A Picture Post

5/29/2011 11:22:34

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A taste of Tanzania.
Part 5

With no other plans, we decided to visit the Masai farming land, a further 2 hours into the desert. It took us about forty minutes to get organized; find the car and meet the Mama. We gave the car a tune up on the spot. The car was a model I had never seen before with SPALDING and a basketball on the back window. The doors didn't work, so they always had to be locked or they would swing open. There was no gas cap, we had to find somebody that had an extra one kicking around. The tires were flat so we filled them (and the spare) with air. Filled her up with water and oil and she started up with no kitten purr but some sort of old woman cough. Emmason drove with Laura in the front and Abiq (Emmason’s cousin), the Mama, and me in the back. We drove for about ten minutes into the country when sure enough Mama's yelling out the window at some random truck full of men. A man jumps out and jumps into the backseat with the three of us. A bit too squishy for me so I hopped up front with Laura. It happened to be the owner of the car, but I stopped asking questions awhile back.

There was a road in the beginning which soon opened up to a desert landscape. Following previous motorcycle tracks was the route we followed. We drove through three distinct colours of soil and plant life. Then after two hours we took a sharp right and there was a barrier of thorns blocking what appeared to be the exact same landscape we had been driving through. The guys cleared the thorns and we approached two Masai mud dung huts and a vast farming area. Really cool. They offered honey combs straight from the hive and we walked around eating the smokey sweet combs. One farmer and his wife greeted us in the Masai farming land (which is made of raised beds with little paths a foot high to walk on). The man ran up to Laura said "how much" looked at his wife and said "why did I marry you I have never seen Mzungu before now I want one, I don't want you anymore, you go home". Of course he said this in Masai so Emmason was laughing so hard, the wife was laughing, while Laura eloquently said “I am not for sale.” Good times. Then we asked for a picture and he grabbed her hair and tried to put it on his own head.  After walking through banana trees, fields of watermelon, maise, avocado, sugar cane, and onions we headed back to our friend Spalding. We all piled into her but this time there was no old women’s cough as she started up. I said "oh shit" Laura said "how much water is left, we have to ration the cookies we bought." We were in the middle of nooooooooo where. So the owner told us to get out and push, and we did. And Spalding started up with no problems.

We headed to a Masai village. Nobody had seen whitey's before. But they did have a massive satellite dish and we walked into one dung hut where there were twenty Masai watching Manchester United play. We wanted a picture but it wasn't okay to ask. We ate rice and beans for lunch. Then pushed the car to a start and drove to a small river to the second area where Mama  could rent land. We had to walk for twenty minutes in the jungle and cross the river by walking (there was croc's in it but they're only at night). At the fields, there were women plowing with babies on their backs and one baby sitting in the shade. He was covered in dirt and flies. So I took a picture and sat down beside him. Then Abiq sat down and talked to him. He only said three things "I want my aunt" "Why are you sitting here, we aren't friends" and "I want some of that food over there, I ate porridge today but now I want something else". It was pretty funny. I thought what a miserable baby, just like the UNICEF commercials, but nope just like any other dirty little boy. Pretty casual. After walking across the river there was a Masai teenage girl with two donkeys gathering water. She had never seen white people or cameras before. She was stunned. Scared shitless, curious, angry, so confused. It was crazy. She didn't like Emmason’s toque so she made him take it off before she would talk. Then we took pictures and showed her and she just couldn't believe it or didn't know or god knows what she thought. It was awesome and the pictures are awesome. She was beautiful when she smiled.

We had some trouble finding the road that didn't exist on our way home. Laura was nervous but in the end we followed some random tracks in the sand and took the bumpy, sketchy Spalding home. We got back home around 630, just before dark. What a day in the life. We were so dirty that Abiq and Emmason were white with dust while Laura and I were black with dirt.

Sunday, we got up early and caught a sketchy, sketchy, sketchy bus.  The bus had “The Hunting Knife” across the front windshield. The driver’s side of the windshield had been cracked so severely that I’m not sure how he was seeing anything through it.  There was a loud high pitched squeal (kind of like a pig dying) when he used the brakes. There were so many people that Laura was squished into the middle section while I was balancing on a pole that surrounded the driver’s area. At one point I took off my Velcro camera case and the sound was very interesting to the driver. So he started staring at me and the Velcro instead of the road until I started frantically motioning for him to keep his eyes on the prize. The final straw was when I noticed motorcyclists and people jumping and veering out of the way to clear the path for ‘The Hunting Knife’ and its path of fury. Too dangerous so we got off at the nearest city and waited for a better one.

That concludes the five part, weekend away, series.

