Thursday, December 25, 2008

Last week in Moshi, Arusha, Safari, and Kigali

Dec 19 was my last day in Moshi. This final week was really different from the first 3 weeks. At WEECE, Mama mrema came back in town and basically asked me to drop the schedule. I have yet to post case studies from Week 2 and 3, but I promise I will.

I help her write more letters and work in the office at the beginning of my final week. Her major project right now is getting a clinic in Nganjoni village built. Writing and editing for her is a challenge but I'm glad we're making progress. The Canadian Embassy has promised the project a grant but they need the approval of the district commisioner of Moshi. So we visit him at his office, along with TSF (terre sans frontiers), another NGO that is doing the project in conjuction with WEECE. He gives us his blessings, and then we move on to the Executive District Commissioner of Moshi, and Moshi Rural for a formal letter. When we walk into the office there, surprise! The Executive District Commisioner is a woman! The District comissioner says to me, you see, Gender Equity. We have, here in Moshi, heh heh. She is my boss. I get asked how long I've been here, how much swahili I know. I mumble a few words. Mama Mrema asks me when the hell am I going to really learn swahili? I say "Kesho" and she bursts out laughing. (Kesho means tomorrow, oh yeah, of course I'm terrible at learning new languages.)

On Wednesday, I'm join Mama Mrema for office work in the morning, then a visit to the Regional Commissioner of Kilimanjaro's office. This guy is a big honcho; he's almost like a governor and reports to the Prime Minister. The number of UN cars in the compound certainly shows. Our caravan moves to the Mkombozi vocational school where he is given a tour, to see what progress they have made. He is also invited to address graduation. I get a lucky chance to talk to him. When I say USA - He mentions that he has two children and he sent them to Tennessee to go to college. There is more than just a graduation ceremony; Mama Mrema is on the school board and gets to sit on the stage. Its a really long ceremony that goes on for 5 hrs!! It is scorching hot outside. I am about to die. Things are disorganized but organized. In the middle of the ceremony; people just wander about, speeches are going on simultaneously, followed by dance performances, the grads just wander around getting on their gowns. Little kids float. A truck backs its way into the ceremony between the stage and the grads and unloads furniture. Some guy rides his motorcycle partly into the ceremony then realizes halfway that something is actually going on? Um, that wouldn't happen in the US, would it?

My final two days I spent with Janine where we visit her placement with TAFCOM. I've been curious to know what is going on with this organization. What they do with the volunteers is bring them to homes with HIV/AIDS patients. They have projects where they try to provide assistance to low income families with HIV/AIDS. Of the two days, we visit about 3 homes each in the Pasua area of Moshi. This area is poor, rent for a 1 room house is about 5000-8000 TSH per month. Divide that by 1330 to get USD. Many people have no income or depend on their working children for income. Others are employed part of the year as coffee workers. Their immune systems are compromised so many cannot perform hard labor and nutrition is at a minimum. Many also do not have education beyond primary school. It's not clear to me how this organization is trying to accomplish assistance. They claim to have a plan to teach people skills so that they can sustain their daily needs and nutrition needs as HIV patients, but we weren't able to find or see a concrete proposal or budget for this. One of their plans is to teach local people mushroom growing as a source of income and nutrition. Mushroom growing is successful in Arusha and Mbeya, but if you look at the climate, both of these areas are lush, damp and green. To grow mushrooms successfully you need damp, humid dark soil consistently, unless you have the means to control for the environment artificially. This is a far stretch from Pasua. Pasua is extremely dry, hot, and while sometimes humid, the earth does not lie. It is barren. One hour north, toward Mt. Kili you have lush green, humid, tropical, and coffee trees grow there. But put a plot of land in Pasua and expect to get a mushroom project working within reasonable cost - I really question that. Large scale mushroom cultivation, as I know of it from the view of commercial purchaser is not simple, or straightforward in the USA. It takes skill. Small scale is different but if this is for income generation, it sounds like its going to generate terrible margins. Also we hear that many of the volunteers come here and give food and money to the families but it seems to defeat the purpose of the organization's goals because they want volunteers to adopt and sponsor families. We're not sure how this is really sustainable. It is also very difficult, to get straight answers out of the patients and the NGO workers. They do translate, but it can be hard for them to get answers because some issues are taboo and the means of asking is very roundabout - for example, I can't ask - what's the most pressing issue for her family right now?

I hate to sound like a cynic but this is my opinion and I only saw the people and organization briefly, so the skepticism may be unfounded.

I wish I could stay for another week. But sadly I have to leave because I am going on safari on Saturday. I leave Moshi friday afternoon and take a cab to Arusha. With the amount of luggage, I was told it would be safer to do this instead of dalla dalla. The house manager, Baba Fulgence asks me for a lift. No worries, I say.

On the way to Arusha, we can see many many houses that are half finished. I ask why. Unlike my asumptions, it's not because the people are too poor to finish them. There is a land grab - as the population grows, people want to buy land for their children so they have a place to settle. However, the government will take the land back if there is no house on the land. So people compensate by buildling half a house, and leaving it there until their children are ready to take it.

Unlike Moshi, Arusha is lush and green. You see more Mzungu cows. (cows that are like USA cows without the humps on their back). Baba says that the Mzungu cows are stupid and need hormones and lots of grass to prop them up or else they can't survive in this climate. They also need to be tied to the trees by the road because they are so stupid they don't know how to get out of the way when the cars come charging at them. The native cows here are skinny and have humps to store fat - fuel for a drought. They can also walk long distances without food; bottom line, they're adaptable to the harsh climate.

I meet Michelle in Arusha for our safari. She will be volunteering with CCS in January and we are traveling the next two weeks before her placement starts.

We do the tourist thing 4 days in Ngorongoro, Lake Manyara and the Serengeti. The animals were great. We even saw a cheetah eating lunch. I think what shocked me most was the ecology and how fast it changed from region to region. Hot, cold, dry, damp, moist all within a space of an hours drive. Oh, and we were visited by water buffalo outside our tents in the middle of the night chomping away at the grass. So Loud. Gosh the chewing was louder than their hoofs.

I don't like to plan things to the minute; especially here in a place where nothing is guaranteed to run on time. So the basic plan is to visit Rwanda, Uganda and back to Moshi in a circle. Originally I was going to take a peek at Nairobi, but I don't think we will have time.

I'm writing this post from Kigali on Christmas Day.

Yes, that's Rwanda, you read that right. No, its not scary. My travel partner, Michelle and I will be visiting the Genocide Memorials in a day or so.

Internet here in Kigali is really expensive, at 8USD/hr - actually everything in Kigali is much pricier than Tanzania. The exchange rate is about 535 KFranc to 1 USD. The actual prices are comparable to US prices for goods and services.

Rwanda is land of a thousand hills. And from the air, it is really clear. It's rolling hills up and down. We took a 2 hr flight from Kilimanjaro airport to get here in a propeller plane. The airport is really tiny in Kili, but. I had a knife in my carry on and already checked in my bags but they still let me go back and put my knife into my checked luggage.

Boarding is off the tarmac, which is really cool. I feel like we went back in time or something to the 1940s. The ride was bumpy due to the crosswinds but we made it safely there. Unlike what all the travel advisories say, there is no entry visa or payment for US citizens entering Kigali.

People here actually speak English fluently unlike what we expected. We were ready to start speaking french, if needed. Quality of streets here are a lot better, but I cannot compare with Tanzania because this is the capital city of Rwanda. I haven't been to Dar es Salaam yet.

Till next time, Happy Christmas.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Infrastructure, Germs and Steel: Moshi and Vicinity

This entry is just a mishmash of observations from Moshi from the last couple of weeks.

Restaurants: they usually have a sink located in the corner of most sit down eateries for you to wash your hands. Right before you eat. The really good food here is Indian, Italian, Mediterranean fusion, Chinese food. Most of these owners are asian, indian, arab. Especially the bigger joints, you don't see owners that are native. The merchants are all expats. The panda chinese restaurant is run by a chinese family from Sichuan, China. It was nice to see some of my own people, finally after 2 weeks here. Sichuan is where they had that horribly large earthquake in China this past year. I ask one of the girls what she thinks of living in Tanzania. She says it's half - half. There are advantages and disadvantages to living here, but china can be equally bad. The competition is less here in east africa, because they are ahead, but they also miss being in their own country even the business here is good.

