In honor of our annual Cuso fund raising we are dedicating this Blog to a few of our many clients, and the reason why we’re here.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” – Nelson Mandela.
Positive sustainable change in Tanzania can only come from educating the youth to become critical thinkers and acquire the knowledge necessary to make informed decisions. As economic development advisors, Sharleen’s and my contribution to this future is to help parents earn sufficient incomes to send their children to school.
By the kindness of past volunteers and the donations they received, Sharleen and I are able to provide assistance to make this project successful.
Cuso International is unique in that 100% of every dollar raised by volunteers goes toward sending new volunteers into the field.
Your kind donation is sincerely appreciated by Sharleen, me, those who will volunteer after us and the developing countries they will serve.
If you wish to donate please click here
Sharleen & Gerry
Looking 2,000 feet down onto the Ngorongoro crater floor from the rim above
In Kiswahili the word safari means journey, and in Africa a journey into the wild can often be as spiritual as it is physical.
We had a meeting in Moshi, a small city that is the jump off point for Kilimanjaro and the Northern safari circuit, so we decide to extend our stay for a few extra days and see Ngorongoro, Tangerine and Serengeti National Parks.
Ngorongoro was once higher than Kilimanjaro, but through a fault line it collapsed into the world’s largest intact caldera. It is 19 km wide, has walls that rise to over 1,800 feet and is a World Heritage Site. With permanent natural springs it’s also home to thousands of animals year round, and hundreds of thousands during the great migration from Kenya to Serengeti.
Going on safari can help you restore your belief in a higher power. In Ngorongoro our guide stopped the vehicle and told us to ‘quietly observe’ the environment. In less than 5 minutes we counted over 40 species of animal and bird in an area no larger than a baseball diamond. That evening when we discussed the experience at dinner, we all confessed as Christians to having images of the Garden of Eden or Noah’s Ark come to mind.
Serengeti hosts the largest terrestrial mammal migration, which secures it as one of the ten natural travel wonders of the world. When camping we had elephants on one side of us, wild boar on the other and in the too near distance, Lions roaring loudly. All very exciting, but frightening when you have to get out of your tent in the middle of the night! At another campsite we had the delight of walking through a herd of disinterested Zebra to go to the dining area. We were particularly lucky on our safari as we were able to see the beginning of the migration, and would love to go back at its peak to see over a million and a half animals herding together in the ongoing fight to survive.
Another significant experience was seeing first-hand the devastating affect man has on the natural environment! When traveling the vast plains between Ngorongoro and Serengeti the Masai people are allowed to pasture their cattle. Although their villages are few and far between, there were no wild animals to be seen; yet, in the protected lands of Ngorongoro and Serengeti there is an unimaginable abundance wandering freely!
The presence of only the Masai has been sufficient to turn this beautiful and vast plain into a lifeless desert, so when I read that Canadian politicians believe increasing our population to 100 million will be good for the country, I can only shake my head sadly in disbelief!
Last week while we were meeting with Pemba furniture 11 prisoners walked into the construction yard wearing orange jumpsuits and carrying empty 5 gallon florescent yellow water jugs. Behind them was a meticulously dressed Correctional Services guard with a rifle slung over his shoulder.
As we sat under the tin roof of the cutting floor the obligatory greetings were conveyed with everyone smiling and waving: Hodi Hodi – Karibuni, Habari asubuhi – Nzuri asante sana, Hujumbo – Sijumbo Poa, Salama – Salama. The prisoners then put their Jerry cans on the ground under a shade tree and sat upon them.
While we discussed branding strategy with Pemba the prisoners chatted, joked and smoked cigarettes under the watchful eye of their guard. Then as casually as they arrived, smiling and waving they departed.
Matthew and Sally were walking along the coast just minutes from one of our favorite beach bars when they noticed that Benji, their well pampered and slightly overfed (Matthew argues he just comes from a stocky lineage) Jack Russel was very curious about something in the grass, so they went over to check out what had caught his attention. In its defensive S and carefully observing Benji was a puff adder, the snake most responsible for fatalities in Africa!
Matthew has lived in Africa his entire life and has learned to remain calm in situations that would cause the rest of us heart failure. On one occasion as he was relieving himself barefoot in the bush and felt something slide into his pant leg. Looking down he saw the tail of a snake disappear and a witness swears Matthew dropped his pants and stepped out of them as calmly as if he was about to take a shower.
In the same casual manner Matthew called over to Benji, “come boy let’s go, and carried on with their walk.”
