Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Canada Day in Tanzania

This morning Emily and I received a text notifying us that funding for the start-up costs of the kitchen as well as 1.2 million shillings for first years rent have come through. We should be able to access the funds by the end of the week to secure our location and start buying equipment. We had heard that money for start-up costs had been granted last week, but during our last meeting in Ngaramtoni we hit a small road block with rent. We were initially under the impression that we would be paying rent on a monthly basis which allowed for the Mama’s to cover the cost of rent through sales. It was not until that last meeting that we found out that an entire year’s rent had to be paid up front. Apparently this is a typical business practice here in Arusha, as it includes painting, fix-ups and cleaning. Obviously this posed a problem and we were forced to ask for an additional 1.2 million shillings for rent on top of the 2.6 million shillings we had been granted for start up. Worried that our funder would not come through, we were thrilled to receive word this morning that all funds have been granted! Having put the project on hold while we waited for funding, we are ecstatic to move forward with the logistics of the project. The location is ideal. It is amid the market in Ngaramtoni so it is a busy area directly beside government offices, which is helpful for the AIDS/HIV aspect of the project. On that note, Western has received a grant for $1000 that is going to be used to provide groups of PLWA’s with free access to the pro-biotic yogurt presuming they agree to come in daily to ensure they are consistently consuming the product. So, while one aspect of the project is providing PLWA’s consistent access to the pro-biotic yogurt, its other advantage is empowering women to run their own business, allowing them to learn business skills, take initiative and responsibility for the project, all the while selling the yogurt to everyone, regardless of whether or not they have HIV/AIDS. As Emily and I have learned, the yogurt is healthy for everyone and helps to build immune systems.

Waiting for funding this week was a test of patience and it was difficult to take a step back from the project and succumb to “Tanzanian time.” Although it was frustrating, a week without a significant amount of work could not have come at a better time. The day before Canada Day, Emily and I decided to get into a patriotic mood and make a trip to the used clothing market in the area by our home stay to find red and white clothing. We were about fifty feet from the market and I had just paid for bananas, so I kept my wallet in my hand, knowing I would have to use it again in a matter of minutes. It was broad daylight and I was with Emily and one other man so the thought that it may not be wise to keep my wallet in my hand didn’t even occur to me. I was holding it tightly and it was only a few steps further to the market. Well, lesson learned. The road had narrowed so the three of us were walking in a straight line, myself at the back, when a group of three teenage guys surrounded and mugged me. They started grabbing at my arm and hand trying to get at my wallet, and while I initially tried to resist, holding on tightly, one of the boys dug his nails in to my hand to the point where he drew blood, so I had to let go. I thought about resisting further and causing more of a scene, because they were not the most intimidating group, but I was not sure if they had weapons, so simply stood there and watched them run off with my wallet, too shocked to say anything but “are you kidding me?” What was more disturbing than getting robbed was the reaction of the locals who stopped to see if I was alright. One man on his piki piki who was particularly consoling tried to convince me to hop on and go after them so we could catch and identify them. I thought about it until he continued, informing me that if we catch them they will get a good beating or even get shot on the side of the road. Apparently this happened to two thieves who were caught last week. The thought of a group of street kids being beaten or shot for stealing a wallet was appalling to me as I was more shocked and scarred than angry, so I adamantly declined and instead decided to file a police report the next day. After that experience I especially wanted to make sure we were home before dark, so we quickly bought some red sweat pants and a tuque, and headed home so I could deal with cancelling my credit card and tackle the looming task of emailing already worried parents that I had been mugged and needed a new debit card and some funds wired.

If I was going to be mugged in Tanzania, it was good timing, as that night was the last in our homestay before we moved into an apartment in a better part of town. Mama Stella was sad to see us go, as her children are grown up and moved out. She seemed to genuinely enjoy our company but understood our need for a place of our own. Fully knowing that we were likely her main source of income we paid her half of next month’s rent anyways to help her along. We spent our last night with her sitting on buckets on the kitchen floor around her tiny kerosene stove learning how to cook African chai tea and pliau (an incredible spiced rice with meat). At the end of the night she seemed satisfied with her cooking lesson and was convinced that we would fair alright in our new apartment cooking for ourselves. The evening would not have been complete without her trying to arrange for us to marry her sons so she could be our mother in law. She was particularly pleased with a picture of Emily and I in our bikinis that somehow got mixed in with pictures of us and Mama Stella that we were showing her on our computer. It was the perfect last night, and the next morning we made her laugh as we came out of our room decked out in our Canada Day gear singing “Oh Canada.” We completed our stay with a final cooking lesson on how to make chips mayai (basically an omelette with homemade fries cooked into the egg), and headed off to our new apartment.

