Saturday, June 27, 2009

post 2

Blog post #2

I am probably one of the worst bloggers ever – one month in and this is my second post. I do solemnly declare however that I will try my best to blog once a week in the coming time. You know what, if you average 2 blog posts over 4 weeks, that’s half my goal.. And I had malaria twice. See? Not so bad. 


Now for a trip into a culture shock and malaria ridden memory lane. After posting on my blog, I decided that I should probably take some time to recover from malaria (do you know what the word in Swahili for malaria is? Malaria). Ashley and Melissa went to the Freedom Torch ceremonies at Mabatini, where the yogurt kitchen is. It’s technically within the borders of Mwanza but for now seems to almost mark the end of the city proper and the beginning of the more sprawly, rural/urban mix that goes on beyond this point. So the ceremony’s focus is a torch, which symbolizes Tanzania’s independence and is paraded around the country all year round. It was Mabatini’s turn to host this great event, with the Mamas getting an award for their service in the fight against HIV/AIDS and poverty in their communities.

Later, I got a knock on the door from Dr Mutalemwa, (George), the director of African and International Studies at Saint Augustine’s University, outside of Mwanza. He came to introduce himself and talk a bit about the University’s collaboration with the project, and seemed very interested in it. At the time of writing this, the students including Alex (the project coordinator based at the university) are just finishing up their exams, so they should be ready to collaborate with us on our research projects within a week or so.

We arranged a meeting with the Mamas which took place later in the week with Alex, where we all discussed what our foci were. Mine include
-Conducting research on the intercultural communication taking place between members of the women’s group and Western Heads East.
-Facilitating the development of the Tanzanian Steering Committee of the project
-Establishing a publicity campaign to raise the profile and awareness of the project.

The women also outlined their current challenges. These include getting proper packaging for their yogurt, some concerns the new developments in the project and most of all, the desire to continue a relationship which included clarity, honesty, and transparency.

All of this while I was recovering from malaria! By the next week, I was rearing to go!

The next few days we spent at the kitchen, talking to the women and visiting the local high school. We gave the gifts that were provided by the community in Canada, (they say thank you) and took two of the boys out for lunch that helped us one day with translations. They really enjoyed themselves, saying that they had never actually been taken out for lunch before. It was interesting to see the way that they talked about that, as they obviously value very highly the things that they did have not access too. Whereas we thought that the diets they had were very healthy, consisting of fresh food, they thought it was prestigious to eat fried food. After we went to the internet café, as the boys were very keen on learning how to access e-mail.

Also, the values surrounding the English language surprise me. The younger section of the population mostly see it as an conduit to the accumulation of wealth (a good thing), whereas the most of the older population who were brought up either under the English colonial regime or during Nererye’s ujamaa (family hood) philosophy see it as a neo colonial blight. It is this section of the population that carries the bulk of the nation’s proficiency in English, having worked in the civil service under the colonial government, but it is they who refuse to use it. I was waiting to get my cell phone one day and a man rushed in front of everyone and sat down in front of the line. He was a “sir”, being referred to as Mr. ____. Also, the fact that he was getting his Bluetooth fixed meant he obviously had some money. After noticing that everyone didn’t take too kindly to his butting the line, and that I was next, he stood up and explained in the most refined Queen’s English that I might find the seat he was sitting in to be more comfortable.

On the Friday, we went to Forever Angels orphanage to pay a visit to some of the kids. The facility is pretty impressive, hosting 50 children who have all been abandoned for one reason or another. That was a pretty intense experience. I decided that I will probably be better volunteering at Kivulini teaching music instead, as the experience of volunteering at orphanages last time I was in Tanzania was very lasting and intense, and I really feel the need to focus on what I’ve come here to do. Teaching music will allow me to get my hands on a guitar here, which I am dying for. The rest of the day we spent working on a budget and work plan as per the recommendations of Alex.


Monday and Tuesday were spent with the Mamas, who outlined some of the things they needed to do for us. Most of it revolved around the upcoming trip to Kenya, when the Mamas will be training another women’s group. The women there will be emulating the model developed here in Mwanza, but on a much larger scale with a large grant from the World Bank. All of the women interested in going need passports, bus tickets, visas, etc, which is a big deal as none of them have traveled extensively. This is still in the works.
Now for a bit of malaria inspired hilarity: On Wednesday, I was feeling the all-too familiar symptoms of the dreadful malaria bug again. I woke up, and I had the worst headache that I’ve had, ever. I had the whole sore neck/clenched jaw thing, just like last week, so I decided I had better head down to the Naka Hoja hospital, a place which past interns have learned to trust. After arriving, I got stuck in the bathroom for a grand total of 1.5 hours, as the door knob was broken and would not turn. Unfortunately for me, there were two doors between me and the outside world, as well as construction happening outside. Any attempts to raise the alarm as to my sorry plight was drowned out by the construction workers. At one point in my delirium I thought that they might be purposely drowning me out. So after about an hour of this, I decided that to call Missy and explain to her my situation, in between bouts of her laughter. She actually had to come down and explain to the nurses that the patient who had disappeared an hour ago was actually locked inside the bathroom. As I was planning my escape, the workers came and started hacking at the door. Fast forward another 30 minutes and I am out, waiting for my samples to come back. Luckily I got ahead in the line. Unluckily, I was diagnosed with malaria and some nasty stomach bug.

