Sunday, May 30, 2010

Moshi Town Weekend

When I was planning my trip, I was originally thinking about heading to Zanzibar this past weekend for a little fun in the sun. However, after two weeks jam packed with our volunteer placements, cultural activities, and a safari, my body told me that it would be a better idea to stay in town to recover and reenergize instead. Rest also moved up on the priority list when it hit me that I’ll be climbing up Kilimanjaro in just a few short days. So, myself, and everyone else here in the Karanga house, decided to stay at the home base this weekend and enjoy a bit of Moshi Town.

For those who know nothing more about where I am other than somewhere on the African continent, I am in Karanga Village, Moshi Municipality, Kilimanjaro Region, Tanzania. Tanzania is on the east coast of Africa, situated just below Kenya, and just east of Uganda, Rwanda, and the Congo. Moshi is in the Northeast part of the country, at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, and only 30 miles or so from the Kenyan border. The Karanga Village (similar to a neighborhood in the States) is about 3 miles outside of the center of town, and our house is about a mile down the very bumpy, muddy, rutted out Karanga dirt road. I don’t think our street has a name. I don’t think any of the streets in Karanga have a name for that matter. People use PO boxes for mail, if they get mail, and each house is on a numbered parcel of land in the Karanga Village, which makes finding places quite a challenge. For example, the way to tell someone how to get here from town, you’d say…Take the Moshi-Arusha Hwy to Margareza (the prison) and turn left. Go down the road past the Amani Centre for Street Children. When you see the store (which is in a mud hut) turn left. We are the white gate on your left.

There are some really nice houses in Karanga, like the one that CCS rents out for the program. There are also many dirt huts throughout the village. All of our immediate neighbors live in small dirt huts, and own cow, pigs, chickens, goats and sheep to help sustain their families. I see many children wearing the same dirty, ripped clothing 2 days in a row. Money is very scarce in these families, and it amazes me how intrigued they are by seeing themselves on my digital camera, or looking at my pictures I brought from home. Over the past 2 weeks, I have met Patric (16 years old), Evon (8 years old), Augustino (7 years old), and Brenda (3 years old). Great kids who love to interact with us Mzungus! They are always so excited to see us!

Anyway, back to the weekend. Friday was a cloudy, dreary day, so most of us laid low at the home base, took naps, and read books in the couple hours before dinner. After dinner, a group of us headed out to The Watering Hole for a couple of beers…and a brownie. Remember how I mentioned that there’s not much in the way of dessert in this area. We girls needed a chocolate and sugar fix!

Saturday started off very slowly. The younger crew at the house was doing a Kilimanjaro Day climb, so the remainder of us slept in, read, did laundry, and chatted until after lunch. The slow morning also gave me time to go on a short run (really short…2 miles…It’s hot, humid, hilly, and muddy here!) As a blonde Mzungu wearing spandex and running deep into the village on my own, I got plenty of interesting looks and laughs. Just the sight of me scared a little 2 year old boy. As I ran past, he turned into his mom’s legs and started screaming and crying. Running white girls are more of an oddity here than I thought!

The highlight of Saturday was our night out to dinner. We headed out to El Rancho, which despite its name is an Indian restaurant, not a Mexican restaurant. Fabulous, cheap Indian food and plenty of drinks to go around. I think I downed a whole bottle of wine that night. When in Africa, right?

Sunday was the highlight of our weekend. 8 of us from the house signed up for a Coffee Tour in Materuni, one of the nearby Chagga mountain villages. Edward from Pristine Adventures picked us up in the ‘Happy People’ daladala to take us into the village. (Sidenote: The daladalas – busses- here all have themes. Ours was ‘Happy People’ and was covered with pictures of Jay-Z and Snoop, and the driver played lots of hip hop music for our journey).

Materuni is a Catholic Chagga village. We learned that each ridge in the area was settled by different missionaries, so the next ridge over was Lutheran, and the ridge next to that was also Catholic. Really interesting! Anyway, when we got to Materuni, we met Oscar, who helps run the coffee farm on his family’s land. Oscar was awesome! And so was his family. We chatted with his Mama and Baba, as well as his nieces and nephews (including one very outgoing ‘Little Obama’). Oscar had so much knowledge about the coffee process, and had us help him make our own batch to drink. While we were able to pick the coffee ‘berries’ off the tree, and get the beans out of them and soak them, we didn’t have the 2 days required for soaking, and the 7 days required for drying. So, similar to the magic we see on cooking shows in the States, Oscar had a dried batch of beans ready for us to process.

Step 1: We used a very large mortar and pestle to pound the dried beans in order to remove the dried shucks. This took at least 20 minutes to do, and was extremely tiring in the hot sun. Luckily there were 8 of us to help and take turns.

Step 2: Oscar built a fire and placed a large pot on top of it. It took about ½ hour to roast the beans. Someone had to constantly stir the beans during this process in order to keep the coffee from burning.

Step 3: We used the mortar and pestle again to grind the beans into a fine powder (think powdered sugar consistency)

Step 4: We boiled water over the fire and added the coffee powder directly to the water, letting it steep for about 2 minutes

Step 5: We poured the coffee/water mixture through a filter into a thermos.

Step 6: We got to drink the coffee! When I first saw the coffee, I was scared. It looked like very muddy water…nothing like my Starbucks coffee. I was afraid of how strong and bitter it would be. 1 sip and I was floored! This was the most AMAZING coffee I had EVER tasted! It was super smooth. Everyone agreed that it was better than anything we had ever tasted. No worries to those back in San Diego. I’m bringing some back with me! 

