Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Flight Will Not Wait

My trip here is soon ending.  The plane takes off at 5:15pm and I have promised my family and friends in the States that I will be at the Kansas City airport tomorrow at 5pm when it lands.  

Last week I taught Sustainable Agriculture for just two days so that I could spend one day interviewing doctors and nurses at the Tengeru District Hospital to gather last bits of information for my research.  This semester I will use my research to supplement my thesis of studying how Tanzanians make decisions about treating illness and what needs to be done to improve the health of Tanzania.  Before this project, I will compile the observations I have made about the role of GSC and other NGO's in implementing social services and people's attitudes towards these NGO's.  I will also create a presentation with information about parasites and diseases that are common in Tanzania.  

On Wednesday, a Rockhurst friend who was also volunteering in East Africa met me in Arusha and I gave her a tour of the city that has been my summer home.  We left for Dar es Salaam on Thursday, the first leg of our journey to Zanzibar.  After over two months of service work, we wanted to spend just a few days relaxing before returning just in time for the fall semester.  Zanzibar provided for us an incredible vacation location.  The white sand beaches, crystal blue waters, and Arabian culture made for an enjoyable weekend complete with snorkeling, star-fish, late-night dancing, and Arabic lessons. The 3-day stay was just long enough before coming back to Arusha for last goodbyes.

 It is difficult to leave, but exciting things await for me in the States.  Someday I want to return to Tanzania: when- I do not know, but soon.  Until I know, back to the States I fly! 

Thanks to all who have supported this trip.  I hope you have enjoyed these blogs and experiences that I have shared!


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Under the African Sky

We worked in another Maasai village last week, this one having a similar environment as the very first one I visited. I woke up every morning to the sounds of birds chirping, trees blowing, our host family beginning their morning chores and the faint sound of a whip snapping the air as some farmer worked to herd his cattle. We vaccinated kuku (chickens) against Newcastle disease in the early mornings, walking from boma (house) to boma with a local mama who will be the volunteer community trainer after we are gone, helping her neighbors vaccinate their kuku every three months. Newcastle disease has no cure, and is the most common disease among chickens in TZ. Fortunately the vaccine is available, inexpensive and effective, reducing the risk of disease from 70% to 10%. GSC's chicken vaccination program is its most successful in terms of follow-up participation and sustainability, in fact GSC's county director is working to expand the program to increase the number of villages and regions it serves. This week alone we vaccinated over 800 chickens in over 100 homes. The community trainers will encourage the neighbors to continue purchasing the vaccine and assist with the vaccination to ensure the kuku are free of the disease.

After these chilly morning walks we returned to our campsite for breakfast. With coffee and chai, we were always served bread with peanut butter, jelly, hard-boiled eggs, bananas, oranges, and maandazi (similar to a fried doughnut). Then myself, and three others went to the village center to teach Sustainable Agriculture while the remaining groups worked on Applied Technology projects like building hafirs or grain storage bins. The students in our class was split 8 to 9, males to females and they were all young to middle-aged farmers. They chose to build a compost pile and a double-dug bed for the class practical, so on Thursday we did both for one of the mamas whom the class selected to help. This mama is extending her vegetable garden and was excited to use the new techniques we taught her in class. Using these Bio-intensive techniques like composting, nurseries, and double-dug beds is more difficult for larger farms, but with careful planning and dedication a gradual transition is possible.

The main crops I saw growing on the hillsides were maize, wheat, flowers, beans, and tobacco. One of my students told me he farms 17 acres with maize, beans, and wheat. A portion of his crop is kept for his family and the rest is sold in the market for income. Planting and harvesting is mostly done by hand or with animals, although it is not uncommon for a few villagers to own their own tractors then rent and share it with others.

One of the major problems for farmers here is water. It rains just a few months out of the year (although more here than in Naitolia, the village I stayed at just before), and much of hillsides are eroding terribly. The BIA method GSC teaches addresses these problem by preparing the soil for better water absorption. Of the projects we worked on this week, I think building the hafirs and a grain storage will be most beneficial for the farmers. Hafirs are low-cost water tanks that collect rain water so it can be stored and used later for crops. The hafirs are 1.5 meters wide and the length varies depending on the amount of available space. GSC built five hafirs during the week and a few other interested farmers were given tarps to build their own. The grain storage unit was constructed by first building a stone and cement foundation, inserting a spout at the bottom to empty the grain. Then we filled a hemp bag with sawdust to hold the shape of the bin, moistened the hemp bag, and plastered on three layers of cement, shaping the final layer until smooth. A lid was shaped out of wire, covered with cement, and placed on top when dried. These bins are approximately 7 foot high and about 1.5 meters in diameter. Many of the farmers do not practice any method of grain storage, instead letting surplus grain sit in the fields or feeding it to livestock. Though surprisingly, there was not a great interest in this bins; we built just one grain storage bin during the week.

