No trip to Tanzania is complete without experiencing the natural beauty of this country, so for the next four days we will be going on a safari! Sadly, this means we will be unable to post new entries to the blog for a few days, but I’m sure we will have amazing stories and pictures to share with you when we get back on Sunday.
On Wednesday we will be kicking off our safari by entering the Ngorongoro Conservation Area. This 3200 square mile national park houses some of the most of the most exotic and rare animals on the planet. The park is a massive expanse of plains, tropical forest and dramatic geographical features. The first day in the park we will be visiting Olduvai Gorge, the cradle of humanity. This is one of the oldest human paleontology sites in the world, containing 3 million year old artifacts including the earliest examples of humans using tools. Wednesday night we will be heading through the conservation area and entering Serengeti National Park where we will be camping.
Serengeti National Park covers and incredible 5700 square miles of plains, savanna, and forest. The park is home to giraffe, zebras, cheetah, gazelles, lions, elephants, and many other interesting animals. We will be in the park for two full days and camping there for two nights. Hopefully we will be able to get far enough into the park to see some amazing animals and get some great pictures. We will be in Serengeti National park until Friday night, when we will return to the Ngorongoro Conservation area where we will camp for the night.
On Saturday, we will be heading to the Ngorongoro Crater, the centerpiece of the conservation area. The crater is one of the largest volcanic craters in the world and acts as a sort of natural enclosure for its exotic fauna. This is the most likely place to see rhinoceros on our trip, the rarest animal we are likely to encounter. The crater also offers a beautiful mixes of plains, forests and mountains that will make our time there an amazing experience. Following our tour of the crater, we will be leaving the parks to return to Karatu, our base in Tanzania.
We are super excited for our safari, but we won’t have access to the internet for a few days. Our next post should be Saturday night when we get back from our safari. We have so much to talk about after doing user testing this week, and I’m sure we will have some amazing animal pictures, stay tuned!
Our big day! The day we bring out our prototypes to test with our users! After months of hard work and various design considerations and choices, we set out to the field to test our assumptions, try out our designs, and get valuable feedback from our users themselves. And so we go … back to the village of Magesho!
On Monday, we spent the entire afternoon at Jacob and Emma’s house, which quickly filled with curious neighbors as well. We asked them questions, they asked us questions, we had them try out our different designs, they charged their cell phones, and they showed us where they would store this product… and during all this, they brought up so many opinions and points we had never considered. For example: we built our prototypes out of wood. Wood in Africa? … Never lasts! Why? TERMITES!! They’re everywhere! The villagers pointed out this serious design flaw right off the bat: after that discovery, one which we had not even considered, I knew we would learn so much from this user testing.
Up to this point in our trip, we had been very focused on cell phone charging as the most apparent need. However, after several villagers immediately asked us, “Can these devices run lights?” we began to question what the villagers actually needed… and wanted. We had also been struggling with the fact that this device could be targeted at income generation, where the person who buys this device could charge multiple phones at once for a fee from his neighbors, like we had seen other villagers with larger solar installations doing. However, many villagers brought up a different point of view of income generation. Instead of literally using the device to generate income, a surprisingly large number of people talked to us about the money they would save with this device from buying kerosene each week (unprovoked by anything we said!). They were excited that that money, usually spent on kerosene, could potentially be directed elsewhere, towards food or education. The potential of this less direct form of income generation was very apparent to many of the villagers of Magesho.
We had the villagers try to track the sun with each design and had them compare them and tell us what they liked and didn’t like. We realized which designs were intuitive, and which designs were pretty difficult without explanation. It was so exciting to watch as they figured out the tracking and then excitedly explained it to the others trying it out.
We tried various techniques to try to get as many opinions and insights out of these user tests as we could. One idea we tried was a pretend shop setup. We labeled each design with a price in Tanzanian shillings, and how many cell phones per week it could charge and how many lights it could power. We asked them to pick which one they would prefer based on price and power output…and of course asked why they picked that one. Interesting tradeoffs they told us were their willingness to pay more for a product that looked more durable: metal over wood of course. They were willing to pay more for the products that would have enough power to run lights, instead of just charge cell phones. But, they would prefer to do both, they told us!