After coffee and lunch, Oscar and Edward led us on a hike through Materuni to the Mnambe Waterfall. The hike was beautiful, and Oscar taught us how certain plants were used by the Chagga tribe. Yucca is very important in the culture, marking territory, as a peace offering, and showing the direction of beer. We also got to see the leaves they use as natural ‘sandpaper’ and try out the tree branch they used for toothbrushes.

After hiking for an hour, we finally reached the waterfall! While we had been to the Kilasiya Waterfall on Wednesday, this one knocked it out of the park! Mnambe was much taller, and had a larger pool at the bottom that we could actually swim in without worrying about the current. The water was extremely cold, and the force from the waterfall felt like standing in a hurricane, but it was so so beautiful! I have pictures and video, but they will never do Mnambe justice.

We arrived back at home just in time for dinner, and despite the copious amounts of coffee, headed to bed early. Back to placement tomorrow morning! Ahhh…Mondays!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Tanzanian Eats and Drinks

Many have asked what I have been eating here, and if my stomach is hanging in there with the new foods. My stomach has done surprisingly well! I don’t want to jinx myself, but I have not yet touched my Tums, Immodium, or Cipro! (Yes, I am knocking on wood right now). Here’s a good idea of what we’ve been eating.


• Chai tea with ginger

• Fresh fruit juices (mango, passion fruit, etc.)

• Tusker, Kilimanjaro, Safari, and Serengeti Beer

• Banana beer (if you are brave)

• Coffee

• South African Wines


• Chai Tea with ginger. Yum!

• Porridge with Honey

• Fried or hardboiled egg

• Small, but not very sweet doughnuts

• Thin crepe-like pancakes with honey

• Bananas, bananas, bananas (over 120 different species of banana in TZ!)

• Mango

While I’m not a huge breakfast fan back home, breakfast has been my absolute favorite here in TZ!


• Ugali – corn based mashed potato looking stuff that you can mold into a bowl looking utensil and used to eat meat, veggies, etc

• Rice

• Beans

• Fried chicken parts (wings, legs, etc). Chickens are fresh here, and they fry or cook up everything

• Beef in tomato sauce, beef with bananas, plain beef. Not sirloin, not filet, not ground beef, just meat from a cow

• Cooked Spinach-like green stuff. Sometimes it is spinach, sometimes not. You can’t tell by looking, but some of the “spinach” stuff is better than others.

• Leeks with lemon. Really good!

• Salad with tomatoes, avocado, cucumbers, onions. We have an enormous avocado tree in the back yard, so we almost always have avocado with our meals

• Cooked mixed veggies (carrots, green beans)

• Chipati

• Fruit

The kitchen staff has also tried some Western favorites such as Enchiladas, spaghetti with veggie meatballs, pizza, and veggie burgers. All were pretty good, but definitely not like home. Well, except for the veggie burgers. Best I’ve ever tasted. Need to get the recipe they use for the veggie patties.

Dessert is not a normal thing here in Tanzania. I guess people get their sugar cravings satisfied by fruit alone. I tried that for awhile, but every once in awhile you really need some ice cream. Luckily, there is a ‘supermarket’ about 1.5 miles down the road that sells ice cream cups!

I have only eaten out once since arriving here in TZ. Last night, Ashley, Sara and I decided we were ready for some real pizza. We headed out to the Indoitaliano, the Indian/Italian restaurant in town, for a fun night of food and drink. We had garlic naan as an appetizer, and then each got a small pizza. It was wonderful! Granted, not as good as most that I’ve had in the States, but close enough! We polished off 2 bottles of wine and milkshakes for dessert. Such a great night! The restaurant was completely filled with Mzungus (white people). I guess the Tanzanians don’t really crave Italian like we do.

A little side note: While eating at Indoitaliano, I ran into Mel, the girl I volunteer with at WEECE, who I am also climbing Kilimanjaro with. She was with her hostel group, so I got to meet Rohit again, and meet Sandra for the first time. They are the two rounding out our climbing group. Mel is from Australia, Rohit is from India/UK/now US, and Sandra is from Germany. Should be a really fun experience!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


Today was field trip day! Woo Hoo! As nice and necessary it is to spend time with the girls at WEECE, this was a beautiful and educational trip and well worth the day off. It was an action packed day, and we all came back absolutely exhausted.

8:30 am We headed out in the morning, first stopping at a local house to see the process of batik making. The batik maker’s work was beautiful, and I bought 2 of his small pieces. I have a feeling that my spare bedroom is going to be Africa themed when I get back! 

9:30 am After a quick stop for pictures with a baobab tree, we were off to Marangu. Marangu is at the base of Kilimanjaro and serves as one of the village bases for Kilimanjaro climbs (aptly named the Marangu route). It is also home to the Chagga tribe. Similar to the Maasai, the Chagga are cattle herders. However they stay in the mountains, while the Maasai stay in the plains.

10:30 am Our first stop was the blacksmith. We got to observe men making bells, hammers, and Maasai spears. Pretty awesome! I really wanted one of the tall spears, but didn’t think I could fit it in my luggage on the way home, so I had to settle for a smaller one.

11:00 am From the blacksmith, we hiked about 1/4 mile into the bush, and came upon a couple small houses. Here we got a tour of one of the old Chagga caves. These were used over 100 years ago by the Chagga people during the Chagga-Maasai war. Supposedly, as the Maasai came down from Kenya, they discovered the Chagga people, and were furious that they were herding cattle. The Maasai thought that they were the only ones that should be herding cows, so waged war, trying to steal the Chagga cows and women. The caves contained long tunnels and small rooms along the way. The tunnels reached all the way to the river. A man was always guarding the entrance to the tunnel, so if a Maasai tried to come in, he would immediately be killed. In order to keep hidden from other Maasai, the body would not be buried until midnight. The caves were small and low, but really cool! I got really muddy, but it was worth it.

