Water and Slime.

I’ve mentioned previously that we have to use water filters here in order to make the tap water safe to drink.


Recently we noticed that our water filter was processing water really, really slooooooowly. We had also noticed that the water coming out of the tap was on the dirty side. So we thought perhaps the filter could do with a bit of a clean …

Oh boy, did it need a clean!

This is what the filter “candles” looked like when we took them out of the filter bucket:


You can see our hand prints from taking them out … they were really slimy …

Then I simply rinsed them under the tap, gently using an old sponge. Here’s the result:


1 out of 3 done – what a difference!

Now that’s the colour it’s meant to be!!

Then we fitted them back into the bucket and filled it up.


The filter is now running a lot quicker … note to self, clean filter much more regularly.

This certainly makes me thankful that we have the filter, and that it does such a good job.


5 things I had forgotten.

I returned to Tanzania just a week ago, and I’ve been amused by the variety of things that I didn’t realise I had forgotten:

1. The habit of not drinking from taps.

Here it is important not to drink straight from the tap; water needs to be filtered before it is safe to drink. Before returning to the UK this was perfectly normal to me, and in fact it took quite a while for it not to feel wrong to drink from taps in the UK or to brush my teeth with tap water! However, it seems that I now have to re-learn that habit!


Not safe …




2. Quite how noisy the birds are.

It’s wonderful how the birds here never seem to stop twittering and tweeting, whooping and chirping – it’s never silent! I remember now that I found it strange how quiet the birds were in England, but over the last year it became normal. Also, here we don’t have sealed panes of glass in the windows, so you can hear the birds throughout the house.


3. How loud the rain is on a tin roof.

It can be deafening! Well, perhaps not literally, but it can make it difficult to hold a conversation! But, it being rainy season does mean that there is luscious green growth everywhere.


Such wonderful green grass!


4. The words for ‘sickness’ and ‘to swim’.

My Swahili is returning bit by bit, and generally I’m doing fine in everyday conversations. However, I keep stumbling in the middle of a sentence, realising I’ve forgotten a basic word.

When talking to a taxi driver in Dar es Salaam about life in Musoma, I was telling him the lake is beautiful, but if you swim in it then you’re in danger of catching the bilharzia sickness. However, I couldn’t think of the word ‘sickness’! The nearest I could get was ‘pain’. I also realised later that I’d said ‘to shower in the lake’ instead of ‘to swim’ … whoops! He seemed to understand me though.


5. How good fresh mangoes and passion fruit taste.

Mmmm… delicious!


Typos of a Linguist

This month I’ve been back in Musoma, doing some research to help me complete my Masters dissertation. (The research is also really helpful for developing the writing system of Simbiti, so it’s great to have this chance to dig into some things in more detail.)

I’ve been having a lot of conversations with Simbiti speakers, recording many hundreds of words and phrases, and then listening carefully to them afterwards.


Recording in the sound studio.

When I listen to the words later, I write them down, paying careful attention to the length of vowels and tone patterns.


However, some of the letters and symbols I need to type are not on an normal English keyboard. I use the IPA – International Phonetic Alphabet (not India Pale Ale!). And I have some settings on my computer that enable me to switch keyboards, and use various key shortcuts to type the different symbols.


For example:

The Simbiti have 7 vowels: i, e, a, o, u … but also ɛ and ɔ. The shortcuts for these are just <e and <o.

They also have a β sound, which is sort of between an English ‘b’ and a ‘w’ (a voiced bilabial fricative if you care to know!), and this is typed with =b.

I try to write high tone where I hear it, which I do with @3 … giving á.


One of my current spreadsheets that I’m using to analyse words.

However, sometimes I forget to switch keyboards before I start typing, or the keyboard gets switched back when I change programme or sleep my computer.

This means that I end up typing long strings of nonsense!

I meant to type:
βɑɾɑɣɑ́mbɑ íʃɔ jɑitéɣeːreːje βúːjɑ   (‘They say that yesterday he listened well’)

But instead, what came out was:
=b=a>r=a@3=g=amb=a i@3=s<o j=aite@3=ge=:re=:je =bu@3=:j=a

It’s a bit frustrating if it takes me a while to notice, because I just have to delete it and type it all again! Whoops!

