News To Me

Bound for Iringa Town

The Pottery

When it comes to the pottery at Neema Crafts, things are moving forward slowly. However, we are making progress!

“Wait a minute!”, some of you might say. Eric and Maria haven’t posted anything to this blog in a year and they just jump right into talking about the pottery? Yes, that’s right. I know,  I know… it has been forever since our last blog. And truthfully, the more time that passes, the more reluctant we are to post anything to this blog because it’s difficult to know where to start and how to fill people in on all the things that have happened.

Let’s just sum it up this way: life at Neema Crafts is as busy as ever. Things are going well with our management training and work and there will always be challenges with every victory.

Right now though, I thought it better to write something, anything, just to start this blog again. It’s easiest to write about the things that excite you. I’m always excited about pottery, so I’m going to write about that.

Thanks to the financial support of friends, family, and fellow pottery lovers we were able to pull together the funds needed to build our new kiln. This kiln, I designed to be a dual-purpose glass furnace and small pottery kiln. So far, we have fired the kiln 3 times with our sawdust injection burner (I’ll post pictures). The most recent firing happened this past week. We have improved results each time we have fired and now have some decent samples to show for our effort.

There has been a ton of trial and error and we have had to struggle with a new clay body, new glazes, new fuel source and new kiln. With all this experimentation, I find sometimes my work in the pottery is more about testing, documenting, drawing conclusions and then testing all over again than it is about throwing pots.

In this last firing we were excited by two things. One, we produced our very first glazed mugs and cups. And two, we were able to experiment with a new method of making glass beads straight from a pot of hot glass rather than the old mold system. We still have a lot of experimenting to do, but we have some promising samples now that will continue to guide us.

Also promising is our new sawdust burner system. We now know that we can achieve temperatures of well over 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit. This is great news because it will open up a whole world of high temperature stoneware glaze options. However, on the down side we learned that the kiln shelves we have currently are not rated for this kind of heat. All our shelves warped and cracked pretty severely. So, we are going to be on the hunt for better shelves and posts. These are difficult (if not impossible) to find in Tanzania. So, frankly, I’m not sure what we will do yet, but I’m putting a few feelers out there to see what we can find in Dar es Salaam. We might also look into importing good shelves from South Africa or Kenya, though this would likely be expensive and somewhat complicated.

Anyway, enjoy the pictures. Thanks to all those who supported the building of this new kiln and burner. It shows all kinds of potential, we just need to source a few more pieces to the puzzle and I think we will be producing some beautiful stoneware pots very soon.

-Eric

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Quarterly (Biannual?) Newsletter

Okay well, maybe it’s been more than a quarter. Sorry about that!
We returned to Tanzania in August refreshed and ready to dive into work again. Before leaving we had made a grand plan for the coming two years, our sort of final goal being that the managers we train would able to handle enough after two years that Ben, Katy, Eric and I could leave Neema for a month at a time and know that work, orders, payroll, maintenance, etc. would all carry on without us there. When we arrived at Neema so did a wave of big orders and we plunged in. Once you plunge in it’s a little hard to come up for air and regroup. It’s definitely been a fast paced 6 months.Msosa 273
Little by little progress has been made and I like to think of it as a snowball effect: the more tasks I can teach and then hand off to Val (orders manager trainee), the more time I have freed up to train Mode in quality control. These early days sitting in my office trying to explain to Val the overall concept of Quickbooks and the importance of accuracy on an invoice in Swahili sign language seem daunting. Don’t get the wrong impression – I think she is able and brilliant and have been blown away already by how quick she is on the uptake. But she has never really used a computer and only knows a few words of English so she has some giant hurdles ahead.
Mode too amazes me by what he can do and his meticulous nature is exactly right for quality control, but his prioritizing skills lack. Most of the time I feel, more than anything, my own lack. How to teach, how to lead, how to teach to lead. But my God is faithful and bigger than my weakness. Really I can’t express what a privilege it is to be here to watch these guys grasp opportunity with both hands.
The same goes for Eric in the other office teaching Seleti to be the bookkeeper. This girl is seriously smart, reliable and motivated. Every month that goes by she’s got more under her belt. She’s now preparing Neema’s payroll by herself and learning to reconcile the bank accounts. As Seleti moves into this new role she is also passing on her old role of cashier to Netusta, our newest member of the office team. They are both doing a great job.
Meanwhile Ben has done an amazing job pushing forward all kinds of construction projects to help us be better equipped such as a new office and converting a shipping container into a new screen printing workshop. He also heads up plethora of other “director” kinds of jobs such as organizing the distribution of 40 handcarts that were donated to us and managing the constant flow of guests and HR issues hitting the office every day.
Katy has been blazing her own path from home (unless she hears my cries for help echoing across Iringa and has to come dashing to the rescue!) completely redesigning our website and building an online shop (coming soon!) and supporting me in orders, design work, and any other little workshop odds and ends. And all the while she is running after the extremely charming and precocious Zachary. Marjarino na Prisca Harusi 079
In general its been a great 6 months for Neema Crafts. There have been several weddings, several births, a new nursery has just been started to help serve our moms with small children, Ally got baptized in the river over our retreat weekend, and there is a nice big TV in the break room. Even January, which we expected to be a bad month for sales, was decent. Tunashukuru Mungu.
Thanks to all of you who have supported us and prayed for us. We will do our best to write again soon. Much love to you all.  Utulivu 275