12:00 pm Our next stop was the Chagga market. This was a busy area with fruits, vegetables, fresh meat (cows slain earlier in the morning), live, half dead and just killed chickens, fabric stands, and jewelry stands. We have quite a few chickens in our village in Karanga, but it was really interesting to see the women carrying them around by their legs. After negotiating a stellar price of 10,000 Tsh for a kitenge and a kanga in the market, we were off to lunch and swim at the waterfall!

1:00 pm The Kilasiya Waterfall is 30m high and contains a very strong and constant flow from Kilimanjaro. The name, Kilasiya, actually means ‘without end’ in the Chagga language, referencing the fall’s constant flow of water. Hiking down to the base of the falls was a little more challenging than any of us expected. Since it is the rainy season, the path/steps down the side of the mountain was very muddy and slippery. We were all holding the bamboo railings for dear life as we made the trek down. The waterfall was amazing! It was tall, and skinny, and surrounded by a beautiful jungle. We all put on our bathing suits and played in the water for an hour or so. Tons of fun! The climb up was tougher than the climb down with regards to cardio, but definitely not as scary.

3:30 pm Our next stop was a traditional Chagga hut. By this time, we were pretty overwhelmed with all of the newly learned information about the Chagga tribe, but actually going inside the hut was pretty cool. The hut is round and divided into 2 sections – one half for beds, storage, and the other half for animals. Since cows were a hot commodity, the Chagga kept them in the hut with them to keep them from getting stolen. This hut was MUCH more comfortable than the Chagga cave, and MUCH more comfortable than the Maasai cave. The Chagga have progressed much more than the Maasai, and very few people actually live in the huts anymore, but our guides had fond memories of staying in their grandparents’ huts.

4:30 Beer time! We stopped at a beautiful hotel, the Kilimanjaro Mountain Resort, for a couple drinks to wind down at the end of a long day.

5:30 One last stop before heading back to home base for dinner. We were all interested in trying banana beer, so we stopped in a rural part of the village with a bar (there are bars every couple meters here in TZ). We walked up and inside, and a woman filled a gourd with the contents of a bucket behind the bar. A little sketch, but hey, When in Africa, right? We all tried a little sip. It had some kind of grainy sediment on top, and it was really really bitter. It did not taste like beer at all, but the locals love it! We sat with some old ladies getting their fill after a long day of work, and shared a couple more sips. I’m writing this blog entry 2 days later, and I feel ok. I was pretty sure I’d get some kind of illness from this experience, but so far so good!

Monday, May 24, 2010

This is Africa, Part 2

Today has been an exhausting day, so I’m reverting back to bullet points to document today’s activities.
  • At WEECE, we continued working with the girls on business tools and Excel. Today we taught them the importance of doing inventory counts in their store, and actually started our initial inventory count. While the English skills and Excel skills are slow coming, I think the girls are really starting to understand many of these business tools!
  • Our afternoon activity included listening to a lecture about the education system in Tanzania. Our speaker was awesome! His name was Basil Lema. He is a former teacher turned politician, lobbying for changes in the school system, such as how budget is used as well as changing public primary schools to English language rather than Swahili (Secondary schools and Universities here in TZ only teach in English). He was a really interesting man. He gave us his business cards and personal email. This is one guy I’d definitely like to keep in touch with!
  • I did my first load of laundry today. By hand. In the hot African sun. I am so happy that we have readily available washing machines back in the States!
  • I went for my first run since coming to Africa. It was hot, muggy, and miserable…and it felt great! Brando and I ran together down the ~1 mile road to the highway and back. The road is more of a VERY rough trail with rocks, divots, holes, tiny children, sheep, goats, chickens, cars, school kids, and women carrying large loads of food on their heads. I got many weird looks from the villagers….I don’t think they get too many female runners in spandex in these parts. Although I was a bit out of place, I’m hoping I somehow inspired one of the female school children walking down the street. If this Mzungu girl can run with the boys, why can’t I?
I was also thinking today of some other random musings about my experience thus far in Africa.
  • The children here are fascinated by Mzungu hair! Even the older girls at WEECE always want to touch it.• Mosquito nets are a pain in the butt to tuck into the sides of your bed each night, but they work!
  • While our home base is in a Village (Karanga), it sounds more like a farm. Right now as I sit in bed getting ready to go to sleep I can hear cows, stray dogs, bush babies, and sheep. In 6 short hours (4am) the roosters will start crowing again.
  • Everyone, even in Africa, listens to American pop music. We asked our cab driver to play some Tanzanian music, and he turned on American hip hop music and said that was what most people listen to.
  • Mzungu bathrooms make me so so happy. WEECE, the campsites we stopped at, and many other “public” restrooms only have the dreaded hole in the ground.
  • You can tell how well off somebody is by looking at their shoes
  • Tanzania is a very harmonious country. Tribes are friends with other tribes, rich live next to poor, and different religious beliefs are very much tolerated.
Lalafofofo y’all! (Sleep like a log, y’all!)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

When Baboons Attack.....

