Friday, March 13, 2015

Shamba la Parachichi

It has been far too long since I have given an update on my blog. I am going to try and start doing shorter posts on a weekly/biweekly basis. Today's post is dedicated to the avocado project that I have been working on at the school for last year. We have nearly completed planting the 1500 avocado trees, 500 apple trees, 200 peach trees, and around 70 pear trees. 

There are over 600 students at Philip Mangula Secondary School. This project is aimed a curbing nutritional deficiencies in students' diet by making fruits readily available. As many of my fellow volunteers know, any fruit trees present at schools are picked clean before the fruits are even ripe. The students have a craving and need for the essential nutrients that fruits provide during development.There is not, however, enough supply to meet the need. In addition, eating the unripe fruits can cause gastrointestinal illness. In the next four years, the avocado trees will be in full production of fruit, providing much needed protein and nutrients to our students who currently eat a largely starch-based diet.

Another aspect of this project is to give students vocational training in tree propagation and land management. Planting avocado trees can be lucrative to farmers, but many lack education in grafting and planting techniques. Our school is trying to equip students to be self-sufficient in entrepreneurial/conservation activities like this once they leave our campus.

 The following pictures show the progress of the project:
Some of my student helpers setting up a bed for over 300 avocado pits. The pits are put in a bed of sawdust and are covered with another light layer on top. This picture was taken in the dry season, so additional protection from the sun was added with dry grasses on top. The sawdust holds moisture and heat well allowing the pits to germinate or split in roughly 4-6 weeks

Frame of the greenhouse used for growing the avocado seedlings.
Putting the clear plastic on. The total cost of making this small green-house was about $7.

After the pits have started to germinate, they are placed into tubes with a mixture of manure and forest soil. The tubes are placed into the greenhouse for 2-3 months.

After about 3 months, the seedlings will be ready for the next step of grafting
Students learning how to graft an avocado seedling with a clipping from a producing tree. My friend, Willie, is the resident expert in our village.

The picture at left shows the preparation of the mature clipping using a razor blade. A wedge is made on the bottom portion of the clipping. A slit is made in the center of the seedling trunk. The mature clipping is then attached and the wound is allowed to heal for 2-3 months (right).

Grafted seedlings

Trees are ready for planting. Oh, who is that there? My twin, Elliot, came to visit during the end of last year

While all of these activities were going on, the site of the orchard was prepared. This included clearing bush and preparing the 1.5 meter x 1.5 meter deep holes for the trees. The soil at my site is very poor. To help the avocado trees grow quickly and healthily, large holes are prepared and filled with grasses and other organic debris. A mixture of manure and soil is used to fill the rest of the hole. Over the course of the rainy season, the organic matter below will begin to compost and will retain moisture that the tree will use during the dry season. 

Future site of the shamba la parachichi (avocado farm). While the trees were growing, the school prepared around 12 acres of land to plant fruit trees.

Discussing one of the holes for the avocado trees. This one looks to be a little small.

Students helping to collect over 25 tonnes of manure used in this project.
Planted seedling after nearly eight months of preparations.

Many thanks go out to all the donors and supporters who have helped to make this project happen. In addition, I would like to thank the students of Philip Mangula Secondary School, the teaching staff, and my counterpart for the many hours of planning and implementation that have gone into this so far. They are heroes to me. The full implementation of the project is not yet complete, but more updates will be coming soon!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Adventures of Mr. D

I have just reached past the ten month mark here in Tanzania. I have been slacking on my blogging, so here is a little of what I have been up to for the past couple months.

Birthday cakes! In Tanzania, it is traditional to feed
those who are celebrating their birthday a piece of cake.
We of course had to replicate this tradition and as
you'll notice, some of mine ended up on the side of my face.
Lets see…I reached the momentous age of twenty-five almost two months ago. It was odd not having my twin brother, Elliot, by my side. Sharing your birthday with your best friend is always an added bonus to the occasion. Despite not being with E and the rest of my family, I had plenty of my Peace Corps friends to fill the gap. My birthday weekend was also the weekend of our regions annual social event called Njombe Jam. Volunteers from all the country flooded the hills of Njombe to enjoy our cool weather, milk bar, and of course great company. The weekend was filled with (somewhat) friendly competition. All of the regions brought their game faces, but none could keep up with the Njombe Crew. I believe our acclimation to elevations above 6,000 feet gave us a crucial advantage over the other teams. All said and done, it was great experience and a birthday I will never forget.  

Before my Easter break ended, I had a pile of midterm examinations to grade. I was very pleased with my Form IV (equivalent to 12th grade) student’s grades. I had many students perform above average. The average of my school is about 42% on all examinations. This is equivalent to a C in Tanzania. It is kind of hard grading scale to get use to. I challenge my students to score above passing on the American grading scale. I am happy that many of them have been meeting my challenge,  but there are still a large number of students that need the extra push.

