MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Overflowing with Tears in Rwanda

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This is a story that simply cannot wait. I am in awe of the way life has a funny way of working around us, no matter how hard we try and force it in the direction we would like.I was on my way to Kigali with my friend Chrissy, we were to meet outside the airport, unfortunately the unpredictable traffic in Dar was causing her such an issue that we were not sure she was going to be able to make the trip. I was ready to fly out myself when she was able to show up just in time. As we sat for a few minutes before we boarded the plane laughing about how much someone clearly did not want her to make it to Rwanda to see the Gorillas, the announcement was made and it was time to board. We approached the boarding gate when she realized she could not find her ticket, they would not let her on the plane if she did not have that. We looked through everything, even where we were sitting and nothing, it was looking grim. Then, just in time, magically appears her ticket stub hidden in one of the pages of her passport.As we arrive in Kenya, we are on the bus heading to the terminal when we check the clock, we had just over 5 minutes to get on the next plane. This is unbelievable. We run to the gate when they inform us we still have a little bit of time but now they need to see a printed copy of my visa for Rwanda... only I didn't print it out, I only have it in my email on my computer. That is not acceptable. They inform me of a print shop a few gates down, 8 to be exact. I speed walk across the airport terminal, only to find out the printer is not working. I speed walk back across to the Rwanda Airways gate, the manager is there and gives me the go ahead.As we board the plane take our seats and again, laugh about how Rwanda really must not want us. The plane ride was quick and we were ready for a great vacation in Rwanda, if only it was that easy. After a short flight, the plane lands, quickly gathering our things we head off the plane and onto the bus ready to take us to immigration. Shortly after stepping off the bus, I noticed I was missing something... my passport, I had left my passport on the plane. It wasn't long before I was back on the plane searching for my passport, I knew I left it there but it was absolutely nowhere to be found. Devastated, scared, frustrated, I made my way back to the immigration officers where I tried to work out a way that they would let me into Kigali, no luck.Since Rwanda had never seen my passport, I was technically not even in the country, the only solution was to ship me back to Dar, so I could get it figured out. My heart sunk, I would not be able to explore Rwanda with my friends. For anyone who knows me, understands just how many tears my body produces and that night was no exception.Luckily, I have met so many amazing people out here and Chrissy was just too kind of a person to leave me stranded in the airport alone. She spent the night in the Rwandan airport with me, fighting for me, laughing at the luck we had and comforting me when I just couldn't hold it together anymore. After a long night of arguing and getting further away from a solution, it was time for the daily flight from Kigali to Nairobi. I had to return to Nairobi since that was where I stopped on the way over, half an hour before they were able to give me a boarding pass and I was on my way back to Nairobi.The flight was short, I slept for most of it, cried through the rest but none the less was there before I knew it. Arriving in Nairobi unsure of what was to happen next, I looked around cautiously for someone I could trust to help me. A young lady a few years older then me,had overheard my situation and could see the stress in my face. She came over and checked to see if there was anything she could help me with. Her kindness was incredible, offering her phone so I could call Rwanda (which was now long distance), checking in on me a couple times before she left the airport and a giant hug at the exact moment I was getting overwhelmed again.I was able to find a couple immigration officers that would help me with the next lag of my journey, it was a simple comment that they didn't understand why I had no passport that just had the tears streaming down my face again. They were terrified, doing everything they could to get me to stop crying and even had me laughing with their inspirational speech of how I must learn to be tough if I am going to live in Africa. Eventually, after many chats with the embassy, airlines and the Kigali airport they had booked me a flight back to Dar es Salaam.I had a wonderful escort, who had obviously heard how many tears I had shed in immigration, explaining to me that she is also a 'crybaby'! She did a wonderful job putting a smile on my face and making me feel that everything was going to be okay. I had explained my situation a few more times to the Kenya Airways flight attendants and now was just waiting for a boarding pass to be printed. With a few hours before my flight, I decided it was probably time to eat something and headed for lunch. I had just ordered when I heard, "Mary Catherine, please report to Gate 6, Mary Catherine please find Gate 6." In my head, I thought they must have my boarding pass, so in a rush I asked them to pack up my food and took the long walk back to gate 6.When I got there, the first lady had quite a smile on her face and said she had to call her manager. A few more people passed, all looking at me with these silly grins on their faces, something was up. The Rwanda Air Manager finally walks around the corner and starts with, "You lucky girl." Someone had turned in my passport just a few minutes ago in Kigali!I was in awe. No words were able to explain the relief, excitement and disbelief that I felt. Obviously, I started to cry. The manager of Rwanda Air was so lovely and had already arranged for a free flight back to Kigali and a free flight on Monday. I was going to get my dream vacation yet... well I hope, still sitting in the Nairobi airport waiting to take off to Rwanda. Wish me luck!
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Zanzibar Just Never Gets Old

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Well this past weekend was one more goodbye that had to be made, so for Parneet's last weekend we decided to take a trip to our beloved little paradise, Zanzibar. There is something magical about that place. This was my 5th time in Zanzibar and every time I go it has a completely different feeling, all great in there own way.This time because we were a larger group we all decided to plan our own transport there,which let me tell you is WAY easier. As a resident in Tanzania, I get everything for about the third of the price my non-resident friends would get. The ferry for me is only about $20 dollars, unfortunately I was not able to take work off that early at this time so with a few others we took a quick 30 minute flight over, which for me costs about the same a non-resident would on the ferry.Arriving Friday night, we head over to a beautiful rooftop patio for some dinner and drinks to start off what was sure to be an unforgettable weekend. As we all gather together, watching the most beautiful array of colors painted across the sky from sundown, we catch up on everything, even though I saw most of these people the night before. Our group of friends may not all be quite as much of an extrovert as me, but they are pretty close and it is quite rare that we do not spend every evening together. Never the less, we learn about each others days, the struggles, the successes, the miscommunication we would have encountered with someone that day.After dinner, we all pile into a large van and make our way from Stonetown to Paje, where we will be staying for the weekend. Still not sure of where we are to stay, as if is easier to simply show up and find a place then to book online, well for those who have the extremely useful skill of negotiating, we find a beautiful place on the beach, with enough rooms for all of us and not too pricey, quite the deal. It was a long night full of laughter and many memories created, a great start to the weekend.The morning was a quick clean up, enjoyed some breakfast and we were packed up and ready to head out to the real treat of the weekend. We had recently heard of these private villas you may rent, so on we were, all piled in the van for a short drive down the road to Raha Lodge. After a few minutes of searching for this place through the local village, we spotted a rickety, old wooden sign that pointed us in the right direction. The place was absolutely gorgeous. In Swahili, Raha means happiness, which is definitely the way we all felt exploring our new home for the night.It wasn't long after we got out of the car that thunder and lightning began to shriek through the building and the rain started to downpour. It was that kind of thunderstorm where all you want is to cuddle up under a blanket with a cup of tea and watch the sky light up. It was going to put a hold on swimming, and tanning on the beach for the day but the thing about these friends is that it is almost impossible to have a bad time. As we sat under the roof watching the rain pour down, we exchanged stories, played some games and simply enjoyed each other's company.Shortly after the sky cleared up and the weekend played out exactly how we had hoped, even returning home sunburnt but no matter how the weather would have reacted I am positive we would have made it an unforgettable weekend. It is easy to say that people are the most important thing in my life and I truly don't know what I would do in this country without them. There is something special about connecting with others who are also away from the home they knew before this. Friendships are formed quickly, trust is unbelievably high and boredom is never an issue because there is always something new to learn. It was another great and completely unique weekend in Zanzibar! A little paradise.
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See Ya Later Alligators