On Friday afternoon, we headed out on our African Safari!  Something I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to do!  It was amazing!!!
We did our trip through Bushmen Expeditions, and they were great!  We had 2 large Land Rovers for the 9 of us from CCS that went on the trip.  Our first stop was the Mzunga supermarket in Arusha.   The Bushmen guides were providing us with all meals, but gave us the opportunity to by additional snacks (and beer) for the weekend.  After stocking up on Kilimanjaro beer, chips, and chocolate, we were headed west!
We made it to Mosquito Village (not the most welcoming name of a village if you ask me) and set up camp.  Well, the guides and porters set up camp.  We watched.  I felt bad not setting up my own tent, but reminded myself that we paid for this! J
On Friday evening, we were able to visit a Maasai Village.  Usually the Maasai do not allow group visits or pictures, but this group has started to embrace capitalism!  They know if the Mzungas come in, they can sell their jewelry and make money for carbs! (corn, millet, etc).  The basic diet of the Maasai is meat, milk, and blood.  The ability to buy fruit, vegetables, and grains have helped quite a bit with their health and well being.
The Maasai welcomed us with traditional dancing and singing, and even placed their jewelry on us and pulled us into the group to dance with them.  We were given a tour of one of the huts…..well, we walked in and our guide pointed to everything.  Each hut is probably 80 sq ft. max.  There was a fire pit in the middle, and leather beds on either side of the pit.  One bed was for the wife and children, and the other for the husband when he actually stayed in the house.  Most of the men have multiple wives.  We learned that both women and men are circumcised at age 18 or 19, and that when a woman gives birth, she stays in the hut for 3 months (other than going to the bathroom) and the other women in the tribe wait on her hand and foot.  The new baby is welcomed into the tribe after those 3 months with a large celebration.  It was pretty amazing to interact with these people that I have such a different culture.
On Saturday, we headed to Lake Manyara for our first day of Safari.  Lake Manyara is made up of both forest area as well as large plains around the lake.  We drove into the park a couple miles and ran into a bunch of crazy baboons.  The baboons spend their day cleaning each other (picking bugs out of fur), and playing with themselves (yes, in that way). 
As we moved through the forest, we turned a corner and gasped when we saw a giraffe standing in the middle of the dirt road.  This was probably the most exciting part of the safari for me.  The first BIG animal.  While taking pictures of the giraffe and its family, we heard the trumpeting of an elephant.  Another 1/4  mile down the road, we found the elephant with its mate!  Loved it!
As we headed through the rest of the park, we saw blue ball monkeys (see picture), zebras, wildebeests, warthogs (Puumba!), vultures,  jackals, and hippos. 
After the safari, we headed to Ngorogoro Crater.  Our plan was to spend the night on the rim of the crater (in the park), and then wake up for an early morning start into the crater.  After a 2 hour rainy drive to Ngorogoro, we made a stop at the Conservation Area gates so our guides could get our park permits.  The five of us in the car had all been napping and had no desire to head out into the rain at this point, so our driver/guide headed to the office on his own, leaving his window half open.  About 5 minutes after he left, Brando saw a baboon heading straight for the car and warned us.  He immediately closed his window.  Before we could reach the driver’s side window, the baboon had jumped in the car.  We all screamed with thoughts of getting our faces torn off and contracting rabies.  Brando reopened his window, somehow squeezed through it, and climbed on the roof of the car.  Chris and Sara were in the first row of seats and pushed their way through one of the doors.  Marcia and I were in the 2nd row of seats, and could not get out of the car before the baboon headed back from the front sheet, so we held our pillows out and got ready to fight with our feet.  Luckily the baboon found some cookies in the front seat, and that was enough for him to grab and keep him satisfied, so he headed out the open door.  We survived!
This whole incident lasted about 15 seconds, but felt much longer.  Our guides rushed back to the car when they heard our screams, and were genuinely worried.  Baboons are not nice animals!  By that time, we had broken into nervous, hysterical laughter.  Welcome to the jungle, right?
We finally made our way to our campsite on the crater rim, where the rain was falling quite steadily.  We opted to stay in the car as the porters set up our tents.  As the rain slowed, we caught glimpse of an elephant in the brush, about a football field away from where we were parked.  ON OUR CAMPSITE!  Too cool…but a bit scary too. 
Sunday morning started with a 5:30 am rooster crow from Abbas (our guide).  We were on the road by 6 to head into the crater.  As we headed down, the fog started to clear, and we were treated to an amazing view of the sunrise over the entire crater.
As luck would have it, we ran into one of the big 5 right away (The big 5 are Lions, elephants, cheetahs, leopards, and rhinos).  We spotted 2 cheetahs lying on a hill.  We waited a bit to see if they would get up and run, but they were enjoying basking in the morning sun a little too much.
As we reached the crater floor, we saw hundreds of wildebeest and zebras scattered about.  Deeper into the park, we finally spotted the black rhino.  It was a bit of a distance away, but with my good zoom lens, I got a decent picture.
Unfortunately my 2nd camera battery died around this time, so save for a few shots, the rest of the safari was documented by my video camera.  Luckily, my CCS friends were able to take some great pictures that I’m sure they will share.
We stopped for breakfast at the hippo pool, and then started our hunt for lions.  As we reached another open plain, we saw a couple of safari vehicles stopped ahead.  They spotted some lions.  We drove up and turned off the car for at least 1/2 hour.  There were four lions…a mother and her three almost grown cubs (2 females, 1 male).  The four of them formed a line, each about a football field away from the other.  Slowly, they would walk, one at a time, towards the safari vehicles on the road.  Three of them walked directly past our car, and then sat down less than 10 feet away from us.  So cool!
 After spending some time with the lions, it was time to head back to the campsite to eat lunch and pack up.  We spotted four more lions near a pond as we drove, one of which was an older male with an amazing mane.
As we left the campsite, our elephant friend came back for a few photo ops!  Crazy that this thing could have greeted me as I walked out of my tent the night before!
After a quick stop for camel rides, we were on our way back to Moshi.  Dirty, tired, but so thrilled about our first safari experience.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Watering Hole

