Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Our week with Heifer Project Photos

We spent a week in Tanzania on a study tour with Heifer Project International - This is a rural development project that gives bred livestock to impoverished farmers. The project is over 50 years old and operates in many parts of the world. Each person who receives an animal must share the first born female offspring with a neighbor and provide support to them. For each animal given there is an average of over 6 families who later receive "spinoff" donated animals. We saw over and over the life changing effects in nutrition and economic security from people who recieve animals!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Return to Fremont: Aug 31, 2010

Early morning clouds rest above 1000 ft on our closest Fremont hills. Mornings start out brisk, before the sun takes over midday. First apples are ripening…. I’m not ready for summer to be over! A week ago it was early spring in South Africa – here are signs of fall.

Jet lag has its advantages – I still wake at 4- It’s a quiet good time to work. I am alert and productive until mid morning… In the evening I cave in by 8… We have been home a week and are both still bumping into walls… It is said that coming west is worse for jet lag than going east. How much of it is due to just coming home from a great vacation?

Our two terriers turned inside out with joy on seeing us return. We spoil them terribly – This morning they looked at me putting on my shoes and they said, “Well, we are going to go for a walk aren’t we?” …And of course I couldn’t refuse them. They expect communal “everyone sit on the couch time” every evening – and if we are slow they come looking for us.

Slowly we are reconnecting with our regular lives… getting the garden back in shape, meetings, making plans with my fall student teacher supervision duties, restocking the kitchen, processing apples and tomatoes.

What do we tell people when they ask, “How was your trip?” How do we begin to tell them about the people we met, the scenery, the daily encounters, the projects that we want to support… the routine sounds and smells of Tanzania? The dala dalas, the uneven sidewalks, the pleasure of a Kilimanjaro beer and conversation in the evening! We were advised to prepare an “elevator speech” – an account long enough to tell someone with whom you share an elevator ride… Impossible! I took my blogs and a sampling of photos and put them on this blog site… I hope to make regular additions… it’s a good discipline for me.

Are we happy to be home? Yes and No… Our home and garden is beautiful, it is comfortable and easy to be here… It is so nice to be able to call family easily … to meet our neighbors and friends, easy access to computers, the produce section of our super market, our own “just right” bed, meaningful work and challenges…. But I think there must be some gypsy in me… I love waking in the morning and having to adapt to a different culture– I love traveling and not knowing for sure where I will sleep that night- I love the challenges of a different language, different money, and cultural expectations for which I must be mindful. I love being surprised and amazed by new sights and experiences that I could not anticipate. Being in a new cultural setting makes me feel alert and very much alive. I love sharing these experiences with Judy. Yes it’s good to be home but it’s so nice to be able to have good adventures too!

Monday, August 30, 2010

A sample of photos

Now that we are home I have had time to organize photos - Here is a sample of a few photos showing some of the experiences written about in the "Africa Notes"...

For best viewing I suggest that you click on "slideshow" in the top left hand corner -


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Africa Notes 8

Africa Notes #8
Series written by John Zlatnik
July/August 2010

Roosters start their crowing well before dawn – they are so hopeful! With the first light the chickens and the wild birds join the chorus, and soon cow-bells in the field behind our sleeping space join in. Before long we hear the grinding of corn to feed the chicks. We are visiting Tim Sandoe, ex student and friend from Fremont that is serving a two-year stint in Swaziland in the Peace Corps. He lives and works in an isolated village in the highlands above Piggs Peak two hours from Mbabane by bus and combi (small van). Judy and I are staying in the "ancestors house" – a round hut with a thatched roof. The farm family that Tim lives with depends on their corn crop for subsistence, but they sell some eggs for cash.
Tim is engaged in HIV/AIDS education. The HIV/AIDS epidemic is a disaster in slow motion! The Swazi population has one of the highest infection rates in the world; with about a third of the population is HIV positive. It is predicted that if things continue as they are, by the year 2050 Swaziland will cease to exist as a viable country. With proper treatment HIV patients can remain relatively healthy and active – but as the infection grows the cost is considerable and the drugs must be taken twice daily. Already vast segments of the society have died of AIDS, including trained professionals in key functioning roles. There are two important means for dealing with the crisis – prevention and treatment. Adult circumcision of males appears to be promising but it not easy to "sell", also consistent use of condoms is effective, but still lagging. Tim’s work takes him into community groups and schools where he works to educate those most likely to be infected by teaching about the practices most likely to halt the spread.
I asked why this region has such a high incidence of HIV infections – I was told that due to economic pressures, many men go to South Africa to work in mining. They are away from their wives for long periods of time and some return with HIV. General cultural practices tend to condone multiple sexual partners. To some extent, reliance on traditional medical practices has inhibited prompt identification and treatment of HIV cases. Simple access to knowledge and medical help has been limited.
Friday we visited a local drama group that Tim supports– members of the group write and perform short educational plays for the purpose of educating the general community to better deal with situations that lead to the spread of HIV/AIDS. The group of young actors combines incredible music with their short productions. We found the acting to be remarkable.
Like many Peace Corp members, Tim lives a very basic life with few American amenities. He has adapted to the local language and cultural patterns and integrated himself into the life of the community. Walking with him along a dirt track, he stops often to speak with local people. The cultural patterns between people are polite and easy going. Tim’s diet is simple, based on available foods or things that he can buy in the closest larger village – but that involves an all-morning ride on a "combi" mini van- and they arrive only at irregular intervals. (So – how many people will fit inside a "combi"? - the answer of course is "one more".) Judy and I take combos that often have 16 people crammed into a normal size van. Tim is more fortunate than one PC volunteer we spoke to that must walk an hour to reach the combi stop, then hope that the combi will come that morning. He must also carry his propane tank to and from the combi after purchasing a refill.
In every trip there comes a moment when you turn around and start the process of returning home. We left Tim’s village yesterday – and are staying tonight in Mbabane, and tomorrow will take a small bus back to Johannesburg. Then we will warm up our wings and fly home to California. These last 5 weeks have been an epic journey for Judy and me – we have met so many wonderful people and seen such incredible sights. I won’t pretend that we have seen "Africa" – only that we have seen a few corners of Africa. It is often difficult to generalize because there is no single "Africa" – but a mosaic with many different facets. But we come away with some general conclusions about the peoples and countries that we have seen.
1. Africa is rich in both natural resources and in human resources. The natural beauty of many regions is stunning. So many of the people we have met have been polite and soft-spoken…. so gracious!