Just different…

So, living in another country has its challenges, to be sure. Everyone tells you this before you go and you even try to remind yourself of the fact that things will be different. However, some things just take you by surprise and it doesn’t really matter how many times these things may occur or how long you have lived in the culture. It’s hard to get used to some things. Take personal space for example.

Now, I never really considered myself to be fussy about preserving my personal bubble. I don’t mind rubbing shoulders with people even if it is literal. Hey, I’ve squeezed into cars with plenty of college friends and never really been bothered by overly crowded elevators. So, I’m ok with not having much personal space, right? Well…. Recently, I’ve been learning that I definitely value my bubble.

A couple weeks ago, we had the privilege of attending the wedding of our friend and colleague, Chipe. We have been able to attend several weddings by now and I think we have found them to be some of the most interesting windows into Tanzanian culture, haha. They are full of surprises, dancing, LOUD music and tons of food. It was in waiting for said food that I learned a thing or two about the difference in how I view personal space compared to how Tanzanians might.

Much like we often do in the states at wedding receptions our table was finally called to join the line to get our food. The fact that a line is actually formed is amazing really. Lines, or queues if you’re British, don’t really exist here. I often compare the ‘lines’ here to that of a zombie feeding frenzy – a lot of waving of arms, random outbursts and murmurings and a general surging/stumbling forward towards the unfortunate person or object at the front of this chaos. Anyway… I could get lost down the rabbit trail or waiting lines (or the lack there of) here in TZ. Back to the original story…

I was waiting in line like a nice little boy. Another Neema volunteer, Wim, was standing in line in front of me. Wim is from Holland, so being Dutch, he has what I would consider to be a fairly similar concept of appropriate personal space. We were chatting casually about nothing really and suddenly to my back there was a bump and a FWOOP! Ahhh!!! Something just went between my legs and ‘entered the caboose’, shall we say. I turned around with a start. Oh, it was just a Mama with a little one strapped to her front. The babies foot had found its way to my back side nicely. Haha, oh well. I smiled at the Mama and little baby and turned around to continue chatting with Wim. The line moved forward a little, so I took a step ahead. I could smell the food. It seemed we were in for a treat. Tanzanian holiday food is – FWOOP!! Hey!! Whoah!! Something just made contact with my rear end again and just as the first time, it was very squarely placed. I turned around and gave a slightly more forced smile. The mother gave me this sort of blank stare in return. Sigh….. oh well, I tell myself, things are different here, just be patient Eric.

