Waiting in Africa

 

It is impossible to read a book about Africa or listen to any first-hand account without hearing something about waiting and delays. Fallen “Three Cups of Tea” hero Greg Mortenson blames a life-long habit of tardiness on his Tanzanian upbringing. Some people are disgusted by the delays they have to deal with in Africa – what an insult to be kept waiting! Others view the “pole pole” pace as charming side effect of “underdevelopment” – a cultural oddity they can observe on vacation but would never allow into their professional lives. Paul Theroux, in “Dark Star Safari” – his account of a pan-African journey from Cairo to Cape Town – offers one of my favorite monologues of the African pace:

It sometimes seems as though Africa is a place you go to wait. Many Africans I met said the same thing, but uncomplainingly, for most lived their lives with a fatalistic patience. Outsiders see Africa as a continent delayed – economies in suspension, societies up in the air, politics and human rights put on hold, communities throttled or stopped. “Not yet,” voices of authority have cautioned Africans throughout the years of colonization and independence. But African was not the same as American time. One generation in the West was two generations in Africa, where teenagers were parents and thirty-year-olds had one foot in the grave. As African time passed, I surmised that the pace of Western countries was insane, that the speed of modern technology accomplished nothing, and that because Africa was going its own way at its own pace for its own reasons, it was a refuge and a resting place, the last territory to light out for. I surmised this, yet I did not always feel it; I am impatient by nature.

I have only been to Tanzania, so I can only speak of waiting in delays for one country. The first thing to realize about this change of pace is that as an outsider I will never really understand it. I can only see it through the lens I have grown up in – that of an American. That lens is thick with assumptions. Speed, efficiency, quick turnaround, and punctuality are all words we hold in high-esteem. 3G, 4G, 5G? Next-Day Shipping. Punctuality is the politeness of princes. In America we assume faster is better, and the way our culture is built, faster does fit in better. But Tanzania has a different culture that requires a different speed. What it has taken me three trips now to discover is that I cannot simply compare American speed to Tanzanian speed. I have to take Tanzanian speed on its own terms because it exists within a complex cultural structure that I will never understand.

High-speed doesn’t fit in with the other values of Tanzanian culture. Interestingly, while there are many words related to “hurrying” in Swahili, none of them have Bantu roots. Swahili is a language made up of words from Bantu and Arabic languages. The Bantu words reflect Tanzanians African roots and the Arabic words reflect the influence of Persian traders on East Africa centuries ago. All of the words meaning hurry – haraka, lazima, shidda, juhudi – are based in Arabic. There is a saying in Tanzania, Haraka haraka haina baraka – literally translated to, fast fast there is no blessing.

So, there is a cultural reason for waiting that visitors to Tanzania must not try to judge on their own terms. All we can do is take it for what it is and learn to adapt ourselves. Either that or stay on American time and go crazy.

Cultural explanations are important to understand and may help explain some of the more technical reasons for waiting.

I find myself waiting many times because of technological failures. The power goes out, the internet is down, the ATM isn’t working, and the cellphone signal has three bars but there is a “network failure.” Sometimes – many times – I have to wait for government officials. Maybe, they’re waiting for me to pay a “facilitation fee” before allowing me to move on. Last week I was in a line of 15 people with just one official working at the window. In the window next to her another official was sitting in his booth with his window closed finishing his lunch and looking at us. Other times there are delays because, what’s the rush? It can be maddening at first until you learn to plan for it, deal with it, and enjoy it.

I always have a book to read and a pad of paper to write and take notes. In Tanzania you are never far from a beer or a soda. So, when delays hits – enjoy it. On my last two delays I found a rooftop bar in Marangu I had never known about and met a potential future business partner. I’m looking forward to my next delay.

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Progress Update

It’s been an exciting week! We welcomed Mary, her new baby, and Mosses back to the TPM team. Mary has returned for good from Mtwara in the southern coastal region of Tanzania and Mosses is just back for a couple of weeks before returning for his last trimester of college. It’s great to be back and we are already making more progress because of their presence.