We went to Paul’s house for a Birthday party and as we came around the corner we found Paul frozen in place and staring at the top of his glass door. We asked him what was wrong and without taking his eye from the door brought our attention to a crack about an inch and a half between the top of the door and the door jam, and to the shed snake skin about 4 feet long hanging on the inside. Then in a very quiet voice Paul said to us, “that wasn’t there this morning!” The expat community in Lindi is very small so we just waited for Matthew to arrive and tell us what to do.
When Matthew arrived with Andrew, another gentleman who has spent many years living in Africa, Paul explained how he didn’t want people to go into the house if the snake was dangerous. Matthew and Andrew agreed and decided to analyze the shed skin. They stretched it out, identified a few key features, hummed and hawed, argued a little and then gave their verdict.
Yes, the snake was poisonous, but not seriously so, and this particular snake’s fangs were further back in the mouth and angled so that for it to inject a good dose of venom it would have to strike hard, and only at small objects. Matthew then announced in his calm and reassuring South Africa accent, “nothing to worry about then, let’s get this party started.”
Halima who was born in Tanzania told us that when her children were young she would send them out to collect Elephant dung which she used in making traditional cosmetics and medicines. Her son told us that on one occasion when the family was on Safari he was sent to collect dung while dad watched for Lions. When Sharleen and I were in Serengeti with Elephants walking through our campground we began wondering, could we get Elephant dung through airport security for Halima!
Wanting a change from the local cusine we made a big pot of chili with fresh chapati. It was wonderful to savour the luscious, almost forgotten flavours of home, but a quarter of the way into the bowl Sharleen bit into something hard, then me, then Sharleen again.
What the heck?
We stopped eating and carefully looked through the chili in our bowls and found stones… lots of stones! We thought how lucky we were not to have broken a tooth, especially here in Lindi where there is no real dentist. It was with tears in our eyes that we came to the conclusion that the only thing to do was to throw out the whole pot.
The next day I was telling Mageni, our local program administrator about the stones we found in our beans and without missing a beat she asked incredulously, “didn’t you remove them?”
Mageni explained that local merchants either don’t clean the beans they sell and/or they add stones to increase the weight. She said, “everyone knows you have to remove the stones first.”
Somehow we missed that lecture!
Being curious I went to the market the next day and bought another pound of beans just to sort through them and see what extras I would find…
We walk the 20 minutes to the local market daily, not because we have to, but because it’s an experience that challenges and rewards us in so many ways. Describing our thoughts and feelings cannot possibly do the walk justice, so we will show it to you in pictures and let you experience the journey for yourselves.
Here is where we leave the beach to go into the city. These are the homes of local fishermen and their families.
We have been busy and are feeling every year of our age. Last week we were in meetings with the Regional government and this week we traveled to four different cities looking at different businesses and speaking to District representatives.
Traveling the roads in Tanzania is unlike anything we have experienced before. We cover hundreds of kilometers over not much more than cow paths. I was saying to Sharleen many of the roads here would be considered advanced mountain bike trails in Canada. Our bodies took a severe beating and ached continuously. What takes your breath away however is seeing pure untouched nature in every direction. As we drove along the roads exotic birds burst out of the trees by the hundreds and we’ve seen baboons crossing the roads like casual tourists. It’s really hard to describe.
At one point we had to stop for a bio-break, but our Project Manager Washington Kubini said no, not here, absolutely not here! He said this area of the forest we were passing through was known to be home to pythons, and to make it sound really dangerous he emphasized that they were big enough to swallow a person whole. But that threat was not half as scary as an odd but true story Gerry saw a few days later in the news about a man in Thailand. While sitting on a toilet a python came up through the sewer, into the toilet and grabbed onto his manly appendage. Apparently after a motivated tug-of-war the man is still in ownership of his appendage and the python has been taken away by the Thai authorities. Hopefully this isn’t too much information, but it does make you think twice about taking a bio-break anywhere near where pythons are known to inhabit.
As a side note Washington told us that he had been teased throughout his childhood for having a white persons name. He was quite surprised when we told him that in North America the name Washington would seldom be associated with being white!
You Can’t Make This Stuff up
One of our jobs in Tanzania is to help small and medium sized enterprises grow their business and create jobs.
Last week we were to meet with a Poultry farmer that sells 2,000 chickens a month. By African standards he is a successful chicken farmer and we were looking forward to meeting him. We drove down a cow path in the middle of nowhere, passed by a mud hut with the family sitting in the dirt under the shade of a tree and came to a soccer field… no idea! We then walked along a jungle trail to the chicken farm, where upon our arrival we found nothing, it had been deserted! After a few phone calls are made the farm manager cycles in on a rusted 20 year old foldable bike in his flip flops, and we asked him what happened.
