Sunday, July 18, 2010


July 13th, 2010

Another emotional rollercoaster ride this past week. After news of receiving funding consisting of a grant for start up costs and a loan to cover the first six months of rent we ventured to Ngaramtoni to share the wonderful news. On our arrival, however, we were discouraged to learn that traditionally in Arusha it is common business practice to deposit a full years rent to secure a space rather than first and last month’s rent as we typically do in Canada. This came as a surprise and meant that we were short six months’ rent. With hopes that the landlord would accept six months, rather than the full 12 months we were disappointed to learn that this would not be acceptable. So we were back to the drawing board. We have spent the past few days working on other ways to fund the remaining six months as well as waiting to hear back from our funders with hopes that they would be willing to increase the overall loan. Today we learnt that this would not be a problem. We are now able to proceed. We will be meeting with the Mama’s later this week to provide them with adequate business training and we will help them elect a chair to lead the women moving forward. Hopefully we will be able to put a deposit down on the location this Friday to ensure renovations and fix up proceed immediately. Now it is imperative that we finalize a lab location to culture the probiotic strain. This is the major task at hand, as everything else has fallen in to place.

This past weekend Dane, an intern from the Mwanza kitchen, came to Arusha to visit and check out the work we have been doing here. He arrived late Friday evening and is leaving early tomorrow morning. On Saturday we showed him all around Arusha and took him to Ngaramtoni to meet our program coordinator and show him the location we have secured. Sunday a group was headed to the waterfall and because we enjoyed it so much last weekend we decided to do it again with Dane. It was another extraordinary day. This time on our way down the mountain we stopped in a little mountain side village to visit the family of our tour guide. His parents had prepared stakes of lamb for all of us. We enjoyed the most delicious meat overlooking the most beautiful view. Sunday night, although exhausted, we enjoyed the final World Cup game. Yesterday, out of curiosity, we all decided it would be very interesting to sit in on a trial at the ICTR (International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda), as a lot of the friends we have met here are law students interning for the UN at the ITCR. Unfortunately the case was closed when we arrived, but it was still fascinating to tour the facility and read about recent case verdicts. Today, after a long day of work, we took Dane to Mama Stella’s to show him our home-stay and to introduce him to Mama Stella herself. We enjoyed an amazing dinner with her and made plans for Marta and I to visit next Monday and have her teach us how to make chapattis.

We have a busy week ahead of us but things should be moving a long in no time!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Fitting In

July 8th

It has been awhile! Time for a much needed update...

So these past two weeks since safari have been relatively slow work wise. At first things were busy; we worked hard to get everything in line for start up. We had found an amazing location, we went equipment shopping and had all of the equipment on hold, we scheduled the mamas for a business training session, we prepared a predicted monthly revenue analysis and we modified and updated the budget. We were all ready to move forward and get going and then we hit a bit of a brick wall; we were waiting for a go from the funders and they still were unsure of what they would be able to do for us. It was devastating. All of the work that had been done in preparation, the excitement that everyone was feeling to get started was put on hold and there was absolutely nothing that we could do. We were so close and then everything started to look as though the kitchen may not be up and running this summer. Marta and I were both discouraged and frustrated, but we decided that we would not let this stop us. We stayed on top of all of our contacts, we pushed for answers and we continually modified and updated our plans as things came up. This whole process has been a true test of patience. Today, two and a half weeks later, we are proud to say we have just heard that our funders have come through with the money and we will be moving forward as planned. We will be meeting in Ngaramtoni tomorrow to revise our schedule but things are back on track and I couldn’t be happier! We are now able to finally secure the location and pay first month’s rent to get painting and fix ups started. We should have the equipment delivered within the next two weeks and have the Mama’s trained and ready to go!

In the meantime between trips back and forth from Arusha to Ngaramtoni, emails, phone calls and meetings we have become quite accustomed to our new environment. I feel like we know Arusha like the back of our hand now. We are now comfortable negotiating prices, walking through markets, asking questions, riding a packed dala dala, using the washroom wherever you can. It’s just another day.