2. Large portions of the African population still live in abysmal poverty. Global climate change has produced devastating droughts and intense rainfall in different regions. (Normal weather variations are expected, but long term climate changes are happening here.) We come away with a much better understanding of the reality of living in a third world country (supporting your family on less than two dollars a day). Farmers can at least maintain subsistence farming if the weather if good.

3. During colonial times Europeans took control of all that they found useful in Africa. Few efforts were made to educate the African people – and when colonialism ended most European powers abruptly left leaving peoples with little education or preparation for self-management. Such conditions have made it possible for corrupt self-seeking dictators to rise to power in some countries.

4. The fall of colonialism has been followed by "neocolonialism" involving American, European, and Asian companies that come in to extract resources, often paying minimal wages, and provide little or no benefits for local people. In fact it is in the interest of large companies to keep education levels low – the better to control the local population. Examples would be large oil companies, mining interests, coffee, and forest products.

5. HIV/AIDS is having a huge toll on the continent – it’s hard to imagine the make up of cities and countries in 50 years unless the infection can be abated. It is truly akin to the plagues in Europe in 1300AD. The toll is felt at the national level – but also so intensely at the personal level – families without parents, schools with missing teachers, farms that are not tilled.

6. Both Evangelical Christian churches and Islam have undergone considerable growth in recent years. We see many new churches and mosques, and can sense the impact of religion on East African society.

7. There are amazing success stories of events within African counties that have achieved remarkable progress in a brief amount of time. There are dedicated African politicians, doctors, educators, scientists, etc working to bring improvements to their people.

8. Perhaps most important in bringing about positive change is the improvement of the education system so that more capable young Africans can join in building their countries. We found young people working in menial jobs but eager to complete secondary school and perhaps even go to university. But for too many the cost is prohibitive.

9. The other factor needed for change in Africa is access to capital. A bright young entrepreneur with wonderful ideas still would still be frustrated without access to loans and technical support. When support is offered it often comes with strings attached.

10. The medical system that we have seen often does what it can with
limited resources but is overcrowding. The doctor patient ratio is one of the most challenging in the world in Tanzania.

11. There are many caring people from Europe, America, and Asia who are donating time and resources to working with the African people. But we hear over and over that it is not effective to come and impose our ideas upon the Africans. We must be willing to work with them – listen to them and develop mutually acceptable plans that respect the local culture and the local economy.
So now as we leave – springtime is coming to the Southern Hemisphere – fruit trees are blooming and migrating birds are returning. Hard to imagine we will be returning to late summer in California!

Africa Notes 7

Notes from Africa #7 – Modern Heroes
Series written by John Zlatnik
July/August 2010

Quote: “The most difficult thing is to come up with is a vision of what could be done, and then find the courage to begin. Once people see what you are doing others will want to help and will volunteer their time.“

1. Hero One: Mama India:
After nearly an hour on a treacherous rutted red dusty road we found our goal… the Rift Valley Children’s Village. (A miracle in itself given the number of forks in the road with no sign markers but fortunately folks along the way who knew where Mama India was). Like other dreams, this started small – An American business woman, named India Howell, came to Tanzania on vacation and the seed was sown – she returned to Tanzania with the dream of making a home for orphans and for children of the working poor who can not provide for their children. The “children’s village” was started far from the main road but near a large village of coffee pickers (who make an average of 36 cents a DAY for their labor). Mama India began to share her dream with others in America – describing the conditions under which children were living and their prospects without education. Donors paid for the construction of five freestanding homes for 11 children each and 2 volunteer staff. Mama also began to interest people (mostly young college age and older) to come, live and work with the children. Each volunteer must pay $130.00 a month for room and board– they tend to stay from 3 weeks to several months. The children seem to understand that they can come to any adult for loving care or help, but the children also are expected to live up to reasonable behavior expectations. About 100 local people are employed as staff to run the many details of the home. Students attend a near by state-run school. Over time Mama India’s dream has expanded to support more students, provide medical care, and a social worker that works with community people. The Rift valley center also provides micro loans to parents and others in the community to assist them in economic development. Currently 69 kids live here and 25 KLF (kids living with family) more have living relatives but are here during free time in the daytime. In addition to the living units, a kitchen/cafeteria, a library, housing for the volunteers, and a nurses office have been added. Power is provided by solar collectors, and when we visited there was great excitement because each unit had just received a wood burning external water heater to provide hot water for a few hours in the evening. The kids look healthy and well cared for both physically and emotionally.

