Posts Tagged observations

“I’ve been workin’ on mosquito nets, all the live long day”

Hello internet, Whatcha knowin’? I’ve come to watch your flowers growin…’

Over the last 5 months I’ve had people ask me about how work’s going and what it is exactly that I am doing over here this year. Well, I will aim to appease fan request(s) and give a little glimpse into how I spend my daily 8-5. Boring! Alas, you asked and I wrote it. Hope it gives you a quick glimpse into my weekday working world.

“I’ve been workin’ on mosquito nets, all the live long day”

Well, that’s not really so true. Despite working on a mosquito bed net program, I really barely ever see any mosquito nets in any of my day-to-day work (but I do actually sleep under one every night. Malaria Haikubaliki!) Also, to the disappointment of some people I meet on the street and tell them where I work – I can’t get you a free one. More accurately – the change to the classic children’s/folk song would be along the lines of  ”I’ve been working on Microsoft Excel spreadsheets/mobile phone applications & databases/4 hour partner meetings, all the live long day…”.

The first piece of my job is essentially program/project management stuff for the Tanzania National Voucher Scheme (TNVS). I spend a lot of time writing reports, memos, and letters to the Ministry of Health, the Donor agencies, and our public and private sector implementing partners. I keep an eye on how the program is doing in the 21 regions across mainland Tanzania through voucher and net sale statistics and try to find ways that we can help things along by working with our net distribution partner and our Regional Managers in the field.

The other piece of this role has been a rather massive data entry, clean-up, and digitization exercise of our program’s paper records into a central database/Management Information System. This database is the basis for enabling and launching some very cool mobile phone reporting tools (which our in-house (literally, he’s my roommate!  haha, lame jokes rock) technical guru Zach  has built) using SMS messages and GPS coordinates from the net distribution company and shop owners to better track and GIS map the program activities as they unfold in real-time. Ambitious and a bit scary to do country-wide but underway.


A second piece of my role is entitled – Business Development and Communications. Thus far, this has been an interesting but much smaller component of my work. I’ve been updating and printing promotional materials, re-designing and writing our new website, and been involved in the search for new projects and partners for the organization in the future. If you are interested in learning a bit more check out our shiny new homemade website at http://medatanzania.org

Soft skills are for ‘team players’

Life is a blast when you know what you’re doin
Best to know what you’re doin ‘fore your life get ruined
Life is a thrill when your skill is developed
If you ain’t got a skill or trade, then shut the hell up

Hieroglyphics -At the helm. Again…a very random insertion of music lyrics into the post. But a great song…and sometimes when I hear this verse I think to myself…I need to get myself some skills! (I mean I know I have mad rap skillz but) …it would have been easier if I would have just given up on enjoying life and become an Accountant (joking! please don’t audit me) and at least had a hard skill/trade/set professional path. I know I am learning and gaining good experience but…Everyone is a team player, good communicator, and thinks outside the box on their resume. How will working on a mosquito bed net program in TZ be viewed on the future resume?…time will tell I suppose.

Breaking News:  Mobile phones will not ‘save Africa’

Rant: Technology can do a lot of great things for development and it should be used where it can help in simple, practical, and achievable ways. But I think it isn’t the answer to everything and can dangerously eat up valuable project resources when forced unnaturally into situations. All this said, as I described above, a part of my work here this year has been working with the integration of technology into the TNVS program so this is an area that I go back and forth on often. There are plenty of success stories and we are working to make this project one of them… but I do get a bit worried when I see everyone and their neighbor in this field rushing headfirst to integrate mobile technology into their projects cause it’s the next hot thing that those controlling the money want to see.

I am far from being on top of the field in this topic but it can seem clear from here. Design solutions in the most usable way for the people that are targeted – don’t design to get a project to be ground-breaking or to get  funded (easier said than done and naively idealistic? just perhaps). Check out a really cool Human-Centered Design Kit here which was passed along to me if you are interested in this kind of stuff!

An office with a view or a view with an office?

One thing I would never ever dare complain about is the view I am looking out across from my desk each day.

Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen. Focus on your screen.

Are we speaking the same language?

