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.