Internet: There are least 10 competing internet cafes or internet holes in downtown moshi. Whatever you do, avoid the one at the kindoroko. there are tons of viruses. best ones are the one next to The Coffee Shop and Chez Deli and behind the Kindoroko near buffalo.Best deal is the place next to the Coffee Shop (not lounge). It is run by an Indian guy 3rd generation here in Moshi. The place is air conditioned, has plenty of space and the equipment is decent. For every half hour you buy he actually tacks on an additional 9-10 minutes for service. cost is 1500 TSH per hour. The guy speaks perfect english, educated in the USA. The Place near buffalo is called Malaika Internet. Cost per hour is 1000 TSH and the keyboards are a bit sticky but otherwise ok. I tend to write everything in text pad and then copy paste to save time. Lots of computers have viruses, so be on the lookout if you are going to use your USB flash drive. I was able to get it cleaned at Malaika and at the Indian guy's internet.

Chagga/Masai tradition: We learn from Oscar on coffee tours that the Chagga give the youngest born son all the family land inheritance. The youngest will live the longest and should continue it, instead of the oldest. The Chagga live on the hills, closer to the mountains. The masai live on the plains, herding a lot of cattle, wearing really colorful red, blue draped clothes. I did not get a chance to visit a masai village but they wander all over town I saw plenty.

Dalla Dallas: I've gotten a lot braver taking these. I'm taking them every day. In town, the stops can sometimes be comical. The thing chuggs along for 200 meters and then stops. On the highway though, it can be scary. As long as you don't look out the front you're ok.
Advertising: Bulletin boards are a bit misleading, some are posted in the city centre near the roundabout, but the businesses are really far away. A lot of signs are shared with a coca cola ad. The top half is coke and the bottom half the name of a school, for example.

Shops on Mawenzi street: Mawenzi is the main 2 lane street in Moshi. Lots of the shops are own by multigeneration families from India, and Arabs. Many of them of proud of their Tanzanian citizenship; they don't consider themselves citizens of India. I don't know the details about history, but something bad happened about 70-80 years ago that created this immigration to east africa.

Road to Marangu: CCS took the entire house of volunteers out to Marangu for a day trip. Even though my feet were massively swollen, I still went. Didn't hike to the waterfalls but went along. Marangu is the last village stop to the "coca cola route" for those crazy people who want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Ok, just crazy in my mind. I'm not a climber. The last mile to Marangu is off the main arusha highway and is all dirt. Houses along this road are marked with an X to indicate demolition but that won't happen until next year. That's how fast things move here. The market here is amazingly colorful, busy.

Store Supplies & Equipment: A lot of imports from South Africa, Middle East and Asia. Even wine is imported from South Africa. Lots of prepackaged goods are from the Middle east, especially Dubai. Other stuff is imported from mostly China, Japan. A lot of people here seem to know about Shanghai, China - my people! Many of the bikes are imported from Shanghai. They even know how to say hello in Mandarin, although unfortunately I can't speak it.
Power: Electricity can be sporadic. Most Electical is supplied by South Africa to most countries in East Africa and paid by tax payers in South Africa. How weird. How would americans feel, if they had to pay for all of Mexico's electrial needs?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Change of Guard & Some truth behind volunteering (CCS)

So most of the volunteers from the last group left the house this weekend. We got fresh blood on Saturday. The vocational school closed for the holidays last week. Instead of going away for another day trip this weekend, I decided to stay low key and spend a little extra time tutoring Peter's son. The kid has potential, especially if he is interested in IT here in East Africa. We worked on binary numbers and some basic math drills.

I like town. I like meeting random new people. I end up having dinner with Dricia, her colleague and a Kili climber. It was good conversation far away from the house and I stayed out in Moshi town, late into the night.

I like the new group of volunteers a lot. I am definitely a lot more comfortable with this group, and I think its because they are a really proactive, high energy group. They want to do something. They're not here to "pretend" to volunteer time as a PR stunt. Most of them are pretty mentally tough, open minded and have a positive outlook. Plus I am finally not the only non white volunteer in the house. And Andy is not the only guy in the house. There are 3 new guys in this group. I also really like having 3 asian/indian sisters in the house. Not only do I feel more comfortable reaching out, but everyone is also looking at the 4 of us in the house for guidance.

One of the things I learned today at placement was that there are a lot of volunteers that come here without having any expectations or truly understand the challenges behind volunteer work. It's certainly not glorious, and it can be ugly and difficult. A lot of NGOs can get disillusioned because they get volunteers essentially dumped off at their organization who really expect things to be handed to them. It doesn't work this way. Local NGOs are really looking to the volunteers for initiative if there isn't any structure in place. They also may be extremely jaded because they have seen lots of people come and go, and a lot of people aren't really reliable; in fact many of them come here to have fun, and aren't really committed to contributing or trying to make a difference. Some may have the desire to make a difference but they don't have the skills or tools to do that. Others can but they face the jaded attitudes from the NGO leaders or workers that they really aren't sincere and it takes a lot of effort to prove to them that they are really here to do something effective. I think often they give up on what people can do effectively and they resort to asking for money. Or if it is indeed something they can do, they want hard evidence that something is going to work before they're willing to trust you.

Bottom line, my advice is that if you are here for only 3 weeks, you may not be taken seriously, especially if your main goal here is to squeeze in as much fun as you want. I heard that one NGO basically refused to accept a CCS volunteer when they heard that she would be here for only 3 weeks. Their impression is that that the person isn't serious about committing to their cause. Which is sad, because how many people can afford more time than 3 weeks away? The cost of everything is really high these days.

The truth of the matter is that CCS packs in a tremendous number of activities in 3 weeks and makes it almost impossible to work at your placement full time.I was really frustrated with this. I would have liked to make more of these activities optional and drop them so that I could actually do real work. Although it wasn't much time I still feel like I have contributed a significant chunk in under 16 days. I'm ready to say I'm going to leave with more than I had initially expected to accomplish, but it also required me to haul ass and spend almost all of my free time alone and often away from all the social activities up until this week. I really wanted to spend a full day every day working at my placement; I ended up spending some additional time on weekends and some afternoons working on my placement independently so that I could be effective while I was there in the mornings.

I am behind on writing my case studies, but once I get out of here I will be sure to post them and follow up with everything else.

Hakuna Matata (no worries).

Monday, December 15, 2008

Week 2: Case Studies at the Ground Level (CCS)

On my Todo list this week:

1. Write case studies from wk 2 and wk 3 (1 visit due to holiday)

2. Template

This 2nd week is packed with visits.

Weece End Note

I really wish I could spend more time in Moshi. 4 weeks is hardly enough, especially with a ridiculously crammed activites during the first 3 weeks. If I had to do it again, I'd only want 1 to 1.5 weeks of planned activities, so that I could focus more on my placement. I know I have done a LOT of work, beyond what I've been asked for but only because I saw what direct impact it would make and I really wanted to do it. While I still feel like I'm not finished, but Most Importantly, I know I am leaving everything in a good space before I leave. Have lots of plans to continue this online when I return to the states.

More case studies need to be written; because I was dragged back into the office during week 3 and 4 I was able to complete all of my visits, so there are only about 7-8 case studies.

For future volunteers I have created a Interview Template for each business visit. I plan to leave several copies with WEECE and with CCS. It is my hope that the template will:

1) help future volunteers understand the business better by having a guideline to ask questions

2) send us the collected information by email so that we can work promote weece online

3) encourage volunteers to collect pictures of local businesses to pair with the stories.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Getting out of the House (CCS)

06 DEC 2008

Last weekend, I had to get out. Early in the morning, I packed a few clothes and hiked up to the main road - about 1km. Really I wanted to get some work done in town because it really is impossible at the house. I didn't bring a laptop on purpose, it just doesn't make sense if I plan on backpacking after.There is only 1 computer at the house and 15 people. It can get really antsy.

I take the Dalla Dalla to town. I've gotten a bit braver at riding it; plus its nice to get out fast - waiting for a cab and getting a herd of people to go with can take up to an hour. Plus, I started noticing that if I say Dalla Dalla, most people don't want to do it. They're too scared. Chickens.

I spend a lot of Saturday online. I picked the wrong place to do my work and it is so damn slow. I find out later I went to the wrong place but get my stuff done anyhow. Ran other errands; if i did this with anyone else they'd hate me by the end because I went to so many different places and didn't decide until the last minute which one I wanted to go to.

The power gets cut twice when I'm in town, so everytime that happens I take a break and walk around the block. There is an ice cream store and I pop my head in for some candy. Most foreigners here stick out like a sore thumb and everyone tends to chat with each other when they are just walking around. I also get to meet more people when I'm walking around by myself. Perhaps it's just me, but I hate being insular especially abroad. At the ice cream shop, I meet two Peace Corp workers.
The peace corp workers are hard core. They're out in remote villages for a commitment of 2 years by _themselves_. They seem really together mentally. I really admire the fact that they can deal with the hardship of living in really poor remote villages and be ok with being the only foreigner for long periods of time. I'm told that they come into town once a month for bank, internet, other goods and to meet other peace corp workers. Leiha is from Boston. She says it takes and average of 3 hrs, 1 hr of that by dirt road to reach each of their villages. Plus they are really nice people. I am so glad I got a chance to meet them; it's a completely different mindset from volunteers who are here for only a few weeks. And I really like it because it puts everything into perspective.