On Monday I offered Mary the job of being in charge of the vegetable gardening programming we are hoping to begin in the coming weeks. She accepted enthusiastically and immediately hired Babu Lyimo as her assistant. This will be a team that does great things! Mary is hardworking and energetic and she brings an entrepreneurial energy to everything she does. She also has a huge heart and is excited to be given the opportunity to help some of the poorer families in her community.

Lyimo brings experience, professionalism, and language skills to the team. He was a team leader for a contracting company for many years before losing his leg and he knows about project management and village politics. It will be exciting to see what this team can accomplish!

Mosses and I have some meetings lined up with various local organizations that we are hoping to support. Mosses started a youth group a couple of years ago that seeks to create local employment opportunities, so we will definitely be meeting with them. We are also hoping to continue meeting with Mama Betty.

Just yesterday I finally worked through the last step in the loan process with Bosco before actually applying. He now has his business plan, his bank account, and his Tax ID #. This was a very valuable learning experience. Once we know the process we can help more entrepreneurs – and we do have many more in the pipelines – to secure financing for their projects, big and small. I believe that it is very important to get people working in the formal financial sector. The government of Tanzania has recently passed legislation making it much easier for small farmers and other business people to access capital for their projects via low interest loans. Getting into the formal financial sector provides much quicker pathways to growth and prosperity. Local microfinance can help people get started in business and learn the basics, but most local organizations aren’t able to provide funding for more than around $100 per loan. Bigger loans mean bigger businesses and more jobs. Additionally, working in the formal financial sector means entrepreneurs build credit and relationships at banks that they wouldn’t build with small microfinance institutions. Our goal is to create a solid microfinance organization that produces entrepreneurs capable of taking out banks loans within a few years.

So it’s been a busy week and no doubt next week will bring more challenges, opportunities, and progress. Thanks for the support!

Out and About in Mkyashi

Some things never change, like Scola's ability to chug soda.

Some things never change, like Scola’s ability to chug soda.

A typical Sunday in Mkyashi - bibis hanging out after church drinking Mbege, the local banana beer.

A typical Sunday in Mkyashi – bibis hanging out after church drinking Mbege, the local banana beer.

Asante (left) and his sister Haika after Asante received his First Communion last week along with about 100 other kids in Mkyashi.

Asante (left) and his sister Haika after Asante received his First Communion last week along with about 100 other kids in Mkyashi.

Just a little Saturday afternoon fun.

Just a little Saturday afternoon fun.

It's nice to live in a place where even a casual walk to a friends house can be beautiful.

It’s nice to live in a place where even a casual walk to a friends house can be beautiful.

Mary's baby! So happy to finally meet her.

Mary’s baby! So happy to finally meet her.

Getting a bath.

Getting a bath.

Progress with perks.

Progress with perks.

Did we mention about the waterfalls? Here is the bottom two thirds of Ndoro falls. It's about 80 feet tall.

Did we mention about the waterfalls? Here is the bottom two thirds of Ndoro falls. It’s about 80 feet tall.

I really can't explain other than to say that I love Haika's onesy.

I really can’t explain other than to say that I love Haika’s onesy.

Babu Lyimo's new baby cow, just two days old.

Babu Lyimo’s new baby cow, just two days old.

Ethical Dilemmas

The primary goal of everything TPM does is to “Cultivate Prosperity.” “Cultivate” implies that the process is a slow one and one that must be cared for and looked after over time. There are no quick solutions to poverty and personal growth. To “prosper” is to flourish, thrive, grow, and succeed. It’s not about money or material wealth; it’s about having your basic needs met and being able to become what you want to be in life. So we are on a long, slow path to self-fulfillment and personal growth. Our major projects during the 2013 program are aimed at helping people achieve this long-term security and personal success. Short-term band aids and hand-outs feel good for the giver, but they inhibit long-term solutions and the personal growth of recipients. Further, they cheapen the impact of any long-term solutions being cultivated in the community – why should anyone work hard to cultivate prosperity alongside us if others are being given things? – and create a culture of dependency where people have no imperative to get creative.