Grading Scale in Tanzanian Schools:
A 100-75%
B 50-74%
C 40-49%
D 30-39%
E <30%
Sticks from around the school.

After examinations, I do not look forward to the report given to the students at morning assembly. At morning assembly, the top ten students of each class are announced/congratulated. Along with the top students, the bottom ten students are announced and then stand in front of the school. Upon completion of these announcements, I saw the top ten students running towards the woods. I asked the teacher next to me what they were doing and he said,  “They are going to get the sticks for those students.” I had a strong feeling of what was about to come and I left to seek refuge in my office. The bottom ten students had to walk through the line of teachers who greeted them with a stick. Although I escaped to my office, I took a peek after hearing the sticks  passing through the air and crack on contact.

*This was a posed shot.

Corporal punishment is widely accepted in most rural schools in Tanzania. I have heard that the situation has improved from years past, but even with a previous ban in place, many rural schools continue to use this antiquated form of punishment. After such days, my body feels exhausted and it takes an emotional toll on me. I have to take a step back sometimes though. This is something that is accepted in this culture. Not everything about every culture is perfect. Things take a long time to change. One thing I do love about my fellow teachers is that they are willing to talk about these issues. We have had many great discussions on corporal punishment and its effectiveness. These conversations are a step in the right direction. The teachers at my school know that it is something that I refuse to accept.  After examinations, I often ask the teachers who have hit their students if those students now understand the mistakes that they made on their exams? It catches some of the teachers off guard and at least makes them think about what they are doing. Change does not occur without a little challenge to the “norm.” Its crazy to think that just <40 years ago, America still employed these methods of punishment.

Njombe Regional Science Competition

This month, I hosted a preliminary science competition that was a qualifier for the first annual Njombe Regional Science Competition. All of the education volunteers in Njombe happen to be science and mathematics teachers. In Tanzania, there is a huge shortage of qualified science and math teachers. The goal of these competitions is to get students thinking about science in the world around them and that many practical applications of science and math can be demonstrated using local materials. Peace Corps Tanzania has a group of volunteers, called Shika na Mikono (grasp with your hands), who are dedicated to spreading this philosophy across the country. During the course of the weekend, 18 students, from three different area schools, came together to explore the world of science and math. The competitions were geared to engage the student’s problem solving/critical thinking skills. Some examples of these competitions included: bridge building, floating devices, egg drop, and the students were tasked with building a model aqueduct system. All these activities were carried out using locally available materials.
Aqueduct system

Acids and bases demonstration.
Periodic classification activity
In addition to giving the students some hands on science experience, we also intertwined some life skills lessons into the curriculum. One of the activities we did was to raise awareness of the effects of malaria and how to prevent contraction. The students lined up in two lines with different colored toothpicks. About 50 feet away, we had a two mini cardboard people. One ‘person’ was under a mosquito net and the other was left exposed. The goal of the game was to see which group could stick more toothpicks into their cardboard person. The toothpicks were of course used to mimic a mosquito bite, but also differentiated the type of mosquito (male or female) and whether it was a carrier of malaria. Female mosquitoes of a particular breed are the only carriers of malaria. The exercise showed how mosquito nets protect against the bit of these mosquito. The activity provided a good visual for the students and onlookers.

Students getting a chance to do their first titration on a sample of milk.
After the weekend of science activities, we took the students to visit the local milk/cheese factory.  I was very impressed with the operations that were taking place here in my backyard. Students learned the science behind making safe milk, cheese, and yogurt. For many of these students, it was the first time that they had ever seen a fully equipped laboratory. I was excited that my students were able to have this experience. When I was growing up, I never realized how much I learned on the field trips that I took. These are the types of experiences that stick with you and provide application to all the learning we do in the classroom. I hope to give some students at my school a chance to experience some of the other area industries/factories. 

peach trees
The term break is quickly approaching and I am trying to get a few projects done around the house. Most recently, I recruited a few of my students to help me put up a little greenhouse in my courtyard. Although it does not look too conventional, it gets the job done. The rainy season just ended and the cold winter weather is upon us. I started to germinate some peach trees that I plan to plant at the school. Eventually, I want to start a greenhouse project at my school. Some teachers at the school have been taking the lead on starting our avocado orchard. We plan to plant a couple acres in the next 5 months. Next spring, we will graft the tree seedlings and they will produce fruit in two years. Nutrition of the students is very poor here and projects like this provide a start to sustainable supplement to their carbohydrate-loaded diets.
Nazarene's baptism
I am currently listening to “Wagon Wheel” after returning from my neighbors house where we watch/listen to Swahili gospel music every night. The music videos were not my favorite things when I first arrived, but its funny how they provide a sort of unusual comfort now.  It is just part of life here. Whether you are on a bus, at a bar, eating rice and beans on the street, somewhere, there is a music video on and a stack of speakers blaring the music. Ever since I started to film my friend’s music videos, I have somewhat become enveloped in this music video culture. I have to keep up on what ‘s hip. I am trying to make artistic developments in this craft while I am here. We went to the recording studio today to get a few clips for the final cut of his second video. I will hopefully get it done in the coming month, but we shall see.  Our last big filming session happened after his baby’s baptism (I am Uncle D to baby Nazarene).  The baptism included the usual for a Lutheran ceremony. I volunteered my photography services and we of course got some great shots for the music video. He did a live performance after the ceremony. It was a special day for all and the food afterwards was great as well.