Throughout the summer I have been conducting research on the use of herbal and artificial medicines. I have interviewed secondary school students on how they make decisions as to what type they use, as well as village midwives and traditional doctors to learn what illnesses people seek artificial treatments for. I interviewed a midwife at a village dispensary near Olchorovus and learned more about the problem of dust for many people. The midwife told me the primary problems people come to the dispensary with are red eyes and pneumonia- both irritations from walking along the dirt roads, working in the dusty fields, and living in a cool climate. Many people try using herbal medicines first for these and other health problems because they are the less-expensive option. Visiting the dispensary is a last resort if the herbal medicines fail to work.

Every evening after work, a filling dinner, and a group meeting, I brushed my teeth under the African sky, staring at the constellations of the southern hemisphere which I rarely/never see. We gathered around a fire for hours of story-sharing and laughs, then retired to our sleeping bags for a much needed sleep.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

1 Daladala + 1 Kuku + 1 semi-Vegetarian = 1 Identity Crisis

I knew from the start that being a vegetarian in Africa would not go without many explanations of why and how. My host-family said they many past volunteers that have housed also were vegetarian, but my mama took no care to hide her disappointment that I would rather not eat meat, especially chicken which was her favorite meat to prepare. My sister bragged about how well her mama prepares chicken and how sad she was I wouldn't try any of the dishes. After the first week of consuming beans as my main source of protein, a source that was provided about once every other day if I was lucky, I decided to transition to a bit more protein-rich diet of pescetarianism. Fish is readily available at local restaurants and my family was glad to take a step closer to their normal diets with having fish once or twice a week. I continued with this diet for about a month, during which I sat through several hour-long lectures by my brother who explained the more natural methods of raising chickens in TZ compared to the US and their support of local farmers who do not use steroids and only feed their chickens seeds and grass. One Sunday afternoon, after sitting through another one of these lectures, I agreed to eating chicken. Right away my brother told his daughter, who told mama, to which her face lit up with joy and she went out to buy a chicken to cook for dinner that same night.

Since my first consumption of the bird, I have eaten it four other times when I have felt confident the bird was allowed to roam about and eat things that a bird would naturally eat. Things changed a bit last night when I visited a friend of the family and he gave me a chicken as a departure gift. As I waited to leave his home, he scrounged his place for a box. I thought, “Why does he need a box? Wouldn't a bag suffice?” After a period of time he came back with a box from the neighbor. Then he disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a knife. I was only half-paying attention and thought he was trying to cut the flaps off of the box. He disappeared again then returned with hemp string- okay, so he couldn't cut the flaps off so instead he would tie the box. The logic didn't make sense but my mind was distracted with the day's events. My friend disappeared again and when he returned he carried a live chicken. Wait...WHAT?! I looked closely at the box and realized he had been cutting air holes in the sides, and the string, as you can guess, was to keep the lid closed. I couldn't help but laugh and ask if it was normal to take a live chicken on the daladala. He laughed only once, slightly confused by my surprise but reassured me it was no big deal. He then proceeded to hold the chicken down, close the flaps and tie the box. Before I could think about what was happening any further, we were out the door and headed towards the road. A crowded daladala came and I was ushered on and handed the tied box with the precious chicken sitting inside. Immediately I imagined the chicken getting disturbed, fluttering in the box, breaking the string and flying around inside this moving vehicle, causing a commotion that the locals would forever remember as the crazy mzungu with the kuku (chicken). I nervously stood with my upper body bent in the cramped daladala, cautiously eying the people around me, trying to gauge their reaction when the chaos should erupt. I was surprised when the daladala reached my station and the string remained securely tied. But I had only felt the chicken shift once in its box., maybe it died from stress, I reasoned. The step out of the van made the box shift a bit again, reassuring me that the bird survived. I walked to my home and opened the kitchen door where mama was preparing dinner. She turned, saw the box I was holding and burst into laughter at the irony of the scene and the events she knew just happened: Mary rode with a chicken on the daladala, a chicken which was destined to be dinner. I joined in her laughter, confused at the events that had happened so quickly. When the laughs finally subsided she cut the string on the box and used it to tie the bird to the leg of the counter where it stayed throughout the night. This morning I watched its slaughter and am anticipating the plucking and cleaning process to happen later today. Then, the body will go into my homemade chicken-noodle soup.