So that is a brief background of some of my philosophies gained from multiple trips to Mkyashi and much studying of charitable aid and economic development.

On Wednesday evening after a long day of meetings with local officials and entrepreneurs I came back home to call Bank of America and try to sort out an issue with my debit card. Obviously, I was put on hold for a very long time – worst bank ever. I was sitting in a chair with my Blackberry open on speakerphone and my debit card out in front of me when Honorata (name changed) came into the room and sat down beside me. I have known Honorata since the first time I came to Tanzania three years ago. She is a tiny, strong woman who has somehow managed to produce nine children and she is always very sweet. She sits next to me with a cup of tea and waits for me to finish on the phone. As she sits there, I wonder why she has come. Maybe she just wants to visit, but maybe she has a business idea she wants to talk to me about! Maybe after years of being dependent upon handouts she is finally ready to take control and become independent. She is fidgety and seems uncomfortable as I finish up my phone conversation.

I hang up my fancy telephone (in Africa Blackberrys are still considered fancy), put away my debit card to an American bank account and begin the usual extended pleasantries that are customary in Tanzania. At this point I’m still smiling stupidly and hoping that she has come to discuss some idea. Almost immediately she says the words “shida” – problem – and I know I’m in for the ask. She explains to me that she needs money for two of her kids’ school fees.

I’ve told myself since before I left that I am not going to give away money in this manner. I’m not going to buy soda and cookies for kids, I’m not going to buy beers for people at the local bar, and I’m not going to give away money for school fees or flour. I believe that if I set a precedent from the start and prove that the other projects we are working on can be successful, people will stop seeing me as a source of free money and start seeing me as a potential partner who is willing to help them become self-sufficient however I can. Additionally, I am working with money from donors, and they did not donate to TPM so that I could just give money away. It was donated because people believed in programs that could create lasting change.

It all sounded logical and easy when I thought it through in America, but now here I am with a fancy cell phone and a debit card telling a mother with nine kids and no job that I simply can’t give her money. Even when I say no she continues to look at me expectantly. Clearly, this is not her first rodeo and she has obviously seen the material signs of wealth in front of me. I explained to her that in the next few weeks we will begin the implementation of a gardening program and that I would love to make her family one of the first to get training and supplies to begin their vegetable garden. She looks at me indifferently and is no doubt disappointed not to be leaving with cash in hand, but she thanks me and we schedule a time for me to come to her home to plan the garden. I know I have let her down and that the next few weeks will be difficult for her. I know I could have eased that short-term difficulty by giving her a bit of money. But I firmly believe that I have to stick to this principle if TPM is going to create the kind of change we want to see.

I do not believe that giving money to Honorata would have truly made a difference in her life. I would have had to do the same thing next month and the month after and I’m not planning to spend my whole life here, so eventually she would be in this same position. Better to stop now and find a solution. Still she is a hard-working and genuine woman and it was heart-breaking to say no to her. But we have to take that energy and turn it into even more passion and commit ourselves to helping people in Mkyashi begin cultivating their own prosperity. Honorata will be a great woman to start with.

For readings on this subject I recommend: Dead Aid by Dambiso Moyo (an African woman explaining the damage aid has done to her continent), Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton, and The Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz.

Fresh Food, Served Daily

One of my favorite parts about staying in Tanzania is the food. Everything is as fresh as can be – often times picked off the tree right in front of you before being served. In less romantic occasions, slaughtered just hours before it is served to you. But it’s all delicious and it’s all finger food! Sometimes I do cheat and use spoons and forks, but everything is intended to be eaten with your RIGHT hand. Your left hand is for performing other duties.

Here is a sampling of some of my favorite dishes served so far.

Beans and Chapati – A classic in probably 50% of the countries in the world. Beans and chapatti is cheap for the traveler on a budget, filling, and delicious.

Beans and Chapati – A classic in probably 50% of the countries in the world. Beans and chapatti is cheap for the traveler on a budget, filling, and delicious.

Kiti Moto – Pork that is deep-fried and then grilled, served with roasted bananas and vegetables. Delicious and fattening. Goes well with beer.