It's the start of the of the goodbyes here in Dar. We all knew at some point it would happen but nothing really prepares you for how fast your time goes by with these amazing people, even knowing that the time is going to fly past you.It started on Thursday night where we would have one last night with our dear friend Laiah from California. Laiah had one of the shorter terms as she was out here writing her thesis, so we knew we would have to make the most of any moment. We spent a lot of time together, enjoying countless dinners together, learning new things at trivia, celebrating Mardi Gras and sharing endless laughs together. Laiah was an extremely intelligent, truly compassionate, hilarious individual who showed show much kindness to whoever she met, even when the conversations never seemed to have an ending. There is so much to learn from Laiah, I could not be happier to have met her.Then with short notice another friend, David from Ireland, was on his way back. I had met David playing ball hockey a little while back. David has a love for sports and although only played field hockey before he found a way to make it work in ball hockey. It was always great to be greeted with David's wonderful smile and genuine care for you with a simple question, "How are you, dear?" (In an Irish accent, I might add). I absolutely love spending time with David whether it was playing ball hockey, camping on bongoyo or sharing stories around a bonfire.As these goodbyes start, it only makes me realize how quickly my time is going to go bye. I try not to think about it so it won't become real but sometimes it just takes over my mind. It frustrates me even more when I waste my time here being homesick because I know that I will be missing these moments as soon as I am back in Canada. In our crew of friends, none of us really like to talk of the fact that it will be soon that we are not sharing every dinner together or spending countless hours reading through the what's app group chat sorting through useless messages trying to find what the plans are for the evening. All the things that may annoy me at the moment seem so useless.I am positive that my path will some day cross all these amazing friends again but until that moment I want to enjoy every single moment the days has to offer. It was terribly sad to see both David and Laiah leave this beautiful city and know that you will both be miss incredibly but all the best on where your journey leads you next. Can't wait to hear all about it the next time we meet!
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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 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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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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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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Hockey is a Little Different in Africa

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The most popular question I heard before moving to Tanzania was always, “Mary, how are you going to play hockey in Africa?” At the time, I always regretfully applied, “I think it will be the first year since I was 4 years old not playing hockey.” Little did I know that I would have the chance to experience hockey in so many different forms.After 4 months in this country, doing very little physical activity and eating way to much wali na kuku (Rice and fried Chicken) I decided it was time to get back at it. I came across a posting online for underwater hockey. I was intrigued. Ice hockey and swimming have to be two of my favorite things and now they are being blended together. Most of the Tanzanians I spoke to weren’t even aware of what hockey was; I usually had to show them a video for them to understand. So I curiously inquired about this underwater hockey via the ever-useful Google search engine. I learned that underwater hockey is a large phenomenon across the world that is petitioning to become an Olympic sport. So that Sunday, I headed to the International School Pool where I would have the opportunity to try out this new sport with a few others.The concept of underwater hockey is quite simple just as ice hockey get the puck in the net.The difficulty comes from the many different elements. The players of each team start on the their side of the pool, the game is played length ways in both the deep and shallow end of the pools. The puck is placed in the direct middle of the pool and you hear the ref yell, “Sticks up, GO!” From that moment it is a mad dash for the puck in the middle, both teams trying to reach the puck first.The key is timing, knowing when to dive down to the bottom, knowing who is running out of air and speed.Underwater hockey equipment is a little different from ice hockey. Instead of skates the players wear flippers, players only have one glove on their shooting hand. The stick is a lot shorter, about the size of one’s forearm and only used with one hand. The final pieces of equipment are the goggle and snorkels, which believe it or not are the hardest items to get used to, I have taken too many breaths before I have quite surfaced and swallowed way too much pool water.The players snorkel on the surface of the water until they see a play they would like to make or defend. When they see an opportunity they take a deep breath and dive to the bottom of the pool and work hard to get the puck to another teammate of the net before they run out of air. When looking to pass to someone it is important to watch both the players on the bottom of the pool but also the players at the surface who may be able to dive down. When defending your own end it is systematic, your teammates begin to learn how long one can hold their breath and try to dive down shortly before that moment.The game is incredibly difficult but a phenomenal sport to learn. Since then I have also joined a ball hockey team and an ultimate Frisbee team and soon to join a Canadian football (soccer) team. Playing on a sports team has always been something I took for granted; not until I had not been apart of a team for the first time in 18 years had I realized how much I missed it. Sports have taught me so much from teamwork and leadership to drive and passion. The difference that can be made simply by wanting the puck more is phenomenal.  It is a mindset, it is training and it is confidence.  I believe so much of what I have learned in life has come from sports. I never made it to the Olympics for Ice hockey…maybe underwater hockey 2016?

