by Mark

Ten things I miss about Tanzania

June 27, 2013 in Life, Mark, Culture, Front by Mark

Recently we transitioned from life in Mpanda, Tanzania, to Oregon in the USA where we’ll be for the next few months. Below are ten things that I’m already missing about Tanzania. Once you’ve browsed through these, you might like to take a look at the ten things that I’m enjoying about AmericaRead the rest of this entry →

by Mark

What’s wrong with Tanzania?

May 31, 2013 in Mark, Africa, Culture, Front, Justice, Tanzania by Mark

On the train from Mbeya to Dar es Salaam this week it was fun to bump in to some of the backpackers for whom the TAZARA train seems to be an essential part of their African adventures. I was interested to hear their perspectives of Tanzania, as well as Zambia, Malawi and South Africa that they had travelled through.

However, it seemed that the travelers all came trying sub-consciously to answer the question: What is wrong with Africa? Whether it was in complaining about the train being a couple of hours late (not really a big deal when it travels thousands of miles, and there is no strict schedule anyway), or frustration at not understanding how the process works to buy tickets (yes there is an orderly queue even if you don’t see it, and no you can’t just push everyone until you get to the front), or thinking that workers digging a road are lazy because the majority are standing around (if you do manual work from dawn until dusk every day near the equator, you’d better pace yourself in the middle of the day or you’re not going to survive…), there seemed to always be the unspoken assumption that Tanzania is broken. The worst thing is that I can see all their same attitudes in myself when I first visited Kenya twelve years ago. Read the rest of this entry →

by Mark

Why I’m glad I’m not yet fluent in Swahili

February 28, 2013 in Life, Mark, Africa, Culture, Front, Language, Mission, Tanzania by Mark

Language learning can be hard work, especially for us Brits who hardly uttered a single word from any language other than English until age 11, (and even then only for 3 hours a week in the school classroom.) I remember looking forward to beginning to learn German as I started secondary school, and thinking that all I had to do was to memorise the German word for each English word and I’d be fluent – simple, right?! I’m glad to say my understanding of linguistics has progressed a little in the last 20 years…

Now, living in western Tanzania I find myself speaking Swahili for much of the day, alongside English, with a few greetings in some of the local languages around here thrown in. As foreigners living in Tanzania it can be tempting to see language learning as a necessary step before we can get on with our real work, a period of time we need to set aside to get up to speed with the language so we can start what we really came here to do.

But I think language learning is so much more than that. Learning the language (and culture) of another person is essentially learning to understand the world from their point of view, and as such is a never-ending journey. Read the rest of this entry →

by Mark

“The Africans”, the Non-Africans, and a bus trip

December 29, 2012 in Mark, Africa, Culture by Mark

On my recent trip to Mbeya I brought along a couple of second-hand books that we had been given a while back, to pass the 16 hours each way on a bus. One of the books was The Africans, by David Lamb, who lived in Nairobi, Kenya, for four years and travelled around several African countries as a newspaper reporter. I had expected the title of the book to be ironic, but no, Lamb really does aim to describe “The Africans” in 300 pages. (Given the fact that there is apparently more genetic diversity in Africa than in the rest of the world combined, in addition to immense cultural diversity too, one wonders whether it would actually be easier to write a book about The Non-Africans.)

After the first couple of chapters I was ready to throw the book out of the window as Lamb paints a pretty depressing picture of the continent as a whole. There is little hope, and quite a patronising tone towards Africa and its people. However, the fact that I still had 6 hours before I reached Mbeya and little other reading material persuaded me to keep going. I was glad I did, as there are some very interesting stories, and I learnt a lot about the history of parts of Africa (mainly from the 1960s, when many countries gained independence, to the 1980s when the book was written), albeit told from a particular perspective.

This perspective was evident throughout the book, and I ended up learning as much about the author’s worldview as I did about Africa. Read the rest of this entry →

by Mark

Creating alphabets for the Bende and Pimbwe languages

September 17, 2012 in Wycliffe, Africa, Bible translation, Culture, Front, Language, Mission, Tanzania by Mark

“People will believe that God knows them if their language has Scripture in it… they will be very happy!” This was the opinion of Stephen, a speaker of the Bende language in Tanzania’s Katavi Region. But in order for parts of the Bible to be written in a language, there must first be an alphabet that is easy and intuitive for speakers of the language to read. Read the rest of this entry →