I think I have to temporarily remove my identification as vegetarian.

'Pole,' Ujamaa, and a New Lens

On our first day of Swahili lessons at the beginning of the summer we learned the use of the term 'Pole' (pronounced: poh-lay.) It translates in English to mean 'Sorry' but is used in slightly different situations, most commonly at the end of the day when someone finishes work. It is appropriate to say 'pole' to elders, coworkers, friends, and in passing someone on the street. At first I could not come out from behind my Western lens to understand this term, instead I found it slightly insulting! Having just come from a society that values work and individualism I reasoned that saying 'pole' to someone after a day's work implied that the job was not satisfying to them. Afterall, isn't is a Western ideal to value work? Western societies encourage people to love their work, if not because it is fulfilling but at least because it is an income source, so why should someone say sorry when working is good? I could not understand why this was a normal thing to say. Still, I obliged to saying 'pole' whenever appropriate, despite my resentment towards it.

Over these weeks I have continued thinking about this term, trying to understand the culture values that reinforces it. Today as I walked home from work it finally clicked. The day has been a long one; after teaching, constructing a plant nursery, and passing out certificates we were came back to the office later than usual. Upon return we gathered materials for next week and met with our supervisor for our weekly reports. Halfway through our meeting the other volunteers returned from a village they had worked at all week and we proceeded to exchange greetings and share stories. After our meeting I stayed longer with the supervisor to discuss other matters. It was around 5:00pm when I was finished at the office and well past lunchtime. Dinner would be in four hours and I debated whether it would be worth picking up something. I debated this as I walked downtown to check my host-family's post office box, only to find the post office had closed already. Mentally and physically fatigued, I thought it best to begin the thirty minute walk home. Taking a daladala is always an option, but I find the walk to be refreshing and therapeutic, even when exhausted

There were many people I passed as I walked my usual path, many faces who probably know mine better than I do theirs, being one of the few mzungu that pass by everyday. There was the occasional friendly greeting equivalent to a “Hello” or “How are you?”and I offered my own greeting in return. My long strides carried me past several people including one woman who also appeared to be exhausted from the day's work. She wore a beautiful red patterned dress, gold earrings and a white scarf over her head, her face had begun to wrinkle from years spent working. She called to me the more formal greeting of “Hujambo?” to which I replied “Sijambo.” Instead of ending with this as most greetings do, she continued with “Pole, Mama!” (Mama is named to anyone who appears older than 18). I blushed in embarrassment at first thinking that my exhaustion was so visible for another to see it and offer sympathy. Then I realized that saying 'pole' to another is not the same as offering a consolation for having to work. It is another behavior that reflects the ideal of Ujamaa, or familyhood, that the first President Nyerere instilled in Tanzanian society. In TZ, saying 'pole' to someone creates a bond of compassion that connects the two as family members. For Western societies saying sorry (and really meaning it) is usually reserved for close friends and one's biological family, and would rarely be offered as a sincere greeting for a stranger.

Perhaps it was my fatigue that was affecting my perspective, but something about the way she said this made everything click and I could have hugged her for saying 'Pole' to me. With the Western lens removed and a new perspective of 'pole,' I gained a much clearer view of Tanzanian culture and the influence of Ujamaa. This mama knew nothing about my day, where I came from, or why I am here, but she still offered the expression of compassion that unites Tanzanians in a familyhood.

In reply I said the customary thanks and returned the compassion with “pole na wewe” (sorry and to you). She smiled, said thank-you, and my stride continued to carry me away from her. Just like that, we lived out the Ujamaa philosophy that continues to thrive in Tanzanians, almost forty years since Nyerere's presidency.

Garden Today, Dinner Tomorrow

This past week I put to use everything my parents have ever taught me about farming and gardening. I taught bio-intensive agriculture at a vocational school to students ages 18-20. The school has different areas of study for students to select as their focus such as sewing, hotel and restaurant management and cooking. The school sat in a gated area as common for most buildings Arusha. Within the gates are four buildings for classrooms, bathrooms, a teacher's lounge, and office. A large garden lay behind the buildings where each class was responsible for planting and maintaining its own plots. All of the crops are grown for the school to use either in the cooking classes or for the occasional lunch that is served. Since it is a vocational school students attend either a morning session until 2pm or the afternoon session, beginning at 3pm. Therefore the garden was filled with plants the school uses most often: onions, corn, zucchini, lettuce, and other vegetables native to Tanzania. Overall the garden looked to be thriving, but it was in need of some upkeep; the sides of the plots had fallen and weeds were beginning to grow up in between the vegetables. The headmistress explained later that the students are usually too tired to have energy to spend more time in the garden. Some, she said, have only the bread and chai during the 11am break which serves as both their breakfast and lunch. Then, after class, they must return home for chores and other responsibilities so they do not have the time and energy to care for both the garden and their home duties. I was thrilled to be there to introduce new gardening methods that would help them save time in the long-run and improve both the quality and quantity of their corp yields.

