Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tanzania - Wiki Kumi na Tisa

Bismarck Rock - one of the most famous sights in Mwanza.

The streetscape at the bottom of the hill at Mabatini.

I'm writing this blog entry from the comfort and warmth of my den back home in Newmarket - reflecting on my last week in Tanzania with a blustery, snowy Canadian day outside the window, bundled in more layers than I thought possible as my body SLOWLY adjusts to the cold!

Alison and I at the airport in Mwanza - our last picture together in TZ!
On Monday morning (the 10th), I woke up to a cold, drizzly day in Mwanza. I bundled up (well, it's all relative...) and spent a couple hours at my laptop preparing an English lesson, a blog entry, and organizing my files. Alison and I had plans to run our normal Monday errands in town, but knowing that the connection would almost certainly be down because of the rain, we stayed home. We worked on our internship reports and spoke with members of the Kivulini staff before walking to town to meet Claire and Yemane for a goodbye lunch at Kuleana's. From lunch, we managed to find a working connection in town and ran into Jodie who was frantically trying to get everything finished before her evening flight to Dar. Luckily, we were able to take on some of her errands to help her out and later met her at our apartment for a proper goodbye and exchange of belongings! Afterwards, we rushed to Mabatini to teach English and spend the afternoon with the mamas. Mama Paskwalina was acting a bit off - I wasn't sure if it was because of her recent bout of malaria or what, until she came over to me and told me that we needed to talk. Apparently her aunt passed away and she had to take the bus to Dodoma the following morning, so she told me we'd have to say our goodbyes then and there. I was taken aback because I had not prepared myself for goodbyes, and was even more shocked when she went out on the front steps of the kitchen to cry. I'm a sucker for crying and eventually joined her, our hot tears falling on the dusty ground. We made our promises to write and to never forget each other... she was very maternal and comforting and I was extremely touched to see that I was able to establish such close and personal relationships with the people of Tanzania. After the kitchen, we grabbed a ride with Claire to yoga and spent a relaxing evening with the girls watching the sun set at Tunza.
Mama Paskwalina and I, saying our goodbyes.

On Tuesday morning (the 11th) I noticed that my henna was starting to peel off... kind of symbolic of my time ending in Mwanza! Alison and I travelled together up to Buswelu Primary School to pick up responses from the Tanzanian students to bring to London with me when I go in January for my debriefing. When we returned to Mlango Mmoja, we booked a room Alison's mom at the New Park Hotel next door and set off into the city. We ran a long list of errands - tailor, passport photos, photo printing, internet, immigration (poor Alison has to renew her visa again to accommodate for her extra weeks of travel), the Regional Commissioner's office etc. The exciting news of the day was finding out that we had funding approved in Canada for the purchase of the land at Nyamhongolo (OOPS... found out that I've been spelling it wrong this whole time!)... great to see that we can move forward on this before heading home. We had to skip our Swahili lesson to attend a conference call at Kivulini with Maimuna, Grace (the potential candidate for the translator position) and Mel Katsivo from UWO. The call went well… we were able to establish an agreement for funds for the land to be transferred to a Kivulini account and worked out the basics for a contract for Grace between Kivulini/WHE/Tukwamuane. Unfortunately, we found ourselves locked in the office after the call was finished – the Kivulini staff had to break down the door to get us out. Life in Tanzania is always exciting!! On Tuesday night, we joined Claire at Tilapia for a goodbye dinner along with Major and Manuela. It was really sad to say goodbye to her as we’ve been able to grow so close over the last 4 months, but I’m confident we’ll stay in touch in the future.

Alison, Claire and I - inseparable!

On Wednesday morning (the 12th), I prepared an English lesson and we met with Maimuna to get details about the Kivulini bank account, then hurried to City Council to meet with Mr. Luanda in the Urban Planning Department to get an invoice for the Nyamhongolo plot… we waited pressed up against a throng of people all pushing to get into the office – not really something you’d experience in municipal offices in Canada! After getting the invoice in hand, we met with Mr. Ngowi in the TASAF office and left to pass the news on to Canada at the internet café. We unsuccessfully attempted the bank on the way home and gave ourselves a quiet hour lunch at home, knowing that we were in for a busy evening. In the afternoon, we went to Mabatini to teach English and then came back home to cook a massive meal for the mamas – bananas, rice and fish. We were ready to go for 7pm, but we didn’t have any guests until 8.30pm and then only 5 of the 10 mamas arrived!! Needless to say, we had LOTS of leftovers but they were happy to take them home wrapped in foil for their families. I gave each of them all a goodbye letter and photos (they love to have photos of people who they meet). The goodbye dinner was lovely… we had lots of good laughs with the mamas and were able to reflect together on our progress over the last 4 ½ months.

Alison & I & Mamas Elisabeth, Leah, Joyce, Sabina, Asha in our apartment.

On Thursday morning (the 13th), we organized ourselves at home before heading to the city market with Ruben so that he could show us the curios section (which we had been unable to find after months of searching!). We were all able to complete some shopping for people at home and then went our separate ways. Alison and I trekked up to the Dubai Bazaar to investigate the details of making a purchase of a new refrigerator, spent some time online and then split up – Alison going to immigration and me making a trip to the bank and to a lab equipment store to purchase plastic Petri dishes to boost NIMR’s supply. In the afternoon, I had a meeting with Dan from Kivulini who was interested in speaking with me about what I had discovered about Tukwamuane’s business model. I had a very interesting talk with him which motivated me to move forward with the preparation of a research paper… I feel like I have a lot of things to say about the structure of the project and recommendations to offer for the creation of similar initiatives. After my meeting, Alison and I drove out to Dubai Bazaar to give them the payment for the fridge (from donor funds) and then went on to Tunza for our final yoga class. We had dinner after class and came home early for a good night’s sleep.

I prepared the day’s English test (my last one!) on Friday morning (the 14th) before running into town to do last-minute banking and internet. We rushed from town to Mabatini to ensure that I would be able to maximize my last day with the mamas. I was able to present the mamas with the bill for the fridge and give them pick-up instructions, shared a final chai with them and then set off to Forever Angels. I dropped Alison off on the main road en route so that she could grab a dala-dala to the airport to pick up her mom… so exciting!! I loved every minute of my final afternoon with the babies (even though I witnessed some of the most colossal tantrums of the year)… spending time with them really enriched my experience in Tanzania. I stayed later than normal and then returned home to welcome Mrs. Chen to Mwanza. We went out for dinner with Ruben and Ania to the Teppanyaki restaurant at Tilapia – a very big indulgence to celebrate Mrs. Chen’s safe arrival!

Watching my last African sunset with Manuela at Tunza Lodge.

Saturday (the 15th) was my last day in Tanzania so I wanted to soak up every last drop of the tropics. Alison, Mrs. Chen and I went for a last lunch at Kuleana’s in town before heading out to Tunza Lodge for a relaxing day on the beach – funny to be laying on the white sand beach listening to Christmas carols… tis the season! We were joined by many of our friends who wanted to say goodbyes… to our surprise, “Tiny” and Chris from the Buhimba gold mine also showed up. It was great to be able to see them again before I left! In the evening, we enjoyed a campfire and BBQ on the beach (thank you Jan!), I had a drink watching my last African sunset, a champagne toast courtesy of Alison, and a final night of dancing with friends. It was a perfect final night and so wonderful to be able to say a proper goodbye to the people who made my time in Tanzania so much richer.

A champage goodbye toast - Ross, Mrs. Chen, Major, Jan, Alison and I.