Part 4

On Saturday we walked through the village, this time with only a small posse of  children following.  We met with four out of the ten women that made up an HIV Support Group. Before the Pastor and Emmason, all the women were too ashamed to admit or accept their HIV. But after insisting they create a group there are now ten women that meet regularly and share a chicken project.  The village has a very large percentage of HIV/AIDS afflicted persons. As mentioned by the two young women, there is no water, no education, no health care, no food, and an overwhelming need for change. There is however, a large manufacturing plant that employs men and women to break up rocks, which get shipped somewhere else to make concrete. The wage is despicable and the working conditions terrible.  Because of the dire situation, young girls and women are forced to do whatever it takes for money. This comes in handy for the truckers that often pay the girls and/or women for sex. This is how there is such a large percentage of HIV afflicted people in the village.

Back to the HIV Support Group and our meeting. Three years ago they contacted the government, asking for help with an idea they had for a chicken coup. The government gave 5 Million TSH for chickens and to train the women in how to take care of them. Instead of giving them the money to decide how to spend it,  they gave it to the Regional Office, which spent all the money on buying Roosters (not chickens), building a chicken coup, and the remaining on an expensive training seminar that put the money back into their pockets. The corruption in the government is quite apparent here. The women have given up relying on the government for anything. Today, they have around 100 chickens and about 80 chicks. The chicken coup is not used to it's full potential because the women can't afford to feed and water the chickens.  So they divide them up between the ten women, they take however many chickens they can afford to feed. Bottom line, the chickens are not going to make anyone a business or even enough to buy food for themselves. They can sell one egg for 12 cents CND. Even if they had a flourishing chicken coup the people that live in the village don't have any money to support the business. With the money the make from selling eggs as well as their own entrepreneurial endeavors,  they educate children in the village with HIV, take them to doctor's appointments, buy medicine, and have created a club for any children that want to hang out. Each of the woman has a small side business, such as selling porridge, making meals for anyone, etc.  Where there is a will there is a way. With the little money they pull in they somehow manage to help as many others as they can.  These women are commendable on many different levels. HIV is often associated with shame, embarrassment, anger, and confusion in any country in the world. This village is no different. Most people living with HIV stay home, they don't talk about it, they are ashamed of this added burden in their life. But these four women, have stepped outside the box. They strive to educate children about HIV, they want to help other women that are widowed and living with it. With acceptance and patience anything is possible. The next time I complain about anything I will think of these women and what they are capable of.

One of the women was a sight to behold. Six feet tall, heavily endowed, massive feet and hands, and a natural at business and organization. She had kept accounts of money, dates, letters, and documentation of everything over the last three years.  They even have opened a bank account. After the chicken discussion fizzled out she said "I have a good idea". She knows Masai and can rent one acre of land for 200,000 TSH a year. If they could grow onions on this land they would make 1.5 Million TSH ($959 CND) selling the onions to suppliers. Being the savvy business woman she is, she had already calculated all associated costs of pesticides, mosquito nets for the camp, seeds, boots, tools, etc. All expenses amount to $200 CND. Leaving them approximately $610 CND, enough money to rent the land each year and make a huge difference in their community work.

One thing we appreciated, that was different from other experiences, these women were not asking for help or money. They were empowered women that wanted to do it themselves. More interested in acquiring a loan that they could pay back than simply accepting (or expecting) a signed cheque.

Emmason asked if one day we could visit the Masai and see the land. She was so excited "why not right now, let's go today, we can go today I know somebody with a car". It was only 10:00 AM. And our one task of the day was to meet these women.

The People

5/21/2011 01:02:30


Part 3
Emmason had a meeting with two young women that lived in the village. Not knowing what to expect Laura and I tagged along. One was nineteen and one was eighteen. They both had children. They lived at home with their mothers, no men to speak of. I don't know if they were part of the vast majority living with HIV in the village but both their mothers had HIV. They told us the village has no water. So the nearest source of water is a 45 minute walk across the desert. Since there was no water, they couldn't grow their own food. Since they didn't have food or a job, they couldn't afford education. They both had perfect grades and qualified for secondary school but one had gotten pregnant at 15 and the other didn't have the money. So now they both walk 45 minutes to buy a bag of tomatos for 20,000 TSH they then sell them over the week and make a profit of 5000 TSH to feed their mothers, children, cousins, and whoever else lives with them.

An interesting situation. Unlike the people in Moshi, or at the centre we work at, these people felt hard done by. Their eyes held the wisdom of an old lady but they both laughed and had physical appearance of young women. They knew they had it tough. Emmason asked us for ideas. I had none. Build a well. Change locations. When there is a community impacted negatively by every aspect of the social spectrum there is no answer, and definitely no easy answer. We made plans to meet the next morning at 7:30 with their mothers and two more 'Mama's.