I meet another woman who is working on a massive linguistic project; to build a better swahili/english translation project online. Dricia is a South African that can talk for hours, but I'm glad to hear that I'm not the only person who thinks there are deep cultural issues at hand. Her project is forward thinking. I really like it and will be in touch with her.

By the time I'm done with all my errands, I have to pick a place for dinner. Next to the Kindoroko, the Taj Mahal has its grills out full force. The food is really good and cheap. For 1700 TSH ( or about 1.50?USD) I get a full meal. Two really amazingly good beef kabobs for 500 TSH each and a veggie/egg fried calzone for 700 TSH. lots of condiments, mint sauce. Delicious.

So glad I'm not going home to the base tonight. I crash at the backpackers hostel in moshi 1 block away. What a good deal - 8400 TSH for single. Too bad I didn't bring a towel.

07 DEC 2008
Sunday I went on a coffee tour with Bushmen Expeditions. It was only 4 of us from the house and it was nice to get away in a small group. It is a long 1 hr hike out to Mnambe falls. But it is amazingly beautiful. And I liked the exercise too. Hiking is a must do here. For a minute I felt like I was transported to Hawaii or some other tropical paradise.

After the hike, we don't just learn about the process of making coffee, we actually make it ourselves! It was a lot of fun. Oscar is one our guides and we make coffee in his grandfather's village. It's african style but to me its' not authentic. If you look closely you can see the hints of modern technology and money. From a distance the huts look poor, but inside you see a great sound system, tv and they have cable and a big antenna outside. Nice concrete floors as well. The chickens are really fat and well fed.
Totally different from the really sad chickens and dogs that are running around near our compound. I have never seen such sad pecked out chickens or dogs with every single rib showing, sick and underfed.

Independence Day & that famous safari city

13 DEC 2008

This entry runs a bit backwards in time. But it was fun to tie it together.

Thursday afternoon after placement, we went to Arusha, that famous safari city where everyone begins their trip to the serengeti.

Arusha is a NICE town. Let me tell you, after 3 weeks in Moshi, it really is a luxury to see perfectly paved, sealed off streets without any cracks, dirt, or stones. That is Arusha. People say Arusha is dirty, polluted, congested. Yeah, but there is a lot less dirt when you don't have to drive through a dirt road. There are also no crazy chinese/japanese, mexican style graffiti, and heads of Che Guevara covering the dalla dallas here, tons of land rovers, 4x4s for all the safaris. It really is a money town. I count lots of banks. Bank on every corner. Rich town, man. Yes there are touts and people really harassing you to sell their wares, but by now after enough practice in moshi, you know how to talk back to them and deal with the haggling. Prices are ridiculous in Arusha. $30 for a shirt you could get in Moshi for $5 USD or less. They hawk the tourists. It's really messed up. It's as bad as it is at the Great Wall of China where market places are constantly harassing white visitors with their wares. I was so glad I blended in.

A lot of people complained that we couldn't see any trials at the Rwanda Tribunal for the 1994 genocide, but I didn't mind. It was a treat to come out here and see the small business exhibition and other places in town. They have a giant Shop Rite that is a supermarket on par with a decent sized supermarket in the USA. It is approaching 1st/2nd world quality. A bit thin on the magazine side, but I can't complain - especially when I discover that a copy of the economist here costs only 9800 TSH. On Monday a paper boy tried to sell it to me for 13,500 TSH in Moshi. I declined. There are only 2 major magazines that show up here: the economist and Time magazine. As for newspapers, you have a choice of the East African, or Tanzanian national news. All are pretty decent.

Definitely no shortage of US news. Lots of us are getting dresses made by a street tailor near the Kindoroko Hotel in Moshi; we have to wear skirts to placement. Earlier this week, I was waiting for Kindoroko lady to finish my dress, so I sat and read the East African - A new US film about Che Guevara is out and was screened recently. Actor Benicio del Toro plays the revolutionary. Che is big here in Moshi. One out of 8-10 buses in downtown Moshi has Che's head plastered on the front corner of the bus, with a red and green stripe on the side. Why they do it I don't know? I will have to ask but it is not the same situation in Arusha. It is definitely a lot more ghetto here in Moshi. (Thanks to Santiago Ripley for wearing a t-shirt of Che; I wouldn't have otherwise known).

Independence day is on 09 Dec 2008. Most places are, of course closed or open until noon. But there are a few smart entrepreneurs who are still open for business, out of need or knowing that there is good biz. I'm supposed to be due back at the house at 1pm so that we can learn how batik is made; and I wait for Kindoroko lady to finish my skirt. I tell her I can come back thursday to pick it up, but she insists that she haul it out within the next hr. I say ok, then I tell her 10 minutes left.... 5 min left.... The woman is smart. She knows how to move fast and get the sales going. She also have 3 girls that are her assistants. While I'm waiting for her, I buy a bag as well. The ends are entirely sealed up past the zipper ends so I ask one of her girls to do that. I watch as she does an ok, but somewhat loose stitch, so I show her how to do a tigher stitch that will hold somewhat better with wear and tear. How is that for cultural exchange? I only learned about sewing just 6 months ago myself? =)

Kindoroko lady has another assistant cranking away at the iron and evening out the rest of the fabric for another customer. Most of the tailors here are on the street and they have a lot people that just drop in and socialize.

Some rasta guy walks on by and says "Pop it open, Dada*. I want a smoke".

The assistant rolls her eyes upwards, slightly annoyed. She pops the top of the iron open.

Rasta man sticks his ciggie into the iron and lights it up.

The irons here are all powered by *charcoal*! They don't use electric, even the sewing machines are manually driven - foot powered. Omw. Just had an "in africa" moment.

Rasta man takes a whiff and goes " Dada, you know today is Independence day. We all supposed to love another and relax and do no workie workie. "

Kindoroko lady looks in my direction, like she wants this crazy guy to leave and gives me a tight lipped grin " Okeee kaka... that's fine. sure sure."

* Dada is Swahili for sister. Kaka is brother

Monday, December 8, 2008

Week 1:Case Studies at Ground Level (CCS)

Here in Moshi, I only spend about 1/3 of my time teaching computer skills to the girls in the WEECE vocational school; the other part of my time are spent in field visits.

WEECE loans start at 50,000TSH, or approximately 40 USD to a qualified woman. But before she can get the loan the application process is intensive. There is a check into her background and people who know her locally are questioned extensively, to make sure that she is a reliable individual and will contribute back to the group. There is a progressiveloan ladder which allows larger loans to be taken out after the initial loan is taken out, all the way up to 100,000 TSH. Once she is past 100,000TSH, she moves to a larger loan sub organization called SACCOS. SACCOS was started in 2004 and currently has 79 members.

With every loan, a percentage of the interest paid back actually becomes "shares" which the individuals holds and the money is put in WEECE's bank. She can use the shares in the future toward a larger loan once the inital loan is paid back to WEECE. The advantage of becoming part of WEECE is significant - not only does get a loan at a better rate than the bank, she also receives support and education from WEECE to help her run her business. The WEECE loans are 5 month cycles at 15% interest, in contrast to the local bank which is at a whopping 28%. Because the bank loans are so high, in order to grow WEECE, most of the funds have been supported by corporate or foreign government donations, such as the canadian embassy.

Every week, we visit 3-4 businesses that supported by microloans from WEECE. I think this is probably the most exciting part of my time here. I have experience in business but every business is different, so it's really hard for me to know what my role is as a volunteer. You only get about 45 min to an hour to speak with the women who run the businesses, and to understand how they run the business and what their pain points are. Coming up with ideas on the spot is really challenging but I like it.

But, more importantly - I am writing these stories to illustrate how the loans are used, and how it helps impact their lives. A small loan does make a difference.

In order to visit each business, a woman named Ester takes me to each place. Her job at WEECE is to check in on a regular basis with each of the businesses, and to make sure they revert their loans. She also is there to keep track of the health of each business.

Timber Seller/Poultry feed Business


The first visit we make is to a lady called Yolanda Maro who sells feed for animals and timber. She doesn't really speak much English, so Ester acts as my translator for all of my questions. The wood is used mainly for construction of houses and some furniture. It is traditionally a man's job in this area and takes a thick backbone/skin for her to deal with the guys. As a SACCOS member this is her third shop, and is called Matarimo Shop & Timber. She is an example of a WEECE success story. Her shop is located in a good place - on KCMC road - a really busy tarmac road that is close to the main hospital. This road, by the way, is really dangerous. There is no gravel to keep the drivers from going at top speed. By passing cars happens on a regular basis and pedestrians have no respect what so ever. We walked down this street to get to the store and along the way I saw two accidents. It is madness. One large dirt dumping truck has a huge boulder wedged under it. The guy is trying to push it out from under the fender. Good luck to him; if he even manages to move it, the truck weighs at least 2 tons.

