Getting Work Done

One of the biggest takeaways when you travel and live in developing countries, is all the simple things you learn not to take for granted.

I’m writing this post in the middle of a downpour. Power is out and the wind (and dust) is wiping around. Because all of the roofs are made out of iron sheets, we can’t hear each other talking even though we are right beside each other. Despite this, everyone continues to plug away at the work at hand even as small pools of water are starting to form in the store room.

In addition to the typical challenges one expects with a small NGO, there is a whole another layer that folks have to deal with here. Most communication is done via mobile phones or in-person. When we needed bids for the block making process, we had to go to the next larger town over (Kilgoris is about 25km away.) Once there, we dropped off a list of tools needed to the various hardware stores and then waited around town while they hand wrote the prices. Then, we went back around and picked them up. There was no emailing a quote or looking up the prices online. And when you go to pay you have to hand deliver cash or a check. No dropping it in the mail or giving a credit card number.

I’m usually in Kilgoris at least twice a week for various reason. By the time you drive there and then wait around for whatever you or others who tag along are doing , half the day, if not more, is gone. We always attempt to combine tasks when going to Kilgoris, which means if there’s a bank run you’ll definitely be in town for a while. There isn’t an ATM or bank in Enoosaen. And for reasons that are beyond me bank trips are usually at least 45 minutes.

Car rides are always an adventure. Given that we are currently in the rainy season, there are days when the dirt roads aren’t passable, especially the road to the new school site. I’ve confirmed that a car can in fact hydroplane across the mud. Also, avoiding potholes and ruts in the roads makes for interesting game of chicken with the large tractors hauling sugar cane from the fields to the factory. Everyone knows which side of the road they belong on, but unexpected cows or goats in the road after passing a car or motorbike helps to give the blood an extra jolt. And of course there is always room for one more. Squish, squish is a common refrain.  

Power typically goes out at some point most days. It never fails to go out when you need to print or photocopy something. We’ve been trying for the last few days to get enough vocabulary lists printed for the girls for a spelling bee. When there is power,  noises from village make for an interesting backdrop to your thoughts. Especially, the guy across the way who adds a “creative” audio interpretation overlay to pirated films.

Most non-western countries take a laid back approach to time, largely out of circumstances such as public transportation or traffic that are beyond their control. Kenyans seem to take African time to a whole new level. One is never late! You are always on time, even if you are three or four hours late. Other than milking the cows or washing, there isn’t really the public transportation or traffic excuses here in Enoosaen. I’ve learned to not even leave for meetings until at least an hour after the start time. Although this past week, I’ve been threatening everyone that we need to work on Muzungu time It will be a miracle if we get everything done in preparation for the block making training that starts next week. There is only so much bending my type A personality can tolerate. After 20 years of working to make systems and operations more efficient, effective, and strategic, my passion for embracing other cultures is definitely being challenged in the work environment. Somethings are just too ingrained at this point.

For my association and nonprofit folks, take the above challenges and then imaging having to contend with three boards and three different office staffs. That’s just another typical work day here. Maybe in the next post, I’ll actually get around to updating you on the work product rather than just the environment.


If Only I was Doing Stand-up Comedy – Tales from Zanzibar 

As some of you know, I’ve been struggling the past few weeks without a routine. I’m especially missing early morning bootcamp. I had really hoped to climb the mountain and jump straight into volunteering and than play in August. But things didn’t work out exactly as I had hoped. Luckily that started to change this week as I escaped to the beach. The beach always seems to do wonders for my mind, body, and soul.
There are so many possible titles to give this post that it was impossible to come up with just one that would fully capture the past week or the many good laughs that were shared. Here are just a few of the titles I considered.

Before I even landed in Zanzibar, these are the ones that come to mind from my time in the Arusha airport. The term airport is a bit of a stretch.

