Swahili classes and culture

[Written by Emily Li]

Habari za maisha? Greetings from the bioenergy travel team. We have been in Dar Es Salaam for the past week, and just got to Arusha this afternoon. During the week, we studied Swahili in the morning with two teachers Mama Saada and Godfrey Allen, set up by the Dickey Center. Swahili is a really interesting language to learn because it contains vocabularies from many different origins, Bantu, Arabic, English, etc. We learned the greetings, basic verbs, four different tenses, and pretty much enough to get by (we thought). Then on Wednesday, Mama Saada assigned us to talk to Tanzanians in Swahili and ask lots of questions. I talked with our favorite cab driver, Mbaraka, and he was very eager to teach me how to say everything. I asked him a pre-prescribed list of questions, but I soon realized I didn’t understand any of Mbaraka answers. In class on Thursday, we had a lot of fun learning about the market, pretending to buy and sell vegetables, and bargaining. Then on Friday, Mama Saada and Godfrey Allen took us to Kariakoo market by the dala-dala (minibus which is the preferred local method of transportation) so we could put our Swahili to the test. The ceiling of the dala-dala was so low that Tucker, our tallest group member and the only one not to get a seat, could not even stand straight. Kariakoo is the major market where the locals shop for foods, utensils, clothes, and everything else. The market area includes the main building, which is a gigantic structure with three levels, and extends to a dozen more blocks in the neighborhood. We practiced our Swahili bargaining with the shop owners. My favorite phrase is ghali sana which means “too expensive.” Rachel and I got some fabrics with printed patterns whereas James bargained for a multipurpose knife that does both peeling and cutting! We were sad that the Swahili classes ended, but I think we have a good foundation to continue our learning.

Now you wonder what have we been working on for DHE? Well, we find learning opportunities and insights everywhere we go. The city of Dar Es Salaam always bustles with life day and night, especially in Kariakoo, the area where we stayed. We had fun observing the street food vendors using their charcoal stoves and definitely took notice of the huge bags of charcoal that are sold. In fact, right next to our hotel is a yard where bags of charcoal are stored.

On Thursday, we visited Dr Rajabu of the University of Dar Es Salaam. He is a professor of mechanical engineering who specifically work on rural bioenergy, and have been an amazing advisor for DHE bioenergy for years. The university feels very different from Dartmouth. The engineering school has its own fence and checkpoints surrounding it. We met Dr Rajabu in their machine shop during a power outage, so all the professors are just hanging around. As a demonstration, Dr Rajabu lit a small, gasifier cook-stove for us. The stove uses small, jatropha seeds pellets, of the same shape and size as broken bits of number 2 pencils, as fuel. What is cool about this stove is that flame comes out in a vortex and rises up through the holes along the wall.Within ten minutes, it produces a flame high enough to start cooking. If you take off the top part of the stove, you have a simmering charcoal stove. Next, Dr Rajabu showed us the place where engineering students develop prototypes for small business. One such prototype was an industrial sized gasifier stove unit that could be used for schools and hospitals. We also saw briquettes made by an organization called ARTI in Dar Es Salaam. The organization uses the same principle as DHE to produce its briquettes—first pyrolyzing biomass into charcoal and then using that product to produce charcoal briquettes. We then turned to dinner with Dr. Rajabu where we talked about both bioenergy and non-bioenergy related topics. We talked briefly about impact analysis and how to conduct surveys as well as heard his insights on the culture and how people tend to behave in front of interviewers. Sometimes, people say things they think the interviewers want to hear because they are used to getting free stuff from the research and really want to impress. When we asked Dr Rajabu what is the best way to approach this, he says observation is very important but also added that, “I am only an engineer.” With the experience he had in the field, he was probably just being humble.

Our week in Dar Es Salaam had not been all work though. With four other Dartmouth students, we had time to explore the city. On Tuesday, we went to Coco Beach where the local people like to hang out. We definitely stood out a lot on the beach. Vendors keep coming up to us trying to sell their products. None of us ventured out to the ocean to swim, instead we spent some peaceful time lying on the beach. Friday afternoon, we took a “ferry” (actually just a little boat) out to Bongoyo Island, about thirty minutes from the Slipway. During the ride, we saw locals in canoes pulling in what we thought was a fishing net. The beach on Bongoyo Island is very different from Coco Beach; it was quite quiet and definitely touristy. We swam in the warm Indian Ocean, and later passed the afternoon napping under a huge straw umbrella. We finished our week in Dar with a beautiful sunset dinner at the Slipway and said goodbye to our Dartmouth friends. And now we’re off to our next adventure in Arusha!

The group

Safe Travels and Good Times

I am excited to report here that  my three travel companions and I are all safe and well in Dar es Salaam. In fact, we’ve been safe and sound here since Saturday. But before I get into where we are now, and explain why our feet and stomachs ache, the former from walking and the latter from eating, allow me to jump back a bit.  The four of us met on June 13th, a Thursday, at JFK in New York City for our 11 PM flight out of the country. After sorting out some database issues with Rachel’s tickets (we had quite a complicated route to Dar and Royal Dutch/Kenya Airlines was struggling), Tucker, Rachel and I were able to make it past security to meet Emily who had been waiting for us after her previous flight down from Toronto. And with that, we soon were in the air headed to Amsterdam.


When we arrived to Holland, the local time was about noon, and though we struggled for quite some time to actually get some euros and though we managed to get the wrong train out of the station, we were determined not to spend our 7 hour layover in the airport, and we did eventually make it into the city. And what a city Amsterdam is, filled with young spirits and old stories that are both in the conversations of the pedestrians as well as the buildings and canals that they occupy. We were able to enjoy a little bit of a rest in one of the less busy parts of town.


