March 25, 2010

Globalization in the Rock City.

The legacy of socialism within Tanzania has left a very under-developed private sector. Agriculture employs more than 80% of Tanzania's workforce, while industry and services account for under 20% of Tanzania's workforce. Agricultural production in Tanzania includes an illustrative line-up of the following: coffee, sisal, tea, cotton, pyrethrum (insecticide made from chrysanthemums), cashew nuts, tobacco, cloves, corn, wheat, cassava (tapioca), bananas, fruits, vegetables; cattle, sheep, and goats. Tanzania's industries are largely centered around agricultural production and mining for gold, diamonds and iron. Tanzania produces very, very few consumer goods, virtually everything is imported, from a handful of primary trade partners, including China, India, South Africa, Kenya, and the UAE. While it is interesting to read labels on the imported food products we consume, this is a frustrating reality as it serves to increase prices in due proportion.

The one thing Tanzania does produce is bottled soda. Mwanza is home to BOTH Coke and Pepsi production plants. During my recent trip to Mwanza, I passed these two production plants that face each other like two sumo wrestlers sizing up the competition. Allegiences within the community are boldly demonstrated in the form of home and business facade "improvements."


Thank you, please come again.

Andrei used to find it quite amusing to thank his employees for coming into work everyday. At day's end, he would send off his employees with an ironic "Thank you for coming to work today, please come again," similar to how 7-11 attempts to entice their customers into repeat visits (or maybe 7-11 achieves this with their delicious tacquitos, er, lest I digress...). In response, Andrei often received befuddled expressions and blank stares.

Here in Tanzania, getting into work safely each day sometimes feels like a herculean feat. Traffic is intense. Three lanes of traffic crowd into a space designed for one. Cars play chicken with each other angling to jump ahead of throngs of standstill traffic by driving against cars coming from the opposite direction. The clamor of taxi horns and dala-dala touts shouting to solicit passengers ignites the senses quicker than any local brand of instant coffee. Most days I arrive to work dripping in sweat from my bike ride to the office, with feet caked in mud from the previous nights' rains which require me to push my bike through pools of stagnant water in the sewer-less streets, jarred by an all too close encounter with a car. I often wish somebody would thank me for bothering to come into work each day and beckon me to please return again.

Instead, a few weeks ago I was told directly by someone in my office that I do not offer any valuable professional services as a mere "intern", however my tenacity is "endearing". This comment felt like a punch in the stomach for two main reasons, among others. Firstly, I know my current scope of work and portfolio of responsibilities would fetch a handsome salary under any other circumstances (ie: not being allowed to accept renumeration for my work here in Tanzania on account of the Fellowship I was awarded to support my time here). Secondly, I inherited a project from another visiting fellow that was distinguished from me by this person as offering "real" professional services. Upon a stroke of her goodwill, this individual decided to privately fund raise among her friends and colleagues from back home in the US the monies necessary to facilitate the purchase of an emergency motorized tricycle vehicle in a rural village in Tanzania to allow women to arrive in a timely manner to health facilities to give birth under the care of a skilled health professional. She did this outside any structured programming within our organization. Despite her good intentions, she did not consider the logistics of how this vehicle would be introduced into the community (including identifying and training drivers of the vehicle), and failed to develop a strategy to ensure the vehicle would be financially sustainable over time (including payments for fuel and maintenance servicing). Soon after I began work here, I inherited these tasks. I was asked to undertake research and develop a strategy to ensure a smooth transition of this vehicle to local community ownership and management. All the while, I feared my role was too little, too late. Until today.

Upon arrival to the office compound this morning, Mr. Ndaki, a man whom I greatly admire and respect, came rushing up to me to impart great news. Before he even greeted me (you know its big news in Africa when the niceties of the greeting ritual fall by the wayside), he shared a very welcome status update on the management of the emergency tricycle within this community. Following our  community facilitation exercises in February, the transportation committee we helped establish has since generated 800,000 Tsh (approximately $600USD - a huge sum in a village with pervasive poverty) in community contributions towards an emergency fund for the vehicle to support maintenance and servicing needs as they arise and they have agreed to establish financial management systems to ensure the long term financial sustainability of this vehicle including the collection of funds on an annualized basis from each community household, and perhaps, most importantly, the vehicle has already been instrumental in helping to save several mothers lives by facilitating timely arrival to a health facility at the time of delivery.

In this way, I have received the greatest, "Thank you, please come again," I could expect and all the convincing I need to continue to make the effort to come to the office each day. All is well that ends well I suppose.


In case anyone is interested here is a link to a video I placed on youtube of the excited reception of this vehicle into the community.

March 24, 2010

Queen Bee.

