Friday, January 6, 2012

Our first days

We are having huge problems with internet access so we are posting as much as we can today.  We will keep trying.  

Thursday, January 5

Well, guess what?  At night, in Tanzania, it gets . . . um . . . kind of cold!  Some of us were ready for this possibility, some of us weren’t.  Thus, there was a small amount of silent suffering, a flurry of nervous giggling, then an all-out frenzy to find every warm thing in our bags to help the ones who were freezing combat the chill.  It worked well enough to get through the night and now we will take some strategic action today to reduce the pain.

We will also need to get used to the sounds of the African night as well.   No hyena howls or monkey calls, but lots of birds and insects whose sounds we have never heard before.  Also, there are Islamic calls to prayer that start with the ringing of bells at 4:00 a.m. or so and then recur at least once before we would have otherwise agreed to awaken.  We are going to try to commit to awakening when the bells toll, thinking thoughts of gratitude or blessing, then going back to sleep.  But we might find ourselves struggling to do something other than complain. 

If we need something to complain about, we can focus on the roosters.  It’s cute and all to have the rural experience of hearing a rooster’s cock-a-doodle-doo, but the roosters here don’t understand the concept of waiting until sunrise to start making their noises.  Thus, they do their thing almost all night long and we will have to just adjust to it, as there is no way those roosters are going to get quiet any time soon. 

Our main job of the day was to survey the layout of our water protection project.  We went with Simon and a local council member, an architect, and a retired doctor to see the water source and get a feel for how the fence will improve the water situation for those who live close by and for the 30,000 or so beneficiaries of the spring that live downhill.  The water source is about 2.5 kilometers (just over a mile and a half) from our camp, meaning that walking to and from work every day will be about a three mile trek.  It involves both uphill and downhill portions, all of which are surrounded by beautiful visual imagery that we are thrilled to encounter.

We got to walk with Simon and learn tons of information about his life, his family, and life in Tanzania in general.  Because we are hurrying to make this blog post, we can’t pass all of our great new insights along but we will try to incorporate them into our pictures and videos in the coming days.  Sorry we have been so slow to post but we are finally working about our technical issues (we hope) so we can catch up soon. 

Let us wrap up this post by mentioning that we are all in a state of total euphoria.  We love the atmosphere, we love the food (more on this later), we love the people we are meeting (or just passing along the road), we love each other (luckily) and we just plain love the awesome experience of being in Africa.  No sickness yet, no injuries, and no problems at all.  Thanks for checking our blog.  Please check back as we improve our entries in the coming days (we hope!)

Wednesday, January 4

Special note:  We are having big problems with internet access at our camp.  We are posting today’s entries from an internet café that is a taxi ride away and if things work, we might have to use that method to post our entries for the whole trip.  Sorry for the delays; we will keep trying.  Also, we will work to improve picture quality but for now we are trying to post them in their smallest visible form. 

And now to our blog:

Though we left SMC on Sunday morning, we didn’t arrive at our Tanzanian home until Wednesday afternoon.  Let us begin by saying that we are safe, we are happy, we are tired, and we are THRILLED with all that we have seen since our arrival at the Kilimanjaro airport. 

Our trip over was a 35-hour saga with close connections and lots of sleepless hours, but who cares?   WE ARE IN AFRICA AND WE LOVE IT!!!!  We shared a plane with another SMC group venturing to Ethiopia and parted ways with them as they disembarked at Addis Ababa.  We flew on to Tanzania and stepped out into the 90-plus degree weather full of curiosity and high expectations.  Our curiosity continues and our expectations have definitely been exceeded. 

We made our way through visas and customs with the small glitch that a couple of our guys had forgotten their immunization records and therefore got shots on the spot at the airport.  We piled our massive loads of luggage onto two vans and then made our way through the city of Moshi, where we stopped and exchanged currency and drank mango nectar before heading up to the base of Kilimanjaro to find our African home.  We are in Marangu, not far from Moshi. 

And we must say that our African home is PARADISE!  It is verdant and green and fully equipped with everything we need, including showers and flush toilets, plenty of room for our tents, and a sweet and wonderful cooking crew that is helping to teach us Swahili.  The only things that are not perfect are our access to electricity (we get about 12 hours a day, but there is no predicting which hours they will be) and our access to the internet (we have it, but it is so slow that we can barely stay awake while waiting for any page to load.  Opening an email takes about ten minutes or so and we haven’t even tried to send one yet). 

