A collection of journal entries of two students from the University of Western Ontario, Dallas Curow (June-August 2005) and Jonathan Birinyi (June 2005-April 2006). Feel free to read and explore their journey working on the Western Heads East probiotic yogurt nutriontal project in Mwanza, Tanzania, Africa.

June 27 - July 2

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The week began with Jonathan and Dallas attending the Monday morning meeting with the Kivulini staff. Although we were still struggling to understand the language, some interns from Arusha (another city in Tanzania) translated for us as best they could. We informed Kivulini that we had spent the previous week settling in to Mwanza and becoming acquainted with the yogurt mamas. For lunch we prepared a ½ Tanzanian and ½ Canadian meal (fried bananas and mashed potatoes) with our cleaning lady, Pendo. After that we were discussing our frustration with the language barrier we are facing, we decided to go and sign up for Swahili lessons at the international Language School in town. We feel that improving our communication skills is essential for the continued success of this program. We wrote a short proficiency test and signed up with Dr. Salala, a German professor of linguistics for daily lessons. Our plan is to continue lessons for about the first month of our internships.
For this entire week, the internet at Kivulini has been either inconsistent or completely down. Luckily there is an internet café across the street from our apartment and we have some (though limited) communication with home. We are quickly learning that patience and flexibility are two important tools for surviving in Mwanza.
On Tuesday, we went to grab some pizza and have an extensive lunchtime meeting. We discussed all that we have learned about the progress of the program since arriving in Mwanza. We also tried to find answers to any outstanding questions we had. We discussed what we felt were the next steps to be worked on and came up with a rough timeline of goals. Our first intention is to move yogurt production out of our kitchen and into the "chumba ya maziwa" (yogurt room) in the apartment. All we need to do is purchase two propane tanks and set them up and voila! A space exclusively reserved for yogurt creation! We also discussed the progress of the community kitchen and the necessary steps for completing the construction. Also, we are still trying to find some goat’s milk in order to have a taste test with the women. If they like it we will be trying to get in touch with Heifer Intl, a company that will donate goats to the women, providing they have the required livestock training. As you can see, we are juggling many different levels of development at the moment.
The yogurt itself has been great. We sampled a little bit and even tried adding different flavours like peanut butter and vanilla. We were noticing that milk from one of our sources was inconsistent in quality. We checked the logs and noticed that the quality seemed to be lower on Thursdays. We spoke about this with our source, who assured us that it must have been a mistake and that she would speak to our delivery person to see what the problem was. We will have to be very consistent with our monitoring of milk quality to make sure that this doesn’t become a problem.
Wednesday was a whirlwind of experience - by far our most memorable day so far. It started late last week when Maimuna told us that Kivulini was expecting some Canadian visitors on the 29th and that we could join their day trip in Mwanza. Originally we were told that they were representatives from Oxfam and CIDA (our sponsors). However, as today came, we realized that these were no ordinary guests! First, the representative from Oxfam was actually the Canadian National Director for the program - Rieky Stuart. Accompanying her were two very experienced members from Oxfam. In addition, there was a photographer from the Associated Press who was very well traveled and respected in the African national news scene. However, we had no idea that the remaining guests would contain celebrity talent; Jimmy Creeggan (bassist from the Barenaked Ladies) and their manager, Pierre Tremblay (who works for the same firm for bands such as Dido, Sum41 and Cheryl Crow)! The group was in fact in Tanzania to create awareness for the upcoming Live8 concerts. Jimmy and the AP photographer would be taking video and pictures throughout their visit and distribute them to various media outlets (and perhaps even during the concert itself!).
When the entourage arrived at Kivulini, they came upstairs to the main office and we all introduced ourselves. We were so surprised to see the caliber of the visitors. It was a pretty big honour just meeting them and telling them briefly about our project. Jimmy had a camcorder handy for the visit and even started interviewing us right away (about the yogurt project)! We had to cut it short, but assured him that there would be plenty of opportunity for questions when they visit the yogurt room.
Kivulini’s guests, Maimuna, Ruge, Miriam and Helen, Dallas and Jonathan all headed down to the legal aid floor and had a lengthy discussion in one of the conference rooms. Maimuna gave the low-down on Kivulini’s role in the Mwanza community - stressing the importance of their goal for empowerment of Women. The two of us even learned a lot of new things about Kivulini! Our guests had some great supplementary questions for Maimuna - she answered them very well and we really noticed at what a great speaker she really is.
Then it came our turn. We basically outlined our yogurt project intention, implementation and how it fits into Kivulni’s goals. The group was quite impressed with what had been accomplished so far. After we finished the meeting, we took them upstairs to the yogurt room and gave them a tour of our production process. We even had enough extra yogurt to give them all a taste test. They gobbled it up and were very pleased with our presentation.
