MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Winning Gold from Ghana

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I love the olympics. Nothing makes me more excited than seeing the best athletes in the world participating in different events, hearing motivational stories, seeing examples of sportsmanship, and of course, watching Canadians compete on the world's stage. Trying to watch the olympics in Ghana was a bit of a struggle. That being said, when it comes to hockey, there is no stopping a Canadian from tracking down the game! Three different games, three different means of watching said games, and a various array of Canadian supporters from different countries contributed to one the best olympic experiences.After visiting a number of bars and restaurants that we knew had tv – and finding all of them either broken, without satellite, or not open – some Canadian friends and I ended up at Tamale's newest café which boasts a projector and a large screen. There we were joined by other expats, including several Americans who were supporting for our opponents, the USA, and friends from Ireland, England and Australia who decided to root for the Canadians (hurray for the commonwealth!). Sporting my red and white shirt (unfortunately the only red or white shirt I have is long sleeved, making for a hot and sticky hockey-watching experience) and Canadian flag, I settled down amongst the crowd to watch the game. It started at 5pm in Ghana, and because we were watching a projection outside in the daylight, we couldn't see anything for the first period, and were relying on the commentary alone. This however, didn't bother us too much, as it wasn't until the last period that the tide began to turn. I wish there could have been hidden camera recording our reactions to the game, especially the final Canadian goal – there was always a contingent of people who stood up, cheered, and hugged each other (and others who, before running around the patio waving the flag, jumped up so fast their chair fell over backwards).We thought the procedure for watching the men's semi-final game would be similar because we had found a place that would show the game. This was not the case. Although this café had satellite, the channel was not airing the game. The new found Canadian fans started arriving after us – those who came earlier to stake out the same seats in order to fashion the seating configuration that had proved so lucky the night before – now wearing their red and white (I think they needed to see some proof that Canada could be relied upon to do well before committing to dressing in our colours) only to find that the game wasn't playing. After 2.5 hockey periods, downloading olympic phone apps and radio stations in the hopes of hearing commentary at least, and relentless internet searching, we were able to find a website that was streaming the game and discovered we were about to make our way into the gold medal final. More flag waving ensued.The finale.Before I go into the details, i'll insert my favourite motivational olympic story here. I was amazed to learn that Carey Price, the goalie for Canada, grew up on a reservation located three hours away from where his hockey practice was held. He and his parents made this trek several times a week. When he became a more serious player, they bought a four-seater plane so he could get to practice this way, cutting the commute down to an hour. Stories like these are what make the olympics such a powerful event, inspiring us to fulfill our goals.Back to the game. The owner of the café had, by this time, noticed our dedication and offered us the tv in his (air conditioned) office. The gold medal game deserves only the best viewing conditions! We were ecstatic to be able to see the picture so clearly. All the while, our social media was showing us pictures of friends and family awake at 5am to watch the game and line-ups of hockey-jerseyed fans outside of bars in downtown Toronto. One wall of the owner's office connects to the restaurant with a two-way mirror. Every time we cheered, the guests in the restaurant would all look towards the office, perplexed by what was happening inside. We were told later that they always knew when a goal was scored – they kept track of how many times we'd yell.The principle of the olympics – fair play, sense of community and hard work to achieve our goals as Price reminds us – can be applied to our daily lives. Regardless of where we are in the world, and which countries our colleagues, friends and opponents may be from, there are times when we are unified, making anywhere you find yourself – including Tamale – feel just like home.
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What’s Caimito?

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The joys I get from meeting people when I travel never cease to amaze me. I hear amazing stories that I learn from and am usually shocked, in a good way; to hear of the profound different lifestyles people lead. From working and travelling in Nicaragua I have met these incredible people and I would like to share some of their stories. This first person I had previously met during my Case Study with the International School of Agriculture and Livestock (EIAG) in Rivas. Domingo Tuerno grows plantains with EIAG and he continues to welcome me to his field while he works rigorously. He grows plantains with Techno-Links technology and aside from this crop he also grows papaya and coco beans. On top of all of this, he is a promoter of EIAG and the Techno-Links program, where he goes around his community discussing the benefits of plantain in-vitro plants. I found it astounding that he had any time to do an hour interview with me and then provide me with some extra timbit information. After sitting in Domingo’s field for an hour doing an interview, Domingo introduced my co-worker and myself to his son Alejandro, who was using a stick to try to get something out of a tree. I was a little confused. After a few minutes, he handed me a green fruit, which turned out to be called caimito, which is green on the outside and white and mushy on the inside. You cannot get caimito in Canada, but it grows in South Asia and in Central America. After I told them it was delicious, Alejandro hit off a few more caimito for me and then walked over with a large papaya to give me! Domingo then wanted to show off his other products to me. We walked a few hectares over to where another field was. Here he showed me another large green fruit. He told me it was cocoa. He wanted to show me the inside of the cocoa, but it wasn’t ripe for harvest. I will have to visit Domingo another time. I interviewed Joseph Barnett who works with Dulce Miel and Techno-Links. The name Joseph has an English ring to it, usually Nicaraguans use common English names to give their children, but Joseph, also known as Chepe, is originally from the United States. He has now lived and worked in Nicaragua for over 30 years. He not only works with Dulce Miel in producing honey and is a technician for helping fellow farmers, but is also a founder of Dulce Miel. As well, he is apart of a monk community in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua. During an interview with Chepe he showed us his spare hobbies, which include creating crème out of honey and selling separate bottles of honey. We can see that Chepe is extremely busy, but he continues to use any spare time doing volunteer work with other non-governmental organizations.
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A Day in My African Life