We spent Canada Day morning and early afternoon in the Arusha police station filing a four hour report on my mugging. It was another test of patience, but it was interesting to see how their judicial system operated. As I sat in a tiny room filled with massive stacks of paper and file folders piled up in no particular order, I was surprised to see a space asking for my religion beside the one asking for my nationality on the incident report I had to fill out. The detective that helped me out was extremely friendly, but the inefficiency of the entire process was astounding and it was nice to have Canada Day party to attend with the international students after spending the day sitting in a tiny room. One of our Canadian friends interning for the UN prepared an all Canadian playlist for the night, so Emily and I spent most of our evening singing and dancing to Great Big Sea and Celine Dion. Considering we were in Tanzania, it was one of the best Canada days I have had. I have never considered myself to be especially patriotic, but after having spent two months in a developing country, I have never been more proud, and grateful to be Canadian.

The weekend only got better. The next day, Emily and I took it upon ourselves to organize a day trip to a local waterfall with our friends from ICTR (International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda). We have really gotten to know all parts of Arusha and we surprise ourselves daily with how easily we find our way around and how many friends we run into along the way. We are really starting to feel like we fit in. On that note, it was encouraging to be able to stroll into town and sit down with our local friends and plan an incredible day trip. The hike started from town, where our group walked to a village at the base of a small mountain. From the base we hiked for about three hours uphill through villages on the mountain, all the while looking onto Mount Meru and the summit of Kilimanjaro in one direction and all of Arusha in the other. I still find it hard to believe that people lived at the top of this mountain and did this hike daily to get into town! I was also amazed by their resourcefulness, as the entire side of one of the larger hills was used for farming. I can only imagine how onerous it would be to work the fields on the side of a mountain. The hike was difficult and I was definitely winded at the top, but the view was one of the most incredible things I had ever seen. We ate lunch at the top of the mountain before descending into the river. I couldn’t help but feel like I was in The Sound of Music, surrounded by lush green mountains and hills. The descent into the river was extremely steep and slippery, so we took things slow and once we got to the base we hiked for another hour or so through the water until we arrived at the waterfall. Oh the waterfall. It was about seventy feet high and surrounded by some of the lushest greenery I have ever seen. The water was bitterly cold, but we swam nonetheless because we promised ourselves we would. Heading back home was definitely challenging as we were already tired and had to hike he three hours back, but we rewarded ourselves with a chips mayai upon our return.

It was fantastic to have a few days off as we waited for funding to come through, but Emily and I are definitely wound up, now that we are able to continue with the project. More updates son to come!

Fun fact: Although it is nice to have running water and privacy in our new apartment, we no longer have the luxury of having our laundry done for us. A few days ago Emily and I spent two hours each squatting over a bucket in our bathroom scrubbing away at our clothes with a bar of soap. It was a tedious task, and I have promised myself that when back in Canada I will never again complain about doing laundry!

Monday, June 28, 2010

It's the circle of life!

Angora Gora crater, before descending

Last week, while walking down the street in Ngaramtoni, a little girl wearing a green chequered dress, no older than three and no taller than three feet came up to me and in English said,

“Good morning, how are you?”

Surprised by how good her English was for her age, I did not attempt to respond in Swahili as I normally would have, but instead answered,

“Fine, how are you?” to which she responded,

“Pleasant, thank you very much,” and skipped off.

It took all the restraint I could muster, not to take off after her and scoop her up into a huge hug. One thing I have discovered living in Africa, is that no matter how rough of a day it has been, or if things do not go entirely as planned with the project, the people here, especially the children always manage to put a smile on my face and make everything worthwhile.