On Sunday morning (the 16th), Alison helped me to calm down and jam every last belonging into my very full & heavy suitcases. Ruben took me out on the back of his bike for a ride through town, fulfilling my dream since my trip to Amsterdam to ride on the back of a bike with a Dutch boy. I left for the airport with the Chens and managed to get through security paying only a relatively minor fee for my extremely heavy baggage. I got all the way back to Toronto without delays (what a miracle!) and spent my layovers in VIP lounges (I paid my way into the one in Nairobi and was thrilled to be able to use a pass from my Dad to get into the Heathrow Maple Leaf Lounge)… I was focused on getting through the trip home as painlessly as possible! I was ecstatic to be able to walk through the arrivals door at Toronto Pearson to be greeted by my family and Adam… the whole moment was over so much faster than I had expected but it was amazing to come home to my loved ones.

Taking a final spin around Mwanza with Ruben.

I still can’t really believe that I’m home. I’ve arrived home to the coldest Canadian winter in 20 years… my body doesn’t really know what to do with itself! Overall, my trip to Africa was more than I could have ever imagined it would be. I’m completely satisfied with my progress in terms of project work, the relationships I was able to establish with others, and my personal development. I look forward to working closely with the project in the future and can’t wait to see the progress that is made by future interns. I will never forget the time I spent in Tanzania.

Watu wa Tanzania, nitakukosa, nitakukumbuka, nakupenda sana! Nataka kurudi Tanzania baadaye… mpaka lini!

A group of Maasai walking along the main road in Mwanza.

Stirring the milk in the community kitchen.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Tanzania – Wiki Kumi na Nane

A "rugged" bridge over a creek in Mwanza.

Alison and I spent Monday morning (the 3rd) at our computers – blogging, preparing English lessons, and writing up a contract for the translator. When we finished, we walked into town to run errands via the Maasai Market. Our Maasai lady (Anna) has been inundated with requests as we commission jewellery to be made by her to give to people at home… we’re giving her lots of business! After a couple unsuccessful attempts to get online, we grabbed lunch and managed to get online for 20 minutes before the connection cut out completely. We did a grocery shop and splurged on some vegetables from the “Veggie Boys” who sell plastic-wrapped produce across from the “mzungu” supermarket, because we didn’t have time to go to the city market. From town, we hurried to Mabatini to meet with the mamas & teach our English lesson, then hurried to Tunza to make it to our yoga class. After yoga, we drove out to Capri Point to have a sushi dinner with Jodie, Ania, Lyndsey and Nina… Ania had brought all the necessities for sushi from Canada (including bamboo mats and wasabi!), so we enjoyed a fairly authentic meal – delicious!

I started my day off on Tuesday (the 4th) at the internet café, trying to finish up the tasks that the connection wouldn’t let me finish the day before. I came back upstairs for an arranged meeting with Mama Joyce, who brought several hand-written letters/spreadsheets/meeting minutes (in Swahili) for the TASAF and NGO applications which we typed up together while Alison prepared an English lesson for later in the week. After a brief meeting at Kivulini, we headed to town. We had another unsuccessful internet attempt, ate a quick lunch, and walked to the Regional Commissioner’s office to drop off our documents for the NGO application. We waited for a while for the Community Development Officer to finish up his other tasks before he was ready for us… he then proceeded to take us through the application process (which we are familiar with from a previous meeting with him) painstakingly slowly, step by step… and later informed us that our application couldn’t be completed as we’d need to hand the material in ourselves in Dar es Salaam. Needless to say, we were feeling very frustrated with him and pushed him to try and come up with a solution for us within the RC’s office in Mwanza, promising to return the following week for an update. We managed to get online before rushing to our Swahili lesson and then returning home. We had a visit from the Tuelimishane boys before we left for Tilapia for a celebratory “just the two of us” dinner, giving us a chance to reflect on our time here as we near the end of our internship.

Neighbours - a mansion and a shack near the orphanage in Bwiru. Classic example of the divide between rich and poor in Mwanza.

On Wednesday (the 5th) morning, we had a 9am meeting at City Council with Mr. Luanda, the Project Manager for the new plots of land at Nyamongoro. After waiting for a typical hour or so for him to be ready, we drove up to the site together (picking up Mama Elisabeth along the way). We were able to see the plot plans and survey the land ourselves to get an idea for position and size. It turns out that the plots which are ideal for our project (bigger, close to the main road etc.) are significantly more expensive than what we were first quoted, but I still think it’s a very worthwhile investment for the project to make as we look to the future of Tukwamuane. We returned to City Council to get some supporting documents and to meet briefly with Mr. Ngowi, the TASAF coordinator. After our morning meetings, we ran a bunch of errands (internet, travel agency, Maasai Market – to pick up a gift for us made by Anna, tailors etc.) and then walked to Mabatini to teach. I went over the kitchen’s November bills with the mamas… unfortunately, their costs are still soaring high above their sales figures… this is the result of the large quantities of yogurt which they give away to the HIV+ population. It’s difficult for me to see how this gap will be filled in the future, but increasing sales is certainly the first step to take towards making profit. It is a bit frustrating to see that this discrepancy is still so significant after we’ve put in months of effort to mediate the problem, but I suppose that’s typical for aid work in some senses. Even the simplest problems can sometimes seem nearly impossible to solve because of the complications of culture, poverty, lack of infrastructure etc. Although not all of our results are tangible at the moment, I hope that the steps we’ve taken in regards to protocol, education and planning will have laid the groundwork for future success.

On Wednesday evening, we went to Papae’s house in Capri Point for a dinner to celebrate the start of wedding festivities for his sister, Kiran. They were playing host to friends and family who flew in from all over the globe and the celebrations started early and in full force as is typical of Indian weddings. We arrived in his colourful courtyard and were treated to singing and drumming before enjoying a delicious meal. Definitely a taste of things to come with an entire weekend of wedding events ahead!

Kiran (the bride), me, Alison, Papae, Ania, Vandy and Jodie.

We celebrated Sinter Klaas (Dutch Christmas) on Thursday (the 6th) with shoes filled with treats… I managed to keep the tradition alive for yet another set of roommates, but unfortunately my Dutch roomie (Ruben) wasn’t in town to enjoy the day. We tackled piles of project emails at the internet café but realized that we’re still essentially at a standstill waiting for answers from Canadian and Tanzanian partners on several pressing project issues. We came back to the apartment and I worked for a few hours on my internship debriefing report, which I had started earlier in the week – basically a breakdown of all WHE-related issues pertaining to my involvement with the project both at home and during my time in Africa. In the afternoon, we met Jo at our tailor’s to pick up a bag of Indian clothing which was being passed around the volunteers in town so that we could all dress ourselves appropriately for the weekend’s events. We walked on to Swahili lessons, where I’m sad to be realizing that my Swahili efforts are coming to an end – I hope that I won’t lose it all completely when I get home but I know that’s the likely outcome without somewhere to practice! After class, we went to Tunza for yoga and dinner with friends.

Pascal, hiding in the trees at Forever Angels.

On Friday morning (the 7th), I went down to the internet café to check for progress on the WHE front and came back up to work on my internship report as Alison wrote the day’s English test. We walked up to Mabatini and made it to the kitchen just before a rainstorm hit. We were a bit surprised to find Mr. Ndassa (the Community Development Officer) sitting in the kitchen, talking with the mamas – although we met with him earlier in the month to get his approval of our constitution and other material related to our NGO application, after receiving 5 bound copies of our documents (not cheap to do in Mwanza!), he found some minor changes that he wanted us to implement. We had another painstakingly slow discussion with him to review the changes and promised to return with the updated material before our departure. After the meeting, we travelled to NIMR to drop off Mama Elisabeth (who went to pick up another batch of probiotic milk since the Wednesday batch was spoiled) and went on to the orphanage for the afternoon. I was happy to find out that Forever Angels has received more funding for construction and are now able to start building a pre-school adjacent to the main building. After returning home, I met with Jovita (from Kivulini’s Legal Aid) to discuss some logistical matters about the potential purchase of the Nyamongoro land. We’ve been so lucky to have had access to Kivulini’s staff… they’ve been invaluable in terms of the advice and support they’ve given us since August.