By Thursday, we were finally starting to feel a bit more comfortable at WEECE.   The girls wait for our arrival to begin morning prayers.  They usually start with a song (usually in Swahili).  On Thursday they sang ‘How Great Thou Art’ in Swahili….it was beautiful! After the song, they go into the Hail Mary and the Our Father (both in English, which means I can participate).  It has been a great way to start off the day.   Mama Mrema came in for a couple hours, and since her eyesight is bad due to diabetes and recent surgeries, we took turns helping her with her emails as she cannot easily read the computer screen.  She had one more surgery planned for Friday, so while she really wanted to be at work, you could tell that she had other things on her mind.
Day 2 of the Excel lesson with the girls went very well.  We taught the girls how to budget and had them build a budgeting tool in Excel.  I think most of the girls understood – we asked sawa sawa? (ok ok?) and they said yes.   It’s amazing how eager these girls are to learn!!! The idea of saving money is completely foreign to them as most of them come from very poor families.  Every shilling is used for food, clothing, shelter, or school….if they are lucky.  In many families, the husband/father controls all of the money, and will spend much of it on beer.  Unfortunately, this is a big problem in this country.  Even the men that work here at CCS admit that most men in the country are lazy.  The women do all of the work, and then the men spend the money on frivolous things like banana beer rather than school for their daughters.
Anyway, we told them they would need at least 10,000,000 shillings to buy a car (~$9000 US), and gave that item as a stretch goal to save for.  Most of the girls at WEECE either walk a couple miles or take the daladala (bus) to class.  It is very doubtful that anybody in their immediate family has a car, so giving them this goal seemed to work well and add a little excitement to the exercise.  Combining the clothing sales and production  spreadsheets with the budget, the girls were able to determine how many pieces of clothing they would have to make and sell in order to obtain their basic needs, put money into a savings “account,” and buy fabric to make additional clothing.  In addition to teaching the girls these skills and showing them how to track this information in Excel, I am making an Excel template for them to use in the future.  For each thing we introduce to the group, we try to think of a way to make it sustainable after we leave (Gotta love the Control phase in DMAIC!) 
The best part of the week was Mel’s “PE Class.”  From 10-10:30 every morning, she leads different games for all of us as a break between classes.  On Thursday, we taught the girls the Macarena!!!  It was so funny!  Luckily, I had my little video camera with me, so was able to get some of the action recorded.  When I showed the girls the video a little later, they were so so excited.  I’m not sure if any of them had ever seen themselves on video before, so this was a real treat.  They want to watch it every day now, so I think I’ll upload it to some of the WEECE computers next week so they can watch it whenever they want.  I’m not sure I’ll be able to post the video to my blog from here in Africa, but I will try to post on Facebook this week.
On Thursday night, I finally ventured out to the bar for the first time.  11 out of the 15 of us headed out to The Watering Hole, an expat bar about 2 miles from home base.  It was great to finally drink some Tanzanian beer (Tusker).  Now that we’re all settling in, I’m sure there will be many more evening trips in the future.  So many beers, so little time!  :)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

T.I.A. - This is Africa

Amongst the English speaking people in Africa, there is a common saying….This Is Africa (or T.I.A.). Everyday we experience something that makes it easy to just smile, nod your head and say “This Is Africa.”

Today was our 2nd day at placement, and 1st day to actually do some work. Mama Mrema was out sick (she is diabetic and recently had eye surgery), which actually made things much easier. I started off the morning by teaching some of the more advanced girls how to use excel. They have used it before, but have only copied tables of data from other documents. They did not really understand what they were doing with the tables.

I worked with them to build a table to determine how much they could profit on sales of the clothing they are sewing in tailoring class. It was VERY tiring work, as their Engilsh is not very good, and nina sema Kiswahili kidogo sana sana sana (I speak Kiswahili very very very little). The girls, however, were very happy with the lesson. I spent the rest of my time there working on excel templates they could use for their individual businesses. They include worksheets to determine the cost to make each piece of clothing, information on the number sold, and how much it was sold for. I also started to put together a budgeting template, as budgeting is a foreign concept for many of these girls. This is Africa.

The afternoon activities included another Swahili class where I learned to say the following:

Jina langu ni Jessica - My name is Jessica

Mimi ni Mmarekani – I am American

Ninatoka California – I come from California

Ninajitolea WEECE - I am volunteering at WEECE

Nina sema Kiswahili kidogo sana – I speak Kiswahili very little

Ninipenta chokoleti – I like Chocolate

The remainder of the afternoon/early evening included a trip to the Macheme area (the Kilimanjaro route I will be climbing) to visit an orphanage. The orphanage is only 4 years old, and I was impressed by the quality of the facilities. We spent a little over an hour playing with the 1-2 year olds, then spent another ½ hour playing with the 2-4 year olds. Such cute little kids! Almost makes me want to pull an Angelina! ;) Just kidding.

On our way home, we almost hit a herd of cattle and goats that were in the middle of the street in the middle of the village we were driving through. Not every day do you see that! This is Africa!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

First Day of Placement.....and then some

We finally had our first day at our placements today. As mentioned before in a previous blog post, I am volunteering at WEECE (Women’s Education and Economic Centre), an organization that trains women in skills they can use to run their own businesses. These women are between the ages of 13 and 23, and do /did not have the money to attend secondary school. The organization also provides microloans to qualified women that are already running a business.

