Cows, bees, and coffee

6 January 2012

Today we talked about livestock parasites, and as practical work dosed one of the cows. Two person job.  Mr Mlay held onto it and opened its mouth so I could get the bottle in, but I still had to use my other hand to help get its mouth open by sticking my fingers in its nostrils and pulling up with all my might. Ick! Had to do this many times to get all the medication down. Cow didn’t seem too upset afterwards, though.

Then we went to visit a farmer with a beekeeping project. He also has quite a big farm, for here. Lots of cucumbers and tomatoes. He has six beehives. Half a  litre of honey sells for Tsh15k, and he gets 10 litres a hive a year, so it’s a pretty lucrative project. They use trench irrigation in this area, and it makes a big difference. The water comes down from the mountain, and they build trenches through all the fields for the water to trickle through.  Walked from there to Himo, which was very sweaty. One part we went through was flat-out desert, with lots of cacti.

After lunch I went to spend the weekend with KEDA’s board chairman. He lives way up in the hills. It’s very lush and cool and remote. He took me to visit the local coffee cooperative, which was cool because it was seeing the other end of the supply chain from the one I’m used to – the grocery store shelf. The guy there gave a very thorough explanation of how they work. They keep close records of the farmers, and who’s organic and who isn’t. They already know who grows organic and who doesn’t , although I’m not sure there’s a mechanism for verifying organic. Maybe it isn’t necessary. Anyway, they store it separately and so on. A kilo of non-organic pays Tsh4000 and a kilo of organic pays Tsh4200, at the moment. Prices come from the central office, where they keep track of world market prices and set the local prices accordingly. They also have a demonstration farm and a nursery where they sell coffee seedling to generate income. Very interesting.


The real deal

5 January 2012

I went on tour of the eastern part of KEDA’s catchment area today with Mr Shirima, the secretary, on his bike. It was a very different environment than what I’ve seen so far; very dry, even the trees were wilting. He kept calling it drought, but it’s just the normal dry season, so not really a drought (right?). The first person we visited was the (female) chairperson of a village HIV group. It’s mostly a support group, encouraging people with HIV to live openly and supporting people through all the difficulties of having HIV. KEDA has a project with them to build kitchen gardens, since the vitamins and so on from green vegetables help the ARVs be more effective. They get the ARVs free from the hospital, but there are costs associated with it anyway – transportation to and from the hospital, and drugs to treat other, related illnesses.  They have six kitchen gardens in the village. But right now they are wilting from the lack of water. They compost so the soil retains more moisture, but it isn’t enough. And materials for water catchment and storage are very expensive. KEDA is also helping the group start a beekeeping project, as it is a way to generate income that requires little physical work, which is good for people who are weak from HIV. These people are very poor and unable to work because of the HIV. My first taste of real poverty.

Then we continued on in that village to where there were supposed to be some tree nursery projects. They weren’t much, though, partly due to the dry weather, I guess.  Then on to the rest of the area, where we met some KEDA folk and saw there farms and the challenges they’re facing. For example, for some people the only thing they grow to make any money from is maize, which they hope to sell enough of to get them through the dry season, when it doesn’t grow and they aren’t really growing anything else. But these places are so remote, and people don’t have vehicles, so getting it to market is nearly impossible. So trucks come and pick it up, but for a farm-gate price that is lower than the market price.  It was getting very hot now, and there wasn’t much shade in this area. We went as far as the Kenyan border then turned around. Had lunch in Himo and tried to use the internet but the network was down, surprise, surprise.

Flora brought her friend to see my computer this evening and they wanted to play games on it. Oh no, I’ve corrupted them with American culture!