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Everyone Loves Field Trips

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I think anyone who works in international development will tell you the best part of the job is always the field visits. It is always a great way to lift your spirits and remember why you do what you do. It is when the numbers you stare at all day really come to life.  My role here at MEDA is titled Impact Assessment but I have been most useful in the monitoring and evaluation position so I spend most of my days creating call lists, compiling net stock out reports or sitting in meetings to discuss how we could do this more efficiently. I often forget, I forget that for me this is simply a job but for those pregnant women this could be life and death for their newborn. Field visits bring that back to live. They encourage me to remember why I started or why I need to put every ounce of energy and focus into my work. The difference matters.  My last field visit was very special for me because I was able to bring along my parents. We went to a local clinic here in Dar es Salaam, which uses the eVoucher system. MEDA Tanzania works with two voucher systems, the paper voucher and the eVoucher. We are trying to introduce the eVoucher system more and more but the mobile network in the rural areas is holding us back in certain regions. In Dar however, we have been able to go completely eVoucher.  We dropped in a local clinic filled with women and their newborn babies waiting for their check up. When a woman comes in their first trimester or in the baby’s first three month they receive a voucher for a mosquito net to prevent against malaria. Once the beneficiary has the voucher code via mobile phone, they take that number to the nearest retailer. We work to ensure these retailers are within 5km from the clinic. At the clinic the retailer shop owner verifies the code via SMS to the host server and once they have confirmation that voucher is valid, they are able to issue the net for 500 Tanzanian Shillings, approximately $0.32 US. The 500 shillings goes directly to the store owner and we find a donor to cover the costs of the net for to the supplier. If an individual does not have the voucher a mosquito net would cost them 1750 Tanzanian Shillings.With the kindness of one of the mothers we were able to sit in on her appointment with her newborn baby, they were there to get their voucher for their bed net. We waited with her for several minutes as they tried to connect and reconnect to the network as the signal was quite weak. Once the voucher ID number finally came through, the nurse wrote the number on a slip of paper and handed it to the mother. With an infectious smile she received the voucher and gathered her things so we could be on our way to the retailer. This clinic and retailer were extremely special because the retailer was only about 100 feet from the clinic making it easily accessible to the women.  We walked across the street to the Duka (shop) where they sold the approved nets. Again we waited for the shop owner to connect to the network so this woman may obtain her net.  After some time, he had received confirmation that the voucher ID was valid. He exchanged her 500 Tsh for a net. When in the office, I see this simply as another positive number towards the redemption rate but to this woman this is securing the health of her newborn baby. It is so easy to be caught up in the day-to-day work, even here; I find it to easy to forget the importance of each report or each redemption rate. Hearing the impact first hand is much more rewarding than any paycheck.

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I can, I will, I am.

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Knock, Knock. Knock, Knock. “Hodi? (May I come in?) Wake up tea!” says Adam, our awesome porter, “Hodi?” In theexcitement/exhaustion of the summit climb the morning before Jaredshouts, “Caribouuuuuu!” His attempt at the Swahili word Karibu (Welcome) gives us all a great laugh, as we are ready to hike the last stretch of the mountain to the bottom.Wanting to make Christmas in Tanzania special a few of the other MEDA interns and I decided to climb MT. Meru, the 5th tallest mountain in Africa that looks directly at Mt. Kilimanjaro.There are a lot of benefits to climbing Mt. Meru, it only takes 4 days, cost is a lot less than other treks and it is said to be a beautiful hike. All these reasons led us to signing up for to hike to 4566m to the summit of this mountain. December 24th, we meet our crew that will be helping us make it to the summit. Ashleigh our guide, Adam our porter and Godfrey our cook. We will also pick up 2 more porters at the gate.At the bottom of the mountain, before we head out they prepare a wonderful lunch for us; my nerves are already starting to bubble up. I try to calm myself down by impressing the park rangers with my kidogo (little) Swahili knowledge. As we start the hike I am able to calm myself down using positive self-talk that I had learned in my Sport Psychology class last year. With every step I repeat the phrase in myhead, “I can, I will, I am.” Step by step I will make it up this mountain. The first day was a 5 hour hike, uphill and downhill and even a few flat areas. Nothing I couldn’t handle. After arriving at the hut, they cook us a delicious dinner and we head to the viewing deck where we are able to see the most amazing stars I have ever seen, absolutely incredible.“Hodi? Wake up tea!” we were greeted the next morning by Adam. I haveto say the best way to be woken up is by someone serving you tea in bed, certainly a great way to start the day! After a quick breakfast, we started our next 5 hour hike up to Hut #2. This trail consisted of what seemed like 1 billion stairs, then paths slanted upwards that went back and fourth for a few hours. Tiring, but again nothing I couldn’t handle. When we arrived at Hut #2, we enjoyed a lunch prepared for us and then we hiked an hour and ahalf up to Little Meru to acclimatize us a little before back down to Hut #2 for the night.It was an early night for us, dinner at 6:30pm and in bed at 8pm. The nerves were certainly building up, the air was a whole colder at the second hut and as much as we wanted to sleep and rest for the hike the next day, I was wide awake. It seemed as though I had just fallen asleep when we were woken up with some breakfast tea just like every other morning, only this time it was 1:30am. It was time to hike to the summit. We tried to force down a little breakfast, put on almost every item of clothing we had for me that meant 5 long sleeve shirts, 1 sweat shirt, a windbreaker, spandex, jeans and wind pants… mostly provided by Nichols College Women’s Ice Hockey. We emptied our packs as much as possible, bundled up, headlamps on and we were off.The trail was long and windy; all I could see was Ashleigh in front of me except when I took a minute to look up at the brightest stars that light up the whole sky. I didn’t do that to often though because it usually involved me running into something or tripping over myown feet so I focused straight ahead following Ashleigh’s every step, repeating the phrase, “I can, I will, I am.” We continued to hike this dark path that was only light up only by our own headlamps. The hike was extremely steep and included many challenges where we scaled a rock wall to get to the next path instead of going all the way down and up again, walked on the very narrow path with a steep fall on either side and walked straight up as the volcanic ash collapsed beneath our feet. It was extremely strenuous and at one point, I felt as though I could not take another step, my legs felt like jelly and my whole body felt weak. I fell to my knees and with an uneasy stomach had my first experience with the dreaded altitude sickness. Ashleigh offered me some water and said, “Great! Now you’ll have more energy! Let’s go!” And incredibly he was right, I had a sudden burst of energy that was able to get me up the next stretch until it hit me all over again.Every time I slowed down, I could hear Ashleigh from a few steps ahead say, “Maria, it’s nearly there, you are so close, come on!” Even though I had learned by this point he was completely lying, I didn’t want to disappoint him, so I continued one foot in front of the other. As we were 50 meters from the summit we saw the sun start to rise right behind Mt. Kilimanjaro, it was the most beautiful array of colors painted across the sky. I have never seen such an amazing sight… too bad I was too exhausted to grab my camera and take a few pictures. Instead, I continued. Three steps. Water break. Three more steps. Another water break. I was going to make it to the top, I was not giving up. With quite a few more rounds of this, I finally found the last push in myself and fought threw the last 25 steps to the top. With my final step, I collapsed on the ground right in front of the “Congratulation” sign. I had made it. It was undoubtedly the hardest thing I have ever done.  Every muscle in my body ached, I was chilled to the bone and my stomach was bubbling in pain but I felt proud. After a few moments, I regained a little strength to stand up, take a few pictures and drink some warm water to satisfy my insides. It was shortly after when we started the trek down.Down felt a little better but certainly still not easy. After a few hours we made it back to the second hut where we enjoyed lunch, packed up the rest of our stuff and hiked all the way down the 1 billion stairs to the first hut. We had hiked a total of 3000 meters that day. Sleep was most definitely in order. We forced ourselves to stay up for a little dinner and then it was off to bed. The next morning after sleeping close to 12 hours we were awaken with our last wake up tea. It was time for the last stretch. I could not have been more wrong when I was thinking this would be a light stroll down the mountain. With every step, every muscle and my body protested. After hours of painful walking, listening to our park ranger play, “Call me maybe” on repeat the whole way down and my pack feeling heavier than ever, we finally made it to the bottom where five beautiful giraffes waited to congratulate us on an incredible accomplishment.There are many experiences that I will carrywith me for the rest of my life and this certainly, is no exception. The summit was beautiful but the true memory for me was in the journey. I was challenged, encouraged, frustrated and inspired all at the same time. I was able to learn from all those around me while sharing in so many laughs. I am so blessed to have these amazing opportunities.