Acronyms are a way of life in a lot of industries, but I feel like they are especially prevalent in the international development field. With all the different Governments, Donors, Organizations, Accords, and Agreements  put together it makes for a steep acronym learning curve.  Heck, I have apparently gotten into the spirit myself given the job title TL, TNVS, BD & C.  Here is a sample which I read this past week from a publicly available United States Agency for International Development document called ‘Feed The Future (that’s USAID FTF for those of you counting at home) – Tanzania 2010 Implementation Plan’ ;

When NEPAD adopted CAADP (2005), the GOT was finalizing ASDP for implementation in 2006. The GOT began the CAADP process, but progress stalled based on a consensus that ASDP articulated the CAADP pillars. Following the G8 L’Aquila meeting and 2009 multi-donor CAADP meeting, the GOT revived CAADP by inviting the NEPAD Secretariat to assess ASDP compliance with CAADP requirements.

Are we speaking the same language? Progressing with Swahili continues to prove challenging enough thank you.

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Finally, a political race with some mystery

Thought I would write today a little about a common theme that is running through both my life here and perhaps also yours. It’s an election year here in Tanzania and the country which is scheduled to go to the poll every 5 years will vote for its new president and parliament on October 31st. Back home in Ontario, voters went to the polls to elect a new mayors and city councils on Monday, Oct 25th (really Toronto? Rob Ford? Maybe I’ll stay abroad 3 more years…) and then there are my American friends who have their mid-term elections coming up next week on November 2nd. For the political junkies out there, it’s a fine time to be alive.

I must admit, while I do not claim to be any kind of expert or really hold anything much beyond common knowledge about politics, I do find myself somewhat hooked every time an election is in the news. So, perhaps not a political junkie – more of an elections junkie. During the American presidential primaries in 2007, I had a Super Tuesday reminder in my Outlook calendar and stayed in to watch Barack and Hilary duke it out as the live results came in on CNN. I have been known to closely follow foreign elections of which I should really have no interest in at all and can’t pronounce the candidates’ names properly. I find advanced polling numbers addictive and analyzing campaign strategies strangely attractive. Should I stop now? Anyways, as such, I’ve been quite interested in this weekend’s election here in TZ and thought I might bring you up to speed on the unpredictable world of my first Tanzanian election campaign.

As I often do, I’d like to add a disclaimer in here for any readers I might upset with anything I write – I know everyone always says avoid talking about politics, religion, and sex – but, frankly speaking, the weather and the local sports teams make for boring posts– so, pole sana, I’m just an outsider looking in and giving my particular perspective! (stay tuned for future posts on sex and religion I guess).

Let’s start out with a inadequate 30 second history lesson. Tanzania gained independence from the UK in 1961 and as with many other of these fledging states, turned to its independence leaders and founding political party to lead the nation. Tanzania was fortunate to have the strong leadership of  Julius Nyrere during this formative time and has escaped much of the government-military merry-go-rounds and ethnic group divisions that have famously marred many of its neighbouring states. However it was not until 1985, when under pressure from foreign governments and donors, that the country agreed to abandon it’s founding one-party political state. Even with the introduction of multi-party politics and elections in 1985, the ruling CCM party has never had a serious challenger for the business of running this country – winning the elections thus far without serious challenge (capturing 81% of the vote in the 2005 election.)

Here we are in 2010 and against what I certainly seemed to expect (another runaway victory for the incumbent Jakaya Kikwete’s CCM) we might just have a real race on our hands. Despite what seems to be an outspending by the ruling CCM of their nearest rivals by at least a 10:1 margin (if not 10x that amount) – a party which last election only garnered 5.8% of the vote called Chadema and their presidential candidate Dr. Wilibrod Slaa are gaining a strong following with their anti-corruption and change message (but more on that later). A huge CCM advertising campaign is underway and has absolutely covered the entire city of Dar es Salaam – I would estimate their green and yellow billboards must cover close to half of all available advertising spaces in the city.