  • We need to off load because of smoke in the cabin
  • Duck if you hear a boom
  • Okay, let’s try this again

I met up with one of the ladies I hiked the mountain with, and we traveled to Jambiani together and stayed in an AirB&B. Some of the possible titles from the four nights we spent there:

  • The noise is coming from inside the wood
  • Did you hear breathing?
  • I’m sorry, my husband is an idiot
  • Stay on the main road, do not go on the village road
  • No dala dala
  • Where are the chips? We want only pasta with tomato sauce.
  •  Moja chocolate salami, mbili tiramisu, tatu chocolate mousse
  • I’m a florist
  • But I brought the bikes home from my shop for you

After four days on an eco-friendly solar farm, which was a seven minute walk to the beach, I was ready for a hot shower so I checked into the Red Monkey Lodge right on the beach for my last five days. Some of the titles from that stay could be:

  • Ouch… F*** coral
  • That’s not what I ordered. Waiter response…the chef changed the menu
  • That is kind of freaky…almost prehistoric
  • Umm, can we have your room key? Your hot water heater is on fire
  • There are goats on the beach
  • Hello monkeys above my head

I’m sitting here cracking up out loud just thinking about the stories associated with each of the lines above. I could fill pages if I were to go into each in any detail. Needless to say, the past week has been an adventure, and I’m going to have great stories to tell over future happy hours in DC that you’ll probably be choking on your drinks trying not to spit them out as you are laughing hysterically.

Okay switching gears…there truly is a place called Zanzibar. It is comprised of over 50 islands off the coast of Tanzania (36 km) in the Indian Ocean just 6 degrees south of the Equator. Population is a little over 1 million. The islands, also known as the “Spice Islands,” are vastly different from the mainland of Tanzania. The majority of the residents are Muslim whereas on the mainland Christianity is far more prominent. Zanzibar has a long history of being influenced by the Persians, Omanis, Portuguese, and British. In 1862, Zanzibar became independent from Oman but the sultanate continued to rule under a British protectorate. In 1963, the islands became independent and they united with Tanzania in 1964.

Low tide
The island (one primary) is lined with fine white sand beaches. And for some reason I’ve yet to figure out, the sand never gets hot. The water is an incredible spectrum of blues and greens and the change in high and low tide is mind blowing. During low tide, I can walk out for more than 25 minutes and still only be up to my calves or knees and the waves breaking beyond the reef are still far off in the distance. But at high tide in some areas the beach is completely gone and you are dodging jagged coral underneath your feet. Beautifully formed shells and starfish line the beach in low tide.

And kite surfing is abundant around the island. If I’d had the right clothes, I would have taken lessons this past week (I’ve been told you need 9-12 hours of lessons before you can go out on your own). You are probably thinking why didn’t you just go out and buy the right clothes? Well, that wasn’t an option. To put it in perspective, there aren’t any clothing stores anywhere nearby where I could buy or rent the gear. Hell the only ATM is in Stone Town and the airport over a 100km away.

Most days were spent being lazy on the beach, long walks, swimming, and reading. Typically, each day started by being woken by the roosters when I was on the farm or the goats when I moved to the beach. Because of the location of Zanzibar, sunrise is at a respectable hour (approximately 6:40am) so I was fortunate to see the sun rise most mornings.

Whenever I ventured for walks in the town, I was amazed at how the kids could run bare feet down the roads. The dirt roads are horrendous from the standpoint of traversing safely or comfortably in a car or walking. There is coral everywhere and it hurt me to walk in flip flops on the roads let alone run barefoot. Many of the local houses or walls are made of coral.

There truly is a “it takes a village” mentality at work when it comes to raising kids. You often see very young children outside by themselves or along the water’s edge. I’ve had to resist my western tendencies to wait around until an adult appears or to watch the child like a hawk around the water.

I’ve eaten fresh seafood for every meal except breakfast for the past week. Almost all of the restaurants use a blackboard to list the menu because it changes daily based on what was caught that morning. Breakfast consisted of fresh fruit and eggs. I’ve gotten spoiled with having mango, red bananas, green oranges, or avocado every morning and various fresh juices for lunch.

We did indulge one evening and went to the Rock. If you are living vicariously through me, you have to go to the website and check out the photos. When we arrived it was low tide so we were able to walk out but by the time we left the tide had come in and we had to take a short boat ride back to shore. The chips title and dessert title stories both came about when we were at the Rock. The two couples sitting next to us (we think they were middle eastern) came to one of the most popular seafood restaurants on the island and were upset because there weren’t chips (French fries) on the menu. Then they proceeded to only order pasta and had them remove every piece of seafood from the dishes. It was comical but very sad.

