Missionary Diary: Tamie and her Aussie family in Tanzania

Beach and bus adventures at home away from home

Tamie Davis and her husband Arthur are missionaries with Church Missionary Society (CMS) Australia. To give us a taste of what daily life is like for Aussie missionaries in Africa, Tamie shares a few entries from her diary this year.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Up at normal time today with Elliot (my eight-year-old son), and we got in 45 minutes of Step aerobics (for me) and Prodigy maths game (for him) before the “get ready for school” timer went off at 6am. We ate our toast with Vegemite from our precious supply – precious because for the past eight years, our family has lived in Dar es Salaam, a city of five million people on the Indian Ocean coast of Tanzania, Africa.

I got the lunchboxes together and we walked to school. “Tell me a story from your childhood, Mama,” he asked me as we started climbing the hill. So I told him about the time our family’s van broke down on the Hay Plain on a trip between Adelaide and Sydney, and the flies covered the car windows so thick it was like a carpet. I made sure he had his mask on, then got a bajaji (a three-wheeled taxi) home, greeted our housekeeper Mama Pendo and went straight into my study.

In between the drudgery, there are these little moments of brilliance.

I’m almost done transcribing the first set of interviews for my PhD fieldwork – I’m working on a PhD about Tanzanian women’s theology of prosperity (specifically, that of women leaders after they graduate from Tanzanian Fellowship of Evangelical Students, where my husband Arthur is staff coach).

Transcribing is really painstaking, listening over and over again to a sentence to make sure I’ve got it exactly right, especially since it’s in another language. But in between the drudgery, there are these little moments of brilliance. Like, today, I was asking about where in the Bible we learn about prosperity, and the interviewee said from the feeding of the 5000. I expected what she meant was that God can take something even very small and multiply it several times over but she surprised me. She said in that miracle, we can see that the disciples still were asked to gather up the baskets of leftovers, that even when God is doing something amazing and beyond our comprehension, there is still a role for us and we mustn’t just sit back and expect him to do it all. I haven’t heard anyone say that about the feeding of the 5000 before!

In the middle of that, the water guy came to read the meter again. The meter’s still broken, so he’s really just coming to check that it’s still broken, I guess? I impressed upon him that we really do want to pay our bill but we haven’t received one in three months because of the broken meter. He said just keep being patient. My neighbour Mama Nathan popped in as well. I think she was just coming to say hi?

The walk to school from the Davis’ home, with Elliot on the side of the road.

I stopped transcribing when Mama Pendo left, in order to get things organised for the beach this afternoon. We’ve been going so the boys can blow off steam at the end of the week. Several of my husband Arthur’s colleagues come too, so it’s actually ended up being good team-building time too. I always bring a cake or a slice to share. Home baking is not much of a thing in Tanzania since many people don’t have ovens – and store-bought cakes are often plain and dry with masses of fondant decorations – so my passionfruit slice or chocolate cake are a novelty. I also made pizza for the boys to have for dinner on the way home in the car – there’s not much cheese around at the moment (I assume because COVID has disrupted the import market), but mozzarella is still available because it’s locally made.

It always takes longer on the way home because of the Friday night market.

I drove to pick up Elliot from school and Callum from preschool, then we went up to TAFES HQ. We had three passengers today: two TAFES staff and one visiting graduate, Dorcas. Our dear friend and TAFES staff member Waryoba wasn’t coming, but he made them all wear masks while in the car with us. It was so kind of him. We wouldn’t have asked them to put them on because it’s such a touchy issue, but Waryoba saw us with our masks and stepped in for us. In the open air, we’re OK (which is most of our lives), but in close quarters like a car or an office, we’re more cautious. The boys had a good romp at the beach, especially after Alice (Arthur’s boss’ wife) and her girls arrived. Everyone’s always amazed at how our kids run into the waves and float confidently – many Tanzanians are scared of the ocean, even those who’ve grown up on the coast, and only learn to swim later in adulthood, if at all. Even the non-swimmers enjoy the beach though. They comment to us on how it relaxes them.