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6:00am: Alarm goes off... the intention was to wake up and work out before it gets too hot...but we're just going to snooze that again.7:45am: Alarm #2 rings, this one is serious. Time to get ready for work. Ninapiga mswaki (I brush my teeth), Ninavaa nguo (I get dressed), halafu ninakula chukula cha asubuhi kabla ya ninaenda officini (then I eat breakfast before I go to the office).8:15am: Apsin, my trusted bijaji driver arrives to pick me up for work, usually on time. Apsin works for Theresea, an upbeat, cheerful woman who works in the kitchen here a MEDA. Theresea invested in two bijajis and employs two drivers, Apsin being one of them. He picks me up every morning and is always a text away if I ever need him. He has little English and I have little Swahili but still we have formed quite the friendship.9:00-12:00pm: Ninafanya kazi (I am doing work). I collect data from our call center and create reports on redemption rates, net stock outs and voucher stock outs. As well as, create the call list of random retailers and clinics and giving them to the call center for the following week.Some where between 12:00-1:30pm: Chukula (Food) time! The MEDA office is extremely generous and provides a delicious, filling lunch for us every day. I have found I am not as adventurous with food as I once thought I was, so I usually stick with ninakula kuku na wali (I eat chicken and rice) or kuku na chips (chicken and French fries). For dessert, the sweetest most delicious piece of fruit, my favorite is definitely the mangos. The way they eat their fruit always has me intrigued. For example with an orange, instead of peeling it and then putting it into slices, they cut the orange in half and you slurp all the juice out. My coworkers are really good at even getting some of the orange, unfortunately this is one skill I have not mastered yet and usually end up squirting orange juice in my or someone else's eyes.2:00pm: Back to work. Spend the last part of the day at my desk in the office putting together more reports, presentations and writing for this blog. The office is an amazing atmosphere, with jokes and laughter flying over the cubicles...half in English, half in Swahili. I never know quite how to respond when my manager, Goodluck shouts to me, "Mary?" I respond and he starts rambling Swahili forgetting that I do not speak fluent Swahili. This usually has the whole office cracking up at their desks as I sit there unsure of what to reply and Irene quickly reminds him, I am not a local.5:00pm: When the day is done, our friend Nazir is kind enough to drive us home everyday. He drops me off at the corner of the road so I just have a short 10minute walk home. As I walk to my apartment, I try to practice my Swahili and say hello to the Massiah, the guards at two different houses, the kids going home from school and almost everyone I pass. Even though the walk is so short, I am still usually already sweating by the time I reach the apartment because it is just so hot.6:00pm: Twice a week, I go for a Swahili lesson with Tina. She is quite funny and can be pretty sassy but is a great teacher, even if she yells at us for not always doing our homework.7:00pm: Being the extrovert that I am, I find it quite hard to spend an entire evening at my own place. So almost everyday, I find a way to get my crew of friends to meet up and hang out. Whether that is dinner, a drink and some dessert or a late night swim, it is always a blast. The nights are then filled with laughter, stories of funny experiences they have had, clever mind games or plans for what's next for them in life. These people have become my friends, travelling buddies, consultants, therapists, family and inspiration. Every one of them has a phenomenal story of where they came from, what they're doing and where they dream of going next. They all have a deep understanding that life is about so much more than making money. Since hanging out with these world travellers, I feel as if I have only just started to experience what is out there.11:00pm: After another great night, I return to my apartment with a few of the friends that live in the same compound. Put on an episode of 'Friends' and try to fall asleep before the roosters are way too loud!
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Just Flabbergasted

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This is Jiro de Carmen Altamiran. His home is located in rural Santa Barbara, a region in Jinotega, as he put it "from the Santa Barbara school, 300 blocks north, is my house." He works with IDEAL, a Techno-Links partner that works with low-pressure micro-irrigation systems for small producers. Additionally, the technology package includes seed, fertilizer, financing, technical assistance and monitoring. CARITAS, another non-governmental organization in Jinotega, recommended Jiro to IDEAL.Jiro has never had a farm before and now he has 0.7 hectares of land. Before he thought the irrigation system would not work because water in his region is contaminated. However, CARITAS built a well for Jiro to use his irrigation system, which also blocks out debris. He now grows yucca, cucumbers, malanga (a tropical vegetable) and onions with the irrigation system.This is a flabbergast kind of story because I saw a real change in the client and their family. Jiro is now 58 with a wife, who is a preschool teacher attending school again, and a daughter who will begin preschool soon. He was saving money to buy products to burn the ground around him to create space for growing products. However, IDEAL recommended not to do this because it contaminates the air with chemicals. Now he's using that saved money to buy pencils and paper for his daughter when she attends school.Jiro has not only saved money by using the irrigation system, but he has also been able to save time. Having to only turn on the irrigation system, Jiro waits an hour while plants are being watered but spends this time with his wife and daughter, which he previously could not do.I was not able to gain more information about how Jiro was doing with his crops because his first-ever harvest is still coming up but I wish him all the best!
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Country Living in Ethiopia