After a month in a home stay we decided that it was time we try and find our own apartment where we could have some privacy and our own space. Although, I am truly thankful I was able to have the home stay experience, we have now been in this apartment for the past week and it has been another amazing experience. We now have to fend for ourselves – scary, I know. We are now responsible for our own cooking and laundry. Cooking has been fun, laundry not so much. It has been a lot of fun shopping in the market and coming home in the evenings to make some dinner but today I decided to be ambitious and wash the massive pile of laundry that slowly accumulated over the past week, it was NOT fun. It took me over two hours and my shrivelled hands and sore arms are proof of the onerous task that laundry has proven to be in Africa. I will never complain about doing laundry in Canada again.

Before we moved out of our home stay we had Mama Stella, our house Mama, provide us with some necessary cooking lessons. For two nights we sat in her kitchen around a charcoal cooking fire watching and trying to learn how to make her traditional African dishes. We attempted last night to make our own chips mayay, a local African dish of eggs and French fries (essentially an omelette with French fries instead of vegetables), we were not successful haha I guess we will stick to the local restaurants for that. It was a lot of fun to sit around the fire and watch her cook, though. One of the most endearing qualities of African culture, in my opinion, is the resourcefulness of the people. I find it so humbling to observe the ways in which they use the most simple of tools to produce amazing things, how they use everything they have in some way. That night while we were watching Mama Stella cook it was just so wonderful to see how she used everything, she did not waste one thing.

Then came Canada Day, my personal favourite celebration of the year! This being said, we couldn’t let the fact that we were in Africa hinder our celebrations, in fact this made it even better. June 30th we dragged some of our American friends to the used clothing market to invest in Canada Day outfits. Of course one has to wear red and white on this marvellous day and so It was my goal to find a Canada tee-shirt. It was a success! So when we woke up on July first Marta and I dressed in our red and white and walked around Africa proud to be Canadian, slightly ridiculously dressed Canadians, but proud ones none-the-less. After hours of waiting to file a police report for my stolen camera and Marta’s stolen wallet at the police station we ventured to a fellow Canadian’s house where he was hosting a Canada Day bonfire and firework show. It was an absolutely wonderful evening. We listened to Canadian music and danced the night away.

Then Saturday rolled around. Marta and I had organized a group to do a day hike to a nearby waterfall. We met at 9am in town and walked from town to an absolutely gorgeous waterfall where we went swimming and had a lovely picnic lunch overlooking Mount Meru. The hike itself was about 3 and a half hours one way up the side of a steep mountain – I may have been winded multiple times – but it consisted of some of the most beautiful scenery I have ever seen. The fantastic group of people we hiked with and the unbelievable scenery and gorgeous weather made it the perfect day.

Pictures to come, internet is slow today.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Safari Time

June 20

Ok, so Marta and I may have taken a little vacation. Already, yes, I know but timing wise it couldn’t have been better. We had all of our work in line and were waiting on next steps and after speaking with our coordinator in Ngaramtoni it worked out to be the perfect time. Marta and I packed our bags and headed out on a SAFARI! Woooo! This was a trip we both had said we wanted to find time to do while we were here and last week it stumbled into our laps. To make a long story short, we ran into a friend of a friend in Arusha who organizes Safaris. He had heard that we were coming to Arusha and happened to give us an amazing deal. We were paired with an amazing Swedish couple and were sent on our way. We went to the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater and had the most unbelievable time. We camped in the middle of the Serengeti and pitched a tent overlooking the Crater. Although maybe not the most luxurious way of living, it was completely worth it, as the experience we had was truly unbelievable. Words cannot possible do the trip justice. Our tour guide was phenomenal and provided us with every bit of random knowledge you could possibly imagine about any animal. Not only did we see every animal you could possibly come across in the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater, we practically touched the majority of them. Abraham, our tour guide, said that we had been one of the luckiest Safari’s he had been on and after speaking with locals on our return you could tell by their response when we told them about our sightings that we had been very lucky. We saw giraffes standing tall and strong, zebras and wildebeest covering the land, baboons and their babies marching down the road, a pack of lions casually walking alongside of our car, leopards lounging in the trees feasting on their most recent catch, hyenas searching for prey, hippos grazing in the water, elephants playfully fighting, a rhino crossing the street, cheetahs basking in the sun, gazelle and impalas running gracefully through the grass and lots of beautifully coloured birds flying overhead. We woke each morning to see the sun rise and cover the Serengeti with shades of pinks and yellows and light up the spectacular scenery of the Crater. It was absolutely unreal!

