Missionary Diary: Tanzanian aerobics!

Plus hospitality and Covid vaccines

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), which aims to share the gospel with university students. Tamie is doing a PhD on the theology of TAFES women graduates.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

I was so pleased to see Adventina up and about when I was at TAFES HQ this morning. Yesterday she could barely move. Lots of the staff have lower back issues – urban life and office work take their toll on the body – but this was more extreme than I have seen before. It’s a recurring issue, so I asked her if she’d seen a doctor. She said she’d done some reflexology but it was expensive and she didn’t have money for it at the moment. I gave her some ibuprofen yesterday in the morning when I was leading aerobics for TAFES and then dropped off some more later in the day – it was only 4000 shillings (AU $2.30)!

She just didn’t know about it or didn’t know that it was so easily accessible (4000 shillings is within her means). Despite the fact you don’t need a prescription for just about anything, Tanzanians don’t tend to self-medicate unless it’s with natural remedies and for some reason, the doctor had not suggested it, or maybe she hadn’t seen a doctor, only the reflexologist. Obviously, it made a huge difference though. She was bouncing around like normal. I also hooked her up with some exercises from YouTube to help strengthen and stretch her back.

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Middle-class Tanzanians are very interested in fitness, so ask us to share what we know.

I feel unqualified to be giving this kind of advice and to be leading aerobics, but middle-class Tanzanians are very interested in fitness and see the need for it, so ask us to share what we know. I’ve been running these classes all week, during the TAFES staff retreat – when all the national staff gather here in the city of Dar es Salaam. I’ve been trying to give the staff skills and knowledge they can use when they return to their regions. We’ve been doing HIIT (high-intensity interval training) to worship songs, so hopefully, they’ll be able to continue on their own. One of the staff members said she has learned to “sing for the Lord exercise-fully”!

This afternoon we are expecting Irene to come and stay. We’ve never met her before but she works with CMS in another country and needs to get back to Australia for visa issues, but in Covid times that’s tricky. She’s managed to get a place on a repatriation flight that leaves from Turkey, but Turkey won’t let her in from the country she’s been in, so she needs to stop over somewhere. Tanzania is one of the few countries in the world that will let her in.

We got a call last week to ask if we had capacity for a guest at the moment. It sounds like she could be with us for up to a month, which is nothing compared to when Arthur’s boss lived with us indefinitely for a year! Of course, that was fine and we love him and his family. I hope we will get along well with Irene as well!

I’m always astounded at his faith and endurance. His constant refrain is “Mungu ni mwema” (God is good).

Tanzanians rarely live in straight nuclear families – there is always live-in house-help, or a nephew they are fostering, or sisters or grandparents, or sometimes all of these in the household. The longer we’ve lived here, the more this example has rubbed off on us and increased our capacity for long-term hospitality as we’ve come to see it as normal.

I’m not going to pick up Irene at the airport. We’ve sent Eliud the bajaji (a three-wheeled taxi) driver for her. We are always trying to give him work as he’s a single dad of three kids, very unusual here. There’s not even language for that – when he explains his role to people he says, “I am both father and mother to my children.”

During the first wave of Covid last year when everyone was so frightened and lots of people were staying home, his work almost completely dried up. Then he had a run of pretty bad luck, with his bajaji being stolen so he had no income. He and the kids were eating only one very basic meal per day. He ended up entering into an oppressive loan with the bank so he could get a new bajaji, which is almost paid off. I think once he’s done that it will really make a difference. Maybe he has no other choice, but I’m always astounded at his faith and endurance. His constant refrain is “Mungu ni mwema” (God is good). Every time we arrive home, he thanks God for his protection and enabling.

The Davis family with Eluid and his children

The Davis family with Eluid and his children

The news today is that Tanzania’s President, Samia Suluhu Hassan, will be the first one in the country to get the Covid vaccine. They’ve been donated through the COVAX program for poor countries. We don’t know when we’ll be eligible yet – they’re starting with over-50s, frontline health workers and people with co-morbidities. I’m not sure how strict the eligibility criteria will be, as there’s still widespread scepticism about vaccines.

In terms of Covid restrictions, there are some new recommendations of mask-wearing and not having “unnecessary large gatherings”, but they don’t seem to be enforced much. I asked Eliud about it and he said, “Well, we believe Mama [President Samia] when she says it’s necessary but we still follow Baba [late President Magufuli] and put our trust in God instead.” He says it’s OK for us to get the vaccine though, as long as we pray before we receive it.