photo-card driving licence (although admittedly the Ohio one is out of date!). It surprises me that here in Tanzania things have moved on to something so modern ... last time I lived here it was a cardboard little booklet with a photo glued in.

The process to obtain one of these little beauties in Tanzania is quite the experience though!

In the States, all it takes is a reasonably straight forward visit to the local BMV (Bureau of Motor Vehicles) and you leave with a brand new licence. They take your details and your photo and make the card up for you there and then.

In the UK, you fill out the forms, send it all off and receive a shiny new licence in the post a little while afterwards!

Here in Tanzania, the process really is something else! 

Firstly, a trip to the TRA (Tanzania Revenue Authority) to fill out the forms and have your information put on the computer. Then a trip to the police station on the other side of the town to have the forms checked on their computer system, stamped and the classifications added. Then a drive back across town to the TRA again to have the licence processed and to get an invoice. After that you take the invoice to the bank to pay for the licence and then return several days later to the TRA to actually collect the licence, plus a final trip back to the police station to return the forms to them! Simple really!

We had a few extra steps in our process. The initial police man we saw stamped our forms but forgot to input the data on the computer, so when we returned to the TRA to get the licence processed and the invoice printed, they were unable to do so until the system had been updated. The trip back to the police station then found the officers having their chai break (tea break) requiring an extra wait before being able to get them to do what they should have done in the first place! 

We started the process a week ago and it required a lot of to-ing and fro-ing by us and two other members of MAF staff to actually get the licences (one for me and one for Mark) in our hands ... but it is one more thing on our 'To Do' list ticked off now! The experience itself was just part and parcel of getting into the swing of African life and culture really!

Just doing something that is supposed to be reasonably simple without Tanzanian assistance would have been a nightmare. We were glad to have the help of national MAF staff to walk us through each step of it.

It also helps us a little, in understanding why processing our visa is proving so difficult, as we can see how nothing is what it seems or particularly straight forward here. I am very grateful that the all the documentation and other bits and pieces in the processing of our container is being done by others on our behalf as I can imagine it will be a much more elaborate 'game' to play!!

Monday, April 22

End of the Baby Stage

Birthday's are special times in family life. Today we celebrate Naomi's second birthday, our first family birthday since we've been living here in Tanzania.

To be honest about a week ago, I was so disorganised about her birthday that I thought I deserved a big 'mummy fail' sticker but it's amazing how things can turnaround!

I guess in my mind I'd always imagined our container being here and unpacked by Naomi's birthday, as on it is all our cake making and decorating stuff, birthday banners and even a couple of presents that we bought in advance ready to give her as not much is available here. It wasn't until last week that I gave up all hope on the container and had to knuckle down and do what all mummy's have to do ... be resourceful to make your favourite little people's day special whatever the circumstances, so they feel completely and utterly loved!

I know she is only two and so won't really remember but we weren't just going to let it pass by completely unnoticed! In the end she had a little get-together with some friends and a family celebration. Both with cakes and a nice little pile of pressies from all over the world too. She actually had more of a birthday celebration than her big sister did when she turned 2 in the end!

It still amazes me that the baby of my family is already two years old. I know you're always warned that the years when your children are little, flash by in the blink of an eye. Realistically two isn't all that old yet either but she is becoming more and more independent, it does surprise me each and every day!

No, I'm not getting broody for another baby to 'replace' this one who is very much her own little person now ... but it will take a while for it to sink in that the baby stage is pretty much over for in our household.  I'm really looking forward to all the next stages, we will get to enjoy now with our two little munchkins.

In the meantime, Happy Birthday Naomi ... you are very much loved by family both here and abroad!

Friday, April 19

Body Image

Body image, good or bad is definitely something that is culturally specific. 

For example, those from countries with dark skin want to be light, those with light skin want to be dark. Or more personally, you often find that those with straight hair want curls, those with curls want it straight. Then of course there is the constant pressure to be thinner, curvier, up-to-date ... the list goes on ... but generally it's something different to what we are right now! Being comfortable and happy in your own skin is a place that a lot of people struggle to make it to.

Here in Tanzania, things are no different. The younger generations are beginning to follow western fashions and are in stark contrast to the more traditionally dressed ... or of course the many people who still wear their tribal clothes. The wealthier people wear suits (for women, suits would be something similar to what I am wearing in the photo below). Lighter skin and a wider waistband are also signs of wealth and very much sought after!