As we continued on our Magesho user testing journey, we tried to stick to the “show, don’t tell” method as much as possible. “Show us where you’d use this device and where you’d store it,” we asked Jacob and Emma. No hesitation… the roof of course! They didn’t want the animals to trample it. Plus, Emma added, “It’s closer to the sun!”
After Jacob had positioned the Z prototype on the roof, we asked him if he would clean it, and if so, how. Emma ran to fetch a cloth from inside and he handed it up to Jacob on the roof. Jacob carefully wiped down the lens and solar panel from the incessant dust. He said he would probably use soap and water to do that. Future design note: Make this device able to be completely submerged in water for both cleaning and rain!
It was such an exciting and productive day on so many levels. We learned so much from the villagers of Magesho as we listened to their questions, watched them use the prototypes, and saw their expressions. And apparently, the villagers weren’t the only Mageshons that were excited about the possibility of off-grid power generation. We barely saved some prototypes from getting trampled or eaten from the local livestock!
A great first day of user testing! More stories to come of our adventures today (Tuesday) in Magesho!
Mogesho is a village far outside the already very remote town of Karatu. It is a particularly special village for us because it is this specific village that brought us to Tanzania to work with CPAR in the first place. And as such, we’re doing a large majority of our work here – getting to know the community and designing a device that truly fits their needs.
We’d like to take you there. Come with us… (you can click on each of the pictures below for a larger/closer view).
Ok, come along… there’s still a ways to go. It takes the villagers of Mogesho 2.5 hours by foot, each way, to get to Karatu. And if they’re lucky, they might own a bike, in which case it only takes 1.5 hours. .. oh and notice the mud thatch hut in the distance. That’s a typical house here.
Here’s the watering hole. The District of Karatu recently ran a tap out here so that everyone can get water, but don’t be fooled, that water should really be boiled before drinking – it comes out a little brown. See the yellow container? Every family owns a few of these – they carry their drinking water and water for livestock in these to and from their homes each day.
Oh, and hey check out all the livestock… cows (with humps – watch out for our to-be-produced Black Eyed Peas “humps” music video), donkeys, goats, sheeps, and the oh-so-adorable baby goats and lambs. We found out that people invest their savings in livestock, rather than by putting their money into a bank account and accruing 12.75% APR. Our translator explained to us that people were skeptical of the banks, and that livestock was perceived as a much wiser investment that they could cash out at anytime by selling.
And here’s one of the stores. They’re selling tomatoes. If you ask a storekeeper in a rural village if they have another job outside of the shop as an extra source of income, they’ll tell you “no”. However, this is actually a mistruth. The entire village relies heavily upon their livestock and their annual harvest for income – but for them it’s not perceived as a job, rather it is a way of life. Also, notice the kids standing around? They’re on their lunch break. These students are all in primary school – you can tell by the uniform. The blue skirts and burgundy tops are the give-away.
This is the local hang out. Simon – the store owner – bought a diesel generator last year after a really good harvest. He uses it to power a television during the evenings and to charge phones. About 10 people bring their phones each evening to charge – and while they’re waiting, they sit together inside and watch Gospel on the tele.
This little boy is wearing a gaze of curiosity that seems to mimic our own. It’s funny though, because we are not really all that different from the villagers of Mogesho – despite growing up in entirely different environments and living completely different lifestyles. We want the same things – a happy family, good health, close friends, a way to become independent, an opportunity to go to a good school…
Ah, and here we are too.. with our prototypes. Today was the first day that we brought them out to the village, and it was a spectacular day.. but you’ll have to wait to hear about our great findings and fun times. (It’s late here and we have another early day tomorrow.) STAY TUNED!
From all of us here in Tanzania, we wanted to share our new favorite Tanzanian pop song with you! It’s called “Pii Pii” by Marlaw. We love the Swanglish in the lyrics!