Getting my henna done at Friday night's party.

On Friday evening, we were invited to Tilapia for a Henna/Mendhi party for Kiran’s wedding. We joined the other women sitting on mattresses to get the intricate designs drawn onto the backs and palms of our hands, and watched as the older women sang and danced to the beat of drums. Later in the evening, Kiran and her ‘ladies-in-waiting’ joined us. Kiran’s mendhi designs were amazing… it took five hours to complete the designs on her hands, forearms, feet and calves, and the result was nothing less than a work of art. We spent the rest of the evening waiting for our hands to dry, watching dance performances, and indulging in a delicious dinner.

Kiran's (the bride) intricate mendhi designs.

Alison and I had a delightfully quiet day on Saturday (the 8th). I enjoyed breakfast while watching “A Muppets’ Family Christmas” which is still one of the greatest holiday films of all time, in my opinion. I spent some time online before we walked to town to run errands and then returned home to relax. We had visits from friends and were happy to greet Claire and Ruben when they finally returned home from their travels. Claire had been in Ghana all week at a CRS conference, and Ruben in Dar to settle immigration issues – both had their planes delayed/cancelled and had a disastrous trip back to Mwanza. Here’s hoping I don’t have the same luck on my way back home! (knock wood!) We were happy to extend an invitation to them to come with us to Stephanie and Riaan’s house for a BBQ to celebrate Riaan’s birthday and enjoyed hearing stories about their week away.

Alison, me, Ania, Claire and Jodie outside of the temple.

We woke up early on Sunday morning (the 9th) to get ready to attend our first Sikh/Hindu wedding ceremony. Uncle Sira (a jovial older man who has taken us under his wing during our time in Mwanza) picked us up at 9am and we drove together to the temple in town for the wedding ceremony. We joined the women waiting in a hallway looking onto the courtyard and made our first social faux-pas as we neglected to remove our shoes… luckily that was as bad as it got for us. Kiran and her ladies arrived soon after and she was escorted up to a waiting room away from the crowd. Shalin (the groom) came in later with an elaborate headdress on, complete with tassels covering his face. We watched as the two families arrived and greeted each other, exchanging garlands and hugs. Finally, the bride descended from her room and met her groom… they were hoisted up in the air in celebration and then she returned to her room again to prepare for the ceremony. After an interlude for refreshments, we all went to the temple (with shoes off and heads covered) to watch the ceremony. The bride and groom must make 4 circles together (the bride is ‘supported’ around the circle by brothers and close male friends) to complete the service. Afterwards, we stayed for lunch (where the men and women ate separately) and then returned home.

The bride and groom receiving blessings in the garden.

I spent part of the afternoon at Jodie’s fundi (tailor) getting alterations done on a dress so that I’d have something to wear to the reception, and then met Claire and Alison at a salon below our apartment. We decided to splurge and spend 1,500 Tsh (about a dollar) to get our hair curled for the evening… a very funny experience to share together! We set off to Tilapia for the wedding reception and finished off a beautifully traditional weekend celebrating the union of the bride and groom. I was so happy to have the opportunity to be involved in the wedding… it was a perfect way to spend one of our last weekends in Mwanza!

Hennaed and in traditional Indian attire.

The next time I write will be from Canada (I depart Mwanza on the 16th and arrive in Toronto midday on the 17th)… it’s incredible that my time in Africa has come and gone already! I have been avoiding thinking about the goodbyes that I will have to say next week as I prepare to leave for home. Though I’m excited to return home, I’m sure that within a few weeks, everything will have returned to ‘normal’ and I will be pining for the adventure of my time in Africa again. This experience has given me such an incredible opportunity to develop and challenge myself… I know I will treasure the memories of my time spent in Tanzania for the rest of my life.

“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place, I told him, like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way ever again.” - Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran

Monday, December 3, 2007

Tanzania – Wiki Kumi na Saba

Walking through Mabatini with some local boys.

I woke up early on Monday morning (the 26th) and finished all of my computer work (blog entry, English lesson and an amended visa application for Stephanie, WHE’s new student intern) much earlier than expected. I attempted to put some things into suitcases to get an idea of how much space I have available for my trip home and then went into the city without Alison, who decided to go get checked out at the clinic (and tested negative for malaria, thank goodness!). I did some administrative errands at a secretarial shop, went to the bank, and then spent a productive hour online at the internet café. I met Alison and Claire for a quick lunch before Alison and I were expected at NIMR for a meeting with Mr. Temu (the chairman of the microbiology department), Simon & George (the lab technicians) and one of the mamas. Our discussion was very productive – we established everyone’s role and commitment to the project and identified the gaps where communication has failed… hopefully this will allow the production of probiotic milk to run more smoothly in the future. After the meeting, we travelled up to Mabatini with Mama Elisabeth to meet with the mamas and teach English. We stayed late with them to trade stories and laughter over ugali and dagaa (very small fish that you eat whole… not my favourite Tanzanian dish). I am very proud of the progress that we have made as a group – our communication is strong and our ability to transcend the cultural barriers between us continues to amaze me. I never thought we’d be able to share this kind of a relationship with the mamas in the absence of a translator… it’s been a wonderful surprise.

On Tuesday morning (the 27th), I put the finishing touches on a working contact list for Stephanie to use when she arrives in Mwanza and updated the Tukwamuane balance sheet with new financial information from NIMR. We had a quick meeting with Maimuna before heading into town for the day. As we passed the Maasai Market, we spotted a guy looking dreadfully touristy – a backpack on both his front and his back, frantically thumbing through a Lonely Planet travel guide. We decided to stop and give him a hand – I escorted him across town to the dala-dala stand that would take him to a bigger bus station outside of Mwanza. I appreciate the unspoken kinship that exists between travellers who find themselves out of their element on the other side of the world! Alison was busy running errands in my absence, so I met up with her later at the internet café to get some work done.

We grabbed a quick lunch before meeting with Mr. Batenga, who has been promoted to the role of Vice President of the Tanzanian Chamber of Commerce… hongera (congratulations!). Batenga was able to provide us with some information about the capacity for transportation/distribution of dairy products and some names for potential business partners that Danone may use if they decide to establish themselves in Mwanza. From Batenga’s office, we walked to City Council to meet with Mr. Luanda, the City Planner’s project manager. He advised us on our impending purchase of the new plots of land outside of the city – the good news is that we are allowed to raise a small number of cattle on the plot and that we should be able to work through the process by early 2008. We hurried up to Mr. Ngowi’s office (the TASAF coordinator) to tell him the good news. He advised us to postpone our TASAF application until the land purchase has been settled, which would result in the project being initiated in March 2008 if all goes well. After our meeting, we ran to our Swahili lessons before driving out to Nyegezi to Tini’s house to celebrate her birthday over a gourmet dinner (it’s always good when the birthday girl is also a talented chef!).

Me, Tini, Claire and Major at Tini's birthday party.