The Same but Different.

Living back in the UK, I do many of the same things as I did in Tanzania, but it’s also very different.

I sleep in a bed, but with multiple blankets rather than a mosquito net.

bedtz beduk






I get my water from a tap, but I don’t have to filter it before drinking it.

watertz2 watertz1 wateruk







I eat beans, but most often from a tin, and I don’t have to sort and clean them.

beanstz2 beansuk





I eat fruit, but apples and pears, rather than guava and passion fruit.

fruittz2 fruituk





I enjoy flowers when I walk through town, but crocuses, snowdrops and daffodils, rather than bougainvillea.

flowerstz flowersuk1 flowersuk2





I use money, but take a lot fewer notes out of the cash-point.

moneytz moneyuk





I have windows, but no mesh or bars.

windowtz windowuk2







I still walk to get around town, but I have had to get used to very different footwear.

feettz feetuk





Even if everything else is different, at least I still worship and serve the same God, no matter where I am!

25 In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,

    and the heavens are the work of your hands.
26 They will perish, but you remain;
    they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them
    and they will be discarded.
27 But you remain the same,
    and your years will never end.
(Psalm 102)

Back in UK, FAQs

Here are some common questions that I’ve been asked since returning to the UK, which I included in my January newsletter.

So, where are you now?
As of the beginning of January, I am based in Gloucester. I am studying at Redcliffe College, finishing off a Masters (which I started before going to Tanzania). The course is about linguistics, and it is taught by Wycliffe staff.


This is the beautiful view, from one of my classrooms, of Gloucester cathedral.

How long will you be in the UK?
I plan to be based in the UK for about a year, until I have finished the thesis stage of the Masters.

Do you still need financial support?
Yes, I am still a member of Wycliffe, but my assignment has changed for this year from working in Tanzania to completing a study programme relevant to my work.

Will you still be sending out newsletters this year?
Yes! I would like to keep you involved with my work and study, and I need your prayers and support just as much now as when I was in Tanzania.

Will you be continuing work in Tanzania later on?
Yes, I hope and plan to return to Musoma after finishing my studies, to continue with much the same work as before.

What’s the best thing about being back in England?
Not having ants in my food, clothes, shower, hair, bed, …! And of course, seeing friends and family again!

An Unusual Piece of Luggage.

I shall be returning to the UK for study leave at the end of this week, and I shall be taking a domestic flight within Tanzania.

A particular flight company permits an unusual piece of luggage when one is flying from Mwanza (which is on the shore of Lake Victoria):


Yes, you have read correctly. A bucket of fish is a permitted piece of luggage from Mwanza to Dar es Salaam.

Apparently, the local fish from Lake Victoria is so good that it is very common for people to want to take some with them.

Here is some photographic evidence from my last flight to Dar:


Sadly, I’m not sure my international flight would allow such an unusual piece of luggage. Otherwise, I might have dared to give some rather different Christmas presents this year …

What’s the strangest thing you have ever seen on an airport luggage belt? Or have you ever tried to fly with an unusual piece of luggage?

I’d also appreciate your prayers for safe flights home at the end of this week – thank you!

Food fit for a Monkey? Banana Chutney!

Sorry, there are no monkeys in this blog post. (Though there often are some playing on the roof of my office!)

I thought I would share with you one of my favourite recipes: banana chutney. It’s incredibly easy, delicious, and goes with anything!


  • Ingredients:
    4 cups mashed bananas (1 cup is 2 1/2 large Tanzanian bananas, or 5 mini Tanzanian bananas … I can’t remember how big bananas are in the UK!)
    1 cup chopped onion
    1 cup vinegar
    1 cup sugar

banana-chutney (small).jpg

  • Mix it all together.
  • Boil (and stir a little) for 3 minutes.
  • Let it cool, then add:
    2+ tsp curry powder
    2 tsp cinnamon powder
  • Enjoy!

It can be frozen, or keeps in the fridge for at least 10 days.

The Hat Game.

Sometimes in the Linguistics office we can be rather silly …

There are a number of roles that the linguists here fill, and some of my colleagues have very many “hats”.