Back home we are inundated with a barrage of data and predictions from political experts throughout a campaign. Daily polls are released tracking the fortunes of each party/candidate and a person can quite often have a very solid idea of who will win their particular election long before they get the chance to cast their vote (I’m still waiting to vote in an election where my riding isn’t already a foregone conclusion). Exit polls and the vast amount of data available are often allow television channels to make their ‘calls’ on the victor moments after the last polls close and even then only in the closest of races are the results unknown before you go to sleep that same night.

Here in Tanzania, there have been polls conducted for what I can tell seems to be one of the first times, and the published results have been causing quite a stir. For much of this race the anecdotal evidence (seems as though number of people showing up at a public rallies was the #1 barometer ) seemed to point to Chadema gaining some very serious traction. However, when the first opinion poll came out it at the end of September it predicted the usual CCM victory by 71% to Chadema’s 12%. An October 10th poll by another organization had CCM pegged at 61% with Chadema scoring 16% again causing much controversy. Then a new poll was released by a third organization on October 16th which just threw everything off balance again as this one predicted a 45% victory for Chadema to CCM’s 41% – a swing of 30%+ in the results in two weeks time! Of course, there has been  little  information made publicly available on the statistical methods or validity in any of these polls and so everyone is left to question the means and motives behind them… which only adds to the mystery surrounding Sunday’s vote.


I must say, for me anyways, there is something very refreshing about the mystery and certain unknown before Sunday’s vote here. Purely as an election-watcher, it is kind of nice to not know in advance for once which direction the election will go. On a more serious note though, with some limited occasions of campaign violence, fraud allegations,  and trouble already occurring before the voting – here is to a sincere hope that whatever the results, the losing side can be gracious in defeat and no violence will mar the proceedings and the results. Here is also to hoping that whichever party and whichever officials get elected, they take their mandate seriously and look out for the progress of all Tanzanians. At a minimum, its always good to know there is strong competition this year – because a strong opposition keeps everyone on their toes and everyone wins from more accountable government.


Well, this post is long enough already and since this all probably isn’t as interesting as I think it is…I’ll wrap it up. Hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into what is surely a soon to be extinct phenomenon…a political election with a little remaining mystery before the votes are counted.


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“Africa does not exist”

Over the last month and a half while I was at  home in Canada and talking to people about coming back for the year ahead, the word ‘Africa’ was often used as the geographic reference. Makes sense, it is the continent of my destination. However, I read the introduction to a book a few weeks back that made me stop and think a bit about this and I thought I would share it with you in this post.

The term ‘Africa’ is used so commonly for the sake of convenience and in a sense is correct – but it is also an extremely, extremely broad term and simplification. My experience coming to Tanzania will certainly be much different than another person also headed to ‘Africa’ but spending a year in Egypt, Mali, South Africa, or Somalia. Different worlds really. But then I guess I could also say the same on a more micro level – my experience living in a major city such as Dar es Salaam is a completely different world than a rural village pretty much anywhere else in TZ. Reality is that simplifications are useful and sometimes necessary…but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be aware of it and making an effort to go deeper when possible.

Here is the quote from the author’s introduction to the book which got me thinking about this and probably does a much better job conveying the idea than I just did. Ryszard Kapuscinski is a Polish journalist who worked as a foreign correspondent in many parts of Africa since 1957 and the dawn of many independent nations and reported events and day-to-day life over the next forty years. The book is called “The Shadow of the Sun”.

“…this is therefore not a book about Africa, but rather about some people from there – about encounters with them, and time spent together. The continent is too large to describe. It is a veritable ocean, a separate planet, a varied, immensely rich cosmos. Only with the greatest simplification, for the sake of convenience, can we say “Africa”. In reality, except as a geographical appellation, Africa does not exist.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to finish the book before leaving– so can’t add it to Dan’s Book Club reading list just yet. It is supposed to be one of the classic memoir/travel books in the Africa literature section. From what I got through, it had many interesting insights into countries and their citizens in the early days of independence and I look forward finishing it some day soon.

Tangent: The thing I find about travel books – they are cool to read when you are far away, or even just visiting a place – I highly recommend the strategy of reading fiction or non-fiction about or from a place where you are or will be travelling –even if its an all-inclusive resort in Mexico or something. But when it goes into rich descriptive detail for those who have not experienced it, describing riding the crowded (understatement) public buses or visiting the colourful market…it’s a lot less exciting to read about when its already your day-to-day life.