Our Accomodation

5/21/2011 01:01:37


Part 2
We stayed at Emmason's parents place. His father is a pastor and social worker and had a calling to come help this village. Three years ago, his wife and him moved there and since then have started a school, a soccer program, and provide their home as a drop in centre for anyone and everyone. Their home consists of a main building with three bedrooms, a kitchen, and a living room. Attached to that is the bathroom, chicken coop, and a room for a fire. Sounds big, sounds nice perhaps. This house was definitely a happy home. But as far as western standards go, it would be considered an extremely poor person's home.  The chickens were just as welcome inside as they were out. There was no shower, no electricity and they were one of the only people in the village with a well. Their home was constructed from cement/or bricks that resemble concrete. There was always at least one street kid and a woman sitting out front, just waiting for a chat with anyone. We shared our room with a rat the first night. The more the merrier?

The Bus Station

5/18/2011 10:01:50


Part 1: Getting there

On Friday, we took a beat up, broken down greyhound sized bus for two hours. Heading south east of Moshi to the village of Makanya. The buses are definitely scary, but it's the main mode of transport besides getting a lift on the back of a motorcycle, which is even scarier.

Going to the bus station can only be compared to entering what would be considered a heated argument in Canada. As soon as you step into the bus depot vicinity, it's at least five men in your face hassling. "Taxi" "Bus" "Arusha" "taxi" Mzungu" "Mambo" "Poa", etc. etc. This process is not exclusive to foreigners, it's for every single person at the bus station, man, woman, and child. Intensity.

Then, one of the yelling men will run up and all of a sudden you have four tickets to some village in the middle of no where. But you can't just get on any bus, first Emmason had to see the bus, do a quick inspection. He said a couple of years ago, they would take engines from huge semi's and put them in buses so that no matter the weight or amount of humans it could still fly down the highway (I imagined warp speed and stars flying by all blurred into strips of light). After he approved of the bus and we had the tickets, it still was not time to actually board the bus. For some unknown reason, we stood in front of the bus while five men yelled in each others faces flapping tickets and money around.  We just stood there for ten minutes, holding our backpacks extra tight and taking it all in.  I think men speaking Swahili might just sound angry to an English speaking person. Or they like to seem angry but they smile just as quick. Who knows, finally we got on the last four seats at the very back of the bus. We hit warp speed almost immediately after reaching the highway. So fast. The bus itself is just an old hollowed out shell of what was once some sort of Chinese bus. They look like the buses from the 50's in America with the metal rails that you put your stuff up top on. Once they get going they don't stop they just honk and assume that everyone else should get out of their lane. On a two lane highway it's a bit hairy at times. Then they go for the pass onto oncoming traffic. My word. It stopped three times to pick up more people then the standing room permitted. At every stop women with baskets of stuff on their heads come up to the window and demand you buy something. Or men run up making kissing noises trying to sell gum and cigarettes. Madness, I say. Two and a bit hours later and we made it to the village.

Within five minutes, every child in the village (and perhaps surrounding region) had found us and were following us around yelling Mzungu. It was the first time many people in the village had met white people. My family was worried about problems with mob mentality if there was an election while in Africa. The closest I've come to death was being mauled by hundreds of screaming children. Emmason brought a soccer ball which blew the kids minds. I brought the trusty Nikon which was a hit.

How old are you?

5/18/2011 08:58:32

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Last Wednesday evening, Laura and I were sitting at a restaurant enjoying a cold beer after a hard day's labour. We noticed a young teenage boy come sit at the table next to us. He started to pray not out loud but with extreme hand gestures. Emmason asked him in Swahili 'How are you' but he didn't respond. Instead he stood up and moved to a table behind us. My spidey senses were tingling, something is not right here. I held my bag a bit closer and was making a point to be more aware. The boy ordered tea and started to drink it like a cat. Laura and I both agreed something's not right with that one. He finished his tea and moved to a place where he was in eye contact of the two of us. After a couple of minutes, he caught my eye and started motioning with his hand that he was hungry. So I looked at Laura, "oh man that weird kid is now trying to say he's hungry I think, I don't know what he's doing". Then he did the motion to Laura. Finally, Emmason called the boy over to talk. He came over and they spoke in Swahili for about five minutes.

Emmanual is this young mans name. He doesn't know how old he is. He has no family and can't remember a time when he did. He doesn't like to hang out with the other street children so he does his own thing, and eats food when and where he can find it. Emmason asked what he was doing praying without any food or drink. He said "I just pray that one day I will have a family, I am not religious, I just hope that I can have something".