The other possible title comes when Angele is trying to be savvy and use her Kiswhali. She was attempting to order three desserts for us to share by saying first, second and third but instead she ordered one chocolate salami, two tiramisus, and three chocolate mousses. Half way through both of us working on our own tiramisus she realizes her mistake and we only have to eat one mousse. I don’t think I or the waiter have laughed so hard in a long while. The waiter never said a thing to us when she was ordering. In fact, waiters not saying a thing to us became kinda of thing. One of the other titles was because we both ordered the seafood curry that was on the blackboard. But when the dish was put in front of us it was a seafood salad. When we asked the waiter, he responded that the chef just changed the menu. He didn’t seem to think it was a problem that he just changed it on the blackboard but never bothered to tell us that what we had ordered was no longer on the menu. They just made the substitution for us, which as it turns out was fine for me. The octopus and fish were delicious.

Smoke and fire seemed to be another reoccurring theme for me on this trip. As we were sitting on the tarmac in Arusha, the cabin started to fill with a bit of smoke. They off loaded all of us and moved us back to the waiting area. They ran a few test, sent the plane down the runway than told us everything was fine and we’ll try it again. Then the other night, as I was sitting in the dining/lounge area of the hotel having a glass of wine, the power all of a sudden goes out. This doesn’t even phase me anymore it happens so often. You usually just wait for the generators to kick on. So while I’m waiting one of the managers comes up to me and said that they needed my room key because the water heater outside of my room was on fire. Turns out the power was cut because of the fire. There was an awful smell and a fine layer of ash in my bathroom. So now I have two bungalows. One to sleep in and use the hot shower and the other that has all of my stuff. It wasn’t worth moving everything over since I was leaving a day later.

You’ll just have to buy me a drink when I’m back in DC to hear the rest of the stories.

Next up a spice tour and a few days in Stone Town before heading back to Arusha. I can only imagine what new stories will be added to the line-up.


Happy Fourth of July

I started drafting a blog post about hiking Mountain Kilimanjaro, although I was struggling to put into words the experience. There are truly no words that will convey what I saw and experienced.

But it looks like my tablet has decided it’s had enough. I’m not sure when or if I’ll get that post up. In the meantime, until I figure out whether I’m going to buy a new one or just make do with my phone, I wanted to wish all of you in the U.S. a Happy Fourth of July.

I leave for a seven day safari tomorrow. I’ll be posting pictures via Instagram along the way. At some point, I’ll figure out how to share my photos of Kilimanjaro that are on my camera with all of you. Luckily when I uploaded the photos to the tablet, I didn’t actually delete the photos from the memory card so I at least still have them.

Back to School

StellaMaris school
Stella Maris Primary School

The money raised from tourists staying at the Stella Maris hotel, which is a nonprofit, is used to fund the Stella Maris School for orphaned and vulnerable children.  I had the opportunity to visit the school the other day and sit in on a P7 mathematics class.  Boy am I glad those days are long gone.

The teacher, who has been teaching since 1968, is a force to be reckoned with.  (Aunt Jan, I think I may have found your equivalent.) The students were reviewing homework and asking about questions they got wrong. Madam, as the students referred to her, led the class through a musical response ingraining equations in their heads as she methodically stepped them through each aspect of the calculation to come up with the answer. You know the two little boys that showed up late or the kids passing notes aren’t likely to get on Madam’s bad side again anytime soon.  Classes are taught in English.

When I entered the classroom, the children immediately stood and welcomed me with a song. The kindness of spirit, softness in their voices, and general goodness towards all is heartwarming given the current raucous environment in the States.  We could all learn something from the kindness and generosity that is shown to everyone here, not just the foreigners.  Everyone is a friend, sister, or brother, and I have lots of mammas looking out for me.

The staff of the hotel are largely students studying hotel management or tourism. I’ve convinced one of them, who is starting theological school in the fall, to provide me with some Swahili lessons each day. It is slow going, but I can at least greet people and rattle off my numbers.  Today’s lesson was focused on food and bargaining. Tomorrow’s lesson will probably focus on words that will come in handy on the mountain. Interestingly enough, there are some similarities with Indonesian. When I can’t remember a word my brain pulls out the Indonesian term not the English term.  I wonder if my brain is trying to tell me Tanzania is close but is no Indonesia.