I have developed a recent crush on a song called Queen Bee by Taj Mahal. I became acquainted with this song through an album called Mali to Memphis which explores the connection between Malian artists and American bluesmen (and women). I hope you enjoy the song as much as I do.

Mali to Memphis:

March 22, 2010

Maasai footwear fashion.

The Maasai are arguably the most well known among Africa's indigenous peoples. This is true for many reasons, perhaps chief among them is their steadfast resistance to abandon traditional customs and distinctive ways of dress amid varied pressures of globalization.

The Maasai are striking in appearance and adorn themselves in ornate costuming. Deep red and brilliant purple checkered sarongs, or shukas, drape from each shoulder to cover their long and lean bodies. Intricately beaded jewelry hanging from overstretched ear lobes and belts containing weaponry indicate rank and position in society.

Traditionally, the Maasai have populated the border between Tanzania and Kenya, making a living as herders and semi-nomadic pastoralists. Today, many Maasai have flooded into urban centers around Tanzania and Kenya where they have encountered seeming success in capitalizing upon their traditional lifestyle to carve out a niche for themselves in our modern, global economy.

One curious example of this includes traditional Maasai sandals made out of off-road tires that can be found for sale in some of Tanzania's most tourist laden areas.

Incidentally, there were rumors online (I was unable to confirm this from a credible source) that several Maasai "worriers" ran the London marathon in 2008 in their traditional tire sandals. Seriously, imagine that.

In case anyone is more curious to see images of Maasai dress and customs, here is a youtube video:

Museum Worthy Fashion.

March 19, 2010

The Rock City.

Mwanza is Tanzania's second largest city. Mwanza sits at the base of Lake Victoria, and is Tanzania's most important port on the lake. Lake Victoria is the world’s second largest body of fresh water, and is the source of the Nile River.

Mwanza is called the rock city, as the city is literally dripping in rocks -- very, very big rocks.

March 8, 2010

Blood and Gore.

While Dar es Salaam has Indian Crows, Mwanza, Tanzania's second largest city, has Marabou Storks. However, these are not the fairytale-like storks believed to gracefully deliver babies in a swaddling blanket, rather these storks are downright ugly, even offensive in appearance. Their presence in Mwanza is commanding. They are large, both in size and number, especially around the city's trash dumps. Marabou Storks will eat just about any kind of animal, dead or alive. In fact, their appearance has evolved to adapt to this fact, as their naked heads and necks allow feeding on large animal carcasses without getting their head feathers soiled with blood and gore. Although, despite their offensive appearance, the benefits of their presence are worthy of appreciation, they are notably efficient in reducing disease by cleaning up carcasses and other rubbish.

In doing some follow-up research on these strikingly looking birds, I came across this quote, which elicited laughter on my part:

"To the casual observer the massive Marabou Stork with its balding, scabby head and pendulous pink air sac may appear to be one of the ugliest creatures in the world. If this same observer were to notice the Marabou's fondness for carrion and its habit of squirting excrement onto its own legs he or she would probably consider the original opinion to be justified. It takes a real bird lover to see past all of this stork's bizarre adornments to recognize the scruffy charm underneath." (Smithsonian National Zoo)

And so it seems, my propensity to label these birds as truly grotesque creatures puts me in the category of not being a real bird lover at heart. Strange defeat.



March 5, 2010

Ex-pat grumblings and rumblings.

There is a plague in Dar es Salaam. A plague of crows. These loud, large black birds are Indian Crows. Their entry into Tanzania was originally anticipated to be more of a blessing than a curse. Over a century ago, the Indian Crow was imported to Zanzibar by Sir Gerald Portal to help the island's sanitary conditions through their penchant for consuming waste. Since that time, the crow population has grown in both their population size and reach. Today, in Dar es Salaam on mainland Tanzania, the crow population is estimated to be 1 million.

Dislike for these birds, also commonly referred to as "flying rats", is palatable. For instance, former U.S. ambassador Robert V. Royall made quite a name for himself here within the Dar es Salaam community when he called in members of his Marine detachment to his compound to fire at these birds with 12-gauge shotguns. This pasttime for the former ambassador resulted in the killing of about 1,000 crows, which hardly made a dent in their overall numbers, but I suppose proved quite a diversion for him on a personal level. To be sure, dislike for these birds extends well beyond trivial concerns about commonplace nuisances to ecological concerns related to how these crows have wiped out other bird populations within Dar es Salaam, and public health concerns that they are can potentially pass avian influenza because they are known to attack and eat young chickens.



March 1, 2010

Man on a Porch.

Door Stop in the Coffee House.


Boy on the Beach.


U.S. foreign assistance, the long and short of it.

