Lost in Translation

I am very proud that my Kiswahili is at the level of a 5 year old now apparently .

It is almost phonetic so, if you read it out loud, as long as your accent is not too strong, you’ll pretty much be speaking it.

It has a few words it has absorbed due to modern influences. See if you can guess what these mean:






However, the vast majority of words bear no relation to anything English at all.

And there are many words that are very similar to an English ear but mean completely different things.

Mistakes I have made of late include:

chuoni means to the toilet

chooni means to college

leading to me asking one of the staff if her older children went to the toilet.

Fakiri means to think

Fariki  means to die

which caused some confusion when making conversation with a taxi driver .

Chelewa means to be late

Lewa  means to be drunk

and lewe means to understand

so very many misunderstandings caused by these three. Too numerous to mention!

Tapika  means to vomit

Kupika means to cook

which led to some hilarity as I shouted to a member of staff to pay attention because one of the children was cooking in the corner!

Pronunciation can be a bugger too:

Kunya means to poo

Kunywa means to drink

I have on more than one occasion cheerfully told the mamas I will be back in a minute. I am just going for a poo!

Mbusi means goat

Busu means kiss leading to

“give us a goat!!”

Kumudu  means  to afford

Kuma is a rude slang for fanny

which meant my form filling with a new outreach family took a turn for the worse!

Taka means dirty

Kata means take or turn

My taxi driver responded well to a long list of instructions to another NGO which I later realised was just me saying ‘dirty left ‘ and ‘dirty right’ a lot.

Kondoo means sheep

Kondo means placenta

and ndoo means bucket

so most recently, while trying to teach the staff nursery rhymes and explain them in my English class, I inadvertently introduced them to the less well known rhyme ‘Baa Baa Black Placenta’!

And don’t get me started on the grammar ! In a series entitled ‘Languages I have Massacred ……..

due to a misplaced pronoun, I have also threatened to boil a nightwatchman in water when he asked for a cup of tea!

Oh well , onwards and upwards which may, or may not be , kuendelea na juu.


This entry was posted on November 13, 2017. 1 Comment

For Others

Loosely thinking about what to write for our monthly storytelling evening in case someone else didn’t show. On a theme of For Others.

Can’t work out if I prefer  Einstein’s ‘Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile’ or Buddha’s ‘ If you light a lamp for somebody, it will also brighten your path’.

When I first came to volunteer at Forever Angels Babyhome in 2014, there were 57 children there, all under the age of 5,  and 10 in the tiny baby house, 6 months and under.

Due to staff illness, I spent a lot of time in a  2 month period  in the tiny baby house where the 10 babies , and Eliza, were.

Eliza was 6 years old but had been abandoned with advanced hydrocephalus . We have paid for 5 shunt surgeries for her but her level of care means she needs to live with the tiny babies.

Half the children who come to the baby home are there for interim care – their mum died giving birth (18% of deaths of women aged 15- 49 are  related to childbirth) and we look after them from tiny babies until they are weaned and walking and can go back to dad .

So, that summer, we had twin girls, who’d been there since their mother died a few weeks after giving birth, Exposed to HIV and both with TB .  Twins by name but in no other way alike. They woke up  the same way they spent their days. Esther, immediately awake and big -eyed, beaming at the world and laughing at anything she saw; Paschazia, taking a long time to come round, grumpy and wary of the world, usually with a quiet moan.


Two other older boys came in, looking like twigs snapped off a tree in the middle of a drought. Both of their mums had died  giving birth and and their dads had tried to keep them alive with tea.

They were both HIV positive and  in pain from severe malnutrition but hanging on.

Emmanuel was a permanently scared looking and unhappy baby of around 6 months, weighing barely 3 kgs.

Luj, 10 months old and not yet 4kg, was just sagging skin and bone, sunken cheekbones, unable to move any part of his body or lift his head  and yet the widest smile in the world. Like Julia Roberts , or Eddie Murphy, but with no teeth! His smile was so amazing, I put a picture of him on top of the Christmas tree ( and , in fact, I still do that at home in the UK!)