2. Hero Two: Dr. Frank Artess:

Frank was a successful anesthesiologist with a good practice in Modesto CA. He and his wife Susan travelled to Tanzania to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Near the top he developed severe altitude sickness, and as a doctor he realized the symptoms were serious, possibly deadly. His porters carried him over the mountaintop and down a safe route to a hospital where we recovered (fortunately without heart damage from the ordeal). When he was cleared to leave, the Tanzanian doctor told him pointedly that doctors were needed much more in Tanzania than in California. Tanzania has 1 physician for every 25,000 persons – one of the lowest ratios in the world.
Back in California, he and his wife Susan made the decision to sell his medical practice, sell their California homes, and move to Tanzania. They purchased land in a region that overlapped several tribal groups, a location with relatively easy access for many – and they established a medical practice directed toward serving the tribal people of the area, but open to everyone regardless of their ability to pay. Frank and Susan shared their vision with others in America; they have received grants from foundations, and established a web site to spread their message. With the money they have received they have been able to currently operate a small well-furnished clinic, equipped to hold patients for no more than 12 hours. Ten days a month they travel a route through the countryside with their mobile clinic and treat most distant patients. They see an average of 600 patients a month.
A physician who wished to volunteer for a year donated money to build a house for other visiting doctors and surgeons to stay since he wanted to come and the only other volunteer bungalow was already filled. They currently have more medical personnel who have volunteered their services than facilities to house them. The construction of a fully equipped laboratory and a small hospital is well underway. Their practice is growing as many traditional people are beginning to discover and trust Dr. Frank. One of their recent success stories is that the remote very primitive bush people are beginning to seek help as a relationship is being established. One of their recent problems involved nighttime elephants that visited the garden (an important source of food for the hospital staff) and plucked out those plants that pleased them most! (I will never complain about snails in my garden again!)
While we were there an affluent Indian African family brought in an elder man who had fallen and broken his nose. Those patients are charged full rates to help pay for those who cannot pay. Sometimes they return from mobile clinics with chickens and/or goats given as payment. Susan doesn’t like to eat goats she has babied on a trip so they go to staff that have no such qualms.

3. Hero Three: Sister Alexandra: (no site specifically for Sister Alexander)
Sister Alexandra has as her special mission the care of HIV and AIDS families. If a parent is sick it impacts the rest of the family. If a major breadwinner in sick not only are they not contributing to the benefit of the family, but the family members must spend extra time and resources for the care of the person. If one or both parents is sick or has died of AIDS then life must go on, despite the burden on those who remain well. In a growing number of cases young children, some as young as 6 years of age, are acting as head of household for all younger children. HIV can be controlled with increasing effectiveness if the patient takes the required daily drugs – but drinking alcohol negates the effectiveness of the drugs. This is the conundrum that Sister Alexandra faces daily. One of her solutions is to provide HIV/AIDS affected families with small livestock like chickens, goats, and pigs to help them build some financial independence, through a partnership with Heifer Int. These animals require less care than large animals, contribute greatly to the family nutrition and can produce good financial profit for the family. Sister Alexandra is a one-woman organizer of who needs help, what training and follow up is needed, and finding sources of financial help. To assist child lead households – she attempts to gain support from neighbors, and support for their animal projects. Sister Alexander dresses in a crisp white habit, but when she visits a farm project, she wraps a colorful African cloth around her waist and over her shoulder to protect her clothing from dust and mud. She seems imperturbable! Her order, the Sisters of the Virgin of Kilimanjaro, is a medical order that seeks to address the AIDS crisis as it affects all family members.

Nkosi Johnson – a 12-year-old patient with AIDS said it best…
“Do all you can
With what you have
In the time you have
In the place you are.”


Topic One: Albino Africans are born with very little pigment in their skin. In parts of East Africa Albinos – especially young Albinos are sometimes kidnapped, killed, and their body parts sold. The body parts are purchased (for big bucks!) and the buyer will take the part to a witch doctor to create a “medicine” that is supposed to make that person very wealthy. Seventy albinos have been killed in the last 3-5 years in Tanzania alone. The albinos also have severe problems with light intensity, with both near and far vision, and with sunburn sensitivity. Today Judy and I delivered two large boxes with several hundred pairs of reading glasses to be distributed to the Albino community. They come from a project in the US called “Glasses for Africa”. We met with part of the Albino community in a special high school – all spoke some English and we had a wonderful warm meeting and exchange of glasses and information. Heifer Project supports such donations but feels that the long-range solution is to build more financial security and community project independence. One challenge to the Albino community is how to provide effective sunblock to all – when Tanzanian government policy does not support importation of such products. Each Albino requires ½ liter of sunblock every 3 months – and next year they will have 200 Albino students in the school.