4 January 2012

Today was a slow day. “We” planted some banana trees. I actually just watched, as I can’t convince Mr. Mlay to let me really do anything of consequence. He’s worried my clothes will get dirty, which is of course why I brought the clothes I did – because they can get dirty. But try telling him that. I wished I had just picked up some dirt and smeared it on my shirt! Then we went to use the internet in Marangu, but right as I was about to sit down, the power went out. We waited a while but it didn’t come on again, so we left. Today was when we were thinking of going to the MVIWATA project (MVIWATA is an NGO that organizes and trains farmers), but that didn’t work out because Mr Mlay wasn’t willing to pay for us to go that far away, and MVIWATA couldn’t provide transportation. But I think Mr Mlay was against it from the start and set it up to fail; he wasn’t into it and upon learning that a motorbike was the only way to get there, said, ‘let’s just forget about it’. This didn’t make me happy. I can understand the money thing, but to be so dismissive – isn’t it in KEDA’s interest to network with groups like this? Part of the problem here, I think, is that Alison did stuff, met people, and exchanged contact info with people without KEDA being involved, so now Mr Mlay is getting calls from people he’s never heard of that want to meet me, and he doesn’t see how that’s part of the program and also probably feels overwhelmed at unexpectedly being expected to coordinate this – as if he doesn’t already have enough to figure out.

So many little frustrations mixed in with the occasional good times. The wreck that is the program, the lack of personal independence, communication with Mr Mlay, being told I can rest when I don’t want to rest I want to do something, being forced to eat more than I want. There are people who can only eat one meal a day living within walking distance and I’m being force-fed. I just keep telling myself it’s all an opportunity to learn and grow. My mom called last night and could hear me without me shouting for the first time – THANK GOODNESS!!


3 January 2012

Today we visited the village goat project, which was so cool, because here I was, seeing first-hand the goats the Heifer distributes (through KEDA, in this case), just like the ones we used to get for Christmas! It works like this: village committees determine who is most in need of the goats. Those people are then trained in how to care for the animal, how to build a shelter for it, and the conditions of receiving the goat. All the shelters are the same design, with a raised part with little stalls and a slat floor through which the dung falls to be collected for fertilizer. Then a ramp down to a small yard area, where they have access to water and fodder. The buildings are mostly made of local materials as well a corrugated metal roof, often also donated by KEDA. The design is intended to create maximum efficiency in caring for the animals. The person is required to breed the female three times to get kids to give away to the neighbors and then after that, the person owns that goat. For a male it is once. KEDA is responsible for ensuring that the conditions are met and the goat isn’t just immediately slaughtered and sold. Each person we visited had their own story.

First, we visited an old man who appeared to be quite poor. He had been given a male and a female. He had half a dozen or so goats now, and had given some to neighbors. He doesn’t use the goats for much commercial use, mostly household use.

Second was a woman who already had a female, and was given a male for breeding. So instead of having just one goat, she was now able to have many goats, for giving away or milking or whatever. At this point, she doesn’t make money from them.

The third woman had been given a female, but it died. So she was given a new female but no male. However, KEDA has a community owned male that they lend out for breeding.

The fourth person is  a widow. She only had daughters and they are all married, away from home, so she’s on her own. Her goat is named Esther. She got her as a kid from KEDA, bred her with the KEDA male, and Esther is now pregnant! The widow would like to have three or four goats eventually in order to make some money from them, as she thinks they will be more lucrative than the cow. This woman also has a KEDA-built efficiency stove, which helps the environment by using less firewood. The woman has been modifying it though, making it better, and has plans to continue to modify it!

The fifth woman was given a goat because she was taking care of an orphan, and the goat was given to help her support the orphan. She received a female and bred it with the KEDA male.  She now gets one litre of milk per day from the female. She needs to breed her one more time and then the goat will belong to her.  She also has one that was already hers.

The sixth woman’s husband isn’t interested in the goats projects, but Mr. Mlay told her that when she starts making money from them, she can point out to her husband the money they’re generating and maybe he will get more involved.

The seventh and final woman has formed a group with other people in the area for support and discussion of the project. They provide moral support to people who don’t have much and discuss the goat project. They meet once a week. She was given a goat by KEDA, which also donated the corrugated metal for the roof as well as the concrete for the yard floor and water trough.

So that was that. Milk is for home consumption, but selling a goat brings in a lot of money, which can make a significant contribution to household nutrition and/or the family’s ability to pay secondary school fees. A real impact. Also, I think I would like to have goats!
Helped with dinner, sort of. Mostly just watched. It’s nice to be in the kitchen with Mrs Mlay rather than sitting in my room alone, especially after dark.

