Helen and Alastair - some background

Helen and Alastair - some background : We have always hoped to return to Africa once more before we're too old (perhaps we already are!). Alastair first went to Africa in 1974 as a junior doctor, working for the Church of Scotland in a small hospital in Transkei, South Africa. I met Alastair there in 1982, were married in 1984 and continued in Transkei until 1988. From there we went to Kenya, as employees of the Church of Scotland, where Alastair ran Chogoria Hospital. We left in 1995, with Alec, Peter and Becky to establish the children's schooling and our work in Britain. Here Alastair found himself as consultant in Breast cancer surgery, and Helen initially trained and worked as a GP before "evolving" to full time ordained ministry. Alec is now married to Ruth, and they have baby Zach; Pete is in his final year of medicine in Edinburgh, and Becky half way through nurse training in Oxford.

The Diocese of Western Tanganyika is a partner of Gloucester diocese. The plan is for Helen to join the teaching staff of the Bible College, teaching those preparing for ministry. Alastair will teach English to the students at the college, as well as doing some surgery at the church-run hospitals, and helping with project management in the Diocese.
We will keep you updated on our plans over the next few months and will greatly value your prayer support. Our current prayer requests - and thanks to God of course - will be posted on the side bar.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Easter Weekend

Jesus died on the cross
 We wish  everyone who reads this a very Happy Easter.
On Good Friday I was  in the Cathedral - which was very full, 600+ people. The service was 3 hours (plus!), including 7 (not so short) sermons of Jesus' words from the cross. I prepared to preach one as I had been asked, but when I arrived found I was to preach a second one as well! Always take a pen and paper to church I've learnt, and be grateful for the choir singing long songs.
Hoping for a resurrection
In the afternoon we had time to enjoy our favourite walk, and a picnic tea,  following the stations of the cross up a hill just outside town.
Today, Saturday, I shared the baptism of 31 people, adults and children, in our 'home church' of Mwilanvya. I'm rather chuffed as I can now do the words of the baptism in Swahili without the book!
The week has been somewhat dominated though by bad car problems, which necessitated a 2 hour  tow back from Matyazo. It's serious engine trouble, and Alastair is trying to get the spare parts sent here this week ('big end bearings' I'm told). Needless to say this is making life more difficult, but we're grateful to good friends who are helping us out.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday in Kalinzi
Yesterday I was invited to preach in a village an hour and a half away, in the hills. We were delighted to find that there was to be a Palm Sunday procession. About 400 people, all dressed in wonderful bright African clothes left the church with assorted palms and decorated branches, and processed over a mile through the village and along the main road. They sang in harmony all the way. It was a moving occasion, full of energy and celebration, and once again a privilege to be part of this vibrant church community. It is now Holy Week, and there will be services in church every day. I'm keeping my head low as preaching on Easter Sunday is enough work for me, but think that I must also prepare an 'emergency' sermon for Good Friday as I am likely to be asked with little or no notice! Today I received my first invitation to preach and lead worship at home - June 15th in Cranham church. It will be quite a contrast!

Saturday, 5 April 2014


A special supper in College
Market day
I have been concerned that, owing to the tight budget of the college,  the students diet has been very limited and less than adequate of late.  So today I dipped into our Discretionary Fund (many thanks again to those who pay into it) and are treating the students to a 'slap-up' supper tonight. Stella, the college cook  pictured here, came with me to the local market where we bought vast quantities of fresh veg and 'slaughtered-this-morning' meat. I decided, for the sake of the squeamish or the vegetarians, against putting a picture of the butcher's shop on the blog! As I write Stella and Winifrida are cooking all this on the log fires of the college kitchen. Meanwhile at home we are having macaroni cheese in the company of our German friends from Shunga hospital. (Alastair bought the cheese in Mwanza on his dentist trip) - so we're having a treat tonight too!  I thought you'd like this great picture of the woman selling bananas this morning - she enjoyed posing for the picture, though I was obliged to buy a bunch.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Teeth and essays

