Only 1 month left?!?

I cannot believe that there is only one month left of my internship. It is funny that 2 months ago, I felt so homesick and I was counting down the days when I would return to Canada. Now, I am dreading the day I leave. My internship has had its ups and downs. But I guess it’s only by experiencing the downs that I can appreciate the ups. And we have definitely had many ups. I’ll just list a few:

  1. Visiting the Serengeti and the Ngorogoro Crater
  2. Meeting the Yogurt Mamas and hearing their stories of perseverance and entrepreneurship
  3. The gorgeous sunsets
  4. Discovering hidden places to eat good food 😊

This morning, Megha and I visited FKT to check in on our project. While we were there, Bernard Makachia (Liana and Zola’s supervisor and the director of FKT) asked us how we would like to make our project long term. Megha and I looked at each other and we genuinely did not even think about we can extend our project. Bernard suggested that we think about how we can follow up with FKT and whether or not we could find funding for a larger scale project to make probiotics more widespread in Tanzania! After leaving the meeting, I started to see how my 3 month internship did not just end after I got back to Canada but the projects that I had started and the connections that I had made could allow me to continue the work that I had set out to do. In May, I was sure that I would not have another opportunity to come back to Tanzania but now as I near the end of my time here, who knows?

A (not so) typical day

A WHE internship is not your typical 9 to 5 internship. When I first started my internship, I was taken aback by how much freedom I had. It is a blessing and sometimes a curse. Freedom means that I can make my own schedule, but it also means that I need to be more responsible for my time. I don’t need to go to Mikono Yetu every day but I do need to keep myself accountable for the progress of my project. Also, what I really enjoy about this internship is that I can extend my project or start new projects, based off of the problems that I may encounter or the organizations that I meet. For instance, Anisah and Diane are interviewing all the yogurt kitchens in Mwanza. I thought it might be cool to visualize the data they collect (e.g. amount of yogurt sold, price of milk etc.), so I have been dabbling in GIS!

A lot of people have been asking for me to post about my daily schedule but honestly, every day so different and subject to change based on what my projects require. But anyhow, here is what I did yesterday!

Anisah, Megha and I left our hotel in the morning at 10 am. We head to Mabatini district to visit the Tukwumuane kitchen and teach the Mamas how to make probiotic mango juice. On the way, we stop by some stalls to buy some mangoes but it’s still too early and the vendors have not yet received fresh fruit. We decide to hop on the dala dala and try our luck at Mabatini.

A typical dala dala (bus)

We manage to find some smaller mangoes and we arrive at Tukwumuane.

Tukwumuane Yogurt Kitchen

The Mamas at Tukwumuane have insisted that we do not bring a translator during our weekly visits because they want us to learn more Swahili while they learn more English. Even though I only know a few words of Swahili, it is incredible how much I can convey using my body language! We taught the Mamas how to make mango juice with our broken Swahili.

Washing mangoes!

After teaching them, we said our goodbyes to the Mamas and got on the dala dala back to the city. Unfortunately, the dala dala dropped us off at a random location in the city. Thankfully, we already know our way around the city centre! We did get a little lost but we stumbled across a whole street of vendors selling beautiful pieces of cloth (definitely coming back to buy some)!

We also decided to try out an ice cream parlor Liana and Zola recommended, Selma Cone.

Grilled chicken yum!
Ahh soft serve (aka the key to my heart)

After a great lunch/dinner, we arrived back at Rock Beach and I got cracking on some work. For dinner, we made some pasta using a Tupperware container and hot water (don’t judge, desperate times)!

Bowtie pasta (by Chef Anisah and Chef Diane)

After a long day, we usually unwind with a little Grey’s Anatomy 😊 and then it’s off to bed!

Science vs. Culture

It’s crazy that I’m halfway done my internship already! I thought this is as good of a time as any to provide an update with my project. At the beginning of this internship, I came in with a plan to introduce Fiti ugali and Fiti uji (porridge). Now halfway through my internship, this plan has drastically changed. This is mainly due to the clash between science and culture.

Since coming to Mwanza, it has quickly been apparent how different the culture is. I also quickly realized how I could come with the most scientifically sound innovation/idea but it might not matter if the existing cultural norms do not allow it to be implemented. The easy part is developing technology, but the hard part (and why I think most scientific breakthroughs do not come to fruition) is implementation. Now, back to my project. Ugali is a staple food in East Africa. It is normally served immediately out of the pot. However, the ideal temperature for Lactobacillus rhamnosus GR-1 is 40 degrees Celsius. Thus, in order to ferment ugali, one must wait for it to cool to 40 degrees before fermenting for 12 hours. By that time, ugali would either be entirely cold or slightly warm. I assumed that warm ugali would suffice. However, within the first few weeks of my time here, I quickly realized how wrong I was.