Topic Two: We were waiting for dinner at the Ungorongoro crater lodge and one of our Heifer friends came to us and said, “ I just met some people that I think you and Judy need to meet – So we met Jo and Marian. They also come to Tanzania on holiday a few years back and caught the dream of developing a self-sustaining program to provide education to Maasai girls. The dream began to take shape as they built a guesthouse in the desert of Northern Tanzania near to the Longido Mountain Range, in the heart of traditional Maasai country. Early afternoon today we boarded the “Rainbow Bus” that travels to Nairobi Kenya, passed through the road construction dust and washboard dirt road to find an incredible guesthouse built along the ideas of a traditional Masaai hut. Round brick wall, with a few separate guest rooms around the periphery. The central space is a common area marked off by Maasai congas. Their basic concept is to provide full sponsorship for Maasai girls to go as far in education as they are able. They also have started projects to promote micro banking and a community library. To support these endeavor they take profits from the guesthouse and engage in self-empowerment business models with Maasai women. A recent project involved providing poor women with a pregnant goat – and then like the Heifer project, the first baby must be given to another woman, etc. Each woman must pay a small yearly membership to participate - The fees are turned around to support student fees. They also accept donations from North Americans and Europeans. It was great fun walking through the busy Wednesday market with them as they greeted friends and introduced us to many very traditional Maasai men and women – all dressed in their bright Maasai traditional dress and jewelry.
Another project involves microbanking – giving small loans to very poor village women as “seed money” to start a business or other steps toward economic security. They have 50 weeks to pay back the loan in small weekly payments – The payback rate is almost 100%, and the principal can be used again and again to start new microbanking projects. We witnessed a meeting today that involved about 80 women, as considered adding a saving component to their program - The saving plan was agreed upon in a very democratic open forum discussion.

Africa Notes 6

Notes from Africa #6 – Snapshots
Series written by John Zlatnik
July/August 2010

1. We were robbed! Settled in for a quiet lunch beside a peaceful bird filled lake – Our food had arrived and we were happily eating – Just as I reached for a second bread roll – An 18 inch blue monkey came out of nowhere and grabbed the bread basket – one roll in his mouth – one in each hand – And he scurried off a few feet to enjoy his ill gotten meal! AAhh! I would swear he was laughing at us!
2. Judy’s birthday was a great success. We stopped at a market to buy cakes and Mango Juice for the children in an AIDS orphanage/day school – To reach the orphanage we drove in on a dusty rutted rocky road past small time street merchants and impoverished homes to the center. (As are many such organizations in Africa, it serves actual orphans, kids who have relatives to shelter them & some living with their own families.) We arrived near the end of naptime – and soon sleepy preschool aged children came tumbling out of their sleeping room. After singing “Happy birthday; dear Judy” and other songs for us, we distributed cakes and juice and the children formed into clusters to enjoy this special party. The three simple meals provided by the school may be the only food these children receive each day. Operating expenses for the schools are about $2000/month… and many months the sources of funding are uncertain. Judy declares this was one of her best birthday parties ever!

3. After several encounters with the Maasai culture, we travelled high up the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro – up into the coffee producing area –to have an opportunity to learn about the Chagga people. Here we have stayed in a beautiful Guest House – the old family home and farm of David Mtui…The Chagga people have benefitted greatly from both coffee and banana production… Homes and farms are well built and furnished, and education is valued. Many of the Chagga people are now successful business and professional people of Tanzania. The countryside is beautiful – with thick forests of both crop plants and native forest. Our accommodations are quite wonderful! – We are definitely off the normal tourist track here! (We are the only guests) We have visited a local banana beer maker – to see how bananas and millet are combined to produce the popular local brew – also a local village blacksmith who makes all manner of iron and steel products using a simple anvil and charcoal fire with bellows made from a tire inner tube.… I bought iron cowbells used by the local folks to keep track of their animals. David’s farm is a jewel of a place and he has been a thoughtful host… plus the food has been incredibly well planned and presented!
4. From David’s farm we thought it would be a nice afternoon walk up the mountain to the entrance for those who climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. Our host said that we must take a guide with us – and he volunteered his brother. Off we went through an elaborate network of footpaths – past families out planting their corn crop for the year, past homes, churches, schools, rivers, banana beer bars, past forests of banana trees, terraced fields… no matter how high we walked it seemed their were always more houses and farms farther up the mountain side (terracing of the land into small farm plots make it possible to maintain the soil during the extensive rainy season they experience in the fall each year…) We climbed until we reached the impressive entrance portal for this great mountain. Here there were warnings about the health hazards that might be encountered by climbers and precise rules for what was expected from climbers. To climb, it is necessary to hire a guide for $20/day, and a minimum of 4 porters @$10/day. Plus a hefty park service fee. The trek requires 3 -7 days. The old mountain climber in me thought this sounded like a fine adventure… but, alas, we are not meant to climb such a mountain. What had been presented to us as a one-hour walk from David’s farm turned out to be a three-hour hike. David’s brother said we would not have time to return before dark – so he insisted on calling his brother to return us by van. It was still a fine adventure.
5. Traditional agriculture here is based on corn – bananas, as well as other fruits vegetables – many wonderfully strange to our eyes and taste The major farming problems are 1) to provide adequate water, 2) maintaining fertility of soil, 3) preventing soil erosion. In Arusha there is an extensive agriculture demonstration site with each region of the area showing successful techniques of low water farming, pest control, bee keeping, varieties of crops, companion planting, highly efficient beds for home vegetable production, low fuel stoves, methods for firing bricks that do not require wood from the forests…
6. And so bed time… the bush babies (look them up on Wikipedia) are calling to each other and soon they will begin their nightly foraging. With a strong flashlight we can see them high in the trees – as large as a small cat with large reflective eyes shining back at us. We hear then when we go to bed and sometimes they scurry across out metal roof.