This is a video of me that my counterpart coaxed me into doing for his music video. Watch out, these moves are going to become the next big thing. As embarrassing as it is to watch, I am sure it will put a smile on your face.

What’s Cooking?
To end off this lengthy expose, I’ll give you a little taste of some of my most recent delicious meals.
This is not the actual one I ate...
but this is
At the beginning of this month, I was in the village center having a beer with my headmaster and we started to discuss the different types of meats we like to eat. I of course said that I am a big fan of chicken and pork (kuku na kiti moto). He concurred, but added that he enjoys eating simbulus (sp?) from time to time. Hearing this for the first time in country, I was a little bit confused. We went on to discuss what a simbulus was for the next 15 minutes, and I came to the conclusion that it was somewhere between a squirrel and a rat. He finally said that they might have one next door, so we went to have a look. Sure enough, it was there. The man opened up his draw string bag and put the simbulus into a basket. Turns out that a simbulus is a guinea pig. All I could originally think about was my pet guinea pig, Elvis, when I was younger. It turns out though that guinea pigs can reproduce in month or so, which makes them a pretty sustainable source of protein here. In the coming weeks, I tried to get some teachers to go with me to eat one, but many denied my offer. Finally, one teacher volunteered to go with me. The guy who sells them was expecting us and had one grilled up for me when I arrived. I put it in a bag and took it home to eat later. The meat was palatable, but had a sort of fishy taste. This made me think why they call the rats they eat in Mtwara, samaki wa mchanga (land fish). Is there a correlation? I will soon find out when I indulge in one later this month.

Corndogs anyone?

In addition to this somewhat odd cuisine, my friend Joe and I cooked up some good bites the other night. Joe has been talking about making corn dogs for the last month, and we finally made it happen. Joe bought the dogs in town, and I had no problem asking a neighbor for some corn flour. My neighbor was so excited that I was taking some corn flour of all things. This could only mean one thing to her—I was making ugali. Ugali is king of all foods here, despite its rather bland taste. I tried to explain the concept of a corndog to her, but I don’t think it registered until having a bite. It’s kind of disgusting, but together, we ate the whole pack of hotdogs. I think its safe to say that it was not giardia that got my stomach rumbling that night.

Soon I will be having eggs on the regular. My Mama hens have been busy nesting on their eggs. The first one had 7 chicks and just recently, another hen added 6 more to the flock. It has been awhile since I raised chickens, but it is nice to be back with it.
Mama Trudy 

In less than three weeks, my older brother and friends will be on their way to Tanzania. I cannot wait for them to arrive and experience a little of my life and the life of Tanzanian’s all over the country.

Til next time,
Mr. D

Sunday, February 16, 2014

A New Year

After being in Tanzania for over 7 months, the “irregularities” of life have just become the norms of my everyday. This sometimes makes writing about my experiences a little difficult. The acculturation process is an interesting one. It kind of just happens. You begin to notice the tiny things that go on everyday instead of just seeing what’s on the surface. I like looking at it like macro photography. You can take a picture of something and see what it is, but when you take the time to get that really close shot, you begin to notice the beauty of the sometimes mundane or “uninteresting”. There is more to things than what you see at first glance. My relationships with my students and community members continue grow deeper, and with each passing day, I feel more of a sense of belonging—that this is my becoming my home.

Since my last post, I have quite a lot of updating to do. I will not go into the details of everything, but I will give you all a little glimpse.
Me in front of my house

Lets start with a health update:
This past Thanksgiving, I celebrated by heading to Dar es Salaam for a little trip to the medical office. I have not written too much about my health issues in my blog, but it was kind of big part of my initial welcome to Tanzania. For some reason, the mountain water in Maryland did not prepare me for the hills of Tanzania.  I went to the doctors in Dar because I was having gastrointestinal issues for quite some time. I felt like I was wasting away. I kind of was, to be honest. The nutrient deficiencies in my diet, along with my digestive issues, caused me to shed a quick 26 pounds.  The doctors in Dar examined me and discovered that a new friend had taken up residency in my gut. This friend was Giardia. Once I was treated, the symptoms dissipated, and I think I was able to put about 10lbs back on during my vacation. All the goodies people have sent me have definitely helped as well. Water borne illness is a huge problem here. I always like to share my experience with Tanzanian water to my students as a supplement to our lessons on the importance of water treatment. I have been much more careful with the sanitation of all my water and with the places I choose to eat.  My body is finally becoming adjusted to things and I hope I am in the clear! I am feeling healthy, happy, and confident with things. All is easier after going through that.
(Water spout picture)