Supposedly the story went something like this. The owner found religion and became a Christian fanatic and told the farm hands who were Muslim that they were too dirty to handle his chickens…like the chickens cared, so he fired them all including his farm manager. The owner then hired his family to work the farm, but there was one small problem, the family knew nothing about raising chickens! The layers stopped laying, the wife sold off the broilers, pocketed the money and ran off with a farm hand and the farmer concentrated on trying to convert Muslims. Finally the owner realized his mistake and hired back the farm manager, but alas, it was too little too late. The paradox of the story is that the last 200 chickens were purchased by the local hotel for a Last Supper. As a result the farm is being closed down and all of this happened over a 9 month period.
Gerry told Washington that you can learn as much from a business failure as a business success, so he asked Gerry what the lesson was, to which Gerry replied, don`t become a Christian! Washington is still trying to figure out if Gerry was serious or not.
When we first came to Lindi we were in deep culture shock and depressed. It’s certainly not for everyone. At first I said to myself if I can last a year here it will be a miracle, but after the initial culture shock it’s really starting to grow on us. The area is 3rd world; dirt roads, small stall markets, lots of flies and garbage, very undeveloped, but with a gorgeous coastline.
We live in a cute little house on a hill and we can glimpse the ocean from our front porch. We had to spend 20 hours cleaning it and three of the four sinks didn’t work. Life is very different in Lindi, but that’s part of why we are here and we often have to remind ourselves of that.
We can walk down to the beach in about 5 minutes and will often have a beer at a beach bar called Blue Mondays. It is a very scenic spot to watch the sun set and the stars come out. Everything is still in a natural state. There is currently no tourism, but that will likely change. The city is safe and we can walk anywhere, people stare but you get accustomed to it. For the first two weeks we were a novelty, but now we’re accepted as just the Mzungu couple.
A number of us walked into town along the beach one night. It was a full moon and a higher than normal tide so we had to cross two small streams along the way. To get across Sharleen had to hike up her skirt under which she wore her bathing suit bottoms. The young boys will be talking about the crazy Mzungu in her underwear for weeks.
All the expats meet every Friday night at a beach bar called Santorini’s, and one gal leads a yoga class once a week in a great spot overlooking the bay. Next week is the Lindi 5km run for which we are volunteering non-running assistance, and there are always volunteers from various organizations coming and going. There is a real sense of community. Last Sunday and Monday we were invited to peoples homes for dinner and this Sunday all of us are meeting at the one Italian restaurant in town. We have been warned to order nothing but the pizza, and even that may take 90 minutes.
We are still trying to figure out where to find the things we need as every shop offers only a few items and there are few shops. The newest and largest grocery store in town offers less than the average 7-Eleven. The house had very little in it so it has been a challenge to find what we need. So far we haven`t eaten at home because we can`t find a pot to buy. On the other hand you can have b-b-q chicken, seasoned rice, a vegetable dish called mbogamboga and a beer for 5,000 shilling or $3.00, so do we really want to cook at home!
We asked Steve, a volunteer who has been in Lindi for a number of years how long it took him to acclimatize to the culture. He said he wasn’t sure, but one day as he was returning home from work he saw a man on the side of the road kicking his goat in the head. As he continued home he suddenly realized that he had not even stopped to ask himself, ‘why is that man kicking his goat in the head’, and it was then that he realized he had accepted Lindi as his new home.
Dar es Salaam is only a 2 hour fast ferry from Zanzibar, so we decided to visit exotic Stone Town, the historic spice and slave trading centre. Zanzibar is an interesting Island and we’re happy we went; however, we again saw remarkable disparity between the rich and poor.
It’s interesting there isn’t more tension. We toured the historic slave and spice markets and then the Sultans Palace. The guide told us one Sultan had 99 concubines. No wonder the shortest war in history (45 minutes) was fought between the British and Zanzibar; the Sultan had no energy, time nor motivation to be away from the Palace for any length of time! We also went to Prisoner Island (guess how it got its name) and saw a tortoise sanctuary in which one old fellow recently celebrated his 189th birthday.
Sharleen and I have been learning Swahili and although it is said to be an easy language to learn, the retired brain is just not accustomed to having to work that hard. We now understand why doctors say learning a new language is a great exercise for the mind and an excellent way to fight dementia!
As an aside did you know that the Tanzanian day starts at 6:00 in the morning and not at midnight? As a result, when a Tanzanian tells you the time in Swahili, the time they say is 6 hours behind! For example, if it is 11:00 in the morning a Tanzanian will tell you that it is 5:00. They read the time as 11:00, but they say it as 5:00. It was a little confusing at first, but we’re already adapting.