Her business is in a niche area; this location is away from the town of moshi, so there is no tax for the chicken feed. She has about 5 different varies of feed, each of varying degrees of quality. The cost for feed is 40,000 TSH/50KG . She also sells feed at 7000TSH/1KG. The feed is for hens, pigs, goats, sheep. Feed is comprised of coarse maize, wheat. It is a competitive industry. She started the feed bsuiness only 6 months ago with 6 different types of feed. Rent for the space is 50,000TSH x 2, because she is using the lot in front as well as the store within.


The timber sales has been around longer but the sales is slower. Timber has been in business for 4 years. However the sales has a bigger margin. Her customers are fairly loyal and advertising is mainly word of mouth. Customers are mainly local businesses in construction, some artists, some furniture makers. There really isn't a need for marketing the timber, the material is sitting there by the road and highly visible and most locals know about the business. In order to prevent theft of wood, she has a night time guard and the wood is marked with chalk on the sides and counted daily. The chicken feed is new but again, people spread the availability by word of mouth. She is also a reseller of the large sacks of feed. Her store name isn't on the feed but they don't really do rebranding here.

Why is she running this business? She wants to send her children to school. While education through grade 7 is mandatory here in Tanzania, most parents can't afford the book and uniform fees. In addition, she would like to improve and build a better house for herself and her children.

At this point in time, she is debating if she should take out a new loan so that she supply a special kind of timber that one of her best customers likes. Before we leave, she has a customer visit her and buy some wood. The guy can't pay in full but only partial. She lets him have it and makes a note for the amount he has to pay. Ester tells me that this is a frequent practice here; most people can't afford to pay anything in full - they are too poor - and they are living off of tomorrow's money. As for owing back, everybody knows where everybody else lives, so it is not difficult to track them down if they don't repay within a reasonable amount of time.

Chips and Chicken Business
November 28, 2008

We visit a Chips (french fries for you Americans) and Chicken business today on Mapipa Street (in reality, dirt alleyway). Joyce Simkanga owns this business. She is older, and has medical complications. She was sick for 3 years at one point and completely unable to work. Most of her children are fully grown with the exception of the youngest. He is 7 years old, in primary school. We don't know the details of her illness but it appears to be ongoing. Her feet are swollen and it is suggested that she may have diabetes and heart complications.

The food service/cooking/restaurant business, anywhere, is a lot of hard manual labor. It isdaily works and difficult for someone to keep it up, especially if they are physically weak. Joyce lucks out because her food stall is located in an alleyway right next to KCMC medical school. The medical students come down to the alley to buy lunch and other goods on a regular basis.

KCMC (Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Center) is the best hospital they have here. It is where major surgeries take place and most people can't afford it. You can only afford it if you have money. In Joyce's case, as I understand it, she is special case with fees waived. It is also in collaboration with Duke Medical School here in the USA.

A breakdown of the supplies goes as such: 100TSH for water daily, 60,000TSH for a sack of potatoes, 3 times a week. The potatoes are then peeled, sliced and washed by hand. The business operates 7 days a week, with 1 helper when Joyce can't hold it down herself. It costs 5000Tsh pre tray of eggs, and 5000 TSH/chicken for a total of 10 chickens and 1 tray of eggs that is purchased daily. The materials have to be bought at market every morning, very early and then walked miles to her shop which is a ways outside of town. Trash service costs 40,000TSH per year for pickup. Oil costs 12,000TSH for 5 liters, used daily. The rent is exceeedingly high at 50,000 TSH for just a small outdoor stand approximately 5" x 5" of space, but like anywhere in the world, it's all about the location, location, location. There is a lot of competition for the market space and again, she is lucky to have this prime location.

The chicken with chips is sold at 2000TSH to the customer. Fried eggs and chips are sold at 1000TSH. Sales are typically good, however it is hampered by rainy weather. Job risks is also present - charcoal inhalation and raw food handling. Theplace where the potatoes are cut and washed are covered in flies. However, with a lot of customers, she says she is turning a decent profit. Her main pain point is being ill. She also is running this business to support her youngest who has just started elementary school. Ester tells me that she visits her on a regular basis to lend her a hand.
After we leave Joyce, we walk down the street look for the fresh produce shop we are supposed to visit today but they are not there. Like everything here in Tanzania, you cannot expect anybody will be there on any given day. Perhaps another day.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Advice for New Volunteers (CCS)

I realize most of you reading this blog are not coming here to volunteer, but if you are curious to know what challenges there are I want to share some Words of Wisdom (WoW).

1. Guilt Trip. For a lot of people, it's really hard to adjust because its really easy to feel bad, guilty about the poverty. I'm writing about this because I've heard a lot of complaining and angsting about this since I've been here. The MAIN THING to remember is that you are here to give people Intellectual Capital (IC) - to bring and share your knowledge and How To..... and not give handouts, free money, or candy. It is hard for a lot of people to say NO, but No is the right thing to do, because otherwise it is not sustainable and feeds the culture of "Gimmie, gimmie" and when the give aways are all used up, there is nothing left and they dont' want to work hard and change their lifestyle because "gimmie gimmie" is so easy. Some people feel that they have nothing to give but if you're from a first world country this is not true. Ask questions. Talk to people. Think. Don't complain. And most importantly, don't be guilted into thinking "oh if I can just save one, or if can just help one" - like the woman in the movie "The Constant Gardener"

Bottom line, Don't. It only serves to feed the wrong attitude and feeds the already vicious cycle that creates a failed state. Unlike physical goods or money, IC is limitless. George Bernard Shaw once said, "If you have an idea and I have an idea, and we trade ideas, then we each have 2 ideas. But if you have an apple and I have an apple, and we trade apples, we still only have 1 apple each. " If the problem is lack of money, then ask where is the money being used, where is it being spent, how is it generated in the first place. And then find ways to generate - key word here --- > sustainable income. Not donations.

2. Thick Skin. Bring a thick skin especially when you come into town - people keep asking for money and will try to talk to you on no end since we're not black. If your regular job involves saying "No" a lot of the time to people, then you have an advantage. My phone rings off the hook with people asking me to buy buy buy, and after a while, it's mean but sorry Christina's not here, i'm transferring you to voicemail. I don't have enough capital to give a grant to every single researcher out there, sorry.

3. Respect other people's space. I am having a bit of a challenge with the other volunteers in the house - I to think about the positive and not the negative. We all have a limit. I can't listen and socialize all the time. Most of all, it is very hard to listen to a lot of complaining when I'm really tired. I have a lot of patience but there is a limit. Especially when my placement is tiring, both physically and mentally. I tend to get quiet when i'm really tired and antisocial, but it doesn't mean i don't like you. I just need quiet time to think and also because I am tired. Some people don't get this and want to force socialization on you. Don't let them.

4. Learn Learn as much Swahili as you can. Talk to staff members and ask questions. They will give you the tools to understand and survive here. Ask a lot of questions. It will not only help you get around but also understand what is going on in the minds of local people and why things are they way they are here in Tanzania.

5. Give everything a lot of time. Give yourself plenty of alone time if you need it to process everything going on around you. Also, things move really slowly here; don't expect anything to get done on time. At ALL. or ever. The electricty is intermittent and can go out at any time. There is only one house computer and people can get really bitchy about how much time you spend on it. The only way I've gotten around it is to go to town and spend time there using the computers.

Above all, I want to emphasize that is the Idea that is powerful, not the goods.

Okay, I will get off my soap box now.  Smile like these two volunteers!

Thanks for reading.


Saturday, December 6, 2008

Help do something good for Christmas?

Dear Blog Readers,

Thank you so much for taking the time out to read this letter.

As you may know, I'm here in Moshi, Tanzania at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro working with a local women's group called WEECE. The purpose of this group is to help empower women by providing microfinance loans and education in business and technology so that they can run their own small businesses and have their own savings. Unlike America, women still do not have equal rights in property ownership, among many things.

You may ask why WEECE is not part of a larger microfinance loan organization such as KIVA, or OptInNow, which supports individual women in developing nations. The truth of the matter is that in order to be a part of a larger organization, the local NGO must already microfinance more than 600 to 1000 women.

WEECE only has 244 members.

At the grassroots level, Funding is really hard, non existent. Don't expect the Gates fund or the Global Fund to even look in your direction.

Over the past 15 years WEECE has been growing slowly and successfully but the growth is painfully slow. The reason why is that funding for microfinance projects are shaky and bank loans are a whopping 28% interest rate. WEECE only lends at a 15% interest rate which is fair. The majority of their members do repay their loans and are moving up the loan ladder.