We spent Wednesday (the 28th) working at the apartment and (accidentally) started to listen to Christmas music – it’s a little bit hard to get in the holiday spirit with palm trees swaying in the breeze outside the window, but we’ll struggle through! Maimuna popped by with a potential translator’s contact info (in preparation for Stephanie’s arrival), which Alison used to book an interview for later in the week. We headed into the city to investigate flight information for Steph and send the details back home. After lunch, we walked to Mkuo Mkoa (the Regional Commissioner’s office) to meet with Mr. Kiamba to follow up on Tukwamuane’s application for NGO status… unfortunately, he informed us upon our arrival that he had retired from the position the week prior. He brought us down to meet with Mr. Ndassa, the Community Development Officer (who we were familiar with due to his involvement in the late Deputy Minister’s visit in August). Together, we reviewed the mamas’ constitution and went over the application requirements. From the city, we stopped at home briefly and walked to Mabatini wearing kangas – Paskwalina requested that I put one on as I never wear them… the concept of layering another piece of material over my capris in this heat isn’t that appealing to me! We shared some pictures from home with the mamas and taught an English lesson before walking to the International School to swim & have dinner with Claire and Lauren.

On Thursday (the 29th), I prepped Friday’s English test and went online to check for Steph’s flight info while Alison had 5 copies of the Tukwamuane constitution made & bound for the NGO application. I interviewed Gracie, the woman who Maimuna recommended we consider hiring as a part-time translator… I was very pleasantly surprised and hope that we can work out the contract details to everyone’s satisfaction. After the interview, Pendo came with us into town to get a new gas canister – they have changed the regulations in Mwanza, forcing us to shell out a lot of money to purchase a new ‘compatible’ container. Later, we walked into the city to the bank and the travel agency, where we officially booked Steph’s flight into Mwanza – she arrives on January 4th and we will be very proud to pass the torch on to her. We completed a typical Thursday with Swahili, yoga, and dinner at Tunza Lodge.

Michael, swinging in the afternoon sun at Forever Angels.

Mamas Paskwalina, Elisabeth and Joyce met us at the apartment on Friday morning (the 30th) where we reviewed the NGO application before heading into town together. We stopped at a number of hotels/restaurants to drop off our marketing package (which should be fully translated to Swahili in future) and have the mamas talk up their product a bit. We stopped at a photo place in town to get passport pictures taken for the NGO application, and then walked to the Dubai Bazaar near the sokoni to shop for a new refrigerator for the kitchen (a necessary purchase as we focus on growth and increasing production!). We headed back to the kitchen to pick up yogurt orders for Kivulini Kitchen and Forever Angels, grabbed lunch at a local place nearby our house, and drove out to the orphanage for the afternoon. We came home minutes before a massive storm blew through the area and perched on our balcony to watch the weather pummel Mlango Mmoja below.

A Land-Rover splashing through the floods in Mlango Mmoja.

We invited Pendo’s entire family (her, her mother, and 11 children when you count extended relatives) for dinner, so Alison and I got started on cooking early. We prepared a traditional meal (rice, bananas, and fish) and spent a very nice but chaotic evening at home with our visitors. Ruben arrived late and riled up the children, initiating singing, dancing, limbo and jumping contests. Needless to say, we were exhausted when they left (but didn’t have any dishes to do as Pendo insisted that her kids clean the dishes and the floors of our apartment after eating).

A tray of food for Pendo's kids to eat (with their hands, as is traditionally African) - bananas, rice and fish.

Ruben, leading (dangerous) jumping contests in our apartment.

I woke up on Saturday morning (December 1st – World AIDS Day) to a sweet surprise – Alison made me an “Advent” calendar counting down the days to my flight home… very thoughtful! We walked into town early to go check out Jenny’s soccer tournament at an old stadium in the city. There were six teams from local youth centres and orphanages, bleachers full of fans, and DJs pumping music that incited dance-offs all around the field. It was a great event… wonderful for the children to get an opportunity to show off their skills and to be celebrated by their community. We grabbed a quick lunch in the city before heading out to the CCM Kirumba Stadium, where there were massive festivities going on for World AIDS Day. There were thousands of people there watching rap performances and speeches, perusing the booths (Kivulini and our mamas had space there), and getting free tests for HIV. It was really powerful to see the city come together to advocate and raise awareness for such an important cause. From the stadium, we took the dala-dala to Tunza to relax on the beach. Later in the evening, we joined our friends at the Yun Long Chinese Restaurant on Rock Beach for dinner and went back to Major’s to watch a movie.

Coach Jenny and her girls team.

On Sunday (the 2nd), Alison and I walked to Mabatini to accompany Mama Paskwalina to church. We arrived at the church a bit late after waiting for her to meet us at the kitchen… although it was standing-room-only for latecomers, the crowd typically managed to find us chairs to sit on. I appreciate the gesture but it makes me feel awkward to always be singled out! I maximized the utility of my chair by having a child sit on my lap for the whole service. The mass was nice, as usual – I’m impressed by the American pastor’s Swahili and was proud of myself for being able to decipher large portions of the homily. I still find it funny to see the little “African” details of life here – for example, the wine is carried to the front of the church in a large Dasani bottle, and the hosts in a plastic bag. After mass, we had chai with the mamas at the kitchen, and then went to Tunza to chill out & read on the beach. I helped Alison to finish up the paint job on the entranceway to the lodge… doing our best to make a permanent mark on Mwanza! We came home to a quiet apartment as Ruben has gone to Dar es Salaam for the week to settle up his research & resident’s permit… we know from experience with immigration in Mwanza that this is not an easy task to accomplish!

Reading in the shade on the beach at Tunza.

I’m getting extremely excited to come home to my family and friends, especially because I’ll be arriving home during the holiday season (apparently to one of the coldest winters that Toronto has seen in the last 15 years… I’m definitely going to have a hard time adjusting!). Saying goodbye to this place won’t be easy, though… I’ve loved so many things about Africa and will be looking forward to returning in the future.

“If I know a song of Africa – I thought – of the giraffe, and the African new moon lying on her back, of the ploughs in the fields, and the sweaty faces of the coffee-pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Would the air over the plain quiver with a colour that I had had on, or the children invent a game in which my name was, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or would the eagles of Ngong look out for me?” -- Karen Blixen.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Tanzania – Wiki Kumi na Sita

Two sisters in rural Mwanza.

I spent a typical Monday morning (the 19th) working at my laptop and having a couple brief meetings with members of the Kivulini staff. After a couple hours of project work, Alison and I headed out to town to run our routine Monday errands before going to City Council for a 2pm meeting with Mr. Thomas Tukay, the City Urban Planning Officer. We patiently waited outside his office for about 45 minutes before he showed up, and had a brief discussion outlining our desire to obtain a new plot of land for the mamas before he took us to meet the City Director to present our case to him. After awkwardly explaining ourselves in front of a room of City Councillors, we were told to wait outside for a few minutes before Tukay would join us and travel to Mabatini to survey the mamas’ present site. We took our seats in the lobby and watched as the minutes & hours ticked by… finally, at 5pm, Tukay emerged from the office and was ready to go. I was incredulous that he didn’t seem to think it that out of the ordinary to make guests wait for 3 hours for a meeting… AWA (again and again!).

Entertaining ourselves with the self-timer camera feature while waiting at City Council.

We drove to the community kitchen, where Tukay introduced himself to the mamas and heard of their desire to own a piece of land rather than use a plot allocated to them but controlled by City Council. With that in mind, Tukay took Alison, Mama Paskwalina and I for a drive about 6-7km out of town to see a new area of development in Nyamongoro. Mwanza is growing at a very rapid pace (the fastest growing city in East Africa!) and it is not hard to imagine that the Nyamongoro area will be bustling in a few short years. For now, it is an interesting area to consider which may accommodate the mamas’ growing needs. After saying goodbye to Tukay, we returned to Mabatini to teach English and talk with the mamas before walking back through the beginnings of the night market to our apartment (as quickly as possible, trying to get home before the sun disappeared completely). We went to Jenny’s house in Pasiansi for dinner – her friend Matt (here to visit from the US) cooked a massive meal which we enjoyed watching a movie projected onto their living room wall.