Anyways, when I read that quote it helped me realize that – despite having now lived and traveled on this continent for almost a year – I really have only experienced a small piece of it and can only really say that I now know some of Tanzania and flashes of Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa from the “epic” trip. It also underlined just how much of a simplification it is when we say – “yeah, I’ve been to Europe/Africa/South America…etc” as if we now have it checked off the ‘to-do list’ –  when in reality we have experienced only a small part of that world. I  hope to get to better understand Tanzania, this little piece of the continent, in the year ahead as I am sure I barely scratched the surface last time. I also hope to see and experience some new parts – Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Mozambique are all on the current to-do list for the year ahead. Ethiopia, Sudan, Morroco, Egypt, Tunisia, DRC, West Africa…hell, really the rest of the continent….on the hope-to-see -maybe-someday list.

Even then though, as Mr. Kapuscinski so eloquently put, I don’t think I could really check Africa off the ‘to-do list’  - because that destination just doesn’t exist.

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Most sequels suck – but hopefully not this one

Hello again and welcome back to the another dusty foot philosopher blog!

First off, all apologies for the major gap since the last post. The last post came from Zambia during the self-declared epic trip down to South Africa for the World Cup. Certainly had every intention of making some more updates since then but surprisingly enough, finding an internet cafe and writing a blog post wasn’t so high on the priority list during the World Cup.

I don’t have such a good excuse for why there was nothing done in the month and a half spent back  home visiting -thats just laziness I guess. Had a much needed time relaxing and seeing family and friends back home though and very thankful for that opportunity heading into another long stretch away.

If you don’t know yet – I am back in Tanzania already for round II. At the very end of the last contract here I agreed to return to Tanzania for a one year contract beginning end of August. In the end, it came down to a great job opportunity here and experience that I don’t think I would be able to get elsewhere at this time. I would love to share more about the new job, but a few things need to clear up yet and I will try to keep this one relatively short so that will have a future post.

What Hollywood has taught me about life (besides the bad guy is wearing black, the high-school outcast can still get the girl, and that animals really can talk) is that, when it comes to sequels, they mostly suck…especially if they try to do the same thing.  The list of horrible sequels is not a hard one to compile; Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd, Jaws II: The Revenge, Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Speed 2: Cruise Control, Son of the Mask….it gets ugly.

I definitely thought a lot about this before coming back – this year won’t be the same as last year and it can’t be the same. Probably shouldn’t be the same. Need to approach it with a different storyline, different expectations (or maybe no expectations?), and different goals. I mean, most obviously, Zach and I are back but we’ve lost the third musketeer. Who will the thieves target now that Jer is gone?…I think I am in trouble.

So, I guess what I am saying is….let’s make this particular sequel more of a “The Dark Knight” kind of refreshing goodness and a little less of a “The Next Karate Kid” failed imitation.

I am definitely planning on keeping up the blog again for the year ahead. I really didn’t like the idea of it at first – but have really come to enjoy sharing some stories, pictures, and occasional ramblings with the friends and randoms that visit. I have about 7 drafts of new posts either started here on my computer or sitting in draft mode in my brain which I hope will someday see the light of day. I can’t promise anything but I will try to make some more regular updates in this year ahead.

Until next time (but hopefully not too long),

Dan

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Red. Green. Blue.

Well this post is running about three weeks behind schedule and the actual events since I returned from my U5CC issuing trip on November 9th – but hey, better late than never I guess.

It was a real cool trip and definitely lived up to my expectations. It was also a bloody lot of driving. It was just over 1000 km each way from Dar es Salaam to the city of Songea where I was based. Including all of the driving we did on each day and the amount of the province of Ruvuma that I saw over my 9 days there I could easily add another 500-1000 km onto that. This puts me around a third of the way across the Trans-Canada Highway to put things into perspective and I can assure you that the roads were nowhere near as smooth.

The other main thing that stuck out to me has to be the colours in this part of the country and hence the title of this blog post. Honestly, it was like someone had taken the Colour and Highlights tuners on a television set and cranked them up way too high and I was looking at the world through this RGB colour-distorted viewfinder. At almost all times I can think of one or more of these three colours was dominating the landscape.