Africa Notes 5

Series written by John Zlatnik
July/August 2010

When I think of the past week I see images of long miles on deeply rutted roads and swirling dust… but also the warmth and honest curiosity of village people, and the incredible scenery of Africa. Here when people go on a journey it is called a “safari“– So our safari this week has taken us through a variety of Heifer Project sites - from the cloud forests of Mt. Kilimanjaro where we saw a woman’s dairy cooperative that specialized in cheese production to sell in the city – to camel production by Masai villagers who due to the effects of global warming often experience drought that makes their traditional cattle production difficult – to deep in the banana plantation country where a special variety of stingless bees are producing a honey noted for its sweetness and flavor – to a widow and daughter who received the gift of a cow and who now have passed on a heifer to others, paid the girl’s educational fees through the equivalent of junior college, and provided a much enhanced home in which to live. We have encountered special needs families – those with severely handicapped children to those living with HIV/ AIDS – people with limited time and energy who must still provide for their families and this they can do with the help of the animals they have received from Heifer – to a family that has become financially independent on 1.5 acres – producing quality fish from ponds, goats, chickens, and organically grown vegetables (using wonderfully innovative methods)… This project is labor intensive but very successful both for the family and as a model for the community – to donkeys being given to women to carry water previously moved by balancing a 20 liter jug on shoulders or head, often for several miles … All these family gains started with the help of Heifer. Each initial gift and subsequent “pass on)” require passing on training and a female offspring both to another family and back to the community organization to ensure eventual independence from Heifer. (In some cases, the pass back to the community is in the form of $$ obtained from sale of milk, etc.
The most important impact of this week on us is to see and experience the reality of what a third world life style is really like – a life style experienced by a large proportion of people on our planet… these are people who must feed their families on less than 2$ a day… Such families experience severe protein and vitamin deficiencies that can affect the development and growth of their children. Receiving a livestock animal, instructions on its care, and follow up support can lead to a radical change in the life and educational opportunities for that family. The average number of pass on animals from a Heifer donation is that 6 other families also receive a “pass along” animal.

Along the way we have been hosted in Masai villages, honored with a traditional Masai roasted goat, had opportunities to go into the Masai homes – round “bee hive” bombas made of sticks, straw, and cow dung… We stayed on night in a Masai run “hotel” on the edge of the Great Rift Valley, heard hoots and howls in the night as we slept under our mosquito netting, and woke to sunlight on the face of the Rife Valley Escarpment. We visited Oldavai Gorge where early Australophicus and Homo Habilis were first discovered, and then to top things off we got a day in one of the premier game parks – Ngorongoro crater – where this time of year we saw an amazing variety of African mammals and birds – The crater is an immense caldera with a great complex of roads – We traveled in 6 person vans with removable roofs so that we could stand on the seats and scan for “critters”. No one is permitted to leave the vans during the trip through animal domain. When we saw lions crouching nearby in the tall grass we understood why– We saw good numbers of a wide variety of animals – both the ones you normally identify with Africa and quite a few that were new to us. The grand event of the day was a pride of lions – 2 males and 3 females – that came sauntering right by our parked vehicle – they were on their way to the river. There we watched them drink, stretch, and groom. Wild living lions have a very different manner about them than zoo lions! We spent another half day visited a different protected area where we saw large numbers of giraffes, baboons, African antelopes, elephants, zebras, hippo, wart hogs, and many other specimens too. Pretty exciting for all of us…!

So today we told our project friends good bye as they fly home tonight and we will stay a couple of weeks more in Tanzania … They have been fascinating and knowledgable companions and the time travelling to sites gave us opportunity to talk about a wide range of fascinating topics. They have been an amazing group with which to share this experience. But since we are here and have the time - there are other fascinating projects and activities that we want to experience and learn from. This morning we went with our Heifer project friends to attend the non-denominational English language church in Arusha. It was a friendly mixed group of local Africans, Europeans, Americans, and South Africans… some with farms or medical practice here, some involved with project work, aide programs, or research of different types, and average people of Arusha. It seems that many foreigners have come for a short visit, fall under the spell of Africa, and never return home. We aren’t ready for that – but we do find ourselves talking about how much we would like to return and be involved short term with some of the projects we encounter.