It is actually very interesting how the temperature of ugali indicates the socioeconomic status of the family that prepares it. For instance, if someone is served cold ugali, they would be insulted. Cold ugali indicates poverty. On the other hand, uji is often made at night and kept warm until the morning, which works out very well for fermentation. So as of now, Fiti ugali is being put on hold (until more investigation can be completed regarding the thermotolerance of Fiti). Otherwise, the next few weeks will be very exciting because Megha and I are partnering with Foundation Karibu Tanzania to conduct a month-long Fiti project where we will be feeding the children that FKT takes in with Fiti uji and Fiti juice! I am a little sad that my internship is halfway done but I am so excited for the next month an a half!!

Ching Chong!

It has been a month full of ups and downs but thankfully I have finally gotten settled-in and adjusted to the city. The first few times that I had walked through the city centre, I was disoriented and scared. It is quite intimidating when people yell “Machina”, “Mzungu” or “Ching Chong” at me on the streets. In Canada, no one really talks to strangers in public places let alone yell stereotypical phrases. At first, I was really insulted and would glare at anyone who yelled “Ching Chong” at me. I thought, “Why would they yell a phrase that they know isn’t even Mandarin? They must be making fun of me.” Even when walking with Lily, a yogurt Mama who lives close to Rock Beach, people (mainly men) would yell at us and make kissing noises. Lily remarks, “Wow, they are really bullying you guys!”

After a few weeks in, it doesn’t phase me anymore. There will always be people who want to get a reaction out of you but I have found that most of the people genuinely want to get to know who I am and where I am from. Although it is always men who yell at us, not all the men that we have encountered are like this and I have learned to not let any negative experiences affect my attitude when meeting new people. In regards to being called “Ching Chong”, it definitely upset me. When I was younger, I was very fortunate to grow up without being bullied because of my Chinese background. I had heard about others who had been picked on because of their race and my parents have had their fair share of encounters with ignorant people, but I had never experienced it first-hand. This was the first time I had ever felt targeted because of my race. Yes I am Chinese. Yes I am Canadian. Yes I am different. And yes I am proud of who I am.

People are still calling out to me on the streets but I have realized that they are just trying to be friendly. There was an incident a while back when a group of us went to eat at Yun Long’s (a Chinese restaurant beside Rock Beach Garden). When the waiter brought over the plates, bowls and utensils, he only placed bowls and chopsticks in front of the people who are of East Asian descent. For everyone else at the table, he provided them with plates and forks. It was pretty hilarious when we realized what he had done. I could have taken this incident personally but I recognized that he was just trying to be accommodating and welcoming!

PS: I promise my next few posts will be more descriptive and relevant to my project. However, I wanted to upload this post first because I want to accurately document my experiences and my learning without glossing over all the difficulties that I have been experiencing. It is amazing to travel and experience a new culture but it is important not to romanticize it. I find that many people want to experience the “wanderlust” that travel bloggers/vloggers advertise without really doing research. But the reality is that traveling to another country is a big physical, mental and cultural adjustment that comes with many challenges!

Bob and Jessica!

I am sorry I have not blogged in the past three weeks but I’ll be uploading multiple posts in the coming days! Many exciting things have happened and are underway! To start, I will talk about Bob and Jessica’s visit to Mwanza.

At the end of May and beginning of June, Bob and Jessica flew in and spent a few days with all of us in Mwanza. It was awesome to see them both and to hear their accounts of how the other WHE interns are doing in Kenya and Rwanda (make sure to check out the other WHE blogs). The day after they settled in, we went to Kivulini for a joint meeting with the executive directors of Mikono Yetu, Education for Better Living, Health is Wealth, Kivulini Women’s Rights Organization and other important community leaders! Throughout the day, many presenters came and talked about the next steps for the Fiti program and the current obstacles. Without going into too much detail, there is a desire to support the 50+ yogurt kitchens in Mwanza by developing a central training and production centre. Not only will the centre be a site for Fiti yogurt production, it will also be a hub for community health (a place that trains new Yogurt Mamas and disseminates health information). However, this vision requires approval from multiple government organizations. Having had no prior experience working in public policy, I was extremely grateful to have had this opportunity to sit in and understand the governmental process involved with an endeavour like this one.