The kicker is the fact that Pammie (one of the Canadians working for Kivulini) was in that very same bathroom and broke the door handle and didn’t tell anyone about it. She came in and burst out laughing, and at that point I knew she had some hand in my sad fate that afternoon.

The next few days were spent giving my body some good nutrients and energy so it could take care of the nasties that were inside me.


After getting better, I was freshi kabisa (feeling good) on Monday so we decided to take a huge chunk out of the work that has been laid out for us. A template for the work plan and budget was formulated for the women, as they had expressed the need to have some help with that. Somehow we translated it into Swahili and the women could actually make sense of it! I’m sure that it was a crappy form of pidgin Swahili, but it did the trick.

Tuesday, the girls went down to the kitchen and I headed over to Kivulini’s new office to discuss some accounting details. The new office is wonderful, situated in a quiet part of town with a huge backyard and a nice building. I met Robert and some other people from Kivulini, who were all very helpful and welcoming. I look forward to continuing my personal relationship with Kivulini through teaching some of their members some things on guitar.

The next day we had the Mamas over at our place to discuss some accounting details and to plan more for the trip to Kenya. Most of them have got their hair done for the trip, and you can tell that they are getting very excited. Considering their backgrounds, the women are surprisingly adept and motivated to explore some of the uncharted waters of financing, and this gives me a great hope for the future of their project, as the transition to full ownership and control nears its completion.

Thursday, we attended a funeral for Mama Joyce’s daughter. She was 17 years old, and had passed away due to a disease which in most places would simply require a few pills and some treatment at a hospital. It was a very intense experience, going to the church and the burial. Funerals here are a wholly community-oriented affair, and it seemed like the whole of Mabatini was there for Mama Joyce and her family throughout. Being the anthropologist in training, I made sure to ask some questions about what we should do, to which I was told that it is a sign of solidarity to the family to go to funerals and burials here. Many things here are done like this on a collective basis; it is rude to eat or drink in public unless you have enough to go around. Decisions are usually made on a total consensus basis. Anyway, we paid our respects and got home late at night after returning from the rural area where she was buried.

On the Friday I had to re-work on some of my applications for the research project I am doing. and I finally made it out to a church here. I went to the roman catholic church in Bugando. Surprisingly, there are a lot of things that were done differently at this church: The women and men sit separately; the communion is given at the middle of the mass; the amount collected was announced for each side, and almost nobody went up for communion.


Wow, it’s been a month now. On one hand, I feel like I have been here for a long time, and on the other I know that the remaining period will pass quickly, even though at times it will seem slow.

Monday we got up early and headed over to the kitchen to meet the TASAF teacher. He is from the Government, and is training the women on the subject of cow husbandry. The women have got a $10 000 000 TSH grant from the government and they will be taking care of their livestock full-time once they get their training. We sat through a lesson and learned some interesting things about cross-breeding and cow maintenance, but it was in Swahili so a lot of it was blowing over our heads. In terms of my competence in Swahili, I can now communicate effectively almost anything I want to say, albeit in a very rudimentary way. Today I had a conversation about religion and geopolitics with someone who wanted to convert me to Islam, all through Swahili.


Tuesday we got up early and headed to the kitchen. Missy and Ashley stirred yogurt while I went through the upcoming priorities that need to be taken care of when our next meeting with Alex happens. When I finished that, I went into town to do some shopping (and got lost on the way, which ended up being tons o’ fon).

Wednesday, the girls went to the kitchen while I worked a bit on my project priorities, made a document outlining the rules of engagement for the any governmental organization here, and did some cleaning. In the evening, we went to Tunza to celebrate Yans’ birthday. We made him a big cake and shared it with all who was around. A good night. 

Thursday, we went to the kitchen to help out again while the mamas were gone. It is interesting to see how 3 mzungus and one of the Mama Elizabeth’s kids run the kitchen. I went into town again to do some more shopping: I got a bunch of fish (mmm, protein), tomatoes, onions, and dish soap. I got locked out of the house for a long time as a key of mine fell out of my pocket, so I waited for the girls to come back and spent a long while on the roof.

Ashley went for a safari on Friday morning to Mgorongoro, where I went when I was last here. Although I’m not huge on safaris, the Mgorongoro crater is surreal with clouds trickling down the side of the crater every morning into the park. I probably won’t go on safari this time around, but I hope to make it out to the country to do some camping.
I jumped right into the yogurt making process that day as they were short one person. Up until that point I was trying to determine whether or not that the process of yogurt making was something assigned to women exclusiviely, and if there would be any consequences if I did certain things. Today I just plained asked Mama Hawa: “Pika yoguti safi a ou si safi kwa wanaume?” Mama Hawa smiled and said “safi, ham na shida kabisa” which means that it not only would it not be a problem but that it would be fine. Having said that, I did get a lot of giggles and funny looks being behind there, stirring away! They found the idea of “dada la maziwa” “yogurt brother” hilarious and thanked me when I was done. So any future male interns, there’s the answer for you, although that is only one of the multitude of things that male interns should consider when they are volunteering as the only man in a 12+ woman collective!! I will write about this later after my thoughts are a little more settled.

On Saturday morning, we went out to the countryside to talk to the builder about getting an estimate for the fences and a new house that is to be built to store feed for the cows and house the guard that should be guarding the property at all times. It’s a nice place, not too terribly far from Mwanza but urban sprawl has definitely not caught up here yet. We will return on Monday to get the estimate.

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