The other 6 were all abandoned.

Paschal, on a church doorstep, with a  St Christopher medal tied round his wrist and a note with his name and a plea to take care of him.


Oscar left new born and premature  on a rubbish tip, amongst the rats and the marabou stork – initially so withdrawn from trauma they thought he couldn’t speak or see and so grumpy he was called Oscar the Grouch, after the Sesame Street character, by the volunteers.

Oscar and Bahati

Bahai and Nellie were both left, separately,  by the side of the road.

Feona was left in the  hospital at birth – dad fleeing when mum died and he saw that Feona’s head was bigger than usual – a sure sign of hydrocephalus.

Janeth was left in a ditch, premature and weighing only 1 kg.

Janeth, Feona and Nellie

We will never know their stories;  whether poverty, rape, the wrong father or mental illness played a part in the desperate act of abandoning their child.

Over those 2 months I watched the incredible staff caring and looking after these children.  They are, of course, paid to do a job but they go above and beyond:

making an incubator from blankets and painstakingly slowly feeding premature and malnourished babies with a syringe

a heavily pregnant mama talking to  a distraught father as he handed over his baby , knowing that in a months time it could be her husband doing that

a mama working with milk leaking from her breasts because her own baby is at home while she works

mamas living in one room with their  four children walking an hour to work to do a 12 hour shift with children who have more toys and better condition clothes than her children do

carrying babies on their back for the whole 12 hour shift because they won’t stop crying

cheering the children on when they are learning to crawl and walk, while sometimes missing that moment themselves at home

playing with them and helping to teaching them everything from how to wash themselves  to writing their name

nursing them to health when they are sick with as much care and tenderness as they do with their own children.

All for someone else’s children.

And I have come back regularly and watched this selflessness and care continue for all the children that come in.

Forever Angels realised that we might be able to stop some of the abandonment and malnutrition if we could feed the babies at home . So that’s what we do now – each week between 40 and 50 families, with orphaned and malnourished babies  come to the Forever Angels  to receive formula milk , training on nutrition, health, business skills and help with health matters. We can see the ones who would have come to us get to stay with their families and the number of babies found abandoned has dropped in this area.

They don’t keep stats on the number of abandoned babies that die before they are found but, anecdotally, that is also slightly less.

Today we only have five in the tiny baby house.

What happened to the 10? The opposing personality twins, Esther and Paschazia, went back to  their dad. The family is poor and their life is hard out in a village but they are loved,

The  biggest smile in Africa also went home to dad and a new step-mum. They came to visit the other month and he is doing really well.

The scared twig was with us a for a few months but he did not go home. He died in Bugando Hospital when they ran out of oxygen, with one of our staff literally running from ward to ward searching for an oxygen tank with some left in it.

Paschal left  on the church doorstep was adopted by a pastor and his family.

Bahati, Janeth and Nellie were also adopted into Tanzanian families- Bahati, chosen to be the male  heir to a farm for a family who only had girls, Janeth still tiny enough to be passed off as a natural newborn to a besotted mum and Nellie to be a much loved girl to a longtime childless couple.

And Oscar the Grouch is still there. No longer grouchy. But funny and lively , very attached to all of his many mamas and still waiting and hoping for a forever family while the staff carry on loving and caring for him.

Feona , (see Feona’s Journey) after  three surgeries, a long fight and a day long drive around Mwanza searching for blood for a transfusion, also died. In a last act of caring, Mamas on their lunch break, and  some on their day off, came in to wash her body, dress her for her coffin and walk with her up to the cemetery,  to raise their voices in song to send her on her way …. a final act of caring , to bury someone else’s child.

This entry was posted on November 12, 2017. 1 Comment

TGI Friday!

Phew! Busy one this Friday.