I have already shared that having moved to Dodoma, my wardrobe is full of skirts. Apart from my wedding dress I think I've only worn one other skirt since I last lived here all those years ago! In fact, almost my entire wardrobe is filled with clothes I would never wear anywhere but here. 

After only two months here, my perception of body image is already changing. It is not important to me that what I wear might not look great back in the UK. I am fully aware that a lot of them are not even very flattering but they are culturally acceptable and I don't want to offend people that I may later want to build friendships with.

Having said that, there is one thing which will continue to make me chuckle and is something that could very easily offend. I mentioned above that basically, the fatter you are the wealthier you are perceived to be. So fat definitely equals good if you are living in Tanzania, a total flip to the culture I grew up in. Talking about size is also something that is a total flip from the western world too. It is a compliment to tell someone they are fat or fatter but you would never ever comment on how thin somebody is!

I have had the privilege of catching up with many old friends here since arriving back in Dodoma. A lot has happened in the last 12 years since I taught here, including getting married and having two children, so I have added a few extra pounds here and there. When I meet with Tanzanians who I haven't seen all that time, after the obligatory greetings (which go on forever!) on the majority of occasions the very next thing they say, is to compliment me on how 'big' I am!

You have to laugh really! I am aware that the 35 year old Jenny is a different size and shape from the 22 year old Jenny ... that's the reality of life isn't it. But to have it pointed it out so obviously on a regular basis will either make you laugh or cry! 

So far, I choose to chuckle away to myself and then thank them very much for their compliments! It's all part and parcel of life here!!

Wednesday, April 17

Unexpected Culture Shock

Last month due to internet issues and a few other things we had no guest blog ... but it's back again this month with a friend who I haven't actually seen face-to-face for quite a few years now as we've both been living all over the world!

I first met Michaela in 1999, in Nairobi when she was part of on a short term mission trip that my mum was on and I was on my way to teach in Tanzania. In my second year in Dodoma, Michaela came out as a member of staff at the same school as me and we lived on the same compound. She also went on to study at All Nations but left the year before I started and then went on to work in Myanmar. She is now married with two beautiful little girls and another little munchkin on the way.

I have returned to Dodoma, somewhere familiar to me ... but living here with a family is very different to when I was young and single first time round. Michaela is now experiencing something similar too, except she is on a completely different continent to me once again!

My husband and I both come from large villages, we have Christian parents and are followers of Christ ourselves. But that is where the similarities end, for a start our villages are in different continents! My village is typically English; thatched cottages, village clock tower, his is in South East Asia with houses of bamboo and wood.

We met while I was teaching in his country and after we got married we continued to live in Myanmar.  After we found out I was pregnant we decided to return to England for the birth and ended up staying 3 years! Two children later and a third on the way, we decided to return to our life in Myanmar.

We were incredibly excited about returning! We have family and friends here. We own our apartment which was the first place we lived as husband and wife. We know how to get around; we know the language, in fact its home.  So the last thing I was expecting was to experience the level of culture shock I did!  Living in Myanmar this time was very different. The difference being, we now had two children under 3.

The thing I struggled with the most was what seemed to be a loss of my independence.  I was used to strapping my two girls into our Phil and Ted’s double buggy and walking to friends houses. I was used to putting them in their car seats and driving off to all manner of places. Suddenly getting to any place was a struggle!  We sold the double buggy before we left the UK knowing it would be too heavy to carry up 8 flights of stairs- yes we live on the 8th floor and no lift. Instead we bought a small foldable push chair and a buggy board. 

And yet the paths are so pot holed, crowded with stalls and in complete disrepair and the curbs so steep that the buggy can only be used in the parks anyway. Then there’s getting to the parks. Firstly I need to carry a one year old, buggy, buggy board, change bag and hold on to a two and half year old down 8 flights of steep, dirty, concrete stairs. Then wait by the side of the road without losing a child, in temperatures of high 30 degrees C, while I flag down a taxi and haggle with the driver over the price. Once I arrive at the park I am hot and sweaty from having to restrain the one year old from climbing out the windows, no air con in these taxis so all windows are wide open, and I now have to pay foreigner rates.  Even though I married a local and our children are half Myanmar we are all still considered foreigners and so pay double what the locals do.  And of course then there’s the return journey but this time the two and a half year old probably wants carrying up the 8 flights and I’m 20 weeks pregnant!