Again, the line moved forward a little and I followed. FWOOP!! Ghaaahh! What the heck! Is this little toto aiming for my butt? If so, he’s very accurate. I give the mama a more annoyed halfway glance backwards and shuffle forward another 6 inches and… FWOOP!! Sheesh! Why? Why does she keep following me so closely? Surely she must have seen my annoyed sideways glance? That must have given her a clue that I don’t – FWOOP!!! Ok. This is getting really annoying. I clear my throat and toss another sideways glance combined with a shuffle of another 3 inches (although I’m now approaching the awkward zone between me and Wim). I decide that violating the bubble between me and Wim was worth dislodging this child’s foot from my rump. I move forward another 2 inches…… Oh nothing…. Wait… still nothing….. Then FWOOP!! Grrrr!!!! Ok this must stop! I decide to get crazy and push back a little. Oh dear, that was a mistake. She didn’t move. Now this tiny foot is only further stuck up between my cheeks. This is most uncomfortable. Now I can’t go forward or backwards. That little foot remained squarely planted for the next several minutes even with the line moving forward and my best attempts to escape. Finally, the mother grew tired of waiting in line and leapfrogged me and Wim and about 5 other people. For once, I was very happy someone cut in front of me in line.

Things are just different some times and there’s not really any getting used to it. I certainly hope I never grow accustomed to this particular experience anyway!

In a yellow wood

Well, people have been asking and its about time we come up with an answer.  What will we do with ourselves when we return from Tanzania in June? We’ve been thinking about this alot since before we even arrived here in Iringa but especially this has been a big topic on our minds over the past few months.  In December the directors of Neema asked us if we would consider staying on at Neema and coming alongside them to help push forward some plans for growing Neema. Thus another somewhat major turn in the road has been thrown into our considerations.

We have wrestled with this decision more than just about any decision we have made since being married:  go back to the States and figure out what to do with our lives or continue on at Neema where there is clearly work to be done(in vastly simplified terms.) I could go into this…but I won’t.  For better or for worse we have decided to buy round trip tickets!!! We are so very excited to have the privilege of continuing to work alongside the amazing people at Neema but also can’t express how excited we are to be coming home to NY for the summer!

The plan is to be home from June to August and then head back to Tanzania.  We will be there for the next two years but able to come home to visit once or twice a year.

The past 9 months at Neema have been wonderful and really intense.  We have learned a lot but also maybe unlearned a few things. Our experiences have been enough to teach us, yes, but have also been enough to dumbfound us.  Really this blog has been hard to keep up with partially because we are so madly busy but partially because there is so much to say and at the same time so much we just don’t know how to say. Suffice it to say, my brain and understanding feel very small to me right now.  But that’s a great place to be in really.

We are so grateful to God for the way he has orchestrated this whole thing and for how he has been working and is continuing to work.  We can’t wait to catch up with you all this summer! Please continue to pray for us. TTFN!Dec_Jan 107 (1024x683) Dec_Jan 139 (683x1024) December 2013 125 (1024x768) December 2013 098 (1024x768)

 

Maria and Eric

 

 

 

Bring out the popcorn!

Just kidding, it’s not that big a deal. I just threw together some shots that I have been taking over the last few months. It’s an every so brief window into our life recently. Hope you enjoy it! (Sorry about the poor quality, any larger a file and it would have been an eternity in uploading. Internet has been terrible lately)

Just a Blur….

It’s been a while. I swore I would never let our blog slide like this, but I guess we never thought we would be just quite this busy. The last three and a half months have been just a tornado of events, people, problems, ideas, discussions, failures, meetings, small successes, more problems, frantic solutions followed by more problems (oh and let’s not forget the additional meetings to discuss how to fix the problems)….[gasp! That’s a lot in one breath] It’s crazy. Really crazy. But it’s still an amazing place to work.

Let’s back up a little, shall we? I think we last left off in early December. This seems strange to me because I can’t decide whether that was a long time ago or yesterday. Time has been a rather confusing thing to us ever since we arrived last June. The weather, lifestyle, schedule… our life here is very different here. All of these things seem to challenge our perception of time and how quickly (or slowly) it passes.