Listen to it:
We heard it over and over in the Peugeot on Friday. We heard it four times in a row in the restaurant last night. We’ve heard it EVERYWHERE! And yes, we’ve grown to love it. And we hope you will too! Enjoy
Two days ago, we had quite the adventure which we want to share with you. It is a tale of public transportation whoas (yet again!), Mzungu mishaps, lack of planning in various aspects, and a tale of what you can find in Arusha that you can’t find in Karatu. No photos exist to help tell this story… you must rely on your visual imagination that accompanies these words to fill in that gap. We like to fondly call this story: In Retrospect…
On Friday, after a few days of working on our prototypes, we realized that in order to charge the old-style Nokia phones, which the majority of the people have here, with our prototypes, we were going to need some serious circuitry hacking. Just our luck that those phones require completely different current and voltage requirements than all the other phones we had previously tested with… Based out of Karatu, a rather rural town whose main claim to fame is merely a stopping point on the safari circuit, we were hard-pressed to find some of those resistors, integrated circuits, car chargers, and rechargeable batteries that we needed here. So, we decided a trip to Arusha was in order. In Retrospect… we should have brought many of these things with us from the US. Oh well!
So we make the decision that Amanda, Bryan, and I will make the journey to Arusha while Greg remains in Karatu to continue working on the prototypes. Morning turns into lunchtime which turns into afternoon before we realize that Nderingo, who works here for CPAR, had not actually waited for us to go to Arusha like we had thought and had already left. In Retrospect… we would have figured that out sooner and left much earlier. Oops!
Yes, it was 2pm by the time we started our journey. A journey which consisted of a 2 hour Peugeot ride to Arusha, shops in Arusha that close around 4 or 5, and a 2 hour ride back to Karatu, hopefully not done in the dark. The sun goes down here at 6:30pm. You do the math. In Retrospect… we would have planned our timing a little bit better. But we needed those supplies for functioning prototypes, and thus set out!
On the main road of Karatu, we immediately hailed down a Peugeot… or rather the Peugeot driver hailed us down. We three Mzungus piled into the most “pimped-out” Peugeot yet: we’re talking red velvet seats. Oh yeah! And to our surprise, the driver didn’t sit and wait to fill up the Peugeot like usual, but just started driving. Note to self: a Peugeot that does not start full will always become full very quickly. The driver would constantly pick people up, drop people off, pick more people up, basically guaranteeing that the car was always packed to the brim. By the time we had 8 people crammed into this station wagon, and the driver hailed down a couple men standing by the side of the road, we all thought there’s no way he’s going to possibly pick these guys up too. I mean, besides, they had a goat! We looked at this party of 3, looked at each other, and Amanda said what all three of us were definitely thinking, “They’re not possibly bringing that goat too…(pause)… are they?” No time to answer that question. Next thing we knew, our packs that were previously in the trunk were on our laps, with a goat in place of them. The two men climbed into the car as well. And so, we continued on our journey: 1 Peugeot, 10 people, and a goat. We couldn’t tell if the rest of the car was laughing at us laughing about the absurdity of the whole situation, or if they actually thought it was a little ridiculous themselves. In Retrospect… we decided it was the former. And our journey continues!
As we continued down near Lake Manyara, we kept our eyes peeled for any form of wildlife that we might be able to spot. In the past, we were lucky enough to see ostriches, impala, and zebra from this road, and wanted to continue the tradition! We had almost given up, when … lo and behold!…. more than 20 baboons had taken over the road! Big ones, baby ones, red butts, hairy butts… these baboons meant business! As we ooo’d and ahh’d, the driver of the Peugeot slowed down for us to admire, while the other 6 people and the goat smiled at our Mzungu absurdity. In Retrospect… we should have had our cameras. Fail!
And no, the Peugeot adventures did not end there. We came to a police checkpoint, where our Peugeot was hailed to the side of the road. A stern exchange of Swahili took place as our driver presented his papers and the policeman scrutinized the taxi stickers. Things didn’t seem to be going well, until then, they both disappeared. A minute or so ticked by and everyone in our car was silent… even the goat. I forgot it was there. Then, the driver returned and we were on our way again like nothing had happened. But it was pretty clear… the policeman asked for a bribe in exchange for saying nothing about the driver’s out-of-date registration, which the driver more than willingly gave. Our first experience with the corrupt government and law here. In Retrospect… we should have listened to the random guy who stuck his head in the window to say “Be careful! This guy’s a thief!” regarding our driver. (We think he was a friend and just kidding. We liked this driver.)