Africa Notes 4

7/24/10: Notes from Africa 4

Judy and experienced a bit of reverse culture shock as we changed hotels to join with our Heifer Project. Our previous hotel, the Arusha Resort Hotel was the place where people engaged in project work stayed, also scientists working on the Olduvai project (studying the earliest humans and prehuman), and college study groups. The guests were mostly a mixed group of European with a scattering of young Americans and Australians. Every night we made friends and shared stories about daily encounters, everything from comparing the economics of Europe and America, to discussion of plans to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, to South Africans workers here to expand the local brewery, to explanations of the variety of economic/agricultural/equity projects taking place in Tanzania. We spend one amazing evening with an isotope chemist who had been working with a paleobotanist to understand how the diet of Australopithecus differed from Homo Habilis – a pretty amazing guy!
The place that Heifer selected for us, the Impala Hotel, is more upscale, with two swimming pools, and four restaurants. It is possible to come here and live in luxury, go off on safari, and return to lounge by the pool and think that you have been in Africa. … While the real Africa begins the minute you step outside the gates of this place. (Granted it does feel good to have a good warm shower, and eat European food – but that isn’t what we came to Africa to do.) However for a week it is OK and not so terribly hard to accept.

The more we hear of the work of Heifer, and how they continue to expand their outreach as they provide assistance to those in great need, it is inspiring. The Tanzanian government has adopted the Heifer model for rural redevelopment for the whole country and their successes continue to multiply. It will be an exciting week as we learn more.

7/26: Sunday
We rode in Safari vans for two hours up deeply rutted mountain roads to visit 2 projects.
The first, a family with 1.5 acres, had first received two weeks training at a Tanzanian government agricultural training facility , then a dairy goat, then instructions on fish farming. They had created a small farm that fed the family with a year long variety of vegetables and several sustainable sources of protein. Their methods were ingenious and practical. They used no chemicals in their operation. There was sufficient surplus to provide money for the education of five of their six children and to help support the local health clinic. As part of the plan they had provided one healthy young female goat to allow a neighbor to also begin to establish a livestock farm. (According to the Heifer model, each recipient in turn must give to another person who has been trained) What I found most impressive was how well the farm was integrated. High efficiency planting beds incorporated green plant material, manure, soil, and ash with an ingenious watering system. Goats and chickens were fed some of the grain and plant material, fish were given grain products, and some goat manure went into the ponds to promote algae growth to feed the fish. They had a small plant nursery to produce plants to sell to neighbors. They grew an amazing variety of place for their own use and for sale. For example – vanilla beans are labor intensive but produce an excellent profit. Thanks to their Heifer training they were now a place where other farmers could come to learn new methods. …And to think it all started with one goat.
The second farm was a Women’s milk coop high on the slopes of Mt. Meru. This project began with the introduction of one cow – Since they were farther from the market for their milk a group of local women began to collect milk and produce a variety of high quality cheeses for the regional market. Mama Anna, our hostess, went for special training on cheese making – and we found their product very impressive. They also have integrated into their small farm coffee production, goats, chickens, and stingless bees. Taking advantage of their beautiful location high on the mountain slope, the woman’s coop is also developed a Cultural tourism opportunity – an experience into the local Meru tribal way of life. Some of the women also produce art and crafts for sale to their visitors. That one original cow has led to economic stability and money to provide for education for this entire community of small farmers.
Monday – Today we travelled north from Arusha to a large Masai village. It is always a surprise how much communication can take place even without language. We were greeted with singing and dancing in traditional style –a lot of hand shaking and hugs - then all the participants in the Heifer project entered a compound and the meeting began. The purpose of this visit was to observe the Heifer progress review of this large program. It was skillfully lead, and all particiants were invited to participate (however it was mostly men who offered ideas). It felt very much like a progress review in America – “which of our goals are we meeting, were should we focus our energy to improve…” Here these people who live in a culture so different from ours were engaging in an intelligent democratic sytem to inprove the success of their program. The major issues identified as most successful were the passing on of the gift after receiving an animal, and involvement of the total community.

Africa Notes #3

Africa Notes #3 (7/22)

(Note: We will be joining our Heifer study project on Saturday –so it may be a while before we can send the next message)

Most all good ideas begin with one person getting an inspiration – and then the idea can evolve and grow. American and European groups often want to help when confronted with the social issues that seem so much in need of assistance. But, what is effective? As we talk to NGO personnel (Non governmental organizations) some things become clear. Well meaning folks often do more harm than good. One group collected and sent 1000 t-shirts for children – fine! – But this utterly destroyed a local industry – and removed jobs from dozens of people. Also, sending computers is tricky for the same reasons – there is a budding computer market here. In addition, the satellite computer system is so ineffective as to make the donated computers non useful in rural areas– much better to collect money and buy local cell phones which supports the development of the local market as well. The bottom line is that Americans and Europeans that want to help need to first thoroughly discuss the needs and implications of sending materials to Africa. The NGOs living and working here would prefer working in advance with those offering to help rather than attempting to clean up the negative results of ill advised projects. There are ways to truly help that truly change lives in a positive way.