Hmmm… yeah, December was basically yesterday – but wait… that’s not possible because as I start to think about all that has happened there’s just no way it was recent past. How could we have done so much in so little time? But then again, we were just preparing for the holidays, trying frantically to make, pack and ship orders and keep the storefront stocked at the same time. Oh! And there was the company Christmas party to prepare for… then making preparations to shut down for the two week holiday break.
Maria’s parents and sister Emily came to visit so we zoomed up the bumpy, treacherous 9 hour road to Dar es Salaam. But before we pick them up from the airport we need to do a major shopping trip for raw materials downtown.
Run around Dar, pick up family, entertain, catch up, go to beach zoom back to Iringa.
Bounce off on safari.
Oh shoot! It’s Monday again, the two week holiday break is over – back to work!
…Try to balance work and being with family on vacation, which is impossible given that you have to keep working because 100 people who you know and love as well are counting on you to keep things going so that they have a paycheck.
Family needs to leave already? Crap, how did that happen so fast?
Wave goodbye to family as they buzz off in small prop plane.
It hits me that we’re LIVING in Africa,
Frantically try to catch up on work/get ahead because brother and wife are coming.
What?! The guest house has a break-in and a guest is robbed? Are you freaking serious?!! Don’t have time to deal with this!

Keith and Michelle arrive. Yay! Drive 5 hours to Mbeya to pick them up. Drive another 3.5 hours to lake malawi.
Beach!
Drive to Iringa (9hrs)
Safari again!
Back to work, feel guilty all over again because you can’t possibly balance family and work as well as you like and have to drop all kinds of things that you wanted and planned to do.
Take Keith and Michelle back to Dar. Stuck in infamous stand-still Dar traffic for HOURS.
Day trip to island off the coast (Indian Ocean is incredible!)
Oh no, that’s right! Our UK accountant, Linton, is arriving this same weekend.

Take Keith and Michelle to airport at 2:30am (creepy experience!)

Go back to sleep. Wake up next day, try to do a little more shopping down town for Neema before picking Linton up from the airport at 2:30. Get stuck in traffic again for 4 hours.

Drive back to Iringa.

Work late every night for the next two weeks to fix all kinds of accounting problems.

Put Linton back on bus to Dar. Things go back to normal, right?

Well… ‘normal’ at Neema is still crazy. This brings us up to the current time. We’re still trying to get caught up on work. Not sure we ever will, haha. Thankfully Ben and Katy will be back in just over 5 weeks!

There are so many stories to tell in between all the craziness I’ve described. Another day, another blog post perhaps. For now, just wanted to jot something down and hit ‘publish’ before I get swept up into another shida (problem).DSC_0082

Thanks for reading.

-Eric

The last few weeks

It’s a pretty lazy Sunday evening, so I thought it a good chance to share some updates.

Since our last post, we had our friends the Van Kampens stay with us for a few weeks. It’s kind of a neat story, which some of you reading this will already know, but we had met them back in the states while we were still planning our trip. We learned that they were going to be working in TZ as well. We thought this was pretty cool and said we should try to meet up when/if we all got over to Africa. As plans moved along, it looked like we would be leaving for TZ almost around the same time and wouldn’t you know it, they were going to be doing their language studies in the same town of Iringa! Pretty cool. As it turned out, the language school they attended was out of town a ways and without either party having a vehicle, we didn’t see much of each other. That is, until we learned that they were looking for a place to stay for a few weeks after finishing language school but before they knew their next step. So, we offered to have them stay with us. Ben and Katy have a pretty large house and we thought it would be a lot of fun to hang out for a few weeks.

Somehow, Stephen and Dawn managed to pack all their children (there are seven of them by the way) into various rooms and beds in a way that seemed to work for a few weeks. It was pretty amazing. They are great kids and since their departure two weeks ago, we have been missing them all.

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That reminds me, while they were with us we all had the pleasure of discovering that this house has a bit of a pest problem (perhaps not more than the average house here, but it seems bad to us). So far, we have rats in the pantry, geckos in the bedrooms, and ants (thousands) in the kitchen. Oh, and let’s not forget this lovely creature we discovered one night when the power was cut:

November2013 026 (768x1024)Isn’t he the cutest? After a couple of shrieks and lots of bug spray it finally died. Disgusting. It was huge.

Anyway….

In our last post I believe I mentioned that one of the employees at Neema recently announced that he was getting married. Well, we were very honored to be invited. Unfortunately, it fell on the same weekend as a major art fair up in Dar es Salaam that Maria had already planned to go to attend. It was disappointing, but we decided that I would still go because it would be really important for someone from the Neema management to attend the wedding. I didn’t go alone, I decided to bring Ed (remember Ed? the volunteer I mentioned in the last post?) with me as my +1.

