Arriving in Kondoa Diocese for the third time begins to feel a bit like coming home. The connections with the Diocese of Rochester have developed so much over the last few years that there is a growing sense of connection. This time last year, I was here to express support during a time of serious drought and food shortage. People in Rochester had responded wonderfully to our request for support and as a result Bishop Given Gaula had been able to distribute food and seed-grain to clergy and parishes. Before I came out this year, some in Rochester had asked me whether things had improved.
Well, in many place the position is not good, though it is not as bad as last year. The rain did come this year and the crops did begin to grow. But then in many places, the rain stopped too soon and some of the crops withered. And then more rain came and drowned the fragile plants.
But not everywhere is the same. On Friday we visited Kikore in the north-east of the Diocese, a parish linked to St Edmund Dartford. This village is up in the hills – quite a journey on rough and narrow tracks. The land here is incredibly fertile, with a river running through the middle of the village – a good place for a confirmation sermon based around Ezekiel 47. Here, everything seemed to be growing well. Here too, the parish itself has a substantial amount of land from which the Pastor is able to support himself and his family. Incidentally, this is thanks to the foresight of David Pearce of Church Army NZ, who (together with Captain Given Gaula CA, as he then was) planted the church here in the early 1990s, and acquired that land as an endowment.
Even back in the dryer southern part of the Diocese, there are some signs of hope. Some of the seed which Bishop Given provided was for a drought-resistant strain of maize, and that seems to be bringing benefits. We also saw that in Pangalowa parish, a place which faced much hunger last year, the Pastor and others are growing soya beans which also seem less prone to suffer in dry conditions. And, even though soya itself is not a staple in the local diet, the beans can be sold and the money then spent on maize. And the maize husks can then be used a feed for goats or cattle.
Food is a constant concern through much of the Diocese because of its scarcity. And at the Kondoa Bible School (training clergy and catechists), providing food for the students is also a challenge
in terms of available cash to buy it. Indeed most of the diocesan-level work operates very much on a hand-to-mouth basis. Do we have money to buy food? Can we find enough cash to put fuel in the Bishop’s vehicle to get to the next confirmation service? I’ll write a bit more about that in another post.
Food may be scarce, but wherever Bridget and I have been, generous hospitality has been a hallmark. As soon as we arrive in a village for a service or visit, there is ‘Chai’ to be had, usually in the Pastor’s house – very sweet tea (unless they’ve already heard that Mama Bridget doesn’t do sugar!) with chapattis and perhaps bananas. After the service (i.e. several hours later!), there is more food – rice and/or more chapattis, goat or chicken, and fruit. And this time usually Pepsi or Sprite to drink – at around 1300 Tanzanian Shillings for a bottle, which may only be 50p to us, but that is a significant amount in a village where the economy may still be largely non-cash. It has to be said that this generosity is not just because we are there. A visit from their Bishop is a significant thing for Anglican Christians here, and the welcome they offer to Baba Ascofu Given and Mama Lilian is heartfelt – there’s even a special song. Now, there’s an idea!