After Amsterdam, we were off to Nairobi for a quick layover, with our flights finally ending in Dar es Salaam in the mid-morning of last Saturday. After an hour long cab ride through the busy streets that get overflowed with people, we spotted several shops selling cooking fuel and bikes piled high with bags of charcoal. Our driver, Bakadi, told us that the forests were disappearing, and though more people are beginning to use gas to cook in Dar, charcoal and fuelwood remain entrenched in the markets and the kitchens across Tanzania.

We are spending a week in Juba Hotel, a relatively new hostel in apparently a sketchy part of the city. Dr. Rajabu from the University of Dar’s Energy Engineering department warned us that we needed to be careful as people in the area “have lots of tricks.” Though I’ve already been to Tanzania before and have had some time in Dar, I am no expert. It was great having most of Saturday and all of Sunday to walk around the city, get acquainted with the markets, fill our wallets with Tanzania shillings, and even meet up with Anna Bladey and Liliana Ma, both Dartmouth ’14s (juniors for you folks who don’t have the granite of New Hampshire in your veins) who are volunteering at a health clinic and conducting research related to HIV respectively.

On Monday (today!), we had to get up bright and early to make it up to the northern part of the city where our Swahili classes are being held. There we met Sarah Fernandez and Pallavi Kuppa-Apte, also 14’s, who are volunteering with the Jane Goodall Institute out in Kigoma. They had only landed a few hours earlier. I am incredibly impressed by their stamina and good spirits. We are incredibly lucky to have the Dickey Center of Dartmouth College arrange Swahili lessons during our week here. Our instructors, Mama Sada and Godfrey, offer wonderful guidance and a smile at every turn.

After the class we headed out for lunch, enjoyed the breezes of the Indian Ocean and looked around some craft markets. We then headed out to the Kivukoni fish market, filled with auction goers, shell salesmen, large spiders in trees, motor driven wooden boats and a lot of wet concrete.


After the market, we had a nice leisurely walk back to the city center. We got our cell phones set up, hung out in a bar sipping water and avoiding the heat for a while, and then headed to an amazing Chinese restaurant. With our stomachs filled and our feet tired, we parted ways with our non-DHE peers who are staying in the Safari Inn. And it is in this state, a bit under the weather with a cold, that I write to you about the beginning of our summer.

Meet the Travelers

After a year of working with briquettes, pyrolysis, and all things fuel, the DHE bioenergy project is getting ready to fly to Tanzania for the summer! In Tanzania we will be continuing our work with briquetting and biochar production through our work with several NGOs and local communities. We hope to facilitate an exchanging of information, between DHE and local producers and consumers of cooking fuel in Tanzania, about fuel production. We hope to share what we know about briquette production as we learn what other groups know about briquetting operations. Additionally, we hope to measure the impact of our work with cooking fuel for this summer and into future trips as well as measure the impact of our past work with rocket stoves in the Arusha region of Tanzania.

In this blog, we will document our work progress, our excursions, and the interesting people and places we meet and find along the way! The four of us are very excited for a summer in Tanzania!

Anna and Emily using the briquette press to produce briquettes


James KennedyJames

James, a chemical engineering major from the quaint city of New York, has always loved building things with his hands. He became excited by DHE’s work as soon as he learned of the organization and during his freshman summer traveled to Tanzania to work on alternative-fuel stove designs. Since then he has devoted large part of his mental capacity to DHE, spearheading the introduction of the Bioenergy Project. He is passionate about energy inequality, sustainable agriculture, climate change and environmental psychology. The fact that he is flying out of the country in a week still feels surreal, but he anticipates an amazing summer filled with good work and good people. Besides DHE he is a proud member of the ultimate team the Disco Trolls and loves making food and music with his friends.



Emily Li

Emily is a rising senior (class of 2014) double majoring in biomedical engineering and history, and has been involved in DHE since sophomore year. She hails from Beijing and now lives in Toronto. On campus, Emily is involved with cultural groups and various service projects in the Upper Valley region. She has always wanted to travel with DHE because she is passionate about developing technologies for resource-poor regions, believing that affordable technologies should be accessible to everyone. In the spring of 2013, Emily interned at Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights, honing her skills communicating and surveying people from different cultures and who speak different languages. She is looking forward to bringing her skills to the impact analysis and education aspects of the trip.  In general, Emily is very excited about the potential of the briquetting technology and the opportunity to be immersing in Tanzanian culture. She loves reading, being outdoors, and is always up for an adventure.


RachelRachel Margolese

Rachel is a first-year student interested in studying engineering and environmental studies. She came to Dartmouth passionate about energy and sustainable solutions for our world-wide need for energy. With DHE, she has loved working on such basic energy solutions as briquetting and hydropower with other students. Rachel is now very excited to have the opportunity to travel to Tanzania and share that knowledge with others. With DHE, she hopes to understand how engineering technologies can be applied at the local level. Besides that, she is looking forward to meeting and interacting with local Tanzanians. In her free time, Rachel loves to be outside hiking and rock climbing with the Dartmouth Outing Club or slacklining with friends around campus.


TuckerTucker Oddleifson

Tucker is a ’16 (first-year) from Massachusetts and is considering studying a combination of engineering and pre-health, but is also exploring the social sciences. He enjoys running, playing soccer, biking, and spending time with friends outdoors. Tucker believes DHE is a perfect unity between humanitarian work, applied engineering skills, and creative problem solving based on a dynamic, human-centered design. He specifically joined the bioenergy initiative because he sees a great opportunity for individual, community, and environmental impact in Tanzania. Tucker will be managing the team’s finances and will also be overseeing the team’s medical preparedness. Tucker is looking forward to the next 11 weeks with the team and is excited for the challenges ahead.