Tanzania postcards 4: barbecue bridges

basketball

basketball1

nana swing

An ordinary Sunday in Mwanza. Hot, hot sun; kites wheeling overhead; deafening songs of praise belting out from the revival meeting in the centre of town.

Our friends held a barbecue. The guests were from seven countries across three continents. We were Christian, Muslim and ‘prefer not to say’. There was peri peri chicken, cardamom spiced rice, and pizza cooked from scratch by ten-year-old Caleb.

The young ones played football and basketball; a couple of the older ones injured themselves trying to keep up. The toddler worked out how to turn on the outside tap and shrieked with laughter each time he soaked himself with the sudden rush of cool water.

The sun sinks fast here. HALLELUJAH, screamed the revival preacher as the shadows lengthened and the kites flew in to roost on the treetops. Hallelujah, I whispered as the guests began to say their goodbyes. Kwaheri … Asante … See you again, I hope.

Tanzania postcards 3: death birds

marabou stork

We have nicknamed them the death birds. Properly known as Marabou storks, they are some of the ugliest creatures I have ever seen, with their scraggy bald necks and stick-like legs that bend in the middle as if hinged.

They gather wherever anything is festering. When we visited the markets in Mwanza, we found them congregated on heaps of rotting vegetables: the putrid smell complementing the birds’ funereal appearance.

But then someone suggested that they were probably a benefit to the area. Rubbish that is consumed cannot linger to spread infection and disease.

So they might look evil, but actually they are fulfilling a valuable service. There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere.

Picture credit

Postcards from Tanzania 2: load bearing

load1

Wherever you go in Mwanza, you see women carrying improbable loads on their heads. They make it look so easy, walking with straight backs and an easy grace.

When we visited a nearby village, we met a young woman who had been carrying a bowl of bricks on her head for half an hour.

Here’s what happened when our friend, a 6ft tall rugby player, tried to lift the same bowl above his shoulders.

mark bricks

 Appearances can be deceptive.

Delayed in the post

I was hoping to publish a whole series of ‘postcards’ from Tanzania, but there is so much here that is new and thought-provoking that it seems wiser to wait until we get home. It’s also quite hard to upload pictures. I’ve got some short posts that are nearly ready to go, and look forward to sharing them very soon.

Tanzania postcards 1: vegetable solidarity

One of the many things I love about growing food is that it is so easy to make connections with other gardeners. When we left Sheffield to stay with friends in Tanzania last week, we were just celebrating the first ripe plum from a tree we planted in 2012.

plum

When we arrived in Tanzania, our friends’ gardener Abu allowed me to photograph him harvesting their first paw paw.

paw paw

Then Abu took me all around the garden he and our friends have created by transforming what was a huge pile of rubble into a thriving, productive vegetable patch.

keyhole garden resized

I had heard about keyhole gardens before and it was fascinating to see them in action. The gardens have a central hole for water and compostable kitchen waste: they are a kind of recycling system that allows nutrients to spread throughout the soil and they have the added benefit of making maximum use of water in very dry areas.

bananas resized

Abu is also growing five different kinds of banana, along with spinach, rocket, tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, cassava, sweetcorn, sweet potatoes, chillies, onions, avocado, carrots, peppers – and probably more that I have forgotten.

Leaves from the banana trees are used to shade a special germination area, protecting the tender young seedlings from the strong Tanzanian sun.

shelter resized

I gave Abu some runner bean seeds from England and we talked about our favourite herbs. I promised to send him some basil seeds, which he loves but finds hard to get in Tanzania. It was a conversation that made me feel immediately connected in a country I have never visited before.

Thank you, Abu, for giving me such a great welcome.

A time to weep

I had an allotment post planned for today but although I believe with all my heart that growing food well is one of the most important, life-giving and even holy things we can do, now is not the time for me to write about gardening.

Of all the images that have filled our screens during this summer of horrors – and I do not remember a summer like this for horror - the ones that haunt me continually are from Ferguson, Missouri, where black teenager Michael Brown was gunned down by a policeman and his body left untended in the street for four hours.

Michael Brown was unarmed and he was shot at least six times, Eyewitnesses say he had his hands in the air. He was due to start college two days later.

I have a son just one year older than Michael Brown. I am writing this late at night and I know that soon he will be emerging onto the streets of Edinburgh, elated if his show at the Fringe has gone well, perhaps more subdued if it hasn’t.

Either way, he and his university friends may be a bit loud. There’s a lot of tension to release after a show. But they won’t attract attention from the police. (And even if they did, we in the UK do not, thank God, routinely give our police officers firearms.)

How is that one teenager can walk down the street freely with his friends, while another ends up dead in the road?

How is it that I can be rejoicing in my son’s achievements while a mother in Missouri has been robbed of the chance ever again to hug hers and tell him: ‘Well done: I’m so proud of you’?

I have read some powerful posts about Ferguson this week. Two that stood out were Black Bodies, White Souls by Austin Channing and  The Cross and the Molotov Cocktail by Christena Cleveland (links at the bottom of this post).

Both are strongly worded, disturbing challenges to people like me, white people who claim to follow Jesus.

These women – and the pain and anger I have seen in the news from Ferguson – have made me face up to what I know in theory but mostly try not to accept as reality: there are structural injustices built into Western society (let’s not kid ourselves this is just about the US) that work in favour of people like me and my son.

I can’t write about the allotment today  - not because the allotment is unimportant but because to ignore what I have seen these past days would be a form of walking by on the other side, pretending that the people who are bleeding at the edge of the road are somehow nothing to do with me.

In fact it would be worse than that because what I need to think about today is not just that the mother of a boy the same age as my son is grieving, but also my own complicity in the structures that are compounding that grief.

I need to think about how my life might shore up those injustices, and what I am going to do about it.

I highly recommend these posts: Black Bodies, White Souls by Austin Channing; The Cross and the Molotov Cocktail by Christena Cleveland.

There is a very full and thoroughly referenced timeline of the events in Ferguson here.

 

Tree following: August

windy

We have had high winds this week and the pavement beneath my tree is strewn with snapped twigs. I thought perhaps, after our early spring and long, sunny summer, that autumn might be coming early but the leaves on this silver birch are still resolutely green. It may be there is just the faintest tinge of gold.

leaves
I’ve been away from Sheffield a fair bit this month and have realised how much this tree speaks to me of home. It stands right outside our house; its familiar, graceful shape is the first thing I notice when I turn the corner into our street.

shape

The tree affects the interior of our home too. On breezy mornings when the sun is out, the branches cast huge, swaying shadows on the inside of our bedroom curtains. I can sit in bed and watch them as I sip my tea and it feels a little bit like being rocked.

This month we mark twelve years in our Sheffield house. The tree, I have realised, is a huge part of what makes that house our home.

Tree following is a wonderful project run by Lucy at Loose and Leafy. Her post this month is wrenching: all along her street, trees are being felled.

If they try that here, I might have to chain myself to the trunk.

ESTHER IN THE GARDEN  -  AFTER THE SUMMER  -  NEW ERA  -  NODULES ON ROOTS OF PLUTONIAN TREE