Our Peugeot ride came to a close, as we arrived in Arusha, the driver driving more crazily than before. Yes, we literally hit two pedestrians, and nearly knocked the jug of water one was carrying right from his hands. Our driver apparently thought it was a good idea to create his own driving lane on the sidewalk to beat the traffic. In Retrospect… probably not such a grand idea.
We arrived in Arusha just shy of 4:30PM… which meant that, we had roughly negative 30 minutes since the shops started closing…. And if we were lucky, positive 30 minutes to catch the ones still open until 5. Only way we were going to make it? Split up and cover as much ground as possible! And get back to the bus station as quickly as possible (the last Peugeot left at 6PM). Break! In Retrospect… bringing both cell phones would have been an excellent idea. Poor planning
Bryan left in search of the electronics. Amanda and I left in search of an ATM, an exchange bureau to change our shillings BACK into USD (Who would’ve thunk that in Tanzania we HAD to pay in dollars for our safari. Tanzanian shillings are not accepted. Welcome to their national park system!). So, given our time constraints, and the fact that we really wanted time to make it to this Arusha grocery store that sold pasta sauce, Amanda and I decided to book it. Yes, we were running through the streets of Arusha with huge backpacks on our backs, dodging daladala traffic, pedestrians, and donkeys. Now, in America, this might not be so weird. But you have to understand that people here take their time. Lunch may take 2 hours to get your food. If someone says they’ll be there at 11, they may get there at 1. Time is different here. No need to rush. And here we were…. running through the streets of Arusha, quite the comical sight I must say. People joked “Pole Pole Mzungu!” (pole-ay pole-ay muz-oon-goo) (“Slow down white person!”) as Amanda and I passed, trying hard to keep running despite laughing hysterically. But let me tell you, that pasta sauce was SOOOO worth it. Ahhh, the power of comfort food. In Retrospect… taking a taxi might have been a better idea.
Due to the lack of our cell phones, we had to hope that Bryan would have success in finding electronics and meet us back at the bus station by 6 latest. We got there about 5:45 and carefully explained that there were 3 of us, 1 was coming, could they please hold the Peugeot. Yes they could. Minutes start ticking by. It’s past 6. Hmmm, where’s Bryan? Finally, we pay the Peugeot driver to use his cell phone to call Bryan. Good thing Amanda had written the number down in her notebook! In Retrospect… just kidding! In Retrospect… that was a brilliant move. We barely had enough time to say, “Bryan sprint like the wind here! The last Peugeot may leave without us!” before the call cut out… 3 more minutes pass…
…And we see Bryan! Phew! All three Mzungus pile into the Peugeot, though sadly no goat was with us this time to share the ride. The sun went down about a half hour into our ride… In Retrospect… we should have left a lot earlier. Nearly avoiding a herd of donkeys on the road and a huge truck changing lanes, we made it safe and sound back to Karatu. No more taking the Peugeot at night… unless we need more pasta sauce…
For dinner, we went to the local “Mzungu hangout” Happy Days and ate macaroni and cheese. In Retrospect… that was a wonderful idea!
Thank you dedicated blog reading crowd! From all of us here in Tanzania, we hope you continue to follow our adventures and tell us what you think about them! Let this be the first official interactive blog post: Yes, that means, once you read it, we REALLY REALLY hope you comment about it. Let us know what you think! Give us your input! What questions might you have that we haven’t even thought to ask yet?
So here goes Part 2 of our findings about the huge impact cell phones and cellular infrastructure have had on the people of Tanzania. As we progress in our project and are getting to understand the daily lives of rural villagers here, we are leaning more and more towards focusing on a solar solution to charge cell phones.
Our conversations with villagers have exposed needs they face every day. Children must study at night by kerosene lantern, a light source not nearly strong enough for reading. For simple pleasures like radio news or music, Tanzanians must spend a large sum of money on replacement batteries. Some people have even told us of the inability to solder to wires together because the lack of electricity to heat a soldering iron or the inability to raise chickens because they cannot light an incubator lamp. Yet, many of these needs have functioning “work-arounds” that it doesnt quite make financial or social sense to uproot. However, charging a cell phone seems to be an entirely prevalent need that has to date, no good solution, and the portion of the population this affects is exorbitant… and growing every day.