The director of Kivulini, Yassin Ally, was very kind to organize morning chai as well as an amazing lunch! Although long, the meeting was incredibly eye-opening and inspirational to see so many community leaders united in one room with one goal: to improve the health and lives of their fellow villagers. It was refreshing because, in North America, everything is profit driven. Yes, there was talk about profits and finances during the meeting but the main goal was made clear – economic sustainability.

Picture board at Kivulini

After saying our goodbyes, Bob and Jessica visited Rock Beach Garden and we had a good chat with Erick (the manager). It was nice that Bob and Jessica were finally able to meet him in person and talk over some of the security concerns we have been experiencing. Then, we went to Hotel Tilapia (where they are staying) to relax and dine!

Seafood platter for 2 – delicious!

On Friday, we headed to Saint Augustine University of Tanzania (SAUT) for a meeting with the Vice Chancellor and the Department Heads for the university. Bob presented the history of WHE and its partnerships, and there was a discussion about the future of Fiti at SAUT. Jessica presented a very interesting analysis of the quantity of yogurt required to make the SAUT yogurt kitchen successful. Currently, the kitchen is underselling at only 20 L of yogurt per day. In order to break even, 40 L of yogurt need to be sold. However, the goal is to get the SAUT yogurt kitchen selling 60 L of yogurt in order to lower the price and support the staff and students involved. After the meeting, Bob and Jessica went back to their hotel to rest and catch up on work while the rest of us stayed behind to change our SIM cards from Vodacom to Tigo (Tigo is much faster and cheaper)!

On our last full day with Bob and Jessica, we went on a group trip to Saanane island! Even though Bob has been to Mwanza countless times, it was his first time visiting the island! We met our tour guide for the day, Silva, and got onto a small boat for a quick but beautiful boat ride to the island. While on the island, Silva guided us from end to end and even took us to the highest point! We all dressed to go to a traditional beach island but that was a rookie mistake because Saanane island was quite the hike. Nonetheless, the views were amazing and the weather was absolutely perfect! I also got to see my first zebra and impala!

A herd of impala!
A male lizard (did you know that in order to court a female, the male’s mating display consists of pushups?)
A male and female lion (the female lion is currently a few months pregnant)!
Serengeti kidogo (“Little Serengeti”)

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A short hiking break!
Can you spot the monkey?

After an action-packed weekend with Bob and Jessica, it was sad to see them leave. I am so grateful for all of their support and commitment to WHE.

Till next time!

(I am also in the process of editing a vlog of my trip to Saanane Island so make sure to stay tuned!)

Pole pole

Pole pole = slow slow; a common expression to describe the pace of life in Tanzania

After much deliberation and a few days of reflection, I have decided to write this blog post about the events of this past weekend. This is a cautionary tale for all my fellow travelers out there. It is extremely challenging when traveling to a foreign country to respect and understand local customs while still considering personal safety. My intention is not to direct blame or criticize the culture in Tanzania but rather to document what I have learned and what I am still learning.

*Warning, this post is a bit long. For a 37 word summary, scroll to the bottom.*

It was an incredibly rough but eye-opening weekend for all of us here in Mwanza. Somehow, every single one of us experienced something negative. For Kajan, it was falling flat on his face while on his way walking to the city center. For Diane, it was the death of her internet stick and the presence of a certain small lizard in her room. For myself (and all of us), it was the abundance of bats. All of the bats that live in the tree outside the house. The bats that may or may not be a vector for rabies and Ebola. received_10214095383956815

For Anisah and Megha, it was especially difficult because on Saturday while we were out, someone managed to break into their rooms and steal their laptops. To say that they were upset would be an understatement. I can only speak for myself but I felt incredibly angry, frustrated and targeted. Upon discovering the theft, we reported it to the hotel manager, Maimuna and our WHE coordinators Jessica and Bob. Erick, the manager of Rock Beach Hotel, was exceedingly shocked. In his words, “nothing like this has happened in the past two years”.

At these words, I felt a surge of anger. Because at this point in time, Erick still had not provided our rooms with lockable cabinets. These cabinets were promised to us the night we moved in. Maimuna even specifically visited all the way from Buswelu to remind him to install these cabinets. I had repeatedly approached him and called his cell phone to remind him. And every time his response was “I’ll get to it tomorrow.” During our WHE training, we were briefed on pole pole and told to expect that it takes a longer time for things to get accomplished. So we trusted that Erick would get them into our rooms. Not right away but in a reasonable amount of time. And after 11 days, someone breaks into our rooms. Sure, lockable cabinets may not have prevented a break-in but it would have been a deterrent and the outcome might have been different.

