December 19, 2016  — Reflections

It’s been more than two weeks since returning home, a good time to reflect on the experience of working and living in Tanzania, albeit so briefly.  Of course, the most obvious readjustment challenge was going from 26 degrees to -10 degrees.  The visceral things – smells, sights, sounds – quickly returned to normal within 24 hours of landing. Other personal growth reflections came later, and may still reveal themselves in the future.  A few reflections that resonate most strongly are:

Gratitude:  Daily life in Babati for many is subsistence living. Employment is limited, and families and communities rely on each other.  Access to education, health care, clean water and social services — by North American standards – is a luxury.  My quality of life in Canada is now something that makes me feel a bit ashamed, undeserving of so much when the only difference between me and the people of Tanzania is geography and skin colour.

Humility:  Speaking of skin colour, being a visible minority and not speaking the language is something everyone should experience.  At first exciting, there was panic that set in when I realized that I was in a post-colonial culture where a lot of historical damage was done to the people of Tanzania by white colonizers. Even today, there is a resistance to globalization that I can only assume stems from centuries of Western economic and political oppression.  Yet, my colleagues at TCCIA and the people of Babati were welcoming and open to a stranger in their midst, and proud to share with me their amazing country.

Resilience:   It turns out that, when you cannot communicate in Swahili, or navigate a town without street signs, or drink the water, or know what you are eating….that overcoming such challenges builds confidence and resilience.   I went into the program knowing in advance that adaptability and flexibility were prerequisites, but now I know for sure that I have no issues being outside my comfort zone.

My final task as a participant in the WUSC/Uniterra program is to do a presentation here at the University of Guelph in the spring to inspire future applicants.  How can I articulate my experience in 10 minutes?

December 2, 2016  — Saying Goodbye

Spent my  last afternoon in Tanzania completing my WUSC/Uniterra final reports.  Tonight I’ll be packing to head back home to Canada.  It’s an odd feeling.  Because I’ve enjoyed every single second of my experience here, and I would do it again in a heartbeat.  But there are people I love and miss back home, and it feels like I’ve been away for months.

For those reading this blog who are thinking of applying for the WUSC/Uniterra L4C program – just do it.  I hesitated at first too, but was “pushed”(willingly) by Mario Deschamps at U of G Campus Police to go for it.  I’m so thankful I did…

I’ll be honest, it wasn’t a vacation.  There were challenges (language, resources, timelines).  But at all times I felt supported by the Canadian field team based in Arusha.  So I will use this blog post to say thank you to Sonia, Manu, Banzi, Sadick and John.  You are all doing amazing things here — thank you for your support! I believe you are making a difference for your partner organizations, and enriching the experiences of Canadians who bring back new knowledge and skills to their respective organizations.

Thank you and best wishes to incoming and outgoing WUSC/Uniterra Volunteer Co-ordinators Joelle (left) and Sonia (right).

November 30, 2016  — Infrastructure

An unexpected, yet transformative, spinoff of my time in Tanzania has been gaining a better appreciation for the vital importance of public infrastructure.  I’m referring to the basics — roads, sewers, water, waste management.  Not the higher end public services such as health care, social services, education …

In light of the timing that Guelph City Council is heading into its 2017 budget discussions next week, this new perspective is timely for me because we are talking about implementing a 1% infrastructure levy to close the funding gap on backlogged needs.  Much of the hard infrastructure (roads and bridges) in Tanzania was built during a time of colonial occupation.  As growth and development continues under President Magufuli, it appears that hard infrastructure is keeping up pace at a national level. New roads (for example highways in and out of Dar Es Salaam) are being improved.

But in the towns and villages (like Babati) local needs are barely being met (from a Western perspective).  Mind you, the level of expectation is different here too, as is the culture of civic responsibility.  For example, why is the handling of solid waste a municipal responsibility?  If you consume something that results in a waste product, it’s your responsibility, right?

Of course, our winter climate changes our infrastructure needs.  And public health.  And environmental protection.  And energy security.  Observations…

Saturday is clean up day. Recyclables are removed and garbage is burned openly.  A lot of plastic in the streets – water bottles, plastic bags, plastic products…
Many household sinks drain into the alleys.
This is not a rural ditch, this is in the centre of town on a street near my office.
Babati is growing fast and there are improvements and construction happening all over.  New water ways are tiled to prevent erosion.

November 29, 2016 — TCCIA and Babati:  The People Part 2

Evodius, Sia, Felix, Rama, Mwanahamisi, Mr. Mbise….names and faces that I will not soon forget.  They are hard-working, smart and welcoming beyond measure.  As I finish my  last day at the TCCIA office, I have been privileged to share their space for the past two weeks.