Kiti Moto – Pork that is deep-fried and then grilled, served with roasted bananas and vegetables. Delicious and fattening. Goes well with beer.

Chipsi Mayai – Chipsi mayai translates to chips and eggs. This Tanzanian favorite is fried potatoes cooked omelette style into eggs along with some vegetables and then topped with warm tomatoes and other vegetables. Again: cheap, filling, and delicious!

Chipsi Mayai – Chipsi mayai translates to chips and eggs. This Tanzanian favorite is fried potatoes cooked omelette style into eggs along with some vegetables and then topped with warm tomatoes and other vegetables. Again: cheap, filling, and delicious!

Samaki and Ugali – The picture makes this look like a mess, but it is one of my favorite dishes! Fish stew made with fresh tilapia from Lake Victoria and local fruits and vegetables served over warm ugali with vegetables on the side. Ugali is a Tanzanian staple. It’s essentially just flour and water boiled into the consistency of mashed potatoes. It has zero nutritional value but for most Tanzanians it is their main – or only – meal of the day.

Samaki and Ugali – The picture makes this look like a mess, but it is one of my favorite dishes! Fish stew made with fresh tilapia from Lake Victoria and local fruits and vegetables served over warm ugali with vegetables on the side. Ugali is a Tanzanian staple. It’s essentially just flour and water boiled into the consistency of mashed potatoes. It has zero nutritional value but for most Tanzanians it is their main – or only – meal of the day.

Chapati and Eggs – This one is more of a Tanzanian version of a Western breakfast favorite. Chapati strips cooked into eggs and topped with veggies. Along with a cup of Tanzanian spiced tea and some fresh fruit it’s a great way to start the day.

Chapati and Eggs – This one is more of a Tanzanian version of a Western breakfast favorite. Chapati strips cooked into eggs and topped with veggies. Along with a cup of Tanzanian spiced tea and some fresh fruit it’s a great way to start the day.

And best of all but not pictured here are the fresh fruits straight from the trees in Mkyashi. Mangoes so sweet they taste like ice cream.

 

 

 

 

Valentine’s Day Progress Update

Simon meeting with one of the landowners on the proposed TPM building site.

Simon meeting with one of the landowners on the proposed TPM building site.

We are continuing to make progress towards the goals of our 2013 program. To be effective in Tanzania, one has to be able to make the adjustment from American speed to Tanzanian speed. That can be frustrating at first. It feels unproductive and slow. However, it is the only way to build solid programs and institutions that can be successful long-term.

Just this morning I was telling Babu Lyimo about making this adjustment and he advised me to be like a chameleon. He explained to me that the chameleon moves very slowly. It can’t outrun predators and it takes a while for it to change colors. It should be easy prey. However, the chameleon can reach branches that no other animal can reach. It moves slowly because it tests each branch and twig as it moves further and further out. Thus, it always knows the branch will be able to support it. Other animals move quickly and cannot travel with this same confidence. So, we must move forward slowly and build upon foundations of trust.

While the day to day can feel frustratingly slow, I am quite pleased to look back and report on our progress to date. We have received continued interest and support for the vegetable gardening program we are aiming to begin in March. Local leadership has shown resounding support for the project and many people have asked how/if they can be put on a list to receive training and supplies to start their own gardens. The next step will be for me to go down to Kah’e and get trained on the program for a week. I will visit again the next with a small team from Mkyashi. After that we will be ready to implement a garden shop and three gardens here in the village. We hope to do one garden per month for the rest of the year and then evaluate the program’s success and potential for the future.

I have also met with a number of local entrepreneurs working on an array of small businesses they hope to begin or grow. With most I am still working on business planning and financial management, but a few are beginning to seek credit from banks. I am working with Bosco – village chairman and entrepreneur – to learn more about the lending process for small businesses in Tanzania. Recent legislation has made it much easier for people to get small business loans in Tanzania. However, the changes have not been well-publicized. If we can learn more about these changes – and if they play out as they are supposed to – we will be able to help a number of local entrepreneurs receive credit.

