29 September 2009


It's been a hard week in Peace Corps Tanzania this week... PCV Joe Chow was killed in a rock climbing accident on Tuesday. Joe was 23 and less than two months away from being done with his Peace Corps service. He taught advanced level chemistry, physics and math at Ndanda Secondary School.

Joe was my nearest PCV neighbor. We both shared a love of awesomely bad movies. He brought the movie "Plan 9 from Outer Space" to one of our in-service trainings for us to watch, but we never got around to watching it together. I wish we had.

One of the last text messages I got from Joe that will always make me laugh: "The drunk teacher at my school just drooled on me."

If Joe's family stumbles across this blog, I just wanted to send you my condolences. I know there is nothing I can say to make this better. But Joe was my friend and I'm glad I had the chance to get to know him. And I really wish this hadn't happened.

18 September 2009


Follow-up on my last entry: The districts in my region are giving out food aid, a certain number of kilos of corn for each household. Someone in a village near me supposedly died of hunger...I don't really believe this is true though.

It's been awhile since I've posted about what I've been doing. So: in addition to my regular teaching around the schools and at baby weighings and distributing condoms, I went to a community theater workshop in July, did a HIV/AIDS and life skills training for 52 primary and secondary school teachers, and am planning a variety of activities, including: a teacher training in another PCV's village, a camp for secondary school boys, an HIV education week and testing day in November, a first aid training for the community health workers in my area, and a grant to fix the broken water pumps in my village. I also just went to the Mid-Service Conference for my training group, where I got to catch up with everyone I haven't seen in a long time, had a five-minute dentist appointment, and learned some more about HIV (and I thought I knew everything already...). So that's my life in a nutshell.

One of the things we talked about at our Mid-Service Conference was behavior change, specifically how to promote behavior change through our education programs. Despite some of my qualms with the behavior change framework, I thought this portion of the workshop was really interesting (and would have been a lot more useful had we learned it sooner, Peace Corps...). We divided into groups and picked an example "target audience" that we want to work with. My group decided to discuss ways to work with men that have multiple sexual partners in addition to their wives. After some discussion we decided that it would be imposible to expect that men would be faithful to their wives, and also impossible to expect them to use condoms with their wives, so we decided our goal would be for men with multiple partners to use condoms in their extramarital relationships. We already felt like our expectations were pretty low, but then the facilitator said maybe we should set our expectations a little lower and have our goal be for the men to simply discuss condom use with their partners. Because in behavior change programs, change takes a long time and you have to set realistic, small, attainable goals that gradually build on the past education efforts you have done.

This is fine and logical, but part of me wants to know: Is that really all I can expect from the work I am doing? I know you have to start somewhere, and changing attitudes about anything, but especially about sex, is extremely difficult. But good god if the only thing that comes out of my two years here is that people will have had discussions about condoms...Is this really all the millions of dollars being spent on HIV/AIDS prevention is accomplishing?

A lot of the volunteers at the MSC seemed tired and frustrated and discouraged. A major topic of discussion was: "What are the consequences if I decide to leave before completing my two years of service?"

And I'm tired too. I'm tired of feeling like I'm doing no good. I'm tired of being seen as a walking dollar sign. I'm tired of people telling me that they want me to teach them or help them do things, when what they really mean is, "We want money and/or presents." I'm tired of people saying they will help me do projects and then not showing up. I'm tired of people thinking that they need to be paid for listening to me teach. I'm tired of the fact that it seems impossible to motivate people to do anything if they aren't getting some material benefit. I'm tired of teachers and health workers that never do their jobs and then complaining to me about how their lives are hard. I'm tired of convincing myself that there really are good, motivated people in this village. I'm tired of people making me feel like I'm useless because I haven't lifted everyone out of poverty.

Sometimes I want to yell at everyone: "This is why there is no development in this country! No one wants to do anything to help themselves! You just want handouts!"

In my head though, I know I need to take a step back and stop putting all the blame on the villagers. I know Tanzania has been receiving foreign aid for a long time, and it's not wonder that people see a white person and automatically see a dollar sign. And I know that poverty creates a disempowered mentality among the poor and that is probably why people here feel like they can't do anything to change their situations. And I know it must be horrific to farm every year of your life, only to see your crops fail half the time because there's been no rain, or bugs or birds or rats ate them, or hippos walked on them, or someone stole them. Or the crops didn't fail, but the price of whatever you are selling did, so you still don't have any money. Or maybe you have a little money, but one of your kids is sick and the other four are in school and need new uniforms and shoes, and it's several months until harvest season, and last years' supply of corn has run out, and you don't know what your family is going to eat for the next few months. And then some white girl who speaks weird Swahili tells you that you should be worried about AIDS, because you can get really sick and die after ten years. Why should you worry about what your health status will be in ten years, when you don't have anything to eat today? So you ask this white girl for money, since she's from America and clearly has money. She gives you a disgusted look and tries to explain that she can't help every single person in the village, and you say, it's not every person, just help me.