The electricity came back on, so no more scrabble for a while! Thank you for many sympathetic emails.
Teeth and essays have dominated this week. Alastair has had various tooth-y problems, including a bridge falling out while eating a particularly hard bit of local maize. The nearest dentist who can do such work is in Mwanza, an exhausting 13 hour bus journey away. (Don't imagine National Express!) So it is a 3 day trip for him - he'll get the bus back again tomorrow.
In the mean time I've been struggling with some rather erudite essays about the small print of theological education - the final assignments for an on-line Postgraduate certificate course I've been doing for the past year. By tomorrow evening teeth should be back in, Alastair home and essays submitted - we'll celebrate with a bottle of Fanta!
Villagers making local beer
Alcohol is prohibited  here in church circles, and thought of as a great sin. It's understandable as there is a big problem of alcoholism. As people have become more urbanised, the population grown and young people can't find work the alcohol problem has increased. Traditionally people drink a potent local beer made of sugar cane. The cane is crushed, so that the juice is extracted, and left to ferment for 3 days. I've declined offers to try it!

Monday, 17 March 2014

Power wipe out

Nothing else to do!
Scrabble a deux by paraffin lamp may appear to be the epitome of the relaxed, quiet life, but actually was the result of complete boredom owing to having no electricity for many days.  (I hate Scrabble, so this is definitely last resort).
Bath time
Electricity first came to Kasulu about two and a half years ago - just before we arrived. Until then most institutions had a generator which they would use for a few hours each evening. The mains electricity, which has been remarkably reliable, has changed the nature of the town, with people now relying on it for education, banking, business etc. The story we hear is that the electricity providers haven't paid their fuel bills, so fuel supply is now cut off. There's no news of when it might start again. One of Alastair's hospitals has its own electricity supply, so they are receiving all surgical patients from the Government hospital in town. Today the Bible college unearthed their old generator and started it up - hence my lap top is now charged for a few hours.
Although it's very frustrating for us, of course most of African life doesn't rely on electricity. None of the villages have power, and even in town it is a luxury for a few people. Here, Rehema, the daughter of one of my teaching colleagues, is having her daily bath without the need for modern technology!

Tuesday, 11 March 2014


Many people are asking about our plans for when we leave........... We have our flights home booked for 7th June. This gives me the opportunity to see my senior students through their final exams and attend their ordination. We will return to our house, 'Windycot' in Cranham. We're very excited about this as it will be over 7 years since we lived there, and we will enjoy being in the village community again. I've decided not to apply for a full time parish post again, but rather to have opportunity for teaching and other work around the Diocese, which will give us some flexibility and time for the family. Alastair is very ready to retire (again), and is looking forward to his music, woodwork and other interests.
A typical Saturday!
'Ha' tribal dancing
So we just have 3 months left. We have lots to do, and still feel very settled here. Our colleagues, friends and students are all asking us to stay longer, but although we will be sad to leave all the  people we have got to know so well, we're really looking forward to coming back.
College life, although constant hard work for me has its wonderful rewards - here a picture of the students doing a traditional tribal dance. They are all from the 'Ha' tribe - and their traditional dancing involves a lot of jumping, with bells around their ankles. It's fascinatingly similar to Morris Dancing! 

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Becky's stay

Dress fitting at the local tailor
The finished kitenge
 We are delighted to have Becky to stay with us for a fortnight. As it is her second time here she knows lots of people and instantly fitted back into the culture and life.  She has been with Alastair to the various hospitals, who finds it special to have his daughter as his scrub nurse. She has helped me with some English classes in college, and we have had fun teaching adjectives (happy, sad, surprised, afraid....etc) through silly dramas together.
Becky loves the local fabrics as I do, and we have been busy making bags, scrunchies, and even bunting out of my huge baskets of fabric scraps.
She chose some material for a traditional African outfit  - here she is being measured for it by the local tailor on Saturday, and in the beautiful finished dress just 2 days later. 
Becky finished her nursing degree in Oxford last year, and is now a staff nurse in A and E. As a fully trained volunteer with the Oxford Emergency Rescue service she was recently called out in the flood emergencies in Surrey. She is enjoying a restful couple of weeks with Mum and Dad!