After that, we all left Kivulini to visit the city medical officer at a local clinic. He explained to us the conditions of many Mwanza medical hospitals were in. Our guests had some good questions regarding the state of equipment, medicine supplies, and hospital staff. The main response from it all was that there needs to be more funding going towards these institutions. Following our meeting we went around the clinic grounds. Here, we were introduced to two women who had AIDS and were trying to make ends meet. One of the women sells clothes in Mlango Moja (right across the street from our apartment) and the other was trying to start up a coal shop. Both were very friendly and were willing to share their stories. Luckily, Kivulini staff acted as translators.
From there, we split up into two groups. Dallas went to visit a rural area of Mwanza, visiting a few families who had members with AIDS. Jonathan went to visit the regional hospital of Mwanza.
Family visits: Dallas went with 2 of the Oxfam visitors to 2 families that had ill family members. The first family lived on Bugando hill, in a small, mud-brick house. The grandmother cared for the entire family on her own, including the grandchildren. The mother had passed away from AIDS and her daughter had tragically become infected while caring for her. Dallas had a chance to speak with the daughter, who expressed a love for education, writing and art. All of the family members were incredibly strong as individuals, and as a group. The grandmother was very upset as the city recently informed them that a road will be built right through their home. They are trying to find another place to live, but it is a struggle. The second family was in Mababtini, next door to Mama Joyce’s home. We only stayed for a brief moment, but we noticed that the tiny, 2 room house was home to 12 people. The women who lived there spoke to us about their struggles to make enough money to feed their families, and to take care of sick family members. Both families said that any aid at all would help them enormously. They sent a message to Canada to send whatever help they can, and to advocate for debt-relierf.
Regional hospital:
The regional hospital of Mwanza services just over 2 million people. However, when we arrived, we met with the director of the hospital and found out exactly what the breakdown of what their accommodations were: 200 beds and 4 doctors. It was very hard to imagine this statistic, but when we toured the grounds, the views were alarming. We went to a children’s (malaria) ward where there were up to four children per hospital bed. Another ward (postnatal), there were two women who had c-sections that were also sharing a bed. Nevertheless, there was quite a bit of order to the hospital. The wards were staffed by several nurses who were very knowledgeable and willing to show us around. They also stressed to us that the hospitals have greatly improved over the last few years.
After our visits, we met up at the New Mwanza Hotel. Dallas stayed and ate lunch with the crowd, while Jonathan went to NIMR for the yogurt pickup. Overall, it was a very eventful day - one that the two of us will never forget.
On Thursday we called our first official meeting with the yogurt mamas. Although we had sent notes home to all of them, only 7 of the 12 showed up. However, those present were very helpful and eager to participate. We asked them many questions about their feelings on the way the program is going. We also got into issues of social acceptability of the project and the yogurt itself. The mamas contributed some very interesting feedback and we wrote up a detailed report (which we are posting online). The mamas also asked for our opinions and we told them that we are very proud of their hard work and happy with the way they are working together as a community of yogurt experts.
The majority of Friday was spent around the city running various errands. Our main goal was to buy two (500ml) beakers from the medical supply store downtown. When we entered the store and inquired about the price, he shopkeeper said the beakers were 6,500 TSh each - a highly inflated rate. We were aware of the store’s trickery and pointed out that one 2L beaker (that luckily had a price tag on it) cost only 5,000 Tsh. We managed to convince the owner and barter the price of the two beakers for 5,000 Tsh for the pair - still not the best price in our opinion, but it was a good job by the two of us nonetheless. Later in the day, Dallas bought her first Kanga, an African garment that you wrap around your waist like a make-shift dress. The interesting thing about Kangas is that they all contain a written message printed on them, usually an African proverb. Hers translated to "I am satisfied" in English. We hope that everyone back in Canada enjoyed our national holiday.
The weekend was very relaxing. Although we had an 8am Swahili lesson on Saturday, we still managed to get in some R&R later in the day. After spending several hours at the internet café, Jonathan hung out at the apartment and Dallas wandered back up Bugando hill to visit the church choir. However, today was a much more rowdy day than normal, in Mwanza. This was because of the commencement of the Tanzanian soccer championship game - held in the city’s main stadium. Two teams from Dar were competing for the crown (a 20,000,000 TSh prize). Later in the afternoon, we were told that "Simba" had won 2-0. During the evening the streets were full of ecstatic fans celebrating the victory. We watched the singing, chanting and running crowds from the safety of our balcony.
Sunday was spent at the market buying fresh fruits and vegetables and then on a dalladalla (crowded minivan/bus) to Ghana. In Ghana we met Martin, a friend who works at the local English radio station. Dallas practiced her Swahili by recording an original song with the help of Martin’s recording equipment. It was a lot of fun. Sunday night we wound down after another busy week and discussed all that we plan to accomplish in the week ahead.

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