We have seen two projects in the last couple of days that have impressed us greatly:

1. Mama Lucy-When you pull into Mama Lucy’s compound you see two neat wings of classrooms and the construction of the new school library underway. She smiles when she talks about what a miracle is has been. She tells of having to send her own children to Kenya for schooling because the schools in Arusha were inferior and overcrowded. Mama Lucy had chickens and an egg production business and her husband had a job working in customs at the airport. When she decided to start a pre-school, she converted a chicken house into the first schoolroom. At first she had to pay all the expenses herself – but later she got some donations of money and supplies. A young couple from Florida, both consultants in business management met Mama Lucy while volunteering in Arusha in the mid 2000’s. They helped her write up a business plan, then went home and founded Epic Change to support her. Contrary to all advice, they sent her $35,000 trusting in Mama Lucy. The next time they visited, she had almost finished the first wing of the school. As money came in, Mama Lucy has been able to buy additional land, and build classrooms and gardens. Vegetables from the school garden are prepared with rice or corn to provide a healthy balanced diet each day. (Often the main meal of the day for the children). She has overcome obstacles to hire the best possible teachers and develop the most effective curriculum for her students. Because her test scores were much better than public school, parents began to discover her. Parents who are in a position to support the school are expected to pay a modest tuition, but poor students pay nothing. Now her big challenge is to expand the school beyond the 7th grade to provide a secondary education. This year she is adding an 8th grade class. She has also purchased a small house for students who are orphaned or live far out to live and attend the school. For more information on Mama Lucy visit her website: <>

2. Heifer International - Judy and I just seem to fall into things sometimes. Yesterday we spotted from our window a Heifer Project van. (The group we will be with next week) When Judy called down to the driver and introduced herself, he asked the school group if we could join them. Mostly Germans, it was a well travelled bunch of teenagers from the Munich International School out to a Masai village to deliver a group of cows, goats, and donkeys to village people. (Separate vehicle). Heifer is a 60 year-old project. The basic concept is this – instead of giving donations of food to people in need – why not train them first – then deliver an animal that meets their need (suitably selected for that particular climate and environment), then require each recipient to give the first born female to a neighbor – along with proper training. A local Heifer board is available to provide support and to make sure that the project continues on track. Yesterday we witnessed what this means for individual Masai village people. One cow means that there is milk for the family and surplus milk to sell – there is sufficient profit to send children to school, and make additions to the home, and to purchase additional food for the family. As additional cows are passed on to neighbors – over and over again - within in 10 years the addition of one cow can impact an entire neighborhood. We will never forget the smiles and gentle manner of women receiving their new animal – Also with a donkey – it means that the daily trip for water (several kilometers) can now be done with their new animal and not balanced on top of their head.

The ceremony of delivery involved beautiful Masai singing and dancing in full formal Masai dress, speeches, the delivery of the animals, and then a meal of fried cassava, sweet potatoes, Irish potatoes, and a large mug of boiled milk. It was a festive occasion! Here we are in the midst of people who are so culturally different from us – but we exchange hugs and smiles and feel very natural with them. To learn more about Heifer go to <>

Africa Notes 2

Africa Notes #2

First impressions of a new city – a new continent – emerge slowly. Our hotel breakfast showed remnants of British influence –the nice pot of tea with proper cups, the jam and toast with the eggs… but walking into the street, Africa became real for us. East Africa is a blend of tribal people, immigrants from the Arab lands and India, and a variety of people of European origin who now call Africa home… each with their own clothing styles…robes, loose togas with bright reds and yellows - intense patterns, western clothing, tall Arabic head dresses , scarves Sikh turbans… The street people were quick to recognize us as foreign and swept over us with all manner of goods and services to offer – and our first lesson of the day was how to develop a firm but non-hostile response. We quickly learned the difference between those who were aggressive sales people and those who were genuinely friendly and curious about us.

Native markets in many parts of the world have a similar feel – people selling vegetables, crafts, and white elephants… The wood workers – the iron mongers – the weavers… Part of the market experience is the spectrum of smells – from roasted meat and bread, flowers and spices, rot and smoke… The Arusha market is a bewildering maze of narrow walkways over moldering piles of vegetable waste, spilled fluids, past great piles of tiny silvery dried fish, live poultry, mysterious vegetables, broken cement… and tidy merchants who sweep clean the area in front of their shop. If we expressed the least interest in an item, we draw a crowd, and the bargaining begins. We have bargained before, but here it is a serious business – the first asking price is often totally unreasonable – followed by a generally good natured back and forth process, but serious too. Some merchants even follow you down the street repeating their best offer and assurances of “top quality”.