Now, Ed and I have discovered that we have quite a bit in common. We both have a pretty goofy and semi-shameless side to us. That being said, we thought it only appropriate to go dressed in classy, coordinating, tasteful outfits that fit the occasion.

Looking good!

Now, we fully realized that no straight man in the states would be caught dead wearing this kind of get up. But hey! We’re in Africa and style is VERY different. Let’s just say we were a smashing hit. Everyone loved it.

Before talking about the reception though, I should mention that this was the craziest wedding I have ever attended. Well, I didn’t actually get to attend the wedding – that’s the crazy part. It turns out that no one knew when or where the wedding ceremony was supposed to be until the night before. I had asked Matesso himself several weeks beforehand about the details and he said (or rather since he is deaf, he signed) that all of the other deaf staff at Neema knew when and where so I should just check with them. It turns out this was not entirely true. The day before the wedding, I was still asking around to find out the details and everyone told me that they hadn’t heard yet. What?! It’s the night before a wedding and none of us have a clue about it? Sigh…. this is Tanzania, sometimes things are a little different here.

Later that night I got a text to say that it would be at 8 o’clock. But wait, let’s back up and explain something. Here in Tanzania time is different. There is such a thing as swahili time. For example, since the sun rises and sets quite consistently here, at some point somebody thought it would be easiest to start the clock based on sunrise. Therefore, since the sun rises a little after 6 am, 7am is considered the 1st hour (1 o’clock). 8am is 2 o’clock, 9am in 3 o’clock and so on. Once you get to the 12th hour (6pm) the clock starts over, but this time it’s 1 o’clock in the evening. Needless to say this results in much confusion when talking with Tanzanians. This was definitely the case for this wedding. In my mind, I was told 8 o’clock by a Tanzanian so I converted that to English time (2pm) and said to myself, yes, that seems like a normal time for a wedding. I’ll be ready. Turns out, the person who had given me the start time for the ceremony had already converted the time for me but didn’t tell me that. So, the next morning I woke up wondering if this might have been the case, so I texted back to confirm whether we were in fact talking about 8am or 2pm. You guessed it – we were talking about 8 am evidently. And here it was 8:20am and I was barely just out of bed. Oh dear. After a few seconds of pondering, I decided I was probably going to miss this ceremony. Oh well… there was still the reception later (but I still didn’t know what time or where that was either). I eventually was able to figure it out though and we made it. And again, our outfits were a hit! Good thing, because Ed and I spent hours wandering all over town to find just the right shirt/tie combination.

But I’m stealing the show. This wasn’t my party. It was Matesso and Frieda’s special day. They were great! Though funny thing is… apparently Tanzanian tradition says that you’re not allowed to smile on your wedding day (especially for pictures). I believe the picture below demonstrates this quite well.

The happy couple! They can hardly contain their excitement.

The happy couple! They can hardly contain their excitement.

Strange as it may be, they were for the most part true to tradition and it was really hard to get good pictures of smiles. They are a beautiful couple all the same though and I did manage to get a couple smiles. It was a really fun day.

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Oh, and yes I definitely joined in on the dancing. Let’s just say it was very apparent that I am white… ehem.

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Here’s a first! I’ve tried to upload some video of the dancing. It’s pretty low quality because I didn’t feel like waiting all night for a huge file to upload. Hopefully it works! Enjoy:

Good bye Ben and Katy…. bring on the craziness

Well, Ben and Katy have left. They actually left three weeks ago. We have been a tad busy since then. Thus…. our rather silent blog. But finally we have a few relaxed hours to put together so I’ll share a little update.

So yes, it’s official: we are on our own. (imagine serious, heavy soundtrack playing in the background, haha). No, it’s not that bad really. I mean, we are working pretty hard, long days but it’s been going pretty well. We are so grateful to Ben and Katy for all their hard work in preparing us as much as they possibly could. They spent a lot of time and energy to make the transition as smooth as possible for us. We’re extremely thankful.

Hmm…. where to start? Sometimes (even when we are skyping with family) it’s difficult to know what to talk about. I mean, where do you start when every day for the last four months, we have had all kinds of crazy and new things flying at us we are finding that we have learned a lot and probably have changed in some ways. It’s hard to summarize all the things that you are going through (let alone remember it all) and retell it all to everyone back home in a way that makes sense and can be understood.