After showering on Tuesday morning (the 20th), I realized that the strange burning smell I had been noticing was coming from my hair – no more ironing… beauty is pain! Alison and I busied ourselves around the apartment making calls to arrange and reschedule meetings and running back and forth from Kivulini to wrap up some loose ends. We set off to town to re-activate Alison’s cell phone and grab a quick lunch before doing a huge grocery shop in town. We were happy to see that the mamas’ yogurt is being sold at Lavena Supermarket (one of the biggest grocery stores in town) for 2000 Tsh/litre… very exciting in terms of sales and distribution! After dropping the food off at home, we went back into the city so that Alison could meet Manuela in order to book their Christmastime safari together. I spent an hour reading research papers at the pizzeria over a milky chai… reminiscent of endless days studying in the library at UWO (slightly different due to the tropical climate here). I met the girls at Swahili class & afterwards enjoyed our customary Tuesday evening of swimming and dinner at Claire’s.

On Wednesday morning (the 21st) I prepared an English lesson for the mamas and typed up a copy of Kivulini’s lease to give to Ruben so that he may use it to negotiate with the landlord (I discovered that she is trying to charge us WAY more than Kivulini pays for essentially the same space… unsurprising but still unfair). Alison called Mr. Ngowi, Mwanza’s TASAF (the Tanzania Social Action Fund) coordinator, and we rushed out to meet him after hearing that he was in the office. We first picked up Mama Paskwalina from Mabatini and then drove into the city. Mr. Ngowi was very happy to see us and was glad to receive the group’s TASAF application from Mama Paskwalina (the street leader finally relented and helped them to organize the community meeting required for its completion). Though we had been expected a few weeks earlier, we were happy to hear that we were not too late to be considered for the grant. We were blown away when Mr. Ngowi showed us the extremely detailed three-page budget that he had prepared for us, along with a month-by-month action plan for the project’s implementation, and even a sketch of a ‘banda’ (cow shed) that they intend to construct. The budget missed nothing – it allows for the purchase of four pregnant cows and one bull, all the costs and purchases associated with building a shed, a year’s supply of grass for the cows, a bicycle, medication for the animals, training (the most important component, in my mind – allowing the mamas to choose what they want to be trained in), etc… totalling almost 9 million Tsh (about 7500 CDN) Mr. Ngowi assured us that the application has a very good chance of going through and sent us on our way with further instructions of tasks to be completed. We drove up to Mabatini with an agricultural surveyor who was to assess a potential piece of land where the banda may be built. Unfortunately, he found the space to be too small and too close to family homes. Nevertheless, we were very excited to hear of the potential for support from the Tanzanian government – a very important step towards sustainability.

We returned home and split up – Alison to Nyakato with Omari (from Kivulini) and Mama Paskwalina to meet with an architect to look at designs for a new kitchen, and me to the internet café to send a very exciting update email home and to check for a quote from Tukay for the Nyamongoro site. We had planned to meet our friend Tini in town at 3pm to travel back to Mabatini with representatives from the German Embassy in Dar es Salaam – another opportunity to apply for a grant to support the project’s growth – but found out that the Germans’ plane had been delayed. We ran some errands in town to kill time before meeting with Tini at 5.45pm to show off Tukwamuane’s project to the embassy representatives. They stayed for only a short visit, as they were scheduled to see a couple other projects in Mwanza, but they were very positive about the project and encouraged us to apply for support from them. After a very tiring and productive day, Alison and I went to Kivulini Kitchen (a restaurant in Isamilo) to say goodbye & happy birthday to Ray (Claire’s boss at Catholic Relief Services) as he departs Mwanza for the USA.

We left home on Thursday morning (the 22nd), met Mama Paskwalina at the bottom of the Mabatini hill and grabbed a dala-dala to Nyakato where we walked to the Roman Catholic parish where Nico (Isaac’s friend) is the pastor. Before we left, we saw the AIDS Outreach Centre affiliated with the parish and met some of the staff who work there – they offer mostly counselling and educational support for the community. Together, we left to Mahina to attend their weekly community meeting and pick up the CD4 counts of the members who had agreed to help us with project research. We waited for quite some time for the meeting to begin before they informed us that they didn’t have the numbers ready. I realize that I have become cynical when it comes to promises of productivity in Tanzania, so I wasn’t surprised that nothing had been prepared. Instead, we provided them with a template for the data and gave them our phone numbers to call for pick-up when the information is ready. After meeting in Mahina, Alison and I walked through Nyakato to Heifer International for our rescheduled meeting with Dr. Sokombi. Our discussion was very interesting, allowing us to come to a better understanding of both the challenges presented to NGOs by the changing face of HIV/AIDS and the current state of the dairy industry in Mwanza – a bit strange to focus on these two issues side-by-side. From Nyakato, we took a dala-dala back to Mabatini for chai and yogurt purchasing and then returned home. In the afternoon, we went into town (no chance to get online due to power cuts) and walked to NIMR to meet with Mr. Temu, the chairman of the microbiology department. Unfortunately, what we thought would be a useful discussion about the production and access of probiotic milk actually was just a chance for him to reschedule the meeting to the following week. We trudged back to town under the blazing midday sun for Swahili and then drove to Tunza for a very relaxing yoga class – desperately necessary in the middle of an extremely hectic week! Alison and I returned home after yoga for dinner and a movie… we were exhausted both mentally and physically.

New yoga pictures from a couple weeks ago, courtesy of Tini's camera.

On Friday morning (the 23rd) I pulled together some final thoughts for a research paper proposal to send home to Canada while Alison prepared an English test for the mamas. We met with Maimuna to follow up on several issues and to inform her of the week’s progress. I ran down to the internet after our meeting to work through my inbox, and then walked to Mabatini with Alison. We had chai with the mamas before leaving to the orphanage in Bwiru. En route, we stopped by the Wilson home to pick up the containers we used to give the yogurt to Charity Ball. We spoke to Ian, Andie’s husband, a dentist who manages an NGO called Bridge2Aid, which trains rural practitioners and provides funds to vulnerable rural communities. We heard from him that the ball raised 27 million Tsh… an improvement over last year’s 21 million Tsh and much more than they had anticipated. We spent a pleasant afternoon at the orphanage before returning home to the internet and a trip to Nyakato for kitchen sketches (the mid-week trip was unsuccessful). On Friday evening, we went to Jenny’s again for dinner and a movie with her parents who are in town for a pre-Christmas visit.

Bahati, one of my favourite little munchkins at the orphanage.

Yunisi, looking beautiful in her kitenge.

On Saturday morning (the 24th), I left with Claire, Tini, Major and Ross to Kijereshi for a camping trip. Alison was feeling under the weather and thought it best to stay home for the weekend and recuperate. With all the recent rainstorms, this was probably a wise decision! We drove 45 minutes out of town before the car broke down, forcing us to enjoy our novels under the shade of acacia trees as we waited for a mechanic to arrive. We were joined by dozens of local children who were content to watch us from a distance and were happier still when we brought out our digital cameras and started coming up with games to play together (hopscotch, hat-tossing etc). We managed to get the car repaired and set off again for the campsite. After turning off the main road, we started approaching a menacing storm that painted the sky a deep blue. Eventually we found ourselves in the thick of it, so Tini, Ross and I thought it would be a good idea to run around in it to get the full experience of a Serengeti storm. The rain stung like hail and we were sopping wet within a matter of seconds, but it was worth it. We spent the afternoon drying off in the Kijereshi Lodge before venturing out to our campsite. The open banda where we had planned to sleep was full of puddles and after we still hadn’t produced a good fire with half a box of matches, we decided to opt for Plan B – sleeping in a “family unit” room and ordering dinner from the kitchen. Not exactly the most rugged camping experience, but a reasonable alternative in the height of the rainy season!

