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!

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