We had a ferry to catch so we set off early and shot up the hill halfway in to town to check on Mama Amos. Amos has cerebral palsy and had not been doing very well until a few months ago – now his mum carries him to our weekly session for his milk and peanut butter and he is looking much better. She had been selling a few vegetables and had started going out to work as a labourer, leaving Amos alone in the house, to make ends meet so we have boosted up her stall with more stock and left a corner seat for Amos to sit in for a short while each day to stretch out his limbs.

Across the water on a 30 minute ferry ride across the bay,

we went to see Bibi Martin, a grandmother taking care of her 5 grandchildren and their mother and aunt, both of whom have some form of mental illness .

We had set her up with dagaa (dried fish) and onions to sell from out side her home as people walk past her path on the way to and from the school and the well.  Anna advised Bibi again about getting a contraceptive implant for Martin’s mother as she seems to seek out partners and  her mental state is often taken advantage of.

Back across the water and we  dropped in on Mama Angela to check on her clothes business. Angela is nearly 2 and was very malnourished. We had not been sure about Mama Angela’s ability to run a business as it had taken her a while to grasp the idea of just giving the extra peanut butter to Angela, not sharing it amongst the whole family, but she had taken to selling clothes like the proverbial duck to water and had money to ‘buy’ another bundle of clothes from us .  We don’t really sell her the clothes – they are her business set-up but we are holding back the clothes and training her to think in terms of saving money and purchasing her capital bundles. She was very pleased to see us!

We stopped off at Mama Zawadi unannounced and found her hastily adjusting her clothing and shaking a bit. On the pretext of checking her mosquito net, Anna went in to her rented room and found a man in there! Apparently her uncle though we were somewhat sceptical about that! It won’t stop us supporting her but the lie is more worrying than her finding a new partner after her husband left her , so we were more cautious with our set -up and gave her money for only one bucket of dried fish. If she does well and does not appear to be supported by this man, we will increase her stock next month.

Then off to the Jafari twins to set their aunt up with a dagaa (dried fish)business. Their dad is working as an Askari (a guard) for a private house but does not earn enough money to support his six children so he had moved near to his unmarried sister and mother to get support.  The twins, previously identical , can now be told apart by the scar on Kulwa (first born)’s head where she fell down the steps. The drop just outside their door is horrifying so Hassan and I fashioned a type of barrier with rope . We told them to cover it with old plastic bags though as new rope  is an expensive item and is likely to be stolen if people see it. Shangazi (aunt) and Dad were adamant that they did not want a hand-out and wanted to arrange how they would be paying back the money. We told them to bring us 10,000 shillings (about £3)  a month – and we will put it aside for them to give back as a bonus or to buy goods for their house.

Then out to  the far side of the airport to catch up to Baba  Happy and Levo and the business setup by Twickenham -upon-Thames Rotary Club. Baba is still out fishing on the lake around 3 days a week but spends the rest of the time manning the duka (small shop) that we stocked up for him. He was left with 7 children, including the little twins, when their mum died. His parents help out a lot but having the shop is giving him a big boost to his income on non-fishing days and he has made real effort to arrange everything in it nicely.

Jonas and Enos A final set of twins for the day , We visited the aunt of Jonas and Enos whose mother died when they were five months old from Yellow Fever . The aunt had a hair salon but after paying for the funeral of the twins’ mother and of her father, she had used up most of her profit and could not stock the salon with false hair for weaving, hair straighteners and conditioners, curlers etc so we asked her to make a list and bring it in to us of the stock that she needed so we could work out what we could help her with . Re-stocked with some good quality basics , she should be able to build up her capital base again.

It’s been a good day today . About 70 bumpy miles covered. And the pride these people show in being able to earn their own little bit of money and learn new skills is incredibly humbling and uplifting at the same time.

This entry was posted on October 13, 2017. 3 Comments

It’s not all sunshine here!

Rainy season started bang on cue.

We were stranded for a while on our last outreach trip by a sudden monsoon and then had to move as the road started collapsing next to us!

Click for short film clip:


As the rains stopped, we started moving again but, took another break, as the water still coming down the hill we were hoping to go up still looked a bit hairy!

