Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Week 2: (Sept. 22nd – Sept 30th) Mwanza, Tanzania

Getting into the swing of things

In all honestly the first and second week in Mwanza are kind of one in the same in a way. After getting a little more settled in, as in picking our rooms, sleeping on a delicious bed equipped with bug net and having one of the most beautiful sleeps ever, we got up the next day ready for action. After getting ready, we set out late afternoon to get a glimpse of the town in the daylight. The sun was intense, the bustle on the street was sharp and it didn’t take long for us to realize that our presence in Mwanza was dually noted. MZUNGU!!!

For anyone who has never been called Mzungu, it is a little difficult to explain, but for those who have had the privilege of travelling to such places, I’m sure you understand. Mzungu is what you are called in Swahili when you are not black. It’s not racist or even rude in the least to call someone a Mzungu, it’s just sort of something that people enjoy pointing out.

For good Canadians such as ourselves, it was strange to have our “mzunguness” pointed out especially since we represent Canadian multiculturalism so well. Our team is made up of Helen, who is originally from Sudan, me whose parents are from El Salvador, Nilmi whose parents are from Sri Lanka and Missy whose background is European. Although in all fairness, they had a name for Nilmi, who in their eyes looks Indian…they called her Mhindi…which was sometimes a nice change. I even tried getting them to call me Mlatino… but it didn’t stick and I remained Mzungu. For the most part it was funny because sometimes they didn’t know what to call out first because of our spectrum of colour, it seemed confusing to see Mzungus of such different shades. From that point on the four of us became Team Spectre and loved it.

Missy showed us around town from the small shops in Mlango Moja, to town where the banks and tourism agencies are, the good local restaurants and internet cafes. We also went to the local market where you can find almost anything from fresh fruit and vegetables to tire sandals (they’re these black sandals made from old tires and nails, simple and awesome!) There’s something about being at the market that is unlike any experience you can get anywhere else. It’s an energy you get from being around so many different people; it’s lively and even intense at times.

After our small adventure at the market, trying to get the best price on a pineapple (which is 500 Tsh. approximately 50 cents US) we decided to go home to make Dinner. We talked for hours about each other’s lives and how we came to be interns all about the project and how it was going so far.

Since this was Missy second time as an intern with WHE in Mwanza, Tanzania, she had a lot of insight on the project and was able to tell us all about her experiences with WHE, and the progress that the Tukwamuane women have made since her last visit a two years ago.

It was definitely nice to see the whole operation while it was up and running while in Mwanza. We went to the kitchen in Mabatini, about a ten-minute walk from the apartment in Mlango, every day to help out with the breakfast program that they are now running as a side project making and selling chapattis mendazi and tea. It was definitely the highlight of our mornings, just being able to share a few hours with such amazing, strong and inspiring women. Just being near them you feel their playful and cheerful energy yet there is such strength, determination and drive. They make you feel like anything is possible.

During our two week stay we also visted NIMRI where they make the probiotics and test the yogurt for quality control, St. Augustine’s University who make up part of the financial administration and Kivulini a great women’s rights organization that has been very helpful with the start up in Mwanza. Being able to participate in the weekly meetings with the mama’s and a steering committee meeting were critical in our understanding of the way things should run. As we are the first ever interns in Rwanda, we really have no idea what to expect upon arriving. How to start up an entire project that should sustain itself is not an easy task, and it is not something that we can do alone or even in a short amount of time. All of a sudden, we are beginning to realize just how big this project really is, or at least realizing its tremendous potential. It’s nerve racking but exhilarating at the same time to know that potentially we can change the world hahaha…not really the world…but more like a ripple effect that can reach farther than we had ever thought possible before…with yogurt…something that is so ordinary or even unimportant. YOGURT is changing lives people… HAHAHAHA… and if no one else’s than mine!

Mwanzans are known to be a sharp and friendly people, and it has only been confirmed on our two-week stay. We’ve made so many friends and can only hope that one day we’ll be back to see everyone again.

After two weeks of being in M-town, Nilmi, Helen and I have fallen in love and don’t want to leave. We’re excited not to live out of a suitcase, and also super pumped to start work on the project…but we will definitely miss Mwanza.