Heading to Zanzibar with Haeli.
The school year ended right around the time I took my medical trip to Dar. After about a month of hanging out around my site, I turned back around and headed to the coast for the holidays. It was so nice to see friends after our first three-months at site. The bonds you make with people in your host-country are pretty incredible.  I was lucky to have my partner in crime, Haeli, along with me as we explored some of the beauty that Tanzania had to offer. After exploring Dar and its wide array of food (including Subway), we headed to one of Tanzania’s biggest attractions, Zanzibar..

I think I have been curious about Zanzibar ever since I heard the name in a Tenacious D song…. “I’m not going to cook it, but I’ll order it from Zanzibar.” Well, I finally got to go to Zanzibar and the first thing I did when I arrived was check out the night food market. It was a complete 180° from the food that I get on a regular basis. The variety of meat, seafood, spices, and local produce set Zanzibar apart from mainland TZ. Exploring the narrow alleyways gave us a different glimpse of the Tanzania we have come to know. It is interesting being among so many foreigners. I have talked to other PCVs, and most of us agree that we sometimes get annoyed being grouped as just another Wazungu (foreigner).  We feel like we are a part of our new home country.  In touristy areas, speaking some Swahili is always sure to put a smile on street vendors and local’s faces.

Zanzibar was home to one of the largest slave markets in East Africa. Seeing this darker side of history was interesting and painful at the same time. Our exposure to slavery in United States is different than from seeing it at its roots, on the other side of the globe.

Along with being a hub of the slave trade, Zanzibar is also famous for the spices that are traded in its local markets. You can get just about anything there. Persian traders used Zanzibar as hub of trade between East Africa, the Middle East, and India. This gives it a unique blend of diversity compared to mainland TZ. I picked up a few of my favorite spices and some new ones that I will hopefully incorporate into my repertoire of recipes in Njombe.

Speaking of the kitchen…

I want to share a few of my favorite meals that I have whipped up while being here:

pink sauce pasta
french toast
Classic Grilled Cheese

Peanut noodles...TZ take on Pad Thai.

Along with cooking, I have been busy brewing a couple different batches of wine. My first batch of mango wine turned out quite good. Taking a few hours to cut up some seasonal fruit and get creative with the recipes has been fun. I always thought I would be a beer brewer. Wine is just a little easier here. The below pictures are from a batch of coffee brew that whipped up. The taste was surprisingly sweet…maybe a little too sweet. Not my best work, but I have confidence that the peach and passion fruit batch will turn out good! It will be done sometime next month.

Bottling. Dont worry, not all this is for me. The other teachers have been enjoying the bounty.

Before the rains began, I planted ten Avocado trees. It’s the start of what I hope to make into a little orchard around my house. I plan to take this idea to my school. One thing that really bothers me is how nutrient deficient the student’s diet is. Everything is still in the brainstorming phases, but I think that this would be a feasible issue to tackle, that could have a lasting impact at my school. 
Planted Trees

My front yard!
The rain has brought life to things here. I look back on pictures of when I first arrived and it is hard to imagine how dry and brown things use to be. The dead earth has come to life with beautiful flowers, green grass, thriving crops, and new creepy crawlers. The rainwater is also a plus for taking a bath and washing clothes. Most of the water here is fairly hard. This makes getting a good lather out of the soap quite difficult. The rain is most welcome, but makes for an arduous journey into town. The dirt roads are slowly deteriorating as the worst of rainy season has begun. 

 Starting off teaching a new year has been fun. I feel like I am becoming more involved in the activities at school along with just being another teacher at the school. I am of course different. I think the students don’t know what is going to happen next in my class. It’s like a show each time I show up. I started my first class of the year by demonstrating the combustible properties of hydrogen gas. I have fond memories from my high school chemistry class. Learning with demonstrations and fun experiments is why I decided to study chemistry. Many thanks to Mr. Price for making it my most memorable class of high school!

I have been busy making teaching aids for my classes. I received a number of awesome resources in the mail from family and friends over Christmas. These things have made teaching and coming up with lessons much easier. Here are a few of my students with some of the teaching aids that were sent my way.


I am going to end here…

some of my PC Family here in Njombe!
I made a video this week of what I have been up to since I arrived. This is a sneak preview/extended version of the video I want to submit for the #PCweek2014 video challenge. I will post more information about this on my facebook.  Thanks for all the love and support. It goes a long way!