However, the money to fund WEECE has been mostly grant and fundraising. The problem with both is that it is not consistent. And when the money dries up, it's really hard to expand.

Since I've been here, I've worked out a business plan to acquire sustainable funding for WEECE that is consistent.

The plan is to market locally produced hand made goods with a small profit going to weece.

We would eventually like to build out a site that is on the weece website; however it is next to impossible for me to do that here in moshi. For the time being, we are going to bootstap sales of local goods by posting them on which is a market for handmade goods. They would make excellent Christmas gifts, and hopefully will arrive on time the sooner your order is placed!

I will be here in Moshi until Dec 19, and will be working with WEECE to catalog more goods from businesses that they microfinance to put on their future web shop.

As the payment is currently made to me by paypal, I will pay WEECE directly their profit for every shipment that we make.

Just one item will make a difference

The site can be found here:

Please let me know if there is anything you'd like to request.

I can also send you Really good Kilimanjaro coffee beans in 500 gram packs for $15USD - that includes the cost of shipping. Just let me know, and pay by paypal. Was unable to list that on etsy because it's food.

If you can think of any friends who may be interested, please do forward them this post!

With Best Regards,


Spring 2009, Shop Postmortem 

We made a lot of sales in the four weeks or so I was in Tanzania! Most of the items were sold via paypal and shipped by the local post office.  I collected enough to send WEECE back $250 USD in NET Profit from a few weeks of work. That translates into 1 microloan or approximately 325,000 Tanzanian shillings. I'm sure had I stuck around Tanzania bit longer I would have generated even more sales online as many of the items were Obama Kangas (cloths that had Obama's face printed on them) that sold very well as souvenir items

Monday, December 1, 2008

The problem with petrol

Originally uploaded by christinasc
So here is a picture of a local petrol station.

On Saturday we walked about 7km to town. About 1/4 of it was dirt road. When we hit the main tarmac road, I counted 6 double tankers that passed us in the space of 20 minutes. Almost every single tanker had "So may God help us" on the back. And, also fuming black smoke out their rear ends -- the dalla dallas chugging on by. Almost every dalla dalla has an american flag in the rear window, btw. Yay obama.

Today we went to town because after all the digital electronics I brought with me, I stupidly brought a converter that didn't work. We went through about 6-7 shops before I bumped into a young man who's dad owned an house wares shop and claimed he knew where to get a converter. But even after that, It took about 30 min of haggling and visiting another 3 stores with him in order to get me the converter. In the end I did buy a converter for about 22,000 Tsh. Ow. Then I get hit up for a donation. I tell him I don't have any cash left, but I'll come back to buy a digital camera for the NGO i'm working for and it'll put money back into the local economy. He tries again, and then says how about your pencil? It's a cheap costco mechanical pencil and looks shiny and nice. He's never seen this kind of instrument before and really fancied it when i let him borrow it to write me the address of his dad's camera shop. So I left him have it.

I meet up with Judith, another volunteer and we end up calling a cab to get back home. On the way back, I ask him how much petrol costs. For gas, its running 16-1700 Tsh per liter. For diesel, we pull through a station and it's 1480 Tsh per liter. Which is roughly about 2 USD per Gallon. For diesel it's really cheap. For gas about the same? I can't do the math right now, but you get the idea.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Settling in.

Wed morning November 26, 2008

The last 2 days have been intense. We have orientation and get to know each other. And we learn basic Kiswahili. One of the exercises sends us out into the community to communicate with the locals in basic Swahili. I’m partnered up with this guy called Andy. We’re supposed to find out the name of the river that runs by the house and where the river goes. There’s a hut with a dirt floor about 10x5 ft. A woman and her toddler live there. That’s it. That’s all they have. No running water, nothing else except a few pots and space. Really tiny. And this is the good area – what they call semi rural. A lot of hand waving and broken words from the phrase book ensues. We finally get through to her and she takes us to the river, which is called Karanga (in English, this means peanuts). The river goes to this valley called mbengi.

We’re introduced to our volunteer placements. My placement is at WEECE. We don’t really get to choose our placements, it’s based on our educational/work backgrounds, despite our interests. Originally I thought I was going to work with HIV/AIDS patients or education. But I’m not. The NGO group I was assigned to works with women’s education and empowerment but it also funds many other activities such as supporting HIV patients by giving them a purpose and financing educational initiatives in computer skills for girls 14-25. It is really rural here, for the most part, but almost everyone has a cell phone. It seems that tech development has progressed so far along here that they really want my computer skills pretty badly. I don’t really mind, but I find it really weird that I have come all this way and I am getting plopped in front of a computer when everyone else is going to teach kids English in rural schools. I feel weirdly out of place. It is a different vibe.

Most of the people in this house are psychology majors, working in counseling or teachers. Some are gap year students in environmental studies. One nurse, one environmental econ student. Right now I’m the only asian and the only engineer. There was one other engineer – mechanical, who was here but had left 2 weeks ago, Leah. She came back to visit during my 2nd day. Leah had just climbed Mt. Kili. I’m really impressed because she actually made it to the top and Ann Curry’s team (from the Today show) didn’t even make it to the summit with a support team of about 100 people. I hear that the some people from previous group of volunteers that had recently left the house got smashed and drunk every night. Excellent. I can’t blame them. It’s emotionally difficult for a lot of people.

Most volunteers are teaching English or just spending time working with orphans. In my opinion, the ones who are teaching English as a second language at the secondary level in a vocational school have probably the hardest placement of all. There is a strong language barrier. None of us know Kiswahili. And we’re given a crash course in it for 6 days. But 6 days can only get you so far. And it is hard. The language is strongly influenced by Arabic. Some of it also has asian sounding tones.

As for WEECE, the first day – they actually give me a schedule for my time. I’m impressed. For a local NGO, they’re way more organized that I’d imagined. My job is split into 3 parts.

1) Work with 6 girls in secondary skills and teach them basic skills in computers, Microsoft Office basically. It’s fun. I’ve done the same in Hong Kong before. Its challenging with a language barrier but they seem to know English fairly well and it makes my job really a lot easier. I notice that they can be a bit shy, and some don’t want to ask if they don’t understand. But it works out. There is one that things she knows everything and can’t focus to finish tasks to completion. This is going to be challenge. They treat their equipment with a great deal of care here. Its not like us spoiled Americans.

Also – I’m pulled aside occasionally to work on improving staff computing skills, work on staff documents for various projects, including a clinic that is being sponsored by WEECE and Terres sans Frontiers & Canadian embassy? in extremely rural area in Kilimanjaro.

2) Visit local businesses supported by WEECE microfinance and try to understand their means of operation, the problems, issues and possibly how to improve it. I will write more about this, but there will be about 10-15 field visits. Really excited about this. The loans are all given to local women and include those who are HIV/AIDS patients who need a sense of purpose in life, and weece supports them in this manner.

3) Fund Acquisition: Research, and possibly implement means for acquiring more funds to support WEECE initiatives, either by grant writing or figuring out a way to increase donations. I’m pretty sure I can rework their website on #3 to help secure more funding, but I’ll do this when I go back home because I know I can work on that anywhere in the world, no problem

The next day the program director at our home base approaches me and asks me to build her a VB database program to manage information about spending and volunteers that come into and out of the house. In most 3rd world countries, Microsoft rules. It’s ok, I’m not a fan but hey work with what you got, right? For her, right now everything’s on a bunch of looseleaf spreadsheets and with more than 30 people in the house on various occasions, it can be really difficult for her to manage. Oh sure, I’m happy to get my mind off the stress. Please! I am beginning to realize that I distract myself from people problems by trying to focus on concrete problems. Sure more stuff to build, I’m actually really cool with that. I tell her I’ll start this weekend. No problem.

Moshi certainly is more technically advanced than the Carribean - BVIs in 1994. And they think that learning tech skills are a way out of poverty. I agree and disagree with this; it is a Catch 22. For some yes, for others no. It’s really impossible to do much with computers when you don’t have any power? Power comes and goes here. At anytime. The further away from town, the more unstable the power source is. There is developing business in town. If they are planning for the future – tech skills, definitely needed as the infrastructure grows. At the same time, it is really somewhat confusing to see the split in wealth – there are people who have mansions here and right next door are dirt huts where people are living on like 1000 Tsh a day*. Why did this happen and why? There aren’t any answers. But everyone is exceptionally happy here. The kids – I have never seen such happy kids. They scream and smile and yell and are seriously very happy. There is a lot of undeveloped land and the fruits and vegetables here smell wonderful. Who

Most of the roads here are dirt, except the main highway. In town, there are a lot of small shops, food stands, stores. They’re not commercialized to death, but at the same time you know they are going to be within the next 10-20 years. That’s where everything is heading. I did not believe my eyes when I saw it. There is a MIT here (Moshi Institute of Technology). Lots of shops setup for business and computer education. Lots of small vendors. Some of the coffeeshops and the Ex-Im banks approach 1st world quality – minus the pit bathrooms. Moshi is declared, cleanest town in the area, possibly country? But there are a lot of local practices there that I have issue with. They burn their trash here. And you smell it, a lot. I really wonder how much of this is contributing to Kili melting and global warming. Then there are the giant petrol tanks here. Everything runs on diesel. And a ton of pollution. The buses and cars here are really bad with pollution.