This entry was posted on September 17, 2017.

You can take a horse to water……

So poor old Bibi Mussa has been coming back and forth for months now to collect milk for little Mussa.

She lives on  the island of Juma a 2 hour boat ride from Mwanza town.

Mussa’s mother died shortly after his birth at home, unable to get to a hospital in time. His dad is around and as involved as he can be but he works as a fisherman and has not been netting much recently.

The family had been asking for food parcels as their income is very low but really need a business setting up. The trouble, I found out, was that neither Hassan nor Anna in the Outreach Team can swim and both were frightened of making the journey across the water in a small boat. I am happy to make the journey but my Kiswahili is not good enough to negotiate a business plan when I get the other side!

So…to action.

First, swimming lessons for the Outreach Team. Or rather, floating lessons as it is more useful for them to be able to just stay calm if they end up in the water and float until I can drag them back to the boat or until another boat passes by to rescue us.

After much faffing and procrastinating, I forced them in to the pool and…..after a little while….they loved it!

So, finally this week we set off on our Outreach Adventure ….not before finding out that there probably was not a boat back and the island is not safe for ‘outsiders’ especially wazungu (Westerners) so if we stayed the night we would have to sleep at the house of the island policeman!!

The boat was due to set off between 9 and 11 am , so obviously that ended up being about 11.30am. When we got to the port area, I thought the boat did not look too bad, big with padded seats and a roof until Hassan pointed out our boat was the one next to it – a large fishing boat full of supplies for the islands. “Are the seats under that bamboo?” I cheerily asked.

No. It turned out we (and the other five passengers)  were to spend the 2 hourss lying head to toe in the bottom of the boat, trying to pad ourselves with jumpers and kangas against the wooden struts, with at least the bamboo for protection against the sun (picture taken before the journey started when still optimistic!)


As we set off in to the lake, the water started lapping just below the edge of the boat.  In our usual style, we attempted to cheer our fellow passengers with our usual repertoire  of singalong tunes from Abba to Bieber. I drew the line at Celine Dion’s theme tune from Titanic though.

At one point the engine stopped and thinking we’d arrived I poked my head above the parapet to find us floating and swaying wildly in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately they’d just run out of petrol so shakily slopped some more in from their petrol can and we set off again.

The boat drew up to the island – well, about 20 feet offshore in solid black water. The inhabitants, it has to be said not looking that friendly, gathered on the shore to watch us.   Anna refused to disembark until a sturdy young man waded out to give her a piggyback. I feared subjecting him to hefting me to shore might be too much so I waded through the black water and, ignoring the stares,  did my cheery Lady Shat-Beazel greetings in their local language of Sukuma and marched on up the beach, hoping I was heading in the right direction.

Bibi and Babu Mussa Mussa’s grandparents were at home and greeted us warmly and their neighbour set to making the dreaded ugali (warm playdough) for lunch.

Mussa’s father wanted to stay fishing but we were trying to find an additional income for the grandmother to keep food on the table for all 4 of the children.

Bibi was keen to sell ground mahindi (maize) as this is a staple food out there and only one other person on the small island was selling it. She would need to take a boat to the mainland, buy and grind the maize and transport it back so, after a bit of testing of her basic maths skills and knowledge of storing the maize and weighing equipment safely, we gave her some money to buy the items the next day.

Checking the times of the boats back, it then transpired it was either 20 minutes from the other side of the island or midnight! So we chose to jog over the hill to the other side of the little island. Tanzanian time was in force so eventually we all dozed off on the sand until a shout from a small boy alerted us to the arrival of the boat.

This was an impressively bigger looking boat, albeit rammed with people in lifejackets, looking a little like  they’d already been rescued from a previous naval disaster, and crates and crates of fresh caught fish and tomatoes being shipped to the mainland for sale.

There followed a marginally more comfortable return journey, albeit with rather choppy water slopping over the top of the sides and a continuous bailing out of water going on behind me!