Let us take you on a short journey to understand the lives of some particularly interesting Tanzanians. Olais, the proud Maasai who kindly invited us in to his house for a homestay, depends on his cell phone to communicate with his family (who are living in many different places) and help conduct his business in town, the bar. In his rural boma, his cell phone still had full signal from the incredible cellular infrastructure in Tanzania. It’s almost guaranteed that in the middle of the vast stretches of flat Tanzanian landscape, you can spot a far off cell tower positioned on the hills.
Recently, in the village of Mogesho, the most rural and poorest village we have been to yet, I was blown away by the growing role of cell phones in these villagers’ lives. A particularly memorable moment was when we asked a group of 15 Mogesho villagers who was carrying a cell phone. Sheepish grins spread on their faces as they looked around. Show us!, we asked. At the same time, they all reached under their robes, or into their pants pockets, or in a holder around their neck to grab their cell phones to show us. WOW! I remain convinced that when people who make under a dollar a day and still consider a cell phone to be important enough to spend a large sum of money on, providing a solution to easily charge these phones where there is no access to electricity would make such a difference in their lives.
And besides the sheer number of cell phones we have seen, the culture around these cell phones is just as fascinating. Cool fact: you can send cell phone minutes/money to a friend through your phone if they are out of minutes. Cool technique: Peter owns two cellphones which he carries with him at all times. Each phone has a SIM card with a different carrier so he can call different people who have different carriers. Over time, he said it’s much cheaper to do it that way as calling within the same carrier is cheaper. Cool fashion statement: Momoi, Olais’s second wife, has started to adapt the famous Maasai beading art to cell phone neck holders. She’s making this for herself now, but hopes to make them for others soon. Cool usage scenario: Three village leaders we met, Songoyo, Samuel, and Ibrahim consider their cell phone an absolute necessity because they need to be accessible to anyone in their village who needs them at a moment’s notice.
From these stories, and many others, we have identified the need to charge cell phones in these rural villages as an important, prevalent, and unsolved need. The next questions we hope to answer are: for whom exactly are we designing this product? For the wife who stays close to home all day and needs to charge only 3 cell phones a week, those of her family. Or maybe for that entrepreneurial barber who wants to start a side business off of charging cell phones for less. But one thing there is no question about is how important the cell phone is in the Tanzanian’s life.
What do you think? What questions are you left wondering? What can we do to really delve deeper into the area of cell phone usage and charging habits?
Cant wait until Monday when we bring out our prototypes to the villages!
(This is a continuation of the “In America, you follow time, but in Africa, time follows us” post)
Returning to Karatu, we of course had to take another Peugeot. But first, we had to find it. The bus station is a mad house, with people, buses, cars, Peugeots, and vans of every description milling around. Immediately upon arriving, we collected an entourage of men asking, “Where you going?” When we replied Karatu, they all insisted on taking us there, with one older gentleman taking the lead. He tried to take us to the “ticket booth,” which we politely refused, tried to sell us things, which we less politely refused, and finally took us to the Karatu bay, where a good ol’ Peugeot was waiting.
This one was, if possible, in worse shape than the first one we took. The driver propped the trunk open with a stick, and the car had some sweet aftermarket headlights. They replaced the old, apparently broken headlights, and were attached to the front bumper, with some miracle of twisted wires connecting them to the engine. The car did, however, have red “velvet” seats, fit for a king or queen (or 9 kings and queens).
We set off after about half an hour of loitering with our full complement of 9 passengers, towards Karatu. The first part of the drive was remarkably uneventful, we recognized the way, and we did, in fact, seem to be going towards Karatu. More importantly, the car was holding together nicely, smooth cruising. We relaxed as we traveled through the middle of nowhere on the plains of northern Tanzania, with only a few Maasai herders in sight. And then, we heard a “WHOOSH” and the engine started puttering. It sounded like the muffler had fallen off (shocking, since it never sounded like we had a muffler), and we could tell that the car had lost a significant portion of its power.
Well, the driver calmly pulled over, and without even popping the hood, went to the trunk. He poked around until he found what he was looking for, about 10 feet of rope. He then casually popped the hood, got under the car, and tied whatever it was together with the rope. Yes, he fixed the car with a rope. The whole operation took about 5 minutes.