I am volunteering with two other women from my CCS homebase. Marcia (Mar-see-ah) is a 46 year old woman that was born in London and raised in Jamaica. She attended college in London, and has been working as an accountant in the New York City area for the past 10 years. She’s also my roommate here at CCS, and pretty damn cool! Chris is a 59 year old woman from Texas. She is a talented artist who also teaches at a college in the Dallas area. She is a former hippie, pretty liberal, and has been telling funny stories about what happens when the “nudes” come in for her figure drawing classes.

When we arrived at WEECE this morning, we learned that we’d be working with one other volunteer, Melissa, who was there volunteering on her own and staying in a local hostel. She had already been at WEECE for 2 weeks. She is a health/phys ed. Teacher in Perth, Australia. I learned today that she is planning to climb Kilimanjaro starting June 5!!! I FINALLY have a group to climb with!!!

The four of us, so far, seem to make a pretty great team!

The leader of Weece is Mama Valeria Mrema (or just Mama, as all “older” women are called). She is a very strong female who came from a poor family. As a young child, she protested her womanly duties and fought with her mother to play with the boys rather than work in the kitchen. Because of her daily attendance at church, the local Catholic diocese noticed her and provided the funds for her to go to primary school and secondary school. She was able to go on to college, and after working with the diocese for 15 plus years, she left to form WEECE. She is a wonderful woman, but pretty forgetful and disorganized.

The idea of WEECE is fantastic, the organization and execution of the group, however, needs a bit of work. Well, a lot of work. Here’s a list of things the four of us discussed today that could use our help

Education Items:

• The “school” for the girls does not run on any specific schedule (remember when I mentoined Tanzanian time? They’re not really good at using schedules here). More could be accomplished with the girls if time were more structured and used more effectively.

• The computer teacher is not really that skilled on the computer. We will be working with the girls on computer skills, and will work 1 on 1 with the computer teacher to introduce her to new ways to use Word and Excel

• Health Education – When the people at WEECE learned that Melissa was a health teacher, they asked her to teach health classes. In her first class, she first asked the women what they already knew, and what they wanted to know. She was shocked to learn that none of them really knew the basic biology of the body, what things were in the body, and how the body worked. None of them knew how or why they menstruated! We were shocked when we heard this and are very happy that Melissa is teaching this information to the class. In a country with such a high incidence of HIV/AIDS and unwanted pregnancies, this information is a good building block for women to have as they become more independent.

Business Items

• Marketing brochure and website need to be updated. WEECE needs some “branding” to help raise recognition. We hope to work with the team to create a logo we can use on marketing materials.

• Staff education – Work with Jenny and Joanna (local staff) on computer skills (i.e. building letterhead templates in Word

• WRITE DOWN PROCESSES! Much like my former life at GE, many processes used to be what we call “tribal knowledge.” Passed down from one generation to the next. For this organization to become more successful, it needs very clear, transparent information available for how the organization works.

• Help Mama Mrema organize her office/duties/etc.

I’m sure there are many more things I am leaving off, but with just this we have our hands full!

After placement and lunch, a doctor from the public government hospital came by to talk with us about HIV/AIDS within the country. She then took us on a hospital tour. I HAVE NEVER FELT SO LUCKY TO HAVE BEEN BORN IN THE USA!!!

The hospital is made up of a 20 or so small buildings. You use dirt paths or sidewalks to access each of the buildings, each of which is a different department. All buildings had open doors/windows (talk about being unsanitary!) We first went into labor and delivery. Many women live in areas far away from the hospital. Their local clinic doctors send them to the hospital when they are close to giving birth, where they wait until they actually go into labor. There were 10 beds for “pre-labor,” some of which need to be shared by 4 women. Through one curtain was the active labor area, and through the other curtain was the delivery room. Nothing was clean, nothing was sterile. It was hot and crowded.

We visited many other departments – pediatrics, burn area, fracture area (interesting to see people in traction), and the psych ward. We didn’t get to go into the surgical theater, but it was a small building surrounded by windows so you could partially see inside.

I feel VERY fortunate that if I were to get sick or injured in Africa, I’d get to go to the private hospital, St. Josephs. I do not know how much better this hospital is, but I am assured it is a couple steps above the public hospital.

It was DEFINITELY an eye-opening experience, and something I will remember when I get frustrated with the health care system in the US.

The day ended with our first view of “Her Majesty,” Mt. Kilimanjaro. While we have had sunny days, the peak has been covered with clouds since we have been here. I jumped out of my seat in the van yesterday when I finally saw it. Absolutely beautiful! Very high! Absolutely frightening as well…2.5 weeks until I start my climb!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Habari Za Asubuhi?

Our 2nd full day at the Karanga house has come and gone. Most of us were feeling a bit more ourselves today as we had another full night’s sleep in a bed . This was a good thing as today was very busy as well as mentally challenging.

We started the day off with cultural lessons. These included learning some basic greetings, handshakes, and formalities to use when meeting people in Tanzania. The process of greeting someone is taken very seriously in this country, and can sometimes last more than just a few minutes, with a feeling that the “conversation” is going in circles. Granted, it may feel that way since our Swahili and their English is limited to a few words.

We also learned about Tanzania time vs. Mzungu (foreigner) time. First, there is the difference in how to tell time. For instance, Tanzanians call 7am the 1st hour (after sunrise), 8 am the 2nd hour, and so on. Since we are basically on the equator, the sun rises and sets ~6am/6pm every day, which makes the Tanzanian way of telling time a “little” more accurate. We’ve been waking up at 6am for breakfast and activities everyday, and we are starting to learn that we really don’t need an alarm. At 5am you can hear the Muslim call to prayer. At 6am you can hear the church bells ringing….and then there are the roosters. Lots of roosters! The CCS-Karanga house is about ¾ of a mile down a dirt road, and families all around us have their own small farms with goats, roosters, chickens, lambs, etc. We get a whole chorus of roosters cock-a-doodle-dooing all morning long.