Overlooking the Serengeti

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Hard Work Pays Off

June 16th

So, another week of frustration and excitement! I have come to realize that it’s just the nature of starting anything new. There are your challenges and your successes. Well this week has brought both.

Our biggest concern going into this week was finding a lab to culture the probiotic strains. Without the probiotic our product is really nothing special. After a long discussion with Dr. Mhando on the weekend and a referral to another possible lab facility we ventured to the hospital to see if we could speak with anyone about the project and potential support. Surprisingly we were able to meet rather quickly on our arrival with one of the head doctors of the hospital. We sat in his office and described the project, the health benefits of the yogurt and the need for a lab and a lab technician. He listened patiently and enthusiastically, however was unable to give us the answers we wanted. The lab at the hospital was just not going to work. A little disappointed, we left and decided it is best to stick with Dr. Mhando. Although for now he is unable to provide us with what we need, he does understand and support the program and he is willing to help moving forward. Back to Dr. Mhando it is!

After another long trek to Ngaramtoni to meet with the future yogurt Mamas to finalize a physical location we were greeted with six empty chairs. No one showed up. We stuck around for a bit and were happy to see two of the women eventually show up bearing ideas for locations. They had taken the assignment to find a location to heart and had produced some very valuable options. We accompanied them into town and took a look at potential kitchen spaces. I am excited to say we officially have a location! YAY! It was very rewarding to see the women participate and even more exciting to see results. Now we must wait on funding.

With a time set up to window shop for equipment and compare prices, things were shaping up.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Home Sweet Home

June 13th

So after about a week we have finally settled in. We know our way around, we are speaking a little more of the language, we know the walking shortcuts, the cool places to go and we are starting to make friends.

The rest of the week went well. Only a few hiccups and frustrations - to be expected really. The big challenge of the week was picking one village for start up. You see the problem was two local women’s groups from different areas wanted to be the ones to start the kitchen. It is amazing that there is such interest but we only have funding for one kitchen at the moment. So after many back and forth discussions the location was decided – Ngaramtoni – of course the furthest location possible from where we live. So it looks like we will be getting in shape this summer too haha. The women’s group in Darjab Mbili where we live are still very interested in opening a kitchen and are looking themselves for potential funders – who knows maybe we’ll open two kitchens haha.

With a location solidified we needed to find an actual store front where the yogurt could be made, packaged and sold as well as women to operate the kitchen. Through meetings and discussions this past week it looks like we have six interested women and a few possibilities for a location. The women have been tasked with finding a selection of locations for reasonable rent and in the coming week we will meet again and pick a physical location. Once the location is finalized we will be shopping for equipment to get this up and running! Below two pictures of the main street and surrounding area in Ngaramtoni.

Our biggest road block right now is finding a lab and lab technician. On our arrival we had a Doctor in mind who we assumed already knew all about the project and was ready to receive and culture the probiotic. Unfortunately however, as absolutely wonderful as our contact is, he is not accustomed to probiotics and is not able to culture the stain himself. To add to this, Marta and I are certainly not science students so we are not able to offer advice. He has offered usage of this lab, although we are still unsure if it is equipped properly for this project. We also still need a lab technician who is able to deal directly with the probiotic. This will be our biggest challenge moving forward.