We got home after dark. It always takes longer on the way home because of the Friday night market. The traffic moves very slowly on the Ununio Road, so we slow down and buy fruit on the way. Normally I’d get out, but I’m still wearing my bathers and even though they go down to mid-thigh and I’m wearing a modest wrap on top, I still feel it’s better to stay in the car.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Eliud, the bajaji driver, and I left before the sun was up this morning. We were headed to the city of Morogoro (196 kilometres west of Dar es Salaam), where I was to interview two TAFES associates at the university for my PhD. Eliud was planning to come in with me to get my bus ticket to Morogoro, but when we got to the bus station, this guy jumped into the front of the bajaji with Eliud. When Eliud asked where he could park, he said there wasn’t parking anymore. The guy said he could show me where to go though, so I went off with him. You never know who’s legit and who’s not. Then as we were coming to the gate, this other guy took my escort’s hand and started talking to him, and I realised the guy grabbing him had a pair of handcuffs! It all looked friendly enough – but it often does in Tanzania. Anyway, they both just kind of waved me towards the gate, so I went in.

… I was squished up to the [bus] window for most of the trip. I was glad it was only five hours.

The new big bus station is very shiny and quite logically laid out. As soon as I was through the gates, there were people yelling at me, “Dodoma?” “Mwanza?” and I said, “Morogoro!” I wanted to go with Abood bus service, but they all said Abood wasn’t running because of Eid – the Muslim “Festival of Breaking the Fast”, which marks the end of Ramadan. This seemed strange to me but I also couldn’t see any of the big red buses, so I went with BM bus company – it looked shiny and the staff were well presented, so I figured it must be OK. My ticket was TZS8000 ($A4.45) and they had no change for my 10,000, so we called that a “donation” to the first guy who suggested it and I climbed aboard. That was about 6:30am. The bus filled up and left just before 8am, so that was not too bad.

I was seated next to a bit of a manspreader so I was squished up to the window for most of the trip. I was glad it was only five hours. It was too noisy to listen to a podcast and I get sick reading, so I mainly stared out the window, occasionally tuning in to the TV screen at the front.

Tamie with AFES staff member Ruth and visiting graduate Dorcas

When we got to Morogoro, I used Google Maps to navigate to my hostel. It was only 450 metres away, so I turned down the offers of taxis and bodas [motorcycle taxis] and walked. Two marriage proposals later (“Sorry, you’re too late, I’m already married,” I say, pointing to my wedding ring), I arrived at my hostel but there was a plumber in the room, so I left my stuff and went in search of lunch. Across the road were some ladies selling mishkaki [grilled meat skewers] and chips, so I went to eat there. We got chatting – an mzungu [white person] who speaks Swahili is always a curiosity – and they wanted to know what my research was about. I told them it was about the theology of prosperity among TAFES women leaders after they graduate and they said, “We’re women and we have opinions – interview us!” The chips were good but the mishkaki was horribly tough. My hostel room still wasn’t ready, so I asked for a different room and got one with less natural light, which was fine – it’s really just a place to sleep before I leave again tomorrow!

I greet everyone along the way so that if this gets dodgy, there are at least other people who have seen me.

I decided to pre-buy my ticket since I hope to leave at 6am tomorrow, so went back to the bus station. Before I was inside, I already picked up a guy who insisted he could help me get a ticket. He was from Al-Saedy bus company and I didn’t know anything about them. It’s really hard to shop around in these situations. The Al-Saedy guy has all but signed me up when I say, “I want to check out some others,” and then he’s all offended and disappointed. There’s this lady there who says to come with her so I do, and then I find myself going down back alleys with her on the way to her ticket office. I greet everyone along the way so that if this gets dodgy, there are at least other people who have seen me. We get to her office and she’s showing me her receipt books and the records of others who have gone with her bus line and I’m wondering why she’s protesting so much, but I buy the ticket and then realise I don’t know this line anymore than Al-Saedy, so I haven’t really gained anything here and at least Al-Saedy’s office was more public. But also, to have an office in the bus station, you probably need to be somewhat reputable, so I guess it’s going to be OK?

The interviews with the TAFES associates were fine this afternoon at the university. I’m back at the hostel now. I had an apple for dinner and have just got the interviews off my phone and onto my computer ready for analysis when I get home.

Tamie Davis and her husband Arthur are missionaries with Church Missionary Society (CMS) Australia. Arthur is staff coach with the Tanzanian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (TAFES) – part of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) – which aims to share the gospel with university students. Tamie is doing a PhD through the Angelina Noble Centre, looking at the theology of TAFES women graduates.