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Not the Happiest of New Years

Usually New Year's Eve is a celebration of a wonderful year and looking forward to what the next year may bring but this year I find it hard to put on a smile knowing that for some the new year simply brings more struggles. It is becoming more difficult to turn a blind eye and live my daily carefree life. My stomach and heart are filled with deep guilt and sadness for those who have to face such difficulties. I find in this blog I often write about the incredible opportunities I am experiencing and forgetting to share some of the difficulties of living abroad. Contrary to what some may believe it isn't all sunshine and beaches.For me, it is easy to say my biggest challenge is knowing all that I am missing back home. I have a fear of missing out. That is a fact. For the most part I miss out on things such as the planning of my sisters wedding, or watching NC women's ice hockey beat Manhattanville or Christmas parties with high school friends or Wednesday game night with all those Silver Lakers in Waterloo but this week I am missing out on a different sort of situation. It is not so much that I want to experience this at all but I am struggling on how to process it so far away. I received news that a friend, teammate and housemate from my Junior hockey team, the Boston Shamrocks passed away in a car accident over the holidays. I can't quite figure out how to deal this shocking news normally but for being an ocean away somehow makes it 1000 times worse. I often look to the future, I try to look at a difference I can make when I am 'grown up' or what kind of job I am going to have or where I am going to live, always trying to plan ahead and look for more but who says I'm guaranteed more time. So many of us know this is the case and yet it seems we don't completely understand it. We spend so much time in life planning for the future, thinking about what we are going to do next, forgetting about the power of now. Living in a new place let's you experience so much that you could never even imagine but it really seems to hit hard when moments like this happen. You realize that the world that you know and love back home does not go on hold for you. By the time I return home so much will have changed and passed by that I will have to find my place all over again. I read an article recently that claimed, "Once an expat, always an expat!" It exclaimed that once one leaves a place for such a long time they always sort of feel something missing whether it be your home country or the last place you lived, one just never feels quite complete. That is a scary thought. It definitely is a fear of mine but the more time I think of this, the more I begin to feel it is still 100% worth it. As demonstrated way to often, life is short and we cannot take any of it for granted. Even if I never feel completely at home or that I am missing someone I met in Boston or Africa or from home, I know it is because they made an impact on me. I am missing them because they mattered and instead of getting sad or frustrated about that I can take what they taught me and share that with someone else and maybe, just maybe make half the impression on their lives.
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It’s Our Problem-Free Philosophy

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Hakuna Matata. A phrase we all learn from the beloved Disney movie, The Lion King. The first phrase people often teach you when trying to teach you Swahili. A phrase that is used multiple times a day here in Tanzania.Sitting on the rooftop terrace having dinner with my parents and listening to some beautiful melodies played by the local Zanzibar band, I had my first ‘Ah-ha!’ moment. Hakuna Matata is more than a phrase, it is a way of life. Hakuna Matata literally means ‘no worries’ but truly means ‘take it all in!’ It means don’t rush through every second of every day rather enjoy the small moments. It means don’t stress about the problems that arise instead deal with them and move on. It means look into the eyes of the one next to you and share a smile over the communication barrier because that sign of happiness is universal.With Christmas approaching it’s hard to not think about what I would be doing back home right now or the beautiful snowfall. I try to stay busy to keep my mind off of all that I am missing back home but this is not completely the answer. Rather I should take it all in, every single moment, every single smile. I need to focus less on what I am missing and more on what I am gaining. I need to learn to live in the present. Live in the now.Life in Africa moves at a different pace, it’s African Time! This is my worst enemy, I value punctuality and efficiency so I don’t understand why every African minute equals five regular minutes. The first few months I let this bother me quite a bit, I found myself getting frustrated when others were late to meet me or stressed out when I was late leaving for a Swahili lesson. I now see, it is not about the exact time but the quality of life we are living. Many of these people face much bigger problems then I could ever imagine so why let such a small thing as time bother them? People are fighting for their lives and I’m worried whether I will be there five minutes early.Now, don’t misunderstand me, I still value punctuality and if I make plans with someone at a certain time I try my best to be there at the time but I realize that it is not something that should cause me stress. I am realizing that life is a beautiful playground. We often make our problems seem so much bigger than they actually are and let that get in the way of our fun. We only have so much time at the playground before we must move on so why not capture every moment to it’s fullest. Smile over everything even miscommunications because Hakuna Matata.In this exact moment, sitting on this rooftop with the cool breeze flowing through me listening to these musicians put their heart and soul into the songs they are singing, I not only feel the moment but am living it. I experience Hakuna Matata to it’s fullest. I breathe all the way in until my lungs are full, close my eyes, and with the release of all that air I recognize all the blessings I have been given in life. I have nothing to be but thankful. So to that I say….Hakuna Matata