Laura and I shared a piece of humble pie, instead of the french fries and chicken we usually order. The western world part of us was so easy and quick to pass judgment.

Emmanuel sat with us for the rest of the evening. We ordered him food and Emmason (who knows 80% of the street children in Moshi) talked about his situation and life.
His father left when he was very young. When his mother remarried she chased him away because the new husband didn't want a child not his own. Since then he has been on the streets. At first, he spoke very slowly and awkwardly. He kept holding his ears and was not comfortable in the situation. But, after an hour Emmason got him laughing and he relaxed a little bit. With my limited Swahili I leaned in and whispered "I have an extremely large nose". I think he liked it, I got my first laugh out of him. He spent the rest of the night trying to steal glimpses of my big, red, Mzungu nose.

We noticed a drawing on his pants. Because it was dark we had to wait for the opportune time to see what it was. Sure enough he had drawn a small house surrounded by a fence with a flower bed in front.

He ate so slowly and drank his Coca Cola even slower. He fell asleep when he was finished.  When it was time to go, we put some warm chicken in a plastic bag under his sweater and made a time to meet the following evening.

I spent all day wondering how will he know what time it is to meet us. But Emmanuel was there with two minutes to spare. He was so happy, talkative, and much more comfortable around Emmason and the two Mzungu's.  He was very happy and excited. Skipping, laughing easy, talking fast, normal behavior for someone around his unknown age. We shared a meal and made arrangements to meet again to discuss his situation.

This past weekend we met with Emmasons father, who is doing social work in a small village. He explained to us there are street children and there are children of the street. The difference being, street children have a home and family but their family has nothing to provide for them so they go on the streets to survive. Children of the street are the ones whose parents have maybe died of AIDS or they've been abandoned by their parents like Emmanuel, and they have nothing.

Can you imagine not knowing your age? I would guess Emmanuel is around 12. The social damage from never having one person to look up to, to learn behaviors from, to talk to, to share material things as well as emotional ones. It's a devastating concept.

Education is always important and crucial to the success of any society. But first and foremost, a child needs food, water, and at least one person to love.

We are fast becoming masters in the art of deep breathing and tear management.

On day 4, we were going to catch our free ride into town before the Dala Dala (crazy bus) but the driver offered us a ride to Njiapanda. Which was excellent news!As we were driving down the highway we realized he's driving like a maniac, which is a pretty strong word considering everyone drives like a maniac here (especially compared to Canada). We white knuckled it as we flew over the random speed bumps on the road. Then we approached a police check point, which are pretty common on this road. So we pulled over and the two men dressed in army gear with guns approached. Laura and I give the "oh shit we have no ID on us" look. They demanded to see a fire extinguisher. Really? A fire extinguisher. What about the running engines at the gas station!? So we searched the safari van for a fire extinguisher (thank god there was one) and then he asked us to pull a little bit further over. And a new corrupt officer came up, our driver slides him 10000 TSH and we continued on.
Finally, we got to the centre and our one goal for the day was to get firewood so they could have a good supply for cooking. We ended up having to wait an hour for MaMa (how every woman over the age of 40 is named here). Mama arrives and says we can take the old Toyota Corolla ( with Glory to God on the windshield) to the village centre. Once at the village we had to rent a truck and then follow the truck into the jungle to buy the firewood. So I jumped in the front and Laura got in the driver side and we managed to maneuver the beater (which is standard) out of it's crazy parking spot. As we waved to say good-bye to the children and workers, three Mama's hopped into the back plus two men and a 12 year old boy jumped in the front with me. Low Ride Er. On an unpaved logging road type journey. Kind of awesome. After a short ride we get to the place to rent the truck. Which was 25,000 TSH for the journey. 1 Mama left somewhere and the two guys and other Mama went in the truck. Back to the four of us, the 12 year old Evany and me in the front seat, and a mama in the back in the Glory to God mobile. We drove for 40 minutes through a thick jungle (where the Chagga tribe farms, the richest in Tanzania). A very enjoyable drive until we hit the extreme off roading. Laura had to do so much maneouvring and hitting jumps, up hill, down hill, pot holes, tree stumps, just brutal. But managed to drive the whole way with no flats or scrapes on the bottom of the car. Mama was in the back loving it, "oh Laura your such a excellent driver " "I love your driving professional". After forty minutes, the truck stopped on a hill so Laura went to park behind it, some how pegged a giant boulder on the bottom of the car and we both went flying forward. Lucky for Evany, I had soccer mom hands and held him back while my head bashed into the windshield. It left a massive crack in the windshield, that might have been there before and I just spread it or might have been new. No blood though, just a headache and maybe some Glory to God? Laura's head hit the steering wheel. Meanwhile Laura's saying "SHIT, SHIT, JESUS CHRIST ARE YOU OKAY I MEAN SHOOT, SHI!" Well Mama's in the back "Oh Laura such a good driver, Thank you Thank you". Really. We were laughing so hard, it was crazy. So we walked into the jungle for fifteen minutes and helped these tall African men lug trees into the truck. I don't know why, but in my western mind, I assumed firewood meant perfectly squared pieces of lumber ready for the perfect woodburning stove surrounded by the white picket fence. Nope, huge trees. There was a machete to cut the trees in half if need be. But the jungle was so beautiful. We picked chili peppers, habanero peppers, avacado, a one foot long papaya, mangos, cardamom seeds, bananas, sooooooo many fruits and vegetables.  It was really neat.
After our four hour adventure we made it back to the Street Centre for lunch which consisted of ugali (maise flour and water mixed into a paste), a tomato based stew, and boiled leaves. After playing with the kids, riding in the corolla, cruising the jungle, minimal hand washing, and we are invited to eat a traditional Tanzania meal, no utensils. They also didn't know the word for sardine and told us they were tadpoles. So we insisted no tadpoles for us no thank you, but with impeccable hospitality they gave us each a big scoop of......sardines. Thank god no tadpoles this time round.
We then took a Dala Dala home at around 330. This dala dala had a nice number of people (10-ish) and two babies. And the babies had probably never seen whities before because they couldn't take their beautiful eyes off of us, so the mom's didn't hesitate to hand them off to us. There we are, two whities, holding to black babies in some ridiculous rusty bus and an old man leans in and says "Do you want to buy African baby" we laughed so hard. "No African baby sir, we like to have our own babies". Only in Africa. When would a mother in North America ever hand off her baby on a bus to a stranger because the baby was curious? We both appreciate this side of Tanzanian culture, so friendly, kind, welcoming, and open.
We had three beers that day. And they were delightful. We also ate delicious street food for dinner. Tandoori chicken and zanzibar pizza which is like a giant pizza pop stuffed with spinach, egg whites, ground beef, and masala.