The TCCIA Manyara region is extensive, with Babati as its capital.  The region is divided into five districts, each with their own Chamber representation. The TCCIA Manyara office represents close to 1,000 members in the commercial, industrial and agricultural sector. It’s hard to believe that the head office is staffed by only four full-timers.  During my time here, both Mwanahamisi and Rama were working all weekend.

My mandate to build their first website (and the first regional site in the country!) feels like I’ve done something to advance their work.  In fact, today an expired member came to the office to tell the Finance Officer (Evodius) he would be paying his dues for the upcoming year because he had heard their was a new website and he wants to take advantage of promoting his business.

Aside from the frenetic pace of work, my co-workers have also taken the time to show me some Tanzanian hospitality.  Evodius the Adventurer (not your typical accountant!) has come along with me to Tururu Falls, Tarangire and hiking Mt. Kwaraa.  Felix has taught me a great deal about the fascinating Maasai culture and we have shared our mutual hope that the independence of the Maasai tribe and their culture is fiercely protected and sustained.  Sia’s welcoming smile every morning has made coming to work a pleasure.  And without the support of Rama and Mwanahamisi, this project would not have been possible.

I have been honoured to share in their office life, including celebrating Sia’s birthday last week.  Much like in Canada, they sing Happy Birthday (in English) and cut a cake. There is a slight variation in tradition — the birthday celebrant then feeds a small piece of cake to each person.

Sia offers Mwanahamisi a piece of her birthday cake.

November 28, 2016  — TCCIA and Babati:  The People Part 1

I’ve spent much of my narrative so far writing about the setting and the work, and not much about the people I have the privilege of work with, or the community in which I live.

The people of Tanzania are resourceful, resilient and incredibly hard-working.  Seven days a week, from early morning until dusk, shops are open and industry in humming. Babati is one of the fastest growing towns in the region.  Each morning on my way to work, I pass a woodworking shop, a furniture-making businesses, a charcoal seller, chicken vendor, at least 20 market shops and more.  Shops are attached to homes, or small stand-alone stalls, and for the most part, it is subsistence living.  Children play outside in the street and alleys, or in the shops, and greet me with “good morning” in English – which they learn in school is how you should greet a mzungu (white person).  Greetings are an essential part of the social interaction, and there are numerous ways to extend a hello and an associated response to each one, depending on the level of formality established.  Learning the norms was key to the orientation process on Day One.   Habari is the most common, to which the response is either nzuri, salama or safi (all meaning “good” but with different levels of casualness, much like English when we say fine, good or nice).

For many, it’s not easy work.  The charcoal maker/seller and the chicken vendor outside the guest house endure poor air quality, noise, limited income and none of the things we take for granted like employment insure or health benefits.  I haven’t been bold enough to ask them if they are happy, but the laughter and music and willingness to help me with my rudimentary Swahili tell me that the definition of happiness is very different here.  Connecting with friends, with family, with neighbours, and with strangers…is a happiness that is alive and thriving in Babati.

A typical street of shops.  Many market stalls sell used goods (clothing and shoes) that originate from Western countries.
Woodworking shop a few doors down from the TCCIA office.
Chickens come in and out daily. PS. These pens also house the d*#% rooster that wakes me up at 4:00 am everyday.

November 27, 2016  — A View of Babati

It’s Sunday.  Spent the day off hiking Mount Kwaraa.  Accompanied by adventurous workmates (Evodius and Mbise), and guided by two local teenagers (Macdonald and Emmanuel) who know the mountain access trails well, we set off.  I soon realized there was no way to make the summit in one day (the fact that we passed a campsite should have been the first clue).  Conceded defeat and headed back down the mountain in the late afternoon.

Destination:  Mt. Kwaraa in the distance.  Can I climb it?  Yes, I can!  No, I can’t…
At about 2 km up, the view of Babati below was stunning.
The higher we climbed, Mt. Kwaraa became more densely forested and apertures to get a view were harder to find.  The was the highest point I was able to get a decent photo.

November 26, 2016 — Local Food

The point of this photo is to encourage all WUSC/Uniterra L4C participants to try to the local food while on assignment!  It was delicious.

Supu ya pweza (octopus soup).


November 26, 2016  –WUSC/Uniterra Mandate

Don’t be fooled into believing that only I’m here to hike waterfalls and see giraffe!  I haven’t had a chance to update the blog for the past few days because I have been busy completing my mandate here.  Building a website and print marketing for TCCIA Manyara has involved getting out into the field to visit local businesses, photo and video, interviews and developing new content for the website.  Manyara Region will have the first regional Chamber of Commerce website in the country,  and the idea behind the project is to showcase economic development potential of the region, grow membership, build donor support and promote member businesses.