With our newly patched up car, we started on our way again. Alas, the driver’s rope couldn’t actually hold the engine together: the engine started getting loud again. At least the engine wasn’t on fire or something. We limped about 5 km to the next town, Mto wa Mbu (Mosquito River, friendly huh?), where we proceeded to pull onto the sidewalk. I don’t mean we pulled onto the sidewalk perpendicularly to park, or even parallel with the intention of stopping. Our driver had decided he wanted some extra excitement, so we started dodging cyclists, rocks, pedestrians, ladies with baskets on their heads, children, goats, dogs, the odd tree, well you get the point. And yes, the whole time our engine is roaring and puttering, and everyone in the car is calm as can be, except us of course.
After narrowly missing a tree and a drainage ditch, and we arrived at a storefront. This storefront was much like the other storefronts, except that it sported an oxy welder in front. It dawned on me that this was a mechanic’s shop, and that the front yard was the garage. We drove the car onto two triangular blocks to lift up the front of the car, and the fundis (technicians) set to work welding up our car. Apparently what had happened was that the exhaust pipe had separated from the engine, and needed to be reattached. Simple fix when you have a welder.
While the welders were working, I got a look under the hood, and wished I didn’t. The radiator looked like it had been in multiple accidents, and also was clearly not the original radiator for the car. It was about half the size it should be. And, to top off my misgivings, as I was thinking this, the driver came up with a bottle of water and started pouring it in, I’m sure just to be safe. 10 minutes later, we were on the road in a brand new (almost) Peugeot. Amazing. A car that would’ve been in the shop for days in the United States was back on the road, and the entire episode added about 15 minutes total to our transit time. Welcome to Africa.
Close your eyes (figuratively of course) and picture this. A village bar owner named Olais, proud owner of solar to power his home for 10 years, husband to his three wives, their well-manicured boma, a night sky free from light pollution, and a bustling Maasai cattle market. Welcome to our first overnight homestay!
Meet Olais. In the lingo of American youth, you could definitely consider him “a baller.” Olais lives with his three wives and 20 children in a village outside of Meserani, along the main route from Karatu to Arusha. Together, the family shares their boma, with one house for each wife, one kitchen hut for each wife, an outhouse (the choo), a house for the children, and plenty of space for the chickens, roosters, cats, cows, and goats to roam around. Oh yeah, did I mention Olais owns 140 cows and 50 goats? Most of those live down by his farm where several of his children look after the herd. For two days and one night, Bryan and I were fortunate enough to live Olais’s life with him and experience firsthand the Maasai village culture.
Despite Olais’s early adoption of solar into his boma 10 years ago, the huge car batteries no longer hold a charge, and Olais’s family continues on un-electrified, cooking by flashlight, studying by kerosene lantern, and relying on the sun’s rays to milk the cows in the early morning.
After an early evening tour of the village where we met the inhabitants of Olais’s neighboring bomas (including a woman whose husband had died and who couldn’t support her children. Olais took her under his wing, gave her land, and a house, and set her up to get her life back on track), watched the sun set over the village’s water reservoirs (it hasn’t rained since February!), and watched the children of the village bring the herds back for the night, it was time to cook dinner.
We entered the mud hut kitchen of Olais’s second wife, Momoi, to watch her cook dinner. Momoi and Estha, Momoi’s daughter (about 12 years old), graciously pulled us up a wooden stool to watch as they began to cook. Momoi tended the stove fire, feeding it with small wood shreds, as the meat, potatoes, and onions inside the pot slowly cooked. Meanwhile, Estha carefully peeled the skin from the tomatoes.
All this was done by the light of one kerosene lantern. When Momoi needed to look directly into the pot, she pulled out a small flashlight with a direct beam of light. But most surprising was the amount of suffocating smoke that filled the kitchen, a hut without any ventilation, except for the small door. Momoi would keep complaining about all the “moshi” (smoke) as she coughed slightly and then gestured to me how she was so hot-”moto”-inside the kitchen. Which leads me to wonder… what health problems is she incurring as she cooks three times a day enveloped in smoke in the tiny unventilated kitchen? The next day I went to blow my nose, and the entire inside of my nose was covered in a thick, black layer, presumably from cooking dinner the night before. Yuck!