As far as the project goes, nearly everything is in place. We have a perfect location, near the market and beside government offices for only 100 000 shillings per month, the equivalent of about only $85, and the owner has agreed to clean out the location, paint and provide fix-ups upon receiving first months rent. In addition, all of our equipment is on hold ready to be purchased and last week we had a particularly productive and encouraging meeting with the Mamas in Ngaramtoni. They showed up on time, prepared and enthusiastic to start the project. They even came up with a name for their women’s group; Nasarin, meaning blessed ones.

Unfortunately, just as everything seemed to be coming along exactly according to plan, we encountered a major roadblock. The funding we had been promised from a local foundation which is approximately $16 000 to cover start up costs and a year’s worth of monthly costs may not come through. It is frustrating that the yearly costs of opening a business can be so low in comparison to costs in North America, yet so difficult to come by. Emily and I have spent the last week trying to revise the budget, and come up with a revenue analysis to prove the project is in fact profitable and deserves the start-up funding. Until we find out if the full funding in fact comes through however, there is not much else we can do. Still, it is difficult to stand by and wait to hear about funding while we are in danger of losing our location unless we pay first month’s rent soon.

On a lighter note, last weekend Emily and I had the opportunity to go on a safari to the Serengeti and Angora Gora crater. We got paired with a lovely young couple from Sweden, and lucked out with a fantastic guide, who, upon every encounter we had with an animal, proudly stated its lifespan and gestation period. When a pack of elephants crossed the road right in front of our car, he informed us that,

“Elephants have the longest lifespan of any animal in the Serengeti; forty-five to sixty years, the exact same as a human’s.”

I was slightly saddened by his comment, as it is indicative of the significantly lower life expectancy here in Tanzania. Still, the trip was incredible, with major highlights being watching the sunrise in the Serengeti and later at breakfast having baboons dart through our campsite, having an elephant approach our site in Angora Gora crater, and seeing a pack for five lions about two feet from our car. While the animals in the Serengeti were incredible, the view of the Angora Gora crater was the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. Before we descended we were practically in the clouds, and once we got to the bottom of the crater it was lush and filled with animals. Although the crater was freezing, and camping that night was even colder, for me, it was the highlight of the safari trip.

So, as our first month in Arusha is coming to an end, Emily and I are preparing to move out of our homestay in Darajab Mbili and into a modest one bedroom apartment on the other side of town. Although the experience of living with a family in a small village has been incredible, it will be nice to live somewhere with full security, and privacy when we need it. Our new place is slightly farther from town, about a half hour walk in the opposite direction, however it is fully furnished with a small kitchen and washroom. It is part of a complex of apartments that hosts mostly international students and volunteers, which this summer, happen to be mostly from Duke and Harvard. Emily and I have been very fortunate to have already developed a great network of both local and international friends. It makes such a difference to have a support system who can relate to many of the challenges that come with volunteering, working or studying abroad in a developing country. It is funny though, we have only lived in Darajab Mbili a month, but it is kind of sad to be leaving this village. We have grown accustomed to the dirt roads and tiny shops and fruitstands.

It has definately been an incredible experience so far.

Now for some pictures from safari!

Emily and I outside of our tent in the Serengeti

The sunrise
Our Swedish friends, Oscar and Lina standing with us in front of a hippo pool

Look closely and you'll spot an elephant in the backgroud!

Monday, June 14, 2010

From Yogurt to Football

I know I keep saying it, but if anything bad ever happens to me during my stay in Arusha, it will not be from Malaria, or not eating properly, or contaminated water, it will be from a motor vehicle accident. I have been in Africa for one month now and I still cannot get my head around how atrocious the driving is here. Today, as Emily and I were struggling to cross the street without the aid of stoplights or crosswalks, a local standing in front of us attempted to cross prematurely, nearly getting hit by a daladala. The angry driver stopped the daladala, jumped out and started to smack the pedestrian who had tried to cross! I had never seen anything like it before. Later in the afternoon, my observations about Tanizanian driving were confirmed as, while waiting to speak with a lab technician at the hospital about potentially culturing the probiotics, I came across an article on how motor vehicle accidents were one of the leading causes of death in the developing world.