We also met our primary host, Simon, who is an exceptional and impressive person that, among other things, holds the world record for the fastest trek up and down Kilimanjaro (up and down in approximately nine hours!).  He lives near us in Marangu and he runs the expedition company that has arranged our upcoming four-day safari farther West in Tanzania.  Additionally, he is an officer in the Rotary Club chapter here, the focus of which is community service to improve quality of life. 

Simon has already helped us reach a massive awakening about what we are doing here.   We had told him long ago that we are not interested in imposing any ideas on his community but we are hopeful that we can help the community achieve some priority that it has already established.  We have carefully established our approach to development work through our readings and retreats in the fall.  Along the way, we have been communicating with Simon and his colleagues to get a sense of the ideas that they are most interested in pursuing, without asking them to commit to any particular project until after our arrival. 

At the same time, we were learning introductory information about Tanzanian history, culture, religion, etc., as well as different theorists’ explanations of why development efforts are often ineffective.  We found all of these lessons coming together in our conversation with Simon. 

He told us of the ongoing water problems that the Marangu community faces, including the reduction of the snowcap on Kilimanjaro, the lack of civic infrastructure to provide safe tapwater, and the tendency for people to use waterways as dumping grounds.  The combination of these three issues has led the community to declare an unusual top priority: fence the area around the water source.  The source is an underwater spring and the area around it is being overly utilized to harvest firewood, to discard unwanted goods and to make use of the available natural resources in a range of other ways.  This particular spring flows down to provide water for about 30,000 people and – perhaps most importantly – to serve as the primary source of drinking water for five schools, including three secondary schools and two primary schools.  The need for the water in those schools to be as safe as it can be is the motivation for the community’s focus on this project.

Of course, we struggled at first to embrace the idea of dropping a fence into the forest in this beautiful place, but the more we learned the more excited we got.  The water at this site is coming out of a natural underground spring and counts as “good water” here and it is preferable to the other sources that people downstream might use.  Simon and his colleagues have already built some of the fences like the one we will build in smaller areas and they have seen remarkable improvement in three ways: 1) the areas around those water sources are cleaner and less polluted with litter and other things, 2) the vegetation has recovered from overcutting, and 3) the water flow downstream has actually increased dramatically, mostly because the increase in shade at the source has reduced evaporation, the main cause of water depletion. 

Though all of this is quite difficult to explain, we can assure you that hearing it from the leaders of the community and then walking the terrain to see how the plan would unfold makes the project quite appealing.  In fact, for most of us, this discussion on the first day was an extremely moving experience.  Again, we have spent the entire fall trying to learn how to approach this experience in a spirit of true collaboration rather than as “rescuers” who are “saving” our hosts from some difficult situation.  Instead, we aspired to immerse ourselves in the community as much as possible as quickly as possible, and now this project seems like the perfect opportunity to make those things happen. 

As some of our readers may know, we intend to install a water purification system in a different local community.  We brought a solar-powered system created by our friends at AquaSun International and donated by long-time supporters of our Jan Term travel experiences, Karl and Mary Beutner.  We expected to install the system on our first workday here, but we have to wait for the proper battery to arrive from another nearby city.  That system will help overcome the problems that contaminated water cause for school children in a small community lower down the mountain.  We will report on that project later in our trip.  


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  2. Not only does Marangu sound amazing, but so does the project! I agree that the idea of building a fence in the middle of a forest, around a natural spring does seem odd, but the outcomes are incredible. That is a bummer to hear about the internet, but convenient/reliable internet is both a blessing and sometimes a curse when you are in another country. Enjoy your time unplugged from the rest of the world! Good luck everyone! I cant wait to see the videos!

    It keeps wanting to post me as "unknown." This is Matt Beutner though.

  3. This is so *exciting*!!! I am following you all all the way, looking at your beautiful pictures and sending you good thoughts and much support from here at SMC. Best of luck as you figure out your fence project.......

  4. I can "hear" the excitement in your posts. What great work you will be doing. And the photos are beautiful.
    I look forward to future posts.
    Hilary Shontz, remember, you are unable to bring the children back with you. :-)

  5. Looks to be an amazing experience for ALL involved!! Pictures and video come through great.

  6. Love the blog and the video. What did that student eat? a bug? what type? Would love to see more videos of the area and the people!! This is such an awesome experience for everyone and I look forward to seeing your presentation when you return. (I hope there will be one).
    Diane Bianchi