We have a health education session where we meet with a local health worker who answers questions about malaria, HIV, and other types of diseases. Most of us on anti-malarial drugs are on malarone. Some on others. But even though there is malaria here, it is less than the coastal areas. The locals here get malaria before they are age 5. After that, they have immunity and most people are too poor to be on anti malarias anyhow. Even the wealthy ones aren’t on anti malarials. And the risk in this area isn’t that much anyhow because right now it’s pretty dry. It’s only bad when its raining. That’s when the mosquitoes come out. I am really irritated. We are like, stupid Americans on a stupid drug that we probably don’t even need. But I’m being cynical. We’re getting bitten on a regular basis here but they’re not mosquitoes. They come and go within 24 hrs. There are ton of bugs here, even with insecticide in the surrounding yard. Some people have side effects from their drugs and mood changes, especially mefloquine.

After our afternoon lesson in Kiswahili, we have some free time. Our house is down a dirt road and it is a bit of a hike to get to the main road where there is food and a few huts where you can buy basic goods. I convince Sarah to come with me. We make it to the end of the road and look around for drinks because we are so thirsty.

Across the main road, there is a prison. And next to it there is a small bar. We walk into the bar and buy drinks. There are two guards behind us and I practice my Swahili with them. They are not convinced I’m American. I have to tell them I’m American and Chinese. I say I’m both. Ninatoka mamerikani ni mchina. Sarah and I get up to leave but then there is a lot of yelling at us and with our rudimentary Swahili we really have no idea. Deer in headlights. They tell us that the fanta chupas we’re drinking are supposed to stay. Oh. Yeah stuff is actually recycled – glass bottles go back to the coca cola factory. But you know, it’s not really that great – there are TONS of bottle caps just littered on the dirt roads and main roads all over town. So much for recycling and being environmentally safe. Erg. It’s a bit of a, um…... I can’t even describe it.

* 1300 Tsh (Tanzanian Shillings) ~= 1 USD.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Hello from Moshi

November 24, 2008

It is Monday morning 6am as I write this. I’ve been here in a village several km from Moshi now for 2 days.


The flight from Boston to Amsterdam was pretty awful. I was ready to puke when we landed; the turbulence was really bad. It was compounded by the snowstorm that peaked about an hour after arrival. On a more positive note, I did see something exciting at the newsstand before I left. I thought I was hallucinating but the cover of GQ magazine was definitely moving like those movable pictures from Harry Potter. Upon closer inspection, I discovered it was the first commercialization of E-Ink! How exciting. I’ve heard about it for years, but never saw it out on the street so I had assumed they were still years away from it being practical. It’s a bit thick – the cover feels like a flexible CD. The actual display is super thin, but I was somewhat disappointed by the thickness of the circuit board inside. It was really hard not to buy a copy and take it apart. I have to stay and pack light. Hopefully the board will also flex like the display soon? Okay I will shut up and stop being a technophile now.

Its been a really long time since I’ve been at Schipol Airport but honestly, I am somewhat disappointed by it. Virtually everything is in English. It is so Anglicized and Americanized. The guy who sells coffee to you speaks perfect English. You have to hunt to find the real Dutch, even on the signs it’s a bit obscured. It really feels a bit like walking into an Ikea. Okay I guess for American travelers and there a shitload of them. Even the KLM flight on the way down is chalk full of them and a bunch of annoying pushy French people. A lot of white people on the plane to Kilimanjaro. Not so many black people. Almost no asian people. Some middle easterners.

KiliAirport02 By the time we get to Kilimanjaro, it is pitch dark. And you can see nothing. KLM lets you disembark from the plane straight onto the ground like the good old days. It’s the only major aircraft that’s sitting on the runway. It is hot and humid. We get our luggage and the driver collects us into a van. It is really dark outside. The major road between Arusha and Moshi is this 2 lane road that’s not lit at all. It’s kind of like the main road to Gerlach, NV. No, nix that. This 2 lane road is the equivalent of 101 or I 95 in the usa. Stars everywhere outside at night. We drive past a row of trees and it smells incredible. Everyone’s asking what kind of tree, and we find out that its called a “Christmas tree”. There are a lot of these in town.

We’re taken to a really nice house. I mean, the house here is really nice. It’s off a dirt road, but completely westernized. It reminds me a bit of, south east asian architecture. There are actually 2 houses in this compound. We stay in the back. Cell service works here. And it’s really strong, with iPhone Edge access. Unlike what AT&T told me the internet is getting pushed here. I’m impressed. I don’t even get a cell signal in Gerlach, NV.

The first night is always really hard after any trip that takes you more than 8 time zones away. It usually takes me about 1-2 weeks to adjust when going to south east asia. Here we are 10 hrs ahead of Pacific Coast time in California. Even though I was on the east coast for a week cutting 3 hrs off doesn’t really make a dent. I feel wasted. But I can’t sleep. There are a ton of really loud animals here that come alive in the middle of the night. The dogs are out of control. They’re mostly wild dogs and are bone thin, scrawny with fleas. We learn later that the dogs are always at odds with the bush babies that come out at night.

The elder women here in Tanzania are called Mamas, whether they have kids or now. Our house Mama is called Mama Lilian. She gives us the scoop on how to behave here. And I’m about to fall asleep as she drones on about the rules and what we should expect. Half way through, oh the irony -- We’re told not to use drugs here. Or we’ll be booted from the premises immediately. And just as she says that, there’s a waft of sweet smelling pot that floats by. It’s smells sweet. Not like American stuff that’s rolling around and a bit bitter. We all really try hard to keep a straight face.

About half the house is full when we arrive. They are mostly younger volunteers between 18-25. Some students, other young people on a gap year. A lot of them are teaching at nursery schools or working with young kids in elementary schools. In Tanzania, it is required by law for all children to go to school through 7th grade. It is paid by the government, but the parents have to pay for the uniforms and some other small fee (I think). Sorry I don’t know if my facts are all straight because I was too tired to pay attention. There are a lot of information sessions the first couple of days. Thankfully there are only 5 new people to get to know. There are about 8 volunteers that are already here from the previous session; many of them are here for the maximum duration of 12 weeks.

We’re given a tour around Moshi town. We almost run over a tiny dog. It is SO loud. These tiny scrappy dogs. On our way to town some bus cuts ahead of us. The back of it is covered with Chinese characters. Apparently a lot of buses and older cars from Asia and Europe are just imported here and driven as is. People drive scary fast here and lots of people hang off the edge of daladalas and trucks.

The driver takes us away from the town because the kids want to visit an art market. They are set up in little stalls. The art is pretty good. We even see a bob marley flag. People certainly know how to do business here. We are told it is low tourist season, so expect more hassling and haggling. One of the volunteers here mentions that its really hard to say no to locals that hassle you repeatedly. After a while you just cave in and buy something.

Downtown there are lots of little stores. Most of the smaller vendors are on dirt floors. Higher end stores have concrete on the base. I figured correctly not to bring a lot with me; you can get a lot of goods here. In the supermarkets, a lot of the goods on the shelves are imported from the Europe, UAE, Doha, Japan, China, etc. What else do you expect? Not much US imported goods comparatively. There’s basically M&Ms and Coca cola.

I’m so exhausted by the end of the first full day here I even miss dinner. I sleep from 3pm until 6am the next morning. By the end of the first day ankles are super swollen. I am really terrified. I’m not sure it’s from a blood clot or from the airplane or whatever. My dad had the same thing happen before his quad bypass.

I have two roommates here. They are really nice. One is in her late 30s, Chandra, and was formerly a teacher. The other, Louisa is a former nurse and in her 60s. Everyone is pretty poa (cool). I’m actually really happy that I’m not sharing a room with anyone who is a pain. Chandra is from the bay area just like me. I dig her, we are both here with iPhones. She is crazy she even brought a laptop and all the rest of the electronic junk.

I actually make it dinner the 2nd day we are here. The jet lag is especially awful because I am already sleep dep’d from D.C. and Boston. Towards the end of the 3rd day my ankles begin to reduce their swelling, thankfully. And I’m ok to get up and walk around. I am getting kicked off the computer now.

Till next time, Kwa Herini.

Friday, November 21, 2008

I am a Digital girl.