Andrei and I both recently experienced several frustrated days, a spell where nothing seemed to be going right. Work colleagues are unresponsive to our calls and emails, impeding our progress. We bought a kilo of frozen prawns that were spoiled, the stench lingered in our kitchen for days. ATMs are out of cash or power, and so are we to do anything about it. A friend's $400 blackberry was stolen from an open window of our vehicle in moving traffic, shaking our complacency with security concerns in our immediate surroundings. Amidst all of these frustrations, it is easy to loose sight of our motivations for being here and the importance of foreign assistance work in Africa. However, a positive reminder of my commitment to this line of work appeared in my inbox this morning.

During the recent Congressional recess, two U.S. Senators conducted a tour of U.S. foreign assistance efforts in East Africa. They not only visited a CARE office, but toured some project sites where I have been directly involved in managing emergency transport and communications systems for improved health outcomes. Below, I include an excerpt from Senator Dick Durbin's (D, IL) remarks to President Obama reflecting on this tour.


Last week I joined my colleague Senator SHERROD BROWN of Ohio on a trip to East Africa. It was an important trip that took us to Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, and Sudan. We went in to observe American development assistance, to look at programs that help the victims of HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, child and maternal mortality, victims of sexual violence, clean water, sanitation issues, democracy, governments, refugees.

We spent a lot of time meeting with people, meeting with government officials, meeting with individuals who are part of the current political environment of Africa, but also many of their lives are touched by programs in which the United States is involved.

I could not help but notice as I traveled the extraordinarily dedicated Americans who are in our Foreign Service. Many of them are posted in places around the world that are not glamorous by any means. Their jobs are hard and sometimes dangerous, and they go to work every day without complaint. We need to tip our hats to them as Americans. Let me add in there Peace Corps volunteers, many who work for the nongovernment organizations, the NGOs. Many Americans serve our best interests around the world every day without fanfare or praise.

We went to Tanzania. In Mwanza in Tanzania, we encountered a group of young Baylor University doctors who are doing part of their residency at a regional hospital, one that serves a population of several million people. Can you imagine one hospital serving that many people? That is what the people are up against in Africa.

We met a representative from Abbot Labs from my home State of Illinois who was there helping to build a modern laboratory and train local staff for the hospital.

In a small rural village several hours down a dusty, bumpy road from the nearest city, we witnessed a program by the nongovernmental organization CARE that helped build a rudimentary but critically important health clinic. It is hard to describe this to an American, what an African would call a health clinic. It is, in fact, a building without windows but with openings for air to flow through. It is a building that is so basic it does not have running water or electricity. But it is, in fact, a building where 168 babies were born last year. When you see this and meet the people who are delivering the babies, you realize that in many parts of Africa health care is very basic. The man who runs this clinic has about a year or two of education beyond high school. The woman who serves him is one who is gifted with not only personal skills but a lot of human experience in delivering babies. 

What happens if there is a complication in the middle of this village in the middle of nowhere with no means of communication? Well, they try to get the message to the man who runs the ambulance. The ambulance in Mwanza is a tricycle, a tricycle with a flat bed on the back. They take a woman who is needing a Caesarean section, for example, put her on the back of this tricycle and take her off for a 4-hour trip to the closest hospital. That is maternal and childcare in Africa, in Tanzania. We are trying to help through the organization CARE that I mentioned earlier. 

With their help, they have not only brought them the money necessary for their ambulance, this tricycle, they have helped the local residents develop a savings and loan where their modest earnings they make by selling agricultural produce are banked away for a better day. They are allowed to borrow small units of money for buying sewing machines, which can dramatically change a life in these poor villages, or livestock or to help to pay for their kids to go to school.

There are frequent debates about the value of U.S. foreign assistance. When Americans are asked, how much do we spend in foreign aid, the most common response is, about 25 percent of the Federal budget. The fact is, it is just over 1 percent in foreign aid around the world. We spend far less as a percentage of our gross domestic product than many nations. But the work we do is so absolutely essential for maintaining life, fighting disease, for making certain that young people have a fighting chance.

President Obama recognizes that. I hope we can have bipartisan support to continue our
help with foreign aid, even in this difficult time.  


Senator Durbin's comments provided a powerful reminder of the day-to-day realities of the beneficiaries of U.S. foreign assistance and humanitarian aid. On a personal level, his comments were not only a high level recognition of the importance of the work I am involved in during my time as a visiting fellow with CARE in Tanzania, but also a swift reminder to not let short-term frustrations obscure the importance of longer term development objectives and goals.

If anyone happens to be interested, I placed a video on youtube that provides an example of one of the community tricycles for emergency health transport referenced in Senator Durbin's comments above:

Boy with a Monkey.