Playing a "toss-the-hat" game with Ross and some local children.

We spent Sunday morning (the 25th) reading around the pool, returning back to our room to prep the lunch while the boys headed out to make a new fire at the campsite. When we hadn’t heard from them two hours later, Tini, Claire and I decided to take action ourselves and built a fire on the doorstep of our room. This was probably not ‘safi’ (cool) with the hotel staff, but we produced a delicious pasta and sauce and were very proud of ourselves. Hours later, we heard a few shotguns fire and the boys rolled back to the room, covered from head to toe in mud and carrying their trophy guinea fowl. They had found themselves stuck in the mud after venturing “off-road” and had spent hours getting going again. We enjoyed our meal and the fresh kill from the plains before driving back to Mwanza in the middle of another massive thunderstorm.

Claire and Tini, working hard to prepare our meal on an open fire, steps away from our room.

With three weeks left in Mwanza and so much on the go pertaining to the project, I feel as though these weeks will continue to be frenzied with activity as we wrap up our efforts. It’s a great feeling to be ending our internship on such a positive note, with so much potential for the future growth of the project.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Tanzania – Wiki Kumi na Tano

Mama Paskwalina filling a big yogurt order at the kitchen.

I spent the morning of Monday the 12th working on my laptop in the apartment – prepping my blog, finishing my editing of Jodie’s report (all 49 pages!), and organizing some information gleaned from the mamas pertaining to the Tukwamuane balance sheet. I went over to Kivulini briefly to speak with Maimuna, and was introduced to an American woman and a Canadian man who are in Mwanza representing a North American foundation. They expressed interest in finding an appropriate group or project to support financially, so I took the opportunity to tell them about the work that the Tukwamuane women are doing. The Kivulini staff offered to bring them to see the kitchen, and they promised to keep in touch with me. In the afternoon, Alison and I ventured to town to run errands – we had a very successful internet session, went to the bank and the post office, and bumped into some volunteers from the baby home for lunch. We hurried back to Mlango Mmoja before travelling up to Mabatini to teach English. We got suckered into staying for rice and beans with the mamas (again!)… we need to start coming up with more creative excuses if we want to avoid having to eat huge portions of starchy food every afternoon! After eating, we came back to Mlango Mmoja with Mamas Cesilia and Asha to start lesson one of Email 101. They were very fast learners, although we had to start from the very beginning (i.e. this is a mouse, this is how you use the mouse). I came home to two exciting postal packages (thank you to everyone who has been sending mail… it’s the best pick-me-up when it arrives!), and Alison and I were very happy to spend our evening indulging in watching the new Sex and the City DVDs sent from Canada.

On Tuesday morning (the 13th), Alison and I did work while waiting for a meeting with Maimuna to discuss several issues. The wait ended up being a lot longer than we expected, so we kept productivity at a high, doing laundry and getting organized for our December travels (Alison – around Tanzania, me – home!). Finally, Maimuna was available and we had a very productive meeting, receiving advice on a number of issues – Mercy’s disappearance (we’re getting Kivulini Legal Aid to try and track her down), allocating donations to the Tuelimishane Youth Group, getting in touch with our landlord to negotiate next year’s lease, requesting mediation services between Tukwamuane and the street leadership, training resources in Mwanza, contacts with Heifer International (to get information about the dairy industry in Mwanza for the Danone consultant), improving communication between WHE interns and Kivulini staff, etc. etc. We later met with Mama Yusta of Legal Aid to follow up on some issues, before heading into town for the afternoon. We arrived at the Regional Commissioner’s office and waited for a while before meeting with Mr. Kiamba, Mwanza’s Principal Planning Officer. We had intended to speak with him about registering Tukwamuane’s business name, but it turns out that he’s the man responsible for registering NGOs. Lucky for us, that’s another procedure that we need to start working on, so we talked it through and will hopefully set that process into motion over the next few weeks. After our meeting, we grabbed a quick lunch and spent a short while online before heading to Swahili class. Later, we swam laps at the pool and returned to Claire’s before meeting Major (& his family), Ross, Papae and some of the Indian boys at the Mwanza Yacht Club for a curry cookout next to the lake.

My favourite sight in Mwanza - "paper birds" (egrets) flying against the hillside homes.

I spent Wednesday morning (the 14th) preparing an English lesson and compiling a list of WHE email addresses for the mamas, so that they are able to communicate with Canada if they wish to. We finally had success in reformatting the ‘new’ educational brochure (as per the faculty’s recommendations), but were out of luck when we attempted to meet with both Maimuna and Mama Yusta. We set off into town to use the internet, and so that Alison could spend some time at the travel agency. I came home alone for a quick bite to eat before running photocopies of the English lessons and the brochures. Alison and I met up again to travel to Nyakato to meet with Dr. Sokombi of Heifer International, in hopes that he might be able to provide us with information about the structure of the Mwanza dairy industry, which we could later pass on to Ivan. We were dropped off at Heifer, and I called Dr. Sokombi to let him know we had arrived. Guiltily, he told me that he was still on the road and asked if we could wait for 1 ½ hours for him to arrive. We decided it would be best to reschedule the meeting and grabbed a dala-dala back to Mabatini. We taught an English lesson and spent a long time chatting with the mamas (with some translation through Asha’s cousin). Fortunately, we managed to sneak away before the inevitable rice and bean afternoon meal. We waited at home until Cesilia and Asha showed up, and went to the internet with again to practice their new emailing skills. Afterwards, Alison and I ran to the tailor to pick up my Charity Ball dress, had dinner with Ruben (with mid-meal visits from Claire, Basi from Tuelimishane, and Jondwa, Ruben’s tailor friend), watched a movie and went to bed early.

On Thursday morning (the 15th), we met with Maimuna and Omari from Kivulini to follow up on a number of issues, and I attempted to get in touch with Dr. Changalucha for our scheduled follow-up meeting, to no avail. We waited around for the landlord to show up, and were able to confirm that the apartment will be available for rent next year (which is great news – first of all, because it’s a great location for interns to work out of, and second of all – Alison and I were not looking forward to apartment hunting during our last weeks here!). We headed into town so that Alison could do some more banking/travel agency errands, and so that I could spend time online researching for a potential paper to submit for publishing upon my return home. I finally decided to count my losses and purchased a new USB key at the internet café (mine mysteriously went missing last Friday)… it’s a very important tool to have when you’re doing work on a new computer every day! I met with Alison for a quick bite to eat before walking with her to Precision Air to have some of her flights changed, and on to the bank where we had no success in withdrawing funds. We hurried to our Swahili lessons, picked up the “wazungu” yogurt order from home, and drove to Tunza for our yoga class. We had dinner with some of the International School teachers, and heard about an opportunity for us to apply for a grant for the project from the German embassy in Dar es Salaam… lots of possibilities for us to pursue in our last month here!

Grace, enjoying a snack of yogurt at Forever Angels.