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According to Plan

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“Everything is possible” the words of our taxi driver that seemed to fit with so many things in this past trip to Zanzibar.Right from the start nothing seemed to go as planned. We arrived at the ferry terminal only to find all the tickets were sold out, thinking that we would have to start our Zanzibar excursion the next morning we headed out of the Terminal and down the street. It was then that we met the incredible Mr. James. He pulled us into his office telling us he would just go talk to the Captain of the ship, it was fine. In disbelief we sat there as they scrambled to find us ways on to this boat. After several minutes, some of his employees came back slightly disappointed but not completely out of options. They exclaimed that they could only get the residents tickets on the ferry but they could fly us to Zanzibar on a private plane and book us a ticket for the ferry back. It was only a $20 difference from the original price but they could quickly tell we weren’t completely sold, so with their excellent business skills they started to throw in extra incentives. They started with free transportation to the airport then adding a hotel in Stonetown with free breakfast for only $15 per person. This was deal breaker.Off we were on our private plane to Zanzibar, some people still in disbelieve this would all work out. There was quite a bit of traffic but our driver ensured us the plane would wait for us! Never worry! We enjoyed a quick private plane ride, were picked up at the airport, customs went flawlessly and made it to the hotel. That night we walked to the local food market enjoying every type of fish, seafood and chicken you can imagine while we made our plan for the weekend. It was simple, we would spend the night in Stonetown, in the morning head to the East side of the Island for some beautiful swimming and relaxation. Then Sunday, head back to Stonetown to meet up with a friend and head to Prison Island. That was the plan at least.The rest of the evening and morning seemed to go smoothly, as we enjoyed delicious dinner and breakfast and were able to get a taxi to drive us to the East side. He found us a great quiet place to stay. This was going to be a perfect afternoon laying by the pool, getting a great tan (or burn) and walking by the beach. It was not 10 minutes after changing into ourswimsuits and getting outside that the thunder started to roll and the rain down poured! Change of plans, it would now be a perfect cozy afternoon listening to the rainstorm, playing some scrabble and enjoying some delicious pizza!Sunday morning, we are packed and ready to head out to meet our friend for Prison Island. Per usual in Africa, we have more people than fit in the car, so stuffed with 4 people in the backseat our driver Ali takes off. It should be about an hour until we are in Stonetown, we’re right on time! Not more than 20 minutes down the road we are pulled over by the police, apparently you are not allowed to have that many people in car…who knew! It was easy to understand that through quick conversation in Swahili that he wanted a bribe, not completely sure how this was going to happen we all sat quietly in the back as Ali got on the phone with his boss. A few long minutes later the Police Officer received a phone call and was told to let us pass. As we are speeding off, Ali tells us that he works for the High Commissioner in Zanzibar and he is able to do anything he wants, “Everything is possible!” says Ali. We are all quite impressed with his achievement and sing along to the most perfect Bob Marley song on the stereo, “Get up, Stand up!”Of course, it is not smooth sailing from there. Our car starts to slow to a roll and then to a complete stop. We are out of gas and it is downpouring again. Ali without a worry in the world just out of the car, grabs a empty jug and hops on the back of a truck to the nearest gas station, as we all sat in the car laughing at the events of this trip. A few minutes later he returns on another car with just enough gas to get us to the last stretch to Stone town.We did not make it in time to see Prison Island or enjoy the warmth of the sun beating down on us. We had to pay a little more to get to there and we did not find a perfect paradise of a beach to stay on. Everything we planned seemed to change but in the midst of all this craziness and chaotic trip we laughed. It is incredible how we can focus so heavily on the little details in life missing the pure beauty of human connection. This is certainly a trip I will never forget. What was supposed to be a quick getaway for the weekend ended up being one of my favourite moments thus far in Africa! I am beyond grateful for the many moments of this past weekend that I was able to learn and experience so much with some wonderful new friends. The friendships mean so much more than any souvenir I could ever imagine. I am blessed.

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Mis-Frustration

Some individuals could find their way in any place with others who speak any language and find a way to connect, I however, find this extremely difficult. Even though, Ninajifunza Kiswahili (I am taking Swahili classes), I still find many instances where there is a significant communication barrier.As part of my internship, I am currently managing our call center of four employees. When I started we had two employees in the call center collecting data from our retailers in the North and South on how many nets they have in stock. Now, due to donor demands on data that should be collected, we have four employees collecting data on retailers in the North and South, hard to reach retailers, eVoucher redemptions and clinic voucher stock outs. As the manager, it is my role to train the new employees, create the calling lists for each, monitor and analyze the data retrieved. This is all new to me in English never mind Swahili.As I am putting together these different lists, I confuse myself over the different retailers and clinics, whether they’re eVoucher or Paper Voucher clinics and who is collecting what data. Meanwhile, as I’m only confusing myself more, I am trying to teach one of our new employees what I am looking for her to do. As I ramble on, back and fourth she continues to nod her head and accept the tasks I have given her. I finish my explanations, ask her if she has any questions and when the answer is always, “No madam” I return back to my desk. A few hours later or some times even at the end of the day when I am looking to collect the work from the day to review, I receive an email in response that explains that she is unsure of what the task was and was not able to collect the data. This is not ignorance or lack of wanting to work, this is a conflict in communication.Growing up and studying in North America, I would expect if someone did not understand the task, they would ask for clarification but that is not the case here. I have started to learn in many circumstances that Tanzanian people tell you what you want to hear. Tanzanians are extremely polite and this is simply a part of their culture as they do not want to offend you so they tell you what will make you happy. When asking a waitress to get you something the correct phrase is “Naomba maji?”  which directly translates to, “I beg you to get me some water?” The cultural universals are based off of politeness rather than efficiency. This allows me to appreciate the way of communication a little more but it is most certainly not an easy adjustment for me to get used to.I am learning that is difficult for me to understand many things until I am able to actually experience them. Even through all my communication studies during school I don’t think I really understood the frustration of miscommunication. I am embarrassed to say but initially I was quite frustrated at the situation but that is not fair or right. It is up to both me and the employee to work together to be sure the other understands what is being said. It is up to us to learn to work together to accomplish the tasks. It is up to me to embrace the culture for what it is and rather than being upset of time lost, take the time to use these as moments as teachable opportunities. I am learning, it is difficult but I am learning both Swahili and communication norms.