Manual Labour

5/4/2011 12:58:05


Well, after our pleasant Easter weekend, it was time to get down to business. Not the kind of business you may come across at your 9-5. Rather, ploughing a corn field. This isn't a technical job or mentally stimulating but that might contribute to why it was so difficult. Our responsibilities were to weed around the maize plants. Easy enough. BUT there was some mystery weed that looks like every other weed, that they actually boil and eat. Everybody else had no problem differentiating this mystery plant from the other weeds, except for us two whiteys. Every minute you could hear one of us, is this okay? Plough right? Bad one right? They must have thought we had never been in a garden before. This was day 1. We understood our task, and knew that there was a lot more ahead of us.  On day 2, we came prepared by purchasing four hoes, to assist in our hard labour. We also had the help of two young men, which was a HUGE contribution to our speed and ability.

Every person that walks by gets a real kick out of the two mzungu's (white person) doing hard labour. One of the most common words here is pole (pronounced polay), which means "I'm sorry". It's polite to say 'pole' when someone is doing anything that might look difficult (difficult refers to walking, working, balancing a heavy object on your head, sweating in the sun, etc). We collected a lot of poles during our ploughing days.
After three days we had finished the maize field and it was time to focus on the vegetable garden.  Day 4 brought a new and exciting adventure for us!

First and foremost we would like to apologize for the delay in posting. As anybody that has spent time in Tanzania knows, the internet is a luxury that cannot be relied upon.

Easter at Njiapanda
Easter is one of the biggest holidays in Tanzania with the large Christian population here. On Easter Monday we were invited to visit the Pastor and his family at the Njiapanda Centre. Laura was delighted to eat Pilau, the traditional Easter food here. We left our hostel at 9:00 am and met up with a friend that was able to drive us and two other volunteers to the Easter lunch. En route, we were informed that we had to make a quick stop at a different children's centre. Excitedly, we jumped out of the van and were greeted by smiling children! Little did we know, our friend had been asked to lead the honorary goat slaughter.

1. Goat: "act casual, do not make eye contact" 2. Busted. 3. Still bleeding out after 20 minutes. 4. They mix the blood with salt and drink it.
After the goat incident we were looking forward to playing with the children and meeting with the pastor and his wife.  Lucky for us, we were immediately served hot goat soup, goat liver, all while the pastor's goats watched us with a knowing glare.