I woke up on Friday morning (the 16th) and prepared the day’s English test before we set off to Mabatini. We were picked up on the way by a German man who is managing the road construction there… we see him every time we go to the kitchen and he never fails to salute us and wish us good luck with our work. Once we got to Mabatini, we bought several new plastic containers for the yogurt to accommodate our big orders. We gave the mamas the English test, enjoyed chai and chapati for breakfast, and set off to town with 20L of yogurt – 14L for Charity Ball, to be served alongside the curry (our ‘donation’ to the cause), and 6L for the orphanage. We use the same taxi driver to take us to Bwiru every week, and when we got in the car, he presented me with my missing USB key – I suppose it had fallen out of my bag the week before… extremely kind of him to save it for me! We dropped off the Charity Ball order and went to City Council for our 11am meeting with Joseph Mlinzi. While we waited, he sent me a text message requesting that we reschedule for 3pm as he was out of office. Alison and I had had quite enough of waiting and rescheduling, so we talked our way into the Mayor’s office to speak with him about his promise to assist the mamas in obtaining a new plot of land. He immediately got us in touch with the City Planning Officer, Mr. Tukay, who booked a follow-up meeting with us for next Monday afternoon… we will travel with him to Mabatini so he can see the facility that the mamas are currently working out of, and then take us to some new potential plots. From City Council, we went to Forever Angels. The baby home was very crowded as they are conducting interviews for new staff – with new children arriving all the time and some in the hospital in poor health, they are desperate for extra hands. Though I have been mostly been posting pictures of chubby toddlers, it’s important for me to remind you that this baby home also cares for some very sick babies. One tiny little boy, Adamo, was brought to FA last week because his 14-year-old mother is now in the last throes of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. He’s extremely malnourished and needs to get growing over the next few weeks to maintain his health. After cuddling the little ones through a huge thunderstorm, we came home for a quiet night in – dinner with Ruben and Tobias (stuffed peppers… we are determined to continue our culinary creativity!) and a movie.

A raging thunderstorm woke me up early on Saturday morning (the 17th)… the rainy season has definitely arrived, but it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. Storms arrive and move on quite quickly, and it seems to rain most frequently at night or in the early morning. No flooding yet (knock wood!), and our mobility around town (on foot!) hasn’t been hindered too much so far. We spent a slow morning primping (painting nails, ironing hair… yes, with a real iron) and then met Claire in town to run some casual errands and to have lunch together. She came back to our house and we got dressed together before setting off with Ruben to the Bank of Tanzania Institute for the Grand Charity Ball. We all took turns volunteering to sell raffle tickets during the evening, enjoyed watching the ‘high rollers’ participate in a live auction (for items such as a piece of unfinished Tanzanite, bars of gold and silver – donated by the mining companies, flights around Tanzania etc… a little out of range for those of us with no income!), and watched presentations of where the grants went from last year’s event. It was a really lovely evening – nice to see that all the volunteers and NGO workers can clean up a bit, and great to celebrate together for a good cause.

Alison, Ruben, Claire and I on the roof of our apartment, pre-ball.

Tini, Matt, me, Claire, Alison, Manuela, Ruben, Lawreen, Lauren, Lindsay, Jenny and Carlos.

Alison and I were picked up on Sunday morning (the 18th) by Mama Asha’s sister, who walked with us to Asha’s house in Mabatini. We met her family and sat in the living room with her as she showed us her photo albums and her ‘guest book’ (with messages written by several former WHE interns), with a kung-fu video playing in the background on the television (??). We enjoyed tea and breakfast with her, and chatted for a while before trying to duck out and return home. Much to our surprise, she and her sister pulled out some black kohl makeup and immediately started drawing Alison’s eyebrows on. They rubbed my eyebrows to see if I already had makeup on them, confirmed that I didn’t, and drew mine on as well. Another sister started painting our nails, while another braided my hair. We were a bit bewildered, unsure why we were suddenly participating in a spa day, but thanked them for their efforts and started our walk home with bushy black eyebrows. I spent a bit of time online (with black eyebrows still intact) before we grabbed a taxi to go to Tunza to spend time with the birthday boy, Ross. As we were driving along Airport Road, a young boy ran out in front of our vehicle and we struck him. It was really terrible… he flew through the air and hit the road, and I thought for sure that we’d be administering first aid to a very serious case. I scanned his limbs to see if there were any breaks, but he seemed to get away with only a tiny bump on his head. We took him in the taxi to the hospital to get him checked out, and then went on to Tunza. Alison and I were both very shaken up, but were very relieved that the boy was okay. We spent the evening playing cards with Ross (Po-ke-no), and having a celebratory group dinner with a wild thunderstorm outside.

At Asha's house with members of her family.

Alison being "beautified" at Asha's house.

I have been desperate to cement the unique details of Mwanza in my mind as I approach my departure. I see the town in snapshots: the night market at the Pasiansi taxi stand, with glowing candles lighting up pineapples, piles of oranges, and other produce; the female civil servants whose job is to sweep the same section of road every day, piling the dust and grime into their wheelbarrows; the kind faces of the elderly people who sit in doorways and are thrilled when you surprise them with a “shikamoo” (the respectful greeting for those older than you); the makeshift toys of children – a plastic bag on a string becomes a kite, drink cartons with water bottle lid wheels for trucks; the upbeat music accompanying men with pushcarts who sell cassette tapes; the reds and blues of the elegant Maasai who suddenly appear together on the city streets, walking with their staffs over their shoulders. Once again, I look to Karen Blixen to accurately put my thoughts into words:

“When I look back upon my last months in Africa, it seems to me that the lifeless things were aware of my departure a long time before I was so myself. The hills, the forests, the plains and rivers, the wind, all knew that we were to part. When I first began to make terms with fate … the attitude of the landscape towards me changed. Till then I had been part of it, and the drought had been to me like a fever, and the flowering of the plain like a new frock. Now the country disengaged itself from me, and stood back a little, in order that I should see it clearly and as a whole.

I have before seen other countries, in the same manner, give themselves to you when you are about to leave them, but I had forgotten what it meant. I only thought that I had never seen the country so lovely, as if the contemplation of it would in itself be enough to make you happy all your life. Light and shade shared the landscape between them; rainbows stood in the sky.”

A stormy-day rainbow across the bay from Tilapia Hotel.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Tanzania – Wiki Kumi na Nne

Conducting a milk run in Mwanza - this is how the milk is supplied to our kitchen.

Alison and I spent Tuesday morning (the 6th) at our computers in the apartment, preparing update emails for the WHE steering committee and organizing ourselves for the week. After a couple stops in town, we had success in getting online at a new internet café that we discovered during our many trips to immigration. We were able to be quite productive online doing project research and communicating with the WHE leadership in Canada. I ran by the post office to mail some letters home before meeting Alison for lunch. Somehow, we discovered that the day had flown by and we only had time to look around town for a new clock for the community kitchen and grab some groceries before going to the language school for our Swahili lessons. We found out in class that there had been (another!) crocodile attack near Airport Road… a man lost his arm while cutting grasses near the water. It’s easy to forget that the scenic waters of Lake Victoria are home to these predators, however, we are quite vigilant about maintaining caution around the lake, especially because the water is also infested with the bilharzia parasite. After class, we swam laps with Manuela and Claire, ate dinner at Claire’s place, and went into town to meet Major and Ross to recap our adventures in Zanzibar.

Claire, Alison and I with our Swahili instructor, Gaudence.

On Wednesday morning (the 7th), Alison prepared an English lesson while I revamped an informational brochure for Tukwamuane. We arranged meetings with Dr. Changalucha (the director of NIMR) and Nico (Dr. Luginaah’s friend from grade school) for later in the week. Later, we stopped by the internet in town to continue our research (into issues such as registering Tukwamuane as a business, etc) and send more information home. We finished in time to grab a quick bite to eat with Claire in town, grabbed a big load of groceries at U-Turn and walked home.