So it became quite clear, quite early on that going out alone was no longer an option. This really took time for me to accept and was the reason for my culture shock. I had always wanted to look after my children myself and chose not to return to work but be a stay-at-home-mum instead. I enjoyed going out on our little adventures together, seeing where we’d end up, not worrying about someone else’s time schedule but just taking our time.  When I looked around at the ex-pats living here they all have nannies and home helps and drivers which didn’t surprise me but then I realized that all the locals have help too. Not hired help but family! I also have an amazing family here who are adored by my girls and who are ready and willing to help at any time and in anyway.  

There are times in all our lives when we need help. The trick is to acknowledge your need and ask for help or accept the help offered. I have come to realize that the support and help I receive is not failure on my part but a privilege and a joy as well as a necessity!

Monday, April 15

Turned Out Nice Again!

When I lived in Dodoma last time round, we used to have an expression 'Turned out nice again'! As whether it rains at any point or is overcast, living in Tanzania you can always guarantee the sun will come out again!

There are three seasons here and they all involve lots of sunshine! The wet season is December - May. The cold dry season is June - August.  Then the final one from September - November is the hot dry season. July is generally the coldest month with averages of 26(79) high and 13(55) low. November/December is life at it's hottest, 31(88) the high and 18(64) the low. I know what you Brits are thinking, the coldest temperatures here are the equivalent of a lovely summer's day there!

Unfortunately for local people here, the 'rainy season' is often very dry. For those earning a living through their crops, it can be devastating and for many, bad rains means little or no food for their family. This year the rains haven't been great.

Last week, even though we are coming to the end of the rainy season, we were treated to regular dumpings of rain all week long ... of course, it turned out nice again after each downpour!

It really is such a treat to have rain here, so refreshing and almost worth celebrating and dancing in (the girls were playing in it with their friends!). It comes down really REALLY heavy, produces chaos on the roads and increases the potholes but unlike when we lived in the States, it does not come with the risk of too much danger in the way of tornado warnings etc. So it is much more enjoyable, from my point of view anyway! That has to be one thing I don't miss one bit about living in Ohio.

Sadly, these rains have been too little too late for many here ... please keep them in your prayers as it won't be so easy in the months ahead for those who rely on good crops.

Friday, April 12

Finger Painting

School holiday's. We are almost at the end of the first ever proper school holiday in our household. While Abigail had been at pre-school before coming here, it was only a couple of hours a few days a week. School has been a little bit more hard-core since arriving in Tanzania and she's loving it!

To begin with Abigail couldn't understand why she couldn't still go to school over the Easter break, as she has been enjoying it so much ... but soon got into the swing of things, including staying in her PJ's til lunchtime some days. A foretaste of the teenage years no doubt!

I have heard that some parents, dread the holidays and finding things for their munchkins to do. It is still a novelty for me to have Abigail at school, so the holidays feel normal! 

The girls have been enjoying time together, without either TV or all their toys. I had hoped that our container might have arrived by now with extra amusements for the girls or just so Abigail could play a part in the unpacking but it wasn't to be ... and it seems it didn't matter either!

Not only have I turned to the internet for yumminess but I've also used it for some crafty ideas too. One day this week while Naomi slept after lunch, me and Abigail had lots of fun doing some finger painting.

First we made the paints ... yes, from scratch because you can't buy them here! Then we spent quite a long while creating masterpieces together. Abigail loved doing all of it. It was really easy to clean off fingers and the pots, towels etc that we used and had the littlest member of the family woken up she could have joined us, it wouldn't have mattered if she had put her fingers in her mouth, as it was all edible!

As it was our first attempt at making them we just did two colours but next time we'll definitely be making more. It was such a success, from the making to the creating! Here's the recipe, all ingredients are simple and easily available here in Dodoma (although I won't be adding it to the yumminess/recipe section of the blog as I wouldn't recommend serving it up at mealtimes!) ...
  • 3 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup cornstarch
  • 2 cups water
  1. Combine ingredients in a small saucepan
  2. Warm until mixture thickens
  3. Cool and pour into containers
  4. Add food colouring to create desired colours
Today is officially the last day of the Easter break and we've had lots of fun with play dates and homemade crafty things to amuse us but I know one little girlie who is looking forward to getting back to school on Monday!