Recently, Maria posted some pictures on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/maria.holbein.9/media_set?set=a.734605698134.1073741828.100300873&type=1

I thought it was a nice brief visual summary of the last couple weeks. Take a look if you haven’t already.

We have had a volunteer from the UK come out to join us for a little over a month. His name is Ed and he himself is physically disabled, but that hasn’t stopped him from coming out to join us. Ed is a pretty incredible guy. He first visited Neema in 2010 when the current facility was just being built. He apparently caught the Africa bug and just had to come back. We’re really happy to have him helping us. His humorous personality and encouraging nature are much appreciated by everyone at Neema.

Just for fun I thought I’d list off some random things that have happened here at Neema in the last few weeks:

-received a visit from Norberto the handbiker (see the facebook album)

-Mafisango (one of our carpentry guys) almost cut his finger off in one of our machines

-worked until 9:30 pm one night trying to prepare an order to be shipped out

-lost electricity at least 6 times (once because someone forgot to pay the electric bill)

-Matesso, our in-house handyman, announced he is getting married! (in three weeks! yikes… that happened fast. Or maybe he just forgot to tell us?… still not sure….)

-George (our resident cat) got stuck on the roof. I had to rescue him. Stupid cat.

-we have experienced a spike in mosquito population since moving into Ben and Katy’s house

-my hair is now long enough to pull back into a ponytail (if you don’t count the one obnoxious tuft in the front that keeps falling down in my face)

-Maria got to visit Yabet and Enni’s new little baby (they both work at Neema).

Ok that’s all that comes to mind at the moment. Everything else I can think of is either boring or too long to explain, haha.

Can’t have a blog post without pictures, so here you go!

Neema October 167 (800x533)

Neema October 153 (800x533)

Neema October 131 (533x800)

Thanks for reading! Check back soon.

-E

Malawi Part II

So, where were we?  On top of the mountain, that’s right. Here’s the rest of our journal:

Day #3 17/9/13 Continued

By the end of the hike we were dragging ourselves from shade patch to shade patch and rationing out our last bit of water. We stopped by a little trickle of water falling down the mountainside because it was cooler and there were lots of beautiful butterflies fluttering around it. We got out the camera and took a long break before continuing on. We were beat when we got to The Mushroom Farm and also a bit devastated that they no longer took debit because it had recently changed ownership. We had very little Kwacha left but we were so exhausted we decided to just stay there for the night and see if the campsite neighboring them took card. There were some leftover peanuts and and a chocolate bar for lunch because we didn’t want to spend money but then I worried that we should have saved them in case we had to spend all our money on accommodation and couldn’t afford to buy food the next day. I have to admit to being quite stressed out at the thought of no food!

Butterfly

Butterfly

 

The Dining Room

The Dining Room

 

The crew running The Mushroom Farm are young Americans and it was surprisingly lovely to hear a good old American accent! They were so welcoming and put us up in a gorgeous banda when we could only afford a tent. After a shower and clean clothes we felt better and hiked over to to Lukwe Campsite to see if they took card. Strike two. We met an Australian guy there who had also come to this place and run out of money. Malawi is a very chill place; the owner of Lukwe had just welcomed this guy to stay on and work and pay later when his bank card arrived. So he had been up on top of the mountain for about 3 weeks. Don’t ask me how one gets a bank card sent to them in such a remote place.

Back at The Mushroom Farm we pulled out our wallet and accounted for all of our money-all 4 currencies we happened to have on us. We were on a tight budget but with a little Kwacha, our USD and some stray Euro left over from our stay in Germany we figured we had enough to pay the Mushroom Farm for two nights stay and two evening meals. We also set aside enough Kwacha to get us back to Karonga where we were told there existed an ATM. Besides that we had a tiny bit of Kwacha left.

All our monies!

All our monies!

 

Amazing view!

Amazing view!

 

Looking into the valley.

Looking into the valley.

 

Birds eye view...plus someone down there was playing drums in the late afternoon

Birds eye view…plus someone down there was playing drums in the late afternoon

That evening we had a fantastic meal of groundnut stew by candlelight on the edge of a cliff. It was made even tastier by the fact that we were starving, our chocolate bar long since disappeared from our bellies. We were surprised because dinner was served much later than we had been told it would be and we weren’t feeling the most patient.  The next day we discovered that there is an hour time difference between Tanzania and Malawi. Maybe next time we visit a foreign country we should look into the details first?