Last week we commissioned a colleague (who is very arty and teaches some of the missionary kids here), to represent our many “hats” on the board in our office:


The artist at work.

The only hats I wear are the “Orthography Hat” (note the crazy eyes – a genuine side effect of trying to puzzle out spelling system issues for too long) and the “Linguist Hat” (with the ivory tower representing the peaceful environment of theoretical linguistics).

My colleagues also wear: the “Consultant Hat”, the “EC Hat” (Entity Committee …not sure exactly what they do, but important things for the running of our organisation….); the “Dictionary Hat”; the “Coordinator Hat”; and of course the “Cat in the Hat” for when we are not working!



Most of the linguistics team, together with the artist and our hats. (Our supervisor was not in that day and so is not pictured – perhaps that is why our silly hat discussion occurred!)


Seeing Beauty in the Chaos: Enjoying Imbrication.

(This is a linguistics post, but it has reminded me of the wonderful creativity of God. Skip to the end for this part!)

Lately, one of the problems I have been working on has been figuring out the reasons behind some very strange word endings.

In Kabwa (as in all Bantu languages – the big language family that Kabwa belongs to), pieces can be added onto words to add meaning (this is called “agglutination” – sounds like glue and acts like it too!).

This means that you can have a lot of fun, especially with verbs, adding together different endings to change the meaning slightly.

Sometimes the pieces stick together in a nice row, and it is obvious what pieces have been added.

However, sometimes the sounds in the different pieces like to play around and a totally different ending is created.
This is one of the difficulties I encounter when I’m checking the spelling of some Kabwa words.

One specific ending /-iri/ is used in some past tenses; /-iri/ really likes to play with its neighbours …

(For these examples I used the Kabwa verb /rih/ which means ‘pay’)

The pieces:

The outcome:






He has paid




He has paid on behalf of someone else




He has avenged (or made to pay)




He has been paid




He has avenged on behalf of someone else




He has been paid on behalf of someone else




He has been avenged on behalf of someone else


But then it gets more confusing, because sometimes the same ending (or almost the same) can be created from different pieces being added together, without the /-iri/ piece …

The pieces:

The outcome:






He should pay on behalf of someone else




He should avenge on behalf of someone else




He should be paid on behalf of someone else




He should be avenged on behalf of someone else


Those of you who have made it this far might be interested to know that the technical term for these pieces of words playing and overlapping is “imbrication“. This term can also be used to talk of actual overlapping in sedimentology, tiling, and surgery – fun!


At first, the mixture of all these different endings seemed like such a mess to me. But now that I can see the pattern, it really does seem sort of beautiful!

It has reminded me that often our lives can seem to be in a bit of a mess; we can’t make sense of everything; we can’t see the reason and the plan behind it all.

But the same God who created the universe, who created the wealth of intricately beautiful languages in the world, he created us. He wove us together and he has woven our lives together. We may not always be able to see the rhyme and reason, but he does, and sometimes that has to be enough.

Psalm 139 talks about this as well (verses 13-16) (NIV):

“For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”


Unwelcome Guests.

A week ago I returned from our organisation’s annual conference in Dar es Salaam. It was a very refreshing week, with some good Bible teaching, many times of singing together, lots of fun with friends, and also our general meeting.

I arrived back in Musoma about 8pm at night. It was dark, and I was looking forward to my bed after a day of travelling.

But I found my house surrounded by a cloud of teeny, tiny, buzzing, Lake flies.

This is one of the hazards of living on the shores of Lake Victoria; sometimes clouds of tiny flies come off the lake, and they really enjoy congregating around our security lights and getting into the house through every possible nook and cranny.

This meant that even more cleaning than normal has been necessary this last week …


Fortunately lake flies live for only a day, so the next day most of them were dead (and therefore much easier to remove!). This is just a fraction of what I swept out of the house.


There was a carpet of them on our back veranda.


And yes, the dogs like to eat them … weird …


More piled outside the front door.


And heaps on the inside window ledges … bleugh!

But, I’m very thankful for our hoover (a.k.a. vacuum cleaner, for the non-Brits among you), especially for the handle extension which meant I could just about reach the ceiling boards (no photographic evidence, but lake flies make it very clear how covered your ceiling is in cobwebs!!).