MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

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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Nidia: promoting sustainable development

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In November, I had the opportunity to interview plantain farmers for a week in Rivas, Nicaragua to do a case study on the University of Agriculture and Livestock (EIAG), a partner of MEDA. Nidia de Carmen Yescas is a lead farmer that uses her farmer as a demonstration for other local farmers to see the progress of the technology she uses. Nidia, her husband and her five grown children live on the farm alongside a highway on the outskirts of Rivas, which is located in southwestern Nicaragua. Nidia and her family had problems with disease in their plantains, which meant little income due to poor quality. The plantain had no resistance to the black weevil and black sigatoka disease. Sometimes it was hard for Nidia to find markets for her plantain and it sold at poor prices. Nidia Yescas heard about technological development through APLARI, an organization of farmers in Rivas. She decided to try new agro bio-technology being developed at a nearby university lab. Vitro selection screens plants for certain characteristics. With plantains, it selects for tolerance to diseases, insects and soil adaptability. Nidia decided to try this new technology after seeing the demonstration plot at the university. These new technological alternatives have increased yields and plant quality. Nidia said the in-vitro plant resolved her problems. "It was a huge progress for me. The plants aren't sick and now I don't use pesticides." The new plant is resistant to pests and disease, making for a more productive plant anchor with a more competitive context in an increasingly demanding market. As well, Nidia doesn't spend money on pesticides and is able to save this money to spend on household needs. With the help of her sons, she has been able to produce healthy plantains. With the outcomes she's seen of the in-vitro plants she is now a promoter of reference for the university. She uses her farm as a model for planting in-vitro plants that other farmers can come see as an example. She's excited to see the profits that the plantains will now bring in and she's happy for the help that the technicians gave her from EIAG.
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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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8 Manzanas

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I’m in Wiwili, the department of Jinotega, Nicaragua. On the horizon I can see the Honduras border while I’m sitting on a bench outside doing the final interviews with farmers. In the department of Jinotega there is a large production of chia seeds and the Central American Commodities Trading (CAC), a partner of Techno-Links, has taken advantage of this opportunity.  CAC Trading is well known for having the most comprehensive program of chia seeds in Central America with chia seeds being exported to the United States. They focus on giving technical assistance to farmers and by using the program Techno-Links through MEDA, they have been able to reach farmers in Wiwili.  One particular individual caught my attention today, Jose Andres Basque Martinez. Jose Andres produces chia as his only cultivation on the farm, while his wife and two girls work in the household and manage a clothing store. He has been working with the new technology from CAC Trading for one year and has noticed an ample change in his harvest of chia seeds. A year ago he was growing 1 manzana as Nicaraguan farmers call it, or 0.5 hectares of chia seeds. Today, he has 8 manzanas, 5.6 hectares.  This is one of the goals that CAC Trading strived to achieve by having farmers adopt a methodology with the ability to increase revenues both through the increase in yields per hectare and increased sales prices. Beforehand, Jose Andres faced a technology gap of technological development. Today he said that with the technical assistance of CAC Trading, there is a new market for his chia seeds, a higher production rate at harvest, and an improved quality of chia seeds with new nutrients. He’s happy and his family is happy, and that makes me happy.

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Climbing Mt. Meru in under two minutes

A benefit of living and working abroad for MEDA is travel. What used to be across an ocean is suddenly a short (or maybe just shorter) distance away. Also, through our network of fellow interns, we have places to crash and people to travel with. Not bad at all.In December, I took advantage of that. Here's a short video that I made from a portion of a Tanzania trip:

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