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This weekend I was invited to the family reunion of my colleague Mekdim. She grew up in a small farming town called Asgori (50 km west of Addis Ababa) where most of her family still lives to this day. I was eager to witness how life is for farmers in Ethiopia, especially because some of the E-FACE clients are farmers themselves. So I accepted her invite and we arranged to meet on Sunday morning.The day began very early as Mekdim and I met at 7am to begin the drive to Asgori. As we drove along the countryside, we would stop every 15 minutes to pick up a cousin, aunt or other family member to accompany us on the trip. When we arrived to the farm, I was amazed at the amount of land they owned. This was also my first time on a farm so I couldn't contain m excitement seeing the horses and cows up close and personal. Before too much time had passed, I was ushered into the main guest house. Having travelled to the south of Ethiopia, I was familiar with the traditional huts but I had never had the opportunity to go inside. Well, that day I was lucky enough to enter one and a coffee ceremony was being prepared. It is customary in all Ethiopian households to perform a coffee ceremony at least once a day; however, Mekdim informed me that the family had never had a Canadian guest before and this ceremony was especially important for them.After the coffee was poured, I was introduced to the patriarch of the family, great grandfather Abenezer. We shook hands, pressed our cheeks together three times and then he asked if he could give me the tour of his property. Hand in hand, he brought me to each of the fields he owned (i.e. teff, wheat and chick pea). He then had a demonstration of the grinding process. Finally, he took me to see his cattle field where I was offered fresh yogurt. As the day progressed, more uncles, aunts and their children continued to show up to the reunion. At one point, a wedding party showed and dancing broke out during lunch.The day was extremely exciting and as the sun went down we all gathered outside and drank Kineto (a traditional fermented drink that tastes like Pepsi and chocolate). I said my goodbyes and promised to visit again before I left for Canada. As we headed back to Addis, the family sang traditional Oromio songs, clapped and just enjoyed the little time left we had together. It was the perfect ending to an amazing day.
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Winds of change

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A month ago, I started the most demanding, harder and amazing part of my internship. I was assigned to conduct final interviews to Techno-Links farmer clients' in Peru, visiting almost 10 different cities all over the country. Today, the visits have come to an end. I believe it is the right time to look back at this great experience.I consider myself very lucky as I got to see that our work in Techno-Links is actually bringing a REAL positive change into farmer clients' lives. Gaining access to agricultural technology and training has been a great step towards modernity and profitability. For example, farmers which are members of CAC Divisoria in Tingo Maria are able to prevent plagues and improve their coffee crops by using ecological fertilizers. In Piura, farmers working with Hualtaco have improved their revenue as their banana crops improved in quality thanks to agricultural techniques never used before in their communities. In Moyobamaba, members of Aproeco are able to add value to their coffee thanks to an industrial toaster machine. These facilities have created a feeling of empowerment in farmers, their aspirations have grown, and they want to become the best in their regions, to export their products, to compete with the biggest of the market. It was the effect Techno-Links aimed to create, to give that little push for them to reach new and greater markets.In a personal aspect, it was very rewarding to meet each farmer. I might forget their names eventually, but I will never forget the determination I saw in their eyes, their happiness and hospitality. They treated me with all kinds of gifts. Many said: "I am sorry to be offering you this small present" while giving me 10 kilos of fresh bananas or two liters of extra virgin olive oil! My heart was deeply touched by their genuine actions. This has also been a journey of food. I have tried the best food of my entire life, no exaggerating. Peru is the first gourmet destination in the world for a reason, and I was not going to waste this opportunity to prove it!I want to thank Techno-Links for this life experience and God for have giving me the strength to take the plane 14 times in a single month and not to count the dozens of hours spent in buses getting to my destinations. I passed from the deepest jungle to the desert and then to highlands at 3800 meters above the sea all this in only 30 days! No wonder why I feel a little dizzy right now, but I wouldn't want in any other way!
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Just Another Tourist Trap

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I have to be honest. I am a sucker for "tourist traps" and more often then not, I get pulled into these even though I have already spent 5 and a half months here. I usually end up leaving feeling as though, I didn't really get to see a whole lot and spent ALL my money. I am learning that I'm not very good at bargaining and terrible at saying no to buying whatever little knick knack is being sold to me. I get way too flustered in these places and never really have a lot of fun... until the last time.Last Saturday, I was asked to join a group of new comers to Dar to the Woodcarvers Market, which I had been to a few times before and again usually walked away with something else I didn't need and paid way too much for but for some odd reason ended up accepting the invitation. So, I emptied my wallet to only carry minimal change, we piled in two bijajis and headed to the market.As we arrived at the market, I immediately started to head for the main shops when I was pulled another direction by one of my new friend's. She had a contact of a friend of a friend of a friends that wanted to show us the whole carvers market. This meant we got to go to the back behind the shops and see the countless number of men hammering, chipping and staining away at the most gorgeous pieces of artwork. On average they could make one medium sized woodcarving a day, some more some less. Some men would even spend more then three years carving one extravagant piece of wood art. Behind the men carving magnificent artwork out of any piece of wood were many beautiful women working incredibly hard cooking food for all the workers over a terribly hot fire. After the long day of carving wood and making food, many of these individuals would attend an English class led by different people in the community.In the middle of the large field was one stray brown cow try to look for any thing to eat in between the garbage and would be dirt. As a worker noticed me looking at the cow he offered me the story of how this specific cow came to be, telling me that they had won it in the previous weekend during a futball match. It was a tough match but they were able to pull ahead by one goal and win dinner for their community. Now all that was left to decide was what night their feast.It was an extremely welcoming group of people, everyone willing to sit and talk or teach you how to carve these beautiful pieces, even offering encouraging words like, "It's easy anyone can do it, I'll show you!" as they point to a structure that has taken them all year to carve. I had an unforgettable Saturday, listening and learning from this incredibly hardworking group of people who welcomed us into their everyday lives. I was definitely not trapped this time.
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From Dar with love