Monday, April 8

Too Delicious

I first arrived and lived in Dodoma almost 14 years ago! We had no landline phone, mobiles hadn't made it to Tanzania and internet was so limited that all the staff at the school had one email address between them! To receive messages the sender had to write your name in the subject title and then we would book time slots to read and reply to any messages we had!

How times have changed! Everyone has internet access relatively easily, either through a wireless connection at home or via mobile phones ... which by the way, are EVERYWHERE and are much better than even those we were using when we lived in the States last year!

As you will know if you've been reading this blog recently, all our belongings continue to be stuck in Dar Es Salaam and I have already commented on the fact my recipe book is among those things! The longer the time lasts, the more I'm searching the internet and Pinterest especially, for new recipes or for alternative versions of ones I haven't got to hand. There have been occasions when we've had no internet or electricity that have scuppered my cooking plans but for the most part and if I forward-plan, the internet has been a Godsend in the kitchen, as well as to keep in touch family and friends.

This weekend I was looking for an Anzac biscuit recipe when I stumbled across a blog that I know I will be returning to again and again and again, Butter Baking. I have to admit I got a bit side-tracked because there were so many delicious looking recipes included but eventually remembered what I was looking originally for! The Anzac Biscuits were perfect. My only criticism, if you could call it that, is that they were too delicious and left me wanting more and more!

I got in touch with Natasha, the author of the Butter Baking blog, who like me loves baking but is not a huge fan of cake (finally someone who understands where I'm coming from, strange but true!) and asked her permission to share the yumminess with you and she agreed! Thank you Natasha! While the container is delayed I will continue to turn to the internet for cooking inspiration and for anything sweet, my first stop will definitely be at Butter Baking! Here's the recipe ...

  • 1 cup plain flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 1 cup dessicated coconut
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 125g unsalted butter, melted (4.5 oz)
  • 1 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tbsp boiling water
  1. Preheat the oven to 180 C (350 F) and line 2 trays with baking paper.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the flour, oats, coconut, sugar and salt.
  3. Add the melted butter and maple syrup and stir well to combine.
  4. In a little bowl, dissolve the baking soda in the boiling water. Mix it through the dough.
  5. Roll large tablespoons of the dough into balls and place them on the baking trays, allowing room for spreading. Flatten a little for a chewy cookie and flatten right down for a crisp cookie like mine.
  6. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes, until golden. Makes 16 large, palm-size cookies, but you could always make 32 smaller Anzacs.
Soon after my container does arrive I plan to try out the Butter Baking New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe. Why wait for the container? You can't buy chocolate chips here in Dodoma, so I included some in the shipping  ... although I think the heat in the container may well mean they arrive as one big chunk of chocolate anyway!

Friday, April 5

Making Do!

Making do doesn't have to be settling for second best, it can be making the most of whatever situation you find yourself in! Making do isn't all that bad really. Making do ... is the story of our lives right now!

This weekend we will have been here in Tanzania for seven weeks. Seven weeks of settling in. Seven weeks of finding our feet. Seven weeks of waiting for a car and our container. 

We said goodbye to all our belongings about 4 months ago and we know they arrived here in Tanzania only a couple of weeks after us. But African bureaucracy keeps us separated nonetheless. 

Without our belongings, our house still doesn't quite become our home. Without our belongings, it is difficult in this time of transition to properly settle. Without our belongings we feel we're in a state of limbo ... or as I wrote before in 'Holiday Mode'.

We were dealt a blow this week, with the news that our visas and subsequently our container could be held up until Mark gains his in-country licence, something never before required by MAF engineers. Meetings that have followed since, have uncovered the possibility of being granted a 'special pass' in the meantime, which should allow the release of our container from the port. Our fingers, toes and everything else are crossed right now!

It is a time to learn. It is a waiting game. One with lots of prayer from us, family, friends and supporters. A time to learn patience, to make the most of what we have ... to make do! We have been well looked after but with the continued delays we are beginning to search out alternatives instead of just waiting, in an attempt to get better established here as a family.

When we were in the UK, I picked up a few little 'frivolous' bits and pieces, things to brighten up our house here, to enjoy, to make me smile. Simple things like an Ikea spotty tray, a Cath Kidston  apron and tea towel. With all the waiting and borrowing, it's been nice to have these few bits and pieces of my own. They don't feel so frivolous now!