Evening finds us gathered in the hotel patio with fellow travelers, sharing half liter bottles of Kilimanjaro lager. An easy relationship develops when those who have good stories to tell share their day’s adventures. A family of 4 from Belgium had just returned from a 5 day trek to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro – it was the fulfillment of a life long dream of the mother who had recovered from serious medical problems as a child. The family was joyful in their success – and it was great inspiration to share in their victory. People gladly share ideas to help each other in planning their next day. E-mail addresses are exchanged along with invitations to visit.

Day 2 in Arusha – I am reminded of a great truth – “If you want to understand another culture you must avoid using the standards and expectations of your own culture. “ We went this morning with a young Masai man on a daylong trek up from the town, through the Masai village market area, along narrow pathways into the hills and valleys above. Our guide stopped and spoke to many – the style of the people was easy going and friendly – Our vocabulary of Swahili is growing to perhaps 20 words… and there were was much laughter and hand shakes as we made our way past the market stalls and homes. Each culture of people has their own understanding of what is required for a good life, how much money is needed, how time is spent, relationships, what a nice home should look like… Masai concepts are clearly different from North Americans… but we feel very much at ease with the people here. In every case when we meet someone, male or female, there is a special 3-part handshake – lingering holding hands for an interval. In our day we passed only one party of 3 Europeans … the children seemed to find the presence of us in their village a point of interest. We walked past corn and banana fields, vegetable gardens, cattle, new cement block homes and traditional huts. Our young Masai regularly guides up Kilimanjaro and he set a steady pace – We ate a fine lunch spread out on the brilliant red garment brought by the Masai. ( I also got a lesson in how exactly to wear the robe properly )n Judy decided to stay at a high overlook while the guide and I walked/climbed down the treacherous way to the river below –where due to the thick plant growth, we walked upstream to the base of a great long waterfall – never have I seen such exuberant fern and liverwort growth. The climb out was – challenging… We encountered a nest of intense stinging ants that climbed very rapidly up my pant legs before choosing a spot to bite. I learned today that the old Masai way of life is changing – there are some that cling to the old way of keeping cattle and living a migratory life – but many have become educated and work in town, or have established profitable small farms. It is interesting to note the similarities of these people and this environment to the people living in the hills of Oaxaca Mexico – both corn and banana based – both small land holding – both with similar concepts of home, village, and human relationships.


Africa Notes #1

Today we are high above the plains of East Africa, enroute between Johannesburg and Dar es Salaam – Yes, John and Judy are on the road again… on our way to Northern Tanzania where we will base our visit around the Arusha area – We arrived from the Atlanta airport on Thursday after 16 hours of air time (8600 miles) and settled into the Purple Palm – a delightful small hostel style hotel that we shared with a mixed community of Europeans, Africans, and Australians…all friendly and eager to share experiences. We slept 9 hours straight the first night despite our jet lag. What to do with our one day in Johannesburg ?
We set off on a small van tour of the Apartheid museum and the township of Soweto… What a fascinating story… Apartheid ended only 16 years ago- and the story of how Apartheid came to be, the struggle to overcome it, and the development of an open democratic country is remarkable. Never before in history has there been a case of a harshly subjugated people becoming enfranchised by mutual decision, with so complete forgiveness of grievances… The South Africa we see today is one with effective interaction between all people. Soweto is a major suburb outside of Johannesburg synonymous with the evils of apartheid segregation. The popular press usually speaks only of the extreme poverty of Soweto – but today there are all economic levels within this community – a region of professional and middle class homes, state provided free housing for the poor, squatters in abandoned homes, and shacks built of scrap materials. We ate lunch in a local buffet restaurant, walked through a section of a shanty town, and visited the home of one resident – Many people live in a space of 3 yards x 4 yards, walls of scrap, tin roof. Inside is a bed, a cooking stove, and barely room to turn around. The home we visited had 8 people - the woman and her 4 grand children in the bed, the other 3 pulled out a pad for sleeping on the floor. No electricity, water, or sewage. July and August are like December and January in the Northern hemisphere – freezing temperatures at night. And this is typical for a whole portion of Soweto. In the midst of their poverty the people share what little they have, children appear adequately fed, there is universal health care provided, and free education.

So today we are flying on to our “base of operations” for the next 3 ½ weeks – Arusha, Tanzania – just south of Mt. Kilimanjaro. We have way more things that we would like to do in that area than time…so stay tuned… We meet so many fascinating people – Our first impression is that the part of East Africa we are seeing is still working its way out of the long legacy of European imperialism, in many cases there is still continued removal of African resources with incomplete compensation to Africans. But great efforts for positive change are also taking place…. both by Africans and by supportive non-African groups working here. I rode north today with a Tanzanian man who is the director of a communications program, radio internet, and other media, working to assist isolated farmers, women, and urban dwellers in economic improvement, and community development. I get very excited about the possibilities that he described.

The airline steward just made available a birthday card to be signed for Mandela’s 92nd birthday – after being a leader in overcoming Apartheid for many years, he was imprisoned for 16 years of hard labor, and with the fall of Apartheid, he returned to become the first President of South Africa. He is much beloved and a powerful reminder of the power of forgiveness. He urges each person to give one minute of his 92 years to support a worthy cause-