View of the lake at dusk.

View of the lake at dusk.

 

Our awesome banda.

Our awesome banda.

Anyway it was a great meal and a truly restful nights sleep (we hadn’t felt all that secure down on the beach and hadn’t slept well) followed by a restful morning and the luxury of a cup of coffee. Seriously these Mushroom Farm people were the best and willing to let us owe them and figure out how to pay them later so we could relax about money. We did end up having just enough though.

Mid morning we headed out on a hike into Livingstonia, a tiny town with some interesting missionary history. The walk was beautiful though the sun came out in full force and I burnt to a crisp. We walked around town followed by a couple of dogs from Lukwe Campsite who just sort of  adopted us as their temporary masters.  We shared some homemade ice cream at a little cafe and on the walk home we shared a plate of rice and beans with the last of our Kwacha at a place called Banana and Coffee Lovely Restaurant.  The place was charming even though it was just a tiny room with table in it. It is a restaurant set up by a single mom to try to help support her son and send him to school. The food was great and the service better!

Malawi 186 (800x533)Malawi 188 (800x533)Malawi 203 (800x533)

At The Banana and Coffee

At The Banana and Coffee

 

 

Me and Tabita, owner of Banana and Coffee.

Me and Tabita, owner of Banana and Coffee.

 

Love it!

Love it!

 

The Menu

The Menu

Oh, to backtrack – when in Livingstonia someone told us there was a bank open only on Wednesdays which it happened to be.  We thought maybe we could change some of our USD into Kwacha to stretch our budget a little bit more. To our surprise we found the “bank” was a truck with lines of people coming up to its windows. A bank in the nearest big town (about 2 hours drive), Mzuzu, sends a truck once a week. We joined the line but they wouldn’t change our dollars.

The bank.

The bank.

 

The purple tree is a Jacaranda (sp?).  They are all over Iringa too.  Sooo beautiful.

The purple tree is a Jacaranda (sp?). They are all over Iringa too. Sooo beautiful.

Back to the walk home.  Some little boys led us to a cave behind a waterfall where people used to hide from slavers which was interesting to see.  We didn’t have any Kwacha left to give so we tipped them in Tanzanian shillings—poor kids!

In the cave with our guides.

In the cave with our guides.

 

The waterfall.

The waterfall.

Also, this whole walk home was in full sun so I carried a big old banana leaf over the back of my neck to try to stave off skin cancer.

That night we had a delicious pad thai; another favorite meal of ours and prepared for our hike down the mountain early the next morning.

Moonrise over the lake.

Moonrise over the lake.

 

Day #4  18/9/13

We began our decent around 6 AM. It took us a few hours and the sun came up blazing so we were ready to jump into the lake by the time we reached its shore.  So we did. First I dumped our bags with Eric and jogged along the lake to the place we stayed the first night because I realized I had left my favorite vitenge ( Tanzanian fabric) there.  Thankfully it was still there and when I got back to Eric we took turns jumping into the lake.  After that hike water never felt so good!

Then we were off to brave the long day of buses and border back to Mbeya. We wanted an early start so we weren’t picky about the dala dala and piled into the first one that came along. Piled is literal.  Eric managed to squeeze in and find a place for his butt on a metal hump behind the drivers seat.  The director excitedly told me to get in  though I could not see even a place to get a foot in let alone my whole body.  I sort of managed to launch in on top of people and tried to position myself mostly on top of poor Eric. More people got in before they got off but eventually we did get a little more comfortable.

In Karonga a guy with a van who wanted to take us to the border took Eric to an ATM as were were completely out of money. He got out just enough Kwacha to get us to the border.  The van was comfortable but seemed to be having trouble with the police and we spent a fair amount of time at a police checkpoint. There was also some funny business with another passenger getting out of the van just before we reached checkpoints and getting a lift on a bicycle through the checkpoint and then hopping back in a little ways down the road.  Who knows.