Top right picture: Our house in Darajab Mbili

Aside from my newly developed fear of crossing streets, the more time I spend in Arusha, the more I love it. Although the weather is unpredictable and often cool, Arusha is a beautiful city. From Darajab Mbili, where Emily and I are living it is about a fifteen minute walk into town, which is characterized by a roundabout and a clocktower. On our walks into town we pass by a beautiful market where they sell everything from woodcarvings to clothing and if the sky is clear you can see Mount Meru stretching far into the clouds. Compared to Mwanza, Arusha is cleaner and more touristy. While it was rare in Mwazna to see other mazungus in the streets, in Arusha it is far more common. The town caters to the tourists, which is evident in some of their restaurants and cafés, such as a very Starbuckesk Africafé that is constantly packed with Westerners awaiting their 3000 shilling Latés. Thanks to Emily’s fantastic sense of direction we are able to navigate our way all around town. As we weave our way through the crowds of people, our most used phrase is hapana asante, meaning no thank you, as everywhere you turn someone is thrusting either a newspaper or a banana your way, hoping to make a sale.
Middle Picture: Me in downtown Arusha in front of the clock tower.

We were forced to learn our way around quickly, because upon our arrival we immediately began working on getting the kitchen up and running. Since I have neglected to describe the Arusha project in detail I’ll quickly give an update of where we stand. The Mondo Foundation is funding the project in Ngaramtoni, with their primary group being the Hope Kimondo Foundation. Although Ngaramtoni is far, and Emily and I have to walk forty minutes to the daladala stop, followed by a half hour trip on the daladala and another twenty minute walk once we get off, it is nice that we get to experience working and living in three different areas. Unlike Arusha, which, like I previously mentioned is a center for tourism, Darajab Mbili and Ngaramtoni, both being more rural and secluded are similar villages. The houses range from fully furnished to mud huts and little shops line the streets with people selling vegetables, fruits and Tengas, the material worn as skirts and dresses by Mamas here.
Left picture: Cute little boy waving at us on our walk into town from Darab Mbili.

Middle Picture: Emily walking down the laneway just outside our house.

A few days ago we met in Ngaramtoni for the third time with the Mondo Foundation and Hope Kimondo representatives, however this time we also had the pleasure of meeting with six excited yogurt Mamas who are eager to be part of the project. The Mamas were tasked with looking into potential kitchen locations in town, so hopefully when we meet again with them tomorrow we will be able to finalize the location and start buying equipment. Currently our biggest barrier challenge is finding a lab and a lab technician to culture the probiotics. Last night, we met with Dr. Mhando, a well-renowned physicisian in Arusha, who has offered us his lab and who may be able to help us find a technician. Unfortunately, as of now his lab does not have the proper equipment to culture the probiotics, so we are working through that barrier with him. Having already met with him earlier in the week at his office in a very professional setting, when he invited us over to his house for our second meeting we were expecting to sort out work related matters and likely head home soon after. It was a pleasant surprise to arrive at his home with this entire family there to greet us. In between Fanta and coffee we discussed the project, and were invited to stay for dinner and to watch the football game afterward. Before we knew it, we had spent the entire night at the Mhando house, and it was one of our most enjoyable evenings yet. Being at their house which was bustling with people coming and going all night reminded me of my lovely, hectic house back home. It was nice to be in such a warm, family oriented environment. Not only is their entire family extremely successful, but they are friendly, humble and a treat to be around.

Dr. Mhando’s oldest daughter Neema, I especially admire. As their family lives in the same neighbourhood as Emily and I, she walked us home and ended up staying over for another hour or so for tea. At thirty-five years old, she is one of the most empowered women I have ever met. Still completing post-grad work, she is unmarried and entirely devoted to her education. Being thirty-five never having been married, and not being in any rush to find a man takes guts in Tanzania and her determination to hold off on marriage until she finds someone who views her as an equal, rather than merely a woman, and who supports her ambitions makes her incredibly strong. I feel so lucky to have met such lovely family, and maintaining a relationship with them will make my stay in Arusha all the more amazing.