Somebody please turn down the RGB

Green. The rain seemed to fall a bit more regularly here in the Southern Highlands than elsewhere in the country that I had visited and this was most evident in the many bright shades of green foliage found everywhere as pictured above.

Red. The soil in Ruvuma was unbelievably bright red – everywhere I looked had some sign of the bright red dirt. The soil is also used to make the brick and mud for many of the buildings which results in the same neon reddish-brownish-orange tone in the majority of the buildings. It’s also fairly dusty the city of Songea (where I spent much of my time) and on the country roads. This results in pretty much everything else (including all my clothes and the aforementioned dusty feet) being covered by a coating of this colour.

You can see the red soil in the region from high above in google maps!

Blue: The colour blue also holds a dominant place in the memories from this trip. Maybe it was just being out of the city and (relatively) tall buildings, but the sky seemed enormous here. Blue is also the colour of the mosquito nets being distributed as you will see in some photos below so this played a pretty major role in my days.

Observations and a few things I learned:

  • This is U5CC Campaign MEDA is running is a huge operation. It really blew my mind to think that I was witnessing this mass distribution of free Long-Lasting Insecticide Nets (LLINs) in action in just a small handful of issuing points at the village level and imagine this happening across the country. To give you a better idea.. there were about 1-4 issuing points in each village. There are about 5-8 villages/streets in each Ward. There are about 10-20 Wards in each District. There are 133 districts across the 21 Regions of mainland Tanzania that the U5CC covers. To efficiently plan, organize, and distribute close to 7 million of these LLIN’s to a population so spread out across the country and hard to reach is just an amazing logistical achievement.

4 of the 7 million LLIN nets distributed through the U5CC program

  • This guy can be a scary thing too little kids in areas where mzungu’s don’t often tread. I had it mentioned to me by parents in a few situations where I made kids run away or cry that I was probably the first white person that their kid had seen. I was honoured.

Would you just look at the pure fear in those big brown eyes...

  • The real work is getting done in the field. These are the troops on the ground and the staff that really know what is happening with the program. Just from being in the field for a week and a half I was quick to realize a number of misconceptions that I had been operating under while working away at HQ and areas where communication can really be improved. It’s a pretty basic observation I guess – but one that should always be kept in mind in any job and any organization – if you want to know what’s really happening be sure to keep in open communication with the front lines.

Line-up for nets at a Issuing point in the city of Mbinga

  • I really don’t know much swahili yet. I had felt like I was making some steady but slow progress while in the safe confines of our swahili lessons, english speaking work, and the big city of Dar. Going out to Ruvuma where there is very, very little english spoken and not much of an effort made to accomodate the english speaker – you realize just how little you really do know.

A LLIN from the U5CC program in use

  • I would be much more effective if I did know the language. It was a great trip and I accomplished everything that I had hoped coming into it. I observed the program in action, took notes, asked questions, interviewed stakeholders, and snapped lots of good pictures for future promotional use – BUT I did really feel quite helpless and useless a good portion of the time as I sat there lost in a verbal sea of swahili… managing to pick out and understand only every 4th or 5th word. If nothing else it was very motivating to try and speed up my learning (Editors note: I’ve been back for 3 weeks and this has not yet happened).

And now for a small sample of the 500+ pictures that I took on the trip…

Tea fields at sunset on the road down south

Goofing around for the camera in Songea

Fish from Lake Nyasa drying in the sun with Tanzanian coast in the background

Looking down a fish drying rack to the world's 8th largest lake

Children on wooden canoe with Lake Nyasa/Malawi in the background

A recent mother laughs at my request for her to model her recently collected mosquito net

Waiting in line with registration card

The Tanzanian way of life is full of colour whether kangas, flip-flops, or dirt.

Learning to carry things on her head early

Hope you enjoyed the pictures!

I will aim to have Part II of my posts from this field trip up soon which will tell you a story about one particular afternoon of my time down in Ruvuma.  What happens when Dan meets the First Lady of Tanzania? A new episode in detail called “Mama Kikwete and Me”.  Stay tuned.

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