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After four months of living and working in Ethiopia, I was presented with an amazing opportunity to visit Tanzania. Without hesitation, I jumped at the idea of travelling to Dar Es Salaam and working from the MEDA Tanzania office for the week. In the days before my trip, I attempted to memorize as many Swahili words as possible – I wanted to impress the office with my extensive Swahili vocabulary. In reality, I ended up learning only 3 phrases: Habari (hello), Asante Sana (thank you very much) and Rafiki (friend). It was enough for me and the next week I was off to Dar Es Salaam.When I arrived I was immediately greeted by an intense humidity. Living in Addis, the weather is generally windy and cool, so I was not prepared for the weather. I grabbed my bags and met Mary, the Tanzania Intern, at the front. We hopped into the bajaj and that began my adventures in Tanzania.During my week, I was tasked with writing a report about the wildly successful Tanzania bed net voucher scheme. As the E-FACE project in Ethiopia uses voucher schemes for their own interventions, I was sent to analyze the Tanzania voucher system and suggest ways to incorporate a similar system into the E-FACE project. This required me to spend a lot of time with the IT department, who also happened to have amazing air conditioning in their work space. By the end of the information gathering sessions, I felt like a part the team and I knew I would have a difficult time saying goodbye at the end of the week.That weekend, I was able to visit Zanzibar, with Mary and Curtis as my personal tour guides. We flew in by plane, which allowed me to view the beautiful island from above. The best way to describe Zanzibar is paradise on earth. The blue/turquoise waters, the beautiful white sands and the lush palm trees all left me speechless. We were able to explore the eastern side of the island as well as the beautiful Stone Town. The entire trip lasted a few days but it felt like a second, and by the time we took the ferry back to Dar, I was already missing Zanzibar.To say I was spoiled during this trip would be the understatement of the century. I was so well taken care of by the MEDA Tanzania office, my fellow interns (Mary and Curtis) and the people I met throughout the trip. I wish I could have stayed A LOT longer but it was time to go back to Addis. I will definitely be returning in the future, hopefully sooner rather than later.
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The Depth of a Friendly Smile

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The first week I moved to Dar, I contemplated packing up my things and moving home several times. I didn't know how I was going to make it six whole months in this country. If it wasn't for the encouraging words from my wonderful mother at 3am, I am sure that I would be back in Canada long ago. The most difficult thing for me was actually, not having any friends. Being the extreme extravert that I am, I didn't know what to do with myself when I had no one. It wasn't long before the white walls in my apartment and spending my birthday alone drove me to just the right amount of insanity, that built up enough courage to go and make some friends in this strange, new place.Now, five months later, I can say I have met so many absolutely incredible people from so many places around the world all trying to make the most out of their experience. I don't know what this country would be without Arnav and Gaurav from India, Ahmed from Egypt, Anna from Finland, Mercy from Tanzania, Elise from Sweden and Marine from Boston, France, Washington and wherever else she has lived in the World! These people and so many more have taught, motivated and inspired me to make a difference. Every one of them is left an impression on me that have helped me grow that much more. Every one of them is changing the world in their own unique way.As always, it took me having no friends to realize just how important the people around us are. I too often forget how important a simple smile to the person across the street or a door held for the person behind you can be, we are affecting everyone around us even when we least expect it. Unfortunately, it's all too easy to take these friendships and all of our friendships in life for granted. I am definitely guilty of this, always moving forward to the next thing and forgetting to check back with those in other parts of the world.My life in Tanzania, as for many is simply another chapter in my life. It's a chance for me to listen to others stories, to learn about other cultures and to leave my legacy. I hope to take in every moment with these beautiful people, to create memories that will last a lifetime because it's just like reading a Lemony Snicket novel, you never really have any idea where the next chapter of this adventure could take us. So whether I'm running a Hash Harriers run with Anna, Elizabeth and Rose or playing underwater hockey with Ahmed, Alex, Mandi and Eric or going out dancing with Madeline, Mike and Chrissy or spending another amazing weekend in Zanzibar with Marine, I will cherish every moment. I will remember their laughs, inspiring ideas and incredible kindness. This chapter will definitely leave me smiling and excited to read more!
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Saying goodbye to a beautiful country and some amazing people

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As I enter my last week here in Nicaragua as a MEDA intern I thought I would use what is probably my last blog entry as an opportunity to reflect on my overall experience working with MEDA and its partner organization MiCrédito.My time in Nicaragua has been amazing! I have travelled across the country, visiting beautiful colonial cities like Granada and Leon, climbing volcanos on Ometepe Island, relaxing on the beautiful Caribbean beaches of Little Corn Island, and hiking the beautiful Somoto Canyon. Nicaragua is a beautiful country and I would definitely recommend a visit to anyone who hasn't yet made the trip.In terms of my internship experience, the thing I have enjoyed the most is being treated like a professional. Although MEDA and MiCrédito staff are always here for support I really appreciated the fact that I was given the opportunity to try things on my own and learn by doing.I feel like I have a lot to show for my time here in Nicaragua: I wrote two case studies, conducted gender training, completed over 50 interviews with clients and staff, developed mobile versions of MiCrédito's loan application forms, wrote a new branch proposal, and developed social impact indicators for the organization. I feel like I have accomplished a lot and that I was given the opportunity to do a lot of the work on my own. As a young professional seeking to pursue a career in development that was what I really wanted to get out of this internship - to gain as much practical experience and absorb as much information as possible. And of course to support MiCrédito as much as possible in serving its clients' needs.On a personal note I feel extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to work with and get to know so many wonderful people here in Nicaragua, especially my coworkers here at MiCrédito. Its staff members have been so welcoming and I have learned so much from them about the Nicaraguan culture, microfinance, and their own lives. They are so knowledgeable and committed to MiCrédito's mission to increase access to financial services for micro and small entrepreneurs so often overlooked by the traditional banking system.I feel extremely lucky to have had this experience. Although I am excited to get back to Canada and see my friends and family I am sad to be leaving Nicaragua. However, I know that I will make it back some day and that when I do MiCrédito will be going strong.Muchas gracias a todos mis amigos y compañeros aquí en Nicaragua. MiCrédito y Nicaragua siempre van a tener un lugar muy especial en mi corazón y seguramente regresaré un día para visitarles otra vez en este país bellísimo de Nicaragua. ¡Un abrazo muy fuerte a todo el mundo!
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Searching for markets in Ghana's Upper West

Living in rural Africa, it's difficult to connect with sustainable outside markets, especially as a woman. The project that I work on, Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW), looks to link women and their families with markets to develop a lasting income. Here's a brief review of a recent trip in the field. GROW clients are currently at an important stage – it's the first year of harvest and the women farmers are looking for markets to sell their soybeans. Learn about the difficulties of finding markets in Ghana's Upper West – one of poorest and least food secure regions in the country – and what MEDA is doing to help solve this problem...