After the delicious dinner, we relaxed around the boma to enjoy the night sky. A black blanket cluttered with stars and the milky way, it was truly amazing to enjoy a night sky free from light pollution. You would not believe how many stars are out there that we can’t see in US cities. And, although this picture does not do it justice, we captured this beautiful sky and us admiring it with some sneaky photography techniques.
The next morning we woke up at 6AM to join Namayai, Olais’s 3rd wife, in milking the cow! Out of 100% of the village women we have talked to, this is always the early morning activity. We each took our hand at milking and were pretty good at it… though it’s tough work!
After hanging out in Olais’s boma in the morning, enjoying some yummy chai tea, and playing with Olais’s kids and adorable grandson, we spent the rest of the 2nd day of our homestay walking around the village. We took this opportunity to talk to other villagers about their families, lives, wishes, and energy uses. (more on that in a future blog post!)
Then, to top off two excellent days, we ventured down to the famous weekly Maasai cattle market, where all the surrounding villagers would bring their cows every Tuesday to buy and sell them. Big cows, calves, long horns, huge humps on their backs, this was quite the spectacle. Especially when one man threatened to cut another guy’s head off for trying to bring his cows into the area he was already occupying to try to sell his. Dont worry… that argument ended well. In a culture where cows are not only a measure of wealth, but also a true asset in supporting one’s family, this cattle market was definitely an important weekly activity for the Maasai villages.
All in all, a glorious homestay and a wonderful opportunity for really getting to live the village life, if only for a short time. Boma Sweet Boma. Thank you Olais.
People here love soccer (football or mpira in Swahili). They live and breathe it, all schoolchildren seem to play it. People play with new balls, old balls, flat balls, balls made of wrapped up garbage bags, and everything in between. Even the people who don’t play anymore follow soccer ardently, especially English League Soccer. Here in the CPAR office, we have a Chelsea fan, Arsenal fan, Man U fan, and a Liverpool fan.
My first foray into local soccer was in the sand truck village (described below), trying to kick a ball of garbage bags between two small trees, with a very limber teenager in goal. It is surprisingly difficult to kick garbage bags with any kind of accuracy (I know, shocking right?), but also surprisingly easy to hit with some power. So, I kept rocketing the ball way off the mark to the amusement of all the locals.
In Arusha, there was a soccer field right behind our hostel, and I went over to try to join a pickup game. The people are so open and friendly, they invited me to play almost immediately upon arriving, and referred to me as “mchina ya spede” (speedy Chinese person). They were quite good, and the game was super fun, fast, and with good passing. The goalie was superb, and the goal was a bit narrow, making it very difficult to score. They invited me back, but I’m not sure if they were just being nice or not.
I should talk more about the word “mchina.” People yell it at me all the time, even more than they say “mzungu” (white person). Especially the kids will say, “Hey, mchina, hello!” Also, if people want my attention, they will say “mchina” or “mzungu”, or both. Of course, no one believes me the first time I say I’m from America, they always say I look like I’m from China, Korea, Japan, or Hong Kong in that order. I’ve had a more than a few people come up to me and make kung fu noises, or try to do kung fu with me. Just like third grade all over again. But, just like the word “mzungu,” there doesn’t seem to be any animosity with the word “mchina,” it’s just how people refer to me, my most convenient differentiating factor. People will say things like, “Mchina what’s your name” and “You play well, mchina.” Anyway, at Jean’s suggestion, we’ve taken to responding to “mzungu” or “mchina” with “mwafrika” (African person), and that seems to make people think about what they are saying.
Karatu’s field is beautiful, not the field itself, but the setting. It is an all dirt field surrounded by low hills, green farmland, and blue sky. Since people always play after work, you get to watch the sunset as you play. Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten any good pictures, as I don’t want to leave my camera on the sideline. I’ll post one later on.