In between work for the yogurt kitchen, Emily and I have been trying to follow the world cup. All of Africa is engaged and during game time every local place that has access to television is airing the match. A few days ago Emily and I spotted some other international students at the gym where we have been attempting to squeeze workouts into our already packed days. I noticed that one of them was reading Three Cups of Tea, which I had just finished, so I figured that was reason enough to strike up a conversation. It turns out one of the girls was from Canada and a student at Queen’s and the others were from the States. Having already been here for a month and consequently being more familiar with Arusha, they invited us to watch the England versus USA football game at a place called the Greek Club, where all the international students were headed that night. The place was packed! Emily and I, deciding that England needed some support chose to side with them, and ended up getting our faces painted by a young man draped in a British flag. It turned out that almost everyone there were Law students from all over America and a few from Canada who were here on an internship. We met some really interesting people, one of which was a fellow Canadian studying international law and working with the UN for her internship here in Arusha. My desire to pursue international law was definitely reignited that night and I am looking forward to learning more about their fields of study.

Emily and I have also managed to make many local friends this week. Yesterday as we were walking down the street, a young man stopped us and asked if we had recently arrived from Mwanza. Slightly confused we responded that we had in fact been living in Mwanza before Arusha, to wish he burst into laughter and embraced us. Able to tell from our faces that we had no idea what was going on, he explained that the south African family we had met in Mwanza had mentioned we were coming to Arusha and that he had been looking for us all week. I had forgotten that back in Mwanza I had received this man, Bariki’s number as a credible reference. Sure enough, he was the first contact number listed in my phone. Tomorrow, evening, after we meet with the Mondo and Hope Kimondo groups in Ngaramtoni, Bariki and out other local friends and are heading to a place in Darajab Mbili to watch the big Ivory Coast game. The upcoming week is going to be a busy one, but combining work with football makes the days fly.

I’ll do my best to keep you all updated as things with the kitchen progress!
Fun Fact: I’m writing this blog in mine and Emily’s room and a gecko just scurried down from the ceiling and crawled behind a picture hanging on the wall.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

18 Hours and a Dead Goat Later

After a successful orientation in Mwanza with the Arusha team, Emily and I, excited to get the project moving in Arusha, embarked on what we thought would be a twelve hour bus ride. After spending most of the night packing, we groggily awoke after only a few hours sleep, to our 430am alarm clock and the sound of pouring rain; the first major rainfall since my arrival. As our taxi pulled into the bus terminal we were swarmed by people selling plastic bags to put our luggage in. Having been told that luggage gets filthy sitting in the bottom compartment of the bus, among the dust and dirt from the road, we each bought two, and pushed our way through swarms of people onto an already packed bus. Thankfully, Boniface and the Mamas from Arusha were there to escort us, because as we got on the bus a heated argument immediately erupted about Emily and I being in the wrong seats; so heated in fact, that a local policeman had to come aboard and sort things out. After determining that Emily and I were in the right seats after all, we started the bumpy trip.

As I have mentioned before, vehicles in Arusha stop for nothing, and as I stared out my window, captivated by the landscape that grew more lush and mountainous the closer we got to Arusha, a goat trotted onto the street a fair distance from the bus. The bus clearly had no intentioned of compromising its route, and continued to speed down the road running over the goat! Shocked and taken aback I think I let out a scream, and an ``OH MY GOD!,`` which was followed by shrieks of laughter from the locals.

Stopping only twice, once for a washroom break at the side of the road, where Emily and I were forced to relieve ourselves in an open field with no trees or bushes, and the other for a quick lunch, the ride was going surprisingly quickly. I was too preoccupied by our passing of Mount Meru and the deep valleys that characterized the trip, that I was pleasantly surprised when Mama Matei, who was sitting to the right of me announced that we were only a few hours from Arusha. Having already been in Africa for three weeks, I should have known that a prompt arrival was too good to be true, and only forty kilometres from Arusha the bus broke down, as if making a statement that it too would only adhere to “Tanzanian time”. Whereas in Canada a tow truck or mechanic, as well as another working bus would have been sent, here, as the bus groaned to a stop, the driver himself and a few other passengers got out their tools and set to work on repairing it. Five hours later still sitting in a broken down bus in the surprisingly cold night, Emily and I huddled together in shorts and t-shirt sharing a towel for a blanket. Just as we were getting particularly cranky, having spent from 6am until midnight on this bus, the driver gave up and sent for another bus to finish the trip to Arusha.