As our first week in Arusha came to end, things were looking very good despite some immediate roadblocks – nothing we can’t handle though. Saturday we met some fellow North Americans and British students living in Arusha for a few months, volunteering in various capacities. We all met that evening to watch the USA vs. England World Cup Game. I must say it is quite exciting being in Africa for the World Cup. Although we are not where all the action is happening, the energy that exists here in Tanzania is so much fun to be a part of. Obviously being a member of the common wealth, us Canadians were forced to cheer for England, much to our American neighbours chagrin. It was a fantastic evening despite the tied results of the game. Below, Marta and I with our new friend from Queens University cheering for England.Tonight we just arrived home from the most wonderful dinner with the Doctor who is helping us with the project and his family. He is a very well respected man within the Arusha community and he is just so lovely to be around. His family is just as fantastic and it was so nice to have a family dinner. We talked to him about the project and then watched some of the world cup game. I felt completely at home and a part of the family. A wonderful night, to end our first week in Arusha!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A New World

June 9th

So Marta and I have been in Arusha for four days now and what an emotional rollercoaster it has been. One minute everything is amazing, the next you are soaked, cold, muddy, frustrated and wanting more than anything to use a washroom that has toilet paper and flushes.

Monday was one of those days where everything just seemed to be going wrong. First of all it was pouring rain – not enjoyable on the best days, however a bazillion times worse when you are working in a village essentially made of mud. Then we ended up walking what seemed like half way around the world. By the time we arrived home after dark, we were exhausted, starving and caked with mud from head to toe. Here are some pictures from our world. The first shows the outside front of our house with laundry hanging to dry. The second is a view of our street and the third is the garbage pile we walk through everyday to get to town. Although hard at first to understand how people can live this way, it is now home to us. The people are absolutely lovely and it's now normal to us too.

We started the morning nice and early. We met with a local Woman’s group in one area very interested in taking on this project. It was a productive meeting and quite encouraging, then what followed was a long convoluted day of confusion. We had a series of other meetings with various groups in which we were unsure of the purpose. As it was our first day on the job really we figured it was procedure only to find out there was absolutely no point in any of the meetings we had that morning. These meetings were all over town and as we walked from one place to the other we slowly built an exterior layer of mud all over our bodies. Finally we had a few hours of freedom before the next series of meetings so we decided we would venture to find a bank and get our internet sorted out – both tasks proved to be unnecessarily painful. First stop, or should I say first 8 stops, consisted of banks that were either jam packed or not capable of completing the simple task of producing cash for two innocent travellers. Then came internet. Although it was quite easy to purchase it turned out to be the biggest headache to install and set up – more on that later. With very little time to spare we managed to hike back to the area where we had to catch a dala dala (African public transportation – a sketchy 12 person van that is falling apart and jammed with people – quite the experience) to the location of our next meeting about 30 minutes from town. As we were standing around waiting to head home we noticed the most spectacular view behind us - Mount Meru as the backdrop (see picture below). We took a minute and just absorbed our surroundings. It was quite amazing! By the time we finished up there and arrived home it was dark and we had walked perhaps the distance of a marathon.
Everything about this day was frustrating – the weather, the convoluted confusing meetings, the slow pace of service, the tardiness of every meeting, the laid back, indecisive tendency of operations, the continuous haggling by locals. It was quite the day. After a shower of cool water from a bucket I was ready for bed. Then to top everything off, as we snuggled into bed to respond to emails and check in on the rest of the world, the wireless internet drive we purchased for a ridiculously expensive price was of course not working. What a day!

As I fell asleep that night frustrated and discouraged I realized that we were completely amerced in a culture quite different from the one we knew. The day had been filled with many unnecessary procedures and cultural norms that we were just not accustomed to. I realized then that I was going to have to embrace it.