Less singing but bought some amazing fresh tilapia and took it to the giant frying pans behind the port to be cooked for dinner! And then, an early night!




This entry was posted on September 3, 2017.

In the unlikely event of …….

In a world where difference is really not celebrated, I have felt incredibly honoured this month to attend 2 wedding related events for people who, in this society, are classed as ‘unmarriageble’.

Stephano is a disabled man, who runs a workshop for young adults with a range of disabilities, providing them with a 2 year training in some form of craft skill and basic literacy and numeracy. Most disabled children, if not killed at birth, are basically left with very little input and very little chance of getting anywhere in life. Stephano’s parents were more forward thinking and looked past his severely deformed arm and leg to give him a good education and a belief in himself.

His new bride, Aphina, is his childhood sweetheart from the village he grew up in and has also managed to see and grow to love the man behind the disability.

I don’t think I’ve seen a happier face on anyone than Stephano arriving at his wedding reception!

Grace, is a friend of Mama Wini, who I met a couple of years ago and invited me to share her sendoff. As an albino her chance of reaching adulthood are lower than others (due to the high price still offered by some witchdoctors for the limbs of albino children), her chances of attaining higher education are lower (partly due to the health problems associated with the condition leading to long absences and partly due to stigma) and her chances of marrying, let alone marrying a black Tanzanian are almost unheard of. So the fact that Grace had done all of this and is now in a very good managerial  job for Under the Same Sun, an organisation that promotes equality and quality of life for albinos, is amazing.

She’d dyed her white hair bright pink to go with her ballgown…..and looked glorious!

By coincidence the MC for the sendoff was the same one that I’d seen a couple of years ago (see ‘What a SendOff!) and, in amongst the rest of the danceoffs, she called up every white person whether  Wazungus (westerners) or  albinos to all come up and dance together in the middle before everyone else joined in. To get a feel for our song and the joy of the event, download the song ‘I Know Who I Am’ by Sinach.

Take a look at me. I’m a wonder
It doesn’t matter what you see now
Can you see His glory?
For I know who I am



This entry was posted on September 3, 2017.

Oranges are Not the Only Fruit!

Life is very simple here.

Sometimes just giving someone a pile of oranges to sell is enough to make their day!


This entry was posted on June 28, 2017.

Prison Babies

Although most of our babies are in the Babyhome because they are abandoned or their mother has died and we are taking care of them until they are old enough to return to their fathers, we occasionally also have children who have been abused or neglected by a parent and we take care of them until the parent is out of prison ( see ‘Uji’).

This month we have had two of these …..

Shabaan is about 1 but malnourished so he can not walk yet and sometimes has trouble holding his head up but this may be because he has the biggest teeth in Big Babies! His mother neglected him and has been sentenced to a month in prison. He’s quiet and withdrawn but is gradually getting used to the colour and noise of the baby home.

Issa was a different kettle of fish. Physically well cared for and obviously very used to being played with, he was beaming at everyone within hours. Cuts and bruises on his head though showed he had been hit and thrown  recently by his mother when she was drunk.

Issa’s mother, Neema, who is only 19, spent a night in jail and then managed to persuade the police that it was a one-off event, which was backed up by the neighbour that had reported her. She came in to tell us her story.

Kicked out of home at age 12, she had lived on the streets trying to make a living making snacks to sell.  After a while she was taken in by a’kind stranger’ who immediately put her out to work as a prostitute. `She contracted HIV and, at some point she became pregnant and gave birth to Issa, but the woman was still controlling her and was expecting her to work again.  She had become so distressed at her situation and hopeless of ever having  a real home life with her child that she got drunk and lost her temper with him.

She seemed genuinely contrite and fearful of returning to the home….and we would not release Issa to that situation. So we asked another social worker to act as a Fit Person and keep her safe at her house on the other side of town.We have paid a year’s rent on a small room which she is overjoyed with …….

and set her up with equipment and ingredients to make fried snacks – doughnuts and rice cakes.

