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.

Time Extension - November 12th - 26th

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I should probably first talk about the events leading up to the decision for me to return to Mwanza and work on the WHE project again. Before I left for my Kilimanjaro-safari trip in October, there was some talk of my internship being extended – suggested by both myself and people back at Western. When I returned from ‘Kili’, it was decided that I could remain in Tanzania for another stint. I set the return date to early April because I needed to come back to school for summer intersession courses.

After a few days of communication back-and-forth, the WHE committee was able to obtain funding from Research Western, which would help finance the rest of my stay and program costs. After that was settled, there came one more issue – whether or not I would stay continuously through until April or come back to Canada and return in the new year. The costs of each option were surprisingly pretty similar. I would have had to cancel my November flight (and pay a fee) and buy a one-way ticket home, which was comparable to another round-trip ticket. So, we came to the consensus that I could return to Canada and leave again in early January to come back to Mwanza…

Meanwhile, back to mid-November in Mwanza…

Saturday the 12th was the Mwanza Charity Ball. And yes, I finally shaved and got a hair cut. As you can see here:

The event went quite well; the tickets were sold out, the band and the food were great, and the auction alone raised over $10,000 for local Mwanza charities. Some of the prizes included roundtrip airfare to London, England, a large Tanzanite stone, and luxury getaways to Serengeti and Zanzibar. (I thought that the yogurt project could have used a Tanzanite stone, but when the action price reached in the millions of shillings, I knew I was beat).
I managed to hand in a funding request for this event, as did a few other Kivulini economic empowerment projects. We’re to hear our results sometime in January.

Things took a bit of a turn for the worse on the 15th. It started off in the morning when I received a telephone call from our NIMR milk supplier, Iddah. She told me that her brother had passed away the day before and that she would not be in the office to receive our next payment of milk. I tried to assure her as much support as I could offer, but there is only so much one can do over the phone.

Later that morning, Mama Joyce had come over to start preparing the yogurt and it seemed that things were going to be back to normal. I wanted to take Baluhya to the gas store that day and show her where to fill the empty containers during my absence. We arrived at the store, which was owned by an Indian couple Mr. and Mrs. Sodha.

When we entered I noticed that there were some guests present towards the back of the building, which doubled as the couple’s house. Mrs. Sodha appeared from this area looking very distraught. I asked her how she was doing, with her only reply being “my husband is gone”. This devastating news was hard to realize at first, until I saw that the people in the back were sitting by a candle under the picture of the recently deceased Mr. Sodha. He had died just five days ago.

His wife explained that the two of them were talking and all of a sudden Mr. Sodha sat down on the floor, where he subsequently perished from a heart attack. When Mrs. Sodha was pointing to my feet explaining this gesture, I eerily realized then that I was standing on the exact spot that the man had fallen. We still managed to obtain gas for that day, whereas Mrs. Sodha was still welcoming any business saying that she needed the money.

The deaths of Iddah’s brother and Mr. Sodha not only were hard to accept, but proved obstacles for planning my imminent departure. I wanted to go over with Iddah in detail about our plans for moving production to Mabatini by showing her where the milk would need to be delivered. In terms of Mr. Sodha’s death, the problem was very blatant – Mrs. Sodha was planning on moving back home to India and the future of the gas store is would be unknown. Although she said this wouldn’t happen for at least a few months, it’s still something that may need to be considered soon; the next propane gas outlet is a considerable amount further away. It may mean the end of cooking our yogurt with gas and moving to a coal-based system (since electric has already been dispelled).

Though the bad news of the 15th didn’t end there…After dropping the gas back off at the apartment, Barulya and I went to Tanesco to finalize getting our electricity for the community kitchen turned on. When we arrived, we (luckily) only waited for a short period of time to see the one of the senior staff of the company. There, we were notified that there was a shortage of electricity meters and that we could not receive electricity for not only this week, not this month, but up to one year! The news was devastating, whereas not having electricity for this amount of time would certainly inhibit our intended plans for the project. After offering several solutions to this staff member, it didn’t seem like we could do much more than write a letter to the head office in Dar. Baluhya and I discussed the situation a bit further afterwards and decided to try and gain support from an elected official to see if they could talk to Tanesco and work something out.

Nevertheless, I still had roughly over a week left in Mwanza and there was still much to do in terms of preparations, organizing…and packing. For the first two, I had to make a budget and guidelines for the yogurt production for a two-month period. One of the reasons I was in favour for returning to Canada momentarily because it would allow the yogurt mamas and Baluhya to manage the project independently. I thought this would be a very important aspect to learn and it would allow us to anticipate issues for any subsequent gaps in intern placements.

In addition, I had to meet with Dr. Changalucha and Maimuna to arrange developing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) between NIMR, Kivulini and UWO. This was a suggestion from Jethro (my supervisor back home), who realized the importance of getting a (non-legal) contract to spell out the goals and responsibilities of the project and its members

Some other last minute tasks included talking to our staff members at NIMR to confirm lab materials I needed to bring back with me from Canada. Unfortunately, the lab had run out of Inulin, a required ingredient to process the probiotic bacteria. Therefore, only plain yogurt would be in production during my absence.

At last though came the day of the 24th, my departure. However, in the morning I still had to run up to Buswelu Elementary (about 30 min away) to get some post cards that the students had filled out for students at Tecumseh Elementary School in London. Nevertheless, after some last minute packing and arrangements back in the apartment, I headed out to the airport with Maimuna, Rita and a few other Kivulini staff/guests. The plane ride left out of Mwanza left on time and arrived in Nairobi safely…Before you could say probiotic yogurt, I was on my way back to Canada.

Traveling back went relatively smoothly. Three plane trips are required to journey between Mwanza and Toronto: Mwanza-Nairobi; Nairobi-Amsterdam; and Amsterdam-Toronto. Before I left, I was able to arrange a 3-day layover in Amsterdam before continuing to Toronto. Looking back I don’t know if it was the greatest idea. I think the shock of living in a conservative, unhurried Tanzanian city for six months and all of a sudden being in one of the most risqué, lively cities on the planet was a bit much. Nevertheless, it was a fun stay, and oddly enough I bumped into an old high school friend while wandering downtown.
I knew though I was looking more forward to seeing my family and friends again, especially since it was the Christmas Season…

Before my haircut, celebrating after climbing Kilimanjaro

After the haircut, at the Mwanza Charity Ball

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