I have 3 hrs before my flight leaves to Amsterdam and I'm still trying to fit everything into my pack. One thing for sure is that I am completely ditching my travel guides. I am ill prepared; I wish I knew exactly what pages I could tear out of the 3 lonely planet books I have but I don't. I haven't read it all. The books together weigh more than 5 lbs. I have too much stuff, even at the bare minimum, my bag is really heavy. I've unpacked and unloaded several times.

So, I'm going to try this: Lonely planet now offers online chapters in PDF. I'm bringing my books in triplicate: Two USB keys loaded with copies of the PDF and then a copy on the iphone via a program that runs locally on disk called "Files". File reading on the iphone sucks the battery dry really fast but I'm compensating with a Solio solar charger for the iPhone. I know, it's an iPhone; somebody will probably steal it. I'm going to risk taking it anyhow. My entire life is on that thing but it has saved my ass more than once while traveling internationally. Especially because I am so foreign language challenged. The good thing about subsaharan africa is that there is still no data push available. Only cell and text service. So there is no way to rack up charges on data there. Text messages are pricey, running at 0.50 cents per message. I will likely get a local mobile *if* it is any cheaper.

This is all I'm bringing, for 3 months. (see picture).

Ok I have to run to the airport now.

Next stop, Moshi, Tanzania

Monday, November 17, 2008

Washington, D.C. and other messy junk

Everything upon arrival in D.C. has been somewhat of a mess.

I didn't get any sleep on my red eye, I broke out all over my face, my posters got lost and I was issued a booth violation the day after I setup in the convention hall. And it took forever to get anywhere because of some G20 conference being held at the white house, and the entire street next to my hotel is blockaded off because of some head of state. Forget about sleep. Sirens are going off constantly in the middle of the night. So no buses are running down the street and only a cab. I am getting ripped off by 5 dollar cab rides to and from the convention center because it is raining, hard. Honestly, I am ready to break in half. I can't take the stress anymore. I really want to quit. And to top it off, I get bitten by lots of mosquitoes. Yes, in D.C. which is rainy and humid the day I arrive. At last count, 10 big bites and I have _not_ even left for a malaria zone yet. Sleep dep to the point of being sh*t faced. I feel miserable. I want to punch somebody.

After about a day, it sort of calms down. I have to remember that I am here in one piece, and lucky to be attending neuroscience. This is a massive conference. I've never seen that many people jammed into one room. Seriously, there are more than 30,000 people here. It takes about 25 minutes to clear the hall when the day ends. It's like herding cats, but they're extremely chatty brain/cog/neuro/psychiatry/psychology people. I've never heard such noisy scientists before. These guys like to yak. yak yak yak. yik yik yik.

Monday morning, I head to embassy row. I need a visa for Mozambique and have been too lame to get one. So, I'm going to take advantage of the fact that I'm here in D.C. and do it. When I finally get to the Mozambique embassy, I get buzzed into this small office downstairs. A really nice lady that I can barely understand takes my passport and paper application. She then reminds me that I have to give her a copy of my flight itinerary, which I don't have on me. Luckily I pull out my iPhone and email it to her; back tomorrow to pick it up. There is no place more UN than DC; even before you get to embassy row in dupont circle the embassies start showing up, each stately with their own flag. But it's not all embassies... there's weird stuff in between. I see Chile Embassy, Australian Embassy.... Association of Computing Machinery (wha?) .....University club(huh?) I could have taken the subway or bus'd it, but the sites are worth seeing, even though it is a good 25 min walk.

After the convention closes for the day, there is an afterparty at Madame Tussauds (the place with the wax figures). Its really disorienting inside. The people are so realistic you think its a real person in your peripheral vision a lot. And then you check yourself and think "nope, wax". Surreal. Every major president is inside. George Bush Jr. is taller than we guessed. And looks even more stupid in wax. Clinton is shorter than expected and Bush Sr. and Reagan are both shockingly tall. They made Hillary look pretty. The best one I'd say was of Julia Roberts. Damn did that one look real. The posture and dress just made it happen.

I need to feed my addiction. So after a while I split with the gang and I leave Madame Tussauds to walk south and east. South, there is a place called the Sculpture garden facing the national archives. And in front of it, starting fortuitously in mid november is an outdoor ice rink! I get to lose my outdoor skating virginity. In DC of all places. Yeah I know, I've been skating for years but never did it outdoors. Just never happened.

But. I forgot my skates. The guy at the counter convinces me to give the rentals a try. So I rent a pair and put them on. Suddenly, I'm skidding everywhere. I'm actually shocked that I don't fall? They're too big, and with no support. So then I trade them in for a smaller pair but oddly the left one is still too big. Curious. So I swap the left for one size smaller. I'm wearing a size 4 and on the left and a 5 on the right. It makes for an interesting dynamic because the blade length is also different. I had to think for a while, but I think the lefties tend to get stretched a lot because public sessions tend to go in one direction only, counter clockwise, and people put more pressure on the left foot. It was tiring, and I gave up after 20 minutes. Kind of useless to keep trying to do something with crappy equipment. I will be back tomorrow with my own pair.

On my way to my hotel, I pop into the gift store to take a peek at the election memorabilia. Practically everyone here is proud of Obama. All Obama/Biden stuff is full price. All McCain/Palin stuff is 75% off. Compared to DC in 2007 it finally feels..... right? I mean seriously, just walking around DC, with the demographics the way it is, it just didn't feel right with a white man in the white house. 3 blocks north of the convention center is where Howard University starts. I went by to see what it was like. It's also where the projects sort of are. I got stared at a lot. The local supermarket made me feel really weird. Oh, and the checkout stand is weird. They actually have checkout stands where there are no magazines, by parent request. Guess the little ones are out of control? I wonder what it would have been like for my dad when he was at Howard in grad school as a minority scholar in the 1960s. One asian dude in a sea of black. He doesn't really talk about it much. But I could imagine.

I'm back at the rink the next day and it is COLD. No, not 100% cold but 2000% colder than the day before. It bites. The wind is really painfully cold on the ears. The rink guard tells me that it snowed during the day and the ice is a mess. It is hard to breathe with the wind chill. Standing around for about 3 minutes without moving gives me cramps and chills. Even worse walking around. I am now officially a Californian wuss. No more east coast thick winter skin. I am so cold I have trouble breathing. Some woman is also visiting from So Cal and says I have no excuse. We talk and discover that we are actually here in town for the same reasons, same convention. Apparently I am not the only one that has a childish obsession with this sport, frequently referred to as a child's sport. I feel a bit better and not so guilty.

Next stop, Boston.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Don't listen to the US State Department.....

.....because they're not always right.

So a few weeks ago, I was scouring the US State department's web page for travel advisories. I come across this and I have to laugh:

April 30, 2008

This Travel Alert updates U.S. citizens about security issues in China and advises American citizens traveling or residing there to be alert to their surroundings and exercise caution at all times. This Travel Alert expires on October 31, 2008.

Any large-scale public event such as the upcoming Olympic Games may present an attractive target for terrorists. There is a heightened risk that extremist groups will conduct terrorist acts within China in the near future. In light of these security concerns, U.S. citizens traveling in China are advised to use caution and to be alert to their surroundings at all times, including at hotels, in restaurants, on public transportation and where there are demonstrations and other large-scale public gatherings. Consistent with our standard advice, American citizens are urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations.

In May I was in Hong Kong, right when the olympic flame was being run through the area. May 1st and 2nd, to be exact. May 1st is a holiday in Hong Kong. Now that I think of it, the hotel I stayed at was where they kept the flame, unbeknownst to most of us. But we figured it probably was there because it was the 8th floor and there were about 5 or 6 guards hanging around the lobby near the elevators constantly, all with ear pieces and wearing signal jamming devices. I could not place a cell phone call out of there for hours. At first I thought these guys were on every floor because we knew the flame was coming through, but then we checked on the 10th and the 7th floors and it was really only the 8th floor. Yeah Asians and the number 8. In my bad Chinese, I translate 8 8 8, as basically get "f**king rich".

The night of May 1st, we were forced to move to another hotel, simply because "there weren't any more rooms." Ahhh... yeah. Somehow I don't believe that the New World Hotel in Hong Kong could possibly run out of rooms on just that particular day; there are more than 800 rooms in this hotel. It was likely that they didn't want anyone on the floor when the flame was there. We give hell to the staff at the check in desk and get nothing out of them. The look at us blankly and we know they are lying. But we can do nothing. So we move next door to the Intercontinental - ridiculously expensive but the only place that "apparently" had room.

I digress. Back to the point - basically on the morning of the 2nd when the olympic flame was run through the Kowloon peninsula and through the island of Hong Kong, the atmosphere was certainly far removed from that of San Francisco or Paris. Security was tight and well run.