And this week we went to check how they were doing . Neema gets up before dawn to make her snacks and walks around her area, with Issa on her back, selling them as breakfast items to people on their way to work. She is already earning nearly as much as she used to as a prostitute. I think the smile says it all.


Update on Shabaan: His mum was released from prison but did not come back for him. She has run away from the area so he is now classed as abandoned and will be with us until we find a new home for him. It is always sad to hear of a mother abandoning her child but maybe it is for the best in this case.

This entry was posted on June 17, 2017.

A Wisdom of Bibis

It’s educational blog time.

Did you know that the collective noun for a group of grandparents is a Wisdom?

So here is a small Wisdom of Grandmothers from this week’s weighing session. These are just some of the Bibis (grandmothers) giving  their remaining years to raising the babies, usually left by the death of their own daughters.

Incredible women all of them!


This entry was posted on June 17, 2017.

In nomine padre …part 2

Guess where I went again?


If these images don’t mean anything to you, then you need to go back to read the original ‘In nomine padre’ blog to make sense of this one because at Easter I returned to Sunshine Church to find out what happens in the last hour and a half of the service (as I only lasted three and half hours last time) !

So the first three and a half hours were pretty much as before. Yes, there were still thrones ( and a very nice new 3 piece suite) and the ‘drug lords’,  there was still a giant conga for Jesus all round the church which I joined in on this time and still an amazing series of choirs and dancing. And a surprisingly succinct sermon  – with it being Easter and all, I thought we would be in for something a bit longer than the hour we had last time but, if anything, this was shorter. Maybe they thought everyone knew this story.

What was not succinct was the collection section.

A speaker  was coming from Uganda the following week so everyone who had pledged a donation to help with the cost of his stay came up. And those that had pledged goods to feed him, such as chickens, goats, grain, etc came up – with the chicken, goats, grain,etc.

And then, after the usual shuffling dance up to the collection pots by the whole congregation, there was the special collection for the doors on their church. They already had a sizeable extension on one side of it and a new sound system. But no doors. The call went out a few times and people slowly pledged amounts. Then the pastor started singling people out in the congregation! “Come on, sister , we know your business is doing well now….”, “Brother, we have not seen you with a pledge in your hand for weeks ..” Missed a trick not picking on the white woman trying to slide down in her plastic garden chair though!

And the point where we left it last time, with the wailing and beating of breasts, was well and truly there. As the choir moved in to its chanting phase and ol’ James Brown got up there calling on the Lord to save us poor sinners, people started crying and shaking  and repeating prayers over again while they marched back and forth along the rows of seats.  The slight young woman in front of me, who until then seemed to be pretty quiet, started throwing herself around and Neema, next to me, told me to hold her head. After a few more minutes that was obviously not going to be enough and six burly men came to carry her up to the front. Yes, six. It started with only 3 or 4 but they soon realised it was going to take the full six to restrain the demon that was throwing her body all around the place.

No-one possessed by demons was left untouched by the pastor who cast the demons out left, right and centre. With the choir in the background, at one point it seemed like he was doing it to music! The other pastors came to help him at one point. There must have been an extra lot of Devil about with it being Easter weekend.

Then came Communion. With about four hundred people in the church, they had a very efficient way of passing round the little sweet biscuits. A sharp ‘No’ from Neema stopped me just in time from making the faux pas of nibbling a bit off the edge, and we waited until everyone had one before  the Pastor told us all to think of Jesus as we ate it. And the same again with tiny glasses of blackcurrant juice – waiting and all taking the shot together.  Not very up on all this but it actually seemed a very nice way, and a more focused way, of doing it rather than queuing for the individual Communion as in most churches in the UK.

Then, as things calmed, there were the ‘notices’! It seemed a bit bizarre after four and a half hours of high emotion to be moving in to, don’t forget to bring your dishes for the pot luck supper on Friday but,  there you go, the whole thing was a bit joyously odd!

This entry was posted on June 14, 2017.