It is like Christmas in Tanzania

With Sarah and Pallavi in Kigoma
With Sarah and Pallavi in Kigoma

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.

Emily demonstrating the compound lever press
Emily demonstrating the compound lever press

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.

James breathing fire over the metal kiln
James breathing fire over the metal kiln

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.

Lulu VICOBA member pressing briquettes
Lulu VICOBA member pressing briquettes

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.

Rachel and the ratchet, trying to press herself up
Rachel and the ratchet, trying to press herself up

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. finest.se

It is all about the Vision

I can’t believe it is already the fourth week that we are in Tanzania. I hope everyone is having a great summer either working, studying (hi sophomore summer!), or relaxing! Last weekend, we kept ourselves quite busy.

Allow me to start from the beginning. On Saturday, we headed into Arusha town to do mzungu stuff. First thing in the morning, we met with Zainab or Mama Mpishi (the mama who cooks) to take a Tanzania cooking class. While she was going on with a list of the food we could make, we pretty much said that we wanted to cook everything. Zainab took us to a market near her home where we picked out ingredients for our meal, and the butcher’s shop to buy some meat. Then we went to her kitchen. She lives in a courtyard with four other families. A variety of activities including cooking, washing, playing, and socializing all happen in the small courtyard. The four of us proceeded to take out our notebooks and prepared to be good students.

Rachel, James, Tucker being good students and comparing notes.
Rachel, James, Tucker being good students and comparing notes (ie cheating)

The first item on the menu was chapati. It is a thin pan-fried pancake that is usually made on special occasions such as Christmas and Sundays. Basically, the main idea is that you make a dough with flour, water, oil, and salt, then layer more oil, and cook it on a frying pan. It reminds me of a very similar food my mom cooks. The steps are almost identical. It really amazes me that cooking is such a universal experience.

Emily attempting to make chapati
Emily attempting to make chapati

Last post, James talked about the meeting between us and EMORG. We were able to learn a lot more on Monday from visiting EMORG at Kisongo. Kisongo is a small village about 30 minutes from Arusha. A lot of children attending schools have no textbooks or a place to study after school. With a background in teaching, Didas started EMORG as a community library. Earlier this year, EMORG moved from a rented house to this new location that we visited. When we arrived, some teenagers were studying and discussing questions inside, while the carpenters worked on new tables and benches for the library.

Tucker and James being carpenters
Tucker and James being carpenters

We painted the wall two times in a white base paint, and once in another white paint. Afterwards, the building looked shiny with its new coat.  While we were laboring away at painting the wall, we also got a sense of Didas’ dream for EMORG. There was a half-finished building behind the library which Didas wanted to build into a vocational center with computers. Then, he wants to open up his own school for about 20-30 children, implementing an activity based teaching methodology.

The painting crew
The painting crew

Tuesday was a busy day for us with two meetings lined up. In the morning, the V4Y group came over to learn about our briquetting operation. Like we planned, we conducted a short survey asking the potential producers what they knew about briquetting and what their incomes were. Some members of the group knew more about briquetting than other members, so the survey quickly became a discussion amongst the group for sharing answers. Next time, we need to conduct individual surveys and explain that explicitly. Then, we introduced our four steps to a briquetting operation: biomass collection and drying, running a kiln, processing the mixture, and pressing. We involved all the participants in hands on demonstrations. Everyone had charcoal on them by the end. They seemed to really enjoy doing it. For us, this was the first time our group was actively involved in capacity building. It felt wonderful to have a group so eager to learn! We will be meeting with them on Friday to see their space for their business and go from there.

Rachel explaining how to pack a kiln
Rachel explaining how to pack a kiln
V4Y member pounding the charcoal
V4Y member pounding the charcoal
V4Y with their briquettes
V4Y with their briquettes

In the afternoon, we visited Sossy in Moivaro village, on the outskirt of Arusha city. Sossy is the pastor of the local church which he helped built. We met with a group of women who got together and started a briquetting operation last year which DHE helped with last summer. We were intent on finding out how the operation went. The women told us that it did not go well because the briquettes did not burn well. They felt like they spent a lot of time making the briquettes, yet what they made was not good enough to cook a meal without supplementing with charcoal. Most people in Moivaro could not afford to cook with charcoal regularly. Nowadays, even the firewood is hard to come by. The villagers either have to send their children into the forbidden forest with snakes to collect firewood or wait for outsiders to come by and sell firewood to them. The women abandoned their briquetting operation after the first unsuccessful attempt. They wanted to know if DHE was bringing in new technologies this time. We explained our process of turning biomass into charcoal and making charcoal briquettes. Sossy and the women did not seem to get how our new technology differs from the original technology. Needless to say, they were not too convinced. So the plan is we are going to make a lot of briquettes and bring the briquettes to Moivaro for them to try. If they like the new charcoal briquettes (which I think they will), only then will we be talking about a new round of capacity building. Later, Sossy invited us to his house for coffee. We learned about his vision for the people of Moivaro. I feel really inspired and humbled by people like Sossy and Didas who devote their entire career on helping people around them.

Wednesday night, we welcomed the arrival of our new housemates from the Netherlands who will be staying with us for the next five weeks. Mero, Gerrianne, Tim, and Dennis study at University College Utrecht. They will be interning at EARD-CI as part of a course on development. Specifically, Gerrianne and Tim will work on microfinance of the VICOBAs; Mero and Dennis will work on cultural tourism. They told us about their adventures travelling on a safari truck in the last four weeks in Tanzania and Kenya. I think we will have a lot of fun living together.  Between all this work, we have been running our kiln, making modifications on it, and pressing a lot of briquettes. We are going to turn into a briquette factory if we want to live up to the expectations of Sossy.

Until next time, bye!