Nyama choma

2 January 2012

I finally got to know KEDA today.  I was told all about the projects they’ve done in the past, the funding they’ve received, how they’re structured, how they identify people in need and how they develop new projects. They want me to keep working with them, though I think they were under the impression I had some connections to donor organizations, which of course I don’t. But I could help with proposals. They said it would only be for a few hours a week, so it would have to be while I was doing something else as well. It’s overwhelming; KEDA want to know what I’m doing after the program, and I just don’t know. I need to balance helping out with my own career goals. But if I’m not around, it will be more difficult to develop the CITA program, which has fallen in my lap. What to do?!

After the meeting, we had nyama choma (grilled meat) and it was the best meal I’ve had here yet!! It was so good. They bring a platter with a pile of  grilled meat to share (pork I think?). It has this lovely grilled flavor, and is served with a hot pepper salsa (it’s a common hot pepper but I’m drawing a blank right now on which one) that has the nicest flavor. Note: yes, I am eating meat. Explanation: it’s pretty ubiquitous, it’s culturally weird to be vegetarian, and most importantly, the moral objections I have to eating meat in America aren’t relevant here.

On the way home, we went to Himo market. I don’t like Himo. It’s not at all attractive and it’s dusty and kind of horrible. Really dusty today. It gets all over you, and in your nose and your eyes and you’re breathing it. Ugh. And it was hot with little shade. On the plus side, Mr Mlay bought some pineapples. Yum.

I’ve started taking walks in the morning because Mr and Mrs Mlay make me to eat so much, and so much carbs and meat, and I get hardly any exercise, since I’m not doing any farm work like I thought I would be. Good thing it’s only for month – after this I should have more control over what I eat and how much.

Traditional blacksmith

31 December 2011

Mr Mlay is still trying to teach me Swahili pronunciation and “basic communication” but it’s a waste of his time and mine because he has no idea how to teach Swahili. I had to think of a way to communicate this politely and hopefully didn’t hurt his feelings. We went to a traditional blacksmith today. He has a little shelter for his work. His forge is this tiny little stone with two holes in it into which he places the ends of the bellows. One person starts the fire and works the bellows. In this case it was a woman who was probably his daughter. He made a small sickle, just a sample size. It was cool to watch. He can make various farming tools. It’s such a small operation, physically.

Then to the market, which is a little bigger than the one in Marangu. The markets are just how you picture African markets, lots of color because of the women’s clothing, all wearing kangas (colorful cloths wrapped around the body) and headcloths, produce and piles of different color beans set out on tables and the ground, piles of grain that the seller just stood in in her bare feet while she was filling up people’s bags, dried fish, and of course a big pile of bananas! There was a woman wearing an Obama kanga, haha brilliant!!

We were supposed to go to the Chagga caves after that but for some reason it was decided we wouldn’t – this is the sort of thing I’m coming to expect. But that meant I got to help make lunch, which was good. I saw the whole process and helped a little, although I think I mostly slow things down with my incompetence.  For breakfast, we had a sort of delicious hot fried bread, mandazi, that was wonderful. I wonder if my love of those and chapatis is just because fried bread is delicious or because my American body is happy to have something slightly familiar…

After lunch Mrs Mlay went with me to the internet cafe. It was good to see people’s responses to my emails but so frustrating, super slow internet and they were closing soon, so once again I didn’t get to do the things I wanted to do. I know one month isn’t that long to go without talking to people – I sometimes go that long anyway – but I just really want to talk to people and can’t.  I hope I gain some patience.  And it should only be for the next couple of weeks; then hopefully I’ll be in some combination of Moshi and Dar and Nairobi.

Tomorrow is a new year…

Tree nursery

30 December 2011

This morning was spent doing my own work, ie, typing up Swahili “lessons” in a way that makes sense. Why is this how I’m spending my morning? A big part of this program was supposed to be Swahili lessons. I have received none. I am self-taught only. Mr Mlay has things to take care of, so I’m just on my own during this ‘intensive program’. I will refrain from engaging in a rant right now.

In the afternoon, we finally went to visit a tree nursery that is a KEDA project. The visit had been rescheduled several times. There are little areas where they grow different kinds of seedling on a fairly small area of land. They fit a lot of seedlings, and probably make a lot of money off it in the busy planting season, the rainy season. I can’t keep track of the different types of tree, although I think maybe they expect me to. Just now, I’ve been showing my computer to Flora, Mr Mlay’s granddaughter. She doesn’t have one in school.