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A Muslim Nikah (wedding)

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I was lucky enough to be able to go to a coworker's Nikah (wedding) ceremony. I had met his wife-to-be a few months before when I travelled across the city by two dala-dalas and a piki-piki to his 'ubaluzi' home. They seemed like the perfect couple, very happy together and caring for one another.Later on in mid-December the day finally arrived – the '19th' was here. It was held on a Thursday before Christmas and a few other co-workers attended with me. Once I got to the area by the mosque where the ceremony was taking place, I was greeted by the man getting married, Matuku. He had brought me a traditional Dashiki (gown) and Kufi (cap) to be worn. I met the official of the ceremony, the Maulvi (priest), and other members before they entered into the mosque.Since I am not of the Islamic faith (Muslim) I was not able to go into the mosque for the pre-ceremony and jioni (afternoon) service where the family of the man getting married gives their permission to have the ceremony afterwards. So I sat with another Christian co-worker while we waited for the ceremony to finish taking place.It was a very large crowd coming and going outside the mosque, plenty of older men with canes and younger children dressed in traditional wear entered. They came by piki-piki (motorbike), dala-dala (bus) panda gari (car passengers) and walking. They all did one thing before entering though, no matter how they arrived at the mosque.They took off their shoes (mostly sandals of all shapes, sizes and colours) at the doorstep and walked in bare feet. After the ceremony was over, I met up again with the man to be married, Matuku, and his brother. A Muslim rafiki (friend) of his managed to bring us some food from the ceremony. We enjoyed traditional Islamic sweets of nuts and jelly called halwa. We got in the car and drove to the next location where the bride to be was waiting.I was again lucky enough to take the hand of my co-worker friend and walk him through the large crowd of guests and into the building where the Nikah ceremony was taking place. Lots of loud and happy people yelling and singing and pushing their way through to piga picha (take a picture) of the groom's entrance.Once we got to the back of the building, there was a small room to enter. It was however crowded by plenty of people who were friends of the bride and family. After finally making it through the door, and into the small room, Matuku was finally able to see his beautiful wife-to-be. The bride was dressed in the traditional outfit with jewels and hijab (head cover) and henna artwork on her hands, while sitting with her sister on the bed. The Maulvi preformed a short sermon on the importance of marriage and declared the two married!Afterwards was the Walima (wedding reception), which ran well into the night. All in all it was a different experience from a Christian wedding, but a unique and exciting experience that I will never forget.
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Afriroots Dar Tour

