It is like Christmas in Tanzania
Times flies. DHE also flies. Last weekend (define weekend as Thursday to Sunday), we traveled to Kigoma by very shaky airplanes to visit the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI). This summer, Sarah and Pallavi from Dartmouth were working as public relations interns with JGI so we had a nice time catching up with them. For those of you who don’t know, JGI works with chimpanzees, forest conservation, and improving the livelihood of people around conservation areas. Before 2012, DHE had partnered with JGI to work on a variety of projects such as rocket stoves, loose biomass stoves, etc. In 2012, however, DHE moved away from Kigoma and JGI to work in Arusha region on briquetting. The purpose of our trip out to Kigoma was to reconnect with JGI and set up future collaborations.
We arrived in Kigoma on Thursday afternoon. From Sarah and Pallavi, we found out that Thursday is a national holiday and nobody was in the office. No big deal, we can always talk to them on Friday. But wait, Friday is also a national holiday. Up to that moment, we had felt really good flying across the country and showing up at their office. Fortunately, while hanging out around the empty offices, we ran into Kashula (our main contact) by chance. He promised a meeting with us Friday afternoon. So comes Friday afternoon, Kashula was nowhere to be seen. We ran into Mtiti (another contact), who pretty much said that Kashula was not going to show up that afternoon. Mtiti was in charge of setting up and managing internships at JGI, at least we got his blessing to show up again next winter trip.
Kigoma is the major city in Western Tanzania, located next to Lake Tanganyika. If the meeting attempts turned out to be not as successful as expected, at least Kigoma would be a very pretty city for hanging out. But luckily on Saturday we successfully met Kashula for a significant amount of time. He had gone on a tour around Tanzania to see all the different alternative cooking technologies. Soon, he would be holding a workshop inviting people he had met on the tour and then implementing pilot projects in villages. We were very excited about the prospect of working together on the project related to briquetting and sharing our knowledge with JGI.
This week was our second to last week in Tanzania and we have been working frantically to meet all of our promises. On Tuesday, the four of us visited Sossy from Moivaro. We had lunch together, the usual Tanzanian affair, rice and beans. Then we met with the Upendo group of women to hear their feedback on the briquettes we had brought for them to test several weeks ago. The feedback was not very positive, but at least they were honest about the briquettes. They told us that the briquettes did not burn long enough to cook a meal and smoked a lot. These briquettes were made several weeks ago. The briquettes we made recently are totally awesome and behave much like charcoal—much better that these older versions.
During this last week, we have been experimenting with recipes and techniques, finally arriving at something we love. The briquettes we produce now cook food to completion, do not smoke, and are just as hard to light as lumped charcoal. Realizing how far we have come this summer, we promised (here we go down the slippery slope of promises) the Upendo group that we would bring briquettes 2.0 for them to test again.
On Thursday, James and Tucker brought a bunch of stuff to EMORG for briquette pressing capacity building session. The women in the group were really excited about the briquettes. Thursday was quite a busy day because Rachel and I returned to the Lulu VICOBA for their weekly briquette making session. After the women situated us on a bench so that we might have the best view of the proceedings, we were rather surprised when, instead of pulling out a briquette press and slurry, the women brought out bags of beaded bowls, tie-dyed fabric, and picture frames of banana leaf landscapes. We learned how to tie-dye a batika and how to peel the banana leaves to make a picture. During this session, it really hit home for us that briquetting is just one piece of their story. They make the briquettes to replace a portion of their firewood or charcoal and they make crafts to sell to a distributor to make money.
After the craft demonstration, the women began pressing their briquettes. Slowly and steadily, their briquette piles grew. Something our group had shared with these women over a year ago had become a part of their story and did they ever rave about the briquettes. One of the women we talked to likes the briquettes because they are good for the environment and decrease deforestation. She had seen briquetting on TV, then she was really excited when DHE showed up last year to teach them how to do it. Another woman talked about how cooking makes her happy when she uses briquettes because there is no smoke. They all expressed the desire to increase production, but complained of not having enough tools to accomplish that. Next week, we are going to surprise them with a couple of new presses and molds. It is stories like this that makes me feel like I am making a real positive impact on people here.
Back in Leganga, in the EARD-CI yard, we have taken up more and more space. Naomi said that we have a factory going on. In goes the biomass, out comes charcoal briquettes. Right now, we have a lot more tools and techniques than what we had merely two months ago. In addition to putting in lots of hours at work, we are enjoying the work. On Friday, we had a briquette pressing competition: two teams, first twenty briquettes twenty briquettes that pass the difficult Tim Test (our resident Dutch judge). Friendly competition of course. But I have to say that James and I won. No hard feelings, Rachel and Tucker.
It has been hard thinking of saying goodbye to this place. I am just getting used to traffic on the opposite side of the road, the Mambo! and Jambo! from passerbys, the rice and beans, and many more. For now, I am still in Tanzania and enjoying every moment.