The lesson plan for teaching bio-intensive agriculture (BIA) goes as follows:
    • All about BIA: definition, features, and benefits
    • Composting
    • Double-dug beds
    • Companion planting
    • Crop rotation
    • Plant nurseries
    • Pest management and natural solutions
    • Garden record keeping and maintenance

While these basic concepts are not new to me (mostly thanks to dad and mom), the Tanzanian methods of achieving these were a learning process. For example, using banana leaves as the shade cover in the nursery is not an option in the states (unfortunately for us). The students had many good questions, especially about using natural solutions instead of chemicals on plants. I was able to answer these only with the help of a certain wizened and well-learned GSC staff member who had spent years working with agriculture. We spent half of the time in the classroom, going over the theory of BIA and the methods that make it possible, and the other half we spent working in the garden building a compost bed, a key-hole garden -which I helped build last week in the village, so I'm on my way to being an expert at it ( careful of my deceiving sarcasm)- two double-dug beds, and two nurseries. I think the construction of these new structures will improve the quality of the garden and hopefully motivate the students to take just a little time everyday to maintain it. Or students can use these methods later in life when they must provide for their own family. One of the many great things about BIA is that there is a gardening method for any amount of land a person has; whether an entire field to grow many plots of vegetable or just a small patch of grass to keep a sac garden. So no matter where the students go after they finish their studies they will have the knowledge and the skills to produce food for themselves.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Teaching the Maasai Part 2

During this past week I worked in Naitolia, a Maasai village about an hour and a half West of Arsuha. We arrived Monday afternoon and met with some villagers at the village office, however there was a bit of miscommunication about time and the people had been waiting since the late morning for us. They were not able to stay longer for a lesson that day so we made plans to begin on Tuesday. Some asked if we would be providing drinks, snacks or other gifts for them during the training. Later I learned that some organizations even pay individuals to attend trainings as incentives for people to come. We explained that the gift is the education itself and if individuals wanted to improve their lives so that they and their families can be healthier and happier, then they should come. I was impressed the next day when close to twenty people (both men and women) showed up for the training.

Meanwhile myself and another volunteer went to the village secondary school to teach students. Our first day was also on Tuesday and the time frame was shortened so we did not get through as much as we hoped. Thursday, after our lesson, we were told that the students needed to prepare for national exams on Friday and there would not be time for us to finish teaching. We left frustrated knowing that the students would miss lessons on nutrition, hygiene and life skills. For thirteen and fourteen year-olds teaching life skills is an especially important component of teaching HIV/AIDS prevention. Life skills include discussing the different communication styles- passive, aggressive and assertive- and the students then practice delivering a message or reply assertively. We also teach decision making skills where the students are given scenarios in which they must go through four steps of the decision-making process to decide what choice has the most positive consequences for them. One of the scenarios we give them is a situation where a young girl becomes orphaned and must take care of her two younger siblings. Students are asked what they think the girl should do when an older man offers her money for sex, putting her at risk of HIV but providing money for which she can buy food. It is a difficult scenario that I found myself struggling with the first time I taught it this summer. Lessons like this are important to teach in a classroom setting to get the students thinking about real-life situations where there is a chance of engaging in behaviors that put them at increased risk of becoming infected with HIV. Leaving the class without teaching these lessons was hard. I hold on to the hope that they will finish reading the books we gave them at the beginning of training and learn about these lessons in life skills, as well as the hygiene and nutrition lessons they missed out on, and not use the pages as fuel for their next meal's fire. The irony of the situation adds humor to the frustration.