At this field, I stumbled across one the best pickup games I’ve ever seen. Apparently, these players were from Karatu United, the local team of all stars from the region, which is home to 180,000 people. The team is sponsored by a local businessman, and is part of a league with the surrounding regions. The players play a lot like Brazilians, fast, quick, and really, really skilled. In typical Tanzanian fashion, they invited me to play almost immediately, but that was probably because they wanted to see what the “mchina” could do. All of the little kids were whispering “mchine” as I took the field, and I wish I knew more Swahili to figure out what they expected of me. Anyway, it was loads of fun, as well as a humbling experience. I got nut-megged almost immediately, and I’m going to have to work hard to catch up to the pace of the game. Also, surprisingly, I’m going to need shoes. I had thought about bringing my soccer cleats, but I thought that people here wouldn’t bother with such expensive trivialities. While some people do play in sandals, or even barefoot, almost all of the good players have cleats or turf shoes. Another preconceived notion about Tanzania debunked, leaving me at quite a disadvantage sliding around on the dirt, as they cut around me. Next time, I’ll come prepared.
To my surprise, they invited me back for their match the next day against Babati. I arrived there dressed in street clothes not intending to play, just watch. However, after three separate people came up to me asking me to play, I let them give me a uniform and put me in at forward, where I tried frantically to keep pace. I need to do some serious work on my game, especially on my dribbling, as all of them have great moves. There were probably 100 people or more watching the game, it was quite the local event. I found out later that this really was a legit match; Babati is a 3 hour drive south of Karatu. I’m honored that they let me play, and will definitely take them up on their invitation to continue to play with them for my time here. I’m looking forward to scraping off the rust and sharpening my skills.
One last episode, to give a you a feel for the state of the fields. I was running for a ball that was going out, and I stepped out of bounds. Only, there was no ground where I stepped, my foot went straight down a hole to my knee and I stopped short. I still don’t know how I didn’t break my leg or tear my ACL, or get my foot bitten off by whatever made that burrow. Anyway, the Tanzanians just said “pole” (sorry), and we all shrugged it off and kept playing. No harm, no foul.
Cell Phones are devices we use every day. We call our parents to tell them that we’re alive and well. We text our friends to make plans for Friday night. We block calls when we feel grumpy, and we happily answer them when someone special to us is on the other line. We carry it around in our pockets or sometimes in our hands. We fidget with them, drop them, and get frustrated with them when they won’t hold a charge. The things we do with our cell phones, and the dependence we have upon them is without question, universal across our cultures.
Cell phone use in Tanzania appears to be as much, if not more, widespread than in North America. For instance, we interviewed a father of 4 who has been living in a mud thatch hut his entire life, making less than $1/day, completely dependent on the mercy of the gods of weather to deliver a harvestable crop for his annual income; this man has owned a cell phone for 12 years – about as long as my parents have owned cell phones. Another individual living in a remote village explained to us that owning a cell phone was a significant investment, but that it was not a luxury, it was a necessity.
The cellphone infrastructure in Tanzania – and I imagine in East Africa at large – is far superior to that of North America’s. You can be in the boonies of the boonies, and your likelihood of having cell coverage is remarkably high. I wouldn’t be surprised if you still had cell service at the top of Kili – hopefully this is something I’ll get the chance to investigate. The point is, this well designed infrastructure has made it such that anyone in Africa could benefit from using a cell – if they can afford it AND figure out how to charge it, since roughly 90% of Africa is disconnected from grid-power without plans to extend it.
So how do they afford it? And how do they charge it? Good questions, I’m glad you asked.
They afford it because they must (since they see it as a necessity), and with all the airtime competition amongst cell phone companies around here, it’s surprisingly affordable. Sending a text costs about 10 Tz shillings, or less than $0.01.
Charging is more difficult – especially when you’re part of that 90% that doesn’t have access to grid power. Sometimes it involves walking 1 to 3 kilometers to a store once or more each week that is either equipped with solar power or has grid power, where you leave it over night or for the afternoon to charge (one charge costs anywhere between 150 Tz shillings to 300 Tz shillings). Or if you don’t have access to either, you send your phone into town when you or your neighbor goes, to charge the phone at the local hardware store where they have electricity or a battery charging station. In any case, people are spending close to 1000 Tz shillings a month on charging – which is both inconvenient and expensive.
Does it have to be this way? We don’t think so; and we’re going to test our hypothesis. Stay tuned.