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LIfe without ‘Kodak Moments’

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Within one second, they were all gone and there was nothing I could do about it. I guess that’s one reason why I should stop living my life through a camera lenses. So often when I take a picture the thought… “This is going to be a great cover picture!” comes to my mind. I think of the instant gratification from others with a facebook ‘like’ instead of experiencing every moment to it’s fullest.This past weekend I spent in the Ngorogoro crater near Arusha, North Tanzania. This crater is a beautiful, widespread mass of land that is home to many of Africa’s greatest creatures. I had the chance to see elephants, giraffes, rhinos, hippos, lions, hyenas, gazelles and so much more! Every time we saw an animal all of us reached for our cameras snapping an over excessive amount of pictures of that one animal which for the most part just laid there and watched us. As soon as we got the ‘perfect’ picture, we told our driver and he drove us to the next part of the road where vehicles were crowed around another magnificent animal. All the while, I’m taking these pictures I’m thinking about how I can’t wait to show my friends and family about this amazing experience I am having and I guarantee you, all of you would have been amazed. Too bad, someone had another plan for me and decided to teach me an extremely valuable lesson.This morning when I go to look to my photos and decipher which ones I would like to share, I notice an entire folder missing out of photo library. Trying to think rationally, I think maybe I just put them in a different folder or maybe I can get them back some how. I start the search. So many incidents seem to have led up to this casualty. I think maybe I can just re-download them but I decided to clean off the memory cards of my camera so I wouldn’t duplicate them on my computer. I emptied the trash on my computer to free up some space. I figured I could just download them to Iphoto yesterday and then today would add them to dropbox. It’s okay they should be in my photo stream…my photo stream was turned off. Wow. They were seriously gone. Permanently deleted.A few days ago, a coworker of mine taught me a very powerful lesson that has been coming up more times than I can count. He taught me about the power of now. He read a book recently that taught him to focus on the exact moment you are in. When all these problems seem so great and overwhelming the key is to focus on the now. “What is your biggest problem right now?” he asked as I was sitting on a beach on a small deserted island. Well, obviously I couldn’t come up with any problems at that moment but I was sure that if you got me in a really stressful situation that would be different. Since that moment, I have found myself in a few different situations where normally I could work myself up over the circumstance but I was able to think about my biggest problem at that moment which always came back to nothing. I had food, I had water, I had shelter, I had family and friends. I had a lot more than most people have in a lifetime. All of a sudden instead of feeling overwhelmed, I felt grateful.So even though, I have to end this post without showing you any photos of my amazing trip, I am still incredibly grateful. This weekend I was able to see Africa in a new light. I saw the beautiful terrain of the crater that was filled with magnificent animals of all kind. I saw the Massiah men show us a dance from their culture. I spent many great moments with friends sharing stories about their lives and their cultures. I got to experience something many people will never get the chance to see. I was so excited to share all those pictures with everyone to show how much fun I am having but I think that sharing these experiences and lessons learned is even more special. I often here the phrase, a picture can say 1000 words… but what about all the words, lessons and memories that the picture can’t get across to just any viewer. What about everything that led up to that picture?I am learning to experience life in the now rather than how that picture will be received later. Even with someone video taping my every movement here I couldn’t completely show how much I have already learned from these people, this culture, being abroad and learning to be independent while still maintaining the relationship with a community. Not a picture or a movie or an essay could explain that but whom I become from what I have learned throughout this experience will. That in itself will be evidence that I am on a magnificent journey.***Added Nov 29:Then, once I think I have it all figured out…everything always seems to change completely. I had come to terms with that fact that I had lost my pictures and actually wasn’t even the slightest bit upset about it anymore! Then when I go to show Shaunet just a few of the pictures I thought I saved somehow… they ALL appear! Life is a serious mystery! So I thought I would share just a little of my favourite moments and hopefully you can feel a slight glimpse of the magic I felt seeing all these beautiful creatures!

 

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Goodbye Personal Space

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This past week I was able to spend some time in Capetown, South Africa. So many things about this place reminded me of North America, it is definitely not what one would imagine when thinking about Africa.The uniting language between strangers on the street is English, the roads are nicely paved, the price they tell me, is the price I pay (No bartering…my worst nightmare)! It was definitely a very different scene from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania but one thing that was not completely different was the train station at rush hour.I spent the day surfing, while my friend Marina was at school and work. I jumped on the train around 5pm to head back to her place before dark. I sat third class as I normally do. At first it didn’t seem like a big deal, I was still able to get a seat but with in the matter of three stops the train filled up so much that I wasn’t even able to see out the windows. I wasn’t quite sure when my stop was so I decided to stand up which at least would let me see out the window so I could get out at my stop.After a few more stops, I must have had a look of panic on my face because a map had tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Where are you going?” with quite the questioning tone. I told him Observatory and asked, “This is the right train isn’t it?” He laughed and told me, “Yes but I was still about 7 stops away!” Phew, at least I wasn’t completely lost. He offered to tell me two stops before mine, and when to walk over to the door. Within the next few stops that train filled up so much that I was now spooning someone from every angle, there was no where left to stand, or so I thought but somehow they kept piling more people into this car.The kind man told me it was now my time to head towards the door. I looked to the left and the right, unfortunately I was standing directly in the middle of the train. I had no idea how I was going to be able to get to the door. I tapped the shoulder of the woman beside me, “Excuse me, can I sneak by?” and the man, “Excuse me, my stops coming up.” They all started to giggle a little and moved about a millimetre to let me by.  I had moved barely at all and new I had very little time until my stop so I started to push my way through, apologizing the whole way.Finally at my stop, they helped push me through the door. Once I stepped foot on the ground, the whole train started to clap and laugh at me. I once again was the centre of attention! I am not really sure how I get myself into all these situations where I seem to have all eyes on me but it sure does help me make friends easily.My trip to South Africa was wonderful, I was able to surf, climb Table Mountain, see the penguins and meet many wonderful people. It is a very different part of Africa, so much that some times I even forgot I was in Africa. I have only been to a few places in Africa so far but I am learning that the Africans are unbelievably kind, friendly and joyful. Even in the most stressful situations they are able to put a smile on my face!