Arusha National Park

29 December 2011

Today I went to Arusha National Park! Alison’s brother-in-law is a daladala driver and he drove us, with various family members, through the park. Not the conventional way to see a national park!  We saw lots of animals: giraffes, buffalo, zebra, various hoofed animals (some very small, maybe a foot and a half at the shoulder). It’s a very beautiful place. I’d like to go back sometime when I have more time and fewer children, and am not taking pictures from a shaking dalalala (they all shake)! I got some good pictures.

On the way there, Alison asked one of her nieces about school. This niece failed form four (the last year of secondary school, like sophomore year for us Americans) and so her parents decided to spend extra money to send her to boarding school to re-do it. There, she eats polenta and beans every single day for lunch and dinner. Nothing else, ever. For breakfast, corn porridge – no sugar, no tea, except on Saturday, when they get tea. The school has a garden, but the vegetables the children grow go to the teachers! So nutrition is lacking, to say the least. At the market the other day, I saw they were selling bags of clay soil. The pregnant women eat it; their bodies crave the iron.

At this point you’re probably expecting to see some of my shaky animal pictures, but alas, the slow internet has defeated my patience for now.


28 December 2011

Today, I needed to do laundry. It turns out that doing laundry in basins is more difficult than I expected. Mama Mlay had to help me. Their little 2 or 3 year old grandson who so far has been afraid of me sat and watched me the whole time not talking. He even pulled a stool over to sit on! The lesson this morning was on soil conseravation; basically, how to avoid erosion. I saw some examples on the farm. I graded tomatoes for the market. It’s the only farmwork i’ve done so far. I thought I was coming to work on a farm…

I went with Mr Mlay to visit his in-laws in the evening and Al-Jazeera was on. It was the first news I’ve had since being here. I miss knowing what’s going on in the world.

I feel like I have to stay In Tanzania after the program is over because it would be a waste not to. I’ve been putting the effort into learning Swahili, and because the program is shaping up to be a bit of a joke (to put it nicely), I think I need to stay to justify the money I spent getting here. I’m not as enthusiastic for opportunities here as I think I should be. Hopefully I will feel like I’m helping people at some point in the future and that will help with motivation.


24-27 December 2011

I spent Christmas with Alison and her family and her husband’s family (he’s Tanzanian.) They have a house on her husband’s land that Alison’s father’s built. Flush toilets! Showers! It’s at a lower elevation than where I’ve been staying, and is near Moshi. The area is very dry and there are very few trees. People grow corn, mostly, and because it’s the dry season, nothing is planted, so it’s very dusty. It’s also warmer than up in the hills. There are big baobabs, though, and an amazing view of Kilimanjaro when it’s not covered in clouds. Alison’s children were baptized on Christmas day, so went to church up by some of her husband’s relatives and then to the relatives’ house for the party, like all the other Chagga parties I’ve been to. I tried mbege, the local brew that’s made from fermented bananas and millet. Bascially…ick! It’s very sour and I think you have to grow up with it to like it. We went for a walk. The roads are in terrible condition, barely passable now in the dry season. In the rainy season, I think a lot of people must be completely isolated due to muddy and unpassable roads.

The next day, the 26th, I helped prepare for Alison’s niece Dora’s confirmation party. Dora is great; she opened up to me immediately. I peeled garlic and learned how to peel bananas – it’s not easy! Unripe bananas (like plantains) are a local staple food. Then we went to Moshi, to a coffee shop/internet cafe. It’s a big ex-pat hang-out, and they serve American food. Moshi is kind of cool – it has a good vibe. I wish I could see responses to my emails without taking a daladala ride to Marangu when I’m back with my host family. Dora’s confirmation party was a good celebration. There was a cake that Dora hand-fed a bite of to each guest! I talked to people in English curious about America. One of Alison’s brothers-in-law asked was curious to know if it was true that in America and Europe there are people who don’t believe in God. He asked it the way you might ask if it’s true that there are three-legged people on Mars. I said it was true, and he asked, ‘What do they believe in? Science?’. I explained that believing in God and science aren’t mutually exclusive. Tanzanians are very religious.

The next day, I returned to my host home. Alison and he and I had a big meeting where many issues were discussed and changes will happen. For example, I helped my host mother with dinner tonight. She’s a good Swahili teacher. It’s much better to sit in the kitchen than in my  room alone.