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Afriroots is a group that is working with local communities first hand in Dar Es Salaam, so traveling with them is direct community benefiting tourism. They are giving back to places they visit. I have had the privilege of taking two different tours they offer. The 'Biking Tour of Tandale, Sinza' (twice) as well as a city centre 'Historical Walking Tour'. On the historic tour we visited government sites, churches, mosques and the memorial for the Askari soldiers who fought in the British Carrier Corps in World War I, as well as the New African Hotel where Malcolm X visited while in Dar, and the Ocean Road Cancer Institute where medical discoveries were made.On the biking tours you visit a formal market area designed by the government to try and clean up the markets, which is barely used and underutilized as it's often in a terrible location or away from the street or main roads. Also you visit an informal market area where it is very busy with people selling every fruit and vegetable imaginable from small stalls bordering the side of the busy roadway. It also has a clothing market area attached to it whereby men have piles of clothing available at their stalls. Some have piles of shoes (sometimes not even in pairs), other may have loads of jeans or t-shirts. They buy the bundles in bulk off of ships from other parts of the world and then distribute the items to whoever will buy them. The market sellers know where the customers are and don't want to move the businesses to an area that isn't busy with passing buyers and foot traffic.Other areas we experienced were a traditional coffee stop where young men were getting ready for the day making Swahili coast coffee, crushing the beans and mixing with boiling water. They have made a contraption that is used to transport coffee around the city while they walk the streets for a few hours selling their coffee. The steel pot keeps the kahawa (coffee) hot and has a holder so it doesn't burn the hand of the carrier. To go along with the kahawa is a sweet brittle type peanut bar, which most people eat with their coffee. You will often see these guys walking around in the morning or at night with their signature steel pots. The tour takes the back roads to these spots with vibrant community and street life keeping the 'Bongo' city in motion.The next location we visited was mama's small chapatti and chai tea shop in the Mwananyamala area. She used to live across the street from her location but was forced out of it years ago. Some friends have since helped her get a small steel shelter area where she has a seating area to serve customers for the morning breakfast of chapatti and chai, a common breakfast staples in the Swahili coast. My own mom even tried to pika (cook) some chapatti herself, flattening it out and heating it up in the pan.We continued biking to a traditional homestead of Tanganyika – this was mainland Tanzania's name before it merged with Zanzibar to become Tan–Zan-ia. Pre-dating independence from colonial rule in 1961, it is a called a wazaramo, from one of the first neighborhoods of Dar and the Bantu people. It had multiple large rooms where a whole family would sleep in.After, we were off to a shop selling homemade remedies, and fixes. It had all kinds of old peanut butter jars full of different mixes and healing powders. A few examples were leaves mixed together to produce a beauty cream formula, and a treatment for mosquito bites. As well as a few bottles, some of which had a love potion.Across the street from this location was a typical kitenge or kanga shop where they were selling the many different colours and patterns of cloth. The difference between a Zanzibar kitenge and a mainland one is by the saying. The Zanzibarian ones are more thrash and talking about revolution. Often women won't even look at the colours of the material or border pattern and will buy the item based on what the saying is. Most are message about good life secrets and religion, almost like a Swahili fortune cookie saying. The kitenge is a larger piece of fabric used for sewing dresses and is either worn like kangas (wrapped around women's hips) or brought to a tailor.The next stop was a small theatre where watoto (children) would frequent on weekends. At this location they can pay a small coin price (a few hundred Tshillings) to see a new movie, DVD, a favourite cartoon or Swahili feature. In a tin shack, a small colour TV is placed in front of multiple benches where lots of kids sit having a good time.We then went through one of the lowest income areas in the city of Dar Es Salaam called Tandale and yet the people are quite humble. This area has informal settlements where they face multiple challenges in areas like sanitation, wastewater management and infrastructure. They live close to a very polluted river that runs through the city. During heavy rainy season, the area where hundreds of people pass every day will often be flooded and impassable. With the help of the AfriRoots tours they were able to replace the makeshift log bridge with a concrete structure to help people, bajaji vehicles, wagons etc. crossing the busy area. However during the recent short rains, the bridge foundations had shifted in the river and the bridge is broken again.More money needs to be invested to build a better more stable bridge with better footings able to withstand the wrath of the river. Next to this area are a few families and groups who are selling recycled items. The one lady has taken old and discarded material scrapes from fabric shops and put them together with a zipper to make a purse, as well as welcome mats made of the same material.Other men had found old wires and fixed them together in a frame to form different animals. Afterwards they would put paper and a mix of mud to cover the wires in a papier-mâché form. They also have their own community garden growing vegetables and plants, which are used to cure different diseases and health problems common to the areas residents. The area has village-based conservation and now sees an increase in sources of income due to the tours. Some very amazing progressive work is going on in here in one of the poorest parts of the city. It is a shame however the area often gets overlooked as inaccessible by the city government for building and health projects.Afterwards we were off to Sinza, a middle-class income area of the city with a rising population in Dar. This area has smaller cheaper hotels and motels along with plenty of small shops and thriving businesses, housing plenty of hard working young Swahili and traditional Tanzania professionals who work in the city centre or other parts of the city. This is a part of Dar where rapid urbanization is taking place.At the end we ended up back at busy Bagamoyo Road. This tour is highly recommended to see parts of the real Dar Es Salaam worth experiencing that are often hard to get to by the average foreigner. The guides are very knowledgeable, spoke great English while they taught us plenty of history and culture of the surrounding areas. On the tour you gain first hand experiences of the social issues facing Dar Es Salaam – living conditions of families, urbanization, infrastructure and the urban environment. You visit markets and meet the people who work and innovate in the informal economy, hearing about the everyday struggles they face.
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Cape Coast and Castles

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In before heading back to Canada for Christmas, I joined Daniel and Gillian on a weekend trip to Cape Coast and Elmina, beach locations known for their beautiful scenery and fascinating history.After taking an overnight bus to Accra, on which we endured hours upon hours of Ghanaian soap operas playing at full blast (regardless of the time of night) and surviving a tight tro-tro journey to Elmina, we made it to a quiet and secluded eco-lodge just in time to see the sunrise over the ocean. Though we were tired, we powered on through the day, enjoying coffees on the beach front property, swimming in the ocean and delicious breakfasts. But it wasn't all relaxation and drinking out of coconuts (though that was one of the highlights). Later in the day we walked through the fishing community to Elmina Castle, one of the fortresses that housed Ghanaians and other West African populations before they were shipped to various parts of the world during the slave trade.Passing through the hands of the Portuguese, Dutch and British, this 17th Century castle imprisoned Ghanaians as well as those from Burkina Faso, Mali, the Ivory Coast and other surrounding areas. These prisoners - who would later become slaves in the Americas and other parts of the world - included men, women and children who were separated and contained in different cells. These small rooms were packed, often with hundreds more people than the capacity allowed. We saw the "door of no return," the only exit these prisoners could leave through, that led them directly out into the waiting ships. It was a chilling experience to be guided through the various rooms and cells, hearing these stories of suffering. Nonetheless, we were all glad we took the tour to learn more about this period.After our stay in Elmina, we packed up and made our way back east, stopping in Cape Coast (staying at a cozy vegetarian-friendly guesthouse) to explore the city and it's UNESCO world heritage site, Cape Coast Castle.Many aspects of fortress were similar to what we saw in Elmina - it was built in the same timeframe, had passed through many different hands of ownership and served the same purpose. However the stories we heard of prisoners who had been held captive were different and told individual tales of suffering. There were chains still intact in the cell walls and iron bars covering the few small pockets of light that were allowed in. Although it was a beautiful and warm day, I was chilled walking though the courtyards thinking of the atrocities that had happened here. I'm so glad we had the opportunity to visit the castle - it is an experience I won't soon forget.Leaving our vacation spot and heading to Tamale, I felt extremely fulfilled. Over the weekend I was able to enjoy extravagant meals, campfires by the beach and the ocean waves - things that may mark a typical beach vacation - but I also learned more about Ghanaian history. I certainly left with a tan, but more importantly, I left with an awareness of the past.
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Tamale Transpo Part II – Is it safe?