While the afternoons in Naitolia were a true test of flexibility and patience, the mornings proved to be very active and encouraging! Working with the Sustainable Agriculture staff, we visited the home of a Maasai farmer who had been trained in Bio-Intensive Ag earlier in the year. We arrived at his house, entering through the typical fence of large African plants, and were welcomed by him, his wife, three children and a garden filled with green plants of all different species: corn, beans, kale, cabbage, spinach, potatoes, and many others whose names I don't know. Three huts sat in the lot, one for the kitchen, another for sleeping, and a small bathroom behind the garden, away from the others. The man had built a hafir with GSC earlier this year, and it sat behind the sleeping room. The hafir was working effectively to collect water for the family to use for cooking, drinking, watering the garden and for the herd of goats fenced inside a second wooden fence about thirty feet from the kitchen and ten feet from the sleeping room. We visited this family every day of the week and helped them with additional ag projects. First we built a keyhole garden which utilizes compost and leftover water from the kitchen to nourish vegetables and fruits to feed the family. First we laid the foundation of stones and mud in a circle, two meters in diameter. The next day we layered soil, compost and manure to fill it to a heaping mound inserting tree branches vertically in the center to serve as an opening for the compost and water. After topping the soil with long grass, we let it sit overnight before planting the vegetables. The garden gets its name from the one-foot insert built on one side of the circle to allow the mama to walk close to the middle where she can dump compost and water. The climate in this part of Tanzania is extremely dry; it rains for just two months out of the year and only plants that have adapted to this climate typically grow under these arid conditions. The keyhole garden serves as a practical way to use kitchen waste while promoting the growth of fruits and vegetables that are otherwise limited. Additionally the lush green leaves that will grow from it is aesthetically pleasing for the family. This family has made an exemplary commitment to what they have learned in sustainable farming, and the healthy six month old baby that sat happily in her mother's arms is proof that dedication and commitment to these projects can work.

Unfortunately not all families are able to attend the trainings to learn these initiatives. Like the villagers expressed on our first day: they need an incentive to come to the trainings. After all, a two hour session soon turns into six for some who must walk for two hours to the village office. This time away from home may mean leaving children alone, delaying the planting or harvesting of crops, or neglecting care of the animals. In a culture where waking up the next day is not always a given, planning for the future and understanding the long-term benefits of being trained in agriculture or HIV prevention is more challenging and not as obvious as it may be for others. Despite the difference, the villagers are doing their best to provide for their families to keep them happy and healthy and carry on the rich Maasai traditions.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Knowledge is Power: Stay Health

We gathered at Poli for the last time on Saturday to celebrate the students' hard work with a graduation ceremony.  Typical to African time, we waited for two hours until the ceremony began. To pass the time I took over thirty pictures with my students (I have limited myself to posting only ten to my flickr stream). When all parties arrived, including the DJ with his gigantic speakers, the ceremony began and students, parents, teachers and volunteers filled up the chairs outside just as the rain clouds moved away to uncover the sun which left me another reminder of just how close to the equator I am, even with it being the winter months. A boy beat a bucket-drum to set the pace for a group of Scouts who marched in line to the flagpole in middle of the school grounds where we were gathered. With direction from the scouts, the students sang the national anthem as a head boy raised the flag. Next came the anthem for Poli, sung loud and strong by the students so that the catchy chorus will remain imprinted in my memory to forever remind me of these past days at Poli. Then the scouts marched away and a group of girls danced onto the center area in synchronized movement. After two dances they left to be followed by two boys who impressed the crowd with their individual dancing talents. They danced until someone in the crowd slipped a few shillings in each of their pockets, appropriate for both humor and real appreciation of their entertainment. Next a smaller group of girls danced to the middle to sing and move to a head-swaying, hand-clapping, hip-shaking song dedicated to “Our Besti Teachers.” When they were finished and the claps and hoots from the audience ceased, another large group of girls entered in step, clapping and singing to a familiar hip hop song. Following the dance routines were three skits with scenarios presenting what the students had learned during camp.

Entertainment over, it was time for the guest speakers to take the floor to explain the mission of GSC, introduce the volunteers and TZ counterparts, and thank the teachers of Poli for allowing us to come. Next a special speaker shared his words of encouragement with the students to put what they have learned to practice and further expand on the way forward with the simple phrase: “Knowledge is Power” to which students reply with one of the many comical errors of Swahili-speakers speaking English, “Stay Health.” After the speech we handed out certificates to our students to congratulate them for their hard work. This ended the formal ceremony and we proceeded to the meal: rice, cabbage, meat in sauce, kachumbari (a mixture of cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions), banana, and soda drinks. The food was delicious as always and the ceremony was enjoyable, but the best part of the day was after lunch when the students, volunteers and counterparts released their bodies to the music that had stayed present throughout the day, only pausing for speakers. For more than two hours hips swayed, bellies rolled, and feet stepped to the hip-hop and reggae that pumped into the air a spirit of absolute freedom. Older and younger siblings joined to fill the courtyard with dancing bodies. I imagined the students danced until the DJ refused to play another song, but I left before this instance occurred.

The teachers made sure to thank us before leaving and shared the enthusiasm of the students for us being there- not just to teach but to serve as role models to relay a very important message: Knowledge is Power: Stay Health.