Tanzania time is much like Island time. Unless you specify that something starts at Mzungu time, you could be sitting and waiting for quite a long time. People tend to get delayed (probably due to the extended greetings mentioned above).

Our next activity was a scavenger hunt in order to use our new understanding of Swahili greetings. My team had to turn left out of the CCS gate, find a house on the right hand side of the road, greet the family, and ask to see a few pieces of kanga (decorative cloth used by women for skirts, head wraps, aprons, baby “backpacks”, etc), and write down the words we find on the Kanga. This was a little more difficult than imagined. The family (mostly kids) thought we wanted to buy kanga, so they took us to the corner store (another one of the neighbors living in a mud hut). We found a Kanga, and the words on it.

We got most of our scavenger hunt help from Patric, who is 16, and spoke a decent amount of English. We were also accompanied by Evon, Regina, Augustino, and little Brenda, who is the biggest ham of a 3 year old I have ever seen! I’m sure I’ll be posting plenty of pictures of her over the coming weeks!

It was then time for our first “formal” Swahili lesson. Here’s a sampling of what we learned:

- Hujambo? (How are you?)
- Sijambo (I am fine)
- Habari za asubuhi? (How is the news of the morning? - i.e. How are you?)
- Nzuri (Good)
- Mambo (What’s Up? How are things going? Slang)
- Poa (cool!)
- Teno (Give me 5 – in which you give knuckles to each other)

I still have a ways to go, but at least I don’t look/sound like a complete idiot as I walk down the street anymore.

Our last activity of the day was to meet with our placement directors to discuss our volunteer work (which starts tomorrow morning). Unfortunately, Mama Mwema (the WEECE director) was sick today, so she sent representatives (local volunteers) to come speak with us. It wasn’t a very productive meeting as neither of the other volunteers knew much English, and did not know much about our assignments. Mama Mwema should be there tomorrow to help us out…we hope!

Ok, Tanzania bedtime is finally kicking in. Keep your fingers crossed that the crazy Bush Babies stay quiet tonight!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Half the Sky


I have arrived in Tanzania!!! It took 27 hours and stops in Minneapolis and Amsterdam to fly half the sky – from San Diego to Kilimanjaro. It is currently 4:30 pm on Sunday, May 16 in Tanzania, which is 6:30 am in San Diego. Needless to say, I’m a little out of it. Tonight will be an early night for sure!

Surprisingly, my flights were not too bad! Other than the VERY talkative lady on my flight to Minneapolis, I had good seat mates, and good entertainment. I think the personal TVs on flights are the most amazing thing ever….it really makes the time go fast. I was able to watch Invictus, Up in the Air, and Gran Torino…more movies than I have seen in the last 3 months!

I also had the opportunity to read the first half of the book “Half the Sky,” which has really helped to get into the mindset for my placement at WEECE here in Moshi. (Thanks for the recommendation Emily!!!) The book is about “turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide” and tells stories of the horrors experienced by women in Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia, and how they have overcome. It is stories like these that make me feel so lucky to have been born in the US, and so grateful that I am here in Tanzania where I have the possibility of making a difference in women’s lives.

If you have any free time this spring, please read this book!

Myself and about 10 other volunteers arrived in Tanzania around 8:30 pm on Saturday night, and were greeted by the CCS drivers and our vans to our home base. If you thought Roman cab rides were scary, this was a whole new level. Driving 70+ mph down a narrow 2 lane street in an old van with no seatbelts. The 40 minute drive was very dark appeared to be in the middle of nowhere, however there were hundreds of people walking up and down the streets! They were everywhere! And it was close to 10pm! I can see now how auto accidents are a major cause of fatality here!

We finally made it down the dirt road to our homebase in Karanga Village in Moshi. We were greeted with hugs and kisses from Mama Lilian (our program director), and fresh squeezed mango/passion fruit juice. We went through quick introductions and then made our way to bed. Rest was necessary for the weary!

Today consisted of more introductory activities. We were shown around the homebase (see pics below), filled out our residency permits (as we will be here longer than 2 weeks), and took a quick tour of Moshi town. We stopped by a little artist village to see some of the beautiful canvases and carvings (Mandy and Ben…we need to talk), and then stopped at the central market. Everyone is so friendly! Some people (especially the men as most of them have had secondary education) speak English. For the rest, my favorite phrase was ‘asante hapana’ which is ‘no thank you’ in Swahili. Despite the haggling, the market was pretty amazing. Can’t wait to go back!

We’ve had free time most of this late afternoon as we wait for dinner. Some of us took a walk down the dirt road (3/4 miles?) to the main highway and back. It is amazing how many people live off of this seemingly unpopulated area. So many people walking around, in both leisure clothes as well as some in their Sunday best. We stopped to say hi (habari) to some neighbors that live in mud /wood huts. Kids, at ages of those in the US who watch incessant amounts of TV and play hours of video games, were so excited to meet us, say hi, and shake our hand. With limited means of entertainment, they really look forward to interacting with the Muzungo (foreigners). Hopefully those I meet at my placement tomorrow feel the same way!

Tutaonana baadaye (See you Later!)

Friday, May 14, 2010

My Volunteer Placement - WEECE

Blogging while overlooking the Grand Canyon!  Isn't technology great?!?!  Anyway, I Wanted to do a quick post on my placement over in Tanzania so you would all have a chance to see what I will be working on over the next 3+ weeks.  I am VERY excited for this opportunity!!