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From Part 1: Last month, after weeks of being frustrated by immobility, I bought a moto, because of Tamale's understandably imperfect public transportation.I wish I knew more about Tamale's public transportation past, but most things I've heard is fuzzy and anecdotal. I do know that in fast-growing cities infrastructure problems like public transportation abound. Cities can't easily accommodate an extra 300,000 people overnight. (Tamale has grown from 200,000 – 500,000+ in the past 12 years).Ineffective public transportation and congested cities produce a number of problems – pollution, higher mortality rates, lack of mobility, and diminishing economic productivity. For example, Bangkok loses a third of its gross city product each year (US$4 million each day) and the U.S. is estimated to lose US$43 billion each year from metropolitan congestion (as cited by this paper, PDF). Traffic affects everybody, but in countries with inadequate government regulation and limited funding it creates larger problems with greater consequences, e.g. higher mortality rates and immobility of the nation's poorest.Personally, I'm not too concerned with diminishing economic productivity day-to-day. Instead, I'm a little more concerned about getting from house to work with my head intact. I checked around and while I couldn't find much Tamale-specific data, I did find a list of countries ranked by road fatalities per 100,000 motor vehicles.You can see the list isn't exactly a who's who of high-income countries. What's slightly unnerving is the strong West African representation. But where's Ghana? A pleasantly middling 69th (with 233 traffic deaths for every 100,000 vehicles).My first thought was that it had to with the fact with that Ghana's a middle-income country – like that of its low-income country neighbors (Togo and Burkina Faso) – but a graph pulled from this WHO report indicates that middle-income is typically more dangerous.The theory here might be that middle-income countries are undergoing intense development – they're forced to deal with the boom of cities without lack the government systems and other infrastructure designed to keep these emerging cities safe. Tamale, the hub of Ghana's developing north, is experiencing this swell of business and infrastructure – and is rapidly joining the South's ranks of middle income. So is it more dangerous compared to other cities in Ghana? Perhaps, but we don't have the data.Other interesting facts from the report:The African Region has the highest road traffic fatality rateHalf of all road traffic deaths are among pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclistsAlmost 60% of road traffic deaths are among 15–44 year oldsSo it seems all of the odds are stacked against me – I live in a middle-income country, in the African region, ride a motorcycle, and am between 15-44.I guess I know my risks now.
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Tamale Transpo Part 1 – How I fixed Tamale's public transportation problem

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I got a scooter.Ok, that's more personal transportation problem fix. Tamale's situation might be a little more difficult than throwing down a fat wad of Cedis at the local used moto dealer. Tamale has the all the transportation issues that you would expect from West Africa's fastest growing city. It's ballooned from 200,000 to a half million plus in about 12 years. It's the hub for northern Ghana and it's changing fast.This has, unsurprisingly, led to less than ideal in-town transportation. During the day, you connect on all the main roads through shared taxis. These cost about $.40 for a 10 minute ride downtown and fares bottom out at around $.25 for the shortest of trips. But, as I noted, you can only get them during the day. "Drop-in" taxis are more expensive – a 10 minute ride might cost you $2.00-$4.00, depending on where you're going. That may not sound like much, but it Tamale, it's really expensive and if you have to do this frequently for work, it can add up. Also, I am a cheapskate.The cost of taxis isn't bad, but the travel times are limited. Evening travel becomes an event with coordination and cost. More than that, taxis aren't an efficient use of road space. At this point, you're probably curious about the buses. Well, dear reader, there are none – at least not for in-town transportation. For public transportation in Tamale it's a taxi or nothing. (Unless you count that one time when a couple of friends hitchhiked on a tractor.)Though Tamale is revered by such sources as Wikipedia and A Man's Life for its "progressive bike lanes" and "bike-friendly" culture, I am skeptical. As a pedestrian I've often seen bikes swerve inches from getting clipped and brake split seconds from being plowed into by overzealous moto riders threading through the bike lane mix of bikes, peds, trikes, and motos. A couple weeks ago, my friend Peter had to get stitches when a moto cut him off him in his bike and ran over his foot... in a bike lane. Anecdotal but unsurprising. I suppose terms like "progressive" and "bike friendly" are relative. It is better than nearby cities such as Bolgatanga and Wa and there are spots of the city where I would feel 100% comfortable riding. It's better than most West African cities.I'd love to encourage a bike culture in northern Ghana. But could it exist in a developing context? In my co-worker's opinion, "it's for people of lower-class," which is what I've heard and observed in most developing countries. If you're interested, this study (PDF) seeks to address that issue (and others), but that's a discussion for another post.The fact is, it's not easy to get around Tamale unless you live and work within a tight area of the city or you have your own private vehicle. As the city expands, more roads will have to be built or public transportation will have to adapt to meet citizen demands.In a conversation with longtime Tamale resident/my co-worker we discussed her disappointment with the current state of Tamale transportation. She then abruptly ended the conversation by dropping a stat: one moto rider was killed each day in Tamale. Hmm.(Don't worry mom, I fact-checked this and it's actually less than that in the whole of Ghana.)
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QUE RICO MIEL!

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This week I had a little taste of what it was like to be a beekeeper, known as an apiarist, for INGEMANN FOOD in the region of Boaco, Nicaragua. INGEMANN is a grant recipient of a MEDA program called Techno-Links. They are an exporter of organic honey.Local beekeepers were loosing honey and panels were being broken when they were manually being taken out of the bee box. Throughout Canada and Central America there is an external parasite mite called Varroa Destructor. This mite attacks honeybees and causes a disease called varroatosis. This disease spreads throughout the colony causing bees to be weak and have infections that ultimately kills the hive.To improve these challenges INGEMANN has been producing queen bees in their bee yard to sell to local beekeepers in Boaca. Every two years beekeepers need to switch out the old queen bee for a new one. The queen cleans the hive consistently, doing 99% of cleaning compared to the other bees, and this leaves no room for the Varroa mite. This increases productivity through beekeeping because bees aren't dying and farmers can have higher production and increased quality of honey. I tried the honey and the technology is worth it.I also got to see how they use their technology for producing Queen bees and even wear a beekeeper suit! However, the first time I was going to go into the apiary, which is a bee yard, I was wearing all black. Bees see black and think of dark fur and think a bear is coming to take their honey. I didn't feel like being attacked by bees, so I waited till the next day to put on something a little brighter. Once I was prepared with my bee suit and double-checked and then double-checked again that no part of my skin was showing, I was taken into the bee yard. The apiarists were nice enough to look in a bee box to find a Queen bee to show me. Each bee box has 15,000 to 20,000 bees with only one Queen bee.
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Field Visits - Techno-Links