But we are moving upwards and onwards with our bags full of new experiences and information that Tz has been able to provide us with. So now we pack and hope for the best airplane food in the world…maybe we’ll get some yogurt!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Week 1: Sept. 15th- Sept. 21st) Mwanza, Tanzania

Our Adventure begins…here!

Tuesday September 15th 2009 was the decided departure date, thankfully this gave us a bit of time to meet up and discuss our trip as a team. Since school was also starting up we were able to figure out our schedules for when we got back to minimize the craziness in January.

Our flight was leaving at 5:45 PM from the Pearson International Airport so we decided to meet up at the gate.

After our goodbyes to our families, we set out on our way ready for our adventure to begin. We were so excited we could hardly contain ourselves…and on top of everything, without even realizing, we had decided to leave on Helen’s birthday. On the plane we decided to celebrate with a “cheers” to our great adventure together.

Our first stop was Amsterdam, where our layover allowed us a 12 hour breath of Dutch air.

Next stop was Nairobi, Kenya where we had an excruciating 8 hour layover! We spent most of our time trying to find chairs to sit/sleep on and something to eat that didn’t remind us of airplane food. We ended with a variation of a pig in a blanket that seemed OK at the time…but we soon realized that our extreme hunger had deceived us into thinking it was delicious, in fact it was not…and we do not recommend it to anyone.

Another layover in Dar Es Salaam, but at least now we were finally in Tanzania. A few hours later, after being dazed by the many the airports that all felt totally different yet the same, we arrive in Mwanza. We thought it would never happen, two full days of travel and we were finally home…for two weeks.

Upon arriving, Missy Whaling the only intern left at the Mwanza site came to the airport to pick us up. Reality has finally set in…we are here in Africa. It’s hard to believe that after sitting, standing and waiting for so long we are finally where we are supposed to be. Where we have wanted to be, anticipating two months when we found out we were coming, two days worth of travelling time, or even a lifetime’s worth of dreams of making it to the Motherland. Africa has a strange sense of home for many who visit, and for us, I can say that the feeling is present. You can just feel a sense or home by the sounds of the streets and the smell of the air. I could feel myself opening my eyes wider just so that I could see more as we made our way to Mlango Moja, our new neighbourhood for the next two weeks.

When we got to the apartment, we were told that there was no power, something that seems to happen pretty often in Mwanza. We chatted a bit in the dark, which was nice and relaxing and then we set off for our first real meal in two days. Tilapia, which is a local fish found in Lake Victoria, is also the name of a hotel and restaurant in Mwanza where we ate that night. Everything was delicious, but then again we were so hungry we would probably have eaten those pigs in a blanket again. NOT!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Let the games begin!!

After an entire summer of travelling in South America with my sister, I thought that travelling would be out of the question (at least for the next little while) in order to start and finish my masters program at the University of Western Ontario. So you could imagine my surprise learning while I was away that I would come home for two weeks and leave again on one of the sweetest trips in my life…so far.

When mentioning Rwanda, it is easy for your mind to jump quickly to the news of the early nineties when most people were only just beginning to hear about one of the biggest massacres in recent history.

Now, Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills will easily become my home and my love during the next three months. With an amazing and painful history, Rwanda has managed to overcome their obstacles and start fresh while never forgetting their past.

First things first I think an introduction is in order.

We are the Round 4 Fall Interns for the Western Heads East project in Kigali, Rwanda. Our team met for the first time as a whole about a month ago when I returned from my travels. We got to know each other fairly well in the two weeks of last minute orientation and preparation for our trip. Our team is made up of three students, Helen Awai from the faculty of Science (Biology and Religious Studies), Nilmi Senaratna from the faculty of Science (Environmental Science and French), and myself, Silvia Marroquin-Ponce, from the faculty of Arts in Humanities (French and Spanish Language and Literature).

During our three month and a half internship with the Western Heads East program from the University of Western Ontario, we will be exploring the possibility of starting a probiotic yogurt project with a local women’s group in Kigali Rwanda. Our project’s main objective is to address the HIV/AIDS crisis in Eastern Africa while empowering a group of women along the way.

Already, Western Heads East has two running projects in Mwanza, Tanzania (since 2004) and in Oyugis, Kenya (since 2008). Kigali, Rwanda will be the third “Fiti” (Swahili for good health) yogurt project in Eastern Africa with Western Heads East.