When we finally arrived, Laurent, a representative of the Youth Self Empowerment Program (YSEP)who we have been working closely with these past few days was there to greet us and take us to our homestay. As we pulled into the Darajab Mbili area, where Emily and I will be staying for the next few months we were greeted by an enthusiastic middle aged Mama Stella, who welcomed us inside. Although it was already one in the morning, we had barely eaten and were filthy from the dirt and dust of the roads. So, after introducing ourselves we were served some of the pilau (spiced rice) she had prepared for us earlier and were offered a shower.
While I wish I could claim that from the start I recognized the value of experiencing life without running water, and the daily necessities that are so commonplace in Canada, for the first time in Africa I went to sleep on the verge of tears. Having spent three weeks in a fully furnished apartment in Mwanza, with a cold, but fully functioning shower, stove and private washroom, although it was a squat toilet, at the home stay in Darajab Mbili I truly experienced culture shock. That night I had my first bucket shower, ate my first meal cooked on small kerosene stove and used a washroom with no door.

The next morning, awoken by the sound of a rooster just outside the house, I stepped outside the room, and as I wandered to the doorless toilet, I had to laugh. Though still slightly discouraged by the significantly colder climate in Arusha, after a breakfast of hot mandazis and chai I was already warming up to the prospect of spending the next three months living a lifestyle completely alien to me. It is incredibly humbling and I must say that I am even enjoying the challenge of making one small bucket of water last long enough to wash my hair, body and feet, which, since Mwanza, seem to be stained permanently black from the dirty.

While the past three days have been long and tiring, yesterday’s meetings starting at 9am and not finishing until around 8pm, the enthusiasm shown by local government officials and prospective women’s groups is encouraging and the project is moving quickly. Tomorrow at 830am we meet with Dr. Mhando, the man who will be making the probiotic culture for us in his lab followed by a trip to the Garabatoni region, where groups have also shown interest in the project. By Friday we hope to have a location for the kitchen secured.
While I wish I could describe Arusha more thoroughly now, it is getting late and a few quick sentences will not do the city justice. So, more on Arusha later! Usiku muema! (Goodnight!).

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Good morning Mazungu!

Last week was a long one. With the Arusha team coming to Mwanza to see the community kitchen today, much of last week was spent sifting through a massive file cabinet of important documents and sorting through online documents, in an attempt to comprise a manual for their visit. With some documents in Swahili and some in English, translating was a tedious process. While I sat at the dining room table with my laptop and a daunting stack of papers, Steph and Kathryn, the nutrition students, and Aria and Yolanda, our Dutch friends who are medical students, were making mass batches of yogurt in the kitchen; Steph for an upcoming sensory evaluation and Aria and Yolanda for a study on the benefits of adding maringa to the probiotic yogurt. As I comprised documents of budgets, inventory, summaries of the project and contact lists I witnessed batch after batch of yogurt go bad for the interns in the kitchen due to bad milk. They spent the entire day with the only tangible outcome being a cup of hot coco for all.

That day was actually fairly productive for me, going with Esther to view hotel options to accommodate the Arusha team and managing to comprise most of the manual and itinerary. Still, it is hard to be indoors when it is so nice out, and after a full day in the apartment we all needed a dinner out, followed by ice cream at Salama’s corner, a favourite spot of ours.

The next morning I realized that I was missing the chart of measurements that needed to be included in yogurt making process for the manual, so I accompanied the others to the kitchen to copy down the information I needed. While they stayed for the morning in their second attempt at the yogurt I returned home to finalize things for the Arusha visit. Even though I have done the walk to and from Mabatini where the kitchen is located I still love hearing the children who, regardless of what time of day always squeal, “Mazungu! Good morning, how are you?!” It can be evening and it is still always good morning. They’re very cute and they’re always shocked if you respond in Swahili, often erupting in giggles. The laneway of Mabatini is always bustling with people selling mostly clothes and food, though I recently discovered that for only 1200 shillings you can have a CD of ”bongo flava” music burnt for you. I love that there is always music playing along the streets, and I find the mixture of “bongo flava” and famous American hip hop and rap quite amusing.