If anything, it was massively crowded. So crowded you could feel the breath of the person standing next to you. And definitely a tremendous amount of pride and energy in the crowd. As far as I could see there weren't' any demonstrations. There were a LOT of happy people. There was plenty of security, and the subway was shutdown, in every mall and hotel that connected itself to it. The peninsula has an overbuilt maze of malls and hotels with subways integrated into many slots. It's so twisted and confusing, it's super easy to get lost. And lost I did get, many many times. Everything looks the same, the same bling bling over and over again. Heavy air conditioning inside, tropically warm outside. Going inside and out repeatedly gave me a massive headache.

Early on the 2nd, I was reading two newspapers at breakfast. One was the South China Morning Post and the other, the Asian Wall Street Journal. The WSJ didn't make much of an event for the torch. Impartial, factual, mostly about world politics and the economy. The cover of the South China reported on the crowds and the national pride. The inside section had a complete page about detaining Mia Farrow at the airport. She was given a stern warning not to try anything crazy but not held or penalized in any other way. She was quoted as saying that she was here to peacefully attending a human rights meeting within Hong Kong. I guess if you're an "american traveler", you're more at risk in San Francisco - where the demonstrations were rampant or in Paris. The funny part is that I was on my way back into San Francisco via San Diego the day the flame was run through SF. And I was detained at airport security for a good half hour. Um.

If you look at the British travel advisory site, there is no warning. So it seems that this US warning was really politically motivated. Mind you, up until 1997 Hong Kong, now Hong Kong (Special Administrative Region) was British territory. They seem to know their stuff. But of course, I am biased because a) I'm asian and can hang back while the white americans get hassled at the market b) I don't get mistaken as an american unless I open my stupid non-cantonese speaking mouth c) I've been to Hong Kong too many times to know better.

In fact, this article from an old Conde Nast rag lying around - shows clearly different views between the US and Britsh. It is not my imagination at work. (see picture)

On the left in mostly Red is the US State Dept warning to "Avoid ALL Travel to the country" On the right in mostly orange is the British Foreign & Commonwealth office, instructing travelers to avoid all travel to *certain parts* of the country.

October 2006 Conde Nast Traveler: Stop Press : Reality Check

Direct your browser to the U.S. state Department's web site in search of advice on venturing abroad and what you'll find there may persuade you to stay home. At press time, Travel Warnings are in effect for 30 countries, many of which (Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan) one might not be inclined to visit anyway. But a maddeningly comprehensive Public Announcement entitled "Worldwide Caution" seems to have been composed to put Americans off travel in general, warning of "the continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against Americans…overseas." The text cites the danger zones as including but not limited to Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, and reports that extremists may subject Americans to assassinations, kidnappings, and bombings on public transportation, at sporting events, and in offices, clubs, restaurants, hotels, and places of worship. The media's tendency to grant prominent coverage to incidents of violence overseas, most notably those involving Americans, enhances the impression that, post–9/11, the world beyond our borders is perilous and hostile.............

Which sources should travelers trust? Travel agents who specialize in the Middle East and Southeast Asia note that Americans are rarely warned against visiting countries considered allies, and unruly states are rarely removed from the don't-go list. "We strive not to make warnings political," says a U.S. State Department spokesperson. "We just want to get the best information to Americans."

Ah... um.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Trip planning and cramming

Right now, my trip plans are still in the air after my volunteer placement, and am still hammering it all out. I have been stuffing my brain with info on more than 15 sub saharan countries in Africa. There's too much information and I'm feeling bug eyed. But it is good.

I am an obsessive planner. I like to know exactly where I'm going, when and for how long when I travel. Partly this is also because every type of travel I've self organized has had a purpose. I'm OK with getting on a plane with as little as 24 -48 hr notice anywhere in a 1st or 2nd world country. No problem. No need to plan that. You'll be taken care of transitwise no matter what. But going somewhere with infrastructure problems, I have rethink a lot of what's reasonable and what is not.

Having no explicit purpose is really difficult. So I've read a lot. Read too much. Panicked because there is so much information, so many countries and I want to read more, and then decide if I want to visit that. And then trying to plan a route to get there. Agonizing. I hear people say " just go and then decide". To a certain degree I can't. I want to know if my route is going to be safe to travel and within reasonable time - not just cost, but time. How long to get from point A to B and how fast. Budgeting enough time to deal with variability. And running out of money.

All because - I have no backup. I'm not traveling with anyone so I'm the IT game.

So lots of planning.

And a Backup plan.

And then a backup backup plan.


At least the first month will be fairly straightforward. The volunteers are placed in a house together so we're basically all on the same page when we arrive. Earlier today our CCS organizer held a conference call to sort out any last minute details with other volunteers.

For one person, its their first time leaving the country. And I can hear the stress over the phone. I'm glad I am past that. I've been on planes alone since I was 12 and to strange places where I don't know the language at all. But if there is anything I am concerned about its' the mosquitoes. Mozzie, mozzie, mozzie, oy oy oy. Yes you can be smart and protect yourself, but if this is anything like what I remember of Hong Kong when I was 10 years old, I'm in for it. My legs were so swollen I couldn't walk from the number of mozzie bites back then. I hated Hong Kong with a vengence. Why couldn't they just shut the windows to prevent the damn mozzies from coming in?

So, in short, flying out of Boston to Moshi via Amsterdam on the 21st Nov, and arriving on the 22nd. I'll be in Moshi until December 20th.

But first, Washington D.C. on November 14

Weather in Kilimanjaro

The weather in Moshi right now looks warm/hot during the day and cool at night, with scattered showers in between. Lovely tropical weather. Lots of Mosquitoes.....

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Big Sur

I'm trying out email posting to my blog in case Internet access is so bad overseas I can only post by email.

Here is a picture from Big Sur which I road tripped about two weekends ago, Oct 18? I think. Anyhow no picture can do justice to the real thing; it's simply amazing the northern California coastline. Also, I discovered that Big Sur is not is single spot on the coast like a city---it's an entire stretch of rugged, wild and awesomely beautiful coastline that runs south of Monterey for about 90 miles. It is a curvy wind-y drive but an alter universe to get lost in. Amazingly romantic. Stunning. Powerful. Majestic. Makes me proud to be a Californian.

To drive to the first part of Big Sur, it takes about 2 hrs from the mid peninsula. I took 101 south and then cut through some farmland to highway 1 down the coast. Highway 1 takes effort to drive; lots of turns and twists. In 2003, about 5 years ago when i first started driving, i tried to drive to point reyes and it was scary experience. came *this* close to driving into the cliff wall several times.

Driving Big Sur is so hard when you're the driver, because every 2-3 miles the scenery is so beautiful you just want to pull over and get out of the car. Pictures don't do this place justice. You just have to be there to see it. Similar to the bay area, there are lot so microclimates down the coast, so you might get cloudy overcast fog for about 20 minutes and then pockets of brilliant sunshine.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Where I'll be going and who i'll be working with (CCS)

The parent organization:

CARE is a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty. We place special focus on working alongside poor women because, equipped with the proper resources, women have the power to help whole families and entire communities escape poverty. Women are at the heart of CARE's community-based efforts to improve basic education, prevent the spread of HIV, increase access to clean water and sanitation, expand economic opportunity and protect natural resources. CARE also delivers emergency aid to survivors of war and natural disasters, and helps people rebuild their lives.
CARE International is one of the world’s top three aid agencies, fighting poverty and injustice in 70 countries around the world and helping 48 million people each year to find routes out of poverty.
Our mission is to create lasting change in poor communities and we put money where it is needed most: more than 90 pence in every pound donated goes directly overseas. That’s one of the highest rates among all the UK aid agencies.
With more than 60 years’ practical and hands-on experience, our programmes tackle the deep-seated root causes of poverty, not just the consequences. Just two examples of the way we do this are helping farmers to grow their own food and helping people start small businesses.

The volunteer organization:

CARE Corps Abroad offers a unique opportunity for select groups of CARE supporters to visit our life-changing projects in person. You'll learn more about CARE's work to empower women and fight global poverty while getting firsthand experience at community service with our partner Cross-Cultural Solutions   To find out how your group can volunteer with CARE Corps Abroad, email or call 1-800-521-CARE. 

I'll be abbreviating Cross Cultural Solutions in my blog as 'CCS'

Our mission is to operate volunteer programs around the world in partnership with sustainable community initiatives, bringing people together to work side-by-side while sharing perspectives and fostering cultural understanding. We are an international not-for-profit organization with no political or religious affiliations.

At the local NGO level in Moshi, Tanzania, I am assigned by cross-cultural solutions, based on assessment of my profile, skills and educational background:

WEECE- Women’s Education and Economic Center, NGO- working towards women’s empowerment -

I still have no idea what they will be asking me what to do on the ground. I do know that WEECE has multiple divisions, one area is for health education (namely HIV/AIDS) , micro-finance, legal issues & administration, and teaching computers and/or craft skills.