Your Volunteer Placement

Community Development - WEECE

Mission and Needs of the Partner Program

To support the marginalized women in Kilimanjaro region to achieve economic stability and gender equality through micro business loans, education, counseling and advocacy. Women Education and Economic Center (WEECE) is a non-profit organization started in 1999 by 3 women from the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania. Currently the organization consists of 126 members.

Primary Projects of WEECE

Providing women who are operating existing businesses with financial assistance through micro-loans. This includes the provision of financial and small business education. Businesses include poultry and livestock keeping, tailoring, grocery and clothing shops, restaurants, street vendors and fruit and vegetable sellers.

Counseling and legal advocacy to lead towards gender equality to educate marginalized women in their human and legal rights. (e.g. inheritance rights, business training, advice on personal relationships, domestic violence, etc.)

Associated Activities

Tumaini Women’s Savings and Credit Cooperative Society (SACCOS)

This is a Kilimanjaro branch of the Tanzanian SACCOS set up by WEECE for its members which aims to provide a vehicle for women to save (which most have never experienced) through the repayment system of the micro-loans

Once a required amount of money has been saved, the women are then eligible to move their account from the local Tumaini SACCOS to the national SACCOS allowing them to borrow larger sums of money

Provision of a network of business women

Monitoring and provision of on-site business consultation

Volunteer Activities/Duties of Working Toward Women’s Empowerment

  • Editing and distribution of the WEECE brochure
  • Identification of where to distribute the WEECE brochure
  • Marketing and selling of WEECE Cook Book of Tanzanian dishes to raise funds
  • Working with the chairperson to contact potential local, national and international supporters
  • Research and identification of potential financial donors (National / International) for WEECE to follow up with
  • Editing 2005 – 2007 Strategic Business Plan
Other potential volunteer projects to be discussed with the chairperson could include:

  • Informal marketing sessions with the women via brainstorming in small groups
  • Informal basic English lessons
  • Teach basic computer skills particularly Excel
  • Assist the chairperson with ideas for Women’s Liberation booklet
  • Future endeavors for eco-tourism and road planning
Goals of the Partner Program

To empower women through participation in economic development and education.

Assist Director with daily office functions of WEECE, help to identify new ways to improve systems.

I've included a few pictures from the WEECE website.  Please check out the website when you get  a chance to find more information about the organization.

Beauty Parlor Owner with Mama Mrema

Owner of Chicken and Duck Business

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pain is Temporary, Pride is Forever - Wildflower 2010

Wow! 2010! It is crazy to think that this year is my 7th season racing triathlons, and my 5th season racing long course. I would've never thought that a little boredom in Ohio would lead to the thought of doing A triathlon, let alone moving to San Diego, meeting some great friends, and completely changing my lifestyle.

Over the years, I've had the opportunity to compete in some amazing races: Free TCSD races, KOZ series races, a half ironman in Baja (my first HIM), scattered half marathons, 10K's, 5K's, O'Side Half Iron (x2), Big Kahuna (x2), and Ironman Arizona. Missing from this list was a little race called Wildflower.

Held the first week of May, Wildflower is considered the "Woodstock of Triathlon." While the Woodstock comparison comes primarily from the fact that most racers camp on-site - the race is still quite a fun party. Unfortunately, for the past few years, Wildflower weekend has corresponded with finals at school. Now with graduation behind me, it was my chance to take a stab at this race.

Stacy Schlocker and I left bright and early Friday morning for the trek up to Lake San Antonio. About 15 miles or so from Paso Robles, the Wildflower race area was a beautiful mix of lakes, hills, vineyards, and of course, fields of wildflowers (sorry allergies)!

TCSD once again showed that they were the best club around, as we were able to turn in our tents the week before so they would be set-up when we arrived. AWESOME! Thanks to the Hays family!

Race Day

9:15 race start time for my wave meant that I got to sleep in until 6. That is unheard of on race day! Awesome! Not so awesome was the sub 40-degree temps outside at 6 in the morning. Did I really have to jump into a lake in 3 hours?

In summary - the race was not my best. Not even close to my best.

The swim was ok. Freshwater and flat. I came out exactly where I thought I would (~46 mins).

The bike is where the real "fun" began! Hills, hills, and more hills. My glutes were cramping and my back was hurting. The ride was not fun, and pretty slow (~3:45...ouch!). I kept on muttering to myself as I went up the hills "Pain is Temporary, Pride is Forever. I can do this." That got me through, but barely. In the picture below, I was yelling to Shawn "I hurt! This sucks! Do I really have to run?!?!?" I was NOT looking forward to the half marathon ahead.
The run turned out to be more of a walk. My glutes were tight, and I could not get my heart rate down. Add a bright sunny and warm day, plus hills around every corner, this run was more like a death march. I just couldn't get it together to run more than a quarter mile to half mile at a time. Not fun at all. Even walking hurt! What should've taken me ~2:15 on a good day, took me ~3:00 on this day.

Overall time: ~7:45! Eek. Considering my best half ironman time is 5:49, this was tough to swallow. This race, although half the distance, was harder for me than Ironman Arizona! The race was so painful, that all Saturday night, I was swearing off all long courses. No need to put myself through that pain!

After a good dinner, lots of water, and a night sleeping in my compression tights, I woke up on Sunday morning feeling....pretty good! The pain WAS temporary! By the time Stacy and I reached our breakfast stop in San Luis Obispo on our way home on Sunday morning, she had convinced me to take another stab at the race next year. Am I crazy? A glutton for punishment? Who knows! I think I need to start doing some hill repeats now! :)