World University Service of Canada (WUSC) and Uniterra (supported through Global Affairs Canada) have a mandate to create opportunities for youth and women in all projects.  Last week, I profiled Hilda Nyidile, a woman who has built her own business making cleaning products (Acky Products).  She is an inspiration to many young women, showing them that there is opportunity for self-employment with education and learning new skills.  Employment in Manyara Region is about 15%, so youth self-employment is the future economic engine of the area.

Hilda Nyidile, founder of Acky Products.

Building the TCCIA Manyara website has been so much more enriching than just sitting at a desk writing content, cut and paste, etc.

Websites are about telling stories. 

It’s been an honour to tell the TCCIA Manyara region stories.  If I am successful in my mandate here, I will have been able to tell the TCCIA Manyara stories in a way that accurately represents the entrepreneurial, resourceful and resilient spirit of the Tanzanian people.

Shabani Ramadhani, of the Social Vision Group agricultural co-op, ready to plant tomatoes with new river-fed drip irrigation system.
Social Vision Group, an agricultural co-op in Babati, produces vegetable crops on approximately one acre of land.


 November 20, 2016 — First Day Off!

If you google “what to do in Babati”, there aren’t a lot of options. There’s hippos (did that) and Tarangire National Park, home to elephants (doing that Friday).  But, if I’ve learned one thing travelling with my pilot father, it was that you should always ask the locals what to see and where to eat.  Local guide Eric suggested Tururu Falls, a waterfall found between Lake Babati and Lake Manyara. Evodius, TCCIA Finance Officer, had never heard of it (turns out it is kind of a local secret) and wanted to see it too.  We hiked from the town along the rural roads (about 12.5 km round trip) which gave me a glimpse of Tanzanian life – brickmaking, laundry, farming, house building, and cooking.  The falls weren’t huge, but magical nevertheless. Getting there was the real journey…

Pictures speak louder than words…

The road heading out of Babati town.
Banana groves along the way.
Building a new house. Most homes are constructed of handmade brick and built by the homeowner.
Brick-making operations, old school.
A typical home outside of Babati town includes garden area, cooking and sleeping quarters.
Finally reached the top of the waterfall
Eric leads the way down…
And finally…there it is!
Shall we go in Evodius?
So refreshing!

November 19, 2016  — Life at the Office…and More.

It’s Saturday — and the TCCIA office is open. What a dedicated and hard-working team here in Babati!  My project mandate — to create their first website — is coming along quickly. After arrival, I learned they want a bilingual site, have no computer software for graphics, and no computer for me to work on  (I was prepared for that and brought my laptop).  And thankfully, I have amazing technical support back home (shout out to Arni and Northern Village!) who set up the site so that it could easily switch back and forth between Swahili and English.

I can’t do much content until I finish some interviews/focus groups next week, so I spent the first part of the morning creating some graphics – banners, photos, buttons.  The Executive Officer saw what I was doing and asked if I could also design a new brochure for them during my mandate.  Hamna shida (no problem)!

Saying “yes” to the side project meant meeting a new rafiki (friend) Grace, from the Simanjiro district office, who worked on the Swahili draft of the new brochure. I mentioned to Grace at the end of the day that I wanted to buy some chitenge khanga (textiles) to bring home for gifts. She took me to the best place, where I picked out some amazing colourful batiks and prints. Then she invited me to meet her family at a first communion party, and later we went out for dinner at her husband’s family restaurant, where we enjoyed roast pig and Tanzanian beer.   Thanks Grace, your overwhelming Tanzanian hospitality made a big impression on this fish out of water from Canada…


Grace and Frederick and baby Mauri who slept in my arms the entire dinner. Eating with one hand (always the right hand) is customary in Tanzania.

November 16, 2016  — First Day of “Work” Work

Exhausting, but very productive first official full day at work.  The TCCIA Manyara office is very small by Canadian standards, but cozy. The team starts each day at 8:00 am with breakfast — chapati and chai (milk tea) or kahawa (coffee), made by Sia.  She is graciously helping me with my Swahili as well.  Evodius (Finance/Office Manager) showed me a new place for lunch, today was tilapia and ugali.  Tanzanian food is agreeing with me so far, but I did hear some not-so-good stories from Canadians staying at Adia’s place in Arusha.

Getting a work plan for the next two weeks was the most important first step today.  Work plan is done, budget was submitted,  waiting for approvals, and then we can get this party started.   The photo below is the street I am living on taken on my morning walk to the TCCIA office.

Morning walk to work


November 16, 2016 — Hungry, Hungry Hippos


Hippo trivia: When a mother hippo is about to give birth she goes off by herself to see if it is a boy or a girl.  If it’s a girl, she will return with the baby to the pod.  If it’s a boy, she can’t come back or the father will kill it (future competition for mates).  This is one of the many things I learned in a dug out boat (made from a ficus tree) from Eric while paddling Lake Babati looking for one of the many hippo pods who call the lake home.