We organized ourselves for our trip to Mabatini – spice boats for each mama as a zawadi (gift) from Zanzibar, the new wall clock for the kitchen, and the large number of containers needed to fill orders for yogurt from our friends in the area. I carried the spice boats on my head the whole way to Mabatini (without hands, even… like a REAL African mama!)… I’ve discovered that the Africans are really on to something, as long as one can maintain balance and try not to look around too much! We were thrilled to see that Mamas Elisabeth and Leah Mpangala had returned from their safaris to Dar es Salaam (for weddings etc). The mamas were happy to receive their gifts, and we had a productive English lesson. I was able to exchange thoughts with a mwalimu (teacher) from the local secondary school. The mamas have been running into problems with the street leadership in terms of getting their TASAF application completed. The mwalimu explained to me that there is a misconception in Mabatini that the mamas are (personally) receiving a lot of money and other support from the foreigners involved with the project; as such, the street leader is not willing to help them as he did in the past. We hope to get support from Kivulini and City Council to mediate the issue, as this misunderstanding could be very detrimental to the program. We were invited to stay for rice and beans with the mamas before returning home (with 9 ½ litres of yogurt on our heads) to spend a quiet night in.

We woke up to a very cloudy city on Thursday (the 8th). We walked to our 9am meeting with Dr. Changalucha at NIMR to discuss problems with the production and distribution of probiotic milk to the community kitchen. Changalucha promised to speak to the parties involved (the milk supplier and the microbiology department) and to call a meeting later on with everyone to discuss the issue. After NIMR, we walked to the Nyakahoja Dispensary to get Alison checked out – she was feeling quite under the weather. Unfortunately, she was diagnosed with malaria (again! 2 rings!) but was able to start her medication regime right away. I had been in contact with Joseph Mlinzi (the mayor’s assistant) all morning, trying to arrange meetings with the TASAF coordinator (to solicit support for the completion of the mamas’ application) and to get information on BRELA (the organization that facilitates registration of business names), to no avail. Alison and I decided to head to City Council and try to find the appropriate individuals on our own. It turned out that we ran into Mlinzi in the office, and were informed that the TASAF coordinator was in Arusha and that BRELA issues are better handled through the Regional Commissioner’s office. A good try, nevertheless!

We stopped by the internet on the way home so that I could download BRELA forms and information from their website. After a quick lunch at home, we ventured back into town for our Swahili lessons and on to Tunza for yoga on the beach. Jenny (our friend & yoga instructor) brought her entire teenage soccer team along to participate, so we had a very full beach! Jenny has organized a soccer tournament to take place on World AIDS Day (December 1st)… she had orchestrated everything from the formation of the teams to the recruitment of sponsors (from both Tanzania and the US) for jerseys, trophies, shoes etc. A very impressive effort, that’s for sure! After yoga, we went to Claire’s with Jenny, Janine and Henk for dinner and board games.

Charlie, enjoying a snack of yogurt and mango at Forever Angels.

Alison and I were at our computers again on Friday morning (the 9th) inputting medical data from the orphanage and working on the Tukwamuane business balance sheet (which will be used to determine the working cost of a portion of yogurt), respectively. I prepared an English test for the mamas and popped down to the Mlango Mmoja internet café to send some questions home. Later, Alison and I walked up to Mabatini to spend some time at the kitchen. We chatted with the mamas and some Kivulini staff who were there before travelling to Bwiru to deliver yogurt to the orphanage and spend some time with the children.

Another 'Angel'... Michael, with an impressive yogurt mustache.

In the late afternoon, we returned to Mabatini, where we met Mama Paskwalina and Nico (Isaac’s friend). Nico is the pastor of a Roman Catholic Church in Nyakato, and was kind enough to agree to translate for us every once in a while. Together, we travelled to Mahina, where we met with about fifteen HIV+ individuals who receive the yogurt on a regular basis. While the faculty were here, it was suggested that we obtain medical records from the Mahina members so that their CD4 counts could be examined. This may provide a method of measuring the effectiveness of probiotics in treating the effects of HIV/AIDS. The community members agreed to assist us with this investigation, and were able to express some of their concerns and frustrations with the project. They have established a system where one individual travels to Mabatini to pick up the yogurt for everyone else… each member then contributes 100 Tsh (about 8 cents) towards transportation and travel time – the yogurt is otherwise free. Some individuals stated that they sometimes are unable to come up with the money to put towards the yogurt and therefore can’t take it every day as they should. They also complained that they had been promised a kitchen of their own by the Canadians but hadn’t seen anything happen yet. Mama Paskwalina was a great mediator and gently reminded the group that there were individuals in Mwanza who pay a great deal more to access the yogurt each day, and that the Mabatini mamas also had to wait for a long time to have their kitchen developed. She advised them to remain strong and patient, which they agreed to do. We returned home to have dinner with Ruben and Claire before Claire and I went into town to meet some friends and celebrate the arrival of the weekend.

On Saturday morning (the 10th), Alison and I met Lauren and Claire in town to do a bit of fabric/material shopping… we’re trying to make the most of having tailors available before our return home. We experienced our only sketchy market experiences so far as I was held by one man who was demanding money from me, another tried to slip my ring off of my hand, and Alison later discovered that her bag had been slashed by a blade of some kind. Luckily, there was no harm done and no property lost. We attributed the increase in ‘activity’ on the fact that we were travelling in a group of four, making us more conspicuous. We went to Tunza in the afternoon and watched the waves crash against the shore while having a ‘tea party’ on the sand with Didier (our French friend who is building a bank in Mwanza). We stayed at Tunza for a pojke on the beach under the stars, before going into town to dance with friends.

Enjoying freshly harvested coconuts (the 'Tunza Special') courtesy of Jan!

I spent Sunday morning (the 11th) editing Jodie’s evaluation of Kivulini’s activities from 2004-2007 and indulging in a new book which I borrowed from Claire. We were slow to get going but eventually went into town, where I managed to find a pair of cheap black high heels for the Charity Ball (I didn’t think that rubber flip-flops, Birkenstocks or my Crocs would be appropriate for a formal event). Yes, I bought high heels in Africa… unfortunately I had to leave them at the store have the insole glued back in, so I paid for half of the final price and received my receipt on a piece of torn cardboard… AWA! We caught a dala-dala to Saba Saba (the big market fairground where the trade fair was held) to browse the Sunday market, before walking on to Tunza to spend a quiet afternoon reading our novels and playing Scrabble. When a thunderstorm rolled in, we decided to relocate to Major’s place to watch a movie, and drove into town later to meet Ruben for dinner.

I know that I should find another resource to help explain aspects of my time in Africa, but I have found Karen Blixen’s prose to provide a lovely and accurate description of many of the details of life that we have encountered during our time here. This week, I’ll sign off with her interpretation of the slow pace of everything on this continent: “Natives dislike speed, as we dislike noise; it is to them, at the best, hard to bear. They are also on friendly terms with time, and the plan of beguiling or killing it does not come into their heads. In fact the more time you can give them, the happier they are, and if you commission a Kikuyu to hold your horse while you make a visit, you can see by his face that he hopes you will be a long, long time about it. He does not try to pass the time then, but sits down and lives.” This is a philosophy that I have really tried to embrace (though it’s often difficult for me to swallow!) in Tanzania… and an outlook on life that I think all Westerners need to learn from. Within several short weeks, I will be back in the break-neck pace of life in North America… here’s hoping I will still be able to find some ‘slow’ moments to appreciate life and all it has to offer.

Last Thursday's pink sky at Tunza... I will never grow tired of African sunsets!