Tuesday was sunny and much warmer. We spent the morning meeting government officials and explaining the project. The afternoon we had some time to ourselves and went into town and relaxed by the pool of a gorgeous, old hotel we stumbled across. We decided to become members of the pool and gym and use it as a place to go and stay active but more importantly shower with warm water and use a toilet that flushes. We spent the rest of the afternoon waiting around to get our internet organized which was terribly frustrating but we are finally all set to go – well on African standards! So we had been five days without internet – what an experience haha How lucky we have it in Canada.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Road to Arusha

June 5th, 2010

Well after 18 hours on a jam packed bus, bathroom breaks on the side of the road in the middle of an African dessert, a dead goat and absolutely NO leg room we finally made it to Arusha! We left Mwanza at 6am Saturday morning. The bus depot was packed at this hour and quite intimidating. This was the first time that I felt a little uncomfortable as it was still dark at 5am and there were people everywhere trying to get you to buy something for the trip. It was here that we had heard horror stories of theft and lost luggage. Once settled on the bus, however, all was good. Well for the most part...

The bus trip to Arusha should take about 11 hours on the very best of days, 12 hours usually. We got settled in our seats; jam packed with our backpacks under our feet, worried that our valuables would be stolen. The bus left the depot and we were off. For about the first hour the road was great, slightly bumpy but not bad at all. Then the road went from ok, to pretty bad, to absolutely TERRIBLE in a matter of minutes. We lost any sign of pavement, gravel, or any structured road for that matter and found insanely bumpy craters that created some sort of path that buses chose to drive on. It was wild. Now normally holes that size would not even be attempted to be driven on in Canada, but rather we would take pictures assuming they were beautiful craters belonging to a national park. In Africa, however, that did not stop the bus driver or change the speed. Apparently animals don’t stop them either. About half way through the journey the bus ran right over a goat that didn’t get out of the way quick enough. The sun was setting and we were getting closer to our final destination. As we passed a sign reading “Arusha 40km” our bus made some awful noise, stopped and we were stranded.

The sun went down and we were deserted in pitch black darkness literally in the middle of an African desert. As our driver attempted to fix whatever the problem was the night air became cool. About three hours later another bus FINALLY showed up to pick up the deserted passengers, we were saved. We made it into Arusha about an hour later, arriving around 1:00am. Thankfully we had someone waiting for us at the bus station who took us to our home-stay where we will be living for the rest of the summer.

We arrived and were greeted by an absolutely lovely woman, Mama Setlla, and her daughter who had prepared some food and tea for us. The food was delicious but she had made too much and we were expected to eat it all. This was going to be a challenge – we both have small appetites but it is rude not to eat everything you are served. We managed to get it all down and we showered (or should I say used buckets of cool water to wash) and went to bed. As we put our heads down on the pillow we both were nervous about our new living arrangements. We had been spoiled in Mwanza and had high expectations. We were now in a home living with a family, in a traditional African village, with no running water and expectations for us to eat copious amounts of food. We decided we would go to sleep and re-evaluate in the morning.

We woke up this morning and were greeted with, of course, a massive breakfast of fried pastry. Again, delicious, but after being insisted to eat ALL of them my stomach was not at its prime. The problem too, is not just the amounts, but the fried consistency of most ALL foods here. We dressed and decided we would venture into town and explore a little. Town turned out to be very close and we had the most lovely day just wandering around. The picture below is the Clock Tower in Central Arusha. Apparently it marks the center of East Africa. Arusha is much touristier than Mwanza and so the first thing we noticed was the amount of “Muzungus” here. We are no longer the only white people! Now, don’t get me wrong we were still singled out and haggled by every fifth person walking down the street but it wasn’t as much as a shock as it was in Mwanza. Also we found that many more of the locals spoke much more English than in Mwanza so it was much easier to carry a conversation. We stumbled across an amazing coffee shop with a great washroom (thank goodness) – you can see that my priorities have already shifted. We went to the market and bought some fruit and we found an amazing Maasai tribal market that sells the most amazing fabrics and authentic African dishes, paintings and statues. Marta and both bought matching scarves for what we thought was a steal - $10.00 each – only to find out later by a local that we were totally ripped off. We still have a few things to learn! Haha
We spent the afternoon drafting an action plan and immediate “to do list” to get the project going and we spoke with a local who is able to get us in touch with government officials and help us with marketing the product. Things are looking very optimistic for start-up while we are here this summer and it looks like we may begin advertising as early as two weeks from now.