Access to view hippo pods on Lake Babati is by dug out boat.

November 15, 2016 — Moving to Babati


Travelled to Babati today, with open-ended expectations. I knew it would be a much smaller place than Arusha, so was prepared for more rustic conditions. The drive was about 3 hours, but very scenic. Babati is further south, and a bit more lush. It is an agricultural region, with primary crops being sunflowers (for oil), maize, beans and peas.

After an amazing lunch (chicken, with wali maharagwe), I went to “city hall” to have my immigration papers approved by local authorities. No one was there, so off to a meeting with the leadership team (Mwanahamisi, Ramadhan, Evodius and Banzi) at the Tanzanian Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (TCCIA) Manyara Region, where I will be working for the new few weeks.  We talked about the expectations, resources and budget.  As I suspected, I will be starting from scratch: there is no current website, no budget and very limited English spoken in the office, by TCCIA members, and in the town.

The challenge just became all the more satisfying…. gulp!

November 14, 2016   —  It’s a Small Planet When You are From Guelph!

I love small world moments.  They provide a momentary connection to my home community of Guelph, and a reminder of its wide diaspora of people around the world.

My first full day in Tanzania was packed with Orientation sessions.  Within minutes of arriving, still standing at the courtyard gate, I heard the words “Hey, Guelph! My hometown.”  I was proudly wearing my bright red U of G Gryphon backpack so it was hard to miss.  Farm Radio International (FRI) Radio and ICT Manager (and U of G grad) Bart Sullivan works and lives in Arusha with his family. As we started naming people each other might know, it was amazing to discover so many overlapping connections.  It’s kind of funny really, but Guelphites know what I mean.  How many times have you run into someone from Guelph, or who knows your best friends from Guelph, somewhere in the world.  We are bound together by the university and our community.  When you are far away from home, it’s a nice feeling.


November 14, 2016  —   The Journey

Getting to Tanzania was a breeze. It’s not always that easy so I feel fortunate in many ways because the WUSC/Uniterra folks made it so easy. Flight from Toronto to Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) was smooth sailing, a short layover, and then arrived on time at Kilimanjaro Airport.


I met some wonderful strangers along the way, many of them travelling for the purpose of climbing Kilimanjaro. I was inspired by their sense of adventure, which affirmed my resolve to climb Mt. Kwahara while in Babati.


From Kilimanjaro, I was met by Manu at the program office and, thankfully, our first and only destination on Day One was accommodation at Adia’s Place in Arusha, where I met Adia (obviously), who is the personification of Tanzanian hospitality.  Dinner, sleep, breakfast.  Within 12 hours I met two students from the University of Waterloo on WUSC placements for eight months, and Raj from Guelph who in the final week of her mandate.

Off to Orientation today with Sonia, then I need to find an ATM!

November 14, 2016  — Safe and Sound

Safe and sound in Arusha! After a looong , jet-lagged sleep, today I woke up to the sound of roosters (plural!) and morning rain.  Music to my ears.  Trying to blog on a Blackberry that auto corrects everything is frustrating so I will write more later.

I’ll leave you with a picture of Adia’s (my amazing host) garden with the rains coming down.


November 4, 2016  — Ready, Set, Go

Flight is booked! Flying through Ethiopia, then to Kilimanjaro Airport, Tanzania. Orientation in Arusha for two days, then to Manyara region.  No turning back now … this is happening!


November 2, 2016   —  Where in the World?

Departure is set for November 12!  For the past month I have been focusing on learning more about the town of Babati, in the Manyara Region, where I have been assigned.  I don’t have a lot of details yet about the specifics of my mandate, but I know that I will be working with the Tanzania Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture (TCCIA) on a marketing and website development project.

Babati is a town (regional pop. 93,000) is situated on the shore of Lake Babati, known for its “friendly hippos”.   Not sure if that is an oxymoron, since hippos are generally known to be extremely territorial and aggressive!  Babati town is the capital of the region.  The Tarangire National Park and Mt. Kwaraa are natural features I look forward to exploring on my days off.   More about Babati.

Other than learning a few keys phrases in Swahili (jambo!) I’m feeling eerily unprepared right now.  Thankfully, most of my past travel experiences in life have been with little or no advanced planning or itinerary, so I’m up for the adventure.   I found a photo of Babati on the web – so beautiful.  And no hippos in sight…



August 17, 2016   — Getting Real

It’s getting real now.  Passport, travel docs, forms, work coverage, orientation training, Swahili phrase book.  Check.

Three shots down, one more to go.