I'm still here though. In the words of a popular bongo flava song, "Bado nipo nipo sana." (Roughly, I'm still very much here.)

Peace Corps' motto is: "The toughest job you'll ever love." I don't know if I love it, but it sure is challenging.

05 September 2009

Maisha magumu

This article has some information about my region. Like it says, most families in my region depend on cashew trees to survive, but this year we had very little rain, so the cashew trees aren't producing, which means people won't be making money this year. So I don't really know what's going to happen. Cashews/farming are the main source of income for almost everyone in my village. If there is a shortage of rain this year I think there is going to be a major food shortage.


Mtwara strategies to counter potential food shortage

For a region that has 88 per cent of its population depending on agriculture for food and income generation, any situation that might lead to the underdevelopment of the sector is something they can’t afford to tolerate.

With an area of about 16,720 kilometres, Mtwara harbours around 1.3 million people most of them very poor. Only one per cent of this population involves in fishing and less than one per cent keeps livestock. Majority grow cashewnuts as an income earner.

According to the office of the Regional Commissioner, a food analysis done early this year shows that Nanyumbu district faces food shortage to about 219 tons in the early months. Generally, the region needs a total of 374,000 tons to feed the above mentioned population. Many a time the region sufficiently produces its own food with surplus.

However, this year’s shortage in Nanyunbu and Masasi districts is attributed to delay of 2008/09 seasonal rains. As a result of these crops; like maize, rice and cassava have been adversely affected and in some areas they have dried altogether. Because of this, the region predicts food shortage beginning October this year.

Nevertheless, government through the National Food Reserve Agency (NFRA) gave the district of Nanyumbu 246 tons of maize grains to help curb the situation. “Of the mentioned amount, 148 tons were distributed free of charge to the public, that is unable to buy their own food and the rest were sold at 50/- per kilo to those who can afford,” says Mtwara Regional Commissioner, Mr Anatory Tarimo.

He adds that the authorities have urged the business community to buy food from areas with surplus and resell it in those with shortages. Likewise, the region identified the need for food grains to cater for those farms affected by drought. According to him, the Prime Minister’s office has disbursed about 2.6 bn/- to Nanyunbu district and as a result, 1.3 tons of Macia millet grains in addition to 42 tons of cassava stems have been procured.

Moreover, Masasi district council has procured and distributed 3.2 tons of millet grains and 450 pieces of cassava stems. Otherwise, the region has plans in place to revolutionize agriculture and priority areas identified include; market development for farm and livestock produce, food processing and packaging, use of technology particularly hand-driven tractors, pesticide spraying pumps, tractors and other farm implements.

According to the Regional Administrative Secretary (RAS), Mr Yusuf Athuman Matumbo, in order to attain this kind of revolution, his region has the following strategies worked out: Every family should have at least one and a half acres of food crops depending on the availability of rainfall and arable nature of the soil.

He says every farmer needs to use big hoes (they natively call them Ngwamba) and develop the urge to use modern farm implements such as power tillers and heavy duty tractors. “Villages should enact by-laws guiding modern farming and every village should make sure that youth get pieces of land for farming,” he points out adding that wards in each council need to have ‘study farms’.

He also says agricultural officers should make it a time table to visit farmers in his or her duty area. Moreover, in cashewnut, which is a major economic crop in the region, subsidies in terms of fertilizers have been scaled up from four bags in 2005 to six in 2008. In farming seasons beginning 2006 to 2008, cashewnuts farmers were supplied with 6.4 bn/- worth of insecticide and pesticide subsidies, that accrued from five per cent of revenues collected from the export of raw cashewnuts.

This year’s farming season, from five per cent of the exported cashew- nuts, the region is to get a total of 1.9 bn/-. According to authorities, for the 2009/10 already 10 companies that will procure and distribute farm inputs for cashewnuts have been identified. However, it is predicted that the availability of farm inputs in Masasi district will be a bit tricky due to the on-going management conflict of the farm input fund, that led to the refunding of the members contributions.

Production of cash crops in the region has been on the increase season after season. For example, cashewnut production has risen from 38,000 tons in 2004 to 62,000 tons last year. For the 2008/09 season, production reached above 50,000 tons amounting to 34bn/-. Cashewnut has surely proved to be a major income earner for people of Mtwara but recently, during his short visit of the region, Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda challenged them on this income.

He said this is big money but it should be seen in the development of region. “When one moves around this money should be visible from an individual perspective to the region as a whole,” says Mr Pinda. Contributing to the issue of food shortage, Mr Pinda says seriousness is needed on the production of food crops, particularly drought resistant ones such as cassava and millet.

He says irrigation farming need to be given priority as it ensures constant supply of farm produce all year round. Another area of possible promotion is fishing. Since 2006 to last year, about 262 tons of fish worth about 193m/- have been sold. There are plenty of potentials in the industry and plans should be put in place to support the industry.