Erick quickly rounded up some suspects and brought them along with Anisah and Megha to the police station to give statements. After giving their statements, we ate dinner together while watching The Devil Wears Prada. A much-needed activity to provide a little comfort. And somehow, even during this hectic day, my fellow interns managed to buy me a birthday cake for my 20th birthday!

On Sunday, we spent the entire day waiting to talk to Erick and come up with a safer accommodation arrangement. At 9 am, he tells us to meet him outside and we go outside to meet him. He is nowhere to be found. We call him and he says that he will be back in 30 minutes. We wait an hour. He doesn’t show up. I send him a text and call him. He tells me that he is in church. We continue to wait. In the meantime, Maimuna goes out of her way to come and visit us at Rock Beach (her home is very far away). Unfortunately, she is unable to make it until 6 pm. Erick returns at 1 pm and we are finally able to sit down to talk to him. He wants us to wait for Maimuna to arrive until we start to discuss. At this point, we are extremely frustrated but we respect his decision.

When Maimuna arrives, we all sit down to talk. Erick provides us with an update on the investigation. Apparently, the owner of the hotel (not Erick) is a government official, which is why we were able to quickly get the police involved. 10 laptops were found within the vicinity (we still don’t know how they were able to collect so many laptops) but none of them matched the serial numbers of Anisah and Megha’s laptops. We also discussed alternative living arrangements. First and foremost, cabinets will be installed in our rooms. Erick also promised to get security cameras installed.

A big safety issue is that the main door to our complex is constantly left open during the day. Maimuna suggested to Erick that copies of the key be made so that each tenant can lock and unlock the front door. Erick proceeded to say that because the complex is not rented out by our group of interns, it would not be possible. Maimuna continues to insist that it is an easy fix and all he has to do is to give keys to the other tenants but Erick continues to make excuses. After a long day of waiting, we went back to our rooms disappointed.

The next day, Erick did deliver on his promises to install cabinets and security cameras. It was a nice change. As you may have noticed from my fixation on Erick, I am still bitter. In all honesty, Erick has been a great help in the past few days especially when dealing with the police. He is still working on getting the laptops back and just last night he went back to the police station to inquire for us about any new developments. The theft was not his fault, it was a combination of factors that spanned from our own inattentiveness and naivety, the public access nature of the hotel grounds (it is open to the public during the day so many people visit to take photo shoots and enjoy the view), our “no questions asked” acceptance of the manager’s excuses and the manager’s laissez-faire attitude for our safety.

From a single incident, I learned many lessons:

  • Always put safety first, even at the risk of offending others.
  • Reach out and always get a second or third opinion (don’t be afraid to ask “is this normal?” otherwise you may never know if the way you are treated is based on cultural norms or because you are a foreigner).
    • In this case, Erick’s attitude was abnormal according to Maimuna and Lily.
  • Turn on Find my Mac and do not use expensive items outside in public areas.
  • Most importantly, accept that certain things are outside of your control but make sure to do everything that is within your control to ensure the best possible outcome.

TLDR: Someone broke into our rooms and stole from Megha and Anisah. This was completely preventable but instead of doing everything in our power to ensure our personal safety, we sacrificed it to avoid offending our hotel manager.

Mikono Yetu

Mikono Yetu = Our hands (at least according to Google Translate); A very fitting name for a women’s grassroots organization for female empowerment.

Last Friday, we traveled to Mikono Yetu headquarters to meet all of the staff involved in the management and operation of this inspirational organization. Mlola, one of the staff members at Mikono Yetu, came to Rock Beach Garden Hotel and helped us navigate our way to the main dala dala (bus) terminal. After a long commute to Buswelu, we were greeted very warmly by Maimuna and the rest of the staff of Mikono Yetu. For our orientation day, Maimuna introduced the entire team and the main projects of Mikono Yetu. She emphasized that Mikono Yetu’s main goal is the economic empowerment of women. Although this organization could focus on other areas of female empowerment (e.g. gender-based sexual violence), more often than not (from Maimuna’s experience) when a woman is financially independent, she has more resources and options available to solve the other problems that she may be facing. Thus, all of the programs conducted by Mikono Yetu revolve around the central pillar of economic empowerment. Here are just a few programs that Maimuna described (for more information make sure to check out their website):

1. Fiti Yoghurt Production/Community Kitchens

This is Mikono Yetu’s main program to aid women in gaining their own source of income. Women can become trained to become “Yogurt Mamas” and start their own kitchen. Currently, there are over 50 kitchens in the Mwanza area and more kitchens in other parts of Tanzania. In the coming years, a major goal is for Mikono Yetu to set up a large central training and yogurt production centre, currently coined the Fiti Training and Production Centre. This would allow better control over the quality of Fiti products and greater employment of women in management positions.