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Life is a Beautiful Struggle

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Life is a beautiful struggle.These are the incredible words of my friend Elise that described the weekend perfectly. A group of us had decided it was time to made the trek to Zanzibar for those of you who don’t know this is a beautiful island right off the coast of Tanzania. Saturday morning we took the ferry, which for residents costs about $10 US. The 90minute ride I was filled with a whole lot of excitement as I had only heard great things about Zanzibar. When arriving in Stonetown, the main city of Zanzibar we had to go through customs even though Zanzibar is still technically a part of Tanzania. It seemed pretty quick for the most part until we noticed that one of us was missing. Elise had been pulled in for questioning. They were accusing her of breaking the law because she did not hold the proper visa. Elise is a student and has a student visa but the officers would not let her go until she paid the $200 US for a working visa. They were not budging; there was no negotiating to be done and after a long while Elise finally gave in and handed over the $200.Luckily, we quickly found a taxi driver to take us an hour up north where we were hoping to book a hotel, this is where we were told they have the most beautiful white sand beaches. From only one question our driver knew exactly the hotel we would like. All he asked was, “Price range- cheap or expensive?” Simultaneously we all shout, “CHEAP!” He knew the perfect place! We were able to get a hotel room with 4 single beds, right on the beach, free entrance to the beach party and free breakfast all for $20 each. It was perfect.From all the pictures I had seen on google about Zanzibar I knew it would be beautiful but I didn’t expect it to be half as magnificent as it was. The beaches were a perfect soft, white sand, the water was this phenomenal clear turquoise color, the staff was incredibly friendly! I was seriously in paradise.We spent all day swimming in the water, laying on the beach and even playing some American football! It was the relaxation I needed. Then at night we had a giant dinner buffet right on the beach while we watched the staff perform different dances and acrobatics. We finished the night off with their usual Saturday beach party that included dancing, bonfires, stars and great conversations. It was a perfect ending to the amazing day!It was too perfect. The next morning, I woke up at 6am ready to go for a morning swim before we were heading out to the spice tour. Elise just came in the door and told me that her and Curtis’s phones had been taken from our porch last night. The porch was the only electrical outlet that worked so they had left them out there to charge. We should have known something was bound to happen, everything seemed to wonderful to be true but I am way too naïve to think that way! So her and Curtis spent the morning talking to the staff, security guards, managers and watching video tape. Nothing could be found.Since I was no real help, I decided to take a swim before breakfast. This is where I had my first real, “I’m really in Africa!”  moment. Sitting on the beach with little to no one around, listening to the waves and the birds, feeling so refreshed from the cool blue water.  It was the most at peace I had felt in a long time. Without using too many cliches, the best way to describe it is that moment where time really does seem to stop. It felt as if all was good in the world. It felt as if everything was going to be okay. It restored hope inside me.After I met up with Elise for breakfast. We talked a lot about what could of happened to her phone, what could have been done to prevent it and how vulnerable it made her feel. I knew all these feelings because I had gone through a similar situation recently. In the midst of our conversation though she simply took a breath and said, “Life really is a beautiful struggle.” I was taken a back by this quote. We were in this perfect beautiful paradise where all these unfortunate events seem to be happening to her and she was still able to see the beauty in the world.The most amazing thing about travelling abroad is the people you meet! I am truly blessed to have this opportunity!

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Ninapenda Kula Chakula!!

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Chakula time! My favorite phrase of the day…food time. For any of you who know me, you know I am handicapped by any foods that are too spicy… or that have any spice at all really. All of you would be so proud. Although, not all the food here is spicy, hardly any of it really but they always have an option to make it spicier. Here at the MEDA office we are fed lunch everyday. We are given 3 or 4 options the day before; mostly the same options everyday with one new option, that again… I usually stay clear from. I have been sticking in my comfort zone with wali ne kuku (rice and chicken). Now this rice isn’t the same as rice in North America though. I never really enjoyed rice back home, I would only eat with some delicious sauce on top to let me forget about eating the rice but here it is a whole new world. I am told it is because this rice is whole and does not go through as much processing, whatever the reason may be… I can actually say that I crave rice. I enjoy my comfort zone, I feel safe eating that but my roommate/fellow intern Curtis thinks I need to be more adventurous. He often encourages me to try the new things on the menu that even he doesn’t know what they are. This is why… I have a strong suspicion that he changed my order one day. Sitting at my desk, I finally here “Chukula (food) is ready for all!” I was starving that day and could not wait for my wali ne kuku… only when I open up my container I find a whole samaki (fish). When I say whole fish, I mean whole… head and all. The little guys eyes were just staring at me! We are fortunate enough to get food every day, so I didn’t have the guts to say this isn’t what I ordered instead I just had to eat it. I was forced out of my comfort zone! I used the lid of my container to cover the head, I just couldn’t eat it with those eyes staring at me. It just felt so wrong. I looked around to see how others were attacking this meal. No forks and knives, just their delicate hands peeling the meat of the bones and then throwing it into their mouths. Oh boy… unfortunately Nichols College etiquette dinner didn’t prepare me for this. I forced down as much of this fish as I could. Wasting over half of the meat on the fish that apparently is in the head. I felt so awful but there was no way I could put any more of that fish in my body and I have a feeling my face gave off every ounce of misery I felt during that lunch. It is not all bad though, I have found quite a few foods that I enjoy. There is this wonderful sauce that I put on top of my rice; a sort of salsa that is not spicy but has the sweetest most flavourful addition to my amazing rice. As well as a form of rice called, Pilau. It is brown rice cooked with different spice that gives it an amazing flavour! Being in a big city though, we have a lot of selection such as Indian, Ethiopian, Thai and even Pizza. I can certainly find something to here that is not the problem. Also, I am lucky enough that Cutis, anapenda ku pika chukula (likes to cook food). I try to repay him by doing as many dishes as possible. Maybe one day I’ll make him an amazing grilled cheese sandwich!