We made it to the border town which felt very much like what I imagine the wild west was like, haha.  We bought a few red bananas which I haven’t seen in Tanzania—they were yum. There were no problems at the border, thankfully, and we headed up toward the bus station (maybe a mile on foot.) Very hot walk at noon. There were several buses leaving for Mbeya when we arrived and 4 guys converged on Eric each trying to pull him to their bus. Such intense competition! Eric didn’t take too kindly to being pushed and pulled and finally pushed all 4 guys back which I think surprised them a little.

We hopped on one of the buses and were off to Mbeya.  Nothing too exciting there but when we got off the bus we ended up having to walk another hour to get to the Forest Hill Motel but at least we weren’t lost this time!  The Forest Hill Motel turned out to be more expensive than we were expecting so we went back to Karibuni (they are quite close to each other.) We got the same room we had stayed in on the way there and the same girl in the kitchen cooked some delicious fried chicken and rice.  We rested well and hired a taxi to get us to the bus station the next morning for our 7 AM departure to Iringa.

Beautiful Lake Malawi

Beautiful Lake Malawi

Day of Milk?

Maria and I were discussing this evening about how our blog posts so far have offered glimpses into certain areas of our life here, but really haven’t given much insight into our day to day at Neema. So, I thought I would do something to change this…

Last week we had a local Dairy company called Asas Dairies hold a conference in our conference center for what they called “siku ya maziwa” (day of milk). As it turned out, it was quite a good time. They were pretty generous and brought in milk for all of the employees at Neema. They even shared a giant canister of strawberry milk with our cafe staff.

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Ally, one of our team leaders in the cafe. He totally downed 7 glasses of the stuff.

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I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite so much strawberry milk at once. It just kept going and going…

Some of the guys from Asas Dairies hanging out in the cafe between their conference sessions.

Some of the guys from Asas Dairies hanging out in the cafe between their conference sessions.

It’s kind of strange to us from the States, but here you can buy milk in these little bags and that’s what the company brought to give out to each one of the employees. Seemed like an odd gift to me… but hey, it was milk day after all. Everyone seemed loved it and wasted no time tearing a corner off their bag and drinking it down.

Ahazi and Maneno

Ahazi and Maneno (Maneno, right, is working in the screen printing department now, but I’m hoping to get him back out into the pottery soon)

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Kasim and Maria. (Kasim wanted a nicely posed shot with Maria, haha)

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Julius sipping away. This shot just made me laugh.

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Our production manager, Mode. Also enjoying that strawberry milk. It was really good.

It felt a bit like Christmas, running around handing out gifts. Though I can’t say I have ever gifted little bags of milk before, haha. It was fun. It provided a nice opportunity to snap some shots of the workshop.

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Josphat and Majorino (expert paper makers!) Josphat has been working with Neema for a really long time. He was one of the first few employees and Neema was started about 10 years ago now.

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A nice shot of the main workshop. There are a few other departments like carpentry and weaving which are not shown, but this is the main area.

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Kasim cranking away with his sewing machine.

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Tumaini 🙂 one of the cafe staff. They are fantastic and tons of fun.

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Chiku is the other leader of the cafe. She runs the register and generally keeps everyone in order 🙂 She’s great. She is also one of the best translators we have at Neema so we often go to her with questions about swahili (both spoken and sign language)

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Hey look, it’s Mrs. Claus, or so you would have thought.

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Petro!

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Netusta

It’s such a joy to work with everyone here at Neema. I mean, I’ll be honest, it’s definitely exhausting… and there is so much yet to learn, but it’s rewarding work. We thank God daily for the opportunity to be here and work along side some pretty incredible people. It’s truly amazing to see how much people with disabilities are capable of achieving if given the opportunity.

Again, I won’t sugar-coat it, there have definitely been challenges and we could use daily prayer, but it’s pretty cool to be apart of what’s going on here. It’s also a huge honor to have been asked to act as the temporary directors of Neema for 6 months. Essentially, while Ben and Katy are back in the UK, Maria and I will continue to keep over 100 people employed, which is amazing! It’s also a bit overwhelming and the responsibility does weigh heavy on us at times. But! thankfully, the same God that put this crazy idea in our heads initially will be the God that helps us through it.

Well, thanks for reading. Check back in soon!

Eric and Maria