2. Ego Movement

In Tanzania (and most of East Africa), women are stereotyped to be weak and incapable of occupying positions of power. This was not the case in the mid-1900s. In fact, there have been many powerful African Queens and Warriors recorded in history but forgotten by 21st Century society. The end goal of this program is to set up a museum dedicated to these powerful African women, in the hopes that the conversation about female weakness can be changed to focus on female strength!

3. Environmental Sustainability and Land Ownership

Especially in the rural neighbourhoods of Tanzania, deforestation has become a grave issue. The effects of climate change have already made their appearance. These past few months have seen unusually heavy rainfalls which have caused disastrous mudslides in Dar Es Saleem and other parts of Tanzania. This program educates women on their land ownership rights and provides guidance on how women can keep their land sustainable. Through tree and sunflower planting, the soil is less exposed to the harsh sun and remains more fertile for crop growth.

These programs are just the tip of the iceberg! After talking about her expectations and our goals for the internship, we went on a mini-tour of headquarters (there’s a chicken coop and lots of bunnies!!!). It was super amazing to meet all the people involved in this amazing organization and I can’t wait to start working with them!

Mwanza Interns 2018

Thumbs up!

In our Western Heads East (WHE) orientations, we were briefed on cultural adaptation and the importance of learning Swahili. Thus, I thought I was completely prepared to face language barriers upon my arrival to Mwanza. However, even before entering Tanzania, I experienced the difficulties of being unable to communicate or understand a foreign language. The following humorous anecdote provides just a glimpse (and foreshadows) the language barrier that my fellow interns and I have experienced thus far in Mwanza.

After landing in Dar Es Saleem, we were required to cross customs. With all my documentation in hand and some simple respectful greetings running through my head, I stepped towards the gate and gave my passport to the customs officer. The (very friendly) customs officer greeted me with “Mambo” and I immediately responded with “Poa”. Mambo-Poa is a typical greeting between peers or people of similar age and the direct translation is “hi-hi”. He was pleasantly surprised that I knew the response to his greeting and after seeing my Canadian passport, he started to ask me about the weather in Canada. He was very fluent in English and we struck up a conversation about the differences between Canada and Tanzania (or what little I have seen of Tanzania). Although very fluent in English, I had a little bit of trouble understanding him due to his accent.

After taking my picture, the officer lifted up four fingers and said something that I could not comprehend. I assumed he wanted to take a picture of my hands but I wasn’t sure so I repeated what I thought he said and he shook his head. So I lifted up four fingers and repeated what I thought he said again, but he still shook his head. After about 30 seconds of miscommunication (and waving my four fingers in front of the camera), I finally realized that he wanted me to put my fingers on the fingerprint scanner. After the scan, he showed me his thumb. Glad to be done the process, I responded with a thumbs up and said, “Asante” (Thank you)! The officer looked extremely confused and I thought it was just because he wasn’t used to receiving a thumbs up. “It’s a thumbs up! It means OK or good job!” I said to him while giving him another thumbs up. At this point, I heard laughter coming from behind me (from my very supportive fellow interns) because I looked completely ridiculous. Thankfully, the customs officer had a sense of humour and explained that he needed my thumbprint as well. I obliged and we had a good laugh about the whole process.

Reflecting back on this experience, there are two observations that I have made about the people in Tanzania. The first is that Tanzanians are generally very warm and social people. The customs officer was very interested in getting to know me and was very open to making conversation! This same openness is expressed by the staff at Rock Beach Garden Hotel and the local people in Mwanza. The second observation is that even though there is a language barrier, body language can make a big difference (evidently)!


Kwa heri Canada

Kwa heri = Goodbye

As I am sitting in (the very fancy) Terminal 1 at Pearson, it still hasn’t sunken in that I will be on a completely different continent in 30 hours. The countdown has begun. After planning this trip for the past 3 months, I feel so excited that this day has finally arrived! Hearing about Mwanza from past interns (thanks Toby, Andrea, and Iris) has made me anticipate trying my first bite of fresh fruit, experiencing the chaos of the market and meeting the lovely Maimuna (the Director of Mikono Yetu). However, with all of this excitement, I still feel a pang of nervousness at the thought of leaving home for this extended period of time. Saying goodbye was definitely a lot harder than I thought it would be but I feel so blessed to have so many of my friends and family supporting my trip and sending their best wishes.

I’ll be boarding my plane soon! Kwa heri!