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Numbers Are Deceiving

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Days out of office with the field staff are a good break from sitting in front of a computer all day. I enjoy seeing new parts of the city of Dar Es Salaam and viewing people going about their daily lives in this ‘Haven of Peace’. On field days with Kapaya and Gabriel the experiences are always unique and differ from the previous drives. I have visited more than a few dukas (shops), kliniki (clinics), and hospitali (hospitals) around Dar in districts of Illala, Kinondoni, and Temeke. I have quickly discovered some of the struggles, and issues with the current voucher system/health care system in place. As well as encountered the deceptive progress reports which are examined and shown to clinic staff. A few trends I have noticed are:1. Overworked staff. After regular kliniki (clinic) hours, only doctors may be working, and they don’t have enough time to hand out the TNVS voucher’s to women so they often write down their names and number and the nurses then have to give them the voucher on their second, or third visit. This translates to a time problem with the nurses, who along with their other duties have to catch up on the paperwork from past patients: fill in the MEDA logbook with the Hati Punguzo net sticker and information, write down the Hati Punguzo number on the Antenatal Card, and check off that it was given to the patient.2. Problems with competing bed net companies.  The two main suppliers of bed nets are A-Z and BestNets. On one occasion, we encountered a situation where the retailer wanted a certain type of net, and ordered it but there was no stock with the original supplier (who had the contract). The other supplier wanted to deliver nets, but a contract was already in place. The duka had already confirmed to receive even though they were not yet delivered. The result of this situation is that TNVS insisted the supplier not to confirm delivery before the duka (retailer) actual received the bed nets. The delivery is still pending.3. Potential for new duka contracts. One observation I noticed on a few occasions was the doctors and nurses at the kliniki (clinic) being helpful in offering new, more reliable, and closer dukas to sell the bed nets to patients. On one occasion we walked with the doctor to a very close duka to see the progress of their start up into the TNVS program. The retailer had been contacted by a supplier to sign a contract for bed nets, but hadn’t received a shipment yet.4. The above situations lead us to the problem of stock. Often times there are more than enough vouchers and e-vouchers being given out to patients but when the customers go to the dukas to purchase the bed nets they are out of stock. With only two suppliers with operations in Tanzania, and a very large country to cover and service, often times there is an issue either getting the bed nets to locations with drivers, or keeping up with the amount needed to service the clients. This creates a problem of a want for more dukas involved in the program, but not enough stock to maintain them. Thus, the need for more suppliers and competition between suppliers, which will bring down the price of the net, and allow stock to be maintained and readily available. As well, a solution might be if stock had to be ordered far in advance, then maybe availability issues could be avoided.5. As well the quality of the bed nets from the suppliers may differ. While all companies bed nets in the program are insecticide treated already, a user may have a preference for a type of net which may be out of stock. Also, most nets aren’t designed to last forever, and instead only last up to five years. At the start of the program the mother may obtain a second bed net for their child as well as herself. If the mother becomes pregnant again she may gain another net for herself as well as her 2nd newborn child and so on.6. Another issue is education of SMS, texting, shortcodes and phones. While most clinics and hospitals have staff that are well-versed in using a cell phone and its functions to report info to suppliers, there are a few holdouts. One kliniki we visited we had to educate the nurse to show her how to use her phone to SMS the supplier on bed net numbers. This is why the pamphlets and paper leaflets given to the duka owners and kliniki staff are a good tool to educate about the program. In some isolated cases repetition of SMS demonstrations is the only way to proceed. You have to have patience, especially with a generational gap with respect to technology, cell phones, and their use. Sometimes, a helping hand is needed to learn.7. Dukas playing their part. Dukas writing the numbers of the nets handed out in the log book (which sometimes doesn’t exist if they haven’t made one) and putting the net sticker in as well for confirmation in the MTUHA (Mfumo wa Taarifa za Uendeshaji Huduma za Afya) (record book). It is important for dukas to keep records, and be educated on the importance of being organized for the program. After all, they are benefiting from the process with profits and need to keep up their end of the bargain.8. Cell phone network issues, and signal problems. Often times different cell phone companies (Airtel, Tigo, Vodacom, Zantel etc.) have different reception problems in rural communities and one might work better than another in an area.  Investment in updating and providing larger cell coverage is key to the success of the e-voucher system. Also it is cheaper to SMS in multiple Hati Punguzo net numbers together in one message. This info could be compiled for a while, and thus reporting numbers may be off if the duka waited too long to report. It is not hard to figure out that if these problems exist in the large urban city of Dar, then they will be highly heightened issues outside in the rural areas.All of this translates to much lower reporting percentages and number for kliniki (clinics) and hospitals for how many vouchers are being sent out to women and children and the redemption rates for them. A large factor is motivation. The workers and field staff at MEDA Tanzania needs to make sure all of the suppliers, duka owners, clinic staff, nurses, doctors etc. know how they are making a difference and helping save lives every day by completing and maintaining their part in Hati Punguzo.An idea of providing a specific phone for each clinic to use has been thought of and mentioned a few times, as whose phone do you use for SMS messages? This is a difficult question, as there may be four plus nurses working on the program. An idea of a specific phone to be used for SMSing voucher codes might make sense, and be affordable for a larger clinic or hospital, but wouldn’t work in smaller cases. Whose talk time minutes do you use? Or, do you use those minutes to SMS a supplier about bed nets or call your family and children? A moral dilemma in some cases.Data shows significant achievements in the fight against malaria in Tanzania after Hati Punguzo was introduced, with the infection of under-five year olds declining to 10% from 18% in 2008. (http://medatanzania.org/) Also, the number of patients attending health facilities to seek treatment has increased since then. In July 2013, in the Dar Es Salaam region most clinics averaged about a 70% redemption rate for vouchers from the kliniki to the dukas and to the user.Even though some of the kliniki, and hospitali redemption rate numbers are low due to several issues explained above, the fact that the MEDA TNVS program is making a difference in pregnant women and children’s lives and helping them from falling ill to malaria is incredible. This is a far more important fact than any number or reporting figure!

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