Along this same line, we have made an exciting connection with Mama Betty. Mama Betty is a former bank employee who has worked for the past year to start a series of Village Community Banks (ViCoBa) in Mkyashi in surrounding villages. ViCoBas function as community help groups as well as banks. A group of 20-30 local people (mostly women) get together and agree to each deposit 2000 Tsh (about $1.25) per week into the bank as well as 500 Tsh into the self-help fund. During once-per-week meetings group members discuss any difficulties they are having and can receive money from the self-help fund to take care of these difficulties. Then members make pitches asking to receive loans. Loans are given out Grameen Bank-style to groups of five people who are all accountable for ensuring other group members pay. It’s basic microfinance and it helps people build credit and business acumen so eventually they will have the assets and the knowledge to take loans from banks.

In the past year Mama Betty has started six banks serving 130 members and holding around $30,000 in deposits. She has done it all without a salary and without any donations. We are currently working with her to develop a sustainability plan for the project that would allow her to continue to grow current banks and start new ones. We hope to create a plan that would allow her to take a salary from her work with the banks within two years. During those two years we would give her a small salary to compensate for the time and energy she spends working on the banks.

It could truly be a powerful partnership and would fit perfectly into our goal of supporting local initiatives and local visionaries. Still, there is much work to do before anything formal can be agreed upon. Perhaps we will find it is best to let the banks be and stay out of their way!

We have also visited the proposed property for the eco-lodge and confirmed our agreement with the landowners. It was great to stand their again and take in the incredible view, dreaming of what could one day be!

Babu Lyimo and His Goats

Babu Lyimo is a great man and I could tell stories about him for hours because he can usually tell stories to me for hours. He is probably the most compassionate farmer I’ve ever met and he reminds me how far removed we have gotten from our food in America. Babu Lyimo loves his animals and he loves them as individuals, not just collectively because of what they provide him. He seems to be particularly fond of his goats.

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He has one goat – Charlie – who was his very good friend. He says Charlie would follow him around all the time and knew how to come when called. One day Lyimo was doing some work and his phone was out of arm’s reach. Lyimo lost a leg a few years ago to diabetes so he can be slow to get things that are out of arm’s reach. As he was working his phone went off. Charlie went over to the phone and grabbed it with his mouth. Lyimo thought Charlie was going to eat his phone so he yelled and swung at Charlie to scare him off. It worked, but then, Lyimo says, he realized Charlie was just getting his phone for him because he knew that Lyimo only had one leg and would be slow to get up. He says Charlie is afraid of him now and he can never forgive himself for losing his friend.

He has also been holding on to a goat for me in exchange for a computer. Unfortunately it took me longer than expected to return to Mkyashi and in that time my goat grew considerably. The goat has caused him some serious problems including eating everything and getting too big for his cage. But Lyimo has really grown affectionate of the goat after so long. He calls the goat Sam and Sam loves when Lyimo pats him on his head. In fact, if Lyimo approaches the goat cage and neglects to give Sam a rub Sam will smash his head against the roof of the cage until he gets a pat. Lyimo says he is going to be very sad to see Sam go, but that Mama Lyimo says she can’t stand to look at it anymore and it keeps her up at night.

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The newest addition to Babu Lyimo’s goat family is “Blackie”, a one week old calf (?) that is all black with a tiny white spot on his back. Blackie likes to sit on Lyimo’s lap but his favorite game to is goat fighting. Goats have very hard heads and mail goats get small horns that they use to head butt each other. I don’t know much about it but it seems like some sort of male testosterone, mating, show-off thing. In any case, Blackie likes when you punch him in the head. He gets all excited and makes little “baww” noises and gets in a fighting position. His face is so ugly, it’s adorable.

Babu Lyimo and Blackie

Babu Lyimo and Blackie

Still, at the end of the day Lyimo sells each goat to be slaughtered for food. Each goat is a personal loss for him as much as a material gain. When he takes some of the meet for himself he knows the life-story of the food he is eating and appreciates much more robustly the gift of food.