Living in the country that we do here. To have a house and belongings that we can use, even if they are only for an indefinite temporary period, makes us very fortunate. This morning after heavy rains overnight, Maria, our househelp, arrived a little later to work than usual. Her home which has no power or running water and would probably fit into our living room (with room to spare) had flooded.

Sometimes 'making do' for us, is more than others can dream of in a lifetime. With that perspective things are actually very good ... and for however long it will be until we are reunited with our belongings, as a family we will choose to be grateful and satisfied with all that we have. A roof over our heads, money for food, enough things to be comfortable. It is a time to be thankful and know that we're exactly where God wants us to be.

Wednesday, April 3

Easter Eggs

Well, the internet is back up and running for us again for the most part ... except when we have no power and any other random time it decides to stop working. I realise that my blogging from now on will be for the most part 'business as usual' but with times when, like for the last couple of weeks, it just won't be possible! Unless I say otherwise my absences should only be temporary!

In some ways though it was nice to just have the long four day Easter weekend without having to think about blogs Friday and Monday. As Abigail went to school just over 48 hours after we arrived here, these were the first full four days we've had together as a family since we arrived in Dodoma just over 6 weeks ago and they were much needed!

It is strange to celebrate significant events in the calendar, like Easter across the cultures ...

In the UK, it really is about the chocolate Easter Eggs to a large percentage of the country. Supermarkets are stacked with them for months in advance and every different chocolate manufacturer seems to come out with their own special ones. They get stocked months before hand ... pretty much as soon as the Christmas things get taken down in many cases and are definitely there after Valentines. But Easter is primarily about the chocolate!

(It has been interesting to read about the introduction of 'The Real Easter Egg' over the last couple of years. One that not only contains the chocolate but also the Christian message of Easter on the box. I have been able to catch updates as to how different supermarkets have debated as to whether or not to sell them.)

Living in the States for three years, it was interesting to see the differences. The supermarket is stocked with Easter stuff ... but it's different. Lots of Easter baskets and plastic eggs. There are very few special chocolate eggs as the Brits would expect. Just lots of all different varieties of 'candy' to stick in the eggs for the myriad of Easter Egg hunts that take place. There's a lot more Easter Bunny stuff going on too ... having a photo with him each years is like having a photo with Santa at Christmas, just something that has to be done!

Another tradition we found a little strange in the States linked with Easter was that a lot of our church friends would get new outfits (often matching with other family members) and wear them to church on Easter Sunday and also have family photos taken in them. The  perfect Easter Outfit was something some people would be looking out for months in advance! It was just an American thing, at least where we were living!

Now in a third culture, we have just celebrated Easter here in Tanzania and of course it has been different again! There is no hype here, no tv adverts with Easter bunnies and Spring chickens, no plastic or chocolate eggs piled high in any of the shops ... in fact you could be forgiven for missing Easter altogether!

In a country that, in many reports, is listed as being roughly an equal percentage of both Muslim and Christian, public holidays are often observed for both religions but with no particular hype for any. In our family we knew it was Easter because my husband had a four day weekend and we celebrated it in church and with friends ... but for a lot of local people it was just business as usual! Interestingly without the advertising onslaught, it was almost easier to concentrate on the real meaning of Easter.

While we didn't have eggs of either the British chocolate or American candy-filled plastic variety, we didn't miss out totally! We had an Easter/70th Birthday party on Easter Sunday afternoon and during the party I had planned an Easter Egg Treasure Hunt for the kids ... hiding the eggs (shown below) around our compound, to unveil the truth of the story of Easter for me, that 'Jesus is Alive'!

As a Christian this holiday is more significant than Christmas and the birth of Jesus. This is when he paid the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of every person that has ever lived. Before he goes to the cross, Jesus has one last conversation with God. He prays about all kinds of things including his disciples. In John 17:20, though he says ...
'My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message' (italics mine)
... that means you and me! In those final hours and words between him and his Father in heaven he prayed for us too. Amazing and mind-blowing all at the same time! 

Easter Sunday is a celebration that his death wasn't the end of the story but just the beginning. Jesus overcame death and lives ... then and now! That's more exciting than any Easter Egg, on any continent, I have ever experienced!