Over the weekend I took a spontaneous trip to a national park called Rubondo Island with one of our local friends, Major, who owns a shipyard in Mwanza, and a group of international students from France, the Netherlands and Germany. The other interns from Western could not come because they were busy with their sensory evaluations, but having finished my work for the week, I decided to go anyways, making me the only native English speaker in the group. Having made a last minute decision to go on the trip I did not know much about it, including the fact that it was over a seven hour trip to get there! It was well worth it though because the scenic drive was incredible and the final destination more so.

With eleven people between two cars, seven of us plus our food for the weekend crammed into the one I was driving in, we drove an hour to a ferry which took us across a small stretch of Lake Victoria. As we continued the long drive after the ferry, two of the men fiercely sucking back cigarettes in the front despite my warning that if they keep this up they’ll be dead by twenty-five, I couldn’t help feeling like I was in an Indiana Jones movie, driving along a dirt road that only got more rural and remote as we drove on. While Mwanza is a relatively big city, with apartments, or houses with tin roofs, the villages along the road we were driving on were far more primitive. I was so fascinated by the dramatic change from Mwanza that I kept my eyes glued out the window as we drove by mud huts with straw roofs and cows, chickens and goats roaming freely along the side of the road. Even the occasional monkey would dart across the road. We all got a good laugh as the roof of the car in front of us popped open going over a bump and two live chickens popped out. We swerved to avoid them and they simply strutted off to the side of the road unharmed.

A good indicator of how far we had ventured outside of the city, was peoples reaction our group of eleven Mazungus, especially the children. As we drove the kids would shriek of laughter and even run alongside the car pointing. It made me realize that it would be extremely difficult to assimilate into Tanzanian culture or ever be considered a local, if one chose to move here. Our friend Jacque best exemplifies this thought. As a native South African, who has been living in Tanzania for over five years, he is fluent in Swahili, dresses like all the other men here, and follows many cultural practices. Still, because he is white he is immediately marked as a Mazungu wherever we go. It is a strong contrast from Canada, which in comparison is extremely diverse and multicultural.

After six hours of travel, we arrived in a tiny local village, where we parked our cars and took about a forty minute boat ride small fishing boat to Rubando island, where we saw a pack of hippos as we drifted into shore. From the shore we piled into another jeep and drove deeper into the forest, stopping occasionally to get a better look at the monkeys, birds and deer, or bushbugs as they call them here, that lined the tiny path we were driving along. We finally arrived at the cabins we were staying at and the view was incredible. It looked out onto the vast water of Lake Victoria, where hippos were once again swimming. Since our cabins were truly surrounded by the jungle, we would see massive lizards and more monkeys whenever we looked closely. Since it was late by the time we got in, we lit a campfire and struggled to come up with a song that, between the four different languages we spoke, all knew to sing. We were left with slim pickings, consisting of a few Beatles songs, some Queen and a bit of the Temptations. It was fun to be with such a multicultural group.

The next day was spent on the boat fishing and sightseeing. On his first cast Major caught a 22 kilo fish, which back on shore I took on the task of gutting.

We ate fish for lunch and dinner both days and still only got through half of the fish. In terms of sightseeing on the boat the wildlife was incredible. I was especially shocked when a group of three crocodiles waddled into the water only a few meters ahead of us as we pulled into a bay. We ended the weekend with a three hour hike through the forest before the long trip back home.

Unfortunately the excitement we were all still feeling on the ride home after having such an incredible weekend was damped but a disturbing drive home. Only about an hour away from home as I was looking out my window, I spotted what looked like a dead man laying on the side of the road and another body about twenty feet ahead. They had clearly been hit by a car, however I still don’t know if they were dead or severely injured because we just kept driving. Despite my pleas to stop the car, Jacque explained that because the judicial system is so corrupt, if we stopped we would likely be implicated in the accident and thrown in jail. I supposed that was why no one had already stopped, but the fact that two bodies lying on the side of the road was taken so lightly, and seemed to be commonplace here upset and disturbed me. It was a rude awakening to the corruption that is so rampant here. Similarly, as we drove through the roundabout only a couple hundred meters away from our house there was a man who had been severely beating and robbed just sitting in the middle of the road, as if begging to be hit by a car. Again, the fact that Jacque refused to stop for similar reasons, I had trouble accepting.