It is my second week in the field, visiting Techno-Links' farmer clients from our 10 different partners in Peru. My mandate is to conduct final surveys in order to measure impact of new agricultural technologies. This is definitely the best part of my internship, as I get to meet these amazing people and acquire great knowledge. Everyone has an impressive story to tell. They have so little, yet so much. Their houses might not be the most elegant and stylish, but their back yards are the wide fields, filled with fruits trees and beautiful flowers. They might not afford to eat gourmet meals, but they are always ready to share food from their plates, their generosity has no boundaries.This week, I got to visit coffee producers from 3 partners: BioCafe, CAC Perene and CAC La Florida. Last year was particularly difficult for coffee producers in Peru as pests damaged their crops, leaving them with minimal profit. However, they are hard workers and optimistic about the future. As one member of CAC Perene said, "As long I have strength in my muscles, my family will never starve". Thanks to Techno-Links, they will be able to improve their situation by using the different technologies implemented for them.I feel proud and satisfied to be working to allow them to improve their efficiency and their earnings. I want to thank them for teaching me so much about values, hard work and life.
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Domingo: using innovative technology

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The growth of agricultural technology has grown at an incredible rate within Nicaragua that has helped improve and change the quality of production. One example is Domingo Antonio Tigerino Acevedo. Domingo and his family live in the Potasi neighborhood of Rivas, located in southwestern Nicaragua. He has 9.1 hectares of plantains, with one hectare consisting of 100 plantain in-vitro plants, which are seed tissues that have been combined from different plantain seedlings in the lab from the International School of Agriculture and Cattle (EIAG) to fight diseases and improve quality of plants.Domingo Antonio was having trouble with his plantains with the lack of water during the rainy season and the spread of diseases and insects. This reduced yields and impacted the quality of his crop.He heard from APLARI, an organization of plantain farmers in Rivas, that EIAG had a new modified plantain that would solve his problems.Due to his position of influence in the community, Domingo Antonio is a lead promoter of the Techno-Links program, which has the goal to increase the productivity and income generating opportunities of 5, 000 small scale farmers by improving the capacity of agriculture technology suppliers.He was eager to participate, especially since this innovative technology could solve his problem of lack of quality. He has talked with other farmers and friends about the benefits of this technology. He sees this as a smart and innovative idea. He has told 10 other producers and continues to spread the word about the in-vitro plants using the EIAG manual. Five of these producers have bought in-vitro plants from the university. He likes to visit these farmers and see how their production process is going.He has noticed a radical change in his crops due to the use of the technology. The in-vitro corms offer an improved variety of plantain that means higher quality, better clusters and greatest number of fingers on the plants."The change was significant because with in-vitro plants there is a more marketable number of fingers to sell."He was excited when describing the differences between his hectare of in-vitro plants and the normal plantain. He said there was an increase from 30 fingers to between 40 to 55 fingers per branch.The most exciting difference was an immediate decrease in his use of pesticides. For the next cycle of plantains, Domingo plans to buy 200 more in-vitro plants so that he doesn't have to spend money on pesticides. By not having to apply pesticides, Domingo will have more free time to plant more crops and spend time with his family.Innovative technology continues to grow throughout Nicaragua and is changing the way farmers see and work with agriculture.
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A New Year With New Goals

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After a nice Christmas vacation where I was able to meet up with fellow MEDA interns Mary, Curtis, and Daniel I'm back to work with Zoona as we begin the 2014 year with ambitious goals of expansion and impact. First, let me summarize the great vacation I had in Tanzania and Kenya.It was my first time in Tanzania and I was surprised by the development and hyper-activity of Dar Es Salaam, a very different feeling than the capital city, Lusaka where I spend my time with MEDA techno-links partner, Zoona. On my first day there Curtis got tickets for us to watch a big soccer match at national stadium. It was a great experience!Later we took a trip to Arusha, Tanzania to trek up 4,566 meter Mt. Meru. It was hard, it was fun, and a lot of memories were shared with me, Daniel, and Mary. After getting back down from four days on the mountain I could barely walk but felt great with the accomplishment. It made me realize daily exercise wouldn't be a bad investment for me in Lusaka when I returned.I finished out my trip spending time with a former work colleague in Nairobi, Kenya. I always enjoy visiting new places in Africa as each country has its own unique culture and idiosyncrasies that are fascinating.Now, back in Lusaka I have been developing a case study for the techno-links project on agent training methods Zoona has gone through the past four years. This has involved field work, lots of interviews, and disbursing surveys to collect information from agents and tellers. We hope to utilize the case study as a tool for Zoona to better evaluate its training program for agents and make recommendations for areas of improvement.This will be important as Zoona is planning to expand its agent network from 200 to 600 this year in Zambia. The increase we anticipate will be on par with an increase in customer transactions and demand for financial services among Zambians. As Zoona's popularity has grown, we have seen a steady rise in total monthly transactions. In September of 2012 we had 76,871 total transfers performed, whereas by December we had a total of 122,080.As we continue to scale our agent network it brings more agent locations to rural areas in Zambia that have few, if any, financial options for sending/receiving money. This is one of the focal points of the techno-links project, and it is good to see the progress we are making in providing more opportunities for Zambians to access financial services in rural areas.
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