On a lighter note, I went to greet Emily at the airport the next morning and it is so nice to finally have her here! Since the Arusha team is coming today, Emily’s introduction to Mwanza was slightly more compressed than mine and we got straight to work. We were still able to take her to the kitchen and run the usual errands of exchanging currency and buying a cell phone, and yesterday we were even invited to a Sukimo tribe dance by some of the people I went away with last weekend. It was a lot of fun and the dancers were extremely energetic. One of their dances that was traditionally performed after yielding a good harvest involved a massive boa constrictor that happened to slither a little too close for my liking.
As we hurried home from the show, Emily and I eager to finish our business plan that we had put on hold to attend the dance, we arrived only to realize that we had locked ourselves out of the apartment, accidentally having taken the wrong key. Luckily our housekeeper Margret has a copy of our key, and thankfully Puis, our lovely taxi driver knew where she lived. It actually turned into quite an adventure, trecking it up to her house located on top of the huge hill that surrounds Mwanza. Whenever I walk to the kitchen I am always amazed by the way little houses are woven into the rock, but I had never actually been on the hill. The houses were much smaller than I expected and mostly made out of cement, but they were well kept. After finally making our way up the hill to Margret’s house she ended up not being home. After waiting outside of her house for about half an hour however, she came home, laughing hysterically at us when we told her our predicament.

When we finally got into our apartment, Emily and I had a late night ahead of us. Our excitement clouded our fatigue however, and it was not until we hit the sheets and immediately fell asleep that we realized how tired we had been. The late night paid off though because we are ready for visit! Karibu Mwanza Arusha team!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Nyumbani Mwanza (Home in Mwanza)

A few days I took a piki piki, or motorcycle to Nimri. It costs only 1000 shillings to hop on the back of someone’s motorcycle for about a fifteen minute ride. When I got on I asked the driver in my newly learned Swahili that I was so proud of what his name was, and he responded in English, “My name is George.” When I told him that I was trying to practice my Swahili he laughed and only spoke to me in Swahili for the rest of the ride. I had no idea what he was saying save a few odd words and phrases, but it’s slowly (pole pole)coming along. Later that night as we were finishing up a dinner of spinach cooked in peanut butter paste, which is delicious, a salad of tomatoes peppers onions and salt and green bananas cooked in sauce, the power went out. We use a gas stove here so we were able to finish cooking, then we ate dinner by candlelight. It was a nice atmosphere. Cooked bananas are a common recipe here and they taste similar to potatoes. The bananas need to ripe or they taste rotten when you boil them, and you can either boil them in plain water and add tomato paste once they are cooked, or cook them in sauce. I love trying all the food here, so far it has been really healthy!
Yesterday Dane and I went back to the kitchen in Mabatani and I learned a lot about the project and its potential in Arusha. When we arrived, we were once again offered a cup of maziwa mgando virtubisho or probiotic yogurt, which I am slowly coming around to, and sat with Esther in the kitchen chatting about things they are struggling with in Mwanza, such as packaging and selling the yogurt in the market, and ways we can prevent those issues from happening in Arusha. I’ve been in touch with Boniface, the leader of YSEP, the youth self empowerment organization in Arusha, who will be funding the project in there through the Mhando foundation, and he, as well as four others will be making a visit to Mwanza during the first week of June to see how the project is run here. Then, Emily and I can travel back to Arusha with them. Kathryn, Dane, Steph and I are currently going over Steph’s reports before she goes back to Canada and are working on preparing a booklet to give to Boniface and the others when they visit Mwanza, which contains all important documentation, a budget, a list of inventory, steps to making the yogurt and other information essential for launching another community kitchen. I am very excited about the project and am thrilled that everyone seems motivated and anxious to get things running in Arusha.
Later that say we had our first formal Swahili lesson with Mr. Gaudance, which we were able to apply later that evening at Steph’s going away party that we hosted at our apartment with the locals. Though it was difficult, it was fun to try and converse with them, and between the four of us we were often able to understand one another.
I cannot believe I have already been here a week. It has flown by, but we have already learned so much and surprisingly, it already feels like home. That’s all for now! Pictures don't seem to be working today, but I'll try again later.
Baadaye, Kwa heri. (later, bye).

Friday, May 21, 2010


Kathryn, Dane and I cooking dinner with Margret our housekeeper.

Walking down the street of Mabatini, where the kitchen is located.